Archive | October, 2011

Family and fall baking {Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting}

26 Oct

Last Friday morning was a flurry of baking.  We were hitting the road for my mother-in-law’s house around midday, and I was supposed to bring cupcakes for her party.  I knew bringing something chocolate was a must, but I also wanted to bring something kind of fall-ish.  After carefully narrowing down my choices to the final four, I intended to only bake two, but ended up deciding on three: spicy chocolate cupcakes with cardamom buttercream, pumpkin cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting from My Baking Addiction, and chocolate espresso fudge cookies from Love & Olive Oil.  Then shortly before I started baking, I got a request from the hubby for the chocolate and peanut butter chip pretzel cookies I had made earlier this summer.

Anyway … four hours later, I was throwing random clothes in a bag while approximately 30 full-sized cupcakes, 50 mini cupcakes, and 60 cookies were cooling.  Here is my basic summary of all of this baking: the spicy chocolate cupcakes are always interesting and full of flavor; the pumpkin cupcakes were all I was hoping for in a fall cupcake and I’ll elaborate below; the chocolate espresso fudge cookies were basically brownies in cookie form {so, YUM!}; and the salty sweet pretzel cookies were once again the first to get gone!  So while each was tasty in its own way, I’m going to focus on the pumpkin cupcakes since we are in the midst of fall and a cold front is apparently on the way.

Quite the dessert spread with some delicious chocolate mousse in the center courtesy of my mother-in-law!

I was really happy with the way these pumpkin cupcakes turned out – moist and full of warm fall flavors – but most of all, it was so much fun enjoying them with so many of our dear friends and family.  It was amazing being in the house where my husband grew up with not only his mother and many of her friends, but also my parents {thanks for making the trip, Mom & Dad!} and Adam and his brother’s friends and their growing families. There was a lot of reminiscing about the Polonpaloozas of the old days and amazement at seeing the offspring of Polonpalooza attendees running around that very same house. This weekend was such a great reminder of how important it is to always come back to the people and places that matter most!  May you be lucky enough to enjoy as much good company {and FOOD!} as we did this past weekend.

Pumpkin deliciousness!

{Pumpkin Cupcakes}

makes about 25-30 full-sized cupcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Almost done!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.

Just about ready for the drive home!

{Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting}

  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar {I only used 2 1/2 cups or so, and had frosting to spare}
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Using a mixer, blend the butter and cream cheese together until well combined. Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar until fully incorporated. Finally mix in vanilla and cinnamon.

Ready for the party {or for breakfast}!

Wednesday Wish List {Just Simply… Cuisine}

19 Oct

Oh, so many wishes this week … a couple for me, but mostly one big one that my DC area friends might want to add to theirs. But first, a little background.

Last year around Christmas time, Adam and I decided that we should just find something we both enjoy doing together, like a cooking class, and let that be our gift to each other.  Soon after that, I spotted a deal on bloomspot for a private cooking class for two at Just Simply… Cuisine. Bloomspot is like those other daily deal sites, but it also offers community circles, which give 10% of your purchase price to a non-profit organization {bonus!}.  I had never heard of Just Simply… Cuisine before, but it seemed to be exactly what we were looking for.

Fast-forward several months when I finally got around to scheduling it … and the best part was that the date of our class ended up being my birthday … so Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Birthday to me!  This past Saturday, we found ourselves walking up to the front door of a GORGEOUS home near the National Cathedral and hoping we had the right address.  Chris welcomed us into her kitchen {also stunning} and pretty soon, we were kneading homemade pasta dough.  Making pasta was surprisingly quick and easy with the pasta attachments for a KitchenAid mixer {my first wish list item}!

Pasta Roller Attachment Set {via http://www.amazon.com}

The fresh taste of the homemade pasta was truly delicious, and I’d definitely like to try it at home.  Since the set is a little on the pricy side, and it’s not like we’d be making pasta every day, it would be pretty hard to justify the expense … but, Chris had the brilliant idea of going in on a set with her neighbor … so, any takers? : )

Her entire kitchen was basically one giant wish list for me. I mean, she has a warming drawer, an impressive Viking range, an island that comfortably fits a small crowd, and don’t even get me started on the meat t-shirts {yep, you read that right}! I hate to go on and on without a single picture to share, but feel free to hop on over to the website or “like” Just Simply… Cuisine on Facebook and you can see what I’m talking about!

All that aside though, the most delightful thing about our class was just sitting around the kitchen all night enjoying yummy food that we helped make and talking food/cooking with someone who is so passionate about what she does.  The classes at Just Simply… Cuisine don’t have menus set in advance because she firmly believes in eating seasonally and locally.  There’s something to be said for knowing from where all of your ingredients come and, by the end of the evening, we certainly had a pretty good idea of that.  We left with some definite ideas about how we’d like to change our cooking habits around the house, and I’m really hoping we stick to them!

I hope I’ve piqued your interest enough to check it out, and if you’re in the area and want to get a small group together for a class, let me know!

Giving bread a try {Challah}

18 Oct

As the seasons change and the nights become a little crisper and cooler, there’s nothing much better than the smell of baking bread in your kitchen. I’ve never really made bread to speak of before, but it seemed that challah would be a great choice for this time of year.  I have to admit, I was a little intimidated at first; but with a detailed recipe from a trusted source in hand (Smitten Kitchen), I was ready to go.  The original recipe is for two loaves, but I have changed it to read for one as I made it below.

{Challah}

Time: 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours for rising

Yield: 1 loaf

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing bowl
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 4 to 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins, if using {I didn’t}
  • poppy seeds for sprinkling

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in 1 scant cup lukewarm water. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. {You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but I did it by hand and it wasn’t bad.}

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour {I was busy crafting at this point, and let it rise for more like 45 minutes}.

At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaf. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, form the dough into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Place braided loaf on a greased cookie sheet.

Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaf. Either freeze bread or let rise another hour. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush the loaf again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.

Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool on a rack.

Cooling with the cardamom snaps!

Close-up {drooling at this point}

The Smitten Kitchen also has some other tips for making bread that might be helpful if you’re not a big bread baker; but as a novice, I found this recipe very easy to follow.  When I first cut into my bread {it sliced like butter!} and took a bite, I’m pretty sure I said something like “I can’t believe I made this.”  The texture and flavor were spot on {in my humble opinion} … soft on the inside with that little bit of sweetness. Yum!  It was perfect for breakfast and snacks the next couple of days, and I can’t wait to make it again!  Enjoy!

Perfect holiday (or any day) cookie {Cardamom Snaps}

12 Oct

Hi … it’s me again … and yes, I’m putting more cardamom into baked goods!  This time it was a recipe for Cardamom Snaps that I came across on Better Homes and Gardens via Pinterest while my challah was baking {more on that later!}.  I was home alone, the oven was already hot, and I had everything I needed to make them; so I found myself putting the ingredients together all of five minutes after finding the recipe.

I was really hoping to find that perfect recipe to showcase the warm, soothing taste/scent of cardamom; and {Spoiler Alert!} while I really love these cookies, it’s not this recipe.  Once again, the cardamom got lost in another flavor {molasses in this case}.  That being said, these little cookies remind me of the holidays and have that perfect balance of crispiness on the outside and tender chewiness on the inside, even a day later.  Not to mention the rich flavor of spiced molasses.  As a side note, the dough is also really easy to work with, so I enjoyed rolling it out by hand without becoming a sticky mess!  Here is the original recipe with my notes.

{Cardamom Snaps}

makes about 48 cookies {or 30 if you make giant cookies like I did!}

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup mild-flavored molasses {perhaps my molasses wasn’t mild enough}
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

In a mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, baking soda, 1-1/2 teaspoons of the cardamom, and the cinnamon. Beat on medium to high speed until combined. Beat in molasses and egg. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls {I made mine about 1/2 inch larger than this, and the recipe yielded 30 cookies}. Roll balls in mixture of granulated sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cardamom to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake in 375 degree F oven about 10 minutes or until edges are set and tops are slightly cracked. Cool on wire rack.

Maybe next time, I’ll hit up a store with more molasses options than the local Giant to see if that makes it easier to taste the cardamom.  Regardless, these cookies just may have you wishing for colder nights and warm apple cider so that you can wrap them up and share them with friends and loved ones.  Enjoy!

Wednesday Wish List {Basement Rug}

5 Oct

Since I moved into Adam’s our home, the basement has acted more as a storage unit than anything else – mostly a “temporary” holding place for many of the things I brought with me.  After many attempts at clearing things out and making those goodwill runs we kept talking about, we finally made some significant progress in making the basement a finished space.  With the main room cleared out, we were able to get some of the finishing work done and move a step closer to turning it into the cozy media room/guest suite we’ve been envisioning.

Our neighbor’s uncle had just done some work on his house that looked great, so we decided it was time to pull the trigger and bring him in to fix some of the lingering oddities in our basement.  We had three main goals:

1. Get some paint on the out-dated wood paneling

2. Find a creative way to cover a gap in the paneling while keeping access to the water shut-off

3. Add shelving under the weird corner cabinet {which also hides some exposed pipes} to make it look a little more planned

The exciting part for me is that there are fewer “rules” in the basement.  While our main level is a little more on the traditional side, the basement doesn’t need to flow with that as much and can follow a different color palette.  We went with a color called Silver Screen on the walls as a more modern, neutral base, and we’re really happy with the way everything has turned out so far!  Here’s a sneak peek at some of the before and after pictures!

New Silver Screen walls - Before {left} and After {right} - Click for larger image

Close-up of new shelf - Before {left} and After {right} - Click for larger image

 And here’s my favorite part.  We used two kitchen cabinets to, not only cover the gaping hole in the wall while keeping access to the important stuff, but also to serve as a functional storage space and decorative shelf.  Yay!

New cabinet - Before {left} and After {right} - Click for larger image

So now for the wish list part … I am getting so close to having a finished image in my head {or on Pinterest as the case may be}, and I really want to find an amazing rug to be the anchor for the room.  Once we have that, I hope everything else can start to fall into place!  I definitely want to add some splashes of color to the gray, and I’m thinking the accent colors will be coral, turquoise, and navy.

You can see my virtual inspiration board here {and maybe even sign yourself up for Pinterest if you find yourself needing more stuff to do on the internet}!  P.S. I want that whimsical moose rug to work so badly!  If I’m feeling super-adventurous, I can even make my own rug like Mandi did over at Vintage Revivals – impressive!

DIY Zebra Rug {http://vintagerevivals.blogspot.com/}

The vision definitely needs some editing at this point, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas if you’ve seen any great/affordable area rugs lately!

I am so excited to see this room come together and can’t wait to share it with you soon!

Hello, Fall! {Pumpkin Cake Bites}

3 Oct

All of a sudden, it really started looking and feeling like fall out there!  Everywhere I look, there are colorful scarves and boots over jeans as if everyone is on their way to a fancy equestrian event somewhere!  It made me reflect a little bit on why those first few days of fall feel so amazing.  In the south, part of it surely is just the break from heat and humidity.  But it’s also that crispness of the air that feels like possibility and new beginnings.  It feels like sharpened pencils and back-to-school shopping and that nervous anticipation of the first day of school.  It’s changing leaves and football season and knowing that the warmth of family that comes with the holidays is right around the corner.

Of course, another thing that fall means is endless opportunities to put pumpkin in things!  I decided to try a recipe for pumpkin gingersnaps from a new blog {new to me, that is} called Sugar Plum Blog.  I ended up really liking these cookies, but not for the reasons I thought I would.  I was expecting a gingersnap, but ended up with more of a yummy pumpkin cake bite {hence the name of this post}.  They were soft and pumpkin-y, and I really like the added crunch of the walnuts; but the ginger and molasses didn’t really come through for me as much as I was hoping it would. Regardless, they were quite delicious, and my brother-in-law, who described them as comforting little pillows, seemed to especially enjoy them.  Here’s the original recipe {with my notes} and a quick picture!

{Pumpkin Cake Bites}

makes about 25 small cookies

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice {homemade pumpkin pie spice recipe over at My Baking Addiction if you don’t have this on-hand}
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and ginger.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, brown sugar, and pumpkin until creamy – about 1-2 minutes.  Beat in molasses, vanilla and egg until well combined. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour mixture until combined – about 1-2 minutes.  Mix in walnuts until combined.

Chill dough in freezer or refrigerator for 30 minutes until cold and firm {if you rush this step, the dough will be much stickier and harder to work with}.  {Pre-heat the oven to 350F while the dough is chilling}.  Roll dough into small balls, place on cookie sheets, and bake 10 minutes or until puffed and golden-brown on the bottoms.

We enjoyed these little guys with homemade chocolate-espresso ice cream after a dinner of roasted cornish hens and red potatoes.  Yay for fall!