Monday, October 31, 2011

Is there such thing as "too many cupcakes?"

Yesterday, Barb went to a great fundraiser for Central Arizona Social Services, the Cupcake Love-In, with her intrepid tasting buddy Berkley.  For $20 they sampled cupcakes from many of the top bakers/bakeries/restaurants in town.

 Tickets were given out to limit you to 7 "tastes," but, if you went with a friend, you could each eat 1/2 and get 14 tastes. Top it off, many vendors weren't taking tickets, so we ended up trying more than 20 cupcakes.  OOF!

Our first cupcake of the day, a fabulous Salted Caramel by Santa Barbara Catering
We also tried a terrific chocolate mint cupcake, adorably decorated, by simply sweets.

Of course, we loved seeing our neighbors at Mind Over Batter -- always excellent

Some of the cupcake offerings were a bit over the top -- such as the tomato soup/grilled cheese (ick), and some were obviously stale.  The texture of the vegan cupcakes just didn't cut it for us.  Tammie Coe's chocolate hazelnut crunch cakes were divine, but surprisingly, our winners of the day were Sommer Walter's cupcakes from Heaven's Gluten-Free Bakehouse.  Yes, we said gluten free. We almost passed up these morsels because of that, but ended up going back for seconds.  The banoffee was full of true banana flavor and great toffee crunch, and any baked-goods lover would be unable to tell that they were gluten free.  Our absolute fave of the day?  Her "Game Day" cupcake, made with gluten-free beer and frosted with a cheddar cheese frosting.  Oh Heaven indeed!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Double Duty Dinners -- Roasted Chicken and Chicken Pot Pie

So, inspired by a book I just finished "Kitchen Counter Cooking School," I'm trying to plan meals where I can stretch the ingredients to a second meal later in the week.  I'm also trying to shave some time off the midweek meals, so this process works out perfectly.  This week, it was chicken.

Sunday -- I purchased two roasting chickens from my local farmers markets, and placed them on a bed of cut up carrots and onions in a roasting pan.  Did the standard olive oil/salt/pepper on top and roasted at 425 for about an hour. That evening, we had roast chicken, sauteed green beans (make extra for Wednesday) and homemade bread (recipe also in book) for dinner.

Wednesday -- I preheated my oven to 450, and got out one rolled-up refrigerated pie crust. I cut up the second chicken, along with the carrots from Sunday (you can use the onions, but I opted not to), and the extra green beans and placed them in a bowl.  In my trusty cast iron skillet, I made a chicken gravy by melting 2 T. butter, adding in 2 T. flour and cooking for a few moments, then adding in a can of chicken stock, whisking until thick.  I added a splash of half-n-half, a grate of nutmeg, and some S&P.  I then mixed in the contents of the bowl, topped with the pie crust, painted it with an egg wash and put it in the oven for 15 minutes to get golden and bubbly. I served it with a romaine salad with roasted beets, goat cheese, lemon juice and olive oil.

next Double Duty Dinner -- pot roast and beef mushroom pot pie
Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Chicken Chili to Warm You on a Chilly Day

As the weather turns cooler in many parts of the country (Barb’s locale excepted), my thoughts always turn toward warm, hearty soups and stews.  I recently made one of our family favorites, a white bean chicken chili, which I think came to us many years ago from a good friend. 
Dishes like this can be great options for folks on the go, who want to give their family a hearty meal but don’t have a lot of time to cook.  I boil the chicken in this recipe and cube it ahead of time, and keep it in a container in the fridge.  Same can be done with the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAchopped onion – saute an extra onion when you’re preparing something else, and then toss it in a container to use a few days later.  The rest of the ingredient are just dumped in together, so when you get home from work, fire up the crock pot, dump in the chicken, the sauteed onion and the rest of the ingredients, and let it heat up and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.
White Bean Chicken Chili
1     large onion chopped
1    clove garlic (chopped)
1/4 cup butter
4   cups chicken (cooked; cup up in bite-sized pieces)
3    cups chicken broth (2 cans)
3    Tbspns  basil
2    tspns chili powder
2    cans great Northern white beans

Thirsty Thursday -- Bonus Edition

Over on our Facebook wall,, we started a conversation this morning about Pumpkin Ales. Sam Adams has one, Blue Moon has one, local brewery Four Peaks has one. What are your thoughts?  Do you have a favorite?

But, then we came across this lovely looking libation from the folks at The Chew and we had to share it in time for Halloween Weekend.  I mean, let's face it...some of you may be drinking hot toddies by the fire this Halloween weekend, but for many of us in the South and the West, our kids will still be incorporating shorts and tshirts into their costume choices. This Aperol Spritzer is orangy, sparkly and refreshing.

What's Aperol?  Well, according to their website at, Aperol is "an exotic infusion of sweet orange peel, hints of mandarin, orange and an array of herbs and spices.  With its flirty orange color and bright, zesty flavor, Aperol is a perfect choice for fashion-forward, creative cocktails at any social occasion!"

Here's the recipe -- you just need Aperol (I know BevMo has it), prosecco or other sparkling wine and an orange for garnish.
Friday, October 21, 2011

Weeknight Recipe: Beef Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce

Ever get stuck in a menu rut?  Particularly during the busy weekdays, it’s so easy to find yourself turning to the same old stand-bys over and over again – almost like you’re sleepwalking. 
Here’s a recipe that’s sure to mix things up – compliments of Schnucks Cooks, the monthly publication my local grocery chain distributes.  This particular one was in the Spring/Summer issue.  My family loves this recipe (that includes my kids) and they literally beg me to make it.  

It requires a couple of “odd” ingredients, but they’re ones that you can stock up on and have ready on hand when you need them.  For example, the coconut milk comes in cans from your Asian food section – so I buy a couple at a time to keep in my pantry.  The fish sauce is something I store for long periods in my refrigerator.  It’s a small bottle, so it doesn’t take up much space.  

When I walk in the door, I slice the flank steak, mix up the marinade, and get the meat soaking in it while I help kids with homework or other chores.  Sometimes I mix it all up in the morning and let it marinade in the fridge all day.  I don’t think you can over-marinade it!  I also start soaking the skewers in water right away.

The sauce is so amazing and there’s more than needed for just the meat, so I serve this dish with steamed rice to which I’ve added sliced green onions and mix some of the sauce with it on my plate.  I finally broke down and bought a rice steamer (it was like $25, and I know you can find them even cheaper), which has made rice prep a 30-second task with an occasional stir for perfect rice every time.  I use short or medium grain so it’s a bit stickier, which my kids and I love. 

Beef Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce
18  6-inch  bamboo skewers
1 lime (I keep some bottled lime juice in the fridge in case I’m out of fresh limes when I need it)
3 garlic cloves (again – I turned to minced from a jar the other night to make things simpler)
1 3/4 cups well-stirred unsweetened coconut milk, divided
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger from a spice jar)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 1/2 pounds flank steak, sliced diagonally across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce (I’ve also substituted Worcestershire sauce )
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1.  Soak skewers with water in a wide shallow dish (this keeps them from burning up when you cook the meat on them) 

Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons lime juice into a blender or food processor with knife-blade attached.  Add garlic, 3/4 cup coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, ginger and turmeric.  Puree until smooth. 

2.  In a medium bowl, toss steak with 1/2 cup of the above coconut marinade.  Set aside the remaining marinade.  Cover beef and refrigerate 30 minutes to marinate.

3.  In a 1-2 quart saucepan, heat peanut butter, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk and coconut marinade over low heat for 4 minutes or until mixture simmers, stirring occasionally with a whisk.  Simmer 2 minutes, remove saucepan from heat. Cover and keep warm.  Makes about 1 3/4 cups of sauce.

4.  Prepare outdoor grill for direct grilling over high heat.  Remove beef from marinade and thread onto skewers.  Place skewers on hot grill rack and cook 4 to 5 minutes or until browned on the outside and still pink in the center, turning skewers once.  Serve with peanut sauce for dipping.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ideas for Your Harvest Table

Here in the Midwest, the weather is changing, the leaves are turning, and entertaining moves indoors.  Fall offers a bounty of table scape and hospitality ideas.  Here are a few for yDSC05642our consideration.  Enjoy!

Autumnal Table Settings:
I usually set out the good china for Thanksgiving dinner.  This year, I’ve decided to take a different approach.  I found inexpensive clear glass (dishwasher safe) plates at my local supermarket of all places for $2 each!  Then, I purchased some inexpensive silk leaves from my local craft store, and decorated them with a bit of glitter.  Lay them under the plate, on top of a charger and voila – you have a beautiful Fall table setting, with easy clean-up at the end of the meal!
Later, I found some inexpensive larger leaves for an even more dramatic variation on this theme.
For the centerpiece, I decorated artificial pumpkins with sprays of beads – using a variety of sizes, shapes and colors.  To make it more interesting, I used a clear glass cake plate to elevate the largest pumpkin and filled in with candlesticks to add still more height without creating an obstruction for dialogue across the table.  A strand of DSC05637feathers found at a local garden center fills in the gaps.

Bountiful Buffet
The trick to creating an interesting buffet is layering and variation.  It’s okay to mix natural and artificial elements – pumpkins and gourds from the produce section; sparkling leaves and fake pumpkins from the craft store.  Be sure to vary the height of different elements, as well, for more visual interest. 
I saw an interesting example in a recent magazine, where they had leveled off the top of a pumpkin and set their serving dish on top of it for interest and some height.  I decided to take it one DSC05731step further, and scoop the pumpkin out and carve slits in it with one of those inexpensive knives you find in pumpkin carving kits.  Then, I popped a candle inside to make it glow.  It was then that I realized I was creating the unexpected benefit of warming whatever plate of food I set on top of it!  What a bonus!
I then took some smaller gourds (at least that’s what I think they are) and carved out some space for a tealight candle.
Finally, I put everything together, again using a clear pedestal cake plate and a tall candlestick to add height, and I ended up with a lovely buffet! I
Monday, October 10, 2011

Homemade Strawberry Jam–YUM!

strawberry jamFor us in the West, strawberries from California keep coming in well into the fall. This week, they were 98 cents a quart, which is hard to pass up. After we ate several quarts fresh, we decided to make a simple refrigerator jam with the rest before they spoiled.

We cleaned and hulled two quarts of strawberries and cut them in quarters. We placed them in a saucepan (not aluminum) with 3 T. of sugar.  When it got to a boil over medium high heat, we turned it down to low and used a potato masher to mash up the strawberries. We’re fans of less chunks, so we mashed pretty thoroughly.  Mash less if you like more of a preserves, and food process if you want more “jelly” consistency.  We then added a fourth T. of sugar due -- it will depend on the sweetness of the strawberries.

We then turned off the heat, let it cool and then added in 4 t. of balsamic vinegar.  We placed it in jelly jars and put it in the fridge.  This jam will go great on toast, hard rolls, bruschetta with thin slivers of Parmesan or even a glaze over a grilled chicken breast.