Monday, October 31, 2011

Week Fourteen -- Alien Cupcakes and Fruit Kabobs

More often than not the image of what we’re going to make doesn’t match up with what we actually make. This week was a prime example of this. My son’s teacher sent an email asking if we could send treats for Pumpkin Day. Well, sure. So, after much discussion we decided to make alien cupcakes and fruit kabobs because nothing says Pumpkin Say like a bunch of fruit on a stick and a weird aliens made out of fluorescent green frosting and Twizzlers.

And the image I had of all of this, of course, came from Martha Stewart. (That was your first problem, you say.) So, we go to the store and buy a chocolate cake mix – no, Martha didn’t recommend this – obviously. And we buy a can of vanilla frosting (also not very M.S.). We searched for the green taffy that she used, but all we found were bags of multicolored taffy. And I’m thinking to make 24 cupcakes, we’ll need to buy about eleven bags, so we kept looking. Luckily Twizzlers now has rainbow colored licorice (which I’m not entirely sure can actually be called licorice. (Seriously.) I already had some giant gumdrops at home (courtesy of Whole Foods – try the Acai berry ones. Yum).

So, here’s what we did:

1.       Mix cake mix according to the package directions. I’m sorry. I know. But, there it is.

2.       Pour the mix evenly into a lined cupcake pan. We filled them about ¾ full. I like a puffy cupcake.

3.       Bake according to the directions. Gotta love Duncan Hines.

4.       While the cupcakes baked, we mixed up some acid green frosting, sliced the gumdrops in half and sliced the Twizzlers into thirds.

5.       Cool the cupcakes. Frost. Decorate. Done. (Take that M.S.)

The fruit kabobs are also way easy. I would have to say I probably wouldn’t do these for the under six crowd. Halloween just isn’t going to be as much fun if someone gets a skewer in the eye. Buy fruit, wash, cut as appropriate, slide the fruit onto the skewers. We also used marshmallows, but beware if you want to do this. Add the marshmallows just before you serve them. They get mushy.

That’s it. Like I said, our photos probably more realistically reflect a ten-year-old and his crazy mom’s abilities than the beautiful photos that M.S. turns out. I like to lower the bar. It makes it easier to step over it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Week Thirteen -- Apple Pie in an Apple

An Apple Pie in an Apple is all kinds of genius. First of all you can convince yourself that it is fairly healthy. After all it’s an apple! Second, it’s really good.

Four apples (We used Granny Smith, but I imagine any apple would do.)
Granulated sugar to taste. We ended up using approximately ½ a cup.
2T of unsalted butter
2T of flour
2t of ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
One round of prepared pie dough.

What You Do:
·         Peel and core the apples.
·          Slice off the top ½ inch of the apples.
·          If you have a melon baller tool, this next step is easy. If not, it’s a little more complicated, but not much. Carve your apple into a bowl shape, being careful not to break through the walls of the apples. Reserve the chopped apple bits.
·         Place the carved apples on a parchment lined baking sheet.
·         Place the chopped apples, flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl and toss gently.
·         Stuff the hollowed out apples with the apple bits and top with ½ T of butter. (Be sure to really overstuff the apples since it will all cook down in the oven.)
·         Using a large round cookie cutter, an empty jar or a knife, slice your dough into four rounds.
·         Top each apple with a round of dough and cut slashes in the dough to vent any steam.
Bake the apples at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes or until the apples are soft and the crusts are golden.

You could serve these with ice cream or whipped cream, but we enjoyed them plain.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Week Twelve --Bacon Cheddar Scones and Baked Doughnuts

We’ve been reading The Emerald Atlas by John Stevens. I completely blame the book for our bakefest yesterday. Okay… blame isn’t the best word. Maybe credit? There is a scene in the novel where a dwarf delivers a breakfast for dinner feast to the Emma and Michael and Dr. Pym. Maybe it was just that we were hungry or maybe the description was so great or maybe both,
but we decided to partly mimic the meal. I say partly because in the book, the dwarf delivers at least seven different things. We started by making baked doughnuts, which we’ve done before, but which we enhanced with this round. The recipe is pretty basic, but it’s infinitely versatile. They’re really tasty despite being somewhat healthy. For best results, you really need a doughnut pan, but a muffin pan would work just as well, you’d just have doughnuts without any holes. Both of these recipes come from King Arthur Flour – which seriously is the greatest place for recipes, ingredients, mixes, and cool baking gadgets.
Baked Doughnuts

1 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons dried buttermilk powder
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
1) Whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
2) In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, oil and  water (or buttermilk or yogurt) until foamy.
3) Pour the liquid ingredients all at once into the dry ingredients and stir
just until combined.
4) Butter or grease the doughnut pan; non-stick pan spray works well here. Note: even though the pan is non-stick, since the doughnuts are low-fat they may stick unless you grease the pan first. Fill each doughnut form half full.
5) Bake the doughnuts in a preheated 375°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. When done, they'll spring back when touched lightly, and will be quite brown on the top.
6) Remove the doughnuts from the oven, remove them from the pan, and allow them to cool on rack. Glaze with icing, or coat with cinnamon-sugar or any non-melting sugar.

*** We made a few alterations. We put more batter in the pan. Using the amount the recipe called for made these wimpy flat doughnuts. By filling them to the brim, you get nice plump doughnuts.

*** We made a chocolate glaze with cocoa power and confectioner’s sugar and a bit of water. We added sprinkles to those. We also brushed a couple with butter and sprinkled cinnamon sugar over them. Finally we tried jelly-filled, which worked pretty well. Although I’d put a sheet pan under the pan to catch any runaway jelly. For these we put in half the batter, added about 2T of jelly, then topped with the remaining batter.

Bacon Cheddar Scones – note these are seriously the BEST scones I have ever tasted. Also we’re both veg, so we used soy bacon. You might try it. I think regular bacon might make the scones too greasy.

2 cups All-Purpose Flour or Pastry Blend
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) cold butter
1 cup (4 ounces) very coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 pound bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled (about 1 cup) We used Morning
Star bacon.
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons plain Greek
yogurt. (K.A.F. uses heavy cream here, but we substituted the yogurt.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
1) Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.
2) Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly.
3) Mix in the cheese and bacon till evenly distributed.
4) Add ¾ cup of the yogurt, stirring to combine. Try squeezing the dough together; if it’s crumbly and won’t hang together, or if there are crumbs remaining in the bottom of the bowl, add yogurt until the dough comes together. Transfer the shaggy dough to a well-floured work surface.
5) Pat the dough into a smooth 7" disk about ¾" thick. Transfer the disk to the prepared baking sheet.
6) Use a knife or bench knife to cut the disk into 8 wedges, spreading the wedges apart a bit on the pan.
7) Brush the scones with a bit of beaten egg; this will help their crust brown.
8) Bake the scones for 22 to 24 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 large scones

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week Eleven -- Whoopie Pies

Whoopie Pies – although not the best. The best you can make at home.

I cheat. I do and I admit it. I actually make my whoopie pies in a muffin pan and then slice them in half and fill them. I am sure whoopie pie purists out there are shuddering reading this, but frankly it is just a whole lot easier. We made the classic chocolate cake and vanilla filling pies. There are a lot of variations out there. I also love pumpkin with cream cheese filling or gingerbread with vanilla. My son likes chocolate with chocolate filling. But, we decided to stick with chocolate and vanilla. You really can't beat that.

Chocolate Cake

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
3 T cocoa (heaping if you want them extra chocolate-y)
1 tsp. Real vanilla extract
5 T vegetable oil
1 T white vinegar
1 cup water

Mix the drys together and then make little depressions in it for the oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Then pour the water over the whole thing. It will feel like you’re making a mud cake, but stick with it. Pour into an unlined (but greased) muffin tin. Fill each well about ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 –22 minutes. Let cool then slice them in half horizontally.

Vanilla Filling

4T softened butter
4 T vegetable shortening
1 cup marshmallow fluff
Pinch of salt
Tsp of vanilla
3 cups confectioner’s sugar

Mix everything together, adding more sugar if needed. If it’s humid, you’ll need a bit more. Put icing (a lot or a little) on half of the pie and cover with the other half. Eat.

What to do with your leftover Marshmallow Fluff.... make Fluffernutter Sandwiches. Just substitute fluff for the jelly in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yum.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Week Ten -- Salsa


I realize that I've pretty much stuck with sweet items recently, so I thought we'd try something decidedly not sweet. After moving from one side of the country to the other and then almost all the way back again, I've discovered a secret. If you move, take some recipes from your old home with you. When you make salsa for Mainers, they think you're a genius. If you made that same salsa in Texas, they'd probably tell you it was okay, but that they could do better. I've brought whoopie pies and scallops and blueberry pie to Texas from Maine. I've brought pecan pie and salsa and queso to Maine. So, here is an excellent recipe to use most anywhere.... but it will kill anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line!


2 qt. chopped tomatoes (you can use fresh, but canned is also fine... just get the whole tomatoes in their own juice.)
8 jalapeƱos
2 onions chopped -- any color
3 8 oz tomato sauce -- not pasta sauce, but just canned tomato sauce
3 t salt
3 green peppers chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 t oregano
1 t cumin
½ t pepper
½ t cayenne
½ t vinegar

Simmer on stovetop for 20-40 minutes or until slightly thickened. Let cool then eat it immediately or put it in the refrigerator. Don't try to freeze this. I tried once and the results were less than pleasant. The peppers and onions just get sort of mushy and rubbery. Yuck.