Sunday, December 02, 2012

Pumpkin Crunch Cake - The MLP Version

At work, we tend to have a lot of cook-offs/contests throughout the year. Usually, the end of October is the Pumpkin Carving Contest (which I've won twice but who's counting?). This year we did something a little different—a pumpkin cook-off! Who doesn't love fall food, specifically pumpkin-flavored food? Add "pumpkin" to the name and everyone gets excited. We've been doing the carving contest for years, so it was time for a little break. That, and we're really really good at eating.

I entered Pumpkin Crunch Cake, a little recipe I found thanks to Pinterest. Every time I made it last year people went bananas. I stepped it up a notch and added my own MLP twist to the crunch layer (again, are you shocked? No.) that makes it extra delicious.

Originally from The Picky Apple

• 1 box yellow cake mix
• 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
• 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
• 3 large eggs
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
• 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease bottom of 9 x 13″ pan. Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Pour mixture into greased pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture and top with pecans. Drizzle melted butter over pecans. Bake 50-55 minutes.

The difference here is in the crunch layer!

• 1 box yellow cake mix
• 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
• 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
• 3 large eggs
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. salt

- - - CRUNCH LAYER - - -
• 1 c chopped pecans – MUST BE ROASTED & SALTED!!! Otherwise don’t even bother.
• 1/2 – 3/4 c chopped pretzels
• 1/2 c toffee bits pulverized in a food processor to a dusty crumb (This, specifically. It does not contain chocolate like some versions do.)
• Kosher Salt
• Turbinado sugar
• 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted

Follow the same instructions as above. After you sprinkle the pecans over the top, sprinkle the pretzels, then the toffee bits. Drizzle melted butter (Yes, you want the entire 2 sticks. This is no time to act healthy.) over the whole thing. Then sprinkle liberally with turbinado sugar. I pour it into my hand and eyeball it. I’m guessing I use about 2-3 TBSP. Then sprinkle kosher salt over top. Don’t hold back. The extra salt makes it delicious! Bake for the same amount of time as above.
I promise you, it's beyond easy to make and really delicious to eat!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Craving: Avocado Toasts with Pine Nuts

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I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret. I really enjoy savory foods. A lot. I would reach for bread and olive oil over a piece of cake the majority of the time. I blame my father. I inherited his salt fanatic gene. I even salt my chocolate ice cream. Seriously. Try it. It'll rock your world, especially if it's a really deep rich chocolate. Salted chocolate chip cookies? Heck yeah! But anyway, I digress. You can imagine my intense yearning when I saw this old post on The Kitchn this morning—Avocado Toast. It's so simple. A baguette, olive oil, avocado, salt and pepper.

I was literally dreaming about this all day yesterday. Luckily I had to go to the grocery after work. I came home with baguette and avocado in hand, ready to mash that green goodness to a pulp! However, I wanted to add a little twist. My only problem with avocado is how mushy it is and I don't do well with savory mushy foods. I need texture. I need crunch. The toast would help, but why not add some nuts? Pine nuts! Or, if you're fancy, pignolis (that's the Italian term). I had pine nuts in my freezer left over from a batch of pesto awhile ago and the flavor pairing was actually perfect. You know how pine nuts have specific flavor to them? I don't know how to describe it—is that umami at work? (Anyone know this??) You could try pecans (my first consideration) or Marcona almonds, too. In my ideal world, I would also add a sprinkling of chopped bacon, but that can be another day.

While The Kitchn classified them as breakfast, I think these make the perfect little appetizer, the perfect little snack if you're hosting a gathering. After all, slices of baguette aren't that big so it's just the right size. Are you ready for this? Here we go.

::: Avocado Toasts with Pine Nuts :::
Adapted from The Kitchn

Baguette slices, approx .5-.75 inch thick
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher or Sea Salt
Pine Nuts (or nuts of your choosing)

Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet in the oven. I toasted mine at 350° for about 5-6 minutes. Check them after 3 minutes, flip them over, and toss the nuts on the baking sheet at this time. After those few minutes have passed, take the sheet out of the oven and drizzle the EVOO over the toast. I gave mine a good healthy covering. :-) Next, mash the avocado. There's no rule about how much you should put on the toasts so pile it up as much as you like! I generally think 1 TBSP can get you enough for 1-2 toast slices. Then sprinkle them liberally with big flakes of salt, pepper, and top with just a few nuts. Eat them while they're warm and you'll enjoy every second!

I made them later in the evening for my fiance. After he took his first bite he said "Yeah, these were worth dreaming about all day." See, I told you!
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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Beer Bacon Nuts

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The Super Bowl is starting in a matter of hours. Less than hours. Like 75 minutes. My boyfriend fiancee (that's right, we're officially engaged now!) and I are attending a Super Bowl party at a friend's house in just a bit. Besides the side we're bringing, we decided to make another snack. Food Network Magazine always includes a lovely little pull-out booklet that's 50 quick recipes focusing on a certain theme. Their latest issue's booklet was 50 Super Bowl Snacks. Hello, what's not to love??? Even better, there was a recipe for...wait for it... BEER BACON NUTS. While there are 49 fabulous other ideas in the little booklet, this sounded perfect. It's unique and tasty and did I mention there's bacon? So George, being the wonderful fiancee he is, took over this task and made these for the party. I give him full credit. My contribution was pointing at the recipe saying "OOOOOH!!!!!!!! Let's make this!" and then deciding that instead of putting all the nuts in a big bowl just to stick together in a big glob, I said "I know! Let's put them in cupcake cups." Because frankly, that's just really cute. And Super Bowl food is still allowed to be cute.

And honestly? They're delicious. Just follow the recipe and you'll be golden.

Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

1/3 c beer (we used a nut brown)
6 slices of UNCOOKED bacon (i know, it sounds weird, just go with it)
1 tablespoon salt
1 pinch cayenne
1 c brown sugar
1 1/2 c corn nuts
1 c almonds
1 peanuts
(We included pecans as well, but that's optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Slice the uncooked bacon. Boil the beer, the sliced uncooked bacon pieces, brown sugar, salt, and cayenne. Boil until the beer evaporates and it's a bit syrup-y, about 8 minutes. Mix in the nuts and spread on a baking sheet. You might want to consider lining the sheet with either foil or parchment. George did it straight on the baking pan and it's a hot mess. Save yourself the trouble and line the pan if you can. So anyway, pop the pan in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. We baked it until the bacon's texture was a little crispy. Afterwards, divvy the mixture up into little cute cupcake cups. It makes enough for about 20-22 cupcake cups, depending on how much you fill them.

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The mixture will harden a bit and they'll become cluster-y, so the cupcake cups are perfect. In my opinion, they could probably even use another slice (or two) of bacon. But since it's a pretty loose recipe, do whatever your heart desires!

And yes, if I would've been smart and planned this better, I would've used Super Bowl team colors instead of the "Oh, I never use these" collection. But hey... whatevs.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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And my kitchen's on its way to looking like a cookie factory! Right here we have Chai Spice Gingerbread Rounds with a variety of decor.

I thought I'd save myself some time Sunday night (these are for me, not for clients) so I bought Wilton Cookie Icing at Michael's instead of making my own multiple batches of different colored royal icing. Well, it was a pain anyway. I was not thrilled w/ the cookie icing bottles. They were much too runny. I ended up pouring some into a bowl, adding powdered sugar to increase the stability, and then using a piping bag. SO MUCH FOR TIME SAVING TACTICS! And I had such wonderful dreams of cute little faces and fabulous designs. I guess it'll just have to wait until next time!

On a side note, the taste of the cookie icing was just fine if you're curious. So in that regard, it's alright. Just not if you want quality control of your design!

One more thing. You might be like "Chai spice gingerbread rounds? But how can I make chai spice gingerbread rounds myself?" Easy. Add cardamom. The spices in most gingerbread recipes are already pretty close to chai. What really clinches it is adding cardamom. I used Martha Stewart's gingerbread recipe from her Baking Handbook and added 1.5 tsp of powdered cardamom. It added a very wonderful flavor. Just enough to notice, but not too much to over-power. However, you can add as much as you desire! Your cookies, your rules!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Melinda & Matt's Wedding at La Scala

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A few weeks ago I had an order for a wedding reception held at La Scala in Dublin. Melinda and Matt married in TN several weeks earlier, then held a local reception for their loved ones who didn't attend the event down south. Melinda is actually a friend of a friend. She was on the hunt for cupcakes for her wedding reception but was having trouble finding ones that were both super delicious and super cute. I understand your plight, Melinda! That's why I'm here! Problem was, I've never met Melinda. I didn't even know she existed. Thankfully, I have a good friend who discussed the cupcake dilemma with her and told her "HANG ON, I GOT THIS!" She passed along my information and the rest is history. The official order was for 10 dozen cupcakes plus one small cake for them to cut. Thank you Sarah for representing and thank you to Melinda and Matt for having me be a part of their fabulous event!

I've heard of La Scala before, but I have never been so I didn't know what to expect. I was impressed. The room where the event was held was gorgeous. Gorgeous bar. Fabulous chandlier. High ceilings. Wood accents. It was really lovely. So ladies (and gents), if you're looking for a reception venue, take a look at La Scala's available spaces. I can't say anything for the food, but as far as aesthetic goes, it's gorg.

Forgive the quality of the photos. Since I was in a rush to get the cupcakes and cake to the venue, I of course didn't have my mind on "PHOTOSHOOT!" There are also a few from the aforementioned friend's iPhone, so bear with me please. But the pics give you an idea. :-)
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Lucky for me, since my friends are friends w/ the couple, Kevin was kind enough to show me the comments from her Facebook post about the reception. I love the enthusiasm.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Work it, girl! It's time for your photoshoot!

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I'm super excited right now. Why? I have fancy new photos, that's why. Normally, when I take photos it's just me in my house somewhere, clinging to my little Canon Elph for dear life w/ the macro function turned on and hoping I get a clear, non-shaky photo. Yes, I sometimes use a tripod or a Joby but you know, you can only do so much.

Mr. Brandon Jones of Brandon L. Jones Photography was kind enough to work with me and help me start shooting professional images of my baked goods. He knows a thing or two about styling and positioning which was a HUGE help. Between my brand vision living up in my head and Brandon's expertise, I'm a pretty happy camper. I still have a lot of work to do and will probably need several more shoots (XOXO Brandon!) but it's a good start!

I'll be posting some more photos soon, as well as posting the album on my Facebook page and Pinterest.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

30 Before 30: Making Madeleines

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I'm not exactly sure how this obsession started. I've been aware of madeleines for quite some time. However, I think the first time I tried them was... from Target. No, no, you heard me right. With the bullseye and the dog. I know. It's weird. I mean... TARGET??? My typical Target was remodeled as their "P-Fresh" concept, which includes the fuller grocery section. One day, I noticed a little Archer Farms package of madeleines. Six little spongey shell-shaped confections squished in a plastic container. For some reason I just couldn't resist. I knew they wouldn't be the epitome of French pastry and they probably wouldn't be the ideal way to introduce myself to these little things but... I don't know. I had to do it. In my cart they went, and in my belly they were later. A few seconds in the microwave, a dip in some milk, et voila. It was a little bit magical. Ever since, I was determined to try making them myself.

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Knowing I would need the special pan, I had it on my Amazon wish list just for future reference. However, Martha Stewart must've read my mind (doesn't she always???) because madeleines were featured in the September issue. That was all the motivation I needed. I ordered the pan and once I had enough free time, I whipped up my first batch of batter.

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They were actually pretty easy. There's a lot of folding involved while you're mixing the batter, so you need some patience. You also have to plan ahead, as the batter needs to chillax in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Once you make the recipe, you'll understand why it needs the standing time. Between the six eggs and the two sticks of melted butter, there's a lot of fat and grease that needs to be absorbed in the dry ingredients. I made the batter Saturday night, wrapped the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge until Sunday morning for some weekend morning delights.

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From Martha Stewart, Sept 2011 Issue

2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
6 large eggs, room temp
1 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp packed brown sugar (Martha says light, I used dark)
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted, plus more for buttering the pan (softened)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp honey
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

1. Whisk together dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, and salt—in medium bowl.
2. With an electric mixer on high speed, whisk together the eggs and sugars until pale and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Should be at the "ribbon" stage. For more info on this, check out the issue. The magazine has two pages of helpful tips that I'm sure I can't legally copy into this post. So just take my word for it. Check it out.
3. Sift in flour mixture in 2-3 additions, folding in after each addition. You have to fold the batter as opposed to stirring it to keep it the right consistency.
4. Fold in the melted butter, then honey & vanilla.
5. Refrigerate batter for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days (covered, of course).
6. Preheat oven to 350°. Let batter stand at room temp for 10 minutes.
7. With a pastry brush, generously coat the pan with softened butter.
8. Scoop the batter into a pastry bag or plastic bag w/ the corner snipped (about a 1/2" opening). This is such an easy way to transfer the batter to the madeleine pan. Fill the molds 3/4 full. Trust me, they'll puff up.
9. Bake on the middle rack for 8-11 minutes, or until a pale golden.
10. Immediately shake the madeleines out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Wash the mold and repeat until all the batter is gone.
11. When cooled, sift with confectionary sugar, or top with a tasty glaze.

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Martha recipes crack me up b/c half the time I yield way more than the recipe says. The magazine says I should have 32 madeleines in the end. However, I ended up with 46. If you squeeze the piping bag right, you could probably get 48 for an even four dozen. Since I had so many, I jazzed a few up with different glazes! On the left, the standard madeleine sprinkled with confectionary sugar. Then, strawberry rose glaze. Next, salted maple vanilla bean glaze (a concoction using the surplus maple vanilla bean frosting used on bacon cupcakes for the wedding) topped with roasted pecans (a request from George), and then a straight-forward lemon glaze with lime zest (hey, I had them left from the wedding this weekend).

Strawberry Rose Glaze
2 tbsp strawberry puree
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp rose water
2-3 tbsp confectionary sugar
dash of heavy cream, if you have it

Combine all ingredients in a small wide bowl, mixing until uniform. Heat in the microwave for a few seconds to help, if need be (like 8-10 seconds). Dip madeleines in glaze when finished.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Food Crush: Crown Maple Syrup

I reserve the right to occasionally veer from my typical posts about baking to talk a little more about random designy stuff. Though I promise to keep it food-related, whether it's a new brand, package design, or retail space. That being said, I have to geek out design-style on you today. Having just made Maple Vanilla Bean frosting to accompany bacon cupcakes, I have maple on the brain. This came up in today's Tasting Table newsletter: Crown Maple Syrup. I'm sorry, but is this not the most beautiful maple syrup you've ever seen? I love the maple leaf/crown icon, and that sleek bottle?? It's so chic it looks more like a high-end whiskey than a syrup (For the record, I am totally okay with that). Crown Maple Syrup is from Dutchess County, New York, located in the Hudson River Valley. The identity was designed by Studio MPLS in Minneapolis. There are three varieties: light amber, medium amber, and dark amber which you can buy through their online store. I'd love to try all three varieties, but I think for my purposes I'd be favoring the dark! Could you imagine this in a cocktail? Oh yeah, now we're talking.

All packaging images from The Dieline.
After going to Studio MPLS's site, I noticed their most recent blog post features the creative process of branding Crown Maple Syrup. Below is just a touch of that. Such beautiful work.
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