Spider Web Cupcakes

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! I hope everyone had a fun and safe weekend dressed up in your most creative costumes. To celebrate one of the best holidays of the year, I made these cupcakes for our neighbors. I saw the idea for spider webs on Pinterest and I thought it would be even creepier to add little chocolate spiders  nesting in the webs.

You can use whatever cupcake and frosting combination you prefer, but I went with pumpkin cupcakes and vanilla buttercream. The cupcakes are very easy to decorate and the effect is great!

Bring on the trick-or-treaters!

Spider Web Cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • Green food coloring
  • Colored frosted cupcakes
  • Black gel food coloring
  • Toothpicks

To make the spiders, melt chocolate chips in 30 second increments in the microwave, stirring after each 30 seconds until smooth. Transfer the melted chocolate to a piping bag with a small round tip. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and pipe out the spiders. Let them harden in the fridge. Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate chips using the same method as the chocolate chips. Add a few drops of food coloring and mix well until combined.  Transfer to a piping bag with a small round tip. Remove the spiders from the fridge and pipe on eyes with the green mixture. Allow to harden.

To make the spider webs, use the black gel food coloring to pipe a large dot in the center of the cupcake and then circles around the dot.

Starting in the center of the cupcake, use a toothpick and carefully drag it outward. Repeat several times until you achieve your desired web.

Top with a chocolate spider and enjoy!

Source: Ambrosia

A Happy Birthday Post: Dark Chocolate Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Tomorrow is my father-in-law’s, Robert Sr’s,  51st birthday. Last year was a big celebration complete with a surprise party to ring in the big 5-0. However, this year was much more low key, which is right up his alley

To help wish Robert a very happy birthday, I made him a chocolate cake with brown sugar frosting. If there’s one thing I know about my father-in-law it’s that once he finds something he likes, he’s pretty content. This brown sugar frosting has been a staple in the family for quite some time. It’s rich, fudgy, and absolutely delicious. It’s no wonder it’s such a favorite.  To sass it up a bit, I baked my favorite chocolate cake in 8 inch rounds and then spread the frosting between the cakes for an extra layer of goodness. I assembled the cake at my parents’ place, but I didn’t have my pastry equipment with me. As a result, I just melted chocolate chips and piped out decorations on parchment paper with a sandwich bag and then let it harden in the fridge.

I was trying to go for a more manly-looking cake, but it ended up looking like cheetah print. The good news- it still tasted the same, cheetah or not. ;)

Happy birthday, Robert Sr! You are one of the most genuine, hard-working, and kind people I know.

Dark Chocolate Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Printable Version

Yield: 16 servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp milk or heavy cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

For the frosting:

Melt the butter in the saucepan; add the brown sugar and whisk together until smooth. Heat for two minutes, whisking constantly. Stir in the milk. Bring to a boil, continuing to stir constantly. Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm. Place the mixture in a bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add in milk if it’s too thick.

Source: Cake- barely adapted from Ina Garten; Frosting- Old Thyme Cooking

Chocolate Skeleton Cookies

Continuing with the week before Halloween celebration, I made these chocolate skeleton cookies. I first saw them about 4 years ago in a Taste of Home magazine and I’ve been meaning to make them ever since. It’s a bit of a morbid twist on the classic gingerbread man, but it’s a perfectly appropriate way to help celebrate All Hallows’ Eve.

The dough itself requires some chilling time, so it’s best to plan ahead if you want to make these. Other than that, though, it’s a very straight forward recipe with simple piping to outline the anatomically incorrect skeleton. I thought it would be cute to pipe faces on these cookies as well, but I didn’t have  a chance to do so. I guess there’s always next year… :)

Chocolate Skeleton Cookies

Printable Version

Yield: 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Directions

Cream the butter, sugar, and brown sugar in the bowl of the electric mixer. Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and soda. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Pat into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll into 1/8 think slap on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 3 inch gingerbread cookie cutter. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 7-8 minutes or until set. Cool for one minute and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing, whisk together the confectioners sugar and milk in a small bowl until smooth.  Cut a small hole in the corner of a resealable bag or use a pastry bag with a small round tip.  Fill the bag with icing and pipe skeleton bones on the cookies. If the icing spreads too much, add more powdered sugar until you achieve the desired consistency. On the flip side, if the icing is too thick, add a few drops of milk to thin it out.

Source: Taste of Home 2006 Halloween Magazine

Spooky Marshmallow Ghosts

Awwwww yeah. It’s that time of year again- the week leading up to Halloween. Every time trick or treating came around while I was growing up, I would get so excited I could barely function. A holiday dedicated to dressing up in costumes and collected candy from door to door? My chubby-cheeked, 8 year old self couldn’t imagine anything more glorious. My parents always took us to the our family friend’s neighborhood, where there was primo trick or treating. I’m talking full-sized candy bars and decked out houses.  Heaven.  :)

In honor of one of the best holidays around, I made these marshmallow ghosts. I found a recipe for homemade peeps and I decided to adapt those into a spooky version. They taste great on their own, but I think they would be adorable served with a steamy cup of hot chocolate.

Have a spooktacular Monday, everyone. :)

Spooky Marshmallow Ghosts

Printable Version

Yield: 2 dozen marshmallows

Ingredients

  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Black gel food coloring

Directions

Place the 1/3 cup cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle with gelatin and allow to set for at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the 1/4 cup water and sugar to boil in a saucepan. Stir the mixture with a whisk and allow it to boil until a candy thermometer reads 238 degrees.

Remove from the heat and pour over the gelatin mixture. Beat on medium speed for 8-10 minutes until soft peaks form.

Spoon the fluff into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip.

Pipe ghost-like blobs onto parchment or wax paper. Allow to set slightly. Mix a small amount of black food coloring with a few drops of water and use a toothpick to draw faces on the ghosts.

Lightly wet your fingers with water and transfer the marshmallows to an airtight container. Enjoy!

Source: Recipe from Hoosier Homemade , originally from Martha Stewart

Food Memory Friday: Wedding Lobster Bisque

Four years ago on a beautiful day in June, Robert and I were married (don’t worry I won’t make this sappy). The ceremony was short and sweet-much to the delight of several of my catholic relatives- and the reception was held at an Inn nearby. When planning a wedding, the bride and groom often select certain parts of the day they want to splurge on and other areas in which they want to scrimp. We splurged on the food.

The chef at the reception site was fantastic and she and I, along with my Mom and Aunt Khaki, got together and planned a delicious menu. It included an extensive cheese and fruit table, mixed greens, lobster bisque, prime rib, chicken marsala, a baked potato bar (with caramelized onions, cheeses, homemade chili, and other vegetables), mashed potatoes, green beans Almondine, and wedding cake and ice cream. My favorite part of the meal? The bisque, hands down. The recipe was adapted from Ina Garten and it was perfect. It was a glorious combination of flavors. The sweetness of sauteed onions, a nice kick from the cayenne pepper, and the subtle bite from sherry and brandy … ok I’m running out of adjectives to use- it was scrumptious, alright!? ;)

When I made this soup last week, I didn’t buy any lobster so I used jumbo lump crab meat instead (and I subbed in milk for some of the half and half). The flavors of this version were almost identical to our sacred wedding bisque and it was less expensive. Robert and I had this for dinner along with fresh bread and it tasted just as magical as when we had it on that wonderful summer day. It’s been a really fun 4.4 years and I couldn’t imagine sharing my life with anyone else. Ok I lied, I couldn’t avoid being sappy. Go ahead and vom. ;)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wedding Crab Bisque

Printable Version

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1 pound lump crab meat or lobster meat
  • 4 cups seafood stock
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic (3 cloves)
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1-6oz can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook them for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, or until they are tender but not browned. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add the cayenne pepper and crab and cook over medium to low heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the Cognac and cook for 1 minute, then the sherry and cook for 3 minutes longer. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.

In the same pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium-low heat for 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the half-and-half and cook, stirring with a whisk, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in crab mixture, the stock, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and heat gently until hot but not boiling. Season, to taste, and serve hot.

Source: Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

Pumpkin Apple Cranberry Baked Oatmeal

I go through breakfast food phases. My past favorites have included smoothies, cereal, peanut butter and banana toast, and scrambled eggs. Lately, though, I’ve been on a serious steel-cut oatmeal kick. From what I’ve read, steel-cut oats are different than typical rolled oats in the way they are processed. Rolled oats are steamed and flattened; whereas steel-cut oats are only chopped into small pieces, thus leading to a more natural and less-processed food. The only drawback to these chewy grains is that they take longer to cook.

For the past few weeks I’ve been making a large batch on Monday morning and then eating it for breakfast for the remainder of the work week. To jazz up the oatmeal, I added in cranberries, milk, and maple syrup. I thought it was pretty tasty. That was,  until I saw this recipe from Nicole. It was perfect timing. Nicole’s recipe called for rolled oats, but I only had the steel-cut variety in my pantry. She suggested I assemble the dish the night before to let the oats soak up the liquids and then bake it in the morning. The result: a glorious success! With a combination of pumpkin puree, cinnamon, pecans, apples, and cranberries, I don’t know how you could pack more fall flavor into a breakfast. It’s a great way to kick start my morning and this baked oatmeal tastes even better with a small dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt. Suddenly Monday morning doesn’t seem so bad. ;)

Pumpkin Apple Cranberry Baked Oatmeal

Printable Version

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups steel-cut oats
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup apple, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Directions

Mix the oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and cranberries in a large bowl.  In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine the milk, pumpkin puree, melted butter, egg, and vanilla and whisk together until the mixture is smooth.

Gradually add the liquid mixture into the dry, and mix to combine all of the ingredients.  Spread the oatmeal into the 9×13 inch baking dish, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut up the apple into chunks. Take the oatmeal out of the fridge and carefully fold in the apple chunks.  Sprinkle with the chopped pecans.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the oatmeal has set and the top is golden. Serve warm. Enjoy with yogurt or milk, if desired.

Source: Barely adapted from Nicole at Prevention RD

Homemade Applesauce

In an effort to use up all of the delicious apples we have collected this season, I made a pot of fresh applesauce. My mom made and canned applesauce all the time while my siblings and I were growing up, but I never realized how many apples it takes to make a substantial amount. I used twelve to make a mere 5 cups, but it was absolutely worth it. The stuff from the store doesn’t even compare to what you can make at home with fresh, seasonal apples. If you are looking for a little less sugar in your diet, I think you could easily cut down or eliminate the amount in this recipe. It just may slightly effect the thickness.

This particular version is for a chunkier applesauce. It is a bit more time-consuming than the smoother variety, but I prefer the texture.  Even better, your house will smell great while it’s cooking on the stove, especially with the addition of cinnamon sticks and vanilla extract. Robert and I loved this so much, I am hoping to make an even bigger batch next week. It is great for a snack, side dish, mixed with greek yogurt, or for dessert.

Homemade Applesauce

Printable Version

Yield: About 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 12 apples (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 5-6 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions

Peel, core, and chop the apples. In a large pot, combine the apples, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, or until apples are soft, stirring about every 10 minutes. Allow to cool then remove the cinnamon sticks and mash with a fork or potato masher to achieve your preferred consistency. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Enjoy :)

Source: Adapted from allrecipes.com

Whole Wheat Penne with Spicy Red Sauce

I make some sort of pasta dish about once every two weeks. It’s easy, fast, and doesn’t require a lot of expensive or unique ingredients. I’ve experimented with different red sauces over the past couple of years and I finally found a flavor combination that fits both my and Robert’s taste preferences. That’s what I love most about cooking this type of dish- there’s no right or wrong answer. Whatever your in the mood for, just toss it in the pan.

This sauce is slightly sweet from a little bit of brown sugar, but there is a punch of heat because of the red pepper flakes. I also added in mushrooms and onions and a little bit of the zinfandel we opened for dinner. There is ground beef in this recipe, but it could easily be left out for a vegetarian dish. As far as the pasta, I switched over to the whole wheat variety two years ago and I never looked back. The texture is a little bit different than regular pasta, but I think it tastes just as good.

Cooking is a way to express yourself. Recipes are meant to be tailored to reflect your personality and this whole wheat penne with spicy red sauce does just that.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Whole Wheat Penne with Spicy Red Sauce

Printable Version

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, such as portabello
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1-6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1-15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine, such as Zinfandel
  • 1- 12 oz box whole wheat penne
  • 1-2 Tbsp reserved pasta water
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

In a large saucepan, brown the beef over medium heat. Drain the excess grease. Place the beef in a bowl and set aside. Pour the olive oil into the same pan. Saute the onion and mushroom until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add in the the minced garlic and saute 1-2 minutes longer.

Add in the tomato paste, sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low to simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions. When cooked, reserve about 1-2 Tbsp of the pasta water. Add in the reserved pasta water and wine into the red sauce. Stir and and carefully stir in the cooked pasta.

Portion into bowls and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan.

Source: Lolly’s Sweet Treats

Apple Crostata with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

While picking apples a few weekends ago, I purchased a bag of Empire apples. Normally I am drawn to the honeycrisp and golden delicious variety, but I’ve read that Empires are very good for baking. A few days later, I decided to make this apple crostata. A crostata is a very rustic, Italian form of pie and I first learned of this dessert in one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks. I’ve made it several times since then and it is a never-fail, crowd-pleaser; much like most of the Barefoot Contessa’s recipes.

To add a nice touch of fall, I made a batch of fresh cinnamon whipped cream to accompany the crostata. This is a great dessert for Thanksgiving or a special end to Pork dinner. I’ve also made this recipe into 4 mini crostatas for a couples dinner party and I simply adjusted it by decreasing the baking time to 15-20 minutes. Any way you choose, you won’t be disappointed. :)

Apple Crostata with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Printable Version

Yield: 10 slices

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

  • 4 large Empire apples
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a mixer. Add the butter and mix with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the butter is the size of peas, about 1-2 minutes. With the motor running, add the ice water and mix until just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, roll it into a ball. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to the baking sheet.

For the filling, peel, core, and thinly slice the apples and toss with the orange zest. In a separate bowl, toss the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Mix in the melted butter and use your fingers to mix until the topping is crumbly.

Place the apples on top of the dough, leaving about 2 inches of border. Sprinkle on the crumb topping and gently fold the borders of the dough over the apples to enclose the dough.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.

For the whipped cream, place the cream, cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve it with the crostata.

Source: Crostata- slightly adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, Cinnamon Whipped Cream-  Country Living

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

I’ve been cleaning canned pumpkin off of the shelves at the grocery store. Each year it feels as though there is always an inevitable pumpkin shortage and I break out into a cold sweat just thinking of what Autumn would be like without a plentiful supply of canned pumpkin in our basement. I think I get that hoarding behavior from my mom. It seems like every other day she is calling me telling me she just bought me two cases of peanut butter, 10 pounds of butter, or a trunkful of canned corn because economists are predicting the price will soon sky rocket, there will be a shortage, etc, etc. I guess you can never be too careful- love you, mom!

Anyways- I made this particular pumpkin coffee cake for my new co-workers. I am two weeks into my new job/career and I am so thankful for all the wonderful people I get to work with. Another bonus is that I have a new baking outlet! I can bake to my heart’s content and know that I can always take the surplus into work if it gets too tempting. It’s a win-win situation.

I found this recipe on allrecipes.com and I altered it slightly by using greek yogurt instead of sour cream and I used the whole can of pumpkin instead of only 1/2 cup.  The end result was a very moist cake that is a wonderful Autumn treat. My co-workers gobbled up what I brought in and Robert enjoyed the few pieces I saved for him as well. I will definitely be making this again- perhaps for a Sunday brunch.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

Printable Version

Yield: 16 pieces

Ingredients

For the topping:

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

For the cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream OR 6oz vanilla Chobani yogurt
  • 1 can canned or cooked pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, combine sugars and cinnamon. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in pecans; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the sour cream, pumpkin and vanilla; mix well. Combine dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternately with yogurt mixture. Beat on low just until blended. Spread the batter into a greased 9×13″ pan. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 325 degrees F for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool on a baking rack for a few minutes. Run a knife along the edges to loosen the cake from the pan. Allow to cool completely, then invert the pan to carefully remove the cake.

Source: Adapted from allrecipes.com