Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coconut Cupcakes with Sour Cream Icing

I'm sharing a special recipe with you, my mom's coconut cake. She used to make this every Easter, and it was my favorite dessert by far. I have many happy memories of her baking this cake, cutting the layers perfectly, and making the whole thing look beautiful. When I attempted it myself a couple of years ago, the result was disastrous, and I started to understand the work she used to put into all of the special meals our family shared together. I'm still not up to doing the layered version of this cake, but I think I nailed it as far as making two-bite cupcakes. These are much easier to decorate, and I don't have to worry about my layers sliding around. If you make these, enjoy, and just know you're getting a very special recipe from a very special lady.

Coconut Cupcakes with Sour Cream Icing

1 classic white cake mix, plus ingredients for egg white version
8 oz. sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
12 oz. Cool-Whip, thawed
8 oz. frozen coconut, thawed
8 oz. shredded, sweetened coconut

Prepare cupcakes according to package directions.
Cool completely.

Combine sour cream and sugar, stirring well. Fold in Cool-Whip and frozen coconut. Top cupcakes with icing, and finish with shredded coconut.

(For layered cake version, bake two 9-inch cake layers. Cool completely, and slice each layer in half. Ice with sour cream icing, and top with shredded coconut.)

My copy of this recipe is in a cookbook my sister made me a few years ago. She and Mom conspired behind my back to collect several family favorites, and the result was the best gift I've ever received. This cookbook is on the top of my if-the-house-was-on-fire-and-you-could-only-grab-one-thing list.

The cake batter is just a mix, which is great if you bake it correctly. Most people over bake cakes and cupcakes, and that's why mixes get a bad reputation. It's really not that bakeries' recipes are that much better; it's just that professionals know not to bake the life out of their confections. We all know how I am about prep work, so here's what's going on: Small Batter Bowl with Egg Separator, water in the Measure-All Cup, oil in an Easy Read Measuring Cup, cake mix in a Stainless Mixing Bowl with the Small Mix 'n Scraper poised for action. Everything is on the Large Cutting Board, smooth side up.

Separating eggs is typically a gross job, but it's no problem if you have the right tools. The Egg Separator has a ridge in its handle to hang on the side of bowls. How handy is that? I promise this company blows my mind with product design! This is the Small Batter Bowl, but the separator will fit on others as well.

Talk about a beautiful, fluffy cake batter. This is in the 4-Qt. Stainless Mixing Bowl, and I'm using the Small Mix 'n Scraper to get everything from the sides.

When I do two-bite cupcakes, I put the wrappers directly on the Cookie Sheet. It holds 24 perfectly, as does the Large Bar Pan. These are my two go-to pieces for these recipes that yield 48 treats. Stop, pause, breathe... Medium Scoop. I can't say enough about the scoops. The medium is perfect for these cupcakes, and it keeps my fingers out of the batter. Consistent sizing is always a good thing when you want a pretty presentation, and the scoops deliver time and time again.

Let's make some icing! This is a wonderful, simple recipe, and it's good enough to eat with a spoon. A cupcake base is ideal, but I'm just saying... I took this picture to show you frozen coconut. Some of us had to be shown what this was, but it does exist. And it's FROZEN. Thaw it with the Cool-Whip before making the icing, or you'll have a bit of frustration. I wouldn't know, of course. The sugar is measured into an Easy Read Measuring Cup, and that's the Dots Oval Platter underneath.

I made these cupcakes while my best friend was dying Easter eggs, so she got a picture of me pouring sugar from the Easy Read Measuring Cup into the 4-Qt. Stainless Mixing Bowl. One great thing about this icing is that it's not thick enough to require a mixer. I can just use the Mix 'n Scraper to rock it out. In fact, this isn't icing so much as it's fluffy cream topping.

Isn't baking at home fun? I love making things and feeling like they were worth the time and effort. To decorate the cupcakes, just put a dollop of topping on each one, and spread it around a little. This isn't the kind of icing you can fancy up with tips, etc. It's just going to be a blob, which is why you finish each treat with a bit of sweetened coconut. Well, that and the fact that you should finish each treat with a bit of sweetened coconut.

These were absolutely delicious. How do I know? Because I sampled one and almost passed out from happiness. Again, these are on the Dots Oval Platter from the Simple Additions Collection. Cute dishes make everything look nice!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Give Me S'more" Brownies

I wish I could take credit for the oh-so-creative recipe title, but that was the Pampered Chef. I was looking through a bunch of old recipe cards and found this gem from 1999. Twelve years on someone's I-should-try-this-sometime list isn't too long, right? Plus, I get a pass for being in high school and college. Welcome to a recipe I'm doing for the first time on the blog. While this is more common than I care to admit, it explains why my results aren't very cute. I wasn't prepared for how gooey these were going to be... you know, because they're just covered in marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Speaking of all that, let's talk about how to bring those elements together into a fabulous brownie recipe!

"Give Me S'More" Brownies

4 whole graham crackers
2 Hershey bars
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 box brownie mix (plus ingredients)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare brownies according to package directions, and bake 25 minutes in Square Baker.
Coarsely chop graham crackers and candy bars. Mix with marshmallows, and spread over brownies as soon as they come out of the oven. Gently press mixture down. Return to oven, and bake another 5-7 minutes or until chocolate begins to melt.

Learning to make brownies from scratch is on my to-do list, but for now I have to stick with box mixes. I attempted scratch brownies a few months ago, but the results were more like fudge than brownies, and they weren't worth the labor. That said, I'm still experimenting, or at least looking to experiment again eventually. For now, my good friend Ghirardelli is ready in the Classic Batter Bowl with a Stainless Whisk prepared to make mixing quick and easy. Oil is measured into an Easy Read Measuring Cup, and eggs are in a Prep Bowl. Both of these little items are on a Cutting Board, of course. Then there's the Square Baker, a Stoneware piece known and loved by many. It's only available in cranberry now, but I have an old school version.

This is how easy it is to make these. Three things, two of which are going to get buddy-buddy with the Food Chopper. Do you have a Food Chopper? I hope so because it's easy to use, and it comes apart to go in the dishwasher. Ok, my mixture of items is in the 4-Cup Easy Read Measuring Cup, which is perfect because I can measure in my marshmallows and then add everything else. Give it a quick stir, and you're good to go! Notice my leftover marshmallows are closed with a Twixit! Clip. I can't say enough about these, but I'll just mention that these marshmallows will still be fresh months from now. That's saying a lot.

Bake the brownies, and pour the fun stuff on top. Pouring with an Easy Read Measuring Cups is simple because of its shape. This is starting to look delicious!

I need to stop and take this picture in for a second. See, it's been two months since I baked these, and I'm reliving it all through this post. This was a good day in my little kitchen.

You can see how the Mini-Serving Spatula aids in brownie removal. Without this little tool, I'd have even more of a mess on my hands.

Yumyumyumyum... Make these soon. April is a perfect month for brownies. So is May if you don't get around to it in the next week. Then, of course, there's June... or twelve years from now.

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MFP Fresh Tomato Salsa

Make salsa, not war. Confession: I ate an entire batch of this in two sittings spaced about four hours apart. It's addictive, I tell you - addictive! Let's start with this - the Manual Food Processor (MPF). It's a new product that has already changed my life. I got one free when it first came out (yes, I get a lot of free stuff, and you can too), but then I bought myself a second one because I felt the need for two. It's that good. The best part? It includes a recipe card for this salsa. Seriously, this is wonderful, and it's embarrassingly easy. Let's dive in!

MFP Fresh Tomato Salsa

1 small onion, quartered
1 jalapeño, stemmed, sliced in thirds
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups grape tomatoes

Place onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lemon juice, garlic, and salt in Manual Food Processor. Pump until coarsely chopped. Gradually add tomatoes, pumping between, until desired consistency is reached. Yes, it's that easy.

Aren't the ingredients pretty? Tomatoes are in an Easy Read Measuring Cup, and cilantro is in a standard Measuring Cup. I'll be using the 5" Utility Knife from the Forged Cutlery Collection for a bit of slicing, and the Bamboo Grinder will grind the world's best Salt into the recipe. Everything is displayed on the Cutting Board.

The recipe instructs to quarter the onion, but the Veggie Wedger cuts into sixths, which is even better in my book. Seriously, this thing is awesome. Also new, it makes quick work of lemons, limes, tomatoes, onions, or anything else you want wedged evenly. Why didn't we think of this sooner?

The recipe also instructs that you use whole garlic cloves, but here's a secret: They're getting chopped up anyway, so why not save the hassle of peeling and just mince them on in? The Garlic Press is one of my favorite tools because it allows me to use fresh garlic in all my cooking without the annoyance of, "Oh, but now my hands stink." Lemon juice is no problem with the Citrus Press, a heavy-duty tool that forces lemon submission. Just compare the juiced slice to the whole slice. See a difference? Ok, so I'm just throwing all this stuff into the Manual Food Processor, which I'll explain in a minute.

The Manual Food Processor is making waves. I've enjoyed mine, and I've heard great things from others as well. There are three pieces to this: The base/cylinder thing, the blade, and the top/pump mechanism. That's all! You just put ingredients inside and press the pump for quick, easy chopping. There are also measurements on the cylinder, and it includes a non-skid grip around the bottom. Can it get any simpler?

I think this picture should have been horizontal... Oh, well. Anyway, the new Mini Mix 'n Scraper was designed specifically to fit the Manual Food Processor, but I've found it to be handy for tons of things. Besides, it's just so cute!

This is every bit as good as it looks. Now that grape tomatoes are becoming more abundant, I plan to make this a regular on my keep-on-hand list. Warning: If you don't like spicy things, seed the jalapeño. This is quite the spicy salsa when prepared as-written. (Again, this is in a Dots Pasta Bowl from the Simple Additions Collection.)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Strawberry Amaretto Pastries

First things first - these are every bit as good as they look. Strawberries are coming into season, which means you can buy better quality at a lower price. Isn't it amazing how that works? In a couple of months, I'll go picking with my best friend, and there's no telling what I'll post on here! For now, however, let me introduce you to a dessert that requires little effort yet is sure to please. One more note - this isn't healthy. I know it's got strawberries and a light, fluffy cream filling, but it's also got puff pastry (AKA: pure butter) and a whole lot of sugar. Eat a serving, enjoy it, and share the other eleven. (Displayed on the Trifle Bowl stand.)

Strawberry Amaretto Pastries

1/2 package frozen puff pastry dough (1 sheet), thawed
1 tbsp. sugar
8 oz. sour cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whipped topping, thawed
12 large strawberries, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unfold pastry dough, and slice in 12 squares. Sprinkle granulated sugar over dough's surface, lightly pressing in. Separate squares, and bake on Large Bar Pan for 16-18 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Cool completely.

Whisk sour cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla together. Fold in whipped topping.

Split open each pastry, and fill with 2 heaping tablespoons of filling and strawberries. Top with other half of the shell, and serve immediately.

Rebecca, a friend of mine who was over for dinner, happens to be a master of all things strawberry. She sliced these bad boys beautifully! Her station includes the Large Cutting Board, the 3 1/2-inch Paring Knife from the Forged Cutlery Collection, and a Small Square Plate from the Simple Additions Collection.

After sprinkling puff pastry with sugar and slicing it into squares/rectangles, transfer it to the Large Bar Pan for baking. Hi, Mini-Serving Spatula. Thanks for getting under the dough without ripping it apart!

This is Rebecca. She's great, and she happens to love getting puff pastry squares off hot pans. These will cool on the Cooling Rack while Rebecca and I finish the filling.

If you don't have a Measure-All Cup, get one. This thing is incredible for measuring anything you can think of, but it really shines when you need sour cream, honey, peanut butter, and all that other not-solid-not-liquid stuff. Push it down, fill it up, and pop it out. I'm using the Classic Batter Bowl and the Classic Scraper for this mixture... classic.

This is my tweaked version of a Pampered Chef recipe, and one of my tweaks is that I use vanilla instead of almond extract. There's no reason other than my lack of almond extract and unwillingness to go buy it. The original recipe also includes almonds, which I didn't have. So now you know why these are called Strawberry Amaretto Pastries. Admittedly, I have abused the recipe, twisted it around, and passed it off as my own. Someone slap me. Moving on: This is the best Vanilla you'll ever use. Yes, I'm making a bold statement. Double-strength means the bottle lasts a really long time. Behind my display, you can see an Easy Read Measuring Cup with a little brown "eh" inside. That's why you never measure over your recipe: 1/4 tsp. becomes 1 tsp. very easily with a spill. Surgeons are allowed to break the rule since they have those crazy, steady hands. As for the rest of us, let's be realistic about our limitations.

This is where it all comes together! Don't you love this point in a recipe? You've done the work, and now you can enjoy the final step! Split each pastry with the Mini-Serving Spatula, fill it using a Large Scoop (2 heaping tablespoons basically equal 3 tablespoons, which is what the Large Scoop measures, right?), add some strawberries, and prepare for awesome in your face. Just be warned that puff pastry crumbs will be all over the table when you move the Cooling Rack.

If the first picture didn't inspire you to make these, this one should. If you can resist the urge to go buy strawberries and puff pastry right now, you're stronger than I. And probably thinner. Make these this spring and summer, and experiment with other fruits, extra layers, and maybe double-fisting. Enjoy!

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Cheese Grits

Grits are misunderstood in many parts of the country, but the South has nailed this one. Much like Bubba with shrimp, a true Southerner can name many a method for grit preparation, all of which bring a smile to the face and saliva to the tongue. I, however, have never considered myself a true Southerner, so I won't pretend to be an expert. Here's what I do know: Cheese grits are stuff of Heaven, and if they're prepared correctly, they can turn an "eh" meal into something worth writing home about... or blogging. This recipe is courtesy of my sweet friend Elizabeth, and she wasn't lying when she told me these were the best cheese grits in the world.

Cheese Grits

4 cups water
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup quick grits (Make sure these aren't instant - will say 5-min. on package)
2 (12 oz.) packages Stouffer's corn souffle, thawed
2 cups Mexican cheese blend
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine water, garlic powder, and salt in a pot.
Bring to a boil, and whisk in grits.
Reduce heat to medium, and cook (covered) until thick.
Remove pot from heat, and whisk in corn souffle, cheese, cayenne pepper, and butter.

Spread in 9x13 pan and bake 30 minutes.

My friend Rebecca made these with me, and she got to experience my prep work obsession firsthand. "Rebecca, this is what keeps you from forgetting ingredients, blah, blah, blah." Anyway, water is measured into an Easy Read Measuring Cup, and garlic powder and salt are in a Pinch Bowl. Then I've got grits waiting in a Measuring Cup with cayenne pepper hanging out in a Measuring Spoon. All of this, of course, is on the Cutting Board so I can attempt to keep my work surface clean. Key word: attempt.

I had to be shown what corn souffle looked like, so I'm going to do you the same courtesy. This is also a picture of anticipation, everyone. I'm about to have a Rectangular Baker full of cheese grits in my kitchen. Life is good.

Rebecca is a genius when it comes to stirring grits. She's got them in the 8-Qt. Executive Stockpot, and she's stirring with the Silicone Whisk to keep from scratching the coating. (P.S. about the Executive coating - This isn't Teflon.) Warning: Grits pop, so keep them covered, and watch out when you remove the lid to stir.

Cayenne pepper delivers kick! Now it feels like everything's coming together. After adding the "remaining ingredients," give the pot a good stir to make sure no grits are left uncheesed. To avoid such tragedy, I'm using the Classic Scraper to get every nook and cranny along the pot's bottom.

Yes, this is really a Rectangular Baker full of cheese grits. Against our better judgement, Rebecca and I each limited ourselves to one serving. Now my fridge is full of leftovers, but there are worse things.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Quail

Do you love wild game? Do you wonder what to do once you have it? A couple of friends had me over for quail a while back, and it was an amazing meal. They blew my mind with wild poultry wrapped in bacon, piled on cheese grits, and smothered in mushroom sauce. My contributions? Squeals of joy and this Chocolate Bread Pudding. Anyway, because I have awesome friends, I was sent home with several packages of quail and a copy of the night's recipe. So here I bring you one of the richest, most satisfying menus of all time: Bacon-Wrapped Quail. (This is originally a Paula Deen recipe, but I haven't been able to find it online.)

Bacon-Wrapped Quail

8 quail
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
8 slices bacon
1 lemon, quartered

Mushroom Sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. flour
6 cups sliced mushrooms
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine 2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, dry mustard, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Season quail with the mixture, rubbing inside cavities as well as outside. Reshape quail, and wrap tightly with bacon, securing with toothpicks. Place quail in pan, breast side up. Squeeze lemon juice over meat, and scatter rinds in pan. Bake 16 minutes; turn oven to broil, and cook 8 more minutes to brown.

Mushroom Sauce:
Combine 1 tbsp. butter and flour in a small skillet. Whisk over medium heat until golden brown; set aside.
Melt remaining 3 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, and cook until browned, stirring occasionally (about 8-10 minutes). Add wine; cook until liquid is almost gone, and stir in broth. Add 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and garlic. Stir in flour mixture, and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until mixture bubbles and thickens (it will be a while).

Serve mushroom sauce over quail.


This recipe is served over these Cheese Grits, so make them, too!

First things first. When embarking on a new culinary adventure, don't go alone. Enter: Forest. Forest and I are preparing the quail by making sure they're rid of all feathers, organs, and - pause - pellets. Welcome to wild game, people. Forest is using the 3 1/2-inch Paring Knife from the Forged Cutlery Collection to get a pesky pellet out of the meat while I assist by taking a picture.

You know how sometimes you're in the middle of a recipe and you try to stop and measure spices? You know how that's kind of annoying? Avoid minor annoyances (and potential cross-contamination by touching too much stuff after you've handled raw poultry) by prepping everything ahead of time. This is a simple step that makes cooking more enjoyable, and it separates the men from the boys in the kitchen. Besides, how fun are these Pinch Bowls? Don't you want to use them? I just grab an Adjustable Measuring Spoon and do my spice blends for the quail and mushroom sauce before I start anything else.

There's no getting around it: This is kind of gross. Now I know why the directions warn you'll have to reshape the birds after seasoning them. This is one of those times when you want to scrub your hands really, really well after a step. Oh, but wait - you still have to wrap these little guys in bacon! The quail are on the Large Bar Pan, an ideal Stone for large quantities of meat (or sheet cake, Annie).

This was a great recipe to do as a team because I got to wrap raw quail in raw bacon while Forest... handed me toothpicks. It seems those roles should have been reversed because I'm a much better toothpick-hander than bacon-wrapper. Anyway, squeeze lemon juice over everything, and put the rinds around the pan.

As much as I enjoy quail and simply being able to say I had some of it in my own kitchen (pellets and all), the mushroom sauce steals the show. This stuff is amazing, and I'm sure it pairs well with all kinds of things. I'm about to get this going in an 8" Saute Pan, and I'm adding the flour with a new Measuring Spoon. I know you think measuring spoons aren't a big deal, but this set is awesome! These things are heavy duty, and they're curved to dig in ingredients easily.

Things are about to get good! Forest is stirring the flour/butter mixture with the Silicone Whisk to avoid scratching the pan, and I'm getting the mushrooms going in the 10" Executive Skillet. The spatula is from the Basic Nylon Tool Set, and it won't melt when I walk away from the stove.

Forest was the mushroom sauce master, and he had an easy time of it thanks to all of his prep work. White wine and broth were measured in the Easy Read Measuring Cups and Easy Read Mini Measuring Cup. Then there was the herb mixture in a Pinch Bowl and the garlic in a Prep Bowl. With everything ready to go, Forest could focus on letting those mushrooms brown perfectly.

I enjoy eating at home more than eating out, and here's a picture of why. Grab a friend, enjoy making dinner together, and savor the fact that no one will judge you when you use your fingers on the quail because those things are just so darn tiny.

And at this point I will quote one of my favorite movies: What About Bob.
"Oh, Mrs. M., this is sooooo gooood!!!"

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Greek Asparagus

Side dishes can trip anyone up, especially if you have a low tolerance for Rice-a-Roni (raises hand). Keep plenty of fresh vegetables on hand, and you can use this method for the majority of them.

Greek Asparagus

1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. Greek Rub

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Toss asparagus with olive oil and Greek Rub. Bake on stoneware 15-20 minutes.

To prepare asparagus, simply snap each spear where it breaks easily. You pay by the pound to throw big chunks in the garbage... I know it hurts. As always, I'm using the Large Cutting Board, and it's laid across my sink for extra space.

Olive oil is measured into the Easy Read Mini Measuring Cup, one of those little gems you don't realize you'll use as often as you do. How often do I think you'll utilize this? Constantly. Then there's the Greek Rub... love this stuff! I'm doing this in the Medium Bar Pan, but any piece of Stoneware will work.

There are times when you have to get your hands dirty. This is one of those times.

Bake 15-20 minutes, depending on how crisp you like your vegetables. Then scoop everything up with the Large Serving Spatula, and enjoy! (P.S. Look at that beautifully seasoned Stoneware!)

This method can be used for any number of vegetables... squash, zucchini, green beans, etc. Of course, there are also vegetables you should avoid roasting at 425 smothered in olive oil and Greek Rub, but that's another story for another day.

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