Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baby Blue Salad

Posted by: Maggie

Hello there. How was everyone's weekend? I feel like mine flew by, as usual.

Most of the weekend was spent being lazy (and making this salad for lunch on Saturday,) but I did have some fun Saturday night plans. Jeff and I went out to dinner at one of my favorite DC restaurants, Nando Peri-Peri, and went to a goodbye party for a friend at a fun divey bar called The Big Hunt.  Nando is a quasi sit-down restaurant - you place your order at a counter and they bring the food to you, but if you want dessert, or a drink, or anything else while you're sitting a server will bring it over. The food is absolutely delicious, particularly if you love spicy food like me. I had the 1/4 chicken cooked with their second hottest sauce, and it was perfect. If you live in DC I highly recommend checking it out!

Now, onto this salad. I am a big fan of salads with a lot of "stuff" on them. To me, there is nothing lamer than a plain old side salad of iceberg lettuce and mealy tomatoes topped with store-bought ranch dressing. I got this recipe from my mom, but a little googling tells me that it was actually created by a chef named Franklin Biggs, for the Homewood Gourmet Cafe in Alabama. Apparently it was his signature salad during his tenure there, and a very popular menu item. I can see why, after I scarfed down about 1/2 of what the recipe made in one sitting.

Here is what you'll need, slightly adapted from Franklin Biggs' version:

1 5 ounce bag mixed baby greens
4 oz crumbled blue cheese
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, quartered
Sweet and spicy pecans (recipe below)
1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette (recipe below)

Toss together the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette, gently tossing to coat. If you're serving this as a salad course, toss the greens with the vinaigrette first, and then arrange the fruit and pecans on the salad, and sprinkle with cheese. That's what I did, since it looks purtier.

Sweet and spicy pecans:

1/4 cup sugar
1 cup warm water
1 cup pecans
2 T sugar
1 T chile powder
1/8 t cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together sugar and warm water until sugar dissolves.  Add pecans, and soak for 10 minutes.  Drain and discard liquid.  Combine the sugar, chile powder, and cayenne pepper.  Add to the pecans, and toss to coat. Place pecans in single layer on lightly greased parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes in preheated oven, or until golden brown, stirring once.

Balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 T Dijon mustard
3 T honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small or 1 large shallot, minced
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 cup olive oil

Whisk together first 7 ingredients until blended. Gradually whisk in olive oil, blending well.

Side anyone else experiencing crazy large strawberries at their grocery stores? These suckers are from Whole Foods, and this comparison photo doesn't really do justice to the size of these things.  For the record, that is a large egg shown below. What are the farmers feeding these things?!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cherry Limeade Cupcakes

Posted by: Maggie

I'm back from Vegas, and back to cooking and baking! I got back on Sunday night after what seemed like the longest travel experience ever. Jeff and I had initially booked the same flight leaving Las Vegas around noon, connecting in Los Angeles (completely illogical, but cheap), and arriving at Dulles airport around 1:00 a.m. Eastern time. Well, Continental Airlines sucks, and canceled our return flight about 10 days before our trip for undisclosed reasons. I managed to get on a new flight leaving Vegas at 8:45 am (also connecting in LA), but they were completely uncooperative when it came to Jeff's flight, and never re-booked him. He ended up having to buy a completely new return flight home with JetBlue, and we could no longer suffer through the long flight together.

Not to be all Negative Nancy on here, but every time I fly it reaffirms what a horrendous experience flying really is. First, most airlines make you pay for everything. I spent $50 just for the privilege of checking a suitcase (in addition to my $380 ticket!) Second, they hate tall people. I'm 5'7" and Jeff is 6'2". My knees touch the back of the seat if the person in front of me even reclines an inch. I can't imagine how miserable it must be for a truly tall person.

Anyway, on to happier things. Vegas was awesome despite having to fly home early on a Sunday all by myself. The first night we were there was Jeff's 30th birthday dinner, and by far my favorite night of the trip. We went to a restaurant at the Planet Hollywood Casino called Strip House, that was by far one of the best meals I've had in my life. Out of the 20 people who went on the trip, 15 of us attended the dinner, and we were able to get a private room (with a big tv to watch the basketball games), a big family style meal, and a 2-hour open bar. I stuffed myself with Riesling, Caesar salad, NY Strip AND Filet Mignon, garlic fries, creamed spinach, and potatoes romanoff. I used to hate steak as a kid because I'd only ever had it cooked well done. Now that I'm an adult and know to order it medium-rare or medium, it is pretty much the best meal I can imagine.

I think you can tell from the carnage on the table that we all enjoyed the meal immensely:

I was glad that Jeff and I got a nice picture out of the evening, pre-meat fest. You can't tell from the picture, but I was extremely glad that my dress was kind of flowy, to disguise the food baby I was carrying throughout the rest of the evening.

Since I knew we'd be too stuffed for birthday cake immediately after our dinner, I arranged to have Retro Bakery deliver 3-dozen mini-cupcakes to our hotel. They were there when we checked in, and I cannot put into words how impressed I was with this bakery. Usually I turn up my nose at bakery produced stuff, and prefer to make my goodies homemade, but I would give my left thumb to have the recipes they used for these cupcakes. They were, in a word, fantastic. They lasted awhile since we were barely in the room, and still tasted fresh two days after they were delivered. The cupcakes weren't a surprise, so I solicited flavor input from Jeff when placing the order. He selected milk and cookies, cinnamon toast, and maple bacon, and I rounded out the order with chocolate fountain, red carpet, and peanut butter cup. I basically wanted to try every flavor on the menu (except mint chocolate is for toothpaste, not for baked goods).

'Scuse the crappy photo, the kitchen in our hotel was kind of dark:

All in all, it was a great trip. I could probably write a ton more about the trip, but I don't want to bore you with every detail. I will leave you with one final photo that I took from the patio at Koi. So. Stinkin'. Pretty.

Now, onto the cupcakes. I stayed home from work on Monday to recover from my long flight, unpack, and relax. Vegas may be a fun vacation, but it's certainly not a relaxing one. Since I had a whole day to kill, I decided to whip up these cupcakes to bring to work today. They were so moist and flavorful, and I got quite a few compliments from co-workers on them. Don't skip the lime syrup step - the frosting is insanely sweet, and you will want the tartness of the syrup to balance it out. The lime syrup makes a huge quantity. The recipe states that you should just pour the syrup over the cupcakes after poking holes with a skewer, but I just poked the holes and spread about a teaspoon of syrup on top instead. I didn't want sticky syrup running all over the cupcake liners. I ended up having a lot left because of how I put the syrup on, but the flavor was definitely noticeable and preferable if you don't want to make a huge mess.

What you'll need:

For the cupcakes:

3 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. limeade concentrate
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk (I used 2%)

For the lime glaze:

3/4 cup limeade concentrate
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

For the buttercream: *If you're a heavy froster you will want to double this.

3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 tbsp. (or more) maraschino cherry juice (I ended up using 5 tbsp.)
Food coloring (optional - I used a tiny bit of Wilton's pink gel color to achieve the color in the pic)

For decoration:

Maraschino cherries (drained and slightly dried on a paper towel)
Sliced limes (drained and slightly dried on a paper towel)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a cupcake pan with foil or paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, and beat on medium-high until creamed. Add the limeade concentrate into the mixture and mix to incorporate. The batter will look really weird, but it's ok, you're not doing anything wrong! Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl between additions. Add in the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the milk, and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix ingredients just long enough to incorporate.

Evenly divide the batter among cupcake cups. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. My cupcakes took 17 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before glazing and frosting.

For the lime glaze, mix together limeade concentrate and sugar until well blended. Poke holes in cupcakes with a skewer or a toothpick, and spoon or pour over the cupcakes.

Let it soak in for a few minutes before frosting.

For the frosting, combine all the frosting ingredients with a stand mixture. Beat on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, and then increase to medium-high speed and beat until smooth.

Frost cooled cupcakes, and decorated as desired.

Source of recipe and decorating inspiration: Annie's Eats

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Irish" Chocolate Dipped Shortbread

Posted by: Annie

I am not really sure that shortbread is Irish; in fact, I am pretty sure that they are Scottish, but for the sake all things St. Patrick's Day they will be Irish for this week. I was supposed to be going to Vegas with co-blogger Maggie, but due to standardized testing at my school I will be staying in Philadelphia and drowning my sorrows with chocolate dipped shortbread and hopefully a few drinks. 

I really wanted to shape these cookies into shamrocks and sprinkle the chocolate with Irish-themed sprinkles, but I discovered on my trips to both Wegmans and Target that St. Patrick's Day is totally ignored and I was surrounded by all things Easter. As much as I love Cadbury eggs and pastels, I was bummed to discover that my shortbread would not be shamrock shaped or adorned with festive sprinkles. I now know that next year I will order supplies online because the Easter Bunny is obviously more important to major stores than cute little leprechauns. (I joke, kinda.)

What you will need: 

3 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar together until just combined. Next, stir in vanilla extract. In a separate smaller bowl mix flour and salt, and add into butter mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Flour a work surface and use it to shape the dough into a flat round disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for thirty minutes.

After the dough has chilled, roll it out to approximately 1/2 inch thick. Using a pizza wheel or cookie cutter cut out 3 by 1 inch cookies. Place the prepared cookies on an un-greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cool completely.

In a separate microwaveable bowl melt three ounces of the chocolate at thirty second increments in the microwave. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the remaining chocolate and stir until smooth and shiny. Allow the chocolate to slightly cool.

Dip each cookie halfway into the chocolate and place on a parchment lined sheet. Allow cookies to rest until chocolate is set and then store in a covered container at room temperature. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Green Velvet Cupcakes

Green Velvet Cupcakes

Posted by: Maggie

St. Patrick's Day is almost here!!! I'm Irish, I love the color green and love beer even more, so this is such a fun holiday for me.  Last year, Jeff, our friends, and I celebrated St. Patrick's Day in a pretty awesome way.  We all took the day off work, and did a daytime bar crawl through DC on the Boomerang Bus.  I have to say, riding on a party bus past your office at 2 pm on a weekday is a pretty good feeling.

This year, our St. Patrick's Day plans are even better.  We're going to Las Vegas! Jeff's 30th birthday is the day before St. Patrick's Day, so it was decided last year right around his 29th birthday that we'd do a trip to celebrate the big 3-0, St. Patrick's Day, and to watch and gamble on all the March Madness games.  Personally, I couldn't give a hoot about basketball, which is why I'll be spending a lot of time here.  At last count, there were 20 people going on this trip including me and Jeff, so I know there will always be someone fun to hang out with even if half the group is glued to the basketball games.

Last year I didn't make one single St. Patrick's Day dessert, so I couldn't let this year go by without making something green.  These cupcakes are originally from Bakerella, but I actually spotted them on Love from the Oven a few days ago.  I couldn't believe what a gorgeous shade of green these came out to be.  I wish I had cut open a cupcake and photographed it for you, because they are the prettiest shade of kelly green I've ever seen.  As you can see from my accident below, they use a LOT of food coloring to achieve that result.

Green Hands
Oh hai, man hands. P.S. You can't see most of my shirt, but York College represent! 

I'm a messy cook, what can I say? Soap and water did little to get the food coloring off my skin - interestingly enough, when I took a shower the next morning my shampoo that's intended for color treated hair washed it away!

These are mixed together somewhat unconventionally (no creaming of butter and sugar), but they were moist and fluffy, which is all that matters! I halved the recipe, but the amounts below are for a full batch of 24.  I didn't follow an exact recipe when I made the cream cheese frosting, but there are a few listed on our site already.  I would suggest this one, sans cinnamon if you want a stiffer cream cheese frosting that holds its shape.  I used the "Giant French Tip" from Bake it Pretty for these.  It was my first time using it, and it's my new favorite.

If green velvet isn't your cup of tea, make sure to check out co-blogger Annie's recipe for Irish Car Bomb cupcakes from back when we started blogging! They would also be perfect for St. Patrick's Day.

Green Velvet Cupcakes
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Here's what you'll need:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 T white vinegar
1 t vanilla
1 oz green food coloring

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line cupcake pan with paper or foil liners. 

In a medium bowl, lightly beat eggs with a whisk.  Add in the oil, buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring.  Whisk til blended and set aside.  

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda.  

Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, and beat on medium speed with an electric mixer for about 1 minute, or until everything is well combined.  Don't overbeat, or your cupcakes will turn out tough! 

Pour the batter into prepared cupcake pans.  Bake for 17-19 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes, then remove from pans.  Cool completely before frosting.  I'm impatient, and usually just stick my cupcakes in the freezer for 10 minutes to cool them off! 

Source:  Adapted from Bakerella and Love from the Oven

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tri-Color Pasta Salad

Posted by: Maggie

I meant to post this easy and meatless recipe first thing this morning since it's Ash Wednesday, and those of us who observe it don't eat meat today.  But then, work happened, and after work I went to Mass for ashes, and then I went on an unsuccessful shopping trip to Ann Taylor Loft (this top = super cute on hanger, not so cute on Maggie), and then came home and ate an entire pint of blueberries and watched 3 episodes of My Name is Earl on Netflix Instant.

Fortunately, those of us who observe Lent have 7 meatless Fridays ahead of us, and you still have plenty of time to make this pasta salad.  My reasons for making this Tuesday night were twofold: first, I knew that I would need something vegetarian to nosh on all day today.  Second, I gave up buying breakfast and lunch at work for Lent.  Despite my love for cooking, I never ever make myself a lunch.  Since I work in the expensive city of Washington, DC, this has turned into quite a costly habit.  Depending on the day, I spend between $12-$20 on food and drinks at the office. You will be seeing a lot more lunch dishes around here for the duration of Lent.  Does anyone have suggestions for lunch ideas beyond the typical sandwich?

As with all pasta salads, this can really be tweaked to accommodate your personal tastes, but this combination of ingredients turned out too tasty not to share.

What you'll need:

12 oz. tri-color rotini
6 tablespoons full fat Italian Dressing
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 jar sundried tomatoes, julienned
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
20 Kalamata olives, halved (I bought these at the Harris Teeter olive bar, and they'd mixed the pitted ones and ones with pits.  What dumdums.  Pitting olives is the pits.  Har, har.)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and rinse.

Toss with the dressing, pepper, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, garlic, and parmesan in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate overnight prior to serving for best flavor.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hummingbird Cupcakes

Posted by: Annie

Craving warmer weather anyone? Despite growing up on the Jersey Shore*  I am not the biggest fan of what is considered "beach" weather, but I am definitely sick of twenty-degree mornings, panty-hose and close-toed shoes. These cupcakes remind me of the lovely spring time weather that I am craving. When I saw them on Annie's Eats, I immediately fell in cupcake love with the ingredients and the name - Hummingbird Cupcakes. The pineapple and banana flavors mixed with coconut are out of this world, and become addictive when topped with a rich cream cheese frosting.

*(Disclaimer: it is nothing like the show people- I only Snooki poof my hair for special occasions)

What you will need:

For the Cupcakes:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
11 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe banana (approximately 3 medium-sized)
2/3 cup crushed pineapple, drained
2/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional- I omitted)
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
8 oz cream cheese
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract 
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed,  beat the butter, vanilla and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the mashed banana. With the electric mixer on low speed, slowly mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Using a spatula fold in the pineapple, nuts and coconut.
Fill the liners until 3/4 full. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick entered in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for approximately 10 minutes then remove and cool completely on wire racks.
To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer on high speed beat until the cream cheese and butter are well combined and smooth. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar, initially on slow speed, and then increase the speed until smooth. Frost cooled cupcakes. Garnish with coconut if desired. 

Source: Annie's Eats

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Monkey Bread

Posted by: Maggie

Annie and her boyfriend Scott stayed with me on Saturday night, and we stayed out late singing karaoke at a bar called Sobe in Arlington.  I started out the evening with "Family Tradition" (best song ever to do at karaoke if you have a bad voice like me - people participate with it!), Jeff did "It's Not Unusual" and "Don't Stop Believin," and then Annie and I did a really embarrassing duet of "I've Had the Time of my Life," in which I channeled Patrick Swayze (RIP).  

Needless to say, there was some liquid courage involved in performing cheesy songs in front of a crowd of people, and we all needed something tasty this morning to soak up any beer still lingering in our stomachs. 

Enter, Monkey Bread.  I've been wanting to make this for a weekend breakfast for some time now, but it makes a huge amount that Jeff and I would barely make a dent in.  I figured with Annie and Scott here to help, it would be the perfect time to break out this easy and delicious breakfast treat.

P.S.  I implore you to make bacon as a side dish.  The bread is extremely sweet, and the saltiness of the bacon complemented it deliciously.

Here's what you'll need:

3 cans of Buttermilk biscuits (the non-flaky ones in the smaller 7 or 7.5 oz cans)
1 cup white sugar
1 T cinnamon
2 sticks salted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Open biscuits, and cut each biscuit into quarters.  Dump cinnamon and sugar into a large gallon-sized ziploc bag, and shake to combine.  Dump biscuit pieces into the cinnamon/sugar bag, and shake to combine until the pieces are thoroughly coated and unstuck from each other.

Place biscuit pieces evenly in an un-greased bundt pan.

In a medium saucepan, melt two sticks of butter over medium heat.  Throw in the brown sugar, and stir for a couple minutes until combined with the butter.

Evenly pour the mixture over the biscuit pieces, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until dark brown on top.  Let sit for 15-30 minutes, and then invert onto a serving plate.

Source: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

Posted by: Maggie

I LOVE Oprah.  My love for the Oprah show is only obstructed by the fact that I have a full-time job that overlaps with Oprah hours, and I'm too cheap to pay for DVR.  I used to love when I'd come home from school before my sisters got home, and I could sit and watch it with my mom.  I'd be glued to any episode about medical or psychological issues (probably kind of odd that as a teenager I preferred those over the celebrity guests), and like most Oprah fans, I fantasized about being an audience member in one of her famous Oprah's Favorite Things episodes.

When I heard that Oprah was retiring from her talk show and starting her own network called OWN, I was super excited.  24 hours a day of Oprah approved programming? Sign me up.  I was even more excited when I discovered that my bottom rung cable package was actually offering the channel without making me pay extra. 

Fast forward a couple months when I get a friend request over on Tasty Kitchen  from Kristina Kuzmic, and she writes on my wire to check out her facebook for updates on the Oprah competition.  "What Oprah competition??" I thought to myself, before switching over to facebook to check it out. 

Long story short, I adored the show.  For those who missed it, it was called "Your OWN show" and it was an "Apprentice" style competition to win a show on Oprah's new network.  In Kristina's case, she was competing for a cooking show.  I rooted for Kristina from the beginning, and was thrilled to see her (and the other finalist Zach) both receive their own shows out of the competition. 

This recipe for chocolate oatmeal bars was posted on Kristina's facebook several weeks ago.  After having the first delicious taste, I decided that I wasn't going to share with my coworkers, and these were going to be my breakfast for the rest of the week.  The oatmeal negates the stick and a half of butter and makes these breakfast appropriate, right?

What you'll need:

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) butter
½ cup + 1 Tablespoon brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups quick cooking oats
1 Tablespoon milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang to use as handles to lift bars out, and spray with cooking spray.  Set aside.

Melt the butter over medium low heat.  Add the brown sugar, and mix until well incorporated. Stir in the vanilla, oats, and milk, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

After oats are cooked, press half of the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan.  Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter together in the microwave, stir to blend, pour over oat crust, and smooth with a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture on top and press lightly into the chocolate.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting into bars.  Keep refrigerated.

Source: I tried to link to the facebook post with the recipe, but it has disappeared.  I'll try and find it again later, but until then check out her page!
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