Spring Has Sprung and the Blog is Back!

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It’s only taken me about four months, but I’m thrilled to be back on blog duty!

Spring has arrived in DC and with it, a lot of changes! I started a new job a few weeks ago that I’m really excited about, partially because it will allow me to travel as part of my work, and also because it takes me back to working with a team of people I had worked with previously,  who I really respect and enjoy working with. It’s the perfect combination!

The other benefit of this new job is that it frees up a bit more of my schedule so I have more time to cook new dishes during the week. I used to cook one meal on Sunday that could last me a few days and then keep ingredients for a pretty basic salad on hand in case I wasn’t able to take time to cook during the week. It worked, but now that I have more free time, I’m really enjoying being able to come home, heat up the oven and cook a meal while I unwind from a day at the office.

Which leads us to the part of this post in which I rave about what I made for dinner tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a girl who loves a good burger. I may not always order them when I go out for a meal, but to me, nothing says “Winter is over, it’s springtime!” like a good burger. Ideally this burger would be grilled, but as I live in a highrise where the condo association frowns upon open flames on my balcony, I’ve settled for making them in a skillet on my stove.

Now that it is officially springtime in DC/Northern Virginia, it seems a fitting time as ever to make a burger, open the windows (once I finally buy patio furniture, I’ll sit outside on my balcony! So excited.), and unwind from a day at the office. I had burger-making materials ready to go in my fridge, but this afternoon I had an idea for something a bit more exciting. Earlier in the week I made a Greek salad with roasted red peppers, red onion, tomatoes, feta and tzatziki and had tons of chopped veggies left over. I’m using a bunch of them in salads and a few sandwiches later this week, but they also seemed like great toppings for a Greek burger!

There isn’t really a recipe for this, it’s mostly just a bunch of toppings on a bun with a burger, but here’s what I put on my burger:

Ashley’s Everyday Greek Burger

– Ground beef patty seasoned with a bit of seasoning salt, garlic powder and pepper (you could use turkey or a veggie burger and I think it would work just as well, and I’m tempted to try this with ground lamb for a “gyro burger”)
– Whole wheat sandwich thin (I didn’t have buns in my pantry, so I used a sandwich thin and it actually worked really well
– Tzatziki Sauce
– Tomatoes (diced)
– Cucumber (diced)
– Red Onion (diced)
– Roasted red pepper (I tossed mine into the skillet with the burger after it cooked, just to warm them up a bit)
– Crumbled Feta Cheese

Pile all toppings on the sandwich thin and enjoy!

Thanks for hanging in there while the blog was offline for a bit! I’m looking forward to sharing so many new and exciting recipes and food adventures with all of you!

 

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A New Year, New Kitchen Adventures!

Happy New Year, food lovers!

Between the holidays, travelling, and settling into my new apartment, the blog took a bit of a hit late last year. But we’re in a new year and I’ve got so much new content to work with! I’m experimenting with some things on Pinterest (believe it or not, up until a little while ago I had never really used Pinterest), searching for some new things to test out, and looking for some fresh ideas for the blog! Note: if you or anyone you know would be interested in guest-blogging, let me know!

I’m challenging myself in the new year to make posting on this blog more of a priority, so be on the lookout for posts a few times a week! Some will be shorter, some will feature recipes, some may just be a few photos from my kitchen of things I’m working on, but I’m hoping to be able to bring you all more content in 2014!

 

If At First You Don’t Succeed: Early Memories of Kitchen Failure

This summer, I traveled to my home state of Kansas for a family event, where I got to hang out with my extended family for the first time in months. During my visit, my friends, aunts and several of my cousins commented on the status of the blog, “Where’s the blog?? I need to see more posts!” and  “I need you to bake things!” were the subjects of many conversations throughout the week.

During one such chat, my Aunt Kathy, with whom I’ve baked too many freshly-picked cherry pies and Red Velvet cakes to count, reminded me of one of my first “kitchen failures.”

“Ashley, do you remember that time we made the cooked frosting for the Red Velvet cake and it just never set up??”

Why yes, Aunt Kate, now that you mention it, yes I do.

And you know what, it’s actually a very fond memory. I don’t exactly remember what we did to try to salvage it or how well the cake actually stayed together, (None the less tasted, although I’m pretty sure if we threw enough butter and sugar in there it probably tasted just fine.) but what I do remember, is the fond memories I’ve made in the kitchen with my family.

And oh, have there been memories. There’s the frosting incident, of course. And the Christmas where we couldn’t seem to get the mashed potatoes creamy enough, no matter how much butter and sour cream we added, (And oh, did we add a LOT of butter and sour cream. I think a whole stick of butter and at least 3/4 of the container of sour cream was in there in the end) only to discover all too late that we’d forgotten to put milk in them first. Richest. Mashed Potatoes. EVER.

I suppose what I’m trying to say here is, I want this blog to be about more than just the prettiest things I’ve baked/cooked/created recently. I want it to be about the whole experience of baking. And that means successes AND failures. Burnt crust, failed frostings and all. So don’t be surprised if an “If At First You Don’t Succeed” post pops up once and a while. And please, by all means, feel free to laugh with/at me. In fact, I’d encourage it.

Back From Hiatus… And in a New Kitchen!!!

My darling blog readers! I apologize for the lengthy hiatus, but the blog is BACK! The past few months have been a bit chaotic, but if you’ll bear with me, the blog will be back on a regular basis and better than ever!

So, first bit of news I have is that not only is the blog back, but it’s back with a kitchen upgrade!!! I moved into a new apartment this weekend and after a few months of apartment issues at my old place, I am so very happy to be in a new place! This is also great news for the blog because, unlike the old kitchen, I actually have SPACE! So now while my cupcakes are baking or my quinoa is cooking, I can dance around my kitchen without risking bruises or knocking things over! Huzzah!

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Here’s a photo of the new kitchen! Granite countertops (perfect for rolling out dough!) and a washer/dryer (clean dishtowels!). LOVE.

Speaking of quinoa, i’m back with a beautiful, healthy and delicious recipe modified from one I found at Annie’s Eats. With the holiday season fast approaching, I’m looking for some healthy foods for when I’m not stuffing myself with turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and peppermint ice cream, and this dish fits the bill perfectly. It’s warm, has a little bit of a kick, and it makes for excellent leftovers (I’m not ashamed to say I’ve eaten it cold. It’s just as good!)

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Look at that delicious bowl of quinoa! It tastes as good as it looks, I promise!

Now, I’m a bit of a quinoa rookie, and I will admit to being a bit intimidated by trying it out at first, but I am telling you, it’s a winner. This recipe is a testament to that: there’s only 1 cup of uncooked quinoa in the recipe, but it bulks up a lot when it cooks and makes a big serving full of veggies and just enough spice to keep things interesting.

Mexican Quinoa

Yields about 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth (If you can’t find vegetable broth, I’ve swapped in chicken broth and it’s turned out fine)
1 can (1 1/2 cups) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with green chilies, with juices
1 cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon chopped green chilies (optional)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (I use a bit more because I love cilantro)
1/4 lime, juiced

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan and saute the jalapeno and garlic until fragrant, approximately one minute. Stir in quinoa, veggie broth, beans, diced tomatoes, and corn (if you like it a bit spicier, I added some chopped green chilies I had on hand to kick it up a notch and it worked perfectly) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 25 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Garnish with cheese, salsa, sour cream, and avocado if desired.

Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats, who adapted it slightly from Peanut Butter Runner

Annnnnd, We’re Back! And I Brought Muffins!

Hey guys,

So, my sincerest apologies are in order. I’ve been a real blog-slacker the past few months. I could make all kinds of excuses, but I won’t, because you deserve better than that. But, I’ve pulled myself together and am committed to bringing you more recipes for delicious things, and a few other short posts to fill the spaces between baking projects!

To make it up to you, dear readers, today I am bringing you what is perhaps the best muffin recipe I’ve ever made. And I mean EVER. Do you like melted cheese? (Of course you do. Why wouldn’t you?) Do you like jalapenos? (Perhaps you do, perhaps you don’t. But you should try this out anyway. I promise.) Well then, do I have a recipe for you!

The story goes that a few months ago, I was invited to a friend’s brunch and was searching far and wide for a really great, unique brunch recipe. I was in a savory mood, so I started my search with quiches and savory tarts (I recently got a tart pan, so you’ll be seeing tart recipes popping up soon, I promise), but nothing really caught my eye. All that changed with a visit to Joy the Baker. (PS: if you aren’t familiar with Joy’s blog, I highly recommend it. The girl’s got skills.)

It just so happened that Joy had recently posted a recipe for “Too Much Cheddar and Jalapeno Muffins.” Cheese? Check. Carbs? Check. A little bit of spice to make it interesting? Check. Done deal. Making these ASAP, friends.

Please note that “Too Much Cheddar” became a reality when I went to the store and had this conversation with my friend, who was helping me in this endeavor:

Me: “Hey, how many blocks of cheese do you think it will take to make 3 cups of shredded cheese?” – Holds up two HUGE blocks of cheese – “Both of these, right?”
Friend: “Sure, yeah, that looks about right.”
Me: “Oh, they’re on sale! You can never have too much cheese, right?”

Fact: You can have too much cheese. WAYYYY too much cheese. Heartbreaking, I know. But trust me, that cheese found a good home. (On crackers, on toast, in two different pizzas and in a second batch of muffins that made their way to my office, where people really like baked things.)

So, what is my recommendation to you, my dear readers? Step one: Go out and buy too much cheddar and a jar of jalapenos. Step two: Get ye to your kitchen and bake these muffins as soon as humanly possible. Step three: Eat one of these delicious treats while they’re still hot. And maybe use a fork, they are kind of custard-y and melty when they’re fresh (which is by no means a bad thing, and is in fact quite delicious). Step four: find a home for all that extra cheese. Perhaps in a second batch of these muffins to share.

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My goodness, look at that cheese!!!

Too Much Cheddar and Jalapeno Muffins

Yields one dozen muffins

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons pickled jalapeno
12 pickled jalapeno slices for topping
sea salt and cracked pepper for topping

**Baker’s Note: paper muffin/cupcake liners don’t work especially well with this recipe. When the muffins are hot they stick to the paper, but once they cool, they will start to come out of their wrappers. My advice: skip the paper altogether and just give your muffin tin a good coat of grease and flour.

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Again, the cheese!!!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, making sure that your oven rack is in the upper third of your oven. Grease and flour your muffin tin and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Set this mixture aside.

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In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg and melted butter.

Add the wet ingredients all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir to incorporate. Before the mixture is entirely mixed, add the grated cheese and diced jalapeno. Stir to incorporate, making sure that the mixture is evenly moistened and the cheese is well distributed.

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Divide batter between muffin tins, top each with a jalapeno slice and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper as desired. Pop your muffins in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Wait patiently while they cool as to not burn your tongue (this is by far the hardest part, guys). Enjoy!

Recipe sourced from: Joy the Baker, adapted from The Pioneer Woman

A Cupcake for Your Fanciest Occasion (Or Any Day That Ends in a “Y”)

After a few weeks hiatus (sorry, folks!), Breaking Up With Betty Crocker is back! And, I have a whole slew of recipes lined up to share with you!

As much as I love baking “just because”, I love baking for special events even more. There is just something about baking for birthdays, holidays and other special events that feels even more blissful than usual. As I often say, I love making people happy, and I love baking things. It just so happens that the two often go hand in hand. This seems especially true when a celebration is involved.

And what better way to celebrate than with champagne, right? Or in this case, champagne cupcakes! They’re fun, pretty and surprisingly easy to make. (And if you play your cards right, there’s just enough champagne left afterward to celebrate your baking success!)

I’ll note that there are tons of champagne cupcake recipes out there. Some have whipped toppings, some have fillings, some are made with chocolate (Hmm, chocolate AND champagne? This post may need updating soon…), and some use boxed mixes rather than a cake from scratch. Given that this blog chronicles my “breakup” with the lady on the cake mix box, it likely will not surprise you that I took a pass on the boxed recipes and sought out a cake from scratch. After quite a lot of searching, I stumbled upon this recipe for Sparkling Champagne Cupcakes from YumSugar. It was simple, but elegant and it used a lot of ingredients I already had on hand, so I knew it would be a winner.

 The recipe on YumSugar has a pastry cream filling, which also adds to the champagne flavor. I had a few time constraints when I was baking these cupcakes (Mostly due to a need for sleep. Fact: I frequently bake things between the hours of midnight and 2am. Thank heaven for the 24-hour grocery store down the street), so I passed on the pastry cream filling and just did a champagne cupcake with a champagne icing. I found that there was just enough champagne flavor in the cupcake and the icing in the end that it was perfectly balanced without being too overpowering.

The cake batter for this recipe came together a bit differently than my usual cakes. Because the cake is made with sour cream, the batter is a bit heavier, and it may take a bit more mixing to get it smooth. Don’t panic, after enough beating, all will be well. The icing requires a champagne reduction on the stove. Reducing the champagne gives the icing a nice, potent champagne flavor without watering down the icing, so you definitely do not want to miss this step! I myself was intimidated by this process, but really once you start heating the champagne, it’s really quite simple, just watch it carefully so that you don’t boil it all away.

The icing was too soft for a shaped icing tip (a star or the like), so I just used a large round tip and iced a nice spiral on the top and sprinkled it with pastel dragées, which give it a nice “bubbly” look. I also added a tiny bit of gel food coloring to give my icing a pinkish hue. Without the coloring it comes out as a nice white.

Champagne cupcake

There you have it, champagne cupcakes! Now, pour yourself a nice glass of your leftover champagne, sit back and enjoy!

Sparkling Champagne Cupcakes

Yields approximately 17-20 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
1/2 cup butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Champagne, prosecco, or your choice of sparkling wine

Frosting:
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon champagne or prosecco
2 sticks of butter softened
2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Pastel dragées

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup champagne and 1/2 cup sour cream (mixture will fizz and bubble a little). Add flour and Champagne mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Batter will be thick.

Fill cupcake papers with 1/4 cup level measures of batter (I use a cookie scoop like this one. The springloaded scraper helps make filling cupcake wrappers so much easier and more accurate). Bake for 17-22 minutes. Set aside.

Make the frosting: Place 1 cup of champagne in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Transfer to a small bowl or condiment cup and allow to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream softened butter and powdered sugar together. Once the frosting is thick and fluffy, pour in the reduced 2 tablespoon Champagne plus 1 tablespoon Champagne from the bottle and mix well.

Frost the cream-filled cupcakes and decorate with pastel dragées.

Recipe adapted from YumSugar.com, via Sprinkle Bakes 

Two Guilty Pleasures in One Cupcake: Chocolate Cabernet Cupcakes

As you may have gathered, I have a love for cupcakes that knows few bounds. Some of my earliest experiments in baking were cupcakes. And why not, right? They come together quickly, there’s no leveling of layers and hassling with stacking necessary and best of all, they’re easy to share! What’s not to love?

But wait, it gets better…

And how do you make a standard chocolate cupcake even better, you ask? You add some wine. That’s right, wine.

I had heard of red wine cupcakes before, but I had yet to find a recipe I loved. So, as I occasionally do when I struggle to find exactly what I want, I turned my search over to the algorithms over at Google. The search did not disappoint: there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of red wine cupcake recipes out there. After some browsing, I stumbled upon a cupcake that lived up to my demands: A Cabernet Chocolate Cupcake with Dark Chocolate Ganache at the Adventures in Cupcakes blog (which no longer appears to be publishing new material, but which had a nice array of recipes to share). She had taken the cupcake recipe from a blog at iVillage, but had replaced their suggested whipped cream topping with a rich, bittersweet chocolate ganache, a change that I too preferred. Since I planned on sharing my creations with others, I wanted a more portable, less perishable cupcake, meaning whipped cream was out and ganache was most definitely in. Plus, this recipe calls for dried cherries, a personal weakness of mine. Chocolate. Wine. Cherries. This was a match made in culinary heaven.

The cupcakes came together fairly effortlessly. There are only 5 simple steps needed to make the cupcake base, and the ganache is one of the simplest I’ve ever made. I did make a tiny change in the ganache recipe by adding a splash of red wine, just to add a hint of the cabernet flavor to the topping.

I will note that the cupcakes are a tiny bit dry, a problem I cannot quite figure out how to solve yet, but if I do, I’ll be sure to write a follow-up post. The ganache does make quite a bit more than I found I could use for one batch of cupcakes, but if you baked another half batch of cupcakes this problem could easily be solved. Or, you know, you could eat it with a spoon. Whatever you see fit.

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The outcome: delightful. The cupcakes have a nice, bittersweet flavor of chocolate with hints of wine, but neither ingredient overpowers the other. The dried cherries add a bit of sweetness without making the cake overly sweet, exactly what I was looking for in this cake. For a red wine cake, I expect a little less sweetness in the flavor, but for those of you who like your cake to be extra sweet, stay tuned for my experiments with white wine and champagne cupcakes coming soon!

Chocolate Cabernet Cupcakes

Yields approximately 12-16 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3/4 cup cabernet sauvignon
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped

Chocolate Ganache:
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 C half-and-half
2 T unsalted butter
Splash of red wine (Optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a cupcake tin with paper baking cups. (If you’re feeling adventurous, or just ran out of baking cups like I did, you can also fold squares of parchment paper to fit your cups. It takes a bit of trial and error, but it can be done!)

2. in a large bowl (if you’ll be using a hand mixer) or the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder.

3. Add the oil, vanilla, eggs and wine.

4. Beat with the electric mixer at low speed for 30 seconds. Turn the mixer speed to high and continue beating for three minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the dried cherries with a spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

For the ganache, place chocolate (and wine, if desired) in a medium stainless steel bowl. Heat cream and butter in saucepan over medium heat and bring just to a boil, being careful not to let the cream scald. Immediately pour the boiling cream mixture over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Source: Adapted from Adventures in Cupcakes and iVillage