Monday, December 24, 2007

I Think I'm Ready For Christmas...

As I mentioned before, my mom as well as my mother in-law both asked me to bake some sweeties for each of our Christmas parties, and bake I did!! I decided to go with a few old favorites, as well as some new recipes I've been dying to try out. I was extremely flattered that they turned to me for dessert, and was quite excited to start baking. So excited that I started baking earlier this week, making each type of sweets per night.

Pictured above you'll see (starting at the top): two different kinds of fudge (milk chocolate and peppermint), pink buttery spritz cookies (from the Betty Crocker cookbook I got as a wedding gift) that I decorated with melted Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, pumpkin molasses cookies (from Cara's Cravings' blog in the Foodie Blogroll to the left), and lemon crinkle cookies (as per my brother's special request). I've also made two pumpkin pies, and an apple pie with authentic lattice-work that I did myself (so proud!). So, that being said, I think I am officially ready for Christmas to be here. Bring it on! I'll feed ya!!
And, just for fun, and because I so dearly love them, my nephew and niece's Christmas gift:

A five month-old boxer puppy named Merlyn!! Isn't he just absolutely the cutest ever? He looks so much like our dog Cody that when they play together, it's hard to tell when one ends and the other begins! They're instant friends, they love to play and chew on each other's legs. It's almost exhausting watching them play, actually. But, during this busy time of year, whenever I get to feeling a little blue, I just think of puppies and how cute they are, with their wet noses and big paws. And now we have a brand new puppy right here in my family!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My, Yule Look Nice!

NOT! Ok, I know I'm no newbie to cooking, I've been doing since I was practically a fetus, but this Daring Bakers challenge (tradition holiday Yule Log) got me feeling extremely inadequate. And it all comes down to one element: buttercream. I now loathe buttercream, and rue the day I ever have to bake with it again.

The lovely hosts for this month's challenge are also the founders of the Daring Bakers ( Ivonne ( and Lis ( The day I found out about this challenge, I was a bit apprehensive, but confident nonetheless. My husband told me that his mom used to make one every year, so if I felt I needed a bit of assistance, I could call her. Which I did, and it still didn't help.

Everything started out in typical Daring Baker fashion (tons of eggs and butter) and since I had set the entire Saturday aside devoted just to my yule log, I figured I could just take my time and go with the flow. Here's the recipe, in case you would like to try your baking chops at this month's challenge:

Plain Genoise:

-3 large eggs

-3 large egg yolks

-pinch of salt

-¾ cup of sugar

-½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)

-¼ cup cornstarch

-one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

Instructions: 1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. 2. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering. 3. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch). 4. Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5. While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch. 6. Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder. 7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. 8. Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly (Note: This step made my entire house smell like a quiche. No joke, it was all eggy smelling). 9. While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream. 10. Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

(My genoise has tumors!!)

Coffee Buttercream:

-4 large egg whites

-1 cup sugar

-24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened

-2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

-2 tablespoons rum or brandy

Instructions: 1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. 2. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.
My buttercream looked narsty, after three attempts, it kept turning out like this. All separated and curdled-looking. I said screw-it, and decorated my yule log with it anyway.

Filling and frosting the log: 1. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan. 2. Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper. 3. Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper. 4. Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using). 5. Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder. 6. Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours. 7. Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end. 8. Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top. 9. Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump. 10. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark. 11. Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Meringue Mushrooms:

-3 large egg whites, at room temperature

-¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

-½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar

-1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar

-Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Instructions: 1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks.

(My meringue peaks are so pretty!)

Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended. 2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. (This part was fun!) Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue. 3. Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets. 4. Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.

The final product:

So, I know it's not the prettiest yule log out there, but hey, at least I tried!! It's a very rich dessert, and I'm not a big fan of heavy, rich desserts, so I wasn't a big fan of my yule log. Which looked diseased or something. However, I think this may have been a combination of user error and the recipe, because I know my mother in-law's recipe is quite different. I'm just glad I did it and got it over with, instead of chickening out. I'm just looking forward to next month's challenge.
Merry Christmas, Blogosphere!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Time For Something New

Do you ever find yourself in a dinner rut? Taco night, spaghetti night, stir fry night, etc etc. Lately, I've been feeling like that. I think it's because of the lack of really yummy fresh produce, since it's no longer summer. I actually cooked one of those Chicken Helper Dinners (gasp!) last week, just for something new. (Note: I regretted it. It was just far too salty and artificial tasting).

It's times like these where I turn to my cookbook shelf. I literally did it Russian Roulette style: I closed my eyes and pointed to a cookbook (my Betty Crocker Newlyweds Cookbook I got as a wedding present). Then, cracked it open and closed my eyes once again and pointed to something near the middle. Thank goodness I didn't end up picking something like bread pudding! Though... bread pudding would have been good too, however, inappropriate for dinner.

Anyways, the lucky dish turned out to be Chicken Cacciatore. Now, I am not Italian, but I figured it would be pretty simple since I had all the neccessary ingredients lurking in my kitchen anyway. So, here's Betty Crocker's Chicken Cacciatore-Mehgan Style:

-1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
-1/2 cup AP flour
-1/4 cup vegetable oil (I actually used olive oil)
-1 medium bell pepper
-1 medium onion
-1 can (14 1/2 oz)diced or stewed tomatoes, undrained
-1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
-1 cup sliced mushrooms (I nixed these, for I loathe mushrooms)
-1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh or 1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1 tsp chopped fresh or 1/4 tsp dried basil leaves
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
-mozarella cheese

Directions: Coat chicken with flour. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken in oil 15-20 minutes or until brown on all sides. Drain excess oil. Cute bell pepper and onions crosswise in half, cut each half into fourths. Stir bell pepper, onions and remianing ingredients (except cheese) into chicken in skillet. Heat to boiling, reduce heat. Cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut. Serve with cheese on top.

Now, I served mine on top of a bed of rice, because I've seen this done before, however, the recipe doesn't call for that. I supposed you could serve it with noodles instead of rice, but whatever you like, it'll still taste yummy. I loved all the fresh flavors in this, and it's definitely a new recipe for me. I love how simple it is, too. It kind of reminds me of chicken parmesan, but stovetop. The hubby liked it as well, he licked his plate clean. :-)

I know the picture doesn't really do it justice, but it was really tasty. And I love those little Santa's in the background. They just look so happy!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It Just Wouldn't Be Christmas...

...Without some sweet treats from Mehgan!! You see, my reputation precedes me: both Christmas parties we'll be attending this year have requested that I make and bring along some sweets for desserts. So, I thought for a while about what kinds of stuff I want to make, and have come down to a nice collection of classics. I'll be posting them as I make them, so be ready!!

First up, I've been dying to play around with chocolate, so I decided to make some brownies. Now, in my experience, there are two kinds of brownies in this world: the doughy, cakey kind and the chewy, flaky kind. It was a hard decision, but I went with the doughy, cakey kind and used Nigella Lawson's brownie recipe from How To Be A Domestic Goddess (aka Old Reliable).
Let me take a second to pause here, and give you a little insight into myself a bit. I am a peppermint freak. So, this time of year, I go insane with it (because any other time of year and it would just be...weird). I buy peppermint lotion, body spray, candy canes, peppermint tea, etc etc. My sister even nicknamed me Peppermint Patty (and my niece we've nicknamed Junior Mint). When I saw that Hershey's has a new Candy Cane Kiss, I knew I had to buy a bag... or two... or three.
I love them. They have little bits of crushed up candy canes in them, and they're delicious white chocolate. So delicious. They quickly became an inspiration for the brownies I made last night as a little "warm-up" to my cookie-making extravaganza. Here's my recipe for White Chocolate and Candy Cane Brownies:
-1 2/3 cups soft unsalted butter
-13 oz bittersweet chocolate
-6 large eggs
-1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
-1/2 tbsp peppermint extract
-1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tsp salt
-20 to 25 Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses (without wrappers)
Directions: Preheat oven to 350F. Line or grease 13" x 9" x 2 1/2" pan (sides also). Melt butter and chocolate together (I used the bowl over a boiling pot of water method) until smooth and creamy. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla, peppermint extract and sugar. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Once the chocolate has cooled a bit, beat it into the eggs until smooth, then stir in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. In a microwavable bowl, melt the Kisses (I heated them in the microwave for 30 seconds, then stirred them, and heated them for another 30 seconds). Drizzle the melted Kisses on top of the brownie batter in lines. Take a toothpick and carefully drag it up and down the lines to create a cool web effect. Place the brownies on the center rack of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
These brownies went over really well at work, everybody (including the cleaning guy) absolutely loved them. At first, when people bit into them, they didn't know what that new flavor was, but when I told them it was peppermint, they were able to nail down what it was they were eating. I'm so glad they liked them, and they were so much fun to make. I had forgotten how much I love working with chocolate. It's just such a wonderful substance, and makes my house smell divine.

And while I'm getting exceedingly sick of taking pictures without any sunlight, it is fun taking pictures in front of our Christmas tree! Merry Christmas, everyone!


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Perfect for a Cold Fall Day

You know those really rainy and cold days in Seattle that just make you want to stay at home and have some soup by the fire? Well, recently, my husband and I had one of those days. It was cold. It was gloomy. And it was raining. To top it all off, we had to haul two truckloads of firewood that we had just purchased. Now, I don't normally participate in such... "manly" endeavors, but alas, there was no one else to help the dear hubby in this one. So, in between loads of firewood, I threw this together in the crock pot so we'd have something tasty for dinner when we finished up.

Beef Stew (or, Soup, if you prefer):

-1 lb stew beef, cut into bite sized portions
-3 to 4 medium white or red potatoes, chopped
-1 whole onion, chopped
-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
-3 to 4 stalks of celery, chopped
-3 handfuls of baby carrots (you can chop them if you like, but they're good whole, too)
-3 cans of beef broth
-salt and pepper

Instructions: Place the potatoes, onion, garlic, celery and baby carrots in the crock pot along with the broth. (I turned my crock pot to cook at the 4-hour rate). Let these stew for about an hour. While those are going, salt and pepper the stew beef (you can pan-sear these in a little butter to lock in the flavor). After the veggies have cooked for about an hour and the broth is nice and hot, add the stew beef. Cover and let stew for another 3 1/2 to 4 hours, being careful not to mess with it too much, or you'll extend the cooking time. When the potatoes are tender, it should be done. If the broth isn't thick enough for your liking, you can add a spoonful or two of flour and that should thicken it up a bit.

I love this recipe, because 1) It's so simple, and 2) There's always tons of leftovers to take for lunch the next few days. It's hearty, it's hot, and so tasty. I love to make a nice loaf of homemade bread to go with it, too. If you asked my husband, he'd probably tell you I make this too much (almost twice a month), but I love it, so he's just going to have to deal with it. :-)

This was actually one of the first recipes I tried when we first got married and received the crock pot as one of our wedding gifts. I was trying to replicate my mom's beef stew (that'll never happen), but I think I got pretty close. There's a lot of room for variation, I've heard people like to add stewed tomatoes, or capers, or even leeks and mushrooms (gag, I hate mushrooms). So, the next chance you get, play around with the recipe and let me know what you come up with. I'm always interested in new stuff.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Bad Daring Baker!

It's only my third challenge since becoming a Daring Baker, and I already had to bow out! I feel so ashamed! This month completely flew by, with Thanksgiving and my husband's birthday all rolled into one, I just got so caught up. I know I cooked this month, obviously, since I'm not starving to death over here, but seriously...where has the time gone?! I only posted once this month, that's insane! I promise, I'll try a lot harder in December. If you want to check out what the other faithful Daring Bakers were up to this November, head on over to the Daring Bakers blogroll (yes, there are A LOT of us now!) and see how well their tender potato bread turned out. Here's the link:


Monday, November 12, 2007

Baking Buddies

For the past five years, my sister and her family have lived in Texas (which is about 2,000 miles from us and everyone else in our family) due to her husband being in the Air Force. Every year or so, my brother in-law would get sent overseas (Iraq, mostly), and rather than waiting around in Texas for him, especially during the holidays, we'd have my sister and the kids come stay with us in our spare room. We love having them stay with us, and it's so awesome watching them grow up. My husband and I got really close with her kids, and it almost feels like they're our kids every now and then.
Well, in October, my brother in-law got transfered to a base about 45 minutes from our house. We were so stoked to have them living nearby, that we immediately volunteered to babysit as much as possible (we understand how important it is to remain close in a marriage, so we try to give them as many opportunities as they can to go out on a date). Recently, while we were babysitting, I was preparing some goodies for a bake auction we had at work to raise money for our annual Holiday party in December, so I decided to enlist the aid of my two little helpers in this mission. They absolutely loved getting to help me in the kitchen (which is the one room in the house I can most often be found), and they especially loved the end result (getting to eat them). I decided to make Iced Pumpkin Cookies, because I knew that with it being November, these would sell like hotcakes (and they did!!).
I have never made these before, but will definitely be making them again and again this holiday season. They're small, so you don't feel terribly guilty for eating one (or two... or three...) and they are packed with pumpkin-spicey goodness. Here's the recipe:
Iced Pumpkin Cookies (courtesy
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt; set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies, then drizzle glaze with fork.
To Make Glaze: Combine confectioners' sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add milk as needed, to achieve drizzling consistency.

I'll be sure to post lots more photos of treats the kiddos help me with in the future. I have a feeling there will be a lot of them!


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween, it's probably my most favorite holiday all year (yes, even better than Christmas and my birthday). I think the main reason I love it so much is that I don't have to worry about getting anyone the "perfect gift" and I rarely have to deal with family like I do during the major holidays. It's usually just me and my husband, sitting at home, watching scary movies, carving pumpkins and handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters. And I love it.

My husband and I have this tradition that during the entire month of October, we watch nothing but scary movies. That includes renting as well as buying or watching on television. I have no idea how we came about doing it, we've been married four years, so it's a little blurry. Every year, it gets bigger and bigger, we actually went to three Halloween parties last Saturday night alone! So, needless to say, Halloween is big for us.

My favorite Halloween candy used to be those bite-size Snickers bars. Those were the major candy to get when I was a kid. Every year, on Halloween, after we got home from trick-or-treating, my brothers and I would play "Store". We'd put all of the candies in their respective piles (Snickers, Milky Way, etc in the Chocolate area, Blow Pops and Tootsie Pops in the lollipop area, then Smarties and Sweet Tarts in the Other Candy area) on top of our pillow cases, which were our shops. We'd trade, say, two Tootsie Pops for a Snickers, that sort of thing. So, Snickers had a lot of sway when it came to bartering against my brothers.

Ever since getting my braces on in March, however, I haven't been able to have one Snickers or Milky Way, since nougat is an orthodontic no-no. How depressing. I've now become a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup devotee. They fit perfectly upside down in my mouth, resting against the roof and melting away until there's nothing left. I can make a Reese's peanut butter cup (the wee little ones, not the monster ones) last about 10 minutes if I'm careful. And don't even get me started on Starburst! I know I'm not supposed to have those, but as an experiment one time at the movies, I made a single cherry Starburst last 35 minutes. My tongue was so raw after that!

Anyways, here's to the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Hated by most Australians, and loved by many an American consumer. I tip my hat to you, and reach into my desk drawer for yet another foil wrapped slice of heaven.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Daring Bakers Get Bostini!

Hello ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to another installment of the Daring Bakers Challenge! This month, Mary at Alpineberry chose a Bostini Cream Pie for us to make, and I couldn't wait to make it. But, with a week-long vacation in the middle of the month, combined with my brother moving out, I simply had no time to make it! I did, however, print the recipe and bring it with me everywhere, reading it and re-reading it to make sure I'd have enough ingredients in my house for when I decided to eventually make it.

As it turns out, I waited till the very last possible day to get crackin'! I was in a panic when I woke up on the morning of the 28th and realized I had T-minus 16 hours to bake, stir, whisk, mix, photograph, serve and post this bad boy. I got busy as soon as I rolled outta bed! And let me just add that there are a TON of eggs in this recipe. I bought two of those 18-count cartons, and had just enough (after accidentally breaking a few yolks while I was trying to separate them from the whites). I also had to make a last-minute run to Albertson's to grab some OJ, because my husband and brother in-law drank the stuff I had set aside for this recipe (darn them!). Seriously, they downed a half gallon of OJ in less than two days. I have no idea why, they must have just been really thirsty!

It was worth the troubles, though, and the results came out amazing and delicious. Here's the recipe:

Bostini Cream Pie
(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
Makes 8 generous servings
3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten 9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean (or vanilla extract, if that's easier for you to find)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze
8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter

To prepare the custard: Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.
To prepare the chiffon cakes: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups. Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat. Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter. Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.
To prepare the glaze: Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm. To assemble: Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

I had a few variations to the recipe, because after waiting so long, I had realized that all the other Daring Bakers had already made theirs the way I was planning on making mine (grrr!). So, I decided to bake my chiffon cake on a baking sheet and then cut out fun shapes with cookie cutters. I used pumpkin and stars, as you can see in the photo below.

I thought they were so stinkin' cute! I plan on taking one with me in my lunch tomorrow, seeing as how the chiffon cake was my favorite part.

And here are a few photos of the finished product.

I served them in little scotch glasses that my husband had, and decorated the pumpkin one with festive lines, and just doused the star one with loads of chocolate. My husband's favorite part was the custard, though, he practically licked it out of the glass!

And here's a festive photo with one of our plug-in pumpkins (safer than jack-o-lanterns, so we can have it indoors).

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I do! Check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll to right to see how the other guys and dolls of the Daring Bakers did with this month's Challenge. I gotta tell you, they're pretty amazing!


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's Time For Another Royal Foodie Joust!

The lovely Jenn over at the Leftover Queen Forum is the lovely host of a little monthly competition we like to call the Royal Foodie Joust. Brittany The Pie Lady won last month's Joust with her very first entry (congrats!), so she was able to pick this month's ingredients. Up this month, we've got any kind of mushrooms, herbs and cheese. I chose Portobello Mushrooms, Oregano and Sage, and Asiago cheese (one of my very favorites):
For my entry, I had no idea what I wanted to make. For one, I loathe mushrooms. I hate their texture (they feel like slimy little slugs). Two, I'm not big on their flavor. And three, the thought of eating a fungus really does not appeal to me. But, in Royal Foodie manner, I manned up and picked up my first set of mushrooms in God knows how long. I even picked up a jar of mushroom spaghetti sauce. I chose to make ravioli, and just did not feel like making the sauce myself. So, without further delay, here's my entry for Mushroom and Asiago Cheese Stuffed Ravioli.

-1 portobello mushroom
-1/2 bell pepper
-3 cloves of garlic
-1/4 onion
-1/4 cup Asiago cheese
-1/5 cup olive oil
-1 or 2 sprigs of fresh oregano
-1 or 2 sprigs of fresh sage
-salt and pepper
-1 package of wonton/ravioli wrappers
-1 egg white
-1 jar spaghetti sauce (I use Classico)
-1 can of stewed tomatoes

Instructions: Chop up the mushroom, bell pepper, garlic, onion, oregano and sage into 1/8" bits and combine them in a bowl. Chop the herbs and add those to the other ingredients. Add the olive oil and spices and stir well to combine. Mixture should look like this:

Heat in a pan over low heat until the onions turn transparent and the mushrooms turn slightly brown. Heat a stock pot of water to a boil (you may want to add some olive oil to prevent the ravioli from sticking to each other). In another pot, heat the spaghetti sauce and stewed tomatoes over medium heat and season to taste. Sprinkle a couple baking trays with some corn meal to prevent the ravioli from sticking. Brush the edges of the ravioli wrappers with the egg white, then add a small amount (about the size of a large marble) of the ravioli mixture to the wrapper. Take another wrapper and brush the edges with the egg white, and place over the top of the bottom ravioli. Press the edges to create a nice seal and put on the tray. Repeat until you're out of filling (this should make about 10-12 ravioli). Place the ravioli in the boiling water and allow to soak until the ravioli become slightly transparent (I wish I had taken a picture of this step, because the ravioli somewhat resembled brains!). Once they're done, use a slotted spoon to carefully lift the ravioli out of the water and place on your plate. Pour the spaghetti sauce mixture over the top.
These were pretty good for someone who doesn't like mushrooms. You're looking at my husband's dinner, and he had me heat the leftover mushrooms in some olive oil so he'd have "something meaty" to eat with his ravioli. I felt like there should have been more cheese, or a different cheese, like ricotta, to bind all the ingredients inside the ravioli. Once they were cut open, the ingredients sort of just fell out all over the plate. But they sure were tasty, very flavorful because of the fresh herbs and you could really taste the mushroom. It was a nice combination of flavors, but the texture was just a little bit off. I'd give it a 7 out 10 points.

But, don't fret, for I came up with a tasty dessert to make up for my lackluster dinner!! We had quite a few leftover wonton wrappers, and I was craving chocolate. The only chocolate left in the house was a jar of Nutella, so I stuffed a wonton wrapper with about a half teaspoon of it, folded the wrapper in half and sealed it with some water. Plopped that bad boy in some heated oil for a few seconds (about 30, 15 per side) and tossed it in some powdered sugar when it was done. Heaven. My 2 1/2 year old neice looked at it and asked, "What is it." I said, "It's a Chocolate Dumpling" and she said "Ohhhh" and took a bite. Big grins all around! Success!

Now I'm off to come up with more exciting recipes that involve wonton/ravioli wrappers. That was just too much fun and way too tasty to never do again.


P.S. Let me just say how frustrating it is that the sun sets so early now that we're approaching Winter. By the time I get dinner done, there's not enough light left to photograph my little dishes and make them look good. My kitchen flourescents and camera flash will have to do until Spring. How sad!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Save the Ta-Ta's!

Hello, everyone! This post is mostly geared towards the ladies, so gentlemen, cover your eyes or proceed with caution.

I am a big Breast Cancer Research supporter, and was so glad to see that Minko at Couture Cupcakes (like to the left, in the blogroll) is hosting a Pinktober event in support of Breast Cancer Research in which she donates $1 towards Breast Cancer Research for every pink-inspired recipe that gets submitted to her by October 15th (yes, I'm cutting it close here).

While no one in my family has gone through such a trying ordeal as breast cancer (knock on wood) there have been a few scares in my family, and I know a couple of people from work who have gone through it. I do this for them.

Pink being my all-time favorite color, it was only natural that I should participate. I was so excited, I didn't know what I wanted to make that was pink, but also oh-so-girly as well. The pinup girls from Northwest Pinups For Troops had scheduled a group photo shoot at my house with a sleepover theme, so I figured what better chance to bake a girly cupcake than for a girly photo shoot, huh? On top of all that, my pinup character's forte is baking, so I would get featured in a solo shot posing with my beautiful pink cupcakes. What more can a girl ask for? I fired up the Pink Terror (my KitchenAid) and got to work!

So, here's my recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes with a Pink Lemonade Icing:

Vanilla Swirl Cupcake Ingredients (adapted recipe from Martha Stewart):
-1½ cups all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-½ teaspoon salt
-8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
-1 cup sugar
-3 large eggs
-1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
-¾ cup milk
-red food coloring

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time; scrape down bowl, and beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Divide batter evenly between two bowls. In one bowl, add 4-6 drops of red food coloring and mix well. Pour batter into cupcake liners, alternating between the pink and white batter mixture until each cupcake liner is about three-quarters full. (The way I filled mine ended up looking like boobies, I kid you not!) Bake until golden and tops spring back to touch, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer pans to wire rack; cool completely (about 1 1/2 hrs). Makes 12.

Frosting Ingredients:
-1 cup powdered sugar
-2 tbsp warm water
-1 tbsp lemon extract
-red food coloring
-pink sugar sprinkles

In a small bowl, whisk together first three ingredients (add more powdered sugar if it's too runny for your taste). Add two drops of red food coloring and mix well. Frost cupcakes, then decorate with the pink sugar sprinkles. Gorgeous!

These cupcakes went over really well with the pinups, they received rave reviews from everyone who had one. They loved how the two flavors don't overpower each other, they actually are a really nice compliment to each other. They also loved the swirled cake, they thought it was a nice touch. I loved that they came out so beautiful, enough to get photographed with us in our photo shoot! Gotta love those retro tin cupcake papers!

I'll be sure to post some of the finished shots of us with the cupcakes so you can see how photogenic they are. Until then, you'll just have to enjoy the ones I took in my kitchen!

Aren't they lovely? I think so! Hop on over to Couture Cupcakes and check out the other entries and Save The Ta-Ta's!!!


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Miss The Fair Already

I am one of those folks that is lucky enough to live within just a few minutes of the Puyallup Fair when it's in town during the month of September. I am a self-proclaimed Fair-Freak, I love the Fair, I could spend all day there, and still want to come back tomorrow. I love the food, the rides, the exhibits, everything about it.

My good friend Diana introduced me to the Fisher Fair Scones this year (I'm not a big fan of biscuit-y things, but she talked me into it) and I haven't been the same since. I've even gone so far as to try to replicate the recipe on my own, only to end up with dry, brittle little scone-wannabes. Not cool.

So, while perusing the local Safeway today in search for some ingredients for this month's Daring Bakers challenge (which will be fabulous, by the way!) I happend to see this lovely little red and white box perched atop the highest shelf in the baking aisle. I would have been able to spot that plaid label a mile away. Amen, hellelujah! I didn't have to order it online! Yay!
I knew immediately that I wanted to make some plain old-fashioned ones, and some cranberry orange ones (seeing as how it's officially Fall and everything). I couldn't wait to finish cooking dinner in order whip out the Pink Terror (aka my KitchenAid) and get to work on these bad boys. I divided the dough into three sections as directed by the instructions on the box, and made two thirds of them orange & cranberry, and only one third of them plain. The recipe is on the back of the box, and all you need is 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp of water, and presto! You've got yourself some world-famous scones, baby!!

The finished product: delightfully indulgent. A very light crispy outside with a warm, pillowy inside. To make them even better, I whipped some butter with some honey, and used my favorite Knott's Berry Farm Boysenberry jam. So good that I contemplated making these for my birthday, and that's 11 months away!

Istn' she lovely? Oh, how I love them. I bought two boxes, and fully plan on buying more while I still can, so keep your eye out for some Puyallup Fair Scone-redux style postings.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Time To vote: Royal Foodie Joust

Hello everyone! It's once again time to vote in the Royal Foodie Joust at the Leftover Queen Forum:

Lots of delicious entries this month, it's so hard to choose just one!!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daring Bakers Go All Cinnamon-y!

Yay, my first Daring Bakers Challenge is done, and a wild success! I was so pleased to be accepted into the elite Daring Bakers (Blogroll to the left), and would like to take this time to welcome all of our October newbies, we have quite a few.

September's Challenge was Cinnamon and/or Sticky Buns, and I was oh-so-excited to be able to participate. I've always tried making them on my own, but they always came out either tough and chewy, or lacking flavor. This recipe helped fix BOTH problems, yay!!
First of all, the dough is a dream to work with. Soft and pillowy. I did have some problems getting it to rise, because we keep our house at a relatively low temperature during the day. So, if your house tends to be a little cool like mine, I suggest keeping your oven on a low heat and letting your dough proof near the warmth of the oven.

The Wonderful Dough

Proofing the buns.

Secondly, I didn't make the sticky buns portion of the recipe, but fully intend to during the coming months. The icing for the cinnamon buns has a slightly lemony taste that was good, but I would have much preferred cream cheese icing or just a plain royal icing. Marce, the host for this month, gave us a lot of creative freedom with this recipe in regards to different toppings for the sticky buns, and different seasons for the filling of the buns.

The buns fresh out of the oven.
Here's the recipe (it seems long and complicated, but that's because Peter explains everything in detail):

Cinnamon buns and sticky buns (from Peter Reinhart´s The Bread Baker´s Apprentice)
15 minutes mixing; 3 1/2 hours fermentation, shaping and proofing; 20 to 40 minutes baking.
Yield: Makes 8 to 12 large or 12 to 16 smaller cinnamon or sticky buns
6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast*
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)
White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)
Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)
Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)
*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.
1. Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand); if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast. Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
2. Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
3. Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.
4. For cinnamon buns, line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.
For sticky buns, coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.
5. Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.
7. Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.
8. For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving. For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.
White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns
Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.
Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.
When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)
Caramel glaze for sticky buns
Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California.NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature.
2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

I packed up my finished buns for a bake sale I had this month for a group of pinup models that I joined in June of this year. We're called Northwest Pinups 4 Troops (we're on myspace) and we raise money to put together care packages (calendars, letters, goodies, etc) to send overseas to our troops who can't be home at this time. Our goal is to remind our boys that there's still something worth fighting for. Here are a few shots of us at the bake sale (my buns were one of the first things we sold completely out of!)

That's me, Rosie Baker, sitting all prim and proper!

The lovely Miss Sara Beth.

I had so much fun with this challenge, I can't believe how wonderful they turned out, and it only took one try!! My fear of baking with yeast is slowly starting to fade with time and experience (thank goodness!). Thank you, Marce, for a wonderful challenge.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

It's Royal Foodie Joust Time!

Once again, I am participating in the Royal Foodie Joust at the Leftover Queen Forum! I won last month, so that means I got to choose this month's ingredients: white chocolate, lavendar and pears. Here's what I came up with:

Caramelized Pears with a White Chocolate and Lavender Filling:

-3 or 4 pears, halved and cored
-1/4 to 1/2 cup white sugar
-4 oz (1/2 package) cream cheese
-3 or 4 oz white chocolate
-1/8 to 1/4 tsp crushed lavender

Instructions: In a medium saucepan, bring about a 2 cups of water to a simmer. In a glass or metal bowl over the simmering water, melt the white chocolate. Be sure to stir it constantly so as to not burn it. It's also a good idea to wear an oven mitt while holding the bowl so you don't burn your hand. Add the cream cheese and lavendar and mix well. Put the sugar on a plate and then press the inside half of each pear in the sugar, then place the pears face down on a pan over low heat. Pour whatever sugar you have left around the pears. Keep and eye on them and the sugar, because they can burn rather quickly. Once the pears are a light golden brown, transfer them to place and scoop the white chocolate filling onto the pears. Whatever caramel is left in the pan can be used to drizzle the pears with.

I made this for my husband, brother, brother in-law and his girlfriend tonight, and they loved it. They loved how simple the flavors were, and were surprised at how much they liked the flavor of the lavender. I liked that it was so different from the usual cake or ice cream desserts we tend to have when family is over. As my brother in-law said after his first bite, "Mmmm, this is pro." Gotta love those kinds of compliments.

Head on over the Leftover Queen Forum (link to the left, in the Foodie Blogroll) to check out the other fabulous entries from my fellow Foodie Blogrollers.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Rise of the Pink KitchenAid...

Greetings, my friends!! No, I haven't forgotten about you! September tends to be such a busy month for me. As you can see, there has been a gorgeous new addition to my kitchen: my new pink KitchenAid!! It is wonderful and lovely and so girly, I love it!! My hubby and brother got it for my birthday. Now, all I need is to come up with a name for her!!

As you can see, I am drawn to her beauty:
I just can't resist, you see!!

Anyways, enough of the KitchenAid porn, alright?
So, it's been pretty chilly-willy here in Seattle as of late, so I decided to make some warm, hearty chicken noodle soup for dinner tonight. I'm trying to stave off any potential cold/flu, since pretty much everyone I know is suffering from some form or another of the Creeping Crud. Here's my recipe for Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup:
-1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-1 medium onion, chopped
-3 to 4 stalks of celery, chopped
-1/3 lb baby carrots, chopped
-3 to 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
-2 cans of chicken broth
-1/2 bag of egg noodles
-salt and pepper
Instructions: In a crock pot, place all ingredients, plus one can of water (or more if you want a lot of broth). Allow to heat for 1 hour, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and using the two-fork method, separate the chicken breast into thin slices and replace into crock pot. Allow to cook for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 more hours, or until the veggies are tender. Add the noodles and cook for 30 minutes more. Serve with your favorite bread (the recipe for my favorite bread is listed below).
Soooo yummy, just look at those colors! That says Autumn to me right there! And you can see a tasty slice of my favorite bread is nestled with there next to the bowl. Here's the recipe for Amish White Bread (I got it from and halved it to make just one loaf, but you can use the full recipe to make two):
-2 cups warm water (approx 110F)
-2/3 cup white sugar
-1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
-1 1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 cup vegetable oil
-6 cups of bread flour
Instructions: In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar into the warm water. Add the yeast and allow to proof until it gets creamy and frothy. Mix in the salt and oil, then add the flour one cup at a time (I used my handy-dandy KitchenAid to do the mixing for me!). Once well combined, knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl and turn it to coat. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise until doubled in size, about an hour. Punch dough down then knead for a few minutes. Divide the dough in half and shape into loaves. Place the dough into a well oiled loaf pan and allow to rise for 30 more minutes or until the dough has risen 1 inch above the pan's sides. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until the top turns a light golden brown.
I love love love this bread, it's so simple! I make it pretty much every time I make something in my crock pot, because it goes so well with everything: roast beef, beef stew, chicken noodle soup, etc. My husband and brother love it, as well, they say that it tastes like the bread they ate in the Renaissance, haha! And I like that there's always plenty leftover, too. When I make the full recipe, I usually make the second loaf into cinnamon bread for breakfast. I once even went so far as to use the cinnamon bread to make French toast one morning!

Thanks for bearing with me this crazy-insane month of September! I have a bake sale coming up on the 23rd, so be sure to stop by to see more KitchenAid fun!!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Very Good Birthday Indeed

Another birthday down, I'm 23 now! This birthday was an especially nice one, for multiple reasons: I won the Royal Foodie Joust held at the Leftover Queen Forum (link is to the left in the foodie blogroll), I got accepted into the Daring Bakers (yay!) and my husband put a PINK KitchenAid on order for me (it hasn't arrived yet). I am one happy girl!

My boss' birthday is the day before mine, and I took the day off on my birthday, so I decided to bake him some cupcakes to have on his birthday. I was going to make this cake I saw in a cookbook I just bought, but decided to go with a real crowd-pleaser: the Cuba Libre Cupcake I found on Coconut & Lime's blog ( I love how dense and chocolatey the cake turns out, and the frosting is to-die-for. It reminds me almost of doughnut frosting, but not as gag-me sweet. Instead of using some Appleton White rum, I used Sailor Jerry's instead, since it's a darker rum. I think I liked that a lot better. They went over really well with my co-workers, and they loved joking about how they were "drinking" on the job. Look at how yummy these were!! I had to stop devouring my cupcake long enough to take a picture. Everyone wanted me to be included in the birthday hoopla, so I stuck a candle in my cupcake, too. You can kinda see the hole it left in the frosting.

And my good friend at work knows how much I LOVE cooking and baking, and she knew what my husband planned on getting me for my birthday, so she got me this lovely set of gifts:

From left to right: Three different kinds of pure vanilla (Madagascar, Tahiti and Mexico), a bag of super-fine Creme Brulee sugar (can't wait to make some now!), a bottle of Madagascar Pure Vanilla Sugar, and in the back (you can't really see it) is a cookbook stand with a glass reference table for it to sit on. She's the best!!

I just wanted to say a big Thank You to everyone who has made this birthday so special for me. I feel truly spoiled!!