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My Salad Muse ~ A Vinaigrette Experiment

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Last night was the fourth time in recent memory that I “WOW!!!”’d over a salad. 

Salad. 

I have no pictures.  Cuz, I mean, it’s salad. 

Oh wait, here’s one: 

That lovely soon-to-be clean plate was, just moments before, home to THE single most delectable combination of food stuffs I’ve eaten since…. um… probably February.  (You may notice a trend: when we go Up North, we eat extremely well.  When we eat extremely well, I blog about it, and then try to replicate what we ate Up North, then blog about that.) 

Anyway, that salad, the Muse, as I will now call it, was fed to us at the Boathouse on Old Mission. 

Its proper name on the menu was “apple beet salad,” which was deceptively misleading and caused me to blow past it without reading the description on first glance.  Upon further review, third trip down menu lane, I read all the way to the end of the description & ran smack into this:

“vanilla cinnamon vinaigrette.”

And I died a little. 

Nine dollars later, in the name of research and development, I declared the Boathouse apple beet salad to be the most wonderful salad I’ve ever, EVER had.  Possibly the best non-meat, non-dessert dish I’ve ever eaten. 

Envision the plate (cuz, as noted above, I was too preoccupied with eating the salad to photograph it – bad blogger):  Crispy white apple matchsticks on top of a fluffy mound of dark green ruffly spinach leaves, sparkly red beet pieces (ignore the beets if you don’t like them, I just pushed them off to Rick’s side), a perfect canel of creamy goat cheese on the edge of the plate, and a healthy scattering of toasted whole marcona almonds. 

Then inhale:  the scent of vanilla, apple & cinnamon hit me in the face with more force than I thought vanilla was capable of.  Savory, sweet, tangy, crispy, crunchy, cool, creamy, rich, and somehow umami, I swear.  Divine.  Perfect with the cold Bry’s estate dry reisling we ordered.  

(Yes, I was drinking two different glasses of wine – I ordered the veal as my entrée so I needed a red, too, sheesh.) 

Luckily that afternoon Rick & I ran 7 miles.  I call that 700 spare calories.  I saved up some of those for dessert on Sunday… this little beauty:  

Lemon tart with a sea salt crust & chocolate sauce at Riverside in Leland.  Again, a remarkably perfect flavor pairing.  I almost want to shed a tear just thinking about it.  And of course re-create it at home in cupcake form.  More on that later.

Anyway, so that apple-vanilla-cinnamon salad at the Boathouse changed my life. 

Yesterday, unable to shake the memory of it, I began experimenting with vinaigrette at home.  I downloaded a few recipes off the interwebs to get familiar with the oil-acid ratios.  I went to Meijers (yes, it is “MeijerZ”) & bought some fabulous produce (I’ve found that the boxed organic 50/50 spring mix/baby spinach is the best base for any salad and it makes a huge difference).  The grocery cart just about filled itself with berries, apples, cukes, radishes… 

I pulled out the blender when I got home and set my print-out references on the counter.  I followed one recipe for blueberry-balsamic vinaigrette to the “T” and wasn’t terribly happy with the result.  So I put it in a jar and started over. 

So in the blender went more blueberries, salt, pepper, Splenda, a little water, apple cider vinegar, and – wait for this – almond emulsion (extract).  Yes, almond flavoring, like you’d use in baking.  That was all blended till smooth, then drizzled with a bit of canola oil.  Here’s the recipe – make it if you get a chance:

Blueberry Vinaigrette with Almond Essence:

        1/4 cup fresh blueberries

        3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

        1/8 tsp almond emulsion or extract

        1 packet of Splenda or up to 1 teaspoon honey or sugar for desired sweetness

        1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt

        1/4 cup canola oil

Blend first 5 ingredients til smooth.  Then, with blender running, drizzle in the oil.  Refrigerate for 1/2 hour or more for best flavor distribution. 

I’m smacking myself in the face for not taking a picture of this salad. 

Not only was the dressing phenomenal, but so was the mix of fruits, veggies & nuts:  the aforementioned 50/50 greens mix, sliced cucumbers, radishes, celery, pink lady apples, black seedless grapes and toasted pecans.  If you have any kind of food-sensitive imagination you can know inherently how delectable, in flavor and texture, that combo was.  Together with my blueberry almond vinaigrette…  WOW. 

Next time I promise I’ll take a picture.  This time, I leave you with a cocktail inspiration.  Something Smith & Wollensky call The U.S. Mint – gin muddled with mint, cucumber & tonic.  THE BEST summer drink.  One of two reasons I grow mint (mojitos are the other). 

Thank you Chef Street for posing with my lovely drink.  Your freshly-pressed vintage shirt and dirty martini are definitely better than any backdrop I could design 😉 

PS ~ no matter how much I gush about the food, good friends are the best side dishes.   Okay, good wine is right up there, too. 

Winter Refresher Cupcakes

Never fails.I become ardently inspired to create a new dessert by seeing or tasting something fabulous that someone else makes.  As soon as practical thereafter, I go to the store to get the ingredients.  And BAM!  Fail.  Said ingredients are now out of season and unavailable to me, even if they were – just moments ago – available to the person who made the inspirational dessert.  GAH! 

This time, however, I outsmarted the season by predicting that this might happen and stocking up on & freezing a few extra bags of fresh cranberries in December.  Score! 

The inspiration for this lovely flavor combo came from an ice cream, of all things (I KNOW!?  Ice cream in February?!)  White chocolate-chunk ice cream with cranberries, sprinkled with coarse natural sugar and accompanied by two thin slivers of candied meyer lemon.  It was SO beautiful, so wintery.  At first taste I thought, “mmm, this is nice.”  Then I ate seven more bites and wanted to merry the person who made it.  This was one of those ingenius desserts that just got better and better with each bite and afterward had me in a little bit of a food daze. 

So of course instantly I decided (spoon in mouth) that this was going to become a cupcake. 

Little did I realize it would be one of THE BEST non-chocolate desserts I’ve ever made.  Especially because it was a bit of an experiment.

Me and my chemistry-challenged self were starting to get cocky with different variations on this Perfect Vanilla Cupcake recipe.  But I couldn’t help it.  I’m like a mad scientist and when I get an idea in my head I need to act on it with zero regard for the properties of sodium bi-carbonate. 

And what a wonderful experiment this was!!! 

For as much as I hate doing this, I have to share the recipe because it was incredible, and frankly, because I want to be able to re-create it again as soon as cranberries come back in season next fall. 

The Winter Refresher Cupcake:  White Chocolate, Cranberry & Citrus

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes by Glory at Glorious Treats SLIGHTLY MODIFIED: 

Before assembling the cupcake batter, blanche half a bag of whole raw cranberries (2 cups or so) in simmering water for about 3-5 minutes until they pop but before they turn to mush.  Drain & cool.

Finely chop two squares of Baker’s white chocolate and mix with a 1/2 teaspoon of flour.  Set aside.  (Try not to be tempted to use white “baking chips” – I hate those.  The extra step of chopping the Baker’s chocolate only takes a sec.)

Assemble cake batter while cranberries cool.  Recipe is modified as follows: 

                Instead of 2 eggs I used 3 egg whites (changes the color & texture slightly);

                I added 1 extra tablespoon of sugar to offset any bitterness in the cranberries;

                And at the end, I stirred in the chopped white chocolate. 

Fill each cup about 2/3 full.  Drop a few of the softened cranberries right in the middle of the batter, they won’t sink!  I made mini cupcakes so I just used about 3-5 berries in each one but if I made regular-sized cupcakes I’d use twice that.  This recipe made 24 minis and one 6” cake layer.  That equates to about 15-16 regular-sized cupcakes I think. 

This is a perfectly moist & tender cupcake!  Not perfectly white-white or as fluffy as a boxed mix, but it is the best scratch vanilla cake I’ve ever had, and incredibly easy after doing it once or twice.  THANK YOU GLORY!!!

Orange-zested Cream Cheese Frosting

I use this recipe & method and at the end, mix in until just blended the zest of one orange (or less – start with the zest of half the orange; it’s quite potent).  Don’t overmix cream cheese frosting, whatever you do. 

And for this recipe I’m actually going to suggest using some kind of colored sugar for the decoration because it adds a lovely crunch.  And of course a touch of pink which I’m a huge fan of. 

Oh my gosh, I just remembered!  This flavor combo is also amazing in martini form!  Vanilla vodka, triple sec & cranberry juice.  I think those have to be on this weekend’s agenda.  {Rubbing hands together whilst bearing an evil-delighted grin!}

 

I made these for a new Fan who ordered a bunch of mini cupcakes for a small baby shower.  She wanted some cookie dough cupcakes (the reason I buy a bag of mini-chocolate chips EVERY single time I go to the grocery store) and the white-chocolate-cranberry.  They’re a great compliment, very lady-like yet youthful.  And SO DARN CUTE!!! 

Yesterday after work, Rick laid down for a nap to try & kick the cold he’s coming down with and so I had a ton of time to indulge myself in these little princesses.  And mybe have a glass of chianti for my birthday dinner 😉

Feliz Navidad! Orange Cupcakes with Mexican Hot Chocolate Buttercream

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Since I’m still recovering from surgery and can’t chew anything yet, of course all I can think about is food.  It’s Christmas, and all I want to do is bake.  I haven’t been able to make anything new for the last few days, so I’m going to share one of my all-time favorites from last year. 

Last year I made an amazing assortment of festive cupcakes to pass out to our firm’s best clients. 

For about three days, our whole house and garage was FULL of cupcakes!  I think I made 16 dozen or something crazy.  Each client’s sampler box included four flavors:  peppermint stick, gingerbread with orange-cream cheese frosting, double hot chocolate with marshmallows, and “Feliz Navidad” ~ an orange-cinnamon butter cake topped with Mexican hot chocolate buttercream. 

Have you ever experienced Mexican hot chocolate?  If not, you MUST!  It is HOT in every sense of the word.  Not too sweet, rich, dark, warm and cozy, it’s spiced up with dark cocoa powder, a touch of coffee, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.  This is by far my favorite cupcake ever.  (Regardless of how many times I say that.)

It’s something a little different, but distinctly festive.  It begins with yellow cake and chocolate frosting – the makings of many a favorite birthday cake. 

Feliz Navidad Cupcakes

Cinnamon-Orange Butter Cake

Ingredients:

One “Golden Butter Recipe” yellow cake mix

Zest of one orange

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup orange juice (or the juice of one orange, with enough water added to equal 2/3 cup)

3 large eggs

1/2 cup softened butter (1 Stick)

Directions:

Blend all ingredients together in a large bowl according to the box directions.

Divide batter into 24 lined cupcakes and bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out with a few crumbs, but no wet batter sticking to it. 

Mexican Hot Chocolate Buttercream (slightly adapted from cupcake rehab)

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (or 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup shortening, which is what I usually do)

4 -5 cups confectioner’s sugar

3 Tablespoons – 1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s special dark)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on how spicy you like it

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee (not coffee granules)

Directions:

Cream butter in the bowl of a stand mixer for 1-2 minutes until light & fluffy.

Add 1 cup powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, coffee and 1 tablespoon milk. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Add 2 cups sugar and vanilla. Mix. Add the rest of the sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix for 4-5 minutes, at least, until fluffy, gradually adding a tablespoon more milk at a time, up to 1/4 cup total, if too thick.  If too thin, add up to 1 cup more powdered sugar. Continue blending until consistency is satisfactory.*

Frost completely cooled cupcakes and top with cinnamon red hot candies – seriously, DO NOT omit the red hots!   

These are ridiculous.  Easy and phenom. 

I’m sharing these with a baking circle for the 12 Days of Christmas Goodies at Mom’s Crazy Cooking ~ hop on over there to see MANY more amazing ideas! 

Pumpkin Cream Pie (er, cake)

I have an issue with Boston Cream Pie. 

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Boston Cream Pie.

But it is NOT pie.

It is, unequivocally, cake.  Cake on the bottom, creamy vanilla custard in the middle, cake on the top, and chocolate ganache all over.  Right?  Where’s the question?  Why is this called PIE?  THIS is pie:

So maybe I’m a stickler for word choice.  This gets me in trouble with Rick a lot because I like to tell him to stop being so nit-picky about semantics and he’s all like “WHATEVER word freak!”  And I’m like, “but it’s different.”  And he’s like, “No, it’s the same!”  But it’s different.  Like Boston Cream Pie – it’s not pie, it’s cake.  Same difference?

Several times I’ve almost been compelled to petition my state rep to legislate the use of certain words.  See, “insurance” and “bank” can only be used by certain regulated entities.  Well, I’m not suggesting that the words “pie” and “cake” be legislated but the word “resort” should be.  Have you ever driven up the Lake Huron coast?  Srsly, there are “beach resorts” up and down the lake, and I. am. sorry. but none of them are even close to what I would call a “resort.”  No pool, no spa, no tiki bar, no concierge…  Three little cabins and a firepit do not a resort make. 

THIS is a resort:

Ahh… San Pedro, Belize…  resorts on resorts for miles…  Jeez, it’s not even December and I’m already delving back into my Caribbean photos from last spring?  Oh boy. 

Anyway, this weekend I made a Thanksgiving-inspired cake that’s a lot like Boston Cream Pie – cake, creamy filling, chocolate ganache. 

But because it uses pumpkin, I think it tends a tad bit more toward the pie end of the scale than straight-up Boston Cream Pie.  No?  Okay, whatever, it’s a cake.  A gorgeous 4-layer chocolate chip pumpkin cake filled with light & creamy autumn-spice Swiss meringue buttercream, drenched in semi-sweet chocolate ganache. 

Dee.  Lish. 

I made a 6″ cake and 6 cupcakes. 

Chocolate-chip Pumpkin Cake slightly adapted from this one from Allrecipes

1 boxed cake mix (white or yellow)

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

3 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup water

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp each: cloves, nutmeg, powdered ginger

1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Here’s my secret to creating the perfectly-textured cake from a boxed mix:  use room-temp eggs (sit in the shells for 10-15 minutes in warm water) and blend all the liquid ingredients for a minute or so with a hand mixer.  Then blend the wet ingredients (in this case, pumpkin included) into the dry mix (with the spices whisked in) for a minute & a half.  Fold in the chocolate chips at the end. 

Divide batter evenly between 2 – 8″ round pans (or 2-6″ pans and 6-7 cupcakes).  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or more until a toothpick comes out with a bit of melted chocolate & a few crumbs sticking to it, but no wet cake batter.  I check it frequently in the last 10 minutes so as not to overbake. 

Cool cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Run a thin, sharp knife (non-serrated) around the edge of the cake in the pan and then overturn to remove.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Then slice the rounded top of one of the layers (eat the scraps as a means of quality control) and then carefully & evenly slice each layer in half to create 4 layers.  Stack with a thick layer of Autumn-spice Swiss Meringue Buttercream (already shared this one here) betwen the layers.  Save the one rounded top half  for the very top.  Chill for a few minutes before topping the whole stack with a thick coating of chocolate ganache & a few messy frosting stars (I don’t have the heart to throw good frosting down the drain). 

Here’s my fail-safe version of ganache:

Simple Microwave Chocolate Ganache

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup milk (I always use skim because it’s the only milk we ever have)

1 tsp vegetable oil (to make up for the lack of fat in the milk)

dasha’ salt

Put all the ingredients into a heavy glass bowl or pyrex measuring cup.  Melt on high for 20 seconds, whisk lightly, and nuke for another 20 seconds if necessary – which it probably IS NOT.  The milk will heat up to a perfectly warm enough temp to slowly melt the chocolate with only20-30 seconds in the microwave.  Just be a little patient with it.  Then cool for a few minutes in the fridge to set up to a little thicker consistency.  Cool the stacked cake at the same time, and when you pour on the ganache it will set nicely and not run all over the counter. 

 This got rave reviews at the office, regardless of whether it’s cake or pie.  But maybe I’ll take it upon myself to create a scale or spectrum of desserts ranging from the classic pumpkin pie on one end and wedding cake on the other.  Input?  This might take a while…

Bella Sirloin Lasagna: A celebration dinner!

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I’ve been craving lasagna for a while and this weekend marked the perfect occasion:  Rick & I celebrated our 73-day anniversary!  We have officially been married longer than Kim Kardashian & Kris Humphries. 

Okay, that wasn’t very nice.

Sorry Kim, of all people, I know things happen.  People make mistakes.  Not judging.  Promise. 

Anyway, I didn’t discover my passion for cooking & baking until a few years ago.  People have actually asked me when and how I got started and I don’t have a concise answer.  I’ve always loved to watch cooking shows on tv and I’ve never been afraid to go to town on whatever random stuff I might find in the pantry or fridge to create a meal for myself. I’ve never been one to eat for the sake of sustenance.  I eat for pleasure.  If I’m starving and the only thing available is an ordinary turkey sandwich, I’ll continue to starve. 

Even if I don’t recall that one defining culinary moment, I do remember exactly when this lasagna first came into my life and that it was probably the catalyst for a serious shift in my desire to cook & entertain. 

This is Linda’s Lasagna.  Her recipe (which is a full letter-size page of prose, single-spaced, ten-point font) discloses up front that it is merely a “guideline,” and goes on to make dozens of suggestions for additions & modifications to the original ingredient list.  This might have been the first time I received written permission to cook like I do.  Free-form.  Organically.  A tad loosey-goosey on occasion.  Only once or twice have I really botched a dish (don’t ever put crab and green peppers together, EVER, trust me). 

But I still use this “recipe” for lasagna, and I stick more closely to it than many of the more structured recipes I use.  Doesn’t that seem backwards? 

I’ve only made this three or four times because it’s a little bit involved, but every time it has turned out wonderful and different than any lasagna I’ve had in restaurants or out of the freezer.  It’s quite light on the sauce.  The noodles are thicker and never mushy.  The filling is rich, not too salty, not too sweet, not too herbaceous…  It’s just perfect. 

This time I used ground sirloin and baby portabella mushrooms.  I also added a tiny shot of wine to the sauce.  The “recipe” below is truly a guideline, but it was sooooo amazing I want to write it down exactly how I did it so I can try it again like this someday.  I say, next time you have a couple hours to spare and something fabulous to celebrate, make this.  You will not be disappointed. 

Thank you, Linda, for your inspiration.  Also, thank you for being so much more fun and down to earth than Martha Stewart and equally as talented in the kitchen!!!  Oh, and for the recipe and the lovely baking dish, too 😉 

Sirloin & Portabella Lasagna

Lasagna noodles (half a box)

1 pound ground sirloin

1 pound sliced baby bellas

15 oz can Contadina Italian herb tomato sauce

dry red wine

——–

1 cup low fat ricotta cheese

4 oz softened cream cheese (don’t use low fat)

1/2 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese

1 egg

1/2 tsp garlic powder

——–

2-1/2  –  3 cups shredded Italian cheese

fresh basil

dried oregano

crushed red pepper flakes

course black pepper

salt

——–

Boil a huge pot of water.  When boiling, add salt (at least a tablespoon, I use sea salt) & a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Add 10-12 Lasagna noodles (you’ll likely only need 9, but I make extra in case some tear) and cook al dente according to package directions (I used the Meijer brand – not the “oven-ready” kind – and cooked them for 9 minutes).  Stir a few times during cooking but be gentle.

As the water boils, sauté a pound of sliced baby bellas in a heavy-bottomed NON-non-stick skillet (in other words, a stick skillet – whatever, you know what I mean) in 1 T butter & 1 T olive oil (I used light olive oil because I don’t like the taste of mushrooms cooked in extra virgin) until brown.  Season mushrooms with garlic powder, salt & black pepper. 

Remove mushrooms from the pan & set aside.  In the same pan, add another tablespoon of light olive oil & brown 1 pound ground sirloin.  Season with salt, black pepper and a little crushed red pepper flake.

To the beef, add 1 can (15 oz) Contadina tomato sauce with Italian herbs and about an ounce of dry red wine (I used Gabbiano Chianti Classico, my favorite spicy red wine to serve with savory pasta dishes).  Let the sauce come to a simmer, then turn off the heat.

When the lasagna noodles are done, drain in the pot and cool by filling & dumping cool water in the pan a few times. 

You can do all this stuff at once, it’s fun – like a circus on your stove!

Preheat oven to 350. 

Mix together cream cheese, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, one egg, garlic powder, salt & pepper. 

In a lightly-greased baking dish, place one layer of noodles.  It helps if they’re mostly dry.  Layer on top of the noodles about half the cream cheese mixture.  Add about a THIRD of the meat sauce (there will be leftover meat sauce – this is not a saucy dish) and then a third of the shredded cheese.

Add another layer of noodles, cream cheese, sauce & shredded cheese.  Then another layer of noodles and more shredded cheese on top.  Sprinkle lightly with fresh basil, red pepper flakes & dried oregano.

Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. 

After taking it out of the oven LET IT REST for at least 15 minutes, and even longer if you can stand it.  The more it firms up the prettier it is to serve.  Conveniently enough, our garlic bread needed to bake for 10-12 minutes at 450, so that created perfect timing.

The salad I served with this was crazy good, too.  Normally I’m not a fan of salad in general, but this was so great I’m actually going to post about it later this week. 

This meal was out of this world!  Don’t be intimidated by a multi-step dish like this.  There’s nothing demanding about it if you give yourself an hour to prepare it and an hour to bake it.  It is such a reward to serve your family something this beautiful and you won’t find a better lasagna in any restaurant. 

NOW, Linda’s suggested additions & modifications: 

Use half beef and half Italian sausage – Sweet and Hot, one link of each – just slice out of the casing & brown with the beef. 

Substitute cottage cheese for ricotta – I thought I didn’t like ricotta but I was totally wrong – and add another egg to the mixture if you like it a little firmer.

Forego the mushrooms & add a layer of spinach instead.

Use different kinds of shredded cheese – she suggests mozzarella, provolone, munster and others.

Add a few bits of green or red bell pepper.

Feel free to use more sauce.  (But I love it this way.)

If you don’t like oregano, use more basil.  Fresh basil is best, but dried can suffice. 

Double the recipe and make an extra pan to freeze for later (best suggestion YET!)

French Toast Goes Cop: Bread Pudding Five-O.

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I think this might have been a huge mistake. 

You have to understand how this could happen, though.  You’ve been victim to the same irresistible impulse I caved in to yesterday at the grocery store, haven’t you? 

These:

Suckers.

They’re a fall thing, and someone always gets them once or twice for our football tailgates.

This year so far, we’ve gone without.  (I know, right???)

But we were out of town for the season opener and the first game we went to was a night game, so breakfast wasn’t in the plans.

Then Steve & Candace were in charge of donuts for the next game or two and they bought full size ones.  While those were good donuts, they’re not the same.

Then we skipped Purdue last week.

So my purchase yesterday was just a matter of fate.  It was a done deal before I even got to the store.  I was magnetically drawn to them in their cute little end-aisle display against my will.

Aren’t they stupid? 

I mean, I passed by an entire fresh bakery section full of lovely frosted goodies, pumpkin cake rolls, lemon poppyseed muffins, Italian crème cakes, giant chewy chocolate chip cookies, and big cinnamon cider donuts.  The bakery section didn’t even phase me.  But I was powerless against these dumb little powdered donuts. 

Makes no sense. 

Oh well.  It is what it is.

And today I woke up with this brilliant idea:

Coffee & donuts bread budding. 

French toast goes Cop. 

Bread Pudding Five-O.  I’m sorry but I can’t stop laughing at the stereotype.  It’s okay though because I love Cops!  Really, I’m real-life friends with a few good cops and they are some pretty cool women.  Tough, gorgeous, funny, talented, passionate, educated beyond belief – and even though one of them isn’t on the road anymore, I’d bet my socks she and the others are susceptible to the power of coffee & donuts.  Especially when turned into this mess.

I can’t take all the blame here.  Food bloggers, as a class, are just kind of bad people.  They do $#!* like this and then get me thinking about their crazy concoctions late at night.  And I hate to admit it but this was really delicious.  Go figure.    Don’t make it.  You’ll totally regret it. 

Coffee & Donuts Bread Pudding

Makes 4 servings. 

 16 mini donuts, broken in half & dried out a little (10 minutes in a warm oven then let sit to cool or set out overnight on the counter – good luck with that).  Arrange in a small ungreased baking dish.

3 eggs – beaten

1/2 cup milk

1/8 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp coffee extract

dasha’salt

Whisk the eggs, salt & other liquids until combined and pour over the donuts, making sure all pieces are covered.  Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes, cut into quarters & serve with a dollop of whipped cream or Cool Whip and a drizzle of maple syrup. 

And coffee on the side, of course. 

This is a deceivingly small baking dish, like maybe 6” x 8”.  I wouldn’t use anything larger, but if you do, I’d scale up the quantities.

Uh oh, here’ goes… Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes, Eventually

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(Warning: if you just want the cupcake recipe and not a long rant, scroll all the way down past the raging diatribe to the next picture.  Enjoy!) 

I’m feeling impulsive.  Big time.  Like, unreasonably-going-into-debt impulsive. 

This angsty feeling I’ve had the last month or so that I’ve tried to ignore by baking every single freaking day is going to get me in trouble.

I may have to do one of two things:

A)   Paint the entire inside of my house white, or ecru, or very very light gray.  (In order to provide a more photogenic background for my blog photos, of course.  I am deeply committed to this baking-writing hobby if you haven’t noticed.) 

or

B)   Go back to school. 

Which of the above-mentioned investments sounds less unreasonable to you?  Really, this is not a rhetorical question, I could use a little help here.  And please acknowledge that double negative so I know you’re paying attention.  (Aw quitchyerbitchin.  Did you not realize this blog would eventually try to challenge your linguistics?  Sheesh.  I will assume you don’t really want to discuss the difference between the phrases “more reasonable” and “less unreasonable,” and instead, we will move along.)

See, while some people actually buy my carefully-crafted internet persona, the truth is that I suffer cyclical bouts of major insecurity and self-doubt in both my Day Job and, surprisingly, this new blogging thing.  I just know that I could be much better at both of them.  Unfortunately it seems much easier and far less expensive to improve the skills I use in blogging (baking, writing, photography, food styling) than it is to increase my legal knowledge.  Another reason I’ve been focusing my energy on blogging rather than my real career issues is that my personality seems to work a lot better in the blog world than it does in the courtroom or the boardroom.  In baking & blogging, I can hide behind my laptop and not confront any real human beings ever, if I don’t want to.  I can even delete comments if I don’t like them.  This kind of one-sided dialogue works very well for me.  =D

I know I shouldn’t be so sensitive to criticism.  I also shouldn’t compare myself to other people but it’s impossible not to.  I practice law with my husband.  I’m pretty sure he’s the greatest lawyer I have ever met and will ever meet in my entire life.  I’m not biased, either.  He really is.  He’s brilliant, and totally cool, and a major perfectionist.  He is patient, persistent, flexible, approachable, sympathetic, understanding, creative…  Seriously, I’m not exaggerating.  He has every good quality an effective advocate, teacher and negotiator should have.  He’s also pretty darn good looking, too, which adds insult to injury.  (Luckily for me, though, he isn’t perfect.  The man is uber top-heavy and has no sense of balance so he cannot go kayaking or do yoga without falling and making himself look like a total dweeb.  Thank God he has a flaw.  I can’t tell you how much I wish I had a picture of him to insert here right now, coming up out of the water next to his kayak looking incredibly surprised and very drenched – the image in my head is priceless.)  

Okay, to my credit I do have one useful talent:  I’m generally one of the best legal analysts & writers in town.  

That’s the extent of my skills, though.  I’m impatient, skeptical, harsh, cold-hearted, inflexible and uptight.  I do not have a mind for sales or negotiating.  And my favorite word in the English language is “OBJECTION!”  Followed closely by, “facts not in evidence … attorney testimony  … SPECULATING!”  In that tone of voice, too.  With my eyes wide open in shock accompanied by jazz hands.  I have been known to mutter under my breath the occasional “pshh, whatever,” or (hissing) “liar” in court, too.  I just can’t keep my mouth shut.  

This job is for the birds.  

BUT.  I really love it.  Parts of it, anyway. And even when I really hate it, I love to hate it.  

The thing I don’t love is feeling ineffective.  I also don’t love not knowing something I want to know or should know in order to help a client move their business forward.  I also hate it when I lose the battle against my will to keep my mouth shut.  

I want to take a class on how to master the proper passive-aggressive posture and tone of voice to use when replying thusly: “Hm [thoughtful-sounding pause] interesting…” because I think that’s the single most effective and non-committal response a lawyer can make to any statement or question, no matter how crazy.  It at once acknowledges what the other person said while reserving the right to respond in substance at a later time.  Brilliant.  

I need to figure out how to do that.  

There are times I pride myself on being decisive and quick-witted.  There are times I enjoy my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings clearly, concisely and promptly. 

There are other times I want to punch myself in the face for being a Mouth and saying something I shouldn’t have or using a totally honest inappropriate tone of voice.  

Yes, I do realize there’s not a lot about these issues I could change by going back to school.  However, another degree or some audited classes could help diminish the few insecurities I can more readily control, mainly a lack of deep understanding of tax law, bankruptcy and corporate securities.  

This is so strange, looking back.  Five and a half years ago I said there was no reason I would ever need to go back to school.  I have achieved one of the highest levels of American education available.  What the heck makes me think I need another degree???  Normal people don’t even know what an LLM is (Master of Laws, fyi).  And I should probably be able to learn more about those Lost Topics by attending seminars or webcasts, or by reading on my own.  But there’s no pressure or incentive in that.  If there’s no test, no one who cares if I attend or take notes, no fear of being humiliated in class if I don’t do the assigned reading, then I’m not likely to do it.  I learned eight million random legal things for the bar exam through self-study.  I have since forgotten nine million random legal things.  I’m a pro at crashing & test-taking.  I am not so good at learning things permanently unless there’s real pressure to do so.  Honest.  I just rely on my photographic short-term memory.  How embarrassing is that?  

I disgust myself for even admitting it.  

Anyway, what should I do?  Really.  Does anyone have first-hand experience with the Dale Carnegie program and if so, is it really possible to train yourself to overcome personality weaknesses, communicate more effectively, learn how to be a salesperson or negotiator?  

It’s either personal business training or more academic education.  Self-discipline isn’t going to cut it.  

Or should I just go to Home Depot for paint? 

Oh, you came here to see pretty pictures of baked goods, didn’t you?  How about the most perfect pumpkin chai cupcakes ever?  Mmm hm, most definitely! 

I admit, these are from last year.  And – and – I made them with a boxed mix.  Why that makes me feel guilty is beyond me.  Boxed white cake mix is the BEST.  I have not yet found a comparable scratch recipe that’s so light & fluffy and bakes up dependably every time.  My use of the Box is not for lack of trying to bake from scratch or anything, it’s truly a well-informed choice.  Guilt bedamned.  So, this is it: 

Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes

Pour one dry white or yellow cake mix into a bowl.  Add 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ginger, whisk to combine. 

In a large measuring cup or medium-sized bowl, melt 1 stick of butter (or use 1/4 cup vegetable oil, depending on whether your boxed mix calls for butter or oil, I prefer a butter-recipe white mix, though), add 1 cup cooled strong tea (this is one thing that makes these subtly chai flavored), 1cup canned pumpkin and 3 egg whites.  Blend with a hand mixer for one minute.  (For the record, I reserve the right to adjust this recipe since I wrote it down a LONG time after the first time I made these, and I’m not entirely sure the measurements are perfect – this sounds like a tad too much moisture to me.)  Anyway…

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and blend just shy of 2 minutes. 

Portion out into 24 cupcakes using a an ice cream scoop and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch them carefully through the door with the light on the last 3 minutes. 

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then on a wire rack until the cupcakes are room temp.  

Filling – simple:  blend 1/2 cup canned pumpkin into 1 cup cool whip with a couple dashes of the same spices as in the cake mix.  Adjust to taste if it’s not pumpkin-y enough for you.  There is zero science to making cream fillings out of cool whip, it’s all taste & texture, just don’t blend it too aggressively or it will turn to soup. 

Once the cupcakes are cooled, carve a small cone out of the top and pipe the filling in with a piping bag or a Ziploc with the corner cut off.  Eat the cake scraps (quality control, my friends, it is your responsibility).    

Frosting –my favorite and here’s the recipe:  Smitten Kitchen’s Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  For these cupcakes, I added cinnamon & nutmeg, probably a teaspoon of cinnamon & 1/4 tsp nutmeg.  Pipe frosting on top with a 1M star tip and then sprinkle nutmeg on top for that real Chai aroma. 

Enjoy!  Next time, you can help me decide what shade of white to paint my kitchen =D  Then we can talk about how great of a painter I am.  NOT!