Thursday, August 11, 2011

Recouping - Apple Praline Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Well, the big muffin just returned from his big half day of school, all 3.5 hours of it. That was probably the longest 3.5 hours of my life. I went to pick him up from school and was delighted to see a huge smile across his face. Of course, he can't remember his teacher's name but who cares? He had fun!

While he was gone I decided to try some self therapy by making some cupcakes. And, they have hit the perfect happy spot that I needed. Since we are in back to school mood, I decided to try out some fresh apple cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and praline topping. Did you get all of that? It was sort of a recipe gone wild. I don't know about you but one of my favorite things in this whole wide world to eat are caramel apples. There is a store in Gatinburg that we must go to whenever we are within a good two hour drive. I can smell the caramel cooking as I wind through the Smokey Mountains. I always buy two, one to eat there and one for the way back. I have been known to jump out of my car in the middle of the road to run in and buy these apples. I love them so.

This cupcakes was kind of a duplication of a really good caramel apple...well maybe I went a little overboard. But, I really needed something to cheer me up! I hope these can help you when you need a little self therapy. Enjoy!

Fresh apple cupcakes

1 1/2 c veggie oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups all purpose four
1 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 c peeled and grated apples (I had fuji on hand so they were extra sweet!)

Beat oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then slowly add to the oil mixture. Stir in apples. Divide evenly among paper lined cupcake pan (I got 28 cupcakes out of this batter). Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and toothpick comes out clean.
Allow them to cool before topping.

1 8oz package of cream cheese at room temp
1/2 stick of butter (4 Tbsp) at room temp
1 Tbsp 1/2 and 1/2
2 cups powdered sugar

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until thoroughly combined. With the mixer set on low, slowly add powdered sugar. Add 1/2 and 1/2 and turn up to medium and mix until well combined.
Place cream cheese in a large Ziploc baggie and snip one corner in order to pipe a good dollop on the top of each cupcake.

Praline Topping
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar

In a large heavy saucepan over low heat, combine sugar, milk and butter and stir. Once the butter melts, increase the heat to medium/high and allow it to cook for 2 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add in vanilla and sugar. Allow the mixture to cool completely. I took a spoonful of the praline topping and rolled it in my hand to form a ball then lightly mashed it down to make the topping on my cupcake. I topped each cupcake with a red chocolate heart.


Not good, not bad, just fine.

When I was younger, my dad was always the one to drop me off and pick me up from school. It was his bonding time with us and was just what he did. Every day when I would get in the car my dad would say, "how was your day?" to which I would always respond, "fine". It could have been a terrible day and I would have said "fine". I could have been made fun of or won most popular and I still would have responded with "fine". It's not like I am a woman of few words, but for some reason that one word summed it all up for me.

Today was the beginning of a next major chapter in my life. My oldest muffin started Kindergarten today at our local school. He has been anxious about this moment for years, just like I have, but for many different reasons. I woke up at around 4:45 today and pondered with the thought of him calling in sick, just so that we could have one more day. I have been lucky enough to have my babies with me all day, every day since they were born. They have not been in any sort of preschool (other then when I worked at one) because the way I look at it, you only get five short years with them...then they leave. And things are not the same.

When we got to school he asked if I was going to stay to which I responded with a no. But, I almost said, "I will, if you want me too. And I will look after you, and protect you, and make sure kids are nice to you and that your teacher likes you and that no one says a cuss word. And I will even install a double sided window in your room so that I can sit and observe your every move". But I didn't. The tears started to flow before we even got on the school grounds and as we walked into his room I could feel them starting to creep back to my eyes. We found him a spot and he immediately went to work coloring and observing his new room and his new "friends" as they each made their way into the room. There is only one other boy that we know and it was a relief to see him walk into the room and sit by Wrigs. It gave me such peace of mind to know that he at least had one person who knew him, and to know that he would not be alone today, and hopefully any other day. I wanted to go up to the teacher and let her know how lucky she is to have my baby, my sweet tender hearted baby that I love, but I didn't. I just hugged him, told him I loved him, told him he would be fine and walked out. And the tears started flowing again.

We as women, and parents, are given such an amazing gift, this miracle of life. We are able to grow something and nurture it and pray over it and watch it grow. I pray that I have planted a good seed. I pray that many will come in and out of his life that will be a blessing to him and that he will, in return, be a blessing to them. I pray that my baby will be loved, and I am so thankful that there is one who is really watching over him, and all of us, through a double sided window. So today, I am fine. Not good, not bad, just fine.

And I will be waiting in the carpool line at least an hour early.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Aloha Cowboy! - Pineapple Salsa

I am a Texas girl. I love me some chips and salsa. I love super thin extra crispy chips with warm salsa. Here in Nashville one of my favorite places to eat is Baja Burrito. They have a lovely salsa bar that touches my inner soul and speaks to me. My favorite salsa combo is mixing the hot salsa with the pineapple salsa, yeah, I invented that. Last summer we had a luau with our church class and I needed an easy side dish, so I decided to whip up some pineapple salsa, cause I am a cheese ball that way. It ended up being the right heat with the right amount of sweet. You can easily adjust the heat to your liking. Enjoy!

Pineapple Salsa
1- 28 oz can pineapple rings, drained
1- 28 oz can whole tomatoes drained
1/2 videllia onion
1 large or 2 medium jalapenos, seeded with stems removed
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 bundle of cilantro roughly chopped

Place pineapple in the bowl of a large food processor (or do it in batches if you have a small one). Pulse until the rings are broken up then dump in a large bowl, but DO NOT RE-DRAIN this time! Next, place whole tomatoes in the food processor and pulse until tomatoes are broken up, but not totally beaten to death, then dump in the bowl with pineapple (DON'T RE-DRAIN THESE EITHER!). Next, lightly pulse videllia onion and jalapeno in the processor, then dump into the pineapple bowl. Throw in salt, cumin and cilantro and stir. This is best if you allow the flavors to marry overnight, but it is hard when you have something lovely waiting to be enjoyed!

Brownie, Brownie, Bo Brownie - Best Brownie EVER!!!

I have to admit, there are times that I am a cheap date. I like cheese out of a can (I can't believe I just typed that!) Bud Light (on the few occasions I actually drink) and good old Betty Crocker brownie mix. It is hard to beat a dollar mix when you know that 1) it actually is cheaper to make brownies from a box then scratch and 2) you can't really screw them up, that bad. I love chewy fudgie brownies, the kind that stick to the knife when you cut them because they are, what some might consider "under done". My husband is more of an outer edge sort of brownie guy so we make a nice pair. But, his mother is a fudgie brownie sort of gal so when they come into town...I will not go there.
I was looking through a cookbook the other day and came across a recipe called "The Best Brownies" and thought, yeah right! But, I looked over the ingredients and happened to have everything on hand so I decided to go for it. The recipe says it makes 16 servings, but we didn't get that many for some reason. Weird. I was more like six-ish. I mean I had a serving, then went back for one small sliver, then back again, so technically that all counted as one serving. Right? If you don't have these things on hand, stop what you are doing, go to the store to get the supplies and start baking! Your hips, I mean, loved ones will thank you. They are amazing. They are what the perfect chewy fudgie brownie should be. Don't be a cheap date like me on this one, they are worth it. Promise. Once again, if anyone makes this and needs a taste tester, just call and I will be there.

4- 1oz unsweetened chocolate baking squares
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose four
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
 1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease an 8x8 baking pan (I used a smaller glass baking dish and they were perfect)
2. Microwave chocolate and butter in a bowl on high for 1 1/2 -2 minutes, stirring every 30 second until smooth and melted.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together sugars, flour, salt, vanilla. Pour in melted chocolate/butter and stir. Stir in eggs, one at a time and mix just until combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes until set and toothpick comes out clean. Allow it to cool slightly (if you can keep your hands off of it!) before cutting.

Cool Cup of Joe - Cappucino Punch

I love coffee. I have been begging my five year old to learn how to make it for months so that I can wake up to a fresh pot...I mean since he wants to be up an hour before everyone else he might as well make himself useful! I remember my first trip to Starbucks, it was to the original location by Pike's Place Market in Seattle. I remember the overwhelming wonderful spell of freshly perked coffee and how I knew that it was not going to be just any old cup of coffee! Since I was nine at the time my aunt decided it would be best if I went with an iced coffee, so I did. And it was lovely. And my love affair with the bean quickly started.
This recipe was adapted from one I had years ago. It is the perfect iced coffee and the best addition to any party. We actually served this at our wedding, this and warm apple juice (someone forgot to add in the wassail mix!).  I love it. I could drink gallons of this! If you are a coffee lover, beware!

2 cups of strong coffee (decaf or regular)
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 quart of milk (can use chocolate to make it mocha)
1 pt half and half
2 tsp vanilla
whipped cream (optional)

Combine the coffee and sugar while the coffee is still hot. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into a large Ziploc bag (be sure your bag is inside a bowl in case it leaks!) and freeze for at least 6 hours up to overnight. Remove from freezer 20-30 minutes before serving. Mash the bag to break up any large chunks then pour into a large pitcher. Serve in individual cups and top off with a dollop of whipped cream and dash of cinnamon or chocolate shavings. Enjoy!

Makes 8 servings and can be easily doubled or tripled.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Big Mistake, Big, Huge! - Strawberry Mistake

So, most of you know by now that I am a baker. I guess you could say I do it for a living but it is what has allowed me to stay home with my babies for the past five years. I guess I am not your typical white wedding cake baker, more of a an ace of cakes sort of baker. It was a good was to combine my love of food with my artistic side and it was a natural fit for me. I have been very blessed with this business and some of the clients I have been able to serve. With that being said, last year at camp I decided to make a cake for one of our ministers who was celebrating his birthday during the week of camp. His favorite is strawberry cake so I thought, no problem, I will just make a huge cake. I went with straight out of the box strawberry cake since I was 1)feeding teenagers who will eat anything and 2)feeding teenagers who will eat anything. While the cake was baking I started working on a homemade cream cheese buttercream since that is, by law, what you must have when you eat a strawberry cake. The cake finished baking and after I let it cool I flipped over the pan to release the cake. And waited, and waited, and that never happened. Over half of the cake stuck to the bottom of the pan. So, I looked at the huge bowl of yummy buttercream and the huge pile of strawberry crumbles and decided to make a strawberry trifle. And it was good. And the three huge bowls were literally licked clean by our camp staff again this year! So, I share with you my Strawberry Mistake. Remember, when life hands you cake crumbles, make a trifle! (By the way, I had one male camp staffer tell me he had a dream about this dessert. Poor guy, he totally needs a date!)Enjoy!

Strawberry Mistake
1- Duncan Hines strawberry cake mix baked according to package directions. Let cool then crumble into chunks with your hands
1 8oz package of cream cheese softened
1/2 stick (4Tbsp butter) softened
4 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsp milk/half and half/heavy cream
1 large container of cool whip thawed (or you can also make homemade whipped cream!)
3 cups of strawberries sliced and lightly sugared

Beat cream cheese and butter on high until combined (they must be at a very soft room temp!). Slowly add in powdered sugar and milk until you get a good creamy consistency. (To prevent your entire kitchen from getting covered in sugar, take a damp towel and drape it over the top of your standing mixer. If you are using a hand mixer, you are up a creek!)If the mixture is too thick, add a small splash of cream. Gently fold in the cool whip.

In the bottom of a large bowl, preferably glass, layer in 1/3 of the cake mixture. Next, layer in 1/3 of the cream mixture, followed by 1/3 of the sliced strawberries. Repeat twice. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 10-12 servings.

Pie oh my! - Oreo Ice Cream Pie

This summer has been so hot! If you live any where on planet earth then I am sure that you can agree with me. It was a mere 114 degrees when I was at my parent's house in Oklahoma and was around 100 degrees with 90% humidity the week we were at church camp in Eastern Tennessee. I could literally feel my make up slide off of my face every time I walked outside. One of my favorite easy desserts to help beat the heat is ice cream pie! It is cold, creamy, crunchy and the recipe makes two so you have a back up(or one to hide in the back of the freezer and nibble on when you are alone....not that I would ever do that!). The recipe can be made with any kind of ice cream but I will give you my top three favorites (you can thank me later). Enjoy!

2 chocolate graham cracker pie shells (feel free to make these from scratch but really, why bother?)
1 1/2 gallon of ice cream (I like moose tracks, mint chip and cookies and cream the best)
1 small container of cool whip
1 small jar of hot fudge sauce. warmed to a pourable consistency
Toppings (Reese's cups crushed, mini chocolate chips or peppermint patties, crushed oreos)

Allow the ice cream and cool whip to thaw slightly. Once thawed, pour both into a large bowl and lightly stir together. Add in half of the hot fudge and lightly swirl or fold (if using moose tracks I would also add in 1/2 cup melted peanut butter...but I am naughty that way!) Divide the mixture evenly between the two pie shells. Pour over remaining hot fudge sauce and top with your favorite topping (moose tracks=Reese cups crushed, mint chip=crushed peppermint patties, cookies and cream=crushed oreos...and the list can go on and on) Freeze overnight or at least four hours. Allow the pies to sit at room temp for 20 minutes before serving. Each pie makes 6 servings.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just Peachy - Fresh Strawberry Peach Dump Cake

I love peaches. I love the smell of peaches in the farmers market and how their sweet smell can over power any other. I love their soft skin and how you need to wear a bib if you are going to really enjoy a good one.

Last week I was craving something sweet and had read on a blog a recipe for dump cake. You may be wondering what that is but if you have ever been part of a church pot luck then I am sure you have had dump cake. Dump cake is where you literally dump a can of cherries, pineapple, cake mix and pour a stick of melted butter over the top and bake. I love dump cake. I love how simple it is and how it turns out perfect every time. It is the perfect combo of sweet and salty and creamy and slightly crunchy. So, I decided to get to work and make up my own. I had some peaches that were a bit past their prime but would be perfect for dump cake. I also had some strawberries that were starting to look sad and lonely so I thought that they would be the perfect addition to the peaches. What turned out was dump bliss. This is the perfect dessert when you have any produce that needs to be used up quickly. You can use any berry or stone fruit and even apples if they were thinly sliced. Enjoy!

Strawberry Peach Dump Cake- serves 6
4 peaches pealed and sliced
1-2 cups strawberries hulled and quartered
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 package of butter cake mix (yep, good old Duncan Hines dry cake mix)(You can also use vanilla but I like the extra butter flavor. Freeze the other half to make another dump cake the next day)
1/3 c butter melted

Combine the first four ingredients and spread into a greased baking dish. Spread cake mix on top and drizzle butter on top evenly. Bake at 350 for one hour. Top off with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Try not to eat the whole pan.


This summer I had an unforgettable night with a B.L.T. I know what you are thinking, I must be crazy! I am telling you, it was an earth shattering moment that will forever change my love/hate relationship I have with a B.L.T.

One of the many exciting things I did this summer was to take a road trip to see my sister. My sisters is the mother earth of the family. She is organic, real, earthly, artsy, and enjoys soaking up the every day beauty that surrounds her. She is an amazing cook and when we get together we have months worth of prep that go into each meal we prepare. While I was at her house we had B.L.T's and they were simply amazing. I am not a huge fan of tomatoes but I thought I would be polite and try it anyway. life will never be the same. Something about the fresh lightly toasted wheat bread topped with thick applewood bacon, fresh bib lettuce and tomatoes so pink and juicy that they run down your arm, all topped off with a rosemary mayo. Did you see that? Let me repeat, rosemary mayo. That is the kicker. In order to have a truly successful B.L.T. you need all of these things. If tomatoes aren't in season, don't bother. If the bread is not super fresh, don't bother. If your bacon is thin and get my drift. But, if you can't make rosemary mayo to top it all off then stay out of the kitchen. I am not sure exactly what all she put in the mayo but here is my version. This will have you up in the middle of the night, you will have dreams about this. Just don't say I didn't warn you!

Rosemary Mayo (enough for 2-3 sandwiches)
1/2 cup good mayo (I like Duke's)
1 Tbsp FRESH chopped rosemary
1 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
1 Tbsp Fresh flat parsley chopped
1/2 tsp dried dill (LOVE IT!!)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
10 good turns of fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Combine all in a small bowl. Will stay for 3 days in the fridge.

Squasheroo- Squash Casserole

This summer has been really unreal for us, especially the last few weeks. We have been so busy and in and out of things that we have not been able to be with many friends. We love entertaining. I feel there is no greater way to share your love for others then to invite them to share a meal around your table. It doesn't need to be fancy, just real. We have so many fun memories of meals!
This past Friday I decided we needed some company and quick since the only plans I had in mind were to take a road trip to Sam's (pathetic) so I called one of my best girl friends to see what they were up to. In the mean time I texted another girl friend to see what her family was up to...and keep in mind this was at 4:30. Within about 20 minutes of sending texts back and forth we had made plans for everyone to come to our place for dinner at 6:30. Awesome! No sweat. Luckily I had already had a dessert baking that would work and had a pork tenderloin soaking up some marinade. I didn't have much in the fridge, just some produce that needed to be used quickly, so I decided to throw together a squash casserole. I know, so 1990. I grew up on it. There is nothing really too original you can do with a squash casserole other then to love on it and let it shine, so that is exactly what I did. It turned out to be one of the best nights we have had in a long time, full of good laughs, good food and a simple reminder of the amazing blessing of good friends. Enjoy!

1 tube butter cracker crushed
1 cup cheddar, colby jack (whatever you have) shredded
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
4 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
3 large or 5 medium squash sliced thick
1/2 onion diced

Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl, set aside.

Place squash and onion in a pot and cover with water. Turn on med high and let it come to a boil, continue to boil for 8-10 minutes until squash is tender. Drain squash (really good) then smash with a potato smasher (you want to leave a bit of texture to remember what it is you are eating). There will be some liquid come from smashing it and that is ok. Combine the squash with the cracker love mixture. Pour into a greased casserole pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes until lightly browned.