Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cupcake Celebration!

December 15 is "National Cupcake Day"!  I try not to eat too many sweets, but I couldn't resist baking up a bunch of cupcakes to celebrate this foodie holiday.  When I do indulge in a dessert, I want the good stuff: butter, cream, etc.  However, whatever I bake has to be quick and easy.  I found this short cut to making really delicious cupcakes from the TidyMom blog on a 2007 post.  What I like about it is that any flavor cake mix can be used and then jazzed up with a few extras.  Topped with rich buttercream frosting and decorated, these cupcakes definitely evoke a "Wow" from all!  Below are the basic steps for any cake mix and plain butter cream frosting plus the variations I used to make Red Velvet Cupcakes with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting, Oreo Cookie Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, and Chocolate Carmel Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.

Basic Cupcake Ingredients

For about 18 cupcakes:

1 box good quality cake mix

3 eggs

1 stick butter (1/2 cup), melted

1 cup water

 Basic Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

To frost 18 cupcakes:

3 cups confectioners sugar

2 sticks of butter (1 cup)

1/4 cup milk or cream

1/4 teaspoon salt


Addition Ingredients for the "Wow!" Factor:

The variations are endless.  The inspiration I got here came from bakery bought cupcakes I purchased for Allison's birthday back in September.  They got me thinking of possibilities...

Basic Directions:

Put the cake mix, eggs, melted butter, and water in a bowl and mix for two minutes.

The batter will me nice and thick. (This one was a German Chocolate cake mix.)

Place a cupcake liner in the well of each muffin tin and spoon 1/4 cup batter into each one.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Directions for Basic Buttercream Frosting:

Place the confectioners sugar, butter, liquid, and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat at high speed until combined.  If it seems too thick to be spreadable add more liquid one tablespoon at a time.


Red Velvet Cupcakes with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting

Follow the basic directions for the cake batter above using a red velvet cake mix.

 Stir in one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

 To the basic buttercream frosting recipe, add 1(8 oz.) package of cream cheese and 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract.  Reduce the amount of butter to 1/2 cup (1 stick).  After frosting, top the cupcakes with crushed candy canes and coarse decorating sugar.

Oreo Cookie Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Follow the basic directions for the cake batter above using a white cake mix.

 Stir in 1 cup of crushed Oreo cookies (about 10 normal sized cookies).

 Before you fill up the cupcake liners, drop 1/2 of an Oreo into the bottom of each one.

To the basic frosting mix, add 2 oz. (2 squares) of unsweetened baking chocolate, melted.

After frosting, top each cupcake with a mini Oreo and a bit of crushed Oreos crumbs.

Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

 Follow the basic directions for the cake batter above using a German chocolate cake mix.

Bake the cupcakes as directed.

 Combine 1 cup sweetened condensed milk with 1 cup caramel topping (like Hershey's brand).

Immediately after taking cupcakes from the oven, poke holes in each one.  Pour a healthy tablespoon full of the caramel mixture over each one. Let sit about 10 minutes before frosting.

 Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the basic frosting mix. After frosting sprinkle with Health bar bits.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sunny California Kale Salad

  After eating all the rich Thanksgiving dishes last week, I found myself dreaming of a healthy but tasty salad Jenn and I had when she was relocating to California.  So - here I go - I have to duplicate one more salad from our travels!  While it has a lot of health benefits (One cup has these percentages of the following daily requirements: 130% vitamin A, 85% vitamin C, and 435% vitamin K), it also has enough rich flavor to be fall-festive holiday fare.  The restaurant we ate this salad at overlooks the ocean and is right down the street from Jenn's apartment. We watched families enjoying a day on the beach as we munched on it!  Enjoy!


For the salad:

5 oz. package of organic baby kale, about 4 cups

1 large Fuji apple, about 1 cup diced

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup golden raisins

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning





Slice and core the apple, then dice enough of it to make 1 cup.  Give the kale a good chopping; you should have about 4 cups worth from the 5 oz. package of organic baby kale.


Put the kale, apples, parmesan cheese, sliced almonds, and golden raisins in large bowl. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour 1/4 cup of it over the mixture in the bowl.  Toss.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

West Coast & Midwest: Autumn "Salads"

     While I was in California with Jenn, we ate at a few trendy little restaurants that were packed with people.  The outside seating seemed to be as large as the inside and in a couple of them, was bordered on the outside by a surrounding hedge.  It reminded me of a scene from the 1995 version of the movie Freaky Friday where Shelly Long roller blades into a swanky place just as the hostess answers the phone by saying, "The Restaurant - How did you get this number?!"  One very fun place was True Food Kitchen, part of a chain on the West Coast.  Started by a doctor, it uses ingredients that promote an "anti-inflammatory diet".  The Autumn Salad I had didn't have any lettuce in it, but it sure had a kick due to the horseradish vinaigrette that dressed it. 

      On the way home after Roy picked me up at the airport, we stopped at a popular restaurant named Napolese.  Needless to say it didn't have any November outdoor seating, but it had a great Roasted Beet Salad.  This Midwest fall "salad" didn't have any lettuce either, and instead of a West Coast spicy punch, it had a satisfying richness.

     In this post, I attempted to copy these two dishes. Regardless of which area they came from, both fit into the fall season and are great sides or even a vegetarian main dishes.  

True Food Kitchen's Autumn Salad

Ingredients for 6 servings


1 medium butternut squash

1 head cauliflower

1 pound brussels sprouts

5 carrots

1/2 pomegranate


1 (15 oz.) can white kidney beans


olive oil to drizzle, salt & pepper to season


1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup champagne vinegar

1/4 cup prepared horseradish


     Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with foil.  Cut the cap off of the squash, cut it lengthwise down the middle, and scoop out the seeds. Lay both pieces of the squash on one side of a baking sheet.  Peel the carrots, cut off the tops, cut them in half and place them on the other side of the squash on the baking sheet.  Wash the cauliflower, cut into flowerets, and put them on one side on the second baking sheet.  Wash the brussels sprouts, cut off the tough woody part of the base, and if they are large, cut them in half down the middle.  Place them next to the cauliflower on the second baking sheet.  Drizzle the vegetables on both baking sheets with a bit of olive oil.  Toss them around to make sure they are evenly coated and season with salt & pepper.  Cover the cauliflower and brussels sprouts with a sheet of foil, and then put both baking sheets in the oven for at least 50 minutes or until the vegetables pierce easily with a fork and are slightly browned.

     Meanwhile, scoop the pomegranate seeds out and set aside.  Whisk together the oil, vinegar, and horseradish and set aside.  Rinse, drain, and put the beans in a microwave safe bowl.

     When the vegetables are done, take them out of the oven.  Warm up the beans for about a minute in the microware while you are cutting up the carrots into bite sized pieces.  Cut the squash into "squares", removing the peel as you do so. Then, place the beans, carrots, squash, pomegranate seeds, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower in a large bowl.  Pour the dressing over the top and gently toss.  A word to the wise:  it is the horseradish vinaigrette that makes this dish sing, so if the amount of dressing doesn't seem like enough - make a bit more!


Napolese's Beet Salad

Ingredient for 6 servings

1 medium butternut squash

5 carrots

3 large fresh beets

1/3 cup golden raisins

olive oil to drizzle, salt & pepper to season


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey


4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts


      Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Peel the carrots, cut off the tops, slice them in half, and place them on one side of the baking sheet.  Cut the cap off of the squash, cut it down the middle, scoop out the seeds, and put the halves next to the carrots.  Cut the leaves off of the beets, wash them well, and trim the bottoms.  Place the beets on a separate sheet of foil.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the carrots, squash, and beets.  Season with salt and pepper.  Wrap the beets up in the foil sheet.  Place the baking sheet and the beet foil packet into the oven and bake carrots and squash for at least 50 minutes or until the vegetables pierce easily with a fork.  The beets will need to bake about an additional 15 minutes.

      While the vegetables are baking, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and honey to make the dressing.

     When the vegetables are done, remove them from the oven.  Cut the carrots up into bite sized pieces.  Slice the squash into "squares", removing the skin as you do so.  Cut the skin away from the beets and cube.  Place the carrots, squash,  beets, and raisins in a bowl.  Pour the dressing in, and gently toss.

     Place the vegetable mixture onto a serving platter and sprinkle the goat cheese & hazelnuts over the top.  This is delicious either served warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Savory Pumpkin Stuffed Pasta Shells

     Yesterday, I returned to the Midwest after helping Jenn get settled in Southern California.  It's like a different world out there: palm trees line the streets, the temperature hovers around the 70s, and the sunshine is like liquid gold.  Once in a great while, a rare deciduous tree is seen with changing leaves, but for the most part, the area is void of the sensory sights associated with fall. However, people still decorate their homes and shops with life-like looking colored leaves, burlap, and gourds.  The restaurants were all offering autumn salads that featured roasted squash and pumpkin seeds. It occurred to me that whatever part of the country one is in, people still love to celebrate the change of seasons.  Although "Falling for Fall" is spoofed, I confess I tumble in too!  Right now I'm into dishes that highlight squash and autumn colors like the one in this post.  Although the sauce is rich, it has so much flavor that you can drizzle it sparingly on the stuffed shells and not feel guilty! 

Savory Pumpkin Stuffed Pasta Shells

Ingredients for 12 stuffed shells:

12 jumbo pasta shells

2 cups canned pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage

2 cloves garlic, put through a press

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper


Cook the pasta shells in boiling water according to the package directions.  While they are cooking, combine the pumpkin, shallots, sage, garlic, salt and pepper.  When the pasta shells are ready, drain and rinse with cool water.  Stuff each shell with about 2 1/2 tablespoons of the pumpkin mixture.

Cover a baking sheet with foil and a bit of cooking spray.  Place the stuffed shells on the sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  While they are baking, prepare the parmesan sauce.

Ingredients for sauce

2/3 cup whipping cream

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons white wine

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

2 cups of arugula for "bed" to rest shells on


Place cream, butter, and wine into pan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium low heat for about 2 minutes until well blended and mixture bubbles.  Take off the heat, stir in the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Place the arugula on a serving platter. Arrange the baked stuffed shell on top.  Drizzle with the sauce and sprinkle the nuts and chopped sage on top.  Pass the remaining sauce at the table.

Friday, October 25, 2013

California Dreaming - Carne Asada Tacos

     The big news around here is that Jenn is moving to California.  She's young, single and ready to spread her wings and fly!  While there is no doubt I will miss her being close to home, I am proud of her adventurous spirit and glad she has this opportunity.  I'm also excited that we now have a wonderful place to visit.  She and I spent last weekend exploring her new city and finding an apartment.  While we were familiarizing ourselves with the area, I discovered a specialty in Southern California - Carne Asada. It's thin, citrus marinated grilled steak served in tacos or burritos.  I had it twice while we were there and each time it was served with salsa and guacamole.  I had to try it once we got home and no one here was disappointed with the results - these are yummy!

 Carne Asada Tacos:  Lime Marinated Steak, Salsa, and Guacamole 


Ingredients for enough marinade for 2 pounds of flank, skirt, or flat iron steak:

4 garlic cloves, put through a press

2 teaspoons jalapeƱo or Serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped

 1/4 cup lime juice 

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pinch pepper

 *This marinade recipe is modified from


Take a serrated knife and "butterfly" the steak by cutting it through the middle so it becomes a larger but thinner cut of meat. Whisk the marinade ingredients together.  Place the steak in a glass dish and pour the marinade over it.  Cover and refrigerate at least one hour.

While the steak is marinating, make the salsa and the guacamole...

Ingredients for 2 cups salsa:

3 tomatoes, chopped

3 green onions, sliced

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped

1 tablespoon diced jalapeno or Serrano pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon pepper 


 Combine the salsa ingredients together and serve with chips or tacos

Ingredients for 2 cups guacamole:

2 ripe avocados

2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeno or Serrano pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, put through a press

2 tablespoons finely diced onion

2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 tomato, chopped


Put all the ingredients but the chopped tomato into a bowl.  Use the bottom of a glass to smash and combine everything together.  After it is well blended, stir in the chopped tomato.

To Assemble the Carne Asada Tacos:

Grill the steak about 7 minutes per side.  Slice into strips.

Heat corn tortillas in the microwave for about 15 seconds or covered with foil in a 350 degree oven until warm.  Use two tortillas per taco.  Place steak strips, salsa, and guacamole on one side and then fold over.  This is great served with rice and black beans seasoned with a sprinkle of lime juice and a pinch of chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Also nice is simple salad made of cabbage, diced tomatoes, and red onions that have soaked in white vinegar for about 10 minutes. Dress the salad with a drizzle of a basic oil and vinegar mixture: 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.