Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pasta di Abruzzo and Sweet Memories

Italian food holds a fuzzy spot in my heart. Even as I am engulfed upon this low-carb era, I still crave pasta. I admit it, I love it. In fact, its one of the first things I learned how to make. For awhile, it’s ALL I would make. My dad would always ask, “Hey, what are you making…Al-FREEEDO?” because that’s all I did make for about a year.

Even in college, and on a very limited budget, trying to come up with a clever dinner to make for my roommate “L” and me. I just started cleaning out the refrigerator finding things to throw in the pot. I came up with a great spaghetti bake. There is something about pasta with cheese oozing off the side that just screams comfort.

I still love making pasta today. Despite being easy, it’s good and depending on how the dish is prepared it can be rather impressive. It can be so impressive that I totally attribute my homemade lasagna to landing my husband. What can I say; my Southern Belle Grandma was right when she told me, “If you want to land a man, it’s through his stomach”.

Besides Italian food being easy to make and down right yummy, Italy just holds some nostalgia to me that I will never be able to fully put into words. Allow me to over share. First off, when only dating my now husband for about 3 weeks, he whisked me off to the Virgin Islands for a friends wedding, and 2 weeks after that, we embarked to Italy for another one of his friends weddings. For a person like me, who never took risks, and always over thought every single action I made, this was totally out of the ordinary. I didn’t globetrot, much less with a man I barely knew. But, in spite of all that, I accepted his invitation graciously, and tagged along.

Italy was no less than amazing and for any of you who have been there I am sure could attest to that. So here we were, in a mid-evil town in Pescara, Italy, where barely anyone spoke English. His friend and his wife were the first non-natives to be married in the church, and it was something about the atmosphere, I felt nothing but love for this man I was getting to know, right there, in the church, in the mid-evil town.

Whew…is it hot in here?

Anyway, my point is what I remember most, besides falling in love, was this pasta we had at this mid-evil castle we stayed at. It was so delicious, yet, so simple. I don’t necessarily think you need a lot of ingredients to make something good. You just need good ingredients to make something good. So, here it is, my simple version of this pasta…that means so much to me. I hope it will mean something to you…

This is us in Abruzzo, literally eating this pasta, June 2004
Tomato Basil Penne
½ Pound of Penne Pasta
Pot of scant water (scant= season the water with salt!)
5-6 Fresh Roma Tomatoes (you can use any tomato you like really, as long as it’s fresh and good)
¼ Cup White Wine
5-6 Fresh Basil Leaves, roughly chopped or torn
2 T. Toasted Pine Nuts
1-2 Garlic Cloves
Freshly shaved Grana Padana or Parmigianino Reggiano (good quality)
½ Cup Good Quality Olive Oil, preferably Sicilian or Tuscan of sorts because it’s more pungent (you can add more if needed)
Salt/freshly ground black pepper

Boil water, season well with salt. Cook pasta until el Dente.
Meanwhile, clean and chop tomatoes into smaller chunks.
Toast Pine Nuts. Set aside.
Drain pasta, reserve about a ladle full or pasta water in a separate bowl.
In a separate pan (or you can use the pan you toasted the pine nuts in), sauté garlic with a few turns in the pan of olive oil. (Be careful not to burn it. If you burn it, discard and start over.) Add tomatoes and ¼ cup white wine. Let wine cook off a bit.
In pasta pot, add tomato garlic mixture, olive oil, and a handful of the cheese, and basil. Add a bit of the reserved pasta water at a time. Stir. Serve.
Adjust cheeses, oil, seasonings to taste.

View of the church from our window

The view of the castle we stayed at from the road

Eating in Sorrento

Italian Fried Egg Sandwich with Pesto and Mascarpone Cheese

My favorite day of the week is Sunday. It's the one day of the week that both my husband and I are home and we always make sure that we spend time together. It’s not like we do anything extravagant, it’s really just the simple tasks we enjoy doing together and it usually consists of : Breakfast, the farmers market, running errands, doing yard work, or relaxing on our patio (if the Michigan weather holds up).

We rarely go out to breakfast because we would rather dine in the comforts of our own home: Café Coco. J I will admit, many of the things I make I have tried at restaurants and then I try to re-create those dishes at home.

A few weeks ago, my brother in law and nephew were in town and we met for breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants in town. My husband ordered this sandwich which was one of the specials and I had entrée envy like nobody’s business. I found my hands lingering over to his plate more than once to steal a bite. So I couldn’t WAIT until today, because I was going to make this. I must say…it’s a great way to start a Sunday.

What’s your favorite day of the week?

Italian Fried Egg Sandwich with Pesto and Mascarpone Cheese

4 Eggs
¼ Cup Mascarpone Cream
1 T Prepared Pesto (Recipe to follow)
4 Slices of ‘crusty’ bread (I used a sourdough Boulé)
Sliced Fontina Cheese
Heirloom Tomato (or any kind of tomato)

All you need

1. Preheat a frying pan for the eggs, and a flat griddle for the bread
2. Mix together the mascarpone cream and pesto

Mixing the pesto and mascarpone. If only you could SMELL this, WOW!
3. Slice tomatoes thin, slice fontina cheese thin (or you can shred it)

Look at the marbling in this heirloom! SO pretty!
4. Butter the bread on one side

5. Start by frying the eggs in one pan. Then, on the griddle put the bread butter side down.
Yes, I am in my slippers....

6. Start topping the bread with the cheese, tomato and pesto spread to get it warm and toasty

7. You can break the yolks if you want or cook them until the yolks are fairly firm. Then fold the eggs on top of each slice.
See how the egg whites fold over?

8. Each sandwich should have 2 eggs, one for each half. If you fold them right, the egg should stay intact when you slice.
9. Enjoy!

Look at that cheese oozing out! mmmmm
Basic Pesto Recipe:
1/3 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts
2 Cups Fresh Basil
1 Clove Garlic, pealed
½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ Cup Parmesan

1. In a food processor, put garlic, toasted pine nuts, and basil. Blend until smooth
2. With the food processor still running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream.
3. Add cheese, pulse the food processor again to mix it in.
4. Season with Salt and Pepper.
5. You can save this in the freezer in ice cube trays for quick prep later, or you can save in individual containers in the freezer.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Melt In Your Mouth Chocolate Cupcakes With Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Back when I started on my cupcake journey, I wanted to try new things. So for a Mother’s Day dinner, I made two kinds of cupcakes (a Cardamom Carrot Cupcake, and a White Cake with Raspberry Chantilly Cream). Yes, TWO.
I’m totally crazy mainly because who would go through the trouble to make not only one batch of homemade cupcakes and frosting but TWO batches of cupcakes with homemade frosting, let alone for a small group of 8 people!
Quite honestly, I just wanted to try both of them, and I was having my sweet little nephews over and thought for SURE they would have a few…plus maybe take home a few.
What I didn’t take into account is that my little nephews love chocolate….pretty much ONLY chocolate. As a result, I had 40 leftover cupcakes.
So, when I was invited to my sisters corn roast, I was really hoping to make something seasonal, but remembered that if I was going to show up with cupcakes, I better show up with something chocolate. In addition to my pumpkin cupcakes, I made one of my FAVORITE chocolate cupcake recipes.
Not only did my nephews love the chocolate cupcakes…but my sister woke up to her oldest son, polishing off the rest of the pumpkin cupcakes. Go figure. :)

Beaty’s Chocolate Cupcakes
From: Ina Garten
1 ¾ Cups all-purpose flour
2 Cups granulated sugar
¾ Cup good cocoa powder (I used Callebaut)
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1 Cup buttermilk
½ Cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 Cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I used a French roast)

1. In a large mixing bowl: Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt together.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla.
3. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry with the mixer on LOW.
4. With the mixer still running on low, add the coffee and mix just until combined.
5. Warning: Batter will be VERY thin (so thin you may think you are missing something)

6. Pour batter into cupcake liners or use an ice cream scoop.
7. Bake cupcakes for 17-22 minutes at 350 or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Courtesy of Mirepoix cooking school
12 oz. evaporated milk
2 lbs. Powdered Sugar
1 lbs. Sweetex (Hi-Ratio shortening—can be found at cake decorating stores)
1 lbs. Unsalted Butter
2 t. Vanilla Extract (recipe calls for 1/2 but that just isn't enough for me)
1 Vanilla Bean (my personal touch)

1. In a standing mixer, add evaporated milk and sugar. Mix on low until combined. Then turn the speed up to medium, and mix until smooth (15-20 Minutes)
2. Meanwhile, cut Vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds (meat). Reserve.
3. Add room temp butter and shortening, 2 T at a time.

This is what the Sweetex looks like

4. Mix until fluffy, add vanilla extract and vanilla bean meat. Mix until combined. Pipe onto cupcakes

See all the vanilla bean??

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cream Frosting

Last weekend, my sister had a corn roast at her house. I suppose it’s a mid-west thing because my friends on the west coast had no idea what I was talking about when I told them about it. For her party, I wanted to do something festive but also something that is easy for the guests to grab. So of course, my first thought was cupcakes. My second thought was pumpkin. (Nah really??)
I have actually had this recipe sitting in my recipe folder for months. I copied it off the net somewhere and honestly…cannot remember WHERE I found it. I did make some changes because sometimes I am a non-conformist and insist on doing it my way.
For the frosting, I had to do some kind of cream cheese concoction because any spice cake in my opinion deserves it. But, I don’t really always like the intense ‘cream cheese’ taste in sweets. I had some left over Mascarpone cream cheese that I needed to use so I decided, that would be a nice mild alternative. And MAN was this frosting G-O-O-D!!!! This frosting is probably on my top LOVE list.
This Post is for you, Julie M!


2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp All Spice
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

1. In a medium bowl sift together: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
2. In a separate bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add Sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
3. Mix in eggs one at a time incorporating each (about 10 seconds in between).
4. Add pumpkin and vanilla.
5. Using the creaming method, alternate by adding a little bit of flour, then the buttermilk. End with the flour.
6. Fill liners 2/3 full, bake for about 17-22 minutes at 350 degrees or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Use an ice cream scoop, perfect portions every time!
Batter will be thick

Fresh from the oven
Mascarpone Cream Frosting
½ C. Butter, room temp
3 oz. Cream Cheese
¾ C. Mascarpone Cheese
2 1/2 - 3 Cups Powdered Sugar
2 t. Vanilla Extract
1 ½ Cups Whipping cream whipped or Cool Whip

1. In a mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy.
2. Add Cream Cheese, and Mascarpone cheese, beat well. Add Vanilla Extract.
3. Add Powdered sugar and beat until frosting comes together. You can add more sugar if needed.
4. In a separate bowl whip cream or you can use cool whip.
5. Gently fold whipped topping into the frosting
6. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes
7. Sprinkle with clove and freshly grated nutmeg

Sunday, October 19, 2008

White Chocolate Cranberry Clove Cupcakes

I know, you are all probably thinking I am a total phony because I told you I was making cupcakes once a week…and here it is…weeks into my blog, and not a single posting on a cupcake in the making. Do you forgive me?

I think we have established that I absolutely love cupcakes. I’m not sure if its because it just reminds me of my childhood when the other kids would bring them in for birthdays in class or if I just like cake. I think it’s a little of both.

When I think of what kind of cupcake to make, I consider a few things. 1. Who I am making this for. 2. What kind of time do I have, and should I invest in this task. 3. If it’s for me, I think of what I am craving at the moment and 4. What time of year it is, and what would be appropriate to make. I know…I am very serious about this stuff!

I will admit, my original push to make my very own website was when I was forwarded a cooking website from my sister. Through my various clicks, I came across a few cupcake sites. One was the cupcake bake shop, and the other was . I engrossed myself in these sites for 3 hours, pondering the many cupcakes they came up with. Not only was I impressed, but I was inspired to try something new, and that was, I was going to start my own cooking website. I by no means, consider myself a phenomenal writer, and further, I do not consider myself a photographer. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate both of these things, but I understand that I need more practice.

So while I am inspired by these fellow [cupcake] bloggers, I realize in the cup cake world, I still have much to learn. You see, I consider myself a traditionalist on many levels. Cupcakes, are no different. I get something in my mind of what it should be, i.e. texture, flavor etc, and I get scared to jump ship from my traditional chocolate, vanilla world. Why, because its what I know.. it’s what I LOVE.

Last Saturday, I decided to take the plunge from my chocolate/vanilla world. I got this recipe from the cupcake bakeshop, and while I’m not really a fan of white chocolate per se (I’m more of a DARKER the chocolate the better kind of girl), I tried this recipe anyway. I didn’t deviate much from it only because I really wanted to experience the recipe for what it was in hopes I could deviate from it in the future.

So common…..lets take the plunge…

White Chocolate Cranberry Clove Cupcakes

Makes 24 Regular Sized Cupcakes (I halved this and made Minis, I had 24 minis)
375 degree oven

7 ounces white chocolate
2 sticks butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 eggs
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries

1. In a double boiler, add chocolate, and butter. Heat until the butter and chocolate are melted. Stir frequently and be careful not to burn the white chocolate.

This is my double boiler set up. Just put a bowl over a pot of simmering water.

2. Remove from heat and add sugar, mix. Let stand for 10 minutes to cool.
3. Add vanilla and mix for about 3 minutes until the butter is no longer floating

4. Add eggs, one at a time.
5. In a separate bowl, sift together: flour, baking powder, and salt. Add it slowly to the batter and mix until just combined. I sifted directly into the batter.

6. Chop cranberries, add a little of the flour mixture with these so they don’t drop to the bottom of the cake cups. Stir these into the batter. (Or you can layer a few in each cup if you want)

7. Fill cup cake liners 2/3 full.

Put in oven at 375 degrees for 5 minutes. Then, turn the oven down to 350 degrees for another 15 minutes. (or until a cake tester comes out clean).
Cranberry, Clove, White Chocolate Buttercream8 ounces white chocolate
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temp
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temp
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground clove

1. In a double boiler, heat chocolate until melted. Remove from heat and let cool for about a couple minutes
2. Meanwhile, with a mixer, beat room temperature butter until creamy. Then add white chocolate.
3. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and clove. Beat until fluffy and consistency of pipable frosting. (you can add more sugar if needed) Fold in Cranberry chunks (I omitted the cranberry from the frosting because I ran out)

Stay tuned, Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream, and pumpkin cupcakes with mascarpone cream with nutmeg and clove will be posted SOON!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pumpkin Spice Request

I got an email from my friend Kels, last week, requesting that I make something, ANYTING pumpkin for my blog. Since I subjected her to my experiment with blue eye shadow earlier last week, I felt I owed it to her. So there you have it…

Now, I cannot take all the credit for this recipe. I got it from my dear friend Bethy. The truth is, I am not quite sure where she got it exactly; I do know that is was a recipe that was given to her mom while her family was stationed in Norway…in the 1980’s. This recipe is tried and true…even a novice baker can make this.

Part of me gave into making this because I down right HEART pumpkin bread. And really, what am I waiting for? Its fall…would I really consider making anything but this? I didn’t think so.

A bread like this kneads NO introduction…(no kidding…there is NO kneeding…just stir and pour.) See…told you it was easy!

Pumpkin Spice Bread
Recipe from Bethy

1 ½ Cup White Sugar
½ Cup Vegetable Oil
2 Eggs
1 ¾ Cup Flour
¼ t. Baking Powder
1 t. Baking Soda
1 t. Salt
½ t. Cloves
½ t. Allspice
½ t. Cinnamon
1/3 Cup Water
1 Cup Pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add sugar, oil, then eggs, pumpkin, and spices.

In a separate bowl mix flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder together.

Add flour gradually to pumpkin mixture. Then add water.
This is what the batter should look like

Pouring the batter in the tins / Pre-Oven Bread Batter

Bake 1 hour. Let cool for 1 hour. Wrap in foil to keep fresh.

Fresh Pumpkin Bread

**Bread will be hard when you first pull out of oven, but softens over night. **

Monday, October 13, 2008

Homemade Vanilla Extract

My friends were enthralled by the fact that I actually used REAL vanilla beans in desserts. But when I told them I had come the conclusion that it was time for me to make my own (yes, homemade) vanilla extract, they thought I was absolutely, positively straight jacket material. I tell you, I am not crazy, but merely passionate about vanilla…especially homemade vanilla extract.

Won’t you tag along on my ‘crazy’ vanilla journey?

The thing is, I have never actually ‘tried’ making my own vanilla extract, I have only heard from my fellow foodie friends on the blogs I read. I originally got the idea from Clara over at . I figured if another home cook could do it, I could do it…and plus, she ‘said’ it was AH-MAZING! I have seen her work, so I trust her opinion.

So here I am, months after reading her post, still contemplating how I wanted to go about this task of making it, and finding the right bottle to keep it in. After doing a bit of research, I settled on a green colored glass wine bottle left over from dinner. [Hey, I'm into recycling these days, re-using is even better. ] To spare you the trouble of research…I’m going to share all my findings with you! If you can be patient (which I am not), it takes about 5-6 months to ‘brew’. After that…you are in for some O’ so fantastic rewards….

Here is what you need:

*1 Cup GOOD Vodka (75-80 proof, triple distilled) I used Kettle One.
*1 oz. (~ 8 beans)Grade B Madagascar Vanilla Beans
Dark Colored, glass bottle, sterilized
Tight fitting Cork, topper, cap, sterilized

This is all you need

Weigh out the beans

*These are ratios, so you can double it if you want to (I tripled it). You are waiting this long, you might as well! And the taste only gets better in time (like fine wine) so feel free to make more because you may have this for 10 years! Grade A vanilla beans aren’t necessary, besides, Grade B vanilla beans contain less water, and this is what you want for an extract anyway. I purchased my beans on eBay. I got about 40 beans for $15. Not bad, considering the gourmet market around the corner sells a measly 2 beans for $11, CHA - CHING! In this day and age of an economic crunch…I have to be smart.


OK, don’t be scared, you need to sterilize the bottle for 30 Minutes. Why? Well, I won’t get into a whole microbial story for you (to my fellow biology freaks like me) but think about it…this stuff is going to be sitting, in a dark, cool place for 6 months. Alright, the vodka would probably kill all those little microbes, but if there is any scent or gunk at the bottom, the vanilla will take on that flavor. Do me a favor, if you are going through the trouble of making vanilla yourself, clean the bottle! So boil a pot of water, pop the bottle and cap in, boil away for 30 minutes, and pull it out with some tongs to dry.

Slice the vanilla beans in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. The inside is sometimes referred to as the caviar of the vanilla. I did this while my bottle was sterilizing.

Scraping out the meat/caviar of the vanilla bean

Cutting the bean skins to 1 inch

Putting the bean pieces in the bottle

The caviar of the the vanilla bean

Adding the caviar to the bottle

Measure out appropriate ratio of vodka to the amount of vanilla beans. You want to make sure the vanilla beans are covered by the vodka. What I did was cut the beans into 1 inch pieces. You will get a more intense flavor if you cut the beans into pieces.
Put Vodka and the beans and the caviar (seeds of the vanilla beans) in the bottle, and cork it!
Adding the vodka

Screwing on the cap

Wait 5-6 Months. Some say you can use it after 4 weeks, but the best extraction of the vanilla is at 6 months.

What you will want to do is shake it on a daily basis for the first week or so.

Shakin' the bottle

Then at least a few times a week for week 2-4. You may be able to use the vanilla now.
You should try to save this for a few months, in the meantime, shake the bottle once in awhile.
At six months the beans have reached their max extraction and they can be removed through a strainer. You can add more beans to the vanilla at this point if you want. We will go over the extraction in 6 months!