Monday, December 3, 2012

An Owl-Themed Birthday Party

A very special little girl turned 1 last week and her mom asked me to bake cupcakes and sugar cookie favors for her birthday party. The theme of the party was owls with a pink and brown color scheme. I immediately began googling images of owl cookies and decided to follow an adorable idea I found on The Adventures of Sweet Sugarbelle.  Her work is always beautiful and I feel so inspired every time I visit her site.

If any of you have decorated sugar cookies with royal icing, you know it is a lengthy process that requires decent time management skills.  The main reason I haven't started a side business for baking is that I am a procrastinator and this time was no different!  I baked the cookies Wednesday night and I should have started decorating on Thursday, but I was just lazy and didn't start until Friday afternoon.  I also decided to bake cookies in the shape of a number one just to make the favors extra special.  That meant twice as many cookies to decorate in one afternoon!  To say I was stressed would be an understatement, but I think I ended up managing my time nicely and I was pleased with the results.

Luckily, since I had to let the owls dry for a bit before I added the details, I was able to bake the cupcakes while the cookies dried.  I saved the frosting until the next morning so that they would be nice and fresh.  I decided to bake both chocolate and vanilla since I love both, but I have to say the chocolate cupcakes were the best I'd made!  I used my stand-by recipe, which is from my mom, but this time, the cupcakes baked up perfectly.  I think they were also the favorite at the party.  I had originally planned to make little icing owls to top the cupcakes, but my poor time management skills got the best of me!

As a surprise the the birthday girl's mom, I decided to make a special cookie for family and close friends.  I had Aubrey's face printed on wafer paper so that I could put her adorable little face on a cookie.  I've always said she was so cute I could eat her up, and now I can!  :)

Overall, I was happy with how the cookies and cupcakes looked.  Not to brag, but I got rave reviews from the party-goers!  I think the birthday girl really enjoyed her first cupcake!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sweet Potato Casserole

I guess you can sense a theme to the past few posts: Orange Autumn-inspired dishes!  'Tis the season for me to go overboard with wonderfully comforting vegetables such as butternut squash and pumpkin.  Another favorite is sweet potatoes, especially when they've been baking in the oven to the point that they are super sweet and need no butter (yet I still must use butter!).

I was a little bit too excited when I stumbled upon roasted, mashed sweet potatoes in the freezer section at Trader Joe's.  I was even more excited after reading the ingredients - Sweet potatoes and nothing else.  I was expecting them to be sweetened, but they weren't.  As much as I love baking a sweet potato, I don't always have time.  And let's face it, a potato "baked" in the microwave just never tastes as good as the real deal.  Baking the potato makes it so caramelized and there isn't much that comes close to that rich flavor!

This dish came together really easily (mainly because of the frozen potatoes).  I was roasting a chicken for dinner, so I just put the potatoes in the oven at the same time.  These potatoes are also a lighter alternative to some other sweet potato casseroles that are full of butter and sugar.  Not that there's anything wrong with that!

I would definitely make this dish again and I will be sure to stock up on a few bags of these potatoes next time I'm at Trader Joe's!

Sweet Potato Casserole
Serves 4-6

1 bag Trader Joe's frozen roasted mashed potatoes
1-2 T maple syrup (depending on how sweet you like your potatoes)
Handful dried cranberries
Handful pecans
Salt & pepper

The lineup: Dried cranberries, maple syrup, sweet potatoes, pepper, cinnamon, and salt.  Missing from the photo: pecans 

Sweet potato "puck"
Preheat oven to 450.  Spray a 9x13 casserole dish with nonstick spray.  Place the potatoes in a single layer in the prepared casserole dish.  Sprinkle with cinnamon, salt, and pepper (all to taste).  Sprinkle the cranberries and pecans (I just broke up the pecans in my hand) over the potatoes.  Drizzle with syrup.  Cover the dish with foil and bake for about an hour or until the potatoes are cooked through (should easily squish when you gently touch them).  You can serve as is, or stir to combine like I did.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stovetop Butternut Squash Macaroni & Cheese

To me, macaroni and cheese is one of the most comforting foods ever.  I can (and do) eat it year round.  I try and switch it up a bit by adding different spices to the sauce or using different cheeses.  Since it's fall and there is an abundance of butternut squash, I decided to add some to my mac 'n cheese.  Also, I made this on a weeknight and I had dinner on the table in about 20 minutes.

Since I don't have the actual recipe that I used (I pretty much wing it when I make macaroni and cheese), I provided a recipe I found on Pinterest (shocker!).  This recipe inspired me to go home and make this dish immediately!  Here are some things I did differently from the recipe:

I omitted the cream cheese
I used half milk and half chicken broth
I used Parmesan and cheddar cheese
I added sage
I used butternut squash puree in place of pumpkin
I used Trader Joe's pre-cooked frozen pasta (which is how I had this meal done in around 20 minutes!)
I also served mine with a few dried cranberries sprinkled on top for a nice touch of sweetness

This recipe is so simple and delicious!  If you like your macaroni and cheese a little less soupy, place the mixture in a greased baking dish and sprinkle with a handful of cheese.  Bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes, or until the top has browned and the edges are bubbling.

This dish pairs nicely with a spinach salad.  We all know that spinach makes anything healthy, so you don't have to worry about carbs and fat since the spinach cancels that out!  :)

The recipe can be found here.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkin Pie

One of my favorites treats this time of year is pumpkin pie.  I'm not normally a big pie fan - I'd much rather have a cupcake or a piece of salted caramel more than I would crave a piece of pie.  But pumpkin pie seems to hold a place in my sweet tooth's heart!  I don't know if it's the perfect ratio of crust to creamy, pumpkin-y goodness or what, but it's one of my favorites!

I pinned a bunch of pumpkin pie recipes over the past couple of weeks, but I decided I'd stick with a basic pumpkin pie.  But instead of my usual recipe, I took a chance and used the one from the back of the pumpkin can.  The difference between the recipe I used today and the one I usually use is this recipe uses sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk.  I was happy with the results and I would definitely make this again. It was so simple to throw together since I took a shortcut and used pre-made pie crust.

I enjoyed my pie directly from the tin as is (I guess I'm a pie purist!), but this would be equally delicious with a side of bourbon-spiked whipped cream or a drizzle of salted caramel sauce!  This would make a nice addition to your Thanksgiving table.

The recipe can be found here.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quick (and delicious) Stuffing

I don't know about you, but this cool weather creeped up on me out of nowhere! It makes me want to stay in my footy pajamas all day and eat comfort foods!

Last night, I threw together a fall inspired meal that came together in around 45 minutes. In the morning, I had set out turkey tenderloins and all day I thought about how good stuffing would taste with the turkey! After a quick stop at Whole Foods, I had all I needed to get started on the stuffing.

One of my favorite things about stuffing is you can add so many different ingredients to change up the flavor - sausage, apples, nuts... Just about anything goes! I decided to add apples, dried cranberries and pecans to mine and it was delicious! It paired nicely with the turkey and some leftover Brussels sprouts. Yum! I can't wait to have some leftovers for lunch!

Apple Cranberry Pecan Stuffing

1 medium onion, diced
1 medium apple, diced
2 T butter (use unsalted if you have it. If not, go easy on the salt)
Olive oil
1 bag of stuffing mix (or the equivalent of stale, cubed bread)
1 - 2 cups of broth (veggie or chicken, preferably low sodium)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pecans
Salt and pepper, to taste
Poultry seasoning (I used Bell's)

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a casserole dish with nonstick spray and set aside.

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Once the butter is melted, add the onions. Cook until soft, about five minutes. Add the apples and cook for a few minutes. Celery would be great in here too (celery and onions are my go to veggies for stuffing) but I forgot to buy it! Add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste. Add the bread to the pan and combine with the apple and onion mixture. Turn off the heat. Pour about 1/2 a cup of broth over the mixture and stir to combine. Continue adding broth until the bread has absorbed it but the mixture isn't too mushy*. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Put the mixture in the prepared casserole dish and dot with the remaining butter. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook until the top has browned, about 10 minutes. Another great way to cook these is to spray a cupcake tin (or two) with nonstick spray and fill each cavity with stuffing. Bake for about 20 minutes and you have single servings of stuffing. They're great for freezing! Plus, most of the stuffing is crispy from being in the tins and that's the best part!


* I like to have an extra bag of stuffing bread on hand in case I go a little heavy on the broth. If you do, simply add more bread to absorb the extra broth.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Icing

Hi there! I can't believe it is mid-October and I haven't posted any pumpkin recipes! I found the recipe for these cupcakes on Pinterest and have wanted to make them for weeks! I decided I'd make them this weekend because the weather was particularly cool and it just felt right to smell something pumpkin-y baking in the oven! The house smelled wonderful!

I ended up doubling the recipe so there would be enough for my coworkers (and for me to keep a few with enough to go around the office!). I made a couple changes such as replacing half of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I also used half butternut squash and half pumpkin. I didn't do this on purpose! I thought I had left over pumpkin in the fridge, but it ended up being squash. Whoops! They still tasted fantastic! The combination of the spicy pumpkin cake and the sweetness of the maple in the frosting was spot on. I also drizzled half with a gingerbread spread from Williams Sonoma (So. Good.) - It really added a nice, warm flavor.

I recommend you make these soon! If your office is anything like mine, they'll be gone within minutes! The recipe can be found here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

I probably should have posted this recipe earlier this week when it was cold and rainy in New England, but I have had a bit of a crazy week.  Between work and a flat tire (that I changed all by myself thankyouverymuch!), it has been a bit hectic.  This is a great recipe for busy weeks since you put all the ingredients in a slow cooker and come home to a house that smells delicious!

I decided to make this recipe a few weeks ago when I was craving something warm and spicy.  I automatically thought of chili!  I went to work and scanned my pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what I had on hand.  I realized I didn't have any ground meat, but I did have sweet potatoes and black beans.  I had seen recipes for sweet potato black bean chili and decided that is what I would make!  I loosely followed a recipe I had found on and I added some extra veggies to beef up the nutrition factor.  This chili is now one of my favorites and I can't wait to make it again.  I froze a few servings of it right away and glad I did!  I was able to enjoy some for lunch this week.  Yum!

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (you can leave the peel on if you’d like)
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
Salt & pepper to taste
Cumin to taste
1 large can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1-2 T of tomato paste, if needed to thicken
2 cans of black beans, rinsed (only one is pictured and I picked up another while grocery shopping and added it a few hours into cooking)
2 chipotles in adobo, diced (start with one if you don’t like it too spicy)
1 bottle pumpkin ale (optional)
1 box of broth (chicken or veggie work.  May need more or less depending on if you add beer or how large your veggies are)
Cilantro (I like a lot and used almost an entire bunch)

Add veggies, garlic, cumin, diced tomatoes, black beans, and chipotles to slow cooker.  If using, add the pumpkin ale.  Add broth just to cover the veggies, beans and tomatoes.  Cover and set the slow cooker to low for six hours (or high for four hours).  After the first hour, stir every 30 minutes to ensure there is enough liquid.  You may need to add more broth if you find the veggies are absorbing too much liquid.

In the last 30 minutes, remove the lid, turn up to high and let any extra liquid evaporate.  You want this to be a thicker chili with some liquid, so if it's too runny, add in some tomato paste to help thicken.  This is also the time you'll want to add the cilantro.

This soup was delicious served with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (totally forgot to snap a photo when I served myself a bowl.  Bad blogger!).  It helped to cool off the spiciness from the chipotles!  :)


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Summer Shrimp Scampi

I guess I'm trying to hold onto summer and it's wonderful produce for as long as I can.  We have less than two weeks left of "official" summer (seriously, where did the summer go?) and I wanted to be able to enjoy my summer veggies while they lasted.

This past week, I visited a local farm stand and picked up some local summer squash and a pint of adorable little orange cherry tomatoes.  I decided to roast the squash and tomatoes and add them to my standard shrimp scampi recipe.  It was a great way to amp up the nutritional value of just shrimp and pasta - Plus, it's a delicious way to use up some summer veggies you may have sitting around waiting to be eaten.

This recipe is pretty versatile when it comes to what kinds of vegetables you can use.  I happened to have summer squash and tomatoes on hand, but any veggies you like would work - I wanted to add the corn from a leftover ear I had in the fridge, but totally forgot until I sat down to eat!  Another ingredient I forgot?  Lemon!  I usually squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice over the shrimp when cooking, but I forgot to pick one up at the grocery store tonight.  The scampi was still delicious - even without the lemon!

This meal came together in about 30 minutes which makes this a great option for a weeknight meal.  I did use a shortcut when preparing the scampi tonight.  I used precooked pasta which really cut down the prep time.  This dish really is a great way to enjoy what's left of summer's flavors!  I hope you make it soon.

Summer Shrimp Scampi
Serves 2-3

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled
2 medium summer squash, sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Clam juice
Garlic, about 1 clove finely diced
Salt and pepper
Cooked pasta (about half a pound)
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425.  Prepare pasta as directed on box.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Add squash to the pan and drizzle with olive oil.  Add salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Roast the squash for 15-18 minutes.  After 15-18 minutes, remove squash from the oven, toss so that both sides brown.  Add in the tomatoes, return baking sheet to the oven and continue to roast for another 15 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to burst and the squash is fork tender.

While the tomatoes and squash are cooking, add olive oil to a pan and preheat.  While pan is warming, salt and pepper the shrimp.  Once you see ripples in the oil, add the shrimp and cook a few minutes.  Turn the shrimp, add in garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of clam juice.  Cook two more minutes (or until the shrimp is just pink) and add pasta.  Toss to coat pasta with the oil and clam juice and turn off heat.  Squeeze half a lemon over the shrimp and pasta and give it a stir.

Once you've plated the shrimp and pasta, top with a bit of Parmesan cheese (freshly grated is great!).