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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cherry Coke Float Cupcakes

Last month, I hosted a potluck gathering for my church. Guests were asked to bring a side dish, salad, or beverage to share. One young man wound up bringing about 4 cases of Coca Cola Classic. A few cans were guzzled, but at the end of the evening, we still had a few dozen cans left.

I don’t drink caffeine, and as far as I can tell, neither do any of my roommates. So these cans of Coke have been sitting in our dining room, and I’ve been trying to find recipes that call for cola.

Much to my delight, Ian & Christie over at Coco Bean recently posted a recipe for Cherry Coke Float Cupcakes. Seeing as to how yesterday was Wednesday, and therefore a night to invite people over to watch LOST, and I had some Coke to use up well…you can see where I’m going with this.

Cherry Coke Float Cupcakes

Cupcakes

1 1/2 Cups flour
3/4 Cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 Cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 Tbs cocoa powder
3/4 Cup Coca Cola
1/4 cup maraschino cherry syrup
24 maraschino cherries

Cola Icing

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tbsp cola


Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a saucepan, boil the Coca-Cola and cherry syrup gently for five minutes. Melt in the butter and cocoa powder.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

Beat the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla in a second bowl.

Pour into the dry ingredients, stir well with a wooden spoon, and then add the liquid ingredients, beating until everything is blended.

Pour into the cupcake pans and push a cherry into the center of each cupcake. Bake for 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

When cool drizzle over the Cola Icing and let dry. Top with cherry buttercream and a cherry.

Notes:
+ I only ended up using 2 cans of Coke. We still have at least a dozen cans left. Sigh.

+ I modified my standard buttercream icing recipe to concoct cherry buttercream:

1 stick butter, softened
3 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp. maraschino cherry syrup

Beat until combined and fluffy, spread on cupcakes.

I’ve made buttercream so many times that I don’t really measure anything out. Dump in the stick of butter, throw some sugar in there, and eyeball the liquid (Regular buttercream calls for vanilla. I’ve used mint extract, OJ, cranberry juice, etc. depending on the type of cupcake.)

+ This recipe makes 12 cupcakes, so I doubled it. I needed 48 maraschino cherries, yikes! Rather than pay $8 a piece for two or three tiny jars, I took a trip down to my local Cash & Carry and picked up a 4 lb. jar for under 10 bucks.
+ So in addition to lots of cola, I now have 3 lbs of cherries that need to be used up. Hello, summer. Hello, fancy tropical drinks! And Shirley Temples…can’t forget those! Mmm-mm.

+ The cherries are rather…drippy…straight from the jar. Shaking excess syrup off of them isn’t enough. I used a paper towel to soak up the extra syrup, otherwise it bled into the buttercream and made a bit of a mess.

+ The batter is also rather drippy. It’s so runny that I had a hard time transferring batter from the mixing bowl to the cupcake tins without dribbling. The recipe only made 23 cupcakes instead of 2 dozen, but I’m pretty sure I lost at least an entire cupcake on spills.

My shopping list. Seems like I just bought vanilla last month! How did I run out so quickly?



Liquid & dry ingredients:



Look at all the dribbly spills!



Waiting for the cola icing to dry and harden:



Finished!







Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chicken & Wild Rice with Zucchini, Asparagus, & Pistachio

I’m heading out of town for the Easter holiday this weekend, and have been trying to use up produce instead of buying fresh groceries. Surveying my cupboards and refrigerator last night, I decided to cobble together dinner using a few random ingredients. The results were delish!

Chicken & Wild Rice with Zucchini, Asparagus, & Pistachio

1 cup white long grain rice
1 cup wild rice
2 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp dried chives
2 boneless chicken breasts
1 medium zucchini
½ bunch asparagus (10-12 stalks)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Cook the rice in the water, chicken broth, and throw in the chives for extra flavor. (I have a rice cooker…just dump it in and let it do its thing. On the stovetop, bring the rice and liquid to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, parboil the asparagus in water for about 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Cut the chicken into bite-sized strips, and slice the zucchini into medallions. Sauté the chicken, garlic, zucchini, and asparagus until cooked through. Mix the remaining Tbsp olive oil with the balsamic vinegar. Spoon the chicken mixture over rice, drizzle with the oil/vinegar, and add pistachios for garnish. Enjoy!

Notes:

• You can probably substitute the balsamic for soy or teriyaki sauce to give this dish an Asian flair.

• I eyeballed the amounts. I never measure out olive oil, and wasn’t really thinking when I grabbed the handful of asparagus. Likewise the balsamic vinegar/olive oil mix was just a glug here and a glug there…you get the idea.

• I’m a balsamic vinegar snob, and used some aged Italian balsamic from Modena.

• This recipe would probably be fine with only one chicken breast, but they were packaged in two’s, and both of ‘em were thawed, so into the skillet they went.

• I suggest toasting the pistachios for a few minutes over medium heat. I was too rushed/lazy to do it last night, but I bet it would be fantastic.

• I found a large container of the freeze-dried chives in my cupboard, so I added them to the rice for flavor. Fresh chives or minced onion cooked with either the rice or chicken mixture would be tasty, as well.

• This recipe yielded a LOT of leftovers. 2 cups of uncooked rice expands to pretty much a full pot. I’ve got enough chicken/veggie mix for at least two more meals, and I’ll still have rice leftover after that. If you want to reduce the recipe at all, trim it down to 1 chicken breast, 1 cup of rice, and add more veggies for those additional green antioxidants.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Farfalle with bacon, pesto, & sundried tomato

My mom’s husband found this recipe in the newspaper and clipped it in hopes that I would make it when I came home to visit. It turned out pretty good.

8 slices of bacon
10 oz pesto
1 lb farfalle pasta
¼ cup sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1 cup grated romano or other hard Italian cheese

Chop bacon into 1-inch pieces and fry in a skillet over medium-high heat until done. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions. Drain pasta. Mix in pesto and sundried tomatoes. If it looks too dry, use some oil from the tomatoes to moisten it up. Mix in bacon. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and enjoy!

Notes:

+ I made homemade pesto with organic basil, instead of using store bought pesto. Big ol’ bunch of basil, about ¼ cup of olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, and a handful of pine nuts mixed up real well in the food processor.

+ The bacon was good, but a bit too overpowering. I think this would be perfect with chicken in lieu of bacon. Or, leave the meat out altogether and just make it a vegetarian dish.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Homemade 'Samoa' Girl Scout Cookies

This recipe has been circling the web ever since Nicole over at Baking Bites cracked the recipe a couple months ago.

Samoas are my favorite Girl Scout cookie, so I just had to give it a try. They turned out surprisingly good!

Please note – I doubled the cookie recipe from Nicole’s original, and the amounts are indicated here (it made 67 cookies total). If you halve this recipe, you’ll still get 3-4 dozen cookies out of it. I also modified the topping a bit…I didn’t need near that much coconut, but I increased the caramel amount. In the end, I still had leftover coconut and chocolate. I suggest you eyeball the topping and adjust to your liking!



Homemade ‘Samoa’ Girl Scout Cookies

2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Up to 4 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed. Mix in vanilla and milk, adding in the milk only as needed to make the dough come together without being sticky (you may not need any at all). The dough should come together into a soft, pliable ball. Add in a bit of extra flour if your dough seems sticky.

It's easiest to roll the dough out in 4 or 5 batches, using a 1 ½ inch cookie cutter to make rounds. Place on a parchment lined (or on silicone mat) baking sheet. Repeat until the dough is used up (it's okay to re-roll, this dough is shortbread-like and very forgiving.)

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are very lightly golden brown around the edges. (I found that 14 minutes was perfect for my oven…your mileage may vary).

Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, allowing them to firm up slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Topping:
4 cups shredded coconut
30 ounces chewy caramels
½ teaspoon salt
6 ½ tablespoons milk
24 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips will do)
If you prefer milk chocolate, by all means use that.

Preheat oven to 300°

Spread coconut evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Watch carefully, especially near the end of toasting time; the coconut toasts very quickly once it begins to become golden.
Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.

Using the spatula or a spoon, spread topping on cooled cookies, using about 2-3 teaspoons per cookie. Reheat caramel for a few seconds in the microwave if it begins to firm up, to make it soft and spreadable once again.

While topping sets up, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent overheating. Dip the base of each cookie into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate into a piping bag or a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle finished cookies with chocolate.

Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Recipe credit: Nicole @ Baking Bites.

Notes:

• The coconut/caramel mixture is pretty sweet, so for the chocolate topping I used a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and unsweetened baking chocolate. The final mix was a little too bitter, so I added a handful of French chocolate truffles and that balanced it out just right.

• I have had bad experiences in the past with scorching chocolate in the microwave, so this time I chose to melt my chocolate using the double boiler method. I don’t actually own a double boiler (another kitchen appliance to add to the ol’ wishlist), but using the metal bowl of my KitchenAid mixer set over a pot of simmering water works just as nicely. The great thing about this technique is that the chocolate stays smooth and melted for as long as you want it to – no need to reheat or hurry to beat the clock and avoid working with hardened chocolate.

• I dipped the base of the cookies in chocolate first, turned them upside down on a parchment-lined sheet, and let the chocolate harden while I mixed up the coconut mixture. It seemed easier than setting the cookies, already topped with coconut-caramel, hot sticky chocolate side down, on parchment.

• For the chocolate drizzle on top, I filled a ziplock with chocolate straight from the stove and used a fine-tipped decorating tool, but I was overzealous in my squeezing, or maybe the chocolate was too hot, because the bag burst. Liquid chocolate all over the baking sheet! After a few words of frustration and cleaning up the mess, I opted to use a spoon. Dipped the spoon into the chocolate, then drizzled over the cookies. A lot simpler, and with similar results...I just didn’t get perfect straight lines across the cookies.

• If you want to get even more authentic and creative with this recipe, you can cut holes out of the center of your cookies to make them look even more like real Samoas. I simply didn’t have time…because my batch was so large, the entire process took me about 3 hours from start to finish.

• My new favorite aroma is toasted coconut. It makes the house smell HEAVENLY!