Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pumpkin Cupcakes

 When you receive an invitation to a Halloween party, what's the first thing that comes to mind? You'd usually think "What costume shall I wear?", am I correct? But when my friends, Casey and Chris invited me to their "I Put a Spell on You" Party, the first thing I thought wasn't "what shall I wear?" but rather  "What shall I BRING?" hehehehe Here's how the actual conversation went:
Me: So... If I happen to be baking something for a Halloween party, what do you think might be a good something?"
Casey: "Something orange and black? Like an orange cake or cupcakes with chocolate icing?" 
Me: "How about Pumpkin Cupcakes and maybe orange cream cheese icing?"  
Casey: "Oh my GOD that is the best thing I've ever heard in my life. CLASSIC Joey Quaile shenanigans!!!!
 LOL She always cracks me up. And I'm so thrilled with how the cupcakes turned out! I used Martha Stewart's cupcake recipe and added a few little simple decorations. Don't they look cute? They were really simple to make too, and they made exactly 2 dozen cupcakes, which is exactly how many decorations I had. Perfect!
Even if you're not going to a Halloween party, you should still give this recipe a try. If you love anything pumpkin as much as I do, I PROMISE you'll love them! SERIOUS yum.
 Thank you Casey and Chris for inviting me to your party! Hopefully everyone will love the cupcakes as much as I do! 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
Orange Cream Cheese Icing, if desired

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.
 In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.
 Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Not a fan of Orange Cream Cheese icing? Are you feeling ok? Use regular cream cheese icing! Not a fan of regular cream cheese icing? Maybe you should lie down, something is definitely not right. Use regular butter cream! Use any kind of frosting you like!
Instead of measuring out each different kind of spice, I just threw in a couple teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice blend. I had it handy and it was just easier. Just sayin!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Gingersnap Pumpkin Squares

 This is one of those recipes that I had tucked away, figuring I'd get around to trying it one day. It's a Taste of Home recipe, and it just sounded so good, I thought "ooo I should probably hold onto this one, say, for Halloween parties and such." Well, today's the day!!
 I recently invited some friends over for a Fall diner, just so I could test a few recipes. (Somehow I never seem to have any problems finding volunteers for taste testing.. lol) Anyway,  I made my Mom's Chicken Cutlets and tried a bunch of new side dishes. Everything turned out great! And this was one of the desserts I made. Since I had planned on making several different dishes, I knew I'd have to be careful about time management. In other words, I needed a dessert that I could make in advance, and this was the perfect choice. That's definitely the answer when you know you'll be doing a lot of cooking. If you can make anything ahead of time, do it!! I made it the night before, left it in the fridge to chill overnight, an then cut it into squares just before serving. Easy! It's crunchy and tasty on the top and bottom and creamy and rich in the middle, sort of like a pumpkin cheesecake kind of filling. Doesn't that sound awesome? I loved every bite!
 So be sure to add this one to your "easy-make ahead-Fall dinner-Halloween party-Thanksgiving dessert" repertoire. Your family and friends will devour them!

1 package yellow cake mix
1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten 

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (29 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract 

1/2 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 cup chopped pecans

     Set aside 3/4 cup cake mix for topping. In a small bowl, combine gingersnap crumbs and remaining cake mix; stir in butter and egg. Press onto the bottom of a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish; set aside. 
     For filling, in a large bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs. Beat in the pumpkin, milk, cinnamon and vanilla and mix well. Pour over crust. 
     For topping, in a small bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs, sugar and reserved cake mix; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle over filling. Bake at 325° for 70-75 minutes or until filling is set. Cool on a wire rack for 1-1/2 hours. Store in the refrigerator.

    As I always do, I lined my pan with parchment paper, leaving some to hang over the sides. Then, after it was baked and completely chilled, I used the paper as a sling to lift the entire batch out of the pan, and used a large knife to cut it into squares. You get perfectly clean cuts and you don't ruin your pan!
    When I served them, I cut them into 24 large squares, but you can stretch it further if you're making them for a party. They're thick enough and rich enough that you can cut them into 32 smaller squares.
     For an extra special presentation, place the squares on a big platter in one layer. Top each square with a swirl of whipped cream, then top each swirl with a ginger snap half, or just sprinkle with gingersnap crumbs. 

    Monday, October 19, 2015

    Trisha's Apple Dumplings

     OK, seriously, before I say another thing, I have to tell you that this is one of my favorite desserts that I've ever made. I'm not even kidding. My favorite thing ever is vanilla ice cream melting down over a piping hot apple dessert, and this one is right up there with the best of them.
     I saw Trisha Yearwood making this recipe on her cooking show, and immediately placed it squarely in the "how can this not be good?" category. It's easy to do, makes the house smell heavenly while it's baking, and it's delicious enough to serve for a special occasion or holiday dinner. I made this when I had some friends over to kick off my week of birthday celebrating, and everyone agreed that it's pretty freakin' amazing!
    So I'll just this this: If you like apples and cinnamon, you simply MUST make this, and that's just all there is to it!

    2 Granny Smith apples
    1 lemon
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    8 canned buttermilk biscuits
    4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
    Peel, core and slice the apples vertically into 8 slices each. Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water and add the apple slices to keep from turning brown.
    In a medium saucepan, mix 1 cup water, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the butter and vanilla. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat. Separate each biscuit into 2 layers. Wrap a biscuit layer around a slice of apple, stretching the biscuit slightly to overlap, and seal on the bottom. Place the wrapped slices, sealed-side down, in a 9- by 12- by 2-inch casserole dish. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the apple slices. Mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture over the tops of the wrapped apples. Bake until golden brown, 35 minutes.
    You can serve this with whipped cream, of course, but I definitely feel that vanilla ice cream is the way to go on this one. 
    Be sure to use Granny Smith apples. You can use a sweeter apple, but you really want the tartness of the Granny Smith, plus it holds up wel when you bake it.
    I don't have any other tips or variations to offer because the recipe is pretty much perfect as it is! I wouldn't change a thing!! 

    Monday, October 12, 2015


     For years, I've searched for the right pumpkin brownie recipe. Now, I'm not talking about Pumpkin Swirl Brownies that are your basic chocolate brownie with pumpkin swirled through them. I'm talking about a pumpkin bar recipe that is not chocolate, but has the same texture as a brownie, know what I mean? Just like the Orange Brownies, or the Lemony Lemon Brownies, or my favorite, the amazing Vanilla Bean Brownies, I wanted a pumpkin version. Well, friends, I think I've finally found it. And they're appropriately called Pumpkies! I found them on a website called Mother Thyme, and they're just exactly what I was looking for. Soft and delicious, and just about as close to a brownie texture you can get without being an actual chocolate brownie. It was suggested that you can add cream cheese frosting, (which would be amazing), but I just sprinkled mine with a little cinnamon and sugar over the batter before baking them. They turned out EXACTLY as I hoped they would! And they were a snap to throw together. They're absolutely perfect for a Halloween party and they're good enough to add to your Thanksgiving dessert menu.
    This one is definitely a keeper!

    1/3 cup butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 large egg
    1/2 cup pumpkin puree
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ginger
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon salt

     Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside. Using electric mixer cream butter and sugar. Add egg, pumpkin puree and mix until combined. In a small bowl, mix flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Gradually add into wet ingredients until just combined. Spread into baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes until cake tester comes out clean. Cool pan on wire rack before cutting.

    The recipe directs to cool them before cutting, but I went further than that and let them completely chill in the fridge, I was able to remove the entire batch from the pan in one piece (using the parchment paper as a sling) and then I used a big knife to make perfect cuts for a perfect presentation!
    This recipe is for an 8x8 pan, but I doubled it and baked it in a 9x13 pan. It worked perfectly!
    If you'd like to add a little extra cinnamon, go for it! Like I always say, you can never have too much! Or you can just use a couple teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice blend, which is one of my favorite things, EVER. Also be sure to include the salt. It makes a world of difference!

    Monday, October 5, 2015

    Overnight Vanilla Bean Apple Butter

      One of my very favorite things about Autumn is that it's apple season. I have never met an apple I didn't like, from sweet to tart to crispy, I love them all. And if there's the option of having an apple dessert, well, that's just a no brainer. I'll definitely be choosing it. So, of course, I'm always looking for new fun things to make with apples.
     Since I've recently gotten into canning and preserving, naturally I wanted to try a couple different recipes for apple butter. At first, I just made your basic straight up apple butter. Delicious, yes, but I wanted more flavors. Vanilla? YES. Spices? Definitely. Bourbon? Why not? So I did some googling and I found a fabulous recipe from a website called Rook No. 17. It's stupid easy to make, and the results are amazing! All you need is a little time in the crock pot and you're good to go!
     This is a slightly tweaked version of that recipe, just because I like to switch things up to suit my own tastes. When you make yours, feel free to play around with it however you like. Cut back on the sugar if you like it a little less sweet, add some nutmeg or try an apple pie spice blend if you like it a little spicier. The flavor is so rich, it will all work! And let me just tell you, you will never smell such a heavenly aroma in your entire life as you will while your apple butter is simmering away in your crock pot! It's just intoxicating! Store it in the fridge and eat it within a couple weeks, or can it in jars and store it for months. Either way, your family and friends will love you for it! Enjoy!

    3 cups granulated sugar 
    1 cup dark brown sugar 
    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 
    1 teaspoon kosher salt 
    5 -6 pounds apples - peeled, cored, chopped
    1/2 cup orange juice
    2 tbs lemon juice
    2 whole vanilla beans, split and scraped   
    3 tablespoons Bourbon (optional)

    In the evening:
    Into a large bowl, add all ingredients except bourbon. Toss to combine. Transfer mixture to a large crock pot and cook covered, on high, for two hours. Remove lid, stir, then cover.  Reduce heat to low and continue to cook through the night for 9-12 hours.
    In the morning: 
    Remove lid and cook for another hour, on low, uncovered. Remove vanilla pods. Use an immersion blender or transfer mixture to a food processor or blender (in batches) to puree.  Stir in bourbon and cook for one final hour, uncovered, on low.
    To can, (if desired):
    Bring to boil a large canning pot filled with water and fitted with canning rack. Fill sterilized jars with hot apple butter, leaving 1/2" head space. Wipe around the rim. Apply lids, fasten bands, and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Cool on towel lined counter until completely cool.  Check lids for vacuum seal before putting up.

      If you don't have orange juice on hand, you can simply leave it out. But definitely do not omit the lemon juice. (you can substitute apple cider vinegar, if you like). You need some sort of acid to brighten up the flavor and it's also required if you're planning to can using the water bath method.
      For the very best tasting apple butter, choose several different kinds of apples ranging from very sweet to very tart. Your apple butter will have an amazing depth of flavor!
      In this particular instance, definitely use whole vanilla beans as opposed to just using extract. I suppose you could, but the bean gives it a much richer flavor. If you do choose to just use the extract, be sure to use pure vanilla extract (not imitation vanilla flavoring) and add it at the very end, after the apple butter is finished cooking.
    Feel free to let it cook longer, if you'd like, or if it's more convenient for you. I usually let it cook for much longer than the recipe directs, just because it usually takes me forever to get my act together when it comes to doing all the prep for canning! True story!