October 31, 2008

shapely sheep and scene stealers

Why would anyone want to mask the apple flavor of applesauce with that of strawberry? Or cherry? Or peach? It baffles the mind, but the products are out there. I hoisted some from work (and by hoisted, I mean salvaged from the bottom of the trash can) and produced this:


Maybe I should be known as the Rescuer of Rejected Foods.

Although I like my applesauce to taste more like apples and less like strawberry, these muffins were undeniably delicious. What's more, the pink of what shall henceforth be known as strapplesauce (not to be confused with scrapplesauce, which would just be disgusting) made them a lovely color.


The recipe I used was based on an applesauce cake from the now-defunct blog Ooh you tasty little things. Even with the overwhelming strawberry flavor (or, dare I say, because of it), they were about 424 times better than my previous attempt at applesauce muffins.


(good news--apparently, my sheep is preggo!)

A few days ago, I came across a marvelous idea on Shari's blog Whisk. She baked her muffins in cookie cutters! I thought it was a stroke of genius, so I tried it out with some of my extra batter. My cookie cutter collection consists of two sheep, two leaves, and five hearts. I was a little concerned about the nooks and crannies in the sheep and leaves, but I gave them a try anyway and was pleasantly surprised.


Your idea is chock-full of win, Shari.

Strapplesauce Muffins
(adapted from this recipe)

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups strapplesauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients together and stir until smooth. Spoon the thick batter into prepared baking pans, whether mini muffins (I got 48), regular muffins, mini loaves, or cake.
Bake for 15 minutes for mini muffins, or around 20-25 minutes for regular muffins.



(What becomes of the broken-hearted? They get eaten.)

By the way, Happy Halloweenie.

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October 29, 2008

ciao, mi amor!

Elle of Elle's New England Kitchen has single-handedly broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to a better world.


A world with gelato.

A while back, Elle ran a little contest in order to give away some samples of Ciao Bella gelato and sorbetto. I confessed to her that I had never tried gelato, and she took pity on me and chose me as one of the winners.


I received a massive box of goodies from Ciao Bella. Aside from the edibles, which I'll describe shortly, I got a shirt, a bag, a magnet, a pin, and some coupons. Talk about a haul!


I'll start with the sorbets, which I've had before. (See, I'm not a total cavewoman.) The blood orange was magnificent--tart, but not too tart, and really quite wonderful in a glass of ginger ale.


The Blackberry Cabernet sorbet (which rolls off the tongue quite nicely, wouldn't you say?) would've been terrific if I liked the taste of wine, but alas, I just don't. It sure was purty though.


On to the gelato! Folks, I've been missing out. It's truthfully just as good as, if not better than, ice cream. The Key Lime Graham Cracker was pucker-your-lips sour (and I mean that in a good way). I love the texture that graham cracker crumbs provide--they're my favorite mix-in at places like Cold Stone Creamery and Maggie Moo's. My second thought (after "Ooooo-weee!") was that this would be good with some blueberry pie.


I've gone and saved the best for last. May I present to you the Maple Ginger Snap gelato:


It could also be known as Heaven on Earth. The maple flavor was just right, and the little cookies were a nice surprise--a break in texture in the ultra-smooth and creamy gelato. It reminded me of one of my favorite ice creams--Ben & Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Chunk* (drool).

*In looking for a link to this delightful concoction, I discovered that it's no longer commercially available. My day was ruined...until I saw that they've created something with the potential to be even better--Coconut Seven Layer Bar (coconut ice cream with coconut and fudge flakes, walnuts and swirls of graham cracker and butterscotch)!


But I digress. I'm here to talk about gelato, ice cream's better-looking first cousin. I heartily and sincerely thank you, Elle, for improving my life. :)

Side note: We got our first snow last night. Accumulating snow in October just seems wrong.
Side note: To instantly fill your cuteness quota for the day,
check this out.

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October 27, 2008

she can bake, but can she count?

Apparently not.


I got tagged by the praiseworthy Prudy of Prudence Pennywise to fill out a "lucky 7" list, but I could only come up with 6 items for most of the topics.

6 things I used to do:
1. call alumni and ask nicely for money (unless they got snarky with me--then I turned on the sass)
2. film men’s basketball games--paid to watch fellas play my favorite sport, does it get any better?
3. sort and deliver mail--boooooring, plus there was that whole Anthrax scare
4. barista at a Barnes & Noble cafe--methinks I drank more coffee than I sold
5. referee rec league basketball games--man, I loved the power that whistle gave me
6. chemically analyze wine and grape samples--methinks I drank more samples than I analyzed (no, I'm only kidding this time)

6 things I do now:
1. fly all over the country
2. decide what to cook based on how picturesque it will be on my blog
3. fully appreciate the South
4. go on shopping sprees
5. ponder things like who first decided that sticking up the middle finger was insulting?
6. pull out each and every white hair I find on my noggin (count so far: 2)

6 things I want to do: (in no particular order)
1. visit Greece
2. become a mother
3. compete in a cook-off
4. grow four more inches (vertically, not horizontally)
5. own property
6. be happy

6 things that attract me about the opposite sex:
1. manners--hold open the freakin’ door! (and if I hold it for you, SAY THANKS)
2. sense of humor (a dry wit is particularly appreciated)
3. kindness, to both people and animals
4. faith, preferably mirroring my own
5. athleticism (I don't want to be more muscle-bound than he, is that so wrong?)
6. I like ‘em tall, dark, and handsome, what can I say?

6 favorite foods:
1. apple pie a la mode (cinnamon ice cream = perfection)
2. turkey burger with pepper jack cheese (and ketchup)(and mustard)
3. black bean soup, partially blended if you please
4. Mexican lasagna
5. hummus and pita
6. oatmeal scotchies, which I must never make while I live alone because I will eat them ALL, immediately

6 things I say most often:
1. Thank you.
2. I’m cold.
3. How in the world did you get a driver's license?
4. It’s cold.
5. I wish that stupid dog would shut up.
6. Why is it so dang cold?

Meanwhile, I've made no secret of the fact that I can be darn lazy at times. Halloween costumes are yet another example of that. Here are my potentials:

I could carry this sign around and be...


Yes! A ceiling fan! (That's right--I'm not even using a new piece of paper.)

Option #2:


You guessed it. A cupholder. (I would probably forego the pearls...) (...and that particular coiffure.)

Or, my personal favorite, but probably not appropriate for work:


All I have to do is wear clothes.

What do ya'll think?

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October 24, 2008

i did it my way

I know everyone was all abuzz about the NY Times recipe for chocolate chip cookies, but I didn't need to try it. Not only would all the cookie dough be gone before it ever hit the oven, but I also already have a favorite.


These puppies pack a double whammy--they have a somewhat crispy (but not break-your-teeth crunchy) edge and a fantastically chewy center that only good ol' shortening can provide. I know some folks are averse to consuming shortening, but I think it's downright essential in this cookie.

These are not for people who like a fluffy, cakey cookie, which is what I grew up eating (I love you and your fat cookies, Mammicus...). They're quite flat, but still strong enough to support the weight of all that chocolate goodness.


Speaking of chocolate, the type that you use is important too. This time around, I used a combination of semi-sweet and white chocolate chips, as well as some chopped up Hershey's Extra Dark Chocolate with Cranberries, Blueberries, and Almonds. Why not?


I don't know if chilling the dough for that half-hour really makes a difference, but it's just something I've gotten into the habit of doing. If nothing else, it helps the cookies from spreading ridiculously thin as they bake.

I'm sure you all have your favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies. In fact, I've decided that a person's taste for them is as unique as her fingerprint. Until I stop stubbornly refusing to try a new recipe, this one shall remain my favorite.


I took about three dozen to work, and if it's any indication of their scrumptiousness (or perhaps my co-workers' gluttony), they were gone within three hours. This is no small feat, as there aren't that many people in this particular department, and it was 7 in the morning.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 4 dozen 2-inch disks of drool-worthiness)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups miscellaneous morsels

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the shortening; gradually beat in the sugars until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and beat into the wet mixture. Stir in the morsels and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto appropriate baking sheets. For best results, flatten to 1/2-inch thickness with a fork. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until the edges are golden and centers are still slightly underbaked. Let the little pieces of Heaven cool on the pans for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to let cool completely. Eat at least three while still warm. They're always best that way.

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October 22, 2008

punkins (and squarshes) galore

Here are some clever and craftily-carved punkins and squashes for your Halloween enjoyment.

(I dare you not to chuckle)

(it reminds me of that critter from The Neverending Story)

(the little guy look genuinely scared!)

(I imagine I'd look a lot like this if I were thrown behind bars...here's hoping I never find out)

(there's a full moon out tonight)

(looks a lot more appetizing than this guy)

(survival of the fittest and all that)

(yoink!)

(just because I love kitties)

Happy early Halloweenie, folks.

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October 20, 2008

overabundance of orange, part 3

We now resume our regularly-scheduled program, Bountiful Butternut Squash.


(This should be the last squash-centric post for awhile, although I do still have two behemoths left.)

Ya'll suggested some magnificent things to do with my squash (Lucy's ravioli comes to mind), and all I've done so far is make muffins. Boooooring. That's why I'm hesitant to even post this next creation--you may riot against me.

Yes, it's another baked good--and I do mean baked good. This bread comes to us from Pam of For the Love of Cooking and it's wonderful. The only changes I made were using squash instead of pumpkin (obviously) and cutting out the ginger, nutmeg, and nuts. The resulting bread is moist yet fluffy, sweet, and hearty.

It'd probably make a killer muffin.

Butternut Squash Bread
(adapted from here)

2 cups butternut squash puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x5" loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the squash, oil, eggs, and sugar. Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves and stir into the wet mixture until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf.



I had a wee bit of puree left, so I opted to simply spice it up and eat it just like that. I added a dash of milk, a touch of butter, some brown sugar, and some cinnamon. It was fantastic. Come to think of it, it would've been even better with a topping like the one on my favorite sweet potato casserole. Duly noted.

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October 18, 2008

pardon the interruption

In an effort to break up the butternut squash monotony, I bring you this public service announcement:


Beware of gelatinous sugar (of mania-inducing levels) cleverly disguised as a burger.

Although blatantly obvious upon closer inspection, this could easily be mistaken for a burger at first glance...


...if you've never seen a real burger.

No, a burger it is not. It is, in fact, a marshmallow designed to look like a burger, and it is pure poison:


To say that it would have you bouncing off the walls would be an understatement.

In other news, my rental car a couple days ago was a PT Cruiser, one of the most hideous automobiles ever created (in my opinion). Ridiculously enough, the clock inside was analog:


Who does that?

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October 16, 2008

surplus of squash, part 2

The battle of the butternut squash muffins continues!


I won't lie. The first recipe I tried was darn good, and I had already pretty much decided that it would take an extremely awesome recipe to top it.

I do love a good contest, and sadly, there was not one here. These little puppies, replete with chocolate-covered ginger, simply weren't as tasty. That's right--even chocolate couldn't give them an edge. Mind you, this is just my opinion and they could turn out to be the best muffins anyone and everyone else has ever tasted. They've got potential, there's no doubt about that, but they were just a little too gummy and a little to squashy for me.


Here's a thought--maybe it's just the lack of cinnamon. :)

Butternut Muffins with Chocolate-Covered Ginger
(based on these)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butternut squash puree
1/3 cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup chocolate-covered ginger

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease, spray, or line muffin tin.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and ginger. In a larger bowl, mix the squash, butter, eggs, water, and sugar together and combine with the dry ingredients, until just incorporated. Do not over-mix. Fold in the chocolate-covered ginger.

Spoon mixture into prepared muffin tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes (20 minutes for mini-muffins). Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin.

Makes 12 regular muffins or 24 mini-muffins.


One more thing, and this is of the utmost importance: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAMMICUS!

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October 14, 2008

buckets of butternut, part 1

Well folks, you certainly delivered when I asked for uses for my glut of butternut squash. I hope I don't a)disappoint anyone with the things I decided to make, and b)bore you to tears with squash post after squash post after squash post.


Let's begin, shall we?

You must realize by now that I'm a fan of the muffin. Unsurprisingly, my first thought (seconded by several of you) was to muffinize the squash. After doing some searching, I found two equally-tempting recipes and obviously, I was forced to try them both and have a muffin match of sorts.


(my most moist mini-loaf)

This first recipe appealed to me primarily because of the gorgeous crumb topping (originally sans cinnamon, but of course I fixed that). Take a gander for yourself. While the cream cheese innards sounded good, I had none on hand and couldn't justify a trip to the grocery store for cheese alone.


Regardless of the lack of filling, this is a stellar muffin. Although the slightly crunchy crumb topping was indeed glorious, the real kicker for me was the cloves. Yes, they overpowered the cinnamon (which hurt my feelings for a hot second), but their aroma is just so soothing, blissful, and sigh-inducing that I quickly forgot.

Because this was the superior muffin recipe in my battle of the butternut, I'm submitting it to Jeanne of Cook Sister! for the 20th installment of the Waiter, There's Something in My... event. Luckily for me, the theme this month is gourds, so these will fit right in.

Butternut Squash Muffins with Crumbs and Cloves
(based on these)

Muffins:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup butternut squash puree
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray, grease, or line your muffin tin.

To make the crumb topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then pinch the mixture (go on, get in there with your fingers!) until pea-size clumps are formed. Set aside.

For the muffins, mix together the flour, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine the eggs, oil, squash, sugar, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
Fill the muffin tins 3/4 full. Sprinkle each cup generously with topping.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean from the muffin. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely. Makes 12 muffins and two mini loaves.

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October 11, 2008

dropping in on the little brother

The Mamboni and I currently live about 12 hours apart, so when my little brother chose to pursue his graduate degree at Penn State, he provided us with a lovely rendezvous point--his apartment.

(squash love)

Last weekend, I drove south and Mamalamadingdong drove north and we met in State College, PA. It was quality family time and there was good eating to be done. We had moist, homemade banana bread...


...and really smooth and creamy ice cream from Meyer Dairy:

(I had coconut chocolate chip...)

I came back with loads of peppers...


...and squash...

(in the midst of a lovers' spat, apparently...)

...as well as some homemade hot pepper jelly, apple cinnamon jelly (heck yeah!), and spicy salsa. Quite the haul, wouldn't you say?

Apparently, the little red peppers are unbearably hot (I haven't tried them out myself...), so does anyone have any suggestions for how I can use them? While you're at it, what should I do with this lovely butternut squash puree?


I value your input. Really.

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October 8, 2008

enough already!

You may be growing tired of my (over)use of apples and cinnamon and if so, sorry. I can't seem to get enough.


When I saw this post about apple chips on eat make read, I knew exactly what was in store for the apples I had just gotten from work. We've been testing different varieties in some of our products, so I thought I'd do my own little experiment and see whether Gala or Golden Delicious yielded the better apple chip.

I followed the procedure closely. Apparently I'm not very adept with a knife, as my slices weren't that impressively thin. In fact, some were downright obese. The only change I made was to--wait for it--sprinkle cinnamon on top before popping them into the oven.


So which apple variety reigned supreme? Although I put the slices on different baking sheets, I ultimately couldn't distinguish between the varieties based solely on appearance. Taste was a different story--I greatly preferred the Golden Delicious, which just so happens to be my favorite fresh apple as well. They were much sweeter, and lacked the somewhat bitter aftertaste I found in the Gala slices.

These are an easy, yummy snack, chock-full of crispity, crunchity satisfaction. Don't take my word for it--after all, I do have a slight obsession with all things cinnamon. Go ahead and try 'em for yourself.

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October 6, 2008

sapphires or sweets?

One of my co-workers recently celebrated his 45th anniversary with the company. Although it's a totally different occasion, I found that the traditional gift for couples who've been married 45 years is something sapphire-related. Good to know.

I gave him peanut butter bars.


Sometimes I think I'd prefer sweets over sapphires. What's more, if given sapphires, I'd be tempted to pawn them and use the money for sweets. But that's just me--I've never been much for bling.

I asked the honoree if anything I'd brought in over the past ten months had tickled his fancy, and he immediately responded, "That's easy--those peanut butter crunchy bar-type thingies." Fortunately, I was able to deduce what he meant.

These are so easy, I almost felt guilty. After all, 45 years with one company should earn a person a much more decadent and labor-intensive treat. Eh, this is what he wanted, so this is what he got. They are awfully good.

Easy Peasy Peanut Butter Bars

6 cups cereal (anything from Cheerios to Corn Flakes to Rice Krispies)(I used those almost-wasted Rice Krispies wannabes)
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup caramel sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and caramel sauce. Heat until mixture boils. Add peanut butter and stir until well-blended. Heat a bit more if necessary. Stir in vanilla. Fold in cereal. Spread into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish lined with wax paper. Cover and chill for 1 hour or until set. Cut into squares.

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