Saturday, October 29, 2011

Meringue Ghosts

Baking will be my contribution to Halloween. I like Halloween in the sense that I love the crisp fall weather that surrounds it. I'll take any excuse to enjoy some scary movies or books, and I look forward to Halloween episodes of my favorite shows. However, it's the decorating part of the holiday where I start to lose interest. There seems to be no way I can motivate myself to put decorations around my house or bother to actually dress up myself.

So here's my version of Halloween decorations:

I saw these on, which has become one of my favorite ways to waste time. They seemed far too cute not to try. Also, I knew they would make great cupcake toppers.

Meringue Ghosts

• 4 large egg whites, room temperature
• 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
• 1 cup sugar
• ½-1 tsp pure vanilla extract
(depends on how much vanilla flavor you want)
• miniature chocolate chips for the eyes
• regular chocolate chips for the mouth
(I’ve also seen black frosting decorating gel instead
of chocolate chips.)

Preheat oven to 200. Add eggs whites to a mixing bowl. Be careful not to get ANY yoke in the whites. Beat with a whisk attachment until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla. Add sugar in slowly and continue to beat until the meringue holds really stiff peaks. This will take a few minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. The directions I used recommended using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip, but I use a Pampered Chef decorator. I placed a little meringue on each corner of the baking sheet before I set the parchment paper down. This holds the paper down so it doesn’t slide or roll up.

Hold the pastry bag or decorator perpendicular to the baking sheet and pipe out the meringue with even pressure. This took a little practice before the ghosts began to really look ghost-like.

Bake the ghosts for 1 ½ hours or until they feel crisp on the outside and can be easily lifted off the parchment.

I applied the chocolate chips right out of the oven. Some recipes claim you can put them in before you bake. I used two mini chocolate chips for the eyes and 1 regular for the mouth.

These can be eaten by themselves or used as cupcake toppers.

Since I was focusing more on the ghosts, I did cheat and use a box cake mix. One thing I don’t believe you can take a shortcut on is frosting. I made a vanilla buttercream, which gave me a chance to try out my vanilla bean paste I recently bought. (The verdict on the vanilla paste was that it didn’t pack quite enough punch, hence the addition of vanilla extract.)

Vanilla Buttercream

• 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
• ¼ tsp vanilla extract
• pinch of salt
• 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Mix cream, vanillas and salt together in a small bowl. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar until completely combined. Add the cream mixture and beat for 3 or 4 minutes until fluffy and smooth.

I was really happy with how these ghosts turned out. I did find one other Halloween recipe I want to try, but I haven't been able to figure out how to make it. If anyone can figure out how to do this, let me know.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato & Mascarpone Lasagna

This lasagna is good. I don’t mean for that to sound generic. By saying it’s good, I mean it is really, really, really good in a “oh my gosh, how am I just now finding out about this” type of way. This has to be one of my favorite recipes I’ve tried so far. It sounded a little different, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I can tell you that these flavors all melt together perfectly. This just might be one of the perfect fall foods.

I came across this idea after buying a gigantic butternut squash at the farmers’ market. I’ve always like butternut squash, but this recipe has given me a new reason to love it.

Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato & Mascarpone Lasagna

Adapted from How Sweet It Is

Makes 8x8 pan

9-12 lasagna noodle sheets

1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

12 ounces mascarpone cheese

1-1.5 tbsp unsalted butter

1 shallot, diced (can substitute sweet onion)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

olive oil for drizzling

The first time I made this recipe, I used two 7 oz ramekins. To do that, I made a 1/3 of the recipe. My reasoning was that my husband tends to not see lasagna without meat as being real food. I had my doubts he would help eat any, so I did not want an entire pan left over. Once I realized this lasagna was absolutely delicious, I made a full pan to take over to my in-laws, where it was well received and quickly gobbled up.

Now, here’s how to make this gorgeous, fall lasagna:

Preheat oven to 350. Peel and chop the butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place the squash and potatoes on the foil and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Toss so that all the pieces are coated. Bake for 50 minutes until soft.

In the meantime, cook the lasagna noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, I set them out on wax paper so they don’t stick.

Next, melt the butter in a small skillet. Add the shallots and garlic. Heat on low and cook until they start to caramelize. Combine the caramelized shallots with the mascarpone and about ¾ cup of the parmesan.

Once the squash and sweet potatoes are out of the oven, use a fork or potato masher to mash them. When I made the full batch, I threw them in my electric mixer.

I took pictures of the batch I made in ramekins, so that’s what I’ll describe here. The layers are the same for a full pan- noodle, squash mixture, mascarpone mixture, mozzarella/parmesan, noodle, etc.

For the ramekins, I began by spraying them with non-stick spray. Next, I put my noodles down by crossing them in a "T" pattern, pressing them down in the ramekin with the sides still hanging over.

Spread some of the squash and sweet potato mixture in the bottom.

Then spread some of the mascarpone mixture. Top that with some of the shredded mozzarella and parmesan.

Fold one set of the arms over the top of the cheese. Begin the process again with the squash, followed by the mascarpone and shredded cheese.

Fold the final set of arms over the top, and repeat with the squash and mascarpone. Top with the shredded cheese.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes. If using the 8x8 pan, bake for about 45 minutes.

I’m trying to figure out a version for my husband that adds meat. Bacon? Andouille sausage? I’m sure I’ll be making this enough to try all the different variations.

Just look at those beautiful fall colors. Trust me, it tastes as good as it looks. C’mon, try this recipe. You know you want to.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jalapeno Popper Cornbread Muffins

This recipe came out of an attempt to spice up some cornbread, which is a food I usually don’t care much about. It also fell under the “things with jalapenos in it” food category that my husband enjoys. A couple months ago, I had made some good cornbread muffins by adding chopped corn and sautéed jalapenos to a store bought mix. Because the jalapenos were sautéed, they didn’t add too much heat. Instead they had a nice smoky flavor. It was also really nice to just add some ingredients to a box mix and come out with some great cornbread. I’d thought about adding bacon, but at the time I was cooking for a whole crowd and didn’t have enough.

This time I decided to try the jalapeno and bacon idea, along with other ingredients you typically see in jalapeno poppers. Again, I started with a box of cornbread mix. This time is was Krusteaz honey cornbread mix.

First, I chopped up and cooked three slices of bacon, reserving some of the grease for the jalapenos. I chopped up two jalapenos and sautéed those in the bacon grease until soft. I left the seeds in the jalapenos to try and reserve a bit of heat.

Next, I mixed up the cornbread according to the directions on the box. I also threw in a tbsp of brown sugar. I have no real reason for throwing in the brown sugar other than the fact I like sweet cornbread and it sounded like it would complement the jalapenos and bacon. Plus, when isn’t brown sugar a good idea? I thought maybe it would carmelized a little on the outside of the muffin.

Add the bacon and sautéed jalapenos to the bowl of cornbread muffin mix.

Now add about a 1/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. (I found the cheese flavor didn’t pop as much as I thought it might. If you prefer these super cheesy, add more.)

Mix all this up with the cornbread batter. You can see all the yummy stuff that's been added.

Pour into 24 mini muffin cups. I had a little extra batter left after my first batch of 24. Bake according to the package or until golden brown.

Here's a muffin that was impatiently removed. It gives a good view of all the ingredients.

For the full jalapeno popper experience, spread with cream cheese. Like most of the jalapeno based food I make, these went over well with my husband. I think he may have eaten about half the pan for dinner.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gorgonzola, Apple & Bacon Stuffed Pork Loin

After a month long hiatus, I’m back to posting on the blog. I’ve had the material for this post for awhile now, but never got around to it. I think some of my hesitation with this post is that it’s near impossible to make pictures of raw meat look tasty. However, I promise you that the finished product is worth looking through a few pictures of uncooked meat.

My husband and I have a habit of making most of our big meat and potato type meals on Sundays. I think we fell into this pattern during the summer when we’d grill. Our grocery store had pork loins on sale, but I still needed to come up with a way to prepare it.

I stuffed this one with crispy bacon, gorgonzola, and sautéed onions and apples. I’m well aware that this blog probably reflects a pattern of bacon, apple and onion combinations, but it’s so good that it’s impossible to not repeat. I also used an 18 oz pork loin that was already packaged in a lemon herb marinade.

First, the pork loin had to be cut lengthwise to provide more surface area. The following is the easiest way I’ve seen it described. First, make a cut lengthwise about 1/3 of the way into the pork loin. Cut as close as you can until it’s flat against your cutting board, but be careful not to cut all the way through.

Next, you’ll notice that the 2/3 of the loin you haven’t cut into will look kind of like a wall that drops off into the flat area you have cut. Cut into the loin about half way up that wall. Again cut until it’s flat, but not all the way through.

I’ve heard the end result described as looking like an open book.

For the filling, I had cooked some chopped bacon and then sautéed some diced onions and apples in the grease, along with a little dried rosemary and thyme. I think this was about 1 apple, 1 medium onion and 3 slices of bacon.

I spread that all over the flattened pork loin, followed by a generous helping of some crumbled gorgonzola.

To wrap up the filling, I started at one end of the pork loin and rolled lengthwise. The pork loin will need to be tied with some butcher’s twine. You’ll notice mine was so stuffed that a little filling has come out the top.

Once it baked according to directions and desired temperature, I cut the twine and let the loin cool for about 5 minutes before slicing it.

This is what awaits you once you slice into it:

Look at the crispy bacon, sweet apples and onions, and gooey gorgonzola cheese. I’m already thinking about the next stuffed pork loin. How does roasted red pepper and goat cheese sound?