Autumn Winesweekend

It’s Winesday! Officially the best day of the week, and officially a week since I’ve written. Sorry about that, but I’ve just been so busy and not quite in the mood to write 😦 Anyway, who says you can’t celebrate Winesday any day of the week? Winesday is more of an attitude than a specific day, and besides, a good friend of mine was visiting from out-of-state so we had to delay this particular celebration-hence the Winesweekend.

The Wine

  • Red Sangria with just a hint of spice. For this particular sangria, you’ll need a really light and fruity red wine that is good chilled. My favorite wine to use comes from San Sebastian Winery in St Augustine, FL, and it tastes like absolute heaven on its own. It’s very sweet so it works well in sangria. Once you select the right wine, you’ll also need triple sec, a simple syrup (cooked sugar and water), cinnamon, and cut fruit. (Don’t worry, I’ll put up a separate post on how to make this).

The Entree

  • Rachel Ray’s amazing nachos with butternut squash queso. Perhaps because I’m writing this at lunch time or perhaps because they were just that delicious, I can’t stop thinking about them now. These are great because they’re hearty enough to make a meal out of, but I can’t guarantee any leftovers. Besides, who wants to eat leftover nachos?

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 4 servings

For the Queso

  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled and chopped, or 1-2 packages of already-cut squash
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander (this is an expensive spice, so if you don’t already have it and don’t want to spend, don’t worry about it-it’s still delicious without it)
  • 1 Tbsp of seeded, pureed canned chipolte in adobo (you can puree the whole can and freeze the remainder in a sandwich bag; you’ll be able to slice what you need from the frozen chipolte in the future)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO as Ms. Rachel likes to call it)
  • Nutmeg
  • Food processor, blender, or electric hand-mixer

For the Nachos

  • 1 can spicy vegetarian refried beans
  • 1 bag blue corn tortilla chips (or other high-quality tortilla chips)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Toppings such as jalepeno slices, chopped red onion, sliced fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, fresh cilantro
  • Large casserole dish

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place the butternut squash pieces in a casserole dish or shallow pan, and drizzle the pieces with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast the pieces for 20-25 minutes or until tender.
  3. Saute the carrot, onion, and garlic with olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Season the items with salt, pepper, cumin, and if using, coriander, and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, 10-12 minutes.
  4. Place the sauted veggies and the roasted squash in a food processor, blender, or mixing bowl, and add the pureed chipole, and veggie stock. Puree until very smooth, and set aside.
  5. Melt the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Next, whisk in the milk, and season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Add the cheese, and continue to stir until melted. Add the pureed vegetables to the pan, and adjust the heat and seasoning if necessary.
  6. Preheat the broiler, and heat the vegetarian refried beans. Add 1/3-1/2 cup water to thin the beans out. Arrange the tortilla chips in a large casserole dish, and pour the refried beans evenly over them. Sprinkle the black beans over the chips and refried beans. Top with butternut squash queso, and broil the dish until the edges have browned and the tortilla chips are crisp. Add toppings, including plenty of avocado, and enjoy! Then…enjoy seconds, thirds, etc…

Recipe from Rachel Ray.  

The Dessert

  • Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart. I discussed this tart in an earlier post, but this was the meal I originally made it for. It’s best when strawberries are in season, in the early to mid-summer, but it’s also a perfectly sweet and light ending to an overly indulgent meal (i.e. too many nachos).

Thanksgiving Eve Winesday

Happy Thanksgiving-Eve-Winesday! I hope everyone is fortunate enough to be surrounded by loved ones and plenty of food to fill your bellies this Thanksgiving. I will be spending it with Brendan’s rowdy family and neighbors in Pennsylvania where I’ll enjoy good company, good (hard) cider, and lots of good food. Yay! Whatever you’re doing this Thanksgiving, I hope you’re not forgetting to celebrate Winesday.

The menu below comes from last week’s Winesday (which had to be held on Thirstday instead), and it was for just two of us so the portions tend to be a bit smaller (sort of). Amber had wine from a place we had visited in northern Connecticut, and it was begging to be shared with chocolate. That was easy enough to solve. I’d been craving flourless chocolate cake for weeks, and Amber had been craving zucchini parmesan for dinner for days. And so, our mini Winesday was created.

The Wine

I would love to try and resist the urge to brag about Connecticut vineyards since they’re not accessible to everyone who may be reading this, but I just can’t. It’s not even possible not to highlight some of the incredible vineyards and wines we have in the Nutmeg State. There is a wide variety of grapes that can grow in our climate, and that results in a wide variety of dry and sweet wines. Connecticut is also a wonderful place to grow apples, berries, and other fruits so a few wineries here develop their wines from combinations of fruits. This leads to hundreds of different wines that are way too fantastic not to mention. So I do apologize to anyone who can’t get to these places easily, but at least it gives you a reason to visit 😛

  • The wine we enjoyed this past Winesday came from Connecticut Valley Winery, a small winery in Litchfield County that is owned and operated by a father-son team. When we arrived to do a tasting on a warm and beautiful October Sunday, the tasting room was packed with people. We had to wait until the first wave of people cleared out before we could squeeze in at the bar, but it didn’t take long for us to understand why it was so crowded. Every wine was unique, and every wine was incredible. Midnight, the wine we had with our Winesday dinner, was selling out for the season while we were there. It’s an award-winning deep, tart red wine that has a sweet berry finish. Alone, it tends to be a bit too bold, but with any kind of chocolate indulgence, it’s perfect. It’s made from Frontenac grapes, and it’s similar to a Pinot Noir but with less spice. Unfortunately for all of us, this winery won’t be selling the wine again until next season (May) 😦

The EntrĂŠe

  • Zucchini Parmesan. The original plan involved another batch of vegetarian chilli, but on a whim, Amber decided she wanted to try zucchini parmesan. The recipe below is her original creation. It’s similar to eggplant parmesan but lighter in taste and less filling (i.e. less fatty).

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 4 servings

  • 4 medium zucchini, sliced evenly
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Oregano, basil, salt, pepper
  • Square glass pan
How to Do It
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix eggs and milk in a small glass dish, and fill a separate small glass dish with breadcrumbs. Heat oil in a medium-sized frying pan.
  2. Dip slices of zucchini in the milk/egg mixture, and coat them in the breadcrumbs. Immediately place in the hot frying pan, and fry the slices until they’re browned on both sides.
  3. Layer sauce, zucchini slices, cheeses, and spices until you’ve used all the zucchini. Top the dish with additional sauce, cheeses, and spices.
  4. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the zucchini is crisp. Enjoy warm with a fresh spinach salad.

The Dessert

    • Mini flourless chocolate cake. I love chocolate. I knew we had to have chocolate to enjoy with the wine, and I played with the idea of a dark chocolate mousse, chocolate cupcakes, brownies, and finally, flourless chocolate cake. I hadn’t ever attempted to make one before, but I knew from past experiences that it would have the most concentrated chocolate flavor. It’s an incredible indulgence for a relatively easy baking experience. Happy Thanksgiving-eat, drink, and be merry 🙂

Apple Cider Doughnuts

One of my favorite treats in New England in the fall are fresh apple cider doughnuts. You can always find them at grocery stores, but I love to go to the local orchards to get them. They’re often fresher and more delicious, and I know I’m doing a good deed by visiting a local business to get them. They’re perfect too-rich, soft, a little spicy, and a lot delicious. However, they’re usually fried and covered in sugar, which is never really good for anyone! I wanted to figure out how to make these treats without the frying and added fat-partially because I know it’s the healthy alternative, and partially because I just feel so freakin guilty when I eat them! And I can’t ever eat just one!

Well, who knew it was so easy to make doughnuts at home? Honestly, it’s not much different than making cupcakes, and it may even be easier because there is no added fuss with paper liners for doughnuts. I found this recipe on one of my favorite sites, King Arthur Flour, and the best part? The doughnuts are BAKED instead of fried. Not that we’re talking broccoli and carrots here, but this makes the recipe tremendously healthier. KAF recommends a honey coating, which I will provide for you here, but I recommended a brown sugar topping similar to what you can buy at the orchards. It tastes better on the doughnuts, and it’s much less messy.

One warning before you begin-you will absolutely need a doughnut pan to do this. Wilton makes a terrific nonstick six-doughnut pan (they make minis too!) that you can buy for around $10. If you really love doughnuts, it will change your life. I promise. Who knew you could create those naughty little treats at home so easily?

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 8 doughnuts

For the Doughnuts

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 Tbsp thawed frozen apple juice concentrate
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup Hi-maize natural fiber (recommended by KAF, though I used 1/4 cup whole wheat flour because I couldn’t find the fiber in stores)
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Nonstick doughnut pan

For the Glaze

  • 3 Tbsp thawed frozen apple juice concentrate
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp corn syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
  • Candy thermometer or digital thermometer

OR

  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • Pinch of nutmeg

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and if you’re not using a nonstick doughnut pan, grease your pan lightly with butter.
  2. Beat together the softened butter, oil, sugar, and spices using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer at low-speed.
  3. Next, add the thawed frozen apple juice concentrate and egg. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients-flour, fiber, baking soda, and baking powder. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter, and whip between each addition.
  5. Gently pour the batter into the doughnut pan, filling the cups no more than 2/3 full. Smooth the batter.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a wooden cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, and then transfer to a wire cooling rack to finish cooling.
  7. To make the glaze, pour all ingredients together in a saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until all the sugar is dissolved.
  8. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cover the pan. Continue to boil for approximately three minutes.
  9. Remove the cover, and boil until your thermometer reads 240 degrees F. This may take several more minutes, but you’ll need to watch it carefully to avoid going higher than this temperature.
  10. Remove the syrup from the heat, and cool slightly.
  11. You can dip the doughnuts in the warm syrup and let them dry on a piece of parchment paper or on a cooling rack. You can also cover the warm syrup with chopped nuts, or you can forego dipping the doughnuts and cover them with sugar instead.
  12. To cover the doughnuts in sugar instead of a glaze, mix the sugars and spices in a resealable plastic sandwich bag. While the doughnuts are still warm, place them individually inside the bag, and shake it gently to coat the doughnut. Let them cool on a wire cooling rack.

Doughnut and glaze recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Mini Flourless Chocolate Cake

What’s better than rich, velvety chocolate that you can share with just one or two other people? Nothing. Unless you can enjoy a glass of tart red wine with it also. A flourless chocolate cake is just that-rich, decadent, velvety smooth, and goes perfectly with a bold, tart, or sweet red wine with berry notes. And the best part? Without the flour creating a fluffy texture, the only thing left to really enjoy is the chocolate in its most pure form (besides actually eating straight chocolate of course). There is no gluten and fluff to fill you up, but only heavenly chocolate. The texture is similar to fudge, but it doesn’t have the heavy buttery taste of fudge that leaves you feeling sick and guilty afterwards.

It’s also relatively easy to prepare, and if you’re an avid baker, you can probably use the items you already have in your kitchen. You can double the recipe to create an 8″ cake, but I chose to make it small because I was only have dinner with one other person and because I didn’t have the energy to travel to the grocery store after sitting in traffic for almost two hours on a horrid commute home. 😦 So the mini flourless chocolate cake is born, and hey, it was perfect.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes a 4″ round cake

For the Cake

  • 3 oz semisweet chocolate (1/2 cup if you’re using chips)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp espresso powder (optional, but enriches the chocolate and adds a hint of coffee)
  • 1 1/2 eggs (yes, this is tricky)
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 4 inch round cake pan
  • Wax or parchment paper, cut into 4″ circles

For the Glaze

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 oz semi sweet chocolate (1/2 cup if you’re using chips)

How to Do It

  1. Begin by lightly greasing your cake pan. Line with one or two sheets of parchment or wax paper, and lightly grease the top sheet. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl or over a low setting on the stove. I find it works best to melt the chocolate and butter on the stove because you have less chance of burning the chocolate. Microwaves have such a high temperature that it’s easy to quickly burn chocolate, but a low heat setting on a stove top provides more even heating.
  3. Mix the sugar, salt, and espresso powder in a medium mixing bowl, and add the melted chocolate and butter. Use a whisk to whip the ingredients together.
  4. Add the egg, and mix until ingredients are blended.
  5. Add the cocoa powder, and whip until just the cocoa is just blended.
  6. Pour the batter into the cake pan, and smooth out with a rubber spatula. Bake for 22 minutes.
  7. Remove the cake from the oven, and cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate to finish cooling.
  8. To make the glaze, heat the heavy cream and chocolate together in the microwave for 1 minute to 90 seconds or until the heavy cream is very hot but not boiling. The chocolate should be partially melted, and you can use a whisk or a fork to whip the two together. The chocolate will begin to fully melt and thicken the cream.
  9. When the cake is fully cooled, spoon the glaze over the top, and spread with a cake spatula or butterknife. Be sure to cover the tops and sides.
  10. Optional toppings include toasted almonds or chocolate chips (put on before the glaze is cooled), or top with berries or sifted confectioner’s sugar (after the glaze is cool and firm).

Recipe adapted from KingArthurFlour.com.

Housewarming Winesday

Happy Winesday! I figured it might be more enjoyable for me to post Winesday menus ON Winesday. We’ll see though. Those are my favorite, and it might be hard to wait 6 days to post. I’m terrible at waiting (you should see me at Christmas time!). Anyway, forgive the low quality pictures as they were taken with my old iPhone, which isn’t quite as fabulous as the newer versions. This menu comes from a housewarming Winesday at Michelle’s newly purchased home. It’s pretty impressive to buy your first home at 27 without the help of your parents or a man! So what better way to celebrate than with good food, good wine, and good company?

The Wine

  • Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc 2011-available almost everywhere for around $8.00. Oh yes, good, cheap wine. This New Zealand wine is much better in the summer, but as with most wines, it could be enjoyed anytime. 😉 It has refreshing citrus notes that are not overpowering, and it has a slightly dry, crisp finish. It worked well with the dessert I made that evening, and it pairs very nicely with seafood or anything a bit spicy. This is our go-to wine for any occasion if we don’t have anything on hand from a local vineyard and aren’t looking to try something new.

The Salad

  • I want to introduce this salad to you by letting you know how incredible the combination of vinegar and strawberries is. It probably sounds awful at first, but the acidic taste of vinegar (white wine or balsamic usually) and the sugary sweetness of strawberries blend so well that they soften both flavors. This salad pairs them together along with the addition of honey, goat cheese, and walnuts to really vary the textures and flavors. It isn’t quite hearty enough to make it a meal, but it makes an excellent side salad for a spicier dish. The salad was created by Ms. Amber and adapted from TasteofHome.com.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 5 Servings

For the Dressing

  • Âź cup white wine vinegar
  • 4 fresh strawberries, hulled (the strawberry’s little “cap” is removed)
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • Âź tsp salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Olive oil

For the Salad

  • 1 package of organic mixed spring greens (always organic when you can with greens!)
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • Âź cup chopped walnuts

How to Do It

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine the white wine vinegar, strawberries, water, lime juice, mint, honey, salt, and pepper. Gradually add the olive oil in a steady stream while the other ingredients are mixing. Set aside.
  2. Place greens in a large salad bowl, and top with strawberries, onions, goat cheese, and walnuts. Drizzle with dressing, and mix thoroughly to combine.

How the hull do I hull a strawberry?? It’s easy! Slice the top of the strawberry off, and remove the top and the stem that goes inside the strawberry. The final product will be a hollow strawberry that you can easily slice.

The EntrĂŠe

  • A black bean quesadilla with goat cheese, courtesy of Ms. Michelle and originally from MarthaStewart.com. This is not your typical greasy quesadilla, but rather the PERFECT healthy comfort food! I couldn’t help but eat multiple triangles, and they never seemed too heavy. They don’t drip with oil from the cheeses, and they’re loaded with healthy ingredients. They’re also easy to make with little in the way of preparation.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 4 Servings

  • 1 15 oz can of black beans, rinse and drained
  • 3 oz goat cheese, crumbled (roughly ½ cup)
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
  • ž cup corn kernels (from 2 ears of corn, canned,
    or frozen and thawed)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 ½ Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh oregano
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 10 six-inch corn or whole wheat tortillas

How to Do It

  1. Roughly process beans in a food processor or mash them in a medium bowl until chunky. Add the goat cheese, tomato, corn, green onions, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper as desired, and stir until well combined.
  2. Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill to medium heat. Spread ½ cup of the mixture evenly over a tortilla and top with another tortilla. Repeat with remaining mixture and tortillas.
  3. Raise the heat for the grill or pan to medium-high, and grill quesadillas until grill marks appear or filling is hot, about 2 minutes on each side. If you’re using a frying pan to cook them, they’ll brown and toast, but don’t let them burn or blacken. Remove from heat, and cut into wedges. Serve warm.

Tip: Cutting green onions (scallions) and fresh herbs can be frustrating if you’re using a cutting board and knife. Try using scissors with a serrated edge to cut into small pieces. So much easier!

Extra Tip: If you’re unable to get fresh herbs, use 1/3 the amount required in dry herbs instead. One tablespoon of fresh herbs=1 teaspoon of dried herbs.

The Dessert

  • Raspberry-Almond Blondies-which are lovely the first evening you make them, but they do not stay delicious for very long after that. Try not to keep them for more than a day or two after baking.

Raspberry-Almond Blondies

This recipe is for fans of shortbread or other not-so-sugary treats. It’s satisfying if you’re not having a major sugar craving and aren’t looking to fall asleep after your meal. I love blondies that are loaded with chocolate, coconut, and nuts, but I came across this recipe and thought it would be lovely for a lighter summer meal. I did not dust them with confectioner’s sugar as recommended by Martha Stewart because I thought that would make them too sweet. In hindsight, that would have been an excellent idea. They were still tasty without it!

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 8 large or 16 small blondies

  • 9 Tbsp (1 1/8 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, and more to grease your pan
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ž tsp salt
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries
  • Confectioner’s sugar for dusting, optional
  • Parchment paper or foil
  • 8-inch square pan

How to Do It

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan with butter, and line it with foil or parchment paper, allowing 2 inches overhang on the sides (this will allow you to pull the blondies out more easily, but technically, you do not HAVE to do it). Lightly grease the lining with butter as well, and set pan aside.
  2. Whisk together your dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl (flour, baking powder, salt).
  3. Put the softened butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or use an electric hand mixer and a large mixing bowl. Cream the ingredients together at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until combined.
  5. Gradually add flour mixture, and beat on low speed. Be sure to intermittently scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients. When the batter is thoroughly mixed, add ž cup almonds, and mix until just incorporated to avoid breaking the almonds into several pieces.
  6. Pour the batter into the square pan, and smooth with a rubber spatula. Scatter the raspberries and remaining almonds over the batter. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out with few crumbs but no batter.
  7. Cool for 5-10 minutes in pan, and using the lining edges, transfer the blondies to a wire cooling rack or countertop to finish cooling. Dust with confectioner’s sugar before cutting into squares to serve.

Recipe from MarthaStewart.com.

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes there are little shortcuts in life that you just have to take. Doctoring up a boxed cake mix to play with flavors and guarantee a tasty product is one of those shortcuts. These little coconut delights were a product of French vanilla cake mix, sour cream, and coconut milk. Easy as cream cheesey.

I have a secret little method I use when making cupcakes with a cake mix that involves the addition of sour cream. This makes the cake slightly less sugary and a bit creamier. It also makes me feel as if I’ve contributed a bit more to my product and didn’t fully cheat by using a boxed cake mix instead of making something from scratch. That’s just my way of making myself feel less guilty about it 😉

Another amazing thing about cake mix: it’s great for the experimental baker. You could replace the water in the cake mix with nearly any variety of juice or milk and create a brand new product (I’ll eventually post my version of apple spice cake with caramel frosting to further demonstrate).  For this recipe, I replaced the required water with canned coconut milk.

I can’t say the idea is fully my own since I worked for a fabulous little bakery for a short time that assembled a very similar cupcake. I loved them so much, I had to figure out my own version that was easy enough to make at home. I have to warn you though that this is my first version, and I would love to update it once I have the time.

Onto the good stuff.

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 24 small cupcakes

For the Cupcake

  • One box French vanilla or vanilla cake mix (preferably with pudding in the mix so the cake gets really soft)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • Cupcake or muffin pan

For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 8 oz containers of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup toasted coconut flakes

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Prepare the cake batter by adding all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, and mix by hand until the batter is blended and soft. The addition of sour cream will make the batter thicker than normal.
  3. Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup dry measuring cup and spoon, pour batter into cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full.
  4. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed.
  5. Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and cool for 5-10 minutes in their pans. Next, remove the cupcakes from the pans to a wire cooling rack.
  6. While the cupcakes are cooling (or before), make the cream cheese frosting. Begin by creaming together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  7. Add the extract (you can substitute vanilla if almond isn’t your thing), and mix in the sugar one cup at a time.
  8. Beat until the frosting is thick and blended. If you prefer a heavier texture, continue to add confectioner’s sugar 1/2 cup at a time until you’ve reach the desired consistency.
  9. When the cupcakes are fully cooled, pipe cream cheese frosting on each cupcake with a pastry bag and star tip. Top with toasted coconut immediately.

Not sure how to toast coconut? It’s so easy! You have many options, but the one I’ve found the easiest (and quickest) is on the stove top. Lay a thin layer of coconut in a clean nonstick pan, and place the pan over low heat. Move the coconut around frequently with a wooden or plastic spoon until the flakes begin to brown. Remove the pan from heat, and continue to move the coconut around for another minute as the pan cools. Voila! You can store unused coconut flakes in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Tip: If the butter or cream cheese is too soft when you whip the frosting, refrigerate the final product for 30-60 minutes before using. The frosting will thicken, making it easier to frost your cupcakes with a pastry bag.

Chilly Funday Monday

Okay, it wasn’t really chilly. Actually, it was a gorgeous fall day in New England where you barely needed a jacket, but I needed a play on the words! Forgive me! And yes, this is a Winesday post, but the meal took place on a Monday instead. I needed to fit yoga and a mani/pedi/facial into my schedule, Amber had a date on Winesday, and no one said you couldn’t drink wine on Monday!

This was kind of a last-minute plan that turned into an amazing meal with a bit of a southwestern theme.

The Wine

  • Relax Riesling, (usually) $10-11, and the best Riesling you can get for that price. It has apple and peach notes without being overly sweet, and it pairs well with almost anything, especially salads and crackers with soft cheeses. Oh, and it has a screw cap…that helps you get to the wine faster.

The Salad

  • A bagged salad mix to which we added grape tomatoes, sliced black olives, tortilla strips, and chipolte ranch salad dressing. Holy chipolte, we have a southwestern-themed salad just like that! The original creation was courtesy of Ms. Michelle.

The Entree

  • Vegetarian Black Bean Chili with an assortment of toppings created by Ms. Amber and adapted from MarthaStewart.com.

Stuff You’ll Need

Serves 4 to 5

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 28 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with mild chiles
  • 1 10 oz package frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 1 heavy pot or 5qt Dutch oven
  • Toppings (optional): shredded cheddar cheese, baked tortilla strips, lowfat sour cream

How to Do It

  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in the heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onions begin to soften, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add zucchini, carrots, chili powder, and cumin. Stir occasionally, and cook until the carrots are tender but not soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add beans, diced tomatoes, corn, and 1 cup of water. Simmer until the chili is slightly thickened, approximately one hour, and keep the lid on the pot. Add additional water if you prefer the chili to be textured slightly thinner.
  3. Serve the chili in individual bowls, and cover with optional toppings. Baked tortilla strips and cheddar cheese work fabulously!

The Dessert

  • Apple Coffee Cake (not themed…though I wasn’t aware we were following a theme until I brought the coffee cake!).

Apple Coffee Cake

I’ve always been a big fan of coffee cake, but my version of coffee cake came in a plastic package or a blue and white box. I’ve never heard someone say they just made the best homemade coffee cake. I’ve only seen it in vending machines, convenience stores, or the snack aisle at the local grocery store. Ugh, if only I had known. After baking it at home, I will never eat packaged coffee cake again! (I mean, probably never…”never” is a really long time…).

Anyway, onto the recipe! I found this recipe while thumbing through the pages of a book my mother gave me  called “United Cakes of America” by Warren Brown. It’s a collection of recipes from all over the country that includes some traditional cakes and desserts (Whoopie Pie from Maine) as well as some that are a little far-fetched for me (Tomato Soup Cake from New Jersey), but while searching for Winesday recipes, I came across the coffee cake (from Delaware by the way, who knew?). I thought it might be a perfect treat for a chilly night, and I added the apples to make it a little more unique and a little more harvest-themed. The process was so simple, and the end result was so satisfying!

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes one 9×13″ pan

For the Filling

  • 1 cup soft light brown sugar (not packed firm)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of ginger
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional…but delicious)

For the Topping

  • 3/4 cup soft light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of ginger
  • 2oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 Macintosh or Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and sliced

For the Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup frozen unsweetened apple juice concentrate, thawed
  • 4oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup soft light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 9×13″ pan, lightly greased

How to Do It

  1. Place oven rack in the middle position, and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Measure and blend the ingredients for the filling in a small bowl. Be sure to break up any lumps of sugar. Set aside.
  3. Measure and blend the ingredients for the topping (except for the apple) in a mixing bowl using your fingers or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on low speed. Try to distribute the butter as much as possible. Set the combination aside.
  4. For the cake, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Combine the milk, sour cream, and apple juice concentrate in a separate bowl. Set both aside until you’ve creamed together your other ingredients.
  5. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together on low speed the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy. This should take between two and three minutes.
  6. Once the ingredients are creamed, add the eggs individually. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything is mixed thoroughly.
  7. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients by starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Add 1/4 (dry) and 1/3 (wet) of the ingredients at a time while continuously mixing. When the ingredients are fully incorporated, scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and mix for an additional 20 seconds.
  8. Pour half the batter into a lightly greased 9×13″ pan. Smooth it out so it spreads evenly across the bottom of the pan, and sprinkle the filling ingredients over the batter.
  9. Pour the second half of the batter over the filling ingredients, and gently smooth it out so it doesn’t mix with the filling. Sprinkle the topping ingredients evenly over the top of the batter. Place your apple slices on the topping ingredients. Be creative-put them in a pattern! The more, the better!
  10. Bake for 26-28 minutes or until the cake bounces back when lightly pressed or when a toothpick placed in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool before transferring it to a plate, or cut it in servings in the pan. It looks best cut as squares!

Recipe adapted from “United Cakes of America” by Warren Brown, p. 52.

Tip: I altered the cooking time and temperature because my oven wouldn’t bake much of anything at the recommended temperature (335). If your oven is good at low temperatures, bake the cake at the recommended 335 for 50 minutes.

Pumpkin Mousse!

At this time of year, I can’t help it. I need to indulge in pumpkin in any way possible, and the thought of it always makes me very excited. Hence the ! after the title for every pumpkin recipe. It just makes me excited for the chilly nights, and I love that one ingredient can be used in every type of dessert to make something delicious.

This next recipe is a little creation of my own. I searched for pumpkin mousse recipes in a variety of places, but I couldn’t find any to my liking. Most of them involved some combination of sugar-free instant pudding, cream cheese, or some other non-mousse related ingredient. I wanted the more traditional route. Mousses can cover a broad range of creamy, fluffy desserts, but generally, they always have whipped cream, meringue, or both folded into them. I decided to make a basic pastry cream and add some pumpkin goodies and whipped cream to make it a mousse.

Pumpkin Mousse

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 6 1 cup servings

  • Whipped cream (8oz heavy cream : 2oz sugar)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tsp corn starch, sifted
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp allspice

How to Do It

Start by setting up your kitchen for what’s most comfortable for you. This is not a difficult process, but timing is everything. It will help if you have your ingredients readily available and can do everything in a streamline fashion. This is how I set up my counter to make the mousse.

Measure out what you can ahead of time.

Now, let’s get into creating!

  1. First, make the whipped cream, chill, and set aside. It may be helpful to divide it in half as you’ll be folding half into your mousse and using the other half to top the mousse.
  2. Dissolve the first 1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbsp sugar into the milk in a sauce pan, and set over medium heat. Bring just to a boil.
  3. While the milk is heating, combine the eggs, the cornstarch, and second portion of sugar into a mixing bowl or stand mixer. Using the whip attachment, whip the ingredients until bright yellow and creamy.
  4. Temper the egg mixture by slowly and steadily pouring the hot milk in a thin stream into the mixing bowl while continuing to beat the eggs. Do this until the entire amount of milk is whipped in, and remember: if you add the milk too quickly, it will start to cook the eggs!
  5. Transfer the mixture back into the hot saucepan, and place over medium heat while continuously stirring.
  6. Add the butter and vanilla extract, and continue stirring. The mixture will begin thickening quickly. When it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat.
  7. Stir in the pumpkin and spices until fully blended.
  8. Cool the mixture quickly by putting the pan in an ice bath, or transfer it to a smaller bowl or pan and refrigerate. Be sure to cover with plastic wrap so the cream doesn’t develop a crust on the top. No one likes crusty mousse.
  9. After the mixture is completely cooled and chilled, fold in half of your whipped cream. A rubber spatula works well for this. The texture will begin to change from a pudding-like texture to a creamy mousse.
  10. Divide into six serving dishes (I used ramekins), top with additional whipped cream and a ginger snap, grab a spoon, and enjoy!

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