Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Sweets with Sam! Episode 1: Chewy Red Velvet White Chocolate Chip Cookies




There comes a time in every girl's life when she says "Enough!" to using her cellphone to take pictures for her burgeoning blog. And the time for this girl has come.
I've actually been thinking about getting a decent camera for a while now, but it's definitely going to take me some time to come up with the funding for that, so until then, I'm going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers...sort of. 
At first, I thought about asking my oldest brother to help me out. He mostly does concert photography, but has a lot of experience with taking pictures in general. Unfortunately, he lives over an hour away, and is also a student with a full-time job. I may borrow him at some point in the future, but for now, it's too inconvenient.
Last weekend I had a pretty epic birthday party, which involved wayyy too much alcohol, a ghetto makeshift beer pong table, thirty people getting wasted with me, and a really intense drinking game called "dizzy bat" (More on dizzy bat later...). Scott, a co-worker of mine, brought his lady friend and his brother, Sam.
Through some mild Facebook stalking (Don't judge me. We all do it. In fact, it's amazing how many people I "know" from Facebook, but never talk to...), I learned that Sam had a legit camera and had a pretty good eye for photography. And then I made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Cue classic italian mafia movie music...
In exchange for taking pictures of my culinary creations, Sam would receive: (1) a large quantity of whatever food he photographed, (2) full access to our overstocked beer fridge while he's here, (3) ample experience with foodtography, and (4) a really legit high five from yours truly.
I'd say that's a pretty amazing prize package. (Especially the high five part...) And Sam agreed!
And as an added bonus, I'm starting a new segment to my blog, called "Sunday Sweets with Sam," where I'll put up a new dessert or sweet recipe featuring Sam's photography every Sunday. 
Today, as SSWS's maiden voyage, I'm giving you my recipe for Chewy Red Velvet White Chocolate Chip Cookies. 
I believe that this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Stay tuned, internet. 

Chewy Red Velvet White Chocolate Chip Cookies







Ingredients: 


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg


1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cocoa powder (Fair trade is usually the best quality!)

1 1/2 teaspoons red food coloring

1/2 cup white chocolate chips




Directions:

Preheat oven to 375.

Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer (This adds air bubbles, which helps create that chewiness!). Add egg and vanilla and combine until there are no more lumps. Beat in red food coloring. Combine cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually fold dry ingredients into wet mixture. Fold in chips.

Spoon 1-2 in balls of dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 9-11 minutes.




Enjoy!











Friday, April 27, 2012

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

     Believe it or not, I'm not actually a huge asparagus fan. It looks weird. And it's green. And it makes your pee smell weird. And half the time, all I can think about is this episode of Veggie Tales I saw when I was a little kid, where a little asparagus boy was terrorized by the grapes of wrath.

     Yeah.

     Anyway. The sweet tanginess of balsamic vinegar really takes these weird green things to the next level. It's absolutely delicious, and that's coming from an asparagus hater. This preparation of asparagus also pairs wells with almost everything and makes an awesome, healthy side dish!
   

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

(Adapted from Food.com )

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs thin asparagus spears, trimmed
  • cooking spray
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons real butter
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce (I actually like using low sodium soy sauce.)
  • 1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Directions:


  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Arrange asparagus in single layer on baking sheet and coat with cooking spray.
  3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake for 12 minutes.
  5. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat.
  6. Cook for 3 minutes or until lightly browned.
  7. Remove from heat, stir in soy sauce and vinegar.
  8. Drizzle over asparagus, toss well to coat.





Blue Cheese Tossed Salad with Balsamic BBQ Sauce Glazed Chicken Breast



Here's a little something I whipped up for Boyfriend and I a couple of nights ago. I was tired and starving, and we're both poor, so I used things we already had. And I must say, it turned out pretty damn good.

(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thawed)

1 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced (I used 1 tablespoon out of a jar...we were out of fresh garlic!!)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Montreal chicken or steak seasoning (You can use McCormick, or you can make a mock version if you have all of the stuff, recipe here) ((ORRR, you can just use good ol' salt and pepper!))
Mixed baby greens
Blue cheese salad dressing (I really think the best one is Marie's Blue Cheese. It comes in a  glass jar in the refrigerated salad aisle.)


Directions:

To Make Sauce:
Combine vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, worcestershire, dijon, salt, and pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer and reduce until it is thick and fragrant, and it has reduced to about 1/3 it's volume. Set Aside.

To Make the Chicken:
Rub chicken with seasoning and cook it in an oiled pan over medium-high heat, flipping two or three times, until internal temperature has reached 160 degrees.

Put chicken on a plate and glaze with some of the sauce.

To Assemble:
Toss salad in desired amount of dressing. 

Slice chicken, place it over the salad, and drizzle more BBQ sauce over it.

ENJOY! =]



Mock Montreal Steak/Chicken Seasoning




Spices are really expensive. I love Montreal seasoning, but a bottle of it will run you around five bucks. If you already have a bunch of other seasonings at home, like we do, it can definitely be cheaper to just make it yourself. Here's a mock recipe for it:


1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds (cracked in mortar)
1 1/2 teaspoons dry oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Cocoa-port Cupcakes with Port Wine Reduction and Cocoaport Frosting


(Adapted from Food Network)

By now you should know all about my love of cooking and baking with alcohol. However, I'm not a huge fan of wine. BUT...this is still one of my favorite cupcake recipes.


Try them and you'll see why.





Ingredients:

1 cup buttermilk (Or 1 cup milk with 2 tbsp white vinegar)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup port wine, heated


Port Wine Reduction:

1 3/4 cups port wine
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Combine the wine, sugar and salt in a saucepan over a low flame. Simmer until reduced to 3 1/2 ounces liquid

Cocoaport Frosting:

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened

3 1/2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
2 tablespoons port wine


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with 24 cupcake liners.
Whisk together the buttermilk, oil, vanilla and eggs. Combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt and add into the wet mixture. Whisk the batter together until almost all the lumps are gone. Scrape the bowl, then mix again briefly. Add in a small amount of the port wine to help thin the batter. Once it is incorporated, slowly add in the remaining wine, whisking continuously. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and make sure that there are no lumps. Scoop into the prepared cupcake liners using a number 16 scoop. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to fully cool. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon Port Wine Reduction onto each cupcake. Combine frosting ingredients until smooth. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes.



Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Glaze



 (Adapted from Ghiradelli)

I really love glazed cupcakes, probably because I'm not a huge frosting person. And who the heck doesn't love chocolate? Mmmm....




Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Glaze


Cupcakes:
1/4 cup(s) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 1/8 cup(s) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon(s) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup(s) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup(s) granulated white sugar
5/8 cup(s) whole milk
1/3 cup(s) strong brewed coffee or espresso
1/2 cup(s) (or 1 stick) unsalted butter


Glaze:

5 tbsp butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tbs milk
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp peppermint extract
Food coloring if desired (I used red)



Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 12 cupcake molds or muffin tins with paper liners or spray with nonstick spray. To make the cupcakes, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, brown sugar, and white sugar. Whisk in the milk, coffee, and melted butter. Whisk in the dry ingredients. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake molds, filling them about three-quarters full.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Using a small spatula or knife, remove the cupcakes from the pan. Continue to cool on a wire rack to room temperature.

For glaze, mix all ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until melted and smooth. Dip cupcakes into glaze and swirl to coat evenly. Allow to dry.




Bailey's Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Glaze



(Adapted from Baking Bites)


Bailey’s Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Glaze


Ingredients: 

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking tin of your choice – mini muffin pan or regular cupcake pan – with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla extract. Mix in half of the flour mixture, followed by the irish cream and milk, then mix in the remaining flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.
Distribute batter evenly into prepared muffn cups (each will be roughly 2/3 or 3/4 full).
Bake regular-sized cupcakes for 18-21 minutes.
Bake mini cupcakes for 10-12 minutes.
A tester inserted into the center will come out clean when the cupcakes are done. Tops should be domed and very lightly browned.
Cool on a wire rack before frosting.
Peppermint Glaze
4 tbsp butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp Baileys irish cream
1 tsp peppermint extract
Food coloring if desired (I used red)
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until melted and smooth. Dip cupcakes into glaze and swirl to coat evenly. Allow to dry.

(I also melted some Hershey's kisses in a small Ziplock bag, cut a tiny corner off, and piped designs on mine!)


Red Velvet Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting




Here's a killer red velvet recipe I got from my best friend, Amanda. She sent this to me a couple years ago, and it's been my go-to red velvet recipe ever since. I especially love that she gave me a recipe for frosting that stays "high and mighty."


Ingredients:

2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks of butter, softened
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup of milk
1 bottle of red food coloring
2 tsp. vanilla


Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, set aside
3. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed for 5 minutes until light and fluffy-tastic.
4. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time.
5. Mix in sour cream, milk, red dye, vanilla.
6. Gradually beat in flour mix on low speed until just blended. DO NOT OVERBEAT.
7. Pour batter into prepared cupcake pans with cupcake liners/cups
8. Bake 10-15 minutes (check after 10 minutes with toothpick)


I learned after the last two times of using the cream cheese frosting recipe i usually use, that its a bit runny so I discovered a nice thick buttercream that tastes well with the red velvet, also I like it thick so i can use a piping bag and decorating tip (#1M) and the icing doesn't shrink, it stays high and mighty. But I suggest if you do want to end up making a cream cheese icing, to add more sugar than it calls for to thicken it.


Buttercream Frosting for Cupcakes

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 tsp. clear vanilla flavoring
4 cups (1 lb.) sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbsp. milk

(A couple drops of peppermint extract is pretty delicious, too!)

Using mixer, cream butter and shortening and then add vanilla. Add sugar gradually. Once mixed, add milk and beat on high until fluffy.

Blue Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting



(Adapted from Paula Deen)


Red velvet cupcakes are a classic, but somehow blue makes them taste just a tad better. By the way, the night I made these was also the night I drunkenly taught Boyfriend how to pipe frosting. It did not go very well...

Enjoy!





Ingredients

Cake:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 ounces blue food coloring
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (You can also use regular milk with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Frosting:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 (1-pound) box confectioners' sugar

Cake:

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line pans for 24 cupcakes.
In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, mix until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix cocoa and food coloring together and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture.
Pour batter into pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Blend cream cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl. Add sugar and blend until smooth. Pipe onto cupcakes!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Oregon Trail: Going Back to 1848...







     I think that one of the greatest advantages to growing up in the 90s was having the game The Oregon Trail.

Why?

1. It's badass.
2. It taught me about history.
3. It taught me that you can't expect your 16 oxen to pull a full covered wagon safely across a huge 6 foot deep river without a Shoshoni Indian.
4. It makes me both appreciate and resent modern technology.

     This game is actually really nostalgic for me, and I have some pretty vivd memories about it. I specifically remember deciding that the best strategy was to accumulate as many oxen as possible. I could give a shit if the humans died. My ultimate goal was to get all of the oxen safely to the new world. I can't exactly say why I thought this was necessary, but I was definitely convinced that this was the only way to win the game.

     And all of those fucking rivers and stupid rattlesnakes killed all of my oxen. Every. Frickin'. Time. Did any of my annoying children (Usually named things like Jebediah or Laura or Judy) die from that shit? NO. My glorious, formidable, massive team of oxen suffered. 

     Anyway, enough about my strange obsession with 8-bit oxen.

     I recently had a weird dream about this game. (Actually, it was also related to food, probably because I hand't eaten all day before I laid down for a nap.) In my dream, I was in the game, and I was slowly dying because whoever was playing it kept feeding me "bare bones" portions of food. I woke up both inspired and starving. 

     So I ate a slice of cheesecake. I would need all of the strength I could muster for what I was about to do next. I mean, how could I possibly get from Independence, Missouri to Oregon on an empty stomach?

I found the old version of this game here. And then I began my epic journey....

...along the Oregon Trail...


Of course, before I actually started, I had to get into character...














So the first thing I noticed when I began my epic journey was how completely shitty video game graphics used to be. I'm not sure what I was expecting, or why I assumed that I would be able to see facial features on each of my characters. Incidentally, this only fueled my excitement. I mean, think about it. I was going back in time to the 90s playing the game, and I was going back in time to 1848 in the game. I went back in time squared.


At the beginning of the game, I got to decide who I would be. Since "Trapeze artist in a traveling pioneer circus" was not an option, I chose "Carpenter from ohio," which I assumed would give me an advantage if my wagon broke down.









I was then asked to name my characters. Back in the day, I usually named them things that I assumed were appropriate for the time period, like Jebediah or Samuel or Judy. I remember thinking I was pretty cool for know old-timey names and being able to properly insert them into my virtual pioneer life.

But on this day, I went with some different choices.







Then you have to decide what to buy to take with you. I tried to type in 80 oxen, but they only let you input 1 digit. BULLSHIT.








When I first saw this screen, my original thought was that the image of the wagon was loading onto the screen. I figured it was going to take a while, and the game wanted me to know that. I guess it was actually telling me that my characters were loading their wagon with supplies....








This is a map of the trail. As you can see, the path to LA would have been much quicker, and much less strenuous.








My wagon set out on April 1st and fucking Waffles already broke his frickin' arm. 








The obvious choice was to take a ferry across, since I wanted all of my oxen to live...



AND THEY DID!!









By this time, I had been playing the game for almost an hour. I checked the map a million times, hoping I was nearing the end, but I wasn't. I knew what I had to do to keep myself going. And I took one for the team...at 11 AM...







I stopped paying attention at a certain point because this game is way more boring than I thought it would be, and my stupid family ate most of the food, so I was forced to hunt. By the way, hunting involves the arrow keys and the space bar, which makes it extremely difficult. Your hunter is also positioned in the most awkward places and you can't move him around much at all. Lucky for me, I'm quite skilled at shooting little dots at 8-bit bears.









NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! ANYTHING BUT THE OX!









Dysentery: "Infection of the intestines resulting in severe diarrhea with the presence of blood and mucus in the feces." Goddamnit, Junior....this is an inconvenience to the whole crew...









So at this point both Waffles AND Skip had broken arms. I wish this game was called "The Donner Party" trail, because I definitely would have had the family eat those gimp arms since they were running out of food.









And we quickly discovered that Skip was clearly the weakest link.








Now here's something that I found completely bullshit. THE THIEF IS RIGHT FUCKING THERE. We are looking at him, dead on, stealing our shit on the right hand side of the screen. Is this game really telling me that I can't grab my rifle and kick some ass? Also....he stole clothing? Really? It's like two weeks ago when my own car got broken into and they took useless shit. Was this thief on LSD?








My group started running really low on food, so I switched them over to "bare bones" portions to save up so I would't have to do any more hunting. Is it bad that I felt a strange sense of maniacal pleasure as I enjoyed my cheesecake and wine...?










During the game, you have the option go talking to people when you are at different forts. I took every opportunity I could to utilize this option. And look! It totally paid off. I learned something!



...And I also got some completely useless comments...



...And by the way, who the heck is Aunt Rebecca?









And then.... I realized that this game is way more advanced than I ever could have imagined. I was interrupted by breaking news!!






NOOOOOOO! NOW who will inspire me to Just Dance!? 







 Now this is just weird. Why exactly is this necessary? I mean, of course I typed "Y" for "HECK YES," but I'm not convinced that it made much difference...


And also, who the heck is Connie and who the heck cares?









MONTHS later, (And it literally felt like months....this game took way too freaking long) Thor finally made it to Oregon....alone. I had managed to kill all three of his children and his baby mama (Hey, I don't officially know if they were married...). However, four oxen survived. And I am still convinced that having so many is the only reason Thor made it at all. Without them, everyone would have died. See? STRATEGY SUCCESSFUL!








Oh, and fuck you, Stephen Meek. You have a pussy last name and I hope that you're still trapped in the 90s.