Monday, October 13, 2008

pumpkin cheesecake

I keep making the joke that, in my old age I can no longer handle extremes. And while it is truly a joke (29 isn't old!), my tastes seem to have changed quite a bit since those early twenty-something days. The big one is my taste in seasons (weather not, say, jerk vs. curry). Eight years ago I listed my favorite season as summer on every silly email survey I received. I loved a 95 degree day, sweating half to death in the shade, and our 80 degree Christmases in Miami at my grandmother's house. These days, anything over 82 has me running for air conditioning, and while I enjoy the heat for about a week or two, once October rolls around, I am quite ready for it to be over and done with. And so, Mother Nature, I ask you, can you please blow the summer heat far, far away and allow the crisp air of fall to have us reaching for our fashionable scarves and hats?

She (Mother Nature) had us fooled last week with rainy days and highs of 68 and I was so excited to begin my fall/winter baking with pumpkin and apples and the warm spices--cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice--that make me want to cozy up on the couch beneath a warm blanket, wearing my husband's sweats and socks, and watch a movie I know nearly each and every line of. And a fool I was, expecting this fall-like weather to stick around I made a delicious pumpkin cheesecake, drizzled with leftover chocolate ganache, that I've been munching on all weekend--even though the high today was 80, and tomorrow, 85, with not a crisp breeze in sight....*sigh*

Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from Paula Deen

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick melted salted butter

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For crust:
In medium bowl, combine crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Add melted butter. Press down flat into a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

For filling:
Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar and the spices. Add flour and vanilla. Beat together until well combined.
Pour into crust. Spread out evenly and place oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

birthday cake!

This week is one for a bit of reflection. See, my birthday was Monday and I turned 29--or as my good friend called it 'countdown to 30'. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think that 30 is old by any means. As a matter of fact, I'm actually looking forward to starting a new decade in life. It's kind of like moving to a different state or country where no one knows you and you can reinvent yourself. Once I am 30, I will most likely still be living in Charlotte, in the same house with the same husband, daughter, and dog, but it will be a new jumping off point, a chance to say 'this decade, I'm going to do it a little bit better.'
But as each day of my twenties quietly slips away, what I think I'm going to miss (or what I'm dreading will be gone in my thirties) is the sheer youthfulness of being a twenty-something. To be so fresh and new and excited about what's going to happen next; to be carefree almost (almost) to the point of irresponsibility. When I was 22 I faked colds to stay home and watch talk shows all day or to go shopping. My 24th birthday--I was a newlywed and spent 8 hours (literally) shopping for makeup and shoes, and having meals with my girlfriends. Sure, I went shopping on my birthday this past Monday--the daughter and I went to Target and got diapers.
Acceptance is a funny little demon for me. At 29 (or '363 days 'til 30'), I can honestly say that I'm happy with my life, however different it might be from, say, six or seven years ago. I'm married, I walk my dog, we have a play group, I cook meals, I'm in grad school and I love it. But every once in a while, I'll miss the 22 year-old me, living with my girlfriends and eating Chinese takeout. And it's times like these that I'll pack my newest girlfriend (the daughter) into the car, head to the nearest MAC counter and buy a fabulous eyeshadow in a color I will never need, but always wanted...

And here is my lovely birthday cake--I was so excited! It is a standard chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry whipped cream filling and a Swiss-meringue icing from Confetti Cakes Cookbook.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

positively scrumptious!

So, I'm a wee bit stressed out.
I am so stressed out that the mere declaration of the sentiment above gets it's own paragraph. (Which I'm pretty sure is grammatically incorrect--don't you need at least two sentences to constitute a paragraph)? But I digress--I'm stressed, and I tend to do that when I'm stressed. I have two exams next week, accounting on Monday and economics on Tuesday. I'm behind on the reading and working the problems and the study guide I ordered that was supposed to be here yesterday is now not arriving until October 6th--a week and a day after my economics test. Fabulous. And for those of you not living in the southeast, might I suggest you thank God or whomever it is you thank for the ability to put gas in your car, because North Carolina is out. I have a quarter tank of gas and every station within five miles of my house, well, to be country about it, 'ain't got none'. Fantastic. And finally, as usual, my daughter refuses to take a nap. Absolutely refuses to go to sleep without a knock down, drag out fight that lasts at least an hour. Perfect. It is not the gym, or cooking meals, or cleaning house, or studying that is the most draining part of my day--no--it's putting a 16 month old down for a nap.

So yesterday, I'm sitting at the computer (stressed) during the 10 minutes that I allow my darling daughter to whine and cry in her crib before checking on her, soothing her, then leaving her again to (please, God!) take a nap, and I read this post on the blog, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. It is about how 'craptastic' things happen to everybody, not just you, but it is our reaction to that crappy thing that renders us positive or just plain draining for everyone else to be around.

And so, in response to my stressors I say: thank God I am able to go to grad school and have a husband who, after a long day of working two jobs, will come home and put our daughter to bed so that I can do school work. I say, take time to be at home while gas is scarce. Play with your daughter, your dog, and watch reruns of Project Runway on Bravo. And to my daughter--enjoy the fact that she just can't get enough of me!

On another positive note, here is a cake I did for a birthday. They wanted something very simple but told me I could make any flavors I liked--so I did. This is a chocolate cake with cinnamon flavored whipped cream filling and chocolate mousse buttercream. Let me just tell you, this cake was fabulous, every last bit about it. I'll also made some tarts that were so uber sweet I could just feel my teeth rotting. My husband said they tasted like French vanilla ice cream--I'll let you be the judge.

White Chocolate Mousse Tarts
adapted from Keebler

-1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
-6 squares (1 oz ea) white chocolate, chopped
-1/2 tsp almond extract
-2 cups whipping cream
-2 pkgs Keebler Ready Crust (mini graham cracker crust)

-Chill mixing bowl and beaters of a mixer in freezer for 10 minutes.
-Combine milk and chocolate--cook until chocolate melts
-Remove from heat and add almond extract. Cool to room temperature
-In chilled bowl beat cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. Fold into chocolate.
-Spoon into crust and refrigerate for at least four hours.

Friday, September 19, 2008

cookie cutter cookies

I love birthdays. Love, love, love them--and yes, my birthday is the one I love the most. Call me selfish, but it's the one day dedicated to just you--it's your day and I suggest you live it up! My daughter's birthday runs a close second as far as birthday rankings go because I'm a planner and she's at an age (1) that I can pretty much plan her little party in whatever girly way I choose. And trust me, at the tender age of 1, she is most definitely a girly girl. She already struts around the house carrying my handbags on her arm, loves combing her hair, and pretending to put lotion on her legs like mommy does. And so, when my mom asked if I would decorate some cookies for my little cousin's 7th birthday (she also happens to be as girly as they come) I was excited to play with purples, pinks, and of course, polka dots. (See recipe for cookies below).

A couple weekends ago, I was also asked to make a cake for a baby shower. They wanted a simple vanilla cake with lemon buttercream frosting--light and fresh tastes for summer, perfect. I was a bit nervous, however, because, ladies and gentlemen, I have never iced a cake. Not to the smoothness required for fondant accents, etc. but I was up for the challenge--and holy goodness was it a challenge! I cannot begin to explain how unhappy I was with icing this cake. Every stroke I made it just got worse and worse. Luckily, everyone at the shower loved it, but does anyone have any tips on icing a cake as smooth as possible. This soon to be birthday girl could really use your help...

The buttercream itself tasted fantastic and I have to say, I am now a firm believer in pure buttercream vs. buttercream made with a combination of butter and shortening. I found this recipe at another great blog Butter Cakes by Evan and added a bit of lemon juice and zest.

Cookie Cutter Cookies
(adapted from a coworker about 4 jobs ago and I don’t remember her name…)

-1 cup butter
-2 cups sugar
-4 eggs
-5 cups flour
-1/2 tsp salt
-3 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp lemon rind
-1 tsp lemon juice
Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together in small bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter—add sugar and eggs. Add flour mixture then lemon rind and juice. Chill dough for 1 hour. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I think I might be the only one who still loves 'Holla Back Girl.' It might be the most ridiculous song about nothing, but as far as the nonsense music of summer goes, it still ranks pretty high with me. In any case, this post is not about Gwen Stefani--it's about bananas. Or, banana muffins. It's strange really how much I dislike bananas themselves. I have an issue with the consistency of certain foods like bread pudding, cream of wheat, and...bananas. It's just too mushy. However, a banana muffin with walnuts--I'll eat about 4 with breakfast and snack on them throughout the day. And so it was last Sunday......Every weekend I make a big breakfast (insert brunch) on either Saturday or Sunday. Last Sunday I was watching Food Network as I stood in the kitchen contemplating what carb to accompany bacon and scrambled eggs when a promo for Everyday Italian with Giada DeLauretiis came on and I remembered the fabulous banana muffin recipe with mascarpone frosting I had. Luckily, I had two very ripe bananas on hand and some left over walnuts from the batch of brownies I'd made a couple days before. Once these muffins were in the oven, I fried some bacon and scrambled eggs with onions in none other than--the bacon grease. There are only a few things on this earth worth carrying an extra (fill in the blank) pounds for and bacon and eggs scrambled in bacon grease are two of them. Sure, you'll need a triple bypass by the time you're 35, but still.

These muffins are surely to die for...and if you eat them with the bacon grease eggs, you probably will.

Banana Muffins with Mascarpone Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, peeled and coarsely mashed

3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl to blend. Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Stir in the banana. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Bake the muffins on the middle rack until the tops are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with no crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Transfer the muffins to a rack and cool slightly. The muffins may be eaten warm or cooled completely and frosted.

To frost the cupcakes: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the mascarpone cheese and then beat in the honey. Spread the frosting over the muffins. Sprinkle with the walnuts.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

good girl brownies

This darling little face belongs to my daughter. She seems to come up quite often in this blog (and her birthday cake is the catalyst that got the blog rolling to begin with) and so I've decided to introduce them: Gabrielle, this is mommy's blog; blog, this is Gabrielle.

I realize I could have posted a picture with her smiling or laughing or banging two completely unrelated objects together (the other day it was a pen and a flip flop), but this picture embodies everything my little child is. The sassy eyebrow and the smirk--it is a face we see often, particularly when she's about to do something sneaky, has just done something sneaky, or is just plain being funny. My daughter makes me laugh.

Yesterday morning we were playing a game called 'I'll put your clothes into the drawer and you'll take them back out again.' I tried to show her how to put clothes back into the drawer and close it. Once accomplished, we both clapped and said 'yeah!' 'Yeah' was the only word I thought she knew until we put clothes away a second time, she clapped and said 'guh guhl'. I didn't quite understand it at first until she did, and said it again--Gabrielle was mimicking what my husband and I tell her so often when she when she's accomplished something, 'good girl!' I'm not the most sentimental person, but I was quite close to tears. That little baby's growing up.

And it got me thinking about praises a bit, how we should tell each other 'good job' more often. My mother is one of the most encouraging people I know and gives hugs because 'hugs give energy.' She reminds me to tell my husband how appreciative I am of him, because sometimes, in the daily grind, you forget to tell those around you just how fantastic they are.

Which brings me to some fantastic brownies! Courtesy of Joy The Baker , my husband and I indulged in some seriously delicious brownies last night--a la mode, of course--and, oh, were they worth every calorie (I even had a couple bites after breakfast this morning). Enjoy!

Old School Fudge Brownies with walnuts and chocolate chunks

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup butter
2 Tablespoons strong coffee or water
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate bar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan. (I used a 9-inch round cake pan.)
Combine butter and cocoa powder in a small bowl, and place over a pot of simmering water. Make sure that the simmering water down not touch the bottom of the bowl. Add the coffee or water and stir to melt the ingredients.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the eggs and the sugar. Add the vanilla extract. When the butter and chocolate have melted and come together, slowly stir the chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine. Fold in the nuts, saving a small handful for the top of the brownies if you like.
Pour the batter in the pan, sprinkle with chocolate chips or chocolate chunks and remaining nuts. Bake for 18-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cut into bars.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

girls night in

Sometimes the only thing better than a girls night out is a girls night in and last night the U-City Itty Bitties were all about it. What is U-City you ask? It is the playgroup the daughter and I have attended for about a year now. Last night was the first official girls night in and it's amazing (actually, hilarious) what happens when you get a group of hot mommies together sans babies. The world becomes a lighter place--throw some great food, red wine and khalua and cream on top of that and we've got a party (and a few rather wasted ladies, I might add). The night was a much needed treat for me and a great way to end the summer. Fall semester begins tomorrow and it's back to books, accounting, and economics--the two subjects that absolutely make my head spin with confusion. But there's always the image and the memory of the cutest little cosmopolitan cookies and chocolate cupcakes I made for girls night in to get me through the mind-numbing number crunching. The best cupcake frosting I've ever tasted once again comes from the Confetti Cakes cookbook (see book to the right) and chocolate cupcakes from The Cupcake Bakeshop .