Sunday, November 6, 2011

The First Loser

Growing up a competitive athlete, I've acclimated myself through the years with the highs and lows of winning and losing.  But soccer, softball and volleyball are all team sports and we always had each other to lean on and the next big game to look to for redemption if the odds didn't fall in our favor. So this weekend, as I stood alone in front of dozens of food fanatics and a few critically acclaimed, famous chefs in the final leg of a local competition hosted by GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, I had absolutely no intention of experiencing the agony of losing on my own for the first time.

But I did it anyway.

Going head-to-head with a connoisseur of Caribbean cuisine like KDKA's Olga George was certainly an amazing experience that I will never forget.

After confidently making my way through the first two stages of the competition I knew there was a lot of pressure going up against someone as talented (and as hard to hate...) as Olga.

So for the finals of this competition, I stepped up my game and pushed my limits, committing to cooking TWO dishes in only thirty minutes -- both of the baked variety.  And although I technically pulled it off, I believe (at the risk of using cliche food terminology too early on in this post) I bit off more than I could chew.

I don't know about you, but November hit me like a ton of bricks (wasn't it just June a few minutes ago?) and the moment Halloween is over I immediately morph in to Thanksgiving mode, so I decided to go with a "leftovers" theme for my dishes.  That way, I could creatively brainstorm for what I was going to do with my own Thanksgiving leftovers while spreading my love of creative baking to a few innocent by-standers.

My first go? A Turkey & Stuffing Leftovers Cake-Cup with Mashed Potato Topping.

Wanna give it a try? Here's the recipe:

Yield: 12 "Cake-Cups"
  • 15 oz. (5-7 slices) cooked, leftover turkey meat, diced
  • 1 1/2-2 c.leftover stuffing (from a box or your favorite home made)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. milk 
  • 1 large egg
  • dry herbs, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 c. leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1/3 c. heavy cream
  • 1/4 c. sour cream

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl
  3. Line 12 cupcake tins with wrappers (preferably foil)
  4. Fill each wrapper to the brim with your mixture
  5. Bake for 45 minutes
  6. While cakes are baking, whisk mashed potatoes, heavy cream and sour cream together until you get a smooth consistency
  7. Fill a piping bag (or ziplock bag with a snipped corner) with the mashed potatoes and pipe on the finished mashed to resemble frosting on a cupcake.
  8. If desired, drizzle gravy on top of your finished product for a little added texture and flavor!

OK I'm just gonna say it.  This may technically be a losing dish, but it was absolutely DELICIOUS.  I have to apologize to my poor, poor judges who received a cold version of this dish since there was no working microwave on set to heat up my mashed potatoes and gravy.  You seriously missed out, and I'm so bummed about that. But I certainly can't wait to make these again after Thanksgiving is over. Cuz........ yum.

While these guys were baking away, I got started on my second dish -- which I have way fewer pictures of but was just as good..........if not better.  We all know that there is always leftover Sweet Potato Casserole that never gets eaten. So, what to do with it?  Just use it as-is -- brown sugar, marshmallows and all -- and make yourself a DARN good cupcake. No seriously. It's good. I appropriately paired it with a Toasted Marshmallow Meringue and made myself swoon.  You may be questioning how a Sweet Potato Cupcake could be that delicious, but I promise you. Give it a try this year and you won't be disappointed.

Here's how you'd do it:

Yield: 24 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tbs. potato starch
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 8 tbsp. (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups leftover sweet potato casserole or sweet potato puree
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, potato starch and salt into a medium bowl and add the cinnamon.
  3. Cream your butter on medium-low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, then add the sugar.  Mix until smooth
  4. Add in the sweet potato casserole or puree and continue mixing on medium-low as you gradually add in the flour mixture and vanilla until incorporated.
  5. Evenly distribute among 24 baking cupcakes and bake for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
For the Frosting:
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1½ tsp Cream of Tartar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-3 drops marshmallow flavoring (if desired)
  1. Heat the sugar and water in a saucer on high (on stovetop) until it reaches 265 F. (use a candy thermometer)
  2. As you wait for the sugar to reach desired temperature, use an electric stand mixer with the whisk attachment to beat your egg whites and Cream of Tartar on medium-high speed.  Keep a close eye on your sugar water.
  3. When your sugar reaches 265 F, quickly remove it from the heat and immediately (but slowly!) add it to your whisking eggs, still on medium-high speed. 
  4. Add vanilla and marshmallow flavoring and beat on high for 3-5 minutes or until peaks start to form. 
  5. When your meringue reaches desired consistency, immediately fill a piping bag and frost your cupcakes. 
  6. Use a kitchen torch to lightly toast your frosted cupcakes and serve.

I tried, and loved, both of these "cupcakes" and wouldn't change a single thing about my recipes, though I have to admit, I'd probably try to be SLIGHTLY less messy in the kitchen and maybe not so ambitious for a 30 minute competition next time (Ha. Next time...).  I was so blessed to have cooked my heart out on stage in front of a LIVE audience who were there to learn from me.  It was exhilarating and competing against Olga in front strangers, but more importantly my family and friends who gave up their Saturday mornings and traveled hours to see me compete, was such an amazing feeling.

Did I win? Nope. At first, I felt completely defeated. Like a failure.  I was standing in front of people whose cookbooks I own and whose television shows I'd followed religiously.  I had the opportunity to knock their famous socks off, and I just didn't do it. But when I looked back on the competition, the day and the fact that I was given the opportunity to do this, my opinion began to change. The hugs and praises I received from my friends and family (who I've always known but was simply reaffirmed are the greatest people on the planet) and the random compliments I got from the woman I ran into in the bathroom after my performance were prize enough for me.  And I guess it's pretty cool that I dreamed up a few bad-ass recipes that I will definitely be using again, too.

So in the end, I learned myself a pretty good lesson. Winning really isn't everything.  Nor is it a greater majority of things. It's the memories that you create and can eventually look back on and say "wow, that was amazing" that really help you coast through life with the top down.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Daily Happy #7


Five years ago I graduated from college and gained 28 pounds. I had never been "small," even back in high school -- so 29 pounds was an unwelcomed addition to my person. I wasn't very good at self control or discipline and found it really difficult to lose the weight... that is, until my life changed drastically.

The boy I had dated all through college and I went separate ways and I found myself with a lot more free time and a lot more reasons to discover who I really was as a person and find a way to love her. So I began to run. It was a slow process (and I was a slow runner), but after a few months of training I moved on to run 4 half marathons in 2 years.

Just by running, I lost 45 pounds. In the best shape, physically and mentally, I'd ever been in my life. I was feeling amazing.  But I was single, working an 8:30-5 job and had a lot of free time on my hands.

It was during this time that I met PID and my life, once again, started to change for the better. 

But a few months after we started dating, I developed a cyst in my knee which stopped me from running. Then I started working at a job that demanded a lot more of my time.  Pair that with my recently discovered love of baking, and I got myself back to my original post-college weight plus a few pounds.  I had a last-straw moment a little over a month ago when I saw a photo of myself that brought tears to my eyes.

We're all happy and having a wonderful time, but I had never seen myself so heavy in a photograph, and it was time to do something about it. 

Step 1: try to start running again.

It was a rough start, just like it had been before -- only this time it wasn't just a lack of experience. It was knee surgery and a sprained ankle on top of an incredibly overwhelming schedule. Not that I'm making excuses, it just added to my already lazy demeanor.

My milestone and daily happy FINALLY took place yesterday morning when I ran my first race (it was a 5K, but it was SOMETHING!) in two years. I had a hard time with it, but I did it it and only walked twice.  It was the best time I'd put out since I started training again -- under a 12 minute mile.  And I got to do it with my friends (and my dog).

I used to run a long-distance 9.5 minute mile and I know I've got a long way to go, but the fact that I crossed the finish line means I'm doing it. I'm making an effort and that's all it took to get me started a few years ago...and I can't wait to keep going.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Glee Slushie Cupcakes!

It's midnight...and you know what that means. IT'S GLEE DAY!!! 

We've been waiting an awfully long time for this. In fact, I've been jamming out to Glee CDs in my car all week long and officially know all the harmonies to the a capella version of Gaga's Poker Face.

So as my friends and I gather around our televisions and prepare to sing along with 27 year-olds disguised as 17 year-olds, I figured it only appropriate that we have delicious cupcakes to celebrate with.

This isn't a recipe post.  It's more or less an inspriation piece.  So long as you have a printer, twizzlers and red/blue food coloring, you've got yourself a Glee cupcake!

I started with a trip to the local CoGos for a bit of my own inspiration.

Next, I started baking.  I went with a simple vanilla cupcake. I tried dying my cupcakes to take on the same coloring as the buttercream...

 and I have one word of advice for you: DON'T!!  Trying to dye my cupcakes red resulted in the biggest bake fail of all time:

So we just uh...nixed these :)  But my "blue" cupcakes came out just fine and so I started on my buttercreams. 

I started with a plain vanilla buttercream and separated it in half.  In one half I poured the teensiest bit of blue-raspberry slushie with a few drops of raspberry flavoring and a drop of blue food coloring.  Next I added a bit of the cherry slushie to the second half with about a teaspoon or Maraschino Cherry juice and a few drops of Christmas Red food coloring and one drop of brown food coloring.

Then I tossed these graphics on to a Word doc 

and printed on a sheet of Avery 2"x4" label printing papers, cut and wrapped them around my cupcakes!  Slap a 1" piece of twizzler in the buttercream and....

VIOLA!  You're ready to get slushied and celebrate Season 3!

I hope you give them a try yourself.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wanna be a Pittsburgh Food Star?! LAST DAY TO ENTER!

Hey friends! So I'm late on the uptake in posting this to ya'll, but I've recently entered a contest to become the "Next Pittsburgh Food Star" and I'm hoping some of you will enter too!

Today is the deadline for entries, so get crackin'!

Anyway, if any of you read my other blog, Taste of Pittsburgh, you might have seen a post I did last year about an AMAZING local food expo called GoodTaste! Pittsburgh.

PID and I had an incredible time last fall and can't wait to go back this year!  A bonus to this year's event?  They're hosting an awesome contest to discover Pittsburgh's next great Food Star! All you have to do is enter a short video of you explaining your favorite recipe, upload it to YouTube and send the link in an e-mail to  The semi-finalists will be selected THIS WEEK and will compete on Saturday for a spot in the finals: performing LIVE at the GoodTaste! event on November 5!  (Oh, by the way, winners also get $1,000!!!)

For my recipe, I made one of my all time favorites: my Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes! Perfect for St. Paddy's Day....or a Thursday.

The center cupcake is my Irish Car Bomb Cake
Here is my entry video:

Pardon the amateur hour with the video editing. I'm handy with spices, but definitely not splices.

So if you've got a smart phone, video camera, or FlipCam lying around with a hunger for 15+ minutes of fame, shoot a short video of yourself making tonight's dinner and enter for your chance to compete with me at the semi-finals!

Best of luck to you!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pumpkin Cupcakes -- Perfect for Fall

This weekend I had the pleasure of hosting my first Bridal Shower for my dear friend, Lindsey.  Her wedding is this October and she is, appropriately, going with a fall theme so I decided to do the same for her shower.

Her engagement story is a wonderful one.  Fall is her favorite time of year because she loves absolutely loves pumpkins. So last October, her now-fiance took her to a local pumpkin patch to pick out her own. She chose one, and he asked her:

"Don't you want to keep looking?"

She responded no, but he encouraged her and so she did.  After a few minutes, she stumbled upon pumpkin wrapped in ribbon which had "Will you marry me?" carved in it's face. She turned and saw her best friend down on his knee.  She said yes.

So yesterday, we showered her with blessings.....and, of course, pumpkin cupcakes!

Lindsey's favorite celebrity is Ina Garten, so I channeled my inner Barefoot Contessa for the day and adapted my own version of her Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting.

Here's what you'll need for the cupcakes:

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons potato starch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup canned pumpkin purée (10 ounces), not pie filling
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line one full muffin tin with 12 baking cups. 
If you have one, place a large baking stone in your oven as you preheat.  When you bake your cupcakes on top of the stone, it does wonders for helping your cupcakes to rise more evenly.  Just look!

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, potato starch, cinnamon, ginger, marjoram and nutmeg. Set aside. 
In your mixing bowl, cream your butter until smooth, then add the eggs (one at a time), pumpkin purée, granulated sugar, and vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Divide the batter among the prepared tins (I use an ice cream scoop to ensure even distribution), set on your baking stone and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely.

Here's what you'll need for the frosting:
1 8 oz package of cream cheese, room temp
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring (extract or natural flavoring works best)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2-3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter on low speed until smooth. Stir in the maple flavoring and vanilla extract. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar 1/4 cup at a time and mix on medium until it reaches your desired texture.
Frost your cupcakes and top with whatever garnish you choose!  Ina used crumbled Heath Bars which I thought would have been delicious.  I wanted something orange, so I chose simple jimmies.

These cupcakes were perfectly appropriate for a pumpkin lover's shower, but are also great for any fall occasion. They were a hit!  

I hope you try them out at your Halloween Parties or next fall gathering!  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

Officially entering this recipe in 52 Kitchen Adventures' Chocolate Chip Cookie Challenge! Join us on Twitter on August 15th with the hashtag #3CChallenge and submit your favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe!

This weekend, a friend of ours celebrated a birthday.  It's a well known fact in our circle that this particular friend loves a good cookie cake, but he had requested that I bring cupcakes to the barbecue!  So it was an easy decision for me to figure out a top notch recipe for cookie dough cupcakes.

The recipe I went with wound up being absolutely amazing!  I made the executive decision to do these cupcakes two ways: one with a cookie dough frosting and chocolate chips and a version with a decadent chocolate buttercream with a mini cookie garnish.

They key to a decadent cookie dough cupcake is being able to find that flavor all throughout the cupcake.  The way I like to do this is baking the dough right in the center of the cupcake!

Before you start, you'll want to determine your favorite cookie recipe, forming small balls with the cookie dough and freezing them about 24 hours before you bake the cupcakes. This is a great way to ensure the dough will stay, well, doughy as it bakes inside the cupcake! It makes for a completely delicious surprise when you bite into your cupcake.

Here's what you'll need for the cookie dough:

1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 c. flour
2 tbs. milk
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. mini chocolate chips

In a mixer, cream your butter then add both sugars and mix until smooth.

Beat in the egg and mix until well incorporated, then beat in the milk and vanilla.

Add the salt to your flour and gradually mix in about 1/4 c. at a time.

Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula and roll the dough in to small, nickle-quarter sized balls placing them on wax paper on a cookie sheet.  Place 24 of the balls in the freezer overnight.  If you have leftover dough, form them into equally sized balls and bake them for 11-14 minutes at 375.  You can use these for a cupcake garnish if you'd like!

Here's what you'll need for the cupcakes:

2 sticks of butter, room temperature
1 c. brown sugar -- packed
1/4 c. sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbs. vegetable oil 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Line two muffin pans with 24 of your favorite liners.

In a medium bowl, combine your flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt -- set aside

In a large mixing bowl, cream your butter then add in your sugars just as you did with the cookie dough.  Add your eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition.

Gradually add your dry mixture, about 1/4 c. at a time, alternating with the milk, sour cream and vegetable oil until all of the ingredients are incorporated, then finish off with the vanilla.

The key to consistent baking is filling your tins very evenly.  Using an ice cream scoop is a great way to ensure each of your tins are filled to the same level!  Remember, you'll want to save a bit more room in your tins than normal for these!  Once your tins are filled to the same level, add a frozen dough ball to each tin and bake for 18-24 minutes.

Here's what you'll need for the buttercream(s):

Each of these recipes should make enough icing for about 12 cupcakes -- this way you can use a different frosting for each half of your cupcake yield.

Cookie dough buttercream:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1-2 tbs. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream your butter and brown sugar until smooth, then begin adding powdered sugar, 1/4 c. at a time.

After you've added half of the powdered sugar, beat in 1 tbs milk and salt, then continue adding the powdered sugar until your frosting reaches a desired consistency.  If you want it to be a bit stiffer, you can add more powdered sugar. If you'd like it to be a bit creamier, add another tbs. of milk!

After you've reached your desired consistency, beat in the vanilla.

After you've frosted your cupcakes, sprinkle more mini chocolate chips on top for added flavor,  texture and decor!

Decadent Chocolate buttecream:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 oz. dark chocolate
1/4 c. cocoa
3 tbs. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream your butter and brown sugar until smooth, then begin adding powdered sugar, 1/4 c. at a time.

In a small bowl, melt your dark chocolate and 2 tbs. of milk in the microwave.  Stir in the cocoa and mix until smooth. After you've added about half of the powdered sugar, add the chocolate and another tbs. of milk.

Then add in the rest of the powdered sugar (to your desired consistency) before mixing in the vanilla.

After you've frosted your cupcakes, add one of your small extra baked cookies as a garnish!

So the next time you're looking to please a cookie lover by making cupcakes, I hope you'll give these recipes a try!  I absolutely loved both versions of this cupcake.

These recipes were adapted from a bit of guidance from Kevin & Amanda and have been Cookie-Monster approved.

My First Wedding Cupcakes!

A little less than a year ago, a close friend of ours approached me and asked if I would be interested in making 100 cupcakes for her wedding.  I was pleased as punch!  It was very flattering to have someone invest that amount of faith in something you love to do that they would ask you to do it for all of the guests at their WEDDING!

But the best part about all of this was the story that I get to tell because of it.

I started planning the moment I accepted, batting around recipe after recipe and trying to remember which flavors the bride and groom had praised at past events. After a few midday and late night conversations with the bride and a house-warming tasting party at the couple's new house...

 ...we decided on a Key Lime cupcake

a Chocolate Chunk and Peanut Butter cupcake

and a Raspberries and Champagne cupcake.

100 cupcakes didn't feel too intimidating -- only 8.5 trays worth of baking!  I knew I could do it in a cinch. Except for one thing.... this wedding was 2,500 miles away in Sandpoint, Idaho!

I certainly had my work cut out for me in terms of planning and processing how we were going to accomplish this trip. Her parents had recently built their beautiful new home themselves in the middle of gorgeous farm lands.

They unfortunately did not have a standing mixer for me to use so I knew I was going to have to make the batter and buttercream here in Pennsylvania.  But how was I going to get it there? I managed to secure a Styrofoam shipping box and four 24-hour ice packs so I had originally planned on shipping everything!

After a few dozen phone calls to shipping companies galore, I realized that shipping overnight to a remote location such as Sandpoint was going to cost me upwards of $500!!!!!! Neither the bride nor I were prepared to absorb that cost (understandably so!) so I had to start the wheels turning again.  I made a few more phone calls and wound up on a three way conference call with a wonderfully pleasant woman from Southwest Airlines and an equally helpful woman from TSA.  They conferred and told me that my cupcake batter would be considered a "non-flammable gel" and that I would be welcome to check it on my flight.

And so, very early in the morning before our 3 p.m. flight, I got to work! I purchased 10 large tubs of tupperware and painters tape and filled each tub with a different batter, labeling each with what was inside. I was completely relieved to see that the tubs fit just perfectly inside my shipping box, so I sealed her up and headed off to the airport!

I was so shocked at how easy it was to get through security.  I checked it in (for free! thank you Southwest!) the oversized baggage section and the officers asked me a few quick questions.  When I told them it was batter and buttercream, they seemed more excited than concerned!  When we arrived, after one transfer, in Spokane, Washington, the box showed up with the rest of our luggage with one or two dings, but no substantial damage.

I decided not to open the box until the next morning when I started baking. I didn't want the batter to go bad at all and I wasn't quite sure how everything fared during the flight. Turns out I probably should have opened it up to let it air out much earlier!  The batter and buttercream were both frozen nearly solid!  I was most worried about my Italian Meringue Buttercream which is a very specific menu that is nearly impossible to create without a stand mixer. It curdled quite a bit during the freezing and unfreezing process, and I freaked out just a bit.

I thank the lord that I had my friend Lindsey by my side to help calm me down and assure me that everything still tasted and looked great.  I'm not sure I could have done it without her there. She gave up a day of her vacation (while PID and her fiance were at the beach with our other friends) to help me with the chocolate design, the baking and the frosting.  It was a blessing!

After about 4.5 hours of baking and decorating, we finished all 102 cupcakes and put them in the refrigerator for the next day's wedding.

It was a lot of hard work, but I was really pleased with the results!  And the wedding?  By far the best and most beautiful wedding I've ever been to.

Congratulations to the brand new Mr. and Mrs. and thank you so much for the opportunity to try my hand at baking for a wedding!