Saturday, August 31, 2013

Vanilla Cupcakes

It's amazing how one little comment from an innocent bystander can have such a profound effect on my ego.  (Yes, my ego really is that fragile.)

There I was happily handing out vanilla cupcakes to a group of adults at a dinner party when I overheard someone use the word "dense" - I was devastated.  My confidence as a baker came crashing down in the split second that the word dense passed through my ear drum.  (Keep in mind that it's entirely possible that the word was not even used in any relation to my cupcakes.)  My attitude immediately changed from confident, cheerful baker to defeated and embarrassed baker who didn't want to even admit to being the baker of the cupcakes.  ONE WORD was all it took to make me question my competencies as a baker and the vanilla cupcake recipe that I had been baking and serving to people for years.


It took about a week for me to get over the initial shock, but once I did, I decided to look into the claim that my vanilla cupcake might be too "dense."  Could there be some truth to it?  Were my cupcakes "dense"?  Was there something that I could do to make them lighter?  Were they referring to the thick crowd of people in the room and not making reference to my cupcake at all?

Either way, I decided it was time to do some vanilla cupcake research and see where I could make improvements.  I turned to the internet to do some research on vanilla cupcake recipes.   What I discovered was that my portions of ingredients were spot on.  I did find was that people were using all sorts of different flours to change the texture of their cupcakes.  Everything from wheat flours to self rising flour to cake flours to all purpose flour.  After weeding through quite a few recipes, I finally settled on this recipe called Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcakes.  I was hopeful that this cupcake was going to be light, fluffy, full of vanilla flavor and definitely NOT dense.

Here goes nothing...

Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers.
In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.

With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.  Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. 

I was right - these cupcakes are fantastic.  My confidence has been restored.  I have a NEW vanilla cupcake recipe that makes perfectly light and fluffy vanilla cupcakes.  Yea! 


I will be cheerfully passing out cupcakes again with restored confidence.  (It's really a shame that my ego hinges on the quality of my cupcakes, isn't it?)  I'm kidding of course, but I am super excited about these new vanilla cupcakes.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Buffalo Wings

College football season is right around the corner.  There is a lot of excitement over one game in particular in my small little town outside of Atlanta.

That's right.  The Georgia Bulldogs are playing the Clemson Tigers on Saturday in Athens.  I've heard so much about this upcoming football game in the past week that I can actually rattle off stats for both teams.  (Not a fact that I am necessarily proud of.) 

It really doesn't matter which team you support because ALL Georgia football fans like to tailgate.  It wasn't until I moved to Georgia that I realized just how important tailgating is to football fans.  I had never before witnessed a tailgate at a high school football game until I moved here.  The south has truly taken the tailgating phenomenon to a whole new level.

I also discovered that a tailgate party can be a casual meeting of fans with beer and pizza or an elegant affair where formally dressed patrons sip sangria from crystal stemware. Two things are universal at tailgate parties however, everyone in attendance wears their team colors and there is always lots of food. 

If you're planning on attending a tailgate party this Fall, you may want to keep this recipe close by.  Chicken wings and football just seem to go hand in hand.  These would be a welcome addition at any party. 

Buffalo Chicken Wings
20 chicken drumettes
1/4 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic
barbeque sauce

Fill the bottom of a dutch oven with 1 inch of water.  Bring to a simmer.  Place a steamer basket in bottom of dutch oven.  Place chicken in steamer.

Cover and steam chicken 10 minutes.  Remove chicken from steamer basket and pat dry.  

Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add chicken and saute 5 minutes on each side.

Remove from skillet and place in a bowl with barbeque sauce.  Shake to coat wings.

If I were taking these wings to a tailgate party, I would leave them in this big Tupperware bowl for easy transport.  They're easy to transport and you can serve out of the bowl as well.  (Unless you happen to be going to one of those super fancy tailgate parties.  Then you're on your own.) 


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tomato Basil Pasta Salad

Please don't judge this salad by the picture.  I must have been super hungry when I photographed this meal because I didn't take my usual 10-12 photos of the finished product and I certainly didn't take the time to get the lighting right either.  You can assume from my haste that this dish was so good that I couldn't wait to dig in and I didn't want to waste any unnecessary time on photographs.  In all seriousness, it was delicious - much more delicious than this picture indicates. 
Tomato Basil Pasta Salad
1 lb medium shell pasta
1 to 1-1/2 lbs cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper (or to taste)
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
2 Tb apple cider vinegar
1/3 c fresh basil leaves, chopped
fresh grated Parmesan cheese (to taste)
Mix together the tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, and basil. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse under cold water and drain.

Mix pasta with the tomato mixture until well combined and refrigerate until ready to serve (at least four hours).

Serve sprinkled with Parmesan on top.

So there you have it, a simple summer pasta salad that is easy to assemble and really tasty.  So tasty in fact that you wont even want to take the time to stop and take proper pictures.  (hehe)


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fresh Corn and Spinach Salad

When I get new food magazines, I immediately start to leaf through them and mark the recipes that I want to try.  In most cases, it's the dessert recipes that catch my eye so by the time I get to the back of the magazine, I've tagged sweets and treats - almost exclusively.  It's usually not until I go back through the magazine a second or third time and really take the time to read through the recipes that I find healthy recipes that I'm interested in trying as well. 

This salad recipe from my Taste of Home magazine was not something that immediately caught my attention.  As a matter of fact, I was hesitant to tear the page out of my magazine because I wasn't convinced that it was going to be something that I wanted to eat.  I was so apprehensive about it in fact, that I bought fresh corn on the cob - TWICE - and ended up eating it before I ever made the salad.   By the time I finally decided to bite the bullet and give this salad a chance, there was no fresh corn in the house so I had to use frozen corn.

This recipe totally caught me off guard.  It was absolutely delicious!   It was filling and satisfying and crunchy and fresh.  I loved it.  The dressing recipe made way more than I needed for my dinner salad so I have plenty leftover for more salads this week.  (Yea)

Fresh Corn and Spinach Salad
Basil Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 ears corn, husked  (I used frozen corn instead.)
8 cups fresh spinach
4 plum tomatoes (or 1/2 cup grape tomatoes)
1/4 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients.

Grill corn, uncovered until crisp tender and browned.

Combine spinach, tomatoes, and pecans.

 Add corn.

Drizzle with half of vinaigrette.  Toss to coat.

Top with cheese and serve immediately.

Reserve remaining vinaigrette for another day and another salad.

I'm glad that I gave this salad a chance - it was really good.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shrimp, Sausage and Corn Salad

I wish I could show you the look on the faces of my kids when I announce that it's "salad for dinner" night.  (Picture in your heads very sad and helpless expressions staring back at me in desperation.)  When I call the kids to dinner they slowly drag themselves to the table, clearly trying to hide the disappointment on their faces.  When I placed a bowl of salad covered in Italian sausage and roasted shrimp in the middle of the dinner table - their long faces suddenly turn into smiles.  Obviously, what they were expecting was a green salad loaded with vegetables and what they got in return was a salad loaded with delicious meat and fish.  They'll never underestimate my dinner salad again. (ha ha ha)

Shrimp, Sausage and Corn Salad
12 ounces shrimp, peeled and deviened
2 cups fresh corn
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 ounces thinly sliced Italian Sausage
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
24 grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine shrimp,


green onions,

minced garlic,


1/4 cup fresh basil,

12 tomatoes,

and kosher salt in a large bowl. 

Heat oil in skillet and add shrimp mixture.  Cook until sausage is cooked through.

Remove from heat.  Add lemon zest, lemon juice, remaining basil and tomatoes.  Serve over salad or on its own.

Now that is a summer salad that I can really sink my teeth into.  Our empty plates were a good sign that it was well liked by everyone. 


Monday, August 26, 2013

Summer Round Up and Menu

I'm feeling like summer is over so I thought it would be appropriate to put together a little summer round up of pictures.

Just in case you were wondering, we had a GREAT summer.  We traveled a lot ...

We spent some time on the beach....

We spent some time in the mountains...

We got to go to a beautiful wedding and reconnect with some family that we hadn't seen in a very long time...

We spent a week at the lake...

Of course there were the trips to the pool...

Time to hangout with friends...

with cousins...

and grandparents...

And ... there was lots of family time.

Just looking through the pictures makes me wish we could relive last summer all over again.  This summer was a great season of reconnecting.  With our own immediate family and also with family members that live really far away.  We're all so busy and even the four of us who live in the same house have a hard time juggling our busy schedules to make time to spent together.  Vacation takes us away from all the busyness and chaos of our daily lives so we can simply enjoy each others company.  That is what this summer was truly about - spending time with the people that we love, reconnecting and making memories that will stay with us forever.

I will miss the lazy days of summer but I look forward to all the excitement that Fall has to offer.  Cross country meets and soccer games are scattered all over the calendar for the next couple of months which means that we'll be eating more meals on-the-go that usual.   I have to take that into account when I plan menus.   Speaking of menus, (How was that for a transition?) here is our list of meals that we will be enjoying this week:

Monday: Oven Cooked Mussels (A recipe from my Cooks Illustrated magazine.)
Tuesday:  Hawaiian Grilled Chicken (A recipe to use up my leftover chicken thighs.)
Wednesday:  Perch Sandwiches
Thursday: Zesty Beef Stir-Fry over Brown Rice (A recipe I found on
Friday:  Cheesy Pretzel Chicken Pops
Saturday:  Southwestern Chicken Wraps (Using the leftover Hawaiian chicken.)
Sunday:  Freezer breakfast sandwiches

Have a great week.