Friday, January 13, 2012

Salted Caramel Cupcakes--Happy Blogiversary To Me!

Wow, today my blog turns one! I can't believe an entire year has passed since I decided to start a blog of my favorite tried and true recipes. Looking back over this past year, I can already see a huge difference in my blogging abilities, and in my cooking as well. Although most of the recipes I posted, I had already been making for a long time, it's still so amazing to see how my cooking skills, and confidence in the kitchen has grown.
Seriously, 10 years ago, I was an amateur in the kitchen. I knew the basics of cooking, but was no where near where I am today. During this past year, with this blog and my readers as my motivation, I have become exactly who I want to be in the kitchen: fearless. I am no longer afraid to try new cooking and baking techniques, and make up (and share) my own recipes. I was always afraid of trying new things and failing miserably. Now, I know that is all a part of learning and mastering the art of cooking. If I fail, I learn from my mistakes, and either try it again, and/or modify the recipe to what I believe will work.
For this coming year of blogging, I hope to continue on my path of learning, and to further explore more difficult cooking/baking techniques that I have always wanted to master.
Thank you so much to all my friends who read my blog and try my recipes! You are a true inspiration to me!

So, for my first blogiversary, I decided to make myself some special salted caramel cupcakes. My absolute favorite flavor. This recipe is SO, SO good. The cake is a light, sweet brown sugar flavor, the caramel filling is to die for, and the salted caramel buttercream just puts it over the top. So unbelievably delicious. I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Salted Caramel Cupcakes
(recipe adapted from 52 Kitchen Adventures)
Makes 12-15 cupcakes

Brown Sugar Cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt (I used fine)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup, plus 2 T light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup, plus 2 T buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12-15 muffin cups with paper or foil liners.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and salt, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Mix in the vanilla.
Add half the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, mix, then add half of the buttermilk, and mix again. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk. Mix until well incorporated.

Divide the batter among the prepared baking cups, filling 3/4 full. If only making 12, there will be left over batter.
Bake for about 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks.

Salted Caramel Filling:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 T salted butter, cubed
1/4 cup, plus 1 T heavy cream, at room temperature

In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the sugar until melted, stirring frequently with a whisk, about 5 minutes. When the sugar turns a deep amber color, add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from heat and then slowly add the heavy cream, whisking until smooth. Let cool and thicken, about 20 minutes or so.

Once caramel is cooled, use a paring knife or large pastry tip to cut out a small round piece out of the top of each cupcake. Pour about 1-2 tsp of filling into each cupcake, and then replace the cake round on top of the caramel.

Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting

1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 T water
1/4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup salted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tsp sea salt (start with 1/2 tsp and then add more to your desired taste--I found 3/4 tsp to be the best raitio of sweet and salty for me)
1 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Boil WITHOUT stirring, until it turns amber in color, about 5 minutes (be careful, it will change color quickly).
Remove from the heat and slowly add the heavy cream and vanilla, whisking well, until smooth.
Let cool until barely warm, but still pourable, about 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and salt until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth. Pour in the cooled caramel and mix until light and airy (if the frosting seems runny, then the caramel was too warm when it was added--refrigerate for 15-20 minutes until frosting is stiffer).

Spread or pipe frosting onto the filled cupcakes. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tomato, Sausage and Spinach Risotto

I found this recipe recently and couldn't wait to make it. I love risotto and so does my family. Although I wouldn't consider this to be a "quick-fix" meal, it can definitely be made within an hour, so this is still a good weeknight meal.
The flavor of this dish is just amazing. You will not be disappointed, but don't just take my word for husband said "You can make this meal every day and twice on Sunday's if you want...."
Yup, I think this recipe is a keeper! :)

Tomato, Sausage and Spinach Risotto
(recipe adapted from Bev Cooks)
Serves 8 (can be halved to serve 4)

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sized sweet onion, diced
6 Italian sausage links, casings removed (I used Italian chicken sausage)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups Arborio rice
1- 28 oz can of petite diced tomatoes, do not drain
4-5 cups chicken broth (I used low-sodium)
10 oz baby spinach
2 T butter
1 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese (I cheated and used store-bought shredded parmesan)
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper

In a saucepan, bring the chicken broth and tomatoes (with their juices) to a light simmer.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, cook and crumble for about 3 minutes. Add the onion and continue to cook until sausage is cooked through and onion is tender, about 3 more minutes or so.

Add the rice and toss to coat. Cook and stir for one minute.

Add the wine, stir, and let simmer until most of it is absorbed, about one minute.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Ladle about one cup of broth (and tomatoes) into the rice mixture and stir. Continue to cook and stir slowly until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then add another ladle of broth and repeat. Continue until most of the broth is used and the rice is tender and creamy, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and then add the butter and parmesan cheese. Stir until both are melted. Then add the spinach and stir until it's wilted. Season as desired with salt and pepper.
Garnish with more parmesan on top of each serving. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Garlic Mac 'n Cheese with Smoked Chicken Sausage

Happy New Year! I've been on the hunt lately for new, scrumptious, family-friendly meals, that can be made ahead of time, or in less then 30 minutes. I've recently started working (after 9 years of being a stay-at-home mom!), so my time in the kitchen has been dramatically reduced. 

There are so many different flavors of 'fully cooked' or smoked chicken sausage available now in grocery stores, and using this type of sausage can be a huge time-saver. I happen to like certain brands more then others, and only buy sausage that is 100% natural and doesn't contain msg.

This "glorified" mac 'n cheese recipe is super yummy, can be made ahead (cover and refrigerate overnight before baking), and is very easy to throw together. My family and I loved this and I will be making it again and again. Even the leftovers were awesome. You have to try this!

Garlic Mac 'n Cheese with Smoked Chicken Sausage
(recipe generously adapted from Amanda's Cookin')
Serves 8 (recipe can easily be halved for smaller families)

1 box whole wheat rotini pasta
18 oz fresh or frozen small sugar snap peas (about 2 1/2 cups), cooked
6 T unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
6 T all-purpose flour
2-3 fresh garlic cloves, finely minced
3 cups low fat milk (I use 1%)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I use reduced fat 2%)
1 3/4 cups shredded Italian cheese blend, divided (I use reduced fat 2%)
2 - 9 oz packages of fully cooked smoked Italian chicken sausage, sliced into moons

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a baking dish with nonstick spray.

Cook pasta according to package directions for 'al-dente'; drain.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, stir and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk. Add the salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring frequently, or until mixture is slightly thickened. Stir in the cheddar cheese and 1 cup of the Italian cheese blend, until smooth.

Add the pasta back to the pot used to cook it in. Then add the cooked sugar snap peas and the sliced chicken sausage. Add the cheese sauce and mix well. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining Italian cheese blend over the top of the pasta.

Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until hot, bubbling and cheese is golden brown on top. Enjoy!