I love Pumpkin!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hi, my name is Sara and I'm a pumpkin-aholic.  I may even be hoarding cans of pumpkin puree in case of shortage as everyone scrambles to make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  Oh, maybe not really....or am I?  Either way, I am loving all the recipes floating around pinterest and what not this time of year incorporating this fruit?  vegetable?  gourd?

I've made a few things lately using pumpkin and/or pumpkin flavor that I'd like to share with you.  First off, Pumpkin French Toast.
I wouldn't even really call this a "recipe" because I just kind of tossed things together until the flavor came out just right.  Adjust accordingly, this part of trial and error is fun....and tasty too!
Pumpkin French Toast
6 slices day old whole wheat french bread
3 eggs
3 Tbs. pumpkin puree
1 Tbs. milk
1/2 Tbs. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cloves
cool whip (optional)
maple syrup (optional)
Mix eggs, pumpkin puree, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and cloves in a shallow bowl.  Dip each slice of bread in mixture and coat both sides evenly.  Cook in pan coated with cooking spray on medium heat.  Turn once, cooking each side 2 -3 minutes or until golden brown.  Dress with maple syrup and cool whip or whatever your favorite pancake/french toast toppings may be.  I love this breakfast for cleaning up leftover bread or buying day old bread that the store for a discount (yeah, I'm cheap!).
Another great little treat I've been making is mini pumpkin "pies".  I first saw this on Instagram, posted by Brianne from Cupcakes and  Kale Chips.  She served it in a cup, I added it to a mini pre-made graham cracker crust.
Mini Pumpkin Pies

1 pre-packaged vanilla pudding cup
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 Tbs. honey (or to taste)
2 mini graham cracker crusts
cool whip
Mix pudding, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey.  Divide evenly among pie crusts.  Top with cool whip.  Notice I don't put an amount of cool whip.  Add as much or as little as you want, go nuts! 
The last treat I saw posted by Aimee on her blog, Shugary Sweets.  I immediately pinned it and went grocery shopping that day in hopes of finding the seasonal pumpkin spice pudding mix needed for this recipe.  Again, I may be hoarding boxes of this also.  Maybe.
Pumpkin Krispie Treats!  Amazing.  You can find Aimee's recipe HERE.  I followed her recipe to the T and they turned out great.  Frosting a krispie treat?  Why didn't I think of that!
For the record, Izzy likes pumpkin too.  Just plain pumpkin puree.  According to the internet, pumpkin is good for dogs.  And you have to believe everything you read on the internet.  She is also very helpful when I'm taking photos of food.  She's willing to clean anything up that might spill.  She keeps a very watchful eye, so helpful of her.

And because I'm an addict, please share with me your favorite pumpkin recipes.  I'll pin away, hoarding recipes of delicious pumpkin treats!  If you are in the mood for a pumpkin cupcake, I posted a great recipe earlier this month.  As pictured, it is great served with pumpkin beer!  No, I'm not hoarding any seasonal beer....but I'm off to the grocery store, you never know when they'll run out!

Caramel Apple Crisp Cupcakes

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Oh friends, do I have special treat for you today.  The idea for some sort of apple cupcakes actually started in May when I found cute mini bushel baskets at a yard sale.  A dozen of them to be exact and I knew then they would be perfect to hold cupcakes to make a "wow" presentation. 

my new mini bushel baskets, man bait apple crisp, and little bits of heaven
So add the presentation idea to my love of apple crisp and the little bits of heaven I found in the grocery store by Kraft, Caramel Bits.  They are sold along with those annoying square caramels where you have to unwrap each one individually.  When I saw these bits, I knew they'd be perfect for adding some caramel-y goodness to some cupcakes.
This weekend was finally the time I got to put all of these together.  I like baking days like this too, where it all just seems to come together perfectly.  It may have helped that I had some great company in the kitchen too.  My Mom was there to offer her baking hints and a helping hand.  My sister Shari and her friend Karie were working on crafts at the kitchen table and made for great company. 
These cupcakes are just too good for me not to share the recipe with you.  The time and steps put into topping these cupcakes is what really makes them come together.  As a special bonus, this is a cheater recipe, starting with a box cake mix instead of working from scratch.  Yes, it is o.k. to do that from time to time.  If you recall, I did this once before while making my Blue Raspberry Beach Cupcakes.  Again, more time was needed for the toppings, so it was nice having a short cut in the recipe.
Caramel Apple Crisp Cupcakes
1 box spice cake mix
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
3 apples (peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces)
1/2 recipe crisp topping, unbaked (see below)
To make cupcakes:
Pre-heat oven to 350.  Prepare baking cups (I made 16 jumbo cupcakes).  Blend cake mix, eggs, oil and milk until well combined, using hand mixer or in stand mixer.  Using spatula, fold in apple pieces. Divide batter evenly, filling cups about half full.  Sprinkle half of unbaked crisp topping mixture on each of the cups.  Bake approx. 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
Caramel Buttercream (from Wilton)
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup caramel ice cream topping
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups confectioner's sugar
To make buttercream:
Blend shortening and butter in stand mixer until creamy.  Add caramel ice cream topping and vanilla.  Gradually add confectioner's sugar until blended, scrape sides and bottom of bowl often.  Add milk (2-4 Tbs.) and mix until smooth.
Crisp Topping
1/2 cup butter, soft
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup oats
2 Tbs. flour
3/4 caramel bits
To make crisp topping:
With a fork, blend all ingredients in a small bowl.  Mix well while still leaving some large clumps.  Divide mixture in half.  Use half above, baking with the cupcake batter.  Spread the second half on parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 350.  Stir a couple times in between baking to redistribute ingredients.  Mixture may melt flat to one large piece.  Let cool.  When cool, break into smaller pieces.
Now it's time to assemble these beauties!  When cupcakes are cool, pipe the center of the cupcake with caramel buttercream.  Sprinkle each cupcakes with small pieces of crisp topping.  If you have left over caramel ice cream topping from the buttercream recipe, drizzle each cupcake with caramel. 
A few items to note about these cupcakes.  One:  I don't have a favorite apple I use while baking.  In fact I had a variety bag of 4 or 5 different kinds of apples from the orchard so I'm not even sure what kind I used while making these cupcakes.  Two:  I used jumbo cupcake papers because I knew that size would best fit the mini bushel baskets I wanted to serve them in.  If using regular size, baking time will need to be adjusted.  Three:  I questioned making the crisp topping.  It appears it isn't going to work and just be a melty mess.  Don't worry and don't skip this step, it is so yummy!  Four:  With these cupcakes being jumbo size and being so soft with the apples inside, they require a fork.  Not an eat right out of the wrapper kind of cupcake.
This may be one of my favorite cupcakes I have ever made.  Because they were so yummy, most of the batch was delivered promptly to some co-workers.  Out of sight, out of my belly!
It was the perfect desert to top a wonderful fall day.  It was beautiful outside, so nice we even had the patio door open with a crisp fall breeze coming in.  We also had a campfire going outside to make our dinner, getting in one last pudgie pie in for the season!  And by "we" I mean my Dad and brother-in-law, they were in charge of the fire and cooking dinner.  They were also my set/lighting crew while taking photos.  The best parts were the laughs shared over the afternoon.  Many laughs coming from my sister reading posts from The Bloggess out loud.  Hopefully Mom made note that Shari and I both have giant metal chickens on our Christmas lists!  If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this post, HERE.
Oh, Shari and Karie had a successful crafting day too.  I even modeled one of their masterpieces.  I may make this my Christmas card.  There may also be a shot of me waving with less fingers...but I was smiling the whole time!  No really, I found myself smiling for the photo....why?  I have no idea!  Later on, this picture reminded me of the Friends episode where Monica put the turkey on her head to cheer Chandler up.  Kind of like a giant metal chicken on your friend's porch could cheer them up.  (see Bloggess post if you haven't yet!)  Yeah, that's the kind of friend I am.      


DIY TV Stand

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Over a year ago I bought myself a new TV.  Prior to my fancy 32" (huge, I know!) flat TV, I had a beast of a box style TV bought years ago when I got my first apartment.  The TV worked just fine and I really hated getting rid of it.  My sensible (cheap) side didn't see the need to replace something that worked just fine.  My non-sensible side wanted a new TV.  I decided to put the beast box into my Mom's rummage sale.  If it sold, I'd buy and new TV and as a bonus I'd have some extra money from the rummage sale to help make that purchase.  It sold, I got a new TV.  but....

Ever since I brought the new flat TV home, I've been on the search for an equally sleek stand of sorts to put it on.  Again, another expense my frugal (cheap) side didn't want to have.  Everything I found and liked, was just out of my price range.  Fast forward to this last May and my Mom was once again having a rummage sale.  My friend Lori added some items to the sale including an old bookshelf with a mere $2 price tag.

The shape and size was perfect for a TV stand.  It just needed a little work.  I scooped it up on rummage sale day 2....and then let it sit in my Dad's garage for a few months.  I needed to think of the perfect plan to make it into just what I needed.  Last month my vision became a reality.  I (with my Dad's help) created the perfect TV stand and on my frugal (cheap) budget.
First step was to remove the shelf and cut a hole in the back, big enough to fit my components/cords.
Then came painting and creating a background.  The idea of doing something decorative on the back was so I wouldn't stack junk on the bottom shelf. 

 I even had my guard dog there to make sure DIY thieves didn't attempt to steal anything.  She was clinging and needed to be touching my foot most of the time while I was working.  Silly puppy.

The background was created with scrapbook paper from My Mind's Eye and Mod Podge.  The paint color I picked was Dutch Boy Colonial Cobblestone
I absolutely love the finished TV stand.  I just need to fix the cords so they are not in view from the front.  It fits my small room perfectly and you can't beat the price either!  New TV stand for under 20 bucks?  How many people can say that?  

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Friday, October 12, 2012

On Monday I shared my thoughts on long distance friendships.  Now here is the glue that holds that friendship together...cupcakes!  Not really but they do help.  Pumpkin flavored cupcakes was the request of my friend Kellie.  Now, most pumpkin cupcake recipes I found were topped with cream cheese frosting.  I knew Kellie would refuse to put her lips anywhere near anything topped with cream cheese so I searched and searched until I found a great recipe, minus the cream cheese frosting.  Oh, but this recipe called for espresso, they were actually pumpkin spice latte cupcakes, every one's favorite seasonal Starbucks treat!  We ended up making just pumpkin without the latte part but they were still very delicious.  The recipe had a link back to original pumpkin with a little more spice to replace the espresso.

yeah, we even paired them with some pumpkin beer!


Pumpkin Cupcakes (from Annie's Eats)

For the cupcakes:
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line cupcake pan with paper liners (makes 24).  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the pumpkin, both sugars and oil.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in two additions, mixing just until incorporated.

Fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full.  Bake until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 18-20 minutes.  Let cool before frosting.

For the frosting:
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Place the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-low speed at first, gradually increasing to high speed.  Blend in confectioners' sugar gradually.  Whip until stiff peaks form, being careful not to over-beat.

For cream cheese frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 1/4 tsp. vanilla

In an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed until creamy.  Gradually add confectioners' sugar to butter/cream cheese mixture on low until it begins to incorporate.  Add vanilla and beat on medium to high speed until fully incorporated.

Pipe frosting onto cupcakes. In this case I was lacking my usual supplies so we used a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off. Work with what you have. We used this whipped cream frosting for only half of the cupcakes. The other half we frosted with cream cheese frosting, most everyone loves cream cheese frosting. We couldn't not do some with cream cheese frosting.  Sprinkle frosted cupcake with cinnamon and you are finished.  A great fall treat that everyone will enjoy, as long as you have frosting options to please all :)

I have a few more pumpkin treats I've been finding, pinning and making.  Look for those next week.  So if you don't like pumpkin, don't read my blog next week but you might miss out on cute pictures like this...

So I guess you better come back.  How could you not love that sad pitiful face?  She really isn't a fan of wearing clothes but I could not pass up this shirt at Target.  I'm a big football fan so this can work as her Halloween costume and her jersey for cheering on the Packers! 
Sharing this post at Heavenly Treats Sunday, Serenity Now, and Crumbs and Chaos.

My Thoughts On Friendship

Monday, October 8, 2012

What do you get when you combine cupcakes, beer, and fire?  An awesome weekend, that's what!

Back up 8 or so years ago when some dear friends (hi Chad and Kellie! this post is about you!) moved 200 miles away, leaving Wisconsin for the suburbs of Chicago.  I've always had local friends, no one lives too far away, so a long distance friendship was new to me.  I still remember one of the last weekends Kellie was in town, going to see "13 going on 30" in the theater.  I remember crying.  I remember thinking, "will we really keep in touch?".

We have!  If distance is a true test of friendship, we passed that test.

We text.  We call.  We plan visits when we can. 

Fast forward to present time (now if this was a movie, that last bit would have been a wonderful montage of photos and a really sappy song) and Kellie called to say she was having a s'mores party.  I was more than happy to drive 7 hours in just two days to spend time with them.  Our weekend visits tend to revolve around much laughter and that type of weekend was exactly what I was in need of, much needed!  I've also met some wonderful ladies through Kellie over the last few years and was excited to see them again too.  I also got to meet those ladies' better halves and some new friends too including a furry friend, Elinor!

So we got beverages.....
made some pumpkin cupcakes....
roasted marshmallows and wieners over the fire....

enjoyed said beverages around said fire....
Another all around awesome weekend with awesome friends.  I wish I had a photo of the left over hot dog breakfast but you get the idea.  I have awesome friends.  You are most likely jealous and you should be.  We ended with a quick trip to Ikea and I was on my way back home.  It's always hard to leave after such short visits but knowing we've stayed in touch after this long, I'm confident we will stay in touch for many more years to come.  Every March I look forward to Kellie's Birthday visit which may be the next visit if neither of us make the trip over winter.  This is where I wish my writing wasn't so sucky so I could more eloquently explain how much Chad and Kellie's friendship means to me no matter the distance.  "They served me hot dogs for breakfast" really doesn't do the friendship justice, right?  Love you guys!  Be on the lookout for zombies, they are everywhere this time of year ;)
This post ended up being longer than I thought, so I'll share the Pumpkin Cupcake recipe I used later this week. 
Who else loves a campfire in the fall?  Any long distance friendships you couldn't imagine your life without?

Surprise Ingredient Cupcakes

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I'm baaaaaack!  I got a bit behind on my posts but I have a few new things to share with you.  Today's recipe has a surprise ingredient.  You know, they make whole cookbooks dedicated to sneaking healthy ingredients into foods, especially for kids.  I'm not a mom so I can't say whether I would trick my kids into eating vegetables or not but it was fun presenting these cupcakes to people and then letting them know they contained a vegetable.  Not a tasty vegetable either.

This here is probably the last time I fully enjoyed this vegetable as a delicious meal.

Yep, that's me, "after a good meal of beets!", my Mom wrote on the picture.  I do look like I enjoyed them.  Beets, not hidden in anything just straight up beets. (On a side note can we discuss how my parents embraced the 70's with that wallpaper, wowza!)  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a picky eater.  I eat all sorts of vegetables.  I just don't crave beets nor are they high up on my list of must haves. 
So when my Mom found a recipe for beet cupcakes, I wasn't jumping for joy but was curious to see how they would turn out.  Turns out, they are pretty tasty.  I made a batch and shared them with various people.  I couldn't not say anything so I did let each person know that the cupcakes had a mystery ingredient.  Not one person guessed beets.  So if you really want to sneak vegetables into cupcakes without anyone knowing, this is the recipe for you.

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes (originally published in the Chicago Tribune)
3 to 4 small red beets, trimmed
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
confectioners’ sugar

1.       Place the beets in a saucepan, add water to cover; heat to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to a simmer; cook until tender, about 35 minutes.  Drain; cool.  Grate on the large holes of a box grater.
2.       Heat the oven to 350.  Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.
3.       Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.  Beat the butter and sugar in a separate bowl until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Add the beets; beat until smooth and an evenly bright magenta.  Beat in the melted chocolate.  Gradually add the flour mixture; mix until fully combined.  Spoon into muffin cups.
4.       Bake, 20-25 minutes; cool.  Dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar.
Nutrition information per serving:  144 calories, 7 g fat, 37 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 154 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

There you have it, vegetables hidden in your cupcakes.  These also don't have the normal tall swirl of frosting I like to put on my cupcakes, so that makes them a bit healthier for you too.  Bonus! 
Anyone a fan of beets?  Or would you prefer them hidden in chocolate cupcakes?  Do tell!