Sunday, September 25, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Honey Corn Muffins

I'm back with another Baked Sunday Mornings post today! This time around, we made Honey Corn Muffins, an easy, delicious muffin if ever there was one. Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or as an accompaniment with dinner, these little cuties taste like cornbread with a glossy sheen from the honey. They're good at room temperature, but they're phenomenal when they're warm.

I have really grown to love cornbread lately, but making these muffins made me realize something; I think I like my cornbread savory, rather than sweet. These were scrumptious, don't get me wrong. But I had to think of them like a sweet muffin in order to fully embrace them. When I thought of them as a corn muffin, I found myself wishing I had cut down the sweetness in the recipe. If I make these again, I think I will still add the honey, but omit the brown sugar. I just don't think they need both.

I'm really glad I made these; otherwise, if it weren't for the blogging group, I may have overlooked them completely. And that would have been a shame! To see if the other members of the group liked these, head on over to the blogroll, here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MSC: Peanut Butter (No Jelly!) Cupcakes

I'm so happy to be back blogging along with the Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Club again this month! I skipped out last month but now I'm back and ready to talk about some Peanut Butter Cupcakes! The original recipe was for Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes, but I just decided to leave out the jelly. I dunno, maybe it's un-American of me or something, but I just don't eat the peanut butter/jelly combo. I know, what a weirdo! If you give me anything peanut butter/chocolate, I'm yours, but for some reason I just don't really love jelly all that much.

I halved this recipe and made 10 cupcakes. I came across some reduced-fat natural peanut butter, so I used that in place of standard natural peanut butter in the batter. I don't know if my reduced-fat pb was the culprit for this, but my cupcakes turned out super dense. Like, must grab a big glass of milk to wash this cake down with dense! Also, I left out the chopped peanuts. It was good, peanut buttery cake, it just felt thick in your mouth.

For the frosting, I wanted to reduce some of the fat there, too. Sooo, I used fat-free cream cheese. Again, not the most perfect frosting in the world. It was a bit grainy in texture, and not very sweet. That was okay with me, but I don't think I would have served it to company or anything. I think putting the dollop of jelly on top could have masked the frosting's texture a bit, but obviously I will never know.

My verdict on these? They are good, especially if you're a die-hard peanut butter fan (which I am). But they do need a little something else. They need a contrasting flavor/texture to balance out all that pb. I ate these with a little splotch of chocolate sauce on the top, and that really did help out. Some ice cream alongside would probably improve these, too.

Thanks to Karen of Karen's Cookies, Cakes, and More for the selection! Check out the MSC blogroll to see how the others fared with these cupcakes!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Caramel Apple Cake

I had the privilege of making the Baked Explorations book's Caramel Apple Cake last weekend for my Baked Sunday Mornings group. Boy, what an undertaking! This was not your simple, thrown-together kinda cake. This was much more of a clear-your-calendar, spend the whole day covered in flour and frosting cake. But let me tell you, it was worth every second spent on it! It was nothing short of magnificent.

I broke the recipe up into steps; it made the whole thing so much easier and more manageable. I made the homemade applesauce, which goes into the cake batter, about two days before I was going to bake the cake. I made the homemade caramel, which is incorporated into the frosting as well as drizzled on top of the finished cake, about three or four days prior to baking day. I have to say, my confidence was totally boosted by making both the applesauce and the caramel; I had great success with both! I tend to mess up when making caramel, but this particular batch turned out pretty perfect. The applesauce was my first ever attempt at making it from scratch. It was completely easy to do and came together beautifully.

For the cake itself, I decided to cut the whole recipe in half. I was serving this for my brother-in-law's birthday, and there were going to be 7 of us eating the cake. Since this is a very decadent cake and I didn't really want there to be tons of leftovers lingering for days later, I thought a two-layer cake instead of a three-layer cake would be best. The cake was easy to whip up; I used two 9-inch round pans for it. The baking time was a bit less than the book indicated, but I am pretty sure it's because I switched things up.

The frosting, which is a cooked flour frosting, turned out way better than I expected it to. I've made this type of frosting before, and both times I have hit a bump in the road. Not this time. This batch came out great; satiny, luxurious, with a perfect hint of caramel flavor. Addictive stuff! I reduced the amount of frosting I made to just a third of the original amount, and it wasn't actually enough to frost the top and sides and fill the middle layer. So, I improvised. I had some leftover butterscotch frosting from my son's birthday cake, so I used that to fill the middle of the cake. It worked beautifully! The butterscotch complemented the spice cake so well, and the pale orange color coordinated nicely as well.

The cake was a huge hit, needless to say. Everyone really loved it. It was impressive to look at (even though my cake decorating skills need some work) and tasted unbelievably delicious. The cake was so moist from all that applesauce, and the spices were gentle but present. Everything comes together wonderfully in this cake; I don't know what else I can say about it!

But maybe there are some other people who have different things to say about it. Go check out the Baked Sunday Mornings blogroll to see the group's thoughts on this cake.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo (Lightened Up)

After a week off from blogging, I'm back! I can't promise that I will be posting quite as frequently as I used to, but I'm definitely not going to fall off the face of the Earth, either. There's been a lot of cooking going on around here, but for some reason when it comes time to post about the latest dishes I've made, I find myself highly unmotivated. I've decided that I should only blog when I really want to, rather than holding myself to a stricter schedule that sometimes becomes more of a hassle than a joy. I started blogging because I knew I would enjoy it, and I would like to continue to enjoy it. As soon as it becomes just another chore, I think it's a bit pointless to force myself to do it, you know?

But I came here today to talk about Fettuccine Alfredo, so that's what I'm going to do! I am pretty enamored with Fettuccine Alfredo, but I try to eat healthy more often than not, so that pretty much takes one of my favorite pasta dishes off the menu. I have tried countless times to recreate this creamy, decadent meal in my home kitchen, except I always try to lighten it up as much as possible. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Most often, the texture is just not right. Sometimes it turns out way too dry, and not nearly creamy enough. Sometimes the texture is right, but it doesn't seem as cheesy as I would like. A good homemade, healthier Fettuccine Alfredo is nearly impossible to achieve.

Thanks to Cooking Light, I think I have come pretty close. First of all, the addition of shrimp is genius. It bulks up the meal with lean protein so you can have a smaller portion and still be satisfied. Using a really good-quality Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is key here, too. You want that flavor to shine, so it had better be good. I used half and half, which is not as luxurious as heavy cream. Just a little bit doesn't set you back too far in the fat department, but it gives the dish that creaminess that's so essential. Finally, the secret weapon here is reduced-fat cream cheese. This, combined with a bit of reserved pasta cooking liquid, allows you to reach the desired consistency. There is one slight catch: you need to serve and eat this dish right away. If it sits too long, it can get a bit gluey and lose the creamy texture. If this does happen, just refresh it with a bit more hot water. This meal was the best kind for me; it fit within my nutritional requirements, but it totally tasted like cheat food!

Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo
adapted from Cooking Light
makes 8 servings

3/4 lb. (12 ounces) fettuccine
1 lb. peeled and deveined medium shrimp
2 green onions, chopped (I subbed in a shallot)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. olive oil
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half
6 Tbsp. (1 1/2 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4-1/2 cup cooking liquid. Combine shrimp, onions, and garlic in a small bowl.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil; swirl to coat. Add shrimp mixture, and saute for 4 minutes or until shrimp are done. Remove from pan; keep warm.

3. Reduce heat to medium. Add reserved cooking liquid, Parmigiano-Reggiano, half-and-half, cream cheese, and pepper to pan. Cook 2 minutes or until cheeses melt.

4. Combine pasta, cheese mixture, and shrimp mixture. Toss well to combine. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.