Double Irish Cheer ~ Stout and Whiskey Cupcakes

What’s even more Irish than chocolate Guinness cupcakes? Chocolate Guinness cupcakes topped with Irish whiskey frosting! I wanted to make one more round of cupcakes for the day. 🙂 These cupcakes celebrate two of the most famous flavors of Ireland – stout and whiskey.

I love how versatile the frosting I made in the last blog entry can be. It is a classic 7-minute frosting, which is fluffy and meringue-like. Unlike most frosting, this one is quite a bit lighter with no butter or cream. It is wonderful to work with and pipes beautifully. It doesn’t hold as well over time as a buttercream, so make it shortly before you need it, but it stays together for a few hours. I was so interested and excited about this frosting that I played with the recipe by trying different flavors in small batches that I thought may pair well with the chocolate Guinness cupcakes. I made a sparkling wine frosting, a Harp beer frosting, and even an IPA beer frosting! But I settled on this Irish whiskey frosting to top one more batch of cupcakes for St. Patrick’s Day. This flavor was my pot of gold at the end of a rainbow of flavors. 😉

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

Makes about 24 standard-sized cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1 cup Guinness stout

1/2 cup light olive oil

2 tablespoons skim milk

3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the frosting:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 cup water

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons Irish whiskey (I used Jameson)

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, milk, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla until everything is very well combined.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar, flour, and baking soda.

Add the wet mixture in the medium bowl to the dry mixture in the large bowl, and whisk until just combined.

Divide the batter between the muffin tins, filling each cup about 2/3 full.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

Find a big pot in which the bowl of a stand mixer can fit inside without touching the bottom. Fill the pot with about 2 inches of water. (Take care that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.) Bring the water to a simmer.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the sugar and cream of tartar. In the bowl of the stand mixer, add all of the frosting ingredients except for the whiskey, and whisk until combined.

Place the bowl over the pot of simmering water. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the bowl. Whisking often, let the mixture come up to 160 F. It will look a little frothy.

Once the mixture is at 160 F, remove the bowl from the pot and place it on the stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

Whisk on high speed for about 7 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy, cool, and very stiff. Add the whiskey, and whisk until just combined.

Pipe or spoon the frosting onto your cupcakes.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day ~ Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Even though I am not even a wee bit Irish, I still love this festive holiday. 🙂 I wore green all day, enjoyed an Irish cozy mystery, and made these chocolate Guinness cupcakes to celebrate!

For the cupcakes, I was inspired by a recipe from Nigella Lawson, and a recipe by Yolanda Gampp inspired the frosting.

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

Makes about 24 standard-sized cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1 cup Guinness stout

1/2 cup light olive oil

2 tablespoons skim milk

3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the frosting:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 cup Guinness stout

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, milk, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla until everything is very well combined.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar, flour, and baking soda.

Add the wet mixture in the medium bowl to the dry mixture in the large bowl, and whisk until just combined.

Divide the batter between the muffin tins, filling each cup about 2/3 full.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

Find a big pot in which the bowl of a stand mixer can fit inside without touching the bottom. Fill the pot with about 2 inches of water. (Take care that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.) Bring the water to a simmer.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the sugar and cream of tartar. In the bowl of the stand mixer, add all of the frosting ingredients, and whisk until combined.

Place the bowl over the pot of simmering water. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the bowl. Whisking often, let the mixture come up to 160 F. It will look a little frothy.

Once the mixture is at 160 F, remove the bowl from the pot and place it on the stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

Whisk on high speed for about 7 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy, cool, and very stiff.

Pipe or spoon the frosting onto your cupcakes for a nice fluffy head on your Guinness!

Retro Boder’s Night ~ Coquilles St. Jacques

There was one nice restaurant in the town where I grew up called Boder’s on the River. It was the place to go for any special occasion or event. I think the last time I was there was for my high school graduation dinner! They had a long history starting in 1929 until they closed in 2001. Amazingly, the restaurant was maintained over all of those years by 4 generations of the same family.

The classic restaurant came to my mind recently, and I thought it would be fun to have a retro Boder’s night dinner! I cooked a few of the dishes that used to be on the menu over the years. The dinner started with Coquilles St. Jacques for the appetizer. Then the main course was a crab stuffed sole, and the grand finale was the famous schaum torte dessert.

It was a fun celebration dinner, and a lovely way to make an ordinary night special!

Coquilles St. Jacques

Makes 6 small appetizers

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 medium shallot, minced

Approximately 4 ounces white mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Chardonnay)

6 large dry packed scallops, the tough “foot” of each removed

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup skim milk

Pinch of cayenne

1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated

Salt, to taste

Gruyère cheese, finely grated

Paprika, to taste

Preheat broiler. Set aside either 6 scallop shells or 6 shallow ramekins. If using scallop shells rather than ramekins, crumple some aluminum foil on top of a sheet pan to keep the shells level when broiling.

Over medium heat, in a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the shallots, and sauté until they are translucent. Then add the mushrooms and cook until they release most of their moisture. Add the wine, and bring to a simmer. Add the scallops, and gently poach on both sides until they are just cooked through.

Remove the scallops, and set aside on a plate. Strain the remaining ingredients, reserving both the liquid and the solids.

In a food processor, pulse the mushrooms and shallots until they are the consistency of coarse sand. Set aside.

Wipe out the pan to make sure there are no bits of mushroom or shallot left that may burn.

In the same pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Once the bubbles subside, whisk in the flour to make a roux. Once the roux is golden, whisk in the milk, the strained liquid, and any liquid that may have accumulated under the scallops to the pan. While continuing to whisk, let the mixture cook until it is thickened.

Strain the mixture to ensure there are no lumps.

Off the heat, whisk the cayenne, tarragon, and lemon zest into the wine/milk mixture. Add salt to taste, (but keep in mind the scallops are naturally salty and the cheese added at the end will also be salty.)

Divide the mushrooms between either ramekins or scallop shells, and spread onto the bottom of each. On top of the mushrooms, add one scallop to each ramekin or shell. Top each scallop with the sauce. Grate a little cheese over the top of each.

Broil until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Watch very closely, because they can get too dark quickly. Remove from the broiler.

To finish, sprinkle the scallops lightly with paprika.

Iced Under ~ Lobster Fra Diavolo in Angel Hair Pasta Cups

I just finished a wonderful cozy mystery set in the midst of a frigid New England winter called Iced Under. It is part of a delightful Maine Clambake series from Barbara Ross. I think this latest installment was my favorite of them all! I love how it combines a family mystery with some real New England history. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for a cozy winter book. 🙂

In the back of each Maine Clambake mystery, there is a recipe for a lobster dish. This one happened to have a lobster fra diavolo recipe, which combines lobster and other shellfish with a spicy tomato sauce and pasta. I decided to transform the dish from a main course into hors d’oeuvres that can be eaten in one bite. It’s a perfect snack to enjoy while you read!Lobster Fra Diavolo in Angel Hair Pasta Cups

Makes about 24 hors d’oeuvres

For the cups:

Approximately 4 ounces whole-wheat angel hair pasta, broken in half

1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 egg, beaten

For the filling:

1 tablespoon high heat cooking oil

1 small shallot, minced

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup crushed canned tomatoes (I used San Marzano)

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Approximately 8 ounces precooked lobster meat, cut into a small dice

About 1 tablespoon Italian flat leaf parsley, minced

About 1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons

For the cups:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Aim for a softer texture rather than a firmer texture, since they will dry out slightly in the oven.

Drain the pasta. Toss with cheese and egg until all of the strands of pasta are well coated. Divide the pasta between 24 mini muffin cups. Arrange the pasta strands in the muffin cups so they cover the bottom of each and form cuplike shapes.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the egg is set.

Cool slightly, and then remove the pasta cups carefully from the pan.

These can be made the day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Gently warm the cups for a few seconds in the microwave before filling and serving.

For the filling:

Preheat a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the oil, and allow it get hot and shimmering. Then add the shallot, and cook until translucent. Next, add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and oregano. Cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, and bring to a boil. Scrape any fond from the bottom of the pan. Then add the tomatoes. Cook until the mixture reduces and thickens to your liking. Season with salt and black pepper.

Add the lobster meat to the tomato mixture, and cook until it is just heated through.

Turn off the heat, and stir in the parsley and basil.

Spoon a little of the lobster/tomato mixture into each pasta cup. Serve immediately.

More Elegant Bites for Valentine’s Day ~ Lobster Thermidor Tartlets

We paired our lobster Newburg canapés with lobster thermidor tartlets. And we paired them both with a little wine of course! It was Valentine’s Day after all. 😉

You can buy premade tartlet shells or make your own with store-bought phyllo dough. I made my own, but only because my local stores didn’t have the shells. I think there was a run on them for Valentine’s Day! 😉 The filling for this appetizer can be made ahead and reheated in a warm pan. I love recipes I can make ahead. Then I can focus on the celebration instead of being back in the kitchen. This recipe also works really well with shrimp. This month, my Valentine tasted three batches with shrimp while I was testing the recipe before we enjoyed the lobster version on the big day. (But I don’t think he minded. 😉 )

Lobster Thermidor Tartlets

2 small raw lobster tails, split in half lengthwise and deveined

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

About 4 ounces white mushrooms, finely diced

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon brandy

1 cup skim milk

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

White pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Parmesan and/or Gruyère cheese

Mini phyllo tartlet shells

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the lobster tails, including the shells, and cook until the shells are red. They do not need to be completely cooked through at this point. Set aside to cool.

Pull out the lobster and set aside on a plate to cool.

In the same pan, add the mushrooms and shallot, and cook until they soften and brown slightly.

Remove the mushrooms and shallot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Wipe out the pan to make sure you don’t have any bits of shallot or mushroom left that may burn. Over medium heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the bubbles subside. Sprinkle the flour in the pan, and whisk to make a roux. Cook until the roux turns golden. While continuing to whisk, add the sherry, brandy, and milk, and cook until the mixture is thickened. Add the paprika, mustard, and pepper, and whisk to combine.

Strain the mixture for any lumps. Return the sauce to the pan off the heat.

Take the lobster meat out of the shells, and cut into a small dice.

Add the lobster meat, mushrooms, and shallots back to the pan with the sauce. Mix until everything is well coated. Over low heat, cook until the lobster meat is just cooked through. Season with salt if needed, (but remember there will be salty cheese added as a final edition, so be careful not to over salt.)

Spoon the mixture into the tartlet shells. Grate a little cheese over the top of each tartlet. With a kitchen torch, melt the cheese. Add a little more grated cheese on top for a pretty presentation.

Serve immediately.

Elegant Bites for Valentine’s Day ~ Lobster Newburg Canapés

This year, rather than an elaborate Valentine dinner, I focused on hors d’oeuvres I could enjoy with my hubby later in the evening. 🙂 I made lobster Newburg canapés and lobster thermidor tartlets, two classic lobster dishes converted into small bites. I have to say, both went quite nicely with a glass of wine by the fire!

I’ll start with the canapés. I love that the topping can be made ahead and reheated in a warm pan, and the lobster can totally be substituted for shrimp for a more modest dish. I made a couple batches with shrimp as I was testing the recipe this month, and my taste tester (AKA, my hubby) loved it! The lobster was perfect for our special Valentine’s Day celebration, though. I think this is a recipe I will go back to again and again. It is fancy enough for a special occasion, but simple enough to make on a weeknight.

Lobster Newburg Canapés

Sliced artisan bread, cut into approximately 1 1/2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter

Extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 small raw lobster tails, split in half lengthwise and deveined

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon brandy

1 cup skim milk

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Ground white pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Preheat broiler. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Brush the tops of the bread with a little olive oil. Arrange the bread with the oil side facing up on the prepared sheet pan. Broil for a minute or two until the bread is golden on top. Watch them closely, because they can burn very quickly. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the lobster tails, including the shells, and cook until the shells are red. They do not need to be completely cooked through at this point. Set aside to cool.

Continuing to cook over medium heat, sprinkle the flour in the pan, and whisk to combine with the remaining butter. Cook until the roux is golden brown. While whisking, add the sherry, brandy, and milk. Continue to whisk until the mixture is thickened. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, and white pepper, and whisk until well combined.

Strain the mixture for any lumps. Return the sauce to the pan off the heat.

Take the lobster meat out of the shells, and cut into a small dice.

Add the lobster meat back to the pan with the sauce. Mix until the lobster is well coated. Over low heat, cook until the meat is just cooked through. Season with salt if needed.

Spoon a small amount of the lobster mixture onto the toast rounds. Serve immediately.

Valentine Sweets ~ Pink Heart Meringue Cookies

I made something sweet for my sweet to celebrate Valentine’s Day. 🙂

These crisp meringue cookies are tinted a lovely shade of pink with the simple addition of a little beet juice. For those of you without a juicer (like me!), I processed a couple of roasted red beets in a food processor. Then I put the beets into a few layers of cheesecloth and squeezed out as much juice as I could. Voila…nature’s red food coloring!

Use these little hearts to make a schaum torte, an Eton mess, or just eat them on their own. 🙂

Pink Heart Meringue Cookies

4 egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon red beet juice

Preheat oven to 225 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer with vinegar to ensure it is free of any oil.

Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of the stand mixer, and whisk until they begin to look frothy. Very slowly sprinkle in the sugar while continuing to whisk. The mixture will become thick and glossy with stiff peaks. Rub a small amount of the mixture between your fingers, and if it is smooth with no sugar granules remaining, you are there. At this point, add the salt, cornstarch, vanilla, and beet juice, and whisk until just combined.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.

On the prepared baking sheets, pipe the mixture into heart shapes.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in the oven for another 30 minutes. Let cool completely.

Waitangi Day ~ Mini Pavlovas with Kiwi Fruit

Australia isn’t the only country Down Under with a holiday this season. (See my last Australia Day post.) New Zealand also has a national holiday today called Waitangi Day! The occasion inspired me to learn more about the beautiful country of New Zealand, and to celebrate New Zealand’s culture in my own small way.

As usual, celebrating my way begins in the kitchen! I made another batch of mini Pavlovas for the special day. 🙂 No one really knows if the first Pavlova was made in Australia or New Zealand, so I thought I’d give both countries recognition. (And if I’m perfectly honest, it just gave me an excuse to make another batch of this dreamy dessert! 😉 ) I topped these New Zealand Pavlovas with sliced kiwi fruit.

Mini Pavlovas with Kiwi Fruit

For the meringue:

4 egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the finishing touches:

Approximately 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Approximately 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced

For the meringue:

Preheat oven to 225 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer with vinegar to ensure it is free of any oil.

Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of the stand mixer, and whisk until they begin to look frothy. Very slowly sprinkle in the sugar while continuing to whisk. The mixture will become thick and glossy with stiff peaks. Rub a small amount of the mixture between your fingers, and if it is smooth with no sugar granules remaining, you are there. At this point, add the salt, cornstarch, and vanilla, and whisk until just combined.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.

On the prepared baking sheets, pipe the mixture into small rounds, leaving a small indentation in the middle of each meringue.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in the oven for another 30 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the finishing touches:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and sugar until soft peaks form. (You want to whip it slightly less than you would like your finished product to be, since piping the cream will continue to stiffen it.) Transfer the whipped cream to a piping bag fitted with the same star tip used for the meringues.

Pipe a little whipped cream over the top of each meringue, and finish with a few pieces of sliced kiwi on top.

Australia Day ~ Mini Pavlovas with Lime Curd and Finger Limes

Mini Pavlovas with Lime Curd and Finger LimesEvery January, the good people Down Under celebrate Australia Day! It is summertime in the Southern Hemisphere, so much like we celebrate the Fourth of July, Australians enjoy barbeques, concerts, and fireworks on this summery holiday.

Those of us in the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere could use a little summer right about now! 😉 It is quite chilly, dark, and wet in Seattle. These little Pavlovas with lime curd and finger limes were just the things to brighten up a winter day. Pavlovas are a quintessential dessert of Australia, where finger limes are also native. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect to celebrate this special day.

Mini Pavlovas with Lime Curd and Finger Limes

For the curd:

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 eggs or 3 egg yolks

1/4 cup lime juice (juice from approximately 2 limes)

3 teaspoons lime zest, divided (zest from approximately 3 limes)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For the meringue:

4 egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the finishing touches:

Approximately 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Approximately 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 large finger lime

For the curd:

In a medium saucepan, add the sugar, eggs, juice, and 2 teaspoons of zest. Heat over medium high heat. Whisk steadily until the mixture begins to bubble gently and thicken. Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the butter. Strain the mixture. Then add the remaining zest, and stir well. Chill the curd.

For the meringue:

Preheat oven to 225 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer with vinegar to ensure it is free of any oil.

Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of the stand mixer, and whisk until they begin to look frothy. Very slowly sprinkle in the sugar while continuing to whisk. The mixture will become thick and glossy with stiff peaks. Rub a small amount of the mixture between your fingers, and if it is smooth with no sugar granules remaining, you are there. At this point, add the salt, cornstarch, and vanilla, and whisk until just combined.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.

On the prepared baking sheets, pipe the mixture into small rounds, leaving a small indentation in the middle of each meringue.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in the oven for another 30 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the finishing touches:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and sugar until soft peaks form. (You want to whip it slightly less than you would like your finished product to be, since piping the cream will continue to stiffen it.) Transfer the whipped cream to a piping bag fitted with the same star tip used for the meringues.

Dollop a little lime curd in the middle of each meringue. Pipe a little whipped cream over the top. Finish with a few pieces of finger lime on top of each Pavlova.Mini Pavlovas with Lime Curd and Finger Limes

It’s 2017! ~ Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger Limes

Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger LimesHappy New Year!! I hope this year is filled with many good things for you. 🙂

I made these little appetizers to help ring in 2017. They are fresh and flavorful with the unique addition of finger limes. The little vesicles of the finger limes pop in your mouth with a burst of freshness. It is almost like citrus caviar! Or nature’s Pop Rocks. 😉 If you ever see finger limes, I would highly recommend trying them. I think you’ll find them delightful!

Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger Limes

Makes 30 appetizers

1/2 block (4 ounces) reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 large ripe avocado

Handful of fresh cilantro, big stems removed

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Approximately 3 English cucumbers

30 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Approximately 1 tablespoon high heat cooking oil

Approximately 6 finger limes

In the bowl of a food processor, add the cream cheese, avocado, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Process until fully combined and smooth.

With a large peeler, peel strips of cucumber lengthwise. Stop when you reach the seedy centers. Neaten the ends of the strips with a knife. Gently pat the strips dry with a paper towel. Set aside.

Preheat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Season the shrimp on both sides with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, add the oil. Wait until the oil is hot and shimming, and then add the shrimp. Sauté on both sides until the shrimp are just cooked through. Transfer to a plate, and let cool.

Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture onto one side of each strip of cucumber. The spread should cover the whole length of cucumber. Place one shrimp on the end of each strip of cucumber. Make sure the tail is sticking up over the side. Roll the cucumber strip. Repeat until you have 30 appetizers.

To finish, squeeze a little finger lime over the top of each appetizer.

Serve immediately. They are best when they are freshly made.Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger LimesPS. Finger limes are also fun to add to your midnight sparkling wine! The little juice vesicles float up and down in the bubbles and give the drink a nice little pop of acidity.Sparkling wine with finger limes

One more Christmas cookie for the season ~ Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog Glaze

Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog GlazeI couldn’t resist making one more batch of Christmas cookies before the holiday. 🙂 I altered my sugar cookie recipe to make them eggnog sugar cookies! I added a good amount of nutmeg to the batter, and replaced a little of the butter in the original recipe with eggnog. Then I made a simple eggnog glaze as the finishing touch.

Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!

Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog Glaze

For the cookies:

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons eggnog (I used Organic Valley Eggnog)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar, or more to make a thicker glaze

1/4 cup eggnog

For the cookies:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the eggnog and vanilla, and continue beating until all of the wet ingredients are well combined. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough until it is slightly thicker than 1/8 inch. Cut into desired shapes with a cookie cutter.

Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until slightly firm in the middle, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.

For the glaze:

Whisk the sugar and eggnog together until the mixture is completely smooth. Either spread or pipe the glaze onto your cookies.

Christmas Cookies! ~ Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies

Mexican Hot Cocoa CookiesIt’s Christmastime again! I hope you are enjoying all of the things this season has to offer…the lights, the decorations, the music…and of course, the cookies. 🙂

I made these festive little Mexican hot cocoa cookies this year. They are sweet and tender bites with a little spicy heat from cayenne pepper. I also love that Mexican hot cocoa naturally includes Christmassy spices like cinnamon, and sometimes nutmeg, so these cookies seemed like a perfect choice for this time of the year. 🙂

Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies

Inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart

Makes about 18 cookies

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

6 tablespoons room temperature butter

1/2 cup + 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons skim milk

1 egg

Move your oven rack so that it is about 1/3 of the way down from the top. Preheat to 400 F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, milk, and egg. Beat until well combined. The mixture will look a bit broken when you start mixing at this point, but just keep at it, and it will come together. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The dough will be rather sticky.

In a shallow bowl, add the remaining sugar (1/4 cup) and cinnamon (1 teaspoon.) Whisk until combined.

Using a tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough. Roll the balls between your hands. Drop them into the sugar and cinnamon mixture and coat well. Place the dough balls on your prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process until you use all of the dough. Make sure the cookies have a couple of inches to spread on the sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are set and a bit cracked on top.

Happy Birthday! ~ Hidden Surprise Squirrel Cake

Hidden Surprise Squirrel CakeTo celebrate my hubby’s birthday, I surprised him with this hidden squirrel cake. He definitely was not expecting a cake quite like this, and he loved it. 🙂 Since we enjoy watching the active little squirrel community in our backyard so much, I chose this design, but you could make this cake with whatever shape suits your fancy. I think a pumpkin hidden in the middle could be very cute for Thanksgiving, or a hidden star could make a festive Christmas cake!

I made this cake using two recipes I have already posted on Noon Café. I used a double batch of chocolate devil’s food cake for the interior, and a double batch of yellow cake for the exterior. I had a little leftover cake and batter, but I just used them in a few cupcakes on the side, (and I ate a few of the leftover chocolate cake bits while I was working on this project! 😉 ) I think almost any basic cake recipe would work for this idea. The most important thing when choosing what kind of cake to use is that the colors between the two cakes need to be distinctly different.

The tools I used were a 4 inch by 9 inch loaf pan and a squirrel cookie cutter that was about 7 inches high. You could use a smaller loaf pan if you would like, and as I said before, you could use a different cutter. The cutter you choose just needs to be smaller than the pan.

Grease your loaf pan and line with parchment paper to make sure the cake comes out in one piece without sticking. Make the cake batter that you will use for your cutout design first. Fill the pan about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake. The cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the top springs back to the touch. My double batch of devil’s food cake took about 80 minutes to cook through. Let the cake cool completely.

Remove the cake from the pan. Cut it into slices that are not thicker than the depth of your cookie cutter. Then cut each slice with your cutter and stack them together. Set aside.

Make the second cake batter for the outside of the cake. Put some of the batter into a piping bag.

Grease the same loaf pan you used before and line with parchment paper to make sure the cake comes out in one piece without sticking.

Pipe a line of batter lengthwise into the bottom of the pan. This will help “glue” the shapes to the bottom and keep them from moving while they bake. Set the cutout cake shapes upright in a row along the line of batter. The row of cutouts should go the full length of the pan, touching both ends to help keep it all in place. Pipe the batter with a pastry bag to get under the crevices of the shape. Fill the pan about 3/4 full with the batter, and gently smooth the top. Rap the pan on the counter to make sure the batter is settled without any big air bubbles.

Bake. The cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the top springs back to the touch. My yellow cake took about 70 minutes to cook through. Let the cake cool completely.

When you slice into the cake, you should see your cutout design! This is more of a technique than a recipe, so there is a lot of room for creativity with different flavors and shapes. I am excited to try some different variations after we eat this one. 🙂 I hope you’ll give it a try!

If you are like me, you might find it easier to learn these techniques by seeing them rather than reading about them. Here is a little video of a bunny cake that uses the same technique I used for my squirrel cake.Hidden Surprise Squirrel Cake

Cozy Autumn Treat ~ Pumpkin Spice Latte Muffins

Pumpkin Spiced Latte MuffinsNothing says autumn in Seattle more to me than a warm pumpkin spice latte. I got my first cup of the season and sipped it by the lake under the colorful autumn leaves. Ahh…

To recreate the flavors at home, I made a batch of pumpkin spice latte muffins. 🙂 They are filled with a good bit of pumpkin puree, warm spices, and a generous amount of espresso. A perfect breakfast treat to start any autumn day.

The cute (and free!) printables are from a website called Weigh to Maintain. They were actually meant for another purpose, but I thought they were a perfect way to dress up these little muffins.Pumpkin Spiced Latte MuffinsPumpkin Spice Latte Muffins

Makes about 16 muffins

1 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

5 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Pinch of kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup light olive oil

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar

2/3 cup skim milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients, from the flour through the salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk all of the wet ingredients, from the eggs to the vanilla.

Then add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, and whisk until just combined. Take care not to mix the batter too much at this point.

Fill your paper liners about 3/4 full. Bake the muffins for about 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into one of the muffins comes out clean.Pumpkin Spiced Latte Muffins

Pumpkin Season ~ Pumpkin Whole-Wheat Dinner Rolls

Pumpkin Dinner RollsTonight is a blustery and rainy night in Seattle. Perfect for a bowl of hot soup and warm pumpkin dinner rolls!

I transformed my recipe for whole-wheat dinner rolls with dill to make these pumpkin rolls. I love creative and fun pumpkin recipes at this time of the year, so when I discovered different versions of this idea online, I knew I wanted to try a batch with my own recipe. I think they are almost too cute to eat…*Almost.* 😉 They are savory, but they have a hint of warm pumpkin spice.

Pumpkin Whole-Wheat Dinner Rolls

Makes 8 dinner rolls

1/4 cup warm skim milk (about 80 degrees F.)

1/2 tablespoon dry active yeast

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 3/4 cups white whole-wheat flour

All-purpose flour for dusting work surface

Approximately 1 tablespoon beaten egg

4 cinnamon sticks broken in half to make 8 pieces

Place a piece of parchment paper on a half sheet pan, and spray the parchment with cooking spray. Make sure you have enough room in your refrigerator for the sheet pan where the rolls will rest overnight.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, add the milk. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk. Let stand until the yeast and milk mixture looks a little frothy, about 5 minutes. Next, add the ingredients from the sugar through the whole-wheat flour to the bowl. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 10 minutes. The dough will be elastic and sticky.

Remove the dough from the bowl onto a clean work surface that is lightly dusted with all-purpose flour. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Sprinkle a little extra all-purpose flour over the dough and on your hands if the dough sticks.

Form the rolls into your desired shape. To make the pumpkin shaped rolls, form each piece into a ball. Gently press each ball into a disc. With a very sharp knife, cut 8 slits all around the sides of each disc, taking care to leave the center intact. Press a small indentation into the center of each roll. Place the rolls on the prepared baking sheet. Take care to leave enough space between the rolls to allow them to rise without touching each other.

Spray the tops of the rolls with nonstick cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let the rolls rest in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, remove the rolls from the refrigerator. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes, or until close to doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Brush the rolls with the beaten egg. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown. Push the cinnamon sticks into the center of each roll to make the “stems.”Pumpkin Dinner Rolls

Halloween Season ~ Barmbrack

BarmbrackIt’s that time of year again for all things Halloween!

For my first treat of the season, I made Irish Halloween bread called Barmbrack. Since the holiday began with an ancient Celtic festival, I thought this bread would be a nice way to celebrate the history of Halloween.

I also love the tradition that goes along with this bread. In the past, different objects were baked into the loaf, such as a ring or a coin. The ring meant that the person who received it would be married within the year, and the coin meant riches. There were also items baked into the bread that were said to signify bad luck. For instance, a piece of cloth meant poverty, and a thimble meant you would never marry. These customs have mostly gone by the wayside, and I didn’t bake any objects into my cake since I didn’t want to chance an unexpected visit to the dentist. 😉 But I still love the tradition!

Barmbrack

Based on a recipe from The New York Times

1 cup strong hot black tea (preferably Irish breakfast tea!)

1 cup currants

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon skim milk, slightly warmed

1 teaspoon dry active yeast

1 large egg, beaten

1 2/3 cups white whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the loaf pan

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

In a medium bowl, combine the tea, currants, and raisins. Let sit for about 2 hours, or until the fruit plumps up with the tea. Strain, but reserve the extra liquid.

In a liquid measuring cup, combine the milk and the yeast. Let sit for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture looks frothy. Add the beaten egg and 1/3 cup of the strained tea to the milk mixture.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour, spices, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients. Then add 2 tablespoons of butter and beat until it is combined into the flour mixture. Add the milk mixture, and beat until the dough forms a large ball. Add the fruit and zests. Beat until well combined, about 5 minutes. The dough will be very sticky.

Butter a nonstick loaf pan.

Transfer the dough to the prepared loaf pan, and spread until it is an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Check to make sure your oven rack is in the center. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake the loaf for about 48 minutes. When it is done, the top should be brown, and the bottom should sound hollow when tapped with your finger.

Allow the loaf to completely cool on a wire rack before cutting with a serrated knife.Barmbrack

Wedding Anniversary Dinner ~ Lemon Verbena Whole-Wheat Shortbread Cookies

Lemon Verbena ShortbreadI made two desserts for our sweet sixteenth wedding anniversary dinner – The blackberry cabernet gelée I blogged about earlier, and these lemon verbena whole-wheat shortbread cookies. I love the bright citrusy flavor of lemon verbena, which is a nice compliment to these buttery cookies. They were the perfect ending to a beautiful summer evening celebration!

Lemon Verbena Whole-Wheat Shortbread Cookies

Approximately 20 leaves of fresh lemon verbena, stems removed, roughly chopped

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

All-purpose flour for dusting work surface

In the bowl of a food processor, add the lemon verbena, whole-wheat pastry flour, and salt. Process until the lemon verbena leaves are cut into tiny pieces.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Be careful not to overmix at this point.

Form the dough into a disc and cover with plastic wrap. Let chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sprinkle a little all-purpose flour on a rolling pin and a clean work surface. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until cooked through.Lemon Verbena Shortbread

Wedding Anniversary Dinner ~ Blackberry Cabernet Gelée

Blackberry Cabernet GeléeAfter the main course of duck breast with a farmers’ market plum sauce, the grand finale of our anniversary dinner was a duo of desserts. (Since this anniversary was our sweet sixteen, I thought two desserts were in order! 😉 ) I made blackberry cabernet gelée accompanied by lemon verbena shortbread cookies. (The cookie recipe will follow in my next post.)

I have enjoyed making several gelatin desserts this summer, and I thought this blackberry and cabernet gelée was an elegant way to close the season. I also loved that they could be made a day in advance, so I wasn’t in the kitchen all day on our anniversary.

Blackberry Cabernet Gelée

Based on a recipe from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup apple juice

1/2 cup cold water

1 packet or 2 1/2 teaspoons of Knox powdered gelatin

1 cup Cabernet Sauvignon (I used one from 14 Hands Winery)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 pint of blackberries

Set aside pretty serving glasses. Add several blackberries to each glass.

In a medium bowl, add the apple juice and water. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top of the liquids. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until the gelatin has bloomed.

In a medium saucepan, add the wine and the sugar. Bring to a boil and let the sugar dissolve.

Once the sugar has dissolved, pour the wine mixture into the apple juice mixture. Whisk to combine.

Transfer the mixture to a vessel with a spout. Fill the serving glasses. Refrigerate until the gelatin has set. I let mine chill overnight.

Wedding Anniversary Dinner ~ Whole-Wheat Dinner Rolls with Dill

Dill RollsThis weekend, my hubby and I celebrated our wedding anniversary! This year was our sweet 16. 🙂

Every year I love to make a special meal for the occasion, and this year was no different. This year’s dinner featured the beautiful summer produce that I found at our farmers’ markets. All of the dishes were fresh and summery.

We started with whole-wheat dinner rolls seasoned with fresh dill. I tied them into a knot (since we tied the knot 16 years ago! 😉 ) I served them with corn and coconut soup garnished with a good bit of Dungeness crab. The rolls were a nice accompaniment to dip into the soup.Dill RollsWhole-Wheat Dinner Rolls with Dill

Makes 6 dinner rolls

2 tablespoons warm water (about 80 degrees F.)

1/2 tablespoon dry active yeast

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced (measure after mincing)

1/2 teaspoon dill seed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 3/4 cups white whole-wheat flour

All-purpose flour for dusting work surface

Approximately 1 tablespoon beaten egg

Approximately 1/2 tablespoon coarse salt

Place a piece of parchment paper on a half sheet pan, and spray the parchment with cooking spray. Make sure you have enough room in your refrigerator for the sheet pan where the rolls will rest overnight.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, add the water. Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let stand until the yeast and water mixture looks creamy, about 5 minutes. Next, add the ingredients from the sugar through the whole-wheat flour to the bowl. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 10 minutes. The dough will be elastic and sticky.

Remove the dough from the bowl onto a clean work surface that is lightly dusted with all-purpose flour. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Sprinkle a little extra all-purpose flour over the dough and on your hands if the dough sticks.

Form the rolls into your desired shape. To make knots like I did, roll one piece of dough between your hands until it is about 12 inches long. Tie the dough into a loose knot. Then take one loose end of dough and bring it up and over to the center of the knot. Take the other end of the dough, and gently pull it down and under to the center of the knot. The ends should be tucked underneath so no loose ends are visible. Gently press the sides of the knot so it is round. Place the roll on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining 5 rolls. Take care to leave enough space between the rolls to allow them to rise without touching each other.

Spray the tops of the rolls with nonstick cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let the rolls rest in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, remove the rolls from the refrigerator. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes, or until close to doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Brush the rolls with the beaten egg, and sprinkle a little coarse salt on top. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown.Dill Rolls

Savoring the end of summer ~ Corn Dog Muffins

Corn Dog MuffinsI hope you have enjoyed your summer so far! For me, it has been a summer filled with time at the beach, several good books, and visits to local festivals. But summer isn’t over yet. 🙂 I am trying to savor the last of the warm weather before it’s time to enjoy autumn’s pleasures!

Before August comes to a close, I wanted to share one more summery recipe. These little corn dog mini muffins were inspired by the fun food I see at festivals and carnivals. Dip these little muffins into ketchup for the full corn dog experience.

The sweet little summer printables on top of my muffins are from a blog called Glued To My Crafts. So adorable! They are free to print for personal use, so maybe you can incorporate them into your end-of-summer celebrations. 🙂

Corn Dog Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup finely ground cornmeal

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1 1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

3 tablespoons light olive oil

1 large egg

3 vegetarian frankfurters cut into approximately 1/4-inch pieces (I used frankfurters from Field Roast)

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners. Spray the inside of the liners with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (from the flour to the salt.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (from the buttermilk to the egg.)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk until just combined. Add the chopped frankfurters, and stir until they are coated in batter.

Fill the muffin liners about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake for about 13 minutes, or until the muffins spring back to the touch.Corn Dog Muffins