Saturday, August 20, 2016

6th Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest

I’m having a sugar crash right now writing this post because I just got back from the 6th Annual Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest.  I just ate enough sweets to last me a month…
My mom joined me along with my friends Thao, Crystal, Kate & Brent.  Here’s our amazing spread of cupcakes:
I attended for the 5th Annual Contest last year, which was held at the Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Pete.  I think that year they underestimated how much people like cupcakes because it was WAY too crowded and almost impossible to navigate.  This year, they moved to a larger venue just down the road – the Morean Center for Clay.  Lance and I had actually attended a Meet the Chefs event there last December. 

The contest is a mix of professional bakers and amateur cupcake enthusiasts.  This year I was especially impressed with the creativity in flavors and presentation.  There were Cookie Monsters, mini churros, a Ferris Wheel display, and dried pineapple "flowers" (I saw this technique at the "Cupcakes and Cocktails" event at the Epicurean Theatre last year...) 

You can try as many cupcakes as you’d like for free, but then it is $1 per ticket to vote for your favorites (the proceeds benefit the Morean Center).  Luckily most people bake mini cupcakes – although even with the small ones, it was impossible to try them all.  It’s best if you have someone that you can split them with so you can taste a wider variety. 

There were so many talented bakers, but a couple definitely stood out.  There was an apple cupcake that was so incredibly moist – that was one of the first I tried.  One cinnamon cupcake actually had a little liquor injector that let you squeeze Horchata into the center.   

There was a cupcake that had Earl Gray tea in the frosting embellished with an adorable fondant teacup! 

Probably my favorite of all though was the black forest cupcakes with chocolate dipped cherries and incredibly rich chocolate cupcakes. 

Judges select the best novice and professional bakers, then the tickets determine the People’s Choice awards.  Here are this year's winners:

Novice Category:
1st Place: Monica McLaughlin - Root Beer Float
2nd Place: Lauren Haught - Lime w/ Strawberry and Basil Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Professional Category:
1st Place: Diane Ratto - Peanut Butter Cream Banana Dream
2nd Place: Joyce King - Angry Orchard Apple Crumb

Specialty Category (Gluten or Vegan entries):
1st Place: Deborah Molise - Pumpkin Cheescake
2nd Place: Brittney Sherley - Vegan Double Mocha

People's Choice:
1st Place: Jen Jacobs - Chai Latte w/ Brown Butter Marscapone Buttercream
2nd Place: Michelle Saxton - Dark Chocolate Coffee w/ Cream Cheese Buttercream

Additional Awards:
Best Overall Frosting: Jen Jacobs - Chai Latte w/ Brown Butter Marscapone Buttercream
Best Chocolate of the Day: Michelle Garner - Junk Cupcake
Flavor Pop: Amy Turner - Bubble Gum Cupcake
Artistic Award: Melissa Howes - Honey w/ Strawberry & Earl Grey

Now time for a nap…

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Homemade Corn Chowder

Last week a Winn Dixie flyer came in the mail featuring a recipe by chef Curtis Stone for fresh corn chowder.  I don’t make soup all that often (maybe because it’s Florida and 90 degrees out most of the time…) but this one looked really tasty. 

Lance’s only critique of the original recipe was that it ONLY had 3 slices of bacon in the whole soup…so to make him happy I doubled it to 6 slices.  With the heavy cream and all that bacon, it isn’t the healthiest of soups, but it is hearty and filling. 

Homemade Corn Chowder (adapted from Curtis Stone)

  • 6 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
  • ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 large sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¼ tsp red pepper
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 5 tsp whole wheat flour (that’s the only flour I have…)
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk (I actually just had 2%, so I did a bit more cream and a bit less of the milk)
  • 4 ears corn, husked, kernels removed
  • 1 can corn
  • 2 t chopped parsley (I only had dried but fresh would be better)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • Salt & pepper

1. Heat a large heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until crisp.

2. Add onions, garlic, thyme, and red pepper and cook, stirring often, for about 4 minutes or until onions start to become tender.

3. Add celery and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.  Sprinkle in flour and stir for about 2 minutes.

4. Stir in stock, cream, and milk and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add spinach. 

5. Stir in corn and simmer 5-10 more minutes or until chowder begins to thicken.  Remove and discard thyme stems.  Season with salt & pepper. 

6. Stir in half the parsley.  Ladle chowder into bowls and sprinkle with remaining parsley.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Homemade Crockpot Applesauce

Lance just got his wisdom teeth out, finally.  This means that our fridge is stocked full of mush right now – jello, pudding, ice cream, etc. 

I had just bought a giant bag of apples before his surgery, not thinking about the fact that I’d have to eat them all on my own.  I decided to try making homemade applesauce so he could enjoy them too. 

After this, I won’t ever get store-bought applesauce again.  It’s made in the crockpot so it’s super simple and cooking the apples for such a long time gives them a much richer flavor – the Motts stuff seems so bland compared to this. 

It’s amazing just on its own, but I’ve been enjoying it added to oatmeal or on top of vanilla ice cream (like I said, our fridge is all soft foods right now…)  This recipe made 2 large mason jars worth, but next time I plan to double it since we went through them so quick. 

Crockpot Applesauce (adapted from Pip and Ebby)
  • 10 medium apples (I used Gala)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • Juice from ½ a lemon

1.    Peel and core the apples (you can leave the skin on if you’d like the texture, but I wanted it to be as easy to eat as possible so Lance could enjoy it…)
2.    Dump everything into a crock pot and cook for 8 hours.

3.    Use a potato masher or large fork to break up the apples.  Enjoy!  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Northwest Salad

We just got back from our honeymoon in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver (ate so much great food – more on that soon!)

I also just started a new job this week doing marketing for an architecture firm which is super exciting.  Lots of big changes lately… 

I have to be up pretty early for work, so I’ve been packing my lunch the night ahead.  And after indulging ourselves on vacation, we’re trying to eat healthy and get back to a routine. 

It seems that every place we visited in the northwest had amazing salads – a lot of them including beets, sweet potatoes, avocado, and other ingredients I normally associate with fall.  I stocked up on tons of these ingredients at Trader Joe’s as soon as we got back from our trip, so we have plenty to keep us eating well. 

One of the non-traditional items we asked for on our wedding registry was gift cards to Joe & Son’s Olive Oils.  We already bought several varieties – including chipotle infused olive oil, Tuscan herb olive oil, and fig balsamic.  They are perfect for simple salad dressings (and we’ve used them to drizzle on popcorn as well). 

I’ve made a version of this salad 3 times this week already – it’s my new favorite lunch.  You can add or subtract ingredients as you like, but one of the things I like is that it has such a wide variety of ingredients.  You can include whatever veggies you like, or even add hard-boiled eggs, chicken, or other proteins. 

Northwest Salad


Combine all ingredients & enjoy!  If you are planning to bring this for lunch, wait to add the nuts and the dressing to keep it from getting soggy (although this does hold up pretty well even with dressing…) 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tomato, Apricot & Ricotta Flatbread

Here’s another recipe from my latest Cooking Light magazine (two in a week!) I thought peaches were in season but for some reason Publix didn’t have any, so I substituted apricots instead. 

You could grill your flatbread, but since it was pouring rain the other night when we made this, we just baked ours in the oven.  It was ready in less than 15 minutes.

Tomato, Apricot & Ricotta Flatbread: (adapted from Cooking Light)
  • ¾ cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 T finely chopped green onions, divided
  • 1 T finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • ½ t black pepper
  • 1 package naan breads (like Stone Fire)
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced (we also had a baby tomato from our garden we threw in since it was ripe)
  • 1 apricot, pitted and sliced
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 T fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/8 t sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle 1T olive oil over the naan and cook in the oven for about 5 minutes.  

2. Combine the ricotta with the other 1T olive oil, 1T green onions, oregano, and pepper. 

3. Remove naan from the oven and spread ricotta mixture evenly over.  Top with tomato and peach slices, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. 

4.  Put back in oven for 5-10 more minutes or until the flatbread gets to your desired crispness. 

5. Sprinkle with remaining 1T green onions, bail, and salt.  Enjoy!  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Slow-Cooker Beef Lettuce Wraps

Two nights in a row of new recipes!  I love anything Asian-inspired.  I get a few cooking magazines in the mail (Everyday with Rachael Ray, Cooking Light, Southern Living).  Honestly, I don’t end up cooking the recipes as much as I’d like – most of my meal ideas come from Pinterest.  But I like getting something in snail-mail besides bills and junk. 

My June copy of Cooking Light had this recipe for beef lettuce wraps with pickled vegetables.  It only had cucumbers and carrots, but I added some red bell peppers, green onions, and mushrooms to make it extra veggie-filled. 

My favorite lettuce wraps are the ones at the Cheesecake Factory.  I rarely eat there anymore since I prefer trying out non-chain restaurants, but every time I go, that’s my dish.  Somehow it’s considered an appetizer but it’s big enough for two people to split it as a meal (that restaurant definitely doesn’t understand portion sizes…)

The beef wraps that we made were so filling that I actually could only eat two. Even though the beef cooks in juices, next time I may throw together a separate dipping sauce since I love the ones from the Cheesecake Factory version (maybe a peanut sauce could be nice?)

Lance actually used the leftovers from this dish to make a really tasty quiche a few days later. 

Slow-Cooker Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps: (adapted from Cooking Light)
  • Cooking spray (we always use coconut oil spray)
  • 1 large onion, cut into ½” slices
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1-1/2 t olive oil
  • 1 2-lb boneless chuck roast, trimmed
  • ½ cup unsalted beef stock
  • ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 11 T rice vinegar, divided
  • 2 T dark sesame oil, divided
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 2 T unsalted tomato paste
  • 1 T white miso/soybean paste (I omitted this since it wasn’t an ingredient I’d normally use…)
  • ¾ t crushed red pepper
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • ¾ cup julienne-cut carrots
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • ½ cup mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ cup green onions, sliced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 T granulated sugar
  • ¾ t sale
  • 1 head cabbage
  • 2 t toasted sesame seeds

1. Coat the bottom and sides of your slow cooker with spray.  Line with onions and garlic. 

2. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the roast to the pan, cooking about 3 minutes and turning to brown all sides.  Place the beef on top of the onions and garlic and pour the drippings from the pan on top.

3. Combine the stock, soy sauce, 3 T of the vinegar, 1 T sesame oil, brown sugar, tomato paste, and red pepper in a medium bowl and whisk together.  Pour over the beef, cover the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours.

4. Place the cucumber, carrots, and red pepper in a shallow bowl 15 minutes before the meat is done.  Combine the remaining ½ cup rice vinegar, 1 cup water, and granulated sugar in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and pour over the vegetables.  Let stand until ready to serve, then drain well. 

5. Move the beef from the slow cooker to a large platter and shred with 2 forks.   

6. Heat the remaining 1 T sesame oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shredded beef and onions, pressing into an even layer.  Cook 2-3 minutes without stirring. Turn off and sprinkle with salt and ½ c liquid from the crock pot (discard the rest of the liquid). 

7. Serve the beef with the pickled vegetables, green onions, and mushrooms.  Top with sesame seeds.