Monday, December 13, 2010

Big Soft Ginger Cookies

This recipe could NOT be easier - I promise! If you like cookies that are soft on the inside but a tiny bit hard on the outside, then you need to make these.. I baked them on Friday night and they are still amazingly delicious and soft today - 4 days later...

I copied this recipe from To give you some insight on just HOW good these cookies are - it was rated 5 out of 5 stars on the website based on 2,599 reviews. COME ON! You can't get much better than that - am I right? The combination of molasses and ginger is a real winner in my book - your kitchen will smell like Grandma's house once these go in the oven.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp water
1/4 cup molasses 
2 tbsp white sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.
3. Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven. My oven took 11 minutes to bake them (one tray at a time), turning halfway between baking. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. (a.k.a. Tupperware from Mom) Makes 2 dozen cookies. I somehow ended up with  38 cookies? Not complaining though!

Tutti Mangia!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Down in the Dirty South

Pulled pork is a form of barbecue that gets cooked over slow heat, typically in a slow cooker or smoker. It cooks low and slow, softening the connective tissue in the meat so that you can "pull" it apart. There are arguments in the South over whose pork reigns supreme! Multiple cities and states in the lower half of our country all claim to have the best pulled pork but the secret is all in their sauce - check it out!

North Carolina - EAST (vinegar based sauce) vs WEST (heavy ketchup based sauce)
South Carolina - mustard based, vinegar based, and light and heavy tomato based
Memphis - tomato and vinegar based sauce, pork is usually rubbed with dry seasoning first and served with sauce on the side
Kansas City - sweet and spicy sauce usually containing molasses
Alabama - traditional and unusual mayonnaise based white sauce
Kentucky - Worcestershire and vinegar based sauce (sometimes bourbon is added)
Louisiana - hot and spicy with Cajun and Creole flavors
Georgia - ketchup, mustard and vinegar based sauce
Texas - BEEF (brisket) not pork... multiple flavors and styles (typically spicy!)

The recipe for pulled pork that I stumbled upon on Better Homes & Gardens' website is definitely a keeper. It is such a fast meal because you basically add the ingredients into your slow cooker and let that do all the work! When you get home from work, the smell of barbecue welcomes you into the house - it's amazing, to say the least. I already made this recipe twice this week - once in quesedilla form with some melted cheese and once on small soft dinner rolls.

3-3 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder
1 cup chopped sweet onion (1 large)
6 cloves garlic, minced (I used 3 big cloves)
1 12oz bottle chili sauce*
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp chili powder (I used 1 tsp instead)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1. Trim fat from meat. If necessary, cut pork to fit a 4-5 quart slow cooker. Place pork, onion and garlic in slow cooker. In a medium bowl, combine chili sauce, brown sugar, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, salt and pepper. Pour over pork in cooker. (I don't even bother dirtying another bowl - I make sure the pork, onion and garlic is touching the bottom of the slow cooker and then add all the other ingredients over the top.)
2. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 10-11 hours or on high-heat setting for 5-6 hours. Remove pork from cooker, reserving juices. Using two forks, shred pork, discarding any fat. Skim fat from juices. Add enough juices to the pork to moisten. Place 2-cup portions of pork in airtight containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Makes 6 cups. Calories - 386 / Fat - 13g
*Chili sauce picture taken from

There is no doubt a dispute in the South on which region has the best BBQ sauce. Each of them have different recipes for success but they all put their heart into their food. I am more than happy sampling them all in an attempt to personally make that decision but that more than likely will not be happening anytime soon. For now, I will settle for eating outstandingly delicious food with family and friends! Tutti Mangia!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Apple Coffee Cake with Crumble Topping and Brown Sugar Glaze

This recipe is courtesy of Mr. Emeril Lagassi from Food Network. It got rated with 5 stars based on 205 user reviews so it was a no-brainer to try this recipe out for a "Hot Chocolate" party that one of my friends was hosting. There are a lot of ingredients, but if you look through the list, most of them you probably already have in your pantry. That worked out for me - the only extra things I had to buy were apples and sour cream.

Coffee cake is a moist, tender cake usually topped with a streusel and/or glaze as opposed to a frosting. There does not have to be coffee listed in its ingredients. The name was derived because it is a cake meant to be eaten alongside coffee (or tea). There are very few things I like better then getting the chance to eat cake for breakfast and I know I'm not alone here! This recipe even has fruit added to it so give it a try!

1 stick plus 2 tsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples (I used granny smith)

Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

Brown Sugar Glaze:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp water (I had to add a little more water to get it at a "glaze" consistency

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13" x 9" glass baking dish with 2 tsp of the butter. In a large bowl, cream together the remaining stick of butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating after the addition of each. In a separate bowl or on a piece of parchment, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to the wet ingredints, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla. Fold in the apples. Pour into the baking dish, spreading out to the edges.
To make the topping, in a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter, and mix until it resembles course crumbs. (I used a fork to do this) Sprinkle the topping over the cake and bake until golden brown and set, 35-40 minutes. It took my oven about an hour to fully cook. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

To make the glaze, in a bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla and water and mix until smooth. I doubled the recipe ingredients for the glaze - on purpose! WHOOPS! Drizzle the cake with glaze and let harden slightly. Serve warm. Tutti Mangia!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Baked Rigatoni with Turkey Bolognese

This is a great dish to make when the weather starts to get cold... The slow simmering of the sauce allows the flavors to blend and concentrate and creates a delicious homemade tomato sauce that will make your mouth water. The base of a Bolognese sauce is a soffritto - basically an Italian version of a mirepoix.

The components of a soffritto typically include onion, carrot, celery and garlic, slowly sauteed in olive oil. The difference between the French version is that Italians use olive oil and garlic. This is also known as the Holy Trinity in Creole cooking, refogado in Portugese and sofrito in Spanish. Maybe you'll see these terms make a come-back in some of my later posts...

Traditional Bolognese sauce oringinated in Bologna, a city in Northern Italy. That is no where near where my family is from in Italy but worth stealing their recipes! Nowadays you can use any combination of meats, vegetables and a tomato based sauce to create Bolognese sauce. I love being able to use a little creativity in the kitchen! It's all about having fun right? I had a general idea of how to make this dish but I found a recipe that you can replicate from another awesome blog. I've copied it below:

To start the Bolognese:
1 tbsp canola oil
1 lb ground turkey
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

To finish the sauce:
1 tbsp canola oil (I always use olive oil)
8 cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced (I omitted this but used 1 stalk celery instead)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes (I used 2 cans)
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 zucchini, large dice (left this out this time)
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

8 oz dried Rigatoni, cooked according to directions on package
3 oz Havarti, grated (I used only mozzarella, so doubled the amount needed)
3 oz part-skim mozzarella, shredded

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray an 8"x11.5" glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. Place a large pot of water over high heat. Add a large handful of salt. Bring to a boil.

Place a large saute pan over high heat. Add 1 tbsp canola oil. Once the oil is almost smoking hot, add the ground turkey to the pan. Sprinkle the turkey with the salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, break up the turkey. Allow the turkey to brown, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Remove browned turkey from pan, drain and set aside. Return saute pan to medium heat.

Add 1 tbsp canola oil to the saute pan. Add the cremini mushrooms, onions and carrots to the pan. Saute the veggies over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes until the onions are translucent and the carrots are soft. Add the garlic to the pan and saute for another 1 minute. Add the dried basil and oregano. Saute for 1 more minute. Using your hands, individually crush the whole tomatoes into pan. Once all the tomatoes have been crushed, add the rest of the juice left in the can as well as the browned turkey back into the pan. Stir. Bring sauce to a simmer.

Simmer sauce over medium heat until nearly all of the liquid from the tomatoes has cooked away, about 30-40 minutes stirring occasionally. Once liquid has cooked away, taste and adjust seasonings as desired with salt and pepper. After about 20 minutes of simmering the sauce, boil the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain.

Add the cooked pasta, diced zucchini and basil to the finished sauce. Stir thoroughly to evenly coat. Pour the pasta and sauce into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle mozzarella and Havarti evenly over the top of the pasta. Place into a preheated 450 degree oven. Bake until the cheese is melted and golden in areas, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh basil if desired. Tutti Mangia!

* Bologna picture taken from

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Devon's Cupcakes

I first have to apologize for being non-existent! I am making a New Year's resolution a month early - and that is to blog WAY MORE often! I promise I will never go a whole month again without a post!
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Shaun's cousin Devon had her 13th birthday recently so I made her cupcakes to celebrate with the family. I got the recipe for these cupcakes off Martha Stewart's website.They were called Vanilla Letter Cupcakes on there but I renamed them in Devon's honor. I've been searching for a home-made vanilla cupcake recipe and this is definitely a strong contender! Beware - this recipe is a long one but worth it in the end!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well. Add vanilla. Reduce speed to medium. Mix in 3 batches of flour mixture, alternating with 2 batches of milk. Raise speed to medium-high; mix until thoroughly blended, 10 to 20 seconds.

Spoon 1/4 cup batter into each muffin cup. Bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let cool in tin on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tin; let cool completely. Line tin with muffin cups; repeat process with remaining batter. Makes 2 dozen cupcakes.

Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, softened
6 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt

Put butter in bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium; add sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well, about 5 minutes total. Add vanilla and salt. Raise speed to medium-high; beat until smooth, about 1 minute more. Makes 5 1/4 cups.

Transfer buttercream to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe buttercream onto each cupcake in a spiral pattern, starting at the edges and ending with a peak in the center. OR - feel free to use store-bought icing!

Iced Letter Cookies
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Black icing tube to write with OR cut mini-letters from dough

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 mins. Mix in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture until combined. Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 1/8-inch thick. Cut twelve 2-inch circles and twelve 1 1/2-inch circles using cookie cutters. Cut out centers with a mini letter-shaped cookie cutter. Transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper. If cookies become soft, refrigerate until firm, 20-30 mins. Bake, switching positions of sheets about halfway through, until just golden, about 10-12 mins. Transfer cookies on parchment to wire racks; let cool completely. Makes 2 dozen.

Place 1 iced letter cookie upright in the buttercream of each cupcake. Tutti Mangia!

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