ANNOUNCING: Change is part of life, and apparently, it's part of blogging, too. As of September 5, 2013, I'm merging The Virtual Goody Plate with Disco Mom Takes on the World and whatever else may henceforth spill from my fingertips (and kitchen), into one great new blog. I hope you'll join me there in exclaiming, "THIS IS AWESOMELAND."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Monster Cupcakes

Heh heh heh - hello, my pretties and Happy Halloween!

I found these adorable cupcakes in Family Fun magazine like six months ago, and have been holding onto the idea until I could make them for Halloween. Then this week was like one of my busiest ever, but if I didn't get these made I'd have to wait until NEXT YEAR which is out of the question so I made them in parts throughout the week and put it all together for Hazel's preschool Halloween party (where I was gratified to see many kids choose them from the dessert spread, which included a ghost cookie graveyard and candy eyeballs!)

I'm not usually one to focus on decorations, but for Halloween I made a special exception. Stretched myself a bit, buying melting candy discs and black gel icing, but it was worth it - so adorable! If you don't know where to find mini M&M's, I found them in a plastic tube at the check-out stand at CVS and then later also saw them at a party store and dollar store.

Monster Cupcakes
2 dozen cupcakes from your favorite recipe (I did a straight-up devil's food cake mix)
3.4 oz box of vanilla instant pudding (or if you have time really do the cooked pudding - it tastes so much better! - or you could just do pistachio instead of coloring vanilla pudding green)
Green food coloring
1 cup green melting candy (like Wilton - you can get it at Michael's)
24 large marshmallows
Skewers or toothpicks
Waxed-paper-lined baking sheet
Mini M&M's
Melon baller
Chocolate frosting (store-bought or make your own buttercream)
Black gel icing
1. Bake and cool 2 dozen cupcakes. Prepare pudding. Stir in drops of food coloring until you have a shade you like, then place it in refrigerator to chill.

2. Microwave green melting candy for 1 minute at 50% power, then stir. If necessary, heat at 15-second intervals until completely melted. (Never having used these before, I was sloppy and over heated them the first time so I know now that's possible to do - just heat until melted and stir smooth.) One at a time, spear 24 marshmallows with skewer or toothpick and roll them in melted candy, coating the sides. Set them on a waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Add M&M's for eyes, and place in fridge to chill.3. Add black gel facial features on chilled and hardened marshmallows.
4. Using small serrated knife or melon baller, remove 1-inch-wide chunk from center of each cupcake. Fill each hole with a tablespoon of pudding, then spread chocolate frosting around pudding hole. 5. Cover each pool of pudding with a chilled marshmallow. Top each monster head with a bit of frosting and muss with your finger or a fork. Keep cupcakes chilled until serving time.Recipe from Family Fun magazine

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bread Machine Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I love my bread machine, and I often try new recipes with it, but I only have a handful of tried-and-trues that I know I can rely on, and that are so delicious I come back to them over and over. Naturally this is one of them.

My favorite bread machine feature is the DELAY TIMER. It allows me to dump in all the ingredients, and set the time I want the bread to finish, up to 13 hours from now. The bread cycle takes 3 hours but if I'm going to be gone or busy for longer than that, enter the delay timer. I use it with this bread almost every time, especially to set the bread to finish just as we get home from church - oh, the heavenly smells that welcome us! Or like this week - I set it up at night after doing the dinner dishes, and timed it to finish around 7:30 the next morning, just about the time we are rousing and thinking of breakfast. Waking to such beguiling aromas as yeast and cinnamon - with absolutely no work on my part! - could make me cry if I'm feeling poetic, or at the very least, start my day in the best of moods.

We love this bread with butter, honey, apple butter, blackberry jam, pumpkin butter, even cream cheese. Slice it thick and have it warm the first day, then toast it the next, or use it to make french toast or even croutons for a sweet-and-savory salad (Craisins, spicy sweet pecans, pears, feta, lettuce, etc.)

Bread Machine Cinnamon Raisin Bread
1 1/4 cups water
2 T butter
3 1/4 cups bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 1/4 tsp bread machine yeast
1 cup raisins (or any dried fruit or berries of your choice such as blueberries, cherries, currants, etc. I use Trader Joe's Golden Berry Blend)

1. Place all the ingredients except the raisins in the bread machine pan in the order your machine manual recommends. If you have dry ingredients on top, place raisins on top of them.

2. Process on the basic/white cycle. Seriously, that's it.

Recipe from The One-Armed Cook by Cynthia Graubart and Catherine Fliegel

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chocolate Honey Zucchini Muffins

This recipe caught my attention on one of those tear-off pads at Penzeys, stationed above the big bags of natural cocoa powder. Interesting combination. We already know chocolate-zucchini is a winning team, but sweetening it with honey rather than sugar made me curious.

And sure enough, these are delicious. Moist, fragrant, packed with hidden veggies and studded with chocolate chips - they are the perfect breakfast on the go, after school snack, or even healthy-ish dessert. And about the honey - you can taste a hint of it when they're warm from the oven, but the next day you wouldn't even know. Very cool. Very yummy.

Chocolate Honey Zucchini Muffins
2 cups flour
1/2 cup natural cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup honey
3 eggs
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini (about 2 small)
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup raw sugar for topping, optional (I left this out)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 12-cup muffin pan or use paper liners.

2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

3. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and vanilla. Slowly add the honey in a fine stream while mixing. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the dry ingredients 1/3 at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in zucchini and 2/3 of the chocolate chips by hand.

4. Pour the batter into the muffin cups evenly so they are 3/4 full. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips and bake for 20 to 22 minutes until firm. (Optional: after 10 minutes in oven, sprinkle raw sugar on top of half-baked muffins.) Carefully remove from pans right away and cool on wire racks. Makes 22 to 24 muffins.

*Healthier version:  Use 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat flour.  Decrease butter to 1/4 cup and add 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce.  Increase zucchini to 2 1/2 cups and decrease chocolate chips to 6 ounces.  Add all the chocolate chips into the batter and don't add any to the tops.
Recipe from Penzeys

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Halloween Sugar Cookies

This is kind of a cheater post because it's the same cookie recipe we used for the 4th of July sugar cookies. But the frosting is different - buttercream instead of glaze. And the shapes and decorations of course. And it took practically ALL DAY to make these so, gol' darnit, it gets its own post.What can I say? It's worth it because the girls just LOVE to decorate. And I LOVE to eat sugar cookies. And they're so easy to give away by the plateful, requiring no explanation beyond, "Happy Halloween!"
When I lived in Colorado, going to my friend Kat's house for sugar-cookie-making was tradition. Halloween and Christmas for sure; sometimes Easter or other occasions. And Kat had the goods - cases of fancy colored sugar from Williams Sonoma, professional food coloring, every extract, every shape cutter, every sprinkle, jimmy, ball or confection you could imagine. We would break them out, listen to music, and painstakingly make a masterpiece out of each cookie. My favorite was for Halloween - Kat would make these awesome bloodshot eyeball-looking cookies. So creepy. We had no kids in those days, thus more energy and focus; fewer distractions.

These days, she's got three, I've got two, and we live 2,000 miles apart. But that's what I think of when it's sugar cookie time. It's the easiest tradition in the world to stick to.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Granny-McIntosh Apple Buns

We went apple picking and while I still have not been able to crank out all the apple recipes I had lined up, I am slowly and steadily working my way through a few, one at a time.

First day after picking was these apple buns. I just couldn't wait to try them! The recipe was one without a picture in the book, so I read through and envisioned a kind of apple-stuffed croissant sweet roll. My vision was about right except I was thinking of something about fist-sized, not these monsters the size of my entire arm!But there was no complaining when I served them warm for afternoon snack, and the next morning for breakfast. Fall is the best for baking, and it's hard to beat something with fresh apples in it.Granny-McIntosh Apple Buns
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
5 tsp rapid-rise yeast
5 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 tsp salt

6 to 8 McIntosh apples, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large unpeeled Granny Smith apples, shredded
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1/2 generous cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Finishing Touches:
2 large eggs
Pinch sugar

Cinnamon Fondant:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 to 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Water, as required, to make a thick glaze

1. Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

2. In a mixer bowl, hand-whisk water and yeast and a pinch of sugar and let stand 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup flour and blend and then add butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, salt and then most of remaining flour. Mix and knead with dough hook on lowest speed 5 to 8 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to make a soft dough.

3. Remove dough hook and place dough in a well-greased bowl. Cover with sprayed plastic wrap and let rise 40 to 50 minutes or until doubled.

4. Meanwhile, prepare apples and have other filling ingredients nearby. Whisk eggs and pinch of sugar in a small bowl for egg wash.

5. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate. Roll out to a 22-inch circle. Deposit pieces of butter all over dough's surface. Scatter sliced apples over dough. Top with sugar and cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice) and then scatter shredded appple on top. Cut into 12 to 16 wedges (pizza cutter works great for this.) Stretching each wedge slightly, roll up each wedge into a crescent, starting at wide end. If apples leak out, just stuff them back in.

6. Place on prepared baking sheets, brush each crescent bun with egg wash and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled.

7. Preheat oven to 350. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes.

8. For cinnamon fondant, whisk ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and soft. Smear fondant on buns with a flat spatula, skimming (or licking!) away excess.

Recipe from A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lemon Meringue Pie

I was at the store. I saw the lemons. I remembered I had a pie crust in the freezer at home. My mouth started to water. I couldn't remember how many it takes - a sure sign it's been too long since I made it - so I loaded my bag with eight, just to be sure.

It must be the weather, I thought. Weather turns cooler, look to the holidays. Think of Thanksgiving, want lemon meringue pie. Florence Manwaring's lemon meringue pie. Want it TODAY.

It was even easier than I remember (and it only took TWO lemons!) Whip it up, pour it in. Whip the meringue, top it off. Bake it to perfection. Lick the lemon-stuff pan sparkling clean - soooooo good! Let Ed have a few pieces, but eat most of it myself. Ah, satisfaction.Florence's Lemon Meringue Pie

1 baked and cooled pie crust
2 lemons (juice and zest)
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
5 to 6 T cornstarch
Pinch salt
3 eggs, separated
1 T butter
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 to 1 tsp vanilla extract
6 T sugar

1. Juice the lemons and grate zest; add to juice. Separate 3 eggs and put yolks in one bowl, whites in another. Mix the yolks well.

2. Boil 2 cups of water in a tea kettle. Pour 1 cup of sugar into a saucepan. Add 5 to 6 T cornstarch and mix with a whisk so they are well blended. Pour in the boiling water and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the mixture becomes clear. Add a little salt.

3. Add the egg yolks slowly while stirring over medium heat. Add the lemon juice, rind and butter, stirring well. Pour the mixture into the already-baked and cooled pie crust.

4. Preheat oven to 300. Whip the egg whites with electric mixer. Add 1/4 tsp cream of tartar and continue to beat. When whites are stiff and fluffy add 6 T sugar and 1/2 to 1 tsp vanilla slowly, continuing to beat.

5. Spread meringue over lemon filling and form lovely peaks (such a fun part.) Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until meringue turns golden. Makes 1 pie (can easily be doubled.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lemon-Anise Biscotti (by Maren)

It was a dark and dreary afternoon, and I was in the mood to bake. "Warmth," I thought, "I need something to warm up this unseasonably cold day." I had cheesecake brownies on my mind, so I went searching for the perfect recipe. I looked for something that might incorporate some jam, but I came up with recipes that just didn't feel right. (And, look! The one I was seeking is now here- two posts ago!)

Luckily, serendipity was on my side. Whilst searching, I found this gem. It wasn't what I thought I wanted, but it sure hit the spot. Deliciously aromatic and begging for some warm fennel or lemon herb tea. Perfect.

Lemon-Anise Biscotti

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs minced zest from 1 lemon
1 Tbs anise seed, lightly toasted in a pan and gently crushed

1. Adjust rack to center of oven and preheat to 350º. Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk sugar and eggs till well blended. Stir in vanilla, lemon zest, and anise seed. Slowly add dry to wet and stir just until combined.

2. Divide dough into 4 logs, each 2 inches wide and place them on a jelly roll pan covered in parchment or silicone mat. Smooth tops and edges of logs. Bake about 35 minutes till golden.

3. Remove pan from the oven and cool for 5-10 minutes. Reduce oven to 325º. Using a serrated knife, cut each log diagonally into 1/2 inch slices. Place a 9x13 wire rack on the jelly roll pan and lay biscotti flat on the rack. Return to the oven and bake 8 minutes. Flip cookies over and bake 8 more minutes. Remove rack from pan and cool. Store in airtight container.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated: The Best Recipe, 1999 edition.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

German Apple Pancake

A few weeks ago I was craving apple pie. Not the process, the result. So I went to the store and bought some Pillsbury crust and a ton of apples. I can never remember how many it takes.

The pie was perfect and hit the spot on the bull's eye. But I ended up with a few too many apples and was wondering what to do with them. Then I remembered a recipe for German Apple Pancake from my sister-in-law Michelle that I had never tried. So I whipped out my copy of Support Your Local Stovetop and made Sunday morning breakfast.

The recipe requires a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. I only have a 12-inch so I used that, and it made the dish a bit spread out so when we overturned it to the platter it kind of fell apart. But we really didn't care because it was about to be gobbled up in the next 5 seconds as soon as I took a picture. And it tasted sooo good!Next week we're going apple picking and doing Apple Day at Peewee School. I have about five new apple recipes lined up to try so this is the first of a kind of unofficial Apple Month here on the VGP. Hopefully some will actually be good enough to post - stay tuned!

German Apple Pancake

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T granulated sugar
½ tsp table salt
2 large eggs
⅔ cup half-and-half
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 T unsalted butter
1¼ pounds Granny Smith apples (if you like tart) or Braeburn apples (if you like sweet) (3 to 4 large apples), peeled, quartered, cored, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
¼ cup light brown sugar or dark brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position; heat oven to 500°F (425°F if using a cast iron skillet.)

2. Whisk to combine flour, granulated sugar, and salt in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, whisk eggs, half-and-half, and vanilla until combined. Add liquid ingredients to dry and whisk until no lumps remain, about 20 seconds; set batter aside.

3. Heat butter in 10-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon; cook, stirring frequently with heatproof rubber spatula, until apples are golden brown, about 10 minutes (if using a cast iron skillet, cook them only until just barely golden, about 6 minutes.) Off heat, stir in lemon juice.

4. Working quickly, pour batter around and over apples. Place skillet in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 425°F; bake until pancake edges are brown and puffy and have risen above edges of skillet, about 18 minutes.

5. Using oven mitts to protect hands, remove hot skillet from oven and loosen pancake edges with heatproof rubber spatula; invert pancake onto serving platter. Dust with confectioners' sugar and cut into wedges. To serve, dust the apple pancake with confectioners' sugar and pass warm maple syrup or caramel sauce separately, if desired.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies

You know how most recipes for cream cheese brownies involve a swirl? Not that I'm knocking a swirl - it's usually darn yummy - but this sandwich-style brownie stopped me in my tracks when I was flipping through the August/September Cook's Country. I mean look at the picture from the magazine:A perfect combination of great recipe, amazing food styling, and maybe a little Photoshop since my version looked like this:
But still yummy, still oh-so-yummy. One of the things I love about Test Kitchen magazines and cookbooks is that they explain every step along the way of arriving at the perfect recipe, which usually persuades one that this is, and why it is, a perfect recipe. I was a little ticked that mine wasn't as pretty as the picture, but it tasted like a creamy raspberry chocolate truffle from a very expensive bakery or chocolatier so I can't complain too much.

The recipe's author introduces it with, "Many brownies are raspberry in name only. We asked the berry to earn its keep, no matter how fudgy the brownie."

Could you really ask for more? What they do is add raspberry jam into the brownie batter so that every bite has a fruity depth, then a layer of cheesecake, more raspberry jam, and more brownie on top so the inside fillings have no chance of drying out either in baking or storage.

The E:R (effort-to-result ratio) is shockingly low for this recipe - that means serious gourmet bang for your effort buck, so next time you need something chocolatey and perhaps a bit complex, when taste is way more important than look, go with these. You will LOVE them.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies
1 8-ounce pkg cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup raspberry jam, divided
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Prepare filling. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350. Line 8-inch square pan with foil, allowing excess to hang over pan edges. Grease foil. Process cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla in food processor until smooth.

2. Mix batter. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl. Microwave butter and chocolate in large bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk in 1/4 cup jam and let cool slightly. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until incorporated.

3. Layer filling. Microwave remaining jam until warm, about 30 seconds; stir until smooth. Scrape half of batter into prepared pan. Dollop cream cheese filling over batter and spread into even layer. Dollop warm jam over filling and use knife tip to swirl jam through filling. Spread remaining batter evenly over filling.

4. Bake brownies until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean with few dry crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for at least 2 hours. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan and cut into squares; serve. Brownies can be refrigerated in airtight container for 2 dyas. Makes about 25 (1 1/2 inch) brownies

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chunky Cheese Bread

In her book A Passion for Baking, about which I have mixed feelings, and from which I get mixed results, Marcy Goldman claims that "this recipe alone is worth the price of the book."

A bold statement. One I was willing to test. Lucky for her (and me, and you) it proved to be true.You've got a rich egg bread dough. Add in 800 cups of shredded and cubed cheese, cut it all in and put it all back together and bake into loaves. Then eat it warm or toasted, use for egg or ham or bacon sandwiches, spread it with apple butter or pizza sauce. The possibilities do boggle the mind. And water the mouth.

A few notes:
  • Marcy uses all cheddar cheese. I went rummaging in the fridge drawer and used a combination of cheddar, Swiss, a little jack, and some 2% cheese in the back to make the total amount. Turned out great.
  • She also always says to place loaf pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. That's to prevent burning but I think it's generally unnecessary and usually skip that step. DON'T skip it for this - the cheese overflows and melts all over the place (see above photo!), so you definitely want parchment under there to catch it and give you easy clean-up.
  • Goldman sprinkles the bread with sesame seeds and seasoned salt. I didn't have any seeds so I just left them out; the seasoned salt was good but I love it on anything. She suggests using any topping/seasoning you like on top, like Italian seasoning or garlic salt for zip. Go wild. That's really what this bread is about.
Chunky Cheese Bread
1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
2 T rapid-rise yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 T unsalted butter, softened
5 to 6 cups bread flour
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 scan cups cubed Cheddar cheese
2 T olive oil or melted butter
1 tsp seasoned salt or garlic salt
Sesame seeds

1. Generously grease two 8x4 inch or 9x5 inch loaf pans (otherwise they'll stick.)

2. In mixer bowl, combine water, yeast and a pinch of sugar. Let stand a few minutes. Briskly whisk in sugar, salt, mustard, eggs, oil, butter and half of bread flour and mix. Begin kneading dough with dough hook on lowest speed 5 to 8 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to make a soft, elastic dough. Form into a ball in mixing bowl, spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray, and cover entire mixer and bowl with large clear plastic bag*. Let dough rise 30 minutes.
(* Or place in separate greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let rise.)

3. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and gently deflate. Divide dough in half. Press each half into an oval and distribute 1 cup shredded cheese over each. Press in cheese and roll up each section into a jellyroll.

4. I LOVE THIS STEP! Using a dough cutter or sharp knife, cut each jellyroll into thick slices and then in half - basically into odd-sized chunks of dough. Arrange chunks of dough in loaf pans. Scatter cubed cheese over chunks of dough, drizzle with oil or butter, and scatter on seasoned salt and sesame seeds.

5. Place loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise 30 to 45 minutes until quite puffy.

6. Preheat oven to 350. Bake until well browned and sizzling (wow!) and cheese is melted, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing and serving. Makes 2 loaves
Recipe from Marcy Goldman
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