Friday, December 31, 2010

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers

If you know me at all, you know how much I LOVE spicy food. Not spicy to the point of burning your face and taste buds off, mind you, but a little kick is good. And these delightful little bullets of yumminess always hit the spot!
This recipe is one that I came up with, incorporating my version of savory cream cheese and adding my other vice, bacon, swaddling the pepper so lovingly. Then, you cook them over some hot charcoal until the bacon is crispy and the peppers have a little bit of char on them. Really, does it get any better than that?! I think not!! I suppose, if you really insisted upon it, you could grill these on a gas grill over low heat, but I love my charcoal grill. And, yes, I am the one who uses the charcoal grill, and consider myself quite adept at it!
If you ask me, one of the most important things you can buy when using a charcoal grill, other than the charcoal, is a chimney starter. You can find them for fairly cheap at many stores, including Wal-Mart, and you will definitely get your money's worth out of it. If you think about it, you probably waste at least $20 a year buying that toxic charcoal lighter fluid which doesn't ever really seem to burn off, leaving you with the terrible flavor all over your food. I don't know about you, but I don't find it altogether appealing! Not to mention, the chimney starter gives that stack of old newspapers and flyers a purpose, as the use of paper and fire is required in getting the charcoal started. You simply crumple approximately three pages of a newspaper and stuff them in the bottom space of the chimney, place that side down on the grill grate, fill the top with charcoal, and light the newspaper in a few different places. In 15 to 20 minutes, you should see fire near the top of the chimney and the charcoal will have grey ash around the edges - it's ready! Simply pour the charcoal out onto the bottom grate, making sure to use a long-handled utensil to spread the hot coals around, and set the cooking grate in it's place. I generally like to add some extra charcoal before putting the cooking grate in place, but that's a matter of personal preference... Then, close the lid of the grill, allowing the coals to work their magic while you finish preparing your food. See?! It's really not so hard! :-)

Now that we've had our lesson in using a charcoal grill, let's get on with the good stuff that we really came here for!!

18 -21 good-sized jalapeño peppers (equal to the number of bacon strips)
2 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened slightly
¼ tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. dried minced onion
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
¼ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ c. shredded cheddar or Colby jack cheese
1 pkg. center cut bacon

Wash the jalapeño peppers and clean by cutting off the stem end to make a cap and then removing the seeds and membranes. (They have special coring tools that can be purchased for a decent price if you're going to make these often. This helps to ensure the peppers remain intact and that the filling will remain inside when it is cooked.) Rinse the peppers under cool running water to make sure the insides are cleaned out, and then turn upside down next to their caps to dry while you prepare the filling.
To prepare the filling, start by mixing the cream cheese with all of the spices, making sure that they are fairly evenly distributed. Next, add the two cheeses and mix thoroughly. Once everything is mixed together well, spoon the mixture into a plastic cake decorating bag fitted with a large round tip. (You can also use a heavy duty zip top bag and cut one of the bottom corners off, if you don't have cake decorating supplies.)
While the filling is still slightly soft, pipe it into the insides of the hollowed out jalapeños, filling until very nearly full. Attach the pieces of jalapeño back together by threading them onto thin metal skewers or bamboo skewers soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (this helps to prevent them from burning on the grill), going through the bottom of the pepper and then up and through the cap. You should be able to fit 2-3 peppers on each skewer, just be sure to push the caps down as close as possible to cover the filling inside each pepper. Then, wrap one piece of bacon around each jalapeño, overlapping the meaty part with the fatty part if necessary, and secure each end with a toothpick that's been soaked in water. At this point, you can cover the peppers and refrigerate if you're preparing them ahead of time.
When you're ready to grill the peppers, be sure that your grill is not flaming hot. If it's too hot, all of the bacon grease will drip down and cause very large flare-ups; you're going to have some flare-up anyways, as you are cooking with bacon, but if the coals are more like embers they won't be nearly as bad. Place your skewers of bacon-wrapped peppers on the grill, making sure to turn them fairly often; cook until the bacon is crispy, the peppers are slightly charred, and the cream cheese filling is heated through. Enjoy! :-)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cranberry Cake

I came across this recipe after some friends came to visit, bearing gifts of yummy, fresh cranberry goodness from back home. There were also some fresh, squeaky cheese curds amongst the goodies, but those were gone by the next day! I had SOME help polishing them off!! (Luke works for one of the local cranberry marshes, where he and Lindsey live, and his sister is co-owner of a local cheese factory. I have the best friends ever!! ;-D)
Anyways... Lindsey was telling me about a cranberry cake that several people there have made, but hasn't gotten the recipe to me yet. While waiting, though, I thought I would check out some recipes and see what I could find on my own. While looking at the pictures, this cake instantly caught my attention and so I went to investigate. And was immediately intrigued!
Honestly, I would say that this was more of a coffee cake, but that could be because of the way I prepared it, with the nut topping. For the most part, I did follow the initial recipe, but you know I had to do my own thing a little bit too. While I do enjoy pecans, I don't generally have them around my house, as I prefer to snack on hazelnuts, walnuts, and flavored almonds. So, walnuts it is! I have to admit, walnuts are really the ones I prefer in baked goods anyways... If you know me, you know that I try to make everything a little bit healthier (it helps me to justify eating naughty treats for breakfast), so I used Smart Balance for half of the butter, and I left out the kirsch altogether. I think I probably did the topping a little different than was instructed also, as I was more interested in caramelized walnuts more so than a caramel kind of topping for the cake.
While I thought this was quite delicious with a little bit of whipped topping served on top, a friend of mine thought there was too much cranberry in it. Thus the basis of its appeal, right?! ;-P So, I guess if you're not really a big fan of cranberries, this would probably not be such a big hit for you. But, that's the great thing about a recipe - you can change it to be whatever you want it to be! I think some blueberries would also work well for this, so substitute those for half of the cranberries, if you'd like. Or just change the fruit entirely! Just be careful when doing this, as the water content varies between fruits and you don't want to end up with a runny batter that doesn't set up when baked. To help prevent this, you can coat your rinsed berries with flour before folding them into the cake batter, which will also keep the colors from running throughout your batter.

3 eggs
2 c. sugar
¾ c. unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. flour
2½ c. cranberries (1 bag)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan or a 10" springform pan and cut the butter into chunks.
Beat eggs and sugar together for 5-7 minutes; the eggs will increase in volume quite a bit, streaming into ribbons when you lift the beaters. They will also turn pale yellow. Add butter and flavorings and beat for 2 minutes. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries (especially if using frozen cranberries, the batter will not be thin or soft at this time). Spread into greased pan and top with caramelized walnut topping (recipe below).
Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9x13, or a little over an hour for the springform. You may need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 minutes or so to keep the top from browning too much. Cool completely before serving (Or not!).

Nut topping:
¼ c. butter
¼ c. brown sugar
1 c. finely chopped walnuts

Heat the butter in a pan over medium heat; add the sugar and stir until the mixture starts getting foamy and makes a kind of caramel sauce. Add the walnuts and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts smell toasted. Spread over the cake batter and bake as above.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

S'mores Cupcakes

This recipe was most definitely NOT my own creation (You can find the original here.) I found this recipe while looking for ideas to make this creation on my own, but the recipe I had found was too perfect to not use as a guideline, only changing a few things. So, I kept nearly everything the same and just changed one or two things to be a little more convenient, like the use of miniature chocolate chips instead of chopping up all of the chocolate. And, if you prefer milk chocolate, use that, by all means. Like all recipes, make it your own! If you don't like something changeable in a recipe, like the type of chocolate, then use what you do like.
As for the "frosting", which is really more of a topping, I have made it using the vanilla and also have made it while forgetting to add the vanilla and it turns out delicious either way. It still tastes like yummy marshmallowy goodness! :-) And, while I've generally always made these in the warmer months, I think it would be a wonderful treat in the middle of winter!

2¼ c. plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1¾ c. all-purpose flour
¾ c. plus 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 c. 2% milk
½ c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. boiling water
1½ c. graham cracker crumbs
⅓ c. unsalted butter, melted
9 oz. miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Marshmallow Frosting:
8 large egg whites
2 c. sugar
½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, optional

For cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners; set aside. Sift 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix ingredients together on low speed.
In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl and continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add boiling water and stir to combine; set cake batter aside. (The batter will be very watery after this last step, which is absolutely how it's supposed to look. Trust me, it will bake into a perfectly moist and delicious cupcake!)
Place graham cracker crumbs, remaining ¼ cup sugar, and melted butter in a large bowl; stir until well combined. Place 1 tablespoon graham cracker mixture into the bottom of each prepared muffin cup. Use the bottom of a small glass to pack crumbs into the bottom of each cupcake liner. Reserve the remaining graham cracker mixture for topping. Place 2 teaspoons of chocolate into each muffin cup. Transfer muffin tins to oven and bake until the edges of the graham cracker mixture is golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and fill each muffin cup three-quarters full with cake batter. Sprinkle each with remaining chocolate and graham cracker mixture. Return to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through baking, until tops are firm and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer muffin tins to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and let cool completely.
For Marshmallow Frosting: Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Transfer frosting to a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain round or French tip (I like the Wilton large star tip - #2110). Pipe the frosting in a spiral motion on each cupcake. Transfer cupcakes to a baking sheet. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the frosting, taking care not to burn the cupcake liners. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container, up to 2 days. Makes 2 dozen cupcakes.