Chocolate Lovers’ Cupcakes!


Who doesn’t love a cupcake, right? While I personally enjoy them year round, Valentine’s Day is always a great reason to bake some for friends, a special someone, or even yourself! I decided to try a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Junior League of Tampa’s Capture the Coast. The title, “Chocolate Lovers’ Cupcakes” was convincing enough for me and looked pretty simple.

After picking up some items from the grocery store I got out my stand up mixer and started on the batter. While the stand up mixer is definitely not required, I like finding any reason to use mine. The instructions are pretty easy to follow but I will mention that when you are buying your ingredients make sure that you have the ingredients called for on the cake mixture as well. This is not included in the recipe itself but will call for it when preparing the batter.

After prepping the batter I went to put the batter in the cupcake liners. I noticed that the instructions did not call for the liners to be sprayed with a non stick spray. I’m always a little hesitant if a recipe doesn’t specify so I sprayed half with spray and left the other half as is. Once the cupcakes came out, I noticed the ones I did spray were a little greasy on the bottom. While it didn’t modify the taste of the cupcake (of course, I happily tested one from each batch), I would recommend not spraying the liners before baking.

Next up was the frosting, my favorite part! I let the cupcakes cool and whipped up the frosting with no trouble. The recipe is nice because you can make the frosting ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator. Also, if you want a vanilla frosting there are instructions on how to make that as well.

Overall, the recipe was pretty simple and the cupcakes came out with a rich, creamy chocolate texture topped off with a great chocolate frosting.

Enjoy!

Cupcakes:

1 (2 layer) package chocolate fudge cake mix (plus ingredients listed on box)

1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) mini chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (4- ounce) package chocolate cook and serve pudding mix

1 envelope whipped topping mix (found this near the cake mixes)

Chocolate Frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

6 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 1/4 cups unsweetened baking cocoa

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss 1/4 cup of the dry cake mix with the chocolate chips in a small bowl to coat and set aside. Prepare the remaining cake mix using the package directions. Add the vanilla and pudding mix and beat for 1 minute. Add the whipped topping mix. Beat at medium speed until the batter is light and fluffy. Fold in the chocolate chips. Fill the lined muffin cups a little over three-fourths full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. For a cake, spoon the batter into 9-inch cake pans and bake for 25 to 28 minutes or until knife instead into the centers comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

For the frosting, beat the butter, 4 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, the baking cocoa, 1/4 cup of the milk and vanilla at low speed in a mixing bowl for 1 minute. Beat at medium speed for 4 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition. Add the remaining 1/4 cup milk or additional sugar if needed for the desired consistency. Spread over the cupcakes. You may add additional baking cocoa to taste. The frosting may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. For vanilla frosting, substitute an additional 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for the baking cocoa. Use clear vanilla extract for a bright white frosting.

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Easy, homemade cannolis!


Ever since I tried cannoli for the first time as a child on a family trip to New York, I’ve been addicted to the delicious little Sicilian treats. If cannolis appear on a dessert menu anywhere, you better believe I will order them. For some inexplicable reason, however, the thought to make my own cannoli never crossed my mind. That is, until, I stumbled across a seemingly simple recipe in JLT’s Capture the Coast cookbook. I gave the recipe a whirl one Sunday to serve at family dinner, and received as much praise in one evening as I had my entire life combined.

Here is how this delightful pastry came together.

Ingredients:

32 oz soft whole milk ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup pecans, finely chopped

1 cup miniature chocolate chips, divided

12 cannoli shells, or 24 mini cannoli shells

Combine ricotta cheese, vanilla, confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon in a mixing bowl and stir until incorporated. Add in the chopped pecans and ¼ cup of chocolate chips. Chill for at least 2 hours in refrigerator.

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Place the filling in a pastry bag (or, if you’re like me and have never owned a pastry bag, in a plastic bag with the corner snipped off). Pipe the filling into the cannoli shells. Place the remaining chocolate chips in a bowl and dip the ends of each cannoli into the chocolate chips to coat, if desired.

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Buon Appetito!

Peppermint Chocolate Cheesecake Bites


Little known fact – I love candy canes. The sight of candy canes in the stores fills me with holiday cheer and excitement for tree decorating and all things peppermint – peppermint mocha lattes, peppermint bark, peppermint pinwheel cookies – and now Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bites from the Capture the Coast cookbook from the Junior League of Tampa.

I admit I was a little intimidated by the recipe. I’ve never been much of a baker when it comes to cheesecake – maybe I lack the patience. But this recipe was too tempting to pass up.

I started with the chocolate graham cracker crust. First, I crushed the crackers in my Cuisinart. Then I mixed the crumbs, sugar and melted butter together in a separate bowl. I sprayed a mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray and went to work. There is enough crumb mixture to fill a 24-count muffin pan. Make sure the crumb mixture is firmly pressed into each muffin form. You should not have any leftover crumb mixture. Pop the pan into the oven for 5-6 minutes.

For the filling, I went back to my Cuisinart and mixed the ingredients as directed. Then I started filling the prepared crusts. I used a measuring cup for ease of pouring, but if you’re more graceful than I, you can easily pour the filling directly from your bowl.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Then remove the mini cakes and cool directly on the wire rack.

Once they’ve cooled down, you’re ready to add the finishing touches – chocolate sprinkles and peppermint candies. I generously spread the chocolate sprinkles on all of the mini cakes. Then I added the crushed peppermint candies. The recipe also has an option to add whipped topping. As these treats were being transported, I opted not to use whipped topping.

I made 3 batches of this recipe and here is what I learned.

  • The recipe says to use a “heaping teaspoon” of the crumb mixture. Do this! There should be no crumb mixture left after you’ve made your 24 mini cakes.
  • After the mini cakes have cooked, let them sit and cool for at least 30 minutes. I found that the longer I let them cool the nicer they held their shape once I took them out of the pan.
  • I slid a knife around the edges of the mini cakes and used a spoon to take them out of the pan.
  • If some of the crust falls off, do not be alarmed.
  • Once you’ve added the sprinkles and candies, store them in the fridge to keep them fresh.

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bites

Ingredients:

8 chocolate graham cracker rectangles, crushed (1/3 package)

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

6 peppermint candies

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 egg

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

½ teaspoon peppermint extract

½ cup whipped topping (optional)

6 peppermint candies, crushed

2 tablespoons chocolate sprinkles

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the graham cracker crumbs, ¼ cup sugar and the butter in a bowl. Press a heaping teaspoon of the crumb mixture in the bottom of each miniature muffin cup coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 5 minutes.

Process 6 candies, the cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, the flour, egg and sour cream in a food processor until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips and peppermint extract. Pour in the prepared crusts. Bake for 15 minutes or until small cracks form on the tops. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely. Top each cheesecake with the chocolate sprinkles and crushed candies.

Enjoy!

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crust mixture (yum!)

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Cheesecake as it goes into the oven

Finished product! Time to enjoy!

Sassy Salsa! The perfect addition to any party


As many of you know, November is a very important month for the Junior League of Tampa. For the past 11 years, the first weekend in November has held our Holiday Gift Market – a 3 day shopping extravaganza at the Florida State Fairgrounds. I was tasked with making an appetizer for the kick-off party. The easiest and tastiest recipe that came to mind was Sassy Salsa from the first cookbook in the Junior League of Tampa’s Culinary Collection, Life of the Party.

I love this recipe for its simplicity and because I can make it ahead of time. The ingredients are pretty straightforward and easy to find. I will admit, I cheat and buy the pre-cut green and red onions and tomatoes to save even more time. The recipe calls for avocado, which I did not include because the grocery store didn’t have any ripe avocados when I did my shopping. I did include mild green chilies. I like spicy salsa but I kept this one on the mild side for mass appeal!

For the kick-off party I actually doubled this recipe to yield almost 6lbs of fresh and delicious salsa. But making the recipe as noted below will still yield plenty of salsa for the big game or holiday party on your calendar. Serve with your favorite corn chips or crostini.

Ingredients:
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-ounce) can corn, drained
½ cup fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped green onions
¼ chopped red onions
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-tablespoon cumin
Salt to taste
Ground pepper to taste
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped avocado
1 (4-ounce) can green chilies (optional)
Hot sauce (optional)
Corn chips (Tostitos scoops are great)

Preparation:
Combine the beans, corn, cilantro, green onions, red onion, lime juice, oil and cumin in a large bowl and mix well. Add salt and pepper as needed. Chill, covered, for up to 24 hours. Stir in tomatoes, avocados, green chilies immediately before serving. Add hot sauce to taste if desired.

Enjoy!

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It’s not fall until you’ve tried Curried Pumpkin Bisque!


Fall is here! If you are looking for an impressive dish for a dinner party or an interesting starter for Thanksgiving dinner, try the Curried Pumpkin Bisque from The Junior League’s Savor the Seasons cookbook (page 50).  Start to finish, it only took 30 minutes, so it would work great during the week, too.  The combination of flavors was great and the rich, creamy taste would be wonderful on a cool fall night (although we enjoyed it on a warm fall night, it is Florida after all).

All of the ingredients are easily found, especially the pumpkin puree during this season.  I purchased lump crab rather than jumbo lump crab, as it saved about $4 per container.  The crab is a little pricy, but well worth it!  The directions were clear and accurate.  I noticed the soup thickened nicely from the cornstarch base.  Once assembled, it would probably hold well if left on low heat with occasional stirring.  I followed the recipe as written, but would probably use half and half or whole milk instead of heavy cream next time, just to make it a bit less rich.  We didn’t have cognac, so I used a bit of sherry instead and finished it with chives on top for a bit of oniony taste.  I imagine the cognac would be wonderful.

I wanted to keep things festive so I served it in a gourd, as was suggested in the cookbook.  It is really easy (I promise!) and looks quite fancy.  If you choose to serve the soup in a gourd, there are a ton of colorful and interesting choices available in stores right now- all types and colors of pumpkins, as well as squash of different colors and shapes, so get creative!  You basically just need something with enough space to hold a couple ladles of soup and the ability to flatten the bottom so it sits evenly.  I went with the standard acorn squash, which is generally available all year.  I thought the green skin was a nice contrast to the orange soup.

After scooping out the seeds, I thought the “bowl” should be a bit larger, so I used a pairing knife to carve out a larger and more symmetrical space.  The uncooked squash provides tons of carving possibilities.  If you are more creative and crafty, you could even carve out a shape (this was not in my skill set)!  And don’t forget some crusty bread for dipping!  We had a side salad with blueberries and almonds for some additional greens.  It was husband approved!

Curried Pumpkin Bisque

1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp ground ginger or 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger  (I used ground)
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 (16 oz) can pumpkin puree
4 c chicken broth
2 c heavy cream
2 c fresh lump back fin crab meat, flaked
salt and pepper to taste
Cognac (optional)
fresh or dried parsley (I used fresh chives)

Cook the onion, garlic, curry powder, ginger, nutmeg and Tabasco sauce in the butter in a stockpot until the onion is tender, stirring frequently.  Stir in the cornstarch and cook until thickened.  Add the pumpkin and broth and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the cream and crab meat.  Cook until thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly.  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into soup bowls.  Pour a splash of cognac over each serving and sprinkle with parsley.  Yields 8-10 servings.

“Out of your gourd”
For a gourmet presentation at your autumn dinner or Thanksgiving feast, serve Curried Pumpkin Crab Bisque in colorful gourds, such as acorn squash.  Slice a bit of the rounded base of the gourd to help it lay flat, and line the inside bottom with foil to ensure the soup doesn’t leak.  Garnish with small pieces of crab, a dash of cognac and fresh parsley.

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Perfect your tailgate with Roast Beef on Rolls!


Let’s face it- we all have hectic schedules. Between the final days of summer, the hectic “back to school” rush and the madness of the impending holidays comes one of a Southern girls’ favorite times of year: Football season! And while attending our fair share of tailgates and football parties may seem like an easy feat, we are often asked to bring a dish to the celebration or even (gasp) host a party of our own. Luckily, the Tailgate Roast Beef on Rolls (aka sliders) from The Life of the Party on page 33 are a quick, easy and impressive treat that will allow you to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your guests.
To be completely honest, 90% of what I cook revolves around how much I love cheese. So while this recipe traditionally calls for Swiss cheese, I opted for a more gourmet variety: Gruyère. I definitely think this swap helped dress up the sliders since I was cooking for friends. I was also very strapped for time when I was making this, and decided to use chives instead of green onions since that’s what I happened to have in my refrigerator at the time. Though there’s no real substitution for the unmistakably distinct flavor of green onions, chives or minced shallots can be used as a quick fix (and are just as tasty). I also had half an onion on hand that needed to be used, so I caramelized them (a painstaking process, but completely worth it), and used them as my final touch before tossing the assembled sliders in the oven. These sliders were such a hit, and I loved that even though I followed the recipe pretty straight on, there were so many options to improvise or put your own twist on the recipe. Pretzel rolls, pickled radishes, Londonport roast beef, or fresh arugula all would have made great additions or substitutions to this dish. You could even make these as larger sandwiches for dinner or lunch! Who doesn’t love options, right?
The best part about this recipe, other than the fact that it’s absolutely delicious, is that it takes all of 20 minutes to make- that’s it! If you’re really crunched for time, you can even prepare the sliders beforehand by assembling the sandwiches, wrapping them in foil and storing in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. While I love to cook, I just don’t always have the time to make something from scratch, but that’s why I love these sliders. This recipe is perfect for the “can’t-cook” cooks out there, and a wonderful dish for football entertaining.
Let us know how you make yours!

 

Recipe: p.33

8oz cream cheese, softened

1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 (24 count) package small dinner rolls

1 to 2 pounds deli-sliced cajun roast beef

12 slices swiss cheese (or cheese of your choice)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

Combine the cream cheese, ranch dressing mix and green onions in a small bowl and mix well. Remove rolls from the package. Slice the rolls horizontally; remove the top of the rolls in on piece. Spread the mixture on the cut side of both layers. Layer the roast beef and cheese you selected on the bottom layer. Cover with the top layer of rolls; brush with melted butter. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Slice into 24 small rolls. Serve warm.

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Hummingbird Cake? Yes, please!


I like to think I inherited many of my characteristics and genes from my grandmother (Abuela), but I am certain she gave me her sweet tooth. Abuela turned 89 on the first of the month, and I knew the best way to her heart was a sugary path right through her stomach. As I was spinning my wheels brainstorming what to bake her, I looked to my kitchen counter and Capture the Coast was staring right back at me. I grabbed the beloved cookbook and flipped to the desserts section, and as soon as I saw IT, I knew it was the one. Hummingbird Cake.  If I’m being completely honest, Abuela is a sucker for ALL confections and sweet treats. But if you make her a dessert that has pineapple or coconut in it, she is truly defenseless. You will win her heart upon the first scrumptious bite.

The Hummingbird Cake recipe featured in JLT’s Capture the Coast cookbook is a mouth-watering combination of pineapple and banana, topped with a velvety cream cheese icing, and finished off with crunchy crumbled pecans.

Here is what you’ll need to concoct this southern dessert staple:

Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 eggs, beaten

1 ¼ cups vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple

1 cup pecans, chopped

2 cups mashed bananas

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Cream Cheese Frosting:

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 (2-pound) package confectioners’ sugar

Assembly:

Pecan Pieces (if desired)

READY….SET…BAKE!

Directions:

For the cake… Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon until combined. [side note: the recipe says to sift the aforementioned ingredients 3 times. However, I didn’t have a sifter, and mixing worked out well for me.]

Add the eggs and oil to your dry ingredients, and stir the mixture until moistened. Next, add in the vanilla, pineapple, pecans, and mix thoroughly. Finally, add in the mashed banana and brown sugar, and mix one last time.

Divide your batter evenly between three greased or floured 8- or 9-inch round cake pans [I used disposable aluminum cake pans to cut back on excessive dish-washing… I love to bake but I hate to clean up after!]

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, and remove from oven. To ensure the cake is baked through, insert a wooden toothpick into the center and check that it comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes, and then place cakes on wire racks to cool completely.

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For the frosting… Beat the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy and smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract, and sift in the confectioners’ sugar, 2 cups at a time. Beat well after each addition, and continue beating the frosting until it is completely blended.

To assemble… After allowing the cakes to cool completely, spread your icing between the layers and over the top and sides of the cake.

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Next, top with pecans, if you choose. Now the most important part of all, ENJOY!

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