Friday, June 12, 2009

Father's Day Cupcakes

The cupcake craze continues! I have three cupcake cookbooks, and the boys love to look at them, begging me to make the puppy ones and the werewolf ones and the basketball ones and on and on. I've seen a lot of cute ideas for Father's Day, so I thought I'd collect some of them here.

"Want Some Mower" is from Family Fun. I give it a B+ for cuteness and a B for easiness. You're going to make chocolate cupcakes and frost them with chocolate frosting; tint coconut green; and construct a lawnmower out of readily-available candy. It wouldn't be hard, but it would take a little while.

Can't you tell these "Tee-Time" cupcakes are from Martha? Spare, cute without being cutesy, colors from a Martha Stewart paint palette? I give these an A- for cuteness and a D+ for easiness. Ask yourself if you are the type of person who isn't frightened by a cupcake recipe that calls for grosgrain ribbon and a glue gun.

Wilton created this "Snack with Sizzle" grill/mini cake for two reasons: 1. maximum cuteness and 2. maximum need for Wilton products. I love it, though it's so far removed from food . . . or cupcakes . . . I just don't know. I give it an A for cuteness and an F for easiness.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Strawberry Freezer Jam

After our annual strawberry picking, we make copious amounts of jam. Last year I made 36 8-oz jars, and after we gave probably 8 jars away, we ran out of jam by Christmas.

It doesn't take that many strawberries to make jam: 2 cups of sliced/mashed berries will make a little over 5 8-oz. jars. However, it does take a lot of sugar! You may be shocked if you've never made jam before. But there's no high fructose corn syrup like there is in store-bought jam, so you've got that going for you.

This recipe is freezer jam, and it's uncooked, which means the fresh flavor is preserved. Since you store it in the freezer or refrigerator, you don't have to worry about sealing the jars or risking botulism. Store it in the freezer for a year or in the refrigerator for a month. You can pretty much use it straight from the freezer because it doesn't freeze solid.

I've had the best luck using liquid pectin (Certo) vs. powdered - it tends to set up better. As long as you keep the proportions correct and stir the sugar until it dissolves, yours will set up, too. If by any chance it doesn't, it makes a great sundae topping!

Strawberry Freezer Jam

2 cups sliced strawberries, mashed (you can do this by hand or in a blender or food processor - leave it somewhat chunky)

4 cups sugar

1 package liquid pectin

2 T. lemon juice

Clean canning jars or tupperware with lids

Mix strawberries with sugar and let stand for ten minutes. In a small bowl, mix packet of pectin with lemon juice. Add to strawberry mixture, and stir 3 min. or until sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy. (A few sugar crystals may remain.)

Fill all containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Golden Cinnamon-Pumpkin Bars - Whole Grain

Yes, I cut these bars awfully unevenly! But don't let that or the half-eaten pan dissuade you: these bars are really good. Their consistency is like brownies, but with pumpkin flavor.

The bars are adapted from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. The philosophy of King Arthur was that the recipes in the cookbook would be great on their own merit, not just "good - for whole grain." By using various kinds of whole-grain flours, mixing whole grains with all-purpose flour, letting batters "rest" overnight in the refrigerator, and yes, using butter freely, I think they accomplished this goal.

The large amount of butter in this recipe works out to 1/2 T. per bar if you cut them into 24 pieces, which is not unreasonable. You could replace 1/4 cup of butter with applesauce, and they'd still be great.

Variation idea: swap chocolate chips and raisins or Craisins for the cinnamon chips and apples

Golden Cinnamon-Pumpkin Bars

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 t. ground cinnamon
3/4 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground allspice
1 large egg
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cinnamon chips
1 cup diced unpeeled apple

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan

Melt butter in a medium microwave-safe bolw or in a saucepan set over low heat, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the microwave briefly, until it's hot and starting to bubble (1-2 minutes -check midway). Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and allow it to cool until you can comfortably test it with your finger.

Beat in the vanilla, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Stir in the pumpkin, flour, chips, and apple. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake the bars until a sharp knife inserted into the center reveals moist crumbs, 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Italian Beef

Let's see - I've been married for almost 10 years, and I've been making this recipe for about that long. I heard a Chicago radio DJ give the down-and-dirty, bare bones version, and I've added to it a bit since then. But it's one of my easiest recipes and great for casual company or busy weekends, because it uses the crockpot.

Italian Beef

3-5 lb. chuck, shoulder, or rump roast, fat trimmed

1 packet Italian dressing mix (Good Seasons)

1 can beef broth

1 16 oz. jar pepperoncini peppers, undrained (sliced are prettier, but whole ones are fine)

6 hoagie/sub rolls

12 oz. shredded or sliced mozzarella or provolone cheese

Mix peppers, dressing mix, and beef broth in the bottom of the crockpot. After you trim the visible fat from the roast (you don't need to be too particular: just remove the big chunks of fat), place it in the crockpot. If you need to add a bit of water or beef broth for a larger roast, that's fine - it's okay, too, if it's not totally covered at first. Turn on low and cook for 6-10 hours, until it can be easily shredded with a fork.

Once the beef is shredded, return it to the crockpot. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Split the rolls, and line or sprinkle them with 2 0z. mozzarella cheese. Toast for about five minutes in the oven.

Put the shredded beef on the rolls and spoon some au jus over the top of the meat before putting the top piece on. You can serve this with Italian giardiniera if you like.

Note: to remove some of the fat, make the day before. Pour the contents of the crockpot into a strainer with a bowl underneath. Refrigerate the au jus, and skim the fat off the top before reheating it with the beef.