Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lobster Shrimp Mac and Cheese

We had a wonderful 3 day weekend here in the U.S. to celebrate and remember our soldiers for Memorial Day.  I love the patriotic displays and decorations that pop up all over to mark the occasion to remember the sacrifices of the fallen who keep us all safe.

We had a great weekend getting to spend time with family and friends, and in typical Virginia fashion it was hot as blazes all weekend.  I think summer weather has arrived whether we're ready for it or not.  For whatever reason, I have been craving shrimp and lobster (well, maybe I always crave it because it's delicious). I recently saw this recipe for lobster mac and cheese during a repeat episode of the Barefoot Contessa and just couldn't stop thinking about it.  I thought this weekend was the perfect time to track down some lobster and try it out.  Well... tracking down lobster and not paying an absolute fortune on a recipe I've never made proved much harder than I planned, so I thought I would halve the amount of lobster I needed and add shrimp as well.  Although I'm a huge fan of Ina Garten recipes, and have had lobster mac and cheese in restaurants, I wanted to make sure the recipe was not going to be a waste of delicious lobster until I knew what I was getting into.

Well, all my reservations were unfounded because this recipe is incredible! May I just say how thrilled I am at how this recipe turned out? Absolutely delicious! My husband and I both thought this was one of the best things we've had recently.  I ended up making just half of the recipe since there are just 2 of us and it still made enough for 4 or 5 people (especially if you are serving this as a side dish).  The cheese sauce with the blend of Gruyere and cheddar with a hint of  nutmeg was just perfect with the seafood. It was creamy and luxurious.  The golden bread crumb topping added some nice crunch and texture.  I also really liked the combo of shrimp and lobster and thought the 2 types of shellfish complemented each other nicely.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for specials on lobster and any other excuse to make this.  Do you want to come over for dinner? I'll be glad to whip up some lobster mac and cheese and eat it with you. :)  I promise I'll share!

1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces good extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat and shrimp (peeled and deveined) ( I used a combination of shrimp and lobster but you can also make this with only lobster), chopped into bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook according do directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it.  In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add the flour.  Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.  Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 or more, until thickened and smooth.  Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and nutmeg.  Add the cooked macaroni and lobster and shrimp and stir well. Place mixture in 6 to 8 individual gratin dishes or in 1 large buttered casserole dish.

Melt the remaining 2 tbs. of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and stir until the crumbs are golden brown.  Sprinkle on the top of the mac and cheese.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Serves 6-8

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

It's been awhile since I did a cupcake post, I realized.  I've had cupcakes on the brain recently as a friend of mine has asked me to bake cupcakes for her parent's anniversary party! I've done a little pre-baking and testing recipes (any excuse to bake some cupcakes, right?) just to try out various flavors and to make sure everything was in shape for the event since I had some advance notice of the party.  I wanted to share this recipe for Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting as they were definitely one of my favorite flavor combinations.  If you're going to go for chocolate cupcakes, you might as well go all out for chocolate and make them triple chocolate cupcakes! I love the dense chocolaty cake studded with chocolate chips and the chocolate buttercream frosting on top is the perfect accompaniment. I cannot say enough good things about this chocolate frosting recipe either.  It is my new favorite recipe. It's the consistency of buttercream, but it tastes like fudge due to the immense amount of melted chocolate and cocoa and that's whipped into the buttercream.

The cupcakes are made from a favorite chocolate sheet cake recipe from America's Test Kitchen.  I like this recipe for several reasons, but definitely at the top of the list is because this recipe doesn't require a mixer. The ingredients are easily mixed together with only a whisk, which is nice if you don't have a stand mixer or don't feel like fooling with yours. :) The cake is rich and chocolaty too, as it combines both melted semi-sweet or bittersweet (I like to use semi-sweet chocolate for a slightly sweeter cake) and Dutch Process cocoa powder.

What is Dutch process cocoa powder, you ask? I didn't really know the difference between Dutch process and regular cocoa powder until recently.  Dutch process cocoa is cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkalizing agent to neutralize the acids which makes the cocoa less bitter-- making this ideal for use in hot chocolate and other rich chocolate baked goods. Dutch process is milder than regular cocoa powder but allows the rich chocolate flavor to shine through.  Depending on where you live, it can be hard to find, as it's been my experience that the grocery stores closest to me don't carry it and I have to stock up when I go near a Whole Foods or Wegman's.  You can always buy it online from somewhere like Penzey's or Amazon (thank goodness for online shopping for hard to find ingredients). I really enjoy baking with Dutch process  and like how it creates a deep chocolate flavor without the bitterness of regular cocoa.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate, chopped
1 cup (3 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup flour

1. Adjust oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.

2. Melt the butter, chocolate, and cocoa together in  the microwave, stirring often, 1 to 3 minutes; let the mixture cool slightly. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla together by hand until uniform. Slowly whisk in the sugar until combined. Slowly whisk in the cooled chocolate mixture until combined.

4. Sift about a third of the flour mixture over the batter and whisk in.  Whisk in the sour cream. Sift in the remaining flour mixture over the batter and whisk until completely incorporated (the batter will be thick).  In a small bowl, mix together the chocolate chips with the 1/4 cup of flour and then fold into the batter.  The flour will keep the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cupcakes.

5.  Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined.  Using a 1/4 cup measure to fill each cup of the muffin tin about 3/4 full.

6. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15 to 20 minutes, switching and rotating the tins halfway through baking.  Let the cupcakes cool in the tins for about 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Frost and serve.

Recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Chocolate Frosting:
For the Chocolate Frosting I used this recipe from Annie's Eats. It. is. Incredible.  I will definitely be using this as my go-to chocolate frosting recipe from now on!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins

Growing up, my Dad and I would always make breakfast in bed for my Mom on Mother's Day.  I can't remember what we'd make but I think it would usually be bacon and eggs and toast.  I don't think we really varied from that menu throughout the years.  :)  My Mom always acted like we were presenting her with a feast though. :) Mom's are such troopers, aren't they? These days, we always go out to brunch for Mother's Day.  What is is about Mother's Day being celebrated with breakfast? They seem to go hand-in-hand but I'm not sure why.  Happily, our family really enjoys brunch so it's a tradition we can get behind.

In the spirit of Mother's Day, I'm offering up this recipe for Lemon-Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Glaze.  What's better than freshly baked muffins in the morning--except maybe the smell of muffins baking while you relax upstairs knowing you don't have to either cook or clean-up! :) Lemon is one of my absolute favorite flavors and add blueberries into the mix and, well, it's hard to get a better combo. These muffins have a nice lemon flavor due to fresh lemon juice and zest and are chock full of blueberries.  You can either use fresh or frozen berries, which is great, as I try to keep frozen blueberries on hand for recipes such as this--no having to worry about having fresh berries in the house or waiting until it's blueberry season.  Finally the muffins are topped with a lemon glaze that really gave these a perfect finish, I thought.  The original recipe called for 2 Tbs. of lemon juice but I found that I needed to add an additional tablespoon in order to make the glaze thin enough to drizzle.  The result was a nice tangy sweet glaze that made these muffins a delicious morning treat.

I want to wish my sweet Mom a Happy Mother's Day and also to all the other mothers out there! Enjoy your day, you all deserve it and many more!

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (whole or 2%)
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Dash salt
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

For the Glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 to 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. butter, melted
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract


1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the milk, lemon juice, and zest. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture just until moistened. Be careful not to over mix. Fold in blueberries.

2. Fill paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

3.  In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, melted butter, and vanilla.  When adding the lemon juice start with 2 Tbs. and then add more as needed to reach a spreading consistency. Drizzle over warm muffins.

Yields about 11 or 12 muffins depending on how full you fill the muffin cups.  I was able to get an even dozen.

Adapted from Taste of Home

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Biscoff Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake with Biscoff Glaze

Yes, I have eagerly jumped on the Biscoff train.  Are you as crazy about this delicious spread as the food blogging world seems to be? If you've never heard of Biscoff spread before, you've probably had the cookies at some point in your life.  They are the addictive little crispy, buttery, cinnaminny (I made that word up) cookies that you get on Delta flights.  Well imagine that heavenly taste in a peanut buttery type spread (but with no peanuts-- or nuts of any kind for that matter). It's delicious, as you can imagine, not only on your morning toast or English muffin but also as a baking ingredient.  I had been hearing other bloggers talk about Biscoff for a long time but could never find it in our local grocery stores.  Thankfully, the trend finally caught on down here and I was able to grab a couple of jars when I was at Wal-Mart recently.  Woohoo!

The wheels started turning on how I could incorporate Biscoff into some of my favorite baked goods.  Since it has a mild cinnamon taste, I thought it would be delicious baked into a bundt cake.  Biscoff cookies already go so well with coffee, so I could imagine how great a Biscoff bundt cake would be for a brunch-type cake.  I also really like chocolate and cinnamon together so I decided to add chocolate chips to the batter.  The Biscoff lightly flavors the pound cake so the chocolate chips added a nice element of flavor but you can always omit them if you'd prefer.  Finally, the peanut butter-like consistency worked great in the glaze so I just swapped out a 1/2 cup of Biscoff instead of using butter.  It worked beautifully and really added a delicious finale to the cake.  I highly recommend using this glaze if you make this as I thought it really brought out the Biscoff flavor and added such a pretty caramel color topping.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 3/4 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
6 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs. Biscoff spread
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a large 12 cup bundt pan. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

In a separate large bowl, sift cake flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add a third of the flour mixture to the batter, alternating with the sour cream and the biscoff and ending with the flour mixture.  Blend ingredients until combined but do not over mix.  Add vanilla extract.  Mix in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan and distribute evenly.  Bake at 325 until cake leaves the sides of the pan, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Test the cake to see if it's done by inserting a knife or toothpick into the middle to see if it comes out clean.

Biscoff Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup Biscoff spread
7 Tbs. milk (or more if needed to thin icing)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine powdered sugar, Biscoff, and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer.  One tablespoon at a time, slowly add the milk until the icing is still think but is able to be drizzled on the cake.  Be careful not to make the batter too thin, I found that 7 Tbs. of milk was just the right consistency to give the icing the pooling effect that you see.

Recipe from Ryanbakes

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Strawberry-Avocado Salsa

With Cinco de Mayo this Saturday, I know many of you are looking for recipes to mark the holiday.  I thought I'd share this recipe for strawberry-avocado salsa as it utilizes the bounty of strawberries in season right now, and creates a zesty savory salsa that is a delicious change from the usual tomato variety.  I've recently become a big fan of fruit salsas served as a snack with tortilla chips and pita wedges and also as an accompaniment to tacos and burritos or served over grilled pork, fish, or chicken.  The slightly sweet fruit is absolutely delicious when paired with the spicy elements of the salsa like jalapenos and the citrus flavors of lime or lemon juice.  There is just something so yummy about the combination of fruit, lime juice, cilantro, and salt that is so refreshing during the warm months, so we make fruit salsas a lot over the spring and summer.

It also doesn't hurt that salsas are a great and healthy snack too! As you may remember I follow Weight Watcher's and this recipe is 1 WW point per serving (I've included the nutritional information and WW break down at the end).  It's so nice to find snacks that we enjoy that have such low point values. I usually toast some whole wheat pitas in the oven with a sprinkling of sea salt on them until they are crisp and then cut them into wedges to try to keep the points WW points down.

I really enjoy the combination of strawberry and avocado in this salsa.  I have found that it is best to use slightly under ripe strawberries and avocados to keep the salsa from becoming mushy.  I also prepare this immediately before serving.

Strawberry-Avocado Salsa

1 cup finely chopped strawberries
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled avocado
2 Tbs. finely chopped red onion
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp. grated fresh lime zest
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. finely chopped seeded jalapeno pepper
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Gently toss and serve immediately.  Serve with toasted pita wedges or tortilla chips.

 Nutrition Info:  Per serving: (1/4 cup) 34 cals, 1.6 grams fat, 1.5 grams fiber, 5.4 grams carbohydrates, 0.6 grams protein.

WW Points Plus= 1 point per 1/4 cup

Recipe from Cooking Light

If you're looking for other fruit salsa recipes:
Peach Salsa
Mango Avocado Salsa

Here are some other recipe ideas for Cinco de Mayo:
Hot Bean and Cheese Dip
Tex-Mex Pimiento Cheese Dip
Crock Pot Pork Carnitas 
Lightened Mexican Chicken Casserole
Mexican Chocolate Pound Cake

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