two-pump chunk

I’m pretty disappointed with the fact that we’re 28 days into October and I’ve yet to post about my favorite autumnal mainstay: pumpkin. I love pumpkin-based recipes — except traditional pumpkin pie. Blame my strange taste, but I despise pumpkin pie (and, subsequently, anyone who offers it as the sole dessert at holiday dinners). All other pumpkin progenies, though? Yes, please!

My friend Rachel’s birthday is this weekend, and when she first learned of my culinary adventures, she asked if I’d make her pumpkin cupcakes. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right, but I did manage to make her a batch of these double pumpkin kissed chocolate chunk cookies I first saw on Picky Palate.

What gives the cookie its “double” moniker is a pumpkin base along with bits of the ever-elusive Pumpkin Spice Hershey’s Kisses. If you’ve never heard of/had these things, trust me when I say they’re amazing; and if you know of them, but can’t find them, one word: Target. Don’t even bother looking anywhere else because they won’t have ’em.

I grabbed two bags even though I halved the recipe, which calls for one bag (about 35 kisses), but don’t fear: I’ll use the leftovers in a TBA recipe. Even split in half, this recipe yielded 28 medium-sized cookies. I’ll post the full recipe because halving this forced me to divide fractions in two, and that gave me a headache. Guess I shouldn’t have complained about how irrelevant to my future that math lesson 10 years ago was…

One other word of advice: If you don’t plan on going pumpkin crazy in your upcoming baking forays, go with the small can of pumpkin puree. This recipe needs only one cup of the stuff, and I’ve got enough left over in my gigantic can to last me 26+ rounds (not that I’m upset about that or anything — just prepare yourselves for many more pumpkin-centric recipes).

2 sticks softened butter
1 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tbl. vanilla
1 c. pumpkin purée
3 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
12 oz. chocolate chunks or chips
35 (approx.) Pumpkin Spice Hershey’s Kisses, quartered

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until well combined, then add pumpkin. Mix flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl. Slowly add wet ingredients, then chocolate, then Kisses. Scoop dough into balls on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees, or until edges are light brown. Allow to cool before removing.

Total time? 25 minutes prep, 12-14 minutes baking.
Cost? $2.69 for bag of Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses, $2.19 for can of pumpkin purée, $2.29 for chocolate chips.
Overall success relative to expectations? 8 out of 10. The end product has a light, cake consistency. When I took a bite of a fresh-out-of-the-oven cookie, I was disappointed at how overwhelming the chocolate was; however, after they cooled off and I gave them another try, the pumpkin flavor really came through and each bite that had a Hershey Kiss bit in it was doubly as good. Wish I had made the full recipe! Nothing else I’ve made has flown off the plate as quickly as these; I brought a bunch into work and they were gone before lunch (though we’re pretty sure the grubby ad reps in our office got to them first, grrr).

P.S. I steered clear of pumpkin puns throughout this post, but on the last “pumpkin,” I accidentally hit “n” instead of “m,” which made me giggle uncontrollably at how desperate to be corny my brain actually is.


bacon cheezza

When it comes to my taste in food, the people in my life fall into one of two categories: those who encourage my sometimes strange pairings, and those who question those questionable pairings with a “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Last week, I tried cooking for someone who falls into the latter, and finding something to suit both of our tastes is pretty difficult; fortunately, pizza is the great equalizer. And October is National Pizza Month — bonus!

Prepping for our meal together, I ran down my list of recipes-in-waiting, searching for something with meat — a component he needs, but I more often than not avoid (you have to cater to the guest, after all). A good compromise, I figured, was a meat-tastic pizza that allowed us to exert control over our respective slices. Thus, I give you bacon cheeseburger pizza (adapted from Dishing Up Delights).

My go-to pizza dough was on sale last week (haven’t attempted making my own just yet), but — of course — the only thawed balls they had were whole wheat, which I was sure wouldn’t fly with my guest; he’s one of those ‘I-hate-anything-even-remotely-good-for-me-even-if-I’ve-never-tried-it’ kind of guys. Much to my surprise, though, he obliged and we forged on with our whole wheat pizza base.

We used about 3/4 lb. of 93% lean ground beef and five or six slices of bacon, but it’s obviously up to your liking, as is the variety and amount of barbecue sauce you employ. The original recipe calls for thinly sliced onions as an additional topping, which we nixed, but, hey — if you want to cry cutting them before you eat and make everyone cry by breathing on them after you eat, go for it.

This was super easy (especially because I had an extra set of hands in the kitchen) and we were both pretty pleased with the end result. Oh, except for the part where those extra hands I had in the kitchen burned themselves on violently erratic bacon grease; I told you guys that stuff is dangerous…

♦Store-bought pizza dough
Ground beef, cooked
Bacon, cooked
Barbecue sauce, any variety
Red pepper flakes
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Olive oil

Roll out dough on baking sheet. Mix barbecue sauce and red pepper flakes to taste, and slather (good word, right?) in an even layer across the dough. Spread a layer of cheese across, then add ground beef and bacon to your liking. Brush crust with olive oil. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Total time? 30 minutes (with pans of ground beef and bacon cooking simultaneously).
Cost? $1 pizza dough, $1.74 mozz cheese, $1.50 BBQ sauce, $2 ground beef, $2 bacon.
Overall success relative to expectations? 8 out of 10. I was happily surprised to taste very little difference between the whole wheat dough and traditional flour dough, but I wasn’t liberal enough with the barbecue sauce and lost some flavor points there. Probably could have used a less lean meat to add some more flavor, too. One of the slices I controlled got doused in extra mozzarella cheese after the meat layer (below) — definitely recommend it.

International Food & Wine Fest

I’m going to be that annoying relative who shows you a bunch of photos from vacation you probably don’t care about, but at least it’s not a two-hour slideshow with crawling commentary and a clicker only I can control.

Last weekend, I attended Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. For anyone who’s been to the park, you know Epcot does an incredible job of recreating the look and feel of countries all over the world — from the United States to Greece, Japan to Morocco. During the festival, each stop serves up a beer and/or wine from each country and an assortment of local fare.

UPDATE: It appears I can’t get a slideshow plugin with this WordPress account, so my layout here is a mess. I don’t know how the photos will appear in your browser, but I’m sure you’ll be able to place the captions beneath the photos with the correct subject — like a fun little game!

Epcot “golf ball” with IF&WF decor; my first taste of international cuisine, I indulged in some spicy tuna maki from “Japan”; killing time outside the Fish & Chips station, I got distracted by the malt vinegar packets; potato pierogies and kielbasa from Poland were a fantastic main course; treated myself to a glass of Riesling from Canada to celebrate the “wine” portion of the festival; capped off the feasting with amaaazing chocolate crème brulée from “France.”


My apologies for the lack of posting lately, but I think touring the International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot and riding Tower of Terror seven times is a good enough excuse. I’ll get something good up soon, but I wanted to quickly share something peculiar I found at Miller’s Ale House in Orlando this weekend:


Um, what? It’s one [questionable] thing to have dolphin on the menu, but why would you advertise something that’s not dolphin as such? And who the hell orders this? Is there something I’m missing here?

stuffed turkey burgers

Given my deadline schedule at work, I’ve become the holiday section of Target — three months ahead on the calendar and confused about the seasons. A Thanksgiving event came across my desk today, and I shuddered thinking about what a Tgiving dinner a la culinaryneophyte might look like: pathetic potatoes, canned gravy, semi-liquid corn, brick o’ stuffing and a beautiful, slow-roasted turkey – the mainstay of the meal – replaced by whatever I could grill on my Foreman. I may have mastered mac ‘n cheese, but I’m a long way from hosting any sort of party where people RSVP ‘yes’ based on the quality of food. Someday, though; someday…

But, hey, speaking of turkey you can cook on the Forman [I know you love my segues], let’s make some stuffed turkey burgers (adapted from Playing House).

While I’m typically a fan of turkey burgers, I acknowledge the fact that ground turkey on its own is as flavorful as a mouthful of packing peanuts. This dish is not only really easy, but it’s got a nice Italian spin. The roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese add moisture and tons of flavor.

I was pretty excited to make something with ‘stuffed’ in the name, because up until this point, the only thing I’ve been stuffing is my face. (I know you love my terrible jokes even more than my segues…)

♦1/2 lb. ground turkey breast
1/4 c. chopped roasted red peppers
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Divide turkey into two even balls, then divide each of those into two patties. Add red peppers and cheese to one patty, then top with other patty and work the turkey around the edges to seal shut. Repeat with other patties. Season with salt and black pepper. Grill on Foreman for approximately six minutes. Makes two burgers.

Total time? 15 minutes.
Wait for a sale on ground turkey; I got 1lb. for $1.99, and was able to freeze half for a recipe-in-waiting. The only other ingredients are needed in small quantities, which I had in my fridge; if you’re purchasing them for the first time, though, it’ll be $1.75 for a package of shredded cheese and about $5-6 for a jar of peppers.
Overall success relative to expectations? 8 out of 10. You can’t tell from the photo, but I bought a too-big roll for my tiny burger, so that was disappointing. I think I gave the burger a complex. Improvements for next time? Make patties thinner and wider and use more cheese.

chai me!

Got my obligatory pun out of the way early. You’re welcome.

It’s finally starting to feel like fall on the east coast, and I couldn’t be happier about it. In order to celebrate the onset of cold-weather months before it actually feels cold, I give you vanilla chai cupcakes, courtesy of The Novice Chef. Nothing I’ve made thus far has made the house smell more incredible than these babies, and eating one was just like drinking cup of my favorite hot tea beverage — except, ya know, in solid form.

chai spice mix, pre-mix

The only downside you might encounter in making these is the cost. If you don’t own a spice rack, you’re in trouble; and if you do have one, you might still end up dropping a few. I threw a hissy fit when I realized the rack in our kitchen didn’t have nutmeg. Seriously? How does this thing come with tumeric and coriander seeds, but not nutmeg?! And cardamom? Yeah, okay…

Chai spice mix
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Believe me: I considered the dollar store, but after my last experience with their products, I reconsidered. The good news is that if you invest in quality spices, your flavors will be intensified, thus justifying the purchase. (Check out this Spices101 post by TheFoodInMyBeard for a more sound explanation than I could give you.) Plus, having an abundance of cardamom means I’m going to get myself into all sorts of chai experiments, so that should be…fun.

For cakes:
♦1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 quantity chai spice mix
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Mix spices together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and beat in one egg at a time. Stir in half the quantity of chai spice mix. Fold in the flour and buttermilk alternately. Stir until well combined. In another bowl, mix together vinegar and baking soda. Add that to batter. Spoon batter into cups, about 3/4 full. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into middle of cupcake comes out clean. Wait until completely cooled to frost.

For chai buttercream frosting
1 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 quantity chai spice mix
1-2 tbs. cold milk, if necessary

In a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Mix in vanilla and rest of chai spice mix. Carefully beat in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until desired consistency. If icing is too thick, add cold mix until it’s to your liking.

Total time? 45-ish minutes (including frosting-making).
Cost? More expensive than most, considering spices runs between $6-12. Apple cider vinegar ($2) isn’t the most common cabinet dweller, but I was fortunate enough to have some. The rest is pretty standard.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. I made these as part of National Cupcake Week 2010, and they were a hit amongst friends, family and co-workers (as they should have been; I took a vote to determine which variety of cupcakes to make, and these won out big time.) The flavor and aroma were amazing, and this time around, I used a professional piping tool and cutesy liners (at left), so the presentation was improved. Though the frosting was the star here, I deducted a point because the cake consistency bordered more on muffin. Definitely recommend giving them a chai, though! (Sorry, couldn’t resist [tea-hehe].) Yes, I’m ashamed; eyerolls encouraged.


Lessons learned from this adventure:

  1. Cooking bacon is terrifying.
  2. Crescent roll containers are not foolproof.
  3. Dollar store clear wrap costs a dollar for a reason.

My friends, Scott and Christina, recently hosted a potluck dinner in Scott’s newly refurbished backyard. Feeling ambitious, I volunteered to make two dishes — one savory and one sweet. This post focuses on the former: mini BLT crescent sandwiches.

(Note: I’m not even sure which acronym to go with here — hence this entry’s title — as the finished product was devoid of lettuce, but replete with cheese and onion. Also, some of the sandwiches were sans tomato, at certain party-goers’ requests. Quite the conundrum.)

As with most of my adventures, this undertaking was motivated entirely by the weekly supermarket circulars. (My friends harass me for the joy flipping through the sales brings me.) A few weeks ago, I capitalized on a Pillsbury deal (3/$5), and hit the Pillsbury website, which has thousands of creative recipes centered around their products. I settled on this one because it looked fairly easy, but utilized the crescent dough in a different way.

First of all: Why did no one tell me that frying bacon is the single most dangerous thing you can do in your kitchen? Up until this point, I had cooked only the minimally unctuous and completely harmless turkey bacon. But this ‘normal’ bacon? Not so much. Sizzling, crackling, burning grease flying everywhere. I was utterly terrified with each strip I flipped.

pre-puncture wounds

In another shining moment of culinary acumen, I failed to follow the easy-to-open crescent roll directions, i.e. “expose line to open can.” Somehow, I pulled off the entire wrapper — exposing the line — and nothing happened. Ignoring the “contents under pressure” warning, I began stabbing the container with a fork, which brought the dough oozing out of the puncture wounds. Thankfully, my roommate came to the rescue.

Also important to note: There are certain things you can get away with buying from a dollar store, but plastic wrap is not one of them. Serving trays? Sure, but clear wrap? Steer clear. I literally needed Scotch tape to make this stuff work.

♦1 can Pillsbury crescent rolls
♦1/2 c. Monterrey-Jack shredded cheese
♦8 slices of crispy bacon
♦2 tbl. chopped green onions
♦1/3 c. mayonnaise
♦1/2 c. shredded lettuce
♦8 cherry tomatoes, sliced thin

Unroll crescent dough, and press into 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Cut into 24 squares. Bake according to package (8-10 minutes at 375 degrees).

In the meantime, mix together cheese, onions, mayo and crumbled bacon in a bowl. When dough is baked and cooled, place a little bit of lettuce (or if you’re doing what I did, don’t) on 12 “slices,” followed by a small helping of the bacon-etc. mix. Top with two thin slices of tomato (or don’t), then add a second bread rectangle (or, if you burned two like I did and/or prefer these open-face style, don’t).

sandwiches and pinwheels

These are great little hors d’œuvrs, and the mix has unexpectedly great flavor for something so simple. Because this recipe yields 12 sandwiches, I doubled it to have enough for the potluck, but I switched it up a bit to offer the guests a few iterations of my dish — hence the pinwheel BOCs, at left. (Break the dough into the traditional crescent strips, add a dollop of the bacon-etc. mix at the end and roll. They came out much better than I expected, and flew off the tray faster than the standard sandwiches.)

Total time? 55-ish minutes (includes dangerous bacon frying)
Cost? Wait for the Pillsbury sale so you don’t pay more than $2/tube. Green onions for $1, bacon for $2.50, cheese for $2, cherry tomato sack for $2.50, mayo from the fridge.
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out of 10. I started feeling leery about this in the 11th hour of preparation, but these exceeded my expectations based on flavor and versatility. I would definitely make them again.

And the potluck? Great success. My friend Jay (at My Nose Knows) had his own wok station, we toasted s’mores over Scott’s fire pit and everyone left full and happy.