Triple Lemon Cupcakes

Yum.  That is the absolute best way to describe these cupcakes!  I broke a cardinal rule of cooking, but thank goodness it worked out for me once again! They say you should never serve something to guests that you haven't tested before.  Well, I guess I will have to have a personal disaster where something turns out nasty before I follow this rule because the two times I have gambled with a new recipe it has turned out great! (last time was the strawberry cupcakes, and we all know how much I loved those!)  I didn't think I was taking too big of a risk though because I got this recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Peace Meals, which hasn't let me down once.  However, I did some major adapting by using a boxed cake mix and already prepared lemon curd.  The good news is they still tasted like a specialty cupcake and not like a boxed mix at all!  If you want to be an over achiever and make the lemon curd and cake mix, email me and I will share the rest of the recipe. 
I made these triple lemon cupcakes for my sister-in-law's baby shower last weekend.  I have to say they were a hit (and most importantly, Mr. Hungry told me it was the best cupcake he had ever had!)  I do believe this will also become a go to recipe for me for the following reasons... 1) it was relatively quick with all my shortcuts 2) it was pretty unique because of the inside suprise of a dollop of lemon curd 3) and way way cheaper than the going rate of $3.50 a cupcake at the oh so popular cupcake bakeries. 

Below, you can see how I added a little baby touch with the plastic bottles we bought at Michael's.  If you are making these for a special occasion, I also love a good homemade flag, which I did on the strawberry cupcakes. 
Triple Lemon Cupcakes
Recipe Notes
Lemon Curd has a thick consistency and is used as a dessert topping or as a spread on scones in places in the world where they have afternoon tea.  It is made with lemons, butter, sugar and eggs and a small dollop is the perfect surprise in the middle of these cupcakes.  It can be found in most grocery stores near jelly.  I would splurge a little and don't get the cheapest kind.  My bottle was about $7.00.  If you want the cupcakes to look like lemon, you can add a little yellow food coloring.  Don't go overboard or you will have neon yellow cupcakes.
1 lemon boxed cake mix + additional ingredients on the back of the cake box
1 jar lemon curd
for the icing
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk
¼ cup lemon curd

Step by Step
Bake cupcakes according to directions on the back of the box,

For the frosting:
Cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, then add the mild and blend until smooth. Add the Lemon Curd and mix until well blended.
To Assemble:
1. Using a sharp knife, cut an upside down cone in the middle of each cupcake.
2. Fill each center with a teaspoon size dollop of Lemon Curd.
3. Top each cupcake with Lemon Buttercream.
You can use a resealable bag to pipe on the frosting if you don’t have piping bags. Just fill the bag, then cut off one corner and squeeze. Or, just spread icing on with a butter knife.
My little baby touch to make these Baby Shower appropriate!


Avocado Chicken Salad with Avocado Dressing

There are certain recipes that are responsible for my love of cooking.  I have such vivid memories of tasting  certain meals and thinking how could I have lived this long without knowing about this!  I would immediately forget about the time that went into the preparation and be taken away to some foodie euphoria.  This is what keeps me in the kitchen... this is one of those recipes.  It was one day in college that my friend Allison and I decided to take a "personal day" and do lots of cooking.  At this point, I had made a few things that were tasty, but I knew Paula Deen's avocado chicken salad was going to always be one of my favorites from the first bite I took.  If you love chicken salad and avocado as much as I do, I would bet my crepe pan on the fact that this will be one of your favorites too! Enjoy!

I made this for my sister-in-laws baby shower last weekend and it is a definite go-to recipe for any brunch or luncheon.   It takes a little bit of time, but is definitely worth it for a special occasion!
Avocado Chicken Salad
Adapted from Paula Deen
Recipe Notes
One of the unique things about this chicken salad is the dressing that goes on top.  It is really what makes the dish pop.  Serve it alongside the chicken salad and drizzle over before eating.  This also goes great with your favorite cracker or some crusty french bread.  The chicken salad can be made the night before if you leave out the avocado chunks.  Add avocado up to 30 minutes before serving.  The dressing can be made the night before as well and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
For the Chicken Salad
3 cups cooked, diced chicken (click here for instructions)
3 cups cooked white rice
2 avocados, peeled, diced and tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup mayonnaise
1 to 2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
For the Avocado Dressing
1 small avocado mashed with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
Step by Step
For the Chicken Salad
1.  Mix all ingredients except for avocado chunks.  Mix until ingredients are well combined.
2.  Add chunks of avocado and toss lightly.
3.  Chill until ready to serve.
For the Dressing
1.  Combine all ingredients into a food processor.
2.  Blend until completely smooth.
3.  Chill and serve alongside the chicken salad.

Makes 8 servings.


Chicken Pesto Pizza

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered wonderful homemade pizza crust, and already I am seeing my work pay off.  When I first made pizza dough, I doubled the recipe and froze the dough.  Two weeks later, I am able to throw together a homemade pizza in just minutes, and might I add it is delicious! This chicken pesto pizza is especially great when you have leftover chicken breast.  I had grilled up some chicken for dinner last night, and cooked an extra breast for dinner tonight. This pizza is great any night of the week and the leftovers are even better.  Enjoy!
Chicken Pesto Pizza
Recipe Notes
Any seasoned grilled chicken will work great.  If making the chicken just for the pizza, season with salt, pepper and garlic salt before grilling.  Feel free to try whatever cheese you have on hand as well.
Homemade pizza dough (click here for recipe)
1/2 cup basil pesto
1 grilled chicken breast, sliced thinly
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1-2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
Step by Step
1.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into the shape of your cookie sheet.  Place crust on a piece of parchment paper and place on pan.
2.  Spread a thin layer of pest on entire crust, leaving a 1/2 inch around the edge with no pesto.
3.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese.
4.  Sprinkle monterey jack cheese to cover all of the pesto.
5.  Place slices of chicken breast on top.  Sprinkle with a bit more parmesan cheese.
6.  Generously salt and pepper the entire pizza.
7.  Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until crust is crispy and brown.
8.  Cut into rectangular pieces and serve.


Spaghetti Pie

This is another one of those great inventions when you need something fast and you can usually find most of this in your refrigerator.  I have to thank my mother-in-law for this great recipe.  This is a delicious dish and makes great leftovers! Enjoy!
Spaghettie Pie
Recipe Notes
To make this dish a little heartier, you can add ground beef to the sauce when you warm it up.
1 lb spaghetti, cooked in salty water and cooled
1 egg, beaten
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
2 to 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper
Your favorite store bought tomato sauce
Step by Step
1. Preheat to 350 degrees.
2.  In a medium sized bowl, combine spaghetti, egg, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
3.  Stir to combine.
4.  Pour in a 9x13 baking dish.
5.  Cover with mozzarella cheese and season the top with salt & pepper.
6.  Cover with foil and bake for about 15 minutes.
7.  Remove foil and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes until cheese is brown and bubbling.
8.  Heat tomato sauce on the stove over low to medium heat.
9.  Pour sauce over slices of spaghetti pie before serving.

How To: Comment on a Post

I have had quite a few questions and confusion about how to post comments on something that I post.  Let me first say, it just thrills me to death to read your comments and I love to know any and every thought you have about a recipe, if you have tried something, or if you have a question (or you just want to say hi!).  So, I thought I would discuss the different ways to post!  Also, if you ask a question in a comment, I will answer it with a comment back as soon as possible.  This is a great place for a question because you are probably not the only one that is wondering something!

If you would just like to leave a comment:

1. Click on comment below any post.
2.  Write whatever you desire!
3.  Below your comment, you will see Comment As:
4.  Click on the arrow next to it and choose Name/URL (or anonymous if you so choose)
5.  Fill in your name and leave the URL blank
6.  Hit post comment.  It might ask you to enter a secret word for spamming purposes and then hit post comment.  Okay this is where most are having problems!  This should work just fine, but some people are getting a red message saying you cannot post at this time. Simply hit post comment again.  You might have to enter a security word again but it should go through this time!

If you would like to post a comment and link it to you own website:
1.  Follow all the instructions above, but add your website in the spot that says URL.

Okay, hope that helps!  Thanks again for all of your wonderful comments!


Easy Cheesy Cornbread

Sometimes, you just need to make dinner, and make it fast.  I had a couple of nights like that last week and still wanted to make some tasty stuff.  This is where pre-measured ingredients come in handy, but could always use a little something extra.  You can make this cornbread in just minutes, but it is extremely delicious with the sharp cheddar cheese.  These little muffins go great with anything from soups to barbecue.  As you can see, it is hardly a recipe at all.  Enjoy!
Easy Cheesy Cornbread
Recipe Notes
This recipe calls for a package of cornbread mix.  This can be found in any grocery store usually near the flour and other baking items.  The particular brand I used was Pioneer, but any brand will work.  Make sure to read the back and see what you need for the mix.  Most call for milk and eggs.
1 package of cornbread mix + other ingredients that the cornbread package calls for
1 cup extra sharp shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Step by Step
1.  Prepare cornbread batter according to package.
2.  Stir in cheddar cheese, salt and pepper.
3.  Finish cornbread in a muffin tin according to directions.
4.  Serve warm out of the oven.


Homemade Pizza with Mushrooms & Pancetta

So how many of you were wondering if I really just left that dough plain? Sorry I left you hanging, but here is the final product of my homemade pizza endeavor.  This is the rest of the pizza recipe I had from Giada de Laurentis and I can barely put into words how delicious it is.  Chewy in the middle, crunchy on the outside crust... 3 different melted cheeses... topped with salty bites of pancetta... yum!  I set out to determine if going through all the trouble of making homemade pizza was worth it and my conclusion is a resounding yes! The options are endless and this combination is a great start.  Enjoy!
Homemade Pizza with Mushrooms & Pancetta

Adapted from Giada de Laurentis in Bon Appetit
Recipe Notes
For those of you unfamiliar with pancetta, it is Italian style bacon.  Regular bacon does not really work as a substitute for this recipe, but I do have a hint on how to get great pancetta without having to buy a ton.  Most every grocery store carries it in the deli and you can ask for two thick slices (about 1/2 an inch each), which is enough for this recipe.   Also, fontina cheese can be a tad on the expensive side, but a small piece will give you enough for two pizzas.  If you have to use less than the recipe calls for, just add more parmesan and mozzarella.  This recipe makes enough for two cookie sheet size pizzas so feel free to half the recipe and freeze the other half of the dough for another night.
1/2 cup purchased marinara sauce
1 cup coarsely grated Fontina cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
2 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon), coarsely chopped
Step by Step
1.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
3.  Divide dough in half.  Roll out one half on lightly floured surface to 13 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch rectangle.
4.  Transfer to one baking sheet.  Repeat with second half.
5.  Spread 1/4 cup marinara sauce over each pizza, leaving 1/2 inch border.  Sprinkle cheese over, then mushrooms and pancetta.  Sprinkle with salt and generous amount of pepper.
6.  Bake pizzas until brown on bottom and cheese is melter, about 15 minutes.  Cut each pizza crosswise into rectangles.


How To: Homemade Pizza Dough

I feel as if I have experienced a miracle.  I watched a dough like substance double in size from a silly little packet of something called yeast! Homemade pizza dough has been on my list of things to make for as long as I can remember.  I thought once I mastered pizza dough, the possibilities would be endless! (yes, I know this might sound a little familiar from my crepe phase... which is hardly a phase because they are now a staple!)  Well, I have to say that I am pretty excited because this was only my first attempt and this is such a great recipe that turned out perfect.  Considering it came from the queen of Italian food, Giada de Laurentis, I shouldn't be too surprised that it was wonderful crust.  Another thing that has always deterred about making pizza dough was the ingredient list that included a packet of yeast and water that had to be at a certain temperature.  That was enough to discourage me, but once I found out that you can easily buy yeast packets near the flour in your grocery store, and all you really need is lukewarm water, I was ready to overcome my fears.  If you are still a little weary of making or kneading dough, Bon Appetit has a great short video that shows each step and gives great tips on how to know when you are done kneading.  Click here for the video.

A side note:  I am not here to reinvent the wheel.  Pizza is one of the most accessible foods these days and within minutes you can have anything from a cheap pizza to a gourmet pizza at your doorstep within an hour.  However, I have heard great homemade pizza can easily be made and my hopes for this endeavor was to find a great crust and be able to have make your own pizza parties!  Well, I am officially inspired with this great crust and next on my list is to try the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for whole wheat crust.

Homemade Pizza Dough
Adapted from Bon Appetit July 2009
Recipe Note
This recipe calls for 115 degree water.  I did not have take the temperature of my water, but instead just used lukewarm water.  The appliance that made this so easy was my food processor.  I have not experimented with how to make the dough without one.  I know there is a way and if anyone has any tips on this, please share!
3/4 cup lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups all purpose flour (plus more for the counter)
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Step by Step
1.  Pour warm water into a bowl.  Stir in packet of yeast and allow to dissolve, about 5 minutes.
2.  Coat a large mixing bowl with olive oil and set aside.
3.  In a large food processor with a dough blade, combine flour, sugar and salt.  Pulse a few times to combine ingredients.
4.  Add yeast mixture and olive oil.  Process until dough forms a sticky ball.
5.  Transfer dough ball to a lightly floured surface.
6.  Knead dough until smooth, about one minute.  To test if dough is done being kneaded, press the dough ball with two fingers.  If the the finger dents stay in the dough, you are done kneading.  If dough is sticky add flour by tablespoons until it no longer sticks to your fingers.
7.  Transfer dough ball to bowl coated with oil.  Turn dough in the bowl so it is covered with oil.
8.  Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap.  Set aside in a warm, draft-free area.  Allow dough to sit for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.
9.  Remove plastic wrap and punch dough once or twice with your fist to remove air.
10.  Slowly stretch dough out or roll out with rolling pin until desired thickness and shape.

Dough can be stored in an airtight container for up to one day in the refrigerator.  Dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months.


Banana & Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Pecans

There is nothing like a big stack of pancakes on a Saturday morning when you can just sit around and eat till noon.  I found this banana pancake recipe to be so easy and the pecans and chocolate chips make it extra special.  The great thing about this recipe is that you add the chocolate chips and pecans at the end.  I would definitely go for both, but if you have a picky eater or two, you can make a couple without either the chocolate chips or pecans.
Banana & Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Pecans
Recipe Notes
Make sure you mush the bananas so they are almost liquid.  This will help the banana to evenly spread throughout the batter.  Make sure and cook the pancakes on low to medium heat, but allow both sides to brown completely so that they will be cooked through.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ripe bananas, mashed
dash of cinnamon
dash of vanilla
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Step by Step
1.  Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.
2.  In another bowl, combine egg, milk, oil, bananas and vanilla.
3.  Stir flour mixture into liquid mixture until just combined.
4.  Heat a nonstick skillet over low to medium heat.
5.  Pour a 1/4 cup of batter in a circle on heated pan.
6.  Place chocolate chips and pecans on wet side of batter slightly pushing them into the batter.
7.  When edges of pancake start to bubble, flip with a spatula.
8.  Allow pancake to brown completely on the other side.
9.  Repeat until batter is gone.  Keep pancakes warm in the oven on very low heat while the rest are cooking.


Fried Eggplant

I had the most exciting little surprise this week.  My friend/ coworker, Rachel, found out about my Little Kitchen and all the cooking that goes on here, and decided to bring me a few jewels from her garden.  Among the herbs and pepper was this little darling little eggplant. 
If you are familiar with my topsy turvy saga and my struggle to keep a potted herb alive, you would understand how in awe I am when people can grow such wonderful looking veggies at home.  I was just giddy about this little tyke and immediately tried to come up with the perfect way to use it.  I dreamt of vegetable lasagnas and eggplant stir frys, and leave it to me to end up cooking this in the most unhealthy way (however, probably the most delicious!).  I haven't cooked much with eggplant so my goal for my first time was to make it as tasty as possible.  Fried eggplant with marinara sounded like a winner to me! I found this wonderful recipe from Emeril Lagasse and got to work.  The results were delicious.  In fact, Mr. Hungry said it tasted more like fried cheese than an eggplant.  Yum.  So if you have never cooked with eggplant either, I suggest you try this easy and delicious method.
Fried Eggplant
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse from the Food Network
Recipe Note
Do not be scared by all the spices that go into Emeril's Essence.  I actually didn't use the thyme because I didn't have any and substituted the onion powder for the onion flakes I already had.  Of course the goal is to use all of the ingredients, but you can skip one or two if you need to.  I would suggest cutting the eggplant no thicker than 1/4 inch.  I cut one piece that was slightly thicker and it was a little bit tough.   A tip to know when your oil is the right temperature:  When you have heated your oil over medium to high heat, sprinkle a little bit of flour in the oil.  If it sizzles and pretty much dissappears, your oil is ready.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour or cornstarch
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional for sprinkling eggplant
1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
1 small eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch disks
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
Marinara sauce, for dipping
Ingredients for "Emeril's Essence"
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
Step by Step
1.  Place the flour, egg, and bread crumbs each in 3 small bowls.
2.  Add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the egg and whisk to combine.
3.  Season the bread crumbs with the tablespoon of Essence and stir with a fork or your hands to thoroughly combine.
4.  Dredge each piece of eggplant in the flour, coating thoroughly and then shaking to remove any excess flour.
5.  Coat each piece with the egg, then dredge in the bread crumb mixture, pressing to make the bread crumbs adhere. Transfer the eggplant pieces to a paper towel to let them dry slightly before frying.
6.  In a heavy skillet, heat 1/2-inch of vegetable oil to 375 degrees F (medium to high heat).
7.  Fry the eggplant pieces, in batches if necessary, for about 1 minute on each side, or until golden brown. 8.  Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain.
9.  Sprinkle lightly with salt before serving. Serve with marinara sauce, or as desired.


Lemon Butter Cookies

One of my favorite parts about starting this little cooking blog has been all of the wonderful recipes that people have shared with me (I plan on getting to all of them!).  This recipe came to me the best way.  My friend's aunt sent me the recipe along with a sample of these delicious cookies.  I was sold immediately and then found out they are also the easiest cookies to make! This recipe is a perfect example of one of my favorite grocery buys, boxed cake mix.  These wonderful buys often get a really bad wrap for being a "shortcut" or having "fake flavor," but they are perfect when you doctor them up a little.  Boxed cake mixes are simply pre-measured ingredients, so save yourself a step or two and use them next time you make cookies or a cake.  These lemon butter cookies melt in your mouth and the flavor seems like a cookie you would be served in you neighborhood cafe with a cup of tea.  Now for the best part... There are only 3 ingredients!  So thank you Mary and Trish for sending this recipe my way!

Lemon Butter Cookies
Recipe from Trish Chambers
1 lemon boxed cake mix
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 cup rice krispies
Step by Step
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Mix three ingredients in a medium size bowl.
3.  Using a tablespoon, scoop dough onto a nonstick baking sheet.
4.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  Watch closely and remove from oven when cookies or golden, but before the edges get brown.
5.  Using a spatula, transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Be Careful!  
You must keep a careful eye on your cookies because you do not want these brown edges.  It can happen very quickly and you might lose a batch or two, but take the cookies out before they brown or they will be too crunchy.


Central Market Dinner for Two Deals

I am going to take a moment and go in the opposite direction of what I always write about, cooking.  Put down the skillet and spatula and run to Central Market!  Have you heard of their "Dinner for Two" deals?  Every day, they offer a different meal that is already prepared and you pick it up and heat it up when you get home.  I have to admit I have passed it many times before for the normal cost of $14.99, but they are on sale this week for $9.99 until Tuesday!  That is two portions of a wonderful meal already prepared for $10.  Besides the fact that I love to cook, it also can save a lot of money.  However, I think Central Market has me beat this week.  Last night, we had breaded chicken cutlets, tomato mozzarella salad, israeli couscous and parmesan focaccia bread.  It was delicious and we plan on having the sliced ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans almondine and rolls tonight for dinner.  I am sure these meals are still a really good deal for $14.99, but I think they are a steal for $9.99 and worth putting down the pots and pans for a day or two.  The only sad part about this, is that I just found out about it and the special is over Tuesday.  Sorry about that, but hopefully you can enjoy one of the last two days!  Check here for the menu at your local Central Market.

p.s. Sorry for those of you who are reading this and don't live near a Central Market!