Monthly Archives: October 2011

Timeless

When I was a kid my parents had a set of glass-topped coffee tables with brass accents. Oh, they were fancy and cutting-edge chic. So modern. They sat nestled there in our formal living room next to vanilla ice cream colored couches, speckled with peach, pink and sea foam green. On the wall hung a large painting of fish, abstract and watery. My favorite addition to the room was an oversized green vase dripping with glass that looked like shiny, purple candle wax and stuffed with fake plastic reeds.

That room was early 90s decorating at it’s best. Magazine perfect. Now? A time warp.

In the mid-90s, I insisted on wearing huge pants. I bought jeans that I had to cinch at my waist with a belt on the last notch to hold in place. They bagged around my (non-existent) hips and bunched at my ankles. Five seconds after I cut off the tags, I was using the same scissors to cut a slit up the side of the leg so they would drag on the ground under my chunky Doc Martin shoes. On top, assorted plaids. Maybe a vest. Or spaghetti strap tanks over baby doll tees. Hair long, loose and flat, parted down the middle, wispy bangs curled under.

EVERYONE dressed like that. Now? People would take one look at that getup and wonder if you were headed to a costume party dressed as Angela Chase. Maybe Jordan Catalano will be there. *90s swoon*

And then there are things that never go out style. Like red nail polish. No woman in history, from victory gardens and rivets to cosmos and clubs, has has ever stepped out into the world with a swash of crimson across her fingertips without feeling knock-your-socks-off beautiful. It’s confidence in a tiny glass bottle. Confidence is totally timeless.

You know what else is timeless? Oreos. Oreos look and taste the same as they did when my parents had a pastel living room. Not that I was allowed to EAT Oreos in there. Or anything for that matter. They taste just the same as they did when a handful of friends sat around in too-big pants listening to grunge rock and scraping the middles out of them. There’s something comforting about that. In a world where as quickly as it’s in, it’s out, it is kind of nice to know that humble little cookie is still getting dunked in milk and tumbling crumbs down the front of shirts everywhere and probably always will.

I tend to forget about Oreos. They are not a usual addition to my grocery list and I rarely even take my shopping cart down the cookie aisle. But as I was wandering the grocery store last week picking up a few things for the weekend guests we were to be hosting, I tossed a bag into my cart on a whim. Eric loves Oreos though he rarely gets them. And since it was his friends that were coming to stay, I figured they probably loved them too. I’d find some way to jazz them up.

I decided to turn my bag of Oreos into these Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes for two reasons. 1). I’ve made them before and they are insanely easy to throw together. Ten minutes tops. 2). They are quite the tasty little treat! The whole Oreo as a crust at the bottom of the cupcake really makes that classic cookie taste shine through. The smooth, sweet creamy filling studded with chocolatey chunks of chopped Oreos takes a timeless classic and kicks it up a notch.

I’ll be making these when I need a quick dessert for years to come. Even as pastel living rooms and super baggy pants come and go again. šŸ™‚ Oreos are forever.

COOKIES AND CREAM CHEESECAKES (Recipe Source: Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 42 chocolate/cream cookies, such as Oreos – 30 left whole and 12 coarsely chopped
  • 2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature and slightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners and place one whole cookie into the bottom of each cup.
  2. Beat cream cheese until smooth with an electric mixer, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually add sugar and beat until fully combined. Add vanilla and beat to combine.
  3. Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time, beating until incorporated and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in sour cream and salt. Gently fold into chopped cookies by hand.
  4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each one nearly to the top. Bake, rotating the tins halfway through, until the filling is set, about 22 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely. Refrigerate in the tins at least 4 hours before serving. Makes 30 cheesecakes.

*Note:* I halved the recipe with no problems. Got exactly 15 cheesecakes! šŸ™‚

ENJOY!

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Who says you can’t go home.

A few weeks ago, Eric and I took a day trip to our alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to enjoy a day of football and pretending to be 21 again.

The football game? Ah-mazing. Not only a win but also one of the best games in recent memory. GLORIOUS!

The pretending to be 21 again? Well. That didn’t really go as planned.

The U of I was my home for four years. I felt like I knew every nook and cranny of that campus. Every tree-line walkway on the quad, every quiet place to study, every patch of grass to nap on in sun. Every bus to ride to avoid walking in the snow or the rain, every booth in my favorite hangouts, and every lecture hall seat to avoid because it was missing a desk. It felt as familiar as my childhood bedroom, and just as cozy and welcoming. I belonged there.

The connection I feel to that place is strong and intense. Emotional. I met and fell in love with my husband there. If it wasn’t for a college dorm and all it’s simultaneous awkwardness and awesomeness, I wouldn’t have met some of my very best friends. I think I look back so fondly on my college years because it connects my past with some of the best parts of my present and future.

But going back. Going back is weird. It’s funny how you expect everything to be frozen in time. It should look, feel, smell just the way you remember you it. And when it doesn’t, you’re a little shocked. You’re a little wounded. Sure, that abandoned Wendy’s building at the corner of 6th and Green served no purpose, other than maybe to attract crime and…other things, but when you see it’s been replaced with a luxury high rise apartment building with a pool on the roof (for college students, mind you…), you can’t help but feel a bit bewildered. And what is this gourmet frozen yogurt place doing here?Ā  It’s just not the same.

That sense of belonging. You want it to be there so bad. But it’s not. The faces on campus hidden by sunglasses and headphones, weighty book bags slung over their shoulders – they are ten years or more your junior. Babies! Kids you probably babysat for while you were in high school! Waiting in line in the cold to pay $5 to get inside a smelly, dirty bar and drink bottom shelf liquor until you can’t see – there’s nothing fun about that anymore.

But that’s okay. It’s good actually. Because you’re older and wiser. Because chucking stuff off a balcony is frowned upon when you’re pushing thirty. Because staying out past 2am makes it really hard to get up and go to work in the morning. Because even though it’s not the same and even though you don’t really belong there anymore, you still have the memories. You still have those four years frozen in time just as they were when you were there. That’s totally enough. šŸ™‚ No one can take that away from you.

Our trip to Champaign-Urbana didn’t make us feel like we were 21 again, but it definitely drew up a ton of nostalgia. More than anything, we were overwhelmed with an intense craving for one of our favorite campus foods….Pokey Stix!

Did you have a Gumby’s near campus at your school? If so, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. If not, I’m sorry. Really. Womp womp. That’s a travesty.

When the campus bars would close, thousands of slightly intoxicated and famished students would pour out into the streets. The late night food spots would be packed to the brim. Burritos, sandwiches, french fries, and pizza. It didn’t matter how bad it was, there was no doubt it would taste amazing after all that bottom shelf booze.

But the holy grail of late night eats? Pokey Stix. A cheesy, doughy, pizza/breadstick hybrid consisting of a pizza crust topped with an uber-greasy garlic butter sauce and smothered with a golden layer of melted mozzarella. They were cut into long strips and came with marinara and a revolting, warm, watery ranch on the side for dipping.

NOTHING but the real deal would satisfy the craving. And, until now, I thought Pokey Stix were just another thing from days gone by. Surely they couldn’t be replicated. Surely they wouldn’t taste as good as they did with best friends in the wee hours of the morning.

Good news, lifelong Pokeys fans. They absolutely can. And they absolutely do. Eric and I each took a bite of these and were pretty much blown away by the garlicky, buttery perfection. We ate until our bellies ached. Just like we used to.

So grab some old friends, an ice cold cheap beer, and whip up a batch of these for some reminiscin’ and football-watchin’. Who says you can’t go home? šŸ˜‰

CHEESY GARLIC BREADSTICKS (Recipe inspired by and adapted from: Jam Hands)

INGREDIENTS:

  • Pizza dough (I used this Baking Illustrated recipe as seen at Brown Eyed Baker, but canned, premade, store bought, whatever you like will work. I would avoid a crust that’s too thin – the texture will be off.)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (I would avoid pre-shredded – it’s too dry)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Prepare pizza dough as instructed. Preheat a pizza stone in a 500 degree oven for about 3o minutes.
  2. In a small skillet, melt butter. Add garlic and cook briefly until just fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds. Do not overcook the garlic or it will taste bitter! Stir in dried minced onion and salt and pepper.
  3. Roll the dough into a 12 to 14 inch circle. Drizzle with garlic butter and spread to the edges. Sprinkle with Parmesan and then mozzarella.
  4. Remove pizza stone from oven and reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Liberally sprinkle the stone with cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully transfer the dough to the stone and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden – about 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. To serve, cut the pie in half down the center once. Then make perpendicular cuts across the pie in the opposite direction to achieve long, thin strips. Serve alongside marinara and ranch for dipping. Cheap beer is optional, but recommended. šŸ˜‰ Serves 4.

ENJOY! šŸ™‚

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First Fall

When we packed up and relocated earlier this year, we only moved about 150 miles from our previous location. Really, this is a drop in the bucket as far as moves go. A quick trip. Even so, it’s amazing what a difference a buck and half of distance can make in your surroundings.

In Iowa, our little house on the outskirts of town was surrounded by flat, endless fields of grain. Peppered with quaint, rustic farmhouses and sun scorched barns, it was the portrait of the plains. In the heat of the summer, stalks of corn grew tall along two lane country roads, stretching toward an uninterrupted blue sky. From those roads, the horizon looked like a destination – a tangible place you could step into if you just drove far enough to reach it. It was beautiful in it’s own simple, Americana kind of way, but certainly not what most would call a stunning view.

Our new house is tucked back just far enough from the Mississippi River in a small, waterfront town. It’s etched into rolling hills and sits squarely under a thick canopy of trees. In the summer, our backyard stayed cool and breezy as the forest brought sweet, shady relief from the blistering sun. A simple walk to Main Street felt like a vacation. Sitting on the patio next to the river at a local place with an ice cold beer watching boats go by, it was easy to forget we were only half a mile from home.

But summer has faded and the first hints of fall have officially arrived. Mornings are chilly and afternoons are just right for college hoodies and comfy cardigans. That thick canopy of green is now tinted with hints of amber, rust and plum. Leaves fall like snowflakes, a warning of things to come. Early in the morning, as the soft, hazy sunlight peeks out from behind the woods, it throws thousands of tiny sparkles onto the water where they bob for a split second before disappearing downstream with the current.

It’s official. This will be my favorite time of the year in our new house. It’s really very beautiful. Fall belongs to the river. I’m quickly realizing how lucky we are to be able to experience it this way.

Here’s another great way to experience fall – cinnamon roll cupcakes! All the spicy, nutty, cinnamony filling, all the smooth, creamy frosting, but none of the yeast. None of the waiting. None of the hassle. These are such a perfect bite to cozy up with on a chilly fall day. A basic buttery yellow cake is layered with a ribbon of cinnamon, brown sugar and pecans. More of that goodness is pressed into the tops of the cupcakes where it melts into a crunchy topping. Then each cake gets a generous portion of sweet vanilla buttercream. If you’re a cream cheese frosting fan, by all means. Do it. šŸ™‚

I would have liked to have done a rustic smear of frosting across the top of each cupcakes to better mimic a cinnamon roll (no one PIPES frosting a cinnamon roll! Please…) but the cinnamon sugar mixture was a little too loose for that. I was worried about all the topping getting caught up in the frosting and looking not-so-pretty. I’m sure I’m the only one who would have been bothered by that, but…you know…

Anyway! Get yourself a cozy sweatshirt and piping hot cup of coffee and enjoy this dessert spin on a breakfast classic. They’ll warm you right up. šŸ™‚

CINNAMON ROLL CUPCAKES (Recipe Source: BHG)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2/3 cupĀ butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-1/2 cupsĀ all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoonsĀ baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoonĀ salt
  • 3/4 cupĀ packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cupĀ finely chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoonsĀ ground cinnamon
  • 1-3/4 cupsĀ sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoonsĀ vanilla
  • 1-1/4 cupsĀ milk
  • 1 recipeĀ Creamy Butter Frosting (recipe follows)
  • Additional cinnamon and pecans, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Allow butter and eggs to stand warm to room temperature for about thirty minutes. Meanwhile, line 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper liners. Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a small bowlĀ  combine brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar slowly, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium speed until combined, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined (batter may look curdled).

3. Spoon about 1 tablespoon batter into each prepared liner. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the brown sugar mixture over batter in cups. Spoon remaining batter evenly over brown sugar mixture in cups. Sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture over each cupcake.

4. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in muffin cups on wire racks for 10 minutes before removing from. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

5. Spread or pipe Creamy Butter Frosting onto cupcakes and sprinkle with additional cinnamon and pecans if using. Store cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes about 26.

Creamy Butter Frosting: Allow 1 cup butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and a dash salt and beat to combine. Gradually add 4 cups powdered sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1/4 cup whipping cream or whole milk. Beat in 4 additional cups of powdered sugar. Beat in 2 to 3 tablespoons additional whipping cream or milk until frosting is light and fluffy and reaches a spreading or piping consistency. Makes about 4 cups.

ENJOY! šŸ™‚

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