Monday, December 27, 2010

A dash of this, a pinch of that

I'm taking full advantage of my vacation and procrastinating. I leave for Charleston and my cruise in 4 days, and instead of packing, I decided that I would cook! Tonight's menu: My mom's famous Chicken Enchiladas! However, I add something new each time, and this time I went a little wild. Here is my updated version of an old favorite.

Chicken Enchiladas:
Serves 4
2 cans Cream of Chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 Tbsp Chili Powder
Ground Cayenne Pepper, to taste
3 generous dashes of Cholula hot sauce
1 can Black Beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked chicken, cut up
Monterey Jack and Cheddar Cheese, shredded
8 flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 375*.

Sautee onion in butter. Add Chili Powder and Cayenne Pepper. Add 11/2 cans of Cream of Chicken soup, 3/4 cup Sour Cream, and drained and rinsed black beans to the pan and heat through.

Put chicken mixture in tortillas, top with cheese and roll up. Place in greased baking dish. In a separate container, mix remaining Cream of Chicken soup (roughly 1/2 can) and 1/4 cup sour cream (I always sprinkle a little chili powder in this mix as well). Spread this mixture on top of the filled and rolled tortillas, cover with foil, and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle cheese on top. Return to oven, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes.

Source: adapted from my mom

I hope your family enjoys this as much as mine always has!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Parties

My favorite part about this time of year is, hands down, all of the parties! Every Christmas party means a chance to bake something festive and to see people I love!

For my sister's Christmas party I made my famous Red Velvet Cupcakes

Lorin and I at her Christmas party

For my mom's birthday, I made Red Velvet Cupcakes as well because they are her all time favorite and she is my inspiration for creating and baking them. (These are actually the cupcakes that started it all back in my tiny kitchen on Coming Street in Charleston.)

The 5 of us at Valhalla for mom's birthday.

Then I got a great recipe for Eggnog Cupcakes from my all-time favorite food blog, Annie's Eats. When I got an eVite to the Franco's Christmas Party, I knew just what to bring! And I knew it had to be amazing because they have a competition every year and I'd like to have a chance at it this year :) So, I spent an afternoon baking Eggnog Cupcakes at Josh's (which is not a very equipped kitchen, but my sister let me borrow her KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer, so I worked with what I had)


Final product

Eggnog Cupcakes

Yield: about 18-20 regular cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
¼ cup dark rum or bourbon (optional) (I used Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum and it is NOT optional!)
1 cup eggnog
¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sugar

For the frosting:
20 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2½ tbsp. eggnog
1 tbsp. dark rum (0ptional) (Again, Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, NOT optional!)

For garnish:
Ground cinnamon or grated nutmeg
Cinnamon sticks

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg; whisk to combine. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the rum, eggnog, vegetable oil, vinegar, and sugar. Beat on medium-low speed until well blended. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling the cups 2/3 full. Bake 22-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If making mini cupcakes, I bake for 11-13 minutes.

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, 20-30 seconds. Add in the powdered sugar, salt and nutmeg, and mix on medium-high speed until incorporated and smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the eggnog and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 4 minutes. With the mixer on medium-low speed, blend in the rum.

Fill a pastry bag with the frosting and decorate the cooled cupcakes as desired. (I used a large Wilton 1m star tip for these cupcakes). Sprinkle with ground cinnamon or grated nutmeg, and garnish with cinnamon sticks if desired.

Source: Annie's Eats; cupcakes adapted from Baking Bites, frosting adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Enjoy and happy holiday partying to you all!!

*Snow Day*

I'm not typically a fan of winter. I do not like cold weather, I do not enjoy being stuck inside, I do not enjoy having to dress in winter clothing, and I do not like that the days are so short. However, I can stand winter when it snows, so what better way to usher in winter than to have a snow day?Fortunately, my semester ended on December 10, so I've had some time to relax outside of snow days, but I really enjoyed this one!
There is something about the silence and stillness that snow brings. It absorbs sound and covers everything around in a thick, white blanket. However, since I do get cabin fever pretty quickly, Josh and I took my mom up on an invitation to walk to her house for a visit. It's about 1/4 mile if we take the back road that runs between Josh's house and my mom's (very country, I know), so I took her some hot chocolate mix that I had made that morning. I adapted the recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Confections of a Foodie Bride.

Hot Chocolate Mix
2-3 cups granulated sugar (adjust to taste)
24 oz high-quality milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
9 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups Dutch process cocoa

In a food processor fitted with metal blade, process semisweet chocolate and dark chocolate until finely ground, using 4-second pulses. Process in batches, if necessary.

Combine sugar, ground chocolate, and cocoa powder whisking to blend, making sure to combine well. Store mix in an airtight container at room temperature for up to six months.

Yields: 76 2-Tbsp servings, or 12 3/4-cup servings

To make Hot Chocolate:

8 oz milk

2 Tbsp Hot Chocolate Mix (above)

Splash of Pure Vanilla Extract

Bailey's or Peppermint Liqueur if desired (I'm a chocolate purist so I didn't try either)

Heat the milk and add Vanilla and Hot Chocolate Mix. Stir and enjoy!


Here is some of the fun we had while visiting my mom:

Josh and I. Those who know me know my disdain

for camo...however, I LOVE that he wore this

because it brought a huge smile to my face :D

And yes, I wore heels to hike through the just wouldn't be me if I didn't!

The railroad tracks covered in snow.

The little back road few had traveled that day.

Happy Winter!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I did it!!!!

So the title of this blog is, fittingly, Champagne and Cupcakes, and the reason for the post is a cupcake that I at last New Years Eve while I was in Washington DC at Red Velvet Cupcakery in Dupont Circle. It was a Champagne Cupcake...2 of my favorite things so perfectly paired. Well, it has been my mission since then to try to recreate those cupcakes...they were sweet, yet salty, and had the perfect essence of Champagne. They were crumbly, but moist. They were delicate and dainty, but could hold their own against any other cupcake. And the top of the cupcake had the slightest crunch. The frosting was creamy, light, fluffy, rich, shiny, and melted in your mouth. Together, they were irresistible...after all, they sparked a year long cookbook and blog search, dozens of failed recipes, and at times, lost hope. I had finally resigned myself to calling Red Velvet Cupcakery and having them ship a dozen of them (because I often like to pretend that I get a paycheck for all of the work I do) on New Years Eve.

Last week I decided to food blog at work in order to avoid thinking about my Spirituality presentation that was looming overhead like a dark cloud. I looked on Red Velvet's website for any clues, and there it was... Swiss Meringue Buttercream. What is this that you speak of?? I have only heard of regular Buttercream. I never realized there were other versions of the Home Ec class basic that my mom spent years teaching in high school. I had to find the recipe and try out this new discovery! I searched through dozens of blogs, looked at food blogger's favorites, looked through their pages, and then finally happened upon Annie's Eats, a blog that puts all others to shame. I see so much of myself in her. She's a busy woman, but finds time for her passion - baking. She doesn't do it commercially, but loves to bestow wonderful little confections upon those that she loves. So, I decided to peruse her inviting blog for something new to try.

It was then that I saw it...Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting and the perfect cake to go with it. I spent my week counting down the days until I was free and could try it out! I had to finish my presentation, read some chapters, work at my internship, and basically try to survive the stress. Needless to say, things in my personal life have been all over the charts (hence the subtitle - My search for balance in a completely unbalanced life). Some things are going on that I often wonder how I will ever come through the other side of, and then there's my wonderful new man, who just has a way of calming me and making me realize that I am a strong woman and can make it through this and anything else that comes my way. But, what do I always turn to when stressing out? BAKING!!! So, I kept this little daydream tucked away for the week as my motivation.

I survived the one-hour presentation on Spirituality - it actually went really well - and the chapters could just wait for another time...the weekend was in sight. I worked on Friday and then went to the gym with Beth (favorite new past time - going to the gym with Carrie and Beth and doing Zumba, Pilates, and Step Aerobics). That night, Josh (new man) and I took my mom out on the town and then took her to Texas Tavern (a Roanoke establishment) for some late-night food. I had fun, but I still just couldn't wait to spend my weekend in the kitchen trying out this recipe and others. I needed to be creative and inspired, and do something that has NOTHING to do with mental health, college applications, classroom guidance, breakups, angry teachers, studying, reading, writing, advising college students, or anything else that consumes my every day. Don't get me wrong, I love all of that stuff, but I haven't had a break since August 31, so I desperately needed some "me time". And "me time" = baking.

Well, Saturday came and went. Personal life things came up and I had to deal with them, so I decided to spend the afternoon making French Onion Soup because my heart and mind just weren't in the cupcakes. When I bake, I pour my sadness, happiness, frustrations, disappointments, anxieties, and love into the batter. Saturday just wasn't the right day because sadness, anxiety and disappointment would have ended up being the main ingredients and the final product would have shown that. (Who knew baking was such a difficult decision!?) So I decided to wait.

Sunday it was. I woke up looking forward to baking my cupcakes. I went to church with Josh where my mom met his parents (so cute) and then he and I went to lunch with my mom. I was starting to get anxious because I couldn't WAIT to start baking. Then, it was time to go to the house and get started. Josh grabbed Champagne and I went home and picked up Lola (important ingredients for a day of happy baking). Then I came back to my sister's and brother-in-law's house, where I'm housesitting. Let the baking begin!!!!! It took all afternoon. The butter had to cream for several minutes, then I added the sugar 1/4 cup at a time and let it work its magic a minute at a time. Suddenly, the stress started leaving me, the sadness didn't seem so sad, the happiness became joy, and everything started falling into place. All from baking. We took an intermission to have dinner with Josh's family, and the excitement began building again.

The next step was frosting...this new Swiss Meringue Buttercream I had been waiting all week to try! So when we got home, I immediately headed into the kitchen. It was a long process, but the outcome...PERFECTION!!! It was light, fluffy, rich, creamy, and SO much better than I remember! I couldn't have been more excited! I couldn't stop smiling and dancing in the kitchen knowing I had just done it! I had accomplished what I have spent the past year trying to accomplish!!!! The cupcakes were all out of the oven and cooled and we quickly topped them with the frosting and bit was heaven. It was everything I needed and wanted it to be in that moment. With all that is going on, it's so great to know that I can dedicate myself to something and finally accomplish it. And so, tonight I get to sit in a blissful state of relaxation and accomplishment.

What next? Well, I still haven't incorporated Champagne into the cupcakes, I just drank it on the side, so next I will do that. Until then, I'm grateful to my sister for letting me use her house and her KitchenAid Stand Mixer and to Josh for enjoying this as much as I did! Next up...Champagne Cupcakes...the PERFECT Champagne Cupcakes...and perhaps one day I will share the personal struggle that was behind this latest kitchen marvel...or I may not. Stay tuned!

Happy Thanksgiving to my readers :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cheap and Chic

In order to make our trip to Vegas budget-friendly, Lorin and I hit up the grocery store our first morning in Vegas. For $10 each, we had breakfast and lunch for the week! Not bad. Here's what we ate:
Kashi Cinnamon Harvest cereal
Skim Milk


Spinach Wrap
Sliced Roasted Turkey
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (Sabra is best)
Shredded Carrots
Red Bell Pepper
-Spread Hummus in wrap, layer the rest of the ingredients, wrap up, and ENJOY! Filling and delicious while still letting you feel sexy in your bikini!

True to Form

As usual, I had big plans for my "free time" following the end of classes. Unfortunately, my dentist infringed on my time and my wallet and I was unable to do all the things I had wanted the Thursday and Friday after classes ended. I did bake cupcakes, but I had to use a boxed cake mix instead of making them from scratch (booo), but I did make the frosting from scratch, my favorite Chocolate Buttercream Icing. The girls in my Self-Esteem Group loved them and we enjoyed our little end-of-the-group party. Then I took the remaining cupcakes to Shane's for him and Josh to eat and what was left was taken to Metro for Carebear and coworkers. This is how I manage to bake all the time and still fit through the door!

Immediately following all of that was my trip to Las Vegas! Without boring you with all of the details, here is a quick synopsis. My sister and I were taking the trip to celebrate my 25th birthday together, something we decided to do just as sisters for each big 5th year birthday starting with her 25th in 2008 (Los Angeles). We flew in to Vegas to spend the week with my college friend Taylor and his fiance Brittany. Their friends Tommy and Liz were major players in the festivities.
Tuesday: Taylor's softball game, Buffalo Wild Wings for beer and wings, BED (it was super late eastern time at this point and Lorin and I had crashed)

Wednesday: Pool at Taylor's and Brittany's, then Tommy took us to The Pond, a really snazzy pool at Green Valley Resort. Later Brittany met up with us and we played beer pong in the pool (so fun!) and then picked up pizzas for dinner.

Thursday: Lorin and I didn't get into a lot because we were dreading doing the Strip without our ever-faithful tour guide, Tommy. Eventually we did go out to drinks with Tommy at The Yard House and Blue Martini. That night we ate at Shabu-Shabu with Liz, Taylor and Brittany. The concept of the restaurant is fun - it means "Swish-Swish" in English and you are served raw meat that you swish around in these pots of boiling water in front of you...sort of a Fondue-meets-Asian Cuisine concept. Then they took us somewhere to see the Strip all lit up at night... SPECTACULAR!!

Friday: Lorin and I packed and got ready for the evening's festivities; we had reserved 2 rooms at the Rio so we could all hang out on the Strip and not worry about cabbing it home. The rooms were incredible and we pregamed there. Then we headed upstairs to the VooDoo Lounge which is on the 50th floor of the Rio with incredible views of Las Vegas. The atmosphere was great and so was the company.

Saturday: We all woke up and some of us had breakfast downstairs (yay mimosas!) then we headed to the Bikini Beach which was 21 and up (no kids!). We spent the day there drinking and hanging out and had a great time. We all headed back and took cat naps before rallying and going to Crown and Anchor off the Strip. It was really chill and relaxed, but after the exhausting day in the sun, we needed something a bit more upbeat, so we headed to Green Valley Resort to gamble and play beer pong at Quinn's (Taylor had been raving about this since before we landed in Vegas, so I had to check it out).

Sunday: We all woke up at Taylor's and Brittany's to Taylor making breakfast...GLORIOUS! And since no breakfast is complete without Mimosas, we of course had those. Then Lorin had the great idea that we would go hiking at Red Rock, something the rest of us had decided late the night before was not going to happen...we were wrong. As an act of rebellion for not letting him lie by the pool and drink, Taylor picked the most difficult hike possible. It was indescribably beautiful, but my body was not in hiking mode, so I made it about half way up and stopped on a big rock to enjoy the scenery while the rest of them hiked on. We all survived the hike and that night went back to Taylor's and Brittany's for dinner. Delicious!
Monday: Tommy took the day off to show us the Strip...the one thing we had left undone in Las Vegas. We saw everything we wanted to see: City Center; Bellagio's Botanical Gardens, Fiori di Como "chandelier" (aka: ceiling), and the Fountains of Bellagio; Caesar's Palace; and the famous Las Vegas sign! Then we took Tommy to dinner at Firefly to thank him for spending his days with us and Lorin and I went to Cirque du Soleil's Mystere. It was a bittersweet last day; we were so happy to be leaving on such a good note, having seen everything Vegas has to offer, but sad because of all of the fun we had and the people we met along the way.

Now, I'm back and recovered from my cold and jet lag, but I only have a couple of days until the madness begins again. So, I will make no promises on when more cupcakes will be baked, but please keep checking back!

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's That Time Again!!!

Time for CUPCAKES! And do you know what that means? It means that my life is returning to some level of normalcy again. I thought that 3 classes during the summer would be easy considering work ended June 10. Oh boy was I mistaken! I don't know if it was the 4 hour classes, the condensed reading schedule, the month of house hopping, or all the other summer distractions, but I just could not get into a routine. So now, after several months, I will be baking cupcakes and updating my blog. Look out Friday for pictures and stories of my first attempt at Vanilla cupcakes...I know, it seems so simple, but I jumped right in to Red Velvet Cupcakes 3 years ago and haven't looked back since! Oh, and one day I will give away the secret recipe to my most perfect Red Velvet cupcakes, but not today.

Come Thursday morning...let the baking BEGIN (again)! Until then, wish me luck on finals!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Running with Lola

In the last year of graduate school, my life has been turned upside down, shaken, spun around, and left on its side. Gone are the days that I had to actually find things to do to fill my time. But finally, nine months after the madness began, I am figuring out how to juggle it all. There are many things that I have had to sacrifice in order to cram as much into my schedule as I do: time with friends, Sunday Funday's, going out of town (especially Charleston), relaxing, reading, and so many other things, but as summer quickly approaches, I realize that the thing I miss most about my pre-grad school life is running with Lola.

So today I decided was as good as any other to get my ass back in gear (literally). From the second I grabbed my gym bag out of my car (where it sits in hopes that I will randomly find time to go for a run while driving around) Lola was tearing through the house in sheer excitement! So off for our run we went...and oh my gosh am I out of shape!!! The first half mile I thought I might die, and then suddenly I got into my old rhythm and I just smiled. I am so proud of my body for being strong enough to run 1.8 miles its first day of running since August, I'm proud that my lungs are healthy and that my legs are capable; mostly I'm happy to see how overjoyed Lola is when she gets to run alongside me. So my goal for the summer is to wake up every morning and take Lola for a run so that I am back to my former level of strength and endurance by the time the fall semester begins. In order to accomplish this, I'll be planning 5k's with friends along the way, so let me know if you're interested!
Until next time...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Patios, cookouts & wineries!

This week in the world of all things delicious and unbalanced...
Thursday night my class was cancelled (GLORIOUS!) so I was able to spend some much-needed time with friends. Carebear and I went to Metro! to meet up with a friend from work and enjoy Sushi Happy Hour. I had the Dragon Roll and the Philadelphia Roll (regular salmon, not smoked). Both were absolutely delicious! Since Happy Hour has now changed to UNhappy hour with no drink specials of note, Carrie and I hung around until 8 when Ladies Night began...$5 Hibiscus Kir Royale - Hibiscus Flower & Hibiscus juice generously topped with Champagne...YUM! Then my newest favorite bartender, Adam, came to enjoy the patio with us (he makes the absolute BEST French 75). It was a wonderful evening to not be stuck in class for 3 hours :)

Friday I was able to come home after work and relax for the first time in WEEKS, if not months. I had fresh-baked Rosemary Foccacia and a Greek Salad for dinner...springtime food is my favorite! Then I finished my Case Study that's due next week so I could fully enjoy my weekend.

Saturday was a cookout at my friend/classmate Donna's house in Blacksburg with some of the other girls from the Counselor Ed program and some of her friends from Tech. It was a lot of fun, we played cornhole and I brought Lola to play with all of the other dogs. Eventually we got to the FOOD - hamburgers, hot dogs, and dessert! I made fruit pizza and it was gone in NO TIME. So, for all of your spring and summer get together's, here's an easy dessert that everyone will love:

Fruit Pizza:
1 - 16 oz roll of Sugar Cookie Dough (I use pillsbury)
1 - 8 oz pkg cream cheese (at room temp)
1/4 - 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Any fruit(s) of your choice: blueberry, strawberry, kiwi, etc.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Set aside.

Slice and chop all of your fruits, unless using blueberries (leave them whole). Set aside.

Roll out the sugar cookie dough on a cookie sheet into a rectangle until it is very thin (about 1/4 inch) then bake at 350 degrees for about 10 mintues. Take out of the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Frost the cookie with the cream cheese mixture, then top with the fruit and refrigerate. Cut into little squares and ENJOY!

makes about 2 dozen squares

Today my mom and I are headed to Valhalla Vineyards to enjoy a wine tasting and a little picnic overlooking the Roanoke Valley.

Overall, I consider this a weekend well-spent! I feel relaxed and refreshed and am so glad that this semester is winding down so that my homework load has decreased and I can enjoy these moments with family and friends. Until next time!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pink Champagne Cupcake Recipe

Well, everyone keeps asking for the recipe for the Champagne Cupcakes and I guess I will reveal:

Pink Champagne Cupcakes (the easy way)
1 box Betty Crocker SuperMoist White cake mix
1 1/4 c Champagne (I used Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee, but you can use any type you like)
1/3 c vegetable oil
3 egg whites
4-5 drops food color (optional - I omitted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine Champagne and cake mix with a spoon. Then add oil and egg whites and beat with an electric mixer on medium for 2 minutes (don't cheat here, it should be fluffy!)

Place cupcake liners in cupcake tins. Fill mini or regular cupcake tins about 3/4 full (it will make about 2 doz regular cupcakes or 6 doz mini cupcakes)
Bake mini cupcakes 10-12 minutes or regular cupcakes for 17-22 minutes. They should be very pale on top because they continue to bake after you take them out of the oven - don't over bake these! Cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes in the cupcake tins, then remove and continue to cool for 20-30 minutes before frosting.

1/2 c butter, at room temp (get this out the night before and leave on counter - don't microwave)
3-4 cups of PURE CANE powdered sugar (this is important, I picked up the yellow box of Domino)
1/4 c champagne (I used the same as in the cake)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cream cheese, at room temp (get it out with the butter the night before!)
3-4 drops red food color (also optional, but it gives a delicate pink color to the frosting)

Beat the frosting alternating sugar and champagne so that you can get the right consistency. I of course used more champagne to achieve the taste and consistency that I like, but only a couple of tablespoons. Put frosting in a ziplok bag (or piping bag if you have one) and fill to one corner. Using scissors, snip the bottom corner (smaller is better b/c you can always make it larger) and pipe onto cupcakes. You can also just frost with a knife or scraping spatula for that messy look.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Break

Well, I thought it was fitting to begin my first blog with ...

What else?? Champagne and Cupcakes!
This blog will follow me on my constant search to find
and keep balance in my busy life. I consider
the ability to enjoy a glass of champagne while baking
Cupcakes to be a nice balance for me, and
one that I rarely have a chance to enjoy. So, while on Spring
Break (from work), I made a date for my mom and sister
to come over and enjoy a nice dinner and a
treat. The treat was as much for me as it was for them:
So, I enjoyed one day of fun and a bit of balance...I so enjoy
time for myself! I will enjoy it
while I can!
Until the next break...