Carrot Cake Cupcakes

I have always loved birthdays. Not just my own, but everyone’s. I have never been one to shy away from a surprise party, I often encourage them. I used to always try to throw birthday parties for my friends growing up. I even threw my friend Laura more than one in high school, until on her 18th birthday she was less than thrilled with me, so I learned my lesson. I never really understood why my friends didn’t want to celebrate their birthday with parties, balloons, good food and lots of friends (and booze). It’s YOUR day. The one day of the year where people can celebrate YOU. I think everyone deserves that day and it’s a good way to remind you how much people care about you and feel lucky to have you in their life. It’s all about embracing your day because you only get one. That’s how I have felt every single year, until now.

This year, my birthday is giving me a sense of impending doom. I notice myself catching my breath at the thought of THIS birthday, but it’s a silly feeling and I am hoping that when the day gets closer (it’s a few months away), maybe a strong martini will cure my birthday blues. Or even better, a margarita on the beach. I could get behind the idea of celebrating my 25th birthday on a beach. Anyway, helping Laura to throw her boyfriend Adam a surprise party for his 26th birthday definitely made me feel a little better about turning 25 (sorry Adam!). Since I love celebrating birthday’s I thought I would help her out and make some snacks for the party.

What better treat than cupcakes for your birthday! I have been wanting to learn how to make my mom’s Carrot Cake recipe for a while. I have made it with her a few times, but never on my own. Cooking with my mom is one of my favorite things, but sometimes you need to be alone in the kitchen to see if you are capable of actually making the recipe correctly. So, carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting it was!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:

2 cups of flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp. Salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil

2 cups grated carrots

1/2 cups chopped pecans

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

Beat eggs, sugar and oil together until combined.


Grate the carrots and chop the pecans if needed.

Stir in flour, fold in carrots and nuts. Mix well.

Pour into cupcake pans and bake for about 12 minutes.

Frost with cream cheese frosting and enjoy!


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Eat Pray Love

The reason for the title of this post is four fold.
1. I loved the book and movie
2. My blog is all about me eating (cooking!)
3. I always say a few prayers while I cook (and this time I needed more than a few!!)
4. My food is always filled with love…AND love is in the air this week (my sister is getting married!!!)

So there you have it!

I had planned on spending Sunday making lasagna and tiramisu and had bought (so I thought) all of the necessary ingredients on Thursday.  I really thought I was ahead of the game and dinner would be beyond simple. I thought wrong.

On Saturday I was beyond tired, and so after enjoying brunch with my friend Gina at Nookies, I came back to my apartment to watch a movie and take a nap. While laying on the couch, I decided to look over the lasagna recipe, just in case I had missed anything, when I suddenly realized the lasagna needed to be baked half way and then sit in the refrigerator over night in order for it to set. There went my relaxing Saturday…good thing I don’t have the ability to nap anymore and enjoyed spending the day cooking!

Right away I realized I  needed to make a run to the local grocery store (it is only a block away!) and grab some Italian sausage and ricotta cheese. I also needed more pasta and a red bull for a good afternoon kick. I made three trips back to the store that day….

I made a huge pot of tomato sauce and let it cool off in the fridge while I started on the lasagna filling.

My new kitchen!

I cooked the sausage and the ground beef and seasoned (first mistake). I thought I would get creative and use my Grandpa’s seasoning on the meat. I always use it on meat and it is delicious, so I figured this would be a brilliant idea. Once again, I was wrong. It made lasagna way too salty. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good, but salty.

The cheese filling was fairly easy to make, but I didn’t have a large enough mixing bowl and the cheese was getting all over the counter. I must say that making the lasagna was the messiest kitchen adventure I have had thus far, but it was well worth it. I didn’t have time to make homemade noodles for the lasagna unfortunately, but I am pretty sure if I would have attempted that I would have gotten in a little over my head. The Barilla (cl) lasagna sheets worked out just fine and I am sure my dinner guests were happier I went with that route anyway!

I was extremely nervous about the lasagna because I had used my Grandpa’s seasoning, not realizing how salty the cheese already was, and the mixture was way too salty. I had cooked it half way through and it still tasted extremely salty. I was so disappointed and warned the birthday girl that we may need to order pizza, but luckily, once the lasagna was cooked all the way through, it was edible and actually was good!

Uncle Michael’s Lasagna

Uncle Michael’s Lasagna

*Makes 2 pans

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground beef

1 lb Italian sausage

1 lg onion (chopped)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 lb grated Romano cheese

5 lbs ricotta cheese

10 eggs, beaten

2 lbs whole milk mozzarella cheese (shredded)

4 tsp Parsley

1 large pot of spaghetti sauce (my quick sauce will be perfect!)

2 lbs dried lasagna sheets

2 baking pans (11.5 X 9.5 X 2.5)

1. Brown the beef, onion and sausage together and drain well. Set aside and let cool. Once cool, mix salt, pepper, and 2 cups of the Romano cheese into the meat mixture.

2. Mix together ricotta cheese (drain well before mixing), eggs, mozzarella, salt, pepper, parsley and 2 cups of Romano cheese. Mix until smooth.

3. Cook lasagna noodles half way through and drain.

4. Layer ingredients in pan in this order: sauce, pasta sheet, cheese mixture, meat mixture, sprinkle of Romano cheese, sauce. Repeat to fill the pan and end with a pasta sheet. Cover the top layer with plenty of tomato sauce and sprinkle with more Romano cheese.

5. Cover pans with Aluminum foil. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Let cool in the refrigerator overnight to allow the lasagna to set. This will make it easier to slice and serve!

6. To reheat, add more sauce and recover. Cook for 45-50 minutes at 350°

Here are a few tips/things I learned from my lasagna kitchen adventure:

  • Don’t bake saran wrap in the oven, even if the directions call for it. I was using my Uncle Michael’s recipe, but he used industrial plastic wrap, not the type you have in your kitchen. So beware! Good thing I had my mom walk me through the steps before I actually did any damage.
  • Cooking lasagna half way through and then allowing it to sit in the refrigerator overnight helps it to set and will cute easier
  • Lasagna does not need any extra seasoning, except for salt and pepper
  • Always make extra sauce (Even if you think you have enough!)

The lasagna was ready and I wanted to make sure I had all of the ingredients for the tiramisu. I had run out of time and needed to start getting ready for Laura’s birthday dinner, so I made my third and final trip to the grocery down the street. The woman who works in the store probably thinks I’m nuts. The next morning I woke up bright and early, feeling pretty tired, but started making the Tiramisu. The ingredients are below. I don’t know if it was because I was so “tired” or if tiramisu is really that hard to make, but I was afraid to try the first bite. I usually am all about tasting my food as I go along, but I did not taste one thing until later that night at dinner. It did not look like tiramisu, the lady fingers freaked me out and soaked up the coffee so quickly they were falling apart, and the chocolate wouldn’t chop in my processor so they were more crunchy in the dessert. I didn’t have a double boiler, but sitting one pot on top of another seemed to work just fine. After the tiramisu was finished and in the refrigerator to set, I threw on some shorts and headed to my first ever Sox and Yankee’s game!  It was an eventful weekend, to say the least, and I was exhausted!

Tiramisu Ingredients

My “double boiler”

 

Everyone had a pretty rough weekend, so dinner ended up being just me, Laura, and Maegan! Everyone enjoyed the lasagna, and to my surprise, the Tiramisu not only tasted like tiramisu, but it was really good!! I made Laura and Maegan have the first bite before I would try it and believe it was actually edible. Sorry this post is long, but it’s been over a month since my last kitchen adventure, and this one was a doozie!! I will post the recipes when I am back home next week and everything has settled down. The wedding is in 2 days (!!!!) and I am back home in Indianapolis preparing. If anyone has ever seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” this is going to be that multiplied by 2. My next post: The Big Fat Italian Wedding.

PS – Check out the new website we launched at work for Fuel Up to Play 60 (CL) http://www.fueluptoplay60.com

Tiramisu

Ingredients:

3 lg eggs

1/3 c. sugar

1/4 c. milk

16 oz. mascarpone

1/4 c. amaretto

1 tsp. vanilla extract

30 Lady Fingers

1 1/2 c. cooled espresso or coffee

1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 c. almonds, chopped and toasted

Sliced strawberries for garnish

Cocoa powder for dusting

Mix the egg yolks and sugar until mixture is a pale yellow. Add the milk and stir until combined. Transfer to a double boiler over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon. Do not boil. Transfer immediately to a clear, cold bowl to cool. Once mixture has cooled, whisk in the mascarpone, amaretto, and vanilla. Dip 10 lady fingers lightly in espresso and arrange in two rows in a 2-quart glass dish that has been lightly buttered and sugared. Spread 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the lady fingers. Sprinkle 1/3 of the chocolate and the almonds. Repeat the layering two more times. Dust with cocoa powder. Let sit the refrigerator over night. Garnish with strawberries and serve.

Happy 25th Birthday, Laura!!!

 

 

 

 

Summer Time Pasta

One of my favorite pasta dishes is something I like to call my “Summer Time Pasta.” It is light, fresh, colorful, and most of all, delicious! Another great part of this dish is you really can add anything you want. I usually include cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and something green, depending on what I have in my refrigerator. This time I added peas, but I usually prefer zucchini.

Boil your pasta water (don’t forget to add the salt). Slice the cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Add salt and pepper and then top with olive oil. Mix together and then add basil. I used the steam fresh bag of peas the other night, but if you are using zucchini, chop that first and lightly saute in olive oil until cooked, and then set aside.

Tomatoes and Mozzarella – Seasoned

I also used whole wheat rotini last night, but this works well with penne too. Once the pasta is cooked and drained (never rinse) mix in the tomatoes, mozzarella and zucchini (or other veggie) and lightly season with salt, pepper, and parmesan. If needed, add more olive oil. The best part about this dish is you really can add in anything you want and it turns out so incredibly satisfying!

Summer Time Pasta

Ingredients:

1 lb of Pasta

1 Steam Fresh bag of Peas (or fresh zucchini)

Tomatoes (preferably cherry)

Mozzarella

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

Parmesan Cheese

Cut up your tomatoes and mix with mozzarella, olive oil and salt & pepper and set aside. Boil your pasta water, add pasta and cook. While cooking make your zucchini, peas, or any other vegetables you wish to include. Once pasta is cooked, drain (DO NOT RINSE), mix with all ingredients, season with more salt & pepper if needed, add parmesan cheese and serve!

I celebrated my 24th birthday on Tuesday. I still don’t feel old though, which I am guessing is a good thing. For some reason, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I am technically an “adult.” Anyway, my friends and I celebrated by going to the Cubs game! We were lucky enough to come across 2nd row seats and it was a perfect night for baseball and beer!

Cubs vs. Pirates – Cubs win!

They also surprised with me with yummy cupcakes from Swirlz and Sweet Mandy B’s, a beautiful necklace I have been wanting, and beer! I am pretty sure all of those things create an amazing birthday! I felt so fortunate to be able to spend my birthday with some of my favorite people, especially since I was away from my family! Thank you girls for the best birthday! Oh…and did I mention Alyssa hit the spot with Barbie plates and a Barbie happy birthday sign? Yes, I do love Barbie’s!

I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July weekend! I am sure there will be many cooking adventures to come after this long weekend, which hopefully will be filled with lots of good food and fun, so stay tuned!