Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The New Love of My Life

Sorry, Nate, but there's someone new in my life.

My pearl metallic KitchenAid Professional 600 series 6-quart stand mixer. I've wanted one for years (and I've always kicked myself for not registering for one as a wedding present), but have more recently become somewhat obsessed with the idea of getting one. I mean, I cook and bake quite a bit, so it only makes sense, right? Luckily, my birthday is coming up and this particular mixer -- the one I was considering anyway -- came up on sale at Amazon for a really good price, so I just had to get myself an early birthday present. And my mother-in-law -- who is an avid baker and cook herself, and undestands the importance of having a stand mixer -- sent along some "mixer money" (thanks, Julie!).

The thing is really pretty big, and it took quite a bit of kitchen rearranging to figure out where to keep it after we learned it wouldn't fit underneath the cabinets. But I think we figured it out, and it has a prominent spot in the kitchen.

Because Nate was the recipient of a random text from me mid-day last week saying "I bought a KitchenAid mixer. Hope that's OK!" I told him the first thing I would make would be for him. After settling on cookies rather than beer bread, I turned to the Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe in the instruction and recipe booklet that came with the mixer. I followed the recipe very closely (see p. 43) because I wanted to be sure I used the mixer just as the recipe intended. But I subbed in 1 of the cups of flour with whole wheat flour, added some mixed chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds and pecans, probably 1/4 cup) and didn't measure the chips I threw in, but rather used up the three partial bags (milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and butterscotch) I had in the pantry.

Rather than using a teaspoonful of dough, I used closely to a tablespoon, so I ended up baking my cookies for closer to 15 minutes. The cookies were fantastic -- they had a bit of a crunch on the outside, but were still soft on the inside. The butterscotch offered a nice burst of flavor.

It was a great first experience using the mixer, and I can't wait to use it again ... and again ... and again!

Bacon + Caramel Corn = Happy People

Last year during a foodie-friend soup night, my friend Rachel brought bacon bourbon caramel corn as an appetizer/dessert. As you can imagine, the dish was a hit! If you attended last May's Cookies for Kids' Cancer, you might have snagged a bag of this deliciousness for yourself.

When trying to think of something unique yet crowd-pleasing for my office's Friday treat club, I quickly thought of doing the bacon bourbon caramel corn. I know my colleagues would enjoy the treat. I decided to do one batch of the full-on bacon and bourbon and the other batch of a regular-old caramel. 

Luckily, Rachel had blogged about making the caramel corn, so all I had to do was follow along with her instructions.

For the "regular" batch, I followed the recipe exactly (by the way, five quarts of popped popcorn is 20 cups), except that I just omitted the bacon and the bourbon. This batch was fantastic, and I could eat lots and lots ... and lots and lots of it in just one sitting. The caramel flavor is great and the popcorn stayed crisp and wonderfully buttery. 

For the other batch, I followed Rachel's recipe to a T. While this batch was good, too -- and got rave reviews at work -- the bourbon smell was very pronounced and I think there might have been just a bit too much in that batch. The popcorn also seemed to shrink a bit. But, like I said, it was still good and the bowl was just about empty by the end of the day. The sweet-salt taste is fantastic.

One thing that worked well for me (probably because I can get a little messy in the kitchen) was to divide the popped popcorn  into two big bowls, pour the caramel sauce on top and mix that way, rather than in the jelly roll pan. I tried it this way the first time, and it was a little too messy.

Even if the bacon and bourbon portion of the recipe weirds you out, try making the regular caramel corn. You'll be glad you did -- and you'll be especially glad when there is a little extra caramel left on the spatula you've been using. Yum!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Beer-y Cupcakes

Like lots of other people (mostly gals, I'm sure), I'm currently obsessed with Pinterest. My "Yum!" board is definitely the fullest of my boards, and there are TONS of recipes I want to try.

One of the first Pinterest recipes I made was this one for Blue Moon cupcakes, from The Bitchin' Kitchen. The thought of beer inside cupcakes was just too much, so I knew I had to make them and bring them to work for our Thursday afternoon beer club.

I followed the recipe closely, as I usually do for baking, only -- despite the name -- I didn't use Blue Moon beer, but rather Gumball Head from Three Floyds Brewery. I also elected to make mini cupcakes instead of the regular-sized ones, as I knew many people would want to try them.

For the frosting, I followed the original recipe fairly closely, but after reading some comments, I decided to cut the amount of powered sugar in half, from 5 cups to 2.5 cups. It was plenty sweet, and 5 cups would have been way too much. 

I had the cupcake testers frost the cakes as they ate them, as I thought the cream cheese frosting would get to soupy if I had frosted them beforehand.  

The verdict? Really tasty with just a hint of beer flavor and smell. The orange cream cheese frosting was great, too (I used up the last of it on Nilla Wafers and graham crackers. Yum!).

Mini Corn Dogs

When we got invited to a Super Bowl party, I knew I wanted to make some fun. Luckily, one of my favorite food blogs, Iowa Girl Eats, had some great party-ready finger food recipes. I was instantly drawn to the mini corn dogs, as I love corn dogs, but don't get to enjoy them that often.

If you like corn dogs, these are a great way to satisfy the craving. They're super easy and make a perfect meal with the leftovers you're bound to have because the recipe makes a ton!

I followed Kristin's recipe exactly, and I opted for her applesauce substitute for butter to make them a teeny bit more healthy.

I also used Lou's Garrett Valley Naturals all-beef franks from Outpost.

To serve them, I put out small bowls of honey mustard and ketchup spiced up with Sriracha.

They were a hit at the party, and Nate and I enjoyed them for additional meals later in the week.