MS Cupcake Club: Halloween Bonus Round

October 31, 2009

hall arm cupcake2I signed up for the MS Cupcake Club October bonus round. The assignment was to make any cupcake you wanted for Halloween (Happy Halloween, by the way!).

I made Martha’s one-bowl chocolate cupcakes (from Martha Stewart’s Cupcake Book) and made them into Buried Alive Cupcakes, which I am serving at our Halloween party this afternoon.

I made the recipe and baked them (I actually did this in advance and froze them). I decorated with a little chocolate frosting then stuck a doll arm in each one, as if a person is trying to claw their way out. We also kind of shredded the side of each cupcake to make it look like it someone was trying to work their way out (You can’t really see this in the photo very well). Actually finding the dolls was the hardest part of this! I thought I would be able to buy bags of cheap kewpie-type dolls at the dollar store. Wrong. The cheap dolls were $1 each. I tried to find doll parts online, but with the cost of shipping, it was ridiculous. Finally I gave in and bought 9 dolls at the dollar store and that allowed me to do 18 cupcakes.

Tune in tomorrow for details on how the party went!

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10 Things Martha is Wrong About

October 30, 2009

Recently I posted about 10 Things I’ve Learned from Martha. I really have learned an amazing amount in the my year of Martha. However, I’ve also found that Martha is just wrong about some things.

1. Unsalted butter is not a must in baking. If you use salted butter, you just reduce or eliminate salt. Salted butter is not the end of the world.

2. You don’t need a P-Touch. Martha is mad about this label maker and puts the little printed labels on everything, even linen closet shelves. I’m all for organization, but this is just too crazy for me. I’m fine with a handwritten sticker if I need a label.

3. Crafting is not always easy if you have the right tools. Ok, I’ll agree it is easiER if you have the right tools, but there are some things I just cannot get my hands to do, no matter what tool I’m using.

4. Dogs should not wear Halloween costumes. They especially should not wear homemade Halloween costumes that require hours of work. They really don’t appreciate it. And it’s not like they can go trick or treating and bring home dog food.

5. Storing your extra china on a metal rack in the basement is possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. Martha keeps hers this way and touts it as the best way to store it. I don’t have to time to go dust my china. I like to keep it put away so I can just get it out and have it be clean and ready to go.

6. Gardening is not a must. I love tomatoes fresh from the vine, but I’d much rather shop at the farm stand and have free time not spent weeding. If I had an entire staff of gardeners, I would probably turn my backyard into a farm like Martha, but it’s not an option.

7. Green juice is disgusting. There, I said it. Martha is mad about this green vegetable juice she makes fresh each morning with her Mini Cooper sized juicer.   I’m happy to just eat vegetables instead.

8. Sleep is not boring. Martha says she sleeps maybe five hours a night because she finds it boring. I love sleep. I love waking up on weekend mornings and going back to sleep because I don’t have to get up. I even love a nice 30 minute nap once in a while.

9. I do not need a Xyron machine – a $100 crafting machine that puts adhesive on things for you. I know how to use a glue stick.

10. I still refuse to sift flour when I bake. She can’t make me do it!! I make it all in one bowl – cream the butter and sugar then dump in the dry ingredients. I’ve never had a problem with it. Sorry, Martha.

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Thanksgiving Test Drive: Potatoes Au Gratin

October 29, 2009

potato gratinI must be totally in the minority, but I’ve never had potatoes au gratin. I’ve had very similar dishes, but they always include cheese! Martha has a recipe for Potato Gratin in the November Everyday Food.  I gave it a try, not expecting to be too excited about it.

This was incredibly easy to make and it has very few ingredients. You rub the baking dish with garlic. You boil cream (2 1/2 cups) with salt and pepper and a dash of nutmeg. You peel and slice your potatoes (3 lbs) thinly and layer them in the dish. Then you pour the cream mixture over it and bake it covered for 45 minutes at 375. You remove the cover and cook for another 40 minutes. I cut this recipe about in half since it says it feeds 12.

The only problem I had was the dish bubbled over in the oven and filled the house with smoke.  Other than that, it was a snap.

And I really liked it! I thought it was going to be pretty bad considering it’s basically potatoes and cream and not much else. I was also sure I was going to long for cheese (because don’t I always?). I didn’t. The potatoes turned out so tender and delicious and it really was a great accompaniment to the organic steak we had. I’m still surprised at how good it really was. I wouldn’t make this for Thanksgiving though – give me mashed potatoes any day!

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Greek Pasta

October 28, 2009

tom shrimp pastaI was paging through November Everyday Food looking for something to make for dinner and feeling pretty unmotivated. It’s been a rough week or two at the MarthaAndMe house with H1N1 knocking Teen Martha off her feet and me still fighting a long-term low-grade infection (3 mos and counting). We had an incident with a Bobcat (not the animal, the machine) getting stuck in the mud in our backyard as part of a large fence installation project and then Mr. MarthaAndMe and I have been dealing with our own individual work stresses. I’m tired. And I’ve got this big Halloween party on Saturday to get ready for. An easy dinner was definitely necessary.

I happened upon Tomato and Shrimp Pasta with Feta (page 47). It’s similar to a tried and true recipe I make called Greek Spaghetti, which is made with chicken. I had a bag of shrimp in the freezer and decided to put this together. You start by making the tomato sauce – onions and garlic, tomato paste, oregano, tomato sauce and then I used some stewed tomatoes. Cook that until it thickens a bit. Boil your pasta (I used whole wheat penne). Martha wants you to cook the shrimp in a separate pan- I just dumped it into the tomato sauce and added the capers and feta (olives were optional but I don’t like them). This was quick and good.

If I made it again, I would definitely add some spinach to it. And although I usually like whole wheat pasta, I just don’t like whole wheat penne. It’s too chewy and heavy somehow. So try another kind of whole wheat pasta if you’re into whole grains.

I still prefer Greek Spaghetti. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it:

1 clove garlic

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 lb cooked  spaghetti

2 cans stewed tomato

1/2 cup sliced green onions

2 chicken breasts cut into one inch pieces

6 oz feta cheese

1 tsp Greek herb mix (or use oregano)

1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, cut into smaller pieces

Pour a few teaspoons of oil from the jar of artichoke in a large pan and cook the garlic quickly. Add the tomatoes, artichoke hearts, herbs and green onions and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add in chicken. Break up the tomatoes and reduce heat to simmer and let it cook until it thickens and the chicken is cooked through.  Toss with spaghetti and feta cheese.

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Thanksgiving Test Drive: No Roll Crust Pumpkin Pie

October 27, 2009

I always make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It is one of Dude Martha’s favorite foods, so he’s been asking lately if I would make one before Thanksgiving so he didn’t have to wait so long!

shortbread pie crust2Martha has an interesting section in November Living with a variety of pie crusts. One option is a no-roll, press-in pie crust (o. 171). This sounded great to me. I hate rolling pie crust. It always rips. This pie crust recipe is essentially a shortbread (eggs in pie crust is definitely a new approach!). It was very easy to mix up and press in the pan. I baked it and it looks browner in the photo than it really was. It was so easy – I was so excited!

Then I made Martha’s pumpkin pie from the same issue (p. 214). I am embarrassed to tell you that the recipe I always use is one I ripped out of a magazine from a Libby’s canned pumpkin ad many years ago, but everyone loves it. Last Thanksgiving I made another one of Martha’s pumpkin pies and it didn’t stand up to the Libby’s recipe, but I was ready to try another version.

This pumpkin pie recipe uses heavy cream instead of the evaporated milk most pump pie shortbreadpumpkin pie recipes use. Nothing else struck me as remarkable when I was making it. I got it in the pie crust and baked it. It looked and smelled good. Everyone was so excited to sit down to try it.

It was a disaster. Inedible. First of all, let’s talk about the crust. It was incredibly salty. I used unsalted butter. The recipe calls for 1 tsp salt – I used about 3/4 tsp. It was way too much. If it hadn’t been salty, it would have been very nice I think. So if you make this, I recommend cutting the salt back to 1/2 tsp or 1/4 tsp.

pump pie shortbread 2Now, the pie. It was not sweet. The recipe uses 1/4 cup of sugar  while my Libby’s recipe uses 3/4 cup plus it has evaporated milk which is sweetened. There wasn’t close to enough sugar in this recipe. It didn’t even taste like a dessert. Between the lack of sugar in the filling and the excessive salt in the crust, no one could eat this. In the trash it went. I’m glad I didn’t make this untested for Thanksgiving because that would have been a terrible disappointment!

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Martha Mondays: 11/2 Nut Wreath

October 26, 2009

Feeling a little nutty? The Martha Mondays project for 11/2, chosen by Sara at SassySupppers is the nut wreath on page 57 of November Living. Get those hot glue guns fired up! My results will be up on 11/2 – please share yours whenever you make it! If you post when you’ve got it up on your blog, then everyone can visit each other’s to see the varied results.

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Martha Mondays: Texas Red Chili

October 26, 2009

mondaysThis week’s Martha Mondays is Texas Red Chili, from the October issue of Martha Stewart Living (p. 62) chosen by Megan at MegansCookin.

Chili has always been one of those quick meals I’ve pulled together using ground meat and a package of seasoning. I’ve never made it from scratch, so texas chilithis was a new frontier for me. First stop, the grocery store. I’ve never bought dried chilis. I didn’t even know where to find them! I ended up buying what were called “New Mexico” chilis since that was the only type they had. I had no clue if they would work.

The first step in the recipe involves the chilis. You’re supposed to put them in a skillet on the stove and blister them. I did this. Then you remove the stems and seeds. No problem. Then you soak them for half an hour. Once that’s done, Martha says to put them in a blender with some of the soaking water and puree.  This didn’t work! The chilis just sat at the bottom and sides of the blender while the blades ineffectually whirred. I tried it on several settings and I tried adding more water. I got nowhere fast. So I dumped it all in the Cuisinart. This worked a little better, but it did not puree it by any means. I had big pieces (maybe 1/2 an inch to an inch) of chilis that simply did not get any smaller. After what felt like hours of scraping and trying over and over again, I gave up and just used it as it was.

The recipe uses chunks of beef, garlic, onions, cumin, oregano, jalapenos and pureed tomatoes in addition to the chili pepper pureee. It cooks for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. This part went well. But when I tasted it, I realized it needed a lot of help. First of all, I just can’t imagine chili without beans, so I dumped in a can of kidney beans. It was very bland (which I could not believe – I was sure it was going to be firey hot!) so I added some chili powder. I also added some more tomato. Finally I got it to the point where I thought it tasted pretty good, but I had one big problem – the pieces of dried chili were tough and stuck to your tongue. So I stood at the stove and picked them out one by one as best I could. There were a lot of them. I’m glad I got them out though, because it was almost inedible with them in it.

I served this with some grated cheese. It was good, but I would never use the dried chilis again – they were such a disaster. I suppose it’s possible to make this with fresh chilis, but I don’t know if I would go that route either. I did like having pieces of beef in it as opposed to ground meat – it tasted more like real food. Mr. MarthaAndMe thought this was ok. Teen Martha wouldn’t try it and Dude Martha didn’t like.

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Thanksgiving Test Drive: Cranberry Cornmeal Quick Bread

October 25, 2009

cranberry cornmealCranberries are something I’ve learned to like as I’ve gotten older. Dried cranberries (Craisins) are a great salad addition, but I don’t care for them by themselves. I’ve also learned to like cranberry juice cocktail and even swigged straight cranberry juice (very tart!!) when dealing with a persistent UTI. I don’t mind one bite of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, but that’s about all I usually want.

Martha has a recipe in November Living for Cranberry Cornmeal Quick Bread. Cornbread is a huge family favorite, so I thought there was a chance the family would eat this.

You start by cooking fresh cranberries with butter and sugar. Fresh cranberries! A new one for me. You then pour that into the bottom of your loaf pan. You whip up the bread which is made with 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup cornmeal – so not a true 100% cornbread. An interesting addition is some chopped candied ginger. This is definitely not a pantry staple for me. I couldn’t find it at the grocery store and had to ask. It turned out to be in the bulk section.

This took longer to bake than predicted. Martha says 30-35 minutes. Mine cooked about 40-45 minutes. You let it cool for 15 minutes then you remove it from the pan and let it cool the rest of the way.

I had a little trouble with the appearance. Some of the cranberries ended up mixing in with the bread. It didn’t really create a sauce-y sort of topping at all, which is what I expected. When I was spreading the bread over the cranberries, they kept getting mixed up with the batter. Some of the cranberries stuck to the pan and I had to pry them out and stick them back on.

This sliced nicely (I took a photo but it didn’t turn out!) and had cranberries on the bottom 25% of each slice. Everyone loved the bread portion – very soft and tender and just sweet enough. The cranberry part was not a big hit. It was very tart, even when eaten with a mouthful of the bread. No one noticed the candied ginger at all. I couldn’t detect any flavor from it.

I can see this as being an interesting side item to serve at Thanksgiving. It’s seasonal yet creative.  And anyone who doesn’t like the cranberries can just cut that part off the bread.

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Lamb Chops with Mustard-Herb Crust

October 24, 2009

lamb chopI’ve only had lamb prepared two ways – grilled or roasted. I’ve never pan fried it. I’m not a big fan of pan frying in general, but Lamb Chops with Mustard Herb Crust (Nov Everyday Food) proved me wrong. This was a very quick (albeit expensive) weeknight meal. I spent $30 on enough lamb for the four of us. Eek. You brush the lamb with dijon mustard that’s been mixed with garlic, then bread it with breadcrumbs, rosemary, Italian herbs and Parmesan cheese. Pan fry it and that’s it. Wow. So simple, yet so flavorful. I would skip the cheese since I don’t think it really added anything. And I think I might whip up a quick little pan sauce to go with it next time. But this was a real winner! The lamb was tender and I could carefully monitor the doneness. The breadcrumbs stuck and the mustard and herbs gave it a really nice taste. They were crunchy on the outside and beautifully done on the inside.

10 Things I’ve Learned from Martha

October 23, 2009

1. Celery tastes better peeled. Really.

2.  How to seed a pomegranate. Martha says to score the skin into quarters, then pull it apart. You then whack the back of each quarter with a spoon, and the seeds come out. Who knew?

3.  Beds are nicer when they are made. Making them still isn’t fun though.

4. Refrigerating cookies on the sheet before baking means they will spread less and retain a nice shape.

5. Packaging a gift beautifully makes it seem more special.

6. An organized home feels luxurious.

7. Stuffed cabbage is actually really good.

8. Salad dressing is easy to make and there’s no reason to buy it.

9. You can lose weight and still eat delicious, wonderful food.

10. Aluminum foil should never touch food. Use a layer of parchment paper in between.

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