Pumpkin Cupcakes

Everyone looks forward to those familiar Fall flavors that pop up around October and are found in everything from your morning coffee to your mid-week DQ run (or is that just me?). These pumpkin cupcakes are a variation on my favorite pumpkin bread recipe that I shared previously. I make a few batches and send off to friends once a year, then enjoy a couple of loafs myself. I thought I would try making a dessert out of the recipe and the results were delicious. An easy way to upgrade your cupcakes this Fall and add some spice to your dessert options at home.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
Forks & Amusement 2011
makes 2 dozen cupcakes

2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon each nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves
4 eggs beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup cold water
1-15oz can pumpkin

4 cups powdered sugar
16 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Line two muffin tins with cupcake molds.

Sift dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the wet ingredients well in a separate bowl. Fold dry ingredients into the wet, mix until smooth.

Pour batter into each mold about three quarters way full.

Bake 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and set on wire rack to cool. Once able to handle, remove from pan and let cool completely on rack.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the vanilla to combine. Then add the sugar in batches so you will not make a mess. Mix until well combined.

Frost each cupcake with a dollop of frosting and serve at room temperature. Can be made the day before, but cover in an air tight container.



Steak Caesar Salad

Sometimes making a salad for dinner can sound so boring and not great. Salads are for lunches and first dates, right? (for the record, I never ordered just a salad on any date, ever)

I am trying to, at least once in awhile, stray from carbs at night when I am feeling extra well fed. Especially after long weekends of lounging and great meals.

This Caesar was the perfect way to curb a large, after work appetite and stay on a healthy kick. By adding steak to the salad, you are getting lots of protein and some fat to keep you satisfied. Plus, this punchy lightened-up dressing is a far cry from the globby, calorie laden dressings that you find at most restaurants. It is very lemon-y, so if you do not like things tart, lay off the lemon a bit. But, the tartness is perfect matched with the rich steak. Anyone can put this dinner together in less than 30 minutes and it will not feel like "just a salad."

Steak Caesar Salad
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 4

For Steak:
1 pound New York strip
olive oil, salt and pepper

For Dressing:
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Worchestire sauce
3 tablespoons chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To serve:
2 hearts of romaine, chopped
grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper

Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush steak with olive oil and season with salt and pepper generously. Grill on each side for 3 minutes for medium-rare, more if you like it more well done. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thin.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the dressing, except the cheese, in a blender or food processor. Process to combine well and until smooth. Add the cheese and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Toss and coat the lettuce with the dressing (you will not use all of it). Place the lettuce among the plates, top with slices of steak, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.



Ragu alla Bolognese

The comfort of a bowl of rich tomato sauce and pasta is hard to beat. Pasta is hands down my favorite comfort food and a great tomato sauce comes in at a close second. I am always trying new recipes to match the dreamy, thick and luscious sauces in Italy. When it gets colder, I especially love a great bolognese and this recipe is hands down the best I have ever made at home. I wish I could take credit for this amazing sauce, but it is from one of my favorite cook books Cristina's Tuscan Table. If you love rustic and authentic Italian, buy this book. As for the sauce, you could eat a bowl of it all on its lonesome with some toasted bread. I chose to serve it over fresh linguine, but you could also use it in a lasagna, or serve over soft polenta. Any of those options will be delicious.

Ragu alla Bolognese
Cristina's Tuscan Table, 2007
makes 1 gallon (freezes great and feel free to half or quarter the recipe, cooking times will be shorter)

3 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground lean pork
3 1/4 cups red wine, divided
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, minced*
1 large carrot minced*
2 stalks celery, minced*
3 cloves garlic, minced *Note: to save time, mince the veggies in the food processor
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 cup diced pancetta (about 1/2 pound)
salt and pepper to taste
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
18 cups canned tomato puree (I used crushed), about 5- 28 oz cans
pinch of hot red pepper flakes

In a bowl, marinate the beef and pork in 1 3/4 cups wine and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the minced onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and parsley and saute over medium high heat until onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the marinated meat, pancetta, salt and pepper. Cook uncovered, stirring with a wooden spoon until meat is browned, about 30 minutes.

Add remaining 1 1/2 cups wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the bay leaves and tomato paste, and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in the tomato puree and red pepper flakes, and simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Salt and pepper to taste.

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