Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Rolls

Pumpkin Rolls2

Happy Halloweeeeeeeeeeeen!!!

What’s everyone’s plans for tonight? Anyone going out with kids for trick or treating? Got a Halloween party you’re going to? What are you dressing up as?

I’ve always liked dressing up for Halloween and although I haven’t gotten to do it very often, I still have some ‘Wish-List’ costumes that I’d love to be able to do someday.

1) A 20’s flapper is definitely something I’d like to be- with the bobbed hair, flashy dress and pearls to go with it.

2) I’d LOVE to dress up in a fancy Venetian Masquerade ballgown and mask, with an elegant hairdo.

3) I’d love to be Harley Quinn, as long as I could have a guy go with me as the Joker.

4) One of the “Grease” Pink Ladies.

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5) Black Widow- because that cat suit Scarlett Johannson wore in “The Avengers”  was everything.

6) I’d love to be one of the fairy tale characters like Little Red Riding Hood or the Queen of Hearts. (And no, I don’t mean one of those costumes that make you look like you should be standing on a street corner, if you know what I mean. I think that there are plenty of ways you can make a costume beautiful and tastefully done without it being too slutty.)

7) If I ever get a boyfriend, I am GOING to be Christine and make him dress up as the Phantom of the Opera. He will have absolutely no choice or say in the matter. It’s a prerequisite if he wants to date me.

Unfortunately, I’m not doing anything special in particular like dressing up or going to any parties. But I am staying in my kitchen- which is plenty ‘special’ enough for me.

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I’ve known for a while now that I was going to make this dish for Halloween. Cinnamon rolls have been on my Cooking Bucket  List for a while, and I had a can of pumpkin that was languishing in my pantry, without very much to do. That set the perfect stage for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls.

It was my first time making cinnamon rolls, and I think they turned out pretty good for a beginner like moi. I walked away with a few things to keep in mind for next time: roll the dough VERY tight so the sugar filling doesn’t leak out while the dough is going through their second rise, and don’t be afraid to place them pretty close together in the pan so that they can rise higher up rather than further out.

Aside from all that, the taste is really spot on for these. For one, they make your house smell like every yummy Autumn pastry imaginable while they’re baking. The pumpkin flavor admittedly isn’t very overpowering, but I’m actually okay with that as sometimes the taste of pumpkin can be a little abrasive. I know that crystallized ginger isn’t the cheapest spice to buy, but if you can afford it I gotta strongly recommend that you don’t leave it out. It gives spiciness to the filling that balances the sweetness of the sugar, while the dried cherries give it an acidic tang. I iced my rolls almost as soon as they came out of the oven so that the icing would melt into the crevices of the dough rather than just sit on top of it in thick globs. Tastes better that way. Also, these save very well in the refrigerator; when ready to eat another one just wrap it in paper towel, sprinkle with a few drops of water then microwave for about 15-20 seconds. It’ll still taste pretty fresh.

These rolls are going to this week’s Fiesta Friday #40, hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener and co-hosted this week by Margy @La Petite Casserole and Jhuls @The Not So Creative Cook. See you all there.

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Halloween is one of my absolute favorite times of year, but not for the reason that you may think.

It’s not that I don’t like dressing up in costumes. I do. It’s not that I don’t like candy. I definitely do. But the arrival of Halloween marks the arrival of something infinitely more thrilling and exciting for me than costumes or sweets (and if you know me, then you know that that’s really saying something).

I look forward to October 31st because it marks the final day before I officially begin my countdown to Christmas.

Me and my twin sister are obsessed with Christmas, and as such, we try to get in our Holiday spirit as soon as is reasonably possible. I know that other people wait until Thanksgiving, but that’s way too late for me. I like the extra month to start listening to my Christmas playlist on my mp3 player and Pandora radio stations, and start planning all the wonderful goodies that I’m going to make for the 12 Days of Christmas series on Cooking Is My Sport.

Speaking of which, I am willing to take special requests for that ahead of time. I need 12 recipes for 12 Christmas goodies to post on the blog. Suggestions? Don’t be shy ;-)

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Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Rolls

  • Servings: 9-12 rolls
  • Time: 3 hrs 25 mins. to 5 hrs 10 mins.
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

For the Dough:

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin or squash
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup lukewarm water*
  • 1/4 cup soft butter
  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 3/4 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, optional
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, light or dark
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

For the Filling:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup minced, crystallized ginger
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries

For the Glaze

  • 1 cup glazing or confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk, or enough to make a “drizzlable” glaze

Directions

1) Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — until you’ve made a soft, fairly smooth dough.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours, until it’s almost doubled in bulk.

3) Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. Roll it into a 14″ x 22″ rectangle; the dough will be thin.

4) Mix the cinnamon and sugar. Spread a thin layer over the dough, leaving one short edge free of filling.

5) Sprinkle with crystallized ginger or dried fruit (or both), if desired.

6) Starting with the short end that’s covered with filling, roll the dough into a log.

7) Cut the log into nine 1 ½”-thick rolls.

8) Place the rolls into a lightly greased 9″ x 9″ pan that’s at least 2″ deep. Set aside, covered, to rise for 1 hour, or until the rolls look puffy.

9) Bake the rolls in a preheated 375°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until they’re lightly browned and feel set.(Internal temp should be about 185-190 degrees F) Remove them from the oven, and set them on a rack.

10) To make the glaze: Heat the butter and milk together till the butter melts. Whisk into the sugar.

11) Drizzle the rolls with the warm glaze. (For a thinner layer, spread with icing almost as soon as you take them out of the oven. For a thicker icing, let them cool for about 15 minutes, then spread with icing.) 

Sambal Chicken Skewers

Sambal Chicken2

So, I have a confession to make.

I’m a really bad griller. It’s true. If you ask me to grill you something, I am probably, most likely, almost definitely going to mess it up.

I’m sure that the whole thing is probably easy enough to do if you’ve got a gas grill, but we only have a charcoal grill at my house and for the life of me, I cannot keep that thing hot enough to cook the food. Don’t get me started on using smokers and special types of wood and all those other fancy doohickies (did I spell that right? I don’t think I did.)

I remember one Memorial Day a couple of years back where I tried to help my Mom grill. When we couldn’t keep the coals hot enough, we finally got the idea in our heads that we needed something to feed the flames since the coals obviously weren’t cutting it.

Don’t ask why, but for some reason, we decided to go with old newspaper.

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Well, it got the coals hot enough, for sure. It all just started going south AFTER we put the meat on the grill…and the newspaper started flaking and flying up all over the place, sticking to the food.

Good times, Good times.

Long story short, we ended up rinsing off the meat and just finishing it all in the oven and slow cooker that day. But it still served to teach me a very valuable lesson: I’m NOT a griller. At least not now. Maybe one day I’ll just sit down and force myself to learn. I could also just find a guy to date who knows how to do it and just leave all that grilling business to him. Either one would work.

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I say all of this because it’s very frustrating for me when I see or find a recipe that I would reeeeeeeeeally like to try, but it’s supposed to be grilled. My culinary shoulders give a little slump every time I see that and I just think,

“What? It’s supposed to be grilled? But…but…I don’t know how to grill. I suck at grilling. How am I supposed to do make this if it’s supposed to be grilled? No fair!”

Most of the time, I just end up putting said recipes aside for the day that I do end up learning to grill. But not this time. This time, I just couldn’t put it aside. I wanted to make this recipe, darn it. And I didn’t want to let grilling get in the way of me and my food.

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Bon Appetit is such a dangerous website for me. I can browse it for 5 minutes, and suddenly I want to cook absolutely everything I see there. That’s what happened with this recipe. I saw it, and I just knew, people. I knew I had to make this, come hell or high water.

I may not know how to operate my charcoal grill…but my oven? She and I are on very good terms with each other.

I made this recipe work for me, people. And really, I’m so glad I did. Because grill or no grill, it’s really so friggin delicious. The marinade is what really makes the flavors pop. The rice wine vinegar gives a slight tang and acidity to the chicken that is somehow tempered by both the saltiness of the fish sauce and the sweetness of the ginger and brown sugar. The hot chili paste doesn’t bring as much heat as you would think it would- I would describe it more as more of a smoky flavor. The Sriracha is where the heat comes in, sneaking up on you in the back of your throat even after you’ve swallowed the chicken. I’ve eaten a lot of chicken breasts and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to inject them with much flavor. But this really does do the job.

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I did make some modifications to this recipe for my own purposes: first, I obviously baked them in the oven rather than grilling them. But the original does call for them to be grilled, I can see how they would taste even better if they were. So if you’re good at grilling, then by all means, go for it. Second, rather than just putting the marinade on the meat the same day as cooking, I did let them it sit overnight in the fridge, just to make sure all the flavors would fully permeate. However, if you’re in a hurry this isn’t necessarily mandatory. Third, the original recipe called for you to take the used marinate, bring it to a boil over the stove, then brush it over the finished chicken.

Yeah…I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I know that boiling the marinade is ‘supposed’ to take the bacteria out of it. But my paranoia and just the idea of eating something that raw, uncooked chicken sat in made me feel queasy. I just re-made the whole marinade and warmed it up over the stove. That way I don’t have to worry that I’ve poisoned myself and my family.

So, Grill. We managed to avoid each other once more. Perhaps we shall meet one day- but that day is not today.

Guys, I give you…Sambal Chicken.

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Sambal Chicken Skewers

Recipe Adapted from BonAppetit.com

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 1/4 cup Sriracha
  • 2 teaspoon finely grated peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch–2-inch pieces
  • Sesame seeds, optional
  • 8 bamboo skewers soaked in water at least 1 hour

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Whisk brown sugar, vinegar, chili paste, fish sauce, Sriracha, and ginger in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Thread 4 or 5 chicken pieces onto each skewer.

3. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, and place a wire rack over it. Spray rack with non-stick cooking spray. Lay chicken skewers on rack and bake in oven for 25-30 minutes, until chicken reaches inner temperature of  165 degrees.

4. While chicken is baking,make a second batch of the marinade and warm in a saucepan over the stove.

5. Brush sauce over finished chicken and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Yangzhou Fried Rice

Yangzhou Fried Rice1

So, I have this soft spot.

It’s pretty frequent that whenever I’m in a shopping center or a private small business or restaurant and I see that the workers/owners aren’t getting much business, I feel really bad and sympathetic towards them. Yes, even if they’re those people that set up the stands in the mall and try to accost you while you’re walking just to test/buy their product. I know that the retail/food industry business is cutthroat and very competitive. I know that it’s not my fault if they have slow business. I know that I’m not obligated to buy anything- and to be honest, I usually don’t. But it doesn’t keep me from empathizing with them either. They have to make a living like everyone else, and their ability to do so or not depends on whether or not they can convince complete strangers to open their wallets. It’s a real sticky, precarious situation when you think about it.

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Why am I even talking about this? Well, when I was putting together this dish and this post, it made me think of this Asian restaurant that used to be in the food court of the local mall when I was still in grade school, years ago. I won’t say the name of the place, but it was independently owned by this couple that looked like they were in their mid-to upper 50’s. Every time I went to the mall, it just never seemed like anyone was buying anything from this place. The man and his wife would come in and out of the kitchen in the back, filling and emptying the dishes they had available, all the while looking at the passing shoppers as if wishing just a few of them to stop and buy something- anything- from their restaurant. If I can be completely honest, I’ll just go ahead and admit that there was a good reason that this place didn’t get much business. All of the ‘standard fare’ that you’d see in an American Chinese restaurant was on their menu, but the sad reality was that it wasn’t really well seasoned. Like, at all. Their recipes needed serious work.

I can still remember how sorry I felt for them, even as a little girl. And I wished I could’ve been able to tell that I really felt like they would’ve gotten more business if they changed up how they made their fried rice.

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It’s just my personal opinion, but I do think that a good Chinese restaurant starts with how they make their fried rice. In my experience, if they make excellent fried rice, then chances are the rest of the menu is pretty spot on too. Because let me just say up front one thing that I’ve learned: all fried rice is NOT created equal. I’ve had some really good fried rice over the years, and then I’ve had some that was frankly, pretty terrible. It wasn’t until I decided to make some for myself that I realized how easy it is for fried rice to go wrong. And to be perfectly honest, there are a couple of Chinese restaurants I’ve been to that make fried rice that taste even better than this recipe. But nobody’s perfect, and I do have to say that I’m pleased with how it came out for my first time….er, maybe my second. Technically.

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See, technically my first attempt didn’t turn out so well. I maaaaaaay have ruined the first batch of Jasmine rice that I made. The rice is supposed to be one day old, so I made the Jasmine rice the night before I wanted to make the fried rice. It was really late at night and I was in a hurry to get to bed, so long story short, I don’t think I let it cook long enough. There was too much moisture still in the rice by the next day so the grains stuck together. Have you ever tried to ‘stir-fry’ gummy rice? It doesn’t work very well. And turns out, it tastes pretty bad too.

As rotten luck would have it, that was all the fresh Jasmine rice I had. All that was left in my pantry was Minute rice that you steam in water in the microwave. So I was forced to call in the cavalry on this one, folks. It’s still rice, it just didn’t need that long to cook. You won’t hold it against me, will you? I mean, it turned out into a pretty yummy dish. And now, you guys know that this dish can me made with Minute Rice and still turn out pretty awesome. It’s all apart of Cooking is My Sport Quality Control, I swear.

I’ll be bringing this dish to this week’s Fiesta Friday #39, hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener and co-hosted this week by Suzanne @apuginthekitchen and Sue @Birgerbird, See you there!

 

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Yangzhou Fried Rice

Recipe Courtesy of Ching-He Hunag

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 ounces cooked Chinese pork (char siu) or ham, cut in 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cups cooked jasmine rice, a day old
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 to 2 green onions, sliced on a diagonal, for garnish

Directions

1. For the fried rice: Heat a wok over high heat and add 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Add the eggs and scramble, then set aside on a plate.

2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil to the wok. Add the ginger and stir-fry for less than 1 minute. Then add the carrots and stir-fry for 1 minute more.

3. Add the pork, and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the peas and cooked rice and toss together. Add the cooked egg back into the wok.

4. Season the mixture with the light soy sauce, salt and pepper. At the very end add the sesame oil, if using. Check the seasoning and adjust to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with green onions and serve immediately.

Old Fashioned Sour Cream Donuts

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I’d like to take this opportunity to drop a few nuggets of truth on all of you, if that’s okay.

Nobody is normal. Nobody.

Fears are nothing more than stories that we tell ourselves.

A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.

Nothing is really lost- until your mom can’t find it, that is. Then, it’s just gone forever.

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Lastly ( and perhaps most  importantly)…it is always, ALWAYS, a good ‘time to make the donuts’.

For those that may not know, the Dunkin’ Donuts company featured a commercial with a character named Fred the Baker who appeared in commercials with the trademark ‘catchphrase': “Time to Make the Donuts”. It was a pretty popular ad, and was also parodied in one of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches with Jon Lovitz. It’s really all I could think about when I was putting this post together, and I think that that really says something to the centrality of donuts in life in general. Think about it: there’s no time, event or circumstance when it’s not a good time for some donuts.

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Had a lousy day at work? Time to make/eat some donuts.

 Your favorite team won the game? Time to make/eat some donuts.

Fight with the spouse/significant other? Time to make/eat some donuts.

Payday? Time to make/eat some donuts.

Fiesta Friday? Definitely time to make/eat some donuts.

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I mentioned in some of my earlier posts that I recently got into the mood to make some donuts from scratch. My sisters wanted these Cinnamon Bun Doughnuts and Apple Cider Donuts. And me, well I wanted these.

A good old fashioned sour cream donut just like the ones you get from the bakery.

Guys. Guys, guys, guuuuuuuuys.

Drop whatever you’re doing, print out this recipe and get in your kitchen. ‘Cause it’s time to make the donuts. These donuts. Right now.

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This recipe is so good, I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between these donuts, and ones you would buy from a bakery. The dough creates the perfect browned, crusty crevices that have just enough body for the icing to seep into, solidify and form the most delightful pools of pure sugary goodness. It’s just what a sour cream donut should be, and I meant JUST: golden brown and crusty on the outside, soft and  flakey tender on the inside, with the sour cream giving it just enough of a subtle tang to complement the sweetness of the icing. One of the best donuts, I’ve ever had, hands down.

And yeah, I’m more than a little pleased and proud that I was the one to make them.

I’m bringing these donuts to this week;s Fiesta Friday #38 hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener and co-hosted this week by Hilda and Julianna. Don’t fight over  them all at once, guys. There’s plenty enough to go round-for now…

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Old Fashioned Sour Cream Donuts

Recipe Adapted from Completely Delicious via  Hand Forged Doughnuts

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Old Fashioned Sour Cream Donuts

Ingredients

For Donuts

  • 2 1/4 cup (255 grams) cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter flavored shortening
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) sour cream
  • Canola oil, for frying

For Glaze

  • 3 1/2 cup (350 grams ) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup (2 1/2 fluid ounces) hot water

Directions

1. In a bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the shortening and sugar together until sandy. Add the egg yolks and mix until light and thick.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream, ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl down as necessary. The dough will be sticky. Spoon it into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

4. On a floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to about 1/2 inch thick. Use a donut cutter or two differently sized biscuit cutters to cut out as many donuts as possible, dipping the cutters into flour as necessary to prevent sticking.

5. Pour the canola oil into a heavy bottomed pot to at least 2 inches deep. Heat to 325 degrees F. Add the donuts to the heated oil a few at a time, careful not to overcrowd the pot. Fry on each side about 2 minutes, but watch to make sure they don’t burn.

6. Let drain on a paper bag to soak up the excess grease.

7. Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk until smooth. Dip each donut into the glaze, making sure they are covered completely. Place on a wire rack above a sheet pan to catch any excess glaze. Let sit for 20 minutes until glaze is set.

8. Store in an air tight container at room temperature for a few days.

Checkerboard Layer Cake

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One year ago today, I thought that I was absolutely crazy.

I had tried to talk myself out of it for months, giving all kinds of excuses as to why the idea in my head was a bad, terrible, even abysmal one that would never lead to anything.

I didn’t know anything about blogging. I mean ANYTHING.

WordPress or Blogroll? How should I know? Wait. What’s the difference between them anyway? (This was a serious, actual conversation I had with myself at the time, I kid you not.)

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I didn’t know anything about photography.  I got my first real digital camera for my 24th birthday, and I knew virtually nothing about operating it besides pressing the button that would actually take the pictures. Food styling? Natural Lighting? Props? What were those things? I sure as heck didn’t know.

There were literally millions of other food blogs out there; what reason did  I have to think that anyone out there would take any notice of it? Not a single one.

Despite all of those misgivings and factors working against me, a year ago today I pressed the ‘Publish’ button. A year ago today, I published the very first blog post on Cooking is My Sport.

My tiny blog baby is one year old, guys. I can’t believe it. When I first started this thing, it was purely an experiment- I told myself that if no one showed interest in my posts, I could always just quit and delete the whole thing, with the world being none the wiser. And for some strange, but wonderful reason, that didn’t happen.

And it’s all because of you people.

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I’ve said it before, but today on my blog’s anniversary I can’t help but say it once again: to every single person who has ever visited CIMS, liked a post, commented on one, or followed my blog- you have my immense gratitude.

Thank you. Thank you. And THANK YOU.

Most of all, thank you all to the wonderful new friends and buddies I’ve made through blogging. Thanks for sharing your wonderful blogs with me and always showing mad support <3

This has been such a wild ride of a year. I feel like I’ve learned so much- not just about blogging, but photography as well. Check back to my first posts if you don’t believe me.

Wait no, don’t do that. My photography is horrifyingly God-awful on several dishes.

Eh, whatever.  You’re welcome to look if you’re brave enough. And regardless of poor pictures, the food is still spot on, so there’s that.

I knew I wanted to make a special cake to celebrate my blogs’s birthday, and this one certainly is special. The checkerboard layer cake is one of those things that for a lot of people that haven’t made it before, is a real mystery. They just can’t figure out how it gets done. I used to be one of them myself. Then, earlier this year, my grandma and grandpa remodeled their kitchen. While emptying it out for the contractor, my grandma decided to get rid of a good number of her old appliances and cookware- fortunately, most of them got passed on to yours truly. One of the things I got was her checkerboard cake pan set. When I was trying to think of what type of layer cake to make for the blog anniversary, I thought of the set and immediately decided that this would be the one.

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Now, if you don’t have a checkerboard cake pan set, have no fear: you can still make this cake. All you really need are 8″ or 9″ layer cake pans, and bowls/cookie cutters that measure 4-5″ and 2-3″ inches. You also don’t have to automatically go with white and chocolate cake as your flavors: as long as they’re different colors to create the checkerboard pattern, it’s fine. I will say this though: try to use cake recipes that aren’t overly moist. Since this cake requires multiple steps of assembly, super moist cakes can have the tendency to be really fragile and crack with too much handling. The cake shouldn’t be as dense as pound cake, but not as soft as a twinkie either- a perfect medium is what you’re looking for.

I didn’t think I would like this cake a much as I did. Chocolate cake isn’t my favorite, and I’m honestly more of a yellow cake lover than a straight white one. However, I found this to be VERY good. There’s just something about the blending of flavors that creates the perfect blend between the sweetness of the white cake and the slight bitterness of the chocolate cake that just really works together. The vanilla butter cream is delicious enough to eat by itself on a spoon- straight up.

So, I know what you’re thinking: there’s a crap load of frosting on this cake. I know. And I can explain. See the original plan was to use the butter cream to make these lovely, artistic peaks with a spoon, and  needed a rather thick layer of frosting to do so. I just forgot one thing:

I am not artistic by any stretch of the imagination. It took me about 5-7 minutes of attempting this elaborate, peak design to figure out that it just wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t making peaks- more like craters. And no one wants to see craters on a layer cake. So, I just smoothed it all out and called it a night. Yeah, it’s thick, but so what? You get extra vanilla butter cream to eat- who’s gonna complain about that? Not I, said the Jessica.

I guess this about wraps this post up. Once again guys: thank you SO much for all the support you’ve given Cooking is My Sport over the past year- I can’ wait to see what next year holds ;-)

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Checkerboard Layer Cake

Recipe Adapted from Hershey & Melissa@My CakeSchool

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION: Page 1, Page 2

Ingredients

For Chocolate Layer:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup, plus 6 tbsp. flour
  • 6 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup veg. oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

For White Cake Layer:

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted, soft butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 6 tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 2 lbs. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions

For Chocolate Layer:

1. Grease & flour 1 9-inch cake pans. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed in a stand mixer for 2 min.

3. Stir in boiling water and pour batter into pan (it’ll be thin). Bake for 30– 35 min, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10min, then remove to wire rack.

For White Layer:

1. Keep oven at 350°. Grease/flour 9-inch cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Combine the egg whites, milk and vanilla extract.

2. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then add half of the milk mixture. Add the rest of both, continue to alternate beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

3. Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-30 min, until cake passes toothpick test. Cool in pan for 10 min, then move to wire rack.

For Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream

1. Cream shortening, butter & vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time and milk. Mix on medium speed for 8 min, scraping bowl sides & decreasing speed to slow on last two minutes.

Apple Cider Donuts

Apple Cider Donuts1

Sometimes, I really miss being in the very early years of elementary school.

Morning and afternoon recess periods were awesome.

You can’t beat ‘homework’ that consisted of coloring in the lines and tracing out capital and lower case letters.

Sitting in a circle and singing with my classmates while my teacher played “The Farmer in the Dell” on the piano was cheesy, but still fun.

Yes, all of that was fine, but when I say I really miss those early years of school, I feel I should emphasize that what I really mean was that I miss the food part of it.

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I don’t know how it was for you guys, but at my elementary school,  there were certain foods that we all knew we could count on seeing and eating every season.  Because we all know that little kids can be placated and satisfied with treats.

Actually you can still kinda say that about me now. But I digress.

At Christmas, we were given candy canes and frosted cookies. Valentines Day meant we always held class valentine and candy exchanges. Around St. Patrick’s Day we got pancakes dyed with green food coloring. And at this time of year, we knew that we were gonna go on a field trip to a real life apple orchard, and ultimately end up eating apple cider and donuts. I gotta say, of all the food ‘holidays’ we had, the Apple Cider and Donuts holiday was my favorite.

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I got it into my head a little while ago that I really wanted to make donuts from scratch. Like really, really, REALLY wanted to. I took my usual poll of the family to see what they wanted. Jas wanted a cinnamon bun-style doughnut, which resulted in these absolutely heavenly Cinnamon Roll Doughnuts. Ashley (our resident apple cider addict) wanted Apple Cider Donuts. And me- well, we’ll get to that in a later post. For now, let’s just focus on these.

I had a cut out recipe from Yankee Magazine that I really wanted to try and looked easy enough for someone like me who’s never made her own donuts from scratch before. At first after rolling and cutting out the dough, I was skeptical that I had done it wrong as the dough didn’t seem thick enough to give me the thick, fluffy cake donuts that I had originally wanted to make. However, once these babies hit the hot oil in the deep fryer, they puffed ALLLLLLL the way up. The intense apple flavor of these is really just amazing, and I do think that it was due to the concentrated flavor that came from the boiled cider, so don’t skip that step. I poured about a cup of cider into a small saucepan and let it simmer down until it had reduced to about a 1/3 cup. Not too difficult at all. I did these two ways: one half of the batch I just left plain, as that’s how Ashley likes them. The other half I dunked still warm into a cinnamon sugar mixture. The softness of the donuts combined with the subtle crunch of the sugar? Pure Heaven in my mouth, guys.

I’m taking these to this week’s Fiesta Friday #37, hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener and co-hosted this week by  Julianna @Foodie On Board and Hilda @Along The Grapevine. Cheers, guys.

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Apple Cider Donuts

Recipe Courtesy of Yankee Magazine

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
  • 1-1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup boiled apple cider
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Canola or safflower oil (for frying)
  • Cinnamon sugar (1-1/2 cups sugar mixed with 3 tbsp. ground cinnamon) or confectioners’ sugar

 Directions

1. In a large bowl using a hand-held or standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat together sugar and butter until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4-6 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating a minute after each. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

2. Pour buttermilk, boiled cider, and vanilla into sugar/butter/egg mixture. Mix well, and don’t worry if the mixture looks a bit curdled; it’ll smooth itself out. Add flour mixture and combine gently just until fully moistened.

3. Line two baking sheets with waxed paper or parchment paper and dust generously with flour. Turn dough out onto one baking sheet and pat gently into 3/4-inch-thickness. Sprinkle dough with additional flour, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up. Remove dough from the freezer; use a lightly floured 3-inch doughnut cutter (or two concentric biscuit cutters) to cut out about 18 doughnuts with holes. (You may gather the scraps and roll again as needed, but you may need to chill the dough more to firm it up.) Place cut doughnuts on the other baking sheet as you go; then transfer to the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up again.

4. Line a plate with a few layers of paper towels and set it nearby. In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat 3 inches of oil to 370° (test with an instant-read thermometer). Drop 3 or 4 doughnuts into the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook until browned on one side, about 1 minute; then flip and cook until browned on the other side, about 1 minute longer.

5. Repeat with the remaining dough (if you find that it’s getting too soft as you work your way through the batches, pop it into the freezer again for 10 minutes). When doughnuts are cool enough to handle but still warm, sprinkle all over or roll doughnuts in with cinnamon sugar or confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately.

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherds Pie1

When people find out that I love to cook, try my food, or find out that I have a food blog I get several pretty regular, frequent reactions:

“Oh, you’re a REALLY good cook: have you ever thought about going to culinary school?”

“Wow, you should open up a restaurant and/or catering company!”

“You should totally go on ‘Chopped’ ‘Next Food Network Star’ or ‘Master Chef’!” (Popular food tv shows)

I always politely laugh off these remarks and questions in the real world. However, since this happens to be my blog and here I’m not obligated to laugh or even be all that polite about it, I can just give the straight up honest answers that go off in my head when this happens. Because I know you guys can take it.

Shepherds Pie3

Do I ever think about going to culinary school?

Never.  Not once. It’s a notion that has not, nor ever will be a possibility in my life. For one, culinary school tuition is not cheap. I already signed my life away in five years worth of student loans for my B.A. degree- I’m still trying to get it back now in the small loan re-payments I make now every month. Signing off on more loans to go to culinary school? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Second, culinary school is not something I would ever want to pursue because for me, shaping the act of cooking around the very regimen and structure of school would completely take all the fun out of it for me. When I cook for myself and my family, I like having the freedom to not only add or take away from a recipe as I see fit, but also to mess it up. In culinary school you learn so-called rules of making this and that, having to add this many ingredients, and these exact seasoning with very little wiggle room for freedom and personal interpretation of a dish. And if you do make a mistake and blow a dish, you could fail a mid-term or a final. Where’s the fun in that?

I’ll pass, thank you.

Shepherds Pie2

Would I ever open a restaurant?

Heh. Honey, you couldn’t pay me enough to do that. Long, endless hours of thank-less work. An almost guaranteed loss in profit in the first 1-2 years. Disgruntled, rude customers. The stress of continuity in putting out good food. Just a few reasons for me to steer clear of the restaurant business like it’s the Plague. I would want to have a life outside of my restaurant- most restaurant owners don’t. I want to be able to see my family on a regular basis- most restaurant owners don’t. I don’t do so well with failure- statistically speaking, most restaurants go belly up. There are virtually no pros to balance out those cons, at least not for me. A restauranteur, I am most definitely not.

Do I want to go on tv shows like ‘Chopped’ or ‘Master Chef’?

H-E-double hockey sticks, NO! No. No. No. And, uh no. I don’t do very well cooking under pressure,much less the added pressure of cooking on national television. Although it would certainly be nice if I did get to win one of those contests,the emotional repercussions if I didn’t wouldn’t be pretty. I’m a really sore loser, folks. Plus, if I had to cook for celebrity chefs (several of whom I really like and revere) and they didn’t end up liking my food, I would seriously give up cooking for the rest of my life, no joke. Why put myself through all that?

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Okay, moving on.

It’s fall, and that means you have to have a shepherd’s pie. Seriously: you HAVE to. I keep mine pretty simple; it’s a real meat and potatoes kind of dish-literally. If you’re not in the mood to make mashed potatoes from scratch, then please feel free to use the potato flakes you can microwave- I’ve done that in the past and the dish still comes out perfectly fine. We also don’t add cheese to ours, but I know that most people do, so I added it in the recipe. My only regret is that I didn’t make some brown gravy for these pictures, because that’s how I serve it to my family. This is pure comfort food, folks. No frills, no fancy stuff. But it sure is good for what ails you on chilly winter nights.

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 Shepherd’s Pie

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs. ground beef
  • 12 medium russet potatoes, peeled & cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 12 oz. frozen, mixed vegetables, thawed and drained
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 15.25 oz. can of tomato sauce (like for Hunts Meatloaf sauce)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium beef broth
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. garlic powder, divided
  • 2 tbsp. onion powder, divided
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. basil leaves
  • 1/2tsp. Ground thyme
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. pepper, divided
  • Cheese (optional)

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°

2. Set a large pot of boiling water over the stove. Cook potatoes, fully submerged in water for about 15 minutes, or until they are fork tender and drain.

3. Mash potatoes using a potato masher (or a mixer fitted with paddle attachment). Don’t worry about making them completely smooth– lumps aren’t a bad thing here. Add the heavy cream, butter, 1 tbsp. garlic and onion powder, and 1/2 tsp garlic  salt and pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning if need be.

4.Brown beef over stovetop, then add mixed vegetables beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, remaining garlic and onion powder, sugar, basil leaves, Ground thyme and garlic salt and pepper. Bring to a medium high heat and allow to cook for a further 10 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed (it’s okay if there’s a little bit left). Taste and adjust for seasoning if needed.

5. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish (or any casserole dish) with cooking spray. Spoon meat filling into bottom of dish, then spread mashed potatoes over the top. Make sure potatoes completely cover the meat to prevent any juices from bubbling up and spilling over.

6. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until potatoes begin to barely brown across the top. Remove dish from oven and turn on broiler.

8. Spray the potato layer with Butter-flavored cooking spray, or dollop with unsalted butter. You may also add cheese here if you like. Place dish back into oven, directly beneath the broiler and allow to cook a further 1-2 minutes, until potatoes are golden and browned.