Sunday, October 28, 2012

Local Eats: The Isis

Asheville is definitely a smallish town who thinks it's a big deal (the whole Ashevegas thing is hysterical being a once upon a time true Las Vegan myself). And rightfully so that A-ville should think it's hot stuff. There's a lot going on here these days, with a huge influx of new eateries and restaurants to enjoy. Actually a new place just opened up not too far from me, and thanks to it's beautiful facade I have been dying to try it out. Welcome to The Isis Restaurant.
Located in West Asheville (which is where all the scenesters are popping up), The Isis is both a venue hall and eating spot, having undergone a major renovation from being a movie theater which last showed a flick in 1957. As with all new restaurants, they are still working out the kinks, but I have hope for this joint.
The food was good, not overly memorable, but the presentation was beautiful. The location, the gorgeous renovated building, and the wine list are what will have me returning soon. There is also an amazing patio area, stage where they will eventually have live music, and a fun bar area which I have yet to explore.
If North Carolina would get rid of it's lame no happy hour law, this would likely become one of my favorite spots for happy hour. Their beer list is also equally impressive. Swing on in and give The Isis a try!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

It's my birthday! Squeeeeee! And to celebrate, I bring you Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins for your daily pleasure. Finger-licking goodness right here.
Continuing on with my pumpkin recipe craze, I recently made these when I discovered I needed to use up both some pumpkin puree and cream cheese about to expire in the fridge (I am a very opportune baker, you know).
After researching high and low, I decided to base my recipe off of one featured on Naturally Ella. The receipt itself had a complete overhaul, adding extra spices, changing how the wet and dry ingredients are combined, and of course adding extra love. These muffins are great for breakfast or as a mid-day treat. If you happen to be carving a pumpkin, save any of the fleshy meat from inside and make a batch of Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins!
And to leave you all with a bit of glee, here are a few fun shots from last year's epic bday celebrations - 2011 Awkward Prom. Prost! Genatzt! Cheers!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Adapted from: Naturally Ella 

  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp each: cinnamon and nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp each: ginger and pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/8 tsp allspice 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature 
  • 1 can pumpkin puree

  • 4 ounces whipped cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • Topping:
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • tbsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease. 

In a small bowl, whip together filling ingredients and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients for the main part of the muffin and stir to combine (flour, spices, salt, baking soda). 

In a separate bowl in your mixer, beat the butter for 1 minute. Next add both sugars and continue to combine. Follow by adding the eggs one at a time and finish with adding the pumpkin puree. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, being careful not to over mix (a few lumps are still okay.) Fill each muffin tin half full with the batter. Then spoon a teaspoon to tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on top, and finally finish with the remaining batter (if you don’t cover all the cream cheese, don't worry, it makes the muffins look more marbleized). Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins springs back when you press lightly. I also rotate halfway through so that the muffins bake evenly. Let cool for a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack and finish cooling. Make sure to store in an airtight container, preferably in the fridge if not eaten immediately due to the dairy in these babies. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Pumpkin season is here! And to celebrate, besides eating my weight in pumpkin this month, I plan to share a few new recipes I have fallen in love with as well as a few oldies but goodies from my baking files. Now, I will always encourage folks to grow their own pumpkins and for a number of reasons: they are fun to grow, you'll have a good source of carving and baking pumpkins, and it's farm to table. However if you are like me and have had one heck of a ride with 2012, you likely didn't have time to successfully plant pumpkins (we tried a Japanese variety but didn't get any fruit). If you grew your own pumpkins this year, then this recipe will be a good excuse to use up some of that puree you've likely made. If not, grab yourself a can of pumpkin puree from the store and get baking.
I discovered this receipt through Averie Cooks, and damn did it look gooo-ooood upon initial discovery. Pumpkin meets chocolate in a baked good form - who wouldn't love that?!
I made a few changes to the original receipe, such as using non-fat greek yogurt in place of sour cream, omitting the butter extract, using bittersweet chocolate chips, and adding more spices such as pumpkin spice. The end result was delicious! Next time around I may try to slip a little rum into the batter, or possibly a wee bit more into the ganache. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Chocolate chip Bundt Cake with Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from: Averie Cooks 

For the Cake
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canned or fresh pumpkin puree 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup non-fat greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
For the Chocolate Ganache (microwave-friendly)
  • 2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp rum 
  • 1 tsp mocha coffee 
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 12-cup Bundt or tube-cake pan with cooking spray or grease and flour the pan; set aside. In a large bowl combine eggs, pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, yogurt, vanilla extract, all the spices and whisk to combine until mixture is smooth and silky.
Add the flour, baking soda, salt and stir until just combined (don’t overmix or the gluten will over-develop and cake will be tougher). Fold in the chocolate chips and pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing it lightly with a spatula if necessary and give it a slam on the counter to release any air. Bake for 38 to 42 minutes, or until top has set (it may crackle, this is okay) and is golden or a cake tester, toothpick, or blade of a knife comes out clean (due to the chocolate chips, you may hit some chocolate patches with the insertion test). Allow cake to cool in pan for about 15 minutes before inverting and releasing cake from pan and placing it on a rack to finish cooling. While cake cools, make the ganache.
To make the Chocolate Ganache, Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power for 1 minute to soften chocolate; set aside. In a small microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, heat the cream (I used half-and-half) on high power just until it begins to bubble and show signs of boiling, about 1 minute. Pour hot cream over chocolate and let it stand about 1 minute. Whisk vigorously until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth and velvety. Add vanilla, alcohol, coffee, and whisk to combine. Set bowl aside for about 5 minutes, allowing ganache to cool and thicken a bit. Whisk mixture briefly before preparing to drizzle it over the cake. Ganache will set up a bit with time, but remains quite viscous and drippy.
Cake will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bringing It Back: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Guess what's nearly here?? No, not Christmas or the holidays. No, I'm talking about cookie season. Yay! Just a few months away from my annual cookie tray extravaganza (i.e. baking as an endurance sport). Usually the annual cookie tray requires a few months of cookie tryouts, however this year has found me too busy for sample batches (work, living, instant family, etc.). Instead I am going to start this year's cookie tray with a good solid cookie from my baking arsenal - my Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.These babies are going to be making a comeback appearance, by popular demand. Their secret - the food processed oats that make these both chewy and crispy at once. Make sure to keep an eye on them when they are in the oven so as not to allow them to get too crispy. And stay tuned for more additions to the 2012 cookie trays!

Local Eats: The Pump Cafe

The world has a funny look to it when in the midst of a hectic travel schedule, as if wearing hue colored glasses. I certainly felt this way this past week as thousands of miles passed beneath my feet. I went here, there, and every damn crack in between. I can safely say that if anyone told me I could give up driving and flying for a good long while I'd likely thank them for it. Anyhoo, one of the perks of being the road so much is getting to try new foodie establishments.
Near the beginning of my adventures, I had the opportunity to visit the Pump Cafe in Springfield, OR and was pleasantly surprised at the good eats happening here. Nom, nom, nom. The breakfast was filling, hearty, and delicious - that's winning in my book. Needless to say this joint met my standards as a hangover establishment.
The place has a wonderful feel to it, country farm americana, with endless cups of good joe. The place seems to always have a bit of a crowd, but everyone is super sweet and very mellow in their quest for good food. Their counter bar is quite a favorite with locals, from what I hear.
The food was beyond scrumptious and is definitely within the definition of family style. Huge plates for huge appetites, no one goes home hungry from here. Next time you have a hankering for brunch and are near Main Street, Springfield, make sure to give the Pump Cafe a try. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Repurpose Food & Mashed Potato Casserole

I am the queen of reusing and repurposing food. Yes, I sound smug saying this but it is only after years and years of success that I brag with such ease. Maybe it harks back to my environmentalist days, but I am not a big fan of waste (food waste, especially). And since it sounds like us Americans seem to waste more food than anyone on the planet, I figure repurposing potatoes into something yummy is my way of helping out.
Last weekend I made a batch of mashed potatoes as a side dish and ended up with WAY more than I could humanly eat. Instead of letting the plastic container sit in my fridge for the allotted week until the contents found its way into the trash, I opted to use my spuds as an example of reusing leftovers. Off the cuff, I made a mashed potato casserole (super easy). With just a couple items from my fridge and cupboard, my once plain potatoes turned into a light and fluffy casserole! This is very much a hodgepodge of whatever is readily available in your kitchen, so let your imagination run wild. And stay tuned for the repurposed mashed potato casserole into potato bacon soup (mmm, good fall eating here). Salute!

Mashed Potato Casserole 
  • 2 cups or so of leftover mashed potatoes (slightly reheadted as it's easier to mix) 
  • 1/2 can of seasoned lima beans
  • 1-2 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp Rondele spread 
  • 1/2 stalk of a leek, diced 
  • Handful of mushrooms, sliced
  • Shredded cheese (any variety)
  • 2-4 tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs 

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prep the casserole pan (I didn't really do anything other than take it out of the cabinet).

Saute the leek and mushrooms in a frying pan for a few minutes (until the mushrooms appear mostly cooked and the leek becomes aromatic).

In a bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, lima beans, heavy cream, cheese spread, leek and mushroom saute, and most of the shredded cheese. Once this looks well incorporated, transfer it to the casserole pan and smooth out the top. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese and a few tablespoons of bread crumbs over the top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let the dish cool for a few minutes and serve up while still warm.