Monday, November 14, 2011

Pumpkin Bars with Caramel Frosting

What did you just say?  Did you really just ask me to post another pumpkin recipe?  Don't you know how over pumpkin everyone is?  Huh?  People aren't over pumpkin yet?  Well, thank goodness, because I have a little dish full of deliciousness to share with you.  

These pumpkin bars are simple, sweet, warm with fall spices, and are the perfect nibble... every. single. time. you walk through the kitchen.  Nearly every pumpkin recipe out there seems to be slathered with cream cheese frosting.  Now, don't get me wrong - I love cream cheese frosting - but there is something unexpectedly fantastic about going with caramel.  

So, go on now... melt yourself some butter and get baking!

Pumpkin Bars with Caramel Frosting
recipe from A Pinch of Yum
Yield: 2-3 dozen, depending on how generously you slice them up

Bar Ingredients
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup pumpkin puree 
4 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup melted butter

Frosting Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk (I used half&half)
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease/spray a 10 1/2 by 16 inch pan (if you use a smaller pan, you might need to put foil over the top halfway through to prevent over-browning before the middle cooks properly). 

Mix together bar ingredients, adding melted butter last.  Pour into prepared pan. Bake until cake springs back when lightly touched, approximately 40 minutes. Cool completely.

For the frosting, boil butter and brown sugar for two minutes.  Add the milk, whisking until well-combined. Bring it to a boil again, then add powdered sugar.  Whisk until smooth and pour over cooled cake immediately.  Frosting will set very fast, so be sure to pour it evenly over the cake to avoid having to spread with a spatula.

A little sprinkle of sea salt over the top of the frosting is delicious, and gives a nice contrast to the sweet frosting. Mmmm!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Best Chili EVER.

Sometimes I look into my spice cabinet and get completely overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of tiny glass jars sitting there.  How did I get so many?  And how in the world am I ever going to use them all up?  That is when I pull out the big guns - awesome, spice-heavy chili.  A batch of this deliciousness will serve a couple purposes:

1. It'll make you look like a chili-contest-winning, super-duper-amazing cook
2. It'll help you work through your never-ending rows of spices... so you can... well, buy more.

This is some seriously tasty chili.  I discovered the original recipe a few years ago at and made just a few minor tweaks (most notably, a big increase in bacon!).  It takes awhile to simmer, but the effort is so worth it.  Make sure you are using a BIG pot - this will feed a crowd! 

Best Chili EVER.
Yield: 16 bowls of goodness (freezes/reheats well)

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound bulk Italian sausage (or links with casing removed)
3 (15oz) cans of beans (I use a mix of black, kidney, and cannelini beans)
1 (15oz) can of chili/pinto beans in spicy sauce
2 (28oz) cans diced tomatoes with juice (fire-roasted, if you can find them!)
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 can roasted green chilies 
3-4 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Beef Better then Bouillon (can substitute bouillon cubes)
1/2 cup beer
1/4 cup chili powder
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp hot pepper sauce (Tabasco)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar

Garnish with:
Corn chips (Fritos) and shredded cheese

Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Cook ground beef and sausage until evenly browned.  Drain off excess grease.

Pour in beans, tomatoes and tomato paste.

Add all remaining ingredients and stir to blend.

Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours.

After 2 hours, taste and adjust salt, pepper, and chili powder, if needed. 

Serve with fritos, shredded cheese, and cornbread!

Oh, yeah, and sorry for the lack of photos. Chili isn't really the most photogenic food out there, you know? 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oh, Nuts!

I have an addiction to spice blends.  I admit it.  

Phew.  I feel a lot better getting that off my chest! 

I have tons and tons of tiny tins, jars and bottles of the most amazing spice blends - Jamaican Jerk, Thai Green Curry, Park Hill Maple Pepper, Chili and Lime... you get the point.  As much as I love these delicious spices, they usually sit unused for quite a long time.  They are so taste-specific, that they usually only "belong" to one or two recipes in my repertoire.  After months years of collecting, I decided I needed a plan to use them up.  I mean, how else am I going to clear enough room in the spice cabinet to buy new spices?!

Today, while flipping through the latest Food Network magazine, inspiration struck!  Spiced nuts!  YES.   We always have a ridiculous amount of nuts in the house (and that is besides the people), so I had everything I needed on hand already. I used a spice blend called Park Hill Maple Pepper from the fabulous spice shop, Savory (you can order online if there isn't a location near you). It is a mixture of maple sugar, black pepper, coriander, tumeric, ginger, nutmeg, cumin, mustard and lots of other fantastic flavors. A perfect sweet and savory blend.

Unfortunately, batch #1 was a huge FAIL.  I used the temperature/time recommendations from the magazine and managed to horribly burn the batch.  Ugh.  Word of caution - do not stray far from the oven during cooking time.  If you start smelling the nuts getting toasty, remove them asap... there is no recovering burnt nuts.  Luckily, batch #2 was a delicious success.  I lowered the temperature and decreased the cooking time.  Perfection! 

Park Hill Maple Pepper Spiced Nuts
Yield: 2 cups

1 cup unsalted or reduced salt peanuts
3/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp Park Hill Maple Pepper spice blend (or whatever spice blend that you happen to have sitting around in your spice cabinet)
Sprinkle of salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 400˚.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

Mix nuts with vegetable oil and spices in a small bowl.  Stir until nuts are evenly coated.

Spread in an even layer on baking sheet.  Bake for 4-6 minutes, stirring once.  Pay close attention - the second they start getting golden brown, get them OUT of the oven!

Transfer to cooling rack lined with parchment paper or paper towels to cool.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Every. Single. Blog. has a post about pumpkin something-or-other right now.  I almost feel silly posting another pumpkin recipe, but here's the thing - fall is ALL ABOUT pumpkin.  And I would be doing fall a disservice by omitting a perfectly good recipe, just to avoid the risk of seeming like a copy-cat.  

If you need something spectacularly fall-like with warm and happy spices, you'll love these cupcakes muffins.  Go on... make 'em.  And share them - your friends/family/neighbors will thank you.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cupcakes Muffins
(I get to call them muffins because they don't have frosting, right?)
This recipe was adapted from Lick the Bowl Good.
Yield: 24 muffins


- Cream Cheese Filling -
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

- Muffin -
1 pkg yellow cake mix
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 coconut or vegetable oil
1 can (15oz) pumpkin puree
1/4 cup water
4 eggs
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves

- Topping -
1/2 cup sugar
5 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces

For the filling: Combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla and mix well, until blended and smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Reinforce with foil and place in the freezer for at least 2-4 hours.

For the muffins: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients and mix until well combined.

For the topping: Combine sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Add the butter pieces and use a pastry blender or two forks to cut into the dry ingredients until the mixture is course and crumbly. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

Assembly: Fill each muffin well with approximately 2-3 Tbsp. of muffin mixture. 

Slice the log of cream cheese mixture into 24 equal pieces. Place one slice of cream cheese into each muffin well.

Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, covering the cream cheese completely. Sprinkle a small amount of the topping mixture over each muffin well.

Bake for 20-22 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before eating and sharing.