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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We're having a . . .

Bob and I revealed the sex of the baby this weekend to some of our friends and family by having them each bite into an Oreo truffle and look to see whether the inside was blue or pink . . .



I thought of this idea before I was pregnant and have been so excited and anxious to do this "Truffle Reveal" ever since.

After coming up with this idea and thinking it was completely novel, I saw on Saturday Night Live (the Weekend Update segment) that some people have started revealing the sex of their babies by having people cut into a cake with a blue or pink inside. I guess I wasn't as original as I thought, but I still maintain that these truffles are the way to go because you can announce to different groups of people, and each person gets to participate in the reveal. We ended up doing this in several shifts with different family and friends, so it ended up being the perfect way for us to announce since each truffle is individually concealed (unlike a cake that, when cut, is open for everyone to see). It's a win-win situation - we got to see each person's reaction, and they got a yummy truffle! I even took some to work yesterday and shared the news with my coworkers. We had so much fun with this!

On Thursday night, the night before our big appointment, I made up about 7 of each color. I took them to our appointment in a cooler, and afterwards we headed straight to dinner for our first reveal with my parents and sister. We did it in the bar area of a restaurant because we simply could not wait to be seated. My Mom said she was equally excited for a boy or a girl, but my Dad and my sister wanted it to be a girl.

Their reactions to this news . . .


were priceless.

My Mom squealed and then leaned looked over to the woman sitting at the table next to us, who was obviously aware something was going on, and said, "Oh sorry! We just found out we're having a girl! --I mean, she's having a girl!!!" It was so cute! My Dad was smiling and saying, "I knew it!!!" and my sister was jumping up and down. My Mom even ordered a Pink Squirrel (a drink if you've never heard of it) to celebrate.

Saturday morning I made the rest of the truffles (in pink!), and we had our next reveal. We ended up being seated in a private room with a long table at a restaurant, and it was perfect! Those of us who knew sat on one side of the table and those who didn't sat on the other so we could watch their reactions. One of my aunts in particular REALLY wanted us to have a girl, so she was dancing in her seat when she found out!

The rest of the weekend was filled with more reveals and more celebrations. The love and support I felt from our family and friends was incredible, and I know our little girl is going to feel that too. We are so excited and feel so blessed to announce that we're expecting a daughter!


If you're wondering how I made Oreo truffles look pink or blue, here's what I did:

I followed the classic Oreo truffle recipe (also see HERE for truffle tips), using Golden Oreos instead of regular. I added red or blue food coloring gel to the cream cheese and crushed cookies before mixing it up. I put on disposable kitchen gloves and used my hands - much easier than a spoon, and you don't risk dying your hands!

Because these cookies are slightly yellow, my colors ended up being a little more teal and coral but obviously could not be confused!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salsa Showdown!

When my good friends Melissa and Kathleen visited in May, I wanted to do something fun and special. The three of us absolutely love the salsa from our favorite Mexican restaurant in Peoria, IL (where we went to college). The restaurant is Carlos O'Kelly's. Yes it's a chain, but their salsa is made in-house (Melissa should know, she worked there!) Our plan was for them to drive from Chicago and stop in Springfield at the Carlos O'Kelly's that's right off the highway to pick up some salsa on their way to St. Louis. Unfortunately, Melissa was informed that the restaurant had suddenly closed! I had no choice but to arrange a Salsa Showdown and make my three favorite salsas for us to taste test!

My all-time favorite salsa for years has been the Black Bean(less) Salsa. If you read my original post about it, you'll know that it was this very salsa that got Kathleen to eat red onions! One day, I saw this Fresh Homemade Salsa on Annie's blog and it looked so delicious. I loved that it closely resembled restaurant-style salsa in appearance. Of course I have room in my life for more than one salsa, right? Especially when they are as different as these two! Wow, this salsa is amazing and I was happy to have a more traditional salsa to serve with enchiladas, quesadillas, and fajitas. Then I did a dumb thing...or a brilliant thing...I saw Pioneer Woman's Restaurant-Style salsa and just HAD to try it. Uh oh, I loved it. Now what was I to do? The Black Bean(less) Salsa is very different and I actually prefer it with just tortilla chips, not on other Mexican food, so it doesn't really count, but these two red salsas are very similar...almost similar enough that I had to choose one, but how? I don't know about you, but I simply cannot make a decision unless I have two things side-by-side. This called for a Salsa Showdown, not unlike my Magic Brownie showdown, Ricotta Pancakes two ways, and my Great Pumpkin Bread-Off. I had wanted to do this, oh, ever since I tried Pioneer Woman's salsa. Finally I had the perfect opportunity and the perfect little guinea pigs (or fruit flies if you know what I do for a living) for my experiment :-)

I made the three salsas in one night and stored them in ambiguously marked containers labeled A, B, and C. Only I knew the identity of the salsas. Now let's get down to the details of the Showdown:

The taste testers: Bob, Melissa, and Kathleen.
The mission: determine the best salsa according to taste, texture, and overall appeal.
The vehicle for said salsas: Tostitos scoops.

Meet the contenders:


In this (left) corner, weighing in at 3 ounces (just kidding!) we have Salsa A from Pioneer Woman.


And in this (right) corner, we have Salsa B from Annie's Eats.


It's pretty obvious, but Salsa C is the Black Bean(less) Salsa in the center.


To be fair, I told the taste testers not to consider this salsa in their vote since it is so different. I really just made it because it's Kathleen's fav and I wanted Melissa to try it out (oh and I love it too!)

A little description of each:

Salsa A: A scrumptious combination of Rotel tomatoes, canned whole tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, and all the usual yummy suspects.

Salsa B: A delectable blend of fresh tomatoes, canned fire-roasted tomatoes (my personal addition), yellow onion, cumin, jalapenos, garlic, and a touch of red wine vinegar.

Salsa C: This salsa combines the sweetness of shoepeg corn, the spiciness of Rotel tomatoes, and the zestiness of red onions. Cumin, fresh lime juice, and cilantro add brightness and freshness.

The verdicts (wow it's even hard for me to type that word after the horrific Anthony trial!):

1) Because Bob has a hard time following directions, he performed his test before they arrived. His immediate answer was "Salsa A" - he thought it had a fresher taste. I thought this was funny because this salsa has no actual fresh tomatoes in it, as opposed to Salsa B which does.

2) Melissa agreed with Bob - Salsa A was the winner for her, though this was a close call. Also citing "fresh tasting" as a reason for her choice.

3) Kathleen also agreed that Salsa A was her preference. Again the "fresh" word came up, and this was close for her too.

4) So maybe you're wondering what I think?? Sorry folks, it's a hung jury - I sort of prefer Salsa B! I think it's because I used fire-roasted tomatoes and I just love that smoky taste they impart. I probably shouldn't have done that for fairness. I feel like I performed an uncontrolled experiment! I love both Salsa A and Salsa B, but I kept going back to Salsa B . . . again . . . and again. This presents a major problem for me because I was hoping Bob and I would agree on a clear winner and I would have my "go to" recipe. No such luck!

Now on the tasters' opinions of the Black Bean(less) Salsa - all 3 agreed that they loved this salsa and that it wasn't fair to compare it to the more traditional salsas. Personally, I could not agree more. It's just wonderful! No, seriously try it!

So there you have it, mostly a win for Pioneer Woman's Restaurant-Style Salsa with one holdout (me!) for Annie's Eats Fresh Homemade Salsa.

Have I finished my salsa quest? Not a chance. I still plan to make an at-home version of one of my favorite restaurant salsas...and no, it's NOT Carlos O'Kelly's ;-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mexican Chocolate Black Bottom Cupcakes


In December I won a giveaway on Nicole's blog Baking Bites. I was so excited to get my package in the mail - 2 bars of Scharffen Berger chocolate and an autographed copy of her Baking Bites cookbook! I immediately wanted to make just about every recipe in the book! One recipe that caught my eye in particular was these Mexican Chocolate Black Bottom Cupcakes. The chocolate batter is mixed with Mexican spices and then a cheesecake/coconut layer is dolloped on top! The recipe makes 24 cupcakes, so I chose to make them for 2 events - lab birthdays and the visit of my two great friends Kathleen and Melissa.

I was really bummed when I finished making these and discovered I had left out the coconut by mistake! In my defense, the recipe in the cookbook said to combine salt with the cream cheese mixture, and there was no mention of coconut. Salt was not listed in the filling ingredients so I just added a pinch and moved forward. It was too late by the time I realized that the coconut was not listed in the directions and I had left it out. Regardless, these cupcakes were fantastic and I can only imagine that they'd be even better with the coconut. I've added it to the directions below.

24 cupcakes is a lot, so I had leftovers after both events and my mom and aunt tried them. My mom said they were the best thing I've ever baked! Wow - did she forget about the dessert table? Just kidding! It's funny how people can have such different tastes because these were not at the top of Bob's list (his all time favorite is the Tres Leches Coconut Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream!) I wasn't entirely surprised by Bob's preference though because he's not big on cheesecake (I know - what?!). I thought these cupcakes were super moist and flavorful, and I'm excited to try them again with coconut!


Mexican Chocolate Black Bottom Cupcakes

Yield: 24 cupcakes

For the cream cheese filling:
16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2/3 cup sweetened, shredded coconut, finely chopped

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners.
1. Make the filling: In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Blend in egg whites and milk, mixing until filling is well-blended. Stir in coconut. Set aside.

2. Make the cake: In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, baking soda, and spices.

3. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk, water, melted butter, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Stir together until just combined and no streaks of flour remain.

4. Divide cake batter evenly among 24 cupcakes. Top each portion of batter with 1 rounded tablespoon cream cheese mixture (there may be some left over).

5. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. If using two racks, rotate pans halfway through baking. A toothpick inserted into cake only portion should come out with a few moist crumbs on it.

6. Cool in pans for 5 minutes. Filling will sink slightly as the cake cools (I assume this is if you have the coconut in there, as mine did not). Remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely.

Source: Adapted from the Baking Bites Cookbook

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jalapeno Popper Dip



I've posted before about my love of dips. I think they're the perfect party food, and there are so many options. When I saw this recipe for Jalapeno Popper Dip, I immediately saved it to try. Jalapeno poppers are pretty popular in my family, so I thought a dip that combines those flavors would go over well.

Bob and I hosted a graduation party BBQ for my new brother-in-law Steve, and I thought this dip would be a nice addition. Diced jalapenos mixed with cream cheese and spices, topped with a delicious layer of Mexican blend cheese and panko bread crumbs? Yum. This dip was delicious, and the fam loved it. It's definitely not too spicy but had a nice balance of flavors. I'm sure it would be great served with carrots and celery, but I prefer Tostitos Scoops!

And just look at that cheesiness!

Thanks for lending me a "hand" Mom!

Jalapeno Popper Dip

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese (I used 1/3 less fat), at room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used light)
1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers, chopped
6 jalapeno peppers, seeded, ribbed and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese, divided
1 teaspoon Ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup panko bread crumbs (I actually reduced this to about 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and mayo.

2. Add bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, 1/2 cup shredded cheese, and half of the chili powder and cumin. Mix well to combine to a uniform mixture.

3. Spread dip into a baking dish, smoothing into an even layer. (I used an 11 x 7-inch dish)

4. Top with remaining shredded cheese, cover with bread crumbs and sprinkle with remaining chili powder and cumin.

5. Bake approximately 30 minutes until cheese is hot and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature with tortilla chips.

Source: Adapted from Homemade by Holman

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