Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Cream Cheese Frosting

These cupcakes are decadent with just the right amount of spice!

(…and pretty damn cute, too!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeat
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar/1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 8 ounce can crushed pineapple
  • 3 1/2 oz. flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
  • 16 ounces of powdered sugar (more or less to find the right consistency)
  • 4 ounces (or one stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • approximately 3 shots of Grand Marnier orange cognac
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of orange zest

Stir together flour, baking soda, salt and spices.

Beat eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk and vanilla.  If you don’t like to buy buttermilk by the carton, but find you use it for a lot of recipes, look for the powdered buttermilk in your grocery store’s baking aisle.  I love keeping this around our house.  I can break it out anytime a recipe calls for buttermilk, and I don’t have to worry about buying buttermilk to use a little and have the rest go bad.

Add flour mixture to wet mixture, then fold in carrot, pineapple, coconut and pecans.

Bake at 350 for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to cool before icing – this may seem simple to some, but a mistake I have made, I assure you.

For the cream cheese frosting – beat 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese in a stand mixer.  Next, add softened butter.  Once combined, slowly add the powdered sugar.  Add in the Grand Marnier to taste.  I also added about two tablespoons of orange zest to bring out the orange flavor in the cognac.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved the green coconut look on top with the robins egg right in the middle.  The green coconut was easy enough to make.  1 tbsp of water with a drop of green food coloring in a pint mason jar.  Pour in enough coconut to fill it half way and shake.  Keep adding one tbsp of water mixed with a drop of food coloring until you have the shade of green you like.  Spread the mixture onto a paper towel to dry a bit.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be completely dry, but this should keep it from drying into a big clump.

Sprinkle your green coconut, garnish with a robins egg and enjoy!

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Unbelievably Easy Fried Pickles and Cajun Buttermilk Ranch

These fried pickles were so easy and they beat BBQ joint fried pickles by a mile!

The Pickles:

  • 1 pint jar of hamburger pickles
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk

The Ranch:

  • 1/4 c. buttermilk
  • 1/2 c. mayo…the real stuff.
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 tsp. Zatarain’s cajun spice

Grab a pint jar of hamburger pickles…you know the one.  That jar of pickles that has been sitting in the back of your refrigerator since Pearl Jam was cool.  Drain the juice and toss them into a  zip lock bag with about a half cup of all purpose flour — more if needed to coat the pickles evenly.  Give the floured pickles a quick bath in a half cup of milk and one egg beaten together.   Then throw the pickles into a mixture of 1 cup of plain bread crumbs, 1 tsp. of dried dill, 1 tsp. garlic salt, 1 tsp. paprika.  If you like a spicy pickle, throw in a quarter tsp. of red pepper.  Fry in hot vegetable oil over medium high heat. 

While the pickles cool, make the ranch.  Start with 1/4 cup of buttermilk and add to it 1/2 cup of mayo (a table spoon or two more for a thicker ranch).  Add 1 tbsp lemon juice, cracked pepper, garlic powder and cajun spices to the mix, and beat until combined.

Voila!

 

 

 

 

 

                       

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This recipe was adapted from simply-sammie.blogspot.com/2011/09/fried-dill-pickles.html

Creamy tomato soup and grilled gruyere cheese sandwich

Vinnie first made this soup a few months ago.  We canned most of it, pre-planning for an easy cold weather meal.  This soup is so delicious, we popped the soup back open not even a week after we had canned it.  This recipe is supremely easy; I whipped up a batch last night in about half an hour.  It helps if you have a large food processor… this might be a good excuse to get one.  [Thanks Aunt Kelly for the sweet wedding gift!]  Our Cuisinart is amazing.  It gets used about twice a week in our kitchen.

For the soup:

  • about 4 or 5 roma tomatoes and 6 or 7 of the larger tomatoes on the vine [approx 4 cups]
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • about 2 cups of chicken broth
  • 3 or 4 whole cloves
  • 4 tbsp flour and 4 tbsp salted butter for the roux
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp white pepper

Rough chop the tomatoes and onions.  Put tomatoes, onions, chicken broth and cloves into a stock pot and bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.  At this point, you could pull the cloves back out if you like.  I leave mine in for the flavor.  Pour the simmered goodness into your food processor and let it run for about 2 minutes, or until smooth.  Using the same stock pot, make a roux.  [Roux is just a fancy french name for a thickening agent for gravy and such.]  Melt the butter in the bottom of the pot, then add flour.  Stir until the flour has incorporated into the butter. 

Pour about one cup of your tomato mixture from the food processor into the stock pot.  Stir in a little at a time so that your roux mixes in with your soup completely.  Once your roux is incorporated with the first bit of tomato mixture, pour in the rest.  Stir in spices. 

The grilled gruyere cheese sandwich is simple enough.  We used a sourdough bread for this meal, and it was amazing with the tomato soup.  I start with a bit of melted butter in the bottom of a large pan over medium heat rather than to butter the bread itself.  I saw Vinnie grate the cheese for the sandwich and it seemed to get a nice even melt. 

Finished meal!  Perfect for the single digit temperatures we’ve been having in New Hampshire.

“Hey, Mister! Throw me somethin’!”

Ah, the battle cry of little kids and drunkards on Mardi Gras day – “Throw me somethin!” 

Here I sit in Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE on 12th night – epiphany.  Feeling the spirit of parade season last night, I baked two small king cakes for both my husband’s office and mine.  “What the hell is a king cake?” you say?  In so many words, plastic baby Jesus (lil’ baby G as I like to call him) is hidden inside of a ring shaped pastry filled with cream cheese or an oh-so-decadent praline filling, topped with Mardi Gras colored sugar sprinkles.  [Purple, Green and Gold]  Whoever avoids certain peril, and doesn’t choke on lil’ baby G, gains luck throughout the year — and also must buy the next king cake for the following year.  Or…at least this is how I’ve been told. 

Find a good recipe and a better description of a king cake here from Southern Living.

Vinnie and I had the pleasure of living in the heart of the Crescent City for a couple of years.  New Orleans can be described as – a big little town.  If you know someone, you know everyone.  We cultivated so many dear friendships, stumbled to the end of quite a few parades, and found some utterly amazing places to eat.  (We gained a few pounds while living there…that just means we were doing it right.)  Bourbon Street is fun…every now and then; Magazine Street is amazing for shopping and of course a Jewish Coonass (a sinful layer of potato latkes, grilled spinach, fried eggs and crawfish etouffe with a buttermilk biscuit to sop up the left over goodness) at Slim Goodies diner; St. Charles is runner’s paradise (and also where I liked to point and laugh at runners while consuming my potent margarita and creamy queso dip); Oak Street is home to dinner at Jaque-Imo’s with alligator cheesecake and dessert for your ears next door at the Maple Leaf Bar — see amazing NOLA acts here like Rebirth Brass Band, and Alvin Youngblood Hart.  Now (in a puddle of drool after typing this) we sit in Manchester — a city whose bars close at 1, with seemingly no joy or enthusiasm for the parade season, and with what I presume will be work days for all on Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras. 

Our good friend, Kerry Maloney took a great photo of Vinnie and I when we were engaged.  Turns out this really WAS “a streetcar named desire;” number 922. 

Click her name, and check out some of her amazing photos around New Orleans…and a few of her pet miniature chicken, Blanche Devereaux.

On the Saturday before Mardi Gras, February 18th, Vinnie and I will be hosting a Mardi Gras party at our home in New Hampshire.  Hurricanes will be consumed, craw fish killed, king cake obliterated, and beads….earned?  So this is an open invitation to all of our New England friends to come to our house and help us bring a little of the Crescent City to New Hampshire.

Wicked Simple Egg Nog Pie

This is the egg nog pie I baked and sealed to send to my parents for Thanksgiving.  It is supremely simple to make, and tastes like a creamy custard with an almost creme brule finish. 

You need:

  • 1 1/4 c. white sugar
  • 1/4 c. all purpose flour
  • 2 c. egg nog
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled. 
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla OR 1 shot of spiced rum

Beat eggs, eggnog, and vanilla or rum.  Mix separately the flour and sugar.  Using an electric hand mixer, combine the dry mixture to the wet slowly until blended.  Pour slowly into mixture the melted butter.  It is important to let the butter cool slightly before adding it to your mixture, otherwise you run the risk of cooking your eggs in the batter.  I’ve done it…it’s not purdy.  Make sure there are no lumps in the mixture so the result is a nice smooth looking pie. 

This mixture should fill a 9″ pie crust very nicely.  Bake at 350 degrees until the center jiggles like firm jello.  (Should take about 45 minutes to an hour)  The filling will bubble up dramatically, but once it has cooled the filling will settle back below the rim of the pie plate.

Perfect Pie Crust

A good pie crust is not difficult; in fact, in the time it takes you to go to the grocery store to buy a pie crust, you can whip out a perfectly flaky, uber delicious crust for a sweet or savory pie. 

For 2 pies, OR 1 double crust pie:

  • – 2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened and 1/4 c. crisco
  • 5 tbsp cold water

I’ve heard some crust conoisseurs say crisco is better for pie crusts, while others say a butter crust is the way to go.  Truth is, once you start making them, you’ll find which you preferrer.  The ratio of butter to crisco I choose for crust still has a good buttery flavor, and the crisco helps keep the dough together while rolling out.  To soften the butter, either leave it out overnight, or gently melt over low heat, and allow to cool before combining. 

Using a large fork, mix fats, salt, and flour together until you get what resembles doughy pebbles.  Pour cold water over dough, and hand mix until you have a good round form.  Turn your dough out onto a floured surface, and sprinkle a little flour over the top of your dough.  Gently roll out your dough.  This is where an ounce of patience comes in.  If you work the dough slowly, you’re less likely to see your dough crack and crumble to pieces.  To get the desired shape of your pie, turn your pie plate over onto the dough, and trace a circle around the plate with a butter knife about an inch or so.  You should be able to gently roll the dough up loosely so you can roll the dough back over your pie tin. 

I noticed that with the left over crust, it would never form back up properly to roll back out another crust.  I added a pinch of crisco back into my  left overs, worked it back into the dough, and rolled it out for another perfect crust. 

Recipe failures and the praline meltdown

Before Vinnie and I were married, my idea of cooking was finding a beautiful spread from the chef’s case in Central Market (H.E.B. in Fort Worth), putting it on a beautiful tray and delivering it to the dinner table as my own creation.  Ta-Da!  I cooked!  This became such routine than when I attempted a chicken parmesean dish that Vinnie loved, he questioned where it came from – “Where did you buy this?”  He couldn’t believe that I had the gumption to make anything without the assistance of the chef’s corner of the grocery store.  While we lived in New Orleans, I wanted to make pralines for my praline-loving-father for Christmas.  I followed the recipe diligently.  Had the frozen butter at the ready.  Stirred the sugary confection in a heavy bottom pan until the desired “soft-ball” candy stage was reached that this stubborn pecan candy needs to set perfectly.  I spooned the mix onto wax paper.  What a bitch and tease pralines are.  Don’t they look so nice when they haven’t set yet?  What resulted was praline soup.  All over the kitchen.  To the point of tears and frustration, I shut down the kitchen for the night and warned Vinnie to go nowhere near the kitchen.  Leave it be.  I’ll clean it in the morning.  My sweet loving man, in an attempt to restore my idea to make pralines for my daddy, fixed my praline disaster.  Jerk.  He did just that, made the pralines so easily it was as if he had been making pralines at the Southern Candy Factory on Bourbon for the past 20 years.  Seriously, what an ass hole.  (I kid, baby…I love you.)  This Christmas incident is now laughingly referred to as the “praline meltdown.”  Since my return from Afghanistan, I have been nesting through pies.  What says you love your man more than the smell of a pie smacking him in the face when he comes home from a long day at work?  I’ve learned much patience through pie making.  Recipes will fail on occasion, but there is always a lesson to learn from a failed pie.  Through this blog, I’ll post what I have learned, or methods I have found for perfecting a recipe, and to hopefully save you the drama of a “praline meltdown.”  I’ll also be posting from time to time green house-keeping stuff, and general posts on everything-a-southern-girl-should-know/what my momma tought me.