Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sticky Cinnamon Figs - Guest post for Magnolia Days

Figs are sweet all on their own but add a little butter, a little honey and a little heat and they turn even sweeter and syrupy, the perfect accompaniment to mascarpone and pistachios. 

Guest posts are hard.
I don’t know if it’s just me but when I am writing and cooking and taking photographs for someone else’s space, I feel a lot more pressure than when it’s just for me. Not that I don’t care about you, my own readers. I do! And I want the dish to be as tasty as possible, because we are going to eat it. And I want the photos to be wonderful and draw you in. But, if you are here reading, chances are you like what I make or write or the photos I post, or you at least forgive me my mistakes because you know I mean well. Or you are my mother and would love me anyway. (Hi, Mom!) But as a guest writer on another blog, I'll have new eyes on my work that don’t know me. And I’d hate to be found wanting. Call it the middle child syndrome, perhaps, but I want people to like me! I want to be good enough. Can anyone else relate?

So go read my guest post, okay? 
All this moaning is my way of telling you that I have a guest post up today on the wonderful blog Magnolia Days, for my friend and, dare I say, blogging mentor, Renee. Renee has been endlessly generous with her knowledge and advice and kindness over the past three years of my blogging journey. When she asked if I would guest post as she takes a dual milestone birthday celebration trip to Germany with her mother, I jumped at the chance. And then repented in leisure. (See paragraph one above, re: Guest posts are hard.) I made three different recipes because I couldn’t decide what was good enough for a guest post. And, fellow bloggers, just in case I’ve done a guest post for you, know that the anguish was the same. But this time I decided to come public. The chosen recipe is for sticky cinnamon figs and they made the cut because they are sweet and southern, just like Renee.

Check out the figgy honey syrup in the bottom of my baking pan!

Payback is only fair.
Renee has helped me so much that an emphatic “Sure!” was the only right answer. She is instrumental in the smooth running of Sunday Supper and is my partner in crime for Bread Bakers.  If you haven’t met her yet, I encourage you to browse through her extensive list of recipes. Everything I’ve made from Renee’s blog has been great but we especially enjoyed her sesame noodles from a couple of years back and more recently, her No-bake Bourbon Pecan Cookies and Asian Pork Lettuce Cups.

Seriously delicious sesame noodles!

Now please go visit my Sticky Cinnamon Figs and meet my friend, Renee!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkin Cookie Bars #CreativeCookieExchange

Cookie bars to celebrate Halloween in the chewiest and sweetest of ways should include pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spices, along with a good helping of white chocolate candy corn M&Ms. Substitute white chocolate chips for a solely Autumnal treat, sans the spooky.

Some of the hardest things to come by outside of the United States are the wonderful large pumpkins we use for Jack O’lanterns. Or if importers do bring them in, you have to give the shop an arm and two legs just to take one home. Right now in my local supermarket, Spinneys, there is a large pile of gorgeous pumpkins with price tags between 50 and 100 DOLLARS each. Isn’t that crazy? I must admit that there have been times that I’ve paid exorbitant prices – in Singapore, for instance – but then I still had girls at home and can one really put a price on passing cultural traditions on to one’s offspring? I didn’t feel like I was just paying for pumpkins but for a visual representation and demonstration of their heritage. Don’t mind me as I justify a ridiculous expenditure, but I promise not to judge whatever stupid thing you spend your money on.  Plus, who doesn’t love to carve a pumpkin?

Anyhoo, this year, I decided to forgo the whole pumpkins and just stock up on the canned stuff. I love the moisture that canned pumpkin adds to baked goods and knew that my Halloween cookies for this month’s Creative Cookie Exchange needed to have pumpkin. And some Halloween candy.

If you are planning your Halloween party and need some great cookie ideas, you’ve come to the right place. Make sure to scroll down after the recipe to see the links for all the Halloween cookies we are sharing today.

3/4 cup or 170g butter, softened
1 cup or 200g sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 15oz can or almost 1 cup or 215g canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 cups or 250g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup or 200g white chocolate candy corn M&Ms (You can substitute regular M&Ms or chocolate chips.)

To decorate:
Reserved M&Ms
Several pieces candy corn - optional

Cream cheese icing:
1/2 cup or 100g cream cheese
1/2 cup or 65g powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk

Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and prepare your baking pan by spraying it with non-stick spray or lining it with parchment. My pan is about 9x13in or 23x33cm.

Mix the flour together with the salt and spices in a small mixing bowl and set aside.

Use your stand mixer or electric beaters to cream together the softened butter and sugar.

Add in the pumpkin puree, vanilla and flour mixture and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides occasionally. This takes just a couple of minutes.

Set aside a handful of the white chocolate candy corn M&Ms to decorate the top and fold the rest into the dough.

Scoop the dough out of the mixing bowl and into your prepared pan and spread it out evenly.

This stuff is thick and sticky so you might need to wet or oil your hands and use them to get it into all the corners and relatively even.

Top the dough with the reserved M&Ms and a few candy corn candies if you have some on hand.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cookie bars are just cooked and golden around the edges.

Meanwhile, you can be making the cream cheese icing. Soften the cream cheese with a few zaps in the microwave and give it a good stir.

Put it in a mixing bowl with the powdered sugar and stir until it is well combined. Add the milk one teaspoon at a time, stirring well in between.

Once the cookies are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool. Cut them into squares and transfer to your serving platter.

Use a piping tip and bag to decorate the cookies. I wanted an offset spider web so I followed this plate-decorating tutorial on the web. Very helpful! If you only make the spider web, you are going to have plenty of cream cheese icing leftover. You can serve it on the side, or pop it in a airtight bag and freeze it.


The Creative Cookie Exchange theme this month is Halloween! Spooky, silly, creepy, we’ve got it all! If you are looking for Halloween inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

If you are a blogger and want to join in the fun, contact Laura at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com and she will get you added to our Facebook group, where we discuss our cookies and share links.

You can also just use us as a great resource for cookie recipes - Be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts. You can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). We all post together on the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month!

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Spicy Cheesy Bacon Ranch Muffins #MuffinMonday

Extra sharp cheddar cheese, crispy bacon and ranch dressing seasonings are combined in these flavorful savory muffins, making them perfect brunch fare for game day or tailgating picnics. 

Ranch trumps plans
I had a complete different muffin planned for today. I had bought the ingredients and it was going to be sweet and fabulous. But then, I saw this. This, my dear readers, is the even more fabulous Cheesy Bacon Ranch Dip from my friend, Carla, over at Chocolate Moosey. 

© Carla Cardello at Chocolate Moosey. Used by permission.

I am a huge fan of ranch dressing and ranch dip and ranch pretty much everything. My suitcase returning from the US to whichever country we are living is regularly stocked with packets of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, unless it’s available where I am. I hate to be without it. I also stock up on the buttermilk ranch seasonings from Penzey's. One cannot ever have too much ranch. It’s great for dipping carrot sticks or potato chips and there's hardly anything that makes me happier than cutting an avocado in half, removing the pit and filling the holes with ranch dressing so I can eat it with a spoon. Unless it’s being home alone when I do it so that I don’t have to give someone else one of my avocado halves. Dang moochers. 

The upshot of it was that when I saw Carla’s spicy cheesy bacon ranch dip, I knew all those flavors – that bacon, the cheese, that hot sauce, the ranch seasonings! - would also make a fabulous muffin. And I wasn’t willing to wait. As I sit here typing this, I have just polished off my second muffin. Then I licked my finger and picked up the crumbs from the saucer and cleaned them off too so, unless someone is counting muffins, it looks like I haven’t even started yet. And that, friends, would be the truth. Two down, just 10 to go. Don't bother to knock. I'm not answering. 

2 cups or 250g flour
5 oz or 140g extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons ranch seasoning (About half of a ranch dip packet. I used my Penzey's for this.)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup or 240ml sour cream
1/3 cup or 80ml milk
5-6 slices bacon, fried and chopped – approx. weight after frying and draining: 1 3/4 oz or 50g
2-4 tablespoons hot sauce, depending on your taste and how spicy your chosen hot sauce is. Know thyself, as the ancient Greeks said. 

Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and prepare your 12-cup muffin pan by greasing it or lining it with paper muffin cups. 

Separate out small handfuls of both your grated cheese and your bacon for decorating the muffins before baking.

In a large bowl, mix together your flour, the bigger of the grated cheddar, ranch seasoning, baking powder, baking soda and salt, making sure that the cheese is well coated in flour and is not sticking together in clumps.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together your eggs, sour cream, milk and hot sauce.

Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients stir until just mixed.  Then fold in the larger pile of bacon pieces.

Divide the batter between the muffin cups.

Top each with the reserved smaller piles of grated cheddar and bacon.

Bake in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.


And, just a side note that I found amusing. Muffins are not a stable building material. I was stacking them like this.

And then this happened. One went off the left and one went off the right. And that is the story of how my helper got a muffin. Three down, nine to go.

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