Iron Chef Mommy

The journey of a mother and wife in her very own kitchen stadium

Archive for the ‘Birthday’ Category

See that girl…watch that scene…she is a ziti queen!

Posted by ironchefmommy on January 24, 2010

Well, I do apologize. Things over this way have been slightly left of crazy the past week or so. Madeline’s birthday was wonderful! She enjoyed everything! We had a small family get together on Saturday the 16th for her. Unfortunately, I was battling a slight cold earlier in the week, and Brett somehow caught it and it turned into something quite nasty. So he spent her birthday party in bed asleep, half whacked on cold medicine. Poor guy. She had a wonderful time though, and we took LOTS of pictures 🙂

So, since she’s only 2, we didn’t do anything big for her party-wise. I ordered a tray of sandwiches and a Dora cake and made a tray of my (now famous) baked ziti. I love ziti. It really is the best dish – so easy to throw together in a short amount of time, but perfect for a get together and it’s a dish that makes people think you really slaved for hours. In reality, it takes about 15 minutes to put together and about a half hour in the oven. Amazing. I made a tray for her party, then two days later, I made another tray. I guess I should elaborate a bit.

I am a part of a wonderful group of women – we have a playgroup called Tri County Tots. Our kiddos get together to socialize and do fun stuff… and we get mommy time that is usually much-needed. It’s great. Well, we do our best to organize meals when moms bring a new baby home – it’s hard enough getting adjusted so we try to help out. On January 10, my dear friend Kristin gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Genevieve Grace. She’s soo teeny – just a little peanut! So Monday was my day to bring her a dinner. I had made sauce that Friday in anticipation of Madeline’s party, so I made a bit extra and made a tray for Kristin with some delicious Italian bread. She was more than grateful, and I got to hold baby Genevieve, which was a high point in my day – she was smaller at a week old than Madeline was when she was born – I couldn’t believe it (she was over 9 pounds though lol).

Anyway, since my ziti is always a hit when I make it, I’m sure whoever you make it for will love it too!
Enjoy!

Baked Ziti

First you should have:

16 ounces red sauce (see my sauce recipe HERE)
1 pound ziti
12-16 oz shredded mozzarella, divided (use the whole milk stuff for this recipe. The part skim just doesn’t cut it)
15 oz Ricotta cheese (again, whole milk)
1 egg
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 tbs parmesean cheese (more to taste)

Then you should:
Boil pasta – about 5 minutes in boiling water. Pasta should be almost hard. Don’t overcook it, otherwise once it’s baked it will taste like mush. Not fun.

In a large bowl – add the ricotta, egg, 8 ounces of mozzarella, parsley and parmesean. Stir together until creamy. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish with some of the sauce. When the pasta is finished, drain it, then run pasta in colander under COLD water. This will slow the pasta from continuing to cook while you prep it. Plus, it’s easier to handle, since it won’t burn your fingertips off. Toss about 1/4 of the pasta into the bottom of the dish, on top of the sauce. Throw the rest of the pasta in the bowl with your ricotta mixture. Toss it around, then add roughly 6-8 ounces of sauce and stir until mixed. Pour the whole mixture into the baking dish. Add a few more spoonfuls of sauce (not a lot – you can always add sauce to the dish after it comes out of the oven) and top with remaining shredded mozzarella.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes – until cheese is bubbling at top.

Add the rest of the sauce as needed and serve!

See? I told you it was easy 🙂

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Posted in Baking, Birthday, Cheese, Meal, Meat, Pasta, Quick, Sauce | 1 Comment »

Two years ago a princess was born

Posted by ironchefmommy on January 14, 2010

Well, my first order of business….

Happy Birthday Madeline!
Yup, my precious little girl is 2 today! I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m the mommy of a 2 year old – more so, I can’t believe I’m so lucky that she’s mine. She’s still (I think) too young to understand her birthday, but we had fun today none the less. It started at 3am when she ventured into our bed… so she did get a happy birthday from Brett before he left for work around 6. We got up and headed out this morning – we had a nice day together. We headed to get her 2 year pictures taken… much easier said than done. We did get some nice ones, but it was tiring! We did a bit of shopping, had some lunch, and I took her to Build A Bear where we built a dog for her birthday (against my better judgment because we have MORE than enough stuffed animals here), but she’s the birthday girl!

So what to make the birthday girl for dinner? Well, I had a request from a friend (Thanks Allison!) to please try to duplicate Panera’s $8 a bowl mac and cheese. I love it, so I thought that would be something great that I could try to make. I know that their mac and cheese is a mix of Vermont White Cheddar with a “hint of American” as noted on their menu, but that’s about all I knew. So I figured I had my work cut out for me. I tried to think of what went into my own mac and cheese, and here’s what I came up with:

First you need:

12oz pasta shells
4 tablespoons of butter
8 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk*
8-10 oz grated Sharp White Cheddar Cheese
2-3 oz grated American Cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Then you should:

Cook pasta about 2-3 minutes shorter than package directions and drain. They should still be a little harder than al dente.

In a saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over med low heat. Slowly whisk in the flour, then slowly add milk a little at a time, whisking all the way. Bring to a boil for a minute or so, then turn heat down and add grated cheese, whisking in as the cheese melts. Add salt and pepper.

Pour pasta and cheese into oven safe pot or 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

**Now, for my edits. This was a really good first attempt, at least in my book, for not having any recipe to go off of, other than what cheeses were in it. I used 1% milk, but I bet whole milk would be better. You might want to either add another 1/2 cup of milk, or maybe beat an egg into the mixture to make it a little creamier.

The taste of it was pretty much there, but it wasn’t as creamy as I’d hoped. This could be either because of too little milk/butter, or the fact that when I pulled it out of the oven, I kept it covered and on the table for roughly 15 minutes to cool a bit before I started scooping it out. I wonder if I had dug into it right away if that would have made a difference. Well, I tried! If anyone makes this, feel free to add any edits/suggestions, because I plan on making this again soon. It was yummy!

Then came dessert for my baby girl. I had cupcakes from yesterday, but thought I should make fresh ones. It turns out it didn’t really matter, because she was so tired, she blew out the candle on a funfetti cupcake from yesterday and ate the frosting, then decided she was ready for bed. But since I didn’t know that was going to happen, I decided it was time for me to tackle something I’ve been dying to try to make – Red Velvet Cupcakes.

A note to all of you out there – be sure to read the WHOLE recipe when deciding to tackle it. I had the dry ingredients sifted before reading that I needed buttermilk. Shit. Shit. Luckily, I remembered someone on the food network saying you could actually whisk your own if you really really had to.

So who’s recipe did I make? One of my favorite chef’s – and yours – Bobby Flay!

Bobby Flay’s Red Velvet Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

* 15 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour
* 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 1 1/4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
* 13 ounces granulated sugar
* 1 1/4 cups buttermilk***
* 3 eggs
*2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red food coloring
* 1 1/4 teaspoons vinegar (white or apple cider can both work)
* 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1/8 cup water

For the cream cheese frosting:

* 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
* 1 pound butter, room temperature
* 2 pounds powdered sugar, sifted
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven 350 degrees F.

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a bowl and set aside.

In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix oil, sugar, and buttermilk until combined. Add eggs, food coloring, vinegar, vanilla and water and mix well. Add the dry ingredients a little bit at a time and mix on low, scraping down sides occasionally, and mix until just combined. Be sure not to over mix, or the batter will come out tough.

Line a 16-cup cupcake pan with paper liners, scoop the batter into the liners and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean. Let cool.
For the cream cheese frosting:

Whip the butter and cream cheese together in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until creamed. Gradually add powdered sugar to the mixture and scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

The frosting can be used right away, or stored in the refrigerator up to a week.

Frost cooled cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting.

***okay. So, a few things. I had no buttermilk. So I took 1 cup of milk and whisked about 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar into it. I think it worked well enough. I’ve also read that you could use milk and then substitute baking powder for baking soda. Good luck.
Also, you need a shitload of food coloring. I used all that I had and they weren’t quite dark red enough. But I have to say, they tasted awesome. And they look pretty good too, don’t you think?

Now that the birthday is over, kitchen is cleaned, I’m sitting down with yet another cupcake and watching Project Runway, while my poor husband, exhausted from a long day, is passed out on the couch. We’re having a family party for Madeline on Saturday so he’ll get that whole day with his baby girl.

Posted in Baking, Birthday, Cheese, Cooking, Cupcakes, Dessert, Dinner, Meal, Miscellaneous, Musings, Pasta, Savory, Stove-top | 1 Comment »

cupcakes and more…cupcakes

Posted by ironchefmommy on January 13, 2010

Well I can’t believe it! My little girl, my princess, my angel is turning 2 tomorrow! How fast these last two years have flown by. I wish I could stop time, or slow it down. I love the little girl she is turning into, but I miss her as a little baby. She is smart, fun, and makes every day worth living. We are so lucky to have such a wonderful daughter. I sit and reflect how I felt two years ago today… LARGE…uncomfortable, but savoring what I knew to be my last few hours carrying my daughter, feeling her first flutters, then later kicks that I swore bruised me from the inside they were so strong. She’s awesome, and she’s ours. I’m sure I’ll be doing more reflecting tomorrow as we celebrate her special day… but for now, a bit of fun!

So, we did a semi-party last year for her first birthday (since that’s really about the parents anyway). We had some of her close friends from Tri-County Tots, our playgroup that we’re in and some close family just have a cake for her. This year, we did a small cake/party at my mom’s last week when I was visiting on LI. Saturday we’ll do a cake at my in-laws for Madeline, my dad will be visiting and joining in the fun as well. Nothing over the top. She’s only 2. So, I thought it would be fun to have some of her friends come over for a playdate and cupcakes today. Needless to say, take 5 toddlers and cram them full of sugar at noon and watch the craziness ensue. You would have thought these kids never had treats before. It was so much fun to watch them and enjoy the cupcakes. I was up at 6am and had the first batch of cupcakes in the oven by 7:30, ran out at 9 for more milk and butter and by the time her friends got here, we had two different batches of cupcakes, each with their own icing and my coffee pot was brewing its second pot of the day. It was all worth it though to see Madeline’s face as her friends sang happy birthday and she blew out her purple candle shaped like a star.

Now, cupcakes. What kind? Where else would I go to find a yummy cupcake? Cupcake Rehab, of course. Marilla has some faboosh recipes up on there that I have always wanted to try. She posted a recipe for chocolate chip cupcakes a while back and I’ve been dying to make them. I figured this was my perfect excuse to!

Here’s her recipe:

First you take:

* 1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
* 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 7 tablespoons butter
* 7/8 cup sugar (or 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons)
* ½ cup milk
* 1 tablespoon milk
* 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
* 3 large egg whites
* 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Then you:

1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Mix milk and vanilla in a separate small bowl.
2. Reduce speed to low. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with wet ingredients and ending with dry. Scrape sides of bowl.
3. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks, and fold into batter. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.
5. Bake cupcakes about 22 minutes or until testers inserted into centers come out clean. Let cool in tins on wire racks. Cupcakes will keep, covered, for up to 3 days, unless otherwise noted.

Now, the icing. Chocolate chip buttercream. Can we say yum? It’s beyond delicious. Here’s her recipe, word for word.

Ingredients:

* 12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
* 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
* ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Beat butter with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
2. Reduce speed to medium. Add sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating after each addition, about 5 minutes. (After every 2 additions, increase speed to high, and beat for 10 seconds, then reduce speed to medium-high). Add vanilla, and beat until buttercream is smooth.
3. Fold chocolate chips into buttercream. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

The icing was delicious, and like her, I ate a little bit out of the bowl.

Now, a few things. The recipe is halved, so you get 12 cupcakes (at least I did). She had an issue with them not rising enough to clear her cups, I did not. I filled them about 3/4 and they rose enough to clear the tops a little bit, so if you’re using regular muffin tins, 2/3 to 3/4 of the way is probably fine. I love a recipe for 12 cupcakes. That way they all get eaten. When there’s 24, I end up eating the last 9 or so and feeling like a big fat cow. So kudos there. Yay!

Then, I thought I’d make a funfetti cupcake. Two of Madeline’s friends (who, ironically both could not make it, for different reasons – one is now a big brother and the other is sick) have peanut allergies. So, Nestle chips that are made in a plant with peanuts were out. I thought I’d do funfetti, because it’s basically a plain cake mix with a little fun. I’m not a boxed cake mix person. I keep one in the cabinet for “holy shit” reasons but that’s as an absolute LAST resort. Since we weren’t snowed in, I stole another one of Marilla’s recipes. She made her own, which she found at iheartcuppycakes and I had to try them out. I mean, who doesn’t like funfetti? Come on now.

So, if you want to try your hand at them, here’s what you need:

* 1 ¼ cups flour
* 1 ½ tsp baking powder
* ¼ tsp salt
* ¾ cup sugar
* 6 tbsp butter, room temperature
* 1 large egg + 1 egg white, room temperature
* 1 tsp vanilla extract
* ½ cup milk
* 2 tbsp rainbow sprinkles

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Line cupcake pan with paper liners.
3. In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer, fitted with flat beater, beat the sugar and butter until well combined, about 2-3 minutes.
4. Add egg and egg white, one at a time, beating on low. Then add vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, ending with the flour mixture.
5. Fold in rainbow sprinkles.Fill cupcake liners about 1/2-2/3 full.
6. Bake for about 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire cooling rack before frosting.

Now, they were just fantastic. Amazeballs, faboosh, beyond delicious. First of all, the batter was amazing before it was baked (yeah, I licked the spatula after they were in the oven. So what?) They were fluffy and moist and delicious.

Also, yes, I know. My pastry bag skills need some work. Don’t judge. How well would you frost 2 dozen cupcakes at 10am with a toddler underfoot trying to stick her fingers in the cupcakes? That’s what I thought. Besides, they tasted awesome. I should know. I ate 3 of them while watching the Biggest Loser. I know, I know. But, it was all worth it. I mean, look how happy she was!

Posted in Baking, Birthday, Cupcakes, Dessert, Musings, Sweet | 1 Comment »

A tribute to Mom for her birthday

Posted by ironchefmommy on January 2, 2010

Happy Birthday to my wonderful Mom today! I’m sorry I couldn’t be with her today, but I’ll be seeing her in a week or two so that will have to do. In the meantime, in honor of my mom (who’s a fantastic cook) please, the next time you make pasta, try out her sauce recipe. It’s been passed through our family and is my go-to recipe for whenever I need a big bowl of yummy pasta.

*Beware, this is a big batch of sauce. I freeze half of it and it usually takes 2 meals to use the other half)

Ingredients:

2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 cans tomato paste
3-4 cloves garlic (more or less depending on taste)
olive oil
fresh basil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
5-6 boneless pork spare ribs (optional, but yummy)
wine (red or white)

Brown the beef in a seperate pan, drain grease and set aside. Do the same with the pork (I don’t always add the pork, it just depends on when I decide to make the sauce and what’s in my fridge)
In the bottom of a large saucepan (5-6 quarts) cover the bottom with olive oil and add garlic. When the garlic just begins to sizzle, add the cans of crushed tomatoes and paste, stir well. Add fresh basil, and if you feel in the mood, some fresh rosemary if you have it.
Now comes the wine. First, pour yourself a glass. If you put white wine in the sauce it lightens it up and makes it slightly sweeter, a red will make the sauce taste more full-bodied. I tend to use red more than white, but it’s preference. I fill the cans of tomato paste a little more than halfway with the wine, swish, and toss in.

Add the meat, stirring occassionally. Leave uncovered and simmer for at least 60 minutes. Add (more) garlic, salt and pepper if necessary.

In the fridge, the sauce will keep about 4-5 days.

Enjoy! This sauce is great – I use it to make everything from a simple pasta dinner to the sauce in my lasagna or baked ziti if I want some meat in it.

and again, Happy Birthday Mom!!! Love you!

Posted in Birthday, Cooking, Meat, Pasta, Sauce, Stove-top | 1 Comment »