Tuesday, December 30, 2008

1st Year of Blogging... Reflections, Tips for New Bloggers, and Future Plans for RecipeGirl

Most bloggers celebrate their blogaversarys with a grand cake of some sort and a giveaway. If you've been following my blog lately, I've baked enough desserts to last me a year, and frankly... the giveaways tend to get tiresome. I'm celebrating with words and reflection.


Jan. 1 will mark the beginning of the second year of The Recipe Girl blog. It was started completely on a whim. I wasn't new to the internet food world. I already had the parent site RecipeGirl.com up and running for a couple of years. But ironically enough, I had never really discovered food blogs much until about a year ago. Frankly, I just wasn't aware that they really existed. Once I started exploring them though, I was hooked. I felt I had to create my own, thus The Recipe Girl began.

Reflections after my first year of blogging...

#1: The world of food blogging is a lot bigger than I ever could have imagined.

#2: Food bloggers are nice and compassionate people. Honestly. I find it shocking that it's possible to create internet 'friendships' with others... and that sometimes those internet friendships turn into face-to-face meetings and 'real' friendships. How cool is that?

#3: There's a heck of a lot of talent in the food blogging industry... budding photographers, writers and bloggers-come-cookbook-authors.

#4: Most bloggers choose and post about the best recipes. In other words, you can usually trust a blogger's recipe choice to be something fantastic.

#5: Blogs with frequent spelling errors are simply annoying. I realize that everyone might not have strength in spelling (and that's unfortunate) but I find that as much as I might enjoy a blog... if it has spelling errors, that's a deal-breaker for me.

Tips for the new guys...

#1: Food blogging isn't for everyone. If you can capture good photos, have the ability to write interesting posts and can make chocolate chip cookies look amazing... then you might be fit for blogging. Blog about recipes that are unique and delicious. No one really wants to read about your flops or recipes that are just 'okay' (unless you have a really compelling story to accompany your so-so recipe). And please don't post a blurry photo. If that's all you have, blog about something else.

#2: Blog for fun, and don't try to make your blog more than it is. Not everyone is fit to write cookbooks and be on the Martha Stewart show. If you have talent, it will show, and good things might happen to you. If not, then just have fun with it, and share with friends and family.

#3: Don't try to be everyone's friend. Let relationships with other bloggers happen naturally. Find other blogs that you find worthy of visiting, and comment when you find a post that interests you. (Don't feel like you have to comment on every single blog every time you visit). Never ask for a link exchange. If someone enjoys your blog, they'll add you to their blogroll.

#4: Retailers will come out of the woodwork to offer you free food products in exchange for a discussion about their product on your blog. At first, this will seem really cool. But you don't have to accept every 'free' offer that comes your way. Keep in mind that a post on your blog is a free advertisement for these companies that stays on the internet forever. Do you really want to publish free advertising for companies in exchange for a little sample?

#6: There is such a thing as too many giveaways. I think it's okay to do a giveaway once in a while if it's something really wonderful to be giving away. But again... if it's just a company looking for some free advertising, you may want to reconsider.

What's in store for the future of RecipeGirl?

#1: I'm happy to continue blogging about food. I love to look for creative, unique recipes that I can tweak to make them more my own style. It's fun to share them with the world to see if the world thinks they're cool too.

#2: Photography has become a passion of mine... I'll be acquiring a new camera/lens sometime soon, and I hope to learn more about photography and shoot more amazing food photos.

#3: RecipeGirl.com will be launching a newly designed site in the next few weeks- which will finally combine the parent site w/ the blog. This has been a large project of mine that I've been working on for the past year.

#4: Once the new site launches, a few wonderful, well-known cookbook authors will be working with me to share entertaining menus and tips on my site.

#5: And finally... I have an idea for a cookbook. Stay tuned!

Thank you readers for your kind comments and continued support!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pancetta- Wrapped Mushrooms

We have a 'Gourmet Club' in our neighborhood with eleven couples participating. They're all hand-picked, fun friends who are into food and entertaining. We meet monthly, with couples attending as they're available. Usually we end up with 16 or so people at a single gathering. The hosts plan the menu, prepare the main dish and then hand out additional recipes for attendees to bring.

December's holiday party was rather large with twenty of us. Since 20 is tough to seat for dinner, the hosts went with a more casual theme- a couple different kinds of fondue and lots of other appetizers. My task: to bring sixty Pancetta- Wrapped Mushrooms. I was delighted to find that this was a simple appetizer to prepare for this busy time of year.

I was thrilled to find that this recipe called for fresh sage as I have loads of it growing like weeds in my courtyard.

Regular, medium-sized white mushrooms are all you need (I used a few baby portobellos too). They just get a quick wash and a trimmed stem.

The sage leaf is simply laid on top of a mushroom.

A piece of pancetta (or bacon) is wrapped tightly around. I left the sage leaf peeking out of the side since I wanted that color to show a bit.

All is secured with a toothpick pushed down into the mushroom from the top.

Here they are.... awaiting the oven.

They're baked for about 25 minutes, until the bacon becomes crisp and browned. Sadly, I didn't capture a beautiful picture of the finished product... we were eager to eat and the lighting was dimmed for the party. They were excellent, and they were gobbled up rather quickly by our gourmet friends.

Our hosts had a fabulous idea for a holiday 'gift' activity. They had each of us bring a wrapped toy that represented our personality. We then took turns unwrapping the toys and guessed which of our friends we thought the toy matched with. My wrapped toy wasn't hard to guess... an Easy-Bake Oven, and my gregarious, speaker husband wasn't too tough either... a play microphone. The activity generated a lot of laughs, and we ended up with 40 toys to donate to charity.

The Pancetta- Wrapped Mushrooms recipe can be found HERE.
Lots more finger food appetizer recipes can be found HERE.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gingerbread Waffles

Happy Holidays to all of my blogging friends and visitors!

It's that "Gingerbread" time of year... and despite one fun adventure with making a Gingerbread House for the holidays, I haven't sampled any actual gingerbread cookies this year. It's safe to say that I'm all 'cookied-out,' (for the moment), so I satisfied my craving with a breakfast choice instead. These were easy-to-make Gingerbread Waffles.

They were good enough to break out the Christmas china for. My family declared these as 'Restaurant Quality' and enjoyed them with warm maple syrup. We did have a few left over. I popped them into the freezer, and they were excellent warmed up in the toaster a few days later.

They did not taste like Gingerbread Cookies. Instead they tasted like wonderfully spiced ginger waffles. If you wished for even more ginger flavor, you might consider adding chopped crystallized ginger to the mix.

We sip these as we open gifts on Christmas morning: Cranberry Mimosas. Why not?!


Looking forward to another yummy year of blogging!

Gingerbread waffle recipe can be found HERE.
Cranberry Mimosas recipe can be found HERE.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spinach & Sundried Tomato Puff Pastry Pinwheels

I'm still baking away in the final moments before Christmas, but I've decided to turn my attention toward blogging about a nice appetizer that would be terrific for Christmas or New Year's celebrations.

Here's a colorful little bite: Spinach & Sun-Dried Tomato Puff Pastry Pinwheels.

Super simple... here's the how to:

A mix of frozen spinach (thawed), sundried tomatoes, mayo, Parmesan and a few spices is spread onto thawed-out prepared puff pastry dough sheets.

The sheet is rolled up tightly, wrapped and placed into the freezer. At this point, you can choose to store the roll in the freezer and cut as needed for spur-of-the-moment appetizers. Or you can freeze for 30 minutes to let it firm up slightly and then slice & bake immediately.

1-inch slices baked for about 20 minutes and they're ready to eat!

Lightly goldened and crisp, these are deliciously simple appetizers. You can choose to make them ahead of time and just pack them in a basket until ready to use (same day), or you can serve them fresh out of the oven. Impressive looking little treats for something so inherently easy to make, aren't they?

This recipe can be found HERE.
Plenty more appetizer recipe favorites can be found HERE and HERE.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Red Velvet Cheesecake

If you're still undecided about what sort of delicious dessert to make for Christmas this year, look no further. I found one for you... Red Velvet Cheesecake.

I don't gush about recipes all that often, and I'm usually a horrible critic of my own creations. I usually have to ask others what they think in order to get decent feedback to share. With this recipe, however, I sampled a piece. I wish I had committed every single decadent bite to my taste memory. I wish I had another piece. I will tell you with great confidence that this cheesecake was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

I do have to share that I'm a huge cheesecake fan (I won 2nd place at the San Diego County Fair with this recipe), and I'm also a lover of classic red velvet cake. So this recipe was just heaven for me.

Using a recipe from Southern Living, I made a few changes. Here's my how-to:

Into a springform pan, I pressed an Oreo cookie crust.

The batter is a classic cheesecake batter with a small amount of added cocoa, buttermilk and vinegar (which are typical in a red velvet cake).

Of course you must add red food coloring to get that wonderful red hue.

The key to baking a perfect cheesecake with no cracks is to bake it in a water bath. Protected by two layers of heavy-duty foil, the pan is lowered into a 'bath' and baked at a low temperature.

See how perfect? Not a single crack.

Just as a Red Velvet Cake is topped with a cream cheese frosting, this Red Velvet Cheesecake is also topped with a cream cheese frosting. You might be thinking that's a little overboard. It is, but it's perfect. I might just put frosting on all of my cheesecakes now :)

Mint leaves were the perfect garnish... green with the red and the white... so holiday!

I piped on some melted red chocolate to create little "holly" leaves from the mint.

I was very pleased with how the color turned out in this cheesecake- just a fabulous shade of red and a very festive addition to a Christmas dinner menu.

Incredibly moist, I can honestly say that this cheesecake is a new favorite of mine. I just loved the flavor... reminiscent of the same red velvet flavor that you get in the cake- especially with the cream cheese addition on top.

I really had only meant to take a bite to sample and somehow save the rest for my son, but I just couldn't help myself. The kid didn't get any.

I ate every single bite myself. And it was so worth that extra 30 minutes at the gym.

I brought the rest of this cheesecake (yes, with one little sliver taken out!) to the teachers at my son's school for their holiday luncheon. Let's just say that one of the teachers literally bowed to me as I picked up my dish after their feast. It really was that good!

This recipe can be found HERE.

If you're a red velvet fan, you might also like these Red Velvet Cupcakes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fudgy Eggnog Pretzel Bark

I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really addicted to eggnog per se, but rather it must be the spices within. I'm equally enamored with things like Snickerdoodles and Cinnamon Fudge and so it must be those spices that grab me.

Since the addicting Cinnamon Fudge made a welcome appearance in my life last season, I've been dreaming up another version of fudge that would be equally appealing. I did a little search for eggnog fudge and found one on Recipezaar... there were mixed reviews. Commenters seemed to agree that the fudge was quite sweet and turned out a firmer-than-normal fudge. So I took that recipe and played with it a little bit to create a bark with added pretzels. I figured that would cut down on the sweetness with its salty addition: Fudgy Eggnog Pretzel Bark.

Here's the how-to:

Spread mini pretzels onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Throw some sliced almonds on there if you'd like. Add holiday sprinkles too if you're feeling festive. Anything you put on the bottom here will stick to the fudge... so when the whole thing is turned over, that's what you'll see.

Then make your fudge! Use a big enough pan so it doesn't bubble up over the top. Plan to stir constantly, and have a timer nearby. No thermometer is needed on this one.

You'll need to work quickly since the fudge sets up pretty fast. Pour it all over the top of the pretzel mixture. If you have a friend, or if you yourself are speedy, you can add more pretzels and sprinkles to the top. Just gently press them here and there- as quickly as you can. As I said before, it begins to harden almost immediately so you do need to accomplish any additions rather briskly.

If you don't manage to get anything on top, don't worry... when you turn the whole thing over, you'll have the decor on the other side.

Let cool to room temperature, then break it up into pieces and munch away. I've really tried to be quite good this season and just take a little test-sample of each treat I've made. But I shouldn't have tested this one at all because I found that it was tough to stop sampling.

Did it taste like eggnog? Not really. You can definitely taste the spices, and since I'm a huge fan of eggnog I could detect that flavor as well... but it's not a huge eggnog flavored treat. In fact, you probably would enjoy it even if you disliked eggnog entirely.

I considered adding vanilla oreos to the mix to make it a cookie- pretzel bark (much like the wonderful Candy Corn Cookie Bark I made), but I feared that would make it a little bit too over-the-top sweet. Try it if you dare!

I'd say this experimental treat was a large success. I pawned it off on the ladies in the school office, packaged it up and gave some to my son's teacher, and even slipped a few pieces to the Mom's at basketball practice too. Thankfully (for my diet), it's already gone.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Many more holiday treats can be found in recent posts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Candy Cane Coffee Cake

Disclaimer... there were no actual candy canes used in the making of this Candy Cane Coffee Cake. It's just the shape people! If you don't have opportunity to make this for the holiday season this year, you should save it for next season. It's impressive and delicious.

Here's the how to:

Make the dough (following the directions), and separate into three equal parts. Yes, this recipe makes 3 candy cane coffee cakes. I'm not really quite sure how you would cut the recipe into thirds to just make one... so just go ahead and make three- give two away to neighbors as gifts and keep one for yourself!

Roll the dough into a rectangle. This dough is easy to work with. It's incredibly forgiving, and it actually moves where you want it to go (this is coming from someone who can't make pie crust to save her life).

Spread this wonderful raspberry filling (you'll make this too, but don't worry... it's really simple) down the middle. You can use any sort of favorite filling, but since this is a candy cane coffee cake, red fillings will look best.

Cut half-inch strips with a sharp, thin knife along each side of the filling.

Cross strips over the middle in a weave fashion- one side and then the other, etc.

Keep weaving all the way up. Tuck in the ends.

Gently stretch the whole weaved dough into a longer piece. (Again, the dough is really easy to work with and shouldn't fall apart.) Turn the upper portion to form the top of the candy cane. Gently move the dough around until it looks the way you want.

Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour until doubled in size.

Bake for a short 15 minutes.

Drizzle an almond-flavored glaze over the warm cakes.

Let the glaze harden and wrap a little festive ribbon around the cane.

I made two of these and took them to a holiday brunch. I had the opportunity to taste it and it was quite delicious. And there were all kinds of ohhhs and ahhhs from the women at the brunch! It does turn out to be quite adorable, doesn't it?

The third cake I covered and refrigerated overnight (pre-rising). I took it out in the morning, let it rise, baked it up and dropped it off for the teachers at school. Good to know that you can do the delayed rise on this.

Hope your holiday preparations are going well at this point! Check my recent blog posts for tons more holiday recipes.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Icing

Every holiday should have their own cupcake. Or every cupcake should have their own holiday. One of those. In my next life I might be a cupcake blogger. I 'get' why those cupcake bloggers are incredibly popular. Cupcakes are just so darned cute, and they seem to make people happy.

My happy self chose Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Icing to represent the holiday season this year.

These are a nice little chocolate cupcake with a simple, peppermint tinted icing.

Crushed candy canes are the perfect complement for the minty icing. They add a little festive color to the cakes. Use green candy canes too for additional holiday cheer.

Or place a candy cane on the icing... then your guests can choose to eat it or not. Plus, I think it looks pretty swanky with a mini-candy-cane on top.

I did a combo of both. If you don't care for the crunch of candy canes on your cupcakes, use your own edible holiday decor. Candy Cane Kisses would be extra cute too.

Big thumbs up from my little guy on these cupcakes (he's quite the experienced 7 year old taste tester, so you can trust him). Happy Birthday today to my Mom! I'm sending you a virtual cupcake for the big day (and as they say... the gift is in the mail).

This recipe can be found HERE.

Check the rest of my December and end of November blog posts for lots more holiday recipes.