Chocolate Maple Bacon Cupcakes with a Whiskey Cream Filling

These cupcakes have me in such a frenzy of excitement that I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose the best place to start is how these cupcakes came into existence. Well, literally I baked them, but before that they were just a vision of my tasty, chocolate-clouded imagination. Last year my friend was having a big milestone birthday and three important factors came into play when determining what to make her for said birthday. One, she is a health fanatic and does not eat desserts. I’m talking no desserts even during our holiday potluck at work; this girl’s got some serious willpower. Two, she loves bacon and regularly orders a bacon, egg and cheese, minus the bread and cheese. Don’t ask. Three, and this is the important one, she informed me that for her birthday she was going to treat herself to some dessert.

The minute that sentence left her mouth I knew I was tasked with creating the most amazing, decadent, oh-my-Paula-Deen, diet breaking worthy dessert of all time. Each component is more sin-inducing than the previous and you will wonder how you managed to exist up until this point without experiencing such a life altering cupcake perfect morsel.

The base is a chocolate cake recipe that we know and love, fondly referred to as the perfect chocolate cupcake for its incomparable moist texture and rich chocolate taste. They are then stuffed with a whiskey cream filling. A little bit naughty and a whole lot delicious. The maple glaze on top is light enough that it doesn’t add too much richness to the already decadent cupcakes, but the maple flavor still comes through to compliment the bacon.

Oh the bacon. The ultimate dessert garnish is no garnish at all, but the singular component that unifies the entire cupcake. Pan-fried as all proper bacon should be so that it’s allowed to cook in it’s own grease and soak up as much bacony flavor as possible. Then half dipped in chocolate to create a salty-sweet duo that will bring you to your knees, where you will stay while you finish your cupcake because you’re shaking so much from excitement that you can’t be trusted at a full upright position. If you’ve been searching for the one dessert that will make you overjoyed that you broke your diet then make these this weekend.

Chocolate Maple Bacon Cupcakes with a Whiskey Cream Filling
 
Yield: 24 cupcakes
Ingredients
for the bacon
  • 8 pieces bacon, cooked in a frying pan until crispy
  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
for the filling
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons whiskey
for the glaze
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
Directions
for the bacon
  1. Line a small cookie tray or cutting board that will fit in the fridge with wax paper then set aside.
  2. Carefully break the pieces of bacon into roughly 2” pieces. Set aside.
  3. Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler over medium heat until smooth, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the vegetable oil until combined.
  5. Dip half of each piece of bacon into the chocolate, let the excess drip off, then place on the wax paper. Once all the pieces have been dipped place in the fridge to set.
for the filling
  1. Whip the heavy cream in a chilled mixing bowl until stiff peaks are just about to form.
  2. Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, being sure not to over-beat the cream.
  3. Add the whiskey and stir with a spatula until combined. At this point, the filling will taste very strong. The longer the cupcakes rest before eating, especially if resting in the fridge, the more mellow the flavor will become.
  4. Fit a pastry bag with the Wilton Bismarck tip #230. Fill the pastry bag with the filling.
  5. Insert the tip halfway into the center of the cupcake and squeeze in some filling. Slowly start pulling out the tip while still squeezing. Remove and stop squeezing in some filling when the top of the cupcake starts to bulge and is just about to crack.
  6. Place in the fridge to chill.
for the glaze
  1. While the cupcakes are chilling whisk together the powdered sugar and maple syrup in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Remove the cupcakes from the fridge. Carefully dip the top of each cupcake into the maple glaze. Place a piece of chocolate dipped bacon on top so it sets with the glaze.
  3. Place the cupcakes in the fridge to set before serving.

 

Raspberries and Cream Sponge Cake Jelly Roll

The item on the top of my 50 recipes I want to conquer in the kitchen list was a jellyroll. I have no idea why, but I could not wait to try one out myself. Maybe it’s because they always look so beautiful. Maybe it’s because the possibilities are seemingly infinite. As soon as I got my hands on a half sheet pan, courtesy of Matt, I knew I was going to christen it with a homemade jelly roll. I quickly sat down and scribbled out two pages of cake-filling combination ideas.

My mind was on overdrive! Classics like pumpkin with cream cheese filling and sponge cake filled with jam. Chocolate dipped strawberry, banana split and chocolate chip cookie dough. Peaches and cream, Oreos and cream and lemon cream pie. I was busy wiping the drool from my lips while I contemplated exactly which one to create first. Raspberries and cream sponge cake jelly roll. Classic, yet updated. Moist and airy with the perfect amount of sweetness. And of course, visually beautiful with an ideal Valentine’s Day treat coloring. Also there was already a container of raspberries in my fridge, but that tidbit spoils the poetic description of it all.

My favorite part of making this raspberries and cream jelly roll sponge cake, more so than eating it, which is saying a lot since it’s divine, was discovering just how simple it is to make a jelly roll cake. You really can do it! All of you! The key is to pay attention to the small details in the recipe, such as cooling time, being gentle with the cake and coating the proper tea towel. You will surprise yourself at how easy it all really is. The whole time I kept looking over at Matt and saying, “Look! I’m doing it! The jelly roll cake is working!” So put aside your baking bashfulness and impress everyone with this gorgeous raspberries and cream jelly roll sponge cake.

Raspberries and Cream Sponge Cake Jelly Roll
 
Yield: about 10 servings
Ingredients
for the cake
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
for the filling
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup mashed raspberries
  • Raspberries and powdered sugar for serving
Directions
for the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease a half sheet pan (18" x 13") then line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper then sprinkle flour on the greased sheet and shake to coat.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  4. Using a stand mixer whip the eggs with the whisk attachment at medium high speed while slowly adding the sugar and vanilla. Continue to whip until the mixture is thick, about 5-8 minutes.
  5. Sift the flour mixture into the egg mixture and combine with a spatula until just incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter onto the prepared baking sheet and carefully spread it into an even layer.
  7. Bake for 12-17 minutes or until the cake feels firm, but springs back when you touch it. Make sure to rotate the pan halfway through the baking time.
  8. While the cake is cooking, lay a clean tea towel on a flat surface and lightly dust with powdered sugar.
for the filling
  1. Place a metal bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer.
  2. Beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and lemon extract in stand mixer until combined. Set aside.
  3. Using the chilled metal bowl and whisk attachment beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Do not over mix or the cream will collapse. Gently fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream. Then gently fold the mashed raspberries into the frosting until just combined.
for assembly
  1. When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately run a knife around the edge of the pan then flip the cake onto the towel. Discard the parchment paper that the cake baked on. Beginning at 1 short end of the cake, carefully roll the cake and towel along with it into a tight log. It is important to do this step while the cake is still hot. Leave the cake seam side down and let cool for 15 minutes.
  2. Carefully unroll the cake. Add the filling making sure to leave a ½" border at the edges. There may be some filling leftover, you don't want to over-stuff the cake.
  3. Gently roll the cake bake up into a snug log, this time leaving the towel behind. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes. When ready to serve cut off the ends, transfer to a serving plater and top with an additional dusting of powdered sugar and fresh raspberries.

Cake from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook.
Frosting adapted from allrecipes.com
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Grilled Pineapple and Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas

Oddly, quesadillas are a food quite dear to my heart. It’s not as though they are a family favorite we used to have every week or a dish I always requested on my birthday. Nothing like that. My food memories with quesadillas come from a variety of places. Like how my grandma and I would order them as an appetizer, along with the chicken noodle soup she loves, if we were extra hungry during our weekly Friendly’s trips. Or how my stepmom would always make them for me, with extra sour cream, if my dad wasn’t home for the night. Or how they were the first meal Matt and I ever cooked together in his summer college dorm with tortillas and cheese picked up from the local convenience store, just excited to have a kitchen to cook in for the first time.

Whether or not you have loving food memories with quesadillas like I do, their cheesy goodness and ease of preparation is undeniable. I love seeking out interesting combinations for this great dish and when I stumbled upon a grilled pineapple and barbecue chicken version I knew I had to try it for myself. It certainly did not disappoint.

The beauty of barbecue sauce is you can veer this dish in any direction you prefer. Spicy, sweet, tangy, it’s up to you. The sweetness from the pineapple, the smokiness from the grill and the flavor from the barbecue sauce will have you chowing down silently, minus the moaning escaping from your lips between bites. And when you dip these into the grilled pineapple guacamole and some sour cream then take a bite? Well this meal might start sounding R-rated.

Grilled Pineapple and Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas
 
Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients
  • 2 sections of whole pineapple (see note), or 4 rings of pineapple
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4 tablespoons barbecue sauce
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 flour tortillas
  • ½ cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup shredded colby jack cheese
  • ¼ of a red onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sliced scallions, sour cream, guacamole and salsa for serving
Directions
  1. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat and lightly coat with cooking spray. Grill the pineapple 2-3 minutes per side, or until light grill marks appear. Once grilled, cut the pineapple into ½”- 1” chunks.
  2. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Lightly coat the same grill or grill pan over medium-high heat and grill the chicken breasts. Cook for 6-8 minutes per side or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. During the last couple minutes of cooking coat both sides of the chicken with barbecue sauce. Remove and cut into 1” pieces.
  3. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and add the olive oil. Place 1 of the tortillas in the pan then top with ¼ cup of the cheddar cheese. Arrange half of the grilled pineapple chunks, half of the chicken pieces and half of the red onion on top. Drizzle with a little extra barbecue sauce if desired then top with ¼ cup of the colby jack cheese and a second tortilla.
  4. Cook until the cheese has melted and the bottom tortilla has started to brown, about 6 minutes. Flip the quesadilla then cook until the other side lightly browns, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  5. Cut into 6 wedges and serve with sour cream, guacamole, salsa and scallions.
Notes
If using fresh pineapple follow these instructions:
1. Cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple.
2. Sitting the pineapple upright, cut it in half, then into quarters.
3. Standing each quarter upright, cut it in half to make 2 wedges.
4. Standing each wedge upright, cut the point off down the entire length of each wedge to remove the thick core, about ½” - ¾” into the pineapple.
5. Still standing each wedge upright, cut the skin off each wedge.

Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman.

Grilled Pineapple Guacamole

It’s almost Super Bowl time! Get ready for over-the-top halftime performances, absurd commercials and mouthwatering bite-sized snacks. Oh, I mean, kickoffs, touchdowns and end zone victory dances! Rawr! Football! Sure, I loved getting up at unGodly hours on a Saturday morning to get in line half an hour before the gates opened at my college home football games. And there is something adrenaline pumping about cheering a team to victory in a roomful of people chanting for the same cause. But to call myself a football fan would be a wild stretch of the imagination, especially since I didn’t understand any of the rules until my first college football game. Other than the whole cross the finish line or kick it through a goalpost to score points part.

Don’t worry, I get just as excited about the Super Bowl as the rest of you and even though some of you diehard footballs fans won’t admit it, you’re excited about the same part I am: the food. When you get through all the sticky wings, cheesy pizza and gooey potato skins you are left with the fundamentals of a victorious Super Bowl feast. The chips and dip. There are countless dips out there, but one of the most addictive ones in my house is guacamole. Creamy avocados, tangy lime juice, crunchy red onions and a slight kick. However this guacamole has something yours does not: sweet, smokey grilled pineapple chunks.

Adding some sweetness and extra acidity, the grilled pineapple chunks bring a unique flavor profile to your average guacamole. Guacamole is already amazing on it’s own so imagine what this grilled pineapple guacamole will do to your tastebuds. Fireworks? Symphonies? Family members raising you to their shoulders and chanting your name? How about you try it and find out.

Grilled Pineapple Guacamole
 
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 2 sections of whole pineapple (see note), or 4 rings of pineapple
  • 2 ripened avocados
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of ground chili powder (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat and lightly coat with cooking spray. Grill the pineapple 2-3 minutes per side, or until light grill marks appear. Once grilled, cut the pineapple into ½”- 1” chunks.
  2. Meanwhile scoop the avocado out into a medium mixing bowl. Add the onion, lime juice, lemon juice, salt, garlic powder and chili powder. Using a sharp knife, cut through the avocado in the bowl until it is a small dice.
  3. Use a spoon to make sure all the ingredients are combined, add the grilled pineapple chunks and stir once more until just combined. If you like your guacamole more smooth than chunky then mash the avocados more.
  4. Serve fresh with chips.
Notes
If using fresh pineapple follow these instructions:
1. Cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple.
2. Sitting the pineapple upright, cut it in half, then into quarters.
3. Standing each quarter upright, cut it in half to make 2 wedges.
4. Standing each wedge upright, cut the point off down the entire length of each wedge to remove the thick core, about ½” - ¾” into the pineapple.
5. Still standing each wedge upright, cut the skin off each wedge.

 

Roast Cauliflower and Garlic Soup with Crispy Kale Chips and a Balsamic Drizzle

Hang onto your hats folks, we’re in for a whirlwind! My excitement over this soup is bursting out of me and it cannot be contained. The best thing for you to do is to hold on, take it all in and then get cooking. I first cooked this soup a couple years ago, but every time I make it I wonder to myself why I wait so long in between whipping it up.

I love creamy vegetable soups, but they are usually laden with heavy cream and high fat milk. A creamy soup that is low in calories and fat, but high in nutrition and flavor? Definitely a win. But a soup that also has added protein? Now that is the ultimate trifecta! A tasty tender trifecta.

Roasted cauliflower and garlic soup topped with kale chips and a balsamic drizzle. No, you don’t have to go to some fancy farm-to-table restaurant to enjoy this cozy dish; you can make it in your kitchen right this minute. Cauliflower is roasted to add depth to its flavor and tenderize it. Roasting the garlic mellows it and causes it to develop a creamy texture. While the vegetables are roasting a light roux is created then mixed with onions, carrots, celery and seasonings.

The sautéed vegetables brown and release their inner juices just before being combined with rich vegetable stock and white wine. The roasted vegetables are added to the pot and everything is pureed to a rustic creaminess. Nonfat plain Greek yogurt lends to the creaminess and provides a very subtle tang. Finally the soup is topped with kale chips for crunch and an easy balsamic drizzle for continued depth of flavor. Go make this. Now. I’ll be running to the kitchen for more leftovers before I pass out from excitement.

Roast Cauliflower and Garlic Soup with Crispy Kale Chips and a Balsamic Drizzle
 
Yield: 8 servings
Ingredients
  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon italian seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano
  • ⅛ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 12 ounces fat free plain Greek yogurt
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 batch crispy kale chips
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Directions
for the soup
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with tinfoil and set aside.
  3. Cut the cauliflower into similar sized florets and evenly place on the baking sheet. Toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cut the tops off both heads of garlic so that almost all the cloves are exposed. Place each head of garlic in a little square of tinfoil and curve up the sides. Lightly drizzle the garlic heads with olive oil then season with salt and pepper. Seal up the tinfoil to make little packets of the garlic heads.
  5. Place the cauliflower and garlic packets in the oven. Let the cauliflower roast for 25 minutes then remove from the oven. Let the garlic continue to roast for another 10 minutes.
  6. While the cauliflower and garlic are roasting, heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and the flour and whisk to combine. Continue to whisk until the mixture is light brown in color, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the celery, onion and carrot. Stir to combine and cook until the onions have started to brown and the vegetables have started to soften.
  8. Add the salt, pepper, italian seasoning, paprika, oregano and chili powder, stirring to combine. Add the wine and water. Bring to a slow boil then cook for 5 minutes.
  9. When the heads of garlic have cooled, squeeze out the garlic cloves and add them to the soup along with the vegetable broth. Cook for 10 more minutes.
  10. Add the cauliflower and cook for 5 more minutes. Using a food processor or immersion blender puree the soup until smooth. Add the greek yogurt and puree until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.
for the garnish
  1. Heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Continue to heat until it has reduced to a 2-3 tablespoons.
  2. Top each bowl of soup with kale chips and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.

Recipe adapted from The Novice Chef.