real life test kitchen: spiced parsnip cupcakes

I spotted this recipe the other day in Everyday Food and had to try it. Parsnips are basically like carrots, but their flavor is more subtle and not as sweet. This goodie calls for a generous amount of cardamon, which is a favorite spice of mine. (See this amazing pumpkin muffin recipe for another October treat.) Not to mention, how else was I ever going to get my kid to eat a parsnip? They were pretty simple to make — no electric mixer needed! Though I recommend grating the parsnip with a food processor if you have one. The required elbow grease in that step was a bit unexpected. I also halved the frosting ingredients and found it was more than enough.

Here’s my take on the Everyday Food Recipe.

What You Need
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 peeled and grated parsnip (from 1 large peeled parsnip)
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.

2. Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt. In separate bowl, whisk together brown sugar, eggs, oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and parsnip. Stir in flour mixture.

3. Divide batter among cups — fill about 1/3 of the way. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 15 to 18 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

4. Beat cream cheese, butter, and confectioners’ sugar in a bowl until combined (use an electric mixer if you have one). Spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes. (Note: I store the cupcakes at room temperature, unfrosted, and keep the frosting handy in the fridge. I spread it on as we eat them!)

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30 days of halloween: john derian e-vitations on paperless post

If you’re just getting around to planning a party on Halloween, don’t fret. You can send one of these gorgeous e-vitations by John Derian on Paperless Post. With a beautiful turn-of-the-century vibe, they feature antique inspired drawings of skeletons, owls, bats, vultures, ravens and other creatures that look like they stepped right out of a Poe short story. Because these are so lush — complete with envelope, themed liner and personalized invitation — they are not free. At about .50 cents an invite, they are worth it to make an impact. Plus, Paperless Post makes it easy to keep track of who’s coming and who’s not. The only pressure is to create a party that’s spooky cool as your invite!

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real life test kitchen: chicken pot pie pasta

Every now and then you stumble upon a recipe and think, “Where have you been my whole life?” That’s how I felt after making Chicken Pot Pie Pasta from the October issue of Everyday Food. Now that there’s a fall chill in the air, the hankering for chicken pot pies is growing. But how often do you have dough in the freezer or the time to make it from scratch? This simple recipe replaces the dough with cooked pasta. Everything is done on the stove top it takes about 30 minutes. Here’s my take on the dish. The result was a big crowd-pleasing yum. The leftovers were even more divine.

Chicken Pot Pie Pasta
What You Need:
3/4 pound of penne or some other pasta
2 large handfuls of green beans, cut into inch-long pieces (I used frozen which were fine.)
3 tbls of butter
1 small (or half a large) yellow onion, chopped
1 o 2 stalks of celery, depending on how much you like, chopped
2 or 3 carrots, diced
1/4 cup of flour
2 cups of organic chicken broth
2 cups of diced chicken (Note: I cooked up some boneless chicken breasts in a pan with butter first.)

1. Make the pasta. When there is 3 minutes left to cook, add in green beans.
2. Meanwhile, heat up the butter in large saucepan until sizzling. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook until transluscent (about 4 minutes). Sprinkle flour on top, stirring constantly until well incorporated. Slowly add in the broth — don’t stop stirring! You’re basically making a roux. Once well blended, reduce heat and simmer. You might need to add more broth if it gets too thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add drained pasta and beans to the chicken and vegetable sauce. Stir well and serve!

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real life test kitchen: spicy vegetarian chili

It happens like clockwork. The temperature dips down below 60 degrees, a few leaves start to fall from the trees, and I suddenly start craving a big bowl of chili. I’ve been saving this recipe from Food Network Magazine to make for a few months. When our neighbors decided to have an impromptu cookout (before it gets too cold) last weekend, I knew what I was going to contribute to the feast. This veggie chili really is a standout; with both brewed coffee and unsweetened cocoa, it has a rich and complex flavor. The shredded cauliflower adds a really nice texture — almost like ground beef — that gives it a stick-to-your-bones goodness. I added in some corn, because as my husband insists, all chili tastes better with a little corn. Here’s my take on the Food Network Magazine’s Spicy Vegetarian Chili. Note: You’ll want to give yourself a couple of hours to let this simmer sufficiently.

Spicy Veggie Chili

What You Need
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large bell pepper chopped [Note: I used two red peppers, but it'd be nice to have one green and one red.]
3 medium carrots, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 to 1 chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 corn large tortillas, torn into pieces
1/2 cup brewed coffee
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes [note: I used a can of crushed tomatoes and it was fine.] crushed by hand
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head cauliflower
1/2 cup of frozen corn kernels
Cilantro, Greek yogurt, chives, shredded cheddar — for toppings. Optional

1. Chop onion, bell peppers, and carrots. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add veggies and a dash of salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the carrots begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, chop garlic.
2. Add the garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
3. Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, chipotle, tomato paste and tortillas and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste is dark red, about 4 minutes.
4. Add the coffee and simmer until almost gone, about 30 seconds.
5. Stir in the tomatoes, cocoa powder, beans and 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili thickens slightly, about 1 hour, 30 minutes.
6. Trim the large stems off the cauliflower and coarsely grate the florets on a box grater. Add to chili, along with frozen corn, about 10 minutes before the chili is done. Cook 10 minutes, then remove from the heat. Add water if it is too thick.
7. Ladle into bowls and serve with suggested toppings!

Green Chili with Fresh Corn

Frito Chili Pie

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Inauguration Party Chili

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real life test kitchen: italian wedding soup

Italian Wedding Soup is based on a lie. Well, not really. It’s actually based on a mistranslation. The Italian name for the hearty, bone-warming soup is “minestra maritata,” which literally translates to “married soup.” The phrase isn’t meant to be literal though. It’s a play on words referring to the harmonious marriage of meat and vegetables.

I’ve tried a lot of Italian Wedding Soup recipes and this one from Framed Cooks is hands down my favorite. Hearty and delicious, my husband and I always fight over who gets the last bowl.



  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped finely
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped finely
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 ½ cup dried pasta (I like small shells)
  • 1 lb fresh baby spinach



    1. Heat oil in a deep, large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, cover pot and cook veggies for 5 minutes, stirring now and then.
    2. While the veggies cook, combine the meat, egg, garlic, cheese, crumbs, and nutmeg.
    3. Uncover pot. Add brother and water, and then bring to a boil. When soup reaches boil, reduce heat a bit and start rolling the meat mixture into very small meatballs, dropping them into the soup as you go.
    4. When you are done with the meatballs, add the pasta, stir, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
    5. When pasta is tender, stir in the spinach. When the spinach is wilted, the soup is ready. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Pro tip:

Unless you plan on eating the entire pot in one sitting (maybe you’re having a soup dinner party- I won’t judge. In fact, that actually sounds pretty fun), cook and store the pasta separately from the rest of the soup. On my first batch, I put everything in one huge Tupperware in the refrigerator. The pasta soaked up almost all of the broth so, when I went for a helping the next day, it was almost like a wet, mushy pasta casserole. It was still delicious, but it probably no longer qualified as soup.

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