Coming to a Taco Night Near You

I’ve talked about our taco nights before. It’s one of our favorite events. And yes, taco night is an event.

There’s the meat. The guac (my favorite!). The cheese. The refried beans. (Because without refried beans, you can’t create a massive double-decker, crunchy shell inside of a soft shell taco.) And of course, the company. Taco night is more than just good food; it’s an evening with some of our favorite people.

And now… there’s this salsa as well. It looks more like a fruit salad than any salsa I’ve ever seen (which explains why Andy enjoyed it), and the flavor, well, let’s just say that I polished off the leftovers all by myself. For dinner.

Ahem. Moving on.

This one comes together pretty quickly, depending on how good you are with a knife. (And whether or not you slice part of your finger while chopping the mango. Details.) It’s bright and fresh, and since it’s good for you, well, then you can feel better about the extra cheese and sour cream that you’ve piled on your double-decker taco. 😀


Mango Pineapple Salsa

1 cup fresh pineapple, diced small
2 cups fresh mango, diced small
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped (I eyeballed this.)
Pinch of salt, to taste

In a large bowl, stir together all of the ingredients except the salt. Taste the salsa, then season with salt as needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve with your favorite tortilla chips. (I’m thinking these would be a good chip choice.) 

From Brown Eyed Baker, who adapted it from Simply Recipes

Click here for a printable version.

Carrots in my cake

Fruit on my pizza, veggies in my cake… I’m just all about the weird combinations lately. 🙂 This particular cake/frosting combination was one that was requested for a baby shower a couple of months ago. And while carrot cake wouldn’t have been my first choice, who am I to say no to the mom-to-be? 🙂

I was pleasantly surprised by how well this turned out. (I’ve always had pretty ambivalent feelings toward carrot cake before, mostly regarding it as the vehicle for cream cheese frosting. Because you can never have too much of that goodness.) The cake had a nice flavor, stayed moist, and best of all, baked into those perfect little domes that I love when I’m making cupcakes. I used Karen’s carrot cake recipe since I didn’t have a go-to one of my own. The only change I made was to add some vanilla to the batter. (Because everything’s better with vanilla, right?) 

Because I’m a sucker for punishment I like challenges, I decided to top these cupcakes with baked pineapple flowers. They were a lesson in patience for me, as they took a lot longer to bake than I had hoped. It was also an experiment in which knife to use to get the slices as thin as possible. I tried my large serrated knife, the large chef’s knife and my electric knife. I had the best results with the chef’s knife, although I wasn’t able to get the slices as thin as I would have liked. While I didn’t have enough pretty ones to top all of the cupcakes, I did get enough to use on about half the cupcakes. They were the perfect garnish for this baby-girl shower!

All in all, they were a big hit, and the few that I brought home as leftovers were promptly devoured by the men who didn’t get to attend the shower. Success!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Pineapple Flowers

This is one of those lucky moments where it tastes as good as it looks.
A flower-less cupcake. Don’t feel too badly for him though; his frosting swirl was pretty enough on its own!

For the cake: 
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups grated carrots (Karen was a lifesaver and let me borrow her shredder attachment for the KitchenAid. Saved me TONS of time and work!) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with liners and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, vegetable oil and applesauce. Stir to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Whisk to combine.

Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, being careful not to over-mix them (you’re mixing them until they’re just combined/moistened). Gently stir in the carrots.

Divide the mixture between the prepared muffin cups, filling them about 2/3s full. Bake until cupcakes test done with a toothpick (about 20 minutes). Remove pans from oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes from pans and allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: 
10 ounces chilled cream cheese
6½ tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
3¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 teaspoons clear vanilla extract*

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed, mixing until light and fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until just blended. Stir in the vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until frosting is light, fluffy and way too easy to eat. Pipe on to cupcakes. (I used the Wilton 1M tip to do these.) Refrigerate any leftovers. (Does anyone seriously have this problem? Anyone?)

(Here’s my recently discovered secret for sifting the sugar: Use a wire strainer/sifter! Set the sifter over the mixing bowl – mine has feet so it rests really well on top of my Kitchen Aid bowl – and then sift directly into the bowl with the butter. This eliminates my issues of measuring and sifting into one bowl, then transferring the sifted materials into the mixer, something that always resulted in a mess.) 

For the pineapple flowers: 
1 large pineapple, thinly sliced (as thin as you can get it!)
baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat

Note: If you want to see pictures of how the pineapple flowers are done, go visit Annie’s post. Her explanation and pictures are really helpful! 

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.

Slice off the top and bottom of the pineapple, then slice off the rind on the sides of the pineapple. (Your goal is to have a skinless pineapple that you can cut into super-thin slices.) Using a small spoon, paring knife or other tool (I used a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon), remove any of the “eyes” that remain on the pineapple.

Lay the pineapple on its side, and slice off thin layers (the thinner you can make them, the better they’ll dry out). Place each slice on some paper towels or clean, lint-free kitchen towels to absorb some of the extra juice, then move the slices to the prepared baking sheets. When the sheets are full, bake the pineapple until the flowers dry out and are no longer sticky/tacky. Check the slices every 20 minutes or so, until they are dried, flipping the slices over each time you check on them.

Place the dried slices into empty muffin tins to train the flowers to curve upward. Leave them there until set. (Learn from my mistake here: I thought mine still felt sticky, even after a couple hours of baking and sitting in the pans, so I put them back in the oven for another 45 minutes or so… AND I increased the temperature. I burnt some of the flowers that way. In my opinion, it’s better to have slightly tacky fruit flowers than burnt fruit flowers.) Garnish cupcakes as desired (and eat the pieces that you deem too ugly to use).

Cake adapted from The Stuffed Flamingo
Frosting from Annie’s Eats
Pineapple Flowers from Annie’s Eats

*Yes, clear vanilla. I realize it sounds weird, but since Annie said it worked, I had to try it. And you know what? She’s right. Plus, your frosting stays whiter (and so much prettier) that way.