Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Word to the Wise...

Just FYI...when your potatoes aren't done by dinnertime, don't put your crockpot crock directly on the stove to try and speed things up.  Probably everyone in the world knows that but me, but just in case you didn't, now you do.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Trying new things...

So one of my New Year's resolutions was to get fit (totally my New Years resolution every year).  I wanted to start eating better, exercising more, make healthy choices.  I do better with a goal in mind; last year it was being able to run the Warrior Dash with my friends and be able to keep up.  This year, a bit loftier, to climb the Grand.  Just to get my lungs and heart in enough shape to deal with the altitude will be a miracle in itself let alone do the hike and climb the 12 pitches.
The exercise has come easily.  I have started running (jogging?) more frequently and still regularly walk with my mom.  I have added in extra time at the climbing gym and invested a whole $5 in a Jillian Michaels yoga DVD.

The food part, that has been rough.  I bought a bag of kale and made kale chips.  I bought some Brussels sprouts and roasted them like I had read on Martha Stewart Living minus the grapes and walnuts, hoping these ugly little brassicaceae would somehow be the magical veggie that I had been searching for.  No such luck.  They taste like crap.  I fed the uncooked leftovers to my horse.  Oddly enough, he liked them.

The hardest part of eating healthier, though, has been my sweet tooth.  It is about the size of Texas and unstoppable.  So when I saw these chocolate cookies made with dark chocolate and studded with chopped dried cherries I knew I had to give it a shot.  The verdict:  not sweet enough for me.  They were beautiful, just not my type.  So if you are looking for a not so sweet chocolate cookie to much, head on over to My New Roots and get the recipe.  Her blog is totally gorgeous and worth a look even if you aren't interested in the recipe.  As for me, I will have to stick with regular old chocolate chip.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Interesting Things

Here are some interesting things I bookmarked this week:

Here in Illinois, we are expecting snow tonight.  Sprinkle Bakes' Whiteout Cocoa looks amazing for a wintery evening.

I don't have an ice cream maker, so I am always on the lookout for homemade ice cream that doesn't require one.  A Cup of Jo has a recipe for a delectable looking chocolate ice cream.

I am always looking for a good granola recipe, and Love and Olive Oil's Olive Oil Granola fits the bill.

How cute are these tortilla roses from Make The Best Of Everything?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Marti Gras-Cinnamon Roll King Cake

Happy Marti Gras!  Here is a cinnamon roll variation of King Cake that I made this morning.  All the recipes I have read for King Cake are cinnamon filled yeasted coffee cakes.  I decided that cinnamon rolls are the perfect individual sized portions of King Cake.  No baby hidden inside, the prize is the the cinnamon sugar awesomeness inside these rolls.  For those who are interested, here is more info on King Cake.  I will be submitting these rolls over to Yeast Spotting.

King Cake Cinnamon Rolls

The rolls:
4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for the bread board

The filling:
4 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

The frosting:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and whole wheat flour.  In a large measure, pour in 1/2 cup milk.  Add margarine and microwave for 1 minute or until the margarine is melted.  Add 1/2 cup water to margarine, milk mixture.  Pour into bowl with yeast, sugar, and whole wheat flour.  Stir to combine.  Add eggs and stir to combine.  Add in the all purpose flour and stir to combine.  Knead with the hook attachment of your stand mixer for 3-4 minutes.  If kneading by hand, increase time by a minute or two.

Cover and allow to raise for about an hour or until dough is doubled in size.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute.  Roll out dough.  Brush the melted butter across the dough.  Sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar over the butter.  Roll up the dough.  With a sharp bread knife, cut the rolls about 1 inch long and placed in a greased pan.  I used 2-8 inch cake pans and really they were too small once the rolls had proofed.  Cover and allow to raise for 40 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake rolls at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes (may need to go longer if only using one large pan).  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  For the frosting, mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk.  Separate into 3 small bowls.  Add a few drops of violet food coloring into one bowl, a few drops of yellow into one bowl, and a few drops of green into the last bowl.  Stir to combine.  Spread the frosting over the cinnamon rolls and enjoy!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Swirly Sugar Cookies

I made these cookies earlier this week for Valentine's gifts.  Everyone thought I must have spent hours decorating, but honestly, they were a cinch to make.

All I did was make this butter cookie recipe and this royal icing recipe.  I piped an outline in white using a Wilton #2 tip and flooded the center.  Let them dry overnight.  The next day, I colored my icing and with a Wilton #2 tip piped various swirls and dots.  Basically just doodles on the icing.  Let them dry for a few hours and you have pretty little sugar cookies without too much headache.

For the gold background on these cookies, I used Wilton's Gold Color Mist  I had gotten some for Christmas and was anxious to try it.  I piped and flooded the cookie in white like usual and then once they were dry, sprayed them with the Color Mist.  I then let that dry for a couple of hours before decorating.  Be sure that you put down some parchment paper when you are spraying, because this stuff acts just like spray paint and gets a fine mist of gold everywhere!  It cleans up nicely though.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Aunt Sue-Pineapple Upside Down Cake

My aunt Sue is one of the most fantastic people that I know and she is an amazing aunt.  She is sweet and kind and thoughtful.  She used to attend all of our sporting events and band concerts.  She would always celebrate every holiday with a card or little gift for us.  In college, she would send little care packages full of food and other goodies  She also has a passion for baking and would help my sister and I with elaborate projects in the kitchen.  She always made sure that we knew we were loved.  My sister and I, we were so lucky to have an aunt like her.  She inspires me to try an be that kind of aunt to my nephew.  

Today is her birthday and we had a little celebration last night.  I was lucky enough to get to get to bake her cake this year.  Her favorite is my grandmother's homemade pineapple upside down cake.  This is an old fashioned cake, so if you have made pineapple upside down cake from a box, this doesn't taste the same.  It is a much shorter, much heavier cake that is perfect for absorbing all the butter and brown sugar.  When this cake is baking, it is like heaven in your kitchen.  The combination of butter, brown sugar, and pineapple is a dream.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake makes 1 10" round or heart shaped cake; to make a 9x13" cake, double the recipe.

6-7 pineapple rings
6-7 maraschino cherries
1/4-1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons pineapple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all purpose flour

To make the topping: 
  • If you are going to make the cake the traditional way, you bake it in a 10" cast iron skillet.  In that case, melt the butter on the stove top in the bottom of the skillet.  If you are going to make it in a regular pan like I did, melt the butter in the microwave and pour into the bottom of your cake pan.
  • Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the melted butter.
  • Arrange the pineapple on top of the brown sugar.  Fit in as many pineapple rings as you can.
  • Place a stemless maraschino cherry in between each pineapple
  • Fill the space between the pineapple with the walnut pieces
To make the cake:
  • Beat the eggs on high speed until pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes.  
  • Add in the sugar, pineapple juice, and vanilla, beat together
  • Add in the baking powder and flour, beat until just combined
  • Pour batter over the top of the topping
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Flip over onto a clean serving plate immediately after taking it out of the oven.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Vanilla Lime Filled Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream

    I love filled cupcakes.  I feel like they are this awesome surprise tucked inside this otherwise innocuous pastry.  I mean, from the outside, totally a plain vanilla cupcake, jazzed up with some sprinkles.  Take a bite and POW a mouthful of cool, tangy lime curd!  Now my husband's work people felt the cupcakes were better without the curd.  They preferred just the plain vanilla cake with the subtle lime flavor from the buttercream.  Whatever floats your boat.

    If you are still looking for a Valentine's treat for tonight, look no further.  These cupcakes are box mix cake and with a little effort to make the curd and frosting while your cakes are baking, you have a lovely dessert wrapped up in a pretty package.

    Lime Curd adapted from The Cake Bible
    4 egg yolks
    1/2 cup sugar
    4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    3 ounces lime juice
    zest from limes

    Stir together egg yolks and sugar in a medium sized heavy saucepan.  Pour in lime juice.  Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Do not allow mixture to boil.  It will curdle your eggs.  After the mixture thickens, remove from heat.  Stir in butter and vanilla.  Send mixture through a fine mesh strainer and stir in lime zest.  The lime curd will be yellow.  This is totally fine, but if it weirds your sister out to have yellow lime curd like it does mine, then you can add a drop or two of green food coloring.  Cover with plastic wrap right down on the curd to prevent a skin.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

    Lime Buttercream adapted from Sky High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes
    4 egg whites
    1 cup sugar
    1/3 cup lime juice (3-4 limes)
    3 sticks butter at room temperature
    zest from 2 limes

    In a medium sized heavy saucepan, heat up the sugar and lime juice and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to a boil and cook until the syrup reaches 238 degrees Fahrenheit (soft ball stage).  Set up stand mixer with the egg whites and lime zest in the bowl and the whip attachment.  Turn the mixer on low and beat the eggs until they are frothy.  Slowly add the syrup.  Continue beating on medium high speed until the egg whites have whipped up and the bowl is cool to the touch.  Slowly add the butter.  Continue beating, the mixture will look lumpy and broken for quite awhile.  Keep beating, eventually it will become a smooth buttercream.  If you add the butter before the bowl is cool, the buttercream will be very soft so be sure to wait until the bowl is cool.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Oatmeal Scotchies

    For some inexplicable reason, I feel like when I make a favorite treat for someone that I care about that somehow amidst the butter and sugar, they can tell how much I love them.  That the labor of sifting and stirring and scooping will somehow translate to them how amazing I think they are or how I can't live without them.  That in carefully watching the treat to ensure it doesn't burn, I am thinking of them.  I want silly things like butterscotch and oatmeal to heal past transgressions and remind them that I would do anything for them.  I don't know why I find it so hard to simply tell them I love them.  To shout that I think the world of them.  To say I'm sorry when I have done wrong.  I don't know why I expect a simple homemade cookie or cake or pie to do the talking for me, but I do.  Whenever I feel like someone needs cheerfulness, I feel compelled to bake something sweet, something I know they love, to tell them how much I care.

    I always thought oatmeal scotchies were like chocolate chip cookies with oatmeal added, but my sister corrected the error of my ways, telling me they are oatmeal cookies with butterscotch chips added.  They really do taste better her way.
    Oatmeal Scotchies
    1/4 cup butter
    1/2 cup shortening
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 egg
    1/4 cup water
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 cup all purpose flour
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon cloves
    3 cups quick cooking oatmeal, uncooked
    1 package butterscotch chips

    Cream together butter, shortening, brown sugar, and granulated sugar.  Add in the egg.  Mix in water, vanilla, cinnamon, baking soda, and cloves.  Mix in flour.  Fold in oatmeal and butterscotch chips.  Drop by the teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes.

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

    How do you make a soft, chewy peanut butter cookie even better?  Slather some peanut butter buttercream in the middle.  Add a glass of milk.  Heaven.

    Peanut Butter Cookies makes about 15 sandwiches
    1/4 cup butter
    1/4 cup shortening
    1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

    Melt butter, shortening, and peanut butter together in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl.  Stir in brown and white sugar.  Add egg and vanilla, stir to combine.  Sprinkle in baking soda.  Stir in flour a little at a time until a thick dough is formed.

    Scoop even sized teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  You want a soft cookie with just a hint of crispiness around the edges.

    Peanut Butter Buttercream
    1/2 cup butter at room temperature
    1/2 cup peanut butter
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    4 cups powdered sugar

    Beat together the butter and peanut butter until smooth.  Add in the vanilla.  Slowly mix in the powdered sugar.

    To assemble: take two cookies of fairly equal size.  Spread a healthy smear of buttercream on one of the cookies.  Place the other cookie on top and squish down as desired.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Easy Valentine's Day Mini Cupcakes

    I have fallen in love with all of the different things that a body can do with Candy Melts.  I had some leftover red Candy Melts from a Christmas project and some leftover cake batter from another cake project so I decided to play around and make some mini Valentine's cupcakes with Candy Melt toppers.  The cupcakes are orange flavored cake from a box mix with cream cheese buttercream.

    Candy Melt Cupcake Toppers
    • Melt 2 ounces of red Candy Melts in the microwave.  I microwaved mine for two 40 second intervals, stirring in between.  Your microwave may run warmer or cooler so you may need to adjust the time accordingly.  
    • Put Candy Melts into a piping bag with a Wilton #2 round tip.  Some talented people can pipe these decorations without a tip, jut sniping off the end of the piping bag.  I am not one of these people.  I always make my hole too big or too small so I like to use a tip.  
    • On parchment or wax paper, pipe different designs as desired.  Remember, more pressure yields a fatter line.  You want to use medium pressure to make sturdy enough decorations.  Very delicate decorations break easily when you try and sink them in the cupcakes icing.  Make more decorations than you need to allow for breakage.  Allow to dry for 1/2 hour to 1 hour. 
    • Carefully remove decorations from parchment and gently push into the cupcake frosting.
     Cream Cheese Buttercream
    1 stick butter, room temperature
    8 ounces cream cheese
    4 cups powdered sugar
    1 tablespoon vanilla

    Beat together butter and cream cheese.  Add in vanilla and beat to combine.  Slowly add in powdered sugar.  A few teaspoons of milk or water may be added to reach a thinner consistency.  I added maybe 2 teaspoons of water, which is a lot less than I do with my typical Wilton Buttercream.  The cream cheese gives this frosting a much softer consistency to start with and if you aren't careful, you have a frosting that you cannot pipe.  I piped the above cupcakes with a Wilton #12 round tip.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Pear Bread

    My husband and I used to live in Seattle.  It's a really fun city with a lot to do and a lot of fantastic places to eat.  We try and get back for a weekend visit every year.  We have a friend we typically stay with and he has a great condo right above the Macrina Bakery and Cafe.  Every time we visit, I always vote for breakfast to be eaten there.  The food is fabulous and the atmosphere is so warm and cozy.  They have a big window where you can watch the bakers work, so I like to sip my mocha and watch the magic.  I enjoyed my first visit there so much, I promptly bought the cookbook and read it cover to cover.  I will be submitting this bread to the weekly roundup of Yeast Spotting hosted by Wild Yeast.

    Pear Bread adapted from the Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook
    2 Bartlett Pears
    1/2 cup water
    2 teaspoons instant yeast
    2 tablespoons honey
    2 eggs
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    cornmeal for dusting baking stone

    Cut up the two pears into small chunks.  Reserve 1/3 of the chunks for later and take the rest for a spin in the food processor until smooth.
    Incorporating the pear chunks

    In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour, salt, pepper, and yeast.  Add in the honey, pureed pears, and eggs.  Stir to combine.  Add water as needed to make a firm dough, dough should be tacky but not too sticky.  Turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead until bread is smooth and elastic.  (Or in with a bread hook attachment on your stand mixer.)  Place pear chunks on the dough and mix them in by hand, some of the pieces may fall out of the dough, just stick them back in and keep working the dough until all of the pieces are incorporated.
    After first raise, before shaping
    Allow to raise for 2 hours.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two.  Divide dough in half.  Loosely shape dough into a round ball.  With two fingers, poke a hole in the middle of the ball.  With your fingers in the middle of the ball, spin the dough around your fingers gradually widening the hole until it is a couple of inches in diameter.  Repeat with second loaf.  Place loaves on a baking stone dusted with cornmeal.  Cover and allow to raise for another hour.  Lightly slash the surface on the top of each loaf with a sharp knife, making four slashes, creating a square around the hole.
    Shaping the loaves

     Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

    Shaping the loaves

    **Special thanks to my husband for taking action shots of me shaping the loaves.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    How to fill a piping bag

    When I first started decorating cakes and cupcakes, I used to get extremely frustrated filling my piping bag.  I would hold the empty bag in one hand and try and scoop frosting in with the other.  I somehow would manage to get frosting all over the outside of the bag and would often have trouble scooping the icing out of the bowl.  Sometimes the bowl would walk away from me.  But then I leaned a trick that made everything easier.  Honestly, I can't remember where I learned this, but I thought I should share.
    First step, put your tip in the bottom of you piping bag.  Then take a clean drinking class and put your bag in the glass, folding over a good portion of the excess.
    Next, fill the bag inside the glass with frosting.  You can use the edge of the glass to wipe your spatula clean as you add more frosting to the bag.
    Then, just unfold the excess from the outside of the glass and pull the bag out of the glass.
    Gather up the excess top and twist until the frosting is all pushed to the bottom of the bag and you are ready to go!

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