Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Best of 2012 (Your Picks)

Did ya miss me?

What can I say?  It's the holidays.  I've been on a little blogging hiatus (sorry.  Family, food, lazing around, and opening presents got in the way), but I thought today I would bring you a little recap of my most-viewed blog posts of twenty-twelve (well, since the inception of my blog last March, anyway).  So here goes ladies and gents...The Best of Serves Two 2012 (Your Picks):

1. Pumpkin Kiss Cookies.




















Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bits and Bites

While I do have some fun stuff to share with you on today's Bits and Bites, I'm going to ramble first...

Ok, so the holiday's are apparently wearing me thin.  There is so much to do and so little time and I have suddenly started to feel and hear the agitation exuding from people whom I encounter out and about.  My To-Do List keeps growing and (this is my blog and I'm just going to be honest with you) it's making me...grumpy.  There, I said it.  I'm becoming one of the angry, impatient strangers I have been meeting daily.   I will admit though, I was happy to hear a co-worker tell me this morning that she felt the exact same way: everyone was annoying, every question was stupid, every thing was a hassle.  I think we both felt better knowing we were bah-hum-bug together

But at the same time, I feel guilty.  No, not guilty from some Christmas-cookie-binge-induced-coma.  Guilty for being a Scrooge.  It's time to fix this.  And what a better time than now as we reach the end of 2012 and delve into the New Year.  A fitting point in the calendar year to make changes and better ourselves- whether it's physically, mentally, or spiritually. 

My first thought was to reread The Happiness Project (a HIGHLY recommended read), but then I remembered another book that I had heard of several months ago: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  It focuses on one basic premise:  live simply.  Or, in other words:  we don't need as much crap as we think we do.  So how is reading this going to stop me from becoming the Grinch?  Well, it ultimately makes you step back and realize that wow!  I really am lucky to live the way I do!  I have all the things I need:  people who love me, food on my table, clothes on my back, heat in my home, a reliable income...things are not too shabby.  Life is pretty darn good.

So let us all remember this holiday: 'tis the season to be merry!

You ready for the yummy stuff now? 

1.  Cranberry and Cheese Danish Cupcakes.  Holy Moses.

2.  Pumpkin, Cranberry, and Pecan Pie.  Now this is a pumpkin pie I would eat!

3.  How To Make Sugared Cranberries.  So pretty and easy!  (Can you tell I'm on a cran kick?)

4.  Homemade Sugar Plums.  Ever wondered what exactly those visions were that danced in their heads?

5.  Triple Layer Chocolate Chip-Fudge Brownie-Peanut Butter Blondie Bars.  Make these now before those January resolutions hit!

6.  Skinnytaste.  A recent blog rec from a friend after telling her about my fiance's on-going health kick.  And speaking of resolutions, this site may be everyones bff come 2013.  At least for the first four weeks...

7.  Hungry Girl Por Vida.  Another new favorite blog find of mine!

8.  Super cute kitchen printables!  The "Be Grateful" one is fitting for the context of my rambling above.

9.  South Carolina Yellow Barbecue Sauce.  I'm intrigued.

10.  And finally, to end things with a laugh...check this video out :)

Happy Weekend to All!  May all your shopping, wrapping, and baking be merry and bright! ;)







 




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cranberry Cake Pie

I have mixed emotions when it comes to crust...


Absolutely looooove pizza crust.  Indifferent when it comes to bread crust- don't mind it on sandwiches, but I tend to nibble my way around the less appealing perimeter of toast, saving the best for last- the jam filled center.  And pie crust?  Well, not a very big fan.  It's just kind of...bland.  And dry.  And I'd really rather just eat the filling.  (We have a slight exception here that I feel must be noted: over Thanksgiving, my sister made a wonderful spiced crust with her pecan pie and it was phenomenal.  Best I've ever had, hands down.)

Well these mini pies have a different take on the whole traditional pie crust thing.  It's a pour-over crust that bakes up almost cake-like.  All buttery and sugary with a tender crumb embedded with tart, juicy cranberries- this is a crust I can definitely get on board with.

Cranberry Cake Pie

Makes one 10-inch pie (or 6 mini pies)

2 cups raw cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 1/2 cups white sugar, divided
2 eggs
3/4 cup  butter, melted
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 cup all-purpose white flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 10-inch pie plate.  Wash the cranberries, leaving some water on them.  Place the cranberries in the pie plate and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar.  

In a mixing bowl, cream the remaining 1 cup sugar with the eggs and butter.  Stir in the almond extract.  Add the flour and mix well. The batter will be thin. Pour over the cranberries.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes (25 to 28 for mini pies) or until a tester inserted near the center of the crust comes out clean.  

Adapted from Beantown Baker.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cake

My brother likes chocolate.


Yup.  That's him.  Digging into his cake at his second birthday, circa 1989.  He still does this by the way.  Now I'm pretty sure he never reads my blog (thanks Mike, thanks), but that doesn't mean I don't love him enough to dedicate an entire post about him (and it lets me secretly post pictures of a small, chubbier version of him 23 years ago). 

Growing up there was one thing my brother (Michael is his name if you didn't catch it) wanted on his big day:  Macaroni Grill's Warm Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce.  So every year, on December 15th, that is where my family would head for dinner.  And dessert.  (And I grew up in an anti-chain eating household, so this was extra special!).  We would arrive to the restaurant and wait patiently to be seated while watching the nearby chefs prepare and toss pasta dishes.  Our buzzer would eventually go off and we would then be taken to a paper-lined table where us kids would proceed to color every inch and play countless games of tic-tac-toe.  Finally, after dinner was served and cleared, the waitress would bring out a huge candlelit slab of the warm cake, make my brother stand on a chair with a napkin draped over his head and sing an a cappella rendition of "Happy Birthday".  Then, 8-year-old to 13-year-old (those are roughly the years we kept this tradition) Michael would dig in.  And eat the entire...single...piece.  By himself.  (Oh don't you worry, I got my own slice). 


But before I tell you about this cake I made just for him, I must first tell you that he also loves oreos.  So when I saw this recipe over the summer for an Oreo Chocolate Bundt Cake (I adapted it with my own twist, as you can see, it's obviously not a bundt), I knew I would be making this come December.  Three layers of chocolate cake spread with cookies and cream cheese filling and topped with a thin, sugary glaze and oreo crumbs.  A chocolate-meets-cake-meets-oreo-lovers dream.   

Happy Birthday little bro!


Cookies and Cream Cake

Makes one 6-inch round cake (If you would like to make it in bundt form, click on the link embedded in the post or at the end of the recipe)

Chocolate Cake:
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons boiling water
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons buttermilk

Place melted butter and sugar in large mixing bowl and mix to combine.  Add in egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.  Fold in flour, baking soda, and salt until no lumps remain. 

Heat water until boiling (I did this in the microwave in a 2-cup glass pyrex).  Whisk in cocoa powder.  Add in chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and combined.  Whisk in buttermilk .  Stir chocolate mixture into batter until combined.

Pour into 3 greased 6-inch round cake pans (to distribute evenly, use a third-cup dry measuring cup and add a third-cup at a time to each one until there is no more batter.  Each layer should take about two and a half, 1/3rd cupfuls).  Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 15 minutes.

While cake is baking make the filling and glaze.

Oreo Filling:

5 oreos, crushed
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place oreos in a food processor and pulse until crumbled. Alternately, place oreos in a ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush. Set aside 1 tablespoon of crushed oreos for topping,

Cream together cream cheese and sugar.  Add in vanilla.  Fold in oreos.  Set aside. 

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 to 1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon crushed oreos (saved from earlier)

Add powdered sugar and milk to bowl and whisk to combine until desired consistency is reached and it can be poured over the cake.

Assembly:

Once cake has cooled, spread half of filling on top of one layer.  Place second layer on top of filling and spread the rest of the filling evenly over the second layer.  Top the second layer of filling with third layer of cake.  Pour glaze over top of third layer and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon crushed oreos.

Adapted from Bakers Royale.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

It's the most wonderful time of the year...


Christmas cookie time, baby.

Back when I still lived at home (oh the lovely days before I had to go and grow up, get a job, and officially start to dread getting the mail- stupid bills), my mom, sister, and I had a little tradition every Christmas season:  the three of us would sit down and lay out a list of all of the cookies we intended to bake and then each choose a few to make.  Then, we would spend the entire day baking in the kitchen.  (Eventually my brother contributed with some out-of-this-world hershey's kiss peanut butter cookies- which I will probably be sharing in the near future).  In the end we had a lot of cookies...and some pretty good memories. 

While each of us kids has moved out of the nest, and some of the cookies have come and gone, every year, without fail, there are a select few that have endured and remained on the "list".  Now I should probably tell you that no, these here cookies are not on this little list I speak of, but that doesn't mean they aren't good.  In fact, they are insanely good.  Santa would be one jolly fellow if he was left a few of these.  Soft from the cream cheese and filled with a healthy dose of toasted coconut...yea, they didn't last long.  Therefore, they may have to make a reappearance in a couple of weeks when I set out to bake a few goodies to take home to the fam for the holidays.  I finally started making my cookie list today, have you?  Suggestions are always welcome!

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

Makes 35 cookies

2 cups coconut
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted & cooled until room temp
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spread out coconut evenly.  Bake for 10-20 minutes stirring every 5 minutes for even toasting. Remove from oven when coconut turns light brown (be very careful not to burn!).  Allow to cool completely before adding to dough.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. Mix butter and cream cheese together with a mixer until smooth.  Add sugars and beat until thoroughly combined.  Beat in vanilla until combined.  Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in cooled coconut.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Drop dough onto parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 12-14 minutes or until edges are set and bottoms are light brown (mine went 12 minutes, but I suggest you set the timer for 10 minutes and check before cooking the full 12-14).  Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking and place on wire rack to cool.

Adapted from vanilla sugar blog.





Thursday, December 6, 2012

Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup

Mmmmmm noodle soup....


Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup, that is.

Eating out, I have had a few too many bowls of chicken noodle soup that are "eh, whatever...this is boring", but I occasionally come across a bowl that is worthy of declaring "I must recreate this at home!"  For example, has anyone had Panera's?  They decided to change their chicken noodle soup a year or two ago and the new version just doesn't cut it for me.  I loved  their old one.  It was a "recreate at home" bowl, but their new one?  Ugh.  Don't fix it if it ain't broke, Panera.  Bad move.

Anywho, I recreated.  And this soup is gooood.  Warm and salty with thick noodles and tender veggies.  I like to let my noodles boil for quite a while so they get extra soft and extra thick (I know, any well-seasoned chef would frown at this as I let them go well past the al dente point).  In addition, you can make it as brothy or as...unbrothy? as you'd like (some places like to basically just give you a bowl of broth containing a few noodles and about three pieces of carrot sprinkled in with a single chunk of chicken for good measure.  Again, not gonna cut it.  I didn't order some hibachi soup people!)  But at home, I was able to up the ante and make it more to my liking. Oh, and since I'm on a roll of giving out my chicken noodle two cents worth, here's one more:  make it, eat it, and freeze the leftovers for a quick and easy meal in the future!  Genius.

Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup

Makes about 8 cups worth, depending on how much broth you choose to add

2 cups egg noodles, uncooked
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
4-6 cups chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon herbs de provence (italian seasoning would work too)
1 cup cooked, roasted chicken, shredded or chopped

Bring a small pot of water to a boil on the stove.  Add noodles and cook until soft.

In separate, larger stockpot or Dutch oven, heat 4 cups broth.  Once it comes to a slight boil, add onion and celery and simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Add carrots and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add cooked pasta, pepper, herbs, and chicken.  Cook until heated through adding more broth if necessary.

Adapted from my friend, Maria.







Monday, December 3, 2012

How To Roast A Chicken

I miss Thanksgiving :(


Seriously.  I got spoiled with such wonderful food and family last week that it put a slight damper on the usual routine.  Unfortunately, being five hours away from my loved ones means I can't really fulfill the family portion of this little stupor; however, the food bit...that one I can do.

Here's what I did:  I roasted a chicken.  All by myself.  I'm pretty proud considering (1) meat is not really my forte so this was a bit out of my usual comfort zone and (2) it turned out fabulous.  And guess what else?  It was SO easy!  This does not have to be a complicated, day-long process saved for special events, my friends.  This is more of a pop-it-in-the-oven, do a little wine drinking, internet surfing, or nail painting and voila! Dinner's ready! event.

We chose to complete the meal with some traditional holiday fare-- stuffing, green beans, and cranberry sauce (see that pretty red stuff up there?  That's my mom's knock-your-socks-off chutney.  She makes a mean stuffing as well).  As for how we chose to eat the rest of that little chick, well...you'll just have to wait and see.

How To Roast A Chicken: A Step-by-Step Guide

1 (4 to 5 pound) whole chicken, defrosted if frozen
1 small white onion
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Peel and slice your onions. Arrange them in an even layer on the bottom of the pan to make a bed for the chicken. Mix the salt and pepper together in a small bowl.

3. Over the sink, slit the plastic wrapping around your chicken (if it's still wrapped up) and drain out any juices or blood trapped in the plastic. Reach inside the chicken's body cavity and remove the bag of giblets. The giblets can be discarded, saved for stock, or used to make gravy later on.

4. Pat the chicken dry very thoroughly with paper towels or a kitchen rag. Make sure to absorb any liquid behind the wings or legs. Blot inside the body cavity too, getting the chicken as dry as you can, inside and out.

5. Rub the chicken with olive oil. Rub the oil all over the chicken, paying special attention to the breast and the drumsticks.

6. Sprinkle the outside of the chicken generously with salt and pepper, and rub a little salt and pepper inside the cavity as well.

7. Set the chicken breast-side-up on the bed of onion. The chicken should be lifted an inch or two above the pan by the onion.

8. Put the chicken in the oven and lower the oven temperature to 400°F.

9. Set a timer for 1 hour and go about your business.

10. After an hour, check if the chicken is done by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the meatiest part of its thigh. The internal temperature should be at least 165° for the chicken to be done. If you're under, put it back in to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and check it again.

11. Let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes. During this time, you can prepare a salad or side dish or whisk some flour into the pan juices to make gravy.

12. Carve the chicken and serve.

Adapted from The Kitchn.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Classic Gingerbread

How much more Christmas can you get?


It's no lie that anything with the word gingerbread screams Christmas and I always enjoy the little gingermen and gingerlady cutouts this time of year, but I was itching to make some of the classic stuff...just good 'ol fashioned gingerbread.  It pairs nicely with a hot cup of apple cider on a cold winter's night (which we've finally seen a couple cold nights this week, however hello 80's!...again...yes, I'm talking about the weather...again).

But just because it feels like summer doesn't mean I'm not thinking 100 percent Christmas.  Driving back from Oklahoma to Texas last weekend began my kick-off to officially tuning into the Christmas songs 24/7 radio stations.  You see there's this little stretch when you're close to the borders where there is literally nothing to listen to except spanish channels and country music.  PASS.  I usually end up sliding in an incredibly out-dated, dusty CD that skips every twelve seconds (I always forget my ipod dang it!), but this trip I got lucky.  I found some carols to sing to...in the privacy of my car.

So in keeping with the holiday spirit, the next afternoon I made a pan of gingerbread, dusted it with powdered sugar, and brought it to work to spread some holiday cheer :)

Classic Gingerbread

Makes one 9x9-inch pan

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, and sugar in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

In separate, small bowl (I used a 2-cup glass pyrex) combine buttermilk, molasses, oil, and eggs; stir well with a whisk. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Pour batter into a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Adapted from Cooking Light.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

We have a winner.


So Thanksgiving was a few days ago and I made a little contribution to the big meal:  Apple Pie.  But not just an ordinary apple pie.  Salted Caramel Apple Pie.  Now why I chose to make a pie after baking a couple hundred in the days leading up to the holiday is beyond me, but a few weeks ago when I spotted this recipe I knew I had to make it for our Turkey Day dessert.

It must be noted, however, that I did welcome help that afternoon in my parents kitchen.  My mom was employed to press the bottom crust into the pie plate while my dad dutifully peeled a few apples over the kitchen sink.  As we stood there pressing and peeling and mixing, I asked my dad about his mother, my Grandma Min.  Growing up I looooved her apple pie, so much in fact that I made it my own personal mission to create one as equally delightful (she will forever be linked to the fruit-filled dessert, in addition to frozen lasagna, special k cereal, and the smell of wheat bread browning in the toaster).

Last Thursday night my mission was accomplished.  And while this may not be her exact version (my dad informed me that she probably used the tried and true Good Housekeeping recipe) my creation was as juicy and delicious as I remember hers to be.  Oh and I accidentally burnt a few spots of the lattice crust (hence the semi-hidden picture) but he also reassured me that it was in true Grandma Min fashion.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

1 double pie crust (homemade or store bought)
7 tart apples, peeled and sliced (I used Granny Smith)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

4 tablespoons heavy cream

1 egg white
1 tablespoon sugar



Press bottom layer pie crust into 9-inch pie plate.  Sprinkle apples with lemon juice. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl and add apples. Toss to mix.  Melt butter in heavy skillet. Add vanilla and cream.  Add apple mixture and cook approximately 8-10 minutes, until apples are soft and the liquid has turned golden. Turn into pie shell.



Cover with a lattice top or just drape the whole second crust over the filling and crimp the edges. (Check out this lattice crust tutorial as a guide).  Use a fork or your finger to decorate the edge.
Brush the top of the crust with egg white and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.  (Word of caution:  filling WILL bubble over, therefore place a foil-lined baking sheet on the oven rack directly underneath the pie during baking to prevent a huge mess!)

Adapted from The Baker Chick.





Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sweet Potato Casserole Crumb Cake

This is gonna be quick for two reasons.


#1: I'm busy.

#2: You're busy.

But you know, once Thursday is over and things calm down and you've done all your turkey basting and football watching and Black Friday shopping (oh who are we kidding, we all know it's turning into Black Thursday now), you might want to make this crumb cake with those leftover yams (or you could just grab some more at the store seeing as they're about 10 cents a pound right now). 

Ok, I said this would be quick so let me wrap things up.  This cake = good.  The crumb topping = makes the cake.  Buttery, sugary goodness loaded on top of a moist, fall-flavored cake.  Make it.  Eat it.  Heck, call it a coffee cake and eat it for breakfast. 

p.s. Happy Turkey Day to ya!  Hope your day is filled with fabulous friends, family, and food!

Sweet Potato Casserole Crumb Cake

Makes one 9-inch springform pan

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup apple cider (I actually used steeped Pumpkin Chai Tea)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda

Crumb Topping
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, sweet potatoes, and eggs. Beat until smooth.  Mix in the oil, applesauce and apple cider (or tea).  Add the flour, cinnamon and baking soda and mix until fully incorporated.  Pour into greased 9-inch springform pan.

In a mini-food processor pulse the crumb topping ingredients (butter, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon) until blended but crumbly (you can also do this using your hands).  Sprinkle over top of cake.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

Adapted from Cupcake Project.







Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Double Butterscotch Cake

I've been on the mend...


It started last Thursday and it's involved a lot of kleenex, coughing, and kissless goodbyes.  Boo :(

Needless to say, I'm a wee bit tired of this constant tickle in my throat.  And my voice being zapped.  And my nose converting itself into dribbly faucet (that's an understatement but I'll spare you the details).  And this time of year...well, rest is not really in the cards.  I do work at a bakery afterall and this just so happens to be a rather busy time of year, wouldn't ya know...

But I've endured and even made a little bitty cake.  A little bitty cake with a double whammy of butterscotch.  It just sounded good.  And it was.  Super moist from the pudding and studded with butterscotch chips that caramelized into crispy on the outside, melty on the inside bits.  And yes, it involved a cake mix (again...my apologies), but I wanted something sweet that was quick to whip together.  (I'm baking 60 pumpkin pies in the morning people, sometimes a cake mix is in order).
.
Double Butterscotch Cake

1 box yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) box instant butterscotch pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 cup butterscotch chips

Empty cake mix and pudding mix into mixing bowl.  Stir until blended.  Add in sour cream, oil, and eggs, mixing until combined for about 4 minutes.  Stir in butterscotch chips.  Pour into prepared cake or cupcake pans (I did both). 

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes (6-inch cake- shown above) or 18 minutes (cupcakes) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs. 

Adapted from Just A Pinch.



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sea-Salted French Bread

Do not be afraid.


I won't lie to you, this does, in fact, involve yeast. 

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love yeast and those who..well..don't.  I happen to fall into the former category and yeast and I have always been bff's.  I don't even measure the temp of the water (gasp!) (ps it's supposed to be between 100 and 115 degrees if you're curious and/or OCD).  Instead, I was taught a little trick a few years back while working for a catering company and officially being handed over the role of making all the cinnamon buns.  Here's my secret: simply stick your finger in the warm water before adding the yeast and make sure the water doesn't have a "bite" to it.  Easy peasy. 

Ok, so if you can get over that fear of yeast and get over the fact that yes, you can stop at the grocery store on the way home and pick up a loaf of french bread for approximately 99 cents, then please make a loaf of this bread.  It is super simple (involving only six ingredients) and smells amazing.  Really, who doesn't love the smell of bread baking in the oven?  I think that's gotta be in the top 10 favorite smells of everyone in America.  Oh yea, and it tastes amazing too- don't think I mentioned that :)

Sea-Salted French Bread

1 cup warm water (between 100 and 115 degrees)
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 - 2 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 egg white
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Combine water, yeast, and sugar in mixer fitted with dough hook and allow yeast to proof for 10 minutes.

Add in flour, starting with 2 cups and adding more if necessary, until tacky, yet pliable dough forms.  Knead in mixer for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over dough and knead until well-incorporated.

Remove dough hook and let dough rise in mixing bowl covered with a loose towel until doubled in size (about 1 hour). 

Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a small rectangle. Roll up dough tightly, beginning on the long side. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaf every 2 inches.  Cover again with loose towel, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Brush egg white over top of loaf and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Adapted from AllRecipes.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Leftover Halloween Candy Cakey Brownies

Whatchya gonna do with all that junk...


Yes, I'm joining in on the plethora of halloween candy recipes flooding cooking blogs everywhere.  Please don't hate me.  If it's any consolation, I had the idea of these brownies before checking my e-mail on Thursday and seeing my inbox full of leftover halloween this and leftover halloween that.  Really, I did.  But after sinking my teeth into one of these bad boys there was no denying it- I had to share, regardless of the blogosphere overload. 

Now I'll be honest, we actually didn't buy any halloween candy for the little ones this year.  I learned my lesson last year after I anxiously prepared and ran off to the store, bought four big bags of candy, and we had no more than ten kids ring our doorbell that night.  Big. Fat. Bummer.  Apparently all the kids choose to go to the "good" neighborhoods.  Whatever.  More candy for me.  So this year we were the grumpy house.  The party poopers.  The house with the lights turned out and no one home :(

But that doesn't mean we don't already keep a stash of sweet stuff on hand at all times- thus allowing me to whip up a batch of my go-to brownie recipe studded with some candy of choice (this round I used chopped up peanut butter snickers, reese's, cookies and cream hershey's, and 100 grand).  For some crazy reason you can't really see all the little chunks of candy studded throughout as a lot of it sort of just melted its way into the bar during baking but let me tell you...you can definitely taste it- a touch of pb here, a hint of caramel there...a very sweet brownie. 

Leftover Halloween Candy Cakey Brownies

Makes one 8x8-inch pan

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Candy of choice, chopped (as much or as little as you'd like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter and chocolate chips in small glass bowl (I used a liquid 2-cup glass pyrex) in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring with a wisk, until melted and well-blended.

In medium size bowl, using the same wisk, stir together eggs, vanilla, and brown sugar until mixed.  Stir in chocolate mixture.  Wisk in flour, baking powder, and salt until just combined.  Fold in candy pieces.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. 

Chelsea Original :) 
(not sure of the origin of the brownie recipe- I have it scratched down on a little piece of paper)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Buffalo Turkey Chili

Let's talk turkey.


Afterall, it is officially November.  The month that just so happens to center around a big, fat turkey.  The month where the hustle and bustle begin.  The month where maybe, just mayyyybe, the cold weather will finally set in (yea, it's 90 here today).  The month where Christmas trees will go up, pies will be made, and holiday travel plans will be arranged.  Yea....it's gonna be a busy month.

So in the midst of all that craziness, tuck this recipe away in your arsenal to pull out for a quick, easy, and delicious meal on a cold and busy night.  Ok that last sentence didn't do this chili justice.  Let me tell you just how good this chili is.  It is sooo good, that while eating it for dinner, Nathan actually stopped mid-bite to say "wow, this is good".  This NEVER happens people.  The majority of the time while eating dinner I will eventually prompt "how is it?" for fear that he is simply avoiding commenting on what he deems to be a disgusting meal and secretly forcing it down his throat.  So to get a non-prompted, mid-bite compliment is earth shattering.  (p.s. he also text me the next day at work asking if we had any leftover.  Big. Fat. No.  We polished that sucker off.)

Buffalo Turkey Chili

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

1/2 pound ground turkey
1/2 tablespoon oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, sliced
1/4 cup carrots, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup beer or chicken broth
1/2 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Pinch cayenne
1/4 cup hot sauce (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Crumbled blue cheese. cheddar cheese, and cilantro, for topping

Cook the turkey in a large pan over medium heat and set aside.  Heat the oil in the pan, add the onions, celery and carrots and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes.  Add the garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about a minute.  Add the beer or broth and deglaze the pan.  Add turkey, tomatoes, paprika, oregano, cayenne and hot sauce and simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve topped with crumbled blue cheese, cheddar, and cilantro to taste.

Adapted from Closet Cooking.



Monday, October 29, 2012

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes with Pumpkin Pie Frosting

I'm a genius.


Let's reminisce.  So remember how I mentioned that chocolate and pumpkin are basically a match made in heaven?  And remember how my parents came into town last weekend for a visit?  Well my mom knows me well because she brought me a gift: some cupcake liners (it's the little things).  This prompted a mission: What can I do with these adorable liners before Halloween escapes me and turkeys and Christmas trees are in full swing? 

Hmmmm....

I must preface what I'm about to tell you by saying that I am a FROM SCRATCH baker.  Meaning I don't really do the whole box cake mix thing [which is odd because #1: I currently have 5 (yes FIVE, no lie) boxes of cake mix on my baking shelf in the pantry because for some reason I have this weird obsession with buying anything that I feel will be the base of some new and fabulous creation.  And because I have the Cake Doctor cookbook which has some pretty fabulous ideas.  And because, quite frankly, it's cheap.  And #2: I basically ate my weight in pillsbury confetti cake the summer of my senior year in college.  (what can I say- it made the perfect late night after the bar food- seriously people).  I need to create a from-scratch version of this sprinkle-filled cake.  Consider it added to The List.]

Ok, so in short, yes.  This is a cake using The Box.  Some of you may be happy to hear this, some of you may not.  But let me inform you that this is the recipe of my favorite chocolate cake recipe EVER.  And I'm a white cake person at heart; however, for some crazy reason this cake recipe is SOOO good that I actually ask my sister to make it for me in bundt cake form for my birthday every year (p.s. this is her recipe so give her a big fat thanks).  Not white cake, not confetti cake, not cookie cake- I want chocolate cake.  From a box.  It's that good. 

And chocolate cake topped with pumpkin pie?  Well, does this really sound like a bad idea to you?  I didn't think so.  Like I said...I'm a genius.


Triple Chocolate Cupcakes with Pumpkin Pie Frosting

For the cake:

Makes 26 cupcakes (or fills one bundt pan)

1 box Devil's Food Cake Mix
1 (3.4 ounce) box sugar-free instant chocolate pudding mix (regular is fine too)
1 (3.4 ounce) box sugar-free instant white chocolate pudding mix (regular is fine too)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend cake mix and puddings until combined.  Add in eggs, water and applesauce and mix until moistened (at medium speed for 2 minutes).  Fold in chocolate chips.   

Divide batter into 26 prepared cupcake tins.  Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool completely before topping with Pumpkin Pie Frosting.

**For a bundt pan, bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

For the frosting:

This is basically pumpkin pie without the crust so if you already happen to have a pumpkin pie on hand, you can either scoop the pie filling out of the crust or blend the crust into the frosting.

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin (pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a large bowl, beat eggs.  Stir in sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.  Mix in pumpkin.  Stir in evaporated milk. 

Pour into lightly greased 9-inch pie plate (no crust needed).  Bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out dry.  Remove from oven and leave on counter for two hours before use.

**The pie will pipe better if you put it in a large mixing bowl and beat it for about thirty seconds to evenly distribute any moisture before loading it into your pastry bag.  

Cake Adapted from my sister, Melissa.
Frosting Adapted from Cupcake Project.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mexican Lasagna

I'm a list maker.


Like a REALLY big list maker.  I have lists for everything:  things I need from the grocery store, things I need to do today, things I need to do this week, meals/treats I plan to make/bake this week, meals/treats I plan to make/bake this season, meals/treats I plan to make/bake next season etc., things I need to look up on the internet, things I need to return, things I need to buy, things I plan to buy others for birthday/Christmas, things I need to bring/do/get next time I visit my family, I think you get the picture. 

It's sad, I know- it's the nerd in me.  Lists are coming out of my ears.  What can I say...I'm an organizer.  And I lovelovelove crossing stuff off my list.  Sometimes (don't judge me here, you know you've done it too!), but sometimes I will even write something on my list after I've already done it for the mere satisfaction of crossing it off.  Ahhhhh best feeling in the world.  Well, actually, the best feeling in the world was probably the moment Nathan proposed to me- completely out of the blue in the middle of a ski slope- let me tell you girls...if you've not yet been proposed to it's the most incredible situation in the world.  The movies don't do it justice.  They just don't captivate what goes on inside a girls body and mind when her boyfriend finally gets down on one knee.  Never have I shook my head yes and no at the same time (no this can't be happening, yes I will marry you!) while simultaneously laughing and crying.  Ok, I'm officially rambling,

So, yeah.  Lists.  Lasagna was on one of my lists- my kitchen bucket list- and now I can cross that sucker off.  Well, kinda.  You see, while this one was fun to make and had that kicked up mexican flare, I do still intend to make a traditional italian version soon.  But in the meantime, this will definitely suffice.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Bread

aka fall wrapped up in a little tiny loaf


We had some company over the weekend.  And I thought I'd make a little somethin' somethin' for breakfast.  That's where this bread came in. 

You see, I contemplated picking up a loaf of pumpkin chocolate chip bread at work for our special guests; however, my parents are...how should I say this...classy.  Meaning they don't do chocolate for breakfast.  Maybe traditional would be a better word...(But don't get me wrong.  They know a good thing when they hear it.  Afterall, it was my mom who ordered us all a warm piece of cinnamon bread pudding with whisky sauce on Friday night.  Comfort food at its finest.) 

Anywho, that classiness/traditionalness (new word?) actually worked in everyone's favor.  As a result, I came up with this bread: a moist pumpkin loaf studded with red cranberries and cinnamon-sugar tossed apples.  Autumn in your mouth, really. 


Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 cup pumpkin puree (about half of a 15-ounce can)

1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 apple, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt; set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together eggs, 1 cup sugar, vegetable oil, water, and pumpkin puree until smooth. Gradually add in dry ingredients, whisking until just combined.

In small bowl combine cinnamon and sugar.  Toss with chopped apples.  Fold apples and cranberries into pumpkin mixture.  Spread evenly into prepared 9x5-inch loaf pan. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Cool loaf in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in fridge for 3-4 days.

Adapted from Erin Cooks.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cinnamon Apple Cake

I'm setting a record.


I verrrrrrrrry rarely make the same recipe more than once.  There are just too many goodies flooding the web and recipes sitting in the cookbooks in my kitchen and ideas floating through my head with potential to become an edible creation.  But I have been on a kick lately to share all of my tried and true favorites with you.  First my favorite banana bread, then the pumpkin cookies, followed by my go-to cornbread.  This here cake makes number four.  (btw this means it's delicious).

Now despite the fact that I have made this cake on a couple of other occasions, I had issues this time around.  So let me warn you: read the recipe ALL the way through.  Seriously.  Maybe it was just me but I had some major problems with the sugar.  (It gets divided and used in three different parts of the process- first in the batter, then tossed with the apples, then sprinkled on top).  I could not wrap my head around it for some reason and added too much cinnamon here/not enough sugar there...ugh!  Whatever.  It still turned out great and was as moist as I remember, so in the end...I win.

Oh, and as a favor to you I'm rewriting the recipe and directions so it's easier to follow.  You're welcome.

Cinnamon Apple Cake

Makes one 8x8-inch cake

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup margarine, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
large egg
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large chopped and peeled apple (I used granny smith)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat sugar, brown sugar, margarine, and cream cheese at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs and vanilla, beating until mixed. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

Combine 1/8 cup sugar and cinnamon. Combine 1 tablespoon cinnamon mixture and apple in a bowl, and stir apple mixture into batter. Pour batter into an 8-inch square pan coated with cooking spray, and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack.

Adapted from Cooking Light.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pink Cranberry Muffins...For A Cause

I heart pink.


And creating something pink that's for a good cause?...Well, that's even better.

The Beantown Baker is hosting the 5th Annual Power of Pink Challenge in which she is encouraging readers, bakers and bloggers everywhere to make something pink during the month of October to raise Breast Cancer Awareness.  Props to her! 

Breast Cancer has shown its ugly face in a few close family members of mine and, sadly, even taken a life.  So when I heard about this challenge I was on board.  

I knew immediately I had to use cranberries- they're starting to make their appearance this season and I was itching to break into a bag.  Instead of a traditional cranberry orange muffin, however, I chose to do a cranberry cranberry muffin (I subbed in cranberry juice for the orange) and added just a touch of pink food coloring to amp up the...pinkness.  The result: a tender, sugar-dusted sweet muffin with a dose of tart cranberries that pop in your mouth.  Yum.

If you are interested in participating in the Power of Pink Challenge, check out the Beantown Baker's Rules and get creative in the kitchen for a good cause!

Cranberry Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup cranberry juice
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 cup hot water
Pink food coloring (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
2 tablespoons sugar

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In another small bowl, beat egg.  Add cranberry juice, butter, and hot water.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened.  Add a touch of pink food coloring, if you choose, and mix until blended.  Fold in cranberries.

Divide batter among 12 greased or lined muffin cups.  Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon sugar over each muffin.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Adapted from AllRecipes*.

*I found and printed this recipe a couple of years ago and can no longer find the link on AllRecipes.