Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cheesy Potato & Ham Soup

When my husband and I were first married I made him a recipe that has become one of his favorites. One that he repeatedly asks for whether it's 70 degrees or 0 degrees. One that I finally taught him how to make so he could make it on his own when I traveled and wasn't home to make dinner. Now, he has it pretty much any time I'm out of town for work and I rarely make it anymore. Which has made me very happy. Because five years later, I am tired of this recipe.

To give you a little background, when we first got married we, like many couples, had very little extra money. We didn't eat anything fancy. Or expensive. Or complicated. I believe I had only one or two cookbooks at that time (that mostly sat unopened on top of the fridge) and hadn't yet discovered that I loved to cook and bake. Most recipes I made my mom taught me.


One winter day when we needed a meal that was inexpensive I remembered a meal my mom made for my brother and I growing up. It was potato soup. I didn't know if she even still made it, but I knew she'd easily remember how to make it. I called her up for the recipe and headed to the grocery store to pick up the few ingredients: a can of potatoes, cream of mushroom soup and hot dogs. We already had the milk. I whipped it up in no time, added a few seasonings and served it to my new husband. He LOVED it. Hot dogs + potatoes = heaven for him. It was the perfect meal to add into the rotation for the first few winters of our marriage. It cost very little to make, and it tasted good on a cold, winter day.

However, five years down the road my taste buds eventually have evolved. I am not a hot dog fan. And I was never a fan of those canned potatoes. They sometimes would taste rubbery. But my husband still asks for potato soup many times when I ask what he wants for dinner. Especially if it's raining out or when the weather is starting to turn chilly. (Of course he'll also ask for it when it's 80 degrees outside.) I knew I had to find a substitute for his precious potato soup.

And today was the day. Our weather here in Minnesota has been really warm the last few weeks, then it all of the sudden turned on us and our weather is only in the 40s. I knew I wanted soup and was planning on making tortilla soup when my husband asked if I were ever going to make him potato soup again. He had this sad, pitiful tone to his voice that I never make his "favorite" meal anymore.

I felt kind of bad that I hadn't made it in a while so I started doing some research on potato soup. There are so many different variations of potato soup out there that I took parts from a few different recipes and made something that turned out surprisingly very delicious. The best part? No hot dogs or canned potatoes!

This recipe is, of course, much more involved than my other recipe. Because, well, it involves peeling and chopping up potatoes, chopping celery and shredding cheese! But otherwise, it's the same basic concept. Just with fresh (read: not canned) ingredients. The hot dogs are left out (thank goodness!) and ham is used as the meat. It has cheese, lots of flavor and is perfect to warm up with on a chilly day. And it's still an economical meal! I can see this as being a great soup to whip up with leftover ham after the holidays.

I have to say that this is way better than the canned potatoes, cream of mushroom and hot dog soup. Although I am grateful for my mom teaching me the recipe, and I know that even if I had this new recipe five years ago, I still would have made her version. It was exactly the perfect recipe for that time in our lives. I am happy that I took her very basic recipe and turned it into an amazing meal. I am sure that my husband will still make potato soup the original way many times this winter, but any time he asks me for potato soup I'll be using this new recipe!

Cheesy Potato & Ham Soup
Makes 3 to 4 servings
Ingredients:

2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
1/3 cup celery
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked ham, cubed
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 to 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (or whatever cheese you love; I used Cheddar Jack)
Red Pepper flakes (to taste), optional
Seasoning Salt to taste, optional

How To:
In a large stockpot, combine potatoes, celery, ham and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender. Turn heat to low and cover.
In a separate pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant making sure not to burn. Add flour whisking briskly. Whisk until thick. Slowly add milk while continuing to whisk making sure lumps don't form. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until thick. Stir in cheese until completely melted.
Add cheese mixture to potatoes and ham.
Add any red pepper flakes and seasoning salt to taste (if using for a little extra spice and flavor).
Cook until thoroughly heated through.
Serve, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Owl Cake Pops and Meeting Bakerella

HELLO!! I have been gone from my blog for way too long. I apologize for being such a bad blogger. I am back and will keep coming back with new posts! I just need to keep reading other blogs for inspiration in baking, fashion, photography and all other things cute and sweet.

Today's inspiration co
mes from meeting one of my blogging idols over the weekend ... Bakerella!! She was at Williams-Sonoma in Edina and I went to listen to her FAQ session and get my cookbook signed. I loved meeting her! She is so pretty and such a delight. She had great tips on cake pop making and showed off her favorite tools to use. So far my favorite tip she gave is to mix candy coating with vegetable oil to thin it out. I've tried shortening and all I get are clumps of shortening in my chocolate. The oil trick works like a charm!

Look at how pretty she is!


And here is my cookbook signed. Exciting!


Meeting her inspired me to make cake pops. I've always been attracted to her owl cake pops on the cover of the book, and with Halloween just around the corner I decided to make those.

I started with my favorite cake - root beer - and mixed it with chocolate frosting. I shaped the owls starting with a triangle shape, then stuck chocolat
e chips on the top for the ears. At this point I was starting to lose hope. They just looked like triangles with ears! But I kept going.

I next dipped the pops into the chocolate almond bark. Because I didn't have a styrofoam block, I stuck the popsicle stick in the top of the owl and flattened out the bottom so they would stand up. The eyes are actually made with Smarties and I filled in the inside of the eyes with a chocolate candy pen. Bakerella uses candy necklace pieces, but I couldn't find any of those at any of my local stores. The noses and feet are sprinkles, and the wings are
mini M&Ms. I attached them all with just small dabs of the candy coating. And in the end, I got adorable owl cake pops.

How cute are these??!!


I am in LOVE with these owl cake pops. They turned out so much better than I even imagined I could do. Yes, they take awhile to make. However, I think the time spent is worth it for how cute they look. And for how delicious they taste. I love them!!

Here's another pictur
e I took last night with my iPhone. (Please excuse the quality. It was cloudy and raining.)


Here is the link to Bakerella's site to show you how to make cake pops.
Here is the link to the root beer cake recipe.

Now I'll have to fig
ure out what to make next. I see Bakerella has turkey cake pops and lots of different cake pops for Christmas. Like snowmen. So many choices!

Until next time~

Monday, August 1, 2011

Wanted: Fashion

There has been periods in my life that I have loved fashion - have loved looking at clothes, going shopping and getting dressed up. Lately though, I have been anti-fashion. Not as in hating fashion, but just not really participating. I haven't enjoyed shopping at all and have been buying for comfort rather than looking cute. I've been sticking to sweats, t-shirts and jeans over cute dresses and tops. I blame this partly on working from home. What's the point of dressing up if the only people who are going to see me are my dogs and my husband? They don't care how I dress. (Yes, I just referred to my dogs as people. And no, my husband does not care how I dress ... well, at least that's what he claims.)

However, I recently have been drawn back to the fashion world. I attribute this new found fashion love to these website: Sterling Style and The Glitter Guide. I love how Taylor has a "look" and "style" about her every day, and how she always looks put together. Through her site, I have been drawn to numerous clothing sites with clothes that I feel the need to add to my wardrobe. I want a style, and a look again. One that doesn't involve sweatpants.

Here are some of my favorite pieces that I'm currently coveting:
Truly Yours Strawberry Dress from Mod Cl
oth (this site has so many clothes I want - I love the vintage vibe they have!)


Jump Romper from Hallelu


Pixel Impressionist Shift from Anthropologie


Michael Stars Halter Maxi at Bloomingdale's


And my favorite (if I won the lottery or something!) is the
Flaubert Floral Print Silk-Crepe Maxi Dress at Net-a-Porter


Now if only I had a reason to buy them and a place to wear them!

Until next time~

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cupcakes for Sale!

So I finally got an order from a non-family and paying customer for my cupcakes. I'm so excited!! I would love to make cupcakes (or cakes or cake bites or cupcake bites) for people and make a little money on the side while being able to do something I love. I love to bake, and I would love to bake for other people!

My friend Melissa (Hi Melissa!) contacted me awhile back and asked me if I would be interested in making cupcakes for a bridal shower she is hosting in August. I of course said YES right away. Next weekend I will be delivering her 2 dozen of my lovely cupcakes for her to bring to the party and have strangers eat and, I hope, love.

This week I am doing taste tests to determine the best cake re
cipes to use. Originally she had asked for raspberry cupcakes with vanilla buttercream. My favorite cake! But then I found out the theme of the party is "Mimosa". After hearing that I knew I had to figure out how to make a mimosa cupcake. And I did!!

I found a recipe for champagne cupcakes and figured I could exchange part of the liquid for freshly squeezed orange juice and also added orange zest to make the cake taste like a mimosa. I went and talked with the knowledgeable, and very friendly, people at the liquor store to find the best champagne to use and the end result is a delicious cupcake. And it smelled so good while baking!


For the frosting I started with my favorite buttercream recipe and subbed champagne and more orange juice for the milk. It took a little playing around to get the right spreadable consistency, but the taste is amazing. Just what I was hoping for!



So far I've had two of my neighbors taste test them, and they loved them! I'm excited to make them again next week for Melissa and for the bridal shower she is hosting. Next up I will be taste testing the raspberry cupcake to make sure the cake is perfect. Tough job, I know! I hope to make Melissa one happy customer with scrumptious mimosa and raspberry cupcakes.

Recipes will come with pictures of the final project after I'm all done. I'm planning on doing the cupcakes all pretty with cupcake wrappers, better swirls of frosting and make them sparkle with glitter (if I can find some).

And if you want to order cupcakes or anything from me (and live within an easy delivery area for me) send me a message and I'll give you a quote. I would love to bake for you as well!

Until next time,

Friday, June 17, 2011

Random Friday Thoughts

Today has been a tiring day. I just feel drained. So, in lieu of a baking post, here are some of my few favorite shots from my phone camera over this last week:

Pink and white carnations ... I love them all bunched together in a simple glass.


My tomato plant is actually growing tomatoes! I picked up a patio tomato plant on the spur of the moment while flower shopping to help feed my love of tomatoes and it might actually produce some. Hopefully it will be a success story!


My new hat. Fedoras are so "in" right now that I didn't want to succumb to the trend. However, I loved this hat on me and caved into trying to be cool! I picked it up at J. Crew. I deemed it as a necessity purchase since I have to protect my pretty new hair color from the sun!


And that brings me to my last picture. I dyed my hair red!! I've been light blonde forever, but decided I needed a change. So red it is!! I love it. I feel as if I am meant to be a redhead. However, I'm afraid of the upkeep and am so afraid it's going to fade to orange. It is already starting to fade, but the salon I got it done at will redo it for me since it's only been a week and a half free of charge. Thank goodness because I don't want to go back to blonde; I love, love, love the red!


I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend! Until next time~

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Marshmallow Chocolate Cookies

I love cookies. They are one of my favorite things to bake, and one of my favorite sweets to snack on. I love them more than I love reality TV. And that's saying a lot since I'm pretty sure most of my shows on our DVR are a mixture of reality TV - Real Housewives, the Kardashians, Tori Spelling, and on and on. But given an ultimatum, I would choose cookies over reality TV.

The best part of cookies is finding new recipes. Moving away from the choices that I grew up with - chocolate chip, M&M, sugar cookies - and finding new tastes. Most of which are still at the core the same cookies I grew up with, but with more ingredients!

These cookies are based on a recipe I saw on Tasty Kitchen. The recipe is for Campfire Cookies (s'more cookies). I thought they looked good. However, I only like graham crackers in certain things - real s'mores, as a pie crush or with frosting smushed in the middle of two crackers. I am not a huge fan of crushed up graham crackers in my cookies. So, I redid these for my own tastes. I came up with a chocolate cookie with marshmallow creme, semi-sweet chocolate chips and white chocolate chips.

The result? Delicious cookies!! I wish I would have used more marshmallow creme though. You can barely taste it in some of the cookies. (Did you know I eat marshmallow creme by the spoonful? I love this stuff! I don't eat regular, plain marshmallows though. But the creme is the best!!) Another way I think I could get the marshmallow to stand out more is not mix it so well into the batter. Put that in last and kind of cut it in rather than stirring. But, for the first time making these, I am happy with them!!

Check out the original recipe here.
My changes: no graham cracker, I used over half a container of marshmallow creme and used both semi-sweet and white chocolate chips. I also suggest creaming the butter and sugar, then adding in the eggs and vanilla beating well before adding the flour/ cocoa mixture.

Just to warn you, these cookies stay very moist. We've had some rather warm weather here in Minnesota the last few days and the cookies are all sticking together. If you're going to bring them to a picnic or something I would suggest keeping them in the fridge prior to help with the sticking issue. They still taste good though even when they fall apart!

Enjoy! Until next time~

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Photography: My Baby

I snapped this photo of Mercedes a couple of weeks ago just after she had gone to the groomer. She was laying up in the window "seat" (aka a bench I had and put a blanket on top of then placed it in the bay windows) enjoying the sunshine. This has since become one of my favorite photos of her. I love her expression and the way the sun is shining in the window.

In case you want to know, I shot the photo with my Nikon D3000. I edited the photo in Photoshop Elements and also ran two actions from the Pioneer Woman's action sets - colorized and sunshine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hostess Inspired Cupcakes

When I look back to why I haven't posted anything in awhile, I can't pinpoint just one thing. Here is a list of many small reasons I have come up with:
  1. I haven't baked much fun things in the past month. (I've been sticking to making chocolate chip cookies and chocolate pudding cookies - too boring to post!)
  2. I had a mole removed from my leg which in turn got infected to the point where I couldn't walk. (Yes, I thought this would be a simple procedure, but it turned into my own personal nightmare.)
  3. I couldn't go to the gym or even do much walking around at all so I was feeling down and depressed.
  4. My neighbor keeps sitting outside in her itsy bitsy bikini and I keep thinking that I will never fit into a swimsuit if I keep baking. Of course I never have looked like that. But then these thoughts go through my head: My husband will probably enjoy having her as a neighbor. Does he wish I looked more like that? I need to stop baking and go to the gym. But I like baking. I like food.
  5. I've been neglecting my camera. Seriously, I need to get out and take some photos!!
But anyhow. ENOUGH WITH THE EXCUSES!!! I am back. And with a goal of blogging once a week!

T
o kick off my rediscovered love of baking then blogging about it, I thought I would try a recipe that has been on my "must bake" list for quite some time - Hostess Cupcakes! I loved these things as a kid. I would tear off the top and eat it first, and save the cream filled chocolate for last. The always came in packs of two and I loved being able to save one for after school. The days that my mom packed those in my lunch were the best days!!

I've seen many recipes posted on many different blogs. All with the same end result - looking like a Hostess cupcake. After reading through all of the reviews I decided to combine a couple of recipes to make what I hoped would be the perfect Hostess cupcake.

My cake recipe came from one of my cooking heroes and whose blog I log onto almost daily, Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman. Seriously, would I have found my love for cooking and baking if it weren't for stumbling upon her blog one day?? I used her Chocolate Sheet Cake recipe, which made 24 cupcakes. And it is one of the best chocolate cake recipes I have made. Although I still have yet to actually make it into a sheet cake!!

The filling recipe came from Bake at 350. Her
cupcakes were so dang cute. And everyone who made them had rave reviews so I knew it was the way to go. Check out her version of these cupcakes and her recipe here. And prepare to be jealous of how awesome they look!!! Mine don't come anywhere near as cute as hers, but at least they taste good!! I filled the cupcakes the same way Bridget did - I cut a small X on each cupcake and used a piping bake fitted with a star tip and stuck it inside the X area filling until the cupcake felt heavy. Be careful not to overfill; they will start to crack!

The frosting recipe is a basic chocolate ganache recipe. There is one on the Bake at 350 post as well. I didn't follow that recipe exactly. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and only 1 teaspoon of vanilla, but otherwise it's the same process. I dipped my cupcakes in the chocolate when it was slightly cool. I had enough frosting to dip each cupcake twice. I wanted that nice glossy look to them.

I put my icing swirls on with white candy melts. I melted them in a container and just swirled them on to resemble the Hostess cupcakes. I thought this was easier than making another batch of icing!!

I love these cupcakes. They look super cute (exactly like Hostess cupcakes), and they taste super delicious (even BETTER than Hostess cupcakes!!). I made them to bring with to our Memorial Day get together a
t my parents' house and everyone tried one, and my dad had two so they were definitely a hit! They take a little bit more time than a regular cupcake, but are oh so worth it. I just love how they look like you just unwrapped the Hostess cupcakes and put them on a plate. However, once you taste them, you know they're homemade because they taste so, so much better!










Once again, here is where to find the recipes I used:
Chocolate Sheet Cake Recipe (makes 24 cupcakes)
Filling Recipe and Inspiration Recipe

Now I just need to figure out how to make those Sno Ball Hostess snacks. Those pink coconut balls. I loved those even more than their cupcakes!!

Until next time ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fudge Oreo Cookies

Spring is being a tease here in Minnesota. For one week we had lovely weather in the 50s. All the snow melted. The dogs could go for long walks. My flip flops even made an appearance. However, it was very short lived. No sooner after we had gotten excited for spring the weather took a turn. We got six inches of snow and temps in the teens. The boots were back out and I was glad that I didn't put my winter jacket away. Temps have remained just around freezing for the past week so barely any of the snow has melted, and temps will get back to normal this weekend, but then fall back below freezing again next week. I feel like spring has forgotten us!


Mercedes though
has found a way to combat the cold. Just curl up in the sun and take a nap dreaming of warmer weather!










And although I would love to join her in nap time, I decided to warm up the house by trying a new cookie recipe. I
knew it was going to be good. It called for butter, cocoa powder, chocolate chips and crushed up Oreos. A cookie made from another cookie could only mean an even better cookie!

I found the recipe reading one of my new favorite blogs, How Sweet It Is. (Check ou
t the recipe here and read through her blog - it's great!) Her pictures of the dough were what got me. It looked so yummy I knew I had to make them right away. And I'm glad I did! The dough tasted so good I wanted to eat many spoonfuls. But, I managed to bake most of the dough with only a few small (relatively) spoonfuls of dough gone missing in my stomach.

Don't they just look delicious with those chunks of Oreos running through them? YUM! I highly recommend running out to the store today and buying Oreos to make these. You will not regret it! Just mix them up when no one else is home so they can't see you inhaling the dough!










Fudge Oreo Cookies

Original recipe by Jessica at How Sweet It Is

Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet baking chunks)
1 cup crushed Oreos (I used almost half a package of Double Stuffed Oreos which is probably more than a cup!)

How To:
Cream butter and sugar well. Mix in the vanilla. Add the eggs and beat thoroughly until light and fluffy.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add slowly to the butter mixture and mix until well combined. Dough will get thick and sticky.
Gently mix in chocolate chips and crushed Oreos with spoon.
Refrigerate dough for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Drop dough by spoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with slipmats or parchment paper.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until set.
Let cool on cookie sheet for a couple of minutes then move to cooling rack to cool completely.

Make about 3 dozen delicious cookies!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Paula Deen's Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

Last week I had a day that has been bothering me all this week. It was a bad day with fake compliments, little digs at my lifestyle and even some pushing of my baby girl who luckily wasn't hurt. I don't think it's okay for someone to come into my home and insult it, where I choose to live and push my dog. I understand that suburban, townhome living isn't for everyone. But that doesn't mean you can go into someone's house and say "why would anyone want to live here? I don't understand why anyone would choose to live in a townhouse." Hmmm... well we did since you're in our house and maybe don't insult it because you're actually insulting us. And, if you think you can push my dog off her chair or hit her when she's jumping up on her chair, you have another thing coming and one thing I can't forget is someone hurting my dog, my baby.

In other words, I had a very stressful day that has been festering in my mind. So, in order to get my mind on something else and to relieve a little stress, I decided to bake. Baking does wonderful things for my stress level!

I knew I really wanted cookies. I recently made chocolate chip cookies so I knew I needed something different. This brought me to a picture I remembered seeing on Paula Deen's website for her Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies. They looked so good and had great reviews that I knew they were the perfect cookie. And lots of chocolate always makes me feel better!

These cookies are so, so good. I can't recommend them enough. I love the fact that it's just a few ingredients to make these heavenly cookies. They're so soft and chewy, and delicious. I'm looking forward to keeping this recipe around for a long time and making them many more times to try other cake flavors!! Try it. You won't be disappointed!

Oh, and if you happen to ever come visit me, please don't insult my home. I love living somewhere where I don't have to shovel snow or mow the lawn. I love having friendly neighbors that I can actually visit with and borrow a cup of sugar from (although I've never done this, I know I could!). And please, I'm begging you, do not push or hit my dog. Ever. If you don't do those things, you are welcome to come visit me!!

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies
Makes 2 dozen cookies, original recipe found here
Ingredients:
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 stick of butter at room temperature
1 egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 box moist chocolate cake mix (I used triple chocolate fudge, but any flavor would work)
Powdered Sugar for rolling in
Chocolate Stars for topping (completely optional and kind of unnecessary because they are THAT good!)

How To:
In a large bowl with your electric mixer or in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
Beat in the egg.
Beat in the vanilla.
Beat in the cake mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure it's completely mixed.
Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours so the dough is easy to handle.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Roll the chilled dough into tablespoon sized balls. Roll the ball in the powdered sugar.
Place the sugar covered ball on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.
Bake for 12 minutes.
Remove from oven, apply chocolate stars if using, and let cool on pan for 2 minutes. Then remove to wire rack to cool completely.
The cookies will be soft and gooey. (Yum!)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Mom!

This past weekend we celebrated my mom's birthday at our house. It was just a small affair with my husband and me, my brother and his girlfriend, and of course my mom and dad. I made a very delicious cake for her, but forgot to bring down my camera and take a picture of it. Luckily, I did take a picture of it with my camera phone so at least I have that!

The cake is very pink, pretty and girlie ... exactly what I thought my mom deserved on her birthday! Plus it gave me an excuse to make one of MY favorite frostings: raspberry buttercream. I've used it as a filling before, but never as the whole cake's frosting. And the verdict? It's very, very good!

The cake itself was a vanilla cake with a hint of lemon by using lemon zest. My mom loves lemon cake, but no one else is very fond of it so I thought just a hint of lemon would please her, but not make anyone else turn away in disgust. Truthfully, I think I should have used more lemon. However, I had an issue with my "zester" (which was actually just a box cheese grater that did NOT work and had to send my husband to Target to buy an actual zester) and only had one lemon left to zest after I mangled the first one. Plus, I didn't include the lemon extract the recipe calls for because I didn't want the lemon to be too powerful. Next time I'll do more lemon zest for sure. But the cake was very light, very moist and very good. The color was pure white (pretend you can see that in the picture!) and looked very pretty against the pretty pink frosting.

Mom, I hope you enjoyed your birthday cake. Next year I'll perfect the amount of lemon in it so you can actually taste it. Happy Birthday Mom!! You're the best!

Vanilla Lemon Cake with Raspberry Buttercream
(original recipe found here at My Baking Addiction)

Cake Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
lemon zest from two lemons
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract (I left this out, which is why I was missing some lemon flavor)

Cake How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9 inch round pans with baking cooking spray.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in your mixer/ large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extracts, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter evenly between the two round pans.
Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch.

Let cool in pans 10 minutes than carefully remove. Let cool completely on wire rack or parchment paper.

Raspberry Buttercream Ingredients
1/2 cup raspberries (blended into a puree and pushed through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds)
1 stick salted butter – room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter – room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of raspberry extract
1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar (I probably didn't use this much as I like to add until I like the taste so it doesn't get too sweet)
2-4 tablespoons very cold milk (add until you reach desired consistency)

Buttercream How To:
Cream the butter and shortening in the bowl of an electric or stand mixer. Add extracts and raspberry puree and combine well.
Begin adding in the sugar and mixing thoroughly after each addition. After all of the sugar has been added and mixed thoroughly, begin adding the very cold milk… one tablespoon at a time, combining very well after each addition (mixer on medium-high to high speed) until you reach the desired consistency.

Frost the cake as desired and enjoy!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beer Bread

I love chicken chili. Especially when the temps dip below freezing with wind chills way below zero. And here in Minnesota with long, cold winters I've had many chances to make different versions of chili! Over the past year or so I have perfected my perfect chili recipe with chicken, great Northern beans, fresh red pepper, chicken stock, garlic and lots of spice. What I've struggled with is what to serve with the chili.

Typically I've seen cornbread served with chili, but I've never been much of a fan of cornbread. Actually, I shouldn't really say that. I only remember trying it a few times as a child so I guess I was just not a fan of that version I tried in my childhood. Lately I've been trying new things that I said I hated as a child, and to my surprise have liked quite a few of them.
(Sorry Mom for being such a picky eater!) Like pineapple. I always thought I hated it, but after trying a fresh pineapple slice I actually quite liked it. Maybe some day I'll be adventurous and try cornbread again to see what I think of it now.

To go with my chili, I've made cheddar biscuits, garlic breadsticks and cheesy bread, but nothing seemed just right. Then I saw a recipe for beer bread. That seemed perfect to me. I think beer goes very well with chili and the slightly sweet taste of the bread would help balance my sometimes overzealous spice in the chili.

The best part is that beer bread is super simple to make - just five ingredients. Who knew with all of those pre-made mixes you see everywhere? I assumed it would be lots of ingredients and time consuming. Sometimes those packaged mixes can be very deceiving! I found my recipe here on My Baking Addiction (love that site!) and will never try a packaged mix!

The next time you're whipping up your favorite batch of chili or just need a good side of bread, try this recipe out. It's wonderful!


Beer Bread
Original recipe posted by Jamie at the My Baking Addiction blog

Ingredients

3 cups self rising flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 oz beer
2 tablespoons butter, melted


How To

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (I use a 9x5 loaf pan, but 8x4 will work as well).
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and beer. Stir to completely combine. The mixture will be very sticky.

Take the dough and spread it evenly in the buttered loaf pan.
Place in preheated oven and bake for 50 minutes.
After the 50 minutes, remove from oven and pour the 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the top. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven. Let cool for about 15 to 20 minutes and carefully remove from pan.

Best served warm.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seven Things I've Learned Today

1. Embrace 50 degree days in February to their full potential. Run outside in a t-shirt. Wear a sundress and flip flops. Drive with the sunroof wide open. Because just a few days later Mother Nature will surely dump over a foot of snow on you. And also turn bitterly cold again. You will then forget that spring is just around the corner and go back into hibernation.

2. Even though these faces are incredibly cute and mos
t of the time I just want to cuddle their furry bodies, they can be very annoying when Mother Nature is dumping over a foot of snow on you and no one can escape the house. Taking them for a walk is not an option so they are constantly under my feet. But I still love them (although today I constantly have to remind myself of that).
3. I think becoming a one car family might be a ridiculous idea to save money. I realize that only having one car will most likely not affect my husband who will drive it every day. No wonder he agreed to it so quickly. However, I will be the only one affected by it. I will never be able to escape without a car. I can not run to the grocery store if I need eggs or milk. Or run up to Pier 1 because I feel the need for a new candle or pillow. If you only
have one car in your family, how do you survive??

4. I miss having dinner with my husband. We recently joined a gym (which is a GREAT thing, don't get me wrong). However, he chooses to work out after work. He works until 7 p.m., then goes to workout and doesn't get home until 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. So once again we never eat dinner together.


5. Buying a new car was fun. But I've only been able to drive it for 20 minutes so I have no clue how it drives or all of it's features (see reasons 1 and 3 why I'm not driving it). It sure is pretty though!!

6. I want an iPhone. But only for it's camera capabilities. My Blackberry takes horrible pictures that I'm embarrassed to put anywhere. However, for the sake of proving that, all of these pictures were taken with my phone with only slight editing in iPhoto.

7. If all else fails to make me happy, give me some chocolate! This weekend I made strawberry cake bites. They taste kind of like a chocolate covered strawberry. Happiness might be achieved today if I just keep eating those!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Puppy Chow Cookies

Did you know some people have never heard of puppy chow for people before? Every time I post something on my Facebook page about puppy chow someone comments about how gross it is that I'm eating my dog's food. So, just to clarify, these cookies do not in way, shape or form, contain my dog's food. Nor do I ever put my dog's food in anything that I make for people to consume. You can now relax and learn how to make these amazing cookies!

I stumbled upon this recipe back in December when I was planning my holiday baking. I wish I could still find the link to them so I can give credit to the person with this awesome idea, but I only just printed out the recipe without the link. So, whoever you are who posted this recipe on the Tasty Kitchen site, thank you very much!

Puppy chow used to be (okay, it still is!) one of my favorite snacks. It's super easy to make. Typically you just melt chocolate chips, peanut butter and some butter together and pour it over Chex cereal. You stir it gently to completely cover the cereal, then dump powered sugar on top of the chocolate/ peanut butter gooey mess of cereal you just made. You then spread it out on wax paper to dry, and enjoy. Super easy, and very kid and party friendly. And if you put it in cookie form ... magic happens!

This recipe starts with your basic peanut butter cookie recipe. You can use your favorite homemade peanut butter cookie or even one of those store bought mixes. I made mine from scratch using a new recipe and I loved them from the beginning; this will now become my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe!

Then, you melt a bag of chocolate chips and a stick of butter. (No, this is not healthy. One of the reasons why I'm joining a gym!) Take a cooled cookie and dip it in the melted chocolate, then in a bowl of powdered sugar. I chose just to dip the tops of my cookies because the cookie itself tasted so good and I thought it would get lost with all the chocolate and powdered sugar. I believe the original recipe said to dunk the whole cookie, but I'll leave that up to you to decide!

Let the chocolate set on the cookies, then enjoy. That's all there is to it. A little bit more work than normal puppy chow, but so, so worth it. I could eat these cookies all day long! Not that I recommend it unless you're running on a treadmill at the same time!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Babies

Looking through pictures today, I realized the majority of all the pictures I take are of my dogs. And why not? They're so cute! Plus they're much more photogenic than my husband or me. (Shhh ... don't tell Rod I said that!) Even when they're just sleeping I find them adorable! Actually, when they're sleeping, I find them to be the cutest, which makes total sense. When they're sleeping they're not licking the carpet, chewing on their paws or barking (unless they're dreaming of chasing squirrels). They just look so sweet and innocent, which is the exact look they're going for because it helps them get away with anything!

Mercedes is our oldest baby. She is a Maltese/ Shih Tzu mix and is 5 years of age. I love bringing her everywhere, and she loves to be with me at all times! With her tucked under my arm, I'm pretty sure I could pull of being a Beverly Hills housewife. (Yes, sometimes I dream of that ... is that wrong??)

Such a cute puppy ...


I don't think she's changed too much as she's aged though. Just gained 5 pounds is all and lost some of the gray in her coloring!


Lucky is our youngest, although he is the biggest. I notice him taking the "big brother role" on now too with Mercedes. He always "protects" her from one of the neighbor dogs! Lucky is a Cockapoo and just turned 4 a couple of weeks ago. He is happiest chasing toys around the house, and especially loves being outside in the summer chasing a tennis ball.

My favorite pictures of him are from when he was a puppy. He was the cutest puppy I've ever seen! I wish he still looked like, but his looks changed drastically as he grew. He's still cute, just not this cute furball!


And here's a few older pictures. Still cute, just more scruffy looking than that puppy!!



Hope you enjoyed seeing some pics of my babies! Get used to them ... they'll be lots more in blogs to come I'm sure!

Please excuse the quality of some of these pictures. They've been taken over the years with phone cameras, point and shoot cameras and the like. And I only became interested in photography this past year, so I didn't really pay attention to lightening or anything before.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Root Beer Cake (and Cupcake Bites)

I love making these root beer cupcake bites!! I think I've made them more often than any other flavor. Well, at least lately. This time, however, my husband picked the flavor. I wanted peppermint vanilla, but he chose root beer. So I decided to give in without any argument. It was tough, but I did it!

This time around I mixed the cake with vanilla frosting. However, I didn't notice a difference in taste by changing up the frosting. I thought it would help give it a root beer float type flavor, but it didn't make a difference. At least not to my taste buds! Then I thinned ou
t the white candy coating with some shortening so it would drip down the sides of the cupcake bottom a little bit and look like a scoop of ice cream. And, to celebrate the upcoming "holiday", I topped with heart shaped candy sprinkles. (Also, by using these I didn't have to sort through a bag of M&Ms picking out only the red ones!) I think they turned out super cute. Of course the best part is how they taste!!

With this baking experience I learned that my husband will always pick the flavor made with chocolate, where I, the self-proclaimed chocoholic, leans more toward the vanilla flavors. What's going on with that???

P.S. A great thing about cupcake bites is that th
ey're individually sized servings. Perfect when trying to be a little healthier. No need to worry about serving up a too big piece of cake! However, you still need to watch how many you eat so you don't take three at a time! ;o)

I've been asked by a few people for the cake recipe so here it is. I've actually only ev
er used it for cupcake bites, but the cake does look good when it bakes. It has a nice, moist flavor that would work well as a cake or cupcakes. You can play with frosting flavors like a vanilla whipped version or just top with ice cream to give it a root beer float like flavor. It would be so much fun for kids or any root beer lover!

Root Beer Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/06/root-beer-float-cupcakes/)

Ingredients:

2 cups root beer (OR 1 1/2 cups root beer and 1/2 cup root beer schnapps for a fuller root beer flavor - this is how I do it
)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the original recipe calls for dark chocolate, but I like regular better)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (light brown sugar works as well)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

How To:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan or two 8 inch rounds or line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners.

In a small saucepan or pot, heat the root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, mix in the vanilla extract then slowly whisk the egg/ vanilla mixture into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. (Make sure to do it slowly so you don't cook the eggs.) Gently fold the liquid into the flour mixture in the large bowl. The batter will be slightly lumpy, which is fine because you don't want to over beat and make the cake tough.

Pour batter into prepared pans or fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full and bake until a tester inserted into the center of each comes out clean. (About 17 minutes for cupcakes, or 25 for a cake.) Transfer pan(s) to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frost with your favorite frosting, ice cream or whatever floats your cake! Eat and enjoy!!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Unhappiness

Warning: This is not a baking post. It does not contain cute or yummy looking pictures. In fact, maybe it's because of baking that I'm in this mess! Consider yourself warned ....

I took pictures of my husband and I over the Christmas holiday and I can't bear to download them. I can't stand how chubby I look in those pictures! I've spent so much time baking and decorating that I guess I've forgotten to take care of myself. And now, I'm paying for it and hating the way I look.
I was hoping it was just a phase, but these last few days I hate looking in the mirror. And mirrors are kind of avoidable. At least in my life. You know since they're in both bedrooms and bathrooms. So, chubby me = unhappy me.

So, what's next? I know I need to work out. And eat those fruits and veggies more often! I've been eating so unhealthy the past few months. I don't buy myself anything to make for lunch so I end up eating a couple of cookies and an orange, or another bowl of cereal. Then I'm starving by dinner and end up pigging out. Now is the time to get it under control!! But I don't do diets. I love food too much.

There's a gym just a few minutes from my house. Thinking about checking out the fees to join that. I know I won't stay true to working out to video tapes so maybe if I'm paying for a membership I'll feel like I have to go and then it will just become habit. It's too cold to go for a walk daily so tomorrow I will FOR SURE go to the gym and inquire about membership. Hopefully I can afford it!!

I know I need to do something about being unhappy with myself. Only I can change how I look!! I love to cook and bake so I need to find a way to balance all of that with the healthy things in life.