Sunday, January 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Aunt Arlene!

A birthday cake for my "Summer Mom."

I spent many summers during my high school and college years living with my Aunt Arlene at the beach in Long Beach Island.  She has been affectionately known as my "Summer Mom" ever since.  We had dinner at her house to celebrate, and my uncle asked me to bring a chocolate cake.  I decided to to pull out the Magnolia cookbook again, and I used the Devil's Food Cake recipe and the Chocolate Buttercream recipe.  I think it turned out pretty decent.  There wasn't much left of it at the end of the night, so I'll take that as a good sign.  I wanted to keep the cake simple but pretty...

I want to use this picture as proof that the cake was straight at one point.  I slipped on some ice in my driveway and the cake slid a little bit.  By the time I got to my aunt and uncle's house, the cake was a little bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

I am going to be helping my friend with desserts for her daughter's birthday in March, and i wanted to try out some flowers with fondant.  I like the way this one turned out.  I think I might try my hand at gumpaste over the next month...

Happy Birthday, Aunt Arlene, and thanks for a great dinner, Uncle Walt!  Love you both.

Pizza Dough

Have I mentioned my bread maker around here? are probably getting sick of me mentioning my bread maker, but at least this time around, I'm using it for a different purpose.  I made homemade pizza dough in it this time.  Again, very simple to make and it made enough for a large pizza.  The recipe has a few different variations that you can use, and I chose the one with whole wheat flour and honey.  Quite delicious if I say so myself....

I want to learn to strech pizza dough like a pro.  Mine always look lopsided. 

The dough had a great color and texture.

I had some leftover mozzarella, asiago and parmesan cheeses.  I shredded them all up to make a delicious Three Cheese Pizza.  I will definitely be making this in the future!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yet another snow day...

Insane amounts of snow...

I don't think anyone expected that we would get 16 inches of snow last night.  Craziness.  After shoveling out all morning, Matt FINALLY got to work around noon.  I, however, have the day off again!  I decided to flip through my Magnolia Bakery cookbook to find a good cookie recipe.  I never got to making Oatmeal Raisin cookies at Christmas since I was sick and didn't want to contaminate anyone.  So, when I found a recipe for Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Cookies, I couldn't resist.  I love this cookbook because all of the recipes are simple and so fresh tasting.  The peanut butter chips add an unexpected twist to the traditional oatmeal cookies. 

The batch made just enough for me to keep some and take some over to my neighbors who helped us shovel out this morning.

The recipe called for 1 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract.  I used 1 tsp and added 1/2 tsp of vanilla bean paste instead.  If you look close, you can see the little bits of vanilla bean. 

I also decided to finally try out a Vanilla Extract making kit that I bought at HomeGoods a little while ago.   The kit basically came with a bottle and some vanilla beans in it....I could have probably just found a bottle I already had and bought some vanilla beans, but this was only $5 so I figured it was worth it.  I'm thinking that if this works out, I might make a few bottles at the end of the year for Christmas gifts. 

All you have to do is slice the beans in half, put them in the bottle and fill the bottel with Vodka.  They say to store it in a dark, cool place and shake daily for up to two months.  I've put mine in my hall pantry and will try to remember to shake it each day...somehow  I think I will forget a lot. 

Hope all of you on the East Coast are safe and warm today.   Enjoy your snow day!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A slightly inappropriate post...enter at your own risk :P

A swim team baby shower...

One of my bestest friends, Denise, asked me to make her a small cake and cupcakes for a baby shower her swim team is throwing for a teammate.   She asked that it be swim themed but baby girl-ish, too.  After about a month of googling, thinking and brainstorming, I came up with an idea for the cupcakes. 

They asked for purple, hence the purple frosting.  

The ducks are made of homemade fondant that took a little while to get to the right colors.  I definitely recommend gel food coloring when using fondant.  Much more vibrant colors.  I used a food coloring pen for the eyes and to fill in the goggles.

When it came to the cake, I was going to make a bigger ducky to go on it, but after talking to Denise last night, she made a special request.  This is what she came up with.  Slightly irreverent but very hilarious.  She swears the girl will find it funny, and I hope she does!  I was hesitant to post this but I think the warning in the post title should be enough! 

This cake speaks for itself....there are no words....

Here is everything all together.  I hope the team has a great time celebrating the newest member of their swim team!

A review, and Happy Birthday, Jess!

The Barefoot Contessa Rocks...

My friend, co-worker, and fellow gestatation buddy turned 27 this week, and I thought I'd make her a yummy treat to get through the long work day.  I've had a box of cupcake mix from the Barefoot Contessa that my cousin gave me a little while ago.  I've been wanting to try it out, but the box only makes 12 cupcakes, so I was waiting for a time when I only needed a half dozen.  This was the perfect chance! 

As I've mentioned previously, I'm not usually a fan of the boxed mixes, but this one was great.  It called for real butter instead of oil that most boxes require.  I also liked that it came with a mix for the buttercream frosting.  Everything came out moist and fresh, which tasted delicious, but made it a little difficult to decorate.  The cake was so light that when I went to decorate, some of the cake was coming apart.  So, I had to stick with a simple design.

Can you see how creamy the frosting was?  Soooo yummy.  These were a mess to eat, but worth it!  They were perfect to snack on after lunch!

Happy Birthday, Jess!  I hope it was a great day!  Next year, you'll get to celebrate with your adorable little girl!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Caramel Candy Brownies and another loaf of bread!

Are you sick of the bread yet?

I'm certainly not...its delicious! 

Friends of ours came for dinner tonight with their daughter, Everly.  When Matt and I were engaged, Maureen and Andy bought us The Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook.  Whenever they come, I try to use some recipes out of it to show them how much I love it.  Everything I've made from this book has been fantastic.   I decided on the following menu...

Brie with Apricot Topping (from the Year of Slowcooking blog)

Main Course:
Stuffed Chicken Parmesan (from the cookbook)
Fetucine Alfredo
Broccoli with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts (from the cookbook)
Sun-dried tomato and mozzarella bread

Caramel Candy Brownies (from the bookbook)
Leftover Peanut Brownies (from my snow day on Wednesday!)

With some help from my parents, who are in from out of town, and Matt, dinner came together perfectly.  That doesn't always happen for me when I try to make dinner.  Something usually is undercooked or burnt or simply doesn't turn out the way I had hoped.  I was lucky this time!

As you can tell, I'm still on my bread machine kick...

For once, the loaf looked different from the outside!

How good do those sun-dried tomatoes look?

The inside was moist and savory.  The bits of tomato were a nice addition.

The caramel candy brownies were a recipe I've been wanting to try from the cookbook I mentioned earlier.  The basic brownie recipe was different from other brownies I had made in the past, but came out pretty good.  The authors of the cookbook said that you could use caramel candies or chopped up snickers.  Who can resist a snickers?  I certainly can't.

The desserts were a perfect ending to a fantastic meal and time with good friends.   Thanks, Maureen, Andy and Everly.  We hope you had a good time and can come again soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Another Snow Day!

Have I mentioned that I'm like a little kid on a snow day?

I'm lucky enough to work at a place that closes if it snows bad enough.  I wake up extra early waiting for a phone call saying that our agency is closed.  Usually, the phone call comes before 6 am.  This morning, at 6:25 am, I thought that we were going to have to go into work.  However, at 6:26, the phone rang!  I couldn't be more excited.  Its probably the only time before 8am when I sound alert and awake on the phone!  I promptly went back to sleep for another two hours, then woke up to start my day.  I made a list of everything  I wanted to accomplish today, and as of right now, I accomplished all but one of them.  After I write this blog, I may go finish that up, just so I can cross everything off of my list.  Why is it that crossing things off lists is so cathartic?   I feel super productive!

A few of the things on my list had to do with baking, of course!  As I mentioned previously, I normally bake cookies on snow days, but I need a little more time before I'm back in the mood for cookies after Christmas.  For dinner, I decided to make chicken noodle soup in the crockpot, and make grilled cheese sandwhiches.  That is one of my favorite cold night, comfort combinations.  I thought I'd try to fancy up the grilled cheese sandwhiches by making my own loaf of bread.  (Have I mentioned how much I love my new bread machine??)  After flipping though the recipe booklet, I finally found a recipe for which I had all of the ingredients I needed.  No way was I running out in the snow and ice to get more ingredients!  I decided on Parmesan Peppercorn French Bread.  Its sort of a joke in my family how much I love Parmesan.  Everyone makes sure at dinner to get to the parm first so that I don't hog it all!  Again, the bread machine makes it so easy to have a fresh loaf of bread in a few simple steps. 


I should probably stop taking pictures of the whole loaf of bread...from the outside, they all look the same!  However, if you look close, you can see the little bits of peppercorn.

The inside of the bread looks like a simple loaf of french bread, but when you bite into it, you can immediately taste the delicious blend of parmesan and peppercorn. 

I sliced up some cheddar cheese and made the grilled cheese extra crispy.  Grilling the bread really brought out more of the cheese flavor in the bread, and I thought it was the perfect combination!  Here's a picture of my soup that I made as well.  So simple to do in the crockpot.  Just add some leftover chicken, chicken broth, carrots, celery, onion and seasonings (which ever kind you like...I used Italian seasoning) to the crockpot and let sit for six to eight hours on low.  About 20 minutes before you are ready to eat, add any type of noodle you'd like to the pot.  I used egg noodles.  Voila!  The perfect snowy night meal.

For dessert, I wanted to make something simple but different.  I stared at my stash of cookbooks and decided to use my 101 Things to do with a Cake Mix cookbook. 

I had a box of white cake mix that was dangerously close to its expiration date, so I flipped through until I found a recipe that called for white cake mix.  I knew I found the perfect one when I saw "Peanut Butter Brownies."  And better yet, the ingredient list was small and I had all of them! 

All you need is:

1 box of white or yellow cake mix
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
2 eggs
2/3 cup of chunky peanut butter ( I didn't have chunky, only smooth, so I used that and then chopped up some peanuts to add to the mixture.)
1 1/2 tablespoons of milk (I thought the glaze was a little thick so I added a splash more of milk)
1 cup of powdered sugar

Add the first four ingredients to a mixing bowl, mix, and bake in a 9x12 baking dish at 350 degrees for about 16-18 minutes.  As soon as you pull the dish out of the oven, mix your powdered sugar and milk and drizzle over the "brownies" until even. 

I was nervous that this wasn't going to taste so great, but it definitely did.  It sort of tasted like peanut butter cookie dough.   I thought that I wouldn't like the glaze on top and wish that I had put some chocolate sauce over it, but the glaze complements it perfectly. 

Alright, well, back to being productive and checking things off my list! 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My new bread machine

I think we may be eating lots of carbs over the next few weeks...

Mostly because I am loving my new bread machine from my mom and dad!  So, before I show you what I've made so far, let me tell you the story of the bread machine.  In early December, I visited my parents to do lots of father is still feeling the burn on his credit card.  One of the days, we went to the outlets and stopped in a kitchen store.  There was a floor model bread maker there for a great deal.  My mother had been saying that she wanted one for awhile, so my dad and she bought it.  I was a little frustrated because my parents have this great knack for buying things right before the holidays, leaving their children in a panic figuring out what to get them for a gift!  I proceeded to give my mother a great deal of grief about it over the next few weeks.  Well, much to my surprise, I opened a bread maker from my parents Christmas Eve.  Not just any bread maker, the one my parents had "bought for themselves."  They got me!  I sort of felt like an idiot for making fun of them for the past few weeks.  Oops!

Anyway, I decided to try it out yesterday.  After a few frantic g-chats with my sister-in-law, I finally figured out how to use the thing.  It couldn't be easier!  It even has a feature that you delay making the bread so that it will be warm when you get home from work.  How cool is that?!  You simply layer the ingredients in the machine, press the start button, then walk away.   However, as my sister-in-law pointed out, its not so efficient when you keep staring at the thing, saying "What the (bleep) is it doing now?" 

I decided to stick with the recipes from the manual to start.  The first recipe I flipped to was a Pesto Bread.  I had a little bit of pesto leftover in the fridge and thought I'd use it up.  All I had to do was layer water, olive oil, pesto, sea salt, bread flour, sugar, and yeast into the machine, click on my desire settings and press the start button.  A few hours later, this delicious loaf of bread was ready for the eating!

I chose the 1 lb. loaf option, since it was just Matt and I.  However, if I choose the 2lb. option, does is just make the loaf taller?  I may have to try it out and see...

Can  you see the little bits of basil throughout the bread?  So yummy.

I heated up some leftover marinara sauce last night, and we used it as a dipping sauce for the bread.  This afternoon, during the Eagles game (tear...), I poured some spices and olive oil in a bowl to dip.  Perfection.

This afternoon, I decided to try one of the sweeter recipes.  Cinnamon Swilrl Bread fit the bill (and I had all of the ingredients on hand).  I layered milk, butter, egg, salt, sugar, bread flour, and yeast into the machine and pressed start.  After the last kneading cycle and before the final rise cycle, the machine beeps and indicates that you can add the cinnamon and sugar mixture.  I pulled the dough out of the machine, removed the kneading paddle, rolled out the dough and poured the cinnamon and sugar evenly over it.  Then, I rolled up the dough and put it back in the machine.  An hour later, this lovely loaf appeared....

Looks a lot like the first loaf, until you cut into it...

Scrumptious cinnamon swirls!  It worked!  I don't know why I'm so proud of myself, I didn't really do anything..the machine did!

I can't wait to toast up a slice in the morning for breakfast.

If you've ever thought of making your own bread, invest in one of these puppies.  So easy, and the bread comes out perfect each time.  Expect lots of bread posts from me over the next few months.  I can't wait to try a bunch of different reicpes. I think I may try to make a traditional white bread loaf over the next week.  Perhaps we won't have to buy bread for Matt's sandwhiches anymore :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Auntie Anne's Pretzels...

Snow Day Baking...

I verged from my usual snow day baking routine.  Usually, I bake cookies.  However, I am a a little cookied-out after Christmas.  So, I decided to try the Auntie Anne's Pretzel baking kit I bought a few weeks ago at the grocery store.  It was on sale, and I thought I'd save it for the perfect day, which turned out to be today!  These were so easy to make, and I have to tell you...taste EXACTLY like Auntie Anne's!  I made mostly regular pretzels and a few cinnamon & sugar ones. 

I got this on sale for $2.99.  And it made a ton...not a bad deal, instead of spending who knows how much a pop at the mall!

The cinnamon & sugar pretzels.  I made these ones a little smaller, and made a few less, since I knew Matt wouldn't eat them.  More for me :)

Can you see all that delicious cinnamon & sugar?

Here are the plain pretzels.  Matt LOVED them.  I think he's willing to forgo dinner tonight in order to consume all of these.

The butter and salt really make these extra yummy.

Matt loved these so much that he wasn't so happy that I took a small plateful over to our neighbors.  My usually generous husband was a little greedy!  These were so easy to make that I may try to follow the recipe from my bread maker to make pretzels from scratch next time!

Happy 1st Birthday, Meah.

Meah turns 1.

A friend of mine's niece turns one this weekend, and she and her boyfriend asked me to make a cake and cupcakes to commemorate the occasion.  The only direction they gave was that she was turning one and she is very "girly."  I did some  googling and came up with a cute but simple idea.  Again, I stuck with chocolate cake and vanilla cupcakes, since most kids like simple flavors.  Again, I used Martha's Fluffy Vanilla Icing recipe, which I think is the easiest to work with and tastes fantastic.  All of the other details are made of fondant...

Its snowing here, which always puts me in the mood for baking...

I think the look of the daisies is simple and cute.

I really wanted the cupcakes to coordinate with the cake, and I think it turned out great.

The cake...

The cute little teddy bear...I am digging teddy bears these days and have been wanting to do something with them on a cake...

I asked Matt to come up with a cake board for me since I ran out of them and didn't want to run out to the store in the snow.  This is what he came up with.  Cute, right? 

Happy 1st Birthday, Meah!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy 6th Birthday, Kate!

I feel old...

My girl Kate turns six on Monday.  I cannot believe how quickly she's growing.  She's a thoughtful, sweet, beautiful little girl who wanted a Unicorn Birthday Party.  She asked for unicorns and rainbows on her cupcakes.  This was actually more challenging than I thought it would be in terms of design.  Ultimately, I think I did a decent job.   From past experience, I've realized that its best to stick with basic chocolate and vanilla when it comes kids...any other flavors never seem to go over very well.  I used the chocolate and vanilla cake recipes from my Magnolia cookbook, and used the chocolate frosting recipe off of the Hershey's cocoa box.  I used Martha's Fluffy Vanilla Frosting Recipe, as well. 

For the rainbows, I found Extreme Airheads candy and just bent them into the icing.  Viola!  Simple, but kind of neat looking. 

For the unicorns, I did A LOT of googling to try to come up with something feasible.  In the end, I combined a few different ideas to come up with the final product.  I used white fondant for the faces and eyes, chocolate covered sunflower seeds for the horn, a black food coloring pen for the eyes and mouth, and tinted vanilla frosting for the hair.  I hope think they look like unicorns!  Hopefully, Kate will like them for her friend party tomorrow. 

I boxed them all up in nice boxes and again used the label embosser that I received for Christmas.

Have I mentioned how much I love the embosser?

Kate's mom is making a cake for her family party on Sunday, but she asked me to make a unicorn to put on top of the cake.  Not quite my best work, but the first time I've worked with shaping larger fondant figures.  Matt helped me try to figure out how to do it, and I think the end product is okay....

I used a birthday candle for the horn...not sure how I feel about it...

Anyone out there have any tips or suggestions for how to shape figures out of fondant?

Happy 6th Birthday, Kate.  We love you and are so proud of the sweet young lady you are becoming!