Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Annual Cake...

I'm not sure if I posted it last year, but I started a tradition last year (our first year married) to make Tim a fun homemade cake each year for his birthday. His birthday is in December so it can sometimes get lost in the holiday shuffle, but the last few years we have made it extra fun :) by going away for the weekend and having a family party with a super-cool cake.

It took me forever to figure out what I was going to make this year. I knew I wanted a layer cake and I wanted it to taste really good, but I also wanted something different from the standard buttercream frosting and cute decorations. So, first I went square. Then, instead of vanilla or chocolate, I did both. And finally, for the frosting, instead of buttercream, I went mascarpone. Oh yeah. You know that sounds good. And it was.

Here are the details:
  1. Cake layers - I decided on a 3-layer cake, with 2 vanilla layers and 1 chocolate layer. I used this recipe for Golden Vanilla Cake from King Arthur which was so easy and really light and wonderful. For the chocolate layer, I went with the blog-popular Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake recipe. It was good, but definitely not as good as the vanilla cake.

  2. Frosting - so, originally, my idea was to make a tiramisu layer cake with a mascarpone cream on the inside and a light buttercream on the outside. I did make both frostings and fortunately for me, the buttercream recipe didn't make nearly enough and I didn't have time to make more so I went with a changed up version of the filling for the outside layer of frosting and it was so good! Recipe below.

  3. Decorations: I went super simple on this as the square design of the cake made it look pretty nice to begin with. I added some cocoa powder to the top to give a tiramisu-type feel. I also added some bittersweet mini-chocolate chips to the top and the layers on the inside.

Mascarpone Cream Filling/Frosting Recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, recipe from Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours)

1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Few tablespoons of strong coffee
Whipped topping or whipped cream, about 1 cup or more

It could not be easier to make. Put the mascarpone into a medium bowl and whip with a whisk until creamy. Add sugar and mix until uniform. Add vanilla and coffee. When all is combined, fold in the whipped cream or whipped topping until you have the consistency and taste that you like. Use as filling or as frosting. If you are using it for filling, you might leave it a bit thicker and thin it out with whipped cream for frosting. The frosting should be refrigerated so its good to frost the cake and then chill the entire cake until serving.

I piped the same frosting onto mini-cupcakes for Christmas eve and regular cupcakes for a holiday party this past weekend. Super easy and a nice twist on regular cupcake/cake frosting.


ps. I do have a few holiday things left to post, as I got a bit behind this year and maybe (just maybe) made my to-do list longer than anyone could ever complete. oops.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Need a quick gift?

Try this Apple-Cranberry Bread!

Super delicious and easy - I don't totally care for quick breads, but I really like this Apple-Cranberry Bread. I have been making it as mini-loaves for a few years and they are perfect as favors, or as a gift for neighbors or in gift baskets. Click here for the recipe!

A few quick notes on the recipe from me:

  • Make sure to butter/flour the pan very well. There is a lot of fruit in this recipe and the cranberries especially, have a tendency to get stuck to the walls of the pan.

  • Even better - bake in pans that you can give as part of the gift! Try a few of those mini-holiday ceramic loaf pans you see in the dollar or craft stores. Then you can wrap each and not worry about them coming out of the pan perfectly!

  • The batter seems lumpy and thick, but it will turn out great. Make sure to smooth out the top of each mini-loaf before baking.

  • I got about 4-6 loaves with each batch depending on the size of my pans.

  • A good wrapping trick - if you need to give a gift in a pinch, use a ziploc/plastic bag and trim off the zipper/closure to make a cute treat bag. Tie it with whatever string you have laying around (I keep a ball of all-purpose brown twine that works great) and tie on one of these free gift tags (check out these, and these and these too!) and you are all set! You can also wrap with parchment paper and tie with a cute ribbon if you don't have any bags.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Brunch

While Katie will take you through the do's and dont's of having a holiday brunch, I will just offer a great tart recipe that is easy and perfect for brunch. This Apple Danish Tart is another recipe from the Pillsbury Fall Baking Booklet (where I found those awesome cranberry apple butter bars). I meant to post this last week but we ended up going out of town (maybe you can guess where from the few photos below). I will have an onslaught of holiday baking and cooking gifts, ideas and recipes coming in the next few weeks - I can't wait! Onto the recipe...

Apple Danish Tart (adapted from Pillsbury Fall Baking Booklet)
1 pie crust (I made my usual - Martha's tart pastry, but the recipe recommends store-bought roll-out dough which is fine too)
2 golden delicious apples and 1 macoun apple, diced (about 2 1/2 cups - granny smith would work well too)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 teaspoons milk

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Pre-heat a sheet pan as well so the tart pan will have something to go on while baking. Prepare tart pan (removable bottom) with prepared dough (either store-bought or homemade).

2. In microwavable bowl, mix apples, brown sugar, flour, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Microwave uncovered on high for 2 minutes and stir. Microwave 1-2 minutes longer, stirring once, until apples are slightly soft.

3. In another bowl, beat cream cheese, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, the vanilla and egg with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Spread this mixture over the bottom of the tart crust. Top evenly with apple mixture. The apples don't completely cover the mixture because the cream cheese bubbles up a bit through the apples while cooking.

4. Bake 32 to 37 minutes or until filling is set, apples are tender and crust is light golden brown. Cool on cooling rack and then refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

5. Before serving, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon milk. Stir in additional milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle glaze over tart and serve. Perfect as a dinner dessert or for brunch! If you love danish, this definitely tastes like a danish or apple cheesecake tart.

Here are a few pics from our weekend. We had a great time - definitely did some relaxing and checked out all the awesome spots to eat & drink :). Now we're back to get ready for the holidays!

Check out this salsa spread!
If the 2nd pic didn't clue you in, I'll give it away...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The last of it...

Thanksgiving leftovers! I used the rest of the turkey up last night to make an awesome (and super easy) turkey and wild rice soup. Although I'm kind of over Thanksgiving food, this soup would be great with chicken too, so I decided to post it. Plus, its cheap :). And delicious. And did I mention easy? Who doesn't need something simple after the cooking madness that is Thanksgiving!

Turkey & Wild Rice Soup
Leftover turkey or chicken, diced (as much as you like - I used about 1 cup or so)
Chicken/turkey/vegetable broth (homemade or store-bought), approximately 64oz.
1 onion, diced
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Few stalks celery w/ leaves, diced
Few carrots, cut into coins
1 cup wild rice
Extra virgin olive oil
Smallest bit of butter :)
Kosher salt/freshly ground pepper

1. Add a bit of olive oil to a stockpot or large saucepan and heat pan on medium. Add garlic and onion and saute until soft, but not brown. Add celery, carrots, salt & pepper. Continue to saute for about 5 or so minutes.

2. Add rice and broth, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer until rice is tender, about 1/2 hour (but it depends on your type of rice). Then add turkey and little bit of butter (just a tiny, tiny amount :) and allow to simmer for about 5 more minutes.

3. Serve and Enjoy! Makes a great lunch too.

To finish off the holiday for this year, here are a few pictures from our Thanksgiving:

I was in charge of the desserts, but my mom always makes the pumpkin pie...

This is my cous-niece, remember her from St. Patrick's Day? She loves dessert :).
Recipe for these super easy & adaptable mini-cheesecakes coming soon...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quick Thanksgiving Craft!

I know you have extra glitter hanging around. Don't lie. You went out (just like me) and bought that Martha Stewart glitter in orange, or brown or red. Or all three. You glitterized a bunch of pumpkins and gourds and now, you have a ton of glitter left over... So, use it!! This is the perfect craft to use up that glitter and it might even get you to head out and buy some green, silver or white glitter for Christmas :).

Here is what you need:

To make the votive holders, paint the outside with glue, apply glitter liberally (you can shake off excess and return to the container afterwards) and let dry. Don't make the glue too thick or else it may dry more white than clear and you will be able to see on the inside. You can make designs in the glue (sort of like mine, and although that wasn't on purpose, I like the end result) or just paint it on more evenly. Make sure you only do the sides - leave the bottom without glue/glitter so you have an area to hold on while applying the glue.

I thought a couple of these would even be a nice hostess gift with a set of candles. Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm also going to send these over to Sandi @ WhistleStop Cafe for the November Centerpiece-of-the-Month (COTM). While these could be a centerpiece all on their own - they would be great paired with some fresh flowers or fruits (pears or apples?) as part of a holiday table!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cookie 2: Cranberry-Apple Butter Bars

These are so good! And they actually taste like cranberries, not some over-sweetened-fake-almost-tasting-like-strawberries or raspberries cookies. Don't you hate that?

I tend to like things on the tart side (these are not super tart, but not super-super sweet either), so if you are on the sweeter side, maybe make a half-batch and decide whether you prefer more sugar, but I tested these on my husband and colleagues and they went over with high marks. Give them a whirl - they would be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Cranberry-Apple Butter Bars (adapted from Pillsbury Fall Baking Booklet, recipe found here)
1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange peel, grated
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup apple butter or cranberry-apple butter
2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups quick-cooking oats

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 13 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In a saucepan, mix cranberries, white sugar, orange zest and juice. Boil and cook for approximately 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until cranberries pop and mixture thickens. Stir in apple butter and 2 tablespoons butter; remove from heat.

3. Beat 3/4 cup butter and the brown sugar in a separate bowl, scraping bowl occasionally, until fluffy. Stir in flour, salt, baking soda and oats. Press approximately 3 cups oat mixture in pan. I ended up using a bit less than that for the base in order to have enough for the topping. While you are pressing the base, keep an eye on how much you have left for the topping, if you are running out, use a bit less for the base.

4. Spread cranberry filling over base. Crumble remaining 2 cups oat mixture over filling and press lightly.

5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before cutting.

Last year, I made homemade apple butter as part of my gift baskets. If you are doing that, these bar cookies would make a great gift basket paired with the apple butter and cute recipe card!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cookie 1: Black & White Swirls

These are the first cookies in my new series for holiday baking this year. I'm going to try to get to at least a cookie per week from now until Christmas so we'll have a nice variety for all your parties, to give as gifts, or just to enjoy on a random day :).

More on the series later, but for now, here is Cookie 1: black & white swirls. These are from Martha Stewart's Cookie book. To be honest, do NOT make these at 11pm on a weekday and expect them to be super easy. Yeah. That was me and I was not happy. Its not that these take a super long time or have a ton of instructions, but they did take a bit of extra time compared to other cookies. But - the result was worth it. Really nice buttery cookie that holds up well, stays fresh for quite a few days and looks totally cute on your platters or to give as gifts.

One note before the recipe - Martha does actually provide instructions for 2 shapes (you can see the "bull's eye" shape in the background of the 2nd photo); however, I found mine to look not like bull's eyes but more like bone marrow or dog treats (which = nasty). It it super difficult to get the center to stay round and I spent way too much time on it. The spirals are so much cuter! If you'd like to try it, go for it (I'm sure its just my inept rolling skills), but I'm sticking to the spirals :).

Black & White Spirals ("Icebox Spirals" from MS's Cookies, page 117)
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter @ room temperature (3 sticks)
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 cups AP flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)

1. Make dough by combining butter and sugar until creamy. Add 2 eggs and salt, mix until combined. Then mix in the milk and vanilla until uniform. Reduce speed and add flour slowly, mixing until just combined.

2. Remove half the dough and set aside (this will be the vanilla portion of the dough). Add cocoa powder to remaining dough. Mix until combined.

3. To make spirals: roll out rectangle of vanilla dough on floured board (approximately 1/4 inch thick). Note: the floured board is super important. My dough was annoyingly sticky. I ended up adding a decent amount of flour in order to roll it out and the cookies turned out fine, so don't feel like you are adding too much flour - they should end up fine. Roll out same size rectangle of chocolate dough. Trim rectangles to approximately same size and refrigerate for 20 minutes or until cool. I put each rectangle on piece of parchment paper and put them on top of one another in the refrigerator.

4. After they cool off, brush each rectangle with egg white and place on top of one another. Starting with the longer side, roll up the dough into a spiral shape, pinching and tucking to keep it tight as you roll. Seal the end of the roll (you can brush additional egg white if not sticking properly). This seems really easy at first, but I had a few issues keeping the doughs together while rolling. But, if you keep the roll tight and keep tucking it in, it will end up holding together really well in the end. You can also squeeze the resultant log a bit when you finish rolling it to make sure its nice and tight. Refrigerate again.

5. Ok, now you are ready to cut. This is the easy part!! Preheat the oven @ 350 degrees. Take out the roll. I chopped off the end and discarded it. Now, slice 1/4-inch piece of dough crosswise to create beautiful spirals (cut slow and with a sharp knife) and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. They will fluff up slightly but not grow too much. Bake until set, but not browned, approximately 12-15 minutes. Let cool and store in airtight containers.

Enjoy! I have some really delicious fruit bar cookies coming up next!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Motivation to...

Clean & Organize! Thanks Katie!

I have really been wanting to get on track with organizing our apartment - so I was so excited when Katie decided to create this challenge. I got a bit of a late start this week because of my obsession with the election coverage and a few meetings after work, but I'm on track now!.

Our apartment is definitely a temporary housing arrangement, so we have not done much of anything to the place, but the bathroom looks so nice and clean and organized after I finished today's tasks. I even spruced up our seriously ugly medicine cabinet with some cool paper :) You can check out a few after photos here - nothing groundbreaking, but better than before!

Back with a good fall dessert recipe this weekend!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ice cream, Elections & Updates :)

In the few weeks that I have been a non-blogger, I have been collecting a few random thoughts/photos that warrant posting, but maybe not their own here we go!

First - I'm on the east coast - we have only just been exposed to the amazingness that is Pinkberry! Green tea frozen yogurt + fresh mango = amazing. Forget Cold Stone Creamery and get your $5 out to get some. You won't be sorry :).

Tim and I bought some of the super-expensive, elusive, on the "omnivore-100" list :) Jamaican Blue Moutain coffee randomly one day at Citarella. I don't drink coffee, but Tim LOVES coffee, so we bought enough to try it out. Some quick thoughts from Tim:

  • Needs to be brewed properly to reach full potential. The first pot he made was a little weak. Ended up reading some of the proper brewing methods for this type of coffee and it came out substantially better, but we're still working on it.
  • Overall opinion - super delicious coffee, but not really mind blowing yet (remember, this coffee is $50/lb!)
  • Not sure if the home brew really brought out the full potential of the coffee. We bought 1/4 lb. and Tim only brews on special occasions :).

I photographed a 1st birthday party a few weeks ago and they had the cutest cupcakes!! Check them out - turns out they were from Sam's Club. I think they are easily done at home - the flowers were plastic, but you could also make them out of chocolate. So cute.

I'm definitely back to putting my glitterati pumpkins around the house! I did a post on them last year and they are super cute for fall decorating (not just Halloween). I like doing other colors - not just orange, but reds and browns too. Here is a pic from last year, I'll post some updated fall decorating pics soon.

And finally, Happy Election day! I hope everyone voted. I did and it felt great. I'm ecstatic over the outcome and I think it was my cookies that did the trick (what's more American than chocolate-chip cookies, right?:)! I hope this country can come together now, look past the election and transition into something better together.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Back without a vengeance :)

Hi all!

I'm not even going to waste time discussing my MIA status, because...I'm back! Just in time for the holidays too :).

In an effort to depict exactly whats going on in my kitchen, I'm going to post a complete disaster. I have made this focaccia recipe dozens of times - its my go-to recipe when I want fairly quick, not-too-labor intensive fresh bread. I don't want to deter anyone from trying this recipe because its really delicious and great this time of year with soups, salads, or for a good sandwich. Here is the link to the original recipe.

So, bread bakers out there - what did I do wrong!? I definitely changed it up a little bit this time because I wanted have a bit of a different flavor.

Here are my changes:

  • Swapped out half the AP flour for whole wheat flour
  • Omitted the rosemary and used an Italian seasoning blend instead
  • Add mini-grape tomatoes to the top

Here is what I got! yuck.

  • Did not rise properly (or barely at all)
  • Tasted completely awful - inedible
  • Middle totally doughy and disgusting.
  • And yes, it was that nasty yellow color.

I have never posted such an awful result on this blog! Was it the whole wheat flour? Maybe you guys can laugh and forgive me for being gone so long. That's what I get!!

Hope everyone is having a great fall so far - I'll be back with better recipes and updates asap!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Apple Streusel Coffeecake

Apple-picking is seriously one of the highlights of my whole year. We always go one of the last Saturdays in September, early enough to make sure that there are apples left, but late enough to get pumpkins the same day :). My mom has totally perfected the organization of the apple-picking day - we are serious about apples around here!

Here are a few shots from the day --

I always buy a ton of apples (if you pick them, you buy them!) so I'm always looking for new apple recipes. Last year, I made apple bars, apple crostata, and apple butter. The first recipe to get my interest this year is this Apple Streusel Coffeecake - I was a little nervous making this recipe because I didn't have all the ingredients that I needed, but it was my first Sunday morning with no plans in a long time and I didn't feel like hitting up the grocery store for just a few things, so I used a few substitutions. The results were great! Besides tasting good, it also makes a beautiful presentation would be great with coffee for your next brunch or dinner.

Apple Streusel Coffeecake (adapted from Women's Day Magazine)

1 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 stick cold butter, diced
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup walnuts & pecans, coarsely chopped

3 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 ounces low-fat sour cream
2 Golden Delicious apples, diced

Powdered sugar
Water or milk
Splash of apple wine or apple cider (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

2. Make streusel first: stir brown sugar, flour, butter and cinnamon with a fork or rub together with fingertips until crumbly and butter is completely incorporated. Stir in nuts.

3. Cake: mix flour, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl. Then beat the butter and sugar in a 2nd bowl with a mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in eggs one at a time, beating well after each; add in vanilla and sour cream.

4. With mixer on low speed, beat in flour mixture just until blended, scraping down bowl as necessary.

5. Add approximately 3 cups of the cake batter into pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with 1/4-1/2 cup of the streusel, then apples, then and additional 1/2 cup of the streusel. Add the remaining batter and spread evenly to cover apples and streusel.

6. Sprinkle batter with remaining streusel, pressing down lightly so it sticks to batter (the streusel will completely cover the batter).

7. Bake approximately 45-55 minutes or until a pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes before inverting. Remove pan and cool completely.

8. The glaze is optional, but I think it added a nice little bit of sweetness to the cake. I chose to make mine very thin, but if you made it a bit thicker (added more sugar, less liquid), the white glaze would also look very pretty on the cake. Anyway, to make the glaze, I added a bit of water to powdered sugar and stirred until it had an even consistency. Then I added a splash of apple ice wine that I happened to have in the kitchen - I think apple cider or even another dessert wine/extract/liqueur would have the same effect. I strained the mixture and then poured it over the cooled cake. After it seeped in, I also added some sifted powdered sugar to the top.

I'm submitting this recipe to Joelen's Tasty Tools monthly event. I love the theme this month -bakeware! I can't wait to see all the recipes - fall is the perfect month for a baking theme!

Sandi - I'm sending the below photo to you as my COTM - apples everywhere! My tip is, when you pick them, to leave a bit of the leaves and stems attached. They dry nicely and look beautiful as a fall (edible!) centerpiece.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

End of Summer Picnic

I have been so behind on my blogging these past two weeks, but hopefully my schedule will be opening up a little this fall. Not that I don't love being busy with my photography business (its awesome!), but fall is my favorite season and I'm psyched to get back to regular food blogging too! Today's post has been in the queue since the end of August. I was going to skip it, but I had to just drop you guys a quick note to recommend this recipe. This focaccia is easy, delicious and perfect with the homegrown tomato crop that I know you have in your kitchen right now :)!

I made this recipe for a picnic a few weeks ago; paired it with a salad and some other things like wine, sparkling lemonade, and some cold shrimp with fresh lemon juice. It was delicious. Enjoy the photos and promise to try this recipe soon! It would work great as a party appetizer too if you cut it into smaller wedges or as a great lunch with a salad or some soup.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fall in....

Tonight was the first night that it felt like fall was soon as the sun went down, there was a chill in air and you could just feel it. I'm not complaining :)

Here is a quick idea to get a jump-start on fall without leaving too much summer behind.

Line a clear, straight-edged container with glassine paper, fill with water and add flowers. I used seeded eucalyptus and mini-mums in a small footed trifle bowl. The glassine paper is similar to wax paper and can handle the water without getting moldy (my arrangement lasted more than a week) or breaking apart like tissue paper would. I used a bit of clear tape to hold the paper in place against the glass.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend!

[Don't forget to check out all the centerpiece ideas posted at Whistlestop Cafe each month!]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

BBQ Dessert Platter

Hey everyone! Running around like crazy as I have a wedding to shoot tomorrow and some friends coming into town for the holiday weekend, but I wanted to post this super easy and festive dessert platter. I made this for my mother-in-law's July 4th BBQ, but it would easily work for Labor Day too and it feeds a crowd!

Here is what I included on the platter:

Soft & Chewy 10-minute cookies (both the vanilla and chocolate versions)
Mini-cherry crumble tartlets (I used a mini-muffin pan)
Vanilla brownies (cut them fairly small since they are pretty rich-tasting)
Mixed berry cakes (recipe from Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine)

I own a bunch of plain white ceramic platters from when I used to do some catering - they are perfect for parties and pretty inexpensive at a bunch of different discount stores (I got several of mine from TJMaxx, Marshall's, Target and Homegoods). Arrange all the desserts in groupings in different sections of the platter - it looks great and keeps everything in one place.

Enjoy & Have a great weekend!