Recipes

Vanilla Cupcakes

It has been a few years since I took a Wilton cake decorating course at my local Michael’s so I felt it was time to dust off my box of cake decorating paraphernalia and practice my piping. I also decided it was a good time to try a new cupcake recipe. This recipe from Williams-Sonoma resulted in moist cupcakes that I am pretty sure I will make again. It yields 12 cupcakes, which is perfect for me because I don’t want any more than that hanging around!

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg white, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk

For detailed instructions please visit Williams-Sonoma.

This simple recipe makes a great base. For more adventurous cupcake lovers you could add some lemon zest or almond extract, or you could dress them up with frostings of various flavors. My husband prefers his cupcakes unfrosted as he finds most frosting too sweet. I made plain buttercream frosting and scaled back a bit on the sugar. The result were cupcakes that were not too sweet but still a treat to eat.

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Chicken Pot Pie two ways

I have been doing a lot of cooking lately and been in the mood to share the results as you can tell from my recent posts. Last week I had some of this crust dough leftover in the fridge along with some roast chicken thighs from the night before and I decided to combine these to make chicken pot pies. As I often do, I did not work from a recipe.  I pulled out some mixed vegetable from the freezer and threw about a cup and a half into a pot along with a dash of salt and pepper, a little water, and a tablespoon of butter. I also added some celery seed and a bay leaf. Once the veggies were boiling I added the cut up chicken along with the bones (for flavor). I let this cook together for a few minutes and then strained the veggies and chicken, saving the liquid for the filling.

In that same pot I added some butter and flour to make a roux. Once this had reached the desired color I added back the cooking liquid along with a splash of milk. Once it thickened I added back the chicken and vegetables (minus the bones and bay leaf).

I had my left over dough rolled out already and I had cut around the ramekins I was going to use. I then spooned the filling into the ramekins and topped with the dough. I baked it at 375 for about 20 minutes. I was able to make three pies with the amount of filling and dough I had on hand.

The results were delicious and it felt good to use up my leftovers and dough scraps.

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I would say that making the dough from scratch is well worth it but if you prefer you can always use store-bought. I find that the Pillsbury pie crust is decent, and before I started making my own crust it is what I used. Some people use cream of chicken for the filling, which is fine, but if you can make a roux and make it yourself. It’s not difficult and with practice it will be a cinch to make.

Today I found myself with some crust in the fridge but no cooked chicken. I decided to  make pot pies again but I had to cook the chicken this time. I wondered if cooking the chicken on the stovetop would make a difference. I didn’t have a lot of crust so I only used one chicken thigh. I took the skin off and trimmed off the fat before separating the meat from the bone and cutting it into bite sized pieces. I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper. Instead of discarding the chicken fat like I would normally do I decided I would cook the chicken in its own fat. I threw it in a pot and let it melt, I then added some chopped onion to the pot and let it cook for a bit. When the onions had softened I added the meat and the bone and sautéed it all together until the chicken had browned some. At this point I added one cup of water and let it all come to a boil and cook until the meat was done.

At this point I added in my frozen vegetables. When the vegetables were cooked I removed about a half cup of the liquid in the pot and melted a tablespoon of butter into it. I then added some flour to this liquid and made a paste that I added back into the pot and cooked (adding a splash of milk) until it thickened (you can add some additional milk if the mixture is too thick). This worked out just as well as making a roux in the traditional way. My intention was to keep it to one pot without having to make an additional mess.

From this point I proceeded exactly as I had before. I spooned it into my ramekins and topped with the rolled out dough. This time I only made two pot pies and they were just as good as the last. The flavor was not exactly the same but the flavor profiles were the same.

Whether you use left over chicken or cook your chicken specifically for making pot pies this is a hearty, easy to eat meal that won’t disappoint!

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Cookie Thursday

There are few things better than a cookie. I find cookies to be such lovely treats. They’re single servings of deliciousness. I asked my cousin to pick out a cookie recipe for me to make and send to her and she picked a real winner! When she showed me the recipe she had picked I was excited as I had never made any type of sandwich cookie before.

This recipe from Joy of Baking.com is delicious. I have mentioned before that this is my favorite recipe site as the recipes are always easy to follow and often have videos to go with them. These cookies are similar to Oreo cookies. The cookies have a rich semi-sweet chocolate flavor and the cream is sweet and smooth. I used less sugar than the cookies called for because I wanted the cream to compliment the cookies not simply add to the sweetness. I like my chocolate to taste like chocolate not sugar, but that’s a personal preference. Cutting back the amount of sugar is optional and it’s an option I exercise in almost every recipe.

For the cookies:

1 cup (240 ml) semi sweet chocolate chips or 6 ounces (170 grams) semi sweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup (226 grams) unsaltedbutter, room temperature

3/4 cup (150 grams) white granulated sugar (I used about 1/2 a cup)

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purposeflour

3/4 cup (70 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch processed)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

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What the dough should look like once it has come together.

Be sure to check out Joy of Baking.com for the complete recipe (including the cream filling) and detailed instructions as well as a video of this recipe!

I personally, could eat these cookies on their own without the cream BUT the cream is such a great addition. I did not bother to make my logs perfect when I rolled up the dough so the cookies did not turn out perfectly round. You could spend more time on that, but like I have always said about home made: I want it to look as such. To me, that’s the best part.

As a side note, whenever I bake I try to use the best ingredients available to me. They really do make a difference. However, when baking we need to also keep in mind our bottom line. I have found that chocolate is an ingredient I will always splurge on as long as I can afford to, as well as vanilla extract. I refuse to use the imitation stuff. It’s just not the same. In my kitchen I tend to favor the following brands in my baking:

  • Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract
  • King Arthur Flour (unbleached, all purpose)
  • Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet chocolate (either chips or in bar form)
  • Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

I hope you found this post helpful.

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Making bread

The smell of freshly baked bread is one of those things that is universally appealing. I have been wanting to try my hand at making bread for a while but was very intimidated by the whole proofing of yeast thing. My first foray into bread making was pizza dough. I was moderately successful with that. If you look up bread recipes you will find tons of them. I have found that not all recipes provide the same amount of detail and therefore a novice bread maker might run into some errors that could easily avoided. Before I make anything for the first time I like to do my research. I read various recipes from different sources because I find that each recipe can provide me with important tips and tricks that another might leave out.

The recipe I used is from i heart nap time (a cute title that I wish I had come up with!) but I also referred to this recipe from Brown eyed Baker. My recipe is a slightly altered version of these.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 TB sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 TB salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk (the original recipe called for evaporated milk but I had none)
  • 5-7 cups of bread flour, white or wheat will work too (can use more if needed)
  • oil for coating the bowl once the dough is ready to rise

 

Directions:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Once the oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain the heat for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven. This is where you will leave the dough to rise. You can also set it next to a window but I found that this is a pretty fool proof method of ensuring the environment is warm enough for the dough to rise.
  2. Place the yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Pour the warm water (not too hot) over the yeast mixture and let it sit for 15-20 minutes, or until nice and bubbly.
  3. Combine melted butter, sugar, milk and salt into a large mixing bowl. When your yeast mixture is ready add them together and mix.
  4. If you are using a stand mixer put on your bread hook and then pour in 3 cups of flour. If not you can stir/kneed it as well. Then add in 1 cup of flour at a time and mix. When you get to 5 cups of flour in the bowl, add in 1/2 cup more of flour at a time until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides. You’ll know it’s ready when your fingers no longer stick to the dough.
  5. Cover the ball of dough and sides of the bowl with oil and cover the bowl with a warm towel. Set in your warmed oven to rise (approx 1.5 hours). When it has risen over the bowl punch it down and place on a floured surface.
  6. Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Cut dough into two pieces and roll them out into a rectangle. Roll the dough up and place into 2 greased bread pans.
  8. Let the bread rise again, and when it looks like a good loaf of bread place them in the oven at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. When the bread is done remove onto a cooling rack.
  9. Enjoy!

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peanut butter cups

A couple of weeks ago I was happily watching television when I decided that I wanted a peanut butter cup. I didn’t want just any peanut butter cup. I wanted one I had made myself. As I made a mental calculation of what I had in the pantry (peanut butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and semi-sweet chocolate chips) I became increasingly excited about making them.

I headed into the kitchen with nothing but my hunger. I did not use a recipe. The first thing I did was whip about a cup of peanut butter with about a tablespoon of powdered sugar. I used my stand mixer for this. I let it get nice and fluffy and light in color. Once this was done I set it aside.

I then set up a double boiler in order to melt the chocolate. I am not sure how much chocolate I used but I would say it was probably about a cup and a half of chocolate chips. I also added a tablespoon of butter and a splash of vanilla extract. I also added a teaspoon of cooking oil. Once this was melted I set it aside.

I did not have any cupcake liners around so I lined a silicone mini cupcake pan with wax paper. I then spooned in some chocolate into the bottom of each well and left to cook for a couple of minutes in the freezer. I then piped in the peanut butter using a zip top bag. Because the peanut butter was so light and fluffy I found this the easiest way to do this. Spooning it in, although doable, seemed too messy and time consuming.

Once again, I put them in the freezer to set a bit then topped them off with a chocolate later. The result is a solid chocolate outside, with some peanut butter peaking out here and there. When you bite into the cup the peanut butter oozes out as it doesn’t set into a solid.

I absolutely loved them and plan to make them again soon.

I hope you will give these a try.

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The BEST Pancake Recipe

I like to celebrate special occasions with a good hearty breakfast. When I started making pancakes from scratch years ago, I made it my goal to find the best recipe out there. I love fluffy pancakes, and I love making these. This recipe is one I have been making for years and is an adaptation of this pancake recipe I found on allrecipes.com.

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons of butter, melted

Directions

  1. Combine the milk and vinegar and set aside to sour.
  2. In a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix together with a whisk.
  3. Add the soured milk into the flour mixture as well as the yolk of the egg. Set the white aside.
  4. Mix the flour, milk and egg yolk until combined. Do not over mix. It’s ok if there are some lumps.
  5. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the egg white to soft peaks.
  6. Gently fold the egg white into the batter using a spatula.
  7. Use about 1/4 of batter for each pancake. I like to use an ice-cream scoop.

I like to serve these pancakes with warm Maple syrup. They are light and fluffy, and just delicious. I am always amazed at how good they are. I don’t make them often but when I do I’m so glad I did.

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Happy Cooking!

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Cookie Thursday

Welcome to Cookie Thursday, a new monthly series that will feature a new cookie recipe one Thursday a month.

It should come as no surprise that have a sweet tooth. I try to keep it in check but it often gets me in trouble. Take tonight for example, I was sitting at home thinking about baking when I remembered a jar of almond butter I had sitting in the pantry. Could I make something with it? I immediately went to Google and as I typed in my search query I decided I would attempt to make the first recipe I clicked on.

I came upon Sally’s Baking Addiction and her Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe and immediately headed to the kitchen. This simple 5 ingredient recipe was a cinch to make and the results were amazing. I am definitely going to be making these again. What’s more, I did not miss the flour or the butter one bit. To me, the cookies taste just like regular chocolate chip cookies.

As always, I altered the recipe a tiny bit. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup (250g) almond butter at room temperature or cold (not warm)
  • 1/2 cup (90g) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (190g) semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F

In a bowl, combine the egg, almond butter, brown sugar, and baking soda. Add vanilla extract if you’re choosing to use it. Mix well using a stand mixer, hand mixer or wooden spoon. The almond butter is very thick so if you choose you mix by hand you will definitely flex those muscles. Once all of the ingredients are incorporated add your chocolate chips and combine.

I decided to make smaller cookies so I spooned about a teaspoon and half of batter per cookie. I flattened them out a little with the back of a spoon.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes and leave to cool on the cookie sheet before setting on a wire rack.

I got about 30 cookies out of this recipe and even though they’re small they are the perfect size in my opinion. After calculating the caloric value for all ingredients used it works out to about 70 calories per cookie. Not bad for a cookie made with whole ingredients! Unrelated, but I believe that eating real food is best. I do not eat reduced fat or reduced calorie anything. Fat is good, it keeps us full longer and a lot of flavors are fat soluble. It’s why low fat foods are injected with chemical nasties- to make up for the loss of flavor that occurs when the fat is removed!

This is the first gluten free recipe I’ve ever made and I have to say I am pretty impressed. Although I have no medical need to eat gluten free I am very excited to try out more recipes.

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Cooking: one easy side-dish

If you’re like me, you enjoy spicing things up in the kitchen. I often get inspiration from cooking shows. I like to adapt recipes based on my tastes and what I have available in the kitchen. Recently, I saw Trisha Yearwood make some bacon-wrapped asparagus. It looked delicious and since I hadn’t had those in a while I decided to make them.

You will need:

  • Fresh asparagus
  • Bacon
  • toothpicks
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • pure cane sugar
  • pepper

Preheat your over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you’ve washed your hands, and your veggies, you’re going to want to trim the asparagus. The stalks get tough and woody as they reach the bottom. What I do is I grab one spear and bend it until it snaps. I then cut the rest to match that length.

Now you’re ready to wrap the asparagus with the bacon. I wrapped 3-4 stalks with one strip of bacon. Secure with a toothpick and place on a cookie sheet. I lined mine with a silpat but you can use foil and some Pam instead.

Once you have all of your bundles you’re going to want to spoon some sauce over them. This is optional. If you’d prefer you can drizzle a little olive oil, salt, and pepper instead.

For the sauce: mix a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add sugar and pepper to taste. I find balsamic vinegar to be a little sweet already so I only use a spoonful or so of sugar. Mix well and spoon over the bundles.

Bake for 25 minutes. The asparagus will be wilted and the bacon crispy.

You can serve this as a side dish, or as a main dish. I think it would be delicious with couscous, brown rice, or even orzo along with a small salad.