Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cookie Carnival: Walnut Mint Bars

This Walnut Mint Bar from Hershey's is the Cookie Carnival cookie-of-the-month for March. (Click here for the recipe.) I was so excited to make this recipe because I love chocolate and mint together, and the classic walnut-chocolate combination is always wonderful. Add the cream cheese and it was hard to imagine anything going wrong. And I was right--they were delicious. I decided to take a chance and make the recipe as is without any high-altitude adjustments, and they still worked perfect. That's always a good thing.

I did make a small change with what was supposed to be a chocolate drizzle. I must have beaten the cream cheese mixture too long because a ton of tiny bubbles came to the surface of the bars and cooked into the top giving them an ugly, pitted look. To cover up the pits I spread the chocolate over the entire top. Perfect!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Easter Egg Cupcakes

I live at almost 5000 feet elevation which wrecks havoc on baking cookies and cakes from scratch. When we moved to Utah 8 years ago I had no idea how the high altitude would affect my baking. I've finally figured out how to fix most cookie recipes, but I'm still on a quest for a scratch yellow cake that has good texture and flavor. These Easter egg cupcakes were another try at finding that perfect recipe. Sadly, the cake part was forgettable so I won't bother to share the recipe, but the tops are super cute :)

Of course, I used my favorite buttercream frosting recipe.

Tiffiny's Favorite Buttercream

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar (sifted if from a box)
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium bowl with a hand-mixer), cream together the butter and shortening until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add the powdered sugar and mix on medium-low until the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is dry and crumbly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk and mix on medium-low until the frosting is smooth. Add more milk if needed, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the frosting is the consistency you want. Don't add more than 3 teaspoons.

Makes about 3 cups.

Mmmm...creamy and perfect for frosting and making grass.

I tinted the frosting green with paste food coloring.

Since there was going to be grass I put just a schmear of green on the cupcake. You need this layer so the cupcake top doesn't show through the grass.

The magic behind the grass is this decorating tip. It's number 233 and is used for grass, fur, hair, long noodles, or anything else where you need a similar shape.

Making the grass is just like making stars with a star tip: Hold your decorating bag straight up and down to the cupcake. With the tip almost touching the surface, squeeze your decorating bag to build up a little bit of a base. Then, pull away from the surface and at the same time stop the pressure on the decorating bag. It takes some practice, but as soon as you find your rhythm you'll be off and running.

Add some egg-shaped candies or marshmallow bunnies and you're done!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Favorite gadgets: the plastic knife

Are you laughing? Probably. But I promise you that a plastic knife, such as this one from Chez Wendy's, is a must-have in your kitchen. I've found that nothing works better to cut brownies, bar cookies, tarts, single-layer cakes, and more. For some reason the plastic glides right through the food being cut without grabbing and tearing at it like other knives. And better yet, it can be totally free. Now that's a pretty awesome kitchen gadget!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cake

I know, it's ridiculous, but even though this sounds more like dessert than breakfast (and it could easily be served as dessert...a little cream cheese frosting...), it's loaded with good stuff and I serve it--and the chocolate version (post coming soon)--to my kids for breakfast with a clear conscience. OK, they do eat it without the icing, but this is a prettier picture.

This is actually the recipe for my Pumpkin Bread with chocolate chips added and cooked in a 13X9-inch pan instead of loaf pan. Funny, isn't it, how the shape of something can make it what it is? This is a cake, it used to be a loaf, you could easily make it into muffins...

I wrap the pieces in plastic wrap and freeze them for easy breakfasts and snacks.

For those who want to know what you're eating, here's the nutritional breakdown: 1/12 cake: 223 cal/9.5g fat/2g fbr/5 WW points; 1/18 cake: 148 cal/6g fat/1.5g fbr/3 WW points; 1/20 cake: 134 cal/5.7g fat/1g fbr/3 WW points.

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cake
Printable Recipe

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup wheat flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/4 cup milk (I use 1%)
1/4 cup applesauce (I use no-sugar added)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the icing
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoons milk, or enough to make it drizzle

1. Heat your oven to 350, and spray the sides and bottom of a 13x9-inch baking pan with non-stick spray.

2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix to combine. In a separate medium bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients and whisk well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix with a rubber spatula until well combined.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting into squares or bars.

4. To make the icing, combine the powdered sugar, melted butter, vanilla, and milk (start with 2 teaspoons) in a small bowl. Mix with a spoon or small whisk until the icing is smooth and the consistency you want.

Note: I usually cut my cake into 18 pieces, but you can also cut 12 larger or 20 smaller pieces.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monkey Cake

I made this Monkey Cake for a friend's 2 year-old's birthday this weekend. She used it as the centerpiece for the birthday party and then took it to a photo shoot on Monday with plans to let her daughter dig in as the photographer snapped away. Because of the plans for it's destruction, I made chocolate cake, which really shows up well in pictures. I also decided to ice the cake with buttercream, instead of covering it in fondant, because I worried the pieces of fondant she pulled off would look really odd in the pictures. Instead of tinting the buttercream blue, I sprayed the buttercream with edible food-color spray to make it look more uneven and sky-like.

I made the monkey out of fondant, and must thank Lorraine for her YouTube video about making monkey cupcake toppers. Without her tutorial I wouldn't have been able to figure out how to make the face on this cute guy. I used Runts candy for the bananas instead of making them out of fondant, though I did wonder about my decision as I opened bag after bag of candy only to find 2-4 bananas in each one (what is that about?). Now I have a large bag of the other Runts candy in my pantry, left-over from the 10 bags I opened to get the bananas. Lucky for me, my kids like Runts and I don't ;)

I used a toothpick to make the cute monkey toes.

I love to layer green details on cakes like this. The different layers and shapes give a ton of dimension to the piping. And I always sprinkle rainbow nonpareils on grass that I put on kid's cakes. They add a bit of extra fun to the grass and make the cakes look really cute!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rosemary Roasted Chicken & Potatoes

I am not usually impressed by gimmicks. I'd even say almost never. But when I was at the grocery store last week and saw this spice pack, my immediate reaction was, "How clever!"

The spice pack--and included recipe card--was clever enough I bought this one for Rosemary Roasted Chicken & Potatoes and another one for Apple-Sage Pork Chops. Yes, I already have all the spices in the pack, but what if I didn't and wanted to try the recipe? Bottles of spices at my store are $4.00 on average and that can really add up if you have to buy several bottles. How many people don't try a new recipe because of this initial cost when they don't know if they'll even like it? This spice pack solves that problem by including pre-measured spices for the recipe on the back. All for $1.50. Yes, a gimmick, but an effective one. :)

Because the spices were all pre-measured this meal came together super fast. The end result wasn't extraordinary, but it was very tasty and very easy; an especially good meal for someone just starting out in the kitchen. And, of course, now I have the recipe card in my file for the next time I make it with my own spices.

Rosemary Roasted Chicken & Potatoes (adapted from McCormick)
Printable Recipe

2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dry minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
6 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, about 2 lbs (my pkg was 2 1/2 lbs)
1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used 1 lb)

1. Heat your oven to 425, and line a 15X10 baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil with non-stick spray.

2. Mix the first 6 ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chicken and potatoes, and toss gently to coat well. Arrange the chicken and potatoes in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

3. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (165 for dark meat on an instant-read thermometer), and the potatoes are tender and well browned; stir the potatoes 2 or 3 times while the cook.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chocolate Sauce in Middle School

Last week I had the awesome opportunity to be a guest speaker/demonstrator for 2 days in my daughter's middle school FACS (Family and Consumer Science) class; I also spoke/demonstrated in two of her teacher's other classes. I had such a great time! The kids were fun, sassy, and squirrel-y, and all 91 of them (except one) liked the recipe de jour: Chocolate Sauce.

I picked the chocolate sauce because it's such an easy recipe to make, and I figured most of them would like it. I mean, what middle school student doesn't want chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream first thing in the morning? And this sauce blows anything you can buy at the store out of the water.

The first day I talked about recipe development in general, and how I came up with the sauce recipe. Then I demonstrated how to make the sauce so the kids could make it the next day. Last (and best) we did a taste-test. The afternoon before, the teacher, my daughter, and I made three batches of sauce, each with a different brand of chocolate. We labeled them "A", "B", and "C". The kids tasted each sauce and marked on a little form which sauce they liked best.

Now, I've done this test before, back in 2003 when I first came up with the recipe, and I have my favorite. And I was sure they'd pick the sauce made with my favorite chocolate. I was so sure the teacher bought a ton of my favorite chocolate for the kids to use the next day to make their own sauce. I mean, it's the best, right?


I was amazed when I totalled everything up. The three types of chocolate we used were Hersheys, a very cheap store brand, and Ghirardelli (my fav!). All of them were semi-sweet. To my surprise, and then horror, I discovered nearly 50% (46.9% to be exact) of the 91 students preferred the super-cheap store brand. Now, remember, the teacher bought a ton of Ghirardelli chocolate, and not only did the students prefer the store brand chocolate, my beloved Ghirardelli came in last. Last! Only 11% picked the more expensive Ghirardelli chocolate. Here's the horror part: one of the classes was 1st period. 1st period starts at 7:30 a.m. We had a ton of chocolate that was going to make sauce the kids wouldn't like. I had to go to the store to get different chocolate. But the class starts at 7:30. In the morning. And I'm presenting, so I can't go to the store in my jammies. All of this meant I had to get up at 5:30. In the morning.

Yes, I did survive the ordeal, thanks for your concern... ;)

I think most of the kids had a great time--I know I had a great time--and the teacher and I are already talking about next year :)

Chocolate Sauce
Printable recipe

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (you know my fav)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
pinch coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into 4 pieces

1. Combine the chocolate chips and water in a small saucepan, and heat over medium-low heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth, stirring constantly. (this picture is my girl :) )

2. Add the sugar, corn syrup, and salt, and stir well. Heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes.

3. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

4. Add the butter and stir until it's completely melted.

Makes about 1 cup sauce.

**Let the sauce sit for about 15 minutes before using it; this allows it to cool some and thicken up. Store extra sauce in the fridge. To reheat, microwave the sauce on high for about 30 seconds. Or eat it cold with a spoon. Your choice. ;)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Browned-Butter Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts have definitely not been on my list of things to make. I tried making them about 10 years ago. They were gross. I was good to not make them again. Ever. But now that I've been blogging I've run across many recipes for Brussels sprouts that, dare I say, actually look like I wouldn't hate them. Most of them involve roasting, my second favorite way to cook things (#1 being the grill).

OK, fine.

I wanted to start simple--no sauces or dressings to mess things up--so I went with melted butter, salt, and pepper. I roasted the Brussels sprouts in a super hot oven, and was pleasantly surprised by the result. The butter combined with the high heat gave the sprouts a wonderful nutty flavor. Like I said, pleasantly surprised :) I won't go so far as to say I love this cold-weather veggie, but I can say I don't hate it anymore.

Browned-Butter Roasted Brussels Sprouts

16 oz Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed, outer leaves removed, and halved
2-3 tablespoons butter
kosher salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Heat your oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with foil.

2. In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Let the butter sit over the heat until it's foamy and starting to brown.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, browned butter, salt, and pepper. Transfer the sprouts to the prepared baking sheet and spread them in a single layer.

4. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until they are tender and nicely browned.

Makes 4-6 servings, depending on how much you like Brussels sprouts.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happy 101 Award

A couple weeks ago I was happily surprised with the Happy 101 award, given to me by Sue over at Munchkin Munchies. Sue has been stopping by my blog for quite some time now, leaving sweet comments, and now a sweet surprise! Thanks, Sue, you're awesome! :) Sue just posted a super cute idea for making St. Patrick's Day shamrock pretzels, something I'm going to try to squeeze in with my girls before the 17th.

If you're the recipient of this award, you're supposed to:
1. Copy the image to your post
2. List 10 things that make you happy
3. Tag ten bloggers and
4. Post a link to their blogs
5. Link back to the sender's blog

Ten things that make me happy:
1. My family
2. My work at church
3. Cooking
4. Getting my hands dirty in a garden
5. Being in the mountains
6. Finding a good book
7. Ice Cream
8. Playing the piano
9. Listening to my girls laugh
10. A clean kitchen

Ten blogs that make me happy (only 10?):
1. Bridget at Bake at 350; her cookies are so cute! I could browse her blog for hours!
2. Jen at Cake Wrecks; seriously, if you've never been, you need to.
3. Katerina at Daily Unadventures in Cooking; she makes some of the best comfort food.
4. Be Kind at My Muscovy Duck Tale; the sweetest story, but you have to start at the beginning when she first finds the eggs.
5. Marian at Sweetopia; I think the name says it all...
6. Amanda at Amanda's Cookin' and Crafts by Amanda; the woman's amazing and comes up with the cutest craft ideas.
7. Leela at She Simmers; gorgeous pictures of amazing Thai food (and other yummy stuff)
8. Ms. Humble at Not So Humble Pie; she comes up with the cutest ideas for her science cookies. And she does fabulous things with meringue.
9. Tatum at Tate's Torts; you've got to see her cake pops :)
10. Laura at The Cooking Photographer; she is amazing at her craft.

Thanks again, Sue!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kenda's wedding cake

I made this cake for the wedding of my friend, Kenda, who got married on Saturday. She's a super sweet, super talented woman, always thinking of others and somehow knowing just what they need. It was an absolute priviledge to make it for her :)

The top two tiers were carrot cake and the bottom tier was a traditional white cake. The carrot cake is the best in the world (if I may say so myself), and someday I'll share the recipe ;) The cakes were covered in white fondant.

I made the flowers out of gum paste, and hand-painted the royal-icing scroll work with edible silver glaze. It took 2 coats of glaze, and probably could have used 3, but the hand-painting just about killed me!

Isn't the cake stand beautiful? They had a clear, acrylic heart cake topper that was engraved with their names, wedding date, and monogram.

I love making the wedding cakes, but boy do they take a lot out of me! :)
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