Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

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Do you feel that crisp bite of cold in the morning air? Autumn has officially made its debut in Ohio. We’ve been in our new home for over five months now, and I am already adoring our first Fall here as a family. There are beautiful shades of maroon and yellow leaves starting to sprinkle the view from our front porch and it has validated our decision to move back to the country even more. Our area even made National Geographic’s top 10 list of places to see Autumn Leaves  (we’re number three!).

Another inevitable feature of this time of year is the pumpkin mania. Everywhere you turn there are people running around, all jacked-up with crazy excitement over this squash. I understand these feelings, and I am probably one of those people; but, while I do love this seasonal flavor, I try to keep the crazed love of all things pumpkin spice in check until the weather and calendar starts to reflect its arrival. Call me an old curmudgeon, but I was kind of disgusted with Starbucks’ decision to serve Pumpkin Spice Lattes before Labor Day. Midwest humidity and hot, nutmeg-laden drinks don’t mix, folks. Just my opinion. I’m sure Starbucks could serve PSL in June and tons of people would buy them.  To each his own.

Anyways, moving on to these pancakes.

On the particular Sunday morning that I made this breakfast dish, our little rump roast was up and ready to party at 5am. I scooped up my little ball of meat and cuddled him in our living room while the morning sun peaked above the trees. It was a chilly morning and I got the urge to add an Autumn spin to our favorite Sunday Morning Pancakes. All it took was cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin puree and it was a little Fall explosion in our kitchen. Robert isn’t crazy about pumpkin spice, but he gave these pancakes a thumbs up. And, wouldn’t you know it- our little  two-toothed baby boy also enjoyed these for a special breakfast treat.

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Smith approves.

 

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Pumpkin Spice Pancakes 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 2 Tbsp canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin spice

Directions

1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Use a pan with a nonstick surface or apply a little nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. In a separate small bowl, mix together the egg, buttermilk, pumpkin puree, and oil. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. Allow the batter to sit for about 5 minutes.

3. Pour the batter by a 1/4 cup measuring cup into the hot pain, forming 5-inch circles.

4. When the edges appear to harden, flip the pancakes. They should be light brown.

5. Cook on the other side for the same amount of time, until light brown. Do not press down on the pancakes with a spatula- this makes them dense as opposed to light and fluffy.

Recipe from: Adapted from A Treasury of Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur

 

 

 

Caramelized Onion and Spinach Egg Casserole

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Sometimes, if I am lucky, my workday schedule works out well enough that I am able to eat lunch and catch up on documentation at a Panera Bread in the next county over. I’ve been there enough times now that I have noticed that there is an elderly couple that eats there on a regular basis. Being as I work with many members of the geriatric population, I know that not all old people are “cute” as I have heard many people say. In fact, there are a lot of really not-so-nice individuals in this age group just as there are in every other age range. However, this aformentioned couple is absolutely adorable. The husband dotes on his wife, they share their food, and they swap sections of the newspaper with each other. The employees call them by their first name and pay extra special attention to this couple. Whenever the staff are giving out free samples, they always start with these two. An observation I have duly noted, by the way.

Their love for each other is so endearing, I can barely stand it. The last time they were there when I was, I found myself daydreaming of Robert and me starting this tradition when we retire. Finding a cute little cafe to go to, where we can eat a couple times a week; and there will be nothing else on our schedule for the day. Though retirement is a long (LONG) way off, I hope that if this dream is realized, we will be enjoying dishes similar to this caramelized onion and spinach egg casserole. In my opinion, it’s the perfect dining option for a leisurely brunch. Caramelized onion, spinach, crusty artisan bread, and sharp swiss cheese make for a fabulous and hearty meal.

I served this for a get together with some dear friends about a month ago and it was very well-received. Robert was a little hesitant because of the spinach, but I know he will come around before I make this again. At least, he better get on board in time for all of the glorious lunch dates I have planned for us in about 35 years.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Make it extra special by whipping up this casserole.

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Caramelized Onion and Spinach Egg Casserole 

Yield: 8-12 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 cups 1-inch cubed day-old bread (I used leftover Artisan Bread)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (lengthwise)
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
  • 12 oz fresh spinach, cleaned well
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 10 large eggs
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) sharp Swiss cheese, grated and divided
  • 2 oz (about 1 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated and divided
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter and oil. Add in the onions, sugar, thyme, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Allow mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a golden brown (about 30 minutes). Add the spinach to the pan over the onions and cover the pan. Cook for 2 minutes and then start mixing the spinach into the onions with tongs. Cover the pan and cook for another minute; continuing to stir until spinach has wilted into the onion mixture. You may have to gradually add in the spinach, depending on the size of your pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. While the vegetables cool,  add the cream and milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the mustard, eggs, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper until well-beaten. Stir in 1 ½ cups of the Swiss and ¾ cup of the Parmesan cheeses.
  3. Spread the cubes of bread in a greased, 9x13in baking dish. Top the bread with the onion-spinach mixture. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread and onion-spinach mixture, making sure to cover all of the bread. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
  4. When you are ready to make the casserole, remove the casserole from the refrigerator to allow the dish to warm up while the oven preheats. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the dish on a baking sheet. Bake until the casserole gets puffy and is golden brown, about 65-75 minutes. Allow the casserole to stand for 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Source: Barely adapted from Smells Like Home 

S’mores Cupcakes

 

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I made these cupcakes for my beloved childhood friend, Jamie, last week. She turned the big 2-8 and I wanted to make her something special. S’mores are such a ubiquitous summer treat and they always bring back such happy memories. I often think back to those hot and balmy Ohio summer sleepovers spent with Jamie and our close group of girlfriends. The crickets chirping and fireflies lighting up the night sky. It sounds like a cheesy country song, but we had a lot of fun. We’d laugh into the early hours of the morning and talk about the boys we had crushes on and who was the hottest member of The Backstreet Boys (I was always fond of Kevin.) There also may or may not be “lost” footage of our homemade music videos somewhere in the stratosphere. This was the time period when I was under the delusion that I was a good dancer. My signature move was the shoulder shrug.

I remember wondering, back then, how life would be when we all “grew up.” Fast forward almost 2 decades and here we are. Some are married, some have children, and all seem to be doing very well in their respective careers. I still try to keep in touch with most of the group (social media can be productive), but I am closest with Jamie. She is such an exceptional person. I often marvel at her ability to make friends with anyone as well as her intellectual mind and hilarious wit. Whenever I have the pleasure of getting together with Jamie, I always leave feeling enriched and re-fueled. Some friendships withstand, and even strengthen, with the test of time. I am lucky to say that is the case for Jamie and me.

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Celebrate this summer and make these portable campfire treats today!

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S’mores Cupcakes

Yield: 2 dozen standard cupcakes

Ingredients

For the Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 1/3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the Cupcakes:

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons freshly brewed coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Marshmallow Frosting:

  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

1. Make the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in 2 standard cupcake pans. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter until mixture is combined. Scoop a heaping tablespoon into each cupcake liner and gently press down to pack the crust. Bake for 5 minutes and allow to cool on cooling racks while you make the cupcake batter. Keep the oven on.

2. Make the cupcakes: In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, then add the eggs one at a time until well combined (scraping down the sides as necessary). Add in the vanilla and mix well.

In another medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, buttermilk, and coffee. Next, in a third bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt). With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk and flour mixtures alternately in thirds, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Be careful not to over mix the batter- mix until just combined.

Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners that are filled with the graham cracker crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely.

3. Make the marshmallow frosting:  Place the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a bowl set over a pan of a few inches of simmering water. Warm the mixture, whisking constantly, until it reaches 160° F with a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and move the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Begin mixing at low speed and slowly move to medium-high speed until stiff and shiny peaks form. Mix in the vanilla until well-incorporated.  Place the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a closed star tip and decorate as desired. Toast with a kitchen torch and top with chocolate, if desired.

Source: Cupcakes from Ina Garten, Frosting and Graham Cracker Crust from Annie’s Eats

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homestead Living: How to Make Homemade Pizza

 

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If there’s a food I can eat every week (maybe even everyday), it’s pizza. There are so many variations that it’s hard to tire of it. Plus, who doesn’t love melty, bubbly cheese and chewy bread?

A few years ago, Robert bought me a pizza stone and a pizza peel after we discovered the life-changing book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We made a lot of bread; but then we decided to start dabbling with homemade pizza. We experimented with several different oven temperatures and doughs as well as different methods of getting the pizza onto the stone. This involved making a lot of pizza and also creepily watching the chefs in the kitchens of pizza joints when we went out to eat. It was a pretty rough assignment. And by pretty rough, I mean it was glorious.

I’m happy to report that all of that “hard work” has paid off and Bert and I are now able to make delicious pizza in our own kitchen. It’s fast, easy, economical, and i think I may even prefer our version to take out. I usually make a batch of dough about once every 2 weeks and leave it in the fridge for nights where I don’t have as much time to prepare a meal. On those nights, I grab whatever ingredients we have on hand and make a pizza pie for us to enjoy. That’s amore, my friends.

In order to make the best homemade pizza, you will need to invest in a good ceramic pizza stone. This really is key. You can get away with not having a pizza peel, but the stone is crucial. It allows the pizza crust to start baking as soon as that dough hits the hot stone and it provides you with that fabulous, chewy bread base that we all crave. I also like to use parchment paper underneath the pizza when I transport it onto the stone. I’ve tried putting cornmeal on the peel, but it ended in a calzone-gone-bad tragedy 9 times out of 10. I just decided to play it safe and keep the parchment paper handy. And, as I stated above, you don’t need a pizza peel if you don’t want one. You can transport the pizza to the stone using a cookie sheet or cutting board as long as you keep the parchment paper underneath.

Once you have your stone, you are ready to start making your very own scrumptious homemade pizza! I promise you you won’t be disappointed.

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First up…. You have to make the dough. And it couldn’t be easier. Here is the no-knead recipe we love:

Olive Oil Dough

Ingredients 

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 3/4 cup lukewarm, NOT HOT,  water (I microwave mine for 1 minute in the microwave)
  • 6  1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

Directions

Place the yeast, salt, sugar, olive oil, and water in a large plastic bowl (I use a 1 gallon Rubbermaid container with a lid).

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Next, add in the 6 1/2 cups of flour. I have substituted whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour in the past, but I found the taste is best if you use half whole wheat flour and half white flour if you are looking for a little extra nutrition in your pizza crust.

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Use a wooden spoon to give all the ingredients a good stir until the dough starts to come together. It’s okay if a few clumps of flour remain. It usually takes me about 20-25 stirs of the spoon to get the right consistency. You will need to use a little elbow grease, but it will be worth it!

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Lightly place a lid on the container on the dough. Don’t seal it completely. Allow the dough to rest for 2-5 hours in a warm, dry area. I always allow my dough to rise on our kitchen countertop, away from the sink. The dough will puff up and start to press on the lid. At this point, you can either fasten the lid and refrigerate the dough for a later time or you can use the dough immediately.

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When you are ready to use the dough, dust your hands with flour and take a grapefuit-sized hunk from the bowl. Use one hand to grab a small handful of flour and then dust or “cloak” the dough with flour and smooth it into a ball. Place the ball of dough on a sheet of parchment paper and allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes (if you are using the dough right after you let it rise, you don’t need to let the dough rest and you can proceed to shaping it right away). The resting allows the dough to warm up, which makes it less elastic and easier to stretch into a beautiful base.

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While the dough rests, place your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven for a solid 20 minutes. If you are using a standard “bake” setting on an oven, preheat to 515 degrees. If you are using a “convection” setting, preheat to 485 degrees. These may seem like really high temperatures and you may be concerned that your oven is going to explode, but the temperature is the key to getting a great crust. I recommend using an oven thermometer to ensure the temperature you are setting your oven on is correct. You’d be surprised how inaccurate some appliances can be.

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While the oven is preheating and your dough is resting, you can prepare your toppings. Get creative- the possibilities are endless!

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Once the dough has rested, it’s time to assemble your pizza pie. Shaping the dough can take some practice. The important thing to remember is to respect the dough. Don’t fight it. If you start trying to stretch it and it is still pretty elastic or you are tearing holes in it, carefully mold the dough back into a ball, and place it back down on the parchment paper and let it rest for a little longer. The more your work the dough, the more the gluten develops and it can cause a tough crust if you get overzealous. If the dough is sticky, you can always dust your hands or the dough with more flour.

There are a few ways you can stretch the dough. You can hold the ball between your hands and gently let gravity pull the dough downward and then you can carefully turn the dough, kind of like your are turning a steering wheel. You can also stretch the dough a little bit and then drape it over your fists and then gently pull the dough outward with your knuckles and even flip the dough in the air (this never ends well for me). Or, if you are wanting to ease into the dough-making business, you can just push the dough out into a disc on the parchment paper and then tug it outward until you achieve your desired base.

Always leave more dough at the edge as this will be your crust!

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Next up, add your sauce. Tomato-based, pesto, ranch dressing, olive oil, whatever tickles your fancy.

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Then, add the cheese and toppings. Again, get crazy. This your pie!

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Once all the toppings are on and the oven has preheated, it’s time to bake the pizza. Slide a pizza peel or a cookie sheet underneath the parchment paper and pizza. Open the oven and carefully transport the pizza (with the parchment paper) onto the stone. I’ve found it easiest to do this by getting the pizza peel (or cookie sheet) as close to the stone as possible and at about a 45 degree angle. Then, you flick the wrist that’s holding the peel to scooch the pizza and parchment onto the stone. Again, you can try to do this sans parchment paper. A lot of people use cornmeal, but I’ve never had a lot of luck getting the pizza perfectly onto the stone without the parchment paper. The parchment can withstand high heat and it won’t impact the way the pizza bakes.

Note: parchment paper and wax paper are NOT the same thing! Wax paper will melt onto your pizza at these temperatures. 

If you are using the “bake” setting at 515 degrees, bake for 12-13 minutes. If you are using the “convect” setting, set the timer for 10-11 minutes. You’ll know the pizza is done when the cheese is brown and bubbly and the crust is a golden hue.

When you are ready to take the pizza out of the oven. Use you the peel (or cookie sheet) and place the tip on the edge of the stone and carefully tug the parchment paper and slide the pizza onto the peel completely. Remove, allow to cool, and cut into slices. Enjoy!

Congratulations, you just made homemade pizza. :)

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Source: Dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Basil Lemonade

 

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About a month ago, my beloved Aunt Khaki sent me a box of California lemons that came from right outside her back door. Apparently 2014 has been a stellar year for this citrus fruit in Santa Monica and she had more lemons than she could handle. I was giddy with excitement when she asked me for my mailing address. I welcomed recipe suggestions from others and I ended up making lemon muffins, blueberry lemon coffeecake, and salad dressings and marinades. Still, I had barely made a dent in my glorious supply and I was running out of time. Luckily, I stumbled upon a recipe for this basil lemonade and knew instantly that it would be perfect as it just so happens I have a flourishing basil plant in our herb garden. I got to juicing and plucked some basil and I was able to create this delicious and refreshing summer drink in no time.

I have a deep love for simple syrups. You may recall my borderline obsession with Northstar Cafe’s Fresh Ginger Ale , which is made with ginger simple syrup. This basil simple syrup is right up there as well. It is such a great way to jazz up the standard lemonade. This drink would make a great cocktail as well. Throw in a splash of rum or vodka and you’d be good to go.

I am really excited to experiment with more variations of simple syrups with summer’s bountiful supply of fresh produce. Mint, peaches, raspberries, cucumber. The possibilities are endless.

Have a fabulous Monday, everyone. I hope you enjoy this lemonade as much as we did!

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Oh, and I must throw in a photo of my little sugar dumpling. He doesn’t like lemons. Yet. :)

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Basil Lemonade 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 12-15 lemons)
  • 2 cups filtered or sparkling water
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, washed and stemmed (about 1 cup loose-packed)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Basil and lemon slices for garnish, optional

Directions 

1. Make the basil simple syrup: Place 2 cups sugar, basil leaves, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat until until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutres. Be sure to gently muddle the basil with a spoon as you heat the syrup to intensify the flavor. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain the syrup over a sieve and discard the basil leaves. Store in the refrigerator if you are not going to serve the lemonade immediately.

2. Assemble the lemonade: Mix the lemon juice and 2 cups water or sparkling water together in a pitcher. Add in the cooled basil simple syrup and stir. Serve over ice with a garnish of lemon and basil.

Source: Giada De Laurentiis 

 

 

Peach & Blueberry Crumb Coffeecake

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You know those quizzes that are all over social media right now. The “What kind of dog are you?” or “Which state should you live in?” quizzes. I am a sucker for those. Because they are all very accurate and not at all a colossal waste of time. Plus, I truly need to know which character I am on House of Cards (I’m Christina Ghallager and Robert is, slightly disturbingly, Frank Underwood in case you are wondering).

Anyways, there seems to always be some question that asks about your ideal vacation or day off. I always go for the option that includes staying in, curling up on the couch, and/or a quaint brunch with friends. Oh, man. If there is ever a brunch option, I choose it no matter what the other options are. I’ve made that promise to myself and won’t go back on my word.

Brunch is just fabulous, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a great excuse to eat cake for breakfast and it be okay. That’s why I served this coffeecake at a brunch I hosted this past weekend for some of my most beloved girlfriends from high school.  It seemed like the natural thing to do. The peaches and blueberries are in full bloom around here and I just so happened to stumble upon this recipe last week. The cake has a great crumb to it and the cinnamon streusel topping doesn’t overpower the slightly tart chunks of fruit speckled throughout. I wrapped the leftovers in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and put it in the freezer. I just had a piece for breakfast this morning and I am happy to report the integrity of the taste was not negatively impacted.

I will definitely be making another batch of this breakfast “bread” for future brunches, even if those brunches are a party of one. :)

Peach & Blueberry Crumb Cake

Ingredients

For the Topping:

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into 8 pieces

For the Cake:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dry
  • 2 cups peeled and chopped fresh peaches (about 3 medium peaches)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch cake pan and line with a circle of parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Make the Topping: Whisk together the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt in an electric mixer on low speed until well combined, Add the butter and mix on low speed until no large hunks of butter remain and the mixture is uniform and looks like flakes of oatmeal. Place in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Make the Cake: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, powder, and salt.  Set aside. Cream together the butter, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix until combined. Next, add in the eggs, one at a time;  scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. The mixture will appear curdled at this point. Reduce the mixer speed to low, then gradually add the flour mixture and beat until the mixture is just combined, about 20 seconds. Use a spatula to finish mixing the batter, making sure to scrape any flour off the bottom of the bowl. Lastly, carefully fold blueberries and peaches into the batter with a spatula until evenly incorporated.

4. Assemble & Bake the Cake: Pour the batter into the cake pan and gently smooth the top with a spatula. Take the topping and squeeze a handful to pack it together and then sprinkle it over the cake. Repeat with the remaining topping until the batter is covered. Place in the oven and bake for about 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs. Place on a cooling rack and allow cake to cool for 20 minutes before removing from pan.

Source: Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Cook’s Illustrated

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

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Aw yes. The old favorite pair: chocolate and peanut butter. It’s hard to resist the salty and sweet combination. Want to make it even more irresistible? Add in butter. A weight watchers trifecta of evil, if you will. I made these bad boys for a surprise welcome home party for my sister a few weeks ago and they were a hit.

I used my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and then topped them with a glorious whipped peanut butter buttercream. It’s fabulous on cupcakes and it would also be great on brownies, graham crackers, rice cakes… ok, let’s get real- these foods are just going to be a vehicle to get this stuff from point A to your mouth. I liken it to my mom serving us steamed artichokes when we were young and we got to dip them in melted butter. We were just in it for the melted butter. Honesty is the first step to acceptance.

To actually make the frosting, you must know that the whipping of the butter is the key to a great buttercream. Allow the butter to soften to room temperature and then beat it with an electric mixer or handheld mixer for 8-10 minutes at a medium-high speed. The butter will become pale yellow and fluffy and it will strengthen your faith in God. It’s magical, really, and it yields pillowy frosting that pipes like a dream.

Piping icing gives me an inner peace that I imagine yogis feel while they are in the middle of meditation. Namaste, my friends, and have a fabulous weekend!

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Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

1. Place the butter  into a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high for 8 minutes, until pale yellow and fluffy. Add in the peanut butter and beat for about 4-5 mins longer. Add in the vanilla extract and powdered sugar. Mixture will appear crumbly. Add in the cream and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 2 mins longer. Add more cream if mixture is still too thick. Frost your baked good of choice or store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes.com

 

Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies

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We just got back from a lovely Independence Day celebration at Lake Erie with my sister’s family. Selby is now officially back in Ohio and I couldn’t be more excited. I have already seen her more in one month than I probably did in one year while she was living out of state. It’s fabulous.

A lot of people have already started asking Robert and me if we want more childrenMy first thought is, “more kids already?! My little pup is not even crawling yet!”  But my next thought (and my response) is, “absolutely- we would love nothing more than to give Smith a sibling.”

You see, there is no bond like that between siblings. My sister and I didn’t always get along. In fact, we really butted heads growing up. We had different interests and different personalities. She was always very outgoing and assertive and I was more shy and sensitive. Selby was the homecoming queen. I was focused on school and sports. She has the dainty, thin feet and I have pizza wedge, size 11 feet.  I once joked, “I don’t think we would be friends if we weren’t sisters.” Probably not the nicest thing I’ve ever uttered; but to the naked eye, it’s the truth.

It wasn’t until Selby was in college that we started to connect more. I started to realize how much I really needed and depended on my older sister. And I think we both started to see that we were more alike than we had previously thought. We shared the common bond of childhood. Selby was my first friend. All the road trips, holidays, and even the fist fights at Vacation Bible School created this strong relationship that trumped those moments when I lambasted her in my fourth grade diary or the time she threw scissors at me (kids do the cutest things). Yep, Selby and I are two peas in a “night quite right” pod; but we wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the line from Little Women sums it up pretty well, “I could never love anyone as I love my sister(s).”

As for these cookies, they have absolutely no tie in to my little narrative above; but they are still lovely in their own way. Chewy and soft, they are very comforting and their looks don’t do them justice. They won’t win awards for looks; but they will win your heart with taste. They are even better if you let the dough chill for 24 hours to allow the flavors to really meld and develop.

Here’s to more random thoughts and unrelated recipes.  Plenty more where that came from. :)

Oh and I just have to share this picture of my nephew, Jack, enjoying his first ever s’more over the weekend!

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Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups quick cooking oats
  • 2 cups cinnamon chips

Directions

1.In a medium bowl, cream together butter and both sugars.

2. Beat in eggs, one at a time until well blended. Stir in vanilla. Add in the molasses and whip until combined. Scrape down the sides as needed.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.

4. Add in the oats and stir just until combined. Add in the cinnamon chips and, again, mix just until combined.

5. Transfer the dough to plastic wrap, cover, and chill for at least an hour (24hrs is best!).

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Roll the dough into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls and place on the cookie sheets, about two inches apart. Press down gently with fingertips.

7. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t overbake. Allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Source: Adapted from allrecipes.com

 

Food Memory Friday: Strawberry Shortcake

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It sure has been a long time since I’ve posted a “Food Memory Friday.” Today’s recipe happens to be based on one of Robert’s favorite treats. The summer after Robert and I started dating, I was over at his house (now our house) eating dinner and mama Connie served up some strawberry shortcake for dessert. It was much different than the kind my mother made. I watched in curiosity as Robert and his dad tore up the biscuit-like cake, scooped macerated strawberries with lots of sugar on top, and then poured a generous amount of whole milk over it. I was skeptical. Just as skeptical as I think they were of me when I decided to top my strawberry shortcake (sans milk and with the cake still in its original form) with a little drizzle of chocolate syrup. “Chocolate?,”Connie questioned with a friendly smirk. Yes- chocolate. Because, is there any dessert where chocolate doesn’t belong? No.

Bert and I got to see a lot of the differences in our families as we continued to date and spend more time together. My Irish catholic side and his Amish/Mennonite side. His parents focused on teaching their boy how to put in a hard day’s work and mine focused on studying hard to get good grades and get into college. His house was always stocked with a candy bowl that I couldn’t (still can’t) avoid dipping my hand into. My house never had a regular supply of desserts. My family reunions involved adult beverages. His family get togethers featured lots of delicious Amish food. It was, and still is, an eclectic mix of two cultures that has been beneficial for both of us.

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Now here we are, sitting in the same spot enjoying strawberry shortcake that we first did over a decade ago. I like to think we’ve successfully brought pieces of both of our sides together into our little family. I’m hoping our baby rump roast will get the best of both worlds. A nice blend of feisty Irish and hard-working Amish.

And time will tell what type of strawberry shortcake he will prefer.

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Strawberry Shortcake

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup low fat milk
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • Additional sugar for berries, as desired
  • Whipped cream, optional

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Sprinkle in the butter and use your (clean) hands to rub the butter and flour mixture together until the mixture resembles flakes of oatmeal.

3. Combine the milk and vanilla and slowly pour into the flour mixture. Gently fold with a wooden spoon, until just combined. Drop a generous spoonful of dough onto a baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

4. Remove from oven and allow shortcakes to cool. Split in half and top with berries, sugar, and whipped cream. Store unused shortcakes in an airtight container for about 2 days.

Source: Slightly adapted from Alton Brown

Vanilla Cake with Fresh Strawberry Filling and Vanilla Bean Frosting

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I’ve written about it before, and I’ll write about again. Mornings are my favorite time of day. Surprisingly, even more now with a baby. Smith is so cuddly in the morning and I love the feel of my warm, bleary-eyed little ham ball swaddled up and tucked tightly against my chest.

Numerous people have told me to cherish these moments. They say time goes too quickly. You wake up one morning and your babies are babies no longer. There will be a day when he doesn’t need me to come rushing into his nursery in the middle of the night to put his binky back in or when he doesn’t think making raspberry noises is the most hilarious thing on earth.

I try to keep reminding myself of this. That the unorganized disaster in the basement will eventually get sorted and the pile of clean laundry will find its home someday. In the meantime I will just enjoy my little boy sleeping in my arms. His long eyelashes and chubby little feet and perfect little sausage fingers. My whole world. Ahhh… there I go again.

Let me talk about this cake.

I made it for a Good Friday get together at Robert’s cousins’ house. I was thinking of making a carrot cake, but Bert crinkled his nose at the sound of it. Apparently vegetables and dessert don’t mix. Lame.  My next choice was vanilla bean. Even better, I found some really delicious strawberries at the local grocery store and decided a strawberry filling would be a great way to jazz things up.

I used a cake and frosting recipe from Sweetapolita and I was really happy with the results. As she warned, you have to be really careful not to over bake the cake. Unfortunately, I was preoccupied tending to my crying babe and I let the cake bake just a little bit too long. It was a little dry as a result; but I am sure it would have been just right if I would have taken it out of the oven sooner. I know I will use this recipe again.

On an unrelated note, I am still trying to find the best place in our house to take pictures, so I hope you enjoy the lovely front door in the background (don’t worry-I had the cake on cake stand, so it didn’t touch the floor). ;)

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Vanilla Bean Cake with Fresh Strawberry Filling

Yield: 16 servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 5 large egg whites , at room temperature
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces

For the frosting:

  • 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 3 cups chopped strawberries
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

1. Make the strawberry topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, water, and cornstarch. Set aside. Place the strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, gently mashing the berries with a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes to a low boil. Add in the cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil again, and cook for 1 minute longer until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 8 inch round pans with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, stir together the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of buttermilk, and the vanilla. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together the dry ingredients until combined (about 30 seconds).

With the mixer on low speed, add in the butter one piece at a time (about every 10 seconds) until the mixture is a fine mixture (about the size of oatmeal flakes). Gradually add in the buttermilk, and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and slowly add in the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Stop the mixer and fold with a spatula to ensure batter is evenly mixed.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for about 25- 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake only has a few crumbs. DO NOT OVER BAKE! Remove from oven and place on cooling racks to allow cake to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pans.

3. Make the frosting: Place the butter in an electric mixer fired with a paddle attachment. Whip on high speed, for about 8 minutes, until the butter becomes pale and fluffy.Add in the remaining ingredients and mix for about 4 minutes longer.

4. Assemble the cake: Pipe a ring of frosting around what will be the base cake to ensure the strawberry filling won’t ooze. Gently spoon the filling on top of the cake and spread evenly. Place the other cake on top and frost/decorate with vanilla bean frosting. Serve immediately or refrigerate for 1 day. Be sure to remove the cake from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving to allow the butter in the frosting to soften. Enjoy!

Source:Cake and frosting from SweetapolitaStrawberry filling adapted from Annie’s Eats