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

Homestead Living: Maple Syrup Granola

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It’s  been three weeks since we moved into our little house on the hill and I must say that settling into country living is going pretty smoothly so far. Smith and I are starting to get into a good routine and I am really enjoying my newly updated kitchen (pictures to come soon). One of the goals I have for our new location is to attempt to embrace more of a homestead type of living. This doesn’t mean I’m swearing off modern medicine (I’m a physical therapist, after all). It just means I am hoping to broaden our horizons with more made-from-scratch foods, gardening, and composting. I plan on including my steps toward a modified version of this type of lifestyle. The first project? Homemade granola.

t am always shocked to see the price of granola in grocery stores considering how easy it is to make and that all the ingredients for a basic batch are readily available. Robert has finally joined the Greek yogurt train, but he prefers eating it with a bit of granola. As a result, i decided it was time to start making our own at home.

I perused through recipes and landed on this one. It’s from the folks of the ever-reliable Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a simple concoction with a delicious result. The original recipe calls for almonds and raisins, but old Bert is a no frills type of guy and we kept it simple. This is a great granola recipe that you can jazz up with lots of ingredients depending on your personal preferences. Nuts, dried fruits, seeds, chocolate chips, etc. The possibilities are endless so save yourself some moolah and start making your own granola today!

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Oh and I just couldn’t resist throwing in this picture of my little ham loaf…

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Maple Syrup Granola

Yield: 5 3/4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the maple syrup, vanilla, brown sugar, and salt. Whisk in the oil until well combined. Add in the oatmeal and mix until the oats are evenly coated.

3. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet. and gently pat down with a spatula.

4. Bake for 40-45 mins, or until lightly browned. Be sure to rotate the pan after about 20 minutes to ensure even baking.

5. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Break up the granola with a spatula and store in an airtight container.

Source: My Year Cooking with Chris Kimball

Chocolate Pots de Creme

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I am going to show you the very erudite side of me and tell you that I used to pronounce this lovely custard treat “pots-day-cream” until I saw a chef making it on a cooking show about five years ago and he was saying it the correct way, “poh-de-cccccccrem.” I was just a little bit embarrassed, but I did manage to laugh at myself. That’s what life is all about, right?

Those silly French folk and their fancy words and my phonetically-centered brain. I would fit right in in France. Can’t you see Ina Garten and me perusing the markets while Jeffery worked on his computer back at our Parisian apartment? Yeahhhh…. neither can I.

Nonetheless, pots de creme is a surprisingly easy dessert to make. There is no baking involved and it requires very few ingredients. You just need to allow some extra time for it to set in the refrigerator and the end result is a big ol’ pot of CCCCCCCCCCREM. How fancy; just like those French.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Bonjour!

Chocolate Pots de Creme

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

1. Arrange 6 small bowls on a cookie sheet and set aside.

2. Pulse the chocolate chips, salt, and sugar in a food processor until ground into fine pieces.

3. Add in the egg and pulse until smooth. Set aside.

4.. Place the cream in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat on the stove until bubbles just start to form along the edges (not a full boil). Remove from heat.

5. Turn the food processor on and slowly add the cream through the feed, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides as needed. Mix until well combined and smooth.

6. Pour the mixture into the bowls, dividing evenly, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Enjoy with whipped cream, cookies, and/or fresh fruit.

Source: King Arthur Flour

Homemade Peeps: Version 2.0

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To celebrate this beautiful Easter weekend, I attempted to make homemade peeps again. My first attempt was last spring. Visions of beautiful, sparkling marshmallow treats danced in my head. I had seen several versions on Pinterest and I knew it was destined to be a hit. I was so young and naive.  As you can see in the picture below, the magical peeps I had envisioned ended up looking like it belonged perfectly on a Pinterest Fail blog with the caption, “Nailed It.”

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Not only did the marshmallow I piped on parchment paper turn into a pastel and turd-like blob, the said blobs stuck to the parchment paper even after cooling and there was no salvaging this mess. I was a bird with a  broken wing.

When spring rolled around again this year, I came down with peep fever; and I decided it was time to try again. This time I stuck with a homemade marshmallow recipe I had used before. To prevent the little devils from sticking, I lightly sprayed the parchment paper with cooking spray. Though my homemade version featured a very diverse array of imperfect peep shapes and looks (morbidly obese, two-headed, evil eyes), I was much happier with this year’s version.

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I will definitely be making these bad boys again next year, hopefully with my little sous chef by my side.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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Strawberry Delight

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We are slowly getting settled into our new lives in the country. Things I have observed so far: it gets very dark and quiet at night, having family close by is wonderful (especially when you get sick and you have an infant to care for), I no longer have to pick up Athena’s excrement when we take her on walks because the roads are already sprinkled with horse dung, Athena is the happiest she has been ever, and we have wild turkeys in the woods behind us (that I mistook for Athena one Sunday afternoon).

It’s been a little over a week since we moved in and the reality of being back in the area we grew up in is gradually sinking in. Small town living means that I now usually recognize or run into someone I know every time I go out to run errands. It’s definitely a big change from the anonymity I grew accustomed to in Columbus. But it’s a good change. While living in a small town has its drawbacks, it also has its benefits. There are lots of friendly faces and people willing to help each other at a moment’s notice. The sense of community is strong. We are lucky to have some great folks in our lives.

Speaking of wonderful people, we had my in-laws over for dinner last weekend as a way to thank them for all the help they provided us. We made a simple dinner of barbecued chicken, red potatoes, mixed greens, and this dessert. Strawberry delight is my twist on a classic treat in this area, cherry delight. Traditionally made with cherry pie filling and cool whip, I swapped in a homemade fresh strawberry sauce and heavy whipping cream instead. The end result was a really tasty finish to a meal that was very well-received by our company. I am looking forward to many more family dinners in our new home.

Country living is going to suit us well.

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Strawberry Delight

Yield: 12 Servings

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the cream cheese filling:

  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 8 oz heavy whipping cream

For the strawberry topping:

  • 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. Bake the crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the graham crack crumbs, melted butter, salt, and sugar. Gently press the crumb mixture into a 9×13 pan with your fingers until evenly distributed. Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. Make the filling: Place the whipping cream in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Place whipped cream in a separate bowl. Add the cream cheese to the now empty bowl of the electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until creamy and smooth. Add in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar until well-incorporated. Gently fold in the whipped cream until smooth (don’t over mix!).

4. Assemble: Spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the cooled crust and top with strawberry topping. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. This dessert keeps in the refrigerator for about 2 days.

Source: Adapted from a local cookbook; Strawberry topping adapted from Annie’s Eats 

 

Life Lately

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Twenty fourteen is off to a fast and exciting start for our family. First, our lives forever and wonderfully changed with the addition of our sweet little rump roast. We spent the first few weeks of the year in a sleep-deprived, love-drunk, terrified-first-time-parent stupor. All the while, Robert and I finalized our decision to move back to the area we grew up as Robert was presented with a great career opportunity to open a satellite office for his engineering firm. We put our house on the market and, wouldn’t you know it,  it sold within 2 weeks. We are very thankful that our house sold so quickly in the cold, snowy chill of this Ohio February; but it also solidified that this move is a reality.

I will admit that it was a very difficult decision for us to make. We’ve lived in Columbus for the past 6 years and I have grown to adore this city. My heart is full of local pride in this place where we started our careers, where we bought our first home, where we developed lifelong friendships with some amazing folks,  and where we welcomed our first child into the world. I am a sentimental sap and I can’t help but have a hard time leaving the city where we’ve lovingly planted our roots. Columbus is a thriving area with lots of culture and a strong sense of community. There are so many fun things to do and see and a good amount of delicious restaurants in which we can feast.

I’ve shed a fair amount of tears as we prepare to move on and it took me a good deal of time to embrace what our next chapter holds. It will be a big transition reintegrating into rural, small-town life. We will be closer to Robert’s family and I have some very dear friends from high school that still live in the area; and it will be very nice to reconnect with them on a regular basis. We will have more space to roam and to grow and Smith will have the opportunity to explore in the woods, get dirty, build forts, fish, and ride his bike.

Though we will be further away from some of our beloved friends and family and we will not have the access to the conveniences and luxuries of city-living, we will still be our little family of three. And, just like one of my culinary idols, Ina Garten, wrote in the beginning of one of her cookbooks: “My home is wherever Jeffrey is.” Robert and Smith are my “Jeffrey,” and wherever we are all together is what fills my heart with joy. On to the next big adventure!

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The Best Baked Brown Rice

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My friends, do you find yourself leery when you see a recipe labeled “the best” or “the only recipe you’ll ever need for…”? I, too, become leery. Too many times I have ended up disappointed with the results and cried foul on the misleading label. However, I make an exception for this brown rice.

I’ve attempted a few different methods of making brown rice and I am always left wanting something more. That is, until the fine folks at Cooks Illustrated cracked the code. And it really is quite simple. If you can boil water and preheat an oven, you can make this scrumptious and healthy side dish.  Also- I like to double this recipe to have extra rice on hand for making fried rice or to have as leftovers the next day. It’s quite tasty reheated.

It feels good to be slowly getting back into the cooking scene. Our camera is usually smoking from all of the pictures I snap of this little ham ball. :)

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Baked Brown Rice

Yield: 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups long grain brown rice
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Adjust the oven rack to middle position; Preheat oven to 375 degrees and make sure the oven rack is in the middle position. Spread rice in 8-inch square baking dish.

2. Place water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. As soon as the water starts boiling (letting it boil to long will cause evaporation and affect the ratio of water and rice), remove from heat and stir in salt. Carefully pour water over rice. Cover baking dish tightly with doubled layer of foil. Place in the oven and bake rice for 1 hour, until tender.

3. Remove baking dish from oven and uncover. Fluff rice with dinner fork, then cover dish with clean kitchen towel. Let the rice stand 5 minutes. Uncover and let rice stand 5 additional minutes. Enjoy!

Note: If doubling the recipe ,use a 9×13 inch baking dish and keep the baking time the same.

Source: A Veggie Venture, originally from the magicians at Cook’s Illustrated

Our Favorite Rump Roast

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We haven’t been doing too much cooking or baking around here lately. We’re too busy snuggling our little rump roast. Smith Robert, who was named in honor of my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, was born on New Year’s Eve at 12:29pm. He weighed a healthy 9 pounds 9 ounces and was 21.6 inches long. He is absolutely perfect. We are adjusting to our new life as a family of three and I will probably be back in the kitchen after our freezer meals run out. I can’t seem to focus on much else besides our precious little bundle these days.

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Chocolate Pecan Pie

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I’ve obtained several cookbooks and baking books since I got married 6 and a half years ago. During the days of low carb dieting in my past, I would peruse longingly through the beautiful pictures in the Barefoot Contessa’s cookbook series or Taste of Home magazines. It was cathartic in a strange, carb-obsessed way. However, now the “dark ages” without carbs are only a distant memory (bread is the meaning of life), and my culinary literature collection continues to grow.

I love all the books on my shelves, but there is only one that I have of which I want to make every single recipe. That book? Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. Talk about sensory overload. Everything sounds, looks, and reads positively scrumptrulescent. It’s really quite overwhelming. Even better, since owning this precious classic, every recipe of Dorie’s that I have made has become an instant favorite of mine. She really knows her stuff.

The most recent recipe of hers that I have made is her chocolate pecan pie. I happened to have a leftover pie crust in my fridge a few weeks ago and the urge to bake hit me on a Sunday afternoon. This pie popped into my mind as I had been thinking of making it for awhile, and away I went. The end result was a nice spin on what I consider traditional pecan pie. The chocolate and cinnamon are a really delicious addition and this treat would be a great addition to any Thanksgiving menu (well, actually, not great for people with nut allergies so check on that first!).  It would be even better with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Printable Version

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch single pie crust
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (7 ounces) pecan halves or pieces
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips because I didn’t have baking chocolate)

Directions

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a pie plate on a cookie sheet lined with parchment  paper and set aside.

2. Whisk together the corn syrup and brown sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Carefully whisk in the butter, followed by the eggs (one at a time) until well-combined. Next, add in the cinnamon, vanilla, and salt and stir to incorporate. Tap the bowl against the counter to remove air bubbles and then mix in the chocolate and pecans.

3. Carefully roll out the pie crust and gently mold into the pie plate. Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. While the pie is baking for the first 15 minutes, make a foils shield for the crust by cutting out the center of a 12 inch square of aluminum foil (directions here).

4. After the first 15 minutes of baking, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and place the foil shield on top of the pie crust to prevent over-browning. Bake the pie for an additional 2o minutes, or until the pie no longer jiggles when gently tapped. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a baking rack until it reaches room temperature.

SourceBaking: From My Home to Yours by: Dorie Greenspan

The Amish “Monte Cristo”

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For all the food purists out there, I want to start by saying I understand this sandwich is not a true Monte Cristo. A Monte Cristo (based on my dining history and a quick google search), is a ham/turkey and cheese sandwich that is dipped in an egg/milk batter and then pan fried like French toast and served with jam. It is a delightful combination of sweet and savory and a fabulous Sunday brunch meal.

This version has not been dipped in a batter, but it contains the other components and I thought it wouldn’t upset the food gods too much if I deemed it the Amish Monte Cristo.

What makes it Amish, you may ask? Well, all of the ingredients come from an Amish origin. Not only did I grow up in an area that has a dense population of Amish; but there is a small settlement of Amish about 20 minutes west of Columbus in Plain City. On my days off of work, I sometimes venture out west to stock up on a few items. The bread, ham, and cheese all come from an Amish Farmer’s market in Plain City. The apples are from an orchard back in my hometown; and the apple butter was made by my in-laws, who share a family tree with this unique group of people.

The good news is you don’t have to have super magical Amish ingredients to make this sandwich. Just some good (as Ina Garten would say) ham, cheese, apple butter, apples, and bread. It’s a fast and tasty way to dress up a boring ham and cheese sandwich on cold Fall nights.

Amish Monte Cristo

Directions:

1. Spread a generous amount of apple butter on 2 slices of bread

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2. Layer one slice of bread with thinly sliced apples of your choice (I used Honeycrisp)

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3. Top with ham and swiss cheese.

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4. Grill in a lightly-buttered, heated pan until the cheese is melted.

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5. Enjoy!