Baking on the brain

It must be the holiday season, but for some reason, I just want to bake, bake, and bake some more. Today I had to get a little writing done for my newlywed blog, The Making of a Mrs, but tomorrow I’ll be right back in the kitchen. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of the baking goodies I’ve splurged on. Since I had some extra money in my pocket, I spoiled myself by buying lots of little baking tools. There’s absolutely nothing like buying something new for the kitchen. I get so excited about all my new gadgets and the different recipes I can make with them.

Cupcake Surprise Pan

Photograph from Bed, Bath and Beyond

I’ve been longing to make cupcakes with something fun in the center. I have a cupcake plunger, but sometimes, I just want to stick a Hershey chocolate or a Reese’s cup in the middle. I tried that with my chocolate peppermint cupcakes, but the kisses just sunk to the bottom. I’ve already got plans to try this out tomorrow.

Sleigh Cupcake Holder

Photograph from Crate and Barrel

I found these on someone’s blog (I apologize, I don’t remember which blog specifically), and instantly headed to Google to find out where to buy them. How adorable are they? I’ve never purchased anything from Crate and Barrel before, but I can tell I’ll be going back again.

Ornament Cookie Cutters

Photograph from Crate and Barrel

I also got these cookie cutters because I am definitely going to host a cookie swap next year. I love all of the sugar cookies I’ve seen that are decorated as ornaments and now I’ll be able to try them out myself.

I’m still looking for some whoopie pie pans. I drove around to a couple Bed, Bath, and Beyond stores yesterday and they were sold out everywhere! There aren’t any online either. I don’t really need them to make whoopie pies, I just think they’ll make for a smoother, prettier looking pie.

What’s on your baking wish list for Christmas? Have you spoiled yourself with a few baking goodies this year?

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Cooking with my mumsie

Tonight my parents had a Christmas cocktail party at their house. Usually they throw an annual Oktoberfest, but since my dad has been living in Australia, they opted to do a Christmas shindig instead. One detail I loved about the party was the tasting sets my mum used. Instead of providing a big display of foods, she planned little appetizers in those adorable miniature goblets and martini glasses you can buy. It was fabulous!

However, what I loved even more than the tasting party idea, was that my mum allowed me to help this year. I feel like it’s proof of how far I’ve come as a cook. Last year I didn’t know anything about baking or cooking. Now, I’m helping my mum throw a big neighborhood party by making mini desserts! It was one of those memories I won’t forget. I loved cooking alongside my mum and will cherish that moment we had together. I hope we can do the same thing next year, too.

Here’s what I contributed to the party:

They are  Chocolate Peanut Butter Parfaits. On the bottom there is a chocolate graham cracker mix with chocolate drizzle, and there is peanut butter mouse mixture and chocolate drizzle on top.

Here’s how you make them!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Parfaits

Source: Just Mini Desserts by Robert Zollweg

Ingredients:

1 tsp vanilla

4 tbsp of melted butter

1/2 cup of peanut butter

1- 1/2 cups crushed chocolate graham crackers (I used teddy bear grahams)

1 8oz package of cream cheese

1/2 cup of chocolate ice cream syrup

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tbsp honey

3 tbsp milk

12 parfait shooter glasses (2-3 0z each)

Method:

Crush the graham crackers into fine pieces, and combine with honey and melted butter. Once mixed, spoon roughly a teaspoon into each shooter glass.

Drizzle the graham crackers with the chocolate syrup and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine peanut butter and cream cheese. Once well mixed, add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. Continue blending until completely smooth.

You’ll want to top the parfaits with chocolate syrup or chocolate shavings when finished. You could even add peanuts on top; however, I refrigerated them for a few hours before garnishing.

Unfortunately, I did miss one ingredient in the parfaits. I was exhausted this morning and didn’t read the recipe as clearly as I should have. You are supposed to fold whipping cream into the peanut butter mixture. I didn’t realize that until I sat down to write this blog. I will say that it tasted pretty good without the whipping cream! I’m still disappointed, but everyone at the party seemed to enjoy it!

Beef and potato skillet with roasted red pepper sauce

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted a recipe, so I think it’s about time I share one. Recently I found a delicious beef and potato meal on my favourite site (Pillsbury.com). I really love skillet meals and I’ve been trying to find more and more of them. Since Robert and I don’t eat a lot at dinner, it’s perfect to have something packed full of ingredients in a smaller serving. Plus, they’re quick and easy to make, too. 

Beef and Potato Skillet Dinner

Source: Pillsbury.com

Ingredients:

4 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 drained jar of roasted red bell peppers (about 7 oz)

1 bag of thawed broccoli florets (the site recommends Green Giant but any will do)

½ cup half-and-half

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 bag of diced potatoes (cooked and roughly 20 oz)

1 teaspoon fresh tarragon leaves (chopped)

 1 lb of ground beef (recipe calls for beef sirloin steak in strips, but ground beef tasted good, too)

 ½ teaspoon of salt

Side note: instead of pepper and salt, I used Season All (I don’t know how much I used, but I kept adding until it tasted how I liked it)

Method:

Blend the half-and-half and the roasted red peppers with a blender. If you’re like me and don’t want to get out a big blender for a smaller dish, a hand mixer works well, too. Mix until completely blended.

In a pan, cook the potatoes with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Cook in the pan until the potatoes are tender. Take out of the pan and leave in a covered bowl.

Next, cook the beef (using the pan you cooked the potatoes in) with the remaining tablespoons of olive oil. This is when you would add the salt and pepper; however, if you want to use Season All like I did, wait until you add the sauce.

Combine the potatoes and broccoli to the beef. Next, add the red pepper sauce and allow to cook on a low heat. Add the Season All and keep tasting to find the right amount of seasoning for you. Finally, sprinkle with tarragon leaves.

I still felt like the recipe was missing something. It tasted good, but it was just a little bland. Any suggestions on a seasoning I could use next time?

My first cookie swap

Now that I’m constantly baking, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to head to a cookie swap! I’ve never been to one before, but I absolutely love the concept. The holiday season has really inspired me to bake and swapping cookies with other bakers sounded like perfection to me. The one my mum and I went to was a ladies only party and was hosted at our neighborhood clubhouse. Honestly, even if there had been no cookies the clubhouse alone screams a warm, festive environment. Just look at the gorgeous fireplace:

Combined with the cozy fire, there was wine, Christmas carols, and lots and lots of cookies. Unfortunately, my mum and I weren’t able to bake our own cookies. I had just thrown the baby shower this past weekend and my mum is throwing a party this Saturday. Since we’ve both been so busy, we picked up some delicious Toll House cookies. This is what we took over:

I did feel guilty about taking store-bought cookies, but honestly we just didn’t have time; however, I have vowed that next year not only am I throwing my own cookie swap but am baking my own cookies. I found this adorable holiday cookie exchange kit at World Market. The moment I saw it I wanted to indulge in a cookie swap, but I didn’t feel comfortable hosting one here since it’s not my own home.

Photo from World Market website http://www.worldmarket.com/home/index.jsp

The kit comes with the invites, treat bags, recipe cards, and more. I definitely want to use it for next year and hope that along with swapping cookies, guests will swap recipes, too.

We didn’t stay for long, but we got to chat with some of the ladies and enjoy the festivities. Plus, when we came home we got to bring this delicious tray of goodies with us:

I did have to break my sugar-free diet for the day, but all I can say is, it was completely worth it!

My latest guilty pleasure: whoopie pies

It started with cupcakes, moved on to cake pops, and now I’m hooked on another baked treat – whoopie pies! I haven’t made one yet, but I’ve already started looking at recipes. The only reason I’m waiting is because I’ve been doing a lot of holiday baking and practising no self-control (joy to the holidays)! So for now I need a small sugar break.

However, yesterday I finally bought this adorable book I’d been admiring.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it looks so fun! The recipes sound interesting, too. You can try smores, gingerbread, pumpkin, banana, and red velvet whoopie pies. The book also offers a variety of different fillings so you can mix and match what you make. The one I really want to try is the Almond Joy (a chocolate whoopie pie with a coconut filling and crush almonds around the side). As for hubby, he wants me to make the jalapeno cornbread whoopies with a maple-bacon filling. . . I think I’ll be leaving those for him to try!

 

 

Homemade Banana Pudding

Yesterday was Robert’s birthday, and since he doesn’t like cake, I had to find something different for his “birthday cake.” Then I stumbled across a recipe for banana pudding. Hubby loves banana pudding so I knew it would be perfect. Even better, the recipe was from one of my favorite Food Network shows: “Down Home with the Neelys.” They are so much fun to watch because they have a lot of passion for cooking and for each other.

I was nervous because I’ve only had banana pudding a handful of times, and truthfully, I don’t remember how it should taste. I could have been safe and gone the instant mix route, but I am determined to bake from scratch every time. So I put on my apron and gave it a shot.

Mama Daisy’s Banana Pudding

Source: Foodnetwork.com

Ingredients:

2 – 12 oz cans of evaporated milk (do not use fat free- the pudding takes much too long to thicken)

5 – bananas (cut into slices)

6 – tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 – egg yolks

2 1/2 – cups sugar

1 – teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream

1/2 – stick butter (cut into cubes)

1 – box vanilla wafers

Method:

In a pan (3qt) mix together the flour and sugar, then add the evaporated milk. Make sure mixture is on a low heat and keep stirring until it thickens.

Side note: I used fat free evaporated milk and it took me an hour to thicken the sauce (even then it wasn’t very thick). On the show, it took fifteen minutes for the mixture to thicken, so I recommend using a regular can of evaporated milk.

Meanwhile, beat your egg yolks slightly, and once the mixture is thickened, add a ladleful to the eggs. Mix together, and when combined, add to the flour/sugar/milk mixture. Whisk until completely mixed (about 2-3 minutes).

Take the mixture off the heat and add the vanilla extract and butter. Put pudding into another bowl, cover, and leave in refrigerator for 2 1/2 hours.

Side note: I left it for longer than 2 1/2 hours and it was a nice, thick consistency.

When the pudding is almost set, be sure to whisk your heavy cream into the whipped cream.

Now that everything is ready to be put together, get a big bowl and put a layer of vanilla wafers on the bottom. Next put a layer of bananas, followed by a layer of pudding, and top with whipped cream. Continue this process until you are out of ingredients. On the last layer of whipped cream, crumble some vanilla wafer cookies.

I was thrilled when Robert told me it tasted just like it should. It was frustrating when I thought the sauce wasn’t going to thicken, but I stuck with it and am so glad I did. I feel really accomplished to have made a dessert from scratch. If I make banana pudding next year, I’ll have to get a little cake topper for on top (hopefully it won’t sink into the pudding).

Keep calm and bake on

I know I’m terrible at keeping up with this blog. Even though I don’t have a full-time job, I never seem to have the time to sit down and update. I can’t say that I’ve been cooking as much lately. One of the main reasons I’m not in the kitchen is that I’ve run out of ideas! Despite my shelf of cooking books and my emails from various cooking websites, I just haven’t found something I want to cook; however, the fact that the holidays are here has inspired more baking. Something about the colder weather and the warmth of the season has left me wanting to bake cookies, cupcakes, and more! I wish I could tell you that because I wanted to bake things have been going well, but I’ve definitely had my share of mishaps in the kitchen.

The other day I made my first attempt at baking snicker doodle cookies. I got all the way to the end of the recipe and misread the directions. In all fairness, the steps weren’t that clear; however, had I have read on I would have caught my mistake. As a result, I had to throw the batch out. As for my cupcakes, they’ve been turning out better than the cookies, but they still aren’t as moist as I would like them to be. Despite the fact my eggnog cupcakes had eggnog and oil in the batter, they came out dry. The same thing happened to my chocolate peppermint and banoffee pie cupcakes. Each batch still tasted good, and they certainly disappeared quickly, but they just weren’t up to the standards I’ve set myself. It’s frustrating to work hard on a project and not get the results you wanted. Those who have been around me while I’ve baked have seen the frequent kitchen meltdowns. I love baking, but I’m a perfectionist, and I get disappointed when I can’t perfect a recipe.

Now I’m trying a new approach to cooking/baking – the keep calm and bake on approach. I have to remind myself that Paula Dean and Gordon Ramsey didn’t become superstars overnight. Cooking and baking is a matter of experimenting, and while I’ve been lucky with a few of my early attempts, new recipes require tweaking. It’s difficult because I am such a perfectionist, and when that first batch comes out wrong, I want to fix it right away. Yet, I have to remember how much I love the process and that all of this is for fun.

Here’s what inspired that new mentality:

I am hoping that whenever I get stressed, looking down at this apron will keep me going strong.  How do you inspire yourself to keep baking/cooking when things go wrong?