Monday, December 31, 2012

Cinderella Topsy-Turvy Doll

I knitted a Cinderella Topsy-Turvy doll for the clever girl for Christmas!  The clever girl is about as girly as they come right now (does this change eventually??) and I knew she would enjoy a Cinderella doll.  The pattern is from Jean Greenhowe's Christmas Special knitting patterns.  Jean Greenhowe designs these amazing intricate patterns using a DK or worsted weight yarn and size 2 needles, so the knitting is super tight.  She has it all figured out down to the smallest details.  Note the tiny roses on happy Cinderella's dress and hair, complete with tiny green leaves that come out from each side of each rose.  Or note the tiny patches on the sad Cinderella's dress, and the little plaits in her hair with bows on the end.  Phew.  It was a labor of love.  Every time I thought I'd be finished with one part of the doll, I'd look closer and realize I had missed something!

If you aren't sure what a topsy-turvy doll is, here is another photo that might help:
Cinderella does not have legs.  Underneath the dress of one side is the head and dress of the other.  She does stand up, she just stands on the head and arms of the inside doll instead of legs!  She is about 12 inches tall from the bottom of her skirt to the top of happy Cinderella's bun.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Sticky Buns

As you might remember from a Tuesday's with Dorie post back in May on Pecan Sticky Buns, my family makes sticky buns every year for Christmas morning.  I am the baker of these buns and have tweaked recipes to my preference over time.   We started with a recipe my mom found, and used this recipe until maybe 3-4 years ago, when I found another recipe that looked like it might be worth trying.  If I am going to try out a new sticky bun recipe, I have to do so NOT on Christmas day, to make sure it is Christmas-sticky-bun worthy!  The new recipe was from Cooks Illustrated, and while there were parts that I liked, there were parts I didn't.  So I have combined the two recipes to make our new "official" Christmas sticky bun recipe. 

This recipe takes a bit of time, although it's nothing compared to many of the bread recipes I have recently tried, with multiple rest periods and rising periods.  This recipe rises twice - once on the counter, once overnight in the refrigerator.  So really, the only important (thus time consuming one that you actually WAIT for) is the one on the counter.  Not so bad for a yeast bread, really.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Daring Bakers: Panettone

The December 2012 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina.  Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!

I was really excited to take on the challenge of making a Panettone.  It is one of those baked goods that has always intrigued me.  Before this challenge, I had actually never eaten one before, only seen them in stores in their pretty, tall boxes.  As someone with Italian heritage however, I felt I would have to make a Panettone sooner or later!

Some history about the Panettone, anyone??  Evidently there are a variety of stories and legends about Panettone, but the hostess of this recipe favors the recipe and story that follows:  Once upon a time, a young Milanese noble fell in love with the daughter of a poor baker whose name was Tony (Antonio).  The nobleman wanted to marry the baker's daughter, so he made sure that the baker had the very best ingredients at his disposal - eggs, butter, flour, candied orange peel, citron and golden raisins.  The baker then created a wonderful bread that became known as "pan di Tonio", Tony's bread.  The baker found his fame and fortune with this bread, and the nobleman honorably married the baker's daughter!  Though this story is sweet and romantic, others claim that this could not possibly be true as Italians don't shorten any name to be "Tony", this is something English-speakers do.  However, most do agree that the Panettone comes from Milan, and the word Panettone has a base in two Italian words:  "panetto", which means "small loaf cake", and the suffix "-one" which means "large cake".  I must admit, this cake comes out looking like a large loaf cake, so at the very least there is something to this etymology.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Finnish Pulla

Finnish Pulla!  This was our recipe this week for the Tuesdays with Dorie group.  I have to admit, when I read that we were making a Finnish Pulla, my only thought was "what in the world is THAT?"  Just in case you are thinking the same thing, here is what I learned via Wikipedia:  A pulla bread is a mildly sweet Finnish roll or dessert bread often flavored with cardamom seeds and sometimes raisins or sliced almonds.  They tend to be braided, formed into a circle, buttered and sprinkled with sugar and almonds.  Okay, that definitely sounds good to me!

As it turns out, the Finnish Pulla in this recipe seems pretty close to the original.  The glaze on top of the dough is made with egg and milk instead of melted butter but other than that this seems pretty authentic.  And I must say, YUM.  It is quite lovely.  It calls for cardamom seeds in the pod which you then crush.  This was an extra exciting bit for me as it gave me an excuse to use the mortar and pestle we have had since we got married and have used VERY rarely.  Yippee!  I didn't crush them into a uniform powder, but left some pieces a little bigger than others, which was nice.  The cardamom flavor is very light. The bread itself is very soft and airy, sort of like a challah bread.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gingerbread Pancakes

To spice up our Saturday morning pancake breakfast, I made Gingerbread Pancakes!  Yum.  They are pretty much like eating gingerbread cookies for breakfast, but in pancake form.  Delicious!  I highly recommend!  They are no more time consuming than my regular buttermilk pancakes, and provide a nice holiday feeling.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Candy Cane Crisps

Christmas baking has begun!  Our first endeavor this year was Candy Cane Crisps.  I have no idea where this recipe might have originated.  It is simply a cookie my family has made at Christmastime for as long as I can remember!  So, I'll have to credit my mom for the recipe.  She found it somewhere and knew it was a keeper!

This recipe makes a light and crisp cookie that is delicious and fun to make.  If you have a child in your life, this might be a recipe to enjoy together.  It is for my family!

The first task for these cookies is to prepare the candy canes.  The recipe calls for a total of 3/4 cup of coarsely crushed candy canes.  I used an entire box of the small candy canes and had way too much for the cookies, but boy are they lovely sprinkled on top of ice cream!  And they are perfect additions to decorating gingerbread cookies as well!  So, while I am not sure exactly what quantity of what size candy canes you will need, I doubt any extras will go to waste.  In my experience, the little bitty candy canes are the easiest to crush, but you can also use the bigger canes or the gigantic ones that look like a big police baton.

Regardless of what you use, they need to be crushed.  Again, I have found that unwrapping them all and putting them in a ziplock bag (sometimes a double-bag) and bashing them with a meat tenderizer is the best (and most fulfilling) method.  You can also put them in a food processor or blender cup, but be prepared for the blade to get really sticky and the pieces to be pretty uniform.  The clever girl/sous chef bashed the candy canes for me this year, and had a marvelous time!

 Be proud of your crushed candy cane accomplishment!!

Now you can start the recipe.  First, beat powdered sugar and butter together until creamy, then add vanilla extract. 

Add flour, oats and salt and mix until blended.  Check out the beater-blade action!  Yahoo!  I love my mixer.

Gently stir in 1/4 cup of the beautifully crushed candy canes.

Take a break and have a delicious sweet reward for your efforts!!!

Okay, back to the task at hand.  There are three basic steps to preparing the cookies for baking: 
Step 1:  roll about a teaspoon-full of dough into a 3/4 inch ball and roll that ball in powdered sugar.  We split this task - I made the initial dough ball, and the clever girl rolled the ball into powdered sugar!  By the way, you could use a greased and floured cookie sheet for this, but I highly recommend a parchment-lined sheet.

Step 2:  use a fork and do a criss-cross pattern across each dough ball, flattening (but not totally annihilating) the dough.
Step 3:  sprinkle each cookie with about 1/2 teaspoon crushed candy canes.  If you spill some candy canes onto the cookie sheet, pick them up.  They will melt and stick to the cookie sheet and become a big mess.  If you don't use parchment paper, this is where you'll wish you had! 

 Ready to go into the oven!  They bake for 12-18 minutes at 325F.

Done!  The dough itself is light and buttery, and the melted candy canes on top give the cookies a nice crunch, plus a yummy peppermint taste!  They are  excellent with a mug of hot cocoa!

Candy Cane Crisps
adapted from my mom

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup unsifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coarsely crushed candy canes
additional powdered sugar, approx. 1/4 cup, for rolling
1/2 cup coarsely crushed candy canes, for topping

Preheat oven to 325F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the vanilla.  Add flour, oats and salt and mix until well blended.  Gently stir in 1/4 cup candy canes.  Roll rounded teaspoon-fulls of the dough into 3/4-inch balls, then roll the balls in powdered sugar.  Place the balls about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet.  Using a fork, flatten the cookies in a criss-cross pattern, and sprinkle each cookie with about 1/2 teaspoon crushed candy canes. 

Bake 12-18 minutes until lightly browned.  Let cool on pan for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
Printable Recipe

Give this recipe a try!  They are fun to make and just delicious to eat!  I realized when making these that they have no eggs, so they might be a great choice for someone with an egg allergy!  I have friends with kids that have all sorts of allergies, so I am excited when I come across something potentially helpful to them! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Turkey Chili

It has finally gotten cool here in Houston, so I made some Turkey Chili to celebrate the weather.  Seriously, readers, it has been in the 80's lately and it's driving me batty!  I do realize that I live in Texas but can't it just get sort-of wintery in December?  Ugh.  Finally, a cold front has come through and I am ECSTATIC.   The clever girl is, too.  She certainly comes from me, as every day she asks whether she can wear long sleeves and long pants because it is "supposed" to be wintertime, and is so disappointed when the answer is no.  She has repeatedly told me that in the winter there is supposed to be snow and we should be wearing scarves and hats and gloves, and that Houston weather is just "not right".  That's my girl!

Anyway, on to the chili!  This recipe comes from Cooking Light and I change it up a bit sometimes but mostly stick to what the recipe calls suggests.  It is yummy and perfect for a cool day!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

You may have been wondering if I would figure out some sort of savory pumpkin dish during my pumpkin frenzy.  Here it is!  Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage!  It is a super easy weeknight meal that is a nice different take on your typical pasta dish.  Ever had a pumpkin sauce with pasta before?  You should try this one!  It's delicious!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Gingerbread Baby Cakes

Our recipe this week for Tuesday's with Dorie was Gingerbread Baby Cakes.  I was really looking forward to this recipe, so I was thrilled to give it a go!  And perfect timing!  Now that it is December, gingerbread is the perfect treat!

Karen, of Karen's Kitchen Stories, was the host of this recipe, and you may find the written out recipe on her blog.  You can also see what other bakers thought of this recipe by visiting the Tuesdays with Dorie blog and clicking on the LYL: Gingerbread Baby Cakes tab.  This is where we all leave links to our blogs where we post our success with each recipe!

Anyway, on with the recipe.  I have never made a gingerbread cake before, so the only gingerbread-type item I can compare this to is gingerbread cookies.  I have yet to find a FAVORITE gingerbread cookie recipe, however.  It seems like most that I try are either too bland or the texture is too crunchy or too soft.  I like a cookie that is somewhere in between crunchy and soft, with a crunchy exterior but the soft interior.  If anyone has a favorite gingerbread cookie like this, please send it my way!!  Anyway, I digress.  In comparing this recipe to the cookie recipes I have made, I found many differences.  There were many more flavor profiles in this cake.  Whereas the cookies generally have molasses and a selection of cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg (or all of the above), the only of those spices that this recipe had was the ginger.  Instead of all of the other spices, this cake recipe included espresso powder, cocoa powder and chopped fresh ginger.  Plus there were 2 cups of molasses, which is a LOT.  We'll get to the molasses later.  Let's start with espresso powder.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Crafts with Kids: Ribbon Garland

Are you looking for a fun craft to do with your kiddo during Christmastime?   Make a ribbon garland for your Christmas tree!  It can take as long as you want it to, only limited to how long you want the garland to be or how much attention span your kiddo might have.  You could also work on it in spurts, so it doesn't get too tedious at one setting. Regardless, you will end up with a beautiful garland for your tree that you can use for years to come!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pumpkin Waffles with Caramelized Apples and Walnuts

To continue my pumpkin infatuation, here are pumpkin waffles with caramelized apples and walnuts!  Yum.  What a perfect way to start off your weekend!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

OFF the needles!!

You may recall back in August I posted about this wrap I was making, called the Color Affection.  Well, I did finally finish it.  I finished it a while ago, but I was so DONE with it at that point, I had to just leave it alone for a while.  I lost my affection for the Color Affection, that is certain.  I do love how it turned out.  I think it is really pretty and the color pattern is great.  But oh, the garter stitch.  And garter stitch, and more and more garter stitch.  Do you see that LONG thick dark red part across the bottom?  Yes indeed, just one row across that area had literally about 500 stitches!  I would sit down to work on this project towards the end and get only one or two rows done before I just couldn't take any more.  Too much garter for me.  Binding off took about 1 1/2 hours.  I am not exaggerating!  Ugh.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

I thought we might start our Thanksgiving Day, a day of excessive delicious eating, the right way.  I made Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing.  Oh, yes.  That is serious decadence, and a super yummy way to start off Thanksgiving day! 

I did not take any process photos along the way, sorry!  It was night, thus the light wasn't so good, and to be honest I just wanted to get these ready so I could go to bed and bake them in the morning!  My time organization hasn't been so great while being pregnant...  I think it is one of those "pregnancy brain" things.  I sure hope I get it back.  Then I can stop baking late at night!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie - BWJ: (So Called) Best-Ever Brownies

So, this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe is so-called "Best-Ever Brownies".  I say "so-called" because "best ever" is a strong claim, and to me those are words that promote a challenge!  And, as you may have already seen, I already have a recipe that I think makes the best brownies ever.  I was up to the challenge!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Quilt Top is finished!!

I am so excited!  I finished sewing together the blocks for the clever girl's quilt top!  You may recall my posts about deciding to make a quilt and sewing the first block.  My goal was to finish sewing all of the blocks by the time my mom came to visit for Halloween, and I accomplished that goal!  Then I realized that if I plan to get this quilt done by Christmas, I really needed to bust a move, so I set to work getting the blocks sewn together.  I just finished this morning.  I was so excited I took a photo right away and sat down to put it on the blog!

My next step is the backing.  I have the fabric for that already so it shouldn't be so bad.  I also need to purchase fabric for the quilt binding.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

When it comes to parties at the clever girl's school, I generally try to sign up to bring the baked good.  It's just my style.  So I grabbed the chance to bake for the Halloween party last month.  (this is a late post, I agree!)  I imagined little kid-sized whoopie pies with pumpkin filling instead of the marshmallow filling they usually have.  Here is a huge disclaimer, however:  I have never actually eaten a whoopie pie before.  Tragic, I know.  So I am not sure really how they are supposed to taste, nor do I really know what texture they should be.  I'll do my best to describe what I came up with for my pumpkin whoopie pies, and hopefully do these delicious treats justice!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Muffins with Pecan Streusel

As you can see, I am still on my pumpkin kick!  I expect it to continue for a while, to be honest.  I just love pumpkin!  And these pumpkin and cream cheese muffins with pecan streusel were AMAZING!  Seriously!  I may have to make them again just to enjoy them some more.  I originally made them for church, so I only personally had one or two mini-muffins...  These are definitely worth the big sized muffin, and keeping for your own family!  Seriously, they are delicious.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Long Term Baking Project

Well, readers, it is time to spill the beans.  I am working on a long term baking project.  No, cakes do not normally fall into a long-term baking category, but the cakes were made in celebration of my newest project.  This particular project takes about 40 weeks to create.... yes indeed, I am pregnant!  My body is busy creating a little baby boy, whom we are currently calling "button".  Hence, the decorations on the above cakes.  Buttons!  To celebrate our little button, I made Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting. 

Our button will be joining our family sometime in mid-April, so I am nearly half-way there.  For a long time, this project made actual baking (or cooking for that matter) quite a challenge, as I was so exhausted all the time I just didn't have the energy to be in the kitchen.  At the same time, I had no motivation to bake for a while as well.  It was terrible!  Thankfully, both my energy and creativity are slowly returning!  Phew! 

On to the cake!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Buttermilk Crumb Muffins

This week's recipe for the Tuesday's with Dorie group is Buttermilk Crumb Muffins.  In making this muffin, I realized I have a muffin prejudice.  I like "muffin-top" muffins, the ones that have a nice puff up above the muffin wrapper.  Flat top muffins just don't do it for me.  I don't actually understand why we would even create a flat top muffin, and I wonder if there is something I could do to the recipe to make it have a muffin top.  Anyone know?  

So, besides learning that I have a muffin prejudice, these muffins were tasty and fast to make.  The ingredients are actually things I almost always have on hand, so if it weren't for the sad flat top, I would probably make these again and again.  But alas....

Friday, November 2, 2012

Halloween costumes through the years

I have made a Halloween costume for the clever girl every year except her very first.  As a kid, my mom (then my mom and I) made my costumes every year, so it just seemed natural that I would make costumes for the clever girl.  Here is what we have had:

This is the clever girl's first Halloween and I did not make this costume.  When I was pregnant with the clever girl, I called her "Pea", so when I saw this costume in a consignment shop, I grabbed it!  It was perfect!


In 2009, when the clever girl was 16 months, she was a ladybug.  I made her a tutu with strips of red and black tulle.  Her wings are red felt half-circles, stuffed, with black dots on the top.  Each wing had 2 elastic bands to go around her arms.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Irish Soda Bread

Since the month of October had 5 Tuesdays, the TWD powers-that-be decided that on the final Tuesday the bakers could catch up on a recipe they might have missed!  I thought this was wonderful, since I joined the TWD group a couple of months late and thus have several recipes to make to catch up!  For this month, I decided to "rewind" with Irish Soda Bread.

This recipe was originally made by the TWD bakers on March 20, 2012, and was hosted by Carla of Chocolate Moosey and Cathleen of My Culinary Mission.  You may find the recipe on these two blogs, or on page 214 of Baking with Julia.  And I highly recommend that you do go find that recipe.

This is an amazingly easy bread to make and it is totally adaptable to whatever flavors you might want to add.  The original recipe has only 4 ingredients:  flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk.  I added a cup of raisins and several dashes of good cinnamon to my bread.  Essentially, you mix the ingredients together, knead it a bit, shape it into a loaf and bake it.  SIMPLE.  It comes out with a nice crust and a soft yet somewhat dense center.  The recipe claims that if you do not eat it the day it is made it might turn into a hard rock, but this was not the case for me.  I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap, then sliced and served it the next day and it was as good as the day it was made! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Almond Bread

I made Almond Bread.  Seriously, it made me wish I could call my sister and get her to my house immediately to try some.  She lives in another state so unfortunately I couldn't do that, but man did I want to!  She loves anything almond and she needs to have this bread!  Luckily, she is a great cook so I will impress upon her to make this recipe.  She won't regret it.  Neither will you!  I found this recipe in my latest Cooking Light magazine.  I am honestly not sure what makes it light, though I am certain there are much higher-fat ways to create this so I suppose that is the key.  Anyway, "light" or not, if you enjoy almonds, you need to make this bread.

I brought it to church and it disappeared.  Poof! 

This recipe comes together lickety-split!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gnocchi with a Ham and Peas Cream Sauce

Do you have those days when you get to the afternoon and realize you have NO IDEA what you will do for dinner?  I have them all of the time, lately.  The one thing I wanted to make was too involved and time consuming at that point so I was at a loss.  Time to get creative....  Enter, Gnocchi with a Ham and Peas Cream Sauce.

Periodically I purchase packaged gnocchi (not the frozen kind but the kind in the pasta aisle) to have on hand.  Thank goodness I did this recently as it gave me a jumping off point for dinner planning!  I googled "gnocchi sauces" and found a lot of recipes for tomato sauces (no canned or fresh tomatoes in the house) and then I found a recipe for a Bacon and Peas Cream Sauce.  Eureka, I thought.  Then I went into the kitchen.  Strangely, I had no bacon in the freezer and very little peas.  Hmmm.  That doesn't look good.  But I had thinly sliced deli ham and a fresh zucchini, so that would have to work!

And work it did!  It was DELICIOUS.  Even the clever girl said "Momma, this is yummy.  Can you make it again??"  Yahoo!  I did it!  I'll try to tell you what I did, as well as what the original recipe suggested, so you can choose how you want to make this delicious, fast dinner too!

Gnocchi with a Ham and Peas Cream Sauce
adapted a lot from the
2 TB olive oil
2 TB unsalted butter
1 medium sweet yellow onion, halved and cut into thin half-rounds
4 cloves garlic, pressed
~9 thin slices of deli ham (I failed to weigh this, sorry), sliced into pieces about 1/2 inch by 1 inch
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup chopped zucchini
1 pound gnocchi
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

First, put a large pot of water on the stove for boiling the gnocchi.  Get it to boiling so it is ready when you are!

Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat and add butter and olive oil.  Once the butter is melted, add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and zucchini and continue to saute for another minute.  Add the ham and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the ham is the consistency you like and the zucchini is is starting to soften.  Add the chicken stock and deglaze the pan if there are any stuck bits from the onions or garlic, then add the milk and peas.  When I made this, I accidentally used only 1/4 cup milk and thought to myself that it should be increased a bit, then realized that it actually called for 1/2 cup so that would be better to get a nicer sauce. 

Once you have added the milk to the skillet, add the gnocchi to the boiling water.  Gnocchi usually only takes 2-3 minutes to cook.  They are done when they float to the top of the water.  Drain the gnocchi and add them to the skillet along with the Parmesan cheese and nutmeg.  I have this awesome cool strainer spoon which I used to take the gnocchi from the pan as they finished and add them to the skillet.  If you don't have this cool gadget (you might want to get one!!) but you could also just use a regular spoon, being careful to drain the water each time, or just wait until all of the gnocchi is floating and dump it into a regular strainer. 

Gently stir the gnocchi, cheese and nutmeg into the sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve to your family and watch them clean their plates!!

NOTE:  The original recipe called for a red or yellow onion, 3 strips of bacon, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and 1 cup of frozen peas.  If you use bacon, you don't have to get the bacon to a crisp point when cooking, just cooked through. 
Printable Recipe

I couldn't be happier with this fast, last minute creation.  I will definitely have to start making sure I have gnocchi on hand all the time, for evenings like this.  The recipe is super adaptable with whatever you happen to have in your refrigerator.  Maybe someday I'll make my own gnocchi for this meal, but until that inspiration really gets me, I'm happy with the ready-made kind!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes

I have said it before, and I will say it again.  I love autumn.  I love everything about autumn, including the food.  One of my favorite autumn-y foods is pumpkin.  Around this time of year I often start making all sorts of pumpkin dishes.  So even though it is still in the 80's around here (seriously, I am about to go a bit nutty) I decided that autumn cooking should commence.  We'll start with Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes.  Mmmm.

I found this recipe over at at one point and it has continued to be a winner with my family.  I made some minor tweaks - reducing the amount of sugar, making my own "pumpkin pie spice", and using low-fat or nonfat milk instead of whole milk.  Instead of whatever your normal weekend breakfast might be, I suggest trying these pumpkin pancakes.  They are lovely.

First whisk all of the dry ingredients together, or get your sous chef to do it for you!  I have no idea why the clever girl is making this goofy face.  Maybe it is because she is 4.  That is my best guess...  Anyway, the original recipe calls for 3 TB of sugar here, and I use 2 TB instead.  I don't want my pancakes to actually taste sweet, just to have that nice pumpkin pie sort of taste.  For me, 2 TB is perfect. 

 Whisk the wet ingredients (except the egg whites) together in another bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ones.  Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the batter. 

Scoop the batter onto a hot buttered griddle and cook until bubbly, then flip.  As the anticipation mounts, warm your maple syrup!

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes
adapted from Bon Appetit
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 TB sugar (original recipe calls for 3TB)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (recipe follows)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups milk (low-fat or nonfat milk)
3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pumpkin Pie Spice
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Mix all ingredients together in a small airtight container and use as recipes call for the pre-made spice!
Whisk first flour, sugar, baking powder pumpkin pie spice and salt in large bowl. Whisk milk, pumpkin, egg yolks, melted butter and vanilla in medium bowl and blend well.  Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth.  Beat egg whites in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into batter in 2 additions.  Brush a large nonstick skillet with butter and heat over medium heat. Working in batches, pour batter by 1/4 to 1/3 cupfuls onto skillet. Cook until bubbles form on surface of pancakes and bottoms are brown, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with oil between batches. Serve with syrup. 
Makes 15-19 pancakes, depending on the size.

These pancakes are so light and fluffy and delicious.  Why do I only make them in the autumn and not all year round?  I have no idea.  Maybe they'd be less special if they were a common occurrence in our house.  Regardless, it is time to celebrate autumn with some hot pumpkin pancakes.  Dig in!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Great Grains Muffins with Apricot

For this past weekend's hospitality time at church, I brought (among many other things, people in my church do like to nibble...which is a great thing, honestly) Great Grains Muffins.  The recipe is in Dorie Greenspan's amazing cookbook, Baking:  From My Home to Yours, which, if you enjoy baking, I suggest you strongly consider adding to your cookbook shelf.  It is wonderful.  Great Grains Muffins are very quick to make and I happily had all of the ingredients at home just waiting to be made into something delicious!  And since there are so many healthy grains and such, I felt like I was making something super healthy....  I am sure they are healthier than other muffins, so that counts, right?  Dorie suggests adding prunes or other dried fruits, so I chose apricots.  Yes, I had them on hand, and I figured they would be tasty.  They were!

Great Grains Muffins
adapted from Baking:  From My Home to Yours
makes 12 muffins (or approximately 24 mini-muffins)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup quartered moist, plum prunes or other dried fruits (cut up as necessary) and/or chopped nuts (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400F.  Butter or spray a regular-sized muffin pan or fit with paper muffin cups.  You can also use a mini-muffin pan, as I did, but you must adjust the baking time accordingly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a large glass measuring cup, or another small/medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, maple syrup, eggs and melted butter.  Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently but quickly stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.  The batter should be a little lumpy.  Stir in the fruit and/or nuts if you are using them.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups.

Bake regular-sized muffins for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  I baked the mini-muffins for about 14 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully lifting each muffin out of its mold and onto the rack to cool.
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I believe the muffins were a hit.  Well, there was only one left at the end.  That says something, doesn't it?


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - Bagels!

I love bagels.  However, I find it hard to find really good ones in the stores.  So when I saw that this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe was to make bagels, I was pretty excited.  It takes a while (though way less time than many other recipes in the book), so I kept procrastinating.  I am actually finishing the baking process as I write this, very late at night on Monday so it can post Tuesday!  Silly, I know.

Many thanks to the host of this week's recipe, Heather of Heather's Bytes.  If you choose to make your own bagels (and I think you should give it a go!) please go to her blog for the recipe, or find it in the Baking with Julia book on pages 87-90.  Yes, that is several pages of recipe, but it isn't because it is difficult, it is because there are several steps and there are great descriptions as to each step.  The dough only rises 2 times, and for relatively short periods of time.  The first rise is only an hour, and the second is 4 hours or you could do it overnight (which I would recommend though this is not what I did - procrastinating, remember?) 

The recipe itself really is straightforward.  The yeast is proofed, the ingredients are mixed, and bread dough is created.  I used my Kitchenaid Mixer for this though you could theoretically do it by hand.  I just had to hold on to my poor mixer so it wouldn't dance off the table and give it encouraging words when it sounded funny.  Anyway you come up with a smooth dough that you then stick in a buttered bowl, butter the top of the dough, cover with buttered plastic (butter, butter, butter... mmm) and then let rise for an hour.  After the hour, you deflate it and stick it in the refrigerator.  Again this is for at least 4 hours or you can do it overnight.  Another food blogger in the Tuesday's with Dorie group (whom I really like - another knitter AND baker!!) gave some advice as to these bagels and said she actually forms the bagels, puts them on a baking sheet and refrigerates them that way so in the morning she has less to do.  Brilliant!  She makes these bagels often and in fact the header photo on her blog is bagels!  Check it out at loaves and stitches

Anyway, if you do it as the book says and refrigerate a ball of dough, you then remove half of the dough from the bowl and leave the rest in the refrigerator.  Divide your half of dough into 5 pieces and then form them into bagel-like shapes with huge holes (more description in the recipe!!).  Drop these ring-toss looking circles into boiling water which has sugar and baking soda added, and once they rise to the top of the water let them boil for approximately 45 seconds per side.  Remove them onto a tea towel to dry a tad bit while you do the rest of the bagels in this batch.  Stick the boiled bagels on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a baking stone coated in cornmeal and glaze with a egg white/water mix.  Sprinkle with the topping of your choice.  Then they bake for 20-25 minutes at 500F (with ice cubes thrown into the oven for steam - very fun), then sit in an OFF oven for 5 minutes, then sit in the oven with the door open for 5 minutes, and then you can cool them on a rack.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.  I know, it sounds like a lot but it really isn't.  Unless of course it is after 11pm and you are totally exhausted.  This is what I get for procrastinating!  I hope I learn my lesson. 

Here is what my bagels looked like before going in the oven:

This is actually my second batch.  The first batch I did on my baking stone, and the second batch I prepped on a parchment-lined baking sheet so I could make a faster oven transition!  Clockwise from the top, I have a sesame/poppy seed, truffle sea salt, sesame seed, poppy seed, and another sesame seed.  I didn't want to get too crazy with toppings since the clever girl will be sharing them and I am not sure if she'd really go for an everything bagel (though I love those).  Maybe next time I'll get more creative with my toppings.
This is my first batch after coming out of the oven.  These baked for 25 minutes and I thought they probably could have come out sooner, so I did the second batch at 20 minutes.  From the top right, you see a poppy seed bagel, two sesame seed ones, another poppy seed one, and a kosher salt bagel.

I can't wait to eat them for breakfast!  Must continue this post in the morning before I pass out at my desk.....

Ok,, now it is Tuesday morning and I can try one of my bagels!  I went for a run first, so Mr. Clever Mom and the clever girl had breakfast before I returned.

They both enjoyed the bagels.  Two thumbs up from them.  Now it is my turn.  I sliced a sesame seed bagel, popped it into the toaster oven, and slathered it with some cream cheese (top photo).  The verdict:  Great!  I had one of the bagels from the second batch I made, which baked for 20 minutes instead of the recommended 25.  I think it could possibly bake even shorter as the outside was just a tad crispier than I prefer.  However, the flavor was good and the overall texture was right - with the crispy outside and chewy inside.

I will definitely try these again.  Maybe I'll make a batch and add some cheese....   Or add some cinnamon and raisins...  The options are endless.  I am thrilled that I have successfully made some bagels!!  How exciting!

To check out how some of the other bakers did with this recipe, go to the Tuesdays with Dorie link above and click on the "LYL:  Bagels" tab.  That will bring you to a listing of the blogs that tried this recipe!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Crumb Muffins

The time has come again where I and a friend are in charge of the "hospitality" time at my church.  During the month of October, we bring the goodies to eat between services.  For the first week, one of my treats was Apple Cinnamon Crumb Muffins!  Mmmm.  I made them mini-muffins so they would go further (I'm no dummy!!), and I ended up getting a lot more than I expected!  The recipe said it would make 12 regular size muffins and I got around 40 mini muffins!  I don't know how that happened but I'll take it!

Apple Cinnamon Crumb Muffins
adapted from
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground all-spice
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups diced peeled apples (I used Granny Smith)

For the topping:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 TB melted butter

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a muffin pan with paper liners, spray with cooking spray, or use a silicone muffin pan with nothing!

In a large bowl, whisk the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and all-spice together.  In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, oil, egg and vanilla.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined.  Do not over-mix!  Add in the apples and stir a tiny bit, just until they are combined.

Make the crumb topping:  combine all topping ingredients and mix with a spoon until crumbly!

Fill the prepared muffin pan with batter, filling each cup about 3/4 of the way full.  Sprinkle each muffin with crumb topping.  Bake for 20 minutes (check at 15 for mini-muffins), or until muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Let muffins cool to room temperature and serve.
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The muffins were a hit!  It was unbelievable.  We had these muffins, some brownies, some cranberry-walnut pumpkin bread, fresh fruit, carrots, crackers, mixed nuts, some snack mixes, and someone happened to bring in a pumpkin bread and EVERYTHING disappeared.  We kept refilling bowls on the table with what we could, but eventually there was nothing left!  We even ran out of coffee, which never happens!  I wonder what next week will bring!  (I am a little scared....)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells

Mmmm, there is nothing that says comfort like baked pasta.  My friend Callie made me these Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells shortly after the clever girl was born.  What a gift!  Not only was it delicious but it was so wonderful to have an amazing dinner brought to me at a time when I really needed the help!  My neighborhood has a similar plan for moms with new babies.  We sign up to bring them meals every other day for the first 3 weeks.  After receiving such help from my friends, I have to help the neighborhood ladies!  So, after my friend Susan recently had her third baby, I signed up on her schedule and made Callie's stuffed shells.

The recipe is something Callie created so feel free to tweak it any way you like!  And as you can see from the photo, it makes a TON.  It is hard to tell, but there are approximately 15 shells in both the 8-inch square pan and the aluminum round pan, and about 7 or 8 in the small loaf pan in the back.  The thing is, with a box of pasta shells, either you make the whole box and have a bunch of shells, or the box will sit half full in my pantry and take up space.  I'd rather fill my freezer with a ready-made dinner than have the half-full box in my pantry!

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells
1 package Jumbo Shell Pasta
extra virgin olive oil
2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce.  If you don't have a favorite, here is my solution:  buy Classico Marinara or Tomato and Basil, dump it in a bowl, and add Worcestershire sauce, italian seasoning, fresh basil and oregano, fresh ground pepper, and whatever else you think tastes good.  Voila, yummy "jarred" sauce!
2 small containers part-skim ricotta cheese
small package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed
6 oz grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
2+ garlic cloves, pressed
mozzarella cheese (I used approximately 3 cups in this batch)

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Boil the pasta to al dente.  In a medium bowl, mix the spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, garlic, eggs, and a couple of handfuls of mozzarella.  Spray baking dishes with non-stick cooking spray. 
 Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta cooking water, and allow it to cool enough to handle.  This shouldn't take long.  I do not recommend running cool water over the pasta to speed this process.  When you do this, you remove some of the starch from the outside of the noodles, and the starch is what helps the sauce to adhere to the noodle.  Instead, just let the noodles cool off and if they end up sticking to each other a bit, pour some of the reserved pasta water over the noodles to help loosen them back up.
Fill the pasta shells with the cheese and spinach mixture and place them seam side down in the casserole dish(es).  Pour some marinara sauce over the noodles and top with another handful or so of mozzarella cheese.
Bake covered for about 20 minutes or until bubbly.  Uncover and bake a little more to brown the top.
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I brought this to my friend with a loaf of cheesy garlic bread, a tossed salad, and some freshly baked brownies.   I hope she and her husband enjoyed an easy dinner night, and the entire family enjoyed the bounty.  We certainly did!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sweet Cornbread

When I was growing up, this is what cornbread was, it was sweet.  Not sweet like you are eating cake, but much sweeter than the versions I later discovered.  Please do not think I am thinking poorly of the non-sweet cornbread version, it is simply different than what is "normal" for me.  I use a non-sweet version every Thanksgiving for my cornbread stuffing!  However when I make chili, or a big pot of soup, or simply have the craving for cornbread (which happens A LOT), this sweet cornbread recipe is what I crave!

Start by blending sugar and oil.  I am certain you could choose something different than oil here, like melted butter (yum) or try a lower-fat version and substitute some unsweetened applesauce or maybe even plain yogurt for some of the oil, but oil is what the recipe actually says.  Where did the recipe actually come from?  I have no idea.  You'd have to ask my mom.  Once the sugar and oil is "creamed" as well as you can do with oil, add in 2 eggs.

 Whisk (or sift) together the flour with baking powder and salt, then add the cornmeal and mix again.

Now you start blending the dry ingredients with the sugar/oil combination, alternatively with milk.  You might notice I am using a hand mixer here.  You could use your stand mixer as well.  I was just in the mood for my hand mixer this time.  I'd hazard to guess I use the stand mixer 90% of the time.

Add in some of the milk, and continue that process until all of the dry ingredients and the milk are mixed into the batter.  Yum.  Now you get to lick the beaters.  Heaven!

Pour it into a greased and floured 9-inch square pan.  Honestly, I am not sure I have ever actually used a 9-inch pan as most of my pans are actually 8-inches.  This is my first time using a metal cake pan for the cornbread.  Usually I use a square Pyrex dish, which is actually what I think I would recommend.  If you use a metal pan, you will need to adjust the baking time quite a bit (shorter).

Bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes.  I say approximately because I removed the above pan at 25 minutes and it was baked probably a tad longer than I like.  I like the middle to be cooked but still a bit soft.  Those are my favorite pieces.  In the glass dish, I start testing it at 25 minutes and go from there.

Cool the pan enough so you don't burn yourself and then cut some slices.  I generally cut between 12 and 16 slices, again depending on my mood!  You could eat this cornbread plain, slather on some butter, spread some honey on top, dip it in soup, whatever you choose.  The end result is simply delicious.

I hope you will try this cornbread recipe.  It makes me want to make it again just typing this blog post...  Mmmm.  So good...

Sweet Corn Bread
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup salad oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour  (I usually use half all-purpose, half whole wheat flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal
1 cup milk

Cream the oil and sugar.  Blend in the eggs.  Sift or whisk flour with baking powder and salt, then add the cornmeal.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternatively with milk.  Pour into a greased and floured 9-inch square baking dish.  Bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes.
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