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Archive for Baking

::kitschy kitchen:: Not Just Plain Vanilla

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Last week I finally made the lavender cupcakes I have been dying to try. I don’t know why I was so excited about the idea of cooking with lavender. I had never thought of it as something edible, but it just sounded perfect. I found the Silver Cloud Estates Lavender Extract and I was on my way. Their extract is amazing. The flavor does not cook off or freeze away. This makes it perfect for baked treats or frozen delights (I can’t wait to have an ice cream maker!) Just opening the bottle is like filling your kitchen with a little bit of heaven. My favorite part of the cupcakes was that they were a huge hit, but no one knew quite what is what that they liked about them. Since it was such a different flavor, they couldn’t pick it out. The best was that it wasn’t overly obvious either. PTB was convinced the floral flavoring was from the purple icing. My sister-in-law thought the same thing, and thought the green ones tasted different ūüôā

Anyway, enough about those cupcakes! Have I said enough to make you want to try them yet?

Today, I returned to Village Spices and sought out more fun extracts. I narrowed down the choices to almond, coconut, and rosewater (the company sells cardamom extract too! but the store did not have any). Eventually I will have them all of course ūüôā I just wish I could test them more easily. These 4 oz. bottles will last forever!

So today I bought the rosewater extract. I am envisioning a summer of Rosewater Lemonades and a variety of other new experiments. I am excited to make some cookies using the rosewater extract and some cardamom (PTB’s favorite spice). Rosewater is popular in Middle-Eastern cooking and in Europe for flavoring marzipan. I’m not sure why it isn’t a huge hit here. We seem addicted to vanilla extract. I’ll admit, I use vanilla in almost all my baking, but with my discovery of Silver Cloud Estates, that may be changing. For a simple recipe, just substitute the vanilla extract with any extract you like. Be creative, be daring, and share what you come up with.

If you have used rosewater extract before, and have suggestions, I am completely open to it. I can’t wait to get started! I just need to buy some lemons first ūüôā

::sweet treat:: Lavender Cupcakes

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A few weeks ago I finally had the chance to go into a little shop in Manayunk called Village Spices. I have always wanted to stop in, but it is in a spot that we only really pass walking by at night with an ice cream cone.  I never think about it when we are there during the day.  Usually a daytime trip to Manayunk means I have a mission. And usually that mission involves food. On the other end of Main Street. Can you see how excited I am about having finally stopped in?

I was like a kid in a candy store in this place. I finally found smoked paprika! An ingredient I could not find anywhere! And let me just tell you, TOTALLY different than paprika. But I am going off topic. In this tiny little shop, there was a shelf I was fascinated with. Any extract you could dream of. The lavender immediately caught my eye. I had wanted to make Lavender cupcakes since I bought the book Cupcake Heaven and learned lavender could be a flavor not just a scent. When the lavender was blooming outside, however, I completely didn’t think about it. Lavendar extract though! ¬†Think of the possibilities! And the year round use!

These cupcakes would be perfect for a baby or bridal shower. Something very girly. I might add lavender extract to my petit fours next time I make them. The best part of these cupcakes is that the recipe is quite basic, but produces perfect results. I didn’t realize until I was putting everything together that it is almost identical to the base of the Cherry Almond Cupcakes (coming soon!). ¬†So if you don’t like lavender, use vanilla. But if you haven’t tried lavender, you don’t know that you don’t like it ūüėČ

What You Need
Step One

1 stick of butter (room temp)
1/2 cup sugar
Step Two
2 eggs (room temp)
1 Tbsp Lavender Extract
Step Three
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
Step Four
2 Tbsp coconut milk (or regular milk)

Preheat  oven to 350F. In a large bowl mix sugar and butter with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time and then stir in lavender extract. Sift in all step three ingredients (dry ingredients) and stir until combined.  Lastly add the milk.

Spoon batter into cupcake holders. Should fill 12 about halfway. Bake for ~18 minutes, remove from pan and cool on rack.

Once cooled, get your icing ready to making them officially “lavendairy”.

Icing
1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 egg white
1 drop purple food gel

Mix the sugar and egg white until combined  Stir in desired color.  Use a spoon to spread on tops of cupcakes. Allow to set before serving.

Yields: 1 dozen cupcakes

::brunch for a bunch:: Giant Roasted Veggie Frittata

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Roasted vegetables are my favorite kind of vegetable.  Ok. Well, now that I type that out maybe not.  Green beans are still my FAVORITE type of vegetable.  But of cooked vegetables, roasted ones probably take a very close second.  When their done right, it might even be a photo finish.  Who knew after all those years of picky eating that I would say that about a zucchini?

Beyond eating, or even liking, vegetables, my mom’s favorite thing to talk about when I cook lately has been that my sisters all thought it was so silly that I was registered for, and receiving, cookware as wedding gifts. ¬†She likes to brag that they all thought I would never cook, and now I am a “great cook”. ¬†Well…

#1. I had no need to cook when I was growing up.  I am the youngest of eight children.  Clearly, there was no need for me to take care of myself.

#2.  They are all great cooks.  I have people to follow.  Of the eight kids, I know at least 6 of them can find their way around a kitchen quite nicely.  I still stumble around a bit, and one of them, well I have no idea.  He is the oldest, so he was out of the house before I can really remember him cooking, and I have never stayed with him to see if he can feed me like I have with my sisters.

#3. ¬†I would still not consider myself a “great cook”. ¬†I am a great recipe-follower. ¬†This blog was a project to keep track of my recipe tweaks. ¬†To give me something to follow. ¬†I am learning my way around the kitchen still and what I can make up is limited. ¬†I don’t feel like a genius in the kitchen. ¬†I cannot go from nothing. ¬†I almost always need something to follow or at least a little inspiration. ¬†Baked meals are the one exception to that (I think). ¬†I am comfortable not following recipes with things that turn into a casserole form of some sort. ¬†You can’t really mess those up, can you? ¬†Baked Ziti and Frittatas. ¬†Two things I KNOW I can make, and make differently each time and still get rave reviews.

So, the moral of the story is, I make a frittata every year for Mother’s Day brunch. ¬†I tweak it ever so slightly every year to try and make up for the one thing that one person wasn’t crazy about the previous year. ¬†This year there weren’t many complaints. ¬†This year was also the experiment of making almost everything ahead of time. ¬†This year my mom still told the story of my sisters thinking I didn’t need anything for a kitchen. ¬†What can I say, I am the baby. ¬†I am the favorite ūüėČ

Everything with this recipe can be done the day before and assembled right before going in the oven. ¬†The only thing I did not do ahead of time is the eggs. ¬†I thought it was kind of icky to beat eggs and have them sit in the fridge for a day. ¬†Icky and unnecessary. ¬†I also want to note that I had too much to fit in the pan veggie-wise. ¬†This was fine since the leftovers are great. ¬†So I am sticking with the same amount and having leftovers. ¬†Or, just fill a bigger pan ¬†ūüôā

What I Used
Step One
(day one)
3 medium zucchini
3 medium summer squash
2 red bell peppers
1 large red onion
2 large bowls
~1/4 cup olive oil X2 (1 for each bowl)
~ 2 Tbsp Herb de Provence X2 (2 for each bowl)
Step Two (day one)
1 lb chicken or turkey sausage
4 slices bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
2 large potatoes, sliced
Step Three (day two)
5 large eggs
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 lb shredded gruyere
1/4 cup grated Parmesan + some for topping
salt & pepper

Slice all your vegetables in step on into evenly thick pieces (about 1/4-1/2″). ¬†Since I had way too many veggies for 1 bowl, or since I had no bowl big enough for my veggies, I divided all of them between two large pyrex mixing bowls. ¬†Toss each bowl with about 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 Tbsp Herb de Provence.

Spread in a single layer onto foil coated rimmed baking dishes. ¬†Don’t use cookie sheets or you will have a huge mess if oil runs off. ¬†Roast at 450F for about 15 minutes or until tender. ¬†If you aren’t baking the frittata same day, cover and put in the refrigerator until ready to assemble.

Next, in a large skillet, brown the sausage.  I took it out of the casing and used the ground meat.  Since I used chicken sausage (with roasted red peppers, it was divine), I used a bit of oil when browning it.  Drain and set aside.  Add a bit of the bacon to the pan and then a layer of potatoes.  In batches until finished, fry the bacon and potatoes.  All can sit in the fridge until the next day as well.  Last thing I did for prep was grate my cheese.

Next day! ¬†Morning of the brunch! ¬†Whisk together all your step three ingredients. ¬†Heat your oven to 425F. ¬†Coat a large pan with butter or cooking spray (butter is better!). ¬†Layer the potato + bacon mixture, then a layer of vegetables, then 1/2 the sausage, then another layer of vegetables, and lastly half the sausage. ¬†To make it pretty, I added a slice of squash/zucchini to the top of each “piece” and a few pieces of pepper in between. ¬†Pour the egg mixture over everything. ¬†Using a butter knife, poke in between the slices to help the egg run down through the entire frittata. ¬†Sprinkle with extra Parmesan and dot with a little butter.

Bake for about an hour until golden brown.  You should be able to poke with a knife in the center and not have it ooze.

Serve it up!

Serves: 8-16 People (depending on any extras you want to serve along side, to keep the pieces smaller) ¬†ūüôā

::sweet treat:: Flourless Choco Mint Cake

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I am having a hard time believing it is already the month of June.  May was a whirlwind for me.  It absolutely flew by.  Given some recent changes around here, I thought I would feel like I had all the time in the world. Instead, I feel like I spent most of the month catching up with my sanity.  I thought I had lost it before May, but I had just given it a head start.  With crazy activities throughout the month, yesterday was the first day I truly felt like I was caught up and ready to work on more new projects.

So June begins! ¬†Yesterday I spent the day with a friend recovering from some oral surgery. ¬†We tested a soon to come recipe for Mango Avocoado Margaritas, she got to try the “Not Just Take Out” from Saxbys in Manayunk, we visited a great little specialty food shop and picked up some new goodies, we ordered from one of my favorite Indian restaurants, and we watched a chick flick. ¬†What more could you want from a day? ¬†We almost did some baking….but next time. ¬†It was a great way to start the month, and now, I can finally catch up with other projects. ¬†And so, the first recipe from Mother’s Day brunch! ¬†I know, I know….

This year, as you may have read, my Mother’s Day Brunch was all about making ahead of time. ¬†I used the opportunity to test some new ideas. ¬†Some turned out perfectly, some still need some testing. ¬†Luckily, my audience wasn’t too hard to please and it all seemed to go smoothly. ¬†Flourless chocolate cake thanks to Martha Stewart was a perfect make ahead treat. ¬†I had never made a flourless cake before, and I was shocked by hour easy it was. ¬†It was incredibly rich, so next time I may try it as tiny individual cakes. ¬†If I make it mint again next time, the little individual cakes would look so perfect garnished with a sprig of fresh mint! ¬†If you have never had flourless chocolate cake before, it is like mushy-cakey fudge with a papery crust. ¬†It is kind of perfect.

What I Used
Step One
9″ Springform Pan
275F oven
1 stick of butter (divided)
1 1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup mint chips

Step Two
6 large eggs, separated
Step Three
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Step Four
powdered sugar

Start with two large mixing bowls, and a small bowl. ¬†In one, chocolate chips and 6 Tbsp of butter. ¬†In the other, 6 large egg white. ¬†Set aside the 6 yolks in the small bowl for use later. ¬†Microwave the chips and butter in 30 second increments on medium heat, stirring each time, until fully melted. ¬†Or melt over a pot of water, but the microwave saved a TON of time…

One the buttery chocolate cools, whisk in the yolks.  Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and then gradually add the sugar.

Whisk the sugar and and egg whites until stiff and glossy.  Pretty, huh?

Whisk 1/4 of the whites into the chocolate and then gently fold that mixture into the remaining whites.

You still have those other 2 Tbsp of butter right?  Use some/most of that to butter your pan.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake until the cake begines to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center is JUST set.  This should be about 45 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Dust with powder sugar before serving.

Serves: 8 generously

::nice spice:: Skillet Cornbread

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With Memorial Day right around the corner, the picnic season is about to officially kick off. ¬†I have never been crazy about the typical picnic sides. ¬†Potato salad, cole slaw, bleh. ¬†Really, mayo in general. ¬†I tend to stay near the dessert tables. ¬†Brownies, cookies, easy, can’t be messed up. ¬†This year, I think I will be once again bake a dish for any picnic we go to, but rather than the dessert table, I’ll stick with the sides. ¬†I love food that can go year round. ¬†In the Winter, this cornbread is perfect next to chili. ¬†In the Summer, it is going to be perfect with barbeque. Mmmmmm. ¬†Can’t wait. ¬†A basic cornbread recipe can be changed up pretty easily. ¬†What would you change?

Prep
‚ÄĘ finely zest 1-2 limes
‚ÄĘ juice lime into 1 cup measuring cup
‚ÄĘ fill to 1 cup line with milk
375F oven
greased baking dish

What You Need
Step One

1 stick of butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Step Two
lime/milk mixture
1/2 tsp baking soda
Step Three
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
Step Four
2 jalepenos, finely chopped
lime zest

Prep work is self explanatory right?  I used a large cast iron skillet greased with bacon drippings (perfect flavor for the crispy cornbread edges).

In a large bowl, melt the butter, and then mix in each ingredient in order.  Pour into greased baking dish.  Bake in 375F oven until golden brown on top.  In a cast iron skillet, it took about 30-35 minutes.