Archive | March, 2012

Raspberry Oat Crumble Bars

31 Mar

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I enjoy creating opportunities to wear my apron. I feel it’s only allowed when baking, not with cooking. Well, perhaps for the especially messy cooking…but with baking it just feels right. Broke out the apron today to bake these wonderful creations – raspberry oat crumble bars.

I found this on fantastic baking blog that I encourage you all to check out: 17 and Baking. I’m excited to try quite a bit of the recipes featured on her blog as I continue expanding my baking repertoire and finding more opportunities to wear my apron.

This recipe is only slightly different than how Elissa wrote in on her blog:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 oz (10 Tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam (I thoroughly enjoy jam and slathered on slightly more than this. How can there be too much jam?!?)

How to Make:

Preheat your oven to 375 and grab your food processor! Mix up your flour, brown sugar and salt in the food processor first. Then put in the butter pieces and pulse away until the mixture starts to look crumbly. This is a good sign…crumbly = excellent. At this point pour in your Tbsp on milk and make sure it’s mixed in.

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For those poor unfortunate souls (name that movie!!) without a food processor…don’t know how you survive. However, you’ll be glad to know this recipe doesn’t discriminate against your lack of materials. Grab a pastry cutter to work everything together or use a fork too. Prior to my wonderful food processor addition, I would use a fork for this sort of task. However – do be careful to not overwork the butter in, you want crumbs. (I speak from experience…a previous fruit crisp was mush because the butter was worked in too much. Not pretty. Don’t be like me.)

At this point, grab your oats and a big bowl. Pour in the mixture from the food processor and work your crumbs and oatmeal into a bigger crumbly mixture. Again – don’t overmix! Just get it all worked in together.

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Separate out 3/4 a cup of this mixture (for the delicious topping).

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Pour the rest into a buttered or parchment-lined 9×9 pan. Press it down to make the nice, thick crust.

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Take your jam and spread it out on top. If you’re as into jam as me, or like raspberry a LOT or you just want to go BIG with your dessert – slather on a bit more than the 3/4 cup. Then, crumble the rest so it’s spread out on top evenly.

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Pop it in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

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Pull it out to cool when it looks like perfection…I thought that was at 22.3 minutes. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. If you have a cooling rack…or like me, an extra grate from the oven (hey, I’m resourceful!), set it on there to cool. That way to air can move over and under the pan.

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When cool, slice it up into squares. I encourage the addition of a little whipped cream…ice cream…frozen yogurt…ANYTHING to jazz it up a bit. If you’re into the ‘simple’ dessert, it’ll still be delicious on its own. But I like to be a proponent of adding ice cream or frozen yogurt.

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However it’s served – DIG IN! Happy Saturday!

Dr. Pepper Shredded Pork

28 Mar

For all those out there madly in love with shredded meat (I am included in this group), man do I have a recipe for you. It requires patience, as a forewarning. It also requires a Dutch oven. I JUST bought myself one only a few weekends ago (gracias tax return!) and this was the recipe I KNEW I would try first. Not exaggerating, this recipe has been on my radar since I first read it on the Pioneer Woman’s website a year ago. I really, really, REALLY like shredded pork. Really.

As a related side note, in my post a few days ago I mentioned I wanted to buy the Pioneer Woman’s new cookbook (which I did. Of course.) and this recipe is also featured in her cookbook. If that’s helpful for you to know.

Ok – so very simple ingredients and process…all you have to do is plan enough in advance and have a lot of mouths who need delicious food. This guy takes 6 hours in the oven, so plan your chopping/assembling accordingly.

Ingredients (serves 18 – yes 18. I made this entire recipe too. I now have 17 servings to eat or feed others with. This is where the ‘plan ahead’ part comes in. Oops.)

  • 1 whole large onion (I used a white onion and it was perfect. Just sayin.)
  • 1 whole pork shoulder – 5 To 7 Pounds (Depends on how many you’re feeding. I used a smaller one closer to 5 lbs.)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can (11 Ounce) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (Depending on the amount of spice you can handle, use as much of the can as you desire. I’m somewhat of a spice sissy…so I used about 3/4 of the can.)
  • 2 cans Dr. Pepper (Or bottles…aim for 24 or so ounces.)
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar

How to Make:

As I said, very simple. Grab your onion and chop it into quarters and line the bottom of your Dutch oven.

Then, on top goes your lovely chunk of pork shoulder. Salt and pepper as much as you’d like. Then, pour on the amount of chipotle peppers and adobo sauce you’d like (the whole can or less depending on ability to handle spice).

After that, pour on your DP all around and on top of the meat, getting into all the crevices. Last, add your 2 Tbsp of brown sugar into the liquid, stirring if needed to get it dissolved. I also sprinkled parts on the top of the meat because I really love a sweet shredded pork with a bit of heat, but that’s just me. The lid goes on top and you’re going to pop it into a preheated 300 degree oven. Turn that timer on to the 6 hour mark and find something to amuse yourself for half a day. I hope you do more than I did with cleaning, Downton Abbey episodes and relaxing on my patio. Although now that I think about it, that’s a fairly fantastic Sunday. Ah well, you may have different expectations. Do give the meat a flip 2-3 times in that 6 hour time period. That way everything gets a chance to soak and intermingle within the glorious Dutch oven. (Below is what mine looked like at the halfway point.)

Once you have made it, somehow, to the 6 hour mark with or without starting to drool due to the smell, take it out of the oven.

Pull the meat out and using two forks, shred it up as much or as little as desire. Then throw the meat back into the pot to soak in more juice before serving.

This is great for tacos, for sandwiches, or for a main dish on its own with a side or two. I had some leftover grits which went perfect with the meat. I am not one of those unfortunate people who don’t mind food touching (if you are one of those people, I don’t judge…ok, just a little) so I loved the extra juice from the meat mixing in with the grits. But eat however you wish – can’t imagine a way this wouldn’t make an excellent meal.

YUM is putting it mildly.

Yogurt Covered Blueberries

25 Mar

It’s double-post Sunday! Not intentional, but I meant to post about the grits recipe last night and this gem this morning. Due to need of way too much sleep and other activities…they both are going up today. If this is too much, please hold off and read this post tomorrow. I understand. I needed a little pick-me-up this weekend, and this and the grits recipe sure helped with that. I’m also in the process of cooking up a delicious smelling item which I’ll share tomorrow. Either way – I will honestly admit that some tasty food helps me on those ‘blah’ days. I promise it’s not my only solution, but it sure helps.

For those still reading…greek yogurt + blueberries + your freezer = best snack ever! I found this idea on pinterest here and decided it’d be a great spring snack…and summer too now that I think about it. Frozen fruit is just always a good idea in my mind.

Yogurt Covered Blueberries:

Ingredients:

  • One carton of Blueberries (in theory, you can do as many blueberries as you want, but I used one little plastic carton.)
  • One 5.3 oz tub of Honey flavored Greek Yogurt (I used the recommended brand – Dannon’s Oikos, but any should work. I used honey flavor, but you could experiment with any flavor you’re craving. I have an inkling any flavor you’d pick out will work.)
  • Toothpicks (or any other dipping device you have on hand. Also, this is not an ingredient, I realize. But you need some sort of dipping mechanism, so I included it.)
How to Make:

I lack toothpicks currently…or perhaps just can’t find them. However, I had wooden skewers on hand which worked just as well. All you do is dip your blueberries one by one into the Greek yogurt and then plop them on a cooking sheet. (A pizza pan fit better in my freezer, so that’s what I used.) It’s a very cathartic process – dipping the blueberries. One small carton of blueberries used up the small tub of yogurt almost perfectly.
Stick the finished pan full of yogurt covered blueberries in the freezer. I checked mine after about an hour and a half and they were 97% finished up. Only the ones where I got a little enthusiastic with yogurt – those weren’t all the way frozen. No big deal though, I plucked them all off the pan and put them into one sandwich Ziploc…then stuck the Ziploc back in the freezer. They come off the pan very easily, so no worries there!
I’m now enjoying a handful as I type. Very tasty and a great snack for  any occasion…including lack of occasion. Like today. A Sunday afternoon where you need something to make you smile. These will do the trick. Enjoy!


Creamy Bacon Cheese Grits

25 Mar

Something I recently tried and loved – grits. This was on that same trip to Memphis that I mentioned a few posts back. I had shrimp and grits while out to dinner with my friend Marissa one night. They were so much better than I ever imagined them to be. All those times I imagined grits. Which happens a lot. Not really. But I didn’t expect them to be as delicious, lets just say that.

When I got back from my trip and made my next grocery store excursion – I went and found some grits. I knew I’d have to give them a whirl in the kitchen…but wasn’t yet sure what type of recipe I’d use them in.

My bff the Pioneer Woman (we may just be bffs in my dreams, but that’s ok) has a few delicious recipes for grits on her website. I decided this weekend I was going to make them and looked through some of the varieties she had posted. One stood out – Creamy Bacon Cheese Grits. Doesn’t that sound fantastic?!

I had a relaxing Saturday night in and cooked away while watching the Notebook. Pretty ideal in my world, but I realize that may seem rather dull to my peers. That’s alright – judge away!

Back to the grits which are fairly easy to make:

Creamy Bacon Cheese Grits:

Ingredients (to make 6 servings, which is cutting the recipe Ree posted in half):

  • 4 slices Regular Bacon, Cut Into 1/2-inch pieces (I like bacon, so I left mine in larger chunks. Up to you and how much you love bacon.)
  • Half of a whole Yellow Onion, Chopped
  • 1 cup Stone Ground Grits (I used stone ground white grits, but I believe any type should work!)
  • 2 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth (I’m a moron and grabbed chicken stock at the store instead…but I looked up if this was a decent substitute and it is. But for the legit recipe, broth is recommended.)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 3/4 cup Grated Cheese (I used a Colby & Monterey Jack version)
  • 1 dash Cayenne, For Heat
  • Salt As Needed
  • Black Pepper To Taste

How to Make:

Here we go! Grab a cutting board and the bacon and start slicing it into 1/2 inch (ish) pieces. As I stated above, mine were a bit larger because I love bacon. But up to you. Throw the diced bacon in a big pot over medium heat for a few minutes (I went for about 4 min).


Then add in the onions to cook with the bacon for a few more minutes (I gave this about 5 ish min). The bacon should be “chewy and onions are golden brown” when this step is complete, according to my bff, the Pioneer Woman.

Next is adding the grits, chicken broth (or chicken stock in my case) and the water. Stir it all up together and wait until it comes to a boil. At that point, reduce the heat so it can simmer  for about 30-40 minutes. You’ll want the lid on the pot for this simmering process.

Throw your spoon in there every now and then to give a quick stir. Don’t reach it and taste test the onions, bacon and grits combo. That’s bad…but it tastes SO good. (I did this on average 3.8 times. No judgment from me if you taste test.) If your grits start to look dry, splash in a bit more of the broth.

After the 30-40 minutes of simmering has passed, it’s time for the beloved cream. Pour it in! Put the lid back on and simmer again on low heat for another 30 ish minutes. This is hard because your kitchen and remainder of your abode (condo, apartment, house, grass hut) all start to smell fantastic. If you must, perhaps one more taste test will help get you through the next 30 minutes.

Once the looonnnggg 30 minutes has passed, remove from heat and add the seasonings – cayenne, salt and pepper. Also, add in your 3/4 cup of cheese, which will melt into the glorious concoction after a few stirs. Then pour into bowls, on to plates and serve with whatever you’d like. I had mine all by itself with a very tasty beverage. But most want something more for dinner, so if you have a great pork chop or chicken breast – throw these on the plate as a side to the meat. Enjoy the wonderful goodness of grits!

New Favorites

22 Mar

With being a work traveler, unfortunately my time in the kitchen is reserved for Thursday night – Sunday. And if I’m being realistic, Friday night – Sunday. Tonight as a prime example, I was just too tired to cook anything. I try to have leftovers ready to be thawed or reheated if possible on Thursdays – tonight was lasagna. 🙂 Not terrible, but there’s no time in the kitchen usually.

Thus – tonight’s post is dedicated to something else, some of my new favorite things that I encourage any readers out there to check out or explore. (Other than number two being a relative of mine, none of the folks below have any clue who I am. I just love their stuff and as a content consumer, want to share with the world how much I love them!)

1) Birchbox. I discovered this only a few months ago after reading about it on a few blogs. Birchbox is a great site for anyone who loves health and beauty products and trying new brands. I’m not too much of a high-end brand person, but I love the idea of trying sample sizes of different brands – plus, they’re travel size (which I need)! The way Birchbox works – you pay per month or per year, and you receive a box each month with usually 4-5 sample products. They vary from makeup to hair accessories to (and in the case of my first box) teas! You’re able to try out each of the items and you can rate them on Birchbox’s website to help earn reward points (which when you gather enough reward products, you can buy the full size versions). You can also decide you really enjoy XYZ nail polish and dang it, you want to buy more! You can go out to Birchbox and you can order the product in the full size version. Either way, in my opinion, it’s a win-win. You learn about new products and you may even find a great treasure. My first Birchbox came last week – check out the great items:

Items  in my box include:

  • Color Club Nail Lacquer (in He Loves Me)
  • Jouer Luminizing Moisture Tint
  • Harvey Prince Ageless perfume
  • Orofluido Beauty Elixir hair treatment
  • stila Smoky Eye Card
  • Tea Forte Skin-Smart Teas

I can’t wait to try each of these products over the weekend! Maybe there’s one that I’ll end up buying more of…I’ll let you know how the experiment goes.

2) etsy. Etsy.com is FANTASTIC if you love finding unique items and getting ideas for things you could create yourself. Whether it’s art, clothes, food, gifts or my personal favorite, jewelry – etsy has many great shops with more products than you have time to look through. I love to get ideas from the great artists and crafters on there or even make some purchases! Two shops that are my current favorites:

My aunt has a great shop for anyone that needs some beautiful art on their walls: Gillyflower Cottage. Whimsical flowers, delectable pears and even some creatures with personality are currently featured.

Another one of my favorites is the Elisabeth Ashlie shop. They sell handcrafted jewelry that is right up my alley (and perfect for the earring chain). I recently made a purchase from their shop receiving these cute, springy pair of earrings:

3) The Pioneer Woman Cooks – Food From My Frontier. This I have yet to purchase but have been looking forward to it for months!! I am planning a trip to Barnes and Noble (or B&N as I fondly refer to it as) in the next few days to have a tasty chocolatey beverage and look through this new volume. I’ll then buy it. Go to the grocery store. Come home and make more food than I can consume by Sunday night. (This is a terrible pattern I fall into). But it means it’ll be a perfect weekend. 🙂

The post the above link brings you to on her website gives a little sneak peek and will show you, simply from her verbiage and pictures alone, why I love her blog so very much.

Those are the favorite items I needed…had to…couldn’t not share with you. Whether they’re interesting to you or not, perhaps one person out there is intrigued enough to learn more.

I found out about ALL of these items via a blog. (Serious.) I hope I can help pass along the great finds other blogs have provided to me, to anyone who happens upon this one.

Lobster Pasta Salad

19 Mar

I have a thing for cold pasta salads. I can’t turn them down. Throw some lobster in there…and wow. That would be heaven. That would also be what my family cooked to celebrate (yes, again) my dad’s birthday last Friday. This time it was my parents, my younger brother Greg and I who were celebrating. We all cooked together – Mom and I chopping while we gave Dad the lobster duty (I’m a wimp.). Here’s why we picked it…

I was showing Dad one of my new cookbooks from the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten). We were flipping through, realizing Mom and Dad have that very same cookbook and they’ve made a few tasty items from it too. We were chatting about the store that Ina Garten used to own (called the Barefoot Contessa…which is where the name came from) and that lobster salad was apparently one of the many delectable treats her shop was known for. Next page we flip to…lobster pasta salad. Done.

The great thing about this recipe – it has grains, meat and vegetables. It’s a full meal! We just added some crispy baguettes from the grocery store and that was our entire dinner. It’s simple to whip up too – just chopping/boiling/mixing. That’s it! Our only complaint was it was a tad salty for our taste, so we’d cut back when we make it again. But we also didn’t let the salad ‘marinate in its juices’ for the 6 hours recommended. This could have helped the salty taste subside. Perhaps. If you like salt, then pour it on. However, if you are sensitive to overwhelming sodium, you can cut back and still have a delicious salad.

I made a few tweaks based on our family’s preferences but take it with a grain of salt. (Ha.)

Lobster Pasta Salad:

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt (I’d decrease the salt the second time around and have modified the recipe below to reflect that)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound small pasta shells (We used Conchiglie but any small shells will do.)
  • Kernels from 4 ears of corn (This is about 3 cups. Ignore the lack of the other 2 cobs in the picture below. We did use 4. Promise.)
  • 6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced (If you’re not with it, like me, this means scallion stalks…so you may have two or three stems on one stalk…you want 6 stalks of scallions total. And a partridge in a pear tree. I also had to look up stalk vs. stem. Confusing stuff.)
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and small-diced (We used yellow, but if you’re into super colorful aesthetics with your food, the orange would pop better against the yellow corn and red tomatoes…just saying.)

  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 pound cooked fresh lobster meat, medium-diced (We tried to find fresh lobster but Mankato, MN was fresh out…we were creative and used frozen lobster tails instead…it still tasted great – so if you can’t find fresh lobster, no worries.)
  • 3/4 cups good mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cups minced fresh dill (We were also fresh out of fresh dill and bought the herb blend/paste instead. It worked great, but a little goes a long way. We only used about 2 Tbsp fearing it would overpower the dish. As Dad said…you can always add more.)

How to Make (all Ina’s instructions):

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 Tbsp of salt and some olive oil. Add the pasta and cook it for 8 to 10 minutes, until al dente. Add the corn to the pasta and cook it for another 2 minutes, until the corn is tender.

Drain the pasta and corn together in a colander and pour them into a large mixing bowl. Add the scallions, diced pepper, tomatoes, and lobster, tossing gently to combine. Allow to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise. sour cream, 2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper until smooth. Pour over the pasta and mix well to bind the ingredients. Stir in the dill. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for up to 6 hours to allow the flavors to develop. Check the seasonings and serve chilled or at room temperature. (As I mentioned, we ate ours right away. Feel free to chill yours for the ‘flavor development’ or if you’re starving like the Voses…dig in!)

Hard for it not to feel like spring is already here when eating this dish. Enjoy!

Baked Brie

17 Mar

Are you in need of something simple, tasty and quick to make? It doesn’t matter if you’re hosting a party, eating with your family or like me – enjoying a Saturday afternoon by yourself. I made this last weekend before I started packing for my Mexico trip. It was the perfect treat and one I had been waiting to make ever since I bought the makings at the grocery store. It’s – Baked Brie!

The back-story to this – I visited a good friend of mine, Marissa, in Memphis, TN a few weekends ago. She and her significant other were hosting a party at their house one evening and she whipped up this recipe as one of the snacks. It was delicious! I couldn’t believe I’d never made it before. When I returned home, I knew it was on the list of things to make. SOON.

Baked brie has many variations. I knew I wanted to use puff pastry, a mouth-watering rhubarb-berry jam and brie cheese. I wasn’t sure what other ingredients were needed/wanted in the recipe. I googled baked brie to see what came up and ended up with this recipe from Simply Recipes. I made some variations with ingredients which can be seen below:

Baked Brie:

Ingredients:

  • 1 large sheet of puff pastry dough (Remove it from the freezer 40 minutes before you plan to use it and it’ll be perfectly thawed.)
  • 1 wedge of Brie cheese – do not remove rind (I used a strong French brie, which turns out I didn’t enjoy as much as mild brie. Find the type of Brie you’d like best and use that.)
  • Any sweet jam you can find and think sounds tasty (I used rhubarb-berry jam but any kind will work. Experiment!)
  • Brown sugar to sprinkle
  • Maple syrup to drizzle (The recipe calls for 1/4 cup, but I preferred to drizzle it on top which probably totaled only 2 Tbsp. You can do as much as or little as your sweet tooth desires.)

How to Make:

Preheat your oven to 350. If you haven’t already started thawing your puff pastry – get on that! It takes about 40 minutes, depending on the brand you use.

Once the puff pastry is ready to go, lay it out on a flat surface. Place the wedge of Brie (with the rind on!) smack dab in the middle. Spread on your jam as thick or thin as you’d like. I layered on a lot of jam. I like jam. You may not. You could even try a few flavors, perhaps mixing different types. Experiment. Come up with whatever makes your mouth water!

After you have the amount of jam on top you’re happy with, wrap up the jam-soaked Brie with the puff pastry. I didn’t make mine very pretty, but perhaps you’re more skilled. As long as it’s all folded in and the edges are pinched together, you should be good to go. But if you’re hosting a big group of people at party and you want it to be prettier – please feel free to do so.

Now you’re ready to drizzle and sprinkle! Drizzle the maple syrup on top – as much or little as you’d like. Follow that with sprinkling brown sugar. I had quite a few clumps of brown sugar and I thought it’d be fun to sprinkle a few of those on the top as well. Sprinkle away until you’re satisfied.

Pop the whole concoction onto a sprayed cookie sheet and bake it for 25-30 minutes. You know you’re done when the top of the pastry starts to turn a little brown. Let it cool at least 10 minutes or so before you dig in.

I ate mine with honey crisp apple slices, but crackers, stiff bread or other firm fruit would also work.

Enjoy!!!

 

 

 

 

Mexico Trip – Top Ten

16 Mar

I thoroughly apologize for the massive delay in posting, it was not due to how much I’ve loathed blogging thus far or for lack of material (Opposite of both, actually!). I was on vacation in Mexico with one of my very best friends and was unplugged for the last 5 days. Felt very refreshing to not be checking Facebook or Twitter, or responding to email…just taking in the ocean and sunshine. It was great!

In my first blog, which I haven’t referenced too much, I chronicled my study abroad travels. Many of those blog postings were about trips I took and for my family and friends back home. One of the fun things I came up with in the process was looking at a ‘Top Ten’ (of Five if the trip was short) of trip highlights. These ‘Top’ lists usually provided some humor as well. I’d like to describe the “Chelsea and Betsy, Mexico 2012 – Top Ten”…mostly via pictures:

1) Upgrades. Chels and I had bought a Living Social deal for our resort so we got a heck of a deal. The package included a basic room, airport transfers, all-inclusive food/beverages and 2 50-minute massages. We thought we won the jackpot with that deal! Anyway, our basic room was already wonderful, simply for the fact that we’d be in Mexico! When we checked in, and they brought us to our room, we saw we did NOT have the basic room, but a big suite complete with washer/dryer in the unit, a full working kitchen, jacuzzi and large balcony! We were flabbergasted! So we made sure we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we felt incredibly lucky. Picture of the living room/kitchen below and our balcony view:

2) Fun, Fruity Drinks. Not much needed to be said here, but we enjoyed tasting as many fun drinks as we could. A favorite of mine was the Miami Vice – half Pina Colada and half Strawberry Daiquiri. Yum!

3. Food Pictures. If my blog doesn’t already attest to this, I love taking pictures of my food. I realize this made me appear even more touristy than I already did, but I couldn’t help it. A few of my favorite food pictures are below: Caprese Salad (I had this many, many times) and Chelsea’s Flank Steak Cheese Fondue. Oh my was the latter delicious. She LOVED it too!

4. Breakfast. Similar, but different from food pictures…breakfast. Possibly the best meal of the day down there. We felt the need to include Nutella in most of our breakfasts, but our last day also included a fantastic Lox bagel. I need to make that more often at home. So good. (The first picture is of the breakfast Chelsea and I shared, just so you don’t think I’m completely piggy.)

5. The Swing Bar. This was a favorite stop of ours throughout the day because it was just, plain entertaining. This was an outdoor tiki bar on the beach that had swings on three of its four sides. You sat on the swing, sipped your drink and thought about what a great idea  a swing bar is. Here’s a picture of us enjoying it below:


6. The Spa.
Oh goodness. So you may be into massages, but I’m a huge wimp and they’re not usually my thing. However, as mentioned above, Chels and I got 2 50 minutes massages with our Living Social deal, so who was I to turn it down?! We decided our first full day was perfect, early afternoon. That way, we weren’t burned to a crisp yet (we hoped). We were told to come to the Spa an hour before our massages. Which we did. We were instructed to head to the steam room. We were to be in the steam room for 15 minutes. Chelsea was in heaven. I was dying after 2 minutes. Apparently my lungs don’t like steam. I proceeded to use the shower head in the steam room to continually douce my face with cold water alternating with going outside into fresh air. Like I said, I’m a wimp. I fully admit. Post-steam room we went into three different little pools. The first was FREEZING, on purpose. Something to do with your pores. Then a really hot one. Then a warm one which was in between. This last one was my favorite. After our skin had been thoroughly assaulted by the steam and varying water temperatures, we were ready for massages. Chels opted for a deep tissue massage which to me sounded extremely unpleasant. (The wimpy thing comes in here again). But my normal massage sounded good to me and…the massage was great! I was very skeptical beforehand, but it was very relaxing, my body did not hurt afterwards and there was no painful sunburn to worry about. Excellent Spa experience all around. (Except that silly steam room.) Below is a picture of the Spa, which is nestled amongst a ton of foliage, trees and shrubbery.

7. Hats. Chels informed me she had a floppy hat for Mexico and all I had was my trusty Twins hat. Wanting to have something fun and girly Chels and I rushed to Target at 10:50 PM on Saturday evening. We made it in with 2 minutes to spare and were hustled out. But not before I found a great, white floppy hat and Chels found much needed pink wedges. I get to Mexico and put on my floppy hat and am no longer able to see a thing. The floppy hat was in fact, too floppy. How’s that possible? Chels rocked her hat during the trip and I went back to my Twins hat. Hard to beat the classic. Shaded my face at least!

8. Sunburn. Yes, this happened. Not surprising considering my freckled skin and strawberry blonde hair. The funny thing is, the most sunburned part of my body was my feet. Who burns the tops of their feet?!? Me. I will forever more coat my feet in sunscreen in addition to all other appendages and spots on my person. However, the sunburned feet didn’t deter me from joining Chels back in the spa for pedicures on our last full day. Check out a necessary beach, pedicure and sunburn picture below:

9. The Staff. I highly recommend staying at the resort we went to – Villa del Palmar Cancun. Not only because it’s a great resort with delicious food, great pools, tasty beverages and a beautiful beach…but very friendly staff! We had great experiences from meals, to the front desk, to the bartenders to those in the Spa. Great staff made this such a great vacation. Can’t say enough great things about them.

10. Twit. My friend Chelsea is fondly known as ‘Twit’, ever since I’ve known her. We met freshmen year of college and now in our first year out, we are still close friends. She too loves to cook, travel and lounge. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip due to Chels being there. We are already planning another trip…perhaps this will become an annual thing?! 🙂 Here she and I are on one of the nights we dressed up for dinner.

That wraps up the Top Ten! Great trip and I wish I were still lounging on the beach with a cocktail in hand! More blog postings with recipes will be coming this weekend – I have a few that I haven’t posted yet and am planning a few in addition.

Vanilla Bean Frosting

10 Mar

Is there anything better than vanilla bean? I think not! I have always LOVED the taste of this wonderful ingredient but used it for the first time today in the frosting for Dad’s cake. It was a bit of a hectic day, so I didn’t get a chance to whip up (no pun intended…ok…slightly intended) the frosting until my parents arrived at my apartment. Ah well, I enjoy cooking with some company. 🙂

For dinner, my parents and I had planned something relaxing and delicious – none other than Punch Pizza! See my recent post about Punch and why I think it’s so divine. We enjoyed both a Margherita Extra (the best EVER) and a delicious meat concoction with onions. It was great to have the combination of the two pizzas with the olive oil on one to outweigh the zip of the spice on the meat version. I’ll have to look up the name of that pizza, it was tasty.

Back to the vanilla bean. And the frosting. So, I’ll put this out there – this is not a healthy frosting. But MAN is it good. Mom and Dad kept sticking their fingers in the bowl of frosting and insisting on putting more on the cake. I even caught them in their frosting frenzy – including Dad sneaking extra layers on the cake. Got to love it.

For the recipe, this again a Sweetapolita creation. Below is her exact wording, measurements, ingredients and ‘how to make’ process which can be found on this page in her blog (when you see an ‘I’ that refers to Rosie, not to me):

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Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting

Ingredients

3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 grams/13 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

3 cups sifted (480 grams/1 lb + 1 ounce) confectioners’ sugar (icing, powdered)

3 tablespoons (45 mL) milk

1 vanilla bean, scraped

1 teaspoon (5 mL) pure vanilla extract — I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract

pinch of salt

Method

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use “4″ on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.

2. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy, and fluffy.

3. Best used right away.

4. You can eliminate the vanilla bean and use a total of 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.

*Adapted from Donna Hay

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So, as I was whipping the frosting for a total of 8 + 1 + 6 minutes, I got in a little workout too. I unfortunately do not own a Kitchen Aid mixer. I know – the shame! It’s on the lists of “I’d really like…” but hasn’t quite made the list of “I REALLY NEED…”. Yet. If you’re like me and use a hand mixer, prepare for a little arm workout. If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer…well good for you. What color is it?!?

Back to frosting and cake. Locate your cake plate, or in my case, an upside down pizza pan. (I meant to buy a large cake stand last weekend and totally spaced it out. The humor here is I own three mini cake plates (for perfume, picture frames etc.) but not one that’s cake size. I know – little weird.) Either way, as long as the surface you use is flat, you should be good.

Slather frosting all over the top of whichever cake you’d like to be the bottom. I was told I should have put MORE frosting on for this middle frosting layer, but this is up to you and much you LOVE frosting. Set your other cake on top, face down. This gives you a nice, flat surface for the top of the cake and makes it easy if you wish to decorate. Layer on the frosting on all sides and the top until your satisfied with the both the coverage and depth of frosting. I didn’t use all of the frosting, but there wasn’t too much leftover.

Decorate as you’d like or be like me and just use candles. Here’s the birthday boy:

And here he is, in vanilla heaven:

All in all, a delicious cake and frosting recipe and a successful birthday celebration was had. I highly recommend both the frosting recipe and the cake recipe from yesterday’s post. This is no ‘boring vanilla’ cake . I’m a chocolate girl and loved this cake. Trust me.

Now go make some cake!

Vanilla Cake from Scratch

9 Mar

Today was such a bizarre day! I travel for work and my entire travel itinerary was thrown off today as my flight was cancelled. I drove home instead, arriving home (after a stop at a few grocery stores for ingredients) at 10 PM. I had planned on spending the evening getting things ready for my parents to stop by tomorrow for my dad’s birthday. I had a few errands to run for some last minute items for his gift and wanted to make this cake from Sweetapolita.

The author of that site, Rosie, has a wide array of cakes on her blog – all of which looked delicious. I had a craving for something really simple, fluffy and preferably with vanilla bean. (I’ve never cooked with it but love the taste.) I compromised with a fluffy, vanilla cake and a vanilla bean frosting. I didn’t vary any details or ingredients from her recipe, as I was too afraid I’d screw something up!

The one thing I didn’t follow to a ‘T’ was the sifting of the cake flour. I don’t own a sifter (I did look  tonight at two grocery stores) but googled some ways to also ariate the flour without sifting. One suggestion was to whisk the flour – which is the method I used. Hopefully my cake will be fluffy even without the sifting.

I unfortunately have only one cake pan – so I am practicing patience this evening by doing one at time for the two tier cake. My last one is  juuusssttt finishing up – the second of two is cooling right now.

As I didn’t vary any part of the recipe – this is Rosie’s, from Sweetapolita, exact wording, measurements, ingredients and ‘how to make’ process (when you see an ‘I’ that refers to Rosie, not to me):

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Fluffy Vanilla Cake {modified}          

Yield: One 2-layer, 8-inch round cake or 9-inch round cake

*Very fluffy and light, but can be a bit more challenging if even a fraction too much liquid is added.

Ingredients

5 large egg whites (5 ounces/150 grams) at room temperature

3/4 cup whole milk (180 mL/6 liquid ounces), at room temperature

2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (12.5 mL) — I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (10 ounces/285 grams–weighed after sifting)

1 3/4 cups sugar (12 ounces/350 grams)

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder (19.5 grams)

3/4 teaspoon salt (5 grams)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 ounces/170 grams), at room temperature and cut into cubes

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment, and flour two round 8-inch pans.

2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.

4. Add the butter and remaining 1/2 cup of milk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 90 seconds.

5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

6. Divide the batter in two, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh to ensure 2 even layers.

7. Bake 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center. Be so careful to not overbake. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.

8. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Best eaten the same day as baked.

*Slightly adapted from Classic White Cake recipe on Baking Bites

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If you notice some of the measurements are bolded, and the recipe is a modified one. If you go to the recipe you’ll see Rosie modified it from her orignal recipe a bit.

I’ll post more about the frosting and what the final product looks like, tomorrow!

Also sending a ‘Happy Birthday’ out to my Dad via the blogosphere!!

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