Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fresh Berry Tiramisu

A few months ago, one of my coworker's announced that she married her long-time boyfriend in a private wedding ceremony. We were very excited for her and wanted to host a small celebration in her honor. I started searching for the perfect recipe to help her celebrate his new beginning and came across a berry tiramisu. I don't think I've ever had tiramisu-- it's not really my thing and halfway through this experiment, I came to the realization it’s really hard to make a recipe that you don’t know what the end product is going to taste like (probably obvious, but I guess I like to state the obvious).

The biggest obstacle for me was creating the sponge cake portion. I had a hard time incorporating the flour mixture into the egg mixture. The flour gobbed up (best description I can think of) and created pockets of flour surrounded by the wet-egg mixture. I was trying to be careful not to deflate the batter by mixing too hard so after a while I ended up baking the cake. The flour chunks softened when I added the syrup after it baked but I realized I need to learn how to fold flour into a wet mixture better. It was stressful!

Anyway, after that adventure, I assembled the cake and I have to say, this recipe is pretty incredible. My coworkers absolutely loved it! I am dreaming of strawberry season so I can make it again.

Fresh Berry Tiramisu
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Sponge cake

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoons salt
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Zest of 2 lemons, peeled in strips with a peeler
Juice of 2 lemons (1/3 to 1/2 cup lemon juice)
2 whole cloves
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or orange juice

1 pound mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 cup (8 ounces) whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 quarts berries: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries or any combination you like
Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease, or line with parchment, a 13 x 18-inch half-sheet pan or two 9-inch square pans (this would lead to a thicker cake).

To make the cake:
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.

Combine the eggs, sugar and almond extract in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle one third of the dry ingredients over the egg mixture, and fold them in with a whisk, taking care not to deflate the batter. Repeat twice more with the remaining dry ingredients, then pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). If you’re using two 9-inch square pans, divide the batter evenly between them.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched with a finger.

Remove the cake from the oven and run a knife around the edge of the pan while still warm (as the cake baked, it pulled away from the edges of the pan, so I didn't need to do this). Place the cake on a rack to cool completely before taking it out of the pan.

To make the syrup:
Combine all the syrup ingredients and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Once the mixture is clear, remove the syrup from the heat, strain it, and allow it to cool to room temperature.

To make the filling:
Place the mascarpone in a mixing bowl, and wisk in the orange zest. Add the whipping cream a third at a time, stirring between additions until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the confectioner’s sugar. Beat for at least a minute or more as needed until the filling is light and fluffy.

To assemble:
Flip the cooled cake out of its baking pan or pans onto a piece of parchment paper. If you’ve baked on parchment, peel the parchment off the back. Pull the paper straight back, keeping it parallel to the surface of the cake; this will discourage any bits of cake from coming off with the paper.

Slice the cake in half down the middle, to make two roughly 9 by 13-inch rectangles. Trim the rectangles to make 9-inch squares, and set aside the excess to use for another purpose (trifle perhaps?). If you’ve used two 9-inch square pans, flip the cooled cakes out of their pans and peel the parchment off the bottoms.

Place one of the 9-inch squares in the bottom of a lightly greased 9-inch square pan (or a cake stand, plate, etc- basically, you can't really move the sponge cake after you soak it so make sure this is your final destination). Using a pastry brush, generously soak the cake with 1/2 cup of citrus syrup. You’ll need to dab the syrup on, let it soak in for a few minutes, then repeat the process.

After the cake has been soaked, spread half the mascarpone filling over the cake. Next, arrange a single layer of berries over the filling then place the second square of cake on top. Soak this layer of cake with syrup as you did before. Spread the remaining filling over the cake layer, then place the rest of the berries in an attractive design on the top (I started at the perimeter with sliced berries and moved towards the center). Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour before serving.

Yield: one 9-inch cake, 16 2-inch squares.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Yummy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

And I'm back! I really disappeared... I don't know where I went... nor do I know where time has gone. The summer and fall flew by! I baked up a storm this summer and then have cut back this fall... I have a lot of recipes to share that are backlogged from the summer so I apologize if it's not seasonally appropriate since some of the produce is now out of season. Bear with me, I think I found a few great recipes though!

The majority of the summer was focused around my grandmother since we were hosting 90th birthday celebration for her. It was such an honor to celebrate this milestone with our family and friends. We had family that flew in from CA, AZ, FL, NY/ NJ and CO to help celebrate our grandmother's special day.

I took the week off from work to spend with our family... and bake and bake and bake. I made a double layer 9x13 birthday cake & 3 dozen cupcakes as well as about 8 dozen cookies for the evening. It was definitely an adventure to make all of the desserts but it was a great learning experience as well. I put my little kitchenaid stand mixer to work. For the cake & cupcakes, I use the marble cake recipe I've used before but tried a new chocolate frosting recipe. I also made about 100 royal icing pansy flowers to decorate the cake. I really liked this frosting-- I think I should have added a bit more milk to some of the batches as it was pretty dry but it came together nicely and worked pretty well for decorating.

I learned a few things in the process:
  • I needed to double each cake layer recipe but couldn't really double it in my mixer, so I had to make 4 batches separately. That is really hard to do with a marble cake mix!
  • The frosting was delicious but I had to make each batch separately as well... which slowed the decorating a lot because I had to stop and make a new batch when I ran out (I think I made 4 batches of frosting).
  • I think I made the layers too thick because slicing the cake was nearly impossible. It was stacked a bit too high and fell over. I think I needed to use 1 1/2 batches of the cake recipe vs 2 batches.
Chocolate Frosting
adapted from Williams Sonoma

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 cups confectioners' sugar
16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 Tbs. milk, plus more, if needed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler (I use a pyrex bowl over a pot of simmering water) or microwave the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Let cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the confectioners' sugar, butter, the 6 Tbs. milk, the vanilla and salt and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low. Add the chocolate and beat until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute more.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks. Makes about 4 1/2 cups.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Blueberry Buckle

Hey long lost friends! I've been really lazy this summer and haven't sat down to write. I hope you all have had fantastic summers! I've been doing a lot of baking so keep your eyes out for a lot of posts in the next few weeks. 

This recipe I'm sharing with you today is one of my family's summer hits. We have friends who have taken this recipe and added it to their restaurant menu. I have great memories of waking up to the smell of blueberry buckle as it's being pulled out of the oven. At our lake house, our neighborhood gathers and has breakfast on the beach at least once a summer and the blueberry buckle is a constant there. 

You won't be disappointed in this recipe! It's just delicious. 

Blueberry Buckle

3/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg 
1/2 cup milk
2 cup flour 
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon peel 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 1/2 cup blueberries

Crumb topping:
1/2 cup sugar 
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon 
1/4 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375°.  Grease & flour (or spray) 8” pan. 

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder & salt. 

In a large bowl (or stand mixer), cream the butter & sugar together until light and fluffy. Then add egg and mix, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl. Next, mix in the lemon peel & milk. Slowly add the flour mixture until incorporated, then fold in blueberries (if using frozen blueberries, toss them with a bit of flour to cover). 

Spread in pan. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over batter. Bake for 25-35 minutes (depending on how much you want it cooked-- my family likes it pretty gooey). 

For 8x8 pan- double the topping recipe.  
For 9 x 13 pan-  double batter recipe & triple the topping. 


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Knock-Off "Not Your Average Chicken Oscar"

My favorite meal at one of my favorite restaurants combines most of my favorite ingredients into one dish. It's a creamy dish but I request it with clear/ olive oil/ garlic/ white wine (whatever the chef wants besides cream) sauce and it is fantastic. I believe it's "oscar" describes a cream sauce so I'm not sure what to title this dish... but I'm just calling it a knock-off for right now.

My Version of Knock-Off "Not Your Average Chicken Oscar"

1 cup jasmine rice
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 can chicken broth
1- 1 1/2 lbs thin sliced chicken breast cutlets
16-20 scallops (4- 5 per person), rinse and pat dry
16-20 extra-large shrimp (4- 5 per person), rinsed, shell removed & dried
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 package crimini mushrooms
1 can quartered asparagus
5-10 sun-dried tomatoes
2 tsp capers
1/3 cup dry white whine
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (~ 2 lemons)
splash of white wine vinegar

In a saucepan, add carrots and 1 can of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add jasmine rice, cover and simmer for 15 minutes (unless your rice specifies a different cook time). When done, fluff with a fork.

Heat pan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp olive oil and pan sear the chicken cutlets. Once chicken is cooked, remove from the pan. Add scallops, turning once. Remove from pan. Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, then add shrimp and cook for a few more minuets. Add in asparagus, tomatoes, capers, white wine, remaining 1/2 cup of chicken broth, lemon juice and the splash of white wine vinegar. Cook for a few minutes then toss the chicken back in and cook for another minute or two.

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a stockpot. Add asparagus and cook for a few minutes until green but still crispy. Remove from water and place aside.

To plate, spoon rice on the plate. Add asparagus then the chicken mixture. Top with scallops.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mint Milano Tart

Recently, I was thinking about cookie crusts and realized most cookie crusts are made from oreos or graham crackers. I started wondering about what other cookies I could make crusts out of and decided I wanted to try using mint milanos.

I would have to say this dessert was quite decadent... I've never cut small pieces of cake, tart, pie etc before but I definitely did this time. The mint milanos gave the tart a light mint flavoring. If you wanted a stronger mint flavoring, I'd add mint extract or mint leaves in to the tart.

I'm looking forward to making this again! Keep your eyes out for a variety of cookie tarts & pies in the future :)

Mint Milano Tart
my creation!

1 package mint milano cookies (I ate 2, gave 1 to my husband- so I used 13 total)
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup whipping cream
12 oz chocolate, cut into pieces (I used 4 oz bittersweet & 8 oz semi-sweet)

In a food processor, pulse the cookies until fine chopped then add the melted butter and pulse until combined.

Add the cookie mixture to a tart pan and spread the mixture evenly across the bottom and up the sides (mine didn't reach the top). I refrigerated the crust for about 30 minutes, then placed in an 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes and then returned it to the fridge. I don't believe the oven was necessary but it was on so I threw it in there.

In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil and then pour over the chocolate. Let sit for a few minutes and then stir until combined.

Pour chocolate mixture into the prepared crust and return to the refrigerator to set for at least an hour - two hours.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Greek Panzanella

Do you need a quick and easy salad to serve with dinner or bring to a bbq? This recipe was really quick to pull together and received rave reviews. I bet it would even make an incredible bruschetta. The only change I made to the recipe was that I toasted the bread cubes in the oven instead of on the stove... it was just easier for me at the time.

I served this with a grilled greek chicken (need to make again, the grill wasn't cooperating), rice pilaf and an incredible dessert that may be posted on Monday so stay tuned.

Greek Panzanella
Ina Garten

Good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
Kosher salt
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, large diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, sliced in half rounds
1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted
For the vinaigrette:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil


Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed. I toasted the bread crumbs in the oven... seemed a lot easier to me!

Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Shortcake

I've recently discovered a love of shortcakes, whipped cream and berries... I tend to gravitate towards chocolate recipes when making desserts but I do have a strong love for fruit desserts as well... and I was never a fan of whipped cream until recently-- I only eat it paired with the right dessert.

This recipe is easy to make and pull together for a summer bbq or gathering. It's light and tastes delicious... and cute to boot! It was a perfect dessert for the Fourth of July but could make an appearance throughout the summer as well.

Summer Shortcake
adapted from Martha Stewart

Serves 12 to 15

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
Raw sugar or fine sanding sugar, for sprinkling
2 pints blueberries
2 pints strawberries, hulled (small berries left whole, large berries halved lengthwise)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream


1. Make the biscuits: In a food processor, pulse flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined. Add butter, and pulse until largest pieces are the size of peas. Add cream cheese, and pulse again until largest pieces are the size of peas. Add buttermilk, and pulse until dough comes together. Transfer to a bowl, and gently knead into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour (or overnight).

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Divide dough in half. Working with one portion at a time on a lightly floured work surface, pat into a disk, then roll into a 10-inch round. Transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

3. Brush biscuits with buttermilk. Generously sprinkle raw or sanding sugar over tops and sides. Brush off sugar from parchment. Bake until dough has risen slightly and is golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes (if bottoms brown too quickly, reduce temperature to 400 degrees). Leave biscuits on sheets. Using a 2 1/2-inch star cutter, cut out (but do not remove) 7 stars from one biscuit while it is still warm. Let cool.

4. Using a paring knife, carefully remove star shapes. Reserve for snacking or another use. (Biscuits can be made up to 8 hours ahead; store on wire racks, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.)

5. Make the filling: Combine blueberries, strawberries, and 2 tablespoons sugar, and let macerate until juicy, 10 minutes.

6. Just before serving, beat cream to medium peaks with remaining tablespoon sugar and the vanilla.

7. Assemble the cake: Place uncut biscuit on a large plate. Spoon half the berries and their juices on top of biscuit, then spread the whipped cream over berries. Top with all but about 1/2 cup berries. (Make sure surface is even; it will support the top biscuit and prevent it from breaking.) Carefully place cutout biscuit on top. Fill star cutouts with reserved berries. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, uncovered, up to 3 hours.



Friday, July 23, 2010

Pecan Crusted Chicken

I've been wanting to make pecan crusted chicken for a while and I don't know what took me so long. I love pecans... I love chicken. It was really easy and really moist! I was surprised how much the chicken absorbed the paprika by soaking in the buttermilk for about 30 minutes. I'd definitely make this again. It was easy and relatively little prep (food processor mostly).

I paired this recipe with baked onion rings and sauteed spinach with garlic.

Pecan Crusted Chicken
adapted from Whole Foods


1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 tablespoon garlic powder
4 (6-8 ounces) boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets
1 cups corn flakes
2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
1 cup whole pecans


Position oven rack to middle shelf; preheat to 375ºF. Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray; set aside.
Whisk together buttermilk, cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt and garlic powder. Add chicken; marinate 10 minutes.
While chicken is marinating, coarsely grind corn flakes and pecans, separately, in a food processor. Mix together in a large bowl; season with remaining salt.
Lift a chicken breast out of buttermilk allowing excess to drain off into bowl; cover entire chicken breast in corn-flake mixture; transfer to baking sheet.
Repeat with remaining chicken. Throw out any remaining buttermilk.
Bake 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 170ºF on instant-read thermometer.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Baked Onion Rings

I will never eat fried onion rings again. I cannot even believe how much I enjoyed these! So easy! I subbed garlic salt instead of cayenne pepper since I ran out of it while making pecan crusted chicken (look for that post on Friday)... I really don't have much else to say besides how surprised I was that I made onion rings... and they rocked... and you should try this recipe!

Baked Onion Rings
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 1/2 cups cornflakes
1/2 cup whole wheat dried breadcrumbs
1 large egg
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk (I used fat-free buttermilk)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt (original recipe: cayenne pepper)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia, quartered crosswise and broken into rings (discard small center rings)
2 tablespoons olive oil


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, pulse cornflakes and breadcrumbs until fine crumbs form, then transfer to a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, flour, and garlic salt and season with salt & pepper (salt omitted since used garlic salt).

2. Dip onion rings in egg mixture (letting excess drip off) and dredge in cornflake mixture; place on a large plate. Pour oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven and heat 2 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and tilt to coat evenly with oil. Arrange onion rings on sheet. Bake, turning once, until onion rings are golden brown, about 16 minutes. Season with salt.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Garlic Scape Basil Pesto

I first heard about garlic scapes through the food blog world. I came across them at a farm stand last month and grabbed a bunch to experiment with. I wanted to try to use them in a few dishes but ended up waiting a few days and then I wanted to use them before they went bad... so I ended up making garlic scape basil pesto.

I mixed with gnocci and halved grape tomatoes and the garlic flavor was pretty strong! I was surprised since I thought garlic scapes had a milder flavor of garlic than bulbed garlic-- but this was pretty strong. Regardless, Danimal and I enjoyed it! 

Garlic Scape Basil Pesto

4 garlic scapes (tough ends cut off & chopped into pieces)
1/3-1/2 cup basil
3 tbsp pine nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
few swirls of olive oil

Combine all in a food processor and blend to combine.


Friday, July 16, 2010

S'More Whoopie Pies

I've had s'mores on my mind for a while now-- it's the perfect combination-- whoever first thought to combine graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows should be made a saint. I'm a funny girl- I don't love marshmallows... I only eat them in s'mores. I've been thinking about what kinds of desserts can be combined to create a s'more... and a whoopie pie seemed logical. There aren't a lot of recipes out there for it but was happy with the ones I came across. I ended up making these for a work party a few weeks ago and they were a huge hit! I think next time I'll have to double the batch! I now own graham flour so I foresee a lot of s'mores in my future :)

S'More Whoopie Pies
adapted from K Bakes

Graham Cookie
1 1/2 cup graham flour (I used whole wheat graham flour- could use regular whole wheat flour as well)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 tbsp vegetable shortening
1 c packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract


Place rack in the center of the oven and prehead to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat mat.

In a medium bowl, stir together both flours, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter, shortening, and brown sugar until light and cream, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and buttermilk and beat until combined.

In another bowl, combine milk, baking soda, and vinegar. Add this mixture slowly to the batter along with the flour mixture and beat on low speed until completely combined.

Drop about 1 tablespoon of batter onto baking sheet, repeat spacing them at least 2 inches apart- you can use a pastry bag, ziplock bag with tip cut off or a spoon.

Bake for about 10 min until the cakes begin to brown.

Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for 3-5 min before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Spread with marshmallow cream and chocolate ganache-- the ganache didn't set in time so I ended up piping/ scooping the ganache onto one side of the cookie and freezing it for 5 minutes. Then placed the other cookie (with the marshmallow cream) on top of it and refrigerated it until ready to serve.

The chocolate softened pretty quickly so I wouldn't recommend letting them sit out-- keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Makes about 40 two-inch cakes, about 20 assembled whoopie pies.

Marshmallow Cream
1 1/2 c marshmallow creme
1 1/4 c vegetable shortening
1 c confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle beat together marshmallow fluff and shortening, starting on low and increasing to medium speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about 3 min.

Reduce mixer speed to low, add confectioner's sugar and vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Increase mixture speed to medium and beat until fluffy.

Chocolate Ganache
1 small bag (12oz) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Place your chocolate in a large, heat proof bowl.

Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat just until in bubbles.

Pour the heated cream over the chocolate in the bowl and let it sit for about 10 minutes, until the chocolate is melted. Stir with a whisk until smooth.

Allow the mixture to rest until firm enough to spread, about 2 hours. Or you can refrigerate it for about 30 min until it is firm enough to spread, shirting every 10 min.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wilton Cake Decorating Course 3 Recap

I finished the Wilton Cake Decorating Course 3 a few weeks ago! Course 3 is mainly about fondant and gum paste-- which is a neat skill to learn. I'm going to try my hand at homemade fondant in the next couple of weeks and see how that works. I really enjoy frosting with buttercream and royal icing but knowing how to work with fondant is pretty key as well.

I'm excited to use all these new skills! I already have a few cakes I'm planning in the next couple of weeks. Below, I've recapped the four courses. If you haven't taken a cake decorating class yet, definitely try it out! It's a lot of fun!

First Week:
We made a bow and covered the cake in fondant... I think I failed the first attempt at covering... it's pretty pathetic.



Second & Third Week:

Flowers & Borders!

Eyelet Border


Ruffle Border

Inlays & Outlays




Calla Lily


Football Mum (not my favorite)

Fourth Class & Final Cake!




And when you slice into it:


Patriotic, huh?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Building a Nest: The End

Thank you for sticking with me for all the baby shower posts! One of the projects I was most proud about was the sugar cookie favors. I spaced this project out over the week prior to the shower. I found a few ribbons at AC Moore that had all the colors that I was planning on using.

Sunday evening, I baked the sugar cookies. Monday through Wednesday I decorated them and Thursday I bagged and tied them. I think they came out pretty good-- I added 1/2 tsp corn syrup to my royal icing-- based on the recommendations. It added a bit of gloss to my icing. I'm not a huge fan of corn syrup but I am not sure what else to use to get a bit more shine in the frosting. One batch of frosting was a little shy of frosting 2 batches of sugar cookies... but I made it last though!
Each package got one square cookie and one of the three bird cookies (orange, blue & green).


Here they are, packaged & ready to go!

And that's a wrap!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Building a Nest: Samoa Cookie Flavored Bird Nest Cupcakes

I found the idea for these cupcakes on Martha Stewart's site and they worked perfectly for the theme I was going for for the shower. The hardest part came wtih deciding the cupcake/ frosting combination... i needed to pair with coconut and fit in with bird nest concept-- I searched high and low, and had several ideas... but I wasn't set on any of them. At lunch, the last day of work before the shower, one of my coworkers suggested samoa cookie as a flavor idea... and I literally hopped up and ran to google it. I came across this recipe and it just seemed perfect.

It turned out great! The only problem I had was halving the recipe-- it believe I added the whole amount of cocoa for half the recipe-- but it was pretty good! I'd have to make it again to double check that. The frosting is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.... it was pretty easy to make and tasted perfect. I'm very happy with how these came out... minus the birds. I think they could have been better... plus I forgot to add their eyes! Ooops!

Samoa Bird Nest Cupcakes
adapted from Life in a Peanut Shell (adapted from Ghirardelli Grand Fudge Cake)

Made 24 regular sized cupcakes (I made half the recipe)

3/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa (I tried Ghirardelli cocoa for this recipe)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups milk
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 2 regular muffin tins with liners.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add vanilla and eggs one at a time, scraping bowl after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and milk (starting and ending with the flour mixture), while mixing on low speed. Continue to mix until smooth. Scoop into muffin tins.

Bake for about 15-18 minutes.

Caramel Buttercream

2 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream, (put 2-3 tbsp aside)
1/2 tsp baking soda
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

In a medium, heavy saucepan, bring the sugar and cream to a rolling boil. Boil one minute.

Add soda, and boil one more minute. Remove from heat.

Add butter, but do not stir yet. Let the mixture cool in the fridge for 1-2 hours. Do not stir until mixture is completely cooled.
Pour mixture into a stand mixer and, using the paddle attachment, beat well. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with 2-3 tbsp of heavy cream. Beat until desire consistency.

To Decorate:

Toast sweetened coconut until golden in color. Let cool.

Using a 1M tip, frost the cupcakes. Then sprinkle coconut on top of the frosting (most around the perimeter). I used buttercream for the birds-- divide into 2 bowls and color blue & yellow (or whatever color you want). Using a round tip, pipe 3 mounds of blue icing in the middle of the cupcakes. Then use a leaf tip and pipe the beak. Melt some chocolate and use a toothpick and dot the eyes on each bird (use your imagination here).


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Building a Nest: Mushroom Polenta Canapes

A few years ago, I was at a wedding and had a polenta canape during cocktail hour.... and every since I've dreamed of having them again. I had never made polenta before and had only had it a few times. I started envisioning different dishes with polenta in it. For my best friend's shower, I knew I wanted a polenta recipe and searched high and low for the perfect recipe. Somewhere along the recipe search, I decided to pair mushrooms with the polenta and finally came across a Cooking Light recipe.

I thought this recipe came out pretty well- I'd like to make it again when I don't have a lot going on so I can give it a bit more attention (I believe I added cheese to both top and bottom of the polenta pieces... oops!). I thought it had great taste and looked pretty.

My one tip about cooking polenta is to watch out, it spits when you add it to the boiling liquid. Don't stand directly over the pot when it's cooking... or you'll get attacked!

Mushroom Polenta Canapes
adapted from Cooking Light


4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking polenta
1 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese

1 cup boiling water
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup thinly sliced shallots
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 3 1/2 ounces)
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms (about 3 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon dry vermouth or dry white wine
splash of sherry wine
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved Gruyère cheese


1. To prepare polenta, bring 4 1/2 cups broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Gradually add polenta and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat to low; cook 3 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Spoon polenta into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray, spreading evenly. Press plastic wrap onto surface of polenta; chill 1 hour or until firm.

2. Preheat broiler.

3. Invert polenta onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Cut polenta into 36 rectangles (leave polenta on baking sheet). Broil 5 minutes. Turn polenta over. Brush polenta with 1 tablespoon butter. Broil 5 minutes. Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded cheese evenly over rectangles; broil 5 minutes or until cheese melts.

4. To prepare topping, combine 1 cup boiling water and porcini mushrooms in a bowl; cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain; chop mushrooms.

5. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots to pan; cook 4 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in red pepper; cook 30 seconds. Add porcini, shiitake, and cremini mushrooms; cook over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Stir in vermouth, sherry, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

6. Spoon 1 teaspoon mushroom mixture on top of each polenta rectangle; top rectangles evenly with shaved cheese.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Building a Nest: Strawberry Shortcake Cake

I am skipping to the dessert section of the baby shower-- I think I still have one or two more posts on the appetizers left-- but I wanted to post this recipe before the Fourth of July weekend. I first made this recipe last year for my in-laws 40th wedding anniversary and we all absolutely loved it. I don't believe I had ever had cream cheese frosting prior to that and now I'm hooked. This recipe is absolutely perfect-- I did add some lemon zest to the cake and never measure the powdered sugar that goes into the frosting-- I just judge by taste and texture... and so far, it's worked out pretty well!

If you have a few strawberries laying around the house, I encourage you to try this recipe. It's absolutely devine!

Strawberry Shortcake Cake
adapted from Pioneer Woman


1-½ cup Flour
3 Tablespoons Corn Starch
½ teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
9 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
1-½ cup Sugar
3 whole Large Eggs
½ cups Sour Cream, Room Temperature
1 teaspoon Vanilla
2 tsp fresh lemon zest

½ pounds Cream Cheese, Room Temperature (I use 1/3 less fat cream cheese)
2 sticks Unsalted Butter
1-½ pound Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1 teaspoon Vanilla

1 pound Strawberries
Cake pan at least 2 inches deep-- I used 9 x 2 round pan.

Preparation Instructions

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and corn starch.

Cream 9 tablespoons butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well each time. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just barely combined.

Pour into greased and floured 9-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, or until no longer jiggly. Remove from cake pan as soon as you pull it out of the oven, and place on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely.

Stem strawberries and slice them. Place into a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Stir together and let sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, mash the strawberries in two batches. Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit for another 30 minutes. The original recipe states to mash the strawberries but I skip that step- I keep them in tact.

Combine cream cheese, 2 sticks butter, sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and dash of salt in a mixing bowl. Mix until very light and fluffy.

Slice cake in half through the middle. Spread strawberries evenly over each half (cut side up), pouring on all the juices. Place cake halves into the freezer for five minutes- this makes icing the cakes easier.

Remove from freezer. Use a little less than 1/3 of the icing to spread over the top of the strawberries on the bottom layer. Place the second layer on top. Add half of the remaining icing to the top spreading evenly, then spread the remaining 1/3 cup around the sides.

Leave plain OR garnish with strawberry halves. For the decoration below, I sliced strawberries and started at the outside of the cake and layered inwards. It' took a little bit of time but I think it came out nice!

Cake is best when served slightly cool. The butter content in the icing will cause it to soften at room temperature. For best results, store in the fridge! The cake absorbs a lot of the juices from the strawberries -- If serving for a party, it's best to frost a few hours beforehand otherwise the strawberry juices will seep out of the frosting.



Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Building a Nest: Roasted Eggplant Dip

I know people can be stumped at ways to use eggplant... I've used it in eggplant parm, roasted for orzo salad and pizza. I haven't made baba ganoush but I plan to soon as I really enjoy eggplant. This recipe is yet another Ina Garten recipe winner. My family absolutely loves this recipe. It's versatile and easy to prepare. If I have extra, I toss it in with pasta or cook it with chicken. It's really delicious!

Roasted Eggplant Dip
Adapted from Ina Garten


1 medium eggplant
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used 3)
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or more)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking.

Cool completely (placing hot items in the food processor is not recommended due to BPA chemicals in the food processor bowl).

Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste, balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt and pepper.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Building a Nest: Artichoke & Red Pepper Bruschetta

I came across this recipe for artichoke & red pepper bruschetta a few years ago and was pretty impressed by it. Firstly, I love all the ingredients in it... and secondly, it's just plain tasty! I've used the leftover topping and mixed it in with pasta and eaten it with crackers. I've made it for several parties and people seem to enjoy it. I over-toasted the bread this time-- doing too many things at once... oops! If you like artichokes and red peppers and olives, I think you'll like this recipe!

Artichoke & Red Pepper Bruschetta
Sunset Magazine

Yield: Makes 3 dozen appetizers

1 red bell pepper (about 1/2 lb.), rinsed, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 red onion (about 6 oz.), peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped pimiento-stuffed Spanish-style green olives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
36 diagonally cut slices (1/4 in. thick) sourdough baguette (about 1 slender 8-oz. loaf)
1/2 cup grated asiago or parmesan cheese

1. In a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, frequently stir bell pepper, onion, and garlic in oil until vegetables begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add artichokes, parsley, olives, and lemon juice, mixing well. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If making up to 1 day ahead, cover and chill.

2. Arrange baguette slices in a single layer on a 12- by 15-inch baking sheet. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until toasted on 1 side, about 1 minute. Remove from oven and turn slices over.

3. Spoon artichoke mixture equally on untoasted side of baguette slices; spread level. Sprinkle with cheese.

4. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until cheese begins to melt and topping is hot, about 1 minute.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Building a Nest: Grilled Lemon Chicken with Peanut Satay

One of my families favorite dishes is Ina's Grilled Lemon Chicken and Peanut Satay. I chose to use it at the baby shower because I could prepare the sauce ahead of time and the chicken has very little prep time. We grilled the chicken a few hours before the party-- it can be served cold and is still delicious. Needless to say, this recipe is a hit. The ladies at the shower loved it and I heard a few of them profess their love to the satay!

I'd definitely recommend this recipe for a nice summer meal, a party or anytime throughout the year. If you haven't tried it before, add it to your menu for this 4th of July!

Grilled Lemon Chicken with Peanut Satay
Ina Garten

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
3/4 cup good olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (I forgot this)
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, halved and skin removed
Satay Dip, recipe follows


Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Pour over the chicken breasts in a nonreactive bowl. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.

Heat a charcoal grill. Grill the chicken breasts for 10 minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Cool slightly and cut diagonally in 1/2-inch-thick slices. Skewer with wooden sticks and serve with Satay Dip. (The chicken breasts I used were really thin so skewering didn't happen).

Satay Dip:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2/3 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Cook the olive oil, sesame oil, red onion, garlic, ginger root, and red pepper flakes in a small, heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat until the onion is transparent, 10 to 15 minutes. Whisk in the vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, peanut butter, ketchup, sherry, and lime juice; cook for 1 more minute. Cool and use as a dip for Grilled Lemon Chicken skewers.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups


Sorry for the blurry photo!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Buiding a Nest: Mini Spinach Quiches

I had a massive internal debate for the week leading up to the baby shower I hosted for my best friend. Do I make quiche with crust or crustless... bite-sized quiches (mini-muffin sized) or mini quiches (standard muffin sized) . What would people like? What would be easier to eat? What would be easier to make? Do people even care?! I finally made an official decision the morning before the shower to make crusted bite-sized quiches... and then I ended up with a lot of extra filling so I used up the rest and made crustless ones as well! I think they're pretty cute and tasty.

Mini Spinach Quiches
crust: Martha Stewart; filling: me

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter; chilled & cut into small pieces (I used frozen butter)
1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.
1 package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
3 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1. Beat eggs and combine with spinach, milk & nutmeg.
To assemble:
1. Spray mini-muffin pan.
2. Pinch of a piece of pate brisee (about 1/2 inch ball), press dough flat into a circle about 1 1/2 times the size of the muffin cup. Press into the cup and continue until you've filled all cups. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.
3. Blind bake at 400 for about 10 minutes until crusts are puffy and light golden brown. I didn't fill the pastries with weights.
4. Once dough cools, spoon egg mixture into dough crusts (about 1 tablespoon for each).
5. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until egg mixture puffs and is firm to the touch.
I used about half the mixture for one batch of crusts. After those baked, I removed them from the pan, to cool.  To the egg mixture, I added 1 additional egg, about 1/4 cup of milk, a dash more nutmeg and 2 tbsp flour and mixed to combine. Spray the pan again fill each cup about 3/4 full. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until egg mixture puffs and is firm to the touch.
Both can be served at room temperature or warmed up.

Building a Nest: A Baby Shower Recap

I recently hosted my best friend's baby shower at her home in Vermont. My favorite types of food to prepare for a party are appetizers and desserts. I find it's easier to have everything in individual portions or bite sized as opposed to a sit-down meal or buffet type meal. People can take what they want, when they want and it allows people to eat at their own pace. The party turned out very nicely and we had a good time!


The menu included:
Creamy Cucumber Canapes
Artichoke & Red Pepper Bruschetta
Mushroom Polenta Canapes
Mini Spinach Quiches
Egg  Salad Sandwiches & Tuna Salad Sandwiches
Grilled Lemon Chicken with Peanut Satay sauce
Roasted Eggplant Dip
Fruit Salad
Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Samoa Cupcakes
Cookie Dough Truffles
Sugar Cookie Favors
Punch, Mimosas & Spark Berry Lemonade

I'll be blogging about some of these recipes over the next week! In addition to the meal, we opened presents and decorated onesies. I tried to vary up both these activities a bit. In the invitation, I asked everyone to bring a book instead of a card to help start the new family's library. For our onesie decorating activity, I prewashed all the onesies (4 packages; 1 of each size to 12 months) and provided fabric scraps, fabric markers, puffy pants, and iron-on fabric adhesive. I tried to print up some ideas and stencils but their printer wasn't working right.

What I learned was to try this ahead of time so you understand the process... I didn't have time and secretly hoped someone knew how to do it or the iron-on adhesive had clear instructions-- neither were a correct assumption. In the end, the mama-to-be ended up with some really cute onesies.

DSC04056   DSC04059

DSC04058 DSC04057

I made these last two!
DSC04063  DSC04062

After the shower, the mama-to-be wanted pictures of her pretty flowers she had outside. Isn't she an adorable pregnant woman!?