Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kettle Corn

I wish I had known that homemade kettle corn was so simple. I knew it was just a few basic ingredients but I thought the process was more difficult than it really turned out to be.  K bought one of those Whirly Pop stove top poppers a few years ago because we read an article about all the bad stuff in microwave popcorn. However when I was pregnant with our daughter I had a craving for kettle corn for several weeks so I bought a box of the microwave stuff. I should have looked up a recipe for the homemade version sooner because it was 1000 times better, tasted just like the extraordinarly overpriced yummy bags of kettle corn you can buy at the local fairs.  Speaking of pregnancy cravings, I haven't had time to blog for awhile  (again) because we recently welcomed our second baby into our family.  Aurora was born September 1 weighing 7lbs 10 oz. We absolutely love her and little K is doing a great job adjusting to being a big brother.  Popcorn is one of little K's favorite snacks so I decided to make us a special treat today while Aurora napped. I was pleasantly surprised that it only took about 3 minutes to pop the corn, just as long as it takes to microwave a bag. The kettle corn was so delicious, sweet and crunchy but also salty and buttery just like kettle corn should be. You could probably make this recipe in a regular nonstick pot, just be sure to shake it around the whole time so the popcorn pops evenly.  I hope you give this recipe a try soon!

Homemade Kettle Corn
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 tsp oil
3 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Salt to taste

Place corn and oil into the pot or Whirly Pop and cook over medium heat.  When the oil starts to sizzle add the sugar and mix well.  Stir or shake the corn constantly until you hear the corn stop popping.  Immediately pour the popcorn into a bowl and toss with butter, vanilla and salt. Best if served immediately, while warm.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Sweet & Sour Dill Refrigerator Pickles

Hey friends, I am back! Although it probably won't last very long since baby girl is due to be here later this month and I am sure my cooking, photographing, and blogging time will be scarce once again.  We have been having an incredibly busy summer squeezing in lots of fun activities with little K, family visits and adventures, a quick getaway to Maine, and prepping for our baby's arrival soon!

We also grew our first successful veggie garden this summer.  Our yard has very sandy soil and gets full sunshine for at least 10 hours a day so our previous attempts went poorly.  For the past several years we have done a few potted plants on the deck just to have some fresh vegetables but this year big K suggested building a raised bed garden out of a large pallet.  He stapled fabric paper to the bottom, attached some support boards around the four sides and filled the whole pallet with great quality dirt/compost mix.  We planted cucumbers, scallions, lettuce, a selection of herbs, and lots of green beans.  A few weeks ago we made 10 pints of my delicious dilly beans with our very own beans and dill!

Last weekend the stack of fresh cucumbers was starting to pile up in the fridge and so I decided to try refrigerator pickles. When I was a kid my parents made and canned a big batch of amazing bread and butter pickles every summer.  I didn't think I would have enough cucumbers to bother with the whole canning process so I decided to give a new recipe a try.  I will have to track down that bread and butter pickle recipe for another year!  These pickles came out great.  The cucumbers stay super crunchy and have wonderful elements of both sweet and sour.  They are definitely more on the dill/sour side of pickles and less reminiscent of bread and butter but they do have a nice sweetness about them.  The combination of adding the onions, garlic, and various spices add nice complexity as well.  This recipe is so tasty and very easily scaled up or down, so whether you have a garden exploding with cucumbers or you would have a pick some up from the market, I really hope you give these pickles a try!

Sweet & Sour Dill Refrigerator Pickles

3 cups sliced pickling cucumbers, approx 1/8" thick
1 small onion, thinly sliced
small bunch of dill
3 small cloves garlic
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups cider or rice wine vinegar (good quality)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp pickling or sea salt

In a medium saucepan, stir the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt together and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Once the sugar and salt are dissolved, remove from the heat, add the turmeric, and let the mixture cool while you prep the other ingredients.  Evenly distribute the garlic, mustard seeds, peppercorns, celery seed and a few sprigs of dill between approximately 3 pint size (16oz) mason jars.  Layer the slices of cucumbers and onion into each jar and then pour over the pickling solution, filling to about 1/2" from the top of the jars.  Place lids and rings on the jars and refrigerator for at least 24 hours before eating.  The pickles should keep fresh in the refrigerator for approximately 2 months or longer.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Spring Veggie Penne "Alfredo"

Sometimes a meal is so good that you decided the recipe must go on the blog, even though it is a crazy Tuesday night, your DSLR camera battery is dead, and you have exactly 12 seconds to finish eating dinner before your wild two year old demands he is "all done." So you whip out your cell phone, put your plate on the floor in the only place of the house that has any natural light available, tell your dog to scoot, and snap the world's most blah picture of this amazing pasta dish!  I have missed out on blogging lots of amazing recipes because I didn't have the opportunity to photograph the dish. I always tell myself, next time I will make sure to plan better, but that hardly happens. So I am putting my perfectionism away and posting this recipe for you! 

This pasta was so delicious and creamy but also very fresh and full of wonderful spring flavors. The sauce is reminiscent of an alfredo but has far less cream and butter and cheese in it than a traditional alfredo sauce.  It still has a great silky texture that coats the pasta nicely but doesn't feel too heavy and it tastes amazing too.  As always, feel free to change out any of the ingredients - use different shaped pasta, use a different combo of vegetables, add a protein if you wish - just customize away until the recipe suits your preferences.  Another huge plus for this recipe is that it took less than 20 minutes to make!  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did.  Let me know if you try any other combos of ingredients that work well together! 
Spring Veggie Penne "Alfredo"

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 green onions, sliced
1 sm red bell pepper, diced
1 cup asparagus pieces, 1" pieces
1 cup quartered baby portabella mushrooms
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups low/no sodium stock of your choice
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Fresh parsely or basil, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb box Penne pasta

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water, cook the pasta for one minute less than the box's instructions for al dente, and drain well.  While the water is coming to a boil, prep all of your veggies. Then, heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet or saucepan.  Add the veggies, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook for about 10 minutes or until veggies are just tender.  Stir in the flour, cook for one minute and then whisk in the stock.  I used chicken stock because that is what I had on hand but veggie stock would work great too.  Let the sauce bubble for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly.  Stir in the cream, the parmesan cheese and the cooked pasta.  Let this bubble away for about 2 more minutes until the pasta is cooked perfectly.  Serve with additional grated parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs, if desired. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie {{No Bake}}

"Kaden, what did we make?"
"Can my have some?"
"No, it has to go in the fridge and set. Plus you already licked the spatula!"
"Can my touch it?"
"No you can't touch it, you will smoosh it."
"Who did we make this pie for Kaden?"
"Does Daddy like pie?"
"PB pieeeee"
"Can my eat choc-O-lit?"
"I need choc-O-lit!"

"Just be patient for a few minutes and let Mama take some pictures."
"You can wait a few more minutes and then I'll let you have a piece of peanut butter cup."
"I want choc-O-lit!"
"Please wait Kaden, good boy."
"Can my touch it now?!"
"Kaden, go see what Daddy is doing; tell him we finished the pie."
"I want choc-O-lit!"
"How did we make the pie?"
"Bang it!"
"What did we bang?"
"You're right we banged the graham crackers and then we melted chocolate and whipped up peanut butter filling!"
"All done now?"
"Yes, Mama is all done taking pictures!"
"Can my have choc-O-lit?"
"Okay! Just one!"

~Conversation with Kaden, age 22 months

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs
(or chocolate cookie crumbs or pretzel crumbs)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar

In a medium bowl, stir together the cracker crumbs and the brown sugar and then add the melted butter.  Stir the mixture well until all of the crumbs are well coated in butter.  Transfer the crust mixture to a 9" pie plate and press into an even layer along the bottom and up the sides.  Chill the crust in the fridge while you make the ganache and mousse.

Chocolate Ganache
1 1/3 cups chopped chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl or container.  Heat the cream in the microwave for about 2 minutes or on the stove just until you see little bubbles forming around the edges.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit for about 5 minutes.  The chocolate should fully melt in this time and then you can stir well to combine.  If you have any unmelted chocolate you can continue to heat the mixture until it is completely smooth.  Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes and then pour a layer of ganache into the chilled pie crust.  The amount of your ganache layer is completely up to you.  Make sure to leave enough to garnish the top of the pie.  Return the pie to the fridge to chill while you make the mousse.

Peanut Butter Mousse
1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 cup softened cream cheese
1 cup confectioner's (powered) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Peanut Butter Cups, for garnish

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together the softened cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract until well combined.  In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks.  Fold the whipped cream gently into the peanut butter mixture, until well combined.  Transfer the peanut butter mouse to the pie plate and decorate with remaining chocolate ganache and chopped peanut butter cups, if desired.  Place the pie in the refrigerator for at least two hours to set firm.


Inspired by Gretchen's Bakery

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Frozen Princess Elsa Layer Cake {Vanilla Sponge Cake, Chocolate Cake, White Chocolate Ganache, & Swiss Meringue Buttercream}

I recently made this Frozen Princess Elsa layer cake for my niece's 2nd birthday and I was really excited about how beautiful it came out.  I shared all of the details and exact recipes that I used below, but what I really wanted to share this time was the general overall concept of this cake.  You could make this cake with any flavor of cake, any filling, or any frosting recipe that you prefer.  Actually speaking of that, if anyone has a foolproof, moist, tender, delicious vanilla cake recipe, please share it with me! I have been on the hunt for the perfect vanilla cake for a long time and this recipe was good but didn't fit 100% with what I am looking for.  Anyways, I just loved how the appearance of this cake came out with the pretty teal buttercream and the contrasting white snow/ice details.  I think the stars piped along the bottom gave the cake a cute ruffly, party dress look that was very sweet and girly, plus the border of white dots almost resembled a strand of big, beautiful pearls for an extra bit of elegance.  Don't skip the dusting of edible glitter or sanding sugar (which you can't see very well in the picture) because it adds that lovely sparkle of freshly fallen snow glistening in the sunlight that everyone loves!

I absolutely love when I am given the opportunity to make a special cake for a family member or friend, even though my husband would probably tell you differently!  I tend to get myself a little worked up during the process of just about every cake that I have ever made, but in the end it is all part of the fun.  Even if I end up having to re-make the entire giant batch of buttercream because for some unknown reason the first batch completely imploded, every minute of making the cake is worth it; all for that smile and happiness that comes along with first seeing the finished product or taking the first delicious bite!  Being able to create something special to share with the people I love is a truly wonderful feeling and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to do so :)

Vanilla Sponge Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
7 eggs, separated
1 cup cold water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together until evenly combined.  Stir in the vegetable oil, vanilla extract, egg yolks, and water until the wet ingredients are incorporated into the dry ingredients.  In a separate, very clean bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.  Stir about 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter, to begin lightening the mixture.  Carefully fold the rest of the egg whites through the cake batter until you can no longer see any streaks of white.   Divide the batter into two 8" cake pans that have been greased and lined with parchment circles.  Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cakes rest in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes, run a knife around the outer edge of the cake, and then turn out onto wire cooling racks to cool completely.
Inspired by How To Cook That

Chocolate Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F.  In a medium bowl, stir together the first six, dry ingredients and then stir in the remaining wet ingredients until no large lumps remain.  Divide the batter into two 6" cake pans that have been greased and lined with parchment circles.  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pans for a few minutes and then turn out on to wire rack to cool completely.
Inspired by Movita Beaucoup

White Chocolate Ganache
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups good quality white chocolate, chopped

Heat the heavy cream to a simmer over low heat, remove from the heat, and stir in the white chocolate.  Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes and then stir well until everything is combined.  Alternatively, you can heat the cream in the microwave and then stir in the chocolate.  You may need to briefly reheat in the microwave (20 seconds at a time) to get the chocolate completely melted.  Let the ganache cool to room temperature or can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.  Once the ganache is cooled, use an electric mixer to whip the ganache until soft peaks form.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
10 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
3 cups (6 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Add the egg whites and sugar to the (very clean) bowl of an electric stand mixer. Place the bowl over a pot with about 1 inch of simmering water (like a double boiler set up) and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (about 140°F if you have a candy thermometer.) Place the bowl back on the base of your stand mixer and beat the egg whites on medium-high speed with the whisk attachment until the mixture is glossy, thick, and the outside of the bowl has cooled to room temperature. This will likely take at least 10 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment, turn the mixer on to low speed, and begin adding small cubes of the butter, one at a time, until each is incorporated. I waited between 5 and 10 seconds between adding each cube of butter. Don't worry if the mixture curdles or starts to look a little soupy, just keep mixing until it comes together into a smooth, silky consistency. Stop and refrigerate the buttercream for about 15 minutes if it really starts looking soupy and then continue to beat. Add the vanilla and salt and mix to incorporate. Remove about 1 cup of the buttercream to a separate bowl to keep white and color the remaining buttercream with teal gel food color.

Cake Assembly

1 cup strawberry or raspberry jam (optional)
Sanding sugar, or other edible glitter

I like to bake my cakes at least one day before the party and once they are cooled, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze them until I am ready to decorate. I find that working with frozen cake is much easier, especially if you are cutting your cakes into more layers. The cakes thaw really quickly, so by the time you are done decorating, the whole cake is thawed and ready to eat!

Cut each of your cakes in half, so that you have four layers of sponge cake and four layers of chocolate cake. Place a dollop of buttercream on your cake board or plate and place your first layer of sponge cake down. Frost this layer with white chocolate ganache. I also added a layer of strawberry jam here too for additional flavor (optional). Repeat this process until all the layers of sponge cake are stacked up. Frost the outside of the cake with a thin layer of teal buttercream (crumb coat) and place this in the fridge to set while you work on the chocolate layer. Place the first round of chocolate cake on a 6" cake circle or cardboard covered in aluminum foil. Spread a layer of white chocolate ganache on the cake and continue until you have all of the layers stacked up. Frost the outside of the cake with a thin coat of teal buttercream. Remove the sponge cake from the fridge and place the chocolate cake on top of the sponge cake, right in the center. Frost the entire cake with teal buttercream and smooth it out as best as you can. Add several rows of teal stars around the bottom of the cake using a piping bag fitted with a star tip (I used a Wilton 2d). Place the white buttercream in a separate bag fitted with a round tip (I used Wilton #12) and pipe small dots around the bottom border of the chocolate cake. For the top of the cake, I started in the center and piped lines of frosting, out cascading over the edge, in a random pattern to create the look of icicles. I sprinkled the cake with a dusting of edible glitter to give it a little extra sparkle and topped it off with an Elsa figurine.