Friday, September 30, 2011

I have the plague.

I feel like such a slacker.  I have seriously been in bed since Monday, with the exception of going to doctor's appointments and getting out of bed to nuke another can of soup (gross).  I still feel like absolute poo, so this is going to be short and sweet. 

I (obviously) have not done any baking, since it's hard to bake from the big butt imprint in my bed.  In fact, I haven't done any eating either.  Hopefully I will lose a few pounds this week. 

More recipes to come.  And tomorrow I find out what the Daring Bakers Challenge is!  Yay! 

A few months ago, I signed up to volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  Well, they finally found a Little Sister for me, and I get to meet her tonight!  I'm so excited and can't wait to plan all sorts of fun things to do with her (baking, anyone?).  I'm kind of nervous, and I hope she doesn't think I'm a total snooze.  Anyway, I will keep you posted on how that goes! 

Well my little sweetie pies, I'm going to force myself to get a shower and head to the grocery store.  I have no food.  None.  Except maybe a nasty can of condensed soup.  Which I refuse to eat anymore of.  See you soon!  :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Granny's Brownies

I was going to try to start sewing more for my blog and not bake for awhile because of the whole weight-loss thing.  Yeah, didn't work so well last night.  I all of a sudden got an intense craving for brownies.  Especially my Granny B's brownies.  Aunt Peggy gave me the recipe awhile back and I've never made them.  Aunt Peggy makes them every once in awhile so I've had them before.  Totally yummy.  I had the recipe that I copied from Aunt Peggy a few months ago hanging on my fridge screaming "bake me! bake me!"  So I did. 

The original recipe (in Granny's handwriting) is one I used on my recipe box.  It's definitely a classic.  I added chocolate chips because I was totally in the mood for more chocolate.  Ooh, and the batter is REALLY REALLY thick, so if you are the type who likes to hand-stir brownie batter, use your hand mixer. 

These brownies are best straight out of the oven.  Or zapped in the microwave for about 30 seconds the next day- if they last that long.  They get a nice crisp crust on the outside and are sooo gooey and chocolatey inside.  Yum!  Thanks Granny! 

Granny's Brownies

3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 oz of baking chocolate, melted
chocolate chips (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 325.  Grease an 8x8 pan.
2.  Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Add in melted chocolate.
3.  Mix in dry ingredients.  Stir in chocolate chips.
4.  Pour into pan and bake about 30 minutes or until knife comes out clean. 
Easy recipe, but SO yummy.  You could totally add in whatever you want.  Nuts, peanut butter, Reese's Cups...oh yum.  I'm getting too many ideas here....

So can I just complain again how HOT it is?  It's officially fall.  For 3 days now.  And it's STILL 79 degrees.  According to my phone, feels like 93.  Not cool.  I haven't been to Starbucks yet for my Pumpkin Spice Latte because it would feel so wrong to spend $4 on one when I won't even be able to enjoy it in the cool, crisp autumn air.  Yes.  I have a vision in my head of how that is supposed to go down.  So I am making my own "pumpkin spice coffee" at home.  The grocery stores don't even have the pumpkin creamers yet, so I'm just using sweet cream creamer and sprinkling pumpkin pie spice into my coffee.  Not the same as Starbucks, but it will hold me over.  Plus I can turn the air conditioner down to 70 and pretend it's fall while I'm drinking my coffee in the morning.  Yeah right.  Like I actually do that. 

Last night I made the decision to join the Daring Bakers Challenge.  A few blogs I read have been doing the Challenge for quite awhile, so I thought I would check it out.  The Daring Bakers Challenge is a once-a-month challenge.  There's a super-secret post on their site (that you can only see if you are a Daring Baker) that gives you a recipe on the 1st of every month.  All these bloggers make the secret recipe and blog about it.  But you have to keep it a secret until the 27th of the month.  That's when all the bloggers post their experience with the recipe.  There are a LOT of rules so it sounded kind of intimidating at first, but I think it's going to be fun and give me a challenge and improve some of my less-honed baking skills.  I've seen some of the past recipes, and they definitely are a test.  But that's the fun of it.  :)  So my first challenge is coming in a week!  I can't wait to see what it is!  But you all won't see it until the 27th. 

On a side note, I have Pandora playing in the background.  I thought I had the Miranda Lambert station on, but somehow an N'Sync Christmas song started playing.  Hahahahahahah!  I love them, but I'm not quite ready for Christmas yet.  Sorry boys. 

And speaking of MIRANDA LAMBERT!!!!!!  Love that girl.  And I get to go see her tonight!  She's doing a concert after the Rays game (Go Rays!) and my friends who have season tickets so generously let me have their tickets so I could see my favorite badass lady!  Thanks friends!!  So I'm going with a couple of girlfriends to enjoy the mancandy baseball game, then rocking out to Miranda!  Woohoo!!!!!! 

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!  :) 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Hate Cleaning....

I despise it.  Really.  Not that I like to live in a disgusting slime-hole of a house.  I just hate taking the time to clean.  My house is very very very small.  So it would  take no time at all, except I procrastinate take a lot of breaks.  These breaks take different forms, and usually are in between rooms.  Today, I read a chapter or 5  of a really good book between rooms.  And I cleaned my house in about 3 hours.  It should take 45 minutes or so.  Whoops. 

See, I have a problem.  I can't concentrate or focus unless there is no clutter or mess around me.  So alas, I had to clean before I could blog today. 

I tried to make Sherry's Super Duper Amazing Black Bean Soup the other night.  It was kind of a bust.  Crock pots are pretty fool-proof, right?  WRONG.  Sherry said she simmered her soup overnight.  So I put the Crock pot on warm and let it go all night.  In the morning I woke up and seriously had black bean glop.  I didn't even take a picture; it was too embarrassing.  It was all burned together on the edges (thank God I bought Crock pot bags) and mush in the middle.  Not soup at all.  I added a bit more chicken stock and stirred.  And tasted.  Not bad.  And definitely not soup.  More the consistency of refried beans.  They tasted good.  Just looked gross.  So I put some more salsa on top, along with shredded cheese.  I heated them up for lunch and put sour cream on top.  Turned out pretty tasty.  I have a whole bowl left of black bean gloppy stuff, so I think I'm going to try to make it into patties and fry it.  I'll let you know what happens. 

This morning was quite lovely.  I slept in leisurely until about 9.  **Before a year ago, sleeping in leisurely would be until about 2pm.  But when you have a job where you have to wake up at 4:30 every morning, 9 is LATE.**  So, I got up, had a cup of coffee and decided to make use of the lovely brown bananas in my freezer and make some banana bread.  For me, baking is such a relaxing way to start the day.  So I pulled out the bananas and they were frozen stiff.  Defrosted in the microwave for a few minutes, and they were perfect.  Already halfway mashed for me (weird, I know).  I found this recipe for the best banana bread.ever.  on How Sweet It Is awhile back and put it on my list of things to try.  It just looked great.  And with a title like "the best banana bread.ever." how can you not try it?  **PS- have I told you how much I love this blog?  Seriously, pee before you read it.  If you don't, you will pee your pants from laughing too hard.**

The recipe called for cream cheese (what?!?!? yum!!!!) and sour cream.  I had all the ingredients except the dang cream cheese.  And keep in mind I'm in my pajamas with my hair all gross and my face not washed.  I may go out and walk my dog in this get-up (please avoid my street in the mornings), but I will NOT go to the store looking this way.  So I googled substitutions for cream cheese, and someone said to use sour cream.  Works for me.  It's already in the recipe.  So I substituted sour cream for the 3 oz cream cheese, plus used the sour cream the recipe called for.  Still is probably the best banana bread I've ever had.  The name fits.  I am definitely going to try cream cheese next time, though! 
Here are my mashed bananas.  They look pretty gross, huh?  Fear not.

They turn into this beauty! 
The Best Banana Bread. Ever.

1/2 cup butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese
1 cup brown sugar
2 ripe bananas
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup of chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a loaf pan.
2.  Cream butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add in mashed banana, sour cream, and egg and mix until smooth.
3.  Stir in dry ingredients.  Fold in chocolate chips.
4.  Pour into pan and bake 60-75 minutes.

****Note:  I used an 8x8 pan and only had to bake for 30 minutes.****

Aaaaah!!!!!!  This bread smelled soooo good, I couldn't wait to have a piece.  I cut one ASAP.  I had to use pot holders because the pan was that hot.  This bread is crusty and crispy on the outside and soft and moist (hate that nasty word) not dry on the inside.  And the chocolate chips just melt in your mouth.  Uhhh-MAY-zing.  Since I'm trying to not look like Shamu lose weight, I had one piece.  And then did a workout DVD, which I'm too embarrassed to even name.  It involves the movie Dirty Dancing, me flailing around my living room and looking like an idiot, and making sure the blinds were closed.  Oh yeah, and getting strange looks from my dog (the cats didn't stick around; they hid).  Anyway- I cut the bread into squares and wrapped them individually in foil, then put them all in a big Ziploc bag and froze them.  So I can only eat one piece at a time.  And now they're going to be a pain in the butt to thaw.  Good.  Eat fruit, Jill.  (Oh yeah, and I am taking some to work tomorrow to share).  My co-workers are going to hate me soon. 
The perfect breakfast.  Those little cutie patooties on the coffee mug are my cousins.  Why I have a coffee mug with my cousins on it, I don't know.  Probably stole it from Aunt Peggy or something.  Weirder yet, those cousins are now 22 and 15.  That thang is OLD.  Shut up.  You know you have one too. 

Now I'm going to go try to make something edible out of my black been glop.  I have some tortillas, cheese, and onions.  Maybe a quesadilla? 

Oooh!  And one more thing!!!  Aunt Peggy gave me her sewing machine yesterday!!!!!!  Well, she let me borrow it indefinitely.  She hates to sew, so I think she was secretly glad to get rid of it.  And she gave me 3 trashbags full of fabric.  That are now sitting on my living room floor because I have nowhere else to put them.  Until I clean out the cute fabric bins in my room that have lots and lots and lots of crap to sort through and throw away.  Then they'll be the perfect thing!  Maybe I'll work on that tomorrow.  More likely not. 

Regardless, I'm going to be sewing more for awhile instead of baking.  It's fun and it's better for my waistline.  Stay tuned my friends!

Friday, September 16, 2011

My SO Cute Recipe Box!

Happy Friday everyone!  Too bad I have to work tomorrow.  So I found such  a cute idea for a recipe box on Cleverly Inspired's Blog.  I have so many printed out recipes laying around the house and stuffed into my cookbooks that I needed a recipe box anyway.  I don't know about you, but to me, the best things that can be passed down through generations are recipes.  I especially love when people hand-write their recipes for me.  Seeing recipes in my Granny's and my mom's handwriting just brings back so many memories.  What I loved so much about this idea is that Tracie used her mother's handwritten recipes to make such a personal, sentimental recipe box.  I HAD to make one for myself.  So, I headed to Michael's and stocked up on all my supplies. 

This box took me a couple of days to make, just because I've been kind of busy and just worked on it when I had a few minutes to spare.  It turned out great!  I will tell you how to make one, but first, look at what I decided to whip out (I'm boycotting the weather!):
That smell just relaxes me and puts me right into fall.  Love it.  Anyway.  Moving on.

I started with a cardboard recipe box that I found at Michael's (in the unfinished wood section- they have cardboard stuff too).  I bought some red acrylic paint and painted the whole outside of the box and let it dry overnight. 
While the box was drying, I dug out handwritten recipes by some of my favorite people:  my mom, my dad, Aunt Peggy, Granny, and Aunt Sis.  Then, I made copies of them on my printer/copier and used cool-shaped scissors to cut out random sized pieces. 

The next morning, I glued on the recipe pieces randomly.  I painted Decoupage glue on the back of the paper with a paintbrush and smoothed the paper out as I placed it on. 

After I was satisfied with the way the box looked covered in the recipes, I painted on a coat of Decoupage glue to seal everything.  I painted it over the whole box with a sponge brush.  ***Be careful not to glue the box shut!  I almost did!***  I did 2 coats, letting it dry about 20 minutes in between coats. 

Once the box was completely dry, I got out my new toy!!!!
Heck yeah!  $2.49 at Michael's!  I love this little booger.  Anyway.  I used the hot glue gun to glue some (caaauuuute) ribbon around the rim of the lid. 
When I was at Michael's getting all of the supplies for this box, I found some adorable recipe cards (from Paula Deen!) for 50 cents a pack.  So I scooped up a few of those.  But for the life of me, I could not find recipe box dividers.  So I decided to make my own with some brownish-gold cardstock (looks like a paper bag in the picture, lol).  I measured the size of the box and cut out a pattern, then made 10 dividers. 
Then glued on some more of that cute ribbon! 
And now I have myself a way cool recipe box!  The hard part is going to be copying all of my hodgepodge recipes onto the cute cards.  I did a few today.  It's going to take awhile.  But the box looks perfect in my black and red kitchen!  Yay! 

If anyone has a recipe to add to the box, send it to me!  :) 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Black Bean Soup, Pumpkin (Finally!), and Drag Queens

Eeek!  It's been a few days since I've written.  Boooo me.  I've actually had a pretty busy week, which is unusual.  I normally come home from work and sit on my butt, watch TV, eat dinner, go to bed.  Not this week!  Tuesday night, I baked up something yummy with pumpkin (I couldn't wait any longer!), and last night, I had an experience that involved drag queens, twinkies, and fugitivies.  But more on that later. 

First, I have to tell you about the best black bean soup I have ever had.  My friend Sherry brought some black bean soup to work Monday for her lunch.  (I don't usually put whole names, I know, but she TOTALLY gets credit here.)  I told her how good it smelled and she asked J- and I if we wanted to try some.  We practically ran over each other to get to our desks to grab a plastic spoon.  Wow.  It was wonderful!  Smoky, perfectly spicy, not too soupy (not a huge fan of soupy-soups). 

As a side note, let me say that I'm a connoisseur of black beans.  I think I'm secretly part Cuban.  I have tried my fair share of black beans/black bean soups, and when I tell you this is the best I've ever had, I MEAN IT!!! 

Anyway.  Sherry's black bean soup got such a reaction out of J- and I that she brought in a whole crock pot of it for us the next day!  (We are lucky little worker bees to have such a cool boss!)  I ate a bowl of it for BREAKFAST.  And another bowl for lunch.  And another bowl after that.  I would've eaten another bowl but it was all gone.  J- so kindly brought some Cuban Bread and Corn Muffins to go along with the soup, and I crumbled a Corn Muffin in one bowl and it was OUTSTANDING.  Although this soup is just amazing on its own and doesn't need a corn muffin.  I asked Sherry if I could share her recipe on my blog.  And she said "of course!"  So.  Here is my very first guest recipe! 

Sherry's Super-Duper Amazing Best Black Bean Soup in the Whole World

2 cans of black beans (one drained and rinsed, one not)
1 onion
One bag of sliced carrots
1 can of jalapenos, chopped (save the juice) 
1 package of diced ham
1/2 cup chicken stock

1.  Caramelize onions in a skillet with butter olive oil.
2.  Drain one can of black beans and add to large pot (or crock pot).  Add the other can of beans with the sauce from the can. 
4.  Add in diced ham, onions, jalapenos, carrots, and jalapeno juice. 
5.  Add in chicken stock. 
6.  Simmer for a few hours.  (Sherry cooked hers overnight in a cast iron pot, and then brought it to work in a Crock Pot).
7.  Stir in a couple of spoonfulls of salsa and let cook for a bit longer.  
8.  Get a big bowl and eat a whole bunch of this amazing soup!  

TRY IT.  YOU WILL LOVE IT (especially if you're secretly Cuban like me). 

So after all the beans I ate Tuesday, I was in the mood for some PUMPKIN.  I've been trying to hold out and wait until it's cold before I started on my fall baking, but I couldn't do it.  Florida weather sucks and it's still 90 degrees here.  My family in Missouri and Illinois and friend in Indiana all told me it's such nice fall weather up there.  It even got down into the 30's this morning in Chicago.  Sigh.  I hate fall in Florida. 

Needless to say, I couldn't wait another month to make something with pumpkin.  I didn't have any cream cheese, so I couldn't make pumpkin bread or pumpkin cake (it's not right without cream cheese icing).  I was in the mood for something with a crumble topping, so I googled recipes for pumpkin crumble bars.  And found this little gem from Sweet Sista'.  Yay!  Another blog for me to read!!!  This recipe looked perfect the way it was, so I didn't make any alterations.  Except I left out the nuts.  Not because I don't like nuts, I just didn't have any.  I didn't take any pictures- sorry- but my pictures aren't that great anyway so you're not missing much.  I took these to work the next day and everyone loved them.  Maybe everyone else is in the fall mood too.  You just can't help but want some pumpkin in the fall. 

Pumpkin Crumble Bars

For the base and topping:
1 1/2 cups quick oats
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temp

For the filling:
2 cups canned pumpkin (I used one 15 oz can and it worked fine)
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly grease a 9x13 baking pan.
2.  Combine ingredients for the base.  Beat with a hand mixer until crumbly.  Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the mixture for the topping.  Press the remaining mixture into the greased baking pan.
3.  Bake at 375 for 10 minutes.
4.  Prepare the filling.  Beat all ingredients until well blended.  Spread over crust and sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture.  Bake for 25 minutes at 375.  Cool and cut into bars. 

So last night, I had quite an adventure.  I met a really nice girl B- at my book club Sunday, who told us she was going to Drag Queen Bingo on Wednesday night.  She invited us to come along and of course I couldn't miss that!  I had been once before and it was a blast!  Sherry came with me too!  Drag Queen Bingo is hosted by Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City, every Wednesday night.  Before I went, of course I had to look up their menu. I was drooling.  Their burgers look fantastic (even if they are 15 bucks...) but their desserts looked the BEST.  Everything was fried!  Fried cheesecake, fried brownie bites, fried bananas foster...fried TWINKIES?  Uhmm....excuse me?  Wow. 

So when you go to this particular Drag Queen Bingo, you buy a bingo card for $10.  There are 10 games of Bingo with different patterns you have to get for a Bingo (and they have hilarious names, which I cannot repeat here).  I figured the prizes would be something kind of silly- but they were really great!  (And of course I didn't win any).  A tequila gift basket, a $150 gas card, 2 nights stay at a resort, a massage package, concert tickets....nice!  And all of the proceeds go to a non-profit, so it's all for a good cause! 

You know I had to try those fried twinkies, but first Sherry and I shared some fried mac and cheese.  Yum!  Not quite as good as the fried mac and cheese at Cheesecake Factory, but pretty close.  Then a big burly man came up to our table with a plate and said, in a very monotone voice, "Did someone order some Twinkies?"  And I screeched "meeeee!"  Ohmigod.  Sherry could only eat a few bites and she was done.  Yes, they were rich.  I ate every last bite.  The cream kind of melts into the rest of the twinkie when it hits the deep fryer.  They had a raspberry sauce around them and some whipped cream.  Ohmigod.  I can't stop saying that.  They were crisp and hot and gooey.  Ahhhh!   I was practically licking the plate. 

So Bingo wasn't a success, as far as prizes go, but Sherry and I had a mission.  A particular friend is a police officer (who shall remain unnamed) and had us on the lookout for a drag queen (who shall also remain unnamed) who is wanted for a certain crime (which shall remain unnamed).  We had a mission to find this drag queen and we were sent a mug shot to compare with.  First of all, in the mug shot "she" was in man form, but with eyeliner.  No wig, no other makeup.  Just a pretty man with eyeliner.  Well you all know drag queens go all out with their hair and makeup, girl.  So it was a little hard to find Ms Fugitive Tranny.  I thought I found her and tried to get a picture, but it was all blurry and she was making some scary face into the camera.  I sent it to Police Officer Friend and I haven't gotten a response, so maybe Sherry and I shouldn't quit our day jobs to become bounty hunters....Weekly Bingo players?  Definitely. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Baking Day, Part 2

I'm in a fall mood.  Can you tell by my colors?  Yet, it's still a sweltering 90 degrees outside.  Gross. 

So on to part 2 of baking day with my friend A-.  I hinted at a secret ingredient in the (second) best frosting in the world.  Ever.  Any guesses?  Well, my friends, your wait is over.  It's.... 

!!!!!!!!!!!  That's all I can say.  I think Nutella is one of my favorite things in the word.  It's chocolaty, creamy, amazing on a spoon  toast.  It's supposedly healthy (according to the commercials).  What more could you want?  I came across quite a few recipes for Nutella cupcakes.  When I actually read them, I realized the Nutella wasn't in the cupcakes.  It was in the icing.  But there were so many variations!  Chocolate cupcakes w/Nutella icing; peanut butter cupcakes w/Nutella icing....I was overwhelmed (in a good way). 

I personally am a HUGE fan of the peanut-butter-Nutella combination (one of my favorite toast toppings of all time!), but A- isn't too fond of peanut butter, and we figured a chocolate cupcake would be too rich with Nutella icing, so we decided to go with a plain (but delicious) yellow cupcake.  And we found that recipe here: 
Just a basic yellow cupcake recipe.  I do have my old standby that I like a bit better, but these turned out almost as good.  It's a dense, buttery cake that is moist not dry (I hate that word). 

Now, for the icing.  Oh.  My.  God.  I think these cupcakes were meant to have just a teeny smear of icing on them, because we tripled the recipe and still didn't have enough icing.  However, A- and I have a tendency to eat lots of icing while we're making it- and then want a 3-inch pile of icing on top of our cupcakes, so use your best judgment. It is a basic buttercream icing with Nutella added in.   And I have to say, it is my new favorite.  Just look at it: 

Don't you just want to dive into it?  I'm drooling just looking at the pictures.  Good thing I have a few cupcakes leftover!  I will be having one for dessert! 

Then the fun part came: icing the cupcakes!  A- just bought two new decorating tips that she wanted to try out.  One is a round tip and one is a star tip and they're jumbo-sized so you can make the adorable swirl on top of the cupcakes.  So we each grabbed a tip and a bag, loaded up our icing and went to town. 

The star tip made the perfect swirls! 

The round tip: not so much.  We called these poop-cakes.

Gross.  Note: brown icing does not look good coming out of a round tip.  We dumped the icing back in the bowl and started over with the star tip.  And we got these little pieces of heaven:

Thank God A- can take pictures.  Because I sure can't.  She obviously did this one. 

So after piping out 3 batches of icing, we still had 6 naked cupcakes (the recipe made 24).  We couldn't just leave them naked.  In my opinion, cupcakes cannot exist without icing.  And we had used up the whole jar of Nutella (whoops).  And A- wanted to try out her round tip on a different color icing to see if it didn't look so much like poop.  So we made a basic buttercream icing (butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk) and tinted it a lovely shade of lavender.  And the poop round tip squeezed out a much prettier swirl of icing. 

I am definitely making these again.  Although I think next time I'm going to try peanut butter cupcakes.  I can't wait to try that flavor combination!!!  On a side note- after Baking Day, I stopped at my dad's house to give him some treats.  He called me yesterday and just RAVED about the Red Velvet Brownies.  I asked for his thoughts on the Nutella cupcakes, and he said "yeah, they were good, but those RED VELVET BROWNIES!!!!" (he has a tendency to get a little excited and shout).  So please don't take his lack of enthusiasm as a sign that these cupcakes aren't AMAZING.  Because they are.  I just don't think my dad is much of a Nutella fan.  Actually, I don't think even knows what Nutella is.  Whatever.  Just make them. 

Yellow Cupcakes
makes 24

2 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks of butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup milk

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Line muffin cups with cupcake papers. 

2.  In medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt.

3.  In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter for 30 seconds on medium speed.  Gradually add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping sides of bowl.  Beat 2 minutes longer.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  On low speed, alternately add flour mixture (1/3 at a time) and milk.  Beat until just blended.

4.  Divide batter evenly into muffin cups (I use an ice-cream scooper). 

5.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting. 

Nutella Frosting
(Supposedly makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes.  It doesn't.  It frosted 6 in Jill-land.  Triple or quadruple the recipe.  You won't be sorry).

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup Nutella
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar

1.  Beat butter and Nutella together in bowl of electric mixer until combined. 

2.  Add remaining ingredients and beat on low speed until powdered sugar is incorporated.  

3.  Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is smooth.  

Yummm.  Makes me want a cupcake for dinner.  Except my dinner is now ready.  Eggplant parm.  Don't worry- I didn't make it and not share the recipe with you.  I cheated and bought a frozen one.  I didn't have time to cook tonight.  But no worries- I have a really cool project that I'm going to try to start tomorrow night, and my friend S- from work is bringing me a ton of blueberries, so I will find something to do with those.  And I have found a bunch of amazing fall recipes I want to try ASAP.  I don't care if it's 90 degrees outside.   

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and Baking Day, part 1

Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  I cannot believe it has been 10 years.  10 years later, we are still fighting the battle against terrorism.  10 years later, we all still remember exactly where we were and what we were doing that day (and we probably will another 50 years from now).  Just like our parents and grandparents remember exactly what they were doing and where they were when Kennedy was assassinated.  And 10 years later, our country is still here.  They didn't win. 

I just want to express my wholehearted gratitude to all of those who lost their lives on 9/11: police officers, firefighters, EMT's and paramedics, civilians, airline passengers, pilots.  My heart goes out to all of their families and friends.  I also want to thank all of the military troops who have been fighting overseas and at home for the past 10 years.  They are making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and safety, and words can't even express the gratitude I have for that.  Come home safely. 

9/11/01- I will never forget. 


On a bit of a lighter note, my friend A- and I had a baking day yesterday.  When I lived in Bradenton, A- and I were together just about every day.  And I have seen her maybe twice since I moved to Tampa (sad).  We both missed each other.  We missed baking together (something we did often).  We missed stuffing our faces together (something we did even MORE often).  So we decided to have Baking Day.  Then we thought that we should do this once a month.  That way we will see each other more often that every 7 months.  Yay! 

I made the 45 minute drive from Tampa to Bradenton yesterday morning.  We decided on two recipes: Red Velvet Brownies is the first one...I'm keeping the second one a secret until tomorrow. I'm letting the suspense build (and it will give me something to write about tomorrow since I probably won't be baking for another few days at least).  A- found this recipe on a blog she reads: Smells Like Home (I may need to add that to my list!).  We looked at it and instantly drooled.  I'm not kidding.  We are both HUGE red velvet anything fans, so putting red velvet into a BROWNIE? Genius!!! 

You might want to use COLD butter when buttering the pan,

We took a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up the white chocolate for the frosting (the original recipe says not to use white chocolate chips, but we did anyway...Ghirardelli makes the BEST).  We're such rebels.   

So can I just say that these brownies turned out PERFECTLY?  They had a sort of crispy crust on the outside and were nice and chewy on the inside. 

And the ICING?  A- and I declared it the Best Icing in the World. Ever.  (Then later in the day, we discovered the Second Best Icing in the World.  Ever.  But that's for tomorrow.)  Gah!  It was the perfect consistency.  Fluffy.  Whippy.  Sweet.  Full of butter and white chocolate.  Gives me the chills.  We couldn't help but have a few "samples" while the brownies were still cooling. 

Are you drooling yet?  I am.

After we frosted the brownies and were sharing the first one (by this point we were in hyperglycemic shock from all the "samples" we'd had), we decided it was a teensy bit too sweet.  The perfect solution: sea salt.  We sprinkled a bit on top of the icing and it was PERFECT.  I know putting salt on desserts is all trendy and stuff, but we realized there's a REASON it's trendy.  It's delicious.  I never thought of putting salt with red velvet (chocolate and caramel, yes).  But we did and it worked.  We just put the salt on that one brownie, but if I make these again, I will give the whole pan a light smattering of sea salt.  So I'm adding the salt to our recipe.  K?  :) 

What a fun day!  We watched a few episodes of The Cosby Show (oh memories...) while we inhaled our brownies and our other secret dessert.  I left sick to my stomach with a smile on my face.  A- and I make a good baking team.  And she's a much better photographer out of the two of us (even with my blurry crazy-flash Barbie camera).  And it was a really fun way to spend the day together.  Singing at the top of our lungs (and scaring people, I'm sure), dancing around like crazy ladies to Glee songs (her boyfriend's dog was really confused).  Great day.  Can't wait until next month's baking day! 

Salted Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Buttercream Icing
adapted from Smells Like Home

3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz red food coloring (one small bottle- we actually used pink and the brownies ended up red anyway)
2 tsp vanilla, divided
1 stick of butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Butter and flour bottom of 8x8 baking pan (note: cold butter works much better than softened butter, as A- found out! See picture above. LOL).

2. In a small bowl, stir together cocoa powder, food coloring, and 1 tsp vanilla until it makes a thick paste.  You may need to add a little bit of water to get the right consistency.  Set aside.

3.  In electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed about 2 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add in remaining 1 tsp of vanilla.  Turn the mixer off and add in cocoa mixture.  Beat on medium speed until just combined, but don't over mix. 

4.  Scrape sides of bowl and give batter a few stirs to make sure everything is mixed in.  Pour batter into pan and bake 30-40 minutes.  Let cool completely and frost with the most delicious icing in the world.

1 stick of butter, room temp
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz white chocolate (we used Ghirardelli chips), melted
1-2 tbsp milk or heavy cream

1.  In electric mixer with whisk attachment, cream butter until soft and fluffy.  Beat in vanilla.

2.  With mixer on low, slowly add in powdered sugar (1/2 cup at a time).  Completely mix in sugar and scrape sides of bowl before adding in next 1/2 cup. 

3.  Once all of the sugar is added, mix on medium for about 30 seconds. 

4.  Add in melted white chocolate and beat on medium another 30 seconds.  With mixer on low, add in heavy cream.  Beat until icing comes together.  Turn the mixer up to high and beat until icing is fluffy and whippy (is whippy a word?  You know what I mean...). 

When brownies are completely cooled, ice them and sprinkle with as much or as little sea salt as you'd like. 

Lick the bowl.  And the beater.  And maybe save yourself a little bowl of this icing to eat with a spoon.  We won't judge.  We did it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chicken Cordon Jill

So I had some nice comments from some friends today who had read my blog.  I didn't know if anyone was actually reading or not, but to those of you who are: thank you!  It made me that much more excited to do another post tonight! 

I wasn't sure if I would have the energy to cook dinner tonight after working a 12 hour shift.  Not to mention having the energy to cook after working 12 hours AND huffing and puffing through a pain-inducing workout!  (Pain inducing workout consisted of 20 minutes of a butt and leg workout DVD by one sister of a famous alliterative reality show "Klan" on TV.  Anyone who knows me can tell you I'm obsessed.)  Anyway, great workout.  Legs are shaking and butt is cramping.  Success!  

So after my workout I was STARVED.  (Are you shocked?)  I found this recipe for Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu the other day on Cleverly Inspired.  It looked quick and easy enough to throw together after work, and I had most of the ingredients (again: broke until payday, and I didn't particulary want to go to the store).  I made a few substitutions but it turned out great!  Her original recipe is chicken breast with the classic Cordon Bleu flavors (ham and swiss) with a yummy looking creamy sauce on top.  

I had some chicken tenderloins in the freezer, so I put them in the fridge to thaw out last night.  The original recipe for the sauce calls for heavy cream and chicken stock (with some herbs and spices) that simmer together a few minutes until thickened.  I didn't have any heavy cream (and I wanted to keep things somewhat healthy- I didn't do that workout for nothing!), but I did have skim milk (which won't thicken without an agent to help it along).  I also had some butter margarine (lol) and a few tablespoons of flour.  So I made a roux with the margarine and flour, then added in the milk and stock (I used beef stock- it's what I had in the fridge, and it made the sauce taste nice and rich).  I also threw in some parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.  I like my food a bit spicy so I was a little heavy handed with the red pepper flakes.  You can leave them out if you don't like spicy food. 

Now for the weird "non-traditional" part.  Chicken Cordon Blue is supposed to have ham, right?  Well I didn't have ham.  I asked my buddy J- at work for a few slices of ham off his sandwich today, but he said no.  Even if I wrote about him in my blog.  Well, the joke is on him because I used TURKEY instead.  (And maybe the joke is on me, because I mentioned him anyway.)   Anyway,  turkey and chicken...poultry overkill?  Nah, not so much.  I had some cajun roasted turkey breast from the deli for sandwiches, so the cajun seasonings added a nice kick.  In fact, you could probably use any deli meat you want, and it would be pretty good. 

Anyway, this whole meal took about 15 minutes to make (and an hour to write about!).  And this recipe is just enough for one person to have dinner and some leftovers for lunch the next day (perfect for me!).  You can always double the recipe if you're cooking for two.  I served the chicken with some Steamfresh green beans (yum!).  So I'll quit blabbering.  Here's the recipe:

Chicken Cordon Jill
Adapted from Cleverly Inspired

1 tbsp butter (or margarine)
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp oregano
salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
5-6 chicken breast tenders (or 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts)
a few slices of deli meat (turkey, ham, roast beef, bologna..whatever)
a few slices of swiss cheese

1.  In a small saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter.  Add in flour and whisk constantly until flour is golden brown.  Whisk in milk and stir until lumps are gone.  Add in stock, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.

2.  Heat a large skillet with olive oil. 

3.  Place chicken between two sheets of wax paper and pound to thin out a bit.  Dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.

4.  Place chicken in heated pan and cook on medium heat until browned on both sides (4-5 minutes on each side). 

5.  Turn heat to low.  Place a slice (or two, or a few) of deli meat on each piece of chicken and top with cheese (be careful of oil splatters!!).  Cover skillet with lid and let melt about 3 minutes.  Spoon sauce on top of chicken and eat! 

If you make this or any of the other recipes I've put on here, I'd love to know how they turned out!!!! 
P.S. Sorry my pictures aren't all that great.  My camera is a little pink point and shoot camera (I call it the Barbie Camera).  I love it, though and I will NEVER give it up!  :) 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happiness and Tater Bakers

Just had a sweet potato biscuit for breakfast, yum!  I popped it in the toaster oven, split it, and put a little butter on it- delish!  It pairs splendidly with coffee. 

No baking today, unfortunately.  I ran out of ingredients and have a lot of things I need to get done before going back to work tomorrow (I love my 3-day off stretches, but I tend to relax the first two days and wait until the third day to get anything done).  But in keeping with my resolution that I would write, I'm writing. 

I'm reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin for my upcoming book club.  It's really gotten me thinking about starting my own happiness project.  Not that I'm UNHAPPY, but she makes a lot of good points about doing the little things that will make you just that much happier.  I still have a few chapters left in the book, so my project isn't officially starting yet, but I definitely foresee it happening soon.  Now, Gretchen Rubin does go a little bit overboard for my tastes...she did all sorts of research, makes herself do things to be "happy" that really seem to make her UNHAPPY.  That doesn't make sense to me.  Sometimes there is delayed gratification, where something will make you happy later on, but not now.  I get that, but why do something that you think should make you happy, but actually doesn't?  Oh well, I guess the point of the project is to find out what will and won't make her happier.  That's half the challenge, right?

Although my project hasn't started yet, I've found myself actually practicing some of the things Gretchen Rubin talks about in her book.  Like, first and foremost, "Act the way you want to feel."  It's amazing how happy you can actually make yourself by just acting happy.  Just slapping a smile on my face when I'm not in the best of moods tends to make me feel better.  Half the time I don't even realize it's happening.  All of a sudden, I'm not in such a bad mood. 

Another thing Gretchen talks about is "reframing." Reframing is taking something you HATE doing and telling yourself you love doing it.  For me, exercising.  I am NOT a morning person and I cannot function before my coffee.  But when I got up this morning and took the dog out, I realized that, although cloudy and humid from a recent rain, the weather was surprisingly nice and cool.  So I went inside, put on my coffee, and went for a walk.  I hate exercising with a passion (especially when I'm tired and even more so before I've had coffee), but I always feel better when I do it.  So I told myself "I love exercising!  I love the fresh air!  I love that my body allows me to exercise!  I love that I have two feet and am able to walk!"  A few minutes into my walk, I felt much better about it, and now I'm much more awake.  Let's see how this "reframing" thing works for me when I'm trying to cleaning the bathroom later...

She has a few other tips that have kind of stuck with me, but I will write about those in another post.  If you'd like to check out Gretchen Rubin's book or blog, here's a link to her site.  She does have some useful tips on there, just to help you along should you decide to start a happiness project. 
On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to tell you guys about Tater Bakers.  This isn't something I'm selling or an infomercial or anything like that!  I fell in love with this thing, so just wanted to share it! 

When I was in Illinois a couple of weeks ago, I stayed with my Aunt S- and she taught me to sew.  This was a project she was working on, and she's made a TON.  So I helped her make a few (I designed and ran the embroidery machine, but I paid attention to how she put them together).

What on EARTH is a Tater Baker, you ask?  It's a fabric bag in which you put a potato (or sweet potato or corn on the cob), and pop it in the microwave for 8 minutes, and TA-DA!  You have the perfect baked potato.  Now, personally, I cannot stand baked potatoes.  But I adore sweet potatoes, so this is perfect.  The potato comes out perfectly soft all the way through, and easily separates from the skin.  I haven't tried corn yet, but I will let you know how it turns out.

So- to make the Tater Baker...
1. Choose any fabric you like.  Cut two equal pieces (approx 12" x 23").  Cut a piece of quilt batting with the same dimensions.
2. On one piece of fabric, use an embroidery machine to embroider "Tater Baker."  (The only person I know who has an embroidery machine is my Aunt S- so if you don't have one, you can skip this step, or use iron-on letters).  Cut out potato shapes from brown fabric, and use iron-on paper to iron onto your piece of fabric.  Applique around the potato and make little "eyes" on the potato with brown thread (this is all totally optional, but makes the Tater Baker cute). 
3. Place the quilt batting between the two pieces of fabric.  Turn in raw edges of your fabric and sew around all 4 sides.  You now have a rectangle.
4.  Lay the rectangle in front of you so the embroidery is facing you, but is upside down.  Fold the top down approx 3" making a flap. Fold the bottom part up to meet the top of your flap.
5.  Sew up the sides, all the way to the top.  Turn inside out, and you have a Tater Baker! 

***Please note, I am NOT  a sewing expert, by any means.  This was me watching my Aunt S- make her Tater Bakers, and me interpreting in my simple way.***

The fun thing about these is you can make them with any print or color fabric and embroider and decorate with anything you like.  I picked the cow-print with red embroidery because it matches my black and red kitchen.  I've tried this thing out and I LOVE it for my sweet potatoes.  In fact, I used it last night when I made my Sweet Potato Biscuits and it made everything simple. 
Time for me to start cleaning, getting my laundry done, etc. Hopefully telling myself that I LOVE cleaning my house will help.