The Baker Upstairs: March 2013

3.29.2013

Hop Into Spring: 15 Great Spring and Easter Ideas!

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Hop Into Spring: 15 Great Spring and Easter Ideas

I've teamed up with some of my favorite bloggers to share a round up of some great Spring and Easter crafts, DIYs and recipes! Just what you need to find all kinds of amazing inspiration just in time for Easter! Make sure you take a second and stop by to visit these amazing bloggers and check out their great ideas! **Note: When pinning, pretty please pin directly from the original blog. Just click on the links or image and pin away!!**

DIY Easter Coloring Pack

DIY Easter Coloring Pack at Hubby Made Me

Rainbow Fruit Salad with Caramel Toffee Fruit Dip

Rainbow Fruit Salad with Caramel Toffee Fruit Dip at The Baker Upstairs

No Sew Easter Baskets

No Sew Easter Baskets at Max & Me

Kentucky Derby Wreath

Kentucky Derby Wreath at Cleverly Inspired

Adorable Easter Cupcakes

Adorable Easter Cupcakes at High Heels & Grills

Spring Pinwheel Wreath

Spring Pinwheel Wreath at The Cards We Drew

Easter Hors D'oeuvres Party

Easter Hors D'ouevres Party at Strawberry Mommycakes

White Chocolate M&M's Pudding Cookies

White Chocolate M&M's Pudding Cookies at The Recipe Critic

Glitter Bunny Easter Jar DIY

Easter Bunny Glitter Jar DIY at A Bubbly Life

Chocolate Easter Bunny Cards

Chocolate Easter Bunny Cards at Bloom Designs

Paper Dahlia Wreath

Paper Dahlia Wreath at Love, Pomegranate House

Robin's Egg Nests

Robin's Egg Nests at Mama Miss

Berry Gift Basket

Berry Gift Basket at Sweet Rose Studio

Lemon-Chess-Bread-Pudding

Lemon Chess Bread Pudding at Something Swanky

Free Easter Printable Pack

Free Easter Printable Pack at Kiki & Company

3.27.2013

creamy pesto "bowties are cool" pasta

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Another day, another Doctor Who-themed recipe! One of the most striking characteristics of the newest Doctor, Matt Smith, is that he pretty much always wears a bow tie. And throughout the show, people are constantly mocking his bow tie, to which he responds, "Bow ties are cool." And apparently he's making them cool, because according to a (possibly) reputable site, bow tie sales have increased 80% since The Doctor began wearing them.

(source)

Whether you like bow ties, or Doctor Who, or neither, you will love this recipe! I think farfalle, or bow tie pasta, is one of the best shapes. I love that it holds onto sauce, so you can use something hearty with it. Plus it's just fun to eat. This dinner is perfect for those nights when you're feeling lazy or running short on time, but still want to eat like a king. It only takes a few minutes to whip up, and tastes like something from a restaurant. Yum!

Creamy Pesto Bowtie Pasta

8 ounces farfalle (bow tie pasta)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
3/4 cup prepared pesto (I like the kind from Costco)
1/4 cup half and half
1 cup cooked cubed chicken
parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, sauté the red pepper in the olive oil until slightly softened. Add the pesto, half and half, and chicken, and stir until combined. Cook until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Toss the pasta with the warm sauce, and serve with parmesan sprinkled on top.

3.26.2013

doctor who monster cupcakes

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Doctor Who week continues today with a couple of super easy ideas to make your Doctor Who party extra special! Both of these ideas would work perfectly with store-bought cupcakes, and can be put together in just a few minutes!


I would say of all the Doctor Who villains, the Daleks are the most iconic! They make at least one appearance in every season, and are The Doctor's mortal enemies. For reference, here's what they look like:


The cupcake version is, of course, much cuter and a lot more tasty! I took the wrappers off my cupcakes, and then just used tape to hold the Dalek wrappers on. For the heads, I taped them to a toothpick, and then shoved them into the cupcakes. If you want to print your own, you can find the free printable here! (And while you're there, check out some of the other free printables... like awesome Cybermen popcorn boxes!)

My second super easy idea for Doctor Who cupcakes are these adorable Adipose cupcake toppers. It's kind of debatable whether Adipose are actually villains... I kind of find them adorable and wish I had a few of my own! They will certainly make your cupcakes adorable!


And here's what the Adipose actually look like on the show:

(source)

These are super easy to put together! I was inspired by a bunch of different sites (you can find an example here) but did things my own way (of course). Some of the sites suggested using toothpicks to hold the arms and legs to the body, but I just kept imagining my little girls eating them, so I used corn syrup as glue to hold the pieces together, and it worked great. Best of all, the whole thing is edible! I used AmeriColor Food Writers to draw on the faces, but a little food coloring on a toothpick would work great, too. To add them to the cupcakes, I just stuck them on a toothpick and put it into the cupcake. Super easy and super cute too!

Looking for a great homemade cupcake recipe so you can use these awesome ideas?


3.25.2013

homemade jammie dodgers

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It's Doctor Who week on The Baker Upstairs! I usually try to limit the sharing of my nerdliness on the blog, but I'm so excited about the Doctor Who premiere this Saturday! And when I found this awesome cookie jar on Amazon, I knew Doctor Who week was meant to be.

If you're not a Doctor Who fan, you should be! I think it is one of the most brilliant TV shows ever made. And I feel like with each season, it just gets better and better! The gist of it is that the main character, known only as The Doctor, has a blue police box (called a Tardis) that allows him to travel through time and space. He picks up different companions in different seasons, and the doctor himself can regenerate (which means he can be played by different actors). I'll confess that I haven't watched many of the older episodes (the ones made pre-2000's) but I've loved the show since the Christopher Eccleston/Billie Piper days. Nowadays, the doctor is played by the hilarious Matt Smith, and I think he's great! To add to his charm, he's really the first doctor that has expressed any food preferences at all, which means that now there are Doctor Who-themed foods to eat!

I'm excited to start the week off with a classic British treat... Jammie Dodgers! They're actually pretty popular outside of Doctor Who, too, but I hadn't heard of them before the show. There's one episode in particular in which the doctor pretends that a Jammie Dodger is a self-destruct button for his Tardis:


We've found packaged Jammie Dodgers at World Market before and enjoyed them, but I was excited to try a homemade version. They turned out awesome! They have all charm of the original cookies, but with more depth of flavor, and a more delicate texture. They're really just shortbread sandwich cookies with jam in between, but I think it's much more fun to call them Jammie Dodgers! And the fact that you need a teeny tiny little cookie cutter to make them just makes them all the more sweet.


I found my tiny heart cookie cutter at Joann's next to the cake decorating supplies. (I think it's actually supposed to be a fondant cutter.) It worked perfect for the cookies, though!


These cookies are seriously delicious, and would be fun for any occasion (not just a Doctor Who-themed party). I think they'd be awesome for a little girl's tea party, or with hot chocolate at Christmastime. Enjoy!

Jammie Dodgers
adapted from Rock Recipes

2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
pinch salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp cold butter cut in cubes
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg plus one egg yolk
12 teaspoons of jam (I used blackberry)

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, then add to the dry mixture and mix until a soft dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 15-30 minutes. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured countertop, and cut into circles (I used a fluted biscuit cutter that was 2 inches in diameter). Using a small cookie cutter (or an apple corer) cut a small shape out of the center of half of the cookies. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until very lightly browned on the bottom. Let cool slightly, then spoon about 1 teaspoon of jam onto the bottom halves of the cookies. Top with the other half, and put back into the oven for 5 minutes to set the jam. Let cool 15-20 minutes before removing from the pan.

3.22.2013

twinkie cupcakes

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Oh, yes I did. Twinkie cupcakes, y'all! I will confess that Twinkies top the list of trashy foods that I nonetheless love. We've always tried not to buy them too often, because of our propensity to eat the entire box in one sitting. But on those special occasions that we did buy them... yum! I'll admit to feeling a little down about Hostess closing, mostly from the Twinkie standpoint. That is, until I found this recipe!

Now, I'm not going to lie and say these are exactly like a Twinkie. They're not. They're more like a cupcake with the Twinkie flavor that I love. But I think in a lot of ways, these are actually better than Twinkies! The cake is still light and moist, but it has that slight sophistication that comes from homemade cupcakes (maybe from using butter and eggs and sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and who knows what else). And the filling and frosting are soft and sweet and dreamy. If anything, these cupcakes are like Twinkie's classier older sister. I made a double batch of these for Lizzy's birthday party, and they went like hotcakes. Do yourself a favor and make a batch!

Twinkie Cupcakes

Cake
adapted from Bakingdom

2 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners; set aside. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract; set aside. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the butter one piece at a time, mixing until the dough comes together and looks sandy.

Add about 1/2 of the egg mixture and mix on low speed until incorporated, then increase to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly add the remaining egg mixture, with the mixer on low speed, until incorporated. Scrape the bowl, if necessary, then increase speed to medium-high and beat for about 20 seconds. The batter will just barely look a little curdled. Put 3 tablespoons of batter in each cupcake liner. Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

Filling
adapted from Our Best Bites

3 tablespoons flour
1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c butter
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour and the milk. Heat in a small sauce pan on medium heat. Whisk continuously until it starts to thicken. Let it cook, while stirring with a rubber spatula, until you can start to see the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the mixture has the consistency of thick pudding or paste.

Put  mixture in the fridge and let it cool completely, it’s fine if it stays in there long enough to get chilly, you just don’t want it warm at all. As it’s cooling, feel free to stir it occasionally to speed up the process and keep it from forming a crust on top.

It an electric stand mixer, beat the butter and the sugar using the whisk attachment for a minute or two until well combined and fluffy. While beating, add in the thickened milk mixture and the vanilla. Beat to combine and then scrape down the sides. Mixture will separate and look messy, keep beating!  Continue beating until mixture comes together and is light and fluffy (about 7-8 minutes).

Frosting
adapted from Bakingdom

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup marshmallow spread
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter and marshmallow until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, beating until just combined. Stir in 1 tablespoon of cream and the vanilla, then beat on high speed for 4 minutes. If the frosting is too thick, add more cream, up to 1 tablespoon.

3.21.2013

loaded baked potato soup

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Another day of doomy, gloomy weather outside, another delicious warm soup! (Oh, who am I kidding? I eat soup even when it's boiling hot outside. It's just who I am.) I served this loaded baked potato soup at Lizzy's party alongside the split pea and bacon soup, and it was awesome. I've been making this recipe for almost a year, and it's by far my favorite potato soup recipe that I've ever tried. I love how easy it is when you bake the potatoes in the microwave! I threw this together in about twenty minutes before the party started, and it was amazing and delicious. I was in such a hurry that I didn't even peel the potatoes, and it was still fantastic. In fact, I think I liked it even better with the potato skins! This is a must try recipe!
Baked Potato Soup
adapted from Annie's Eats

4-5 russet potatoes
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (I used skim)
4 cups chicken broth
2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/3-1/2 cup light sour cream

For topping:
Sour cream
Shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped green onions
Bacon pieces

Microwave potatoes until cooked through (on my microwave, this took about 11 minutes). Remove from the microwave and let sit until cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes into small chunks, removing skin if desired.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the flour, and whisk until combined. Cook, whisking constantly, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, chicken broth and the rest of the flour. Cook until thick and bubbling, about 6-8 minutes. Mix in the potato chunks. Whisk in the salt, pepper, and cheddar cheese and stir until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the green onions and sour cream. Serve immediately. Garnish with sour cream, cheddar cheese, green onions and bacon as desired.

3.20.2013

split pea and bacon soup

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Happy first day of spring! It's pretty gloomy here, with gray skies and a little rain, but that's nothing a little warm soup can't fix, right? I made this delicious split pea and bacon soup for Lizzy's birthday party, and it was a hit! The recipe came, once again, from one of my very favorite cookbooks, Irish Traditional Cooking. Seriously, this book is a gem! I'd never had split pea soup before I bought the book, and decided to try it on a lark a few years ago. I was amazed at how delicious it is! It has become an integral part of our St. Patrick's Day celebration, and even the littles love it!

I've made the soup with both fresh peas and dried split peas, and I can't decide which I like more. They give the soup such different textures that it's almost like two different soups! I kind of lean toward the dried peas approach because it tastes more homey to me, but it is much quicker to make with fresh peas. So I guess if you have the time, try the dried peas, and if not the fresh peas work great!

Pea Soup
adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking

12 ounces fresh or frozen peas, OR 4-6 ounces dried peas, soaked overnight in cold water
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
3 slices bacon, finely chopped
5-6 cups chicken stock
salt, pepper, and sugar to taste

In a soup pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the bacon and fry 2-3 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then add the peas and let the soup simmer until the peas are cooked. If you're using fresh peas, this may take 15-20 minutes. Dried peas will take longer, usually around 45 minutes for me. Puree using a blender or immersion blender, or mash with a potato masher (I like a chunkier soup, so I usually just use the masher). Taste and correct seasoning as desired.

3.19.2013

the party!

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I suppose I should preface this post by saying I am NOT a party planner. I can swoon over those beautiful parties I see on Pinterest with the best of them, but when it comes to putting things together, I usually fall pretty short! I guess parties are just a knack that some people have, and others don't. After several years of planning birthday parties for the kiddos, though, I've come to realize that I'm always happiest with the parties that are simple, easy, and showcase my strengths (namely, food). I usually like to throw together a few fun little decorations, then serve some delicious food, and just let everyone have fun and relax together. And so far, that has been a recipe for success!

I debated a little about whether I should even post the party ideas, because they're all so simple and easy, but I decided that maybe they'll spark an idea or two for you, my fellow non-party-planners. So, first things first, the invitation!


Usually I'm pretty great at printing and mailing out the invites, but because of our trip to San Diego, and then moving the next week, I just didn't get around to it, so email worked nicely! I just put the invite together in Photoshop, and tried to keep it super simple.

For decorations, I did a few fun little projects that made a big difference in our little living space. First, I made a sweet garland of shamrocks and pompoms!


I made the shamrocks using this tutorial from Paper & Ink I found on Pinterest, and the pom poms with a Clover pom pom maker, using this tutorial. My only recommendation for the pom poms is to make sure your scissors are very sharp! Mine are in need of sharpening, and that made it a little rough on my poor hands. :) I also found it helpful to watch a movie (Safety Not Guaranteed - hilarious and awesome!) while I was working on them, and they just flew by.


I hung the garland across the kitchen doorway, and it made things fun and festive! Oh, and feel free to ignore the not-yet-set-up kitchen in the background... we're still moving things around and figuring out where we want everything to go!

My next project was a lovely little balloon garland!


I bought the green and gold balloons unfilled at a local party store, blew them up, and strung them together using curling ribbon. They made for the perfect decoration to hang in front of our short and wide living room window! I love a project that takes only a few minutes and has a big impact!

I wanted to do a fun activity for all the kids, and I thought it would be super fun to have a little leprechaun hunt. I found some great inspiration here and put together a few little cards for the kids to find:


It turned out to be a perfect activity for the range of kids at the party, since the older ones could read the cards and help the younger ones find the clues. It was also perfect because everyone got to run around outside and get some fresh air. And all the kiddos, from two to nine, were entertained!


At the end of the hunt, each of the kids got a little baggie with some leprechaun gold and rainbows (aka Rolo's and Skittles).


One of our favorite birthday traditions (which, sadly, I haven't completed yet for this year!) is to make a slideshow of the birthday girl's year. We start with photos and videos from the last birthday, and follow them on all their adventures during the last year. It's always a great way to see how much they've grown, and I almost always get a little teary at how big my girls are getting. It's also a fun way to entertain our guests while we all munch on cupcakes and ice cream!

It was such a fun party, and we all had a great time! The best part was getting to celebrate this sweet, funny little girl who has brought so much joy into my life. Happy birthday, Lizzy!

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