The Baker Upstairs: May 2013

5.24.2013

real life vs. blog life

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Oh, man! I can't believe it's been so long since I posted here last. I've been so consistent with posting for such a long time, and I didn't really intend to take a break. But lately life has just been so busy and crazy that it's hard to sit down and write a post for each day. I'm still cooking a lot and trying lots of new recipes, but somehow the thought of posting them on the blog feels overwhelming. My plan at the moment is to take the rest of May off and be back in June with new posts three times a week.

Just in case you're wondering, here are a few of the things occupying my time at the moment:

#1

I was unexpectedly offered more hours at work recently, so I'm now working full time as a nurse! I think it will be a good change for us, but it has definitely been an adjustment (and it's only been a week so far). I also got to do a cooking demonstration at work for the residents this Monday and it was a lot of fun! I made enchilada lasagna and a salad with a Cafe Rio-copycat dressing, and it was all fabulous. As much as I hate speaking in front of a group, I had fun and would love to do it again.

#2

Abby had her kindergarten graduation program this last week, and I realized (yet again) that I'm not really ready for her to be a grown up first grader yet! I'll confess that I did a little sniffling while she was up there singing with her class.

#3

I've been taking an Illustrator class online through Nicole's Classes, and I totally love it. I've wanted to learn Illustrator forever, but it has intimidated me for a long time. My class makes it easy to understand, though, and I've learned so much. I love this (fake) party invite I made using Illustrator.

Life is just busy busy busy all the time lately, but I miss my little blogging home here and I love interacting with all of you so much! I'm hoping that next month things will be a little more settled and I'll have more time to devote here! Thanks for reading!

5.15.2013

bakery-style blueberry muffins

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I'm taking a little break from sharing the birthday party awesomeness to share these amazing muffins with you today! Because they're so good they just can't wait! :) I've probably mentioned before how crazy I am about muffins, but it's worth stating again. I love how easy they are to whip up and take out on adventures! Plus they're about one step away from a cupcake for breakfast. Awesome sauce.


These particular muffins are blueberry muffin perfection. Soft and moist on the inside, just slightly crisp on the outside, full of juicy blueberries, and with a streusel topping that is to die for. We could not get enough of them!


I feel like I've tried a million blueberry muffins recipes looking for THE ONE, but no more. This is it!
Bakery-Style Blueberry Muffins
adapted from Vanilla & Lace

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup melted butter
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

streusel topping:
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together butter, egg, and milk. Add to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in blueberries. Scoop into muffin cups, filling 2/3 full. To make the topping, whisk together sugar, flour, and cinnamon with a fork. Cut in butter using a fork or your fingers to form crumbly mixture. Sprinkle over the top of the muffins. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. 

5.14.2013

mermaids and pirates cupcakes

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I'm excited to share another fun idea today from Abby's party... the cupcakes! There are so many different ways to go with mermaids and pirates, and I found a lot of really fun ideas on Pinterest. Ultimately, though, time was a big factor and so I decided to make the cupcakes simple and easy, while still sticking with the theme. I think they turned out awesome!


All the kids at the party were pretty thrilled about them, too, so it was a total cupcake win! I know I've posted a lot of cupcake recipes, but I think I'm ready to declare this one my very favorite. The texture is perfect, the taste is perfect, and after making multiple batches I think I've finally worked out all the kinks! Here are a few things that I've learned are important with this recipe: first, make sure your butter is softened correctly. I'm really impatient so I usually try to soften it in the microwave, and then it's half melted and half cold. If you have time, let it soften on the counter, and if not, try the new trick I just learned of cutting the butter into 1 inch pieces and then microwaving it at 3-4 second intervals until it is softened. Second, make sure your eggs are room temperature. I do this quickly by putting them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes before cracking them. And third, make sure your oven temperature is correct! I actually had to make two batches of these cupcakes because the first time, I heated the oven to what it claimed was 325, and the bottoms were black before the tops were cooked. Boo! The second time, I set the oven to 300 (which I think was actually closer to 325) and they were perfect. I'm going to buy an oven thermometer this week so I can know for sure in the future. This cupcake recipe is a keeper!

Cupcakes
adapted from Annie's Eats

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until blended. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, and beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to ensure the mixture is well blended. Scoop into prepared muffin tins, filling 1/2-2/3 full. Bake 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (I would start checking after 15 minutes). Let cool completely. 

Frosting
adapted from Emma the Joy

1 cup butter, softened
4-5 cups powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
food coloring (I used 4 drops of blue and 2 of green)

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until smooth. Gradually add 2 cups of powdered sugar, and beat well to combine. Add 2 tablespoons of milk and vanilla. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Add additional milk if too thick. Beat in food coloring.

for the mermaid cupcakes:
blue candy melts (I used these ones)
pearl sprinkles (I used these ones)
seashell mold (I used this one)

for the pirate cupcakes:
toothpicks
pirate flags (I found one in the public domain and scaled it, which you can download here)
goldfish crackers
pearl sprinkles

To make the mermaid cupcakes, place the candy melts in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for one minute at 50% power. Stir and then microwave at 50% power for 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted. Spoon or pipe into candy mold, underfilling slightly. Gently tap the mold on the counter to release air bubbles and level the candy. Place in the refrigerator for a few minutes to harden, then pop out. Trim edges if necessary. Place on top of cupcakes and sprinkle with pearls.

To make the pirate cupcakes, print and cut out pirate flags. Fold the end of the flag around a toothpick and tape to hold in place (I used cute washi tape, but any tape will work). Stick into cupcakes and add swimming goldfish and pearl sprinkles.

5.13.2013

goldfish marshmallow pops

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I mentioned last Wednesday that it was my little Abby's sixth birthday, and we threw her an awesome birthday bash this last weekend! She is obsessed with mermaids and pirates, and wanted to make them the theme of her party. We invited all the kids from her class and some friends from the neighborhood, and had a great time! I'm excited to share some of our fun party ideas with you this week. First up, these amazingly adorable marshmallow pops. I saw them on Pinterest almost a year ago, when I had no thoughts about a mermaid party, and saved them just because they were so darned cute! When I was putting together the party I showed the picture to Geoff, and he said it was a necessity that I make them. They were surprisingly quick and easy to make (much, much easier than cake pops!) and made quite a splash (har har) at the party.

They're pretty self-explanatory, but here are a few little tips I learned. First, try not to use super powdery marshmallows. I've never had that problem before, but for whatever reason the bag I bought was super powdery, and it made it harder for the candy melts to attach. Second, be patient. Let as much excess candy drip off as possible. Mine dripped pretty slowly and it got a little tedious, but I think they were much better looking when I let as much candy drip as possible. Third, if you have a clean pair of tweezers, they could be really helpful in applying the little pearl sprinkles. I didn't have any, and made a big mess trying to put the tiny little things on.

I hope you have as much fun making them as I did!

Goldfish Marshmallow Pops
inspired by See Vanessa Craft

1/2 - 2/3 bag blue candy melts (I used these ones)
24 marshmallows
24 lollipop sticks (I used these ones)
2/3 cup crushed graham crackers
24 goldfish crackers
48 pearl sprinkles (I used these ones)

To melt the candy, place it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on 50% power for 1 minute. Stir, then microwave at 30 second intervals at 50% power, stirring in between each interval, until melted. Push a lollipop stick into the center of a marshmallow, then dip it into the melted candy. Use a spoon to help coat the entire marshmallow. Let the excess candy drip back into the bowl until only a thin coating remains. Dip just the bottom into the graham crackers, and place stick-side up on a piece of wax paper or parchment paper. Add a goldfish cracker and two sprinkles for bubbles. Repeat with remaining marshmallows. (I found it helpful to just remove a few at a time from the bag to prevent them from getting stale.)

5.09.2013

skinny broccoli cheese pasta bake

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Well, after sharing two of my very favorite dessert recipes this week, it's probably time to share something a little healthier, right? This pasta bake is super creamy and delicious! It will totally satisfy your comfort food cravings, but it's made with healthier ingredients, so it's good for you too! My whole family loved it and cleaned their plates, even Abigail (I know, so shocking). I didn't feel the need to tell them that they were eating whole wheat noodles. :)


I like, too, that this is just a good basic recipe that you could tweak in any number of ways by adding different vegetables and/or throwing in some protein. I think a southwest pasta bake with chicken, green chilies, corn, and pepper jack would be awesome. Or how about ham, asparagus, and swiss? Yum!

Skinny Broccoli and Cheese Pasta Bake
adapted from Skinnytaste

12 ounces pasta (I used whole wheat egg noodles)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup flour
2 cups skim milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
salt and pepper
12 ounces fresh broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375. Cook pasta according to package directions, adding the broccoli for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking time. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 3-4 minutes, or until onion is soft and slightly translucent. Add the flour and mix to form a pasta. Gradually add the milk and chicken broth, whisking constantly. Let cook until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until combined. Toss the cheese sauce with the noodles and broccoli, and spread in a baking dish (I used a 9 x 9 but you could also use a 9 x 13). Top with grated parmesan and breadcrumbs, and spray with cooking spray. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are lightly browned.

5.08.2013

perfect vanilla cupcakes

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Today is a special day in our family... my beautiful, funny, smart, creative little Abby is turning six today! I can't believe she's so grown up already. In just a few weeks she'll be graduating from kindergarten, and I still think of her as being my tiny little baby!


We're celebrating today by taking her to the children's museum and out to dinner after school, and then she'll have an awesome "mermaids and pirates" birthday party this weekend with her whole kindergarten class (more details to come!). Of course, the best part of any celebration is cupcakes, right?

These vanilla cupcakes are a perfect basic recipe that can be customized in any number of ways. You could add sprinkles to the batter for funfetti, or chocolate chips, or coconut, or whatever sounds good to you! You could also experiment with different flavor extracts and frostings. I went with vanilla vanilla because I'm boring that way, but feel free to go nuts!


Vanilla Cupcakes
adapted from Chef Mommy

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin tin with paper liners (I got 16 cupcakes from the recipe). In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk. Mix until smooth.  Scoop into paper liners, filling 2/3 full. Bake 18-20 minutes (mine took 16) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream
adapted from Emma the Joy

1 cup butter, softened
4-5 cups powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until smooth. Gradually add 2 cups of powdered sugar, and beat well to combine. Add 2 tablespoons of milk and vanilla. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Add additional milk if too thick.

5.06.2013

perfect chocolate chip cookies

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I first posted these cookies a long time ago, but I feel like they deserve a re-post with some updated pictures! These cookies are seriously amazing. They are, without a doubt, my favorite cookies EVER. I love that the cookie base is so incredibly adaptable. I've used the same base to make double chocolate mint chip cookies, almond chocolate chunk cookies, almond joy cookie bars, cracker jack cookies... you name it. You can throw in pretty much anything, and they will come out delicious!

I think the magic of the recipe comes, in part, from the ingenious way in which they are shaped. I was totally skeptical at first, but now I'm sold! It's funny, though, because every time I make them with other people, they're totally weirded out by the cookie shaping, but by the time the cookies are out of the oven, they've jumped on the bandwagon.


I like to make 18 giant cookies, but you could easily make smaller cookies. I think the larger cookies are awesomely gooey and delicious, though. Yum!


Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from How Sweet Eats

12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugars and mix until combined. Add egg and egg yolk and vanilla, and mix until combined. Add flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix until just combined (be careful not to over mix). Gently fold chocolate chips into the dough. Divide dough into eighteen large balls. Pull each ball into two pieces using your hands. Place one half, rough side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet, then place the other half, rough side up, on top of the first half. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. The middles of the cookies should still be soft. Let cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, then remove to cooling rack. Enjoy!

5.03.2013

creamy green chili chicken enchiladas

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Holy cow! More enchiladas! These ones are amazingly fantastic. I really love green enchilada sauce (like to the point that I could just eat it with a spoon), but combining it with a b├ęchamel... oh, my gosh. So delicious! And the chicken/green chili/cream cheese filling is out of this world. This recipe is also a perfect example of how you can start with a delicious recipe, and add a few tweaks to make it healthier. I added a bunch of spinach, used only about half of the cream cheese/cheese, left out the sour cream in the sauce, and used corn tortillas instead of flour. And guess what? They were still an incredibly delicious meal!

Another great thing about this recipe is that it freezes wonderfully! I actually doubled the recipe and got three pans of 6 enchiladas each, and put two of them in the freezer for another day. I can't wait to dig them out and enjoy the cheesy goodness all over again!


Creamy Green Chili Chicken Enchiladas
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

filling:
4 cups fresh spinach
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces green chilies
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained

sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can (7 ounces) green enchilada sauce

assembly:
1 cup shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, colby, etc.)
8 large corn tortillas, warmed and softened

Preheat oven to 375. In a large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of water. Add the spinach, cover, and let steam until spinach has wilted (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat, drain, and chop. In a medium bowl, mix together chicken, cream cheese, green chilies, spinach, and white beans. Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook until softened. Whisk in the flour until a paste forms, and cook 2-3 minutes. Add chicken broth and milk, and whisk quickly to incorporate the flour mixture. Let cook a few minutes, until thickened, then remove from heat. Whisk in enchilada sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble, spread a few spoonfuls of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Fill each tortilla with about 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture. Roll up and place seam side down in the baking dish. When all enchiladas have been rolled, top with remaining enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Bake 20-30 minutes or the cheese is melted, and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

5.02.2013

double chocolate banana bread muffins

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Lately I seem to be overrun with overripe bananas. I don't know if my kids just aren't eating them as fast as they used to, or if I'm overbuying, but I feel like I'm compelled to make a banana-related recipe at least once a week lately! Since my chocolate toffee banana bread went over like gangbusters, I was excited to try a slightly different variation. These double chocolate banana bread muffins are so moist and perfect. I love the combination of cinnamon and chocolate... so incredibly delicious. Abby ate one of these in her lunch a few times this week, and said they were the best brownies she had ever eaten :). They're great!

Double Chocolate Banana Bread Muffins
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup (2/3 stick) melted salted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup of flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a muffin tin by spraying with cooking spray. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla, and cinnamon. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour and cocoa powder, and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chips. Scoop batter into muffin tin, filling wells about 2/3 full. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool five minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

5.01.2013

quick italian panini

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I have to confess, I think panini are just about the greatest thing ever. I love that you can put pretty much anything between two slices of bread, slap it in the panini press, and minutes later have a crispy, gooey, delicious sandwich! I've tried all kinds of bread, and a wide variety of toppings, but I think this Italian panini is my favorite to date. The focaccia bread is just perfect for panini, and I love the turkey/mozzarella/spinach/roasted red pepper combo. This seriously tasted like something you would get at a fancy Italian restaurant for lunch. I think with a side of tomato basil soup, it would be an absolutely perfect meal!

Quick Italian Panini

focaccia bread
turkey (I love the thick sliced deli turkey from Costco)
mozzarella cheese
spinach
fresh basil leaves
roasted red peppers
(all amounts are to your taste)

Slice focaccia bread in half horizontally to form two thin pieces of bread. Layer turkey, spinach, basil leaves, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella. Cook in panini press until mozzarella is melted and gooey (about 5-6 minutes in my panini press). If you don't have a panini press, feel free to cook the sandwich grilled cheese style!
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