the baker upstairs: December 2013

12.31.2013

top 12 of 2013

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I can't believe 2013 is over! It's been a busy year for me, both personally and blog-wise. I feel like I've grown so much as a person, and I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store for me. 2013 was a year of awesome food for me, and I have loved sharing all the deliciousness with all of you on my blog! Here is a countdown of the top twelve recipes from this year on the blog, based on page views. 

12.18.2013

sea salt and olive oil baked potatoes

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How's your week going? This week is a super busy one for our family! Geoff has finals this week, and is also working more hours, and I'm working some extra days because one of my co-workers is getting married this week (congrats to her!). We're also trying to squeeze in holiday fun where we can and we're hoping we can go see the zoo lights this weekend. I mentioned on Friday that I've been really into simple meals lately, and these baked potatoes fit the bill perfectly! I actually made a big batch at the beginning of last week, and we've been slowly making our way through them this week. They make a perfect quick lunch with a side salad or some fresh vegetables.

I actually like my baked potatoes best with just butter and salt and pepper (I'm a weirdo) but these are also great with pretty much any topping! I'm usually so short on time that I just bake our potatoes in the microwave, but I was amazed at what a difference it made to bake these in the oven. The olive oil and sea salt combine to make a perfect crisp potato skin, and the potato inside is super light and fluffy. This recipe is super simple but results in a delicious, perfectly baked potato!

Sea Salt and Olive Oil Baked Potatoes
adapted from Jamie Cooks it Up

desired number of russet potatoes, scrubbed clean and dried
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil, and place the potatoes on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss potatoes to coat completely. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper on both sides. Using a fork, pierce each potato several times. Bake 45-60 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the potato slides in easily.

Note: these also make super awesome breakfast potatoes! Cut the cooked potatoes into cubes and fry in a skillet with olive oil until golden and crispy. Delicious and super easy!

12.16.2013

mini nutella cheesecakes

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Mini nutella cheesecakes from The Baker Upstairs. Rich, delicious, and silky smooth, these cheesecakes make a beautiful and elegant dessert for any special occasion!

Holy cow, it's another cheesecake recipe! I'm still not totally converted to cheesecake, but since it seems like everyone else really likes it, I've been finding myself in the position of making it lately. A few weeks ago a friend at work did me a big favor, and I baked up a batch of these delicious cheesecakes to say thank you. Considering she's begged me for the recipe every time I've seen her since, I'm guessing they were a hit! (And here I am, finally posting it for you, Liz!)

Mini nutella cheesecakes from The Baker Upstairs. Rich, delicious, and silky smooth, these cheesecakes make a beautiful and elegant dessert for any special occasion!

I made enough that Geoff and I got to try some too, and I'll admit that they were pretty tasty! The texture was silky and light, and I loved the hint of Nutella in every bite. Geoff went totally nuts over them and ate four little cheesecakes in about fifteen minutes. These cheesecakes would make an elegant and delicious dessert for any holiday party!

Mini nutella cheesecakes from The Baker Upstairs. Rich, delicious, and silky smooth, these cheesecakes make a beautiful and elegant dessert for any special occasion!

Mini Nutella Cheesecakes
adapted from Cooking Classy

for the crust:
9 ounces chocolate cookies, finely crushed (I used chocolate animal crackers but chocolate graham crackers would work great too!)
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted

for the cheesecake:
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
12 ounces cream cheese, softened (Neufchatel works fine)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup Nutella

Preheat oven to 325. In a small bowl, mix together crushed cookies, sugar, and butter. Divide evenly between 12 paper-lined muffin cups or 12 wells of a mini cheesecake pan. Press down to form an even layer and bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the filling.

In a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix sugar, flour, and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs, then add milk, sour cream, and vanilla, and mix until smooth. Fold in Nutella until just combined. Divide the filling evenly between the muffin cups, filling nearly to the top. Tap lightly on the counter to release any trapped air. Bake 20-24 minutes, or until just slightly jiggly in the center. Remove and let cool at room temperature 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for several hours. Keep in the refrigerator. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

12.13.2013

simple chicken and mushroom stroganoff

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I can't even believe how fast this Christmas season is flying by! This year is especially hectic, with Geoff working two jobs and going to school full time, and me trying to juggle everything that comes with working outside the home, being a mom, and trying my best to keep the house running smoothly and food on the table. Along with all that busyness, there's a lot of joy mixed in too. My girls are at such fun ages right now! Abby is learning so much at school, and it's amazing to watch her grow. I love listening to her read! Lizzy is so spunky and full of energy, and keeps us giggling every day with all the funny things she says. Life is always super busy, but so fun too!

A simple skillet meal like this chicken and mushroom stroganoff is a great way to save time on a busy weeknight. I have no idea how traditional or non-traditional this stroganoff is, but here's what I do know: 1) it's easy to make, and 2) it tastes fantastic! I also love not spending the whole evening in the kitchen. It leaves me a lot more time for tickle fights and building with Legos and reading bedtime stories!

Simple Chicken and Mushroom Stroganoff
adapted from eRecipeCards

4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, sliced into thin strips
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bella)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup sour cream
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded (I used rotisserie chicken)
8 ounces egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
1 tablespoon fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until slightly softened, about one minute. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper, garlic powder, ground mustard, and rosemary, and sauté until the mushrooms are softened and reduced. Stir in the flour and let cook one minute. Slowly add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, stirring well to prevent the flour from clumping. Mix in sour cream and let cook a few minutes, until thickened. Add the cooked chicken and cook until heated through. Serve over noodles and sprinkle with parsley.

12.11.2013

12 awesome food gifts to share!

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It's that time of year again! The time when you are always frantically looking for something great to give all those special people in your life... your neighbors, your co-workers, your kids' teachers... the list goes on. Well, I'm here to make your life a smidge easier with some awesome ideas! Food is always a great gift. It's fun to make, it's universally popular, and you don't have to worry about getting the right size or color. :) Here are my favorites from my blog (some of which I'll be giving out this year, too!):

These macaroons are tasty and elegant. They look beautiful wrapped up in a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon!


Possibly the greatest two-word combination in the English language. Plus it's super easy and quick to make!


You can't go wrong with a classic, well-loved cookie. I make these at least once a week, and they always get rave reviews!


These cookies are so soft and full of minty flavor. The perfect mix of flavors for Christmastime. 


These are so simple to make in the slow cooker, and will make your house smell amazing. Your friends won't believe you made them yourself!


These treats are so easy to make and have the best flavor. Cookie butter for the win!


These caramels are easy to make, and look amazing too. They are one of my very favorite treats to make, year after year. 


This quick bread is so moist and delicious. It would make an adorable gift baked in mini loaves and wrapped with cellophane and twine. 


This would make a fantastic gift with a couple of fresh crisp apples for dipping. One of my very favorite snacks!


These cookies are a fun twist on my perfect chocolate chip cookies. They're so easy and festive!


This caramel popcorn makes a huge batch and is perfect for neighbor gifts! It also makes an awesome snack while, say, wrapping gifts or watching Christmas movies. 


Candy Cane White Chocolate Muddy Buddies
This snack mix is addicting and totally delicious! It makes an adorable neighbor gift packaged in a cellophane bag with a candy cane. 

Happy Christmas gift giving!

12.09.2013

candy cane white chocolate muddy buddies

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Can you believe these are the very first muddy buddies I've ever made? Don't get me wrong, I like to eat them, but they're just not something that has ever really been on my list to make. A few days ago Abby and I were at Joann Fabrics buying some fun things for Christmas gifts, and I saw the Wilton Candy Cane Burst Candy Melts and knew I had to make something fun with them. I had just bought a big box of Chex at Costco, so the muddy buddies were meant to be!

I'm not the biggest fan of candy canes (although I do love mint), so I purposely made them a little more subtle with the candy cane flavor. I worried after I made them that they were a little too subtle, but Geoff and Abby both said they were absolutely perfect. If you really want more candy cane flavor, I would suggest adding a little peppermint extract as well. We're planning to give them out as neighbor gifts this year, packaged in cellophane bags with cute labels. Come back on Wednesday for some more delicious ideas for food gifts!

Candy Cane White Chocolate Muddy Buddies

9 cups Chex cereal (I used a combo of rice and corn Chex)
6 ounces candy cane candy melts
6 ounces plain candy melts (I used pink because that's what I had, but white or red would work great too)
2 cups powdered sugar
5 full size candy canes (or the equivalent amount of mini candy canes)
12 Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, chopped into pieces

Divide the Chex evenly into two large bowls. Place three of the candy canes in a plastic bag and break them into small pieces using a rolling pin. Divide them evenly between the bowls of Chex. In a food processor or blender, pulse the powdered sugar and two of the candy canes, until the candy canes are ground into fine pieces, and set aside. Melt the different colors of candy melts separately in the microwave at 50% power at 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth and melted. Pour into the bowls of cereal and toss to coat evenly. Toss with powdered sugar and chopped Hershey's Kisses. Let cool and harden before eating.

12.04.2013

homemade lemon curd

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Happy December! I can't believe how fast this holiday season is moving already. I feel like every day I'm pulled in a million directions at once, and I know it's only going to get worse the closer we get to Christmas. I'm finding, though, that slowing down long enough to make a delicious treat does wonders for my stress level. Stress baking for the win!

This lemon curd is simple and quick, and super versatile! I first tried lemon curd a few years ago after a visit to Trader Joe’s. It was love at first bite! There’s something wonderful to me about the intertwined tartness and sweetness, and I’m crazy about the silky texture. It goes well on everything, too! I like it on toast in the morning, but it’s also great warmed up and poured over ice cream, and it makes an awesome filling for cakes or cupcakes. When I found a big bag of beautiful lemons on the cheap at Costco, I decided it was time to finally give it a try at home.


The curd was much easier to make than I had thought, and it came together pretty fast. I even broke some of the “rules” (I used whole eggs instead of just yolks, and didn’t add butter at the end) and it still turned out amazing! It was one of those, “Holy cow, I can’t believe I made this at home!” moments. I love impressing myself with my culinary prowess. :)

Homemade Lemon Curd 
(makes 1 cup)

2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (that was two lemons for me, but mine were huge!)
zest of two lemons

In a medium saucepan, whisk together eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest until well blended. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened to desired consistency. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl or jar. Cover the surface with plastic wrap (so none of the curd is exposed to air) and chill in the fridge for at least one hour. Store in the refrigerator.
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