the baker upstairs: March 2014

3.26.2014

basic mexican rice

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Hi friends! How is your week going? I mentioned before that we're having a hard time adjusting to life after vacation, and that's continuing in full force. The house is a mess, our laundry from the trip is piled up in my room waiting to be washed, and the girls are asking daily if we can go back to San Diego. (I wish, kiddos!) It probably wasn't the smartest idea I've ever had to drive home just hours before I had to start a new workweek… I gave myself basically no time to get my head on straight before jumping right back in to all my responsibilities. With all the chaos, I've been relying on some of my old favorite quick and easy recipes for dinner, and this basic mexican rice is the best!

I pretty much always have the ingredients on hand, and it's super quick to make but also really flavorful and delicious! We use it as a side dish, or as a filling in burritos with beans and cheese. It also freezes really well (I just put it in quart sized freezer bags) and is the perfect thing to have on hand in the freezer for an easy side. Yum!

Basic Mexican Rice

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups white rice
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 10 ounce can Rotel tomatoes (optional - sometimes I leave this out)
2 cups chicken broth (add a little more if leaving out the Rotel)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt

Heal the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté 2-3 minutes until softened, then add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute, until fragrant. Stir in the rice and let cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently so the rice does not burn. Stir in the diced tomatoes, Rotel, chicken broth, cumin, and salt, and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and let simmer 10-15 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.

adapted from The Pioneer Woman

3.24.2014

blueberry crumb bars

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Happy Monday! I'm back home from our family vacation to San Diego and trying to readjust to normal life. I'll confess it was pretty difficult to leave those sunny skies and sandy beaches behind! We had the best time and did so many fun things with the girls, and it was the perfect trip for relaxing and enjoying our time together. Just before we left for vacation my mom asked me if I could come up with a fun birthday treat for one of her friends at work, and I decided to make these delicious blueberry crumb bars. They're a perfect spring treat!

I love the buttery, crumbly layer on top, contrasted with the juicy blueberry layer. These bars come together really quickly and are simple and easy to make!


Blueberry Crumb Bars

1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 egg, beaten
Zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375. Grease (or line with foil) a 9 x 13 pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, baking powder, salt, and flour. Cut in the butter using two knives or a pastry blender, until pieces are no bigger than pea sized. Stir in the egg to form a crumbly dough. Pat half of the dough in an even layer in the prepared pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, 1/2 cup sugar, and cornstarch. Toss the blueberries in the mixture, and spread the blueberries on top of the dough in the pan. Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the blueberries. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool before slicing and serving.

adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

3.14.2014

buffalo chicken dip

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This delicious cheesy and spicy buffalo chicken dip is so easy to make and is a hit at any party!

Happy Friday! I'm spending the day today trying to wrap up all the loose ends before we leave for San Diego tomorrow morning. I am so excited for our trip! It's going to be a long drive (ten hours) but we have some fun stops planned along the way and I'm hoping we'll all get through it okay. We've got movies loaded on the iPad for the girls, a big bag of (mostly healthy) snacks, and a bag of art supplies and small toys. Wish us luck!

Today is also my eleventh anniversary! Geoff and I are never very good at planning anything, and we almost never buy each other anniversary presents, but we sent each other texts to say "Love you!" this morning, so that counts for something, right? :) In honor of Geoff, I'm sharing one of his favorite foods today… buffalo chicken dip! This dip is soooo good! It's spicy and creamy and cheesy, and is one of my favorite appetizers! My favorite way to eat it is with fresh celery sticks, but Geoff loves it with crackers. Either way, it's delicious!

Buffalo Chicken Dip
adapted from Frank's Red Hot

8 ounces cream cheese, softened (I used neufchâtel)
1/2 cup buffalo sauce
1/2 cup bleu cheese dressing
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (I used rotisserie chicken)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, then scoop into a baking dish. Bake 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with fresh vegetables and crackers for dipping.

3.11.2014

six layer rainbow cake

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Today is my little Lizzy's third birthday! We had a little family party for her on Saturday, and I thought today would be a great day to share her amazing birthday cake!

First off, I just have to say that I love this adorable, sweet, hilarious little girl so much! She is such a little ray of sunshine and I can't imagine my life without her. She is totally my little mini-me, and it amazes me how incredibly similar we are. Happy birthday cute Lizzy!


Lizzy is obsessed with My Little Pony (thanks to her big sister) and asked for a Rainbow Dash birthday party. I decided to loosen that a little into a rainbow party, and it was the perfect excuse to make that gorgeous rainbow cake I've seen floating around Pinterest. I'm not going to lie… it took some time to make. I only had 2 8-inch cake pans, so I had to bake the layers in three batches, which was a little time consuming. Other than that, though, it was all pretty easy to put together!


To decorate, I just slathered some buttercream (very imperfectly, I might add) on the outside and then topped the cake with some rainbow sprinkles I found at my local party store. I found these cute twisty candles there as well, and the big number 3 is from Target.


As cute as the outside is, the inside is what makes this cake magical! I was nervous until I cut into it that somehow it wouldn't work or wouldn't look pretty, but it ended up being absolutely perfect. I was so impressed with myself that I kept giggling for joy while cutting the cake.


This one is definitely going down in the books as the prettiest cake I've ever made!

Six Layer Rainbow Cake

for the cake:
4 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
food coloring

for the frosting:
4 sticks unsalted butter
4 cups confectioners' sugar
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
food coloring (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour 8-inch cake pans (as many as you have!) and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, and beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the cake batter into sixths in six different bowls, and add a different color of food coloring to each bowl. I used gel food coloring and used about a dime sized amount for each bowl. Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Repeat with remaining batter, and let all layers cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar and salt, and beat to combine. Add the heavy cream and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Add food coloring if desired (I added a very small amount of blue food coloring).

To assemble, level each layer of cake. (I have a cake leveler I bought at Walmart for about $3, and it makes it super easy!). Stack the layers, adding a small amount of buttercream between each layer to hold them together. Frost with remaining buttercream and enjoy!

inspired by this cake from Brit & Co and adapted from my Perfect Birthday Cake


3.10.2014

chocolate overload muffins

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And the muffin obsession continues…. these muffins are awesome! I made them for Lizzy's birthday brunch this last weekend and they are fantastic. They are rich and delicious and have so much chocolatey flavor in every bite! I made them the night before, knowing that I would be super busy in the morning, and stored them in an airtight container. The next morning they were still perfect! I think these would be great to make in advance for quick breakfasts on the go. I know that with trying to get the girls and myself ready, it's a zoo every morning, so I'm always up for anything that makes it a little easier for me!

I used a combination of dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I think these would be great with any combination of baking chips… white chocolate, butterscotch, mint, milk chocolate, the sky's the limit! The muffins themselves are very chocolatey but not overly sweet, and the chocolate chips make them even more flavorful and fun!

Chocolate Overload Muffins

2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup total of chocolate chips or baking chips + more for sprinkling on top (mix a few kinds together to make it more fun!)
1 1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup oil (I used canola)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 400. Prepare muffin pans by spraying with cooking spray or lining with paper liners (I got 18 muffins from this recipe). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling 2/3 full, and sprinkle with additional chocolate chips if desired. Bake 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 5-10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. 

adapted from Kleinworth & Co. via Lil' Luna

3.07.2014

lemon blueberry cupcakes

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Happy Friday! I have a ridiculously awesome recipe to share with you today. These lemon blueberry cupcakes are all kinds of amazing! As I'm sure you know, I like to celebrate good things by baking, and I've got a lot of pretty great things on the horizon right now. For starters, my darling little Lizzy is turning three next week and we're having a lovely birthday brunch for her tomorrow. (I can't wait to see her face when she sees the awesome scooter we're giving her!) My second piece of good news is that after months of planning, our family vacation to San Diego is almost here! We'll be leaving next Saturday and staying for eight days. I'm excited to hit up Legoland and the San Diego Zoo, and just enjoy being lazy and carefree and not being at work. :)

And finally (and most exciting!), we found out this week that my husband Geoff got into nursing school! It's been a long road to get here, but it's pretty amazing to know that the end is in sight and we only have fifteen more months of school ahead of us. It's a very competitive and top-quality program, and I'm so excited for him!


Let's celebrate with some perfectly delicious cupcakes, shall we? Blueberries are Geoff's favorite, and the blueberry-lemon combination in these cupcakes is outstanding. The cake is moist and delicate and full of juicy blueberries, and the frosting is creamy and sweet with a little tartness from the lemon zest. I think these are also probably the most gorgeous cupcakes I've ever made. I can't stop staring at these pictures and wanting more cupcakes!


Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, divided
3/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, room temperature
1 cup fresh blueberries

8 ounces cream cheese
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest of one lemon
additional blueberries, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 and line cupcake pans with paper liners (I got 16 cupcakes from this recipe). In a small bowl whisk together the 3/4 cup flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and lemon juice, and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. In a small bowl toss the blueberries with the 2 tablespoons flour to coat. Gently fold the blueberries into the cake batter, being careful not to crush them. Scoop the batter into the prepared cups, filling 2/3 full. Bake 20-22 minutes, or until the tops spring back when touched. Let cool 5-10 minutes in the pan then transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter together in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest, and beat until combined. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar and mix until combined, then beat for an extra minute or two until light and fluffy. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and top with fresh blueberries for garnish.

adapted from Annie's Eats

3.05.2014

creamy acorn squash soup

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I've mentioned before that we try to participate in our local produce co-op as often as possible, and I really love it! We get a big basket of fruit and vegetables for a super reasonable price. One of the challenges, though, is that I often end up with produce that I've never cooked with before. Since we started using the co-op I've cooked with fennel, figs, butternut squash, english cucumbers, persimmons, jicama, and bok choy. And now I can add acorn squash to the list! I love squash but I usually go more for the summer squashes and less for the winter squash, mostly because they seem hard to cook. This recipe is so easy and so simple, but very comforting and delicious!

I will note that while Lizzy loved this soup, Abby was not totally sold on it. She asked what was in it and I told her acorn squash, to which she replied, "I don't like the way acorns taste, Mom." She eventually agreed to try it and ate about half, so I'm going to count it as a win anyway. We had it with some of our favorite pretzel bites, and the two were delicious together!

Creamy Acorn Squash Soup
adapted from Vitamix

1 medium acorn squash
1 cup evaporated milk
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and place cut side down in a shallow baking dish. Add 1/2 inch water to the bottom of the dish. Pierce both halves of the squash with a fork and bake 45-60 minutes, or until a fork slides in easily. Let cool, then scoop the cooked squash out of the skin and add it to a blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and heat over medium heat until warmed through and slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes.
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