The Baker Upstairs: September 2016

9.22.2016

13 School Lunches to Pack This Fall

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Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Hey-yo, Cort here celebrating fall with 13 tasty lunches to pack the kiddos this fall! Last week I set you up with enough after-school snack ideas to keep the kids full from now until Christmas. But this week, oh, this week I've got some delicious lunch ideas so that the lunchbox or paper bag stays exciting, knowwhatImean...

I remember making my own lunches as early as first grade. Lunch typically included:
  1. a room-temperature Capri Sun 
  2. a Carl Budding ham or turkey sandwich with probably 1/4 cup of mustard and no mayo (which was crazy, because I knew I put too much mustard and was anti-mayo because my brother liked mayo and whatever he liked, I couldn't like because I'm ornery like that, so I just kept eating that nasty sandwich)
  3. a sliced orange, which leaked orange juice all over my overly mustardy sandwich
  4. a fruit snack (Farleys Ninja Turtle variety), or a Swiss Cake Roll
Props to my mom for getting us to make our own lunches at the tender age of 6! Really though! That is amazing! The longer I'm a mom, the more incredible my mom becomes. 

Given my nearly 30 years of experience, I've learned a few things about lunches. They can be so much more than sandwiches! Make peanut butter the main course with graham crackers, celery, and apples for dipping. Use hummus the same way. Try a wrap. Top banana or zucchini bread with cream cheese for a sweet/savory sandwich. Leftover sliders are great cold. Pack yogurt with granola and fruit. Can I also say that we love a good Thermos at our house? Fall is the perfect time to fill them up with delicious leftover casseroles, stews, and chili. More about that in the future...

But back to these lunches. They rock. I've rounded up some entrees and snacks so good the rest of the kids from all across the lunchroom will be begging to trade you for their Twinkies and PBJ. You can prep stuff the night before, or let the kids make lunch themselves in the morning. Remember, brown bagging it isn't just for kids! Pack a lunch for work, or even if you are staying home, and save the money for something worthwhile, like a great new sweater or a trip to Bora Bora. It can happen! 

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps from The Baker Upstairs

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Ham and Cheese Biscuits from Barefeet in the Kitchen

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Homemade Cheez-its from The Baker Upstairs

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Apple Snack Sandwiches from Like Mother Like Daughter

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Chicken Fajita Bowls from i heart naptime

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Chickpea and Bean Pesto Pita Wraps from Cook with Manali

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Granola Bars from The Baker Upstairs

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Pennsylvania Dutch Pies from The Little Red Hen

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Cheeseburger Burrito Wraps from The Kitchenarium

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Healthy Homemade Lunchables from Don't Waste the Crumbs

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies from Somewhat Simple

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Bean, Rice, and Cheese Burritos from The Baker Upstairs

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

Monster Bars from Little Red Hen

Easy, healthy, and delicious lunchbox ideas from wraps to granola bars!

9.19.2016

Instant Pot Boiled Eggs

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These instant pot boiled eggs are ready in 15 minutes and come out perfectly every time!

Okay, here is my deep dark cooking secret: I can't boil an egg to save my life. I have tried every recipe, every favorite trick, every "absolutely no fail, can't possibly mess this up" recipe on Pinterest, and still the perfect boiled egg has eluded me. It really can't be that hard, right? And yet every single time, my eggs are impossible to peel, or overcooked, or undercooked. Plus so many of the recipes are so fussy and irritating that it just doesn't seem worth it. They're just eggs, people!

Since I've been experimenting with my Instant Pot this week, I decided it was high time to try boiled eggs in the pot. And guess what? They turned out absolutely perfect. The yolks were perfectly cooked (with no gray ring), and the shells pretty much just slid off in one piece! They were also unbelievably easy, which suits my laziness perfectly. This is definitely the way to go from here on out!
Instant Pot Boiled Eggs

8-12 eggs
1 cup water
ice bath

Add the water to the instant pot. Place the trivet in the pot and the eggs on the trivet. Cook 5 minutes on high pressure, then let sit for 5 minutes. Quick release the pressure and place the eggs in an ice bath for five minutes. Peel and enjoy!

9.16.2016

14 Easy After-School Snacks

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14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Hey friends! This is Cort after a long hiatus. I took the summer off because I sold my house and moved and it pretty much consumed my summer...and my life. BUT! We are settled in a completely different part of the valley I call home, and our kitchen is operational, so we are essentially moved in. Not really, but when the kitchen is operational the house starts to feel like home. I christened my oven with chocolate chip cookie bars with salted carmel wafers, or was it dark chocolate chip cookies with mint chips? Or did the bread come first? I've been baking a bit to cope with the chaos...

Really, let's get to the point. You're not here to talk about my move! You're here to talk after-school snacks bcause school has been in long enough that you may be running out of ideas, but it isn't May so you haven't given up on caring about after-school snacks yet. (Or is that just me?)

Snacks need to be tasty, easy, and satisfying. None of this munching until dinner and then not eating your spaghetti stuff! (Or is that just me?) At our house, we usually have apples, carrots, and peppers available for crunching. Fruits and veggies paired with a protein like cheese or deli meat are always simple, healthy, and delicious choices.

But, if you are looking to change it up, this list goes beyond the standard snack supply! These easy fall after-school snacks are yummy and kid friendly. Way beyond just cookies and milk, but there are a few of those as well! It'll be chilly soon, so there are some Cheese Stuffed Buns that'll warm your kiddos right up, and even some kids friendly Ranch Hummus Dip to eat with those fall veggies.  Plus, if you try a new after-school snack each week, you'll find I've given you enough fun to keep things fresh from now until Christmas! Wait, what?! I don't know what is more astonishing- the recipes, or the fact that Christmas is just 14 weeks away! Let's just stick to the snacks and save Santa for later, shall we?

(Or is that just me?)

Bake the bread. Share the slices.

Homemade Movie Theater Popcorn from The Baker Upstairs

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

S'mores Bars from The Baker Upstairs

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Healthy Apple Nachos from A Healthy Life for Me

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Cheese Stuffed Buns from The Baker Upstairs

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Ranch Hummus Dip from Yummy Healthy Easy

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Watermelon Popsicles from Somewhat Simple

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Spicy Nacho Cheese Dip from Yellow Bliss Road

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Lemon Zucchini Muffins from I Heart Naptime

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

No Bake Monster Cookie Bites from Like Mother Like Daughter

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Healthy Chocolate Banana Bread from Little Red Hen

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Skinny Fruit and Nut Granola from The Baker Upstairs

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Pizza Pinwheels from Yellow Bliss Road

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Easy Low-Fat Veggie Squares from Family Favorite Recipes

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies from Little Red Hen

14 easy after-school snacks your kids will love!

9.12.2016

Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes

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This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using the links.

These instant pot mashed potatoes cook unbelievably fast, and turn out perfectly creamy and delicious!

These instant pot mashed potatoes cook unbelievably fast, and turn out perfectly creamy and delicious!

Do you own an Instant Pot? I first heard of them last November, when they were an awesome deal on Amazon for Black Friday. I dithered about buying one all day, and ended up not getting one. And then had horrible non-buyer's remorse for months afterward. Suddenly everyone was posting recipes with them and talking about how life-changing they were, and I was the chump who had passed up the opportunity to buy one at an awesome price. And then... Prime Day happened! And all of a sudden, the Instant Pot was dirt cheap again! Of course I bought one, and couldn't wait to use it... until it actually came, and I realized that I am still terrified of pressure cookers. My mom never owned one, and really my only experience with them was my husband's stories about the exploding pressure cookers of his childhood.

Let me tell you, though, the Instant Pot is not scary at all. I finally got brave enough to pull it out of the box over the weekend, and it turns out it's simple, easy, and safe as can be. I'll confess to a little thrill of fear when I quick-released the pressure the first time, but after that it was smooth sailing. I made a few easy recipes with it over the weekend (which I'll be sharing this week) and all in all, I was super impressed! It's amazingly fast, and everything I've made so far has turned out great! These mashed potatoes were some of the best I've made, and they were ready in about 20 minutes. Seriously, it doesn't get any better than that! They're super flavorful, so creamy and delicious, and the perfect texture. I think this will definitely be our new default method for cooking potatoes!
Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes

3 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup half and half
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Cut the potatoes into fourths. Place the rack in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Add the potatoes to the pot, and pour the chicken broth over the top. Place the lid on the Instant Pot and set to high pressure for 8 minutes. Quick release the pressure and drain the potatoes, preserving the liquid. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher. Add the butter, half and half, and salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the cooking liquid as needed to reach the desired consistency of potatoes. Serve hot.

9.09.2016

Coconut Layer Cake

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This elegant and delicious coconut layer cake is simple to make and always a favorite!

This elegant and delicious coconut layer cake is simple to make and always a favorite!

As much as I tend to be a cupcake girl at heart, I can definitely appreciate a beautiful layer cake! In the last few years, my layer cake skills have definitely improved, and now I can almost always guarantee a presentable cake. (You should see some of my earlier attempts, though - yikes!) I made this beautiful and delicious coconut layer cake for my older daughter's ninth birthday (way back in May) and it was a huge hit! She absolutely loves coconut, and asked me to make a layer cake for her birthday with flowers and sprinkles on top. She was definitely pleased with the result, and it tasted amazing too!

This elegant and delicious coconut layer cake is simple to make and always a favorite!

To get a really nice coconut flavor, I used shredded coconut, coconut milk, and coconut bakery emulsion for flavoring. I had never used it before, but it definitely adds a lot of flavor! I was given some as a gift, and I am really excited to try some other flavors. If you don't have the bakery emulsion available, you can definitely use coconut extract instead. The cake comes out super moist and tender, and the coconut frosting is light and fluffy and flavorful. This is by far the best coconut cake I've ever had, and I will definitely make it again!

This elegant and delicious coconut layer cake is simple to make and always a favorite!

Coconut Layer Cake

for the cake:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cold, grated
4 eggs
1 cup full fat coconut milk or coconut cream
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons coconut extract (I used coconut bakery emulsion)
1 cup shredded coconut

for the frosting:
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon coconut extract
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour two eight inch cake pans and set aside. In a large bowl or a the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the coconut milk, sour cream and coconut extract in a measuring cup, and add about half of the coconut milk mixture to the flour mixture. Beat until well blended and smooth. Add the other half of the coconut milk mixture, and beat until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for a few minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, beat together the butter and coconut extract, until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and coconut milk, adding more or less as needed. Beat the frosting on high until light and fluffy. Frost the cooled cake as desired and pat the shredded coconut around the edges of the cake.
This elegant and delicious coconut layer cake is simple to make and always a favorite!

9.07.2016

Homemade Movie Theater Popcorn

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This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using the links.

This homemade movie theater popcorn has only three ingredients and is ready in less than five minutes! Super delicious and easy too!

We love popcorn around here! I have to confess, though, I am a popcorn snob. I am super particular about which kinds of microwave popcorn we can buy (right now I only like the Kirkland brand), and it has to be seasoned just right. I love movie theater popcorn (who doesn't?), but we go to the movies so infrequently these days that I decided it was time to learn to make it at home. I did some research online and figured out that the secret is Flavacol salt! I had never heard of it before, but it's very inexpensive and available on Amazon or at restaurant supply stores (I got mine at Orson Gygi, which is pretty much my favorite store ever). It totally gives the popcorn that perfect taste. I'm still loving my Whirley Pop popcorn maker, and I love that it makes everything so simple that my nine year old can make popcorn by herself. This really is the best popcorn ever, and my kids have begged for it every night for months. Yum!
Homemade Movie Theater Popcorn

1/2 cup popcorn kernels (I like using this mushroom popcorn)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3/4 teaspoon (more or less to taste) Flavacol salt

Add all ingredients to a stovetop popcorn maker. Place the popcorn maker on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Heat, stirring constantly, until the kernels start popping. Continuing stirring until the popping slows to a few seconds between pops. Remove from heat and pour the popcorn into a bowl immediately to prevent burning. Let cool slightly and enjoy!
This homemade movie theater popcorn has only three ingredients and is ready in less than five minutes! Super delicious and easy too!

9.06.2016

Perfect Crescent Rolls

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These delicious crescent rolls turn out perfect every single time, and are so easy to make!

Who else is super excited about soup season? We've had a couple of rainy and cool days here in Portland lately, so I took it as a sign that I should start making soup for dinner every night. :) If you're making a great soup, you totally need some fresh hot rolls to go with it, and these crescent rolls are bread perfection! They're buttery, soft, and melt in your mouth delicious. I've made them dozens and dozens of times, and they are consistently perfect every time I make them. They are my go-to for holidays and family gatherings, and always get rave reviews!
Perfect Crescent Rolls

1/3 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups milk, warmed
3/4 cup butter, room temperature, divided
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups flour, more or less as needed

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast, and a pinch of sugar. Let stand until yeast is foamy. Add sugar, milk, 5 tablespoons of butter, egg, and salt, and mix until well combined. Mix in two cups of flour. Slowly add remaining flour and mix until dough is smooth and elastic, and slightly sticky to the touch. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, 60-90 minutes.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide into two equal sized balls. Roll each ball out into a circle and spread each with two tablespoons of butter. Cut each circle into twelve wedges (I usually use a pizza cutter to make it easier). Roll each wedge up, starting at the wider side, and place point side down on a lightly greased baking sheet (I can fit 24 rolls on a single large baking sheet.) Cover and let rise about one hour, or until doubled in size.

While the rolls are rising, preheat oven to 375. When the rolls have risen, bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush lightly with remaining butter.

adapted from Cooking Classy
These delicious crescent rolls turn out perfect every single time, and are so easy to make!

9.03.2016

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza

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This chicken bacon ranch pizza is so cheesy and delicious, and easy to make too! Perfect for family pizza night!

This chicken bacon ranch pizza is so cheesy and delicious, and easy to make too! Perfect for family pizza night!

Guess what? Today is international bacon day! If ever a food needed to be celebrated, it's bacon. It just makes everything taste better. Sweet or savory, there's hardly a dish out there that wouldn't be improved with a little bacon. We really don't eat much red meat around here, but we love bacon!

My kids chose this chicken bacon ranch pizza for their back to school celebration dinner, and it turned out fantastic! I love the crisp pizza dough, savory bacon and chicken, and ooey-gooey cheese. I made my own crust (as I usually do, but you could easily substitute some pre-made crust or dough if you're in a hurry or don't want to make your own. This is definitely one that we'll make again for family pizza night!

This chicken bacon ranch pizza is so cheesy and delicious, and easy to make too! Perfect for family pizza night!
Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza

for the crust:
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 tablespoon yeast
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

for topping:
1/4 cup ranch dressing
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit five minutes, or until bubbly. Add the flour and salt, and mix until a dough forms. Knead gently, adding more flour as needed, to form a soft dough. Cover and let rest 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 with a baking stone or overturned cookie sheet inside. Spread the dough out to form a large circle. Mix the ranch dressing and garlic, and spread over the pizza crust. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese, then spread the chicken and bacon pieces on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese. Place on preheated baking stone or cookie sheet, and bake 8-9 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
This chicken bacon ranch pizza is so cheesy and delicious, and easy to make too! Perfect for family pizza night!

For more delicious International Bacon Day recipes, check out these fantastic and delicious recipes from some of my fabulous blogging friends!

Celebrate International Bacon Day with 23 delicious bacon recipes from your favorite food bloggers!

Maple Bacon cinnamon rolls from Ashlee Marie
Maple Bacon Waffles from Real Mom Kitchen
Bacon Jam from The Stay at Home Chef
BLT Cobb Salad from Life Made Simple
Smothered Pork Chops with Bacon Crumbles from 365 Days of Crockpot
Bacon Cheese Rolls from Creations by Kara
Bacon Wrapped Meatballs from Butter with a Side of Bread
Bacon Cheese Pastries from Food Crafts and Family
Hot Cheesy Kale and Bacon Dip from Real Mom Kitchen
French Toast and Bacon Soft Pretzels from The Stay at Home Chef
Bacon Cheese Ball from Creations by Kara
BBQ Chicken Bacon Pineapple Kabobs from Butter with a Side of Bread
Maple Bacon Cheesecake from Ashlee Marie
Brown Sugar Bacon Wrapped Chicken from Yummy Healthy Easy

and more delicious bacon recipes from The Baker Upstairs:


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