The Baker Upstairs: April 2012


oatmeal whoopie pies


I'm kind of a whoopie pie novice, still trying to figure out the correct ratio of cookie to filling. I think I may have overdone it a bit with these whoopie pies, but that doesn't mean they weren't tasty! I made them for my best friend's little girl's birthday party this weekend, and they were a hit! The cookies themselves were delicious, and I can never get enough of that awesome flour-based frosting. I'm not sure that oatmeal cookies are my favorite for whoopie pies, though, because they're a little too crunchy. I like my whoopie pie soft all the way through. These did taste a lot like my favorite trashy snack, oatmeal cream pies, so that was a big point in their favor too.

Oatmeal Whoopie Pies
The Pioneer Woman

2 cups Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Butter, Softened
1/4 cup Shortening (Crisco)
2 whole Eggs
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
3 Tablespoons Boiling Water
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
2-1/2 cups Flour
2 cups Quick Oats

5 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
1 cup Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 cup Butter
1 cup Granulated Sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream brown sugar, butter, and shortening. Add eggs and mix. Add salt, cinnamon, and baking powder and mix. Mix baking soda and boiling water, then add to the bowl and mix. Add flour and oatmeal and mix well.

Scoop dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheets so that you have rounded heaping teaspoons. Bake for 10 minutes, being careful not to burn. Remove from oven, transfer to a cooling rack, and let the cookies cool completely.

To make the filling, in a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it's very thick. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. Stir in vanilla. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. You don’t want any sugar graininess left. Then add the completely cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat the living daylights out of it. If it looks separated, you haven’t beaten it enough! Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream. Scoop a small amount onto cookies, pressing a second cookie on top.


comfort food


My four year old had her tonsils out this week, and life since has been a haze of popsicles, ice cream, and My Little Pony on infinite repeat. I've been trying to think of foods that are reasonably nutritious and easy to eat, and this macaroni and cheese is always a favorite for the whole family. I especially like it because it's so quick that I can get it on the table in about fifteen minutes. That's really helpful when I've got a one year old pulling on my leg and a four year old screaming for more popsicles.

Easy Peasy Mac and Cheesy

6-8 ounces pasta of your choice (we like farfalle the best)
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 - 1 1/2 cups milk (depending on how saucy you like it)
1/2 tsp chicken base
1/2 - 1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 - 1 cup grated cheese (we like cheddar, pepper jack, or colby jack)

Cook pasta according to package directions. While it's boiling, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in flour and allow to cook a few minutes, or until lightly browned. Add milk and whisk until there are no lumps. Add chicken base, salt, and pepper, and cook until sauce has thickened and is almost at a simmer. Remove from heat and add cheese, whisk to combine. By now your pasta should be done, so add it to the saucepan and give everything a good stir.

When I posted a similar recipe before, I mentioned that Abby likes tuna and peas in her mac and cheese. At the suggestion of my nephew, who is crazy about bacon, Geoff and I tried some crumbled bacon in it, and it was pretty awesome. I love that it's so versatile and easy to add whatever strikes your fancy!


slow cooker lasagna


I'll admit that I was pretty skeptical of this method of cooking lasagna, but it turned out to be the best lasagna I have ever made, by far. The texture was perfect, the lasagna held itself together well and was easy to serve, and it tasted like Italian heaven. I didn't have any mozzarella (shocking, I know!) so I used cheddar instead, and it was delicious. I used my homemade ricotta (from a few posts ago) and it made it extra creamy and wonderful. I also did three layers of noodles instead of two, as the recipe suggested. We served it with some sautéed zucchini and garlic parmesan breadsticks, and it was a perfect dinner. I can't wait to try it with alfredo sauce and chicken!

Slow Cooker Lasagna
The Girl Who Ate Everything via Tablespoon

1 pound (16 ounces) ground beef
1/2 cup diced white onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (24 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup water
1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 whole egg
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons dried parsley
6 uncooked lasagna noodles

In a large skillet brown beef and onion. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Drain. Add spaghetti sauce and water and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Mix ricotta, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, 2 Tablespoons Parmesan, egg and parsley.

Pour 1 cup of spaghetti meat sauce into a 4 to 6 quart sized slow cooker. Place half of the noodles and half of the ricotta mixture on top of the sauce. Cover with 2 cups meat sauce. Top with remaining noodles (If the noodles don't fit exactly break them to fit) and cheese mixture and meat sauce.

Cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or until noodles are soft. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella and remaining parmesan. Cover with the lid to melt the cheese and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Do not overcook and don't try to speed up the process by cooking it on high.

easy homemade spaghetti sauce


One of my goals this year is to make as many things from scratch as I can, and I seem to speeding right along with it. So far I've conquered bagels, ricotta, yogurt, tortillas, refried beans, and cupcakes (among others that I have probably forgotten at the moment). I'm finding more and more that it's much more satisfying to make things myself, and to know what's in everything I'm serving to my family. All that being said, though, I've never been all that interested in making my own spaghetti sauce. My mom always made her own spaghetti sauce when I was growing up (a few cans of plain tomato sauce with a little garlic and italian seasoning thrown in) and as a consequence, I hated spaghetti for years. (I should add at this point that my mom is a great cook and has since improved her spaghetti technique). When I married Geoff and discovered the wonders of jarred spaghetti sauce (texture AND flavor? what?) I was pretty determined to just keep using that forever. I've made sauce from scratch a few times, but it never seemed worth the effort and the hours spent simmering.

And then yesterday I was all set to make lasagna in the crockpot, and realized that I didn't have any spaghetti sauce in the house. And since I was getting over a sinus infection, trying to wrangle two energetic little girls, and still wearing my pajamas, going to the store was out. I came up with this quick and easy sauce, using what I already had, and it was incredibly delicious. Abby and I had it on some linguine noodles for lunch, and the lasagna we had for dinner was amazing. Yum! I think this recipe might be enough to convince me to make my own spaghetti sauce from here on out.

Spaghetti Sauce

1 lb. ground meat (I used turkey, as usual)
1 medium onion
1-2 T fresh crushed garlic
2 14 oz cans diced tomatoes
1/2 6 oz can tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder (my fresh garlic wasn't flavorful enough on its own)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 T sugar (more or less to taste)
pepper to taste

Brown ground meat with onion and garlic, then add tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasonings. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and let simmer 20-30 minutes, or until sauce has thickened slightly. Check seasonings and adjust as desired.


homemade ricotta


Yes, I am so amazing that I make my own cheese now. There's something totally magical about turning milk into cheese. Since cheese is one of my favorite foods, it feels a little like turning straw into gold. I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen (she is totally my cooking hero) and it turned out perfectly. This was actually my second time making it... the first time I used a cup of cream to 3 cups whole milk, and it was a little rich for me, but this time I used 1/2 cup of cream to 3 1/2 cups milk, and it was perfect. I also doubled the recipe, because I needed more cheese to stuff in my face.

Because I am weird and don't like cheesecloth (it's expensive and coarse and single-use) I googled around and found that I could use an old t-shirt to do the job, and it worked perfectly! I think it's way better than the cheesecloth, because none of the cheese gets caught in the t-shirt. Here's my ghetto setup:

T-shirt, colander, large pot for catching whey. Perfect.

While I was heating the milk, my tiny kitchen assistant came in and demanded that I give her measuring spoons to play with. Who am I to resist those cheeks?

When the mixture was finally ready, I filled the colander and let it start draining. That's a hot pot of yum, right there.

About an hour later, most of the whey had drained out, and I was left with this:

Delicious, rich ricotta! It needs a little while to firm up in the fridge, and then it's perfect for anything you would use ricotta in (I made ricotta cookies with my last batch, and they were to die for). The texture is sort of halfway between ricotta and cream cheese, and I think it's delicious just to smear it on bread and drizzle it with honey. Good stuff!

As far as what's left over, when I doubled the recipe I got a little more than 2 cups of ricotta, and about 4 1/2 cups of whey. I turned again to my trusty friend google, and found that you can use whey in any bread recipe in place of the water, to improve the texture and add a little protein. I threw some in the pizza crust I made later that day, and it turned out well!

I totally feel like a prairie homesteader, having made my own cheese!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Smitten Kitchen

3 - 3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 - 1 cup heavy cream (depending on your preference)
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190°F, stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. (It will firm as it cools, so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth.) Discard the whey, or, if you’re one of those crafty people who use it for other things, of course, save it. Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.