The Baker Upstairs: September 2012


individual apple crisp


Does anyone else wait until the kids are in bed to make dessert? Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it, but it's so nice to be able to savor every bite without a little person screaming at me for more sugar! We're trying (as always) to make better choices with our food lately, and this dessert fits the bill perfectly. It's generally healthy (hey, you're eating a whole apple!), it comes together incredibly quickly (less than 10 minutes, tops), and it's totally delicious! The best part? You can make an individual serving! Which means I don't find myself continuously scooping cold spoonfuls out of the fridge and eating way more dessert than I should. I usually double the recipe and make one for me and one for Geoff, and it has become one of our favorite fall evening traditions. Yum!

The original recipe calls for adding a teaspoon of toffee bits to the topping, which I'm sure would be amazing. However, I haven't actually purchased any toffee bits yet, so I can't say for sure! Also, I bake them in our convection toaster oven, and it's perfect! It only takes 7-8 minutes, and I don't have to heat the whole oven just for two tiny desserts.
Individual Apple Crisp
adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

1 small apple
1/2 teaspoon flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon old fashioned oats
1 1/2 teaspoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cold butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel then chop apple into small, 1/4″ cubes. Toss with flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, then pour into a non-stick sprayed, individual-sized baking dish.

In the same bowl combine brown sugar, oats, and flour. Smush with your fingers until butter is well distributed among the ingredients. Top apples with the mixture and bake for 15 minutes, or until crisp is golden brown.


my favorite pizza to date


So for some reason this year we can't get a single zucchini to grow in our garden. They get to be about 3-4 inches long, and then shrivel and die. It's quite disheartening, as you can imagine. The one thing we're doing really well on, though, is jalapeƱo peppers. I gather about 20 of them per week, and we have them coming out of our ears. We found a great way to use them last week in this pizza! It really wasn't anything all that different from what I've made before, but the addition of fresh jalapeƱos really jazzed up the turkey pepperoni and turkey sausage. I used (as always) my favorite pizza and sauce recipes (listed below) and made a cheese pizza for the kiddos as well. It really doesn't matter how often I make this pizza... we still love it! Viva la pizza night!

Easy Pizza Crust
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 1/4 cup warm water
1 T yeast
1 T honey or sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cups flour

Preheat oven (with baking stone) to 500. Mix together water, yeast, sugar, and salt, then add flour. Knead until smooth. Let dough rest 10-15 minutes, then roll out into two crusts. I usually shape my crusts on the preheated pizza stone (sprinkled with cornmeal) or on a sheet of parchment paper. Add desired toppings, then bake on pizza stone for 8-9 minutes.

Quick Pizza Sauce
Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and blend until desired consistency.


baking powder biscuits


Growing up, we pretty much never had biscuits. Until I was 13 or so, the only biscuits I had ever had were those that came in the exploding package, and so I didn't see what all the fuss was about. Then I discovered a biscuit recipe in one of my mom's cookbooks, and went nuts making biscuits right and left. They weren't perfect by any stretch (I had quite the tendency to mix everything to death) but they opened my eyes to what a good biscuit could be like. A few years ago I found this biscuit recipe and have made it over and over, and it's definitely one of my favorites. However, this morning I stumbled across a new recipe and had to make them immediately. The result? I think my buttermilk biscuits might have a little competition. I used the genius shaping method found at Under the Sycamore, and the biscuits turned out light and flaky and delicious. They're less sweet than the ones I usually make, too, which means that they're a little more versatile. The only changes I made were to use butter instead of shortening (it's my goal to never buy shortening again) and to cut out 15 biscuits instead of twelve (I couldn't find my 2 1/2 inch cutter). So delicious, easy, and quick!
Baking Powder Biscuits
Betty Crocker

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar, if desired
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup milk

Heat oven to 450°F. In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Stir in milk until dough leaves side of bowl (dough will be soft and sticky).

On lightly floured surface, gently roll dough in flour to coat. Knead lightly 10 times. Roll or pat 1/2 inch thick. Cut with floured 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. On ungreased cookie sheet, place biscuits about 1 inch apart for crusty sides, touching for soft sides.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Serve warm.


breakfast quinoa


I've mentioned before that I'm still learning to love quinoa. In theory, I like it... it's healthy and easy to cook and relatively inexpensive. In practice, however, I've had a few bad experiences with it. I think the key to my liking quinoa is to rinse it really well (soak it in water for five minutes and then pour the water off) and to let it cool all the way before I try to eat it. Lately my approach is to cook a little pot of quinoa, and put it in the fridge, then pull it out as needed for breakfasts and lunches. It's great that it's so mild and works with whatever flavors I want to add to it. I'm a girl who likes an obscene amount of brown sugar in my oatmeal, so I of course continued the trend with quinoa, and found it to be tasty. (I'm hoping someday I'll learn to like it without quite so much sugar, but I'm cool with things the way they are for now.)
Breakfast Quinoa

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water

Add quinoa and water to a medium saucepan. Cover and bring the water to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand 5-10 minutes, then fluff with fork.

toppings of your choice:
strawberries or other fruit
almonds or other nuts
brown sugar
soy milk


pumpkin chocolate chip cookies


I'm so excited about fall! It has been a long, record-breakingly hot summer, and I actually get a little excited that I need a jacket to leave the house in the mornings now. And nothing says fall like stuffing your face with as many pumpkin-flavored treats as possible. These really are the perfect pumpkin chocolate chip cookies! Geoff and I stand divided on the icing... I think it's too much (the cookies are plenty sweet by themselves) but Geoff thinks it's awesome. I think that the older I get, the more my sweet tooth disappears. I find myself craving things like bread much more often than I crave sweets. In any case, you may choose for yourself whether to dollop them with frosting or not, but make these awesome cookies!
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

½ cup shortening (I used butter. I'm a rebel.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease cookie sheets. In medium bowl, cream the shortening and sugar. Stir in the pumpkin and vanilla. In separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon; stir into the creamed mixture. Then stir in the chocolate chips. Drop dough onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes in preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool for a minute on cookie sheets before transferring to wire cooling racks.

4 oz cream cheese (1/2 package)
4 T butter
1/2 lb powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
dash of salt

Mix it all together and place a healthy dollop on each cookie. Enjoy!


english muffins


I know! Who makes their own english muffins? Apparently I do! I had several reasons for wanting to make my own muffins. First, they're expensive.... at least when you eat as many of them as we do. Second, I'm all about trying new things and figuring out how to make them from scratch. And finally (and most importantly) Geoff and I had planned to have eggs benedict for dinner, and he forgot to buy english muffins in his afternoon jaunt to the corner store. So really, there was no other option.

The result? I'm so glad I tried it! They worked perfectly for our eggs benedict, and were even delicious just slathered in butter. Although the recipe is a little time consuming (it takes about 3 hours, start to finish) it's mostly hands off, and really easy. Geoff has decided that I should make a batch every friday night, so we can eat them all weekend. The biscuit cutter I used was a little small (the muffins are only 2 1/2 inches in diameter or so) so next time I would use a bigger cutter. I got 12 muffins out of the recipe (again, due to my small-ish cutter) but I think they would be perfectly sized with a yield of 8. I also cooked all of them at the same time on the griddle, which made things easy. Happy breakfasting!

English Muffins
Budget Bytes

1 tsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter
3 cups flour, divided
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cornmeal
non-stick spray

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of warm water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and yeast. Let sit about 5 minutes or until foamy on top. While the yeast/sugar mixture is resting, combine 1.5 cups of the flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir well to evenly distribute the salt. In a second small bowl, combine the milk and butter. Microwave the milk/butter for 30 seconds, stir and microwave again for 30 seconds. Stir the butter until it melts into the warm milk. Pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the flour. Stir until it has combined into a pasty mix. Adding 1/4 cup at a time, stir in more flour until the dough forms a soft, slightly sticky ball that pulls away from the bowl. I added about 3/4 cup to get it to this point.

Sprinkle a little bit of flour onto a clean countertop and coat your hands in flour. Dump the soft ball of dough out of the bowl and knead it for about 5 minutes. Add as little flour as possible to the countertop while kneading. Adding too much flour will yield tough muffins. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl that has been coated in non-stick spray. Lightly spray the top of the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until double in size (about 45 min - 1 hr). Punch the dough down, shape it into another ball, cover the bowl/dough and let rise a second time (45 min - 1 hr or until double).

Punch down the dough again and turn it out onto a well floured countertop. Using a rolling pin, lightly roll the dough until it is about 3/4 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, opened (and cleaned) can, or a large round glass, cut the dough into circles. When you can't cut out any more circles, gently ball the remaining dough, roll again and cut more. It gets more difficult to ball and roll out each time so fit as many circles in the dough as possible before balling it up again. Place the cut dough circles onto a sheet pan that has been liberally covered in cornmeal. Sprinkle more cornmeal on top of the muffins. Cover loosely with a damp towel and let rise, once more, until double in size (another 45 minutes).

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Spray the pan with non-stick spray. Carefully transfer the fluffy, risen muffins to the hot skillet with a spatula. Cook the muffins, in batches, in the skillet until they are golden brown and crispy on each side. Make sure to keep the heat low so that the outside browns slowly, allowing time for the inside to "bake." I cooked mine for about 7 minutes on each side but this will vary from stove top to stove top. Let the muffins cool on a wire rack before attempting to slice open. Toast the split muffins in a toaster, slather with butter and jam then ooze with happiness!


slow cooker pulled chicken sandwiches


Football season is in full swing around here! While we're not actually huge sports fans, we live right next to the University of Utah campus (close enough to hear the stadium on game nights) so we feel like we get caught up in football fever whether we want to or not. This last weekend was the U's huge rivalry game against BYU, and all the excitement surrounding it was enough to get us interested in watching the game. And we needed some great football-watching food to go with it!

These barbecue chicken sandwiches were delicious and juicy. I liked that the barbecue sauce didn't have a bunch of processed foods (except for the ketchup, I suppose) and it was super easy to throw together. Definitely one to make again!
Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 small to medium yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, fresh or frozen
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

Scatter the onions on the bottom of a slow cooker. Place chicken on top of the onions.

In a medium bowl, combine the ketchup, vinegar, mustard, molasses, onion powder, cumin, garlic powder, Tabasco and salt. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the chicken is fork-tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 5-6 hours (add an additional hour if using frozen chicken breasts).

Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and shred the meat. Return it back to the slow cooker, mixing it with the sauce. Serve the chicken hot on whole wheat rolls, if desired.


baked pumpkin pecan donuts with browned butter icing


So I've never actually made browned butter (intentionally) before. I know everyone goes on and on about it, but the descriptions I've heard (nutty? earthy? deep?) never made it sound all that appealing, especially in baked goods. I like butter in my baked goods because it tastes like butter, not because it tastes "nutty." I just wish someone had mentioned that browned butter icing tastes like caramel. Now that description, I can get behind. These donuts were my second run with my donut pan, and they were fantastic! Like fall in a baked good. I kept sneaking fingerfuls of icing while I was waiting for the donuts to cool, and it was amazing. Definitely one to make again (and again and again and again...).
Baked Pumpkin Donuts

1 cup all- purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the topping:

1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1  cup confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons butter
3-4 teaspoons milk

Heat oven to 325 F. Coat doughnut pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt. In a small bowl, whisk pumpkin, sugar, egg, oil and vanilla until smooth. Add milk mixture to flour mixture; whisk until blended & smooth.

Spoon batter into a large resealable plastic bag. Cut of the corner and squeeze batter into prepared doughnut pan about 2/3 full. Bake for 13 minutes, until doughnuts spring back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan on rack 3 minutes, then carefully turn out directly onto rack to cool.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until browned. Pour browned butter into a bowl with confectioner’s sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk until frosting reaches a smooth, glazey consistency. Dip cooled doughnuts into bowl and allow excess frosting to drip back into bowl. Transfer to rack. Top with chopped pecans and serve immediately.


the best sandwich ever


I think I've mentioned before (to anyone who would listen) that I absolutely love a good caprese sandwich. It's like heaven on crusty bread. A few nights ago we had dinner at Caputo's and I had a caprese that was pretty good, but not quite up to my standards. When we visited our favorite bakery (Vosen's) yesterday and I found a lovely looking french baguette, I knew I had to take things into my own hands! The result was the best sandwich I've had in a long, long time. I could seriously eat this every day, forever. I think it was especially good because I used tomatoes and basil from my own garden!
Caprese Sandwich

baguette (or other crusty bread)
1-2 tsp basil pesto (I used the premade pesto from Costco)
1-2 tsp mayonnaise
1 medium tomato, sliced and seeded
fresh mozzarella (Costco even has it pre-sliced now!)
fresh basil
balsamic vinegar (mine is white so it's not super visible)

Combine pesto and mayonnaise, and spread on both sides of baguette. Top with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, then sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Eat and feel fulfilled as the juices drip down your chin. 


chocolate cake donuts


Donuts. We love them. We want to eat them all the time. Every fall we make awesome apple cider donuts with fresh cider, and then gorge ourselves, but I decided it was time to find a way to make donuts more frequently (and preferably without inducing some major artery clogging). I've been tempted by those dumb little donut cookers at Target, but decided to be sensible and instead just buy a donut pan. From there it was pretty easy to find a quick chocolate donut recipe, and within a few hours we were enjoying some caky chocolate donuts! They were very tasty, although not quite the donut texture I was anticipating (they're more like moist cake) but Geoff was nuts for them, so I think it was a donut win!
Chocolate Cake Donuts
The Prepared Pantry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a baked donut pan. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar, vanilla, milk, and melted butter. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture a third at a time, stirring after each addition. Stir until the batter is smooth. Fill the donut cavities 2/3 full of batter. This recipe will make 12 large donuts. Bake for eight minutes. Cool for several minutes in the pan and then remove the donuts with a silicone spatula to completely cool on a rack. For the glaze, mix the water a little at a time into the powdered sugar until it is the desired consistency, adding the vanilla. Glaze the donuts and let the glaze dry while the donuts are sitting on a rack.


sesame noodles with peanut sauce


I'm a sucker for a quick dinner, and I'm especially loving asian noodle dishes lately, so this one was right up my alley! Everyone loved it, and it was quick and easy. I still think these thai peanut noodles from Our Best Bites are our very favorite, but it was fun to try something a little different. I left out the chicken and thought it was a great meal without it.
Sesame Noodles with Peanut Sauce
Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
Hot water
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon salt
12 ounces dried spaghetti noodles
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 scallions (green onions), sliced thin on diagonal
1 medium carrot, grated

Toast sesame seeds in medium skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon sesame seeds in small bowl. In blender or food processor, puree remaining 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, peanut butter, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, and sugar until smooth, about 30 seconds. With machine running, add hot water 1 tablespoon (for a total of about 5 tablespoons, give or take) at a time until sauce has consistency of heavy cream, slightly thickened but purable. Set blender jar or workbowl aside.

 Bring 6 quarts water to boil in stockpot over high heat. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to 6 inches from broiler element; heat broiler. Spray broiler pan or rimmed baking sheet lined with foil with cooking spray; place chicken breasts on top and broil chicken until lightly browned, 4 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken over and continue to broil until thickest part is no longer pink when cut into and registers about 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Using 2 forks, shred chicken into bite-size pieces and set aside. Add salt and noodles to boiling water; boil noodles until tender, about 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain then toss noodles with sesame oil until evenly coated. Add shredded chicken, scallions, carrot, and sauce; toss to combine. Divide among individual bowls, sprinkle each bowl with portion of reserved toasted sesame seeds, and serve immediately.


french bread


I realized this week that I've never shared my favorite french bread recipe on the blog, which is a shame because it's so perfect and tasty! Tonight we're having spinach quiche (and I'm even attempting a homemade crust a la these pasties), and I decided some french bread would be perfect to accompany it, so here we are.

Although the recipe isn't as hands off as most of my bread recipes, it's super easy (I just set the timer on the microwave to remind myself to come in at 10 minute intervals) and achieves consistently great results. Seriously, it looks as good as store-bought bread, and tastes much better. Delicious! I'm going to spend the evening slathering thick pieces of bread in the tasty homemade peach jam I made earlier this week...

French Bread
Mel's Kitchen Cafe

2 1/4 c warm water
2 T sugar
1 T yeast
1 T salt
2 T oil
5 1/2 - 6 cups flour

Dissolve sugar and yeast in the warm water. Then add salt, oil and 3 cups of flour and beat well. Add in 2 1/2 -3 more cups of flour. The dough should clean off the sides of the bowl and not be too sticky – but be careful not to add too much flour. Knead for a few minutes. Leave the dough in the mixer to rest for 10 minutes and then stir it down (turn on your mixer for 10 seconds) and then allow to rest another 10 minutes. Repeat for a total of 5 times. Then turn dough onto a floured surface and divide into two equal parts. Roll each part into a 9×13 rectangle. Roll dough up, starting from long edge of loaf to seal. Arrange seam side down on large baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with corn meal, allowing room for both loaves. Repeat with second part of dough. With a sharp knife, cut 3 gashes at an angle on the top of each. Cover lightly; allow to rise 30 minutes. Brush entire surface with egg wash (one egg beaten slightly with 1 Tbsp of water). If desired, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

You can see that I'm such a rebel that I cut four slashes into the top of my loaves instead of three (I walk on the wild side). Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly!