The Baker Upstairs: January 2013


magnolia bakery vanilla vanilla cupcakes


Okay, I was going to at least pretend to feel bad about posting so many treats and baked goods lately, instead of healthy dinner recipes, but then I talked to my mom last night. And she suggested to me that my recent name change (from Last Night's Dinner to The Baker Upstairs) kind of gives me a license to post about treats all the time! I'm still planning to post about dinner recipes, of course, but like I said a few weeks ago, we have just been eating boring, basic, non blog-worthy meals lately. And it's especially hard in the winter, because I pretty much have to cook dinner in the morning in order to get a good picture of it in natural light. Unfortunately, I'm not really that into eating dinner at 10 a.m...

Anyway, on to the cupcakes! You all seem to like treats best, anyway, if my most popular recipes are any indication. :) I'm still on the hunt for the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe. It seems like chocolate cupcakes are relatively easy to make, but vanilla cupcakes are trickier. I do really love these margarita cupcakes, but the last time I tried them I had a total cupcake fail (I actually have those quite frequently... like every other time I make cupcakes). So I was looking for a new recipe to try, and I happened upon this one from Food Network. I'll confess that I've never been to Magnolia Bakery, so I can't say for sure that these are exactly the same, but they were totally delicious!

I will say that the frosting was a bit sweet for me. I think next time I'll add a little splash of cream, because that usually seems to help lighten things up (density-wise, not calorically!). I only needed about five cups of powdered sugar, but it sounds like the amount needed can vary a lot. Just start with the minimum and add more as needed! Also, the recipe originally suggested baking for 20-25 minutes, but mine were almost overdone at 20 minutes. So it's probably a good idea to keep a close eye on them!
Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes
adapted from Food Network


2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk (I used whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Vanilla Buttercream:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


strawberry cream cheese bread


This bread is to. die. for. If you've never baked with fresh strawberries before, you are totally missing out! When mixed into a bread or cake, they turn into soft little pockets of sweet and tangy strawberry jam. I've already shared my favorite strawberry summer cake recipe, which I make all the time, but this bread is a tough competitor for my favorite fresh strawberry recipe. It's super simple and easy to make, it tastes amazing, and the texture is perfectly moist while still feeling light. I followed the recipe pretty closely, except that I added closer to two cups of chopped strawberries. I also baked it in four mini loaf pans instead of a full size loaf pan. I shared some with my neighbor yesterday, and she dubbed it life changing! Make it today, so it can change your life too!
Strawberry Cream Cheese Bread
My Baking Addiction

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups strawberries, rinsed, dried and chopped

Grease and flour a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and cream cheese until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend flour mixture with butter mixture just until blended. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined; do not over mix. Carefully fold in strawberries. Dough mixture will be thick. Bake in a 350°F oven for 50 to 60 minutes.


skinny strawberry smoothie


So... I don't know about you, but I love a good smoothie! I try to make smoothies at least weekly (and even more during the summer when we're just dripping with fresh fruit). My girls love them, and if I'm super sneaky sometimes I can even get them to eat vegetables they don't usually like if they're all blended up in a smoothie! I'm always on the lookout for fun new recipes, and when I saw this one on Pinterest, I tried it right away. I love how simple it is, and it is incredibly tasty! We usually have a pitcher of Crystal Light in the fridge anyway, so it's super simple to take some fruit out of the freezer and whip up a smoothie any time. The texture is a little different than the smoothies I usually make, sort of halfway between a slushie and a smoothie, but it's delicious and refreshing. It got the thumbs up from everyone in my family, so it's a definite smoothie win!
Skinny Strawberry Smoothie
adapted from Something Swanky

2 cups frozen strawberries (or any other fruit that sounds good!)
1 cup prepared Crystal light (I used kiwi strawberry flavor, and it was fab)

Blend together until well blended, and enjoy!


banana bread muffins


What is this, banana week? Okay, I know I should probably space the banana posts out further for all you banana haters out there... although I don't really understand how anyone can hate the mildest fruit that ever lived. But these muffins just can't wait! They're too delicious not to share. And they're not as banana-y as some banana bread I've had. They're more like a light, almost caky muffin, with a hint of delicious banana flavor. I do really like my usual banana bread recipe, but I think I like this one even better!
Banana Bread Muffins
adapted from The Recipe Critic

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
3 cups flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed banana (about 2-3)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 18 muffin cups by spraying with cooking spray or using paper liners. Mix sugar, butter, and egg thoroughly. Stir in milk. Mix in the flour, baking powder, and salt, then blend in the mashed bananas. The batter should still be a little lumpy, so be careful not to overmix.   Scoop into muffin cups, filling 2/3 full. Bake for 18-25 minutes, and remove when a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.


creamy tomato soup and toasted cheese


When my husband Geoff and I first met (11 years ago!) we were both poor college students. Geoff was vegetarian (which is funny to me now, considering how much he loves a good Double Double from In n Out) and his favorite food was tomato soup. From the can. I can't even tell you how many times he made tomato soup for me when we were first dating... we'd eat it in the tiny room he rented and watch crazy foreign movies. I've never been a huge fan of the canned soups, but especially now that we have kids, we've tried to cut out processed foods wherever possible. I do have a good slow cooker tomato basil soup that we really like, but I was hoping to find a quick and easy recipe that would approximate the taste of Geoff's favorite canned soup while still being reasonably healthy and delicious. And this is it! The soup is creamy and flavorful, with a perfectly balanced texture. And the best part is that it's so quick and easy to make! It really doesn't take much longer than opening a can of condensed soup. Add my favorite toasted cheese on the side, and you can have a delicious dinner on the table in about twenty minutes!
Creamy Tomato Soup
adapted from Chef in Training

4 tablespoons butter
2 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk (I used skim, and it worked great)
2 1/2 Tbsp. chicken base
2 (14 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
2 cups tomato puree
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
milk if needed to thin to desired consistency

Melt butter in saucepan. Once melted add garlic and sauté for a minute or two. Stir in flour and make a roux. Once roux is formed, slowly pour in milk, stirring as you pour. Stir consistently until it begins to thicken. Stir in chicken base, diced tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar, basil, pepper and salt. Stir until heated through. If needed add milk to soup to thin to desired consistency.

Toasted Cheese
adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking

2 slices bread (I used this honey wheat bread)
1 egg
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Place bread slices on a baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk egg until blended. Add cheese, mustard, and salt and pepper, and mix until combined. Spread egg/cheese mixture on each slice of bread, and bake 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling.


banana cream pudding cookies


Pudding cookies! I've been looking forward to making another batch since my pumpkin chocolate chip pudding cookies a month or so ago. My littles love anything banana flavored, so I thought banana cream cookies would be a fun twist. Turns out I was right! The banana flavor from the pudding was tasty without being overpowering. And in combination with the creamy white chocolate chips, it made for a perfectly moist delicious cookie. Yum!
Banana Cream Pudding Cookies
adapted from Chef in Training

1 1/2 sticks (or 3/4 cup) butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 (3.4 oz) package instant banana cream pudding
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2-1/4 cups flour
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir together flour and baking soda and set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together. Add in pudding package and beat until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture slowly until well incorporated. Add chocolate chips. Roll into 1″ balls and place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for 8-12 minutes.


honey wheat sandwich bread with orange vanilla honey butter


I'm not even joking when I say that I dreamed about this bread. I kind of wish I was joking, because then I would sound less crazy. Does anyone else literally dream about food? Anyway, a few nights ago I had a dream that I was eating the most glorious soft wheat bread, smothered with orange flavored honey butter. And it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted! I woke up and told Geoff about my dream, and asked what he thought it meant. He said, "Um, duh... that you should make wheat bread with honey butter." And so I did!

I've struggled for a long time to find a wheat bread recipe that my family likes, that's easy to make, and that doesn't have any weird ingredients (you know, like wheat germ or xanthan gum). I know my family won't tolerate 100% whole wheat, so I've tried to find a good 50/50 recipe that had some of the goodness of whole wheat bread while still maintaining the softness of white bread. And this recipe is it! It is perfectly soft and smooth, but holds together well enough to make great sandwiches. And it makes three good-sized loaves, which means I can put the extras in the freezer and always have yummy homemade bread on hand.

I read somewhere that honey butter is kind of a Utah thing, and I don't know if that's true. If it is, it shouldn't be. Honey butter is just marvelous, in my opinion! And the addition of orange zest and vanilla... holy amazing. Make it! Now! That's all I can say.
Honey Wheat Sandwich Bread
adapted from Kitchen Simplicity

3 cups warm water
2 (.25 oz) packages active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
5 cups bread flour (I used all purpose)

3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
3+ cups whole wheat flour

after it’s baked:
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Mix together warm water, yeast, and honey. stir in the white bread flour until evenly combined. Let sit for 30 minutes, until risen and bubbly. Mix the melted butter, remaining honey, and salt into the sponge. Stir in 2 cups of whole wheat flour. Knead in enough flour until the dough is smooth and tacky but not overly sticky. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, place the dough in the bowl and spray the top of the dough with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double (about 1 hour). Once risen, punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal loaves. Place each into a greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, and allow to rise until the dough has topped the pans by one inch (about an hour).

Bake at 350º F for 25 minutes or until lightly browned and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Brush the tops of the loaves with 1 tablespoons melted butter to prevent the crust from getting hard. Let cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Let cool completely before storing in plastic bags.

Orange Vanilla Honey Butter

1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest (I used a clementine because that's all I had)

Add all ingredients to a small bowl, and whisk until combined. Store in refrigerator.


buffalo & bleu cheese turkey sliders


Okay, I'm going to confess: I'm not actually a big football fan. Not at all. But I love football food enough that I'll watch a game here and there just to have the opportunity to make it! (Ridiculous, I know). Granted, it's not always the healthiest food in the world, but there are so many delicious options! For example, check out my pretzel bites or stuffed cheese buns. These turkey sliders are pretty darn awesome too! I've been seeing marinara meatball sliders all over Pinterest lately, and I thought, "Why not try buffalo sauce instead?" The result was a moist, juicy ground turkey meatball with just a little kick, smothered in bleu cheese dressing, and served on a soft pretzel roll. I made my own rolls using this recipe and splitting the dough into 18 pieces instead of 12, but please feel free to buy pretzel rolls (or any other small rolls) from the store if you choose. These sliders would be perfect for the Super Bowl, or really any time you want a delicious snack!
Buffalo & Bleu Cheese Turkey Sliders

1 pound ground turkey
1/2 cup buffalo sauce, divided (I used Frank's)
1/2 cup bleu cheese dressing, divided (I used Brianna's, but I think it would be great with something creamier, like Litehouse)
1/2 medium onion, diced finely
12 pretzel rolls
romaine lettuce

Preheat oven to 375. In a medium bowl, mix ground turkey, 1/4 cup buffalo sauce, 1/4 bleu cheese dressing, and onion until well combined. Shape into 12 balls and place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Toss warm meatballs with remaining buffalo sauce. To assemble sandwiches, slice each pretzel roll open, top with lettuce, add a meatball, and drizzle some of the remaining bleu cheese dressing over the top. Enjoy!


luscious vanilla custard


This custard is another one of those things I never thought I could make at home. I love a good store-bought pudding (Kozy Shack and I are pretty good friends by now...) but I feel like they never have quite the taste or texture I'm looking for. This custard, though... it's rich and decadent while still feeling light and silky. The vanilla flavor is lovely, and it's not overpoweringly sweet. A little goes a long way, so I ended up with about eight servings from the recipe. It's a perfect pairing with the angel food cupcakes I posted earlier this week. Not only do the two textures and flavors blend well together, but together they use up six whole eggs. In my mind, the two combined make the perfect dessert!
Vanilla Custard
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a small saucepan or in the microwave, heat the milk until warm, then set aside. In the bottom of a small saucepan, off the heat, beat or whisk the egg yolks and sugar together vigorously, until it pales in color and a ribbon of batter falls off your whisk when you lift it from the bowl. Whisk in the flour until fully incorporated. Whisking the whole time, drizzle the warm milk into the egg yolk mixture, starting with just a small amount. Once you’ve added about 1/4 of the milk, add the rest in a thin stream, whisking constantly.

Bring the saucepan to your stove and heat it over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it begins to bubble. Once bubbling, whisk it for 1 to 2 more minutes, then remove it from the heat. Immediately stir in vanilla extract and butter until combined.

To cool the custard quickly, place the saucepan in a larger bowl of ice water that will go halfway up the sides of the saucepan and stir the custard until lukewarm, then divide among serving dishes or ramekins. You can also pour it into serving dishes or ramekins still hot, but you should then press a film of plastic wrap against each custard in the fridge so it doesn’t form a pudding skin. Custards keep in fridge for up to 4 days.


chicken & veggie pizza


I thought I had perfected the art of pizza making with this recipe, but I was wrong! As much as I love my tried and true, super easy pizza recipe, this one just blows it out of the water. The dough is exactly the way I like it... chewy and crispy, thick enough to get a good bite and hold a bunch of toppings, but thin enough that it doesn't overpower the pizza. I'm kind of just amazed that I could even make a pizza this good... it's better than any pizza we've ordered before, that's for sure! While I'm sure the crust would taste good with pretty much anything on it, I really loved this chicken/veggie combo. Geoff and I disagree over whether or not zucchini and summer squash belong on pizza, but he'll tolerate it as long as I slice it super thin. I'm kind of digging the olive oil/garlic approach instead of the more traditional marinara lately, especially because it makes for a lighter-feeling pizza. I can't wait to try this crust again and again with all the toppings I can think of!

The crust recipe makes enough for two pizzas, so you can choose what to do with the other half. I like to use it to make these breadtwists, but you could also throw it in the freezer for another day. (Or if your kids are picky like my little Abby, you could make a plain cheese pizza just for them so they won't have to touch your icky vegetables.)
Chicken and Veggie Pizza

1½ cups warm water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. yeast
3½ cups flour
1 tsp salt

1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 small zucchini, sliced thin
1/2 small yellow squash, sliced thin
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
1/2 roma tomato, diced
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

Preheat a baking stone (or an overturned baking sheet) in the oven to 500. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large mixing bowl, combine warm water, sugar and yeast, and let sit for five minutes, until the yeast is bubbly. Add the flour and salt, and mix until a smooth dough forms. Let rise for 10 minutes.

Divide dough in half. On a sheet of parchment paper dusted with cornmeal, roll one half out into a large circle. Spread with olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic. Top with mozzarella, vegetables, and chicken, then sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top. Using a pizza peel or a large cutting board, transfer the pizza to the baking stone or cookie sheet. Bake 8-9 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and crust is lightly browned. Remove carefully and let cool for a few minutes before slicing.


Almond Joy Cookie Bars

These almond joy cookie bars are loaded with coconut, chocolate chips, and almonds, all packed into a soft and buttery cookie base. So delicious!

These almond joy cookie bars are loaded with coconut, chocolate chips, and almonds, all packed into a soft and buttery cookie base. So delicious!

I made these for a movie night we had a few days ago with Abby, and they were so good! We watched A Little Princess (one of my favorite movies as a child) and I don't know which Abby was more excited about: the movie, or these cookie bars. They're based off my favorite cookie recipe, that I make all the time, but I think this variation might be my favorite. The coconut and almond made them extra special and delicious! Plus I love the simplicity of bar cookies... they bake all at once, and you don't have to shape the individual cookies. Perfect for a lazy, er, busy mom like me!
Almond Joy Cookie Bars
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

2 1/8 cups (10 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1/2 (3 1/2 ounces) cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup shredded coconut, divided
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to lower-middle position. Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside. Whisk the melted butter and sugars in a large bowl until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and almond extract, and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in 3/4 cup of shredded coconut and the chocolate chips and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula. Sprinkle with remaining coconut.

Bake until the top of the bars is light golden brown, slightly firm to the touch, and edges start pulling away from sides of pan, 24-28 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature (although I can never wait that long and like mine gooey and soft). Cut into 2 inch squares and serve.


quick ham & pea skillet dinner


So when I was looking through my photos and trying to choose what to post this week, I kept coming across dessert recipes. I think I have about two weeks worth of dessert posts saved up! And it's not actually that all we eat is desserts... okay, we do eat a fair amount of desserts. But really the problem is that our dinners lately have been so simple and easy that they're not really blog worthy. For example, we have tacos embarrassingly often, because they're so easy and quick and we love them. Or we have cheese sandwiches, or pancakes, or cereal. Or our favorite dinner lately, "hodge podge," which means that we each grab whatever's appealing in the fridge and eat it. I always end up with totally random combinations like mashed potatoes, fruit salad, and avocados. I'm just finishing up my training period at work, so I've been working extra hours, and I'm still trying to get on track with balancing work and life and blogging and everything else I care about. In any case, this was a dinner that was perfect for us! I had everything I needed in the house already (except the red pepper... next time I'll add it for sure!) and it came together really quickly. Best of all, it was yummy!
Quick Ham & Pea Skillet Dinner
adapted slightly from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 pound small tube or shell pasta (I used campanelle)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups fully cooked ham, diced (I used smoked turkey...yum!)
1 large sweet red pepper, diced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 cups chicken broth or chicken stock
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to al dente, following package directions. While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat until butter is melted. Add pepper, onion, and garlic and cook until vegetables are tender, about 4-6 minutes. Add ham, basil and oregano and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 2-3 minutes. Stir in broth (or stock) and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Stir drained pasta and frozen peas into ham and vegetable mixture. Add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and toss. Sprinkle parsley and remaining parmesan cheese over the top of the pasta. Serve immediately.


angel food cupcakes


It was my mom's birthday last week, and she had two simple requests for us: first, that all of her children (my four siblings and I) would come to her house for dinner, and second, that she wouldn't have to cook that dinner herself. My older brother organized things and assigned everyone to bring something. My younger sister and her husband made an amazing lasagna, my younger brother brought drinks, my littlest sister brought hummus, and I brought a chicken veggie pizza (which I'll share with you this week) and these angel food cupcakes. My mom has always loved angel food, but I don't have a tube pan, so cupcakes were the way to go. It was my first time making any sort of angel food, and it turned out great! I love the combination of light, airy cake with sweet whipped cream. And using the Kitchenaid made the whole process incredibly fast (you don't even want to know how long it took me to beat the egg whites for this lemon pudding by hand... I thought my arm was going to fall off!). I have to admit, I was a little intimidated by angel food cake, but these were easy to make, and turned out perfect!
Angel Food Cupcakes
adapted from It Bakes Me Happy

1/2 c + 2 Tbs flour
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2c granulated sugar
6 egg whites
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

1 c heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 Tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350º and prepare 2 cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, combine the flour and sugars, set aside. In the bowl of your stand mixer whip the egg whites for one minute, until frothy. Add the cream of tartar, vanilla and salt, and whip for 5-6 minutes until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle 1/4 c of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and fold in gently, repeating until all the flour is incorporated. Spoon the batter into the paper liners and bake for 15-17 minutes, until lightly golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pans. Freeze the bowl and whipping attachment of your stand mixer for 10-15 minutes. Add the heavy whipping cream, vanilla and sugar to the bowl and whip for 3-4 minutes, until light and airy. Frost the cupcakes, and refrigerate leftover frosting immediately.


irish lemon pudding


Several years ago, my sister in law let me borrow the most amazing cookbook. It's called Irish Traditional Cooking, and I immediately fell in love with it. When I eventually had to give the book back, I ordered my own copy asap. I can honestly say that I have loved every recipe I have made from it! Now, to be fair, there are plenty of recipes that I have not tried (and almost certainly will never try). Things like offal and cockles just don't appeal to me that much. :) My favorite recipes so far, though, have been the breads and desserts.

I made this lemon pudding for the first time for St. Patrick's Day in 2008, and I've made it many times since. It's pretty much just delightful in every way. As it bakes, the pudding separates into two layers... a dense, almost caky layer on the top, and a luscious pudding layer on the bottom. I love the mixture of creamy sweetness and lemony tartness. And adding a touch of fresh whipped cream takes it to an amazing new level. I love that it starts with such basic, straightforward ingredients, and becomes such an elegant, decadent dessert. And best of all, it's really easy to make! Try it, and you'll love it as much as I do!
Irish Lemon Pudding
adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup flour
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar well. Add the egg yolks one by one, then add the flour. Add the lemon zest and juice, followed by the milk, and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold gently into the lemon mixture until incorporated. Pour into a 8-9 inch pie pan or cake pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until very lightly browned and set. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm with freshly whipped cream.

Note: I like to double the recipe and bake it in a 9 inch springform pan (with a baking sheet underneath, just in case of any drips). I like thicker layers of pudding, and I think it makes for a prettier presentation.


creamy sweet potato soup


I'll be honest with you... this soup was a total accident. But a wonderful accident, nonetheless! I was all set to throw together a quick meal of cream of broccoli soup and breadtwists. I started sautéing my onions, and pulled the broccoli out of the fridge, only to realize that it was a soggy, gross mess. Frantically I looked around the kitchen for another vegetable to add to the soup in its place, and the only thing I had on hand was sweet potatoes. I threw them in and hoped for the best, and the result was a creamy, luscious, delicious soup!
Creamy Sweet Potato Soup

2 T butter
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
3 cups chicken broth (I used homemade turkey broth, and it was fab)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup cream

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until onion is translucent. Add chicken broth and sweet potatoes, and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and let simmer 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Add salt and pepper, and puree using an immersion blender (or a regular blender if you don't have one). Stir in cream, and serve.


pesto chicken salad wraps


Along with our goal of eating better at home, I've been working on packing healthy lunches for the days that I work. Unfortunately, my work is right across the street from both a Wendy's and a McDonalds, and it's all too tempting to just head across the street and pick up something quick. This week, though, I made an effort to choose some healthy lunch options at the grocery store, and I've been eating super well! It's amazing what a difference it makes in my day when I have a healthy, delicious lunch. I have more energy, and it's easier to think clearly. It's an all around win!

I saw a similar wrap on Our Best Bites last week, and was excited to experiment with the idea. I ended up making these wraps for lunch one day at work, and then for dinner at home on another day. Geoff despises tomatoes, so I knew that if I made bruschetta, I would be the only one to eat it. I opted instead to just add tomatoes to my wrap, and leave them out of Geoff's. I also added some avocado, which was delicious in combination with the pesto. This is definitely one that I'll make again!
Pesto Chicken Salad Wraps

1 tablespoon light mayo (I like the kind with olive oil)
1 tablespoon pesto (I used the pre-made pesto from Costco, but I also like this recipe)
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 small tomato, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
2 cups romaine lettuce, shredded
grated parmesan cheese
2 whole wheat or multigrain wraps

Combine mayo and pesto, and toss chicken in pesto mixture until well mixed. On each wrap, layer one cup of romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup chicken salad mixture, tomato slices, and avocado slices. Sprinkle a little parmesan over the top, and roll up. These wraps keep well in the fridge for a few hours (especially if you try to avoid direct contact between the wraps and the tomatoes), so they are perfect for lunches!


crunchy baked fish sticks


Um... so is anyone else trying to eat better in the new year? We really try to eat healthy food most of the time, but sometimes it feels like our diet gets away from us a little bit. I love treats (who doesn't?) but sometimes it's a little more difficult to practice moderation... especially around the holidays! I'm not a big fan of dieting, or placing a lot of restrictions on what I eat, but I know that I feel better when I eat more whole foods and less processed junk. So we're trying to make some changes in the way we eat, and cut out some of those bad habits that have come from being busy and tired and not making great food choices.

Fish and chips are one of Geoff's very favorite foods, but they're not super high on my list of healthy foods. I try to avoid deep-frying things (except my favorite apple cider donuts once each year), so I was excited to find a healthier baked version to try. They were really easy to throw together after work one night, and everyone loved them! Even Abby, my totally picky eater, cleaned her plate (amazing, right?). I used frozen tilapia because it was all I had, but I'm sure they would be even more delicious with fresh fish. I'm planning to make a bigger batch next time, and keep some in the freezer for quick lunches for the girls. These are definitely worth making again!

Oh, and as far as the tartar sauce... well, I know it's not the healthiest food in the world. But Geoff absolutely loves it. We were going through bottles of tartar sauce like crazy, and one day we had run out. Geoff googled it and found out that tartar sauce is basically just mayonnaise and relish, so we've been making our own ever since. If used moderately, it's probably not too bad for you. And it's quite tasty too!
Crunchy Baked Fish Sticks
Lauren's Latest

1 1/5 lbs. fresh tilapia filets {or other white fish such as cod}
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs
splash of milk
1 3/4 teaspoons creole seasoning, divided
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and set aside. Create a dredging station by placing flour in one shallow bowl, eggs, milk and 1/4 teaspoon creole seasoning in a second shallow bowl and panko and remaining creole seasoning in third bowl. Whisk eggs and milk to combine. Stir panko with seasonings. Cut tilapia filets into strips and dredge in flour, then egg mixture, then panko. Place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces of fish. Bake 12-15 minutes depending on how thick your fish is. Fish is completely cooked when opaque and flakes easily. Remove and set aside.

Easy Tartar Sauce

1/4 cup mayonnaise (I like to use the light mayo with olive oil)
1 tablespoon relish
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
fresh herbs (dill, parsley, etc.) - optional

Combine all ingredients and mix until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.