The Baker Upstairs: April 2013


simple focaccia bread


I'm always really excited to learn how to make new kinds of bread. I've tried so many different bread recipes... white bread, wheat bread, french bread, baguettes, biscuits, tortillas, bagels, etc. And guess what? I love all of them. Well, now we can add focaccia bread to the list! I have wanted to make focaccia for a long time, but a lot of the recipes I've found have been too time-consuming or complicated. Not that it's never worth it to invest the time and energy in a complicated recipe, but I wanted something easier and simpler that I could make on a weeknight. And this recipe is perfect! Start to finish, it took a little over an hour, and it tasted great. Seriously, the smell of the olive oil, garlic, and basil cooking together on the stove was heavenly. Even picky Abby came into the kitchen and asked what that amazing smell was! This bread is the perfect side for an Italian meal... I think it would be awesome alongside a pasta dish, or an Italian soup. Yum! And stay tuned tomorrow for another great recipe using this focaccia bread!

Simple Focaccia Bread
adapted from Inspired Taste

1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 envelope)
1/4 teaspoon honey
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

In a medium saucepan, combine olive oil, garlic, basil, and pepper. Turn heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until aromatic. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and honey. Stir to combine, and let sit five minutes, or until bubbly. Mix in 1 cup flour and 1/4 cup of the olive oil mixture. Stir to combine and let sit another five minutes. Mix in remaining flour and salt until a soft dough forms. Knead gently a few times until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise about one hour. (To make things quicker, I preheated the oven for one minute, turned it off, and then put my bowl in the warm oven for about 30 minutes.)

Preheat oven to 450. Use two tablespoons of the olive oil mixture to grease a 9x13 pan. Spread the bread dough out evenly in the pan, and use our fingers to make indents all over the dough. Pour the remaining oil over the top and spread evenly. Let rise 10-15 minutes, then bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.


skinny cheesecake dip


I'll admit that I love sweets as much as anyone. I think that's probably pretty evident from the amount of delicious treats on this blog... but I think it's also important to emphasize that everything should be in moderation. Truth be told, I give away the vast majority of treats I make to friends and neighbors. I usually keep just one serving for each of the members of my family, and give away the rest as soon as possible. It's actually a pretty great way to make (and keep) friends!

I think as a country we probably indulge too much in sweets, but there are a lot of good reasons to cut back. Diabetes is a major health concern. As a nurse, I've worked with lots of patients with diabetes, and I've seen firsthand the effects of uncontrolled blood sugar. Whether you are personally affected by diabetes, or know someone who is, we could probably all use a little more moderation in what we eat. This skinny cheesecake dip is a perfect way to get that indulgent taste without all the sugar!

Skinny Cheesecake Dip

1 small package sugar free fat free cheesecake-flavored pudding mix
1 cup milk
8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 graham cracker, crumbled

Whisk together pudding mix and milk until well-blended. Whisk in softened cream cheese. Let chill in fridge for 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle with graham cracker and serve with fresh fruit (I love it with strawberries!).


crispy ranch oven fried chicken


I have my best friend Cortney to thank for this amazing recipe. A few weeks ago I was brainstorming with her about what I should come up with for my post on, and this was her suggestion. I had already made and photographed the panini that I posted, but I couldn't wait to try her recipe! This chicken is so easy to make, and incredibly moist and delicious. I love that it gets a nice crunchy golden crust on the outside, and is so tender and flavorful. I actually only made half the recipe the first time I made it, but I'm planning to make the full recipe soon and keep the leftovers in the fridge to throw into salads or wraps for easy lunches. This chicken is amazing!

Crispy Ranch Oven Fried Chicken

4 chicken breasts, cut into strips
3/4 cup ranch dressing (I used light)
3-4 tablespoons butter
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place chicken pieces in a large ziploc bag, and pour the ranch dressing over the top. Shift the chicken around so all pieces are coated in ranch dressing. Let sit in refrigerator 30-60 minutes. Preheat oven to 400. Place the butter in a 9 x 13 pan, and place in the oven to melt. Mix together bread crumbs, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper in a shallow dish, and dredge chicken pieces in the mixture. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, and place chicken strips in the hot butter. Return to oven and bake 10-12 minutes. Remove and flip chicken pieces over, then return to oven for another 10 minutes. Remove and transfer chicken pieces to paper towels to drain. Enjoy!


three ingredient cheesy pesto garlic bread


Oh, man, this bread is good! Not only that, it really couldn't be simpler and easier! I whipped some up last week, and Geoff and I had it for lunch with some green salad on the side. It was perfect! I think pesto is a perfect substitute for butter/garlic/spices on garlic bread. I love how much flavor it gives the bread, and the fact that it has heart-healthy olive oil is pretty great. Don't get me wrong, I love butter as much as (or more than) anyone out there, but I'd rather get my butter calories via a cupcake or a cookie!  I made this garlic bread with a fresh ciabatta loaf from Trader Joe's, but you could easily substitute a baguette or french bread, or even ciabatta rolls. I think ciabatta is a good fit for the pesto, because it seeps through all the little holes in the bread and fills the whole thing with delicious flavor. Yum! I'm definitely going to keep this in mind as a quick side dish on those nights when I'm scrambling to come up with dinner!

Three Ingredient Cheesy Pesto Garlic Bread

1 small loaf ciabatta bread (or french bread, baguette, etc.)
1/4 cup prepared pesto sauce (I used the Costco kind)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400. Slice bread in half horizontally, and spread each side with pesto sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Enjoy!


mango chicken soup


Another Monday, another super easy dinner idea! Mondays are always super busy at our house... I wake up, get Abby ready for school, drop her off, run errands with Lizzy, try to fit in exercise/showering/preparing dinner, and then I head off to work after lunch, and work until about ten in the evening. I'm happy that I have the opportunity to be home in the morning, and I'm glad that Lizzy only has to go to a babysitter for a few hours until Geoff gets home from work, but it always makes for a crazy, chaotic day. I love recipes like this because I can prepare dinner in the morning, then put it in the fridge, and Geoff can serve the girls when it's dinnertime. Easy peasy!

For as simple as this recipe is, it's super flavorful and delicious! I love that you can mix and match ingredients... we ate it with cheese, avocado, tortilla chips, and sour cream, but I think it would be awesome with olives, green chilies, torn tortillas, fresh tomatoes... you name it! The recipe made enough for two dinners for our family, and I put the other half into the freezer for another night. I'm excited to pull it out and experiment with more toppings!

Mango Chicken Soup
adapted from 71 Toes

1 half jar mango salsa from Costco (about 2-3 cups)
1 cup salsa of your choice (I used medium, and it gave it a little kick)
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup frozen corn
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
toppings of your choice: cheese, avocado, sour cream, tortilla chips, olives, etc.

In a large pot, combine salsas, chicken broth, and cumin, and bring to a simmer. Add chicken, corn, and black beans, and simmer 10-15 minutes. Serve warm and top with anything that sounds good!


strawberry cheesecake pudding cookies


I'll be honest, I've kind of been checked out a little this week with the blog. It just feels like there is so much going on, all the time, and lately I've been struggling to keep up with it all. One of my close family members is facing some health struggles, and I've been thinking about him a lot and sending my good thoughts and prayers his direction. I've also been working more hours lately, doing lots of family photography (for some gorgeous people!), and still trying to give my best self to my two little girls and my husband. Most days I fall asleep exhausted and wake up feeling almost the same.

Anyway, I find that when I'm tired or frustrated or confused, a cookie is usually helpful, so how about some of these strawberry cheesecake pudding cookies? They're moist and delicious and full of flavor. And seriously, the strawberries at Costco right now are just perfection. I really think the strawberries this year are the best I've had since Geoff and I visited Germany in 2006, and bought some strawberries at the farmer's market that were from Italy. (Italian strawberries = amazing.) Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?

I've expressed my love of baking with fresh strawberries many times, but seriously, if you haven't done it already, you must. And these cookies would be an awesome way to start!

Strawberry Cheesecake Pudding Cookies
adapted from my Banana Cream Pudding Cookies

1 1/2 sticks (or 3/4 cup) butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 (3.4 oz) package instant cheesecake pudding
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2-1/4 cups flour
1 cup finely chopped strawberries
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. Gently fold in strawberries, trying not to crush them. Roll into 1″ balls (I used a cookie scoop instead) and place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for 8-12 minutes.


cheesy chicken parmesan pizza rolls


There's this awesome little restaurant a few miles away from us called Moochie's, and I am crazy about it. They have the best warm subs I've ever had! My very favorite is the chicken parmesan sub. Geoff and I usually share a footlong sub, with their awesome fries and Diet Coke on the side, and it is pretty much my favorite lunch ever. I think I could eat a chicken parmesan sub for lunch every day indefinitely, but Geoff would prefer a little more variety than that. :)

The other day, I was craving that awesome Moochie's taste while I was thinking about what to make for dinner, and the idea for these awesome chicken parmesan pizza rolls was born. I had seen some pizza rolls similar to this on Pinterest a while back, but they used refrigerated pizza dough, and I was excited to try my very favorite pizza crust recipe instead. The result was amazingly delicious!

They really are so easy and quick to make, and you could easily swap in any ingredients that you like. My kids loved them, and Geoff and I thought they were really tasty too. Try them tonight!

Cheesy Chicken Parmesan Pizza Rolls
inspired by Our Thrifty Ideas

3/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon yeast
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 - 1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup cooked shredded chicken
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a muffin tin lightly with cooking spray. 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. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle. Spread with marinara sauce, then top with shredded chicken, 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, and 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese. Roll up the dough rectangle carefully, making sure not to push the toppings out. Cut the rolled dough into twelve equal-sized pieces, and place each (pinwheel-side up) in a well of the muffin tin. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.


choose your own adventure pizza night!


Here are a few reasons you may need this:

1. You love pizza.
2. You have a fridge full of random ingredients and need to use them up.
3. You have some super picky kids who wouldn't dream of eating anything that YOU like on THEIR pizza.

Finding myself in a position in which all of the above applied, I decided the only cure was a choose your own adventure pizza night! I really like the flexibility that comes with making several smaller pizzas. Everyone (including me!) was happy with the choices! I think this is going to be the way we do our pizza from now on!

To start, you need an awesome crust recipe:

Simple Pizza Crust
adapted from The Recipe Critic

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

Preheat oven to 475 with a pizza stone or overturned baking sheet in the oven. 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 this until a smooth dough forms. Let rise for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into four pieces, and let rest 5 minutes. Roll out each piece into a pizza shape, and top with desired toppings. Bake each pizza on the pizza stone/baking sheet for 7-9 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and the cheese is melted and lightly browned.
Next, go nuts with the toppings you like! I love to be adventurous with my pizza and I've tried pretty much every vegetable you can imagine (zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, corn, even carrots!). I've loved all of them, but Geoff is a little more conservative with his pizza tastes and only likes "normal" vegetables on his pizza. Whatever floats your boat! Here are a few of the ideas we had:

This one was (obviously) for the girls:

This one was more grown up, since it was a little spicy, but I loved it!

This was my very favorite of all of them. I absolutely love pesto on pizza!

This last one was Geoff's favorite. He'll do pretty much anything for smoked sausage. :)

Experiment and see what pizza combos you can come up with... the possibilities are endless. Let the kids help, and make it a fun family activity!


pink lemonade krispy treats


Does anyone else love to shop the clearance section after a holiday? I'm kind of obsessed with it. To be fair, Geoff is just as into it as I am. He's always thrilled that my birthday is only five days after Valentine's Day, so he can usually score a bunch of super cheap Valentine's stuff to give me! (You'd think I'd be annoyed about that, but I love Valentine's Day so much that I don't even care.) Anyway, we've done a couple of rounds of post-Easter clearance shopping, and one of the things I picked up was a pink lemonade cake mix. Geoff looked at me like I was crazy when I grabbed it, because it's well known at our house that I am completely incapable of baking cupcakes from a mix. Ever wonder why all the cupcake recipes on my blog are from scratch? As much as I like baking from scratch, the real reason is that I couldn't make cupcakes from a boxed mix to save my life. Invariably, I mess them up to the point that they are inedible. I think last time I made them, the batter rose and spread so much that the cupcake pan looked like it had a sheet cake on top of it. (Yeah, don't ask me how...)

Anyway, back to the cake mix. I've been seeing all the pink lemonade flavored stuff at the store for the last month or so, and trying to dream up something great to make with it. Pink lemonade happens to be one of Geoff's favorites! I decided on these rice krispy treats after being inspired by these cake batter krispy treats from How Sweet It Is (one of my very favorite blogs!). I love how sweet and tart they are, and they're such a pretty color for spring! I'm sure they'd be great with any flavor of cake mix!
Pink Lemonade Krispy Treats
inspired by How Sweet It Is

4 tablespoons butter
1 10 ounce bag mini marshmallows
2/3 cup pink lemonade cake mix (or any flavor you like)
5 cups rice krispies cereal
1/2 cup pink candy melts

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add marshmallows and stir until marshmallows are melted. Stir in cake mix. Remove from heat and gently fold in rice krispies. Pour mixture into a lightly greased pan, using a 9 x 9 for thick squares or a 9 x 13 for thinner squares. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile, melt the candy melts in a small bowl in the microwave. Start with one minute at 50% power, then heat for 30 second intervals at 50% power, stirring in between, until candy is melted. Spoon melted candy into a ziploc bag, and snip a small piece off the corner. Drizzle over cooled rice krispy treats, and let harden. Enjoy!


skinny chicken enchiladas


Of all the foods I make, I think the one that Geoff could most likely eat every day with no complaints is chicken enchiladas. To me, enchiladas are simple comfort food... my mom made them frequently when I was growing up, and while I do like them, I don't really consider them to be anything special. To me they're a (small) step above mac and cheese from a box. :) To Geoff, though, they are just about the best food ever invented. Since he loves them so much, I'm always on the lookout for new and awesome ways to make them, and this recipe is a total winner! They taste amazing and delicious! And not only that, they are good for you too!
Skinny Chicken Enchiladas
adapted from Simply Scratch

2 chicken breasts, shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow Onion, diced small
1 small red bell pepper, diced small
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced chipotle peppers
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
1/8 teaspoon pepper, more or less to taste
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup water
8 whole wheat tortillas
1/2 cup grated muenster cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. (I used a 9 x 9 and just shoved them all in...)

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and red peppers, and cook until onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic, chipotle peppers, cumin, and salt and pepper, and cook another minute. Add flour and stir to make a paste. Whisk in the chicken broth and water, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until sauce has thickened, and remove from heat.

Spread a few tablespoons of sauce in the bottom of your baking dish. Place shredded chicken in a medium bowl, and toss with one cup of the enchilada sauce. Warm the tortillas in the microwave to make them more flexible.

Spoon 1/8 of the chicken mixture into the middle of each tortilla, and roll up. Place seam side down in baking dish. Complete with remaining tortillas and chicken. Pour remaining sauce over the enchiladas, and top with cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes, or until cheese has melted.


chocolate toffee banana bread


I got the idea for this awesome bread from my cute friend Jocelyn, who blogs at Inside BruCrew Life. She posted a mouthwatering picture of her chocolate toffee banana cookies on Facebook, and I wanted them in my tummy immediately! The only problem was that when I looked at her ingredients, I didn't have a cake mix. I couldn't get that awesome flavor combo out of my head though, so I decided to adapt one of my banana bread recipes. I'm so glad I did! Seriously, chocolate + banana + toffee is a pretty amazing combination! 

Geoff had a presentation at work the day after I made this that he was a little nervous about, so he asked if he could take some bread with him to help win his co-workers over. Apparently the presentation went great, but Geoff wasn't sure if it was because of his awesome presentation skills, or because everyone was in heaven eating my banana bread... :) Either way, it's delicious!

Chocolate Toffee Banana Bread
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted salted butter
3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup of flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup toffee chips
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla, and cinnamon. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour and cocoa powder, and mix until just combined. Gently fold in toffee chips and chocolate chips. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. (I did four mini loaf pans.) Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. (For mini loaves, bake 25-30 minutes.) Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.


skinny fish tacos


Last month my husband's work sent him to a conference in San Diego, and Lizzy and I decided to tag along with him. It was pretty much just the perfect relaxing vacation! We walked by the bay every morning, visited some local museums, and (best of all!) tried out a ton of awesome restaurants! I'm pretty crazy about fish tacos, and I made it my goal to try as many varieties of fish tacos as I could while we were there. The verdict? I loved all of them!

When we got home, I was excited to try a homemade version, but not so thrilled about deep frying the fish. Number one, it's super messy and I'm afraid of burning the house down; and number two, I wanted something lighter and healthier. I decided to try breading the fish the same way I do my chicken, and it worked like a charm! These aren't exactly the same as the fried fish tacos, but they are significantly healthier, and completely delicious. The tangy sauce just completes the whole package!
Skinny Fish Tacos

for the fish:
1 pound tilapia filets, sliced in half lengthwise
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup regular bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic
salt and pepper to taste

for the sauce (adapted from Eclectic Recipes):
1 cup mayonnaise (I used light mayo with olive oil)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
the juice of 1 lime
a pinch of cayenne pepper

for assembling:
corn tortillas (as many as you have pieces of fish)
shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix
fresh limes

Preheat the oven to 375. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Set up a dredging station: have one plate or shallow dish with flour in it, another shallow dish with the beaten eggs in it, and a third plate or shallow dish with the bread crumbs, garlic, and salt and pepper. Take each piece of fish and dip it into the flour, making sure to coat it completely, and shaking off the excess. Using your other (non-floured) hand, dip the fish into the egg mixture, again making sure to coat completely and letting the excess drip off. Using the floured hand again. roll the fish in the breadcrumbs, attempting to get an even coating, and shaking off the excess. Place fish on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining fish pieces. Spray the tops of the fish with cooking spray, and bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

To make the sauce, whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

To assemble the tacos, heat the corn tortillas in the microwave or on the stovetop until they are warmed through and flexible. Top each tortilla with a piece of fish, then sprinkle with shredded cabbage. Drizzle with sauce, then top with fresh lime juice and avocados. Delicious!


toasted coconut cupcakes


Yay! Yet another delicious cupcake recipe! This is another one that I saw on Pinterest and had to make pretty much immediately. I am crazy about coconut, and I LOVED these cupcakes. I like that they have such a natural and subtle coconut flavor. I love that they're made of really simple ingredients, too, that I pretty much always have on hand. It was my first time toasting coconut, and I was amazed at how easy it was, and yet how amazingly delicious! Toasted coconut for the win!

The cupcake itself is moist and light, and I love the texture that the shredded coconut adds. And the frosting is just perfect... I love the subtle hint of coconut! These remind me of my favorite cupcakes from The Sweet Tooth Fairy, but I love that I can make them at home so easily! If you like coconut, these are the cupcakes for you!

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes
adapted from Baked Perfection

for the cake:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned coconut milk (I used light and it was ok, but full-fat would be better!)
1 cup shredded coconut

for the frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons canned coconut milk

toasted coconut (here are some great directions)

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare 2 muffin tins with paper liners. In a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, egg white, vanilla, and almond extract until blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture, alternating with the coconut milk. Gently fold in the shredded coconut. Spoon into cupcake liners, filling 1/2 - 2/3 full. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

While the cupcakes cool, prepare the frosting. In a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, vanilla, almond extract, and salt together until the butter is creamy. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, alternating with the coconut milk. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes, and top with toasted coconut.