The Baker Upstairs: June 2013


easy cafe rio-style salads and creamy cilantro lime ranch dressing

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If you're lucky enough to live by a Cafe Rio, then I bet you've had one of their awesome salads before... and if not, you've probably seen a million copycat recipes floating around the internet, because the salads are so good that you just have to try them at home! A few years ago, the CEO of Cafe Rio was one of the leaders in my local church group, and we were lucky enough to be treated to Cafe Rio at pretty much all of our church activities. Let's just say there was record turnout... :)

Anyway, these salads aren't exactly the same as the Cafe Rio ones, mostly because of the time factor. All of the copycat recipes I've found involve a long marinating/cooking method for the chicken, and I was in the mood for a quick and easy dinner. I was surprised (and pleased) that even with using some quick shortcuts, my salad turned out awesome, and tasted almost the same as my beloved Cafe Rio salads.

Since some people are apparently offended by posts with recipes for sandwiches and salads, I'll just list the things I added to my salad, and as always you can feel free to add what you like and skip what you don't. That's what's fun about a salad like this!

Here's what we added (in order from bottom to top): a freshly cooked flour tortilla, cilantro-lime rice, pinto beans (just drained and rinsed), chopped romaine lettuce, taco-seasoned chicken (shredded rotisserie chicken with taco seasoning), diced tomatoes, diced avocados, cheese, and crispy tortilla strips. And the best part of all? The dressing!

This is officially my favorite salad dressing (which is surprising, considering all the cilantro!). I love that it's creamy and flavorful, with a little tanginess from the lime. I also love that it's so easy to make... just throw everything in the blender and it's ready in a few minutes! The original instructions say to refrigerate it for at least an hour, but I never do that and it's still great. This dressing pretty much just makes everything tasty! Try it today!

Cilantro-Lime Ranch Dressing
adapted from Our Best Bites

1 packet ranch dressing mix
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup milk
juice of one lime
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup green salsa
hot sauce (optional)

Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Add more milk if needed to reach desired consistency.


quick cilantro-lime rice


If you know me very well, this recipe is probably a little surprising. I've made no secret of my contempt for cilantro, and I've left it out of countless recipes just for its ick factor. I ate just one little piece of it in a bowl of tortilla soup when I was pregnant with Abby and my morning sickness was at its peak, and... well, let's just say I'm going to avoid that restaurant for the rest of my days from the shame of it all. :) So anyway, fast forward to today, and cilantro and I have developed a grudging tolerance of each other. I'm not saying I'll ever love it, or throw it on top of my food just for funsies, but I can appreciate the flavor it adds to some of my favorite foods. Like this rice!

This rice started out trying to be a Cafe Rio-type copycat, and ended up being more like Chipotle's cilantro-lime rice, which is awesome! I actually prefer the texture of Chipotle's rice and love the fact that it's a little more fluffy and sticky than the Cafe Rio rice. I also love that this rice is so simple and easy to make that it makes the perfect side dish for a weeknight dinner. The lime and cilantro add flavor without being overpowering, and it's totally delicious. Yum!

Quick Cilantro-Lime Rice
adapted from Our Best Bites

1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups chicken broth (or 2 cups water + 1 teaspoon chicken base)
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced

Comine rice and chicken broth in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, on low heat until rice is cooked, 15-20 minutes. Immediately stir in butter, cilantro, and lime juice, and mix well to combined. Fluff with a fork before serving. Enjoy!


fresh strawberry limeade


This is one of those making-it-up-as-I-go recipes that turned out super awesome! I had made some yummy Southwestern-ish food for dinner (coming later this week to the blog) and wanted a nice refreshing drink to go with it. This limeade was so quick to put together, and super delicious! Both of my littles loved it too. It's the perfect drink for any summer dinner!

Fresh Strawberry Limeade

2 cups frozen strawberries
5 cups water, divided
6 tablespoons sugar, divided (more or less to taste)
3 limes, cut into pieces (I usually cut them in half, and then each half into fourths)

Add strawberries and 2 cups water to blender, and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a pitcher, and set aside. Add limes, remaining sugar, and remaining water to the blender and pulse 6-8 times. Pour through a strainer into the pitcher with the strawberry mixture. Mix well, then serve. (If you're really bugged by strawberry seeds in your drink, you could pour the whole thing through a strainer before serving.)


perfect pineapple upside-down cake


So... I have a funny story about pineapple upside down cake. My grandpa was born on June 9, and for my whole life up until he passed away when I was 18, we would go to my grandparents' house for his birthday, and my grandma would make two cakes: a german chocolate cake, and a pineapple upside down cake. It seemed to just be the natural order of things: grandpa's birthday = those two cakes. When I was a kid I hated coconut, so I always asked for a slice of the pineapple upside down cake, and savored every bite of it. Fast forward to when I got married, and I had the super great idea of collecting some of my favorite family recipes and making them into a cookbook. When I asked my grandma for her pineapple upside down cake recipe, she looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Um... can't you read a box?"

Since then I've been on the lookout for an awesome homemade recipe that could match that wondrous taste from my childhood (that it turns out came from a box). And I finally found it! I love how moist and flavorful the cake is, and the juicy caramelized pineapple on top is pretty much just awesome. Add some whipped cream and a maraschino cherry or two, and it's pineapple upside-down perfection!

Perfect Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Susie Freaking Homemaker

for the cake:
4 eggs
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup of milk
1 stick of butter, melted or really soft
1 tsp. vanilla

for the topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter, melted
pineapple rings (I used a large can plus a small can)

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease 12 jumbo size muffin wells or two 8 or 9 inch cake pans. Whisk together the cake ingredients until well blended, and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar and butter, making sure that no dry spots remain. Spoon mixture into muffin tins or cake pans, spreading evenly and being sure to distribute evenly. If using muffin tins, place one ring in each well; if using cake pans, arrange evenly in the bottom of each pan. Pour the cake mixture over the top. filling 3/4 of the way full. Bake 25 minutes for the muffin tins or 30-35 minutes for the cake pans, or until golden brown on top. Quickly after removing, run a knife around the edge of each cake to release it from the sides of the pan. Let cool for a few minutes, and then invert onto a plate or platter. Enjoy!


lemon pepper chicken and spinach quinoa


I'm so happy to be back posting on the blog this week! I really have missed my little blog space this last month or so. I'm still working on finding that balance between working full time, and being a great mom, but I'm finding more and more that I need to just make time for the things that matter to me. And those things include (of course) my husband and children, but also cooking and sharing recipes, and the fun that comes with all of that!

Anyway, as you can imagine, it's a lot more of a struggle these days to cook dinner every night, but I'm giving it my best effort. It helps when I stumble across quick and easy recipes like this one! It was a flavorful, delicious one pot meal, and took only about half an hour to put together. Win win!

Lemon Pepper Chicken and Spinach Quinoa
adapted from 5 Dollar Dinners

2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups cooked shredded chicken (I used rotisserie chicken breast)

In a medium sauce pan, bring the chicken stock, water, and lemon pepper to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the quinoa is plump and tender. Gently add the spinach and shredded chicken, and stir until the spinach has wilted. Remove from heat and serve.


perfect white bread


Can you believe it? I'm actually back with a new post! And by that I mean an old post with new pictures. :) This is definitely worth posting again, though, because it is one of my favorite things in the world to make! I bake a lot of bread. Before I started nursing school a few years ago, I had settled into a habit of making almost all of our bread, and I loved it. I made it my goal a few years ago to become perfect at baking bread, and I feel like I've accomplished that goal. My method is consistent, my loaves are beautifully shaped, and I am pretty expert at knowing exactly how much to flour the dough. The only thing missing was a perfect everyday bread recipe. I've used several that I've liked, but none has really had all the characteristics I liked... either they were only the good the first day, or they didn't freeze well, or they were too complicated and had too many ingredients.

A while ago, I came across this recipe on Pinterest, and decided to try it, mostly because the picture looked like the bread I've been trying to make all this time. The result: perfect bread! I love it! It's easy to make, I always have the ingredients on hand, it's good for a few days after baking, and it freezes well. The only real change I've made to the original recipe is to split it into three loaves, because when I made it into two loaves, they were too big to fit into my bread bags. I think three loaves results in a more manageable size for sandwiches, too. The success of this recipe is making me excited about baking all our bread again! I'm planning to try it with half whole wheat and see if it works, and if so it will be our new go-to for everyday bread and sandwiches.
Butter-Topped White Bread
The Curvy Carrot

4 and 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast (or the equivalent of two packets)
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces
2 and 2/3 cup additional warm water
9-10 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing the tops of the loaves
Additional butter/cooking spray, for greasing your rising bowl and loaf pans

In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water with a teaspoon of the sugar. When the yeast is bubbled and foamy, mix in the rest of the sugar, the salt, the butter, and the warm water. Slowly mix in 5 cups of flour, mixing on low speed until smooth. Gradually add remaining flour, adding just enough to make a smooth and slightly sticky dough. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes. Lightly grease a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in the greased bowl and turn to coat with spray. Cover and let rise in a warm place for one hour.

Preheat oven to 425. When the dough has risen, punch it down and divide into three equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Roll each rectangle up into a cylinder, and place each seam-side down in a lightly-greased bread pan (I used 9 inch bread pans). Cover and let rise in a warm place for one hour.

When the loaves have risen, place them in the preheated oven and bake 15 minutes. Cover the tops of the loaves with foil to prevent excessive browning, and bake another fifteen minutes. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter. Let cool before slicing.