The Baker Upstairs: August 2013


browned butter and sea salt chocolate chip cookies


It's been awfully quiet around these parts lately... I'm pretty sure I just saw a tumbleweed roll past. :) In reality, Abby started school last week, and Geoff started school this week, and I've been busy trying to get everything sorted and everyone on a schedule. Even Lizzy is going to preschool one day a week, and I'm taking a continuing education class. It's going to be a busy but fun semester for us!

I'm a firm believer in after-school snacks. I love having a little something special waiting for Abby when she comes home! She sits down and munches away, and tells me all about her day at school. I look through her school papers and we do her 15 minutes of reading, and it's one of my favorite parts of the day. And what's better and more homey than an awesome chocolate chip cookie?

These particular chocolate chip cookies are pretty amazing. The browned butter gives them an awesome rich caramely flavor (yes, caramely is totally a word, right?) and the sea salt makes the flavors in the cookie even richer. I'm not usually one to snack too much on cookie dough, but I couldn't stop snitching little chunks of this dough. Look how amazing it is:

I will say that I wish I had coarser-grained sea salt, but you have to work with what you've got. I think some of that pink sea salt would be pretty on cookies, but it's probably not that important what color my sea salt is. :) Whatever kind you've got works great!

Browned Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from these cookies

12 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips)
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 325. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook 4-5 minutes, or until the butter starts to brown. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. In a large bowl or the bowl of stand mixer, mix together the butter and sugars. Mix in the egg, yolk, and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, and salt. (If the dough is very crumbly and won't come together, add a teaspoon or two of milk.) Gently fold in chocolate chips. Divide the dough into 18 balls, and pull each ball into two pieces using your hands. Place one half, rough side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet, then place the other half, rough side up, on top of the first half. Sprinkle each cookie with sea salt. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. The middles of the cookies should still be soft. Let cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, then remove to cooling rack.


awesome lunchbox muffins


Today my little Abby starts first grade! She's had quite an exciting week... she fell off her bike last Monday and broke both bones in her left arm near her wrist, and yesterday she finally got her hard cast (which she was amazingly excited about). I've never broken a bone, and I had no idea that they had waterproof casts! I'm thrilled that we won't have to do the old garbage-bag-over-the-cast trick during bath time. :) She is so excited to go to school and show all her friends her lovely purple cast!

Last year I made a lunch for her to take every single day, since she was completely unwilling to even try the cafeteria food. This year, with me working a lot more and being more busy in general, I've convinced her that she could handle cafeteria food two days a week, and bring a lunch from home the other three. That means I still get to come up with a lot of fun ideas for her lunches, but there's a little less pressure on me. We went to Costco and stocked up on some of her favorites (hummus cups, squeezy apple sauce packets, bunny snacks, etc.) but I also want her to have some homemade goodness in her lunches too! We made these fantastic muffins together yesterday, and I think they'll be the perfect thing to throw in for a yummy reminder of home.

This recipe really is the best muffin recipe ever! I love that it was so easy to make three totally different varieties of muffins in just a few minutes. There are a million possibilities... I'm excited to try them with a little cinnamon and some grated apple, and with a little cocoa powder and some toffee chips. The recipe is so easy that Abby was able to make them with just a little help from mom. I've got most of the batch in the freezer, just waiting for Abby's lunchbox. Yum!

Lunchbox Muffins
adapted from this recipe

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup melted butter
1 egg
1/3 cup milk

for the blueberry coconut muffins:
1/2 cup fresh blueberries + 1/4 cup shredded coconut

for the raspberry macadamia muffins: 
1/2 cup fresh raspberries, chopped + 2 tablespoons chopped macadamia nuts

for the strawberry chocolate chip muffins:
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, chopped + small handful chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400. Line 24 mini muffin cups with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together butter, egg, and milk. Add to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Separate the batter into three bowls. Gently fold the toppings into each bowl of batter. Scoop into mini muffin cups, filling 2/3 full (I used a cookie scoop and it was the perfect size). Bake 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. 

Note: You could obviously make these as full size muffins instead (bake 15-20 minutes), but I love that the mini muffin ones are a perfect size for Abby's lunch. And if you want to make an entire batch of the same flavor, just triple the amount of the add-ins. 


creamy cauliflower mac and cheese


Sometimes it's interesting to me to think about all the things that make my two little girls different. They're both completely adorable, and both have long silky light brown hair, but the similarities end there. Abby is spunky and loud and loves to be the center of attention, and Lizzy is shy and sweet and hides behind Mama whenever there are strangers around. Abby is terrified of heights and extremely cautious about how she moves, and Lizzy has been climbing the furniture (and jumping off it) since she was six months old. One of the most striking differences between them, though, is what they like to eat. Abby is a picky little thing and is pretty set on just eating bread and cheese (or some variation of that) for every meal. (To be fair, she does love a few odd, unusual-for-kids foods, like hummus and broccoli.) Lizzy, on the other hand, is like a garbage disposal and will eat anything. She almost always eats more food than big sister, and sometimes even out-eats Mom and Dad.

Although I know I can plop pretty much any vegetable onto Lizzy's plate and she'll gobble it up, it's a real challenge to work vegetables into Abby's diet. She's very sensitive to tastes and textures, and can't stand the sight of anything green (with the weird exception of broccoli). Since mac and cheese is one of her most beloved foods, I thought it might be fun to try it with a healthier twist. The result was super yummy, and both girls ate it up and couldn't even tell the difference! With a little cheese sprinkled over the top, the girls never suspected a thing!

Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
adapted from Pinch of Yum

8 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 tablespoons butter
5-6 cups cauliflower florets
6-7 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound dry macaroni pasta

In a medium skillet, sauté the garlic in the butter until soft and fragrant. Set aside. Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside. Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a boil, and add cauliflower. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 7-10 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender. Remove cauliflower to a blender using a slotted spoon, and add about one cup of the chicken broth cooking liquid. Add the reserved garlic and the salt, pepper, and milk, and blend until smooth. Add parmesan cheese and olive oil, and blend until smooth. Toss the pasta with the hot sauce, and sprinkle with cheese if desired. 


chocolate zucchini cake


I'm one of those sad people who has never been blessed with an abundance of zucchini. We've tried to grow it in our garden several times, but with no success (yes, we have total black thumbs...). And somehow our friends and relations just never seem to share much zucchini with us. It's kind of a running joke in Utah that everyone has zucchini coming out of their ears all summer long, but such is never the case with us. It makes me sad, though, because I love zucchini! I love it pretty much any way you can make it... sautéed, in pasta, on pizza, in soup... it's always delicious! One of my favorite ways to enjoy it, though, is in dessert form. I love how it makes everything so moist, and I also love that my kids are getting a little dose of vegetables in with their treats. :)

This particular cake is pretty awesome, with two whole cups of grated zucchini! Abby helped me make it, and was a little distressed when she saw me adding so many vegetables to her yummy chocolate cake. I told her to be patient, and wait to see what would happen when it came out of the oven. After her first bite she said, "Mom! This is a magic cake! When you baked it, the zucchini disappeared!" Whether you're a fan of zucchini or not, you'll love this rich, moist chocolate cake!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
adapted from Lulu the Baker

1/2 cup oil (I used canola)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
2 heaping cups peeled, shredded zucchini
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 9 x 13 baking dish by spraying with cooking spray. In a large bowl whisk together oil, sugar, vanilla, egg, and milk. Fold in zucchini. In a small bowl mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and mix until combined. Pour into prepared pan, and bake 25-28 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely before frosting.

To frost, I used the chocolate frosting from this recipe, which went great with the cake!


maple mustard chicken


This is one of those recipes I've seen a million times on Pinterest, and decided to finally try. It goes by lots of stupid names (ugh) but I think maple mustard chicken is a pretty apt description. (I'm not a huge fan of "OMG" or "man-pleasing" in the name of any of my foods...) This chicken is delicious and juicy, with a great sweet and tangy flavor. And it's so easy to make, using ingredients I pretty much always have on hand. My whole family loved it, and even my picky Abby cleaned her plate (and licked it, for good measure). It was delicious baked in the oven, and I think it would be really great on the grill as well. A perfect dinner for a lazy night, or any night!

Maple Mustard Chicken
adapted from Witty in the City

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into strips (I used three large breasts)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup dijon mustard (I've used yellow mustard too, and it's good!)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a 9 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange chicken breasts in dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together mustard, maple syrup, and rice vinegar. Pour mixture over the chicken, and turn chicken pieces to coat. Bake 25 - 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with a little extra sauce spooned over the chicken.


quick and easy crepes

These delicious homemade crepes are quick and easy to make, and perfect for a special breakfast!

These delicious homemade crepes are quick and easy to make, and perfect for a special breakfast!

Is it just me, or are crepes one of those foods that get a really bad rap for being impossible to make? I've come across so many recipes that require aging the batter, or use some complicated method, or can only be made using special equipment. These crepes, I'm happy to say, require none of those things! They're so easy to make that I can make them on a busy Sunday morning before church and still have time to look presentable. :)

I got in the crepe-making mood after my niece gave me these beautiful eggs, produced by her family's backyard chickens. Seriously, fresh eggs are pretty awesome! (And beautiful, too...)

We ate our crepes with fresh fruit, powdered sugar, and maple syrup, but I think they would also be really great with a savory filling, like scrambled eggs or a chicken filling. I like that these crepes are pretty versatile, and are sturdy enough to hold up in the fridge for several days. The recipe makes more than enough for my family, so I usually save the other half in the fridge for another meal, or stack the crepes between pieces of wax paper and freeze them. (And FYI, since people always ask, I doubled the recipe this time when I made it, which is why the stack in the first picture is so high. The single recipe makes 12-14 crepes.)

These delicious homemade crepes are quick and easy to make, and perfect for a special breakfast!

As a side note, it make take a few tries before you feel really comfortable making crepes, but keep at it! I watched a Martha Stewart show once in which she was making crepes, and she said that even for her, the first few crepes are usually throw-aways. And if Martha can't do it perfectly, what hope do the rest of us have? :)

Quick and Easy Crepes
adapted from Our Best Bites

2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/3 cup milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend on low speed until well combined, with no lumps. Crepe batter will be thin and easily pourable.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Grease lightly with butter or cooking spray. Pour a small amount of crepe batter into the pan, and move the pan in a circular motion to coat the entire bottom of the pan with batter. Let cook about thirty to sixty seconds, or until the edges of the batter bubble slightly, and it's easy to slide a spatula under the edge of the crepe. Flip using a spatula and cook another fifteen to thirty seconds. Remove from pan and stack on a plate.


orange roll bread twists


I have such a thing for orange rolls. I would take an orange roll over a cinnamon roll any day. I do sometimes hate how long it takes to make them, though... as much as I love baking bread, sometimes I just want an orange roll now, without the wait! These orange roll bread twists are the perfect solution! They're super easy to make and ready in less than an hour. Plus they have that amazing orange roll taste that I love.

I love that the twists are soft on the inside, and just a little crispy on the outside. The orange glaze on top adds just a touch more sweetness, and the orange zest makes them so fresh and delicious. This is definitely another keeper recipe!

Orange Roll Bread Twists
adapted from this recipe

for the bread twists:
1½ cups warm water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. yeast
3½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
zest of one orange
1/4 cup sugar

for the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine warm water, sugar, and yeast. Let sit five minutes or until yeast is bubbly. Add flour and salt, and mix until a smooth dough forms. Let rise for 10 minutes. While the dough is rising, mix together butter, orange zest, and sugar, until well blended.

Roll out dough on a surface lightly sprinkled with flour to about 1/4 inch thick. Spread dough with butter mixture. Fold dough over onto itself, with the butter mixture in the middle. Using a pizza cutter, cut into strips about 3/4 to 1 inch wide. Twist each piece, then place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Let rest for 10 minutes. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. While the bread twists are baking, whisk together the powdered sugar, orange juice, and vanilla, adding more or less orange juice to reach desired consistency. Let the bread twists cool for about five minutes, then drizzle with glaze. Enjoy warm. Makes about 20 bread twists, depending on how you roll and cut your dough.


parmesan herb roasted potatoes


I'm not usually one to make side dishes. I generally only have enough energy for the main course, so we end up just having fresh fruit and a steamed vegetable on the side for dinner pretty much every night. But I also totally love potatoes, so when I found some adorable baby yukon gold potatoes at Trader Joe's the other night, I knew I had to come up with something awesome to do with them. These parmesan herb roasted potatoes are to die for! I love the mix of herbs and parmesan, and they are a perfect side dish! Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and delicious throughout!

Parmesan Herb Roasted Potatoes
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon parsley
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds small potatoes (red potatoes, yukon gold, etc.), cut in half or quartered to make 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400. In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, and salt and pepper. Add potatoes and toss to coat thoroughly. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 40 minutes or until golden brown and tender when pierced with a fork, flipping halfway through cooking time.


raspberry lemonade bars


These raspberry lemonade bars are amazing! I love a good tart lemon bar, but adding the raspberries just makes them all the more wonderful! I made these for our family party on Pioneer Day (Utah's state holiday) a few weeks ago, and they were a big hit. I think Lizzy manhandled and nibbled on at least four bars herself. :) I used fresh raspberries from my mom's garden, which my mom has been generously sharing with us all summer, and I think it made them extra special. Raspberry and lemon is one of my very favorite combinations. Yum!

Raspberry Lemonade Bars
adapted from these bars

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup pureed raspberries (about 3/4 cup berries)
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 9 x 13 pan by lining with tin foil and spraying with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in flour and salt until a crumbly fixture is formed. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan as evenly as possible. Bake 15-17 minutes, or until set and lightly golden brown at the edges.

While the crust is baking, combine all ingredients for the filling in a food processor (you could also use a medium bowl and a whisk). Blend until smooth. Pour over the crust when it has finished baking, and return to the oven for about 25 minutes, or until set. Cool completely before slicing.


buttermilk peach summer cake


There's something about a simple cake with fresh fruit on a summer night... it makes for the perfect dessert. I've made this strawberry summer cake about a million times and it's still one of my very favorite treats, but I thought it might be fun to mix things up a little and try another favorite summer fruit in it. My mom bought a case of peaches from the co-op and shared some with me, so I decided the time was ripe for a peach summer cake!

The cake smelled amazing while it was baking, and came out completely beautiful, with the juicy peaches on top and the golden brown cake. And the taste? It was love at first bite. I'm not sure how much difference the buttermilk made, but the whole thing was so perfect that I'll make it exactly the same way next time! The only thing that could have made it better was a little freshly whipped cream on top, but sadly I was out. Next time for sure!

Buttermilk Peach Summer Cake
adapted from this cake

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup plus two tablespoons sugar, separated
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk (or you can use regular milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 peaches, peeled and pitted, sliced into thin slices

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 or 10 inch cake pan (I used a springform pan). Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and one cup of sugar until creamy. Stir in egg, buttermilk, and vanilla until combined. Gently mix in flour mixture until just combined. Spread batter in prepared cake pan. Arrange peaches on top of cake batter, and sprinkle with remaining two tablespoons of sugar. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325 and bake for another 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh whipped cream.