The Baker Upstairs: March 2015


Easter carrot cupcakes


I don't know what it is about Easter, but whenever I start thinking about Easter desserts, carrot cake is the first thing that springs to mind. I love carrot cake when done well, but I have unfortunately eaten enough bad carrot cake in my life that I always approach it warily. I've never made carrot cake myself before, fearing that I would get it wrong, but when I saw this recipe on my friend Jamielyn's blog, I knew it had to be a keeper. These Easter carrot cupcakes turned out even better than I had hoped, and were delicious and decadent!

These cupcakes are moist and flavorful and perfectly sweetened, and the cream cheese frosting is the perfect complement. I love how cute they are with the toasted coconut and M&M's eggs on top, too! They're super delicious even without the decorations, but it's always fun to add a fun little twist. I think this recipe would also work really well as a layer cake... maybe I'll just have to make it again this Sunday!

Easter Carrot Cupcakes

for the cake:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups shredded carrots (3-4 medium carrots)

for the frosting:
1 cup coconut
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-2 teaspoons cream
candy eggs (I used M&M's coconut eggs)

Preheat the oven to 350. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and allspice, and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, oil, sour cream, and vanilla until well blended. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the shredded carrots. Scoop into the paper liners, filling 2/3 full. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, toast the coconut by adding it to a skillet and heating over medium heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Remove and let cool. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and mix until smooth. Add a small amount of cream to the mixture and beat until light and fluffy. Pipe or spread onto the cooled cupcakes and top with toasted coconut and candy eggs. Enjoy!

adapted from I Heart Naptime


buffalo ranch chicken wraps


I was asked to participate in the #ForTheWin, sponsored by Tyson Foods, Inc. and The HV Food Products Company. Although I have been compensated, all opinions are my own.

This time of year, it seems like everyone is talking about basketball. I will admit that I'm not a huge sports fan, but I do love any excuse for a party! Basketball is one of the few sports whose rules I actually understand (I'm pretty sure, at least) and it's always fun to invite a few friends over to watch the game together. This year we'll definitely be enjoying these delicious buffalo ranch chicken wraps during our dunk day party. They're super easy to make using Tyson® 100% All Natural* Crispy Chicken Strips and Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dressing!

Using Tyson 100% All Natural* Crispy Chicken Strips makes these wraps so quick and easy to put together. I love that they're made with white meat and minimally processed. Plus my family loves the way they taste! I baked them according to the package directions, tossed them with some spicy buffalo sauce, and added them to a wrap with crisp lettuce, tangy gorgonzola, and creamy Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dressing. These wraps are ready in under 30 minutes, which means you can get back to watching the big game that much sooner!

Of course, if you're watching basketball, you have to dunk, so I served these tasty wraps with an extra cup of creamy ranch dressing for dunking! I don't know how it works in your family, but my kids absolutely love any food they can dunk. They'll eat pretty much any vegetable if I let them dunk their veggies in ranch dressing.

Buffalo Ranch Chicken Wraps

1 package Tyson 100% All Natural* Crispy Chicken Strips
1/4 cup buffalo sauce
6 wraps (or large tortillas)
3/4 cup gorgonzola cheese
4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1/4 cup Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dressing, plus more for dipping

Bake the chicken strips according to the package directions. Toss the chicken strips with the buffalo sauce to coat, then cut into pieces. Layer each wrap with lettuce, chicken, and gorgonzola, then drizzle with ranch dressing. Roll up the wraps and serve with extra ranch dressing. Enjoy!

Tyson Chicken and Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® are the perfect team for Dunk Day parties! Right now you can get a $5 Walmart eGift card when you purchase Tyson Chicken and a 24 ounce bottle of Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dressing in the same transaction at Walmart!

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Tyson Chicken and Hidden Valley Ranch make it easy to throw an awesome game day party, #forthewin! 

*Minimally processed with no artificial ingredients.


strawberry sunrise breakfast smoothie


If there's one food or drink my four year old Lizzy cannot get enough of, it's definitely smoothies. She asks me for a smoothie pretty much every day. I don't always oblige, but we do enjoy smoothies at least a couple of times a week, and they're her very favorite post-ballet treat. I like that they're a fun and delicious way to make sure she's getting all of her servings of fruit and vegetables. A lot of times I can convince her to try new things if I add them to her smoothie, like kiwi or spinach. We have experimented with a pretty wide variety of smoothies, and it's always fun to mix and match flavors. This strawberry sunrise breakfast smoothie is a new favorite! It features Lizzy's three favorite fruits (strawberries, oranges, and bananas) and it gets a little extra burst of sweetness from Born Sweet™ Zing™ Zero Calorie Stevia Sweetener.

If you haven't tried Zing™ yet, it's an all-natural sweetener made using extract from the stevia plant. It is made with only real ingredients -- nothing artificial, and has zero calories per serving. It's delicious mixed into a cup of tea or a smoothie, or sprinkled over fresh fruit! If you have a sweet tooth like me, it's the perfect way to add a little sweetness to your favorite foods without adding calories. You can find Zing™ in the sweetener aisle at your local grocery store.

This strawberry sunrise breakfast smoothie is super delicious and full of fruit flavor. It takes only a few minutes to make and tastes great! 

Strawberry Sunrise Breakfast Smoothie

1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
1 banana
1 cup orange juice
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 packet Zing™ Zero Calorie Stevia Sweetener

Add the strawberries, banana, orange juice, Greek yogurt, and Zing™ to a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy! (serves two)

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon - so deliciously flavorful and quick and easy to make!

Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon - so deliciously flavorful and quick and easy to make!

I know brussels sprouts get a bad rap as being the most hated vegetable by children, but they are honestly one of my favorite foods! We eat them several times a week as a side with our meals, and I can't get enough of them. Strangely enough, both of my kids like them too! I just had to tell them that brussels sprouts were broccoli's cousins (which is sort of true anyway) and then they loved them. Anyway, I tried roasting brussels sprouts for the first time a few weeks ago (I know! Where have I been?) and they were fantastic. So of course I immediately thought of a way to make them more fantastic.... with bacon!

The brussels sprouts are deliciously crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and get slightly caramelized in the oven. The little crisp bacon pieces add a ton of flavor and make the brussels sprouts really stand out. The best part is that these are so quick to make. Just a few minutes of prep time and 20-25 minutes of oven time, and they are ready to go. These officially win the title of favorite vegetable side dish for me and will be making frequent appearances in my kitchen!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

16 ounces brussels sprouts, washed and cut in half lengthwise
3-4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or foil. Spread the brussels sprouts on the baking sheet and sprinkle the bacon pieces over the top. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the brussels sprouts and toss to coat. Sprinkle with garlic powder and salt and pepper, then toss again. Roast in the preheated oven 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through. Enjoy!

Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon - so deliciously flavorful and quick and easy to make!


salted caramel sauce


Are you ready for the best thing you've ever tasted? This salted caramel sauce is divine! I am completely obsessed with salted caramel everything lately, so it was only a matter of time before I figured out a way to pour it over all of my desserts. I actually made this caramel sauce a few years ago (minus the salt) and had forgotten how lovely it is. It takes just a few minutes to make and tastes delicious on anything from apple pie to ice cream to warm brownies. This sauce takes any dessert to the next level!

Salted Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the butter, sugar, brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Simmer 4-6 minutes, or until smooth and golden brown. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Store in refrigerator and reheat in the microwave for 15-30 seconds before serving. Makes 2 cups.

adapted from Thibeault's Table


Guinness beef stew

Guinness beef stew - so rich, savory, and delicious!

Guinness beef stew - so rich, savory, and delicious!

I know it's a day late, but I thought it would be fun to share our St. Patrick's Day dinner on the blog today! And really, beef stew isn't just for St. Patrick's day... it makes for a delicious and hearty meal any time. (I'm impressed with myself, too, for posting my second-ever beef recipe on the blog.) I've mentioned before that we don't really eat a lot of beef, and I'm terrible at cooking with it, but I thought it would be only fitting for St. Patrick's Day to try a traditional Irish recipe. I had some Guinness stew at an Irish pub near our house a few weeks ago, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Lucky for me, I found a simple and easy recipe in my favorite Irish cookbook, and got to work.

I should probably tell you now that I don't drink alcohol, so I've never actually tried Guinness before and wasn't sure how it would taste in the stew. I have no idea how much of the flavor came from the Guinness, but what I can tell you is that it was rich and savory and delicious, and had great depth of flavor. I used the cast iron casserole dish that Geoff gave me for Christmas this year, and simmered the stew for about two and a half hours on the stove. The smell in our apartment was incredible! When it was finally ready to eat, we were all so hungry that we dove right in. I served it with some sour cream dolloped on top (a la MacCool's) and it made for a lovely contrast of flavors. This is definitely one to make again!

Guinness Beef Stew

2 pounds stew beef, trimmed and cut into one-inch cubes
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups Guinness stout
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into one-inch pieces
3 potatoes, peeled, and chopped into one-inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cups water

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Toss the stew beef with the flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the skillet, then add the beef. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beef is mostly browned. Add the onions, garlic, salt, and tomato paste to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, until the onions are softened. Add the beef mixture to a large pot or casserole. Pour 1 cup of the Guinness into the frying pan and use a spatula to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the mixture into the pot with the beef and add the remaining Guinness, carrots, potatoes, thyme and the water. Cover and simmer 2-3 hours, or until the beef is tender. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve warm, sprinkled with fresh thyme, with a dollop of sour cream.

adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking

Guinness beef stew - so rich, savory, and delicious!


sweet honey cornbread


Cornbread is one of those things that I always mean to make, but never seem to get around to making.  I really like it, but when I'm thinking about what to make for dinner, it just never pops into my head. A few weeks ago Geoff and I had a date night and visited our favorite barbecue restaurant. I had already ordered my food when I noticed that the couple at the table next to us had little skillets of cornbread. From that moment on, I had cornbread on the brain and couldn't stop thinking about it! The only solution was to make it at home. I had seen this recipe on Pinterest a while ago and decided it was finally time to try it out. It was fantastic and a big hit with my family! It's pretty much just classic cornbread... sweet but not overly sweet (like the cake mix cornbreads I've had) and light and tender. We ate ours slathered with butter and drizzled with honey, and it was delicious!

Sweet Honey Cornbread

2 cups flour
2 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 425. Prepare desire baking dishes by spraying with cooking spray. (I used a mini loaf tin, but it would also work well in a round cake pan or a 9 x 9 baking dish.) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk, butter, oil, and honey. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake 12-15 minutes for mini loaves (or 25-30 minutes for a larger baking dish) or until golden brown on top.

recipe via Erren's Kitchen


slow cooker chicken chili


As excited as I am that it is finally getting to be spring, I am totally not ready to give up on soup season yet. Especially when it's a delicious, super easy, cook-all-day-in-the-crockpot kind of soup. This slow cooker chicken chili is so flavorful, and really easy to make, too!

My whole family loved this and my little girls each finished their serving (which, granted, was about 1/2 cup of chili, but I’m totally counting it as a victory). The recipe made a lot more than my little family can eat, so I froze the extra in individual size containers, and I’ve been taking it to work for an easy and healthy lunch. I served it with some of my favorite homemade tortillas, and it was a match made in heaven. Yum! Can’t wait to make this delicious chili again!
Slow Cooker Chicken Chili

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups chicken broth
1 small can of green chiles
2 cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn (can also use canned corn)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon chicken base (or 1 bouillon cube), dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream

for topping:
shredded cheese
tortilla strips
sour cream

Place the chicken breasts in the crockpot. Add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, chicken broth, green chiles, beans, and corn. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About one hour before the chili is done, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a paste. Cook 2-3 minutes or until slightly golden. Whisking constantly to prevent lumps, slowly add the milk and the water/chicken base mixture. Continue to cook until thickened, then add the salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and stir to combine. Add the sour cream and stir until combined. Pull out the chicken breasts and shred them with two forks to desired size, then return to the slow cooker. Let cook for another hour. Serve with toppings of your choice, and enjoy!

adapted from Lovely Little Kitchen