My Cake Decorating Gallery

Monday, September 19, 2011

We Be Jammin' - Making and Canning Your Own Blueberry Jam

I tried raspberry freezer jam once a year or two ago... it was pretty good, as I remember it from my childhood but for us it's not quite as good as a regular jam. July and August are special in Michigan - it's blueberry season! Blueberry buckle, blueberry muffins, blueberry pies and tarts are all popular around our house. We also buy this Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry Preserves frequently, it is our absolute favorite jam. So it's no surprise we chose blueberry jam to be my first "real" jam and canning experience!

Bonne Maman jam is usually $3.99 for 13oz cute little jar. If you already have jars for jam, this recipe is about half the cost. Just a fun fact. I did it for the fun of it and not to save a few bucks (or a few cents as it works out). Blueberries can be expensive, I bought 10 lbs for $24 from the local blueberry farm. It made two batches of this recipe plus left me one gallon ziploc full to put in the freezer for future pancakes, desserts and baby food. When it's all said and done, I saved about half the cost. If you factor in buying jars which are around $10 a flat, you save about 0.05 an oz. Something like that.... so maybe not as cost effective as you might think! And smuckers is a lot cheaper, I'm talking expensive jams in comparison here.

I have never tried canning anything before and I finally had to make time since my parents had picked up the blueberries for me from their favorite blueberry farm stand. I bought jars a long time ago for a party to use them as glasses for sangria, plus The Husband had gotten me a "canning kit" for Christmas a year or two ago. So I was ready to rumble!!



How To Make & Can Your Own Blueberry Jam
As summarized from what I found here, which has more detail and great information


Ingredients
10 cups of blueberries
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
7 cups of sugar
1/2 cup water
1 package pectin (you can use slightly more than 1 box if you like thicker jam)

Canning equipment
jars - this recipe makes about 6 pints (plus some to put in the fridge for immediate enjoyment)
lids - enough for the number of jars you're filling
rings - to screw the lids on
a large canning pot - to boil the jars in
jar grabber - to lift the hot jars out of the boiling water
lid magnet - the lids have to be warmed in hot water so this lid magnet will grab one lid at a time out of the hot water
jar funnel - very helpful for filling the jars

The funnel, magnet, and grabber will be included in any canning kit. The jars and lids and rings are sold in most grocery stores. Other items may also come in your kit but the ones above are what I used and was thankful that I had.

1. Preparations:
A. Run the jars and rings through your dish washer and sanitize setting, time it so that hopefully they will still be hot right when you want to ladel the hot jam into the jars, if possible.
B. Also get a giant canning pot ready with water coming up to boil. I used my beer brewing pot. This takes a long time.
C. Third, get a small little sauce pan with water and boil the jar lids for 5-10 minutes and keep them warm (follow the directions on your jars or pectin box also). This softens the gum sealant on the lids.

2. I started by washing and picking through the blueberries so that I had 10 cups. I'd measure one cup, put it in a bowl and mash it with a masher, and then add it to the rest of the mashed blueberries




3. Mix the pectin with 1/4 c of the sugar

4. Mix the blueberries, lemon juice, and pectin mixture and cook to a full boil (the kind that cannot be stirred away). This takes time

5. Add the rest of the sugar, bring it back to a boil, and boil it hard for 1 minute

6. You can add a little more pectin if you want your jam thicker (test it using the spoon method and letting it cool as noted in the linked website above)

7. Fill the jars (make sure the jars are hot.. if they aren't hot from the dishwasher, I dipped them in the canning boiling water as long as I could stand it (10-15 seconds) to heat the glass). Use a ladle and the funnel

8. Wipe the mouths of the jars clean and seal the jars by placing a lid (use the lid lifter magnet) on the top and screwing on a ring

9. Use the jar tongs to place the jars in the boiling water bath in the canning pot and keep them there for 5-10 minutes

10. Take the jars out (use the tons again) and let them rest at room temperature. The lids should pop down over the next 24 hours. If they don't seal properly (they make a popping noise when you push on the lid), you should start by eating that jam first or you could try boiling it again... I tried that and it did seem to work for some of the jars.

I believe this jam lasts up to 12 months but with a blueberry jam eating machine around like The Husband, they might not last that long. I have made this recipe twice, the second time I did two back-to-back batches so I actually have 18 pints of blueberry jam on my hands right now. I have 24 4oz jars and 12 pints and I plan to give some away. The Husband was not going to let me give any away without making this kind of quantity

I'm really happy to have my first canning experience under my belt! I hope to find a great salsa recipe some day and try canning that, or maybe some apple butter in the fall using Michigan apples. I also hope to get the late-summer raspberries from the farmer's market and make some raspberry jam but we're already running out of time! I also need some more jars though we found some in the basement from the previous home owner. This recipe tastes great and just as good as the high-end blueberry jams I typically buy. I hope you enjoy. The website procedure that I followed here has a lot more information and was very helpful with photos and all so I recommend checking it out.


Banana Crumb Muffins


This is a tasty little recipe. I wanted to make something special for The Husband for breakfast as well as use up some super ripe bananas. Of course, this was extra super duper nice of me because I was specifically cutting out sweets from my diet for several weeks... so I threw the rest in the freezer. This was a good experiment though and a few weeks later I pulled a few out, popped them in the microwave for a few seconds, and tried one and it was still quite moist and very tasty. I definitely would make this recipe again. This would also be a good make-ahead recipe for a breakfast or brunch since they would keep for a few days and they freeze well also. I hope you enjoy!

Banana Crumb Muffins
As seen here on AllRecipes.com

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease 10 muffin cups, or line with muffin papers.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and cinnamon. Cut in 1 tablespoon butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Breakfast Pizza and Grilled Pizza but not Grilled Breakfast Pizza

At Nino Salvaggio's and many other grocery stores, you can buy raw pizza dough - usually in the freezer section. I like Nino's version and have used it a few times for making grilled pizzas. Who hasn't seen an episode on Food Network where some one is quickly throwing on some dough and whipping up a delicious-looking grilled pizza? I always saw that and wondered - maybe we should try it?? Well you should! It's not too difficult, especially if you buy pre-made dough. I heard you can even go to your local pizzeria and ask to buy their dough so that might work, also. Look, I've also made homemade pizza dough. It was a nice experience, recipe was only OK so I'd like to try another but on this day I didn't have time for that.

We had some great visitors - Gwen and Tom - over for dinner last weekend and The Husband and I both thought of "grilled pizzas!" for a dinner idea. We always make some BBQ chicken pizza - shredded or diced chicken seasoned to your liking, bacon, onions, bell peppers, BBQ sauce, mozzarella cheese, and we also made a regular supreme pizza - bacon, onions, bell peppers, and fennel sausage, mozzarella cheese and regular pizza sauce. I also had some fresh basil from my herb garden on top but I forgot to sprinkle on oregano, darn!

The method for grilled pizzas is this - thaw / let your pizza dough come to room temp - oil the bowl and loosely cover and let it rise/come to room temp. This took 3-4 hours for a fully frozen pizza dough. One dough that I buy from Nino's makes 4 personal-sized pizzas. I was concerned this might not be exactly enough so I took a half of another pizza dough and made 2 more -- I knew this would be too much but leftover pizza isn't so bad!

When the pizza dough is room temp, cut into 4 chunks and roll/stretch out the pizzas. You can make a super large pizza if you want. I didn't have a lot of time to let the dough rest and I know that makes the stretching easier, but I love crisp thin pizzas so a little more time and rolling will probably help. Use olive oil to grease the tops and bottoms of the pizza crusts. I usually put them on squares of parchment papers and use cookie sheets to move them outside to the grill.

Turn you grill on to med-high heat - nice and hot and pre-heated. The dough will seem too soft and I thought "that will sink between the grates" .. and it seems like it will but grill one side of the pizza doughs for 2-3 minutes or until charred to your liking. You'll see they are puffing up and perfect when you check on them. Remove the one-side grilled crusts back onto your parchment paper/cookie sheets, grilled side up.

Now take all your pizza crusts inside and put your toppings on the grilled side of the crusts. I had my crusts half-grilled and waiting - this is a good stopping point for a do-ahead dinner. Have your guests arrive and top their own half-grilled pizzas - make a "pizza bar" with all of the different toppings laid out. All you have to do next is pop the crusts back on the grill to char up the raw side of the crusts for another 2-3 minutes and voila - grilled pizza! Close the lid to the grill too, and your cheese will melt and all will be well in the world. I pre-cook my onions and peppers and things just because the crusts aren't on the grill for too long.


So - I should have taken more pictures of the grilled pizza... I just have this one photo of what we reheated for lunch the next day (it was tasty after baking in the oven for a while!)


I do have pictures of what I made the next day with the 1/2 of the dough I had left over. Breakfast pizza! I have never made this before or even eaten it. People order it from Holden's in Milford and bring it into work but I'm always on a diet or not there and miss out. Anyway, there seem to be 2 types of breakfast pizzas. One where the eggs are beaten and then they turn into a scrambled egg topping and one where the eggs are more like a sunny side up. I asked The Husband and the choice for us was sunny-side up style so we could get that runny yolk.

I still had leftover toppings from the night before which was so helpful. Bacon, sausage, cheese, onions, peppers... all good stuff. I made half with a little pizza sauce too because I didn't know if that would be good or not.

I followed the method as noted here on The Kitchn - preheated my oven to 500 degrees. I prepared the dough as I did for grilling - olive oil and rolling/stretching out the dough into one big pizza. I sprinkled all the toppings on except the eggs. I placed it in the oven for 5 minutes. After that I slipped 4 eggs on top of the pizza and put it back in the oven until the eggs were set. It took about 10 minutes when it was all said and done.

The results were delicious and The Husband agreed, we'd definitely make this again and having some extra pizza dough on hand is not a bad thing at all. Yum! Hope you try it and enjoy.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Extra Frosting? Make some flower cupcakes!


After Brenda's baby shower cake, we had some extra frosting and my dear friend Natalie was coming over to go to a mom2mom sale with me. My mom whipped up some cupcakes and I decided to make some pink and purple roses to adorn the cupcakes. I overdid the purple a little but oh well, just thought I'd post it anyway!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brenda's Baby Shower Cake


Well this post is a little overdue as Brenda has already given birth to beautiful Brittany! However, here is a little bit about the adventure my mom and I had while putting together her baby shower cake.

Since I had just had a baby, we still wanted to do a shower cake for my very dear childhood friend Brenda, but I enlisted my mom for help since I wasn't sure about how such a large cake would go while having a baby. My mom was in charge of doing the baking and prepping the icing, then I just get to waltz in and do all the decorating.. talk about an ideal situation! haha

I have already made a bassinet shower cake for Cindy so I wanted to put a new twist on it. I had seen a few examples of this on cakecentral.com - a white chocolate hood instead of using cake for the hood. I did a practice run with some chocolate melts and a bowl and it seemed to work out OK. You simply spread the melted candy melts onto half of a stainless steel bowl and pop it in the freezer until it hardens and pops out of the bowl easily. I also used some masking tape to create straight edges.

We made marshmallow buttercream tinted pink (she didn't want anything fruity otherwise I would've used raspberry!) and chocolate cake, since Brenda was having chocolate cravings. Yum! I carved the ends of the cake to be more rounded so we could get rid of that square cake look and have more of an oval shape.



I made up some pink icing, green icing, and a little yellow and orange for the 4-color basketweave I wanted to do on the side. The ruffles on the bottom and top of the lower portion of the cake were going to be white, pink, and some details of green.

The sheets of the bassinet were green and I made a criss cross pattern plus used some papertowel pressing to give it a swirly dotted texture if you looked really close.



My favorite thing about the cake was the fondant blanket which I made by rolling out fondant, using a scalloped ribbon cutter for the edges, a circle decorator's tip to cut out the circles and then a star decorator's tip to create a textured "star" effect in diagonals, which you could see through. I loved how it turned out.



That's as far as I got on the Friday before the shower - I was busy on Saturday but came back on Sunday and finished up the cake. I added a little more detail around the bottom green ribbon of buttercream on top of the ruffles. I made the bassinet hood with white chocolate and once we placed that on the cake, I covered it with pink and white buttercream ruffles.



It was a bumpy ride to the shower location so we had a little bit of a mishap with some of the buttercream in the back. I would still do this design again but I would definitely create some kind of a hidden platform on which to place the white chocolate hood so that it had more support instead of the edges of the cake.

We had a great time making the cake and a nice time at the shower seeing Brenda! Congrats Brenda and Kris!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My First Frozen Buttercream Transfer


A perfect opportunity to try out the "frozen buttercream transfer" method of decorating a cake was my nephew's 3rd birthday. He loves Mickey Mouse and I saw a lot of great Mickey birthday cakes on cakecentral.com, so I decided to finally try out this new frozen buttercream transfer thing.

You can do this for any kind of intricate or character design that you can print out a template for - and it's pretty handy because you can do it in advance. I found a free coloring book image of mickey mouse with some balloons (as seen  here... took me a while to find this so I hope this helps!) I reversed it and then printed it out in the size that worked for me. It fit nicely on a 10x10 square cake.

The idea is to put your reversed printed out template underneath some parchment paper so you can see through it. Start with the black outline color (I bought all my vivid colors because we can't have Mickey with gray ears and pink trousers!) and with a small decorating tip (size #2 or so), outline everything on the parchment paper. Then start filling in the colors - start with the colors that would be on TOP of the cake (you have to think of this backwards...). For instance, after the black outline, you have to do the white buttons before doing the red trousers because you'll eventually flip this image over and what gets frosted first will be on the top.



I filled in the eyes, gloves and buttons in white, yellow balloon, shoes and hat portions, then I did the blue balloon and hat, red tongue and trousers and then the skin tone last. And because I didn't want an edge around the mickey image, I decided to just transfer the entire top of the cake so I did a big layer of white which was my cake's background color. I'm not sure I'd do this again - you could definitely see the piping lines. I think it was hard to smooth the icing also, so I may have had my icing too thick. I also had problems with the black outline moving around as I filled in different colors, and as you can see some of the blue bled over the lines and there were some other imperfections like that. Overall, I think my nephew recognized it was Mickey and was happy so that was the main thing.

After you get all of your buttercream drawn out, you slide the parchment onto a baking sheet and freeze it. I froze mine overnight but you can do so for longer. I baked and filled and crumb coated my cake and I also had the sides done already. I then took the frozen transfer out of the freezer and flipped it upside down onto the cake, centered it, and peeled off the parchment. Actually it was solid and it came off in a block and the parchment slipped right off, so that part was easy.

The buttercream starts to come to room temperature where I tried to smooth out the edges and round them down to match up with the sides. I should've leveled my cake better so I had to prop up some of the transfer with more frosting and tried to smooth it out. It worked out OK and I would definitely try the frozen buttercream transfer method again.

I used the following blog tutorial with how to do it and I highly recommend going there instead of using my silly instructions above. It was very helpful!

Helpful Frozen Buttercream Transfer Tutorial on Soggy Cheerios

More Brunch: Pomegranate Mimosas and McClures Bloody Marys


Speaking of brunch (the last few posts have been french toast and sugar buns!), I just noticed some pictures of the drinks we had at our brunch we hosted for some near and dear friends.

One of our friends brought some fabulous bloody mary mix from Detroit's own McClures
(known for their amazing pickles!) - he also brought some hot pickles to garnish and we had some stuffed olives and it was great. The mix and pickles were spicy and delicious. If you find yourself typically buying bloody mary mix and having to add a bunch of ingredients to make it tasty, try McClures, it's got different spices in it and the pickling brine in it and a lot of great flavor right from the get-go. Plus it's always great to support a Michigan company. I've seen McClures featured on FoodNetwork and the first time I saw their pickles available was at the Eastern Market in Detroit. Now you can find them in stores around!


We also had two kinds of pomegranate mimosas - one with a splash of orange juice and one without. This was a tasty and pretty drink, fruit and champagne in the morning is always a good thing. Some one has already thought of this, I'm sure, but I think I'll call it the Pom-osa! I guess I already posted a blog about this here, but oh well!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Martha Stewart's Sugar Buns


Well I've made The Husband's mom's fabulous quiche recipe several times but for a recent brunch, I decided to try a new recipe to go along with that - Martha Stewart's sugar buns. We were having a brunch at our house on Easter weekend with some of the nearest and dearest friends of The Husband and I ... the newly engaged and the new parents... all sorts of wonderful things to celebrate. So this called for a tasty breakfast!

I had seen this on Martha Bakes! at my mom's house and it was a recipe for her yeast dough which can be then used for sugar buns or sticky buns or monkey bread, I think. I hadn't done much with yeast before so that was fun. I probably didn't do it quite right or maybe over mixed but I think these turned out tasty nonetheless. I think baking and doughs take a lot of practice and there is a "feel" to the perfect dough that I just don't know yet. I look forward to making some cinnamon buns sometime soon also. This was fun and they were pretty good - what's not to like about cinnamon sugary doughy goodness? They were especially wonderful while still warm out of the oven.

Another thing I liked about this recipe is that you can make the dough and let it rise the first time the day before, roll it and fill with cinnamon and sugar goodness, slice and put into the cupcake tin, and then place in the fridge overnight to rise the second time. This way, in the morning before your guests arrive, you can take the muffin tins out to come to room temperature and the rising will be all finished and they're ready to go for baking. Very easy and convenient and no need to get your hands dirty the day of your brunch!


Martha's Sugar Buns
The recipe can be found here on MarthaStewart.com

Valentine's Day French Toast


So this post is a million years late, but I just came across the picture and it looks like a tasty little breakfast. It's a good make-ahead breakfast - you can keep this warm in the oven. To celebrate Valentine's day, I made some special french toast for The Husband and I. Here is how I do "special occasion" french toast (instead of just using regular sandwich bread and a few eggs and milk)....

1 loaf of challah or other egg bread.. this was braided challah with raisins from Nino's.. yum
eggs (I don't know, 4 or 5?)
cream (milk would still work...)
vanilla
fresh grated nutmeg
cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut the challah into big thick slices. In a big casserole dish, beat the eggs and cream with a fork. Grate in the fresh nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Place all of the slices of bread in the dish and make sure there's enough egg/cream mixture to get around halfway up the slices. Let sit for 5 minutes or so and then flip the slices so that the other sides can soak up the rest of the egg mixture. We're making a little "egg custard" soaked french toast here.

Once your bread has soaked up all the liquid and it is generally juicy (if there are dry spots, you need a little more egg/cream). Get a big skillet or frying pan going with some butter (this is not a diet recipe, folks). An electric griddle that you use for pancakes would be great for this also. Once the butter is bubbly, brown the bread slices on one side - maybe 5 minutes, then flip for another 5 minutes. Depending how hot your griddle is - keep an eye so that you keep things "golden" and not overdone. If you have cut some nice thick slices, that's great and don't worry - the egg inside might still be raw so just take your browned slices and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil and finish cooking the french toast in the oven for 10 minutes or so.

I'm sorry the directions are fuzzy but we're talking about french toast here.. probably you all know how to make it already! This was a nice treat - with a 2month old at home, I hadn't been spending much time in the kitchen and special meals are few and far in between.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New Pom-Wonderful Cocktail Recipes

The nice people over at POM-Wonderful sent me some free samples of Pomegranate-Cranberry juice. I can finally start having some cocktails again, now that I'm not pregnant so it was time to do some experimenting. So far, I have three tasty concoctions:


POM-Cranberry Cosmopolitan
Basically it's just an ounce of vodka, 1/2 ounce of cointreau or other citrus spirit, and an ounce or two of POM-Cranberry with a splash of lime juice or twist of a lime. Very tasty.




POM-Cranberry Hard Iced Tea
This was our favorite - it's sweet but it's delicious. My sister-in-law, Jessie, was sweet enough to send us a bottle of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. I hadn't really tried it much and it sat on the shelf all last year but boy it was a great match with the POM-Cranberry juice. I would say equal parts Firefly Vodka and POM-Cranberry is a great match - it's sweet and delicious. A great summer cocktail.

POM-Cranberry Mimosas
We had a brunch this morning and with some leftover champagne, I decided to try out the POM-Cranberry to see what would happen (besides making a very pretty rose colored mimosa!). I tried it both ways - add a splash of POM-Cranberry to your champagne, with or without a splash of orange juice. They were both good and a nice variation from your classic mimosa.

Anyway I had some fun with trying out the new flavor, so thanks to POM-Wonderful for sending along some free samples.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Indispensable Kitchen Tools

Tricia of Jonski Blogski Jonski Blogski challenged the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers to create a post in February about our most "indispensable kitchen tools".

So let's see, what are basic tools that I use every day and can't live without in the kitchen? At first I was thinking of things that I don't use very often but are handy when I do need them - like a submersible blender for soups and gravies, a scale for when I'm baking or weighing food for one reason or another, or my kitchenaid stand mixer, which I use for desserts more than anything else. The thing is, I don't use those items daily, and not even weekly. For tools that I really really can't live without, I had to get more basic.

The first thing that comes to mind are my knives.

Wusthof Classic 8Piece Block Set 8418

We never had fancy knives growing up and my mom is downright nervous around these things, but when I was getting married in 2006, the "thing to do" was to register for a fabulous set of knives and we were lucky enough to get these Wusthof Classics for our wedding! We also got the matching set of 6 steak knives but we don't need those as often so they don't make the "indispensable tools" cut! I was so pleased with how wonderful it was having a good quality knife in the kitchen that we got my mom a set and she enjoys them too - how did we cook for so long without them? It's one of those things. I use my super large chef's knife every day whether it is for cutting apples for a snack or chopping some onions and peppers for dinner mise en place. I even go as far as bringing it with me when we rent cottages for vacation. I love to do all the cooking on our vacations but I can't stand the crappy knives that the rental owners leave in the kitchens! (I don't blame them for stocking their rentals with crappy knives, actually, but I just work around it!)

Oneida® Colourgrip® Charcoal Handle Cutting Boards
Let's see, what else do I use in the kitchen all the time? Well with knives go cutting boards. I should probably just get a bunch of those plastic ones that can go into the dishwasher but I still have several wood ones. The Oneida ones shown above are dishwasher safe and I use them frequently. I particularly like the rubber ends which grip the countertop and mine also has a rim around it for catching juices and liquids - very handy. You just can't have your cutting board slip-sliding all around - you'll cut yourself! And you can't have juices leaking all over your counter, either. Honestly, every time some one mentions cutting boards on TV, they literally are changing their mind about whether wood or plastic is better. So I'm not about to throw out my wood ones yet, I just heard they were better last week! Ha. I try not to cut raw meat on any of my boards and just use a paper plate usually, just to make myself feel better sanitation-wise.


The third and final must-have item for me is my range. It was more expensive of a stove than The Husband was planning to get (this was before we were married), but it turns out the stupid layout in our kitchen meant that the dishwasher door would hit the handles of cheaper ranges so he got this Bosch gas stove, which is wonderful. Obviously I use this basically every day and it has never failed. I love gas stoves and I never want to go back to electric. That might be a problem when and if we ever get to move out into the country, but I'll deal with that then. Propane is expensive! For now, this is working out perfectly and the stove has gotten me through many-o-parties and entertaining, cake baking and simmering.

Well that sums up my most favorite kitchen basics. I use these items every day! Thanks for the challenge, Tricia!

Friday, February 11, 2011

My First Homemade Granola

Well I'll definitely be making this again! I had to leave out nuts and coconut since The Husband doesn't like those, but we love granola in general so I've always wanted to make it. I have a gigantic oatmeal canister and I had some leftover dried cranberries from last week's apple, pear and cranberry crisp... so homemade granola came to mind. I looked online for recipes on making "clumpy" granola... when I buy those artisan granolas from the store for like $6, I get annoyed when the oats are all separated. I found a few recipes and decided to alter it for our taste.



Clumpy Lumpy Homemade Cranberry Granola

Preheat oven to 250

Mix in a bowl:
4 cups old fashioned oatmeal
3/4 cup sunflower seeds (mine were roasted and salted so I didn't add additional salt)
3/4 cup dried cranberries (I think I added less because all recipes said to add them after baking.. I only added a few prior to baking and they turned out great - I'll add a bunch more next time, about 3/4 cup sounds good)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix in a microwaveable measuring cup:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pop the measuring cup with all of those ingredients into the microwave for 1 minute. Pour into the oats/seeds mixture and mix to coat the oats evenly.

Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, it is good to have it one big solid "bar" of granola... that way it will bake into a solid sheet and you can break it up into big clumps later. Cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes.

Let cool. The sheet of granola should be ready to break off into as big of clumps and lumps as you like, with still some loose granola for you also. This would be a great addition to any boring cereals, yogurt, ice cream, or just as a tasty wholesome snack!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ina's Apple Pear Cranberry Crisp


Yummy! I saw Ina making some tasty treats on her show the other day and she just so happened to be making this crisp which caught my eye because I had just purchased 4 bosc pears. I was possibly going to try poaching them but the more I thought about it, the less I thought The Husband might like a poached pear. Maybe I'll still try it someday, but this crisp was going to be right up The Husband's alley!

It is pretty simple to throw together and Ina had made like 10 personal ramekins so I decided to half the recipe which worked out great for us - dessert for a few days. The dish I used was about 8x8 or 9x9. You simply chop up the fruit, mix up the ingredients and bake. I didn't have a lemon so I just used orange juice and some clementine peel grated, which is what I had on hand. The orange flavor was pronounced so I was worried The Husband wouldn't like it, but he did. I also put cinnamon into the crisp topping, and instead of parchment, I just sprayed my baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and I used room temp butter and slightly less, plus I used granny smith apples, since that's what I had handy. Other than that, I followed the recipe and it turned out just fabulous. I love the dried cranberry addition! Alas, we were out of ice cream but this would be perfect with it. I might make just an apple-cranberry crisp next time, the topping is a keeper also - really delicious. It tastes like little crumbled sandy cookies on top.



Ina's Apple Pear Cranberry Crisp
 as seen here on foodtv.com
Ingredients

2 pounds ripe Bosc pears (4 pears)
2 pounds firm Macoun apples (6 apples)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel and core the pears and apples and cut them into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and toss with the cranberries, zests, juices, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch baking dish

For the topping:
Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pretzel Crusted Mahi Mahi


I got a bag of frozen Mahi Mahi filets from Costco and I was looking for a tasty way to make them besides fish tacos. The Husband and I aren't into fish all that much, I personally need it to either have a topping or sauce or something to add flavor and I always choose the mild tasting fish, for instance we love walleye, perch, salmon, etc. Fried is always good too but I don't deep fry in my kitchen hardly ever. Anyway - I have also a ton of mini pretzel packages since we got a box of those from Costco also (and basically only the mustard flavored ones are getting eaten!) so I thought I should try a pretzel crust for the fish. I've heard of a cracker crust and I think I've seen a pretzel crust somewhere, so I googled for a recipe to follow. I know Mahi Mahi isn't usually crusted with things, and thus I didn't find a recipe for it, but I decided to follow a pretzel crust recipe for some other fish and just give it a whirl with what we have.

I thawed the mahi mahi, seasoned with cajun seasoning and Old Bay seasoning (which we found out we loved when we were in Baltimore!) and then coated them in some pulverized pretzels - I used 3 packages for 4 pieces of fish. I put some foil and cooking spray on a baking sheet and placed the fish on there and let them go. They took about 15-20 minutes and went great with some green beans and garlic and herb couscous with some olives thrown in. Very tasty, and even your family members who don't love fish all that much should like these, we both did and The Husband said to definitely make them again.

Pretzel Crusted Mahi Mahi

4 portions of mahi mahi filets (such as the ones from the frozen bag at Costco which can be thawed in 15-20minutes)
3 mini bags of pretzels or about 1.5 cups of pretzels
Old Bay seasoning or your favorite seasoned salt
Cajun Seasoning
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400. Pulverize the pretzels in your mini food processor or give them a good whack in a plastic bag until they are broken up pretty well. Season the thawed mahi mahi filets with your favorite seasonings, such as old bay and cajun seasoning (herbs and salt and pepper would do just fine also).

Put the pretzels on a plate, season with more spices and salt and pepper if you're interested, and press both sides of the mahi mahi filets into the pretzels and place on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. I sprayed the tops of my fish with more Pam to help with baking and I also put more Old Bay seasoning on top of the filets. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until done. The package said 10-12 minutes but mine took longer, so keep an eye on yours. Enjoy this healthy dinner.. each filet (without pretzel topping) is only 95 calories, so that's some healthy protein for you!

A Daring Baker's Challenge - My Baby Shower Favors - Decorated Sugar Cookies


So this post is WAY late but I did go to a lot of trouble to make these favors, especially since I was 7 months pregnant! So I definitely still wanted to put the post up, even though it's way too late to get credit for participating in the September Daring Baker's Challenge. It just so happened that the September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!”  Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

I have always wanted try my hand at making some of those "professional" looking cutout decorated sugar cookies around. Those Cookies By Design places can charge 3 or 4 dollars per cookie so that certainly would add up fast if you were to use them for a wedding or party favor.

My mom was having my baby shower at her house and we went back and forth about favors, she wanted to just hand out random desserts but I wanted a more uniform favor that was packaged and ready to go, and preferrably something special that I've handmade. We still had an assortment of delicious pastries and confections for dessert. So, I decided the sugar cookies would be great for favors, plus I'd be completing a Daring Baker's challenge, which I haven't done so much while being pregnant. I decided on the "onesie" cut out shape and chose four different designs that I liked, using neutral colors (since we didn't know if it would be a boy or a girl!).

I used royal icing to decorate the tops of the cookies, which isn't my favorite flavor of icing at all, but it hardens nicely and you can do some intricate decorating. This was my first time doing "fill in" work for cookie decorating and it went pretty well, though at first I overflowed on a few cookies until I got the right consistencies and techniques down. The cookie recipe was just OK, I added some grated nutmeg and also some flavorings into the royal icing but I must be honest I won't use this recipe again. You can find the recipe here on Mandy's great blog! I thought the cookies definitely kept their shape well, and the icing certainly was good for packaging.

I bought some cellophane bags and made little favor tags "Thanks from Baby Bliss" and tied them on with ribbon. I think the decorated cookie is always a great favor idea, I always love edible favors myself!



Thanks to Mandy for a great Daring Baker's Challenge, and sorry that my post is about 6 months late! At least I did the challenge part on time!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Baby Shower Invites!



I had ordered these super cute baby shower invites from TinyPrints and I had them sent to my mom's house since I was going to be gone on a long East Coast Trip and they needed to get in the mail. Well, during my trip my mom kept saying she was surprised they hadn't arrived. I didn't understand that since they really should've been there... sure enough they weren't even there by the time I got back. To make a long story short, the problem wasn't with TinyPrints but with the post office, who delivered them a week before the shower, for some odd reason. TinyPrints was super cool about it, sent a second shipment and gave me a great gift card (which I used for some fabulous baby announcements) and really it was a shame all those shower invites will go to waste but maybe I can find a use for them someday if I get out some scrapbooking materials.



Speaking of scrapbooking, about 3 weeks before the shower I had to give up on the ordered invites and figure out a plan B. I wasn't too keen on just buying some crappy invites at a store but I was also really busy and tired so I wasn't sure if I'd have time to make some special ones.
 I decided to just go at least try to find something I could improve upon and headed over to Target. I then went to Michaels to compare, and then back to Target to get these polkadot invites, and then I went back to Michaels to get some materials to dress them up - some card stock, vellum and linen paper, some ribbon, etc.

I covered up the writing on the store-bought invitations with some yellow linen paper and then printed out the invitation writing on some see-through vellum, and I trimmed the top of the invite with some green stitched ribbon with some sparkles. I also printed out some ducky pictures on cardstock and punched them out and mounted them ona thick adhesive to get a 3-D effect. 

I think they turned out super cute and I was even more proud of them than I would've been of my TinyPrints invites, even though it took several hours to put them together. I finally got the shower invites out in the mail and I was super annoyed that they were only a few weeks before the event. Had I known the first ones weren't going to arrive, I would've handmade them ages ago. Then it was time to start working on the shower favors which I was also going to make!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Braised Short Ribs

Welcome to my first post since becoming a Mom! The little guy is 6 weeks old so I guess you could say I'm starting to get a little used to this crazy new lifestyle.

I've seen short ribs mentioned on several of the cooking shows I watch on TV and they always look so good. I've never used them before and I was surprised how expensive they were.. but I think getting 6 to 8 of them, or around 6lbs, was a little more than we needed. However, a lot of the weight is bones and we did have plenty for another big meal. Some day I'd still like to try some asian inspired ones but for now, let's talk about Anne Burrell's recipe which I tried several months ago (but failed to make a blog post!)

The process of making this dish was unlike one I've done before -puree the mirepoix - onions, celery and carrots plus garlic and after browning the short ribs, remove those from the pan and start browning the puree, scraping up the crud, adding the tomato paste, and basically browning everything into a taste flavorful "crud" as she calls it.. you add the wine, reduce by half, and then it's time to throw the short ribs back in the mix, add some water and fresh herbs, and let things go for 3 hours in the oven.

Check out Anne's recipe here, this turned out just delicious. The first night, I served it with celeriac and potato puree which was fabulous. The Husband liked it even better the next day, where I took the meat and sauce and added it to buttery egg noodles. I've heard that braised short ribs are even better served the next day and are often made a day in advance by chefs, so I might try that next time!

This is a very rich dish and it has wonderful flavor, so definitely give it a try if you'd like to try out braised short ribs for the first time like I have, or if this recipe sounds good to you. It's hearty and a sure thing at the dinner table!

Anne Burrell's Braised Short Ribs
As seen on foodnetwork.com

Ingredients


6 bone-in short ribs (about 5 3/4 pounds)
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 cups tomato paste
2 to 3 cups hearty red wine
2 cups water
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves

Directions

Season each short rib generously with salt. Coat a pot large enough to accommodate all the meat and vegetables with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook in batches, if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

While the short ribs are browning, puree all the vegetables and garlic in the food processor until it forms a coarse paste. When the short ribs are very brown on all sides, remove them from the pan. Drain the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with fresh oil and add the pureed vegetables. Season the vegetables generously with salt and brown until they are very dark and a crud has formed on the bottom of the pan, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape the crud and let it reform. Scrape the crud again and add the tomato paste. Brown the tomato paste for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat if things start to burn. Reduce the mixture by half.

Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups water or until the water has just about covered the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more water, if needed. Turn the ribs over halfway through the cooking time. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking to let things get nice and brown and to let the sauce reduce. When done the meat should be very tender but not falling apart. Serve with the braising liquid.