Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Belated Easter!

Happy Belated Easter!

This past week my mom and dad celebrated 25 years of marriage. That's a huge accomplishment in my opinion especially in this day and age. Congrats Mom and Dad and I hope you are enjoying your getaway in Bermuda while I'm stuck at home with Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Since I'm visiting home and playing mommy for a week, I've baked a LOT! My mom complains that since I'm 1500 miles away she never gets to eat anything that I bake so now I'm baking away so when I leave she has an abundance of baked goods to last her a while. So far we've got vanilla bean cupcakes with a chocolate buttercream frosting, banana bread, yellow cake with a buttercream frosting and marshmallow fondant, and chocolate chip cookies stuffed with a double stuffed oreo. Have I baked enough in the past couple of days? I don't think so.

Still left on the to do list are double chocolate brownies, cookies and cream cupcakes, chocolate fudge, and chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. I have until Wednesday morning to have all of these baked and stored. Oh dear.

Here's the recipe for the vanilla bean cupcakes I used. They turned out fantastically! They were so good that I don't think there will be any left before Mom and Dad get home. Sad day.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes 
3 cups Cake Flour
1 tblsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 Vanilla Bean (split lengthwise)
1 cup Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
2 cups Sugar
5 large eggs (room temperature)
1 1/4 cups Buttermilk (room temperature)
1 tblsp. Vanilla Extract

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.  Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.  Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl of the mixer with the butter and discard the pod (or reserve for another use.)  Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.
Add the sugar to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition.  Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.
Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full (you will likely have batter left over after filling 24 wells.)  Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Replace paper liners and bake remaining batter if desired.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Easy Chocolate Buttercream 
1 cup Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
3 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 tblsp. Salt
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
4 tblsp. Milk or Heavy Cream

Cream butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift 3 cups powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.

This is what my cupcakes looked like after all was said and done. Also, check out the pretty new cake stand my mom found at a bake sale. When she bought the cake that was sitting on it she didn't know the cake stand was included! Score!

 I'm not a professional photographer so excuse the poor quality of pictures. These cupcakes were so good it was hard to eat just one. It's a good thing I'm participating in a half marathon in six days or I would seriously be regretting all of the sweets I've been eating.

In addition to the cupcakes and other assorted bake goods, I had my first attempt at actually decorating a cake. I think it turned out pretty well and I almost cried when I had to cut into it to serve it. Poor Mr. Easter Bunny. You were so, so pretty.

I hope everyone had a fantastic Easter! I better get back to baking or I'm never going to finish in time.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I love pasta. I love, love, love pasta and anything Italian really. My roommates tease me because every night when I make dinner I always make some variation of an Italian dish. I can't help it. I'm a picky eater and so far Italian cuisine has never let me down.

I was browsing through Annie's Eats and saw her recipe for "Baked Ziti." Well, because I am such an avid Italian food fan, I felt an immediate need to whip up some pasta dish. Normally, I keep jarred ready-made sauces in my pantry and I put my own twist on them by adding in different ingredients but this time I decided to try and make my own spaghetti sauce.

The house smelled absolutely amazing while it was cooking and I don't think I will ever go back to buying jarred spaghetti sauce. Here's the recipe I used and I added a few of my own little touches just because of how picky an eater I am.

1/2 cup Yellow Onion, finely chopped
1 lb. Ground Beef
5 cloves of Garlic, minced
1 14.5 ounce can of Diced Tomato
1 28 ounce can of Tomato Sauce
1 tsp. Dried Oregano
1/2 cup Fresh Basil Leaves, chopped
1 tsp. Sugar
Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Heavy Cream

In a large saucepan over medium heat, begin to brown the ground beef (Don't be afraid to substitute for ground turkey or as Annie's Eats did turkey sausage, I'm just not a fan of turkey).
Add in the onions and garlic and continue to cook until onion is softened and translucent and the beef is browned.
Stir in the diced tomatoes, the tomato sauce, oregano, and the heavy cream and simmer until sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes. (Because I am not a huge fan of that overly strong tomato-y taste, I almost always mix in heavy cream just to dumb down that tomato flavor. I did the same with this recipe and it still taste fantastic.) 
Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil, sugar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In the words of Ina Garten, "How easy was that!?" I always thought making spaghetti sauce from scratch was going to be difficult and time consuming but this was NOTHING. The smell that permeated throughout the house was absolutely amazing and made me so hungry. This sauce is great for making a Baked Ziti like on Annie's Eats or for just eating it poured over some noodles and some Parmesan cheese on top. Delish.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls

I love cinnamon rolls. I grew up in a house where breakfast consisted of whatever cereal was in the pantry or a granola bar on your way out the door. Occasionally, there would be a box of donuts from the grocery store or if it was a really good week, leftover "Cinnabon" from a trip to the mall over the weekend.

Ever since moving out of my parents house and living on my own, I told myself I was going to learn to make cinnamon rolls from scratch so I can do it for my family should I ever have one someday. Well, a couple weeks ago, I finally gave it a try and I have to say for a first attempt it wasn't TOO bad. It's all thanks to The Pioneer Woman and her fabulous cinnamon rolls recipe. If I had more time, I'd probably make these at least once a week.

As a note, these cinnamon rolls do take a LOT of time but in the end they are SO worth it. I was very intimidated at first but it's really not all that difficult.

4 cups Milk
1 cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Granulated Sugar
2 pkgs. Dry Active Yeast
9 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
3/4 tsp. Baking Soda
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 cups Unsalted Butter (melted)
1 cup Granulated Sugar

Mix milk, vegetable oil, and sugar in a large saucepan and heat to scalding. Basically, just until it begins to boil. Stir constantly to avoid a big giant mess. (I learned this the hard way.) 
Turn off the heat and let the mixture stand for about 45-60 minutes. When time is up, check to make sure the mixture is lukewarm before continuing on.
Pour the two packets of dry active yeast over the top of the milk, sugar, oil mixture and let it do it's thing for a few minutes.
After a minute or two, add in the 8 cups of flour and stir to combine. (This took a lot of elbow grease but it could have just been because my pot was on the smaller side and it took a lot to get all of the flour incorporated. Or I'm just a wimp.) Cover with a warm wet towel and let stand for an hour.
When the timer goes off, add in the remaining 1 cup of flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix well right in the pan.
To make my life easier, I rolled out the dough in three batches. My kitchen doesn't have as much counter space and it was a lot easier for me to work with.
Generously butter the dough with the melted butter. (Don't be afraid of how much butter you're using. This is far from a health conscious cinnamon roll.) Sprinkle the 1 cup of sugar and the cinnamon over the top to create the ooey, gooey, yumminess that will be your cinnamon rolls.
Starting from the edges furthest from you, roll the dough into a log keeping it as tight as possible. (Having a well floured surface and rotating the dough as you roll it out is key to keeping it from sticking) When you get to the end of the roll, pinch the edges together to seal it all in.
Cut into about 1" pieces and place into greased pans. (With the full recipe I had between 45-50 cinnamon rolls.)
Allow the rolls to sit in their pans and let them get to know each other for 20-30 minutes. (This is a good time to freeze them if making them ahead of time. Just pull them out of the freezer, allow them to proof, and bake whenever needed.) 
Heat the oven to 400°F and bake these sweet things for 15-18 minutes.

I used a simple cream cheese frosting because I am a cream cheese addict but any sort of frosting (maple, cream cheese...etc.) will do. Here's the recipe I used to make these things even more delectable.

Cream Cheese Frosting: 
4 ounces Cream Cheese (room temperature)
1 cup Powdered Sugar
1/2 stick Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls and serve warm or room temperature.

Bon appetit!

Double Chocolate Cupcakes with a Creamy Peanut Butter Buttercream

Chocolate + Peanut Butter = Euphoria.

How can anyone go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter? I can't think of a better combination for a cupcake. These were a big hit. I made them once just because I was bored one day and when my roommates and a couple friends ate them all within 24 hours, I figured it'd be a good idea to make them again. So I did. And this time I brought them to a church fellowship and there wasn't a single one left! As a newbie to this whole thing, it was quite the ego boost!

I have to admit, being the novice baker that I am, the idea of creating a buttercream on my own was a little intimidating but I figured if I was ever going to figure it out, I had to try. This recipe for peanut butter buttercream was surprisingly simple and it was definitely a positive experience.

Unfortunately, the two times that I have made this cupcake, I failed to take pictures of the whole process. However, I did manage to snap a few pictures of the finished product. Enjoy!

Double Chocolate Cupcake:
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
2 Eggs
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Boiling Water
1 3/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 bag Milk Chocolate Chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F . Line 12 muffin tins with cupcake liners.

Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
In a stand mixer, combine eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Slowly add in dry ingredients to wet and mix until just combined (batter will be thin). Mix in chocolate chips.
Scoop batter into muffin tins filling about 2/3 of the way full. (I also like to drop 4-5 chocolate chips on top before I put them in the oven.)
Bake for 22-25 minutes or until wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pans.

Peanut Butter Buttercream:
16 tbsp. Unsalted Butter, room temperature
1 cup smooth Peanut Butter
1 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
2 pinches Table Salt
1 tbsp. Vanilla Extract
2 tbsp. Heavy Cream  

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and peanut butter at medium speed until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar and salt and continue to beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened. Scrape down sides and mix well. Add vanilla and heavy cream and mix until correct consistency.

This is what my finished cupcakes looked like after all was said and done. They were absolutely sinful and divine and it wasn't until after I had already devoured two of them that I thought about the calories. But I'm a college student. I'm only going to have this metabolism once, right?


First Post!

Welcome to "Easy As π"

I'm Jess, an engineer-in-training and a nanny. I like to cook. I love to bake. And I really enjoy giving the people I love a meal that isn't processed or mass cooked. These are my adventures in the kitchen working my way through several cookbooks and recipes I've collected.