Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dessert Trials

The past few weeks have been super busy!!  The best part was trying out some brand new desserts!  A good friend of mine is going on a mission trip this summer and decided to auction off his awesome chef skills to raise some money for the trip.  Six course dinner for a good cause anyone?

Well, it's been a while since the two of us were in the kitchen together.  So I couldn't resist offering up my services to throw down some yummy dessert.  Four desserts went head to head to see which one would win out.  Thanks to some lovely family and friends who were kind enough to lend me their taste buds, we narrowed it down to the chosen one!  Here they are:

"Nutty Banana" - Brown butter cake, caramelized banana, rum ice cream and candied peanuts
"Samoa" - Chocolate cake, toasted marshmallow, chocolate tuile, caramel ice cream, toasted coconut 

 "Oh, Honey" - Cornmeal almond cake, almond bark, citrus lime crisp, honey ice cream, candied citrus zest
"Chocolate Covered Cherry" - Chocolate mousse and caramel jelly cake, cherry port compote, almond financier, sour cream ice cream, port reduction

Can't wait to see what the guests think of the dessert.  I hope they have just as much fun eating it as I did making it!!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Body After Baby...Step 2

I must admit that I was pretty proud of myself last week.  I set my breakfast, snack and lunch eating schedule and stuck to it...except for that one stop I made at Chick fil A yesterday but one cheat won't kill me...right?

With just the change in my diet, overall I feel better, have (a little) more energy than normal and have lost a pound.  YEAH!  So with Step 1 successfully underway, time to add on Step 2...exercise.

UGH!  If you are anything like me, this is the part that trips you up.  Someone once told me that all I have to do is find an exercise I like and the rest will fall into place naturally.  Here's the thing...I actually like working out.  I've found several different ways to get exercise that I enjoy, and every time I complete said task I feel great about myself.  Except most of the things that I enjoy are a touch on the time consuming side.  I've never found a class I don't like.  Yoga, pilates, Zumba...all good!  And I LOVE to swim!  The thing is before I go into one of those workout sessions, after or even sometimes during, I start thinking of all the other things I could be doing with that hour or so.  There's laundry that needs to be done, dishes that need to be washed, toys that need to be put away.  Like so many other moms out there, I have a hard time putting the "necessary" things aside long enough to do something to make myself better and healthier.  No one else puts that guilt on but me.  And no one would mind if I took those hours to better myself.  Still, I knew if I was going to get into a routine that would actually help me, I needed to find something that I could do at home, while with the baby if needed and would be over in less than 20 mins. 

I went on a search for the perfect plan for me.  I have several friends on Facebook who are Beachbody coaches, so I started there.  I have the PiYo program already, which I like, but some of the workouts are a little long winded.  I also wasn't a fan of having to pay for something...again...that I knew deep down I would only use intermittently.  So onward I pressed.

I found a few free plans online that met my time restrictions, but you needed weights and ropes and stretchy pieces of material to stretch with.  I knew I was being picky wanting something that only used what I already had laying around the house...but I KNEW something had to be out there.  And that's when I found...

Bikini Body Mommy!  The creator of this site is a woman named Briana Christine.  She not only has a website where you can get 90 days worth of FREE workouts, but she has a great Facebook page and You Tube channel where she demonstrates the workouts for you.  As of right now, she is up to 4 different 90 day challenges, I'm working through number 3.  The daily workouts are quick, easy and (most importantly) kick your booty!  Better yet...they are all FREE!  She does have customizable dietary options that you have to pay for...but for the most part...everything is free.  She also goes day by day through the workouts herself and posts to Facebook to help her followers hold themselves accountable.  Her new group starts May 4, so if that's something you are interested in, head on over and check it out!  Its pretty awesome.
NO GUILT.  What a concept.  One I know I need to work on, but one step at a time I'm getting there.  So it's been two weeks since I started working on getting my body back and I've only worked out two days.  This week I shoot for 3 or 4.  Baby steps...little by little...I'm going to get there and be happier and healthier for it!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Birthday Momma!

This past Wednesday was my mom's birthday.  April day...Happy Birthday, right?

In order to soften the tax blow, I decided to make her a very special birthday treat this year.  Her favorite dessert is Key Lime Pie.  I had heard of Key Lime Cake before but never tried it out.  Seemed like the perfect time to test out a new cake flavor!

Dinner was set with some family and close friends, one of which is gluten free so I decided to make the cake gluten free as well so she could have some. Can't leave people out on cake now can we?!?

I found a good looking recipe for the cake and decided to fill it with key lime curd to up the tart factor so that it would closely resemble the flavor of the pie.  I then made a marshmallow meringue frosting to top it with.  Although this type of frosting is pretty soft and wouldn't work well for any real type of fine piping work, it was AMAZING!!  Way better than buttercream in my opinion.  I plan on using it over and over again!  I also coated the outside of the cake with gluten free graham cracker crumbs to add the last little element of a key lime pie.  I must say that I was pretty dang pleased with the outcome!
To say the cake was a success would have been an understatement.  The birthday girl was happy (most important) as was everyone else at the table...except the hubs...who doesn't like lime and isn't a big cake person either...can't win them all I guess!  We even shared some with our two waitresses who "just happened" to bring over two more plates than we really needed.  The little that was left at the end of the night went to work with my mom the next day where it was gobbled up by the lucky staff who were fast enough to get a piece.  Everyone wanted to know the further ado...ENJOY!

Gluten Free Key Lime Cake with Marshmallow Frosting (adapted from Annie Eats and Always with Butter)

3 c gluten free flour (THIS is my favorite.  You can swap it into any recipe 1:1 without adding anything!)
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter; room temperature
2 1/2 c sugar
1 lime; zest only
4 eggs; room temperature
1 3/4 c buttermilk; room temperature
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 tsp coconut extract

1 - In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. 
2 - In the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter until light ad fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the zest and blend.  Add sugar 1/2 c at a time, mixing well with each addition.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition.  Scrape down the bowl well.
3 - Combine buttermilk and both extracts.  Alternate adding flour mix and buttermilk mix to the mixer in three batches, beginning and ending with your flour mix.  Scrape down the bowl well.
4 - Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans and divide mixture evenly between them.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 mins until cake tester comes out clean.  Leave in pans for 10 mins before inverting onto a rack to cool completely.

KEY LIME CURD: (This gives you a little more than you need to fill the cake but extra is always good!)
3 eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c key lime juice
4 T butter

1 - In a small saucepan, combine eggs and sugar.  Whisk together well.  Whisk in key lime juice.  Place over low heat and cook, stirring constantly until mixture is warm.  It is important to constantly whisk over low heat to avoid scrambling your eggs! 
2 - Once mixture is warm, whisk in butter one tablespoon at a time, allowing each to melt before adding the next.  Once all the butter is added, continue to cook, whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 170 degrees.  If you don't have a thermometer, cook until it leaves a thick coat on the back of a spoon.
3 - If you think you might have lumps, strain your curd.  Otherwise, cool completely over an ice bath, stirring occasionally.

1 1/4 c sugar
3 egg whites; room temperature
1/4 c water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 T vanilla

1 - In the bowl of a mixer, combine sugar, egg whites, water and cream of tartar.  Whisk until very foamy.
2 - Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water (creating a double boiler) and whisk until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is well warmed through.  Add vanilla and put the mixing bowl back on te stand mixer.  Whisk on high speed until mixture forms stiff peaks.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Body After Baby...Step 1

I have been blessed with two beautiful girls. 
Photo Credit to Portraits by Crystal - She's AMAZING!!
Although I love them more than words can express and wouldn't trade them for the world,  don't so much love what pregnancy did to my body.  While I was pregnant with my little peanut, we went through a good amount of change in our family.  We moved, my oldest started a new school...and another new school and I started two new jobs, one as a personal chef and the other working a few days in a new bakery in Raleigh.  To say I was busy and constantly tired was an understatement.  I tried my best to eat well, but working out?  That fell by the wayside real fast.  In the end, I didn't gain as much weight this time around as I did the first time around, but I started at a slightly heavier weight so it feels like I have more to loose.

Yesterday was my official post partum checkup and doc cleared me to work out again.  This, for me, is a blessing and a curse.  In the past when I've wanted to "get back in shape" I put up these impossible goals for myself, basically setting myself up for failure.  I pretend that I'm actually going to go from my day to day hecticness to being able to fit in a full workout everyday.  And COMPLETELY change my diet to go along with it.  I decided this time I would try VERY HARD not to put those expectations on myself.  Which, if you met me, you know how almost impossible that is.  Still, when I stand back and look at the big picture, I know that baby steps is the only way I'm going to get to where I want to go.  So...

STEP 1 - Think about my diet.

Before my little peanut was born, I made a freezer full of food to get us through dinner time.  After all, I knew from experience that I wasn't going to have the fore thought to think about dinner during the day.  I've been increasingly thankful that we can still rely on these meals since she is an eating machine...especially at dinner time...which keeps me pretty preoccupied.  Although I tried to keep things as healthy as possible, reheating frozen meals limits the amounts of fresh fruits and veggies you can get.  So instead of trying to revamp my entire diet like I would have in the past, I decided to work with what I got...let myself off the hook for dinner...and focus on the rest of the day.

I had been noticing that I had not been eating the way I really should during the day.  Between trying to catch a little extra sleep during peanut's morning nap, feeding on demand, being conscious to drink enough water and trying to accomplish anything else during the day, I was finding that I wasn't really eating.  So I came up with a food calendar for breakfast, a snack and lunch.  Then, I sat aside some time to pre make everything!  There was the key.  Even if a snack was super easy, like hummus and vegetables, I knew if I left cutting the actual vegetables to when I was ready to eat them...well...I may not eat them.  Preparation really is key. 

I printed off a calendar and keep it by the coffee pot with a highlight, because...who are we kidding...I NEVER forget my coffee.  Every time I go to eat something, I highlight it.  That way if I wake up in the morning and I'm not feeling my baked oatmeal like the calendar says I'm supposed to have, I can pick from another day I know is waiting in the refrigerator while still keeping track of what I have left.  Here are my choices for this week:

     1 - Waffle with Peanut Butter and Smoothie
     2 - Egg Sandwich
     3 - Baked Oatmeal
     1 - Hummus with Vegetables
     2 - Greek Yogurt and Cashews
     3 - Sliced Cheese and Fruit
     1 - Salmon with Quinoa
     2 -Pasta with Zucchini, Yellow Pepper and Kielbasa
     3 - Sandwich Wrap with Raw Vegetables

My personal favorite so far?  The baked oatmeal, hands down!  When I was pregnant, I mad oatmeal almost every morning.  It really helped me get going in the morning.  Still, it took time to make every morning...time I didn't have anymore with a baby attached to me in the morning.  This was a perfect solution.  Bake one day, portion, wrap individually in plastic wrap, 60 seconds in the microwave the next morning and it's ready to go.  And still soft and wonderful!  You must try!

Strawberry Banana Baked Oatmeal (adapted from Food Done Light)

2 c quick cooking oats; uncooked
1/4 c oat bran
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c strawberries; quartered
2 bananas; cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c cashew milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 T butter; melted
1 egg
1/4 c agave

1 - In a large bowl, combine oats through cinnamon. 

2 - In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients. 

3 - Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until fully combined. 

4 - Pour into a well greased 9x9 glass baking dish and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes until just set in the middle.  This will leave the oatmeal still slightly wet so it keeps more of an oatmeal texture.

5 - Cool completely.  Cut into 9 squares, wrap individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
6 - Reheat in the microwave for 60 seconds.

I'm looking forward to trying this recipe with different berries or fruits.  Stay tuned to see how I'm getting some exercise in!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Flourless Chocolate Cookies...err Brownies....err Cheesecake

My family has a house at Ocean Isle Beach.  If you've never been, do yourself a favor and put it on your list of places to visit.  It's beautiful and oh so relaxing.  We've been spending the past couple of days playing in the sand, chasing the waves and enjoying the cool ocean breeze.  It's been wonderful!!

A friend who was down visiting with us gave my little one a mini baking kit.  Of course, she wanted to make something right away and who am I to say no!  I mean look at that face.  Who could?
She wanted to make cookies, which was great, except there was no flour in the house.  Instead of packing everyone in the car and heading to the grocery store, I decided this would be a perfect time to try out a recipe for flourless chocolate cookies that I had run across some time ago.  After all, with the amount of people requesting gluten free options growing everyday, I need to find a "go to" gluten free cookie.  Sadly I have yet to find it yet...

I started with a recipe I found on Living Well Spending Less.  We had everything we needed except the chocolate chips, which were optional anyway so no big deal.  I did the recipe exactly as instructed since I am fairly new to completely flourless cooking.  Here's what was needed.

2 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
2 tsp vanilla

I combined all the dry ingredients in one bowl and whisked together the wet ingredients in another.  I added the wet to the dry and stirred for what seem like forever.  The batter just never came together.  It was way too dry.  No matter how much I stirred, there just wasn't enough wet to get everything to incorporate. 

To try and correct this problem, I added about 1/2 c milk to the bowl.  Now I ended up with the opposite problem.  The batter was now too wet to form cookies. 
I was afraid if I added more powdered sugar the batter would be WAY too sweet, so we scrapped the idea of doing cookies and decided they would be more like brownies.  I sprayed down a square baking dish, added the batter and popped it in the oven at 350.  Baking took about 35 minutes for a toothpick to come out clean in the middle.  Now we just had to let them cool so we could taste our new creation.

Tasting reviews were mixed on the final product.  Even though the batter was baked through, it still ended up pretty soft and chewy.  Something that really needed to be eaten with a spoon as opposed to being able to cut and eat like a traditional brownie.  My little one LOVED them.  My mom thought they would be fine in small batches.  Another thought it needed to be covered in vanilla ice cream.  Ad for me, I thought it was WAY TOO SWEET.  I'm not a huge chocolate person anyway and this was just a mouthful of super sweet gooey chocolate.  I could barely get the small bite I took down.  After seeing the sad dish sitting on the kitchen counter all day with no one touching it again, I decided I needed to find a way to use it so that it didn't go to waste.  I wasn't letting this one go without a fight!

So I came up with the idea to use it as the base of a cheesecake.  I scooped it out of the brownie dish onto a sheet tray and tried to get it to dry out in the oven so I could make it more of a crumb crust.

When that didn't work, I lined my pan with plastic wrap and smeared the chocolate creation on the bottom.  This used most of it so I didn't feel as bad when I had to wash the remaining portion down the drain.  Now to whip up the cheesecake.

My go to cheesecake recipe is adapted from Food for a Hungry Soul.  You need the following:

3 eggs, room temperature
1 c sour cream; room temperature
16 oz cream cheese; room temperature
4 T butter; room temperature
3/4 c sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 T vanilla

Note: This will make a cheesecake that is about 1 inch tall.  If you have a deep pan, double the recipe for a nice, tall cheesecake.

1 - In the bowl of a mixer with whisk attachment, combine eggs and sour cream until well blended.  Add cream cheese and mix well.  Add butter and allow to mix for 5-10 minutes until the mixer is very smooth and creamy.  Scrape the bowl often to make sure you have no lumps.
2 - Add remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.

From this point, I poured the batter over the chocolate bottom, put the pan inside a roasting pan in the oven, added enough water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the cheesecake pan and baked the cheesecake at 350 for about 1 1/2 hours.

The end result was a huge hit!  The tartness of the cheesecake was the perfect compliment to the extreme sweetness of the chocolate.  Although I doubt I will go through this entire process again just to make a "crust" for my cheesecake, it was the perfect example of making something out of a baking mishap.  After all, things don't always turn out the way you want them to.  The fun part becomes figuring out what you can do to create something you do like...and can even be proud of!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail!

I don't know about you but I am BEYOND ready for spring!  Being a born and bred NC girl, I've always been wimpy about winters.  Still, the last two winters have been no picnic.  This year came filled with ice storms with my new little peanut arriving just in the middle of the worst two.  My oldest little one told me on the way home from school the other day that she was over the cold and ready for summer.  Me too, honey.  Me too.

Thankfully the past few weeks have brought some welcome signs of spring.  The warmer weather has done wonders for our winter cabin fever.  The pollen hasn't done wonders for my allergies, but since I know it's a sign of nicer days ahead, I'll take it!

This week was my little one's Easter party at her preschool.  Our little peanut is a month old now, so I thought it would be nice to get back in the kitchen and contribute some cupcakes to the party.  The hubs suggested that I just go buy some...the nerve!  I must admit it was challenging juggling a hungry baby and frosting cupcakes, but I was so happy with the outcome, I would do it again in a heartbeat!

The request was for chocolate cupcakes, so I took my no fail, ever popular chocolate cake recipe and made cupcakes instead.  The recipe yielded about 20 cupcakes, though I could have gotten a few more out of the batter.  I typically fill my cupcake liners 3/4 of the way full, but these rose so much, I could have filled them 1/2 way and been more than fine.  Note taken and moving on.  After all, no preschoolers I've ever met is going to complain about a little extra goodie on the sides of their cupcakes. 

I also decided to try something a little different with my classic buttercream recipe this time.  I use the recipe below when I need a quick buttercream that is very good for piping and doesn't need to be kept for a long time.  Its not my favorite, taste wise, but serves a purpose when your short on time. I've always added a little heavy cream at the end to help smooth things out and wanted to know what would happen if you whipped the cream first.  I whipped the cream to a nice soft peak thinking it would hold after adding the butter.
It doesn't.  After you add the butter the cream goes right back to liquid form and makes a bit of a sloshy mess.  However, after you add the powdered sugar and mix it well, it comes back together.  Another lesson learned.
I had showed my little one some pictures of cupcakes to let her pick a design.  She picked a cute little egg nest which gave me a use for some of the mini Cadbury chocolate eggs I had bought that wasn't eating them all in one sitting like has happened in the judging!  The end result is super cute and (best of all) really easy to do.  I died most of the icing green for the grass and added a few tablespoons of coca powder to the rest to make it brown. 

First I just put a smear of green down on the cupcakes to cover the top.
Then I took this three holed pointed tip and used zigzag motions around the edges to the center to make the grass.

I used a small star tip to make a circle in the middle with the chocolate frosting for the nest.
Lastly, I added two eggs to each nest to finish the look.
Adorable and delicious!  Who can beat that!!

No Fail Chocolate Cake (adapted from My Baking Addiction)
Note:  If you are making this recipe for a cake, it makes enough for a two layer 9 inch cake

2 c sugar
1 3/4 c AP flour
1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 c buttermilk (or 1 c milk with 2 T vinegar)
1/2 c coffee; brewed and cooled
1/2 c water
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla

1 - Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line or grease cupcake pans.  I would guess that if you fill them halfway you should get around 24.
2 - In the bowl of a mixer with whisk attachment, add sugar through salt.  Mix to combine. 
3 - Add eggs through vanilla.  Mix on low for 3-5 minutes until the batter is well incorporated, scrapping the bowl halfway through.  The batter will be extremely loose, pourable even.  This is perfectly fine!
4 - Fill cupcake liners half full and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I started checking mine at 15 minutes and they needed about 23 total.  The cakes will go for more like 30-35 minutes.
5 - Cool and frost as desired.

Quick and Easy Buttercream (adapted from The Bold Abode)
This gave me enough buttercream to frost all the cupcakes, with a little over a cup left over.

2 sticks butter; room temperature
8-10 c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c heavy cream

1 - In the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter until very soft and fluffy.
2 - Add the powdered sugar a few cup fulls at a time until it reaches your desired stiffness.
3 - Add in vanilla and heavy cream.  Adjust consistency with additional powdered sugar (thicker) or cream (thinner) as needed.