Sunday, April 24, 2016

A little of this...

I've been longing for an adventure.  There's been too much sameness the last few months, with the busyness of work and trying to save money and vacation time for this fall when the baby comes.  And maybe it's because a baby is on the way that I feel the need to do something now, take a trip, drive to the mountains and find our favorite picnic spot, see something other than our neighborhood and the computer screen at my office.

And of course, there's this big change coming in our lives that's occupying so much of my thoughts lately.  I'm exactly 4 1/2 months today, and the tiredness is finally starting to ease up a little.  I actually stayed up until 11:30 last night to finish a movie, which is a record for me lately, since the first 4 months had me climbing into bed by 9pm every night, and waking up still exhausted.

Although I haven't blogged as much in the last few months as I used to, I'm still baking regularly and photographing everything.  Here is a little collection of treats I've made, to which I realize I might not find the time or energy to devote a whole post, but that I still wanted to share.

Above, mint chocolate chip cake - dark chocolate cake with mint buttercream and shaved chocolate.  A similar recipe can be found here from a previous post.

Next is a brown butter carrot cake with cream cheese buttercream.  I was practicing painting on buttercream, and I chilled the cake for several hours before painting the design on with a tiny paintbrush and black food coloring.  Find my carrot cake recipe here.

For a simple dessert one evening, I made a pot of vanilla bean custard.  I've made this custard so many times, to fill tartlets with salted caramel, to spread between cake layers with strawberries and cream.  We ate it that night with fresh blackberries.

My husband was out of town for 8 days when a massive blizzard hit last weekend and I was completely snowed in.  That Saturday morning, I made myself croque madame for breakfast.  I didn't have any ham, so it was a simple grilled cheese sandwich with sliced tomato, topped with an egg and b├ęchamel sauce.

The night he came home, I planned a special dinner starting with toasted crostini spread with goat cheese, topped with pickled corn relish and buttery steamed lobster tail.  The crostini was fantastic, and was a recipe I just made up as I went.  For dinner, we ate rack of lamb, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables.  And for dessert, I had made these pretty little parfaits.  Layers of crumbled cake soaked in a little bourbon were topped with whipped cream cheese infused with fresh orange zest, then strawberries, whipped cream and pistachios.  Sadly, they didn't taste as nice as they looked, and something was very off with the flavor - it might have been the orange zest that was too bitter, and I ended up throwing away what was left.

I made up for those the next morning, though, with some beautiful mini cherry pies drizzled with lemon glaze, that I will share soon...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Brownies for a Spring Blizzard

Spring comes slowly to Colorado, and when it does arrive, the trees lavish with blossoms and the air fresh and fragrant, it seems we barely get a chance to enjoy it before winter returns.  And this time of year, the snow tends to be heavy and wet, weighing down the trees, breaking branches.

There was just such a storm this weekend, and the snow fell from Friday night until this Sunday afternoon, blanketing the city in a foot and a half of crushing snow.  Our lilac bushes lay flat on the ground under all that snow, and the trees in our back yard bent severely under the weight.  With my husband out of town, I repeatedly pulled on my boots and coat, and trudged through the knee-deep snow to shake the trees and try to save the branches, although sadly, one big branch still broke.

The power went out for about five minutes, scaring me for that short time, but other than that, I was safe and warm inside, completely snowed in, but with hot soup, crusty bread, and these fudge brownies.

This is my favorite recipe for brownies, and one that I've made over and over.  They are dark, dense and fudge-like, and perfect with a scoop of ice cream.  I usually frost them, preferably with cappuccino buttercream, but this time I just dusted them with a sprinkling of powdered sugar over a stencil, for a pretty and fancy finish.

Perfect Fudge Brownies

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Hershey's "Special Dark")
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Baker's Note:  For a bigger batch, double the recipe and bake in a 9x13 pan.  Bittersweet chocolate chips are also a welcome addition in these brownies; mix in after the flour.

Preheat the oven to 325.  Line a square 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over two sides.  Spray with non-stick spray.

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.  In a bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, salt and espresso powder.  Pour the butter in and mix together with a wooden spoon.  Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Stir in the flour just until moistened.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly into the pan.  Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.  For easy removal from the pan, lift the parchment paper by the overhang to remove the brownies from the pan, set on a cutting board and cut into squares.

Yields 9-12 brownies

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Brown Butter Pecan Pancakes with Bourbon Sauce

I'd like to be someone who makes pancakes on the weekends.  And while we don't make pancakes every weekend, we do make them sometimes on Saturday or Sunday, usually in the winter, when the cold weather keeps us inside, cozy and warm in slippers and pajamas all day.  Especially when there's snow.

Last weekend, we made these butter pecan pancakes, their flavor rich with browned butter, and smothered in creamy bourbon sauce and toasted pecans.

They might be the best pancakes I've ever tasted, and are pretty much the only ones I ever want to make again.  But now that spring is approaching, pancake weekends will have to wait for next fall again, when the air turns cold and crisp, and we'll have a baby to wake us up early...

Brown Butter Pecan Pancakes with Bourbon Sauce

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Continue to cook the butter, swirling occasionally, until nutty brown solids form at the bottom.  Remove from the heat.

In a bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Whisk in the eggs, milk, vinegar, vanilla and browned butter.

Preheat a griddle to 300 and spray with non-stick spray.  Use a 1/4 measuring cup to measure the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side until almost cooked through, then flip and finish cooking the other side.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Whisk in the flour, brown sugar, cream, salt, bourbon and vanilla.  Cook, whisking constantly, until thick enough to coat a spoon.

Serve the pancakes with the sauce and toasted pecans.

Yields about 16-18 pancakes.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Ribbon Topper for an Easter Sprinkle Cake

When I was a kid, I always had a new spring dress to wear for Easter.  It was South Carolina, after all, and the days were already warm, lush and humid with early spring rain.  Colorado, on the other hand, just welcomed the first day of spring with a blizzard that blanketed our city with more than a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow.

My husband and I drove home together from work early in the afternoon on Wednesday, along with the rest of Denver, and he and a few other men had to push a few stranded cars up an icy hill just to clear traffic and move us all safely along towards home.  The snow was too deep to pull into our driveway, and when I stepped out of the car, my legs sank in up to my knees, snow spilling over the top of my boots.

Once inside, shivering and wet, we turned on the fire, put on cozy pajamas, and made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  Wine for him, and hot tea for me.  It was a perfect afternoon.

It's snowing again as I write this, but in spite of the cold, it is still Easter weekend, and spring, so I have a pretty cake to share that I think is perfect to celebrate the warm days to come.  The sky blue buttercream on top is speckled with a generous handful of sprinkles, and a colorful ribbon topper is cheerful and festive.

The gold paper straws, and all the ribbon, are from Michaels, and easy to put together by just tying a ribbon onto the straws, and then tying on pieces of ribbon that flutter so prettily above the cake, like the tails of a hundred kites sailing across a sunny blue sky.

All the colors on this cake have me dreaming of hot summer days ahead, days of popsicles and strawberry lemonade and sundresses.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Blueberry Streusel Muffins with Lemon Curd

Our spring weather has gone back and forth lately, from warm blue skies, to snow, to sun again, and this week will be more of the same unpredictability, but something that never seems to change is how tired I feel all the time.  I've passed the first trimester now, and this little baby inside me is apparently now the size of a peach, even though I don't yet have a baby bump.  I feel fortunate that I haven't experienced a bit of nausea or morning sickness, just a state of exhaustion that has me climbing the stairs to get into bed earlier than usual, and thinking of nothing other than how good a nap would feel at 10:30 in the morning instead of sitting at my desk at work.

I don't seem to have much interest in writing on this blog lately, but I'm not sure why.  I guess it's just that I'm tired, although I'm still baking regularly, and working on my photography, but the actual writing of a post feels like a chore that is not unlike how I feel when I've finished the laundry and everything still needs to be put away.

We've finished our floors at last, and after a few more trim pieces are installed and finishing touches are done, I will have to photograph our main floor and do another before and after post.  It amazes me every time I come downstairs how different it looks from when we moved in just over a year ago.

These blueberry streusel muffins are one of my favorite muffin recipes, and this is actually a re-post from a recipe a few years back, but they're worth making over and over again.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Painted Buttercream Cake

Last night, my girlfriends came over to my house for a cake decorating party.  There were 8 of us, and I baked 6-inch cake layers in four flavors, with endless bowls of buttercream, so that everyone could decorate their own cake.  It was a lot of prep work (and clean up), but so much fun to see everyone's creations, and just to spend some time together.

With a few girls not able to make it, I had a couple cakes leftover, so this morning I stacked and frosted the cakes so I could try something I've never done before - painting on buttercream with food coloring.

A drop of gel food coloring goes a long way for this project, but it's important to start with a well-chilled cake, as the buttercream needs to be firm to paint on.  For the lighter shading, I thinned the color with vodka, and lightly dabbed the color onto the cake with a small paintbrush.  And for the detailed work, I just dipped the brush straight into the color for bolder strokes.

I used Americolor brand of gel food coloring, in "Sky Blue", and I kind of love the watercolor effect of these flowers.  I kind of want to paint on all my cakes now...