Monday, August 23, 2010

Back To School Chocolate Chip Muffins

These muffins get their name from the fact that they are the first home baked item, of this school year, that I am sending to my son who is away at college. I love sending him homemade goodies, and I always try to include his favorite muffins when I do. These muffins are adapted from the book The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn.  All the recipes I have tried are fabulous and I have made several of them multiple times. This recipe was originally a cake, but lends itself well to the muffin category. Although I love creating desserts and meals from scratch, there is nothing wrong with using available products to make things easier and faster. Especially when they are this good! Here's what you need:

1 Bar ( 4 ounces) German Chocolate
1 package (18.25 ounces) of Butter Recipe cake mix (I used Duncan Hines )
1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Set up your muffin tin by putting your baking cups in the pan so you will be ready when your batter is. Break the German chocolate bar into pieces and use a food processor or hand grater, like I did, to grate the chocolate.




Put the cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, and eggs into your mixing bowl.You are not making the cake according to the box directions, so ignore what the back of the box says.


Blend all your ingredients on low, for 1 minute, then stop your mixer and cleanly scrape down your bowl.
Add your grated chocolate.
Turn your mixer up to medium speed. Mix for two minutes, scraping the sides if you need to. Fold in the chocolate chips. By gently stirring the chocolate chips into your batter by hand, you are avoiding the possibility of breaking some of the chips.
Plus, hand mixing the chips ensures an even distribution of the chips into your muffin batter.
Spoon your batter into your baking cups. Place in the oven for about 17 minutes. Stick a toothpick in your tallest muffin and check to see if any batter comes out on the toothpick. If it does, continue to cook for 1 minute, and check again. Continue this until your toothpick comes out clean. (Invest in a box of toothpicks, you will need several because you use a new toothpick each time)
Once you have determined the muffins are done, pull them out of the oven. Let them cool on a rack for about 5-10 minutes. You need them to firm up a little. If you take them out of the tin now, they will be too hot and too soft, and you are risking smashing them.
After 5-10 minutes, take them out of the muffin tin to cool completely.
Enjoy your back to school muffins!!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

    There is nothing quite as refreshing as a luscious, creamy, fruity smoothie. I am a big fan. But the price tag of purchasing such a thirst quencher can be too high to enjoy the treat. So, why not make them at home! Although strawberry season is sadly coming to an end, you still have time to make this delectable drink and make your taste buds dance! Here is what you need:

2 Cups crushed ice
6 oz strawberry or strawberry banana yogurt
4 oz 1% milk
a squirt of lemon juice
2 oz orange juice
10  medium strawberries
2 medium bananas

~Put the ice in your blender. If your blender crushes ice and your ice is in whole cubes, go ahead and crush        the ice before adding anything else.
~Add your yogurt into the blender.
~ Add the milk.
~ Add the orange juice
~ Add the lemon juice
~ Add your bananas. You can slice them, or cut them into several pieces.




~ Hull your strawberries. That means cut the stems off. You can buy a huller at the store or just use a knife
    to cut the stem out. Make sure you go down into the berry to get the entire thing.

 ~Blend your delectable concoction until smooth and creamy. You can put this smoothie in the fridge if you are not ready to drink it yet. Perhaps you have a nice husband who makes them for you when you are on your way home from work, so it is ready when you get home? (I am very lucky!) If you do, then this smoothie will keep for about 4 hours in the refrigerator.

~ENJOY!!!!
~You can make changes to this recipe according to your love of fruit. You can add more or less of the
   bananas or strawberries. More banana makes the smoothie super creamy. You can add blueberries,
   pineapple, etc. You have a lot of choices.
~ You can use different yogurt. Match the yogurt to your fruit, or just use your favorite.
~ You can add ice cream!!!  Not as healthy, but oh so good!
~ Use a fresh lemon squeeze instead of the real lemon juice.

The only limit is your imagination! Experiment and have fun!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Incredible, Delectable, Homemade Whipped Cream

There is nothing quite like homemade whipped cream. I'll never forget the first time I had REAL whipped cream! Such a delectable concoction, I never knew existed. Where had it been all my life? This was no cool whip!!! I was hooked! I had to know how to make this incredible confection!!! So I learned, and I could not believe how easy it is. Here's what you need:

Heavy Duty Whipping Cream ~ 1 cup
Pure Cane Sugar ~ 1/2 cup
Vanilla (optional) ~ 1 teaspoon

Pour one cup of heavy duty whipped cream in a cold bowl. Just put the bowl in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour before you are ready to use. Start Mixing on medium high. This can be done with a hand mixer, it's just that your hand will get tired!! As you mix, pour 1/2 cup of sugar into the bowl in a steady stream. Remember, we discussed what a steady stream is in a previous post. Basically just pour the sugar in an even stream until it is all in the bowl. You may have to turn your mixer up to high, depending on your mixer. Keep the mixer going until the cream develops into stiff peaks. If you want to add some flavoring, such as vanilla, pour one teaspoon into the mixer now. Make sure to use clear vanilla if you want your whipped cream to be pure white. If it doesn't matter, use any flavoring you want. Some suggestions include lemon or almond. Use your imagination. There is no wrong flavor.
This is what your whipped cream should look like when it is done. It doesn't last long, so don't leave it alone. Now put your whipped cream on berries, cake, cookies, anything, or eat it with a spoon. You will love it! This is a simple thing to make, that makes a huge difference in your finished product. Enjoy!

Friday, May 28, 2010

J Delicious Cake Trifle!

I have a friend, JD, who had major surgery two weeks ago. He has to get false teeth, so all of his teeth were pulled. Big Ouch!!  So what can he eat? Not much! But I came up with a little something he can eat, when he feels like it.

I used the cake ball recipe from Bakerella.com. The link is here:http://www.bakerella.com/. It is a fantastic site with beautiful pictures and the cutest ideas ever! I have made the cake balls several times, and I will post about the ones I made at a later date. But, when I realized that JD needed something he could eat without using his teeth, I thought about soft cake and pudding and then the cake balls.

So this is what I came up with:

For this recipe you need a baked cake, icing, and pudding. I used a chocolate cake that I had in the freezer. It was left over from a friends birthday cake. It was a deep dark chocolate, so I thought that a banana pudding might go well with that. I used a white buttercream frosting. You can used canned frosting if you like.

I mixed the banana pudding per the instructions on the box. You could make the pudding from scratch if you like. (We will do that in a future post.)

Next, I made the buttercream frosting. I used the recipe from the Wilton website.http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Buttercream-Icing Here is the recipe: 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb.)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
Makes: About 3 cups of icing

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

Next, I followed the cake balls directions. I tore the cake into little pieces and put it into a bowl, and then I mixed in some buttercream frosting. You have to do this with your hands! I'm pretty sure it is required!! It is a lot easier with plastic gloves, and faster too. You will not use all your icing from the buttercream icing recipe. You need it to be a soft consistency, but not mushy.

Next, put your chocolate/icing mix in the bottom of a bowl. I made this for one person, and I wanted him to have plenty, so I used a big bowl. This would look really nice in a sundae glass or a big round goblet so you could serve individual servings.

We are just going to layer from the bottom on up. Next, add a layer of pudding.

Just keep building your layers, taking turns using the cake ball mixture and the pudding.
Build to the top of your bowl.
I stopped building my bowl at this point, because I had to transport it all the way across town. If I hadn't been transporting it I would have added whipped cream to the top.
Also, if this hadn't been designed for JD, and his teeth problem, I would have added shaved chocolate to the top of the whipped cream. But, I could have sprinkled chocolate on top of  whipped cream for him.
There are so many variations we can do with this recipe. Let's talk about them in future posts.
Have a great weekend!
Any questions? Email me. I would love to hear from you!

Monday, May 3, 2010

7 Layer Dip (Made with 8 layers?!)

In honor of Cinco de Mayo on Wednesday, I am posting a delicious and easy to make appetizer. It is called 7 Layer Dip, but it has 8 layers.(Why? Because I got the recipe from a friend who make it with 7 layers, but I added the eighth layer of salsa!)

This is everything you will need. I recommend putting the dip together the day before you will be serving it. That gives time for all the flavors to meld together, and oh, are they wonderful!.

The first thing you need to do is to decide what you want to put the dip in. I say it like that because this dip can go in just about anything. It works best in a rectangular pyrex dish, any size. If you are serving a lot of people then use the 13" X 9". You will need to use more of all of the ingredients, but I will explain that as we go along. I used the small 6" X 9" for these pictures. In the past I have used round, oval and square dishes. The recipe works in any dish.

LAYER 1 ~ refried beans. Spread the beans along the bottom of the dish. For the small dish, I only used half of the can. For the large dish you will need the entire can.

  LAYER 2 ~ add your chopped onion.They should be chopped small.

LAYER 3 ~ add your tomatoes. I used 2 roma tomatoes in the small dish. They are sweet tasting and delicious! I chopped the tomatoes about bite size, and I did what is called a rough chop. That means that there is no precise size or look I was going for. I just wanted them chopped about bite size.

  LAYER 4 ~ Mayonnaise. Add your mayo in a thin layer over the tomatoes, onion, and beans.
Don't worry if it is hard to spread. I like to take out my mayo and sour cream about 15 minutes before I start assembling the dip, but I don't always remember! When I forget, I just very gently spread the dip and try not to upset the layers too much!!

Layer 5~ Avocado.  I love avocado! I can eat it on just about everything, and I love when it is used to make spreads and dips. So, I used 2 avocados for this dip. If you are not an avocado lover (shame on you!) you can use less of this luscious fruit, or none at all. You can skip this layer. That is the beauty of this recipe. Put in what you like, and even more of it if you want, or leave out what you don't like, or use less of it.  I chopped the avocado small, and spread it evenly over the layers.
LAYER 6 ~ Salsa!  Add a light layer of salsa. You can use hot salsa if you like it hot, or if not use what ever temperature suits you. You can use any type or brand, or even make your own. You know, that is a good idea. I think we just might tackle that in another post. It is a lot of fun!!!
LAYER 7 ~ Add sour cream. Spread with a light touch. You don't want to get the sour cream too mixed up with the salsa. Oh heck, I don't know who I'm kidding. It is next to impossible for it not to look like a mess when you spread the sour cream, but don't worry. It will be fine!
LAYER 8 ~ Add your cheese! I like to use a Monterey Jack and Cheddar mix. But use whatever you like best. I have used straight cheddar and it is delicious also. I also like to use a fancy shred, but a regular shred works fine too.
 See what I mean about not worrying when it came to the sour cream mixing with the salsa. The cheese hides all the ugly mess!
     Now what to serve with your 8 layer dip? I use either Mission tortilla chips or these Pita Bites. They are both wonderful with the dip. But use you favorite chip or cracker. There is no wrong way to serve these. Let me know what you used to serve them and how you changed the layers, if you did.


                                                          Have a Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Shelf Life of Spices


    Every year I get rid of my spices. I do this religiously, as this is what I was taught. I always write with black marker on my bottles when I buy them. I put the month and the year. This makes it easy for me to remember when I bought it, and believe me, I need help remembering that kind of stuff!!  

I was always told that the flavor will diminish, therefore not giving my baked goods or sauces the intensity they deserve. But is that right? Am I wasting money by throwing my spices away too early? I decided to check out what other sites on the web were saying about the shelf life of spices, and I was surprised!  http://www.ochef.com/says that you should keep your spices as long as you think they have flavor. Well that's great!! But how will you know? I want to know before I spend time making my favorite biscotti that my cinnamon has lost it's umph!! http://www.ochef.com/says there are a couple ways to know. If your spice doesn't have the strong aroma that it should, then it's time to replace it. You can test your dried spices by putting a few pieces in your hand and crushing them. Then smell. Anything? If there is no smell, or it is barely smellable (if it's not a word, it should be!) then your spice needs to be replaced.http://www.ochef.com/  also gives us the following spice chart:

4 years shelf life for whole spices
2-3 years shelf life for ground spices
1-2 years shelf life for leafy herbs

They also state that all spices should be stored in a cool, dry place. I like this chart!! For sure, I have never kept my spices for more than 2 years, so I think my biscotti is safe!!!

I decided to check out another site. Not that I don't believe everything I read, but, oh well, just for the heck of it. I went to http://www.mccormick.com/ They for sure know a lot about spice. They have a great shelf life chart. Click on spices 101. It is really informative. Their spice chart says this:

2-3 years for ground spices
3-4 years for whole spices
1-3 years for herbs
1-2 years for seasoning blends
4 years for extracts ( except for vanilla-It lasts indefinitely)

So, it looks as if I can change my ways of tossing my spices after a year. http://www.mccormick.com/also says that the storage of spices is very important, and can help add time to the shelf life. Check out the site. There is a Fresh Tester you can use to check your spices, and there are some humorous tidbits on the Share Your Spice Stories page. Have fun cleaning out your spices!!!









             

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Making Memories!



 Some days, there are few things that occupy your thoughts more than memories. I have always loved the way a taste or a smell can connect you, almost immediately to the past, and a pleasant memory. One of my strongest smell  memories is the smell of onion and celery sauteing in a pan on top of the stove on Thanksgiving morning. Whenever I smell the two ingredients I am taken back to those Thanksgivings, where my mother would be making the dressing to stuff the turkey.  At the time, as a typical kid, I didn't even like the dressing.  But, oh the aroma! I don't know if there is such a thing as a comfort smell, but that is mine.
That's what memories should be. They should comfort you, making you feel warm and loved. That's why I choose the snickerdoodle cookie to make. Although I never had this cookie as a child, and so there are no memories for me to draw from, I am making memories for my son. Yes, he is practically grown, and  is away at college, but I love sending him packages of homemade cookies, like these snickerdoodles,  and other goodies. I want them to be a comfort to him when he is stressed or homesick or needs to know he is loved.  I look forward to someday hearing him say, "Remember when you sent me those cookies at school?, Those were great!"  And I want to see him smile!

So that is why I have chosen the snickerdoodle cookie to make today. It isn't hard to make. It incorporates  some measuring, as cookies and baking always do, and it is a classic. This is an easy cookie to make, and oh the memories!



Memory Making Snickerdoodles  
(adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ( 1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, but not your mixing bowl. Set this bowl to the side until later.


In your mixing bowl, mix the butter and the vegetable shortening,until creamy.
 *FRESHMAN TIP*~When measuring solid vegetable shortening, crack your egg into the measuring cup and then swish the egg around until the cup is coated. Pour the egg into a different bowl until you need it. Then measure out the vegetable shortening. The egg coating helps the shortening to release easily from the measuring cup.


 
Mix at medium speed.
Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar in a steady stream and mix for 2 minutes. 
* FRESHMAN TIP*~To add in a steady stream simply pour the sugar into the bowl with the mixer running. Don't dump it all in at once, as you want the sugar to incorporate into the mixture slowly and evenly

 

After the 2 minutes, reduce the mixer to low and add your eggs, one at a time, letting each egg mix into the batter.You should scrape down the sides of your bowl at this time also. Add your vanilla.


Now it is time to add your dry mix. Add half of the mix, and blend it in to the batter. Don't overmix!!  Then add the remainder of the batter and mix it again. 


Now put all your dough into a nice, clean  bowl, and cover with plastic. Or you can just wrap it in plastic. I don't always have a lot of room in my refrigerator, so wrapped in plastic, it takes up less room. You must let it refrigerate for at least 8 hours or even overnight.  



 Heat your oven to 350. You need to butter the cookie sheets, or spray them, or I like to use parchment paper. Take your dough, and cut it into four equals amounts. Shape each amount into a log. Slice each log into 12 equal pieces. Then shape each piece into a small ball. 



You should have a 1/2 cup of sugar left over from your ingredients. Put the sugar in a bowl and add the cinnamon. Mix together. Take each piece of rolled dough and roll it into the cinnamon sugar mix. 



Place evenly spaced on your cookie sheet, making them about three inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until slightly browned. Let cool for at least 5 minutes, then set on a wire rack.



These cookies are great for mailing or traveling and they have a long shelf life.


Thanks for reading!
Teri



                            

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Measuring Your Ingredients

For my first official blog page I want to talk about measuring your ingredients. When you are cooking sauces and soups, or seasoning foods like meats or veggies you can give a pinch of this or a dash of that. In other words, SEASON TO TASTE. But when you are baking, you must measure your ingredients precisely and correctly. Too much flour will make your cookies dry and tasteless. Too little flour will make them not bake properly, and run on the tray. It has been said that baking is a science, and it is true. Ingredients react to other ingredients, and if done properly, create the masterpiece you are looking for.

  Lets start with your measuring cups. To measure dry ingredients, use a plastic or metal measuring cup like this one.