March 30, 2011

Wednesday Want- Silpats

Today I took two sheet cakes to Church and couldn't believe how clean and perfect the extra sheet pans in the kitchen were, compared to mine (that are only about six months old, and diligently scrubbed). Whenever someone sees my pans, though, they instantly comment on the liners and ask what they are and why I have them. I'm crazy for Silpats and usually start an overly long conversation about how awesome they are, how much they cost, where to buy them, why you need one, two, four, whatever, and how I couldn't live without them. So I figured that sharing Silpat's with you for my first Wednesday Want was appropriate!

Here's the scoop from the source- "Silpat nonstick baking sheets are made of woven glass coated with food-standard silicone. Used daily by professionals, the sheets offer multipurpose uses for preparing, cooking, and heating up food. They're also easy to clean--simply wipe them off using hot water and dish soap. Store them by either rolling them up or keeping them flat. Do not cut Silpat baking sheets with metal, but with DeMarle's Exoglass cutters or knives. Silpat baking sheets replace parchment paper, and are heat-resistant up to 480 degrees F. The Silpat makes any baking sheet nonstick- no greasing necessary. The baking sheets are made in France."

When I made Dorie's Carrot Cake Cookies, I didn't have enough Silpats for all of my baking sheets. I used an airbake sheet for one batch and they came out totally flat and malformed, instead of perfectly shaped (and pleasantly plump) like those baked on the Silpats.

With certain recipes, I really prefer flat cookies- but this is more irregular and accidental than perfectly thin.

Silpats aren't just good for cookies, though- I like to roast veggies or meat on them, bake my rolls on top (no greasing necessary, remember?) Sometimes I roll out pie crust on my sheets. They also help keep the mess down when I'm baking pies, muffins, or cupcakes (I put the lined pan right under the pie or muffin tin and there's no mess, overspill, or "brown bottoms" on the muffins!) They're easy to clean and don't require you to scrub the whole sheet pan or to throw away endless parchment. No, Silpat doesn't know anything about me or my little blog but I really think you should get to know them. I've tried the Wilton and Cuisinart knock offs and assure you that the Silpats, the real deal, are worth every penny. Please leave a comment and let me know your favorite thing use for Silpats!

PS- One more thing- these babies will last forever (I think 3000 uses is even enough for me) but make sure you never cut on them!

March 29, 2011

TWD- Mexican Wedding Cookies

Things have been a little busy and stressful lately. When that happens I love to tackle a good project- clean the pantry, paint a piece of furniture, do some over the top recipe, try to paint Baby Strawberry's toenails (that one ended with 'Redipus Oedipus' all over my bath tub and my new top coat bottle shattered on the bathroom floor, remind me to cross baby pedicures off the "relaxing a little Anne" list!) When I make a huge mess and dedicate a lot of time to a project, it makes me feel better (especially after it's all cleaned up). So last week for Greek Independence Day, on top of the regular dishes, I decided to make homemade pitas and herb feta stuffed rolls. And then some key lime pie. There was a lot of mess and a lot of distraction (thanks for the help and the company, Lauren!) That said, I love a quick and easy recipe- and some days that's exactly what I need. These "Pecan Powder Puffs" as Dorie calls them come together in the food processor, with regular pantry ingredients. I'm not normally a huge fan of these cookies but Dorie did it again and changed my mind. They're sandy and light, flavorful and bite size (my little man loves that). Pretty awesome. I've liked "not liking" certain desserts and knowing I wouldn't be tempted, but Dorie keeps expanding my horizons (that didn't necessarily need expanding!)

Give this recipe a try- you can see it over at Buttercream Barbie or in the fabulous Baking by Dorie Greenspan. You never know what you might end up liking!

PS Come back tomorrow for the first "Wednesday Want"!

March 28, 2011

Banana Birthday Cake

{printable recipe here}
This month marks the third year for my cooking blog. The first two recipes I posted were Baked Chicken Cordon Bleu and Cafe Rio Pork Salads (that's still one of my top recipes).  From there I was on to a whole lot of baked goods- tons of Dorie Greenspan and Barefoot Contessa recipes. Clearly, not much has changed! I've met so many great people and learned a lot in this crazy process and I really appreciate everyone that stops by, comments, and let's me know how the recipes turn out!

I wanted to make something fun to celebrate and had a bunch of bananas ready to go, so I pulled up all the good sounding banana recipes from my cookbooks and let my facebook peeps guide me. Ina's Banana Cake was the clear winner so I got to work making that. It's simple and delicious, pretty much fool proof and pretty, too. That's why we love the Barefoot Contessa! I also lightened the recipe up a tiny bit with plain yogurt in place of the sour cream. I then un-lightened it by smothering it in cream cheese frosting, what can you do?
I have a lot of great changes coming to my little virtual kitchen here. I still struggle with balance (and not leaving my little blog behind too frequently). I'm going to bring a little structure in, though, and even try to get ahead. Maybe I'm learning? :) I'll participate in TWD (hopefully more frequently), share my favorite baked goods as usual, and then I'll have two new "days" to help keep me on track. First, I'm borrowing inspiration from the fabulous Freckles in April for the "Wednesday Want", where I'll post my favorite kitchen products and great recipes to use them (first up? Probably Silpats, I can't stop telling people how awesome they are!) Next, I'm dedicating Fridays to a new recipe from one of my cookbooks. Not revolutionary, but helpful to me! I know I'm not the only one that has too many gorgeous cookbooks sitting unused, so I'm going to promise myself to try one totally new recipe a week from one of my books and let you know how it turns out. I'm still working on a name (the best I've come up with is "By the Book Friday", yeah, this is not my forte and I would certainly love some help there!)

I also have my Yoplait delights giveaway from Yoplait via myBlogSpark winner to post, finally. The random winner is "Cassidy's Cakes". Please get me your info as soon as possible so I can pass it along and have it sent out! I'm sorry about the delay on the giveaway and lack of posting but we've had one crazy week. A seven year old little boy from Church passed away unexpectedly this week and we've all found ourselves hugging our kids, dropping off cookies, and hoping our hugs and prayers are helping a little. If you have an extra prayers do send them off for the Ellsworth family. You can also donate here to help with the incurred expenses. And give your family an extra squeeze, because there's nothing more important!

Old Fashioned Banana Cake
{printable recipe here}
Adapted by Anne Strawberry from Ina Garten's "How Easy Is That"

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (I prefer dark but whatever you have on hand is fine)
grated zest of one orange
3 very ripe bananas, mashed (I make my little man help me with this)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt (Ina called for sour cream but yogurt worked great here, either is great)
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I always use kosher but it's up to you)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts (option- I omitted these for baby Strawberry's sake, but I would recommend pecans here)
cream cheese frosting (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan (note- a small casserole pan would work great too, or cupcakes- I'd guess you'd get about 18-20- just lower the cooking time to about 20-25 minutes).

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine both sugars and the orange zest. Rub together until fragrant. Put on the paddle attachment and mix in the bananas until combined. Still on low, add the oil, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla and mix until smooth.

If you're feeling patient (not likely over here) sift together the dry team- flour, soda salt. Carefully add to the mixer on low speed, until just combined (you don't want to over do this and cause the cake to be tough). Stir in the nuts if desired (or chocolate chips!) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes then turn out onto a rack, flip it over again, and cool completely. Frost with cream cheese frosting, garnish with nuts, and enjoy!

Anne's Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces neufchatel (reduced fat cream cheese), very soft- that's one box
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, also softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar (half a standard bag- about 4 cups)

Cream the cream cheese can butter until smooth and perfectly incorporated on low speed, being careful not to go too long or too fast to avoid excess air in the frosting. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix until smooth and delicious. We use the extra to make coveted "graham cracker sandwiches", just spread a few tablespoons between graham crackers and freeze. Yum.

March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Mint Brownies

St. Patricks Mint Brownies{printable recipe here}
My favorite frozen yogurt place has St. Patrick's Mint yogurt once a year. It's minty and delicious and tastes as great as 31 Flavors Mint Chocolate Chip, almost. The rest of the time, I remember it and order the peanut butter instead. These classic mint brownies, now dubbed St. Patrick's Mint Brownies in the froyo's honor, blow the delicious, hard to find frozen yogurt out of the water. I start with my favorite brownie mix (or recipe, whatever, but I usually use Betty Crocker Supreme, the kind with the extra chocolate chunks). While they bake, make a simple frosting with mint extract and green food coloring to your liking. Spread melted chocolate and butter on top, chill, and serve. They taste even better cold (is that possible?) Or warm? Either way, I think they are perfect for any holiday. I haven't made a fresh batch yet for tomorrow (Baby Strawberry has a double ear infection so survival is pretty much all that's cooking here!)

A quick note- these would taste amazing right out of the pan, but they look prettiest if you lift the whole thing out, slice the edges, and cut into pieces. I use my big chef's knife. If the brownies are nice and cold and the knife is a little wet they'll turn out a lot prettier than mine did (but we all know patience isn't my forte!)

There's a lot more mint deliciousness around here if you need more ideas for St. Patrick's Day:

St. Patricks Mint Brownies 
St Patrick's Mint Brownies (aka BYU Brownies)
{printable recipe here}
from Anne Strawberry
adapted from Linda Buchanan

One 9 x 13 pan of Brownies, cooked and cooled (I like to line the pan with foil or parchment before I grease it, then I can lift them right out after they cool. Peel off the foil for a nice, neat sheet of chocolate deliciousness).

Mint Frosting:
1/2 Cup Softened Butter
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
2 Tablespoons Milk
1 Teaspoon Pure Peppermint Extract
Green Food Coloring

Cream butter with 1/2 the powdered sugar until well incorporated. Add the remaining sugar and milk until desired consistency is reached (it should be light and nice and spread-able). Add extract and coloring to taste. Spread over cooled brownies and refrigerate.

Chocolate Topping:
1 Cup Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
6 Tablespoons Butter

Make a double boiler by setting a heat proof bowl over an inch or so of simmering water. Slowly melt the butter and chocolate, making sure to remove from heat just before the chocolate is completely melted. Stir until smooth and pour over cooled, frosted brownies. Place in freeze until firm and cut into small pieces.

March 15, 2011

TWD- Cherry Sunshine Muffins

Cherry Sunshine Muffins
I have a love hate relationship with muffins. They're so easy and quick to make, so flexible on ingredients. They're also usually so full of butter- and they taste so good. So yeah, we try to limit our muffin making but of course we loved these! Next time I'll sub in some whole wheat flour to make up for the butter. With some extra tart dried cherries and lots of citrus zest and juice (orange and lemon both), I don't think you'd really notice. The trick to muffins is just to handle the batter delicately and to make sure that you don't try to work out every single lump. And the actual hardest part? Don't eat too many- don't let the dried fruit fool you, they're chock full of butter (and SO good!) And since I can't leave well enough alone, I brushed them with butter right out of the oven and sprinkled them with sugar so they were a little sparkly.

I'm super excited to have the chance to do another review for CSN Stores. I seem to always have furniture on my mind and love these gorgeous modern bar stools. Around here though it seems like baby step stools are more practical even if they aren't as pretty as that apple green cross-backed beauty above! As always though, kitchen stuff is on my mind. I've been trying to nicely steal my mom's immersion blender for ages and she's not budging (not fair considering I made her buy and fall in love with it in the first place!) My real hope is to finally get a grain mill. I've been mooching *I mean borrowing* my friends' Nutrimill when I make bread and I think it's about time, but I'm having a hard time committing to the cost! Suggestions anyone? Anyone of you have an love a Nutrimill? Fortunately they're all available on CSN Stores and I think it's going to be a win win, if I can ever decide!

PS Come back tomorrow for a nice, minty St. Patty's day treat!

March 14, 2011

Pear Blueberry Pi(e) & a Giveaway

PhotobucketHappy Pi Day! When I was in high school there was this great teacher who always went all out with his students and everyone was jealous that they got extra credit for bringing in pie and having fun (especially those of us with the evil math teacher, Mr. P). They even had a chant to help rattle off the numbers. I guess you could say I'm living out some sort of childhood fantasy by celebrating Pi day but really I'm trying to blog more consistently and figured it was a good excuse to make a pie- one of my favorite things to do. I know a lot of people stress over crust and filling but it's important to remember what the Barefoot Contessa would say- butter, sugar, flour, how bad can that be? Most pies turn out delicious even if they aren't beautiful.

This pie, inspired by the Pear Lattice Pie from a cookbook I picked up at Goodwill recently- the Best of Gourmet- a Year of Celebrations. It's a beautiful book and super cheap on Amazon. I had to buy it since I couldn't stop looking at all the gorgeous photos! This is the first recipe I've tried so far and it was easy and delicious... minus one hiccup. I forgot to mention that I decided last minute to make a pie yesterday- after a long day of Church meetings,  Church, and a screaming Baby Strawberry. Making pie is therapeutic though and I figured it would add a lot to dinner so I made up the pastry quickly in the food processor and stashed it in the freezer to cool as quickly as possible (you can make the crust by hand but it's quick and easy to use the FP, I recommend a Cuisinart like one of these).

Then I set about making the filling- I peeled four nice pears, added a little basket of blueberries for color, the flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A squeeze of lemon juice and it still seemed awfully dry to me. So I added some more juice (and zest while I was at it). Still dry. I usually work with apples instead of pears so I figured something just must be different there, so I set it aside and went to work rolling out the crust.

After I baked the pie, everyone was clamoring for a slice so we didn't even let it cool properly. My tall man happily tasted it for me and suddenly I realized what was wrong with the filling- I'd left out the sugar! Oh man, I was so mad that my crazy day had compromised my beautiful pie! Like I said, though, you can't go too wrong (despite my sugarless pie with loads of extra tart lemon juice!) I served the pie with generous dollops of *heavily sugared* whipped cream and it was enjoyed by all. Of course in all the flurry trying to fix my pie I didn't get a picture of a slice with all the pretty fruit filling. Nonetheless, I hope you'll consider making a pie. You can see some of my favorites here. Even if you use store bought crust and just press it together with the tines of a fork, I really feel like pie is the kind of dessert that brings people together and makes them feel loved- even if you forget the sugar. And that's what it's all about!

Today I also have a great giveaway from Yoplait via MyBlogSpark. We aren't big milk drinkers over here so in order to get enough calcium we serve a lot of Yoplait (my favorite is the key lime pie, wow). These parfaits come in all sorts of great dessert flavors like chocolate raspberry and lemon torte. MyBlogSpark sent us a prize pack and my little man LOVED this stuff. I loved that I didn't feel guilty giving it to him! The prize pack includes a coupon to try Yoplait Delights, a Chocolate scented votive candle, insulated tote and aromatherapy eye pillow- all together a nice package to help you relax and enjoy yourself (much needed after a long day and a sugar less pie, right?) You can even print out a coupon here.

I have one prize pack to giveaway- to enter just leave a comment and if you'd like to indulge me, do tell the craziest things you've done in the kitchen so I'll feel better about the pie! You can have an extra entry by becoming a follower and leaving me a separate comment to let me know. I'll leave the giveaway open until Friday at midnight (AZ time). Hopefully I'm not the only one to make silly mistakes in the kitchen!

Pear Blueberry Pi(e)
from Anne Strawberry
adapted from Gourmet

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I also added the same amount of cinnamon)
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 lb firm-ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears, peeled, each cut into 8 wedges, and cored (about four)
1/2 pint Blueberries, washed and dried
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pastry dough (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon milk

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

Whisk together flour, nutmeg, salt, and 2/3 cup sugar. Gently toss with pears and lemon juice.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round, then fit into a 9 1/2-inch glass or metal pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Chill shell while rolling out dough for top crust. Roll out remaining piece of dough on lightly floured surface with lightly floured rolling pin into a roughly 16- by 11-inch rectangle. Cut crosswise into 12 (1-inch-wide) strips with a pastry wheel or a sharp knife. Spoon filling into shell. Weave a lattice pattern over pie with pastry strips. Trim edges of all strips close to edge of pie plate. Fold bottom crust up over edges of lattice and crimp edge. Brush lattice (but not edge) with milk and sprinkle lattice with remaining tablespoon sugar. (Note- I just rolled the second half of the dough out and made a regular crust for the sake of time)

Bake pie on a baking sheet 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375°F and cover edge of pie with a pie shield or foil. Continue to bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes more. Cool pie on a rack to warm or room temperature, at least 2 hours.

Gourmet's Pastry Dough
via Epicurious

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

Blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 5 tablespoons ice water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in food processor) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated, then test again. (Do not overwork mixture, or pastry will be tough.)

Turn mixture out onto a work surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together with scraper and press into 2 balls, then flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Wrap disks separately in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

March 7, 2011

Marshmallow Fondant Pirate Cupcakes

My little man turned four a few weeks ago. We had a big pirate party and since I like to try to make myself crazy I thought I would try out fondant for the first time. I skipped to marshmallow fondant since it's supposed to taste better.

PhotobucketFirst, I made orange creamsicle cupcakes again (still his favorite color) with my standard doctored mix recipe.

PhotobucketThen I dabbed a little frosting on top of each (I just whipped up some softened butter and powdered sugar, you could even use canned frosting, bleh!)

PhotobucketNext I made fondant. I followed Clara's awesome directions and made it in the microwave using C&H Powdered sugar, Jet Puff Marshmallows, and water. She's awesome and took pictures of the fondant process. You can see the recipe below. After you knead it and let it rest, you portion it out into the different colors you need. Get out the rolling pin, powdered sugar, and shortening. Look past the excessive mess. To color the fondant, you just knead in the gel food coloring until you reach the desired color. Make sure your hands are generously greased with Crisco (my tall man helped me knead my rich red, it took forever, and that really grossed him out!) Then rewrap and set aside each color.

*update*- I had a reader ask where I found the flesh colored gel food coloring. It is from a Wilton Dora the Explorer Gel Food Coloring Kit I found at Joann ages ago on clearance (red and pink are infinetely practical at this house!)The color is called 'Dora Skin Tone'. Here is a link where you can find it on Amazon for about $5 with free prime/super saver shipping.

To make the pirates, generously dust your surface with powdered sugar. Roll out the skin tone and use a cutter to cut circles the same size as the cupcakes to make the faces. I used my cooking spray lid. Now I totally faked how to make these pirates off of a picture I found online (like this one but I can't find the original now). I forgot that I would also need to make pirate ears and noses with the flesh tone- so make sure you save a little extra. This color is the one you need the most of by far. Smooth the circle over the cupcake and then shape little ears and nose. Mine are far from perfect but that's okay. I used a new cheap paintbrush from Michael's and dipped it in water then brushed the back of the pieces and pushed them onto the fondant. Then I used the other end of the brush to make the ear indentations. I've never taken a fondant class and just read a couple things online and they were perfectly cute and fine, even if they were far from perfect! So don't stress it too much!

PhotobucketNext I rolled out the color for the scarves (pink and red). I cut strips about an inch wide and then used the same cutter to make the faces to cut matching circles for the hats. Paint brush, press on, etc. The I rolled little snakes out of the same color and criss crossed them to make the tie and put them on the right side. Then I did the same for little eyes- one for the boys and two for the girls. Then I pushed on big round blue sprinkles to be the irises (I marked them an edible food marker to be the pupils).

I used my big cake decorating tip, the fat end, to make their smiles. You could use a paring knife instead. Then made little smiley marks by pushing in the tine of a fork carefully. To make the patches, roll a little circle and squish it (or use another big round bullet frosting tip to cut a circle). Glue it on with the wet paintbrush. Roll a little of the black fondant into a long strip and attach it to make the straps for the patch. There you have it! Just use the marker to add facial hair and scars. You can draw little lips on the ladies or use a big heart sprinkle like I did. Don't forget their eyelashes and earrings (also a big sprinkle- I used edible pearls but regular dragees would be perfect). Check out Michael's or the cake decorating store. This was my favorite part of the whole process, it was really fun to do all the scars and different faces!

And they were a hit! Don't be afraid to try something new. This was pretty fun, a lot like working with Playdoh, even if I was stressing the whole time about the party (seriously, a bunch of four year olds?!) And now I'm not too worried about trying fondant again! Give it a try and let me know how it goes. It doesn't really take any special equipment- basic ingredients and a rolling pin are all you really need. You can do it!

Marshmallow Fondant 
{printable recipe here}
from Fondant 101 via Cuppycakes

Makes about 3 lbs of marshmallow fondant

16 ounces Jet Puff White Mini-Marshmallows
2-5 tbsp water
2 lbs C&H Powdered Sugar
about 1/2 cup Crisco shortening, to grease hands and work surface

Melt marshmallows and 2 tbsp of water in a microwave safe bowl. Put the bowl in the microwave for 30 second intervals (stir between intervals) for about 2-1/2 minutes until marshmallows are melted. Place 1 to 1-1/2 lbs of the powdered sugar on the top of the melted marshmallow mix.

Grease your entire hands and surface generously and dump the bowl of marshmallow/sugar mixture in the middle.

Start kneading like you would bread dough. It will be VERY sticky at this stage! Add the rest of the powdered sugar and knead some more. Re-grease your hands and surface when the fondant starts sticking. If the mix is tearing easily or it is to dry, add water (about 1/2 tablespoon at a time). Continue to knead and add water until there are no bits of powder sugar visible. It usually takes about 8 minutes to get a firm smooth elastic ball so that it will stretch without tearing.

Prepare the fondant for storing by coating it with a good layer of Crisco shortening, double wrap with saran wrap and then put in ziploc bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. Let rest overnight for best results.

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes for my Little Man
by Anne Strawberry
{printable recipe here}

1/2 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Oil
1 Cup Sour Cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
Zest from two Oranges, finely grated
1 Yellow Cake Mix (I like Betty Crocker's)
Orange food coloring (or red and yellow)- I like Americolor Gel dyes but the basics will work just fine

Preheat the oven to 350.

Combine all ingredients except food coloring in stand mixer and mix on low to combine, about one minute. Then increase speed to medium high for two more minutes until well blended. Add drops of food coloring to achieve desired color and mix lightly until incorporated.

Using an ice cream scoop, portion batter into lined muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes, or until cupcakes spring back which touched with a finger tip and they look done.