May 25, 2011

Wednesday Want- Microplane

I'm back with the Wednesday Want finally (and provided my kids keep playing nicely, I'll even queue up a few more posts like I've been meaning to do!) My blogging break was inadvertent but with blogger going crazy and messing up my Google Reader to boot, I kind of stepped away for a while. It's good timing really with my brother's wedding coming in a couple weeks and all the craziness that comes with that, but it's time to crack the whip here. After all, no matter how busy we get, my family still insists on being fed!

Today's favorite tool is the Microplane. I can't remember how I was introduced to this baby but it was love at first sight. If you've ever tried to remove the zest (peel) from a piece of citrus you know how tricky it can be. The pith, the white layer under the colored peel, is bitter and should be left on the fruit. The Microplane is sharp enough to effectively remove the zest so you get all the great citrus flavor. It's also the best way to grate hard cheeses like Parmesan or to make chocolate shavings. Sometimes I use it for garlic (whatever you do, watch your knuckles- this baby is sharp!)

Most often, I use my Microplane when I'm making a citrus flavored frosting (usually lemon or orange). A little bit of fresh lemon zest brightens so many dishes- green beans, asparagus, simple cakes, even cinnamon roll dough. The flavor is often so subtle that you don't notice the citrus but the food just tastes brighter and better. Do you have a favorite use for a rasp grater? They come in a lot of sizes and I'm dying to add a few more to my collection...

May 23, 2011

Homemade York Peppermint Patties

{printable recipe here}
The minute I saw this recipe I knew they would be way to tempting, so I shut the window and tried to do something else. I thought about those babies all day and then mentally checked out my pantry to make sure I had the ingredients- then I woke up and made them the next day. If you like mint or chocolate or York Peppermint patties you really shouldn't make these, that is, unless you have more self control than I do. Really, they are SO good and easy to make. I felt like I was playing with Playdoh- a delicious, fragrant art project. I lied- you should make these, now. Just hide the extras in the back of the freezer behind the frozen veggies. And I wish you better luck than I had in actually taking decent pictures- these were hardly set before they started flying off the sheet. Stop by Savory Sweet Life to see some gorgeous photos and the original recipe.

I'm sure some of you are thinking, why would I MAKE peppermint patties when I can BUY peppermint patties? They taste even better than the originals, are actually really fun to make, are totally customizable (next up- white chocolate covered peppermint patties for my Tall Man! and orange chocolate patties! then maybe raspberry chocolate patties!) The best part? This is a fun treat to make that doesn't require turning on the oven. It's hot here suddenly and I really appreciate this refreshing, no bake treat. Plus, everyone will think you're Martha Stewart making your own peppermint patties when they're actually ridiculously easy. After they set, package them up in cellophane bags and you're good to go!

Just a tip- using a small cookie scoop to portion out the dough will make for pretty and uniform patties. I also kneaded my dough with a little powdered sugar on a silpat (so it wouldn't stick) and let them set on top of a silpat lined sheet as well. They came right off and clean up was a breeze (parchment would work great, too, but I never remember to buy it!)

Homemade York Peppermint Patties
from Anne Strawberry
{printable recipe here}
recipe adapted from Sweet Savory Life

Makes 32 patties (note- I would make these half size next time, to yield about 60- use a tiny cookie scoop to get quick and uniform results)


1 can of condensed milk
5 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted (yes, I skipped that step)
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips (milk or white chocolate would be great, too, but I liked the depth of the semisweet contrasting with the sweet filling inside)
3 tablespoons shortening
3-5 drops green food coloring (optional- but I added this for St. Patrick's Day)


Add condensed milk, 2 cups of powdered sugar, and peppermint extract to a large mixing bowl. Mix everything on medium speed using the paddle attachment until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Add more powdered sugar, a half cup at a time, until the dough is pliable like firm modeling clay.

Note-  at this point, I kneaded the dough by hand for a couple minutes to get it extra nice and well mixed.

Roll 3/4″ balls of dough between the palms of the hands (I used a small cookie scoop for this step with less than a tablespoon of dough- the smaller patties look neater and are better portions I think). Press each ball down slowly and set the flattened disk on a flat cutting board or plate. Transfer peppermint disks to the freezer for no longer than 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, temper the chocolate coating.

Place chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl. Melt the chocolate in 30 second increments, making sure to stir after each time until chocolate is smooth. Stir in shortening to thin the chocolate. Remove patties from the freezer.

Place a patty on the tongs of the fork and dip in the chocolate until completely covered. Allow excess chocolate to drip off the patty before setting each one on top of wax or parchment paper. Allow the chocolate coated peppermint patties to completely set up. This can be done quicker by placing the patties in the refrigerator. The peppermint patties are ready when they are dry to the touch. Enjoy!

Note- I melted some candy melts and drizzled them over the top for the finishing touch. After they set, package them up in cellophane bags, tie with a ribbon, and enjoy your easy, delicious, homemade treat!

May 10, 2011

TWD- Apple Cherry Brown Sugar Bundt Cake

My husband always asks, "what's the Dorie treat?" and kind of tunes out, expecting chocolate. When I started with the words "brown sugar" he perked up instantly and was patient and helpful while I worked. The batter comes together quickly and is as simple as a batch of cookies. As for variations, I used half freshly ground white whole wheat flour (no one noticed) and omitted the nuts, adding apples, dried cherries, and a little cinnamon instead. The house smelled wonderful while I waited for it to bake and I had vision of beautiful bundts on lovely platters (a la Food Librarian) but when I finally unmolded it, it stuck in all the fruity places (despite all my careful Pam with Flour application!) Nonetheless, the cake lived up to the smell and was wonderful. I can't wait to make it again and will see if I can't get away with a little less butter and a little more whole wheat flour. See the recipe at Peggy's or buy the book already, it's worth every penny (and calorie!)

May 4, 2011

Wednesday Want- Strawberry Slicer

It's time for another Wednesday Want already, just in time for Mother's Day. There are plenty of lovely, expensive kitchen tools around that would be perfect for any mother but this one is cheap and especially wonderful for spring time. Can I tell you how excited I am about strawberry season? They're finally plentiful and inexpensive around here and I can't get enough. Typically, I was my berries (a pound or two at a time) in the colander then slice the top off with a paring knife. Then I line them up and slice them vertically with my beloved French chef (if one of my kitchen tools was my boyfriend, this knife would be it.) I am in love with my Cutco knives- especially since every time I send them in for complimentary sharpening, they replace one or two (free of charge!) They are sharper than you'd believe, though, as the scars on my hands will happily testify. I've drilled and drilled that fact into my little man and will have to tell him, and you, my "Pride comes before the Cutco knife" story when he's old enough to appreciate it. For now, he knows to stay away.

But since he's an eager and willing helper in the kitchen most of the time, I wanted a solution that would let him get involved. I've used an egg slicer to slice strawberries before but the flimsy wires break and stop working far too soon for a household that eats up strawberries like mine. This slicer, advertised to cut things like eggs and mushrooms, does a lovely job. I picked one up at Shar's for my mom the other day and will have to get another for my house. You can even use a little stem removing tool like this one from Chef'n or this traditional one (3 bucks at Shar's) and my four year old can go from fresh washed to beautifully sliced berries in no time. For under ten bucks, you really can't be that.

Don't forget to check out my Amazon store for more great Mother's Day recommendations. With Amazon Prime, you can have you order shipped for free just in time (did you know they have a free student and mom version too?)

May 3, 2011

TWD- Chocolate and Peppermint Marbled Loaf Cake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie treat was a real winner at our house. I used a smaller loaf pan so I made a mini loaf as well and left one with my parents and took the other home. By the time I had it cut and took a couple of pictures, my kids had each swiped a piece or two. It never made it from cutting board to plate but everyone loved it. After naps, my little man walked out and asked for a piece of "chocolate bread" and was very upset to hear we'd given the last piece away. That was my biggest problem with this recipe- it was eaten far too fast and was deceptively guiltless (hence the "chocolate bread" nickname). There's way too much butter to count this as decent breakfast fare but I'll admit it was a lovely breakfast. We loved the peppermint version (made by dividing the batter and adding melted white chocolate to one portion and melted chocolate and peppermint extract to the other). Dorie suggests several wonderful variations and I can't wait to try a raspberry key lime cake next time. See the recipe here and try the batter (it might have been even better than the amazing cake!)

May 2, 2011

Royal Cupcakes for my Prince and Princess

I'm sure you've seen way too much about the royal wedding already (but all my efforts to post these on Friday came to naught!) I DVR'd the event at my mom's and haven't been over to watch it yet, though I've loved seeing all the dress and crazy hat pictures. I've had to laugh at the copious facebook statuses exclaiming total excitement or annoyance at the whole thing, but I couldn't let the weekend go by without making a treat in honor of the wedding (it has something to do with my kids' super 'top secret' names, since, well, I don't actually call my own little princess Baby Strawberry around the house, though my little man does answer to that). 

In 2008 my family took a trip to Greece to pick my brother up from his mission, and we stopped in London on the way home for about 8 hours overnight. Our parents stayed in their hotel like sane people and my brother and I work up at 3 to take the tube (that's what they call it, right? I always want to say metro, but I'm a frenchie at heart!) downtown and see what we could see in three or four hours.

When we walked up the stairs from the 'metro' we were right next door to Big Ben, it was so fun! It was still totally dark but we wandered across the bridge and back, through the park, over to Buckingham Palace, through what must have been the business district, judging from all the people heading to work, and eventually back to Big Ben and to the airport. We made it barely on time and were totally exhausted but it was wonderful to have been there, if only for a couple hours! Now I want to go again and see all the places from my favorite British historical fiction books.

As for the cupcakes themselves, little additions really put them over the top. Adding vanilla bean to the batter, filling them with pastry cream or pudding after they cool (I fill a pastry bag and use Ateco tip #230, but any substantial round frosting tip could work), and frosting them extra high- with homemade frosting of course- are some of my favorite tricks. Of course the king of the castle over here doesn't like frosting, so I usually help him with his and he graciously finishes off my cake. We're good like that.

I've posted about making candy melt decorations for cupcakes before and will have a nice explanatory post up in a week or so with some college graduation cupcakes I made last year with ASU's logo. The short of it is, I print out the design or monogram I'm looking for, cover the sheet with wax paper, and trace using a parchment bag (or clipped baggie) filled with melted candy melts (you can buy a huge assortment of colors at Michael's or Joann's). Then I freeze the sheet and after a few minutes, you can pop the design right off the paper and stick on top of the cupcake. I really wanted to come up with a sapphire blue to match Kate's ring but the best I had was a pretty light blue my friend loaned me (plus some food coloring). I had to thin the candy with Crisco and it was still a little clumpy due to the coloring. All would have been well, though, had I remembered the piping tip- somehow I ended up with half of my supplies and half at my mom's (who was also out of wax paper). So my grand plans for individually labeled Kate and Will cupcakes didn't pan out, but my own little royalty loved them just the same. You can see a picture of the process here if you are interested.

Update- I just found the prettiest Will and Kate printables and hope to find a good use for them soon, check them out here!

Royal Cupcakes for Will and Kate
from Anne Strawberry

{printable recipe here}

1 cup sour cream (reduced fat is fine)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
1 box betty crocker french vanilla cake mix

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Place atop a baking sheet and set aside.

Combine all ingredients in stand mixer and beat for two minutes until well combined. Using a 2-tablespoon scoop, scoop into muffin tins.

Bake for 21-24 minutes or until cupcakes spring back slightly when touched and a tooth pick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on racks and frost once completely cooled.

Anne Strawberry's Favorite Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened (one stick)
1 package of cream cheese, softened (I like to use Neufchatel, less fat and I don't notice much difference)

2 Tablespoons milk
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or the seeds of one vanilla pod, scraped
dash of salt
6 cups of powdered sugar (more or less to achieve desired consistency, this is a baseline)
1 Tablespoon meringue powder

In a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add in the milk, vanilla, and salt, and blend.

Next, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, cover the bowl of the mixer with a dish towel, and turn it on low until everything is combined. Then increase the speed for a minute or so until the frosting is light, fluffy, and delicious. The meringue powder will help set the frosting after it dries so it holds its shape.

Add 1 T. Lemon or orange zest and substitute juice for the milk to make a tangy citrus frosting

For the filling:
Anne Strawberry's Slightly Lightened Pastry Cream
After the cupcakes have cooled, fit a pastry bag with a long, medium tip. Fill with cooled pastry cream and squeeze one or two tablespoons into the center of each cupcake, filling until the top of the cupcake starts to bulge slightly. Frost and decorate the cupcakes and serve.

P.S. Sorry about the world's longest post, but did you spot my favorite car ever in the pictures? So many beautiful things in Europe! Come back tomorrow for TWD- Chocolate Peppermint Pound Cake!