Baking



Two cakes.

That is what I remember most about my birthdays growing up.

Right around this  time of year, my father used to tell me the story of how I was born. It was September 24th, 1982, a lovely Fall day and his own parents were visiting.  My mom was crazy amounts of pregnant with me and apparently my Grandpa Fabian, an obstetrician, took one look at her and told my grandma, “she is going to pop tonight, no doubt.”

Sure enough, as soon as they left, I started raising all kinds of hell in her womb and managed to send them straight to the hospital. This next part of the story is what I doubt really happened, but I always loved hearing my dad tell it. You see, he would claim that as my mom was lying in her hospital bed he insisted that she “stop labor and wait just a few more hours,” so that his daughter could have her own special day.

You see, September 24th is my dad’s birthday.

Apparently, if anybody heard him, it was me, because I showed face at about 1:50am the very next day…on my very own birthday.

For as long as I can remember, my dad and I shared our birthdays at the end of each September. My parents both insisted that we truly make each day special, which meant I would have to painfully sit through his birthday, while bursting at the seams with excitement over my own pending day. The one thing that kept me patient as a youngster was the amazing concept of two cakes.

When growing up, we each got to choose our own cake and for two days in a row, we would get to eat delicious desserts in celebration of our own individual births. Chocolate, vanilla, marble, ice cream, homemade, bakery-made… every time it was something different and unique.

As I got older and moved off to college and grown-up life, two cakes stopped happening and instead turned into just a phone call… that is, a phone call two days in a row. Still something special.  Last year, we celebrated Dad’s 60th birthday by flying home to Minnesota and taking him out with the family. It was the first time he had seen me since my wedding and he put his arm around me and wished me a happy birthday. He looked at me differently, with pride and admiration almost. He joked with me about “giving him a grandkid already” and we spent the entire night drinking wine, eating wonderful food and feasting on desserts.

If I had known that would be the last birthday spent with him, I would have insisted that there be two cakes.

So, in a fit of nostalgia and longing, I decided to rekindle such memories and bake not one, but two birthday cakes. I racked my brain for what cake I wanted to make for my dad and finally settled on a cupcake created for what I remember to be his favorite dessert: Cookies and Cream Ice Cream.

For my own birthday cake, I made a Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Icing, something the younger version of me would have made vomiting sounds over. Now, I love it.

Two cakes. This might have to become my new tradition: two cakes that I share with the people in my life now. It can be a way that we keep Steve in our memory forever.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

1 (18.25 oz.) package Devil’s Food cake mix
1 (3.9 oz.) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1/2 cup warm water

2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips

24 Oreo Cookies, save the tops for frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper baking cups.

Twist off each Oreo cookie top, separating the frosted bottoms from the cookie tops. Put one frosted bottom into each baking cup.

In a large bowl, combine the cake and pudding mixes. Mix in sour cream, oil, beaten eggs, and water until just combined.

Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into prepared cupcake pans.

Bake for 20-24 minutes, until tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cook in pans for 5 minutes before removing to a cooking rack to cool completely.

Mrs. Leeds Kim, sporting one of my own birthday presents while being my special helper!

Cookies and Cream Buttercream

2 Sticks of Butter, softened

4-5 cups confectioners sugar

2 tsp vanilla

24 Oreo bottoms (leftover from cupcake recipe), crushed.

1/2 cup milk

Combine butter, milk, vanilla and 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar and beat well. Once combined, slowly add remaining sugar. Once smooth, stir in Oreo crumbs.

Finished product. Dad woud have loved this.

Oreo Bottoms!

Pumpkin Spice Cake

from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon each allspice and cloves)

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. (I used a circular pie pan)

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter, and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan, and cool completely, right side up, on a rack.

Make Honey Frosting

Honey Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft

1 bar (8 ounces) regular (or reduced-fat) cream cheese, very soft

1/4 cup honey

Combine together and spread on cake

After an incredibly hot and humid summer, cool temperatures finally returned to the Big Apple this week, renewing and exciting its battered, worn down citizens. Walking down the street, you once again saw sweaters, scarves and close-toed shoes.  Though the rain fell almost daily, New Yorkers had the weekend to look forward to…Saturday did not disappoint one bit, with its warm temperatures wrapped up in cool breezes. One could almost mistake this weekend for the Fall.

Of course, right as the good got great, Sunday came along and changed everything, with its hot weather and gross air. I curse you, present-weather and long for 2 days ago.

My husband and I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather on Saturday by going hiking in the Ramapo Valley Reservation in New Jersey, about an hour’s drive outside of Brooklyn. We were pretty excited to spend the day doing the 8.5 mile hike around Bear Swamp Lake.

Hiking is not something we usually do, but this summer seems to be a mixed bag of new experiences. As we made the climb up Hawk Rock, wound back down through the forest, crossed small brooks and made several grueling ascents to spectacular views, we couldn’t help but spend a good portion of the hike feeling a sense of calm from the storm of this year. Even as our legs burned from the climb, it was pain that soothed us.

Ramapo Valley Reservation

A day before the trip, I made up a chickpea and roasted red pepper salad along with some homemade granola to accompany us on our hike. Throw in a couple of Clif bars and you have yourself a crunchy meal that served us well as we made our way through the sometimes strenuous, off-path hike. It was pretty awesome.

Picnic for our hike

We can’t wait to do this again…as soon as the weather returns to its previous state of bliss, of course. Until then, it’s back to skirts, flip-flops and uncomfortable misery.

In the meantime, make these snacks to get you through the end of summer.

Recipes: Chickpea and Roasted Red Pepper Salad and Nutty Cranberry Granola

——————————————————–

Chickpea and Roasted Red Pepper Salad

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 large red peppers, roasted and skinned or about 2 cups from a jar (instructions for roasting your own)

3 cups of cooked chickpeas, rinsed if canned (about 2 15-ounce cans)

1/4 cup of parsley, chopped

2 Tbsp of chopped mint

3 Tbsp of capers, rinsed

2 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice or red wine or sherry vinegar

1/4 tsp of salt

2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

Cut the peppers into half-inch wide strips and put them in a large bowl together with the chickpeas, herbs and the capers. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, garlic and oil. Pour over the chickpea mixture and combine.Serve immediately, or refrigerate it for a day.

Enjoy!

——————————————————–

Nutty Cranberry Granola

my own recipe- enjoy!

3 cups old fashioned, rolled oats

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Start things off right by mixing up the dry ingredients (oats, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon) in a large bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl mix up the wet ingredients (honey, oil and vanilla) and add this mixture to the bigger bowl.

Mix well and spread onto a large baking sheet. Try to keep an even layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring the oats after about 15 minutes. (I do my granola for about 30 minutes, since I prefer a crunchier texture.)

While the granola is baking, toast your nuts in a large skillet over low heat. I added a tiny sliver of butter to bring out the flavors. When toasting the nuts, be careful not to let them burn. I only allowed them to be on the heat for about 5 minutes and I watched them like a hawk. Let them cool and then chop them up to your liking (I separated the pumpkin seeds, since I didn’t want them to be chopped.)

Once the granola has cooled, add the nuts and dried cranberries. Mix well and serve!

Blueberry Crumb Bars

I visited the Prospect Park farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza this weekend and was able to get the last of the season’s blueberries… as well as some other delicious vegetables and baked goods. Talk about a sweet hookup that market is! Too bad we live just on the border of Park Slope and South Slope, making the trek by foot a little annoying when you’re carrying bags of delicate (yet beautiful) cherry tomatoes and plump juicy blueberries. (Let’s just say I had a few accidents on the way home…nobody is to blame, but my market bag needed to go through the wash pretty badly)

I have been dying to try this recipe for quite some time and thought what better time than to celebrate my friend, Jennie’s, birthday. Cheers and Happy Birthday, August people!

First layer, before spreading the blueberries

Finished product-- totally delicious

Blueberry Crumb Bars

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tsp cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. The dough’s texture will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Park Slope is dreary with rain today and life feels heavy with memories and reflection. After experiencing such a crazy winter, a recent and untimely bout of strep throat, and the latest news of our kitten’s degenerative sight disorder (she’s going blind and there is nothing we can do about it) I decided it was time to whip out a recipe that would make pretty much anybody forget their woes.

I made these little gems awhile back for two lovely couples, two separate occasions, in hopes of perfecting a carrot ginger cupcake recipe of my own! I must say, I do love me some cupcakes and boy can they cure the blues.

These were tricky and kind of sticky with the use of candied ginger, but well worth the effort. The frosting comes to you courtesy of none other than Magnolia Bakery- and I decided to forgo the candied carrot sprinkles for the sake of time. However, I did add some lovely orange sprinkles to keep things festive. Check out the link at the bottom of the page for an excellent tutorial on how to frost a cupcake.

So in an effort to stay positive, here are lots of smiley smiles sent to you straight from Park Slope Kitchen, with love.

Carrot Ginger Cupcakes

adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop

1 cup pecans
1 pound carrots
3 large eggs
1/2 cup 1% fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup candied ginger (purchased at Fairway Market. Mine came in cubes, so I coursely chopped them)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast pecans in oven for 5 minutes, remove from the oven, let them cool, then chop coarsely. Set aside. Keep oven at 350 for cupcakes.

Peel, rinse, and then grate carrots coarsely.

In a large bowl, combine carrots, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, sugar, vegetable oil, fresh ginger, and candied ginger.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Fold flour mixture into the carrot mixture. Fold in pecans.

Scoop out into cupcake pans and bake at 350 degree oven for ~20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes and then cool on wire rack completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting

From Magnolia Cookbook

One pound (two 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

5 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

In a large bowl, on medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate icing for 2-3 hours, but no longer, to thicken before using.

To smooth frosting onto cupcake: I found this amazing article and video that pretty much changed the entire way I frost cupcakes. Genius! Check it out: How to Frost A Cupcake

These days, it seems almost impossible to find time to hang out with the women that I love. Thanks to the miracle of schedules falling into place (and a 3-day weekend) I was able to invite a few of my girlfriends over for a much needed brunch and catch-up session. These women are the kind of people that used to make me blush (think: first time I saw Samantha on Sex in the City) but they have fast become my source for the hilarity of the modern, intellectual chick and the way we think, breathe, eat, and love like crazy. These girls bring me to the point of laughter in less than a second, talk smack about the things (and humans) that are completely deserving, and give me comfort in their all-to-similar way of thinking as myself. They rejuvenate my desire to be a better, smarter, and crazier woman.

So raise your mimosas together and toast whatever gal-pal you have sadly neglected and make this dish to thank them for being amazing.

Breakfast Egg and Veggie Sausage Braid

1 roll Pillsbury Pizza dough (found in the dairy section)

5 large eggs

1 8 oz package veggie sausage patties (I used morning star patties)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small white onion, diced

Olive oil

1/2 C grated pepper jack cheese

(Add 3 bottles of sparkling wine, 1 container of OJ, and 3 of your best friends for an even better recipe.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook veggie sausage patties or links in a skillet for about 10 minutes. Continue to add water as needed (see package directions). Put in a bowl and scramble with either a fork or a potato masher. You want this to resemble ground beef.

Wipe skillet clean. Add oil and onions and cook until transluscent. Add garlic for about 1 minute. Set aside with the sausage. Wipe skillet down again.

Scramble eggs in a skillet. It is important to undercook your eggs so they are still slightly runny.

Next, use a rolling pin and a lightly floured work surface to roll out the crescent dough to about 10 in x 12 in. Lay the eggs down the center of the rectangle, leaving room on both sides and the 2 ends. Top with veggie sausage, onions/garlic, cheese, and a couple shots of hot sauce if you want.

Use a knife or pizza crust to slice slits down the sides of the dough, roughly 6-7 on each side. Now starting on one end, bring the side pieces in and overlap them. You’ll want to alternate- one from the right, then one from the left and so on and so on. Keep doing it until you get all the way to the end.

(Click here for some lovely pictures from Our Best Bites on how to slice and fold the braid. I was apparently too distracted to remember to take some play-by-play photos for everyone to see!)

Honestly, I didn’t really follow the braiding as closely as I should have, mostly just because I was hungry and wanted to get this into the oven as soon as possible. =)

Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until brown on top and bottom. Let sit for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving!

Cranberry Oat Scones

You all know the feeling. Sometimes you just can’t muster up the strength to schlep to the market. When those moments strike, I try my best to jump into creative mode and tear my kitchen apart in desperation to find enough ingredients to make something worth eating. By some miracle, I recently was able to find some delicious scraps of food in which to whip up some scones that provided breakfast (and snacks) for several days, without even leaving the house.

I realize this sounds completely lazy, especially since I live in a neighborhood where I can pretty much find anything I need within walking distance. But there is an art to making use of the ingredients that are already take up space in your cupboards. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was accomplished last week when I emptied my kitchen cabinets in an attempt to finally reorganize. I discovered at least twelve ingredients (example: peanut butter, rice, wheat germ, cocoa powder, sugars, oils, etc) that I had no idea were occupying the limited space in my kitchen.

It takes some brain power and cookbook research, but creating food out of something you already have is always quite satisfying, especially when you didn’t realize you had the ingredients to make something special. Obviously I realize that not everyone reading this blog will have these exact ingredients on hand, but instead I hope to encourage creativity and discovery in your very own kitchen. Good luck!

Cranberry Oat Scones

Makes 8 scones

1 & ¾ cups all purpose  flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted, cold butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/3 cup dried cranberries

Zest of one lemon

2/3 cup buttermilk

Egg Wash:

1 large egg

1 Tbsp milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place rack in center of oven.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. (I generally choose not to use the parchment paper preparation, but I have really great pans that treat me quite well. Do what you know is best for your own oven and kitchen!

In a large mixing bowl place the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and whisk to combine.  Add the butter and using either a pastry blender or your fingers cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the rolled oats, dried cranberries and zest.  Mix until combined.  Stir in the buttermilk, adding more if necessary, and mix just until the dough comes together.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough four or five times. Roll the dough into a circle that is roughly 7 inches round and about 1 & 1/2 inches thick.  Cut this circle into 8 triangular sections, like a pizza.  Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet.  Make an egg wash of one beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk or cream and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture.

Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.   Remove from oven and then turn your broiler on high.  Sift confectioners sugar heavily over the tops of the scones and place them under the broiler.  Broil for just a few seconds, turning the pan as necessary, until the sugar has melted and turns golden brown.  If your oven is anything like mine, be careful with this process and watch your scones carefully, turning the pan if needed. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Cheesecake Bars

Remember the one with Phoebe’s cookies? She holds the secret to her grandmother’s apparently outstanding chocolate chip cookie recipe and Monica tries desperately to replicate it just by tasting the cookies. In the end, it turns out her grandmother just used the Nestle Tollhouse recipe. Remember?

Confession: I’m a huge Friends fan.

This next one comes from my mother-in-law, who is the queen of all things baked. She wrote the entire recipe down for me after I practically rolled around with sweet glee on these cheesecake bars, but later revealed to me her real source: the back of the Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate and Peanut Butter Swirled morsel’s bag.

Here’s to finding delicious recipes in the most unexpected of places.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Bars

inspired by Dorothy Ritchie

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted

3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 2/3 cups (10-oz. pkg.)Nestle Tollhouse swirled chocolate and peanut butter chips, divided

2 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Combine crumbs, butter and 1/4 cup sugar in medium bowl. (Remove 1 cup mixture and reserve for topping). Press remaining mixture onto bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle 3/4 cup morsels over crust.

Beat cream cheese, remaining sugar, flour and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Don’t be alarmed if this turns out really runny) Pour over crust and morsels in pan. Sprinkle with reserved crumb topping and remaining morsels.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into bars.

Next Page »