Sunday, December 22, 2013

Annual Cookies Trays

Blink, and a month passes by. Or at least that is my excuse. Last I knew it was Thanksgiving, and boom - now it's nearly Christmas. That old adage that time flies when you get old is 100% true. Hell, I would say they padded it a bit because I think time is vanishing. I have more things to do than I have fingers and toes to count and keep track of them all!
In an effort to try and be timely, I made my Holiday Cookie Trays a little early this year. And then forgot to post about them before my vacation (whoops). Bad Panda. Maybe I will get on board with being timely next year...or maybe I shouldn't hold my breath.
Now I could have listed out each and every recipe, like I usually do, but time is of the essence these days and I opted for the link-friendly approach. A few of these recipes are repeats from prior years' holiday trays and a few are newbies. I encourage any and all feedback on how folks liked the selected cookies for 2013, as this will help the cookie boxes improve in years to come. This year's line-up:
By and large, the Piggy Print cookies are a favorite of my taste-testers. As are the popcorn cookies and basil lime cookies. The crisps, balls, and rods are time-saving, easy recipes (good space fillers), but need to ensure they stay in airtight containers or else they will get stale (same for the popcorn cookies). Next year's ideas - homemade extracts and/or syrups, maybe the return of a brittle (?), and as always - more cookies.

Happy holidays and enjoy!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pumpkin Apple Spice Cake

'Tis the pumpkin season! If you hadn't noticed by now from all the pumpkin flavored whatnot - lattes, candy, even body butter. Thankfully, while my love of pumpkin is isn't over the top. For instance, just a few weeks ago I embarked upon a Pumpkin Apple Spice Cake recipe of delicious wonder, mainly because I had a batch of spice buttercream frosting to use up before it went bad (or more importantly, before I ate it all). 
Sadly, I don't have any pictures of the finished cake this time. Bad panda, I know. We ate it too quickly! That should be a testament to just how delicious this recipe is. I would likely add some slightly toasted walnuts, were I to do this one again, or maybe a coating of crushed nuts on the perimeter of the cake. Mmmm...walnuts and spice frosting. See, this is exactly why I had to get that frosting out of my house! And with that I instruct you all to go forth, be prosperous, and make use of those holiday leftovers after this coming weekend. 
To make up for my lack of baked good beauty, here is a collection of cakes from this past year. Whew, 2013 was definitely the year of bigger, better cakes in my kitchen! Maybe I should try an ombre cake next??
And another collection of various baked goods from the past few months. All this cold weather has me thinking of trying out new territory - chicken and waffles! 
And of course, one of my little helpers. The ever inquisitive Zip, a.k.a. my shadow. The one who keeps me on my toes and gives me a reason to always clean up after myself. She'll be waiting for Thanksgiving Day madness...mainly for the scraps. Happy holidays!

Pumpkin Apple Spice Cake
Adapted from: Je suis alimentageuse
  • 2/3 cup butter, room temp.
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin purée
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp pumpkin spice
  • Pinch of clove, ground
  • Pinch of nutmeg, ground
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or other milk)
  • 2-3 cups of your favorite frosting
Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and smooth.

Add in pumpkin purée, applesauce, and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.

Sift in pumpkin spice and other spices, baking powder, flour and salt and mix, gradually adding almond milk until you get a thin yet viscous batter.

Divide the batter between two greased and lined 8" cake pans. Or if making cupcakes, fill each cup with a cupcake liner and then 2/3 full with batter.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, check to see if the cake is done by poking the middle of the cake with a cake tester or toothpick. It should come out either with moist crumbs sticking to it, or clean.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. After about 5 minutes, remove the cakes from the pan and let them rest on the wire rack.

Allow cakes to fully cool before frosting. Frost with your favorite buttercream frosting. Store in the fridge for up to a few days.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mishmash Pot Pie

Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up, stumble into the kitchen to make yourself a cup of coffee, only to open the fridge and realize you've likely lost the Lindbergh baby in the recesses of it somewhere? Leftovers galore! Tupperware container upon tupperware container, piled several high. Yeah, I have those often. Welcome to my life. And to combat those pesky leftovers, I often try to repurpose as many things as I can into another dish. This week - mishmash pot pie.
Finger licking goodness here! Earlier in the week I'd found some pre-made pie crusts on sale at the local grocery store and in combination with my insane amount of various leftovers and aging vegetables, I made myself some comfort food. This time around, I made it vegetarian (as I have been toying with going back on the veg-wagon thanks to the way the USDA is going to start 'harvesting' poultry). I had some frozen veggies to use up (lima beans, peas, corn) along with some soon-to-expire potatoes, carrots, and other fresh vegetables. The sky's the limit here! My rule of thumb is to use what is expiring first and build from that.
So far, I haven't found a way to screw up this recipe. It has plenty of room for oopsies and odd flavor combos. Definitely a keep for a lazy Sunday. Enjoy!

Mishmash Pot Pie

  • 2 defrosted pie crusts
  • Various leftovers - veggies, chicken, etc. 
  • Gravy or flavored butter or chicken stock
  • 1-2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • Salt and pepper, herbs to your liking 

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Take one of the pie crusts and lay it out in a pie pan if it didn't come in one. Make sure to gently press it down around the base of the pan, and pinch over the rim of the pie pan (make little thumbprint indentations for a crust design).

Saute the veggies in a little oil or butter, starting with the ones that take longer: onion, garlic, mushrooms, thicker stalked veggies. Saute until just al dente. White wine and/or chicken stock usually adds some good flavor!

Depending upon how much moisture has accumulated while sauteing, mix in a little bit of cornstarch or flour. I recommend mixing it into a tiny bit of liquid first and then into the frying pan. If you have any gravy on hand, use that (mmmm, good). Feel free to add herbs, salt and pepper, or other flavorings as you like.

Once the veggies are ready, gently pour them into the prepared pie pan. Spread everything out so the layer is even, and lay the other pie crust over the top. Trim off the excess and gently press the crusts together to form a seam. Make sure to slice a few slits in the top so the pie can breathe as it bakes.

Bake the pot pie for 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let the pot pie cool and then serve.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

More Biscuits, Please

One thing I am most certain of in this that there aren't enough biscuits. Seriously. When was the last time you had a homemade, flaky, delicious little biscuit? For me, it was this morning. And hot damn, is my life better because of it. Yes, I am a firm believer in that we need more biscuits in our lives. They go with everything, have a wide range of flavor options, and are pretty hard to screw up. That's winning in my book! Therefore, I took it upon myself to test out yet another biscuit recipe and see just truthful the claim that biscuits taste better with buttermilk.
This one I borrowed from Joy of Baking (awesome in all things baking). Mainly because I was out of buttermilk, and biscuits had been specifically requested as a component of this morning's meal. I have to admit - the buttermilk makes a big difference. While these were amazing in their own right, a little denser, with just a hit of crispy to the edges, my usual buttermilk biscuits are just a wee bit better (I believe because they are flakier). One tweak I made this time, again because I was limited by what was in the cupboards, was the use of Kerry Irish Butter in place of plain ol' fashioned butter. A little bit of Irish seemed to make it tastier to me!
And in other news, I've been up and around more (the knee injury seems to nearly be behind me) and taking in the beautiful colors of fall. Outside of a few special places, the Western North Carolina fall season is one of the loveliest I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Just check out these trees?!?!
It's like Bob Ross has been hanging out in the local woods, painting a little color into the forest to perk folks up a bit. Mind-blowingly beautiful! Definitely more inspiration to make transportable food so I can make like John Muir or Henry Thoreau and contemplate my navel in the backcountry. Enjoy the season!

Good Ol' Biscuits

Borrowed From: Joy of Baking
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (use pastry blender, two knives, or fingertips). Add the milk and slightly beaten egg and stir until just combined. (The texture should be sticky, moist and lumpy.)

Place mixture on a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough gently until it comes together and is a smooth dough.

Roll out dough to about a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut out biscuits with a lightly floured round cookie cutter. Place on prepared baking sheet and brush the tops with the beaten egg and milk mixture and bake for about 10 -15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the biscuit comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Serve warm with butter.

Makes about 10 - 2 1/2 inch biscuits.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Failures & Moving On

There was once a time in my life when I viewed failure as something negative, downright appalling. For me, failure was the epitome of being unsuccessful, off your game, wasting resources and precious time. It took me until just the past year of my life to fully realize that without failure, we have no yardstick by which to measure our success. Failure is a part of life, a well-needed one, and we are better because of it (or at least I feel I am). The world of baking is no exception to the basic laws of failure, and even a well-versed amateur chef like myself faces mishaps and defeats time and again.
For those of you who are outside my small world it was my birthday last week, which usually means ample celebrating occurs, along with plenty of baking opportunities. I take birthdays and celebrating very seriously (only until the fun-having starts), and typically engage in a week-long festive celebration involving as many of my friends and family as possible. For some reason this year was different. My desire to celebrate was near non-existent and the usual urge to bake completely missing. That might partly explain why these cupcakes (which turned out more like muffins) failed me. My heart just wasn't in it. Hideous little things, aren't they? Happy birthday to, or maybe not.
I've learned over the years that if a recipe isn't working out, one of a few things may be in play: the original recipe sucks and requires some tweaking; my ingredients aren't the freshest possible and I should hit the store, then try again; or other areas of my life are so intense at this point in time that everything I do (including baking) is being impacted, therefore I need to stop avoiding my troubles and deal with them head on. I bet you can guess which of these was likely the truest of my birthday week baking mishap adventure... three cheers for being a grown up! Wait, maybe only one and a half cheers.
Now, you may have noticed this post is full of inspirational (if not slightly annoying) quotes in place of an actual recipe. This is in hopes that you, and I, find a shiny, happy, glimmer of keep your ass moving and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Take a lesson from me, be proud of those failures. Much like our scars and and personal histories, they shape how we interact in this world and how we treat others. A person who hasn't experienced a heartfelt failure is someone who has my sympathy, for I fear that person isn't fully grasping all that life has to offer us. I imagine it is similar to viewing the world in only one color.
I promise you a few things: there are other cupcake recipes to try, fresher ingredients to track down, and many more successes and failures to come in the future. None of us are above failing, and hell I don't think I would want to go an entire lifetime without a single failure. Yes, I may need a reminder now and then of why failing isn't a bad thing...but that is why I have you wonderful folk (you keep me honest).
So on that note...bake on, lovelies! There world awaits your culinary prowess and positiveness. Toss those sad little cupcakes out, shake it off, and try again another day. The only failure here is not trying again.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Basil Lime Cookies

I don't know about you, but every so often I need a pick me up. A heart warming, happy feeling, good time pick me up. The kind that leaves you smiling and dreamy eyed, recalling good moments of your life. Sometimes this pick me up comes in the form of a sunny day, a snuggle session with Bert the Cat, or even an impromptu car ride through the woods. And occasionally I turn to a new recipe to brighten my spirits. Most recently I turned to these lovely babies - Basil Lime Cookies. Now before you starting judging how odd a cookie would taste with basil AND lime in the ingredients list, I implore you to take a bite out of one of these. You can thank me later. I made a batch of these for my new dentist's office and hot damn, did they love me for it. That's winning in my book!
Mmmmm, cookies that defy the laws of nature. My favorite! The most common remark from taste testers: surprisingly refreshing, and highly addictive. Score! Cookies that leave you wanting more, again I consider this a success. It's an easy recipe, with simple ingredients, and may even make an appearance on the 2013 cookie tray spread (wow, the holiday season is creeping up fast!).
And in other news, my photography side project is slowly taking shape. Feel free to swing by the blog and/or the facebook page to check out what's been in my viewfinder of late. Happy baking!!

Basil Lime Cookies
Borrowed from: Big Fat Baker
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 3 tbsp very finely chopped fresh basil leaves (I used a wee bit more here)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line the cookie sheets with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

In a stand mixer (or hand-held mixer) cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

Mix in the egg, vanilla, zest, and basil. Mix together until fully combined.

In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Then mix into the butter mixture until combined.

Roll 1 tbsp of dough to make a little sphere. Repeat with remaining dough. Place about 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies/oven. Allow to cool on a cooling rack for a few minutes then watch how fast they disappear! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Swirl Bundt Cake

Oh yes, I'm bringing the bundt cake back. Honestly I have a hard time finding things wrong with bundt cakes. For starters, the cake pan does most of the work. And if it looks or tastes bad, you can smother it with a glaze or frosting. Bundt cakes always seem to feed more and go farther than others. Mixing chocolate and peanut butter seemed the right approach to me, and hence this beautiful gem was born (borrowed).
A fairly straight forward recipe here, nothing much to it. And I bet most of you have the ingredients in your cupboards this very moment. As with most things I bake, I ate my small share (i.e. tax) and quickly gifted the rest away before I engaged in too much crumby behavior. 
Just in case you haven't been by his website page yet, Burt the Cat is doing great and getting into his pesky kitty phase. He's becoming quite the ham! Feel free to swing by and check out his plans to slowly take over the world (and drive me insane). 
Enjoy the baking, everyone! 

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Swirl Bundt Cake

Borrowed From: Hungry Couple
  • 2 Cups all purpose flour, divided
  • 2 Teaspoons baking powder, divided
  • 1 Teaspoon baking soda, divided
  • 1/4 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 Cups sugar
  • 3 Eggs 
  • 2 Sticks unsalted butter
  • 3/4 Cup water
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 Teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 Cup peanut butter
In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and eggs.  Add the butter and continue beating.  Add the water, vanilla and salt.  Divide the mixture evenly into two bowls.

Add the peanut butter to one bowl, beat until smooth and fold in the first bowl of flour, baking powder and baking soda.To the second bowl, fold in the flour mixture with the cocoa powder.

Butter and flour a 12 cup bundt pan.  Add half the peanut butter batter to the pan, followed by half the chocolate batter, followed by the second half of the peanut butter batter and topped off with the final half of the chocolate batter.  Using a butter knife, gently swirl the batters together but do not over mix.  

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool very well before removing from the pan.  Makes approximately 10 servings.