Tuesday, November 29, 2011

.pumpkin roll.

it has happened a couple of times and every time it does, it truly delights me. i get a special request to make something.

this time, it came from one of my closest friends and she even offered to buy all the tools and ingredients to make it happen. for selfish reasons, i wanted my own jelly roll pan and so just went ahead and got one without her knowing and surprised her one day with the finished product.

her request? a traditional pumpkin roll. after much research, i discovered that the beauty of the pumpkin roll is in the delicacy of the roll itself. so, i read lots of tips and tricks on how to form a successful roll. putting all of the internet advice into one clump in my mind, i was ready to roll. cheesy? yes, i know.

with the ingredients of the season from cinnamon to pumpkin to allspice, this was an aromatic recipe and i was anxious to steal a bite of the finished product.

following the instructions like an 'a' student should, my roll turned out just fine and dandy. see for yourself!

the version of the classic recipe i chose to make included fun tidbits like toffee pieces in the cream cheese filling. after presenting the cake to my gal pal, she even let me have a piece. i must confess. i didn't really ask her to begin with, i had to taste it.

the recipe is yummy, but i have decided that pumpkin cake is not my favorite holiday treat. personally, i'd rather have another slice of this pumpkin pound cake.

pumpkin roll
from the joy of baking
3/4 cup (100 grams) all purposeflour
1/2 teaspoon bakingpowder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 largeeggs, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated whitesugar< 1/2 teaspoon purevanillaextract 2/3 cup (150 grams) pumpkin puree

8 ounces (226 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
2tablespoons(28 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (115 grams) confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (130 grams) Heath Bits 'O Brickleor other nut brickle

Confectioners' (powdered or icing) Sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non-stick vegetable spray, a 15 inch (38 cm) x 10 inch (25 cm) bakingpan, line it with parchment paper, and then butter and flour the parchment paper (or spray with Baker's Joy).

Sift, into a large bowl, the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt.
Place the eggs along with the sugar in your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (can also use a hand mixer). Beat on high speed for five minutes, or until thick, pale yellow, and fluffy. (When you slowly raise the beaters the batter will fall back into the bowl in slow ribbons.) Beat in the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree. Gently fold in the siftedflourmixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, evenly spreading the cake batter with an offset spatula or knife.

Bake for about 13 -15 minutesor until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake, when lightly pressed, springs back.

Immediately upon removing the cake from the oven invert the pumpkin roll onto a clean dish towel that has been sprinkled with confectioners' sugar. Carefully remove the parchment paper, sprinkle lightly with confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, and roll up the pumpkin roll, with the towel, while it is still hot and pliable. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Filling: Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Then fold in the butter brickle or nuts.

To Assemble:Unroll the pumpkin roll, spread with the filling, and reroll. Transfer to your serving platter. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. (You can serve this cake immediately but chilling it for a few hours, or even overnight, sets the filling and makes it easier to slice.) Just before serving,dustwith confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar.
Serves about 6 - 8 people.

.candied grapes.

how about a little twist on the traditional candied apple? and by little, i'm talking grape-sized. the one magazine that i must get each month is every day with rachael ray. she's my martha stewart and i just love her and her magazine's editors. so when i ran across this super simple, super cute recipe for candied grapes, i just couldn't resist. let me show you how it's done.

put toothpicks, preferably decorative on the end sticking out, in about 36 grapes. feel free to pop a few extras in your mouth as you go. you're working hard after all. wait- you do i mean grapes and not toothpicks, right?

boil your granulated sugar and grape juice and stir in the corn syrup. to prevent a mess on the insides of your pot from hardened crystallization, keep scraping the sides down with a pastry brush. if you don't have one, a wooden spoon or spatula would help.

in a small bowl, combine the grape nuts and brown sugar. the original recipe doesn't call for brown sugar, but i found the cereal to be terribly drab without it. i needed a little pop of extra sweet.

after about 30-45 minutes of boiling your sugar mixture, it is ready to go. dip each toothpicked grape into the liquid and then immediately into the grape nuts. they'll stick and form a cute little candied grape. as it dries, the candy coating will harden for a nice contrast to the juicy grape beneath.

serve on a pretty party platter for a swanky presentation. i would show you a picture of that if i had one, but i don't. so, you'll just have to imagine. try not to let your eye guy eat them before they're ready to serve to guests. what, you don't have an eye guy? well, you know what i mean.

candied grapes
adapted from every day with rachael ray
2 cups Grape-Nuts cereal
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup grape juice
36 large, firm seedless grapes, rinsed and dried
1/4 cup brown sugar (my addition for sweetness)

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Place the Grape-Nuts in a small bowl; set aside.

Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of a deep 3- to 4-qt. saucepan. Combine the sugar and grape juice in the pan and boil over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar is melted. Stir in the corn syrup. Continue to cook, brushing down the sides of the pot with a moistened pastry brush to prevent crystallization and adjusting the heat as needed to prevent boiling over. Remove from the heat when the mixture registers 305° (hard-crack stage) on the thermometer, about 45 minutes.

Working with 1 grape at a time and holding on to the toothpick, dip the grape into the sugar syrup, tilting the pan and rotating the toothpick to coat the fruit in a thin, even layer. Lift the grape and twirl gently and carefully over the pot to let the excess drip off. Immediately dip the bottom half of the grape into the Grape-Nuts (mixed with brown sugar) and stand cereal end down on the prepared baking sheet. Let cool for 10 minutes at room temperature before serving. Repeat with the remaining grapes, reheating the sugar syrup over low heat as needed to restore fluidity.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

.ornament wreath.

oh do i have a joyous craft for you to try! maybe i should say joyful because this is a fantastic one for the holidays. i've seen ornament wreaths all over the web and thought, "i can do that!." so, i did.

if you are the type to decorate your tree with purple and silver or hot pink with sequins or a snow white affair, this is still a great decoration for you. the beauty of creating your own ornament wreath is that you can choose whatever color scheme or theme you want. you're making it. i used my hardware store wreath base that i created when making my book page wreath. you can definitely work with a pre-made foam wreath as well.

after forming my foam circle, i wrapped the whole thing in christmas red ribbon so that any parts peaking out would blend in nicely with the ornament colors i chose. for my very first ornament wreath, i went with the traditional colors of red, green and gold.

now, these babies are pricey if you buy them in a store and i also had no intention of buying fancy schmancy ornaments in order to turn this project into a bank breaker. instead, i marched myself right into the dollar tree and stocked up. in total, the supplies to make this ornament wreath were approximately fifteen dollars. not bad, eh?

ok, start by laying out lots of your ornaments and heating up your hot glue gun. i hot glued and wrapped the red ribbon all the way around then started adding on the bigger ornaments first. i sometimes worked in clusters, then other times jumped to the other side of the wreath. i just let the wreath speak to me. ok, not really, but i wanted to see if you were still reading.

the smaller ornaments can be used to fill in the gaps. i figured i'd be gluing all of the ornaments to the wreath itself, but soon found that i was actually gluing quite a few of them to other ornaments only. that method ends up adding depth to the wreath.

you'll know you are done when you look down at your wreath and feel like it looks complete. i was not sure how i would know myself, but there was a moment when i stepped away and felt it looked like a finished project. voila- happy holidays to me!

in all, i probably used around 50 medium sized ornaments and maybe 15-20 small ones. have some back-up glue sticks ready to go and a little time on your hands. this didn't take all day by any means, but you'll probably need to set aside about an entire episode of House and half an NCIS to do it in.

to hang it, i used a wreath hook i already had and just looped it through. if it were on my front door, i wouldn't be able to look at it longingly. so, i instead hung it over a prominent window in our living room where we can enjoy it all the time. just looking at it right now makes me want to fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!


the tears are already welling in my eyes just thinking about writing down my gratitudes. i'm most thankful for matters of the heart as i feel them with every piece of my being.

there's the oldest love for my family that has cradled my heart before i was even born. then, there's the ever-present love from my dearest friends, from the completeness of my best friend to the sheer joy of my new ones.

my heart's capacity sometimes spills over when it comes to the love for my life's companion, my husband. and with him, i've gained a whole new family that brings new light to my life.

then, there's the every day smiles i get from my babies in fur that tickles me to my soul. every year, i have the privilege of working with hundreds of children for my career and still get to wake up and come home to, well, a home. food is in abundance, entertainment is all around me and opportunities dance everywhere.

from chocolate chip cookies to text messages from my eye guy...from figuring out a hard math problem to a glass of wine with my girlfriends...from doggy tongue kisses to phone calls from back home...from reading to writing to laughs and tears, for it all, i am thankful. for the loss, i find comfort in ever having had. my life is in abundance and it continues to give.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

.peanut butter popcorn.

with all the big holidays here, the dishes are elaborate, the pressure is more in the person than the cooker and usually stress takes over as the main dish. if you're looking for something a little more easy-going, try out this sweet popcorn dish.

not only are the ingredients minimal, but the method is also simple. this would be a fun recipe to make with your little pilgrims and elves if you have them.

start by popping two big bags of your favorite microwavable popcorn. resist sitting down with a bag of it on the sofa and popping in a video. now, get out of your time machine and resist plopping on your sofa with your bag of popcorn and some instant streaming. either way, save the two popcorn bags for the remainder of the recipe. go ahead and pour them both in a big ol' bowl.

now, in a microwave safe dish, mix together about 20 marshmallows, 1 stick of butter, and 3/4 cups of brown sugar.

melt it all together in one minute increments in the microwave. stir between each minute. once it is melted and smooth, you are ready to add in 1/4 cup peanut butter.

with the mixture still hot and smooth, pour it over your popcorn and stir, stir, stir. you can only imagine how quickly something as sticky as peanut butter and marshmallows could turn into a hard mess. yours won't. i have faith in you. now, go ahead and taste how utterly delicious this popcorn is. if you're feeling overtly thankful or jolly, go forth and share.

peanut butter popcorn
2 bags microwave popcorn, popped
1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter
approx. 20 marshmallows

after popping your popcorn, pour it into a large bowl. in a separate microwave safe dish, mix together marshmallows, brown sugar and butter. microwave in 1 minute increments, stirring between each minute, until your mix is smooth. add in the peanut butter and stir. immediately pour the finished mixture over the popcorn and stir, stir, stir. eat. again and again.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

.t-shirt infinity scarf.

if you have an old t-shirt that spends its lifetime begging for fresh air in the bottom of your dresser drawer, then this just might be the post for you. i'm a clothes hoarder. i admit it. parting with apparel for me is an out of body experience. ok, that's an exaggeration, but i don't do it easily. this shirt, though, gave me no choice as it somehow got this ugly yellowing bleach stain on the front of it. ruined, i tell you, ruined.

however, with the idea of repurposing a shirt i can no longer wear into something else that i actually will sport has quite an appeal. so, i took this striped and embellished cotton top and made it into a scarf. let me show you how so you can too.

lay your t-shirt out and very carefully cut right above the bottom seam to remove it. please note that i cut shirts like i do wrapping paper, impatiently and jaggedly. ignore that.

then, cut straight across under the seams of the shirt's armpits. what you're creating is a rectangle of fabric.

now, sure, you could slip this over your head, but it wouldn't be very scarf-like at this point. to make it have a little hang time (surf's up), stretch the mess out of it. that's right, take your frustrations out on your t-shirt and pull, pull, pull.

i even used one of my dining room chairs to help me pull it. the fabric will give and make for a longer, more scarf-fitting look. now, put your homemade t-shirt infinity scarf around your neck and rock it like the fashion forward person you are.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

.pull apart pizza bites.

who doesn't like pizza? i'm sure right now someone out there in internet land is raising a hand- "me." if you have your hand raised, this may not be the recipe for you. on second thought, maybe this could be your means of finally enjoying pizza pie, in bite form!

the beauty of this recipe is in the variation. it can be satisfying for at-scratch people with a homemade pizza dough or time-friendly for those who want something simple by using a store bought pizza dough instead.

keep the bites simple with cheese and kid friendly pepperoni. or, get creative with buffalo chicken and blue cheese. there are so many options and really, whatever your favorite flavors are make the best stuffings to these little bites.

when i made them for me and my eye guy, i decided to make the pizza dough myself. for one thing, i had all the ingredients to do so at my house and this would allow to me avoid a trip to the grocery store. plus, i enjoy making things from scratch. i've made pizza dough before, but this is the best one i've ever made. i will be using the recipe again in the future for normal pizzas.

as far as what to stuff them with, i made them all vegetarian friendly. my eye guy is really great about eating and enjoying me-friendly food.

of course, there's cheese. the recipe calls for little cubes of cheese, but all i had on hand was shredded so i used shredded mozarella. i can imagine how delicious a little cube of it would be. mmm...fresh mozarella... i digress.
i also used vegetarian pepperoni. they have a pretty good flavor to them for being fake.

in some bites, i put gouda cheese instead of mozarella and added some chopped banana peppers to others. a little basil, a little crushed red pepper, a little ricotta. i have a real problem with being simple. i'm not good at it. plain and simple.

with all the little dough parts torn and stuffed, i scrunched them together in a pie plate to cozy up while baking. because i absolutely adore the taste, i added some rosemary to the buttered tops. then, i topped them with garlic salt as well.

while the pizza bites were baking, i poured marinara sauce into ramekins as dipping plates for my eye guy and myself. once the dish was done, i served us up some bites with sauce and i think it is safe to say that we both thoroughly enjoyed them. although we had them for dinner, they would be awesome as a dish to take to a party or gathering. in fact, i can't wait until i can do just that.

pizza bites
adapted from Annie's Eats
pizza dough (you will be using a HALF batch of this dough OR the store bought variety)
½ cup warm water (about 110°)
1 envelope (2 ¼ tsp.) instant yeast
1 ¼ cups water, at room temperature
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups (22 oz.) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 ½ tsp. salt
olive oil or non-stick cooking spray for greasing the bowl

Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add the room temperature water and oil and stir to combine.

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Briefly combine the dry ingredients at low speed. Slowly add the liquid ingredients and continue to mix at low speed until a cohesive mass forms. Stop the mixer and replace the paddle with the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Press the dough to deflate it.

To bake, place a pizza stone in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 500° for at least 30 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Form both pieces of dough into smooth, round balls and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.

the bites
½ batch pizza dough (enough for 1 pizza)
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cubed (about 20-24 pieces)
Sliced pepperoni
For topping:
Olive oil
Italian seasoning
Grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan. Divide the pizza dough into 20-24 roughly equal sized pieces. Take one of the dough pieces, top with a cube of cheese and a slice or two of pepperoni. Pull the edges of the dough around the fillings and pinch closed. Place seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
Lightly brush the tops of the dough balls with olive oil. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Serve warm, with dipping sauce as desired.

Monday, November 14, 2011

.key lime coconut cake.

we have dogs. dogs like to run. our dogs like to run a lot. they've made a path in our living room that serves as their indoor playground. unfortunately, it is a much smaller track than what their stretched legs desire.

my eye guy decided we need a fence for our furry babies and i'll save him the embarrassment of telling you what he wanted for our fence. he'd argue that it doesn't embarrass him. so, let me rephrase that...i'll save myself the embarrassment of telling you what he wanted us to do for our fence.

using a little wifey charm, i sweetly suggested he run his idea by his father who owns a fence business back in florida. i was hoping his dad would give a much more appealing suggestion, but he didn't. what he did do though was offer to drive up to tennessee himself and build us a fence! can you imagine how excited we were at this prospect for a yard that would enable us to hang out with our dogs without leashes and ties? we were thrilled.

in typical me fashion, one of my first thoughts was- what should i bake for him? i asked my mother-in-law what his favorites were and she told me coconut cake and key lime pie. i've been nervous about making a key lime pie, but know i'll brave that at some point. so, i was leaning towards a coconut cake.

as i began browsing various recipes, i stumbled across one of my favorite blogger's recipe for key lime coconut cake. say what!? both of my father's-in-law favorites in one cake? yes, please.

so, i set out to make this intriguing dessert as a fraction of the thank you i owed him for this generous offer. when the cake was done and ready to serve, i was nervous about how it would taste. i have a real problem with recipes that i can't taste test before i serve. it is hard to sneak a bite of a full cake. so, i was stuck waiting for that first bite along with everyone else.

when i bit in, i was a little disappointed. i felt it was dry and definitely not something i could swell in pride over. later that night, we had an official full piece and i decided to heat mine in the microwave for about 20 seconds. oh am i glad i did! the burst of warmth opened up the moisture in the cake and it truly was delicious. that week, we all heated before we ate and the cake went quickly.

what really goes quickly though is my two lively dogs when dashing back and forth all over our newly fenced in backyard. they love it and so does their mama. one of my new favorite things to do is to just sit up on our little hill and watch the two fur covered jet engines race all around me. sometimes they stop for a little mommy loving time. correction, that is my favorite part.

key lime coconut cake
adapted from smitten kitchen
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated Key lime zest
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour*
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup fresh Key lime juice, divided
1 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter an 8- by 8-inch square or 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and line bottom with a round of parchment paper.
Toast coconut in a small baking pan in oven, stirring once or twice, until golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Cool. Leave oven on.
Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir together flour and 1/2 cup coconut (reserve remainder for topping). Stir together milk and 2 tablespoons lime juice. At low speed, mix flour and milk mixtures into egg mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour.
Spoon batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool to warm, then turn out of pan and discard parchment.
Whisk together confectioners sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, and rum (if using) and pour over cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut.