Friday, February 26, 2010

Yo Gabba Gabba Cupcakes

When you're obsessed with Yo Gabba Gabba, it's a good thing that your mom is pretty handy with piping frosting, so she can create these little precious babies!

For the record, Toddler's name is not Yan. Or Nay. Or Ayn.

Never heard of Yo Gabba Gabba? I wish I were still in that boat sometimes. It's a kids' show on Nick Jr., featuring five different characters, Muno, Plex, Brobee, Toodee, and Foofa. They play in a place called Gabbaland and learn lots of different lessons, as well as activities. The one thing I like is that it encourages the kids to get up and move, to dance around. Toddler loves it. He calls it "Yo Bagga" at the moment, which is really cute. His whole party was "Yo Bagga" themed, so he was just in hog heaven.

I did find the perfect yellow cupcake recipe for these, at the last moment, and I was super thrilled with how they turned out. They were a big hit at Toddler's party. Come next year, no recipe hunting necessary! Unless, that is, he develops the deep love and appreciation for chocolate that his mommy has. This year, he was really just interested in the frosting, with a few nibbles of cupcake. He chose to eat Toodee, the blue character, so he got the whole messy cake experience under his belt - last year, he barely wanted to touch his cake, he didn't want to get dirty! So without any further adieu, here's the recipe:

Perfect Yellow Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart and America's Test Kitchen

3 2/3 cups cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
24 tbsp (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
8 large eggs, room temperature
2 tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups whole milk, room temperature
3 cups of your favorite frosting

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla, until combined, about 30 seconds.
3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, and the remaining milk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just incorporated.
4. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined.
5. Line three 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners and use a greased 1/4 cup measure to portion the batter into each cup. Bake the cupcakes on the upper-middle and lower-middle racks in a 350 degree oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15-20 minutes through baking. Let the cupcakes cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Spread the frosting evenly over the cupcakes and serve, or decorate to your heart's delight and serve.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Birthday Appetizers: Easy Mini Soft Pretzels with Sweet Spicy Dip

I've never really made appetizers before - last year for Toddler's first birthday, I think I cut up some crackers and cheese, bought a fruit salad, and made cupcakes. Oh, and I think I put out some chips and dip. While this year was infinitely more stressful, I still enjoyed the process, and enjoyed trying out several new recipes at the party.

These mini pretzels were ridiculously easy to put together for Toddler's party last weekend, which was a good thing, given that I was trying to do way too many things on the day of his party. They were a total hit - I doubled the recipe, and every last pretzel got devoured. I only managed to get one bite, but it was a good one. Nice and soft, with a bit of chew, and some nice buttery, salty flavor. Yum. I didn't taste the dip myself - I'm not a fan of spicy mustard - but some of my trusted personal taste testers did, and said it was wonderful, so you'll have to take their word for it!!

Mini Soft Pretzels with Sweet Spicy Dip
adapted from Pillsbury

1 can refrigerated Crescent rolls, or Crescent Recipe Creations sheet
2 tbsp melted butter
Kosher salt
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup apricot preserves

1. Unroll Crescent rolls, into two long rectangle sheets. Press seams together to seal into two big pieces. Take a pizza cutter and cut each rectangle into 4 long strips - yielding 8 total pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then into a long rope. Roll the rope into the pretzel shape, overlapping the dough about 2 inches from each end, leaving the ends free. Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
2. Melt butter. Brush each pretzel with melted butter then sprinkle with kosher salt.
3. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
4. Meanwhile, mix spicy brown mustard and apricot preserves together, to taste - too spicy? Add more apricot. I ultimately did about 1/3 cup of apricot preserves to cut down on the spiciness.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chocolate Chip Brownie Delights

I must thank Blue Cotton Mom of Blue Cotton Memory for this super easy, ridiculously addictive recipe. She even featured my slowly-becoming-infamous Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe in conjunction with these babies!

I whipped these up for my husband and his best friend, who's in town to celebrate Toddler (formerly known as Baby)'s birthday. They proceeded to eat every last one of them. Seriously. I'm lucky I managed to get a picture of these darn things! I highly recommend you make them. Today. There is no excuse.

And stay tuned later this week for some of the recipes I used at Toddler's second birthday party this weekend!

Chocolate Chip Brownie Delights

1 package Nestle Toll House cookie dough (or one recipe homemade chocolate chip cookie dough - I was lazy, I used the Toll House dough)
1 package brownie bites (or one recipe homemade brownies - again, I was lazy and used the storebought kind)

1. Take your cookie dough log and cut into 1/2" inch pieces, then cut those each in half and roll into balls. Dig out a mini-muffin tin and place a ball in each hole.
2. Bake according to package, at 375 for 8 minutes. While they're baking, cut brownie bites into thirds, and when you take the cookies out, place a brownie bite piece in the middle of each one, and press down a little bit.
3. Let them cool fully - really. They will fall apart if you take them out too soon. Yes, they taste yummy when they're oogey gooey. But not when half of the cookie sticks in the mini-muffin pan.
4. Devour with a big glass of milk. Super yum!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Homemade Chocolate Doughnuts

Valentine's Day this year in our household was pretty low-key - we'd decided to upgrade our cell phones for Valentine's Day, so I already knew what my gift for the day was, but I wanted to do something special. Naturally, I turned to my apron and trusty oven, and made some homemade baked doughnuts. My absolute favorite doughnut is a chocolate cake donuts drizzled with yummy glaze. I love Dunkin Donuts for doughnuts. They're certainly not as good as they used to be, but they're still pretty darn good.

These doughnuts were pretty good, although given that they're baked rather than fried, they're not quite as awesome as a good old fashioned fried doughnut. But you can comfort yourself that they are (mildly) more healthful this way. Not to mention less messy in the kitchen. I always make the biggest mess when I fry things. These are definitely a solid doughnut for a special breakfast, and perfect for a nice chocolate treat. These are best when they're warm, though they will keep for about a day. You must use a doughnut pan, but you can find these pretty cheaply on Amazon

Baked Chocolate Doughnuts

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp melted butter

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp - 6 tbsp HOT water (depending on if you want icing or a glaze)

1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick.
3. Combine milk and butter in another bowl.
4. Alternately, combine egg mixture and milk mixture with flour mixture and mix until smooth and soft.
5. Spray doughnut pan lightly with cooking oil. Fill with batter 2/3 full.
6. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool (mostly). Carefully remove doughnuts from pan. Repeat with rest of batter.
7. Frost or glaze.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Husband insists this is the the thirtieth recipe for chocolate chip cookies I've tried. I'm pretty sure it's not, and that the number is more like the low teens. In any case, it's immaterial, because these really are the perfect chocolate chip cookie!

As you may know, I religiously follow Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen, and recently there was an episode of America's Test Kitchen where they attempted to outdo the NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that's been making it's way around various food blogs for the last year or so. I think they succeeded. This is the most delicious cookie I've ever tasted, and I've tasted quite a few.

Oh - and I may not be blogging much this week, I've got massive preparing to do this week for Baby's second birthday party this Saturday. I have a ridiculously long to do list, so I'm going to be MIA probably for a little while, so bear with me, and have a cookie!

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 3/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 oz)
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 tbsp unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 c granulated sugar (3 1/2 oz)
3/4 c packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 oz)
1 tsp table salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c Hershey Special Dark chocolate chips
3/4 c chopped pecan or toasted walnuts (totally optional - I skipped this!)

1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 375. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set asidde.
2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, using a heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to a large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
3. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), given dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tbsp (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 balls per sheet.
5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and allow cookies to cool completely before serving.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake

I made a cake recently for my husband's boss's wife's birthday (wow, say that one ten times fast), and it was quite a hit. I was looking for something relatively easy to make, as I'd just made Coca-Cola Cake, which isn't exactly rocket science, but it sure does make a lot of dirty dishes. I came across this recipe through Tastespotting (a.k.a. crack for food bloggers, like me), and I knew it was perfect for this.

This cake came together quite easily, and was darn tasty. Or so I've heard. Husband forgot to bring home my piece, or perhaps he ate it and didn't want to cop to it, I'm not sure. Either way, someone picked up a camera, fortunately, and took a snap of the cake before devouring it. I will definitely make this again, it makes for a very pretty cake.

Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake
Adapted from Buttercake Bakery and the Los Angeles Times
Printer-friendly recipe

Use the butter wrappers to grease the pan before dusting it with flour. And as much as you'll want to devour this cake ASAP after baking, give it a couple hours to really cool and rest out of the pan before serving--the flavor and texture is well worth the wait. This cake stays extraordinarily moist for days on end kept in a cake dome at room temperature.

Serves 12 to 16

2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)

In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar, the cocoa powder and corn syrup with 1/2 cup hot water. Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Set aside.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining sugar until light in color and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the remaining vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in a third of the flour mixture just until the flour begins to disappear into the batter. Beat in half the milk. Beat in another third of the flour, then the rest of the milk, and finish with the remaining flour until the batter is smooth. Stop the mixer and gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop out a third of the batter into a medium bowl, whisk in the chocolate syrup and set aside. Pour another third of the batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth it with a spatula. Pour the chocolate batter into the pan evenly over the first layer. Finish by pouring the last third of the vanilla batter over the top. Lightly swirl the batters with a wooden skewer or knife to give a "marble" effect--a continuous figure-8 motion while going around the pan works well.

Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back lightly when touched, about 60-70 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Invert the cooled cake onto a serving platter and dust lightly with powdered sugar before serving if desired. Store any leftovers in a cake dome at room temperature for 4-5 days, maybe more.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mom's Pork Chops

I like pork chops. They're usually pretty easy, and tasty, and I like a lot of the pork chop recipes I have. This one I grew up with - I can remember my mom pan frying the chops, and then serving all the onions to my dad, who didn't really love onions in the first place, but he liked them more than the rest of us. I remember when I found out there were onions in the pan, and I was horrified - I think I was 8 or 9, and I told my mom I didn't like her pork chops anymore. She tried to explain that the onion was just for flavor, but it took a while for me to eat her pork chops again. I was so picky back then!

This is a super easy weeknight dinner and goes great with some mashed potatoes to soak up that yummy onion gravy!

Mom's Pork Chops

1 onion
3-4 tbsp margarine, not butter! (important!)

4 pork chops - rib chops are best!



1. Slice up one onion. Start to sauté one onion in margarine. Get brown and make some brown stuff in pan. Saute over 7-8 Heat. Once browned, move to side of pan, place chops in pan. Start boiling potatoes. Sprinkle chops with salt and Accent. Turn over when browned nicely. Once turned, when they begin to gather juice, they are nearing a done point, to where you can relocate the chop on top of another to fit more in the pan (if necessary). The brown stuff in the fry pan is what makes the gravy taste good.

2. Once all chops are gathering juice, place on an oven-safe platter and place in warm oven (around 300 degrees). Fish the onions out of the fry pan and place on the chop platter in oven. Using the same method as turkey gravy, add 2 tbsp flour for every 2 tbsp fat left in the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 cup broth for every 2 tbsp flour you added to pan. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fudge Coca Cola Cake

Have you ever had Coca Cola Cake? If you haven't, boy are you in for a treat. Coca Cola Cake is a traditional Southern dessert that is all about decadence. This is a super rich, fudgy cake that you won't soon forget. I had my first slice of Coca Cola at a Cracker Barrel when I was pregnant with my son a few years ago, and I positively had a hankering for it throughout the rest of my pregnancy! I would go out of my way to stop by Cracker Barrel, which only has the cake seasonally. I had my employees pick up a slice if they had lunch at Cracker Barrel. I had quite an addiction.

I first came across a copycat recipe while still pregnant, but it wasn't quite right. It took a lot of tinkering to get to this point - I think this cake is almost as good, if not as good or possibly a tiny bit better, than Cracker Barrel's. I promise you, this cake will satisfy your sweet tooth like no other!

Fudge Coca Cola Cake (like Cracker Barrel)
Printer-friendly recipe

1 cup coca cola
1/2 cup butter
1 square semi sweet baking chocolate
3/4 cup miniature marshmallows
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1. Place in a saucepan, the cola, butter, and chocolate baking square; bring to a boil.
2. Remove from heat and add marshmallows, stirring until all is blended and the marshmallows disappear. Set aside to cool enough or to room temperature.
3. In a mixing bowl blend the sugar, shortening, oil, and vanilla until fluffy.
4. Add buttermilk and eggs; beat until smooth.
5. Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add half of the flour mixture to the shortening and egg mixture and beat scraping bowl time to time.
6. Add cooled cola mixture and beat.
7. Add remainder of the flour mixture and beat until completely smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Batter will be thick. Place batter in a 9x13-inch oiled and floured baking pan.
8. Set pan on top shelf in a preheated 350: oven for 35-45 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick. Make sure to frost cake while still warm - but NOT hot! Wait about 20-30 minutes after the cake is taken out of the oven to frost.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 cup Coca Cola (plus 2-3 Tbsp if needed)
1/4 cup Hershey's chocolate syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar

1. After cake comes out of the oven, cream together butter and cocoa.
2. Add the cola, chocolate syrup, and vanilla; beat until smooth.
3. Add sugar a little at a time and beat constantly. Scrape the side of the bowl down from time to time to get all of the ingredients into the frosting. If the frosting seems a little dry, add a little more cola and beat well.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Best Ever Hot Cocoa

It's been cold lately, hasn't it? We had another cold front sweep through last weekend, and I am officially out of my favorite hot cocoa mix - Ghirardelli's Premium Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa mix. The only place I can ever find it is Bed Bath and Beyond during the holidays, and I totally forgot to buy some this year. I looked online, and it seems the only way to buy it is either really expensive or by the case, which is just intimidating. So, instead, I decided to make my own cocoa mix.

It was ridiculously easy, and darn, it tastes good. Does it taste better than the Ghirardelli? It just might! So if you need a quick warm-up, make up a batch. It makes a great gift, and it also makes a great treat for yourself!

Best-Ever Hot Cocoa Mix

3 cups nonfat dry milk
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1/4 tsp salt

Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Working in two batches, pulse ingredients in food processor until chocolate is finely ground. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. To make the hot cocoa, stir 1/3 cup of this mix into 1 cup of hot milk. Top with whipped cream or mini marshmellows.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

I enjoy books set in China and Japan. Not entirely sure why - perhaps because they're so different and exotic to me. I read Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club when I was 12 or 13 and just devoured it in a few days. I then read everything else I could find by her. I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arnold Golden several years ago, and then proceeded to read everything I could find about geishas. I tend to get involved in these kinds of books as a phase of sorts. This book has been no different.

Honestly, I was attracted to the pretty cover of this book. It was propped up on the New Releases bookshelf, and I picked it up to look at it. I'd never read a book by Lisa See before I happened to pick this one up at the library. I've since picked up two more of her books at the library. I immensely enjoyed this book, though it is quite different from her previous novels, so if you're already a Lisa See fan, be prepared for a serious change in time period.

The book begins in Shanghai, shortly before WWII, and takes the reader on a journey through parts of China all the way to the U.S. during wartime and afterward. It's an incredible story. It was compelling, and gripping, and I certainly was anxious to finish it to find out what happened. Admittedly, there was a lot going on - lots of historical facts and a lot of plot points to keep straight - but I really enjoyed this book. I couldn't wait to read it every night. I definitely give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Now, I'm reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and then I'm reading Peony in Love, I think. I'll probably even look for Lisa See's nonfiction work, On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family, at the library, too, as I'm sure it's also quite interesting.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pizza Americana

I really enjoyed reading Peter Reinhart's "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza" - I love pizza, and have began to learn how to prepare it pretty darn well. Mr. Reinhart is best known, I think, for his amazing breadmaking book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, which I keep meaning to pick up at the library. The book is split into three distinct sections, the first being "The Hunt,"where he travels to discover what makes for great pizza. I skipped right over that, and went straight to part two, the Recipes. I finally got a chance to try one of those recipes out recently, and I was pretty pleased.

I didn't realize that the dough is somewhat slow-rising, so I was awfully concerned about it turning out right, but it sure did taste good. He calls this dough a strong dough that can withstand heavy toppings, with a breadlike crust that's filling and tasty in its own right.

Pizza Americana Dough
makes four 10-ounce dough balls

5 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
3 tbsp sugar or honey
2 tsp table salt or 3 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil or solid vegetable shortening
1 cup whole or low-fat milk
3/4 cup room-temperature water (70 degrees)

1. With a large metal spoon, stir together all the ingredients in a 4-qt bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer until combined. If mixing with an electric mixer, fit it with the dough hook and mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until all the flour gathers to form a coarse ball. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then mix again on medium-low speed for an additional 2 minutes or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl and sticks just a little to the bottom. If the dough is too soft and sticky to hold its shape, mix in more flour by the tablespoonful; if it is too stiff or dry, mix in more water by the tablespoonful; it if is too stiff or dry, mix in more water by the tablespoonful. The dough should pass the windowpane test. If mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the spoon into room-temperature water and use it much like a dough hook, working the dough vigorously into a coarse ball as you rotate the bowl with your other hand. As all the flour is incorporated into the ball, about 4 minutes, the dough will begin to strengthen; when this occurs, let the dough rest for 5 minutes and then resume mixing for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until the dough is slightly sticky, soft and supple. If the dough is too soft and sticky to hold its shape, mix in more flour by the tablespoonful; if it is too stiff or dry, mix in more water by the tablespoonful. The dough should pass the windowpane test.

2. Immediately divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Round each piece into a ball and brush or rub each ball with olive or vegetable oil. Place each ball inside its own zippered freezer bag. Let the balls sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then put them in the fridge overnight or freeze any pieces you will not be using the next day. (Or, if you are making the pizzas on the same day, let the dough balls sit at room temperature in the bags for 1 hour, then remove them from the bags, punch them down, reshape them into balls, reutrn them to the bags, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.)

3. The next day (or later the same day if refrigerated for only 2 hours), remove the balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before you plan to roll them out to take off the chill and to relax the gluten. At this point, you can hold any balls you don't want to use right away in the refrigerator for another day or you can freeze them for up to 3 months.

4. Preheat your oven to 450 with a baking stone on the bottom shelf for at least 30 minutes. Roll out your pizza on a piece of parchment, and then add your sauce and toppings. Brush the crust with olive oil. Slide the parchment onto your pizza peel, and slide onto the baking stone. Bake for 8-12 minutes, or to desired doneness.
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