Four Years Later…

So, just like with the diary I had in high school, I made a determination to start writing this blog, stuck with it for a few days, and then gave up. Life caught up with me, I got bogged down with work, kids, and all of the craziness that comes with it! I’m sure all of you can relate.

Fast forward four years, and things are even crazier. We’ve added two kiddos into the mix for a grand total of 4. Yes, 4!!!!! I gotta be honest; I only saw myself having a kid or two when I got married but as it turns out, you never know what your life will bring until you start living it. But even though life has had some ups and downs since my last post (2 job losses, 2 more kiddos, 2 moves…etc) I’ve come to the conclusion that this blog needed to be resurrected. Things may be crazier but that’s even more reason to make an effort.

Getting bogged down and stressed, while sometimes inevitable, is no reason to give up on your creative aspirations. It’s easy these days for me to get overwhelmed by the diapers, the crushed Goldfish on the floor, the mountain of dirty and clean, unfolded laundry, and it’s even easier for me to lose myself in the chaos and forget to make time for the things that I love.

I love to bake and to read and to create things, but a lot of this has been on hold while I’ve been pre-treating spit-up stains on my shirts. About a month and a half ago, I decided to take a bath and pick up Madame Bovary and give it a read. I started it and had a blast becoming engrossed in the story. Time flew by. Needless to say, I haven’t taken a bath again and the book has been sitting on my bedside table untouched.

My hubby always says that I need to make more time for myself and I chuckle and say “sure! when the kids head off to college, I’ll read a book”. But, why should I have to wait? Time doesn’t stand still; having kids has shown me that. I swear there is some phenomenon that occurs when you have a child that makes time speed by all the faster. So, if life doesn’t pause, what am I waiting for?

In short, I’m ready to get back into the thick of things and to enjoy each day as it comes. So, for better or for worse, you’ll get to enjoy my musings on life, love, baking, cooking, and all of the things I enjoy, love, tolerate, or just eat chocolate to get through!

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Baklava – Simple and Delicious!

As you can see, I have not been as diligent as I should be when it comes to keeping up with my posts.  But I promise that this won’t be like the time I insisted so vehemently and yet so fruitlessly that I was going to keep a diary in the 9th grade.

Anyway, lately I have been trying my hand at different types of foods.  Making Asian themed dishes for dinner and trying some different desserts like Madeleines (to be found in a post to follow) and, in this case, Baklava!

Baklava was a huge surprise in all honesty largely because it is so delicious and yet so incredibly simple.  Though the phyllo dough is time consuming and the layering can be tedious (so put on some music while working!), the process itself could not be easier.

Ingredients

1 package (16 oz) phyllo dough

1 pound chopped walnuts (although can also use pistachios or other nuts instead)

1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup honey

Before starting the layering process, make sure that your 9 x 13 pan is well greased with either more unsalted butter or with cooking spray.  I’m a big believer in cooking spray because of the no-calorie, ease-of-use thing but to each his own.

WARNING!!!!  Now here is a perfect example of where I made a big mistake that forced me to start from the beginning.  Please don’t judge me too much for this but I, for some reason, didn’t think about defrosting the phyllo dough.  None of the recipes I found online mentioned anything about it.  Turns out, it is VERY important.  Otherwise, the stuff just falls apart like brittle paper.

So now that I had purchased a whole new thing of phyllo dough and succeeded in defrosting it.  Never place it in the microwave, tried it and it was a HORRIBLE idea.  Defrost in the fridge for 12 hours or so or leave it at room temperature for no more than a couple hours.  I did the latter and it was extremely easy to work with.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the nuts or just buy them chopped which is what I did to save some time 🙂 Toss the nuts with the cinnamon and place to the side.

Now comes the tedium.  Unroll the phyllo dough slowly and carefully.  You will probably need to trim each layer of dough slightly for it to fit in your pan.  I used scissors as the dough is so delicate that I didn’t want to risk shattering it with a knife.  Scissors worked great.

Place two sheets in the pan and butter thoroughly. Using a pastry brush is a good idea but since I didn’t have one, I used one of those silicone brushes that you use to apply marinade to steaks.  Add two more sheets and butter.  Continue doing this until you have about 8-10 sheets down.

When this is done, butter again but this time add about 1/4 cup of nuts to the layer making sure to sprinkle the nuts evenly over the layer.  Top the layer of nuts with two more sheets of phyllo followed by nuts.  Continue doing this until the nut mixture is gone.  Then continue with two layers of phyllo and buttering until there are about 8-10 layers of phyllo above the nut mixture.

Now cut the baklava into pieces.  I cut mine into squares because it was simpler.  Use a sharp knife so that your cut will be clean and you won’t shatter the dough.  Cut all the way through.  Once the Baklava is cooked, the dough will be VERY fragile so you don’t want to do any cutting at all once the baking process is complete.

Place in oven and bake for approximately 50 minutes until the Baklava has a nice golden color and the top phyllo looks crisp.

During the baking process, make the sauce.  The sauce takes about 25-30 minutes to make and should be poured over the Baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven so keep this is mind so that you can manage your time and have it ready.
In a saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and the water and bring to a boil.  Stir until the sugar has melted.  Add the honey and vanilla and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes to thicken the sauce.
Immediately spoon the sauce over the Baklava after it has finished baking making sure that the sauce is evenly distributed.  Allow to cool for a couple of hours as it takes a while to cool completely. It is great when served in cupcake papers.  Otherwise, you will most certainly get incredibly sticky.
Enjoy!

Three Desserts in One: The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake

Are you a cake, chocolate chip cookie dough, or “eating frosting from a bowl with a spoon” person? How about all three?  I have no shame in admitting that I don’t turn my nose down at any of these things.

When I first scoured the internet for ideas on how to make my next cupcake, I came across several options and recipes for a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake recipe.  Per usual, I spent some time going through the interwebs to bring a few recipes together.  One of my passions is combining different ideas from different recipes in order to come up with something that is my own.  It takes a lot of trial of error but it feels like more of a success somehow.

As someone who has spent the last several months attempting to lose some baby weight, I won’t lie that I found this recipe to be somewhat intimidating calorie wise but the truth of the matter is life is short and there is no reason to enjoy yourself with yummy treats every now and then.  And I have to say that, when I took a bite of this cupcake, I had NO regrets. Try it and see what I mean 🙂

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Filling:

Depending on how gooey you want your filling center, you can choose to either freeze or refrigerate the balls of cookie dough.  I chose to freeze since I happen to love a very squishy center!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 egg OR 4 Tablespoons milk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

If you are like me, then you have at some point in time (or, in my case, VERY often) forgotten or chosen to ignore the softening of butter at room temperature and instead have opted to nuke it in the microwave.  While this may not have resulted in a catastrophe, I have found it not to be the best choice.  Softening butter in a microwave can unevenly heat the butter leading parts to melt (a no no) and other parts to still be cold and solid (another no no).

Baking is typically best performed when all ingredients are brought to room temperature even ingredients like milk and eggs.  When the ingredients are cold, they tend to seize up the batter forming lumps which often leads the baker to overbeat the batter which can cause the batter to lose its fluffy consistency.  This is particularly the case when eggs are involved.  Baking is chemistry essentially so as such there is science behind it.  Perhaps for a later post but for now cupcakes need to be made!

Directions:

Using a whisk or a couple of forks, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Then, in a separate bowl, combine the butter and sugars until the mixture is completely smooth.  Then add the egg or milk and the vanilla extract to the sugar/butter mixture.  I chose to go with the egg but keep in mind that the filling will not be completely cooked.  It is recommended that young children, elderly individuals, and pregnant women avoid raw eggs as a rule so if you are going to be baking for someone who falls in this category or if you are just nervous about consuming raw eggs, the milk will work just fine!

After the wet ingredient have been combined, add the flour mixture and combine until just incorporated.  Try to avoid overbeating as this will toughen the batter.  Next, form the dough into 24 even balls, about 1 tablespoon each and place them on an uncovered baking sheet or baking dish and into the freezer they go!  About 2 hours should be plenty of time for the dough balls to freeze through.  Next, onto the cake!

Cake :

When it comes to the cake you want to use, there are so many options.  I chose to go with a vanilla cake instead of a chocolate but those who are chocoholics might find this to be a travesty 🙂  So feel free to use any kind of cake you want.  And if you are not interested in creating a cake from scratch, a cake mix will work as well.

Ingredients:

If Using Cake Mix –

1 box cake mix

1 1/3 cup water

1/3 cup canola oil

3 eggs

This has more water than your traditional cake mix will tell you to use .  Although I am sure that you would hardly notice the difference with all of the deliciousness, I found that using more water made for a moister cupcake.  As a rule, I find cake mixes to be quite dry so this alleviated this to create a moister cake.

For the Adventurer from Scratch –

3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

1 cup milk, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

It is best to start preparing your cake about 20 minutes before your frozen dough balls will be ready.  This will make sure that you aren’t waiting around with prepared cake batter.

First, go ahead and prep but preheating your oven to 350 degrees F and lining 24 muffin baking tins with cupcake liners.  If you are like me, I only have one 12 muffin pan so I had to split up my cupcake baking into two groups.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.  Then, cream the sugars and butter with the paddle attachment of your mixer if you have one.  If not, a hand mixer will do.  Add each of the eggs one at a time.  I find it handy to crack the eggs in a separate bowl.  That way any shells (ahem) can be removed with ease.  Make sure that you are constantly making sure that the sides of your mixing bowl are scraped so that all of the ingredients get thoroughly incorporated.

Next, add the dry  ingredients and the milk.  Alternating adding a little of the dry and a little of the milk at a time will help to prevent an enormous flour cloud from blowing into your face or the milk from slopping over the side.  Mix just until properly combined and add the vanilla to finish the batter!

Finally, divide the batter into each of the 24 cupcake liners.  Each liner should be about 2/3 of the way full.  After some experimentation, I have found that an 1/2 cup measuring cup serves perfectly.  Filling this almost to the top is about what it takes to fill the liner the appropriate amount.

After the liners are full, go to your freezer and get those chocolate chip cookie dough balls.  Make sure that they are frozen solid and drop them into each liner.  Try to position them as close to the middle of the cupcake as possible.

Pop them in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the cake portion is completely cooked.  Use a toothpick on the side of the cupcake to judge doneness.  Once they are done, take them out and let them cool.  I let them sit out for about 1/2 an hour to cool before I put the icing on top.

Frosting:

1  cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

2/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

The quantities of these ingredients will depend largely on the amount of frosting you enjoy on your cupcakes.  However, I found this to be sufficient to cover my cupcakes as well as taste test a little on the side 🙂

Combine the butter and light brown sugar until the mixture is light and creamy.  Then mix in the confectioner’s sugar.  Again, do this slowly.  Mix until the soon-to-be delicious frosting is smooth.  Add the flour, salt, and finally the milk and vanilla.

If you have a pastry bag go ahead and use it.  If not (and I do not) I go the route of a sandwich bag with a snipped edge.  After the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost and enjoy.

To finish them off and to aid in presentation since my cake decorating skills are sub-par, I placed a few of the mini chocolate morsels on top.

Keep these treats refrigerated.  The frosting and the center tasted so much better to me cold.  The frosting firms up and almost tastes like the cookie dough itself.  Mmmmm

April Showers…

With the dawn of each spring comes a new beginning.  Although the New Year rings in in January, April always feels like the actual start of a new year.  And with the arrival of spring comes renewed motivation…hence, this blog was born.

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
Harriet Van Horne

 When I was a child, my family was like that of almost every other family with an Italian mama.  She cooks and you eat.  Mine was no different.  My mother was the queen of the household but of the kitchen in particular.  She was the eternal hostess as her mother was before her.  Any visitor would be greeted with a kiss on both cheeks and some sort of yummy treat.  The kitchen was an area which, as a child, I was not to disturb.  Almost like a place of worship.

It was because of this that cooking and baking became almost a holy mission, one that I was certainly not qualified to participate in.  There were very few times, if my memory serves me, that I participated in the kitchen.  So, when I grew up and became a wife and mother myself, it became my responsibility to take on this important “crusade”.

After my husband and I were married, I did not begin my learning right away.  Still intimidated and convinced that I was not up to the challenge, I gave in to the easy frozen food and prepared meals fad that so many busy spouses and parents feel coerced to adopt.  It wasn’t until our second child came along that I decided to see whether genetics would serve me well and make me at least half the cook and baker my mother was.  Only time will tell.

This blog will serve as a journal of my successes and failures alike.  I hope to share some recipes as well as some hints/advice that I find myself inevitably learning the hard way so maybe you don’t have to 🙂