Tuesday, October 26

Birthday Cake and Stand Mixers

It was my birthday on Friday! My lovely friend Amy came to visit and spent the night, and on Saturday morning I made myself a cake for Sunday's celebration with my family. I originally wanted to make this chocolate opera cake, but it would have been far too time consuming to undertake without a stand mixer... which I didn't own until Sunday afternoon!

For my birthday I really wanted just one thing - a Kitchenaid stand mixer. And I got one! (Reference: See picture above) A 5 quart mixer in pistachio (which I really think should be renamed mint green). Words just can't equate how happy I am - every time I walk into the kitchen it makes me smile :) and now I can cross it off the list!

Oh yeah, so back to the birthday cake. Since I didn't have a mixer yet, I wanted something impressive but not too labor-intensive. I decided to go with Deb (smitten kitchen)'s chocolate peanut butter cake. The only change I made was to use a tad more chocolate in the peanut butter chocolate glaze... making it more of a ganache than a glaze, really.

The cake was delicious. The peanut butter doesn't overwhelm the delicate chocolate cake layers, and the semisweet ganache ties everything together. Birthday cake success!


Oh, and if you're wondering what I first made in my new mixer....

Marbled Brownies

They're kind of addictive. The kitchen smelled so sweet while they were in the oven! The true test of the stand mixer will be chocolate chip cookie dough though. I mean, I know it can handle it, but I'm curious to see if the cookies made in the mixer bake up differently than the ones I mix by hand. It's a project I may undertake tonight, after Shawn's done making dinner (sausage & peppers & onion)!

I'll let you know how my little 'experiment' turns out!

Wednesday, October 20

Herb & Garlic Dinner Rolls

My contribution to Saturday night's dinner were homemade herb & garlic dinner rolls. I've tackled yeast doughs on a few occasions before, so the technique and all the waiting is nothing new to me, but these are the first fancy looking rolls I've made!

1 1/4 cups bread flour, + more to work into dough
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoon combination of dried herbs: oregano, basil, thyme

- Stir together the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of flour.
- In a saucepan heat and stir together milk, sugar, butter, salt, garlic and herbs until the mixture is warm to the touch and the butter melts - about 120 to 130 degrees. (You don't want it to be too hot because the heat will kill the yeast.)
- Add the milk mixture to the flour and yeast. Stir it all together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go, until it all comes together and starts to form a sticky dough.
- Gradually add more flour in (I added about an extra cup or so total) until the dough becomes workable.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 6 to 8 minutes) It should feel smooth in your hands and no longer be sticky.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it to coat all sides. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

- Punch the dough down and turn it out again onto a lightly flour surface.
- Divide the dough in half, then cover and let it rest another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly grease a baking sheet with oil.

Ok, here's where it gets a little fancy. Feel free to bake these off as round rolls (just portion them out and let them rest on the baking sheet for half an hour before baking them), but if you'd like to make the knot rolls:

- Divide each portion of the dough into smaller pieces, however many you'd like - I got 16 rolls out of mine. Then roll each piece into a 12-inch long rope.
- Tie each rope into a loose knot, like a pretzel, leaving two long ends.
- Tuck the end on the top under the knot and the end on the bottom into the top center of the knot.

- Place rolls about two inches apart on your greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise in a warm place until they've just about doubled in size, it took about a half hour for me.
- If you'd like a brioche-like brown and shiny crust, brush the rolls with a little milk or melted butter. I originally intended to brush the tops of mine, but forgot to in the whole proofing process, and they came out looking just fine regardless!
- Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes (the rolls should sound hollow when lightly tapped) Immediately remove them from the pan and cool on wire racks.

Indulge while they're warm! The flavors really come together once they've cooled down a bit though.

These were really delicious! I even froze a few of them to bake them off the next day and they were just as tasty as the first batch. Expect to see more bread recipes, for sure!

Tuesday, October 19

Saturday Night Dinner Party

I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend; ours was both enjoyable and more eventful than usual! Saturday night my friend Alina and her boyfriend Ryan came to visit us for the first time! We had our first small dinner party in the apartment - Alina made stuffed bell peppers, I made some herb&garlic dinner rolls, Ryan took the awesome photos that you see in this post, and Shawn took it easy for the night and enjoyed not having to cook.

tomatoes, mozzarella & basil + tabbouleh - 2009

Alina and I have known each other since our early high school days. We met during lunch period freshman year, and then we had Biology together sophomore year (where we made homemade yogurt to the tunes of Madonna and we also dissected a fetal pig together!) and we've been friends ever since! So you might not believe me when I tell you that she and Shawn had never met each other prior to Saturday night... I know, I'm ashamed. They've both known of one another for years, but Shawn's elusive and other things always got in the way. Or maybe it's me and I'm just an awful friend because I only see most of my friends about two or three times a year... I think that's just what happens to everyone over time though.

double couple trouble! oh, so corny.

It was also the first time Shawn and I met Alina's boyfriend Ryan - he's such a nice guy! And his camera puts both Shawn's and mine to shame.

Alina stuffed the peppers with ground beef and rice, then topped them off with some shredded cheddar and jack cheese. Then she filled the pans with diced tomatoes and green chilies, a little olive oil and some water - this made the peppers so incredibly soft and moist when they finally came out of the oven over an hour later!

Our kitchen table is only big enough for the two of us, so we gathered around the coffee table in the living room instead - no one seemed to complain. It was a late night because after getting stuck in traffic and making a trip to the grocery store, we still had to wait for the peppers to cook, but we had some great wine and some herb&garlic bread rolls while we waited. Thanks to great friends, delicious food, and good times, our weekend was a hit!

Check out the full set of photos on our Flickr!

Saturday, October 16

Did someone say "Food Recap"?

Sometimes you need less words, more pictures! We'll start with what I'm good at and work our way through Shawn's awesome dinners from the past week!

Mini s'mores tart - graham cracker crust, shaved chocolate, marshmallows, more shaved chocolate - and then you throw it in the oven to melt the marshmallows, and right back into the fridge to solidify the tasty goodness again.

Marine makes perfect pancakes!

Shawn's first-ever meatloaf, served with mashed potatoes and stuffing. You wouldn't even know it was his first time making meatloaf!

Mini grilled cheese sandwiches...

.... and homemade hot wings...

... equals an awesome Football Sunday Dinner!

And on another night, homemade fishsticks, rice, heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers - yum!

Also, our friend Christine introduced us to Virgil's Rootbeer - it's micro brewed! And it's the greatest rootbeer ever! Beats any rootbeer I've ever had prior to this straight out of the bush (and I'm really not a fan of rootbeer!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, October 12

Inspiration Filled Tuesday

This morning we watched Julie & Julia for the first time. Numerous people have told me I needed to see this film because they thought I would relate to it, and the whole being French and baking thing aside, it took finally seeing the movie to understand why.

The movie is funny and touching and all sorts of nice things, especially the scenes in Paris and all the delicious looking French cuisine. Julia Child's story was well played and fairly spot-on, but it's Julie's story that touched me. It reminded me of where I came from - I started my first blog, The Sweet Tooth Blog, a couple of years ago when I had hit a rut in my life and wasn't sure what to do with myself or my free time. So I decided to start baking simple recipes every day and blog about it. I maintained the blog for over a year and with it gained a huge repertoire of recipes, and most importantly, developed my passion for baking. This growing passion led to me applying for and attaining a job as a pastry cook at the Pluckemin Inn for a year and a half. And it followed me to Philly, where I now bake my own variety of coffeeshop type pastries for happy hungry customers. It was nice to be reminded of where I started, and it makes me appreciate where I'm headed.

Want to take a look inside my head a little bit? Take a peek at how I jot down recipes - I break them down to the basics - it's the only way they make sense to me anymore, I'll even rewrite ones from cookbooks because I think all the wordiness is unnecessary once you're familiar with a recipe or technique. Some of my handwritten recipes even only have the ingredients listed at this point and no directions whatsoever. At least I don't have to worry about anyone stealing my secret recipes!

Starting the day off with a movie about what I love doing most put me into baking mode for the rest of the day. I finally put that peanut flour I bought from Trader Joe's to use! I just went with it and made some peanut blondies with dark chocolate ganache. Just pictures for now, but I'll share the recipe next time; they are de-licious.

Oh, peanut flour! You smell just like... peanut butter! But you have the consistency of all-purpose flour!


I also made lemon bars because Shawn's been requesting some and we finally had some lemons in the house. The picture isn't great, but to be honest neither are the lemon bars. I always have trouble finding the right crust-to-lemon ratio in my lemon bars. And the crust was too flaky this time- I think I overworked the dough. But Shawn will eat them regardless!

On a side note, we know it's not Halloween yet, and we apologize for the scariness of the next picture, but it's actually just us on a lazy Tuesday afternoon, after realizing that blue M&Ms are the only color M&Ms that leave a stain. Shawn's hands were covered in blue, and I was amused by our tainted tongues. The blue bathroom is only fitting.

It's been a good week so far and we're doing well on posting for October, so we'll try to keep them coming! I have another post coming up that highlights some more tasty meals we've had lately. Shawn made meatloaf and hot wings last week... so stay tuned for photos!

Monday, October 11

How We Spent Our Monday

Boys will be boys. Shawn's friend Justin came to visit today and they did some recording, then they played a few rounds of Halo 3 while munching on candies before heading over to their other friend's apartment to hang out for a few hours.

I can honestly say this is the first time I've had the apartment to myself for such an extended amount of time since we've moved in; since Shawn is still looking for a job he's always home before and after I get back from work, so we don't spend much time apart. It might seem strange to other people, but we actually enjoy each others' company, and we can spend time together without getting on each others' nerves! But I must admit, it is nice to have the whole place to myself for a few hours. But only for a few hours. After a while, it just feels empty and strange, and I don't know what to do with myself. I baked off some chocolate chip cookies, but I have no one to share them with.

Speaking of cookies, it's about time I show you guys my little trick! Every time I make cookies, I always have extra dough left over that I ball up and save for another day. Our friend Christine works at a restaurant and gave us a handful of handy plastic take-out containers that we use for food storage; they are perfect for cookies and most other things. Saving extra cookie dough like this allows me to easily bake off just a few cookies at a time days later - for that same fresh baked cookie taste but without the fuss of having to make the dough from scratch.

I also made some more dog treats before baking off cookies. I've been tooling around with my recipes to see if I can make them even healthier, and this was a successful attempt! I have three different types of treats to offer right now: peanut butter treats, pumpkin treats, and carrot, corn & oat treats. I'm working on a molasses cookie for my next type of treat.

Having guests over is always a good excuse to clean/organize! We cleaned up the apartment this morning in preparation for Justin's arrival - I did the dishes while Shawn vacuumed, we put away out summer shoes and hung some things we'd been meaning to put up on the walls - everything looked so neat afterwards! We're definitely not messy people, but it's always nice to walk into a completely uncluttered space. Here's a peek at our bedroom!

After all that cleaning, I made myself some tasty pesto tomato penne pasta for lunch; no photos of that but I did get a shot of Shawn's italian sub. There's an awesome pizza shop about a five minute walk from our apartment; they make delicious pizzas, and even tastier subs. Fresh veggies on top every single time.

So that was our Monday! Now Shawn's back home and we're munching on munchos and cheese puffs and watching Dancing With the Stars, which I must admit is surprisingly entertaining. A nice relaxing evening after a rather busy day. I'm not sure what's in store for tomorrow, other than the huge load of laundry that needs to be done!

Friday, October 8

We Love Trader Joe's!

We've already praised Trader Joe's for their cream sodas and chocolate, but we love them so much we decided we needed to write a whole post about it.

Tribute to Trader Joe's

I was so happy to find out that the only ingredients in Trader Joe's brand peanut butter (only $1.79 for a 16oz jar!) are, well, just dry roasted peanuts - and nothing else! No added sugars or oils- even the name brand 'natural' peanut butters still have added sugars and oils, and they cost almost twice as much. Thank you, Trader Joe's, for keeping it natural and affordable.

When Shawn and I moved here from New Jersey we thought the prices everywhere were already a lot cheaper than what we were used to. We thought people were crazy when they said the local grocery stores were expensive! (eastern PA's Acme and Genuardi's equate to NJ's ShopRite and A&P - in terms of product and service...) But after a few months, we discovered Trader Joe's and everything was really put into perspective.

We had no set grocery store prior to Trader Joe's. We would go to Acme for bread, canned or frozen veggies and assorted toiletries, and we'd frequent the local farmer's market for fresh fruit, veggies, fish and meat, and we bought our milk and snacks from the local Wawa because that's where they were cheapest.

I really discovered Trader Joe's through work because I go there often for extra baking supplies. It was easy to ease in to the Trader Joe's mentality that way - the store is on the smaller side so once you become acquainted with the six or seven short aisles and the contents of their shelves, it's much easier to migrate the masses of customers that always seem to swarm to the exact item you're reaching for. Things are organized pretty logically and they have a small selection that's large enough to give you a choice but small enough not to overwhelm you, and they're constantly showcasing new products.

What really got me though, is their Fearless Flyer. The old-timey cartoons are hilarious, and the entire flyer is an amusing yet informative read. I love that they take the time to let you know what's going on on their end and what changes they may have made to certain products. It also can't go without saying that at every single Trader Joe's I have ever been to, the staff have always been incredibly friendly and helpful, and entertaining too! The atmosphere is so light, and compared to most other grocery stores around here, you feel like the staff actually wants to be there, and they enjoy having you there too.

You can't argue with quality product for good prices; let me give you the breakdown:

1lb heirloom tomatoes - $3.49
2lb bag of yellow onions - $1.79
3-bell pepper pack combo of red, yellow, orange - $3.79
1/2 a dozen english muffins - $1.49
2lb bag of tortilla chips - $3.49
16oz chunky medium salsa - $2.29
17oz chocolate bar - $4.99
a little over 1lb natural ground beef - $5.04
1 1/2lb natural chicken breast - $5.84
1/2 gallon nonfat milk - $1.69 (10 cents cheaper than Wawa!)
1lb unsalted butter - $2.99
dozen large brown cage-free eggs - $2.49

Those are some of the things we buy on a fairly regular basis, so our total cost comes out to around $50 each trip, and we go about once a week or so. That seems like a lot of money to spend on groceries, but we mostly cook dinner at home and rarely eat out, so that's actually most of our food cost for the week. And we're walking home with a lot more tasty mostly natural goodness in our paper bags for $50 than we would anywhere else.

peanut flour - $3.49

Another thing I love is that Trader Joe's always a few interesting products you won't find at other supermarkets: this month, for example, they've been show casing pumpkin butter and these bags of peanut flour. I've passed it by a few times, curious, but not sure what I would do with it if I bought it. Then, the other day, tired of just passing it by I decided to buy a bag. It's vacuum sealed and I haven't opened it yet but if it's anything like almond flour I can use it for cookie recipes and the like. Do you have any suggestions on what I should do with peanut flour? Trader Joe's suggests coating meat or fish with it, or using it to thicken soup, or for baking purposes. I like all of those ideas!

Thank you for being awesome, Trader Joe's!!!

Tuesday, October 5

Busy Rainy Weekend

If you caught Shawn's post before this one, or if you live on the east coast, you're aware that it's been raining on and off here for the past week and a half, and the sun hasn't shown much of its face in days. Waking up to grey skies is a huge de-motivator for us, so we've been laying around all week. But this weekend we were tired of being tired.

My mom's birthday was on Sunday so I spent Saturday evening baking up a storm; I needed to make a dessert that would travel well and brave the rain and humidity, so I made pot de creme and chocolate brownies; I have no photos of either, but trust me when I say they were delicious. The pot de creme were insanely rich and so filling that two people could share one ramekin and both be completely satisfied. And my brother claims the brownies were the best I've ever made. You'll have to take his word for it!

Shawn's friend and bandmate Dan came to see our new digs for the first time and stayed to watch some football on Sunday too, so when I came back from my mom's birthday celebration I made the guys some cookies and later Shawn made us all some tasty pasta for dinner. There was lots of tasty food going around on Sunday!

It was gloomy again when we awoke later than usual on Monday morning, but just when we thought it'd be another blah-kinda day, motivation hit us and we decided to clean and re-organize the pantry and the kitchen cabinets!

The pantry before and after - it may not look like much of a change, but it's much better organized than it was. We have a lot of food storage containers - glass pyrex, plastic containers, and plastic restaurant takeout boxes; they're much more accessible now. I also keep and re-use peanut butter containers and jars, but use those much less often, so we moved them lower. All of my baking stuff gets its own shelf, and that's been organized over time as I collect boxes from work. Remember what our pantry looked like in our early days here? Much better now.

We've re-organized the cabinets several times since we moved in, but I think this was the first time we pulled everything out at once, scrubbed the shelves down, and put everything back in a more logical fashion. It was hard to tell where things should go when we didn't have our rhythm in the kitchen, but now that we've got our groove, it's clear to see where the plates are more accessible and where it makes more sense for the coffee mugs to be.

Shawn and I both really like this photo; it makes us wish we could rip the doors off the cabinets and display our wares proudly, but alas, we're merely renters here.

And today I made some more dog treats to give out as samples. I also took some fun photos of the treats to use for the etsy shop. At first I thought - 'photographing dog treats on plates? ridiculous' but my first set of photos of just the treats and nothing else turned out awful, so on second thought, photographing dog treats on plates isn't such a ridiculous concept. They look good enough to eat!

I also made some cinnamon roll muffins today; it seems to be the trend on Tastespotting lately so I wanted to try my hand at it. Unfortunately, the recipe I used this time around wasn't as good as the last recipe I found for cinnamon rolls. The muffins were tasty but they were nothing spectacular. I think I'll try making them again with the recipe I used last time (the one that caused such a ruckus on facebook). Then I'll show you how those turn out!

Peace, love, and cocoa puffs!

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