Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TWD: Cocoa-Nana Bread

Hi everyone! The Sweet Life is back after a little hiatus. We've been in the new house for a little over a week now, and it's beginning to feel like home. For several days, I was very uneasy whenever I was in the house, because it just didn't feel like "home." But now that it's a little lived-in, I'm feeling better. It's still not quite "home" yet, but we're closer. At least I don't feel like jumping up and driving back to the old house or my parent's house anymore!
Anyway, I'm LOVING my new kitchen. I have so much more space now than I did at the old house, and I've got crazy amounts of countertops. If you're interested in seeing the new kitchen, take a look at this post.
I decided to make my "comeback" with the Tuesdays with Dorie assignment for the week: Cocoa-Nana Bread, chosen by Steph at Obsessed with Baking. It was a great assignment for my first TWD in my new kitchen: simple ingredients that I could find easily, as I'm still finding my way around the new house. I even had a couple of past-their-prime bananas begging to be used. I felt a little bad for Steph as I looked at the P & Q for this week's pick...it seems lots of people are uneasy about the combo of bananas and chocolate. And that's something I just don't get (kind of like how I don't understand how so many people have an aversion to raisins in baked goods), because they seem to be perfect companions to me. In fact, one of my favorite snacks is a banana drizzled with Hershey's syrup (or covered in Nutella). Anyway, this recipe is a keeper. It's a quick bread, so it's not rocket science. Dorie's description was right on: the first bite is chocolate-chocolate, then you get the banana taste. It was a perfect dessert after dinner tonight...still warm from the oven! Yum!
Thanks, Steph, for choosing this delicious bread! I love the chocolate and banana combo! If you want to try the recipe, visit Obsessed with Baking.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Moving Day!

Well, we're finally moving into our new house! We don't have the TV or Internet hooked up yet, so it might be a little while before I can post something delicious on The Sweet Life. But stay tuned, I'll be back soon! Take care, and happy baking!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancake Mix

When I asked my Dad what he wanted for Christmas this year, he said, "Nothing. You and David are building a house, and I'd rather you use your money on that. [Pause] Wait, how about something homemade and delicious?" It was music to my ears! Another excuse to get in the kitchen and create! My dad is a breakfast guy. He likes cereal, of course, but he loves pancakes. I thought it would be nice to make some kind of a pancake mix that he could use to whip up a batch of delicious pancakes whenever he wanted. It just so happened that earlier that week, Melanie at My Kitchen Cafe posted a recipe for a pancake mix that she uses regularly and that her kids love. While I've never had these pancakes, just reading her description was enough to make me feel good about mixing up a batch for Dad.
The recipe makes about 10 cups of mix, which can keep for awhile (2 weeks or so) at room temperature. Or you can keep it on the fridge indefinitely, although I'm pretty sure Dad will need a refill before long. The remaining ingredients for the pancakes (besides the dry mix) are pretty typical things you'd have in your kitchen. I'm sure they'll be perfect for you if you're "breakfast people".
Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancake Mix
3 1/2 cups rolled (quick) oats
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 cup vegetable oil
Mix all dry ingredients together in a mixer with a paddle attachment, or by hand. With the mixer on low speed, gradually drizzle the vegetable oil in while the mixer runs. When all of the oil has been added, stop the mixer and grab a handful of the mixture. If it clumps together when you squeeze it and stays there, it's just right. If it is too crumbly to stay together, drizzle in a tablespoon of oil at a time until the mixture will stay clumped together. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks, or in the refrigerator or freezer indefinitely.
To make the pancakes:
Whisk together 1 cup of mix, 1 cup of buttermilk (or 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup milk will also work), and 1 egg. The mixture may seem thin, but the oats will soak up some of the moisture while your griddle heats. Heat a griddle and drop the batter onto the griddle. When the edges look dry and bubbles come to the surface but don't break, the pancakes are ready to flip.
A cup of mix will make 6 or 7 four-inch pancakes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sweet and Salty Cracker Candy

First, a warning. If you have trouble saying no to sweet and salty treats, don't make this. It's diet disaster waiting to happen. I only make this at Christmas, and that's why David and I lovingly refer to this delightful candy as "Christmas Crack." When it's in my house, I can't help but eat it. It's a compulsion. As long as it's in the house, I have to have it. Be warned.
The first time I had cracker candy was when I worked at the prison. One of my coworkers brought us homemade candy for Christmas, and when I had my first bite, I said, "Jessie, what is this?! It's delicious!" She grinned from ear to ear and said, "It's cracker candy!" I had to have the recipe, so she sat down at her desk and wrote it out for me. Can you believe that the sweet, crunchy toffee layer is made from regular ol' unsalted saltines? Me neither. It just gets better from there.
There are a million variations of this candy on the Internet, and I've made several of them. This is probably the most simple version, and it's wonderful. It's a great starting point for new recipes, as well. One year, I used graham crackers and semisweet chocolate and topped it with chopped pistachios. AMAZING. But this year, I got ahold of some super-salty mixed nuts (score!) and decided that they would be the perfect flavor to go in my Christmas Crack. What could be better than Sweet and Salty Cracker Candy?
The recipe I use varies from year to year (mostly because a lot of times I can't find the same recipe!). This time, I used a recipe I found over at A Southern Grace. Feel free to use the recipe as a jumping off point for your own creative combo!
Sweet and Salty Cracker Candy
1 cup butter (salted or unsalted, your preference)
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
40 saltines (I used salted ones)
extra-salty mixed nuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Lay down one layer of saltines. Melt butter and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 5-6 minutes. Pour this mixture over the crackers and spread so the cracker layer is covered evenly. Place pan in oven and bake for 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let cool for 3-5 minutes. Scatter chocolate chips over cracker/toffee layer. Let them soften for a minute or so (or you can put them back in the oven for a few seconds) and spread evenly over cracker layer. If you plan to add a topping to your cracker candy, now is the time to do so. Let cool completely. Using aluminum foil, lift cracker candy from pan. Peel off aluminum foil and break into snack-sized pieces.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

It seems like the whole darn country's been in one heck of a cold snap lately! We had our first good snow last week, and when it snows I want two things: soup for supper and hot chocolate before I go to bed. Since I've started being "domestic," I've kind of become a hot chocolate snob. Swiss Miss just don't cut it. Neither does Nestle Quick. I've got something so much better! It's super-easy to whip up a batch, and it makes a ton!
My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and stepmom Theresa were recipients of some of this yummy mix for Christmas. To make it, you simply dump 1/3 of a cup of the mix in a cup, then fill with boiling water. No need to heat milk, because it's made with dry milk powder. And it's oh so creamy because of the addition of some chocolate fudge pudding mix. A cup of this, two giant marshmallows on top, and a good book are the perfect things to settle in with on a nice wintery night!

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
6 1/2 cups powdered milk
5 oz. Cook & Serve chocolate fudge pudding mix
1 cup powdered chocolate drink mix (such as Nestle Quik)
1/2 cup non-dairy creamer (French vanilla is good)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Put all ingredients into food processor. Process until well blended and powdered milk is a fine consistency.
For one cup of hot chocolate, use 1/3 cup mix. Dissolve mix with boiling water.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cranberry Banana Bread and a Confession

I'm back with more of my holiday baking recipes! And I have a confession to make. I have made this Cranberry Banana Bread several times for food gifts, yet I have never tasted it. There's something wrong with that, isn't there? This quick bread always gets good reviews, so I've never been concerned about giving it away (well, except for the first time I made it).
I was so close to having a bite this year, but it just didn't happen. As I was counting my mini-loaves of all kinds of bread, I realized that I would have just enough, so I didn't get to snack on any of this one. I know I would love it, though. I am a sucker for all things cranberry, and that's a recent development. For the longest time I was scared of cranberries, for some reasons. To get over my fear, I started putting dried cranberries on my salad (which I now cannot live without) and I've gradually worked up to using whole cranberries in recipes. I don't know why I was ever scared of the tartness of cranberries. I was the kid who ate unripe gooseberries off of my grandmother's gooseberry bush, for crying out loud!
Anyway, I just know this recipe is good. How can a quick bread with cranberries and bananas be anything but? Maybe when we get moved in to the new house, I'll try a batch of this bread just for me. It'll be a nice christening for my new oven!
Cranberry Banana Bread

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup mashed bananas
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsley chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a loaf pan. Cream together butter and sugar until completely blended. Add banana, milk, and eggs, mixing well. Add dry ingredients, mixing well, until just moist. Stir in the nuts and cranberries. Spread batter evenly in loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dream Kitchen 2010

Tonight was one of the most exciting nights I've experienced in quite some time. You see, David and I are building a house, and tonight, my dream kitchen is pretty much complete. I am so very happy with how it turned out. I am blessed beyond measure, and I can't wait to get in that kitchen and BAKE! Let's take a tour!

Here's one side of the kitchen. To the left of the sink is the double oven, but it kind of got cut out.
Here's the other side of the kitchen. I'm really pleased with how the cabinets, wall color, and countertops look together. I was intimidated by picking everything out, but it works great!
There's the double wall oven. I've been wanting a double wall oven for so long! I can't begin to tell you how many times I've wished I could have two things in the oven at different temperature. The dream is about to come true!
Here's what the inside of the ovens look like. I don't know why they're blue, but they're pretty! And get this...that gray thing on top of the instructions in the oven? That's a built-in probe thermometer. I can't wait!
Here's the ginormous refrigerator! It looks especially big right now, because it's not pushed all the way back to the wall. I love the French doors. You wouldn't believe how much stuff you can fit in there. Seriously...a full sheet cake would fit in there. And the freezer is in the bottom, which will eliminate the avalanche I currently deal with every time I open the freezer door.
And here's me...lovin' on my new dishwasher. Oh, how I have missed having a dishwasher. Since David and I got married (a little over three years ago), we've been dishwasherless. And believe me, I'm sick of handwashing every.single.thing I use in the kitchen. TWD assignments will be so much more fun now!
Here's the microwave and the cooktop.
And a closer look. It's got 5 burners. The front left one is expandable and can fit three different sizes of pans. The two middle ones can be joined together long-ways to accomodate a griddle (look out, pancakes!) or one of those long skinny sauce pans like Rachael Ray uses.

There you go. You've had a tour of Erin's Dream Kitchen 2010! We still need to get the door handles and pulls on there, but it's pretty much complete. I'm so excited about baking and cooking in there. What should I make first?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Bread

Thank goodness I sort of had my wits about me during my holiday baking frenzy! I took as many pictures as I could, but I haven't posted too many of my recipes thus far. I guess I've been saving them for a rainy day. Now, it looks like I'll be posting those for the next little bit, because my camera seems to have disappeared in the packing chaos! I hope it resurfaces before too long, or I'll be in a tight spot!
Anyway, I made lots of mini loaves of bread this Christmas to give away as gifts. I like the idea of giving mini loaves for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I assume most people I'm giving food to are in the same predicament as me. I figure they probably love food, but that they've got way too much of it at Christmastime. The mini loaf is just a perfect little snack. It can be consumed in one sitting either alone (Hogatha!) or with a friend. There are no leftovers to feel obligated to eat. I also like mini loaves because I can give a kind of "variety pack" to people with several different flavors. That seems to be much appreciated, at least by my family and friends!
So here's one of my favorite quick bread recipes. Peanut Butter Pumpkin Bread. When I first read the name of the recipe, I was a little uneasy about it. I'd never eaten peanut butter and pumpkin together. But I thought about it, and decided that peanut butter makes anything better, so I took the plunge. And it is delicious! It's a very moist bread, and the peanut butter stands out, but not too much. The pumkin is a perfect accent flavor. This recipe makes two loaves, and they freeze really well. If the pumpkin shortage hasn't hit your area, give this recipe a try!
Peanut Butter Pumpkin Bread
3 cups sugar
1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
2/3 cup peanut buter
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, and peanut butter; beat well. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; whisk well. Gradually add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture. Mix until just combined. Pour into two greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.
*Makes 6 mini loaves.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year: A Recap

Well, 2009 has come and gone, and what a year it's been! There've been lots of changes in my life this year...I started a wonderful new job, built a beautiful new house, and started a little cooking blog! Over the last two days, as I've been making my blog rounds, I've noticed that lots of other food bloggers have compiled a list of their most popular posts/recipes of the year. Most of them (if not all) have used Google Analytics to do so, but I'm not Internet-savvy enough to figure that out. I'm doing it a decidedly unscientific way. I've been kind of keeping a tally of the times people search for recipes on my website (via Feedjit), and it's really been quite simple to identify the top six recipes searched for on my blog. (Why six? Because after those six recipes, there's not really anything else that stands out as a number 7, 8, 9, or 10.) Here we go!
The Sweet Life's Top Six Recipes of 2009
1. Homemade Boursin Cheese
There was absolutely no contest with this one. It's far and away the recipe that brings folks to my blog. Seriously, it brings about 4 people to The Sweet Life per week. Apparently, I'm not the only one who wants to pay out the nose for a cheese spread I can easily recreate at home! This is certainly one to keep in your recipe arsenal. And, on another note, the Boursin Cheese pictured above is my favorite food photo I've ever taken in the 8 months I've been photographing my food!
2. Upside Down German Chocolate Cake
While it's not necessarily a close second to the Homemade Boursin Cheese, it's the closest of the bunch. Searches for this recipe come up on my Feedjit Traffic Tracker about once a week. It's no wonder! This cake is delicious! This cake comes from Sue, one of my mom's very good friends. It's her signature dessert, and she's pretty much expected to bring it to her work potlucks, where everyone asks for the recipe. Everyone loves this cake...even folks who say they don't like coconut. Make it for your next social event, but be sure that you have copies of the recipe to hand out!
These were the cookies that almost weren't made...which is a shame, because it seems that lots of people are looking for them! I made these on a whim on Halloween, just in case our "niece" Hannah stopped by for trick or treating. As it turns out, she didn't come, so David and I had to eat 4 dozen of these delicious chocolatey, peanut buttery cookies ourselves! We didn't quite make it through all four dozen, so we gave them away at work and church. They were so easy to put together, and they were a success for me, because these were pretty much the first cookies I made that stayed chewy. Yum! The original recipe came from The Sisters' Cafe, and they always have tons of delicious recipes...everything I've made from their site has been wonderful! 4. Pumpkin Pie Dip
I was really kind of surprised to find that this recipe is often searched for, and as a result, often brings people to The Sweet Life. It's so simple to put together, and it's a definite crowd pleaser at fall parties. It's pretty much Pumpkin Pie in dip form. I love it with gingersnaps, but it's also very good with apple slices. I'd love to make some pumpkin whoopie pies sometime and use this as the filling, but I didn't quite get around to it this fall. We'll see if it happens in Fall 2010!
This delightful soup is probably the biggest shocker of traffic-generating recipes to The Sweet Life. It was very good, but I never would have thought that there were people looking for a recipe like this. I sure wasn't looking for it when I found it! Actually, I just stumbled across it while reading the food section of The Louisville Courier-Journal over a year ago! The recipe originally called for the use of kale and sausage, but I just made it with what I had on hand, and it was a winner! Make it this winter! 6. Pioneer Woman's Flank Steak Marinade
David and I have discovered that we love flank steak, and I've tried several flank steak marinades over the course of my (very short) blogging career. This one is hands down our favorite, and it comes as no surprise that it's courtesy of Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman. It's incredibly flavorful, and makes for a very tender flank steak. It's food for real people. If you're cooking flank steak, please use this recipe.

So there you have it. Those are the recipes that have brought new readers to The Sweet Life over the course of the past eight months I've been blogging. This blogging thing started on a whim, but I've come to enjoy it. Of course, there are days that I wonder why I spend time doing this, but I keep coming back to it. I'm thinking that in 2010, I might expand the scope of my blog some, instead of focusing strictly on cooking. I think cooking will be the bulk of the posts, but after moving into the new house, I know David and I will have lots of home projects to work on, so I might include those. You'll just have to keep reading to find out! I wish you all a very happy 2010! Thanks for reading, and please keep on coming back!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...