Friday, June 25, 2010

Graham Cracker Toffee

I wanted a quick treat to make & bring to work to share. (I also wanted to use up some of the ingredients in my pantry). This recipe fit the bill for both. It was an easy way to make "toffee," although I overbaked mine for about one minute - they were just a tad dark. Keep a close eye on them while they are in the oven!

Graham Cracker Toffee (From Kitchen Parade)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 chocolate or plain graham crackers (half a 14-ounce box)
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts (or other nuts), chopped

Preheat oven to 375F.

Melt the butter, brown sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook until smooth, about five minutes, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, line a 15x10 rimmed baking sheet with foil. Arrange the crackers in a single layer on the sheet, breaking to fit as necessary.

Pour the butter mixture over the crackers, spreading evenly and completely covering the crackers.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Scatter chips evenly over top, return to oven until chocolate softens, 2 – 3 minutes. With a spatula, spread melted chocolate evenly over the crackers. Sprinkle nuts evenly over top the chocolate.

Cool for 30 minutes, then transfer to freezer for 15 minutes. Remove foil, then break crackers into pieces (about 1 1/2 inch squares).


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kitchen Storage

Someday, I'll have my dream kitchen - with plenty of cupboards, a 6 burner gas stove, double ovens, large counter tops and a walk in pantry. Until then, my small apartment kitchen will have to suffice. One wall of "kitchen" containing all appliances & cupboards is NOT enough for someone who loves to bake (& loves to collect new gadgets - even if they are only used a few times a year!)

A few months ago, my husband called me from work to tell me that his lab was throwing out some nearly new glass front cabinets. Since they were going to end up in the trash soon, and are solid wood, we decided we'd take them home. While they provide lots of storage, I wasn't a fan of the honey oak color they were originally, so we spent lots of time (but not much money) refinishing these cabinets. They are now a deep brown color, close to much of the other shelves we've bought for our apartment.

BEFORE: (These are not the exact cabinets, but very similar ones from lab. Don't worry, the ones we have also only stored glassware!)


I LOVED they way they turned out - my only thought is that I may frost the glass in the doors. While I like the look of the glasses inside, there are a few scratches on the glass, and the perfectionist in me thinks that frosting the glass (with the spray paint frosting) may cover it up.

An overview of the technique I used.

1) Sand everything down! We thoroughly sanded these because we initially thought we were going to stain the wood. We sanded down to the bare wood. However, the shelves inside were veneered (while the outside is solid oak), and they didn't pick up the same quite the same as the exterior.

2) Glazing! Instead of staining, we decided to glaze the wood. The finish is actually very similar to most of the other products we've bought for our apartment, so we are quite happy with the results. We mixed 1 part paint (I can't help with the name of the color - I bought it off of the "Oops" rack at Home Depot for only $5 for a gallon - we have plenty left for more projects) with 4 parts of glaze. (I used Behr brand because that's what Home Depot carried).

Mix these well, and dry brush the glaze onto the cabinets. We used pretty good brushes, but nothing too expensive. Put very small amounts of paint onto the brush, and spread the glaze as far as it will go, so it's a sheer coating on the wood. Let dry & recoat 2-3 more times. (I did 3 coats total, letting them dry anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 day in between).

I was personally quite surprised at how much of the wood grain showed through the paint/glaze mixture - as well as the texture of the wood.

3) Seal - Since the glaze & paint were latex, I couldn't use the polyacrylic I had in my storage unit as it was oil based. I wanted something quick (we were getting very close to our deadline of hosting a BBQ, so we had to get these finished!), so I wanted a sprayable clear coat. The bargain shopper I try to be, I found Rustoleum Spray Lacquer (clear). Minwax also makes a spray-on lacquer, but costs twice as much per can as the Rustoleum option. If you want to go the Rustoleum route - it is by the spray paint - NOT by the stains & other woodworking finishes. I used 4 cans to coat the outsides & insides (& shelves) of two cabinets. It gave the perfect amount of shine as the glaze/paint mix was flat (I used a flat paint).

4) Finishing touches - Of course, we had to upgrade from the cheap plastic black handles on the original cabinets. We found these sleek handles on eBay for about $3 each with shipping (and in the odd size that we needed). Much more affordable than in stores!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Oreo Cupcakes

Wow - The past few weeks have flown by! The new pediatric interns started their orientation last week, and we've had lots of great activities to participate in to get to know them. I had the opportunity to host them all for a casual potluck BBQ. Sadly, I didn't have time to make any cupcakes for them (or anything worth blogging about - my wonderful hubby manned the grill all night & grilled a mean burger). However, the exciting thing is that tomorrow is my last day as an intern!

I made these cupcakes to bring to work on my birthday. I was scheduled to be on call overnight, and I figured that if I had to spend my birthday in the hospital, I would at least be sure I had something good to eat to celebrate the day.

These were very easy to whip up, and everyone loved them! The word spread quickly - and even my patient's parents were hinting that they'd like one (and I was more than happy to share!)

Oreo Cupcakes (Adapted from Bean Town Baker)
Makes 12-14 cupcakes

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs whites
Oreo Cookies

Preheat over to 350F. Insert liners into cupcake pan.

Carefully twist apart 12 Oreos, trying to keep all of the cream filling on one side. Place the wafer with filling on it, filling side up, in the bottom of each liner. Crush the other wafer halves (for garnishing on top of frosting - can also throw a little into the batter if you desire).

Cut an additional 12ish Oreo cookies into quarters with a sharp knife. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter & sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs & vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add 1/2 of the dry mixture to the butter & sugar. When well mixed, add the milk. After the milk is mixed in, add the remainder of the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined. Fold in the quartered Oreos.

Fill the cupcake lines three-quarters full (more than you normally would - because of the volume of the Oreos, they don't rise as much as normal cupcakes would). Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cupcakes comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in the pan.

4 oz cream cheese at room temp
3-4 tablespoons butter at room temp
1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2++ cups powdered sugar

Cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add vanilla extract. Slowly add powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.

Frost & top as desired.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Pad Thai

My hubby has been begging me to stop baking sweets and start cooking more. I've been craving Asian foods (I think walking through Chinatown daily on my way to work & home has influenced what I want for dinner every night). At about 2AM one Saturday morning while on call, I found a website with wonderful instructions to make pad thai. I knew I had to try it.

I stopped by the local Chinese Market on my way home the next morning. It's always an adventure - you never know what you're going to see. Fresh veggies & fruit are cheap (and they have lots of unique fruits, too). AND, you can get live fish to cook. While I haven't gone that far yet, I do go there for lobsters - $4.99/lb for fresh live lobsters cannot be beat! If you ever venture into a Chinese market - be prepared to be ran over. The little old ladies are NOT to be messed with!

Anyways, 30 minutes later, I walked out with 2 bags of groceries for less than $15. This was enough to make 2 large meals for the 2 of us, plus having extra to make about 3 more batches of sauce for the pad thai. Incredibly cheap!

This was delicious, and actually pretty easy to make. My hubby is not a big fan of Pad Thai, but said this was by far the best he's ever had & can't wait for me to make it again. I didn't quite soak the noodles long enough, but that's the only improvement I think I need to work on. We'll definitely be having this again this week! (Have to use up the rest of the tofu!)

I'll summarize the instructions, and give rough estimates for what I used. Visit the original author's blog for very detailed directions. (I highly recommend reading it a few times before attempting the dish).

PAD THAI (Adapted from Chez Pim)

Ingredients you'll need:

Fish sauce
Tamarind Pulp/Concentrate
Palm Sugar (or brown sugar)
Spices (Paprika, Thai chili powder, Thai curry paste, Sriracha, etc)
Rice Noodles (package may say Rice Sticks)
Firm tofu
Shrimp (or Chicken - we used shrimp)
Garlic (minced)
Bean Sprouts
Garlic Chives

First, make the sauce (which can be stored in the fridge for future use as you won't use it all if you're only feeding one or 2)

1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup palm sugar
1/2 cup Tamarind pulp or concentrate

Mix the first 3 ingredients in a pan on the stove & gradually heat to a simmer. While it is heating, season to desired flavor/spiciness (and add more sugar if you want it sweeter). I used about 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon Thai red curry powder, and a few table spoons Sriracha sauce.

NOTE: I've used fish sauce in the past, but it was stuff I bought from a regular grocer. This time, I bought "Golden Boy Fish Sauce" - supposedly, it's one of the preferred brands to use. However, this stuff smells AWFUL! I gagged from the smell. My hubby was out buying some groceries, and when he came into the house as I had just started the sauce, he thought our dog must have had an accident in the kitchen!

Open the windows & use the fan on the stove. Trust me, it will taste much better than it initially smells! I've never eaten something so good that at one point smelled sooooo bad.

The tamarind concentrate may be difficult to find if you don't have access to an Asian market. I'm not sure what you could substitute for it, sorry! However, the original author notes you can use brown sugar in place of the palm sugar - just use less. Palm sugar is sold in solid form - either in pieces or in a jar with wax on top - it's less sweet than brown sugar, but has a bit more of a molasses flavor (just a hint).

Prepare the other ingredients -

1) Start soaking your rice noodles in warm water. I soaked for about 10-15 minutes - I think they probably needed another 5-10 minutes. They should be al dente when you add them to the wok. I used about 1/2 of a 14oz package for the 2 of us, and it was a generous sized portion

2) Cut up the tofu into small bits

3) Prepare your shrimp (devein if needed, etc)

4) Cut up the garlic chives

5) Chop up some peanuts

Now, it's time to prepare the final dish. Only make 1-2 servings at a time - the wok gets full & it's hard to mix things up & keep the noodles from sticking together, even if only making 2 servings. There may be a lot of steps, but it's actually quite easy & fast to prepare

1) Heat 4ish tablespoons oil in a large wok over high heat until very hot.

2) If you are making chicken Pad Thai, add the chicken first, cook, stirring vigorously, until it's half way done, about 1-2 minutes, then add the tofu and a teaspoon or two of garlic if you're using it.

If you are making tofu or shrimp and tofu Pad Thai, then only add the tofu (and garlic) for now. Cook for another few minutes until the tofu is crisp and light brown at the edges.

3) Add the noodles and then a ladle (about 1/4 - 1/2 cup) of warm sauce. Stir keeping everything moving in the wok, and cook the noodles until soft (try to keep them from sticking together). If the sauce evaporates too quickly and your noodles aren't quite ready, sprinkle a bit of water and keep stirring. Add a bit of oil if the noodles still stubbornly stick together.

4) When the noodles are ready, push it up to one side of the wok and crack an egg into the middle. Let it set for 15-25 seconds (until mostly cooked) and toss everything all together.

5) Add the shrimp, ground peanuts & beansprouts (I used 1/2 of a 12oz package of sprouts for the 2 of us). Keep things moving. Add more sauce if it looks a little pale/dry.

6) When the shrimp are done, shouldn't take more than a minute or two, add a handful of Garlic Chives. Turn the heat off, and quickly give the wok a good stirring to mix everything together.

7) Plate & serve immediately. I garnished with a little bit more of the crushed peanuts.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Carrot Cupcakes

I think part of the reason I always avoided carrot cakes was the dreaded shredding 3+ cups of carrots. However, with my food processor that I got for Christmas, this was one of the easiest steps!

I wanted to try out a carrot cake recipe as my sister is requesting I make some as part of the 12+ dozen I'll be making in 4 weeks for my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. Because I've obviously avoided them in the past, I had to search for a recipe to use. I am SO glad I found this recipe - this is by far the lightest carrot cake I have ever tasted. And, although my hubby was initially hesitant for the frosting, the spices complement the carrot cake wonderfully, but it still has a nice cream cheese flavor. I would strongly recommend it over a plain cream cheese frosting.

CARROT CUPCAKES (Adapted from Two Spoons)
Makes 20-22 cupcakes

3 large eggs
1c dark brown sugar
3/4c canola oil
2c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
Approx 1 tsp freshly grated ginger root
3 1/2c grated carrots, packed
3/4c or so of chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 340F. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Beats eggs & sugar until thick and foamy, about 2 mins. Beat in oil gradually, beating after all oil is added for another minute. Sift in dry ingredients and mix until mixture is uniform. Mix in ginger root. Fold in carrots and walnuts. Spoon into cupcake liners.

Bake in the center of your oven until cake springs back when touched in the center. This will take about 15-17 minutes for standard sized cupcakes.

SPICED CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (Adapted From Patisserie Natalie)
Frosts 24-30 cupcakes

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
4-5 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine cream cheese and butter in a mixer until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, alternating with vanilla extract. Add spices. Frost cupcakes as desired.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Orange Cottage Cheese Salad

With the start of grilling season & the outdoor meals that come with the warm weather, I knew I had to make this "salad." This has been one of my favorite "salads" for as long as I can remember. My mom got the recipe from a friend years ago, and this has been a staple recipe ever since. It's very easy to whip up, and compliments grilled burgers & hot dogs wonderfully. It's a nice, light dish to serve when it's hot outside.


24oz container cottage cheese
12oz container frozen whipped topping (thawed)
small box of apricot (or orange) jello
1 small can mandarin oranges (drained)
5 oz (1/2 bag) of miniature marshmallows

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl & refrigerate. It may be slightly runny initially, but will set up in the fridge. Serve cold.

I use both fat free cottage cheese & whipped topping. I also use sugar free jello. Personally, I like more fruit in the salad, so I add a total of 3-4 small cans of mandarin oranges. I also added more marshmallows so that I could finish off what I had left in the bag.

This recipe could easily be converted to different flavors - raspberry or strawberry would also be wonderful!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes

Finally another weekend off! I was able to sleep in & make a tasty breakfast. It's been awhile since I've made pancakes, and I had some left over buttermilk in the fridge from some cupcakes I made a week or 2 ago - Perfect opportunity to use it up! While they were good with syrup, I think I would have enjoyed them much more with a few chocolate chips on top, bringing me back to the days of eating chocolate chip pancakes for dinner whenever we went to Perkins to eat.

BUTTERMILK PANCAKES (Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook)
Makes 8-10 3inch pancakes

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 beaten egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons canola oil

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder & baking soda in a bowl. Make a well in the center, and set aside.

Combine the egg, buttermilk & oil. Add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined (there will be small lumps remaining in the batter).

Pour or spread about 1/4 cup batter onto a 3 inch circle onto a hot, lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet (I use a large cast iron griddle on the stove, and need a medium to medium low setting on the gas).

Cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Turn to second side when pancakes have a bubbly surface & edges are slightly dry.

Serve immediately while warm.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vanilla Strawberry Shortcakes

Mmmmm.... I LOVE strawberries. Nothing beats buying a 4 pound crate of strawberries for $6. I've never made strawberry shortcake before, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. We had friends over for dinner, and everyone was quick to finish dessert. I LOVED the vanilla/strawberry combination. However, the shortcakes themselves were a little more crumbly than I had hoped for.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar + an additional tablespoon or 2
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold (1 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy cream + an additional tablespoon
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Seeds from 2 vanilla beans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, sugar, and the salt until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal but with some pea-size bits of butter remaining, 10 to 12 times.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup cream, the eggs, vanilla & vanilla seeds; pour over flour mixture, and pulse until some large clumps begin to form, 25 to 30 times.

Using a 1/3 cup measuring cup, gently pack dough, invert, and then tap out onto a baking sheet. Repeat to form 6-7 biscuits.

Brush tops of cakes lightly with cream. Sprinkle sugar on top (I used vanilla sugar for this step). Bake until lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes.

Let shortcakes cool completely. Slice in half horizontally. Spoon strawberries & their liquid onto 1/2 of the cakes, top with whipped cream, and the other 1/2 of the shortcake.

1-1.5 pounds strawberries, sliced
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine strawberries, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and cover. Place in fridge for several hours, stirring occasionally.

I highly recommend actually whipping heavy cream for this - so much better than "whipped topping." I have a whipped cream dispenser (like the coffee shops have), and flavored mine with about 1 teaspoon vanilla. If you are whipping the heavy cream in a bowl, feel free to add a tablespoon or 2 of sugar to sweeten it.