Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Low-Fat Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins

Brace your self-- this is a healthy recipe.....bummer....I know......but don't click away yet!!!

This recipe was born out of two problems: 1) I hate taking time to make healthy breakfasts, 2) one healthy breakfast I do like is steel cut oats made in my crock pot overnight, but it makes way more oats than one Julie can eat, so I always have too much left over. And then, one day, it occurred to me that I could use the leftover oatmeal to make muffins, and, for just one second, ALL WAS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD.

This recipe is fast, easy and waist-line friendly! For those of you out there counting weight watchers points, these muffins are only three points plus points each! According to SparkPeople's recipe calculator, the stats break down to: Calories, 115 / Fat 2.4g / Carbs 24.6g / Fiber 2.3g/ Protein 3g. I'm sure you could lower the fat/calories even more if you use egg substitute instead of real eggs.

Since healthy baking is way less fun than non-healthy baking, you must first make sure you have some really awesome music to sing and dance to while you are baking. Yes, this is part of the official recipe. The muffins will know if you are not dancing. You don't have to dance well-- to prove this, I've provided an internet simulated likeness of my dancing:

Seriously. You have no idea. It's bad. But it makes healthy projects SO much more fun.

ANYWAY...back to the muffins. Yes, these are healthy muffins, so they will have that slightly hockey-puck shape that healthy muffins have; but, they taste good.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Butter Pecan Cake

We decided to start celebrating birthdays at work. This is very exciting, because it means I was nominated birthday fairy and I get to make treats for birthdays. The tricky part is that my office has a few people who either don't like or can't eat chocolate, so I'm rapidly expanding my non-chocolate portfolio. (If your response right now was, 'wait, cake comes in NOT chocolate?? WHAAAT??" then we are totally friends.) One of the new cakes I've adopted is a butter pecan cake / cupcakes, and it is AWESOME. Almost worth forgetting I know about chocolate.

For work or for places where there are lots of people, I always do cupcakes just to make serving the cake easier. However, this recipe makes so much batter that I made two dozen cupcakes and still had enough batter/icing to make the birthday girl her own 6" cake to take home.

My only disappointment in this whole experience was my use of the floral themed Wilton cupcake papers. These did not bake as pretty as I had hoped and many of them looked kind of ridiculous. Since the icing on this cake is not able to be piped, I was hoping that using the flour papers would help decorate them, or that the nutty icing would look like centers in the flours. Unfortunately, it did not turn out this way.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Butter Pecan Cake - Yield 3, 9" layers OR 3 dozen standard cupcakes
Adapted from the recipe found here and originally published in Christmas with Southern Living, 2005.

6 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all purpose flour
Toasted pecan halves- for garnish, if desired

2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
16 ounces powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk/cream;
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Step #1 - Preheat oven to 350* F.

Step #2 - Melt chocolate with evaporated milk in double boiler over medium/low heat. Set aside to cool. If you don't have a double boiler, you can always put a glass bowl over a sauce pan to create one, which is what I do. Make sure that the bowl is big enough to sit on top of the pan securely, but without touch the bottom of the pan and allowing for the water to boil underneath.Also, make sure steam is not escaping from the pan below and contaminating the chocolate. This will ruin it.If more that slight amounts of steam are escaping from the pan, then it is too hot; turn the heat down.

Step #3- In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until they are fluffy.

Step #4- Add, the vanilla and, one at a time, the egg yolks, mixing after each one.

Step #5 - Dissolve the baking soda in the milk. 

Step #6 - Add,the flour, white chocolate, and the milk/soda mixture to the butter mixture, alternating between them
as you stir.
Once it's all incorporated, the batter should be smooth and slightly thick.

Step #7 - In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer until they form still peaks. This always takes me a different amount of time depending on the day. 'Stiff peaks' means that, when you pull the beaters out of the mixture, the mixture stiffly holds the peak. Having egg whites at room temperature when you start is vital-- cold egg whites are much more difficult to fluff/get to the peaking point.

Step #8 - Fold the egg whites into the batter until well incorporated.Folding is the motion of using a spatula or large spoon to 'lift' the batter over on top of itself as if you were folding it. DO NOT MIX WITH A MIXER!! The purpose of adding fully egg whites to a cake batter is to help the cake become moist and fluffy. If you beat the batter too much, it will beat the fluffy-ness out.

Step #9 - Bake at 350* F. For 9" layers, bake for 20-22 minutes. Make sure the pans are well greased and lined with wax paper.For cupcakes, bake for 10-13 minutes.

The Icing
You can easily make this icing the day before you bake the cake if you need to. Also, this type of cake/frosting freezes well.

Step #1 - Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped pecans and simmer over medium heat until pecans are toasted. (about 10 min). Careful! It's easy to burn the pecans! Remove the pecans from the pan immediately. The pan holds enough heat to burn the pecans even after you've removed the pan from the heat. ALLOW PECANS TO COOL!!!

Step #2 - Beat, with a mixer, the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, milk and powdered sugar, until creamy.

Step #3 - Add cooled pecans and beat until well incorporated. Apply to cake and garnish with toasted pecans if desired.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Slow Cooker Applesauce

I've recently developed a crock pot applesauce obsession. Many of you know I have a lot of fruit/veggie allergies, and apples are among the fruits I can actually eat. Needless to say, I eat a lot of them. I started with the applesauce thing when I overbought on apples and needed to use them before they went bad. This is SO EASY that I now overbuy on purpose and make a pot of this every couple of weeks.

Since this takes about 6-8 hours, I like to do it overnight. I'm gone far longer than 6-8 hours during the day and I hate leaving my crock pot on for 14+ hours at a time, so I've ascribed to the overnight method.  Also, I have a small crock pot (4 quarts). I imagine you could double this and do it in a larger crock pot if you have a lot of people to feed or want to freeze some apple sauce.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here)
Slow Cooker Applesauce - Yield 5 cups in a 4 quart slow cooker
Adapted from "Spiced Slow Cooker Applesauce" found here.

8 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon all spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Optional: 1/2 cup brown sugar

Sunday, March 18, 2012

S'mores Cupcakes

So, first, these are delicious.

Second-- save these for a special occasion or a day when you have nothing on your schedule, because HOLY MESS, BATMAN! Delicious enough to warrant a mess, but, mess it is! Just for the batter, you need five separate mixing bowls, plus a microwave safe container/sauce pan to melt butter, that's not even starting on your pans/measuring cups/etc.

Why would I make such a mess, you ask? We can start with: SEE DELICIOUS ABOVE. Then we can note that these were made in honor of the fantastic Corrin's birthday / visit to the Chicago area. Corrin is my fashion guru and even carried one of my Julie Vision Designs bags in a NYC fashion week event last year. (Yes, I did practically pee myself with excitement, and still do JUST a little bit when I think about it.) It also turned out there was another birthday to celebrate once Corrin got her Chicago based gang together, so CLEARLY this warranted deliciousness.

I've been inventing this baby in my head for a while-- I feel like there are so many cupcakes out there that claim to be S'mores flavored, but don't do the trick. I find they are usually a chocolate or vanilla cupcake filled with either chocolate or marshmallow filling, topped with either chocolate or marshmallow icing, and the sprinkled with graham cracker crumbs. I consider this (though it may be tasty in it's own right) a s'mores fail. There MUST be substantial graham involved in s'mores themed deserts. So I came up with this: A graham cupcake, iced in a mountain of marshmallow, and coated in a layer of chocolate.

These do require being frozen for several hours (over night is best) in order to chocolate coat them, so please keep that in mind as you plan your epic s'mores cupcake making event.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Browned Butter & Amaretto Brownies

I'll admit that one thing I've always used mixes for are brownies. I had not, until recently, found a brownie recipe that was any better than a mix and the mixes are just so easy. But then I found the Bon Appetit Browned Butter and Walnut Brownies recipe. Seriously. Like, SERIOUSLY. These are the easiest and best brownies I've ever had.

After making these amaretto cupcakes a few weeks ago, I've been compelled to put amaretto in everything. These brownies were no exception to my amaretto compulsion, and, if I do say so myself, they were fantastic! These are rich, chocolaty, dense brownies with an almond-y after taste. My friend and I used them to make brownie ice-cream sundaes to conclude a feast we prepared on Oscar night. And by we, I mean she. Real food is not my forte-- I'm only good for desert. :-)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Quick and Easy Banana Bread

I feel like there are two schools of thought on banana bread-- those who love it and those who wish it was never invented. I used to love it before I developed a banana allergy. BUT, I was a very picky banana bread eater. All banana breads are not created equally. This one is my mom's and it is is very dense and moist. If you are the type who dunks your bread in your coffee or milk, this will withstand the dunk with flying colors. It is great for breakfast or desert, and very simple to make. Also, like most things I like to bake, it freezes really well so you can make it ahead of time and just keep it in your freezer.

I made mine as part of the bread-and-cheese tray for my friend's recent birthday party. I got the idea for including banana bread when a wine bar I like included it on their meat and cheese tray. Seeing as I like to think I'm just as classy as a wine bar, I figured I would include it on mine. Plus, it's delicious for those of you who are not allergic to bananas.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

These cupcakes have an Oreo inside of them. How can you NOT want to make these???

OK, wait, let me back up. This started when we decided to revive birthdays at work. I've been at my job a year and a half and we have not been celebrating birthdays.  That's dumb. We decided to change that. As in, we decided to change that the day before a coworkers birthday, and the same day an AT&T technician was *supposed* to come fix my home internet. (He never showed, FYI.......) ANYWAY-- On the drive home, I mentioned to my carpool buddy that, if the AT&T guy showed up in a timely manner, I'd run to the store and get Oreos and make cupcakes with Oreos inside. The conversation went like this:

Carpool buddy: You'll do what?

Me: Make cupcakes. With Oreos inside.

Carpool buddy: Like, it stays in there-- in the middle-- like a cookie.

Me: Yes. Just like that.

Carpool buddy: (Wide eyed, as to indicated mind has been BLOWN) WE MUST GET YOU OREOS!!! There is a store up there by that red light. I'm getting out.

Me: Dude, you can't do that.

Carpool buddy: Yes I can!!!!

And, in fact, she did. She totally jumped out at the red light, ran in the store, and came out with Oreos. So, really, this whole post is owed to her ability to swiftly hop out of my car, buy Oreos, and jump back in during the length of a red light.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cherry Walnut Soda Bread

If you've been following along with this blog, you know that I recently hosted a 30th birthday party for one of my closest friend. We wanted to have snacks at the party that could work as appetizers as well as hang out most the night to keep us well fed while we drank many adult beverages chatted and shared stories about life. Keeping this in mind, I decided to do an assortment of breads and cheeses.  I also made some infused butters for a little extra fun. (Infusing butter = so easy and looks SO fancy! Shout if you are interested in learning how; I can do a post.) For this party, I did a garlic chive butter and a lavender butter.

The idea behind this party was MEGA celebration, TINY budget, so baking bread and getting a few types of cheese really helped this happen. I wanted an array of bread flavors/textures, so I went with a classic white, honey oat, banana bread and cherry walnut soda bread. (Two of these I made ahead and froze, so this is something you could plan several weeks before an event if you wanted to do the same thing). I also made sure I had a mix of cheese flavors so there was something to compliment each type of bread. Not being a cheese expert, and, again, keeping budget in mind, I ended up with a locally made pepper jack; cinnamon-cranberry goat cheese; smoked Gouda; and a spread I made out of ricotta, lemon zest, vanilla bean, and honey.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Birthday on a Budget

My past few recipe posts (and, let's be honest, the next few posts) have all been about things I baked for my friend's 30th birthday party. I thought it might be fun to show you some of the awesome, non-edible things from this party, seeing as we pulled off some extreme awesome within a very reasonable budget.

I mentioned before that this was a slumber party. Like, grown women in their late 20s / early 30s in silly pajamas kind of slumber party.  The idea came about kind of by accident. Several months before the big day, the birthday girl was a little mopey, and stated that all she wanted to do for her birthday was go to bed at 9pm.  Right. If you've met said birthday girl, you'd know what a LIE this was. So, I informed her that, if she was going to bed at 9pm, we must then have a slumber party.  From there, the beast was born.