Our little road trip


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Were you aware of the tropical storm that hit the east coast of Florida and Georgia a few days ago? Well, it just happened to damage the Jacksonville airport and cause our friend Eric's flight to get canceled... and since he had to report to work on Tuesday morning, he needed to be back at Fort Campbell by Monday night. So what did we do? We took a little road trip up to Nashville to drop him off at the airport (to pick up his car) that he was suppose to fly into. We left around 11:30pm on Sunday and arrived in Tennessee sometime in the late afternoon on Monday. Yes, 10 hours of driving, about 3 of those in a tropical storm. After Eric got his car from the airport we drove to see the Grand Ole Opry. We had dinner at Chuy's and walked around an aquarium in the mall. Stephen and I said our goodbyes and started our drive back. It was a long drive but well worth it. Hope you had a happy/safe Memorial Day!

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Since we're leaving for the summer, I've been trying to clean the refrigerator, cupboards, and the counters. We've had a lemon sitting around in our fruit basket for a few days and I figured the only time I'd use it was if I made muffins. Luckily our friend Eric was staying with us this past weekend so baking a full batch of muffins wasn't a big deal (it's hard for the two of us to eat 12 muffins). I whipped these up in a matter of minutes and we ate them right out of the oven. They were warm, soft, and had a subtle lemon flavor. They were the perfect start to our morning.

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins
2 c. all-purpose flour
8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon + 1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. poppy seeds
1 c. sour cream (or yogurt)

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line a muffin pan with liners.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the lemon zest and vanilla extract.
4. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients, alternating with the sour cream. Mix until incorporated.
5. Fill each muffin tin ⅔ of the way full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (these muffins don't get very brown on top). Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool completely.
Adapted from Joy of Baking- Poppy Seed Muffins | Makes approximately 12-15 muffins

Our week, according to instagram


Monday, May 28, 2012

This past week Stephen helped my cut, glue, sand and paint some photography backgrounds. On Wednesday night we had Scouts and I helped him set up an orienteering course. It was a lot more complex than we imagined, we ended up running around the church jamming flags into the ground. We were sweaty, thirsty and incredibly tired, but the kids really enjoyed it, and that is all that matters, right? On Thursday we babysat the Rudder kids, they were silly and full of energy, as always. This past weekend our friend Eric flew down to visit us. We spent a lot of time outside which was probably not the best idea since it was 90+ degrees. Thursday evening we headed to Mojo's for some late night BBQ and tried Cheerwine for the first time. I'm not going to lie, I kind of like it. It's sort of a mix between Dr. Pepper and black cherry cola. On Friday we headed to the beach and spent the afternoon playing frisbee, soccer and riding the waves. Later that afternoon we went to the stadium and watched the US Men's Soccer Team practice for their game against Scotland. Saturday morning we drove to St. Augustine and walked around for a few hours, toured the Castillo de San Marcos, found a really cool flower, ate some cuban food, stopped by Kilwins (a really good ice cream shop) and then came home to rest before the big soccer game. More on the game tomorrow.

Sweet and Salty M&M Pretzel Bars


Friday, May 25, 2012

Wednesday afternoon Stephen asked me if I could bake something up for his Scouts. Since we didn't have a whole lot of time before we had to leave, I knew the quickest and cleanest thing to do was to make a pan of bars. I had wanted to use the little tubes of mini M&M's I had bought in some kind of treat, I guess this was the perfect opportunity. I looked in our pantry and we had a handful of pretzels left so I snapped them up and tossed them in. Stephen was a little skeptical at first (about the pretzel thing), but once he tried them he was sold. I thought they were pretty delicious too. The combination of sweet and salty is just right. I suppose that if you can find the actual Pretzel M&M's, you could use those too, but these are excellent just the way they are.

Sweet and Salty M&M Pretzel Bars
1½ c. all-purpose flour
12 tbsp. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1½ c. light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt + a extra pinch to sprinkle on top
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ c. mini M&M's (I bought 2 tubes at the check-out)
½ c. pretzels, broken into ¼" pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving at least a 2" overhang (this makes pulling them out cleaner and easier).
2. In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and ½ tsp. salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together melted butter and brown sugar for 30 seconds. Turn speed to low and add one egg at a time. Add vanilla and mix until combined.
4. Remove bowl from stand mixer. Fold in dry ingredients. Do not overmix. Gently fold in M&M's and pretzel pieces. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining salt over top.
5. Place in oven and bake for 22-24 minutes, or until the top is shiny and cracked and firm to the touch. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool completely (30 minutes). Remove bars from pan using the overhanging edges of parchment or foil. Cut into bars.
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen- Blondies | Makes approximately 12 large bars or 24 small bars

Triple Chocolate Cookies


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This classic triple-chocolate cookie is anything but plain and ordinary. It is packed with some serious chocolate flavor. I'm never a huge fan of chocolate cookies because of the bitter or sour taste they often have, but by balancing the chocolates and using baking powder, those tastes are eliminated. Plus they've got crispy edges and gooey centers, just like brownies. What's not to love?

Triple Chocolate Cookies
1¼ c. flour
¼ c. Dutch-process cocoa
¾ c. light brown sugar, packed
¼ c. sugar
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. espresso powder
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
⅓ c. mimi semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, gently whisk vanilla, eggs and espresso powder (allow powder to dissolve). Set aside.
3. In a double broiler, melt 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate. When smooth, remove from heat. Set aside.
4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Whisk together. Set aside.
5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars for 1 minute until smooth and creamy. Turn speed to low and gradually add egg mixture. Beat for 30 seconds, or until combined. Add the melted chocolate, then dry ingredients. Do not over mix. Remove bowl from stand and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes until the dough becomes fudge-like. Fold in mini chocolate chips.
6. Scoop and place mounds of dough 1½ inches apart. Place in oven and bake for 10-11 minutes. The edges of the cookies will be set and the center will be soft (do not over bake). Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on sheets for 10 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen- Thick & Chewy Chocolate Cookies | Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ever since I found this recipe, I've been thinking of ways to use it. Calzones are something Stephen and I have always loved, so I thought I would give them a try. All we did was let the pizza dough rise, divided it into four balls and rolled each into circles. Then we placed the ingredients on one side of each circle, folded the top over and crimped the edges. They were so easy to make! We stuffed ours with ricotta, mozzarella and pepperoni, but really the options are endless.

Calzones (makes 4)
1 dough recipe, found here
2 tbsp. butter
4 tsp. parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
--desired stuffings--

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Prepare baking surface by dusting lightly with flour or cornmeal.
2. Follow dough directions up until shaping. Divide into 4 balls and make (4) 8"-10"circles.
3. Place ingredients on one side of each circle. Divide seasonings evenly and sprinkle over each.
4. Fold the top over each and crimp the edges by pinching and folding over. Optional: cut 2-3 small slits on the top to prevent bubbles. Place on prepared surface and bake for 10-12 minutes (watch to make sure the tops don't burn). 
5. Remove from oven when golden brown. Brush with butter and sprinkle with parmesan. Cool for 3-5 minutes before serving.
Stephen + Natalie | Makes approximately 4-6 calzones

Lime Curd Bars with Coconut Crust


Friday, May 18, 2012

Tired of traditional lemon bars? These guys will certainly liven things up! A couple of days ago I was planning out a few treats to make for a luncheon and wanted to stick with something easy (some kind of cake or bars) and something I could make the night before. I only had one lemon left over from the blueberry-lemon bars but had a handful of limes, which meant I had to think of some way to make it all work. That's when I realized I had bookmarked this Bon Appétit recipe. So I grabbed the limes, doubled the recipe, and made a few adjustments. They turned out perfect in every way. The lime curd was incredibly flavorful and the coconut crust added sweetness and crunch. 

Lime Curd Bars with Coconut Crust
⅓ c. light brown sugar
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. all-purpose flour
½ cup shredded dried coconut
¹⁄₈ tsp. salt
Zest of ½ a lime

1 ¾ c. + 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
4 large eggs
¹⁄₈ tsp. salt
Zest of ½ a lime
¾ cup fresh lime juice (4-5 limes)
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 inch baking dish with aluminum foil, overhanging the edges by 1 inch. 
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar (beat for 2-4 minutes). Add the flour, the zest of half a lime, coconut and the salt. Mix until the dough just holds together (the dough will be soft and sticky). Press into the pan and prick all over with a fork. 
3. Place pan with crust in oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crust turns golden brown.
4. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch, baking powder and remaining lime zest and salt. Slowly beat in the eggs one at a time. Then with mixing speed on low, add lime juice. Pour into the baked crust. 
5. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes. Check it around 20 minutes to make sure it does not overcook. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool. After 30 minutes or so, place in refrigerator until set, 1-2 hours. Cut into bars and dust with confectioners’ sugar and leftover lime zest.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Blender- Lime Curd Bars | Makes approximately 24 bars

Blueberry-Lemon Crumb Bars


Thursday, May 17, 2012

One of my favorite things about summer is having berries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I buy berries I usually tend to lean towards strawberries, but this week when I saw how plump and colorful the blueberries were, I couldn't resist. I immediately knew I was going to bake with them. There is something about their flavor that gets even better in the oven. Am I right? I will warn you though, these bars aren't overly sweet. Instead, the hint of lemon adds some acidity and helps highlight the slightly tart flavor of the berries. The result? A mouth full of summery goodness. 

Blueberry-Lemon Crumb Bars
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 c. + 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
¼ tsp. salt

Juice and zest of 1 lemon
4½ c. fresh blueberries
½ c. + 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
4½ tsp. cornstarch
¼ tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch pan (baking Pam works great).
2. To prepare the crust/topping: in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, and baking powder and salt. Using a pastry cutter, blend in the butter and egg until the dough becomes crumbly. With your hands, pat half of dough into the bottom of prepared pan. Set aside.
3. To prepare the filling: in a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest. Carefully fold in blueberries, making sure to coat the berries evenly. Pour the blueberry mixture over the crust. Adjust any blueberries that are out of place, filling in "holes." Evenly sprinkle remaining topping over the berry layer.
4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and the blueberries bubble. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool (about 30 minutes). Cut into bars or squares when cool.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen- Blueberry Crumb Bars | Makes approximately 24 bars

Kitchen Helps from Chasing Delicious


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I couldn't resist sharing these amazing kitchen helps.
You can buy these prints and more via their online store.

Traditional Macaroni & Cheese


Dinner time rolled around and I was rushing to come up with something to make. It was 7:30 or so and our stomachs were growling. I had meant to go grocery shopping the day before but with so many things going on I didn't have time to. Finally after analyzing the contents of our refrigerator, freezer, pantry and cabinets, I realized the only thing I felt like making was some sort of pasta dish. I grabbed my recipe binder and flipped to this macaroni and cheese recipe. I was pleasantly surprised and a little relieved to see that it would only take 20 minutes to make and that I had everything it called for. Of course I always like to change things up, so some of the additions I made include the ground mustard and the ham. We served this up with BLT sandwiches, but I'm sure it would go great with just about anything!

Traditional Macaroni & Cheese
2½ c. noodles (cavatappi, fusilli, shells, elbows)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 c. cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 c. whole milk
¼ c. heavy cream
3 tsp. flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. lemon juice
¹⁄₈ tsp. ground mustard
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
¼ c. thick cut ham, chopped (optional)

1. In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente (cut cooking time about 1 minute short). Turn heat off, remove from stovetop, drain water and return noodles back to the pot. Set aside.
2. To make the cheese sauce, melt butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add flour and let cook for 1-3 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly pour in milk and cream, continue whisking. Allow mixture to come to a simmer. Meanwhile, grate cheese and toss with cornstarch.
3. Reduce mixture heat to medium-low. Begin to sprinkle in cheese, whisk until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, mustard, pepper, salt and ham. Allow to cook for 3-5 more minutes. Pour hot mixture over warm pasta. Toss and serve immediately.
Adapted from Simply Recipes- Simple Macaroni and Cheese | Makes approximately 4 servings

Apple Pie Muffins


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If you're anything like me, and you love apple pie, you're going love these muffins! When I got up this morning and looked around the kitchen for something to make, I spotted a bag of apples I had purchased earlier in the week. Since baking a pie (and eating it) is a lot of work and kind of impractical for the two of us, I thought I could use them in muffins... breakfast muffins that would taste just like apple pie. I knew I could eat my fair share, but I wasn't sure my husband would, so I asked him. He said, "muffins with apples and oats, what am I, a pony?" I figured he wouldn't be too keen on the oats, but as soon as the muffins came out of the oven, he gobbled one up. If you aren't a huge fan of oats, just omit them and increase the flour to a half cup. They'll be just as good!

Apple Pie Muffins
2½ c. all-purpose flour
1½ c. brown sugar, packed
½ c. butter, room temperature
1 c. buttermilk (or 1 c. milk + 1 tbsp. lemon juice, sit for 10 min)
¼ c. plain applesauce
1 egg
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. apple pie or pumpkin pie spice
1½ c. Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced

⅓ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. brown sugar, packed
¼ c. rolled oats
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 tbsp. butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with papers.
2. To make the batter, in a medium size mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and spices. Whisk together until incorporated, set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars. Add egg, applesauce, and vanilla, mix on low until combined. With mixer on low speed, alternate buttermilk and dry ingredients, adding about ⅓ of each mixture at a time, until remaining ingredients are gone. Remove bowl from stand and fold in apples. Scoop mixture in to prepared muffin tin (fill just a tad bit over ¾ of the way).
4. To prepare the topping, in a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix until clumps begin to form. Sprinkle over each individual muffin. Place in oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The muffins should have a little spring to them and the topping should be golden brown and crunchy.
5. Remove and let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Adapted from Sprinkled with Flour- Apple Pie Streusel Muffins | Makes approximately 18 muffins

Easy-to-sew Summer Dress


Monday, May 14, 2012

I bought this pattern a while back and started cutting out the pieces in hopes of making it before we moved to Jacksonville. But somehow in the chaos of it all, the two sheets of instructions disappeared. So I  went to JoAnn's to see if I could find the pattern and take a little peek at the directions, but apparently it is one of their featured patterns this summer and was completely sold out. When I got home I read the back of the pattern and decided that I had enough information to go forward. I finished the dress in about an hour and somehow it turned out looking exactly like the example they had on a mannequin in the store. If you have a daughter, granddaughter, or niece to sew for, and you're lucky enough to find this pattern, get it! It's a quick sew and is incredibly versatile. I know that's not the most flattering picture of the dress, but I promise it's adorable in person- just look at the little model above!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some times you just need some warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies to remind you of home.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom! We love you!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2¼ c. all-purpose flour
1 c. (2 sticks) butter or margarine, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. quick rolled oats
2 c. chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then vanilla.
3. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together until combined. With mixing speed on low, slowly add into the creamed mixture until just blended. 
4. Remove bowl from stand mixer and fold in the oats and chocolate chips. Using a standard cookie scoop, drop onto ungreased baking sheets.
5. Place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops begin to turn light gold (this will depend on how you like your cookies, if you like them gooey, bake for 10 minutes, if you like them on the crunchy side, bake for 12 minutes). Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 3-5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Our week, according to instagram


Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Friday! Here are a few things we've been up to this week:

wednesday night at Scouts ● soda bottle rockets
favorite sandals ever ● so not happy about the gum on our shoes
stormy sky ● free bloomin' onion
stocked up on oliver + s patterns ● sewing companion
first hair cut since donating in september ● old school GPS
love that color and that guy ● more hair
avengers in 3D ● theater
he always makes the perfect cone @ Jason's Deli ● 1st year done

Yes. That's right. Stephen is out for the summer!

A Simple Superhero Cape


Earlier this week I made a little superhero cape for Will. He had been pretending like his sister's dresses were capes and would throw them over his shoulders and hold them by the sleeves. I figured maybe it was time for the real deal, although when I gave it to him it took a while for him to realize what it was and actually put it on. Anyway, this project only cost about $6 and took less than 30 minutes to make. Here's what you'll need:
 1. To begin, start by tracing the letter you want onto the paper. I used a 2" ruler to do this. Once you have it drawn, cut it out and pin to the yellow felt. Cut out. Lay the yellow letter onto the red piece of felt and pin. Cut around it to make a shape that looks nice with whatever letter you have chosen. It doesn't have to be perfect.
 2. Next, pin around all edges of the yellow letter. Sew as close to the edge as possible. Make sure you topstitch with yellow thread and use blue thread for your bobbin (it will look better on the back). Once you have stitched that, place it onto the blue fabric, making sure to center/level it. Topstitch around the edges with red thread, keeping the blue thread as your bobbin. Once the letter is securely attached, begin to work on finishing the raw edges of the cape.
 3. Take the two side edges (left and right) and fold in ¼", press. Fold the bottom edge in ¼", press. Return to the sides and fold an additional ¼", press. Then turn up the bottom 1" and press. It should look like the picture below. Pin in place and stitch around the inner edges to keep in place.
 4. Now lets finish the top. Since I had a selvage I was able to just fold it over ¾" and sew along the edge, but if you don't have a selvage, fold the raw edge ¼", press and then fold over ¾", press. Stitch the folded edge at ¹⁄₈". That way you have a casing for your ribbon or string to go through. In order to get your ribbon through, you may want to consider pining a safety pin to the edge and using that to guide you through. Once you have the string through, gather evenly on the edges of the cape (you want the leave the middle section ungathered so your letter doesn't get messed up). Once they are even and the string is even at both ends, stitch in place vertically before the gathering begins and right where the seam is at the edge of the fabric. This way the gathering stays in place and it will always look nice and even.
5. To finish, trim all threads, press any wrinkles out and make sure the edges of the ribbon or string are finished so they do not fray (sew, use fray check, heat treat it). Then you're done! Now you can make them in all sorts of colors!

Zesty Lemon Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Zesty Lemon Cupcakes
I'm always a fan of anything lemon, especially when spring time rolls around.
These cupcakes are light and fluffy and full of flecks of tangy lemon zest.
They're sure to brighten up any day. 

Zesty Lemon Cupcakes
¾ c. all-purpose flour
¾ c. cake flour
1 c. sugar
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
Zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2½ tbsp. lemon juice
½ c. whole milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line cupcake pans with 12 paper liners. 
2. In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, sugar and lemon zest. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and lemon juice. 
4. Turn the speed down to low, mix in ⅓ of the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Then ⅓ of the milk. Continue to alternate and mix in the remaining milk and dry ingredients, beating just until incorporated.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners, filling each about ¾ full. Bake 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (30 minutes or so) before frosting.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
2½ large egg whites
1/2 c. sugar (heaping)
½ lb. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla

1. To divide an egg white, whisk one egg white in a liquid measuring cup. Divide the white into two equal portions (save the other half or toss it out). 
2. Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (medium heat).
3. While the mixture begins to heat, whisk frequently to avoid setting the egg whites. Whisk until the mixture reaches 165° F and the sugar has dissolved (it will begin to look foamy).
4. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled, about 7-8 minutes or so.
5. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time. Continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated. Depending on the consistency and temperature of your frosting, you may want to chill it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes before using it.
(Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes)

Chocolate Thin Mint Ice Cream


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A couple of weeks ago we went down to visit Stephen's parents. Their pantry was full of Girl Scout cookies that his mom had purchased from a family friend. She asked me what my favorite cookie was and if we wanted to take some home with us. I told her that I had never tried a Girl Scout cookie. Not only was she shocked, but everyone in the room stopped and looked at me. That was when the sampling began. I really loved the Thin Mints... I always love anything mint, but for me there was something refreshing about how crisp and light they were. Stephen and I ate one sleeve when we got home and saved the second one. I resisted eating them for weeks with the intention of using them in some sort of dessert. That's when I thought of putting them in ice cream. Stephen isn't the biggest fan of full-on peppermint ice cream, so I thought a chocolate base with flecks of cookies would give the ice cream just the right hint of mint. If you can withstand the temptation to eat every last cookie, make some ice cream, you'll love it!

Chocolate Thin Mint Ice Cream
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
3 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 c. sugar
5 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. peppermint extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1 sleeve (15 cookies) Girl Scout Thin Mints, chopped

1. In a medium saucepan, warm 1 c. of heavy cream with the cocoa powder, whisking to blend cocoa.
2. Bring mixture to a boil, remove from heat and add bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Stir until smooth. Then add remaining cup of heavy cream, stirring until smooth. Pour mixture into a large bowl, scraping the saucepan to remove all chocolate. Set a mesh sieve over the bowl.
3. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in the same saucepan.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk yolks lightly. Slowly pour the warm milk, sugar and salt mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then pour the mixture back into the saucepan to cook. Constantly stir the mixture over medium heat with a heat resistant spatula, scraping the sides and bottom. The mixture will begin to thicken and coat the spatula (it should also reach 170 degrees on a thermometer). Remove immediately and pour through the mesh sieve into the chocolate mixture. Stir in vanilla and peppermint extracts.
5. Place the bowl over an ice bath to cool and then place in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly (approximately 25-30 minutes).
6. Pour mixture into ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Churn for 20-25 minutes. Fold in chopped thin mints.
7. Store mixture in an air-tight freezer safe container and freeze for 4-6 hours before serving.

Creamy Mustard Chicken + Ham & Cheese Scalloped Potatoes


Monday, May 7, 2012

One of my favorite things about this meal is how simple it is. The scalloped potatoes require a little bit of prep time but most of their work is done in the oven. And the chicken, well that comes together in about 15 minutes. If you're wondering exactly how the chicken tastes, it is tangy, creamy, and just downright delicious. The sauce is incredibly versatile, you could put it over pork chops or even steak. Try this- you're going to love it!

Creamy Mustard Chicken
8 chicken tenders (or 2 chicken breasts, fillet)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tsp. grainy dijon mustard
1 tsp. flour
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. chicken broth

1. If using chicken breasts, cut in half so you have 4 cutlets.
2. In a large pan, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Cook chicken tenders or cutlets until the become golden brown in color. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
3. Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic and cook until it begins to turn golden brown in color. Then add flour. Using a whisk, stir until it begins to thicken into a paste. Add cream, chicken broth, and mustards. Turn heat up slightly and whisk. When the sauce begins to bubble, add salt, pepper and onion powder. 4. Return chicken to pan and simmer in the sauce for 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat and allow sauce to thicken and chicken to become coated.
5. To serve, plate chicken and cover with a spoonful of sauce.

Ham & Cheese Scalloped Potatoes
3 lbs. potatoes, washed and sliced thinly
1/2 tbsp. butter
1/2 of a onion, diced
1 c. ham, diced
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 c. half-and-half
1/4 c. flour
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 c. monterey jack cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 inch baking dish by coating with butter.
2. In a medium size pan over low heat, melt butter. Add onions and cook for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add ham and cook for 2-3 minutes until it starts to become slightly browned. Remove mixture from pan and set aside.
3. In a microwave safe bowl, combine half-and-half and cream. Heat on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Whisk in flour, garlic powder, mustard, black pepper and salt. Set aside.
4. Begin to layer the casserole by placing 1/3 of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Then pour 1/3 of the sauce over and sprinkle 1/3 ham/onion and the cheese on top. Continue to layer until all of the ingredients are used.
5. Cover the pan with foil and place in oven. Bake for 45 minutes, remove foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, cut and serve.

S'mores Parfaits


Thursday, May 3, 2012

As you can probably tell, Stephen and I love anything that has to do with s'mores. So when we were trying to think of something cold to make that wouldn't take as much time or work as ice cream, we came up with these parfaits. I used my Chicago Metallic Mini Cheesecake Pan to shape them- it works well because you can pop them out from the bottom (this can be a little tricky but after the first few you'll get the hang of it). If you don't have the same pan, don't worry, you can always prepare them in regular glasses, jars or in plastic cups. If you need them to stay colder for a little longer, you can always make them ahead and freeze them overnight.

S'mores Parfaits
18 graham crackers squares (9 full sheets)
1/3 c. butter
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4. c. heavy cream
2 c. mini marshmallows
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1 box (3.9 oz) Jello instant chocolate pudding
1 1/2 c. whipped cream or Cool Whip
1/4 c. semi-sweet mini morsels

1. Place graham crackers into a zip-lock bag, seal. Using a rolling pin or cup, smash the crackers into fine crumbs. Melt butter and add to graham crackers. Divide evenly and place into each cup. Press firmly. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, combine milk and pudding packet. Stir with a hand held mixer for 2 minutes until combined. Add 1 c. of whipped cream or cool whip. Stir until incorporated. Chill until needed.
3. In a double broiler, combine 1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips and heavy cream. Heat until mixture becomes smooth, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Pour over each crust (dividing evenly).
4. Remove chilled pudding mixture and place into a pastry bag or zip-lock bag. Pipe mixture into each cup, making sure to fill in any cracks. Smooth off the top. Place in freezer for 2 hours.
5. Before serving, remove from freezer. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, then remove from pan. Top with remaining cool whip and mini marshmallows. Sprinkle with mini chocolate morsels. Enjoy immediately.
*You may want to consider using a larger box of pudding and more cool whip if you are using something other than the mini cheesecake pan or if you are serving a bigger crowd.

Toasted Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When I was grocery shopping this week I tossed a couple of limes into my cart knowing that I would use some for guacamole but wanting to use the rest in a baked good. I thought about making lemon-lime bars or mini key lime pies, but then I remembered I had some coconut left over from these cupcakes and wanted to somehow incorporate it. That's when came across a recipe I had pinned several months ago. It was a simple drop cracked sugar cookie recipe with a lot of potential. I messed around with the measurements of some ingredients and added a few of my own. If you love lime and coconut as much as I do, you'll definitely love these cookies. They're sweet, soft, and really chewy. The coconut adds texture and sweetness while the lime adds tartness and zing. Once you eat one, you won't want to stop!

Toasted Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, softened
1 ½ c. white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lime
3 tbsp. lime juice
1/8 tsp. coconut oil
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut

1/2 c. sugar (fine or coarse)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. To toast coconut, spread a thin layer of coconut on a cookie sheet and bake for 5-7 minutes. Keep a close eye on it, as cooking time may vary.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in whole egg and yolk. Add vanilla extract, coconut oil, lime juice and lime zest. Mix until incorporated.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
5. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients and toasted coconut. Place dough in refrigerator for 15 minutes or until firm (this will make the rolling process so much easier).
6. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, then roll in sugar. Place onto lined cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.
7. Place in oven and bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.
8. Let stand on cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring to cool on wire racks.
Adapted from Savory Sweet Life- Sugar Cookies | Makes approximately 2 dozen

You Are My Sunshine- I Spy/Taggie Toy


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

 Several months ago I stocked up on felt and bought some of the items to make little I spy bags. Just yesterday I came across the box I had tossed the materials in and decided it was time to make something of it all. I had this idea of making them into cute little shapes (fish, turtle, whale), but then I thought it would be cute to combine the felt with scraps of ribbon to make an I spy bag/taggie. If you would like to make one, here is what you need:

1-2 bags of clear craft beads (any shape)
Alphabet beads, sequins, decorative buttons, any other little trinkets
Clear vinyl (1) 7x7" square (can be found in the home decor section at JoAnn Fabrics,
just take that giant roll up to the counter and have them cut you off a big strip)
Felt (2) 7x7" squares
3 different colors of ribbon (15" of each)
Thread, scissors, pins
Fabric Marker or Pencil
2 circles to trace (1 big, 1 small)

The size of your felt and vinyl will depend on how big the circular items you trace are.
My Corningware lid was a little bigger than 6" in diameter.
1. To get started, cut two squares of felt (measure the diameter of your biggest circle and add a 1/4"). Trace and cut both squares of felt into two large circles. Then take one and cut a smaller circle into the center of it. This will be the piece with the vinyl window. Cut the vinyl to match the size of the large circle.
 2. Take the ribbon and cut into (3) 5" pieces. You should have a total of 9 pieces of ribbon. Fold over the ribbon and pin the raw edges to the top of the solid felt circle. About 1/4" of ribbon should overlap the felt. Grab the circle with the hole, lay it on top of the vinyl circle and pin in place. Stitch closely around the inner edge (pictured below). Place the piece with the vinyl window on top of the piece with the ribbons. One pin at a time, remove and re-pin so that the pins are on the surface of the circle with the vinyl window (but are still holding the ribbon in place). Sew together leaving a 1 1/2" gap so that you can fill it up. Layer in objects and beads. Leave enough room so that the items can move around and so that you can sew it up without having anything in the way. With your machine, stitch over the gap, making sure to backstitch or "fix" at both ends. Examine edges to make sure there are no holes.
3. Remove any unwanted threads or excess vinyl around the edges. If desired, press ribbon edges to flatten. It's done!
Shortly after making the sun I realized that I had some brown and green ribbon left over from our wedding- score! So of course I had to make an apple. As you can see, you can make pretty much anything. Happy sewing!
P.S. I'd love to see your creations... if you make one, comment and leave me a link!
This tutorial is currently being featured over at Nap Time Crafters.

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