Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blondies 12/12

This post is very late because of the holidays. We've been so busy but here it is.
This week, we were gearing up for some major baking. We bought everything we needed to make gingerbread houses, cranberry cake, pumpkin cheesecakes, fudge and more because we were having a big party the next week.
We didn't want to get too crazy this week. We wanted to do something easy. We looked through the pantry to see what we had and we had everything we needed to make brownies. We've done brownies before though, so we went with a recipe that omits the chocolate, ups the brown sugar and you've got blondies. The recipe says you can put nuts, butterscotch chips or chocolate chips in there too but we went with dried cranberries because they're healthier, but also out of curiosity to see how they'd taste.
The recipe is found here at Simply Recipes. It's a great blog and I'm really surprised we haven't used it very much.

This may be one of the easiest if not the easiest recipe we've ever done.  Everything was mixed together.

We put it in a greased pan. Then into the oven.

And then they were done. It's a quick and easy dessert or something simple to bring to a get together. Anyone can bake from scratch. This recipe is proof.

Lessons learned: Simple Recipes is a great site. We would use more cranberries next time and maybe even throw in some white chocolate chips. It's our new favorite combo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stained Glass Christmas Cookies - 11/30

I(Sara) is self confessed Martha Stewart lover.  I have her Cookies and Cupcakes Books.  Since I received the Cookie one, I fell in love with the Stained Glass Cookies.

What is best about this is that you can use any sugar cookie recipe, but if you want here is hers.  Just use your favorite cookie cutters and cut out a window for the crushed candies to melt in while being baked. 

We used a square cookie cutter that we had from our Valentine's Day Cookies and some smaller Christmas cookie cutters that fit inside.  We had a stocking, a tree and two slightly different stars.

We used Jolly Ranchers to break up.  They melt smoothly and easily. We knew this from our childhood days of melting the Jolly Rancher sticks and wrapping them around a blow pop. Good stuff! We had cherry for red, blue raspberry for blue, and apple for green.
Our Dad said the red would have been better if it were cinnamon candy. We agreed then he put one red speck of candy at the top of the green Christmas tree. Guess we should have had yellow too...

In our book it said to only put the candies in the middle of the space but it works much better if you fill up the whole section.  That way it spreads out evenly and you don't have to fight the candy to get it spread out.

They came out really cute and tasty too. The candy was just thin enough to be able to bite into without a struggle. Perfect!

Lessons learned:  Sugar cookies are always good and they go well with the fruity flavors of Jolly Ranchers.  Will definitely have to apply the window effect to our gingerbread challenge.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birthday Baking: Kristine 11/24

Erin and I are working on the same movie production and even for the same department.  We are however, on different sides of town.  There are a couple people that work in our department with dietary restrictions. Kristine, who we have known for a few years now,  does not eat dairy or gluten. She also tried to stay away from processed sugars but come on, it's her birthday!

With a lot of people developing food allergies, there are more and more tasty foods and recipes available.  We decided to go with a Gluten Free, Dairy Free Cheesecake.  Dairy free cheesecake??  Yes it can be done, with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese.  Tofutti makes all kinds of dairy free products, we personally like the Tofutti Cuties ice cream sandwiches.  We also used Dairy Free Margarine and Gluten Free Graham Crackers.

Erin complied a few recipes. The gluten free graham cracker crust recipe came from It called for the Kinnikinnick brand graham crackers. Also, 1/2 cup of butter but since butter contains dairy, we chose the Earth Balance butter substitute. This was just the beginning of unfamiliar ingredients. The crackers looked like and felt like card board. After crumbling them up though, the consistency wasn't such a big deal. The butter though was a lot of oil. There probably should have been less of it for this use.

We baked the crust like you would a normal cheese cake and it came out not as stiff as regular crust would The vegan butter was a lot more moist that a regular crust mixture.  It came out looking like a cookie though.

The filling looked exactly like regular cheese cake.  The recipe is from Vegweb. We adjusted this recipe as well since Kristine is not a vegan and we were just avoiding the dairy, we used real eggs. We added the raspberry puree like we did for the cheesecakes on Mother's Day.

It seems that this recipe was for a regular pie pan and not a springform pan because the cheesecake mixture did not get anywhere close to filling the pan. We'll double it if there's a next time.
So, it turned out that we own a cheap-o spring form pan. I believe it was purchased at Target many moons ago. A tip for baking cheesecakes is to use a water bath. We've never done this because it seems a bit excessive as we've always been happy with the way our cakes come out. We didn't do it this time and it was a good thing too as it would have destroyed the cake in our cheap-o pan that isn't liquid tight. We learned this as the excess oil leaked out of the pan and onto the bottom of our oven. Oops!

The crust ended up coming out a little bit hard, cracker like.  We are not sure if that has to do with the oils (or the leakage of it) or the lack of gluten. Kristine said she was very happy with it, so it was perfect for the occasion.

Everyone (regular foodies as well,) enjoyed the cheesecake. We were a bit surprised that everyone wanted to try it but even happier that everyone liked it. This is the only creation that Sara hasn't been able to taste because it was all gone.  

Lessons learned:  Dairy free cheesecake is pretty tasty.  We'll use a pan under all pies and treats that call for a lot of oil or fluids.  Raspberries are always a yummy addition, and double this recipe if you have a spring form pan.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Swiss Chard Quiche 11/14

Sorry for the late posting....things have been busy with life and stuff.  You know how it goes.

We decided to make Quiche this week because we haven't really done one like a traditional quiche. We think that the sausage potato one doesn't really count.
In deciding which quiche to make, Sara found a recipe that called for Swiss Chard and that was perfect for us because we have that growing in the yard.  Erin not only has been working on her baking this year, she also learned harmonica and has been growing herbs and greens in our garden.

As you can see her green thumb has paid off. We just will forget about the pumpkin, just look at these beautiful greens.

This a healthier quiche recipe from the website called Whole Living which is linked to Martha's site.  I know I know Martha again??!??!  Well to be honest....  She hires great people and gives good advice. She's a great place to learn from for amateur bakers like us.

As I(Sara) added the cooked greens to the flour mixture and then pressed it into the pan I wasn't sure how the whole thing would stay together.  I guess healthier means no extra butter...  Bummer.

There was however, a good amount of cheese. Now, Gruyere doesn't smell too fantastic and we'd never heard of a chard quiche before. We were a little worried that we were headed for another failure.

Once it was all cooked up, the greens and the eggs smelled yummy.  What was even better, they tasted great!  We would definitely use this recipe again. It really was so good!

Lessons learned: No butter doesn't necessarily mean bad.  Homegrown food is pretty awesome(but we probably all knew that already).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pumpkin Pie 11/7

Some of you may have looked at our last two posts and thought "10/31, 11/13? Hey, that's 2 weeks between there. They skipped a week!" Well, we didn't skip a week. I (Erin) baked a pumpkin pie but I've been a little busy and to be honest, I was a little too disappointed in it to tell you about it.

You see, Sara was on vacation with our Mom and so I flew this one solo. That's no big deal but I wanted to have something for them to enjoy when they got home and so with a suggestion from my husband, I decided on Pumpkin Pie.

Now, I've never made a pumpkin pie before. I've made pumpkin cheesecakes (and yes Candice, I will get to making some of those very soon. Tis the season,) but not a pumpkin pie. I knew that the best resource that I had was my Cook's Illustrated Family Cook Book. These are recipes that we can't post but after completing it, and tasting it, there are some changes I'd make.

So begins my pumpkin pie inspiration: This is the season for pumpkin pie. I'm very excited that it's here. I love pumpkin everything and my friends love the pumpkin cheesecakes. I even tried to grow pumpkin in the back yard this year, but due to a complete lack of knowledge of what I was doing, the pumpkin plant remains in a state of limbo where it hasn't died nor has it thrived...or produced.  I keep thinking "well, November isn't over yet...maybe something will happen." But I need to really start changing that thinking to "maybe next year..." For now, there are plenty of canned pumpkin reserves available to me at the grocery store.

This pumpkin pie recipe seemed a little challenging but I was open to the experience. I made my own crust, similarly to what we've done before.

I learned that heating up the filling before pouring it into a hot pie crust helps to make it creamy and consistent.

Everything was going well. I baked it for a few minutes longer than suggested. Mom and Dad's oven is usually spot on with the lower range of suggested cooking times but I gave it a little longer to achieve that "cracking edges, jiggly in the middle" description.

Looks good, right?

I let the pie cool so we could enjoy it. It was still a little warm but I couldn't wait any longer. You know how the first piece of a pie is always the messiest, some would say "worst" piece? Well, this one was a doozy. I went to cut into it and found that there wasn't much cutting to be done. Scooping if anything. The pie was nowhere near solid and I was sad.

I decided to reheat the oven and stick it back in. I ended up baking it for the same amount of time in order to reheat the filling and to get the pie cooking again. That worked but I'm left unsure as to how long I should bake the pie when I only want to bake it once.

As for the taste of the twice baked pumpkin pie, it was decent. I did enjoy it, though I thought there may have been too much or too many spices. It called for ginger (I used ground ginger because I can't imagine what else they meant), cinnamon, and ground cloves. It was a little much. I think I would have liked to let a little more pumpkin flavor shine through. Yes, shine. I love pumpkin.

Lessons learned: Bake the pie for longer, stick a toothpick in it even if the recipe doesn't say so. "Jiggly in the middle" is not a good indicator of "done-ness. I definitely want to try this again with a few tweaks.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baked Mac & Cheese -11/13

We have a friend who is a great BBQ caterer.  His name is Franko aka CAPTAIN BBQ!!! He makes a killer Mac & Cheese.  I, Sara,  wouldn't ask for the recipe but I sure do eat wayyy too much of it any time we have him cater an event.  The best part about his Mac & Cheese?  Goldfish crackers on the top.  MMM DELICIOUS!

So I decided to look around the internet for a baked recipe.  I came across Alton Brown's recipe.  It is made with Panko Bread crumbs.  Panko is a Japanese type of light, crisp breadcrumb.  It creates a crunchy crust because it is coarser than most breadcrumbs. 

I liked this recipe because it was simple and thought it would be tasty. The simple part was right, except we did have to look up how to Temper an egg.  Which in case you don't know either: it is when you take the egg and slowly add the warmer ingredients to it until the egg is at the same temperature and that way you don't scramble the egg by adding it in directly to the warm mixture.

We did get to make a Roux which was fun. We did this before for the souffle and it seems a bit much for mac and cheese but it makes us feel fancy.

I have to admit...  I do like the taste of onions but I don't like how they make me cry.  I have tried a lot of tricks but it doesn't seem to work.  I have decided that onions are the reason I am a baker cause you don't need them in the sweet stuff.

This is the onions, paprika, creams and everything mixed together. Doesn't look to yummy, does it?
All in all the ingredients went together quite easily.  When it came out of the oven it smelled good but a little oniony.  I think, next time we will need to use a milder onion and a variety of cheese to mix it up a bit.

Also, we were going to Disneyland immediately after this to see the Christmas decorations and maybe we were thinking a little too much about that. Our photography most evidently suffered. The mac and cheese was called "fabulous" by our friend Annie but we think that was because she got a free meal out of it. Anyway, we promise no more photos without flash. Don't know what got into us.

Lessons learned:  More Cheese = Better Mac N Cheese?  Who knows?  We will have to try again.  Might have to just change it up and go with Gold Fish Crackers.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Birthday Baking: Kate 10/31

Our friend Kate's birthday falls on Halloween. It was a double whammy holiday that we had to bake something for. We've already made halloween cookies so, we decided to do something a little more Kate specific. She was having a party to celebrate both so we knew that the treats would be enjoyed. We toyed with the idea of cupcakes but then settled on Cake Pops. We had a few ideas of our own but after secretly talking to Kate's boyfriend Dennis, we had a clear vision of what to do: One Piece cake pops.

Now, we'll be honest here. We had no idea what "One Piece" is before talking to Dennis. We knew about some of Kate's interests including anime but were unaware that her favorite show is "One Piece" and that it is a pretty popular show. This made it lots easier doing research cause there's info all over the internet for it.
Dennis told us that making a straw hat would be perfect for Kate. It's the hat that the main character, Luffy wears as he leads the straw hat pirates. 

During our research, we came across another character called Tony Tony Chopper. He looks very cute and seems quite popular throughout the net. His hat is quite distinctive and we thought that it would be a good pairing with Luffy's.

We decided to use Nilla wafers for the base of the hats. This worked out pretty well. We drilled a hole in the center of each wafer with a wooden BBQ skewer. We were happy to find out that most wafers stayed intact with a delicate touch. :o) 
Luffy's hat is round while Chopper's is tall. We molded them accordingly and then dipped them in their candy melts. 
Luffy's was yellow with a red twizzler ribbon around the base. Chopper's was pink, with a little bit of red food coloring added to enhance the color with pretzels attached for the antlers.

Cake pops are a lot of work. Bakerella, the cake pop Queen says to allow a few hours to make them. It took every bit of that few hours and there were 2 of us working on them. We'd say they're every bit worth it though. We thought they came out great. Kate really liked them, both look and taste. We'd do it again if we had the chance.

Lessons learned: Vegetable shortening helps so much when it comes to making candy melts workable. Couldn't have done this without it. Also, Erin is good at melting the candy, Sara is good at applying it. We make a great team, not that we didn't know that already.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Baking Tool Giveaway!!

Hello there loyal readers! We've hooked up with CSN Stores to bring you a chance at free stuff. We've also been informed about the great sites that CSN Stores has. They have a large selection. From console tables to baking tools. We were happy to find that they have very competitive prices and the next time we're in the market for a new baking dish or tool, we're going there first!
So what do we have for you? How about a set of tools that have made our lives so much easier when it comes to portioning out cookie dough and cupcake batter? It's a small and medium size OXO Cookie scoop. When it comes to having equally sized cookies there's no greater tool. We've also learned that these can be used for portioning out cupcake batter as well. It really does make life easier. And OXO really is a quality brand. This is a great way to close out National Cookie Month.

So, go ahead and leave a comment and tell us what your favorite cookie is. We'll use a random # generator to decide the winner. For the record, we're partial to chocolate chip or peanut butter. Good luck! Update: Sorry, forgot to add a few details. We're a little sleep deprived. This is open to US and Canadian readers only. Also the cut off is Wednesday, the 3rd at midnight.

Ice Box Cookies - 10/20

**We're sorry that we haven't kept up with our posting. October gets to be a busy time of year for us. We've been hanging out with these guys:

More on that below.

When we were growing up, we used to have ice box cookies from our local bakery all the time.  The best part about them was how colorful they were.  Since we started this baking odyssey, I(Sara) have been looking for some recipe that was similar to those cookies.  I found one on Martha's site.  I know, I know, we are very pro Martha.  It is only because she seems to have a great team of people thoroughly testing her recipes and the end product is always pretty tasty.

When I read this recipe, especially since it says to involve your kids, I thought it can't be that hard can it?  We don't have a bench scrapper and for some reason the dough came out really sticky no matter how much flour we used.  So I attempted to stack my lopsided squares of dough to make the spirals of chocolate and orange.

I left the rolled dough in the fridge overnight and used the thread cutting method.  It worked really well.  I think this would have been an useful step for when I made the earl grey cookies for the third quarterly challenge, then my cookies would have been perfectly round.

 The cookies took the whole 15 minutes to bake.  I thought the dough tasted a lot better than the finished product but they sure looked pretty festive.  I brought them to the train park where Erin and I are volunteering and there weren't many left at the end of the night.  By the way...  If you are in the Los Angeles Area, come check out The Ghost Train.  The info is here.  They put on a great event every year and it is a fun, inexpensive way to celebrate Halloween.

Lessons learned: Martha may not always be right but I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  String or dental floss is a great way to cut ice box/shortbread cookies.  Even if the recipe says have your kids help, it doesn't necessarily mean it's an easy recipe.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Banana Bread for Baby Beckett 10/12

We've been doing a lot of baking this year but nothing compared to Sara's best friend Briana, who has had a different kind of bun in the oven. To celebrate the birth of Briana and Brian's baby boy Beckett, we baked banana bread. Too much alliteration? Too bad, too late. 
We had a lot of fun with this one (if you couldn't tell already.) There's a lot of fun to be had with bananas.

It can also be dangerous though, so you should always be careful with them.

We chose the recipe from the website because we've liked other recipes from there. We did omit the nuts though cause we're already going bananas with the bananas, we don't know what would happen with the nuts.

We mashed the bananas and that was perfect cause it ended up looking like baby food, not that Beckett could eat it. Its the same dilemma as with Oliver's Cupcakes but at least the new parents will be able to appreciate it. 

The wet ingredients mixed with the dry ingredients and you can't tell from this picture, but they smelled really good. Imagine vanilla, cinnamon and banana. That doesn't sound great, but it is.

We made 2 so that we could taste one and freeze the other, then FedEx it off to the newly enlarged family. Gotta taste it. It's very important.

As you can see, we used one glass dish and one metal one. This would have been a good experiment in seeing the difference if one wasn't slightly bigger than the other. The metal one did take longer to bake but they both came out great.

Lessons learned: This was easy and fun. We gotta bake with fruit more often. We will get it eventually. :o)