Secret Recipe Club: Raspberry Crumb Bars

.  With all of the chaos and massive changes going on in my life right now, it's nice to have some constants.  Something comforting, something that I can rely on to always be there.

I've been a part of the SRC for some time now, perusing through someone else's blog each month to find the perfect recipe to share with you all.    So even though I am now in a brand new city, in a brand new 'home', and starting a brand new job, saying it was nice to come back to the familiar SRC would be an understatement.  So let's jump right in to this month's go-around!

For July I was assigned Mele Cotte, written by the lovely Christina [Chris], who named her blog so because her mom's baked apples [the literal Italian translation] were her favorite dessert growing up.  Great, huh?!

Growing up in the Boston area, Chris was surrounded by her family of experienced Italian cooks,  homemade, quality food has always been at the center of every aspect in her life.  And through blogging, Chris has taken the opportunity to create new recipes using only what she has on hand!  I give her props...

If you get the chance to browse through her vast collection of mouthwatering recipes, you'll get that homey, comfort food, Italian flare, feeling I was telling you about.  So picking out just one recipe to test out this month was rather difficult, seeing as Pasta Crab Casserole, Pimento Cheese Brulee, and Four Cheese Stuffed Shells, were a-callin' my name.

But as usual, I had to stick to LSM roots [which kind of tells me I need to branch out a bit...] and went with a summery dessert: Raspberry Crumb Bars.

I pride LSM on the fact that I try to stick to seasonal recipes.  But looking back on this summer, that has not been the case.  Not really sure what it's been, but I've only taken on a small handful of summer treats.  And that just isn't permissible.  So these cake-like bars were just the remedy.

If you try these bars out, I imagine you'll be sitting near a sun-lit window, drinking your morning, coffee, and indulging in this just-sweet-enough goodie.  And here's why...

The flavors of this recipe are very subtle, a barely-there cinnamoney cake-like-bar hosts the ripe, tart, juicy raspberries, topped with a crumble of the same cinnamoney-crust.  The cake mixture is barely sweetened, so you won't go into a sugar coma first thing in the morning.  And I'll tell you right now, the results of this recipe will only be as good as the fruit you put in it since the raspberries are the shining star.  So go all out!

But if you happen to not polish off the pan before breakfast is over, these bars will be the perfect snack to get you through the day.

So thanks, Chris, for a recipe that will get our fellow readers excited for the morning!  See you all for the next SRC!  .

My Notes:
  • I had an extra can of Lucky Leaf Raspberry Pie Filling in my cupboard, and because I didn't have any fresh raspberries on hand, I opted to use it.  I think the added sweetness and juices really made a difference, but if you want to go the fresh route [always a good choice!] then you'll need to combine 4 cups of fresh raspberries, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a small bowl, then spread over the crust.
  • If you don't have cardamom, you can substitute equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg.

Adapted from Mele Cotte

3 c. all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1 c. butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. almond extract
1 (21 oz.) can raspberry pie filling (or fruit filling of your choice)

  1. Heat oven to 375°F.  Grease a 9x9-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.  
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cardamom.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in eggs and almond extract.  Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
  3. Evenly spread the pie filling over the crust.  Sprinkle over remaining crumb mixture.  Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.  Cool on wire rack completely before cutting and serving.
Yield: 16 servings

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Chi-Town. It's Really Happening.

.  Gosh, can you believe it?!  Because Robbie and I are both still in a tornado of craziness, so I don't really think we've had enough time to even process this life-altering occurrence.  But busy or not, we're ecstatic for the move to Chicago and can't wait to see what this grand city has in store for us.

But let's back it up a bit and give you another update on what's been going on with our move.

Over the July 4th weekend, Robbie and I flew up to Chicago to search for a place to live.  We knew we wanted to be downtown but as for the area, not quite sure.  All we knew for sure was that the area had to be dog friendly [or as dog friendly as you can get in the city].  We also decided that we would rent for a year or so before diving into a long term purchase.  If you haven't read my previous posts, this turn around has been quick to say the very least, so we're trying to be smart about this and not rush into anything.  Proud of us?

In front of my new work building!

Our weekend started out chaotic and hair-pulling stressful a bit stressful but like champs, Robbie and I got it together.  After realizing that our supposed "realtor" ditched out on us Friday morning and therefore we wouldn't be seeing any places, Robbie and I conjured up a plan of renting Divvy bikes and literally biked around all of Chicago!  Along the way, we pointed out buildings we liked, Googled addresses, and called more leasing agents than I care to attempt to count.  Fortunately we were able to set up two viewings that day, both places very nice but so completely different.

At the end of the day, we were frustrated, tired, starving, and couldn't have gone back and forth on our options any more than we did.  I'll be honest, it was tad deflating.  But in all optimism, we had one more day in Chicago and an appointment set up with the Apartment People.  They were our only hope.

I'll be honest [yet again], we had about 0-1% hope of finding anything with this company.  For whatever reason [maybe the fact that the previous realtor went MIA], we were too skeptical but went in with a glimmer of hope.

The agent assigned to us, Bobby, was what you would expect from a Chicago-an realtor.  A bit loud, a bit aggressive, but he did seem genuine in finding us a place we would love.  We went through our criteria of what we needed in a place, searched through our limited options [due to the whole dog thing], and Bobby set up three viewings for us.  He was bummed that there wasn't much out there for us, but I think he tried to not let on to that point too much.

But the good Lord was with us that day and the first place we visited ended up being our dream apartment.  And we knew it the second we stepped into the keyless elevator.

Our new home!

500 Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Streeterville is a brand new building [it just opened up 9 weeks ago] in the heart of the hoppin' Chicago scenery with Navy Pier [literally] across the street, shopping [shopping, shopping] all but a couple of blocks away, and too many places for you to eat.  I could describe our apartment in detail but it would never do it justice.  The view, the aesthetics, and the ammenities are all things you must see in person to really appreciate.  But I will tell you that the kitchen is gorgeous, the entire place has hardwood floors, our view is quite beautiful, and best of all?  Beyond dog friendly building.  So you can bet that our children pups will be pampered to the nines.  Lucky devils.

  So whether we're ready or not, Robbie is taking me up to Chicago TODAY for our move-in to the new place tomorrow morning.  I don't start my job until July 22, so fortunately we'll have most of the week to get things settled as much as we can before he heads back for a bachelor party weekend in the Ozarks.

Our Penske truck is locked and loaded, so wish us luck on our long drive!  Love you guys!

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Up to My Knees in...Wedding Cupcakes.

.  And the updates continue...!

You may remember my post a couple of months back about a fellow UP employee who approached me about my baking hobby.  He indicated he had the pleasure of trying one of the cupcakes I made for a donation drive [the Nutella Cloud Cupcakes, to be exact] and that he absolutely loved them. So when talk of his daughter's wedding reception came about, he threw out the idea of hiring 'whoever made that cupcake' for the big day. And [shockingly], the bride accepted. So long story short, I became the official baker for a wedding reception

Ironically, I was engaged just a short time after this all happened so you can imagine the pressure I began to feel in not screwing this up. I mean, I would be absolutely devastated if for some reason my wedding cake/cupcakes turned out to be a complete failure. So there was no way I was letting that happen to this bride!

Fortunately the bride was not controlling nothing like me and put full trust in yours truly that I could deliver something presentable.  So with a few discussions here and there, flavors were decided rather easily, decorations and stands chosen, and when June 29th, rolled around, all was left up to me.

I've most definitely been pretty quiet about this monumental event in my baking career.  Probably because I was [a wee bit] nervous and in typical 'me' fashion, doubting that it would actually get pulled off.

But lo' and behold, we did it.

And not only was I ecstatic about the results, but the bride and her family also shared in my enthusiasm.  So I would say it was most definitely a success and job well done!

But don't think I'm trying to toot my own horn here.  I'm just over joyed with how this whole thing went down and thanks to my crafty, helpful friend Hollyann [aka Bacon Loving Girl], we managed to string together 3 cupcake trees, 300 cupcakes, and 300 toppers, to create a beautiful display of three different types of cupcakes [Nutella Cloud Cupcakes, (Better Than) Classic Vanilla Cupcakes, and Hummingbird Cupcakes] for this wedding reception.  So just let me be happy for a bit.

And because I was SO very happy with everything, I want to give a little shout out to some of the vendors I used for supplies.  I found myself being extremely cost conscious but also wanting to get the best products possible.  And I found the best of both worlds via the following channels:

  •  Costco: I used my Costco membership to buy a number of baking ingredients, but only for those in which it made sense.  So for example, I went to the regular grocery store for flour, sugar, etc. because let's be honest, I didn't need the 10 pound bags Costco sold (if I ever own my own bakery though, Costco is where it's at!).  But I did end up buying things like Nutella, vanilla extract, butter, and eggs, at Costco and I got some FABULOUS deals.  I needed those ingredients in mass quantities and you can't get better than the bulk prices at this place.  Score!
  • Cupcaketree.com: I stumbled upon this site for cupcake towers and I must say, uber pleased with the product!  The 'trees' are only cardboard but they're sturdy and I'll be using mine over and over again [that is, if I get another opportunity like this!].  You can also decorate them as you wish, tailoring them to the event you're using them for and they have loads of decorating ideas on their site.  When I bought them, the site also had a deal going on so I received free end caps, which I highly recommend, with the three pack of Mini Square Cupcaketrees the bride picked out.
  • American Celebrations: For an extra special touch, we opted to go with cupcake wrappers from this site.  The bride picked out the design she liked [Spanish Tile wrappers] in purple, grey, and ivory [the reception colors], and the rest is history!  My only complaint is that there was some kind of glitch in the shipping that I had to deal with, but fortunately the wrappers still made it to the house in time for the big event.  Crisis averted!
  • Etsy: I had to take full advantage of this business/blogging opportunity, so I ordered some clean, simple business cards [design to reflect LSM] from Mallory Hope Design on Etsy.  I was very pleased with the cards and Mallory was a joy to work with, providing numerous iterations of the card design until I got exactly what I wanted.  If I ever need more cards, I'll be going back to her! 

So if I must say it one more time, I absolutely loved the opportunity I was handed.  It's something I've always wanted to try but hey, not many chances come around when someone would take a chance on a novice baker.  For their wedding!  So I must say congratulations and thank you again to the happy bride and groom, and I hope you enjoyed the cupcakes as much as I did making them!  This is most definitley one for the books!  .

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Life Updates...More Updates?!

.  I know, right?  The ball I call life just keeps on rolling and for some reason, life is making it's way to lightnening speeds.  But you know what?  We deal with it and enjoy every moment.  Life would be boring without these crazy times, wouldn't it?  So I'm taking it all in.

So what do I have to update you on?  Well a couple of things.  But not just any things.  Some life changing things, one you may know about and one I've had to keep mum for a bit.  But now it's time to let it all out.

First things first.  Remember the baby shower I went to in Kansas City a couple of weekends back?  The one for Robbie's sister, Kelli?  Well guess what?  

Kelli and Brett's sweet little bundle of joy decided it was ready to get life going and so on Tuesday, June 25, Daniel Howard made his way into this world.  All 6 lbs. 7 oz. him!  And even though the little miracle showed up three weeks early, the newest Lauritsen is healthy, happy, and already at home with his loving parents.  

So I can't say it enough, but congratulations again to the new parents!  It's such a tremendously exciting time for Kelli and Brett and it's only just the beginning.  Hopefully once things begin to show signs of calming down I can make it down to KC to meet my [almost] very first nephew!  Crazy, huh?!

As you well know, our lives are constantly evolving.  Case in point, the brand new baby I just talked about.  But not only are others lives taking drastic turns, but it looks like things for Robbie and I are about to change.  In scenery, if you know what I mean.

That's right!  It's been kept on the DL for a little while now because we had to have time to figure everything out but now it's time to officially let the world know [because they really care, duh!] that...


Yayayayayayayayay!  Whew, that feels great to get off of my chest.  I've basically wanted to shout this announcement from the nearest mountain top, so it's such a relief to finally let it out!  Technically, it'll just be me moving to Chicago here shortly and Robbie will be following once things are ironed out at his work.  But regardless, now it looks like this newly engaged couple has a wedding to plan and a move to make happen.  Oh, and the move is taking place in two weeks.  WOO!

This is from 2006 when we made our very first trip together ever...and it was to Chicago!  My, do we look young!

Chicago is our absolute favorite city in the country and basically since we met it's been in the back of our minds that we've always wanted to move there.  So [probably subconsciously] this has been something we've been working towards for some time.  And both of us agree that it's a bit surreal right now.  I don't think until we're living in Chicago will we really believe it's happening.  We're actually heading to the big city tonight [yippee!] to search for places to live.  So keep your fingers crossed that we find something this weekend, otherwise this girl will be going into panic mode...

So for now that's all I have for you.  I can pretty much guarantee posts will be few and far between for the next month or more since Robbie and I will be searching for a place to live in Chicago, moving, starting a new job [for me], and trying to regain a grip on our [whirlwind] life.

But hopefully somewhere in the next few weeks I can bombard with you some more updates.  There's been so much going on lately and I can't wait to share!!  .  

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