9.30.2013

Life. It'll Get Ya.

.  Yep, it will.  Right when things are going along as planned, life throws it's little twists and turns your way.  But that always seems to happen, huh?  Right when you least expect it...

Think about that one for a little while.

And while you do, you can read about what's been going on in my life as of late.  Nothing too exciting, actually, but just things I'd like to recap.  Because this is my blog, so I can ☺

Let's see...we're going to have to go back a couple of weeks to Labor Day weekend.  Okay, more like a month but who's counting?


For the long weekend, I ventured on up to Minnesota to visit with my fam that I don't get to see enough.  We didn't really have any plans but to do some shopping, relax, catch up with each other, and of course, hit up the best place on Earth: the State Fair.  

I'm fairly certain I've mentioned my childhood memories of the state fair before.  For whatever reason [I think my dad may plan it this way] we've always lived in states that have huuuuuuuuge State Fairs [i.e., Washington State and Minnesota], so they've always been a big event for me.  While I was in college, I wasn't ever able to get back home for the Great Minnesota Get-Together because of softball, but since graduation I've taken full advantage of my freedom.    

So what is it that you do at the fair all day, you ask?  Well...you eat.  And eat.  And you don't give a darn about the amount of calories you're eating.  Not sure if you've heard, but calories don't exist at fairs.  It's great.


Anywho, the absolute best thing we ate had to be the Deep Fried Mashed Potato Balls.  Okay, sounds heart-stopping but ugh, they were good.  It was the one item we all went gaga over and definitely could have had a second round of those suckers.  It was basically a fried ball of the most rich, buttery mashed potatoes possible with little chunks of bacon and ham.  And I'm not even a bacon fan, so these must have been as good as I'm saying!

I could recap all of the other items we indulged in [e.g., deep fried pickles, foot long hot dog, elephant ear] but you'd probably get a little grossed out.  And I don't want to do that to ya...

But all in all, my parents and I had an absolutely wonderful time filled with laughter and full tummies.  I seriously can't get enough of those two sometimes.  Can't wait for next year!!


Two weekends later, I flew back to Omaha to co-host Hollyann's bridal shower.  I had planned her bridal shower long before I ever had an inkling I'd be moving to Chicago, but thankfully her good friend, Angela, offered to host the shower at her house since I no longer had a place in town.  

The tropical- themed shower turned out wonderfully [and I hope her friends and relatives had a lovely time], but I'll be honest: the preparation part was a little hectic.  I flew in late Friday night and managed to whip up a couple of dips and the cake part of the Hummingbird Cupcakes [Hollyann's favorite].  Then early Saturday morning I made the rounds to Costco to get the rest of the food, Party City for decorations, plates, silverware, and glasses, and then traveled back to Angela's to drop everything off before I headed back home to finish the cupcakes, chop some fruit for the Ham and Pineapple Sliders, and get myself semi-presentable [which didn't quite happen].


Fortunately, Angela did a beautiful job of setting up most everything before I made it back to her house and just in time for the guests to begin arriving.  By that time, everything seemed to settle down a bit and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.  We had some wonderful food, a fun bridal shower game, and of course presents galore for the bride.  It was an absolute whirlwind of a weekend but worth every minor stress to see Hollyann positively glowing and really in her element with all of her closest relatives and friends.  

Just this last week, Hollyann and her fiance, Brandon, were in Curacao where they had a private wedding ceremony and spent the next week 10 days in wedded bliss on the stunning shores of the Caribbean island.  Jealous much?!


Most recently, two weekends ago to be exact, I had the pleasure of getting together with my absolute favorite people in this world: my family.  My aunt and her family live in Naperville, IL, which is about 40-some odd minutes outside of Chicago.  My younger cousin, Larissa, had her homecoming dance this last weekend I was invited out to help her get ready.  Granted, I did absolutely nothing but watch my [not so young anymore] cousin get ready and curled a few strands of her hair in the back of her head that she couldn't quite reach.  But other than that, I was useless.  However, it was such a joy just being a part of her special day.

Unfortunately, I haven't been a part of Riss' life as much as I would like simply because of distance.  So now that I'm a stone's throw away, I fully intend of visiting her and her family more often.  Gotta take advantage of this while I can.  Sorry Aunt Sandy if I invite myself over for dinner  ten too many times ☺

But damn...did I feel old!  My aunt and I took Riss to her pictures before the dance, which included a huge group of high school seniors and a few kids Riss' age, and it hit me like a ton of bricks how far removed I am from high school.  Not in a bad way...but I basically felt like wrinkles is the next thing I have to look forward to.


And the dresses?  Were they for real?!  Fancy schmancy!  Blinged out to the nines.  I remember being like that for Prom!  But then again, our homecoming consisted of tie-dye, football, and a hoppin' dance after we lost.  So I guess that's not much comparison.

But Riss looked ever so beautiful and had a darling date to accompany her.  From what I gathered, she had a wonderful time and I felt so blessed to be able to take one hundred too many pictures of her.  Thanks, Chi-town!

Okay, that's enough for one post.  This last weekend marked the beginning of a jam packed month, so you can bet I'll be posting more life updates.  Yay for you guys!  Just kidding.

I hope you all have a lovely Monday though.  Happy Fall!  .

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9.23.2013

Secret Recipe Club: Apple Peanut Butter Bars

.  Okay...so you might be thinking that's a different combination?

I mean, people eat apples and peanut butter before workouts though, right?  But I'll give it to ya, you don't usually find these two ingredients together in a baked goodie.  Or at least I've never stumbled across it...


So thank the good Lord for my September SRC assignment, 365 Days of Baking and More by Lynne, for introducing me to one of the most nostalgic [takes me back to school days], addicting bars I've had in quite some time.

But first, let's talk 365.  Because I was absolutely giddy the second I saw which blog I was assigned this month.  And I'm sure you can guess why?

Out of all of my SRC assignments thus far, I have yet to have one that is also strictly a baking blog.  Can you ba-lieve that?!  Yes, I've absolutely adored each and every assignment I've had because les' be honest, I've gotten some damn good recipes [e.g., Grasshopper Bars, Christmas Cake Truffles, Danish Puff, and more].


But this time, I didn't have to do an inkling of researching to hunt down any baking recipes.  Because they were all. right. there.  And this time around, I had an extra hard time narrowing down my options because there were just so many treats!  Who can resist Pumpkin Biscuits with Cinnamon Honey Butter, Banana Bread French Toast, Chocolate Caramel Macchiato Cake Balls, and Salted Caramel Thumbprints.

And to make matters slightly 'worse', this blog does have some enticing cooking recipes that also got me thinking.  Albeit I have no cooking skills, don't Basil Baked Salmon, Baked Ravioli with Bechamel Sauce, and Apple Cheese Chicken sound deee-lish?  Yes, yes they do.

But for whatever reason [I'm thinking it was the apple/peanut butter combo], I couldn't pass up the Apple Peanut Butter Bars.  Oh yeah, and possibly Lynne's husbands' reaction when he took a chomp out of these bars: "Oh my God, what the hell are these?!  These are unbelievable...!"


And that is a direct quote.  Check the bottom of Lynne's post ☺

And without even knowing him, I already like Lynne's hubby because he was spot on with this recipe.

The best way [that I can think of] to describe these bars is to compare them to the most chewy peanut butter cookies you've ever had.  And in some spots where the tart apple pieces reside, you get an almost fudge-like texture.  No joke.  And to top it off, a creamy, uber peanut buttery glaze is drenched across the top.  I'll be honest, I couldn't get enough of that glaze.  And if you have kiddos, these bars will be right up their alley.  Throw them in their lunch boxes for school and you've have one happy child.  Or keep them at home for your own personal snack.  Either or.

Thanks again, Lynne, for a recipe I completely devoured thoroughly enjoyed and shared with everyone.  Happy baking, everyone!  .


My Notes:
  • Lynne's recipe was adapted from the original by substituting the peanut butter glaze with a pecan topping and also layering the apples rather than incorporating them in pieces.  I was being lazy and decided to just stir the apple pieces in and I also didn't have any pecans on hand, so I went with the peanut butter glaze.  Either way, you'll love 'em.

Adapted from 365 Days of Baking and More

Ingredients:
Apple Peanut Butter Bars:
1/2 c. unsalted butter
2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2-1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced to bite-sized pieces

Peanut Butter Glaze:
1-1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. milk
1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 13x9-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar, stirring constantly until smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until creamy.  Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, to the peanut butter mixture, mixing well after each addition.  Add vanilla extract and stir to combine.  Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until batter is smooth.  Fold in apple pieces.
  5. Transfer batter to prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake 30 minutes or until edges are slightly browned.  Remove pan from oven and set aside to cool.
  6. For peanut butter glaze, combine powdered sugar, milk, peanut butter, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.  Drizzle or evenly spread the glaze across the top of the bars.  Cut and serve.
Yield: 2 dozen bars

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9.08.2013

Apple Spice Layer Cake with Caramel Mascarpone Frosting

.  Well that title sure is a mouthful!

But a mouthful of this cake and you won't really care how long the title is.  All you'll be thinking is that it's one good cake.  One Fabulous.  Dense.  Rich.  Fall-ey.  Cake.


But let's rewiiiind a bit.  Because you're probably wondering why I would spend a good chunk of a beautiful Sunday indoors slaving away over this cake.  Well...I guess you do crazy things for those special people in your life.

Okay, cheesy.  Barf.


But for reals.  Robbie's birthday was August 18th [hey, a late post is better than none at all!] and he requested an apple cake for the big 2-7.  So while he and his brother, Danny [who flew in for the night on his way to his new home in NYC], went to a Cub's game, I spent the afternoon with the pups baking one of the best quality cakes I've ever made.  Ever.

Now I realize I say this quite a bit, but I'm always amazed at the superb quality of recipes I find on the world wide web.  And granted there might be a botch or two in between, but it seems that the recipes just keep getting better.  And better.  And better.

Props to you, bloggers.


So let me explain this decadent treat.

The cake itself is dense, as I said earlier.  Filled with bits of tart apple and spiced to perfection with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger.  Not quite sure you could fit one more spice in there actually.  Now that's what I call Fall.

Moving on to the frosting.  The Caramel Mascarpone Frosting, that is.  It's quite lovely.  The classic frosting is mixed with a homemade [easy peasy] caramel sauce that really brings the cake to an entirely new level.  And to top it off, toasted pecans line the outside.  Along with a slathering of that homemade caramel sauce.  I mean, if you think about it, this cake is really like a huge, fat, gourmet caramel apple.  Yeah, basically.  But not.

Yes, Robbie got to eat his homemade birthday cake while watching a football game AFTER coming home from the baseball game.  Spoiled...

You get the idea.

Regardless, I absolutely adore this cake.  And fortunately for you, I whipped up this post just time for Fall baking season and the food frenzy we call the 'holidays' [okay, I realize they're still a couple of months away but it's just never too early!].  It's truly a show-off-my-baking-skills goodie and who doesn't want to impress the relatives?!  That's what I thought.

Anywho, hope you're all having a wonderful weekend wherever you are.  Happy baking!  .

My Notes:
  • As you'll see below in the ingredients list, the recipe calls for two batches of the caramel sauce.  But PLEASE NOTE, you must double the caramel sauce ingredients here to get two batches if you want to use the caramel in the frosting as well as on top of the cake.  Please and thank you.
  • Make sure to let the caramel sauce completely cool before adding into the frosting.  I think I added it a bit too early [shocked that my patience got the best of me...?] and my frosting ended up a touch runny.


Ingredients:
Salted Butter Caramel Sauce:
1 c. sugar
6 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

Spiced Apple Cake:
1-1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 c. sugar
2 tbsp. molasses
6 eggs
3 c. cake flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 c. sour cream
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Mascarpone Frosting:
2 batches of the Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
1-1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp. heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 c. powdered sugar
1 c. mascarpone
2 c. chopped pecans, toasted

Directions:
  1. For the caramel sauce, melt the sugar over medium to high heat in a large pot, whisking to make sure the sugar heats evenly and is a dark copper color.
  2. Add butter, whisking continuously.  When the butter has melted and incorporated, turn off the stove and pour in the heavy whipping cream.  The mixture will foam and rise but continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth.
  3. Pour the sauce into a glass bowl and set aside to cool until ready to use.
  4. For the cake, heat oven to 350°F.  Grease two or three 9-inch cake pans depending on your preference and/or the size of the cake pans [if they're deep, you can most likely just use two].  Line each pan with parchment paper.
  5. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar together until light and fluffy [about three minutes].  Beat in molasses, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add eggs, one at a time, thoroughly incorporating each egg.
  6. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger.  Add sour cream and flour mixture alternately to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour.  Drain the shredded apples a bit and stir into the batter along with the vanilla extract.
  7. Split the batter evenly among the cake pans.  If using two cake pans, put on the same rack in the oven.  Bake 35 to 40 minutes if using three pans or 50 to 55 minutes if using two, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes before unmolding to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. For the icing, cream the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy [about three minutes].  Add the powdered sugar over low speed until combined.  Then add heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract.  Increase speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy [about three minutes].  Add mascarpone and beat over low speed just until incorporated.  Take one batch of caramel and stir into frosting, using large strokes to create swirls.  
  10. To assemble, place one cake layer on a serving plate and spread icing over the top.  Top with the second cake and repeat.  Cover the cake with an even layer of frosting.  Pat the toasted pecans onto the sides of the cake.  Melt your second batch of caramel to just room temperature.  Pour the second batch of caramel over the top and, using a spoon, spread it almost to the sides of the cake.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Yield: 16 servings

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