Saturday, February 8, 2014

Buttercream as Easy as 1 - 2 - 3

It's no secret that I have, shall we say, limited skills when it comes to any type of decorating with icing. You can imagine how tickled I was when my cups for the Super Bowl potluck at work turned out. I have to confess, I wasn't necessarily following either team in this year's big game. Seattle's colors were chosen for the frosting simply because I wanted to sprinkle Skittles on the cups after discovering Skittles were associated with the Seahawks (why, I still don't know). They turned out pretty well, didn't they?

For these cups, I used a box mix. My preference in box mixes is Duncan Hines, especially the white mix.

I frosted the cups with a buttercream recipe I've been using for years. I know there are many buttercream frosting recipes available and I've tried several variations, but this is my favorite. It's a very simple recipe.

One tip when making this recipe:  be sure the powdered (confectioners) sugar is soft and fluffy. You'll have better results, if the sugar hasn't hardened.

My Favorite Buttercream Frosting

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup shortening (I prefer Crisco)

1 tsp. vanilla (I use a butter/vanilla flavoring)

3 - 4 tbsp. milk

1 lb. powdered (confectioners) sugar

Cream the butter and shortening; add the vanilla. Next, add all of the sugar and 3 tbsp. of milk. Begin by mixing on low (about 30 seconds to one minute) and, as the ingredients become incorporated, turn mixer up to a medium speed. If needed, add more milk - one teaspoon at a time - until buttercream reaches the desired consistency. At this point, you can tint the buttercream to the desired color using food coloring dyes, pastes or gels.

If you are icing a , you'll want a less stiff consistency so the buttercream is easier to spread. If you will be piping a design, then you'll want the buttercream to be a stiffer consistency. I used a medium consistency for the cup design, but - because I couldn't locate my 1M tip - I used a smaller star tip.

To swirl two colors of the buttercream frosting like I did on these cups, just follow the directions found at this LINK. This technique is very forgiving for producing a two-toned effect and you'll also find some great decorating ideas, too.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

I'm back (finally)!

I was mortified when I looked at the date of my last post (please, don't scroll down). So much has changed since that date and I just kept telling myself, "you'll be back to blogging just as soon as you get caught up and done with ___ training - school - training ___."

So, where was I and what was I doing during my prolonged absence? Well, I started what I thought was a part-time job at South Dakota's first (and, so far, only) Costco which - in reality - turned out to be a full-time experience. FYI - I'm no longer at Costco. Don't get me wrong. I loved my time at Costco and I'm pretty sure I'll be a life-long member, but it just wasn't for me.

During my time at Costco, I made a decision to take a break from classes. I know what you're thinking, but it really has turned out to be a good decision. And I will return soon to complete my degree in psychology.

As the proverbial door closed at Costco, a window opened at Citibank. I finished training to be an account specialist right before the holidays and have just finished my first full month on what I believe is the best team in the entire company. Officially, we are known as Team XXXX, but we are informally known, on the floor, as Team Potluck. I truly believe we are the envy of all the other teams!

Now that I've acclimated to my new position, I'm back to cooking, baking, crafting, and blogging! I've got some great recipes and fun projects to share with you in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and . . . .

THANKS, again for hanging in there and waiting for me to return!!!

Bow-Tie Pasta with Chicken, Carrots & Bacon

Serves:  4

2 cups uncooked bow-tie pasta

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut across the grain into thin slices

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup baby carrots, cut lengthwise into quarters

1/4 cup water (I used the juice from the diced tomatoes)

1 - 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

4 tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

chopped parsley, for serving

Bring a large pot of cold, salted water to a boil. I use a good amount of salt in my pasta water (think ocean water) because this is the first chance to add flavor to the pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions. When done cooking, drain, and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until browned and crisp - about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove bacon from skillet and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside. Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

Add the chicken to the skillet, season with the salt, and cook until browned on both sides - about 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds; add carrots and water (or juice from tomatoes, if you like). Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the diced tomatoes with the Italian seasoning and pepper. Pour tomatoes over chicken and carrots; stir well to combine. 

Add the pasta to the chicken-tomato mixture and heat through.

To serve, spoon pasta onto a plate or serving platter, if serving family-style, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (which, you can see in the photo, I forgot) and parsley.

Beef and pork also work well in place of the chicken.


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Monday, September 2, 2013

Good-Bye Summer, Hello Fall!

Many people say good-bye to summer with a Labor Day picnic. This year, we decided to host a brunch instead of having a picnic or barbecue. And, without a doubt, the centerpiece of the brunch was the recipe I'm sharing today:  Caramel-Apple Cinnamon Buns. Not only are these tasty treats the perfect way to say farewell to summer, they're the perfect way to say hello to fall!

I first saw this recipe in my latest King Arthur Flour catalog. Since then, I've discovered these amazing buns are quite popular on Pinterest, as well. If you do a search for this recipe, you'll find - like I did - that there are many different recipes. I've always had great results with any King Arthur Flour recipe, so that's the one I'm sharing with you today.

Before I get to the recipe, I also want to share a link to make your own parchment paper wrappers. I live in the largest city in South Dakota, but couldn't find these particular wrappers anywhere. You'll definitely want to use this style of wrapper, if you're making these buns individually in a muffin tin. Again, if you do a search for DIY parchment wrappers, you'll find many different sizes. My advice? For the best results, use a 7-inch square. You can find the instructions I used HERE.

Now, on to the recipe!

To begin, click HERE for the recipe. I mixed the dough in a stand mixer, but you could certainly use a bread machine or mix by hand. The recipe was a little vague in terms of mixing instructions, so I'm including my technique below, along with a couple of adjustments I made. You can use whatever method works best for you.

King Arthur Flour's Caramel-Apple Buns

  • combine 1 - 1/4 cups bread flour, the potato flakes (I didn't have potato flour on hand, so I used the flakes - they worked great), the sugar, yeast, and salt in the mixing bowl.
  • I omitted the granular lecithin (again, I didn't have any)
  • heat the milk to lukewarm (I did this in the microwave for about 30 seconds - times may vary by microwaves)
  • add the butter to the warmed milk and set aside (just until the butter begins to melt)
  • pour the milk/butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until the ingredients are thoroughly combined
  • slightly beat the egg and add to the dough, along with the vanilla (I used vanilla instead of the Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor)
  • add more bread flour to achieve a slightly tacky dough (at this point I had switched over to the dough hook and added flour a 1/2 cup at-a-time - in the end, I used about 2 - 1/2 cups of bread flour in my dough)
  • continue kneading for approximately 5 minutes until the dough is smooth
  • place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel; place in a draft-free place to rise (approximately 1 - 1/2 hours)
  • while the dough was proofing, I made the parchment paper wrappers and apple-cinnamon filling
  • I finished making the buns per the instructions at King Arthur Flour, but did not use the walnuts
  • the process of cutting the filled dough into buns was a little messy, but completely worth it!
  • you can add as much caramel sauce to your buns as you like!

I'm already busy brainstorming other "methods" for this recipe!



Sunday, September 1, 2013

What a Little "Pressure" Can Do

I am a kitchen appliance junkie. I freely admit this. Whenever I go into a department store, I head straight for the kitchen section and you can find me either looking at utensils (can you ever really have enough and don't they make some fantastic utensils?) or appliances. You can imagine my intrigue, when I saw a Facebook post from a fellow foodie showing off her new pressure cooker. Upon checking it out, I discovered that said pressure cooker also had a slow cooking feature (of sorts). After reading all about the pressure cooker and realizing my oven also has a slow cooking feature, it didn't take long for me to begin looking at my trusty slow cooker in a diminished light. 

Long story short, I gave my slow cooker to my daughter and purchased the pressure cooker. It arrived just the other day and had perfect delivery timing. I just started school and a new job, so the phrase "fast s" has taken on whole new meaning.

Isn't she (all of my appliances are female) beautiful?

For the maiden voyage of the new pressure cooker, I decided to make one of our favorite slow cooker recipes, so I would have a good reference point for comparison. I made Easy Pork Ribs (sans the slow cooker). All you need to make these tasty ribs is:

2 - 3 lbs. country-style pork ribs (thawed, if using a slow cooker)

salt and pepper

pinch of red pepper flakes

1 - 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola (you can use Pepsi, but I have better results with Coke)

barbeque sauce (use your favorite kind)

To make these ribs (in a pressure cooker or slow cooker), all you need to do is sprinkle both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper (pork loves salt, so you can be somewhat generous). Place the ribs in the pressure cooker (or slow cooker) and sprinkle the red pepper flakes over the ribs. Pour the entire can of Coke over the ribs and cover. If slow cooking, you'll want to cook the ribs on the low temperature setting for about 6 to 8 hours. BUT! if you are pressure cooking, not only can you start out with frozen ribs (which is what I did), you will only be cooking them for about 30 - 40 minutes. Follow the instructions for use included with your pressure cooker, for best results. I initially set my timer for 30  minutes, but after checking them, decided I wanted mine just a little more tender, so I reset the timer for an additional 10 minutes.

As you can see from the photo above, the end cooking results were more than good! I was completely satisfied with how well the pressure cooker performed.

To finish the ribs, just remove the ribs from the cooking chamber, drain the liquid, and return the ribs to the chamber. Pour as much barbeque sauce as you like over the ribs and continue cooking on low (for a slow cooker) or "keep warm" (for the pressure cooker) until the ribs are heated through. 

In the meantime, you can prepare your side dishes. In the interest of a fast , I served french fries and green beans with our ribs.

The entire cooking process (side dishes and all), took about 45 minutes. And, I'm happy to report, I didn't notice a difference in the taste or texture of the ribs. I'm thrilled with the results and have moved on to what else I can make in the pressure cooker!



Friday, August 9, 2013

The Summer Harvest Continues: Southwestern Steak Salad

Fresh vegetables are plentiful this time of year and I never seem to tire of them! Salads are some of my family's favorite s. They come together relatively quickly and they're perfect for warm summer days or nights.

When I make this salad, I start the day before I want to serve it. The vinaigrette and the relish are better the following day because the ingredients have had a chance to "marry" and they produce a better flavor.

If you don't want to make the Southwestern Vinaigrette, you can always substitute Italian salad dressing in its place. You will need about 3/4 to 1 cup of the salad dressing.

The great thing about salads is that you can add or change any of the ingredients and still have a great . And this recipe is no exception! I've prepared this salad using chicken instead of steak, changed the lettuce varieties, added more peppers (for more heat!), and used different salad dressings to finish.

Southwestern Steak Salad

Serves:  4

1 lb. Flank or Round Steak

Southwestern Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Salad Mix (any variety - we like the romaine blends)

Sweet Corn & Black Bean Relish (recipe below)

corn tortilla strips, optional

I usually grill or broil the steak for this recipe, but you can prepare it any way you like.

Preheat your grill or oven (broiler). Brush both sides of the steak with the reserved (1/4 cup) of the Southwestern Vinaigrette. Grill over medium-high indirect heat or broil, brushing the steak with the reserved vinaigrette as it cooks. I generally cook the steak for about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare, but you can cook your steak to your liking. Once the steak has finished cooking, let it rest on a platter or cutting board for 10 minutes. Discard any of the vinaigrette you used to marinade the steak while it was cooking.

While the steak is resting, assemble your salad. You can serve this family style or on individual plates. Divide the salad mix (as much as you would like) and place it on a platter or plates. Sprinkle with corn tortilla strips, if you are using them. Slice the steak into strips and place on top of the salad mix and tortilla strips on the platter or divide among the individual plates in the same manner. Top with the Sweet Corn & Black Bean relish (as much as you prefer). Finish the salad preparation with some of the Southwestern Vinaigrette and you are ready to serve!

Sweet Corn & Black Bean Relish

3 ears sweet corn, husked & silk removed

1 Anaheim, Poblano or Jalapeno pepper

1 large red pepper

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup black beans, drained

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (or 2 tbsp. dried, if you don't have fresh available)

1/4 to 1/2 cup Southwestern Vinaigrette (recipe below)

salt, to taste (add a little at a time)

Preheat your grill (or light the charcoal, if not using gas) to medium-high heat. Brush the ears of sweet corn, the Anaheim pepper, and the red pepper will olive oil. Place the corn and peppers near the flame, if possible. Grill, turning occasionally, until the skin of the peppers blacken and the kernel on the ears of corn become golden brown. 

When done, place the peppers in a large piece of aluminum foil and seal to form a little package. Set the peppers aside for 10-20 minutes.

While the peppers are "sweating", cut the kernels of corn from the ears. Place the kernels in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Remove the peppers from the foil. Using a paper towel, rub the blackened skin from the pepper as gently as possible. Once you have removed and discarded the blackened skin, cut open the peppers and remove the seeds and veins; discard. Cut the peppers into strips and dice into even pieces. Add the peppers to the corn in the mixing bowl.

Finish the relish by adding the black beans, fresh cilantro and the Southwestern Vinaigrette. I start with a little vinaigrette and add more, as needed. Taste and add salt - a little at a time - until it is to your liking.

Refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to serve.

Southwestern Vinaigrette

    2 tbsp. lime juice (freshly squeezed is best, but bottled is OK)

    1/4 cup olive oil

    1/4 cup vinegar 

    2 tbsp. water

    1 tbsp. honey

    1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

    1 clove garlic, finely minced

    1/2 tsp. dried oregano

    1/2 tsp. salt

    1/2 tsp. black pepper

    1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, if you would like more heat)

Place all the ingredients in a container with a lid that forms a good seal (mason jars, small Tupperware or Rubbermaid containers are good) and shake vigorously until all the ingredients are well combined. Reserve 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette in another lidded container (to brush on the steak while it is grilling or broiling). Refrigerate both containers of vinaigrette until ready to use. Be sure to shake well before using.


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