Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crumb Cake Muffins

I'm testing out new muffin flavors, since it seems I always settle on the same three or four favorites.  Tonight I decided to broaden my baking horizons with a crumb cake muffin.  I'm using my basic recipe for the muffin itself -- a sour cream batter used as the foundation for every muffing I make -- and topping it with a New York-style crumb topping.  It's a very simple recipe, and it looks great (in the oven now).  The photos are of the muffin-in-process.  It's a pretty little muffin, and all expectations are that it will taste as good as it looks!


Oven 375 degrees F
Makes 12 standard muffins, plus a couple more...

Crumb topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 bar softened butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Muffin batter:
1/4 cup softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 3/4  cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Make crumb topping:  in medium bowl, combine all the crumb topping ingredients and cut together with a pastry cutter or two knives until the mixture has coarse lumps the size of peas.  Set aside.

Make muffin batter:
In large bowl of electric mixer, beat together softened butter and sugar.  Add extracts.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Beat in sour cream until thoroughly incorporated.  Add dry ingredients and mix very well, for about a minute.

Line muffin tin with paper cups or spray with cooking spray.  Fill muffin cups 2/3 full (about 1/4 cup batter each).  Top each filled cup with 1 tablespoon of the crumb topping.

Bake for 20 minutes or until muffins are done (toothpick test).  Cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes, then remove from pan.  Sift confectioners sugar over top of cooled muffins.

Makes more than enough for a dozen muffins.  (I got 15 out of mine.)

Me and my little helper!
(and happy birthday to his grandpa Gene today!)

Crumb Cake Muffins

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Trail Mix Cookies

These easy cookies are simple all the way around.  No mixer needed, just a bowl and a wooden spoon.  The idea came to me last night when I decided to do "something" with the abundance of trail mix in my pantry besides eat it "as is."  So, the thought of a brown sugar dough, with trail mix (mine was "Mountain" with peanuts, cashews, raisins, and carob/chocolate candies) and also coconut as well as the last of a package of slivered almonds seemed like a good idea.The dough is basically a chocolate chip recipe tweaked a bit, a great foundation for a great cookie if you ask me!

oven, 350 degrees F ~ makes about 3 dozen large (3") cookies
parchment-lined cookie sheets (I prefer parchment over silpat, but that's me)...

2 bars butter, melted
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar (or dark if you have it)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (you could use half AP flour and half whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup trail mix
1/2 cup coconut
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Melt butter and pour into large bowl.  Stir in brown sugar and vanilla.  Mix completely and let cool for 15 minutes.  To cooled butter/sugar mixture, add eggs, one at a time, beating with wooden spoon.
Add flour, baking soda, and salt and mix thoroughly.  Stir in trail mix, coconut, and almonds.

Let dough sit for a few minutes.  Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets, about two inches between cookies.  I get a dozen on a large "half-sheet" pan.  I like to give them lots of room so they come out really round.

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, until *just* beginning to brown on the edges.  That makes them soft and chewy.  If you like a crisper cookie, let them go another minute or two.

Here's a collage of the whole deal:

Trail Mix Cookies - click to experience (I mean enlarge...)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Shells

On Sunday, Katie made stuffed shells.  She had the pasta, sauce, spinach and mushrooms.  I had ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella.  We combined our ingredients and she had all the makings for a really delicious side dish, served with chicken breasts that she sliced and pounded into cutlets, breaded and fried. For an impromptu weekend dinner, it was really delicious!  It's a nice switch from spaghetti or lasagna and would be great made ahead for a party, too (Superbowl?)...  While we were cooking, I let Henry take some photos with my camera.  He's a surprisingly good photographer, being three and all!  Some of his photos are at the bottom of this post...


Oven 375 degrees F
13 x 9 baking dish, or equivalent
Makes a whole bunch

olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
fresh mushrooms, sliced (standard container)
1 lb. bag spinach
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1 lb. box jumbo shells pasta, cooked and drained according to directions on box
3 cups red sauce (your own or a good quality jarred sauce)

In large sautee pan over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until softened.  Add garlic and continue to cook for a few minutes, but don't let the garlic brown.  Add mushrooms and spinach and cook until spinach wilts.  Remove from heat and let cool down for about 10-15 minutes.  In large mixing bowl, mix ricotta cheese with eggs and half of the parmesan cheese (1/4 cup).  Stir in 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese.  Stir in spinach and mushroom mixture.

Spread 1 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a baking dish.  Fill pasta shells with a good tablespoon full of the spinach mushroom mixture.  Arrange shells in baking dish over sauce until you can't fit any more.  You'll have shells left over.  Spoon remaining sauce over shells.  Sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F.  Remove foil and bake for 5 minutes longer.

I didn't get a photo of the finished pasta.  Henry had possession of my camera much of the day and here are some of his shots (all taken by Henry, I swear!)...

Henry's first photos... (even took a pic of his lunch!)

I did manage to get ahold of my camera long enough to take a photo of the cake I made for 3-year-old Finn.  Reviews were very positive - the tractor cake was a hit!

Finn's birthday cake - Happy Birthday Finn!!!!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mini-Chip Cookies

Tonight I'm baking mini-chip cookies for my co-workers.  We've had a very busy week, always the case this time of year.  And this is just the beginning.  So...I'm thinking that a batch of home-made chocolate chip cookies is a perfect way to give ourselves a pat on the back and say thank-you to a great group of people.

Here's my recipe for mini-chip cookies (I was going to make traditional chocolate chip cookies, but only had a bag of mini chips in my pantry).  These are large cookies, about 3-3.5 inches in diameter.  The recipe makes 3 dozen large cookies or 6 dozen if you use rounded teaspoons rather than tablespoons.

Oven 350 degrees F

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper


2 bars butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 oz. mini chocolate chips


In saucepan, melt butter.  Turn off heat.  Stir in sugars and vanilla extract. Stir well and allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes.  Place butter/sugar mixture in large mixer bowl.  Beat for a minute or two.  Add eggs, one at time, beating well after each addition.  Add flour, baking soda, and salt.  Mix until very well combined.  Stir in mini-chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls (I use a mini-scoop) onto parchment lined cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 mintues at 350 degrees F until just beginning to brown around the edges.  Don't overbake.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes.  Transfer cookies to cooking rack.

Makes 3 dozen large or 6 dozen small cookies.

Photo:  my own

A Few Words About Paula Deen

As a baker who writes about it, I have a little bit to say about a current story in the news.

The revelation this week by Paula Deen that she has Type 2 Diabetes, and has known about it for three years, has the world buzzing.  Paula is being vilified by medical doctors and others who say that by continuing to promote her fat-and-sugar-laden recipes while negotiating a deal to be the spokeswoman for a Diabetes drug company is hypocritical if not downright unethical.  To paraphrase, Chef Anthony Bourdain calls Deen "...the most dangerous woman in America."  Doctors on morning talk shows are speaking out about Deen's irresponsibility in face of the dangers of obesity and its impact on Americans.  Perhaps negotiating with a drug company is what is really leaving a bad taste in peoples' mouths more than Deen's style of cooking.  Or, maybe some people are envious of a self-made woman who continues to fight to keep what she's earned.  Maybe Deen is looking out for herself, as she's always had to.  Look at her humble origins and the force she has become.   In business, she has always fought and won.  And now she's fighting a personal battle for her health while publicly advocating moderation when discussing the recipes that have made her famous.  I can't see her doing anything differently.

I don't know...

The Food Network, and cable television in general, I believe, have to diffuse some of the heat on this one.  They hired Deen to do what she does: to charm us as she delivers Southern goods, a smiling, cheerful, grandmotherly woman in a beautiful kitchen.  Her show is TV's version of comfort food as she lovingly combines the richest of ingredients and practically serves her fixings right to the camera's lens.  A good portion of her followers watch her as entertainment, but don't go out and make her recipes (true of many "foodie" fans).  For many who do use her recipes, it's likely not an everyday, or even an every week, thing.  Maybe you'll make her banana walnut cake for a special birthday, but you probably won't make it more than once a year.  And that hamburger with bacon and egg served up on a glazed donut?  I don't know anyone who'd ever actually do that, though the Food Network sure thought it would garner an audience, more as a Ripley-like "believe it or not" amusement than anything else, I'm guessing...  If we tune in to watch it, we're contributing to its promotion.

I don't have cable TV and haven't had it for almost three years, about the same time that Deen was diagnosed.  For me, now, food TV is what's offered up on PBS.  Cooks Country is one of my favorite shows, and to be sure, butter and cream abound there, as it does in reruns of Julia Child's cooking shows.  Lidia Bastianich is no stranger to butter, olive oil, fatty meats, and cheese.  And what about Rachael Ray?  She uses a lot of meat and dairy products, and cheese seems to dominate many of her recipes.  Popular baking shows like Cupcake Wars promote, what else, cupcakes.  And what are cupcakes but white flour, sugar, butter, cream cheese, and cream? Should all these shows be called on the kitchen mat for promoting unhealthy ingredients?  No.  They should not.  People watch these shows for entertainment.  Maybe more cupcake shops have opened up because of it, but how often does one go out specifically for a $4-plus cupcake? 

Cooking shows are more popular than ever, yet in researching the final paper for my masters thesis on the history and relationship of women in the kitchen, I discovered that more families are eating out, more often, than ever before. So, we're watching these indulgent food shows on TV, but most of us are not recreating that food in our kitchens. 

Maybe we should put the microscope to those massive meals and deals offered up by the national chain restaurants lining our highways.  Better yet, maybe we should take personal responsibility for what we order out, or put in our shopping carts, on our table, or in our children's mouths, and make healthy choices most of the time, and an indulgent one now and then.

That's my two-cents.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Barbershop, Whole Foods, and a Prize-Winning Cookie!

Congratulations to one of this blog's faithful followers, fellow blogger Colleen Barber,  the proud winner of Whole Foods' "Your Best Recipe with Pecans" contest!  The Whole Foods tester wrote that Colleen's "...pecan-studded cookies have incredible flavor and are so easy to make. The balance of textures in this recipe is spot on, and I loved the bright pop of the cranberries..."

 As the contest finale drew near, Colleen kept us notified that her cookie, Pecan Cranberry Cinnamon Chip Cookies, was still in the running.  Then, it was down to the final two!  And yesterday, Friday the 13th was Colleen's lucky day as she announced that her cookie was the winner! 

This is especially exciting in blogging/baking world!  Colleen is an inventive baker, and her blog is very interesting.  She takes simple, every day ingredients, and combines them in new and non-traditional ways.  She makes a salty-sweet cookie with cake mix and Pretzel M&Ms.  She continually tries new things and in her writing you can hear her passion for baking.  Outside of baking and blogging, Colleen has very full life; in addition to her full-time career, she is a devoted runner (more than burning up any calories from taste-testing!) and is planning her wedding this coming fall.

I'd been reading Colleen's blog for a while (What's Baking in the Barbershop) and later we became facebook friends.  Only then did I realize that she is a fellow Skidmore College alum, and that she has family nearby though she lives in Boston.  It's a small world!  We have yet to meet in person, but the next time she is in Saratoga Springs, I'd love to get together and talk about our shared passion - baking! 

I am so happy for Colleen, and I am sure this is just the first of what will be a collection of prize winning recipes coming from her kitchen! 


 6 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
3/4 cups dried cranberries
3/4 cups cinnamon flavored baking chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the chopped pecans on a baking sheet; toast in the 350 degree oven for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and set aside to let cool.

2. Melt the butter in the microwave and allow it to cool slightly. Using a whisk, combine the butter and both sugars together in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla.

3. In a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add this flour mixture to the butter and egg mixture and fold until just combined.

4. Fold in the pecans, dried cranberries, and cinnamon chips until well-incorporated, but be careful not to overmix.

5. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop cookie dough by the tablespoonful on baking sheets, placing at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 - 14 minutes.

6. When the edges are just lightly golden brown, remove from oven. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for a couple minutes before removing to cooling rack. Once fully cooled, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container.

Photo of Colleen's cookie, and link to Whole Foods' site:  http://raleigh.wholefoodsmarketcooking.com/recipes/12171_pecan_cranberry_cinnamon_chip_cookies/1

Friday, January 13, 2012

Strawberry Sauce for Cheesecake and Other Luscious Things

My friend and co-worker Dale asked me to make a cheesecake for her dinner party tonight, and I was happy to.  I love making cheesecakes, and the recipe I consistently use (on the back of the Keebler Graham Cracker Crumb box, and featured previously on this blog) comes out great every time.  Dale asked for a strawberry sauce on the side (since some people like their cheesecake unadorned) and when I went to the market there were beautiful strawberries on sale for $1.99 a pint.  In the middle of January!  I have no idea where in the world they were grown, but despite my ignorance about the geographic journey they took to get to my local Hannaford market, they were pretty much perfect.  They were small, and red, and just-right ripe. Not one dud in the bunch.  I looked on-line for a strawberry sauce recipe, and adapted one that I found on allrecipes.com.  Here's my version of strawberry sauce, and I am pretty sure you'll enjoy it, if not on cheesecake, then on angel food cake, ice cream, or yogurt.  Let me know how you like it!


1 quart fresh strawberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Triple Sec, if you have it, or just use orange juice

Chop strawberries coarsely.  Place 2/3 of the strawberries in a saucepan with the sugar.  Set aside the other third to be stirred in at the end.

Over medium heat, mash strawberries and sugar with a potato masher as much as you can, and bring to a gentle boil.  Let simmer (low, bubbling boil) while continuing to mash for about five minutes, until sauce thickens and most of the strawberries have broken down.  Stir in vanilla extract and Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, or OJ.  Let simmer another minute or two.  Remove from heat.  Stir in other third of chopped strawberries.  Let it sit for a while until it cools down.  When cooled enough, pour into storage container and refrigerate until ready to use.  It's best to use this sauce cold when serving with cheesecake.  A little whipped cream wouldn't hurt, either.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Peppermint Frosting on a Snowman Cake

Tonight we celebrated Katie's birthday.  Her husband ordered dinner in from Sabina's on Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, and Henry and I presented the cake we made together for his mom's birthday.  Dinner was great.  My daughter Tricia and her fiance Jeff joined us, along with Bill's dad Richard, with "Granny Syd" and Bill's mom Penny.  Here are photos from the baking of Katie's cake, and also dinner tonight.  I finish up with the recipe for peppermint frosting.


makes enough to frost 2 8" layers with more to spare

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract (start with a half teaspoon, add more to taste.  Careful not to use too much.)
2 lbs. 10x confectioners sugar
1/2 cup milk, plus more if needed

Cream butter and shortening.  Add vanilla extract and beat well.  Add half of peppermint extract.  Beat again until all is incorporated.  Add confectioners sugar alternately with milk, ending with milk.  Add more milk if yit needs it, and a few drops more of the extract if you want a stronger peppermint flavor (I prefer subtle).  Go slowly, a drop or two at a time, until it's just right.

If the frosting is too thick, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it's of creamy spreading consistency.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Birthday Season!

The end of the year and beginning of the next is birthday season around here.  We start in December and go through the beginning of February.  For my immediate family, three of my children and my son-in-law all have birthdays, with Meghan's just before Christmas on the 20th, her uncle David's is the 22nd, my son-in-law Bill's is December 26th, son Jeffrey's is January 3, and Katie's is tomorrow, January 6th (and after all this, my wallet is pretty much depleted, though happily!).  In and around those days are birthdays of friends and extended family (Happy birthday Bri - yesterday - and HBD to Tina, today, and to Kristin soon-to-be-Bishop!).  Katie shares her birthday with her cousin Gordie, and it's also the birthday of my friend Phyllis.  It's hard to keep track of all these birthdays.  Facebook is a lifesaver in that regard.  I love the reliable reminders that pop up to make sure I don't miss an important birthday.  I often wonder whether I should keep my fb page active, but then I realize there's a lot I'd miss about people I care about (plus, it's the main way I advertise new posts on this blog).  So, Happy Birthday to everyone, but especially to my daughter Katie tomorrow.

It's hard to believe my kids are soooo grown  up, the youngest about to leave her twenties behind in April.  It's so strange to know that it's been three decades since my baby was a baby!  My dad used to say, "Sister, the older you get, the faster time flies."  I could never have known then how many times those words would have rung in my ears, unfolding like a prophecy before me.  His words are so true.  I look back 30 years and remember when I was a young mom in my late 20s. It seems like a lifetime ago, and at the same time seems like five minutes ago...  How is that?   I look forward and wonder what the next decades will bring to my life, and my children's lives, and how fast it will pass.  I don't really like to think about it going by in a flash.  I better stop and smell the roses, and build in some more fun and great times with my favorite people!  Every now and then I hear a snippet of wisdom on the radio, and one day I heard John Tesh say that, when surveyed, most respondents said that the best things to accumulate in life were memories of good times with the people you love and not money, not prestige, not that great job or beautiful home --  but memories of TIME spent with people you love -- dinners, vacations, weekends.  I love that.

For Katie's birthday tomorrow, Henry will be making a memory of helping to decorate his mommy's birthday cake (his choice - a snowman cake).  My wish for Katie is a wealth of memories of happy times with the people she loves, and an awareness that, even at her youthful age, time will fly and that every moment counts.  I hope that those precious moments with her little boys will be etched in her memory forever.  I try, each day, to excavate a memory of my own children's early years, and sometimes it takes a little work, but those moments are there, forever, and bring me joy.

Happy birthday, my beautiful daughter.

Photo image:  http://www.discountcandleshop.com/images/sans/513624.jpg

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Peanut Butter Frosting for Jeff's Birthday Cake

We had Jeff's birthday dinner tonight, and Katie made the frosting for the cake I baked last night.  The thought of peanut butter frosting didn't really excite me, but then I tasted it - it was light, fluffy, subtle, and delicious.  It wasn't a big wham of peanut butter, either.  There was enough frosting for the 2-layer cake and for a bunch of cupcakes.

It was a small but really nice dinner.  Along with me, Katie, and the boys, Jeff was joined by his Dad Gene and his brother Joe.  Both my boys are good cooks, and Joe made a lemon shrimp appetizer and baked some chicken wings.  Katie's pot roast was delicious.  Henry kept asking if it was time yet, and when it was, he blew out most of the candles, as expected.  We all enjoyed the chocolate cake (gluten-free) with peanut butter frosting.  I used a gluten-free cake mix for the cake, and the frosting was a perfect compliment.  The recipe follows, along with a few photos of a fun birthday night.


1 bar softened butter (1/4 lb.)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk

Cream butter and peanut butter together.  Very slowly, mix in confectioners sugar along with vanilla and milk.  Beat until it is smooth and creamy.

Jeff's Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
and a fun little party, to boot!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A New Year and Jeff's Birthday Cake

Happy 2012 to all my ADK Baker readers!  Tonight I'm baking my son Jeff's birthday cake, which is a special privilege.  The cake is a gluten-free chocolate cake, and will have peanut butter cream frosting (my traditional frosting with a peanut butter twist).  For the cake, I am using Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free Chocolate Cake mix.  It made 8-inch layers which came out of the oven looking great.  With the cake we'll serve Stewart's Vanilla ice cream - a perfect combination!  We'll see if Jeff gets to blow out his candles or if  Henry beats him to it!

I have to work tomorrow so Katie is putting together all the fixings for a pot roast dinner and slow-cooking it during the day.  When I get home from work, I'll make the frosting and ice the cake, and we'll be ready to go around 6 p.m.

Jeff's birthday has  been a very special day in our family, especially for the past 9 years.  We are so lucky to be able to truly celebrate this day, and I will always be grateful for that.

Happy birthday, Jeff, and Happy New Year to all of you!

I'll post photos of Jeff's cake tomorrow.