Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lower Fat Brownies

One resolution that I've made and am sticking to this new year is to bring lunches to work rather than spend money.  A simple lunch at work can easily cost $7 to $8, and that adds up day after day.  There have been periods of time when I've been good about brown-bagging, but those have been short-lived.  Like anything else, this effort takes planning and commitment  So I've been packing up sandwiches, or left-overs from the night before, and add some crackers and a drink, and carry it off in a pretty thermal lunch bag.  Sure, it still costs money to put these lunches together, but much less than the price tag for the daily special or a cup of soup and the salad bar at work.  I like to realize that this effort is making a difference, and after three weeks, I do believe it is.

Most days, I like to have a little sweet something after lunch, but I am also trying to take it easy on those sweets.  Tonight, to include in lunches this coming week, I decided to make a batch of brownies.  I had a brownie mix in the pantry, and to make them a bit healthier, my daughter Katie suggested substituting yogurt for oil and egg whites for whole eggs. I chopped a bunch of walnuts for their goodness, as well as a half a cup of dark chocolate morsels.  The batch will make make more than enough desserts for this week (and to share), so I'll wrap up the rest individually and freeze them for future lunches.  These brownies are by no means health food, but I could do a lot more damage with something from the candy rack!  And yes, I can take an orange or an apple now and then, but sometimes, only chocolate will do!

Lower Fat Brownies
Oven 350 degrees F
spray bottom only of baking pan

One brownie mix for 13x9 pan
Low fat vanilla yogurt as substitute for vegetable oil (I used Cabot Greek Vanilla)
egg whites as substitute for whole eggs
water as package directs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dark chocolate morsels

Mix according to package directions, using substitutions.  Bake according to time suggested on package.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Easy Homemade Pancakes and Baked Bacon

This one got a
little dark!
If you have twenty minutes this weekend, you can make homemade pancakes so good that you'll never use that quick mix again.  It's a simple process of whisking together wet and dry ingredients into a bubbly batter and dropping it by 1/4 cup dollops onto a hot skillet.  The batter is thick and light (an interesting combination) and once it hits the pan, transforms into pancakes that are fluffy, tall, and beautiful.  I found the recipe on (one of my favorite web resources because it provides reliable ratings) and this had an impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars. One of the scientific reasons these pancakes rise so beautifully is the addition of vinegar -- don't worry, you won't taste it -- which reacts with baking powder and soda right before your eyes.  It's like re-living a jr. high science class (a fun one)!

The original recipe says it serves four.  I don't know whose family they're talking about, because it makes eight pancakes, and in my family, it's not a plate of pancakes unless there are at least three!  So, double the recipe if you have a hungry crowd OR freeze extra pancakes to give a quick but special start to a mid-week work day.

AND, as a side bonus, did you know that baked bacon is better than fried bacon?  It's so simple, too.  And there are advantages - you won't get splattered, and the cook doesn't carry the aroma of bacon around all day (it happens).  Plus, the slices bake in perfectly aligned strips, very professional looking!  This is how many restaurants prepare bacon, and...

Here's how I do it:


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
Line a good sized cookie sheet with foil and then a piece of parchment paper.  (The foil allows for easier clean-up - just crumple it all up when all is said and done, and toss.)
Lay uncooked bacon slices side by side on the parchment paper.
Bake for about 15 minutes but check a few minutes before if you like it bendy, or let it go a little longer if you like it crispy.  I like mine just between bendy and crispy.  Remove from oven and let bacon drain on paper towels.

See the foil under the parchment paper?
Makes for much easier clean-up...

(says it serves four; I double the recipe below)

3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons white vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar (granulated)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
cooking spray

Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to "sour."
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Whisk egg and melted butter into soured milk.

Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet or griddle and cook until bubbles appear on the surface.  Flip with a spatula, and cook until lightly browned on the other side.



Three, at least!

One thing my mother always used to say about pancakes - the first one always comes out strange!  It doesn't brown the way the rest of the pancakes do.  I don't know why, but I find that to always be the case -- there's always that one, sacrificial pancake but there's also always someone willing to eat it!

Top with some soft butter, your favorite syrup (the real Vermont deal, or the grocery store stuff), even berries or whipped cream. Make them your own.

Now go enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Catching Up

From your perspective, nothing may look different as you read this post, but it is very different.  This post is being composed on a brand new computer, my macbook air, a gift to myself.  It's so pretty -- sleek, elegant, streamlined -- and light as "air" as its name implies.  This post has been a long time coming.  Through most of December we limped along with a computer that decided its useful life was pretty much over.  Some days it worked, most days it didn't.  So you can imagine my appreciation at sitting here on my couch, macbook on my lap, while I watch the latest episode of Scandal (!) tapping away at a keyboard that actually puts words and pictures where I want them!  Well, words for sure, but let's see if I can conjure up a photo...

It worked!  This is the fondant baby from last weekend's shower cake!

There's a lot to learn, going from a PC to a macbook, almost like learning a new language.  I have to get this photo thing down, and learn how to make the collages I always love to post.

This is a bit of a slow start, but I'll continue to catch up, and bring you stories of my cakes and other baking, as well as updates on my buddies Henry and Peter.

And here they are...

Oh, and I figured out how to make a photo collage on this computer, and here's the above-mentioned shower cake from start-to-finish! (one of my most favorite cakes yet!)

Pretty darn sweet, if I do say so myself!

And here's a cake I made for Finn, son of my friend Kim, for his 4th birthday party this past Monday (Finn LOVES fire trucks!)

Happy 4th Birthday, Finn!

For now, thanks for coming back, and I'll see you again very soon!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Back in the Blogging Saddle Next Week!

Maybe you've noticed that my blogposts have been fewer over the past month, and that's because my computer at home stopped cooperating.  It's dying a slow and painful (for me) death, and it's time to send it packing.  Next week, I will be the proud owner of a macbook air, and I CAN'T wait to get back to blogging regularly.  Often, it's the highlight of my day, and I've missed it.

So, thank you for your patience, and I look forward to providing you with a big batch of new stories, pictures, and recipes of my baking (and otherwise) life!

Have a great weekend!

Image credit:

Monday, January 7, 2013

Yellow Cake with Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting

The cake I made for Katie's birthday yesterday just might be the very best tasting cake I've ever made.  It was a classic yellow birthday cake, festively frosted in chocolate and decorated with colorful sprinkles.  The candles around the edge just invited "Happy Birthday" which Henry started singing before everyone was ready (he's four) and he blew out the candles before his mom, aka the birthday girl, or little brother Pete ever had a chance!  We re-lit one candle for Pete, since he'd been practicing blowing out candles all day, even at pictures of birthday cakes on my phone (he's two). 

So, the 2-layer yellow cake, in 8-inch rounds, was just sitting there and I was wondering just exactly what frosting would go best.  You can go in so many directions with a yellow cake.  I searched some trusted sites on the computer to find a sour-cream chocolate frosting recipe, and I found a few and adapted them to come up with my own.  First of all, a standard frosting recipe for an 8-inch round cake does NOT make enough for my needs.  I'm all into deep swirls and abundant garnishes, and so almost always double a frosting recipe in order to have more than enough (never a problem to have too much frosting, is it?). 

Katie's birthday!

Here's my recipe, inspired by many but enough my own to claim it:

oven - 350 degrees F
Spray and line 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.  Spray parchment paper.

1 cup soft, unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs plus 2 extra egg yolks, also at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract. 
1 cup buttermilk (or regular milk "soured" with 1 tbsp. vinegar. let sit 5 minutes)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
few drops yellow food coloring (if desired)

Cream butter until light and fluffy.  Add sugar and cream for a long time, about 5 minutes.  Scrape bowl a few times.  Add eggs and then egg yolks, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.  Add vanilla and a few drops of yellow food coloring (optional).

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add alternately with the buttermilk.  Mix well until all dry particles are incorporated.

Divide batter between prepared pans but don't fill beyond 3/4 full.  If you have extra batter, make a few cupcakes after the layers come out of the oven (20 minutes for cupcakes).

Bake layers for 30-35 minutes OR (important) until cake tests done when toothpick is inserted or it bounces back when lightly pressed in the center.

Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes.  Turn out of pans and continue to cool completely on wire rack.  Cool cake for a good few hours or overnight to be sure it's settled and ready to frost.  (If you frost a cake too soon after baking, it's too tender and may break.)

Peel parchment paper off layers before frosting.

inspired by a recipe from

6 oz. chocolate chips (semi/dark/milk - whatever you prefer) melted with 1/2 cup butter and 6 tablespoons cocoa (I used Ghiradelli). 
Cool until it reaches room temperature but don't let it solidify.  Transfer chocolate mixture to large mixing bowl.
To this, add 1 cup sour cream, 2 tsps. vanilla extract, and a dash of salt.  Combine thoroughly.  Slowly beat in enough confectioners sugar until it looks just right.  I used 5-6 cups.  I didn't sift it, but that wouldn't hurt.  Mine incorporated just fine, no lumps.

Makes more frosting than you'll need.  :)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Gratitude Jar

Pinterest has definitely broadened my horizons over the past few months.  I'm not as active with it as some people I know (JSD!) but I love that I can find inspiration anywhere on the internet, pin it, and save it in an on-line bulletin board for future reference.  It is a wonderful thing.  You can create boards for any interest at all -- it's all your own design.

One of the most inspiring ideas I pinned is a gratitude jar.  Starting on January 1st, at the end of each day I jot down one wonderful thing that happened that day.  Just one.  I will do that for the entire year.  If I have a bad day or find myself in a crummy mood, I will go to that jar and pull out a few slips of paper and remind myself of the good things.  How simple is that?  And the good thing could have happened to me, to someone I love, or just out in the world.  It doesn't have to be so ego-centric.  Of course, the dark side of my sense of humor also imagined a very different jar where frustrations could be accumulated, but that was just a fleeting thought!  Who'd want to look back at that?  Not me!  Kind of defeats the purpose.

So, with a positive attitude, I took a very large Mason jar that had previously been intended for collecting change, and it has been re-purposed.  Entries aren't long paragraphs -- most notes are one-liners of something worth remembering.

The nice thing about this is that the notes are completely personal and private.  No need to share my thoughts on social media or anywhere.  So even though I am using a blog to explain my gratitude jar, each little entry will be mine and mine alone.  In this age where so many are exposing each and every thought to the world, I like this little bit of privacy.

Happy New Year, and if you are inspired to create your own gratitude jar, that'd be a wonderful thing!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ghiradelli Grand Fudge Cake, the GF Version!

Tomorrow is my son Jeff's birthday.  I called him tonight to wish him a "happy birthday eve" and asked what he'd like for his birthday dinner tomorrow.  He requested meatloaf and mashed potatoes, so on my way home from work I will stop to pick up all the fixings and get right to it the minute I walk in the door.  His cake, though, will be ready and waiting, since it is in the oven tonight, and I'll finish assembling it tomorrow morning before I head out the door.  I am making an ice cream cake (we're on a kick) similar to the one I made for Meghan's birthday two weeks ago.  Jeff's cake is going to be a chocolate layer divided by a thick center of Stewart's chocolate swirl ice cream, and frosted in whipped cream, all to be frozen together while I'm at work tomorrow.   The cake is Ghiradelli's Grand Fudge Cake recipe, found on its can of natural, unsweetened cocoa.  At first I had planned to make the Hershey chocolate cake recipe, but didn't have enough Hershey's cocoa.  Then I remembered that I had a whole canister of Ghiradelli cocoa, and right on the label I found this simple recipe.  Unlike the Hershey cake, this one does not use melted butter or boiling water.  This cake is a simple process of creaming butter with sugar, and then alternating the dry ingredients with wet.  The batter was so light and fluffy, almost chiffon-like.  It's in the oven now, so I am not sure what the finished cake will look like, but it smells great.  Because Jeff is gluten-free, I substituted Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour in this recipe.  The packaging says that it can be substituted measure-for-measure for regular AP flour, so that's what I did.  I do not have xantham gum which is recommended when making the substitution (it puts back in some of the stickiness that is missing in GF flour) but since this cake will be served frozen in the form of an ice cream cake, I don't think anyone will miss it.

Jeff's birthday is always reason for happy celebration in our home.  We waited a very long time to be able to celebrate this special day with him, and this is the 11th year that we've had that privilege.  I posted the story a couple of years ago on this blog, and if you haven't read it before, you may find it interesting.  It's definitely a story with a happy ending.

Happy birthday to my first-born child.  I am so fortunate to be celebrating this birthday with you!  (I'll add photos of the finished cake to this post once the cake is complete).

And here it is!


2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups Ghiradelli Unsweetened Cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsps. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Grease and flour two 9 x 1 1/2 inch pans. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Reduce speed to low and add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, scraping bowl after each addition.  Alternately add flour mixture with milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture) while mixing on low speed.  Continue to mix until smooth.  Pour into prepared pans.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester inserted in the center of cake comes out clean.