So much for a lazy summer…

Well, I dunno about you, but this was supposed to be a lazy summer for me.  More than a month in, and I’m realizing how not lazy it has been so far.

Since I have a tendency to ramble, I’ll keep it simple.  Here’s what I’ve been up to, in photos, since my last post:

Weekend at the lake with some of my favorite girlfriends…

Isn’t our little lake house the cutest thing ever?

Lots of baking, of course.  I veered a bit from my favorite artisan bread recipe to give this one another go.  It’s absolutely fantastic.  I also made this avocado pie once, and I’m sorry I don’t have a picture to show you.  I know you’d love it.

A couple of nights of roughing it with the entire family.  I’ll keep their mug shots private, so you only get the “kitchen table” for now.

Had some time to get my craft back on.  This will be bunting, for a big party that T and I are hosting this summer.  I got high expectations for it to come out great, but I’ve never made it before.

More party decorations!  When this is all finished up, I’ll post the finished product(s).

Happy 10 years to a very faithful friend, my trusty steed Stella.  She’s been back and forth across the country with me more than once and wears her mileage proudly.  {Why yes, I did take this picture while I was driving!}

Taking two summer intensive classes that start on Monday, so I had a ton of reading to do too.  The book on top was wonderful, about an emotionally disturbed child who comes to resolve his identity through a series of play therapy sessions.  The one underneath, meh, not much I haven’t heard already.

That’s pretty much it, as far as the busyness of my life goes these days.  But no rest for the weary, I tell ya!

Hope your hot days have been at least half as fun and twice as restful as mine have been.  Happy summer!

xo,

jen

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

A very dear friend and I have been talking about getting together for a few weeks now before she has her second baby.  {She’s due any day now!}  We finally made plans for Superbowl Sunday, but after I heard that just a few days before that she was in the hospital and having contractions, I started thinking I may not see her that weekend after all.  As God would have it, it was a false alarm!  She and her hubby headed back home later that same afternoon.  When we spoke over the weekend, she said she still wanted me to come over and keep her company on Sunday for a bit.

I decided if she’s that darn close to delivering, well, maybe I should bring some food with me, so she can relax and not have to worry about food.  {Plus it gives me another excuse to make cupcakes!}

Lasagna seemed like a great choice.  A huge tray makes tons of leftovers.  Plus, she’s Italian.

Only one problem…

I’ve never EVER made lasagna before. 

I didn’t realize that her parents were still in town from having dropped everything and coming just a few days before during the false alarm labor.  When I saw them as I walked in, I secretly panicked.  Famous for her homemade gravy (Italian for tomato sauce) and all things wonderfully yummy and Italian, I wondered how my tray of spinach and turkey would measure up for her.

Luckily, it was spectacular.  Everyone thought so – even her mom!

Here’s the recipe:

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

*supposedly this is the official recipe from the White House Executive Chef, Sam Kaas.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound fresh ground turkey
  • 1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 16 cooked whole-wheat lasagna noodles
  • 15 ounces low-fat ricotta or low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, washed, but not dried
  • 1 pound low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add ground turkey and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add damp spinach, stir until wilted. Add plum tomatoes, tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper; let simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in basil and parsley; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and egg; season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Ladle one-quarter of the turkey mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; spread to cover. Add 1/4 of lasagna noodles, one-third of the mozzarella, one-third of the ricotta mixture. Repeat process two more times; top with remaining lasagna noodles. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top; transfer to oven. Bake until bubbly, about 35-40 minutes.

Let stand about 5 minutes before cutting, and then serve.

What I learned from making this recipe:

  • I boiled my lasagna noodles before realizing that I had bought “no-boil” noodles.  It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.  It was difficult to separate the noodles once they were cooked and drained, but rinsing in cold water helped with this.
  • I completely forgot to add the fresh herbs into the tomato sauce mixture but it still tasted fantastic.  I won’t forget it next time – who doesn’t love fresh basil?
  • The tomato/meat sauce seemed a touch on the stingy side, so be prepared for this if you are serving a crowd that may want extra sauce on the side.  {That’s how my own mom usually serves it.}

Whipped Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting with Red and White Stripes

Today was my day to bring a ‘treat’ for one of my classes.  To me that means, ‘bake something’ for my classmates.

I’m always talking about how much I love to bake, so often times they ask about it.  I usually have some kind of excuse like “I was so busy studying this weekend, I didn’t do any baking!”  In reality, I should be saying to them, “I baked cookies this weekend and didn’t save you any!

Shame on me.

Well, now if they’re reading this, they’re likely to be more inclined to push the issue.

{Good thing I just found the flat beater for my Kitchenaid that had been missing for nearly a month!}

With that in hand, I set out to make a perfectly chocolate cupcake with red-and-white peppermint cream cheese frosting.

Here’s my very own recipe for the frosting. This was also my first attempt at it, so I was praying the whole time that it came together and, it worked!

Whipped Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting

{Makes 12 cupcakes.  Easily doubled.  Piping is a breeze.}

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese *Don’t skimp and get low-fat or fat free kind.  You will thank me later.
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon pure mint extract
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream

Use your Kitchenaid mixer with the Whisk attachment to whip the cream and cream of tartar.    Spatula it out into a huge bowl.  Then put your flat Beater attachment onto your mixer {no need to clean the bowl}, and beat the cream cheese, sugar, and mint.  When that’s nice and fluffy, add your cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream, folding gently but thoroughly, using a wooden spoon or a spatula.

{No stand mixer?   No problem – your electric mixer will do just fine for both whipping the creams and beating the cream cheese. Just make sure to do them separately.}

It’s done!  Let me show you my piping skillz.

I’ve seen frosting stripes a few times online and wanted to try a new technique.  I cut the tip off of my piping bag, and used a Wilton 1M tip.  Using a small paintbrush and some red food gel, I painted about five or six long, dark stripes.

pastry tip with gel paint stripes

{Your cupcakes must be completely cooled before piping.  It doesn’t take long.  Your impatience will otherwise give you frosting that slides right off your cake!}

What I learned from making this recipe:

  • Everyone loves the frosting.  It’s light {no butter} so with a light cake, it’s the perfect combination for a non-filling treat.  {After eating one, I overheard my professor say something like “hashtag frosting,” which made some of us laugh.  I’m so glad this was a hit!}
  • I was pretty heavy handed with the food gel, since it was my first time with this method.  Just a few dark stripes of food color in the bag striped about 35 cupcakes.  But the first few were very dark and unappetizing, and the last few were so faint that the color was barely noticeable.  It was that middle ‘sweet spot’ of about 25 cupcakes that looked the prettiest.  {I’m sorry I do not have pictures!} Next time I make this, I’ll paint the lines, then just squeeze a fair amount of frosting back into the bowl.  Or I may just make the paint lines a bit lighter.
  • My cupcakes caved inward a bit.  I used the first few wonky ones as practice, but using the Wilton 1M tip covered them over really easily and no one noticed.  It was my first time doing roses, I usually do swirly caps.  {Start in the middle and pipe outward for a flat rose.  Start on the edges and pipe inward for a swirly cap.}  I love how the roses came out.

pretty swirly cupcake

It’s Superbowl weekend!  Cupcakes on your gameplan?  You can try this with just a few red and blue stripes, and you’ll be a hit with whoever your crowd is rooting for!

Happy weekend!

xo,

Jen

My favorite artisan bread

If you’re like me, you spend too much lots of time on Pinterest.  These days, who doesn’t?

{Oh, you don’t?  You are missing out.  Well, email me for an invite, and we’ll take care of that.}

Anyway, one of the very first things I found on Pinterest when I started playing around a few months back was this amazing artisan bread recipe.  It’s super easy to prepare, and very affordable for a cost-cutting grad student like me.  It’s also easily the best bread I’ve ever had, so that’s what I call a triple-win!

 

I’m reposting it right here so you can have it, and also so I don’t have to dig through my bookmarks (or Pins) to find it.

What a waste of valuable ‘pinning’ time that would be.

http://theitaliandishblog.com/imported-20090913150324/2010/2/26/amazing-artisan-bread-for-40-cents-a-loaf-no-kneading-no-fus.html

Easy Homemade Artisan Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water – just a touch above 100 degrees
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of granulated instant yeast {or two packets}
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of kosher or coarse sea salt       *I tried regular table salt once, bad idea…
  • 6 ½ cups unsifted all purpose flour

Make the dough:

Dump all the ingredients into your stand mixer and mix just until combined.  20 seconds is all it should take!  (If you don’t have a stand mixer, just stir it with a wooden spoon.)  The dough should be loose and pretty wet.

Transfer your dough to a plastic bucket and cover with lid (not airtight).  The dough needs to be able to breathe.  I use a basic plastic shoebox from the Container Store.  Let your plastic bucket sit on the counter at room temperature for at least two hours.  Let it rise!  Then, put it in the refrigerator for at least three hours before shaping a chunk into a loaf.  Unless you are so hungry for bread that you can’t wait to bake it!  In that case, just know that your dough will be sticky and harder to work with.  It’s the price you pay for impatience.

{Three hours later}

Shape it:

Place a piece of parchment paper on top of a baking sheet (or upside down baking sheet).  Dust your hands and parchment with a bit of flour.  Grab your dough from the fridge and marvel at how big it has become!

Cut a chunk of dough about the size of a grapefruit and shape it into a ball.  You need  to stretch the skin of it out a bit on top to smooth it out, and push the excess underneath.  I don’t have pics of this but my link does.  {maybe I’ll add some later.}  It is hardly as complicated as it sounds, just pull the dough taut onto itself.  This smoothes the top and creates the “gluten cloak” for a good crust.  It shouldn’t take you any time at all once you get the hang of it.

Let the loaf rise for an additional 30-40 minutes uncovered on your parchment paper-lined sheet.

{Hungry yet?  I know!}

Preheat your baking stone or sheet on the middle rack for 20 minutes at 450 degrees F.  Put an empty cake pan below it to preheat as well.   Set a cup of water next to your oven.  You’ll need this!

{30-40 minutes later}

Dust your loaf with a tiny bit of flour and slash the top with a very sharp knife.  Make it pretty!  Three slashes across or an X.  This allows the gases out of your bread while it bakes.  Pretty and functional.

{It’s time, my friend.}

Bake it!

Slide the sheet of parchment with your lovely loaf onto the hot baking stone/sheet in the oven.  Quickly pour that cup of water into the baking pan under the baking stone and close the door!  Quick!  Did you hear it sizzle?  That’s the sound of a crispy crust forming on your bread.   {I usually have T help me out because the oven is so dang hot by then!}

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until crispy golden brown.  When you remove it from the oven you will hear the bread ‘sing’ and crackle.  That means you did it just right!

It will be cool enough to eat in about 15 or so minutes, or as long as you can wait for it.

Keep the remaining dough covered (not airtight) in the refrigerator and enjoy it for as long as it’s there.   It’s like wine, it will get better as the days go by.  {Ok, well up till about 2 weeks or so!}  The original recipe says to keep the little bready bits in your container when you make a new batch.  I usually clean it after maybe three go-rounds or so.

The hardest part of this recipe is the waiting.  Honestly!  It takes a small investment of time but it is such a cost-savings.  Most of these loaves will run you $3-5 each at the grocery store!  This bread is fabulous with Nutella, butter, jam… I love it best with the homemade apple butter I made in the fall.  Sometimes before baking, I sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top to make it like a yummy salty pretzel bread.  So good!

Why hello, yummy pretzel!

So, what are you making that you found on Pinterest?

xo,

Jen