the goods: January 2012

I don’t know about you guys, but I cannot believe that it is January 27.  Where did January go?  I don’t know if it’s the mild weather or the fact that I’ve been keeping busy but 2012 is flying by —  especially the past two weeks.  Thank god for iPhone cameras to capture some of the moments.  Here are some of my latest discoveries (Mason Pearson and Pop Corners are my latest obsessions) and works in progress (quilting, purses and DIY art).  Can’t wait to share the final projects with you in the coming weeks.

Happy Friday and enjoy the last weekend in January!

xoxo

Katie

whisk: gold rush brownies

Gold Rush Brownies hold a special place in heart — these are somewhere between a cookie and a brownie with a rich caramel and chocolate flavor.  One of my best friends mother’s would make these regularly and I can still remember waiting for her to cut the crusts just so I could have a taste!  These brownies are rich and pack a flavorful punch.  Wait, I haven’t even told you the best part.  This is all from only three ingredients, 5 minutes of prep time and 35 minutes in the oven.

Here are the deets:

1 pack of Graham Crackers

1/2 – 1 full bag of milk chocolate chips

1 15 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Pam and line the bottom of a 8×8 pan.  Set aside.

Then, remove the graham crackers from the wrapping and place in a zipper bag.  Using a rolling pin, can, your hand, etc. crush the crackers.

Place in a bowl, add the entire can of sweetened condensed milk and the desired amount of chocolate chips.  I like these to be on the more chocolate side of the spectrum so I usually put in the whole bag but you should put in at least half of a bag.

Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden on top.

Once finished, remove immediately from pan and set on a rack to cool.  Cut crusts and serve, preferably with a cold glass of milk.

Hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

xxoo

Katie

live: location, location, location

Like Kristi, I’ve been on the hunt for reasonably priced artwork for my house and I’ve been swooning over the modern map collections by Jenna Sue Maps.  I’ve always loved the idea of subtly paying homage to the places where you have lived.  If framed properly (I would crop out the city names), these illustrations could pass for modern art not street maps of different towns.  Plus I love the variety of cities available, including some smaller towns, like my current home of Boulder, Colorado.

I’m planning to order the Boulder, Manhattan and Brooklyn maps in grey, white and black.  I am also going to contact her to see if she will create a custom map of Martha’s Vineyard for me.

xxoo

Katie

all photos from jenna sue maps on etsy

whisk: biscoff rice krispie treats

Guys, I want to start off and say sorry that we’ve been MIA.  I’ve been battling a major case of mercury in retrograde where nothing that I attempt turns out right.  We both have really, at the same time that I attempted and failed at three different projects, Kristi’s sewing machine hit a snag (ok maybe more than a snag).  Mistakes happen and if I’ve learned anything in the last few years is that they happen more often then you’d like.  As someone who gets frustrated when I can’t master something, I have to had to train myself to see that failing is the good part because it’s where you learn. Failing does not always equal failure.  And hopefully, just hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes twice.   So anyway, sorry that we went silent — we promise not to leave you like that again!

So let’s take a look at one such failure of mine.  You remember my new obsession, Biscoff Spread, right… well I took her our for a spin to see just how much she could do.  I decided to start with something that should’ve been easy, Rice Krispie Treats.   RKTs are one of my favorite desserts, they are so simple and buttery and delicious.  Now imagine them with a hint of ginger spice cookie mixed in… sounds heavenly, right?  Things did not go quite as expected…

Things tarted off well, I melted the butter, then added the marshmallows and stirred until they were melted.  Then at this point, I stirred in the Biscoff Spread until it melted and then poured over the cereal.

I knew going in that the key to this experiment would come down to whether or not the Biscoff Spread melted well (like a peanut butter).  It started off fine and melted into the marshmallows without a problem.  But as I started stirring it in with the cereal, it thickened so quickly that it became hard to mix, after like two seconds of stirring.

At this point, I also tested the mix and realized that I hadn’t used enough spread because instead of tasting like ginger spice cookies, it tasted like, well normal Rice Krispie Treats.  Only sweeter.  So I spread an additional layer of Biscoff on top of the pan hoping that would help and then in case all else failed, I added a layer of dark chocolate.

The Result:

Now, here’s where I have to fess up to my worst mistake of all — I forgot to line the pan which more or less made these suckers impossible to get out.   So in the end, it was Biscoff Rice Krispie Treats 1, Katie 0.  These were chewy, sticky, crunchy and extremely sweet bars.  The treats were tasty but everyone who tried them asked what they were – they didn’t taste like Rice Krispie Treats or anything but sugar.

That being said, I had no problem finding people to eat these and like Julia Child famously said, you should never apologize for anything in the kitchen.  So no apologizes here, but I will keep trying.  For the next round, I’m thinking that I will replace the butter in the original recipe with Biscoff and see if that helps.  I also am thinking of crushing up some Biscoff Cookies and adding those to the mix.

What’s your worst kitchen disaster?
Katie

whisk: chocolate cake two ways

(If you’ve hit the end of your willpower on those pesky new year’s resolutions to eat less sweets, I suggest you stop reading right here, because this cake just screams, resolutions be damned!)

When I first started getting into baking, I was very intimidated by making a cake from scratch and often times would shy away from them — plus funfetti cakes are so tasty.  Then one cold winter weekend in New York, I decided to go for it and came across this nine-ingredient recipe for chocolate cake.  It is a great gateway cake baking recipe because it is simple and extremely rewarding.   It was apparently developed by Wesson Oil back in the day and I’ve run across variations of it in several cookbooks as the author’s mom’s special cake.   No matter the origins, this is one helluva cake.  It’s moist, fluffy, dense and flavorful.  As an added bonus, it’s also vegan.

So I’m going to show you how to make this cake two ways: the easy and the more advanced.  For those of you intimidated by baking, give it a try, I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Honestly, anyone can make this, no matter your skill level and kitchen (mine at the time was smaller than the coat closet in my current house).

Once you’ve perfected the cake, you may want to use it to make something even more impressive so I’ll show you how to layer it and frost it with a crumb coat so that your icing is clean and beautiful!

Regardless, the ingredients don’t change.  Here they are:
+ 1.5  c. all-purpose flour
+ 1 c. sugar
+ 1/4  c. unsweetened cocoa powder
+ 1 tsp. baking soda
+ 1/2  tsp. coarse salt
+ 6 T  vegetable oil
+ 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
+ 1 T white vinegar
+ 1 c. cold water

High Altitude Adjustments (5000 ft above sea level)
If you live at high altitude like I do now, you will find the cake’s need a little finessing.  These are the adjustments for this cake:
+ Decrease sugar to 3/4c. + 2tsp.
+ Decrease the baking soda to 3/4 tsp.

To make the cakes:
+ Center the rack in your oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
+ Sift flour into a 8in square pan. If you don’t have a flour sifter, place the flour in the pan and stir with a whisk for a minute.  Add the sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Using a fork stir together until the dry ingredients are mixed together.
+ Using a tablespoon, make three different “wells” in the dry ingredients.  One large, one medium and one small.
+ Add the liquid ingredients to the wells as follows: Large = Oil; Medium = Vinegar; Small = Vanilla
+ Then pour one cup of cold water over the entire pan.
+ Using your fork, stir the batter so that it is mixed.  You should be stirring for about 2 minutes at most.  Make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients in the corners and make sure you get everything off the bottom.  Keep in mind you want it to be mixed but by no means do you need to go for broke here, use your judgement.
+ Put the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until when a toothpick or knife inserted in the center of the cake can be clean when removed.  Another hint is to gently push the top of the cake with your fingers.  If it springs back its ready.
+ Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a cooling rack and let it cool completely.
+ To serve, either sprinkle powdered sugar on top or frosting using the cream cheese frosting found below.

That’s it folks!

Once you have mastered making that cake, you can take it to the next level by making it into a layer cake.

To make a layer cake:

+ You’ll need two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans.  To prepare them, butter them and add a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.  Butter the parchment and coat the pan with about a tsp. of cocoa powder (you can also use flour if you’d like) This step makes it easy to remove the cakes from the pans.  Don’t skip it.
+ To make the cakes, we are going to double the recipe.  So put in twice the above listed amounts for each ingredient.  Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, place all of the dry ingredients into the bowl and stir on the lowest setting for 30 second until combined.  Then add the oil, water, vinegar and vanilla and mix until just combined.  Then take two 8 or 9 in round pans.  Divide evenly between pans and bake for 30 minutes until a toothpick is clean when entered and removed from the center of the cake.  Remove from oven let cool in pan for 30 minutes and then run knife along edge and remove from pans.  Place cakes on cooling rack and set aside until completely cool.

To make the frosting:
+ In a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine cream cheese and butter and beat for about 2-3 minutes until fluffy and combined.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla, mix on low until the sugar is combine and then beat for another minute or two.

To assemble the cake:
To start, you need to make sure your layers are level.   Then, you want to cut each of the cakes in half so that you have four even and level layers.  So if the tops of the cake layers have crowned (rounded), use a long serrated knife to level even them.  Then place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper.  Add about a cup of frosting and using an offset spatula, spread from the center towards the edges.  Try your best to make the frosting layer level.  Then place the second cake layer on the cake, add frosting and spread it.  Repeat this until all of your layers are stacked.

Next comes the crumb layer.  I had no idea that this life changing technique even existed.  The purpose of the crumb layer is to essentially seal in all the crumbs so that when you frost the cake you have clean icing.  I followed the instructions found here.  To make the crumb coat, you want to take a decent heaping tablespoon of frosting, start spreading it from the center toward the sides creating a thin layer (pushing all of the extra frosting to the edge) then take the extra frosting and bring it down the side and spread around the cake.  Now here comes the fun part.  You are going to more or less scrape all of the excess frosting away from the cake.  On the top of the cake you can use the edge of your offset spatula at a 45 degree angle to do this and on the side use a bench scraper.  Now, couple of important things to note 1). while I say scrape, I mean skim.  You just want to gently get as close as you can to the cake.  You also want to do it in as fluid a motion as you can, so for the sides of the cake it really helps to have a lazy susan/turntable.  2). don’t scrape the leftovers into your unused frosting, place them in another bowl and discard or put on a graham cracker and eat but don’t reuse when frosting the cake.

To finish the cake, scoop the remaining frosting on top of the cake and using your clean, dry offset spatula and spread from the center toward the edges.  Once the top layer is smooth, spread the remaining frosting around the edges.  Add sprinkles and serve!

There you have it!  Chocolate cake two ways.  Let me know if you make this, I’d love to hear any of your tips for frosting a cake (heavens knows I need help still!).
Katie

whisk: chocolate covered snack cracker sandwiches

One of my favorite food blogs, Spoon Fork Bacon, recently posted an article on how to make chocolate covered ritz cracker sandwiches.   That site is amazing and the professionally styled images are drool worthy (make sure you don’t get any on the keyboard).  Then this week, I learned about Biscoff Spread.  Biscoff cookies are a European (and Delta Airlines) staple and now you can get the same flavor in a spread!  It’s hard to describe but it essentially is like a spiced cookie butter (yes, COOKIE BUTTER).    Sufficiently curious,  I decided to taste test some different sandwich cookie varieties.  Here are the combos that I did:

Peanut Butter + Powdered Sugar + Ritz Crackers

Peanut Butter + Powdered Sugar + Maldon + Ritz Crackers

Biscoff + Pretzel Crisps

Nutella + Ritz Crackers*

Nutella + Soda Crackers (Saltines)*

*Naturally, Nutella had to be on the list because you can’t do a recipe test on spreads without including it.

These are super easy to make.  For all versions, take a heaping teaspoon of the filling and spread between the crackers.  Create a sandwich and set aside on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper.  When you have finished assembling the sandwiches, chill in the fridge for about 10 minutes to set.

To create the powdered sugar/peanut butter spread you simply combine 2 parts peanut butter to 1 part sugar and stir until combined (I did 1/4 c. PB and 1/8 c. powdered sugar).   If you want to add the salt, do so on top of the spread before placing the top cracker on the sandwich.

While the sandwiches are chilling, melt down about 2 cups worth of chocolate chips (for approximately 28 sandwiches) in a double broiler or using your microwave in 30 second intervals.  Stir to combine and once it is fully melted, add a few drops of vegetable oil for shine.    Using a set of tongs, submerge the sandwiches into the chocolate, rolling a few times to make sure they are coated.  Then “shake” off the excess chocolate and place back on the lined sheet pan.  Sprinkle with sea salt if desired and when you have dipped all of them place in the fridge for about an hour to set.

What can I say guys, picking a favorite was tough.  They flavor cominbations were all unique… but I think the Biscoff + Pretzel were my favorite!!

Any suggestions for the next time?  I wish I had smeared apples with the Biscoff and dipped them, guess I’ll have to make these again (sooner rather than later!)

Katie

whisk: tiramisu cake

I am always looking for a good special occasion cake.  This year for Christmas Eve, my sister made her famous Chicken Parmesan (seriously, hers are the BEST chicken cutlets I’ve ever had) and in keeping with the italian theme my friend and I decided to try our hat at the Tiramisu Cake we’ve both been drooling over at Smitten Kitchen.

Because we are at high altitude, I did a trial run about a week before and was surprised at the results.  The cake came out of the oven golden and spongy, the frosting tasted amazing, it looked impressive and yet when it was all put together it was frankly a little dry and the frosting was oddly sticky.

So for round two, I doubled the espresso syrup used to soak the cake and soaked both sides of both layers.  And the frosting needed some help.  It tasted HEAVENLY but was runny once the espresso was added and when it sat overnight it was sticky.  Sorry that I keep saying that word but I can’t think of any other way to describe it.   Frosting the outside of the cake was difficult (since it was so runny) and I really wanted it to be fluffy.  For the second batch, I doubled the frosting frosted it once in the night and set aside the remaining frosting covered and refrigerated everything overnight.  Then mid-day the following day, I whipped 4 egg whites and folded them into the remaining frosting and added another layer.  It did the trick!

So here is my recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan via Smitten Kitchen:

Tiramisu Cake
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the cake layers:
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

For the espresso extract:
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder
3 tablespoons boiling water

For the espresso syrup:
1 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoon Kahlua

For the filling and frosting:
2 8-ounce container mascarpone
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoon Kahlua
2 cups cold heavy cream
1/2 bag of dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli) finely chopped

Finishing touches:

4 egg whites
Cocoa powder, for dusting

does anyone else use their recipe as a spoon rest?

To make the cakes:
+  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
+  Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Set aside.
+  Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
+  Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy.
+  Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes.
+  Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition.
+  Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. (mine did not)
+  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
+  Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

To make the extract:
+  Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.

To make the syrup:
+  Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and Kahlua; set aside.

To make the filling and frosting:
+  Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth.
+  Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.

To assemble the cake:
+  If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – user about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.


+  For the frosting, whisk 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add.  Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the frosting and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.  Refrigerate the cake as well.   Reserve approximately half of the frosting.  With a long metal icing spatula, smooth the remaining frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top.


+  Cover loosely with saran wrap and refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours (or up to 1 day).  Before serving, whip the 4 egg whites into firm peaks and fold into remaining frosting.   Using a long metal icing spatula, smooth the remaining frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
+  Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa

This cake was such a huge hit that there were only scraps left by the end of the dinner (there were 13 of us).   This one is going into my favorites pile for future celebrations.   I’m also 100% obsessed with marscapone frosting now… so I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of it in the near future.

xo,

Katie

to do: 2012 handmade goals

Happy New Year! While I’m sad to see 2011 go — it was a great year — I’m welcoming 2012 with open arms. I love the promise of a new year, it’s filled with so much hope, opportunity and unknown surprises. Every January, I make a list of personal resolutions that I try to adhere to throughout the year. This year, I decided to also put together a list of handmade goals. These are things that I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t gotten around to for one reason or another and 2012 seems as good a year as any to do them. No time like the present, as they say…

all images found on pinterest

So, this year, I will:

+ Learn how to make french baguettes

+ Pickle in August. Pickle everything: cukes, cauliflower, green beans, peppers, carrots…

+ Make and can jams in the summer

+ Sew a piece of clothing and actually wear it

+ Figure out how to make carrot cake whoopie pies at high altitude (without using a whoopie pie pan)

+ Discover a homemade frozen yogurt that I like

+ Go to Paris

+ Make a quilt (that is not a baby blanket)

+ Perfect my red sauce recipe

What about you, anything you’ve been dying to try but haven’t?

Happy + Healthy to you and yours,

Katie

drink: champagne jello shots

There was a time around the fall of 2000 that I became obsessed with alcoholic jell-o shots.  I brought them to every holiday party I went to that year, I experimented with flavors and layering.   I even bought special star shaped ice cube trays at Ikea.  Needless to say, sometime around the spring of 2001, one too many hangovers later, I stopped making them. Then this fall, they started popping up everywhere again but instead of being run of the mill jell-o and vodka shots, they were great flavors like Arnold Palmers (or John Dalys), Watermelon and Rootbeer.  Inspired,  I knew I had to figure out how to make Champagne Jell-o Shots for New Year’s this year. I found a few different recipes online but most of them seemed over the top fruity and sugary and I wanted to make one that still tasted like champagne.

Ingredients:

3 boxes 3 oz. Peach Jell-o

1 box (4 packets) plain gelatin

3 c. boiling water

5 c. or about 1 1/2 bottles of sparkling wine (try to find a Brut or Dry version)

Sprinkles

In a bowl, combine the Jell-o and gelatin packets, pour boiling water over, stir until combined refrigerate 15 minutes.   Then slowly pour in 5 cups (about 1 1/2 bottles of champagne).  Don’t be alarmed when this foams, just make sure you are using a large enough bowl to accommodate it.  Refrigerate for another 30 minutes.  Then pour into your pan.  Depending on how large you would like your shots you can either use one 9×13 Pyrex or multiple smaller pans. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, longer if possible.  Just before serving, add sprinkles (optional).

These were a crowd pleaser and would be a festive addition to your New Year’s Celebration.

Hope you all have a happy new year!

Katie