Sunday, April 29, 2012

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

My neighbor recently had a birthday, so I made this carrot cake. Major pressure because carrot cake is his absolute favorite. Good news!.... this cake did not disappoint. It was delicious, moist, and flavorful (and it's actually rather easy to make). The cream cheese frosting is the perfect compliment to this delicious cake.

I always use the scrap of cake that gets trimmed from the top (to make each layer level) and a little extra frosting as my sample - yum. I couldn't make a cake for someone without a little quality control (my husband is always happy to help by tasting and critiquing).

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 1 /4 cups finely grated carrots (almost a one-pound bag)
chopped pecans or walnuts, optional (I did not use the nuts this time around)

Cream Cheese Frosting
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese at room temperature
1 stick butter at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
splash lemon juice

Line the bottom of two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper. (The parchment paper is important so that the cakes don't stick to the bottom of your pan. You could also use waxed paper.) Grease the pans.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add eggs and vegetable oil. Blend with a hand mixer. Add the carrots (and nuts if desired). Divide the batter into the two pans.

Bake for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Remove the cake from the pans and place on waxed paper or parchment paper to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and lemon juice using a stand mixer or a hand mixer until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the first cake, stack the second cake on top, and finish by frosting the top and sides of the stacked cakes.


slightly adapted from Paula Deen's "Grandma Hier's Carrot Cake"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kermit the Frog Cake

A very special little boy turning 4 years old requested a Kermit the Frog cake for his Muppets birthday party. Luscious confections delivered. I was happy with the final product. Two tiers: bottom was vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream; top was chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream filling and vanilla buttercream frosting; all covered in homemade marshmallow fondant; kermit was made of rice krispie treat then covered in gumpaste.

 Kermit "popped" right out of the cake! Surprise!

These cupcake toppers added a little "grab-and-go" to the Kermit theme.
 Happy Birthday Noah!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Royal Icing Hearts

You can make hundreds of these simple little hearts from a piping bag of royal icing. They save well if packaged carefully on waxed or parchment paper in a large ziplock bag. They are perfect for simple cupcake toppers and make cute accent decorations on a cake.
Royal icing is the kind of frosting that becomes very smooth and hard when it dries. It's often used to create intricate designs on sugar cookies and typically the "glue" that holds together a gingerbread house. It's very simple to make. The key is to store it in an air-tight container with a piece of plastic wrap touching the surface. If the icing is in contact with the air, it begins to harden --- exactly what you want when you're creating hearts, a tiara (more on that later), or decorating a cookie, but not what you want if you need to keep the icing soft until you're ready to use it.

Royal Icing
3 tablespoons meringue powder*
4 cups powdered sugar (about 1 pound)
6 tablespoons warm water

*I use Wilton brand meringue powder. The recipe above is also the Wilton recipe for royal icing. You could make it with egg whites, but this method is much simpler (and doesn't run the risk of food-born illness).

Beat all ingredients with an electric mixer until icing forms peaks (it will take about 10 minutes).

Once the icing holds peaks, you've reached a stiff consistency. This is perfect for gingerbread house glue, but too stiff for frosting hearts. You'll need to add water one teaspoon at a time until you reach a consistency that will spread a tiny bit when piped from a pastry bag, but won't spread too far. It's best to take a bit of the stiff consistency frosting and experiment with it until you get a feel for what you'll need to create these hearts.  You could also use gel/paste food coloring to create any color you desire.

Then using a round tip on a piping bag, hold the piping bag with the tip at about a 45 degree angle above a piece of parchment paper (or waxed paper) and squeeze a bit of icing onto the paper. Move the tip down diagonally to the right slightly reducing the amount of squeezing as you move down. Stop squeezing and lift the tip away from the paper. That's the left side of the heart. 
Repeat that same process to make the right side of the heart. Just move down and diagonally left, meeting the end of your first part of the heart. 

That's it! If you're icing is the right consistency, the two sides will blend together slightly and smooth over as they harden creating a perfect heart. Let them dry completely overnight before using them. Carefully peel the hearts from the parchment paper.

Just experiment and practice. But most of all, HAVE FUN!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dairy-Free Chocolate Cupcakes

If you have a dairy allergy (or not) you are going to love these cupcakes. No one will ever know they contain no milk or eggs. The cupcakes are super chocolatey, fudgey, moist - pretty much just absolutely delicious! Topped with dairy free frosting, they are a decadent treat.

Dairy-Free Chocolate Cupcakes
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup water

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla, and water. Mix with an electric mixer. The batter will be very runny (more runny than a typical cake batter).

Divide the batter into 12 lined cups in a cupcake pan filling each cup 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and cool on a wire rack. Top with dairy-free buttercream frosting.

Dairy-Free Buttercream Frosting
1 cup Crisco (or you can use a dairy-free butter such as a soy-based butter)
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon water
pinch salt

Using an electric mixer, whip the Crisco and vanilla until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, salt, and water. Mix until smooth and fluffy. If the frosting is too stiff, add water a teaspoon at a time until it is creamy. Top cupcakes with frosting using a pastry bag or spatula.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mixed Berry and Chicken Salad

This is my favorite salad from the Nordstrom Cafe. Now that I live in Oklahoma, it's not so easy to get (because the closest Nordstrom is in Dallas, TX! ugh!). Thankfully I have the Nordstrom Entertaining at Home cookbook which includes this recipe. It's so fresh and delicious - perfect for spring.

Mixed Berry and Chicken Salad
1 pound mixed baby greens
1 1/4 pound grilled chicken breast
1 1/2 cups crumbled blue cheese
2 cups candied walnuts
salt & pepper
1/2 pint raspberries
1/2 pint blackberries
1 pint strawberries, halved

Blackberry-Champagne Vinaigrette
1 shallot, quartered
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash white pepper
1/2 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup candied walnuts
1 1/2 cups canola oil

First make the Blackberry-Champagne Vinaigrette. In a blender or food processor, combine the shallot and garlic and process until finely minced. Add the mustard, sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar, blackberries, and the 1/2 cup walnuts and process to combine the ingredients. With the machine running, gradually add the oil in a thin, steady stream to form and emulsion. Taste and adjust seasoning.

In a large bowl, combine the salad ingredients above and toss with the Blackberry-Champagne Vinaigrette. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I know, I know... I'm waaaaaaay behind on blogs. I apologize to all of you out there that have been reading (and hopefully creating some of my recipes). I hope you'll forgive me for my short hiatus and continue checking back each day. Lots of good stuff still to come!

This salad is the first thing I want to share. The recipe is from Terra (a fantastic restaurant in the Napa Valley, California). I recently had dinner there with my husband, our best friends, my stepdaugher and two of her friends. We were in Napa celebrating Katie's 21st birthday (more to share about that wonderful weekend in a blog to come).

Here's the salad that Jenny ordered. I bought the cookbook while we were there and recreated this delicious salad.

Radicchio Salad with Parmesan-Balsamico Vinaigrette
1/4 baguette (to make croutons)*

for the vinaigrette...
1/4 teaspoon grated garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
2 tablespoons corn oil (I actually used canola oil because that's what I had)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and white pepper to taste

2 heads radicchio, halved and cored
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

* I just used store-bought croutons, but if you wanted to take the extra step to toast your own, cut the baguette into cubes and spread on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 4 to 5 minutes or until they are golden brown.

The recipe in the Terra cookbook just says to whisk the vinaigrette ingredients, but I put everything into my food processor, then drizzled in the oil while it was running.  You could just whisk if you prefer. Combine the first four vinaigrette ingredients, then whisk in the oil . Season with salt & pepper.

Separate the radicchio leaves (I just tore them off piece-by-piece and ripped them into smaller pieces). Rinse them in cold water and dry. I used a salad spinner. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve the salad, combine the radicchio, croutons, vinaigrette, and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese in a large bowl, tossing well so each leaf is coated with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!!

Now here are some photos from Terra in Napa Valley...
The restaurant is very small with only about 5 tables.
It is housed in an absolutely beautiful old stone building in downtown St. Helena.

Katie and Elise enjoying our dinner at Terra. We actually had the place all to ourselves for most of our dinner.

Terra's menu is quite interesting. Here's how it works: for a flat price, you can chose 4, 5, or 6 items from the menu. You tell the server what order you'd like them in and that's it. You could choose 4 things that are like appetizers, or all dessert, or all savory meat/fish items, any combination you like. The menu is full of interesting items - every single one will be the best thing you've ever eaten. Seriously - I savored each bite I had that night. It was THAT good.

This is the most delicious soup - Cream of Spring Garlic Soup with Slow Cooked Jidori Egg and Lobster.
I had no idea what a Jidori Egg is... the server said it's just a free-range chicken egg (Jidori sounds much fancier).

I expect that I'll share many more recipes from this great cook book. Can't wait to try them all!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Mmmmm.... lemon poppyseed muffins for breakfast. There was a thunderstorm that woke up Emily and me this morning quite early. So we made these delicious poppyseed muffins for breakfast (and some mochas). They are full of flavor and perfectly moist.

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins
2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Add the sugar to a large bowl. Grate the zest of the lemon into the sugar and use your fingers to smash it into the sugar until it's evenly distributed. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppyseeds. Mix all together.

In a separate small bowl, mix the lemon juice, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon, and butter.

Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir gently to combine (don't over mix). The batter may be a little lumpy.

Divide the batter into a muffin pan that's been prepared with paper liners or sprayed with non-stick spray. Sprinkle sugar on each muffin. Bake at 400 degrees for about 26 minutes.

I love the fresh flavor of the lemon in these muffins. I makes me feel like spring or summer. Enjoy!

recipe adapted slightly from

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Cupcakes

I made these cute little baby bird cupcakes on Easter, but you could use them for any kind of spring occasion or maybe a baby shower... They are not very difficult and they look so adorable! Try them out!

Baby Bird Cupcakes
prepared cupcakes (any flavor you like)
toasted coconut
buttercream frosting in light blue, yellow, black, and brown

First toast the coconut by placing it on a baking sheet that's been covered in foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes. Check it often because it browns very quickly. The toasted coconut is the perfect color for the bird nests.

For the buttercream frosting, cream together 1/2 cup softened butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 tablespoon water. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Divide the frosting and prepare each color. I used Americolor and Wilton gel food colors.

Using a large tip, pipe a ring around each cupcake with brown frosting.

Sprinkle the toasted coconut onto the frosting. Pressing gently to be sure the coconut sticks.

Using a medium round tip on your piping bag, pipe small light blue mounds into the middle of the coconut "nest" you just made.

Use a small leaf tip to create the beak with yellow frosting.

Add tiny black eyes to each baby bird. I used Wilton's premade black icing tube.

Almost too cute to eat these will be a huge hit with kids and adults. Have fun! Enjoy!

inspired by

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Best Ever Chocolate Bundt Cake

I got this recipe from my dearest friend, Jenny. She made it last summer for a dinner party and it was THE BEST EVER chocolate bundt cake! I absolutely know this for a fact because my husband does not like chocolate (I know it's crazy, right?!). However, he ate the entire piece of cake on his plate and declared it was probably the best chocolate cake he'd ever had. WOOOHOOO! The bonus is how simple it is to make...
Best Ever Chocolate Bundt Cake
1 package Devils Food chocolate cake mix (or you could use a different chocolate cake mix if you like)
1 small (4 serving) package chocolate instant pudding mix
2 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1/2 cup Kahlua
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Spray a bundt cake pan with cooking spray and dust with flour (or use Baker's Joy spray which already has the flour in it). Smooth the batter into the prepared pan (it's a thick batter) and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a cake plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar. 

This cake is absolutely perfect simply dusted with powdered sugar. But if you're looking for an even more decadent chocolate experience, you can add this fudge frosting. Drizzle it over the cake and let it drip down the sides.

Fudge Frosting
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 tablespoons water
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the cocoa powder and water, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Blend the powdered sugar and vanilla in with an electric mixer. If the frosting is too thin, add a little extra powdered sugar. If it's too thick add a little milk to thin it.

Drizzle the frosting over the cake while the frosting is still a bit warm. Enjoy!

Friday, April 6, 2012

More Easter Ideas

Who says sugar cookies are for Christmas?! I use my perfect sugar cookie recipe all year! I've shared it before so click here if you want to reference it: perfect sugar cookies. Here are some sugar cookies transformed into Easter eggs. You could chose to simply decorate these cookies with various solid spring colors or add some fun designs like flowers, zig-zags, polka dots, carrots... where ever your imagination takes you!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Get Ready for Easter

Easter is only a few days away so I thought I'd share a fun Easter idea. Here's a little twist on the standard colored Easter eggs. Use them as nametags for place settings at your Easter brunch, lunch, or dinner table.

I love the smell of coloring eggs. It must be something about the bit of vinegar and water mixed with the little dye tablets each in their own cup that brings childhood memories rushing back. To make a nametag like the one above, just any old set of Easter egg dye (Paz brand is usually available everywhere and it's very inexpensive).

First hard boil several eggs. I always use my mom's method for hard boiled eggs and they typically turn out perfectly. Place raw eggs in a medium pot, cover the eggs with water. Place a lid on the pot and heat over high heat until the water starts to boil. As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, remove the pot from the heat. Keep covered and allow the eggs to sit in the pot with the water for 12 minutes. The remove the eggs and rinse with cold water.

Prepare multiple colors in a few cups according to the package instructions. For each egg, carefully dip the egg into the cup with the dye so that the long part of the egg is in the water about 2/3 of the way in. Do not dip the egg all the way into the dye or you won't have a clean, white area to write in. Hold the egg in the dye until the egg color is as dark as you want it. Remove the egg and allow the egg to dry for a few minutes.  Then chose a different colored dye and dip the egg in the same manner, but don't dip it in as far as you did with the first color. This will create a little ring or boarder around the white space on your egg.When we reach the color you want, remove from the dye and allow to dry completely.

Using permanent markers - I used Sharpies in a few different colors, but you could you all black if you want, Carefully write names in the white space of each egg. You can also used colored markers to add some details such as small polka dots around the edge of the white space.
Be creative and have fun with these little eggs. Surprise your family with personalized eggs! Enjoy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sunflower & Bumble Bees Cake

As the weather gets warmer, the little bumble bees start flying around, pollinating all the flowers. I love to see the flowers bloom. Here's a fun cake I made in the past for Katie's friend, Emily. She's bright and cheerful just like the sunflower on this cake (and her favorite color is yellow).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Quinoa Cakes with Poached Eggs

One of my favorite breakfasts would probably be eggs benedict. I consider it the grown-up version of the "sunny side up" eggs I had when I was a kid. Perfectly runny yolks for dipping buttered toast just transformed into perfectly runny yolks and soft egg white on top of warm ham on an English muffin. This quinoa cake with poached egg reminds me of eggs benedict - for dinner. Serve it with a salad for a nice simple meal.
Quinoa Cakes with Poached Eggs
2 cups quinoa, cooked and at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, finely copped 
1/3 cup chives, finely chopped
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
olive oil (for frying)
shaved Parmesan
poached eggs

Combine the quinoa, eggs, garlic, salt, shallots, and chives in a large bowl. Mix in the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese until evenly incorporated. Form into patties about three to four inches in diameter.

Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Add the patties so they don't touch and you still have room to flip them (work in batches if you need to). Cook the patties until they are golden brown on the first side. Then carefully flip with a spatula and cook the other side until golden brown (about 4 minutes per side). Drain on a paper towel. Keep warm while you poach the eggs.

Here's my method for poached eggs. In a deep skillet, heat about 1 1/2 inches of water until it's almost boiling (when bubbles start forming). Try to maintain that state, don't let it get to a "rolling boil." Add a few teaspoons of white vinegar and stir. Crack an egg in a small bowl. Then, in one motion. pour it quickly into the hot water. This will hopefully keep the white mostly together around the yolk. Use a rubber spatula to gently push the white around the yolk until it starts to get opaque. Cook for 3 minutes or until the white is set, but soft. Use a slotted spoon to very gently remove the egg from the water. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may be able to do several eggs at a time or you may need to work in batches.

Place each quinoa cake on a plate. Top with shaved Parmesan cheese and a poached egg. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few chives. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

recipe from