Sunday, September 9, 2012

Molasses Spice Cookies

It finally feels like fall!  After a blistering hot summer (I literally can't remember the last time I was cold),  autumn has made an appearance.  Warm days, cool nights, leaves falling...I couldn't be happier!

I haven't posted for a while because we spent the summer doing amazing things, like:

Traveling to Mexico with some of the best friends ever,

going to wonderful weddings in Minneapolis...

....and Stillwater

and hanging out on the lake.

Alas, summer is over and it's back to work and back to school.  Somehow it's all more manageable knowing that pumpkin beers, cozy sweaters, and all of my favorite holidays are just around the corner.

With that in mind, here's one recipe that makes autumn even sweeter:

Molasses Spice Cookies
from Best Recipe (by Cook's Illustrated) - I highly recommend this cookbook!

For cookies:
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 C granulated sugar, plus 1/3 C for rolling cookies
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 C unsulphured molasses

For glaze:
1 1/4 C powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp milk

Adjust racks to up and lower middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk flour, baking sode, salt, and spices together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 C granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes with a mixer on medium speed.  Add egg, vanilla extract, and molasses.  Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Add dry ingredients and beat a low speed until just combines, about 30 seconds.

Place remaining 1/3 C sugar in a shallow bowl or pie pan.  Pinch off and roll 1 inch balls of the dough.  Roll in sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (use parchment paper for easy clean up).

Bake, reversing position halfway through baking, 11 - 13 minutes.  The outside edge should begin to set and the center should be fluffy.  Cool on sheets for a few minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

To glaze the cookies, use a spoon and work dripping the glaze diagonally across a few cookies at a time.  To make clean up easier, put your used parchment paper under the cooling rack.  Viola!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Garlic Pesto


Jeez, it's hot!  These 100 plus degree days have really been taking a toll on my garden.  Between the heat and our upcoming vacation to Mexico (where it is 20 degrees cooler - yay!), I knew I had to do something with my herbs before I lost them!  I can't tell you how pleased I was to bring in a beautiful, full crop of basil.  Look at those gorgeous leaves!

In a way, I almost feel silly writing a recipe for pesto.  Pesto is one of those foods that can be made a million different ways and still be amazing.   Just doing a search for "pesto" on yielded 588 results!  Yikes.  I'm not sure that I can really say that my recipe beats those 588 others, but I thought I would share it anyway because, darn, it's good!  It's also a food made for hot weather.  Use it in a pasta salad, with a tomato and slice of bread, or as a spread in a sandwich.

Garlic Pesto
Makes about a cup

4 cups packed fresh basil, washed and dried
1/2 cup parsley (optional - it makes the basil go a little farther)
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for storage

Place basil, parsley, pine nuts, parmesan, and garlic in a food processor.  Process, adding oil in a stream until all ingredient are fully integrated.  I like to make my pesto a little dry since it's easier to store, but feel free to add more oil if using the pesto right away.  If not, pesto should be mixed with more olive oil to make it "spreadable" right before use.

Transfer to a canning jar or other storage container.  Top with a layer of olive oil.  Jars can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or placed in the freezer for several months.

You can try many variations of this recipe.  Try adding more or less cheese, olives, or sun-dried tomatoes!  The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Arizona Biltmore

We went to a family reunion this weekend.  While it was so fun to meet the extended family, the best part of the weekend was the hotel (shhh....don't tell them). 

The Arizona Biltmore.  It truly is the jewel of the desert.  I don't normally share vacation destinations, but this one is too beautiful not to showcase.  I came away feeling inspired and excited for summer projects (which will be my next post).  I thought I would share some of the beauty with you. 

The hotel was built in 1929 (great year to start a luxury hotel, huh?) and was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  You can see his influence everywhere.  For more information, visit the official website.

A view of Squaw Mountain


I need these lights in my next house.

The lobby - don't you love all the geometric furniture?

One of the banquet halls

There are several pairs of these lovely ladies around the hotel.

The entrance 

A Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass design.  I believe it's called Saguaro.

More ladies...

Ludvic's Marilyn Monroe paintings

Inspiration is all around us.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Baby Succulents in Crafty Pots

After giving my houseplants haircuts, I was left with several cuttings of jade branches.  I didn't want to throw them away.  They were too beautiful and so small.  With a little time and a small amount of money, I figured these baby succulents would make great gifts.  So far I have given 2 away and the new owners adore them!  Not only are the pots cute and fun, but jades are some of the easiest plants to care for.  

Several small (4") pots
Callused jade cuttings
Ribbon of your choosing - I used 3/4" satin in teal
 3/4" - 1" buttons
Double-sided tape

I filled my pots with soil before adding the decorations.  I didn't want to get the pot dirty and this allowed me to clean off any spots with a damp rag.  You could certainly fill the pots later, just be careful not to spill any dirt on the ribbon.

Here's how easy this was - I used double-sided tape on the ribbon, adhered it to the edge of the pot, placed the button over the unfinished edge using the same double-sided tape, and viola! The pot became a work of art. 

Carefully place your callused jade babies (see this post on propagating house plants for more information) in the soil.  The jades will be a bit wobbly until they establish roots, so secure them with a popsicle stick or anything else you can find that is pretty.  Since I was giving these away as gifts, I thought it would be a good idea to include some directions with the plant.  I wrote a little note:

If you decide not to give a note or if you are keeping the cuttings for yourself, just make sure that the jade is kept in a small pot for the first year.  Like most plants, the jade likes to secure its roots in a small space before being introduced to a new environment.  You may need to water the jade more then once a week as it establishes itself.  Don't let the leaves shrivel; this is usually a sign that the jade is not getting enough water.  

Have fun potting!  As always, feel free to leave me comments or suggestions!  I love hearing from you.  

Even Ginny likes them!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Propagating House Plants

I admit it.  I have been a HORRIBLE blogger.  I blame it on the end of the school year and the return of my husband to the U.S. of A.  A girl has to make time for work and family before blogging, yes?

Alright, enough excuses.  Jon is home and really into the last Game of Thrones book (so we all know I won't be seeing him for a while).  All of my students' grades are in and I've managed to leave my classroom in decent shape for next school year.  It's time to do some bloggin'!

A few weeks ago, I noticed that some of my houseplants needed a haircut - and BADLY.  The little jade I bought at the farmer's market is now taking over the desk and the basket of creepy-crawly plants that I inherited from a friend have spread throughout the kitchen.  Where to begin?

I started doing a little research, just trying to find out what my plants required before the snip-snip action began.

A jade with a callused edge from trimming.

Jades: These are best trimmed in the spring and early summer, since that's when the plant usually starts to grow new branches.  Cut the plant at a node, where you can see little line indicating a different segment and right after a leaf set.  Be aware that the plant will mostly likely stick up some new growth around this area so make sure it is in a place that you would like to see more jade branches.  Try not to mess with the open edge - you don't want any infection.
Here you can see where the new growth has emerged from the callused edge.

The cut off branches can be propagated for new baby jades!  They should be left to dry for 1-2 weeks in a cool, shady space.  The cut edge should have a callus before planting it, as the callus will discourage any disease.  Provide the propagated plant with some support and water about once a week, though you might have to water it more often as the plant starts to establish itself (don't let the leaves shrivel).  The baby jades will do fine in a small pot for about a year - they don't like too much space.

Philodendrons: These are those fun viney plants with heart-shaped leaves, which is perhaps why they were named "love-trees" in Greek.  They are great air-filterers and easy to take care of.  To give these a haircut and promote growth at the base of the plant, simply cut the vine at a place just after the node - these are spiny-looking.

To propagate, make a 45 degree cut just under another node and place the cutting in water.  Feel free to add some plant food, as this will promote root growth.  In about a month, you will see roots forming out of the spiny node.  Once you get a few strong roots, stick in a pot and water about once a week.

Both of these succulents benefit from sandy soil, though I can tell you that I have used regular potting soil and they look fantastic!

Check back in a few days to see what I did with these baby succulents (think crafty pots and great gifts)!  Happy planting!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

No-Bake Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

These sweet and salty no-bake treats are tasty and very easy.  I tried (not very well, I might add) to make them a wee bit healthier with the whey protein powder.  All in all, a good, quick snack or dessert!

No-Bake Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites
From Vegetarian Times

1/2 C Vanilla flavored powdered beverage (I used Trader Joe's Vanilla Whey Protein Powder)
2 Tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C creamy peanut butter
1/2 C sugar
3 Tbsp dark rice or corn syrup
2 cups crushed mini pretzels
1/3 C sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

Spread parchment paper on a baking sheet (coat with cooking spray if desired).  In a small bowl, whisk together beverage powder, water, and vanilla.

Warm peanut butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth (2-3 minutes).  Stir in beverage mixture until combined.  Add pretzels and coconut until evenly mixed.

Pinch off 1 inch pieces and leave to cool on the baking sheet.  Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes

It's spring!  Little green sprouts are working their way into the sunshine and the birds are chirping.  I love the shades of yellow that emerge with the spring - the daffodils, the goldfinches, and the rainboots of everyone in town.  

It should be no surprise then that I love cooking with lemons in the spring.  The crisp, tart taste and the brightness of lemons are the perfect complement to the sunny, warming days.  These AMAZING cupcakes are my absolute favorite.  They're not too sweet, a problem I have with most cupcakes.  The tartness of the lemon is perfectly balanced with the creaminess of the cream cheese frosting and the sweetness of the raspberries.  

Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes
(I'm not sure where I got the original recipe or I would give them credit!)
Makes 30 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:

3 C all-purpose flour
2 C sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
zest of 2 lemons
3/4 tsp. salt
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 eggs
1 C whole milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line cupcake pan with paper baking cups and spray with with non-stick oil.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in an electric mixer.  Add the butter, mixing until just coated with the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients in parts until fully combined.  Do not over-beat.

Fill each liner about two-thirds full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool on a wire rack.

Raspberry Cream Frosting:

8 oz. cold cream cheese
3/4 cup room temperature butter (make sure it really is room temperature)
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
Few drops of red food coloring (optional)
3 or more cups of powdered sugar

Mix cream cheese, butter, and jam together until smooth.  Add all remaining ingredients, except the powdered sugar.  Slowly, a little at a time, add the powdered sugar until smooth.  The frosting should be stiff enough to hold its shape when piped. 

Place the frosting in the refrigerator until the cupcakes are completely cooled.  Pipe the frosting on the cupcakes and garnish with fresh raspberries or sprinkles.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Duplicate Stitch

Finally!  It's a post on knitting!  I have been meaning to share this fun little trick for a while.

Duplicate stitch is a nice way to embellish or beef up any knitting project....AND it's super easy.  

Plan out your design using graph or grid paper.  Thread a tapestry needle with your yarn but do not tie a knot.  Insert the needle from the work side into the bottom of a knitted "V."  Leaving a few inches of yarn (to be sewn in later) on the work side, bring the needle up and over the left arm of the V.  Going under the row (leaving the gap in the top of the V), carry the yarn to the other side of the V.  From the top right of the V, follow the stitch down and insert it into the bottom of the V.   

From here, you can either continue over to the next row, starting in the bottom of the next V, or up, depending on your design.  Try to be consistent with the way you move through your pattern - either stitch side to side or up and down.  Continue until your pattern is finished.  Weave in ends.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Butternut Squash Lasagna

This is a wonderfully warm fall and winter dish.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium butternut squashes (2-3 pounds), peeled and seeded, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper
6 (or more, depending on taste) amaretti or gingersnap cookies, crushed
1/4 C butter
1/4 C flour
3/4 C whole milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup fresh basil or 1-2 tablespoons dried basil
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 C grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the squash and toss to coat.  Pour in the water and cover.  Steam the squash for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cookies and mix in, coating with any leftover water to soften.  Using an immersion blender, blend squash and cookies until smooth.  Season to taste.

In a medium or large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add flour and whisk for about a minute to make a roux.  Gradually add in milk and bring to a boil over medium.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until sauce thickens, about 6-8 minutes.  Add dried basil (or combine fresh basil using the immersion blender) and nutmeg.  Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly oil a 9x13 pan.  Spread 3/4 C white sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Arrange lasagna noodles on top.  Spread 1/3 of the squash mixture over the noodles.  Add 1/2 C mozzarella cheese and top with another layer of noodles.  Add three more layers (white sauce, squash, and cheese with noodles in between) using all the remaining ingredients.  Top with extra mozzarella and parmesan.

Cover with tin foil and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbling and golden brown.  Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes.  Serve with a salad and Italian bread.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I have been making a lot of artisan bread lately. Unfortunately, we don't always finish each loaf before it looses its freshness. Instead of throwing the bread in the compost, I've been making croutons. These yummy croutons are perfect for our Sunday morning egg bake or as an addition to any salad.

The best part is, when you make your own, you can pick the flavors you'd like to use. My favorite combination is garlic and Italian seasoning, but explore your options by trying out cajun or spicy croutons!

Herb Crusted Croutons

(Amount are not specified, as they depend on the amount of leftover bread you have. Just remember, it doesn't hurt to be liberal with your ingredients.)

Leftover bread
Olive oil
Italian seasoning
Garlic salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut your bread into 1 inch cubes.

In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and seasoning.

Spread on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until cubes are golden brown.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Red Velvet Cream Cheese Bars

Ah, it's been too long since I last posted!  I blame this partly on my husband's departure to Panama and partly on my new found obsession with Mad Men (yes, I know I'm about 4 years behind on this).  To help me transition to living on my own for the first time ever, I have been trying to keep busy. It's funny, but when I started this blog, I meant it to be mainly the crafts I do rather than the cooking and baking. knitting has been rather intermittent but my cooking and baking, well, that happens every day.  

I made these red velvet bars for some friends around Valentine's Day (or should I say GALentine's Day).  They were a hit and so pretty!  While they are a bit late for Valentine's Day, they are still a great solution to the winter doldrums.  

Red Velvet Cream Cheese Bars

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tablespoon red food coloring
1 tsp white distilled vinegar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Cream Cheese Layer:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8×8″ baking dish with parchment paper or foil and spray with cooking spray (you can double this recipe for a 9x13" pan). 

In medium bowl, combine melted butter with sugar and mix well. Add vanilla, cocoa powder, salt, food coloring, and vinegar in that order, mixing between additions.

Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each. Fold in the flour. Pour all batter except 1/4 cup into prepared baking pan.

To make the cream cheese layer, blend together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Spread the cream cheese on top of brownie batter. Drop dollops of remaining brownie batter over cream cheese layer and using a knife, swirl through the cream cheese mixture to create a swirl pattern.

Bake for 30-35 minutes in preheated oven and cool completely before cutting into squares. Enjoy!