Friday, October 28, 2011

Hot Cocoa Mix

I am a Starbucks junkie. I'll admit it. I will also admit that Starbucks is expensive. So when I'm craving something other than just black coffee, I make mochas! I have several flavored syrups (I like Torani, or Caribou Coffee) that I use, and I always have a container of my homemade hot cocoa mix around. It's super easy to make, fairly inexpensive, and also makes a great gift!

If I'm giving it as a gift, I like to package up individual servings in little cellophane bags that I got at the craft store. Either tie with ribbon or fold the top over twice (to prevent the mix from falling out) and seal with a pretty sticker. (Great gift basket idea - a mug or two, packets of hot cocoa, and homemade marshmallows!)

If you want to skip making a pot of coffee, add about 5-6 T instant coffee powder to the batch of dry mix, creating an instant mocha mix. (This may vary depending on your brand of instant coffee - this is based on using 1 tsp per cup, 16 servings in the mix, so 16 tsp = approx 5 1/3 T.)

Hot Cocoa Mix
yields approx 16 servings

3 1/2 c nonfat dry milk powder
1 c powdered nondairy coffee creamer
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder (I like to use an extra tablespoon or two)
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk everything together and store in an airtight container. When ready to use, put 1/3 c mix in a mug and add 3/4 c boiling water (or hot coffee) and stir briskly to combine.

Note: I like to sift all my ingredients in a fine mesh strainer. Cocoa powder and dry milk powder tend to be a little clumpy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cinnamon Roll Cake - Completely Acceptable For Breakfast

Birthdays = cake. It was my best friend's birthday yesterday, and I made him a cinnamon roll cake. Pretty delicious, plus you can totally eat it for breakfast and just say you had a cinnamon roll if anyone asks. Or give them a piece of cake and then they won't judge you.

I made mine 3 layers, which is a lot of cake. If you only have 2 pans, or you don't feel like making that much cake, make your favorite 2 layer yellow cake. You'll just have a little extra swirl mixture and a little extra icing, which I don't think is an issue. Use the extra swirl in oatmeal, and eat the extra icing with a spoon. I'm such a problem solver!

I recommend making the swirl first, and setting it aside to firm up a bit while you make the batter. When the cake is cool, make the icing and put it in another container, then you don't have to wash the bowl before you make the filling. Here we go!

Cinnamon Roll Cake
adapted from these
makes one very tall 9" cake

1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs, room temperature
3 1/3 c all-purpose flour
3 1/3 tsp baking powder
2/3 tsp salt
2 1/3 c sugar
2 t vanilla extract
1 2/3 c milk, room temperature

- Beat butter and sugar with salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
- Add approximately one third of the flour, plus the baking powder, and mix on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low, add half the milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour, then the rest of the milk, and the last of the flour.
- Divide batter evenly between 3 9" cake pans, greased. I recommend using parchment circles on the bottom of the pans too, it really helps get them out - the sugar from the swirl makes the cake pretty sticky.
- Pipe on the swirl mixture in a continuous spiral, going out to almost the edge of the pan. Save any remaining mixture for the filling.
- Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until cake springs back when touched and center tests clean with a toothpick. The swirl makes it a little hard to tell if it's done - if you're not sure, leave it in the oven for another couple minutes with the oven turned OFF. The leftover heat in the oven will finish it.
- Cool completely!! Spread half the filling on one layer, top with the second layer, spread on the rest of the filling, and the remaining layer. Give the cake a very very thin coat of icing - don't worry about making it look nice, this is called the "crumb coat." It prevents all the cake crumbs from sticking to your spatula and getting dragged through the final icing. Chill for 30 minutes, then go ahead and frost it again, nice and smooth and thick this time! Chill until about half an hour before you're ready to serve it. Cold cake (of any kind!) doesn't have a very nice texture!

1 stick butter, very soft
1 c brown sugar
1-2 T cinnamon, i used about 1 1/2
1 T flour
pinch of salt

- Put everything in a freezer safe plastic baggie, seal it, and mash it all together. If you have trouble getting it smooth, place the baggie in a bowl of very hot water for 30 seconds, then try again. Snip the corner, and you're ready to go! Note - A regular baggie will burst when you squeeze it. The freezer bags are stronger.


The leftover swirl mixture
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 oz butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

- Beat everything together until smooth.

10 oz cream cheese, softened
6 oz butter, softened
roughly 20 oz powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a few drops of orange extract (optional)

- Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add salt and extracts, beat again. Add the powdered sugar gradually, with the mixer on low. Once combined, beat on medium-high for a minute or so, until the texture is nice and spreadable. Can be made ahead of time, store tightly covered in refrigerator. Bring back to close to room temperature before using.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Homemade Pizza and Freezing Vegetables

I am the worst blogger ever!! Almost two weeks since my last post. Time has been flying by lately! So what brought me back today? Well, I fell asleep on my futon last night. My old, metal frame, squished mattress, taken-to-four-different-apartments futon. It is not very comfortable, and my back is killing me. It's the perfect excuse to not clean my house, so here I am!

Last night I made homemade pizza. I almost ordered in, but I spent my "fun money" budget from my last paycheck already, and I'm desperately trying to stick to that plan. So I threw together the dough, and watched an episode of Mad Men while it rose.

I highly recommend investing in a pizza stone. It's really difficult to get a crispy bottom crust without it. You could preheat the sheet pan you're going to bake it on, that should help. But really, I got my pizza stone at a kitchen outlet store for 12 bucks. You can't even get a large pizza for $12 at most places. Do yourself a favor and get one.

Let's talk dough. It's not as scary as some people think. If you have a stand mixer, it basically makes itself. My latest favorite dough recipe is from somewhere on the internet. It's nice and bread-y, with a little bit of chew, and bakes up with a nice crispy outside on the edges.

Homemade Pizza
makes 1 large pizza, or 2 thin crusted pizzas

2 c bread flour
1 1/3 c all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 c very warm water

- Gently stir together the yeast, water, and sugar in a small bowl. Let stand until foamy - usually I mix this first then let it hang out while I get everything else in the bowl of the mixer. If it does not get foamy after 5 min or so, either your water was too hot and you killed the yeast, or it has been in your pantry/fridge for a long time and it's dead. Start over. If it's bubbly, proceed.

- Pour the yeast mixture into everything else. Fit your mixer with the dough hook. Start on low speed, until a mostly cohesive dough forms. Then you can turn it up to medium, then medium high. Knead for about 5 min.

- Remove the dough hook, and pick up your dough. Form it into a smooth ball, and drizzle a little olive oil into the mixing bowl. Roll the dough around in it so it's covered. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or plastic wrap, and go do something else for an hour. Don't mess with the dough, just let it rise.

- Now would be a good time to get your toppings ready. If you're using frozen veggies, pull them out of the freezer and spread them out onto a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels to drain as they thaw. I also took this time to caramelize some onions, because they're way better than raw onions. I also thawed some crushed tomatoes. (I buy a can and portion it into small plastic containers, like the kind you use for jello shots... not that I know anything about those...)

- About 30 min into the rising, put your pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven, and preheat to 425.

- Once your dough is ready, carefully remove the hot stone from the oven (or baking sheet.) Stretch the dough out (I stretched out in the air most of the way, then put it onto the stone and finished pressing it into shape. You could roll it out on a floured surface if you prefer.) The dough will immediately start to cook on the hot stone.

- Spread your sauce on, sprinkle with cheese, then your toppings. (Or toppings then cheese if you like to do things that way.) Pop back in the oven (do NOT forget that your pizza stone is still hot - use an oven mitt or you will be sorry!) and bake until the crust is evenly browned and the cheese is bubbly. I'm not exactly sure how long this takes, but I think it was half an episode of Mad Men - 20 min or so.

- Let cool for 10 min so you can cut it without the cheese going everywhere!

- Leftovers can be reheated in a 350 oven for 5-10 min.

As far as toppings go, obviously pizza is great because you can put whatever the heck you want on it, and it's a great way to use up stuff in the fridge and/or freezer. I love lots of veggies on my pizza, but I rarely have fresh ones since I don't eat as many vegetables as I should. When I do buy fresh, I eat what I can then freeze the rest. Some instructions for my most common frozen vegetables:

Peppers - I usually buy bell peppers in all colors and poblanos (they're spicy but not as hot as jalapenos.) Slice off the tops and bottoms (those can be diced and frozen as well) then cut a slit down the side of the pepper so you have one big strip. Trim off the ribs and remove any seeds that don't want to let go. Slice into strips. Lay out on a sheet pan lined with plastic wrap. Make sure no pieces are touching. Freeze until firm, then pop into a plastic freezer bag. Label with the date and the type of pepper.

Onions - For some reason, I always decide that I need two onions when they're on my grocery list. I don't know why I do this. I never use them all. So I peel them, and slice into rings (usually about 1/4 of an inch for me, but whatever you like.) Freeze in the same manner as the bell peppers. I like rings because I can trim them into strips if I want (just cut the rings in half!) or dice or mince or whatever. You can't un-dice or un-mince an onion, so this gives you more options.

Broccoli and Carrots - A little more labor intensive, but it's really about as difficult as boiling water. Seriously. Just boil a pot of water, trim the broccoli into florets. I usually cut my carrots into rounds but it's up to you. (Peel first please!!) Pop them in the boiling water with a pinch of salt for a minute or two, shock them in ice water to stop the cooking and keep the color, then drain well and freeze as described above.

Zucchini - Shred and pack into plastic freezer bags. Squeeze the air out and press the zucchini flat. When ready to use, drain in a paper towel lined colander - use for potato and zucchini pancakes, or zucchini bread, etc. (And no, I don't put carrots or zucchini on my pizza!)

I just had some reheated pizza for lunch - just as good as it was last night!