Tale of 12 Cakes Finale

 We've finally made it to the end of my Tale of 12 Cakes frosting series. You're all probably sick of cakes and frosting by now... I know by Saturday last week I was! However, it was totally worth making tons of cakes for my little brother and his adorable new wife. I love them so much, and I wanted to help the best way I could: cakes, cakes, and more cakes.
oh how I love my jcrew necklace! (Big thanks to China) 
Here they all are! We sliced off a piece of whatever cake each guest wanted. It was fun watching them decide on which one they wanted, and for them to come back to try even another piece! Everyone was so amazing, and I was so happy to meet again with some familiar faces. 

List of cakes from left to right: 
Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake with Lemon Glaze (x2)
Fudge Marble Cake with Cocoa Buttercream Frosting and Oreo Crumble
Simple White Cake with White Chocolate Orange Frosting and Slice Orange Candy Garnish
Luscious Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting, Chocolate Ganache, and Choc-Covered Strawberries
Dark Black Forest Andes Cake with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting
Lemon Pudding Cake with Zesty Lemon Buttercream Frosting
Red Velvet Petal Cake with Almond Infused Cream Cheese Frosting
 Moist Carrot Cake with Almond Infused Cream Cheese Frosting and Almond Crumble
Butter Pecan Cake with Caramel and Coconut Pecan Frosting
Devil's Food Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting and Chocolate Ganache
German Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate Raspberry Frosting
Moist Carrot Cake with Almond-Infused Cream Cheese Frosting and Almond Crumble
Frosting recipe 6 out of 6 from my Tale of 12 Cakes week:  Simple White Buttercream Frosting

If you're looking for the recipe, I've already shared it on my blog before, so click here. I used them originally on my Pink Ombre Mini Cakes, and have kept the delicious recipe ever since.

I used the Simple White Buttercream Frosting as a base for a lot of the mix-in frostings we used.

"Oh! But Mandy! You cheated with the mix-in flavors! How dare you call yourself a true baker! "

.... you make offensive amounts of frosting and cake in a 3-day period and let me know if you made it through without some kind of therapy... 

Normally I wouldn't use them, but they turned out really delicious, and were such a time-saver for an already psychotic afternoon. 
All in all, I learned a bunch of things along my little cake-a-thon journey:
- the house gets really hot when the oven is on practically ALL day.
- don't trust a cake stand I've never met before.
- deep breaths are essential, and should be frequent.
- lemon juice does something crazy to frosting.
- KEEP STICKS AWAY FROM MANCHILD around cakes - we came in halfway through and my kid was poking at one of the cakes in the piano room with a stick (Q$%Q#$#$@).
- it's not the end of the world if I need to start a cake over. 
- yes, it does require that much butter and cream cheese. savor every ounce.
- frosting freezes fast in an outdoor freezer.
- Pinterest can save lives, and my sanity.
- My Mom rocks (even though I already knew that).
- slice bigger pieces of cake, there is plenty to go around.
- Spotify can keep one's sanity in check, and preserve it altogether.
- if a cake cracks, start over. no matter how much I can try to talk yourself into it working, it won't.
- have someone there to watch my manchild while I make cakes... stress levels will diminish
- don't be afraid to try something new
- make more red velvet and Andes mint cakes for a crowd :) 
- I can do hard things.


Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting

Black Forest Andes Mint Checkerboard Cake with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting
Frosting recipe 5 out of 6 from my Tale of 12 Cakes week (only 1 more frosting recipe left to share, and I'll post the cake table picture from last Saturday!):

This cake was the first to go on Saturday! It seemed like almost everyone who came through the line wanted this cake, and then came back for another slice shortly thereafter. They must have fallen as hard for this frosting as I did. I love frosting, I just can't get enough of it (if you hadn't noticed) - and adding mint to it? It was killer, and instantly became my favorite frosting recipe of the week.

I almost lost my cool making this cake, though. You see, the cake you see above is attempt #2. The first attempt tipped over mid-frosting (on the counter), and I had to completely start over. There may or may not have been a few colorful words flying about the kitchen... I was devastated.

I had just ruined a couple layers of cake and an entire batch of mint frosting (after all, ingredients = money). Thankfully, instead of showing signs of stress at the situation, my Mom and Dad just grabbed a couple of forks and started eating away at the remnants like there was no tomorrow. After that, I didn't mind one bit that the cake tipped over and I had to start again - it gave us all a deliciously moist and minty cake to sneak bites from all afternoon. And what's a better pre-wedding Open House stress reliever than chocolate? 

Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting 

8 oz cream cheese
6 T unsalted butter
3-4 C powdered sugar
1 T heavy cream or milk
1 t peppermint extract
green food coloring (I used Wilton's Kelly Green)

1. Cream together cream cheese and butter until fluffy.
2. Add in sugar, heavy cream and peppermint extract. Beat well.
3. Add green food coloring. 
4. To can desired consistency, add in more milk (teeny at a time) for thin consistency, and more powdered sugar for thicker consistency.

Recipe source: Your Cup of Cake


Salted Caramel Frosting and Simple Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Fudge Cake with a Chocolate Chip Center, Salted Caramel Frosting, and Chocolate Ganache
Frosting recipe 4 out of 6 from my Tale of 12 Cakes week:

I've had this recipe pinned on Pinterest for a long time, and this was the perfect opportunity to try it out! Sweet and salty is one of my all-time favorite flavor combos. Ever since I was a little girl, Peanut M&Ms have been my #1 choice. Not peanut butter. Peanut. Aight? Aight. Sweet + Salty is such a beautiful compliment to the dessert world.

So you can imagine when we were at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco a couple weeks ago and they were handing out free salted caramel chocolate squares....  it was DIVINE. For a while there I thought I wasn't going to be able to shake the craving for more....

...until I made this frosting.

The flavors were subtle at first, so I added in a bit of caramel drizzle. It added that top layer over the rich caramel undertone, and the frosting came right together. I covered a devil's food cake with this frosting, stuffed the inside layer with chocolate chips, and smothered the outside with decadent chocolate ganache.

I had never tried working with chocolate ganache before - it was ridiculously easy (although, next time I'll be more patient, and let the edges drip where they may). When I make Ryan's annual cheesecake (for his birthday) it will be hard to not coat each fluffy inch with this stuff...  

Salted Caramel Frosting

2 sticks butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese
3-4 powdered sugar
1 C salted caramel (recipe below)
caramel syrup to taste 

1. If you haven't already, prepare salted caramel recipe in advance.
2. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed in your stand mixer until creamy.
3. Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
4. Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.
4. Add additional powdered sugar until the frosting is the sweetness and consistency you desire.
5. Add a drizzle of caramel syrup to desired taste. Add more powdered sugar to regain desired consistency. 

Recipe adapted from: Kimberly Taylor Image 

Salted Caramel

1 C sugar
4 T water
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 C heavy cream
2 T butter
1/2 t lemon juice
1/2 t sea salt

1. Combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
2. Cover the saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
3. After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
4. Do not stir, trust me. Swirl the liquid around the pan so the caramel mixture doesn't burn.
5. Continue to cook until caramel turns an amber color and remove from the heat immediately. Let cool about 30 seconds.
6. Pour heavy cream into the mixture - be careful, the mixture bubbles up like crazy and is very hot.
7. Stir the mixture. Add butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.
8. Measure 1 C into a glass measuring cup. Allow to cool until thick like molasses (stirring occasionally). I put mine in the fridge to speed up the process.

Recipe source: Kimberly Taylor Image

Simple Chocolate Ganache

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream

1. Place chopped chocolate into the bowl of a food processor.
2. Heat heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl for about 2-3 minutes on high (or until milk begins to simmer, but not boiling over).
3. Pour cream over chocolate and let stand for 1 minute.
4. Pulse several times in the processor until chocolate mixture is smooth.
5. Use as is for glazing - being gentle with the drips down the sides of the cakes/cupcakes.

Recipe adapted from: Alton Brown, The Food Network


Zesty Lemon Buttercream Frosting/Glaze

Luscious Lemon Pudding Cake with Zesty Lemon Frosting/Glaze
Frosting recipe 3 out of 6 from my Tale of 12 Cakes week:

This naked cake was such a hit! I wouldn't have foreseen such a result, considering my mini-disaster in the kitchen with the frosting....

For some reason or other, the frosting came out pretty runny after transportation (even though I kept it cold), and I was uber-frustrated. I added more powdered sugar to help it out. However, when I went to frost the cake layers, it was almost as if it was a very thick glaze instead of a frosting. It tasted heavenly, but as you can see above, the frosting stayed put on a flat foundation, but certainly not on the sides. I was about to write off the cake altogether, when I realized that the cake in "nude" form looked really awesome (and added contrast to the other cakes). The glaze quality kept the cake very moist on the inside (and the fresh layer of lemon pudding on the inside didn't hurt :). Next time, I want to use lemon extract, instead of fresh lemon juice. I don't think it'll mess with the overall chemistry of the frosting mix as much.

Overall, I really loved how the look and taste of this cake turned out. The little ring of white sprinkles around the top and bottom rim added such a dainty feel to the cake. 

I've added some re-modifications to my recipe (in parenthesis) to reflect how the frosting recipe can be more like.... well... frosting! But I've kept my original ingredient list in case you're going for that nude-look. Always a fun variation for a cake, I must say.


Zesty Lemon Buttercream Frosting 

Zest from one lemon, (make sure pieces are very fine)
2 T lemon juice (if you want it to be more of a frosting, and less of a frosting/glaze, then use 1 T lemon extract here instead).
2 sticks unsalted butter, soft
 2 1/2 C powdered sugar
1-2 T heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1.  Cream together butter, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and pinch of salt on medium until thoroughly mixed and slightly fluffy.
2. Add in milk. Batter will be slightly runny, but it's ok. You're about to add in a whole bunch of powdered sugar.
3. Add in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating on medium, until all powdered sugar has been added. Add more powdered sugar/milk to gain desired consistency.


Cocoa Buttercream Frosting

Fudge Marble Cake with Cocoa Buttercream Frosting and Oreo Crumble 

Frosting recipe 2 out of 6 from my Tale of 12 Cakes week:

Chocolate goes amazingly well with chocolate. Who knew? I loved the look of the fudge marble on the inside, coated with the delicious and rich flavor of cocoa on the outside. And how fun this cake was with a ring of oreo crumble on the outside! This cake went pretty fast on Saturday.

For the top of the cake, I just used the back of a spoon and moved it back and forth. I really like that unkempt look (and it saved me time not trying to make the top perfectly flat)

Cocoa Buttercream Frosting

1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2/3 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3-6 Cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2-4 Tablespoon heavy cream 
pinch of salt

1. With your stand mixer, beat the cold butter and cocoa powder until smooth. 
2. Add in vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and salt on medium speed until thoroughly combined. It should be stiff, this is when you add in the heavy cream until you reach your desired consistency. 


Almond Infused Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Petal Cake with Almond Cream Cheese Frosting and Pearl Sprinkles
Frosting recipe 1 out of 6 from my Tale of 12 Cakes week:

This cake was my sister's favorite, and for good reason. It was a beauty, and was the first time I had tried using the petal-decorating technique on a cake. The sides were a bit more tricky than I expected, but the top came out just lovely. 

Almond-Infused Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz unsalted butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 C powdered sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 t almond extract
milk (optional)

In a large bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese, and vanilla and almond extracts in your stand mixer. With the miter on low speed, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too stiff, add milk until you reach your desired consistency.

Recipe adapted from: The Food Network

The Tale of Twelve Cakes

Today I can finally breathe again (and finally sleep again last night, too). I had nightmare after nightmare earlier this week of cakes crumbling all over the floor, frosting spewing over the back of my car, and the cakes turning out absolutely horrid in general. My little brother's wedding Open House was on the line, and I wasn't about to give less than 100%. Then again, I had never taken on such a huge baking project in my entire life. I took a deep breath, and began the three-day cake-a-thon.

On Wednesday (Part 1), I made all the cake layers except for a couple (to be made on Friday). I wrapped each layer neatly in layers of plastic wrap for protection, and then put them in the freezer. I prayed they wouldn't get ruined from all the stacking; our freezer is usually quite empty, but with about about 20 layers-worth of cake, we still had to find a way to delicately store each and every one. The house smelled amazing all day from delicious cakes, and my kitchen looked like some insane (but effective) assembly line.

On Thursday (Part 2), I made the homemade frosting. I hadn't tried a couple of the new recipes before, so I was anxious/nervous that they'd work out alright. Thankfully, each tasted just as well as the last. My KitchenAid mixer did it's job so well I was tempted to pull out the car wax and pamper the outside of it's shiny BYU-blue shell at the end of the day.

On Friday (Part 3), I drove up to my Mom's home around 8:30am (where the open-house was going to be held) with a car-full of frosting, cake layers, and cake decorating tools. I assembled, frosted, and decorated each cake, one by one, while baking up a couple fresh-fruit cakes along the way. Long story short, I tipped over one cake mid-frosting (had to make another batch of frosting and make a few switches with the other cakes to compensate), cracked a couple layers of another, and broke one of my favorite cake stands. However, I still managed to keep my head on straight and press on. After a long day, I was back on the road before 8:30pm that evening. It was finished. I had made 12 cakes, and they turned out more lovely than I could have ever hoped for! 

The open-house was beautiful, and I had a blast serving cakes with my beautiful sister (my height comes right up to her shoulders)! I was pleased that things turned out well, and I loved seeing so many familiar friendly faces from our past. 


In light of my aforementioned week-of-crazy-cake-making. This week, I've decided to share with you 6 of the frosting recipes from the open-house, and a picture of the cake I chose to frost them with. Each frosting recipe is positively divine, and I am forever indebted to their awesomeness.

Let the frosting begin!

UPDATE: here they all are in one post :) 

Salted Caramel Frosting with Chocolate Ganache


Fresh Cherry Limeade

This week we're keepin' it simple with a couple new drink recipes. My little brother's wedding open-house is this Saturday and guess who is makin' 13 different frosting/flavor cakes this week? Moi.

It's going to be awesome. Wednesday I'm making and freezing most of the cakes. Thursday I'm making the frosting. And Friday we're throwing 'em all together and decorating each and every one (and baking the cakes we can't freeze... such as my Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Cake - which is up to 18,000 pins on Pinterest. Can you believe it?!) It's going to be an extreme cake-a-thon, and I'm sure I'll reach new levels of insanity. But as long as there's some goodies from the late 90's playing in the background, I'm sure we'll all survive.

Back to the limeade.

If you live near a Sonic, then you've probably felt the gravitational pull between 2-4pm called Happy Hour. It's when the drinks are half off, and the peak of the summer heat hits you full swing.... the perfect time to grab something refreshing (and loaded with pebble ice). Things are pretty strict as far as our budget goes, but with any change you find in your couch, under the seats in the car, and the quarter you randomly found outside on the sidewalk... the drinks are more-than-affordable.

But why go out and buy it, when it's so darn easy to make it at home? (and when you can have more of it with a big 'ol batch of it in your fridge?) Exactly.

There are plenty of copy-cat versions of this recipe out there right now. But this one, I believe, is perfectly true to the flavor combination of the coveted Cherry Limeade I never stop craving from Sonic... 

However, I've made it ten times better.

Why? I use freshly squeezed limes and fresh cherries instead of whatever syrup and maraschino cherry-mixture they have goin' on at the drive-through. Better ingredients = better overall taste. I'm just sayin'.
Fresh Cherry Limeade

Juice squeezed from 3 limes (strain out any little seeds)
1 C pitted fresh cherries, stems removed as well
1.25 liter of sprite (or any other lemon-lime soda)
1 C simple syrup*

1. *Prepare simple syrup (first): In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 c water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Place in freezer while preparing the rest of this recipe.
2. Pit and remove stems from your cherries (if you haven't already). Place in a blender with 1/2 of Sprite bottle. Mix until cherries are finely pureed.
3. With a fine-mesh strainer, strain cherries from mixture (if you don't want cherry chunks - skip this step if you don't mind the cherry chunks) and catch juice in a small pitcher.
4. Mix in lime juice and the rest of your Sprite bottle.
5. Add in simple syrup according to taste. We like it sugary, so we added the whole cup. But you can probably get by with just 1/2 cup or so.
6. Refridgerate for an hour, and serve with a slice of lime and pebble ice if so desired.

Recipe inspired by: Sonic's Cherry Limeade

Linking up here.


Brown Butter Funfetti Sugar Cookies

Friday. At last. 

I didn't really plan on making these cookies until I saw them earlier this week on Pinterest. And even better, I had all the ingredients... except for those darned sprinkles! I only had heart sprinkles, and little pearl sprinkles.... wasn't gonna do for these little cookie loves. So yesterday the manchild and I walked down a couple streets (taking a quick stop at Gloria's for some gelato to share, of course) to our local grocery store and picked up some sprinkles. I couldn't wait to make these cookies!

There's just something about these bright colored sprinkles that screams PARTY to me. Friday in itself is a perfect reason to celebrate! The summer is winding down, so we're planning weekend activities here and there to make it count. We'll be sneaking a few of these cookies in our packs for our hike tonight to a waterfall up the canyon. Oh how I love summertime!

Now, these aren't just your ordinary sugar cookies. Have you ever tried browned butter? I hadn't, and I was anxious to see what all the fuss was about. It's amazing. Sure, it's just butter cooked a little longer. But there's just something perfectly dreamy about the rich nut flavor that results from such a simple process. And sprinkles? Can you ever get enough? What a fine cookie this turned out to be.

Brown Butter Funfetti Sugar Cookies

1/3 C shortening
1/3 C unsalted butter, browned
3/4 C sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract
1 3/4 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 T sprinkles

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
2. To make browned butter: Slice butter in cubes, add to a saucepan and heat to medium. Stir with a wooden spoon until it melts completely. Watch butter very carefully, and continue to stir. When butter barely (just BARELY) begins to turn a darker yellow, remove from heat. Pour butter in a separate small bowl to cool. If it's a dark brown color, it's burned, and will taste likewise.
3. In your stand mixer, cream together browned butter, shortening and sugar.
4. Add egg and vanilla, mix thoroughly. 
5. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until just combined - don't over-mix. 
6. Add sprinkles and combine with a wooden spoon until they're evenly dispensed throughout mixture. 
7. This cookie dough will make about 16 small-medium cookies... but I made mine smaller so we could have more! So mine were about 2 tablespoons of batter each. Roll them into small dough balls and place into a greased cookie sheet. 
8. Bake for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a cooling rack. Store with a slice of bread to keep soft. 

Recipe source: The Little Kitchen 


Philly Cheesesteak Pita-Bread Pizza

I know. I get it. With the dessert recipes aside, I've posted three pizza recipes in a row. I must be losing my marbles...

...or perhaps we're just a pizza-loving family. Over these past few months, I'm convinced myself I can put just about anything on a pizza (and oh how I love dessert pizzas, too!), and with so many different breads/dough to use as a crust... it's easy to branch away from the norm. For instance:

....just to name a couple recipe I've ventured through this year.  
One again, this was another meal where Ryan asked me why I couldn't have just made a philly cheesesteak sandwich... until he tasted it. Let's just say he was more than convinced that you can successfully turn a philly cheesesteak sandwich into a pizza. This pizza is amazing - I've never cooked with Anaheim peppers before, and it didn't take long this afternoon for me to plan another recipe or two with them included. They taste like green peppers but with a little extra somethin'. Also I learned today that pita bread is dynamite for pizzas. It's so easy to throw a few ingredients on and it's the perfect serving size for one plate. 

From the original recipe, I opted out of the hot cherry peppers. It would have been nice for color, but after Ryan spent a couple years eating straight jalapeno salsa in Texas, I have to keep things on the less-spicy side.... or else I think his organs might explode.

Aside from that mental picture, these pizzas were fantastic. Each texture played it's part, and the ''borrowed'' flavor combination was more than convincing. Good, good stuff, my friends.

Philly Cheesesteak Pita-Bread Pizzas

1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium Anaheim pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced 
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 lb thinly sliced flank steak
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
3/4 t salt & 1/2 t pepper
4 pocket-less pitas (white or wheat)
2 C shredded Italian cheese blend (mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan)

1. Preheat broiler on low.
2. Heat EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil, in case you don't watch the Food Network) in a large pan over medium-high heat.
3. Add onion and peppers and cook until slightly softened - stirring every so often.
4. Add the garlic and steak pieces and cook until beef begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add parsley, salt and pepper. Cook about one minute, and stir often.
5.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place pitas on baking sheet and brush with a teeny bit of EVOO. Put in oven for about a minute or so - just to get a head start on the crust. Remove crust from oven.
6. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup cheese on each pita. Top each with some beef mixture and then another 1/4 cheese on top of each pita again.
7. Broil the pizzas until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes (edges burn fast!). Cut each pizza into quarters.

Recipe adapted from: The Food Network Magazine, September 2012 Issue


Pepperoni Pizza Pull-Apart Bread

I can't even being to tell you how cute we looked at our little coffee table yesterday with this beauty between us. We sat on the floor Indian-style across from each other, and one by one, without any utensils whatsoever, consumed the mighty pizza bread together (while catching up on the latest The Daily Show funnies).

We really liked it - the seasoned butter really adds an extra layer of richness to each bite. I also ended up using sourdough bread (they didn't have regular bread at the bakery at our local supermarket this time), and I think I'll stick with it next time! It was so cheesy and gooey - just how I like my pizza.

I thought it was a little funny yesterday when Ryan and I were making dinner. While I was stuffing the loaf of bread with pizza fixings, he asked me a simple question:

"So... are you just getting bored?"

This cracked me up. Why not just make pizza?! He's right. I do tend to over-complicate dinner sometimes, and I've been doing it before I even started blogging. Instead of making regular pizza, I chose to make Pull-Apart Pizza Bread. Instead of making a regular pie, I made Mini-Pie Bites. It's an addiction, I tell you! This doesn't mean I don't appreciate the standards, though. I mean, if a regular Chocolate Chip Cookie 'ain't broke, why fix it? ... then again... I did make Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies that one time...

Pepperoni Pizza Pull-Apart Bread

1 round loaf of sourdough bread
2 C Shredded mozzarella Cheese
1 package mini-pepperoni
3 T butter, melted
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t dried oregano 
3 T shredded Parmesan Cheese  
Pizza/Marinara sauce for dipping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
2. With a sharp bread knife, cut slits about one inch apart horizontally, then vertically, into the bread almost to the bottom of the loaf - careful not to cut too deep (you still want the pieces to be attached to each other). 
3. Move loaf of bread to an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet.
4. Stuff (and yes, you can fit a ton in there) pepperoni and mozzarella cheese in each of the slits. 
5. Combine butter, oregano and garlic powder in a small cup. With a pastry brush, brush the seasoned butter over the entire loaf. 
6. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 
7. Cover with another piece of aluminum foil, bake for 15 minutes. 
8. Unwrap bread, bake another 10 minutes until slightly golden. 
9. Serve with warm marinara/pizza sauce. 

Recipe slightly adapted from: Let's Dish.

linking up here.


Salted Pretzel-Marshmallow Bars

In the latest Food Network Magazine, there's an entire section dedicated to toasted marshmallows. I was drooling on our long drive to California, as I was dreaming about how wonderful it would be to taste each recipe. Toasted marshmallows are some of my favorite - and summer is the perfect time to get as much of those little warm & gooey pockets of fluffy goodness as possible.

I'm one of those people who torch the heck outta the marshmallow while roasting them. I make sure they're glowing with fire, lightly blow out the flames, pull off the outer layer of crispy charred marshmallow, devour, and repeat until the marshmallow is all gone. That's my kind of marshmallow roasting! It's always been that way, and I'm sure it'll never change. Now, this doesn't mean I lack the skills to make a perfectly golden marshmallow :) I just get impatient.

Ryan is the first person I've ever met who doesn't like pretzels. I LOVE pretzels. When I was growing up, my Mom would almost always have her pool bag stocked with pretzels and sunflower seeds. I love eating pretzels with cheese, dipped in chocolate, or even just plain. Ryan, on the other hand, won't even eat them in a dessert. It's just not his thing. So, sadly, we'll only be keeping enough for me to nibble on. I hope my neighbors don't share Ryan's negative palate towards pretzels. What are the odds, though, right?

These bars are coated and filled with such flavor! The peanut butter drizzle adds the perfect layer of saltiness, and the chocolate drizzle mixes so well with the toasted marshmallow and crunchy pretzel pieces. You can use any kind of pretzel shapes or sizes you want - I just love how the pretzel's square shape played off the circular marshmallows.

Salted Pretzel-Marshmallow Bars


for the bars:
1 1/2 C broken pretzel pieces
1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 C packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 t vanilla extract
2 drops almond extract (optional)

for the topping:
3 large marshmallows, halved crosswise
1/4 C peanut butter
1 t vegetable oil
1/4 C chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a 9x9 baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on all sides (so you can pull out the bars easier after baking). Spray the foil with cooking spray.
3. Pulse 1 cup pretzel pieces in a food processor until finely ground into about 1/2 cup of crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in flour, baking soda, and salt.
4. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar. Cool, then stir in eggs and vanilla. Stir half the pretzel mixture into the butter mixture, then add in the other half.
5. Spread the batter in your prepared baking pan. Scatter the remaining 1/2 C pretzel pieces on top. Bake until golden and a toothpick comes out clean if poked in the center - about 25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on rack, then lift the foil to remove bars from pan and transfer to a baking sheet.
6. Preheat the broiler (I did mine on low). Press marshmallow halves, cut side down, on top of bars. Broil, rotating if needed, until marshmallows are golden brown - about a minute. Let cool.
7. Melt peanut butter in microwave, by 10 seconds, until melted. Drizzle over bars. Melt chocolate chips with 1 t vegetable oil, by 10 seconds at a time, until all melted throughout. Drizzle chocolate over bars. Refrigerate until bars are set, and chocolate is hard. Cut with a knife dipped in very hot water to make more even cuts.

Recipe adapted from: Food Network Magazine, September 2012 Issue 

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Santa Fe Summer BBQ Pizza with Whole Wheat Crust

Aaaaand we're back. This weekend we drove to the Oakland/Morgan Hill/San Francisco area for my little brother's wedding. It was absolutely fabulous! Also, it was a nice break from blog land - even though all weekend I had strange urges to take pictures of our food.... wonder where that came from...

The evening before we drove to California, I made this lovely pizza. Originally I didn't plan on making the pizza dough with whole wheat flour. I didn't even know I had it until I couldn't find my all-purpose flour in the cupboard. All I had was this unopened package of whole wheat flour in the top corner - I seriously have no idea how it got there, but I'm grateful I could use it for this dough. It turned out to be quite heavenly. 

We had some ears of corn, and plenty of cherry tomatoes left to use in my fridge, so I was really excited when I saw this recipe on Iowa Girl Eats a couple weeks ago. I knew right away that I just had to try it out. It had all the flavors I love, tons of cilantro, and included a new twist for the sauce! 

The only thing I think this needed, however, is maybe some chopped red onion. It needed a little bite in texture. And the dough recipe could have been easily halved for one giant pizza. I had plenty of dough left over that I couldn't have used within 2 days (and wasn't sure how well it would freeze).


Santa Fe Summer BBQ Pizza with Whole Wheat Crust

1/3 C BBQ sauce
1 C black beans, drained and rinsed
1 C corn kernels (I cut my corn off 3 cooked ears of corn)
1 C halved cherry tomatoes
1 C shredded mozzarella (I think pepper jack would have been just lovely, too)
1/4 C chopped cilantro
1 recipe *Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (Yes. I know.) Spread 1 ball of pizza dough out into a large circle on a greased pizza pan. Spread BBQ sauce even around dough, leaving an edge for the crust. Layer on black beans, corn, tomatoes, and cheese. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes, then top with cilantro. Slice and serve!
Recipe Source: Iowa Girl Eats

*Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

1 1/4 C warm water
1 T honey
1 packet active dry yeast
3 C whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
1 t salt

Whisk together water, yeast, and honey in a small bowl. Set aside for 5 minute until yeast starts to foam. Meanwhile, with your stand mixer fixed with the dough hook attachment, pulse together flour and salt. Pour in oil and yeast mixture and process for about 10 seconds, or until dough comes together in a bowl. Continue to "knead" in mixer for about 3 minutes. 

Separate dough into 2 balls and place next to each other on a well-floured wax paper covered baking sheet. Cover tops with flour, then cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot to rise for 40 minutes, and until dough had risen twice it's size.

Recipe source: Iowa Girl Eats
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Just In Case You Thought I Had Ditched Y'all..

Hello, my lovelies. We arrived last night in California for my little brother's wedding, so I'll be back-in-blogging-action again on Monday!


Cranberry-Avocado Salad with Candied Spiced Almonds and Poppy Seed Balsamic Vinaigrette

I can't even begin to describe how much I loved this salad. With the exception of the vinaigrette (again, I didn't taste more than a teeny drizzle, but what I had tasted fine) I think it was spot on. A little bacon wouldn't have hurt... as always. I also added my beloved feta to the mix.

This past weekend we had a little get-together with my roommates from freshman year. Everyone brought the most delicious things to share, and it was fun catching up with each other. I brought this salad, and couldn't believe how much I could fall in love with the perfect crunchy texture and sweet taste of the candied almonds.

Let me explain - the candied almonds are not just sugary sweet. They have such a fun twist of cumin and paprika to kick the savory splendor up a few notches. You don't even have to limit their use to a salad. These would go perfectly over a dessert or a beautiful fruit compote/berry bowl with mint whipped cream. Can you even imagine? Oh man, this just opened up a whole set of doors for me. I can't wait!


Cranberry-Avocado Salad with Candied Spiced Almonds and Poppy Seed Balsamic Vinaigrette

6 oz baby spinach, stems removed, broken in half if leaves are too big
1 romaine heart, end removed, chopped
1 small bunch cilantro, washed/dried, leaves removed whole from stem
2 medium avocados, chopped
3/4 C dried cranberries
3/4 C *Candied Spiced Almonds (this makes the salad ridiculously delicious).
2 T feta cheese 

1/3 C sugar
1 1/2 T poppy seeds 
1 1/2 T sesame seeds
1/2 t paprika
2 t honey mustard (or dry mustard)
1 T minced sweet onion
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t black pepper
1/2 balsamic vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
1/3 C vegetable oil
1/3 C EVOO

Prepare dressing: combine all ingredients in a medium-sized mason jar and shake well to dissolve sugar. Put lid on, let marinade until salad is prepped.

For the salad, place washed greens and cilantro leaves in a large bowl. Add dried cranberries and avocados and about 1/4 cup of the dressing and toss gently. Scatter candied almonds and feta over salad and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Have extra dressing at table for those who want more drizzle. (I preferred it very light).

recipe source: the cafe sucre farine

*Candied Spiced Almonds

3 cups sliced almonds
1/2 C sugar
3 T butter
2 t cinnamon
1 t cumin
1 t paprika
1 t vanilla
sea salt

Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

In a non-stick pan, heat sugar over medium heat, occasionally tipping and swirling the sugar until it's all melted into a pale golden syrup. Do not burn. Do not stir with a spoon yet (I speak from experience... I had to start over once... )

Lower heat immediately. Add butter. Then slowly add cinnamon, paprika and vanilla. Stir until well combined and all butter is incorporated into the sugar syrup.

Add the nuts and stir gently. If there are clumps of sugar, it's all good, they'll melt as you continue to stir the almonds. Cover and continue to cook on low, stirring often. Watch carefully, and DO NOT let them burn - it happens fast. Turn out mixture onto prepared foil and sprinkle with sea salt. Spread around foil to cool.

I ate this stuff in handfuls.... 

recipe adapted from: the cafe sucre farine 


Slow Cooker Sweet Apricot Chicken over Orzo

You'd think after a big batch of Fresh Apricot Ice Cream and Apricot Cornmeal Crumb Tarts with Apricot Compote Glaze, we wouldn't have any apricots left over....


We still had about 10-12 left, and I wasn't going to let them go to waste. I figured I already used the apricots in two dessert recipes, so I needed to widen my experience into cooking/serving them in more of a savory way - with some meat. I searched high and low, and with our limited ingredients, I found the perfect recipe.

I was highly skeptical... and a little afraid of what I had just thrown into my crock pot. But I trusted the recipe, and let it simmer away the afternoon. Thankfully, my skepticism turned to anticipation as the sweet and tangy smell of apricots coupled with the warm juicy appeal of slow-cooked chicken filled my home. I couldn't wait to try it! I prepped my plate with orzo (we were out of rice, and I still had dry orzo pasta left over from my Chicken and Orzo Soup with Kale).

This meal was a little heavier than I anticipated, but very delicious. If you're not a fan of a little sweet in your meat, this recipe is probably not your cup-of-tea. It was very sweet, but delightfully so. I mostly ate the chicken and orzo (maybe because I might have been a little sick of eating apricots that week). My favorite part of this was (of course) the chicken falling apart out of the crock pot.

And thus ends my little apricot spree in the kitchen last week. I seriously felt like I was on Chopped with what food we had left in our cupboards - plus using apricots in a meal versus a dessert was a big of a challenge for me. But I tried it out, and I'm glad we all pleasantly survived.

Slow Cooker Sweet Apricot Chicken over Orzo 

12 dried apricots (I used fresh apricots)
2 chicken breasts, trimmed, sliced in three chunks
2 T butter
2 T vegetable oil
1 onions, sliced
1 C chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Cooked orzo pasta or white/brown rice

Wash apricots, remove pits (if using fresh), and slice in half. Scatter in slow cooker. In a large skillet, heat butter and oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and place in skillet with melted ingredients. Cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. Arrange over apricots.

Drain skillet, but reserve about 1 tablespoon drippings. Add onion and cook until just soft (in drippings in skillet), about 2 minutes. Add broth and turn heat to high. Bring to a boil and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of skillet.

Pour contents of skillet over apricots and chicken. Cover and cook on low heat for 4-6 hours on low. Carefully transfer chicken to a serving dish over cooked orzo pasta/cooked rice. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Pour remaining contents of slow cooker into a saucepan. Boil, stirring often, until reduced and thickened, about 10 minutes. Pour over chicken.

Recipe Source: MyRecipes.com

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Fresh Apricot Ice Cream

And my unofficial Apricot Week continues with recipe #2. 

Ryan rarely makes special requests for dinner/dessert. But when we brought home that bucket of apricots I talked about earlier, he specifically asked if we could turn some of them into ice cream. The man loves fruit in ice cream. I'm completely the opposite - I like the quadruple chocolate brownie pie ice cream drizzled in hot fudge/caramel/shell with all toppings physically possible piled sky high. You'd think our preferences would be switched, right? Nope. Man likes the fruity ice cream. And man got his fruity ice cream.

This turned out simply amazing. I usually cringe a little when people label something with "the best" out there (because how could they really know?) but I'm going to let Ryan bend that rule - he claims it's the best ice cream he's ever had. Dead serious. I think he was being hypnotized by the almond extract. He ate the entire batch by himself last night (with the exception of a scoop for me). I had no idea it would be such a hit with him. But how couldn't it have been? The ice cream had such a welcoming compliment of tart (not too tart) apricots with the creamy bliss of almond - all wrapped up in beautiful creamy bliss. I personally would have enjoyed it better on a warm, gooey brownie, but you can't win 'em all, eh?

Fresh Apricot Ice Cream

1 lb fresh ripe apricots 
1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar
1 C heavy cream
3 drops almond extract
lemon juice, to taste

Cut the apricots into sixths and place them in a sauce pan with water. Cover and cook over medium low heat until tender, stirring to prevent scorching. Remove from heat, add the sugar, and stir until dissolved. Cool to room temperature. 

Place the mixture in a food processor and puree until smooth. Push mixture through a fine mesh colander to remove any skins/chunks. Whisk in the cream, almond extract and lemon juice, to taste. Chill thoroughly - about 3 hours. 

Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions. Store in a separate air-tight container in freezer.

recipe source: The Perfect Scoop


Apricot Cornmeal Crumb Tarts with Apricot Compote Glaze

An adorable friend of mine in the neighborhood sent out a message via facebook that she had plenty of apricots ready for picking! So of course, Ryan and I headed right on over. Much to my surprise, she had an entire bucket already filled with apricots for us to take home. I was very very grateful, but I was scared to death on how I'd be able to use so many apricots before they over ripened. That's when I searched vigorously through any and every recipe resource I have - thankfully, I had a couple recipes ready. And thus begins my unofficial Apricot Week. (haah!) I usually don't do themes/holiday posts/whatever, but I do believe in cooking seasonally. And apricots, my friends, are in full swing. I was able to use the apricots in three recipes over the past 4 days. This is number 1, folks.

Originally I thought I needed a tart pan to make a tart. But good heavens, how could I say no to what these little heart shaped pans could produce? I love how adorable they turned out - the taste was equally as wonderful. (Thanks Sariah for running over so quickly with these cute little pans!)

While searching for apricot recipes this week, I was able to further explore such a wonderful website: Pastry Studio. I'm convinced this lady is the apricot queen. She has so many amazing recipes, and each one I've tried has been a complete success. This one included :)

I loved how the tarts included cornmeal - giving them that familiar cornbread taste. It was met perfectly with the sunset-colored apricot center - gooey, but not gummy. They weren't very sweet, and I knew this would be the case. So in the middle of the recipe where you're supposed to drain the apricot compote, I saved the drippings, and made a sweet glaze to drizzle over the tarts after they popped out of the oven. It really hit the spot, and was a perfect compliment to the overall crumbly texture and light taste of the tarts.


Apricot Cornmeal Crumb Tarts with Apricot Compote Glaze


Apricot Center:
8 fresh ripe apricots (I used about 20 mini-apricots)
1/4 C water
1/4 C + 2 T sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (I used a little under a tablespoon of extract)
1/2 t cinnamon

Cornmeal crumble:
2 C flour
1/2 C + 2 T fine cornmeal 
3/4 C sugar
1/4 t + 1/8 t salt
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, cut into small cubes
3 egg yolks
1/4 C + 2 T sour cream

Apricot Compote Glaze:
1 C powdered sugar
drippings from apricot preserves (see directions below) 

Clean apricots, remove pits (watch out for little bugs if you picked apricots fresh!), and cut apricots in half - set aside. Combine water and sugar together and bring to a simmer. Add vanilla to syrup and stir. Add in apricots and cinnamon. Lower heat and simmer until apricots start to look jammy, but hold their shape. take off heat and pour through a strainer placed over a bowl to drain. Save the drained juices for your glaze!

Preheat oven to 350

Whisk together dry ingredients - flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in a food processor. Toss in butter pieces and pulse until butter breaks up (don't overmix). In a separate small bowl, mix together yolks and sour cream. Don't overmix, but mix until it's combining together, but still looks pretty crumbly. Pour into a large bowl and toss gently with your clean hands.

Pour about 2/3 of the dough crumbles into a 9'' tart pan (I used 4 heart-shaped mini cake pans, and 4 shallow white ramekins). Gently crumble and even layer to the edges of pan(s) and press lightly without smashing down. If using a tart pan, cover the bottom of the pan completely so there's no holes for leaking. Layer on the apricots in the center, but leave room around the edges. Sprinkle the remaining dough crumble over the top of the apricots, spreading some to the edges to form a border.

Place tart(s) on a cookie sheet and bake for about 35 minutes (I cooked mine in 2 batches of 4 ramekins/pans each, and they were done in about 20-25 minutes). Cool completely before removing from pans to serve.

While baking, prepare glaze. Whisk powdered sugar vigorously with the apricot compote/syrup drippings. Drizzle over tarts before serving.

recipe source: Pastry Studio 


Southwestern Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

Just look at all those gorgeous colors and flavors! I love me some southwestern food, but with the addition of all these extra toppings on the dish, there's no way it couldn't be a perfect salad for lunch/dinner yesterday. 

I'm kind of a strange breed when it comes to salad. As I've mentioned before, I usually eat my salads dry as a bone. But ever since I started making my own homemade salad dressing/vinaigrette, I've fallen in love with that little drizzle of goodness. The toppings are a love of mine as well. If I happen to be at some kind of a salad bar at a restaurant (doesn't happen often, of course) you'll probably find my plate with a pile of toppings on a small layer of salad leaves. Strange. I know. But it's just how I roll. My favorite part of this salad was the flavor of the feta against the different ingredients. We don't usually buy feta, and it's a shame. It tastes heavenly on a salad (thanks Cafe Rio for the idea, of course). 

Ryan gobbled up the salad, but said it needed a slab of meat/chicken (surprise, surprise). Maybe some bacon? That said, he mentioned between bites that the salad was very delicious for chick food.

Southwestern Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette


Romaine Hearts, trimmed and chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, sliced
1 avocado, sliced into chunks
1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 ears of corn, boiled and kernels removed
a few cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 T feta cheese
2 green onions, trimmed and chopped
1/8 C cilantro, stems removed
1 handful tortilla strips (I sliced up 1 tortilla into strips, and fried them in oil until crispy)

1/2 C chopped cilantro
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 T fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t oregano
1 T red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

For salad, in a very large serving bowl (think popcorn bowl), add chopped romaine, tomatoes, green onions, avocado, bell pepper, black beans, corn, tortilla strips and feta cheese. Top with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette, or serve on the side.

For vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a mini-food processor. Let sit for about 20 minutes before using (the flavors need to marinate). Enjoy! 

Recipe adapted from: For the Love of Cooking
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