Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Baklava

One of my ALL TIME favorite sweet treats is Baklava.  It's the only other dessert besides cake, that I craaaave!  I just love the crunch and the sweet taste of honey.  It is simply delicious!  Although to make it yourself takes a lot of love.  The good news is this recipe makes a lot, so you can share with neighbors and friends or stash away for yourself, because this one only gets better with time.  I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, it is kind of a hard process and I am sure pictures would have helped.  So I will try to be very descriptive :)  I had a buddy to help me make this which saved a little time, but if you are doing it by yourself I would carve out about two hours to complete.  This recipe is from one of my favorite cook books The Best Recipe.  But the International version.  This is a great cookbook because they have already gone through the process of finding the best process and ingredients and therefore recipe.  Everything I have made from here has been amazing!


BAKLAVA

Before you start make sure your phyllo dough is completely thawed.  If it was in the freezer, let it sit on the counter for 4-5 hours or in the refrigerator overnight.  If using the smaller size 14x9, you can use a 13x9 baking dish, glass or metal.  I used a jelly roll pan, because my phyllo was the large size 14x18, but I would double the sugar syrup part next time. If you get the large size phyllo you can also just cut them in half and still use the 13x9 baking dish.  You can refreeze any unused phyllo.

Sugar Syrup (double if using jelly roll pan)
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1 4-inch long zest from 1 lemon (run a vegetable peeler from pole to pole to remove long wide strips of zest)
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt

Nut filling
2 1/2 cups of blanched slivered almonds
1 cup of walnuts
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Pastry and Butter
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, clarified (see instructions below)
plus more for buttering the pan
1 pound phyllo, thawed

Clarified Butter
Cut butter into 1 inch chunks.
Melt in small saucepan over medium-low heat, about 10 minutes.
Take off heat and let cool for another 10 minutes.
Take a soup spoon and skim off white part. 
Wha-la clarified butter!

For the Sugar Syrup:
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium high heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Transfer to a measuring cup (2c or 4c if doubled).  A glass or metal bowl would work as well.  Let cool. It will get thicker as it cools.  Then discard the spices and zest.  Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days in refrigerator.

For the Nut Filling:
Pulse the almonds and walnuts in food processor until very finely chopped.  About 25 pulses.  Transfer to med bowl and reserve 1 Tbls. for garnish.  Stir the remaining filling ingredients into the nuts.  Set aside.

To Assemble and Bake (this is the part that takes love and patience):
Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Unwrap and unfold the phyllo and carefully smooth it with your hands to flatten.  Cover with plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel.  Butter your pan.
If you have any sheets that are broken try to use in the middle layers, save the whole sheets for the top and bottom.

Place 1 sheet at a time in the bottom of your pan and brush with your clarified butter until completely coated. Repeat 7 times. 
Distribute 1 cup of the nut filling and spread accross sheets.
Place 1 sheet on top of the filling and dab with butter, brushing might make it slip.  Repeat 4-5 times, brushing the butter on each layer.
Distribute 1 cup of the nut filling and spread accross sheets.
Place 1 sheet on top of the filling and dab with butter.  Repeat 4-5 times, brushing the butter on each layer.
Distribute 1 cup of the nut filling and spread accross sheets.
Finish with 8-10 more sheets of buttered phyllo.

Using your hands compress layers removing air bubbles working from center to outer edge.
Cut baklava into diamonds or squares using serrated knife, then bake until golden crisped, about 1 1/2 hours.  Rotating the pan halfway through baking.

Immediately after removing from oven, pour the cooled syrup over the cut lines of the baked baklava.  Drizzle about 2-4 tablespoons over the top.
Garnish with chopped nuts.
Cool about 3 hours.  Then cover with foil and let stand about 8 hours before serving. 
You may serve after cool, but the flavors and texture will improve if left to stand.  It can be wrapped in foil tightly and kept at room temperature for up to 10 days.

Enjoy!




Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yummiest Mac and Cheese ever!

It's winter here in Portland, we even had some snow last week.  It makes me want to curl up, with a warm blanket and a big bowl of comfort food.  In my opinion Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.I get asked for this recipe more than any other.  And I just cannot take the credit any longer!  I must share the wealth of this most delicious recipe.

Look at that yummy cheesy goodness...It tastes as good as it looks!

Warning!  This is not a low fat recipe. Yum!

Macaroni and Cheese
20 Servings (That's if they just have one!)

For topping
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 cups panko, bread crumbs or saltines
1/4 pound coarsely grated extra sharp cheddar (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

For macaroni and sauce
1 stick unsalted butter
6 Tbls all purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
1 pound coarsely grated sharp cheddar (6 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 pound Rigatoni (penne or elbow macaroni would work too)

Make topping:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in middle
Melt butter, then stir together with panko and topping cheeses in a bowl until combined well.

Make sauce:
Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat and stir in flour.  Cook roux, stirring 3 minutes, then whisk in milk.  Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes.  Stir in cheeses, 2 tablespoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth.  Remove from heat and cover surface of sauce with wax paper.

Make macaroni:
Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente.  Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain macaroni in a colander.  Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water and sauce in large bowl.  Transfer to a 10x13 casserole dish.

Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.

Enjoy!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Teal and Mustard Yellow Yarn Wreath

This week, I have been working on some custom yarn wreath orders.
Among one of my favorites was a wreath I made for one of my husbands co-workers.
She wanted to have a beige yarn, with teal and light orange roses.
Hmmm.... 
For some reason, I couldn't visualize the end product.
I took a friend of mine to the craft store and we matched and compared every single color
of teal, aqua, light blue, orange, light orange, and beige yarn there was...
After a few minutes of searching
(which felt like a few hours because we had all of our kids with us)
we decided on a teal felt...
but we just couldn't find the right shade of orange.


Did you know that they don't really make a lot of orange felt?
Finding a shade other than bright orange is nearly impossible to find...
so we settle on a mustard yellow felt.

We decided to add some accent colors with olive green and chocolate brown felt.


I bought all the supplies, came home, and started wrapping the wreath.
When I wrap my wreaths, I love using Vanna White yarn.
I think I've mentioned this before,
but I'm going to talk about her yarn some more...
I LOVE IT!
It is so soft and smooth, and just gives a nice satin looking finish to the wreath.
I will never use cheap yarn to wrap my wreaths.
I just don't like the way it looks...

So, I wrapped my wreath while watching the results of the South Carolina Presidential Primaries...
yes, I know, I lead a devestatingly exciting life...

After the wreath was wrapped, I made all the little felt flowers,
and even made a new kind of flower.


And I have to be honest,
I was pleasantly surprised with the end result!
I stepped back, looked at it, and thought, 
"Sheesh... that is one good looking wreath. I'm so proud!"

I normally don't say that when I'm done making something...
it's just that I had the darndest time figuring out how this wreath was going to come together.

So, what's the moral of today's exciting story?
Just go for it. Even if you can't see what the end result is going to be,
and even if you find yourself questioning and doubting...
just go for it.
You may be pleasantly surprised!

Linked up to:
House of Hepworths
Somewhat Simple

Valentines Day Cupcakes

Aren't those just the cutest cupcakes you have ever seen?!  I think so, but I got to eat them so that make them that much cuter.  I saw a version of this cupcake on Pinterest and HAD to make them.  And therefore, I just must share them with you!


This is the good part revealed...half cake, half brownie equals all delicious with some frosting on top!

It just gets better and better, right!  If only the next picture was of you eating it...
Cherry Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes
Serves 24...ish
This recipe was adapted from this one and I think it would be fabulous as is, especially with PB frosting!
Ingredients
1 (19.5 ounce) package brownie mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
1 (18.25 ounce) package cherry chip or strawberry cake mix
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/3 cups water
3 egg whites

Directions

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 48 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together the brownie mix, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1/4 cup water in a bowl. Stir just until fully incorporated, about 50 strokes; set aside.
  3. Mix the cake mix, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1 1/3 cup water, and 3 egg whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  4. Spoon the brownie batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each cup 1/3 full (maybe a little less) . Spoon the cake batter over the brownie batter, until muffin cups are each 2/3 full.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 20 to 25 minutes.               

Now I am kind of a frosting snob.  Some would say I like the wrong type of frosting.  I like the super sweet yummy kind of frosting that well I don't know how to describe.  Except I could eat it alone..and then be sick.  But I would it is that good to me.  At first I made a fancy smancy Tom Douglas (famous chef from Seattle) white chocolate buttercream frosting.  It took me forever and I hated it, so I went with my good old stand by frosting that I learned about in my Wilton cake class.  I personally love this frosting.  But I think frosting is a very personal choice.  So please feel free to make your own favorite frosting for this cupcake.

Wilton Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 tsp. vanilla extract (make sure you use clear if you want white frosting)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp butter extract
7-8 teaspoons milk or water
1 lb. confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Meringue Powder (Micheal's has this)
pinch of salt (optional)

Directions:
In case of egg allergies, meringue powder may be eliminated.
Cream shortening, flavoring and water. Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together. Blend an additional minute or so, until creamy

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A little "Love" for my wall!

Guess what?  I made the easiest, cutest and cheapest craft ever that I would like to share with all of you!

I have a Christmas banner I like to hang in my very small entryway and this year when I took it down I felt a huge void.  I was thinking... that space needs a banner year round, I neeeeeed to make one for the next holiday.  One of my favorite holidays is up next, Valentines Day.  It was not my favorite holiday when I was single.  And hearts have always been hit or miss for me.  But I just LOVE this banner!

Super easy!  Just find a heart shape you like and make a pattern.  I just drew a heart I liked and then cut it in half.  It was easier for me to fold the felt in half, put the pattern on top and cut it out.  I used three different colors of felt; red, dark pink and dark red.  I cutout 19 hearts total.  I grabbed some ribbon from my garage (I think it cost a dollar at Micheal's) and hot glued on the hearts to the ribbon.  And Wha-la! 

See!  So Cute!  The subway art is compliments of The Girl Creative, click here to download for free!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Craft Day-January

Every month or so around here (in Portland), we have a craft day or night!  The ladies LOVE craft day!  Some of them crafters, most of them are not.  Which is why craft day is such a treat.  I try to make it as easy as possible by making craft kits ready to go.  All supplies are included and the craft is meant to be finished in the few hours allotted.  No projects are left unfinished!
This month was hosted by a good friend of mine.  It was so nice to just go to her house and all I had to worry about was the crafts...which for this month were some of my favorite!  It's that lovey dovey time of year, so we just had to make some Valentines Day crafts.  And there was glitter involved, what is better than glitter!!! 

Here is our version of a glitter heart Valentines Day wreath...

First you get these lovely little hearts and paint the sides if you want.  I left mine undone, but here are some that were painted.
Then the fun part, you pick your scrapbook paper!  Trace your hearts on the paper, and cut the paper hearts out.  Mod Podge the paper onto the wood heart.  Then paint some regular craft glue onto the paper.  Immediately sprinkle iridescent glitter onto the heart.  When dry, tap the heart to release any loose glitter.  We then sealed it with Glitter Blast.  This stuff is for real, it's awesome.  I don't know how but it makes that glitter stay no matter what!

Then you get these fabulous MDF wreaths (we used 12").  First make a loop, bow optional with your ribbon.  Hot glue to the wreath to hold it in place and then hot glue the hearts to it.
Aren't they cute and doesn't she look so happy!!  Yay for craft day!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Small Office-Big Decor

My husband Ben recently got a new job!  He works downtown and they gave him his own office.  It needed a little pick-me up in a bad way.  And it was pretty much a blank slate, which makes me happy!



So off I went to Home Decor, Marshalls and Craigslist.  I love a good reason to shop!  Here are the after pics...




He needed some better lights in a huge way.  Every knows those translucent lights can suck the life out of you.  The picture on the back wall is actually from Ikea, awesome deal.  He evaluates commercial buildings so the NYC sky scape works well for him.  The art on the rights is something I put together from some old fence wood.  I put three together and painted a flag on the wood.  I got the wood on craigslist.  You could actually paint anything you want on the wood. 


I just love the old wood, isn't it yummy!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cooking Revelation

All of you are well aware of my Diet Coke obsession.
In case you didn't know, go here to read a little bit about it...
Not only do I love to drink Diet Coke and bathe in Diet Coke,
I love to cook with Coke. 
Everyone knows that besides Diet Coke Sloppy Joes,
you can't really cook with Diet Coke...
you have to stick with the sugary goodness of regular Coke.
Why?
I just cooks a lot better than Diet Coke...
but it also comes with more calories.
As I was searching some low calorie dinners, I came across this post
that marinates the meat in...

COKE ZERO!
yes, this is what my tastebuds do every time I open a can of Coke...

Of course, why didn't I ever think of that?
You can still get the same fantastic taste from regular Coke,
and have zero calories added to your meal!
It's the best of both worlds, and  pure heavenly bliss.
Do any of you have any yummy Coke recipes you would like to share?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

{Tutorial) - How To Make Cake Balls

I love me some cake balls.
Yes I do.
They are a fun little treat, and in my opinion, way better than cake.
I am in no way a cake ball expert....
I have made tons of batches, 
and some of them didn't quite turn out.
But that's how I learn best, from trial and error.

While I was down in Utah a couple of months ago,
I found an amazing cake ball book that has tons and tons of easy cake ball recipes.
I bought the book, and have since then, vamped up my cake-ball-making skills.
This book is seriously one of the most coveted books I own!
It explains how to make cake balls in an easy way, and has tons of fantastic recipes such as
Churro Cake Balls, French Toast Cake Balls, and New York Cheesecake Cake Balls.
This book has come in handy and has been my life saver!

Now, onto my cake ball tutorial...
I have a certain process that I use, and it may or may not work for you,
but go ahead and give it a try.
I am warning you...
This is a long post, and there are a ton of pictures,
but I hope it will all make sense!

Supplies Needed...
1 boxed cake mix (and all the ingredients needed to make the cake)
1 can of frosting
Melting chocolates (I use Wilton. You can get them at Michael's or Joanne's)
Shortening
Large mixing bowl
A couple of spoons
Toothpicks
Wax Paper
Cookie Sheet
Mini Ice Cream Scooper


Step 1...Baking the Cake
Bake a boxed cake according to package instructions.
Let the cake completely cool down.
Yes, Step 1 is that easy!
 I usually bake the cake the night before I want the cake balls done.
That way, I'm not waiting all day for the cake to cool down.
It will cool down while I sleep!

Step 2...Crumbling the Cake
Section your cake off.

Take each section and set it in your large mixing bowl.

This is what your pan will look like after a couple of sections are taken out...

Crumble each section with a fork until the cake is in small crumbs.
It's easier if you completely crumble the section before adding a new one,
trust me on this one....

 Step 3...Mixing in the Frosting
After your cake is completely crumbled,
you will want to mix in your frosting.
You will usually use around 3/4 can of frosting, 
but I would start with 1/2 can because you can always add more.
You don't want to add too much frosting, 
or the cake mixture will be really hard to roll into balls.
It'll be too sticky and won't hold it's shape very well...
Yes, I am speaking from experience!

Once the frosting is thoroughly mixed into the cake crumbs,
your mixture should be moist and somewhat firm.
If your mixture is too dry, it'll just crumble when you try to roll it in a ball.
If your mixture is too moist, it'll stick to your hands when you try and roll it into a ball.
Once you have incorporated all of that delicious frosting into the cake,
you will need to refrigerate the mixture for about 2 hours.
This will make it easier to roll into cake balls.

Step 4.... Rolling into Cake Balls
Once your mixture has been in the fridge for a couple of hours,
you are ready to start rolling into cake balls!
Place a sheet of wax paper on top of the cookie sheet.
Next, grab your mini ice cream scooper and scoop out some of the mixture.
I usually place several scoops of mixture onto the wax paper and then roll it into balls,
but you can scoop and roll, scoop and roll, if you prefer.
I also don't fill the scooper up entirely, but that's my preference.
If you don't have a mini ice cream scooper, don't worry!
 I just like it because it makes each cake ball the same size.
 Just grab a piece of the mixture and roll it into a ball.
Once you are done rolling them into balls,
insert a toothpick in each one.
The toothpick will help in the dipping process.
Now, you will want to place the cake balls in the freezer for another couple of hours.
This is important because it will allow you to dip each cake ball
 without having it fall apart in the hot melting chocolate.

Step 5... Dipping the Cake Balls
The picture below is how I set up my "dipping station".
I have a double boiler set up on the stove.
This is used to melt the chocolate. 
If you haven't ever used the double boiler method,
click here for an excellent tutorial.
You will also notice that I have my shortening and extra spoon on the counter,
along with the melting chocolate and another sheet of wax paper.

Here is just another view of my "dipping station".
I keep a small spoon in the shortening and have another spoon to help me dip the cake balls
and to stir the chocolate.

Once your double boiler is warm (I always keep mine on low...)
you can put in some melting chocolates and add a spoonful of shortening.
I have found that adding just a bit of shortening will keep your chocolate
from cracking once it's cooled down on the cake balls. 
The shortening will also help thin out the chocolate so that it's easier
to dip.
Melt the chocolate and the shortening completely.


Now, I don't have a picture of how to actually dip the cake balls,
because I was using both hands to dip them. :)
So, here's how I dip the cake balls.
First, take about 10-15 frozen cake balls out of the freezer and place them on wax paper 
near the double boiler. Keep the remainder of the cake balls frozen so that they don't warm up
and crumble in the melting chocolate.
Take a cake ball and insert it into the melting chocolate, holding onto the toothpick.
Next, take your spoon, and quickly spoon the melted chocolate all over the cake ball.
I am right handed, so I will hold onto the toothpick with my left hand,
and spoon the chocolate over the cake ball using my right hand.

After you are done covering the cake ball with chocolate,
you will want to gently tap of the excess chocolate.
I do this by twisting the toothpick between by thumb and forefinger,
which shakes off the excess chocolate.
Once you are done with that,
go ahead and place the cake ball at the other end of the wax paper.


Place some more melting chocolate and shortening in the double boiler.
While that it is melting, get out some more cake balls. 
Now, you're ready to dip some more!
Yahoo!

Once the cake balls have all cooled off,
go ahead and take out the toothpicks. 
I usually twist them a little to loosen them from them hardened chocolate 
and then I pull them out.
Don't worry if the chocolate cracks... this has happened to me plenty of times.
Just make sure that you cover that crack up when you drizzle chocolate over the cake balls.


There are several methods in which to drizzle chocolate...
I used to use the Ziplock Baggie method... you know,
pour the hot, melted chocolate into a baggie and snip a corner off...
well, that pretty much burned my hand and I just didn't like it.
That's when my friend told me about using bottles to drizzle the chocolate.
I went to Michael's, went to the candy aisle, and found the chocolate drizzling bottle.
It was the best $3.99 I've ever spent!


You can drizzle another color of chocolate on top of your cake balls,
but that would requiring melting a whole other batch of chocolate,
and since I am lazy sometimes, I just usually use the same color of chocolate.
When I drizzle, I always make sure to cover the toothpick holes and any cracks that have occurred.
I have also tried making some cool designs, but I usually just stick with drizzling...

And now, you are ready to enjoy some scrumptious cake balls!!

Here are some fun cake ball combinations...
  • *Red Velvet Cake/Cream Cheese Frosting and dipped in white chocolate coating
  • *Strawberry Supreme Cake/Strawberries and Cream Frosting - Dipped in Chocolate Coating
  • *White Cake/Mint Chocolate Chip Frosting - Dipped in Chocolate Coating
  • *Caramel Cake/Chocolate Mocha Frosting - Dipped in Chocolate Coating
  • *White Cake/Wild Cherry Vanilla Frosting - Dipped in Dark Chocolate Coating
  • *Dark Chocolate Cake/Cream Cheese Frosting - Dipped in White Chocolate Coating
  • *Spice Cake/Cream Cheese Frosting - Dipped in White Chocolate Coating
  • *Lemon Cake/Lemon Frosting - Dipped in White Chocolate Coating
  • *Confetti Cake/Vanilla Frosting - Dipped in White Chocolate Coating


Now go amaze all of your friends with your amazing cake-ball-making skills!
Happy Baking,
Claudia

Monday, January 9, 2012

Merry Valentine's Day!!

     I just love the sound of that, don't you? Although it's probably a silly thing to say, and will never catch on, I don't care! I'll say it anyways. Life has been hectic. I haven't done anything special or gone on any amazing vacations... I stayed in lovely Oregon for the holidays, but I was able to have my whole family come up here and spend time with me. They live out of state and were here for a very short 3 days, but I loved every minute of it. I have three younger brothers who are kind of crazy, and they invited a couple of their friends to join us for Christmas, so we had a full house. We ate, played basketball, played games, joked and laughed, and ate some more. It was heaven.
  Getting back into a routine after the holidays is difficult. So, for the past couple of weeks, I have just been plain lazy. I haven't had much motivation to do anything other than bum around with my kids. My oldest goes to preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a couple of hours, but other than that, we have no where to be. At times, it drives me crazy because I am not used to being at home for so long. The past 5 years, I have had a husband in school and I was in school part time. Between the two of us going to school, my husband had two part-time jobs, I had a part-time job, and we would shuffle our kids around to grandparents. Now, my husband goes to work, I stay home, and life is a lot more calm.
     Since life has slowed down a bit, I have been directing my thoughts towards Valentine's Day. To kick things off, I made a lovely little Valentine's decoration to brighten my entertainment center.


 It's a simple decoration and didn't take much time for me to make, maybe an hour or so... but I love it. And since I love it so much, I have decided to put together a craft kit for it. It's the perfect craft for everyone. I simply modge podged some pearly white cardstock onto some cardboard, made several red felt rosettes using the tutorial I found here, arranged them in a heart shape, and hot glued them onto the cardstock. I placed it inside an 8x10 frame (I took out the glass portion) and a heart was born. :)

     Now, if you order 1 kit, it'll be $10 + $2s&h, but if you order 2 kits it'll be $12.50 (not per kit... that's the price for both kits combined!) plus the $2s&h, and if you order 3 kits, it'll be $15.00 for all 3 (plus the $2 s&h). These would be awesome to order if you wanted to have a girls night without breaking the bank.  If you want to order 4 or more, please email me at ceeceescorner@gmail.com for pricing options.
 You can all do this on your own, but if you don't have felt sitting at home, or don't want to cut out19 squares, then you must simply order one of these kits! Or, if you like the craft but don't want to make it, you can purchase it in my Etsy shop here. If you are looking for another fun craft kit, you can purchase the Magnetic Recipe Board here (also perfect for a girls night!).
     I am in the Merry Valentine's Day spirit, so please stay tuned for more Valentine's Day ideas! xoxoxo



Pricing
Felt Rosette Color

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