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Bunny Cake

done1 A good friend of mine Lisa, who you may remember from her recipe ‘Stuffed Jalapeno’s’, decided to have a little Easter party for her daughter and her friend’s this past weekend.  My two little one’s were invited and as I never like to show up to a party empty-handed, I decided to bring a little cake along!

Lisa is a full-time working mom and she did an amazing job with the party, the kid’s had so much fun.  She put out a great spread for lunch,  had an Easter egg hunt, coloring, a pin the tail on the Bunny game and Easter baskets to top it all off.  The kid’s didn’t stop talking about it afternoon after leaving!

I baked my own recipe for chocolate cake and buttercream, you can certainly use a box cake mix for this recipe.  However, I would use a real buttercream for filling and decorating.  Also, feel free to use any flavor cake for this.  Then just collect your candy and nuts and you can get started.  The only real rule here is to get creative!

Here are most of your ingredients… You will need three layers of prepared cake, frosting, green sprinkles, chocolate eggs or some sort, bunnies, a spreading spatula and a cake stand.

I decided to go with three different buttercream frostings. I am doing a strawberry buttercream filling, vanilla buttercream colored green for the top and chocolate buttercream for the sides.

Start with any flavor cake baked into three layers.

Start by spreading your filling on each layer. You will want to try to divide your filling in half for this.

Be sure not to go all the way to the edges because when you place your next layer on, it will spread from the weight.

Place the next layer on.

And repeat with the remaining filling.

Place the third and last layer on top.

Next I like to add on the side frosting, spreading evenly, but it’s supposed to mimic dirt, so a little roughness is nice here.

Once you have it all spread on be sure to go up over the edge just a bit and then clean up the plate.

It’s always a good idea to trim the cake bottom… Here I’ve used sliced almonds that mimic rocks in the dirt, but you can really trim with anything you like.

Once this stage is complete, move onto the next step.

Pile your green frosting up on top, right in the middle of the cake.

You will want to be sure you are gentle with this step so you come just to the edge of the top of the cake, spreading evenly.

Now go around the edge of the top of the cake with your chocolate eggs.

I like to go around with a little turn and it is ok if there is green on the outside of these… you don’t want them falling off.

Move all the way around the cake.

Pile up some sprinkles right in the middle of the top of the cake. My sprinkles are an Easter mix with cue little eggs in them. Use whatever you like here. Even brown sprinkles would be cute.

These Peep bunny’s come in rows, so when you detach them from each other, they will have a raw edge.

To mask that raw edge, simply take another bunny and rub the sugar from the back of the bunny on the raw edge of the one you will be displaying.

And it does a good job of masking it.

Now to affix the bunny’s to the top, you will need some tooth picks or serving picks as I am using here.

Insert the tooth pick or serving pick into the bunny.

Once it goes in about halfway, you are ready to use.

I use three different color bunny’s here, you can get creative, use the same color or use 5 bunny’s (I like to stick to odd numbers)

Be sure they are placed just as you like.

Bunny Cake

Serves 12-16

Ingredients:

3 8″-9″ cake layers (any flavor)

4-5 cups buttercream frosting, divided (see recipe below)

1 bag chocolate candy eggs

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/8 cup green sprinkles

green food coloring

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

3 Peep bunnys, assorted colors

8-10 chopped strawberries (optional)

Directions:

Divide frosting in 4 parts.  Two parts will be filling, add chopped strawberries or any other flavoring if desired.  Add green food coloring to third part until desired green color is acheived (usually 4-5 drops).  Add melted chocolate to fourth and final part.

Place first cake layer on cake stand.  Add one part of filling and spread.  Place second cake layer on top.  Spread second part of cake filling. Place final cake layer on top.

Spread chocolate frosting on sides of cake.  Trim bottom of cake with sliced almonds.

Spread green frosting on top of cake.  Rim the top of cake with candy eggs.  Pile up green sprinkles in center of top of cake.

Pierce Peep bunny’s with toothpick’s and affix to the top of cake in a decorative fashion.

Enjoy!

Basic Buttercream Frosting

Yield 5 – 6 cups

Ingredients:

3 sticks softened unsalted butter

6 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/3 cup milk

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Cream butter with an electric mixer.  Turn speed to low and add in confectioner’s sugar.  Add milk.  Add vanilla.  Beat until smooth.

*Gluten-free

 

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Tiramisu Trifle

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One of my favorite gifts to give is a dinner party… especially for men.  I never know what to get them, really and I do know that the way to make just about any man happy is to make him a good meal! It’s also a lot more personal.  I love that at a dinner party you truely get to spend quality time with the people you love.  It’s a favorite birthday gift, but this year I decided to add a dinner party gift to both my brothers-in-law for Christmas.

The way I make I try to make it an extra special gift is to ask them to pick a country and I will design a dinner with that country in mind.  My brother-in-law, JR, picked Italy for his country this time around, so he and my sister came over last Sunday and we had ourselves a nice little dinner party and a fun game of cards (Quiddler). So we started with a Lobster Risotto, then moved onto Spaghetti and Meatballs (recipe soon to come) with garlic bread and finished things off with giant individual Tiramisu Trifles!  And if do say myself, everyone was pleased!

This trifle recipe is simple, the recipe is easy to follow, it’s a bit less expensive than most recipes you will find and it’s egg free (I did this for time’s sake , not for allergy sake, but hey, if it works for you great!).  Some of the cost is cut down because it is a mixture of cheeses, half Mascarpone cheese (a mild Italian cream cheese) and half American cream cheese (which is less than half the cost of Mascarpone).  Also, making the cake portion with a box mix instead of buying traditional lady fingers gives the trifle a fun different texture and adds in some savings as well.

To make my Angel Food Cake, I am just using a simple box mix… which involves this flour mix and water, so easy. But, if you prefer you can

Add the required water from package instructions.

Mix.

Bake in a square pan like this or in an angel food cake pan.

I start the process of breaking the cake apart by making some cuts. But the real work will come with breaking apart with my fingers.

Remove and break apart as you place in glasses.

Start with one bar of softened American cream cheese.

One 8 oz. Mascarpone cheese. This is like an Italian cream cheese that is slightly less tangy and a bit softer.

Add in the Mascapone.

Add in confectioner’s sugar.

Add in cream

The cheese mixture should be nice and smooth and fluffy now.

To make real whipped cream add cold whipping cream or heavy cream into the bowl of a cold electric mixer, start the mixer going on med/high with the whisk attachment until foamy. Add in confectioner’s sugar and beat until a whipped cream forms. Careful not to over whip turning your mixture into butter :)

Make some espresso.  If you don't have an espresso machine, you can buy some instand espresso powder and brew some that way or just make a cup of very very strong coffee.

Make some espresso. If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can buy some instant espresso powder and brew some that way or just make a cup of very very strong coffee.

Espresso has this natural head of foam on top… If you don’t have a machine, don’t worry about it.

Start by adding in a bit of cake and some espresso, enough to soak the cake.

Now some cheese mixture. When completing this step, be sure to get the mixture to all the edges of the glass effectively sealing off the layer… this way, when you place the cake on top the espresso will settle into the cake in that layer instead of sinking to the bottom.

Next a bit of whipped cream… and repeat… In this size glass I am able to do three layers.

As the glass gets larger, the amount I am putting in fills in a larger space so I am using more.  Just be sure the cheese filling kind of seals off the layer below it so the esspresso is able to really soak into the cake.

As the glass gets larger, the amount I am putting in fills in a larger space so I am using more. Just be sure the cheese filling kind of seals off the layer below it so the espresso is able to really soak into the cake.

Top with a good amount of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings.

Top with a good amount of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings.

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Tiramisu Trifle

4-8 (depending on size of glasses)  ingredients:

1/2 prepared Angel Food Cake (mix and water)

1 8 oz. package cream cheese

1 8 oz. package Mascarpone cheese

1/3 cup plus 3 Tbs. Confectioner’s sugar

1 pint heavy whipping cream, divided

1 cup prepared espresso, cooled

chocolate shavings for garnish

 Directions:

For cheese layer – combine softened cream cheese, Mascarpone cheese, 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream and 1/3 cup Confectioner’s sugar in an electric mixer and beat on med/high with the paddle attachment until smooth and fluffy about 3-4 minutes.

For the whipped cream layer – Place the remaining heaving whipping cream in the cold bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment.  Beat on med/high until foamy.  Add in 3 Tbs. Confectioner’s sugar and continue beating on high until a whipped cream forms.  (About 2 minutes) *Careful not to over beat.

For the cake layer – Prepare per package instructions and allow to cool fully before using.  Break apart with fingers until you have pieces roughly the size of quarters.

To build – Line up 4 large glasses or 8 smaller glasses for ease of use.  Add in cake, drench with a couple Tbs. espresso, add 2-3 Tbs. cheese mixture (being sure to touch all sides), add in 2-3 Tbs. whipped cream.  Repeat process until you reach the top of the glass.  Top with remaining whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings.

Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours before serving.  Remove from refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving.  Enjoy! 

 

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Portuguese Meringues (Suspiros)

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How can I describe a Suspiro?  Well… If you have never had a Suspiro or a meringue before, what I can say is imagine what cotton candy’s opposite would be texture wise while still retaining all the sugar.  It’s almost like a chalky consistency, but far from that in flavor.  And the best part about the home-made ones most especially is that they have a relatively gooey middle.

Suspiros have been part of my life forever.  Every Portuguese market I know of always has these big beautiful sweet treats stocked.  More candy than cookie, these special goodies were only bought every so often in my house, but when they were, we were always happy kids!  Unlike the American version (Meringues) which are only about the size of a half-dollar, Portuguese Suspiros are about the size of a hamburger bun.  They are best eaten slowly with a cup of tea.

In my opinion each and every holiday should include Suspiros, but none more than Easter!  After 40 days of Lenten sacrifice, there is nothing more satisfying that pure sugar! They can be colored, of course, to accommodate any theme (think pink for Princess tea parties or blue for a baby shower) and are a great addition to birthday parties and anything you might want something a little “out of the box” for.   As a major part of making these yummies is drying them out, it is best to make them when it is not too humid out and best stored in an air tight container or zip tight bag.

Preheat your oven to 225°F.

Start by adding about 2″ of water to the bottom on a medium-sized sauce pan. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat.

You want to be sure the sauce pan you use is smaller than the bowl of your electric mixer.

You want to be sure the sauce pan you use is smaller than the bowl of your electric mixer.

Separate 4 egg whites into the bowl of your electric mixer. Cold eggs aid in this process.

They won’t look like much in the bowl, but their volume will increase, don’t worry.

Use the egg yolks in a cake recipe or to make lemon curd or just discard.

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of granulated white sugar.

Add directly to the egg whites.

With a hand whisk, incorporate the sugar in with the whites by beating well.

Once the whites and the sugar are beaten to a slightly frothy milky white substance, place the bowl on the sauce pan that you have brought to a simmer. Beat steadily and quickly with your hand whisk for about 3-4 minutes.

You will know the mixture is ready to remove from the heat when it looks like the sugar crystals have melted as you bring the mixture up the side of the bowl as seen here.

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Once sugar crystals appear to have dissolved, place bowl on electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on high until mixture has cooled and stiff peaks have formed. This should take about 4-5 minutes.

The mixture is so stiff that when I remove it from the machine and let it rest for transport to the sink, it just stays up right.

Stiff peak.

Ready your supplies. I am using a disposable pastry bag and an extra-large tip. If you don’t have these supplies, you can use a gallon size freezer bag and attach whatever size decorating tip you have, or just use no tip at all. The Suspiros will turn out just fine, they just won’t have the pretty carved look to them.

Prepare the bag by cutting off enough tip to accommodate your tip holder.

This is what you should have once it is all assembled.

I like to start by folding back about an inch from the top. whether using a pastry bag or a gallon size freezer bag, this tip helps to fill without incident.

The tip I am using today is a 1M by Wilton.

Fill the bag.

Unfold that top portion you had originally folded down. Pinch at the top so as not to lose too much mixture.

In a circular motion, pipe the mixture onto the parchment lined pan.

Build as high as you like. I like good hearty Suspiros. These are about 2 1/2″ in diameter.

Once all the Suspiros are built, they are ready for the oven.

Bake at 225°F for one hour without opening the oven door. Once the hour is up, shut off the oven and leave the Suspiros in the oven until completely cool about 1-2 hours more.

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Suspiros (Meringue)

Serves 16

Ingredients.

4 egg whites

1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 225°F,

Beat egg whites with sugar by hand for about 30 seconds the bowl of an electric mixer.  Place a sauce pan on the stove with about 2″ of water in it.  Bring water to a simmer.  Place the bowl on the sauce pan and beat constantly.  (This is an important step as it both builds volume and keeps the mixture moving so that the eggs don’t cook.)  After about 3-4 minutes, check that the sugar crystals have mostly dissolved.  Remove from heat and return bowl to the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk mixture for about 4-5 minutes until stiff peaks can be formed.

Place mixture in a piping bag (or gallon size freezer bag) fitted with a star tip (or just with the end cut off).  Pipe a pile of mixture onto a parchment lined sheet pan in 3″ round circles.

Place sheet pans in the oven and bake at 225°F for one hour without opening the oven.  Then turn off the oven and allow Suspiros to cool completely in the oven before removing.  Remove from oven and enjoy!  Be sure to store in an air tight container.

 

When the cookies come out of the oven, they won't look quite done.  They will have lightly browned edges and they will be very fragile on the cookie sheet itself.  Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for about 5-6 minutes before moving them to the cooling wrack.  Then allow to cool completely before moving to a cookie jar... Of course you could sneak one with a glass of milk on the way!

Stacy’s Yummy Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I have been to many the Christmas cookie swap in my day.  I actually went to two just last week.  One cookie that is ever impressive is the Chocolate Chip Cookie.  It’s in need of no special decoration or presentation, a well made Chocolate Chip Cookie can hold it’s own in any crowd!  To me the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie must be chewy but also a little crisp on the edges and not cakey, but have some body to it.  With being so particular, it’s probably no surprise to know that I have experimented with dozens of different recipes throughout the years.  Finally I decided to take the best elements of each and combine them into one YUMMY cookie!  Take a look at what I did…

Start with some softened butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add in brown sugar.

Add in white sugar.

Once you have both sugars in with the butter, beat on medium high until creamed together.

Add in one egg at a time being sure to mix well after each addition.

This is what you should have when that is done.

Add in a shallow tablespoon of pure vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl add in flour.

Baking soda.

And salt. Whisk together until combined and no lumps remain in flour.

Add into the mixer in two additions and beat on low until just combined. Then scrape down the sides and mix for about 10 seconds on high until thoroughly combined.

Add in semi-sweet chocolate chips and stir by hand.

Scoop out into 1Tbs. scoops with the small Pampered Chef Cookie Scoop if you have it.

Place two inches apart on the cookie sheet.

Bake for exactly 10 minutes.

When the cookies come out of the oven, they won't look quite done. They will have lightly browned edges and they will be very fragile on the cookie sheet itself. Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for about 5-6 minutes before moving them to the cooling wrack. Then allow to cool completely before moving to a cookie jar... Of course you could sneak one with a glass of milk on the way!

When the cookies come out of the oven, they won’t look quite done. They will have lightly browned edges and they will be very fragile on the cookie sheet itself. Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for about 5-6 minutes before moving them to the cooling rack. Then allow to cool completely before moving to a cookie jar… Of course you could sneak one with a glass of milk on the way!

Stacy’s Yummy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields 30 cookies (using 1 Tbs. scoop)Ingredients:

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups All purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp kosher salt

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugars in an electric mixer using a paddle attachment. Cream for about 1-2 minutes. Once thoroughly combined add in 1 egg at a time until well combined.  Add in vanilla, mix another 30 seconds.

In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.  Add to mixing bowl in two additions mixing until just combined.  Scrape down the sides and mix on high for about 10 seconds.

Add in chocolate chips and mix by hand.

Scoop out using a 1 Tbs. cookie scoop onto a parchment lined cookie sheet leaving 2 inches between each scoop.  Bake for exactly 10 minutes.  Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5-6 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. 

Once they are all filled, they are ready for the oven.

Roasted Pumpkin Pie Tarts

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No dessert says the holidays like Pumpkin Pie… For years I made my pumpkin pies like most everyone else in America, with a can stuffed with pureed pumpkin.  Until I started wondering why I was tossing out all my Halloween pumpkins and going to the grocery store to buy what I just threw out!  I had to stop the madness!  So, I started roasting my own pumpkin and mashing it up myself.  What I discovered was that the taste of a roasted pumpkin simply does not come in a can! Who would have thought???

It did take a little trial and error at first, this was before the days of Pinterest after all.  So what I learned was that you don’t want water-logged pumpkin pie, pumpkin requires a little draining, no biggie.  A pumpkin, even a small one is more than enough for one or even two pumpkin pies, so freezing the remaining pulp is a great idea.  And low and behold, one does not need condensed milk to make pumpkin pie! Go figure!

This is a super flavorful and healthy pumpkin pie recipe that can be made into single serving size tarts like I show here, or into a full size pie! Just use your favorite pie crust, either one you are making yourself or right out of the box, either way, this filling is amazing!  Just two simple extra steps and you get to utilize those Halloween pumpkins for more than Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and forget about using bland canned pie filling forever!

This pumpkin pie starts with a pumpkin… crazy I know!

Cut your small pumpkin in half.

Scoop out the pumpkin seeds and set aside for roasting!

Once your pumpkin is hallowed out, it’s time to roast it.

Spray a parchment lined cookie sheet with some non-stick cooking spray.

Roast for about 1 1/2 -2 hours until the skin buckles when touched.

This is what it looks like when roasted.

Scoop the flesh out from the skin.

Discard the skin. (this is great for your compost pile if you have one)

Place the flesh directly into a strainer set over a bowl. You want to drain any excess liquid.

Here is the liquid that came out of my pumpkin after a few hours of draining. I likely would have gotten a bit more had i done this over night.

Now mash the pumpkin and scoop out two cups full.

Place your two measured cups of roasted mashed pumpkin in a mixing bowl and store the rest for another pie or soup… this freezes well.

Add in 1/2 cup of half and half.

Some raw honey.

Cinnamon

Ground ginger.

Add in some fresh nutmeg… please do not replace the fresh nutmeg with the jarred stuff, it is not the same at all and will significantly change the flavor of your pie. If you do not have fresh nutmeg, simply omit the ingredient.

Add in two eggs.

Salt.

Mix.

Add in sugar.

Mix again.

This is the Pampered Chef Brownie Pan, it’s great for making small tarts and single portion foods.

Roll out your favorite pie crust.

Cut into square pieces to match the tart tray.

Spray with non-stick cooking spray and start forming your shells.

Once they are all formed you are ready to start filling.

I am using the large Pampered Chef Cookie scoop here.

Fill each shell.

Once they are all filled, they are ready for the oven.

Once they are all filled, they are ready for the oven.

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Roasted Pumpkin Pie Tarts

Serves 18

Ingredients:

1 small (3-4lb.) pumpkin

1/2 cup half and half

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 heaping Tbs. raw honey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

8-10 grates of nutmeg

2 pie crusts

cooking spray

Directions:

To prepare Roasted Pumpkin:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.  Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and place both halves cut side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Roast for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until tender.  Allow to cool.  Remove flesh from skin and place in a strainer set over a bowl to drain for a few hours.

To make tarts:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Mash drained pumpkin.  Measure 2 cups of mashed pumpkin and place in a mixing bowl.  Add in all ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Cut and fit crust into pie plates or tart pans.  Fill with mixture and Bake for about 40-45 minutes until golden brown on top.

Allow to cool, enjoy!

*Gluten-free when using a gluten free pie crust.

Then each person can put as much or as little as they like.

Semi-Homemade Cherry Cheesecake Pie

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Each and every winter holiday HAS to include my Cherry Cheesecake Pie! It’s a must.  My dad and uncles ask for it each and every year and would be terribly disappointed if it didn’t make it’s way onto the dessert table! My mom used to make this growing up for every winter occasion and over time the responsibility got transferred to me, gladly.  This recipe is so easy.  It’s so easy in fact that it wasn’t until very recently that I ever really made a real actual cheese cake!

This pie hits all the flavor notes you look for in a cheesecake and it’s creamy and velvety to boot.  This could quite possibly be the easiest cheesecake recipe you will ever find! Half the ingredients are ready-made, which makes it a piece of cake, or pie as it were.  And the filling itself is a grand total of 4 ingredients!  With the pre-made pie crust and pre-made topping, that’s 6 ingredients!  So, if you have been asked to bring desert and you are looking for something quick and easy that will please a crowd, I highly suggest giving this recipe a try!

On this specific night, I made a cheesecake pie for dessert at my book club.  Normally, I make two of these babies and put topping on one and leave the other plain.  But, my book club is made up of a small group of ladies and so one was just fine.  The only issue was that neither of my sisters like cherry topping, they prefer their cheesecake pie plain.  So, I solved the issue by leaving the pie naked and serving the topping in a bowl on the side.  Which worked out great because I got to have extra topping! Haha!

Let me show you how I do it!

Start by adding two bars of room temperature cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Mix for about 2 minutes on high.

Add in one egg and scrape down the sides. Beat on high another minute until egg is fully combined.

Add in sugar.

And vanilla.

Unwrap a pre-made graham cracker pie crust.

Add mixture to the crust.

Smooth it out. Pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes or so at 350°F.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes until you start to see golden brown spots on top. When it comes out of the oven, it will be a bit puffy and have some cracks in it. This is normal.

The puff will fall, the cracks will remain.

Grab a can of pre-made pie filling, if you don’t like cherry, you could use blueberry or strawberry, heck even peach if you like.

Cover the top of the pie with the filling or dish it out individually like this. Place the pie slice on a plate and keep the filling in a bowl for people to help themselves.

Then each person can put as much or as little as they like.

Then each person can put as much or as little as they like.

Semi-Homemade Cherry Cheesecake Pie

 Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 bars cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1 pre-made graham cracker pie crust

1 can cherry pie filling

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add in 2 bars of cream cheese and beat on high for about 2 minutes until it is completely smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in egg and beat on high for another minute until completely incorporated.  Scrape down the sides again and add in sugar and vanilla and beat again until completely incorporated.

Pour mixture into the pre-made pie crust and smooth out.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown spots start to form on top.  Allow to cool and add topping as desired.

*When using a gluten-free cookie base, this recipe is easily made into a gluten-free recipe.  The filling is gluten-free. Check can ingredients for the topping.

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Housewarming Apple Pie & 10 Open House Tips

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There is not much that can make a house feel like a ‘warm home’ like the smell of a home-made apple pie baking in the oven.  That is probably why when perspective buyers are to walk through a home, the advice usually starts with “bake an apple pie”.  Hence the Housewarming Apple Pie! As I have mentioned in past posts, my husband and I have listed our home and what better smell to have wafting through it than this? Absolutely none!

As part of ‘Home Month’ I thought I would list out some great open house tips like these for those of you who might be thinking of listing your home and then we can get right to the business of baking this beautiful autumn treat! Whether you are working with a realtor, which I highly recommend, or listing yourself, these tips are invaluable when presenting what you want people to envision as their next home…

10 TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT OPEN HOUSE:

1. Bake an apple pie or simmer some apple cider with cinnamon sticks on the stove.  Smell is one of those senses that are almost subliminal in helping people to feel comfortable in a situation.

2. Clean up. One might think this is self-explanatory, but sometimes we are blind to the “clutter” spots in our own homes, get those too!

3. Play some soft music, think ambiance.

4. Leave.  Your realtor should tell you this, but perspective buyers normally won’t feel comfortable if you are hanging around. If you don’t have a realtor, find a trusted friend to handle the open house for you and have them gather information from anyone who tours the home on a sheet of paper with their realtor’s information.

5. Take pets with you.  You want people to feel comfortable and even if you have the friendliest animal in the world, you still don’t want Fido panting up someone’s leg.  Not to mention you never know what people’s allergies are.

6. Set your dining room table.  This helps people to visualize themselves eating dinner in your home.

7. Turn on lights.  You want to be sure people can see what they are looking for without searching out light switches. Seems basic, but sometimes very over looked.

8. Let in as much natural light as possible.  The more curtains and blinds you can open the better.  Natural light tends to make a home feel more open.

9. Make sure people know about it.  I can’t stress this enough.  Advertize the open house at least one week in advance.  Utilize sites like Craigslist, Yahoo Classifieds and Recycler.com.  Utilize social media, put your MLS listing with pictures up and advertize the date and time a week ahead asking that friends share the information.  Then a couple of days ahead of time, place signs in your neighborhood directing people to your home.

10. Don’t forget about curb appeal.  Remember, the first thing people see when they get to your home is the front door and the outside of your home.  Be sure your lawn is mowed.  Be sure toys are tidy if you have children.  And add a pretty touch like the Autumn Wreath we made last week!

Whether you plan on making this home-made apple pie for your next open house, to bring to a housewarming party for someone with a new home or just to enjoy around your family table, you won’t be disappointed with the outcome!  You could purchase a ready-made pie crust, but in case you are looking for the full effect, I will start off by taking you through a super tender and delicious home-made crust that can be used for virtually any pie!

Start by adding flour to a large bowl.

Add in salt and sugar (they look virtually the same, so I won’t bore you with two photos) 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 Tbs. sugar will do it.

Dice up some cold butter, very cold.

Add butter to the flour.

Then use some shortening. I used this butter flavored shortening which comes in this convenient bar that I keep in the fridge so it is cold as well.

Dice this up as well although it isn’t nearly as stiff as the butter.

Once you have both butter and shortening in the flour you are ready to cut into the flour.

If you have a food processor, have at it. Mine is on the fritz, but honestly, this process take like 45 seconds longer with a hand pastry tool like this one, so to me it isn’t worth making the mess of the food processor for one pie crust. If you don’t have either, you can still make a pie crust, in the old days, it was done with a couple of butter knives, so have at it, cut away!

You want to cut the butter into the flour until it looks ‘mealy’ like so.

To this, I add in very cold tap water.

You want just enough moisture for it to come together without being too sticky. It should still be flaky like so.  Try and do most of the working with your wooden spoon to avoid too much warmth from your hands melting that butter.  But, once it is almost there, you will need to help it along a bit.

Divide the dough in two, form two discs and place on a plate divided by parchment paper.

Add the second half right on top. Cover lightly and pop in the fridge while you make the filling.

Here are my apples… I have all different varieties here, some from the Farmer’s Market, some from the grocery store and some from apple picking! A variety of different apples, some tart, some sweet will yield you the best pie!

Cut them up to a medium slice. I don’t go too uniform as long as they are similar in size, shape doesn’t really matter to me. I like biting into a variety.  I don’t place them in a bowl, but rather a large pot. (that’s another secret)

So a lot of people like to use flour in their pie. One of my secrets to a pie that is not ‘watery’ is to use corn starch. I feel like it does a better job at thickening the apple juices. Also, if you pick up a gluten-free pie crust, you can actually have a gluten-free pie!

Add it into your pot.

Add in one tablespoon of cinnamon.

No need to stir yet, just sprinkle right on top of the corn starch.

Then the nutmeg. I have said this before, if you don’t have fresh nutmeg, omit this ingredient entirely. Please don’t use powdered nutmeg from a jar. The fresh stuff is not that expensive and the difference in the taste is substantial.

Sprinkle over the top.

Add in kosher salt.

Next add in just a pinch of Ground Allspice. This is NOT the Portuguese All Spice I use in my savory recipes. This is an actual spice that is called Allspice.

Add in sugar.

Now mix.

This is what you want it to look like.

Add in two tablespoons of unsalted butter.

Turn on the heat to medium. This is my second secret.

Cook while stirring occasionally for about 8-10 mins. Your goal is not to fully cook the apples, but to melt the butter and sugar so they are evenly distributed and gel well with the corn starch. And to par cook the apples.

At about the half way of cooking mark add in the juice of half a fresh lemon. Again, if you don’t have fresh lemon, please omit this ingredient. There is no substitution for fresh lemon juice. This lemon is my third secret, it provides just enough tartness to counter the sugar.

Once the filling is made, take one round out of the fridge at a time, you want this to stay cold. Place it on a rolling mat if you have one, I LOVE this one and use it quite often for all kinds of projects. You’ll also want to have flour at the ready to help with sticking. Flour the mat and the top for the round lightly to prevent sticking.

Roll out to a little larger than your pie plate.

To easily add your crust to your plate without breaking, roll it onto your rolling pin using your mat to help lift.

Once it’s on your rolling pin, unroll it onto your pie plate.

Now you are ready to fill.

Once filled, repeat the rollingout process and place second crust over the top.

Form a pretty edge being sure that you are sealing the two crusts together to prevent leaking.

Here it is with the completed edge, cut off any remaining edge.

Add in vent holes, this is important to allow the steam to escape.

Next, make a thick egg wash with one egg yolk and just a splash of water.

Brush onto the the crust.

Sprinkle with sugar. (At this point you could store in the fridge for later or bake right away… If you are planning this for an open house, make in the morning and pop in the oven just before show time! Just let your realtor know to take it out and place on stovetop when ready!)

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45-50 mins until crust is golden brown.

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And even better than this is Alla-Mode!

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Housewarming Apple Pie

Serves 6-10

Filling Ingredients:

7-9 large apples, different varieties, peeled, cored and sliced

1/3 cup corn starch

2/3 cup sugar

1 Tbs. cinnamon

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp Allspice

1/8 tsp. fresh nutmeg, ground

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

Ingredients for Pie Crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, diced

1/3 cup cold butter flavored shortening, cubed

2 Tbs. sugar, divided

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup cold water

1 egg yolk, beaten with splash of water

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Prepare pie crust first and refrigerate while preparing filling.

To prepare crust: Place flour in a large bowl.  Add in butter, shortening, 1 Tbs. sugar, and salt.  Cut together with a pastry cutter until crumbly.  Add in water, mix with wooden spoon until water is absorbed fully.  Finish bringing dough together quickly with hands.  Avoid touching with warm hands as much as possible. Divide dough, form into two discs and refrigerate until ready for use.

For the apple filling: Add apple slices into a large pot on the stove.  Add in corn starch, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and stir.  Turn on heat to medium and add butter, stir.  Heat for 5 minutes stirring a few times to distribute the ingredients as they melt. Add in juice of half a lemon, sitr again.  Heat for another two minutes and remove from heat.

Roll out the pie dough.  Place one half in pie plate, fill with apple filling and lay the second rolled dough on top.  Pinch together edges and form a seal then make into a pretty crust edging.  Place vent holes on top of the crust to allow steam out.  Brush top with egg wash (1 beaten egg yolk with splash of water) and sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbs. sugar.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool for at least one hour before serving.

Enjoy!

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Madrinha’s Coconut Queijadas (Queijadas de Coco)

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My family, being Portuguese, is rather large by today’s standards.  My father grew up with 7 sisters and a brother and was one of 9 siblings.  This made for great parties growing up! I feel like almost every weekend of my childhood was spent attending a birthday party, baptism, 1st Communion, graduation, Confirmation, holiday celebration or just getting together to get together!  And at every single one of those events my Titia Tina, who would eventually become my Madrinha at my own Confirmation, would make these delectable little treats.  A creamy, crustless, coconut creation that once you try you will wonder what on earth you were doing all your life that you missed out enjoying it.

As I got older, I wondered how she made this family mainstay.  So, I asked time and time again… Her response was always, come on by when I’m making them and I’ll show you.  Well, time never allowed for an in person lesson unfortunately.  But, for my wedding shower, my cousin Stephanie, her daughter, nailed down the recipe with measurements for me and submitted it to be part of my family wedding recipe collection! (which by the way is one of my very favorite ideas for any bridal shower… what a wonderful way to preserve family recipes and memories!)

I was so excited to get the recipe and so I tried it right away… And I was absolutely amazed at just how easy and inexpensive it is! For such a fabulous treat! So, now I am sharing it with all of you. Here’s how we do it…

Start with 4 eggs in a large bowl. My bowl is by Pampered Chef and it has the pour spout (that is ideal!).  Wisk the eggs.

Measure out sugar.

Add sugar in while wisking.

Wisk your eggs and sugar until smooth.

For this recipe margarine is called for, not butter. I have never tried it with butter, but suspect it would be similar if you needed to substitute. Since this is what the recipe calls for and it’s much less expensive, it’s what I use.

You’ll need to melt the butter, so place it in a microwave safe container, in this case I use my handy-dandy Pampered Chef measuring cup and call it a day.

Add in your melted margarine wisking briskly, remember you have eggs in that bowl that can easily cook with still hot liquid.

You should have a creamy consistency after adding in margarine.

Measure out flour.

Add in your first measurement of flour and wisk.

Then your next. And continue wisking.

Add in 1 lemon rind. Be sure it is all in one solid piece like so, you will be removing this before baking.

You want to incorporate the lemon right into your batter.

Measure out your milk… I am using that same Pampered Chef 2-cup measuring cup so it still has some of the margarine in it, those are the yellow specks you can see.

Now add in your milk.

Once you have a nice smooth consistency, You are ready for the coconut.

Measure out your sweetened coconut. I’ve never tried unsweetened coconut in this recipe, but if you want to reduce the sugar content, I suppose this is where you might do that.

Spray your pan with cooking spray. This recipe is not made with cupcake liners.

In my madrinha’s recipe she suggests pouring your batter into a measuring cup with a spout to pour batter into the muffin tin… If you don’t have a handy-dandy spouted measuring bowl, definitely do this.

Fill each compartment about 3/4 of the way up.

As you are pouring your lemon peel will surface, be sure to pull it out and discard, it has done its job.

Once filled, you want to place pan in a pre-heated oven at 375°F for 20-30 mins. depending on your oven… it could go as far as 40 mins if they aren’t browning. When you come to 20 mins or so, turn on your oven light and take a peek, try not to open your oven if you can avoid it. You will be looking for a nice sunny golden brown.

Allow to cool once out of the oven.

Notice how it is “puffed up” right now and the center has not fallen… this is because it just came out of the oven and it is much too soon to remove it from the muffin tin.

Scoop each one out with a large soup spoon so you don’t dent the bottom edges taking it out of the pan. As you can see, the centers have now fallen with the cooling and they are looking perfect.

And this is what each little gem will look like when you place it on your serving platter.

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Madrinha’s Coconut Queijadas (Queijadas de Coco)

Yields: 2 1/2 – 3 dozen

Ingredients:

4 cups of whole milk

4 eggs

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 stick margarine, melted

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1 lemon rind

cooking spray

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, wisk eggs.  Add in sugar, wisk.  Add in margarine slowly while wisking briskly. Add in flour and lemon rind and continue to wisk.  Next, add in milk while slowing wisking.  Lastly, add in coconut and slowly mix into the batter.

Spray a 12 count muffin tin with cooking spray (if you have 3 muffin tins, this would be ideal).  Fill each 3/4 up with batter.  Bake 20-30 minutes until lightly golden brown.  You want to check your oven starting at 20 minutes utilizing your oven light, not opening your oven.  It may go as far as 40 minutes depending on your oven (ie. gas vs. electic).

Allow to cool before removing from tin.  Each queijada will be puffy when first coming out of the oven, they will fall as they cool in the center.  Place each in a cupcake liner and then onto your serving platter.

Enjoy!

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Triple Chocolate Brownies

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Triple Chocolate Brownies… need I say more?

You may be thinking, why would I need to make brownies myself when they come so nicely packaged in a box from the store. Well, I have to tell you, sometimes I think the same thing! But, and that’s a big but, they are not the same.  When you make a brownie yourself, you are controlling exactly what goes into it, you know the quality of the ingredients and can pick your very favorite chocolates to add in!  For instance in this recipe, I am using Valrhona cocoa, Nestle milk chocolate and Ghiradeli bittersweet chocolate.  There is no box on the planet that allows for that combination.  But, beyond all of that, it’s surprisingly easy!  There actually aren’t very many ingredients.  In a box, there is 1-the box, 2-eggs, and 3-water or oil and then you mix in whatever, so 3 ingredients total… Here there are 6, to me that’s not a huge difference.

For today’s brownies, I had the kid’s helping me which we all had a lot of fun with! Lucas got to be in charge of the dry ingredients bowl. Alaina took care of the sugar.  And they both helped with cracking eggs, mixing and eating stray chocolate chips! All very important jobs! It’s a simple enough recipe that I wasn’t going crazy trying to organize myself while trying to keep track of the kids.  And the more you get your kids involved in cooking, the more they will like to help eat their creations, so sure today is brownies, but when we want to make say Split Pea Soup, this will come in handy!

Lucas loves helping. Right now he is in charge of the dry ingredients bowl.

Lucas loves helping. Right now he is in charge of the dry ingredients bowl.

Alaina is loving being in charge of the sugar!

Measure out the unsweetened coco powder. This is your first chocolate and the most focused on, so be sure to use the best you can get your hands on. I ordered this Valrhona on-line.

Lucas is taking his job very seriously.

Add in salt.

Here it is all sifted. You could at this point add in baking powder, I omit it when I am looking for a more dense fudgy brownie.

Once your ingredients are ready to go, move onto the wet.

All four eggs made it into the bowl… yay! I wasn’t able to help the kids with cracking these eggs and take the pictures at the same time, but the kids each helped crack the eggs right into this bowl! If it were up to my son, this recipe would have a dozen eggs!

That’s it for wet ingredients, just eggs. Now onto the mixer.  If you have a stand mixer, this recipe is super easy, if you don’t, it’s still easy, it will just take you 2 minutes longer.

We start here with some butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.

With softened butter, it doesn’t take long to beat with the paddle attachment on the mixer. The kid’s love watching the mixer go… and they love working the buttons!

Add sugar in. Beat on low for a minute.

Add in one egg at a time. Mix well after each addition.

Add in vanilla. Beat one more minutes to ensure everything is thoroughly combined before you add in the dry ingredients.

Mix until just blended and switch to mixing by hand.

Here is your second chocolate… Add in mini milk chocolate chips.

And your third chocolate… Mix in bittersweet chocolate chip these are big, you could chop them or just use as is like I did.

Prepare your pan with butter. I like taking a pad and a piece of paper towel to apply. I don’t care for cooking spray with brownies, I like the slightly salty taste of the butter.

I am using a stone pan, use whatever you like, just be sure it is well buttered.

Add in your brownie batter.

Add in your brownie batter.

Spread evenly. And bake for about 30-40 minutes at 350°F for a 9″x9″ pan… If you are using a 9″x13″ pan, you will yield thinner brownies and therefore need to reduce the baking time to about 20-25 mins.

Allow to cool for at least 1 hour.

Once cooled, cut either 16-24 pieces.

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Triple Chocolate Brownies

Serving Size: 16-24

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1 tsp. baking powder (optional, omitting yields a more dense fudgy brownie)

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

4 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup mini milk chocolate chips

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Pre-heat oven 350°F.  Prepare a baking dish with butter.

In a medium bowl wisk together flour, cocoa and salt. (If you choose to make more fluffy brownies, add in baking powder.  If you choose to make more dense, fudgy brownies as pictured, omit baking powder.)

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or just in a separate bowl with a wooden spoon) beat butter until smooth.  Then add in sugar and beat another minute until combined.  Add in one egg at a time until well combined (this is a bit more tricky if doing by hand, but just be sure it is thoroughly combined after each addition).  Add in vanilla and beat another minute to ensure all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Add in the flour mixture in two additions on low speed.  Once combined, stop the mixer.  Do not over mix.  With a wooden spoon or rubber scraper, add in chocolate chips. Mix until combined.

Spread mixture evenly. And bake for about 30-40 minutes at 350°F for a 9″x9″ pan. If you are using a 9″x13″ pan, you will yield thinner brownies and therefore need to reduce the baking time to about 20-25 mins.

Allow to cool completely, about 1 hour.  Cut into either 16 or 24 pieces. Serve. Enjoy!

Bake for 25-30 mins.  See how it puffs right up over the fruit... that is yummy deliciousness right there!

Easy Pineapple Cobbler

done2A cobbler is a classic American dessert that is made of a very simple quick batter and dotted with fruit.  Perhaps pineapple is not what you most associate with cobbler, it may be overshadowed by the peach or even the apple, but really just about any sliceable fruit or berry can be turned into a cobbler… This version is my husband’s absolute favorite as I have been making it for him for years.

This specific little dish of sweetness was made for him to top a special little dinner we had about a month ago to celebrate our engage-aversary.  The dinner was made up of Shrimp Mozambique over white rice, a glass of wine and finished off with the cobbler.

This time of year we have robust peaches, pears and apples in this part of the country. Earlier in the year we have berries of all kinds.  But, what we have year round is canned and frozen fruit and either will work nicely here.  You may say, why on earth use canned fruit when there is so much fresh fruit available right now?  Well, for one, like I said it is my husband’s favorite.  For two it’s what I had on hand, I didn’t happen to have a fresh pineapple hanging around.  And for three, if unless using a berry, that whatever fruit you use is prepared at least to an “al dente” or slightly softened stage before adding in.  That is an additional step I didn’t have time for on this particular fine evening. Pineapple chunks it is! But, the batter is the same no matter the fruit! So get creative with it!

Before you start with your dry ingredients, melt one stick of butter. Set aside.

To a medium bowl, add in flour.

To a medium bowl, add in flour.

Add in kosher salt.

Add in sugar… Now you can use the traditional 1 cup of sugar here which matches up with the flour measurement, but if you like things a little less sweet, take it down to 3/4 cup. You should gauge that by how sweet your fruit is as well.

Add in Baking Powder.

Combine all your dry ingredients. No need to sift, just use your wisk.

Once your dry ingredients are properly combined, add in milk. I like to use whole milk when baking, but it really doesn’t matter too much here as long as its not skim.

Add in vanilla. Be sure to use a good quality pure vanilla extract. There are so few ingredients that it really makes a difference. A vanilla bean would be extra special here too!

Once the vanilla is added in, mix all the wet with the dry until combined.

Slowly wisk in the melted butter.

Be sure it all gets fully incorporated.

And there you have it. This is your basic cobbler batter. To this you can go crazy with possibilities!

Spray a 9″x13″ dish with cooking spray.

It will look like you don’t have enough batter to fill the whole pan. But, for a cobbler, you want a thin layer, this will puff up.

Spread all the way to the edges.

Now you can add in your fruit.

Bake for 25-30 mins. See how it puffs right up over the fruit… that is yummy deliciousness right there!

Top with either some homemade whipped cream or take a little short cut like I did and use your favorite canned stuff.

Top with either some homemade whipped cream or take a little short cut like I did and use your favorite canned stuff.

Recipe for Pineapple Cobbler:

(serves 4-6)

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup sugar (up to one cup for not sweet fruit)

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 stick butter or margarine, melted

1 20 oz. can pineapple chunks, drained (or desired fruit)

cooking spray

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375°F. (Oven must be properly heated, do not skip this step)

In a medium size mixing bowl combine flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.  Wisk together.  Add in milk and vanilla.  Wisk together.  Add in melted butter.  Wisk together slowly to combine. Once the batter is smooth pour into a 9″x13″ baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Spread batter into a thin layer all the way to the edges.  Bake for 25-30 mins until golden.

Cool and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Enjoy!