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My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.

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Entries in Cooking (35)

Wednesday
Dec022015

Cranberry Orange Cream Tart

I like to cook but I love to make desserts. Whether it is a work potluck or a family dinner I always sign up for making dessert. This past summer I made a berry mint cream tart to bring to a picnic. I loved the recipe and thought it would be fun to adapt the flavor to cranberry orange for the winter plus beef up the pastry a bit since I like a thicker crust. The result was a beautiful tart that tasted even better than it looked. It is definitely time consuming but worth the effort for a special occasion. I made this for Thanksgiving but I think it would also be fantastic for Christmas dinner or a New Years party.

Ingredients
5 cups fresh cranberries
4 cups sugar, divided
3 cups caster (superfine) sugar 
3 cups water
1 cup milk
zest of 2 large oranges
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
raw rice or pie weights for weighting down the shell    

Sugared Cranberries
- Make a simple syrup by heating the water and 3 cups of sugar in a pot until all the sugar dissolves
- After letting the simple syrup cool for ten minutes pour the cranberries into the pot
- Allow cranberries to steep for at least two hours
- Pour the caster sugar in a shallow dish, drain cranberries and then roll them in the caster sugar until coated
- Place sugared cranberries on wax paper and allow to dry 

Orange Cream
- Pour milk in a small saucepan and grate the peel of the oranges directly into the milk
- Bring the milk to a boil, remove from heat and then let stand for five minutes
- In a separate saucepan whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Whisking constantly bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat causing the mixture to become very thick
- Continue to whisk the pastry cream while simmering for three minutes
- Place the pastry cream in a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and then refrigerate until cool and firm
- Beat heavy cream until stiff peaks are formed
- Whisk pastry cream until it is smooth and then fold in the whipping cream until thouroughly incorporated 

Tart Shell
- Cream the butter with 1/2 cup sugar, salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
- Mix in the flour until a soft dough forms
- Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable fluted rim
- Press the dough in the tart pan covering the bottom and up the side of the pan
- Chill the shell for 30 minutes and prick the shell all over with a fork
- Line the shell with foil and fill the foil with the rice or pastry weights
- Bake the shell on the lower rack of a preheated 375°F oven for 15 minutes
- Carefully remove the foil (with the rice or pastry weights)
- Continue to bake for an additional 10-12 minutes until it is crisp and golden
- Allow the shell to cool on a rack for 5 minutes, remove the side of the pan and then cool completely 

Tart Assembly
- Spread the orange cream into the bottom of the tart shell using a spatula
- Gently place sugared cranberries on top of the orange cream, covering the entire tart 

Tips and Tricks
- Make sure that the simple syrup has cooled sufficiently before adding the cranberries otherwise you run the risk of the skins splitting
- For efficient time flow I recommend arranging the work as follows
   1) Prepare the simple syrup and let the cranberries steep
   2) Prepare the orange cream up to the point that the pastry cream is chilled in the refrigerator
   3) Make the tart pastry dough and chill
   4) Roll the cranberries in the caster sugar
   5) Bake the pastry shell and allow it to cool
   6) Finish the orange cream with the whipping cream
   7) Assemble the tart
- To make sure that there are no gaps of orange cream showing along the edges I like to place a row of cranberries around the perimeter of the tart first and then fill in the center 

For more dessert recipes try my No-Bake Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes, Caramel Apple Cupcakes, Blackberry Rhubarb Pie or Chocolate Chili Cupcakes

Saturday
Oct312015

No Bake Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes

Happy Halloween! To celebrate I thought that I would share my recipe for no bake mini pumpkin cheesecakes. They are easy to make plus they are delicious. I made a batch to bring in for my co-workers yesterday and they were a big hit.

Ingredients
- 1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1/3 cup butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
- 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, divided
- 1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. ginger
- 1/8 tsp. cloves
- 1 pint whipping cream
- whole pecans (optional for garnish)

Graham Cracker Crust
- Use food processor or rolling pin to create fine graham cracker crumbs
- Melt butter and pour into bowl with graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Mix up ingredients with a fork and measure out equally into small dishes
- Press crust into the bottom of small dishes to form bottom crust

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
- Mix together cream cheese, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves
- In a separate bowl, whip the whipping cream to stiff peaks and then gently fold it into the pumpkin mixture and top with a pecan for garnish
- Spoon pumpkin cheesecake filling on top of crusts and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving

Tips and Tricks
- You can use canned pumpkin puree, but I prefer to make my own from sugar pumpkins
- For reference I used 2oz square dessert cups for my mini cheesecakes

Monday
Oct122015

Autumn Outdoor Dining with Tips for Weeknight Entertaining

Between business trips and personal travel I haven't spent a lot of time at home this summer and haven't had a chance to enjoy our backyard as much as I would have liked. With winter on the horizon I decided to capitalize on the beautiful fall weather and a light work week to do a little backyard entertaining on a Thursday night at the end of September.

When you work full time, entertaining on a weeknight can be a bit of a challenge but with a little bit of planning it is totally doable and a fun way to break up the work week.

When I get home the first thing I always do is set the table. I like to arrange everything, including my serving dishes, and save the cooking for right before my guests arrive to make sure the food is hot. I love this flour sack linen table cloth because it has a little texture to it and I don't need to iron it. A navy runner grounds the center of the table and a few ceramic pumpkins on the ends are a festive seasonal nod.

For the place settings I love to mix and match for a casual look. I used a plain white dinner plate with a handmade butter plate that I bought in Seto along with a small blue and white bowl that I purchased in Tokyo. For a fall look I used my yellow linen napkins. Cloth napkins always look fantastic and to make it easier on myself I always fold and lightly iron them right after I wash them so I have them ready to pull out of my linen cabinet for entertaining.

For flowers, I always pick up something from the grocery store when I shop for the dinner party ingredients. Here I combined two grocery store bouquets, one of greenery and one of sunflowers, in a blue enamel ware pitcher.

I also couldn't resist picking up some mini white pumpkins from the grocery store which I tucked into the blue and white bowls at each place setting.

With the table set, I started cooking. Menu planning is important for weeknight entertaining in order to be sure that you can prepare everything quickly and easily and not stress yourself out. My go to weeknight entertaining menu is a pasta dish with a salad and a baguette.

To make the meal seasonal, I made Martha Stewart's Orecchiette with Butternut Squash and Sage using some sage from my garden. It is easy to make, looks beautiful and tastes like autumn which made it a perfect dish for the evening.

For the salad I used a base of baby kale topped with dried cranberries, goat cheese and pecans and paired with a pomegranate basalmic vinaigrette dressing. If I entertain on the weekend I like to make everything from scratch because I love to cook, but for a weeknight I take a few shortcuts to make it easier on myself. As an example, for this meal I bought already cubed butternut squash from the produce section for the pasta and pre-washed baby kale mix for the salad plus I bought the salad dressing instead of making it. All combined those three shortcuts probably took out 45 minutes of prep time for me and made the meal doable after work.

Little touches always finish off the table for me. I like to put out water in a carafe or pitcher with sliced up lemons and decant my salad dressing into a cute little carafe or dish. It only takes about five extra minutes but it makes the table look more festive and put together.

I also love to have an herbed compound butter to go with the bread. They are easy to make and a great way to use up extra herbs from your garden or cooking. I like to prepare them and keep them in the freezer to pull out when needed.

By keeping a limited menu and doing a few small things that had a nice visual impact I was able to be ready for my guests in about an hour and a half with a beautiful and delicious table of food. With everything finished before my guests arrived I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening with them. Cheers!

Monday
Jun152015

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Summertime means fresh fruit is in season which obviously means it is time to make pie. One of my favorites is the classic strawberry rhubarb pie. It is my grandfather's favorite and I grew up loving to eat it with him as a special treat.

Ingredients List
- 3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 3 cups strawberries, sliced
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 Tbsp. corn starch
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 large egg, separated
- 1 teaspoon water
- Large granule sugar (optional)
- Double pie crust pastry

Directions
- Cut the rhubarb and place it in a bowl with the strawberries
- In a separate small bowl stir together the sugar, corn starch, cinnamon and salt
- Pour sugar mixture over rhubarb and strawberries, tossing filling to coat the fruit
- Roll out half of the pastry and line the bottom of a pie plate with it, trimming off excess
- Roll out remaining half of the pastry
- Add filling to the pie plate and then top with pastry using lattice crust or other vented style top
- Whisk egg white and water together to make egg wash glaze
- Brush glaze on pie and sprinkle with large granule sugar if you like
- Bake for 20 minutes at 425° F, turn heat down to 350° F and back another 35-40 minutes until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling

Tips and Tricks
- I make my own crust but you can also use store bought
- To make your pastry easier to deal with, keep it in the refrigerator until you are rolling it out
- To prevent your crust from browning too much, wrap it in tin foil for the first 20 minutes of baking

If you are interested, check out my apple pie recipe, my mixed berry pie recipe, my blackberry rhubarb pie recipe and my recipe for making pie crust from scratch

 

Tuesday
Mar172015

Mint Oreo Truffles for St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I wanted to make some St. Patrick's Day treats to bring into work for my co-workers today but I had a TV conference for work last night so I didn't get home until after eight. Since I had no intention of staying up too late I had to make something on the simple side so I decided to make some mint oreo truffles which don't require any baking. 

Ingredients List
- 1 package of mint oreos (30 oreos)
- 6 oz. cream cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon mint extract
-
Dark Green and Vibrant Green Candy Melts
- Green sprinkles and non-pareils

Directions
Pulse oreos in food processor until they are finely ground.

Add cream cheese and mint extract to oreos and pulse food processor until mixture is fully combined. Form mixture into equal size size balls, place on a a tray covered in parchment paper and place in the freezer for at least one hour.

Place candy melts into a small microwave proof bowls or glasses that are tall enough to dip one of the truffles into it. Microwave them for 60 seconds and then stir. If some lumps still remain microwave another 30 seconds and then stir until smooth. Dip truffles into the melted candy and then place back on parchment paper. 

While the candy coating is still wet add sprinkles for a festive touch. Once the candy coating has cooled and hardened you can stack the truffles on a serving plate or package them in treat bags.

Tips and Tricks
- To make even sized balls I used a small ice cream scoop to measure out equal amounts of oreo mixture.
- If the mixture is too soft or sticky to shape into balls, place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
- If your melted candy starts to cool making dipping difficult, just put the bowl back in the microwave for a few seconds until it is smooth again.
Wednesday
Mar112015

Rosemary Sea Salt 

A few months back I made a large batch of rosemary sea salt. It is a great way to use up any rosemary that you have in your herb garden at the end of the growing season and adds something special to your pantry for your cooking. There are a variety of methods out there that you could use but below is the method that works for me.

Ingredients List
- 1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves
- 4 cups sea salt, divided

Put the rosemary leaves and one cup of sea salt in a food processor.

Pulse the food processor until the rosemary leaves are finely mixed into the salt.

In a bowl combine the rosemary mixture with the remaining three cups of sea salt.

The salt and rosemary mixture will be damp from the moisture in the rosemary leaves so to dry it out, spread it on a a baking sheet and bake it for about half an hour on low heat (200˚F, 95˚C).

After letting the mixture cool, break up any salt that has clumped together and store in jars.

The rosemary sea salt makes a great gift and Frank and I have also have fun using it in our cooking. Enjoy!

Monday
Nov172014

Pickled Beets

Growing up I have always loved pickled beets so when I saw a large basket of beets for $3.99 at Block's Farm Stand I decided I need to put some up this year. I have my grandmother's recipe that I grew up with, but to be on the safe side I used the vinegar/water/sugar/salt proportions recommended by the NCHFP but adapted their recipe to taste like my grandma's recipe by omitting the cloves and onions.

My girlfriend, Sylwia, came over and we spent a fun evening pickling the beets. It ended up taking quite a while since the basket ended up making three batches of the recipe, but at the end of the night we had 24 half pints of delicious pickled beets. It's like having a taste of my childhood in a jar.

Ingredients
- 7 pounds beets
- 4 cups vinegar (5 percent)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons pickling salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks

Directions
Scrub beets thoroughly and cook until tender in boiling water (about 25 to 30 minutes).

Drain the beets, discard the liquid and let the beets cool. Slip off the skins or peel them if the skins are being a little stubborn. Slice the beets into 1/4-inch slices. I used an egg slicer which worked really well.

Combine vinegar, salt, sugar, cinnamon and fresh water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add beets and simmer for five minutes.

If you aren't familiar with canning, I cover the basics in my post about canning applesauce. Remove the cinnamon and fill jars with beets leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Pour hot vinegar solution over the beets leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

If you are at sea level (altitudes less than 1000 feet) then you will need to process pint or quart jars for 30 minutes. If you are at a higher altitude check the NCHFP processing times for pickled beets.

Wednesday
Nov052014

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Last week my department at work had its annual chili cook-off competition. I didn't enter a chili but I decided to make some cupcakes to share. Last year I made chocolate chili cupcakes and wanted to make something different this time. Fall is in full swing here so I decided to make caramel apple cupcakes.

To make the apple cupcakes I adapted Paula Deen's apple cake recipe to my preferences, like swapping out walnuts for pecans and increasing the amount of cinnamon. I also exchanged the vegetable oil for some of my homemade applesauce which is healthier and makes the cake really moist.

Cupcake Ingredients
3 cups diced cooking apples
1 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups applesauce
3 eggs

Cupcake Directions
Preheat the oven to 325 F and prepare muffin pans with cupcake liners. Mix together apples, pecans, vanilla and cinnamon in a bowl.


In a second bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. With an electric mixer beat together the sugar, applesauce and eggs.


Add the dry ingredients to applesauce mixture and beat until fully combined. Fold the apple mixture into batter with a spatula or spoon.

Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake until toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

To add a caramel component to the cupcakes I made Wilton's caramel buttercream icing and iced the cupcakes with a large star decorating tip.

The cupcakes are a great fall treat and were a big hit with my department. I am definitely planning to add this to my autumn rotation of baking treats.

Thursday
Jan022014

Homemade Spiced Rum Vanilla Extract

Now that Christmas has passed I can start sharing on my blog all of the Christmas gifts that I have been busy making the past several weeks. As a simple gift for friends and family I decided to make a bunch of bottles of homemade vanilla extract. The basic way to make it is to infuse a white alcohol, like vodka, with vanilla beans but I thought it would be fun to use spiced rum instead for a different flavor.

To make the vanilla I sliced Madagascar vanilla beans down the middle not quite to the end and trimmed the bottoms so they would fit in the bottles. I then placed two beans in each of the 8.5oz swing top square glass bottles that I had thoroughly scrubbed and then filled them up with spiced rum. I did this all back in November so that the vanilla beans would have enough time to infuse the spiced rum before I gave the bottles as gifts for Christmas.

To label the jars I made a simple design and used my Silhouette Cameo to cut it out from white vinyl. I then used transfer paper to apply the labels to the bottles and the vanilla extract was ready to give.

I made little cards with the following information to hand out along with the bottles:

Homemade Spiced Rum Vanilla Extract
Use in baking recipes just as you would with plain vanilla extract. Discard the vanilla beans when they are no longer covered in liquid or after two months when the beans are fully infused, whichever comes first. Shelf life for the homemade spiced rum vanilla extract is one year.

If you are making vanilla extract at home for yourself you can keep topping up your bottle with alcohol and replace the beans after they have finished infusing.

The homemade vanilla extract was a big hit with my friends and family this Christmas and I have to say that I loved the project so much that I saved a bottle for myself which I am excitedly using.

Saturday
Nov092013

Chocolate Chili Cupcakes

Yesterday was the annual chili cook off in my department at work. I just moved into the department this past summer so this was my first year participating. I didn't prepare a chili for the competition but I did want to contribute a dessert so I thought that making some chocolate chili cupcakes would be perfect.

To make the cupcakes I adapted my go-to one bowl chocolate cupcake recipe from Good Housekeeping's Illustrated Cookbook. I've had that cookbook since I was in high school and I still love it as a reference for basic recipes.

I started off by omitting the vanilla from the recipe and then added ancho chili pepper powder, cinnamon and mini chocolate chips. After baking I finished the cupcakes by topping them with whipped chocolate ganache and some red dragees for a little fun.

I think that the cupcakes turned out great with the extra little kick. Some of my co-workers were a little hesitant about them when I told them about the chili powder but in the end they were a big hit with everyone.

Ingredients
2 cups flour
1-3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa
1-1/4 cups milk
3/4 cups butter
3 eggs
1 tablespoon ancho chili pepper powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 cup mini chocolate chips (optional) 

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Beat together all ingredients except chocolate chips in a mixer at low speed until well mixed

Gently fold chocolate chips into the batter

Line two twelve cavity muffin tins with liners and fill halfway with batter
Bake for 20 minutes or until inserted toothpick in center of a cupcake comes out clean 

Let cupcakes cool and then ice with chocolate ganache or buttercream icing

Enjoy!