Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Things Halloween

Halloween is one of my favorite time of the year. This is the day when a grown woman (me!) gets to dress up in costume and nobody thinks, "Crazy!" In the kitchen, I luv to bake Halloween treats for my kids and their friends. So here are photographs of all things Halloween.

Last year, I attempted to bake sugar cookies. The cookie dough was made with coconut oil, which made it really hard to roll out. The coconut oil has to have certain texture and consistency or else the dough becomes a glob. I had to roll the dough, put it in the freezer, cut into Halloween shapes, put it back in the freezer before baking. See? Too much work!

I haven't done any better sugar cookies this year. I tried the cookie dough with butter this time. Well, just like last year, the same thing happened with not getting butter cold enough or too cold. Very temperamental, just like coconut oil. Texas hot weather didn't help at all. BUT I luv the cookie cutters I found this year. The skeleton cookie cutter can also be used to make gingerbread man cookies. The only thing I don't like about it is if the cookie dough is not cold enough, the dough will stick to the cookie cutter. Forcing the dough out of the cookie cutter can be a challenge. I'll try making gingerbread men this winter. Maybe it will be cold enough in Texas.

While I was preparing my kids' nighttime snack, I decided to cut the apple slices into Autumn and Halloween shapes. Try using cookie cutters with pear, nectarine, or peach slices. The cookie cutters with pressed patterns are awesome. This is definitely for the fun factor. Who doesn't wanna eat a ghost or a bat?

 Pumpkin cheesecake anyone? Click here for Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe.

Brek was craving a pumpkin cake, so I baked him one. Then I went a little nutty, trying to make it into a Jack-o-Lantern. The result of a rush decorating job was a really HAPPY Jack.
Cannot wait until Halloween next year. I hope I have more time to make Halloween candy.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Last month, I craved cheesecake, and I wanted to bake one. Since my friend was throwing her 10 year old a birthday party, I thought, "Why not bake one and share with everyone. Then I don't have to eat all of it myself." I did, and everybody at the party luv it. I baked them in mini muffin cups, thinking in advance that they would be easier to eat. No plates. No forks.

While I was browsing through Pinterest this month, I came across several pictures of pumpkin cheesecake. I asked my kids if they wanted to try my homemade pumpkin cheesecake because... well... somebody had to help me eat them. They unanimously said, "YES!"

I searched my cookbooks and on the internet for a pumpkin cheesecake recipe. Not to my surprise, I found one at William-Sonoma. Their version has gingersnaps and pecans in the crust. I didn't have gingersnaps at the time when I was ready to bake. So I decided to just use honey graham crackers. I also skipped the pecans, keeping it simple.

I cut the recipe in half so feel free to double it. After it was baked in a rectangle pan, I cut the cheesecake into Autumn shapes using cookie cutters. Just for the fun factor. The pumpkin cheesecake was creamy and pumpkinny. I like it warm or cold, and my kids luv it too. That was the biggest compliment since they didn't want my regular cheesecake a month ago. Maybe it was the pumpkin in the cheesecake. A great thing... because I now have a go-to pumpkin cheesecake recipe in my recipe collection.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from William-Sonoma's Pumpkin Cheesecake
serves 5

Prep work:
1. Preheat an oven to 350°F.
2. Lightly spray the 8.5 by 6.5 inches pan with vegetable oil.
3. Line the pan with parchment paper, making sure to cover the side of the pan.
The crust:
2 oz honey graham crackers (New Morning)
1/8 cup (1 oz) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted (Kerygold)
1. In a small bowl, crumble the honey graham crackers by hand.
2. Add the brown sugar and melted butter. Mix well.
3. Place the crumb mixture on to the prepared pan.
4. Use your fingers or the back of a spoon to pat the mixture into the bottom.
5. Bake for 10 minutes.
6. Transfer the pan into the wire rack. Set aside to cool.

The filling:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice 
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger 
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 
1 Tablespoon all purpose flour (King Arthur)
1/2 pound (8 oz) full fat cream cheese, at room temperature (Horizon)
3/4 cup (2.6 oz) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs (Eggland's Best)
1/2 cup (4 oz) pumpkin puree (Libby's)
1/4 cup (2 oz) sour cream (Daisy)
1. In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar with a hand mixer on a medium speed until creamy.
3. Add the eggs and beat well at medium speed. 
4.  Add the pumpkin puree and sour cream. Beat until smooth. 
5. Add the spice mixture and mix well.
6. Using the rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the crust.
Bake it:
1. Bake the pumpkin cheesecake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. 
2. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. 
3. Allow the pumpkin cheesecake to cool completely then cover and refrigerate it until ready to serve.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Applesauce Smoothie (or Soft Serve Yogurt)

Since Camden couldn't have any of the cow's milk products, I started to look into sheep's milk products. I found manchego sheep's milk cheese at Whole Foods, and I luv it. They don't have that earthy smell like goat cheese. (I gag when I have any goat cheese products.)

Locating sheep's milk yogurt or milk was a challenge. When I saw Old Chathem Sheephearding Company's sheep's milk yogurt at Whole Foods, I was super excited to give it a try. It tasted good... sour. Good sour in so many way. No sugar added for the plain flavor. I wasn't sure if it was corn free though, but Camden ate it with no reactions. For once, it is the only yogurt that I've found with no gum in it.

Getting my kids to eat sheep's milk yogurt is another challenge. Well, they just don't like any type of yogurts. I tried giving yogurt to my kids with various toppings... with fruits, nuts, chocolate, or cookies. You name it. They would only eat the toppings. Go figure! For the passed three weeks, I had two 6 oz containers of sheep's milk yogurt sitting in my fridge. They both were about to expire. What to do? What to do? Smoothie? YES!

Since my kids luv apples, I thought maybe they would like to have apple smoothie. Hmmm... no apples in the fridge. But, wait! Applesauce! Very simple, right? Yup, it was.

Applesauce Smoothie (or Soft Serve Yogurt)
serves 2 small kid-sized cups

2 (4 oz each) unsweetened applesauce, cold (Central Market)
1 (6 oz) sheep's milk yogurt, plain (Old Chathem Sheephearding Company or Bellwether Farms)
1/2 cup small ice cubes
agave, maple syrup, or honey to taste  
  1. In a blender, mix together the applesauce, yogurt, ice cubes, and agave.
  2. Adjust the sweet taste to your liking.
  3. Pour the smoothie into kid-sized cups.
Whipped Topping (dairy and optional)
1/2 cup (4 oz) heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons regular sugar
a pitch of ground cinnamon 
  1. In a large bowl, whip together the heavy whipping cream and sugar until stiff peaks form.
  2. Spoon the whipped cream on top of the smoothie.
  3. Sprinkle a pitch of ground cinnamon.
  4. Enjoy the smoothie right away or freeze it in a cup for 30 minutes for soft serve yogurt.
Tip: For a thicker smoothie, blend in one frozen banana or 1 Tablespoon Great Lakes Unflavored Gelatin.

Allergy Info: This applesauce smoothie is free from or can be made without eggs, corn, legumes (soy), nuts, wheat, and fish. If dairy whipped cream is not used, then it is also dairy free (from cow's milk).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ninjago Cake Pops

I luv cake pops. What a fun idea to put a cake ball on a stick. When Brek wanted to have a LEGO themed birthday party this year, I wanted to make birthday cake pops.

I made cake pops once for Brek's class party. I didn't follow any recipe because... well... I was just playing around.

I started to test recipes about a month before Brek's birthday party. The trouble started right away. My homemade frosting couldn't hold the cake balls together. I could kick myself for not remembering what I did right the first time I made the cake pops. After so many tries, I wanted to go with Plan B: cupcakes. Then I found
a Nordic Ware Cake Pop Kit at Target. I gave the pan a test drive. Whoa!!! Talk about less headache.

Let the making of cake pops adventure begins! I decided to work on the LEGO’s Ninjago theme. Since I couldn’t use colorful candy melt, I thought the chocolate around a cake ball would be perfect as the ninja's mask. Another challenge was making sure a cake ball didn't fall apart when I inserted a stick into it. I decided to use a pound cake recipe to make these cake pops. When cake pops were in the fridge, they firmed up really well, which was what I wanted.

In order for these cake pops to have any resemblance of Ninjago, I made their colorful bodies from craft foam sheets. I drew the decorations on the Ninjago’s outfits using markers and fabric pens. Sensei Wu's hat was a cupcake top, and his beard was made from homemade marshmallow.

Ninjago Cake Pops
makes 24 cake pops

1 1⁄2 cups (6 oz) all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda (Arm & Hammer)
12 Tablespoons (6 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature (Kerrygold)
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract (homemade)
2 large eggs, at room temperature (Eggland's Best)
1⁄2 cup (4 oz) sour cream, at room temperature (Daisy)
Vegetable oil

  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F.
  2. Spray (top and bottom) cake pop pan with vegetable oil.
  3. In a bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. Set aside.
  4. Using a hand mixer, whip together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract on a medium speed until light and fluffy, about one minute.
  5. Add the eggs and sour cream. Mix in medium speed for one minute.
  6. Add the flour mixture and mix with spatula until just combine.
  7. Using a medium size cookie scooper, scoop the batter into the prepared cake pop bottom pan. Cake pop top pan has small holes for venting.
  8. Cover the cake pop pan and insert the two locks.
  9. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  10. Let cake balls cool in a pan for 10 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  11. Trim cake balls if they are not perfectly rounded.
  12. Wash and dry cake pop pan. Use the rest of the batter to make more cake pops if desired.
  13. To make cupcakes, use a large size cookie scooper and scoop the batter into lined cupcake pan. Bake them in a 350°F oven for 15 to 20 minute (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean).
For ninja's mask
    1 bag of chocolate chips (Enjoy Life)
  1. Melt half cup of chocolate chips in a double boiler.
  2. Dip the candy stick in the melted chocolate.
  3. Insert the stick into a cake ball.
  4. Place a cake pop on to the cake pop stand.
  5. Repeat step 2 to 4.
  6. Refrigerate the cake pops for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best.
  7. Once the cake pops are firm to touch, they are ready for decorating. Melt the rest of the chocolate chips in a double boiler.
  8. Scoop the melted chocolate into a piping bag.
  9. Cut a little bit off of the bottom of the bag.
  10. Pipe the ninja eye brows and eyes.
  11. Pipe the ninja's mask around the eyes.

For Sensei Wu
    1 large cupcake
    homemade marshmallow
    melted chocolate chips
  1. Use the melted chocolate from the piping bag to decorate his eyes.
  2. Attach the marshmallow beard to a cake pop by using melted butter.
  3. Refrigerate this cake pop for about an hour.
  4. To make his hat, slice off the top of a cupcake.
  5. Score under the cupcake top just enough to fit the cake ball. 
  6. Brush the top of a cake pop with melted chocolate.
  7. Place the cupcake top onto the cake ball.
  8. Add more melted chocolate under the hat and around the cake ball as reinforcement.  
Keep the completed Ninjago cake pops in the refrigerator. Let them come to a room temperature for 30 minutes before serving to ensure soft texture cake pops.