Thursday, June 21, 2018

Salted Vanilla Bean Milkshake Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Get ready for all the words and very few pictures! This is a very wordy post for a reason though. It's worth it, truly it is, especially if you want the secret to the best buttercream ever!

I have a few recipes that I am extremely proud of and this is one of them. Sometimes inspiration hits and you come up with something that shocks you. I have no clue what inspired this, but it has been on repeat the past few years.

I usually use it on my favorite deep dark rich “Chocolate Espresso Stout Cake.” Both are so similar in the subtle, yet complex, tastes, but so opposite as well. One is deep dark and rich, while the other light, fluffy and delicate. Unfortunately, I've lost my memory card with the pictures I took last time I made it. Hopefully it'll turn up again or I'll have to make another batch, so I can photograph it and post the recipe. I'm sure my family will hate that. (insert sarcasm sign here)

If you've never made a swiss meringue buttercream, it can seem very daunting, but don't worry. It's easier than you think. Plus, believe it or not, it is almost impossible to screw up. Almost... I've never actually ruined a batch, I've always managed to salvage it. Anytime I've ever gotten stuck, I just searched pinterest for “swiss meringue buttercream (whatever is going wrong)” and have always found out how to troubleshoot it. I've put off writing this recipe for a few years now, because it can seem so overwhelming and I didn't have the confidence in my ability to properly explain the process. But now, I've made it so many time that I feel like a pro at making it work. I'll share some tips for ways to fix it below and give some info on how to tweak the flavors.

Now, be ready to seem like baking rock star when you take a cake with this buttercream somewhere! Every time I use it people lose their minds over how good it is. I'd say that most people haven't had this type of buttercream and it throws them for a loop because it is so rich and creamy, it's sweet, but not overly sweet as the typical “American” style buttercream we normally have.

Troubleshooting and Tips:
*I've never found this particular problem on any other post, but I often find that it can take so long to whip the egg whites, then whisk in the butter that my mixer starts getting hot and the buttercream will not set up, so I put it in the fridge for about 15 minutes, let the mixer cool and them pull it back out and finish it off and every time it comes right together with in a couple of minutes. Now, this has happened on my mixer, my Mom's mixer and my Mother in law's mixer, but they are all Kitchenaides so that may be the issue, but I don't see me changing brands anytime soon either.

*Sometime, a while ago, I started using a separate bowl for the double boiler and not the bowl for the stand mixer. Most recipes tell you to just just the same bowl, but I've found it takes too long to come back to room temperature.

*I used to always use a thermometer, but now I simply use my hands to feel the whites to make sure the grit of the sugar is gone, meaning that it has dissolved. I don't recommend doing that to start, but after awhile, if you're good at winging it while in the kitchen, you should be fine doing it too. If you don't do well throwing caution to the wind DON'T do it and use the thermometer!!! Also, if you do this make sure you use pasteurized eggs!!!

**My buttercream is soupy:
Just like above. Pop it in the fridge for about 15 minutes and then try again.

**My buttercream is curdled or looks like scrambled eggs:
I know this sounds like the same thing, but it's not. If it curdles and separates, take about ½ cup of buttercream, heat it in microwave for about 15-30 seconds(start with 15 so you don't get it hot), stir it up and slowly stream it into the bowl, while beating on med-high speed. You may have to refrigerate it afterwards and beat again. I've only had to do this a couple of times. Once it became thin and needed to chill afterwards and then be whisked again the other time it whipped right up. Now if its not separated just looks like scrambled eggs, just keep whisking it's normal.

Salted Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
yields about 6-8 cups

10 egg whites
2 ½ cups sugar
3 cups butter, cut into cubes, cool not cold
2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon salt* (add extra half teaspoon at a time to increase the saltiness if desired or drop to ¼ teaspoon if you don't want the saltiness at all)
½ cup malt powder

Start by separating eggs, add egg whites and sugar to a double boiler over medium low heat, whisking constantly until it reaches 140 F and all sugar is dissolved. Do not go far past this temperature. Pour mixture into the bowl for your stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, whisk until room temperature and stiff peaks form. While it is whisking, cube butter and pre-measure the remaining ingredients. Once you reach stiff peaks and the bowl is not longer warm to the touch, switch to the paddle attachment and start adding one cube of butter at a time, making sure it is incorporated before adding the next. Once the butter is incorporated and the buttercream is the desired texture, add the remaining ingredients. Taste to make sure you don't need to make any changes.

It will keep for about two weeks in a refrigerator. You can freeze it, but the texture will not be as good and it will lose some volume.

Let me know if you try it out!
Happy caking!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Instant Pot Chicken Enchilada Pasta (Everyday Eats)

I haven't posted one of these, "Everyday Eats/Weeknight Dinners" posts in FOREVERRRRRR! This series, which is getting a name change, is basically a recipe of things we eat on the regular. I've usually photographed them with my cell phone, on a whim, in not the best lighting, but, hey that's real life. This is a major favorite around here, and when all four of us love something you know it's a winner!

Ok, this isn't totally a one pot meal but other than the pasta it's all made in the instant pot or any pressure cooker. I've also made it on the stove top and I'll make, photograph and post that way as well. This way takes just as long but it's almost totally hands off. There is some sauteing and then you set it and forget it When the pressure is coming back to normal, you boil the pasta, make the guacamole and chop the cilantro. Super easy! I can put it on, help the kids with homework then come back and finish dinner.

So, this is in no way a real Mexican dish, but it is so delicious! I've been making the stove top way for yearsssssss, but when I got my Instant Pot, this was one of my first experiments. A couple of tweaks later and we have this beauty! You could absolutely use rice, cauliflower rice, quinoa or even zoodles with this! I will probably making it with noodles for my heathens and zoodles for me next time just to clean it up for me.

This is most definitely going to be a summer staple around here. It's perfect for the days when I want to throw something together then head back outside with my lunatics or the days when we're gone most of the day and I can do the browning, toss everything else in the pot, set the timer to the time I want, head out and come to an almost finished meal.

Instant Pot Chicken Enchilada Pasta
feeds approximately 8 people
click to print

2.5-3 lbs of boneless skinless chicken (breast or thigh)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped

2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
1 28 oz can of enchilada sauce
1 14.5 can of diced tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup shredded cheese (more for topping)
1 16 oz box of pasta

To top:
shredded cheese
sour cream or crema

Turn pressure cooker to saute, add oil and allow to heat up, and add chicken a couple of pieces at a time, brown for a few minutes on each side. You're not trying to cook through, you're just browning and getting a nice sear on each side. Remove and sit aside, then repeat for the remainder of the chicken. Once the chicken is cooked, add in onions, mushrooms, garlic and peppers to pot and saute until softened and translucent. Turn the pot off, add chicken back in along with everything, but pasta and cheese and toss everything together. Turn to high pressure and set for 15 minutes. Once it has finished cooking and is releasing pressure, start and cook the box of pasta, according to package directions. Once you can open the lid, use two forks to shred chicken and stir in cheese. Drain and add in pasta. Scoop into bowls and top with your choice of delicious things.

Until next time,

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

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Little pillows of citrus heaven, that's how I would describe these cookies. One batch makes about 3 dozen and if I don't put them up immediately, my kids will eat them all in a day! When I photographed these, they ate through all but 6 in one afternoon. That's what I get for leaving them on the counter.

They're not super heavy and dense like you'd expect, but they're not super light and airy either. They fit perfectly somewhere in between. They're more cakey and not crispy. The lemon isn't overwhelming, but the icing is bright and in your face, but not obnoxiously so. They're legitimately the perfect cookie.

I make these every year as one of the many Christmas cookies I bake. I make double and triple batches of 5 to 6 different kinds, scoop or roll them and freeze them. I was a bit afraid of how well these little gems would freeze, since they had cheese in them, but I was very happy to learn they freeze just fine. I make them, flatten them, place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour, then load them up by the dozen in freezer bags. When I'm ready to cook them, I place them on parchment lined cookie sheets, let them thaw and cook them like normal.

Even though I make these at Christmas, they're the perfect cookie for spring or summer. A dessert for a picnic, or cookout. They would also make wonderful teacher's gifts as well! Maybe I should get on that to go with the Starbucks gift cards I bought the boys teachers. They'd be amazing dipped in tea. Actually these would be absolutely perfect for an actual tea party. I could come up with so many reasons to justify making these cookies! 

Lemon Ricotta Cookies
makes about 3 dozen

  • 1 lemon
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F and line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Zest, juice lemon and strain, set aside 3 tablespoons of juice for icing. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl beat, butter, sugar and zest until fluffy. Beat in ricotta, eggs and extract. Beat in flour mixture. Scoop onto parchment and flatten into disks, using the bottom of a drinking glass, dipped in flour. Leave 1 ½ inch space between each cookie. Bake 15-20 minutes and allow to cool. Stir together confection sugar and lemon juice and drizzle over cooled cookies. Allow to set up before serving.

*If you are making dough ahead and freezing, scoop the dough onto a cookie sheet and flatten and place in the freezer on the cookie sheet, allow it to freeze for about an hour then fill a gallon bag and toss back into the freezer. When you bake them, either thaw and follow original bake time in they're still frozen add 3-5 minutes to baking time. 

Happy cookie baking!
Until next time,

Friday, April 20, 2018

Banana Bread Cupcakes with Fluffy Nutella Buttercream

Who doesn't love banana bread amiright? Even my husband, who is allergic to bananas, loves the stuff. When he was younger, he would sometimes, take a benadryl then eat some to try to counter act the effects. Of course, you always want what you can't have. Luckily for him, as an adult, he learned he was only allergic to certain protein that breaks down in cooking so he can eat bananas as long as they've been cooked. He was like a kid on Christmas when he found that out.

Banana bread makes me think of my Grandpa, my mom's dad. He loved it, LOADED with nuts. The chunkier the better. He went through so many bananas through the week, it was a wonder my granny ever had any left over to make the bread. His love of banana bread and chocolate have always made the combination seem like a good idea to me. Throw in Nutella and you have a WINNER!

These cupcakes come together quickly. You can easily make them by hand, instead of a stand mixer. Quick and easy. They're a cupcake for sure and not just a quick bread but they are so very similar. And the buttercream, the buttercream, is like a cloud of chocolate hazelnut heaven!!!! Trust me, when I say, you need it in your life!!!

Banana Bread Cupcakes with Fluffy Nutella Buttecream
click to print

Banana Bread Cupcakes
Makes 15-18 cupcakes

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon flour

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners and set aside. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon. In the bowl for your stand mixer, add egg and sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Mix in vanilla, sour cream and butter, until just combines. Mix in dry, then stir in the bananas. In a small bowl stir together pecan, chocolate chips and flour then fold into the batter. Using a 1/4 dry measuring cup fill the the muffin cups. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown. These cupcakes are not light and fluffy. They are dense like banana bread, so a tooth pick may not come out clean. Allow to cool before frosting.

Fluffy Nutella Frosting
makes enough to frost one batch of cupcakes

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup Nutella
2 tablespoons whipping cream, cold
2 oz melted chocolate, cooled slightly

In a stand mixer, using whisk attachment whip butter, 2 cups sugar and Nutella until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in chocolate and whisk until combined. Add in whipping cream and whisk for 5 minutes on high. Check consistency to make sure it's firm enough, add more powdered sugar if it is too soft. It should be soft and fluffy, yet still hold its shape.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Blood Orange Vanilla Lemonade

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Let's make some lemonade, you guys! Yes, I know it's still basically winter, but hear me out. This IS winter lemonade. Since blood orange season is only December through May, you can only make this in winter or spring soooooo I'm not crazy! Or at least, I'm not crazy because of this idea.

I love, love, love blood orange so much more than regular oranges. I think they're sweeter and have an almost berry-citrus flavor. Does that make sense? Yes? No? Maybe? Maybe the color is playing with my brain!? I buy them as often as I can get my hands on them. This lemonade is a must, a cocktail often occurs, maybe toppings for a salad, glaze for salmon, a pound cake with champagne, oh the possibilities! 

I made this a few years ago on a whim, for a family game night and we drank almost all of it that night. My sister took the rest home and has become a hardcore fan of it. Which reminds me, I set some aside for her. I need to take it to her ASAP. There is a good chance if I don't hurry it won't last long enough. 

Blood Orange Lemonade
Makes approximately 1/2 gallon

1 1/2 cup simple syrup (recipe follows)
3-4 lemons to equal 1/2 cup lemon juice
4-6 blood oranges to equal 1 1/2 cup blood orange juice
3-4 cups cold water * to taste
2 vanilla beans

Juice and strain lemons and oranges until you reach the needed measurements, add to drink container or pitcher. Stir in water and simple syrup. Split vanilla beans and add to lemonade and stir. Remove the vanilla bean after about an hour if you don't want a strong vanilla flavor. Store in refrigerator up to a week.

Simple Syrup 
makes about 1 1/2 cups simple syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar

In a sauce pan, combine and heat water and sugar, stirring until all sugar dissolves. Allow to cool to room temp before refrigerating. 


Monday, March 5, 2018

Taco Chili

Guess who's back, back again! Ashley's back, tell a friend! Did I just quote Eminem!?!?!? Sorry, I got sick, then my kids were sick, then I was sick again, then there were holidays, then I was sick again, then we lost a dear family member, then I lost my memory card, then my dad was sick. It's a been a long few months. But, I'm back at it with something perfect for a rainy day. It's rainy here today and I wish I still had some of this! Instead, as I type this, I'm eating left over drive thru chicken tenders. Womp womp... 

Both my boys actually like it, my husband loves it and I love it. It is perfect. When I'm making it for the 4 of us I leave out the beans, but I will put them in when I'm cooking for more people. If you're a bean lover, I'm sure you could double or even triple the amount just fine. My oldest always picks them out when I use them, the rest of us tolerate them in the chili. I often swap out the beef for lean ground turkey as well. But, I use 93/7 ground beef normally anyway, so it's not overly fatty. If you use a fattier meat, you may need to skim out any fat that you render when browning the meat.

My favorite  way to customize it for each person, is by the toppings. Of course, I loaded everything in when I took the pictures but I often just top with, cilantro, avocado and a squeeze of lime. When I'm feeling it though, I will load it down with all the toppings. My kids love to use tortilla chips scoops as spoon.

Taco Chili
serves a whole bunch of people
click to print

1 bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
3 tablespoons taco seasoning
1 tablespoon of salt (omit if you are using a taco seasoning with salt in it)
1 tablespoon cilantro paste or 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro* optional
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 pounds ground beef
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn
32 ounces beef broth

In a pot or dutch oven, over medium high heat, saute peppers and onion, stirring often for 3-5 minutes until softened, translucent and starting to brown. Add taco seasoning, salt, cilantro and garlic, continue to cook for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. This allows the flavors of the seasonings and herbs to release and deepen. Add in and brown beef, stirring to break it up. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes, usually. Pour in tomatoes, corn and broth. Turn down to low heat, cover and cook stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes. Remove lid, bump heat back up to medium, stirring often and allow to thicken, just slightly. Taste for seasoning. Top with all your favorite ingredients.

I use:
avocado or guacamole
sour cream
cheese (this picture I used a shredded blend, but cotija is my favorite)

Hope you enjoy! See you soon!