I like bullet points

Here is a quick bullet point summary of the last few weeks:

  • Working lots of overtime (which I don’t get paid for because I’m on stinkin’ SALARY)
  • Lamest Easter ever
  • Athol River Rat Race (my friend got 2nd place out of 272 canoes! Also, the linked site is one of the worst designed websites I’ve ever seen…cringe-worthy)
  • Lost 5 more lbs (down 30 since last June!)
  • NeedtoBreathe at the House of Blues in Boston
  • Co-worker had her baby 6 weeks early (5lb 4oz Jaxson Harley is doing great! So is mama)
  • Results of this was even more overtime and more craziness at work to prepare for…
  • …our program in Chicago! (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) – I ate a ridiculously awesome Chicago Deep Dish pizza. Well, I ate two pieces of it.
  • Wedding shower on Saturday
  • Made some Rice Krispie Peanut Butter Balls for housechurch (recipe to come)
  • Slept through housechurch on Sunday

Which brings me to a quick bullet point summary of what’s to come:

  • Seeing a good friend on Thursday whom I haven’t seen in a long while (he is in the Air Force and is in the midst of transferring from Alaska to Hawaii…I know, shock to the system for sure!)
  • Taking the day off Friday to drive down to Maryland to see another friend whom I haven’t seen since his wedding last year
  • During said trip to Maryland, I will be seeing the new Avengers movie (eeeeeeeeek!….or, more like geeeeeeeeeeek!)
  • On the drive back, I have marked off two locations of one of my favorite stores in towns I will be passing straight through. Sounds lame, but I am excited because the closest one to me is over an hour away at Mohegan Sun, and I will finally be able to pick up some stuff I need (and want)

That’s all for now! 🙂

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Miniature Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Icing

I’ve had this recipe pinned for a while now on Pinterest and have been dying to try it, but didn’t have any vanilla beans. The other day I happened to see some for pretty cheap on Amazon and ordered them after reading the good reviews. So today, I made mini cupcakes! I used Melanie’s recipe from her blog The Sweet Life (there are tons of great recipes on her blog!) Here is the recipe:

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes (recipe from The Sweet Little Book of Cupcakes)

yield: 12 cupcakes (or about 36 mini cupcakes)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2/3 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • seeds from 1/4 vanilla bean I actually used a whole vanilla bean
  • 2/3 cup milk

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Line a muffin pan with 12 muffin liners.  In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides and add the egg; beat until combined.  Beat in the vanilla extract.
  3. Scrape the seeds of 1/4 of a the vanilla bean; add them to the milk.  Add the milk mixture and flour mixture to the butter mixture alternatively in three steps, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Mix on medium-low until smooth.
  4. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 liners; bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 12 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • seeds from 1/4 vanilla bean I used a whole vanilla bean
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the butter and shortening on high until smooth and creamy.  Scrape the seeds from 1/4 of a vanilla bean; add the seeds and the confectioners sugar to the butter mixture.  Start the mixer on low until the sugar starts to incorporate, then beat on medium for about 30 seconds.  Add the vanilla extract and beat on high 1-2 minutes, or until smooth and fluffy.

The specks of vanilla look awesome

I made a few regular size cupcakes for my family

Cinnamon Roll Sugar Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing

It’s Saturday! And Saturday means baking for housechurch!
So this week I had a hankering for something with cinnamon. I browsed around and found this recipe by Jenny from Picky Palate and decided to try it. The only thing I did differently was  melt the butter and mix it with the brown sugar and cinnamon and spread it onto the rolled cookie dough.

Here are some pics!

Don’t you feel fatter just looking at them?

If you decide to try making them yourself, the recipe makes a lot of cookies! I didn’t realize this in advance, and ended up with close to 100 large cookies.

This weekend I also discovered how to insert scratch-and-sniff jpegs into my blog.

(I wish that were true)

Baking is awesome – Chocolate Cheesecake with Mint Chocolate Ganache in a Thin Mint crust

I’ve “discovered” that I love baking. I use the quotations because I’ve always enjoyed “baking”, but I always stuck to box mixes of brownies and cakes and cookie logs. I use quotations there because now I would hardly consider that baking. There’s no sense of creativity in following the recipe on the back of a box where most everything is already mixed together. But once you start making everything from scratch, you start to learn what the role of each ingredient is and why it’s important. You learn why it’s important to add baking soda and salt to a cake, or why sometimes butter is just better than margarine in certain things and doesn’t matter so much in others. You start to learn what flavors compliment others and what ones will spoil a recipe.

Once you get to this point, it starts to get fun. You can begin to experiment without fear of completely ruining everything because you have a basic understanding of the chemistry behind it. You feel totally comfortable swapping vanilla extract for lemon extract, or taking a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe and turning it into something original, like butterscotch pistachio cookies.

It’s seriously fun!

So it’s the Girl Scout Cookie time of year, and we bought a box of thin mints, which I’ve always loved. So I thought I would make a chocolate cream pie and use the thin mints as the crust. Then I thought a chocolate cheesecake would be even more awesome. The beautiful part about it is that I don’t even really like cheesecake all that much, I just like making things to have other people enjoy.

So right now, I am making a chocolate cheesecake with mint chocolate ganache in a thin mint cookie crust for housechurch tomorrow. Here are the recipes I am basing it on (I’ve crossed out and modified the bits that I changed):

Pie Crust (pretty basic, don’t need a recipe for this):  Preheat oven to 350. 2 cups (ish…a box, basically) finely ground thin mints mixed with enough melted butter to make it stick. Bake in oven for 10 minutes.

Chocolate Cheesecake (from AllRecipes.com):

  • 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, I used Philadelphia Kraft Indulgence in Dark Chocolate – softened
  • 1 (14 ounce) can EAGLE BRAND® Sweetened Condensed Milk (any brand works, but that’s most common)
  • 2 1.5 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
  • 4 large 3 jumbo eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • I also added 1tbsp almond extract

In large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in EAGLE BRAND® until smooth. Add remaining ingredients; mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 65 minutes or until cake center is set. Cool to room temperature. Chill thoroughly. Garnish as desired. Store leftovers covered in refrigerator.

Chocolate Mint Ganache:

  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped Andes Creme De Menthe baking chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
  1. Place the chocolate into a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot. When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Stir in the rum if desired.
  2. Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward. For a fluffy frosting or chocolate filling, allow it to cool until thick, then whip with a whisk until light and fluffy.

And the results?

It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but it's tasty

(I should note that I made two cheesecakes but only had enough thin mints for one crust…so the one pictured here is a regular graham cracker crust)