Friday, March 30, 2012

Chocolate Mini Robin Egg cookies

I was looking for an excuse to give into my Easter candy cravings, so I decided to bake these chocolate mini robins egg cookies from Two Peas and Their Pod.  I'm not a big fan of chocolate cookies, but these looked adorable.  And I love the pastel colored malted "eggs."  My grandma used to buy these for Easter egg hunts. Such good memories!

To be honest, these cookies didn't look as good as I had hoped.  The malted eggs ended up melting, so some of the cookies looked a little like they exploded!  Next time, I'll just eat the mini robin egg candies straight from the bag :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How my garden grows!

I can't believe how quickly my garden has changed in just the last week, thanks to the much-needed rains we received in central Iowa.  Look how different my tulips and pansies look in just one week's time.

March 17

March 25

March 17

March 25
I can almost make a salad with the lettuce I planted last week!  The fall-planted garlic also looks great right now.

And as I type this, my tulips are just starting to bloom in the morning sun.  And it's still March!  I just can't believe this gorgeous spring weather.  What a blessing!  How are your gardens growing right now?  Have the warmer temperatures sped things along?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lemon drop cookies

The warmer weather has got me thinking about springtime baking.  I found this recipe for lemon drop cookies in King Arthur Flour's Baking Banter magazine.  These cookies didn't turn out at all like I expected.  They are very cakey and soft.  I couldn't stop eating them, mostly because of the lemon-flavored frosting!  I wanted to decorate the cookies with a jelly bean on top for Easter, but I didn't think I could be trusted with an entire bag of jelly beans.  They're my favorite Easter candy!  Hope you enjoy these!


Lemon drop cookies
From King Arthur Flour

  • 3-1/4 C. flour
  • 1 Tbl. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 C. sugar
  • 1/4 C. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 C. vegetable shortening
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C. milk
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 C. fresh lemon juice

  • 2 C. powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbls. soft butter
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.  (I used silicone mats.)

For the cookies:  Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar, butter and shortening together until light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Scrape the bowl, mix for another 30 seconds, then add 1 C. of the flour mixture and mix to combine. Add the vanilla, milk, lemon zest and juice, then the remaining flour mixture. Mix until smooth, scraping the bowl once during the process.

Scoop by the tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until the edges are barely light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and cool on a rack before frosting.

For the glaze: Sift the sugar into a medium bowl; add the lemon juice, butter and zest and whisk until smooth. Brush the glaze on top of the cooled cookies. Yield: 3-1/2 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cupcake addiction

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm addicted to cupcakes.  I've driven to nearby Ames three weekends in a row just to try the new cupcake creations at the Ames Cupcake Emporium on main street.  Here's a round-up of my favorite cupcakes from the last month.

Fried ice cream cupcake - with cornflakes, honey, chocolate and whipped cream on buttercream frosting.

Surprise! The fried ice cream cupcake was filled with custard!

Chunky Monkey: chocolate banana cupcake with graham cracker sprinkles.

For St. Patrick's Day:  The Green Beer Cupcake! With a subtle beer flavor. Loved the buttercream frosting!
I told my husband that I want to decorate my kitchen like the Ames cupcake shop.  They have such a cute, retro theme inside the store. I highly recommend a stop at the Cupcake Emporium next time you're in Ames.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Garden update: March 2012

Believe it or not, I'm gardening -- in early March!  Usually March in Iowa comes in like a lion, out like a lamb.  But this year, the temps are in the 70s and even in the 80s this weekend.  And the soil temperatures have hit 50 degrees, which is when it's warm enough for seeds to germinate.  I'm trying to resist the urge to start planting my vegetable seeds, though, since the average frost date in central Iowa isn't until the first of May.  However, I'm thinking about planting a few lettuce seeds, just to see if anything grows.

Last week, I read on Facebook that the Earl May garden centers in central Iowa just received pansies for sale.  Pansies are extremely cold tolerant.  Last year, I planted pansies in April, then we got a couple of inches of snow.  But by mid-May, the pansies looked gorgeous.  I've also planted pansies in the fall, and after an extremely snowy winter, they bloomed again in the spring.  So I couldn't wait to plant them again this year.

I also found a pack of lettuce seedlings at Earl May.  I thought it would be fun to plant an edible arrangement. (Pansy flowers are edible, too.)

I especially loved the large orange blooms on these pansies.  The plants should grow and fill up the container as the weather continues to warm up.

I also checked on my tulip bed in the morning on a 70 degree day, and I didn't see any sprouts yet.  Then three hours later, I went back outside and saw these little tulip shoots. Can't believe they popped up from the ground so fast!

Unfortunately, I learned last year that the rabbits really love to nibble on tulip shoots.  So I bought a cheap roll of wire garden fence to keep the buggers out.  The fencing wasn't long enough, however. So the tulips I couldn't protect were gone by the morning, thanks to our neighborhood rabbits.  But most of the tulips are safe for now.

It felt so good to get my hands dirty in the garden again.  Even a short winter is a long time to wait before it's garden season again.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Gentle Doctor sculpture

Last week, I met with a veterinarian at Iowa State University's renovated small animal clinic.  I was thrilled when I walked inside the new building, because right at the entrance stood the famous "Gentle Doctor" sculpture by Christian Petersen.  This is the original sculpture, not the bronzed version that used to stand at the entrance of the College of Veterinarian Medicine. They moved the original sculpture into the new small animal clinic last fall. 

They say that students rub the puppy's nose for good luck on their exams. 

Next time you are in Ames, make sure to stop by the ISU College of Veterinarian Medicine's Small Animal Clinic to check out the Gentle Doctor.  The sculpture is even more beautiful in person.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Peanut butter oatmeal sandwich cookies

A few weeks ago, I came home after a very stressful day at work, and I was feeling grumpy.  My husband was out tinkering on one of his car projects in the garage, and I knew he would be working on that all evening.  So I decided to cheer myself up by baking cookies!  I couldn't stop thinking about these peanut butter oatmeal sandwich cookies ever since I saw them on Two Peas and Their Pod. I already had all the ingredients in my kitchen, so I whipped up a batch.  And they were wonderful!  The cookies came out of the oven looking perfect, and the peanut butter cream fillling was over-the-the-top delicious. My husband ended up eating four sandwich cookies in one sitting -- and he doesn't usually like peanut butter cookies. That says how good these cookies are.

Mmmm....peanut butter cream!
I used my medium Oxo cookie scoop to make these cookies, but I wish I owned a smaller scoop, because these cookies were huge!  It's not that one cookie was big, it's that when two cookies were sandwiched together, it was almost too much.  I knew having those giant cookies around the house tempting me wasn't a good thing, so I asked my husband to take them to work with him. One of his co-workers sent me an email later that day, asking for the recipe!  Another sign that this recipe is a keeper.

Give these cookie a try if you're wanting to cheer up your friends, or yourself, with a comforting treat.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Iowa recipes: Cherry Coffee Cake II

I wasn't sure if I was going to share this new recipe I found for cherry coffee cake, because it looked a little odd when I pulled it from the oven.  But it was so wonderful to eat, I just had to share it with you all.

I found this recipe for cherry coffee cake in an Iowa farm newspaper. It was very easy to mix up, but not so easy to spread in the pan.  For some reason, I couldn't get the cake batter to spread on the bottom of the pan without sticking to my spatula.  Also, the recipe says to spread only half the batter on the bottom of the pan, but I had to use three-fourths of the batter to cover the pan.  That didn't leave much batter to spread on top.  I ended up dropping the batter on top of the cherry pie filling, then swirling it.  As a result, the cherry pie filling got mixed into the batter, and once baked, the cake looked an odd brown color.  Thankfully, it still tasted excellent, and the photos turned out OK.

Cherry coffee cake, with the flowers my hubby gave me for Valentine's Day. Please excuse my messy kitchen!
My husband and I loved this coffee cake, so I'm sure I'll be making it again soon.  Hope you enjoy it, too!


Cherry Coffee Cake
  • 3/4 C. butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 C. sugar, divided
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 C. sour cream
  • 2-1/2 C. flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 can (21-oz.) cherry pie filling
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 C. pecans, chopped
Cream butter and 1 C. sugar.  Combine eggs and sour cream, and add to butter mixture.  Stir in flour, salt and baking soda; combine well. Spread half of the batter in a greased 13 x 9-inc pan. Spread pie filling over batter evenly. Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle half over pie filling. Drop and spread remaining batter on top and sprinkle with remaining sugar and cinnamon. Garnish with pecans. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 to 45 minutes.  If desired, drizzle baked coffee cake with a mixture of 2/3 C. powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp. vanilla extra and 1 Tbl. warm water.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super-easy sourdough rolls

Now that you know how to make your own sourdough starter, I'm sharing the easiest recipe I've ever found for sourdough rolls.  It's from the King Arthur Flour Baking Banter newsletter (my favorite baking magazine, by the way).

These sourdough butter pan rolls are "drop" rolls, which means you don't have to shape the dough at all. Just use a muffin scoop (or I use an ice cream scoop), and drop the dough into the pan.  They aren't the prettiest rolls, but they are very soft and buttery.

Now I have to admit, sometimes these rolls turn out a little dry and crumbly.  I'm not exactly sure why that is -- maybe it has to do with the age of the sourdough starter?  Sometimes I go a little too long without "feeding" the starter, and maybe that impacts how the rolls rise?  Like I've said before, I'm still new at baking with sourdough.  But it sure is fun to experiment with it, especially in the winter when I'm cooped up at home.

The interior of this batch of sourdough rolls was very crumbly. These are excellent rolls to serve with soup.
Here's the recipe, if you want to give them a try at home.  Enjoy!


Sourdough Butter Pan Rolls
From King Arthur Flour's Baking Banter

  • 1/2 C. butter, melted and divided
  • 2 tsp. active dry or instant yeast
  • 1/2 C. warm water (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 4 C. flour
  • 1/4 C. sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 C. active sourdough starter
  • 1/2 C. warm milk

Pour 2 Tbls. of melted butter into a 9 x 13-inch pan, tilting it to cover the bottom and sides.

Dissolve the yeast in the water.  Add 2 C. of flour, the sugar, salt, the remaining melted butter, egg, starter and milk. Beat for 5 minutes, then add the remaining flour. Cover the dough, and let rise for 45 minutes.

Stir the dough down and drop into the pan, making 16 rolls. A muffin scoop is handy for this.  Cover and let rise 30 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sourdough starter

A couple years back, I took a bread-baking class at Living History Farms in Urbandale, where I learned how to make my own sourdough starter. You can buy sourdough starter from several sources on the Internet, but it's really easy to make it at home.

King Arthur Flour offers a master recipe for sourdough starter. But the Living History Farms instructor shared an even simpler recipe, which I thought I'd share with you.

First, find a plastic container with a lid.  Make sure it's a container that you don't use everyday, because you can keep the sourdough starter in the fridge indefinitely, as long as you remember to "feed it" regularly.

Next, mix 1 C. flour with 1 C. water in the plastic container. Cover the container with the lid, but don't seal it all the way tight, so the gases given off by the fermenting process have a chance to escape. Then leave the container on the counter overnight. No need to refrigerate just yet.

Now, each day for one week, add 1/2 C. of flour and 1/2 C. of water.  By the second or third day, you'll start to see bubbles forming on the top.  That's a good sign.  That means you've created your own yeast! Eventually, a layer of liquid (or alcohol) will float to the top of the mixture.  You can just stir the liquid back into the mix, or drain it off right before you want to bake with it.  It should start to smell a little like beer.  That's the sourdough flavor you're aiming for.

See those bubbles. That's a good thing. That means your sourdough is alive!
After seven days, you should have a good sourdough starter to work with.  Place the container in the fridge, then remember to "feed" it with another 1/2 C. of flour and 1/2 C. of water once a week.  That's it.  Super easy!

To be honest, I actually "cheated" a little with this batch of sourdough.  I mixed up a batch of bread dough from my favorite "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" cookbook.  When I baked up all the dough, I didn't wash the container.  I left behind the sticky bits of dough, and then added the flour and water to create the sourdough starter.  The leftover yeast really helped get it all working fast.  I had bubbles after the first night!

I'm still new at this sourdough thing, but if you have some questions on how to start your own sourdough starter, just leave me a comment, and I'll try my best to find an answer for you.  I'll also share a couple of my favorite recipes, although the King Arthur Flour website also has some excellent sourdough recipes.  Have fun with this!  It's like a science experiment in your kitchen!
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