Sugar Cookies for Valentine’s Day (and every holiday)

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love good treats! Like really, really love them. One of my favorites is sugar cookies. When I was a kid my mom made sugar cookies for every holiday. Valentine’s Day was extra special though. My brothers and sister and I  would come home from school to a beautifully set table, a heart balloon tied to our chair, a sweet card and special little gift, and best of all, a giant, homemade, heart-shaped sugar cookie just for us! My mom’s sugar cookies are buttery, thick, soft, and nothing like those basic crunchy store-bought sugar cookies.  They’re amazing!  I had never tasted any other sugar cookie that was even close to comparing to my mom’s until I met my friend Tori’s cookies. They were just as soft and just as delicious…maybe a little better even!  I was surprised when I got her recipe and realized that there were only a few slight differences. Here I’ve combined the two by tweaking them ever so slightly to form the perfect sugar cookie! I dare you to try them.

I’ve carried the Valentine’s day sugar cookie tradition down to my family, but we don’t stop there. We make them for every holiday! Pumpkins and ghosts for Halloween, ornaments candy canes for Christmas, eggs and bunnies for Easter. The best part is that the baked cookies freeze perfectly! You can cut out hearts and bunnies from one batch of cookies and freeze the bunnies to use for Easter. Simply thaw and frost. I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet you could even freeze frosted cookies for enjoying later…a dangerous thought for me, cookies available at a moments notice? They certainly wouldn’t last long. Haha!

Plate of Cookies

To add to the fun of making and eating cookies, I decided to host a mother-daughter Valentine’s Cookie Decorating Party with a few friends. I found a cute invitation template online and added the party details using picmonkey.com.

{If you haven’t used PicMonkey before try it! Along with editing photos, you can make your own invitations and printables, or if you’re like me, edit free templates that are already out there for your use!}

IMG_8304 edited

Here are a few tips and tricks so you can host a party of your own:

  1. Use disposable pastry bags for frosting! It makes for such easy clean-up! Using couplers in the bags makes changing the tips quick and easy. They’re worth the little extra clean up you’ll have to do afterward.
  2. For the little girls, I put a small amount of frosting in their pastry bag, fitted with a disposable tip (no couplers for them!), and used a zip tie to secure the top of the bag. It’s tough for little hands to hold the bags correctly and zip ties insure that the frosting doesn’t ooze out of the top of the bag and create a giant mess! I found my plastic round and star piping tips, 12″ disposable pastry bags, and zip ties on Amazon. Each girl had her own supplies so she could lick frosting all she wanted without sharing germs. When the littles were done frosting and decorating, I just tossed their used frosting bags in the trash. Easiest clean-up ever!
  3. I baked all of the cookies and made the frosting, and asked my guests to bring toppings/sprinkles to share. Alternatively, you could ask guests to bring their own baked cookies and you provide all of the toppings. I love to bake and wanted to provide the cookies for my guests. Do what works best for you so that you enjoy it too!
  4. Provide a way for friends to carry all of those beautifully decorated cookies home with them.  I didn’t think this one through all the way, luckily I had white party plates to offer! Next time I’ll buy bakery boxes like these cute ones and cut parchment or wax paper to fit inside between the layers of cookies.
  5. Time it right! Since I knew baking the cookies and making frosting would be time consuming on its own, I chose not to serve lunch this time. Instead, I timed my party for just after lunch so that my guests would not be hungry, but would be ready to enjoy some treats! In addition to the cookies we were decorating, I provided strawberries with lemon curd, La Croix (a friend favorite!), and ice water. Simple and easy to put out for friends to help themselves and a nice compliment to the super sweet cookies we were decorating (and snacking on).
  6. Relax and have some fun! A series of unplanned events put me behind schedule on party day. When my guests arrived I was just starting to make the frosting.  Although I wanted to have it all ready to go (and the mess cleaned up!) when my guests arrived, I didn’t! If you find yourself in a similar situation, RELAX!  You’re friends are there to have fun with you and are glad to lend a helping hand so let them! If you have to, tell you friends that they get what they pay for and this party was free!  Hahaha!!

Sweetheart Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream* 
6 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cream butter in an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment until light and creamy. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Add sugar to creamed butter and beat for 1 minute. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the vanilla and sour cream. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all butter mixture is incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix to combine. The dough will be a little sticky, this is what makes the cookies so tender! Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, pressing lightly into a disk and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line sheet pans with parchment or silicone baking mats. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 1/4″ thick, taking care to make sure the dough isn’t sticking underneath. Cut into desired shapes and bake for 8-10 minutes, until set but not browned. Cool for a few minutes on the sheet pan before moving to wire racks to cool completely.

Frost with buttercream frosting and devour!  Try to save a few for your sweethearts.

*You can substitute a thick-style greek yogurt for the sour cream.

 

Light & Bright Kitchen Update

Me and My Mixer

I’m so excited to share my new kitchen with you!  After 8 1/2 years of living in our house we decided it was time to get rid of the “50 Shades of Orange” kitchen!

 

Maple cabinets, birch floors, terra cotta tile and formica, all different shades of brownish-orange. Wow, right?! Thankfully the layout and spaces in my kitchen work great for me so all this kitchen needed was just a little bit of paint, a good carpenter, and my handy-dandy Pinterest app.

Here’s what we did:

  1. Painted the cabinets and walls a nice, bright white. This was such a hard decision for me. Our cabinets were a beautiful maple and were in really good shape.  I have heard so many times that you should never paint nice wood and so I was scared to do it! It’s hard to know what the coming trends will be and what decorators will tell you to do next, but I decided to go ahead and embrace what I love right now and paint them. White is so classic and timeless, I think I love them forever.
    Benjamin Moore Cloud White is my favorite white right now. It’s warm, clean and bright.  It’s perfect!
    Kitchen 1
  2. Replaced the countertops! FINALLY!  I was so ready to trash that awful tile island! Tile is great for using as a hot pad, but have you ever tried to roll out pie crust or cookie dough on that stuff? You can’t. And no matter how much I scrub and clean it I just can’t help feeling like it’s still pretty icky. The rest of our countertops were terra-cotta formica, and while they were functional for baking, updating them with beautiful, white marble makes the space look so much bigger, brighter, and so much more inviting. I chose Bianco Carrara honed marble. I love the soft look and feel of it.
    Make sure you shop around for a fabricator!  I did my homework on this one (it costs WAY too much to make a mistake here) and found that not all fabricators were and helpful and good to work with as others. If your in the Seattle area I recommend the guys at Skyline Tile & Marble. They are so helpful and kind and walked me through the whole process (ok, they kind of held my hand through it) and their price was great too!
  3. Updated our island. The box island we had was small and looked dwarfed in our kitchen, especially with the oversized tile top on it. Instead of replacing the island, we updated it by adding a bookcase and tuned legs. It looks like a whole new island!  And look at all the space I have to collect more milk glass.
    Kitchen 3
  4. Added a tile backsplash. Daltile Rittenhouse White is a perfect match to Benjamin Moore Cloud White. It’s classic and clean looking, and it washes up so nicely! No more scrubbing spaghetti sauce off the wall and wiping away the cheap flat contractors paint too in the process!
  5. Replaced the lighting and updated hardware. Our original lighting was fine, but just wasn’t something that I loved. It was dated and the kind of lighting you find in most homes built in the early-2000s. Lighting is such a fun statement and really livens up a white kitchen.  It’s like wearing red nail polish and cute dangly earrings with your basic jeans and a t-shirt.
    I found a charming antiqued white wood and oil-rubbed bronze chandelier at a local boutique shop that fit perfectly above my black, round dining table. Wayfair really came through for the rest of the lighting! I lucked out when I found these great oil-rubbed bronze pendant lights with brushed nickel accents and interior to hang above the island. They add a touch of soft black and really pull the mixed-metals look together.
    We updated the cabinet hardware with new brushed nickel knobs and pulls for a more updated, classic look. My favorite hardware update is my cute crystal doorknob on my pantry door. It adds just that little touch of glitter and glam.
  6. Added farmhouse charm.  I really wanted to have a farmhouse (apron) sink in my new kitchen.  But since I have a corner sink that’s flanked by windows, it wasn’t really an option without some pretty big renovations. I wanted this to be a Kitchen Makeover not a Kitchen Do-over! So instead I found a few easier, less expensive ways to bring farmhouse-style into my house.
    Open shelving is a really hot look right now.  I love it!  I was worried about a couple of things though: 1) That it might be outdated too soon leaving me wishing for another kitchen makeover, and 2) I might go crazy trying to keep my cabinets perfectly clean all of the time!  I keep my cabinets pretty well organized and tidy, but with kids putting dishes away it’s not always perfect and the last thing I wanted was feel like I was the only one who could touch anything in the kitchen so it would look perfect all of the time!  Believe me, I already made that mistake when I changed my laundry folding technique and now I’m the only one who can fold the laundry – no thank you! Haha! The solution for me was to add seedy glass to one set of cabinets, add some open shelving made of butcher block above my fridge, and keep the rest of the cabinets solid. This way I have a place to display the things that I love (especially my cake plates!) and the rest can be tucked away behind closed doors.
    Kitchen Photo

I’m so excited for all the baking and cooking and memory making that my daughters and I will be doing in our new light & bright kitchen!

 

Party-worthy Chocolate Cake!

Birthday Girl Molly

Can you believe I’m now the mom of a teenager? A TEENAGER! I don’t feel old enough to have a 13-year old daughter, but apparently I am. My sweet Molly turned thirteen last week and pretty much became a woman overnight. She’s taller than me. She wears my clothes. Luckily, her feet outgrew mine this year so she can’t steal my shoes anymore. She’s growing up even though I’m staying the same age. I’ll forever be 27…at least in my heart. Anyway, I just can’t believe that I’ve been a mom for thirteen years now. THIRTEEN! That seems like a lot of years.

Molly and I share a birthday month, and if you read my last post you’ll know we share it with a lot of extended family members too. That means a lot of parties and A LOT of cake! Along with our birth month, Molly and I share a love for all things sweet although our favorites can be very different. I look at it as a blessing. When she’s sorting through her Halloween candy and hiding all of her Butterfingers away so nobody will eat them I pretend to be sad, but really I just want her to give me all of the Peanut M&Ms and Almond Joys. See, lucky for me she doesn’t care for candy with nuts and I LOVE candy with nuts. And nuts are healthy so I look at it as I’m making the healthier choice. Haha. Right now her favorite candy bar is Heath. Now there’s a candy we can agree on. Ever had a Heath Blizzard? Or loaded your $45 self-serve frozen yogurt with mountains of crushed Heath bars? YUM!

So in honor of my sweet girl I made an equally sweet Chocolate Heath Bar Cake. Layers of tender, delicious chocolate cake topped with creamy, chocolatey buttercream frosting, and sprinkled with loads of crunchy Heath bits and mini chocolate chips. Basically the perfect chocolate indulgence.

Mollys cake

If there’s one thing every baker needs, it’s a classic, no-fail, delicious chocolate cake. This one is my go-to.  It’s the cake that takes the backseat and let’s the toppings really shine while remaining unforgettable, the one that’s SO easy to make but tastes like you spent hours slaving over it. Just like it’s baby sister, My Favorite Chocolate Cupcakes, it’s almost as easy as throwing together a box mix but since you don’t have to go to the store to buy it you can stay in your pajamas.  You’re welcome.

This cake is especially great if you’re looking for a flat cake, one that you don’t have to level. I’m not especially great at leveling cakes. Maybe I’m just too much of a perfectionist or maybe I just don’t have a steady hand, but I’m never really pleased with my cake leveling skills. Thank goodness this one always comes out perfectly flat! YAY!

Now make it party-worthy! Frost with chocolate buttercream and toss some Heath bits and mini chocolate chips on top, drizzle with caramel sauce and viola! Heath Bar Cake!

Classic Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ cups cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch or three 8-inch round cake pans; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to be sure ingredients are fully incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cakes for 10 minutes in pans then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Frost, embellish and enjoy!

For Heath Bar Cake: Prepare three 8-inch chocolate cake layers. Pipe chocolate buttercream on top of first layer, sprinkle with Heath bits and mini chocolate chips, and top with second cake layer. Repeat with remaining layers. Drizzle caramel sauce over top and down the sides of cake. Chill cake until ready to serve. Serve with vanilla bean ice cream and more caramel sauce.

Let Them Eat Cake…all month long…

July is basically a month-long birthday celebration around our house.  My oldest daughter and I both have July birthdays along with my nephew, two nieces, Matt’s grandpa, and my sister-in-law.  Throw in our wedding anniversary and that’s a lot to celebrate!  Lucky for us…we love cake!  And any reason to celebrate is a good reason to eat cake!

Of course, everyone gets to choose their favorite cake for their birthday. Choosing a birthday cake for MY birthday is really difficult because I have so many favorite flavors. So this year I’ve decided to do some extra taste testing so I can make an educated decision.  It’s a tough job, but I think I can handle it (although I’m not sure that my jeans can…no worries, I’ll just wear stretchy pants).

When I saw this recipe for Ultimate Cookie Dough Cupcakes I knew it had my name written all over it!  I love chocolate chip cookies. And I might like the cookie dough even better!  But I never can decide. Soft, buttery cookie dough with crunchy chocolate chunks? Fresh, piping hot cookies out of the oven with ooey-gooey centers and melty chocolate chips? Completely cooled cookies when they’re soft and chewy and perfect for dunking in milk? I think I could eat a whole batch by myself and still not be sure which way would win. The bite that’s in my mouth is the bite that tastes the best!…at least at that moment.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes kind of give you the best of all the cookie worlds. Yummy, soft, tender cake topped with buttery, cookie dough frosting and a chewy little bite-sized cookie on top.  Yes, please! Julianne over at Beyond Frosting is obviously a genius.

Because I knew these cupcakes would be a hit I whipped up a double batch – one using the cupcake recipe as originally posted and the other with My Favorite Chocolate Cupcakes recipe, below. I topped all the cupcakes with cookie dough frosting and mini chocolate chip cookies using my Mom’s Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe here and rolled the edges in mini semi-sweet chocolate chips. They were basically heaven in the palm of your hand. Unfortunately, there was no clear winner.  Both the chocolate and vanilla cupcakes were amazing frosted with that cookie dough frosting.  I think you could frost cardboard with cookie dough frosting and it would taste delicious!  It’s seriously SO good!! Next time I think I’ll make black & white cupcakes so you don’t have to choose – you can have chocolate and vanilla cake in the same bite!

CDC 3

As I’ve searched and searched for the perfect chocolate cake recipe, I’ve found that the best ones are all variations of the Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake recipe found on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa container.  Most variations add hot coffee instead of boiling water, but because I don’t drink coffee, I like to enhance the chocolate flavor by using cinnamon instead.  Buttermilk gives them a bit of tang and the perfect crumb, and the extra flour helps you get those beautiful little domes on the top that are perfect for frosting.  This is my very favorite chocolate cupcake recipe. It’s almost as easy as putting together a box mix and so much more delicious – it’s worth the extra few steps it takes to make them. Top these little gems with cookie dough, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, your favorite frosting, or even with whipped cream – they’re delicious any way!

My Favorite Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups sugar
2 ¾ cups flour
¾ cups cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with liners and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract and stir to combine. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and side of the bowl to make sure everything is combined.

Fill the cupcake liners using a #20 cookie scoop (about 3 Tablespoons), or about 2/3 full. Don’t overfill!

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Celebrating Summer

There is something great about summer. Maybe because there’s no school and no set schedules, maybe because its my birthday (YAY!). It could be the sweet, juicy sun-ripened berries, cold watermelon, roasted hotdogs and s’mores, fireworks and picnics. Maybe it’s just because we get drenched in sunshine and lake water – two things on my very long list of favorites. There’s just something great about it! So three years ago when my friend Alea suggested we throw a Summer Solstice party to celebrate the beginning of Summer I was all over it! We set up a long row of coffee tables decorated with beautiful fresh flowers (arranged by Alea), throw out blankets and pillows and hang strings of lights around the fence line. Simple, easy decorations that make our party feel festive, bright and fun.

 

We invite a bunch of girlfriends over to chat, laugh and eat to our heart’s content. All the ladies bring a dish to add to the table of delicious food. Alea always makes her amazing sweet potato meatballs and cowboy caviar (a recipe I hope to share here someday – it’s my favorite appetizer ever!) and I make the drinks and dessert.

This year lemon was the star and inspiration for the desserts and drinks. Lemon is one of my favorite summer flavors. It can be used in savory dishes like in my recipe for Rosemary Grilled Chicken, squeezed grilled salmon, or as a vinaigrette on a bed of fresh greens and vegetables. But my favorite way to enjoy the sweet, bright flavor of lemon is in desserts: lemon curd, lemon pie, lemon sugar cookies, and lemony cakes.

Lemonade Layer Cake has been one of my favorite summer indulgences for years, but has somehow been forgotten the past few years. I dug out the recipe again this year to make for our summer soiree and I won’t let it be forgotten again. It’s so good!

The cream cheese frosting cuts the sweet and makes the zingy lemon flavor really stand out against the sweet, moist cake. And the best part? It’s SO easy to make! It starts with a box mix and is doctored to perfection. I prefer it served cold but can be served at room temperature too. You can make it with pink lemonade and top it with berries, or go a little crazy and add berries in between the layers too!

At our first Summer Solstice party I served an Agua Fresca made with limeade and fresh, sliced limes from a recipe I found in a magazine. It’s kind of a lightened up limeade – all the flavor but not the sugar and calories. It was such a hit that we’ve served it every year since.  This year I swapped out the limes for lemons, in keeping with our lemony theme, and it was just as delicious and refreshing!

Lemonade Layer Cake

For the cake:
1 box white cake mix
¾ cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed, divided
3 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup water

For the frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
3 ½ cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Grease and lightly flour two 8-inch cake pans; set aside.

Combine cake mix, ½ cup thawed lemonade concentrate, eggs, oil and water in the bowl of an electric mixer and blend on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Divide batter between pans and bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes then turn out onto cooling racks. While cakes are still warm, brush both sides with lemonade concentrate and allow them to cool completely. Once cooled, wrap cakes in parchment and plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour. (Chilled cakes are so much easier to frost!)

In the bowl of an electric mixer blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add lemonade concentrate, vanilla extract and lemon zest and blend until combined. Add powdered sugar gradually, making sure to blend well in between additions. Beat until smooth and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to help it set up a bit.

To assemble the cake, place one layer on a serving dish and top with ½ cup chilled frosting. Top with the remaining layer of cake and spread a thin layer of frosting on top and sides of cake to contain the crumbs; refrigerate for 10-15 minutes. Spread remaining frosting on the sides and top of the cake. Garnish with lemon slices and berries. Serve chilled or at room temperate (I think it’s so much better chilled!).

Agua Fresca

3 large sprigs of mint
2 lemons, sliced
4 cups cold water
2 quarts cold lemonade
2 cups cups seedless watermelon, cubed
ice

In a large pitcher or drink dispenser, combine mint, lemons and 4 cups of water and muddle with a wooden spoon to release flavors. Stir in lemonade and watermelon. Add enough ice to keep cold, about 2 cups. Pour into glasses and garnish with mint and a lemon slice.

*And don’t let that lemon-mint infused watermelon go to waste!  If there’s any left when the Agua Fresca is gone enjoy it while it’s cold and crisp!*

Happy Father’s Day to My GREAT Dad!

Dad circa 1985

You might think that’s Ron Burgundy, it’s not, he gets that a lot. That’s my dad.  He’s also kind of big deal. I love my dad.  He’s one of the greatest people I know.  He’s taught me so much about life and helped me figure out who I am. He taught me how to ride a bike.  He taught me how to drive a car. He taught me to be frugal. He taught me to work hard and play harder. He taught me to exercise and take care of my body. He taught me to use good grammar (or get used to his corrections). He instilled in me kindness, compassion, a love of God. (I’m trying to teach him to remember those things during 5 o’clock traffic when he has a tendency to get a little road rage).  Most of all, he taught me that “at the end of the day all you have to give is your full 110%.”  Hahaha, just kidding dad, I know you hate those phrases.

One of the greatest lessons he taught me is to laugh at myself. And I’ve had plenty of time to practice. Like when I was 6 and throwing a tantrum and instead of being frustrated with me he juggled my underwear and made me laugh until I couldn’t remember why I was mad in the first place. Or when I was 12 and we went go-cart racing and I was SO cautious (I still am) and went about 1 mile per hour. No really, 1 mile per hour. An ant could have passed me, I was going that slow. Obviously, I didn’t understand the concept of “racing.” My brother was speeding around the track running loops around me at record speed as my dad watched from the sidelines and encouraged me to “put the pedal to the medal (of course, laughing the whole time at the hilarious sight). I think I made it around 1 time before our turn was up. Or another time when I was 12 and declared that I wanted to be an Olympic ice skater. (I guess 12 is too old to decide to be an Olympian in a sport you’ve never even tried. Who knew? My dad, that’s who.) Or how about the time I took his 80’s, pale yellow, Mercury Zephyr for a joy-ride with my friends (don’t worry, we were 13, and no we didn’t have a license) and tried to roll it down our steep driveway without starting it so nobody would notice and learned a thing or two about power breaks. Yeah. The car not only failed to respond to my attempt at steering and breaking, but may have bumped into our neighbor’s car that was parked on the street, knocking it off the cement blocks (their teenage boys were working on it, it was an old car, and may or may not have been valuable), and that old car rolled down the street and into another neighbors’ bushes. Oops. Nobody ever found out what happened and I waited about 6 months before telling my dad.  Do you know what he did though?  He laughed.  And believe me, we’re still laughing about it today.

Family Photo 1984

Laughing at myself doesn’t always come easy. I’m still not great at it.  Sometimes I’m too sensitive and get my feelings hurt instead of finding the humor in it. But in those times my dad always puts his arm around me, gives me a good squeeze and a kiss on the head for comfort, and quietly laughs behind my back until I’m ready to join him in finding humor in the situation.

Now that I’m grown up with kids of my own, I hope that I can teach them to find humor in life, not to take themselves or life too seriously.

I love you dad.

If Then with Dad

There are only a few things I remember my dad ever cooking, but those foods are special at our house. Iconic almost.  Dad’s Hash Browns. Dad’s Burgers. And best of all, Rick’s Burritos.  For some reason these simple, but delicious burritos got the privilege of carrying his name, not just the title of “Dad’s” and they deserve it.  Having Dad’s simple meals was always a special treat. I wonder if he did it on purpose, only cooking every once in a while, to trick us into thinking Dad’s food was extra special.

Unlike his infamous hash browns that are deliciously laden with butter, these burritos are actually pretty healthy in addition to being super easy to throw together.  I’m not sure if he ever took the time to chop and sauté an onion in his version, but I always do so I added it.  Introducing…Rick’s Burritos!

Rick's Burritos

Rick’s Burritos

1 medium onion, chopped
olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
½ -16 oz. can refried beans
½ -12 oz. jar salsa (we use Trader Joe’s Peach Salsa)
salt and pepper to taste
shredded cheese (at least 8 oz)
8-10 flour tortillas
Suggested Toppings: Salsa, sour cream or greek yogurt, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, avocados, chopped onions,

Spray a 9×13″ casserole dish with nonstick spray and set aside.

Sauté onion in a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add ground beef and cook, breaking apart, until no pink remains; drain. Stir in refried beans and salsa. Add salt and pepper to taste, and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken up a bit.

Line tortillas with about a 1/4 cup of meat mixture and a sprinkle of cheese (about 2 Tablespoons), roll up and place in casserole dish. Sprinkle 1/4-1/2 cup cheese over the top of burritos and bake in the oven at 350°F until cheese is melted and burritos are a little bit crispy, about 15 minutes.  Eat and enjoy with desired toppings and chips & salsa!

Muffins and my Mini Me

Baking with my girls is one of my favorite things to do. I love that they want to be just like me and shadow me in the kitchen (for some reason they’re not so excited to be like me when I’m folding laundry or mopping the floor…weird). They’re so independent and want to do it all by themselves! But they let me help a little bit too. It takes quite a bit more time, patience, and a whole lot more clean up to have my little bakers help out, but it’s worth (almost) every dropped egg and all the spilt sugar to have them in the kitchen with me. I have so many fond memories of baking with my mom and with my grandmother.  I hope it’s a tradition that my girls pass on to their own daughters someday.

School will be out in a week and my three older girls will be home for Summer Break. That means my one-on-one time with Alice is coming to an abrupt end. So today we sported matching aprons, made yummy muffins, and sweet memories together.

Alice Baking 2

Egg cracking is Alice’s specialty. She knows just the right way to tap, tap, tap the egg on the counter and slowly, patiently pull the shell back until the egg drops into the bowl.  I love watching her face light up each time she cracks an egg successfully with no shells landing in the dish!

Muffins are like magic food.  They’re basically cupcakes without frosting and it’s perfectly acceptable to eat them for any meal!  You can’t get away with eating chocolate cupcakes for breakfast, am I right? Well, at my house you can, but that’s another blog post for another day.  Eating a sugary-topped cupcake-like-treat for breakfast and not turning heads? That’s pretty magical if you ask me. These Lemony Blueberry & Cream Muffins are the most irresistible muffins you’ll ever meet.  They’re tender on the inside and have delicious crispy, sugary tops. They’re sweet with just a touch of citrusy zing. YUM! I’ve tweaked the original recipe over the years to produce this amazingly delicious, perfect muffin. You can thank my dear friend, Lindsey, for the addition of the lemon zest in the sugar on top – like fairy dust, it’s the perfect finishing touch to these magic little gems.

lemon sugar topped muffins

Lemony Blueberries & Cream Muffins

2 ½ cups sugar, divided
zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons), divided
½ cup coconut oil, melted
½ cup butter, melted
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon extract
½ teaspoon orange extract
4 ½ cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup plain nonfat greek yogurt
2 cups frozen blueberries (if you’re using fresh, throw them in the freezer for a couple hours)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Line two muffin pans with paper liners; set aside. In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup sugar and half of lemon zest (about 1 teaspoon). Using your fingers, blend the lemon zest into the sugar until fragrant and well combined; set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine remaining 2 ¼ cups sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, coconut oil, and butter; mix until well combined. Add eggs, vanilla, and other extracts, and whip for 1 minute.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Add to creamed mixture and blend until combined. Blend in buttermilk and greek yogurt. Scrape the side and bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated. Fold in frozen blueberries being careful not to break them open.

Use a large muffin (or ice cream) scoop and divide batter between prepared muffin cups.  Dust the tops with lemon sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425ºF, then reduce oven to 350ºF and bake for 8-10 minutes longer. Muffins should be beautifully golden brown and spring back when lightly touched.  Cool in pans for 5 minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Enjoy!

Blueberry Muffins