A measly cup of sugar-free Jell-O

Sadly this is what is has come to for The Joy of Caking.  A measly cup of sugar-free Jell-O. 

Lets talk about the upside of a cup of sugar-free Jell-O.  It has only 10 calories, tastes very cherryish ( I bought the cherry and black cherry pack), and is capable of a few upgrades –  capable enough to satisfy most of my cravings for sweets.  Thank goodness!  Now, do I have you convinced that sugar-free Jell-O is  far better tasting than the homemade treats you and I make?

I didn’t think so.  I’m not all that convinced either.   I’ve never been a big diet freak, but there is something I have noticed over the years.  The older I get, the harder it is to stop gaining weight, and the harder it is to lose weight when I want  need to. 

With weight loss foremost in my mind I spent some time last night in the grocery store reading labels.  I decided I was going to forego buying anything that was high in fat, sugar, and calories.   I didn’t even stroll down my favorite isle –  the baking isle.  Can you imagine?  No flour, sugar, chocolate chips, or butter.  What a hard task for a  baker like myself.  

Have you ever shopped when you’re thinking along the lines of dieting? It’s a real chore finding food to buy that resembles something healthier, and is still tasty.  Lets compare a breakfast food for example. Take bagels and english muffins. First, there is a considerable difference in calories between the two.  I prefer bagels but english muffins are lower in calories.  Then compare the whole grain  to the  white,  the regular to the light, and one brand from the next.  This is what I call work.   If everything I wanted to buy was this involved, the grocery store could easily become my home away from home.  Do I sound like Andy Rooney yet?

Have you ever notice the price difference from healthy food to what some might consider unhealthy food?  Why is it that anything that appears to be better for you costs more money?  If an english muffin has more calories doesn’t it make sense that more ingredients went into it?  Apparently not the case. 

To settle my nerves after my trip to the grocery store I upgraded my cup of cherry sugar-free Jell-O a bit.  I added some sliced banana and a squirt of whipped cream – while it did help satisfy my sweet tooth, it certainly is not comparable to a piece of my homemade chocolate and cream cheese crostata.  This is the price I have to pay for being a bit too excessive during the last ten months that I’ve been baking my fool head off and blogging about it.

Will you stand by me while I work on this self-improvement project, or until I’m sick of it?  Please join in, I’d love to hear your  suggestions, tips, and thoughts on getting healthier in 2011.

Molly, me, and peanut butter fudge

Today is a special day for me.  Molly, of  Molly on Money , has asked me to make a guest appearance on her blog.    Through reading her posts you can feel her energy.  It’s easy to see she is a vibrant and determined woman who isn’t afraid to share her personal stories about finances, raising chickens, bee keeping, and information on her  homemade skin care products with her readers.   Her musings are definitely a good read.

You must stop by her site where you’ll learn a bit more about the two us, and get a recipe for my favorite – melt in your mouth – peanut butter fudge.

Yes, this is a picture of the peanut butter fudge.  You don’t want to miss this recipe do you?

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday!

The perks of blogging, a lucky girl…

Since I started blogging I’ve been a lucky girl.  I have acquired samples of delicious Ghirardelli Chocolates, got a free loaf of Nature’s Pride Bread, was welcomed at the 2010 Finger Lakes Cork and Fork event, received Palm Leaf plates from Marxfoods.com,  and the flour giant, King Arthur, sent me their cake flour, whole-white flour, and their Secret Ingredient gift pack to try. Not bad for a beginner.  But wait!  That’s  not all.

I am also fortunate enough to have won three great prizes in giveaways during my (less than one year) of blogging.  Two of the prizes I won were from one of my favorite bloggers – Lindsey at Gingerbread Bagels.  Lindsey is a bit like me in the sense that she loves to bake.  Her posts are generally about sweets, and lots of them.  Her personality matches the confections she makes – sweet.  I refer to her as my lucky penny.  Before Lindsey, the only thing I won was a football from a  Snickers candy bar sweepstakes.  I entered to win a Jeep, and got a Snickers Nerf football instead.   Oh well, never look a gift horse in the mouth…

The first prize I won from Gingerbread Bagels was a beautiful jar of Marrionberry Fruit Spread from Oregon Growers & Shippers which I’m saving for a special occasion.  The jar of jam is so pretty it brightens my day every time I see it.

The second prize I won from Gingerbread Bagels was a variety gift pack of Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, and a Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook written by Kathleen King.  As luck would have it this package just arrived today.  I can’t wait to scour the cookbook while dunking the cookies in a piping hot, fresh cup of coffee.

Speaking of Gingerbread Bagels, she currently has a contest going on.  Her prize this time?  Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark Cookies.  Be sure to check out her site and enter the contest.  I promise I won’t enter this one!

The other prize I won this year?  The Earthbound Cookbook  written by Myra Goodman.  The giveaway was offered by Greg at Sippitysup.  Greg has the knack of really making you feel like you’ve won big time.  He actually video taped his drawing.  When my name was drawn I might have  jumped up and down like a Price is Right game show contestant.  Here is Sippitysup’s video clip announcing the winner – thank God no one was video tapping me as my name was drawn.  I love the cookbook which is packed full of (250 to be exact) recipes and tips on eating green and protecting our planet.   As a person who recently started raising chickens for some fresh eggs I found myself particularly drawn to pages 376 & 377 which explains the terms used relating to eggs – very informative.

Last month when King Arthur Flour sent me some of their products to try I was on cloud nine, and  I was especially eager to try the secret ingredient collection and the cake flour I received.  The secret ingredient collection is a gift pack that includes some of the companies best-selling ingredients.   Double-Dutch cocoa, espresso powder, Fiori di Sicilia flavoring, Vietnamese cinnamon, and Madagascar vanilla – all packaged in an eye-catching 8 ” square USA  pan.

This pan is awesome.  It’s commercial grade and constructed of heavy gauge aluminium steel (65% recycled steel).  The sides and bottom are fluted giving it some character in the appearance department,  and  adding strength and facilitated air circulation for even baking.  The pan is coated with a clear, non-stick environmentally friendly silicone that helps ensure your baked goods will release from the pan more easily.  The best thing about his pan?  It’s made in the USA.

I’ve used some of the ingredients in several of my recent baking creations and I can’t say enough good things about the quality of King Arthur.  Their cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon are so fragrant  that I have a hard time closing them once I open them.  Not only do these all smell aromatic, they contribute a quality robust flavor to every treat.

Since King Arthur was kind enough to share some of their products with me I decided to create a recipe using their products to share with you.

This recipe is for a dark, delicious chocolate cake.  I ‘ve named it Double Dark Espresso Cake.  For best results bake one day ahead of needing the cake.  This allows the flavors to saturate the cake overnight.

The ingredients you’ll need:

2 c. sugar

2 eggs (room temperature)

1/2 c. butter (softened)

1 c. hot black coffee

1 c. sour milk

3/4 c. King Arthur Double-Dutch cocoa

1/2 tsp. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla

1/2 tsp. King Arthur espresso powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 c. King Arthur unbleached cake flour blend

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl with a mixer mix sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla until creamy.   Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture.  Then add the milk and coffee.  Mix completely.

I used the 8″ USA pan and a 6″ round cake pan.  Bake until toothpick comes clean.  The size of the pan you use will determine your baking time.   Frost with your favorite chocolate frosting.  I really like the dark chocolate flavor produced from using the cocoa, expresso powder and coffee.

This post should be construed as a big thank you for all the wonderful things I’ve received, and all the connections and friendships I’ve made while blogging.  When I started blogging I never imagined I’d be this fortunate.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Apples and oranges help make a great holiday food gift

Aside from making Peppermint Chocolates I racked my brain trying to figure out what I was going to bake as holiday food gifts for our close friends this year.  This is an annual ritual for me, and most of the time I make big cookie boxes to pass along.  Being on a bit of a health kick this year I wanted to do something other than cookies galore.   I considered my choices, and hashed, and re-hashed the options over and over again in my head.   Leaning toward breakfast goodies I  narrowed it down to cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, or muffins.   And the winner…..

Oh, these are your clues.  Did they help?  I didn’t figure they would but I just love taking picture of fruit.  I know, weird right? 

This year, muffins won me over.  Apple Oatmeal and Cranberry Orange to be exact.

I’ve made the Apple Oatmeal Muffins before but the Cranberry Orange Muffins were created specifically for this occasion.

I found a recipe for Orange Yogurt Muffins in my Williams-Sonoma cookbook Baking.  I know I’ve mentioned this book a few times before but it’s one of the best.  And no, I’m not getting paid, or any freebies from Williams-Sonoma to promote their book (that would be nice though – hint, hint).  The book just has some awesome recipes in it, along with  pictures of every recipe .  Pictures inspire me.  When I look at my cookbooks without pictures it’s not quite the same. 

With a little tweaking here is what I came up with. This is my adapted version. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

Muffins

1 large orange for zest and juice

1/2 c. sugar (1/4 cup for orange mixture and 1/4 cup for later in the recipe)

4 tablespoons of orange juice (from the orange)

5 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2 c. of all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

3/4 c. sour cream

3/4 c. milk

1 can of whole cranberry sauce ( you will need to save 1 tsp. for the glaze but should have plenty left over)

Glaze

1 large orange for zest and juice (you will only need half of the orange)

1 c. powdered sugar

2 tablespoons of orange juice

2 tsp. orange zest

1 tsp. cranberry sauce

pinch of salt

Grease muffin tins, or line with papers. Strip the zest from the orange.  Put the zest into a saucepan and cut the orange in half.  Squeeze the juice from both halves into the saucepan.  Add 1/4 cup of sugar and the butter.  Warm until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted.  Take off heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl whisk together sour cream, eggs, milk, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, vanilla and orange mixture.  Add flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Mix until blended.

Spoon batter into muffin cups (about 1/2 full) and then place 1 teaspoon of cranberry sauce onto of the batter in each cup.  Cover the cranberry sauce with more batter so the muffin cup is about 3/4 full. 

Bake for approximately 15 minutes.   While the muffins are baking make your glaze.

To make the glaze zest about half of the orange and put the zest into a  small mixing bowl.  Squeeze the juice from the half of the orange you zested into the bowl.  Add powdered sugar, salt and cranberry sauce – mix thoroughly.

Once the muffins are done let them cool approximately 5 minutes and drizzle the glaze on top.

The Cranberry Orange muffins look so festive.  We immediately delivered them to our friends so they could enjoy them while they were  fresh.   Upon arriving at one of our stops we were greeted by one of  our friends little girls who immediately took the container from my hands (before we could even get inside).  Her eyes were wide and bright.  “Are these for us?” she asked.  As her three little sisters got wind of what had just arrive they surrounded their dining room table like hungry little vultures.  Pure excitement and anticipation radiated from them.  A very happy ending for a baker who didn’t know where to start. 

Do you give holiday food gifts?  What kind of  sweet confections are you whipping up to share this year?

Peppermint Chocolates – The Perfect Holiday Gift

I’ve been on a baking streak for months; a baking fool.  If you can think of it, I’ve made it.  So I guess it isn’t odd for me to decide (with the holiday season) fast approaching that I need to be selective in my baking this month.  I’ve eaten way too many sweets since I started my baking blog.  Not only do I bake for the blog, but I have baked other things that I haven’t posted.  That adds up to a lot of sugar, and a lot of calories, even after sharing my homemade treats with family and friends. 

What does a girl do when she ends up with this kind of dilemma?  She spends less time baking and blogging, gets out the exercise bike, dusts it off, loads some new songs on her MP3 player, and starts pedaling.   I knew sooner or later it would come to this.   In the meantime….

This treat does involve using chocolate, but no baking, and since I’m pedaling my you know what off, I made just enough to put in cute little gift boxes to give away. 

Supplies you will need: A candy mold (I picked one up at the local craft store on sale for about $2.00).  (5) peppermint candies, and one cup of your favorite chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet).

Crush the candies and sprinkle some in the bottom of  each mold.  Set the remainder of the candy aside.  Next, put the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir, and microwave another 30 seconds.  This may take you several times of melting (depending on the size of your microwave) and stirring but the object is to melt the chocolate slowly, and not to overheat it.

Once the chocolate is melted work quickly using a teaspoon to fill each (ungreased) mold, once each one is filled sprinkle more crushed peppermint on top.  If the chocolate starts to harden before you fill all of your molds you can melt it again in the microwave but only in 10 second intervals. 

If you only purchase one mold  there will be a small amount of chocolate and crushed peppermint left over.   My mold made 12 candies and I made bark by pouring the left over chocolate on a piece of parchment paper and sprinkled the left over candy on top.

After you have done all the molding let the chocolate harden in a cool dry place.  Once firm, carefully turn the mold over and the chocolates should easily fall out.  Package them as you desire.  I guarantee these little treats will fool just about everyone.  Those receiving them will think you spent hours making them, and in reality it is a quick 15 minutes, or less project.