Strawberry Shortcake

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The Oscars are over and some of us are left thinking that our lives are boringly normal when compared with the celebrities and stars on television that live the high life. For today’s post I decided to take a step back and look at my life as an outsider might. As a result, I’m going to share nine unique and exciting star-worthy facts about myself. I might not have as many fans as Jennifer Lawrence or Anne Hatheway, but this post should give you a glimpse into the girl behind the baking blog.

  • I’ve loved to dance my entire life. I took dance classes from kindergarten through 12th grade and in college and grad school. Today I still love to take jazz and ballet classes for adults.
  • The only sport that I enjoy is football… specifically Minnesota Vikings football. A few years ago I started a women’s-only fantasy football league called the First Ladies of Football.
  • I can wiggle my ears.
  • I always heave teary goodbyes to those that I love. Whether it’s for a week or a month, I always have a hard time saying goodbye.
  • I smile… a lot. When I’m feeling down, a smile from a stranger always makes me feel a little better, so I try to keep the karma going around by doing the same for others.
  • I love taking naps, and it’s not unusual for me to schedule my Sunday afternoon to sneak in a 1 hour siesta.
  • I have terrible hand eye coordination and team sports that require this make me nervous. There’s something about playing volleyball or softball that simply makes me want to run for the hills.
  • If I could have a celebrity date with anyone it would probably be Boris Kodjoe, or maybe Channing Tatum.
  • Finally (and this should come as no surprise), I have an absolutely terrible sweet tooth. I want something sweet after every meal I eat. That’s why you should trust me that these strawberry shortcakes below are to die for. It’s a quick and easy recipe to whip up if you have company coming over.

Strawberry Shortcake
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Ingredients
1 quart (4 cups) strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/3 cups Original Bisquick mix
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
½ cup whipping cream

Directions
Heat oven to 425°F. In large bowl, mix strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside. In medium bowl, stir Bisquick mix, milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and the butter until soft dough forms. On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by 6 spoonfuls.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat whipping cream with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Split warm shortcakes; fill and top with strawberries and whipped cream.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If strawberries aren’t in season, it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute in frozen strawberries for this recipe.

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Cinnamon Amish Friendship Bread

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For those of you that haven’t been exposed to Amish Friendship Bread, let me take a moment to explain. Amish Friendship Bread is a type of bread (more like cake really) made from a sourdough starter that is shared in a manner similar to a chain letter. The starter is a substitute for baking yeast and can be used to make many kinds of yeast-based breads and shared with friends.

One day you’ll receive a starter and you’ll get sucked into the task of baking bread every 10 days. Luckily the starter can be frozen if you need some reprieve from the cycle. As you can guess, I received a starter from a friend and have been sucked into the chain.

My plan is keep my starter going the entire year and offer you a different recipe for Amish Friendship Bread each month. A quick look online reveals that the starter can be used to bake everything from bread and muffins to brownies and biscuits.

To get us started, I baked the traditional cinnamon bread recipe which is the most basic and frequently used. The sweet, cake-like cinnamon bread is a simple, stirred yeast bread that includes a substantial amount of sugar and vegetable oil. It has the characteristics of both pound cake and coffee cake. My recipe below includes what to do on days one through ten in case you get a starter from a friend.

Amish Cinnamon Bread
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Directions and Ingredients
Day 1:
Do nothing with the starter.

Days 2-5:
Stir with a wooden spoon.

Day 6:
Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Stir with a wooden spoon.

Days 7-9:
Stir with a wooden spoon.

Day 10:
Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Stir. Take out 3 cups and place 1 cup each into three separate plastic containers. Give one cup and a copy of this recipe to three friends. To the balance (a little over one cup) of the batter, add the following ingredients and mix well.
1 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a separate bowl combine the following dry ingredients and mix well:

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 (5.1 ounce) box instant vanilla pudding
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup nuts

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix and pour into two well greased and sugared bread pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

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Heather’s Helpful Hints
As I mentioned earlier, it’s perfectly acceptable to freeze a batch of your starter to use at a later date. The first day you take the bread out of the freezer then becomes day 1 in the cycle.

Cheddar Biscuits

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I’ve talked to you about comfort foods before. You know what I’m talking about—it’s the food you reach for when a situation seems totally overwhelming and you need something to eat…now. I’ve found that when you bake a comfort food it comes to have a totally different meaning. It slows down the process a little bit and allows you to appreciate what you’re making and eating.

My list of comfort foods could go on forever, literally. My list would start out with butter pecan ice cream, and carrot cake. Other items would include homemade apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, and peach cobbler. However, my true weakness is bread—of any kind.

Along with pastries, bread is one of those things I don’t have a great deal of experience with when it comes to baking. Working with yeast, proofing dough, and kneading without a stand mixer are all things that intimidate me. For Christmas, one of my friends got me a cookbook called The Art of Bread. After perusing the book, I settled on a recipe for biscuits that looked relatively good for a beginner. I made a few tweaks to turn them into a cheesy treat perfect for brunch or dinner.

Cheddar Biscuits
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Biscuit Ingredients
Cooking spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, at room temperature
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 ounces grated yellow cheddar cheese (about 1 1/4 cups)
3/4 cup whole milk

Garlic Butter Ingredients
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

Directions
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Lightly mist a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Make the biscuits: Pulse the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add the shortening and pulse until combined. Add the butter; pulse 4 or 5 times, or until the butter is in pea-size pieces. Add the cheese and pulse 2 or 3 times. Pour in the milk and pulse just until the mixture is moistened and forms a shaggy dough. Turn out onto a clean surface and gently knead until the dough comes together. Do not overwork the dough or the biscuits will be tough.

Drop the dough onto the baking sheet in scant 1/4-cup portions, 2 inches apart, and bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the garlic butter: Melt the butter with the garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat; cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Brush the biscuits with the garlic butter and serve warm.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
You may have been surprised to see that the ingredients called for vegetable shortening and butter (gasp)! Fat is essential for the lightest and fluffiest biscuits and both butter and shortening play different roles. While butter adds more flavor, shortening makes the biscuits more tender because it doesn’t contain water or milk solids.

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Red Velvet Cupcakes for Two

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When someone typically thinks of Valentine’s Day thoughts of love, adoration, and roses will float through their mind. But this year I engaged in a little self reflection over the years and came to the realization that there is one word that I have come to associate with the holiday… stress. Although it might seem counterintuitive, let me explain my reasoning to you.

In elementary school, Valentine’s Day wasn’t about love—holding hands with a boy was still considered icky. Instead it symbolized an exciting day full of cards and candy received from my fellow classmates. But, that also meant I had to sign my name in each of my cards which amounted to a whopping 30+ signatures. My mom firmly put her foot down asserting that she would simply not assist me with my signing duties. For a seven or eight year old kid, this amounted to a certain level of stress associated with Valentine’s Day.

By junior high and high school boys weren’t icky anymore, but by then there were new stresses associated with the day. There were Valentine’s Day dances and kissing booths. On top of that, roses and anonymous love notes were delivered to people in class, and your popularity was judged by the amount of flowers you were carrying around by the end of the day. Stressful yet again.

Once I finally had a boyfriend, you would think my problems would be solved. Not the case. I had no idea what to buy him for the special day. Overwhelmed by the amount of commercialism surrounding the holiday, I didn’t know if I should be getting him chocolate, a nice watch, or a booklet of love coupons as a gift. Once again, stressful.

This Valentine’s Day I’m approaching the holiday with a slightly less stressful mindset. Since Matt and I won’t be together, we’re having a phone dinner date to celebrate. No chocolate, no teddy bears, and no love coupons. This is the type of stress free Valentine’s Day I can do.

I don’t know what the holiday holds for you this year, but if you’re considering spending it with a loved one, I have the perfect idea for you. If I was going to be literal, the name of this post would have been red velvet cupcakes for four. But if you’re like me, a one-person serving for cupcakes is more likely to be two. As much as I would love to scarf down an entire heart shaped cake (and believe me I would) I wanted to find something individually tailored for two people. After doing some brainstorming and internet searching, I came up with the idea of cupcakes for two. And what better flavor for Valentine’s Day than red velvet!

The heart shaped chocolate decorations were actually inspired by a visit that I made to an Ann Arbor cupcake store. I asked the lady behind the counter how she made them, and she explained that she just used a piping bag with melted chocolate. What a simple idea for a fun garnish. So if you’re looking for a fun, easy, and NO stress dessert for Valentine’s Day, give these a try!

Red Velvet Cupcakes for Two
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen

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Cupcake Ingredients
1/3 cups and 1 tablespoon flour
1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cups canola oil
1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 whole egg white
1 teaspoon red food coloring
1/8 teaspoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Frosting Ingredients
3 ounces, weight cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon milk
1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions
Place 4 cupcake liners in a muffin tin. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. In another bowl, beat together the canola oil, sugar, buttermilk, egg white, red dye, vinegar, and vanilla using an electric mixer. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing all the while. Divide the batter between the four cupcake liners and bake for 20-22 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Beat together all icing ingredients using an electric mixer. Frost cupcakes when cool. For chocolate hearts, melt chocolate in a double boiler and transfer to a piping bag. Working quickly pipe heart shaped decorations onto a piece of waxed paper. Allow to cool completely and garnish cupcakes.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Since this recipe only call for four cupcakes, place them on the outer edge of your muffin tin to bake. This will allow them to rise higher and more evenly.

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Girl Scout Samoa Cookies

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It’s that time of year when you see Girl Scouts wearing their brown sashes wandering from door to door and setting up camp outside grocery stores. Multiple order forms float around offices in a subtle contest to get the most buyers. You guessed correctly, it’s the time of year for Girl Scout cookies! According to the Girl Scout website, February 8th is National Girl Scout Cookie Day.

There has been a cookie order form hanging up in our break room at work for the past 2+ weeks for Girl Scout cookies. Every morning when I’m heating up my oatmeal I stare at it, each afternoon when I’m warming up my soup I ponder getting a box. However, at $4.50 a pop, these cookies are anything but reasonable. Just as I was working up the courage to put my name down for a box of cookies… the flyer vanished, along with my hopes of getting a box of Samoas.

This week I got to thinking, Heather you’re a baker for goodness sakes. If the Girl Scouts of America can mass produce thousands of boxes of Samoas each year, surely this is something that you can tackle in your kitchen. After all I was a Girl Scout back in the day—Washington County troop 1848 to be precise. I started out as a brownie scout and progressed to a junior scout. I earned badges, camped out in the woods, and even sold cookies myself! Surely, I could handle a simple cookie recipe.

These little morsels sure are delicious, but they do require a bit of work. Since my kitchen isn’t the equivalent of a factory assembly line, the baking has to be done in stages. First make the shortbread, then add the coconut and caramel topping, and finally add the chocolate bottom and decorations on top. The end result was something better than I could have hoped for. It was better than the little purple box of Samoas that I’d grown to love.

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Girl Scout Samoa Cookies
Adapted from Just a Pinch

Cookie Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk

Topping Ingredients
3 cups shredded coconut
12 ounces chewy caramels
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon milk
8 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk, adding in the milk as needed to make the dough come together without being sticky. Add in a bit of extra flour if your dough is very sticky.

Roll the dough (working in two or three batches) out between pieces of wax paper to about 1/4-inch thickness (or slightly less) and use a 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter to make rounds. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and use a knife, or the end of a wide straw, to cut a smaller center hole. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are set. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large pot with salt and milk. Cook over low heat stirring frequently until caramel has melted. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula. Using the spatula or a small offset spatula, spread topping on cooled cookies, using about 2-3 teaspoons per cookie.

While topping sets up, melt chocolate in a double boiler over low heat on the stove. Dip the base of each cookie into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate into a piping bag and drizzle finished cookies with chocolate. Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Working with the caramel and coconut mixture can get difficult if it begins to harden before you have coated all the cookies. If this happens, simply move the pan back to the stove on low heat for 2-3 minutes to allow the mixture to warm again.

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