Hot Chocolate on a Stick with Homemade Marshmallows

People ask you also sorts of questions when you are pregnant but the recent favorite is about what I’m craving.  I haven’t had too many strange midnight snacks… the weirdest was that I wanted mini marshmallows, uh….frozen.  (You should totally try it, hubby liked them too).  A close second to that is chocolate and anything with cheese or carbs.  I know it sounds like I’m in junk food heaven but I’ve actually been eating tons of leafy greens, lean proteins and fruit for the most part.

Anyway, back to marshmallows.  I have been wanting to make them from scratch for a long time, but I had filed them away as one of those difficult recipes that you should only attempt when you have extra patience.  To my surprise, they are actually relatively easy if you have the right tools!  I came across these cute snowflake shaped ones and thought they would make a perfect topping to Hot Chocolate on a Stick which I first discovered on Pinterest, my new favorite source of inspiration.

We have a recent Christmas tradition of only getting gifts for the kids, so I thought Hot Chocolate on a Stick would be a fun inexpensive surprise for the adults. I wrapped them up in twos in cute gift packaging  and printed up some little personalized labels to go along with them! I also put instructions on the back to heat up 8 oz of milk and stir in the stick for almost instant hot chocolate. Aren’t they fun?!

 Hot Chocolate on a Stick

Here is the recipe if you want to make up a batch yourself!

I learned that you should always make a few extra in case the kids want to enjoy some too….

Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows

 

 

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Banana Bread Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Banana Bread Cream Cheese Muffins

 

On Sunday morning I woke up wanting real breakfast, not just some flakes in a bowl.  I hunted around the kitchen and found two very over-ripe bananas.  Not quite enough to make my favorite banana bread recipe, but a good start.

Taking inspiration from a pumpkin cream cheese muffin I had at Starbucks, I decided to stretch the banana bread batter by creating a cream cheesy filling! I just so happened to have pumpkin seeds on hand too, so why not go all out!

I’m using a “vintage” oven that we inherited with our new house.  The appliance guys who delivered our washer & dryer even made fun of it’s two burners and antique look.  I thought I would hate it, but now that I’ve cleaned it up and tested that everything works, I actually kinda like her!

Banana Bread Muffins with Cream Cheese

You can catch a glimpse of the old girl in this photo of the muffins ready to go in the oven.

I also warmed up some hot apple cider and we snuggled on the couch with our breakfast on a 35 degree morning.

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Too Busy Baking to Bake Anything

You might have noticed that things are little slow here at The Bake Cakery.  OK, a lot slow.  While I haven’t been baking goods of the sugary variety, there has been something else baking:

For those that know Jason and I, you might have thought this announcement would never come, but with grad school finished up and 8 solid years of marriage to look back on, we decided it was time!

I have been experiencing the joys of pregnancy: namely nausea, exhaustion, and moodiness. Without an appetite, I haven’t had the desire to bake or even think about new recipes for the past few weeks.  Now, with my first trimester about to end, I’m finally starting to feel hungry again.  I did have my first peanut butter craving and whipped up a batch of these cookies to celebrate.

According to the What to Expect When You’re Expecting App, Baby Beaird is in the peach stage of the produce journey at 12 weeks and 3 days.

This will be the first grandbaby on my side and he/she will join 4 other sweeties on the Beaird side.  Between moving to a new city, buying a fixer upper and deciding to start a family, we know we’ll have our hands (& hearts) full for a good long time… and that’s just the way we like it.

Homemade Candied Ginger & Ginger Simple Syrup

I’m a big fan of ginger in savory dishes, but only recently have I been turned on to the sweet side of the spicy root. Store bought crystallized ginger is tasty but can be a fairly expensive ingredient for baked goods because its sold in small quantities.

My friend Jenny also spoiled me with Red Rock Ginger Ale and I’ve been mildly obsessed with how hot-but-cream-soda-y it is. At $5 for a 4-pack it’s not cheap either and well, I am.

Homemade Candied Ginger Recipe

Always looking for ways to make things myself, I grabbed a $2 hunk of ginger at the Farmer’s Market and began my research. Obviously the first step to ginger anything is peeling it and my mom (who taught me most everything I know about cooking) showed me a neat trick.

Since it’s easier to show than explain, I made my very first YouTube video just for y’all:

Now that we’ve got our ginger peeled, it’s show time. This recipe is a 2-fer because you end up with chewy spicy candied ginger and a wonderful ginger infused simple syrup – the starting point for ginger ale!

I have big plans for all that candied ginger so stay tuned for some baked goods featuring the ingredient!

Elmo Smash Cake for Baby V!

Coming off a couple of insane weeks of travel, Jason and I made the trek from Atlanta to our sleepy hometown of Vero Beach.  There were lots of reasons to celebrate – new babies, several birthdays, recent engagement and of course the whole reason we had a long weekend – Independence day!


Elmo Cake

When a long weekend and your nephew’s first birthday party coincide, you just don’t miss that! In fact, no matter how exhausted you are, you volunteer to make the smash cake ’cause that little man is only turning 1 once.  Elmo agrees.

We also volunteered to bring an Elmo fruit platter that was inspired by a photo on Pinterest (sorry, after much googling I still can’t find the original source of the photo). While I was helping Elmo paint a masterpiece, hubs meticulously arranged strawberries, mandarin oranges and blueberries into this:

Awesome job right?  My man may let me take over the kitchen most of the time, but he’s got serious skills.

As for the details of the cake, my original goal was to limit the use of food coloring. I also wanted to keep it mostly buttercream (fav recipe here) so little V could smash it easily.  Unfortunately I realized it’s almost impossible to achieve that “Elmo red” any other way.  By making removable marshmallow fondant decorations, he was able to smash it and get more cake than frosting. See?

He even shared the lemon cream cake (1/2 of this recipe) with mom & dad who noticed the subtle lemon & tried to sneak in a few extra bites :).

I express my love through cake and I hope when this little guy gets older he sees the family pictures of his first birthday and knows there are a lot of people who think he’s pretty cool, crown and all!

Happy Birthday 1st Birthday Baby V!


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Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you bake, you’ve probably shelled out a pretty penny for vanilla extract. Nothing beats that extra sweetness and flavor in a cake, frosting or cookie! At $8.99 a pop for the cheap-o corn syrup stuff or $20+ for the really good stuff, its pricey. You can be like my friend Joey and buy a gallon at Sam’s and yes, that should last you a while.  But what if you could easily make your own at home?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Now when I say easily, please know it doesn’t take much effort, but I didn’t say fast. If you start now, you could have some ready for Christmas cookies! I’ve had the one above going for about 2 months and it’s not dark enough yet. Luckily I’m patient and have plenty of store bought vanilla bean paste to last a while. I find that we are pretty disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Have you ever spent much time thinking about how vanilla extract is made, what makes it wonderful and where it comes from?  If you just want to hurry up and get your extract started (the sooner the better…) then skip down to the recipe. Otherwise, stick around and I’ll share what I know about this amazing “bean”!

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla beans actually come from an orchid. Crazy right?  I just saw the Vanilla Orchid in person at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (the orchid greenhouse is the best part!)  To get high yields, orchid farmers hand pollinate the flowers. Once formed, the beans are cured and fermented for up to a year to allow the aromatic flavors to develop. (Now you know why it costs so much!) Commercial vanilla extract uses grain alcohol to dissolve the flavor compounds of the vanilla.  The FDA requires a very set ratio of vanilla bean to water to alcohol in order to label it vanilla “extract”.  From what I’ve read, it takes up to two full years for vanilla extract to reach its full flavor. We won’t be quite so precise (or patient) with ours.

I put my jar in the pantry where its very dark with the door closed.  I see it there and I remember to shake it up.  One of the things I read that I’m excited to try is that as you use the extract, top it off with vodka. Supposedly the extract will stay flavorful for 7 years. I also can’t wait to try the same approach with lemon peels, lavender and other flavors that might make a nice extract for baking!

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Red Quinoa Cakes Recipe

Allow me to introduce my friend quinoa – a versatile, delicious and nutty grain.  If y’all have already met, don’t worry, you’re about to get re-acquainted in a whole new way.

Uncooked Red QuinoaIf you want to mix it up at dinner, Quinoa (pronounced kee-no-ah if you’re me, or keen-wa if you’re my mom) is an excellent healthy alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes. It contains tons of protein and vitamins! I buy my quinoa in bulk and throw it into the dinner rotation at least once a month.  Until now, my fav recipes have been pilaf or salad style (both excellent recipes to try out if you are just getting started with quinoa).

 

Quinoa originates from South America and there are three main varieties: red, black and white.  I’ve tried all three and personally I prefer the little bit of nuttiness and pepperyness of the red one, or you can make a medley of all three. Quinoa contains naturally occuring compounds called saponins that act as a pesticide, so pro tip: you’ll want to rinse your quinoa prior to cooking.

 

Always scouting for new recipe ideas, I came across these quinoa burgers on Pinterest (yes, I’m officially obsessed with this awesome inspiration/idea cataloging tool!). As Jason lovingly pointed out, me and veggie pancakes have a love-hate relationship. I love to eat them, but they hate to stay together in the pan for me.  I thought there were going to be issues with these babies because I ended up with more of a lumpy batter than a patty (thus the addition of a bit extra flour in the recipe below).

Red Quinoa Cakes

Low and behold, the quinoa cakes turned out beautifully. Did I mention they were savory and super satisfying? Moist on the inside, with a crispy exterior and even a bit of a burger texture to them thanks to the quinoa grains. We decided these would be best accompanied by a green salad because they are protein and carbs all-in-one! I topped them with a bit of greek yogurt dip (as recommended in the original recipe) and we also snuck in a handful of sweet potato fries that were free with a coupon.

Have you tried quinoa?  What are your favorite ways to prepare it?

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Lemon Curd Filled Cupcakes w/ Marshmallow Meringue Frosting

Who knew lemon could be better than any chocolate out there?  Naysayers, you have to try this lemony combination.  A buttery cupcake with flecks of lemon zest, a tart robust lemon curd studded with vanilla bean and then top it all off with a fluffy marshmallowy meringue. Win!

I made these bad boys as a Mother’s Day surprise. Just one problem when it comes to mom & her sweet tooth… she usually has to shy away from desserts due to a chocolate allergy – bummer!  We couldn’t have all that on her special day, so I grabbed a bag of lemons and a lot of eggs and got to work on this epically delicious concoction.

Y’all know I’ve been in meringue heaven lately with my Robin Egg Meringues and the Tres Leches Cake with Toasted Meringue I made for Jason’s birthday.  I just can’t get enough of the sweet fluffy stuff!  Now I like buttercream just as much as the next gal, but this time I saved the butter for the cake batter and the results were fantastic!

The recipe came together from three different ideas I found out there.  I had been dying to try this lowfat lemon curd recipe and it was the highlight of the cupcake for me with the addition of vanilla beans.  The hardest part is the cramp you get from all that whisking :). I knew I wanted a light flavorful cupcake and any recipe with dairy, be it yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream, immediately gets my vote because all my favs include one of these!  Finally, I wanted an airy sticky texture on my marshmallow meringue, so I found one that didn’t include water and it was just the ticket! Cheers!!

Because these all came from different recipes, I scaled and modified each one to get the right proportion of cake to filling to fluff.  Here’s my recipe as always with my notes and tips in blue:

 

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Crispy Accordion Potato Bake Recipe

Accordion Potatoes are like baked potatoes sophisticated older sibling, and once you try this you may never go back!  My mom used to do a version of this taking a russett potato, slicing it into 8 or 12 slices and shoving a slice of onion between each tater section.  A little sprinkle of salt, tiny pat of butter and wrap it up in foil to bake for an hour. MMmmMm!

Crispy Accordion Potatoes Recipe

This version is similar but you get a lot more potatoes, a little bit of crispyness on the edges and a gorgeous rustic presentation!

I first came across a photo of this recipe on my new favorite site, Pinterest.  You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words?  This site lets you save a picture with a note and even keeps the info to the link  you got it from for easy reference later. Like this:

Pinterest Collage

(See the “Inspired by” photos over there in the sidebar? —>  Those are the most recent things I’ve saved!)  Thanks to Sherry at YoungHouseLove for showing me the Pinterest light!

Anyway, back to the tiny slices of potato amazingness. Let me warn you that if you don’t have a mandoline, you are gonna be awhile slicing your little heart out.  (In that case I’d actually recommend you go with the approach I mentioned above).  I absolutely LOVE my mandoline, it suctions to the counter, has super sharp adjustable-thickness blades and a veggie holder to prevent taking off your thumb.

Accordion Potatoes Getting Brushed With Butter

Enjoy!
Baked Accordion Potatoes CloseUP

Ideas for Decorating an Apartment: Vinyl Wall Designs

Renters can decorate too, or so that’s what I’m telling myself.

After owning a home that we completely remodeled, living in a (very new) rental is somewhat of an adjustment. We were used to spending nights and weekends on DIY improvement projects and now we don’t know what to do with ourselves!Target Birds & Branches Vinyl Clock

I love to scour the Target endcaps for cheap clearance finds. On one fateful trip, I found this glorious “Birds & Branches” clock for just $6.24 (check the tag!) and it had to come home with me.  That was back when we owned our place and I never did find the time or the right place to hang it… Until now!


Target Clearance Price Tag

Our new rental has tons of style with pretty moldings, high ceilings and lots of details… but it doesn’t necessarily reflect anything about us or our taste. The blank wall above the fireplace was screaming for some art and this clock was the perfect size.

What’s great about it is that when we’re ready to move, the vinyl peels right off.  We even hung the clock part with a thumb tack so as to make the tiniest hole possible.

Removable Vinyl Wall Art

The clock came with extra birds that we felt would clutter the look.  My uber creative hubs had the idea to put one bird above the window molding for some added flair.

See him way over there on the right looking back at his buddy on the clock?.. No? Ok, I’ll zoom in:


Vinyl Wall Art

Overall we are excited to be city dwellers and have accepted the fact that we just have to get creative in our decorating. Stay tuned for more ideas as we slowly put together our new place!