showing my inner anglophile – chocolate chip traybake

chocolate chip traybake with peanut butter and chocolate fudge icing

Chocolate chip traybake cake
Chocolate chip traybake cake

like most people who have netflix, i am obsessed with great british bake off. i was actually obsessed with it before it was on netflix, and we also had the box set of the mighty boosh which i used to watch regularly with my brother. holla if you are familiar with this show… most people know of old greg, but have never really watched it past that. super weird, super british, absolutely hilarious, and definitely noel fielding’s best role. if you are into weird stuff or have a weird sense of humor defnitely check it out. i also have uk television shows on our cable, and will regularly relax with my glass of wine and watch antiques roadtrip, and obsessed with victorian farm. kind of on a tangent here, but you see where i’m going?

i’ve been working on my semi-homemade chocolate chip cake recipe, and for some reason i cannot make a regular cake to save my life. so this is why i always stick to traybakes (as the british call them, or a cake baked in a pan, not turned out and eaten in squares right out of the pan) or cupcakes. i feel like they are harder for me to ruin, there is no turning out the cake, trimming it, worrying about the icing looking perfect, etc. this traybaked poke cake is great because it reminds me of those tasty cake kandy kakes, but better because it’s homemade. and bigger. the fudge icing is from life above the cafe and i originally saw it on her instagram. she has the most amazing dessert recipes! definitely check out her blog. the cake recipe is modified from the wasc cake recipe from sugar geek show, and is super easy because it’s semi-homemade, and all you do is throw everything in the mixer together and turn it on. let me know if you try this chocolate chip traybake and what you think!

ingredients

cake
1 yellow box cake mix
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt – mountain high yogurt is delicious for baking or just by itself with some fruit or honey
1 cup milk
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter (1 stick)
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
splash (1/8-1/4 tsp) almond extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups peanut butter – i love the simply nature organic peanut butter from aldi, it has no added sugar

frosting
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
5 oz evaporated milk
1 stick of unsalted butter

instructions

preheat your oven to 350, and prepare a 9×13 glass baking dish by spraying with cooking spray or coating with a stick of butter. in an electric stand mixer, or large bowl, combine the cake mix, flour, sugar, salt, yogurt, milk, butter, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts. with the paddle attachment or a whisk (if you’re using a regular bowl) beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. fold in the chocolate chips. pour into your prepared pan and bake 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. i checked mine at 30 minutes and it was still completely not set in the middle. i ended up adding about 12 more minutes of baking time, for a total of 42 minutes. it will depend on your oven. just ignore the instructions/ingredients on the back of the box and only use the ingredients listed here.

after the cake comes out of the oven and cools completely, poke holes all over the top of it using a straw. microwave your peanut butter for 30-40 seconds so it’s very pourable, and spread it all over the top of the cake. after this, start the icing. in a medium-large nonstick pot, whisk together the dry ingredients (sugar, salt, and cocoa powder). add the evaporated milk, whisk everything together and bring it to a rolling boil, whisking the entire time. set a timer for 2 minutes and let the mixture boil for exactly 2 minutes, whisking constantly. when the timer goes off, turn off the heat and whisk in the stick of butter. continue whisking for one more minute after the butter is completely incorporated to cool the mixture slightly.

then take the hot icing and pour it over top the peanut butter and spread evenly over the top of the cake. i usually take mine and tap the bottom on a wooden surface (so i don’t break the glass pan) until i see that the fudge frosting starts to go down into the holes in the cake. wait until it has cooled completely before cutting into it! the top will become crusty and crackly and delicious and this is a perfect snacking cake. you can tell i definitely didn’t let mine cool all the way before cutting into it, but it’s so tempting when the frosting is still warm and gooey and fudgy. sooooo delicious. let me know if you try it! the method for the icing is on my reels on instagram if you want to check it out 🙂

chicken and wild rice soup – it’s always soup szn in my heart

chicken and wild rice soup with mushrooms and spinach

Chicken and wild rice soup with mushrooms and spinach.

this chicken and rice soup has quickly become one of my family’s favorites, and it’s one of my go-to freezer meals. this recipe makes a huge pot of soup and you could easily eat it for dinner, have leftovers, and still have some to stash away in the freezer. i originally made this as a vegetarian soup with just mushrooms, and of course my husband had to make a “where’s the meat?” comment, so i added chicken. equally delicious either way. i always enjoy a good vegetarian meal, but he usually expects meat for dinner. my kids also could take or leave meat, and both love mushrooms so this works both ways for us. you can also use any chicken meat you have leftover or sitting around in the freezer. let me know if you try this recipe, and what you prefer; chicken and wild rice or mushroom and wild rice?

ingredients

2 cups of precooked chicken*
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of minced garlic
3-4 medium carrots, diced
2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
8 oz baby bella or white button mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup wild rice
1/2 cup jasmine rice
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
8-10 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2-3 cups fresh baby spinach – chopped or torn into pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

instructions

normally i pre-chop all my vegetables/herbs before starting a recipe like this so i’m prepared when i need to add something in. so first, cut or shred up your chicken and set aside. chop carrots, onions, and celery and set aside. slice mushrooms and set aside. if you are mincing your own garlic, do that now as well and put it with the mushrooms, these will be added together.

heat a large dutch oven over medium heat and add the two tablespoons of olive oil. saute the onions, carrots, and celery with a large pinch of salt and pepper until the onions start to become translucent, then add the mushrooms and garlic. continue cooking this mixture until the mushrooms have released all their liquid and it starts to evaporate. at this time add the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf, and add the chicken back in. once everything is heated through, about 2 minutes, sprinkle the two tablespoons of flour, and continue cooking the mixture for 2 more minutes. pour over the wine, chicken broth, and add the rice. make sure everything is combined and bring this to a boil. reduce the heat to low and simmer it partially covered for 45 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. check and stir the soup to make sure the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom, or you need to add more liquid. i usually start with 8 cups of broth, and if it seems like the rice has absorbed all the liquid or it’s sticking to the bottom, i add the additional 2 cups. once the rice is completely cooked through, you can then add in the spinach and simmer for about 5 more minutes until it’s heated through.

serve with croutons, or a nice crusty sourdough loaf like we do 🙂 hope you enjoy this soup as much as our family does!

*note about chicken – you could also use two fresh chicken breasts. if using this method, cut the chicken breasts into bite sized pieces, and brown them in the dutch oven over medium high heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil in two batches, then set aside on a plate before starting to saute the vegetables. add them back in when you add in the herbs. i have made this recipe with chicken breasts using this method as well as chicken thighs that i had already precooked in the instant pot. a rotisserie chicken would also work really well.

5 easy meals for toddlers and busy moms

my favorite 5 easy meals to feed my kids when i’m feeling lazy

everyone knows feeding toddlers can be tedious. compound that with my husband being deployed last year, multiple trainings away from home, dealing with covid, and living 2500 miles away from any family. and despite loving to cook (i definitely don’t shy away from a complicated meal), i still feed my kids super simple easy meals when i just feel burnt out from being in the kitchen, or even when i know they won’t like what i’m eating for dinner. here are the five easy meals i find myself going back to over and over.

1. dino nuggets for the win!

easy meals for toddlers

i mean… who doesn’t love a good dino nug? i literally microwave them and usually serve with steamed fresh broccoli and some kind of fruit. always a hit, and so so easy especially for lunch. also, i haven’t been able to find these in california but my friend turned me onto these perdue plus chicken and vegetable dino nuggets… they are so delicious and it makes me feel better knowing they are getting a serving of veggies as well.

2. 3-ingredient naan pizza

this is one of our new favorites. all the ingredients come from aldi and it is so so easy. just take a piece of their naan bread, spread on some marinara, cover in shredded mozzarella, and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. comes out perfect every time, and i love it just as much as them. another version is to use premade bbq sauce instead of marinara, top with shredded chicken, mozzarella and finish with pickled red onions. easy bbq chicken pizza!

3. pb&j… a classic

simple and self-explanatory. my one year old actually prefers grilled cheese, but my 2.5 year old is team pb&j all day. we’ve been using the organic unsweetened peanut butter from aldi, and my kids don’t even notice the difference between that and the kind that has added oils and sugar.

4. chicken sausage

this is mostly for my 2.5 year old… the one year old won’t eat meat at all unless it’s a chicken nugget. these chicken sausages come from aldi and they have three flavors. our favorite is the apple sausage, but we also love the spinach feta, and my husband likes the italian. they’re precooked, so super easy to heat up for a quick lunch ror dinner. i will also be posting a skillet dinner i made with the spinach feta flavor that was delicious! i also love that they don’t have nitrates or any weird ingredients that you can’t pronounce.

5. cheese and crackers!

usually we’d think of cheese and crackers as a snack, but there isn’t any reason why we can’t have it as a meal. if my one year old won’t eat anything else, i know she will always eat sliced cheese. cheese has plenty of protein, and there is virtually no prep. my 2.5 year old likes the sharp cheddar from aldi, but sometimes i will even just give them presliced sandwich slices and they love that too. serve it with some steamed veggies or avocado and a fruit and you have a whole meal with hardly any cleanup.

let me know the easy meals you love to feed your little ones!

feeling spring – shepherd’s pie

shepherd’s pie with cheesy mashed potato topping, served with irish soda bread

picture of shepherd's pie
bowl of shepherd's pie
picture of irish soda bread

i literally forgot about st. patrick’s day this year until my sister reminded me, but happened to test this recipe last week for shepherd’s pie, so i was unexpectedly prepared for this! i did do late night baking last night so i would at least have the soda bread ready for the kids breakfast in the morning. i used this recipe for my soda bread from sally’s baking addiction and it was delicious and easy. the only thing i was missing was buttermilk, so i used her substitution of vinegar with 2% milk, and that worked just fine.

i used to loveeeee st. patricks day because that meant i got my favorite meal… corned beef and cabbage, haha! i would even ask my mom to make it on my birthday so i would get it twice in march. but with two little ones, i really can’t be bothered to boil corned beef for hours, and i already had all the ingredients for this shepherd’s pie in my fridge/freezer. the best thing about this recipe as opposed to corned beef and cabbage is it’s a great freezer meal! shepherd’s pie can be frozen before or after baking, and tastes just as good out of the freezer as it did on day one. plus, both my kids love it. if you give it a try, let me know what you think in the comments. happy st. paddy’s day everyone!

ingredients

meat filling
1 lb ground beef (i use the organic grass fed ground beef from aldi)
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
about 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (i used 1/2 a large onion)
2 cloves minced garlic
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon worcestershire
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables

potato topping
1 1/2-2 lbs potatoes – i used 6 small russet potatoes, or you could use 2-3 large potatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 oz cream cheese
1/3-1/2 cup 2% or whole milk – i start with a third of a cup and add more if needed. you want this to be stiffer than traditional mashed potatoes
salt to taste – i start with a small amount, because we’re also adding cheese and cheese is salty!
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3/4 – 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

instructions

peel the potatoes, but them into bite sized chunks, and put them in a large pot covered with cold water. turn burner on high and bring them to a boil, then cook them for about 8-10 minutes until fork tender. set a timer if you need to so you don’t forget about them while you’re cooking the filling! preheat oven to 400 degrees. meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed skillet or dutch oven, melt the tablespoon of butter or olive oil over medium high heat and start browning the ground beef. once it’s all the way browned, check how much grease came off the meat. you may need to drain some if it looks too greasy! lower the heat to medium, then add your chopped half an onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic. cook until the onion becomes translucent, and add in the 1 1/2 cups of frozen mixed veggies. cook this until the veggies lose their chill, 2-3 minutes, and then add the thyme, bay leaf, worcestershire, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and 2 tablespoons of flour. continue cooking this mixture for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously so the flour doesn’t burn to the bottom. then pour in the beef stock/broth and wine. bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for about 6-7 minutes. remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

drain your potatoes once they’re done and return to the pot with the burner still on low. start mashing the potatoes with the burner on to get all the liquid out of the potatoes. add the butter, cream cheese, salt, pepper, and grated cheddar. mash until combined and turn the burner off. i also sometimes add a little seasoned salt to taste if it feels like they’re missing something.

assemble the shepherd’s pie in a 9 inch pie plate by layering the meat mixture on the bottom and potatoes on top. bake at 400 degrees, uncovered for about 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. be careful when baking, if your dish is very full to put a sheet pan under the pie plate, because i’ve had filling run out all over my oven before! enjoy with soda bread and a guinness or glass of red wine 🙂 happy st. paddy’s day! ps. check out my very first cook with me video on youtube to see the exact method i used for this recipe!



homestead-y things – sourdough bread saga continued

poppyseed-raisin sourdough bread loaf with cultured butter

picture of sourdough bread with golden raisins and poppyseeds
picture of sourdough bread with golden raisins and poppyseeds, with butter and jam

this is one of my favorite sourdoughs recently, i love the sweet burst of golden raisins with the crunch of the poppyseeds. my toddler also loves it smeared with homemade cultured butter and his favorite “orange jam.” as long as i cut off the crusts for him… of course. it’s so soft and airy on the inside with that super crunchy crust. i’ll also post the recipe for the cultured butter we’ve been using for the past couple of months. so delicious spread on fresh sourdough or any bread. you can also use it for cooking, but it will lose the “cultured” properties once you cook it. this recipe is adapted from feasting at home’s no-knead sourdough bread, and please check out her post on sourdough starter as well if you need tips for that! for this recipe you will need a kitchen scale… except for measuring the half cup of whole wheat flour, i usually don’t use any cup measurements when i make bread. this is a long recipe, but check out the video below for the full method!

ingredients

520g flour (half a cup of whole wheat flour, and the rest bread flour)
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons poppyseeds
1 cup golden raisins
415g filtered water at room temperature
90g active sourdough starter (i usually feed mine 12 hours before making the dough, so it has time to rise and then fall again)
small amount of olive oil, just to coat bowl where bread will be proofing

equipment

kitchen scale
dutch oven – make sure the handle is metal, must be heat resistant!
parchment paper
bread lame or super sharp knife

instructions

when making this sourdough loaf, you want to start thinking about it 24 hours in advance of when you’ll bake it, because the starter needs 12-ish hours to do it’s thing once you feed it. the dough then takes about 12 more hours to proof, not counting the final proof in the fridge for an hour or more. i like to typically make my dough at night so it can proof on the counter overnight, or if i make it in the morning i will put it in the oven with the light on so it will take less time. if you leave it in the oven with the light on, make sure to keep an eye on it because i’ve had loaves proof in about 7 hours or less! you don’t want to end up over proofing it if it’s in a very warm place. it seems like a long process, but it’s so so worth it when you finally get to taste that amazing fresh home baked bread.

so the first step will be to feed your starter. or you can use starter that’s been in the fridge for up to a week for a more sour flavor. the longer it’s been sitting, the more sour it will taste. for this recipe, i typically will feed it 12 hours before i plan on making the loaf, since it has sweet elements (golden raisins), i like a more mild flavored bread. once the starter has peaked, and then come down again, it’s ready. you want it to come down again after it peaks because then you know it’s hungry again.

in a large bowl, combine your flours, salt, poppy seeds, and raisins. in a separate bowl, or 2 cup liquid measuring cup, use a fork to whisk together the water and active starter. it should look like cloudy water. pour in the water/starter mixture to the dry ingredients, and using a rubber spatula, start folding everything until it comes together into a rough dough ball, and there is no dry flour visible. at this point, i usually will coat a different bowl with olive oil and flip the dough ball out into this bowl to proof. you don’t have to do this… i just do it because i can’t stand it being in the messy bowl, ha ha. cover the dough ball with a damp dish towel, and sit in a warm spot to start proofing. let it sit for 15 minutes, and then you’re going to stretch and fold. take a look at the stretch and fold video in this post for a demo! i definitely tend to get a little bit more aggressive with my stretching and folding… so then you will let it proof for 15 more minutes, stretch and fold again, 15 more minutes and stretch and fold again. for a total of three times. i always let mine do the initial proof in the oven with the light on. i feel like it just stays warmer in there since our house doesn’t have great insulation. after that you can just leave it overnight on the counter or table with the damp towel on top.

in the morning (i wake up at 6:30 typically), check the rise on your dough. it should be just about doubled in size and have a domed top. you can take a wet finger and push it into the dough, and the indent should slowly start to fill back in.

you will then take your dutch oven, pop it into the oven with the lid on and preheat it to 470 degrees. you may need to play around with the temperature. initially i had it around 500, and it was wayyyyy too hot. my oven runs hot though. set your timer for an hour. the dutch oven needs to be super hot when you put the dough in. now you will do your final stretch and fold, place the dough into a smaller bowl lined with parchment paper and place in the fridge to proof while the oven preheats. take a bowl that is slightly smaller, i use a 1.5 qt pyrex, and line it with parchment. basically i just lay the sheet of parchment over the bowl and once the dough ball settles down into it, it lines itself. the final stretch and fold is a little different because you’ll actually lift the dough out of the bowl with both hands (make sure you wet your hands), hold it up in the air over the bowl, and let it fold down on top of itself. turn the bowl a quarter, and do it again. turn the bowl a quarter and do it again, but this time, it shouldn’t stretch nearly as much, and you will fold the bottoms in, and set the dough ball into the parchment lined bowl. see video for demo. then place it into the fridge while the oven heats up (one hour). you could also leave the dough in the fridge a little longer, 2-3 hours to develop the gluten further and develop a nice skin on the outside, making it easier to score. i found i was able to score it much easier when i left it in the fridge for 2 hours vs 1. usually i only preheat the oven for an hour.

once the hour is up, take out the dutch oven and be very careful removing the lid, make sure to remember your oven mitts, it will be extremely hot!! take the bread loaf out of the fridge, dust with flour, and score the top using a very sharp knife or bread lame. then pick it up in the parchment paper and place the whole thing (parchment included!) directly into the dutch oven. put the lid on and bake for 25 minutes at 470 degrees. during my initial bake i always put a sheet pan under my dutch oven because i was having issues with burnt bottoms on my bread. you will need to experiment to see if this will work for you or not. then remove the lid and bake for 10-15 more minutes, until the crust is deeply golden brown, and the middle is at least 200 degrees fahrenheit using a meat thermometer. let the bread loaf rest for at least 1 hour before slicing into it. the waiting is the hardest part! then enjoy your delicious homemade sourdough with your favorite toppings 🙂 recipe for cultured butter coming soon, and check out the video below for the full method!