Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

What’s your go-to blog for recipes?  We all have them, because these days… it’s so much easier to Google than to search through an array of cookbooks.

Me and half of America have Smitten Kitchen as our go-to blog for recipes.  I haven’t made too many things, because most of the time I like inventing things but I’ve made a few and every one is great.

This past week I was dogsitting…

and had a massive zucchini from the garden to use.  First I made an zucchini mozzarella bake, which I will tell you about soon, but there I still had about 1/3 of the zucchini left.  I’m telling you this thing was the size of a small animal (probably roughly the size of the two pugs above). I wish I had taken a picture of it.

So with 1/3 of an enormous zucchini sitting on the counter as two pugs stared at me, naturally, I turned to Smitten Kitchen for direction.  Now, I have to tell you… I’m a terrible person.  I never actually read her blog posts.  I only ever look at the pictures and recipes.   Does anyone else do that?

We all have different motivations for following blogs, right? For me, Smitten Kitchen is all about pictures and recipes.

So back to Zucchini.  I made zucchini bread, because I was feeling traditional.

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I usually never do this, but I actually followed this recipe pretty much to the T (but omited the nuts and added chocolate chips).  I chose to add chocolate chips because for some reason chocolate and zucchini sounds like a natural combination.

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Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

from Smitten Kitchen

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

*Note: I didn’t measure the zucchini so I actually think I added more like 3 cups

Line two loaf pans with parchment paper.  Pre-heat oven to 350F.

In a bowl, beat together eggs, oil and sugar.  Once combined, add zucchini and vanilla extract.  Stir to combine.  Add dry ingredients and chocolate chips.  Stir until just combined.  Pour batter into two loaf pans.

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Bake about an hour (mine took about an hour and 10 minutes, remember all ovens are different).

Allow to cool completely.  Then remove from pan (parchment paper makes it super easy to pull out of the pan).  Slice and serve.zucchinibread3

I took these two loaves to work and they were gone in a day.  That’s probably because I ate half of it on my own.  It was pretty delicious. The loaves are sort of dense, but super moist, which is always appreciated.

Normally I hate chocolate chips in quick breads, but this was fantastic.  If you ever put chocolate chips in my banana bread or pancakes, we won’t be friends anymore, but in zucchini bread… bring it on!

So there you have it.  Sometimes you need a go-to blog for a recipe.

What’s your go-to blog for recipes?  Are there any blogs you read solely for pictures and recipes?

Strawberry Shortcake in a Jar

It’s almost summer, you know what that means?

Summer means that everyone and their mother is making strawberry shortcake.  Why don’t you take a ride with me on the strawberry shortcake wagon, but with a twist of Foodologie.

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That’s code for take something sweet and put it in a jar.  I love things in jars…

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Pies in Jars

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Birthday Cake in a Jar

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Coconut Curry Stew in a Jar

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Cocktails in jars: Strawberry Basil Gin and Tonic

The list goes on really.  But aside from the hipster-y “cute” factor of a jar, I find them to be extremely functional.  They’re sturdy and portable.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped jars, thrown them into bags.  They just don’t break.  It’s great.

So let’s go back to strawberry shortcakes.

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They’re one of those appealing desserts because they’re simply delicious.  Everyone seems to have a way to make them.  Some people use biscuits, some use pound cake, others use angel food cake.

I like to use plain yellow cake (specifically this recipe for Moist Yellow Cake from Epicurious).  It’s lighter than pound cake but denser than angel food cake.  It’s really just all sorts of amazing.

Here’s what you need:

That’s a pretty short list of ingredients for such a fantastic dessert.  The beautiful thing about making them in jars is that they’ll pretty much look cute no matter what you do.

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Wash and slice your strawberries.  Remember these are going in jars, so you want to cut them into small pieces.  Toss with sugar and lemon juice.  I eyeball the sugar, about 1/4 cup for every cup of strawberries.  If you like them sweeter, add more sugar.  Remember this is all about how it tastes best for you. Let the strawberries sit (macerate, if you want to get technical) for 15-20 minutes so they let out all those wonderful juices and you get strawberry saucy goodness (yes, saucy goodness is a legitimate culinary term).

Next whip your cream.  I don’t like mine too sweet.  I add a few tablespoons of sugar for each cup of whipped cream, and about 1/2 a tsp of vanilla.  Once your whipped cream is mixed, transfer it to a ziploc bag.

Now you can assemble.  Take your cake and break it up into little chunks. Place some in the bottom of your jar, next put a few spoonfuls of strawberries in there, press down with a spoon.  Next the whipped cream.  Cut off a corner of the ziploc bag so you have a piping bag of sorts.  Pipe some whipped make sure to get it one the edges so it looks nice.  Then repeat (be sure to press down the cake so more fits in there!).  Depending on how big your jars are and how thick your layers are, you might be able to do 2 or 3 layers.

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Serve or put a lid on them and take them to go!

I wish I had eaten these on a picnic in a park or on the beach, because that really would have added to the full effect of it all.  They’ll just have to go on the menu for my next picnic.

What’s your favorite summer dessert?

Banana Birthday Cake for My Mom

Today is Memorial Day, but it’s also my mother’s birthday.  While you’re all probably grilling and pie-making, I made a cake to celebrate a very special lady.

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My mom claims to not like cake and dessert, but really I know she’s just picky.  She loves certain desserts and she loves everything banana.  No crazy combinations here, because of her picky palate, I went the simple route.

I made a simple banana cake like the little banana cake I made before (recipe doubled for a full cake), but with a few changes to the filling

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I whipped up a ton of whipped cream with sugar and a touch of vanilla for filling and frosting, fried some bananas with rum and added some slivered almonds.

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and ta-da! A birthday cake just for my mother.  I added some fresh flowers for a pop of color.

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Happy Birthday Mom!

Is your mother picky about desserts like mine?  I feel like that’s one thing my children will never have to worry about.  I’ll pretty much enjoy anything.

Epic Banana Bundt Cake

I’ve rewritten this post about three times, trying to come up with something as epic as the recipe to come.  But I can’t.  My brain is asking me for a rest.

Between work and blogging, my creative juices are dried up, in terms of writing that is.  Because recipes… I’ve got sooooo many for you to look forward to.  But first let’s talk about bananas.

I’m a banana fiend.  I eat one daily.  I learned it from my mother, she probably eats two daily.  That’s ok.

Bananas are on the top of my list of things I think are out of this world, let’s talk about my other favorite thing on the planet: cake.

And combine the two… Banana Cake! Why not?  In fact, this cake was so good it had to be made twice.  It really was THAT good.

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Ok I’ll be honest.  I really made this twice, because the first time around I hated my pictures.  It was a labor of love (or gluttony or vanity?) to make it again, but that just means I know the recipe is extra perfect for you.

I know everyone and their mother has a recipe for banana cake (and no, this is NOT banana bread).

Even if you think it looks similar, trust me.  This is definitely banana cake.  What’s the difference?

Texture.  Banana bread is dense.  This is lighter, and it has an icing.  Icing goes on cake.  True story.

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Epic Banana Bundt Cake

2 cups + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp corn starch
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon plus pinch of salt
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 bananas, very ripe and mashed
1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 package vanilla instant pudding (3.4 oz)

Icing/Glaze:
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp heavy cream (or milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
1-2 tsp of water for thinning, if necessary
Pre-heat oven to 350F.
In a bowl, sift together flour, corn starch, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  Grease and flour a bundt pan (or any other pan you choose to make this in, I’ve also made this in two 9 inch pans, baking times adjusted).
Using a mixer beat together sugar and oil.  Beat in eggs, one at a time until fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Beat in vanilla and bananas.  Start adding some of the flour mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, alternating adding milk.  Once all the flour is in the batter, beat in the instant pudding.  Once combined, pour batter into prepared bundt pan.
Bake 45 minutes.  Then turn the oven down to 325F and continue to bake until golden and cooked through (usually another 15-20 minutes, but this will depend on your oven).  Once fully baked, remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
Once cooled, make glaze by combining all ingredients.  The pour glaze over cake.
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I didn’t actually pour, I did the spoon/drizzle method, because I think it looks better than pouring.
Serve and enjoy!
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This cake goes great with a cup of coffee and a good book.  It’s also fantastic served to a friend with a little bit of gossip.
Truth be told, I’m not sure if I’m half monkey or something, but I want to keep making this cake, over and over and over.  It’s a good idea, because I seriously think this might be my new favorite cake.
Stay tuned for lots of good new recipes and other fun things… like maybe some trip planning.  How does that sound?

Layer Cakes: Tips, Tricks and Recipes

I love cake. and pie.  Cakes and Pies.

Ok but really I think cakes are awesome.  I also think they’re super labor intensive so I get why people buy them instead of make them, but I really think more people should take up cake making.

This past weekend, I made three layer cakes.

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So from my experience of making three cakes in a row, I wanted to share with you a few tips and tricks to making the perfect layers cakes, along with some of my favorite cake recipes.

1. Use the right cake pans.

I used to have these fancy cake pans from Sur La Table, and I’ll be honest… they sucked.  My cakes were always uneven.  First I thought my oven temperature was just weird, but then I moved and my cakes were still crooked.  So I bought new cake pans.  I bought the cheap Wilton ones at Michael’s (I say cheap because I never walk into that store without a 40% off coupon), and my cakes are perfectly even now.  So my tip: go for aluminum cake pans!

2. Parchment paper IS your friend and always grease and flour your pans.

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Wouldn’t it suck to do all that work and have them stick to the pan?  Yes.  It’s happened to me, and it sucks.

Ever since, I will never make a cake without parchment paper.  Honestly, my least favorite part of making cakes is this step.  I feel like I’m in kindergarten cutting out parchment paper circles.  But it’s a must.  Just do it.

3.  Bake in advance and freeze.

My cakes were all for Saturday and Sunday.  I started baking on Tuesday.  A cake sitting out from Tuesday til Saturday would be dry and gross, but a cake wrapped in parchment paper, double wrapped in plastic wrap then frozen, is still great for the weekend.  The trick is to make sure the cake is completely cooled before you freeze it.  You can flash cool it on a cooling rack in the freezer, but before you wrap it up.  Just make sure it has cooled completely before you wrap it up, if not you’ll get condensation that freezes into ice.  Not cute.

4. A cake without a filling is no fun.

One of the cakes I made was lemon cake with a raspberries and cream filling.  The others were chocolate and banana cakes with peanut butter filling.   Feel free to make your fillings a day or two in advance, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

5. Leveling the cake is important

I finally broke down and bought a cake leveler.  It’s a good idea to level the cakes before you freeze them.  The leveler is basically a metal wire, it’s not super strong and probably won’t cut through a frozen cake.  You can also just use a knife…

6.  ALWAYS do a crumb coat

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A fine layer of frosting before you actually frost is essential.  It holds it all together and prevents you from getting a crumby cake.  If your crumb coat is going on a frozen cake it’s even easier because the crumb coat gets firm faster.  Once you’ve got a crumb coat, stick the cake in the freezer for a few minutes to let the coat harden before you frost.  EXTRA: Put pieces of parchment paper under the cake so you don’t have to worry about a dirty plate/dish.  You just pull out the pieces when you’re done frosting and you have a clean plate/cake circle!

7.  Use a long knife to frost

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I’m not fancy.  My cakes aren’t perfect, but I think they do the job.  I don’t have all those fancy spatulas you can buy to frost cakes.  I use the 8″ slicer knife that came in my knife block.  It’s not serrated and it’s long.  Gets the job done.  A small butter knife makes it hard to get smooth edges all around, so I recommend a long knife.

8.  Use cake circles and boxes

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To make your cakes go from homemade to slightly fancier, go to Michael’s or any cake supply store and buy cardboard cake circles and a box.  I took one of the cakes to a restaurant and the waitress was surprised to find it was homemade.  On that note, if you go to a birthday dinner at a restaurant, call ahead and make sure they don’t charge you to cut the cake.  I had heard of corkage fees but never of cake cutting fees.  Apparently it’s a thing in Hollywood.  Just saying.

Remember, no matter what your cake looks like, it should taste great.  So on that note, here are some of my favorite cake recipes:

  • Hershey’s Chocolate Cake: This is my go to chocolate cake recipe.  I follow it exactly and it never fails.
  • Epicurious Banana Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: This recipe is great!  I make a few changes everytime, usually adding more liquid.  Today, I made a super variation of it, blog post on that coming soon!
  • Epicurious Moist Yellow Cake (I easily turn this into a lemon cake by replacing half buttermilk with lemon juice, adding some lemon zest and a pack of lemon jello instant pudding)
  • Rum Layer Cake:  This cake is probably one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever made.  Everyone loves it.  It’s just plain tasty.

As for fillings, which per #2 is essential, get creative.  Here are some ideas I love:

  • Mix lemon curd with cream cheese and whipped cream for a quick and delicious lemon mousse filling.  Throw some fresh raspberries in the mix and it’s a perfect filling for a lemon cake.
  • Chocolate Ganache is always a winner.  Try adding orange zest or passionfruit puree to it to spice up your normal chocolate cake
  • Whipped Cream: Sometimes you just need simplicity.  Whipped cream in the middle of a fluffy cake is divine.  Try it.
  • Mix peanut butter, cream cheese, condensed milk and whipped cream for a delicious peanut butter mousse filling.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Amazing.  Just try it.

Remember these tips next time a birthday, party, holiday rolls around.  Making cakes doesn’t have to be crazy hard.  It can be super fun!

What’s your favorite cake combination?

I’m currently a huge fan of banana cake with peanut butter filling and cream cheese frosting!

Hot Air Baloon-themed Baby Shower

I totally forgot to tell you all about something.  If you follow me on Instagram, you might notice that I keep posting pictures of a baby.

That’s Graham.  My nephew.  He’s so stinkin’ cute.

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Sometimes he matches my boyfriends.  They’re both pretty stinkin’ cute.

But before Graham was born, I threw a baby shower for my sister, in anticipation of Graham.  That’s what I forgot to tell you about.

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It was cute and hot air ballooned theme, with lots of ideas from Pinterest.  So in case you’re looking to throw a baby shower, here are some ideas.

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Paper lanterns with cardboard take out containers make great hanging decor.   And obviously, you need a lot of food…

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We had fruit salad, green salad, as well as sandwiches, appetizers, and guava and cheese pastries from Porto’s Bakery, a cake and cupcakes.

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The cake almost looked awesome, but I’ll be honest the bakery we got it from pretty much sucked.  The fondant cracked a bunch and when I called to complain, they didn’t really want to listen to my complaint.  Bad service for an over priced cake.   But aside for them blah cake, there were awesome cupcakes made by me.

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And oreo truffle pops.  If anyone’s interested, I can remake these and give a tutorial on how to make them look cute.  Any takers?

In addition to the food, we set up a welcome table

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which included a guest book and a Fujifilm Instax Mini.  Guests took a picture of themselves, then filled out a card with wishes for the baby (which I got on Etsy in case you’re interested)

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Then they put their photo next to their completed card in the album!

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It worked out well!

The center pieces were simple, candles with red flowers to fit the red and blue theme.

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And of course, the favors were pies in jars made with lots of love from Foodologie.

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Pinterest made planning this baby shower fun, but also a little more stressful.  I think Pinterest raises everyone’s expectations of what an event should be.  What do you think?  Does Pinterest give you unrealistic expectations about parties?

I can’t even imagine what my wedding would be like!

Do you have any events coming up?  Are you using Pinterest to plan?

Little Banana Cake with Caramel Filling

Sometimes you just don’t want a big commitment.  Saturday, I went on a 16 mile hike up the highest peak in Orange County.  That was a big commitment; there was snow at the top of the mountain.. in Orange County…

I was totally ok with that commitment.

But sometimes, dessert can be a big commitment, especially cakes.

Because of this, I think my 6 inch cake pans were a great investment, and I think this banana cake has been my greatest creation from them so far.

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I actually made this twice, so I can tell you with confidence that it’s doubly tasty.

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Little Banana Cake with Caramel Filling

adapted from Epicurious

For Cake:
1 cup + 1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter
1/2 cup sugar, heaping
1 egg
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
1/2 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Caramel filling:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Icing:
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Sift together flour, corn starch, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add in egg, continue to beat for another minute or two.  Beat in mashed banana, milk, vinegar and vanilla.  Add in flour mixture until well combine.

Pour batter into 2 (6 inch round) cake pans (greased, floured and bottom lined with parchment paper).  Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through (mine took 25 mins, but yours might differ based on your oven so start checking after 20 mins).  Allow to cool completely.

Make caramel filling.  Melt sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Once sugar starts to melt turn flame to low.  Work out any clumps by stirring.  Once the sugar syrup is a deep amber color, remove from heat stir in butter (mixture will foam a lot but keep stirring), stream in cream as you stir, then stir in vanilla and salt.   Set aside to cool a bit.

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Level off each layer using a serrated knife.  Place your bottom layer crumb side down on a plate (put some pieces of parchment paper around the edges to get a clean frost).  Spread half the caramel in the middle of the cake.  Put second layer on top and spread with remaining caramel.  Caramel should still be warm to the touch but not pourable.  You’ll have to spread it with the wooden spoon and it will smooth out on its own (if you let it cool too much you won’t get a smooth top.  Alternatively if the caramel is too hot, it might flow over the edges, no biggie, you can cover that with icing).

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Next make frosting.  Beat half a cup of heavy cream, once it starts to form soft peaks add in sugar and vanilla.  Continue to beat until it forms firm peaks.  Frost the cake as desired.  If you plan to frost the entire thing (including the top) and decorate, double the frosting.  I only frosted the sides

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then used a piping bag with a star tip to decorate the edges to leave the caramel exposed.  Both are great, tasty options.

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If you’re ready for a big commitment (aka a full size cake), double the recipe and bake in two 8 or 9 inch cake pans.

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Either way, store this cake in the fridge until about 45 minutes before you’re ready to serve it.  Don’t come complaining to me that your caramel is too hard if you take it out of the fridge and slice it immediately.  Like all commitments, that part needs time too.

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What’s your next commitment?

Please tell me it’s this little banana cake!