Thursday, May 30, 2013

Coconut Cupcakes + Homemade Buttercream Recipe

If you can't tell, I have a real passion for sweets. I also have a real passion for baking up delicious sweets for a great causes. Tonight, the high school is hosting an "Empty Bowls" fundraiser that benefits Hatteras Island Meals (our local meals on wheels program that provides a daily meal for shut-ins). They are holding a bake sale as part of the fundraiser, so I volunteered to make a batch of cupcakes. I didn't want to do the reasonable thing and play it safe with vanilla or chocolate, so I chose coconut!
I started with a Duncan Hines Coconut Supreme cake mix (yes, I cheated, and there is nothing wrong with that!). While the cupcakes were cooling, I toasted some coconut. If you've never toasted coconut before, have no fear; it's super easy! All you need to do is spread coconut flakes evenly on a baking sheet and bake them for 5-10 minutes in a 350* oven. Check on the coconut every few minutes and toss the flakes around so they don't burn. If you have unsweetened coconut and you want to sweeten it before toasting, put the coconut in a Ziploc bag, add a few teaspoons of powdered sugar, and shake to coat the flakes.

Next, I made homemade buttercream frosting and used a star tip with my frosting dispenser. Making homemade buttercream is so easy to do; it's been ages since I've bought a can of icing.

Homemade Buttercream

1 stick of butter, room temperature
3 3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2-3 tablespoons milk

In a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk (a little at a time until your desired consistency is achieved) and mix until smooth.

The last step was adding the toasted coconut as a garnish, which really upped the appearance of these cupcakes and took them to the next level.

What's your favorite treat to buy at bake sales?
I'm usually a sucker for carrot cake.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

DIY Small Hanging Lantern

Hello everyone; I hope you're all having a great week so far. Today, I want to share a do-it-yourself project that is super simple to make (and basically costs nothing to make). I'm a huge fan of creating things from materials that would have otherwise been thrown away (or in this case, dropped off at the recycling center).
I saw some steel can lanterns online and thought that they would be a great compliment to summer cookouts and parties. I can't even imagine how cool a bunch of these would look at a DIY wedding reception, painted in coordinating colors. Between all the black beans, diced tomatoes, and veggies consumed in this household, I knew I should put some of these cans to use.
I started by removing the labels, scrubbing off the glue, and washing out the cans. I then filled them with water and froze them. I read that it is much easier to make holes in the cans when they are frozen solid.

Next, we took a nail and made designs in the can. The one pictured below has a bunch of random nail holes, but you could make a star, flowers, spell out words, etc. Make sure to create two holes at the top of the can (directly across from one another) so that you can attach wire or string to hang the lanterns.

The next step is to paint the cans. I chose Valspar's Pine Green, which blends in great with the backyard. Once the paint dries, use wire, twine, hemp, or string to make a handle. Place a tea light candle inside and admire the beautiful glow!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pics From the Week

Happy Saturday, everyone! The temperature has definitely dropped here on the island, but hopefully it will warm back up in time for Memorial Day. It's been a long week and though I don't have the weekend off, I do have this evening off. We're having "date night" this evening and I can't wait for some awesome food. Hope you're all having a great weekend :)


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Easy Crock-Pot Chicken Cacciatore

I love cooking with my Crock-Pot. It's so simple: pour in the ingredients and walk away for a few hours. I saw this recipe for Quick Chicken Cacciatore over on this blog a while back and I am so glad that I finally got around to trying it out. Don't let the photo fool you- it actually tastes amazing! Food from the slow cooker is so hard to photograph :)

1 large can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes (28oz)
1 pack of chicken breasts (3 medium), washed, pat dry, and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 large sweet onion, minced
1 C fresh basil
1 t dried oregano
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt (about 1 1/2 t) and pepper (1/2 t)


Toss everything into the slow cooker (spray it first with non-stick spray if you need to) and cook for 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. My slow cooker actually cooks pretty fast, so mine was done in 3 hours.
Serve over pasta or zucchini noodles. Or just eat a bunch of homemade bread with it like I did. Oops.
How often do you cook with your slow cooker (if you have one)? Do you have a favorite slow cooker recipe?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My First Bread Machine

The first thing I bought with my graduation money was an automatic bread maker. I had been wanting one for quite some time; the only choice I had to make was which one to purchase. I decided on a Panasonic model, as it was the #1 selling bread machine on Amazon and it had pretty great reviews. The price seemed fair too! I had been eyeing a super fancy and expensive Zojirushi, but it had just as many bad reviews as the Panasonic. I decided that for a lot less money, the Panasonic machine would probably last just as long.

Now that the machine has arrived and I've already made two loaves of bread, I'm really happy with it. I really like that this model can make three different size loaves; many of the other machines out there didn't have this option. I also love that I can throw everything in the machine and program it so that I have fresh bread when 7 am wake-up rolls around. My only complaint is that I wanted to be able to choose the crust shade for the wheat bread as well as the white bread; however, it certainly is not the end of the world.

My first loaf of bread was honey-wheat. I used half unbleached bread flour and half whole wheat flour. I also halved the amount of honey to cut down on the sugar. It tasted great and had a nice crust. It didn't last long...

My second loaf was a classic white bread. For this loaf, I used only bread flour. I chose the medium crust shade for this loaf and it looked great!

Have you ever used an automatic break machine? If so, what's your favorite recipe?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Easy Pasta Salad

The weather has been so warm lately and I have summer on my mind. Summer means eating meals outside, cooking on the grill, and eating cold pasta salad on the side.I got to experience all of the above when it came time for dinner last night. Chuck grilled up some lean pork chops and I made a super simple pasta salad. We ate dinner at the picnic table and the breeze felt amazing; we couldn't have had a more perfect evening for an outdoor meal!

Easy Pasta Salad
1 box whole wheat or whole grain pasta (rotini, penne, or elbow)
1 box grape tomatoes, sliced in halves
1 large cucumber, sliced into small pieces
1 small block of cheese, cubed
1/2 a bottle of your favorite light salad dressing (I used Hidden Valley Light Ranch)
Boil pasta as directed on package, drain, and rinse with cold water.
In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, and pasta.
Add the salad dressing and coat evenly.
Keep refrigerated and serve cold.

On another note, the amaryllis has bloomed; it's so pretty. Spring is definitely one of my favorite seasons. What's your favorite thing about spring?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An Amish boy...

Happy Sunday everyone! It's a beautiful day at the beach and the island is becoming much more lively every day. Memorial Day is the official kick-off to our busy season and it's right around the corner.

As many of you know, one of my several part-time jobs is cleaning vacation rental homes. It's super fun [insert sarcasm] and usually the only surprises involved are really gross...

Although some guests do leave a tip (which is very much appreciated), most rarely leave anything behind. I found a crumpled piece of paper on a bedside table with an Amish joke written on it. I had never heard of this joke until today, and it definitely gave me a much needed laugh.

So, if you have never heard this apparently widely-known Amish joke, here's how it goes:

An Amish boy and his father were in a mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again.
The boy asked, "What is this Father?"

The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, "Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don't know what it is"

While the boy and his father were watching with amazement, a fat, old lady in a wheel chair moved up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched the small circular numbers above the walls light up sequentially. They continued to watch until it reached the last number and then the numbers began to light in the reverse order. Finally the walls opened up again and a gorgeous 24-year-old blonde stepped out.

The father said quietly to his son....."Go get your mother."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day: Part 2- Whopper Cake

My mom loves Whoppers. She'll kill me when she sees I wrote this for the whole world to see, but she can polish off a container of Whoppers like it's going out of style... Seriously!

So, when it came time to figure out what kind of cake I would be making her for Mother's Day, Whopper Cake was an obvious choice. I came across the recipe a few months ago and had it in the back of my mind ever since. I was a bit skeptical for a cake recipe that called for Cool Whip in the icing, but it actually tasted pretty good and had the Whopper flavor she loves.


1 box milk chocolate cake mix
1 1/2 cups chocolate malted milk powder, divided (I could only find the original flavor)
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tub (8 ox.) whipped topping (Cool Whip)
1 cup Whoppers, crushed


Preheat oven to 350* and spray a 13 x 9 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and coat with flour.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine cake mix with 3/4 cups malted milk powder. Add in eggs, oil, and water. Stir to combine.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 35-40 minutes (until a toothpick inserted comes out clean).

Allow cake to cool completely and make topping.

For the topping

In a medium bow, combine whipped topping with remaining malted milk powder. Stir until completely incorporated and no longer grainy.

Spread topping on top of cooled cake.

Top with crushed malted milk balls.

What is your mom's favorite dessert?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day: Part 1

My mom is very special to me. She gives so much, yet never expects anything in return. When Mother's Day rolls around each year, I try to do something extra special for her to let her know how much I care for and appreciate her.

This year, I took some of my grandmother's handwritten recipes and turned them into tea towels for one of her gifts! I had the linen-cotton fabric printed through and cut the yard of fabric into quarters (the perfect tea towel size). With the help of my amazing boyfriend, we used my sewing machine to finish off and hem the edges.

Ignore the creases/fold lines!

I thought they turned out really well! There's nothing like making your sentimental mother cry by giving her a keepsake of her mother's handwriting and recipes she grew up with.
If you'd like a full tutorial so that you can make your own custom fabric or keepsake tea towels, check out this site for some really helpful step-by-step directions.

Week Recap

Hi folks, I hope you are all enjoying your weekend. I've been busy working this week (cleaning and waiting tables), exercising, and trying to get some relaxation in. I graduated yesterday and it was a huge success! Here's a review of the week in photos...





 Happy Mother's Day to all of the moms out there!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Strawberry Ideas + Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

I'm back to share some ideas for using fresh strawberries. If you didn't already know, my parents and I picked a ton of fresh strawberries a few days ago. It's a family tradition; I've been strawberry picking since I was just a few months old!

Strawberry jam is my favorite spread and I have been eating it since I was old enough for solid food. I tried store-bought jam once (when I moved away to college), but I was very disappointed... it simply wasn't Mom's Strawberry Jam!
I don't know why I never thought of putting strawberries on a salad until recently, but it is quite heavenly. My friend Mary Beth gave me some sliced almonds, and this made the salad even more delicious. Eat it as-is or add a vinaigrette.

Strawberry shortcake is always a popular strawberry treat. We made an angel food cake and topped it with sliced strawberries and whipped cream.

One of my newest strawberry recipe ideas is strawberry ice cream. It was so simple to make and I always love being in control of what goes into it!

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream
Yields 1 1/2 quarts
1 1/2 cups diced strawberries
3 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup milk
2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla


In a small mixing bowl, combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 1/3 cup sugar. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and add the liquid from the strawberry mixture.

Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturers instructions. (Mine took about 25 minutes to freeze.) Add the strawberries in the last five minutes.

Serve ice cream immediately (it will be more like soft-serve) or pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze for several hours.

Allow ice cream to sit out for about 10 minutes before serving. Seriously, wait the 10 minutes... don't be impatient like me or it will be icy!

What's your favorite thing to do with strawberries?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Healthy Refried Black Beans

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! Despite all of the Mexican-themed dishes I have seen online and on TV lately, I kind of forgot about Cindo de Mayo when I was doing my meal planning for the week. I had already bought the ingredients to make my favorite meatloaf, so I decided to make a festive afternoon snack instead... healthy refried black beans- served as a dip with whole grain tortilla chips. Fun fact: black beans are packed with protein and fiber and have only 1 gram of fat per serving!

I prepped my crock pot and turned it to the low setting before going to work this morning. By the time I got home from my first official training run this afternoon, the house smelled amazing!


1 onion, peeled and halved
3 cups dry black beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
8 cups water


Place all of the ingredients in the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cook on high for 6-8 hours and add more water as needed. (I cooked mine on low for 6 hours and had plenty of liquid.)

Once the beans have cooked, strain them and reserve the liquid.

Mash the beans with a potato masher, adding the reserved liquid as needed to attain desired consistency.

Did you celebrate Cinco de Mayo today? If so, how?
What is your favorite Mexican dish?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Strawberry time!

My parents and I went strawberry picking today. It's something we've been doing since I was a baby and I look forward to it every year. The fresh picked berries taste better than the store bought ones and it's great when you can buy local and support your community. We ended up picking $85 worth of berries! I can't wait for some homemade strawberry jam- my favorite!

I will be posting about recipe ideas for fresh strawberries in the next few days, so stay tuned!

Beautiful flowers outside the berry field

The berries I picked