Sunday, January 29, 2012

Perfect Mornings

For me, a perfect morning begins with rays of sunshine streaming through our windows.

A perfect morning is quiet and peaceful because the child remains sleeping for a bit longer.

A perfect morning involves brewing a strong pot of coffee which fills the entire house with a warm, comforting smell.

A perfect morning involves relishing a light, relaxed breakfast with the one I love - basking in the morning sunshine while talking, reminiscing, and simply enjoying his company.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, we hear the loud brawl of the newly awakened child: "MOTTHHHEEEER?"

Seeing the smiling, chubby face of our baby boy greeting us from the confines of his crib may signal the end to a perfect morning, but also the beginning of a perfect day.

Limoncello Fruit Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten

7 ounces Greek Yogurt
1/3 cup lemon curd (I had some leftover homemade curd in the freezer)
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries
1 sliced banana
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Limoncello Liqueur

Whisk together the yogurt, lemon curd, honey, and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.

Toss together the fruit, sugar, and Limoncello. Let stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes. Gently fold in the banana.

Split the fruit between serving bowls and top with a generous portion of the yogurt! Enjoy!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Earl Grey Chocolate Mousse Cake for My Guy

Last week was Paul's birthday.

Coincidentally, last week I was also not feeling well.

Paul has been shafted in the birthday department multiple times. Although he certainly does not view it that way, I feel very guilty that three out of the four birthdays we have celebrated together as a married couple, I have been out of commission all together. And he really is such a great guy and very sweet to me all year round...I believe no one is more deserving of a great birthday than my Paul.

Year One: We had just suffered our first miscarriage and we both were in pretty bad shape emotionally. We celebrated, but the overall tone was quiet and somber.

Year Two: I was in labor all day long with Mr. Matthew (that's my son, not my boyfriend on the side). We headed into the hospital that evening and he was born the next morning. We did a cake and all that but it really does take something out of it when the wife has to pause during the singing of "The Birthday Song" because she is having a pretty intense contraction. Again, Paul did not care and was actually hoping that Matthew would be born on his birthday, but I felt guilty.

Year Three: I made an awesome steak dinner and a delicious Chocolate-Raspberry cake. Finally. A normal birthday celebration.

This Year: Once again, I was physically recovering from the loss of another child to miscarriage. We had a minor celebration, but I did not have the energy to make Paul a cake.

Today, I am going to remedy the situation.

Paul does not know it, but I am going to have a special dinner of Pork Tinga Tostadas (one of his favorite dishes), homemade refried beans, guacamole, and chips.

And then we are going to have a proper birthday cake, complete with trick candles.

For the cake, I decided to attempt a cake that Paul and I shared while on a date in Helena, MT. We split a dessert that came from one of the local bakeries. It was a delicious chocolate cake infused with Earl Grey tea and filled with a delicious, silky Earl Grey chocolate mousse. The whole thing was then glazed with a dark chocolate ganache.


I am not a fan of Earl Grey tea, but the slight essence of the tea leaves in both the mousse and the cake really did elevate to an ethereal level. We tried that cake almost two years ago, and Paul still talks about it on a regular basis. Recreating that cake would be a wonderful treat for him.

For the cake layers, I settled on using my go-to devil's food recipe from King Arthur Flour. The layers are moist, light and sturdy enough to support a rich layer of mousse. To infuse it with Earl Grey tea, I simply would combine the 1 cup of boiling water required by the recipe with 6 tea bags, letting it steep for approximately 5 minutes before removing the bags, bringing the tea back to a boil, and then using it as directed.

For the chocolate mousse, I picked a recipe from Cooks illustrated. Again, I infused the water necessary in the recipe with a couple bags of Earl Grey, let the tea cool to room temperature, and then proceeded with the recipe as written.

I really ran out of time when it came to assembling the cake. I made the cake layers and had them chilling in the freezer so they would be easier to slice into layers and then went out to run a couple of errands. While at Walgreens picking up some photos, I locked my keys inside the car. I have a history of doing this in the past. When Matthew was 6 months old, I locked my keys AND my baby in the car on a hot, sweltering, 100-degree summer day.

Worst. Mother. Ever.

Anyway, I stupidly imprisoned my keys again and immediately called in the troops to rescue me. Paul came over from GE to unlock the car with the spare...only to realize that the spare we had that we thought was to my Camry actually belonged to the other car. Then we made the call to Geico for a little roadside assistance and, after waiting about an hour for the guy to show up, we were finally able to finish our errands and make it home. The whole ordeal set us back about two hours. So, I had to RUSH to assemble the cake. I wanted it to be a surprise for Paul and he was literally 10 minutes from the house when I tried to slice the layers, spread with the mousse, and then decorate with ganache. As a result, I did a truly pitiful job. I spread about 2/3 of the mousse on one layer, leaving a pathetically meager amount for the second layer. And my decorating job with the ganache was simply sad.

The husband, however, did not seem to care. He wanted to devour it.

So did Matthew. He was downright forceful about the whole matter!

As far as the flavor, Paul thought the cake was spot on from what he could remember. That made my day. Next time I make this, though, I will try to put a little more care and precision into the assembly and decorating.

And this weekend, Paul and I are going to a locksmith to make a copy of our car key.

Earl Grey Chocolate Mousse Cake

For the cake layers:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups white sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup boiling water
6 Earl Grey tea bags
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Grease and flour two 8" round by 2" deep cake pans. Sift together or whisk the dry ingredients through a strainer into a large mixing bowl.
Combine the boiling water and the tea bags. Let stand five minutes, then remove the bags and return the water to a boil.
Combine the oil, buttermilk, boiling water and vanilla in a medium bowl or large measuring cup. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix on medium speed for another 2 minutes or until smooth.
Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Let cool completely on a wire rack, then turn out of pans and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for at least 1 hour before assembling the cake.

For the Mousse:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
6 tablespoons water, infused with 1 bag of Earl Grey tea for 5 minutes
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons

Melt chocolate, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and earl grey-infused water in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from heat.
Whisk egg yolks, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, and salt in medium bowl until mixture lightens in color and thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Pour melted chocolate into egg mixture and whisk until combined. Let cool until just warmer than room temperature, 3 to 5 minutes.
In bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute. Detach whisk and bowl from mixer and whisk last few strokes by hand, making sure to scrape any unbeaten whites from bottom of bowl. Using whisk, stir about one-quarter of beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it; gently fold in remaining egg whites with rubber spatula until a few white streaks remain.
In now-empty bowl, whip heavy cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 15 seconds more. Using rubber spatula, fold whipped cream into mousse until no white streaks remain.

For the Ganache:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
Heat the heavy cream in the microwave until boiling (watch carefully!). Immediately pour it over the chopped chocolate and let stand for about 30 seconds before carefully whisking until smooth and glossy. Let stand at room temperature until cooled before pouring over the cake.

To Assemble the Cake:
Remove chilled cake layers and slice each layer evenly in half with a serrated knife. Place one layer on a cardboard round set on a wire rack placed in a baking sheet. Carefully spread 1/2 of the mousse evenly over the layer. Top with another cake layer and once again smooth with the remaining mousse. At this point, you may make a ring out of a strip of aluminum foil to wrap around the cake in order to keep the mousse contained within the cake layers. Top with a third cake layer and return the cake to the fridge to set for at least 1 hour before topping with the ganache (Please do not rush it like I did - the cake will turn out much more beautiful if you are patient!).
Once chilled, pour a generous portion of the ganache over the top of the cake and allow it to run down the sides. Use an offset spatula to smooth it over the tops and sides. Decorate with any remaining ganache. If you chill the leftover ganache for about 30 minutes, its texture will change to resemble the soft, silky insides of a truffle and you will be able to pipe it into pretty shapes all over the cake.
Return the assembled cake to the fridge to chill for at least 1-2 more hours before serving.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Matthew!

Our little Matthew Patrick turned 2 years old today! I can hardly believe how quickly time has passed! It seems like only yesterday we were bringing our screaming little bundle of joy home from the hospital. Now he has grown into such a sweet, busy, and always smiling little man. Paul and I are so blessed to have him as our son. Watching him grow has been such a joy for both of us!

We had a fun day with the birthday boy. Grandma Korson is in town for the week and she took Matthew and I out for lunch at Olive Garden. Matthew was so excited when his plate of chicken fingers and macaroni showed up at the table! He ate a lot for lunch - so much so that he barely touched his dinner.

We enjoyed dancing to the Animal Alphabet all afternoon while taking breaks to read a few books. When he finally tuckered out and went down for a nap, I made him some banana cupcakes and decorated them with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting. He really likes banana bread, so I figured he would love these cupcakes.

When Paul came home, we had dinner and then proceeded to open gifts. Matthew loves unwrapping things. He takes it very seriously.

He received a new fork and knife set from Grandma Korson, a few sweaters from Paul and I (he really did not seem to thrilled about those), and a tool set from his Godparents. He was super excited about that last gift - especially the toy drill!

When it came time for cake, Matthew was super pumped during the traditional singing of "The Birthday Song." He tried as hard as he could to blow all the candles out. I was a little afraid that he would pass out from the effort of blowing so hard, but he managed to remain steady thanks to a little help from Grandma.

However, when his cupcake was placed in front of him, he refused to touch it. He would not take a single bite. I have to admit, my heart broke a little. I had tried so hard to make a cake flavor that I thought he would enjoy but he just was not in the mood for cake. He wanted to go play with his new drill some more.

Oh well, more for the rest of us.

These are super delicious! A light, fluffy banana-flavored cake covered with a soft, creamy cinnamon-kissed frosting. If you have a few ugly, blackened bananas laying around, this would be the perfect way to use them up!

Banana Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cupcakes:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
2 large, ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional - I personally LOVE them)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the butter and the sugar. Beat with a hand-held mixer until combined. Add the sour cream and the vanilla extract. Slowly beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Incorporate the dry mixture and wet mixtures together until thoroughly combined. Add the bananas and walnuts, being careful not to over mix. Using an ice cream scoop, fill each cupcake liner 3/4 way full. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops turn golden-brown and when a toothpick, inserted in the middle of the cupcake, comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the oven to a wire rack and let cool before frosting.

For the Frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until very smooth. Add in the powdered sugar gradually, follwed by the cinnamon. Beat for a 5-10 minutes until very smooth and creamy. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Refrigerate with a piece of plastic wrap pressed against the top of the frosting until ready to use.

Monday, January 16, 2012

We're Back!

We are back from our epic trip to Montana! We had a wonderful time visiting with our family and enjoying the beautiful snow-kissed mountain landscape. Matthew absolutely loved all the attention he received from his aunts, uncles, and grandparents, complete with a birthday celebration this past Saturday. I cannot believe that I did not take more pictures while we were out there. The picture above of Matthew playing at the piano with his Uncle Andrew is the sole image from our camera proving that we did in fact spend a couple weeks in Montana. I really need to get better with the camera.

One of the highlights of the trip was watching an injured bobcat go to town on a severed buffalo head in the backyard while waiting for a couple of guys from the Department of the Conservation of Natural Resources to show up. When their clumsy capture methods caused the bobcat to flee, several of us donned our winter gear and grabbed a couple of guns and a few machetes and headed out in search of the beast ourselves. Sadly, our displays of bravery and bravado were unsuccessful and the cat never returned to finish off the rest of its snack.

It is always difficult to say goodbye to our Montana family, but at least this time our separation will be much shorter than last time. Paul's beautiful younger sister is getting married this summer and we are all very much looking forward to traveling back for the wedding.

When we returned to Erie, the weather was extremely cold, blustery, and snowy. On top of that, we had turned our thermostat down while we were gone and our home was as cold as an iceberg when we arrived. We wore our winter coats inside for most of the day. At least the decision for what to make for dinner was easy - a warm, satisfying soup!

This vegetable soup is quick, simple, and extremely filling. Chopped vegetables are sauteed with a few aromatics before being allowed to simmer in a thyme-scented broth until tender. The soup is then transferred to a blender where it transforms into a creamy bisque-like consistency. With the addition of just a touch of cream and a quick warm-up on the stove top, this soup is a favorite winter dinner around our home. This time around, we topped each serving with some homemade croutons (made from a cubed loaf of Italian Herb Bread that we picked up from our favorite Helena bakery).

Matthew had scrambled eggs. And some of the croutons. I'm starting to get sick of his picky eater stage.

Creamy Vegetable Soup
Adapted slightly from

This soup can be refrigerated up to 3 days and kept in the freezer for up to 3 months. For a vegetarian version of this soup, replace chicken stock with vegetable stock.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound carrots, peeled, 1/2-inch dice

1 large onion, 1/2-inch dice

4 celery sticks, 1/2-inch dice

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, 1/2-inch dice

4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved

3 cups chicken stock

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)

1/4 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil. Add carrots, onions, celery and 1/2 teaspoon of salt; cook 10 minutes until softened.

Add potatoes and garlic halves and cook 5 minutes.

Pour in chicken stock then add bay leaves and thyme. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook 15 minutes until potatoes can be pierced with a fork. Remove bay leaves and thyme stems then puree soup using a blender. Be sure to cover the top of your blender with a kitchen towel and hold the lid tightly so you do not end up with any explosions.

Return to your pot and add the cream and red pepper flakes. Gently reheat and adjusts seasoning to taste.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

I cannot believe that 2012 is already 3 days old! It seems that each year of my life goes by much quicker than the previous one. At the same time, I have never been happier than I am now. I have a wonderful husband, a marvelously mischievous little boy, a comfortable home, a loving extended family, and a great group of close friends. As we said goodbye to 2011, Paul and I reflected on all that had happened over the past year and could not help but feel so incredibly blessed. We look forward to all the adventures that God has in store for our little family in this upcoming year!

Our Christmas Day festivities were a little interrupted this year by illness. As I have mentioned earlier, our whole family (well, minus Matthew) was attacked by a horrible bug that just continued to linger and fester for most of December! Poor Paul could not seem to get rid of his nasty cough and was also suffering from some debilitating headaches. Shortly before Christmas, he decided to make an appointment with our family doctor. I took Matthew to run some errands while he went to the appointment. Upon arriving home, I found Paul sitting at our kitchen table with a large glass of water staring at seven various bottles and vials all lined up in a row. Apparently, he only had a sinus infection but was instructed to take additional medication to treat the symptoms of lethargy and head pain. Unfortunately, the compound effect of all the drugs made him quite giggly and silly. I was making the beds upstairs and could hear him chuckling to himself in the kitchen. It was slightly disturbing. At least he was happy and feeling better - and it did make him quite jolly on Christmas morning.

We attended midnight mass, a Christmas tradition for both of our families. We put Matthew down like normal around 8pm on Christmas eve and then woke him around 11:30pm, stuffed him into a suit, and then wrestled him into his car seat. He screamed so loud that we began to doubt our sanity for choosing such a late Mass time. Nevertheless, we persevered and arrived at Mass right on time. Matthew ended up cheering up once he saw how beautiful the Church looked adorned with all the Christmas ornaments. He was very quiet for 95% of the Mass, choosing to issue a bloodcurdling scream in the middle of the consecration because he pinned his foot between the kneeler and the pew. At the very end of Mass, the priest asked the congregation to reflect for a few moments on the true meaning of Christmas. Of course, Matthew chose that time to begin chatting animatedly about the lit Christmas tree behind our pew. Paul and I immediately began stuffing Cheerios into his mouth to keep him quiet. Crisis averted!

After returning home from Mass, we enjoyed a toast of eggnog and a few Christmas cookies before shuffling off to bed. Paul and I could not quite fall asleep, so we simply chatted and enjoyed one another's company by our beautiful Christmas tree until about 4:00am.

This proved to be a huge mistake in the morning.

Paul and I were both so tired when Matthew started chanting from his crib around half past seven, that we almost took a tumble down the stairs. Once Matthew saw the presents under the tree, he was so excited that we both immediately perked up. The mug of coffee did not hurt either.

Matthew was sweet about each and every one of his gifts. He would carefully unwrap each toy and play with it for a while before moving on to the next gift. We actually did not completely finish unwrapping his gifts until that evening because he would take such long play breaks between gifts. He did love his coffeemaker. He's been violently pouring us coffee every 10 minutes ever since.

He even took a nap with it when he finally tuckered out...

My favorite gift this Christmas? Kind of dorky, but I really wanted one...

A scale for my kitchen! Paul actually ordered me the exact same scale that I used to use in the chemistry labs. Super, super precise! It really is...we performed a few experiments to test it.

The recipe I am going to share with you is a Christmas Eve tradition for Paul and I. We always make this hot crab dip in between our other preparations that day. My Mom used to make a crab dip appetizer before Thanksgiving that I used to love. This particular recipe actually belongs to Paul and I. A couple years ago, we made a list of flavors and seasonings that we liked with crab (while eating snow crab legs) and added them to taste to a basic dip base. If you are not an Old Bay lover, you can definitely reduce the amount you add to the cream cheese. Paul and I are really big fans of the spiciness. This recipe makes a lot of dip, but the leftovers are just as marvelous so we always make a full batch! Unfortunately, it does not photograph well - but trust me, it really is quite tasty!

Hot Crab Dip
A Nistler Family Original

1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, chopped fine
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. sour cream
2 tablespoons mayo
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 pound lump crabmeat (claw meat if possible - We get ours from GFS)
3 dashes of hot sauce (we like Frank's)
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and saute until tender (1 minute). Add the dried parsley to the shallots and cook an additional 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, mayo, lemon juice, Worcestershire, mustard, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the shredded cheese. Mix until smooth. Fold in the crabmeat, hot sauce, shallots, and 2 tablespoons of Old Bay.

Transfer to a baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly.

Sprinkle with chopped green onions and serve hot with toasted baguette slices and crackers.