Thursday Thoughts #21

Thursday Thoughts

My mom has been dying to do the “touristy” things ever since we moved out to SoCal one year ago.

The idea of driving around to look at famous people’s homes on a giant bus doesn’t appeal to me too much, but I’ll do it with her eventually. Before we leave this duty station anyway.

Update: I’ve been corrected. Mom wants to do a Studio Tour, not a bus tour. (Phew!) I don’t think kids are allowed on studio tours so that will be logistically more challenging to arrange. 

Seeing the Hollywood Stars might be kinda cool, if it weren’t just so darn crowded, and from what I hear, dirty. But again, I’ll make that trek with her. Maybe the next visit, Mom.

Seeing the Hollywood sign was a little more doable and an excursion I was simply waiting for the right time to do it. I did a tiny bit of research and asked a couple of friends if they’d gone with children.

So when my mom was here last week, off we went to Griffith Observatory to catch a glimpse of the iconic Hollywood sign.

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Finding information about the sign was easy. A quick browser search came up with this incredible website where we found great information regarding trail options based on your difficulty desire.

Reading that the trails run through snake territory, I knew that I wanted to be in long pants (in addition to closed toed shoes). My mind had me picturing narrow trails with a lot of foliage where snakes could take shelter.

Maybe the more strenuous paths would be that way, but the easy path we took at the Charlie Turner Trailhead was fairly smooth and quite wide. Strollers would have been easy enough to use on the path, too. A bit of a push uphill, but definitely doable.

There’s zero shade on the trails so be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and hats.

But wait, Lauren, your kids aren’t wearing hats in any of these pictures!

You’re right, they’re not. Both of my boys have hated hats since the beginning of their time. We swore when Treat came around we would get him to like hats being a winter baby in Ohio. No such luck. There might be hope in our future though! We gave them baseball caps at the LA Galaxy game last weekend and Firecracker liked it and Treat was iffy on it, but it did last longer than any other thing that’d been placed on his head in the previous 17 months!

I am quite glad I took the opportunity to check out the Hollywood sign this spring. I couldn’t imagine doing this hike in the summer. At least not with little children. I immediately regretted putting them in pants.

IMG_3085We spent about two hours on the trail. We didn’t get too far in that first hour going at the pace of a 17 month old, but we did make it to a great viewing area before turning around.

The kids were a little bit all over the place. Want to know how to get kids to keep moving when all they want to do is play in the dirt? Goldfish!

IMG_3114We had packed a lunch and enjoyed it at the Berlin Forest. An area with a few trees providing shade and a couple of picnic tables and benches. As it’s near the start of the trail, we left the “picnic basket” in the car and it was simple enough for my mom to get some “extra steps” down to the car to bring up our lunch (and the stroller!).

Mentioning the car brings me to my next point.

Parking.

The website I referenced earlier stated that parking at the observatory was free. Maybe it was at one point, but it isn’t still. It costs $4/hr and you have to pre-pay.

There’s plenty of free parking available further down the mountain, but as we really weren’t sure where we were going we opted for convenience. With the kids, it was definitely a good idea!

The parking lot as a splendid view of the sign, so if that’s all you’re really after, just do a drive by. (See the first photo of this post.)

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#Muffin Monday: Graham Cracker Muffins with Carrots and Raisins

fb5cd-muffin2bmonday2bcropIt’s time for another Monday filled with muffins!

#MuffinMonday is a group of muffin loving bakers who get together once a month to bake muffins to brighten their Mondays. There isn’t a theme to #MuffinMonday posts so anything goes, as long as it’s a muffin! (A big thank you to Kelly of Passion Kneaded for helping organize everything this month.)

You can see all our of lovely muffins by following our Pinterest board. Updated links for all of our past events and more information about Muffin Monday can be found on our home page.

Today’s muffin post was really supposed to be shared with another fun blogging group, Crazy Ingredient Challenge. This month’s ingredients were Graham Crackers and Carrots. I had all intentions to post with the group on the 20th but it never happened. (To see everyone else’s carrot & graham cracker combinations click here: 

My break from blogging over Easter weekend lasted into the week. My husband was out of town for work but my mom came to visit. And we had a blast! Instead of blogging at night, we were catching up on Once Upon a Time eating snacks and drinking mimosas. During the day we ventured to see the Hollywood Sign (I’ll probably do an entire blog post about our experience) and went to the Palos Verdes Lighthouse where we saw a whale! Firecracker and I had another preschool tour, too.

So, we made these muffins ON the 20th before heading to the lighthouse. We were out all day and there weren’t enough minutes left to my day to photograph, write, and post before the 20th was over on the east coast. So… I’m sharing it with Muffin Monday instead!

CIC-headerBut you know what, maybe my doing so will help pique someone’s interest about CIC? Join us!

These muffins are probably not healthy – even though they do have some fruits and veggies mixed right in. They are deliciously moist and full of flavor, though.

Graham Cracker Muffins with Carrots and Raisins

Ingredients:

  • 9 graham crackers, divided use
  • 2 1/4 C flour, divided use
  • ½ C sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/3 C canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ C shredded carrot
  • ½ C raisins
  • ¼ C brown sugar
  • ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line 15 standard size muffin cups with liners.
  2. Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until they’re crumbs.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 C flour, 1 C of the graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oil, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Fold in the shredded carrot and raisins.
  5. Fill prepared muffin tins 2/3 of the way with batter.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining flour, ¼ C graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. Stir in the melted butter until crumbly. Top the muffins.
  7. Bake 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out cleanly.

*This recipe is adapted from HowSweetEats at http://tastykitchen.com/blog/2012/07/graham-cracker-chocolate-chip-muffins/*

Graham Cracker Muffins with Carrots and Raisins for #MuffinMonday and #CrazyIngredientChallenge

And don’t forget to check out these other muffin recipes:

Buttersquash Muffins by Karen’s Kitchen Stories

Lemon Crumb Muffins by Making Miracles

Strawberry Orange Muffins by A Day in the Life in the Farm

#FantasticalFoodFight: BLT

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I took a bit of a break from blogging over the Easter holiday. But I’m back and ready for a food fight!

Blog-oshper-ically speaking of course. Don’t you dare throw food around my house. You’ll get a glaring look, scolding, and slap on the hand. Just ask my 17 month old. Not that any of those punishments seem to work. Who wants to give us advice on how to get the child to STOP THROWING HIS FOOD ON THE FLOOR!?

This month’s Food Fight is BLT. Recipe requirements were to share a sandwich that contains bacon, a green leafy veggie, and tomato.

With it being the Easter season, I immediately thought of trying to make egg salad with our colored eggs. My mini me loved helping peel the eggs.

 

This year was the first we colored eggs with our children and I am so incredibly, words cannot express how happy I am that they loved it! My husband had the genius idea to color eggs outside and it’s a good thing we did! Treat just kept wanting to drop eggs into the mugs of dyed water. The concept of being gentle is completely lost on him. The result of the splash the eggs into the water method was a dark puddle of water on the tray holding the mugs of dye.

I’m on the trend of starting to like eggs and I’m happy to report that I quite liked this egg salad. I’m confident it’s the yellow mustard that makes me enjoy it so. Putting egg salad on a BLT is probably the best way to eat it, too! The crunch from the bacon and the freshness from the tomato create the perfect bite.

This recipe makes 4-6 sandwiches.

Egg Salad BLT Sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 9 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb center cut bacon, cooked
  • 8 slices sourdough bread, toasted
  • 2 vine ripened tomatoes
  • 4 leaves romaine hearts

Steps:

  1. Make egg salad: In a bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, paparika, and onion powder. Season to tastes with S+P. Fold in the chopped eggs.
  2. Assemble sandwiches: Spoon egg salad onto a slice of bread. Top with 2-3 slices tomato, 3-4 slices bacon, and one lettuce leaf. Add a second slice of toasted bread. Cut in half and serve.

*The egg salad recipe is adapted from Heather at http://missfrugalmommy.com/easy-egg-salad-recipe/*

Egg Salad BLT for #FantasticalFoodFight from Sew You Think You Can Cook

To check out the other Fantastical BLT sandwiches click here:

If you would like to join our Fantastical Food Fight, you can learn more on our informational page.

Carrot Cake Energy Balls #EasterRecipes

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Today is my last post as part of the Easter Week with “Holiday Fun with our Blogging Friends.” This week, 13 bloggers are sharing 46 recipes and tips to help you serve up deliciousness this Easter. Follow #EasterRecipes on social media to see what we’re serving up! I’ll be taking the Holy Weekend off from my computer and spending it with my family and friends.

Our brunch menu consists of those Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls I shared with you yesterday, eggs, and bacon. Our dinner menu will be my Parmesan Pork Tenderloin, a corn and green bean casserole from one of my cookbooks, and some crescent rolls on the side. For dessert, as is tradition, I’ll be making my grandmother’s Easter Pound Cake in her lamb mold.

To round out my carrot cake related offerings this week I provide you with a healthy option. These energy balls even qualify as raw vegan (assuming you leave off the drizzle of cream cheese icing)!

If you love carrot cake, you absolutely must stop everything you’re doing and make these energy balls. You won’t feel guilty in the slightest indulging in a couple.

Firecracker helped me make them – aka he dumped ingredients into and pushed the buttons on the food processor – so he knew there were a bunch of carrots in these treats. Even if I called it a cookie he wouldn’t actually try a bite.

Treat on the other hand, inhaled two of them with his lunch! He had two more of the bunch later in the week, too.

I brought them to Bible study, as I knew one of the moms follows a raw vegan diet. I brought that Caramel Apple Dip as planned, but as we’d made these carrot cake bites the day before, the lightbulb went off and I knew I had to leave cream cheese icing off half of them. They were greatly approved and appreciated.

You can customize these balls to suit your tastes, too. Use any nut you like and any nut or seed butter in your pantry. I actually used a honey sunflower butter!

Carrot Cake Energy  Balls

Ingredients:

  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 6 Medjool dates, pitted and halved
  • 1/2 C pecans
  • 1 tbsp sunflower butter
  • 1 C quick oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • cream cheese icing (optional)

Steps:

  1. Pulse carrots in a food processor until finely shredded. Remove and set aside.
  2. Place the dates and pecans in the food processor and pulse until combined. Return the carrots to the food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse until the mixture starts to come together.
  3. Form into balls. If the mixture is too thin, add a little more oats; if it’s too dry, add a little extra sunflower butter.
  4. Optional: Thin out the icing with milk. Drizzle over the energy balls.
  5. Store in refrigerator up to a week.

*This recipe is adapted from http://www.superhealthykids.com/no-bake-carrot-cake-bites/*

Carrot Cake Energy Balls | Sew You Think You Can Cook | #EasterRecipes

Be sure to check out these other Easter recipes:

Baked Eggs with Tomatoes by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Hot Cross Buns by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

Classic Peanut Butter Confetti Bars by Making the Most of Naptime

Easter Muddy Buddies by Family Around The Table

Honey Cinnamon Quick Bread by Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Linda’s Famous Carrot Cake by Cooking With Carlee

Mini Easter Cheesecake Bites by Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks

In case you missed them, here are the #EasterRecipes from the first half of the week:

Monday

Deviled Ham Bites by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

30 Minute Dinner Rolls by Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Easy Pecan Sticky Buns by Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

Easy Citrus Ham by Jolene’s Recipe Journal

Sausage and Vegetable Strata by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus With Lemon Herb Sauce by Tip Garden

Strawberry “Carrots” by Family Around The Table

Easter Malted Milk Dip by Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks

Sharadan’s Lemon Blueberry Parfaits by Cooking With Carlee

Easter Egg Cooking and Dyeing Tips and Tricks by Palatable Pastime

Tuesday

Italian Easter Bread by Palatable Pastime

Carrot Cake Pancakes by Sew You Think You Can Cook

Torta Salata Pasquale by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Dill Roasted Radishes by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

Roasted Parmesan Asparagus by Family Around The Table

Praying Arm Pretzels by Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Creamy Coconut Mini Tarts by Making the Most of Naptime

Wednesday

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls by Sew You Think You Can Cook

Cinnamon Crescent Rolls by Tip Garden

Individual Easter Breads by Cooking With Carlee

Tomato Asparagus Quiche by Caroline’s Cooking

Peeps Whoopie Pies by Palatable Pastime

Rosemary Garlic Herb Rib Roast by Family Around The Table

Honey butter Peas and Carrots by Jolene’s Recipe Journal

Pea and Pasta Salad by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

Roasted Eggplant Salad by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls #EasterRecipes

What do you do when you can’t sleep?

Do you just toss and turn, stare at the dark ceiling and hope for rest to return?

Well, today (yesterday) I decided to do something productive with my restlessness. Maybe I’ll be regretting that later, but I was tired of feeling like I was keeping the hubs awake. (Pun unintended.)

So what did I do?

Wash dishes.

Everyone washes dishes at 2am, right?!

I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep. I have a slight head cold, but it’s nothing to write home about. (Hopefully this “just wake up” decision doesn’t come back to bite me with that cold. I’m off to get some Nyquil tomorrow!) I keep having these parenting dreams that seem all too real, involving unplanned pregnancy and horrible mothering.

I think the real culprit has something to do with the first of three preschool tours lined up this month in the morning. All yesterday, while he was playing with his trains and talking up a storm, I just looked at him and thought, “When did you get so big?”

We aren’t looking to start Firecracker in school until the Fall – he’ll be 3 and {hopefully} potty trained by then. He is definitely interested in going to school. My boy is such a social butterfly, it’s just something we need to do for him. He’ll be attending VBS at our church this summer, so it’ll be a great test! (Yep, typing that reminded me to go register him now. Look at all of the productive things one can get done in the 2 o’clock hour!)

Who knew picking a preschool would be such a big decision!? I have a spreadsheet on my computer with our top choices, breaking down stats, including the insane cost that is preschool. We’re only considering 2 or 3 times a week, and half days. Yikes!

Maybe typing out these thoughts will help calm my mind and I’ll be able to go back to sleep soon. Odds are I’m going to end up asleep on the couch, computer in lap!

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Absolutely none of that intro story has to do with the Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls I’m sharing with today’s Holiday Fun with our Blogging Friends group. Except that I have to write this post and might as well do it at 2:45 in the morning, right? That way I don’t have to pull out my computer during playtime with my growing boys!

This week, 13 bloggers are sharing 46 recipes and tips to help you serve up deliciousness this Easter. Follow #EasterRecipes on social media to see what we’re serving up!

Yesterday, I shared Carrot Cake Pancakes that came with a confused maple cream cheese topping. All of that leftover maple mixture didn’t go to waste. I simply made cinnamon rolls the next day! Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls, of course.

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 C warm water
  • 3 tbsp room temperature butter
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 – 4 C flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tbsp salt

Ingredients for filling:

  • 4 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1/2 C raisins
  • 1/2 C chopped walnuts

Ingredients for frosting:

  • 1 block (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 C real maple syrup

Steps:

  1. Stir yeast into the warm water. Let bloom for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat butter, sugar, and salt. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined. Slowly pour in the yeast and water. Beat until combined. Add the flour about one cup at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Once the dough starts to form switch to the dough hook attachment. After all the flour has been added knead the dough for 3 minutes.
  3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until smooth.
  4. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise to double in size (about 30 minutes) in a warm place. (In the microwave or turned off oven)
  5. Roll out dough onto a floured surface.
  6. Roll into a rectangle. Spread the dough evenly with the softened butter. In a small bowl whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Sprinkle the mixture over the dough. Add the grated carrot, raisins, and walnuts, pressing into the dough slightly. Roll the dough into a log, lengthwise. Cut the dough into 2″ cinnamon rolls. Place cut side down in a 9×13 casserole dish.
  7. Cover dough with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes before baking. The rolls should have doubled in size again. (Or you can freeze the rolls and after thawing let rise until doubled in size.)
  8. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake another 7 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool, slightly.
  9. Meanwhile, make frosting. Using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and syrup. Frost the cinnamon rolls!

Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls Sew You Think You Can Cook #EasterRecipes

Be sure to check out these other Easter Recipes:

Cinnamon Crescent Rolls by Tip Garden

Individual Easter Breads by Cooking With Carlee

Tomato Asparagus Quiche by Caroline’s Cooking

Peeps Whoopie Pies by Palatable Pastime

Rosemary Garlic Herb Rib Roast by Family Around The Table

Honey butter Peas and Carrots by Jolene’s Recipe Journal

Pea and Pasta Salad by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

Roasted Eggplant Salad by A Day in the Life on the Farm

In case you missed them, here are the recipes from Monday and Tuesday:

Monday

Deviled Ham Bites by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

30 Minute Dinner Rolls by Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Easy Pecan Sticky Buns by Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

Easy Citrus Ham by Jolene’s Recipe Journal

Sausage and Vegetable Strata by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus With Lemon Herb Sauce by Tip Garden

Dipped Strawberry Carrots by Family Around The Table

Easter Malted Milk Dip by Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks

Sharadan’s Lemon Blueberry Parfaits by Cooking With Carlee

Easter Egg Cooking and Dyeing Tips and Tricks by Palatable Pastime

Tuesday

Italian Easter Bread by Palatable Pastime

Carrot Cake Pancakes by Sew You Think You Can Cook

Torta Salata Pasquale by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Dill Roasted Radishes by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

Roasted Parmesan Asparagus by Family Around The Table

Praying Arm Pretzels by Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Creamy Coconut Mini Tarts by Making the Most of Naptime

Carrot Cake Pancakes #EasterRecipes

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I’ve recently discovered a blogging group who goes by “Holiday Fun with our Blogging Friends” and they do themed events or even themed weeks around holidays. How could I not join the fun!?

This week, 13 bloggers are sharing 46 recipes and tips to help you serve up deliciousness this Easter. Follow #EasterRecipes on social media to see what we’re serving up!

I’d already planned to do a week of carrot cake inspired recipes and figured, why not?!

I didn’t link yesterday’s Cocoa Carrot Cake in with the group because it was more of a cookbook review and even though it wasn’t a sponsored post, I didn’t know if it’d be allowed in the scope of the event.

Today I’m sharing Carrot Cake Pancakes from our favorite brunch cookbook Brunch at Bobby’s.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

We’ve made these pancakes twice. And twice I had issues with the cream cheese maple syrup. I’m sorry, Bobby, but I think there’s a typo with your recipe. Even a full block of cream cheese and a cup of maple syrup did not look like the thick syrup in that beautiful full page photograph accompanying the recipes. And I had a ton of this glaze-type sauce left over, which I used for cinnamon rolls (recipe tomorrow, so stay tuned!).

I would highly suggest starting with half a block of softened cream cheese, a hand mixer, and adding maple syrup until the consistency and flavor profile meets your preferences. Next time I make these pancakes, I’ll take my advice and update the recipe with the ratio that worked best for us.  (**)

Carrot Cake Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 C shredded carrots
  • 1/4 C chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1/8 C crystalized ginger, chopped
  • 3 oz cream cheese, at room temperature**
  • 1 C real maple syrup**

Steps:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, zest, and vanilla. Mix in the carrots.
  3. Combine wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Fold in the walnuts and ginger.
  4. On a hot buttered griddle drop 1/4 C of batter into pancakes. Flip pancakes when batter starts to set and bubbles form in the center of the pancake. Cook until both sides are golden brown.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese and syrup until smooth. Transfer to an oven safe bowl and warm in a 250 degree F oven until easy to drizzle.**

**This cream cheese syrup recipe did not work, see my suggestion above.

*This recipe is adapted from from Brunch at Bobby’s*

Carrot Cake Pancakes #EasterRecipes Sew You Think You Can Cook

Be sure to check out these other Easter recipes, too:

Italian Easter Bread by Palatable Pastime

Torta Salata Pasquale by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Dill Roasted Radishes by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

Roasted Parmesan Asparagus by Family Around The Table

Praying Arm Pretzels by Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Creamy Coconut Mini Tarts by Making the Most of Naptime

And here are the recipes from Monday:

Deviled Ham Bites by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures

30 Minute Dinner Rolls by Amy’s Cooking Adventures

Easy Pecan Sticky Buns by Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

Easy Citrus Ham by Jolene’s Recipe Journal

Sausage and Vegetable Strata by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus With Lemon Herb Sauce by Tip Garden

Dipped Strawberry Carrots by Family Around The Table

Easter Malted Milk Dip by Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks

Sharadan’s Lemon Blueberry Parfaits by Cooking With Carlee

Easter Egg Cooking and Dyeing Tips and Tricks by Palatable Pastime

Cocoa Carrot Cake from The Chef Next Door

Two months ago I reviewed  The Migraine Relief Plan by Stephanie Weaver and I loved the assignment of digging into a cookbook to really understand the author and explore more than one recipe at a time.

My friend, Tara of Tara’s Multicultural Table, does a lot of cookbook reviews in serious detail and so, I decided to give cookbook reviewing a trial session before jumping into it on an official scale.

I decided to take to my personal cookbook selection and review those I already own. To start off, I chose The Chef Next Door by Amanda Freitag.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

You probably know Amanda from her roles on Food Network as a judge on Chopped and a contestant in Next Iron Chef America. She is a highly talented chef and a successful restaurateur.

She opens her book with a very heartfelt introduction admitting her insecurities when it comes to cooking at home. For her, the kitchen comfort zone is her busy restaurant kitchen with a loud atmosphere, staff, and countless kitchen tools at her fingertips.

To help the reader learn to feel more comfortable in their own home kitchen, she provides tips and skills that any cook can learn to call on. Spoiler alert – none of them cost a dime.

The book is broken into 9 chapters and even has a section with menu suggestions for special occasions. Each recipe includes a miniature story including tips before the ingredient list. To really help out the home cook, Amanda has included the steps for prepping each recipe before the official list of steps on how to complete the dish. There are also photographs to accompany each recipe.

Because it’s Easter week, I’m featuring her Cocoa Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing. The frosting is incredible – cream cheese icing is usually my go-to, but her version features far less sugar than my grandmother’s and I’m sorry, Busia, but I like this cheesier alternative better. As for the cake, it’s a rich, dark cake chocked full of carrots and walnuts.

Cocoa Carrot Cake | Sew You Think You Can Cook | http://sewyouthinkyoucancook.com

This recipe will make a 10″ round cake or a 9″ round cake and 10-12 cupcakes.

Cocoa Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients for cake:

  • 2 C packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 3/4 C flour
  • 1/4 C cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 lb walnuts, chopped

Ingredients for icing:

  • 3 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 3 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 C powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cake pan with parchment paper and then grease with nonstick spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine brown sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs two at a time, mixing well.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Slowly add it to the stand mixer, mixing until combined.
  4. Fold in the carrots and walnuts.
  5. Pour batter into prepare cake pan. Bake 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out cleanly. Allow cake to cool slightly before turning out of the pan onto your hand and flipping again onto a cake stand to cool completely.
  6. Make icing: In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter with an electric hand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract, mix on low to start. Mix until smooth.
  7. Frost the cooled cake. Decorate with extra chopped walnuts, if desired.
  8. Keep in refrigerator at least an hour. Allow cake to come to room temperature before serving.

Cocoa Carrot Cake | Sew You Think You Can Cook

One of Amanda’s tips is to not be afraid to veer from the recipe. If you’re missing an ingredient, figure out something else that would work. All it takes is practice in the kitchen to become comfortable understanding the purpose of each ingredient in the recipe.

Following that advice, I made her Puerto Rican Pernil using a boneless pork shoulder and my slow cooker instead of the oven. I made Salmon with Peas, Pearl Onions, and Mint taking advantage of frozen pearl onions instead of peeling fresh ones myself. I also made Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken Thighs with Jamaican Spice, reducing the cayenne to appeal more to the little ones in my home.

The Chef Next Door cookbook review | Sew You Think You Can Cook