Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting

I am watching the movie Julie and Julia and Julie Powell asks this very question. So, IS there anything better than butter? When it comes to food, I am going to have to say, “no way.” Whether butter is oozing down fresh corn on the cob or being slathered on a fresh loaf of bread right out of the oven, butter adds richness and tenderness to everything. Whether it be sweet, salty or savory – chances are if it is made with better, it is going to be delicious.  And this Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting is definitely no exception.

In any event, I can’t write a blog about butter with paying tribute to my favorite, my tried and true and hands down the best frosting recipe I have ever tried. This is the recipe for my super easy buttercream frosting. Now please keep in mind that I am a frosting connoisseur. You know those kids that lick their cupcakes at birthday parties and don’t take a bite of cake. Well, I can relate to them. I love frosting – the good stuff anyways.

So please, trust me, this one is outstanding. If you have someone you want to impress I highly recommend making this buttery, creamy deliciousness! OK, here she is…

Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

Honey Roasted Peanut Butter

There is this amazing honey roasted peanut butter at Whole Foods. It is in their bulk foods section and there is this machine where you flip the switch and fresh peanuts go in and out comes fresh, honey-roasted peanut butter. I love peanut butter, but this kind is so amazingly delicious. It also happens to be something I always forget about when I am at Whole Foods. Don’t you just hate that!? During certain times of the month I have been known to make a special trip to pick some up, but with kids, the house, the pets, the husband, and just life in general, I am not always able to make a special trip when the craving calls.

Today was one such day…only instead of being at Whole Foods, I was at Trader Joe’s. Now although Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell (at least to my knowledge) honey-roasted peanut butter, they do have these scrumptious honey roasted peanuts. They are large nuts and a perfect combination of sweet and salty. I’ve seen the machine at Whole Foods take the nuts and spit out decadent peanut butter, so I thought, “How hard could it be?” Well, the answer is not hard at all. I did have to add a little canola oil to moisten the mixture a bit, which I am sure had to do with me and not the nuts, but I got a great result and something that will certainly work just as well as the Whole Foods variety when the craving strikes.

Honey Roasted Peanut Butter (yields 1/2 cup approximately)

2 cups honey roasted peanuts
1 – 2 T. canola oil

Place the peanuts into a food processor and process until as smooth as you can get it. I pulsed mine for about a minute total, stopping to make sure that the mixture that had stuck to the side of the bowl was reincorporated into the mixture. Add a tablespoon of canola oil in at a time until you reach the consistency you like.

Fluffy Hot Chocolate

I am ruined. Never again will I be able to settle for a cup of hot chocolate concocted from boiling water and some powder in a white pouch. Even the so-called gourmet varieties are no match for the frothy, delicious mug of cocoa I came across, Fluffy Hot Chocolate.

This recipe takes real marshmallows that are melted into the milk and chocolate to make it delectable and by far the best cup of hot cocoa my lips have ever tasted. I like to add a little Irish Cream in mine to give it a little something special. Some of my friends prefer Kahlua and next time I may add some Peppermint Schnapps for fun.  For the kiddos, a little peppermint extract would be great and a bit of pumpkin pie spice for all the pumpkin lovers out there.

Whether this is for you or the kids, this is one seriously delicious hot beverage. As the days get colder and more dreary try this to perk up your spirits.

Fluffy Hot Chocolate

8 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking cocoa
4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Accompaniments and garnish ideas: Whip cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, chocolate shavings, espresso, liqueurs

In a saucepan, combine the first four ingredients. Cook and stir over medium heat until the marshmallows are melted, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla and add any additional accompaniments you like.

A Perfect Donut

My weakness is homemade baked goods. I have been known to devour an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies in one day and my poor husband has come home to the smell of brownies only to find that my boys and I (mainly me though) have already devoured the entire pan. One caveat to this has always been donuts. There is an amazing local donut bakery in Seattle called Top Pot Donuts. Starbucks now serves their delicious, fried pieces of heaven and whenever I am feeling indulgent I will get one. With such great donuts and my own inability to make good ones myself, I have always turned to Top Pot and Starbucks for my donut fix. Until now…

Yesterday was a gloomy afternoon and I decided to take the challenge of making a batch of donuts with a new recipe I found. I was not disappointed. They came out of the fryer with a crisp crust and a soft, chewy interior. I was in love. I hope you fall in love with this one as well.

Yummy Donuts
(makes 1 dozen)

1 c. milk
5 t. yeast (or two packets)
1 pinch sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
½ c. warm mashed potatoes
½ t. salt
¼ c. sugar
2 T. oil

Microwave the milk for about 1 minute in the microwave. Make sure it is warm (not hot) and add the 5 teaspoons of yeast (2 packets) and a pinch of sugar and stir. Let stand for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the remaining ingredients. Add the yeast mixture and mix the dough thoroughly by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook for 3 minutes.

Prepare your kneading surface by spreading a few tablespoons of flour on a smooth surface. Put the dough in the middle of the flour and sprinkle a little flour on top and on your hands. Knead the dough a few times. Once the dough has been kneaded, spread it out to be a half inch thick with your hands or with a rolling pin.

Now it is time to cut out the donuts, you can use a donut cutter or just use something about the same size and then find something smaller to make a hole with.

Place the donuts on a floured pan to let rise as you get the oil ready. Let them rise for a total of ten minutes (it takes about five minutes for the oil to heat up).

Pour about a half inch of oil (vegetable or canola oil) into a pan or you can use an electric fry pan, which is what I used. The oil needs to be about 360 degrees. If the oil starts to smoke it is way too hot. Test the oil with some of the scraps of dough and when it is ready, cook the donuts until golden brown on each side.
Allow the donuts to cool on a rack or on some paper so that the oil soaks off.

Now, you can either sprinkle these with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar, but being the chocoholic that I am, I decided to dunk mine in some chocolate glaze. Here is the recipe for that:

Chocolate Donut Glaze

1/3 cup butter
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 – 4 T. warm water

Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan until melted, remove from heat. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Gradually stir in the water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Dip the tops of the doughnuts in the glaze.

Panini Friday

Right after the New Year begins we have a tradition. We take the boys up to Powderpigs ski school on Friday nights and while we leave teaching our little rascals to someone else, we enjoy a great night of skiing (or snowboarding) and food with some great friends.

Since we head up to the slopes around 5:30 I have been plagued with what to make my husband and kids that is healthy, delicious and portable. I can’t stomach to send them up to the slopes on McDonald’s and the guilt was getting to be too much. I had to think of something. Last Friday I reached into my cabinet to get my toaster out when I saw my Panini press. My prayers were answered – delicious, wholesome and I can add lots of protein in there. I love making Panini’s because the possibilities are endless. Different breads, meats, cheese, veggies, fruits, aioli, infused oils…I couldn’t wait!

My first pass was a roasted turkey, gruyere, apricot and chive Panini. It oozed deliciousness and judging by how my hubby devoured it on the road up skiing, it did not disappoint. Enjoy!

Turkey, Gruyere, Apricot and Chive Panini
(recipe makes one panini)

2 slices of bread (use whatever you have on hand or whatever looks great at the bakery. I used two slices of a crusty Artisan bread for this sandwich)
4 slices roasted turkey breast
1 ½ oz. gruyere cheese
1 T. apricot jam
5 chives
Olive oil
Salt and pepper


1. Heat Panini Press
2. Drizzle both sides of bread with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
3. Turn bread over and slather jam on both sides. Layer turkey, cheese and chives on one slice of bread and cover with the other.
4. Place in Panini press until golden and cheese oozes.