Strawberry Yogurt

Ben and I are yogurt-a-holics. Seriously, at any given time we have about half a shelf of our fridge full of yogurt. Tubs of plain or vanilla. Individual cartons of sundry flavors. It is insane! For awhile, I even made our own yogurt in the crockpot, then strained it out to make homemade Greek yogurt. While that stuff was good, it was time consuming and I fell out of the habit. But our other habit [buying a bazillion flavors at the store] is expensive. What’s a girl to do? Make my own toppings, of course!

Strawberry Yogurt | thepajamachef.com

Back in the days of homemade yogurt I purchased multiple flavors of jam to stir into homemade yogurt. That was easy, but pricy, and took up tons of valuable fridge space. This time, I had some frozen fruit for smoothies and made up a quick strawberry puree with just a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Hardly a recipe, yobut this sauce is a perfect addition to those store bought tubs of plain yogurt and I thought some of you may enjoy it too! Lately I’ve been prepping mason jars of strawberry yogurt on the weekend and enjoying them at work all week long. For an extra treat, add some homemade granola or a few mini chocolate chips! Yum!

one year ago: Cumin-Scented Cabbage Salad
two years ago: Extraordinary Grilled Cheese
three years ago: The Best Egg Salad I’ve Ever Had

Strawberry Yogurt
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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 32 ounces plain yogurt [regular or greek]

Directions:

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to let berries defrost, then set over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar melts and berries begin to break down. Gently break larger berries apart with a wooden spoon. Pour into a small bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, divide yogurt between 6 containers [1 cup/8 ounces each]. When strawberry sauce has cooled, top yogurt with 2-3 tablespoons strawberry sauce. You may have a little sauce leftover. Cover and refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

Time: 60 minutes [10 minutes active].
Yield: 6 servings yogurt, approximately 1 cup strawberry sauce.

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Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

My mom’s birthday is three days after Christmas, so sometimes she will have a birthday cake at an odd time of the year to alleviate the typical post-holiday sugar rush. Last summer, in July, I made her an all-natural flop of a red velvet cake. This year, I decided to make an over the top yummy lemon cake and surprised her with it on my parents’ recent visit to see us. She was certainly surprised with the cake, and I was too with the ease this cake was to make. I mean, it has a long name and certainly looks complicated. Though there are many steps, it’s well worth it and really not that time consuming as long as you plan ahead.

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting | The Pajama Chef

First, let’s talk about the cake. Ohhh the cake! It’s a little hard to tell from the pictures, but this is a FOUR layer cake! [it was a very sunny day when I made this cake, and just couldn't wait to take pictures, so they are a little too bright for my liking.] I made the cake in two cake pans, then split each down the middle after they were cooled so I had four thin layers. In between, I filled the cake with lemon curd and vanilla cream cheese frosting. So yum!

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting | The Pajama Chef

This lemon cake recipe is definitely a winner. It has the classic 1-2-3-4 ingredient ratio for cakes: 1 pound butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, and 4 eggs. I amped it up with a bit more lemon zest than it called for, so the cake itself was perfectly tart and sweet at the same time. The texture of this cake was definitely moist, but was almost spongier than your average, everyday cake. This was the perfectly pairing to the smooth lemon curd filling that I used.

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting | The Pajama Chef

If you’ve never made lemon curd before, don’t worry. It’s super easy, and very inexpensive compared to those $4-5 jars at the grocery store. You actually make it in a fairly similar fashion to quick homemade pudding, except with eggs, so you do have to pay attention so that the eggs don’t start cooking separately. The lemon curd is easily my favorite part of this cake, and I think I actually want to make some again soon to spread on an english muffin at breakfast.

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting | The Pajama Chef

The most outrageous part of this cake was the frosting, by far. For this cake, I used Veronica’s Cream Cheese Celebration Frosting. Recently I won a bottle of Crème Bouquet from her blog, and you can click over to see how she describes it, but basically it is a flavor emulsion that is lemony and sweet and reminiscent of good bakery cakes. Since this was my first time using it, I thought it only appropriate to use one of Veronica’s recipes–so I paired this tangy lemon cake with a rich, creamy celebration frosting made with cream cheese and butter. The good stuff!

I can’t really say enough good things about this cake–you’ll just have to try it out, and not be intimidated by all the steps and recipes. It is well worth it, I promise! :) Lemony and creamy makes for a very happy birthday [two months' belated]!

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd and Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
click to print whole recipe

Lemon Cake [from Martha Stewart]

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • zest of 2 1/2 lemons
  • 1 1/2 cups lemon curd [see recipe below]
  • 1 recipe vanilla cream cheese frosting [see recipe below]

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8 by 2 inch round cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment paper. Flour pans on top of parchment, then set aside.

Cream butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until softened  Then slowly add sugar, mixing on medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until fluffy. Scrape down sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually pour in eggs, continuing to mix on medium speed. Beat well and scrape sides between each addition, about 5 minutes in total. Batter should not look slick.

Meanwhile, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl.

After eggs are mixed in, reduce speed to low, then alternate between adding flour and buttermilk. Begin and end with flour, then fold in vanilla and lemon zest.

Divide batter between prepared pans, then bake for 25 minutes. Rotate pans in oven for even browning [cover with foil if necessary], then bake for another 10-20 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool cake in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert cake onto wire racks to cool completely before cutting, filling, and frosting.

When cake has cooled completely, remove parchment from each cake and then use a serrated knife [I used a long bread knife] to gently split each layer into two, making a four layer cake. Reserve the prettiest domed layer for the top of the cake, and use the other domed layer for the bottom. I used 3/4 cup lemon curd in between layers 1 and 2, frosting in between layers 2 and 3, and the remaining 3/4 cup lemon curd in between layers 3 and 4. If you want lemon curd in between all layers, double the recipe below and use 1 cup in between each layer.

Frost generously with vanilla buttercream, using a crumb coat if necessary [I didn't find it to be], then sprinkle with sparkling sanding sugar for decoration, if desired. Store in the refrigerator, covered, and serve chilled.

Time: 70 minutes [30 minutes active] + time for cake and curd to cool.

Yield: 12 servings.

Lemon Curd [from Martha Stewart]

Ingredients:

  • 3 large egg yolks, strained through a mesh sieve
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

Directions:

In a small saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. Turn heat on to medium, then cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thick. While mixture is cooking, be sure to stir constantly with a wooden spoon, not forgetting the sides and bottom of pan.

Remove from heat, then add butter piece by piece, stirring until smooth and melted before adding the next piece.

Pour mixture into medium bowl, then wrap tightly with plastic wrap–placing it directly on the curd so a skin doesn’t form. Refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least one hour or overnight.

Time: 20 minutes.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups.

Notes: To fill each layer with curd, double this recipe.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting [from Veronica's Cornucopia]

Ingredients:

  • 1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 pounds powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons crème bouquet
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract [clear for a more pure white frosting, regular vanilla if you're okay with a cream/yellowy frosting]
  • milk to thin, if necessary

Directions:

In a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. With mixer on low, add sugar [gradually so as to not explode powdered sugar everywhere] and crème bouquet and vanilla. When sugar is incorporated, turn to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes, then add milk if necessary to thin [I used about 1 tablespoon]. Refrigerate or freeze if you won’t be using it within a few days.

Yield: enough frosting for a two layer cake + 1 cup extra.

Time: 10 minutes.

Linked up with: Weekend Potluck.

Cranberry Orange Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup

When we’re home and I’m not training for a marathon that requires me to spend the majority of my Saturday mornings out on a long run, our typical Saturday routine is to sleep in, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and then waste the day away with football games [Ben] and a good book [me] until we drag ourselves out the door to go workout, unless it is summertime, in which case we workout first thing to avoid the heat. Whoa. Run-on sentence. Sorry. All that to say, our leisurely breakfasts are the best. Except figuring out what to make. I’m a weekend breakfast snob, pretty much always insisting on some form of pancakes or waffles or egg casserole or french toast or or or… anything but boring toast or cold cereal. Not on the weekend…LAME!

Most men would delight in that. 1950s ideals and all. You know what the kicker is? 99% of the time, Ben would be just fine with eating dry Cheerios out of the box. Seriously. He uses a bowl, because of me, but how lame is that? So every week, our conversation is: what do you want for breakfast? Oh, cereal is fine. Really? Well if you really want to make something, I’d eat it… blah blah blah. But THIS SATURDAY!! This Saturday was different! When I asked Ben what he wanted for breakfast and said I was in a pancake mood, he immediately asked if there was a recipe somewhere for cranberry pancakes.

Cranberry pancakes? Well, I wasn’t sure, but a little Googling later led me to this awesome fare.

Cranberry Orange Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup | The Pajama Chef

Yup, that’s definitely a big ‘ole stack of Cranberry Orange Pancakes with a bowl of Cranberry Maple Syrup! Can it get any better?

Cranberry Orange Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup | The Pajama Chef

These pancakes were fluffy and sweet, slightly scented with a faint flavor of orange, while also having the unmistakable tartness of cranberries in each bite. So so so good! And the syrup! It was the star of the show, almost like a mixture of jam and syrup together… thick and sticky, as any good syrup is. It goes without saying that the cranberries in the syrup are tart…but a good tart, like cranberry sauce tart. Mmmm! A little vanilla in the syrup sophisticates

Cranberry Orange Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup | The Pajama Chef

Wait! It does get better because it was the boring breakfast eater who inspired me to find this recipe. Except now that I look at the photos, I realize it couldn’t have been Saturday morning when these photos were taken because it was obviously dark out so I took them indoors. Sigh. That means my story is slightly invalid… but the principle still remains! And these pancakes are incredible. I think we must have made these Friday night. Exciting lives we lead…haha. They are sure to become a Christimastime favorite in your house too. Enjoy! :)

Cranberry Orange Pancakes [from Coastal Living]
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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter $
  • zest of 1/2 an orange
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, thawed if previously frozen

Directions:

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. In a large measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, egg, butter, orange zest, and vanilla extract.

Fold wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then add cranberries and mix gently until incorporated. Let batter rest while skillet heats up.

Meanwhile, heat canola oil on a large griddle or skillet set over medium-high heat. When hot, reduce heat to medium and add batter, 1/4 cup for each pancake, then cook for 2-4 minutes or until edges cook and top is bubbly. Flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes or until lightly browned.

Time: 20 minutes.

Yield: ~16 pancakes.

Cranberry Maple Syrup [from Coastal Living]

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, divided [thawed if frozen]
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions:

Bring maple syrup and 3/4 cup cranberries to a boil in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat to low, then simmer for 3-4 minutes until cranberries begin to pop. Crush cranberries with a potato masher, then add remaining cranberries. Simmer for another 2 minutes, then stir in vanilla and butter.

Time: 10 minutes.

Yield: 1 cup.

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese

At the beginning of October, Ben and I were at Walmart late one Sunday night. We were coming home from a church event and desperately needed a few things for our lunches the next day. Typically I avoid Walmart like the plague, especially in this town because it’s always so busy and it stresses me out… but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. We walked past the cream cheese and I saw the Holy Grail of cream cheese: Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese. PUMPKIN SPICE!! I couldn’t believe it. I got so excited. But for reasons unbeknownst to me, I decided I would get it “later.”

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese | The Pajama ChefWhy? I’m not sure, because I’ve regretted it ever since. Especially during every one of the three visits I’ve made to Walmart since that time looking for that stinking cream cheese has been met in failure as they have been out. :( And none of the grocery stores I’ve looked in have carried it at all. :( :( :( After entering into a state of depression and realizing that I may never get to experience the glory that is Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese, I decided that something must be done. I had to make it myself!

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese | The Pajama Chef

Guess what? Though I’ve never tasted the original, I don’t miss it one bit. The four ingredient version I whipped up in a couple of minutes in my food processor is slightly sweet and is absolutely heavenly.

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese | The Pajama Chef

Opening the jar is a delightful sensory experience as the unmistakable warm fall spices just jump out, waiting to be enjoyed. Plussssss, though I can’t say this for certain, my version uses real pumpkin puree for an authentic pumpkin taste–not some combination of natural and artificial flavors. How bout just some natural flavors? Sounds good to me, for sure.

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese | The Pajama Chef

This Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese is perfect for spreading on bagels, for dipping apples or graham crackers, and for snacky spoonfuls. I suspect it would be glorious along with some Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins too, but I can’t verify yet. What could be wrong with double pumpkin?? Nothing much that I can tell. I’ll need to try that ASAP. :) To make it more of a dessert spread, use a little more sugar–but I truthfully found it flavorful enough without lots of added sugar. If you make this after trying the original, do let me know how they compare, because I’m curious. From what I can tell, the original is more of a spread, and this version is slightly more airy and whipped, but that’s all I know for now. But alas… I know this is good. Really good. And for that, I am happy… even though it took several Walmart excursions to make it happen. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese [adapted from Better Homes & Gardens]
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Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened [I used Neufchâtel]
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in deep bowl and beat on high with hand mixer for 2 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer or whisk. Taste and adjust seasonings and sweetener as desired. Refrigerate for at least one hour before using for best taste, then use within a week.

Time: 10 minutes + time to chill.

Yield: ~ 1 1/2 cups.

Homemade Maple & Brown Sugar Almond Butter

So, nut butter always seemed like one of those things that was so. hard. to make at home. But really? Is it now? After taking a trip to the nicest Kroger in my town and grinding my own peanut butter in their natural foods/bulk bins section, I was swayed a little bit. It looked easy, at least with that fancy grocery-store grinder. I resolved to try it at home “one day.” You know how it goes. One day never came. It was just so easy to keep buying my favorite natural peanut butter from Whole Foods that I didn’t think any more about it. Until I ran out. Whole Foods is a 75 minute drive away. No good.

Enter: creativity, complements of the internet. Guess what? Homemade nut butter isn’t that hard! And you can totally make fancy nut butters for a fraction of the cost of the store-bought non-peanut butters. Sorry, but I’m not going to spend $5-8 on a small jar of almond/cashew/walnut butter or fancy flavored peanut butter. Let’s hope we’re not seeing prices like that on regular peanut butter now that prices are on the rise.

After making a quick trip to Sam’s to stock up on nuts, I went to work. I raided my pantry to see what I could find to fancy up my almond butter and came up with a classic oatmeal combo: maple and brown sugar.

almond butter

A bit of patience and a food processor and you are all set.

While I can’t promise I’ll never go back to the store-bought stuff, I have been inspired to try more flavor combinations and even experiment with different kinds of nuts to see what we like best!

Reader Question ~ What’s your favorite kind of nut butter? What should I try to make next?

Homemade Maple & Brown Sugar Almond Butter [inspired by The Lean Green Bean]
printable version

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound/3 cups raw, unsalted almonds
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for 6-8 minutes. The almonds should smell fragrant. In a food processor, combine toasted almonds, syrup, and brown sugar. Process for 10-12 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached.

Notes:

At first, you’ll have to scrape the sides of the food processor constantly because it’ll be mostly “dusty.” Then, after a few minutes, it should start clumping and from there will get smoother and smoother the longer you let it go. It just takes a bit of patience but it is so worth it!

Time: 25 minutes.

Yield: 16 ounces.