Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My First Giveaway!

If I haven't already made this obvious - I love buying household and kitchen items.  The type of purchases that are not absolutely necessary, but are oh so much fun.  I was contacted about hosting a giveaway (!!) for CSN Stores - a compilation of over 200 websites where you can basically order anything - cookware, house decor, bar furniture, and so much more.  I've already checked out the site and there are so many things I want.
So here's how it works - the lucky winner will get a one-time-use $40 gift certificate that can be used at any of the sites.  My only stipulation is that you post about whatever you buy (and how you use it) on your blog, or as a guest post on mine if you don't have one.  
How to enter - you will get one entry for each of the following:
* Follow my blog - leave a comment letting me know if you are a new follower, or if you already follow me
* Leave a comment telling me which item(s) you want the most from the websites
* Leave a comment telling me if there's a recipe from my blog that you're dying to try out
* Post about my giveaway on your own blog - leave a comment with the link
The deadline is 5/9 - I will pick a winner using a random number generator
Please pass this onto your friends!
Good luck!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Coconut Amish Bread with Chocolate Chips

This is my third time baking with the amish friendship bread starter.  I think the bread is making me fat...and I have a ton in the freezer!  I brought most of it into class and the lab to try to get rid of some.  This one was delicious, just like the others!  But I may take a break from it - I might put it in the freezer until I'm craving sweet bread again.

Recipe: Coconut Amish Bread with Chocolate Chips
1 cup amish friendship bread starter
3 eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 large package instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F and grease 1 loaf pan and 2 mini loaf pans.
Mix together the liquid ingredients.  Stir in the flour, pudding mix, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda and mix until the dry ingredients are just barely incorporated.  Fold in the coconut and chocolate chips.
Pour the batter in the prepared pans and cook ~60 minutes for the regular loaf and ~30 minutes for the mini loaves.

Green Comfort Pasta 2.0

I spend way too much money on food.  I decided that I need to start project "clean out the pantry."  There are certain pantry "staples" I have that I always replace after I use up.  I'm going to try to use up as much food as I can, from both the pantry and the freezer.  I was still in the mood for comfort pasta, so that meant it was time to use up some of the frozen chopped spinach in the freezer.  I slightly mixed it up from the last recipe I made.  I keep on buying canned artichoke hearts whenever they're on sale, so I decided to add them in.  It's kind of like a very healthy version of spinach artichoke dip!

Recipe: Pasta with Spinach and Artichokes
6 oz whole wheat medium shells
10 oz frozen spinach
1/2 cup water
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
3 tbsp flour
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp half and half
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp chopped basil
2 oz cream cheese, softened
1 wedge light garlic and herb laughing cow cheese
freshly grated black pepper
Everyday Seasoning
freshly grated parmesan

Boil 1/2 cup water, add the frozen spinach, reduce heat, and simmer (covered) for ~10 minutes, until it is cooked through.  Add the artichokes.  Cook until some of the water cooks off.  Try to press out some of the water.  Add the flour and cook for a few minutes.  Add in the milk and half and half, cook until it forms a sauce.  Add the garlic and basil.  Add the cream cheese and laughing cow cheese, mash them both in until incorporated.
In the meantime, boil water for the pasta.  Cook the shells until al dente.  Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat.  Add pasta water if necessary to thin out the sauce.
Season to taste with pepper and your favorite pasta seasoning.  Grate a lot of parmesan on top and enjoy!

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

I'm clearly on a bread-baking kick.  I decided to try this bread in 5 minutes a day that everyone is talking about.  I have to say first that the website is great - lots of videos and question and answer sessions.  And this seems like one of the most forgiveable breads.  To start with, my dough was definitely not wet enough.  I don't know if I packed my flour in too much, or if I lost count of how much I added, but it was definitely too dry.  I wasn't able to make the slashes in the top that it called for.  And I don't have a cast-iron pan or a pizza stone.  But it made such great tasting (and SIMPLE TO MAKE) artisan bread.  That probably cost pennies to make.  Now if this doesn't make you want to try it out, I don't know what to tell you!

Recipe: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbsp yeast
1 1/2 tbsp salt (I only used 1 tbsp)
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a 5-6 quart plastic container, dump in the water and add the yeast and salt.  Dump in the flour all at once and stir with a long handled wooden spoon.  Stir it in until all of the flour is incorporated.  It should be a very wet dough.  Put the lid on the container, but do not snap it closed.
Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for about 2 hours to rise.
After you let it rise, stick it in the fridge.  The dough is much easier to handle when it is cold.  You can refrigerate it for up to 2 weeks.
When you want to bake some bread:
Dust the surface of the dough with some flour, just enough to prevent it from sticking to your hands when you pull a piece out.  The dough should stretch a lot (check out the website) - if it doesn't, then it might be too dry and add a few tbsp of water (I had to do this).
Cut off a 1lb piece of dough and form it into a ball.
Put the ball on a sheet of parchment paper.
Let the dough rest for 40-90 minutes (the longer you wait, the more holes you'll have).
Preheat the oven to 450 F with a baking stone on the center rack and a broiler tray on the bottom rack.
Cut the loaf with 1/4 inch slashes using a serrated knife (I had some major issues with this).
Slide the loaf onto the preheated stone and pour hot water into the broiler tray.  Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a deep golden color.  If using parchment paper, remove it after 15-20 minutes.
Allow the bread to cool at room temperature before cutting.
If you have leftover bread, allow to sit, uncovered, cut side down.  (Warning - this only works for 1 day. After that, it will get stale.  They say that wrapping it will make the crust get soggy, that isn't true.)

Here are pictures from the second time I made it:
I think I underbaked it a little.  Last time it was a similar color, but cooked more through.  I'll have to cook each slice individually a bit.  I should have tried to achieve that dark golden color!

Green Comfort Pasta

This is one of my favorite pasta dishes.  Of course it's one of those things that takes a while to cook, and then takes about 5 minutes to eat.  But it's so worth it.  And the leftovers take no time!
So that's all I have to say about it - it's deliciously cheesy, creamy, and full of nutritious spinach!  (I bought mine at the Farmer's Market so it supports the local farmers as well.)  Oh and if you haven't tried gemelli pasta, please do!  It's such a fun shape and holds onto sauces really well.

Note: After posting this recipe, and looking through my archives, I realized that I had already made this and posted about it!  There were slight changes.  This version has a lot more detail.  And this is one of those recipes that will be different every time you make it.  I just thought it was amusing.  It really proves that this is one of my favorites.

Recipe: Creamy Spinach Pasta
2 tbsp butter
10 oz fresh spinach, removed from stems and torn into pieces
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp half and half
3 cloves crushed garlic
2 wedges light garlic and herb laughing cow cheese
4 oz gemelli pasta
freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly grated black pepper
Everyday Seasoning (from Trader Joe's)

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add spinach and cook until wilted.  Add flour and cook for a few minutes.  Slowly stir in the milk, cook until it thickens a bit.  Stir in the half and half and the garlic.  Mash in the laughing cow wedges.
Meanwhile, boil the water for the pasta and cook until al dente.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat.  Add pasta water as needed to thin out the sauce.
Stir in freshly grated pepper and your favorite pasta seasoning.
Grate some good parmesan cheese on top and enjoy!

My First Barefoot Failure

So let me start off by saying I LOVE Barefoot Contessa.  Ina Garten is an amazing woman.  I seriously wish that I lived in the Hamptons, in her house, with her garden (!!!).  I have my DVR set up to record all of her shows on the Food Network - no lie.
Now that I've reinforced the fact that I'm a major fan, I have to say that I recently tried one of her recipes, and was not a fan of it.  I usually bookmark her recipes after I watch them on tv, but this one looked so good I decided I had to make it.  I figured - zucchini, onions, creamy milk and cheese with a crusty top - how bad can that be?  (one of Ina's favorite phrases)
I think that maybe gratins should be saved just for potatoes.  At the very least, the onions should have been eliminated.  A lot of people that reviewed the recipe said to decrease the onions - I think they just shouldn't be there.  Maybe it was just me?  Also, I didn't use Gruyere.  I had just bought some Raclette cheese from Cville Market - it was advertised as being a great gratin cheese.  I think it definitely needs something stronger.
I'm not telling you to not make this recipe.  Just giving my honest opinion.  Definitely check out the reviews before making it.

Recipe: Zucchini Gratin (from Barefoot Contessa)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra for topping
1 lb yellow onions, cut in 1/2 and sliced (3 large)
2 lbs zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick (4 zucchini)
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (I used panko)
3/4 cup grated gruyere (I used raclette)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Melt the butter in a very large (12-inch) saute pan and cook the onions over low heat for 20 minutes, or until tender but not browned.  Add the zucchini and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender.  Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes.  Stir in the flour.  Add the hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until it makes a sauce.  Pour the mixture into an 8x10-inch baking dish.
Combine the bread crumbs and Gruyere and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture.  Dot with 1 tbsp of butter cut into small bits and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Original Amish Friendship Bread

I did a lot of searching to find some Amish Friendship Bread recipes.  I figured that if I would potentially be baking every 10 days, I would need some variation!  A lot of the recipes called for a box of pudding mix.  At first I tried to avoid these recipes.  But I figured, if so many recipes included it, it couldn't be a bad thing.  So I specifically bought a large box of vanilla pudding mix to make this recipe.  It appears to be a very common recipe - found in many places.  The pudding mix made the batter really thick.  I thought that this would make a dense bread, but it was actually very light, almost cake-like.  I again had the issue of not having enough batter for 2 whole loaves of bread.  I made 2 mini loaves (which usually add up to one loaf, at most) and then only had enough left for 10 muffins.  And again, this could be my fault.  I used the starter one day after I fed it on Day 10.  I used about 1 1/4-1 1/2 cups of the starter to try to make up for that.  One of these days I will actually cook with the starter when I'm supposed to.  But anyway, this was delicious!  I'm excited to try it with different pudding flavors.

Recipe: Amish Friendship Bread with Pudding Mix
1 cup starter (I used a little more)
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 large box of instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease desired pans and then sprinkle with sugar or cinnamon sugar.
Mix all ingredients well, and pour into prepared pans.
Bake for 1 hour (if making full sized loaves, otherwise check frequently starting at 15-20 minutes).  Make sure it is still moist when you take it out of the oven.  Let cool, then take out of pans and let cool completely on cooling rack.

My Favorite Strata

Not that long ago, I made an amazing strata as a way to use up some goat cheese.  Normally the reason to make a strata is to use up old bread, but that time I actually bought some bread for that purpose.
Last week I was getting a sandwich at Take It Away (the best sandwich shop in Charlottesville), and I decided to take advantage of their cheap bags of bread ends.  It's an amazing deal - for 50 cents you get almost a pound of freshly baked bread.  And it's not just the crusty ends, you get a decent amount of the loaf.  The best part is that there are 3-4 different kinds of bread in one bag.
Of course, when I bought the bread, my first thought was to make a strata.  I used the recipe from last time as a base, but switched it up a bit.  I used zucchini, red onion and artichokes instead of the tomatoes.  And I actually used this as a way to get rid of some cheese.  I always will have a small amount left of a cheese and then will buy a replacement, and will use that instead of the old one.  I think that I should have used more liquid - there was a lot of bread and veggies.

Recipe: Zucchini, Onion and Artichoke Frittata (adapted from Baking and Books)
~10 oz day old bread, cubed - if you have a good sandwich shop nearby that uses homemade bread, see if they sell their bread ends.  They might even give them away!
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 large zucchini, cut in thick slices and then cut in thirds
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
6 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup half and half
1-1 1/2 cups grated/shredded cheese (I used a combination of Gruyere and Pecorino Romano - anything would work)

Preheat oven to 450 F.
Whisk together the eggs, milk and half and half.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the onions and cook until partly translucent.  Add the zucchini, and cook until they are both tender.  Then add the artichoke hearts and cook until heated through.  Make sure you don't cook too long - you don't want them to dry out.
Add the bread cubes and toss to mix well.
Put half the bread and veggies in an 8x8 pyrex dish, then put half the cheese, and put the rest of the bread and veggies on top.  Push down to make sure it all fits.  Pour the milk and egg mixture on top.  Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
Cook until it is set - no longer jiggly.  Let it rest for 5 minutes, and then enjoy!

Amish Friendship Bread with Bananas

Finally - after millions of pictures of my growing starters, an actual recipe!  I did it backwards.  My plan had been to make the basic recipe first, and then try the variations.  But when you have at least 10 bananas taking up space in your freezer, it becomes necessary to use them up.  Good thing one of the recipes I found was a banana bread version of the bread!  It was really delicious.  The recipe said that it makes 2 loaves - I definitely didn't have enough batter for that.  I got one kind of short loaf + 9 muffins.  Although that may have been my fault.  I got really caught up with exams, and then I was sick, so on day 10 of the cycle I put the starter in the fridge and just left it there for a week.  The night before I was planning on baking with it I took it out of the fridge, and then I fed it a little to perk it up, the morning before baking.  All of the recipes usually say to bake right after feeding it on day 10.  So maybe if you do that, then you'll have enough for 2 full loaves?  But regardless of that, I had a lot of delicious banana bread to eat.

Recipe: Banana Amish Friendship Bread (adapted from Moms Who Think)
1 cup starter
1/3 cup oil
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease two loaf pans (or one loaf pan + one muffin tin) with butter, and then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Mix together all wet ingredients.  Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Pour in prepared pans.
Bake for 45-60 minutes.  The muffins take a lot less time, so keep an eye on them.  They're done when they still look a little gooey in the center - it finishes cooking when you take it out.  Let sit in the pans to cool, then let it cool completely on a cooling rack.

Another long absence

Yet again, it's been weeks since I've posted (not counting my giveaway posts).  I can blame the first part of the absence on exams.  And then...the rest I can blame on recovering from my exams!  Of course, now that I've mostly recovered, it starts up again in a week and a half.  At least this time, when they're over, they'll really be over!  I will be finished with my first year in just about 2 weeks, and it can't come soon enough.

But anyway, about the cooking.  I've actually made a lot of stuff in the past few weeks.  It's going to be hard to know where to start.  I've become a little obsessed with making bread.  First, there's my Amish Friendship Bread.  I've cooked with it twice so far.  Then from that, I decided I wanted to make a sourdough starter.  That was not so successful.  The basic recipe was to start with a cup each of flour and water, and then once a day throw away half and add back 1/2 cup each of flour and water.  It was supposed to start bubbling and doing exciting things within a few days.  I gave it a week, and the only thing it grew was mold.  So I gave up on that.  I figure that if I want to eventually start using a sourdough starter, I'll just order one from King Arthur Flour.  My latest obsession has been Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  I've cooked one loaf so far and it was amazing.

I'm going to post about each separately - easier to find.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pretty Dishtowels

I'm basically a sucker for anything that is both functional and pretty.  Especially when it can be used in the kitchen.  Check this giveaway out!  http://www.ericalea.com/2010/04/16/a-giveaway/

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chocolate Giveaway!

I love chocolate.  And free chocolate is even better!  So definitely check this out.  http://cakebatterandbowl.com/derry-church-artisan-chocolates-giveaway.html
All of the flavors sound AMAZING and very original.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Passover Crack

Smitten Kitchen once referred to this recipe as "crack."  I think that's a pretty accurate description.  This is yet another recipe my mom found on the back of a matzah box, but it is almost the same as the Smitten Kitchen one.  I only make this recipe during Passover, but I've seen others make a very similar recipe using saltines.
I recently bought Himalayan Pink Sea Salt from Trader Joe's, and I used it to sprinkle over part of it.  This made a perfect sweet + salty snack.

Recipe: Chocolate Covered Matzah

2-3 sheets matzah
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
desired toppings - nuts, salt, etc

Line a cookie sheet with foil.  Place the matzah on the sheet, overlapping slightly if necessary to completely cover.

Over low-medium heat, cook the sugar and butter in a small saucepan until it caramelizes.
Pour over the matzah.

Every year, I either under or overcook the sugar and butter.  It doesn't really affect the taste, but it makes it a little difficult.  If I undercook, then it's too thin and it goes under the matzah when I pour it, making a mess.  If I overcook, then it's too thick, and hard to spread over the matzah.  This time I overcooked it a bit.
Put in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 4 minutes.

Sprinkle with chocolate chips, and put back in the oven for 1 minute.
Spread the melted chocolate chips with a knife, and sprinkle with desired toppings.

Allow to cool, then put in the fridge to harden.  Then break up into pieces and enjoy!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

So much more than just surviving!

Last night, I had one of the best meals ever.  And this was during Passover!  You could say that my standards were low because of the circumstances.  But one of my friends, who is not Jewish, completely corroborates this.

There was a TON of food.  Enough that 3 people ate huge portions, plus had enough leftovers for several more meals.  To start with, we had a crisp, refreshing salad with really yummy raspberry vinaigrette.  Then there was some gefilte fish, for those who were brave enough to try it - I love it!  Then there were some delicious roasted veggies, followed by a decadent lasagna.  And the piece de resistance - a flourless chocolate cake with homemade whipped cream.

I've noticed that whenever I am cooking, especially if it is more than one thing, it takes at least twice the amount of time that I expected it to.  This is why I arrived at my friend's place before 5, for a 7:30 dinner.

First, we started with the veggies.  This is a pretty basic recipe.  Just cut a lot of veggies into similar-sized pieces, toss with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar, s&p and whatever other herbs you want to use, and bake in a foil-lined pan.  Cook around 350-400, until the veggies are cooked through and have browned/caramelized.

The next recipe is a Passover staple.  This year, I changed it up a bit by adding some pesto.  There wasn't a pronounced pesto flavor, but it really added an extra layer and depth of flavor.  This is another one of those recipes that my mom got from the back of a matzah box.  Those recipes clearly got me through Passover this year!  This is really such a great lasagna.  My non-Jewish friend said that if she didn't already know that there was matzah in it, she never would have guessed.  It tastes just like a regular lasagna.  For some reason, I only make this during Passover.  I'm going to have to try it during the rest of the year, using regular no-boil lasagna noodles, to see if it turns out as well.  And if not, well I do have a lot of leftover matzah!  The original recipe is for an 8x8 pan, but since we wanted leftovers, I doubled it and put it in a 9x13 pan.  I'm including the original ingredients below - if you want to make it in a 9x13, simply double all ingredients.  And feel free to add extra shredded cheese, I did!  My one change - I definitely didn't need as much sauce as it called for.  I used 2 jars that were about 25 oz each, and had leftover sauce.

Recipe: Matzah Lasagna with Pesto
4 matzah sheets
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 egg beaten
1/2 tsp black pepper
a few tbsp prepared pesto, either store bought or homemade
30-34 oz. prepared marinara sauce

Reserve 1/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan.  Mix the remaining mozzarella and parmesan, cottage cheese, ricotta, egg and pepper.
I thought it was so funny the ricotta came out perfectly like this!  It made me think of making sand castles at the beach.

Place some marinara on the bottom of an 8x8 inch deep pan.  Place one sheet matzah over the sauce, top with some of the cheese mixture (smooth to even it out) and some more marinara.  Repeat this to make 4 layers.  With the last layer, before adding the cheese mixture, mix it with pesto.
Then layer it on, as in before, and top with the sauce.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes and serve with extra sauce on the side.

And now, what you've been waiting for.  The chocolate cake of your dreams.  This cake was so decadent, and so delicious.  The original recipe called for a chocolate glaze, but I opted to make homemade whipped cream instead.  I thought the glaze might be overkill, plus I wanted an excuse to use the mixer!  I had never made whipped cream before, and it was so easy to do.  
I think this cake is the perfect example of good Passover food.  I have had way too many Passover "cakes" that use matzah meal instead of flour, and just have a strange taste and texture.  This is a cake that would be amazing year round, and just happens to work out during Passover.  
Also, this is an example of where it pays off to use good ingredients.  There are very few ingredients, so make sure they are all good ones.  I used a combination of Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate.  As soon as I rebuild my chocolate collection, I am going to make this cake again.

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake, from Lisa's Kitchen
10 oz bittersweet chocolate
7 oz (3/4 cup = 1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 eggs
1 cup sugar

Butter a standard-sized springform pan (9 inches in diameter, 3 inches deep) and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to fit.  (Whoops, I forgot to line it!  I cut the paper and everything, but never put it in.  It turned out just fine though.)  If your pan isn't completely leakproof, wrap it well with foil.

Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter over simmering water.
Once melted, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

In a large bowl, add the eggs and sugar.  
Mix on medium speed for about 7 minutes in a stand mixer.

Gently fold in the chocolate, and stir to fully mix, only until the color is uniform.  (The picture below is not fully mixed, I just thought the swirl looked pretty.)

Pour into the prepared pan, and place that on a baking sheet.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, until the edges are fully cooked and the center is set, but a little jiggly (only a little).  A crust will have formed and cracked.  
While it is still warm, run a knife around the edges to loosen.  Let it cool, and then transfer to the fridge if not serving immediately.  I've heard that the flavors are best after a day, so you should make this the night before.  When I first took it out of the oven, the center had puffed up, above the edges of the crust. After cooling, the center sunk.

The next day, not long before serving, I made the whipped cream.  I found online that whipped cream is best within a few hours of making it.  After that, it can start to separate, unless you add gelatin.  I didn't have gelatin, and it lasted fine until it was served.  I noticed later that night, that the leftover whipped cream had started to separate.  It tasted fine, and I just stirred it to recombine it.  When serving the cake, I piped some on as decoration, but left most of it in a bowl for everyone to add to their cake as desired.

Recipe: Homemade Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Make sure that everything is very cold.  Use only refrigerated cream, and try to put the mixing bowl and whisk in the fridge overnight, if possible.  
Add the cream to the bowl.  Starting at a low speed, gradually work your way up to high (no higher than 8 out of 10) speed.  When the cream starts to hold its shape, add the sugar, 1 tbsp at a time.  Right when it starts to form peaks, add the vanilla.  Whip to the desired consistency.  Soft peaks are best when folding the whipped cream into something.  Stiff is best when using to pipe onto a dessert, as I did.  I used a star tip for the dessert, and put the rest of the whipped cream into a serving bowl.