March 28, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

It's pie day for our church's Lenten fish fry. Shockingly, I have three different peanut butter pies bookmarked to try. This one from Spicy Perspective was my winner, winner, fish dinner because it allowed me to use the remaining homemade cream cheese for something other than beer dip that I would devour by myself.

I actually doubled this recipe and made it in a giant disposable foil pan intended for grilling pizza. Best part is I had enough extra to make a small tart version that my husband and I reluctantly shared. His logic was since he only had half a pie that he should be able to have another half of a pie with the whole thing.

That should tell you how good it is. I was completely impressed with my ability to create such a huge pie that looks so presentable!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
6 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into cubes
4 Tbsp. COLD shortening, cut into cubes
3-4 Tbsp. cold brandy 
3 cups heavy cream, whipped (6 cups whipped cream)
2 cups peanut butter
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar 
1/4 cup  heavy cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts
1 small chocolate bar for chocolate curls

Preheat the oven to 375ºF, and lower the rack to the lowest position. Cut the butter and shortening into cubes, and place in the freezer to chill while pulling out the other ingredients. Pour the brandy over ice to chill.

Pulse the flour, cocoa powder, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add the cold butter and shortening, and pulse to break up the butter into small pea-size balls. Drain the brandy, and add one tablespoon at a time pulsing, in between, until the dough come together. Don't add too much liquid, and don't over mix. Dump out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap well, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Once the dough has chilled, place a piece of foil on the counter. Flour the foil, and place the dough in the center. Flour a rolling pin, and roll the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Use the foil to flip the dough into a deep-dish pie pan, and then remove the foil. Fit the crust down into the pie pan, but don't stretch the dough. Fold the rough edges under, and crimp the edges with your fingers. Then place the foil back inside the pie crust, and fill with dried beans. Bake the pie crust for 17 to 20 minutes until set. Allow the crust to cool before removing the pie weights and paper. Cool completely before filling.

For the filling, whip the heavy cream into firm peaks, and set aside. Beat the cream cheese until smooth, and then beat in the peanut butter. Scrape the bowl, and slowly add the powdered sugar. Once the mixture is smooth, gently fold in the whipped cream until the texture is consistent.Scoop the pie filling into the cooled crust. Refrigerate immediately.

To garnish, microwave the heavy cream until scalding hot. Add the chocolate chips, and allow them to sit in the cream for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir until smooth. Once the chocolate ganache cools a little, use a spoon to drizzle it over the top. Then sprinkle with peanuts. Use a vegetable peeler to shave chocolate curls over the top. Chill until ready to serve. Serves 8.


March 25, 2014

Molten Chocolate Banana Bread

This recipe from Lady and Pups caught my eye and was perfect for the overripe bananas on my counter. It's tasty, but it still doesn't top my all-time favorite banana bread. My molten chocolate, so to speak, isn't so molten for some reason. Still, I can't see someone complaining if you handed them a slice ... or loaf ... of this.

Molten Chocolate Banana Bread
Chocolate Center
5.3 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 large egg
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Banana Bread
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 large, ripe bananas
1 large egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

First prepare the chocolate center by microwaving chocolate and butter until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir in flour until very smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg and sugar until foamy. Fold into chocolate mixture until evenly incorporated. Chill in the refrigerator at least 20 minutes to become firm.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Microwave the vegetable oil and butter 30 seconds or until butter is melted. Mash the bananas into this mixture until very few lumps are left. Whisk in the egg, brown sugar, molasses and vanilla until smooth and thick.

In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Fold into the banana mixture just until evenly combined. Pour the batter into a greased loaf-pan, and then add the molten chocolate-batter  into the center of the banana bread batter in dollops.  Gently press the chocolate batter into the banana bread batter, but not too much.  Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes until a wooden skewer comes out clean from the center of the banana bread but still runny and gooey from the center of the molten chocolate.

Let it cool for 15 minutes in the pan before removing.  Makes 1 loaf.

Key Lime Eclairs

Key lime is one of the few flavors that can tempt me away from chocolate, so these eclairs from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen caught my eye. I made them for our church's fish dinner when the desserts needed to be "green."

I was quite impressed with myself and my ability to recreate these. I didn't manage any pictures before the required taste testing and delivery of the goods. I do plan to try eclairs again with a different flavor combo, so perhaps I'll manage pictures then.

Key Lime Eclairs
1 stick butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup water
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. flour
4 large eggs, whisked
Key Lime Cream
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup key lime juice
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a silipat, and set aside.

Prepare your filling first by whisking together the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks and key lime juice in a medium saucepan. Cook until it's hot but not boiling, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and strain through a sieve into a bowl. Refrigerate about an hour, until cooled and thickened.

While that is chilling, prepare your eclairs. In a medium saucepan, heat butter, sugar, salt and water over medium heat until the butter is melted, but do not boil. Add the flour, and stir until it forms a stiff batter. Keep stirring until the mixture starts to look more like a dough. Keep stirring for several minutes until it becomes matte and leaves a film on the bottom of the pan.

Transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium low for one minute. Add the whisked eggs gradually. Once they've all been added, change the mixer speed to medium high, and beat just until dough is glossy.

Using a pastry bag with a 1-inch round tip, pipe strips about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes until the pastries start to turn golden brown, and then turn oven down to 325°F to continue baking until they are entirely brown.

Remove pastries from the oven, and poke a small hole in each pastry to let steam escape. Let cool completely on the pans set on wire racks.

Place a metal mixing bowl and the mixer's whisk attachment in your freezer for about 5 minutes. Pour the cold cream in the bowl, and whisk on high speed until a thick whipped cream is formed. Fold into the chilled key lime custard until no streaks remain.

Split eclair shells, and fill with key lime custard. Makes about 20 small eclairs.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bars

I switched up our granola bars this time around with a generic chocolate rice crispy cereal. I added in a bit of cocoa powder, and these are definitely a keeper!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bars
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups quick oats
1/2 cup chocolate crispy rice cereal
1/4 cup mini Reese's Pieces

Cut out an 8 x 8-inch square of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper in the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch baking pan. In a large sauce pan, add butter, brown sugar, honey, peanut butter and cocoa. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture starts to bubble. Once bubbling, cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla extract.

Stir in the oats and crispy cereal until well coated. Pour into the prepared pan. Press the mixture evenly into the pan. Sprinkle the mini Reese's Pieces over the top, and gently press into the granola bars with your hands.

Place the bars in the refrigerator, and let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting. Cut into 10 bars. Store the bars in the refrigerator to maintain freshness longer. Makes 10 bars.

Popcorn Bars

We make homemade granola bars almost every week. While I was eating one of my favorite ones, which is a riff off a version from Two Peas & Their Pod, I considered what would happen if I made them with popcorn instead of oats and cereal.

Magic. That's what happened.

I love the sweet flavor with the punch of salt on these popcorn bars, and the texture is perfectly chewy without the popcorn being soggy. They're so easy, they are worth a try!

Popcorn Bars
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup agave or honey
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3-5 cups popcorn, popped and salted

Combine all ingredients except vanilla and popcorn in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook 2 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Stir in popcorn to coat, adding more popcorn if there is sufficient sauce to thoroughly coat. Press into a 9 x 9 pan lined with parchment paper. Chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to cutting. Makes 10 bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Black Bean Lasagna

This recipe from Readers' Digest caught my eye quite some time ago, but it was a bit out of our usual adventure level. It sat in my pile of recipes to possibly try until my husband and I made a purposeful goal of eating meatless 5 days a week during Lent.

I was pleasantly surprised by this lasagna. It tastes like lasagna ... with black beans. The beans don't change the overall feel of the lasagna, and both my husband and toddler ate it! And then my husband had an emergency appendectomy, so I was stuck with all the leftovers while he enjoyed the fine culinary aspects of jello during the days immediately following his surgery.

Even if this is outside the realm of your normal recipes, you might be pleasantly surprised as well.

Black Bean Lasagna
9 no-boil lasagna noodles
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. canola oil
32 oz. black beans
14 1/2 oz. diced tomatoes
12 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp. dried cilantro
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 egg whites, beaten
15 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
8 oz. shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large skillet, cook onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, water, cilantro and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until slightly thickened (about 5 to 15 minutes).

In a small bowl, combine the egg whites, ricotta, Parmesan and parsley.

Spread 1/2 cup bean mixture in a 9 x 13 pan. Layer with 3 lasagna noodles. Spread with one third of ricotta and then 1/3 of bean mixture and a light sprinkling of shredded cheese. Repeat layers, ending with a heavy sprinkling of shredded cheese.

Cover, and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Remove cover, and bake an additional 10 to 25 minutes until bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 12 servings.

Peanut Butter Granola

This  Cooking Light recipe caught my eye because we usually have a jar of granola on the counter (along with granola bars and usually one other oat-based snack). This is quick to make and quite delicious. It will move into our regular granola rotation.

Peanut Butter Granola
1 cup oats
2 Tbsp. chopped peanuts
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. toasted wheat germ
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
2 tsp. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Heat syrup, peanut butter and oil together over high heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Add to dry ingredients, and toss to coat evenly.

Spread mixture on a silipat-lined baking sheet. Bake 5 to 9 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes. Watch closely to avoid burning any edge pieces of granola. Remove from oven, and press granola together to create crunchy clusters. Allow to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container. Makes 6 snack-size portions.

March 20, 2014

Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

It's hard to beat the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, which explains why I have so many recipes bookmarked with those ingredients, including multiple cupcakes. One can never have too many cupcakes.

I made this version from Two Peas & Their Pod, which disappeared without a single photograph. My 2-year-old son helped with these, putting in all the cupcake liners by himself and putting the peanut butter cups onto the batter. He doubled up the peanut butter cups in one cupcake ... I'm not sure why I corrected his "mistake." I think he's a culinary genius.

The cupcakes have a nice dark chocolate flavor, but mine were a bit drier than I would have liked. Overall, though, this is a winner cupcake.

Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 cup  flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
 12 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
Reese's Pieces or miniature peanut butter cups, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup cupcake tin with paper liners, and set aside. Place butter, chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave in 30 second bursts on 50 percent power, stirring in between, until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set the mixture aside to cool until it is warm to the touch.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and baking powder.  

Whisk the eggs in a separate large bowl to combine, and then add the sugar, vanilla and salt and continue whisking until fully incorporated. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the bowl, and whisk to combine. Sift one-third of the flour mixture into the bowl, and whisk gently to combine. Add the Greek yogurt or sour cream, and whisk to combine. Finally, sift the the rest of the flour mixture into the bowl, and whisk until everything is well combined. The cupcake batter will be thick.

Place a dollop of cupcake batter on the bottom of each cupcake liner. Place a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on top of the batter. Cover the peanut butter cups with remaining batter, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan to a wire rack, and let the cupcakes cool for 5 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the peanut butter frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and peanut butter until creamy. On low speed, add in powdered sugar. Mix until combined, and add the heavy cream. Mix until frosting is fluffy. You can play around with the amounts of powdered sugar and heavy cream to get the desired consistency.

Frost cooled cupcakes with the peanut butter frosting, and top each cupcake with garnish, if desired. Makes 12 cupcakes.

March 12, 2014

Toffee Shortbread Bars

It's probably a good thing that my half-marathon training schedule kicks up to include both a 6- and 8-mile run this week. It's also a good thing our church needs baked goods each week during Lent for its fish fry. (I love Wisconsin!) My husband and I each got 2 sample bars of these from Cookies and Cups, and the rest were delivered to the church. (We needed two samples each in case we had a poor sample quality ... or something like that.)

These are freaking delicious. If you don't like toffee, more for me. I mean, if you don't like toffee, you can easily swap out with a different candy flavor for the topping. Easy. Delicious. Bring on the runs.

Toffee Shortbread Bars
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
Caramel Filling
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp. butter
Toffee Topping
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13 pan with foil, and spray lightly with nonstick spray. Beat butter and sugar together for 1 to 2 minutes, and then mix in the flour. Press into prepared pan, and bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool while preparing the caramel layer.

In a small saucepan, heat sweetened condensed milk and butter together until butter is smooth. Pour over shortbread crust. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until filling is bubbly and browned. It will almost take on a light caramel appearance. Remove from oven. Immediately sprinkle milk chips on top, and place back in oven for 2 minutes until chips are shiny and soft. Carefully spread the chips over the filling with a spatula. Sprinkle with toffee bits, pressing into milk chocolate. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 24 bars.

March 11, 2014

Mexican Casserole

My husband and I agreed to try a mostly vegetarian diet during Lent, allowing seafood regularly and have two days each week be carnivore days. It's a fairly significant change for us, and one I was surprised my husband agreed to try. This is giving me the opportunity to rifle through years of past recipes I've never tried, including this one from Cooking Light. (Seriously, January 2010 issue, so more than 4 years old.) This one was flagged because it looked like it would suit our tastes, but I wasn't sure I could convince my husband on the meatless crumbles.

This is a repeatable dish, even with the meatless crumbles. Pretty tasty, but I made it too hot for my sissy taste buds by not properly mincing the adobe chili I used.

Mexican Casserole
4 tsp. olive oil, divided
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle pepper, minced
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
12 oz. meatless crumbles
48 tortilla chips
15 oz. pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. lime juice
15 oz. diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp. dried cilantro
4 oz. shredded cheese
Sour cream
Black olives
Green onions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 2 tsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until soft, and then add garlic and pepper for one minute. Add spices and meatless crumbles. Cook about 3 minutes, until heated thoroughly.

Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray. Line with half the tortilla chips, and top with crumbles mixture.

Heat remaining olive oil in the same skillet, and add the beans. Mash with a wooden spoon, until thick and chunky. Cook 2 minutes or until heated. Stir in lime juice, tomatoes and cilantro. Spread evenly over crumbles mixture. Top with remaining tortilla chips, and sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake for 13 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Garnish with desired toppings. Makes 6 servings.

March 10, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Pudding

I found this recipe on Edible Perspective, and I decided to try it. My husband was surprised to learn it was made with chia seeds as the base of the pudding. We didn't get our version extremely creamy, but the texture was still enjoyable for us. This is an interesting take on pudding, but it won't replace our standard homemade pudding. It's definitely worth a try, and we'll probably make it again. The biggest selling point of this, to me, is that it is relatively healthy and therefore possibly acceptable for breakfast.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Pudding
2 cups almond milk
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. agave nectar
1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste

Whisk together the milk and chia seeds in a bowl. Add in the peanut butter, cocoa powder, agave nectar and vanilla bean paste. Stir once or twice. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.  Remove, and pour/scrape contents into your blender.  Turn on, and work up to high until fully smooth. Add more milk if desired to thin out.  Add more sweetener for more sweetness if desired.

Portion into four servings, and serve immediately with desired toppings.  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Makes 4 servings.

March 3, 2014

Cookie Dough Truffles

I know I've said it before, but it's a good thing I took up running. Last week I wanted brownies, so I made a pan of delicious fudgy brownies. The next day I made edible cookie dough to make cookie dough brownie sandwiches. Brownies disappeared rapidly, but then we had leftover cookie dough. I knew I would just continue snacking on it until it was all gone, so I decided to spruce it up a bit with a recipe from Cookie Dough Lover's Cookbook.

These truffles are incredibly easy to make and even easier to eat. They would be a very well-received gift or treat at a gathering.

Cookie Dough Truffles
Cookie Dough
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Dipping Chocolate
8 oz. dark chocolate

Beat together the butter and sugars. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Gradually add flour until combined, and stir in chocolate chips. Shape into 1-inch balls, and place on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator to chill at least 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate on medium power in the microwave, and then dip truffles to coat in the chocolate. Garnish with sprinkles if desired. (You could easily use white or milk chocolate as you desire.) My leftovers made about 10 truffles, but you'll end up with many more.

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter

Asparagus is one of our favorite vegetables, particularly when paired with prosciutto. That is a match made in heaven, but this Cooking Light recipe is a fairly close second in my book. We normally just roast asparagus with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, but this rendition takes it to a new level.

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter
20 stalks asparagus, trimmed
Cooking spray
Dash of salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange asparagus on a single layer on a baking sheet. Coat evenly with cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter, and cook until browned. Remove from heat, and stir in soy sauce and vinegar. Toss asparagus with this mixture, and serve warm. Makes 2 larger servings or 4 small servings.