December 7, 2016

Hot Chocolate on a Stick

Even though I leave in a few days for a week away with my husband in the Virgin Islands (without kids!!!), I'm still busy tackling projects I really don't need to do but think they'd be fun anyways. That includes this recipe from Dessert. Design. Life. for hot chocolate on a spoon. The boys are giving their teachers mugs with cocoa, so it should be homemade cocoa, right? And it should come with a quilted homemade snowman mug rug, too, right? I was just making the mug rugs for each boy's teacher, but then AJ informed me it wouldn't be fun to just give his teacher's aide a mug with cocoa. So now I'm trying to finish up a couple more mug rugs, so AJ has "fun" gifts to give apparently.

Anyways, these were easy to put together, and so far my boys have enjoyed the 3 misfits that cracked when I removed them from the ice cube trays.

Hot Chocolate on a Stick
16 oz. chocolate, chopped (not chocolate chips)
1/3 cup cocoa (40 g.)
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar (110 g.)
1/8 tsp. salt
Dash cinnamon

Melt chocolate on half power in the microwave, stirring every 30 to 60 seconds until smooth. Add cocoa powder, powdered sugar, salt and cinnamon to the chocolate. eKep mixing until combined.

Spoon chocolate into ice cube trays, and tap several times to level and fill any gaps. Let set somewhat, and then insert stick. Allow to firm on counter top several hours or in refrigerator for 30-45 minutes. Unmold. Makes 16 hot chocolates.

To make hot chocolate, stir a spoon into 6-8 oz of hot milk (or milk mixed with half & half) until melted.

Browned Butter Shortbread

I have an affinity for shortbread. While my mom's Scotch Shortbread was the classic, I've experimented through the years with Chai Shortbread, Chocolate Shortbread, a healthier version, a Mexican Spiced Version and my favorite Toffee Shortbread. Well, my previous favorite, I guess I should say because this Browned Butter version from Cookies and Cups takes the cake for me now.

I find it a bit odd that my favorite Christmas cookie is something I'd typically classify as boring, but apparently I like butter and sugar a lot. This version is nutty and wonderful and perfection.

Browned Butter Shortbread
1 1/2 cups butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 cup dark chocolate chips
Flaked sea salt

In a medium saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter and bring it to a boil. Swirl the pot consistently, allow the butter to boil until the milk solids begin to brown, and the butter turns an amber color. You'll notice a nutty fragrance. Allow the butter to cool completely, and becomes solid again. You can allow the butter to do this all at room temperature, or you can chill the butter in the refrigerator to firm it more quickly, but you will need to bring it back to room temperature before continuing.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Coat a 10- inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Cut a parchment paper round to fit in the bottom of the pan. Place the round in the sprayed pan, and spray again. Set aside.

Once the butter is solid at room temperature, place in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the brown sugar, and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed until pale in color.
Add in the salt and vanilla, and mix until smooth.

Turn the mixer to low, and add in the flour, mixing until combined. The dough will be dry. Press the dough into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the center is set. Allow the shortbread to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen, and then remove the sides of the pan. Cut the shortbread into wedges while it is still warm, but don't remove the slices from the pan until completely cooled.

Once the shortbread is cooled, carefully remove each slice from the pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips in 30 second increments, stirring after each. Dip the edge of the shortbread into the melted chocolat,e and place on to the parchment lined pan. Sprinkle the chocolate with flaked sea salt. Allow the chocolate to set.

Store airtight for up to 5 days or freeze for longer storage.

Bourbon Chai Caramel Milkshakes

Well, folks, it was a pretty quiet November on the blog ... as in no posts ... because I was doing Whole 30. Nothing came across my plate that was all too exciting, except for the sesame chicken I tossed together without much of a recipe ... or maybe the oil-roasted almonds. So maybe one of those will make a future post, but for now I'm back with an amazingly delicious milkshake from How Sweet Eats.

Friends came over for our annual holiday baking, and I whipped up these milkshakes. In fact, the bourbon chai caramel was the first thing I made that morning ... not that I was excited for ice cream, caramel or alcohol. These did not disappoint!

Bourbon Chai Caramel Milkshakes
Bourbon Chai Caramel
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup bourbon
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. salt
4 cups vanilla or chai or cinnamon ice cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup bourbon chai caramel, plus extra for drizzling
2 shots vanilla chai bourbon (or regular bourbon)

Combine all the ingredients for the caramel in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk to combine, then cook and stir until the mixture is bubbling. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until it slightly thickens and is smooth. Remove from heat, and let it cool to room temperature. (It will thicken more as it cools.)

To make the milkshakes, combine all the ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Drizzle glasses with caramel sauce, fill with milkshake and top with more caramel sauce (and ideally a shortbread cookie). Makes 4 milkshakes.

November 2, 2016

Peanut Butter Skillet Cookie

So, I've made plenty of skillet cookies before like this one and this one and these adorable ones that I might have specifically purchased mini skillets to make. Might have.

But I hadn't made any peanut butter versions until I tried this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. Sally's version won over others I looked at because hers required a substantial amount of peanut butter versus just a dab.

This was delicious, rich, peanut buttery and a worthy accompaniment to the other skillet cookies in my arsenal. (It helps that I have a freezer full of mix-ins for cookies. I'm avoiding that freezer this month since I'm doing Whole 30. It misses me already, and it's only the morning of Day 2.)

Peanut Butter Skillet Cookie
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips, Reese's Pieces or other mix-ins

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease oven-safe skillet. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, and beat on high until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the peanut butter and vanilla, and then mix on high until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix on low until combined. Stir in the mix-ins.

Using a rubber spatula, spread the cookie dough evenly into prepared skillet. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until puffed, browned on the sides and lightly browned on top. If you want the skillet cookie a little more set, bake for 40 minutes. Allow the cookie to slightly cool in the pan set on a wire rack to avoid scalding your mouth. Makes 1 (giant) cookie.

October 13, 2016

Garlicky Kohlrabi Relish

My family occasionally had kohlrabi growing up, and my parents planted a huge variety this year. (As in huge kohlrabi ... not many different types of kohlrabi.) I was hoping to score one of theirs when I found this recipe from Food in Jars. Their kohlrabi were all eaten, but I snagged a few at the farmers' market for this relish.

I haven't opened a jar yet, but I'm excited to try it. I always enjoy finding new unique recipes to try each year.

Garlicky Kohlrabi Relish
4 lbs. kohlrabi
3 cups apple cider vinegar
5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
2 Tbsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. crushed black pepper

Prepare a boiling water bath canner and four pint jars. Shred the kohlrabi using the grating disc of your food processor or a box grater. You should have about ten cups of grated kohlrabi.

In a large, non-reactive pot, combine all ingredients. Set over high heat, and bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Once the liquid boils, cook for 3-4 minutes, until the kohlrabi slumps a little and release some of its liquid.

Using tongs, pack the kohlrabi into the prepared jars, and ladle the liquid over to cover, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Use a chopstick to remove any trapped air bubbles, and add more liquid, if necessary.

Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner, and cool completely. Check the seals and store. Makes 4 pints.

Bourbon Pecan Fudge Brownies

One of my good friends has a birthday this month. She loves bourbon and pecans, so I knew I had to make this recipe from Love & Olive Oil for her birthday treat. These definitely are a fudge brownie, not at all like a cake brownie. Personally, I'm still not a huge fan of nuts in brownies, so I'm not sure I'd go the pecan route for me ... but these are for her.

Bourbon Pecan Fudge Brownies
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
5 oz. dark or bittersweet chocolate (70-75%), finely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 Tbsp. bourbon (or homemade bourbon vanilla)
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chunks, plus more for topping
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, divided
Flake sea salt, for topping

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and lightly butter parchment.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Combine butter and chopped chocolate in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until chocolate is almost melted. Remove from heat, and continue to gently stir until smooth. Whisk in sugar until incorporated. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, until batter is smooth and shiny. Whisk in bourbon.

Sprinkle dry ingredients over top of melted chocolate mixture, and stir until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of pecans. Spread into prepared pan, using a spatula to smooth batter into corners. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup pecans, chocolate chips and flake sea salt, as desired.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is shiny and crackly and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out mostly clean. Cool on a wire rack for until completely cooled before slicing into squares. (Refrigerate for an hour before cutting for the neatest slices.) Brownies will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 5 days. Makes 16 brownies.

September 23, 2016

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I realize it's been way too long since I've posted a recipe on here, but life's been busy with back-to-school for the first time, so I guess really to-school. Anyways, I think this is a new record for me that I found this recipe in the morning and baked it in the afternoon. I needed a treat for this weekend, and this looked simple and delicious.

These bars from Brown Eyed Baker come together quickly, and I used the caramel bites I had on hand and a splash of milk because I wasn't running to the store. Simple and delicious. My only regret was sticking nearly the whole batch in the freezer, so we wouldn't eat them all before this weekend ... I think last night after the kiddos went to bed my husband and I wanted to eat about 3 ... each ...

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla
 2 cups chocolate chips
10 oz. caramel candy squares, unwrapped
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
Fleur de sel (or other sea salt), for sprinkling over caramel and bars

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line a 9-inch pan with foil, and grease. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

Using an electric mixer, mix together the melted butter and sugars on medium speed until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients, and mix on low, just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. Microwave on high until the caramels are melted, stirring every 20 seconds. This will take about 2 minutes.

Press half the cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Pour the hot caramel over the dough cookie dough and spread into an even layer, leaving about ½ inch around the border. (If you forget to leave this space, you'll be pulling foil that's stuck to caramel after they're baked.) Sprinkle the caramel with sea salt. Drop the remaining cookie dough in spoonfuls over the caramel, and gently spread the dough with a spatula until the caramel is covered. (I actually squished my dough into flat pieces to make the covering easier.) Sprinkle the bars with additional sea salt.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Place the pan on a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow the caramel layer to set. Cut into squares, and serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or in the refrigerator if your caramel is too gooey. Makes 16 bars.

September 22, 2016

Peanut Butter Brownie Cupcakes

So the title on these is a bit misleading since they really aren't cupcakes. They're brownies baked in cupcake wrappers, filled with a peanut butter cheesecake center and topped with peanut butter and chocolate frosting. I'm guessing you're probably OK with me misleading you in this direction.

My sister-in-law shared this recipe with me after seeing it on Facebook, and I traced it back to Gretchen's Bakery. My favorite part is that I have frosting left because that was my favorite part of this treat, but then again, I'm a sucker for frosting.

Peanut Butter Brownie Cupcakes
Brownie Cupcake
6 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour 
Peanut Butter Filling
1/3 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 Tbsp. milk 
Peanut Butter Frosting
Chocolate Frosting

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine butter and chocolate together, and melt together, stirring often (either in microwave or on stove). In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, salt, eggs and vanilla. Whisk together well. Add melted mixture, and whisk to incorporate. Stir in flour just until mixed. Portion batter into 15 prepared cupcake liners.

Make the peanut butter filling by beating the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, and mix until incorporated. Add the peanut butter, and mix well. Add the egg and then the milk. Drop spoons of the mixture into each cupcake, pushing slightly so it goes into the batter.

Bake for 25 minutes or until brownies reach desired texture. Cool completely before frosting. I made a standard peanut butter buttercream frosting and used a chocolate frosting from Brown Eyed Baker. I filled a pastry bag with both to swirl my delicious frosting on top of the cupcakes. Be sure to make only a half batch of each frosting, unless you double the cupcake recipe. Makes 15 cupcakes.

August 24, 2016

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Levian is apparently a famous bakery in some podunk place called New York City. I have high hopes to visit NYC to see all the important things like the September 11 memorial, Ellis Island, the Statute of Liberty, Central Park and such and taste many of the delicious things as well that I see all these food bloggers praise. But, I have extremely low hopes for the crowds and masses of people and creepy crawlies that I get thinking about all those people.

I'd rather be able to experience all those things without thousands of my closest strangers surrounding me. Thankfully, with this recipe from Bake at 350, I got to do exactly that with these Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies that are based off Levian's famous cookies.

These cookies are huge ... 6 ounces of dough, which is I believe twice as large as the other ridiculously large cookies I've made. It's gotten to the point that I'm not sure I know what a normal-size cookie looks like, and I'm pretty sure I'll be disappointed when I remember.

These cookies are almost like a cakey brownie in some sense for texture. They're not overly chewy or crispy edges, but somehow they are perfect for themselves. The flavor is rich chocolate and delicious. I shall make these again.

And great news if you're watching calories. There's only 8 cookies in a batch. That's not enough to over-indulge, right? Just ignore the fact that each cookie is about the size of 6 normal cookies. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
14 Tbsp. butter, cold and cut into chunks
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
10-ounce package peanut butter chips
1 cup peanut butter-filled chips (or more peanut butter chips)
Whisk the flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
Cream the butter with the sugars until combined and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. In three additions, add the flour mixture, just until combined. Stir in the chips.
Pressing the dough together, measuring out 6-ounce portions. (You'll have one that is around 4 ounces.) Place on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet. Break each portion in half, pressing the smooth sides together well and leaving the rough edges exposed. Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 1-2 hours.
Place one oven rack in the center of the oven and one on the bottom rack. Put a cookie sheet on the bottom rack. Line another sheet with parchment. Preheat oven to 375ºF. 

Place 4 cookies on the lined cookie sheet. Place the cookies on the center rack, while pouring a cup of ice on the cookie sheet on the bottom rack. Quickly close the door to trap the steam.

Bake the cookies for 19-22 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies feel done, but the insides are still soft. Remove from the oven, and place on a wire cooling rack to cool. (The smaller cookie can bake for 17-19 minutes.)

Serve warm. For room temperature cookies, heat in the microwave for 10 seconds, if desired. Makes 8 substantial cookies.

Proof of deliciousness.

August 18, 2016

Cookie Butter Ice Cream

Biscoff is something I eat by the spoonful, delicious spoons of cookie butter. The Europeans are crazy not to like peanut butter, but they are pretty intelligent when it comes to smashing cookies into a spreadable form.

Brown Eyed Baker converted cookie butter into ice cream, so I had to give that a spin (or churn to be literal). This is a good, creamy ice cream, although it won't take my top spot. My favorite part is the crushed cookie bits. (I'll be honest, I top the whole thing with more cookie crumbles before I eat the ice cream.)

Cookie Butter Ice Cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup cookie butter, divided
2 cups heavy cream, divided
Pinch of salt
6 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped speculoos cookies, about 12 cookies

Warm the milk, sugar, 1/2 cup of cookie butter, 1 cup of the heavy cream and the salt in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the cookie butter has melted. Continue cooking until the mixture comes to a slight simmer, bubbling around the edges of the pan.

Meanwhile, pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream into a large bowl, and place a fine-mesh sieve on top. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Slowly pour the warmed milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.

Place the saucepan over medium heat, and stir constantly with a rubber spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spatula, a few minutes. The mixture should register 170 to 175ºF on a candy thermometer.

Pour the custard through the fine-mesh sieve, and stir it into the cream. Stir in the vanilla extract, and place the bowl over an ice bath. Stir occasionally until the mixture is cool. Cover, and transfer the custard to the refrigerator until completely chilled, at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prior to churning the ice cream, melt the remaining 1/2 cup cookie butter. Set aside to come to cool slightly while churning the ice cream. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, stirring in the chopped speculoos cookies immediately after churning. As you remove the ice cream to a freezer-safe container, drop dollops of the melted cookie butter over each layer of ice cream. Once all of the ice cream and cookie butter has been placed in the container, use a butter knife to gently swirl the mixture. Store the ice cream in the freezer. Makes about 1 quart.

August 16, 2016

White Cake

Gosh, the title sounds boring. I swear this cake really wasn't boring.

For my grandpa's 94th birthday, I wanted to make a cake that wasn't over-the-top sweet, so I decided to try the Ultimate Vanilla Cake recipe from Cupcake Project. The cake worked well, so I wanted to note it for future projects.

I layered my cake layers with a strawberry sauce ... which was really a strawberry jam that failed to set. It was perfectly delicious, with the right balance of sweet and tart from lemons to complement this cake.

One cake I frosted with whipped cream, and the other with the Cupcake Project's vanilla bean buttercream frosting. I actually preferred the whipped cream, but both were tasty.

July 28, 2016

Key Lime Pie Cones

The other week we tried to replicate a Key Lime Pie Martini. It was close but not close enough to use all our supplies making them, which meant I had a partial can of sweetened condensed milk in the fridge. Rather than wasting it, I decided to try this recipe from Sweet ReciPEAS that I had a seen a few weeks earlier. Let's just say that those martinis weren't a waste because these Key Lime Pie Cones are amazing!

The recipe includes no eggs, so they only require a short baking time that doesn't burn the ice cream cone. The cones do get a bit chewy as they sit, so these would be best served the day they are made ideally as soon as they are thoroughly chilled. By the second day, the cones are all chew with no crunch. I simply put cool whip in a piping bag to make them pretty, but you could easily make homemade whipped cream or simply dollup on some cool whip if that's how you roll.

These will be made again. They might even be better than real key lime pie with meringue, and they're definitely easier. (That says a lot considering how easy key lime pie is to make.) I think they'd be perfect for a gathering of friends because they're individual portions, cute and delicious!

I'll share her measurements, although I tweaked them down to use just the sweetened condensed milk I had left. I'm guessing this recipe would yield about 16 sugar cones and use a container of cool whip. If you could find mini sugar cones, you could probably shorten the bake time to about 5 minutes and have plenty more as minis.

Key Lime Pie Cones
Sugar cones
2 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup key lime juice
Cool Whip

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cover a bundt pan tightly with aluminum foil. Poke a hole in the foil, and insert a sugar cone into the hole. Repeat as needed with the other cones. (The foil holds them in place for baking, so they don't tip.)

Combine the sweetened condensed milk, sour cream and lime juice together until evenly mixed. Distribute evenly among desired amount of cones. (The mixture will not rise, so you can fill them to the top.) Bake about 7 minutes, until set. Cool completely, and then chill in the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving. Top with cool whip immediately prior to serving. Makes about 16 cones.

June 26, 2016

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

We planted strawberries last year, and we fortunately have plants loaded with fruit this summer. Since I've been a single parent for the week while my husband is gallivanting around Europe for work (I'm sure you can't sense my jealousy), I kept tucking my berries in the fridge with sugar to keep them until I got around to doing something with them. My mother-in-law kindly kept the kiddos for a night, so I could get some things done including making deliciousness out of my berries.

I made a batch of strawberry vanilla jam, which ended up as strawberry vanilla sauce. I'm cool with that. I'd much rather have a jam that doesn't set versus a jam that is like eating glue, if you can scrape it out of the jar. (I've had a few batches like that, so I tend to err on the side of a looser jam). I also tried this jam recipe from Food in Jars.

This is like a grown-up version of strawberry jam, one that would play well with savory foods. It only makes a small batch, so I used mostly 1/4 pint jars for mine. And this one turned out with a perfect consistency.

Strawberry Balsamic Jam
1 1/2 pounds strawberries (about 4 cups chopped berries)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a boiling water bath canner and 3 half pint jars. Chop the strawberries. Place them in a non-reactive 12 inch skillet, and add the sugar. Stir to combine, and let the berries sit until the sugar looks damp the fruit has started to weep liquid. Place the pan over high heat, and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring regularly, until the berries soften and the liquid bubbles and thickens. It should take between 15 and 20 minutes of cooking.

Towards the end of cooking, stir in the balsamic vinegar. The jam is done when you can pull a spatula through it, and it doesn't rush as quickly to fill the space. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the black pepper.

Funnel the finished jam into the prepared jars leaving a half-inch head space. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process them in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. When the time is up, remove the jars from the canner, and set them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. Makes 1 1/2 pints.

June 15, 2016

Smores French Toast

This weekend we made French toast based off a video the boys and I watched on Facebook. There's not a precise recipe, but if you've made French toast before, you can make this. After you dip the bread in the egg mixture, dip it into graham cracker crumbs, coating both sides. Cook as normal in a hot skillet. After flipping the French toast to cook the second side, spread a layer of marshmallow fluff on one piece of bread and a layer of melted chocolate on another. Press the two pieces of bread together, and voila, smores French toast!

In case you can't tell, this is incredibly rich for breakfast. You might want to consider it as a dessert. Or consider splitting one French toast between two people. Or eat this and then spend all morning hauling rocks and dirt. (That last option worked well for us.)

May 27, 2016

Prickly Pear Tequila Sunrise Cake

When we visited Saguaro National Park, we walked away with quite the abundance of prickly pear products: tea, syrup and a tequila sunrise jam made with prickly pear. However, as is often the case, the products sat in our cupboard waiting for the right time to try them. I decided to combine a few of them into a birthday cake for me/my dad. Inspired by the jam, I decided to make a prickly pear tequila sunrise cake.

Now, I've made tequila sunrise cupcakes before, and I feel like this version takes the cake. I modified an orange cake from Goodie Godmother. Both layers of this cake have wonderful texture, and the orange frosting reminds me of creamsicles. I didn't quite attain the swoopy frosting I was hoping for, so instead I blended the two frostings into each other.

End result: pretty and delicious cake.

Prickly Pear Tequila Sunrise Cake
Orange Cake
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
5-10 drops orange essential oil
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
11/2 cups flour
11/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup tequila
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Prickly Pear Cake
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
11/2 cups flour
11/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup prickly pear syrup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Orange Frosting
2 sticks butter, softened
1 lb. powdered sugar
5-10 drops orange essential oil
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
2-4 Tbsp. milk or heavy cream
Prickly Pear Frosting
2 sticks butter, softened
1 lb. powdered sugar
1/4 cup prickly pear syrup
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
Prickly Pear Tequila Sunrise Jam

To bake the orange cake, preheat your oven to 350ºF. Grease, butter and flour a 9-inch round pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Beat the butter, sugar and orange oil together in a mixing bowl or with a stand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well, and scraping the bowl after each addition.

In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a measuring cup with a spout, combine the orange juice, tequila and vanilla. Add half the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, stir to incorporate, and then add half the liquid mixture. Scrape the bowl, add the other half of the flour, stir, scrape, and add the remaining liquid. Stir just until combined. Pour into cake bowl, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, and remove from pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To bake the prickly pear cake, preheat your oven to 350ºF. Grease, butter and flour a 9-inch round pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl or with a stand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well, and scraping the bowl after each addition.

In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a measuring cup with a spout, combine the prickly pear syrup, milk and vanilla. Add half the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, stir to incorporate, and then add half the liquid mixture. Scrape the bowl, add the other half of the flour, stir, scrape, and add the remaining liquid. Stir just until combined. Pour into cake bowl, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, and remove from pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the orange frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy, almost white in color. Slowly beat in powdered sugar. Add the orange oil and vanilla, and then add milk until desired consistency is reached.

To make the prickly pear frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy, almost white in color. Slowly beat in powdered sugar. Add the prickly pear syrup, and beat until smooth and fluffy.

(If you want to cheat, you can start both frostings together, and simply divide them before adding the unique ingredients. You'll end up with extra frosting, which is a great excuse to make tequila sunrise cupcakes. Or am I the only person who bakes a batch of orange tequila cupcakes to use up extra frosting?)

To assemble the cake, place the prickly pear layer down first. Cover with a layer of prickly pear tequila sunrise jam (or orange curd would be an excellent substitution). Top with orange cake layer. Frost the bottom portion of the cake with the prickly pear frosting, and the top portion of the cake with orange frosting. Swirl or combine as desired. (I used some prickly pear on the top and did the sunset effect there as well.)

May 23, 2016

Sweet & Salty Millionaire's Layer Cake

I've had this incredible cake bookmarked for a very long time from Sweetapolita. I figured my birthday was the perfect time to try this rather involved recipe. None of the steps alone are overly complicated, but you end up making 3 layer cakes, shortbread crumbles, salted caramel, Swiss meringue buttercream and chocolate ganache. You can see why it takes quite a bit of time ... and butter. Lots of butter.

This was my first time making Swiss meringue buttercream, and I'm so glad I made it. It's a luscious, buttery frosting, that is very different than a typical buttercream. It will not become my standard, but it's a nice varietal to have in my frosting arsenal.

This is rich, decadent and lives up to its Millionaire name.

Sweet & Salty Millionaire's Layer Cake
Chocolate Cake
2 1/4 cups flour
2 1/4 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup dark Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup hot water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla
Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream
6 egg whites
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups butter, softened, cut into cubes
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
Pinch of salt
Salted Caramel
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. vanilla or vanilla bean paste
Generous pinch of sea salt
Shortbread Crumbs
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened, cut into cubes
Ganache Frosting
1 pound plus 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

To make the cakes, preheat oven to 350° F. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray, and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. (If you have to bake each cake separately, the batter will be fine to do this.)

In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large measuring cup with a spout, combine the buttermilk, hot water, oil, eggs and vanilla.

Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Divide batter among the 3 cake pans (weigh batter for even layers at about 520 grams per cake pan).
Bake 2 of the layers until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs, about 20-25 minutes. Repeat with the final layer. Let cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, and then turn onto a wire rack until completely cool.

To make the Swiss meringue buttercream, wipe the bowl and whisk of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 130°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 8-10 minutes.

Place bowl back on mixer, and fit with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch. (This can take up to 10 minutes, or longer). Switch over to paddle attachment, and with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture. (If it curdles, keep mixing, and it will come back to smooth). Increase speed to medium, and beat until the mixture becomes thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add vanilla bean paste and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, refrigerated for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature. Bring chilled buttercream back to smooth consistency by bringing to room temperature and then beating on low speed with an electric mixer for a few minutes. (I had a hard time getting mine back to the same fluffy consistency, but I think I didn't have it warmed to room temperature, which might have been my issue.)

To make the caramel, n a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir the sugar and water until combined. Brush down the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush, and increase the heat to medium-high. Stop stirring, and let the mixture bubble until it reaches an amber colour (about 350°F). Promptly remove the saucepan from the heat, and whisk in the heavy cream carefully until smooth, followed by the butter.

Clip a candy thermometer onto the saucepan, and return the mixture to medium-high heat until it reaches 248°F). Transfer the caramel to the heatproof bowl, and stir in the vanilla and sea salt. As the caramel reaches room temperature, it will become thick and spreadable. Store in a sealed jar in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To make the shortbread crumbles, preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or your fingers, until you have distributed the butter and achieved pea-size bits. Turn the mixture in an even layer onto the prepared baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and, using a heatproof spatula, gently break up the mixture and return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Let tray cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool, keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

For the ganache frosting, place chopped chocolate in a large heatproof mixing bowl. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, corn syrup and salt, and bring just to a boil. Pour hot cream mixture over the chocolate, and let sit for about 1 minute. Using a whisk, combine the chocolate mixture until smooth. Add butter and vanilla, and mix again until smooth. Mixture will thicken to spreadable frosting consistency, and eventually become solid at room temperature. To soften, simply warm and bring to desired consistency.

Prepare your fillings and frosting and ensure they are all at spreadable consistency. For the ganache, this will take about 15-30 minutes after making it, and about 30-60 minutes for the caramel. If you have made ahead, simply warm the ganache and let cool until spreadable, and do the same for the caramel.

Slice all three cake layers in half horizontally, so you have a total of 6 cake layers. Smear a small dollop of the ganache frosting on a cake plate, pedestal or cake board, and place your first layer cut side up (so bottom of the cake layer is touching plate), and using a small offset palette knife, spread about 1 cup of buttercream on the layer leaving about 1-inch around the edge, followed by one-third of the caramel and then a generous handful of shortbread crumble. Place your next cake layer on top, and spread about 1 cup of the ganache frosting all the way to the edge.

Repeat previous step until you get to the final cake layer. Place last layer face down (cut side down) and frost entire cake with the ganache frosting. Let sit for about 15 minutes and then finish with a thick coat of ganache frosting. Sprinkle on some Fleur de Sel. Finished cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Keep refrigerated if longer than 8 hours, but serve at room temperature.

May 17, 2016

Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie

Some people drink green smoothies. I tried. Once. It was gross.

This, on the other hand, is delicious. It's chock full of protein ... and chocolate. How Sweet It Is nailed this, although mine was much more smoothie than smoothie bowl to eat with a spoon. I'm trying to convince myself this is a healthy breakfast because of all the nutrients and such ... it did keep me full until lunch, so that counts for something.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie
2 cups chocolate almond milk
1 cup ice
1/2 cup cup plain Greek yogurt
3 frozen bananas
4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. peanut butter
3 Tbsp. hemp seeds
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
2 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Either drink or slurp from bowls if your version is thick enough. You can top with whatever you please, but the original post suggested cacoa nibs, chia seeds, coconut flakes, sliced almonds, sliced banana, peanut butter or hemp seeds. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

May 15, 2016

Glam Rock Layer Cake

When I came across this cake, I thought of my friend's daughter who's celebrating her birthday this month. I'm excited to have an excuse to replicate this awesome creation from Sweetapolita because it's such a fun cake. (And I don't have to figure out a volleyball cake or a Five Nights at Freddy's cake, which were other suggestions for this cake.)

Be sure to check out the original post at Sweetapolita for her notes, tips and such. She does a great job within her tutorial. (And her cake looked at least 10 times cooler than mine.)

Glam Rock Layer Cake
"Black" Chocolate Cake
2 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. black cocoa powder
1 1 /2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups  buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 cup very hot water
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
Electric Purple Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp. water
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Purple gel paste color
Black Frosting
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, frosted
3/4 cup premium dark cocoa powder
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
Generous pinch of salt
8 ounces premium dark (but not extra dark) chocolate, chopped or chips, melted
Black soft gel paste color
Sprinkles of your choice (1-2 cups, depending on size of the sprinkles)

For the cakes, preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans (may need to bake one layer, and repeat the process to bake other layers depending on oven size and amount of cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment if desired for easy removal.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In a large measuring glass with a spout, mix together the buttermilk and water. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add the vanilla, and beat well. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well (about 30 seconds) and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

Lower the speed to the lowest setting, and add one third of the dry mixture until just combined, and add half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk mixtures. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and whisk in the mayonnaise.

In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar, and quickly add to the batter. Whisk until smooth, about 30 seconds. Divide one-third of the batter into each pan.

Bake the first two layers in the center of the oven until a wooden pick comes out with a few crumbs, 30-35 minutes. Let the cake layers cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, and then gently invert onto the wire rack. (Wipe the pans clean and repeat with the final layers if needed.) Let all of the layers cool completely. The cake layers will keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for easier frosting.

To make the purple frosting, beat the butter on medium speed until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, and gradually add the powdered sugar, milk , vanilla and salt. Beat for 1 minute.

Increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until very light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Add a few drops of purple gel paste until desired shade is achieved. (Frosting with keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring chilled frosting to room temperature and beat on low speed to soften. If necessary, you can warm the frosting in a heatproof container in the microwave in 10-second intervals, stirring after each one, until smooth and spreadable.)

For the black frosting, beat the butter until pale and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Sift together powdered sugar and cocoa. On low, add dry ingredients, water, sour cream, vanilla and salt. Beat until incorporated. Beat 2 more minutes on medium. Add melted chocolate, and beat on medium until smooth. Add a small amount of the black color (about 1/2 tsp.). Pulse until combined. Let sit for about 15 minutes. (The color will take awhile to reach it's true color.) Add more color if necessary, until desired black tint is achieved.

To frost, sandwich the cake layers together with the purple frosting in the middle. Make sure your layers are lined up nicely, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 15 minutes. Remove the cake from the refrigerator, and frost the entire outside of the cake with a thin layer of black frosting as a crumb coat. Chill at least 30 minutes until frosting begins to firm.

Frost the cake evenly and smoothly with the black frosting, reserving about 1 1/2 cups for the piped border. Chill cake another 20 minutes.You will want the frosting for the buttercream "poof" border to be very soft, in order to achieve the appealing peaks. Warm frosting in a small heatproof bowl for about 8-10 seconds, and stir. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip with the softened frosting and pipe some buttercream "poofs" around the outside of the cake top.

Pour your sprinkles into a medium bowl, and gently press sprinkles onto the bottom third of the cake, all the way around, letting the excess fall back into the bowl. You can also put the cake on a cookie sheet and let the excess sprinkles fall onto the sheet. Return the cake to the fridge until the buttercream poofs are very firm, about 30 minutes. Pour more sprinkles atop the flat exposed surface of the top of the cake. Cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature.

April 24, 2016

Loaded Peanut Butter Cookies

These cookies from Sugar & Charm are one of my new favorite cookies, quite possibly my favorite that doesn't require chilling. (Although, you certainly can chill the dough and bake at your convenience.) It's a peanut butter cookie base loaded with heath, chocolate, more chocolate and more peanut butter. Amazing straight from the oven, although gooey, and still delicious the next day. (I can't vouch beyond that because they were gone by then.)

Loaded Peanut Butter Cookies
1/2 cup soft, creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks
1 cup dark chocolate chunks
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 1/2 cup Heath Bar chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In an electric mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter and both sugars on high until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, salt and baking soda. Continue to beat on medium.

Add in the flour, and beat just until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chunks, peanut butter chips and Heath Bar chips.

Scoop ice cream size cookie balls onto prepared baking sheets lined with silipats or parchment paper. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes until the tops are just golden brown.

Cool for 5 to 10 minutes until they've set enough to be transferred to a wire rack to cool completely. Or put them on a plate and eat their delicious gooey warmness.

April 20, 2016

Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowl

My favorite recipes currently are ones where I cook once and can feed my family for a week's worth of meals. It makes life easy, which I appreciate. And this recipe from From No. 2 Pencil makes life easy, delicious and relatively healthy.

I tweaked her recipe slightly, and ended up with something our whole family ate and enjoyed. (OK, I had to pick out the beans and any visible tomato pieces for my 4-year-old, but he's 4. That's normal.)

Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowl
2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 tsp. onion powder
3 tsp. garlic powder
4 tsp. chili powder
3 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
2 14 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 3/4 cups instant whole grain brown rice

Place chicken breasts in slow cooker, and add remaining ingredients except beans and rice. Cook on low for about 4 hours, until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Remove chicken breasts from slow cooker, and turn slow cooker to high. Stir in instant rice and black beans. Cook 30-45 minutes on high, or until rice is tender. Meanwhile, shred chicken. Stir chicken back into the mixture, and let sit 5 minutes.

Serve with your favorite toppings. Cheese, lettuce, cilantro, sour cream, green onions, avocado, guacamole, salsa and black olives all made an appearance at our table. I stuck the mixture in a crunchy taco shell with cheese and black olives for my one son, but the rest of us ate the mixture as burrito bowls. Serves 8.

Hibiscus Syrup

Last week when my toddler wasn't sleeping from 2-5 a.m., I found myself browsing my favorite blogs when I came across this hibiscus syrup from Sprinklebakes. I've never had hibiscus anything, but it seemed like a really good idea at 3:30 a.m. I dropped the stuff into my Amazon cart. Two days later I was making this simple, flavorful syrup.

I'd love to play around with it in the form of a cake, brushing the layers with the syrup and adding the syrup to the frosting. For now, though, it's being used in ice tea for my husband. Although, hibiscus margarita anyone?

Hibiscus Syrup
4 cups filtered water
2 cups sugar
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 vanilla bean

Combine the water, sugar and hibiscus flowers in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon juice. Split and scrape the vanilla seeds from the vanilla bean, and add the seeds and bean pot to the pot. Remove from heat.

Let the mixture steep for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, and strain again through a cheesecloth or tea towel if you want to remove any finer hibiscus debris. (A single straining removed pretty much everything for me.)

Transfer the mixture to an 8 cup measure with a pour spout. Fill sterilized jars or bottles, and close with tightly fitting lids. Let stand at room temperature until cool, about 1 hour. Transfer bottles to the refrigerator.

Syrup will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Makes about 30 oz. of syrup.


Flaky Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

Biscuits and gravy is probably my dad's favorite breakfast, but it's not one we had often growing up. Lucky for him, my brother's better half is considerate enough to make biscuits and gravy every time we're together for a weekend. That's how my husband learned he loves biscuits and gravy as well.

Because I'm me, I don't do canned biscuits. I don't even do bisquick biscuits, which the me 10 years ago would have considered homemade. There's nothing wrong with either of those, but I think the results are better for the slightly more work, especially with this recipe from Girl vs. Dough. It's not an exaggeration to say these are the best biscuits to come out of my kitchen.

One of my tricks for getting breakfast on the table faster in the morning is to mix together everything possible ahead of time. All the dry ingredients can be combined in a bowl, just waiting for morning. The butter can be grated and stuck in the freezer. It might not save a ton of time, but it works for me.

Flaky Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, frozen or refrigerated
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup cold buttermilk

Heat oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a box grater to grate cold butter into a small bowl. Place bowl in freezer.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda until well combined. Add grated butter, and, use a pastry blender to cut in butter until it's the size of small peas. Pour in cold buttermilk, and stir mixture with a wooden spoon just until a dough forms.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, and gently pat into a rough ball. Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut dough in half. Place one half on top of other half, and very gently press halves together, shaping into a rough ball again. Repeat 3 times.

Gently shape dough into a rough rectangle about 1-inch thick. Cut dough into 12 equal squares, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, spacing biscuits at least 1 inch apart. Place baking sheet in freezer 10 minutes to re-chill dough.

Transfer baking sheet directly from freezer to oven, and bake biscuits 10 to 12 minutes until golden and fluffy. Serve immediately. Makes 12 biscuits.

February 5, 2016

Groundhog Cupcakes

These cupcakes from Bakerella are probably the single most adorable cupcakes I've ever made, and they're quite tasty as well. (They're topped with candy, so of course they are tasty.) She's spot on with her recommendations for the candies to use to make these cute cupcakes.

I think these will have to be a tradition for us. The one thing I might consider changing would be to put a peanut butter filling inside the cupcake or a mini peanut butter cup inside just to make the cupcake itself a bit more interesting. The cupcake recipe, though, for a one-bowl simple recipe makes a mighty tasty cupcake.

I was a bit misleading when I shared these on Facebook because I said, "I could really gopher a cupcake right now!" So if you need a gopher cupcake, these will work, too. (And if you find a reason you need a gopher cupcake, let me know. That will give me another reason to make these.)

Groundhog Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
2 Tbsp. milk
18 peanut butter cups
36 candy eyes
72 Hershey's Drops
36 brown M & Ms or Reese's Pieces
18 black candy balls
1 marshmallow
Edible food black marker
Handful of chocolate chips
10 chocolate cookies, pureed into crumbs
Preheat oven to 350°F. Fill cupcake tray with 18 cupcake liners.
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together with a wire whisk. Add eggs, oil, vanilla and milk, and mix until combined. Add hot water, and mix. It will be very liquid. Pour batter into a large spouted measuring cup for ease, and fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until done.
While cupcakes are baking, make the groundhogs. Melt a few chocolate chips in the microwave to use to "glue" everything together. Unwrap the peanut butter cups, and place on a baking sheet. Use a toothpick to apply the chocolate "glue" to the black noses into place. Then "glue" the 2 Hershey's Drops, and place as cheeks. Add the candy eyes in the same manner, and let the chocolate harden. Cut marshmallow into 18 small pieces, and glue on for teeth. (The original recipe called for marshmallow bits, but I improvised because I couldn't find them at the store.) Use the food marker to draw between the teeth. Repeat for all groundhogs.

For chocolate frosting, beat butter until creamy. Add vanilla, and mix. Slowly add powdered sugar and cocoa, and mix until combined. Add 1-2 Tablespoons milk, and mix until creamy and smooth.

Use a knife or offset spatula to frost cupcakes. Dip into cookie crumbs to add the dirt to your cupcake. Then carefully place a groundhog onto each cupcake. Smash the frosting up behind it to hold it in place if needed. Add 2 more Hershey's Drops for paws by placing them in the frosting. Glue on M & Ms or Reese's Pieces for ears. Makes 18 of the most adorable cupcakes ever!

January 25, 2016

Salsa Verde Chicken Chili

After I made a batch of Salsa Verde Chicken, I then moved onto Cookies and Cups' version of Chicken Chili. I made a few minor tweaks in seasonings, and this is amazing!

For something so healthy, it's loaded with flavor. I did top our portions with a bit of shredded cheese, but you could go without if you like leading a boring life. This is thick and really loaded with chicken. I think you could stretch the chicken a bit, either using 2 cups or increasing some of the other ingredients to make this recipe go even further.

Salsa Verde Chicken Chili
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 cup frozen corn
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 cans cannellini beans, drained, rinsed and divided
2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. smoked salt
3 cups salsa verde chicken
24 oz. chicken broth

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and corn until soft, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic, and saute for 2 more minutes.

Place one can of drained and rinsed beans into a blender or food processor. Transfer the onion mixture into the blender or food processor as well. Add in the cumin, aleppo pepper, paprika and salt. Blend the mixture until it is a thick paste.

Add the chicken to the unwashed dutch oven over medium heat, and stir in the chicken broth. Add in the bean mixture to the broth, and stir to combine. Finally add in the remaining beans. Heat the chili until it just comes to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the chili for 30 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Salsa Verde Chicken

You know where your mind is when you type slow cookie instead of slow cooker. I found this recipe from Cookies and Cups, and I made it within a couple weeks, which is pretty fast for me to get to a recipe that doesn't involve chocolate. It also used up that last jar of tomatillo salsa that was sitting on my shelf.

This recipe is super simple and perfect for a weeknight. You end up with a plethora of chicken that can be used in tacos, burritos rice bowls, casseroles or an amazing chicken chili.

Salsa Verde Chicken
2 - 2 1/2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. salt
16 oz. salsa verde

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 6-7 hours or on high heat for 4 hours. Shred with two forks, and serve or use in recipes. Makes roughly 4-5 cups of chicken.

January 18, 2016

Mini Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookies

I've made quite a few batches of cookies lately, and these are one of my all-time favorites, along with the NY Times ones. Love & Olive Oil nailed it with these, minus the espresso powder.

The edges are perfectly crispy and crunchy, rich with the brown sugar flavor. And the inside is a gooey and delicious mess that my husband described as cookie stew. Weird, but I love him anyways.

By the way, I bought the skillets recommended in the original post. For us, they are totally worth it for these cookies alone. Make a double batch, and freeze the extra dough in cookie-sized portions.

Mini Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookies
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. fine sea or kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips
Flaked sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or grease 8 mini (3.5-inch diameter) cast iron skillets. Arrange on a baking sheet.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon until incorporated. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. Add dry ingredients and oats, and mix until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate chunks.

Spoon dough into 2-inch diameter balls, approximately 2 tablespoons per ball. Drop balls into prepared skillets. Top with a few more chocolate chunks and a sprinkle of flake salt (if desired). (Dough balls can also be frozen on a lined cookie sheet until frozen solid, and then transferred to a zip top bag for later use.)

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until edges are golden and center is just set but not overcooked. If you like your cookies gooey, err on the side of underdone. If you like your cookies crispy, cook for a minute or two longer. Add one minute of cook time if cooking dough from frozen, and do not thaw first.

Makes 8 skillet cookies.

Proscuitto-Stuffed Chicken Breast

Obviously there's no shortage of sweet treats on my blog, so I'm happy to have a savory to add to the mix. Again, no pictures because there's no way it would look appetizing if I tried to photograph this, but Baker's Royale makes it look as delicious as it tastes.

These are phenomenal. They're a bit more work than a standard meal for us, simply because I don't usually use string to truss my food. Still, I think you could easily make a larger batch, freeze, thaw and then cook as directed. They would be great for a meal to impress for entertaining, although they're not really complicated.

I ad-libbed on the mushroom sauce, but it was amazing the way I've noted.

Proscuitto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
8 thin slices prosciutto
8 thin slices provolone cheese
Basil leaves, the tube kind
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 cups mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth

Fillet chicken breasts horizontally. Open breast in half, and pound to 1/4-inch thickness. Season on all sides with salt and pepper.

Place 1 chicken breast half on a work surface, cut side up. Spread a dollop of basil (from the tube) evenly onto the chicken. Lay 1 slice of prosciutto on top of chicken. Layer with a slice of cheese. Roll up chicken lengthwise, and tie with kitchen twine. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Pre-heat oven to 450°F. Heat 1 Tbsp. butter and oil in a large heavy ovenproof skillet. Add chicken, and cook until browned on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven, and bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of roulades reads 165°, about 7-8 minutes. (The chicken will be cooked through but still juicy.) Transfer chicken to plates, and let rest for 10 minutes.

While chicken is cooking, cook mushrooms in remaining Tbsp. butter, along with some pepper. As needed, add chicken broth to prevent sticking. When you remove chicken from the skillet after it is baked in the oven, pour the mushroom mixture into that skillet. Add a bit of chicken broth, and scrape up all drippings and cheese. Use as a sauce to top the chicken.

Makes about 8 small portions or 4 large ones.

Note: If your toddler questions the basil in the chicken, might I suggest serving broccoli as a side so that can be used as an excuse that some got into the chicken? Worked for me, but only because he likes broccoli.

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Ice Cream

I had some heavy cream that needed a purpose before it spoiled, so homemade ice cream in December. Others may reserve ice cream for summer months, but I recall being pregnant with my first child and wanting nothing more than Coldstone Creamery ice cream for lunch during a blizzard. (And it's not just pregnant me that likes ice cream all year.)

I've had this recipe from Iowa Girl Eats bookmarked for more than a year. Perfect for this time of year, hot chocolate and ice cream.

Can you guess how many Caramello bars I ate (and snuck) as a child during our annual candy bar sales? That was my ultimate favorite of our candy bars to sell.

This is one of the easiest ice creams to make because it requires no eggs and careful, patient stirring.

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Ice Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
4 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 king-sized Caramello Bar (2.7oz)
1 tsp. vanilla

Whisk together heavy whipping cream, milk, sugar, cocoa powder and sea salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking every so often. Add bittersweet chocolate and Caramello bar, crushing squares slightly with fingers, and whisk until melted and smooth. Remove pan from heat, and then stir in vanilla.

Pour mixture into a large glass bowl, and cover with plastic wrap directly on top to prevent a skin from forming. Cool slightly, and then chill completely, 4 hours or overnight. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Peppermint Bark Cupcakes

I haven't baked cupcakes in quite a while, and I miss the weekly cupcake routine. I took the Christmas lunch at work as an excuse to convert this recipe from Food Fanatic into cupcakes.

My frosting turned pink because my blender pulverized the candy canes into powder. (How's that for a tongue twister?) These are a cute holiday treat and pretty tasty. They're not a top 10 cupcake for me but a nice seasonal one.

Peppermint Bark Cupcakes
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
3/4 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1 cup boiling water
2 sticks salted butter, slightly softened
3/4 cup white chocolate chips, melted and cooled
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla
5-6 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup crushed candy cane pieces, finely crushed
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
Peppermint bark

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 36 cupcake tins.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into prepared cupcake liners.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched in the center. Cool 5 minutes, and remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

For the frosting, beat butter, melted chocolate, heavy cream and vanilla until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl and beating on low until just combined and desired consistency. Add crushed candy, increase mixer speed to high, and beat for one minute. Frost cupcakes, and chill.

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate chips and heavy cream, stopping to stir every 20 seconds until smooth. Cool to room temperature, and then dollop on frosted cupcakes. Garnish with peppermint bark. Makes 36 cupcakes.

Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toffee is one of my loves, so I thought these cookies from Cookies and Cups would become an instant favorite for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but these cookies didn't impress me much. (Channeling some old-school Shania Twain there.) Don't get me wrong, they're still a good cookie. They just weren't magical for me.

No photos, yet again, because the camera was gone and then so were the cookies. Dave's co-workers were happy he's been there for three years ... if for no other reason than they got cookies.

One other note: My absolute favorite way to eat cookies is warm and gooey from the oven. My husband said these are better the next day, although I wouldn't know since he didn't save me any. And he said he'll deny that if I bake these again, so he can eat them straight from the oven.

Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies
14 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
2 2/3 cups flour
2 cups chopped chocolate chunks, plus 1/2 cup more for garnish
1 cup toffee bits

In the bowl of your stand mixer beat the butter and sugar together for 3 minutes on medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs and vanilla, and continue mixing for 1 more minute on medium speed until pale in color.

Add in the baking soda and salt, and mix for 30 more seconds on medium speed. Turn the mixer to low, and mix in the flour until evenly incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chunks and toffee bits by hand, reserving the 1/2 cup of chocolate for garnish.

Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silipat.

Place the dough on the baking sheet 2 inches apart. Top each dough ball with a few more chocolate chunk pieces. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes until the edges are golden and the tops are just set. Cool cookies on the same parchment paper or Silipat until nearly cool, as the cookies are very soft and tend to ooze through baking racks.

While you are baking the cookies, in batches place the remaining dough back in the refrigerator. You want to bake the dough chilled. Makes 24 large cookies or more modest cookies.

January 11, 2016

Italian Hot Chocolate

Ever since my semester abroad in Spain, hot chocolate has never been the same. One of my favorite things to order in Spain, aside from my caña chocolate from my local bakery, was chocolate and churros. When you "drink" your hot chocolate with a spoon, it's amazing and delicious.

This Italian version from Brown Eyed-Baker is perhaps a bit richer than the version of Spanish hot chocolate that I've made at home because of the heavy cream. It's delicious and decadent.

Italian Hot Chocolate
1 cup whole milk, divided
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
4 1/2 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
Whipped cream, optional

In a small saucepan, whisk together the 3/4 cup milk, cream and sugar. Set the saucepan over medium-low heat, and cook until it starts to bubble around the edges.

While the milk mixture is heating, whisk together the remaining milk and cornstarch until it is smooth. Once the milk mixture starts bubbling around the edges, add the milk and cornstarch mixture, and whisk until it’s heated through, about 1 minute.

Add the the chopped chocolate, and whisk together until it’s smooth and thick enough to coat a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into mugs and serve with whipped cream if desired.

If you want to spike the drinks, whisk 1 1/2 Tbsp. of your favorite liqueur into the hot chocolate after removing from heat.