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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Black Forest Trifle & {2013} A Year In Pictures



I can't believe how quickly 2013 has flown by. The years just seem to get shorter and shorter the older I get. I remember when I was a kid that time seemed to pass so slowly. My parents would always tell me to just wait until I was an adult and it would be completely different. I definitely know what they were talking about now.  I have put together a small (well, as small as I could go) collection of photos to summarize 2013.  This year has been truly amazing with so many things to be thankful for.  We celebrated the birth of two new babies, reconnected with family that moved back home, enjoyed several vacations and many day trips, and had a blast spending time with family and friends.  I have a ton of beautiful pictures of our nieces and nephews but I didn't include any here because I am not sure who is comfortable having their picture on the internet. 


We began 2013 in beautiful, sunny Florida where we got see some amazing wildlife and breathtaking sunsets, squish the sand between our toes in December, and enjoy quality time with some of our family.  This was K and I's first trip out of the New England-ish area together and K's first time ever flying.  It was a wonderful 'big adventure' for us and there could not have been a better way to ring in the New Year.


In the spring we spent a couple of days in Maine where we visited the Nubble Lighthouse, walked on Ogunquit Beach and the Marginal Way, got up wayyyy too early to watch the sunrise, and K got his yearly fill (although I'm sure he could always go for more) of Maine lobster.

The summer was filled with lots of barbeques with family and friends, swimming, hiking, and just generally enjoying the beautiful weather.  We had a great fourth of July at K's family summer camp and watched beautiful fireworks over the lake.


We celebrated Sadie's 5th birthday in July. I can't believe my tiny dog is already five years old; where has the time gone!? And the most exciting news of all this year, in August, we found out that I am pregnant with our first baby! I won't turn this into a giant gush about how excited we are, so I will just say that we couldn't be more happy.


This year, the fall foliage was particularly bright and beautiful which was very enjoyable. It was a fairly low key part of the year, other than on Halloween we found out that we are expecting a baby boy! We had many Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers and we were able to spend at least a little bit of time with most of our family and friends over the holidays. I am so grateful for how wonderful this holiday season has been.




Of course, this year in photos would not be complete without a few of my flower photos.  There were so many to choose from but I think these are my four favorites of the year (at the moment....) My overall favorite photo of the year is of Gunn Brook Falls.  I won my first blue ribbon with this photo in the Franklin County Fair photo contest.



2013 has been so wonderful and we are very much looking forward to seeing what 2014 will bring.  Happy New Year to everyone!

Now, hopefully I haven't overloaded you with pictures and feel-good happy descriptive words and you are still reading, so that I can tell you about this amazing trifle! I made this dessert for Christmas Eve and it came out perfect! I made a great vanilla raspberry trifle last year, but this was a thousand times better.  The brownies were deliciously chewy and held up great to the pudding and cherry sauce.  The homemade pudding was smooth with a very rich chocolate flavor, but the cherry sauce was the star of this dessert. The sauce was thick and tart, just the way cherry sauce should be and it perfectly complimented the richness of the rest of the dessert.  This trifle would be great at a party any time of year, but it was perfect for the holiday celebrations.  This recipe makes a pretty big trifle, so this is definitely dessert for a crowd!  


Black Forest Trifle

1 9x13 pan brownies

Assemble and bake one 9x13 pan of brownies.  I cheated and used a box mix this time because I had a crazy amount of other baking to do, but my classic brownies would be amazing.  Let the brownies cool completely and cut into 1 inch cubes right before assembling.

Chocolate Pudding
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

In a heat proof bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly whisk in the heavy cream until combined and smooth and then whisk in the egg yolks. In a medium or large sauce-pot stir together the milk and sugar and heat over medium heat until tiny bubbles form at the edges of the pot and the mixture is starting to steam.  You do not want to boil the milk mixture.

Carefully and slowly pour a small amount of the milk mixture into the egg mixture whisking constantly.  This will help temper the eggs so they can warm up slowly and not just turn into scrambled eggs.  Continue to pour the entire milk mixture into the eggs and whisk well.

Transfer the liquid back to the pot and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken and bubble. Boil for 2 minutes and then remove from the heat.  Add the vanilla and chopped chocolate and let stand for 1 minute to allow the chocolate to melt. Whisk well until everything is melted together and well combined.

The mixture should be a thick pudding consistency but will thicken more as it cools.  Pass the pudding through a fine strainer into a clean bowl, to remove any lumps or chocolate bits that did not melt.  Lay a piece of plastic wrap right on the surface of the pudding to keep a skin from forming and chill in the refrigerator.

Inspired by The Kitchn

Cherry Sauce
4 cups fresh or frozen cherries, pitted
1 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar (more or less depending on how sweet your cherries are)
2 tbsp cornstarch

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sauce-pot and stir to dissolve the sugar and distribute the cornstarch.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are soft and and the sauce is thick and syrupy. Transfer the cherries to a bowl and refrigerate until completely cooled. 

Inspired by Let's Dish

Whipped Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 heaping tbsp white sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat the cream with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip just slightly longer until the sugar dissolves. Don't whip the cream until right before you are ready to assemble the trifle.

Assembly

Fold about 1/4 of the whipped cream into the chocolate pudding to lightened the consistency a bit.  Start by creating a layer of brownie cubes at the bottom of a trifle or other tall glass bowl.  Add about  1/3 of the pudding mixture making sure you really get the pudding around the edges of the trifle dish so that you can clearly see all of your layers.  Then make a layer of 1/2 of the cherry sauce, followed by 1/3 of the whipped cream, again making sure you can see each of the layers.  Repeat this process with 1/3 brownies, 1/3 pudding, 1/2 cherries, 1/3 whipped cream and then the remaining brownies, pudding, and top with whipped cream.  Garnish with some sprinkles or shaved chocolate, if you wish.  The trifle can be assembled a few hours before serving and stored in the refrigerator.  Leftovers will last a day or so before everything becomes too mushy, but this is so delicious I doubt there will be much in the way of leftovers!

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Apple Streusel Muffin


I made these muffins almost a month ago and just thinking about them again is making me sooooo hungry. I would really love to have one (or two) of these right now and if I had any applesauce in the house I would be downstairs whipping up a batch instead of writing this post.  This actually happens to me often when I have stock piled recipes to blog about but my life has been too crazy to get around to writing for awhile. So when I do finally have a chance to sit down and write I end up really craving that food again. K and I have this week between the holidays off from work, so I think I will make some of these tomorrow morning to have for breakfast or a snack while we are home.


This December has felt especially busy with the shorter than normal time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We had lots of holiday get-togethers to attend and even had a wonderful baby shower with some of my relatives! Plus I had tons of holiday baking to do because I love giving homemade gifts this time of year.  I made at least 6 batches of salted vanilla caramels, 10 pounds of million dollar fudge, some toffee peanut butter holiday bark and that was just for gift giving. There was also lots of delicious cookie making and other dessert baking for the wonderful holiday parties we attended.  I wish that I had more time to photograph all of the recipes that I made, but I was able to capture a few of the goodies and will be sharing them soon.

So now that the holidays have gone by for another year and K and I have this nice break from work, we are going to get started preparing the nursery for our baby boy. The walls are painted and ready for the mural that my mom and I are going to paint but there is trim and ceiling painting to do, plus we are going to put down some carpeting to make the room feel more cozy.  We have already started accumulating baby gear so there is lots of organizing to figure out as well.  Plus we got some beautiful artwork from family members for the baby's room and I am so anxious to get those hung up on the walls.  We are definitely in "nesting" mode so we are extremely excited to get the nursery started!


Sorry, I got a little side tracked there...back to the delicious-ness of these muffins. The applesauce and grated apple in the batter makes them very moist and fluffy and they have a soft, smooth cake like texture that is a amazing with the crunchy streusel topping and sweet glaze drizzle.  The muffins themselves are not overly sweet which compliments the sugary toppings nicely.    The apple flavor shines through with just a hint of cinnamon and vanilla.  As I mentioned above, they really make a wonderful breakfast or snack and I hope you give them a try!

Apple Streusel Muffins

Muffins

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room temperature butter
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup applesauce (try my homemade version)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup milk
2 apples peeled, cored, and grated

Streusel 

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Glaze

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp water or milk

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  To make the muffin batter, cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl or use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat the eggs in one at a time and then add the applesauce, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix until well combined.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt mixing until everything is just incorporated and then stir in the milk.  You might need up to 1/2 cup of milk depending on humidity and how dry your flour is.  The batter should be on the thin side but not too runny.  Fold in the grated apples.  Spoon the batter into a greased or paper lined muffin tin, filling each muffin about 3/4 full. You should get 12 muffins. 

To make the streusel, combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and cut with a pastry cutter or use your hands to form small crumbs.  Top each muffin with a spoonful of the streusel and bake for about 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.  Remove the muffins from the tin and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Stir together the ingredients for the glaze, adding just enough liquid to have a thin consistency.  Drizzle the glaze over the cooled muffins using a spoon or plastic baggie with a little hole cut in one corner. The muffins can be stored for 3-4 days in a air tight container at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Inspired by Laura in the Kitchen

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chocolate Snowcap Cookies


Do you ever have one of those days when a bunch of little annoying or frustrating things just keep happening to you all day long?  If it was just one or two problems you probably wouldn't have thought much of it, but that particular day the 'punches' just keep coming?  I recently had a day like this and the most annoying part of it was that both of my car's headlight bulbs burned out in the same day.  Seriously, who gets two padiddles in one day?

I noticed the first light out while I was running some errands and so I made an extra stop at the auto part store and got a new bulb.  When I got home later that day, I figured out how to get the replacement bulb in and turned the headlights back on to check that it was working.  To my great annoyance, all of a sudden the other headlight was now not working.  So, since padiddles are a major pet peeve of mine, I drove to another auto part store, picked up another bulb, and got both headlights back in working order.

After all of this and the rest of my frustrations earlier in the day, I grumpily went inside and started to prepare dinner.  As I was tidying up the kitchen, I realized that there were two cookies left from the batch of cookies that my nephew and I had made over the weekend.  I was soooo excited because there is nothing like a delicious, chocolaty cookie to cheer you up after a crummy day!  I think, maybe I am failing to execute this thought process properly, but the whole point of my lengthy padiddle story was not to gripe but to express to you how amazing these cookies are.  Cookies, especially these super yummy ones, can really turn your whole day around and can help make all those little frustrations a distant memory. So as I was saying, I scarfed down the cookies, got myself in a better mood, and enjoyed the rest of my evening.

Other than being an excellent way to cheer yourself up, these cookies are definitely a crowd pleaser and make a great addition to your holiday cookie collection.  Keep in mind that the dough does need to chill for about an hour, for best results, so be sure you leave yourself enough time to make them.   Other than the chilling time the dough only takes a few minutes to prepare and assembly is easy too.  Make sure that you really super-duper coat the dough balls in the powdered sugar before baking.  You don't want to tap any of the excess off because tons of powered sugar really makes these cookies awesome.  Give these cookies a try for your next holiday party or whip up a batch the next time you are in need of some cheering up.  They truly are an amazing chocolate cookie; chewy chocolate inside with a wonderful sweet sugary coating that melts in your mouth.



Chocolate Snowcap Cookies

6 oz dark chocolate, chopped (or chips)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
 2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup powdered sugar (approximate)

In a heat proof bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave (stirring every 30 seconds) or over a double boiler.  Let the chocolate cool slightly while you cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (you can use a stand mixer or do this by hand).  Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time until combined and stir in the vanilla. Once the chocolate is not too hot, stir into the wet ingredients.  Carefully stir in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt until everything is just mixed together.  The dough should be fairly stiff.  Chill the dough for at least an hour in the refrigerator.  When you take the dough out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 350°F.  Use a small scoop or two spoons to form small balls of dough.  Roll each cookie in the palm of your hands until it is a smooth circle.  Coat the cookies very well with powdered sugar and place on a parchment or silicone mat lined baking tray.  Bake cookies for 12 minutes, let stand on the cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes, and move to a wire rack to cool completely.    

Inspired by Foodwishes

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cinnamon Roll Dutch Apple Pie






I made this cinnamon roll apple pie along with a chocolate cream pie to bring for Thanksgiving this year.  Both pies were a huge hit but this one was definitely more impressive because of the awesome cinnamon swirl crust.   

Even though the crust looks really amazing and complicated, it actually only took a few more minutes to put together and came out tasting great.  When I was a kid baking pies with my family we would make "rolly pollies" with the little leftover bits of pie dough that you cut off the edge of the crust.  We would roll the dough out, cover with butter, cinnamon, and sugar and bake them for a sweet treat.  They were definitely the highlight of pie making back then.  

When I saw this pie crust technique I was immediately reminded of those delicious pie crust morsels and knew I had to use it for my dutch apple pie.  This isn't exactly the same thing as rolly pollies because there is no sugar mixed in the with butter and cinnamon.  The sugar would melt and caramelize in the crust and to the pie plate making it impossible to get the pie out of the dish, which would not be impressive at all.

This crust recipe is not only pretty but also turned out to be flaky and tender with an extra kick of the cinnamon flavor.  Make sure that you use a glass pie plate so that you can show this beauty off to everyone.

The rest of the pie came out excellent too.  I have always preferred dutch apple pie to traditional two crust apple pie.  The crumble topping adds wonderful crunchy texture and extra sweetness making this dessert into a apple crisp/pie combination.  You get all the benefits of apple crisp and the satisfaction of a nice big slice of pie.  There is something very comforting about eating a slice pie especially around the holidays.  

I made all of my relatives wait to dig into dessert while I had K hold up the pie plate for me so that I could snap a picture of the bottom crust.  Oops, hopefully nobody minded waiting!  I meant to take step by step pictures while I was assembling but I got too distracted making a bunch of other recipes too.  You can see how each of the swirls are laid out and pressed together to form the crust.



The apples were perfectly tender but still had some texture left to them.  I really like a variety of apples in my pies for different sweetness levels and firmness.  Apples like Macintosh are very sweet but get smooshy easily, while Granny Smiths are much more firm but can taste very tart.  The combo of two or three apples with these characteristics works beautifully in any apple dish.   The pie is perfect topped with whipped cream or my favorite, slightly warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream: apple pie á la mode!  Give this pie a go next time you are looking to impress your family or friends.




Cinnamon Roll Dutch Apple Pie

Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup ice cold water

Place the flour and salt in a medium bowl and stir briefly to combine.  Cube the shortening and cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour.  Using a pastry cutter or two knives cut the fats into the flour mixture until the most of the fat is in the size of small peas.  Slowly add the cold water about 1 tbsp at a time until the dough just barely holds together when you press it in your hand.  Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and use your hands to mold into a disk.  Wrap the dough up in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  If you leave it in the fridge longer than that, let the dough rest at room temperature about 10 minutes before trying to roll it out.

Filing
7-8 cups of peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apples 
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon or 1/2 orange

Squeeze the lemon or orange juice into a large bowl and toss the apples in the juice as you prep them.  This will help keep the apples from turning brown.  Once all of the apples are peeled, cored, and sliced add the remaining ingredients and toss well to combine.  Set this aside until you are ready to assemble the pie.  This mixture will be fine in the refrigerator for a few hours if you want to prepare it in advanced.  You can use whatever variety of apples that you like.  I used mostly Macintosh and Golden Delicious with one Granny Smith since that is what I had on hand.

Crumble Topping
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

 Put the flour, sugar, and cinnamon into a bowl and mix together.  Cut the butter into cubes and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives.  The butter should be the size of small peas when completely combined.  This can also be prepared a few hours ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.

Assembly
1 tbsp softened butter
2-3 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 tsp water

Preheat your oven to 375°F.  Roll out the pie crust out into a circle about 1/8 inch thick on a smooth well floured surface.  Spread the softened butter evenly over the pie crust and top with the cinnamon. Starting with the edge furthest away from you, roll the pie crust towards you into a spiral like you would for cinnamon rolls.  Trim off the ends and cut into 1/4 inch slices.  Place each spiral round into the bottom of the pie plate and press lightly to flatten the circle.  Continue this process until the entire bottom and sides of your pie plate are covered in cinnamon swirls.  Make sure there are no gaps between any of the spirals and the crust is relatively even in thickness.  Beat the egg with the water until well combined and brush over the entire surface of the pie crust.  Pour the apple mixture onto the crust and arrange the apples evenly.  The apples should be piled somewhat high in the middle.  Top the entire pie with the crumble topping and place the pie plate on a aluminum  foil lined baking tray.  Place this into the oven for about 50-55 minutes.  After about 35 minutes check the pie frequently to make sure the crust and crumble topping are not browning too much. You can tent the pie with foil to prevent excess browning.  Remove the pie from the oven, place on a wire rack and allow the pie to cool to room temperature before serving.

Crust inspired by King Arthur Flour
Pie recipe and technique inspired by Tablespoon  

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Autumn Pasta Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Let me just start this post out by saying how excited I am that tomorrow is Thanksgiving!  I absolutely love Thanksgiving, or as K likes to call it "Bird Day." Every year K tells me stories about how much his Dad loved cooking for the holidays.  He says he would get in the kitchen, crank up some Louis Prima, and dance away while he cooked.  Plus he was famous for his grilled turkey, which we are definitely going to have to try to recreate someday.  K and I spend Thanksgiving day with my side of the family and then we cook dinner at our house for his side of the family the next day.  We always carry on the tradition of putting on some of his Dad's favorite music while we cook, especially while we make his awesome stuffed mushroom recipe.  I love spending this time in the kitchen with K, prepping all of the delicious food and just hanging out together without the distractions of normal daily life.

I spent a few hours in the kitchen today making dutch apple pie, chocolate cream pie, and honey yeast rolls for my mom's house tomorrow, plus cranberry sauce for Friday.  A lot of people find holiday cooking to be time consuming and stressful but it is actually very relaxing for me.  I just focus on what I am doing and let my stresses melt away.  Cooking, specifically baking, has always been a comfort for me and I am very thankful for that. 

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, that you enjoy some amazing, overly indulgent food, and that you have a few minutes to reflect on all of the things you are thankful for in your life.  We have so much to give thanks for this year, especially our growing family!

After you have had your fill of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and then leftovers for days you will probably be in the mood for something lighter and different.  This pasta salad has lots of incredible warm fall flavors and is a nice cold salad to enjoy as a meal or side dish.  The whole wheat noodles are nutty and flavorful which is great compliment to the sweet roasted butternut squash and salty cheesy Parmesan.  The green beans stay nice and crisp from their short blanch while the pasta cooks.  Combining all of these great components with the basil based vinaigrette is the perfect autumn salad. 

Autumn Pasta Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Pasta Salad
1 box whole wheat penne or other short cut pasta
1 cup fresh green beans
2 cups cubed butternut squash
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Basil Vinaigrette, recipe below

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Peel and cube a butternut squash into small bite sized pieces and place on a greased baking tray.  Toss the squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper.  Roast in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until tender and slightly golden brown on the edges.  Let the squash cool to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta according to package instructions.  Snap or cut the green beans into bite sized pieces and add to the boiling pasta for the last 4 minutes of cooking time.  Drain the pasta and green beans and allow to cool.

To assemble the pasta salad, combine the pasta, green beans, butternut squash, and chopped nuts in a large bowl.  Toss everything with about 2/3 of the basil vinaigrette recipe.  Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and be sure to check the salad for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper, if needed.  Refrigerate the pasta salad for at least an hour before serving.  If the pasta has absorbed all of the dressing and become dry, toss with the remaining reserved vinaigrette right before serving.

*Note* I found a similar recipe to this on a google search a few months ago and used it for inspiration.  I have not been able to relocate the recipe, so please leave me a comment if you can direct me to the original blog so that I can give proper credit.

Basil Vinaigrette

1/3 cup fresh basil
1 clove garlic  
1 tsp dijon mustard 
1/3 cup white wine vinegar  
3 tbsp water 
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp white sugar  
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/3 cup olive oil 
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil

Add the fresh basil to a food processor and pulse a few times to begin chopping up the leaves. Add all of the ingredients except for the oils and blend for about 30 seconds until well combined and the basil and garlic have been pureed.  With the food processor running on low speed, drizzle the oils in through the top opening and blend until the vinaigrette has emulsified. Pour into a bowl or glass measuring cup and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Inspired by Serena Bakes Simply From Scratch

Enjoy!



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Better Than Sex Cake"



A week or two before my mom's birthday we were gmail chatting and I mentioned that I was really craving cake and she responded by saying..."mmmm that sounds good, chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, yum!"  So while her comment didn't help curb my cake craving in the slightest (thanks mom.....), it did remind me of this cake recipe and I decided this is what I would make for her birthday cake. 

If you spend much time browsing around in the food blog world or even on pinterest, you have probably seen a recipe for this cake pop up from time to time. The most common version is a 9x13 one layer "semi-homemade" style recipe with box cake mix, sweetened condensed milk, jarred sundae sauce, cool whip, and crushed heath bars.  Now, not that there is anything wrong with using box mixes or cool whip; they can be really great time savers and are easy to put together, but I really like trying to make recipes completely from scratch when I can. I feel like this gives me better control of the ingredients and preservatives I am putting in my food.  So I took the idea of this "potluck" style cake and made each of the components from scratch and tried to fancy it up a little bit by making it into a layer cake.

I have read many excellent reviews about the infamous better than sex cake, some people even claiming the cake really lives up to it's name.  While I thought this cake was delicious, I don't know if I will go that far :) Everyone at the birthday party agreed that the cake was fabulous; very rich and chocolatey with a good  balance of sweetness in the homemade whipped cream. 























I had two small glitches with my attempt at this recipe, but I have made adjustments to the recipe and assembly to hopefully fix these issues for you.  The biggest problem I had was getting the ooey gooey sweetened condensed milk soaked cakes assembled into the layers.  I laid both layers of cake out on parchment paper  and poked with lots of holes to allow maximum cake soaking.  However this meant making two moves from paper to cake stand, which was a bit tricky since they were so saturated.  Next time I would place one of the cakes directly on the plate or cake stand before soaking so that it is ready to go at assembly time. I would also recommend baking this cake in straight edged cake pans, if you have them, instead of the slightly tapered side style pans that I used.  I think this will give the cake a bit more stability and it will result in a nicer finished look. 

The other problem that I had was the recipe that I used for the chocolate sauce recommended boiling for 8-9 minutes, which I believe ended up bringing the sauce's temperature too high for me. My sauce resulted in more of a thick fudge layer that was very difficult to cut through, hence why there are no pictures of the cake sliced.  To put it 'lightly', it was a huge, giant mess and I ended up carving the cake with a spoon.  I have decreased the cooking time and hopefully you won't have the same problem.   

Even with my minor difficulties, I still think this layer cake came out beautiful (well before I attempted to cut it anyways) and it tasted excellent too.  The sweetened condensed milk absorbs into the cake creating a dense gooey texture and the chocolate sauce enhances the richness.  The whipped cream cuts through the chocolatey-ness and brings a wonderful creaminess while the toffee flavored heath bar bits add just the right amount of crunch.  Give this recipe a try and let me know if you think it holds up to it's name!

 
"Better Than Sex Cake"

Cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1  tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1 14oz. can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease two 9" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds.  Grease the parchment paper and dust pans with cocoa powder for optimal cake sticking prevention.  In a large bowl sift (yes, you should actually sift this time because cocoa powder can be so lumpy) the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  In a large liquid measuring cup, measure the milk and oil together and then whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract.  Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined.  Lastly, add the boiling water and stir to combine.  The batter will be very liquid.  Divide evenly between the two cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn out on wire racks lined with parchment paper.

When the cakes are still only slightly warm transfer one cake round to your cake stand or serving plate.  Leave the remaining cake on the parchment paper.  Using the back of a wooden spoon poke holes evenly around the cake, making sure not to poke all the way through.  Pour about 1/2 of the can of sweetened condensed milk over each cake round and allow to soak for at least 20 minutes.

Chocolate Fudge Sauce

4 oz dark or semisweet chocolate chips
3 tbsp butter
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a microwave safe bowl melt the butter and chocolate together, stopping to stir about every 30 seconds. In a medium size saucepan bring the water to a boil.  Stir in the melted butter and chocolate mixture, sugar, and corn syrup.  Bring the sauce to a bubble, lower the heat, and let cook for about 6 minutes, stirring continuously.  The sauce should be a somewhat thick consistency.  Let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes and pour evenly over the two cakes.  Let the cakes set until cooled.

Whipped Cream
1 1/2 cups whipping or heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the cream with an electric mixer or whisk until stiff peaks form and then beat in the sugar and vanilla until well incorporated.  

1/2 cup crushed Heath Bar bits

To assemble the cake, top the cake on the serving plate with about 1/3 of the whipped cream topping.  Sprinkle the whipped cream with a light dusting of heath bar bits.  Carefully transfer the second cake on top of the whipped cream.  You should try to keep the fudge sauce side of the cake facing up, if possible.  If the cake is too difficult to remove from the parchment paper, trying flipping it over onto the whipped cream and peeling the parchment paper off.  Top the cake with the remaining whipped cream and health bar bits.  Serve immediately after assembling.

Enjoy!

Inspired by Lemon Sugar




Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cinnamon Applesauce



Homemade applesauce is a beautiful thing and this recipe is as simple as they come, if you can even call it a recipe since it is just four ingredients.  You can use any variety of apples that you want.  I bought a big bag of local Gala apples on special at the grocery store so I just used those but I think a mix of two or three apple types would be delicious. Next time I make this, I am going to try a Honeycrisp and Granny Smith combo. 



You want to leave the apples in decent sized pieces otherwise they will cook too fast and not develop as nice of a flavor with the sugar and cinnamon. The liquid in the pot should be about level with the apples, so if it starts to get too low while cooking, just add another splash of cider or water.  You definitely do not want these to scorch!

I like really chunky applesauce so I went with the potato masher method.  There is still a ton of apple texture since the apples have been cooked just right and are not to the completely mushy stage.  Even if you want a much smoother texture you still want the apples to be cooked perfectly, just use a blender or food processor instead.  This applesauce is an amazing side dish, breakfast, or snack and can also be used in many baked goods as a substitute for butter, oil, or eggs.  I made super delicious apple streusel muffins with this applesauce, which I will be sharing soon.

Cinnamon Applesauce
Inspired by The Pioneer Woman

4 lbs apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup apple cider or water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Peel the apples, slice into 8 pieces, and place in a large pot or dutch oven.  Stir in the water, sugar, and cinnamon.  Cook uncovered over medium heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the apples are tender, mash with a potato masher or puree with a blender or food processor depending on what texture you are looking for.  The potato masher will result in a chunkier applesauce while you can get much smoother with a blender or food processor.  Be very careful blending the hot apples; do not over fill the blending container or you could have a huge hot mess all over your kitchen.  Let cool to room temperature and transfer to an air tight container to keep in the refrigerator. 

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Banana Cream Pie Cookies


Have you  heard about the pudding cookie phenomenon?  I have seen this type of cookie, in lots of different flavor combos, showing up all over the interwebz.  Basically you can add any flavor of instant pudding mix that you want into your cookie dough batter and it promises to result in a super delicious, chewy cookie with a burst of whatever flavor pudding you pick.  Awhile back I tried adding vanilla pudding mix to my standard chocolate chip cookies, which was excellent, but this recipe takes it to a whole new level.  Believe it or not, these cookies taste exactly like banana cream pie.




A few months ago, I was looking for a banana baked good recipe of some kind for my brother-in-law's birthday since he loooves banana. So, I decided I wanted to try to find a cookie recipe because everyone loves cookies for their birthday.  At first I was skeptical of the thought because normally, I am not a huge fan of banana flavored food (other than my oh so delicious banana bread) so I wasn't sure how banana cookies would turn out.  After a while of looking and seeing a lot of healthy banana and flax seed type cookies I was disappointed and was about to start looking for other ideas.  Then the thought of banana cream pie popped into my head.  I started googling and this wonderful recipe appeared in  my results.  As soon as I read that it was a pudding cookie, I knew that I couldn't go wrong here.  

The cookies turned out amazing.  My brother-in-law and his family thought they were delicious and even as non-banana lovers, K and I both thought these cookies were great.   The cookie dough plus the white chocolate chips tastes exactly like banana cream pie custard and these would not be complete without the graham cracker pieces to resemble the pie's traditional graham cracker crust.  As an added benefit, banana cream pie in cookie form is much more portable than a slice of pie and these cookies come together much faster too.  If you are banana fan, you must give these cookies a try soon!

Banana Cream Pie Cookies
Inspired by Like Mother Like Daughter

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 small box (3.4oz) instant banana cream pudding mix
1 1/2 cup white chocolate or vanilla chips
4 honey or cinnamon graham crackers, crushed in small pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl cream together the butter and both kinds of sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until well combined.  Carefully stir in the flour, salt, baking soda, and dry pudding mix until fully incorporated.  Mix in the white chocolate chips and graham cracker pieces, reserving some of the chips to top the cookies when they are removed from the oven, if desired.  Spoon tablespoon size (I like using something like this scoop) balls of the cookie dough onto parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 9-10 minutes. When you remove the cookies from the oven, you can top with a few additional white chips for a cute look, but completely not necessary.  Remove cookies to cooling rack and let cool completely.  Store for 3-4 days in air tight containers.

Enjoy! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chicken & Rice Soup

In case you haven't noticed by now, I have a serious love for comfort foods.  Stews, casseroles, soups, I love them all.  Now that the cool fall weather has officially settled in, soup is back on the menu in our house.  I actually don't think I have made any soups since last winter when I tried out a wonderful recipe for broccoli cheddar soup, but this soup brought my love for soup back in a big way.  I have been thinking about and searching for new soup recipes to try over the next few months and I am really excited about them.  So far my plans definitely include Italian wedding, minestrone, french onion, and wonton soup.

This chicken and rice soup was super satisfying, warming, and hearty.  It is a very classic chicken soup recipe, wonderful for the cooler autumn and winter months.  Or if you are feeling under the weather or down and out, it is the perfect food to make you feel a bit better.  This recipe makes a pretty big batch of soup.  We both had a huge bowl of it for dinner and then reheated it for several lunches too.  You could certainly freeze this to keep on hand for a quick meal as well.  I hope you give this soup a try and also check out the dinner rolls that I posted in the previous post, which were an amazing compliment to this beautiful soup (link below). 



Chicken & Rice Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 carrots, diced
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 of a bell pepper, diced
2 cups shredded chicken
1 tsp poultry seasoning
6-8 cups chicken stock
2 cups cooked white rice
Salt & Pepper, to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the diced vegetables to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until becoming translucent. Add the shredded chicken and poultry seasoning and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Once the chicken has started to heat through, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  When the vegetables are soft add the rice and cook for 5 minutes more to make sure everything is fully warmed.  Be sure to check to see if the soup needs salt and pepper, especially if you are using low or no sodium chicken broth.  Serve piping hot with crusty bread or homemade rolls

Enjoy!


Monday, October 28, 2013

Honey Yeast Rolls



Making bread or rolls from scratch has been a real hit or miss for me.  Sometimes the bread comes out wonderful and has the perfect light fluffy texture and other times, well, things just haven't turned out the way I wanted.  Just to name a few of the issues I have experienced: expired/dead yeast, killing the yeast with too hot water, using too cold water and not activating the yeast, under kneading the dough leading to weird textured bread, overcrowding the pan and having under baked rolls, realizing half way through making the dough that I am out of something like eggs.....yea umm that was just a full on air-head moment, but the list goes on.  Although all of these bread making issues have been extremely frustrating, they have been good learning experiences and I have yet to repeat any of my errors.  So even though making breads has not come as naturally to me as other types of cooking and baking have, I will continue to keep trying because when I did finally get it right all of the mistakes were well worth the effort.  Having the patience and taking the time to follow all the steps through is worth every minute because there is nothing quite like warm homemade delicious bread right from the oven.  Plus there is the added benefit that baking bread makes your entire house smell amazing.  These rolls specifically are sweet and light with a slightly chewy buttery top.  They are a wonderful compliment to a hearty weekend dinner like pot roast, an amazing addition to a holiday dinner table, or just the right side for chicken and rice soup (as pictured.)  You will absolutely love these sweet dinner rolls; they are certainly one of my favorite bread recipes.




Honey Yeast Rolls
Inspired by Annie's Eats

1 cup warm water
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
1/4 cup honey
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 egg
4 cups bread flour
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp honey

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine warm water (around 110ºF) with yeast and honey.  Give this a mix with your paddle attachment and let stand for about 5 minutes to allow for the yeast to begin activating.  Once the yeast is starting to look foamy and is fragrant, add the vegetable oil, salt, and egg and mix well. Add 3 cups of the flour and mix until the flour is well combined into the wet ingredients.  The dough will be very sticky at this point. Remove the paddle attachment, scrape well, and attach your dough hook. Turn the mixer on low speed and add the remaining 1 cup of flour.  Once the flour is combined, turn the mixer to medium speed and "knead" for 7-8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Coat a large bowl with oil or cooking spray.  Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and form a smooth ball with your hands.  Place the dough ball in the oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours until doubled in size. I usually stick mine in the oven (turned off) because my kitchen can be pretty cool and drafty and this is the best place for the dough to rise.

Lightly flour your counter top and transfer the dough out of the bowl.  Knead the dough very briefly and then cut into 10-12 evenly sized pieces.  Carefully shape the dough pieces into balls (you don't want to overwork the dough) and place in a greased 9 or 10 inch round baking dish. Be sure to leave space between each one so there is room to rise.  Cover the rolls and let rise again for about 30 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 400ºF.  If you are letting your dough rise in the oven, make sure you take it out before turning the oven on to preheat.  Mix together the butter and additional honey and brush over the tops of the risen rolls.  Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.  If desired, brush the cooked rolls with the butter and honey mixture again for a shiny finish.  Let the rolls cool for at least 5-10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!