Monday, December 22, 2014

Santa Hat Brownies

This is going to be a super short post but I wanted to share these Santa hat brownies in case you are looking for a last minute cute idea for a Christmas dessert.  I actually made these brownies last Christmas and it was too late to blog them and then I totally forgot about them until I was browsing Pinterest for holiday themed food ideas a few days ago.

These brownie bites are incredibly easy and they will be a huge hit with the kids, and adults too, if they can manage to sneak any before the kids eat them all!  I am pretty sure these lasted about 3 minutes before they were completely devoured and technically they weren't even suppose to be eating them yet.  !!Kids!! I am positive that your kids will love these just as much as all of the ones in my family did.

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday season and that your days are filled with family, friends, good food, holiday cheer, and lots of love <3

Santa Hat Brownies

1 box brownie mix, prepared as directed on the box (or homemade)

Strawberries, washed and hulled

4 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp milk, if needed

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the brownie mix as directed on the box and bake in a greased mini muffin tin for 15-18 minutes.  Let the brownies cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.  Prepare the cream cheese frosting while the brownies are cooling.  Combine the softened cream cheese and softened butter in a medium bowl.  Use an electric mixer or a whisk to combine well.  Add the powdered sugar and continue to beat for 1-2 minutes.  Beat in the vanilla and the milk until you have a nice smooth consistency.  You don't want to the frosting to be too loose or too stiff.  Place the frosting into a zipper topped baggie and cut off a small corner. Transfer the brownies to a serving platter and pipe a small amount of frosting onto the top of each brownie.  Place a strawberry on top of the frosting and press slightly so a ring of frosting forms the base of each hat.  Pipe a little blop of frosting on the top of each strawberry to make the pom on the top of Santa's hat.  Chill the brownie bites until ready to serve.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

How do other food bloggers find the time to take such beautiful, properly lit, tastefully staged pictures?  Is this something that just comes naturally to some people or do I really just need to set the time aside to layout my pictures better?  I have such food blog photo envy!!! I mean, just look at this picture - pie set on top of a non-fancy place setting on my non-ironed table cloth and only about 20 seconds to snap 10 photos while I have 15 guests waiting for Thanksgiving dinner.  It is a miracle that I remembered to make time to photograph this dessert at all.  I even made sure to take a photo of the cut pie.  We just won't talk about how there is clearly camera shake due to the low lighting and half a sippy cup in the top corner of the picture......

Oh well, I suppose this is just real (and busy!) life.  At least you get a glimpse of how cool this cheesecake pie comes out.  It's not a pumpkin cheesecake and its not just a pumpkin pie or just a cheesecake.  This dessert is a neat combo of pumpkin pie and cheesecake baked on top of each other.  I am not a pumpkin pie fan, and I can honestly say I don't think I have ever had more than a bite of plain old pumpkin pie but this pie combined with the smooth, creamy texture of the sweet cheesecake takes this pumpkin pie to a really delicious place.

The graham cracker crust and candied pecans add all of this lovely contrasting crunch texture to the velvety, smooth fillings.  The pie itself isn't overly sweet and it has a lovely blend of the beloved pumpkin pie style spices that are always popular this time of year.  You definitely will want to top this pie off with a little giant spoonful of freshly whipped cream, just to help tie everything together and add an extra layer of creaminess.  This pie would make a really lovely addition to your holiday table this year; I hope you give it a try!

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

Graham Cracker Crust

1 sleeve cinnamon graham crackers (about 8 cracker sheets)
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar

Place the graham crackers in a large zipper bag and crush with a mallet or rolling pin until the crackers become fine crumbs.  Add the melted butter and sugar to the bag, seal the bag again, and smoosh around with your hands until the mixture seems well combined.  Pour the crumbs into a springform pan (recommended) or pie plate and press slightly up the sides and along the bottom with your fingers to spread the crumbs into an even layer.  Bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes and then let cool on a wire rack.

Cheesecake Filling

8 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk or use an electric mixer to combine together until very smooth.  Pour the cheesecake filling into the prepared, cooled graham cracker crust.

Pumpkin Filling

3/4 cup white sugar
15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 cup whole milk, half and half, or cream
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk or use an electric mixer to combine together until just barely smooth.  Use a spoon to carefully dollop the pumpkin filling on top of the cheesecake filling evenly.  If you use a standard pie plate for your crust, all of the pumpkin filling might not fit, so that is why I recommend the springform pan method.  Place the pie on a baking sheet to prevent an oven mess in case you have any accidental overflow.  Bake the pie for 15 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350°F and continue to bake for about 45 minutes.  The pie is done when the middle looks set but still jiggles slightly when you wiggle the pan.  Cool the pie to room temperature and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.  Garnish with candied pecans (below) and lightly sweetened whipped cream

Inspired by King Arthur Flour

Candied Pecans

16 oz bag pecan halves (unsalted)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp water
1 egg white

Combine the sugars, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.  In another small bowl whisk the vanilla, water, and egg white until lightly foamy (2-3 minutes).  Add the pecans to the egg white mixture and toss to combine.  Pour the coated nuts into the sugar and mix very well.  Transfer the nuts to a baking sheet and bake at 300°F for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Let the nuts cool completely before using.  Note: I chopped my nuts and only used about 1/4 of this recipe for my pie but it is not very easy to split an egg white into smaller quantities, so I made the full recipe and ate the rest as a snack! They would be great in a salad, on ice cream, or give them away as gifts for the holidays!

Inspired by Two Peas and Their Pod

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rustic Apple Galette

Oh how I wish I had a piece of this apple deliciousness right now.  Most average week nights, after little K is finally asleep, I have a little bowl of ice cream as a treat to myself and a yay that I have a moment to just sit and relax. So of course tonight, I am completely out of ice cream and I am sitting here practically drooling looking at these apple galette pictures. A slice of this would certainly satisfy the massive sweet tooth craving that I have going on right now and would be way more exciting than my usual ice cream!  Hmm maybe a scoop of ice cream on top a slice of this, now we are talking :)  

If you are going to make this dessert or do any type of cooking with apples, I highly recommend getting on of these babies.  These peeler, corer, slicer thingies are an amazing time saver and definitely worth the approximate $20.  I'm not usually a big fan of single purpose kitchen tools but this one is well worth it.  It only took about 5 minutes to prep all six cups of apples for this recipe and I didn't even use the slicing option because I was in the mood for a diced apple this particular day.  Whether you decide to slice or dice is completely up to you and it only creates a slightly different texture when the apples get baked.    

 I was really hoping to slice this dessert for you but this is what kept happening while I was trying to take pictures and by the fifth time of moving little K back from the dessert, I decided the few shots I had of the galette as a whole would do.  Plus I took this over to my mom's and its not so easy to transport pre-sliced pie.  A galette is basically a free form pie; it has all the same elements, just no pie plate.  You could also probably call this a tart, but I'm not really sure if there is a technical difference between these terms.  Whatever you call it, you absolutely have to try it.  All of the steps are easy and it came together really fast too because I didn't even have to wait for the dough to chill, like most pie crust recipes call for.  Try using a variety of apples for a nice mix of sweet and tart.  Some apples, like Granny Smiths, hold their shape and texture more as they bake so try mixing a few of those with something sweeter and softer such as Macintoshs. The crumble topping is crunchy, buttery, sugary; the perfect compliment to the flaky dough and tender apple filling.  

I also wanted to share a few updated pictures of little K, since it has been a few months.  Here we are enjoying the afternoon sun on a lovely and warm autumn day.

 This is his first Halloween picture.  He has a bit of a turtle theme going on in his life, so his Auntie B found him this cute Squirt costume, from Finding Nemo.

He just turned 8 months old last Friday and I attempted his 8 month pictures but he really wanted to just climb right out of the gilder and do a face plant into the floor, so we are going to have to figure something else out.  In the meantime, here was his 7 month shot.

And here he is enjoying his first snow fall.  Well actually I'm not sure if he enjoyed it or not, he seemed fairly miffed about this whole snow thing, especially trying to crawl around in his fluffy snowsuit.  His first snow storm was a doozey.  We got over 12 inches of mostly heavy, wet white stuff.  That sure was fun to clean off the cars with this little man strapped to my back!  At least he was entertained :)

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  It would definitely be a wonderful addition to your holiday table this year!

Rustic Apple Galette

Galette Dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
7 tbsp cold butter, diced
4-8 tbsp ice water

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and then cut the butter into the dry ingredients, using a pastry cutter or two knives, until the mixture looks crumbly and the butter pieces are the size of small peas.  Add the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just barely comes together.  It will actually look more like wet sand and when you pinch a piece in your hand, it will hold together.  Set the dough aside while you make the apple filling and crumble topping.

Apple Filling
6 cups apples, peeled and sliced or diced
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Make sure the cornstarch is well distributed into the apples.  Whether you slice or dice the apples is your preference. The galette will have a slightly different texture depending on which you choose.  Set the apples aside while you mix the crumble.

Crumble Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup pecan or walnuts, chopped
3 tbsp melted butter

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.  Set aside for assembly

Egg wash
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp water

To assemble the galette, roll the dough out on a piece of parchment or silicone mat into about a 14" circle.  Pile the apples onto the middle of the dough and arrange in a flat layer.  Leave about 2" of dough around all sides of the apples.  Carefully fold the dough edge up over the edge of the apples.  Brush the dough with egg wash and sprinkle the entire galette with the crumble topping.  Make sure to cover both the apples and part of the galette dough.  Slide a baking sheet under the parchment paper or silicone mat and bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes.  Let the galette cool for at least 30 minutes before serving, but best if served at room temperature.  I would recommend using the parchment paper if you want to transfer this dessert to a plate for serving.  I couldn't transfer my galette off of the silicone mat in one easy movement, so I served it from there.


Inspired by Kitchen Simplicity

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Beef Ramen Noodle Soup

This ramen soup has that really delicious savory umami flavor that warms you through completely.  It is salty and lightly spicy and just a touch sweet with great layers of flavors and textures.  The carrots, onions, and celery are sweet and tender while the green onions are crisp and fresh.  The beef is perfectly seasoned which melts right off into the rich, smooth broth.  I personally didn't feel the egg added a lot flavor wise but it was a nice contrasting texture.  If you are a soft or even hard boiled egg person, you will definitely like having the egg, but I could go without it next time.  The soup is very filling but it is light and refreshing at the same time.  This is quickly becoming a favorite in our house, especially because it is easy to change up the protein and seasonings each time.   Sorry for the very short post this time.  Hopefully I will be feeling more inspired soon.  I made a really awesome rustic apple tart yesterday for a family dinner. So be on the look out for that coming soon!

Beef Ramen Noodle Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, divided
3 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
5 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tsp sriracha
3 packages Ramen noodles, seasoning packet discarded
4 green onions, chopped
Sliced steak, recipe below
Soft boiled eggs, recipe below
Salt & Pepper, to taste

  Heat the olive oil in dutch oven or other large soup pot over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are getting soft and the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and parsley and cook for another minute.  Add the beef stock, chicken stock, water, soy sauce, and sriracha.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 10-12 minutes.  Add the Ramen noodles and cook for 3 minutes.  Serve the soup in bowl and top with green onions, remaining parsley, slices of steak, and soft boiled egg.

Steak Recipe:
Season steak with a mixture of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of ginger powder.  You can really use any blend of seasoning that you like to your tastes.  We used really thin cut (approx 1/2") steaks and just seared in a skillet for a couple minutes on each side and then sliced thinly on a bias.  You could substitute the beef for chicken breast, pork loin, sausage, tofu, etc.

Soft Boiled Egg Recipe:
Bring 1/2" of water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add as many eggs as you desire, cover, and cook for 6 1/2 minutes exactly.  Run cold water over the eggs until you can handle them, then peel, and cut to serve.  

Inspired by Tasty Kitchen and America's Test Kitchen

Monday, November 3, 2014

Apple Bars

Hi guys, wow finally a few minutes to sit down and write on the blog.  Life sure has been crazy lately.  My laptop's hard drive crashed a few weeks ago so I lost quite a few pictures that I had not had the chance to backup yet, including almost all my recent cooking adventures that were waiting in the wings to be blogged.  Luckily these delicious apple bar pictures were still loaded on my camera's memory card.  So now that my computer is up and running again and I've modified my back up schedule to every time I transfer data, I can finally get back to blogging. Well, you know, as much as little K let's me anyways :-).  Teething is a wonderful.... it'sagoodthingwegothroughitwhenwearetoolittletoremember... thing.

So anyways let's talk about these apple bars. I debated about what to call these: apple cake, apple squares, apple blondies, but I finally settled on apple bars. The bars are a beautiful cross between cake and blondies so neither of those names fit just right and apple squares, which is what I have written down on the recipe card, isn't right either because what if you don't feel like squares and want to cut rectangles? That's probably just me being silly though.  Any way you cut these, they are absolutely delicious.

The bars are fluffy but chewy and moist with a thin, crisp,  sugary top. The lovely apple and cinnamon flavors make the bars the perfect autumn dessert or they would even be great for a Sunday brunch too.  This is a wonderful, easy, delicious recipe to have in your collection especially for the fall season and the upcoming holidays.  The bars do have a bit of a cooking time, but they only take about 10 minutes to put together and you most likely have everything on hand to make them already!  I hope you give these apples bars a try soon!  Before I go, here is a 6 month old picture of little K in his pumpkin costume before the local annual pumpkin festival we attended a few weeks ago.  He is the perfect little pumpkin! 

Apple Bars

3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 cups, peeled and diced apples
1 tsp white sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Beat the eggs for 2-3 minutes, with a mixer on medium speed, until they are starting to become frothy and pale yellow. Add the sugar and beat until combined.  Then mix in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.  Finally add the oil and beat until just combined.  Use a spatula to fold the apples into the batter.  Pour the batter into the baking dish and sprinkle the top with a little additional sugar.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Cool to room temperature before serving.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Zucchini Pineapple Spice Cake with Brown Butter Buttercream

Zucchini and pineapple is not a combination of ingredients that I normally would have thought of putting together, but let me tell you, they work wonderfully together.  This cake is one of the most moist and delicious cakes that I have ever made.  I considered making my famous carrot cake for this occasion (and by famous, I mean it's my family's favorite) but I wanted to try something new, and since it was zucchini season, I started looking for zucchini cake recipe ideas.  Usually when I think about baking with zucchini I tend towards making a quick bread, but I figured it could work in cake, just like carrots do.  While I was browsing I saw a few recipes that included pineapple on the ingredient list. Like I said, at first I wasn't too sure about the combo, but I use pineapple in my carrot cake recipe, so I went with me foodie instincts and the cake turned out great!

The cake is moist, flavorful, and full of wonderful textures, especially from the pineapple pieces and the coconut.  I didn't add any raisins or nuts, even though I think they would be the perfect compliment to this spice cake.  Certain family members... *cough*myhusband*cough* dislike these additions to cakes.  The other nice thing about this cake is that it moderately healthy, as far as cakes go.  There is only a small amount of fat from oil, so the eggs and yogurt really make the cake rich instead of a large amount of oil or butter.  There isn't a ton of regular sugar added either, since a lot of the sweetness is introduced through the pineapple and coconut instead.  That being said, cake is still cake and the ridiculously delicious buttercream cancels out any "healthiness" the cake may or may not have had.

You could make the cake and serve it without any frosting but in my opinion, if you make this cake, you absolutely must make the brown butter buttercream to go with it.  I wish I could do a better job of explaining how well this cake and this frosting go together, but I am at a loss for words.  If you have never tried using brown butter before, this is the perfect recipe to start with because the lovely spiced cake perfectly highlights the deep, rich, not too sweet flavor of this brown butter buttercream.  I hope you give this recipe a try even if it seems a little bit out there for you; it truly is a fantastic spice cake.  

Zucchini Pineapple Cake

1 cup white sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vanilla or plain greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 cups grated zucchini
1 (20 oz can) crushed pineapple in juice, drained
1/4 to 1/2 cup reserved juice from pineapple, if needed
1/2 cup raisins and/or chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease two 9" cake pans.  Combine the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, greek yogurt, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and whisk together until well combined.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Stir in the zucchini, pineapple, and coconut.  Also add the raisins and/or nuts, if desired.  Add enough of the reserved pineapple juice, if needed.  The batter should be somewhat on the thin side, but not totally soupy. Evenly divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes in the pans and the remove from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Inspired by Taste & Tell

Brown Butter Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
2-3 tbsp milk or cream

Place 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat and cook until the butter is lightly browned, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes.  See my brown butter chocolate chip cookie post for more details on browning butter.  Let the butter cool completely to room temperature.  Mix the other stick (1/2 cup) of softened butter and brown butter together and then incorporate the powdered sugar until you reach the consistency and sweetness of your liking.  Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and enough milk to make the frosting just a bit creamy. You may have leftover buttercream, depending on how you choose to frost your cake.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Funfetti Cookies

So after a long week of the 'I wake up five minutes after going to bed and want to play for another hour' nonsense performed by the little K-man, I was finally able to get all the photos done for this post and am going to try to squeeze in some writing while he naps this morning...which I'm sure will be all of 20 whole minutes.  Teething is fun.

K and I got married five years ago today, on a beautiful mountainside with lovely autumn flowers blooming and the trees just beginning to change color.  Our bouquets were full of bright yellow sunflowers, orange roses, and a mixture of reds, purples, and greens.  My ivory dress was embroidered with maroon swirls and flowers and we couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather.  I have been thinking back to that wonderful, warm and breezy day all morning long.  I'm not really one for sappy public displays of affection, although I did write a fairly mushy facebook post about it earlier, so instead, I thought I would share some of the...more humorous parts of the day.  They weren't so funny then, but at least we look back and have some interesting stories to tell.

We got married about an hour away from home, so our close family and the wedding party stayed in the hotel the night before.  We had our rehearsal dinner and then the group sort of split up into the boys and the girls and we had a pseudo 'last night out' before the big day.  The boys were a bit wild and one of them decided it would be fun to romp around and do some donuts in his new car.  Well it turned out there was a big ditch in the middle of the "field" he thought would be a good place to show off.  So K and two of the groomsmen had fun ride into said ditch and ended up completely covered in mud attempting to rescue the car.  We had to make a pit stop at the mall to buy K new sneakers before our honeymoon...

The next morning, my mom brought me and my two bridesmaids over to the salon to get our hair done and she went back to help get some stuff set up.  Our hair appointments finished and yet she wasn't back yet.  So we sat around waiting a few minutes and then called over to the hotel to figure out what was going on.  Finally she comes back and says "ok don't freak out" or something to that effect.....Ahhhh.  Apparently the entire hotel had lost power and everyone there was running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to get it back up and running.  Poor K was freaking out and saying things like, well I guess we can just roast hotdogs over a campfire or something, hahah.  Fortunately the kitchen was equipped with gas stoves and kept preparing for our reception and the power was back on with enough time for everyone to shower and get themselves ready for the ceremony to start on time.

There were a few other bumps in the road and some major bridesmaid drama that happened a few weeks before the wedding, but in the end it all worked out and now we have a wonderful, albeit crazy experience to look back on and cherish forever.  I love you K, happy wedding anniversary!

Now that I have babbled on and on, you probably are wondering about these cookies that have nothing to do with my wedding at all.  They are just realllllly good cookies that I made for absolutely no reason other than to be a piggies and eat the whole batch ourselves. The brown butter absolutely makes these cookies amazing. I decided to put dark chocolate chips, M&Ms, and sprinkles in this batch because I was in the mood for bright and colorful cookies, but you could make these with any combo of add-ins that you want.  Basically just make this cookie dough base and jazz it up however you like.  The cookies are perfectly soft and chewy with the slight crisp right around the edges and the depth of flavor from the brown butter is unbeatable.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Funfetti Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup M&Ms
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles

Melt 1 stick (1/2 cup) of the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  Stir the butter frequently.  It will foam up and then when the foam starts to subside you will see the butter beginning to turn brown.  Don't let it get too brown because it can burn really easily, so as soon as it is lightly brown, removed from the skillet into another bowl.  Let the butter cool to room temperature.  Combine the browned butter with the other stick of softened butter and the sugars in the large bowl.  Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla and incorporate well.  Stir in the baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour and just mix until everything is barely combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips, M&Ms and sprinkles.  Reserve some sprinkles to put on the top of each cookie before baking.  Optional:  let the dough rest in the fridge overnight.  This is suppose to really help the flavors develop and the chilled dough bakes a little more evenly than if you bake it right away.  When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and scoop tablespoon size balls of dough onto cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle each cookie with a few extra sprinkles.  Bake for 10-12 minutes and let the cookies cool completely on wire racks.  These cookies store well for 3-5 days in an air tight container, assuming they last that long!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Watermelon Granita

Tomorrow little K will be 5 months old!  I can't believe he is already but at the same time, only five months old.  Last weekend we took a day trip to the beach and had an absolute blast.  Little K has a cousin who is 2.5 months older than him and they were both completely fascinated by the sand, waves, ocean breeze, etc.  We had lots of fun trying to keep as much sand out of their mouths as possible!  This was also their older cousin/sibling, D's (I've mentioned him here before) first real experience at the ocean.  We could not get him out of the waves, despite the chilly 62° temperature. Little K enjoyed a tiny taste of watermelon, in one of those mesh feeders, for the first time at the beach.  He made a lot of confused faces at first, but in the end he was a happy boy, enjoying the sweet watermelon juice.   

This granita is a fantastic way to enjoy the beautiful, summery sweetness of watermelon.  There is a hint of tart, acidic lime juice that kicks the level of deliciousness up a few notches.  The texture of the granita resembles italian ice and melts just perfectly in your mouth.  Granita will keep for months in your freezer, so you can preserve the wonderful, ripe watermelon flavor for the colder months coming soon.  It does take a few hours to make/set but the amount of actual time involved is very little.  My aunt sent me a link to this cool watermelon cutting trick video if you are interested in learning a new way to cube your melon.  I actually had decent success doing this, so it is worth a try!

Here are a few pictures of little K from the past month or so.  All of the long, dark brown hair that he was born with has slowly been falling out and beautiful, blonde hair is growing in.  He looks like a whole new baby, sometimes, just overnight!  He is such a happy boy.  I love watching him discover and experience new things.  He is such a little sponge already, soaking in everything new around him!

Watermelon Granita

1/2 large seedless watermelon (about 6 cups)
Juice of 3 limes
1/4 to 1/3 cup white sugar
Pinch of salt
Additional lime for garnish, optional

Cut up the watermelon into large cubes and discard the rind.  Squeeze the juice of the limes into a blender or food processor and then add as much of the watermelon as you can.  You may have to work in batches. Give the watermelon a few pulses to get started and then add the sugar and salt.  The amount of sugar you add depends on how sweet your watermelon is on its own. Blend this until as smooth as possible.  Pour the liquid into a 9x13 casserole dish or other large, shallow container, preferably with a lid.  If you have to blend the watermelon in batches, be sure to give everything a good stir once it is all combined.  Cover and place the container in the freezer and let freeze for about an hour.  Remove the container from the freezer and use a fork to scrape and stir the mixture, which is probably still fairly liquid at this point.  The edges will be more firm, so scrape everything with the tines of the fork until well combined and little ice crystals are beginning to form.  Repeat this process 2-3 more times, about every hour, until the entire mixture is small crystals of ice. As the granita starts to form, this process gets more difficult, so take your time and really make sure to break it up into tiny little pieces. The granita will keep this texture once complete, so just store in the freezer until you are ready to enjoy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Strawberry Ice Cream

This recipe actually started out as a bit of a flop for me, but I was able to save it and I adjusted the recipe below for how you should actually prepare the ice cream. Don't be like me!

I really, really, really love ice cream, especially homemade, but store-bought is delicious too  I am pretty much impartial when it comes to flavor, I have yet to meet an ice cream flavor that I don't like, and I don't think I could possibly choose a favorite. So, when strawberry season was here, I decided it was time to try making homemade strawberry ice cream.

I really like the texture of frozen berry chunks in ice cream, so I thought, let's try making the ice cream with a vanilla base and stir in some soft, juicy chunks of strawberry as the ice cream finishes blending.  I thought this would be good because the juices would nicely flavor the vanilla base and there would be lots of frozen berry texture goodness.  Yea, well, that didn't really turn out so great. For some reason, even though the berries tasted delicious fresh, once they were frozen they tasted like frozen chunks of nothing/water stirred into super flavorful, sweet ice cream. I don't know if this was caused by something in my technique or what happened exactly.

So to fix my problem, I let the ice cream soften a bit, blended everything up in my blender, and let the mixture refreeze.  This new, improved, re-blended ice cream tastes amazzzzing. When making homemade ice cream, I am a huge fan of Philadelphia style ice cream, which is basically just cream, milk, sugar and flavorings instead of a custard based mix (which is more common).  Especially with fruit ice creams, I find the flavor to be more pure and the texture to be a bit smoother on the palette.  The ice cream is so fruity and creamy with just enough richness without feeling too heavy.  The flavor and texture of this ice cream as it melts, is actually a really wonderful accompaniment to a warm piece of cobbler, crisp, brownies, cake, etc. If you would put whipped cream on it, you want to put this ice cream on it!

I know strawberry season has passed by for the year, but if you find a good deal on decent tasting strawberries, give this recipe a try or save it for next June when the berries are really worth it again! Oh and just for comparison, the top picture is before fixing the ice cream and the bottom picture is what it looked like after.

Strawberry Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
3/4 cup white sugar
1 vanilla bean (optional)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and sugar over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.  You do not need to even simmer the cream, just dissolve the sugar.  Stir in the milk, vanilla extract and seeds of the vanilla bean, if using.  Use a blender or food processor to blend the strawberries until about 90% pureed.  I like to keep a few small chunks of strawberry pieces in the ice cream, but you can fully blend and strain the mixture if you want the ice cream completely smooth. Add the strawberry puree to the ice cream mixture and stir well.  Let this mixture chill in the fridge for about 1 hour and then prepare in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.  The ice cream will be soft serve consistency, so transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.


Inspired by Foodwishes

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Stuffed S'mores Cupcakes

If people started adding quirky, fun pieces of information to their resumes, I would list "Marshmallow Roasting Perfectionist" to my set of skills.  Seriously, ever since I was a little kid, camping with my family or having backyard fires, I have been fine tuning my marshmallow roasting abilities.  There is nothing better than a perfectly golden crisp outside bursting with ooey-gooey melted marshmallow inside. I will never understand those of you who enjoy, as I like to call it, the 'quick and dirty' method of catching the marshmallow on fire and then rushing to blow it out before the whole thing turns to dust!

My summer job during college was working as a counselor at a Girl Scout camp, where we were required to build campfires the "all-natural" way, using birch bark and teeny tiny twig tee-pees to get our campfires started.  At least we got to use matches!  Although, there was usually a contest amongst the staff to see who could have the most "one match only" fires each summer. The camp ran for six weeks each summer with a lunch cookout every Wednesday and then an optional overnight for older girls on Thursdays that included another cookout.  So twice a week, the staff was building fires and cooking over them for the campers.  We made lots of the typical burgers and hotdogs, english muffin pizzas, and even quesadillas over the fires, but dessert was always the favorite.  Banana boats (bananas cut in half, loaded up with marshmallow and chocolate chips wrapped in foil and set on the coals to get melty), or cinnamon roll sticks (Pillsbury crescent roll dough dipped in butter and cinnamon sugar, wrapped around a foil lined stick and roasted) were pretty well liked by the campers, but nothing beat the good old fashioned s'mores!  Just the thought of s'mores at the weekly cookout was enough to keep any camper crankiness at bay :)  I spent a lot of time working with 5-7 year olds and many of them unintentionally fell into the 'quick and dirty' category of roasting marshmallows which usually led to very unhappy campers.  I can't tell you how many times I heard another counselor say "go ask Luna (I'll explain in a minute) to roast you another marshmallow."

I would guess that I roasted several hundred marshmallows over the three summers that I worked at the camp, so needless-to-say, my marshmallow roasting skills are pretty much perfect to this day!  The secret is all in the placement and rotation.  Hold the marshmallow down near the super hot coals, out of the flames and rotate a quarter turn ever few seconds.  With just a little patience, you have a perfect marshmallow every time. Oh and if you were curious about the name "Luna", all of the counselors had to choose "camp names" for themselves as part of the camp's traditions.  It was always fun for the campers to guess what our real names were, but we never revealed them.  I have always been fascinated by the moon, so I chose the name Luna.  Working at that camp has so many wonderful memories. Every summer since then, I think fondly about what a great summer job it was!

These cupcakes taste exactly like a s'more, just in cake form.  The sweet, rich, tender cupcakes are bursting with the creamy marshmallow filling.  I'm sorry that I don't have a picture of one of the cupcakes cut in half so you could see how delicious they looked!  Since the buttercream is made with Hershey's candy bars, it has the perfect milk chocolate flavor that duplicates the melty chocolate in a s'more.  You get a little bit of crunch from the graham cracker crumbs and of course, the star of the cupcake: the sticky, gooey, yet crispy toasted marshmallows puts these s'mores cupcakes over the top!  Make these beautiful, delicious cupcakes before the, alreadyflyingbyIcan'tbelieveitisalreadyAugust, summer is over!

Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Stuffed S'mores Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk*

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 cupcake trays (24 cupcakes) with liners. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate large bowl whisk together the oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until well combined.  Pour 1/2 of the dry ingredients and 1/2 of the buttermilk into the wet ingredients and whisk briefly until barely combined. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and buttermilk.  The batter will be fairly thin.  Divide evenly into the lined trays, filling each one just under 3/4 full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let sit for 10 minutes and then remove from the trays to cool completely on a wire rack.

*Buttermilk can be substituted with regular milk and 1 tbsp of white vinegar

Marshmallow filling
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme (Fluff)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Cream together the butter and marshmallow creme until smooth and fluffy.  Add in the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix well.  The filling should be not be too thin or too stiff, so adjust the powdered sugar amount, if necessary.

Milk Chocolate Buttercream
1 cup butter, room temperature
4 Hershey's milk chocolate bars
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate bars in the microwave on medium power, 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between until completely smooth and melted.  Let the chocolate cool to room temperature.  Cream together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  Slowly pour in the cream and vanilla and mix until combined.  Beat in the melted, cooled chocolate and whip on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes.

Topping & Assembly
24 marshmallows (I used the "Jet-Puffed Stacker" variety)
2 graham crackers, crushed

Spoon the marshmallow filling into a piping bag or zipper baggie with a small corner cut off.  Spoon the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip (or other tip of your choosing).  Using a small, sharp paring knife, cut a small circular wedge out of the top of each cupcake and set the wedge aside.  Pipe about a large teaspoon sized dollop into the hole and place the piece of cutout cupcake back on top of the filling. You could also just spoon some filling in but I find piping it is much less messy.  Pipe a swirl of the milk chocolate buttercream onto each cupcake and sprinkle with some graham cracker crumbs.  Place your marshmallows onto a silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet and toast them under the broiler.  Make sure to watch closely because they toast pretty fast.  You probably will need to work in batches for this step. Use a greased turner or spatula to remove from the baking sheet and place onto of the cupcakes.  These cupcakes are best served within a few hours of assembling so if you make the cupcakes ahead of time, make sure to wait to assemble until shortly before serving!


Inspired by Sally's Baking Addiction & Comfortably Domestic

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cheesy Sausage Pasta Skillet & {One Year} Blogiversary

Happy one year of blogging to me! My first blogiversary just passed on July 1st and I didn't even realize it.  I actually was just typing out a sentence that I have been having writers block all week and couldn't come up with anything to write for this post, and then it dawned on me that I have been blogging for a whole year already! I feel like I should be posting a cake recipe or something to celebrate this event, but I really want to share this recipe instead because it was so delicious!  I actually do have a vanilla cupcake recipe that has been waiting in the wings for awhile....hmmmm...nah I'm going to stick with this one :)

This is a wonderful, easy weeknight meal that is ready in under 30 minutes, and you only have to dirty one pan!  That is always a huge plus in my book, especially when it comes to weeknight cooking.  I was expecting this dinner to be a fairly stick to your ribs, hearty pasta dish with the sausage and cheese combo but it turned out rather light and fresh with all the delicious veggies in there.  Everything just worked really well together and the flavors were very complimentary.  Feel free to change up the vegetable combination or leave out the sausage and switch the chicken stock with vegetable stock if you wanted to go vegetarian with this dish.  The portobello mushrooms have enough of a meaty quality all on their own. The sauce is very creamy and cheesy without being too heavy, just delicious. This recipe makes a lot of food too, so be ready to feed an army or prepare for leftovers, which reheat great, by the way. I hope you enjoy this one as much as we did!

So now for the nerd in me, a few stats for my blogiversary: I have 40 posts, of which 29 are sweets and 11 are savory dishes, I have 42 comments (of which probably at least 35 are my mom, lol), the blog has received an average of 62 page views per day, and my most popular posts are better than sex cake and carrot cake cupcakes with maple cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Even though the blog is definitely still a tiny blip in the sea of amazing food blogs out there, I am very proud of this journey so far and hope to continue on for years to come.  I always find it fun when I want to make one of my favorite recipes and I get to go find it on my own blog!

Cheesy Sausage Pasta Skillet

1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 small red or yellow onion, diced
6 baby portobella mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
1 lb bulk sweet or hot italian sausage
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups penne pasta (I used mini penne)
4 oz. cream cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
4 green onions, sliced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh parsley
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat and add the olive oil, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, and sausage.  Use a wooden spoon to break the sausage up into small pieces.  Cook, stirring frequently until the sausage is cooked through, starting to brown and the veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Drain off some of the fat from the sausage, if needed.  Add the chicken stock, water, pasta, and seasonings and cook for the recommended cooking time on the pasta package.  Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the cream cheese and parmesan cheese and let the sauce simmer for 1-2 minutes.  The sauce should be thick and coat the pasta well.  Add the green onions and tomatoes just prior to serving.  Top with additional parmesan cheese, if desired.

A few notes:
-Draining the fat off from the sausage may be totally unnecessary.  It will depend entirely on how fatty your sausage blend is.
-Make sure you use real grated parmesan cheese, the stuff in the can won't work for this sauce
-This type of one pot pasta meal, where you cook the pasta right in the liquid that will become the sauce, is very different than cooking pasta in boiling water, draining, and then stirring together with your sauce.  You need to make sure to move the pasta around a lot to avoid a clumpy mess. You also need to monitor the liquid level.  If your liquid is starting to get really low but the pasta is not cooked all the way yet, just add a little more water.
-We actually ate this meal without the tomatoes, since K is a raw tomato hater.  It was excellent without them but they do add a really great pop of color and a little sweetness.  I add some to my lunch leftovers the next day and thought it was good that way too, but they weren't a game changer. So anyways, if you are a tomato fan, add them in. They will cook a little from the heat of the dish, but essentially they are still raw.


Inspired by The Weary Chef