Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dutch Baby Pancake

Dutch baby pancakes are a really yummy, low-maintenance, easy breakfast or brunch food.  The pancake is super puffy and also crispy and buttery around the edges, yet a little bit custard-y in the center.  Sorry for using the word "custard-y" because not only is that not a word, but its a really weird non-word.  I can't think of a better way to to describe the texture of this delicious breakfast though.  If you have never had a dutch baby, my description may sound odd but they are very good.  Think kind of like a cross between a regular pancake and french toast.  

One of my favorite things about making a dutch baby is that it just cooks in the oven, by itself without having to be dipped or flipped and you can bake bacon or sausage right along side of it without any mess or fuss.  So with only about 3 minutes of actual interactive prep time and about 20 minutes of baking time you can have a beautiful and tasty breakfast.  I really enjoyed the traditional garnish of melted butter, lemon juice, and powdered sugar but this would also be great sprinkled with maple or fruit syrup of some kind.  Let me know what kind of toppings you like to serve your dutch babies with!       

Dutch Baby Pancake

3 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter

To garnish: additional melted butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice, powdered sugar, maple syrup, fresh fruit, etc

Preheat your oven to 425F.  This recipe works best if your eggs and milk are room temperature. You can warm cold eggs up by placing the whole eggs in warm water for a few minutes and you can microwave the milk for about 15 seconds to take the chill off.  Add the eggs, milk, flour, vanilla, and salt to a bowl and whisk vigorously until very well combined or blend these ingredients together in the blender.  Heat a 10" cast iron skillet on the stove until very hot.  Add the butter and once it has melted, pour in the pancake batter. Do not stir! Carefully place the hot skillet in the center of the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  The pancake will be very puffy at first and will deflate as it starts to cool.  The traditional garnish for the dutch baby is melted butter, a squeeze of lemon juice, and lots of powdered sugar.  However, you can top this pancake with anything that you like! Just cut wedges of the pancake to serve and enjoy!

Inspired by Food Wishes

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Individual Vanilla Pudding Parfaits

Vanilla pudding parfaits are a simple and delicious dessert that require very little effort yet are sure to impress.  Homemade vanilla pudding can best be described as silky, creamy, and amaaazing! Add some lightly sweetened whipped cream, crunchy toasted cookie crumbs, and fresh, ripe fruit to the pudding and you have yourself one beautiful, easy dessert. Trust me when I tell you that taking the time to make this dessert from scratch, using quality ingredients and a little bit of love, that it will be absolutely worth it.  So yummy!!

As I often tell you guys, this dessert is totally customizable.  You can substitute whatever your favorite flavor of pudding is, change what kind of cookie crumbs you use, and switch up the fruit to what is in season or even use candy.  Try chocolate pudding with Oreo cookie crumbs and gummy worms for a worms and dirt theme or butterscotch pudding with cinnamon graham crackers and sliced bananas for a banana cream pie parfait!  Mmm come to think of it, using crushed snickerdoodle cookies in this version of the recipe would have been delicious!  Kids go wild for this dessert, especially if you let them assemble it themselves.  This is a great stress free recipe for the holidays that your guests, kids and adults alike will love.

If you are looking for an equally impressive but slightly richer version of this dessert, check out my black forest trifle recipe from a couple of years ago.  There is a great chocolate pudding recipe over there or you could take that concept and apply it to this recipe just by adding some pound cake!  I hope you enjoy!

Individual Vanilla Pudding Parfaits

3 1/2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp butter, divided
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 cup powdered sugar
6 graham cracker cookies
Fresh berries of your choice

In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, salt, 1/2 cup milk, the eggs, and egg yolk until well combined.  In a medium pot, heat the remaining milk and remaining sugar over medium heat until hot and the sugar has dissolved.

Remove the pot from the heat and slowly whisk the milk mixture into the egg mixture until well combined.  Be very careful to do this slowly so that you do not scramble your eggs.

Pour this mixture back into the pot and place it over medium heat again.  Stir the pudding constantly and as the pudding heats up and begins to bubble it will thicken.  Once the pudding coats the back of a spoon and it holds a solid line when you drag your finger across the spoon, it is done.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and 1 tbsp of butter until completely combined.

Transfer the pudding to a clean bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap right against the top of the pudding so that a skin does not form.  An optional step here is to pass the pudding through a sieve into the bowl, if you think you have little lumps of cooked egg or sugar clumps in your pudding.

Place the pudding in the refrigerator to cool completely. This will take a few hours.

To crush the graham cracker cookies, place them in a zipper baggie and smash them with a mallet, rolling pin, or your hands.  They can be as finely crushed or as chunky as you wish.  Toss the graham crackers with 2 tbsp of melted butter.  Optionally you can toast this mixture on a baking sheet at 350F for about 5 to 8 minutes.  This step enhances the flavor of the graham crackers.

Combine the heavy cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl and whip to soft peaks.  Take about 1/3 of the whipped cream and fold it through the cooled pudding mixture until just barely combined.

To serve, you can either do it buffet style and let your guest create their own pudding parfaits or you can assemble them yourself and serve.  Just put layers of graham cracker crumbs, pudding, whipped cream, and fresh berries into little bowls, small mason jars, or dessert dishes.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

Buttery shortbread cookies filled with silky, sweet dulce de leche and topped with a sprinkle of salt to create the perfect salted caramel cookie.  If you asked me what my favorite flavor was, up until a couple of years ago I would have told you chocolate without skipping a beat but then I learned to make caramel myself and that changed completely.  Now I am basically caramel obsessed - whether it be homemade vanilla bean soft caramels (recipe coming soon), dulce de leche, caramel sauce, or basically any baked good recipe involving caramel you can count me in.  Of course, I still love chocolate, especially caramel covered in chocolate...perhaps next time I make these cookies I will try drizzling them with chocolate?? Now that is an idea to remember!

These cookies are absolutely amazing, perfect for caramel lovers like me or anyone who appreciates an easy to prepare and delicious cookie that only requires a few ingredients.  The shortbread cookies aren't too sweet which compliments the rich, caramel filling very well.  The sprinkle of salt makes the caramel flavor pop and nicely balances the sweetness.  Plus just look at how beautiful they are with the bold amber centers that resemble lovely little caramel kisses.  I would highly recommend that you give these cookies a try for one of your upcoming holiday events this season.  One thing to note is that the dulce de leche does remain a bit sticky, so they are not the easiest cookie to package.  However, you won't be disappointed by how yummy these cookies are, so hopefully that makes up for the fact they are not very easy to transport.  You could also change the filling in the cookies, if you don't share my love for caramel.  You could try nutella, chocolate kisses or other chocolate candies, or even put some jam in the centers before you bake them and you have beautiful traditional jam thumbprint cookies!  

Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
14 oz dulce de leche
1/2 tsp sea salt or other flaky salt

Cream the softened butter together with the sugar using an electric mixer or a whisk by hand until light and fluffy.  Mix in the vanilla and then add the flour in several additions until everything is well combined.  Scoop out small spoonfuls of the dough and roll into approximately 1.5 inch balls.  Place the dough balls on a parchment lined (optional) baking tray, flatten each ball slightly and then lightly press your thumb into the center of each cookie to form a well.

Bake the cookies at 350°F for about 10 to 12 minutes or until they are very slightly golden brown around the bottom edges.  Cool the cookies completely on wire racks.  Once the cookies have cooled, spoon the dulce de leche into a zipper bag and cut a small hole in one corner.  Use the bag to pipe dollops of caramel into the well of each cookie.  Sprinkle the top of each cookie with a few flakes of salt.  These cookies are best if served the same day, but they can be stored in the refrigerator for maybe one day. The caramel does remain sticky so you can't stack these cookies on each other without making a mess.

For instructions on how to make homemade dulce de leche see the very bottom of my post for dulce de leche revel bars. You can also purchase this premade at most grocery stores.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Caramel Apple Pie

Amazing caramel apple pie with beautiful golden, flaky crust and sweet, buttery apple filling.  This apple pie would be a wonderful addition to your dessert table this holiday season.  You can decorate the top of the pie however you would like. You could go with a more traditional solid or lattice crust or do some sort of cut-out decorative top like I did. I had a fancier image in my mind when I started but it came out rather rustic looking, in my opinion. Mid-pie making I discovered that in my box of 101 cookie cutters there weren't any shaped like leaves. So my quick thinking husband got out some paper and a pencil and I drew a freehand maple leaf template. Then we just placed the template on the rolled out pie dough and traced around it with a knife until we got enough leaves to cover the pie. I wasn't too impressed with how it looked at the time, but once it was baked I actually ended up liking it a lot more than I expected.  You can get really creative if you want too. I have seen some amazing pie crust designs on other blogs and on pinterest lately.

I have tried a lot of apple pie recipes over the years with varying results but I will definitely be adding this one to the "for keeps" pile.  I have so many "to try someday" recipes collected, especially when it comes to desserts, that is fairly rare that I will make the same recipe more than once.  This delicious pie will absolutely be making an appearance again at my house this holiday season and for many more years after.  Although this pie is fantastic it is very different from my Great Grandma's perfect apple pie that I was able to enjoy for so many years. I think I have established how picky I was as a child here before, and at one point in my life I actually thought that I did not like to eat pie, except for Great Grandma's apple pie, of course.  It was always my go to dessert on Thanksgiving and I have yet to find a recipe that even comes close to her's.  I did have a very good slice of apple pie this year at the Ashfield Fall Festival that was a fairly close replica and it brought back lots of wonderful memories.  I hope that you enjoy this apple pie recipe and maybe it will even create some lasting holiday memories for your loved ones. :)

Caramel Apple Pie

Pastry Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp ice water

Place the flour, sugar, salt and cubes of very cold butter in a food processor.  Pulse these ingredients until you have a crumbly mixture with butter pieces the size of small peas.  Start by adding 4 tablespoons of the ice water and continue to pulse. Continue to add the water until the mixture looks like fine sand and if you pinch some crumbs together between your fingers it holds together like dough.  Turn everything out into a pile of crumbs on a flat surface and use your hands to bring the dough together into a round disk.  Just the light pressure from pushing the crumbs with your hands will be enough for his dough to hold together. Take care to not over work the dough here; once it all comes together you are done. Divide the dough into two even disks and wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Note that you can use any double crust recipe or store bought crust in place of this recipe.

Caramel Sauce
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt

Add the sugar and water to a medium/large pot and turn on the heat to  medium high. Stir the water and sugar together and then do not stir at all while the sugar cooks until it turns a light amber color.  You can swirl the pot around gently if you need to.  Once the sugar has reached your desired caramel color, carefully add the heavy cream and then the butter (this will bubble a lot) and stir the caramel together until smooth.  Add the salt and let the caramel cool for at least 1 hour.  Alternatively you can just use 1 cup of prepared/store-bought caramel sauce.

Apple Pie
3 lbs apples of your choice, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon

In a large bowl, toss the prepped apples together with the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon.  Add the cooled caramel sauce and stir until the apples are evenly coated. Roll out one disk of dough on a smooth floured surface to about a 13 inch circle.  Roll the dough up loosely around your rolling pin and then transfer it into a 9 inch pie plate.  Carefully lay the dough out in the pie plate taking care not to stretch the dough - it should over hang around the edges slightly.  If you get a tear, just take a piece of the excess and patch it up. Cut any large excess areas of dough off around the edges and create a crust border by pinching the dough together between your thumb and index fingers.  Add the apple mixture to the pie plate and spread it out evenly.  Roll out your second disk of pie dough into a similar size as the first circle.  You can decorate the top of the pie however you like. I went with a leaf pattern but you could use any cookie cutter that you want, or do a lattice top, or even just leave it a solid double crust pie. Make sure you cut a few slashes on top of the pie for the steam to vent if you do a solid top.  Bake the pie in an oven preheated to 375F for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  If the crust is getting too brown, tent the pie with foil and finish cooking.  Allow the pie to cool for at least 4 hours before serving for best results.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Lasagna Bolognese

Rich, hearty, cheesy lasagna layered with a delicious tomato meat sauce and a creamy white bechamel - this take on an amazing pasta dish is a must try recipe!  Most recipes for lasagna are commonly made with a ricotta filling but I am not a big ricotta fan. The texture of the cheese just does not appeal to me, so I had pretty much been missing out on the deliciousness that is lasagna for years and years. It was one of those foods that I really wanted to like and so I would keep trying it any time that I had the chance but it just never worked for me.  Eventually somewhere along the way I found the idea of substituting the ricotta filling with a bechamel sauce.  The bechamel sauce is so creamy and smooth and makes the lasagna so rich and delicious.  The tomato sauce in this recipe could be substituted for any tomato sauce that you love - particularly if you wanted to change to a vegetarian option.  However, if you do eat meat I would highly recommend this recipe even though it is a bit time consuming. It is so flavorful and worth every bit of effort!  I really can't say enough about how good this lasagna is.  It is the perfect dinner for a cozy weekend evening or it is a huge crowd pleaser at pot luck parties.  And don't forget since you already have a huge pile of carbs on your plate, you might as well throw two giant pieces of garlic bread on there too.... what?!? there is vegetables in the sauce so it all balances out, ha!

Lasagna Bolognese

Red Sauce
1 lb ground beef
1 lb bulk sausage of your choice
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced finely
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 29 oz cans tomato sauce
1 29 oz can whole tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp white sugar
dried or fresh basil, oregano, parsley to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large heavy duty pot, brown the ground beef and sausage and break into very small pieces. Add the chopped onion, garlic, carrot, and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add all of the tomato products and the sugar. Carefully break up the whole tomatoes into chunks using a wooden spoon as the sauce cooks. Season the sauce with herbs and salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered on low for at least one hour. Check the seasoning before assembling the lasagna.

Bechamel/White Sauce
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Dash of garlic powder
Dash of onion powder
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour and spices. Cook this for about a minute and then whisk in the milk about a cup at a time. Whisk constantly bringing the mixture back up to a boil and cook until the sauce is thick.  Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

1 box lasagna noodles
16 oz mozzarella cheese (grated)

You can either use the noodles that you need to boil before baking the lasagna or the no boil noodles that cook while the lasagna is in the oven.  Just follow the instructions on the box to prepare the noodles.

To assemble the lasagna, make the following layers in a 9x13 greased or disposable cassarole dish: red sauce on the bottom, noodles, red sauce, white sauce, mozzarella cheese, noodles, red sauce, white sauce, mozzarella cheese, noodles, white sauce, red sauce, mozzarella cheese. Cover with tin foil and bake @ 350 for 30 mins. Uncover and bake another 20 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. The whole dish can be frozen before baking or after baking  and reheated in the oven.  Note that you will most likely have extra red sauce that you can save for another dish.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sugar Cut-Out Cookies

Delicious, soft sugar cookies that do not require any chill time before baking!  So many cut out cookies require at least some amount of time chilling in the refrigerator before they can be rolled out, but this recipe doesn't need to and the edges still hold their shape perfectly in the baking process.

These cookies are great to make with your kids, especially right before a holiday.  The dough is very easy to mix together. You can mix it either by hand or with an electric mixer and then you can go straight into rolling it out to cut the shapes.  This is the most fun part for the kiddos.  Even if you have pretty little ones they can still pick out which cookie cutter to use and help you push it into the dough. Both little K (18 months old) and my nephew D (11 years old) helped me with this batch. They both had fun and were able to help me do a lot of the prep work.

Since it is almost Halloween we made some pumpkins, ghosts, bats, and a few other shapes not pictured. As you can see, we went for a very rustic, but delicious, approach to decorating the cookies.  I made the glaze into a few 'Halloween colors' and we just drizzled it all over the place.  Of course you can decorate as simple or as fancy as you want to or even just leave them plain.  The cookies taste amazing no matter what you decide to do. I hope you give this very easy and very yummy recipe a try! Let me know what theme you decide to cut your cookies out into!  

Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and the extracts until well combined.  Beat in the baking powder and then mix in the flour in several additions until completely combined.  Divide the dough into batches and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick on a smooth work surface dusted with flour.  Cut out your shapes and bake the cookies on trays for approximately 8 minutes.  Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.  Leave the cookies plain or decorate as you desire. I used the glaze recipe, below.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp corn syrup, optional
3-6 tbsp water, as needed

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, adding just enough water to get the consistency you desire.  Divide the glaze into batches and stir in food coloring.  Transfer the glaze to zipper baggies and cut off a corner to pipe the glaze or just dunk each cookie in the glaze to coat one side.  Allow the glaze to set on the cookies for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Soft Pretzel Bites {No Knead}

Soft, chewy, buttery pretzel bites that are the perfect delicious hot snack! These pretzel bites would be a great addition at any potluck party or football game that you are attending this season!  The secret to getting the chewy exterior with the soft and fluffy interior is the baking soda water bath.  Just a quick dunk in the boiling water completely transforms these pretzels and makes them irresistible!

I made these pretzel bites for a Oktoberfest themed surprise birthday party that my sister-in-law threw for my brother. We had a great time celebrating his birthday and enjoying a yummy selection of German/Oktoberfest themed foods.  I think it is such a fun idea to throw a party with a food theme.  You might get to try a new food that you have never had before or it might just be a great experience to enjoy a lot of foods from one particular culture.  My sister-in-law made some delicious homemade mustard that was a beautiful compliment to these pretzels.  They would also be great with a cheese dipping sauce as well.

The recipe can be made into regular shaped soft pretzels if you prefer or another option for the bites is to stuff them!  You could try different combinations like ham and cheddar or pepperoni and mozzarella in the middle.  Just stuff the dough and make sure to seal the balls really well before you boil them and they will turn out amazing!

Make sure you plan ahead because this no knead dough method needs to be made the day before you want to serve the pretzels.  It is definitely worth the wait though because the flavor of the dough really develops and enhances with the long, slow rise process.  This recipe is especially great if you are new to working with bread dough and aren't too keen on the kneading process yet.  This is a great beginner recipe to try but can definitely be made by annoying looking to enjoy delicious pretzels!

Soft Pretzel Bites {No Knead}

3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp active dried yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cups water (approximately)

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, and sugar and stir it all together. Add in the yeast and stir again to combine.  The reason you want to do it this way is because if you dump the yeast and salt in together at the same time, the salt can actually deactivate the yeast. If the salt is disbursed throughout the flour when you add the yeast, you won't have any problems.  Add about 1 cup of the water and stir everything together until well combined.  If the dough is still on the dry side continue to add water about 1 tbsp at a time until a firm - not too wet, not too dry - dough forms.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and set it aside at room temperature, overnight.  You must let this dough rise for at least 10 hours or up to 16 hours to allow the gluten to develop.  The long rise process is what makes it so this recipe does not require any kneading.

Additional flour for work surface
6 cups water
6 tsp baking soda
egg wash
sea salt or pretzel salt
2 tbsp melted butter

Once the dough has rested overnight, turn it out on to a well floured work surface.  Give the dough a couple of quick kneads/pats just to bring it together and then cut into about 8 small balls of dough.  Roll each ball of dough into a long snake.  If you want to make regular pretzels, twist the snake into a pretzel shape or cut the snake into bite sized pieces.  Preheat the oven to 450°F and prepare several baking trays by either greasing or lining with parchment paper.  Bring the water to a simmer in a large pot and add the baking soda.  This will cause a bit of a sizzle, but just give it a stir and it will calm down.  Add the pretzels to the water, in batches, and poach them for about 30 seconds.  Remove the pretzels to your prepared baking trays.  It really helps to use some kind of slotted spoon to remove the pretzels from the water so that you don't get any excess water on your baking trays.  Once all of your pretzels are poached, brush them with egg wash and sprinkle with salt.  Bake the pretzels for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Brush the hot pretzels with melted butter and serve immediately for best results.

Inspired by Bigger Bolder Baking

Friday, October 9, 2015

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip & Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Mash-up Cookies

There are three prerequisites to making these cookies - 1. you must love peanut butter, 2. you must love chocolate, and 3. you must love giant bakery style cookies that are pretty much the size of your face. If those three things sound good to you, then this recipe will be perfect! I love the idea of combining two different but similar cookie doughs together to form one amazing, monster cookie.  I went with the peanut butter-chocolate combo because I happen to know a lot of 'PBC' lovers but you could mash-up any two of your favorite cookies.  Chocolate chip on one side and a brownie cookie on the other or snickerdoodles mashed-up with soft vanilla sugar cookies.  The possibilities are only limited to your imagination!

I have to warn you - don't be surprised by the reactions you get from the people you serve these to because they will most likely be as outrageous as the cookies themselves are.  I think at least two people asked me if I was trying to kill them ;-).  In all seriousness though, these cookies are absolutely delicious.  They are so soft, chewy, and bursting with peanut butter and chocolate flavors.  Either of these two cookie recipes made individually would satisfy any cookie lover's sweet tooth, but mashed together, they take yummy to a whole new level.  Next time you are in the mood for a cookie big enough to be a meal on it's own, or are really looking to impress your guests, give these cookies a try. You won't be disappointed!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip & Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
Mash-up Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup  (4 oz) creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup (4 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2 cups chocolate chips of your choice

Cream the butter, peanut butter, and cream cheese together until light and fluffy and then beat in the sugars followed by the eggs and vanilla.  Mix all of the wet ingredients together until very well combined. Add the baking soda and pinch of salt and then stir in the flour and cornstarch in small batches so that everything mixes together nice and neatly.  Stir in the chocolate chips and chill, covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark (or light) brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
Approx. 25 mini peanut butter cups, chopped

Cream the butter until light and fluff and then beat in the sugar followed by the eggs and vanilla extract.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt together into a separate bowl and then slowly add that to the wet ingredients. Don't skip the sifting in this recipe; cocoa powder tends to be very lumpy) Mix everything until just combined and then stir in the chopped peanut butter cups.  Chill, covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.  


When you are ready to make the cookies, bring the cookie doughs out of the refrigerator and let them set at room temperature for five to ten minutes, especially if they have been in there for more than just an hour or so.  Use a large scoop (about 2 tbsp) to scoop out as many of each cookie dough as possible.  Lightly form each scoop into a ball - they do not need to be perfect here and we don't want to over work the dough.  Press one ball of each cookie dough together until they adhere. The lightly shape the dough into a fat disk and place on a parchment lined or greased baking tray.  Make sure you leave at least two inches between each cookie.  Bake at 350°F for 12 to 15 minutes or until the outside is turning golden brown and the center still looks just a little soft.  Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool until you can't stand it any more and just need to try one!

-You might have more of one dough left over than the other so you can just make a few cookies that are not combinations.
-These recipes can easily be cut in half to make a regular size batch of cookies or each cookie could be made individually and not as a mash-up.  If you make the recipes listed above, it really is two full batches of cookies combined together, so you will get at least 24 huge cookies.
-The cookies can be frozen once they are assembled but not yet baked for three plus months.  Just blind freeze the dough balls on a cookie sheet and once they are solid, transfer them to an air tight container for storage in the freezer.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup

Soup season is officially here and I am so excited to try out a few new recipes and make some of my delicious old stand by's.  Apparently I was a little bit over excited for soup season because I made this soup weeks ago in the middle of a heat wave, like a crazy person.  I had a bunch of kale leftover from making this delicious noodle salad and decided this soup was how I needed to use it up. I could have done a billion other things like make kale chips or add it to salad or just saute it, but no, I decided to make soup. Although the soup was fantastic, I really wouldn't suggest it for a hot day.  The beautiful crisp fall weather that is rolling in will be much better suited for enjoying this recipe!     

This soup is very rich and super creamy; definitely a treat meal. The sausage and potatoes add a wonderful heartiness while the kale does help give the soup a bit of freshness and lightens it up slightly.  Not to mention, kale is full of nutritional health benefits so this recipe is a great way to sneak in a vegetable that might not go over so well with picky eaters if it was served all on its own.  Feel free to substitute the heavy cream in the recipe for regular milk.  The substitution will make the soup a little less rich, which I actually think would be a welcome change.  This recipe is very simple, has a short list of ingredients and can be made pretty quickly, but the flavors all come together beautifully and it just tastes amazing.  I am so looking forward to enjoying more recipes like this one over the next few months.  It is a good thing that the cool fall weather is here and we can all pile on the warm, comfy, (read - baggy) clothes again! Let me know if you give this recipe a try and how you like it!  P.S. - sorry for the picture quality this time around - sometimes 16 months old have an intense need to stir and you literally only have 3 seconds to snap a picture :)

Sausage, Potato, & Kale Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb Italian Sausage, sweet or hot
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
6 cups chicken stock
2 medium russet potatoes, thinly sliced and quartered
2 cups kale, stems removed and chopped
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large heavy bottom pot, over medium high heat, add the olive oil and sausage.  Break up the sausage into small bits and cook until beginning to brown.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and the garlic and continue to cook until soft and translucent.  Add the chicken stock, potatoes, and kale and return the heat to high.  Bring the soup to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, stir in the heavy cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Inspired by Alaska from Scratch

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

Soft, fluffy, golden cinnamon rolls loaded with gooey cinnamon sugar filling and topped with a generous smear of delicious cream cheese frosting.  These cinnamon rolls are to die for; absolutely the best cinnamon rolls I have ever tasted.  I have been waiting for an occasion to make this recipe for awhile because, as much as I would love to make these all the time, I really can't justify a huge pan of cinnamon rolls just for the three of us.  So when one of my oldest friends asked to have a pot luck 'bridesmaid brunch' at my house, I knew it would be the perfect time to make these.  We had such a good time at brunch talking about wedding details, DIYs, and just catching up with old friends. Of course the food was amazing as well: mini quiche, fruit salad, pastries, zucchini bread, french toast casserole, roasted root vegetables, and these cinnamon rolls.    

I really can't say it enough, yum, yum, and yum. I wish I was eating one of these right now! Brunch is my favorite meal time because you are pairing two meals together and get to be a total piggy. Delicious sweet pastries and breads combined with lovely savory egg dishes and salads.  I love the combo of eating sweet and savory foods together. The overnight option on these cinnamon rolls is great for planning ahead of time and making your morning easier.  This recipe isn't just for brunch though, it would also be perfect for Christmas morning or any other special occasion. Just whip up the rolls the night before when you are probably doing other cooking anyways and you have the perfect no fuss breakfast the next day.  The rolls are so fluffy and the cinnamon sugar filling melts through the rolls caramelizing beautifully on the bottom.  The cream cheese frosting spreads right down into the swirls of the roll. Just delicious.

Cinnamon Rolls

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/3 cup white sugar
1 1/4 oz packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, optional

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

To make the dough, add four cups of flour, the sugar, yeast and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Briefly mix the dry ingredients together.  Heat the milk in the microwave for about 45 second to warm it slightly.  Add the melted butter, eggs, and milk to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed until combined.

Remove the paddle attachment and scrap as much of the sticky dough off, back into the bowl, as you can.  Put the dough hook onto the mixer and knead on a medium-low speed for about 10 minutes.  After about five minutes of kneading, if the dough is still really sticky add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, a little at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but still is sticking to the bottom.  The dough should be on the sticky/moist side because this makes for super fluffy rolls, so don't add too much flour.  You know the dough has been kneaded enough when it is smooth and elastic, but it should still be a bit sticky.  Note that you can prepare the dough by hand with a wooden spoon and then knead on a floured surface probably for 15+ minutes, if you don't have a stand mixer

Grease another large bowl with oil or cooking spray and transfer the dough into this bowl.  Turn the dough ball around to coat it in the oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Set the dough aside in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours or doubled in size.  My kitchen is very cold, so what I usually do is turn my oven on when I start making the dough and let it preheat for about two minutes. I then turn it off and put the dough in there to rise.  I try to check the dough every half hour or so and if its cold again, I will turn the oven on again to preheat for about one minute and then turn it off.  This helps create a nice warm environment for the dough to rise.  The time that you allow your oven to preheat will depend on the specifications and type of oven you have. You only want the temperature in the oven to be about 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out on to a floured surface and punch the air out of it.  Knead the dough lightly for a minute or two.  Grease a 9x13 dish or 11x17 jelly roll pan.  Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large rectangle, approximately 16x12 inches.  Spread the softened butter all over the surface of the dough and then sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon all over evenly. Drizzle the vanilla bean paste all over, if using.  Leave about a 1/2 inch border empty around the edges

Starting on the long side of the dough that is farthest away from you, roll the dough towards you tightly, forming a log shape.  Pinch the edge of the dough together to form a seam and then place the log seam side down.  Lightly stretch the log out to about 18 inches.  Cut off the two ends of the log that do not have much filling.  Use a very sharp knife or a string of unflavored dental floss to cut the log into 12 even sized rolls. Start by cutting the log in half at the middle and then each half, cut in half again.  Then cut each of the four sections into three rolls.  Place the rolls into the greased pan.

If you want to bake the rolls the same day, cover them and let the rolls rise again for about an hour, until doubled in size.  If you want to bake the rolls the next day, cover the rolls and place in the refrigerator overnight.  Take the rolls out of the fridge an hour before you want to bake them and let them rise.  In either case, bake the rolls at 350°F for 22 to 25 minutes.

While the rolls are baking, prepare the frosting.  Cream together the softened butter and cream cheese using an electric mixer or a whisk, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the vanilla extract and powdered sugar.  Frost the rolls about five minutes after they are removed from the oven for best results.  Serve the rolls warm.  The rolls are best eaten immediately but if you have leftovers they can be stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  You can microwave them for 20 to 30 seconds before eating to take the chill off.


Inspired by Averie Cooks

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dulce De Leche Revel Bars

Gooey, chewy amazing oatmeal revel bars stuffed with dulce de leche and chocolate chips.  Revel bars are my favorite cookie that I always forget about. I know that sounds weird but for some reason I never think about making these bars even though they are the most delicious cookie that I have ever eaten. One of the very first recipes that I ever remember trying to bake all by myself was regular chocolate revel bars. The memory is really foggy now but I do remember reading through a cook book and deciding to make revel bars once upon a time, way back in the day.  They are so so so delicious. This version of the revel bars, sandwiches creamy, caramel-y dulce de leche between crunchy, yet chewy oatmeal cookie layers.  The traditional recipe for revel bars has a layer of chocolate combined with sweetened condensed milk to make almost a chocolate fudge center.  This recipe substitutes a can of dulce de leche for the middle layer.  I added chocolate chips in there too for a little chocolate twist.

Have you ever had dulce de leche? It is a relatively new ingredient to me.  Awhile back I tried baking brownies swirled with it but they were kind of a flop. Plus I have never been able to find the premade stuff in the grocery stores around here.  I stumbled upon a super easy recipe to make it homemade in the slow cooker and decided to give it another try.  I am super glad that I did because, oh man, this stuff will have your taste buds doing a happy dance.  It is so creamy and sweet with a lovely rich caramel flavor.  I made these cookie bars to share at a get together but little K ended up being under the weather so we couldn't attend.  I sent the bars off to work with big K the next day because otherwise I would have eaten the whole pan myself.  I hope you give this recipe a try and you enjoy them as much as I did!

Dulce De Leche Revel Bars

1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups oats
1 can (approx 14 oz) dulce de leche (or homemade*)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line a 8x8 or 9x9 square pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  If you use the foil, make sure to grease it as well; the caramel center is sticky!

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a whisk or electric mixer.  Add in the egg and vanilla extract and whisk until well combined.  Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir in the baking soda, salt, and flour and then finally stir in the oats.

Spread half of the cookie dough in the bottom of the prepared pan and press it down into an even, flat layer.  Microwave the dulce de leche in a small bowl for about 30 seconds so that it is easier to spread.  Spoon the dulce de leche over the bottom crust and spread it out evenly as well.  Add the chocolate chips.

Drop small dollops of the remaining cookie dough all over the dulce de leche layer.  Note that the top layer will not cover the caramel and chocolate completely.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and then cool completely.

Lift the bars out of the pan with the help of the foil or parchment and cut into small bars.  I cut the bars pictured in half for serving and they were still more than enough!


*Homemade slow cooker dulce de leche - Remove the paper label from several cans of sweetened condensed milk and place them in your crock pot.  Add enough water to the slow cooker to cover the cans by about an inch.  Place the lid on and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.  I cooked them overnight.  Use tongs to carefully remove the cans from the slow cooker and allow to cool for several hours. I removed mine from the cans and stored in air tight containers in the refrigerator for several months.  I did read some people find this method to give the dulce de leche a hint of metallic taste.  I did not have this experience but you can transfer the sweetened condensed milk to small mason jars with tight fitting lids and cook the same way.

Inspired by Crazy for Crust

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cookies & Cream Chocolate Blackout Cake {{Worms & Dirt}}

Four layers of rich chocolate cake, filled with delicious chocolate pastry cream and Oreo cookie chunks, frosted with creamy, silky chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream and decorated with more Oreo crumbs and chocolate ganache.  I added the gummy worms on top for decoration and a little whimsy but you could absolutely leave them off.  A few weeks ago my sister returned from an entire year living abroad as a Watson Fellow; traveling, researching, and being super amazing.  She documented her journey through Dominica, Botswana, Australia, Tuvalu, and China on her travel blog Wanderlusting.  Head on over there if you are interested in reading some of her incredible stories and more about what her Watson project to pursue the relationship between nature and writing is all about.  

The weekend after she arrived home, we had a big family homecoming celebration. I told her that I would make her anything that she wanted for dessert; to which she responded "hmm, maybe the one with the pudding and the cookie crumbs."  My sister-in-law asked her, "you mean like worms and dirt?" She said sure and I kind of went overboard with that idea. I decided that I wanted to do a fancier version of the classic pudding cups with chocolate cookie crumbs and gummy worms and so this cake was born.  This does take a bit of time to make and has more steps than an average cake, but this recipe is great for a special occasion or if you are trying to impress your guests. 

I love all of the different components and textures this cake has. The cake is moist and fluffy, yet it holds up really well against the creamy, sweet chocolate pastry cream.  The cookie crumbs both inside and out keep their crunchy texture and give that familiar "worms and dirt" cookies and cream flavor profile to the cake.  If you have never had Swiss meringue buttercream, it is the perfect frosting for this cake because it is not overly sweet and its silkiness is just wonderful amoungst all of the other textures.  I added the chocolate ganache right on top for a beautiful smooth finish and a final punch of chocolate.  The gummy worms, of course, are mostly just for show, but really who can resist a gummy worm once in awhile!  Overall this cake is a beautiful array of chocolate flavors that is deliciously rich with just the right amount of sweetness.

Cookies & Cream Chocolate Blackout Cake

Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup canola (or other flavorless) oil
2 cups white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain or vanilla greek yogurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp espresso powder (optional)
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease two 9" cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper circle.  In a large bowl, whisk the oil, sugar, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract together.  Then add the water, espresso powder, and cocoa powder and whisk until nice and smooth. Note that the espresso powder will not make the cake taste like coffee, rather it will just increase the depth of flavor of the cocoa powder and make the cake taste more chocolaty.  You could also substitute brewed black coffee for the water and espresso powder or leave it out and just use water. Switch to a wooden spoon or spatula and stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until just barely combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool completely on wire racks.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
3 egg whites
1 cup white sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cubed
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz melted, cooled semisweet chocolate

Add the egg whites and sugar to the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Place the bowl over a pot with about 1 inch of simmering water (like a double boiler set up) and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (about 140°F if you have a candy thermometer.)  Place the bowl back on the base of your stand mixer and beat the egg whites on medium-high speed with the whisk attachment until the mixture is glossy, thick, and the outside of the bowl has cooled to room temperature.  This will likely take at least 10 minutes.  Switch to the paddle attachment, turn the mixer on to low speed, and begin adding small cubes of the butter, one at a time, until each is incorporated.  I waited between about 10 seconds between adding each cube of butter.  Don't worry if the mixture curdles or starts to look a little soupy, just keep mixing until it comes together into a smooth, silky consistency.  Stop and refrigerate the buttercream for about 15 minutes if it really starts looking soupy and then continue to beat. Keep beating until all of the butter is incorporated and the frosting is smooth and glossy.  You may have to beat for several minutes after adding all of the butter.  Add the vanilla and melted chocolate and mix to incorporate.

Chocolate Pastry Cream 
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups whole milk
6 oz semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream

In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and one half cup of the milk together until no lumps remain. Whisk in the remaining milk slowly and turn the heat on to medium.  Stir the milk mixture pretty continuously, making sure to scrap the sides and bottom of the pan to keep lumps from forming.  Bring the liquid to a slow bubble and it will thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Stir in the chocolate and continue to cook until the chocolate is melted and the pudding is very thick.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract.  Transfer the pudding to a bowl (you can pass the pudding through a sieve if you have any lumps) and cover the pudding directly with plastic wrap to avoid a skin from forming.  Chill the pudding completely in the refrigerator.  Make the pudding into pastry cream by folding in heavy cream that has been whipped to soft peaks.  

Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped

Heat the heavy cream in a 2 cup glass measuring cup in the microwave for 60 to 90 seconds.  Add the chocolate and let it sit for about 2 minutes and then stir until well combined.  Let the ganache set to room temperature.  

1 14 oz package Oreo cookies
Gummy Worms

Place the Oreos into a large plastic bag.  Use a mallet or rolling pin to smash the cookies into large chunks.  Remove half of the Oreos from the bag and set aside in a bowl.  Crush the remaining Oreos until they are very fine crumbs and set aside.  You could also use a food processor for these steps.  

Remove the cakes from the pans and use a large serrated knife to cut each cake in half horizontally, creating four layers of cake.  If your cakes have rounded tops, be sure to level those off as well. You want nice flat layers. Put half of your buttercream in a pastry bag (or zipper topped bag) fitted with a large star tip.  

Place a small dollop of frosting onto your cake plate to keep the cake in place. Put the first layer of cake down and pipe a border of frosting around the outside edge of the cake.  Fill the center of the layer with the chocolate pastry cream and one third of the large Oreo chunks.  Place the second cake layer on top, repeat this process and then do it again once more with the third layer.  Put the final layer of cake on top and press down lightly to even all of the layers out.  Run a knife or offset spatula around the outside of the cake to clean up any of the buttercream that squished out the sides during assembly.  Put the cake in the fridge for about 15 minutes to set up.  

Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining buttercream. You don't have to be too neat or worry too much about crumbs because next you press the fine Oreo crumbs all over the sides of the cake.  Pipe a border of stars around the top edge of the cake and then pour the chocolate ganache over the center top of the cake.  Use a spoon to lightly spread the ganache out evenly.  Place gummy worms on top of the cake for decoration.  The cake is best eaten the day it is assembled.  The components can all be made one to two days before and stored in the refrigerator until ready to assembly.  Store the finished cake in the refrigerator until about 1 hour before serving.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Ranch Burritos

Cheesy, creamy ranch seasoned chicken, broccoli, and rice all wrapped up together into a crunchy burrito. I feel like a broken record right now because I am pretty sure I say the same thing on every recipe, but you guys, this burrito is sooooo good.  I always associate burritos with more traditional Mexican spices and flavors but you could put anything you want in a soft tortilla, wrap it up like a burrito and toast the outside. This recipe comes together in about 20 minutes, which is absolutely perfect for a busy weeknight.  You could make it even easier by using up leftovers or even rotisserie chicken.  Just make sure you warm everything up together before assembling the burritos; you want the filling to be warm and melty.

I am not a huge ranch lover, but the seasoning is pretty mild and goes really well with all of the other flavors.  The amount in this recipe is just enough to make it really flavorful and interesting but not purely ranch.  If you are big into ranch, you could probably increase the amount of seasoning you use, or give the mixture a squirt of ranch dressing.  Be careful though because that will change the texture of your filling.  As always, make sure you make this recipe to your tastes. The written recipe is just a guide to help you get started and you can adjust to your tastes from there.  I almost never measure my ingredients when I cook, but I do try to keep track of amounts so that I can give you some kind of recipe on here.  Anyways, my point is, you should modify recipes to your own liking even if that takes some experimenting to figure it out.  Try a different cheese, use whole wheat tortillas, change out the broccoli for another vegetable, etc.  However you make it, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  It is a wonderful, delicious, quick meal.

Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Ranch Burritos

1 lb chicken breast, diced
2 cups chopped broccoli
1 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 packet ranch seasoning mix
2 cups white or brown rice, cooked
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 to 6 large tortillas

Preheat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the diced chicken pieces and cook for several minutes, stirring frequently. Add the broccoli and continue to cook until the broccoli is tender and the chicken is cooked through completely.  Turn off the heat and add the cooked rice while it is still hot, the ranch seasoning, and the cheese. Stir everything together until combined and let the cheese melt. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You may not need any extra seasoning, depending how much salt is in the ranch packet you use. Place some filling in the middle of each tortilla, kind of forming a log shape.  The number of tortillas you use will depend on how full you stuff each burrito.  Fold one of the long sides of the tortilla over the filling, then fold in each short side and continue rolling the rest of the way closed.  Set each burrito down so the seam is the bottom side.  I grilled my burritos on a grill pan, over medium heat, for 2 to 3 minutes per side. You could also do this in a regular nonstick saute pan. Just make sure you get the outside of the burrito nice and toasty, crunchy.


Inspired by The Cookie Rookie

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dilly Beans

Sour, sweet, tangy, crunchy, dilly - these pickled beans are amazing! There is nothing quite like a good pickle, whether you are talking cucumbers, beans, beets, capers, the list goes on. Growing up, every summer my family made a big batch of bread and butter pickles.  It was always a fun activity, measuring out all the spices, prepping the different veggies, filling up the canning jars; just good times spent with family. When I met K, he introduced me to dilly beans which are much more difficult to find than your average pickles.  Remembering my experiences making the bread and butter pickles, I told him that we could make our own dilly beans and can them ourselves.  I am sure he probably looked at me skeptically but we gave it a try and we have been doing it almost every summer since then.

The first year, I did a bunch of research on how to can properly and what equipment to have. We have slowly been increasing our canning tools collection over the years.  This summer was the first year we had one of those massive canning pots, but it made the whole process a bit easier.  Canning jars are pretty easy to find at stores like Target or online and they are relatively inexpensive. Once you have them, you can reuse the jars and rings every year. You just need to purchase new lids each time, so that your cans seal properly.  A pair of canning tongs is a definite must as well.  Be sure to sterilize everything in boiling water to make sure you don't have any funky micro-yuckies that will cause bacteria in your finished cans.  I know the process of canning can be a bit overwhelming but it is pretty simple once you give it a try. I am certainly not an expert, but the method I describe in the directions has been working really well for us over the years.  These dilly beans are absolutely worth the little bit of effort; they are so delicious and a huge hit at parties.  I think the secret to these beans is starting out with raw beans and not blanching them before the canning process. The beans cook just enough while they are processing to take the raw edge off but still be nice and crunchy.  I hope you give this recipe a go, everybody loves to try a dilly bean!

Dilly Beans

Makes ~7 pints

2 lbs green/yellow beans
4 cups white vinegar
4 cups water
2/3 cup white sugar
½ cup pickling salt (can also use sea salt or kosher salt)
1 tbsp peppercorns
2 tsp celery seed
14 sprigs of fresh dill
7 cloves of garlic

Snap the ends off all of the cleaned beans and make sure they fit inside the canning jar. Mix together the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.   Fill the sterilized canning jars with the fresh beans and really try to pack them in tightly. Evenly distribute the dill, garlic, peppercorns, and celery seeds throughout the jars. Ladle the pickling solution into the jars leaving about 1/4 inch headroom (air space) at the top of each jar. Place the lid (make sure you use new, unused lids so they will seal) on the jar and screw the ring on just finger tight.

Process the cans in boiling water for 15 minutes.  This means submerging the cans in a large pot of already boiling water. Make sure the water comes about 1 inch above the top of the cans.  I would recommend putting a rack or a small towel at the bottom of the pan and resting the jars on top of this while they are processing. This helps keep the bottom of the jars from getting too hot against the direct heat of the pot. Carefully use tongs to remove the jars from the boiling water and let cool on a wire rack overnight.

Once cooled, make sure the center spot on each lid can no longer be depressed with your finger. If use can still push this spot it means your jars did not properly seal and the beans will not stay fresh in the jars.  The dilly beans are best if you let them pickle for at least 2 weeks before opening. If done correctly, these jars should keep at least several months in a cool, dark place. Once you open a jar, they can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, if they last that long! 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Moist yet fluffy, quick and easy zucchini bread with just a hint of chocolate. This lovely bread is perfectly spiced with cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg. The combination of the zucchini, applesauce, and yogurt keep this bread so moist and tender.  My family and I ate almost half of this loaf before I decided that I better take some pictures before the whole thing disappeared. I stuck the second loaf in the freezer for safe keeping so that we wouldn't be total piggies.  Quick breads freeze really well wrapped up tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and then again in aluminum foil.  It is always a nice treat to defrost baked goods like this from the freezer and have a delicious snack or breakfast ready to go.  This recipe converts really well to muffins or to smaller loaf pans if you have them. Just make sure to adjust the baking time accordingly and you will have portable zucchini bread in no time.  I absolutely love baking something like this or banana bread or granola bars over the weekend and then having a homemade treat to last through the week. As always, customize the recipe to suit your tastes; keep the bread plain, try adding some pecans or walnuts, or even swirl in some nutella right before baking. If you give this recipe a try, let me know what variations you make!

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium zucchinis)
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease two loaf pans. In a large bowl mix together the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Then stir in the grated zucchini, applesauce, and yogurt.  In a separate bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients together briefly to help distribute the leavening agents evenly throughout the flour.  Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir together until just barely combined.  Lastly, stir in the mini chocolate chips and evenly pour into the prepared loaf pans.  Bake for about 60 minutes or until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Cool for about 10 minutes in the pans then invert the loaves onto wire racks and cool completely.

Inspired by Deliciously Sprinkled