2.27.2011

Sunday Special: Another Debut!

.  As I've mentioned before, there is zero, and I mean possibly negative digits, of food in our house (shush, dad).  My boyfriend and I basically find our meals from the frozen food section or the deli at the grocery store.  Pizza places have also come to know us by name, too.  As so, there has been a subtle (but obvious) push from both of our parents to try our hand at cooking.  But let me first give you my take on cooking, why I didn't like it, and why baking doesn't seem to have the same effect.

I'm a very impatient person when it comes to certain things.  Honestly, I could live off of veggies, veggie dip, and some sandwiches here or there.  Fairly boring if I do say so myself.  So when I do want to eat, I don't especially care to put the time and effort it takes to create a meal from scratch.  I want it now, actually more like yesterday.  Get what I mean?!  But with baking, you don't NEED desserts to live (well, I could probably make a fairly valid argument against this).  You need protein, carbs, fruits, veggies, etc.  But do I really need a chocolatey, peanut butter-filled delectable cookie?  Prooooobably not.  So in this sense, baking is something I don't mind taking the time and care required to make a fantastic treat.  It becomes more of a hobby then a necessity.

But taking our parents advice (and the realization that we began to hate the grocery store and pizza started to get on our nerves), I decided that every Sunday I would make dinner for two (more like four or five, we eat a lot!).  Why Sundays you ask?  Well, Sunday is our unofficial 'lazy day,' when ours plans pretty much consist of couch sitting, T.V. watching, and puppy cuddling.  Since there seems to be too many hours in this particular day, I figured it would be a perfect time to plan and make [healthy] meals for us.

It's very apparent from my blog that I do not skimp when it comes to decadent desserts.  A calorie? They don't exist when it comes to baked goodies.  HOWEVER, there does have to be some balance in life to offset my indulgences (dang it...).  So when I'm perusing my recipes for main dishes, I tend to gravitate towards healthier [yet still delicious] meals.  Yes dad, it is possible!  

Okay, so I'm not bragging in any sort of way.  But I must say, and my boyfriend agrees, that the three (ha, I know, it's only been three so far) meals I have made have been so very good and filling!  And because of this, a tiny light bulb went off in my head.  And I'm sure we can all guess what that was.

Along with Tried & True Tuesdays, I would like to welcome 'Sunday Specials' to my blog.  Every Sunday (or every other, depending on the time I have to cook) I'll blog about the good [and the bad, but hopefully those aren't frequent] healthy dinner recipes I try out.  As I only cook once a week, these will only show up no more than four times a month.  Don't worry, my baking will always take the forefront, but I still think some people would be interested in main meal recipes.  But if not, let me know otherwise ☺

For the first Sunday Special, I'm going to begin with the dinner we had last weekend: Spinach, Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  Okay, right away I will tell you that my boyfriend stuck his nose up to the thought.  He's a hamburger, burrito, anything large-eatin' kind of guy.  BUT, he quickly changed his tune after the first spoonful of this soup!  It's extremely flavorful, satisfying, and yes, very healthy for you.  He actually told me just today that he's been craving that dish!  WHOA!  Don't let the reduced fat, etc. ingredients scare you off, they're not bad!  There's still plenty of yummy goodness in there.  And another glorious thing about this soup?  It's made in a slow cooker, that set-it and forget-it wonder machine!  No slaving over the hot stove for this meal, thank goodness.  So no more chatter and let's get to it! .

Spinach, Chicken and Wild Rice Soup


Ingredients:

3 c. water
1 (14 oz.) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can reduced-fat and reduced sodium condensed cream of chicken soup
2/3 c. uncooked wild rice, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3 c. chopped cooked chicken or turkey (about 1 lb.)
2 c. shredded fresh spinach

Directions:
  1. In a 3-1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker, combine water, broth, cream of chicken soup, wild rice, thyme, and black pepper.
  2. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3-1/2 to 4 hours. 
  3. To serve, stir in chicken and spinach.  
Yield: 6 (1-1/2) cup servings

Nutrition Facts:  Calories: 216 ; Total Fat: 4g ; Saturated Fat: 1g ; Cholesterol: 64mg ; Sodium: 397mg ; Carbs: 64mg ; Fiber: 2g ; Protein: 26g

*My Notes:
  • For the meat, I simply bought a fantastically tender and moist rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.  I used a little more meat than what was called for but that's completely up to you.
  • After I added the chicken and spinach, I let the soup sit for another 10 or 15 minutes just to let the ingredients soak in the juices.
  • I also served whole wheat (80 calorie) take-n-bake rolls.  We had some French Bread left over (from my baking, shocking) but honestly, we both agreed that the whole wheat was a fantastic compliment.

2.26.2011

Bread Pudding Muffins

. So I finally made it back to Omaha from Spring, Texas, and I was warmly welcomed by 15°F and snowfall.  [In a highly sarcastic tone] "Oh, it's good to be home!"

As I mentioned in my previous post, I traveled to Spring for work for the week.  What I don't think I've mentioned before is that my boyfriend works for Deloitte & Touche, a large public accounting firm.  Of course, my travel plans happened to fall on the last week of their "busy season."  That fancy little collection of words basically entails their employees working all hours of the night for several weeks and you can bet that we rarely, and I mean rarely, ever saw each other.  Wait, don't we also have three dogs that never got to see their daddy?  Yep, there's the [three] little kinks in my story.  Fortunately, I was able to persuade a great mutual friend of ours to house/puppy-sit for the week.  Seroiusly, thank the LORD he is around.

Aside from [madly] cleaning the house last weekend, I figured a nice little breakfast treat for our knight-in-shining-armor was desperately needed.  If you've ever been to our house, you can vouch for me that we literally do not have any food besides MAYBE some chocolate chips that I used in a previous baking venture (ask my dad who visited for Christmas and claims that he lost 10 lbs. while he was here).  It's sad, and comical at the same time, but I'm working on it.

Anywho, I came across the recipe for Bread Pudding Muffins from JoyofBaking.com a while back.  Another one of my guilty, guilty pleasures?  Bread pudding.  So this fun twist definitely caught my attention.  Instead of baking the bread pudding in a 13x9-inch pan, which is usually the standard way, this recipe separates the mixture in to individual muffin cups.  A beyond perfect breakfast item for people on the go or just a quick snack in the afternoon.

The bread pudding itself is filled with luscious bread, cranberries (or raisins, your choice!), and chunks of apple.  Another great thing about these that I found is that the longer they are able to sit, the more flavorful they become.  So making them ahead of time is actually recommended and that always makes life a little easier, doesn't it?

MmMmmMm.  I ALSO recommend that you go make these right now.  Whether they're for breakfast, lunch, or dessert, everyone will thank you!  Happy baking! .

Bread Pudding Muffins


Ingredients:
7 c. bread cubes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 c. half & half or light cream
1 c. milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 c. raisins or dried cranberries
1 small apple, peeled, cored and diced

Directions:

1.  Heat oven to 350°F.  Place rack in middle of oven.  Butter or spray with nonstick vegetable spray 12 muffin cups.

2.  Place bread cubes in large bowl and add cream and milk.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Stir in beaten eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and butter.

3.  In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, and lemon zest.  Stir dried ingredients into bread mixture and then fold in raisins and apple chunks.


4.  Evenly divide mixture among muffins cups.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.  Place on wire rack to cool.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.



Yield: 12 muffins

*My Notes:
  • If you've made bread pudding before, most recipes call for stale bread.  Knowing this, I let the bread (I used a loaf of challah from Trader Joe's, by the way) sit out for a day.  However, I DON'T recommend doing that for this treat.  My muffins turned out a tad dry at first (they got better as the days went on, as I mentioned they would) and I'm almost certain it's because the dry bread soaked up all of the liquid.
  • When you mix the bread with the cream and milk, I would put the ingredients into a 13x9 pan and press down slightly to get the wet ingredients entirely over the bread (and keep the mixture in the pan the entire time until you're ready to put it in the muffin cups).  I initially did this step in a bowl and the constant folding to combine the milk and bread tore up the bread just a bit.  
  • I used cranberries and a small Pink Lady Apple (my personal favorite) this time around.  The tartness of the cranberries with the sweetness of the apple was just...good!

2.22.2011

Tried & True Tuesday: Old World Raspberry Bars

. Spring, Texas.  Where's that you ask?  Truthfully, I can't tell you much besides it's in Texas (wow, really?!), right outside of Houston in some direction.  What's the relevance?  Well, that's where yours truly is currently blogging from.  Yes, Spring, Texas.

Since I'm out traveling [the world] for work, this Tried & True Tuesday demands more than ever a super simple, yet delicious, recipe.  I browsed through my assortment of already-tested goodies and came across a dessert I made for my best friends' baby shower a while back.  It was the first time I had ever made these (shocker!) but they were a complete hit at the party!  These little bites of heaven are basically mini slices of pie.  I'm an avid pie lover, so these bars hit me.  Right.  There -> hand over heart, eyes rolled back.

Oh, hello, it might be nice to tell you what I'm talking about!  Old World Raspberry Bars, a recipe I found on-line actually while I was browsing some of my favorite baking sites (another shocker, I lose hours of my life to this activity.  I'm sure most of you can relate!).  But anywho, these bars are amazingly quick and easy but pack a punch with a buttery crust, sweet fruity filling and a crumb topping made with the same ingredients as the crust.  It's a one bowl deal-io!

This recipe, quite honestly, gives you no reason to not try out this treat ASAP.  Odds are you have all of these ingredients in your cupboard/refrigerator right at this very moment.  So stop reading this blog and get bakin'!

P.S. - This will be my last post for the next few days seeing as I'm out of town.  Hotel rooms don't exactly welcome baking adventures, so I guess that'll have to wait until I reach back down in Omaha.  However, this gives you time to think of any recipes you'd like to see.  Leave a comment under any of the posts letting me know what you're interested in and you can bet the recipe will make it up here oh...yesterday (which also means very quickly).  Until next time! .

Old World Raspberry Bars

Please excuse the beyond terrible picture, this was before I actually cared how my pictures turned out.   I did my best to make it a little better ☺
Ingredients:
2-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 c. pecans, chopped
1 c. butter, softened
1 egg
3/4 c. raspberry preserves

Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 350°F.  Combine flour, sugar, pecans, butter, and egg in large bowl.  Beat at low speed until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Reserve 2 cups crumb mixture; set aside.
  2. Press remaining crumb mixture on bottom of greased 8-inch square pan.  Spread preserves to within 1/4-inch of edge.  Crumble reserved crumb mixture over preserves.
  3. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool completely before cutting into bars.
Yield: 25 bars

*My Notes:
  • I've made these bars with blueberry and strawberry preserves but you can use any type of fruit preserves you'd like.  Versatility is the [wo]man!

2.21.2011

Mini Samoa Cupcakes


. Another year gone by brings another birthday in our happy little "family".  But this time around, the special day belongs to my little baby, Tilly.  No, we don't just have two dogs, we actually have three!  But we'll get to him when his birthday rolls around.  That cute little button face below is my Tilly girl and on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2011, she turned 1 year old!  She is, of course, one of the other loves of my life and I basically can't get enough of her tiny stature and precious face.  We celebrated with a relaxing night and treated the three pups (yes, we refer to them all as the 'pups', so you'll see this reference quite a bit) to Peanut Butter Puppy Pops.  They must have enjoyed them because before I could even throw the wrappers away the 'pop' had disappeared!

Tilly, the birthday girl!

But in order for my boyfriend and I to properly celebrate, well you know what that means...baked goodies!  I came across a recipe for Samoa Cupcakes while I was browsing the wonderful blogging world, particularly Bakers Royale.  First of all, who doesn't LOVE the Samoa Cookies sold by those darling Girl Scouts?  Those things are outright addicting and someone wants to slap that combination into a cupcake?  Yes, please!  These cupcakes are simply fabulous: a moist, chocolate cake topped with a salted caramel buttercream frosting (that sweet and salty combo I can never get enough of!), toasted coconut, and that signature Somoa chocolate drizzle.  MmMmmM yum!  They represent my Tilly in such a perfect way, too: tiny, adorable, and a big burst of flavor in one bite (well probably not that last one).  So of course I felt an obligation to make these for Tilly's birthday since she pretty much begged for them.  Kind of.

So to all of the Girl Scouts out there selling these cookies from year to year (even though there was a slight miscommunication between my boyfriend and I and we didn't end up getting any ordered!), I give thanks with this adapted recipe of Somoa Cupcakes.  Oh, and the other bonus of this recipe?  You can eat around 3 to 4 of these little guys and not feel guilty, because that's basically one regular cupcake!  ...Right....? .

Mini Samoa Cupcakes


Ingredients:
Cake:
1 c. sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
1/2 c. Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Salted Caramel Buttercream:
1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. powdered sugar

Toppings:
1/2 c. sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 c. milk chocolate

Directions:

1.  Heat oven to 350°F.  Line mini muffin cups with liners.  In a small bowl, mix sour cream and baking soda; set aside.  In medium bowl, sift together flour and cocoa powder; set aside.  In mixer, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add in salt and beat until combined.  Add in eggs, beat until combined.  Add in egg yolks and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

2.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in sour cream and flour mixtures, beginning with sour cream mixture and ending with the flour mixture.  Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.  Bake 12 to 14 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool on wire rack completely.


3.  For buttercream, add sugar and water in medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir until sugar has dissolved.  Once dissolved, increase heat to high.  Now and then, using the handle, swirl the pot to keep the mixture moving (do not stir directly). As the mixture darkens to a medium amber color, add butter and heavy whipping cream to saucepan (*warning: this transition happened very quickly and I actually had to do this twice because I burned the first batch.  Watch the mixture carefully and if needed, remove the pan from the heat while you add in the butter and cream and return the saucepan to the heat when you're done).  Whisk to combine.  Add salt and whisk to combine.  Remove from heat.


4.  Place butter and vanilla extract in bowl and beat on high until pale and fluffy (about 3 to 4 minutes).  Turn mixer to low and add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time.  Beat until combined.  Add in caramel sauce and beat until combined.

5.  To toast the coconut, spread evenly on baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 5 to 7 minutes or until coconut turns light brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.

6.  Spread the salted caramel buttercream on top of each cupcake, bringing the buttercream just to the edge of the wrapper.  Then gently roll the cupcake tops in the toasted coconut.

Please note my NEW Ateco Icing Spatula from Sur La Table, I've always wanted one of these and voila, here it is in action!

    

7.  Heat milk chocolate in microwave, at 30-second intervals, until melted or at drizzling consistency.  Drizzle lines along tops of cupcakes.



Yield: 48 mini cupcakes

* My Notes:
  • Again, I have to reiterate how quickly the sugar turns from white to the amber color that you're looking for when making the caramel.  I really did burn my first batch and we quickly had to open all of the windows!  Luckily the fire alarms never went off.  Oops...
  • As I also mentioned above, I recommend bringing the frosting to the edge of the cupcake to where it's touching the wrapper.  This helps to keep the moisture in the cupcake longer.
  • I altered this recipe to make mini cupcakes.  I ended up with 48 mini cupcakes but had plenty of batter left that could have probably made another batch or so.  I really don't know what we would have done with 70+ cupcakes (besides eating them all and I have to stop myself somewhere!).  So if you don't want all of the leftover, I would recommend cutting the recipe in half and you'll still get a fair amount of these little gems.
  • Don't melt the milk chocolate until you have iced and coated the cupcakes with the coconut.  Otherwise the chocolate hardens while it sits and you'll end up having to reheat it several times (yes, you get to benefit from my mistakes ☺).
  • I personally prefer these cupcakes chilled in the refrigerator for a while.  This hardens the frosting a bit and I think that the flavors are brought out much more this way.  But this is completely up to you, either way they're be-yond yummy!
  • As you can probably tell, these cupcakes are a tad bit time consuming.  But believe me, they are worth the effort and you get a lotta bang for your buck (as in you get a large quantity of these tasty bites for your snacking pleasure!).

2.18.2011

Lemon-Yogurt-Poppy Seed Muffins


. It's kind of ironic how on Tuesday I felt like complaining about not having time during the week to bake and what do you know, somehow extra hours found themselves creeping into my night! Well, not exactly.  I would say I kind of forced the issue but I managed.

It's been a little stressful at work, so I felt a deep obligation to bring some kind of goodie in to lift every one's spirits (just kidding, they don't really do that but it's a great rationalization to bake, right?!).  Since I'm sure there's been an overload of chocolate lately (wait, is that even possible?) since Valentine's Day just passed, I wanted to try out something a little "lighter" in flavor.  But what to do, what to do?

Ah, ha!  Lemon.  Fresh, cheery, and perfect for this 60°F weather we've been having (oh, believe it!  I live in Omaha, NE and it has been in the 60s this past week, people don't know how to act without their winter jackets!).  Taking a recipe from my go-to baker, Marcy Goldman and her book A Passion for Baking, I decided to go breakfasty and test out Lemon-Yogurt-Poppy Seed Muffins.  Quite honestly, I don't even think I've ever purchased a poppy seed muffin let alone made anything with poppy seeds.  The first thought that popped into my head was "where do you even buy poppy seeds?!"  Sad, I know.

These muffins are very good: super moist, fantastic lemony flavor, and wonderful to wake up to in the morning.  HOWEVER, I have to admit that I think the whole lemon/poppy seed thing is just not for me.  Yes, I devoured one [or two] of these muffins, but I finally came to terms that I'm a chocolate connoisseur through and through.  But hey, it's not all about me and my favorites!  I want to share a variety of goodies that will interest everyone and these are definitely worth sharing!  And don't take my prior comment the wrong way, I truthfully can't say anything bad about these muffins, they are scrumptious!  Let me demonstrate: 18 muffins arrived at our office today at 8:00 A.M.  By 9:09 A.M., there were three left (I wandered to the bathroom at this time and snuck a peek at the plate).  At exactly 10:00 A.M., my co-worker brought to my desk the empty platter.  And this was without any announcement that something had been brought in!  That has to say something about the quality of this treat.

So just in time for the weekend and breakfast with your honey, I give you Lemon-Yogurt-Poppy Seed Muffins .

Lemon-Yogurt-Poppy Seed Muffins


Ingredients:
Muffin:
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 c. plain yogurt
2-1/4 to 2-1/2 c. all purpose flour
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 to 4 tbsp. poppy seeds

Lemon Syrup:
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 c. sugar

Directions:

1.  Heat oven 375°F.  Arrange oven rack to middle position.  Line large 12-cup muffin pan with liners.

2.  In mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Blend in eggs, vanilla extract, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon extract, and yogurt.  Blend well; fold in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds.


3.  Scoop generous amount of batter into muffin cups (load cups full; batter should stay in place.  If it topples over, add more flour to remaining batter.)

*And here is where I must interject!  For my first batch of muffins, I followed the directions precisely, loading the cups with almost all of the batter since it says it only makes a dozen muffins.  However, I had a little overflow issue (see two pictures below) and I pretty much ended up with square muffin tops.  SO, I tried the recipe a second time, only filling the cups about 3/4 full, which resulted in the muffins two pictures above.  If appearance doesn't interest you much and you love muffin tops, then go with the original recipe.  Or if you're like me and want more petite muffins, follow my instructions.  Okay, continue...


4.  Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until nicely browned around edges and muffins are set.

Plush, but square!
5.  For syrup, simmer water, lemon juice, lemon extract, and sugar over low heat for 5 minutes.  Cool well.

6.  Brush baked muffins 2 or 3 times with syrup while still warm.  Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.


Yield: 12 muffins

*My Notes:
  • To zest a lemon, you're going to need a microplane.  Truthfully, this is one of my FAVORITE baking tools.  I can't explain it, but I just love this thing ☺  If you don't own a microplane, use another grater, but make sure to finely mince the zest so you don't have large chunks of lemon rind in the batter.
  • In order to get the maximum amount of juice out of your lemon, roll the lemon on the counter a few times.  This releases some of the juices so you'll get the most out of your produce.
  • I used 3 tbsp. of poppyseeds and the one critique I got about these muffins was that this might have been just a tad much.  Again, I don't exactly know how poppyseed muffins are expected to taste but next time I will stick to only 2 tbsp.
  • As I mentioned above, I only filled the cups about 3/4 full the second go-around.  This resulted in a smaller muffin without tops and made exactly 18 muffins.  If you're a muffin top lover, don't use my suggestions.  But to also avoid getting square tops, don't overload the cups either.  Somewhere in between will work nicely!

2.15.2011

Tried & True Tuesday: The Debut

As we all know, finding time to for yourself is rather hard during the week.  Work just really gets in the way sometimes!

Since I don't have the time I'd like to dedicate to baking, I thought up a way to still be able to share the recipes I've tested out since I began churning out desserts.  And I have to say, I've tried out A LOT of goodies, way too many for me to catch up on here.  So this seems like the perfect solution!  Please welcome....

Tried & True Tuesdays!

I've decided that every Tuesday, I'll post a recipe that I've made in the past.  Ones that have left a mark on my ♥.  Ones that will give you that have-to urge to get in the kitchen!  Well...hopefully.

So for my first Tried & True recipe, I'm dishing out a super simple, quick, and unbelievably tasty treat:  Cherry Pecan Bread from Awful Annie's Restaurant recipe collection.  As I mentioned before, most of us might not have the time during the week to whip up some extravagant dessert but we all have those cravings that we can't ignore.  This bread isn't exactly a 'dessert' per say, but it's a great snack to have on the counter for everyone (and yourself, duh).  The loaf itself is moist, buttery and studded with yummy cherries and pecans.  Store it in an airtight container and the bread will last all week (unless you find yourself snagging bites here and there, not that I know from experience or anything).

Lastly, if there are ANY goodies that you've seen from my Facebook pictures and would like the recipe, leave a comment here and I will get it up ASAP.  It's what this blog is all about, right?!

And now for Cherry Pecan Bread.  Don't enjoy it too much...

Cherry Pecan Bread


Ingredients:
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. pecans, chopped
1 c. Maraschino or dried cherries, chopped

Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.  Stir together flour, baking soda and salt in medium-sized bowl.
  2. In large bowl, beat together sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  
  3. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to wet ingredients.  Beat just until blended after each addition.  Fold in pecans and cherries.
  4. Turn batter into pan.  Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  
Yield: 1 loaf

2.13.2011

Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Late night post but really, this one couldn't wait.  And tomorrow is dedicated to my Valentine (since he'll be working late hours on actual Valentine's Day) and no blogging will be allowed!  So...

Let me begin by explaining how today's kind-of-impromptu baking sesh (a.k.a. session) came about.

I stumbled across this recipe while I was browsing some of the blogs I follow, specifically The Girl Who Ate Everything.  Cute blog name, huh?  Anyway!  A close friend (and co-worker) of mine has a slight obsession with bacon and so of course, I had to forward the recipe right along.  After some [very little] discussion, we decided that these cookies needed to be tested out and we were very willing to sacrifice ourselves for the cause.

I'll admit, I was more than a little skeptical that these would even turn out, let alone taste very good.  But boy, oh boy, was I wrong!  First off, the cookie base itself is to die for!  Side note, I'm a big fan of trying to find that peeeeerfect basic recipe, because it's easy from there on out.  Just add your favorite mix-ins and you always have a winner!  But back to our bacon cookie.  The cookie base is just wonderful: soft, chewy, buttery, and it has the great volume that's hard to find (I like a little oomph to my cookies, rather than those thin, crunchy cookies that my boyfriend prefers).  I can guarantee you that you'll be seeing this cookie base recipe in the future whenever I get around to experimenting, it quite possibly could be THE recipe that I've been searching for.

Now to the bacon.  Okay, CANDIED bacon.  C'mon.  After some prep work, the bacon comes out with a nice caramelized layer.  That salty sweet combo?  Something I'll never be able to get enough of!  Whew, it's that good!  And in the cookie, mixed with loads of CHOCOLATE, can it really get any better?  I think not.  And don't be scared by the idea of bacon in a dessert, this recipe calls for JUST the right amount of it.  A very nice subtle hint of sweet, sugary bacon.  Yummy.  Hats off high to The Girl Who Ate Everything and her random baking experiment.  So here you go, the most pleasant surprise I've experienced in a very long time!

Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies


Ingredients:
Candied Bacon:
8 slices center cut thick bacon
1/2 c. brown sugar

Cookies:
2-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

1.  Heat oven to 350°F.  Place bacon in single layer on foil-lined sheet.  Sprinkle brown sugar on top of bacon strips.


2.  Bake 18 to 25 minutes or until crispy, making sure to turn bacon over after 10 minutes.


3.  Remove bacon from oven and place on wire rack for cooling.  Once bacon has cooled, chop finely.


4.  Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.  

5.  Sift together flour and baking soda in small bowl.  In medium bowl, cream butter with both sugars.  Add vanilla extract, egg and egg yolk and beat until light and creamy.

6.  Add flour mixture and mix well.  Add diced candied bacon and chocolate chips.  Stir until just combined.


7.  Place golf ball-sized balls of dough on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until edges are brown.  Remove from oven and let cookies set a couple minutes before placing on wire rack.

      
Yield: 24 cookies

*My Notes:
  • When preparing to place the dough onto baking sheets, I shaped the balls into cyclinders.  Sorry, I should have taken a picture as it's much easier to see an example than to explain it [terribly].  However, it's a technique I learned from the Salty Tart and I always loved the perfect shape and thickness of their cookies.  Doing it with this dough, I think it gave the cookies some great height, that oomph I'm looking for!


2.12.2011

Chocolate Ambivalence Sandwich Cookies



Ambivalence \noun\ am-'bi-ve-len(t)s\:  The state of having simultaneous, conflicting feelings toward a person or a thing; e.g., the feeling of both love and hate for a person.

Okay, so not exactly what I figured would come up when I Googled 'ambivalence.'  And I'm not even really sure how 'ambivalence' coincides with these cookies, except for the fact that I LOVE them and maybe I hate them because I want to eat them all!?  Go with me here...

These cookie sandwiches turned out huge, rich, and I have to say, quite pretty.  And what do you know, just in time for Valentine's Day!

The cooke itself is more of a shortbread texture and not terribly sweet (but still good in itself!).  Then the sandwiches are made by slathering melted white chocolate in the middle and the final touch?  Dippin Drenching half of the sandwich cookie with melted milk or semisweet chocolate!  And dare I say, try double dipping the cookies in both chocolates for extra decadence (but make sure to let the first layer set before dipping again in a different chocolate). 

This recipe comes from my favorite baking book, A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman, and she has YET to let me down.

Try these out for your special Valentine sweetie, or hey, just because you can!  Either way, you'll have an indulgent treat for yourself (and in the end, that's all that matters).  Okay, get bakin'! .


Chocolate Ambivalence Sandwich Cookies

Ingredients:
Cookie:
1-1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1-1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Filling:
8 oz. premium-quality white chocolate, melted

Dipping Chocolate:
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted
4 oz. milk chocolate

Directions:
1.  In mixer bowl, cream butter and both sugars.  Add vanilla extract, then fold in flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Blend well to make soft dough.  Pack onto parchment paper and wrap and chill 30 to 45 minutes (or up to a few days).


2.  Heat oven to 350°F.  Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

3.  Roll out chilled dough on well-floured work surface to 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut into heart shapes of about 3 to 3-1/2 inches.  Arrange cookies on baking sheet.


4.  Bake 15 to 17 minutes and let cool completely.

5.  To assemble, smear melted white chocolate on one cookie and top with another.  Repeat with all cookies.  Let set.


6.  Dip half of each cookie sandwich in melted milk or semisweet chocolate.  Or drizzle both types of chocolate on top.  Let set.


Yield: 28 to 32 cookie sandwiches

*My Notes:
  • When folding in the dry ingredients, you're going to have to call on those muscles a little bit.  Seriously, I got my arm workout for the day.  But now that I read back over the recipe, I would fold in the dry ingredients just slightly, and finish incorporating with the mixer.  That'll make life much easier.
  • Okay, not going to lie, I hate rolling out any types of dough (unless it rolls like play dough!).  And this one definitely does not.  But don't worry, my tip will help!  The recipe says to chill the dough, which I would still do, but I found that the closer the dough got to room temperature, the easier it was to work with.  Otherwise the dough was UBER crumbly.  So once it's chilled, let the dough sit out for a few minutes before you attempt rolling.
  • If you don't have a heart cookie-cutter lying around, don't fret.  Any cookie cutter will do just fine, this was just my attempt at being a little festive.  
  • For all of the chocolates, I used Guittard chips and melted them in bowls.  As always, I highly recommend using the best quality chocolate available to you since it's such a large component of this recipe.  The melted milk chocolate was definitely MUCH thicker than the other two, so I ended up just using a knife to coat the sandwiches.  It worked out really well, so if you have any trouble, avert to the utensils!  Then let the sandwiches set.  It will take all of your willpower to not dive right in, but you don't want chocolate all over your fingers and face (wait a minute, maybe you do...). 
  • I think my cookie cutter was a bit large and I rolled the dough out a little thick, so I only came out with 18 sandwich cookies.  Still, a fair amount, but just wanted to make a note ☺

2.08.2011

A Couple Classics

. We're a tad bit over due, but better late than never!  This last weekend, my boyfriend and I had some friends over for the Super Bowl and of course, some baked goodies were in order.  I must say, the treats went over rather well!

I knew we needed something snacky around the house for people to munch on during the game, which brought me to Caramel Puff Corn, a recipe I snagged from my aunt.  My mom has made this on several occasions and I must warn you, it's HIGHLY addicting!

For the dessert, a request was put in by a friend to make brownies (of course, accompanied by some Vanilla Bean ice cream!).  So, this led me to try out a recipe by [my idol] Marcy Goldman, called Big Fat 'n' Fudgy Shoebox Brownies.  And oh, are they thick, FUDGY, and outrageous!  Again, I'm not a huge brownie fan but this makes THE ideal, classic brownie!

Both of these goodies are not only SO, SO good, but extremely easy.  Keep these in your back pocket, they'll come in handy! .

Caramel [Puff] Corn


Ingredients:
1 bag puff corn
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Directions:
1.  Divide puff corn between two ungreased 13x9-inch pans.

2.  Heat oven to 200°F.  Cook brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt over medium heat, stirring occasionally until bubbly around the edges.  Continue cooking 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in baking soda until foamy.  Pour over puff corn until well coated.

This step caught me off guard a little, and once you try it, you'll understand why.  But don't worry, it's supposed to look like a foamy blob because the mixture will caramelize on the puff corn in the oven.

3.  Bake, uncovered, stirring every 15 minutes for 1 hour to evenly coat the puff corn.


Yield: 8 c. caramel puff corn

*My Notes:
  • I doubled the recipe because I was a little nervous that the original recipe wouldn't be enough for the number of guests we were having over.  Everything turned out just fine, so if you need to, double away!


    Big Fat 'n' Fudgy Shoebox Brownies


    Ingredients:
    1/2 c. unsalted butter
    7 oz. semisweet chocolate, cut into chunks
    2 tbsp. cocoa powder
    1-1/4 c. sugar
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    3 large eggs
    1 c. all purpose flour
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

    Directions:

    1.  Heat oven to 350°F.  Generously spray 11x7-inch or 8-inch pan with non stick cooking spray.

    2.  Melt butter and chocolate over low heat in heavy-bottomed 1-quart saucepan and stir until smooth.


    3.  Add cocoa powder to melted chocolate mixture.  Remove from heat, spoon into medium-sized bowl, and let cool to room temperature.


    4.  Add sugar, vanilla extract and eggs, stirring until smooth.  Fold in flour, salt and walnuts and stir to make a smooth batter.

    5.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until brownies seem just set.  

    Yield: 9 brownies



    *My Notes:
    • You can easily double the ingredients in this recipe and use a 13x9-inch pan for a larger batch of brownies.
    • This time around, I left out the walnuts.  But this was only because of the audience I was serving, always take them into account :)
    • This is one of those perfect base recipes I've mentioned in my 'Tips & Tricks.'  Use this recipe as a starter and throw in some of your favorite mix-ins.  My personal favs?  Dried fruit (e.g., cherries, cranberries), nuts, candy bar pieces, chocolate chunks, butterscotch or peanut butter chips.  You name it, it'll be good in this brownie! 

    2.07.2011

    Tips & Tricks

    . Just put up some 'Tips & Tricks' that I've learned during my short but sweet baking career.  Figured if you're anything like me, some advice would be greatly appreciated.  I needed, and STILL need, all of the helpful hints I can get!

    Recipes from my weekend baking coming tomorrow!  And I must say, the Super Bowl treats were a hit...don't miss it! .

    2.05.2011

    Bake or Breaks' Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

    . To kick off my membership on the world wide baking web, last night I decided to test out a recipe posted by one of my fellow bloggers.  Let me tell you, searching for that special treat got a little time consuming!  Have you had the chance to look at ANY of the blogs I follow (located at the kind of bottom right of my site)?!  Wow.  Each blog is filled with fabulous recipes accompanied by RIDICULOUS photos.  Seriously jealous.  I need a new camera.  And some photography lessons.  But that's far from the point.

    When I began creating my blog, I stumbled across a site filled with to-die-for pictures of their baked goodies.  The pictures alone stuck in my mind and I found myself continually going back to this blog to search through all of their recipes.  What site is this, you ask?  Okay, I'll tell you.

    Bake or Break.  Sounds a little tough but take one look at this site and you'll understand what I'm talking about.  The most recent recipe they've posted is for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake, and basically the second I laid my eyes on the photo, I knew it needed to be baking in my oven ASAP (in other words, it was love at first sight!).

    The recipe begins by combining the butter, oatmeal and boiling water.  Now, I've used oatmeal in other recipes before but I have NEVER actually cooked the oatmeal before it hit the pan.  But I must say that this technique intrigued me.  It made the oatmeal much softer (shocking, I know!) and really brought out that oatty (is this a word...?) flavor.  The cake itself is extraordinarily moist with a fabulous hint of cinnamon and studded with rich chocolate chips.  And what's a cake without frosting?  A cream cheese frosting, at that!  Yes, to take this cake above and beyond, a rich layer of cream cheese frosting is slathered across the top.

    I know, I know, give you the recipe already!  So here it is.  You can thank me later. .

    Bake or Breaks' Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake


    Ingredients:
    Cake
    1-1/4 c. boiling water
    1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
    1/2 c. unsalted butter, cubed
    2 eggs
    3/4 c. sugar
    1-1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    1-1/2 c. all purpose flour
    8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

    Cream Cheese Frosting:
    5 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
    5-1/2 oz. cream cheese, softened
    2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
    3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

    Directions:

    1.  Butter sides and bottom of 13x9-inch pan.

    2.  Place oats and butter in small bowl.  Heat water to boiling.  Pour boiling water over oat mixture.  Wait 30 seconds, then stir to moisten oats and melt butter.  Set aside 25 to 30 minutes.


    3.  Heat oven to 375°F.  Whisk eggs, sugars, salt, baking soda, baking power, and cinnamon.  Fold in oatmeal, stirring until well combined.  Fold in flour, and then stir in chocolate chips.  Pour batter into prepared pan.

    4.  Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack 30 minutes.


    5.  For frosting, beat butter until smooth.  Add cream cheese and beat until combined.  Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla extract until smooth (about 1 minute).  Cover bowl and refrigerate 1 hour.

    6.  Spread frosting over cake.  Chill 15 minutes before serving.

    Yield: 24 cake pieces


    *My Notes:
    • Since one of the main components of this recipe are the chocolate chips, I recommend using the best (or better) quality of chocolate chips you can.  I used Guittard Semisweet Chocolate Chips, which you can find at most grocery stores.  A 12 oz. bag cost me $2.89, but the few extra cents will be worth it and you'll have some leftover to snack on :)  The quality of your final treat will only be as good as the ingredients you put in it!   
    • Let the cake cool completely before frosting, otherwise the cake will be too soft and will break off.  How do I know this?  Yeah, my impatience got to me :)

    2.03.2011

    Not Neiman Marcus' Chocolate Chip Cookies

    . We all know.  What's.  Coming.

    IIIIIIIIIIIIt's SUPERBOWL weekend!

    And that means football, friends, and of course...food!  I've already begun to plan for the little get together at our house this Sunday, and I can imagine that most people are like me:  What to make?!  Believe me, I've been brainstorming food spreads all week and I think I've finally decided on what we'll be having...but we can get to that another time.  Anywho!  To help out in any way I can, I'm posting a go-to recipe that will fit in any SuperBowl party setting.  And don't think for one second that a store-bought cookie could ever replace the recipe I'm about to hand out.  Trust me on this one.

    Huge, chocolatey, chewy.  This is NOT your standard cookie.  Please, indulge. .

    Not Neiman Marcus' Chocolate Chip Cookies


    Ingredients:
    2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
    2 c. all purpose flour
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
    3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
    1/2 c. sugar
    2 tbsp. light corn syrup
    2 large eggs
    2 tsp. vanilla extract
    2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
    1 3-1/2 to 4 oz. bar top-quality milk chocolate, coarsely grated or finely chopped
    1 c. chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

    Directions:
    1.  Heat oven 350°F.  Move racks to upper third of oven.  Grease baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray.
    2. In food processor or blender, grind oats to very fine powder.  In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.  
    3. In large bowl, with electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until light and fluffy.  Add brown sugar, sugar and corn syrup and beat until well blended and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until evenly incorporated.  Beat in half of flour mixture.  Beat or stir in chocolate chips, grated or chopped chocolate and walnuts or pecans.  Beat in remaining flour mixture until evenly incorporated.  Let stand 5 to 10 minutes or until dough firms up just slightly.
    4. Divide dough into quarters.  Divide each quarter into 5 or 6 equal portions.  Shape into balls with lightly greased hands.  Place on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart.  Pat down balls to 1-inch thick.
    5. Bake 9 to 12 minutes or until tinged brown and just beginning to firm up in centers.  Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let stand until cookies firm up slightly (about 3 to 4 minutes).  Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely.
    Yield: 20 to 24 cookies

    2.01.2011

    My Graham Cracker...and a Brownie

    . Today started out...let's just say...not on the greatest note.  It was -1° when I got to work and my cell phone rang as I entered the building.  It was my boyfriend and lo' and behold, I had forgotten to leave the car keys for him.  After a cold, snowy, windy trip BACK to the house and BACK to work, I sat down at my desk and tore off the page from my desk calendar (a regular tradition that occurs every morning!).  Grumpy as all get out, February 1st rang a tiny little bell in my head.  And then it hit me.
    It's my baby boys', the most perfect puppy in the entire world, BIRTHDAY!!  All I can say is that I had a smile on my face the rest of the day, because February 1, 2010, Graham (cracker) was born!  If you know me AT ALL, you know that my three puppies are the loves of my life and Graham has a very special place in my heart.  Yes, that too-cute-of-a-face below is my Graham cracker (oh, and you can bet that I came up with his name from brainstorming baking ingredients!).

    Graham the Birthday Boy!



    As an ode to my favorite little birthday boy, who LOVES peanut butter (just like his mama!), I decided to post something with a little bit of everything that's unique to this day.  Hence, say hello to one of THE best brownies you will ever have the pleasure of placing in your mouth: Chocolate Brownies with Caramel, Peanut Butter and Pecans.
    This recipe comes from one of my favorite baking books I own, "More from Magnolia."  It's a collection of recipes from the infamous Magnolia Bakery in New York City and one bite of these brownies will explain it all!  This decadent brownie begins with a graham cracker crust, a thick layer of caramel, peanut butter chips, and pecans, and topped with a thick, moist, chocolatey brownie.  Really?  C'mon.  As my first posted recipe, I hope you enjoy every morsel! .

    Chocolate Brownies with Caramel, Peanut Butter and Pecans



    Ingredients:
    Crust:
    2-1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
    3/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
    Caramel Filling:
    1 lb. vanilla caramels
    1/4 c. heavy cream
    3/4 c. coarsely chopped pecans, toasted    
    1/2 c. peanut butter chips

    Brownie:
    1/2 c. all purpose flour
    3/4 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 c. unsalted butter
    6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
    1-1/2 c. sugar
    3 large eggs, at room temperature
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    Directions:
    1. To toast pecans, heat oven to 350°F.  Place pecans on baking sheet and bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant.
    2. For crust, keep oven heated at 350°F.  In medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter.  Press firmly into ungreased 13x9-inch pan.  Set aside.
    3. For filling, in medium-sized saucepan over low heat, melt caramels with cream, stirring occasionally, until smooth.  Remove from heat and pour over crust.  Use spatula to spread evenly.  Sprinkle pecans and peanut butter chips over caramel.  Set aside.
    4. For brownie, in small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In medium-sized saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Remove from heat, transfer to large bowl and allow to cool 5 minutes.  Add sugar, eggs and vanilla extract and beat well.  Add dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Pour batter over filling to completely cover.  Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs (do not over bake).
    Yield: 24 brownies
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