But Sugar is Sweeter

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Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cake

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So I finally downloaded my camera card, and realized I have way too many things I haven’t shared yet!  But I decided to start with birthday cake, well because who doesn’t love birthday cake?! It has become somewhat of a tradition around here that I make my own birthday cake and then have friends over to share in eating it.  Now there are those people who think that you shouldn’t have to bake on your birthday – but I would assume those are people who don’t like baking as much as I do.  Really there is no other opportunity to make exactly the kind of birthday cake you’d like from start to finish, and I like to take advantage of that.  Now this year I went overboard (and for me to say that is really saying something!).  I decided to make a completely separate recipe of overly complicated cupcakes in addition to this three layer cake, and truthfully by the end of the day, I was starting to wonder if I’d get it all done before my birthday was over.   Thankfully, John helped out a lot, but for my future reference and yours: this cake is plently on it’s own – both in terms of amount of cake and work.

First you start with a rich, moist dark chocolate cake.  To really get the dark chocolate effect you should invest in some dutch processed (or dark) cocoa powder.   I made the layers a day ahead, but I would guess you could even make them several days in advance and store in the fridge because they are so moist.  Then you create a salted caramel, which will flavor the swiss meringue buttercream filling.  Personally, I’m still kind of on the fence about swiss meringue buttercream, but I thought it worked well in this recipe because it’s not overly sweet like traditional buttercream. It also happens to be very stable, and so is able to adequately support the layers of this cake.  Finally, you top it all with a dark chocolate ganache  frosting and some decorative fleur-de-sel.

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Although it would be really hard to top the malted chocolate and marshmallow cake of last year, this cake came close.   Since I’m partial to six layer cakes, I think if I made this again that I would cut each layer in half, and then fill the additional layers with a small amount of plain salted caramel.  (Simply double the recipe for caramel below.)  Compared to the cupcakes I made, the caramel flavor was fairly subtle in this cake, and I think that would help to make it stronger.  And if you want to save yourself some time, a traditional carmael buttercream like the one used here, would also work for the layers.  This cake was quite rich, and so I decided to freeze some to take home for a second birthday celebration, and I can also say that it freezes wonderfully!  Since my brother and I were born on the same day (5 years apart) we always try to get together for a fun birthday celebration – we kept it fun this year with an inflatable cake, and of course an entire table filled with desserts :-)!

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Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cake

– Makes a 3 layer cake with 8-inch rounds (Serves ~16)

Ingredients:
For the cake:
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2¼ cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2¼ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. brewed coffee
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 cup sugar, divided
¼ cup water
¼ cup heavy cream
Generous pinch of sea salt, such as fleur de sel
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1½ cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

For the frosting:
12 oz. good quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¼ cup very hot water
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. (18 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt

Fleur de sel, for finishing

Directions:
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Grease and flour the edges of 3 8-inch baking pans, shaking out the excess.  Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix on low speed to blend.  Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and mix on low speed until well blended and completely incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, using a kitchen scale if desired.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pans about 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.  Remove the parchment paper.  Can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator prior to assembly for 1-2 days.

To make the caramel buttercream filling, place ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a medium saucepan.  Mix in the water.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.  Stop stirring and let the caramel cook, gently swirling from time to time, until it is a deep amber color (test a drop on a white plate or bowl if necessary), watching it carefully to avoid burning.  Remove the mixture from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream and then the salt.  Set aside and let cool.

Combine the egg whites and the remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 150-160° F and the sugar has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.  (The bowl should be cool to the touch.)

Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (or longer – don’t worry, it will come together!)  Blend in the cooled caramel until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

To make the frosting, place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.  In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and water and stir until smooth.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  With the mixer on low speed, gradually blend in the melted and cooled chocolate until well incorporated.  Blend in the cocoa powder-water mixture until smooth.

To assemble the cake, level the cake layers to get a more stable and cylindrical cake.   Place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving platter.  Top with half of the caramel buttercream and smooth in a thick, even layer.  Place a second cake layer on top and smooth the remaining caramel buttercream over that.  Place the final cake layer on top.  Cover the top and sides of the cake with the chocolate frosting and smooth with an offset spatula.    Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Before serving, sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Source: adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Sweetapolita

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Summer Salad with Sweet Orange Vinaigrette

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When the heat index in Ohio reaches 110°, there are very few things that sound good for dinner.  In fact if I didn’t love eating so much, I’m fairly sure I could sit by the pool, sip on lemonade, eat a popsicle and call it a meal.  But inevitably, as soon as I come back into the air conditioning, I am famished.    The last time this post-sun hunger hit, I made the mistake of attempting to eat a full fat burger with a side of fries and a  cake vodka milkshake  in a restaurant that had to be 90º inside.  (What were we thinking?!?!)  Instead of making that mistake again, I think I will have this salad planned ahead.  It’s the perfect summer meal – light, healthy, fruity, filling and of course colorful.
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I’m not usually one to think that salads require a recipe, but I think that’s because I often times think of “salad” as a bag of lettuce tossed with bottled dressing.  Granted, this is a little more work, but this salad is actually something I would order from a restaurant as a meal (and I’m not real big on salads for dinner).   I’m also not a big fan of plain chicken breasts, but the citrus marinade really elevates them to a tender and succulent piece of meat.  In fact, the lightly flavored and grilled chicken is probably my second favorite part of this meal.  Second only to the abundance of colors you get to eat of course.  So the next time you go to the pool (or ocean if you are so lucky), marinate the chicken in the fridge so you have an easy and delicious meal when the sun wears off.

Grilled Chicken Summer Salad with Sweet Orange Vinaigrette 

Serves 4 as a main dish

  • 1 large bunch Romaine Lettuce
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 ounce can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, (or sweet baby peppers)  sliced
  • 4  green onions, sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 6-8 tablespoons dried cherries or cranberries
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • optional: diced fresh pineapple

Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (about 1/2 of a large navel orange)
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup canola oil

Instructions

To prepare dressing, combine orange juice, vinegar, dry mustard, sugar, sesame oil, and salt in a 2 cup measuring cup.  Wisk until sugar is disolved.  While continuously whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil to make an emulsion.   Place the chicken breasts in a ziploc bag and marinade with about 1/2 of the dressing, for a few hours or overnight.  Place remaining dressing in the fridge until ready to use.

Grill Chicken for 6-7 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches 165ºF.

To prepare salads, divide lettuce between 4 plates, top with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, and dried cherries or cranberries.   Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Slightly adapted from: Our Best Bites


Star Spangled Apple Pie

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Between pinterest, google reader, and an ever growing cookbook collection, I read a lot of recipes.  Usually I file them away so that I can peruse my favorites  when trying to plan a menu.  But every once in a while a recipe is so memorable  that it pops into your head  a whole year later, while at the grocery store frantically trying to finalize the memorial day barbeque.  This recipe would fall into that category.

Normally I wouldn’t think of apple pie as a traditional Fourth of July dessert, but a star spangled apple pie – well that’s entirely patriotic.  It’s amazing what a few star cut outs can do for the “festive” level of a dessert.  Served with ice cream, a possibly a slice of cheddar cheese, it’s perfect for summertime.  And after all the saying does go, “As American as apple pie”.
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The other thing I really liked about this recipe was how simple it was – most of the ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.  But since the crust is really the “star” in this pie, I think  a homemade one is almost imperative.   I had a little bit of trouble with overbrowning, so next time I make this I plan to tent some foil over the top to help even cooking.  As you may know, I’m somewhat partial to sugar, but I truly did think that the sugar crystals elevated the crust from good to great, and would probably add even more when I make this for the next patriotic holiday.

Star Spangled Apple Pie

Makes 1 9-inch pie

  • Pie Crust
  • 6 medium/large Granny Smith apples (about 2½ lbs.), peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water (for egg wash)
  • Coarse sugar/Sugar sprinkles

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the pie dough into approximately a 12-inch round.  (Keep the other half of the pie dough chilled for now.)  Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate, trimming the excess and crimping the edges.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes in order to help the crust hold it’s shape while baking.

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the sliced apples, sugars, flour, spices and lemon juice.  Toss well to combine.  When the bottom crust is finished chilling, pour the apple mixture and accumulated juices into the bottom pie crust and use a spatula to even the top out slightly.  Place thin slices of cold butter over the apples.   Roll out the remaining pie dough on a floured work surface.  Cut out numerous star shapes and use these to cover the top of the pie, using as much of the dough as possible.  Brush the top and edges of the crust with the egg wash, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Place the pie on the upper rack and bake until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling, about 50-60 minutes.  Watch carefully and tent with foil for the 2nd half of baking if necessary to prevent overbrowning. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Slightly Adapted from Annie’s Eats

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Blueberry Crumble Coffee Cake

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I can hardly believe it but Friday marks the end of my third year of medical school!  I can remember at the beginning of this year wondering how I was ever going to make it- “working” at the hospital everyday on top of studying for standardized exams every five weeks, and trying to live a somewhat normal life on top of it.  Then before I even had time to get really stressed out about it – it’s over!  Not complaining one bit :-).   I am finishing up the year with pediatrics, which quite to my surprise turned out to be one of my favorite rotations of the year.  I have never been one of those people who thinks, “Awwwwwwwwww, little kids are sooooooooo cute.”  In fact, I kind of grouped those people into the “lovers of unicorn and all things rainbow” that I just didn’t fit in with.   However, in retrospect I realize that I had never really spent enough time with the  little ones in order to make such a judgement.   Little kids are pretty amazing little people, and they definitely do say the darndest things.  And also, children’s hospitals = 1000x cooler than adult hospitals.

So in order to commemorate the end of another very good rotation, I decided to make coffee cake for the office to enjoy.    I wanted something summery yet decadent and something that would work equally well for both breakfast and dessert.  I think this cake hit the nail on the head.   The lemon in the batter gives it a fresh appeal, and the streusel topping makes it a crumbly delight.  I really thought this cake was over the top good – and based on the number of people at the office that asked for the recipe, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.        The only thing I might change for the future is to make individual serving sizes.  I think it would work well in a muffin tin – just make sure you equally distribute the amazing streusel, otherwise you might cause some fights (at least when there are little kiddos involved).
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Blueberry Crumble Coffee Cake

Makes a 9-inch round cake

For the Streusel:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the Cake:

  •  6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (3/4 stick)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • zest from 1/2 a lemon
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round baking pan.

For the Streusel: Combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.  Stir in melted butter, then flour and mix well.

For the Cake:  In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar on high speed for 4-5 minutes, until light.  Reduce speed to low to add the eggs, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, and sour cream.   In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Fold in the blueberries and stir with a spatula to evenly mix in berries.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread with a knife to level the top. With your fingers, crumble all the topping evenly over the batter.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely and serve. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Barely Adapated from Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) 


Chocolate Oatmeal Moon Pies

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These babies have been on my “To Make” list for a long time, but they are the kind of cookie that you absolutely cannot make unless you have people to share them with (or have better will power than myself ).  So when our friend planned a dinner party, , I immediately knew that I wanted to bring these. Everyone enjoyed them, but I think they are a new personal favorite of mine.  The cookie itself is to die for.  If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the whole sandwich, just make the cookies-  you won’t be sorry.  They have chocolate chunks, pecans, dried cherries, oatmeal and brown sugar.

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Then sandwiched between that goodness is a marshmallow frosting.  If you really want to get fancy, you could try toasted marshmallow frosting instead.   And if you aren’t drooling yet, on top of all that is a dark chocolate ganache.  The only problem I had with these  was that they are very messy if you try to eat them right after making them.  For a more refined dessert, just place them in a fridge for at least an hour before serving.  And since these taste so good cold, I think chocolate oatmeal ice cream sandwiches are in store for later this summer.  Perhaps I will make some toasted marshmallow ice cream to go with them – because a cookie as fabulous as this can’t settle for plain old vanilla.

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Chocolate Cherry Pecan Oatmeal Moon Pies

Makes about 20 large sandwich cookies

For the cookies:

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. coarse salt
  • 2¼ cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries, chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 4 oz. chocolate chunks
  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 6 oz. marshmallow fluff
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract

For the drizzle: 

  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Whisk to blend, and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine the oats, cherries, pecans, and chocolate.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Blend in the egg and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the flour mixture, beating just until incorporated.  Fold in the oat mixture with a spatula until incorporated.

Use a scant ice cream scoop or a 1 oz cookie scoop to shape dough balls.  Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing each 2-3 inches apart.  Bake for 14-18 minutes, until cookies are light brown in color.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make the filling, place the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Blend in the confectioners’ sugar until incorporated.  Beat in the marshmallow fluff and vanilla until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

Match the cookies up in pairs by size.  Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip with the marshmallow filling.  Pipe a dollop of filling onto the flat side of one cookie of each pair, and sandwich the cookies together, pushing the filling to the edges.

To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.  In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat.  Once simmering, remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate.  Let stand 1-2 minutes.  Whisk in small circular motions until a smooth ganache has formed.  Whisk in the butter until completely incorporated.  Let the mixture stand at room temperature until slightly thickened, about 10 -20 minutes.  Drizzle over the assembled cookies.  Chill to set the ganache and stabilize the filling.

Adapted from Annie’s Eats


Grilled Blueberry BBQ Salmon

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Apparently there are some people in this world who don’t like fruit with their fish.  Thankfully, I don’t know any of them.  If you happen to be a fruit with fish hater (tear),  perhaps this recipe will convert you.   Especially with summer “officially” here, this is a refreshing  dinner that is easy to throw together after a day at the pool, and won’t ruin your waistline for the rest of bikini season.  I was somewhat hesitant about the sauce, since it’s fruit combined with garlic, onion and mustard powder – but I figured anything originally from The Neely’s would be hard to ruin.  Somehow the flavors just seem to work, and created an interesting twist on a simple salmon recipe.

I personally like to keep the skin on the salmon it because it keeps it in one piece while grilling and adds moisture to the filet, but you could also grill up a fish filet as long as you throughly oil the grate.  While the sauce is mostly “hands off”, it does need about 30 minutes total of simmer time – which I kind of enjoy because it gives you a chance to shower from the pool, pick up the house, or just relax with a glass of wine on the patio.  Unfortunately my brother won’t be bringing any Copper River salmon back from Alaska this year, but if your pocketbook can afford it, it’s in season now!

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Grilled Blueberry BBQ Salmon

Serves 2-4 depending on amount of salmon used

  • ¾ – 1 ½ pounds salmon filet, with skin on
  • Salt and Pepper

For the Sauce: 

  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

Heat a small saucepan over low heat and add blueberries. Heat for about 10 minutes,  then mash with a fork. Add in ketchup, both vinegars, brown sugar, onion and garlic powder, ground mustard and worcestershire sauce. Whisk well to combine and break up blueberries and turn the heat up to medium. Heat until simmering and bubbles appear, then turn heat back down to low.  Cook for an additional 20 minutes, whisking every few minutes.  Sauce will be thicker than a normal barbecue sauce.

Preheat your grill to it’s highest setting and spray grate with oil.  Season the salmon with salt and pepper, and once the grill is hot, lay skin side up directly on grate.   Cook for 5 minutes, then gently flip so that skin side is down.  Using a pastry brush, brush BBQ sauce on salmon and let cook until flaky and opaque, about 5-6 more minutes.  Adjust time as needed for thicker/thinner salmon (mine was about 1 1/2 inches with skin.)

Source: How Sweet It Is


Strawberry Balsamic Chicken and Bacon Pizza

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The fact that this particular recipe caused me to emerge  from my blog hibernation should tell you that it must be something special.   I made it one night for dinner and literally could not wait to make it again so that I could share it with you.  In fact I was so excited about it  that when I went home this past weekend, I insisted on making this for my mom and brother  so that we could have the mutual experience of this pizza to rave about for the rest of the summer.  Kind of like when something really funny happens but there is no one around to laugh with you, this pizza is best as a shared life experience.

I could tell that my mom was extremely skeptical of this unusual combination, and I can’t really blame her.  If I hadn’t already made the pizza myself, I may have caved under the funny looks I received when I told her that sirachi was combine with balsamic vinegar and strawberry preserves to make the sauce.   Luckily, I was confident in the fact that everyone would love this pizza, and went ahead with my plans.  It did not disappoint.   The balsamic vinegar and siracha make this just savory enough to call it dinner, and the strawberries and cilantro keep it fresh enough to make it feel like summer.  My brother said that he had never had such a refreshing pizza.  And since the dog got the last two pieces of this off the counter – apparently animals like it too.     As strawberries are coming into season, make this, pair it with a strawberry Abita, and hope for some more 80 degree sunny days in May – it doesn’t get much better.

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Stawberry Balsamic Chicken and Bacon Pizza

  • 1/2 cup strawberry preserves or jam
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha chili sauce
  • 1 ball prepared pizza dough
  • 1/4 onion, thinly sliced
  • ~1 cup cooked chicken, diced or shaved
  • 4 slices applewood smoked bacon, cooked until crispy and then crumbled
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1-2 oz finely shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh cut strawberries, diced

Place the pizza stone in the lower middle of the oven and preheat to 500°F.

Bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer until reduced to half and mixture thickens, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the strawberry preserves and chili sauce. Mix well; set aside to cool.

Roll out the pizza dough to a 12 or 14-inch circle. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper.

Spread the cooled strawberry sauce over the pizza top with chicken, bacon, sweet onion, mozarella and parmesean cheese, and 1/2 of the cilantro and 1/2 of the strawberries.

Transfer the pizza with the parchment paper onto the hot pizza stone and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly for 1 to 2 minutes. Top with the remaining fresh strawberries and cilantro. Serve hot.

Adapted from Pennies on a Platter, originally from The Café Sucre Farine 


Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes

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While I don’t really consider myself a breakfast person, getting up before 5 AM has a way of turning anyone into a breakfast person.  I’ve found that after 10 weeks of surgery, my ability to sleep in past 10 am on the weekends has seriously diminished.  When you’re used to waking up at 4:45, suddenly 8 am becomes a reasonable sleep in and when you find yourself with a whole morning to fill with weekend fun,  it doesn’t get much better than a morning run followed by breakfast.

One of my biggest qualms with normal brunch food is that I feel like it sets me up for a day of feeling stuffed, tired and overall unhealthy.  Breakfast is the one meal of the day where I always try to have some protein, fiber and fruit – and pancakes with syrup doesn’t really fit the bill.  But these pancakes. These pancakes are an entirely different story.  Multigrain = fiber.  Blueberries = fruit .  Yogurt = protein (and calcium!).  And to make it even better, I think my favorite part about these pancakes is that they are divine with a dollop of yogurt and a slight drizzle of honey  – no butter or syrup needed.   I had actually gotten the butter dish out, just in case, and had to laugh out loud when John goes “Why did you even get the butter out for these pancakes?”  If you understand John’s obsession with butter, you will understand how shocking this statement was.

These are also quite simple to make, and I’ve made them several weekends in a row.  I tried them with some chopped frozen rasberries, and the combination of raspberries + lemon is also really out of this world.  If you are looking for something fun, easy and festive to make for Mother’s Day, look no further.  I’m pretty sure all Mom’s will appreciate something that is both delicious and healthy for breakfast.

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Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes

Makes about 6-8 large pancakes (Feeds 3-4)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt, (fat free, low fat or greek yogurt are fine)
  • 2 -3  tablespoons milk, plus more depending on preference
  • 3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for buttering skillet
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup  whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup  all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup  barley or rye flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup blueberries, frozen, or rinsed and dried
  • Yogurt and Honey for serving

Melt half of butter. Remove from heat and stir in second tablespoon of butter until melted. This helps to cool the butter to room temperature before adding it to the other ingredients.

Whisk egg and yogurt together in the bottom of a medium/large bowl.  Add in 2-3 Tablespoons milk.. If you’re using a thick yogurt, 1-2 more Tablespoons of milk. Whisk in melted butter, zest and vanilla extract. In a separate, small bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir dry ingredients into wet only until dry ingredients are moistened. A few remaining lumps is fine.  Batter will be thick.

Preheat your oven to 200°F and have a baking sheet ready (to keep pancakes warm). Heat your skillet or saute pan to medium.  Melt a pat of butter in the bottom and ladle 1/3 – 1/2 cup of batter at a time. Press a few berries into the top of each pancake. The batter is on the thick side, so you will want to use your spoon or spatula to gently nudge it flat, or you may find that pressing down on the berries does enough to spread the batter.   When a few bubbles on the pancakes rise to the surface and pop, (about 3-4 minutes),  flip them and cook for another 3 minutes, until golden underneath. . Transfer pancakes to warm oven as they are done cooking, where you can leave them there until you’re ready to serve them.

Serve in a big stack, with yogurt and honey.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Lime Coconut White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

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Phew, that was a long title.  But these cookies deserve it.  Now before you go clicking away because this recipe doesn’t include real chocolate, let it be known that I, a dark chocolate is aways better kind of gal, really  love these cookies.  I bookmarked them a few weeks ago because they sounded like an interesting variation to the monotony of chocolate chip, but when the weather reached 80 degrees in March (in Ohio!), I really had no choice but to make tropical cookies.   I also reasoned that  since I’m not a huge white chocolate-macadamia nut lover, these cookies would be safe to have around the house.  Ha.  I wish I could tell you that I didn’t eat 6 for breakfast one day.

After that incident, I was almost afraid to make them again,  but I also felt guilty letting the left over macadamia nuts go to waste (they were the most expensive part of the cookie).  So I decided to make a half batch the second time around.  Well wouldn’t you know-  when I went to toast the leftover macadamia nuts, I burnt them to a crisp.  I swear, one moment they were white, and 20 seconds later they were black.  What can I say, “I got it from my momma”.  Toasting nuts just isn’t in our blood :-).  But since I had all the other ingredients mixed together, I decided to improvise with some slivered almonds.  The cookies still turned out pretty amazing so if you are trying to cut cost, try some slivered almonds as a substitute.  Also don’t be afraid (like I was)  about putting 2 tablespoon of lime zest, you need at least the entire rind from one lime just to get some lime flavor.  If you can imagine what a lime pina colada would taste like, I think it would be these cookies.  They will definitely be making a reappearance this summer – barbecues, pool parties, breakfasts, etc.
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Lime Coconut White Chip Macadamia Nut Cookies 

  • 2 cups flour, spooned lightly into measuring cups and leveled with knife
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and cooled until luke warm
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coconut (toasted or untoasted)
  • 1 cup toasted macadamia nuts
  • 1 1/2-2 tablespoons grated lime zest (1-2 limes)

Melt 10 tablespoons of the unsalted butter, then add the remaining two tablespoons and stir until smooth (This helps the butter return to room temperature quickly).

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Either by hand or with electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until combined.

Add white chocolate chips, coconut, macadamia nuts, and lime zest.  Mix to distribute.

Scoop cookie dough into large balls and place on parchment lined baking sheets.  Bake until cookies are set around outer edges, yet centers are still soft and puffy, and appear slightly under-baked, about 10-12 minutes.  Cool cookies on cookie sheets for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Source:  Our Best Bites


Turtle Cheesecake

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Sometimes I take for granted that certain things are not common knowledge.  Now I’m not talking about fancy medical terms, chemistry or physics here, I’m just talking about day-to-day life stuff that you can’t actually put a finger on when, or how you learned it – you just know it and therefore assume that others must too.  Well turtle sundaes were an example of such knowledge.  I mean I literally have no idea when I discovered a turtle sundae, but I definetely just assumed it was common knowledge that they consist of pecans, hot fudge and caramel.  Well let me tell you folks, this is not the case.

The first time I suggested that John get a turtle sundae – he didn’t know what it was!  Blasphemy!  After he ordered it and thought it was amazing, he was shocked to discover that almost every major ice cream shop in America makes some type of turtle sundae!  How did he go so long without discovering this?   Well I’m guessing it’s because he only recently started frequenting ice cream shops on a regular basis (perhaps because his wife has an unhealthy obsession with ice cream.)   Imagine that :-).
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When I was trying to figure out what type of birthday cake I wanted to make for John’s brother, the only request I got was “cheesecake”. Well the list of cheesecake possibilities was quite overwhelming, but I decided on this one because I was hoping that the love of turtle sundaes would run in the family.  I was really looking for something that incorporated all parts of the turtle sundae into the cheesecake (not just as toppings), and I couldn’t really find one, so instead I put together a few of the things I liked best about different recipes.  The results were well worth it.  The crust is to-die-for and I think it would probably work well in a variety of recipes.   After eating a slice of this, my sister-in-law who is from Turkey exclaimed that cheesecake may be America’s greatest invention :-).   Be fairly warned, it is really hard to eat more than a sliver of this because it’s quite rich, but if you find yourself with leftovers, I think this would freeze wonderfully.

P.S. Sorry I’ve been MIA from the blog lately.  Surgery clerkship has gotten the best of me.  It’s true what they say – you really do work 14 hour days,  but for the most part I’ve really been enjoying it.  Future surgeon?  We shall see….

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Turtle Cheesecake

– Make 1- 9 inch round

For the Crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2/3  cup finely ground pecans
  • 3 T. packed brown sugar
  • 6 T. melted butter

For the Filling:

  • 4 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened (I used 2 regular, 2- 1/3 less fat)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup PLUS 1 teaspoon flour, divided
  • 2 T. heavy whipping cream
  • 1- ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup milk chocolate chips, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cup ice cream caramel sauce  (Will be posting a homemade and easy recipe soon)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

For the Topping: 

  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream PLUS 1-2 tablespoons depending on preference
  • Pecan halves and additional caramel topping for garnish

To Make the Crust:

  1. Pre heat oven to 400 F.  Wrap 9-inch spring foam pan with heavy duty foil or parchment-foil paper (this is all I had and it worked wonderfully).  Be sure to wrap both sides of the pan because you don’t want any water seeping through the cracks when you bake it in a water bath. 
  2. Mix all crust ingredients until combined.  Press into 9 inch pan, pressing firmly and evenly.  Bake at 400° for 15-18 minutes.  Let cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:

  1. In a large bowl beat cream cheese and sugars until well combined. Then beat in 1/4 cup of flour, vanilla, and eggs until well combined.
  2. Remove a heaping cup of cream cheese mixture and combine with melted chocolate.  Pour mixture over cooled crust.
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  3.  Combine pecans, caramel sauce and flour (not pictured here because I forgot it, but add it to stop caramel from leaking).  Drop pecan mixture over chocolate layer.
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  4. Pour remaining plain cream cheese mixture over top and spread evenly.  Place spring foam pan  in a large, deep pan and add about 1 inch of water to larger pan to create a water bath.
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  5. TURN OVEN DOWN to 325º and bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the top appears dull.  Carefully remove springfoam pan from water bath, and cool for 10 minutes. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To Make the Topping

  1. Place chocolate chips in a heat-proof measuring cup.  Bring cream to a boil over medium heat.  Pour hot cream over chocolate chips and stir to combine.  Pour ganache over cooled cheesecake and spread evenly.  *NOTE: if you would like the ganache to drip down the sides, like the effect in this cake, add another tablespoon or 2 of cream to the mixture and make sure it is still very warm when you pour it over the cake.
  2. Top ganache with pecans, and drizzle caramel sauce before serving.

Inspired by Taste of Home


King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling & Happy Mardi Gras!

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As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I used to live in Louisiana.  I’ve also mentioned how much I absolutely love it, but I’m just going to tell you again.   It has got to be the most cultural place in America.  It’s the kind of place where you go to take your trash out and end up spending the evening sharing a beer with your neighbor as you sit on the sidewalk.  It’s also the kind of place where any excuse to celebrate is not taken for granted.  Pretty sure there is no other place in America that gets a whole week off school in the middle of February.  And most importantly, it’s the kind of place that seriously knows good food.  King cake is no exception.

Now originally king cake was a rather plain cake filled with cinnamon and sugar, and the toppings were the really delicious part; but as we tend to do in America, we have made it more and more gluttonous over the years.  Nowadays even the most famous bakeries like Gambino’s , serve cream cheese filled king cake as their “simple” selection.  I’ve also heard that the bread has gotten much sweeter over the years, but I’m not complaining.  This was a delicious and pretty simple recipe, even though I managed to mess it up a bit.  There are quite a few steps, but each of them takes less than 20 minutes of hands on time.  The problem I ran into was that I attempted to roll the dough into a huge rectangle, which made for a huge mess when I went to fill it with the cream cheese filling, but I have adapted the instructions below to make for an easier outcome.  Other than that, this recipe really surprised me with how easy, and pretty much foolproof it was.  I promise if you make it as soon as you get home from work, you will still be able to eat it for Fat Tuesday!

King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling

Makes 1 round king cake, about 10 servings

Dough

  • 2 ½  tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • ¼ cup + 1 T. granulated sugar, divided
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm milk (between 100 and 110 degrees)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • Oil for your hands and the bowl

Filling

  • 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons whole milk
  • Pinch of salt

Sprinkling Sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, separated into 3 bowls
  • yellow, green, and purple (or blue + red) food coloring
  • Bean/plastic baby for tradition

1. In a small  saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, 1/4 c. of sugar and salt.  Stir. Once butter has melted, add the sour cream and heat until lukewarm.  Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, add ¼ cup warm water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir. Allow the yeast to sit for about five minutes until it bubbles and becomes active.

2. Once the yeast is active, whisk in the warm butter/sour cream mixture, the egg, and 1 cup of the flour. Whisk until smooth. Using an oiled wooden spoon, being mixing in small amounts of the remaining flour until you form a soft dough. This will take about another 2 1/4 cups of flour. You want the dough to be tacky, but not sticky.

3. Using the dough hook of a mixing bowl, knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes, adding flour by the teaspoon if the dough is stickin to the sides of the bowl, more than itself.

4. Place the ball of dough into a large, well-oiled bowl, then flip the dough so all of the surface area of the dough is oiled. Cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap,  then set the bowl in a warm, draft-free area and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. To make the filling: beat together the cream cheese, sugar and flour until smooth.  Add the egg and vanilla and stir to combine.

6. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the dough and a rolling pin. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 24 inches long and 6 inches wide.

7. Dollop the filling down the center of the long strip of dough. Then fold each edge up and over the filling till they meet at the top; roll and pinch the edges together, to seal the filling inside as much as possible. Don’t worry about making the seal look perfect; it’ll eventually be hidden by the icing and sugar.

8. Place the log of dough seam side down or to the side onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  (A ring mold would be most helpful for this, but I didn’t have one).   into the prepared ring mold, seam down or to the side (just not on top), or onto the baking sheet. The dough will be very extensible, i.e., it’ll stretch as you handle it. So pick it up and position it in the pan quickly and gently. Pinch the ends together to form a ring.  Cover and let rise for about an hour, until it’s puffy. Preheat the oven to 350°F while the dough rises.

9.  Once risen, bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Once golden, remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

10.  While the cake is baking, make the sugar.  (This can also be made far in advance). Combine 1/2 cup of sugar with a few drops of food coloring and stir continously until desired color is reached. *Gel colors will also work here, but you need to work the color into the sugar by pressing against the bottom of a spoon.

10.  Once the cake is mildly cool, it is tradition to poke a small plastic baby, or a dried bean somewhere in the cake.  Whoever gets this piece in their cake is supposed to buy/make the king cake for next year.

11.  While the cake is cooling, make the icing.  Combine all ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Pour over the cooled cake. Before the icing has set (ie within 10-15 minutes), sprinkle sugar over the icing in 3 equal portions.

Cake Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, Filling adapted from King Arthur Flour Company


Chocolate Sugar Cookies for Valentines Day

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  Let this post be my contract that next year I will actually get these cookies made ahead of time so that 1) you can actually make them in time for Valentine’s day if you wish, 2) I won’t be writing this post at 11 pm when I have to get up at 4:30 for surgery tomorrow), and 3) so that I can actually get them in the mail to some people in time for the holiday.  I had to laugh when I looked back at my Valentine’s  post from last year and realized I stated almost the exact same thing (you’d think I’d learn to plan ahead….this is clearly a difficult concept for me).

I’ll admit that the multiple layers of royal icing that was required for these cookies was a little bit more than I had planned for, but the cookies themselves are quite easy and completely delicious.  Besides, if you don’t want to go to the trouble of icing, try sprinkling powdered sugar or topping with Nutella + sprinkles.  The mixture of a chocolate with a touch of cinnamon added a really nice layer of complexity to this cookie.  I still think the conversation heart cookies are one of the most clever Valentine’s ideas, but you can really never have too many Valentine’s cookies, can you?

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Chocolate Cutout Cookies

Makes about 18-20 large heart cut-outs

  • 2-1/4 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (I used Dutch processed)*
  • 1 cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1 whole Large Egg
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 sticks (1 Cup) Unsalted Butter, Softened
  • Icing, powdered sugar or Nutella for finishing

Preparation Instructions

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cocoa powder in a bowl. Whisk together and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour/cocoa mixture in two or three batches, mixing well after each addition.

Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To make to cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough from bag and place on a floured surface.  You may need to let the dough warm up for several minutes to make rolling easier.  Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness and cut with a heart cutter.

Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking mat. Bake for 12 minutes, or until set (but not browning at all.) Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Ice as desired, using royal icing, sifted powdered sugar, or Nutella (yummm).


French Croissants

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Before you go running away by the long list of seemingly complicated steps that are involved in this recipe, let me tell you a story.  I actually did the same thing when I saw Annie‘s post about homemade croissants.  I thought to myself, seriously, who has the time (or desire) to do all that!    And yet here I am, telling you about homemade croissants. See, a funny thing happened.  It was called Christmas vacation. After I saw that homemade croissants made the list of  one of Annie’s favorite things from her entire year of hundreds of recipes, I started to think of them in a different light.  Then came a whole week of free time and a house full of people to feed on New Years morning, and croissants suddenly started to seem like a good idea.  And it turned out to be such a good idea that I felt the need to make them again last weekend.  Do they take more time then buying them at the store?  Yes.  But do they taste like no other baked good you’ve ever made before?  Yes.

About half way through making this recipe, I feared the croissants would  turn out  like those crescent rolls that come in a tube.  Then something magical happened in the baking process, and flakey, buttery, French goodness arose.  I was  so excited watching these puff up and golden in the oven, and I think our guests were even more excited about the final result.  Everyone loved these.  I can’t wait to make them again in the future.  They are best eaten shortly after they come out of the oven, but they are still wonderful the next day (they’d probably last a few more days – if you don’t eat them immediately).  While I didn’t include instructions for freezing, I believe the best times to attempt freezing would be after the second lamination of the dough, or after the final shaping of the croissants.  If you try this, I would love to know how freezing turned out!
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French Croissants

Makes 12 large croissants

For the dough:

  • 3 cups (15 oz) all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1¼ tsp. salt
  • 1¼ cups whole milk, cold (or use 1 cup skim with 1/4 cup whipping cream)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the butter square:

  • 24 T. (3 sticks) unsalted butter,  cut into 1-tablespoon pieces and kept cold
  • 2 T. all purpose flour

Egg wash:

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
 To make the dough, combine 2¾ cups of the flour together with the yeast, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.  Whisk together and set aside.  Add the milk to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the dry ingredients and knead on low speed until a ball of dough forms, about 5 minutes.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the dough.  Continue to knead until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth.  The dough should form a ball and begin to clear the sides of the bowl, about 5-6 minutes more (10 total).  The dough is sticky, but if it is sticking more to the bowl than to itself add the remaining 1/4 cup flour.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the butter square, toss flour and butter together.  Using the blade of a large knife or a bench scraper work the butter back and forth until it is smooth and homogenous.  It will be sticky.  Wrap in plastic wrap,  flatten the butter into a 7×7 inch square.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
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Once the dough has chilled, remove it from the fridge and roll out on a floured work surface into an 11 by 11 inch square.  (It may seem small but it will complement the butter square perfectly).

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Place the chilled butter square diagonally on the 11-inch dough square.
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Fold the edges of the dough up around the butter so that they meet in the middle.
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Pinch the dough seems to seal.

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Tap the center of the dough square with a rolling pin in order to soften the butter, and roll the dough into a 14 inch square.  Make sure to flour the surface as you go so the dough doesn’t stick.

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Fold the dough into thirds to form a long rectangle.

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Then starting at the short ends, fold the dough again into thirds.

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At this point wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours, or longer.

Repeat this process again- roll dough into a 14 inch square, fold into thirds, then fold into thirds again. Rewrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 2 hours, or longer. (I usually do the above steps the day before, and save the steps below for the morning in which the croissants will be served. I believe you could stop at this point and freeze the dough, or half of the dough, but I have not tried this myself.)

Remove the folded dough from the fridge and divide in half.  (You could also roll the dough into one very large 20×20 inch rectangle but I found half of the dough more manageable)

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Roll one of the 2 dough pieces into a 10×20 inch rectangle.

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Then cut the 10×20 inch rectangle into thirds, so that each section is just shy of 7 inches.  Then cut each rectangle in half diagonally.

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Take one triangle, and stretch the dough slightly so that each long side of the triangle is about equal in length.  Cut a 1-inch slit in the bottom of the triangle and roll until the tip of the triangle.

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Place croissants on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking mat, and fold the edges of the dough next to each other to create a crescent.  Repeat with remaining dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes.  At this point preheat the oven to 400°.
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Brush croissants with egg wash bake in a preheated oven until the golden brown, about  18-22 minutes, rotating pans half way through baking.

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Allow to cool on a wire rack for several minutes.  Store airtight at room temperature for up to 2 days or wrap well and freeze.  Reheat in a 300˚ F oven for 5-10 minutes.
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Source: Annie’s Eats, as adapted from Baking Illustrated


Pecan Bars

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Eeek.  I can’t believe I’m already done with more than half of my third year of medical school.  Seriously! When patients ask me how much time I have left, I have started saying, “About a year”  because it just seems easier than saying 16 months.   To mark the end of my internal medicine rotation, and the end of a very good 3 weeks working in Lima, I decided to make these pecan bars to bring into the office.  I have to admit that when I started this rotation, I was a little bummed about having to leave our brand new puppy for 3 weeks,  but it has really worked out for the best.   I’ve gotten to come home quite a bit,  the gym in Lima is really  nice, and being somewhere unfamiliar with no real television has a way of making you get a lot done.  Plus, the doctor I’m working with is a great teacher, and now I can actually read an EKG confidently!  He has also reminded me that being stressed out at your job is really your choice- it doesn’t get the job done any better, or faster, and it makes me feel like crap.

So about these pecan bars. Everyone at the office (including myself), loved these, and a few people even asked me for the recipe.  (Of course, I was immediately excited to be able give them the “Spice is Nice” business cards I got for Christmas… it’s the little things.)   I was between this recipe and one from Barefoot Contessa.   I went with one because the Ina version called for over a pound of butter (granted it made a larger pan…but still!) I’m certainly glad I did because there is really nothing I would change about this recipe.  I accidentally forgot to drizzle chocolate over the top, but in retrospect I’m kind of glad I left it off.  These were plenty rich on their own, but if you are a true chocolate lover, feel free to make this into a chocolate and pecan dessert.
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Pecan Bars

Makes about 16 bars

For the crust:
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarse
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the filling:
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 and 3/4 cups pecans, toasted and chopped coarse
Optional: For the drizzle:
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate
Instructions
  1.  For the crust: Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. To prepare the pan, spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fold two 16-inch pieces of foil or parchment paper perpendicular to one another in the baking pan so that there is overhang around all the edges.  Overlap is important to ensure filling doesn’t leak below one layer.  Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Place the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup pecans in a food processor.
  4.  Process the mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal, about 5 one-second pulses.
  5. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles sand, about 10 one-second pulses.
  6. Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan and bake until the crust is light brown, about 20 minutes.
  7. For the filling: While the crust is in the oven, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, bourbon, and salt and egg, in a medium bowl until just combined.
  8.  Pour the filling on top of the hot crust and sprinkle the 1 & 3/4 cups pecans evenly over the top.
  9.  Bake until the top is brown and cracks start to form across the surface, 22 to 25 minutes.
  10. Cool on a wire rack for about 1 hour.
  11. For the drizzle: Melt the bittersweet chocolate, if using, in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stirring frequently.  Drizzle the chocolate evenly over the cooled bars.Let sit until room temperature, about 1 hour.
  12. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil or parchment paper “handles” and transfer to a cutting board; cut into desired sizes.

Source: The Curvy Carrot, originally from Baking Illustrated


Chicken Tikka Masala

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Looking on a the positive side of things, I will have to say that one of the best things in the past month has been able to see a lot of my mom and brother – 2 of the most special people in this world.  I know my mom thinks she’s imposing, but I seriously love it when they are here.  It basically makes it feel like a vacation, because usually when we are all together – it is a vacation.  Of course having “house guests” also makes me like a grown up, which is really just like  “playing house”- with a slightly more sophisticated (and dangerous) fisher price set.     Because I really wanted to impress them with my domestic skills, I carefully planned a few things to make when they came.  One of them was an old favorite, stuffed green pepper soup, and the other was this Chicken Tikka Masala.  I’m pretty sure they will be coming back again soon :-).

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My mom, who claims to not really like curry, couldn’t stop raving about how deep the flavors are in this dish, and my brother stated that it was the best chicken tikka masala he had ever had (even better than some posh Asheville Indian restaurant he loves).  I purposely waited a while to post this, because I wanted to see how the leftovers would be after freezing them for a while – and I can now safely say that they are still delicious.  I froze the chicken, then thawed it and reheated it, adding just a little bit more milk and John and I still loved it! I would recommend making the whole batch, even if you don’t think you’ll be able to finish it all, because the frozen leftovers really are convenient.

Please don’t be intimidated by the seemingly long ingredient list, it is actually a really simple dinner and there is very little prep work.   I chose to brown the meat first because it tends to add a depth of flavor, but if you don’t want to dirty another pan feel free to  simply put all the ingredients in the crockpot without pre-browning.  I was also really excited to finally use the Garam Masala I had bought way back when from Penzey’s.  If you don’t have a Penzey’s nearby, I noticed when I was home at Christmas that even local grocery stores carry this spice. Having never used it before, I was a little worried about using a full 3 tablespoons of it.  But never fear – it’s not nearly as strong as you might think and the dish was seasoned perfectly.     My last pre-recipe suggestion would be to adjust the cream in this recipe for your liking.  The original called for 1 1/2 cups of heavy (whipping) cream.  That seemed like an awful lot, so I dialed it down and added some more greek yogurt at the end.  Feel free to play with it a bit to get it the creaminess you would like.

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Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala 

For the Chicken: 

  • 9 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 whole Jalapeno Pepper, Stem Removed, Pepper Pierced Several Times With a fork

For the Sauce: 

  • 3 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 whole Large Onion, Peeled And Diced
  • 6 cloves Garlic, Peeled And Minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Garam Masala
  • 1 piece Fresh Ginger, About 2-3 Inches, Peeled And Grated
  • 4 cups canned Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2  cup Heavy Cream (depending on preference)
  • 1 cup greek yogurt

For Serving: 

  • White Rice
  • Chopped Fresh Cilantro

1) Cut the boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1- 1 1/2 inch pieces. Sprinkle the coriander, cumin and salt over the chicken.  Stir in yogurt to evenly coat the chicken.  Cover and let sit 10 minutes or refrigerate for several hours.

2) Melt 1 tablespoon the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Raise the heat to medium high and brown about 1/2 of the chicken.  . Transfer browned chicken to the slow cooker as it is finished.  Then repeat with 1 more tablespoon of butter and remaining chicken.  Throw the pierced jalapeno in on top of the chicken.

3) To make the sauce return pan to medium and 3 T. of butter over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, salt and stir.  Cook until onions begin to brown, stirring frequently.

4) Add the 3 T. of garam masala and ginger and cook until fragrant (30 seconds), then raise heat to high and add crushed tomatoes and sugar.  Scrap the bottom of the pan as you stir and bring to a boil. Then pour over chicken in slow cooker.

5) Cook chicken on low for 5 hours.

6) Mix heavy cream and greek yogurt into mixture, adding cream until you get your desired color.  Heat for 1o minutes more.

7) Serve over rice and top with a generous amount of cilantro (it really adds a lot)

Adapted from Tasty Kitchen Blog c/o Eat. Live. Run.


Harvest Apple Salad with Buttered Almonds

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Pretty much every type of salad that I like is some variant of spinach,  fruit, good cheese and nuts.  For as long as I can remember my Mom has been making a spinach salad with pears, blue cheese and salted pecans, and for a Mom who loves decorating the table but isn’t so big on the actual food – this salad was quite a delectable creation.   I have made that salad countless times, and it’s still my go to,  but in the interest of changing it up ever so slightly, I decided to try this recipe, and guess what, I loved it!  In fact it holds the title as the first salad a certain “salad hater” has ever eaten, and liked (no…it’s not John but another picky husband who doesn’t like vegetables :-)).

I think what I really liked about this is that it includes an easy, throw together recipe for a really good dressing.  So much of the time I go to the trouble of toasting nuts, chopping fruit, buying spinach, and then covering it all with some bottled dressing because making homemade just seemed like too much work.  This dressing is super easy, and really complements the flavors of the salad well.  Also, I think I like this salad because I love an excuse to eat my new favorite apples,  ‘Honeycrisp”.  (Which, ironically recently had a sign aat the grocery store that said “Everyone’s New Favorite” – good to know I’m not alone).  But if you can’t find Honeycrisp, I think Fiji or Granny Smith would work equally well.
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Harvest Apple Salad with Buttered Almonds

Ingredients:
For the dressing:

  • ¼ cup finely minced sweet onion
  • 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. white wine  vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • Pinch of paprika
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the almonds:

  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup sliced or slivered almonds
  • 2 tbsp. sugar

For the salad:
6-8 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
2 medium apples, cored and thinly sliced
4-6 oz gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Directions:
To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients except olive oil in a measuring cup.  Then slowly add the olive oil whisking vigorously to combine.

To make the buttered almonds, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the almonds and cook, stirring occasionally until toasted and lightly browned.  Stir in the sugar and cook just until melted and well incorporated.  Set aside to cool.

Place spinach in a large salad bowl or on individual salad plates.  Top with apple slices, gorgonzola,  and the buttered almonds.  Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately.  Leftovers are good for up to a day, as fresh spinach does not wilt as quickly as other types of lettuce.

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Adapted from The Curvy Carrot  

Beef and Barley Stew

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Ah.  Real Food.  This is what January was meant to be.  Not including the peanut M&Ms (which I mistakenly bought a XXL bag of  because I was hungry at Costco….never a good thing)  the food around here has most definitely taken a turn for the more wholesome.  I can’t really promise that this will last long, but while I’m craving healthy food, I might as well take advantage.  There is nothing quite like a warm, hearty, filling and yet healthy stew to warm up with on chilly January evening.  Or considering the 40-50 degree days we have been having I should probably say, “On a abnormally warm, almost balmy  January evening in Ohio”, but it just doesn’t have the same ring.  Global warming is seriously ruining seasonal eating.

No matter what the weather, I could probably eat this stew.  Well I might be lying slightly.  I wouldn’t eat it in the summer.  That would be like some kind of sin- hot stew in the summer?  But anytime September through April would be fine if you are lucky enough to live in a place like tropical Toledo. (Can you sense my bitterness at winter – and this is even after I got an automatic car starter for Christmas!).  But in all seriousness, the first time I made this stew was back in Louisiana, where the humidity never drops below 100% – and it was still good.  It’s the kind of stew that feels well balanced because you get vegetables, grain, and protein all in one place.  I really love the addition of barley because it makes this stew seem extra hearty and yet also somewhat gourmet.

One caution is that the barley continues to absorb water after cooking.  When you go to get leftovers the next day you may find that all the liquid is gone and the barley has doubled in size – but never fear – just add a bit more water, and reheat.  If you are trying to make this in advance, or if you’d like to freeze it, I would probably make it without the barley, and then just add the barley when reheating it.
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Beef and Barley Stew

Serves 6-8

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 ½ cups chopped leaks (about 3 leeks including green stems)
  • 2 ½ cups sliced carrot
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 – 14 oz cans beef broth
  • 1 cup uncooked medium pearled barley

1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add half of beef; cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining beef.

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2. Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add leek, carrot, and garlic; sauté 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Return beef to pan. Add all ingredients EXCEPT barley and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, or longer if desired. Add barley; cook 30 minutes or until beef and barley are tender. Discard bay leaves.
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Adapted from Cooking Light


Slow Cooker Pork Char Siu

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Well it’s time for new years resolutions.  I wish I could say that I’m going to post all healthy recipes this coming year, and that it’s going to make you super skinny.  I have learned from too many new years resolutions that I like eating twizzlers, baking cookies, and scooping ice cream far too much to swear it off for the year.  I will however try to just generally post a larger variety of foods on this blog. If you have any requests, please let me know and I will do my best to post what you’d like to make!

This particular recipe comes to you from our New Years Eve celebration.  It got some rave reviews from the whole family.  It also makes great leftovers (in fact this picture was taken 3 days later).  While it’s not quite as easy as the French Apricot Chicken, it is another one of the crock-pot meals that you just add the ingredients and walk away.  As indicated below it serves 6-8 people, but for New Years I doubled the recipe and added an hour to the cooking time (total of 9 hours) and it turned out great.  What I really liked about this recipe is that it’s not at all dry like some shredded pork can be.  It is saucy, and I’m pretty sure just the marinade over rice would taste good on it’s own.  It also goes great served with a big salad with mandarin oranges and sesame ginger dressing.  So if your sick of eating cookies (which I EVEN AM!), this is a hearty, delicious and protein filled alternative for ringing in the New Year.

Slow Cooker Pork Char Siu

Serves 6-8

  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 2 pounds boneless Boston butt pork roast, trimmed*
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

*Ask your butcher to cut off as much fat as possible to save you some time.

Combine first 8 ingredients (soy sauce through five spice powder) in a bowl and whisk.  Place pork roast in a plastic bag and cover with marinade.  Refrigerate for 2 hours flipping occasionally.  *I left it at room temperature for 45 minutes to save time, and because my pork roast was large and very cold.

Place contents of bag in a crock pot and add 1/2 cup fat free chicken broth.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Shred pork and serve with remaining sauce in crockpot.  Serve shredded pork and sauce over rice.

Adapted from Cooking Light


Happy 2012

Wishing you and your families a wonderful new year!

Happy New Year Everyone!!!
I was really excited about this picture we took last night with sparklers and so wanted to share it.

This was our first attempt.
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The models are doing the exact same thing in both pictures- writing 2012.  You just need to make sure your flash is turned off and you have a long shutter speed to capture all the movement in one frame.  I’m pretty sure we’ve found a new  new years tradition!    Hope you all had a wonderful new years eve!


Chocolate Covered Butter Toffee

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I know Christmas is going to be hard for our family this year,  but I have been trying to keep busy -both at school and in the kitchen.  I have a habit of going a little cookie crazy this time of year.  I realize that  it would be much easier to make one or two kinds of cookies and to make a lot of them, but the problem is that everyone seems to have a favorite so I want to make them all.  The hardest part about this is that I also happen to love trying new recipes, so every year seems to bring a new favorite that I just have to make again the following year.  Hence how this toffee came into being.  As a Skor bar lover (the better version of Health), I knew as soon as a saw this recipe that I had to try it.  It has easily become my favorite dessert of all time, and if it weren’t for the fact that I could eat the whole tray in one sitting alone, I would most definitely make it other times than Christmas.  It is great for so many reasons that I feel the only appropriate way to get my point across is to list them…

  1. It is so buttery that it melts in your mouth the way no other store bought toffee could ever hope too.
  2. You can make a double or triple batch without the extra effort it would normally require to make a double or triple batch of individual cookies.
  3. It is covered in chocolate….need I say more.
  4. It has simple ingredients that are all delicious – butter, sugar, vanilla, chocolate
  5. It’s easy enough that you could make it today (Christmas Eve), and still have it ready for Christmas.
  6. You can cover it in just about anything that you want including crushed peppermints, sea salt, or nuts.  I have to mention that after my mom tried the sea salt covered toffee, she exclaimed “This  might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”  No biggie :-).

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Now if your intimidated by making candy, I completely understand your point of view, but please don’t let that stop you. I would say to just be patient, watch the color of the candy (it starts off yellow, as below, but you want it toffee colored  – not brown), and don’t try to rush the cooking process.  If you make a big batch, it might take up to 30 minutes to heat this to 298°, but it is well worth the wait.
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Chocolate Covered Butter Toffee

– Makes one standard baking sheet

  • 1 pound Butter, Melted
  • 1 pound granulated sugar (by weight)
  • 3 oz  fluid Water
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla Extract
  • 18 oz weight of semisweet chocolate chips, melted*
  •  Chopped Topping: finely chopped nuts (1/2 lb), Candy Canes (1/2 lb), Sea Salt (sprinkle), Etc.

*If you want the chocolate to look really professional, use good quality, tempered chocolate.  If you don’t mind if the chocolate looks a little dull (like mine), chocolate chips will work fine.

Combine butter, sugar, water, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. It will heat slowly at first, but once all the water has evaporated the temperature increases quickly.

Cook over medium high heat, stirring gently, until candy thermometer registers 298 degrees, but no higher than 310°.  Undercooked toffee is chewy and sticks to your teeth, but on the flip side it can burn if it gets to hot.

Once at ~300°, remove from heat and stir in vanilla until well combined.

Pour the mixture onto a silicone baking mat or good parchment paper, (last year I used tin foil because it was all I had, and it still worked).  Use a heatproof rubber spatula or offset spatula to spread quickly before the toffee sets. Thinner is generally better.

Allow toffee to cool completely, at least 30 minutes (while you go wrap some presents).  Blot  with paper towel to remove excess oil from the surface. Coat surface with half of the melted chocolate and immediately sprinkle with topping.

When chocolate has totally set (you can place it somewhere cold to help the process), carefully flip over (your going to break it apart anyways, so it’s okay if this happens now).  Then coat the other side with the rest of the chocolate and sprinkle on topping of your choice.

Allow to set, then break into bite-size pieces.

Store in an airtight container.

Recipe from Lia via The Pioneer Woman
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Snowball Cookies for Daddy-O

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I thought about telling you all sooner, but I was too beside myself when I first found out to write something that would even come close to describing how I was feeling.   In all honesty I still don’t know what to say.  My dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on November 30, 2011.  These past few weeks have been very difficult, but I want to thank everyone for your kind words, actions, thoughts and prayers.  I have been so comforted by the love others have shown me and my family.

I used to talk to my Dad almost everyday on my way home from school.  I had just been talking to him on  about how excited I was to be starting my internal medicine rotation, because it was my dad’s specialty and I was really looking forward to being able to discuss it with him.  Just on Monday he had explained the mechanism, symptoms, diagnostic tests and treatment of pleural effusions to me.   I had told him to get excited for Christmas, and I had even mentioned how I was planning to make a bunch of cookies  including his favorite – these snowballs.  I have such found memories of my dad sneaking into the cookie tins in the kitchen to get just one more cookie.  I can even remember John joking with him last Christmas, “Ahhh, now I see where Jacqueline gets her sweet tooth from,” as my dad was slyly removing yet another powdered sugar covered cookie and plopping the  whole thing in his mouth.  (Personally I always thought these were more like 2 bite cookies – but he seemed to think differently :-)). 

So Daddy-O, these are for you…

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Snowball Cookies

Makes  8-9 dozen cookies

  • 1 ½ cups butter, softened (3 sticks)
  • 1/4 cup crisco
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 c. finely chopped nuts*
  • 2 Tablespoons vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • Powdered sugar for rolling

*Pecans are my favorite, but walnuts work too

1. Cream butter, crisco and sugar.  Add nuts, vanilla, flour.

2. Work all the flour in using your hands.  Roll into a large ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate several hours, or overnight. Dough can also be made ahead of time and frozen, just thaw enough to handle before using.

3. Before baking, preheat oven to 300º.

4. Remove ball from refrigerator and allow dough to sit long enough until able to handle.  Roll  into smaller than walnut sized balls – small is better.  Remember they will be slightly bigger once they are covered with powered sugar. 

6. Place cookies about 1 inch apart on an un-greased cookie sheet.

7.Turn oven down to 275° and bake cookies for 30-35 minutes, or until very light in color.  Cool for about 15 minutes then roll in powdered sugar to help sugar stick.  They can be re-rolled in powered sugar before serving.

From my favorite Christmas cookbook: Christmas from Heart of the Home, by Susan Branch

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Brown Sugar Spice Cookies for Fall

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At first I was kind of bummed when I got assigned Neuro-Psych for my second rotation block – namely because I really wanted to get one of the very time intensive, 10 week long rotations out of the way earlier in the year.  However, I’m learning that everything works out in the end because I  have truly loved having some free time to enjoy the fall.  (Remind me of this when I am waking up for surgery at 4:30 and driving through a snowstorm).  Beyond the obvious fall cooking adventures, I have really enjoyed running in the park, which has been continuously blanketed with colorful leaves for several weeks now.  Every time I enter Wildwood I think, ” I wish I could take my camera on runs” or “I really need to get John out here to see this before its gone”.  (He gets a little reluctant to go running….well usually…..but especially when the weather drops below 70º ). I’ve managed to get him out a few times though and it has been truly gorgeous.

In celebration of the wonderful season, we had the pleasure of attending a bon fire and a halloween party.  I really wanted to impress with my improving cookie decorating skills, but unfortunately I forgot how long it takes to work with royal icing. I managed to finish a few cookies to bring over, but if you really want to use royal icing, plan on making the cookies the night before.   Nevertheless, I thought that these were a perfect autumn treat- just a hint of spice, but enough to remind you of fall.  I’m hoping to make them again to take down for thanksgiving (especially because the 3 cookie cutter set I bought also came with a turkey!) Any icing will work for these, but if you plan on using royal icing check out my tutorial for instructions.

Brown Sugar and Spice Cookies

Makes about 40 cookies depending on the size of your cutouts

  • 3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar (I use sugar that I’ve stored vanilla beans in)
  • 1/2 c light brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and spices, set aside.

Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix until well-blended.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom. (The dough will be quite thick…you may need to knead in stray bits of flour from the bottom of the bowl by hand.)

Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.

Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.  Refrigerate or freeze tray for about 5 minutes if you want to insure that cookies will retain shape.  Bake for 10-12 minutes

Let cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute.  Then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Ice the cookies as desired.

Recipe barely adapted from Bake at 350°

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On a side note, I was really excited about these containers.  40% off Hobby Lobby is the best…

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Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Based on my experience thus far in life, I can firmly say that you can never go wrong with pumpkin flavored anything and cream cheese frosting.   I made a different version of these cupcakes last year, and there are a few things I liked about each recipe.  Last year’s recipe was ridiculously moist, but almost to the point where the cupcakes stuck to the wrapper and couldn’t support the weight of the frosting when you went to take a bite.    I liked this new recipe because  the cupcakes are a little bit sturdier, and you don’t have to use part of a box of cake mix (what does one do with a left over 2/3 cup of cake mix? ).  Plus, when I’m going to the trouble of making cupcakes from scratch I really prefer ones made with unique ingredients that wouldn’t be part of a box mix – like butter instead of oil and buttermilk for some extra moisture.  I used to think that recipes that called for buttermilk were a bit annoying because you generally have to buy a whole quart, but I’ve found it lasts a lot longer than milk (like over a month) and I’ve found several other things to do with it in that time – like John’s birthday cake, ranch dressing, and then these cupcakes.  But as I said before, you can’t go wrong with pumpkin and cream cheese so if your so inclined, try both recipes!

I actually made these for the children’s Halloween party that our medical school hosts every year.  Now technically this party if for children with diabetes, and while you might think cupcakes wouldn’t be the best idea, the point of the party was to help the children learn how to balance their carbohydrates with their insulin. (And it is really hard to find low carbohydrate halloween desserts).  So I made a double batch of these cupcakes, and calculated that each cupcake with frosting has 35 grams of carbohydrate.  I got about 40 cupcakes from the double batch, and saved a few to take with us to Cincinnati for my now living in Ohio brother and sister -in-law.  These went so fast that I’m pretty sure my father-in-law thought he wasn’t going to get one.   Apparently they were also a big hit at the halloween party – but really what kid can resist sprinkles?

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Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 20-24 cupcakes with piped frosting

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 c brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

For the Icing:

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 stick butter (softened)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 10 oz powdered sugar (about 3 cups), sifted

To Make the Cupcakes:

Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Mix in the vanilla until fully incorporated.

In a separate  mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  In another small mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin and buttermilk until smooth.

Turn the stand mixer on to the lowest setting and alternately add the dry ingredients and the pumpkin mixtures to the creamed butter.  Start and end with the dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the pans, filling about 2/3 full.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Allow to cool enough to handle and then move to a cooling rack.  Store in airtight containers until frosted.  Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator.

To Make the Icing: 

Cream the butter, cream cheese  and vanilla together on high speed.  Add the powdered sugar, a small amount at a time and blend until smooth and creamy.  To ice the cupcakes using a pastry bag, chill icing in the refrigerator or freezer for about 15 minutes in order to harden the icing enough to frost.  Alternatively, frosting can be added immediately to cooled cupcakes using an offset spatula.

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Cupcakes from Pennies on a Platter, Originally from My Kitchen Addiction

Icing inspired  Ina Garten


Candy Corn Shortbread Cookies

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         These cookies don’t even need an explanation.  I mean seriously.  They look like candy corn, they are ridiculously simple  and they taste delicious.  I scrolled through the instructions at  Our Best Bites, and after seeing how creative (and easy) they were, I immediately started making the dough that same night.   Never mind that it was 11pm on a school night – these cookies had to be made.  Plus, it took me less than 30 minutes including cleaning time to whip up this dough and put it in the fridge.
          I really think the pictures are the most helpful part in figuring out how to make these.  I tried sprinkling the cookies with plain sugar, and I wasn’t really a fan of how that looked.  I think when I make these again that I am going to either leave them plain or use large sugar crystals.   The most important part in the apperance is not overcooking the cookies – they look much better with no browning.   Keep in mind that you can use any recipe for the cookie dough – I just chose shortbread because I knew they weren’t going to have icing and I wanted a cookie that would still be delicious.  And of course I trust Ina Garten with any recipe that includes lots of butter.  I loved this shortbread recipe, and apparently so did the rest of the family because they were gone in less than 2 days.  Don’t worry – it wasn’t just me and John we had some new to Ohio and visiting Ohio helpers :-).

Ina Garten’s Shortbread

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

1) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Divide the dough evenly into 3 separate bowls.  Using gel food coloring color 1 bowl of dough orange, 1 bowl yellow and leave one uncolored.  Mix until the colors are thoroughly incorporated.
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2) Line a baking pan with plastic wrap (smaller pans work best if you have one).
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3) Press the plain colored dough into the bottom of the pan, spreading to an even layer. I did not fill the entire length of the pan because I wanted slightly taller cookies. Continue with the orange and then the yellow layers.
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4) Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour, or up to 3 days.  You want the dough to be firm and easy to cut.  Once chilled, remove from the pan and place on a cutting surface.
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5) Slice the the dough into a 1/2 inch wide slice. You may also want to cut a straight line across the top yellow layer in order to get a more finished look. Then cut diagonally through the slice in order to get 5-6 pieces of candy corn. You may have some small, not perfectly shaped pieces at the edges, but that’s okay – they still bake up nicely and someone will eat them.
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6) Preheat oven to 350º

7) If you have coarse sugar, you can sprinkle the piece with sugar.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 18-22 minutes.  Do not over bake or they will become discolored from browning.
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Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Idea from Our Best Bites