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Tuxedo Cake

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For as long as I can remember, I have loved making from scratch birthday cakes. One of the first ones that comes to mind is a chocolate hazelnut birthday cake for my brother’s (and my) birthday.  Unfortunately, I somehow measured the wrong amount of hazelnuts in that cake, and it pretty much ruined Nutella for me for at least 5 years (don’t worry, I’ve now come to my senses).   There were other times in college, where cooking in a small dorm kitchen that literally had no cooking utensils seemed like a great idea.  There was freshman year, where I figured I had nothing better to do than to make a 3 layer meringue cake with whipped cream and fruit.  There were several $50 german chocolate cakes, since they required buying not only the ingredients, but also pans, bowls and something to stir with.  There were multiple coffee cheesecakes that served as birthday cakes, pies that served as birthday cakes and then of course the most recent Malted Chocolate and Marshmallow Six Layer Cake.

So last year, when John’s only wish for his birthday cake was  boxed chocolate cake mix with simple whipped cream as the frosting, I was slightly appalled.   I made the cake, I even ate a piece, and I was glad he liked it, but seriously – how boring!    As his birthday approached this year, I was almost afraid to ask what kind of cake he might like, because I knew that no matter what I suggested, he would come back with the same chocolate cake with whipped cream.   Then this cake popped into my mind, or rather popped up on my google reader.  I had seen it earlier on Annie’s blog, but it was way back in January when I wasn’t thinking about October birthdays.  I immediately knew that this would be the perfect birthday cake for John because it’s basically a dressed up of version of his favorite.  The flavors are still simple, but the ganache adds just that oomph it needed to make it not only more delicious but also quite stunning.  The strawberries are obviously optional, but they certainly add to the presentation.  I sized down the original recipe because everyone mentioned how it was such a tall cake, and I felt a little guilty putting 4 cups of sugar in a cake (but of course, in my head, 3 was fine).  I thought it came out perfectly with a slightly downsized recipe, and so that is the version I have included below.  This cake is definitely a keeper and I’m really glad I was able to find something that  both I enjoyed making and John enjoyed eating.  Happy Birthday baby!   I still love you no matter what kind of birthday cake you want :-)!

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Tuxedo Cake

Yield: 3- 9 inch layers

For the cake:
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup canola oil
3 cups sugar
3/4  cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:
4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

For the chocolate topping:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
To make the cake layers, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the inside edges of the pan, shaking out the excess flour.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, water and canola oil; heat until the butter is melted.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, and flour; whisk to blend.  Pour the melted butter mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time, then whisk in the buttermilk.  Add the baking soda, salt and vanilla to the bowl and whisk just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of each cake layer and invert onto a wire cooling rack.  Allow the cake layers to cool completely before frosting, at least 2 hours.

To make the frosting, add the heavy cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  Add the powdered sugar and continue to whip until thoroughly combined and stiff peaks form.  Be careful not to over-beat!

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cake platter and spread a layer of the whipped cream frosting over the top.  Top with a second cake layer, more frosting (and the third cake layer, if using).  Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake.  Refrigerate until the frosting has stabilized, at least 1 hour.

To make the chocolate glaze, place the chocolate in a medium bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit 1-2 minutes.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth and homogenous.  Blend in the corn syrup and vanilla.  Pour the glaze into a pitcher or measuring cup and let cool for 10 minutes.  (Do not let the glaze cool longer or it may become difficult to pour over the cake.)  Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, ensuring that the top is covered and the glaze drips over the sides.

Refrigerate the cake until the glaze is set and the whipped cream frosting is firm, at least 1 hour.  Slice with a long, sharp knife, wiping the blade clean between slices.

Adapted from: Confections of a Foodie Bride, who adapted it from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather
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Black and White Cookies

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When I first started this blog, I remember thinking that a great first post would be black and white cookies.  I had even started writing about how great they were and why I loved them, but then for some reason I never got around to actually making them.  Then when I saw these cookies on 2 of my favorite blogger’s sites a few weeks ago, I decided that I absolutely had to make them.

I have a long history with the black and white cookie, which began at a coffee and bake shop near our college campus called Mad Hatters.  I used to go to this place from time to time to get away from the usual drone of the library, and it became a favorite place to study one summer when I was taking organic chemistry.  You might wonder why I would decide on a plain black and white cookie when there was an entire case full of delicious baked goods to chose from.  Well that’s simple –  as a poor college student an absolutely gigantic cookie (like small dinner plate size), complete with both chocolate and vanilla icing icing that cost less than $1.50 was pretty much too good to pass up.  (In fact it might have actually been been too good to be true, because according to mad hatter’s website, it seems that they no longer offer this cookie.  Sad.).  Now in all honesty, when I first bought this, I definitely thought it was just a simple sugar cookie with icing on top.  I think I might have been slightly disappointed when I first ate it and realized it was more cake like than the dense and buttery cookie I was expecting.  However, it quickly became one of my favorite cookies of all time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to show you of the  steps getting up to the final product because I got slightly discouraged about halfway through making these.  I was sure they were going to turn out terribly,  but once I got to the final product, I ended up loving it and decided I definitely needed to share!  A few hints so that you don’t get discouraged like I did:  First the original recipe called for 20 minutes in the oven.  I pulled them out a few minutes early and they were still slightly overdone, so I really think 15 minutes would be more than enough baking time.  Secondly, I let the un-iced cookies cool  slightly and then packaged them into a ziplock bag.  When I took the cookies out the next morning they were stuck together, and when I pulled them apart it left an uneven surface on the cookies.  Therefore, I would recommend not stacking the cookies, or using parchment paper between them.   And finally, I ran out of icing and had to heat up some more about 3/4 of the way through.  I adjusted the recipe below so that it should be more than enough icing to cover the cookies.

With those suggestions, I think that these are a fairly simple to make cookie  that gives a delicious and stunning result.  The slight lemon flavor is a perfect complement to both the vanilla and chocolate icing.   It also makes a great study snack.  It’s just dangerous having more than 1 of these easily available, so be sure to share.
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Black and White Cookies

Yield: about 2 dozen large cookies
For the cookies:

  • 4 cups (16 oz.) cake flour (found in a red box)
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks butter, softened but still cool
  • 1¾ cups (12¼ oz.) sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon extract
  • 1 cup milk

For the glaze:

  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 7 ½ cups (30 oz) powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • a few teaspoons of milk

To Make the Cookies: 

1. Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats.

2. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk to combine, and set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy.  With the mixer on medium-high add in the sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs, vanilla and lemon extracts at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds.

4.  With the mixer on low speed,  gradually add the flour mixture and then the milk, alternating about 3 times until just combined. Batter will be thin.

5. Using a  ¼-cup measuring cup or an ice cream scoop, place mounds of dough several inches apart on the baking sheet.  I could only fit 6  per sheet.  With moistened fingers, spread the mound of dough into a disk about 2½ inches wide and ¾ inch thick, it will spread more as it bakes.

6. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, until the edges just began to brown.  Cool on a baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing: 

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the corn syrup and water and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until combined.

2. Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  Transfer 1 cup of the vanilla icing to the bowl with the melted chocolate and whisk to combine.  Add a few teaspoons of milk to the chocolate icing and whisk until it is a similar consistency to the vanilla glaze.

3.  Using an offset spatula, spread about 2 T. of vanilla icing over half of the cookie. Scrape the edge of the cookie to catch any excess icing.   Place the cookies on a wire rack set over waxed paper and allow to harden for about 15 minutes before using the chocolate icing.

4.  Repeat icing the opposite side of the cookie with chocolate.  If either icing begins to harden, add a few more teaspoons of milk and whisk to combine.

5. Allow the glaze to set at least 1 hour before serving.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container layered between sheets of parchment paper for up to 3 days.
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Source: Slightly adapted from The Curvy Carrot and Annie’s Eats, originally from Baking Illustrated


French Apricot Crock Pot Chicken

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Welp, it’s happened.  The first recipe on the blog made almost entirely by John. I don’t mean to  belittle his cooking talents, but I think the fact that I trusted him with making this dinner should tell you something about it’s complexity.  I had set the ingredients (all 3 of them ) out on the counter the night before,  and planned on throwing them in the crock pot before I left for school, but as I mentioned last time, normally I barely get 2 of the same shoes while I’m running out the door, let alone make dinner 8 hours early.   Despite my best intentions, if I wake up a few minutes early, then I simply diddle-daddle around  longer until I am once again rushed to leave.  So John was nice enough to make this for me  in the morning.

While this is certainly not a complicated or gourmet cooking dish, it is definitely something worth keeping in your recipe arsenal.  Also, I should mention that there is really nothing “French” at all about this, other than the fact that it uses American’s version of “French Dressing”.  Nevertheless, this dinner is  delicious and I  had trouble saving my second piece of chicken for lunch the next day.   I found myself eating every last piece rice that the scrumptious sauce had touched.    Plus, its so easy you really have no excuse not to make it – it’s 3 ingredients that you put into a pot.   You can adjust the cooking time to fit your schedule so it’s ready when you get home.   For example, Nikki mentioned that you could use 6 frozen chicken breasts and cook it on high for 4 hours and low for 2 hours, or use 4 fresh chicken breasts and cook it on high for 3 hours.  Since I think one of the best things about crock pots is coming home to them being ready, I prefer to cook things for a longer period of time on low, which I have indicated below.  I think next time I am going to at least 1.5 the recipe because this really made great lunch leftovers (especially when compared to the hospital cafeteria).

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“French” Apricot Crock Pot Chicken

– Serves 4 (or 2 with great leftovers the next day)

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup french dressing (I used Newman’s Own)
  • 1 cup apricot jelly or preserves
  • 1 packet onion soup mix
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in the crock pot and cook on low for a minimum of  7 hours, but longer is fine.  Serve over rice.

Source: Pennies on a Platter


Pecan Tassies (or Mini Pecan Pies)

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I had something entirely different to share with you today – it was going to be a meal of sustenance, instead of another dessert.  However, after serving these little delicacies last night, I decided that I must get this recipe out ASAP so that you can make them ASAP.  I’m pretty sure these made both the gator’s and the buckeye’s losses yesterday seem less painful (at least to the people who might be pained by that sort of thing).

These treats were the perfect way to start off October.  They are sweet, nutty and flakey.  As a true candy lover, I think part of the reason I like these is because the brown sugar becomes caramelized on top as it mixes with the pecans, creating an almost toffee like texture on the outside with a sweet and melted inside.  Because I only had enough cupcake pans to make 24 of these at a time, I ended up running out of filling for the last tray.  While you’d think that extra filling would always be a good thing, it seemed like most of that extra filling just spilled out onto the pan and made a mess.  Therefore I would recommend measuring out half of the filling if you are making these in batches, so you have a better idea of how much to use.

Basically these are like a miniature pecan pies, with a slightly more solidified filling and an amazing crust.    They also smell amazing while baking.  And I’m pretty sure they would perfectly complement  a nice big glass of apple cider.  So go ahead and enjoy a few (or 10) for dessert, or for breakfast (like I did today).  Happy Fall!
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Pecan Tassies (Mini Pecan Pies)

– Makes 48 mini cupcake sized tassies

For the Dough:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 oz cream cheese (I used 1/3 less fat because that’s what I had)
  • 2 cups flour

For the Filling:

  • 1½ cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 heaping cup chopped pecans, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  To make the dough: beat butter and cream cheese together until combined.  Add the flour and mix until incorporated.  Roll the dough into 48 individual balls (each ball should be a little smaller than a quarter).  Place the balls on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

2. To make the filling:  combine all ingredients (brown sugar, pecans, eggs, butter, vanilla) in medium bowl and mix to combine.  Divide this into even halves if you are making this in batches. 

3.  Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly grease mini muffin pans.

4. To assemble:  Take a ball of dough and roll it out into a flat circle.  Place inside a mini muffin cup and repeat with remaining dough.  Alternatively you can simply press the dough ball inside of the mini muffin tin to create a cup.  I was worried about the crust being uneven, which is why I chose to roll the balls out, but to save time you can use the other method.   
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5.  Fill each cup with a heaping teaspoon of filling.  Top each with a sprinkle of  roughly chopped pecans.   The filling puffs up while baking, so it is not necessary to fill to the brim of the cup, in fact this tends make a mess because the filling overflows. 

6. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.   Let cool slightly in pans, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Source: Brown Eyed Baker, originally adapted from “old firehall ladies auxiliary cookbook”.

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Baked Oatmeal with Fruit

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You can really ask anyone who knows me – I’m not much of a breakfast person.  It used to be the standing joke that John would go out to breakfast  with our friend Amanda and order and entire platter of biscuits plus other breakfast monstrosities, while I would go on a 20 mile run. It’s not that I don’t love breakfast food, I just don’t like eating it in the morning.  Sometimes I wish that people went out to brunch for dinner.  I would most certainly order a plate full of pecan waffles, slather them with syrup and not feel guilty at all about eating what is basically a dessert and counting it as dinner.  However, I just don’t like doing this for breakfast.

On any given weekday, I’m franticly trying to get out the door, half dressed and planning to put my makeup on at stoplights on my way to school.  Breakfast is usually a granola bar I grab as I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  So the fact that I have eaten a warm breakfast everyday for the last 2 weeks must tell you that something is up.  I don’t want to go so far as to say this oatmeal has changed my life, but after all they do say a good breakfast is the start to a good day and I have had a very good past 2 weeks.

This dish has taken the reigns as the best oatmeal I have ever eaten, and this is coming from someone who usually eats oatmeal all winter.    It’s moist, flavorful and filled with fruit.  The flavor of the toasted pecans really come through, so don’t try to save yourself a step by tossing them in un-toasted.  It’s a well balanced meal and it keeps you full a lot longer than a granola bar.    I think that perhaps the best thing about this oatmeal is that you can make a batch and easily reheat it for breakfast for the rest of the week.  Since I have no desire to get up earlier than necessary to make myself food, I have made this on Sunday night the last 2 weeks and then reheated it throughout the week.  I ate it 5 days later and it still tasted great.  I plan on making this many more times as the weather gets colder, and I can’t wait to experiment with an apple or pumpkin flavor.  I’ll be sure to share those  with you as soon as I’ve got the recipe down :-)!

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Baked Oatmeal with Fruit

– Make a 1 & 1/2 quart casserole (4-6 servings)

  •  1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup pecans, light toasted then chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 T. butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup blueberries and/or raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 375°.  Grease a 1 & 1/2 quart casserole with butter or cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl toss together oats, pecans, baking powder cinnamon and salt (dry ingredients).

3. In a small bowl whisk together the liquid ingredients reserving 1 T. of butter (maple syrup, milk, egg, 1 T. butter and vanilla).

4. Line the bottom of the baking dish wish sliced bananas.  Then top with about 2/3 of the blueberries and/or raspberries.

5.  Spread the oat mixture over the fruit.  Drizzle the milk mixture over the oats, trying to distribute as evenly as possible.

6.  Bake the oatmeal for 35-45 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with remaining 1 T. of butter.

7. Dish can be served straight from the oven and topped with additional toppings if desired. (I didn’t find this necessary).  Alternatively, this can be made, refrigerated and individual pieces can be reheated in the microwave for about 1 – 1 1/2 minutes.

Slightly Adapted from The  Curvy Carrot, originally from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson


Best-Ever Raspberry Pie

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I promised you that there would be more raspberry recipes to come, and I don’t lie.  I made this as part of the dinner part I had with my family over labor day weekend, but the truth is we ate so much of it for dinner that I felt the need to make another pie the next day :-).  I’m planning on making a 3rd one, likely today, that’s how much I love this pie.

Now to give you an idea of why this must be  the best ever raspberry pie, you should know that I am not much of a fruit pie fan.  I’m not one to turn down any dessert, but fruit pie would never be my first choice.  This pie is an exception.  I really think it is the best recipe ever created for raspberry pie.  I have never met a person who didn’t love it, and my mom has been making it every year since I can remember.  Now there are a few keys to this pie that make it so delicious.  First of all it really does help if you use good quality raspberries.  I’ve bought a few of the store bought variety this year and have been sorely disappointed. This could be because I bought them before they were truly in season, but still I think raspberries are best either hand-picked or bought from a farmers market.  Second, it uses crème de cassis or blackberry liqueur.  I know that it’s a pain to buy one bottle of liqueur that you only use for one recipe, but that bottle will last you through several years of raspberry pie making – so it’s totally worth the investment.  And third, there is butter and lemon slices in the pie filling itself – how can you go wrong.

For a while I have tried to avoid the realization that homemade pie crust is about 7864 times better than store-bought, mostly because I have been trying to avoid the extra work that comes with making homemade pie crust.  However, I have (somewhat remorsefully) come to my senses.  Homemade pie crust is just so much better.  Its flakier, it melts in your mouth and it doesn’t have artificial taste that hints through in store bought crust.  Since I learned the trick about rolling the pie crust out between 2 pieces of parchment paper, it has become infinitely easier to make.  I think it is totally worth the extra 10 minutes, but I won’t tell if you still want to use store-bought :-).  I haven’t included a recipe for pie crust here because it seems that everyone has there own favorite.  I used a recipe from the pioneer woman, but I can’t say I’ve tried enough to really say it is the best ever.   And really, if you are trying to save time my mom has made this countless times with store bought pie crust and I have still loved it.    I also would guess that you could easily make this into a blackberry pie but I have never tried this since I love raspberries.  If you do, let me know how it turns out!
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Best Ever Raspberry Pie

– Makes 1 standard 9 inch pie

  • 5 cups raspberries (2 1/2  pints) 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup Crème de Cassis or blackberry liqueur 
  • 4 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter sliced paper thin
  • 3 paper thin slices of lemon (a mandoline would be best for this)
  • Top and bottom layer of pie crust
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Toss raspberries and sugar gently together in mixing bowl.
  3. In a measuring cup, whisk liqueur and cornstarch together  until smooth.
  4. Stir Cassis mixture, lemon juice and salt gently into berries.IMG_1810
  5. Line a standard 9 inch pie pan with crust. (Do not use a deep dish pie unless you significantly increase the number of berries)  Spoon in the berries, and arrange lemon slices and butter over the berries.
  6. With the top pie crust layer, cut it into about  ½ inch strips, preferably using a pastry cutter like this.   Arrange over berries in a lattice pattern, alternating under-over.  Crimp the edges of the pastry together.                                                                      IMG_1796 (This was the first pie we made)
  7. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake at 425F for 15 minutes. *Then lower heat to 350F and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

Slightly adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

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Parmesan Encrusted Goat Cheese with Basil Oil

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Last weekend, John and I came back to b-ville to spend time with my Mom and brother who just returned from Alaska.  We didn’t have any big plans for the weekend, but we all usually try to get together for dinner with family.  Luckily both my grandparents, my cousin Johnny and his girlfriend Val were able to make it over.  Of course I think of this as a great excuse to make a fancy meal I wouldn’t normally make for just the 2 of us and to have 8 guinea pigs to try it.  It happens to help that my brother returned from Alaska with over 12 pounds of halibut for me to put to use!

While it got kind of late in the evening to try to photograph the whole meal, this appetizer was one of the first things we enjoyed on Saturday (of course this came after my grandparent’s favorite – Manhattans).  I have to admit I overdid it on the garlic in this recipe – you would’ve thought we were trying to keep vampires away.   Sometimes more is not better, so I would recommend sticking to the 1-2 cloves of garlic indicated in the recipe.  I think my favorite thing about this dish was the presentation.  It looks like art but truthfully takes less than 10 minutes to put together.  In order to save time (and because I mis-read the recipe :-)),  I skipped the step in which you blanch the basil.  It still turned out beautifully but if you want a truly stunning green color, blanching would be the way to go.   I also left the basil leaves in the oil but for a smoother texture  you can strain them out with a fine mesh sieve. Pulsing the basil in the food processor should’ve flavored the oil sufficiently that they are not necessary in the final dish.

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Parmesean Encrusted Goat Cheese with Basil Oil

– Makes a 4 or 8 oz goat cheese ball depending on your preference

For the goat cheese:
1/2 oz. Parmesan cheese
¼ cup panko
Freshly ground pepper
4 -8 oz. semi-firm plain goat cheese
1 clove garlic
¼ tsp. coarse salt, plus more to taste

For the basil oil:
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Baguette Slices

1. In the bowl of a food processor add the block of parmesan cheese and pulse until finely grated.  Add the panko and pulse to combine. Season with pepper.  Transfer mixture to a separate bowl and wipe out the bowl of the food processor.

2. With a fork, smash the garlic and salt together.  Add garlic/salt to the goat cheese and sir to combine.  Form the goat cheese into a ball and roll in the parmesean-panko mixture.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. If blanching the basil:  Bring a few cups of water to a boil.  Add the basil leaves to the saucepan and boil for 30 seconds.  Drain and rinse immediately with cold water.  Blot the basil leaves with a towel to remove all of the excess water.

4.  Add basil and garlic to the food processor and pulse.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  With the food processor running add oil until texture is liquidly (you may need slightly more than 1/4 cup).

5.  To serve, pour the bail oil onto a plate and top with goat cheese ball.  Serve with baguette slices.

Source: Annie’s Eats


Raspberry Lemonade Bars

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This week marks the end of another wonderful rotation and so therefore also another baked good. As I said, I’m working on dermatology and I’ll have to say I’m spoiled.  Not because I have the best hours (we work 11-12 hour days, there is a dermatologist shortage!)   But I’m spoiled because I think I am working with one of the kindest, most cheerful and sincere doctors I have ever met, and I’m just not sure if my future rotations can live up to these high standards.

Since I went home this weekend, I had the pleasure of going raspberry picking with my mom (and dragging John along), which opened a new world of recipe possibilities.   Despite the fact that it was about 97 degrees, we had a lot of fun and came home with quite a loot of berries.  I have come up with quite a few fun ways to put them to use, so consider this fair warning if you soon tire of seeing raspberry recipes on this blog.  As far as I’ve heard raspberry season (at least in Ohio) doesn’t end until mid-October so go ahead and pick some berries for yourself – you won’t even have to suffer through the heat.

About the bars themselves, I brought them in today, and they were a big hit.  I described them as raspberry bars , and one of the nurses said, “They taste like raspberry lemonade!”  I thought this was ironic because that was the actual name of the original recipe but she came up with that description de novo.     If you notice this recipe requires a lot of juicing of lemons.  I found this to be the most troublesome part, especially considering that after I had juiced 8 lemons I somehow managed to spill the entire cup of lemon juice all over myself.  Since I didn’t have enough lemons to make another cup, I used some bottled lemon juice to make up the difference.  They still tasted good but I wouldn’t recommend substituting all of the fresh squeezed lemon juice for the bottled stuff as it tends to be more tart.  The other tedious part of this recipe is separating all those egg whites.  If your wondering what to do with the leftover yolks, that’s easy – make ice cream!  Of course you could also make  traditional lemon bars if you want to skip the raspberry flavor all together, but I’m not advocating that.

Raspberry Lemonade Bars

Makes a 13 x 9 inch pan.  * Recipe can be halved to make an 8×8 pan, but will need a slightly reduced baking time. 

For the Crust:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Raspberry Lemon Layer:

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 3 T. lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups raspberries (thaw if using frozen)
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups freshly squeeze lemon juice
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (if desired)

To make the Crust:

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a 13×9 inch pan with parchment paper.

Combine butter, sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl and mix until butter is evenly cut into dough.  Press dough evenly into pan, sprinkling additional flour if dough is sticky.  Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from oven and keep warm

To make Filling:

Add flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt to a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Add the berries to a fine mesh sieve and mash through with a spatula to extract as much pulp and juice as possible, leaving behind the berry seeds.

Add the raspberry puree, egg whites and eggs and lemon juice to the flour mixture and whisk until evenly mixed.  Pour over the warm crust.

Bake pan for 35-40 minutes until the center is almost set.  Remove from oven and cool.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Remove bars from pan using the parchment paper and run a sharp knife under water to slice bars.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

Adapted from Annie’s Eats, Originally from Sophistimom


Quick and Light Key Lime Pie

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I know there are about 400 different recipes available for key lime pie.  I have made my fair share of them, but it seems that I always go back to this recipe.  It is not particularly traditional and it certainly takes some short cuts, but I think that’s why I like it.  It’s easy to put together, doesn’t require a huge list from the grocery store and still tastes better than any store-bought version.  In fact, I can remember making this on more than one occasion while we were vacationing at the beach without access to my usual kitchen repetoire.  If you are having trouble finding key lime juice with the other drinks, try looking in the cocktail aisle as sometimes I’ve found  it there. This pie  also happens to be a lightened version, which no one would know, but generally just gives you an excuse to eat more than one piece :-).

I know that summer is coming to a close, but perhaps if you are looking for something to take to a labor day bbq today, you could have this ready in time.  Besides, I would guess that we might be blessed with a few more hotter than h-e-double hockey sticks days  before summer officially goes away.  And heck,  this pie is so good that no one is going to complain if you serve it in the middle of fall at thanksgiving dinner.

Quick and Light Key Lime Pie

– Makes 1 9-inch pie

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup Key lime juice (I use Nellie and Joes)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 1 (14 oz) can reduced fat sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 reduced fat graham cracker crust (6 oz)
  • 2 cups lite whipped topping, thawed

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Beat eggs and egg whites with a mixer on medium until well blended.  Add juice, lime rind and milk and blend.

3. Pour mixture into crust and bake for 20 minutes.  Center should be almost set, but will set more as it cools.

4. Cool pie on wire rack.  Transfer to refrigerator and chill for 4+ hours.  Top with cool whip before serving.

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Slightly adapted from Cooking Light


Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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If I had my choice of desserts,  pineapple upside down cake would not be at the top of my list.  Well at least it wasn’t until I made this cake.  If you think like me, you might think that pineapple upside down cake is stuck in the 1980s.  While I must admit that the ho-hum yellow-tan color occasionally mixed with the bright red of a maraschino cherry is somewhat unappetizing and does indeed remind me of 1980s wallpaper, I must give some respect to the deliciousness that is this cake.

I made this for my dad’s birthday because for as long as I can remember, it has been his favorite cake.  Perhaps this is because I was raised in the 80s, at a time when yellow-tan was in style.  Or perhaps my dad has not ventured out into the world of other cake flavors.  But most likely I think that my dad just realized that this is a simple cake base that could be eaten on it’s own, combined  with a pineapple-carmel syrup that is to die for.

When I decided that I was going to make this for his birthday, I searched high and low for what I thought would be the best recipe.  I have made a few pineapple upside down cakes in the past, but I wanted something that would be truly exceptional.  While I am not normally one to alter a baking recipe much from the original, I had to make an exception for this cake.  I ended up combining the best parts from 2 separate recipes so that I could get a rich cake that would fit in a 9-inch pan and not use the entire pound of butter.   I think it turned out to be a success.  The cake has a rich and nutty flavor and is so moist in part because of the sour cream and pineapple juice and in part because of the rich syrup sauce it is drenched in.  Of course the pineapple itself is on the of the best parts, so feel free to use real pineapple if you have it handy.  I have a feeling that I will be making this around September 1st again next year :-).

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake

 Makes one 9-inch cake

Pineapple Topping

  • 1-20 oz can pineapple slices in juice (reserve juice)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar

Cake 

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 10 Tablespoons butter (1 stick + 2 T.)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream

1. Heat brown sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbling (several minutes).  Remove from heat and pour mixture into a non-stick 9 inch cake pan.  Place slices of pineapple over the sauce, cutting pieces as necessary to fit as many as possible.

2. Preheat oven to 325º.

3. Whisk flours, almonds, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.   In the bowl of a mixer blend sugar and butter.  Add eggs, one at a time and then mix in vanilla and pineapple juice.  Once blended slowly add the flour mixture, alternating with the sour cream.  Batter will be thick.

4. Pour batter on top of pineapple slices in pan.  Bake at 325 for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

5. Cool for 5-10 minutes and then invert cake on a rimmed plate to insure no juices are lost.  Serve warm or refrigerate for 1-2 days before serving.

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen and Simply Recipes


Coffee Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks

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I have been wanting an ice cream maker all summer (or maybe even all my life), but I faithfully waited until my birthday hoping to get one.  I did get some really wonderful presents, but an ice cream maker wasn’t one of them.  I may or may not have had a slight freak out about this incident which may or may not have precipitated an emergency run to the store on my birthday to pick one up.  Basically you don’t want to mess with me and ice cream.  Needless to say, now I have an ice cream maker ;-).

My first order of business with my new toy was a raspberry ice cream with large chocolate chunks.  While the recipe stated that it made about one quart, about 5 minutes into churning there was ice cream pouring out of the top of the 1 1/2 quart machine.  It really didn’t freeze and while it didn’t taste awful, I ended up having to throw it out.

However once we got back from vacation I was determined to tackle the infamous French ice cream.  I poured through “The Perfect Scoop”, looking for the perfect ice cream, an I finally decided on coffee ice cream because it’s John’s favorite and I liked that it would perfectly complement some large chocolate chunks.   I will warn you in advance that this ice cream is VERY coffee flavored.  This is in part due to the fact that I ended up steeping the coffee beans with the milk for several hours while I was running errands, so if you want a milder flavor, steep the beans for a shorter period of time.  With the chocolate chunks, I was trying to replicate the famous Grater’s ice cream, but I found that they were slightly more hard than I would’ve liked.  If you are brave enough you can add extra oil to the chocolate, which will keep it softer in the ice cream.  You could also try making truffles and adding them to the ice cream, but I was trying to keep it simple.

Coffee Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks

– Makes about 1 quart

  • 1 -1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 -1/2 cups whole coffee beans
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1- 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coffee

For the Chocolate chunks

  • 4 oz dark chocolate (60% cacoa)
  • 1 T. vegetable oil

1. Begin by warming milk, sugar, coffee beans, salt and 1/2 cup of heavy cream in a saucepan.  Once warmed through, cover, remove from heat and let steep at room temperature for about 1 hour.  If you’d like a stronger flavor, continue to steep in the refrigerator for 2-4 more hours.
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2. Rewarm the coffee bean-milk mixture.  Pour the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream in a large bowl and set a large fine mess sieve over top.
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3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. DSC02013

4. Slowly pour the warm coffee bean-milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly in order to temper the yolks.  Then scrape the warmed egg yolk mixture with coffee beans back into the saucepan.
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5. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir.  The mixture should thicken and coat the spatula.  If you have a reliable thermometer, the temperature should be 170-175° when the custard is done.
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6. Once the custard is thick, pour it through the strainer into the cream and stir.  Press on the coffee beans to extract as much flavor as possible, then you can discard the beans.  Mix in vanilla and finely ground coffee and stir until cool. To cool the ice cream more quickly, you can place the bowl in an ice bath in the sink and continue to stir.
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7.  To make the chocolate chunks, melt chocolate and oil in the microwave.  Stir to mix and then poor mixture onto a rimmed plate.  Cool in the freezer until hard.  Break the chocolate into chunks and keep cold until ready to use in the ice cream.

8.  Chill the milk mixture in the refrigerator and then freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.  When there are about 5 minutes left of freezing time, add the cold chocolate chunks and allow them to mix in.  Make sure to chill the bowl adequately before churning the ice cream (most machines required 20+ hours of chilling time).  Store ice cream in an air tight container in the freezer.
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Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz


Shrimp and Grits

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Wow, it’s been way to long since I posted!  I have a few (debatably good) excuses though.  First I finished up my family medicine rotation with a pretty tough standardized test, then John and I went on vacation to San Fran, wine country and point reyes, and this week I started a rotation in Dermatology in Bryan, OH.  It’s been a busy but fun couple of weeks!

I think my favorite part about vacation had to be Sonoma.  It was a beautiful but relaxed town and if it wasn’t clear across the country I could totally see myself living there someday.  (I checked residency programs, and unfortunately there are none in wine country. boo.)  We also had a lot of fun biking all around San Francisco and across the golden gate bridge, as well as hiking in point reyes national seashore.

Kunde winery

Now that I’m in Bryan, I haven’t really been cooking much since it would require me to fill a whole new pantry with ingredients and transport my favorite pots and pans an hour and a half; however I do have the weekends off so my goal for the rest of the year is to post one time per week.  I’ll start with this recipe for Shrimp and Grits.
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We had this for dinner before we left for vacation, and I have been thinking about it off and on since then.  I made this thinking it would be a nice treat for the butter, cheese and generally southern food loving member of our family, but as it turns out I ended up being the one who was head over heels for this dinner.  Not to say that John didn’t love it as well, I just surprised myself by how much I could love something made with grits and bacon.  The parsley and green onions really help to cut down on the heavy feeling of this dish and I think I might even add more next time.  I was also surprised by how quickly this dish came together and how few unusual ingredients it required.  Now that I have grits in the pantry, I think this is going to become one of my go to weeknight meals because 1) I really loved it and 2) I generally have all these ingredients around and 3) it’s pretty easy to put together.  I know that you’re probably starting to think I must work for Costco or something, but I did want to mention that I found the best large, individually frozen shrimp there for the best price.  Now that I have a costco sized bag of jumbo shrimp in the freezer, I have even more excuses to make this delicious dish again.

Shrimp and Grits

Serves about 4  (I made about half this recipe for the 2 of us)

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup grits (regular or quick cooking but NOT instant)
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 heaping cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 5 slices bacon
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon (about  2 T.)
  • 2 T. coarsely chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, plus more for garnish
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Hot sauce if desired

1. Bring water to a boil.  Add grits to the boiling water and stir.   Add salt and a bit of pepper.  Lower heat, bring to simmer and cover until water is absorbed.  Follow the directions on your box of grits because  cooking times vary.

2. Once thick, remove from heat and stir in butter and shredded cheese. (Feel free to add more butter or shredded cheese – (John would’ve if he was making this…)
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3. Rinse and pat shrimp dry. You don’t want them dripping water when you add them to hot oil.

4. Fry the bacon in a large skillet.  When cooked through remove from the pan and crumble.

5. Add shrimp into the bacon grease pan.  Cook until shrimp turn pink.  Add lemon juice, bacon, scallions, garlic and parsley.  Cook for another three minutes.
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6. Spoon the grits into a serving bowl and top with shrimp mixture.  Add extra scallions and parsley.   Serve immediately.
IMG_1411Adapted from Our Best Bites and Joy the Baker


Malted Chocolate and Marshmallow Six Layer Cake

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In case you didn’t know, my birthday was on Monday, and our anniversary was the day before that.  Needless to say it’s been a food-filled week!  With my brother having the same birthday as me, it’s always felt like Christmas in July, but now with an anniversary to add to the festivities, July is quickly becoming my favorite month of the year.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately for him), brother John is spending the summer fishing working in Alaska, so I might just have an excuse to make another celebratory birthday cake when he returns in August.  I know some people would view it as work to make their own birthday cake, but I view it as an excuse to buy fancy ingredients and make something over-the-top without any regrets.  It’s basically like my present to myself.  I had a lot of fun sifting through recipes, but  with so many combinations of cake and icing to chose from, it was really hard for me to decide on one.  I ended up picking this cake because Sweetapolita  named it “Campfire Delight” and since I love summer and the campfires that come with it, I couldn’t resist.   After making this, I don’t think campfire delight is really a fitting name (after all it’s missing the essential graham cracker part of the s’more), however this cake is totally over the top delicious.

I was set on the fact that I wanted to make a 6-layer cake, only because I had never made one before and I wanted to try something new.  Unfortunately I didn’t want to be taking pictures while visiting with friends, so I have no pictures to show you of the inside of this mile-high cake.  You’ll just have to trust me: 6 layers really makes a nice presentation and is definitely worth the extra effort.  How can you go wrong with an almost equal filling to cake ratio?  Keeping that in mind, you can’t eat very much of this cake (at least at one time).  But that makes it  a perfect birthday cake to share with some friends!

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Rich Chocolate Cake

– Recipe as indicated is for 3-9′ inch rounds

  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup + 2 T. good quality cocoa powder*
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups strong black coffee (hot or cold is fine)
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 T. pure vanilla extract

*I used Williams-Sonoma’s Dutch cocoa powder, but I think this is a better deal.  A good quality cocoa powder really makes this cake.

1) Prepare 3 x 9″ pans by cutting out a circle of parchment to line the bottom, and butter and flour to coat the edges.  Preheat oven to 350°.

2) Sift all dry ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer.  With the paddle attachement, add the remaining ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium-low.  (You may need a splatter guard on your mixer as batter will be liquidy).

3)   Pour into prepared pans.  To ensure even layers, I weighed the pans until I get the same amount in each.

4) Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate placement of pans in oven.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes (35 minutes total) or until a toothpick comes out clean when placed in the center.  Cool on wire racks for 20 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool completely.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble.

5) To cut the cake layers to get a 6 layer cake, start with cold cake.  Using a knife, score a line around the outside of the cake as to where you want to cut.  With a serrated knife cut along the line, turning the cake as you go until all cuts reach the middle of the cake.  Frost as desired.

Toasted Marshmallow Frosting

– Makes enough to fill 3 (of the 6) layers

  • 24 large white marshmallows
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large (13 oz) container marshmallow fluff (or cream)

Place the marshmallows in a pan with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.  Place on the bottom rack of the oven and broil until brown.  Make sure to watch them continuously as they go from brown to burnt very quickly. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter and powdered sugar on low for about 1 minute.  Add vanilla and mix on high for 3 minutes.  Finally add marshmallow cream and powdered sugar and blend until just mixed through (about 1 minute).  Spread evenly onto cooled layers.

Malted Chocolate Frosting

– Makes enough to fill 3 (of 6 layers) and to cover a 9″ cake

  • 4 sticks (2 cups) butter at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup Ovaltine Chocolate malt mix (in the hot cocoa aisle)
  • 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream*

Clean out the bowl and paddle used for toasted marshmallow frosting, and beat the powdered sugar and butter  on low for about 1 minute.  Add vanilla and ovaltine malt powder and beat on low to combine.  Add the melted chocolate and beat on medium speed until smooth.  Add whipping cream and beat on med-high for another minute. Use right away.

*Do not try to substitute half and half or any other milk-  You will end up with a runny frosting (speaking from previous experiences).

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All 3 recipes slightly adapted from Sweetapolita.


Soft “Store Bought” Sugar Cookies

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There’s something about those store bought, frosted, cake-like sugar cookies that just makes you want to eat one.  I actually remember the first time I tried one I thought to myself, “This might be the most artificial tasting cookie I have ever eaten”, yet for some reason I continued to eat them, with their chemical preservative taste and all.  I think they must put something in them that just makes you fall in love, despite the fact that you are eating a “fresh” cookie with a shelf life of 3 months.  Well, if you have become addicted to those cookies, consider this your saving substitute.  These cookies taste like a better, preservative free version of the store bought cookies.  Granted, there is still quite a bit of artificial dye in the frosting :-).

I made these to take in for my last day in the hospital on my family medicine rotation (sad to leave that place!).  My motivation for making these was in part because I really did want to thank everyone who was so helpful on my rotation, and in part because I love having big groups of people to eat my baked goods!  I enjoy the actual process of baking even if I don’t eat the end result,  but with just the 2 of us here, baking becomes a dangerous habit.  I chose blue and aqua for the colors because I wanted something summer-ish and these colors reminded me of the pool.  With a heat index nearing 115°, I think we all have water on the mind.

You can really pick any mix-match of colors to dress these cookies up for just about any holiday, but I do have a few suggestions as far as the actual cookies are concerned.  First, I substituted 2 oz of cream cheese for some of the butter, mostly because I don’t think you can ever go wrong with cream cheese; however, if you happen to only have butter, or you aren’t a cream cheese fan just use 3 full sticks of butter and leave the cream cheese out.  Secondly, I was trying to plan ahead, so I made the cookie dough the night before and refrigerated it for about 24 hours. If you decide to make the dough ahead of time, just  make sure to flatten the cookies out to the desired shape before baking because they will not spread on the pan if the dough is too cold.  Finally, for some reason, I was worried that I wasn’t going to have enough icing… so I went kind of light on some of the cookies.  Then I ended up throwing away a bunch of leftover icing.  Don’t skimp like I did.   After thinking back to the ones at the store, the icing should be almost as thick as the cookie.

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Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

Makes about 36 cookies

  • 4  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4  1/2  tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1  1/4  cups (2.5 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 oz cream cheese (about 1/4 cup)  *Low-fat is fine
  • 1  1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 tsp. vanilla extract

For the Icing: 

  • 5 cups (1 lb, 8 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 6 T. butter, melted (3/4 stick)
  • 1 T. vanilla extract (use clear if you want white icing)
  • 7-8 T. milk plus more if needed
  • Food coloring, sprinkles (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Then beat in vanilla.  Slowly add the flour, baking soda and salt and mix until evenly incorporated.  Chill dough for 30 minutes, or overnight.

To bake, preheat oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon of dough into your hand and roll into a ball, repeat.  Place balls on a cookie sheet 2-3 inches apart.  Using your hand or the bottom of a glass flatten each dough ball into a circle. (*Again depending on how chilled your dough is, the dough may or may not spread.  If your dough is very chilled, you will need to flatten it into the shape you desire before baking).   Bake for 10 minutes. (Cookies should not look brown).  Let cool slightly on baking sheet and then move to a cooling rack.

Frosting:  Place powdered sugar in a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk or stir on low until smooth.  Add additional milk if necessary.  Tint with gel food coloring if desired. Using a spatula, frost the cookies generously with the icing.  While still wet, sprinkle with desired toppings.  Icing will harden slightly to allow for easier storage.  Keep in an airtight container.

Adapted from Annie’s Eats  who adapted it from Hostess with the Mostess


Bean and Tortilla Pie

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Unfortunately, I can be a bit of a perfectionist.  A lot of times I will plan on putting something on the blog and after making it decide that it is just not tasty enough to share.  After all,  I am putting my personal endorsement on all the items on here, and I don’t want to lose your trust.  Other times I will make something that is delicious but so un-photogenic that I can’t seem to get a nice picture of it, and I don’t want get some kind of ugly photograph reputation.   Well in an effort to worry less about the small stuff,  I decided to post this recipe even though my camera was just not cooperating with me.  It should tell you something  that I thought it was special enough to share even without a perfect picture.

I would describe this as a comfort food dinner.   It’s especially handy to have in the recipe repertoire because it uses ingredients that I can store in my pantry or usually have on hand.    I thought it was just going to turn out like a bunch of flour tortillas layered with beans, but something magical happens in the baking process.  The cheese melts and the tortillas soften, and the whole thing solidifies into a concoction that actually does seem like a pie.  For some reason I didn’t think about the fact that there is a lot of food going into this “pie” and it is way more than John and I could even try to eat.  This is a filling pie, so I’m definitely adding it to my list of good dinners to make for company.
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Speaking of company (such a sly transition :-)), last weekend our family got together to celebrate my Grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary.   They have certainly started a wonderful family to be a part of!  Here’s a picture from our weekend:

love this picture!

Happy Anniversary Grandma and Grandpa!

Bean and Tortilla Pie

Makes: 6-8 servings

  • 4  9-inch flour tortillas
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 t. ground cumin
  • 1/2 t. chili powder
  • Pinch of Salt and Pepper
  • 2 – 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup water (or you can use beer if you didn’t drink what was in your fridge)
  • 1/4 cup salsa
  • 1 – 15 oz can refried beans, warmed to spreading consistency
  • 2 cups frozen corn (about 10 oz)
  • 4 scallions, thinly slices plus more for garnish
  • 2 1/2 cups mexican style shredded cheese
  • Garnish: Scallions, tomatoes, sour cream, cilantro, black olives

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. In a large saucepan heat oil on medium-high heat.  Add the onions, jalapenos, garlic, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper.  Cook until softened, about 6 minutes.

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3. Add in the black beans, scallions, salsa and water, and stir until well mixed.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low to simmer.  Continue to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until most of the water has evaporated.
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4. Once water has evaporated, remove pan from heat and add in the frozen corn and scallions.  Mix to combine.
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5. Lay a flour tortilla in the bottom of a 9-inch springfoam pan.  Spread the tortilla with about 3 T. of refried beans.  Then continue layering by spreading about 1 cup of bean mixture on top of the refried beans.  Top the layer with 1/2 a cup of shredded cheese.
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6. Repeat this layering with the 3 remaining tortillas.  On the top layer, cover the beans generously with cheese.

7.  Bake the “pie” for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.   Remove the sides from the springfoam pan, and top with garnishes of choice. Slice into wedges  and serve warm.

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Slightly Adapted from  The Curvy Carrot


Shrimp, Avocado & Tomato Pizza

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I honestly had no idea what to expect from this pizza.  I had a hundred different directions I was thinking of going with it and I was worried that by trying to combine too many different flavors,  I would end up with a disaster.  I put this on the menu for last week, but I think my fear of failure along with some good rationalization about NEEDING to have  summer fun caused me to go out to eat 5 days last week.  (In my defense I think that’s a personal record, plus once everyone buckles down with school, it will be at least a little bit harder to hang out :-)).  Finally, I decided that I couldn’t  let avocados, tomato, cilantro and limes go to waste, so I concocted this specialty.

Well as you can probably guess based on the fact that I am putting it on the food blog – I really liked this pizza!  It was unique, fresh, flavorful and used up the leftover shrimp I had in the freezer.  (I have a bad habit of buying shrimp and only using half the bag.)   I also used some of the pizza dough I had frozen, which made this pretty easy to put together.  I almost skipped adding the chipotle, but I’m so glad I didn’t because I think it made the meal.  If you are a bacon lover, I think that could also be a nice flavor complement, but I felt like it had enough ingredients without it.  The only part that takes some time is chopping,  so I would recommend doing it at the beginning so you can just go “chop crazy” all at once.  P.S. chopping veggies is a pretty awesome way to wind down!

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Shrimp, Avocado and Tomato Pizza

  • 1 pizza dough ball
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella and/or provolone cheese
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 2 large tomatos, chopped and drained
  • 1 teaspoon adobo sauce or 1 t. finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 10-20 medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime

1. Preheat oven to  475°, preferably with a pizza stone.  Roll out the pizza dough. Brush with 2 T. olive oil and 4 cloves of minced garlic. Then spread cheese evenly over the top.
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2. In a medium sauté pan  add 1 T. olive oil and bring to medium-high heat.  Add remaining 2 cloves of garlic and stir until fragrant.  Then add the shrimp to the pan and stir for a 1-2 minutes.

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3. Add the tomatoes, scallions and chipotle peppers to the pan, and sauté for an additional 2-3 minutes to soften the tomatoes and flavor the shrimp.
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4. Spread the shrimp mixture over the pizza, and add a little bit of cheese on top if you feel like it.
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5. Bake at 475° for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and immediately top with cilantro and avocado.  Squeeze lime juice over top of the pizza and serve.
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A Spice is Nice Original.


Strawberry, Cream Cheese, Pretzel Squares

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This dessert is kind of hard to describe.  When you hear  “Strawberry-Pretzel” it sounds weird, and even slightly gross,  and I get that.  Let me just tell you that when I was describing it to my mom, before I could even finish telling her about the middle layer of the dessert, she said, “That is my all time favorite summer dessert!,” and then she was disappointed that she couldn’t partake in eating it.   I’m pretty sure that at some point in your life, you have eaten this dessert, perhaps without ever knowing what went into making it so delicious.  I made this for the 4th of July BBQ we had when we got back from our camping adventure and since I wanted it to be red white and blue, I added some blueberries to the cream cheese layer.  Unfortunately, you could hardly see the blue, or taste the blueberries, which should only tell you that this dessert should not simply be relegated to the 4th of July – you should probably just eat it all summer, or all year for that matter.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to take pictures of all the steps, but I was in kind of a hurry because  I started making this without first reading the instructions carefully.  This is probably the type of thing you should make the day before, or at least the morning of an evening BBQ, because jello takes a long time to set!  I cut down the chilling time significantly (because I needed it ready by 7 pm), and it still turned out fine, so I have indicated this change in the recipe below.  However, other than the waiting time between each layer, this was much simpler to put together than I imagined.  Each layer is super easy- just mix and pour into the pan.  The only baking required is the 10 minutes to set the pretzel crust.  I even took the liberty of “lightening” this dessert, and  it didn’t taste any different than I remember as a kid.  In fact, a lot of people call this “Strawberry, Pretzel Salad”, so I’m pretty sure that means that you can eat a lot of it without feeling guilty ;-).

Strawberry, Cream Cheese and Pretzel Squares

Hands on time: 20 minutes                Total Time with Cooling: 3 1/2 hours

Makes 1-13×9 inch pan, about 15-20 servings

  • 2 cups finely crushed pretzels (Pulse in the food processor)
  • ½ cup sugar, divided
  • 10 T. butter (1 stick + 2 T.), melted
  • 1½ pkg. (10 oz. total) PHILADELPHIA 1/3 less fat Cream Cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 cup thawed COOL WHIP Whipped Topping
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 pkg. (4 servings) JELL-O Brand Strawberry Flavor Gelatin
  • 1 pkg. (4 servings) Sugar Free JELL-O Brand Strawberry Flavor Gelatin
  • 1½ cups ice cold water (ice cubes are fine)
  • 1 qt. (4 cups) strawberries, sliced
  • 1 cup blueberries, if desired

Pretzel Layer: Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix pretzel crumbs, 1/4 cup of the sugar and all the butter. Press into bottom of 13×9-inch baking pan. Bake 10 min. Cool.

Cream Cheese Layer: Beat cream cheese, remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the milk until well blended. Gently stir in whipped topping and blueberries (if using).  Spread over cooled crust. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Strawberry Jello Layer: While the above layers are in the fridge, stir boiling water into dry gelatin mix in large bowl for at least 2 minutes, until completely dissolved. Stir in ice cold water (it is fine if ice cubes are still in the water, they will melt).  Put bowl in the freezer for 20 minutes, then remove and stir in strawberries. Pour cool jello over the cream cheese layer, and allow to solidify in the fridge for about 3 hours.  Slice in squares and serve with a fork.

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, originally adapted from Kraft

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Smoked Gouda Pasta Salad

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Usually I’m one of those people who remembers the 4th of July on the 3rd of July, but this year was different.  Since we have some organized and adventurous friends, we had a camping trip planned about month in advance of the holiday weekend.  This was a good lesson for me in the fact that “anticipation is half the fun”, because it really was exciting having something to look forward to.    I even bought some  red and blue marshmallow roasting sticks as well as color coordinating paper plates to take with us.  And of course, I was excited to plan some of the menu.  When I saw this smoked gouda pasta salad, I immediately bookmarked it as a must try, and I thought camping would be the perfect opportunity.

I’m very familiar with the Caprese type pasta salad, and while the tomatoes, basil and mozzarella are tasty, I often feel that they are not strong enough flavors to create an interesting pasta salad.  I’ve made that type of salad many times, and usually end up picking out everything but the pasta.  That’s what I think is so great about this recipe – the pasta itself has some great flavor. It’s also really easy to make and requires pretty basic ingredients.  While you might not regularly buy  chipotle peppers in adobo sauce,  they add a lot of great flavor for a small cost.  The thing that used to annoy me about them is that most recipes only call for 1-2 peppers and I would inevitably let the leftovers sit in the fridge until they looked so gross that I didn’t feel guilty throwing them away- but I have found the solution.  Well, actually I should say that Sara over at Our Best Bites has found the solution: freeze the peppers in individual cubes of how much you might need.  See her post here to see what I’m talking about.  But seriously, don’t skip the chipotles- the adobo has very little spice but adds a smokey flavor that complements the gouda nicely.  Then you can make this pasta salad and eat it out of  individual ziplocs like we did on our picnic (classy I know).  Or don’t do that, and eat it like a normal person, out of a bowl – I’m pretty sure it will taste good either way.

By the way, we went to Mackinac Island.  You should totally make the trip if you live anywhere near Michigan, or even if you don’t.  I did not remember such cool places existing in Michigan – it’s kind of making me change my view of the Midwest (at least until winter comes :-)). IMG_1123

Smoked Gouda Pasta Salad

Serves 10-12 as a side

  • 1 lb (16 oz) Mostaccioli pasta
  • 1/2 cup light Mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup Milk (I used part skim, part cream)
  • 5 Tablespoons White Vinegar
  • 1 T. Adobo Sauce From Chipotle Peppers
  • Salt and Ground Black Pepper To Taste
  • 2 pints  Grape Tomatoes, Halved Lengthwise
  • 1/2 pound Smoked Gouda Cheese, Cut Into Small Cubes
  • 30 whole Basil Leaves, sliced thin (chiffonade)

1. Cook pasta according to pasta directions.  Drain and rinse in cold water to prevent pasta from sticking.

2. In a large bowl, mix mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, salt, pepper, and adobo sauce.

3. Add the pasta, halved tomatoes, cubed gouda and basil to the sauce in the large bowl.  Stir to incorporate, and add more salt and pepper to taste.  Chill before serving (or keep on ice in your camping cooler).

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman 

 

 

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S’more Nachos

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When John and I took a trip out to New Mexico over spring break, in addition to skiing, hiking and visiting with my in-laws, we got to try this great restaurant called Graham’s Grill.  (Side Note: it’s pretty nice to have parents-in-law that both happen to live in vacation spots :-)). The restaurant  combines the traditional flavors of the southwest but puts it’s own unique spin on them.  The chef, Lesley B. Fay recently came out with a cookbook called Straight From the Heart, and my mother-in-law was nice enough to surprise me at the end of the meal with my very own copy.    I have looked through the cookbook so many times trying to decide what to make but  I finally decided that I couldn’t pass up a recipe combining 2 of America’s greatest inventions – S’mores and Nachos.  (Another side note:  I used to think nachos were from Mexico – then I went there in college and searched every restaurant menu for them only to find out that they don’t actually serve nachos in Mexico… definitely an American creation.)

The original recipe called for deep frying tortillas, but after my recent frying disaster, I chose to make them in the oven instead .  It was actually a good reinforcement that never again do I need to fry anything, because the “chips” still came out crisp and delicious without having to mess with hot oil.  In fact, I think cinnamon-sugar chips would be a pretty great snack on their own – so next time I will likely make a double batch.  The recipe itself is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll have to say Lesley must be some kind of genius for thinking up the idea of “S’more nachos” in the first place!   If you really want to go crazy, you could try using ice cream as a dip for these nachos.   I’m sure this would be fabulous – warm cinnamon chips against cool ice cream –  but you might have to skip dinner all together if you want to try that.  So if you don’t have the pleasure of a campfire this Fourth of July, make this instead….It’s definitely easier than building a fire ;-).

S’more Nachos

Serves 3-4

For the chips:

  • 6-8 small (6 inch) flour tortillas
  • 3 T. melted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T. cinnamon

For the Topping:

  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • chocolate syrup for drizzling (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Mix cinnamon and sugar together in a dish.  Using a pastry brush, spread melted butter onto both sides of the tortillas. Sprinkle 1 side of each tortilla with a covering of cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Using a kitchen scissors (or knife), cut each tortilla  into 8-10 triangles.  Without overlapping, place triangles sugar side up on a large baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the edges turn up.
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Remove chips from oven and combine into a pile on a small baking sheet or oven-proof dish.  Sprinkle  with chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and marshmallows.  Turn the oven on broil, and place the baking sheet on the middle rack (too close to the heat will catch your marshmallows on fire).  Watch carefully until the marshmallows are browned, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven, transfer to a serving dish and drizzle chocolate syrup over the chips.  Serve warm.

Before:
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And the Aftermath:
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– Nachos Adapted from from  Straight From the Heart by Lesley B. Fay.

– Cinnamon Chips adapted from Our Best Bites


Samoas Cupcakes

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After 2 weeks of “summer vacation”, it’s back to the (harsh) reality of 3rd year – but don’t worry about me, because these cupcakes made life better.  The last day of break happened to fall on our friends Kat’s and Griffin’s birthday, which obviously called for celebration.  I decided to make these cupcakes because both of them happen to love samoas.  I’m a thin mint/tagalong girl myself, but I have the unique ability to see the good in just about any cookie :-).  I thought these cupcakes turned out delicious, but I think if you are really trying to perfectly replicate a samoas you might want to add try making a filled cupcake with toasted coconut and caramel.

These cupcakes turned out to be much simpler to make than my endeavor of chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes, but I still found it helpful to make the cupcakes one day and then to ice them the next.  I didn’t want to make them too far in advance for fear of dryness, but I shouldn’t have been worried because these are unbelievably moist.   The only qualm I had was that the cupcake itself isn’t particularly sturdy for the heaviness of a caramel icing.  I later found out that putting them in the fridge before serving really helped the overall texture.  The only other change I would make in the future is to use 2 cupcake liners for each cupcake, because the batter is very thin, so tends to wash out the colors of the cupcake liner.  I think baking these using 2 liners would really give it a perfect finish.

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For the Cupcakes

  • 2 cups  sugar
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup Cocoa (I used Hershey’s special dark)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons coconut flavoring
  • 1 cup coconut, packed
  • 1 (scant) cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 350° and line 24 muffin tins with cupcake liners.

2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

3. Add in eggs, milk, oil, vanilla, and coconut flavoring.  Mix well.

4. Fold in coconut, then add boiling water.  (Batter will be very thin)

5. Pour batter into muffin tins, filling each cup no more than 3/4 full.  Bake at 350° for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool for several minutes, but then remove cupcakes from tins on cool on a wire rack.

For the Salted Caramel Buttercream

  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup caramel topping, plus more for drizzling (I used butterscotch caramel)
  • 1 pound powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1. Cream butter until fluffy.

2. Add in vanilla extract and caramel topping.  Add powdered sugar and salt and mix until smooth.  If icing is still too thin add a bit more powdered sugar (the consistency differs based on the type of caramel topping you use)

3. Wait until cupcakes are completely cool, and use a pastry bag with a 1M tip to ice the cupcakes.

For the Homemade Chocolate Syrup

  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s special dark)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine all ingredients except vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium-heat, and whisk until smooth.

2. Bring sauce to a boil and continue to whisk until sauce becomes thick.  Remove from heat, let cool slightly and drizzle over cupcakes or store in an airtight container in the fridge until needed.

To Finish:  Top cupcakes with toasted coconut and using small squeeze bottles (or simply a spoon) drizzle with chocolate sauce and remaining caramel sauce.

Slightly adapted from The Novice Chef 
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Greek-Style Panzanella

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When I put this on our (new) menu board for the week, John had no idea what it was.  I described it to him as  crouton salad, partially because it’s true, and partially because John loves bread and I knew a salad made of it would intrigue him.  I really liked this dinner because it was easy, fresh, and included more than a full serving of vegetables, but the really great thing about it was the John loved it as well.  He even said, “Wow, this was a lot more filling than I expected.”  I served this as a meal on its own, but I think it would also be great as a side dish for a summer picnic.

In terms of cooking, don’t be tempted (as I was) to turn the heat up on the croutons in order to make them brown faster – this actually only makes them burn faster. You do have to watch the croutons while cooking, which is why I think cooking them on the stove is better than the oven.   Just be sure to use a large pan, and to toss the croutons every few minutes.  Also, this makes a lot of salad (way more than John and I could finish), and unfortunately the leftovers aren’t good because the bread gets soggy.  To avoid this, cook the bread and cut the vegetables, but only combine the ingredients you will actually use that day.  Then you can make the salad again the next day for lunch!

Greek Panzanella

Serves 4-6

  • 6 cups rustic bread (about 3/4 loaf), sliced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced (or 1 hothouse cucumber – no need to peel)
  • 1 Red pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Yellow pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Green pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/2 of a Red onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 8 oz feta, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes

For the Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon combined)

1. In a large frying pan heat 1/4 cup olive oil on medium- high heat.  Once hot, add bread and reduce heat to medium-low.  Salt the bread with 1 teaspoon salt. Toss the bread for about 10 minutes until crisp and slightly browned.

2.  Chop vegetables, and in a large bowl combine all vegetables, feta cheese, and olives.

3. In a small bowl combine all ingredients for the dressing and whisk until combined.

4. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss.  Add in the crisp bread and toss until evenly coated.

5. Clean up the kitchen while waiting for the flavors to meld.  Add salt and pepper as needed and serve.

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Slightly adapted from The Curvy Carrot, Originally from How Easy is That? by Ina Garten


Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos

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Sometimes I miss college.  Well, let me rephrase.  Sometimes I miss certain parts about college.  Like the part where you can walk up and down the halls of the dorm and always find someone with their door open to hang out with.   And the part where the most important thing on a weekend was figuring out what costume would be perfect for the theme of the next party (okay, so sometimes I still do this).  But the thing I was missing this week was Torero’s – the signature Mexican restaurant in our college town.   Because our meal plan was ridiculous, you could get Torero’s delivered to your dorm room anytime you wanted, on meal plan points.  I had tried a variety of things from the menu, but one time someone ordered Taquitos, I tried one, and I fell in love. I’m pretty sure every time after that, I ordered chicken taquitos myself.  Somehow I happened to never actually read the menu to realize they were deep fried, and although they clearly looked deep fried, I chose to ignore this little fact.

I don’t think I’ve had a taquito since college, but when I saw these baked chicken taquitos on Pink Parsley, I knew I would have to try them.  Not only are they a baked version of my favorite college Mexican treat, but they also use my favorite salsa – Salsa Verde.  (The same salsa I use in  Chicken Enchiladas Verdes).  Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients, because these really don’t take that long to put together – in fact I think these are easier to make than the enchiladas.  If I was a little more organized, I would’ve planned grilled chicken for dinner one night, and made sure to cook enough to have leftovers for these the next.  Perhaps one of the greatest things about these taquitos is that you can freeze them (unbaked) and then bake them whenever needed.  Actually, the ones in the picture were baked from a frozen state.      I originally planned to post this the first time I made them – but we ate up all the taquitos so quickly that I didn’t get to snap a picture.  I’ll have to say, they taste just as good from the freezer as they did the first time.  This would also be a great meal for a big group dinner, because once you have the filling made it’s really simple to put together, and have you ever met a person who doesn’t like food they can eat with their fingers?
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Baked Chicken Taquitos

– Recipe indicated is for 20-24 taquitos, which will serve 6-8 people

  • 3 -4 chicken breasts (~4-5  cups shredded)
  • 1 block (8 oz) low-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup salsa verde (tomatilla salsa)
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup  chopped scallion
  • 1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded Pepperjack cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 20-24 small  (6-inch) flour tortillas
  • cooking spray

Bring a large saucepan filled with water to a boil over high heat.  Add chicken breasts to the water, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink when cut into.  Remove chicken from water, let cool slightly and then shred. (You could also use leftover chicken, or roast the chicken in the oven)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and lay a wire cooling rack over a large cookie sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese with the salsa, lime juice, cumin, chile powder, cayenne, onion powder, garlic, cilantro, scallions, and a pinch of salt & pepper.  (Everything but the chicken, cheese, and tortillas).   Once mixed, fold in the chicken and shredded cheeses.

Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of filling onto the lower third of each tortilla, and roll tightly. In order to help the tortilla stay closed, you may want to spray some cooking spray on the seam.   Place seam side-down on the wire rack.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

Spray the taquitos with cooking spray, then place the wire rack on top of a baking pan (otherwise the cooking spray creates a sticky residue when baked on the cookie sheet.)  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp and golden-brown.  Serve with dipping sauces such as salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.  I think sour cream mixed with salsa would also be delicious.

*To Freeze the taquitos, roll them up as usual but do not bake. Place on a baking sheet in the freezer in order to “flash” freeze them individually. Wrap in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil and freeze in a freezer bag.  To bake, remove from oven, and bake un-thawed for 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees. 

Slightly adapted from Pink Parsley Catering, via Pennies on a Platter, Originally from  Our Best Bites


Homemade Ranch Dressing

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Yesterday was full of kitchen disasters.  You see our friend Adam is on a whorl wind cross-country tour, and stopped by our place for a visit.  Since I am on vacation for another 5 days, I figured what better way to spend my time than to make a dinner completely from scratch.  I had the menu all planned out, which consisted of homemade hamburger buns,  black bean burgers (for which I even cooked my own black beans), home-fried potato chips, homemade ranch dressing, DIY oreos, and pina coladas – none of which I had ever made from scratch before.  Despite the best intentions,  while we were sitting outside because our apartment was too filled with smoke to breathe, I firmly decided that never again will I make an entire menu that I have never tried before when we have house guests :-).  I also decided that on the rare occasion that we do fry something – John is going to be soley responsible (hot oil and I are not friends).

About halfway through the disaster, I wanted to scrap it all and go out to eat, but I’m actually really glad we didn’t because the dinner was salvageable and I got 2  keeper recipes out of it- the best ranch dressing you’ve ever tasted and out-of-this-world pina coladas.  Plus, it made for some funny memories (picture John running through the house wearing chemistry goggles so that his eyes wouldn’t burn from the smoke).  I really wish I would’ve taken pictures of all the mishaps that occurred, but I think I was too traumatized by the billows of smoke around me to remember. Here’s John and Adam recovering by playing super mario brothers:
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Despite the fact that I slightly burned my hand, and that we all suffered from some smoke inhalation, this ranch dressing really made it all worth it… it’s that good!  It’s the kind of thing that will  literally make you eat  every last vegetable you have in your fridge, and then some.  I tend to have this habit of buying veggies with the best intentions of eating them for snacks, but then somehow I forget about them and then eventually they look unappetizing.  With this ranch dressing around I’m pretty sure no vegetable will ever go bad in this house again.

It is the perfect summer treat – cool, refreshing, and goes great on just about anything.  While I normally think of ranch with vegetables, I actually made this dressing to go with the homemade chips (that John ended up cooking).  It’s coolness was the perfect complement to the warm, greasy, crispness of a potato chip.  I also think it would be great for dipping pizza crust (if that’s your thing), or pizza bites , or you could use it as regular old salad dressing (but believe me, no salad will ever taste the same).

I know dressings get a really bad rap for being unhealthy, and I’m not trying to pretend that you should drink this dressing by the cupful – but it’s quite a bit better for you than the store bought kind.  It also tastes worlds better than bottled “low-fat” dressing, despite the fact that it is made with low fat ingredients.   Depending on your taste, you can alter the amount of parsley, chives and dill you want to put into this.  I happened to add a lot, and it really gave the dressing that cool, summery flavor I was looking for.  I probably added a full cup of greens (parsley, chives & dill), but I will mention that the dill flavor came through strongly, so if you add it, tred lightly.  If you add any more than what I did, you will get something closer to a green goddess dressing – but nothing wrong with that, it will still taste amazing.   So make this,  no picnic will ever be the same.

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Homemade Ranch Dressing 

Makes about 2 cups.  Stays good for 2+ weeks (but good luck making it last that long :-))

  • 3/4 cup light sour cream
  • 3/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 T. Lemon Juice (or juice from 1/2 a lemon)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (but you can use less if you like a very thick dip)
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • small bunch chives
  • small handful parsley
  • 2-3 dill springs (optional)
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients except for 1/2 cup buttermilk in a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth (no need to pre-chop anything).  Check the consistency, and add remaining buttermilk until your desired consistency is reached.

Adapated from Confections of a Foodie Bride 

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Blueberry Scones

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Believe it or not, I used to order scones from coffee shops because I thought they were a healthy option.  In my defense, they always tasted so dry that I figured they must be healthy.   After making these scones, I realized that they don’t exactly get the title of “healthy” but at the same time, they are way tastier than their coffee shop counterparts.  Plus making them gives you the right to talk in a fake British accent and pretend you’re Kate Middleton for the day.

While these scones might  you feel like British Royalty, they are great for another reason – you can freeze them unbaked, and then bake them from a frozen state.  This is a great option if you want to impress some overnight guests without having to wake up at 4 am.  Just flash freeze them individually on a baking sheet,wrap, and store in a freezer bag until ready to use.

The only tricky thing with making these is that the dough is a little sticky.   I found that forming the dough into a rough square, and cooling it in the freezer for 10 minutes really helped the consistency. I also added quite a bit of flour, but try not to add too much or you might run into the dreaded dryness of a coffee shop scone.   This recipe, as shown only makes 8 scones, so I think next time I will double it, and bake one batch to eat, while keeping the others un-baked  in the freezer for a later date.
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Blueberry Scones 

Makes 8 scones

  • 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen whole
  • 1½ cups fresh blueberries (slightly less than 1 pint container)
  • ½ cup whole milk (or see my post tomorrow on good substitues for whole milk)
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 cups (10 oz.) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • zest of half a lemon (or 1 heaping teaspoon)
  • For Topping: 2 T. butter, melted and Sugar for sprinling


If you plan on baking the scones immediately, preheat oven to 425˚ F.  Wash and dry the blueberries and place  in the freezer until needed.

Grate the frozen butter on the holes of a large box grater.  In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and sour cream; refrigerate until needed.
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In a larger bowl, combine flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest.    Whisk to combine.  Add the grated butter to the flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.
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Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold with a spatula just until combined.  Transfer the dough to a generously floured work surface.  Dust the top of the dough with flour, and knead with well floured hands, 6-8 times, just until the dough holds together in a ragged ball.  Form the dough into a rough square, and place on a floured plate to chill in the freezer for 5-10 minutes.

Return the dough to the floured work surface and roll into an approximately 12-inch square.  Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the surface of the dough, and gently press down so that they are slightly embedded in the dough surface.  Roll the dough up to form a tight log, so that the blueberries are in the center.    Lay the log seam side down and press the the log into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle.  Using a sharp knife, cut the rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. If your knife gets sticky, try flouring it.  Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles.  Transfer to a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.
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If you are going to freeze these, flash freeze on a baking sheet for 20 minutes, then wrap individually and store in a freezer bag until needed.  To bake, brush the tops of the scones with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 18-25 minutes (slightly longer if baking from a frozen state). Let cool on a wire rack before serving.

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Slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats, Originally from Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining