Category Archives: chocolate

Project Food Blog Challenge 2: The Classics

First off, THANK YOU to all for the votes and the support in the first round of the Project Food Blog challenge!! I am so thrilled to be moving on the next round. It’s been so great discovering new blogs and making new friends. Thank you everyone! Best of luck to all in Round 2!

The challenge this time is recreate an authentic recipe from another culture we are not familiar with. That means by passing the standard Italian and French fare for something outside our comfort zone.

Oh boy.

If I’m to make a recipe from another culture I’m not familiar with, how am I supposed to know for sure it’s authentic?! The Interwebs may tell me a recipe is authentic, but the Interwebs also tell me if I don’t forward an email someone close to me will die! Clearly, the Interwebs cannot be trusted.

After tossing and turning in an insomnia-induced fit earlier this week, it finally hit me. I can’t believe what I read on the internet but I can believe what I read in BOOKS! To the Library, Batman!

Oh, how I love the library. Sitting on the floor in front of the cookbook shelf, I marveled over Mediterranean street food. Drooled over the colors and textures of the cuisines of India, Thailand, China and beyond. I learned about South African cookies and the flavors of Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. How am I supposed to decide?!

And then I saw it. The One. Flipping through an unassuming book featuring recipes from Eastern Europe, I came across the Dobos Torte – a classic Hungarian dessert featuring layers of sponge cake, chocolate buttercream and crunchy caramel. It was the chocolate and caramel that lured me in, but it was the story behind the recipe that sealed the deal.

Invented in Budapest by Hungarian baker József C. Dobos in 1885, the cake quickly became revered all across Europe not only for it’s taste, but also because it kept so well. It was shipped all over the continent during his professional career. Dobos kept the recipe a guarded secret until he retired in 1906 when he presented it to the Budapest Confectioners’ and Gingerbread Makers’ Chamber of Industry, providing that every member could use it how they saw fit.

Perfect. Why? Because if ever there was a recipe that embodied the spirit of the food blogging world, it’s this one. We all have recipes that are near and dear to our hearts, but when we share them in our blogs, we open them up to hosts of others and allow them to add their own interpretation. Tweak this, twist that until a recipe becomes their own. That’s how recipes stand the test of time.

In my research, I found many variations of the Dobos Torte. Expected, given the recipe’s origins. The number of layers varied from 5 to 12. Some featured nuts, some didn’t. Some had a solid sheet of caramel on top, some had broken shards. I combined a couple different sources to make the one that was right for me.

This recipe…is not for the faint of heart. The parts themselves are not difficult to make, but the entire process is time consuming. I found the most difficult part to be trying to make my layers as even as possible. The recipe below makes a enough for six layers of cake. My finished product ended up being seven. I actually lost two of my layers due to operator error (oops) so I made half the recipe a second time around and got three more. Even though the layers are thin, they are light, spongy and not too sweet. The cooked chocolate buttercream is one of the creamiest, dreamiest, richest frostings I’ve ever made. It’s a sin. Really. You’ve been warned. But WOW! And the caramel adds great crunch and texture. This is a special occasion dessert worthy of a special person.

I always find myself humbled and honored to try a recipe from another culture. It makes the world feel a bit a smaller, like we’re all connected through each others food and traditions. I am so glad I got to try this and I hope you will too. Enjoy.

DOBOS TORTE (Based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague as seen at The Daring Kitchen. Topping from allrecipes.com).

Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
  • pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar

For the sponge cake layers:

1.    Position the racks in the top and center thirds of the oven and heat to 400F.

2.    Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit two cookie sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ springform pan as a template, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter.)

3.    Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes.

4.    In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in;
repeat with the remaining flour.

5.    Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet. When the first cake is done, put in the second cake and repeat. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers.

6. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

For the chocolate buttercream:

1.    Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.

2.   Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes.

3.    Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.

4.    Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.

5.    When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

For the caramel topping:

1.   Line a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper or silpat. Have an offset spatula or large metal spoon standing by.

2.   In a non stick skillet over medium heat, begin heating the sugar without stirring. Watch closely for slight melting and golden brown around the edge. Then begin stirring. Stir constantly until smooth and a deep amber color, taking care not to burn the sugar.

3.  Pour the sugar onto the lined baking and immediately spread into a thin layer. Allow to cool and harden. Break into small pieces with your hands and sprinkle over frosted torte.

4.  Chill torte until ready to serve.

51 Comments

Filed under cakes, chocolate, Project Food Blog

Ready…GO!

Go-to recipes.

These are the ones that never fail to impress. The ones you return to time and time again. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I don’t have many go-to recipes. I want to try new things, not make the same thing over and over. This actually upsets my poor husband, who will fall in love with something I made and then pout and whine…

I’ll never get to have this again! ::insert red face, trembling bottom lip and pathetic whimper here::

Okay, okay. I get it. There are certain things you would like to see repeated around here, is that right Husband? Yes?  Now go sit in time out!

(I kid, I kid. He’s not THAT whiny. 😉 I’m the whiny one in this house.)

I suppose there are some recipes where a go-to would be appropriate. I think the perfect, chocolately, fudgey brownie would fall into that category. You just have to have it. Why? Because people love brownies, that’s why.

Ah, but beware, brownies can miss. Big time. We’ve all had a bad brownie at some point in our lives, right? It probably had really stiff chocolate icing and colored sprinkles on it. It may or may not have come from a box with a picture of a smiling child on it. I’m talking about the ones that are so sweet they make your teeth hurt. Or the ones that are so dense and underbaked, they’ve stopped being brownies and crossed over into fudge. And, of course, there’s the overly cakey brownie, which, if you want to get technical is not a brownie at all…it’s, you know…cake.

The brownie is a delicate balance between fudgey and cakey – a deep, dark chocolate flavor is preferable to that of just straight sugar. It should be rich and delicious enough to stand on it’s own without add-ins or frosting. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, they have their place, but I’m talking about a go-to recipe here in purest sense of the word. That is, you don’t have to mess with it…it’s just THAT GOOD on it’s own.

I have been using the same brownie recipe for a few years now and it’s very good but when I needed a sweet treat to satisfy my chocoholic husband while I was out of town, I decided to try a different one. I spotted this recipe over at Jen’s blog Bakin’ and Eggs (One of my favorite blogs! Check out her great 68 days of Gourmet magazine series! 🙂 ) and I knew I just had to try them. These Chewy, Fudgey Triple Chocolate brownies stood out to me because I had everything I needed on hand and they’d be quick to make. That’s the recipe for a winner, if you ask me!

Good golly miss molly, these are so good they make me want to shout to the heavens in outdated slang. These brownies are the bees knees!! The cats pajamas! Groovy! Radical and totally tubular, dude! All that and a bag of chips!

Ahem. ‘Scuse me. 😉

I guess what I’m saying is…one bite and you will be a believer too! These brownies have it all. Great chew, unbeatable chocolate flavor and a great crinkly, flaky top that I can’t resist. They are the perfect balance of fudge and cake chock full of rich, dark chocolate. The texture is spot on. Eric loved these. So did I. I am pleased to announce I have a new go-to brownie recipe.

Alert the media!

CHEWY, FUDGY TRIPLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES (Recipe Source: Cooks Illustrated, May 2000 as seen at Bakin’ and Eggs.)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate , chopped
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into quarters
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (either Dutch-processed or natural cocoa works well in this recipe)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fold two 12-inch pieces of foil lengthwise so that they measure 7 inches wide. Fit one sheet in bottom of greased pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan. Fit the second sheet in pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. The foil overhangs will help you lift the brownies out of the pan.
  2. Place a medium heatproof bowl over a pan of almost-simmering water. Melt chocolates and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. Whisk in cocoa until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly. Alternatively, you can melt chocolates and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Cook on 50 percent power, stopping to stir ever 30 seconds, until mixture is smooth.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture; then stir in flour with wooden spoon until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared pan, spread into corners and level surface with rubber spatula. Bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35 to 40 minutes.
  4. Completely cool brownies on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. (You don’t have to promise you’ll try to wait…but try to try. You’ll end up with mush if you don’t. Believe me, I made this mistake. Now you don’t have to! Learn from your peers, friends. Learn.) Remove brownies from pan using foil handles. Cut into 1-inch squares and serve. (Do not cut brownies until ready to serve; brownies can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Rosemary Lemon Sandwich Cookies
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

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Filed under bars, chocolate

Cheering for Cherries!

Have you ever stumbled across a recipe you’re dying to try, only to realize the timing is completely off? Such a letdown, isn’t it? Pumpkin is not nearly as appealing in April as it is in October. The outrageously overpriced, hard, tasteless berries gracing your store shelves in January are in no way deserving of your dessert plate. It’s disappointing when the discovery of a recipe gem and the season in which to eat it just don’t match up. We live in a Google-induced, instant gratification kind of world these days…in all areas except for food.

Quick!  What’s the population of Terre Haute, Indiana? What’s the average lifespan of the common fruit fly? How many licks DOES it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

I could probably come up with the answers to all these questions in about 5.3 seconds. Except for maybe the Tootsie Pop thing…the world may never know on that one. 😉

But the only instant gratification you’re going to get when you find a strawberry recipe in January is to Google WHEN the strawberries are best in your area…and then sit back and wait for that day to come.

It’s okay to throw a quick tantrum before bookmarking the recipe and saving it for a rainy day when the ingredients are more appropriate. That’s what I usually do.

::whining:: But I want it nnnnnnnnooooooooowwwwwwwww!

Hi! I’m 3! Have we met?

Anyway, this happened to me twice this past winter around Christmas, when I opened up two separate cookbooks I received as gifts only to be faced with two recipes I just couldn’t wait to try – neither of which would be gracing our table for at least another 6 months or so.

Awwww, Man! Waiting.is.hard.

One of these recipes involves fresh sweet corn. Yep. Still waiting on that one. Only 7 weeks (or so) until sweet corn season! Not that I’m counting. I don’t wake up every morning and think about how we’re one day closer to sweet corn season or anything like that. Nope. I’m not THAT crazy.

Or am I?

Hm. Wonder if Google can help answer that question. 😉 Let me know what you find out.

The other recipe involves cherries. And ice cream. Cherries and ice cream didn’t make a lot in sense in December when this recipe fell into my lap. But now….ah, the snow and cold are gone, the sky is blue and the sun is shining…cherries and ice cream make perfect, harmonious sense.

Well, now you’re going to laugh at me, because I jumped the gun on this one. If I could have held out just a few more weeks, I probably could have made this delectable frozen concoction with fresh, delicious Michigan cherries. But instead…I used frozen.

I’m a little embarrassed by my false start here. I waited so many long months with the intention of using fresh cherries. I was going to lovingly pit and chop each one by hand. What happened?

Two weeks ago, the price tag on the  cherries at the store was still pretty steep. I got scared. What if they weren’t that great? I knew a frozen cherry was going to be ripe and sweet. I also knew I wanted this ice cream and I didn’t want to wait anymore. Frozen was going to have to do. Of course, just today, I opened my mailbox to find my weekly grocery circular only to discover – in giant font and pretty pictures – that cherries are on sale for a GREAT price this week.

Isn’t that always the way?

So what could elicit such a hasty reaction? What could make me dash toward the prize before the whistle blows?

Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry ice cream. With chocolate truffles. Oh yes. It happened.

Let me tell you how much I love this ice cream – frozen cherries and all. This is a smooth, creamy, nutty indulgence that’s just bursting with flavors and textures. This is a sundae in one scoop. It’s so good, it’ll make your knees buckle. (Okay, that’s a little overdramatic, but it is very good!)

The recipe comes from David Lebovitz, and although there are a lot steps and components, the end result is well worth the work. Toasted almonds are steeped in the milk/cream/sugar mixture, strained through a sieve and then squeezed to get as much of the nut oil and flavor back into the ice cream base as possible. Then cherries are simmered on the stovetop with sugar until they are cooked down, tender and render a thick, tasty syrup. The truffles are optional, but why in the world would you SKIP chocolate?

That’s what I thought. 🙂

They are made from a simple ganache that is finished with a bit of liqueur. The end result is a smooth ball of rich chocolate that stays slightly soft when frozen in the ice cream, making them easy to scoop through when ready to serve.

The almond ice cream base is mixed up with more toasted almonds for some crunch, the cherries, drained of the syrup and chopped, and the truffles. Yum. Crunchy nuts, juicy bits of fruit, smooth, rich chocolate. Savor it, my dear friends, and remember this little taste of summer in December when your ass is frozen to the seat of your car and cherry season is just a memory. It may help you get through some tough times ahead.

TOASTED ALMOND AND CANDIED CHERRY ICE CREAM (Recipe Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup well drained Candied Cherries, chopped (recipe follows)
  • Chocolate truffles (optional, recipe follows)
  1. Warm the milk, sugar, salt and 1 cup of the cream in a medium sauce-pan. Finely chop 1 cup of the almonds and add them to the warm milk. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. Strain the almond-infused milk into a separate medium saucepan. Press with a spatula or squeeze with your hands to extract as much flavor from the almonds as possible. Discard the almonds.
  3. Rewarm the almond-infused milk. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly add the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
  4. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir in the almond extract and stir until cool over an ice bath.
  5. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to directions. During the last few minutes of the churning, add the remaining 1 cup of chopped almonds. When you remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the chopped cherries and truffles. Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Candied Cherries (Recipe Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

Makes about 2 Cups

  • 1 pound cherries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 drop almond extract
  1. Remove the stems and pit the cherries. Heat the cherries, water, sugar and lemon juice in a large, nonreactive saucepan or skillet until the liquid starts to boil.
  2. Turn down the heat to a low boil ad cook the cherries for 25 minutes, stirring frequently during the last 10 minutes of cooking t make sure they are cooking evenly and not sticking.
  3. Once the syrup is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup, remove the pan from the the heat, add the almond extract, and let the cherries cool in their syrup.
  4. Before adding to ice cream mixture, drain for about 1 hour or until the cherries feel dry and sticky.

Dark Chocolate Truffles (Recipe Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

*Note: This is the full recipe for the truffles, which makes about 40 1/2 inch diameter truffles. I knew that would be way too much for one batch of ice cream, so I halved it and it was STILL too many truffles. I have half left in the freezer for another batch of ice cream (not that that’s a bad thing, I’m just saying!) The moral of the story, feel free to adjust this recipe to your needs.

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Congnac, rum or other liquor or liqueur
  1. Heat the cream with the corn syrup in a small saucepan until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it’s melted and the mixture is smooth. Mix in liquor. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Line a dinner plate with plastic wrap. Form little 1/2 inch truffles using two small spoons. Scoop up a teaspoonful of truffle mixture, then scrape it off with the off with the other spoon onto the plate. Repeat, using all the truffle mix. Freeze the truffles until ready to mix in.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: I came home with a load of goodies from the Wilton Tent Sale
Two Years Ago: Grilled Polish Sausage with BBQ Grilled Onions

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Filed under chocolate, fruit, ice cream

Bad Reputation

Guess what. I’m on to you. Yep. You have quite the reputation, don’t you? Yeah…I know your type. I’ve seen you ‘round these parts before….with your pots and pans – sporting that cute apron of yours. Some might even say people like you – you’re straight up trouble. You’ve got sugar, spices, butter and cream and you’re NOT afraid to use ‘em.

Among your family, you’re The One who Pulls Off Flawless Holiday Meals Wearing Pearls, Heels and an Effortless Smile.

Among your co-workers, you’re The One who Kills Everyone’s Diet Plans by Showing up on Monday with Piles of Homemade Treats.

Among your friends, you’re simply The Crazy One who Actually LIKES to Cook.

Does that sound like you? It’s okay. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, that reputation of yours can work in your favor…. Everyone knows the most effective way to win friends and influence people is to FEED them. 🙂

::evil laugh::

And you LOVE to feed people. You could spend hours – DAYS, even – shopping, chopping, stirring, straining, baking, boiling, toiling…all in the name of feeding people.

Then comes the day, and this day will come, when you are desperate need of something to feed to other people. You forgot about that work potluck. Your husband invites 6 friends over to watch the big game at the last minute.

The situation – is dire. Time – is slipping away. Panic mode – on.

Others throw up their hands in despair and result to store bought brownies and pizza delivery. But not you. You are SUPER WOMAN! Crusader of the Kitchen. Queen of the Cookie. Master of the Mixer!

And you’ve got a rep to protect! So what to do, in this a moment of great despair and darkness? How do you scale the impending mountain that is providing tasty, homemade food when there’s exactly NO time?

You take a small shortcut. All girls with this kind of reputation should have an arsenal of shortcuts in their possession. It’s the only way to stay sane. And since we’re kind of kindred spirits, you and me – seeing as we’re both keepers of this elusive foodie rep within our respective circles – let me share one of my favorite shortcuts with you.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars.

Got that…NO BAKE. No Bake is code for fast. And easy. No Bake means you can make these in pearls and heels before your shoes even start to pinch your feet. These bars…they WILL win you friends. They WILL influence people. And that sweet little rep of yours…will not suffer in the least.

No one has to know how easy they are. I won’t tell if you won’t!

These bars are my go-to Oh My Goodness I’m Panicking Because I Need to Bring Something and Have No Time recipe. They come together in a snap and people LOVE them. They taste just like a peanut butter cup or a buckeye without all that pesky rolling and dipping. Just press into a 9×13 inch pan, smother with melted chocolate, pop in the fridge for about an hour and cut into small squares. They are pretty rich so a little goes a long way. You can feed quite a crowd if you cut them small enough. People just go crazy over these! Can’t beat ‘em!

NO BAKE PEANUT BUTTER BARS (Recipe Adapted from: Verybestbaking.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 3/4 cups peanut butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, divided
  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 12 oz package Chocolate Chips (semi-sweet, milk, dark – whatever you like – I like milk here because it gives these a bit more about Reece’s feel.)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. Beat 1 1/4 cups of the peanut butter and butter in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, then graham cracker crumbs. Press evenly into prepared baking pan. Smooth top with spatula.
  3. Melt remaining 1/2 cup of peanut butter and chocolate chips in medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Spread over graham cracker crust in pan. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chocolate is firm. Cut into bars. Store in covered container in refrigerator.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Cool Scallion Yogurt Sauce
Two Years Ago: Bubbly Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Parmesan Panko/Basil Topping

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Filed under bars, chocolate, peanut butter

I’m (Not) Lovin’ It.

In the interest of being totally and completely honest, I’m about to post a recipe I’m not in love with. If there were some ominous watchful eye that would strike down anyone that tried to modify recipes from the original, I would not be making these again. They’re not worth being stuck down, that’s for sure!

Since that is clearly not the case, I’m blogging this recipe for two reasons. 1. Others might like it. Just because I don’t love it, doesn’t mean others feel the same way. And 2. I do believe certain modification could improve the final result.

The recipe: Banana Whoopie Pies. The reason I don’t love them: Well, the texture and the flavor to start out. Hm. Isn’t that what food is? Texture and flavor?

Let’s start with the flavor. Holy Rot Your Teeth Out, Batman! These are insanely sweet. Between the cookie part, the chocolate chips, the nuts and the filling, it’s just too rich for my blood. A little TOO delightful. TOO much of a good thing. I used my tablespoon cookie scoop to shape the pies and found even that size to be far too large. I could hardly finish one they were so rich. And the recipe suggests using a large scoop for the pies – whoa. I can’t even imagine.

And the texture. Now, I’ve never made or had a whoopie pie before so I’m not sure what I was expecting. I guess something a bit more cakey? Lighter than a cookie maybe? Obviously, I have no idea what I’m talking about. These were pretty dense and chewy – like making a frosting sandwich out of banana bread. The recipe calls for two cups of either whole wheat, white whole wheat or all-purpose flour. I used one cup whole wheat and one cup all purpose so I’m sure that attributed to the textural properties of the cookie as whole wheat flour does tend to make things denser. Then with the huge chocolate chips and the nuts, I just couldn’t fall in love with the final product. It was all too much.

Improvements. I think they can be made here. First, I’d nix the whole wheat flour. Maybe whole wheat flour and whoopie pies aren’t meant to be friends. That’s okay. A whoopie pie isn’t supposed to be a shining beacon of nutritional merit anyway.

Second, I’d cut back significantly on the amount of chocolate and use mini-chips instead.  I think minis would disperse more evenly throughout the batter and provide just a hint of chocolate –not overpowering chunks. I’d probably eliminate the walnuts too. I’ve never been huge fan of walnuts, but I thought I’d give it a try and see if I’ve changed my mind.

Upon further review, the answer is no. I have not changed my mind.

Walnuts, meet Cilantro. You two go stand over there and don’t touch any of the other foodstuffs. Thanks.

If you decide to give these a try, let me know! I’d be curious to see what others think. If you make any other changes, I’d like to hear about those too! One of these days, I’ll try these again with the changes I mentioned, but not today. I just can’t eat anymore whoopie pies. For now.

So there here it is, without further ado: A Recipe I Don’t Love.

But you might love it. 😉 You’ll have to let me know if I’m the crazy one! It’s entirely possible. Oh yes.

BANANA WHOOPIE PIES (Recipe Source: King Arthur Flour)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Cookies:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 medium to large) mashed bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups Whole Wheat Flour, white whole wheat or all-purpose
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk as needed
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional) – I omitted

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugars, and salt until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the bananas. Beat until mixture looks curdled. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  3. Whisk together the flour and baking soda; add to the banana mixture, mixing until evenly combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then mix for 1 minute more. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
  4. Scoop the dough by the quarter cup for large cookies, and by the tablespoon for small cookies. Allow plenty of space between them.
  5. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the tops spring back when lightly touched with your finger, and the edges are a very light golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring the cookies to a rack to finish cooling completely before filling.
  6. To make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Add just enough milk to make the mixture a spreadable consistency. Stir in the walnuts (if using).
  7. Spread the bottom of one of the cookies with the filling. Place another cookie on top of the filling, bottom side down. Press until the filling just reaches the edges. Makes 10 large or 20 small whoopie pies.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago:
Mushroom Rigatoni Bake – One of my favorites!
Soda Shop Cupcakes – How does a rich chocolate cake smothered in swirls of malted milk buttercream sound? Good, huh?

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Donut Stop Believin’

Raise your hand if you grew up in the Chicago area and vacationed on a lake in Wisconsin as a kid. Yep. Me too.

Is that a requirement for a proper Chicagoland upbringing or something? Is it written in stone somewhere? I’m thinking yes, because it seems like every family had a spot in Wisconsin they returned to year after a year. As a child of the greater Chicagoland metro area, thou shall:

  • Enjoy assorted field trips to the aquarium, planetarium and Art Institute.
  • Stop putting ketchup on your hot dogs by the age of 10.
  • Spend at least a week every summer “Up North”

See, it is written. 🙂

For as long as I can remember, my family went up to Northern Wisconsin for a week every summer to stay on Plum Lake.  At 4, at 11, at 18 there are pictures of me standing on the shore, smiling my wide “school’s out” smile. I look different in each one, but the background is frozen in time. My mom stayed on that very same lake every summer when she was a girl. The beach, the pier, the slanty, rugged cottages – everything looks exactly the same, whether it be 1960, 1990 or beyond. It’s pretty near and dear to our hearts to say the very least!

Here we are! Mom at Plum Lake circa 1962 and me around 1989. The best parts of these photos? Mom’s bathing cap. That.is.Awesome! Gotta keep that nasty lake water out of your hair! And my life jacket. Like I’m going to drown there in three inches of water. That whale is the best! I forgot about that thing… Thanks for pics, Mom and Dad!

Plum Lake is miles and miles from the hustle and bustle of the big city – under a dark, cool canopy of lush, green forests. Nestled among the trees is a beautiful, clear, sandy bottom lake and clusters of tiny cottages straight out of days gone by. A week at the lake was a week full of casting a line off the pier, boat rides and skipping rocks. A week full of sand in your bed, swing sets and drippy ice cream cones. Slamming screen doors, supper clubs, and small town shops. Salt water taffy, buckets of minnows and belly laughs.

And donuts for breakfast. Every.single.day. The best part of all! Hey, it’s okay on vacation, right? Waking up in the morning, watching the sun toss millions of tiny sparkles across the lake, and sinking my teeth into a soft, fresh donut was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

A tiny bakery in St. Germain was the source of this delicious bounty. Every couple days, I’d get up early and head to town with my mom. Once inside, I’d breathe in the heavenly aroma of sugar, butter and frying dough. Marveling at the piles of treats in the glass case, my stomach would begin to grumble. Choosing was always the hardest part! These were some seriously good donuts. Me personally? I was partial to the cake donut with chocolate icing (they slathered it on nice and thick too. No wimpy, tasteless, crumbly glaze here. There were TEETH MARKS in the icing after you took a bite. Now that’s what I’m talking about!) and the apple fritters bursting with juicy bits of real apples and drenched in glaze that stuck to your fingers and lips.

Up North. What a great place to be a kid. And eat donuts.

It’s been about 10 years since I’ve visited Plum Lake but I’d really like to get back there someday to carry on the tradition with my own kids. Maybe I’ll even have a donut or two while I’m there, considering I can’t even remember the last time I had one.

See, donuts are just not real high on my list of acceptable foods to eat. Apples, broccoli, brown rice. Acceptable for every day. Fried dough covered in sugar? Not acceptable for every day.  Personally, I think it’s kind of hard to find a good donut – not to mention all the unnecessary calories – so that’s why I tend to avoid them. And since I don’t fry at home, I don’t see homemade donuts in my future any time soon.

Instead, I’ll just rely on these baked donut muffins to curb any fried dough cravings. I spotted this recipe over at Elly Says Opa! and have had it saved for a while just waiting for that donut craving to hit. Not saying these are healthy by any means, but baked usually beats fried. It’s like scissors to paper, if you will. These are so easy to make and really do mimic the flavor profile of a cake donut – soft, moist with just a hint of spice. The chocolate glaze makes them just a little bit naughty while still remaining mostly nice. 😉 And who can resist colored sprinkles?? Not me! They may not be the same as the real thing I remember so fondly from my childhood, but they’re a good grown-up stand in. 🙂 Eric had a hard time deciding if they were breakfast or dessert. I told him, it’s okay to swing both ways. 😉

CHOCOLATE GLAZED DONUT MUFFINS (Recipe Source: Originally adapted from: Elle’s New England Kitchen, as seen at Elly Says Opa!)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Muffins

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • scant 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1-1/4  tsp. vanilla extract

For the Glaze

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp. corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a standard muffin tin.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt cinnamon, nutmeg and all spice in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with the canola oil, butter, milk and vanilla with an electric mixer until well blended. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, combining gently by hand until just moistened.
  3. Spoon the batter in the prepared muffin tins and bake for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely.
  4. To make the glaze, combine the chocolate chips, butter, corn syrup and vanilla extract in a double boiler (or in a stainless steel or glass bowl over some simmering water). Stir until the chocolate is melted and everything is incorporated.
  5. Dip the tops of the muffins into the glaze and immediately top with sprinkles, if using. Makes 12 muffins

ENJOY! 🙂

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Happy (Official) St. Patrick’s Day!

As I was making these Guinness Cupcakes, I couldn’t help but think of St. Patrick’s Days gone by.

See, I never think of March 17 as the day for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The parties, the shamrocks, the green beer – all that happened well before the actual day on a charming little holiday known as Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day. Or more simply: Unofficial.

One word. One day. One extremely bad idea.

It all started back in the 90s when a tavern owner in the University town of Champaign, IL decided his establishments were missing out on a lot revenue when the drinking holiday to end all drinking holidays fell over spring break when the students were away from campus and spending their beer money in tropical paradises instead (or if you’re like me, you didn’t have any beer money, let alone tropical paradise money, so you likely spent your St. Paddy’s Day marking down clearance fleece at Old Navy.) So, he came up with a little event he dubbed Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day. The Friday before Spring Break (not the Friday everyone left campus for break, the Friday before that) he would open his bars at 8:00 a.m., dye his kegs green, encourage everyone to put their Irish game faces on, and come party.all.day.long.

Needless to say, the students liked this idea. A lot. So did the other bar owners. They joined in the fun, also opening their doors bright and early and slinging green beer. And so, Unofficial became the highlight of the UIUC social calendar. A full day of drinking, fighting, vandalism, property destruction, emergency room visits and stomach pumping! YES!

Where do I sign up?

In all seriousness though, I liked to have a good time as much as the next person in college, and I’m not saying I never did anything kinda stupid – sure I did! Who hasn’t? But I never actually participated in the Unofficial festivities in all their glory. My freshman year, I wasn’t old enough (have to be 19 to get in the bars in Champaign, I was still 18 at the time.) Sophomore year, I think I went home that weekend for some reason.

Junior year, I had a particularly difficult exam scheduled that day. Partying before exam = FAIL. Just ask the people who were kicked out of the test and given a zero. They’ll tell you ALL about it. Then senior year, I had a job interview. In St. Louis. So, needless to say, I missed out on most of what many UIUC students would say is the best day ever. Meh. My junior and senior year, I got to go have a green beer or two in the evening and that was all the Unofficial fun I needed, really. Those nights usually ended up pretty low key, as the people that had been at since 8 a.m. were no longer upright and/or conscious. Made for a nice evening with friends! 🙂

My green beer days have been replaced by days of cleaning and cupcakes. And that’s okay. I’m all old and responsible now so I can deal. Somewhere along the lines I just naturally transitioned from bars to bleach and from pints of beer to cups of cake. HA! It was so effortless, so seamless and quick, I didn’t even notice! How can that be?

I can still have a rockin’ good time though. Oh yes. And I still enjoy a few libations every now and then – nothin’ wrong with that! I’ve already declared my love for booze in cooking and baking – so St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to reminisce about those crazy college days, reach behind the bar and make a loaded cupcake.

These Chocolate Whiskey and Beer cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen would certainly fill the void left by the spilled green beer and wayward cigarette burns of party days gone by. And do a much better job at it too! I ended up taking a few shortcuts to make the process a bit quicker without sacrificing the flavor. Or the alcohol.

I decided to skip the whiskey ganache filling. As delicious as that sounded, I just wasn’t feeling the extra steps and extra ingredients. So instead, I made the Guinness chocolate cupcakes and piped on a chocolate Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting instead of the Bailey’s buttercream. All the taste, but a lot less prep! They turned out great! The cake was super moist and had a great warm, almost malty flavor we really enjoyed. The frosting was to-die-for! LOVED it. Chocolate and Bailey’s is a match made in heaven! All in all a great St. Patrick’s Day treat!

CHEERS! 🙂

GUINNESS CUPCAKES WITH CHOCOLATE BAILEY’S FROSTING (Cake Recipe from: Smitten Kitchen. Frosting inspired by Smitten Kitchen but adapted from Hershey’s.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

For the Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons of milk (more or less as needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners.
  2. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 17 minutes.Rotate the pans front to back once halfway through baking.  Cool cupcakes on a rack completely. Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.
  4. Make the frosting: Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and Irish Cream/milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups frosting.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Pineapple Butterscotch Bars – a different combination that’s surprisingly delightful!

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Black Bottom Cupcakes…

You make the rockin’ world go round!

I channeled Freddie Mercury making these cupcakes. 🙂 All afternoon, I was singing about taking them home tonight and enjoying them beside the red firelight and how these sweet treats make the rockin’ world go round. Maybe we should just call these the QUEEN of all cupcakes.

ANYWAY. Black bottom cupcakes that make the rockin’ world go round. What are they and why should you care? Well, maybe they should make whoever came up this idea QUEEN for a day because it is GENIUS. Rich and tender chocolate cake surrounds a sweet, creamy, chocolate-studded cream cheese center.

Um. I’m listening. You had me at cake.

I kind of found this recipe by accident. It was meant to be! Last weekend, I grabbed a different cookbook out of the cabinet where I keep them in a jumbled, messy pile super neat and organized and my Jack Daniel’s book fell out. On my foot, actually. But that’s a different story. After I was done cursing, I looked down to see that the book had fallen open and this recipe for Black Bottom Cupcakes appeared. I picked it up and started reading. Turns out, I had everything I needed to make them on hand, including a bottle of Uncle Jack’s special sauce. Ah! I knew what I was baking that afternoon!

These are super easy to make and a chocolate lovers dream. I loved the warmth and spice the JD adds. The cake part is not overly sweet, so the cupcakes don’t seem super rich with the addition of chocolate chips. My only beef with the recipe is that it says it makes 18 and I only got 13. Yes, I baked one lonely cupcake all by itself in a big old pan. LOL. I probably over-filled my cups, which I tend to do. What can I say, I’m a giver when it comes to cupcake batter. I would not recommend filling the cups three-quarters of the way full…half may be a good place to start.

BLACK BOTTOM CUPCAKES (Recipe Source: Jack Daniel’s Spirit of Tennessee Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs. vinegar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Beat together first 4 ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl. In another bowl, stir together whiskey, water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until combined.
  4. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 (or maybe half…) full with batter. Drop 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture into the center of each.
  5. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until tester inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Makes 18 cupcakes (if you’re lucky. ;))
  6. Store leftovers in the fridge, but bring to room temp before serving. Or just eat ’em cold. They’re good like that too! 🙂

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Later: Apple Peanut Butter Crumble Bars – I INVENTED these. Yes. Really. I was going to work with this recipe a bit more to work out some kinks but I haven’t yet. I need to get to that!

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New Decade, New Directions

Hello 2010! Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since we wondered if Y2K was going to wipe out life as we know it.

My computer will think its 1900! There were no computers in 1900! Will my computer blow up because it thinks it doesn’t exist?! Oh no! I’m playing MYST and halfway through! My life’s ruined!

More shockingly, of course, is that 2010 marks 10 years since high school. Whoa. There will probably be some kind of Class of 2000 reunion this summer. Wonder if I’ll go… Last time I got an alumni newsletter (Yes, my high school sends out an alumni newsletter. And I fully elected to let them find me so I get one. LOL.) no one had stepped up spearhead the dang thing. Hm. Knowing my class, that does not surprise me in the very least. Ha.

Plan the 10 year reunion? Eh. I’ll let someone else handle that. Hand me another beer.

I can see one problem with this decade already. Raise your hand if you’ve already uttered the word “Oh-Ten.” You know, ’08, ’09, Oh-10. I totally have. Can you say embarrassing? Also, will you say Twenty-Ten or Two-Thousand-Ten. I’ve already found myself saying two-thousand-ten, but when you think about it, that really makes no sense. I mean, I don’t say I was born in the year one-thousand-nine-hundred-eighty-two. So by default, to say two-thousand-ten is wrong, correct? But on the other hand, how many people would have looked at you funny if you went around saying twenty-one in two-thousand-one? That’s what I thought. (10 year) Old habits die hard. So yeah.

ANYWAY! Looking back at the last 10 years, I almost can’t believe all the stuff that’s happened. This decade, I think, has defined me as a person more so than any other of my life so far. Obviously, in the 1980s, I was just a wee babe and toddling tot and whiny kid. In the 1990s, I was a scrawny, skinny, stringy-haired, knobby-kneed preteen with coke bottle glasses. (Can Mom swoop in with the photo proof here too? LOL. On second thought, just take my word for it.) Then I was a shy, insecure high school student with a fondness for chunky shoes and zits.

At the start of the 21st century, I was 17, about to graduate, and really looking forward to the next stage of my life. Armed with an acceptance letter to UIUC, a 9 month supply of Accutane and new outlook on life, I decided to throw caution to the wind and STOP worrying so much about what other people thought. New millennium, new me.

And now, 10 years later, I can see how far I’ve come. I still have a long way to go, obviously. Still learning, still growing. Every single day without fail. I like it that way. Keeps thing interesting. But in the last decade, I went off to college. College is scary. And hard. I met some of the very best friends a girl could ever have. I watched with millions as the world changed forever on 9/11. I had the best time of my life, struggled harder than I ever had before, and had my heart shattered for the first time.

Then I met this boy. THE boy. This adorable, sweet, amazing, farm-raised Mechanical Engineering student from a tiny town I had never heard of. And I fell – head.over.heels. in love with him. We spent a year dating, having a crazy, amazing time with all our friends, and falling madly in love. Graduation came quickly. The real world was calling like Grim Reaper ready to zap the fun out of everything.

So I did something a little crazy. I followed him to Iowa. Was I super-duper excited to move from the bustling metropolis that is the greater Chicagoland area to a small city in Iowa? Hm. What do you think? But it didn’t matter. His real world (ahem, job) had brought him here, and, gosh darnit, I wanted to go to! So, five years ago this very week, we packed up a U-Haul full of hand-me-down furniture and headed west.

These years here in Iowa have been a test for sure. I was jobless and broke when we got here. Took a job selling clothes in the Junior’s department at a department store. When I got burned out on that, I moved on to the next crap job I could find – telemarketing. Yes, I was ONE OF THEM. That lasted about 4 months before every hang up and expletive I received felt like a dagger in my poor, soft, sensitive heart (I cried a lot. True story.) In the midst of all that, he put a ring on it! Ah! Our wedding was by far one of the best days of my life so far. Picture perfect spring day in Chicago. All our family and friends there. One helluva party. People talk about it to this day!

And we bought a house! A small, ranch-style starter home of our very own. We learned about radon and how it must be mitigated…less sucking down carcinogens is your bag, baby. 😉  And we learned how much a new roof costs. And that seashell and birdhouse and southwest wallpaper borders are really hard to scrap off. And that if you stuff a half a pound of old taco meat down the garbage disposal and the kitchen sink overflows, it’s YOUR responsibility to call a plumber, put your life on hold while you wait for him to come and, of course, PAY THE MAN. Kinda miss that landlord after that first bought of the dreaded “unexpected home repair,” huh?

Not that I ever did that or anything….

Um. Moving on!

Toward the end of the decade, having gotten that pesky getting-married-buying-a-home part of adulthood all taken care of in my early twenties, I was FINALLY ready to get a Big Girl job. Farewell, Folding T-Shirts. Too-da-loo, Telemarketing. Ta-ta, Temping! And I did. In the end, it didn’t work out. Although it was difficult, I am eternally grateful to have even had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the folks I did. I learned so much and grew so much from that experience, I don’t regret a single second of it. A new job came relatively quickly, and I found myself settling comfortably into a perfect work/life balance.

And now, here we are, at the dawn of a new decade! I’ve got my hubby by my side who still gives me butterflies just like he did when we first met. We’re still having a blast every single day. Still learning from each other and growing with each other every day. I’ve got this humble little blog which is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. It’s the perfect place to share recipes, swap stories and just be me. This blog certainly wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the adventures of the last 10 years! Thank you, thank you for sticking with me! I can’t wait to see what the next year brings. I have a few things in mind, a few adventures up my sleeve, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what they are!

So, what triggered all this nostalgia? Besides, the obvious new year, of course. Believe it or not, it was these super cute Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes! We were headed to a New Year’s Eve gathering and I wanted to make a sweet treat to take along. I figured everyone would be tired of cookies (I’ve still got holiday cookies to blog! I’ll get to them soon!) so I went in search of something else. Bite-sized is always best for big groups, so I made the cheesecakes in mini-muffin tins.

I had to find something to press my crusts into the pan and I grabbed an one of our old college shot glasses. It totally made me laugh when I realized how I had repurposed an item used almost exclusively for college parties to fit into my Suzie Homemaker lifestyle. Shot glass? Nope. Cheesecake crust press? YES! Perfect!

So. The cheesecakes. These are a peanut butter batter dotted with chocolate ganache. And the crusts? How about a bit of a salty bite with some crushed pretzels? Mmmm. Really, just about anything that can be crushed into fine crumbs and mixed with melted butter can be a cheesecake crust, so get creative.

I really liked the salty/sweet combo here! And they were a hit at the party. Rich, chocolaty with just the right kick of saltiness. YUM! These were a bit denser than other cheesecakes I made, probably because of the peanut butter, but since they are just one little bite, I didn’t mind that here. I used regular peanut butter because that’s what I had on hand, but the original recipe uses natural. That may help improve the consistency of the cakes, so I’d use that if you’ve got it.

The one thing to note is to be careful not to overbake the crusts their first go-round in the oven. Be especially careful if your pan is darker. One of my mini-muffin pans has a darker coating on it and my crusts got way too dark after only five minutes in the oven…so heads up!

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKES (Recipe adapted from: Amazing Dessert Recipes)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup finely crushed pretzels
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature (add 1 more yolk if you like a lighter cheesecake)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 mini-muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Combine pretzels, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Mix to moisten the crumbs. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the pretzel mixture into each cup. Press each crust into the bottom with a shot glass. (Bonus points if the glass has your Alma Mater on it!)
  3. Bake the crusts for 4 to 6 minutes, just to make sure they hold together and get a tiny bit of color on them. Set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a large mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Scrape down the bowl and beat a bit more. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined after each addition.
  5. Spoon cheesecake batter onto prepared crusts, filling about three quarters of the way full. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until set. (Note: Mine did crack a bit, but since you’ll be covering the tops…no worries. No one has to know!) Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Heat cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form along the edges. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth.
  7. Spoon about a teaspoon of ganache onto each cheesecake. Refigerate for at least two hours before serving. Garnish with a pretzel piece just before serving, if desired.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: After I published these Chicken Parmesan Calzones, I saw my first real “spike” in hits on my blog. Aw, memories. 🙂

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Upon Further Review…

How do you feel about recipe reviews? All the major online recipe sources offer a place for home cooks everywhere to share their experiences with a particular recipe. It’s like a great big kitchen table for all of us to talk shop about food. They can be helpful and enlightening.

But how much can you really conclude from recipe reviews? If it has a whole bunch of glowing, positive reviews with maybe just one or two stinkers thrown in – do you assume the people that didn’t like it must just lack the skills to do it up right? You do, don’t you? Ha. I totally do. If 683 people think the recipe is awesome and one person doesn’t…well, you gotta wonder about that odd man out.

Or what about those reviewers who change just about everything before deciding the recipe sucks? Don’t you hate those? I do. They kind of make me want to reach through the computer screen and give the writer a virtual throat punch. “I didn’t have flour or sugar,” reads a one-star review, “so I subbed pencil shavings and grass clippings. It tasted terrible. This recipe stinks, don’t waste your time.”

Wow. That’s very helpful. Thank so much, Oh Sultan of the Substitution. Thank goodness we all have your infinite wisdom to save us from this the Recipe of Doom. ::eye roll::

But what if a recipe has an equal number of positive and negative reviews? What to do? How to proceed? Make the recipe? Move on? It’s a pickle, I tell ya!

When I was deciding on what to make for my holiday treat trays this year, I decided I wanted to do three old standby recipes and two new ones. When I saw these citrus butter cookies from Melissa d’Arabian show up in my inbox thanks to Food Network’s 12 Day of Cookies, I was immediately smitten. Love citrus. Love butter. What’s not to like?!

The problem? The reviews were mixed – like total 50/50. Some people loved ’em and some not so much. Hm.

Perhaps in my younger, less confident days I would have shied away from this recipe based on the reviews. But I decided I was a slave to the reviews NO MORE. If I wanted to try something, then by all means, I should try it…and NOT let a couple of Negative Nancys spoil it for me. I was making these cookies.

With a few minor adjustments, of course. Ha. Adjustments I knew would work. First, I made all my cookies orange instead of separating the dough and doing orange, lemon and lime. I did this to: A) save time and B) because I like orange. 🙂 And since I was giving all of the cookies away, I dipped each one in chocolate (some semi-sweet, some white) instead of making the chocolate sauce.

Now, I can see where people may have had difficulties with this recipe. First and foremost, these cookies spread. A lot. I tried everything to keep them from spreading. I chilled my cookie sheets (per the recipe instructions), I chilled my dough. I chilled the dough after piping it on the cookie sheet. No luck. Still spread. It’s okay though…because they are really, really good! And all you have to do to keep from getting large, misshapen cookies is to cut a smaller hole in your baggie before piping. If the piped dough looks too thin, it’s probably just right to get a nice shape on your cookie.

Also, it’s essential that you do not overbake these babies. As customary with butter cookies, overbaking leads to a dried out, crumbly mess. Keep a close eye on them…they’ll go from not quite done to over done in a blink of an eye. Get them out of the oven at the right time and you’ll have a delicate, tender, slightly crisp cookie with just the right kick of citrus. Heavenly.

For the record, if you’re still on the fence, I had a couple of recipients tell me these were their favorite out of the whole bunch. So take that Negative Nancys. HA!

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ORANGE BUTTER COOKIES (Recipe adapted from: Melissa d’Arabian – FoodNetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Dash of salt
  • Finely grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together with an electric mixer until creamy.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat until just blended. Stir in orange zest.
  4. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip, or a sturdy plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe the dough in 2-inch long strips, about 2 inches apart, on a cold unlined baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.
  6. Melt both chocolates in either the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip half the cookies in the semi-sweet chocolate and half in the white. Place each dipped cookie on a sheet of wax paper. Allow chocolate to set completely before storing. Yield: About 60 cookies.

One Year Ago: We rang in 2009 with Alton’s Baked Mac and Cheese. Mmm. Cheesy New Year…

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