Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cheesecake Cookies

Earlier this month, my department had its annual holiday party and team building event. Instead of doing a Secret Santa exchange, we decided to all write down our favorite drink, appetizer and dessert. Then, we all randomly picked a piece of paper and had to make or buy one of the items on the list. Now this is my type of gift exchange! Of course I got the one with the dessert I don't make - cheesecake! You see, I can't give something to someone without it being homemade. It's just against my cooking religion. I was so torn and going back and forth on what to do. I was drowning in final projects and preparing for finals week and just couldn't find the time to research what to do. I even asked my husband if he would make a cheesecake (he makes the BEST cheesecakes EVER), but it was too short of notice and I really wanted to have the time to learn from him. Ugh. Baking problems!

Then a miracle happened. I sat down for a few minutes and came across how I could still make a cheesecake, but in a different form. And one that would not take two days to make or take hours for the cream cheese to soften. That may be why I don't make real cheesecakes. I am impatient and can't wait hours and hours (and more hours) for the cream cheese to soften. But that's a whole other story. Nevertheless, I came across a fabulous recipe for cheesecake cookies! I had looked for something like this before, but nothing looked this good or was even close to what I needed. How did I not see these before? They were literally cheesecake cookies. The cookies have graham cracker crumbs in batter and are filled with a cheesecake filling. They are pretty much a cheesecake thumbprint cookie that is out of this world delicious. And they taste just like cheesecake!

A cookie that taste like cheesecake and is easier to make than cheesecake? Heck yes. These cookies really are simple to make and a whole batch was made and baked within 40 minutes. Now that's what I'm talking about. The batter is simple to make and the best part, no chilling the dough. A lot of thumbprint style cookies require you to chill  the dough for a least an hour after making it, if not more. No one has time for that. At least I don't. I want cookies now! Once the dough is all ready to go, you scoop it out and make an indentation in the top to hold the cheesecake filling goodness. While a thumb works pretty well for this part of the process, I would recommends using a measuring teaspoon. This seemed to give me a good size indent and didn't cause cookie dough to get all under my nails. Win win. I would also suggest saving a bit of graham cracker crumbs for here. Before you indent the cookie, dip the teaspoon in the grahams. This way, the cookies won't stick and you can get them all done in a flash! That's just my two cents though. Flour or brown sugar would work just fine here too.

You can enjoy these cheesecake cookies just as they are or fancy them up a bit. You can top them with a cherry pie filling, drizzle with caramel or chocolate or even add fresh fruit of your choice. How good would chopped strawberries be on these? Mmm. No matter how you enjoy these wonderful cookies, you are sure to love them. I know my secret santa cheesecake cookie recipient did!

mmm, cookies!

Cheesecake Cookies (slightly varied from My Baking Addiction)

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 1/2 sticks softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, separated
4 ounces of softened cream cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray well with non-stick spray.

In a stand mixer, add the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. About three minutes. Then add in the egg white and mix until combined. Once mixed well, add in the graham cracker crumbs flour and baking powder. Once the batter is ready, you'll need to make the filling. In another bowl,. add the cream cheese and sugar and mix until it's nice and creamy. Then add in the egg yolk and vanilla and mix until combined.

Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop out the dough leaving about an inch between cookies. Once you've scooped out all the cookies, you'll need to make an indent in the tops to hold the cheesecake filling. You can use your thumb or a teaspoon. Then, fill each of the cookies with the cheesecake filling. Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes or until the filling is just set and the cookies are slightly browned on the top. Enjoy!

Cheesecake in a cookie form? Heck yes!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Candy Cane Vodka

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that I totally failed to share this candy cane vodka with ya'll three days ago. Oops. Between getting home after vacation and actually unpacking my suitcase (instead of waiting two weeks to do it), I completely forgot. Please forgive me. By the way, did you know that the day after Christmas is National Candy Cane Day? I wonder why it's not the 25th. That seems like the perfect day, doesn't it? Nevertheless, since it's still the holidays and candy canes are everywhere to be found (and now even cheaper as stores are trying to clear their shelves for Valentines Day sweets!), you need to make this super amazing holiday treat. It's literally just candy canes and vodka. Nothing else. Seriously. Candy canes and vodka!

One of my super sweet classmates this semester told me that she makes all kinds of flavored vodka with a variety of candies. Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, etc. It got me thinking - what could I make that was extra holiday-y? I did a quick search online and low and behold, candy cane vodka. I wondered if it was really as easy as it said it was, and let me tell you, it was! The hubby and I have several handles of vodka left over from our wedding so this was the perfect opportunity to try something new and festive for quick and easy holiday gifts. I ran to the store and bought a ton of candy canes. Handfuls and handfuls of candy canes. I think the lady behind the register at our local grocery store thought I had gone crazy with a cart of candy canes. Once I had the candy canes at home, I literally got a big jar (I used a gallon size Mason jar), filled it with vodka and then plopped in the candy canes. The hardest part about all of this was unwrapping those darn things. For some reason, the tops always seemed to break! I thew everything in, closed up the jar and in just a few hours, the candy canes dissolved and created a wonderful flavored vodka. 

The more candy canes you add, the more flavorful it will get, but the minty level is up to you. This vodka can be enjoyed over ice by itself, mixed in to make your favorite holiday cocktail or my favorite way to enjoy it is in hot cocoa. Hello deliciousness! No matter how you enjoy it, it's too easy not to make and everyone will wonder how you did it (and you don't have to tell him just how easy it was!). How easy was that? Now I am channeling my inner Barefoot Contessa.

The first time I made this, I used peppermint candies. It worked, but make the vodka look more like Pepto Bismol!

Candy Cane Vodka

Jar or container (with a lid!) large enough to hold the vodka and candy canes
1 bottle (750 ml) of your favorite vodka
10-12 candy canes (more if you want it really minty, less if you want it not so minty)

Pour vodka into a large jar. Unwrap candy canes and place in the jar. Seal the jar and give it a little shake. Let sit for one to two hours, or until candy canes are dissolved. Enjoy!

This candy cane vodka is also amazing in coffee to give it a little bit of extra holiday cheer!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Overnight Cranberry Eggnog Coffee Cake

You know it's the holiday season when the eggnog comes out. Creamy, delicious, nutmeggy eggnog. And this overnight cranberry eggnog coffee cake is the perfect holiday morning breakfast treat. There is always something a little extra special about Christmas morning and this coffee cake fits that bill. Even better, you can make it the night before so all you have to do is pop it in the oven before everyone gets up or while everyone is opening gifts. I love anything you can make ahead and this recipe is just perfect. I never ever would have thought to do coffee cake over night, but this recipe has changed my mind. There is something that happens to the batter that makes it so moist and dense. But in a good way of course. It's the perfect holiday coffee cake.

To get this coffee cake started, you'll need the basic coffee cake ingredients, plus a few extra special things - eggnog, dried cranberries and orange zest. Those three things take this coffee cake over the top to holiday special goodness.  Oh, that and the eggnog glaze that is poured over the crumby top after it has baked to perfection. Mmm, eggnog glaze. Just give me a spoon! Okay, back to coffee cake. Once the batter is made (please try not to eat it all before it goes in the pan), you'll spread it out in to a 9x13 prepared pan. You can use butter and flour to prepare the pan or non-stick spray. I use the latter, but it's up to you and what you like. Once the batter is in the pan and all ready to go, you'll need to prepare the crumb topping. To me, this is the best part, but I am a crumby person. Some people don't like crumbs. Those are strange people. The crumbs are just flour, butter, sugar, cinnamon and nuts. If you don't like nuts or are allergic, you an leave them out. Top the batter with the crumb mixture and then cover with plastic wrap (or a lid, if your pan has one) and place in the fridge overnight.

When you wake up in the morning, all you have to do is remove the plastic wrap and/or lid and place in to a 350 degree oven. In about 35 minutes, your home will be filled with the best holiday smell ever. And the best part, you had to do little work in the morning to get it all ready to go and can spend more time with your family and loved ones. Once the cake has baked and cooled for about 20 minutes, then you can pour the glaze all over the top. I doubled my glaze (I really like glaze), but this is up to you. Also, make sure to use teaspoons of eggnog and not tablespoons. I am not sure I was fully away the first time I made this and wondered why the glaze was so darn runny. Oops. Thank goodness I caught it before I poured it all over the top.

Once the cake is glazed, it's ready to diving in and enjoying. This coffee cake could not be more perfect and is wonderful for the holiday season or when you have guest over. Easy. Delicious. Wonderful. Now that's my kind of coffee cake. Here's to wishing you wonderful coffee cake a very merry holiday season!

Mmm, eggnog!

Overnight Cranberry Eggnog Coffee Cake (slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

For the Cake:

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup eggnog
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
¾ cup dried cranberries

pinch or two of nutmeg (if you want your coffee cake a bit more eggnoggy)

For the Streusel:
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans (or any nut you prefer)

For the Glaze:
½ cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons eggnog

pinch or two of nutmeg (if you want your glaze a bit more eggnoggy)

Prepare a 9x13 baking pan with non stick spray or butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the eggnog, sour cream and vanilla extract. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar with the orange zest. Using your fingers, work the zest into the sugar until all of the sugar is evenly moistened. Add the butter and cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the eggnog mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. (The batter will be thick.) Using a rubber spatula, stir in the cranberries. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and spread into an even layer.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Work the butter into the mixture using your fingertips or a pastry blender until it is completely incorporated, then stir in the chopped pecans. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over batter. Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the pan from the refrigerator while the oven heats. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes. While the coffee cake cools, in a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and eggnog until smooth; drizzle over cake. Allow the glaze to set for about 15 minutes, then serve warm or at room temperature. Leftover cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to five days or so. Enjoy!

This coffee cake is sure to become a family holiday favorite!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Saltine Toffee

Disclaimer: This saltine toffee is highly addictive.

This saltine toffee is one of the most amazingly strange holiday treats ever known to man. I kid you not. Who would have ever thought that you could make toffee with saltines. Right? Let me just say that once you make this, you won't go back to making toffee any other way. It couldn't be simpler (no candy thermometer needed!) and it takes only 20 minutes to make from start to finish. And depending on your oven size and number of pans you have, you can make two batches at a time!

Okay, so let's get to it. Here is what you will need to make this incredible and addictive toffee - saltines (of course), brown sugar, butter and chocolate chips. As for the saltines, don't use the fat free ones or unsalted ones. I tried that and it just didn't taste right. Go for the regular 'ol saltines in the cracker isle. I also highly recommend using non-stick foil. I know I've mentioned it before, but it's seriously the best thing ever. You can find it right next to the regular aluminum foil. If you don't use this or don't want to buy it, make sure to spray your foil with nonstick spray. Otherwise, you'll never get the toffee off. Maybe you will, but it may have little bits of foil on it and no one wants to eat foil. At least I don't.

Once you have all your ingredients ready to go, line your cookie sheet with foil. Make sure the foil goes up the edges just a little as the toffee mixture will bubble up the sides a bit. Once the pan is all ready to go, line up saltines side by side until the entire pan is covered. If you need to break up some of the saltines to fit in the areas that don't have any. Broken up pieces are just fine. It doesn't have to be pretty, just cover up the foil. Then, add the butter and brown sugar to a pan on the stove. Heat until all melted and bubbly. Pour the mixture over the saltines to coat them all. You may need to use a spatula to spread it out a bit, but it does not need to be perfect. Then comes the part where it gets all its toffee goodness - place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes. Once the time is up for the oven, pull the pan out and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let those sit for about five minutes and then spread it all out to coat. At this point, you can leave the toffee as is or add whatever toppings you like. I like to add crushed saltines on top, but you can add toffee chunks, sprinkles, any kind of chopped nuts, or candies such as mini m&m's. 

After you've added whatever toppings you like, let the pan cool for 30 minutes and then place in the fridge to harden up for at least an hour. I like to leave mine overnight, but sometimes it's hard to wait that long. I told you this stuff was addictive. Once it's all set and hardened up, remove the foil from the toffee and break up in to chunks. At this point you can just shovel it in to your mouth or place it in tins or bags to give away as a wonderful gift anytime of the year. It's so easy to make and something that is now part of my annual holiday treat making extravaganza. In fact, I am almost certain I've made over 10 pounds of this stuff already this season! What are you waiting for - get in there and make this saltine toffee today!

So toffee-y, so delicious!

Saltine Toffee (my wonderful coworker, Jan)

30-45 saltine crackers (or however many you need to fill your cookie sheet)
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter 
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
Toppings, as desired (toffee bits, crushed saltines, candies, nuts, etc)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet (or 9x13 pan) with foil. If you are not using non-stick foil, spray your foil with cooking spray. Place the saltine crackers in a single later on the foil and if needed, break some of the crackers to fit the areas where a whole cracker will not fit. Little pieces of cracker are okay, but try not to overlap too much.

Once the pan is ready to go, melt the butter and brown sugar in a pan on the stove over medium heat. Once everything is melted, boil the mixture for 1-2 minutes and then pour evenly over the saltine crackers. You may need to spread it over the crackers to get it totally coated. Then, place in the oven for 10 minutes, until hot a bubbly. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Allow the chocolate chips to soften up for about five minutes and then spread in to an even layer. Add toppings at this point, if using.

Let the pan cool for about 30 minutes and then place in the fridge for at least an hour or until set. Once toffee is set, remove foil, break up in to pieces and enjoy!

This toffee will last for about two weeks at room temperature or int he fridge for several weeks. But, it will probably be gone before before you can say saltine toffee!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

As the weather begins to get colder and the rain starts falling, it's time to start pulling out the soup recipes. In fact, the hubby and I have made Sunday "soup Sunday". It's a pretty good winter tradition if you ask me. We've been trying lots of new soups and reinventing some of the ones we love. While browsing through one of my favorite blogs, Handle the Heat, I came across a fabulous Turkey Pot Pie soup. It jumped out at me 1. because it was soup Sunday and 2. my husband has been craving pot pie for weeks. As much as I love a good crust, I wanted to see if this soup would give me all the flavors of pot pie, but without having (or without missing) that flaky and buttery crust. Ooh, that buttery crust. Yum. But I digress.

The best part about this soup is that it takes only 30 minutes to make. No joke. This is super fast soup. Or maybe it's souper fast soup. Now that's funny. Okay, back to the soup. This soup starts off with garlic, onion, celery and carrots in a big pot with a little bit of butter. Once all of the veggies are softened, you add in diced potatoes, fresh sage (mmm!) and then salt and pepper. Give it a good stir and then add in chicken broth and a bit of water. Let all of those flavors do their thing for about 10 minutes while the potatoes get nice and soft. Once the potatoes are cooked, add in the shredded chicken (or turkey if you have it) and half and half.  Just a bit to give it some creaminess, but not too much. Of course you can add more, if you want it extra creamy and rich. Give the soup a few more minutes to warm through and you are pretty much ready to go. If you are feeling extra fancy, now is the time to add a few handfuls of frozen peas. If you add them too soon, you'll get pea mush. Yuck. They just need a minute or two to heat up and your soup is ready to enjoy. Pot pie perfection!

This chicken pot pie soup is so flavorful, creamy and souper satisfying. It's literally pot pie in a bowl! The only thing that would make this soup better (if that is possible) would be a cheesy garlic biscuit to dunk in it. Don't worry, I made those too and the recipe is coming soon too! And they are so cheesy delicious and perfect for this soup.

soup + biscuits = love

Chicken Pot Pie Soup (slightly adapted from Handle the Heat)

1 tablespoon butter

1 small yellow onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cups shredded leftover chicken or turkey meat (rotisserie chickens are great for this soup!)
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat the butter in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook until softened. About 5-7 minutes. Add in the  flour and cook for about one minute. Then add the potatoes, sage, and pepper. Pour in 2 cups water and the chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for about 10 minutes.  Add the shredded chicken and half and half and cook until warmed through, about  five minutes. If adding in frozen peas, add them in now and let heat through for 1-2 minutes.

Add in the parsley and season with the salt. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary before serving.

This soup is souper good!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Honey Rosemary Roasted Walnuts

I know you all have been wondering where the heck I have been hiding, but let's just say that between grad school, getting married and work that I have not had much time to blog. Or sleep. Or see my husband. I promise to go into all the wonderful details of our wedding soon (I know you want to here all about!), but today is all about walnuts. Yummy, buttery, nutty walnuts. 

I recently bought a HUGE bag of walnuts and although I usually go through them in a heartbeat with all my holiday baking, I wanted to do something different this year. I wasn't sure how, but I wanted to do something a bit more savory. I love my sweet treats, but you have to have something salty and savory to balance it all out. As my husband would say, it's all about moderation. Maybe that was more about eating the treats. Oops. Nevertheless, these honey rosemary roasted walnuts are a must make and they couldn't be simpler. Let me tell you all about them.

All you need is walnuts, olive oil, a little cayenne pepper (just a pinch), honey, rosemary (fresh or dried) and salt and pepper. I ended up using dried rosemary because that's what I had in my pantry. And to be honest, I had already gone to two stores looking for fresh and both were out. Ugh. I was not about to go to a third when I knew I had dried. Also, if you are worried about the the cayenne, it is just a bit. I was worried it might be too much of a kick in the nuts, but you barely noticed it was there. Promise. Once you have gathered all your ingredients, you literally mix everything together and then bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Your home will fill up with the most heavenly aroma while the nuts bake. A little savory. A little sweet. A lot of deliciousness. 

Once the nuts come out of the oven, you will want them to cool before you enjoy them. Hot nuts are not good nuts because they will burn your tongue. That's not fun. Once the nuts are cooled, you can bag them up for gift giving, enjoy them as a snack or bring them to your next dinner or party for a yummy little appetizer. They are so delicious and are guaranteed to be gobbled up in a jiffy - go nuts!

feeling nutty?

Honey Rosemary Roasted Walnuts (Alaska from Scratch)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dried rosemary (or 2 tablespoons of fresh, minced)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups walnut halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, rosemary, cayenne, pepper and salt. Add the walnuts in to a larger mixing bowl (enough to hold the nuts) and then pour over the oil and spice mixture. Mix enough to coat all the nuts well.

Line a cookie sheet with non-stick foil (if you use regular foil, make sure to spray it with non-stick spray such as Pam). Then spread the walnut mixture in a single later. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the nuts are hot, golden brown and your home is filled with the delicious scent of honey and rosemary.

Serve the nuts warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

If you allergic to walnuts, pecans, almonds or cashews can be substituted. This recipe also doubles and triples really well!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Nutella Brownies

Dear lordy, has it really been almost three months since I blogged? 

That's embarrassing. Really embarrassing. But then again, I am hoping ya'll can forgive me because I've been exhausted from last semester (I still feel like I am trying to catch up on sleep), work has been crazy (but good!) and I've also been planning my wedding. On top of that, we are still working on our house and my last year of grad school started. I guess you could say that I've been a little busy. Nevertheless, I have still made time for cooking and baking, but you already knew that. So get ready. Here we go!

I will be the first to admit that there hasn't been a brownie that I have met and didn't like. And trust me, I've eaten and made a lot of brownies in my lifetime. Here are just some of the ones I have made:
  • Ghiradelli brownies (only the best boxed brownie ever - and my sister would agree!)
  • Protein Brownies (made with PB2!)
  • Cadberry creme egg brownies (layered with creme egg filling and topped with chocolate!)
  • Knock you naked brownies (a bunch of caramel and a surprise ingredient make these over the top)
  • Salted caramel brownies (there is something about that salt!)
  • Raspberry truffle brownies (there are chocolate truffles folded right into the batter - dangerous!)
  • Cookie dough stuffed brownies (enough said)
  • German chocolate brownies - (like your favorite cake, but in brownie form!)
  • Irish creme brownies (not just for St. Patty's day!)
  • Espresso brownies (don't eat these late at night!)
  • Brownies made in the crock pot (yes, you heard me right - crock pot!)
  • Roasted cherry brownies (seriously, so good!)
  • Black bean brownies (you'd never know they were made with beans)
That's all I can remember for now, but I am sure there are more. I told you I like brownies. You can make them in so many forms, there is a brownie for everyone! 

I recently came across a coupon sent by one of my local grocery stores for $2.00 off a jar of Nutella. I first contemplated even buying it. Why you may ask? Well, every time I opened the pantry, that jar would be saying, "eat me, Christina, eat meeeee!". As long as the jar isn't opened, I am good, but still, there are some days where I just want to stick a spoon in there. For all of you that have had Nutella, you know what I am talking about. I knew that $2.00 coupon was too good to waste and since it was already on sale, I had to get a jar. Seemed like a logical reason to me, no? Then came the hard part - what to make with it. Of course you can eat it right from the jar (which I am sure most people do), but I wanted to try to add it to something. And not just slapping it on to a piece of warm toast. Boy does that sound good though.

It finally came to me - Nutella brownie. Duh. Why did not think of this sooner?! Especially considering I had a bite of one just a few weeks ago. So good! These are a must make. Especially if you can avoid eating the whole jar of Nutella with a spoon. And no, I don't do that. Maybe just a spoonful or two. Maybe. Maybe not. 

Nutella Brownies (Just Add Sprinkles)

  • 8 ounces Semi Sweet Chocolate (chips or if you use a bar, chop it up!)
  • 1/2 cup Butter, cut into chunks (makes for easier melting!)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3  Eggs 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 cup  Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 cup Nutella
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch or 9x9 inch baking dish with parchment paper (or non-stick foil), set aside.

  • Using a microwave (or double boiler, if you want) on low setting, combine chopped semi sweet chocolate and butter. Allow chocolate and butter to melt completely, stirring regularly to get the chocolate and butter to fully combine. Once chocolate mixture is completely melted and combined, stick chocolate in the fridge (keep it in the same bowl) for a few minutes to cool the chocolate.

  • In a separate bowl, combine cocoa powder, flour and salt. Whisk or sift ingredients together so there are no clumps of dry ingredients. Set aside.

  • Remove chocolate mixture from fridge. Add in sugar, mixing until thoroughly combined. Chocolate may be gritty from sugar. Add in eggs and vanilla extract, mixing completely. Slowly add in dry mixture and continue stirring. Batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl as it thickens up. Add in Nutella and fold it into the batter until fully combined. Be patient, this may take a few minutes and arm muscles!

  • Pour batter into the prepared baking dish and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes. Brownies are down when a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Brownies may seem super soft but will set as they cool. Allow at least 20-30 minutes of cooling time before serving and remember, these brownies are extremely moist, thick & fudgy (the best kind of brownie!). When ready to serve lift up sides of the parchment paper and transfer to a cool surface to cut into squares. 

  • Want to take these brownies to the next level? Serve them with vanilla ice cream, chocolate drizzle and fresh berries. YUM!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake Cookies

As soon as I laid eyes on these Texas chocolate sheet cake cookies, I knew I had to make them. In fact, I could not get them off my mind. I'm not even kidding. One of my favorite bloggers, Christina Lane over at Dessert for Two, posted a picture of her making these on her Instagram page and I was hooked. Like, I ran to the kitchen, made sure I had everything to make them (of course I did) and starting whipping them out. I kid you not. I don't joke around about cookies. Especially chocolaty cookies. Chocolaty cake like cookies with thick chocolate icing. Oh my my. 

These cookies could not be easier or faster to make. They may be the bestest, fastest cookie ever! Don't trust me. Well fine then. You'll be missing out and don't come crying to me. Was that mean? My bad. Nevertheless, to make these cookies, you'll just need a few simple pantry staples - butter, flour, salt, an egg, baking powder, vanilla and chocolate chips. See, told you. Simple. You'll also need powdered sugar, milk, cocoa powder and a dab of butter for the ooey gooey icing. I am literally salivating just thinking about it. To start on the cookies, you cream the sugar and butter (just like any other cookie recipe), add the egg and all the other ingredients. Lastly, you'll drizzle in the melted chocolate. At this point, the batter will be thick. You'll want to take a big spoon to it, but please try to resist. It will be all gone if you start. Trust me. You'll scoop out the batter (I used my 1.5 tablespoon scoop, but you can use whatever scoop you have or just eyeball it) and bake for 7-8 minutes. It's VERY important to not over bake these cookies. You want them to look just about set and then pull them out. If you cook them any longer, they will be dry. And no one likes dry cookies. 

Once the cookies are all made and cooled, now it's time for the icing. It's almost as easy to make as the cookies, if not easier. I was not kidding when I told you these cookies were easy to make. Here goes the frosting. In a medium size pan, combine the butter, cocoa powder and milk over medium heat. Once everything is melted together and mixed well, stir in the powdered sugar until combined. You'll want to eat this with a spoon too, but again, try to resist. Remove the pan from the heat and drop spoonfuls of the frosting over each cookie. As you drop the icing on, the cookies should be coated as it drips over the top. Oh so good! The cookies take a bit to set up, but once they do, they are amazing. They are tender, cakey (but not dry!) and that icing just takes them over the top. I can't even begin to explain how good they are. You just have to make them for yourself to find out. Once you do, you'll be hooked like I am.

Texas Sheet Cake Cookies (Cookies and Cups and Dessert for Two)

Makes approximately 20 cookies


½ cup butter, room temperature 
⅓ cup granulated sugar 
1 egg 
1 tsp vanilla 
1 tsp baking powder
 ½ tsp salt 
1⅓ cup flour 
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted 


 ½ cup butter
 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
 3 Tbsp milk
 2½ cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350° 

Line baking sheet with parchment or silicone mat, set aside. In bowl of stand mixer beat butter and sugar together until light, scraping sides frequently. Add in egg and vanilla and continue mixing until incorporated. Mix in baking powder and salt. Turn mixer to low and slowly add in flour. Dough will be thick. In a microwave safe bowl heat chocolate chips on high in 30 second increments until melted, stirring after every 30 seconds. Mix melted chocolate directly into cookie dough until evenly mixed.  Drop dough by a measured tablespoonish sized mounds onto baking sheet. Bake for 7­-8 minutes until cookies just appear set. They will still be very soft on the inside. DO NOT over bake!! Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

In a medium saucepan combine butter, cocoa powder and milk over medium heat, whisking until melted together. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar. Pour icing over cookies and allow icing to set before serving. Enjoy!

Everything is bigger better in Texas. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Great Grandma's Mandarin Cake

A couple of weeks ago, my mom, sister and I set out on an adventure to visit my grandma and great grandma in New Mexico. It was kind of a last minute trip, but I was so excited to go - not only because school was done for the semester, but to see family who I had not seen in over 15 years. Ya, I know that's bad and far too long to not see your grandma or great grandma. Nevertheless, the trip was just a few short days, but we got lots of family time in, took lots of pictures and saw a lot of long roads in New Mexico - it was a three and half hour drive to where they lived from the Albuquerque airport! 

Besides hearing all the great stories my great grandma told us, I knew I had to ask her - what is your favorite dessert. I knew she love (and I mean LOVES ice cream), but I knew there had to be something else. As soon as I asked her, she stated without hesitation, mandarin cake! I had no idea what in the world that was. Of course I could guess. A cake with mandarins, right? Well, I was partially right. Great grandma didn't have a recipe, but she knew exactly what was in it. I looked it up on my phone, because that's how I look up everything these days, and bam. There is was. Mandarin cake. Just how she described it and all of the ingredients she mentioned. Darn is she good. And boy was she shocked on how I could find it in just a few seconds. Thank you iPhone.

Now, I am about to tell you all about this recipe and how to make it. Be warned - it comes from boxes and cans. I was kind of against it at first, considering how I like to make things from scratch, but I knew I couldn't fight it. I had to make it the same way great grandma had made it. Here is what you'll need:

1. One box of yellow cake mix

2. Eggs and oil
3. A can of mandarin oranges
4. A can of crushed pineapple
5. A large container of Cool Whip
6. One box instant (must be instant!) vanilla pudding

See what I mean by the ingredients. Boxes and cans. But, I guess that's how they did it in the 50's! The best part about this cake (besides it tasting so good!) it's literally dump and go. Seriously! You mix the yellow cake mix, eggs, oil and whole can of mandarins (juice and all - no draining here). At this point, you can make it easy on yourself and just pour in to a 9x13 pan or, if you want to get fancy, into two 9 inch cake rounds. No matter how you bake it, the cake will be just as delicious. Once the cake is baked and cooled, you then whip up the "frosting". You dump the can of crushed pineapple (juice and all!) into a bowl and then mix in the vanilla pudding. The most important part here is that you must let it sit for at least five minutes. This will allow the pudding and pineapple juices to do their thing. AKA thicken up. If you leave it for a little longer, that is fine too. Once you've let it sit for about five minutes, then fold in the cool whip. Just make sure the cool whip is soft and has defrosted in the fridge. You can not mix it all in smoothly if it's still frozen. Just a heads up. The "frosting" will be a bit soft and loose, but don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. That's how it should be! If you are frosting a 9x13 pan, just spread it all on over the top. If you are frosting the two rounds, put some in the middle, top with the other round and then cover the whole thing up with the rest. There may be extra frosting left over, but that's okay. you don't have to use it all. And if there is extra, it goes really well as a dip for nilla wafers or graham crackers. I did not just tell you that.

The only hard part about this cake is the waiting. Once you've frosted it, the cake must go to the fridge to chill and firm up for at least two hours or overnight. I say overnight is best, but if you want to dig in after two hours, by all mean, you go for it. This cake is so simple to make and everyone (and I mean everyone) has raved about it. I've made it two times in the past week and people go crazy for it. It's light, slightly fruity and so delicious. Next time you are looking for a quick and easy cake or something to bring to that summer get together, keep this cake in mind. You won't regret it and your friends and family will love you for it!

Mandarin Cake (the one, the only, Great Grandma)

10 oz box of yellow cake mix
11 oz can mandarin oranges, with juice 
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
16 oz container of frozen whipped topping, such as Cool Whip
20 oz can crushed pineapple, with juice
3.4 oz box of instant vanilla pudding (not cook and serve!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Great and flour (or use non-stick spray!) two 9 inch cake pans or one 9x13 baking pan. In a mixing bowl, combine cake mix, mandarin oranges (and juice, don't drain!), eggs and oil. Mix well for two minutes and then pour in to your desired baking pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. If using 9 inch cake pans, cool for five minutes and then turn out cakes on a cooling rack. If using a 9x13 pan, let cake fully cool in pan.

While the cake is cooling, mix the canned pineapple (juice and all!) and vanilla pudding mix. Let the mixture sit for five minutes to allow it all to thicken up. After five minutes, gently fold in the whipped topping. Just make sure it's defrosted so it's easy to mix in. You'll have too many lumps if you try to fold it in frozen. Once the frosting is ready, frost the cake as desired. Once the cake is frosted, place it in the fridge for at least two hours, or even better overnight, to firm up and let the flavors combine. Enjoy!

I am willing to bet that this cake will become a summer favorite!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Weeknight Bolognese

I recently came across this weeknight bolognese recipe while looking through my stack of cookbooks trying to find something new to make for dinner. Hello Barefoot Contessa! Her cookbooks are the best, especially her "How Easy is That?" cookbook. If you don't have it, you should definitely should. Ryan is always challenging me to use my cookbooks (since I have so many and I keep buying more, oops), but sometimes I just get stuck in the rut of making the same thing or a slightly different version of something I have made before. Although those are all great meals, they can get boring over and over again. At least I think so. Here comes weeknight bolognese to the dinner rut rescue! This dish takes about thirty minutes to make from start to finish, yet your family or friends will think you spent hours making it. Trust me here. It's that good. This dish starts off with browning ground beef (simple, right?) and then adding in garlic, oregano, and wine to get all those brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Still simple, right? Don't let those brown bits go to waste! You'll then stir in tomatoes and tomato paste and let simmer for just a few minutes. Just don't drink all the wine before you get to making the dish. I know that can happen. And no, I did not do that. At least not this time.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a pot of water to boil (with plenty of salt - just think salty like the ocean!) so that you can cook your noodles while you finish the bolognese. Once the mixture has simmered and the flavors have started to come together, add a splash of cream, a little more wine and fresh chopped basil to the sauce. Let the sauce simmer a little more while the pasta finishes cooking and then toss both the sauce and the pasta together. Oh, and don't forget to mix in some fresh parmi cheese too. That totally makes the dish. Not that it wasn't amazing before. This just makes it that much better. I promise.

The best part about this 30 minute meal is that you can make this any day of the week. Just because it says "weeknight", doesn't mean you can't make it on the weekend. Just saying. I have been known to make this during the week and on the weekend. I've made it for just Ryan and I and I've made it for family and friends when they come over. It's so versatile! Serve this pasta dish with a simple salad and big glass of red wine and you are good to go. Simple. Easy. Delicious. Keep this recipe in your back pocket for those times when you need a quick and easy, super yummy dish in under 30 minutes!

I bet you wish the screen was scratch and sniff.

Weeknight Bolognese (Barefoot Contessa)

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. lean ground beef 
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1¼ cups dry red wine, divided
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 lb. dried pasta (I love
Pinch of ground nutmeg
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving!

  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Crumble the ground meat into the pan.  Cook until no longer pink and starting to brown, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add 1 cup of the wine to the pan and stir, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
  • While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining ¼ cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and ½ cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.
So easy. So delicious. How easy was that?!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Red Wine Brownies

These red wine brownies are the richest, fudgiest (is this even a word?) brownies you will ever have. I am not kidding you. I recently had half a bottle of red wine left over from making another recipe (weeknight bolognese coming soon!) and I needed to do something with it. Of course I could have had a glass or two of wine, but you know me. I wanted to cook something with it! Call me strange, but it's true. I've had my eye on red wine and chocolate cupcakes, but I just didn't want to have a dozen cupcakes calling my name and saying "eat meeee". Because I would so eat them. I'd eat them all. Okay, not all of them, but more than I should have. I have a wedding dress to fit in for peets sake.

These brownies are a nice change from your favorite brownie. There is just something about the wine and chocolate that make you go "hmmm". You don't really know it's there (unless you told someone), but there is something different about them. Good different, of course. They are super easy to mix up for a quick dessert or if you are craving brownies, but they are fancy enough for a special occasion or to give away as a gift. You know me, I am always gifting treats and one that has wine, even better! Just make sure you do not over bake these. If you do, they lose their fudgy goodness and be a little dry. No one wants a dry brownie. At least I don't. I'm sure you don't either. The next time you are looking for a super yummy (and quick and easy!) dessert, promise me you'll try these. Red wine + chocolate = heaven.

Red Wine Brownies (Butter Me Up Brooklyn)

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup red wine
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (mini or regular can be used)
For the glaze:
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons red wine
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter an 8×8 pan and spray with non stick spray or line with nonstick foil. Set aside.
Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugars and vanilla. Whisk in the chocolate mixture and then the wine. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and stir until the batter is smooth and has thickened slightly. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a tester comes out mostly clean with just a few crumbs attached. You may need to bake the brownies for a few minutes more, but set your timer for 15 minutes and then hang out in your kitchen for the last few minutes of baking time just to make sure they don’t over bake. An under baked brownie is better than an over baked one.
While the brownies are baking make the glaze. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water until melted. Add the butter, wine and salt and whisk until smooth. Pour the glaze over the warm brownies and spread it to the corners so the top is evenly coated. Cool completely and enjoy!

These red wine brownies will change your life.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Parmesan & Thyme Crackers

Making your own crackers may seem like a daunting task, but I promise it is not. Especially when it comes to these little parmesan and thyme crackers. I was going through all the cookbooks in my kitchen looking for something fun and exciting to make, and came across this cracker recipe. I knew it might not be the best idea to make (considering I would probably eat all of them in one sitting - I'll be the first to admit, I have no self control), but since some friends would be coming over for dinner, I thought they would make a nice little nibbly bit for them while I was making dinner. Plus, these crackers take only five minutes to whip up and they only take just a few ingredients - many of which are probably already in your kitchen. 

All you will need to make these crackers is flour, butter, parmesan cheese, thyme, black pepper and salt. See super simple, right? I would have told you if it was complicated. You literally mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until combined. No extra bowls needed here! Once everything is combined, you'll want to place the mixture on a piece of plastic wrap, roll into a log and then place in the fridge to firm up. You can place this in the freezer to speed this part of the process up, but just don't forget it about it in there. You'll never cut through that frozen butter and cheese without cutting yourself. Trust me. It's not safe. Once the cracker log has chilled, you will want to cut it all up in to cracker like sizes, about 1/2 an inch thick. There is no specific way to do this, but just don't go too thick or too thin. Especially not too thin. Then your crackers will burn. Burnt crackers are not yummy crackers. Especially burnt cheese crackers! Unless you are in to that kind of thing.

Bake these little cheese delights at 350 degrees for 22 minutes and your house will smell better than it ever has before. No joke. As the crackers bake, your home be filled with the most heavenly cheesy aroma. Yikes. I am starting to salivate. These crackers are so easy to make and so impressive. People will really think you spent all day making them. Little do they know that they were a piece of cake cheese to make. These crackers make a great little snack or a great homemade gift (especially when you give them with a bottle of wine!). Just try not to eat them all in one sitting. Trust me, you'll be able to if you aren't careful. They are that deliciously addictive.

making homemade crackers is my new favorite thing!

Parmesan & Thyme Crackers (Ina Garten)

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1¼ cups all-purpose flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for 1 minute. With the mixer on low speed, add the Parmesan, thyme, salt, and pepper and combine. With the mixer still on low, add the flour and combine until the mixture is in large crumbles, about 1 minute. If the dough is too dry, add 1 teaspoon water.
Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 9-inch log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the log into 3/8-inch-thick rounds with a small, sharp knife and place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 22 minutes, until very lightly browned. Cool and serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

If you thought Cheez-Its were good, get ready for these!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Where Have You Been Lately?

Well, what can I say - I have been MIA since the end of November with not even a blog post in sight. You all have probably been wondering where the heck I ran off to or what has been going on in my life. I really should have posted something sooner to let you know I would be taking a few months off my blog, but life got so incredibly busy that I just never had the time. Oops. So, you want to know what has been keeping me away from blogging and sharing fabulous recipes with you? Here we go!

As many of you know, I am currently working full time and perusing my MBA in Finance. Working full time and going to school is definitely not easy, but taking three classes this semester (instead of two) is a whole other ball game. Let me tell you. I don't even know how I find time to try out new recipes, but of course, I do. My typical days goes something like this - up at 5:30am, study before I leave for work, work from 7am to 4:30pm then class 6-9pm and finally home, showered and in bed by 10pm. Repeat that three days a week. Holy moly! Not to mention I am the girl at work who spends a lot of her lunches working on homework or catching up on reading at her desk. Plus, weekends are typically booked with group projects on campus or working on other school related items. At least the groups I have been working with make projects fun, so it's not too terrible spending all of Sunday in the library. But see, I told you there wasn't much time for anything else. The good news is, the semester is over in three weeks and I will be back and blogging. My phone is full of fabulous photos and I can't wait to share some of the things I have been making. My groups this semester have been sampling all of these goodies - they are taste tested and approved! I know you will love them too.

Let's see. What else happened. Oh, some rather sad news, but it's another reason why I have been kind of MIA. At the end of September, my first ever dog passed away, Lucy. Last February, Ryan and I adopted an older black lab mix from the local SPCA. Even though she ate parts of the house (boy oh boy did she have separation anxiety) we worked though it all and she was such an amazing girl. Lucy loved to play ball (especially with soccer balls, although she would end up popping them after a throw or two), swim until she was exhausted and of course, chasing squirrels and always be around you. She was the sweetest dog you'd ever meet and she loved everyone! Sadly, five months after we adopted her, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. Due to the speed in which her cancer was progressing, there wasn't much we could do other than spend another few weeks with her and keep her as comfortable as possible. Those next few weeks weren't easy and boy was it hard to let her go (I never knew how much you could fall in love with a dog in such a short period of time), but it was the best thing we could do for her. Lucy is no longer in pain and she is now in a place where she can run free and always look after us. She will always have a very special place in our hearts and we think about her often. We love you Lucy girl!

Okay, enough sad stuff. I promise, there is no more of that in this post - promise! Ryan and I are continuing to work on our house (it's a never ending project with our busy schedules), but something BIG happened in early February of this year. WE ARE GETTING MARRIED! I know that some of you know this story, but for those that don't, hold on tight. Let me tell you what happened. Seven years ago, Ryan attempted to fly me to Boonville for a romantic lunch. Not more than 10 minutes up in the air did I get sick all over. Like missed the bag and got it all over me. Not romantic. I kinda forgot to tell him I have a little motion sick issue. Oops. Seven years later, he tried to take me to Boonville again and this time, I made it! And even better, I got a sparkly surprise when we landed. I had no idea this was even coming, despite one of my coworkers having a feeling it might happen. I was just glad I landed and did not get sick! Since that day, we have been wedding planning like crazy. Between working all day and school all night, it doesn't leave much time to book DJ's, rentals or find a caterer. We've picked our place and date and October 17th can't come fast enough. Especially now that I've found the dress. Yes, yes, I said "yes to the dress!".

So, that about covers it all. Work, school, and wedding planning. Life for this girl has always been a little crazy, but this year, it's a lot more so. One more year until graduation. Six months until I'm married. A lifetime full of laughter, love and friendship ahead. Thank you to everyone that has supported me though all the ups and downs these last six months have brought me. I could not have made it through everything with out my friends, family and most importantly, my fiance (I can't believe I get to call him that now!!).