Thursday, December 12, 2013

Minty Hot Cocoa Mix

What with the weather getting colder, it's definitely reaching hot cocoa time.  Not to mention, it's also Christmastime and I love making treats to give to all my friends.  So, when I saw this Peppermint Crunch Hot Cocoa Mix featured on the Secret Recipe Club, I just knew it would make the perfect gift.

I did a little taste-testing with it and, as a result, changed the recipe up a little.  I left out the cinnamon and increased the cocoa powder by half to make it more chocolatey.  Also, I used Andes mints instead of the peppermint crunch.  The result was the most delicious hot cup of cocoa I've ever had that did not come out of a Swiss Miss box.  

Who in the world knew that making cocoa mix could be this easy?  Okay, fine, I'm sure you all knew, but it was a real eye opener for me.  While I can't say that I'll never buy my cocoa from a grocery store again, I do know that I'll be keeping some of this on hand, at least during the holidays.  I also have no doubt that the person I give this to is going to love it as much as I did. 

Minty Hot Cocoa Mix (inspired by Adventures in All Things Food)

3 c. sugar
3 c. nonfat instant dry milk powder
1 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
Andes mint candies, chopped
mini marshmallows

If you're using a more granular type of dry milk powder (see Note below), run it through a sieve to break up the lumps. 

Combine the dry milk powder with the sugar and cocoa powder and whisk to combine.  I also like to run it all through a sieve.  Layer the cocoa mix into jars with the chopped Andes mints and the mini marshmallows.

To make:  Combine 1/4 cup of the mix with 3/4 cup of hot water.    

Note:  If you buy the Carnation brand of instant dry milk, the powder is much finer.  If you buy the Wal-mart brand of dry milk, it'll be more granular and you'll have to break up the lumps. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Spicy Garlic Green Beans


With Christmas coming up, I know my family will be wanting to have green bean casserole.  I, on the other hand, like my green beans to be fresher, lighter, and healthier (i.e. no creamy soup, fried onions, etc.).  So, the idea of green beans that are dressed up with only garlic, lemon juice, and chili pepper (my favorite) totally appeals to me.  Which is why I had to try this recipe out after having my eye on it for so long. 

I love that they're so quick to make - just a couple minute blanch in hot water and then saute everything all together.  What surprised me was that the garlic wasn't overpowering at all (even with six cloves of it).  I did end up cutting the amount of chili flakes in half and it was more than enough to give it that kick.  All in all, I ended up with a dish that was tasty, healthy, and full of beautiful bright color.  Maybe I can convince my family to forego the green bean casserole with this recipe.  One can hope.

Spicy Garlic Green Beans (adapted from What Gaby's Cooking)

1 lb. green beans, ends trimmed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
lemon juice

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Drain the green beans and set aside.

In a large heavy bottom skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 minutes until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the green beans and mix everything together, making sure the garlic is evenly distributed amongst the green beans.

Squeeze a little lemon juice over the green beans and enjoy. 


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ginger Crunch Bars - Secret Recipe Club

Have you ever seen Leigh's blog, Chit Chat Chomp?  It's got such a warm, homey, comforting feeling to it.  Looking at the pictures of all the delicious things she makes, you just can't help but sigh in contentment and happiness.  I definitely had fun looking through her recipes.  

I just love the holiday season.  The pretty lights, the cheerful music, and, of course, the treats with their seasonal spicy flavors.  That's why I picked her Crunchy Ginger Slice for this month's SRC.  They are perfect for this time of year - minimal ingredients, super quick and easy to throw together for any party, and the gingery flavor just has Christmas written all over it. 

The only change I made was to increase the amount of ginger powder in the cookie base.  Also, since I didn't have any golden syrup, I substituted with a 50/50 mixture of light and dark corn syrups.  I think the icing was the best part of these cookies.  I don't even know how to describe it.  It's like a ginger candy/caramel that's sweet and sticky, but melts in your mouth.  Simply lovely.  I dressed up the finished bars with some Christmas-y sprinkles and now they're all ready to share with my friends.

Thanks Leigh for a sweet holiday treat!  

Crunchy Ginger Slice (adapted from Chit Chat Chomp)

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened

Ginger Icing:
1/3 c. butter, cut in small pieces
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. dark corn syrup
2 1/4 tsp. ginger powder
3/4 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.  Cream the butter with the sugar.  Add the flour, ginger powder, and baking powder and mix until well combined.  Press the mixture into a parchment paper-lined 8x8 pan and bake for 35 min., or until golden and firm to the touch.  Set aside.

To make the icing:  Place the butter, corn syrups, and ginger powder in a saucepan over medium heat and cook for 2-3 min., or until butter is melted.  Add the powdered sugar and whisk to combine.  Pour icing over the cookie base.  Chill for 1 hour or until set. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Peppermint Bliss Bark - SRC

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned to Wendy's blog, The Weekend Gourmet.  I had a lot of fun browsing through her recipes and, although I saw some tasty-looking pasta recipes, I kept finding myself drawn back again and again to her Peppermint Bliss Bark.  Who can blame me?  One look at hers and you'll see it's stunning.  Not to mention, it's HER original recipe (genius).  So, I bring you Christmas in November.

This bark is so quick and easy to make.  No cooking, no baking, and very little prep time.  I think I whipped up the whole thing in less than an hour.  In fact, the most time-consuming part of it was crushing the peppermint candies.  Seriously, I do not know why someone has not thought to sell peppermint candies already crushed.  Bakers all over the world would be grateful.  I made short work of it though by putting them in a ziplock bag, putting it onto a paper bag in my driveway, and pounding on it with the end of a small dumbbell.  Whatever works, right?

I did make a couple changes to the recipe.  First, I tempered my chocolate so that I wouldn't have to worry about keeping the bark in the fridge to prevent it from melting.  Then, instead of using mini Oreos, I crushed up some regular sized ones since that's what I had.  Otherwise, it was Wendy's way all the way.

Let me tell you, this bark is perfect for the holidays.  It's not only beautiful but absolutely delicious.  There's a little crunch from the cookies, a little chew from the marshmallows, and a lot of chocolatey-minty goodness in every bite.  I loved that the peppermint flavor wasn't too overpowering and that the bark itself wasn't overly sweet like other storebought ones.  I've never made chocolate bark before, but you can bet it's going to be a new holiday tradition from now on.

BTW:  I took some of this to work and it disappeared fast!  They loved it!  

Thank you Wendy for giving me a great idea for Christmas.  Loved the bark!

Peppermint Bliss Bark (adapted from The Weekend Gourmet)

2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. mini marshmallows
1 c. crushed Oreos
1 c. crushed peppermint candies
1/2 c. white chocolate chips

Melt 1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips in the microwave.  Remove from the microwave and stir in the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips until completely melted.  Add mini marshmallows, Oreos, and 1/2 cup peppermint pieces.  Stir gently to combine.

Spread the mixture evenly on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Melt the white chocolate chips and drizzle over the top.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup peppermint pieces.  Place in the fridge to help it harden quicker.  Once it's hardened, it can be stored outside of the fridge.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blueberry Muffins

For this month's SRC, I was assigned to Ewa's blog, Delishhh, which is the perfect word for it since everything she makes is sensational.  I especially loved looking at her Swedish recipes and still want to try making her Semla one day.  But, for now, I decided to make her blueberry muffins.

Not too long ago, I tried a different blueberry muffin recipe from another site and was extremely disappointed with how they came out.  Those muffins were way too dense.

Ewa's muffins, on the other hand, were sweet, fluffy, and bursting with juiciness from the blueberries in every bite.  They were delicious right out of the oven and just as delicious when they cooled.  I would definitely make these again, and again, and again.  Right now though, I'm off to go get some butter so that I can go and eat up the rest of the muffins in my kitchen.

Thanks Ewa.  Your muffins made for one yummy Sunday morning.

Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Delishhh)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest (I omitted this)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tbsp (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1¼ cups sour cream, plain yogurt or ricotta (I used 1 c. fat-free Greek yogurt + 1/4 c. water)
1½ cups fresh blueberries (I used frozen blueberries)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin (or line with paper liners) and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl untill combined. Whisk the egg in a separate medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until thick, about 30 seconds. Add the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions, whisking to combine after each addition. Add the sour cream/yogurt or ricotta in 2 additions, whisking just to combine, and then add the lemon zest.

Add the berries to the dry ingredients and gently toss just to combine. Add the sour cream, yogurt or ricotta mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until the batter comes together and the berries are evenly distributed, 25 to 30 seconds. Small spots of flour may remain and the batter will be very thick. Do not overmix.

Using a large spoon or a cookie scoop sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, divide the batter amount the muffin cups. Bake until the muffins are light golden brown and a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time. Immediately remove muffins to a wire rack and cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Honey Challah - Secret Recipe Club

It was such a treat to be assigned to Food Babbles this month for the Secret Recipe Club.  I think the first time I learned about her blog was several months ago when I saw this gorgeous Cinnamon Pear Twist Bread that she had made and just knew that I had to make it too.  I did HERE, and it was one of the best breads I've ever eaten.  So, although she has many incredible recipes on her site, I was drawn back to her breads.  It was just a question of which bread I wanted to make.  She had ones filled with lemon curd, cherries and cream cheese, and other delicious things, but since I wanted a challenge, I decided to make her Honey Challah.  While I have made challah in the past, I never attempted to make the braid.  It always intrigued me, and looked so pretty, so I figured now was the time to learn.


To my surprise, it couldn't have been easier and the bread was braided up and ready to go in no time.  The only changes I made were to add some chopped dried apricots to the dough and sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar before baking.


The time finally came to take it out of the oven and it was a thing of beauty.  The bread inside was pillowy-soft and fluffy and the cinnamon-sugar and apricots added the perfect touch of sweetness to each bite.  Now I can finally say that I've conquered the braided challah and I am thrilled.  I'm so jazzed up that I can't wait to try making it again, this time with 6 strands.

Thanks Food Babbles for your lovely bread recipe.

Honey Challah (adapted from Food Babbles and Tammy's Recipes)        
3/4 c. warm water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tablespoon oil
2 large eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
3 1/2 - 4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. chopped dried apricots

1 large egg (for egg wash)
cinnamon-sugar (for sprinkling on top)

1.  Combine the yeast with the warm water and a pinch of sugar.  Let sit until foamy, about 5 min.

2.  Add the yeast mixture to the honey, oil, and sugar, and mix well.  Beat in the eggs and salt.  Add the flour gradually until the dough no longer sticks to the bottom of the bowl.  Knead in the chopped apricots, adding more flour as needed, and keep kneading for approximately 10 minutes.  

3.  Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.  Punch down.  (I let my dough rise in the fridge overnight). 

4.  Divide the dough into four pieces.  Roll each piece into a rope, about 14-15" long, and 1 inch in diameter.  Lay the ropes side-by-side and pinch the tops together.  Braid tightly, starting on the left, taking the rope over two and under one.  Pinch bottom ends and fold under.   

5. Place braid on a greased baking sheet and cover.  Let rise in a warm place for 25-30 minutes.

6. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.  Bake at 325F for 30-40 minutes, until done.  If loaves start to brown too quickly, loosely lay a piece of foil on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Baked Orzo with Vegetables


Lately, I've been trying to find good vegetarian recipes to make.  Don't get me wrong, I love my chicken, fish, and the occasional piece of beef, but on those occasions where I have to cook for vegetarians, I'd prefer not to have to go and find fake meat in order to make dinner.  So, enter recipes that include pasta, whole grains, and lots of yummy vegetables.  I've got a whole boardful of them on Pinterest just waiting to be made.  But, since there was sale on eggplant, I decided to start with the Baked Orzo with Vegetables.

This recipe is not necessarily the quickest to make, since you have to chop all the veggies and also salt the eggplant, then let it sit for half an hour.  But, I promise that all the work is worth it.  I did make a few changes to the recipe.  For one thing, I had a zucchini sitting in my fridge, so I added that in.  I also left out the celery because I didn't think that it would match with the rest of the flavors in the dish. 

 Then, I cut down on the salt, used water instead of vegetable stock, and used dried oregano since that's what I had.  Finally, instead of mozzarella, I sliced up a couple of Babybel cheeses and put them on top.  As far as I can tell, making these changes didn't diminish the flavor in this dish one bit.

I have to say that this dish impressed me.  Not only is it beautiful to look at, but it's a true pleasure to eat.  The Babybel cheeses were perfect - so wonderfully melty.  And I love that it's healthy.  To up the health factor, next time, I'd probably use whole wheat orzo and add in some spinach and mushrooms too.  You could probably even use some broccoli or cauliflower to mix things up a little.  You can never have too many veggies, at least in my opinion.  With a dish like this, I promise you won't miss your meat.    

Baked Orzo with Vegetables (adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Yotam Ottolenghi)

1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
1 zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch dice
Salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
5 oz. baby carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 Tbsp. dried oregano
zest from 1 lemon
2 oz. Babybel cheese, sliced
3 medium tomatoes, diced

Sprinkle your eggplant generously with salt and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes. I used this time to get the rest of my ingredients ready. After 30 minutes, rinse it well and pat it dry on towels.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and saute the eggplant and zucchini.  When done, remove from pan and set aside.  Add carrots to remaining oil and cook for 3 minutes before adding onion and garlic. Cook together for 5 more minutes on medium heat. Stir in the orzo and cook for two minutes more. Off the heat, add the oregano, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon table salt, many grinds of black pepper and the water and mix well.

Transfer mixture to an 8×11-inch (about 2 quarts) ovenproof baking dish.  Slice the Babybel cheeses and stick the pieces into the pasta-veggie mixture as desired.  Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, then bake 20 minutes without the foil. (You can increase the ration of foil-on to foil-off time if you don’t like a crunchy pasta lid.) Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

1.    The original recipe calls for you to fry the eggplant.  I just used 2 Tbsp. olive oil and sauteed the eggplant.

2.     The original recipe called for 1 tsp. tomato paste, celery, 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, vegetable stock, and fresh oregano.  I left out the tomato paste, celery, and parmesan cheese, used water instead of the vegetable stock, and used dried oregano instead of fresh.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Spiced Oatmeal Cranberry Apricot Cookies

I have to admit, when I started searching Cupcake Muffin's blog for this month's SRC, I was like a kid in a candy store.  Oohhh ooohhh look at all the yummy cookie recipes, I want that!  Wait, wait, look at all the delicious cake recipes, I want that!  What?  There's more sugary stuff over there too?  What they hey, I'll just take all of it.  Consequently, I didn't make just one recipe from Sara's blog, I actually tried three different ones over the course of the month.  But, one of those recipes was one that she made for her SRC before, so I chose not to showcase that one.  Instead, I bring you some amazing Spiced Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cranberries and Apricots

I teach a group of teenage girls and I like to make their birthdays special by presenting them with an assortment of cookies.  Each month, I change things up and try new recipes and Sara's oatmeal cookie recipe looked like just the thing to make.  I didn't have any dried cherries, but I did have some dried cranberries, so I added those in instead.  I also didn't have any cardamom on hand, so I subbed in some ginger powder.


These cookies came out just like the ones in Sara's picture, all thick and chewy and full of orange and red bits of fruit that looked like jewels.  My mom saw them cooling on the counter and, after asking if it was alright to take one (she knows I gotta take pics first), promptly declared that they were really good!  I ate one myself and boy was she right.  Even better, these are totally healthy - just bursting with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C.  Okay, maybe you don't care about that.  In that case, they're bursting with flavor, fruitiness, and spiciness that can't be beat.

Sara, your cookies rock! My tastebuds thank you.

Spiced Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cranberries and Apricots (adapted from Cupcake Muffin)

1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
2 sticks softened butter
1-1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3/4 cups quick oats (not instant oats)
6 ounces dried cranberries
3 ounces dried apricots, diced

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger powder and set aside.
2. Beat together the butter and sugars until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add the vanilla and beat to incorporate.
3. Add the flour mixture and stir in with a rubber spatula until the flour is mixed in enough not to fly out of the mixer.  Then beat until just incorporated.  Add the oats and beat until just combined.  Stir in the cranberries and apricots with a rubber spatula.
4. Cover the bowl and chill at least 6 hours or overnight.
5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with foil or parchment.
6.  Scoop out about 1 tablespoon of dough per cookie, and gently roll into a ball with your palms.  Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cookies just begin to brown.
 7.   Let cool on a cooling rack. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Butterflake Rolls - SRC


For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned to Meghan's blog, Cupcakes with Sprinkles.  I just love her blog.   It looks so cheerful and her food looks amazingly good.  I thought about making one of her sweets (you know me), but apparently I love bread as much as I love sweets and I couldn't get my mind off her Butterflake Rolls.  Plus, I had just made some peach jam and I needed something to eat it with.


What I learned as I made them is that I need to pay attention more to directions.  When I first set out to make the rolls, I just copied down the ingredients, thinking that it was just like all the other bread recipes I had made.  So, as a result, after making the dough, I let it rise for an hour.  That's when I found out I was totally wrong.  When I looked at the recipe again, including the directions, I realized that you're supposed to start rolling and buttering the dough right after you make it.  In fact, the only rise you're supposed to do is after the dough has been cut and formed into the rolls.  Still, I figured, I could make this work.  I took my risen dough, rolled it out, buttered it, folded it, buttered it, folded and buttered again.  The dough began breaking off in layers and was a complete mess and totally unsalvageable.  I would have to start again.  Lesson learned - follow the instructions.


The second time around, I followed everything to the letter.  This time, everything came together beautifully and the dough made it into the muffin tins intact.  I was kind of skeptical about only letting them rise once before baking, but if they worked for Meghan, then I trusted that they could work for me too.  Sure enough, once they baked, they were a thing of beauty.  It was like magic.  Instead of the four pieces of dough I put into each muffin cup, the intricate layers of buttered dough had unfolded, giving me even more layers to pull apart and enjoy (kind of like the layers in a croissant).  The bread itself was pillowy soft, buttery in every bite, and paired really well with my homemade peach jam.  Not to mention, since they only need to rise once, they're so much quicker to make!  I'm thinking that these rolls are going to make many more appearances in my house, you know, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and basically any time in between.  Thanks Meghan! 

Butterflake Rolls (adapted from Cupcakes with Sprinkles)

1 Tbsp. yeast
3/4 c. warm water
1/4 c. sugar (I increased this to 6 Tbsp.)
2 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. buttermilk (I used 1/4 c. nonfat plain yogurt + 1/4 c. water)
3 1/2 - 4 c. flour
1/4 c. butter, softened

Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix yeast in 1/4 c. warm water with a pinch of sugar.  Let sit till foamy, about 5 min.  Whisk in the sugar, salt, and eggs.  Add in the yogurt and remaining water until combined. 

Use a wooden spoon to stir in about 3 cups of flour, adding more up to 4 cups, to make a soft dough.  You want to be able to knead the dough and not have it stick to your fingers.

Knead dough a few times.  Roll it out so that it's a 1/2" thick and spread with a thin layer of butter.  Fold dough in half, then spread with butter, Repeat three more times.

After the final butter and fold, roll the dough out again to 1/2" thick and cut it into 1x2 inch squares.  Place 4 squares upright in each sprayed muffin cup.  Cover lightly with greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 45-60 min., or until doubled.

Preheat oven to 400F and bake rolls for 10-15 min. until golden brown. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Healthy Chocolate PB Cookie Dough Dip


For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned to Sawsan's blog, Chef in Disguise.  Her blog is filled with lots of amazing middle-eastern recipes to give you a delicious taste of that side of the globe.

I was all set to make her Chocolate Peppermint Swirl Cookies.  But, then, I saw her recipe for Healthy Cookie Dough Dip and, well, everything changed.  I'm very big on healthy eating, but, as you all know, I also have a major sweet tooth.  Definitely not easy to balance the two.  So, when I saw this recipe, I was thrilled - what a way to have your cake and eat it too!


Sawsan made hers using white beans and date puree.  I didn't have any date puree, but her recipe said that honey or some other sweetener could be used, so I tried it with the honey first.  Unfortunately, once I added the honey, the dip became way too liquidy, almost like soup.  I'm not sure what went wrong, but I decided to try again. 

By this time, I didn't have another can of white beans to use, but I did have black beans so I went with that.  To prevent the problem of too much liquid, I used brown sugar in place of the honey.  Then, because chocolate goes so well with black beans (think black bean brownies), I threw in some cocoa powder.  Finally, I added some peanut butter.

The result was absolutely delicious, chocolatey peanut buttery goodness that you wouldn't believe.  Would I know that I'm eating beans?  Nope.  I seriously didn't even need anything to dip into it.  I grabbed a spoon and dug right in.


Thanks Sawsan for your awesome recipe. 

Healthy Chocolate Cookie Dough Dip

1 can black beans (rinsed and drained very well)
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. brown sugar
5-6 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 c. peanut butter
chocolate chips (optional)

Add all ingredients (except for chocolate chips) to your food processor and blend until very smooth.  Then, mix in the chocolate chips.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Samoas Cupcakes


One of my friends is totally crazy about Samoas cookies.  Not that I can blame her.  Chocolate, coconut, and caramel is a pretty hard combo to resist.  I'm just as crazy about the Samoas ice cream that Dreyer's recently came out with. 

So, with Samoas on the brain, I decided to make my own version of a Samoas cupcake.  I used King Arthur Flour's golden cake recipe as the base, whipped up a caramel coconut filling, and topped it all off with rich chocolate ganache. 

Oh boy was it ever good.  I loved KAF's cake recipe.  It was so moist and fluffy and had a nice crumb and great vanilla flavor.  I think this will be my go-to vanilla cupcake recipe, at least for now.  With the yummy, gooey filling and luscious frosting, this was the best Samoas I've ever eaten.  Thank goodness that I had people I could give these cupcakes to, or else I would have devoured the whole batch.  It's nice to know that I can now have Samoas more than once a year.

Samoas Cupcakes (Sweet as Sugar Cookies)

Vanilla Cupcakes (King Arthur Flour)
2 c. sugar
3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. unsalted butter, soft
1 1/4 c. milk, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs

Caramel Sauce (In the Pink and Green)
1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. salted butter, cubed
1/4 c. + 1 Tbsp. heavy cream, at room temperature

10 Tbsp. sweetened shredded coconut

Chocolate Ganache 
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. heavy cream

For the cupcakes:  
Line 2 muffin tins with paper liners.

Cream the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and add the vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and sift the mixture.  Add half the mixture to the wet ingredients and beat to combine.  Add the milk and stir to combine.  Then, add the rest of the flour mixture and mix well to combine. 

Divide the batter evenly into the muffin tins.  Bake at 350F for 20-25 min. until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from the muffin pans and place on wire racks to cool. 

For the caramel coconut filling:  In a medium saucepan, cook the sugar over medium heat, whisking as it melts.  When it turns a deep amber color, add the butter and stir until melted.  Add the heavy cream and whisk till the caramel is smooth.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Add the shredded coconut till combined.   

For the ganache:  Place the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a small bowl and heat for 1 min. at 50% power.  Stir and repeat the process as necessary till smooth.  Chill the ganache briefly until it reaches your desired consistency. 

For the assembly:  Cut a small cone from the center of each cupcake.  Fill with 1-2 tsp. of the coconut-caramel filling.  Spread with chocolate ganache. 

Makes 24 cupcakes

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Peanut Butter Snickers Banana Cupcakes

Years ago, my dad asked me if I could make banana cake, not banana bread, but cake.  At the time, I didn't know of any good recipes for banana cake, so the request went unfulfilled.  Recently, I decided to try one of the banana cupcake recipes that was out there on the internet, but it turned out horrible.  The cake was dense beyond belief, gummy, and stuck to the wrappers.  Absolutely inedible.  After that, I worried that perhaps a good banana cake just did not exist.  Maybe bananas were meant to be made into bread and only bread, or, if cake was possible, it was always going to be heavy and dense.


Then, I came across this recipe for Banana Cupcakes on the blog, the Brown-Eyed Baker.  From the pictures, it looked like the cake would actually come out, dare I say, fluffy.  The crumb looked light and most definitely did not resemble banana bread of any sort.  So, I decided to give things another go.


And, I was thrilled with the results.  The cake, yes it was cake, was fluffy and soft and light and super moist to boot.  There was also a wonderful banana flavor in every bite. I frostedthese cupcakes off with a peanut butter buttercream and then, since I had a bag of peanut butter Snickers minis (which are totally yum), I decided to top the cupcakes off with them (cause more sugar is always a good thing).  Add a drizzle of melted chocolate and these cupcakes were a mouthwatering combination of banana, chocolate, and peanut butter.  Simply irresistible. 


So, what do you know, a good banana cake DOES exist.  Next time Dad, your wish is my command.  

Elvis Cupcakes (created by Sweet as Sugar Cookies)

Banana cupcakes (from Brown-Eyed Baker)

1 1/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
5/8 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter 
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
3/4 c. mashed very ripe bananas
1/4 c. buttermilk (I used plain nonfat yogurt)
2 Tbsp. milk (I added this)

12 Peanut Butter Snickers minis

Peanut Butter Buttercream (Sweet as Sugar Cookies)

1/2 c. butter
5 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
milk (to desired consistency)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. 

Cream the butter with the sugar till light and fluffy.  Add the bananas and mix well.  Add the vanilla and the eggs and beat for 1 min. until well combined.  Mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the yogurt, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Fill the cupcake liners about three-quarters full.  Bake for 20-25 min. until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 min.  Remove the cupcakes from the pans and place on the rack to cool completely.

For the frosting:  Beat the butter with the peanut butter until well combined.  Beat in the powered sugar till light and fluffy.  Add milk until it reaches your desired consistency.  

Makes 12 cupcakes

1.  The batter seemed a little dense, so I added a little extra milk to the recipe, about 2 Tbsp.
2.  The original recipe called for buttermilk, but I used nonfat yogurt since that's what I had.
3.  The original recipe called for a combination of butter and shortening, but I just used butter.    

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Brown Butter Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies


Even though I've found the BEST chocolate chip cookie HERE, I still can't resist trying yet another recipe.  Besides, this recipe was kinda different from all the others since it called for the addition of ginger.  It sounded like a delicious twist to your everyday cookie.

What I really liked about these cookies was their texture.  They stayed thick, even after baking, and had this amazing crisp exterior that gave way to an absolutely perfect chewiness within.  It was the kind of cookie that you'd get from a bakery.  And, even though I couldn't taste the ginger, they still tasted fantastic.  I gave these to someone for their birthday and was told that they couldn't get enough of them and that they were gone in no time.  Which means that these cookies are definitely worth making (and giving if you can bear to part with a few of them).

Brown Butter Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Une Gamine dans la Cuisine)

11 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. + 3 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. ginger powder
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Melt 10 Tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan (set the remaining 1 Tablespoon aside). Cook over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until the butter turns brown and develops a rich nutty aroma- about 5-8 minutes, depending on the heat. {Note: The butter will go through a "foamy" stage, once it settles down, keep a close watch on the colour.} Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside to cool to room temperature. 

Combine the cooled brown butter with the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter.  Beat with the sugars.  Add the egg and beat to combine.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger powder.  Add to the butter-sugar-egg mixture and mix well.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. For each cookie, measure out about a 1/3 cup of dough (I made my cookies smaller - about 2 Tbsp. each). Form each into a ball, place on the cookie sheet, and flatten slightly (to a little less than 1/2-inch thickness). Once all the dough has been measured out, cover the sheet with plastic wrap and chill for about 12 hours. {Note: The longer you chill the dough, the better the flavour!}

When you're ready to bake: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line another cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place about 4 cookies on the sheet--leave about 1-inch of space between each cookie. Bake for 8-11 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden in colour.

Note:  I forgot to let them chill for the 12 hours, but will definitely do it next time.  Either way, the cookies still tasted great.   

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Barbecue Chicken Sandwich Rolls

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned to Jessica of The Inquiring Chef.  Do you know that she lives in Thailand?  So lucky!  I absolutely love Thai food and I can only imagine the wonderful access she must have to both the food and the exotic ingredients to make it.

Her blog is filled with yummy recipes that she came up with herself and it was with great joy that I chose to make her Barbecue Chicken Sandwich  Rolls.  In case you didn't know, she grew up in Kansas with some great barbecue so these rolls are part of her personality and I wanted to showcase that.  Besides, I love barbecue myself as well as baking bread, so this recipe was perfect for me.

I had some chicken tenders in my freezer, so I poached those and used them instead of roasted chicken.  I also made my own barbecue sauce instead of using storebought.  In addition, I changed the method of making the rolls a little, but otherwise, kept the recipe the same.

Eating these rolls reminded me of my favorite baked char siu bao (now I totally want to fill them with char siu aka Chinese barbecued pork).  The rolls were super fluffy and soft, slightly sweet, and paired deliciously with the barbecue chicken filling on the inside.  My only regret is that I didn't use more filling in the rolls.  But, even then, my family declared this recipe to be fantastic and they thoroughly enjoyed eating them.  I would love to try these rolls with other fillings in them, the char siu for instance or curried chicken or even sloppy joe filling.  The possibilities are endless.

And, speaking of possibilities, since I'm very much a sweets person, I went ahead and filled some of the buns with leftover chocolate ganache that I had in my fridge.  Voila!  Chocolate filled sweet buns.  Spread them with some raspberry jam and ohhh so good.  So, if you do what I did, you'll have dinner and dessert with one recipe.  Can't beat that.

Thanks Jessica for your delicious recipe.

Barbecue Chicken Sandwich Rolls (adapted from The Inquiring Chef)

3 Tbsp. warm milk (I used yogurt)
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 c. warm water 
2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar (I increased this to 4 Tbsp.)
3 and ¾ cups all-purpose flour (plus about ½ cup extra for shaping the rolls) (I used 1 c. bread flour + 2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour)
1 tsp. salt
2 ½ Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs (separated – 1 for dough and 1 for egg wash)
2 cups shredded and roughly chopped, roasted chicken (I used poached chicken breasts)
½ cup barbecue sauce (can use storebought or your own homemade sauce)

Combine the warm water with the yeast and a pinch of sugar and let sit for 5 min. till foamy.  Combine the yeast mixture with the melted butter, sugar, milk or yogurt, and the egg and mix well.  Add 1 cup of bread flour and the salt and mix well.  Add the rest of the flour and mix well till combined.  Knead the dough as best as you can until it forms a smooth ball.  Put the dough into a well-greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

Combine the chicken with the barbecue sauce and mix well.     

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using lightly floured hands, remove 1/4 of the risen dough and gently roll it into a cylinder, approximately 8 inches long.  (The dough will be quite sticky, but add only as much flour as you need to prevent it from sticking to your hands.)  Using a knife or dough scraper, cut the cylinder of dough into 8 even pieces. Flatten each piece into a circle. Drop one teaspoon of the chicken mixture into the center of each dough circle. Pull the sides of the dough around the filling and twist them together firmly to seal the chicken inside. Place each filled roll, seam-side down on parchement paper.

Let sit until doubled in size, about 30 min.  Preheat oven to 350F.  
Brush the top of each roll liberally with a beaten egg.

Bake until the surface of the rolls are golden brown, 18-20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  Alternately, you could fill each piece of dough with a teaspoon of chilled chocolate ganache.  


Monday, April 29, 2013

Chocolate Covered Brownie S'mores Sandwiches


I love it when I have a new idea for some over-the-top treat.  It gets me so excited and I can't wait to get into the kitchen and try it out.  You know you've had your moments like this too and you feel like Edison probably did when he thought up the light bulb.  Of course, it's not like a treat is as important as the light bulb, but it's still a good thing, nonetheless.

Anyway, back to the idea.  I was thinking about s'mores and how to go about creating what would be, to me, the ultimate s'mores ever.  This would be rich, it would be decadent, it would be overly indulgent and require at least an hour or two at the gym to work it off, but oh it would be worth it. 


I started off with chocolate dipped graham crackers.  Then, I'd top them with a layer of brownie.  But, not just any brownie.  True, you could use a boxed mix, but like I said, this had to be the ultimate.  So, I used the absolute best brownie recipe ever - Alton Brown's Cocoa Brownies.  I've posted about these before HERE and mentioned how they are so fudgy and dark that they'll blow your mind.  Well, this was the time to use them.


As you can see, I cut the pan of brownies into two layers, cut them to fit the graham crackers, and put one uber-fudgy layer onto each one.  I know, you're wondering, why go to all the trouble of having to cut it into layers?  Why not just bake them in a bigger pan?  Well, this particular brownie recipe bakes up thicker than other recipes and the gooey-est part is on the inside, underneath the crackly top.  I figured that if I baked them thinner, I just wouldn't get that same moist fudginess.  At least that was my reasoning and it seemed to hold true.   

I then whipped up a marshmallow frosting.  I used a dab of the marshmallow frosting under each brownie to hold it in place.  Then, I dolloped the frosting onto the brownies and spread it into a nice thick layer.  Finally, I topped it with another chocolate covered graham cracker.  I also tried to cover the entire thing in chocolate but soon realized that it was going to take way too much time and way too much chocolate (in hindsight, I should have just made some ganache and poured it on, but, I can do that next time).  So, I went the easy route and just spread the chocolate on the graham crackers and left it at that. 


Finally, I chilled the sandwiches.  This makes the brownies even more like fudge and solidifies the frosting a little so that it truly becomes like marshmallows. 

The best part, of course, was eating them.  All that chocolate on the outside shatters when you bite into it, then you crunch into the graham cracker and your teeth sink into that soft, fluffy, marshmallow frosting and sinfully rich brownie.  It's a s'mores experience like no other.  Mmmmmm.  All the best s'mores flavors and you don't even need a fire. 


Chocolate Covered Brownie S'mores Sandwiches
(created by Sweet as Sugar Cookies)

Alton Brown's Cocoa Brownies
4 large eggs
1 c. sugar, sifted
1 c. brown sugar, sifted
1 c. butter, melted
1 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

18 graham cracker sheets
2 c. chocolate chips, melted
2 tsp. canola or vegetable oil

Marshmallow Frosting 
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow fluff
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

For the brownies:
Preheat oven to 300F.  Line an 8x8 pan with foil, leaving some to hang over the sides.

Melt the butter.  Add the sugars and mix well to combine.  Mix in the cocoa powder.  Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl until well combined and add to the butter-sugar-cocoa mixture along with the vanilla.  Stir in the flour and salt until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 min. (mine took 1 hour). Check for doneness with the tried and true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean (I took mine out of the oven while they were still slightly gooey in the center). When done, remove to a rack to cool for 45-60 min.

For the marshmallow frosting:  
Beat the butter with the marshmallow fluff until well combined.  Beat in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the vanilla. 

For the graham crackers:
Carefully slice each graham cracker sheet in half so that you end up with 36 separate crackers.  Melt the chocolate chips and stir in the oil until smooth.  Dip one side of each graham cracker into the melted chocolate, lay out on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, and chill in the fridge for 15 min. until chocolate is hardened.

For the assembly:
When the brownies are cool, lift them out using the foil.  Put the graham crackers on top and cut the brownies to fit the graham crackers (you should be able to get 9 squares total).  You'll have some of the edge scraps left over (you can just eat those).

Lay the graham cracker, chocolate side down on a piece of parchment paper or a cookie rack.  Smear a little marshmallow frosting onto each cracker.  Cut each brownie in half, horizontally so that you have two layers (the top and the bottom).  Put each layer of brownie one of the frosting covered graham crackers.  Spread each brownie evenly with 1 Tbsp. of marshmallow frosting.  Top with another chocolate covered graham cracker.  If desired, you can go ahead and cover the entire sandwich with chocolate.  Chill in the fridge until ready to eat.    

Makes 18 sandwiches

Note:  If you decide to cover the entire sandwich with chocolate, you'll probably need to double the amount of chocolate chips and oil in the recipe. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting


I've heard so much about baked goods made with sweet potatoes - like pie and cupcakes.  However, I've never tried them before, though I have eaten baked goods made from purple Okinawan sweet potatoes or Korean sweet potatoes.  People always say that it tastes a lot like stuff made with pumpkin.  Well, you know how much I love pumpkin, so I was sure I was going to love these cupcakes.  Plus, sweet potatoes were on sale, so it was definitely time to make them.

I' m not sure how well pureed other people get their sweet potatoes, but mine still had a lot of little chunks and bits in the mixture.  I wasn't sure how that would affect things, but decided to just go with it.  Knowing how I like things spicy, I also decided to double the amount of cinnamon in the recipe and added some ground ginger as well.


The cupcakes, first of all, smell amazing.  It's a sweet, spicy scent that's like pumpkin and yet not like pumpkin.  It just smells rich and golden.  As for those tiny remaining chunks of sweet potato, they melt right into the cake and you won't even know they're there anymore, except that you have a cake that is supremely moist and full of sweet potato flavor that will knock your socks off.  I never knew that sweet potato cake could be so good.  I'm a believer now.  As for the marshmallow frosting, it goes hand in hand with these cupcakes - think candied yams with lots and lots of marshmallows on top (oh yeah).  Sweet potato - you rule!   

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting
(adapted from How Sweet It Is)

1 1/3 c. loosely packed brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 oz. cooked, mashed sweet potato (about 3/4 cup)
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (I doubled this to 1 tsp.)
3/4 tsp. ground ginger (I added this)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. milk (I used 1/4 c. plain yogurt + 1/4 c. water)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. marshmallow fluff (7 oz. jar)
3 c. powdered sugar (I decreased this to 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a cupcake pan with liners.  

In a large bowl, whisk egg and sugar together until combined and no lumps remain. Add in vanilla extract and butter, then whisk in sweet potato. Add in flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, then add in milk and stir until combined and smooth. Fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cupcakes are set and spring back at the touch. Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:
Beat butter in the bowl of electric mixer until creamy. Add in fluff and beat for 2-3 minutes, then add in vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, add in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until fully incorporated. Once all the sugar has been added, beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. If mixture if too runny, add a bit more sugar. If it’s too thick, add a bit of milk one teaspoon at a time. Frost cupcakes as desired. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

Peanut butter and jelly brings back so many memories of my childhood.  There's all those times that I took a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my Hello Kitty lunchbox to school.  Then there's that song we used to sing in elementary school, you know, the one that goes:  Peanut . . . peanut butter.  And jelly!  And jelly!  I even remember one time in fourth grade where we were supposed to write down the directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then the teacher would follow our directions exactly and try to succeed in making the sandwich.  Naturally, when you're only nine years old, you forget to write down things like, "Open the jar of peanut butter," or "Use a knife to spread the jelly."  Needless to say, it was an extremely funny exercise.  

And now, even as an adult, the peanut butter and jelly combo just never gets old.  It's just so good!  Which is why I had to make a peanut butter and jelly cupcake, for old times sake and for the kid in you that never gets old. 


I used the peanut butter cake recipe from Brown Eyed Baker and changed it slightly by using some brown sugar in place of the white and adding more milk.  I think the extra milk made for much tenderer cupcake and I was very pleased with how the crumb came out.  These cupcakes were super peanut buttery in every bite, soft, and stayed moist for days (even in the fridge).  Paired up with a grape jelly filling and topped with peanut butter cream cheese frosting, they were peanut buttery perfection. 

So go ahead, make these cupcakes, grab a glass of milk, and enjoy a sweet version of peanut butter and jelly that will make you smile. 

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes (adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker)

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 c. salted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. light brown sugar
2/3 c. creamy peanut butter
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
1/2 c. milk 

1/2 c. grape jelly

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting (Sweet as Sugar Cookies)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 c. peanut butter, creamy or crunchy
2 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line standard muffin pans with paper liners.  Whisk together the flour, bkaing soda, and baking powder.

Cream the butter with the peanut butter.  Add the sugars and cream together till pale and fluffy.  Beat the eggs and add in two batches, beating for 1 min. after each addition.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add half the flour mixture, then the yogurt, then the rest of the flour mixture.  Beat until just combined.  Mix in the milk until just combined.

Divide the batter into the lined cups.  Bake for 20-25 min. until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.  Transfer the cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely.

For the frosting:
Beat the butter with the cream cheese until mixed together.  Mix in the peanut butter, then beat in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy.

For the assembly:
Cut a small cone out of the center of each cupcake.  Fill with 1 tsp. grape jelly.  Pipe with the peanut butter cream cheese frosting as desired.  Eat the little cake cones to your heart's desire. 

  1. The original recipe called for 1 1/3 c. granulated sugar.  I used half white sugar and half light brown sugar instead.  
  2. Instead of sour cream, I used nonfat Greek yogurt.
  3. The batter, once mixed, looked a little thick, so I added 1/2 c. milk to thin it down a little.  
  4. I used grape jelly instead of strawberry jam (just my preference).  
  5. I chose to fill the cupcakes with the jelly instead of just dolloping it on top.  

Makes 24 cupcakes