Friday, March 30, 2012

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Bread

There's something about the combination of chocolate and strawberries that just seems decadent.  Even in this quick bread, a few sliced strawberries and a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips brings a regular morning treat to a whole new level.  Strawberry bread isn't very typical-- you don't see it in a lot of coffee shops or hear about people making it, but it's such a seasonal and lovely twist on quick bread.  And the chocolate chips add a great flavor element for a different sweetness.  Moist, tasty and easy to make, this is perfect for sharing with coworkers, making for a bake sale or pot luck, or gifting to a neighbor or friend in need of a pick me up or a quick breakfast option.  I brought this to work for a meeting and it was a big hit.  One attendee turned to me during the meeting and said, "Excuse me, but I'm going to make a pig of myself on this if you don't mind."  Ha!

I've been following Christina at Sweet Pea's Kitchen since last fall--she hooked me with her tailgate recipes. But I really like her baked goods and how she makes subtle changes to classic recipes to come up with whole new flavors and the shear abundance of beautiful desserts to choose from is like a wonderful day of window shopping for a little drool.  So when I wanted to make a quick bread because I was short on time, I took a spin through Christina's archives.  I had strawberries in the fridge, so this recipe called out to me. I added 2 Tablespoons of cake enhancer because I wanted to test it (it's supposed to make my breads "softer, moister, and stay fresher longer"--I think it did the first two, but the bread didn't stick around long enough to test the third) and decreased the sugar just a smidgen because my strawberries were very sweet already.  Otherwise, I followed Christina's instructions, which were spot on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Soft Sugar Cookies

Sweet, soft, and chewy cookies. And pretty yet, too!  While I really enjoy a rolled, shaped and frosted sugar cookie, sometimes I just want a dropped sugar cookie, maybe with some colored sugar.  These totally fit the bills, so I made them for an afternoon work meeting.  They were met with much appreciation.  To the point that after the meeting, I asked one of the attendees if he wanted to take any home for his young sons.  He said, "No, I already had 4!"  I said, "Not for you, the boys!"  His response: "Oh, yeah, the boys."  Guess if the cookies are good enough you forget that you have children, they're pretty good.

This is one of the essential recipes from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, the Essential Chewy Sugar Cookie.  It's a basic recipe that can be adapted in to loads of different flavor combinations, but before I attempt a variation, I wanted to master the basic.  This is a simple recipe, bringing together the perfect blend of flavors to the ultimate in soft and chewy sugar cookies.  I especially liked the use of nutmeg, which offered another level to the sweetness without making it taste like a spiced cookie--very subtle.  I also added a half teaspoon of Princess Cake and Cookie Flavor, in lieu of one teaspoon of vanilla, which lent a light and citrus-like flavor to the cookies.  It's a bakery emulsion that is thicker and bakes out more slowly than regular extract, keeping the richness of the flavor.  I'd gotten it from King Arthur Flour on a recommendation to add into the various layers of flavor.  Enjoy the simplicity of this recipe, roll them in some pretty colored sugar, and treat yourself to a sweet afternoon.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup

Even though this winter has been mild, it's still gray and chilly in March, so a hot bowl of soup like this is exactly what hits the spot when it's rainy and not quite spring yet.  This soup is delicious, smooth and has a slight kick, but not super spicy.  Black bean soup can be ho-hum, but add in chicken, salsa and a bit of spice and you've got a lovely kick for a cool evening.  Plus you can really personalize it by dressing it up with your favorite toppings like shredded cheese, sour cream, cilantro, avocado, tortilla chips--whatever you like.

Of course, one of the main reasons I love this recipe is that it's another crock pot favorite.  Seriously, if you're not checking out Stephanie at Crockpot 365, you're missing a lot of easy and tasty meals for all kinds of occasions.  And if you don't have a crockpot (or use it very often), then what are you waiting for?  Dinner could be ready when you come home from work with very little effort on your part. Slight differences from Stephanie's recipe were to drop the mushrooms, canned beans rather than fresh and I used my immersion blender to make a smooth, creamy soup.  If you don't have an immersion blender, you could (carefully!) use a blender and blend the soup in batches.  I finished this soup with some chopped cilantro and shredded cheese and served it with a few tortilla chips on the side.  Delicious, easy and perfect for a cool, rainy evening to give a kick of flavor from warmer climates.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Individual Baked Oatmeal Cups

I like breakfast.  On the weekends, I have to talk Dave into letting me make a big breakfast of waffles or pancakes with eggs or sausage and fruit.  And while I love it during the week too, I want something quick and easy because I would much rather sleep than get up any earlier than I have to just to feed my hungry belly.  I usually have a banana before I leave the house and take something to eat when I get to work, like cereal and yogurt.  When I'm on top of things, I'll make extras of a weekend breakfast and throw the leftover waffles or pancakes in the freezer to put in my work bag before I leave.  I've even made extra mini frittatas, put them in the freezer, individually portioned, to pop in the microwave when I get to the office.  So these tasty, individual baked oatmeal cups called my name as another weekday morning breakfast.  Wholesome, tasty and healthy, these individual baked oatmeal cups are perfectly sweet, nutty and hearty, and totally customizable to your favorite oatmeal flavors.  Topping them with blueberries, dried cranberries or chocolate chips was just the beginning (because that's what I had closest in reach), but I can see other fruits or nuts getting their opportunity to be part of this perfect breakfast too.  Freezable and easily portable, these are definitely in my breakfast rotation.

My friend Mere (you remember Mere, she gave us these lovely gems), pinned these a few weeks ago and when I saw them I said, "yes, please!"  Brenda from Sugar-Free Mom created these from a large baked oatmeal casserole and provided a lot of good tips. I liked that even though this is a healthy, diabetic and gluten free (if using gluten free oats) friendly recipe, the ingredient list is accessible.  I'm not sure exactly what I did differently, but I ended up getting 24 individual cups, rather than Brenda's 18 (not that I'm complaining!), so I suppose you could fill the cups a bit more (although I think my end product is about the same size as Brenda's).  I did take Brenda's suggestion of using honey since I don't stock stevia in my pantry, but I only used 1/3 cup rather than 1/2 cup (that just seemed like a lot of honey to me).  Use whatever type of toppings you like--the cool thing is you can do a little of this and a little of that to satisfy picky palettes (or expand your own).  I used between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon of toppings, but you can adjust as you like, or leave some plain. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cranberry Almond Coffee Cake

Sweet, tart, and nutty.  That's a lot going on in one little cake.  But totally delicious.  This coffee cake has a lovely crumb and the tart cranberries play well with the soft nuttiness of the almonds.  I took this to work for a meeting and everyone loved it.  There is one group member in particular who couldn't get enough.  And they were funny in selecting their slices.  Since it was an 8 x 8 inch pan and sliced into 16 pieces, there were four middle pieces and 12 edges.  The gobbled up the center slices before venturing into the edge territory--which was fine by me because I liked the balance of the slightest of crunchy, crispy edge with the soft interior.  But really, any way you slice it, this cranberry almond coffee cake is good.

I'd pinned this recipe from Shanon at The Curvy Carrot (love the name of her blog!) ages ago and when trying to decide what to take into work, I scoured my pin boards, hoping to find something easy that I already had ingredients to.  Since I still had cranberries in the freezer from the fall and just enough almonds, this was the perfect recipe.  Shanon's recipe needed no adjustments and it came together quickly and baked up perfectly.  This coffee cake has a pretty little presentation with the cranberries popping off the top of the cake, so it's great for guests or gifting as well.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Meatloaf

Who knew meatloaf could have a personality?  I love this recipe and it has a permanent place in our dinner rotation.  We make it probably once a month.  It's easy, healthy and packs a lot of flavor into a sometimes disappointing dish.  The idea of chicken instead of beef in a meatloaf really sparked my interest and I'm a huge buffalo wing fan, so the flavors came together beautifully.  With the blue cheese, celery and carrots mixed it, it's like a plate full of wings in every bite.  Plus, you can make the flavor as intense as you like using your favorite wing sauce.

For my 30th birthday, my dear friend Kate (Hi, Kate!) sent me 30 recipes.  From appetizers to dinners to cookies, she covered all the bases and some of those recipes have made their way to my go-to pile (although I must confess there are others that I haven't tried yet--but only because I keep making the others!).  I don't know where Kate got this recipe, but it's delicious and perfect.  Kate's a pretty good cook, so I knew it would be a winner.  I made one adjustment out of sheer laziness: I chopped the carrot in the mini chopper with the celery and onion instead of shredding it.  It's the same thing in the end with one less thing to wash.  Served with baked sweet potato fries/chips and a cold beer, this is one tasty dinner.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chocolate Stout Whoopie Pies with Bailey's Buttercream Filling

If a holiday ever screamed, "Make a delicious dessert filled with booze!" it would be St. Patrick's Day.  So when the Irish in me saw this recipe, I knew I needed to make it immediately if not sooner.  The stout in the chocolate cake batter provides a subtle distinction in the flavor.  You don't taste beer, but the deep richness of the chocolate makes you think, "this is a little bit different."  The stout compliments the dark chocolate in a very good way without being intense.  Paired with a fluffy Bailey's flavored buttercream frosting and it's a match made in St. Patrick's treats heaven.  Since I'm not a huge Bailey's fan, I was hesitant about the filling.  But paired together, there is a balance that really makes you happy (or you're drunk, but probably not).  I took these in to work as a little treat for my coworkers and they raved.  At 10 am, most of them devoured them as soon as I came up to their desk.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mint and Dark Chocolate Blondies

Blondies are quickly becoming my go-to treat when I need to come up with a treat that will please a lot of people on a short amount of time.  Start to finish is under an hour and they are pretty versatile in terms of flavor.  For my weekly group meeting at work, I whipped up these flavorful bars the night before as a way to share the minty and chocolate combination that I can only get away with at Christmas or St. Patrick's Day.

These are based on the basic Blondies recipe I've used before, but kicked up with a change in extract and mix ins.  I baked them in a smaller pan to make thicker bars, which meant a slightly longer bake time.  I used a leftover bag of mint and dark chocolate chips from the winter holidays, but if you can't find those, just use 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of mint chips.  I suppose you could dress these up and add a little green food coloring to the batter, but I think they are cute enough as is.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pepperoni Pizza Ring

Delicious? Check. Easy? Check. Fun to make? Check.  Such a simple and fun snack or meal, yet it looks a lot more difficult.  And since it's pizza, you can totally customize it with your favorite toppings--or in this case, fillings.  We loved this and had it for dinner one night, but I would totally make this as an appetizer for a party or tailgate.  Much as I love to make from scratch, I must confess that I just love the crescent rolls that come in a tube and in this dish they make for a lovely "crust" with a slightly different flavor and texture.

It's Secret Recipe Club reveal day again and I was delighted to be assigned to Pocket Change Gourmet.  Liz and Doug have a huge array of great meal and snack ideas made on a budget.  I scoured their recipe archives, drooling over the Maple French Toast Casserole and Queso Cheese Dip (I do love a good dip).  But besides their tasty recipe, I appreciate Liz and Doug's tips and tricks to maximize your grocery dollars.  For example, in this recipe for a Pepperoni Pizza Ring they include a method to make your own pizza sauce. It's something I'd never done, but in the spirit of Secret Recipe Club's idea of trying new things, I decided to make the scratch pizza sauce.  And it was an excellent decision!  The best pizza sauce I've ever had and the left over sauce was perfect for dipping the pizza ring slices in.  A fun and delicious dish, this pizza ring is a hybrid of part pizza, part calzone and you need to make it. It's quick, even if you opt to make the sauce yourself, the whole dish comes together pretty easily so it's great for a weeknight meal.  I followed the original recipe, using turkey pepperoni, but adapt this to include your favorite pizza toppings--olives, peppers, onion, sausage crumbles, whatever makes you happy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cinnamon Meringues

Perfectly cinnamon and pleasantly light, airy, and yummy, these meringues were the perfect capstone to a wonderful baby shower banquet for a dear friend.  I loved the idea of something slightly sweet and palette cleaning as a little favor for all the wonderful friends and family who came to share in Cindy's joy of a new little girl on the way.  Plus, the added bonus was the option to color coordinate them into the decor as well as how cutely they matched the polka dot them.  Tied up in individual bags with matching ribbons, I couldn't be more pleased.  Plus they are a tasty little fat free treat--something to not feel guilty about after indulging in these, and these, and these. And definitely these.

But back to the meringues.  I've been following Meagan at Scarletta Bakes for a little while now and I just love her blog.  She uses amazing flavors and weaves a story around her recipes like magic.  It's quite captivating really.  All the more fitting that this recipe comes from a storyteller blogger since Cindy is my storyteller friend.  The beauty of this recipe is it's simple elegance.  It's really amazing that just a handful of easy ingredients can make such a pretty, tasty, and huge quantity of perfect sweet treats.  The small adjustment I made was in the piping--I only have one bag that fits my larges tips, so I used a smaller (standard) piping tip and the end result was a slightly smaller meringue--which was fine for my purposed because I wanted to make sure I had enough to fill 30 favor bags.  This also meant I was able to get away with using 3 baking sheets instead of 4, which worked out because my oven wouldn't have fit 4. Otherwise, I used my regular Penzey's cinnamon since it's a great flavor and I didn't have any cinnamon sticks on hand to toast and grind as Meagan did. Meringues are definitely one of those treats that seem like more work than they actually are, but if this recipe is any indication of their ease, I'll definitely be adding them to my repertoire.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Strawberry and Vanilla Mini Cupcakes with Strawberry Glaze and Lime Buttercream Frosting

After being challenged by Cindy in the cupcake department, I certainly couldn't let the shower go by without serving a few cupcakes for good measure.  And I made simple fruit flavors to satisfy Cindy's more simplified dessert preferences.  Making the cupcakes mini made them that much more fun and allowed everyone to sample different desserts rather than commit to a full sized cupcake (or feel like a little piggy by having a couple of big desserts).  Plus, this way I got to mix and match the flavors and provide a wider assortment, which is always fun.  The strawberry mini cupcakes had a strong strawberry flavor already, so to pair them with the strawberry glaze made the flavor intense, which is great if you love strawberries!  The lime buttercream was a perfect compliment to the strawberry mini cupcakes.  Likewise, the vanilla mini cupcakes were the perfect palette for both the glaze and the frosting.  Even though Dave and Cindy were both sitting in the kitchen watching me pipe the lime frosting, I kept the beater for myself--this frosting was delicious!  Tasty and cute, mini cupcakes are definitely the way to go.  Plus, I loved the little polka dot mini cupcake liners I found to match the shower's polka dot theme.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Freezable Lemon Bars

Pretty and delicious--always a winning combination.  So just as Cindy loves cheese more than chocolate, she will also always choose a fruit-based dessert over a chocolate dessert as well.  So of course I needed to incorporate some light and fruit flavors into the dessert table with the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars and Pretzel Brownies.  These lemon bars are perfect.  They have a very different texture and composition than my previous Lemon Bars, but they are still delicious and a tasty bite of summer.  The crust is a simple graham cracker layer which is then topped with a light lemony layer.  It's not quite as thick as lemon curd, more akin to a lemon filling.  Finally, it's all topped off with a layer of whipped cream.  Sweet, tart and delicious.

When scouring lemon recipes, I found several that looked yummy, but ultimately I went with this one from Jen over at Beantown Baker simply because I could freeze them! (Plus, I've never failed with one of Jen's recipes).  Since I was trying to do as much work in advance of the shower as possible, this recipe made a lot of sense to me.  I only made one adjustment to the recipe and that was to include the zest of one lemon in the whipped cream topping.  If you've followed me for a while, you're familiar with my trials (and failures) of lemon flavor.  I figured the added lemon zest would secure the pop of lemon I wanted to achieve, and it totally worked. You could certainly leave it out, or decrease it, but I like the way the topping continues the lemon flavor from the filling.  And as far as the freezing part, I was thrilled with how they turned out.  I let them sit for the recommended time, they cut perfectly and because they were still chilled, the bars maintained their shape and the structure of the topping despite sitting on the dessert table for a little while.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pretzel Brownies

You knew I wouldn't leave you hanging on those brownies, right? These brownies are fudgy but the pretzels provide a nice balance and hint of saltiness and crunch for another level of taste and texture.  What I really liked was they way they balanced nicely with the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars on the dessert table.  While those bars were crisp and dominated by the peanut butter with a chocolate chip kicker, these brownies are soft and rich with a salty, crunchy punch.  I had few of these left, so I figure they were a hit!

Remember the 50 Tea Sandwiches booklet from Food Network Magazine that I used to make the various tea sandwiches for the baby shower?  Well, in February 2012 for their Chocolate Issue, they published a 50 Brownies booklet and it is chock full of delicious and tempting brownies in lots of (well, 50!!) flavors.  One slight tweak I made to the original recipe was exactly where I layered the pretzels.  The recipe suggested just lining the bottom of the pan with pretzel sticks and pouring the brownie batter over top.  Concerned that the pretzels would fall right off the bottom when I cut them into squares, instead I put a thin layer of brownie batter on the bottom of the pan, then layered in pretzels upon which I poured the remaining brownie batter.  Perfect and delicious and a wonderful twist on the traditional fudge brownie.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Just ignore the brownies for now, K?

These yummy bars were one of the many treats for the dessert table at Cindy's shower and they are fantastic.  Cindy's sister-in-law Sharon couldn't stop talking about them and said twice that she needed to have the recipe.  And I totally understood. I actually had to make these bars twice in a week.  I made them the week before the shower, intending to freeze them so I'd have extra time before the shower. Unfortunately when I tried to flip the bars out of the pan to cut them I made a spectacular mess.  They completely shattered and there was no saving them.  Frustrated, I put the pieces in a container for Dave and I to enjoy and moved on with my baking plans.  But then I went and tasted the broken bars.  And they were delicious.  Peanut butter cookie flavor with chocolate chips sprinkled through and the texture of a perfect chocolate chip cookie.  It was both an awesome and disappointing taste: awesome because the "bars" tasted so good, but disappointing because I would have to make them again to make proper bars for the party and I didn't have any more peanut butter or chocolate chips on hand so I would have to wait until I could make a grocery run.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rounding Out The Shower Buffet

If anyone ever leaves my house hungry, it's their own fault.  I always have far too much food for parties and usually will make some thing at the last minute because people are coming over or whip something up while people are there.  So of course the shower buffet overflowed with options.  But since some of the recipes aren't really that exciting, rather than detail them here, I'll just outline the rest of the food and link you to the recipes.

What I will tell you is that Pinterest was a huge help.  I created a board for the shower and a board just for appetizers.  I kept pinning anything I thought looked fun and tasty so a few weeks before the shower I really buckled down and decided what to make.  Having all the recipes pinned in one place with beautiful photos helped to cull down the menu and match flavors--or make sure I didn't overlap too many flavors.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tea Sandwiches Four Ways

Really, what's an afternoon shower without tea sandwiches?  They are the perfect size, you can try a bunch of different flavors and they are the quintessential dish to prepare for a ladies-only affair.  I actually let Cindy choose the flavors because I couldn't quite decide.  The funny thing was that in the back of my mind, I picked several of the same options that Cindy chose, so we really were on the same page.  Initially I thought I'd do three kinds--Ham, Brie and Apple; Salmon-Cucumber; and Caprese (my favorite).  But then I saw that perfect little loaf of rye bread sliced into perfect tea sandwich size and decided to use some leftover cooked chicken to make an Herbed Chicken Salad.  They were all delicious and only a few leftovers graced the plated by the end of the day.

One of my favorite parts of the Food Network Magazine is their little pull-out booklets of 50... included each month.  The first time I opened the magazine it was 50 Nachos, and I've had the pleasure of pursuing 50 Condiments, 50 smoothies, 50 Stuffed Potatoes, 50 Pies, and 50 Brownies, just to name a few.  Each month the booklet gets pulled out, scoured and marked up and then placed in a file with the rest of the 50...'s for easy reference.  In May 2011, they printed 50 Tea Sandwiches and I pulled it out, not knowing exactly when I would make tea sandwiches, but that I really liked the idea.  Lo and behold, a shower and tea sandwich-worthy event.  Make these, share these, love these.