Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Goals

As 2010 fades into a memory everyone starts to think ahead to 2011 ... what they want to accomplish, the good things hopefully in store, putting this year in the past.... I haven't really made New Year's resolutions in a long time since I don't normally keep them. (Honestly, does anyone ever really keep them? If so I want to know their secret!) This year, however, I want to make a list of goals I hope to accomplish throughout 2011. And by posting it here on my blog, I will have all my readers (do I have any??) to help me stay on track to reach my goals!

Goal 1: Take a Cooking Class
I've always wanted to take one and now that we live in an area where these actually exist rather than in the middle of nowhere it's my goal to find a class that sounds interesting and actually do it! I want to keep exploring new menu items in the kitchen to spice up our weekly menus and a cooking class would be a great place to learn.

Goal 2: Explore Photography
This past year I splurged on a digital SLR camera and I love it, but I'm sure I don't utilize properly and I definitely don't understand all that I can do with it. I want to learn though. I figure there's a community ed class or somewhere online that can teach me. Otherwise I'll never know exactly what to do with it!

Goal 3: Host a Party or Get-together
My husband and I always talk about having people over, but we never actually go through with any plans. This year, party time at our house!! At least a fun dinner party where I could make what I learn in my cooking class I'm going to take!

Goal 4: Save Money
Boring goal I know!! But a necessary one. There are so many things that come up that I wish I had money for so this year is time to open up a savings account again and put money in it every month for emergencies or even a rainy day.

Goal 5: Take a Vacation
Funny that goal 4 is save money followed by taking a vacation that will require money. Good thing I'm going to start saving! We haven't been on a vacation since our honeymoon back in 2006; I think it's time we deserved to take one. It doesn't even need to require expensive airline tickets, just get out somewhere new for a week and have some fun!

Goal 6: Have Date Nights
I think my husband and I would also benefit from a date night. A night to get at least a little bit gussied up (at least get out of the sweats for a few hours!) and go out on the town - dinner, a movie, a play, a baseball game, etc. - just away from the dogs for a few hours and reconnect.

Goal 7: Be Healthier
This is not a "lose weight" or "diet" resolution. This is just an overall be healthy goal - eat the recommended five fruits and veggies a day, eat whole grains more, take up pilates or yoga again, continue taking the dogs for a walk, incorporate fitness into my every day life somehow. I don't want to diet; I love food and baking, and being able to explore recipes without restrictions (other than no onions!) so no diets. If I lose weight by eating healthier and getting in some exercise, that would just be a great benefit. I just want to feel healthier.

Goal 8: Keep Finding What Makes Me Happy
This past year has brought many struggles, but also lots of happiness in my life. One thing that has made me super happy is finding a place to live that didn't suffocate me as I was feeling just a year ago. For 2011 I want to keep finding out what makes me happy ... in my career, in my home life, in my hobbies, in my family ... and living this happier life. You only live once, and I want to make the best of my life by being happy and fulfilled. I'll continue on this quest this year, and many years to come!

There they are ... my eight goals for 2011. I think it's enough, and I think I have some things in there that will challenge me. I will of course keep posting some of baking creations here on my blog and writing since those things make me happy!

Thanks to 2010 for being a year that brought positive changes to my life even through all the struggles and tears. Here's hoping that 2011 will be even better!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Goodies: Peppermint Bark

Christmas is just a few short days away, and I'm sure everyone is baking up a frenzy making holiday goodies, decorating the tree (I love our tree this year and the fact that we have a bay window to display it!), finishing up shopping and wrapping presents. Luckily I'm all done with my Christmas decorating and shopping. I was thinking about picking up one more thing for my parents, but not sure if I want to brave the crazed crowds. Instead, I'm spending my time indoors and trying out some new recipes.

Being that there's only two of us in our family, I have to restrain myself from making too many goodies. (Well, technically there's four of us, but my two dogs cannot have my baked goods!) I've found so many recipes I want to make this year, and I just want to keep using my new KitchenAid mixer on a daily basis, but I don't want to bake too much and feel obligated to eat everything I make. I don't want to have to buy new pants this Ch
ristmas! So I've been trying to find the most interesting and most holiday-ish recipes to try now, and to save the other recipes for later when the Christmas goodies have run out and we're craving some baked goods. But it's definitely taking restraint!!

This time around I decided to make peppermint bark. I love peppermint bark. The stuff from Williams-Sonoma is hands down the best. However, the price is a little too steep for me meager budget so I decided to make my own this year. I had a recipe saved from years ago cut out from some magazine of my mom's and used that for this first round of bark. It called for heavy cream in the bottom layer with the semi-sweet chocolate so it's more like a chocolate ganache than a hard bark. Not sure if I like that quality. I think I would like a hard bark more a
nd it also needs some more peppermint flavor. Overall, it's not bad, just not Williams-Sonoma quality!! Probably not even the quality of the stuff I could by at Target. No worries, I'll still eat it. It still tastes like peppermint bark, just not the best it could taste!


I would love to make another batch and try something different to improve, but I realized my husband hasn't even tried any. I wish he would have told me he didn't like peppermint bark! At least I only made half a batch!

Peppermint Bark
Ingredients:
12 oz. high quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Bakers, it was the best I could find)
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 tsp. peppermint extract (I think this is where Williams Sonoma gets the best bark; they use peppermint oil!)
12 oz. high quality white chocolate (also used Bakers)
Crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

How To:
Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil smoothing out the wrinkles
In a microwave safe bowl carefully melt the semi-sweet chocolate and heavy cream making sure to not burn the mixture (I used 50% power). When fully melted stir in the peppermint extract.
Pour melted chocolate mixture on aluminum foil using a rubber spatula to spread into an even layer. Place chocolate in freezer for about 10 to 25 minutes to harden.
Melt the white chocolate in the microwave carefully. Pour the white chocolate over the hardened semi-sweet chocolate. Spread carefully with spatula to not swirl the chocolates.
Press the peppermint candies in the white chocolate.
Refrigerate until very firm, about 2 hours, then break into chunks.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.


If you know of a better recipe let me know. I'll try it next year! I'm determined to make a delicious batch of peppermint bark!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Cookies: Rolo Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

What do you do when over 12 inches of snow fall on your doorstep that's followed by below zero temperatures? Of course you'd be happy for a snow day (even though it's Saturday) and be glad that you (somewhat) have all necessary ingredients and do some holiday baking!

So far I've only made holiday cupcake pops (in my new favorite flavor - peppermint vanilla!) for a cookie exchange. Not too much holiday baking yet for me! I started to go through my usual holiday recipes, and none of them sounded like much fun. Primarily because most of them didn't allow me to use my brand spankin' new KitchenAid mixer I got for my birthday!! It's red, and beautiful, and was begging to be used on the snowy weekend. I decided to check out s
ome of my favorite blogs for new Christmas cookie recipes and found several I wanted to try. I printed out all the recipes, and picked the one that I had all the ingredients on hand for to bake. However, my husband decided to weigh in with an opinion on the recipe assortment and pick the one he wanted me to make first.

Let me just clarify that we just had a major snowstorm that dumped a foot or more of snow. The roads were just being cleared out, and the wind chills were well below zero. I planned on picking something that I had all the necessary ingredients, however, when you let you husband pick out a recipe, he'll undoubtedly pick out the one recipe that you don't have everything for!

No way was I going out in the cold! So I turned to him and gave him my sweetest smile and said "I would love to make you some cookies because I love you! Can you please go out in the snow and cold to pick up some Rolos and brown sugar? Pretty please?!" He of course couldn't say no; I was making the cookies he wanted! So he bundled up and headed out. Then 20 minutes later it was time to get my KitchenAid mixer whirling and bake some cookies!

My husband picked out a recipe for Rolo Stuffed Chocolate Cookies that Jamie from My Baking Addiction posted on her site. They looked so good with caramel oozing out of the centers! I was not disappointed. These cookies were easy to make, and smelled so good as they were baking. To make mine more Christmas themed, I topped the cookies with red and green sugar sprinkles. Very festive I thought! The best part is that they tasted exactly as good
as I imagined! The perfect combination of chocolate with a caramel center. The perfect addition to my holiday baking list! I hear we're getting more snow in the next couple of days so it will be a good excuse to do some more holiday baking and finish up wrapping my presents!


Here's the link if you're looking for a delicious cookie to add to your holiday baking: http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/holiday-recipe-exchange-rolo-stuffed-chocolate-cookies/

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate M&M Cookies

In Honor of Cookie Week
Ree Drummond, a.k.a The Pioneer Woman and my cooking idol, has deemed this "Cookie Week" on Twitter. I figured since I was baking cookies anyway, I would just write up a quick post to link with all of the other yummy cookie recipes coming through! I know I've seen many new recipes I want to try out soon! However, this time I stuck with one of my favorites since I had everything I needed in my cupboards.

This recipe never fails me - Chocolate Pudding Cookies - and the cookies always taste oh-so-good. I've made these cookies numerous times since I stumbled upon the recipe in the Tasty Kitchen site. I've made them mostly with chocolate pudding and also have used vanilla pudding mix to use them as a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. I always love them, and they always get eaten up quick in my house!

This time around I had some M&Ms open from a previous baking project that I wanted to use up along with some white chocolate chips leftover from Oreo brownies. I threw them in instead of plain chocolate chips and was surprised with how Christmas-y they look! I didn't have Christmas M&Ms; I just happened to have fall colored ones that were mixed with a green bag so they turned out holiday-ish. Turned out great since I'm in the holiday mood with Christmas only 23 days a way!

Speaking of Christmas creeping up ... did you know some people are DONE with their Christmas shopping? And many of those same people already have their presents wrapped? Jeepers! I haven't even started. But at least I have a list going ... even if it's only in my head! And if you're still looking for the perfect holiday gift for me, I need a new mixer. At the top of my list this year is a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Since my hand mixer pretty much died the day before Thanksgiving this is now become more of a necessity!

If you're interested in trying out a great chocolate cookie head over to the Tasty Kitchen site and check out the recipe. I highly recommend it for yummy tasting cookies! Feel free to mix and match whatever kind of chocolate chips/ candies you want! Enjoy!

http://thepioneerwoman.com/tasty-kitchen/recipes/desserts/chocolate-pudding-cookies/

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reaching the Big 3-0 Milestone

Tomorrow, November 30th, is my birthday. Tomorrow is when I enter into "my day of darkness" as I like to call it. Today is the last day of my twenties and tomorrow I enter into my scary age. I turn the big 3-0 tomorrow. Help me!!!

Turning 30 terrifies me and makes me just want to hide under the covers for the next few days!!!
My husband is eight years older than me and doesn't quite understand my apprehension of turning 30. He didn't even bat an eye when he turned 30 (I'm guessing) and keeps telling me it's not a big deal. But me? I'm scared of leaving my twenties and entering the next decade of my life. Turning 30 makes me feel depressed. But I don't really know how to explain why.

I wonder if it's because when I was younger I
set goals, accomplishments and deadlines for big things to happen in my life before I'm "old." Back then I thought 30 was old. And now when I look at the things I've done in my life, I know I haven't accomplished all I wanted. I'm not rich and successful living in a big house by the lake or ocean. I am married and have a wonderful family so I guess I score points on those goals! But I'm definitely not where I pictured I'd be by the time I hit this milestone birthday.

To start with I'm not exactly on the career path I envisioned. But that career path has changed so many times
that I don't know where I'm headed even now. (I used to want to be a teacher, than a lawyer because they made more money, then in college I thought I wanted to go into entertainment/ sports PR but that never worked out and somehow I ended up in casino marketing - I never would have thought that!)

Thirty is the grown up age; I should have m
y career figured out by now. Not be unsure of where my life is heading. Thirty is when you are supposed to have found yourself and are building your character, and I think part of finding yourself is being settled in a career. Luckily I have a job that I'm happy with and am most happy with my employer; it's just not what I envisioned for my life. But somehow it's working for me so maybe 30 is the age when I learn to embrace my career.

I haven't traveled as much as I had hoped I would. I always thought I'd be a jet-setter type of person who would take at least yearly vacations to see the United States and the world. Vacation in the Caribbean, see the Eiffel Towel and experience the beauty of Hawaii. And now, I've only seen most of what I have because of my jobs that have allowed me to travel to other states. I haven't been on an airplane in years, and haven't ever had the need to get a passport.

I also never thought I'd still be living in Minnesota. One of my goals was to get out of the state for at least a year. And here I am, still living in the freezing cold state I've only ever called home. This goal, however, will not leave my list - some year I will live in another state. Somewhere where the sun shines a little warmer in the winter months!

There are the good things in life; the goals I did meet. I'm married to a man who loves me more than I could ever have imagined. We have two cute, fun and furry "kids" that bring joy to my life; we have a great little family. And that is one of the best accomplishment I made in my twenties!

So what is it? What makes 30 so depressing
? Shows like Friends and Sex and the City showed 30 as being a great age - it's fun and exciting on TV. So maybe 30 won't be so bad. Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up with a big smile on my face and embrace this new decade. However, and this is way more likely, if you don't hear from me in the next couple of days, I'm probably still in bed hiding under the covers pretending the big 3-0 didn't happen. Can I just say I'm 29 for another year or so??

On a happy note, my husband organized a small get-together for my birthday yesterday and got me this super cute cake from a local bakery, The Queen of Cakes. The cake is not only cute, but tastes super delicious! It's a marble cake with strawberry mousse filling and buttercream and chocolate ganache frosting. Yum!!! At least I'll have th
e cake to make me feel better tomorrow!

"The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age." - Lucile Ball



Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Another month has gone by without a blog post ... I really need to get more creative with my baking so I have things to post! My last few baking projects haven't been very pretty; tasty, but not pretty so they didn't make the cut for my blog. Also, I've been busy trying to decorate my place up and pretending winter isn't around the corner. Some days I would rather shop than bake!

Today, however, I decided it was time to bake, and time to try a new recipe. I've spent too much money lately so my bank account needs a day off. Plus, I needed to distract myself from what I deem the worst neighbor in our neighborhood. Of course I needed to pick the one house next to someone who must not be able to hear real well (at least I hope that's the excuse) since the music/ surround sound is always SUPER LOUD!! I just would like t
o point out that I live in a townhome. Our living rooms are not that big; I don't think surround sound is necessary for every TV show, every movie, every game, etc. So anyway, I needed to do something other than sit and try to watch my TV!

I tried a new recipe I found off of the Food Network website. I haven't baked too many things off this site, but these cookies sounded good so I thought I'd give them a try - Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies.
I had some leftover pumpkin puree from my pumpkin cake bites I made last week and wanted to use it up so I thought a pumpkin cookie sounded pretty good.

The recipe was easy to follow, but I wasn't a fan of the dough so I was a little worried about baking them up. I thought the dough needed to be sweeter, but I didn't want to add anything in case the taste differed as they baked. However, the cookies sm
elled delicious as they were baking so I kept positive about the taste!

After they cooled slightly I tasted my first cookie. I still was disappointed in the taste - they're not very sweet at all, and I don't think there's enough pumpkin flavor. I decided to drizzle some chocolate over the top to help sweeten them up, plus I never think there's enough chocolate in a cookie!

Overall I don't think it's a terrible recipe, just not exactly right. I see this recipe as a challenge. What can I do next time to improve the taste? Add some more brown sugar, more spices and definitely more pumpkin. I'll conquer this recipe yet!!

Here's the link if you want to try it out for yourself ... http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/george-duran/pumpkin-chocolate-chip-cookies-recipe/index.html

Now I have to go find something else to distract myself since I think the movie next door is getting louder. And for the rest of the day I'll have to keep repeating "I love living here; you can deal with it."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

Wow ... it's been awhile since I last posted. I haven't really baked anything unique to post so sadly I've been ignoring my blog. I guess I'm a bad blogger .... :o(

Fall is upon us and everyone is posting fall-themed baked goods from pumpkin cupcakes to apple crisp, and I of course had to jump on the fall baking bandwagon! I love fall; it's my favorite season here in Minnesota. I love the leaves changing color, the c
ooler air, the smells and colors associated with autumn, and I love fall baking, especially when it involves pumpkin.

After browsing through numerous recipes, I decided to try a pumpkin bread recipe I found posted on Tasty Kitchen. And man was it tasty! Perfect amount of spice, pumpkin and all that breakfast bread goodness. I made only half the recipe (one loaf) and my husban
d and I ate it in two days it was so good! Oh wait, three ... I finished the last piece for lunch today. It was so, so very good. I wish I had some now!!


Check out this recipe if you love pumpkin bread. It was very moist, very flavorful and was good for breakfast and for lunch! It wasn't overly sweet, just the perfect amount. http://thepioneerwoman.com/tasty-kitchen/recipes/breads/streusel-topped-pumpkin-bread/

A few notes ...
I didn't buy all those spices the recipe calls for. I used the full amount of cinnamon, then substituted pumpkin pie spice in place of the nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cardamom. By cutting the recipe in half I would have needed only 1/8 of a teaspoon of each and that small amount wasn't worth purchasing a $5 bottle of each spice and I had pumpkin pie spice already so that's what I used. That $20 extra dollars for spices was not in my grocery budget! I think the taste of the bread was perfect using the pumpkin pie spice instead though!


For the streusel topping I did not add the oatmeal or flax seed. (Or the pecans because adding nuts is just nuts in my opinion!) Next time I make it I would choose to add the oatmeal to see how that tastes, but the only oatmeal I have on hand is that instant stuff in those little packets so I had to skip it this time. The streusel topping was still good though without it!


I can't wait to try more pumpkin recipes I have found on other people's blogs. Everyone is so creative; I love learning from them! I'll try to be a better blogger in the coming weeks and bake more, and post more. So, on to finding the next recipe!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cuteness

I love my dog pretty much more than anything, and daily I catch her doing cute things. Most of the time I'm not lucky enough to capture it in a picture, but finally luck was on my side. The other day she decided that a warm pile of laundry just taken out of the dryer was the perfect place to lay and take a nap ...
She even let me pick her and the basket up and carry her into the bedroom ...
She didn't move until I started folding clothes. I felt bad for interrupting her nap, but then she just decided to curl up on the clothes I pulled o
ut of the basket. They were still warm enough for her!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Last weekend I came down with an awful cold that I'm still fighting, but at the same time I hadn't lost my appetite and was craving something sweet and full of chocolate. I happened to remember reading through one of my favorite food blogs (Jamie at My Baking Addiction) and seeing a recipe for chocolate cupcakes with chocolate cream cheese frosting. They looked delicious. And I had cream cheese frosting left over from a previous baking project in my freezer so I figured I could handle just making the cupcakes in my cold haze.

And no worries, to not spread cold germs to my husband, I washed my hands about a hundred times throughout the baking process - any time I coughed, blew my nose or after any other gross cold thing I washed my hands. Just so we could all enjoy these cupcakes!

Luckily these cupcakes just happened to be a recipe where I pretty much had everything in stock so I could just start baking. As the cupcakes were baking I took the cream cheese frosting out of the freezer so it could thaw. The cupcakes themselves turned out beautifully. The recipe I used (link on the bottom of the post) said it made 12 cupcakes, but I made 15. However, as they started to bake I realized some of the cupcakes weren't as full so I guess I didn't fill up the liners full enough so I would say plan for only 12. I just filled those cupcakes in with extra frosting!


The cream cheese frosting recipe I used is not from this post. I previously had used the frosting for another recipe and only used half of it and froze the rest. The recipe is from
The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook, and I just added in the melted chocolate and whipped it back up. My frosting didn't look quite as pretty when piped, bu
t my guess is that's because Jamie adds shortening for that purpose and my recipe does not have shortening in it so it was pretty soft. However, it tasted delicious! Next time I'll probably try Jamie's recipe, but I needed a shortcut this time since about halfway through the baking process all I wanted to do was take a nap!

In the end, I love these cupcakes. I am finding I have a definite love for cream cheese frosting which I didn't know until this year. Before this year I've
never made it from scratch, and the canned cream cheese frosting is not comparable in taste! I learned not to judge cream cheese frosting until you make it from scratch! And I love the addition of the chocolate; I'm a chocoholic so it just takes an already delicious frosting to the next level for me! In fact, I could have just ate the frosting and forgot the cupcakes ... even though those were good too! The cake has a great chocolate flavor and seems pretty dense. The addition of the chocolate chips adds a nice crunch. Yum!


If you're in the mood for some chocolate on chocolate cupcakes I highly recommend these! I'll definitely be making them again, and hopefully next time I can make mine look as pretty as Jamie's, but at least they taste delectable!

Here's the link for the recipe:
http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/chocolate-chip-cupcakes-chocolate-cream-cheese-frosting/

Monday, August 23, 2010

Happiness

As I approach the end of day three with an awful, horrible, knock me out cold, I thought I would write a post about something I'm not currently feeling, but wish I were ... happiness. (Seriously, who gets a cold mid-August when it's over 80 degrees outside every day and very humid??? I work from home, so it's not like I caught germs from one of my co-workers. I just don't understand this whole cold thing.) Happiness is the last thing on my mind (more like terribleness and sleepiness), but alas this is what this post is about ... being happy.

The last couple (few??) years my husband and I have been living with at his parents' house. They live there a few months out of the year, but otherwise live in Mesa, AZ (where there is no snow or freezing temps, lucky them!). Although I am incredibly grateful to them for helping us out when we needed it the most and helping us have a sense of security and will feel eternally indebted to them, I hated living there. It had nothing to do with the house or anything, but it's because the house is located in my hometown. A very small town in East Central Minnesota. A place I never wanted to return back to; I always dreamed of being far away from it. The last few years have been such a struggle for me, and happiness rarely was a feeling on my radar. I tried to make the best of it, and wasn't miserable by any means, but I kept dreaming of when we could escape the town and move on to better things for us.

Finally, this past spring, I told my husband we have no choice but to move. We had money saved up and a move was necessary. If I had to live there through another year, I would literally die. (Okay, maybe not literally, but I had to make it a threat!) And this threat worked; we started looking for a new place; our new home.

Although the story is much more complicated and long, we ended up finding our home in Ramsey; a north west suburb of the Twin Cities. I had never been here, but after looking at some townhomes and spending some time in the area, I loved it and was set on finding the perfect home. We lucked into finding a home right away that the moment I walked into it, it felt perfect. It felt like home. I was already envisioning how I would decorate it, how I would change the main colors of my kitchen to match the new red walls ... I knew I had to have it.

So, here we are. Almost a month later and we are all moved into this beautiful townhome. We have made this our home, and within the first week
I felt something that I hadn't felt in years ... happiness. I love it here. I feel not only happy, but also settled. I felt the weight of the last few years lifting off my shoulders, the depression and sadness lifting up, and even some of the worry that's been weighing me down lessen. I might never want to leave. Which, since we're renting right now, might make the owners very happy! Here's a peek into what has made me so happy ....

The outside:


The kitchen: (I had to redecorate. I used to have a
green kitchen accented with green, blue, pink and purple, and now it's red. But I love it with the decor and kitchen table! I'm using orange and yellow as my accent colors.)


The living room: (Also redecorated. We used to have the blue and green theme in the living room as well, but I wanted the kitchen and living room to flow into each other nicely since it's an open floor plan so I carried the red, orange and yellows into the living room. I moved my old decor into the bedroom.)


The bedroom: (The only thing I like about the queen size bed is how pretty it looks. I miss my king size bed so much!! We also have a walk-in closet that you can't see.)


The office: (This needs some work. I want to get a futon to add in case we ever get guests, and I have some pictures that need framing so it doesn't seem so white. This room also has a walk-in closet which is nice for storage.)


Mercedes has even found her new favorite place in front of the bay windows!



We also have two bathrooms, closets, an entry way, laundry area, lots of stairs and a garage, but I didn't think you needed to see those! I'm looking forward to finding the perfect vases, curtains and other things to finish up decorating, but right now I have all the basics and I think it looks great. I'm looking forward to living in my new home for at least the next year and hopefully beyond. I hope you enjoyed the peek!

P.S. I just want to send a shout-out to my in-laws for allowing us to live in their home for the last few years. Although it was a struggle for me to live in my hometown and having to return where I didn't want to, I enjoyed getting to know them more and having the chance to save up some money. I will never forget their kindness and generosity.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chocolate Ganache and M&M Cookies

As you know, I recently moved to a new house. And as you might have read in a previous post (or two!), I love chocolate chip cookies, but my old oven in my old house did not. I tried recipe after recipe, and almost every one of them failed. I mean burnt cookies, flat as a pancake cookies, raw in the middle with burnt edges cookies - all not edible. I almost gave up, but found a few that would work, but weren't the greatest cookies in the world. I couldn't wait to test my new oven out and see if I could make chocolate chip cookies in it so I could continue my search on finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

This time around however, I didn't want just plain chocolate chip cookies (boring!) so I thought I would try a recipe that I saw on the Sing for Your Supper blog (http://www.singforyoursupperblog.com/) for Chocolate Ganache Stuffed Cookies. Basically, you mix up a batch of chocolate chip cookies minus the chocolate chips and make chocolate ganache to "fill" the middle so when you bite into the middle you get a gooey chocolate center. It sounded so delicious!

For the base of the cookie I tried a recipe that failed before in my old oven. I had high hopes for it before because the dough tasted so, so good. And the recipe promised thick, puffy, chewy cookies - my favorite things in a chocolate chip cookie. Once again the dough tasted incredibly yummy so I kept my fingers crossed as it marinated overnight that it would turn out this time. I wanted to try those delectable cookies!

The next morning I mixed up the ganache (chocolate chips and heavy cream) and let it chill for about two hours. Then I started making the cookies. First, I started the way the directions instructed. I made a flat disk then spooned the ganache on top, then made another disk for the top and tried to roll it. Operative word "try". I just had a big, slimy mess!

Rather than giving up on the whole thing and making plain cookies, I tried it my own way. I rolled the dough as normal, used my thumb to put an indent in the middle of the ball, filled the indent with ganache and then made a little topper for it out of flattened out dough and sealed the edges. Then, because I like a little crunch with my cookie, I added some M&Ms on top.


I did a few test cookies at first to find out how long they should bake, and if they'd even work. The result? Success for the cookie turning out and not burning or going flat! However, the ganache kept seeping out of the cookie. I don't really know how to fix this problem so I just kept going as I was. I think they look kind of neat with the ganache coming out of the top!


After all of them were baked, I had very few that didn't leak the ganache. However, I think they all taste really good. There's still ganache in the center of most of the cookies so you have this gooey, chocolate center. I also like the crunch the M&Ms added. The original recipe calls for sea salt on top, but I'm not into the salt on my cookies thing. I just like the sweetness!


The chocolate chip recipe I used came from here and I highly recommend it. Great tasting cookies! http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/jennies-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Here's the recipe for how to put together the cookies to be "filled" with ganache. Good luck! http://www.singforyoursupperblog.com/2010/07/15/chocolate-ganache-stuffed-cookies/

Monday, August 9, 2010

More Cupcake Bites

My husband had a family reunion this past weekend, and my mother-in-law asked me to make cupcake bites. I happily said yes. I finally got all my kitchen stuff unpacked and tried out my new oven for the first time! Although I grumble about the work that goes into these, I love the end result. And they are actually fun to make too! If only I had a stool to sit on or a table to sit at so my feet wouldn't get so tired.

I made two 9-inch cakes so we could have a couple of different flavors. I made my husband's favorite, chocolate bana
na, and tried a new flavor, vanilla raspberry. I cheated and used box cake mix as my base. I used a chocolate fudge cake mix for the chocolate banana, added buttermilk in place of the water, two mashed up bananas and the eggs and oil. For the vanilla raspberry one, I started with a vanilla cake mix, crushed up and strained fresh raspberries for the raspberry juice, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. I mixed both of the cooled and crumbled cakes with cream cheese frosting. Since I was making cupcake bites, I filled a peanut butter cup candy mold with chocolate almond bark as the base, dropped in the cake ball, and dipped the finished bite into colored candy melts - yellow for banana and pink for raspberry. So cute!

Both taste extremely yummy, but I am partial to the vanilla raspberry. I can't wait to try the from scratch recipe I have saved in my files. I think that recipe will have an even stronger raspberry flavor. I was afraid to add too much juice thinking the cake batter would be too runny so it just has a subtle hint of raspberry.

I hope everyone enjoyed them at the reunion!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Truffles

These past couple of weeks I have been in the process of packing for a big move. Moving means my life has been in boxes, including all of my baking stuff. I have missed baking, and I have missed blogging. However, moving also means MOVING!!! We are now living in a great townhome just outside of the Twin Cities area and I LOVE it!!!! This move was such a necessary need for me. I've been pretty depressed living back in my very small hometown for the last few years so this move is exactly what I need to feel less stressed and happier. And now, my baking utensils are all unpacked and baking will once again be on my weekly agenda. Yay! We have an electric oven so I'm guessing they'll be some trial and error switching over from the gas oven I've gotten used to, but disasters make good posts too! ;o)

Right before I left our old house in Sandstone, I felt the need to make something and it had to be something that didn't require a mixer, cookie sheets or measuring cups. Hmmm ... this posed a challenge. I decided to make a "grocery store" treat.

I went to the local grocery store and picked up a package of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and a package of cream cheese. I crumbled up the cookies into fine crumbs like I've done previously with Oreo truffles and mixed the crumbs with the cream cheese. I rolled the mixture up into balls, and stuck them in the freezer to set. Then, I dipped them in chocolate candy coating, and I had Chocolate Chip Cookie Truffles. Easy, and it satisfied my need to "bake" something. (Well, at least make something.)

I didn't like these as much as the Oreo Truffles. This could be because I actually don't really like grocery store prepackaged chocolate chip cookies. I much prefer the taste of homemade chocolate chip cookies. My husband and mother-in-law seemed to like them quite a bit though. I did like the fact that they were soft inside; sort of like cookie dough. They were good, but could be better. Next time I'll try them with cookies I like the taste of better. Or just try making chocolate chip cookie dough truffles. Yum, I want one now!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Photography!

A few months back I invested in a new camera - my first ever digital SLR. I ended up going with a Nikon D3000 because it was what I could afford and what I could find on Ebay. So far I love it!!! I've been having so much fun playing with it, and learning how it works! Since all my baking stuff is packed in boxes (I'm moving this weekend!!!), I figured I could post a few of my favorite pictures I've taken so far ....

This is one of the first photos I took with my camera .... my baby girl Mercedes:
She's so cute I can't stop taking pictures of her!I also love taking pictures of flowers ....Recently we took a day and went to Como Zoo. These are some of my favorite photos! I also finally invested in Photoshop Elements 8. (Okay, my husband actually bought it for me because he's so nice and knows I would never buy it for myself. I can always find a "better" way to spend the money!) Photoshop definitely helps me take my photos to the next level, but I still have a lot to learn! These zoo photos went from nice photos to frame worth in my feeble opinion.

I'm planning on framing these butterfly photos for my office.
Lastly is this cute monkey photo. I had to include him - he's too cute not to!
I hope to post more photography photos as I keep using my camera. I'm still learning so am always open to tips and tricks for photography and Photoshop; feel free to share your knowledge!

Next up will be another food post. It'll have to wait until after the move since my computer with my Photoshop software is also packed in a box, but I hope you enjoyed this post!

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4th Cupcakes

Fourth of July came and went, and I never posted pictures of my red, white and blue cupcakes. Here they are one day late ...

I just made a white cake, divided the batter into three bowls and dyed one red, one blue and kept the last one white with gel food coloring. I put a teaspoon of each color into the cupcake liners starting with the blue, then white and finally the red. After baking and cooling the cupcakes I took off the liners so everyone could see how fun they looked!

I topped the cupcakes with a buttercream icing. I used the Magnolia Bakery Buttercream recipe and added 1/2 a teaspoon
of raspberry extract to give it a slight raspberry flavor. Finally I decorated with sprinkles, and topped with cupcake toppers I made from downloading free toppers from Tweedle Dee Designs. So cute!!!



I really liked the buttercream. It's not too sweet, but I didn't use the whole amount of sugar called for in the recipe. There's many buttercreams I've tried that I haven't been fond of, but this one I'll probably use again. It's super simple, and tastes good. Here's the link to the yummy buttercream recipe: http://www.kitchenlink.com/cookbooks/2005/0743246616_4.html


Here's the link to the cupcake toppers: http://tweedleddesigns.blogspot.com/2010/05/free-printables-4th-of-july-party.html
(I realize you probably won't want these exact ones since it's after the 4th, but maybe they'll make new ones for next holiday! They have so many ideas I wish I would've found the site sooner so I could have made more fun things for the party.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Root Beer Cupcake Bites

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a recipe for root beer cupcakes on the Smitten Kitchen blog. I love me some root beer. In fact, it is the only soda I drink. Root beer combined with a chocolate cupcake would have to be perfection. There was no going wrong with that combination.

However, because my in-laws were coming home and I'm planning on making cupcakes the next weekend for the 4th of July, I wanted to do some
thing different and a little more impressive. I decided to use the cupcake batter recipe, but instead make cupcake bites. Yum! I had picked up the peanut butter cup candy mold about a month ago so I could effectively make them without a cookie cutter, and I had all the candy melts and sprinkles. It sounded like a great idea!

I went ahead and made the whole cake recipe, and baked it in a 9x13 pan. The batter turned out pretty good, but at first I thought I was a little disappointed in the root beer flavor, but I went ahead with the plan. Even after tasting the final baked cake, I was still disappointed in the lack of root beer flavor. Next time I make the cake I'll use regular cocoa powder rather than dark chocolate. I think that would help. I felt the dark chocolate was too overpowering for the root beer.

I let the cake cool, then crumbled it up in a big bowl, mix
ed it with Whipped Cream frosting (yes, I cheated here; I used a can of frosting!), then rolled the mixture into small balls. I was amazed that I made almost 100 of these! How are we going to eat all of these?? (Just as a side note, the cupcake bites are getting close to being gone. My husband is going to a party tomorrow and will take a good part of what's left with him so no worries, we found a place for all the cupcake bites!)

After letting the cake balls set in the freezer for about 20 minutes, I started melting the chocolate candy melts for the bottoms. Here is what took forever. Somehow, when I was picking up the candy mold, I only thought to buy one. However, one only makes 11 bottoms at a time so when you have almost 100 cake balls, this starts to take foreve
r! I had to fill the molds, set the rolled cake balls on top, stick them in the freezer for 10 minutes to set, then pop them out and start all over for the next 11. This process went on and on!



Hours later, after all the cake balls had cup
cake bottoms, I started to dip them in the white candy melts. I decided to do only white thinking it looked a little bit like ice cream, then topped it with a red M&M to represent a cherry and chocolate sprinkles. I wanted them to look like root beer floats! So cute!!!



Finally, after all the tops were dipped and decorated, I got to try one. The verdict? These cupcake bites taste yummy! I think they look like root beer float cupcakes, and they taste like how I would envision chocolate root beer tasting. Yum, yum, yum!
Plus, aren't they so pretty???!



Here's a link to Bakerella for more specific (and better!) directions on how to make cupcake bites: http://www.bakerella.com/cupcake-bites-made-easy/


I used the root beer cupcake recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The changes I made include not making cupcakes (obviously!) and baking the batter in a 9x13 pan. Also, I added 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract. I used 1 1/2 cups root beer and 1/2 cup root beer schnapps. Here's the link: http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/06/root-beer-float-cupcakes/

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Delightful Dark Chocolate Cake

This chocolate cake is to die for ... delicious ... divine ... delectable ... delightful .... Okay, that's all the d words I can think of that make it sound super good! I made this dark chocolate cake for Father's Day. My dad loves chocolate and seems disappointed any time I make a dessert that doesn't include it so this time I went all out with a dark chocolate cake and chocolate frosting. I did sneak a little bit of non-chocolate in there by adding a raspberry buttercream filling. All the flavors together make one mouthwatering, appetizing cake! I topped it with candy coated chocolate sprinkles to give it that festive touch.

I used a chocolate cake recipe from Paula Deen's Best Desserts magazine. I also used the frosting recipe it called for except I cut it in half since I was only frosting the cake with it, not filling it. The cake recipe is called the Ultimate Dark Chocolate Cake, and the frosting is Rich Dark Chocolate Frosting. I can't seem to find it online, but I can send you the recipe if you want it, or break down and type it up if people want. It's one of the best cakes I've made!

The cake makes enough batter for three 9-inch rounds; I learned during this cake baking experience that my oven does NOT hold three 9-inch round cake pans! So I had to cook the cakes in two batches. Also, I tried something new with these cakes. I always have issues with cakes doming or cracking so I invested in some Magi-Cake Strips that promised an even cake. I think they worked. My two cakes that I made first with the strips turned out perfectly even, and the one I made last without the strip had a slight dome on top. They were worth the investment! (And when I say investment, I think they only cost $10 or something. Not expensive. You can probably even get them cheaper through eBay rather than where I bought them, at Williams Sonoma. It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase; I just had to have them along with sprinkles.)

The raspberry buttercream recipe came from Jamie at My Baking Addiction. She made some tempting raspberry lemon
cupcakes that I wanted, so I decided to try out the frosting first as the filling. Just to break up the chocolate a little bit. I loved this buttercream! It's out of this world good. I just wish I would have used a little bit more raspberries. When paired with three dark chocolate layers, the raspberry flavor gets lost a tad. Next time I'll add more raspberry extract. If you do decide to use it as a filling and not frost the whole cake, you only need to make half the recipe. Or even a third if you're only filling between two layers. Also, because the structure of the frosting wasn't a big deal since it was going between cake layers, I omitted the shortening and subbed butter. Mine wasn't as pink as Jamie's; maybe that's because I didn't use enough raspberries. However, it still turned out tasty!

I highly recommend trying this buttercream recipe if you're on the search for one. Here's the link for
the buttercream: http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/raspberry-lemon-cupcakes/

Such a pretty cake. I think I might have to go have a piece now!



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chocolate Malt Brownies

I haven't made brownies in ages, and I happened upon a brownie recipe in Paula Deen's Best Desserts that made me want a brownie again. I used to make brownies all the time; my husband loves them probably more than any other baked good and I think I just grew sick of them. Plus, I always made them from a mix, never venturing a made from scratch version. But this recipe from Paula Deen drew me in with a thick chocolately brownie topped with chopped Whoppers. They just looked so good I had to try out the recipe!

I started to worry when I saw the recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate. Then I saw that I had to add a cup of brown sugar and a cup of white sugar, so I knew it would e
nd up being sweet enough! After mixing everything together, I loved the batter. (I know, I say that in pretty much every post! Eating the batter/ dough is my favorite part of baking!) However, I did think it was lacking something, so I added about 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract and that improved the taste for me. The batter was very thick so I spooned it into the pan and stuck it in the oven.

As you might have read, my oven and I don't always get along. It likes to burn things; I like to curse at it. We've found kind of a middle ground when it comes to most things, but it still likes to burn food every once in awhile. I kept a close eye on these brownies; checking them like a crazy person the whole 35 minutes they cooked! Luckily I was the only one home so no one could laugh at me. And, luckily for everyone else, the brownie
s didn't burn. The whole pan came out perfectly, even the edges.



Waiting until
the brownies cooled was torture. I was itching to try one! But I was a good girl and waited until they cooled completely ... okay, I might have a sneaked a taste in there! ... made the frosting, topped with the Whoppers then waited some more until they were set. The wait was worth it though - these brownies are scrumptious! If you like brownies and love chocolate, you'll love these! Now excuse me as I go and eat another one.



Chocolate Malt Brownies
Adapted from Paula Deen's Best Desserts

Ingredients for Brownies:
3/4 cup butter
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup malted milk powder (I used the chocolate version)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (not in recipe, but I added)
1 cup Whoppers, chopped, plus extra for garnish

How To for Brownies:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 13x9-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray.
In a small saucepan, combine butter and chocolate. Cook until melted and smooth stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl beat sugars, malted milk powder and eggs at medium speed until fluffy.
In a small bowl combine flour and salt. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating until combined.
Add melted butter/chocolate mixture, beat until combined.
Stir in Whoppers.
Spoon batter into pan and bake for 23 to 27 minutes or until set. (Mine took 35 minutes!)
Let cool completely.


Ingredients for Frosting:
6 tbsp butter
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used semi-sweet)
3 cups powdered sugar (I didn't use quite this much)
1/3 cup whole milk (I used 2%)

How To for Frosting:
In a medium saucepan, combine butter and chocolate. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until melted and smooth.
Remove from heat.
Whisk in sugar until combined.
Gradually add in milk until frosting reaches spreadable consistency.
Spread on cooled brownies, top with Whoppers, let set and eat!