One-Year Blogiversary!

Happy Birthday/Blogiversary to my blog! One year ago today I did my first blog post, about a food I don’t even like (beets, blech), and with a picture that was horrible. What was I thinking? Good question. Since then, I have only posted foods that I love and have (hopefully) gotten a little better with the camera.

In honor of one year, I have a delicious fall treat for you: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars! So good. Of course, I found them on Pinterest (original recipe here). I was thinking they would be more like a cookie bar, but they turned out much more cake-y. Still, they were moist (sorry, but they were), flavorful, and delicious!


Seriously Yum

Best of all, I had pureed pumpkin in my freezer from a pumpkin I roasted last fall, and I finally got to use it up. OK, on second thought, maybe that’s not best of all. Best of all was savoring these delicious chocolate-y pumpkin-y bars.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars
2 cups flour (I like to use white-whole-wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp coarse salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar (I used roughly half white sugar and half brown sugar)
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
12 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 13×9 pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang over the handles. This is what the original recipe’s instructions call for, but I’m sure you could also just grease the pan and that would be fine.

Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat in the pumpkin puree. It’s going to look curdled, but don’t worry about it.

Now add the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread your batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (or use a knife because you never have toothpicks).

Cool completely in the pan. If you’ve used aluminum foil, once they are cool, you can use that to help lift them out of the pan. Otherwise just cut them into 18 squares. One square = 9 PointsPlus. (I know, I know. Eat it anyway. What else are those extra points in the week for?)

Put these out on your table when you have friends over, and they will not live to see tomorrow. The bars, that is. Not your friends. Although, I could see why you would want to kill your friends if they ate all of them.

Now, what are you going to do with that leftover pumpkin puree? I had half a cup left over, but if you use canned pumpkin for your bars, you’ll probably have about a cup left. This morning I had the brilliant idea to mix it into my oatmeal! I don’t have an exact recipe, per se, just some rough guidelines. But it was really good.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Oatmeal, prepared for two or four
Apple Cider (optional)
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Brown Sugar
Almond Milk
Pumpkin puree

Prepare your oatmeal as usual. When it’s almost done, turn the heat down to low. Mix in 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (for two. If you want oatmeal for four, add 1 cup of pumpkin). Mix in about a tablespoon of apple cider, a few good sprinkles of pumpkin pie spice, a few tablespoons of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of almond milk. (My favorite almond milk flavor is unsweetened vanilla.) Obviously, taste and add more of anything if necessary. Even though cinnamon is part of the pumpkin pie spice, I added a little more cinnamon on top of that.

Enjoy with a glass of apple cider. Yay fall!

Guilt-Free “Ice Cream”

Another delicious dessert post for you. But this time it’s healthy. Seriously.

No sugar. No dairy. This recipe really only requires one ingredient plus one or two others if you want to add some flavor. Are you ready?

Frozen banana. 

Yep.

By some crazy miracle, when you blend frozen banana in the food processor, it turns into the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Really! Discovering this recipe is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. OK, so maybe not the best, but it’s up there. Because I love ice cream. Love it, love it, love it. I hardly ever keep it in the house, though, because I would probably eat the entire container by myself. But this recipe is something I can feel good about eating, even though it tastes just like ice cream. Genius.

I am in the habit of keeping sliced bananas in the freezer for smoothies, protein shakes, and this recipe. You will probably want to do the same so you can make this “ice cream” whenever you want. The following recipe is purely a starting point … you can really put anything you want in there to flavor it however you like.

Banana “ice cream”
3-4 bananas, sliced and frozen (slice before freezing)
A spoonful of peanut butter
2-3 tsp. cocoa powder

For this recipe, you will definitely need a food processor. The blender is not gonna cut it. Unless you have a seriously powerful blender.

Put your bananas into the food processor, and blend.

At first, it will looks like this:

It will be kind of grainy. Keep going. You will probably have to stop blending once in awhile and push the banana down with a spatula.

Be patient with it. For awhile it seems like nothing is happening and the banana is just spinning around and around. Just wait. I promise, it will happen. After a while of spinning, the banana at the bottom will start to get very smooth, and then the rest will follow. It’s actually really cool to watch it happen.

Here’s what it will look like when it’s the right consistency:

See how smooth and creamy it is around the sides? But if you look in the middle, you can see there is a big chunk of frozen banana. This happens every time. This last stubborn chunk doesn’t seem to want to break down, and it just keeps spinning around. You will probably have to stop and push it down/break it up a little bit to speed up the process.

Once it is completely done, you can add your flavor.

Like I said, add whatever you want. I usually stick to peanut butter & chocolate because it’s my favorite combo with the banana. But you could add fresh fruit like raspberries or strawberries to make more of a sorbet; coconut; chocolate syrup instead of cocoa powder… whatever you want. Go crazy.

The result is a smooth and creamy soft-serve-like treat that could definitely pass for ice cream. Just without all the calories. If you want it less soft-servey and more ice-creamy, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.

Yum!

For the Love of Cupcakes

I have long had a love for cupcakes. I mean, how could you not? Delicious cake and frosting-y goodness all wrapped up in the perfect, individual size. Yum!

I don’t often post sweets on the blog. Not because I don’t love them (oh, trust me, I do), but because I find baking to be much more difficult than cooking. Everything has to be so precise. If your butter is too soft or too hard, forget about it. There is so much that could go wrong. The first time I tried to make cupcakes from scratch, I had to throw away the entire first batch. It was a complete and miserable failure.  My butter was still too hard and it didn’t combine with the batter correctly. Therefore, they did not bake correctly. I wish I had a picture to show you the horror of these crappy cupcakes.

Fortunately, since then, I’ve learned some tricks. OK, so maybe they’re not tricks. Maybe this is just common baking knowledge, but, if you are new to baking there are some things you should know. Your butter and your eggs should be at room temperature, which requires a few hours of sitting on the counter. If you did not plan ahead, don’t worry. Check out this great blog post at My Baking Addiction for tips on how to speed up the process.

So, what is the yummy cupcake pictured above, you might ask? Well, it actually started out as something completely different. I had planned to attempt this recipe from Annie’s Eats (key word being “attempt”). Looks incredible, right? Well, turns out, it’s not so easy to make. The cake part is easy. Done and done. But homemade caramel? A nightmare. If you can make successful caramel on your first try, you deserve an award. I think caramel is one of those things that you have to have a lot of practice at, and I also hear a candy thermometer comes in handy. I had neither practice nor thermometers on hand, so my attempts at caramel burnt. Twice. On each try, it actually never even got close to turning the golden-brown caramel color. I just had a clear, gooey substance for a long time, and then it burnt and got all chunky and crystallized. Luckily, the mess cleans up easily with hot water, since it only consists of sugar and water.

Caramel nightmare behind me, I decided to scrap this lovely caramel swiss meringue buttercream idea, and just do plain old buttercream frosting. Forging ahead — that’s what mediocre bakers like myself must do in times of trial. I tossed the caramel pot in the sink, and moved on to buttercream.

In the end, I wound up with a delicious cupcake. The cake part is from Annie’s original recipe. I got the buttercream frosting recipe here, and added a couple ingredients of my own.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes (makes about 32 cupcakes)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2¼ cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
2¼ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. brewed coffee*
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup of salted butter (at room temp)
3 teaspoons of vanilla
4 cups of confectioners sugar
Cinnamon & Nutmeg (optional)**
Finely chopped dark chocolate for garnish

*If you don’t love the taste of coffee, don’t worry. Your cake won’t taste like coffee. It just adds a richer flavor.

**I did not measure the cinnamon and nutmeg… I just wanted to add some flavor, so I sprinkled some in, and sprinkled some more until I was satisfied with the taste.

Start with your cake first. Preheat the oven to 350°F, get out a couple cupcake pans, and put your cupcake liners in place. Using an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until blended. Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and mix on low speed until everything is completely blended together.

Pour batter into cupcake liners so they are just a smidge over halfway full. Bake for about 18-20 minutes. You’ll know they are done if you lightly touch the middle of a cupcake and it bounces back. If it feel squishy and the batter hasn’t risen much, give it a couple more minutes.

While your cupcakes are baking, you can make your frosting. Once you’ve cleaned out your mixing bowl, add the butter. Mix on medium-low until the butter is all whipped up. Add confectioners sugar a little bit at at time. When the sugar is all mixed in, add cream and then vanilla. Then, you can sprinkle in some cinnamon and nutmeg.

When your cupcakes are cooled, frost away! I don’t have a frosting kit, so I use a ziploc bag. Just cut the tip of one bottom corner of the bag, put the frosting in, and get to frosting.

The frosting is so rich and sweet and delicious with the incredibly dark chocolate cake.

I will let you in on a little secret: the best way to eat a cupcake. When I was younger, I noticed my mom eating cupcakes this way, and I’ve followed her example ever since. Peel off the cupcake liner (duh), and split the cupcake in half by pulling the bottom part of the cupcake off. Take the part you just pulled off, and stick it on top of the frosting, making a cupcake sandwich.

Ta-da!

By sandwiching it, you get equal parts of frosting and cake in each bite. In my mind, there is no other way to eat a cupcake. Enjoy!

Candy Cane Joe-Joe No-Bake Truffles

If you do not live near a Trader Joe’s, my heart goes out to you.

Each year around Christmas, Trader Joes’ everywhere get the most amazingly delicious cookies you will ever taste. It’s a holiday twist on their regular joe-joe cookies (which are basically like oreos), except there are crushed candy cane pieces in the cream filling. Stop reading, get to your local Trader Joe’s, and buy these. Right now. You will not regret it.

Hopefully they are not sold out yet. Let me tell you something — people go crazy over these cookies. Ric works at TJ’s and he tells me stories of people coming in and buying boxes and boxes and boxes. They hoard them. And then, after the Christmas season is over — get this — they sell them on Ebay. I kid you not.

All of this to say, these cookies are so incredibly delicious. I. love. them.

Last year I had the genius idea of making these babies into truffles. I got the easiest no-bake truffle recipe from a friend awhile ago. That recipe called for regular oreos, and I thought ‘Hmm… this would be 100 times better with candy cane joe-joes and crushed candy cane pieces sprinkled on top.’ And I was right.

If you are in need of a ridiculously easy christmas dessert that people will go crazy over, this is it.

Candy Cane Joe-Joe Truffles (Makes 35-40 truffles)
1 box candy cane joe-joes (or use oreos and add some crushed up candy cane and a bit of peppermint extract to the mix)
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese (I use 1/3 less fat)
1 bag of white or dark chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli, but whatever works)
Crushed candy canes for topping (or Williams Sonoma makes pre-crushed candy cane sprinkles)
A toothpick

Add half the box of cookies to a food processor and pulse until completely crushed. Repeat with the rest of the cookies. (If you don’t have a food processor, you could probably crush the cookies using a plastic bag and a hammer/meat tenderizer/anything heavy, but I’ve never tried. You really do want a consistent, well-crushed mix, so a food processor is probably best.)

In the past I’ve just added the cream cheese into the food processor to mix, but I’m pretty sure I broke my food processor doing this last time. (I’m too scared to test it and find out) The mix is so thick and heavy that the motor gets bogged down, and you don’t want that. (*Update: My food processor isn’t broken! Hurrah! But save yourself the heart attack, and just mix by hand)

This time I poured the crushed cookies into a bowl and mixed it up by hand. It worked just fine. I would highly suggest doing this so you don’t break your beloved food processor. 😦

Use your hands to combine until it is all the same consistency. It will be very sticky and a bit greasy.

Once it is thoroughly mixed together, take a bit of the mix and roll it together between your palms to make a little ball. You can make them as big or as small as you want… I make them so that they can be eaten in one or two bites. Put them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper or wax paper.

When you’re all done, pop them in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, before taking them out to coat in chocolate.

Now for melting your chocolate. This part can be a bit tricky if you’ve never done it before. Chocolate can be difficult because it burns very easily, so be careful.

To prevent it from burning, I do not put the pan with chocolate directly over the heat. You can use a double boiler and add a couple of inches of water into the bottom pot.

I do not have a double boiler. If you’re in the same boat, get a skillet or a pyrex bowl that can rest on top of/in the pot. Your chocolate will go in there. Bring the water to a light boil and then turn heat down to low.

Set your skillet or bowl on top of the pot with the water. (It should not be touching the water. The steam from the hot water is what will melt the chocolate). Add about half the bag of chocolate to the skillet/bowl. If it’s not enough for all the truffles, you can add more later. I also add a tiny bit of canola oil to thin it out a little bit — maybe 1 tsp.

Stir the chocolate constantly until melted. Keep an eye on it and make sure it’s not bubbling. If it starts to bubble, hold away from the heat for a minute, and turn your heat down.

Keep stirring your chocolate and set the pan of truffles nearby. For the next step, it’s best to have someone to help you.

Add in a couple of truffles at a time and coat with chocolate. Have your helper stick a toothpick in each truffle to get them out, and place them back on the parchment/wax paper. Sprinkle the crushed candy cane on top to hide the hole that the toothpick made.

Repeat with all the truffles and then put them back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving, so the chocolate can harden.

Rainy Day Bread

The fact that I haven’t yet posted any dessert-type recipes on here is exceptionally misleading. I love dessert. I love licking the batter off the spoon. I love the smell of whatever it is baking in the oven. I guess I do more cooking  because I feel like it’s harder to mess up. For instance, I made cupcakes from scratch for the first time a few months ago, and I had to throw away the entire first batch. They were a disaster. It took me awhile to get them right. Sometimes you need to be really precise in baking, and do things in a very particular way. I like cooking because you can experiment with different ingredients and flavors, and chances are you won’t mess it up too badly.

One dessert-y thing that I love, and is not too difficult to make, is pumpkin bread. OK, so I don’t know if you can classify something you can eat for breakfast as dessert. (Am I the only one who eats it for breakfast?) But whatever. It is sweet and delicious, (and easier than cupcakes). I had a couple cans of pumpkin in my cabinet, and clearly, fall is the perfect time to be eating pumpkin-flavored things! Last year my friend gave me the most delicious recipe for pumpkin bread made with pumpkin beer, and oh my gosh, it is SO good. I hate the word moist, but this bread is just that. I can’t get enough of it. Perfectly moist (ugh), perfectly flavored, sweet with a little spice, slightly crispy exterior. YUM! Luckily, this recipe makes about 3 loaves, so there is plenty to go around.

This whole week has been cloudy, rainy, and chilly. Perfect for doing a little bit of baking. There’s nothing better on a rainy fall afternoon than cozying up with a blanket and a slice of warm pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Ale Bread
Puree (make first):

15 oz. can pumpkin
2/3 cup sugar
1 12 oz. bottle pumpkin ale (I used Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Combine all puree ingredients and stir slowly (because the beer makes everything fizz out of control). Set aside until ready to use. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
————————————-
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup puree that you made above
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Combine sugar & oil with electric mixer. Slowly add eggs. Stop mixer and add 1 cup of the puree you just made. Turn mixer to low-medium speed and leave it running for 4-5 min. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stop mixer and add dry ingredients. Mix for 1 minute at low speed or until ingredients are mixed & smooth. Pour mixture into 9 x 5 well-greased loaf pan, leaving room to rise. Bake at 350° for about an hour (usually more like 65-70 min.), or until knife comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 min, then out of pan on wire rack. Once cooled, dust with powdered sugar, and devour enjoy responsibly.

The puree mix is enough for 3+ loaves, so you will have about 2 cups left over after you make one loaf. If you make all 3 loaves, you will still have about 1/2 cup of the puree left. This was annoying to me, because I didn’t want to just throw it away. So I just estimated the amount I would need to make a little bit more puree to get one more loaf out of it. I added about 1/4 bottle of beer (drink the rest!), 1/4 can of pumpkin, 1/6 cup of sugar and 1/4 tsp. of pumpkin pie spice. Hurray! One more loaf of this delicious bread! If you are like me and absolutely do not need 4 loaves of mouth-watering, diet-breaking goodness sitting in the kitchen tempting you, keep one and give the rest away to friends. They’ll love it and your waist will love you.