Butter-Nut Whole Wheat Blondies

Last week was one of my very best friend’s, Jamie’s, birthday. Jamie has been my partner in crime since junior high. Even though we live 2 hours apart and don’t get to see each other as often as I would like, Jamie will always hold a supreme spot in my heart.

I don’t think anyone has made me laugh as much as Jamie has. She has a special spark that causes people to gravitate towards her. Very few days go by that I don’t think about the fun memories we have had together. Outgoing, kind-hearted, generous, hard working, and accepting, Jamie has blossomed into a wonderful adult whom I feel honored to call my friend for life.

I made these blondies to drop off at her family store when Robert and I were in town a few weekends ago. The butterscotch and butter rum extracts come through and pair well with the salty walnuts and I think they would be a great treat with a morning cup of coffee.

Happy belated birthday, Jamie! I love you dearly.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Butter-Nut Whole Wheat Blondies

Yield: 2 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups (15 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon butter rum extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon butterscotch extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (5 5/8 ounces) chopped walnuts

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan (lining it with tin foil makes for super easy clean-up and serving).

2. Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Add in the sugar and mix well until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and allow it to cool slightly.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each egg. Mix in the vinegar, vanilla, butter rum, butterscotch, baking powder, and salt. Gently fold in the flour and nuts.

4. Spread the batter into the pan. Bake about 26-28 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out with sticky crumbs, but not wet batter. Remove from the oven and run a knife around the edge of the pan. Allow to cool completely before cutting. For an extra smooth texture, allow the blondies to cool for 24 hours before cutting to allow the bran in the whole wheat to soften.

Source: King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

Homemade Vanilla Bean Creamer

I am a morning person more than I am a night owl, but I occasionally struggle to get out of bed in the morning. One of the main things that lures me out of a deep slumber is the promise of a fresh cup of coffee. Sometimes I drink my coffee black and other times I like to jazz it up by adding in creamer, especially if I am making iced coffee. When I am on a creamer kick, I usually use a vanilla version from the grocery store. However, I’ve been wanting to make my own version for a long time now and I finally decided it was time a week ago.

I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier. It really can’t get much easier as there are only 3 ingredients in the creamer I made and there is minimal prep work. Plus I feel a little better drinking my sassed up (is that a verb?) coffee with minimal preservatives.

This recipe is very adaptable and would be great with cinnamon, almond extract, peppermint extract, chocolate sauce- the list goes on and on.

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope you are enjoying your cup of coffee as much as I am.

Vanilla Bean Creamer

Yield: About 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions

Pour the half and half and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the vanilla bean seeds and vanilla bean pod and allow the mixture to come to a low boil, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat and allow mixture to steep for 30 minutes. Pour the creamer through a sieve to remove the pod and other larger pieces. Store in an  airtight bottle in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Lolly’s Sweet & Savory Treats

Our Trip to Maui: Wedding Bells and Adventures

I have been absent from the blogging world for the past 2 weeks, but I have a good excuse. Besides the fact that temperature in Ohio has been over 100 for several days this month and our air conditioner is on its last leg (not conducive for baking), we went to Maui for my dear friend, Chelsea’s wedding. This was our first time visiting the Hawaiian Islands and we had a wonderful time (big props to Chelsea and Brian for picking the perfect wedding locale!).

We had plenty of time before the big day to take in the sights, tour, and enjoy delicious Hawaiian food. As always, the vacation went by very quickly, but we took around 1000 pictures documenting all of our fun.

Instead of boring you with every single detail (because I really could go on and on) and because it was such a fantastic trip, I decided to make a list of our top 10 favorite things from Maui.

Here it goes:

10. The Banana Bread- Our first morning at Maui I was sitting next to a young boy in a tour van and he pulled a small loaf of bread wrapped in plastic wrap. It wasn’t until he removed the plastic that the the warm and buttery smell wafted into my nose- the smell of fresh banana bread. My friend Chelsea, who should have been a travel agent, pointed out to me that she read in her travel books that there are several small shacks that are famous for their banana bread. My heart filled with delight.

We ended up stopping at place called Auntie Sandy’s along our trip on the road to Hana. The mini loaves had just been baked and even Robert, my banana-hating husband, enjoyed the treat. It was a beautiful moment. ;)

9. Iao Valley: The Iao Valley is a lush and beautiful area in Maui where 4 streams run together. The Iao Needle, standing over a thousand feet tall, was supposedly used as lookout point during wartime on the island in the 18th century. I wouldn’t want to be the one who drew the short straw on that task.

8. Macadamia Nut Pancakes from Gazebo Restaurant: As soon as we touched down in Maui, I had a hankering for macadamia nut pancakes. I did some research online and found consistent good reviews for the Gazebo Restaurant. I’m so glad I did. It’s a quaint, open air (literally a gazebo) place to eat and the service is very friendly. Even better, are their macadamia nut pancakes. Robert and I split an order of these fluffy delights and we gave the hotcakes two thumbs up. Topped with whipped cream and an extra sprinkling of macadamia nuts, my craving was fulfilled and my soul was happy. Food can do that to people (or is that just me?).

7. The Coffee: One of my favorite moments from Maui was getting up early and enjoying a cup of hot Hawaiian coffee on our balcony. Since Ohio is six hours ahead of Hawaii in the International Date Line, Robert and I got up between 5 and 6am while we were there. We didn’t mind, though. There is something so peaceful about getting up before the rest of the world-or island, rather- awakes. Watching the waves crash in and feeling that cool ocean breeze while sipping the smooth “cup of Kona” is my idea of heaven.

6. Seven Sacred Pools (on the road to Hana): The Seven Sacred Pools- or the ‘Ohe’o pools- is one of the last stops on the road to Hana. By the time we got to this spot, we were all pretty exhausted from a long day of traveling the winding road (it took us 12 hours round trip!). In retrospect, I wish we would have given ourselves more time for this spot. The part of the falls that we were able to see was so breathtakingly spectacular and it dumped into a beautiful cove of bright blue waters.

5.  Stillwell’s Bakery: Robert’s sweet gesture lead us to this scrumptious haven of sweetness. He’d read about Stillwell’s Bakery  and requested that we go there for breakfast before our trip to Iao Valley. He’d seen pictures of their pastries and he thought it would be the perfect place to take me. When we pulled into the driveway, we were a little apprehensive- it wasn’t in a great part of town and it looked a little outdated. Boy, were we wrong. We walked in to see a case of beautiful, handcrafted desserts- passionfruit cheesecakes, mango mousse, chocolate eclairs, cream horns, tarts, the list goes on and on.

I always love things that look pretty, but they don’t always taste as good as they look. This was absolutely not the case with Stillwell’s. After we ate breakfast there, we bought some things to bring back to our condo and share with our friends. Mr. Stillwell happened to be the one packaging up our treats and he proudly boasted about the fact that they make their food, including their chocolate mousse, from scratch. A good man, indeed.

It’s fine dining with Spam!

4. Snorkeling: The Pacific Ocean is so piercingly blue in Hawaii and there are lots of coral reefs, which makes for excellent snorkeling. The beach off of our hotel and the beach at Black Rock were hang out spots for several sea turtle and tropical fish. Chelsea had a special underwater case for her camera and got lots of great pictures- I will have to post some when the lovebirds get back from their honeymoon in Kauai.

That brown spot in the center of the picture is a sea turtle!

3.  The Fresh Fruit: Oh, baby. I have never tasted better pineapple, mango, passion fruit, and even watermelon. The fruit tastes like it was grown by gods in a magical garden. It’s so sweet and fresh. I don’t know if I will ever eat a pineapple from my grocery store again…okay, I will, but you get the idea. Delicious!

2. Black Sand Beach (on the road to Hana): The Black Sand Beach was one of the places I was looking forward to the most on our trip to Hana. Formed by liquid hot magma (Austin Powers, anyone?), the beach’s sand is full of charcoal-colored pebbles, lava holes, and a spectacular view. I’d seen this spot featured on the Travel channel before, but it was even better than I imagined.

1.  Mount Haleakala: Our favorite adventure from Maui has to be watching the sunrise on Mount Haleakala and then biking 25 miles down the once-active volcano. We scheduled our tour for the first morning we got there. We had to get up at 1:30am to make it to the bike shop by 3, but it wasn’t bad because it we were still on Ohio time.

After we got our gear, we made the 10,000 foot ascent in a fifteen passenger van while it was still dark. We finally made it to the top and stepped out to windy and very cold weather. The tour guides warned us to dress warmly and they weren’t lying. Our teeth were chattering and we had to huddle together to stay warm, but I think that really added to the experience, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself (a few children were crying- it was that bad).

Finally, after about 20 minutes of waiting, the sun peaked up through the horizon and we got to see one of the most amazing views I have ever witnessed. Thousands of miles away from a worry in the world and above the clouds, it was incredible. I would definitely do it again.

Congratulations, Chelsea and Brian. Thank you so much for inviting us along on a wonderful Hawaiian adventure!

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies

This past weekend my good friends Chelsea, Jess R., and Jess D. and I took a road trip out to Indianapolis to visit Jeff (another friend from physical therapy school) and his wife, Daphne. Daphne is a member the USA Track and Field Paralympic team and she was racing in the 100 and 200 meter events.

After we graduated last August, Jeff and Daphne moved out to Colorado so we weren’t about to miss a chance to reunite with this amazing couple. One of our favorite things to do during class was to watch what Jeff would bring in his lunch. He’s tall and thin, but eats enough food to feed a small family. My personal favorite was the day he whipped out a big bag of Doritos during lecture. The man can eat. Ironically enough, Daphne has a gluten and lactose intolerance. She’s always a good sport when there aren’t reasonable options for her, so I wanted to bring Jeff and Daphne a sweet treat they could both enjoy.

I first familiarized myself with gluten-free baking a few years ago when we hosted a dinner party that Jeff and Daphne were attending. However, I felt (and feel) very out of my element and a little intimidated with this type of baking. Especially since I can’t gauge whether or not it tastes like it should.

I found this recipe for gluten-free chocolate chip cookies from Alton Brown and I knew it had to be good coming from him. The only thing I changed was that I omitted Xanthan gum from the recipe. It was pretty pricey for a small amount and I did a little research and found that other gluten-free bakers have often left it out of recipes with positive results.

I was really happy with the end product. The texture is just slightly different, but Robert and the Jesses both gave the cookies a good review. I haven’t heard the final verdict from Daphne yet (she couldn’t eat any until after her race), but I think the report will be a good one!

Have a great week, everyone. We love you, Daphne!

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 11 ounces brown rice flour (about 2 cups)
  • 1 1/4 ounces cornstarch (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2-ounce tapioca flour (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ounces sugar (about 1/4 cup)
  • 10 ounces light brown sugar (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Turn the mixer down to low and carefully add in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk and mix until well-combined, scraping down the sides with a spatula as necessary.

2. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, tapioca flour, brown rice flour, salt and baking soda. Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir until well-incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.

3. Pour the dough out onto plastic wrap, form it into a ball, and wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or overnight.

4. When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Shape the dough into 2 ounce balls (about the size of a golf ball) and place on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet (6-8 balls of dough per sheet). Bake for 14 minutes, rotating halfway to ensure even baking.

5. Remove from oven and place the sheet on a cooling rack for 2 minutes before transferring the cookies directly onto the racks. Enjoy!

Source: Barely adapted from Alton Brown