Spooky Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

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Halloween week is here! This year is extra exciting because it’s our first time celebrating with our little beefcake. Since he is crawling and on the move, I decided to make Smith a turtle costume so he could participate in the fun. My sewing abilities leave much to be desired, so the turtle shell may not make it through All Hallows’ Eve. Oh well. I am hopeful my costume-making skills will improve exponentially as Smith grows older.  After all, Halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays and I want to share (and probably vicariously relive) that same fun and excitement with my kids.

I have so many fond memories of Beggar’s Night.  Trick-or-treating wasn’t widely-celebrated in our part of the county, so my parents would take us to a neighborhood across town where some of my parent’s good friends lived. Oh baby, was it the motherload of all neighborhoods. The majority of the houses handed out full-sized candy bars and there were fabulous decorations. There were even a few people who foolishly left baskets of candy unattended outside. Looking back, I’m wondering if this was some sort of child psychology experiment; in which case, I surely failed.

After we’d made our rounds in the subdivision, we would go home and divide our candy into piles and revel in all the sugar that sat before us.  I can vividly remember lying on the carpet in our living room one Halloween, still in my costume, and pouring all of my candy over my body in pure joy. Life, for the moment, was perfect.

As for the recipe…. I made these spooky chocolate sugar cookies in the spirit of Halloween this past weekend. They are a great break from the traditional sugar cut-out cookies and I will definitely be keeping this treat in my mind for future baking endeavors. Smith is still too young to eat cookies, but I’m hopeful he and I can start baking up Halloween sweets in the years to come. Right now, though, I’m having too much fun enjoying my little turtle. 😊

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Spooky Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies (depending on the cutters you use)

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

For the royal icing

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 6 tablespoons water

Directions

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the vanilla and instant espresso so that the espresso powder begins to dissolve. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides as needed. Next, add in the vanilla/espresso mix and the cocoa powder. Beat until well-combined. Scraped down the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure the ingredients are well-incorporated. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

2. While the dough chills, make the royal icing. Place the powder sugar and meringue powder in a bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Gradually add in the water. You may need to add more based on the desired thickness. Store in an airtight container until ready for use.

3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out a fourth of the dough on a lightly-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out cookies using the cutters of your choice (I used a standard gingerbread cookie and bat for this particular batch). Place unbaked cookie cut outs on baking sheets lined with silicone sheets or parchment paper. Bake for 9-11 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cook on a baking rack.

4. To decorate, place royal icing in piping bag fitted with small round tip. Pipe decoration as desired. Allow the royal icing to harden completely before adding facial features with toothpick and black food coloring.

Source: Cookies slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Apple Bran Muffins

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This past month I have been trying to change my eating habits for the better. While I do make an effort to cook a lot of meals from scratch and we have limited supplies of pre-packaged snacks/treats in our house, I do tend to gravitate towards recipes that are higher in sugar and saturated fats. Yes, new research shows that real butter is much better for us than the trans fat-laden margarine; but, as with most things in life, moderation is the key. Ain’t that the hard truth?  Rats.

My breakfast of choice is usually oatmeal, cereal, or a smoothie; but on the days that I work, I prefer a quick meal I can eat on the go. Enter these muffins. Most muffin recipes are just disguised as cupcakes without frosting. These particular bran muffins, however, are different. There isn’t much added sugar and they are chock full of wheat bran and fruit and whole wheat pastry flour replaces the standard all-purpose flour. I make a batch and store them in the freezer so I can easily grab one as my little guy and I are shuffling out the door in the morning on the way to drop him off at Grandma’s.

Another bonus is that you can easily substitute other fruits and/or add in nuts. It’s very much a customizable muffin. If you’re looking for a fast and nutritious breakfast on those busy mornings, this is the recipe for you.

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Apple Bran Muffins

Yield: 2 dozen muffins

Ingredients 

  • 2 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups wheat bran
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons raw sugar (or regular granulated sugar), for sprinkling on top
  • 2 cups chopped apples (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 1 cup raisins

Directions 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, vegetable oil, brown sugar, and vanilla. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (wheat bran, pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt).

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture, being careful not to over mix and stirring until only a few streaks of the flour mixture remain. Add in the apple chunks and raisins and mix just until combined. Again, do not over mix.

Using a large spoon, or 2 inch ice cream scooper, evenly divide the batter into the muffin tins. The liners will be pretty full. Sprinkle the raw (or you can use granulated) sugar over top of the muffins. Bake for 16-18 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and allow to cool longer.

Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Basil Lemonade

 

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About a month ago, my beloved Aunt Khaki sent me a box of California lemons that came from right outside her back door. Apparently 2014 has been a stellar year for this citrus fruit in Santa Monica and she had more lemons than she could handle. I was giddy with excitement when she asked me for my mailing address. I welcomed recipe suggestions from others and I ended up making lemon muffins, blueberry lemon coffeecake, and salad dressings and marinades. Still, I had barely made a dent in my glorious supply and I was running out of time. Luckily, I stumbled upon a recipe for this basil lemonade and knew instantly that it would be perfect as it just so happens I have a flourishing basil plant in our herb garden. I got to juicing and plucked some basil and I was able to create this delicious and refreshing summer drink in no time.

I have a deep love for simple syrups. You may recall my borderline obsession with Northstar Cafe’s Fresh Ginger Ale , which is made with ginger simple syrup. This basil simple syrup is right up there as well. It is such a great way to jazz up the standard lemonade. This drink would make a great cocktail as well. Throw in a splash of rum or vodka and you’d be good to go.

I am really excited to experiment with more variations of simple syrups with summer’s bountiful supply of fresh produce. Mint, peaches, raspberries, cucumber. The possibilities are endless.

Have a fabulous Monday, everyone. I hope you enjoy this lemonade as much as we did!

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Oh, and I must throw in a photo of my little sugar dumpling. He doesn’t like lemons. Yet. :)

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Basil Lemonade 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 12-15 lemons)
  • 2 cups filtered or sparkling water
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, washed and stemmed (about 1 cup loose-packed)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Basil and lemon slices for garnish, optional

Directions 

1. Make the basil simple syrup: Place 2 cups sugar, basil leaves, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat until until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutres. Be sure to gently muddle the basil with a spoon as you heat the syrup to intensify the flavor. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain the syrup over a sieve and discard the basil leaves. Store in the refrigerator if you are not going to serve the lemonade immediately.

2. Assemble the lemonade: Mix the lemon juice and 2 cups water or sparkling water together in a pitcher. Add in the cooled basil simple syrup and stir. Serve over ice with a garnish of lemon and basil.

Source: Giada De Laurentiis 

 

 

Life Lately

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Twenty fourteen is off to a fast and exciting start for our family. First, our lives forever and wonderfully changed with the addition of our sweet little rump roast. We spent the first few weeks of the year in a sleep-deprived, love-drunk, terrified-first-time-parent stupor. All the while, Robert and I finalized our decision to move back to the area we grew up as Robert was presented with a great career opportunity to open a satellite office for his engineering firm. We put our house on the market and, wouldn’t you know it,  it sold within 2 weeks. We are very thankful that our house sold so quickly in the cold, snowy chill of this Ohio February; but it also solidified that this move is a reality.

I will admit that it was a very difficult decision for us to make. We’ve lived in Columbus for the past 6 years and I have grown to adore this city. My heart is full of local pride in this place where we started our careers, where we bought our first home, where we developed lifelong friendships with some amazing folks,  and where we welcomed our first child into the world. I am a sentimental sap and I can’t help but have a hard time leaving the city where we’ve lovingly planted our roots. Columbus is a thriving area with lots of culture and a strong sense of community. There are so many fun things to do and see and a good amount of delicious restaurants in which we can feast.

I’ve shed a fair amount of tears as we prepare to move on and it took me a good deal of time to embrace what our next chapter holds. It will be a big transition reintegrating into rural, small-town life. We will be closer to Robert’s family and I have some very dear friends from high school that still live in the area; and it will be very nice to reconnect with them on a regular basis. We will have more space to roam and to grow and Smith will have the opportunity to explore in the woods, get dirty, build forts, fish, and ride his bike.

Though we will be further away from some of our beloved friends and family and we will not have the access to the conveniences and luxuries of city-living, we will still be our little family of three. And, just like one of my culinary idols, Ina Garten, wrote in the beginning of one of her cookbooks: “My home is wherever Jeffrey is.” Robert and Smith are my “Jeffrey,” and wherever we are all together is what fills my heart with joy. On to the next big adventure!

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Our Favorite Rump Roast

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We haven’t been doing too much cooking or baking around here lately. We’re too busy snuggling our little rump roast. Smith Robert, who was named in honor of my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, was born on New Year’s Eve at 12:29pm. He weighed a healthy 9 pounds 9 ounces and was 21.6 inches long. He is absolutely perfect. We are adjusting to our new life as a family of three and I will probably be back in the kitchen after our freezer meals run out. I can’t seem to focus on much else besides our precious little bundle these days.

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Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables & Cooking with Jess

How is that for a long title?

This past weekend, Jess and Greg came over for dinner and what seems like forever since Jess and I last got together for a “Cooking with Jess” segment. What can I say, we are busy folks. But, then again, who isn’t this time of year?

As always, Jess and I had a lovely time together and the food was equally wonderful. It’s not always easy to get together and sometimes it feels like there just isn’t enough time in the day, but I’m always glad when we make it happen.

The menu consisted of mostly fall-inspired foods (with the exception of Jess’s tasty strawberry daiquiri shortcakes for dessert). In addition to the scrumptious dessert, we had classic pot roast, pumpkin soup, and wheat berry salad with roasted root vegetables. I had been eyeying the wheat berry salad recipe as a possible Thanksgiving side dish for a few weeks; and, after gentle coaxing from my Aunt Khaki, decided to include it on our holiday menu.

I could think of no better occasion to give the recipe a test run than cooking with my like-minded culinary friend, Jess.

Wheat berries, also known as Farro (as Khaki so lovingly educated me), are pine nut-sized Italian whole grains that are- in my opinion-a delicious hybrid between rice and pasta. It was somewhat tricky for me to find Farro as my usual grocery store didn’t carry it. I ended up getting it at Giant Eagle in the international section after nearly giving up hope. It tastes great cold or warm and it is even better in this salad with roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, pine nuts, and goat cheese. Although it’s not exactly traditional, I am looking forward to adding this to the table next Thursday.

Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables

Yield 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups wheat berries (farro)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup  dried cranberries or cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2-3 ounces goat cheese, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly grease with spray oil. Set aside.

2. Place 2 quarts water in a medium pot. Add in about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Add in the bay leaves and wheat berries. Cook until chewy and tender, about 40 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, place the chopped vegetables on the foil-lined baking sheet. Toss lightly with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

4. When the wheat berries are done cooking, drain well and place in a large bowl. Add in the olive oil,cranberries, pine nuts, goat cheese, and roasted vegetables. Stir gently to combine (the goat cheese will melt into delicious creaminess). Serve hot or cold.

Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

Chocolate Cream Puffs

Oh hey- just felt like posting mysterious pictures of cream puffs with no explanations last week. I had self-inflicted technical issues, but now I’m back. My mom made these beautiful puffs of delight for our Memorial Day party we had a few weeks ago. She happened to make them again this weekend and people always go crazy for them

While I love all things made from scratch, I have to admit the filling for these puffs are made with *gasp* boxed vanilla pudding. It saves some steps and it still is delicious; perhaps we’ll have to re-do this recipe sometime to experiment what impact a truly homemade filling would have on these babies.

We topped these particular cream puffs with my favorite fudge sauce and it really put the finishing touch on the tasty treat.

In other news, Robert and I got a whole flat of Ohio strawberries over the weekend and I am thinking up and researching different ways to use them. My mom suggested strawberry rhubarb jam, Robert wants his beloved strawberry shortcake, and I am on the hunt for some good savory ways to use these flavorful berry.

Any suggestions for savory (or any) strawberry recipes?

Chocolate Cream Puffs

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs

Filling:

  • 2-1/2 cups cold milk
  • 1 package (5.1 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Topping:

Homemade fudge sauce

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degreess. Grease a cookie sheet or line it with a silicone mat. Set aside.

2. In a large saucepan, combine butter and water. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring until the butter melts. Reduce heat to low; add flour and salt. Stir vigorously until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a stiff ball. Remove from the heat.

3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix until the mixture is combined and smooth and shiny.

4. With a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (or with a tablespoon), pipe 2 inch rounds of dough onto the cookie sheet.

5. To make the filling,  whisk milk and pudding mix for 2 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes or until somewhat set. In another large bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Beat in sugar and vanilla; fold into pudding. Pipe the filling into the cooled cream puff shells.

6. Spread the fudge sauce on top of the puffs and refrigerate until ready to use.

Source: Filling and pastry from Taste of Home

Life Lately

Whew! I can’t believe it’s already the middle of June. This summer is speeding by at record pace and it seems like there hasn’t been a lot of time for blogging. Don’t get me wrong- it’s been a good kind of busy. Full of cookouts, parties, and reuniting with some long lost friends. I’ve just gotten so caught up in the fun of things, I haven’t had much time to dedicate to cooking or baking.

Here’s what’s been going on in our neck of the woods lately:

My friend, Chelsea, is getting married next month. We celebrated her last few weeks as a bachelorette with a night out on the town. It was so much fun.

We ran the Warrior Dash. It’s a three and a half muddy obstacle course and more fun than I could have ever imagined. We will definitely be doing it again next year.

We have roommates! Our friends, Jess and Greg, recently bought a house, but can’t take possession until the end of June. So they’re living in our basement. :)

There’s a new addition on Robert’s side of the family. Baby Noah joined us last week. Congratulations to Robert’s cousin, Kerri, and her husband, David.

Our good friend from high school, Ryan, graduated medical school. Congrats, Ryan! His parents threw him a party and it just so happens they live in my childhood home. It was great to see Ryan and to take a trip down memory lane.

June has been a crazy month so far and I hope to be back to a more regular blogging schedule soon

Happy Monday, everyone!

Butterscoth Pie

Butterscotch Pie

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 (9 inch) pie crusts, prepared, baked and cooled
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions

1.Preheat oven to 350°.

2. In a medium-sized saucepan, stir brown sugar and butter until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cook 2-3 minutes longer on low-medium heat. Remove from heat.

3. Beat egg yolks in a separate small bowl.

4. In separate large bowl, mix flour with 1/2 of milk, until smooth. Carefully add beaten egg yolks and salt. Mix well. Blend remaining milk with this mixture.

5. Add flour mixture to saucepan with sugar/butter mixture and cook on medium-low heat until thickened (ranges from 30-45 minutes), stirring constantly.

6. Remove from heat and blend in vanilla extract. Stir constantly until well blended and slightly warm and then pour into a prepared (baked) 9″ pie crust. Allow to cool

7. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream and powdered sugar. Spread over pie and refrigerate. Top with hazelnuts and drizzle with caramel sauce, if desired.

Source: My mom, adapted from Food.com

Jalapeno Lime Grilled Chicken

It looks like the warm weather is here to stay in Ohio and that means grilling season is well under way. Robert and I have been taking full advantage of our trusty gas grill and have been using it for anything and everything we can- burgers, pizza, vegetables, and this jalapeno lime grilled chicken.

This marinade comes from a recipe for chicken fajitas, which is absolutely scrumptious; but this sauce so tasty on it’s own that it works for just a simple grilled chicken. The ingredients are simple and it it comes together faster than you can say, “the jalapeno juice is burning my eye.”

Welcome June, and welcome summer. Lots more grilling recipes coming your way!

Lime Jalapeno Grilled Chicken

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup juice from 2 to 3 limes
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, excess fat trimmed

Directions

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the lime juice, vegetable oil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, jalapeno, salt and pepper.

2. Place the chicken in a plastic resealable bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

3. When ready to make the chicken, heat the grill over medium high heat. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until juices just run clear and a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees. Remove from the grill. Cover with tin foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes and then serve.

Source: Marinade from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, originally from Cooks Illustrated