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 

Maple Vinaigrette

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After 28 years of deliberation, I have decided to declare October my favorite month of the year. The Autumn sunlight is gorgeous against the rich hues of gold and burgundy saturating the leaves,  it’s perfect weather to break out those throw blankets and candles and watch Harry Potter movies, I adore the earthy flavors of the seasonal produce, and I love to reminisce to my days of trick-or-treating in my youth every Halloween. As our first Autumn back in the country, I find myself especially inspired by all the beautiful scenery. Sometimes the views are so breathtaking that I feel compelled to pull my car over when I’m driving to/from work and snap pictures on my iPhone. I’m usually disappointed that I can’t capture what I am experiencing. Autumn involves all five senses and there just isn’t an Instagram filter for that, folks

Onto the recipe…

Though I know maple syrup is collected and boiled down in the spring (thanks to  the knowledge of our friends who started to tap their own sugar maple tree), I crave this local topping in the Autumn. It pairs so well with the flavors of fall and I recently found an especially delicious maple vinaigrette for our greens.  It is the perfect combination of tart and sweet and it is positively scrumptious served with a salad that is adorned with chicken, goat cheese, sugared walnuts, dried cherries, and apples.  My own green vegetable-leary husband gladly chowed down on our dinners when this dressing was available. Do yourself a favor and add this simple vinaigrette to your repertoire. You will be happy you did.

Happy fall, everyone. To get you in the spirit, I’ve included some pictures of Autumn at our homestead below.

 Maple Vinaigrette 

Yield: About 3/4 cup dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Directions

Place all ingredients into a mason jar with a lid or a dressing shaker. Shake vigorously until ingredients are well-combined. Serve over salad of your choice. Store leftovers sealed in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Adapted from Smells Like Home

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The view from our from our front porch. I took this particular picture on a chilly Sunday morning when I was still dressed in my red pajamas, robe, and bright pink slippers. I wonder what our Amish neighbors think of their crazy neighbor who is always snapping photos outside. 🙂

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These are our sheep: Molesly (in the back), Daisy (on the left), and Mrs. Patmore (right). They are fabulous lawn mowers and they will eat grain right out of your hand.  In other news- I will never eat mutton again. IMG_2767

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Smith got to go on his first 4-wheeler ride. We went at a snail’s pace and used extreme caution. He loved it!

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My little pumpkin and his mini pumpkin that his cousin Jack gave him.

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Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

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It’s a caramel apple with a kick, folks. Except the “kick” is cooked off in the process and is present to simply add a little bit of extra dimension to the standard Autumn confection. I made these bad boys for a friend’s baby shower over the summer. The theme was “The Giving Tree” and it only seemed fitting. This treat is much more appropriate now that apple season is in full swing.

As always, making caramel can be finicky and I often get myself all flustered and nervous in the process that I almost undoubtedly ruin the first batch. That’s exactly what happened in this case. I should have calibrated my candy thermometer before I started, but I didn’t, and I thought it would be wise to let it go just a touch past the 245 degree mark; just in case. I’m not really sure why I thought that was a good idea; but I had morphed into a semi-panicked, self-doubting lass as the process neared its end. I had the same feelings of unease as I did while I was watching the final scenes of Argo. Clearly, I have a bit of a warped perspective on caramel-making. It was no surprise when the caramel started to cool that it had reached the hard-ball stage and could easily be used as a make-shift weapon. So those ingredients went down the drain and I started again. I got it together, and the end product was much better.

I’m hoping to make these again soon. With a renewed sense of confidence in my back pocket.

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A few pictures from the shower I co-hosted with my lovely friends, Jess and Chelsea. 

Chelsea constructed this adorable tree

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Jess made most of the delicious, apple-themed food

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Chelsea’s cheese “branches” and chocolate pretzel “bark”

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I made apple cupcakes (vanilla buttercream)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made apple cupcakes (vanilla bean with vanilla buttercream)

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The beautiful new mama

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And, of course, the apple of my eye. My boy.

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HAPPY OCTOBER!

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

Ingredients

8 medium-sized apples (I used Gala)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 wooden craft or popsicle sticks

Directions

1. Remove stems from apples and push the popsicle stick inside each. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat it with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan (bigger is better to avoid overflow), stir together the sugar, cream, bourbon, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Cook over medium high heat , stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Attach a candy thermometer to the side and cook without stirring until temperature reaches 245 degrees F (about 20-25vminutes). Do not leave the caramel because it can heat very quickly towards the end of the process.

3. Once it reaches 245 degrees, remove from heat. Carefully stir in vanilla (it will bubble violently). Dip apples immediately, sprinkle with toppings (if desired) and place on wax paper. Let sit in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container or wrap in cellophane to keep them fresh for a few days.

Source: Slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is