December 26, 2013

Nanaimo Bars


Every now and then my sister will send me a bunch of recipes and ask me to make them.  The problem for me is that she doesn't live in the same state as me, and since I don't want to get stuck with a bunch of goodies hanging around, I don't ever make anything she sends me.  If she lived nearby, and I could deliver the goodies to her, then I would totally make whatever she asks me to.  In addition to her not living nearby, we also do not have the same tastes.  For instance, she is a chocolate fanatic (to the point where she needs to have it everyday)....while I on the other hand am not big on chocolate. 

Since my husband and son were going to be stopping by my sister's this week, I knew it would be the perfect time to make something for her.  So I sent her an email and offered to make a treat of her choice, and these Nanaimo Bars is what she ended up choosing.  Not only have I never eaten these before, I have never made them before either.  That's OK though, I love trying new recipes.  I read over the recipe a few times and thought it sounded like it was going to be pretty sweet because it seemed like a lot of sugar in the middle layer.  So I looked at several other recipes online for Nanaimo Bars, and sure enough, they all had the same amount of sugar.  Relieved that there wasn't a typo in the recipe she gave me, I set out to make it. 


This recipe is pretty easy to put together.  However, I was correct, and it is a pretty sweet treat!  But I'm the girl who picks most of the frosting off her cake, so for me, this dessert was a bit on the "too sweet" side.  My son tried it though and said he liked it, so I guess it's just me.  Hopefully my sister will enjoy it!  For all you sweet treat lovers out there, give this one a try - it might be right up your alley!  

Nanaimo Bars (from The Happy Baker)

Base:
1 stick butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 egg
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup coconut flakes

Filling:
1 stick of butter, softened
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp custard powder or instant vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioner's sugar

Glaze:
3 tbsp butter
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Base:  Add the butter, sugar and cocoa to a medium saucepan on medium-low heat, stirring to combine.   Add the egg and continue to cook while stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Remove from heat, then mix in the graham cracker crumbs and coconut.  Spray a 8 or 9 inch square pan with cooking spray, then press this mixture into the bottom of the dish.  Place in refrigerator to chill.

Filling:  Add the butter, milk, vanilla, custard powder, and sugar to the bowl of an electric stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy.  Spread evenly over the base, then put back into the refrigerator to chill.

Glaze:  Add the butter and chocolate chips to a small sauce, and melt them together on low heat.  Cool for about 5 minutes, then pour and spread evenly for the filling.  Refrigerate again until set.

December 22, 2013

Rum Sticky Buns


My mother recently gave me this recipe that she got from one of her coworkers.  I don't think I've ever made sticky buns.  I like them and all, it's just that I prefer cinnamon rolls so that's what I usually make.  However, since Christmas is just around the corner, I thought I'd give this one a try.  Cinnamon rolls and sticky buns remind me of Christmas for some reason.

These rolls are delicious!  I'm thrilled to be able to add this to my arsenal of recipes.  I omitted a few ingredients just because of personal preferences and I altered the recipe so that most of the work can be done the night before, and they turned out amazing.  Filling, but oh so yummy!  Mom - tell your coworker that we loved this recipe please.  I promise next time you visit to make these for you....I think you'll love them too!



Rum Sticky Buns

1 cup warm milk
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup brown sugar
5-5 1/2 cups flour
1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp
2 eggs
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup + 3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp regular sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup honey
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup rum
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Pour warm milk into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Stir in the yeast and 1/2 cup brown sugar and let it stand for 5 minutes.  Add 2 cups of flour, 1 stick of softened butter, 2 eggs, 1 tbsp cinnamon and 1 tsp salt and turn mixer on med-low to mix it all together.  Gradually add 3 more cups of flour and let the mixer combine it all together for 5-10 minutes.  If it's not forming a ball of dough add the last 1/2 cup flour a little at a time until the dough doesn't stick to the sides.  Dough should form into a nice elastic smooth ball.  Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, then add the dough to the bowl turning once to coat.  Place plastic wrap, or a towel over the bowl and put bowl in a warm place to let rise for 1 hour (I stuck mine in a slightly warm oven.  

For the filling:  In the bowl of a food processor, add 3 tbsp brown sugar, 3 tbsp regular sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon and 1 cup chopped pecans.  Pulse to combine then set aside.  After the dough has risen to double it's original size, punch it down and pour it onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough out into a rectangle shape, about 1/3" thick.  Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough.  Roll the dough, starting at one long edge, towards the other edge and pinch it together.  Spray a pan large enough to fit all the rolls with cooking spray (doesn't matter what kind of pan because you will be transferring them to a 13x9 baking dish the next morning).  Slice the log of rolled dough into about 1" thick slices - you should get about 12-14 rolls.  Place into pan, cover and let rise another hour.  After an hour, place them into the fridge to set overnight.

In the morning, about an hour & half before you want to eat, take the rolls out, and let them set on the counter for 30-60 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350.  To make the sticky topping:  melt the 2 sticks of butter on low heat, then add 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup honey and rum, whisking to combine really well.  Stir in the pecan halves, then pour the mixture into a 13x9 baking dish.  Place rolls into the baking dish on top of the sticky topping, then place baking dish in oven and bake for about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let it set for 10 minutes.  Invert the buns onto a large platter and serve immediately.  These are best nice and hot, but really they are fabulous at room temp as well!

December 15, 2013

Chewy Sugar Cookies


Sugar Cookies...part 2.  If you read the post on Soft Sugar Cookies, then you know sugar cookies are my least favorite cookie.  However, since several of my family members love them, I decided to try to find a recipe that I too will enjoy.  Soft, chewy or a combination of the two are my favorite textures for cookies, so that's what I set out to achieve...the perfect sugar cookie. 

While I really liked the soft sugar cookies, I think I like this chewy version even better from www.addapinch.com.  Not only did I like the texture, but the flavor was really good as well.  This recipe may be "THE one"....




Chewy Sugar Cookies (slightly adapted from www.addapinch.com)



2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tbsp sugar for rolling cookies

Preheat oven to 350ยบ F. Spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg & vanilla and mix until well combined.  Stir in flour, baking powder and salt.

Scoop dough into an overly rounded tablespoon full and roll into a ball.  Place sugar in a bowl and place each ball of cookie dough into the bowl and roll to coat on all sides. Place onto baking sheet, about 1½-inches to 2 inches apart. Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Makes 24 cookies.

December 10, 2013

Boozy Toffee Banana Bread


I recently had a few very over-ripe bananas, but I didn't want to make banana bread.  I scoured the internet for ideas, looking for something I've never made before.  However, I didn't come across anything I found appealing.

So back to banana bread I thought.  Then my mind started going and I tried to think of something different I could do with banana bread.  What's good with bananas?  Chocolate...but I make banana bread or muffins with chocolate chips in it all the time.  I started looking through my baking cabinet and came across toffee bits.  Mmmm, now that sounded yummy....banana and toffee!  That's how I came up with this recipe, and boy was it delicious!  Perfect combination.  The only thing I didn't like was that the toffee chips seemed to prevent the bread from "rising" on top.  But honestly, even though it's not visually as appealing, it didn't matter because the taste was amazing.  This is a nice combination of flavors...and hey, it's something different!


Boozy Toffee Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder 
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 nutmeg
dash of ground ginger
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp bourbon
1 egg
3 over ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup toffee bits

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray (or 3 mini loaf pans).

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar. Mix in the egg and bourbon, then add the bananas. Add dry ingredients and buttermilk, alternating, and stirring until just combined. Pour into the loaf pan, then sprinkle the toffee bits on top.  Bake for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean (reduce cooking time to about 45 minutes if using mini loaf pans).


*Note:  You don't need to worry about the bread tasting like it has alcohol in it - it will burn off while cooking.  If you prefer to leave it out, just add 1 tsp vanilla instead.

December 5, 2013

Spaghetti Squash w/ Pesto & Beans


Thanksgiving is over and I'm still feeling full!  Time to get back on track with some healthy eating.  I've always wanted to try spaghetti squash, but oddly I can never find it at the grocery store I normally shop at.  However, I was recently shopping at a different store and wouldn't you know...they had it!  I knew when I saw them it was my chance to give it a try.  

The possibilities with spaghetti squash are endless, so I was unsure what to do.  However, since I am always trying to find vegetarian lunch options I knew that was the route I'd be headed in.  I decided on mixing it with pesto, which is one of my favorite "sauces".  I wanted to add more protein to the dish though, so I threw in some white beans.  Not only was this dish very tasty, it was filling and very satisfying.  I am excited to try other things with spaghetti squash in the future now.  Here's what I did:

Spaghetti Squash w/ Pesto & Beans

1 spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise
2-4 tbsp basil pesto - you can buy, or click here for my recipe
1/2 can white beans, rinsed & drained - I used cannellini beans
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.  After you cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and strings in the middle of each half.  Place face down on cookie sheet and cook in oven anywhere from 30-45 minutes - cook time will depend on how large your squash is.  You want it to be tender but not mushy.  Remove from oven and cool for about 15 minutes. 

Take a fork and "shred" the squash - it should look like thin noodles.  Once this is all done, place the squash in a bowl and add your pesto and beans and stir well to combine.  Sprinkle salt & pepper to taste.  Best served warm.  My squash had about 3 servings of squash, so I used about a tbsp of pesto per serving. 

December 1, 2013

Vamped Up Pumpkin Pie


Happy first day of December!  Hope you all had an amazing Thanksgiving with your loved ones.  Ours was special this year because all the kids and grandkids came, which doesn't happen very often!  So we were very thankful to be able to spend a few hours with everyone gathered together eating, drinking and laughing.

I don't normally post something that is related to a specific holiday after it's gone by, however, this time I needed to make an exception.  First I have to disclose that I think pumpkin pie, while good, is boring so I just never make it.  This year however, when discussing the Thanksgiving day menu with my husband and son, they both voted for pumpkin pie as one of the desserts.  I was good with that, but then I came across Bobby Flay's pumpkin pie "throwdown" recipe and I knew I wanted to make his version for Thanksgiving instead of the traditional pie.  

I always get a little nervous making something I've never made before on the day we are having company, but I've made pumpkin pie many times before so I wasn't too worried about it.  Turns out, this was the best pumpkin pie I've ever had - nice job Bobby Flay!  I do believe the graham cracker crust gives this pie the extra "wow factor" that I was looking for.  In the future, this will be the recipe I will use every time.  So people, print this recipe, bookmark it, Pin it, or whatever but make this pie for Thanksgiving next year!  Although, pumpkin pie doesn't have to only make an appearance on Thanksgiving - so make it when ever, but just make it.  I promise you will love this pie ♥



Pumpkin Pie (slightly adapted from Bobby Flay

Crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Filling:
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean, split & scraped 

Crust:  Preheat oven to 350.  Place all the ingredients for the crust in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined (should look like wet sand).  Spread into a 9 inch pie plate, and using your finger tips firmly press it along the bottom and up the sides of the dish.  Cook until light brown, about 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely before adding the filling.

Filling:  Preheat oven to 275.  In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, yolks and the sugars.  Add the butter, pumpkin, cream, spices, salt, vanilla and vanilla bean seeds and whisk to combine.  Strain the mixture into a a bowl, then pour into the the pie plate with your cooked & cooled crust.  Bake until almost set, about 1 1/2 hrs.  Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate until serving. 

*NOTE:  Bobby Flay tops his pie with bourbon-maple whipped cream.  While that sounds delicious and probably is the perfect touch for this pie, there was too much going on at my house to deal with making the whipped cream so I skipped it.  Visit FoodNetwork.com if you are interested in using his whipped cream to top your pie. 


November 23, 2013

Snickers Fudge


I like sweets as much as the next person, however fudge has never been a favorite of mine.  I find it to be a little too sweet, but that's just me.  My husband and son LOVE fudge, so for that reason I've always wanted to give making it a try.  So when I saw a few pictures on Pinterest for Snickers Fudge I remembered that I had a recipe for it somewhere, and I knew I needed to make it.  It looked really good, and Snickers is one of my favorite candy bars, so I was betting that I was going to like this fudge.

As it turns out I did like this fudge....maybe a little too much - I can't keep out of it!  Although I have to say, I'm not sure this is very fudge-like, but regardless, this stuff is delicious!  I'm hoping the little ones in our family will like it too.  I plan to put some out on Thanksgiving, so we'll see what everyone else thinks of it then.  In our house though, this stuff is a big hit.  This recipe is a keeper for sure!  (The recipe I had didn't say where/who it was from, but from what I've seen on Pinterest it is very similar to all the other recipes out there.  Whoever invented this stuff is a genius!) 



Snickers Fudge

For the first layer:
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup peanut butter

For the second layer:
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chopped salted peanuts

For the third layer
14 ounce package caramel cubes
1/4 cup heavy cream

For the fourth layer
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

To prepare the first layer:
In a small saucepan over low heat, add milk chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and peanut butter. Stir often until completely melted and smooth. Pour mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13″ baking pan lightly coated with nonstick spray. Spread the mixture out in an even layer and place in the refrigerator until set, or put in the freezer for 30 minutes.

To prepare the second layer:
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Mix in sugar and evaporated milk. Once it comes to a boil, let cook 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in marshmallow creme, peanut butter and vanilla. Stir in peanuts. Pour over the set chocolate layer and gently spread the mixture in an even layer. Place in the refrigerator until set, or in the freezer for 20 minutes.

To prepare the third layer:
Place the unwrapped caramel cubes and heavy cream in a medium saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until the mixture has completely melted and is smooth. Pour in the pan and quickly spread it out in an even layer. Place in the refrigerator until set, or in the freezer for 30 minutes.

To prepare the fourth layer:
In a small saucepan over low heat, add milk chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and peanut butter. Stir often until completely melted and smooth. Pour over the third layer and spread in an even layer. Place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before cutting into squares, or in the freezer for 30 minutes.

November 20, 2013

Soft Sugar Cookies


Oh cookies...how I love you so!  I don't think I've tasted a cookie that I didn't like.  While crispy cookies are not my favorite, I still like them and will willingly eat them.  Let's face it - I would eat cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner if it wouldn't cause me to gain a single pound.  

The holiday season is the time of year when I tend to experiment with cookie recipes.  There are 5 little ones in our family, and I am finding that while they love their sweets they don't necessarily like the same types of sweets that us adults gravitate towards.  Like pie for example - adults seem to love it, kids not so much.  They also seem to have plainer tastes.  For example - most love chocolate chip cookies, but would most likely shy away from oatmeal raisin or an odd variety of cookie like pecan sandies. 

All of these realizations have led me down the path to plain and simple sugar cookies.  Finding the perfect recipe for sugar cookies has never been on my "to do list" because...well, they are kinda bland and just not my favorite.  However, since it's not all about me, I've decided to either find or develop the perfect sugar cookie.  "Perfect" is all relative though, depending on your personal preferences when it comes to cookie perfection.  For me "perfect" means either soft or chewy or both, along with tasting yummy of course.  Here is the first recipe I decided was worth giving a try (and I've looked over tons of them at this point).  I thought these turned out pretty darn good - nice and soft sugar cookie bliss.  On a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) I'd give these a 4.  If they had just a touch of chewiness they would be perfect in my book.  Looks like another sugar cookie post will be in my future.....



Soft Sugar Cookies (adapted from http://www.aprettylifeinthesuburbs.com)

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup oil (canola or vegetable oil)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp baking soda

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, oil and both sugars.  Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until fluffy.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, cream of tartar and baking soda.  Add the flour mix to the butter mix, and stir until fluffy.
Let the dough rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes or longer. 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray your cookie sheets with cooking spray.
When ready to bake, drop the batter by rounded tablespoon (I use a small scooper) onto the cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 9-11 minutes, making sure not to let them brown.  Makes 18 cookies.