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30 April 2013

Zap 'Em!


Need toasted nuts for a recipe, but hate to crank on the oven and then clean the pan?  Not to mention the babysitting toasting nuts require - keeping a close eye on them and stirring them regularly.  An easier solution:  put the nuts in a bowl (no more than 3 cups at a time), then microwave on High for 30 seconds and stir.  Repeat in 30-second intervals, until golden brown and fragrant.

Mmm...tasty!

27 April 2013

Thin Mint Cookie Cheesecake Pie

Mmm...Thin Mints.  By far my favorite Girl Scout cookie.  I'm not one of those that purchases cases and cases of them when cookie time comes around, but I always purchase my fair share.  Which I then, typically, freeze and ration out in small portions in order to make them last as long as possible.  I really don't know what came over me when I decided to make this pie...it uses a good amount of Thin Mints...and it put a respectable dent in my hoard.  But...the pie was delicious.

It whips up in just a few minutes, aside from freezing the crust, and you don't even need to turn on the oven.  It's a nice cool, minty treat for warmer weather.  If you don't have Thin Mints, I would venture you could simply use chocolate-covered chocolate cookies and add a teaspoon or two of mint extract.  I haven't tried it this way, but you'd get a similar effect...I think.

Thin Mint Cookie Cheesecake Pie
Printable Recipe

Yield:  8 to 10 servings
Time:  15 minutes, plus chilling

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Ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 oz Cool Whip, thawed
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 sleeves (i.e. 1 box) Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies
Preparation:
  1. Finely crush 24 cookies.  Once crushed, add the melted butter and stir to combine.
  2. Press crumb mixture evenly across the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie tin.  Place the crust in the fridge (about 30 minutes) or freezer (10 - 15 minutes) until hardened.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  Gently fold in the Cool Whip.
  4. Crush 15 to 20 cookies.  Fold the crushed cookies into the cheesecake/cool whip mixture.
  5. Spread the filling mixture into the cold pie crust.  Top with additional cookie crumbs.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  6. Eat any remaining cookies, reserve for additional garnish, or save for a later use.
Happy baking!

25 April 2013

Let's Play Catch-Up

It's me!  I'm still alive and kicking.  Waayyy behind on posting my latest cakes and cookies, but on the upside, I've been enjoying our roller coaster weather (i.e. what passes for spring in these parts).  We went from 80 degrees and windy to 30 degrees, windy, with ice and snow, then back to 65 degrees and calm...all in 3 days.  I've used a week's worth of running gear in 2 days; everything from tights to shorts to sweatshirts to gloves to sleeveless tees.  Soon, though, we'll be 100°F with sauna-like winds, so I won't complain too much right now.

Anywho, about catching-up...how have you been?  Would you like to see the goodies I've been creating lately?  I've got everything from cakes to cookies to the desserts I made for myself for my birthday.  And, no that last part is not as sad as it sounds.  Let's take a looksie, shall we?

First up, the cookies!

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Can you tell I'm feeling the season change?  It's crossing over to my cookie decorating!  Flowers, ducks, butterflies...oh my!

I made cake pops for the first time in what seems like ages.  Along with some cute monkey sugar cookies.  All for an "It's a Boy!" baby shower.

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If the monkeys aren't cute enough for you, how about reliving some of your childhood via this cake?  Honestly, are there those of you out there who didn't love this hatted cat and his antics?

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Green seems to be the color of choice for cakes lately - everything from lime green to a pale spring green.

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And, last, but not least, my birthday desserts!  Not cake though, and not just one dessert, but two!

Thin mint cheesecake pie.  Thin mints.  Cheesecake.  And, it's no bake.  Mmm...mmm...good!

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Chocolate pizza.  Marshmallow krispy treat crust.  Chocolate sauce.  Caramel.  White chocolate.  Dark chocolate.  Graham crackers.  I might have gone a little crazy, but everyone seemed to love it...the nieces and nephews thought it was especially cool.

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And, yes, while I did make my own birthday desserts, Madre made me an amazing lunch of stacks.  What are stacks?  Tostada shells topped with homemade chili and taco fixings (i.e. sour cream, cheese, lettuce, guacamole), stacked as many high as you would like.  I stick with a short stack - only two shells at a time, but some get ambitious and go for 3 or 4 shells.  Delicious!

Talk to you soon!

23 April 2013

Leftover Wine


Leftover wine?  What's that?  (Kidding!)

You might occasionally have leftover wine after using it in a recipe or drinking a glass with dinner.  If it's white wine, don't immediately toss it - depending on the varietal, it will keep fine for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator.  Red wine, unfortunately, will lose its flavor a day after being opened, so try to find a use for the entire bottle.

Mmm...tasty!

19 April 2013

Fresh Friday, Vol. 3

Real Food Runner
It's Friday!  And, I'm linking up with Katherine over at the Real Food Runner to share a few things that were fresh and fantastic about my week.  Did I mention it's Friday?  And the weather is beautiful?!



Anywho...my 3 things for this week:
  1. Atomic bowling...complete with bowling shirts.  I hadn't been bowling in years; threw my share of gutterballs, but am proud to report I came out the winner overall, winning 3 of the 5 games we bowled.
  2. Peachwave frozen yogurt.  It was a treat for my birthday, so I couldn't pass up the cheesecake flavor along with the fudge brownie flavor.  Oh, and it wouldn't have been complete without sprinkles and candy bar pieces.  Did I mention it was a treat for my birthday?
  3. I'm a runner.  I know that doesn't sound like anything particularly fresh and fantastic, but after the bombings at the Boston Marathon this week, I couldn't have been prouder to call myself one.  I was in shock at what happened, but was moved by how quickly the running community mobilized to help.  Our sport is largely one that is based on individual effort - we run for ourselves, we set our singular goals, but it is also one of the closest-knit communities I've encountered - runners are accepting and welcoming to other runners no matter where in the world they are.  I may never qualify for Boston or cross that fabled finish line, but I'm proud to be a runner.  Our spirits are not easily crushed - we'll continue to run.
Ok, off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening.  What made your week fresh and fantastic?  Feel free to share here or you can pop over and visit Katherine.

Talk to you soon!


16 April 2013

What in the World is Dulce de Leche?


Dulce de leche is a caramel-like confection made by cooking sweetened milk.  The loose translation is "candy of milk" and depending on the part of the world the recipe hails from it can range in texture from soft and crumbly to fudge-like to smooth and spreadable.

Most likely, you are familiar with the dulce de leche made from sweetened condensed milk.  You can often find this spreadable variety, jarred or canned, in either the dessert-sauce section or the Latin American section of most supermarkets and specialty stores.

There are several methods to make your own dulce de leche - the traditional stove top method or the double boiler method or even by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk.  If you decide to make your own, you can find a plethora of recipes and ideas simply by searching for "dulce de leche recipes."

And, if you try the can boiling technique (it works, I've done it!), but sure you don't allow the water level to drop below the level of the can...it has to stay fully submerged.  If it doesn't it could result in the can exploding - a dangerous and messy conclusion.

Mmm...tasty!


11 April 2013

Layered Greek Ranch Dip

As promised, the recipe for Layered Greek Ranch Dip!  This is one of those recipes that doesn't really have specific measurements, aside from the ranch dip base.  It's pretty much add as much or as little of the toppings as you'd like; though I've added the approximate amounts I used in parentheses in the ingredient list to give you a starting point.

This comes together in 10 to 15 minutes, though I'd suggest refrigerating the dip at least a couple of hours to allow the flavors to meld.  And, if you need a good pita chip, might I recommend the Stacy's brand - they offer at great array of flavors.  This dip was especially good with the Parmesan Garlic and Herb flavor or the Simply Naked flavor is always a sure winner for use with dips.*

Layered Greek Ranch Dip
Printable Recipe
Inspiration:  Taste of Home Magazine
Prep:  10 to 15 minutes
Refrigerate: minimum 2 hours
Yield:  approximately 8 servings

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Ingredients:

  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1 envelope dry ranch salad dressing/dip mix
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • Pepperoncini, drained and chopped (16 oz jar)
  • Kalamata olives, drained and chopped (approximately 3 oz)
  • Red onion, chopped (approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • Feta cheese, crumbled (approximately 4 oz)
  • Pita chips, for serving
Preparation:
  1. Mix the sour cream and ranch salad dressing/dip mix in a small bowl.  Spread evenly into a large shallow dish.
  2. Layer with the tomato, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, red onion, and feta cheese.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 2 hours.
  3. Serve with pita chips.
Happy dipping!



*Stacy's Pita Chip Company has no idea who I am and they didn't ask me to say nice things about their product.  Just sharing an ingredient/brand I happen to love!

10 April 2013

Bits-N-Pieces

No fancy cakes or cookies in this post, but there are quite a few yummy foods present.  I've been cooking lately - not just baking!  It's a bit of a strange feeling, but I love to cook, so it's been really nice to have some time to do so.

Italian brunch torte I made a couple of weeks ago for Easter.  It was fabulous...but the springform pans I baked the tortes in took hours - HOURS, people - to clean up.  You may remember this and my affirmation to not make anything that causes that much clean-up a second time without phenomenal results.

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This may well have earned a re-make.  Mind you, it's not something I will make for just an everyday meal, but for a special occasion, I'd roll out the recipe again.  If you want to give it a try yourself, you can find the recipe here.

I also made this amazing Layered Greek Ranch dip for Easter.  It went quickly - everyone really seemed to love it.  Stay tuned later in the week for the recipe!

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You may remember me mentioning that I was on a quest to make cookies that were dairy, nut, and soy free. I came up with a couple of test recipes, but haven't heard back yet if they were suitable for the client or if they were suitable, if they even enjoyed them.  The coconut-oil shortbread cookies (left side of photo) were downright tasty, in my opinion, and the olive oil cookies (right side of photo) had a very distinctive, almost savory, taste profile.

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Of course, I also made some traditional drop cookies while I was in cookie making mode.  There's plain sugar with sprinkles, peanut butter, and chocolate crinkle.

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The peanut butter cookies didn't turn out nearly as well as they usually do.  I think it had something to do with the brand of PB I used - it wasn't my usual choice and next time I won't make the same mistake.

Another chocolate lovers' cake.  Simple, chocolate goodness.  Mmm...mmm...mmm.

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Oh, and look!  I recently started to trying out some different styles of boxes for my cakes and cookies.

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What do you think of the windowed version?  Add my label to the center of the window?  Pretty nifty, huh?  And being brown kraft, they aren't quite as common as the white bakery boxes you see so often.

And, one last dish to share with you.  This amazingly easy and delicious chicken fried rice from Iowa Girl Eats.  (Click the link for the recipe.)

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My photo isn't nearly as pretty as hers, but the dish is delectable.  It's definitely going into my collection of "quick week-night options."  I used brown rice and canned chicken.  I know, I know, but I was being lazy and was curious how it would turn out.  Happy to report it worked just fine, though cooked chicken breast would just make it that much yummier!  And, bonus, it's healthier than take-out.

Talk to you soon!



09 April 2013

Asparagus Aficionado


It's asparagus season!  You can typically find asparagus year round, but the freshest stalks are usually available February through June; the actual time may vary a bit depending on your location, but don't hesitate to take advantage of this delicious veggie.  Some tips to help you tackle these stalks:
  • Buy firm spears with tightly closed tips and no wrinkles.  Size doesn't necessarily matter - thinner spears are not always more tender than thicker spears.
  • Store asparagus bunches in the refrigerator for up to four days - simply wrap the bottoms of the spears in a damp paper towel and place in an unsealed plastic bag.
  • The bottoms of the stalks tend to be very "woody," i.e. tough and stringy.  You can either trim the bottom of the spears with a knife or snap the ends off - the asparagus will naturally break where the spear starts to become "woody."
And, did you know - asparagus comes in other colors besides just green.  The white asparagus is milder and softer, while the purple asparagus is slightly sweeter.

Mmm...tasty!



04 April 2013

Animal Kingdom

Animals inspire so many things in our everyday lives - fabrics, prints, designs...the list goes on.  Cakes, cupcakes, and cookies certainly aren't exempt from the effect either.

For instance, bunny rabbit and peep chick cookies, accompanied by tulips and crosses for the Easter holiday.

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Or a leopard print inspired cake - though not in a color scheme found in nature.

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The bow on this cake was HUGE, but oh so fun.  And, it had a very "blingy" center that matched the border on the cake - quite a statement piece.  There were also cupcakes to match.  Have you ever tried to make leopard spots on piped buttercream with more piped buttercream?  It was an interesting experiment that turned out quite a bit better than I expected.

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And, yes, those are chocolate cupcakes in wrappers that you can still actually SEE the design on - and it's a black and white design to boot.  The secret?  Wilton's new "ColorCups" baking cups.  I picked some up just to give them a try, never expecting them to work nearly as well as they did.  I'm very impressed - they are actually foil lined so the color from the cupcake doesn't bleed through onto the wrapper.  The cups seem to come in a pretty wide array of colors and designs and I think they add to the line-up fairly regularly.  All I can say is I'm sold!  You can check them out here.

Is it just me or do monkeys and flamingos seem to be everywhere these days?  There's no flamingo on this cake, just an adorable monkey.

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I pretty much had free reign to design this one however I chose, just as long as I stuck with a monkey theme and bright colors.  For a first birthday, I thought this one was a super fun choice.

Talk to you soon!
Disclaimer:  Wilton Industries has no idea who I am and they did not ask me to say nice things about their product.  Just wanted to share a product that I love.

02 April 2013

Frozen Zest


You never have zest when you need it , right?  And no, I'm not referring to energy for life or the soap, but rather to the yummy goodness you get from citrus skins.  It always seems that I need either fresh citrus juice or zest, but seldom do I need both.  Or is that just what happens to me?

My solution - save the hollowed out rinds after juicing.  Just pop the lemon, lime, or orange rinds into a plastic bag and place them in the freezer.  Next time a recipe calls for zest, just grab one of the frozen rinds and grate!  Added bonus:  frozen rinds are easier to zest, too!

Mmm...tasty!