Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Banana Honey Bread

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I promise I'm not going all health-food on you (not that it's really a bad thing, it's just not "me", ya know?), but this bread is amazing and it doesn't even have any added sugar in it! Or butter! It's like I'm morphing into someone else. Except for I'm not. And just to prove it to you, I made my very own batch of vanilla scented butter, recipe coming shortly.

But back to the topic at hand...this bread has a soft, spongey texture and is oh-so-moist. The smell of honey fills your home with an intoxicating scent that will make you want to eat the entire loaf while hiding in the pantry (or hall closet, in the case of my tiny apartment) so you don't have to share. But I'm a giving person, so I resisted that urge and didn't do that...this time. I promise I won't judge you if you don't decide to be so gracious.

So get ready for what is quite possibly the easiest banana bread recipe ever.

Banana Honey Bread [click to print]
Makes 1 loaf
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. applesauce, no sugar added
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 bananas, mashed (about 3/4 c.)
1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously coat loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2) Whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. In mixing bowl, beat honey, applesauce and vanilla until well combined. Add eggs and bananas. Add dry ingredients and continue mixing until just combined.

3) Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes or until done.

Source: Adapted from 8 Weeks to a Better You

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sweet Sixteen: Popcorn

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This east coast winter weather has been just plain crazy lately. I mean, seriously, it was in the 60's and looking like Spring with all the daffodils and snow drops popping out of the ground and then, bam! It's freezing cold again! I think it's time for a cozy movie night. Let's break out the popcorn!

(Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Homemade Almond Joy

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I know, I know. It's just barely the end of February. I shouldn't be talking about such a tropical flavor as this. But as stockpile bottles upon bottles of coconut-scented sun repellent, I can't help myself. Coconut is in the air! I'm off to Jamaica in less than two weeks and I'm beyond excited!

So, for you, my friends, who I unfortunately can't take with me, I wanted to give you all a reason to celebrate. To experience that summertime bliss in the middle of winter. To bite into some joy!

Almond Joy [click to print]
Makes about 2 dozen bars

24-30 almonds
1 c. powdered sugar
7 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 T. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
3 c. flaked coconut
20 oz. (about 1-1/2 bags) milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread almonds on baking sheet and roast in oven for about 10 minutes. They will look slightly darker and you'll be able to smell almonds in the air! Remove from oven and allow to cool.

In mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. Add coconut and stir until evenly combined. The mixture will be thick. Place in freezer for about 30 minutes so it's easier to work with.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Remove coconut mixture from freezer and shape heaping tablespoons into logs; press a single almond in the top of each and place on baking sheet. Allow to set in refrigerator while you melt your chocolate. In small microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate chips in 30 second intervals, stirring well between each nuke. Remove baking sheet from fridge.

Place one log on a fork; using a spoon, scoop a little chocolate over almond (this will help hold the almond in place) and dip entire candy in chocolate to coat. Gently lift candy from bowl and tap fork to remove any excess chocolate. Use a toothpick to slide candy from fork to baking sheet. Repeat with remaining candies. Once all are coated, place baking sheet in fridge to set, about 45 minutes. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Source: Adapted from Joy the Baker

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Baked Beignets

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Today isn't just doughnut day. I promise. It's an old old old tradition that was started to help people use up their extra fat and sugar before Lent starts.

Throughout Louisiana and France and probably just about every high school French class, people are heating up the fryers to make some fresh and greasy beignets for Mardi Gras. Back home, all my Dutchy friends have long been set for Fastnacht Day. I can't deny my heritage...or some tasty doughnuts! But my waistline sure wishes I could deny it a few extra inches...

Imagine my excitement when I realized that you could actually bake doughnuts! So of course, you can bake beignets! Just take a look at these little guys...bite sized baked goodness sprinkled with powdered sugar. Mmm. Or you can drizzle them with Caramel Sauce or drown them in Chocolate Syrup...oh-my-goodness. Delicious.

Baked Beignets [click to print]
Makes about one dozen beignets

3 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 pkg. active dry yeast (OR 2-1/4 tsp.)
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 T. butter, cold and cubed
3/4 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. warm water
1 egg, large
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, yeast, powder, soda and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry knife until mixture is crumbly and about the size of peas OR pour mixture in food processor and pulse until right texture is achieved then return to large mixing bowl.

Add buttermilk, water, egg and vanilla to flour mixture. Beat on low speed with dough hook or paddle attachment until just combined. Knead by hand or continue mixing on medium speed until dough pulls together and forms a smooth blob; this will take about 5 minutes by mixer.

Spray bowl with nonstick cooking spray and place dough in bowl. Cover with damp cloth and place in warm area to rise 15-20 minutes.

Remove dough from bowl and roll out about 1/4" to 1/2" thick. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice dough into four rows and three columns. Place dough pieces on cookie sheets and cover with a piece of plastic wrap, sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Bake 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Sift powdered sugar over warm beignets and devour. These would also be delicious with Chocolate Syrup or Praline Sauce!

Source: Recipe slightly adapted from 400 Calories or Less; Mardi Gras and Fastnacht info from BellaOnline  and Wikipedia

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fearless Dulce de Leche

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The thought of Dulce de Leche was sweet and enticing, but the nightmares I had every time I thought about cooking an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk on my stovetop was a strong deterrent. Nobody wants to pick shards of aluminum can out of their rental apartment ceiling or spend hours scrubbing gooey, not-quite-cooked-through caramel sauce off the walls. Ew and no fun.

So the first time I made Dulce de Leche, I opted for the microwave version. It claimed to be fast and easy and relatively non-messy. Fibbers. I mixed the ingredients in the biggest bowl I had that would fit in my microwave but it still bubbled over repeatedly and turned into a huge, sticky, hot mess and by the time it was finally done, my feet had started to ache from standing around the microwave for so long and I only had about half the amount that the recipe promised I'd have! I'm sure the rest of it was stuck on some inner surface of the microwave. Oops.

Needless to say, I never wanted to make Dulce de Leche again. Until now.

A while ago, Cupcake Project taught me that I could crockpot Dulce de Leche by cooking a fully immersed can of unopened sweetened condensed milk for several hours. But I was still a little worried about explosions, despite her reassurance. Then I read about a version you can make in the crockpot, in glass jars so they're all ready to be gifted or stored in the fridge! Plus, I love that you can actually see how dark the sauce is getting instead of just guesstimating when it's done. Now that's my kind of Dulce.

Fearless Dulce de Leche [click to print]

If you want to make your dulce without any leftover milk, you'll need two 14oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk and three 1/2 pint canning jars with tight sealing lids. You can use fat-free sweetened condensed milk, too, and it tastes pretty great!

Step 1: Pour the sweetened condensed milk into the canning jars and screw the lids on tight. (I put rubber bands around two of my smaller jars because I was nervous about how tight the seal was.)

Step 2: Put the jars in the crockpot and cover with warm tap water so there's at least an inch of water above the top of the jars. (Hot water gets your dulce cooking faster.)

Step 3: Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Don't lift the lid during cooking! Every time you do, it adds about 30 minutes to the total cook time.

Step 4: At the 8 hour mark, peek in your crockpot and see how dark the dulce is getting. When it reaches a dark caramel color, remove from crockpot with tongs and allow to cool completely.

Source: Adapted from The Yummy Life

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chocolate Syrup

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It's not that I'm an all-natural, no nonsense, organically obsessed foodie. Let's be honest, I'm american and I love a few preservatives every now and then. But when I read through the labels on my favorite ice cream toppings, things get a little gross...and confusing. I mean really, what do they really mean by "chocolate flavored" and "polycarbonate double helixed monounsaturated diphosphides"? Okay, that last one might not be straight from the ingredients label. But do we really need all that stuff to get a real chocolate flavor? And all the food coloring?


Here's a simple recipe for a simple pleasure. Just your regular, run of the mill, no preservatives added, homemade rich chocolate syrup. Drizzle it on ice cream, in chocolate milk or serve it warmed up as fondue for your soon-to-be chocolate covered strawberries and/or fingers. But whatever you do, you better enjoy it while it lasts!

Chocolate Syrup [click to print]
Makes about 2 cups

1-1/4 c. sugar
1 c. cocoa powder
1 c. water
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Sift cocoa into medium saucepan. Whisk in sugar and salt. Add water and cook on medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil for 4-5 minutes, until mixture is slightly thickened. Stir frequently to prevent scalding. Remove from heat. Allow mixture to cool about 5 minutes before adding vanilla. Store in airtight container in fridge.

Source: 52 Kitchen Adventures

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Easy Texas Sheet Cake

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Seriously, the way my friends rave about dessert that is so fast and easy makes me with twice about even attempting something that might require a significant effort. I had this cake mixed, baked, frosted and taste-tested in under an hour. Yummers.

Even my skinniest friend kept sneaking pieces, but I stopped counting after three...or four...

So maybe this isn't the healthiest, but it is certainly one of the tastiest chocolate cakes I've devoured! Plus it doesn't require any weird ingredients and yet it is extremely addictive. I blame it on the butter. And the fact that your thighs may expand after you try this recipe, I blame on my friend Nicole, who first introduced me to Texas Sheet Cake during college whenever we needed something to whip up and share with a crowd!

Easy Texas Sheet Cake [click to print]
Makes 24 generous servings

For the Cake: 
2 c. flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. hot water
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. sugar
3/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, large

For the frosting: 
1 c. pecans, finely chopped and toasted (optional, but real Texans love pecans)
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1/3 c. cocoa powder
6 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3-1/2 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 13x18" jelly roll pan with parchment paper or spray generously with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together flour, salt, cocoa and soda; set aside. In another small bowl, whisk together water, buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.

See all those little air pockets just waiting to be filled with frosting?!
In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter. Add eggs. Alternate adding dry mixture and liquids in about three additions. Continue mixing until well incorporated and smooth. Pour batter into pan and bake 20-28 minutes.

While the cake is baking, get going on that deliciously decadent frosting! Melt butter in a saucepan. Add cocoa and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Stir in milk, vanilla and powdered sugar; whisk until nice and smooth. Pour frosting over warm cake and spread evenly.

Sprinkle nuts across the cake and allow to cool until it won't burn your mouth up. Cut into squares and enjoy like crazy!

Source: Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Almond Swirl Sugar Cookies

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I admit it, I've eaten my fair share of those store bought sugar cookies. You know the kind. Perfect cookie circles taunting you with thick, rich frosting. I was always disappointed, though, by that cookie. Even though it's soft, it's also dry and crumbly. Not my favorite. 

The secret in this recipe is sour cream. It keeps these cookies nice and soft and moist. 
Just change up your choice of food coloring and sprinkles to make these cookies perfect for any holiday!

Almond Swirl Sugar Cookies [click to print]
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2-3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. sour cream
10-15 drops red food coloring

Whisk together flour, soda, nutmeg and salt; set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Add sour cream and extract. Add dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Scoop about half of dough into separate bowl and set aside. Add food coloring to remaining dough and mix well.

Press each half of dough onto a separate piece of parchment paper, flattening to a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Slide parchment and dough onto baking sheets and chill about 30 minutes.

Remove chilled dough slabs from refrigerator. Run a rolling pin over each slab to even out the surface. Peel parchment off red dough and stack directly on top of white dough. Use a pizza cutter or knife to trim edges to make even rectangle. Beginning at one end, tightly roll dough like a cinnamon roll. If there's an open space in the center, gently press and rock the dough back on forth on the counter until it seals as shown below.

Generously coat outside with red sugar sprinkles. Cover entire dough roll with plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375.

Remove dough from plastic wrap and slice cookies about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 6-8 minutes. They won't look done! They should still be pale but puffy in the center and look just a tiny bit wet still. Allow to cool about 5 minutes on baking sheet, then move to wire rack to complete cooling.

These cookies taste great with thick buttercream frosting!

Source: Adapted from Peppermint Plum

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sweet Sixteen: Valentine's Day

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Ah, yes. The holiday of love. I had a bunch of friends in college that absolutely hated V-day. Instead they'd celebrate SAD (Singles Awareness Day), which is somewhat depressing in its own right. I see nothing wrong with pink and red and hearts all over the place. And so, despite my current singleness, take a look at this week's photo roundup, and by all means, feel free to test out a recipe and drop it by my door!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog's Day

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I love holidays, as you may have noticed. Groundhog's Day is a big deal when you grow up in Pennsylvania. Mr. Punxsatawney Phil lives in that wonderful state! And every year, the mayor of Punxsatawney, PA drags that poor sleeping groundhog out of his burrow to predict how much longer the bitter winter will last. Cross your fingers for an early spring!

What could possibly make this rodent-dedicated holiday any better? Groundhog pops, of course! If you're looking for something even more decadent than these cute little groundhogs, try using them as a cupcake topper! And if you're against candy with preservative-laden ingredient lists, check back soon for a homemade almond joy recipe!

Oh, and not only is Groundhog's Day fun (and a little funny) but it practically belongs to my oldest brother. Happy Birthday, Chip! You're one year more awesome today!

Groundhog Pops [click to print]
Makes about 20 pops

1 bag snack size Almond Joy candy bars, unwrapped (about 20 pieces)
20 lollipop or mini popsicle sticks
20 red or pink dragees
1 bag M&M minis
1 tube black decorator's gel
1-1/2 c. white frosting in piping bag or ziploc baggie with end snipped off
1/2 c. chocolate chips, melted in ziploc baggie with end snipped off

Insert one stick about 2" deep into each candy bar and arrange on wax paper. Squeeze a small triangle of melted chocolate on the upper half of the almond. Place two brown mini M&M's on the corners of the triangle for cheeks. Place a red dragee on the point of the melted chocolate for a nose.


Pipe a small white rectangle of frosting under the cheeks for buck teeth. If you want the edges to be sharper, allow to set a few seconds, then shape with a toothpick. Pipe two white eyeballs above the almond. Use a toothpick to dab a small dot of black decorator's gel onto each eyeball.

Squeeze a small blob/triangle on the top corners of each candy for ears. Poke lollipop stick in a stand, or apple, like I used, and allow ears to set in the refrigerator. Repeat with remaining candy bars and experience some Groundhog's Day Joy!

Source: Adapted from Sweetology 101
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