Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think I have mentioned that I don't like boring food.

My sister will go to a Mexican restaurant and order a cheese quesadilla. It makes me angry. I could make her that at home for like a dollar. It's a total waste of money and ordering food, in my opinion. When I order something off a menu, I think to myself, "What can I not make for myself at home?" and then I order that. So it's generally the most complex item with crazy ingredients that I wouldn't know where to buy or how to cook. 

When I cook something, I am generally drawn to recipes that have a ton of ingredients. You probably won't ever see a recipe on here that has a name like "Simple Pasta with Olive Oil". YAAAAAAAAAAAAWN.

So when I was home last weekend, I told my mom I was going to make a dessert. She said that her boyfriend wanted to make his mom's famous chocolate chip cookies. My heart sank. Chocolate chip cookies? That's the MOST boring dessert I could possible think of. I had envisioned something with four kinds of chocolate and peanut butter and mousse and crunch and food coloring and sprinkles and ganache and anything else with a ridiculously high sugar content.  Duh.

However, because I am kind and accommodating, I agreed to make them. Reluctantly. I was prepared to be extremely underwhelmed.

Now, I don't say this often but....

....I was wrong.

These cookies were awesome. Hands down, the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had. My mom's boyfriend, my sister, and I were eating spoonfuls of the batter as my mom stared at us in disgust.

I think the difference might be the Crisco. I have never baked with Crisco but it seemed to make the dough lighter and creamier.  I might be making that up but I'm gonna go with it.

I do credit part of the deliciousness of these cookies to the fact that, in addition to the the amount of chocolate chips that were called for in the recipe, I dumped in a whole bag of leftover Valentine's Day M&Ms (for a double batch). Whoops.  I just couldn't leave it alone.

Oh, and I made them into an ice cream sandwich.

So delicious. And pretty. And not boring.

My sis, Kennedy, enjoying my creation.

These cookies definitely changed my mind about plain (coughBORINGcough) recipes.  Maybe a couple uncharacteristically simple recipes will make it on the blog from time to time.

 Side story:  My mom's boyfriend obviously doesn't bake often.

I told him to put parchment paper on the baking sheets. About 2 minutes into baking the first batch, I noticed that the kitchen seemed to be getting a little foggy.  I opened the oven and smoke came pouring out.  I pulled out the cookies and could not figure out what was going on.

Then I saw the wax paper on the counter. He thought that wax paper and parchment paper were the same product.

They're not.

He's lucky I like him. And that my mom paid for all of the groceries. Because he ruined 24 cookies. Unacceptable.

the waxy cookie remnants
You should make these. On parchment paper. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 1 cup Crisco 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cup flour 
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 bag of M&Ms
  1. Combine Crisco and sugar, cream well, blend in eggs and vanilla.  
  2.  Combine dry ingredients and then add to cream blend mixing well.   
  3. Stir in chocolate pieces.   
  4. Drop by heaping tsp. full onto cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.  Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Butternut Squash Pasta with Blue Cheese and Spinach

Hi guys! I meant to update sooner but I've been pretty busy with school work and the stomach flu. Yeah... the flu. It was terrible. Oh, and it kicked in on the night before I had to take my last teacher certification test. And I was headed home for the weekend. When it rains, it pours.  Luckily (?), my mom and sister weren't feeling wonderful either so we spent the weekend lounging and trying to recover. 

But there were a couple positive notes:
#1 - I bought about six cardigans in bright spring colors at Forever21 for $13 dollars each. Short cardigans were on my "need-to-buy-right-this-instant" list because all of mine are long winter ones so I didn't feel guilty at all. Even with the flu, my shopping addiction cannot be stopped. No really, it's a problem. My new purchases are folded nicely on my couch because there is no more room in my pathetic excuse for a closet.

#2 - The movie In Time with Justin Timberlake. It doesn't seem like a movie I would normally like but I loved it! It's basically about living in a world where time is the currency instead of money so the few rich people could live forever and the poor people never know if they'll be alive at the end of the day. It really made me think about society and the disparity between different socioeconomic statuses. Definitely worth the dollar at RedBox!

Well after a couple days of not being able to eat or move, I'm feeling 100% better and ready to talk about some food!

I made this butternut squash pasta a while ago. It first grabbed my attention because it had a " withoucreamy" sauce without all of the calories of a cream or cheese sauce. I'm constantly looking for ways to lighten up hearty favorites so this seemed perfect.

The color combination of the bright orange squash with the green spinach was gorgeous! The texture was very creamy without being heavy. The squash and onions gave the pasta a pleasant sweetness, which was counteracted by the bite of the blue cheese. I found that the blue cheese in the sauce gave the perfect flavor combination. When I topped my serving of pasta with a little extra blue cheese for garnish, I thought the flavor was too strong and completely overpowered the flavor of the squash and onions so I scarped it off.

Unlike most of my other recipes, this one is not freezer friendly. I tried to freeze some and when I thawed it out, it had a really strange and unpleasant consistency so I threw it out. Lesson learned - next time I'll only make what I can eat, which is still a lot :)

Make this if you love a pasta with a creamy texture but would like to consume less calories and more veggies!

Butternut Squash Pasta with Blue Cheese and Spinach (6 servings) from Budget Bytes
  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1.5 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 2 cups water
  • 12 oz pasta
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 3 oz blue cheese
  1. If you are using fresh butternut squash, peel, scoop out the seeds and cut into one inch cubes. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. Spread the squash cubes out on the baking sheet, sprinkle with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, salt, pepper and sage. Toss to coat then roast in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the squash is soft and golden along the edges (stir once half way through). 
  2. Dice the onion and cook it until soft with 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a medium sauce pan. When the onion is soft, add the water, bouillon and roasted squash cubes. Cook for about 5 minutes more or until it is hot and the squash is mushy.
  3. Transfer the squash, bouillon and onions to a blender and puree. Pour the pureed squash sauce back into the sauce pan and keep warm over low heat. 
  4. Boil the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the squash sauce and spinach. Stir it all together until evenly mixed and the spinach has wilted. Add the blue cheese crumbles and stir once more. 

beautiful colors!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes

Happy Valentine's Day! I have a delicious dessert recipe and some thoughts/advice to share.

As mentioned in my last post, I'm newly single for the first time in forever so obviously Valentine's Day isn't the most fun this year. No flowers or chocolate or cards or dinner dates. Ok, so I've had some chocolate. That I gifted to myself.

Last night I was talking to my mom about being in sort of a weird spot in my life. I chose to go to grad school right after undergrad in order to get it out of the way and up my chances of finding a full-time teaching job asap. This has resulted in me living in a overpriced apartment by myself in a town where I don't know anyone while working close to full-time as a substitute teacher and taking 18 credits this semester. Sounds like a blast, right? Not always, but I try to make the best of it by keeping up with the blog and staying busy. Needless to say, it gets a little lonely sometimes. As for the breakup, it's left me feeling pretty exhausted, insecure, lost, bitter, and all kinds of angry. So as I was explaining this to my mom, she gave me some advice - all of it is great, some is warm and fuzzy, and some is just straight up tough love.

#1 - "Quit recycling ex-boyfriends. You broke up with them for a reason and you're not going to change them. Let it go and move on already. Until you stop making the same mistakes over and over, I'm not going to feel bad for you." I have a bad habit of doing this. I go back to what I know and expect that it will be better the second, third, or twentieth time. It never is. I also have a problem letting go. I over-analyze every single second of the relationship and try to figure out where things went wrong and what I should have done different. Life is not a math problem so I should probably stop treating it like one. And, as my mother so delicately pointed out, the analysis isn't working because I keep doing the same things over and over and over and over and expecting them to turn out differently. According to Einstein, that's the definition of insanity so I should probably change that. Starting today :)

#2 - "You can't expect a man to appreciate how hard you work toward your goals if they themselves are unmotivated." This might be the best advice that I have ever been given and I don't know why I didn't think of it myself. You can't expect someone to appreciate a quality that you have if they don't value that quality, in general. I've always wanted a guy that recognizes and appreciates how hard I work to obtain the things that I want. But if I keep choosing guys without a similar drive, they aren't going to care about how hard I work because they don't understand the situation. I don't want to have to request appreciation from someone. I have too much pride for that mess.
#3 - "The people who matter and love you think you're wonderful so who cares what anyone else thinks?" Typical mom advice but it's true. My family and close friends are very supportive and proud of my accomplishments. And that means the world to me.

#4 - "Stop complaining and do something about it. No one is going to approach you if you're mean and angry. You're too young to be this bitter." Tough love. Honestly, if I were a guy, I would not come within 100 yards of me. I'm super angry and I have a habit of taking that anger out on anyone that is of the male gender. I guess I can't expect to receive good things with a bad attitude. One of my New Year's resolutions was to be more positive and I've been doing a pretty good job in terms of work, school, and daily life but I'm having a hard time transferring it over to my love life. I'll work on it. No one wants to be friends with, and definitely not date, an angry biotch.

#5 - "The fact that you're letting a man determine your self-worth is stupid." Blunt and to the point. Especially considering the fact that it's a person that is no long a part of my life. So eff that, I'm awesome. You have to believe that yourself before anyone else can see it.

So there's my two cents for the day. Now you know you know everything that's running through my head right this very second.  Except....

CUPCAKES! Now I can share these!  They were absolutely wonderful. As you know, chocolate and peanut butter is, hands down, my favorite flavor combination. And this is a chocolate cupcake stuffed with a peanut butter filling and topped with a peanut butter frosting.  Heaven.

I chose to use boxed chocolate cake. I scooped the majority of the cupcake out in order to make room for the filling anyway so who cares? Not I. I try not to make life harder for myself. The filling is very rich and makes the cupcakes feel like they weigh a pound. I love the crunch that the pretzels add to the filling. Next time I might even use chunky peanut butter for more texture.

The frosting is a fluffy peanut butter frosting. It's light and has a very subtle peanut butter flavor so it's not overwhelming with everything else that's going on in this dessert. I dyed the frosting pink in anticipation of using this recipe as a Valentine's Day post :)

I topped the cupcake with a super cute and easy chocolate peanut butter pretzel garnish.  You just lay some pretzels on a baking sheet and put a Hershey's hug/kiss on each one. Pop them in the oven at 350 for about a minute (I left mine in for about two minutes which is why they look a little melty-er than they should). Then take them out and put an M&M in the middle of the melty chocolate. For this I used, traditional pretzels, Hershey's hugs, and Valentine's Day peanut Butter M&Ms. I put one on each cupcake and put the rest in a container for people to snack on.  These, in and of themselves, are a great sweet treat and can be thrown together really quickly but still have a very nice presentation.

You should make these. Make them for the people you love. Whether that's your boyfriend, your family, your friends, or just yourself.  Or bake them to show your exes that, in addition to all of your other endearing qualities that make you a total catch, you're a whiz in the kitchen. And they can have fun eating the Little Debbie snacks that their mommies buy them :)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes (makes 18 cupcakes)
For the cupcakes
·         your favorite chocolate cake mix
For the filling
·         1 cup peanut butter
·         1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
·         1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         2 cups confectioner’s sugar
·         2 large chocolate covered pretzels, crushed, enough for a 1/2 cup of crushed pretzel
For the frosting
·         1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons milk, or as needed
  • 1 ½ - 2 cups confectioners' sugar
For the pretzel garnish
·         18 pretzels
·         18 Hersey’s hugs
·         18 peanut butter M&Ms (I used about 36… one for the pretzels, one for my mouth…)

  1. Bake the cupcakes as directed on the box.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.
  2. As the cupcakes are cooling, make the filling.  Melt the peanut butter and butter in a sausage pan, stirring constantly. Remove the peanut butter mixture from heat and mix in the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract. Add the pretzels and mix together until it becomes an even mixture.
  3. When the cupcakes are completely cooled, use a knife to hollow out the middle of the cupcakes (I cut a pretty big hole because the recipe makes a lot of filling and I looooooooove peanut butter). Save the cake in a separate bowl.
  4. Fill the cupcakes with the peanut butter pretzel filling. Cover the top of the filling with a small amount of the reserved cake.
  5. For the frosting: Place the butter and peanut butter into a medium bowl, and beat with an electric mixer. Gradually mix in the sugar, and when it starts to get thick, incorporate milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is thick and spreadable. Beat for at least 3 minutes for it to get good and fluffy.
  6. Frost the cupcakes (generously!).
  7. For the garnish: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay out 18 pretzels on a baking sheet. Place one unwrapped Hershey’s hug on each pretzel. Put in the oven for about 1 minute (or until starting to melt). Take out of the oven and immediately put one peanut butter M&M in the center of each Hershey’s hug.
  8. Place one pretzel garnish on each cupcake. 

best. frosting. ever.

finished product :)

I made my mom's boyfriend stop eating mid-cupcake to take a picture of the filling.

My beautiful little sister. Eating her second cupcake. She's the best. 

Oh and this is me. Making myself a personal Valentine's Day treat. SANGRIA!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

S'mores Mug Cake

I've seen mug cakes floating around the food blog scene for a while and I resisted them for three main reasons.

#1 - I just didn't think it was possible. If it really worked and tasted awesome then why wasn't everyone baking cakes in their microwave for every single meal? And why would anyone bother baking a full-sized cake that you have to wait over thirty minutes for when you could make a perfect portion in less than two minutes? It just didn't make sense.

# 2 - If a wonderfully tasty cake could be made in the microwave, it would be my only form of nourishment for at least a month after I discovered it. I work too hard at the gym for this to happen so I avoided the mug cake because I was afraid it would give me a muffin top.

#3 - I didn't have a microwave-safe mug.

Well, I found a microwave safe mug. And I realized I had all of the ingredients to make this s'mores mug cake (from one of my favorite blogs - it's well-written and filled with delicious recipes; and the writer, Jessica, is hilarious).

Time to experiment.

This cake came together so quickly and easily. I baked it for 90 seconds and it came out perfectly! It was extremely rich, to the point where I wasn't sure if I'd be able to finish it. Don't worry. I did. Me? Waste cake? Absolutely not. I added a little milk to it to cut the richness a bit and add some moisture.  It also helped to cool it down a little... since obviously waiting a minute or two was not an option.

Did I mention that it was delicious? Because it absolutely was. In fact, I've been thinking about it all day and trying to come up with other versions (you KNOW a peanut butter one is in the works).

I know that I should eat dinner before dessert but... why go through the motions when I know what I really want? If I'm still hungry after, I'll eat dinner. Or maybe just another mug full of rich chocolate-y heaven... 

Whatever. It's the weekend before Valentine's Day and I'm newly single for the first time in what feels like forever. I reserve the right to do nothing but eat desserts, drink wine, and watch romantic movies all weekend. So far I've seen Heartbreakers, When in Rome, P.S. I Love You, 27 Dresses, Have You Heard About the Morgans?, He's Just Not That Into You, Rumor Has It, The Ugly Truth, and, of course, The Notebook. 

I'm not even ashamed. Just a little delirious from all the sugar. Oh yeah... and the wine.

Matching mugs of coffee and herbal tea :)

5 Minute S’mores Mug Cake (1 mug) from How Sweet It Is
·         1 graham cracker, crushed
·         3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
·         2 tablespoons granulated sugar
·         1 large egg
·         1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         1/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
·         2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (mine was dark cocoa, hence the dark color)
·         1/8 teaspoon baking powder
·         pinch of salt
·         1 1/2 ounces milk chocolate (I used mini chips)
·         marshmallows (I used minis but you could use regular sized marshmallows. Fluff would also be great but I did not have any on hand.)
1.       Combine 3 tablespoons butter and 1 ounce of chocolate in a small bowl. Melt in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Set aside. In your mug, melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter. Mix in the crushed graham crackers and press to the bottom of the mug.
2.       In a bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar and vanilla. Add in flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa, stir until a thick batter forms. Mix in the melted butter and chocolate a little at a time. Fold the remaining chocolate chips into the batter. Add half of the mixture on top of the graham crust, then add a layer of marshmallows or fluff. Add the other half of the batter on top of the marshmallows. 
3.    Microwave for 90 seconds**. Remove and top with additional marshmallow. Put the mug back in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to melt them. Remove and sprinkle with graham crumbs for the perfect s'mores finish :)
**Your cooking time may vary depending on the strength of your microwave and the consistency that you want your cake to have. 

The mug was only 3/4 full before "baking". It rises a ton!
Perfection in a mug.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bronx Egg Cream

Hi everyone! Happy February!

I've been MIA because of the busy start to yet another semester and I went home to Saratoga for the Super Bowl. And, as I've mentioned in other posts, I don't do anything when I go home. I just like to spend time with my family and relax. So this quick recipe is inspired by my time at home.

My sister and I were lounging on the couch doing some serious Facebook stalking and browsing Instagram and Pinterest (two peas in a pod, right?). She mentioned that she wanted to make "chocolate fizzies". Because I've passed many of my obsessions/bad habits down to her, I knew that she was making a reference to Law and Order: SVU. I am not joking when I say that she and I have spent full days on the couch watching marathons and have probably seen every single episode at least twice.

I figured we'd give it a shot. But when I searched "chocolate fizzy" nothing came up. I remembered the little girl in the show saying it was chocolate milk and seltzer water so I searched for that instead. I found out that the official name for the drink is a "Bronx Egg Cream".  Apparently it used to be a popular fountain soda but now it's hard to come by so people make it with seltzer water, milk, and chocolate syrup. 

We headed to the kitchen to give it a shot. Now let me start by saying - I do not like to drink milk. I never ever drink a glass of it, it grosses me out. Something about drinking a liquid from an animal's boobs really creeps me out. But putting it in coffee, making delicious hot chocolate with it, and making it into delicious cream sauces and cheeses is totally different.

I'm strange and often illogical. I've accepted it so I hope you can too.

Given my aversion to milk, it makes sense that I wouldn't like this drink. I took a sip of it and that was more than enough. I put the rest in glass with ice and topped it with whipped cream for my sister. Once she stopped laughing at the bad face I made long enough to have some, she said that she really liked it and it tasted like "Yoo-Hoo".

The only negative aspect that she mentioned was that the ice cubes coated in milk were kind of gross. She ate them anyway. Typical.

So give this a shot and drop me a comment to answer the question:  Are you a fan of the Bronx Egg Cream?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

 Bronx Egg Cream (yields one serving)
  • 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup (something a little thicker than Hersey's squeeze bottle would be better)
  • 5 oz of milk
  • 3 oz of seltzer
  • whipped cream (optional)
  1. Mix the chocolate syrup and milk together.
  2. While stirring, add the seltzer water and continue stirring. 
  3. Pour over ice and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

yay or nay?