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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Year in Review: Favorite Recipes from 2011

Once again I’ve decided to share a list of my eleven favorite recipes for the year (11 in honor of the year and the fact that I couldn’t narrow it to 10!). This is by no means an all-inclusive list. We’ve eaten some good food this year (which I attribute to great recipes, not necessarily my skills!) and it’s impossible to come up with a true list of favorites. These eleven, however, stand out for one reason or another…

Incredibly simple and easily adaptable, we eat this all.the.time. We eat it for weekend breakfasts after long runs and for quick dinners when we’re not up to cooking or we’re out of food. We add other vegetables to it (zucchini, spinach, kale), sometimes we shred the sweet potatoes, and we rarely omit the bacon. This is by far the most frequently made dish in our kitchen!

I can't believe I haven't made these again, because I still vividly remember just how much I loved them, as well as everyone I shared them with. Anytime I can take my favorite childhood sandwich and turn it into a dessert, I'm a happy camper!

This was by far one of my favorite dinners over the past year. Several readers also made variations of this dish (it's easy to mix up the vegetables based on what you like or have on hand) and I've heard nothing but positive feedback!

I never would have thought that combining strawberry, mango, and avocado together would be so good, but the three, tossed in a honey balsamic vinaigrette, was one of our favorite side dishes last summer!

This ice cream will forever be remembered as the one that caused a fight between me and Ryan, only because we both loved it so much. I've made it several times since and each time it's more addicting than the last! (That being said, we enjoyed a LOT of good and new ice cream flavors this past year, all of which bear mention.)

This is without a doubt the most addicting recipe from 2011. Put me around a bowl of this and I will literally eat it until I'm sick to my stomach. I know because I did it, several times. I like to credit this snack to opening my eyes to the world of bourbon, which I've now discovered I also enjoy in my cocktails :)

This vegetarian take on meatballs was probably one of the the most creative recipes of the year, taken from a St. Louis food magazine. I didn't anticipate liking these quite as much as I did, but both Ryan and I were majorly impressed with this meal. I don't shy away from eating meat, but it's meals like these that prove how good meatless dishes can be!

It's only fair that this make the list, as it was by far the number one most viewed recipe on my site this year. With almost five hundred thousand views, largely thanks to StumbleUpon, it still gets more hits than any other most days of the week. Based on the comments, tons of people have also made it and gone as crazy for it as we did!

Mocha Coconut Granola Bars
I created these on a whim, inspired by the mocha coconut frappuccino at Starbucks and then proceeded to make them a few more times in the course of a few short weeks. To be honest, I can't get enough of their chewy texture and the way coffee, coconut, and chocolate seem made for each other!

Although stuffed chicken breasts aren't the prettiest looking food, this dinner was pretty dynamite (as was the asparagus also pictured above). A few simple ingredients (blue cheese and fig jam, in this case) transform a pretty boring meat into something special!
This was the year of cake batter, both in the blog world at large and on The Sweets Life in general. It's hard to say which is better, the cake batter ice cream or these blondies, but there's just something about these gooey treats that keep you cutting off "just one more sliver". They have all of that cake flavor with an even better texture!

Needless to say, it's been another good year of eating, to be continued into 2012! Come back tomorrow to see a recap of my Best of 2011 Challenge and what 2012 holds for The Sweets Life!

See my Top 10 List from 2010 here!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Slow Cooker Chicken and Barley Stew

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It turns out Ryan and I both love beef and barley soup. He remembers it from his childhood, when he would visit his dad at work and always enjoy a big bowl of it (and a slice of cherry pie!) from the cafeteria. I remember it from college. When the dining hall pickings were slim, I knew I could count on a warm bowl of this to fill me up.

This is not beef and barley soup, this is obviously chicken and barley soup, made because I already had the chicken on hand. However, Ryan and I discussed our love for beef and barley soup, meaning that’ll be making an appearance soon (any favorite recipes to share?).

You know I love crockpot meals, and this was another easy one—just chop, dump, and let it cook away. The recipe said it would take 8-9 hours to cook on low, but ours was more than ready after about 5, so plan accordingly! Simple ingredients, easy preparation, and hands-off cooking…it doesn’t get much better than that!

P.S. This freezes well! Also, I reheated some with some kale in there and it was an excellent addition and easy way to get some extra greens!

Crockpot Chicken and Barley Soup
slightly adapted from Betty Crocker

-3 large carrots, sliced (2 cups)
-2 stalks celery, sliced (1 cup)
-1 large onion, chopped
-2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
-3 cups water
-2 cups chicken broth
-3/4 cup uncooked pearled barley
-1/4 tsp pepper
-1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
-2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I used some dried parsley)
-1 tsp dried thyme leaves

1. Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the bowl of the crockpot. Add chicken, water, broth, barley, pepper, and tomatoes.
2. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours, depending on your crockpot (you want to make sure your chicken is cooked through and your vegetables are tender).
3. Add parsley and thyme to stew just before serving.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Bacon

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Let’s go back in time. The scene is January 2005. I’m eighteen years old, a freshman in college, away at a retreat for the weekend.

My best friend Kacey and I were pretty cool. Or at least, we thought we were pretty cool.

How cool? Cool enough that when a group of guys along on the retreat decided to brave the 30-degree temperatures and spend the night in a treehouse instead of in the retreat cabin with bunk beds, the two of us decided to join the party.

I write this and laugh, because I would never, ever do this now. I despise the cold and prefer to sleep in fleece pants and a sweatshirt with my mattress heating pad ON. Times have changed.

But then the appeal of being the only two girls to brave the cold and hang out with the boys all night won out! You don’t need me to go into details about the horror of that evening. I still shiver just thinking about it. I have vivid memories of, after sleeping not a wink all night, trudging back through the snow, pillow and sleeping bag in hand, to the cabin. While the others spent the day playing games and hanging out, Kacey and I collapsed in the bottom bunk of a bed and literally slept the day away. 

We’re older now, and debatably wiser. We still think we’re cool, but you won’t find us having winter sleepovers in treehouses! Instead we do things like host ugly Christmas sweater parties (or pajamas, in my case!) and fulfill our performance dreams in front of a TV with Wii’s Just Dance 3. Need proof? See below. And then forget you saw that and instead focus on one of the snacks that fueled our dancing that evening: fresh spinach and artichoke dip with bacon.
Another winning Jessica recipe, this takes your standard spinach artichoke dip up a notch with the inclusion of fresh spinach as opposed to frozen and bacon…because bacon makes everything better! Whether you’re looking for a performance-enhancing snack to share with your best friend or you just need a really great New Year’s Eve appetizer, this dip is your thing! Cheesy, gooey, WARM…much warmer than that night almost seven years ago!

Love the spinach artichoke combo? Try this flatbread pizza!

One Year Ago: Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls
Two Years Ago: Gingerbread Pancakes

Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Bacon
from How Sweet Eats

-2 (8 oz) blocks of cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
-1/2 cup sour cream
-1/2 cup mayonaise
-1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1 (6 oz) bag of fresh spinach
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/2 shallot, chopped (I used a bit of onion)
-8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
-1 (12 oz) jar of marinated artichokes, drained

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In a skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add spinach, garlic, and shallots, stirring until spinach cooks down. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, mayo, and sour cream. Beat until smooth. Fold in 1/2 cup of each cheese along with the spinach mixture, artichokes, and bacon. Spread into a baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
3. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes. Serve with bread, chips, or crackers.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dark Chocolate Cake with Hot Chocolate Buttercream

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If you follow me on Facebook, you may have noticed I posted a picture of this cake a few weeks ago with the caption "You know a cake is good if you make it twice in one week!"
The first occasion was my friend Maggie's birthday. After last year's Giant S'Mores Cake, I knew I needed something equally impressive. Maggie requested chocolate and I immediately went to the recipe for this cake, which I'd had saved ever since seeing it on Megan's blog.
This cake was, in a nutshell, perfect. The cake is tender, moist, and so dark it looks burnt. It matched wonderfully with the chocolate buttercream, flavored with some hot chocolate powder.
Maggie loved it, and so did the friends who celebrated with us. When it got two thumbs up from Mike, Maggie's husband, and Ryan, two self-proclaimed cate haters, I knew I had something special on my hands.
A few days later I made it again so that Ryan could bring it to work. His coworkers requested a cake for a surprise baby shower. A raging success again, trust me that you must give this cake a try! I love making layer cakes--in part because I do it so infrequently--and making this one twice has inspired me to try them more often. Which kind should I try next? (I've already made Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake and White Chocolate Amaretto Cake)

One Year Ago: No Potato Venison Stew
Two Years Ago: Black and White Bean Soup

Dark Chocolate Cake with Hot Chocolate Buttercream
from What Megan's Making

For the cake-
-1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
-2 cups granulated sugar
-3/4 cup dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Dark)
-2 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt
-2 eggs
-1 cup strong black coffee
-1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
-1/2 cup vegetable oil
-1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

For the buttercream-
-1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
-1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
-1 tsp pure vanilla extract
-2 tbsp milk
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1/3 cup powdered hot chocolate mix

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans with butter and flour or parchment (I did both to ensure it didn't stick!). In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla to the dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. Batter will be very liquidy!
2. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pans in the oven (I placed them on the same rack but still rotated after 20 minutes). Bake an additional 15 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (35 minutes total!). Cool pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes before carefully inverting the cakes onto racks to cool completely.
(Note--At this point I wrapped the cakes in saran wrap and foil and placed each layer in a gallon-sized freezer bag. When ready to frost, I removed cakes from the freezer and frosted immediately.)
3. To make the frosting, cream together the butter, cocoa powder, and salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl before adding confectioners' sugar, milk, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. In a small separate bowl, mix heavy cream with hot chocolate mix. With mixer on medium, add cream mixture to frosting until you've reached your desired consistency (I used it all).
4. To frost the cake, place cake on plate or whatever you plan to serve it on. Put approximately 3/4 cup frosting on one layer and spread evenly to cover. Top with second layer. Frost top and sides of cake until even and smooth. Decorate as desired. Cover and store at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Zucchini Parmesan

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I did not expect us to love this dish as much as we did. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. We love our vegetables, and it’s a well-remembered fact that Ryan ordered eggplant parmesan on our first date. However, I really added this to our menu plan because I had three zucchini sitting in my produce drawer and as much as I love this healthified zucchini bread, I spent the last few weeks more focused on Christmas cookies!

There are days like I like to pull out all the stops with my cooking—bake my own sandwich buns, make pasta sauce from scratch, you get the picture. Other days, it’s all about getting food on the table fast, or in the case of this recipe, faster. This zucchini parmesan casserole requires a number of steps before you get it in the oven to bake (though I’m sure you could do this a few hours ahead of time and bake once ready!), so don’t feel bad about cheating with store-bought marinara sauce and bread crumbs! The steps, though a bit time consuming, go quickly and the end product is worth the assembly line of dipping zucchini that’s required!

When I say we loved this, I mean we managed to eat half of the 9 x 13 inch sized casserole for lunch one Sunday afternoon and would’ve kept going for more, had we not wanted to save it for leftovers. We ate the casserole as is, but you could also serve it over pasta. Stuffed with pasta sauce and cheese, this hit the spot…pretty sure even non-zucchini lovers would go for this! 
One Year Ago: Baked Potato Soup

Zucchini Parmesan
from Taste and Tell 

-1/2 cup flour
-3 eggs, lightly beaten
-1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs (mine were Italian seasoned)
-3 large zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices
-1/4 cup canola oil
-1 (25 oz) jar prepared marinara sauce
-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish and set aside.
2. Put out three shallow dishes. Place the flour in one, the eggs in another, and the breadcrumbs in the third. Dip each slice of zucchini in the flour, followed by the eggs, followed by the breadcrumbs. Cover both sides of the zucchini to coat. Set zucchini aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook the zucchini for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Cook in batches and add more oil if needed.
4. Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Place 1/3 of the zucchini in the pan, topped with 3/4 cup sauce and 2/3 cup mozzarella. Repeat twice, finishing with the sauce and cheese. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.
5. Lightly cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of 2011: Taste

Since reading through the 40 Best Restaurants in St. Louis list and deciding to use it as part of the Best of 2011 challenge, Ryan and I knew we wanted to go to Stone Soup Cottage, named restaurant of the year by St. Louis Magazine. We’d never heard of it before, in part because it’s about 45 minutes outside of St. Louis city. Unfortunately in November when I went to make reservations for December, I saw that they were booked through March (they only have one seating nightly)! Apparently they’ve been named the best restaurant for a reason!

Though we were disappointed, we know we’ll eventually get there, and we instead returned to the list to make a new choice. In the end we settled on Taste, a tiny bar in the Central West End that’s known for having the best mixologist in St. Louis—Ted Kilgore. Although we’ve stopped in for cocktails before, we’d never eaten there, despite hearing good things about their small plates.

Last week we stopped in on a weekday, without a reservation, and were surprised to see how packed it was at 7 pm. Thinking we’d have to move on to Plan C for this month’s challenge, we were pleasantly surprised when they changed a few things around and were able to seat us immediately.
 (image source)
Given the setting—small, intimate, and dark (very, very dark!), I didn’t feel comfortable whipping out my huge camera when I was practically touching elbows with the patron to my right. Instead, I attempted to take a few iphone pictures which was also nearly impossible, given the darkness. St. Louisans, you’ll just have to head there for yourself to get a glimpse. The space itself is gorgeous—wood ceilings, funky light fixtures, and an impressive-looking bar. A tiny kitchen sits on one side of the place, where a pair of chefs whips up snacks and small plates. (for great pictures of the space, check out the Riverfront Times Slideshow of Taste, here!)

You can’t go to Taste without taking advantage of the cocktail menu and we spent quite some time poring over our options. I ultimately settled on the Mr. S.A.P.P., which isn't listed on the menu but featured rum, pineapple juice, cinnamon, and all sorts of other flavors. Ryan went for the Fallspice, also not on the menu, but a combination of bourbon, orange juice, allspice dram, grapefruit bitters, and more. As you can see, these are complex cocktails--I have yet to order one that wasn't excellent! At $10 a drink, it’s easy to rack up quite a bill here…especially since once you’ve tried one, you’re tempted to try all of Ted’s other creative combinations. Last week we stuck to one each and instead focused on the food.

The menu, which changes nightly, is a collection of snacks (house-made pickles, fried smelts, French fries, etc.), small plates, one or two large plates, and desserts. We stuck to four small plates: the beet, chevre, and pistachio salad, the squash risotto, the pork scrapple topped with a fried egg, and the mussels.

Each plate came out as it was ready, giving us plenty of time to mingle over the different tastes. Now that we’ve eaten at several restaurants in St. Louis that feature small plates, we love the play the comparison game (again, St. Louisans, shoot me an email if you want my thoughts on this!).
We loved the beet salad, but we’ve yet to find a beet and goat cheese salad we don’t like. The squash risotto was good—the Arborio rice was not as soft and creamy as most risotto’s I’ve had, but I loved the spiciness of this dish which was an unexpected surprise. Our pork scrapple had great flavor and you can’t go wrong with something topped with a fried egg! Our mussels arrived last, and though I was pretty full by this time, I couldn’t get enough of the rich broth it was served it. Although we passed on dessert, the lemon custard I saw another couple order came in a tiny mason jar and almost made me reconsider!

Although I still think Taste’s best feature is its cocktails, it definitely features some great menu items—as should be expected, coming from the famed Gerard Craft!

And with that, we’ve completed our Best of 2011 Challenge. I’ll be recapping the entire series and introducing our plans for 2012 on January 1st...come back and check it out!
Taste on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Blessing...

God grant you the light of Christmas,
which is faith;
the warmth of Christmas,
which is purity;
the righteousness of Christmas,
which is justice;
the belief in Christmas,
which is truth;
the all of Christmas,
which is Christ

I hope all of you are having a wonderful, joy-filled day celebrating the birth of Jesus!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Breakfast Ideas

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Merry Christmas Eve! Rather than posting a new recipe today, I thought I'd share a few last minute breakfast ideas with you, all perfect for Christmas morning. Whether you're looking for something sweet or savory, none of these are terribly difficult (not even the cinnamon rolls!) and all of them can be made today, meaning you can have a relaxing Christmas morning.

Make one final trip to the store, put together one of these breakfasts, and then sit back and relaaaaax. If you haven't yet had a chance to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas--now's the time!
For the egg lovers...
Breakfast Tortilla Strata
Chicken Sausage and Apple Strata
Frittata with Chard, Sausage, and Feta
Sausage and Egg Casserole with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Scrambled Egg Cups

For the carb lovers...
Amish Baked Oatmeal
Apple Cranberry Baked French Toast
Banana Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake
Carrot Spice Muffins
Cranberry Coffee Cake
Peanut Butter Banana French Toast Enchiladas

One Year Ago: Monster Cookies

Friday, December 23, 2011

White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge

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Peppermint isn't my go to flavor, unless we're talking gum. In December, however, that all changes! I can't seem to resist mint oreo truffles or chocolate mint puddles, both of which are now Christmastime staples for us. When a reader/soon to be running buddy/sister of a friend who happens to share a name with my sister (Julia) emailed me this recipe last week with a personal recommendation, I knew it was the perfect thing for my December mint addiction!

With only a few days until Christmas, you may be sick of cooke baking. Lucky for you, this doesn't require an oven...it's just a matter of mixing a few ingredients together and letting it set in the fridge. Easy, and because it's fudge, you can cut it into tiny pieces and serve a crowd! Mine didn't cut as nicely as I would have liked, but I just ate the ugly pieces and plan to serve the rest :)

With a cream cheese base, this fudge is stickier than other versions I've had. I loved what the cream cheese added--along with the peppermint and white chocolate it was a perfect match!

Tell me, what's your "Christmastime only" obsession?
One Year Ago: Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge
slightly adapted from Mindika Moments

-8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (I used 1/3 less fat)
-4 cups confectioners sugar
-1 1/4 tsp peppermint extract (could use vanilla extract)
-12 oz. white chocolate baking bar, chopped into small pieces
-1 cup crushed peppermint candy canes

1. Line an 8-inch pan with wax paper and set aside.
2. Beat cream cheese with confectioners sugar until creamy. Stir in peppermint extract. Meanwhile, melt white chocolate over in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Stir until smooth.
3. Allow chocolate to cool slightly before stirring into the cream cheese mixture and beating until smooth. Stir in the crushed candy canes (reserve a few tablespoons for decoration).
4. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan. Top with remaining candy canes. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. Cut into small pieces and serve.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gingerbread Espresso Bundt Cake

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Gingerbread and espresso? Together? Yes! The flavors in this bundt cake are complex, but it's exactly this combination that makes the cake so wonderful. Next time, I think I'll add chocolate chips, which would add another interesting (and delicious!) element to this cake.

I think I over-baked my cake by a few minutes, making it a little drier than I would have liked. Thankfully, the taste of the cake out-shined the texture! We ate pieces of this topped with vanilla ice cream, but it's also good plain (or with freshly whipped cream). Coffee or hot chocolate is another perfect accompaniment.

This is a great option if you're looking for an easy Christmas dessert that will still impress...and the leftovers make for an excellent breakfast ;)

One Year Ago: Brownie Bottom Nutella Cheesecake Squares
Two Years Ago: Sugar Cookie Bites

Gingerbread Espresso Bundt Cake
from Tracey's Culinary Adventures

-1/2 cup molasses
-1/2 cup very strongly brewed coffee or espresso (cooled to just warm)
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp baking soda
-1 tbsp instant espresso powder
-2 tsp ground ginger
-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
-1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
-1/8 tsp ground cloves
-2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
-1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
-3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

for the glaze-
-1 1/2 tbsp brewed espresso (or 1 1/2 tsp instant espresso dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsp hot water)
-1 cup confectioners' sugar
(I also added a tbsp or so of milk to thin the glaze a bit)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with nonstick spray and flour.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together molasses and coffee. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, espresso powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until smooth (approximately 1 minute). Add brown sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.
4. With the mixer on low speed, alternate between adding the dry ingredients and the coffee/molasses mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until ingredients are mixed in and the batter is smooth.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Run a knife through the batter to eliminate air pockets. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing cake from pan and cooling completely on the wire rack.
6. To glaze, mix the confectioners' sugar with the espresso until smooth. Drizzle over cake.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies with Hot Chocolate Buttercream

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The other day I mentioned visiting my brother in Minnesota. Even though the trip itself was our birthday gift to him, I knew we couldn't show up empty handed! It hasn't been too long since I was a college student, so I remember how wonderful it was when my family or my friend's families showed up bearing gifts, usually in cookie form.

These cookies would be just as good with a peanut butter filling, but I had some extra chocolate buttercream on hand (from an amazing cake I'll be sharing next week!) and decided to take advantage of one of Quinn's favorite flavor combinations. It turns out he isn't the only one who loves this combination, and he quickly decided to keep these cookies hidden from his other roommates, lest they disappear too quickly!

The peanut butter cookies are sturdy, but chewy, making them ideal for sandwiches. However, you could easily just make the peanut butter cookies and enjoy them plain. I made them a lot smaller than usual because I wanted mini sandwiches, so if you decide to make larger cookies you may need to adjust the baking time.

Need a last minute Christmas cookie? These may be just the thing!
One Year Ago: Mint Oreo Truffles
Two Years Ago: S'mores Bark

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies with Hot Chocolate Buttercream
cookies slightly adapted from Our Best Bites, buttercream from What's Megan Making

-1/2 cup shortening
-1/2 cup peanut butter
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1/2 cup packed brown sugar
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-2 eggs
-1 1/2 cups flour
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/4 tsp salt
*additional granulated sugar for rolling

for the buttercream (this makes a full batch--enough to frost 24 cupcakes or an 8-inch layer cake...you can easily cut the quantity in half or use the leftover frosting for something else!):
-1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
-1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
-1 tsp pure vanilla extract
-2 tbsp milk
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1/3 cup powdered hot chocolate mix

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Cream shortening, peanut butter, and sugars in a large mixing bowl until fluffy. Mix in vanilla and eggs, beating after each egg.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix to combine.
3. Roll dough into 1/2 inch balls, roll in granulated sugar, and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Use a fork to make criss-cross marks in each cookie, flattening slightly.
4. Bake cookies for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are puffed and set (not brown). Remove from oven and allow cookies to sit for 2-3 minutes before transferring cookies to a cooling rack.
5. To make the buttercream, cream together the butter, cocoa powder, and salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the confectioners' sugar, milk, and vanilla. Beat slowly until sugar is incorporated. Increase the speed of the mixer and beat frosting until smooth. In a separate bowl, mix together heavy cream and hot chocolate mix. Add to frosting mixture slowly while beating until you have your desired consistency (I used it all--use less for a thicker frosting).
6. Once cookies have cooled, spread a thick layer of buttercream on one cookie and top with a second cookie to create a sandwich. Makes about 2 dozen sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oatmeal Cheesecake Cranberry Bars

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Thank goodness canned goods have a long shelf life. You don’t want to know how old my can of cranberry sauce was! (Don’t freak out, I think I bought it last November or December…definitely not years old or anything) If you don’t have a bad habit of picking up canned goods and then storing them in your pantry forever, fear not…just head to the store and pick up a can of the whole berry sauce. I’m pretty sure you could also use fresh cranberry sauce, if you happen to have any frozen from Thanksgiving.

You know a dessert is a hit when someone admits to eating five of them in one sitting. Don’t worry Brian, I definitely had more than my fair share too ;)

The cheesecake layer in these is thin, but it’s just enough to complement the cranberry sauce. The crust is the star here—thick and full of oats and butter. Cut these small, and then eat five! Yum!

Looking for another holiday cheesecake bar that’s more about the cheesecake? Try these Blushing POM Holiday Cheesecake bars, featuring a pomegranate juice glaze!

Oatmeal Cranberry Cheesecake Bars
from Taste and Tell

-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
-3/4 cup brown sugar
-1 cup butter (2 sticks)
-12 oz. cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
-1/2 cup sugar
-2 eggs
-2 tsp orange juice (original recipe called for lemon juice)
-1 tsp orange extract (can sub vanilla extract)
-1 can whole cranberry sauce (mine was 14 oz)
-2 tsp cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch dish and set aside.
2. Combine flour, oats, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (I did this in my food processor but didn't add the oats until after). Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the mixture. Press the remaining mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
3. While crust is baking, beat cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, orange juice, and extract and beat until smooth. Spread the cheesecake mixture over the baked crust.
4. Combine cranberry sauce and cornstarch in a small bowl. Carefully spoon cranberry sauce over the cheesecake mixture (it will not cover completely, just drop spoonfuls all over). Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top.
5. Bake for 40 minutes, until set. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until completely cooled and firm. Cut into bars and serve chilled.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Molasses Crinkles

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Year-round, Ryan asks me to make these ginger cookies. They're one of the very first recipes I posted on this blog, which explains the pitiful photo, but to this day they remain one of Ryan's favorites. As much as he loves me trying new recipes all the time, he'd be perfectly content if I only made the aforementioned ginger cookies and these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. December is a natural time to break out the molasses, so I had every intention of making the ginger cookies when I saw a tweet from Jamie about her molasses crinkles.

Jamie is my sister-in-law's sister-in-law. Did you catch that? From what I know of her, Jamie is talented and beautiful...and now I can say she's a really good judge of cookies! When I compared this recipe to our ever-favorite ginger cookies, I noticed they were quite similar...just a few slight differences in the quantities of a few ingredients (and her batch makes a much more reasonable number of cookies--4 dozen vs. 8 or 9 dozen!). Much like our favorites, these have a slightly tough exterior that gives way to a creamy middle that melts in your mouth.

I made these for Ryan but ate more than my fair share of them. In fact, several times he said, "didn't you make those for ME?" Oops. Better make another batch...

We really like ginger cookies! Besides the original, I also recommend these flat and chewy gingersnaps, or these with white chocolate!

One Year Ago:  Twelve in Ten Challenge: Priyaa Indian Cuisine
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Mint M&M Cookies

Molasses Crinkles
from Jamie

-3/4 cup shortening
-1 cup sugar
-1/4 cup molasses
-1 egg
-2 cups flour
-2 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp ground ginger
-1/2 tsp ground cloves
-1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg, beating until combined.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (flour through salt). Slowly add to wet ingredients, mixing just until combined.
3. Grease or line baking sheets with parchment paper. Form 1-inch balls of dough and roll in granulated sugar. Place two inches apart on prepared baking sheets and bake 7-9 minutes, just until cookies begin to crinkle. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.