August 28, 2012

Pin It Oatmeal Peanut Butter Snack Squares

Taken From How Sweet It Is

Week 35
My plan was to make a healthier snack option. I don't know if I succeeded exactly, or if I even really like these, but I did eat 2 in a row shortly after taking them out of the oven. Ya know, to make sure I got a good representation of their essence. These don't have any butter or eggs, so I'm not sure how to categorize them (cookie? granola bar?), but How Sweet It Is calls them "snack squares," so I'll stick with that.

It's a simple dough: brown sugar, peanut butter, whole wheat flour (she says pastry flour but I used all-purpose), salt, baking soda, oatmeal, vanilla, milk and chocolate chips.  She only uses 1/3 cup chocolate chips but I think it could use more, probably 1/2 cup.
I baked this in a slightly smaller baking dish so I cut the squares smaller, knowing they would be thicker than in her recipe. Plus her's were HUGE! How Sweet It Is' creator lives in Pittsburgh; maybe everything is bigger there, like in Texas.
I baked them for 16 minutes as I'm now getting the hang of adjusting bake times for my soopa-hot oven. They turned out soft and chewy and a little gooey.  I'm not sure if that is the right "snack square" consistency, but it makes a good cookie.
My intent was to make a granola bar type snack, but I think these are really more of a cookie, so I've been eating them as dessert.  They seem healthier than a cookie because there aren't tons of chocolate chips and I used whole wheat flour, so it has that "healthy" taste to it.
I think more than anything though, this recipe just makes me want to make all my cookies in thick-cookie-square form. You don't have to worry about them spreading out too much or winding up with flat pancake cookies (plus they can be super gooey, yum). I predict some square cookies in my future. 

August 21, 2012

Pin It Snowball Cake

Taken From Sprinkle Bakes

Week 34
To end my busy week of baking, I wanted to make my dad a special birthday treat. My dad loves Hostess snowballs, loves them. Apparently they are going to stop making them so he buys them whenever he sees them.  Maybe this is where I get my instinctive "need" to buy any limited edition candy/cookie/cereal that I happen upon. Something to think about.

I saw this recipe a few months ago on Sprinkle Bakes and I knew exactly who would appreciate it most.  I was going to make a mini-version, as my mom always makes the birthday cakes. When I decided it was easier to make a full version and my mom decided that this would serve as the main and only birthday cake for my dad, the pressure was on.

To make things simple, I used a boxed cake mix.  There was too much going on to try this with a cake from scratch.

I baked the cake in a 2.5 L Pyrex glass bowl for 60 minutes. I let it cool for ~10 minutes, ran a knife along the edge and turned the cake out onto a cake platter lined with parchment paper.
Once the cake had cooled completely, I cut off the top about a third of the way down the cake. I tried to make sure that I kept track of the orientation of the top to the rest of the cake so I could try and line the edges up when I put the lid back on.  If you want to be super nerdy, you can put two toothpicks in the cake before taking the top off, one on the lid and one on the main cake.  That way you can line them up again when you place the lid back on.

After I cut the top off I "punched" a hole into the center of the cake. I used my fist to make a circular indentation into the center of the cake.  Thinking back, I probably could have used a bowl or glass as a template to make the hole more uniform. Next time.

The marshmallow cream frosting recipe for this cake is intense, and by that I mean it uses a pound of butter. Excessive? Probably, but I was in no place to mess with what was listed in front of me.
I put a cup of marshmallow fluff/butter mixture in the center of the cake and put the lid back on, lining up the edges as best I could.
I made the rest of the fluff/butter mix into frosting by adding a cup of powdered sugar and mixing in red gel food coloring.  
I then dyed the shredded coconut with the red gel food coloring until I got pretty pink coconut flakes.
This cake leaves lots of room for error since everything is getting covered up by a layer of something else. The edges of your top and main cake aren't lined up nicely?  That's ok, cover it with a thick layer of pink marshmallow fluff frosting! Your frosting layer is not even and smooth?  That's ok, sprinkle it with pretty pink shredded coconut!
Frosted...
and coconut-ed!
Complete with star birthday candles!

Yay snowball birthday cake! I probably could have made a bigger hole in the center to fill with marshmallow fluff for a better visual of the cut cake, but I thought this was pretty good for my first try.

August 19, 2012

Pin It Peach Blackberry Pie

Inspired by Bobby Flay

Week 34

Since a pie was originally requested for the backyard BBQ I figured I'd make one of those too.  It's blackberry season and they are all over Seattle.  We had no trouble picking enough for two pies just in our neighborhood. I picked up a few peaches at the local farmers market and had everything I needed for a delicious, summery pie.
I found this Bobby Flay recipe online and melded this together with my mom's berry pie recipe plus a little of my Aunt's Dutch apple pie recipe and came up with this gem.

Ingredients

Crust (make a day in advance)
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ tablespoon of unsalted butter
½ tablespoon of Crisco
½  teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoon ice water


Crumple Top
1 cup flour
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar


Filling
4 large peaches, peeled, pitted and slices (~1.5 inch thick)
~ 6 cups black berries
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar  
¼ cup tapioca
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 ¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
1 Tbsp butter

Directions
Prepare pie crust (directions can be found here).

In small bowl, cream ½ cup butter with ½ cup brown sugar and 1 cup flour.  Blend with a pastry cutter. 

Combine peaches, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and tapioca in a bowl and mix until well combined. Add in the blackberries. Spoon filling into pie crust using a slotted spoon.  Dot with butter and sprinkle crumble on top of fruit.

Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 and bake for about 30 minutes, until crust is nicely browned and berries are cooked through.
Sugared and spiced fruit.

This was awesome! I was really proud of how well it turned out and how delicious it tasted.  I used this same recipe again (minus the peaches, pictured below) and was pleasantly surprised to find my first ever solid berry pie! No runny juices, just pie perfection. I think it's probably the 1/4 cup of tapioca, but if it does the trick then I'm on board. 
I didn't actually get any of this pie, but I heard it was good :)

August 18, 2012

Pin It Frozen S'mores

Taken from Easy Baked

Week 33

My little sister was having a house warming BBQ while I was in town so I offered to make a dessert.  At first she had many requirements, or at least things I couldn't make.  Basically she thought my usual dessert experiments were too rich for a summery backyard BBQ, and wanted some sort of fruit pie.  I was a little disappointed because there were so many awesome desserts I wanted to try and had just been waiting for the perfect occasion.  Fortunately she changed her mind and told me that I could make whatever I wanted and to surprise her...and that I did.

With these!
These were actually super easy and not as time consuming as you might think. These are essentially a frozen S'more with a couple extra layers thrown in for good measure. It goes like this:
1. Graham cracker crust
2. Milk chocolate
3. Mini marshmallows
4. Frozen chocolate pudding/cool whip combo
5. Whipped cream
6. Mini chocolate chips

The full ingredient list and instructions can be found here, and below are a few photos to show you the process.

She suggested using a mini cheesecake pan (I don't know anyone who owns one of these, but they seem cool!) but I used a muffin pan with cupcake liners instead and that worked out well.
Graham crackers with melted butter.
Graham cracker crust pressed into cupcake liners (I used the end of a wooden handled utensil to get the crumbs compressed and even).
Layer of melted milk chocolate chips and heavy cream. For some reason not as thick as Easy Baked's.
Layer of mini mallows, cute :)
Piped on a layer of chocolate pudding + cool whip.
So easy and ready to freeze!

The recipe suggests topping these with cool whip and making them look pretty by using a pastry bag and decorating tip.  I used Reddi-wip instead, but Reddi-wip is not very good about holding its shape for more than 10 seconds, so they ended up looking a little sad. I topped them with mini chocolate chips and told people to eat them fast before they got even more flat and sad looking. 
No complaints there, people seemed to really like them!
Great summertime treat and good S'more alternative if you don't have a BBQ or fire at your disposal.

August 17, 2012

Pin It Cookie Monster Cupcakes

Taken from Bird on a Cake

Week 33
Jealous much? Yeah, you should be.  I made these for my brother Daniel's birthday. Cookie Monster was/is his favorite Muppet. He's a grown up and about to be a dad, but I didn't see either of those as reasons that he should not have a little army of Cookie Monsters celebrating his birthday with him.
Cookie monster, whose first name is actually Sid (fun fact #1), celebrates his birthday on November 2nd (fun fact #2, who knew there was a Muppets wiki website?!).  Maybe on November 2nd I should make a bunch of "Daniel" cupcakes for Cookie.
I used a boxed Duncan Hines Devil's food cake mix to make this process a little easier.  No need to go makin' it all complicated with a homemade cake when there was so much decorating to be done!
I also used canned Duncan Hines vanilla frosting and blue gel food coloring in order to attain a bright Cookie Monster blue. I found the gel colors work much better than the traditional liquid food coloring. The gels yield a much brighter color, whereas the liquid colors can end up more muted and dark.
For the eyes I used Wilton candy melts (white chocolate candy disks, my sister found these at Joanne's Fabrics in Seattle, but I think you can also find them at Michael's) and chocolate chips.  I stuck the candy melts and chocolate chips together by microwaving a few candy melts and using them as glue.
Now comes the fun part! Using a paring knife, I cut mouths out of each cupcake and shoved a mini Chips Ahoy cookie inside....and ate the mouth cut outs for a late night energy boost.
So here is the tricky part: piping blue frosting so that it looks like Muppet fur.  I had to make sure the frosting was not too warm that it all melted together into a blue blob, but it also couldn't be too cold because then it was hard to get the frosting out of the decorating tip. I chilled the frosting in the fridge for ~20 minutes and did some testers until it seemed the right consistency.
First attempt, not so pleased with him, but I got the hang of it on the next guy.
The trick is to keep the pastry bag moving continuously to avoid staying in one spot for too long and ending up with melded together Muppet fur frosting. This is the recommenced tip for the pastry bag, which worked out nicely. Luckily, I was in Seattle at my parents' house so I had many more decorating resources to take advantage of (my decorating kit only has 4 tips, sad face). 

After piping on the fur, I placed eyes onto Cookie and brought him to life!
So many Cookie Monster's!
He's my favorite, on account of his crooked mouth. 
I had pinned this on Pintrest a while ago because I thought it was hilarious.  Glad mine didn't turn out like that. 

Once you get a hang of the frosting these are pretty simple, but definitely time consuming.  It was a late night cranking these out, but totally worth it. My brother seemed pretty excited with his birthday treat and I think they turned out to be....pretty much the best thing ever!

Om nom nom nom.

August 13, 2012

Pin It Parmesan Chicken Bake

Taken from My Kitchen Escapades

Week 33

I wanted to make something that would feed us for a few days so I wouldn't have to cook again before I leave for Seattle (and its 80 degree weather, yes!).  I figured 6 chicken breasts (with some risotto and Brussels spout accompaniment) would do the trick.  However, in true my-mom-fashion, I overcooked the chicken.  I baked it for 45 minutes at 375 like the recipe said, but I think it's official, my oven runs hot.  I need to start adjusting my baking times so I don't over-bake anything else.  The chicken still tasted good, but was a little dried out :(

The bright side was that this recipe was super easy, and made me feel like a Midwestern house wife, on account of the mayo smothered chicken.  The recipe said you could use Greek yogurt instead of mayo, so I substituted in what I had, using 1/2 cup of yogurt and used 1/2 a cup of mayo, and plenty of parmesan. I also chopped up a yellow onion and added that to the sauce
So this was not a total failure because we both ate it and plan on eating leftovers for lunch, but I'll know for next time to lessen the bake time.

August 10, 2012

Pin It Salted Espresso Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Taken from Brown Eyed Baker

Week 32
Now I probably should have made a recipe that called for peanut butter since I currently have an excessive amount in my kitchen, but I'm not a huge fan of peanut butter in my baked goods (these were a mini exception).  So I was back to the drawing board.  I attempted to make these peanut butter and jelly cookies but failed.  I didn't want to use cake mix like the recipe called for, because I did not want cakey cookies (which may or may not have been the outcome).  Instead I used my standard cookie dough, but I took a few lazy short cuts:
1. I didn't brown the butter, I just melted it.
2. I chilled the dough for 20 minutes (like the recipe said) but it really wasn't long enough.

My first batch was flat and sad.  It was getting late and I was tired so I tried to flash chill the dough in the freezer, and then baked the rest.  End result: no bueno.
Very sad looking PB & J cookie. 
My cookies tasted fine but they were very sad and flat. I also don't think the recipe called for enough PB cups and chocolate raspberry squares.  The goodies to dough ratio was definitely off.  I may try it again using the cake mix and more PB cups and chocolate raspberry squares to see if it yields a better result.  I'll let you know how that goes.

But now on to bigger and better cookies!

I really like oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. You can see some of my previous obsession here. My love stems from two things: the removal of raisins (yuck) with the simultaneous substitution of chocolate chips (yum, obviously), PLUS it's oats and oats are healthy, ergo it's a healthy cookie! Well...I can pretend anyway. And in actuality I don't really care if they are "healthy" or "fat and sugar filled," because I have to run 15 miles tomorrow!  This will be my first super long run (AKA longer than I've ever run before) as part of the training for my first (and only) full marathon in October.  So moral of the story is, all rules are out the window, yipee!

These cookies have a lot of salty sweet flavors going on with the exciting addition of espresso.  Since I'm not a huge coffee drinker I was excited to find that the Via packets Starbucks sells are ~1 teaspoon each, which was prefect for this recipe that called for 2 teaspoons of instant espresso power.
I followed the Brown Eyed Baker recipe and instructions, making only one change in that I browned the butter first. I also didn't make my cookies as big, so my dough yielded about 3 dozen cookies.
I found that baking them for the recommend time (22-25 minutes) is way too long. I baked my first batch for 22 minutes, checking them after 10 and was not satisfied with the result.  They were pretty crispy/crunchy.

I baked my second batch for ~20 minutes, again unsatisfied with the batch once they were cooled.  I finally got it mostly right on my last batch, baking for ~18 minutes, but I still think they could have stood a little less time in the oven.  The Brown Eyed Baker recipe swears that this is a chewy oatmeal cookie but there is no way that 22-25 minutes in my oven would yield a chewy cookie.  Everyone's oven is different so I'd recommend checking these after 15 minutes, then bake until they are still just a touch raw in the middle.  That would yield the best (chewy) result in my opinion.  

So I didn't get this one quite right but still a way better result than my PB & J cookie attempt, so I will still dub it a successful afternoon.