Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Apple A Day...

We went to Centennial Farms and got a bag of apples. While it was a fun family activity, on the drive back I kept thinking that I had just filled up my weekend and evenings coming up because I would have to do something with them quickly. Fortunately I had several easy, yummy apple recipes stashed away and we successfully ate them all before they even had a chance to think about going bad!

Topsy-Turvy Apple Pie

Glaze & Crust:
1/4 c brown sugar
1 T butter, melted
1 T corn syrup
1/2 c pecan halves
1 box refrigerated piecrusts, softened as directed on box

2/3 c sugar
2 T all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 c sliced apples

Heat oven to 425°. In 9" glass pie plate, mix brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Spread evenly in bottom of pie plate. Arrange pecans over mixture. (I left the pecans off b/c I didn't have any on hand and it still tasted YUMMY.) Make piecrusts as directed on box for two-crust pie, placing bottom crust over mixture in pan.

In small bowl, mix sugar, flour and cinnamon. Arrange half of apple slices in crust-lined plate. Sprinkle with half of sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining apples and sugar. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust.

Place pie on sheet of foil (or baking sheet) on middle oven rack; bake 8 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°; bake 35-45 minutes longer or until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Immediately run knife around edge of pie to loosen. Place serving plate upside down over pie; turn serving plate nad pie plate over. Remove pie plate. Serve warm or cool with whipped cream.

The only thing I would do differently next time is to spray the pan with oil first. My bottom pie crust stuck to the pan in places, making it a little messy on top when I flipped it over. Maybe this is because I didn't use the pecans, but better safe than sorry, especially if I was making it for something other than just our house.

Glazed Cinnamon Apples

6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut in 8 wedges
1 T lemon juice
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
2 T flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
6 T butter, melted

Place apples in a slow-cooker; drizzle with lemon juice. Mix sugars, flour and spices in a medium bowl. Sprinkle mixture over apples; stir gently to coat apples. Drizzle with butter. Place lid on slow-cooker. Cook on low for 3 hours or high for 2 hours until apples are done. Carefully remove lid to allow steam to escape. Serve warm apple topping over ice cream.

My apples were Winesap, not Granny Smith - as long as they're a good cooking apple they'll be fantastic. Also I substitued pumpkin pie spice for nutmeg since I used the last of my nutmeg a few days earlier. And the first time I made this (I actually made the recipe twice in one week, once for my family and then later for some friends who came over) I used the full 6 T of butter and it seemed unnecessary. The second time I reduced it to 1 1/2 T and that even seemed unnecessary. I think next time I'll leave it out entirely.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cake Balls

I had these for the first time at a baby shower a few weeks ago. They were SOOO good (and Olivia ate almost all of mine) that I had to try to make them myself. Super easy, and Olivia even got to help me with the destruction of the cake.

Cake Balls

1 cake mix, plus ingredients to make cake
1 container frosting
chocolate for dipping

Make the cake according to the box's directions, using a 9x13" pan. Let cool. Destroy the cake and tear into crumbs. Mix in the frosting and stir until completely combined. At this point I put the mixture into the freezer for awhile, because it was too sticky to form. Once it hardens slightly, roll into balls (mine were about ping pong ball size). Melt chocolate and dip centers into the chocolate. Let harden.

I used french vanilla cake and a seasonal orange frosting with brown chips, and dipped them in white almond bark. They were super sweet but oh so good. Someday I'll try red velvet & cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake with German chocolate frosting, yellow cake with chocolate frosting...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chocolate-PB Squares

We had a couple friends over for lunch on Labor Day, so of course I had to make a dessert. I asked Adam to choose from a stack of recipes I had torn out of magazines, and this is what he came up with. Wow, they were rich - more like fudge than bars - but super yummy. I did cut them into 48 squares, and I'm glad I did. Anything bigger would have been too much!

chocolate-pb squares

2 pkg (10 oz each) peanut butter chips
1/3 c unsalted butter, cut up
2 cans (14 oz each) sweetened condensed milk
2 c finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c unsalted peanuts, finely chopped, plus 1 c coarsely chopped or left whole
1 pkg (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips

Line 13 x 9 x 2" baking pan with nonstick foil. Combine peanut butter chips and butter in large glass bowl. Microwave on 50% power for 30 seconds. Stir. Return to microwave; heat on HIGH for 90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds. Whisk in condensed milk.

Gradually stir in crumbs and the 1/2 cup of chopped peanuts. Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Microwave chocolate chips on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir until smooth; microwave in additional 15-second increments, if necessary. Spread over top of peanut mixture. Sprinkle with additional 1 cup nuts. Let stand at room temperature until firm, about 1 hour. Cut into 48 squares.

Next time I will leave off the peanuts on top. Even though I pressed them into the chocolate, they all fell off when the bars were cut and taken out of the pan. I loved how the graham cracker crumbs cut out some of the sweetness, but as our friend noted, that just made it easier to eat more of them and then the sugar rush crept up on you instead of coming on all at once!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Peach Salsa

Ok, so salsa isn't technically baking. But it turned out really good, and I had a request for the recipe, plus it's my blog and I can put on it what I want. :-) My sister showed me the technique for the salsa, and really you can put in whatever you have on hand or sounds good. This combination happened to work out really nicely...

Peach Salsa

3 red tomatoes
1 orange tomato
2 peaches
2 jalepeno peppers
1 onion

Quarter & peel the onion. Wash the other ingredients but otherwise leave everything as is. Place all ingredients in a large pot of water; bring to a boil. When the skins pop open, remove the ingredients from the hot water and place them in a large bowl of ice water to stop them from cooking. As you remove them from the water, the skin will fall right off. For a mild salsa, remove the seeds from the jalepenos. Place in a blender & puree.

This makes a very soupy salsa that firms up a bit if you refrigerate it. I imagine you could make it a little less runny if you lightly squeeze some juice out of the tomatoes before putting them in the blender. Have fun with the recipe - this is the first time I used peaches. To make a more savory salsa I've added cilantro and garlic to the blender. I've never made a bad batch!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Caramel Corn

Caramel corn holds a special place in my memory. My Grandma Unruh made it every Christmas that I could remember. She would leave it in a big tupperware container in the guest bedroom until after we had eaten dinner, but all the grandkids knew where it was. We would sneak in and try some out while dinner was still being prepared.

Grandma's caramel corn was always PERFECT. It was soft but not chewy, and perfectly coated (or at least that's how I remember it). I've honestly been scared to make my own because I didn't want to ruin that memory, and most of the homemade caramel corn I've had just didn't cut it. But this recipe has a great tip for getting everything coated - putting it in an oven in-between mixings so the caramel can soften up. The only thing I would do differently is maybe not leave it in quite so long in-between, because one batch seemed to have just a bit of a burnt taste to it. I'm definitely over my fear of making caramel corn.

Caramel Corn

5 quarts popped popcorn
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp butter, unsalted, softened
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Put the popped popcorn in a large pot, and place in a 350° oven. (This will keep it warm while you make the caramel and make it easier to stir.) Combine the sugars, corn syrup, water and 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan and heat until it reaches 400° on a candy thermometor. Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and salt. Remove the popcorn from the oven; pour the caramel mixture over and stir with a wooden spoon. When the caramel hardens and it is difficult to stir, put the popcorn back into the oven. After 10 minutes, remove the popcorn from the oven and re-stir to coat the popcorn. Continue returning the popcorn to the oven as many times as necessary. When the popcorn is evenly coated, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to prevent clumping - do not over-stir at this point. Pour the popcorn out onto a clean countertop and separate out the kernels. Allow to cool.
I hope the instructions are correct - I took the cookbook back to the library after typing the ingredients but before typing the instructions. :-) I think I pretty much got it right.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mexican Chocolate Pie

I wasn't so sure about this one... it's a Pampered Chef recipe which sometimes are fabulous and other times just ok. Plus I got the crust a little darker than I would have liked. BUT when I served it at Book Club, it was a hit and we also enjoyed it the next night when my sister visited.

Mexican Chocolate Pie

1/2 package refrigerated pie crusts (1 crust)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels, divided
12 ounces whipped topping, thawed
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 package (3.9 oz) chocolate instant pudding & pie filling

Preheat oven to 425°. Let pie crust stand at room temperature 15 minutes (my package actually said 40 minutes, so I did the longer amount). Gently unfold crust into pie plate, pressing dough into bottom and up sides. Prick bottom and sides. Bake 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven; cool completely.

Reserve 1 tablespoon of the chocolate morsels for garnish. Microwave remaining chocolate on HIGH 1 minute, stirring every 10 seconds until melted and smooth. Do not overheat. Spread chocolate over bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pie crust.

Reserve 1 cup of the whipped topping for garnish. Whisk cream cheese until smooth; gradually add in milk until well blended. Add remaining whipped topping and cinnamon; whisk until smooth. Add pudding mix; whisk again until smooth. (Mixture will be thick.) Spoon filling into crust, spreading evenly.

Grate reserved chocolate over top of pie. Pipe a decorative border around edge of pie with reserved whipped topping. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon, if desired. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until ready to serve.

I really liked the melted chocolate spread over the crust. It made it hard to cut, though, and we laughed about all the noise we were making at the table trying to cut each bite off. Still a good thing!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I'm not from Ohio, but I do love peanut butter and chocolate together. I took them to work today and they were almost gone by the time I left for the evening. And Olivia nearly threw a tantrum when I told her she couldn't have a second one. I'd say they were a hit...


9 oz (1 cup) peanut butter
4 oz (1 Tbsp) butter, unsalted, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 oz (3 cups) confectioner's sugar, sifted (may need more)
1 lb (1 1/2 cups) dark chocolate, melted, tempered

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Cream together the peanut butter, butter and vanilla in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed. Add the confectioner's sugar slowly until the mixture forms a workable dough. Add up to 1/2 cup more sugar if necessary. Using a #100 scoop or teaspoon, scoop out balls of the mixture. Place on a prepared sheet pan. Using your hands, roll the portions into round balls 1 1/4" in diameter. Return to the sheet pan. Chill the formed buckeyes for 20 minutes or longer.

Impale each buckeye lightly with a toothpick to use as a handle for dipping in chocolate. Holding a buckeye by the toothpick, dip it in the tempered chocolate, leaving a 1/2" circle of the center uncoated on top. Place back on the sheet pan. Remove the toothpick and smooth the small hole that it left in the top of the candy. Allow the chocolate to set completely. Store at room temperature, tightly sealed.

I used milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate, because that's what I had on hand, and because I'm a sucker for really sweet chocolate with my peanut butter. The only thing I would do differently next time is to use more sugar - I only used the 3 cups because I was able to form the round balls with the consistency. But the centers ended up being pretty soft even after the chocolate was set. Also, I didn't temper the chocolate before dipping the centers. I've honestly never tempered chocolate - something I'll try sometime when I make fancier candy - but it was late by the time the centers were ready to dip and I didn't feel like messing with something new. :-)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cappuccino White Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Adam's first reaction to these was "they taste like cookies, not muffins!" I think that's a good thing. :-) Being the middle of summer, I couldn't find cappuccino mix packets, so I bought a canister and used 2 servings-ful instead. It didn't seem like much at first, but it did add a nice sweet coffee taste to the muffins. Also, I was leary of the fact that it said this recipe only made 12 muffins, but to only fill the muffin cups 2/3 full. I decided to go with the 12 muffins part instead of the 2/3 full, and went ahead and filled the cups fuller. I liked the nice round tops it made.

Cappuccino White Chocolate Chunk Muffins

2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
2 envelopes instant cappuccino mix, any flavor
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 c milk

1/2 c butter, melted
4 oz white chocolate, chopped (I used a Ghiradelli bar)

Heat the oven to 375°. Line 12 muffin pan cups with paper cups. Stir the flour, sugar, cappuccino mixes, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Beat the egg in a medium bowl. Stir in the milk and butter (make sure this is cool enough first or it will cook the egg!). Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Stir in the chocolate. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full (or as I discovered, just keep filling them until you run out of batter).

Bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool on the wire rack. Serve warm.

Oh! I almost forgot the story that goes with this recipe. I actually bought the ingredients for the muffins a couple weeks ago but *finally* found time to make them Sunday afternoon. But after I had mixed all the dry ingredients, I realized that Adam had used the last egg to make Olivia's breakfast that morning. I couldn't be upset that Adam had made breakfast, but I was disappointed that once again I couldn't make the muffins. It ended up working out well, though. Later that evening I told Adam that Olivia & I were heading out to get some eggs - which we were, but there was an ulterior motive: a Father's Day present. So we got out of the house with a really good excuse... shhhh!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

So I bought an ice cream maker on a whim last weekend when I saw they were only $20 at Aldi's. I just couldn't pass it up, especially since it's just a tiny one that makes 1.5 quarts at a time. My first attempt took a bit longer than anticipated, because I was impatient. I learned an important lesson: the mixture MUST be cold in order for it to freeze properly. That doesn't mean throw it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, it means cool completely to room temperature and then refrigerate it for the full hour the recipe calls for. Good news, though, is that overnight in the freezer works well, too. I just had to delay my gratification.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
2 c. heavy cream, chilled
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 T butter
1/4 c. chopped pecans (I'm sure I used more)
1/2 t. vanilla

Place the cream, sugar and butter into a saucepan and mix together over a low heat. Stir until mixture starts to boil around the edges. Remove the saucepan from heat and allow to cool completely (see this is where I got impatient!). Place in refrigerator for one hour to chill.

When mixture is cold, switch ice cream maker on and pour the mixture into the chute while paddle is moving. Pour in vanilla.

After the ice cream has thickened, about 30 minutes, add the pecans. Let churn another 5 minutes to mix. Turn machine off and the ice cream is ready to serve.

YUM. Sooo creamy, so sweet. Definitely tasted like an expensive store brand, although we don't buy expensive store brands, so I couldn't tell you which one. :-)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to Make a Perfect Cheesecake

At my last job I was commissioned to bake a cheesecake for a staff member's birthday. I was sure I had baked a cheesecake before but sure couldn't remember any tricks. So I found this list of tips that was really helpful, and of course now I couldn't tell you where I found it.

How to Make a Perfect Cheesecake

Using springform pans: Take the pan apart, line the bottom plate with aluminum foil, then reassemble the pan. Pull the excess foil up and around the pan to prevent any batter from leaking into the oven. Spray sides and bottom with vegetable spray.

Ingredients: For best results, make sure all ingredients are at room temperature.

Mixing the batter: A stand mixer can take on heavy cheesecake batter with ease, but be careful not to over mix. Too much air in the batter causes bubbles that can cause cracking. Mix just until creamy and all lumps are gone.

How to tell when a cheesecake is done: Put a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven. Not all cheesecakes get baked at the same temperature. What does matter is that fluctuations in temperature can result in cracks. Resist the urge to open and close the oven door while baking. It's hard to tell when a cheesecake is done and it shouldn't be over baked, either, which again causes cracks. The cheesecake is generally done when the sides are set and a little puffy and the very center is slightly wiggly.

How to cool cheesecakes: Cool slowly on a wire rack away from drafts and at an even temperature for 2-3 hours. You may lay a piece of paper towel over the cheesecake (not directly on it) to keep in some of the moisture. Run a sharp knife around the sides. Leave cheesecake in the pan and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Run a sharp knife around the pan once more before releasing sides. Peel the foil off the underside of the pan, gently lift the cake with one hand and peel off the foil, sliding the cheesecake onto a serving platter or cardboard circle.

How to slice a cheesecake: Using a large, very sharp chef's knife, slice the cheesecake by cutting right through it all the way to the plate. Do not saw through the cheesecake. Rinse the knife off in hot water, dry and cut another slice.

How to fix a cracked cheesecake: When all else fails, and a California earthquake-size fissure cracks down the center, there is still hope. Fresh fruit and pie fillings, frosting, glaze, cookie crumbs and ganache can always cover a multitude of sins and guests will never know!

How to freeze cheesecakes: Cheesecakes freeze great, so why not make two! Double wrap with plastic wrap and freeze for 2-3 months.

Hope these tips are helpful - happy cheesecake baking!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chocolate Toffee Bars

My father-in-law complains that he never gets to eat the treats that I make. So when I found out yesterday that he was coming to spend the night tonight, I ran out to get the ingredients to make another recipe from the coffee cookbook. He will have no complaint this time.

Coffee Toffee Bars
3/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 tsp salt

Coffee Topping:
1 T instant coffee
2 tsp vanilla extract
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
2 T butter
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz white chocolate, chopped
1 c toasted chopped pecans

Prepare the crust:
Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13" baking pan with foil; lightly butter the foil.

Beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer set on medium speed until smooth. Add the egg yolk and beat well. Stir in the flour and salt until well mixed. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Prepare the topping:
Stir the instant coffee and vanilla in a large microwavable bowl until well blended. Stir in the condensed milk and butter until well blended.

Microwave on High for 4 minutes, stirring every minute or until the mixture is thick and smooth. Spread evenly over the baked layer in the pan.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until set. Sprinkle the surface with the chopped chocolates. Bake for 1-2 minutes longer until the chocolates are melted. Use a spatula to smooth the surface evenly. Sprinkle with the pecans. Cool completely on the wire rack. Refrigerate 30 minutes until the chocolate is firm. Cut into bars or diamond shapes to serve. Store in a tightly covered container.

Makes about 3 dozen bars (mine made 27)

I forgot to toast the pecans, but it didn't really matter. And I used chocolate chips and white chocolate chips instead of the squares. This actually did matter, because the white chips did not melt in the oven and then I wasn't able to spread them around. Taste-wise it was fine, presentation-wise it would have looked a lot better with melted chips. But WOW, the taste. These are absolutely fantastic. The toffee layer seeps into the crust, creating this amazingly sweet bar. I knew they would be good just looking at the ingredients. But they have already become one of my favorite recipes ever. And it took less than an hour total to make them. Pretty amazing.

Coffee Bran Muffins

My husband, daughter & I were at the library last Saturday, and of course I found myself in the cookbook section. Right as they were ready to leave, my hand fell (divinely, of course) on a cookbook called "Coffee Drinks & Desserts." Without looking at anything besides the cover, I decided it was one I needed to go home with. Yesterday I made the first recipe in the book for breakfast...

Coffee Bran Muffins
1 1/3 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 c 100% bran cereal
1 c buttermilk
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c room temperature brewed strong coffee
1/4 c dark corn syrup
1 large egg

Heat oven to 375°F. Line muffin pan with 12 paper cups.

Mix the flour and baking soda in a small bowl. Stir the cereal and buttermilk in another bowl; let stand for 5 minutes.

Beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer set on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the coffee, corn syrup and egg and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour and cereal mixtures just until moistened. (The batter will be lumpy.) Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup two-thirds full.

Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean. Remove the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool completely on the wire rack. Serve warm.

Makes 1 dozen muffins (mine made 14).

Ok, so I love bran muffins anyway, so these were fantastic from the start. The recipe actually called for raisins, too, but I'm so not a fan of raisins, especially in muffins, so I left them out. Right out of the oven I honestly didn't taste any difference between these and the ones my mom made so many times when we were growing up. But then later in the day I had another one after it had cooled to room temperature. What a difference! The coffee taste really came out but was not overpowering. YUMMY. Oh, and my daughter gives it a "so good I'll stuff it all in my mouth at once" rating. I think it's a keeper.

Starting a Blog...

I have a passion for baking. And I firmly believe that baking should involve real butter, real sugar, whipping cream, and no substitutes. I honestly don't understand the recipes that use applesauce instead of corn syrup, or try to "hide" vegetables in brownies. Really? If you're going to indulge, do it right and use the good stuff.

I used to feel cheated when a really good recipe took less than an hour to make. Baking to me should be an all-day affair where you use all available counter space, mixing bowls and pans (and my husband would walk in the kitchen and turn around quickly to get out of the mess). However, since my daughter was born, I have found the beauty in recipes that I can prepare in the span of one nap time. So on this blog you will find some fast and delicious recipes, and some more involved recipes (and you know that I had help around the house for those!). I'll be posting some new recipes with ratings of whether I'll make them again, and some old-standbys that our family loves.

So... enjoy, drool, try out some recipes for yourself and let me know what you think. Bon appetit!