Saturday, July 30, 2011

Brownie Cookies

A good trip to the library for me means coming home with a cookbook. This morning was one of those good trips. I wasn't planning on even looking at them, because I have way too much to do this week to be drooling over recipes that I don't have time to make. But as I was checking out, there IT was. Staring me down. Begging to be picked up. On the "New Item" table. "Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers." It came home with me and I not only read the introduction and the know-how sections this morning, but I also made one of the recipes this afternoon.
The great thing about this cookbook is that it makes very small desserts (that can easily be polished off in one day!). So they take less time, use less ingredients, and - the best part in my eyes - you could literally make and eat a different chocolate dessert every single day. If you had the time. Which I don't. But I could try.

Brownie Cookies
from Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon well-beaten egg (beat egg, then pour into measuring spoon)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium, microwave-safe bowl; microwave on medium power until soft, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Stir in the bwon sugar; whisk in the egg, vanilla, baking soda and salt until well blended. Stir in the flour. Cover and refrigerate until the dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Spoon the dough by tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies have puffed then flattened, about 14 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Makes 7 cookies.

So I didn't realize until I sat down to type the recipe, that I had missed a possibly crucial step - refrigerating before baking. I was going to write that I would bake them much less, because mine ended up being crispy, and I'm not an edge-piece lover. So if you do like the edge pieces, you may want to skip that step, or reduce the time in the refrigerator. I guess I'll just have to make them again to find out what a difference the step makes!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Banana Pudding

I made banana pudding the other night. Not for me. I am not a banana-eater. I made it as a reward for my daughter. She is a banana-lover.

Some of you know of our recent struggles to get her to stay in her own bed at night - not because she doesn't want to sleep, but because she is afraid of the "lions and elephants and monkeys jumping on the bed." Completely irrational. And yet so real to a 2-year-old.

This week we "tamed the beasts" of bedtime and are crossing our fingers that it not only continues, but also translates into full nights of sleep. She has stopped throwing fits when we leave her alone in her room at bedtime. And she allows us to take her back to her bed when she comes running into our room in the middle of the night. Now we're just waiting for the night - and consecutive nights - when she will stay in her bed all night and we will wake up to realize that we have slept a full 8 hours without interruption.

Back to the banana pudding (which she says so well - "bah-nah-nah puh-ding" - pronouncing each consonant fully!). This was the dangling carrot we hung out for her every night before going to bed, with the promise that after three nights of staying in her bed, she and mommy would make it together.

It was one of the most satisfying desserts I have ever made that I will never taste. Even though it took me less than 10 minutes to make, it was about a month "in the making." Victory never tasted so sweet.

It seems a bit silly to put the recipe here, but this IS a baking blog, so let's rock this out:

Banana Pudding
1 box instant banana pudding mix
2 1/2 cups milk
8 ounces whipped topping, thawed
3 bananas
36 Nilla wafers

Whisk together the pudding mix and milk for 2 minutes. Fold in whipped topping. Place 1/3 of the Nilla wafers in the bottom of a 2 quart serving dish. Slice 1 banana and layer on top of the wafers. Pour 1/2 of the pudding on top. Repeat. Top with remaining wafers and bananas. Refrigerate at least 10 minutes.

"Don't you see that children are God's best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?" Psalm 127:3 (The Message)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Brown Butter Banana Strawberry Bread

This recipe is from one of my favorite baking blogs, Joy the Baker. If you haven't checked her out, you really should. But give yourself lots of time, because you won't be able to stop reading after just one recipe.
I saw this recipe on her blog when she posted it over a month ago, and I hadn't stopped thinking about it, so I figured I probably better try it out for myself.
When I was baking the cake(s) for the baby shower, I learned how to correctly prep a pan, so I went ahead and used flour baking spray for the bread pan and lined it with parchment paper. It makes it so much easier to remove from the pan!
Brown butter... this was something new for me. I totally felt like Julie on "Julie & Julia," trying out a new technique. :-) It was actually pretty easy, and worked just like the recipe said. Although I think I got it a little too brown, which is probably why the recipe says to use more butter than you actually need, so you can skim off the good stuff!
Mmm, the butter tasted really good just by itself, I bet it would be super-yummy on waffles or cinnamon toast.
Chopped strawberries are folded into the batter, and very thinly-sliced strawberries are put on top of the batter before baking.
I think next time I'll put more strawberries on top - they shrunk up a bit during cooking, and the batter rose, making them even farther apart.

Brown Butter Banana Strawberry Bread
adapted from

6 oz unsalted butter, melted and browned to just over 1/2 cup of butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 tsp strawberry extract
1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon buttermilk powder plus 1/4 cup water)
1 1/4 cup mashed banana (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup diced strawberries plus 2 strawberries very thinly sliced, for topping

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Grease and flour a 9x5" loaf pan and set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Butter will begin to foam and crackle as it melts. When the cracking subsides, the butter will begin to brown. Swirl the pan as the butter cooks. When the butter browns and begins to smell nutty, remove the pan from the heat and transfer butter to a small bowl. Taking the butter out of the hot saucepan will stop the butter from overcooking and burning. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. If using buttermilk powder, also add the powder but not the water. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, extract, and buttermilk. If using buttermilk powder, add the 1/4 cup water to these wet ingredients. Whisk in the mashed bananas. When butter has cooled, whisk in the browned butter.

Add the wet ingredients, all at once, to the dry ingredients. Fold together, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to reveal any hidden pockets of flour. Fold in the diced strawberries, trying not to overstir. Stir batter into prepared pan and top with thinly sliced strawberries. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to rest in the pan for 15 minutes, before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.

I used strawberry extract because I was somehow out of vanilla extract, but vanilla was used in the original recipe. Strawberry gave it an extra little flavor boost!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Club

I love my book club. Ok, so it's more of just a girls' night out (don't tell our husbands!) but it's such a great time to get together with other women who are very similar to me, and talk about anything -- everything is fair game for conversation at book club!
It was my turn to host, but I didn't have a lot of time to prepare. So I found a great idea for a Southwest Cobb Salad that was a big hit. I just lined up all the toppings on a large platter and let the girls create their own combinations.
The spread: tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, multi-colored bell peppers, grilled chicken (rubbed with a bit of salt & pepper before grilling), black beans (making it "southwest"), avacados, and Parmesan cheese.
Then for the best part: dessert. I had the trimmings from the baby shower cake left over - I had the trimmed cake in the freezer, knowing I would find a use for it later. So I thawed the cake in the refrigerator for a couple of hours and then cut it up into cubes.
Next I made a filling - I mixed together an 8-ounce tub of Cool Whip, 1 cup milk, 1 package of cheesecake instant pudding, and 1 cup sour cream.
Then I got out my trifle bowl and started layering: cake, pudding, and cherry pie filling, repeat.
The great thing about this recipe is that it's super easy but always turns out looking fantastic. And there are so many different combinations you can make - the possibilities are endless!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Zucchini Bread

I love my daughter. I really do. At times {like right now} she's overly-difficult --> as I type she is NOT taking a nap, even after a full hour of screaming and running from one room to the next {and that was just me!} No seriously, the hour was spent repeatedly putting her back in her bed, only to have her follow me out of the room each time.
But I will never stop baking for her with love, even when {especially when?} she tries my every nerve. I even break my own baking rules for her. If you read my very first blog post, you will see that I am very much against substituting in healthy ingredients just for the sake of making it healthy when it comes to baking. While I still agree with that wholeheartedly when making scrumptious desserts, baking bread for my daughter specifically calls for a little fudging.
The KitchenAid grater attachment works great for this! I leave the skin on, but you can peel it first if you don't like your bread to have dark green flecks in it.
Continuing my quest to sneak vegetables into my daughter's food... she loves her "kini bed." So this morning when she asked for her daily peanut-bread (peanut butter on bread), I knew she was also getting a dose of veggies. 
I know, this looks really gross. I used strawberry applesauce because we have some on hand and Olivia refuses to eat it - perfect for using in baking, then! I measured the applesauce & oil together to make sure it came up to 1 cup.
Plus I used 1/2 the oil and used applesauce for the rest, so she's also getting a bit of fruit. She has no idea how much healthier her breakfast just got!  
My baker-in-training is really good at stirring the batter! (Can you tell she dressed herself?)
 All ready to pop into the oven... just look at all those veggies!
Zucchini Bread
adapted from The Machine Shed Farm Style Cooking

2 1/2 c. zucchini, shredded
3 eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. applesauce
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. flour (can use 1/2 whole wheat, 1/2 white)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. cinnamon
Shred zucchini and mix with eggs, salad oil, sugar and vanilla. Blend well. Stir together all dry ingredients; add to zucchini mixture. Stir only until well moistened. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9x5x2" loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Makes 2 loaves.