Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

I moved two weeks ago. Still in Boston… still in the same neighborhood even, but the move was (as all moves are) tough. I lived in my old place only two years, but I loved it. Spacious, updated and most of all, it was mine. Two years of memories. Two years of laughter. Two years of pain. My things were on the wall, on the ground, everywhere. As my dad says, it was my dirt. 
Don't get me wrong. My new apartment is just lovely. And a big step. But when I opened the door expecting a blank slate for my creative genius (just kidding), I was a little bit horrified by how unpleasant the place was left. Food stains on the oven. Black residue in the shower. The toilet wasn't even flushed. Are you wondering where this is going? I would be too.

The point is, the place was a mess. And the previous tenant looked at me and said "I think it's pretty much good to go, here are the keys!" Reluctantly, and with a bit of a pit in my stomach, we went to town. My mom, dad, boyfriend and I cleaned, painted, and eventually I nested. But it wasn't until the other day that I baked… that it all came together. It was suddenly my kitchen. Suddenly my couches felt more homey. The candles really started emitting this cozy fragrance. The little things I once scoffed at in the place were now the character I so much appreciated. 

Alas, it is my new home. And I love it. But maybe, just maybe, the baking saved it all. Oh and by the way, I got these chocolate chip pumpkin bars out of my new cozy lovely little home as fast as I could… because, well, damn.

Dry Ingredients 
1 cup all-purpose flour 
2 teaspoons cinnamon 
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
½ teaspoon baking soda 
½ teaspoon salt 

Wet Ingredients
2 whole eggs 
⅔ cup brown sugar 
1 cup canned pumpkin 
¼ cup milk 
¼ cup oil 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 cup chocolate chunks (in retrospect, chips would have been better) 

Cream Cheese Frosting 
4 oz cream cheese, softened 
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x13-inch pan with non-stick spray. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and place aside. Meanwhile, in a stand up mixer, mix all wet ingredients until well combined. By hand, fold wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. 
2. Fold in chocolate chips until evenly distributed. Transfer into prepared baking dish and bake for 14-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before cutting bars. 
3. In a mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Stir in powdered sugar and mix until creamy. Add vanilla and stir until evenly distributed. Spread on pumpkin bars and top with more chocolate chips.

*Recipe from Layers of Happiness

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Easy Caramel Apples

I sort of feel like a fraud posting this as a "recipe." Especially when I haven't updated anything for almost an entire year. Especially when I hardly cook (or bake!) anymore. But then I thought, I have to post. Because it's September, and today people in Boston are wearing coats. People are ordering pumpkin spice coffees and drinking cider beers and slowly tank tops are being replaced with cozy sweaters. It's happening people. And I am not going to fight it.
Seriously, with fall comes a few or my favorite things. Pumpking patches, cool weather, football (just kidding), and most of all, apples.  Apple pie, apple strudel, apple coffee cake. And perhaps the king of them all? The oh-so-humble but ever popular caramel apple. Simple to make, a mess to eat, and reserved for a few short months as the leaves start turning and suddenly it's okay to use your oven again.
So caramel apples you get, people. Enjoy the easiest recipe ever.

Caramel Apples
6 apples of your choice (I used tart granny smiths)
14 oz bag of wrapped caramel candies
2 tbsp milk
Toppings (sprinkles, chocolate chips, peanuts)
6 popsicle sticks

1. Remove the stems of all the apples. Press your popsicle stick into the bottom and about halfway through. 
2. Place caramels and milk into a saucepan and heat on low until completely combined and smooth. Let cool for a minute or two, so caramel firms up.
3. Dip each apple into the caramel. If desired, wait a few minutes and then spread toppings along the bottom. Caramel may be very sticky and not at all firm yet, so be patient before adding toppings. 
4. Place in fridge to cool until caramel is set.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Maple Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel

I was standing guard at the bench; three, maybe four pumpkins were lined up in a row. I had my eye out on them. After digging through piles of deformed, warted, green pumpkins, my Dad and I had narrowed it down to a handful of perfectly orange, round gems. You see, ever since I was a little girl, he and I would make the trip out to the country and hit as many pumpkin patches as were around. Fast forward twenty-six years later, and you can still find us trekking out of the city and into the land of hayrides, caramel apples, cider donuts and scarecrows. Of course, I'm no longer a hyperactive little pig-tailed blondie running around in the corn maze, and he is no longer holding my hand through the haunted houses, but I'd like to think that it's pretty cool we still do this. 
Alas, I revert to a little kid in these moments (after all, I still am my father's child). As I stand on the outskirts of the patch hovering closely to the pumpkins we liked, I hear a little boy scream "Daddy, I want that one!" He pointed to my pumpkin. Oh no he didn't, I thought to myself. His dad nodded to him. "Yeah, that's a great one! Why don't you go get a better look at it?"

The kid ran over and tried yanking the pumpkin off of the bench, totally unscathed by the fact that I stood over them. "We are kind of holding on to these," I say to his Dad, who frankly could care less and is marching right over as if he were on a pumpkin recon mission.  "Well, are they purchased?" he scoffs. "No," I reply, getting annoyed, "but we're going to." I put my hands on my two favorites as to mark my territory. He walks over and picks up one of the pumpkins on the bench. If looks could kill, that man would be toast. Because while I am now a patient, level headed adult, in this moment, I was still that little girl in her overalls and pigtails. I was an eight-year-old watching a grown man steal my pumpkin. And I wasn't having it. "These are actually ours to buy," I say, a little more sure of myself. "You can have what's left." I motion to the rest of the pumpkins we were inspecting, grab ours, and run over to the safety of my own dad. "All set?" he asks. 

Yeah. We're all good here.  

Maple Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel

Pumpkin Filling

2 cups canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup pure maple syrup

3 large eggs, beaten

Pecan Streusel
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, cold
9" Pie crust

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. To make the filling, mix the pumpkin, flour, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt together with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl well. Add the heavy cream and maple syrup, scraping the bowl several times while mixing. Mix in the beaten eggs.

2. Pour the filling mixture into the pie shell, and bake for 15 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake until the filling is almost firm, about 30 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle the pecan streusel over the top, covering the pie completely. Return the pie to the oven and bake until the filling is just a bit wobbly in the middle and the pecan streusel is golden, 10 to 15 minutes. The total baking time should be 55 to 60 minutes. Cool the pie on a wire rack and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Recipe adapted from Food Network.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Homemade Vegan Granola Bars

Something about the summer makes it hard to imagine preheating the oven and making your tiny apartment feel like the depths of hell. Or maybe not for you, if you can afford using your central air. But for me, a frugal fanny, summer baking is not exactly my jam. So when the drizzly Boston weather kept my Dad and I from spending a leisurely Sunday out exploring some New England farms, I knew just what I wanted to do. Yes, my long lost love of sweet cuisine was revisited, finally, after months of hiatus.
What is ironic about my itch for baking was that these bars didn't require baking at all. In fact, this was one of the easiest things I've ever made. And while they are definitely satisfying for the sweetest of teeth, these little guys have no added sugar and are gluten free and vegan. (No, I'm not vegan or gluten free, and I never will be, but it's always fun to explore). What's also great about these is that you can definitely sub in ingredients you have hanging around. I'll post the recipe we used, but also some alternatives for you.

Homemade Vegan Granola Bars
1 cup dried apricots, packed

1 cup roasted unsalted almonds
1.5 cups toasted oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut (toasted coconut optional)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup*

1/4 cup creamy salted peanut butter**
Sea Salt

1. Put apricots into a food processor and chop until they form a ball, about 1 minute
2. Place oats into 350 degree preheated oven and toast until golden brown.
3. Place oats, apricots, sunflower seeds and coconut in a large mixing bowl.
4. In a small sauce pan over low heat, combine peanut butter and maple syrup and mix until well combined and warmed. Pour over oat mixture and mix thoroughly.
5. Transfer to a 9x9 parchment lined pan and sprinkle coarse sea salt over the mixture. Press firmly down until flattened. Place in refrigerator or freezer until chilled, and then cut into 10-12 bars. 

*May sub agave or honey, but it's no longer vegan
**May sub almond butter or other nut butter

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

German Chocolate Cake

Well, it happened. For the first time. We (Julia and I) took our first baking order! And in the mix? Two classics. Red Velvet, which of course you loyal fans know that I adore, and German Chocolate. I have never made German Chocolate before. I have never ordered German Chocolate before. I have never thought about German Chocolate before. And folks, as The Monkees and Smashmouth once said, "then I saw her face, now I'm a believer." 
It was really an amazing feeling to put labor into these little guys. We bought everything, made it all from scratch and delivered it this morning. And yes, I deliver food all of the time (corporate catering, duh), but there is something about your own creation that makes it special. The effort and the time and the money seem like nothing when you love what you do and you believe in your product. Once we go global, you won't be seeing these recipes live anymore, but until then, I will let you in on our secrets. Induldge, and as the Germans say, bitte. 

German Chocolate Cake
Chocolate Cake:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons freshly brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk or cream (if needed)

German Chocolate Topping:
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk 
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1.5 cup shredded coconut 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans paper liners (ours made 24) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. 
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In a third bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk and flour mixtures alternately in thirds, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Fold the batter a few times with a rubber spatula to be sure it's mixed.
3. Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners, with a little bit of room for them to grow. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.
4. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese and butter for 4 minutes. Add cocoa, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Let beat for 3 minutes. If it is too thick, add milk. If it is too thin, add powdered sugar. 
5. In a separate bowl, mix together the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, pecans and coconut. Immediately put in fridge to help form it's shape. Pipe chocolate buttercream around the outside of the cupcake spoon topping into the center of the cake. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Homemade Take 5 Bars

Take five things in your life that you can't live without. Choose wisely. I mean really. Think about what matters and what doesn't. Think about those things that make your day worth living. The things that get you up in the morning. And then, keep reading.
I heard once, from someone far wiser than myself, that you need three things in life: something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Three things? Are you serious? Is that really all you need? But then I thought about it. The things that get me going every day are not material. The first thought in my head is absolutely never "I cannot wait to put on my new dress today," or "wow, I'm ecstatic to use my iPhone." The first things I think about (okay, maybe after the first few minutes of self loathing and alarm directed anger) are the people I care about and the amazing (and countless) blessings in my life.

But for me, it's really more than three things. It's five. Someone to love is just not enough for me. So I am breaking that one down. I need friends and a partner like I need air in my lungs. I need family (my mom, dad and sister) like I need the blood in my veins. So that's two right there. Something to do? Well, I need a job that has me feeling like I am making a difference. Something that drives me to be my best every single time I suit up and get out. And I don't just mean making it through the day. I want to make every day the best day. Beyond that, there needs to be a life outside of my job. I need interests outside of daily grind that are meaningful. To me, that's cooking, sports and seeing whatever I can soak in from wherever I am. So that right there is three and four. Lastly, I can agree I need something to look forward to. I am the ultimate planner. Just look at my calendar. Better yet, look at my father's, and you will see where I get it from. A blank day on my calendar means a blank day in my soul. Yes, I love relaxing and me time, but I get my energy from the zest of others. So seeing that I have an upcoming trip to Ireland and that I'm watching some of my best friends get married this year, or knowing that I will enjoy some delicious summer seafood on the Cape, or will hit up some summer festivals, that right there is enough for me.

So take five things. And make them count. Because in five things you can have something great. If you don't have the time or energy to identify what those things are, let me give you an alternative: a pretzel crust, peanut butter frosting, rich caramel, honey roasted peanuts and a chocolate topping. Now go.

Take 5 Bars
Pretzel Crust
2 cups crushed pretzels (make sure they are fairly fine with just a few bigger pieces)
3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup light brown sugar

Peanut Butter Filling
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar (or less)

Caramel Filling
14 oz unwrapped caramel candies
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup chopped Honey Roasted Peanuts

Chocolate Layer
2 Cups milk chocolate
2 Tbsp heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350, and spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. In large bowl combine crushed pretzels, melted butter and brown sugar. Stir to combine and press into prepared pan, packing tightly.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Cool completely.
2. In a large mixing bowl beat peanut butter and butter together until smooth. Slowly add in powdered sugar, beating until incorporated. We used about a cup and a half. Spread on top of cooled pretzel crust. Chill until ready to spread caramel.
3. In a medium heavy saucepan combine caramel pieces and heavy cream. Over a low heat, stir until melted and easy to pour. Let cool for a few minutes. Stir in honey roasted peanuts and spread over the peanut butter layer.
4. Melt milk chocolate chips and heavy cream in a microwave until spreadable. Spread over caramel layer. Chill until ready to cut into squares. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Homemade Nutter Butters

Everyone in life has a few precious things that bring them back. Bring them back to a sweet memory, perhaps when they were carefree, without pain, in love or maybe even when they were a child. These memories do not come often, and when they do, I want to cherish the moment. I want to squeeze every second of nostalgia and joy out of it. I want to stay in that precious memory forever. But, alas, this is not life. And unfortunately, if you're anything like me, you're quick to forget how incredible those few seconds were. Sometimes you just need a reminder.
This weekend, I sat in the passenger side of a jeep, blazing through the winding roads of Cape Cod with the top down, Dave Matthews blaring and wind in my hair. The sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Everyone we passed was just as blissful as we were. And for just a few seconds, I forgot that work was stressful. I forgot that I was living paycheck to paycheck. I forgot that I had responsibility, fears, anxieties and struggle. And it was magical.

Food, really, is one of those things. It cannot take away your problems, no. But it can bring you to a moment where things seemed easier. For my roommate, and co-baker, these treats reminded her of sitting in the back of a Sebring in between soccer games, and for me, a college road trip where this was the clear winner at a run down gas station.

So last night, amidst the grind of day to day life, we escaped to a different time. One where we had less to do, less to think about, and less to keep us up at night. And it was wonderful. So, maybe, this might not be it for you, but if nothing else, you'll enjoy these (time consuming) sweet little treats. And maybe just maybe, these will bring you back to a time that you can always revisit. Just take a bite.

Homemade Nutter Butters
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup extra sugar for rolling

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk

1. In a large bowl with mixer beat butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds on medium-high speed. Lower mixer to medium and add eggs and vanilla continuing to mix until combined. Turn mixer to low and add in flour, baking soda and baking powder. Mix until combined. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour, minimum. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°
2. Once dough is chilled, roll into 1/2 inch balls and then form into a log shape. Roll the log-shaped dough in extra granulated sugar and place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Using a fork press down on cookie creating a criss-cross pattern. Pinch the center to create the peanut shape.
3. Bake for 6-8 minutes until edges are lightly golden (**ours took closer to 12-15). Cool on baking sheet 2-3 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to continue cooling. (**You might want to experiment with the size soon. Our first 30 were far too big!!***)
4. For the filling, in a large bowl beat butter and peanut butter together until smooth. Slowly add in powdered sugar and turn mixer speed up to medium and beat until filling is smooth. Add milk, one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
5. Spread a heaping tablespoon of filling onto the bottom of one of the peanut butter cookies and then top with another cookie to create sandwich.