Healthy Peanut Butter Balls!

1 Feb

SO I went on a cooking spree yesterday. It was fun stuff. With my husband preparing a brief business trip to Austin, I wanted to be sure to send him off with an easily portable and fortifying snack, since he is going to be on the UT campus all day and I didn’t know what his eating schedule would be like! Better prepared than not, right?

On the greatest website ever created (read: Pinterest), I’d pinned a recipe for some peanut butter balls that looked delicious. However, I didn’t have any dry milk on hand, and that didn’t sound like something I was enthused about using. I then set out on a search for a simpler recipe, and found a few. There were two in particular that I liked; they called for the same ingredients, but at almost completely different amounts (especially with the honey – one seemed like way too much, and the other way too little). Using the info I’d gathered as a base, I created my own recipe for them! AND I calculated the calories!

This recipe makes about 30 balls, and each truffle sized ball should have about 93 or so calories. That may seem high at first, but peanut butter, as well as the oats that are in these, are loaded with protein and fiber, so you shouldn’t be needing to eat very many of them as a snack before you feel full. And, speaking of rolled oats, I am convinced that those are the greatest kitchen asset few people know about. I made something else yesterday that I also snuck rolled oats into (in place of some flour) that was AMAZING. Rolled oats are high in dietary fiber, iron, thiamine, and even antioxidants and other compounds that can help fight Type 2 diabetes. I think their greatest strength, though, lies in their tastelessness. Because rolled oats taste so bland, I really think you could incorporate them into just about EVERYTHING you make or eat, in at least a small amount (and small amounts can add up to great ones, eventually!) We also mix them into our cereal in the morning and eat them that way, which, for one, provides us a healthier breakfast than just eating sugary cereal does, and two, cuts down on overall grocery costs because we buy less cereal because it lasts twice as long. Rolled oats are ALWAYS $1.00/lb, SUPER CHEAP! They really are great. While I think it’s time to get on to the recipe, if you want find yourself wanting to read more on this issue, check out this post at this blog over here! Now, onto the good stuff!

Healthy Peanut Butter Balls
(makes about 30 truffle-sized balls)

What you need:

  • 1 cup Creamy Peanut Butter (you can use crunchy, too, if you prefer it, but you may want to use less oats if you do)
  • 1/2 cup Honey (or Agave)
  • 2 to 3 cups Rolled Oats (however much you want to use)
  • 2 Tbsp Semi-sweet Chocolate chips (or just however much you feel comfortable adding, really)
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs (for coating – coating them helps eliminate the stickiness, and they add a fantastic subtle flavor, but you don’t *have* to do this)

Directions:

  • Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix by hand (I just used a big spoon) until all ingredients are combined thoroughly. Roll into balls. Roll balls around in graham cracker crumbs until covered.  Place on lined cookie sheet. When all balls are finished, place the cookie sheet in the fridge for an hour or so, to help them set.

Now, some of the other recipes call for 1-2 tablespoons of wheat germ to add in, as an additional fortifying, healthful boost, but I did not have any of that on hand either. So if you happen to, go ahead and toss some in!

Also, next time, instead of chocolate chips, I’d like to try chopping up a banana and adding it! I think that could be delicious as well.

Salmon with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

27 Jan

I made this… well, let’s just say it was a really, really long time ago. This is one of those recipes that was super backlogged… BUT it’s here finally, and that’s what matters! And I’ve been DYING to make it again, so maybe now I will ;)

The past few days, husband and I have been watching a series by the BBC called “The Truth About Food,” and it has been fascinating. The episode last night was about how to stay looking young and beautiful (in fact, watching food documentaries is one of our favorite pastimes, so I do have several I could recommend!), and the results from the studies conducted were pretty fascinating (so much, so, that it influenced me to post this particular recipe as my first recipe for the new year)! I’ve linked to the episode, and it’s a very informative and entertaining way to spend a few hours, if you really care to make the most of your health. This episode, in particular, highlighted the healing effects of eating fruits and veggies, with a specific study on tomatoes. The study required participants to consume at least 55g (1.9 oz) of tomato paste a day, and, at the end of (i think) 3 months, measured the amount of burn damage done to the skin from light exposure (and compared it with the burn damage measured before the incorporation of tomato into the diet). The result?

Eating tomatoes helps protect your skin from sun damage (a little natural SPF)! However, tomato paste does not sound like the most exciting thing to eat in order for most people to incorporate a beneficial amount into their diet. THAT is where this recipe comes in! I know there are many people out there who do not enjoy eating tomatoes; only in the last few years have I began consuming tomatoes raw. Some days I could eat an entire container of cherry tomatoes! And yet other days, managing to choke down 3 can be a struggle. BLT’s are a great way to mask some of the strong tomato flavor, but eat too many and you risk negating the beneficial effects through a much higher intake of greasy bacon.

I found this combination of roasting tomatoes with salmon an especially fantastic one (since I actually like to eat my salmon with ketchup, as it is). I’d never had roasted tomatoes before this meal, and I fell in love with them instantly and actually regretted not having used more – so feel free to go crazy with the amount you decide to use! Salmon itself is incredibly healthy – it’s got the Omega 3 fatty acids that help lower LDL (AKA: BAD) cholesterol and improve brain function, and Vitamins A, D, and some amino acids that fortify the nervous system, for added security! AND, like most fish, it is naturally low in calories! Which is always an automatic plus for me. Add tomatoes into the mix, and you get a brain and skin preserving supermeal! The thing that makes this all even BETTER?! This meal is almost TOO easy – all you do is throw everything together in a baking sheet and let it cook itself to perfection in the oven for ~25 minutes. Eating fresh and healthy foods doesn’t get much simpler than this recipe, I don’t think…

Salmon with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
(via Cooking Light)

What you need:

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (or more! However many you want, really!)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Combine first 6 ingredients in a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray; toss to coat tomatoes. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Add fish to pan. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve the tomato mixture over fish. Drizzle with lemon juice.

Additionally, I firmly believe Cooking Light is a magazine everyone should be subscribed to. Even if you hate cooking, it would at least inspire you to healthy life; each issue is full of not just quick (of the 20, 30, and 40 minutes varieties), healthy (low-cal), easy recipes (for entrees, sides, AND desserts!), but lifestyle tips, general nutrition tips, stories, etc. – it really is an awesome magazine! And EVERYTHING I’ve ever made from it over the course of my now… 3 year subscription to it, has been outstanding.

Nutrition per serving: Calories: 265; Fat: 12.6g; Saturated fat: 2.7g; Monounsaturated fat: 6g; Polyunsaturated fat: 2.8g; Protein: 28.7g; Carbohydrate: 9.6g; Cholesterol: 65mg; Sodium: 368mg; Calcium: 37mg

Belated New Year Health Post!

18 Jan

Hello everyone!

Wow, I can’t believe I went ALL of December without updating! Apologies to everyone :( The holidays ended up being a pretty crazy time around here (even with just a small family of the two of us)! Husband and I started doing p90x shortly after Thanksgiving, which actually takes a large chunk of time out of our day 6 days a week. Some days I find it incredibly difficult to get motivated to do the workouts, often due to that fact alone; if they were, say, 3o minutes long, it’d be much easier to scrounge up the motivation that I lack. They are good workouts, though. For anyone considering trying it, the thing I love most about it is that it’s completely up to YOU how good of a workout you receive from it. Because of this, the question of, “oh, is it an intense exercise?” (which I seem to get fairly often) is a tough one to answer – yes, it’s incredibly intense and leaves you very sore and exhausted, so long as you push yourself that hard. I will NEVER forget that first week – we did everything so hard, because it was our first time working everything out. By the end of that first week, I couldn’t move; we walked all over downtown Seattle on our rest day, the day following the intense leg routine, and by the end of our time out, I was HOBBLING and on the verge of tears. It was terrible. But the great thing about the human body is that it repairs! Week 2 saw less intensity than week 1, due to our muscles having been ripped into disarray, but week 3 saw a great improvement, and our bodies were significantly less sore post-workout. We’re currently on our rest week (week 4), which comes just in time before you start feeling burnt out. I’ve been tracking my progress here at Dailymile, if anyone would like to join me on there!

We actually accidentally ended up taking an entire week off, because we went home to the greatest state of TEXAS! We just got back yesterday, and we had a blast. I was actually far more homesick than I knew I was, and returning to Seattle was a bit difficult for me, to say the least. BUT it SNOWED here today!!! So that was super exciting, and cheered me up ;) I had actually packed my yoga mat because we intended to do the rest week workouts in Texas, but it ended up not happening (you know, “too tired,” or “ate too much,” and any other excuse we could think of). I ate A TON of food while we were home, mostly from the fast food establishments that I miss (i.e., Chick-fil-A and Whataburger), and I do not regret a second of it. We also went out to eat with two friends of ours at BRC Gastropub. It was PHENOMENAL. The food was almost indescribably good. My husband and I shared the “Big Ass Breakfast,” (so big, in fact, we could barely finish it, and we SHARED it!) and one of our friends ordered fried chicken sandwiched between biscuits? It was pretty crazy. I highly suggest everyone who lives in the greater Houston area go try it. It is worth the drive.

The highlight of the trip, though, was cooking Chicken and Dumplings with my mom (which will, of course, have it’s own post soon)! We haven’t been in the kitchen together since I was a kid, I’m pretty sure. It was so nice to cook with her! We got to spend some quality alone time together, and chat without any distractions; so refreshing! We also went down to visit my aunt and cousins, and she cooked a delicious meal for us as well! Not being with them for the holidays this year was kind of difficult, so I’m glad we all made time to get together when we WERE able to make it home!

The other reason for my absence is that, for a while, I wasn’t really cooking anything, and if I did, it was stuff I’d already posted. We got a bunch of Omoha Steak meat from husband’s mom for his birthday, so for many weeks I cooked simple, pre-made burgers. We’ve also been trying to work on our food budget and plan and buy stuff on sale, so it’s been tricky for me to pick recipes with doing things that way. I’ve still got to figure it out, since I’m used to picking a recipes and THEN buying stuff to make it. It’s less fun this way but I must make due for now! I *DO* have a bunch of backlogged recipes needing to be posted, though! So I will be working hard on getting those done in the coming weeks. Get excited! :)

Part of my New Years Resolution was to stay on top of this blog. Most people make resolutions to eat better and get more fit, so I figured a first post on health and wellness was fitting! And hopefully, I can inspire you all to adhere to any health goals you’ve set as well. I am so sorry I went so long without posting anything; here’s to that not happening again!

With much love and hope for all in this exciting new year,

-Katie

Friendsgiving (Part 1)!

17 Nov

Last weekend, we got together with our friends in Seattle for a Friendsgiving extravaganza. Since we won’t be making it back to Texas for the holiday like the rest of our friends (sob), this was our big celebration. There was much excitement in the air, as it was not only our first Thanksgiving without either of our families, but it was my first time organizing an event so large, and let me tell you. It was stressful (though it all paid off in the end, of course)! I picked a bunch of recipes for everyone to choose from, and after much back and fourth through email the week prior, recipes were decided upon and the ingrediants obtained! We went shopping the night before for everything, and set to work on anything that could be made BEFORE Saturday. Due to logistics, all the preparation occured at our apartment.

Everything was going just fine, for the most part. No one had a pot large enough to brine the turkey in, so we ended up improvising by brining it in the foil pan we planned on cooking it in. I still required use of the sink, so we set  the turkey up on top of the stove to brine. However, the turkey had still been pretty frozen when we began this task. “I don’t know if it will be a problem or not, but you may want to be careful about the brine overflowing if you leave it there overnight, since there would be more water in it from the ice melting off the turkey,” our friend Yiyi warned us. Per her advice, I then planned in my mind to move the turkey to the sink once I finished my business there. After helping prepare the brine, out friends left, and I was left to cook one of the side dishes, as well as the cupcakes, before I could even dream of sleeping. I finished my tasks around 1:00 A.M. and needless to say, I was absolutely exhausted. By the time I finished up a few other tasks and got ready for bed, it was 2 A.M. Not fun. Exhausted, we went straight to sleep, forgetting about the turkey up on the stove…

I awoke at 7:00 to turn over; I usually wake up many times during the night, so it was nothing knew. But, when I readjusted and settled back down, I couldn’t fall back asleep. There was a faint noise off in the distance, masked largely behind the whirls of the wind from the fan we had on high. After a few minutes spend in this hazy limbo, my conscious mind kicked in and I immediately recognized the sound – dripping. I shot out of bed and rushed to the kitchen, where my absolute, disastrously worst fears were confirmed – I had never moved the turkey to the sink, and the brine had indeed overflowed upon the stove top and was creeping into every space and crevice it could find to cruelly seep into. I stood staring in shock for a few minutes, eyes half-opened and crusty. I tried to move the turkey container to the sink by myself and, after the first failed attempt and me making an even LARGER mess across the kitchen floor, managed to get it over there, spilling some drops on my nice owl rug in front of the sink along the way. Yeah… it was not fun.

Even though our stove is electric, it LOOKS exactly like a gas stove. It has the raised, coiled burners, with a hole underneath them that leads to a kind of… cave? If that makes sense? Regardless, it is NOT a flat top – no, of course not, that would be too easy and make my life too good. In an effort to be conservative and environmentally friendly, I tried first to sop up the mess with the dish towels. However, I found upon further investigation that the whole inside cave was flooded, and there was absolutely no way re-using wet towels would clean it. I resorted to the paper towels, which – thank God for Bounty! – worked much better; I had to lift up each burner and slyly work my hand around the very limited space it fit to get all of the liquid. All on 5 hours of sleep, and while my husband slept soundly away. It was miserable.

I considered just staying awake, but for some reason decided to go back to sleep. Because I was exhausted after that, we actually didn’t wake up until 11 A.M. – later than I’d needed in order to make the icing and ice the cupcakes. So we ended up making it over to Ravi’s an hour later than expected, but from there on out, the day was MUCH better! I made the icing and iced the cupcakes, and lucky for me, this icing was one that hardened! So transporting was a BREEZE, because I didn’t have to worry about it being messy or getting on anything.

When we got to Ravi’s, I started making the potatoes, while everyone else started on the stuffing. When those were all done, we baked the turkey, and voila! A BEAUTIFUL and delicious and way-too-filling Thanksgiving feast was born! Oh, and Yiyi helped teach me how to better use my camera, so that was super fun too! Now to just not forget everything she said and keep practicing…

I DO plan on posting and discussing ALL the recipes we used, but as backwards as it seems, I will begin with the recipe for dessert (dessert is, after all, the best portion of any meal): the Maple-Bacon Cupcakes.

Yes.

Bacon. On cupcakes.

No, I’m not crazy.

This recipe has garnered so much attention from everyone. “WHAT?!? Bacon…. on cupcakes? Uuuuh… come again?” people say, “WHY?!?” I know it seems counterintuitive at first, but really, it is not all that odd.

Think about it.

You make breakfast, or, better yet, go to iHop. Your plates arrive and everything is precisely placed – eggs on one side, hash browns on the other, and sausage and bacon strips nicely framing them around the edges. Then the pancakes are on another plate entirely, in which you feel free to drown them in delicious maple syrup fearlessly, since they won’t be touching your eggs any time soon. But just TRY and tell me that you’ve NEVER dipped your bacon in the syrupy remains. Or that you’ve never even at least taken a few bites of mapley pancakes and then taken a bite of bacon. You’ve probably done this many times. Breakfast would not be served with such an array of flavors and textures if they did not go well together.

And that is precisely what these cupcakes are. They tasted EXACTLY like eating pancakes doused in sweet syrup mixed with salty, savory bacon. The cake for the recipe is a straight-up butter cake, and frosting is maple flavored. Then you just cook your strips of bacon and put them on top! YUM. There also many famous doughnut shops that sell donuts with the same combination, so it’s even LESS foreign of a treat than everyone seems to think at first glance! Gordough’s, in Austin, and Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, both make a donuts topped with maple glaze and strips of bacon. I can’t speak for Voodoo, but Gordough’s is phenomenal and everyone should eat that donut at least once in their life! ;D

But anyway… the cupcakes…

Maple Bacon Cupcakes
(adapted from Southern Living Magazine)

What you need for the butter cake:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Paper baking cups
  • Vegetable cooking spray

What you need for the maple frosting:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 (16-oz.) package dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons maple flavoring
  • 12 slices of cooked bacon, broken into chunks

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

2. Place paper baking cups in 2 (12-cup) muffin pans, and coat with cooking spray; spoon batter into cups, filling two-thirds full. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely.

3. To prepare frosting, melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in evaporated milk, baking soda, and light corn syrup; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and let cool. Transfer caramel mixture to a large bowl. Gradually add powdered sugar to caramel mixture; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Stir in maple flavoring. Beat at high speed 2 minutes or until creamy. Icing firms up quickly, so use immediately. Makes… way more than is required for these cupcakes, so be as liberal as you wish when frosting.

4. Frost each cupcake with Maple Frosting. Top each with pieces of bacon.

I was initially surprised by the fact that it called for maple flavoring instead of actual syrup, but it was definitely best. I’ve seen some other maple bacon cupcake recipes out there that have called for syrup – in the amount of 1 cup! What?!? No thank you. I preferred the flavoring because 1 – a little bit goes a long way and 2 – it cuts down on calories (especially in what I imagine are probably quite high-calorie cupcakes to begin with…). And also, we used center-cut bacon, which made for thicker strips. I waited as close to serving time as possible to cook the bacon and garnish the cupcakes, so that the bacon would be nice and warm. Our friends loved them! They were the perfect end to our lovely holiday dinner, and I’m so glad we chose them.

We stored the leftovers in a container with a lid, and heated them in the microwave until the bacon was hot again before we ate them. That method worked FABULOUSLY, so don’t worry about making too many of them – they store and re-heat VERY well (because the frosting doesn’t melt but in fact, softens to the perfect consistency).

Caramel Apple Cider Cookies

7 Nov

I made these the week before my big birthday cupcake fest, after I made that pumpkin blondie cake for the second time. I needed something to do with the leftover frosting from that, and I felt that these cookies would be a very suitable match for it. They were fun to make, and actually a little difficult. I couldn’t find the cider mix that the original recipe called for, so I had to improvise a little bit. All I could find was CARAMEL flavored apple cider mix in a big container, so I bought that. Although the mix did smell very apple-y, I was worried that there would end up being too much caramel flavor, since the mix wasn’t supposed to even BE flavored. So I didn’t really measure out the mix, I just kept pouring it into the batter until it tasted good enough to me. I regret not adding more flavor than I did, though. The batter tasted SO much like apples that I was getting worried, but the flavor actually mellowed a lot during the baking process, and I was left wanting more of the apple flavor that had disappeared. To fix it, I actually sprinkled some of the cider mix on top of the icing, which fixed it quite nicely!

Caramel Apple Cider Cookies with Cinnamon-Vanilla Frosting
(From HERE – makes about 4 dozen)

What you need:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (7.4 ounce) box Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink Mix (*not sugar free*)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 (14 ounce) bag Kraft Caramels, unwrapped

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper, and spray with cooking spray. The melted caramel WILL stick to it.

2. In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.  With an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar, salt and all 10 packages of apple cider drink mix powder, until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and mix well.  Gradually add flour mixture to butter/egg mixture. Mix until just combined.

3. Scoop out cookie dough ball about the size of a walnut (about 2 tablespoons).  Flatten the ball of dough slightly in the palm of your hand. Press the unwrapped caramel into the center of your dough and seal the dough around it, covering it completely. Shape the dough into a ball, and place on parchment covered cookie sheets about 3 inches apart. Cookies will be on the larger side.

4. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. Once the cookies are done, carefully slide the parchment or silpat off of the baking sheet right out onto the counter.  Allow cookies to cool on the parchment paper until they are only slightly warm, but cool enough to handle and not fall apart. I used a spatula to separate my cookies from the foil I used (because I was out of parchment paper), since the caramel was so sticky.

5. While cookies cool, prepare the frosting.

6. Allow cookies to finish cooling upside down, either on the parchment paper, a rack, or wherever else you’d like. When cookies are completely cool and the caramel in the bottom no longer gooey or sticky, turn them over and ice them!

We took these to our Ultimate game that night and shared them with both teams. Everyone loved them. My biggest complaint, though, is the caramel in the middle. While it DOES melt a bit during the baking process, once the cookies cooled, it hardened back up. If I make these again I will need to figure out how to keep it from hardening again. I felt especially bad, because we’d left them sitting in the cold while we played our 2 hour game, so when we handed them out, the caramel was kind of like a giant rock right in the center, and very hard to chew through. We took the leftovers home, and after sitting in our warm apartment, the caramel had loosened again to be edible, at least. So if you plan on taking these to an event, I suggest keeping them as warm as possible for as long as possible!

Birthday Baking Extravaganza!

7 Nov

I’m back!

I know it’s been a while since my last few posts, and for this I apologize. I was putting some extra time in where I volunteer these past 2 weeks as we were wrapping up our first in school project, and then it was my husband’s birthday, which also had me pretty busy (I baked all day long, which I will chronicle here)! AND then, to top it all off, I got sick and have been suffering this nasty cold for a good few days now. I am finally feeling better enough, though, to where I can stay awake and not sleep all day long. Yay! I am behind in my posts so expect a few here in succession. I guess I will start, though, with the baking I did for my husband’s birthday:

THESE. CUPCAKES. WERE. AMAZING.

Amazing is, actually, an understatement. I normally… really dislike chocolate cake, and, if given the option, usually prefer not to eat it. I know. LUNACY! What’s wrong with me?!? Maybe it’s because I feel like chocolate cake is drier than other flavors, or that it tends to taste chalky to me, I really don’t know – for whatever reason, I do not prefer it. But my husband requested tons of chocolatey treats for his celebration and, seeing as he was the birthday boy, I (a bit reluctantly) complied with his wishes. HOWEVER, the recipe for this chocolate cake that this amazing blogger has concocted is PERFECT. It was soooooo moist, spongy, and chocolatey in a way that I found more pleasing than most chocolate cake but that most people who love chocolate cake may not even notice. And they were a MASSIVE hit! I think I also want to make these for the big celebration 826 is having on November 20th….

But I think you will also notice, in my first picture, how much they kind of look like eggs (or they did to me, at least). This is probably due mostly to my very amateur icing and photography skills, but don’t let this deter you! The deliciousness nestled inside that blanket of frosting is actually Dulce de Leche. YUM!

I had never eaten, nor made, dulce de leche before. Therefore I was very nervous. From my research I found that making dulce de leche can be very dangerous. While it is nice that the cans have to boil for 3 hours and you only need to check on them every 3o minutes or so, my paranoia and compulsiveness kept me in the kitchen for almost the entire 3 hours the cans were boiling. I was way too afraid to leave the stoveside for fear that in my minimal absence half of the water in the pot would suddenly evaporate/disintegrate into thin air and I’d be left with a huge, dangerous mess to rectify. The biggest thing I learned? That’s definitely pretty impossible, and actually hardly any of the water evaporated at all. So actually, not as dangerous as everyone was making it seem, I guess.

I was also worried, obviously, about what the taste combination of dulce de leche and chocolate cake would be like, what with having never had the former and not liking the latter. Turns out the dulce de leche, with a slight caramel taste, was the perfect creamy addition needed for me to absolutely adore these cupcakes. It also makes them seem *~*fancy*~* and who doesn’t love fancy every once in a while? ;)

Chocolate Dulce de Leche Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
(From 6 Bittersweets – Total time is about 4-5 hours, makes 12 cupcakes)

What you need:

  • 1 cup minus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water (or 1/2 cup black coffee)
  • 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar plus milk to equal 1/2 cup
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups dulce de leche (about 1 can of sweetened condensed milk)
  • Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (recipe below)

Directions (You should make sure that your Dulce de Leche is cooked and cooled before baking the cupcakes):

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease top of a standard muffin pan, then line with paper liners.

2. In large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the egg, milk, coffee (or reconstituted coffee mixture), oil, and vanilla extract. Beat by hand or with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined.

3. Pour the batter, which will be very thin, to fill the paper liners about 2/3 full. Tap the pan firmly against the counter 2 times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or just until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack and let them cool completely there before frosting.

4. While the cupcakes are cooling, prepare the frosting and the dulce de leche topping by stirring to ensure smoothness and adding milk or cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed to thin the dulce de leche to the desired spreading consistency.

5. Once cupcakes are completely cool, cut out a small circle in the top of each cupcake. Spread the topping on with a spoon or knife, letting it fill the hole. Once the topping is settled, frost the outside rims of each cupcake with your desired amount of frosting.

For the frosting (from here):

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted!)
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

1. Cream butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer.

2. Sift 3 cups powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter.

3. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes.

If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.

ALSO, anyone remember those cake batter cookies? Yeah, I made the chocolate variation of them as well. Chocolate cake mix + white chocolate chips. They were also pretty phenomenal as well ;D Those cookies are so quick and easy – such a life saver! I planed them as a back-up in case these failed, since they can be made so fast, but luckily EVERYTHING turned out to be amazing and we had an overabundance of yummy sweets we got to share with our friends!

My New Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

12 Oct

I feel like I’ve just been going crazy with the cake batter lately, but I can’t help it. Those truffles were so good, and cake batter is, after all, one of the most delicious things ever; I tend to enjoy it more than the actual baked cakes, most of the time. And maybe that has to do with the nostalgia that flows in with memories of my sister and I baking with my mom growing up. I would plot ways in which I could empty the batter into the baking pan whilst leaving as maximum an amount as possible left for us to eat. But yes… regardless of the reason, it is a flavor I not only find immensely delicious, but am deeply attached to as well, and so whenever the chance arrives to combine the flavor with any other equally delicious baked goods, I jump at it.

Enter these Cake Batter Cookies I found the other day. THEY. ARE. PHENOMENAL. My favorite part about them? Is it how freaking amazingly they taste exactly like cake batter? Is how they somehow managed to develop a nice, perfect cookie-textured “crust” on the outside, while being soft and fluffy like a cake on the inside? As awesome as both of those things are… the answer is no.

My FAVORITE thing about these cookies is their simplicity. While I do enjoy on occasion experimenting in being a ‘foodie’ and trying out seemingly complex dishes with often ‘obscure’ ingredients, I cannot help but relish in simple recipes as well. I feel like, when I was growing up, there was a big to-do over completely homemade vs. boxed treats. When I was in high school, I remember what the mom of my boyfriend at the time said to me: “It really doesn’t matter if the cake you make comes from a box or not. So what if you use flour and sugar, you just end up with the exact same thing anyway.” And for the most part, I think she’s right. And I firmly believe there should be no shame in baking with pre-boxed ingredients. I found a baking blog the other day containing what seem to me very difficult recipes (which are fun to indulge in for special occasions and the like). I look forward excitedly to trying some of them out (there are a few of her cupcake recipes I’m considering tackling for my husband’s birthday at the end of this month!), but more often than not, many people want something that tastes fabulous while not taking a ton of time to make. And that’s where these cookies come in. 5 ingredients. 30 minutes TOPS start to finish. Cookie texture with the delicious cake taste. It really does not get much better than this.

Cake Batter Cookies
(via Stephanie Cooks via All Recipes)

What you need:

  • 1 (18.25 oz.) box Yellow Super-Moist Cake Mix
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 cup Semisweet Chocolate Chips (I actually use the Ghirardelli Milks Chocolate Chips and I am never disappointed with them)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the cake mix and baking powder. Add eggs and oil, then mix until well blended.

3. Stir in chocolate chips, or your choice of additions. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto cookie sheets.

4. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven.  Allow cookies to cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

The woman at Stephanie Cooks said the batter was crumbly and not smooth for her, but I did not have this problem at all. In fact, I encountered quite the opposite (as you can probably tell from the picture). My dough was VERY smooth, so much so I was worried it would be too smooth and not cook like a cookie. I think I ended up cooking them for 11-12 minutes out of fear of that, but once they settled and cooled off, they developed that external cookie shell that they needed (while still being fluffy and cake-y on the inside), and turned out PERFECTLY!

The other thing I love about this recipe, as with most cake batter recipes, is the versatility. You could ice these if you wanted to, to add even more authentic ‘cakeness’ to them. Or you can use ANY cake mix for any flavor you want. Other ones I VERY much look forward to trying to make are:

  • Red Velvet + White Chocolate Chips
  • Strawberry + White (or dark) Chocolate Chips
  • Lemon + White Chocolate Chips (or no chocolate chips!)
  • Chocolate + White/Milk/Semisweet/Dark Chips

I mean, you get the idea. The list is extensive, so feel free to play around with it! Let me know if you try any other fun combinations, and how they turn out!

My NOT favorite but still pretty good chocolate chip cookie~

10 Oct

I came across the recipe for these on Pinterest and was instantly amazed. The picture for them looked like no cookie I’d ever seen before, all smooth, mired with chocolate; the sugary landscape boasted perfect hills and valleys that begged to be dug into. They also seemed so exotic, being made with bread and pastry flours instead of the typical all-purpose flour. Even from my own picture, you can see the cracks, nooks, and crannys. They have a look no other cookie I’ve ever made has (which is due in large thanks to the variant in flours).

I was NOT originally going to post these, as they were definitely a big experiment for me. It was my first time baking with flours other than all-purpose flour. Sadly, I’ve never made bread, and I’ve never made cakes or any other treat from pastry flour, as it’s probably intended for. But I figured, why not post it anyway? That’s part of the point of this blog – to grow, and document my growth as a baker and chef. Writing about the recipes and process I go through encourages me to research and allows me to reflect on what works, what doesn’t, and how/where I can improve. Experiments, more so than complete successes, should be shared more excitedly, I think! I’m not the first to experiment and not completely succeed! That’s where the growing part comes in ;)

I have a love/hate relationship with these cookies. They were both at once the worst AND best cookies I’ve ever made. The secret lies largely in the chocolate you use, and in the baking time.

I found the recipe here, at The Tender Crumb, but it is a recipe belonging to the quite famous baker, Jaques Torres. You can find a fascinating discussion of cookies here at the New York Times, where they exalt this recipe as being the best cookie recipe ever created (and it took the collaboration of a few of the best bakers around to create). In the article, Torres discusses the fine and elaborate details that go into his cookie making, with one thing standing out especially large against my own process (ok, many things, really, seeing as I am nowhere near professional caliber, but you get the idea): the chocolate. Torres, instead of using chocolate chips, uses softer, more malleable chocolate chunks of special chocolate generally used to cover truffles and the like. Inside the cookie, instead of holding a chunky shape, this chocolate melts into streamlined ribbons, which flow beautifully throughout the cookie. While I took the advice over at the Tender Crumb blog and opted for chunks of chocolate, it still was not enough. Perhaps I should have melted my chocolate a little bit beforehand to help it out during the baking process? I just don’t know. Regardless, my own cookies held their chunk shape strong and refused to melt into such silky lines as others experience. I think I will have to try a different chocolate as well, if I were to make this again. I just used Ghirardelli bars, because those were what I had lying around, which i hand broke into pieces that I tossed in, but it wasn’t enough. So beware, if you plan on making these, and you ACTUALLY want them to be the best cookie ever, I highly suggest you study that NYT article thoroughly, heed the advice present, and do NOT skimp out when it comes to the chocolate. It makes the difference.

For me, this recipe made… a ton of small cookies. And I mean.. a ton. I think it made almost 100, if not more. I snacked on them as each batch came out of the oven. Directly out of the oven, they were alright. The first batch cooled, and hardened, and my adoration for them ceased completely. With every batch, I baked them less and less because they kept coming out too crispy. And in all honesty, the really krispy ones ACTUALLY tasted kind of like a knock-off Chips A-Hoy cookie! So if you love Chips A-Hoy cookies, go ahead and bake these to your content of crispiness. But do beware, they don’t LOOK like they’ll get crispy after cooling, but they do. These do a lot of settling after they bake. But yeah, so I baked for less each time, but after eating about 5 from the first few batches, I was unimpressed and refused to eat anymore of them. My husband liked them, but also said they weren’t the best thing I’ve ever made. So I brought them all out to our two Ultimate games to share with everyone, get a bit more feedback on, and  just generally try to get rid of, seeing as we were left with tons of them. Husband then took them to work, where more people loved and devoured them for more than I myself did. They were a success with everyone but me. After a few days, I decided to eat another one, pulling it from the box containing the last 3 batches I’d made, where I’d baked them for significantly less time than the first few I’d had.

THEY. WERE. AMAZING.

The outsides were crispy and the insides soft, and just… everything I had expected ALL of the cookies to be! And then I suddenly understood why everyone else liked them so much. In the end, they turned out pretty decent. Still not the best cookie I’ve ever had, but VERY good nonetheless.

Baking with different flours is intimidating at first when you’ve never done it, and for days I’d been trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Maybe I bought the wrong kind of bread or pastry flour without noticing? Perhaps I had messed up the quantities? All-purpose flour is comforting – you know you can’t go wrong unless you just can’t count. But after enjoying one of the last cookies, I realized it was probably nothing. I just baked them too long for their small size, and should’ve utilized better chocolate.

If you’re willing to experiment and have some fun and try something exciting and new, I greatly recommend this recipe to you. However, if you’d rather stick to a more comfortable zone, then I suggest you skip and this and try the cookie recipe I am going to post here soon that I made yesterday: Cake Batter Cookies! Now THOSE are easily the best cookies I’ve ever had, and by far were the EASIEST and quickest to make. But for now, I present:

The New York Times Best Cookie Recipe
Makes twenty-six 5-inch cookies or 8 1/2 dozen 1 1/4-inch cookies.

What you need:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons pastry flour
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats; set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars.

3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

4. Reduce speed to low and add both flours, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, and chocolate; mix until well combined.

5. Using a 4-ounce scoop for larger cookies or a 1-ounce scoop for smaller cookies, scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

6. Bake until lightly browned, but still soft, about 20 minutes for larger cookies and about 15 minutes for smaller cookies. Note: MY cooking time, for my what-seem-like-super-tiny cookies, perfected somewhere around 8-10 minutes.

7. Cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Have fun! And feel free to share your own trials and tribulations with this recipe, or any other amazing chocolate chip cookie recipe you love! I also have a pudding cookie recipe that is amazing and I must post someday soon~!

A (prose) Ode to Exercise

7 Oct

I stubbed my little toe this week. Like, REALLY stubbed it. Prettyyy badly. I think I may even have broken it! But what are little toes good for, anyway? They are so useless, and do nothing but get caught where they shouldn’t be and constantly causing pain. Bleh.

But this is not the first misfortune I’ve faced the last few weeks. I have somehow managed to burn my right index finger on two different occasions when grabbing things out of the oven. I sliced into my thumb with one of those fancy new knives I raved about receiving a few posts back while cutting through a bell pepper. Though it was not my fault, I also got my foot landed on during Ultimate practice the other Tuesday, causing it to be badly bruised along the edge. I mean really, the list just goes on and on. My recent bouts of clumsiness have gotten me analyzing my daily routine, especially my exercise regimen, to try and find answers.

When we first moved to Seattle, I worked out every single day in the gym. I would alternate between the treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bicycle 3 days a week for cardio, and I at least lifted weights almost every single day.  I wasn’t looking for a job yet, as I was planning my wedding. Working out, especially first thing in the morning, as I was, really left me in much better shape than I seem to be finding myself in these days. I felt productive, useful, attractive, and whatever else is the very opposite of lazy. It really supercharged me for the day and made me more motivated for and productive at other tasks. And plus, weightlifting is so fantastically beneficial for our bodies. I ate guiltlessly during that period of time, because my body was burning more calories when resting due to the increase in muscle mass (because that’s what happens when you lift weights, and why it’s better for your body in the long run than just doing cardio).

When we moved to our permanent apartment, I became bogged down with setting up the apartment, unpacking, wedding planning, and many other things required in when moving states. I also did not like the gym at our apartment complex as much – it’s small, the weight machines are old and oddly difficult to use, etc. You know, the usual excuses. Therefore, for various reasons, I found myself no longer going to the gym. In fact, I quit working out altogether for a few weeks before we started playing Ultimate.

Ultimate Frisbee is probably the greatest sport ever. I am convinced it requires more running than Soccer; in soccer, there are down times where people aren’t running as much, but in Ultimate, everyone has to run non-stop the entire time. You’re running on offense trying to break from your defender to help your team get the disc to your goal, and if it gets dropped and turned over to the other team, then you immediately have to run just as hard on defense to work to get it back. It requires so much stamina and quick recovery. And because you’re running for almost 2 hours straight, your leg muscles begin to grow intensely and quite rapidly. It is better than any weightlifting you could probably do for your legs.

Now, while it was great and all that I was getting my cardio and leg workout, I wasn’t lifting weights and the work I had done in my arms was beginning to disappear, as they are not so aptly utilized in the sport. At first, I was sore for DAYS from Ultimate; my body didn’t know what hit it. And so, from there, I also fell out of the routine of lifting weights. I gave my all to Ultimate one day a week, and that became that. I’ve also started arduously job hunting, which keeps me couped up at my computer for 4-5 hours each morning. Then it’s lunch time and I’m hungry and (most often emotionally) exhausted from job searching/applying that I just want to relax, and thus end up BACK at the computer.

BUT, in addition to this, I’ve also recently given up my morning cup of coffee cold turkey. I felt dependent on it, and I didn’t like it. I am feeling like this may also be the cause of my recent absentmindedness, because said absentmindedness was not present until after I quit drinking coffee. But I digress.

It seems that I’ve forgotten how AMAZING weightlifting is, and I am resolving to start it up again. It heals your body and betters posture. It allows you to burn more calories at rest (and thus, lose more fat). It makes you more confident and thus, better able to handle the stresses of everyday life (of which I find many, being so prone to anxiety). But most importantly, for me, I just loved that energized feeling so early in the morning. As of right now, I have little desire or motivation to do the things I really enjoy doing, much less the things I enjoy doing even less (like the laundry). But I KNOW that if I could just drag myself down to the gym again and get back in the routine of lifting weights each morning, my attitude would be much improved.

I feel like living proof that exercise is a major cure for depression. When I don’t exercise enough, I am stressed beyond imagination, sad, and of a very angry disposition. When I get lots of exercise, I am so much more happy and pleasant. I need it. I’ve needed it my whole life. And you know what? It’s never too late for anyone else to start doing it, or to even start needing it, as well. We live in so stationary of a society – work is often so stressful that all anyone wants to do in their spare time is sit around some more, “relaxing” by watching movies or TV or playing games, or what have you. But exercise, instead of being considered draining, should come to be viewed as revitalizing. I know for a fact it is far more beneficial and rejuvenating than sitting and watching TV, which will only make one more tired. But get up, go out, and run for even just 10 minutes, and I guarantee you will find more energy at the end of it than you know what to do with. Even as a very active person, I still struggle at times to drag myself outside of my cozy apartment for some physical activity, but in those times I just constantly repeat in my head how much better it will be for me in the long run, even though I may not feel like doing it right now. It’s a sick cycle, and it can often be hard to break, but I have the utmost confidence that ANYONE could do it, so long as they tried hard. And it takes courage to try hard, especially in the face of what may be, for some, imminent failure. But you know what? That will make you an even stronger person, too – stronger than ANY amount of weight you could manage to bench press.

I will step off my inspirational soap-box now, since I’m feeling a bit better about everything. I am resolving to lift weights again, and it feels good. I already started by going the other night and doing what I could for my arms (which are still quite sore today). I couldn’t do legwork thanks to that nuisance toe of mine, but something was definitely better than nothing. I look forward to the benefits it’s going to bring. :)

Chick-fil-A, I say!

25 Sep

What do you do when your absolute #1 favorite establishment to dine at is no longer located anywhere near you? As much as I would love to call up the CEO and demand that they build a location in the nearest vacant lot to me, that is sadly probably not the most plausible option. So instead, I settled for attempting to make their food myself!

The restaurant I’m speaking of is none other than the most delicious and, what I think to be, the most healthy of fast food chains: Chick-fil-A! In Texas, I had the luxury in both Houston and Austin to live right down the street from at least one Chick-fil-A, with others easily within driving range. Sadly, it appears that Chick-fil-A has yet to extend its warm, chickeny embrace to the northwest. I found myself craving it intensly – I needed a fix. I was ECSTATIC when I found a recipe online that claimed to be as close in taste to the real thing as possible, and set out to make it immediately.

Sadly, this is, AGAIN, ANOTHER RECIPE I MESSED UP! Sigh. But I almost can’t even find it in myself to care, because these were still super yummy. I can’t quite seem to get the hang of my oven here. I’m very used to gas ovens, but this one is electric, so it’s taking some getting used to. I had the heat up too high apparently, and thus, the oil too hot, and so the coating is far crispier than it should have been. I also used Canola oil instead of Peanut oil, because that was all we had here. I really want to make these again using Peanut oil to see if that gets the taste closer to real Chick-fil-A or not (because this recipe comes very close, regardless)!

Mock Chick-fil-A Chicken!
(As discovered here)

What you need:

  • Cooking Oil (Peanut or Canola would be best)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Cup of Milk
  • 1 Cup of Flour
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons of Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
  • I Tablespoon of Salt
  • 2 Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast, cut in strips or cubed

Directions:

1. Whisk together the egg and the milk. Cut chicken into cubes and place in the milk and egg mixture. I marinated them for four hours.

2. In a large Ziploc bag, mix together the Flour, Powdered Sugar, Pepper and Salt. After chicken is marinated, toss it in the bag and shake vigorously to coat well.

3. In a large frying pan, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Warning: the coating makes the oil pretty messy. Gently drop your chicken pieces in the heated oil and cook until golden brown.

4. Drain cooked chicken with a paper towel. Cool, pair with your favorite preferred dipping sauce, and enjoy!

Despite the heat fiasco, my husband still found them PHENOMENAL (he, too, is a Chick-fil-A aficionado). He wanted to eat all of them, if he hadn’t had to share them with me.

My favorite sauce at Chick-fil-A is the Honey-Roasted BBQ sauce that comes in those little long packets (my second favorite is the Chick-fil-A sauce). I paired these nuggets with an impromptu homemade honey-mustard dipping sauce that I made by mixing Miracle Whip, Dijon mustard, and honey (who would’ve thought!). Without the sauce, this recipe tasted kind of like real Chick-fil-A nuggets, though I felt like something was missing. However, when I dipped these nuggets in that sauce… wow. Yeah. They tasted EXACTLY like the real thing. And in that moment, I couldn’t have been happier.

Next on my list to find and try is a mock recipe for McDonald’s Quarter Pounder… mmm… mouth is watering just thinking about…

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