Tag Archives: Baking

Hummingbird Cupcakes and a Tale of Two Crows That Led the Way

hummingbird cupcakes 1Today is All Souls Day, a holy day in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches that honor the dead.  My friends, I have been saving this recipe for over a year now, having been inspired to make these cupcakes from an event that occurred at my grandmother’s burial in May 2014.  I am thinking today is the perfect time to share these Hummingbird Cupcakes with you as we remember and pray for those who have gone before us.

IMG_9038 sm

Jack Jones, my 4th great grandfather and grandson of the patriot Stephen Jones of St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

As I shared with you almost a year ago now in my post, Grilled Salmon Cakes – Saying Good-bye to Grandmaafter my grandmother passed in February of last year the final remnants of winter prevented us from laying her to rest until the weather warmed and the snows melted away.  That May I finally got to see where my grandmother’s family had lived since the late 1700s when American settler’s began pressing westward out of Virginia and North Carolina.  Having roots that deep in South-eastern Kentucky, of course we have a family cemetery filled with generations of my grandmother’s family.  It is out of this cemetery that the story inspiring these Hummingbird Cupcakes came about.

My grandmother’s constant companion for years was my very free-spirited cousin, Shelley.   Of course I was not surprised when my dad’s middle sister  checked in with my dad the evening we arrived in Kentucky and announced that Shelley had set up camp in the graveyard and would not be joining us for dinner. (That of course had my mother worried!)

hummingbird cupcakes 6The next morning after the family caravan wound through back-roads, passing house after house (and trailer after trailer) upon which I read  names familiar from my grandparents’ family trees, we found our way to where my grandfather was waiting for my grandmother under the eves of what  is now the Daniel Boone National Forest.  Shelley stood in front of a shelter  at the top of the dirt road waving at us, barefoot and smiling.  She had a story to share.

Her story began with two crows and ended in a place we thought was lost forever.

The previous evening, after my aunt had dropped her niece off, Shelley was communing with the silence , the trees, and the graves surrounding her when a pair of crows began cawing at her.  Shelley just drank her wine and eventually hummingbird cupcakes 7drifted off to sleep despite her noisy, uninvited companions.  In the morning, those two crows were still there and cawing at her when one suddenly spread it’s wings and flew away.  Shelley relayed that she had felt the need to follow it and so she did, chasing it down the dirt road and out of the cemetery. It came to rest at a small farm down the road where an astonished man was just coming out of his trailer when he saw Shelley come out of nowhere.

Turns out this man and the folks living in the neighboring trailers were distant cousins on my grandfather’s side…not completely surprising as we knew my grandfather’s parents had owned much of the surrounding land and had bequeathed it among a dozen sons and a daughter (never mind that my grandfather’s father was one of nearly 30 children).  Shelley was ecstatic. “Do you know about Barbecue Cliff???” she asked excitedly.

Hicks BBQ Cliff 3

Walking along a stone cropping along the path to Barbecue Cliff

Barbecue Cliff was a place our grandmother had spoken about often during the years of their companionship.  It was a huge gathering place for family shindigs (and I’m sure revivals as my grandmother was descended from generations of Baptist ministers).  Shelley had heard many stories about it from Grandma…but her mother, my dad, and my other aunt did not know its location. When Grandma passed, Shelley feared it was lost to our branch of the family forever.

Of course the man knew about Barbecue Cliff! He pointed over beyond the farm to the trees and hills behind and offered to show her.

“We can all go together and see it after we bury Grandma,” Shelley finished.  The woman who had owned the land previously had left a caveat in her will…no member of the entire clan could be denied access to the area.  We were all welcome.

Hawk Creek Exploring Stones

Exploring family history with my cousins.

I wanted to ask Shelly if she thought Grandma had sent the crows to show her the way…but I knew what her answer would have been.  “Of course!”

So now you know the story of the two crows.

Time for the cupcakes!

Now how did crows inspire these, you might ask.  Well they’re birds, right? LOL!  Anyway, besides the avian influence, I was also inspired by the fact that Hummingbird cake is a Southern favorite and my grandmother was a Kentuckian through and through.  Who would have thought  these pretty treats had started out with a pair of crows, huh?hummingbird cupcakes 2

Hummingbird Cupcakes

makes 2 dozen cupcakes
Ingredients
Dry Ingredients
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon all spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Wet Ingredients
  • 3-4 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple, juices drained
  • 3/4 cup dried, shredded coconut, preferably unsweetened
  • 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) olive oil
  • 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Frosting –

Garnish options: shredded dried coconut, shaved dried coconut, whole or half pecans

Directions
  1. Pre-heat overn to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Line two standard muffin tins with your desired liners and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.hummingbird cupcakes dry ingredients
  3. In a large bowl, add the sugar and vanilla.  With an electric mixer on medium, begin streaming the olive oil into the bowl.  Continue beating the oil, sugar, and vanilla until combined.
  4. Add eggs one at a time to the sugar mixture.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and beat mixture until it reaches a smooth, thin custard-like consistency.   Turn mixer off.hummingbird cupcakes oil sugar eggs
  5. Add the mashed bananas and crushed pineapple to the egg and sugar mixture. Turn the mixer on to medium-speed and beat until ingredients are combined.hummingbird cupcakes combining wet ingredients
  6. Turn mixer down to low speed and begin to gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Do not over-beat or the cupcakes will be tough.  If preferred, fold the flour in with a rubber spatula instead of using the mixer.hummingbird cupcakes adding dry ingredients
  7. Fold chopped pecans into the batter.hummingbird cupcakes fold pecans
  8. Divide batter evenly among the lined cups.  Begin with approximately 1/4 cup of batter in each.hummingbird cupcakes filling liners
  9. Place muffin tins in oven and bake 20-25 minutes.  When finished, cupcakes will be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into their center will come out clean.hummingbird cupcakes cooling
  10. Cool completely on wire racks before topping cupcakes off with Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting.hummingbird cupcakes icing
  11. Decorate as desired with shredded dried coconut, shaved dried coconut, whole or half pecans.

hummingbird cupcakes 4

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Blueberry Kolaches – From Austin and D.C. with Love

Blueberry Kolache_2Yes, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it, friends?  I know Emilie and I have fallen far from the regular postings you used to get, but please know that we haven’t forgotten any of you.  In fact, we talk, text, and e-mail about you and Cork and Spoon quite often.  That is why today’s post is dedicated to all our friends/readers that have stuck with us all this time.

The last you heard from Emilie, she had moved from D.C. to Austin, TX (For the record, I’m still working on my abandonment issues…).  Well, before she and Tom left, in fact while I was helping them transfer their home into a rented PODS container, Emilie and I decided that I should run a half-marathon in Austin.  Since I had already planned on the “Real Girls Run” November half-marathon in Charlottesville, (injuries down the road put a stop to that) and because Emilie wouldn’t have accrued annual leave before Christmas, we found the perfect sweet spot: the Austin Marathon and Half-marathon, which takes place in February.

Now fast forward to New Years 2015.

I find out that after hearing I was coming to Austin and running a race, another Blueberry Kolache_4dear friend of ours, Gill, was coming to Austin, too.  Yay, reunion time! It had been years since the three of us were in the same place at the same time.  As we started coordinating our itineraries, Emilie sent Gill and I the following:

Tuesday: Ruth arrives around 8 PM

Wednesday: Gill arrives around 4 PM

Thursday-Saturday: FUN

Sunday: Ruth runs a marathon while Gill and I eat kolaches and cheer her on.

Yay, fun! Hey, wait.  “What’s a kolache?”  Neither Gil nor I had heard of such a thing before.

Emilie responded with this article from the NY Times.  It is a Czech, yeasted sweet bread filled with deliciousness like fruit, sweetened cheese, or sausage.  Due to a large amount of Czech immigrants that settled in Texas during the 19th century, these dollops of yumminess have become part of the Texan culinary culture.  Now that I was more informed about kolaches, I reminded the girls that I needed to begin refueling around mile 5 or 6 and hinted at how cool it would be for them to toss me a kolache as I ran by them.  (Don’t you agree?)

Blueberry Kolache_Luckenbach

Well, population 3 unless you count the rooster…

After a fun filled couple of days of hunting down BBQ, tasting Texas wines, exploring the faceted city of Austin, enjoying Deep Eddy cocktails,  and eating lots of bacon (Tom kept it comin’!), tacos, and avocados,  race day finally arrived.  In the dark early hours, Tom graciously drove me downtown and dropped me off while the girls got in an extra couple of hours of sleep.  I walked up and down Congress Ave between the State Capital and the starting line at 2nd St. thinking of how lucky I was to have friends who would get up this early or travel half way across the country to cheer me on.  I told my injured IT band that we could not disappoint them now.

Blueberry Kolache_Hope Outdoor Gallery

At the Hope Outdoor Gallery

Em, Gill, and Tom actually made it to three different points along the course, which took me by total surprise.  If you have ever run a long distance race, you know how much energy seeing your friends/family can pull out of you (Right, Sue?).  Emilie and I also learned about the SNL, “More cowbell!” skit from Gill, because Em had bought a cowbell to clang and cheer with for race day.  (Hey, we’re not the only ones.  I shouted “More cowbell!” at some spectators at a recent race…I don’t think they understood, but they did clang louder!).

Blueberry Kolache_mile 12

Mile 12…the biiig hill. Look at how encouraging Emilie is trying to be as I whine about wanting to walk not run.

Sadly, there were no kolaches for me on the course.  When Emilie accompanied me up the big hill at mile 12, I asked where my kolache was.  She told me to keep running up the hill.  Waaaah, I’m not done yet?

Then there was the finish line.  Yay!  I crossed right at my goal time.  Double yay!

Emilie, Gill, and Tom found me at our pre-determined meeting point.  Between great jobs and proud of yous, Gill mentioned they had had kolaches for breakfast.  Before my face fell too much, she also mentioned mine were waiting for me in the car.  Now how about a triple, yay!

Blueberry Kolache_3Now the kolache recipe I am sharing with you today is a “clean eating” version.  More about that in another post, but basically it’s a style of eating that keeps processed and artificial foods to a minimum.  For example, the typical sweet dough is made with all-purpose flour and granulated sugar.  I swapped these ingredients out for white whole wheat flour and sucanat.  For the blueberry filling, I swapped the sugar for honey.

As you probably know, working with whole wheat flour, even the finer white whole wheat kind, can be tricky business.  Whole wheat bread tends to be denser than bread made with its airier all-purpose cousin.  While the kolaches I had in Austin had a tender, pastry-like texture, these whole wheat versions are denser and more like a breakfast biscuit than a pastry.

Feel free to use whichever flour you like, both versions taste delicious and will compliment your morning coffee or tea quite nicely.

Blueberry Kolache_5

Whole Wheat Blueberry Kolaches

Ingredients

Blueberry Kolache_Ingredients

Sweet Dough
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 3/4 cups whole wheat flower
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup sucanat  (may substitute granulated sugar)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • Egg Wash (beat 1 egg with 2 tablespoons heavy cream or buttermilk)

Blueberry Filling

  • ¼ cup raw honey
  • 3 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca starch
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Directions
Sweet Dough
  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sucanat in ¼ cup of milk.Blueberry Kolache_Yeast
  2. Allow yeast to bloom, about 10 minutes.
  3. Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment.
  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine yeast mixture with the remaining milk and sugar along with the butter, eggs, and salt.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Mixing
  5. Turn mixer speed to low and gradually blend in 1 ½ cups of the flour.
  6. Change out the paddle for the dough hook attachment.
  7. Turn mixer speed to medium and begin kneading the dough.  Gradually add remaining flour mixture.
  8. Once all dough ingredients are combined in the mixer bowl, knead dough for about 5 to 7 minutes.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Kneaded
  9. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Rest
  10. Allow dough to rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.
  11. Punch dough down.  Knead by hand briefly then divide dough in half. Blueberry Kolache_Dough Risen
  12. Form into balls, and let stand for 10 minutes
  13. Flour your work surface.  Roll out one dough ball to ½ inch thick.
  14. Cut dough rounds using a 2½-inch cookie or biscuit cutter.  Combine remaining scraps, re-rolling and cutting additional rounds.  Repeat with the second dough ball.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Cutting
  15. Place cut out rounds on a parchment lined or greased baking sheet(s) about 1 inch apart.  Cover with a towel and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Rounds Rest
  16. During this final rise, prepare Blueberry Filling (instructions below).
  17. Pre-heat oven 400°F.
  18. Use your thumb or the back of a spoon to press a deep indentation into the center of each round.  Blueberry Kolache_Indent
  19. Brush kolache edges with egg wash.
  20. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into the indentation.Blueberry Kolache_Filling Kolaches
  21. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.Blueberry Kolache_Baking Time
  22. Allow to cool then store for up to three days in an airtight container.Blueberry Kolache_Baking Done
Blueberry Filling
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the honey, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir to combine.  Blueberry Kolache_Filling Syrup
  2. Add the blueberries and lemon juice. Blueberry Kolache_Filling Add Berries
  3. Place saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring, until filling comes to a low boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Blueberry Kolache_Filling Simmering
  5. Set aside and let cool.

Blueberry Kolache_1

Onion Cheddar Beer Bread

One of the hardest parts about moving halfway across the country is making new friends in a strange city. Luckily, the Internet makes it relatively easy to find social groups, volunteer organizations, and more. Within a few weeks of moving to Austin, I started exploring the Austin MeetUp website, where I found several local women’s social groups that appeared to be filled with people I could definitely get along with. Through events these groups have sponsored, I’ve been able to explore Austin while meeting lots of funny, smart, and awesome people who have the potential to become a great group of friends.

Onion Cheddar Bread - cookie swap table

Setting the table before the guests arrive.

I’ve begun to enjoy the people in one group in particular over the past few weeks and wanted to give back by hosting my own MeetUp event for ladies in the group. I decided to host a small Christmas cookie swap for those who were interested as a chance to hang out while also getting a fun collection of holiday treats to enjoy over the coming weeks. As the host, I wanted to make sure I had some salty snacks to compliment the sweets we’d be sampling as well as a little mulled wine for everyone. With so much already on my to do list, I needed make a swap treat that had minimal steps and took little time to bake. Spending hours preparing baking sheet after sheet of cookies seemed like too daunting a task when the floor still needed to be mopped.

Onion Cheddar Bread - finished onion cheese bread

The clear choice for my dilemma was mini-loaves of quick bread. With 3 loaves of bread baked per recipe batch, it would be easy to quadruple the recipe and make the required 12 loaves of bread for the ladies to take home aftewards. I even had 12 cardboard mini loaf pans in the closet waiting to be used! It was fate. A few test runs later, I perfected this super easy, 9-ingredient, savory quick bread. It is perfect with a little butter  or cream cheese served on the side of a smooth tomato soup.

Onion Cheddar Beer Bread
(1) 9-inch loaf bread or (3) mini 4-inch loaves

1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces white cheddar cheese
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
12 ounce bottle nut brown ale or porter

1)     Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan or 3 mini 4-inch loaf pans.

2)     Add olive oil to large heavy bottomed skillet over low-medium heat. Add diced onion and cook slowly to caramelize. While the onion is cooking, shred or roughly chop the cheddar cheese. When the onion has just begun to caramelize, about 10 minutes, remove from heat and let cool so that it doesn’t melt the cheese.

Onion Cheddar Bread - cook the onions

3)     Whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Stir in onions and cheddar until evenly distributed.

Onion Cheddar Bread - whisk dry ingredients

Onion Cheddar Bread - add chredded cheese

Onion Cheddar Bread - stir in onions

4)     Slowly add beer, stirring to fully combine. The final batter will be thick and you will need to spoon it into baking dish. Bake for 50 minutes for a large loaf or 30 minutes for smaller loafs. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing, airtight, in the fridge.

Onion Cheddar Bread - add the beer

Onion Cheddar Bread - add the beer 1

Onion Cheddar Bread - add the beer 2

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting – The Best Way to That Tangy Cream Cheese Flavor

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 1

‘Tis the season for cream cheese frosting!  No, scratch that. Cream cheese frosting is in season all year ’round. However, once we begin donning our sweaters and coats as the holiday season goes into full swing, so too begins the season of never ending, delicious baked goods fresh from our piping hot ovens that we devour without abandon until the dawn of New Year’s Day. Who hasn’t salivated over a cream cheese stuffed pumpkin muffin or a wonderfully spicy slice of gingerbread loaf topped with cream cheese frosting? Not to mention perennial favorites also slathered in tangy cream cheese deliciousness, such as Red Velvet, Carrot, and (one of my favorites) Hummingbird cake. Yes, let the baking bonanza begin!

The very first frosting I ever made from scratch was cream cheese frosting. Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 5 You’ve heard me tell you before how, growing up, food came out of a box, can, or jar.  Imagine my surprise as I watched a bar of softened cream cheese and a bag of powdered sugar whip up into a creamy, rich frosting for our (box mix) Christmas gingerbread loaf.  My sister and I were totally fascinated.  Now that I think about it, that was probably that point when I was bitten by the cooking bug.  No longer would frozen chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes from a box…or a tub of frosting…suffice.

Since that long ago Christmas, I’ve come to desire more than just the taste of sugar.  I think that just happens as you grow older (For example, I can’t bare the Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 6sweetness of milk chocolate anymore. It literally hurts my teeth lol). You may have noticed from some of my cupcake posts that I shy away from American style buttercream, which is based on powdered sugar for structure.  Instead, I often go for Italian or Swiss style buttercream, which utilize meringued egg whites and less sugar.  Oh, the lovely layers of flavor! That’s why when I came across cooked cream cheese frosting in my research for a cupcake inspired by an experience at my grandmother’s grave site (not as morbid as it sounds, I promise) I had to share it with you all.

If you are a cream cheese frosting fan, I promise you will adore the frosting you get out of this technique.  It preserves so much more of that distinctive tangy flavor, plus that luscious creaminess.  Excited yet? I hope so!

Happy holidays, everyone!

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 4

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_Ingredients

  • 16 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • optional: 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_sugar and flour
  2. Whisk milk into the flour mixture.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_adding milk
  3. Place saucepan over medium heat. Continue to whisk flour mixture to create a smooth paste.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_paste
  4. Bring flour mixture to a gentle simmer. Continue stirring.  Allow to cook until a thick, sticky pudding like consistency is met. Do not leave the stove during this time; the sugar will quickly burn. (Lesson learned: a little caramelization is salvageable).Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_paste simmering
  5. Scrape flour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer, or into a large bowl if using a hand mixer.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_paste into mixer
  6. Whip on high for about 10 minutes or until the cooked flour mixture has cooled. (Warning: if the flour mixture is too warm, the final frosting may turn out too soft to hold its shape. Read about the Battle of Buttercream Hill here.)
  7. Lower mixer speed to medium high and add vanilla extract.
  8. Add butter, whipping until incorporated.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_add butter
  9. Whip in the softened cream cheese one bar at a time.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_adding creamed cheese
  10. Return mixer speed to high and whip frosting until thick and fluffy.  If frosting is too soft, add the optional 1/4 cup of powdered sugar to give the frosting more structure.
    Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_whipped frosting Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_powdered sugar for structure
  11. Chill before use for easier work-ability. The frosting will keep its shape at room temperature, but its definitely more messy to work with!Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 2 Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 3

 

Wherein One Half of Cork and Spoon Moves – to Texas

D.C. to Texas- cookbooks

Earlier this year, right around my birthday Tom forwarded me Buzzfeed’s 101 Reasons You Should Live in Texas at Least Once in Your Life. We had been considering a future move to Texas, Tom’s home state, about 2 or 3 years down the road, and he was using it to help convince me of how much I’d love Texas. Don’t tell Tom, but I think he was right.

I’ve been in Austin, Texas for just over 3 weeks and I can’t find anything to complain about – not even the 100+ temps. Due to some changes at Tom’s job and me getting the first job in Texas I applied for – our plans fastforwarded about 24 months and I started with a great tech startup at the beginning of September. The job is incredibly challenging and will, if I succeed, do amazing things for my career. Plus our new rental is pretty amazing – so much space! Rosie doesn’t have to hide out in cabinets any more, but can stand proud on the counter.

D.C. to Texas - my kitchen aide has a home

While I haven’t had a chance to really start exploring all of Austin yet, I have spent some time getting to know my neighborhood and what it has to offer. Like the Torchy’s Tacos less than half a mile from my house. Austin is a city that lives on breakfast tacos and I am looking forward to trying every single one, but in the meantime, any excuse to walk Abby and get migas tacos works for me.

D.C. to Texas- Torchy's Tacos

I have also rediscovered the joy of the famous Trudy’s Mexican martini; found delicious gourmet burgers right up the road at HopDoddy; and enjoyed a glass of wine with chips & queso while watching Guardians of the Galaxy at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (they deliver more glasses of wine directly to you while the movie plays, its kind of amazing).

All of that pales in comparison to what may be my favorite store ever: Make it Sweet. This store has an entire wall of cookie cutters and more flavored extracts than I knew existed. But best of all I walked in the first thing I saw was an entire wall of bulk sprinkles. When Ruth comes to visit- forget the bats, we’re going to the baking store.

D.C. to Texas-Make it Sweet

As exciting and amazing as everything has been, it has been pretty taxing and stressful. I packed and moved our house in 3 weeks, while still working, and then moved Abby and myself to Texas a full 3 weeks before Tom. His amazing mother and sister drove in from out of town to help me unpack and keep me company a few weekends ago, but it has still be a little hard to get out and meet new people. That has been the hardest part, especially when all you want to do is come home from work and talk about the new job. But Tom comes in from D.C. tonight! He’s almost home! So, in typical Emilie fashion, I baked him something.

D.C. to Texas-cookies

Using my favorite rolled sugar cookie recipe from All Recipes, I created about 2 dozen Texas state shaped cookies that I decorated like – what else – the state flag. It was really nice just spending the day baking in the big new kitchen, and I can’t wait to spend more time in there.

Did I mention they still have hatch chilies in some grocery stores? Yea, Texas is going to be good for me – and hopefully good for you guys too.

“You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas” ~ Davy Crockett

 

Perfect Chocolatey Rich Brownies

Growing up, my mom always kept a box of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker brownie mix in our pantry. If we were craving something sweet on a Friday movie night, or any night really, one of my sisters or I would pull out the box, follow the directions on the back, and an hour later we’d be enjoying gooey chocolate goodness. These mixes came in a pretty amazing array of flavors and varieties and were super simple for a pre-teen to whip up on her own. They are a large part of what inspired me to love baking and cooking.

Chocolatey Brownies - finished 2

In spite of this long and lovely history with the humble brownie, I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had not made a batch of brownies from scratch until just a few weeks ago. How can that be?! Especially when you consider the broad, and somewhat random, list of things I have baked from scratch: scones, challah bread, over a dozen cookie types, cupcakes (and more cupcakes), quick breads, and more. Realizing it was finally time to take the plunge, I diligently researched brownie recipes, and found out that there are a lot of “best brownie” recipes out there. I mean A LOT. Which is why I was thrilled to come across the Brown Eyed Baker’s list of top 10 brownie recipes. At the very top of her list was the famous Baked Brownie filled with 11 ounces of dark chocolate and half a cup of butter, it was clear I needed to try the Brown Eyed Baker’s version of the recipe immediately. What a smart decision that was! They are amazing! Be warned, it a large batch of brownies, so you might need to share them (or freeze them), but its worth it.

Already a brownie aficionado and looking to branch out some, be sure to check out the top 10 list! I think these salted caramel brownies are next on my list!

The “Baked” Brownie
adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tblsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

1)     Preheat the oven to 350º F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13-inch glass or light-colored baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper.

Chocolatey brownies - line the baking pan

2)     In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

3)     Melt the butter in a large bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, and then stir in the espresso powder. Once the espresso powder is almost completely dissolved, add the chopped chocolate to the bowl. Stir frequently until the chocolate is completely melted.

Chocolatey Brownies_melt butter with coffee Chocolatey Brownie - melt the chocolate 1 Chocolatey Brownie - melt the chocolate 2

4)     Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Stir until smooth and completely combined. At this point you can remove the bowl from the pan, although I did not.

Chocolatey Brownies - add sugars

4)     Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and stir into the mixture. Add the remaining eggs and stir until fully combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Be careful not to over mix the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Chocolatey brownies - add eggs

5)     Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. And fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

chocolatey brownies-mix in flour

6)     Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan 180º halfway through the baking time. Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with only a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

Chocolatey Brownies - pour the batter

7)      Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares and serve. Store at room temperature in an airtight container or wrap with plastic wrap for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Brownies - cut the brownies Chocolatey Brownies- finished 1

Cheddar-Jack Cheese Crackers

Meet Rosie, the KitchenAid mixer. Yes, I name my cars and my kitchen toys.

Meet Rosie, the KitchenAid mixer. Yes, I name my cars and my kitchen toys.

Everyone, I want to introduce you to my newest toy, I’ve named her Rosie, after the Jetson’s robot. My mom has had an old school KitchenAid mixer for years and years, and I loved using it when I was growing up. So Tom, knowing how much I wanted one of my own, gave me a Professional 600 series this Christmas. Since we drove 20+ hours to Texas for 2 weeks over the holidays, we decided to wait to order the mixer until after we returned. Since getting the mixer, unpacking it, and happily reading the user manual from cover to cover, I have not had a chance to actually plug in Rosie and use her.

I knew I wanted to make something special to christen my new mixer, so I spent the intervening time considering my options. Rosie deserved something special – something I’d never tried before, but that had a high probability of being successful the first time around. I didn’t want Rosie to be tainted by bad mojo after all! I considered fresh English muffins or naan, homemade marshmallows, and several other options. Over the days, as I made my mental list of recipes, I remembered the delicious cheese crackers Tom’s dad made for the holidays and the many homemade cheese crackers I’d seen on Pinterest. Considering my love of cheese, homemade cheddar crackers were clearly the answer.

Cheese Crackers - Amazing finished product

I chose Joy the Baker’s sharp cheddar cheese crackers as my base recipe. Wanting to create added depth, and never one to shy away from cheese, I chose to add a couple of ounces of monterey jack cheese and several spices. I experimented with a few different sizes of cracker (mostly because I wasn’t very steady with the pizza cutter) and settled on 1×1 inch as my favorite size. Although this adorable fish shaped cutter may make an appearance if I find myself making this recipe frequently. The crackers were sharp and tangy and beautifully crisp fresh from the oven. Stored over night, they lost some of the crispness, but were still addicting.

Cheese Crackers - cheddar crackers fresh from the oven

Cheddar-Jack Cheese Crackers
8 ounces sharp cheddar
2 ounces monterey jack cheese
¾ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp paprika
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cold water

1)      Finely shred the cheddar and monterey jack cheeses.

Cheese Crackers - Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack Cheese

Cheese Crackers - 8oz shredded cheddar and 2oz shredded jack cheeses

2)      Combined spices, butter, and shredded cheese in the bowl of your mixer and blend until a soft ball is formed.

Cheese Crackers - season with salt, pepper, paprika, and onion powder

Cheese Crackers - cream butter and cheese

3)      With the mixer on low speed, add the flours. The mixture will form course crumbs. Add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until soft, but not sticky dough forms. You may need a teaspoon or so more than 2 tablespoons.

Cheese Crackers - finished dough

4)      Form the dough into a thick disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

5)      When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375ºF and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

6)      Cut the dough in half and replace one half in the fridge. Roll the dough into a thin rectangle, thinner than ⅛ inch. When you think its thin enough, roll it one more time.

Cheese Crackers - roll dough very thin

Cheese Crackers - use a pizza slicer to cut 1in squares

7)      Using a cookie cutter or pizza cutter cut crackers that are about an inch in size. Use a toothpick to pierce the center of the cracker and then place on the cookie sheets. These will not expand out, so the crackers can be placed relatively close together.

Cheese Crackers - let the crackers cool

8)       Bake the crackers for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown. Let cool completely before serving or storing.

Homemade cheddar crackers for everyone!

9) Repeat the process with the second half of the dough or freeze the dough for later.

Gluten Free Pizza Dough

GF Pizza Crust 5When my sister mentioned a week before Thanksgiving she was going completely gluten free I wanted to reach through the phone and slap her silly.  Power to her for the life-style change, but I’m the one in charge of  all the holiday family meals.  I’m the one that had to figure it all out!  How about more than a week’s notice, please?  Luckily for both of us  my curious and experimental nature had already lead me to some dabbling in gluten free recipes.

Now I’m not much of a fad person myself, but I do respect the will-power of those who chose restrictive life-styles (for whatever reasons).  I also GF Pizza Crust 4empathize with those living with food allergies.  However, what is often left out of the conversation are those, like me, that do not have these restrictions, but find themselves thrust suddenly into that world. Emilie and I were discussing this not too long ago just after the New Year.

Who doesn’t love to accommodate their friends and family, but can you imagine how bad your host(ess) might feel if they didn’t know of your GF Pizza Crust 3recent vegan conversion and watched you pick at your bacon wrapped  steak and butter topped asparagus all evening?  Forewarned is forearmed!  Don’t feel bad about giving someone a heads up about your allergies or special diet. When Emilie and I were visiting a friend in San Francisco one Spring Break, I made sure to mentioned that it was Lent, which, after receiving a family dinner invite on a Friday night, allowed enough notice for a Lent friendly meal that everyone could enjoy.  When my friend Sue is in town, I know to keep a container of soy milk on hand for her coffee since she is allergic to dairy.  Now that my sister is gluten-free, I have engineered gluten-free versions of our favorite family GF Pizza Crust 6holiday recipes.  However,  there are still folks that might feel uncomfortable at the potential inconvenience.  Emilie has a great tactic for that.  She offers to bring a dish! This tactic not only ensures there will be at least one thing you can eat, but provides an easy opening to mention what you are not able to eat as well as eases any feeling of inconvenience, because you’re bringing the dish.  Not a bad idea huh?

With that said, many of you are like Emilie and me: food lovers.  We like to eat and cook new things, unfamiliar things.   Our friends are lucky, because we’re the most likely to have that paleo vegan, gluten-soy-nut free recipe in our back pocket.  We’re always experimenting.  My favorite food “fad” to experiment is, as I’ve mentioned, gluten-free substitutions.  So, without further adieu,  for your back-pocket I present this gluten free, thin crust pizza dough!

GF Pizza Dough Pizza 2 cu 2

Gluten Free Pizza Dough

makes 2 9″x 9″ personal pizza crusts
Ingredients

GF Pizza Dough Ingredients

  • 2 ½  cups Gluten-Free Flour (see recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons dried milk powder or dairy-free creamer
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon honey or granulated sugar
  • 1 5/16 ounce package of instant yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for dough)
  • olive oil for pan
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal for dusting
Directions
  1. In a large bowl, blend together the gluten free flour mix, dried milk, baking powder, and corn starch.  Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, add yeast, olive oil, and warm water along with ½ cup of the dry ingredients.GF Pizza Dough Yeast Mixture
  3. Stir to combine and set aside for about 30 minutes.  Mixture should be bubbly and smell yeasty.GF Pizza Dough Yeast Ready
  4. When yeast is ready, add to the remaining dry ingredients.GF Pizza Dough Adding Yeast and Flour
  5. Using a stand or hand mixer, mix at medium-high speed until dough forms. It will not be like the pizza dough you’ve probably made in the past. Instead it will be sticky, like spackling.GF Pizza Dough Sticky Stuff
  6. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit .
  8. Divide dough in half.  If not using right away, grease two sheets of plastic wrap and wrap the two halves separately.GF Pizza Dough Dividing
  9. For a single personal pizza, grease a 9” x 13” baking sheet with olive oil and dust with cornmeal.
  10. Place one of the pizza halves on the baking sheet. Wet your fingers and begin working the dough outwards beginning from the center.  You should be able to get a 9″ x 9″ crust.GF Pizza Dough Forming Crust
  11. Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes before baking the crust in the oven for 8-10 minutes.GF Pizza Dough Crust Resting
  12. Your crust is now ready to become a pizza. After adding desired toppings, bake pizza for about another 10 minutes.GF Pizza Dough Starting to Make Pizza

GF Pizza Dough Topping Pizza    GF Pizza Dough Pizza 2 in the oven

Breakfast Apple Streusel Muffins

Apple Streusel Muffins 3I have been craving these little beauties since Thanksgiving morning!  I woke up that morning and a vision of these piping hot from the oven and smothered in butter popped into my sleepy head.  Too bad I had finished all my delicious apples from Rinker Orchards by then!  Airy and not too sweet, these muffins are a lovely addition to any brunch pastry basket and the perfect breakfast strategy to stay the grumbling tummies of holiday guests as they awaken from their slumber.

How do I know this? When I first made this recipe back in October, they Apple Streusel Muffins 5disappeared faster than my very popular Banana Chocolate Chip muffins! Now my co-workers are very, very picky when it comes to baked goods.  Or maybe I should say careful.  Pure sugar is a big no, no. So when I brought three dozen of these to the office, I was expecting they would last until about 10 o’clock.  Nope, they were gone by 7:30! I had to dash my muffin/cupcake carrier back to my car to hide the evidence from the folks that came in at 8 so they wouldn’t feel left out.

Needless to say, these muffins are a delicious grown-up treat.  Substituting sour cream and buttermilk for the traditional butter give these Apple Stressel Muffins an almost sponge-cake like airiness. They are not heavy and dense at all.  Then of course there are the yummy apple bits scattered throughout which give you that tart sweet burst against the sweet bread.  And how can we forget that yummy streusel on top?  Just that bit of fun where we can pretend we’re still kids for a couple of bites.  You’ll definitely need a napkin for these!Apple Streusel Muffins 1

Apple Streusel Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

Muffins: 

  • 1 cup whole wheat white flour (sometimes called whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • ¼ – ½ cup buttermilk (start with ¼ then and add as needed)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 medium-sized baking apples, peeled, cored, and diced small (I actually kept the peel on some of my apples)

Streusel topping:

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Grease a regular-sized muffin tin with cooking spray or butter.
  3. For the streusel, add the flour, brown sugar, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. (A cereal bowl worked fine for me.)
  4. Pour in the melted butter. Use your fingers or a fork to combine until small clumps of streusel form.  Set aside while making the muffins.ASM Struesel Topping
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.ASM dry ingredients
  6. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, brown sugar, sour cream, buttermilk and vanilla. Whisk wet ingredients together.ASM wet ingredients
  7. Gently fold wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Don’t worry about a few lumps. Over mixing will give you dense, gummy muffins.ASM Making Batter
  8. Fold in the chopped apples again being careful not to over-mix the batter.ASM Apple Time
  9. Fill each well of the muffin tin to the top with batter.
  10. Generously sprinkle streusel on top of the batter, pressing the topping lightly into the batter.  This is a messy step, but fun! I had leftover streusel for another dozen muffins, but feel free to use all of it.ASM Struesel Time 1    ASM Struesel Time 2
  11. Bake muffins for 18 to 22 minutes, until tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.ASM Fresh from Oven
  12. Cool for 10 minutes before removing muffins from the muffin tin.  Store the muffins in an airtight container no longer than three days.Apple Streusel Muffins 4

A Childhood Classic – Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies

Today’s recipe is not a ground breaking one. In fact, a quick google search reveals pages and pages of websites with versions of the Chocolate Peanut Better No-Bake Cookies. Many sites, including the one on the FoodNetwork.com, stick with the classic recipe that I was making on my own by the time I was 12 or so. Some sites, however, have inventive substitutions and additions that take the cookie to the next level, like this substitution of coconut oil for butter. I’m sharing it today because I received a special request from a friend on Facebook when I mentioned I was going to make them.

No Bake Cookies 1

My version of the chocolate peanut butter no-bake cookie does not differ much from the original recipe. I like to use Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder, and I add a cup of chia seeds for a bit of a health boost. The biggest difference with my recipe and the original recipe is the insistence on using old-fashioned rolled-oats, which I like because of the chewier texture they provide. To ensure that the cookies aren’t too dry, I also add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the mix and I let the mixture sit for a few minutes to let the milk absorb.

So if you are just up for re-living a little bit of your own childhood or looking for a simple and fun recipe to share with your budding cooks, enjoy!

Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies

1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons extra dark cocoa
1/2 cup + 2 tblsp milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups  rolled oats
¼ cup chia seeds
Waxed paper

1)     Melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the dark cocoa and milk and stir until combined. Stir in sugar, increase heat to medium, and bring to a low simmer. Simmer for 1 minute.

No Bake Cookies - Mix Milk, Butter, Cocoa No Bake Cookies - Add sugar No Bake Cookies - Simmer for 1 minute

2)     Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla until the peanut butter is fully melted. Stir in oatmeal  and chia seeds. Let rest for about 5 minutes, giving the oatmeal a chance to soften and mixture to cool enough to handle.

No Bake Cookies - stir in Peanut Butter and vanilla No Bake Cookies -  Add oats and chia seeds No Bake Cookies - let rest

3)     Drop the cookie mixture by rounded tablespoon on to cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Let cool until hardened and store in an air tight container.

No Bake Cookies - drop on wax papper

No Bake Cookies 2