Monday, December 17, 2012

Candy Cane Dark Chocolate Brownies with Cookie Crust

Nobody wants a candy cane in their stocking. On Christmas morning, Reese's Trees, Andes Mints, and green and red M&M's get all the sweet-tooth glory.

So why not combine candy canes with chocolate?

As usual, I bought every seasonal mint treat I could find: Candy Cane Hershey's Kisses, Peppermint Marshmallows, and Candy Cane Oreos. I added all three of them to dark chocolate brownie mix. The brownies came out so incredibly gooey. Like, so gooey they stay that way even after they cool. They're not runny, but you'll probably want a fork to eat one.

It was all an accident.

Those red dots are peppermint marshmallows!
My mom gave me a super-complicated food processor, and I was trying to use it to chop up the Candy Cane Hershey's Kisses. I couldn't figure it out, so I turned the task over to Frank. When I turned around, he's ground them up into dust. Well.

So, the Kisses all but melted into oblivion. What they left behind: an infusion of strong minty flavor and gooey delight! I wasn't disappointed. The Candy Cane Oreo crust provides a firm foundation, so they don't run everywhere.

Candy Cane Dark Chocolate Brownies with Cookie Crust

What you need
1 box dark chocolate brownie mix
2/3 cup vegetable oil 
2 eggs
1/4 cup water
1 bag Candy Cane Oreos, finely chopped
1/2 stick butter, melted 
1/2 bag Candy Cane Hershey's Kisses
1 cup Peppermint Marshmallows

Put it all together
  1. Grind the Oreos in a food processor until they're a fine crumb. (You can also place them a plastic bag, and crush them with a rolling pin.)
  2. Combine the Oreo crumbs with melted butter, and firmly press into the bottom of a lightly greased 9" x 13" pan. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. Stir the brownie mix, vegetable oil, and water in a medium bowl until well combined. 
  5. Finely chop the Hershey's Kisses, either by hand or in a food processor. Gently stir into the brownie batter, along with the marshmallows. 
  6. Pour the brownie batter over the Oreo crust, and bake for 30-35 minutes. 
  7. Remove from oven, and let cool at least half an hour before serving.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gingerbread Cookie Truffles

I LOVE Christmas. But ever since I moved up north, I haven't gone all out with the decorations. I've set up a wimpy little Walmart tree, if that even counts. This year I decided it was time: I'm engaged, and Frank has a house (with a stocking-ready fireplace!) just begging to be decked out. So we bought our first real tree, had stockings embroidered with our names, and set up the Christmas village from my childhood in the window.

I was dying to share my decorations, so I invited a couple friends over for hot chocolate, a fire, and...

Gingerbread cookie truffles! 

Excuse my sloppiness. I hate coating truffles!

I've never been a big fan of gingerbread cookies, unless they're in the shape of a house. (My best creation: a gingerbread version of Graceland.) But, of course, being a huge fan of novelty Oreos, I had to buy Gingerbread Oreos. I was pleasantly surprised: They actually taste authentic (no chemical aftertaste, as you might expect), and the creme filling lends an extra layer of texture normal gingerbread lacks.

For the truffles, I crushed up the Gingerbread Oreos, combined them with cream cheese, and coated them with melted cinnamon chips. The cream cheese didn't undermine the rich, gingerbread flavor, and the cinnamon chips only enhanced the warmth of the cookies. Delicious.

Gingerbread Cookie Truffles

What you need
36 Gingerbread Oreos, finely crushed
8 oz. cream cheese, softened 
16 oz. Hershey's Cinnamon Chips 

Put it all together
  1. Thoroughly combine the Oreo crumbs and cream cheese. 
  2. Roll into 1- inch balls, then dip in melted cinnamon chips. Lay on a wax paper-covered baking sheet, and refrigerate until firm, about an hour.  
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Churro Cake Ball Truffles
Birthday Cake Oreo Bark  


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Double Mint Chocolate Cookies

I know, it's not even December 1st and I'm baking Christmas cookies. But who says mint-chocolate can't be delicious in November? No one. These cookies are one of my dig-through-the-pantry efforts that turned out to be a winner. No matter the time of year. 

I started with Jell-O Candy Cane Pudding Mix, then crunched up a (well-preserved) box of Thin Mints to deepen the minty flavor and add texture. I stirred in a little Hershey's cocoa powder to deliver the chocolatey richness I craved, and used self-rising flour so the cookies would have a cakey texture. I rolled the dough into perfect little balls, shoved them in the oven, and hoped for the best. 

I didn't let myself down.

These cookie are divine. They're so soft they should be called a "cakie" instead of a cookie. The mint flavor isn't as overwhelming as, say, a York Peppermint Patty. But it's strong enough to deliver the coolness that contrasts so beautifully with the depth of chocolate. 

Double Mint Chocolate Cookies

What You Need
¼ cups self-rising flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 package instant candy cane pudding mix
2 eggs
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
14 Thin Mints, crumbled*

*Not a Thin Mint hoarder like me? Try Mint Oreos.

Put It All Together

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. Use a mixer to cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar in a large bowl. Add the pudding mix, and beat until incorporated completely. Mix in the eggs and vanilla.
  3. Combine the flour and baking soda, then add to the butter mixture. Blend thoroughly.
  4. Stir in the crushed cookies with a wooden spoon. (Don't use the mixer. It will crush them.) 
  5. Roll dough into 1" balls, and position them at at least 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper (or an ungreased cookie sheet). Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Inside an HGTV Home!

Welcome guest blogger Katie Shands, my sister! She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, which also happens to be the home of HGTV. She recently visited the first-ever HGTV HOME Product House, featuring the new line of HGTV flooring, paints, lighting, and furniture. (Lucky her: The home is just down the street from her subdivision!) She snapped lots of photos and learned a few design lessons along the way. 

Style Trend #1: Wallpaper Accent Walls

Wallpaper can be a bit overwhelming when used on all four walls. However, when applied to a single wall, it can become the focal point of a room. It's a simple way to give an instant facelift to any space. Use it to liven up the entryway wall or behind the bed to frame the sleeping space. Large, bold prints seem to be the trend right now, but choose what best suits your tastes. And if you still are opposed to the idea of wallpaper,consider using a stencil to paint a design onto a wall instead.

Style Trend #2: Eclectic Look

It's easy to fall into the trap of furniture sets. Of course, you want your home to feel cohesive, but if everything is too “matchy” or perfect, the look can come off as boring or too planned. Instead, aim for an eclectic look with different finishes and styles. Fill your rooms with items that are complementary instead of identical. Rather than two matching lamps, pair Grandma’s vintage lamp with a unique Goodwill find. Frame a dark wood headboard with two distressed white nightstands. Place an elegant flower arrangement atop a rustic, farmhouse table. Your home should showcase your distinct personality, background, and tastes, so fill it with meaningful items instead of showroom pieces.

Style Trend #3: Unexpected Pops of Color


This house was overflowing with bright hues. The designer didn’t limit herself to a single color on the walls of a room. In the bonus room, she used three shades of blue. Bright green bird figurines complemented a punchy green couch. The dining room’s main wall was covered in neutral, pressed leaf wallpaper, while the other two walls were painted in a surprising lime green…and it actually worked. So how can you incorporate bright colors into your décor without transforming your home into a live-in crayon box? Don’t go overboard. Choose varying shades of the same color or limit the bold colors to a few key accents, such as throw pillows or accessories.

Style Trend #4: Layered Patterns

The designer artfully incorporated the pattern-on-top-of-pattern look throughout the home. Layered patterns can add interest and dimension to a room, so don’t be afraid to experiment. However, it’s very easy to go overboard, especially if you’re a beginner. The following tips are by no means hard-and-fast rules, but they will help you get started. You should first consider color. Decide on a main color, and then choose a contrasting hue. Choose colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel. For example, liven up royal blue with a pop of burnt orange or pair a warm red tone with a cool green.

Limit yourself to three varied patterns in the beginning. You can always add more later.Choose a large print in your main color and then find one or two smaller patterns in complementary colors. And select designs that vary in composition and scale. For example,combine a bold floral design, thin stripes, and a bright solid or combine a large floral,plaid, and a small floral. Just have fun with it!

Style Trend #5: Area Rugs

Nearly every room in this house had an area rug. Area rugs can instantly warm up a space and pull the room together. When choosing a rug, consider the size. (For some rule of thumb measurements, check out this site.) Also, think about what kind of material you want your rug to be made from. Wool and silk rugs tend to last longer and wear more evenly than other types. Sisal, jute, and grass rugs are less costly, but are more difficult to maintain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

6 Supermarket Ice Creams I'm Dying to Try

That's not caramel...that's carrot cake!
It should be a sin to call ice cream a "summertime" dessert. It's delicious all year round—and ice cream makers have caught on. They're offering flavors that stray far from the classic neapolitan trio of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry; some have even launched seasonal flavors that are designed specifically for the cold-weather ice cream connoisseur (or addict).

One problem: I never actually buy supermarket ice cream. I limit my consumption to a tasty local creamery called The Cup, only because it's too dangerous for me to purchase a full tub of ice cream. (How can I accomplish anything, knowing I have that deliciously dirty secret waiting in my freezer?) 

The compromise: buying ice cream strictly for social gatherings. I'm not suggesting dishing out a scoop of plain vanilla in a plastic bowl like Grandma did. I mean decadent, make-your-mouth-scream-for-mercy ice creams. 

That you buy at the supermarket. Really. The secret is artfully presenting your ice cream, so no one knows they weren't prepared in your own kitchen. 

1. Blue Bunny 24 Karat Carrot Cake Ice Cream

I've always thought of Blue Bunny as an "off-brand" ice cream, but a string of innovative, gourmet flavors proves me wrong. This creative concoction by Chef Duff Goldman features a decadent swirl of carrot cake ice cream, cream cheese ice cream, and chunks of carrot cake. I don't need to be asked twice. 

Layer a mini-scoop of Carrot Cake Ice Cream between two gingersnaps for a tiny, fall-flavored ice cream sandwich.

 2. Ben & Jerry's Cannoli Ice Cream

Confession: I never ate a cannoli until I started dating an Italian. I loved them so much I decided to marry him. This pint will make you fall in love with Ben and Jerry: mascarpone ice cream with fudge-covered cannoli pastry chunks and a mascarpone swirl.

For a frozen take on the Italian classic, pipe Cannoli Ice Cream into mini cannoli shells. Or simply dress up a scoop with another Italian staple: ladyfingers. 

3. Blue Bell Christmas Cookies Ice Cream

Cookie dough ice cream is incredible, but why stop at standard chocolate chip? This seasonal treat combines chunks of chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, and sugar cookies. Oh, and those chunks of cookie are all swirled into a sugar cookie ice cream. Not enough sugar? Don't worry. There are candy-cane shaped sprinkles and a green icing swirl!

Add a scoop of Christmas Cookies Ice Cream to a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

4. Breyers Apple Cinnamon Crumble

Apple crumble and ice cream is one of my favorite desserts this time of year. Crust is my favorite part, but I need not worry: Breyers dropped pieces of flaky pie crust into this fruity fall creation.

I love the contrast of warm apple pie and cold ice cream. My solution: Heat up pre-made apple pie filling, and make sundaes with Apple Cinnamon Crumble ice cream.

5. Archer Farms Monster Cookie Ice Cream

 In case you haven't caught on: I'm a sucker for ice cream-cookie combos. Monster cookiespeanut butter, oatmeal, M&Mare a sadly under-appreciated treat, so they deserve a starring role in an ice cream. Thank you, Target.

There's already a lot going on here. So keep it simple: Use a small (1 1/2") ice cream scoop to create little balls of Monster Cookie Ice Cream. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, stick a wooden craft spoon into each, and freeze until hardened. It's like a spoonful of cookie dough!

6. Blue Bunny Pistachio Almond Ice Cream

Pistachios are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. My father had no self-control when it came to cracking pistachios, so he banned them from our house. I'm a grown-up now, so I can eat them whenever I want. Even in ice cream.

Serve a scoop of Pistachio Almond Ice Cream with a piece of chocolate or pistachio biscotti for a simple, sophisticated dessert.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slow Cooker Pork Roast with Apples, Rosemary, and Sage

This is the first food I've made for my blog that I didn't actually eat. I made it for my fiancé, in an effort to prove he won't be eating a diet strictly of cookies and grilled chicken for the rest of his life. He was more than assuaged. He was impressed.

We spent this past Saturday painting his living room (more on that in a future post), which presented the perfect opportunity to put a roast in the slow cooker, work for a few hours, and enjoy the delicious medley of scents wafting through the house. 

I started by seasoning the roast with salt and pepper, browning it slightly in olive oil, then sautéing sweet red onions in the remaining oil. The caramelized onions served as a bed for the roast in the crock pot, and I topped the meat with sliced apples, a sprig of fresh rosemary, and sprig of fresh sage. After cooking on high for four hours, the apples turned to apple sauce, and the juices from the meat and onions turned into a gravy-like sauce. (Confession: I forgot to plug in the crock pot for the first 45 minutes. So much for my Paula Deen impression.) Frank liked it as much as his mother's roast. Maybe he was lying. 

Or maybe not.

Why this flavor profile? Simple: It's cinnamon season. Although rosemary and sage are savory herbs, they pair perfectly with the sweet warmth of fall's signature spice. So for the side dish, I baked apples, sweet potatoes, and raisins in a blend of honey, cinnamon, and apple juice. The two dishes worked in beautiful harmony.

Slow Cooker Pork Roast with Apples, Rosemary, and Sage
Courtesy of Hamilton Beach

What you need
4-6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
4 lb. boneless pork roast
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, sliced
1 fresh sage sprig
1 fresh rosemary sprig

Put it all together

  1. Toss the apple slices with lemon juice and set aside.
  2. Season the roast with salt and ground pepper. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high, then lightly brown the roast on all sides. 
  3. Sauté the onions in the remaining oil in the skillet, and place them in the bottom of the crock pot. Position the roast on top of the onions, then surround the meat with the apple slices. Place the sprigs of sage and rosemary on top. 
  4. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours. 
  5. Discard herbs before serving. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

8 Worst Seasonal Restaurant Foods

Burger King Gingerbread Cookie Shake

What it is: vanilla soft serve, gingerbread syrup, crumbled gingerbread cookies

Most restaurants opt for the obvious seasonal flavors: pumpkin, apple pie, or eggnog. So I applaud the creativity of gingerbread cookies. However, no amount of creativity can justify the 124 grams of sugar in this shake. That's like eating 18 Little Debbie Gingerbread Cookies!

Nutrition info 
810 calories
21 g fat (15 g saturated, .5 g trans)
142 g carbs (124 g sugars)
500 mg sodium

Gingerbread Cookie Sundae
350 calories 
7 g fat (4 g saturated, 0 g trans)
68 g carbs (57 g sugars)
210 mg sodium


Dairy Queen Pumpkin Blizzard

What it is: vanilla soft serve, nutmeg, pie pieces, pumpkin pie filling, whipped topping

I spotted the sign for this at a nearby DQ a couple weeks back, and I was immediately intrigued. It sounds incredible. But then I saw the nutrition facts. Even the mini version of this Dairy Queen creation packs 370 calories. Not bad, until you see the size of the mini cup. It's tiny. 

Nutrition info 
1,050 calories
37 g fat (22 g saturated, 1 g trans)
161 g carbs (118 g sugars)
730 mg sodium

Caramel Sundae 
300 calories
7 g fat (5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
51 g carbs (36 g sugars)
150 mg sodium


Culver's Pumpkin Pecan Concrete Mixer 

What it is: pecans, pumpkin pie mix, vanilla custard mix

Similar to the DQ Pumpkin Pie Blizzard, but with even MORE fat. Sure, much of that is from the healthy fats in pecans. But there's still 44 grams of saturated fat, more than twice what you should consume in a day. That's not to mention the 3 grams of heart-clogging trans fats.

Nutrition info 
1,319 calories
72 g fat (44 g saturated, 3 g trans)
146 g carbs (120 g sugars)
626 mg sodium

Pumpkin Cheesecake Concrete Mixer
467 calories
26 g fat (15 g saturated, 1 g trans)
52 g carbs (42 g sugars)
229 mg sodium


Starbucks Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate 

What it is: steamed milk, mocha sauce, toffee nut and vanilla syrups, sweetened whipped cream, caramel sauce, turbinado sugar, sea salt

Apparently, plain old hot chocolate and marshmallows won't cut it anymore. You need mocha sauce and caramel sauce, sweetened syrups, plus extra sugar and, of course, a dash of salt to balance out that extra sugar. It's a laboratory concoction disguised as a holiday classic.

Nutrition info 
(venti, whole milk, whipped)
600 calories
24 g fat (14 g saturated, .5 g trans)
90 g carbs (80 g sugars)
360 mg sodium

Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte 
(grande, nonfat)
120 calories
0 g fat
19 g carbs (16 g sugars)
0 mg sodium


Panera Bread Roasted Turkey & Cranberry on Ciabatta

What it is: ciabatta bread, spinach, roasted turkey breast, cranberry mostarda, garlic and herb spread

If the idea was to sandwich Thanksgiving dinner between two pieces of bread, Panera succeeded. This panini houses 770 calories, which amounts to one giant meal. Blame the behemoth piece of breadthe ciabatta alone contains 450 calories!

Nutrition info 
770 calories
23 g fat (8 g saturated, 0 g trans)
101 g carbs (17 g sugars)
1,170 mg sodium

Smoked Turkey Breast on Country Bread
420 calories
3 g fat(.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
66 g carbs (3 g sugars)
1,650 mg sodium

Dunkin' Donuts Pumpkin Muffin
What it is: pumpkin muffin with streusel topping and icing

I applaud Dunkin' for using real pumpkin, not some factory-produced faux pumpkin. The real problem with this muffin is its resemblance to cake. As if streusel weren't enough, the guys at Dunkin' iced this dessert-in-disguise with a blend of sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, trans-fatty partially hydrogenated oil, and corn starch.
Nutrition info 
550 calories
24 g fat (5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
77 g carbs (41 g sugars)
480 mg sodium

Pumpkin Munchkins (3)
180 calories
7.5 g fat(3 g saturated, 0 g trans)
27 g carbs (12 g sugars)
225 mg sodium

 Jack in the Box Eggnog Shake

What it is: vanilla ice cream, eggnog syrup, whipped topping, maraschino cherry

Jack in the Box boasts about using "real ice cream." Congrats. But can someone tell me what "eggnog syrup" is? 

 Nutrition info 
(24 oz)
1,135 calories
54 g fat (37 g saturated, 3 g trans)
140 g carbs (103 g sugars)
375 mg sodium

Chocolate Overload Cake
302 calories
7 g fat(2 g saturated, 0 g trans)
57 g carbs (34 g sugars)
347 mg sodium

IHOP Carrot Cake Pancakes

What it is: four oatmeal spice pancakes filled with diced apples, carrots, coconut, and walnuts, and topped with whipped butter and cream cheese icing

Carrot cake is perhaps the world's most deceptive dessert. It sounds insanely healthywow, I'm eating vegetables for dessert!but the scary truth is that carrot cake houses more calorie-dense oil than most other types of cake. And, sorry, calling cake a pancake doesn't make it any healthier.

 Nutrition info 
(4 pancakes)
1,120 calories
47 g fat (11 g saturated, .5 g trans)
152 g carbs (76 g sugars)

Simple & Fit Whole Wheat Pancakes with Blueberries
(served with egg substitute and two strips of turkey bacon)
460 calories
12 g fat(2.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
63 g carbs (29 g sugars)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkin Doughnut Mini Muffins

Pumpkin is having a moment. You could argue it has a "moment" every year from October 1st to October 31st. But this year is differentpumpkin has moved beyond its post on the front porch, and into kitchens across America. It's become a mark of culinary coolness; as New York magazine puts it, "pumpkin is the new bacon." It's everywhere, it's impossibly chic, and it's freaking delicious.

Pumpkinespecially when combined with cinnamon, nutmeg, and other warm spicesis the epitome of autumnal eating. Since 2010, there has been a 38 percent increase in pumpkin-flavored foods on restaurant menus. And since 2007, the number of pumpkin drinks has leapt by 400 percent, according to Datassential MenuTrends. This year, Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte fans have faced serious withdrawal, as shortages of the wildly popular drink have swept the nation.

I don't need any more convincing. Pumpkin is incredible.

I NEED to get in on the action in my own kitchen. My recipe of choice: Pumpkin Doughnut Mini Muffins. The name alone is enough to make me salivate. I love doughnuts (who doesn't?) and I've long adored my mom's pumpkin bread. So why not combine the two? 

I opted for a mini-muffin pan so my little bites of autumn delight would resemble Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins. I also reserved some batter for a mini-pumpkin cake pan my mom gave me, but they just came out looking like little helmets. Soldier pumpkins!

My only mistake: making these on a Sunday afternoon, when I was free to shamelessly devour them. They have the delicious density of cake doughnuts, with just enough pumpkin flavor to make your taste buds scream, "Fall weather!" I seriously am obsessed.

Pumpkin Doughnut Mini Muffins
Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

What you need
½ cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups canned pumpkin
1 ½ tsp pumpkin spice*
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ¾ cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour 

1 ½ Tbsp sugar
1 ½ Tbsp cinnamon

*I used ¾ tsp cinnamon, plus ½ tsp allspice. 

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin.
  2. Beat together the oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin, spices, salt, and baking powder. Then incorporate the flour until smooth. 
  3. Fill the cups of the muffin tin about ¾ full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one muffin comes out clean. 
  4. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. While the muffins are still warm (but not hot), shake them in a large Ziploc bag with the sugar and cinnamon, until well coated.