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 d├ęcor 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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