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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chocolate-Banana Monkey Cupcakes

When my little man turned one, we had a monkey-themed party for him.  I wasted a whole bunch of time online trying to find the cutest and yummiest monkey cupcakes.  Anyway, these cupcakes were the final result of my efforts.  I was happy with how they turned out and the hubs and I had lots of fun assembling the monkeys.   Naturally, monkey cupcakes should be banana-flavored, right?  So, I searched for the perfect recipe.  This was it.  I loved how moist the banana made the chocolate cupcakes, and like banana bread, these cupcakes were even better the next day--which is perfect if you're throwing a monkey party and want to do a few things in advance.  I ended up making half of the cupcakes Chocolate-Banana and the other half plain banana with the leftover batter from the monkey smash cake.  They were almost too cute to eat! 

Chocolate-Banana Monkey Cupcakes
*Makes 12 cupcakes

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Wet Ingredients:
1 egg
½ cup ripe, mashed banana (about 1 medium)
½ cup warm water
¼ cup milk
¼ cup oil
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350.  Line 12 regular-sized muffin cups with baking liners.  

In a large mixing bowl, whisk dry ingredients (first 6 listed) together.  In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together (next 6).  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined.  The batter will be quite runny.  Fill baking liners ¾ of the way full.  (I like to dump the prepared batter into a pitcher to fill the muffin cups so I don’t make a drippy mess everywhere.)  Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Allow to cool before frosting.  

Recipe Source:  Joy of Baking

Chocolate (or brown-colored) frosting.  I frosted some with chocolate cream cheese frosting and some with chocolate buttercream frosting.  

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
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
4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

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

Recipe Source: Savory Sweet Life

For the Monkey Face:
Nilla Wafers
Nutter Butter Bites or Mini Nilla Wafers or Mini Ritz crackers
Mini Marshmallows
Mini M&Ms--the red and yellow ones make creepy-looking monkeys!
Chocolate Sprinkles
Extra chocolate frosting in a piping bag to draw nose and mouth

Monkey face inspiration: Pinterest,  ketchupface 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday-Doodles {aka Festive Snickerdoodles}

These are totally going to be the cookies we make for Santa this year!

I posted a recipe for snickerdoodles not too long ago. Here is the same recipe with a festive/holiday twist, now known as Holiday-Doodles! These are the cookies we sent around to some neighbors and friends. These would be great for leaving out for Santa. I love these cookies. I bake them on the shorter end of the time (recipe calls for 7-10 minutes). I like to pull them out when they barely look done and they are soft and chewy. I love eating them warm with a glass of ice cold milk!

Holiday-Doodles {aka Festive Snickerdoodles}
Printable Version

3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons green colored sugar (or green sugar sprinkles)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons red colored sugar (or red sugar sprinkles)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.

In another mixing bowl beat butter for 30 seconds; add 2 cups sugar and beat until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat well. Add dry ingredient mixture to butter/sugar mixture and mix until well combined.

In two separate bowls mix 3 tablespoons of green colored sugar or green sugar sprinkles and 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and the same thing with red. Form dough into 1 inch balls and roll in the two different colored cinnamon-sugar mixes. Place balls of dough on a silicone-lined or greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart; flatten cookie dough ball with the bottom of a drinking glass. Bake for about 7-10 minutes (see note about bake time). Let cookies cool on baking sheet 1-2 minutes before removing to cooling rack to cool completely.

Note: Depending on how long you bake these, they will turn out slightly different in taste and texture. If you bake them on the shorter end of the bake time, they will be softer and chewier. If you bake them a bit longer, you'll get a crisp and slightly crunchy cookie. Remember that when you pull them out and let them set for one to two minutes they will still cook a bit more.

Recipe Source: adapted from Diana K.

Cran-Orange Salad {with Orange Vinaigrette Dressing}

We had a family Christmas party this last weekend and I was in charge of a green salad. I love a good green salad, but when it's topped with goodies like sweet juicy oranges, flavorful cranberries, crisp fresh jicama, and candied almonds and doused with a light, sweet, zesty dressing I am practically hypnotized. My mother-in-law made this salad for us a few weeks ago when we came over for dinner, and I almost had no interest in the rest of the meal. If I was truly selfish I could have just taken the salad bowl and poured me some dressing and ate the whole bowl. Sooooo good! This is a great winter salad since oranges are so good at this time of year.

I like to make the salad as follows. Mix whatever greens I want in a bowl, and then top with the orange bits, cranberries, and jicama. I don't toss it simply because it seems that whenever I do all the goodies end up on the bottom and you can't get at them as easily. And there always seems to be enough goodies in the bottom by the time we eat that much. I then serve the candied almonds on the side so you can add however much you want, and I also serve the dressing on the side so the lettuce doesn't get soggy by mixing it all together in the bowl.

Note: I bought dried cranberries sweetened with sugar at the regular grocery store. When my mother-in-law made this salad she bought dried cranberries at the health food store, the were sweetened in fruit juice before they were dried. They were to. die. for. I forgot to stop by the health food store or that would have been what I used.

Cran-Orange Salad {with Orange Vinaigrette Dressing}
Printable Version

Mixed Greens
Dried Cranberries
Fresh Orange, peeled, sectioned, and sliced into bite-size bits
Jicama, diced
Crumbled Feta or Blue Cheese (optional)
Candided Almonds

Orange Vinaigrette Dressing:
½ teaspoon orange zest
⅓ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix

Shake above ingredients in pint jar and chill. Serve over above salad recipe.

Recipe Source: slightly adapted from Maureen G. (originally from Geri Brown)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Creamy Sausage & Kale Soup (Like Zuppa Toscana)

zuppa toscana, creamy, sausage, kale, soup, leesh and lu
This is one of my favorite things about cold weather! In college, I remember going with my girlfriends after big tests or finals to Olive Garden for the soup, salad, and breadsticks. The waiters probably hated us for as long as we stayed and chatted and ate and ate...and ate. This soup tastes just like their Zuppa Toscana. It’s definitely my favorite one on their menu--and I’ve had my fair share of bowls there. It brings back lots of good memories for me each time I make it.

Also, it’s perfect for serving when you have guests because you can make it ahead and leave it on low on the stove or dump it in the crockpot (just don’t overcook the potatoes if you’re planning to do this). Also, don’t add the cream and kale until you are ready to serve it. We served it in these bread bowls when we last had guests. 

zuppa toscana, creamy, sausage, kale, soup, leesh and lu

Creamy Sausage and Kale Soup - Zuppa Toscana
Printable Version

1 pound Italian Sausage (I use the Jimmy Dean HOT sausage--use whatever you like!)
2 large potatoes, sliced to bite size (about 2 ½ - 3 cups)
1 large onion, diced (about 1 - 1 ½ cups)
½ pound bacon, cooked, crumbled (You could use bacon bits in a pinch, too!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper (my addition since I like it a bit spicy--you can leave it out for a milder version)
2 cups kale, chopped (It shrinks down a lot, so if you are a kale-lover, use more--maybe 4-8 cups)
2 cans (14.5 oz) chicken broth - about 3 ⅔ cups if you make your own
1 quart (4 cups) water
1 cup whipping cream

Cook sausage, drain, and crumble. In a large pot, saute onions until translucent. Add potatoes, broth, water, crushed red peppers, and garlic. Cook on medium heat until potatoes are fork tender. Add sausage and bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 10 minutes longer. Turn to low heat. Just before serving, add cream and kale and heat through. 

Recipe Source: Tressa Haderlie - Canyon Ridge Cooking - North Logan 14th Neighborhood Cookbook 

zuppa toscana, creamy, sausage, kale, soup, leesh and lu
Original post photo. Other photos update Nov 12, 2014

zuppa toscana, creamy, sausage, kale, soup, leesh and lu

Friday, December 9, 2011

Deluxe Chocolate Truffles {Plain Chocolate or Flavored}

Woah, it's been a while! I know I promised some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes in my last post, but we moved our whole house and selves all of the sudden. We knew it was coming, but it came much faster than we anticipated, and we've been running ever since. So I will post those recipes eventually, maybe I'll save them for next fall, then you'll have something to look forward to.

Now on to Christmas stuff! We made these yummy truffles the other day, and they were definitely a pleaser. I have a feeling the won't just be a holiday treat around our house. They are quite versatile. You can make them simply plain chocolate, or you can flavor it with several options. I chose to make them plain and roll some in cocoa, and dip the rest in white chocolate and top them with nuts and coconut! Yum!

The basis of these truffles is Ganache. Fancy word for bittersweet chocolate and cream combined! Ganache is simply and purely melts in your mouth! I love that blissful feeling of chocolate melting the moment I bite into it. The simpleness of this recipe is what got me. The ingredients are simple: chocolate and cream (flavoring if you're feeling fancy), and whatever you want to dip them in or garnish them with. I also love that the process of making the chocolate involves microwaving the cream and chocolate....again simple, and less clean up!

Whether you are making these as gifts, for yourself, or for someone you love, they will be sure to please! Enjoy!

Deluxe Chocolate Truffles {Plain Chocolate or Flavored}
Printable Version
Yield: approximately 3 dozen 1" truffles

2 cups (about 12 oz.) finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1 cup (8 ounces) heavy cream

Flavorings (optional)
Choose one of the following, if desired; you can also choose to leave your truffles just plain chocolate:
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon raspberry flavor combined with 1/4 cup melted raspberry jam
1 tablespoon espresso powder + 1 1/2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut flavor + toasted chopped hazelnuts
1/8 teaspoon orange oil + 1 to 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
1/2 cup finely chopped toffee or praline candy bar

1 pound finely chopped chocolate or chocolate chips (about 2 2/3 cups) OR 1 cup (3 ounces) cocoa

Chopped nuts, sprinkles/jimmies, sugar decorations, nonpareils, cocoa nibs, and/or toasted coconut.

Centers: Place the chocolate and cream in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat in the microwave until the cream is very hot. Remove from the microwave and stir until the chocolate is melted. Add the flavors or flavor combinations of your choice. Stir till everything is well-combined.

Line a 9" x 13" baking sheet with parchment or plastic wrap, and pour the chocolate over it; don't spread it out. Cover the pan, and refrigerate for 60 to 90 minutes, until the mixture is thick and "scoopable." You can put it in the freezer too for 15 minutes at a time and keep checking to see if it’s “scoopable”, if you get it too hard just leave it out for a few minutes and it will soften up quick. Quicker than you think too, so keep an close eye on it.

Assembly: When the mixture is cool enough to hold its shape, scoop small balls of the chocolate onto a baking sheet that's been lightly dusted with cocoa. A teaspoon cookie scoop is exactly the right size for this; you want balls that are about the size of a small chestnut, or a small melon ball. For perfectly round truffles, quickly roll each one between the palms of your hands. You have to do this quickly, or the chocolate will become too soft. Your palms will soon be coated with chocolate... yum! Refrigerate the centers for about 30 minutes, covered, till they've firmed up a bit.

Coating: To take the simplest route, coat the shaped centers in unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process preferred, as it's smoother in flavor than natural). Put the cocoa in a shallow bowl and roll the centers around in it.

To coat with melted chocolate, heat 2 cups of the chopped chocolate (reserving some to add later) with 2 tablespoons coconut oil or shortening (reserving some to add later) in the microwave until it's melted. Add the remaining chopped (unmelted) chocolate to the melted chocolate. Stir constantly until the chocolate is thick and shiny.

This is the potentially messy part. If you have a chocolate dipping tool, use it to dip each center in the melted chocolate, setting the dipped truffles on a piece of parchment or waxed paper. Immediately, as you make them, sprinkle each truffle with the garnish of your choice. I don’t have a chocolate dipping tool so I broke the two middle prongs off of a plastic fork and it worked great.

Something to keep in mind: If leave these truffles at room temperature they will be very very soft. I think they are absolutely perfect to eat fresh out of the fridge. You can avoid keeping them in the fridge at a party or wherever if they are dipped in chocolate, any truffles you roll in cocoa will really get soft and droopy fast.

Recipe Source: Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chocolate Candy Cane Blossoms

I spotted these beauties on Pinterest last week. Of all the recipes I’ve pinned, I’ve probably only made 4 or 5. But these were too cute to resist making. And it helped that I happen to love Candy Cane Kisses. Oh, and the chocolate cookies are even mint chocolate--which I also happen to love. So, naturally I made them. And they were delicious. And cute--except, they weren’t as cute as the ones in the original picture because I’m not the most patient person so I shaped fewer big balls of dough, instead of lots of little ones.

These are a fun, festive treat and would make a great addition to a holiday dessert bar, a goodie plate to take to neighbors, or a plate for Santa. The cookie dough is not overly sweet, so if you like things on the sweeter side you could add a bit more sugar to taste.

Chocolate Candy Cane Blossoms
Printable Version
makes about 40-50 small cookies if you’re patient--if you’re me, it made about 26 larger cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 package Hershey’s candy cane kisses

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine butter and shortening and stir for 30 seconds.
Add sugar, cocoa powder, and baking powder and mix well.
Next, add egg, milk, and peppermint extract.
Add flour a little bit at a time. If the dough gets too tough for the beaters, use a spoon.
Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour covered.
Form the dough into 1 inch small balls and place on a parchment or silicone lined cookie sheet 2 inches apart.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
Immediately after taking out of the oven, press in a candy cane kiss. Allow to cool completely before removing cookies from baking sheet. (If you try to move them too early, the kisses will be all melty and flatten almost completely resulting in a chocolate cookie with what looks like a peppermint nipple. Which is weird, so, just don’t move them till they’ve cooled completely. Mmmkay? That is, unless you want nipple cookies...)

Recipe Source: Cafe Zupa's Blog

Friday, December 2, 2011

Almond Sheet Cake

I better start off by saying that I think margarine is of the devil.  I am a true blue butter-lover.  I think my mom and her dad had a lot to do with that.  I remember my Grandpa, a dairy farmer, always telling me that margarine would kill me faster than butter would.  While that may not be entirely true, I’m normally not willing to risk it.  That is, until this cake came around.  I got the recipe from my MIL after she made if for us a few times.  When I read the recipe and it clearly stated to use margarine, NOT butter, I almost dismissed it.  But then I remember how tasty it was.  So, I sucked it up and bought some margarine just for this cake.  I would have just experimented with butter to see how it turned out, but I was taking it to a baby shower and didn’t want to botch it, so I stuck to the recipe.  It was just as good as I remembered.  Dangerously good.  

So if you are a margarine-hater as I am, don’t completely dismiss this.  Just give it one try.  This sheet cake is a fabulous crowd-pleaser and you won’t be disappointed.  I made it this week and ate way more than I should have.  Like 6 pieces.  At least.  I was planning to freeze the leftovers, but they kind of just disappeared...oops.

Texas Almond Sheet Cake
Printable Version
1 cup water            
1 cup margarine (has to be margarine – NOT butter)
2 cups flour                        
2 cups sugar
2 beaten eggs                     
½ cup sour cream
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease and flour a sheet pan--jelly roll or quarter sheet pan will work.  Bring margarine and water to a boil in a large saucepan.  In a mixing bowl, combine and whisk dry ingredients together--flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Combine wet ingredients in a separate mixing bowl.  Once margarine and water has reached a boil, add the wet ingredients, then the dry ingredients and stir until the batter is smooth and combined.  Pour into greased and floured pan.  Bake at 375 for 20-25 min.  Frost while warm.

Bring to a boil:  
½ cup margarine             
¼ cup milk
4 cups powdered sugar            
1 tsp almond extract

**If anyone decides to try it with butter, let me know how it turns out for you!

Recipe Source: My mother-in-law, Karen