Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Graham Cracker S'Mores Bars

Everyone knows that s'mores are a great summertime treat - but when it's 95° outside, who really wants to go sit around the fire pit in the back yard and roast marshmallows?

Not me, that's who.

These bars take the addicting goodness of s'mores, add in chocolate chip cookie dough with a slight hint of cinnamon and the convenience of a quick bake in the oven, and presto!  A fabulous, people-pleasing dessert without mosquito bites, sweat pouring down your face, and smoky smelling hair.

I guess you can tell I wasn't born to live outdoors.

Marissa took some to her Wed. night class at church and all the girls loved them, I'm told.
"Everyone wanted seconds, Mom!"

And the ones left at home?  Well, let's just say it didn't take long for them to disappear.  And my visiting parents definitely wanted the recipe. (here ya go, Mom!) 

Side note:  Do you have spelling pet peeves?  One of mine is when people spell definitely as "definately."  Or even worse, "defiantly".   Sorry.  Just had to throw that in there.  

So when you're craving s'mores and don't have access to a campfire or want to be around a campfire, give these a try.  You'll love them.

Graham Cracker S'Mores Bars (from Life Made Simple)

11 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups mini marshmallows, divided use
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 package snack size Hershey's bars, broken into sections
2 sleeves honey graham crackers, broken into squares


Preheat oven to 375°.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars (1-2 minutes).

In a medium bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk to combine.

Add egg one at a time to butter mixture, gently beating after each addition. Add vanilla and mix.

Slowly begin to add flour mixture to the butter mixture, keeping the mixing speed low while doing so.
Once combined, remove and fold in 1 cup mini marshmallows and chocolate chips. Chill mixture in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

While mixture is chilling, prepare baking sheet (standard size, with sides) by lining it with parchment paper. Take graham crackers and break in half. Lay out onto sheet, until it is completely full (they should cover the entire sheet and cookies should be tight and touching- see picture).

Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and using a standard cookie scoop, place one ball of dough onto each cracker. use remaining dough to fill in the gaps. It may look like a lot of dough, but it all needs to run together in order to cover the entire sheet.

Place into oven for 6 minutes, then remove and press Hershey's bar pieces into top along with remaining 1/2 cup marshmallows (just fill in the gaps with them a little). Return to oven and bake for 5-7 minutes or until dough and marshmallows beginning to brown, making sure the dough is cooked through. Remove from oven and place sheet on a wire rack to cool. Once it is sufficiently cooled, cut into squares.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday and Crazy Sweet Tuesday

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Double Chocolate Raspberry Muffins

Aren't things supposed to slow down in the summer?

I have felt so busy this past week.

Oh wait, maybe it's because I've been hauling all the kids out every.single.day.

The three older ones are in swimming lessons at the YMCA, so we have been headed there M-Thurs. And on Friday, we had a birthday party for a friend at a local park.

Nothing major, that stuff shouldn't wear me out.

But I am such a homebody.  Really, I think it's just the stage of life....constantly with little ones.  It is just so much harder to take care of babies and toddlers somewhere other than your familiar environment. 

And on top of all that, we started school this past week.  Mainly just math and language.....but I wanted to get started on some of the basics before August hits - and my parents are arriving for a 10 day visit tomorrow (hurray!!) so we'll have off then.

We're approaching school a little differently this year.  Our plan is to implement a schedule of 6 weeks on/1 week off, with some modifications taken around the holidays and family visits.  Keeping that schedule will give us regular breaks in which to get appointments done, do deep cleaning, field trips, have play dates, etc. without feeling like we're getting behind.  AND, we'll still have 10 extra weeks to take off whenever we want, like a 6 or 7 week break for summer.

We'd much rather have time off of school during the cooler months when we can actually enjoy being outside and not be puddles of sweat dripping around.

Anyways, thanks to AC, I never let the heat deter me from baking during the summer.

We love eating muffins for breakfast and while these are quite nearly like cupcakes,  I am insistent that if there is no frosting, they can't be cupcakes.
(how else could I justify eating them for breakfast?)

They're not super sweet, but deeply chocolaty and studded with the delicious tartness of juicy raspberries. If you did put a frosting on them, they would make a fabulous dessert - but as are, they're a lovely way to welcome  a new morning.

Double Chocolate Raspberry Muffins  (adapted from Kitchen Simplicity)

1-1/4 cups flour (I use white whole wheat)
1/4 cup cocoa powder (I use Hershey's Dark)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (optional)
1/3 cup oil (I used expeller pressed coconut oil, melted)
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (can even use light mayo in a pinch)
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen  (if frozen, do not thaw first)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°.
Sift together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking powder.  Stir in flaxseed. 
In another bowl, whisk together oil, egg, milk, and vanilla.  Stir in yogurt until combined. Pour into dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.  Fold in raspberries and chocolate chips.
Pour batter into 12 paper-lined or greased regular size muffin pans.  (I made 3 mini muffins as well.)
Top with additional chocolate chips and raspberries if desired.
Bake for 12-15 minutes (mini-muffins for 8-10 minutes) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mini-Pretzel Dogs

You know how sometimes when you see a new recipe, it sounds so good that you just want to make it right then and there?
That's how I felt when I saw these.
Except it took me weeks to finally get around to making them.  
But they kept coming back to my mind over and over.  I just knew they would be fun to make, and that the kids would love them.  I had a feeling I'd like them too.
I had NO idea how much Grant would like them. 

When I made them on the 4th of July for a little cook-out we were doing, they smelled so good as they were baking and we couldn't wait to dig into them.....and I have to say.....they were the hit of the night. With children and adults alike.

Oh, we had delicious grilled chicken and some yummy salads and a fantastic berry trifle too.....but these humble little hot dog halves wrapped in pretzel dough were just amazing.  

I liked them dipped in a mixture of ketchup and mustard.....but even unadorned, they were fantastic. 

Mini-Pretzel Dogs - from Joy the Baker
Yield: 16 mini-dogs (half hot dogs)

1 ½ cups warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
4-1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
8 hot dogs, cut in half

For boiling:
about 10 cups of water
2/3 cup baking soda

For topping the pretzels before baking:
1 large egg, beaten, with a splash of water
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt and pepper for topping

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine warm water and sugar.  Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and set aside for 5 minutes.  The mixture will begin to foam and froth.  If it doesn’t, throw the mixture away and start again with new yeast.

Once the yeast and water is frothy, add the flour, salt, and melted butter.  Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until well combined.  Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, creating a ball of dough around the dough hook.  Beat on medium speed for approximately 4 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl.  The dough will be soft, pliable, and just a bit sticky.  That’s perfect.  Scrape any residue out of the bowl and coat the bowl with a bit of oil.  Place the dough back in the bowl, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and store in a warm place to rise.  Allow dough to rise, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Place baking racks in the center and upper third of the oven.  Preheat oven to 425° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and lightly brush the paper with oil.  It’s important to brush the parchment paper or the pretzels will stick! 
(Note: I only baked one sheet at a time - if you bake both sheets at once, I would recommend switching the pans mid-way through the baking time)

Combine water and baking soda in a large pan (8 quart is fine) saucepan and bring to a boil.
While the water comes to a boil, turn the dough out onto a clean, slightly oiled work surface.  Divide dough into 16 pieces.

Start with the fingers of both hands in the center of the dough, and roll, moving your hands outward as you roll.  Roll the dough along the oiled surface until you have about a 12-inch piece of rope.
Wrap dough around a hot dog half, making sure to seal the ends.

When water has come to a boil, gently lower a few pretzel dogs into the boiling water.  Boil for 30 seconds.  Remove carefully, using a flat, slotted spatula.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  Brush boiled pretzels with beaten egg, and add coarse sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

Bake until deeply golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving warm.

Soft pretzels are best enjoyed the day they are made.
If you’re not going to enjoy all your pretzel dogs, double wrap them in plastic wrap and store in the freezer.  When ready to serve, transfer out of plastic and into a piece of foil.  Wrap well and bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes, or until heated through.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Oreo Cheesecake Cake

Grant and I celebrated our anniversary yesterday.

11 years!!!!  

I'm telling you what, getting married in July is a perfect recipe for hot weather, both in Tennessee where we tied the knot and in Virginia where we now reside.

We really chose the perfect place for our honeymoon - Glacier National Park in Montana - what an amazing escape from the humidity and nastiness of summer in the South.  Wish I was there right about now......

So 11 years, a couple of deployments, a couple of moves, and five kids later, here we are!

And we celebrated with cake!

Well, we had a date too, our first completely alone in over 9 months (no tag-along Miranda this time!), and that was really amazing. We went to the Outback for dinner - hadn't been there in ages - and when we finished and still had some time to kill, we......this is kind of embarrassing.....went to Target.

I know, how romantic.

Well, it was too darn hot to even think about being outside for more than 30 seconds, and the mall area nearby is all outdoors (brilliant design, people....who wants to walk outside in any adverse weather?).....
and Target was right there.

You know the best part, though?  We could actually walk side by side and hold hands.  I can't even remember when we did that last......we're always juggling kids and strollers and diaper bags......and it was so nice to just walk around in the air conditioning together.

And buy a new sports bra.
(I got to go in a dressing room alone!!!  And I spent my entire time in there chuckling at the conversation I was overhearing between a mom and dad trying to maintain control of their 3 or 4 young kids while the mom tried on clothes.  I could totally identify with their struggle.)

But the cake.  Oh, this cake.

It really is up there in my list of favorites.  

The breakdown:

Hershey's dark chocolate cake, white chocolate buttercream frosting, crushed Oreos, Oreo cheesecake, more frosting, more Oreos, another layer of cake, everything covered in frosting, and garnished with mini-Oreos.

I love everything about this dessert.  The cake is moist and tender and so darkly chocolate (you could use regular cocoa powder for a lighter chocolate cake if you were so inclined), the cheesecake provides a wonderful contrast to the cake flavors and texture, and the frosting is out.of.this.world.  It doesn't really taste like white chocolate, but it's definitely different from a regular buttercream. It's supposed to mimic the Oreo cream.....which I think it does pretty nicely.  And it's awesome on chocolate cake.

A perfect celebration cake.   And 11 years of marriage is worth celebrating.

Update:  Grant has now declared this is his favorite cake of all time. And you know that's saying something, because that man loves cake.

Oreo Cheesecake Cake (adapted from Erin's Food Files)

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
7 coarsely crushed chocolate sandwich cookies

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
(I used Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used expeller pressed coconut oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1 tsp. instant coffee granules (optional)

6 oz. white chocolate (I used Baker's Premium White Chocolate)
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar
1/4-1/3 cup heavy cream or milk

6-8 additional crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, for assembly
Mini oreos for garnish, optional


Preheat oven to 325°.  Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium until fluffy, scraping down side of bowl. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in vanilla extract and salt. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down side of bowl after each addition. Beat in sour cream. Fold in crushed Oreos.
Cut parchment paper in a circle and line the bottom of a 9" springform pan. Pour batter into the pan, smoothing the top. Bake until just set in center, about 45 minutes.  Let cool 20 minutes. Run a paring knife around edge; let cool completely. Remove outer ring of cheesecake pan, but leave metal bottom. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. (I just refrigerated - it worked fine)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans.
Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. If using coffee granules, dissolve them in the boiling water.  Stir water or coffee into batter. (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Place white chocolate in double boiler over pot of simmering water just until it begins to melt. Stir to fully melt, remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, cream butter. Once chocolate has cooled, beat in with butter. Continue to mix at low to medium speed while adding vanilla. Gradually add in cream/milk and powdered sugar, alternating until frosting reaches desired consistency.

Place one layer of cake on cake stand. Frost top with a thin layer of frosting, and a sprinkle of crushed Oreos. Remove cheesecake from freezer, unwrap, and remove metal bottom of the pan, then peel off parchment paper. Place cheesecake layer on top of the cake. If the cheesecake is wider than the cake, and it is necessary to to trim it, wait approximately 5-10 minutes for the cheesecake to soften, then trim it with a knife. Frost top with a thin layer of frosting, and a sprinkle of crushed Oreos. Place top layer of cake on top of the cheesecake, and coat entire cake with a layer frosting to act as the crumb coat. Be careful not to get any crumbs in the bowl of frosting! Refrigerate approximately 30 minutes, then frost with as much of the remaining frosting as necessary. Top with mini Oreos, crushed Oreos, or any decoration of your choosing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Pie

It's no secret around here, Grant loves chocolate and raspberries together.  And while raspberries will never be my favorite fruit, I have to agree that they go together with chocolate to make some of the most amazing desserts.  Like these cupcakes or this cake.  Or brownies!

Anyways, I had seen this pie in Taste of Home long ago and had wanted to make it for Grant for years, but somehow I just never got around to it.  I finally decided to make it for the last dinner that Grant's parents were here, and I changed things up a bit, just based on personal preference.

I made a chocolate crust instead of a pastry pie crust (note: it turned out really crumbly, so next time I might add another Tablespoon of butter, just so it will stay together a little better) and added chocolate to the cream mixture instead of making a chocolate coating for the top.  If you look at the original recipe, that sentence will make more sense.

The end result - I can't even begin to tell you how great it was.  The raspberry layer offers a great texture and slight tartness that balances the creamy, truffle-like chocolate layer that just melts in your mouth.  The whipped cream on top is just the perfect lightness to complete the dessert.  Even the crumbly crust was delicious.

There were only 2 pieces left over for the next day, and Grant and I were not ashamed to give the kids ice cream cones and save the pie all for ourselves for when they were in bed.  (You know you've done similar things......)  

Chocolate Raspberry Pie (adapted from Taste of Home)

1-1/4 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (or chocolate cookies)
5 T. butter, melted (increase if crust looks too dry/crumbly)
2 T. sugar

2 cups frozen or fresh raspberries
3 T. sugar
1 T. cornstarch

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 T. powdered sugar
Fresh or frozen raspberries, for garnish (optional)
Shaved chocolate, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar and press onto the bottom and sides of a greased 9" pie pan.
Bake for 7 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

While the crust is baking, make the raspberry sauce.
In a small saucepan, cook raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil and stir for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Pour into the crust and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cream cheese and sugar.  Beat on medium speed until creamy and smooth.
In a small bowl, microwave the chocolate chips for 1 minute and stir until melted completely.  Add to the cream cheese and stir well.

In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Take half of the whipped cream and add to the chocolate mixture, folding it in until no white streaks remain.  Spread on top of raspberry mixture.

To the remaining whipped cream, add vanilla and powdered sugar.  Spread on top of chocolate mixture.

If desired, use a vegetable peeler to shave some chocolate off a Hershey's bar for garnishing the top.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday , Crazy Sweet TuesdayFinding Joy in my Kitchen, and Pi Day Pie Party at Crazy for Crust, Finding Joy in my Kitchen

Monday, July 2, 2012

Just In Case You Thought My Kids Were Perfect....

In the past 24 hours, she has:

  • smeared petroleum jelly all over her legs, arms, and hair during nap time
  • drawn on her cheeks and palms with an ink pen (while I was running on the treadmill)
  • stripped down to her birthday suit and covered her bottom, legs, and hands with Miranda's prescription diaper cream (while I was nursing the baby).....oh yeah, just remembered there's some on the floor too. Guess I need to clean that up sometime.  
  • drawn with black marker on the bonus room wall (and a couple of kitchen toys)
  • dumped out 8 or 9 (25 piece) puzzles in a heap on the floor, decided she couldn't put them back together, and left them there (while I was in the shower and big brother was supposed to be babysitting)
  • shocked me with the statement, "Mommy, you look so beautiful.....I don't like you." (when I had come downstairs all ready for church on Sunday)
Life with a 2 year old.  

There's just nothing like it.
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