Friday, September 27, 2013

Chocolate Banana Muffins with Peanut Butter Chips

There are some things you can just never have too many of.

Chocolate chips.
Vacation days.
Checks in the mail.
Banana recipes.

Because I know we're not the only family who never seems to eat all the bananas while they're in their prime (you know, that 2 day window) and before you know it, there's a pile of squishy, brown bananas languishing on the counter and you know nobody's touching them as is.

So we make banana bread, banana muffins, banana cake, freeze them for smoothies, etc etc etc.

But because it happens every.single.week., there may be certain people in the family who tire of the same recipes. There's even one individual around here who has decided he doesn't even like banana baked goods any more.  (ahem. Corban.)

Enter these muffins.

Corban looked at them skeptically and queried, "Do they have bananas in them?" before trying one because he knew that I sneak bananas into lots of breakfast options.
I admitted they did, but convinced him to try one. Admittedly, it didn't take much convincing because they do have peanut butter chips, after all.

He said they were the best banana muffins ever.

You might even say they're similar to cake, but since there's no frosting, I insist that they're muffins and therefore completely suitable for breakfast.

So between my 5 kids and me, we ate 14 of the 20 muffins in one morning. I only ate 2.  And truth be told, we probably could have demolished the whole batch if I hadn't made them stop.

Yep, that's a successful muffin.

Chocolate Banana Muffins with Peanut Butter Chips
Slightly adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Yield: about 20 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3-4 medium bananas)
1/2 cup yogurt (vanilla or plain - or use sour cream.)
3/4 cup expeller pressed coconut oil (or room temperature butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups peanut butter chips, divided

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another bowl or large plate, mash the bananas well and combine with yogurt, stirring until combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the oil (or butter) and both sugars on medium speed until well combined, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  With the mixer on low, add half of the dry ingredients followed by the banana mixture and then the remaining dry ingredients, beating just until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give one final stir.  Add 1 cup of the peanut butter chips.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each about 3/4-full.  Sprinkle the remaining peanut butter chips over the top of the muffins.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow the muffins to cool for a few minutes, then removed them to the rack to finish cooling.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pug Cake and Birthday Party

Our middle child, Annika, turned 6 earlier this month.

Yikes!  How did that happen?

Although she had given me numerous ideas for what kind of cake she wanted, I knew there was really only one choice.  A Pug Cake.  Annika has adored pugs ever since she watched "Milo and Otis" a couple of years ago.  Her favorite birthday gift last year was a Webkinz pug, whom she named Otis, and he's her most cherished stuffed animals (of many).

So I didn't want to make a fondant covered cake or just draw a picture of a pug, although the latter did cross my mind.  Nope, when I saw this cake, I  knew it was the one I had to try.  I don't think mine turned out as cute, to be quite honest, but it's all good.

So here's the breakdown.

You'll need:
2 9" round cakes
1 8"square cake
Buttercream frosting 
  *2 cups butter, softened
  *8 cups powdered sugar
  *1/4-1/2 cup cream or milk
  *1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  *1/4 tsp. almond extract
  *dash salt
  *Cocoa powder and food coloring (I use Wilton)

    Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth.  Add powdered sugar gradually.  Mix in
    1/4 cup cream, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Add additional cream
    or milk to achieve desired piping consistency.
    Separate into bowls and tint as desired.
    I tinted most of mine tan with a little bit of sifted cocoa powder.  A small part I added a lot more cocoa
    powder  (plus a little more cream) to make the dark mouth area, and added some black food coloring
    to part of that to make the ears, eyes, and nose.

I always freeze my cakes so they're easier to carve without falling apart.  I used 1-1/3 of this recipe to make my cakes. It's a delicious and moist cake that is also fairly sturdy and doesn't crumble too easily.
So here's how you cut it.

Take one of the round cakes and carve out sections to shape ears and the face.

From your square cake, carve out a niche for the head to rest into.  Cut a little off the corners to make rounded shoulders.

Use the other round cake to carve out the legs and paws.  I didn't do perfectly with that and ended up having to stick some scraps to the cake to make the shape I wanted....but when it was frosted, nobody was the wiser.

I just used a basic star tip (Wilton # 17, I think) to pipe all over the cake.  I didn't even bother with a crumb coat.  I used a small round tip to pipe the outlines of the legs with the dark brown frosting. 
For the nose area, I piped lots of extra frosting to mount it up more 3D like - it's kind of hard to tell from the photo. 

Sooooo......onto the rest of the party.  

I made a double batch of Puppy Chow and saved part for the party, but packaged the rest up in little cellophane bags to put in the goody bags for the guests.  Annika cut out some little bones and we stapled them onto the bags.  Cute!

In the goody bags, I also included some Sugar Cookie Dog Houses  (there were Dog bones as seen above in the cake photo for eating at the party), a ball, and some random candies that Annika picked out. 
I dressed up some white paper bags with a little bit of dog paw scrapbook paper before writing their names on them. 

Probably the funnest activity of the party was the Treasure Hunt.  I wrote little riddle clues and printed them out on dog paw graphics and hid them in their proper places around the yard (under a picnic table, behind the grill, in the playhouse, in the mailbox, etc).  Each clue led them to the next one - and the final clue led them back inside to find their goody bags hidden under the dining table.  :)  The girls LOVED it. 

I found this Photo Collage Banner idea from this blog - and absolutely adored it. She gave perfect instructions on how to do it - I'll be making more for my other kids' birthdays.  I wish I had taken a picture of Annika's face when she came downstairs and saw this on the wall - she was soooooo delighted.  

The cake table - also decorated with dog bones that we used for a "Musical Bones" (instead of musical chairs) game.  I taped them on the floor and when the music stopped, the girls had to get on a bone.  Nobody got eliminated, but as I removed the bones each time, the girls had to cram onto the remaining bones.  It got pretty funny by the end when there was only 1 bone left. :) 

Annika got baby pug (Otis Jr) that morning before the party - and she decorated a box for his doghouse and set both of her pups on the table with some of the bone cookies.  So cute!

Happy Birthday to our sweet girl! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Enchilada Stuffed Shells -SRC

Have you ever made a new recipe full of delicious ingredients that you know your family loves yet had skeptical, dubious children take one look and declare,  "I don't LIKE that!" before they've even tasted it?

It drives me crazy.

My 3.5 year old Ellia is a real master at that kind of stuff. If she even thinks a dish might have onions in it, she automatically doesn't want to eat it.  What makes it even worse is that she really doesn't mind onions, it's the 6 year old (Annika) who does.  Ellia just wants to be like Annika, so she has to copy the onion-hating.

There was one time recently that Ellia was eating her peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and she excitedly announced, "You can't even taste the onions!!!!"  

Yep.  I can't taste onions in my PB&J either.  Wonder why that is.

I use onions a lot in my cooking, so there are many opportunities to use that phrase, I suppose.

So there was a small amount of skepticism when this dinner was presented, but once the reluctant eaters were persuaded to take a bite, there were no more complaints and the plates were emptied.  Hurray!  Score for Mom!

Many thanks to Grandma Loy's Kitchen, whose blog I was assigned to for this month's Secret Recipe Club.
Grandma Loy has lots of down-to-earth recipes with simple ingredients and easy preparation - like her Herbed Potato Frittata (which I made a version of on Saturday and it was amazing!), Apple Pear Streusel Pie,  and Easy Pretzel Pralines (definitely trying those this fall).
I have really enjoyed reading through her blog and pinning all sorts of new things to try.

But I couldn't resist this entree option - I love enchiladas and pasta is always a hit with my I just knew these would be delicious.  When Annika came in and saw me filling the shells, she was less than impressed with how the filling looked....but I made her take a little bite and she was immediately convinced.....this was an awesome meal. :)   She couldn't wait to tell the others how good dinner was going to be!  And we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

I included our favorite enchilada sauce that I use for this recipe - Grandma Loy has her own version that you can also check out.  Or you can just use canned sauce.

P.S.  This would make a GREAT potluck meal.
P.P.S. I bet it would also freeze really well....although I haven't tried it yet.

Enchilada Stuffed Shells
adapted  from Grandma Loy's Kitchen

1 lb ground turkey or beef
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup red pepper, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups frozen whole kernel corn
1 can (15 oz) pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed
4 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 (10 oz) cans enchilada sauce OR homemade recipe below
20 jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
2 cups shredded cheese - cheddar and Monterey Jack combined, divided use

Brown ground turkey or beef with onion, red pepper, and garlic.  I like to sprinkle with garlic salt for flavor.  Drain if necessary.  Add corn, beans, cream cheese, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper and 2/3 cup enchilada sauce.  Let cook for ~10 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Spoon about 2 heaping Tablespoons meat mixture into each cooked pasta shell. Place in a greased 13 x 9" dish.  Sprinkle each shell with some of the cheese. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over the shells.  Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350°F. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 5-10 minutes longer.

Makes 10 servings of 2 shells each.

Enchilada Sauce: (makes enough for a double batch of stuffed shells  - freeze half for another time if you don't need a double batch)
2 T. olive oil
1 T. flour
1/4 c. chili powder
2 c. chicken broth
10 oz. tomato paste
1 t. oregano
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. salt

In a large saucepan or skillet, heat 2 T. oil and then add flour, smoothing and stirring with a wooden spoon.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds.  Add 2 cups broth, tomato paste, oregano, cumin and salt.  Stir to combine.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium/low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to develop.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chocolate Velvet Dessert

We are officially in the throes of birthday season.

All five of our children were born between September and November.  Three of them in October.

While mostly that was actually intentional......passing down clothes and all makes for a really busy fall.  (Like especially two years ago when I gave birth on October 9, Grant had ankle reconstruction surgery to repair 3 torn ligaments on October 11, and we had birthdays to celebrate on October 20 and 28.  Yeah. Fun times.)

We just celebrated our middle child's birthday - she turned 6 - this past weekend.  While it was a lot of fun to plan and execute, I'm glad it's over and everything went well.

One down, four to go. And then it's Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

So before all the party festivities began, we took the previous two weekends to have people over for dinner - lovely families from church that we had been meaning to invite over for months and just hadn't made it happen. One of the weekends, I made these cookies, which makes such a large batch that we had plenty for both evenings we had guests. (and I was reminded again just how much I love those cookies.)
For the next weekend, I wanted to make a new dessert. When I was deliberating what exactly that should be,  pouring through my pinterest board and foodgawker favorites, nothing was striking my fancy.

I is that even possible with 300 different options?

But then I remembered this dessert.

I had made it years ago for a special night with some friends in Virginia.....and we had all loved it.  I had been meaning to make it again and somehow just never got around to it.  Silly me.  It certainly deserves to be made more often than every 5 years.

So here's the breakdown.  A slightly crunchy and buttery Oreo crust, a rich, creamy filling made with melted chocolate, egg yolks, and heavy cream, and a sweet chocolate buttercream frosting.
It looks similar to a cheesecake - but it has such a smooth - and yes - velvety texture.  It positively melts in your mouth.  It's almost like eating a slice of chocolate truffle.  
To say that it's decadent would be an understatement.
And you really have to love chocolate to appreciate this treat.
Thankfully, everyone in my family (and our guests) fell into that category.

Chocolate Velvet Dessert
adapted slightly from Taste of Home

1-1/2 cups chocolate cookie or Oreo crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
6 egg yolks
1-3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder (or 3 T. regular cocoa powder)
3-4 Tbsp. whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°.  In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs and butter well.  Press onto the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan.  Place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

2. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate chips; stir until smooth.  Cool.  In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, cream, and vanilla.  Gradually stir a small amount of mixture into melted chocolate until blended; gradually stir in remaining mixture.  If it clumps up, don't worry - just keep whisking briskly until it smooths out.  Pour into crust.

3. Place pan on baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until center is almost set.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.  Refrigerate overnight.

4. In a large bowl, combine the butter, powdered sugar, sifted cocoa, and enough milk to achieve a piping consistency.  Using a large star tip, pipe frosting on dessert.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

(Healthy) Chocolate Oat Breakfast Cookies

As much as I love things like scones or cinnamon rolls for breakfast, I make them a special treat. We most often eat things like scrambled eggs, baked oatmeal, cereal, or banana muffins. The girls are fine with that.....especially the muffins part....but Corban (9.5) , who is in general my least picky eater, has started complaining about most of those offerings. He's not crazy about the non-sugary cereal I buy, doesn't care for homemade granola, and he hates bananas in baked goods.

So you can imagine his delight when one recent morning the kids came downstairs to see me baking cookies and then heard the announcement, "These are for breakfast!"


Chocolate cookies for breakfast????

You're the Best mom Ever!  
An elation that wore off sooner than I would have preferred......when I still insisted in doing schoolwork for the day.

So yes, these fall into the "occasional treat" category....or they could even fall into dessert sometimes.....because although they are healthy, with coconut oil and oats  and whole wheat flour, they still have chocolate. And they taste surprisingly decadent.   They're a little chewy, a little crisp, have a wonderful salty/sweet contrast, and are definitely hard to stop at just one.

I even heard a couple of kiddos declare that these would be their Birthday Breakfast choice.

That means they're really good.

(Healthy) Chocolate Oat Breakfast Cookies
adapted  from Fit Mama Real Food  and The Tasty Cheapskate

1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. natural cane sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional, but highly recommended)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional - I used unsweetened)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional - I didn't use)

1 .Preheat oven to 350°.
2. In a large bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a different bowl, whisk melted coconut oil, egg, and sugars together.  Add in vanilla.
3. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix.  Stir in oats, then add chocolate chips, coconut, and pecans if using.
4. Drop mounds onto an ungreased baking sheet.  The cookies don't spread much, so I found it best to flatten them with the bottom of a glass before baking.  Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until set.
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