Cinnamon Apple Cake

Cinnamon Apple Cake | Brittany's Pantry - Poured into a big pan, this cake is a cinch to slice into pieces and devour!Last year, I had the fabulous privilege of sampling this cake at a meeting of our local Mom’s Group.  I am not ashamed to admit that it has filled my dreams ever since.  Apple cake.  Gooooood.

I have always loved apple cake and really really loved this version.  And not all apple cakes are created equal, mind you!  Sometimes apple cake is light and fluffy and then the chunks of apple weigh it down in a weird way.  Other times the apples are in big chunks that never seem to bake well.  Getting the crumb right with pieces of fruit mixed in is a balancing act.  Who knew it was such a delicate process with such a complicated formula?

This recipe gets around that by baking up a lot like bars.  Chewy and more dense that a traditional cake, it supports the chunks of apple perfectly, but it is still light enough to warrant a plate and fork.  Good gracious.  It is just awesome.  When I acquired the recipe from my friend, I learned that it is of course a family recipe.  I am thrilled she shared it with me and while I adjusted it to my taste just a smidge, it stays true to the original.  I dare you to bake this up and bring it to a gathering this holiday season.  Just be prepared to deal with the aftermath of praise, high fives, recipe inquires, and offers of marriage.  It is that good.
Cinnamon Apple Cake | Brittany's Pantry - Poured into a big pan, this cake is a cinch to slice into pieces and devour!I have no doubt that many other versions of apple cake will grace this little corner of the internet.  I am, after all, an equal opportunity eater.  But for now, I am having a hard time making it past this cake.  I have kind of hit the pause button on apple cake experimentation.  Maybe next year.  For now, this is my ultimate.

***This is my final post in the series of comforting and cozy recipes that I am featuring during the GIVEAWAY!  You only have a few more days to take advantage of my offer of free merchandise (yeah free!!) and enter for a chance to win loot from the top rated ETSY shop, Pine Tree Goods.  If you haven’t entered yet-and there ways to put your name in up to 5 times-click here and git er done!  Don’t forget to take advantage of the free shipping code just for BP readers!  Good Luck!***
Cinnamon Apple Cake | Brittany's PantryCinnamon Apple Cake | Brittany's Pantry - Poured into a big pan, this cake is a cinch to slice into pieces and devour!IMG_1260I couldn’t resist tucking in this last picture of Lane, my 2 1/2 year old photo-bomber.

Cinnamon Apple Cake
Adapted from MaryAnn Hillard, friend of Brittany’s Pantry
I am loyal to golden delicious as a baking apple, but a recent visit to an orchard in North Carolina had me taste testing an apple called Gold Rush.  It was awesome.  Great in a pie (or cake) and great to eat out of hand.  I highly recommend them if you can get your hands on them.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together in the bowl of a stand mixer:
1 c (2 sticks) of room temperature butter
2 c sugar
When combined and smooth, add:
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
When combined and smooth, add:
2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Lastly, gently fold in 3 c of diced apple (peeled and cored).

Spread batter (it will be thick) into a sprayed 9X13 pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until evenly golden brown and set.  Cool cake until almost room temp before cutting and serving.  Cake is best the day it is made, but leftovers aren’t too shabby.

Honey Cinnamon Slow-Cooker Peach Crisp

Honey Cinnamon Peach Crisp for the Slow Cooker | Brittany's PantryRecently, my husband and I purchased a large parcel of land in the middle of the South Carolina midlands.  We have been busy getting ready to build, filling out paperwork, marking trees for removal, pouring over the floor plans, and all the other tasks that accompany a project the size of ours.  A few weeks ago, that access road was built to our property.

Chapin, South CarolinaPicturesque, don’t you think?  The clearing for construction has begun and we are starting to actually see a location for the homestead.  Since it is solid forest as far as we can see, any type of clearing goes a long way toward visualizing everything!

So, after playing out on the land all day, this crisp was pretty great to come home to.  It took hardly any time to throw it in the slow cooker and I didn’t have to worry about having the oven on when I was out of the house.  Of course, the smell  when we opened our front door was mouthwatering.  You can smell the cinnamon from down the road!  When I decided to create this recipe I messed around with different spices, but ultimately, returned to just plain cinnamon.  There is just something about peaches and cinnamon that works just as good (or better) than apples and cinnamon.  It all seems warmer somehow.  Err go, it is quite possibly the most comforting thing to make this time of year.  The honey brings out the peachy-y ness of the fruit without making it too sweet.  If you top it with vanilla ice cream, it kinda melts and mixes with the honey-peach juices and creates this sauce that makes you drool and when you scoop it up, its all warm and melty and oat-y and…*sigh*  Truly fantastic.  It smells and tastes just like home.  No matter where that may be or what stage of construction its in.  :)
Honey Cinnamon Peach Crisp for the Slow Cooker | Brittany's PantryHoney Cinnamon Peach Crisp for the Slow Cooker | Brittany's PantryHoney Cinnamon Peach Crisp for the Slow Cooker | Brittany's PantryHoney Cinnamon Peach Crisp for the Slow Cooker
Depending on the flour you use, this recipe can be gluten-free or not.  I created it using an all-purpose gluten-free flour mix that can be exchanged for regular wheat flour cup for cup.  A few of my testers thought that the different flours made the filling too thick, but others didn’t mind.  The flavor is slightly different if you make it GF, but still great.  Either way you make it is scrumptious!

Fruit:
5 or 6 large peaches, pitted and sliced into 12ths
2 level T, gluten-free or all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2-3 T honey, preferably raw

Topping:
3/4 c gluten-free or all-purpose flour
3/4 c rolled oats, gluten-free or regular
3/4 c brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 c (1 stick) room temperature butter, divided

Pinch off 2 T of the butter and evenly smear it on the inside of a regular sized slow cooker crock.  Gently combine all the fruit filling ingredients until evenly coated and pour into slow cooker.  Be sure to use a spatula to scrape out all the cinnamon honey juice in the bowl! Combine all the dry ingredients of the topping and then add the remaining 6 T of soft butter.  Using a fork or your fingers, combine all ingredients until evenly distributed and mixture is wonderfully clumpy!  Evenly spread over the fruit in the crock and cover.  Cook crisp on low for 4 hours or until fruit is bubbly.  Cool slightly and serve with a big ‘ol scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies

Inside Out Carrot Cake CookiesI can’t help but smile when I think of this recipe.

When my husband was in the Navy, I often volunteered to cook for our unmarried or otherwise unattached friends.  I have mentioned this before; that I used to use them as guinea pigs in the early days of my cooking career, completely taking advantage of their willingness to eat just about anything while I tested my way through experimental dishes and recipes.  During deployment, food on a nuclear submarine is very….well…I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.  Know that it is less than perfect.  Any home cooking was much appreciated and the guys actually made a very diverse test group, since those young men came from every walk of life and from every part of the country.  Sailors from the big city, the south, midwestern farms, tropical islands-everywhere.  I cooked food from the north and a good friend and fellow Navy wife contributed southern expertise.  And we fed them.  My favorite way to show that I love and care.  Food.

That is why these sweet little cookies make me grin.  Not because they are wicked good (they are) or because the thought of eating one right now makes me want to weep with joy (it does) or the fact that anything filled with some type of cream is on my ‘for sure’ list (it is).  But because the very first time I ever made them was for a bunch of sailors off the USS-Topeka.  I had ripped the recipe out of an issue of Bon Appetit and taped it into a notebook filled with other recipes that I had saved, scribbled down from friends, or pilfered from the magazines in the dentist office waiting room.  My San Diego kitchen was rather minuscule, but that didn’t deter me from trying new recipes, no matter how complicated or advanced they seemed.  I assumed this recipe was a bit of both and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered it was just cookies and frosting.  Easy peasy.

The recipe has since moved to my computer, but I clearly remember adding a special note in the margin of that old notebook.  **Sailor Approved**  That first time I made them we all oohed and aahed over how good they were.  But again, that isn’t what makes them special.  It was the fact that when we were all thousands of miles from home, missing our families and aching for something familiar, these cookies made the house smell like home.  It smelled like a crisp fall day in the north woods even though it was actually 85 and sunny on the coast of the south Pacific.  These sweet little treats were part of the conversations, laughter, teasing, and warm hugs of that day.  The memories of those men are very dear and while we are all now scattered to the far corners of the world, I hope just like for me, certain things trigger fond memories of our times together.

And who knows?  Maybe carrot cake will forever make them think of a tiny apartment in San Diego filled with good friends and good food, too.
Inside Out Carrot Cake CookiesInside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
I have two favorite things about this recipe.  One: That the filling is just cream cheese and honey.  Genius.  And totally something I would do.  And two: They are freezable.  Make them once and enjoy repeatedly.  Hello time saver!

1 1/8 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 stick (1/2 c) butter, softened
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c grated carrot, about one large or two medium
3/4 c walnuts, chopped
1/2 c raisins
1-8 oz pkg cream cheese
1/4 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 375.
In small bowl, mix the first four dry ingredients and set aside.  Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.  By hand, gently mix in the carrots, raisins, and walnuts.  Fold in the dry ingredients until just combined.  Scoop rounded tablespoonfuls onto a sprayed or parchment lined sheet pan.  Give them a bit of room to spread a bit between cookies.  Use two sheet pans or bake cookies in two batches.  Bake 12-14 minutes until just springy to the touch.  The cinnamon makes it hard to see if they are browned enough but if you can tell, they should be lightly browned.  Let the cookies cool on the pan until firmed up enough to move with a spatula to a rack to cool completely.  My kitchen always seems to be warm so for me this took a good 3 or 4 minutes for them to set up enough without destroying them when moved!  While cookies are baking, blend the cream cheese and honey together.  Once cookies have completely cooled, spread a heavy tablespoon on half the cookies and top with a second cookie.  Enjoy, or wrap individually in cellophane and freeze in a gallon zip top bag. These make excellent after school snacks!!

Granny’s Buttermilk Pound Cake

Granny's Buttermilk Pound CakeSometimes things come along in life that you just know are special.

The first time I tasted this pound cake was one of those times.  Not special like the birth of my children or my wedding day, but something that you know is different.  Lovely.  My best friend makes this pound cake and yes, as you may have guessed, it is her Granny’s recipe.  The same Granny, I might add, that is also responsible for this wonderful casserole of deliciousness.  The Granny who’s granddaughter introduced me to some of my most favorite southern foods; this classic pound cake among them.  Once I tried this, I have never really cared to try anyone else’s.  It is just simply-the best.
Granny's Buttermilk Pound CakeThat specialness I was speaking of, is love.  Yeah yeah.  I know.  *eye roll*  Sappy right?  What I mean is love, as an ingredient.  There is something about this cake that makes people stop and smile.  It is velvety and moist and perfect and…well…special.  Just like chicken noodle soup can taste like home and comfort, so can this cake remind you of something familiar and warm and loving.  Which, as I experienced the handful of times I personally got to spend with Granny, is exactly the kind of woman she was.  I may make different kinds of pound cakes over the years, but nothing beats this traditional, classic version that has been through the hands of generations of southern women and made (literally) hundreds of times.

With this move to South Carolina coming closer and closer, I know I will be able to hold my own at the church pot-luck dinners and any school bake sale that comes my way.  I may still throw a Tator-Tot Casserole or Wild Rice Soup at them once in awhile, just to remind them that Yankees can cook too.  But you just can’t argue with tradition.

Granny would approve.
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Granny’s Buttermilk Pound Cake
Adapted, ever so slightly, from Jewel Amason (Granny)
This recipe originally called for Crisco but I rarely ever keep it in my house.  For the sake of convenience, I use butter.  If we are being totally honest here, I actually prefer the taste of this cake with shortening (gasp!) but butter works well too.  It is the ONLY thing I have changed from the original recipe as given to me by the family so I hope they can overlook it! :)  This cake is not fussy or temperamental which makes it very reliable.  It freezes WONDERFULLY and that is one of my most favorite things about it!  Because it makes a full bundt pan, I usually serve half the cake and then wrap the second half well and store it in the freezer.  Give it a bit to thaw on the counter and it is just as good-even a bit better!-than freshly baked.  Being a simple pound cake, it is fantastic with just a dusting of powdered sugar and eaten out of hand.  I am sharing it with you now because it is also the perfect vehicle for spring berries!  The pic above is smothered in a strawberry/rhubarb sauce and that is hands down our favorite way to eat it.  Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream isn’t too bad either!

The recipe format is a bit different because I am going to write it exactly how it was given to me.  I have never deviated from the directions for fear of it turning out different!

Add ¼ tsp baking soda to 1 c buttermilk and stir.  Set aside.
Cream:
1 c Crisco (or softened butter)
2 ½ c sugar
Add 5 eggs one at a time.
Alternate adding 3 c flour and buttermilk mixture until blended.
Add 2 T boiling water and 1 tsp vanilla.
Blend well.
Pour into greased and floured bundt pan and bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Let cool in pan for 5 minutes then turn out to cool completely.
Slice and enjoy!

Super Quick Peanut Butter CooPeanut butter is a funny thing.

You can turn it into a savory sauce for noodles, no-bake confections for the holidays, or the ever classic favorite, straight up peanut butter cookies.  Speaking of cookies, peanut butter needs little in the way of help to bake up as such.  The following recipe is a kind of classic formula that has recently become popular again due to the demand of gluten-free, dairy free, and grain free recipes.

But this isn’t some fancy schmancy new development.  I remember making something like this when I was a kid and maybe rolling them in sugar before baking?  Not sure.  But throwing together treats with few ingredients is old hat in the foodie world and these cookies are a prime example.  They just happen to be naturally gluten and dairy free.  Which, in turn, makes them great for the masses, just in case you need something that covers all your bases with guests.

In the end, what is really important here is that they taste good.  They taste awesome, actually, and may just replace your classic peanut butter cookie.  They are just so much more….peanut-ty…than other cookies.  Like, the essence of peanut butter in cookie form.  I still kind of marvel that you can put so few things together and have them bake up so perfectly cookie-like.  Because they are so wonderfully simple, they are the perfect platform to use in other applications.  For example, I highly recommend putting a scoop of chocolate and vanilla swirled ice cream between two of these.  I mean, its just…*sigh*…outrageously good.  Crumbled up and added to a bowl of vanilla frozen yogurt?  Also not a terrible idea.  Neither is using them as a scooper for applesauce.

Do YOU do anything special with your peanut butter cookies?
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Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
I have never tried making this with almond butter, but I have no doubt it would be fantastic.

1 c creamy peanut butter
1 c sugar
1 large egg
3/4 tsp baking soda

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a sprayed or parchment covered sheet pan and bake at 350 for 9 minutes.  The cookies should be just barely golden around the edges.  Let cool on the pan until set enough to remove with a spatula.

Honey Cardamom Snack Cake

Honey Cardamom Snack CakeA year or so ago, my friend Thea and her family stopped by to visit on the way through town.  Aside from the fact that I have know her more than 20 years and she remembers what I looked like in the mid 90’s, she is a professional baker.  She has been mostly special occasion cakes for the last 8 years, but recently opened up a store front, giving the general public a chance to enjoy her creations on a day to day basis.  Needless to say, we talk flour, butter, sugar, and eggs whenever we are together.

On this particular visit, I was baking something.  For the life of me I canNOT remember what it was, but I assure  you, it wasn’t cake.  Of all the things to feed a professional baker, I avoid baked confections as much as possible.  Usually I lean toward things like creme brûlée, fruit bars, and puddings.  Whatever it was I was making, Thea walked into the kitchen, sniffed, and her eyes lit up.  “Are you using cardamom?” was her immediate question.  Yes, I told her.  Why?  “It is one of my favorite spices,” she declared.  “But it is so under-used!’

I agreed.  Even though it is a warm flavor with an almost herb-y quality to it, and is often mixed with Christmas spices, you don’t often see it used completely on its own.  I happen to love it.  I add it to my plain banana bread, shortbread cookies, and most recently, as the feature flavor in snack cakes!
Honey Cardamom Snack CakeHoney Cardamom Snack Cake As you can see, my two year old wasn’t willing to wait until I was done photographing.  The honey is the only sweetener in this recipe so please please PLEASE use local, raw honey if you have the chance.  The flavor is incomparable to the stuff from the grocery store.  It also gives it the perfect level of sweetness.  Paired with a simple, sour cream snack cake base and the warmth of the cardamom, it is just homey.  If you want to use it as a dessert, fresh strawberries and sweet whipped cream are outstanding with this cake.  But generally, I just like to pick it up and take a bite.

Thea would approve.
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Honey Cardamom Snack Cake
This tastes great on day two so whip it up when you have time and enjoy as an after school snack!

1/2 c (1 stick) butter, room temp
1 c honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c white whole wheat or whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
large pinch of salt
3/4 c sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325.
Using a hand or stand mixer, combine the butter and honey until creamy.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add half of the mixture to the honey mixture.  Mix slowly until starting to combine, and add half the sour cream.  Still mixing slowly, add the last of the dry ingredients and the last of the sour cream.  Mix until just barely combined, finishing by hand and scraping down the bowl at the end.  Pour batter into a greased and floured 9 inch cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool on the counter for 10 minutes or so, and then turn out onto a rack and let cool the rest of the way.  Slice into wedges and serve!

Mission Fig Bites

Mission Fig BitesI never had Fig Newtons growing up.

If it wasn’t a generic brand or purchased in bulk (Hydrox cookies all the way!!), I didn’t eat it.  In high school on the bus to a swim meet, a friend of mine passed me my first Fig Newton.  Now, I learned a lot of things from my fellow chlorine addicted athletes.  They taught me how to whistle, what a fish tail braid was, and introduced me to the benefits of facial moisturizer.  But these?  I was a bit underwhelmed, to say the least.  What was all the fuss about?  I knew what they were of course, the 80’s and 90’s being filled with the slogan, “A cookie is just a cookie, but Newtons are fruit and cake.”  Remember that?  Yeah.  They don’t tell you that you need three glasses of water handy just to get one of them down.  Dry, tasteless, and with a weird figgy crunch, I never saw the need to eat one again.

After this, I assumed I just didn’t like figs.  Fast forward a few years to me eating a slice of pizza at a vineyard in Temecula CA.  I don’t remember the specifics, but the super thin crispy crust, roasted fresh figs, arugula-and maybe some cheese?-had me hooked.  Obviously I was missing out.

When I found this recipe in this cookbook, I raised my eyebrows.  Lots of foods taste good dipped in chocolate (peanut butter, strawberries, bacon…) but figs?  You have to draw the line somewhere and I assumed it was well before this combo.  But I love little bites of things I can make ahead of time and if it is good for me, even better.  So I gave them a try.  And you know what?

Eureka!  The sweetness of the figs is more than enough to satisfy any sugar craving, so naturally, my kids devoured them.  They found the crunch of the fig seeds highly entertaining…My husband inhaled his share, confessing that he has always loved  figs and then asking why I didn’t cook with them more often.  Apparently, they were a hit.  The few people I passed them along to went wild for them as well, despite my constant skepticism about wether they would appeal to most people.  I mean, I liked them, but I’ll eat just about anything and therefore tend to try not to use myself as a chocolate barometer.  I can’t wait to tuck them into goodie containers during the holidays and these are SO going on my list of treats to send along with dinner when I have a friend in need.  My daughter took one in her lunch today.  I’ll think of it as this generations version of a Fig Newton…
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Mission Fig Bites
Recipe adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis
I am not a calorie counter, but I noticed that these little babies are only about 60 calories a piece.  Yippee!!  Fortunately, the figs in them are so sweet, I only need to eat one!

3 c roughly chopped dried mission figs, stems removed (about 14 oz)
2-3 T almond butter
1 bag good quality dark chocolate chips
1 T vegetable or grape seed oil

In a medium microwaveable bowl, dump in the chocolate chips and pour the oil over top.  The oil makes the chocolate just a tiny bit easier to dip and gives the set chocolate a smooth and shiny appearance.  Melt them together in 30 second intervals, stirring after each one and stopping just before completely smooth.  Stir vigorously until the last lumps are out, being careful not to overheat.  In the meantime, combine the figs and just 2 T of the almond butter in a food processor and let run until combined and chopped together.  If the mixture won’t hold together when you pinch it, add the last tablespoon of almond butter.  This will depend on how dry your figs are.  When it is done, use a teaspoon to scoop out a ball the size of a large grape.  Press and squeeze the mixture into a ball, rolling it gently into an even circle.  Dip it in chocolate-a fork is best for this-letting the excess chocolate run off.  Use a toothpick to slide the balls off the fork and onto a wax or parchment paper lined sheet pan.  This will keep the tops perfect and smooth.  If you don’t care if they are pretty, just plop them down onto the pan. :)  Let cool for about an hour for the chocolate to set and harden.  Store in an airtight container on the fridge for a week or two, or freeze for up to 1 month!

Rocky Road Crispy BarsIn some ways, I can’t even believe I am posting this….

This recipe was born strictly out of my need to eat something sweet and chewy.  There is no grand idea or occasion, just me making bars four times this week in an effort to put together something that sounded good in my head.  Thats it.  Reason enough, I guess.  Yes?

Rest assured, these are good.  Very good.  Crispy, crunchy, chewy, chocolatey goodness.  A dressed up version of the classic Crispy Bar.  These would be awesome to serve at a kids party-if there were no nut allergies, of course.  But I have seen many adults get excited when they see them too so don’t limit yourself as to who to make them for.  Because sometimes, even little and seemingly insignificant times, like a wednesday, call for a Rocky Road Crispy Bar.
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Rocky Road Crispy Bars

1-16 oz bag marshmallows (note: this is the big 1 lb bag, not the regular size)
4 T (half stick) of butter
1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1-12 oz box crispy rice cereal
1 c peanuts
1 c semisweet or dark chocolate chips
3 c (half of a regular 10 oz bag) of mini marshmallows

In the largest microwaveable bowl you have, melt the large marshmallows, butter, and peanut butter in 30 second intervals, stirring between times until smooth and creamy.  Add the crispy rice cereal and quickly stir and fold together until combined.  Ad the mini marshmallows, peanuts, and chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed, using buttered hands at the end if that is easier.  Press the whole mixture into a buttered 9X13 pan and let sit until room temperature.  Cut into squares.  Keep sealed in an airtight container for up to three days.

Triple Chocolate Mexican Cookies

Triple Chocolate Mexican CookiesI had no idea that this recipe was going to be such a pain in my tush.
Triple Chocolate Mexican CookiesI was making guacamole and margaritas for a meeting this past week and was going to test a few of my spicy mexican cookie recipes so that we would have something sweet to nosh on after the salty stuff.  Mexican cookies, much like Mexican hot chocolate, are basically a cinnamon spiced chocolate cookie.  If you frequent Caribou Coffee, you saw the Spicy Mocha make an appearance this year.  It has a spice mix added that has cinnamon and chili in it and will clear your stuffy nose right up!!  Yowza.  Zippy!  It is quite fantastic and when I can make it to a Caribou, I treat myself.  When I make cookies though, I prefer to give it a bit of a kick with some heat so that you really know you are eating something other than a standard chocolate cookie.  I narrowed it down to two recipes, but neither was exactly what I was looking for.  Eventually, in an effort to avoid the 13 tries it took me to get the oatmeal raisin cookies just right, I started from scratch and crossed my fingers.

The result?  I ate so much chocolate and ingested so much cayenne and cinnamon that I gave myself a headache and took to driving around town and harassing my friends so that they would eat them instead because my tastebuds were fried and I could no longer tell the difference between one cookie and another.  Major antioxidant overload.  Thankfully I hang out with opinionated and honest people so I knew just what to do to finish off this recipe.  Now you can make them too and share in the spicy triple chocolate experience.  Add a cup of coffee (or tea if that is your poison) and you will be oh so cozy and warm.  Never mind the snow falling outside the window.
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Triple Chocolate Mexican Cookies
These are wonderfully chewy without being cake-y.  Kind of like a sturdy, round brownie.  Obviously you can adjust the spice level to your liking as everyone prefers different levels of heat.  Doubling the amount of cayenne tastes awesome, but makes it hard to eat more than one.

5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 c (1 stick) of butter
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c white whole wheat flour-or another 1/2 c of all purpose
1/2 c cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 T of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp of black pepper
1 c mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Put the chopped chocolate and butter into a medium glass bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between each time until just barely melted.  Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugars, vanilla and eggs until smooth.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the melted chocolate and combine.  Scrape the bowl until the chocolate is all incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.  Add the chocolate chips.  Scoop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a lined or greased sheet pan and bake for 11 minutes.  Cool slightly before removing to a cooling rack.  This recipe makes exactly 3 dozen and these freeze wonderfully.  Otherwise keep sealed in a container at room temp for up to three days.

Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix

Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}So…um….yeah.  This weather sucks lemons.

Before we get to todays recipe and my witty ramblings, I want to point out the handy dandy little icon on the top right of this page.  YES!  The rumors are true! Brittany’s Pantry has joined INSTAGRAM!!!  Do you know what this means, faithful readers?  It means that you now have photographic visual aids to keep up to date with my kitchen, my cooking, my failures, and yes, my pantry!  So click on the link to join me and while you are at it, check out Brittany’s Pantry on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter!

So.  Between the church cancelations, school closings, impassable roads, and dangerous cold here in central IL, it is safe to say that we are kind of stuck in the house for a bit.  I’ve made soup, roasts, stews, baked desserts, and I am finally breaking free from the comfort food coma and heading in a lighter direction tonight; Roasted Fish with veggies and Baked Garlic Brown Rice.  I am still using the oven to give that warm, cozy feeling to the main floor of the house, but with something a little healthier than a baked/chicken/pasta/cheese/cream/bread crumb/butter type of casserole.  But this meal is no less comforting.  The rice is going to make the house smell deeeee-VINE ( a kind of…pre-requisite for food made during a winter storm) and the rest will be hot and tasty.  *sigh*  I can’t wait for dinner.

Between meals that could sustain olympic swimmers with their sky-high calorie count, you need to sip something just as warming to your soul.  For me, that will always be hot chocolate.  If you are a long time reader of this blog you know my obsessions with hot chocolate.  I have no less than three different recipes for it in archives here and I am always looking for different versions.  No matter what kind I make, it is always from scratch.  I am a bit of a snob when it comes to hot chocolate and I haven’t bought anything in a packet in years.  Why would you when you can make it sooooo much better yourself?

That said, I am the mother of three and sometimes, I just need the convenience of the already mixed up instant stuff.  Luckily, my Mom is the mother of six and wouldn’t ya know-she used to make her own!  This is not a revolutionary idea, but strangely, I don’t know many people who do this.  The monetary savings are enormous, but that aside, it just tastes better!  And the fact that I know exactly what is in it gives me that same warm fuzzy feeling that drinking it does.  Sometimes I make different versions of this that contain actual grated chocolate instead of cocoa powder, but my master version does not.  The cocoa powder adds incredible chocolate flavor while allowing you to control the level of sweetness.  Is it the best hot chocolate in the world?  No.  But it is cheap, easy, super fast, adaptable, and last a long time.  That is a major success in my book and definitely earns it a spot here to be shared with all of you.
Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}I have made a ridiculous number of versions of this over the years and the main goal has always been to create a mix that doesn’t actually taste like a mix.  It should be rich.  It should be chocolatey.  It should make you go ‘Mmmmmmmmmmm’ (like Will Farell does in elf when he adds the booze to his coffee thinking it is maple syrup) instead of ‘Mmmm-Hey!  I can taste the preservatives and high fructose corn syrup in here.  Can you?’

Because that is most defiantly NOT comforting.

So when it comes to a hardy, non-perishable mix, this is what I use.  When I was a kid, my Mom used to make this in huge double batches (6 kids, remember?) and store it in an empty gallon ice cream pail.  Come to think of it, we stored a LOT of stuff in ice cream pails.  They seal tight on the top and they have a handle.  What could be better?  Snack mix, cookies-all kinds of things.  Either way, my batches aren’t doubles, but we do store ours in an gallon ice cream bucket too.  It tastes even more nostalgic that way.  In the picture above, the last of the mix-we had been using it quite a bit before the weather cooperated enough for me to photograph it-in a quart tupperware container.  A gallon plastic bag works great as well, for mixing and for storing.  Obviously this would be fantastic gifted to friends and family around the holidays, but when the weather turns ugly, it is a handy thing to have tucked in your pantry.

And that is very comforting.
Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}One Year Ago: My Go-To Sloppy Joes
Two Years Ago: Forgotten Kisses (Peppermint Meringue Cookies)
Three Years Ago: Honey Waffles & Filet Au Poivre & Fettuccine W/Spinach Alfredo & Shrimp Quesadillas

Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix
This is OK made with hot water, but it is MUCH better made with milk.  Use whole milk if you are being particularly indulgent, but I have made it with skim and it is still lovely and creamy.  A heaping spoonful added to cup of coffee gives you a nearly perfect mocha.  Feel free to add Tablespoon or so of cinnamon to the batch to make a spiced hot chocolate mix.

Sift together:
2 c powdered sugar
1 c cocoa powder (dark is fine)
Add:
2 c powdered milk
1 c powdered non-dairy creamer
heavy pinch of salt

Combine ingredients well and store in an airtight container.  When ready to use, fill whatever size mug you are using about half full of mix and fill the mug with hot water or hot milk.

Outrageous Caramel Dip

The BEST Caramel Dip I stumbled across this recipe on another food blog and the picture of an apple doused in hot caramel dip drew me in.  Actually, ever since I was pregnant with my second, caramel has been at the top of my ‘eat it’ list.  I haven’t been a very big caramel fan in the past, but ever since Eli, it started tasting really good.  And that yummy taste hasn’t waned.  Unfortunately.

I really love this cold, creamy dip for apples.  But friends, I am telling ya.  Todays dish is a whole other ball game.  A horse of a different color.  Totally different dip, people.  I can see it making a legend out of you.  It is that kind of recipe.  You bring it to a party or get together just once, and you will forever thereafter be known as the-one-who-brough-that-amazing-caramel-dip.  I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that it tastes best when devoured with a spoon, but if people are watching, you generally want to be a bit more civilized and use an apple slice or pretzel.  If you happen to be among family who will love you no matter what, just put the bowl in the middle of the table with a handful of spoons and announce, “Dessert is served!”
Outrageous Caramel Dip The BEST Caramel DipTwo Years Ago: Leek & Potato Soup
Three Years Ago: Sweet Cream Biscuits

The BEST Caramel Dip
Recipe adapted from Bless This Mess
This is good with pretzels, but even better with apple slices.  Warm it up and douse your vanilla sundae or hot pancakes with it!

1/2 c (1 stick) butter
1/2 c brown sugar
3/4 c light corn syrup
1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla

Put the first four ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium/medium low heat.  Stirring constantly, melt all the ingredients together and bring to JUST below a bubble.  It will scorch if it gets too hot, but you want to go just until the brown sugar is melted. Remove from heat and store at room temperature for a day or two or in the fridge for up to two weeks.  Caramel will become extremely firm when cold, but setting it out at room temperature will make it pliable enough to dip.  This also freezes great so make it ahead if you need to, or freeze half for later.

Chocolate Eclair Dessert

Chocolate Eclair DessertDid you ever try a food or a certain dish that those around you at the time couldn’t believe you had never had it before?  Were you in college when you took your first bite of cold pizza while surrounded by cold pizza eating veterans?  Maybe you were introduced to Cool Whip at a friends house in Junior High.  Perhaps your In-Laws were the first to ever put a plate of tuna noodle casserole (with crushed potato chips on top) in front of you at the supper table.  And don’t tell me you have never had lime green jello with pineapple floating in it and carrots shredded on top!!  The last one seems to be some kind of old lady right of passage in Minnesota.

*Side Note* I asked my husband this question and after some thought, he  replied, “When I was in Japan (on leave) the lady at the cafe couldn’t believe I had never had fried balls of squid before.”  I gave him a bland look and kept typing…

Back on track with the subject at hand here, what I mean to say is this dessert was one of those for me.  The first time I ever had this, I was 16 and working in the 4-H building at the MN State Fair and I was making it for 400 people.  I was also the only one who had never had it.  It is a fairly common dessert, I was told, but I had never heard of it, let alone eaten any before.  And ooooooooooh man was I missing out.  If you have never had it, it really does take like a chocolate eclair!!!!  I don’t know what kind of magic the pudding and cream work on the graham crackers that make it taste like pastry, but however it happens, its delightful.

If this recipe, or one similar, is common knowledge to you, and you grew up eating this at potlucks and church functions, well then all I can say is that I am jealous.  Jealous of the years I missed out.  As it is, I rarely make it because it makes a full 9X13 pan and I cannot.  say.  no.  when I eat this.  I try to only make it for a crowd and the holiday season is the perfect time.  You have to make it ahead of time and it requires no last minute steps.  I recently served it two weekends in a row at two separate occasions, and sadly, there was little left either time.  I have been trying to figure out how to justify making it for the third time in two weeks, but until I do, these pictures will have to suffice.  Granted, its no jello and carrot salad.  But definitely better than cold pizza.
Chocolate Eclair Dessert Chocolate Eclair Dessert Just chillin on our cold screen porch.
Chocolate Eclair Dessert Chocolatey goodness.
IMG_6092 Chocolate Eclair Dessert Chocolate Eclair Dessert IMG_6140 One Year Ago: White Chocolate Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake
Two Years Ago: Potato Gratin
Three Years Ago: Hot Chocolate #1 & Indian Summer Chili 

Chocolate Eclair Dessert
Adapted from the MN 4-H Cafeteria Archives
With most recipes, I prefer to use real whipped cream, but the store bought kind help this dessert hold its shape better.  If you are in a pinch, go ahead and use a can of store bought chocolate fudge or dark chocolate frosting.  But I highly recommend making it yourself.  It makes all the difference!

1 box of honey graham crackers-the cinnamon ones have too bold a flavor
1-5 oz box of instant vanilla pudding mix-french vanilla and cheesecake flavors are OK too
1-8oz container of whipped topping
1 can chocolate frosting (if you are really desperate) or see recipe below

Prepare the instant pudding mix 1/2 c of milk shy of  the package directions.  For most brands, this is 2 1/2 c of milk total. Whisk and chill.  When smooth and thick and cold, gently fold in the container of whipped topping.  Line the bottom of a 9X13 baking pan (glass, ceramic or whatever) with whole graham crackers, cutting or breaking to fit if necessary until completely covered.  Pour half the pudding and cream mixture over the crackers, spreading flat.  Add one more single layer of whole graham crackers, filling all spaces.  Pour on the second half of the pudding mixture and top on last time with whole graham crackers. Do NOT try and save time frosting it now.  Uber messy.  Cover and chill several hours until very cold, THEN  frost with chocolate fudge frosting.  Chill until ready to serve and cut into large squares with a sharp knife.  Lift out each piece using a second spatula to help slide them off on to the plates.  This way they will stay perfect and square!  Store tightly sealed in the fridge for up to two days.

Chocolate Frosting
I can’t even remember the last time I bought frosting from a store.  And why would you when you have this one to use?  This frosting is dark and chocolatey, which is a flavor must for this recipe, but feel free to use in on any 9X13 sized cake you are making!  The cocoa adds amazing dark chocolate flavor but is much easier that chopping and melting a block of chocolate.

1/4 c (4 T) soft butter
1 c cocoa powder, preferably sifted (1/2 regular cocoa and half dark cocoa is quite fantastic in this recipe)
3 c powdered sugar
1/3 c milk, or more

Mix the first three ingredients, adding a splash of the milk to help them go together.  Keep adding tiny splashes of milk until it gets to the consitencey you are looking for.  Beat with a whisk till smooth.  Leave it nice and thick but just barely spreadable.  You don’t want it too soft on the dessert.  Remember, it will firm up when you chill the whole thing, hence, easy to cut!

Cherry Pistachio Butter Cookies

Cherry Pistachio Butter CookiesAren’t these festive?  So pretty on a white plate!  Let me tell you about them….

Essentially, someone made a cross between a russian tea cake, shortbread, and holiday fruit cake-minus the booze.  The result? A pale green (yet mint free, for all of you who have mint aversions, and therefore avoid green confections) crumbly kind of butter cookie that taste delightfully nostalgic.  I don’t really know why, but the green pistachio pudding mix in the cookies are probably the reason.

For the record, my Mom never ever ever made instant pistachio pudding for us when we were kids, but something about it tastes like coming home.  Add in bright red maraschinos and you have a down right merry little cookie.  They are quite sweet looking (pun intended) on a dessert tray at a party and kids seem to gravitate toward them especially.  I mean these are green cookies, people!  How can that NOT put you in the Christmas spirit?!
Cherry Pistachio Butter Cookies Cherry Pistachio Butter CookiesOne Year Ago: Creamy Penne W/Shrimp
Two Years Ago: BBQ Chicken Sandwiches & Quick Coleslaw, Fillet of Beef, The Best Carrot Cake Ever
Three Years Ago: Puppy Chow, Chewy Ginger Cookies, Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake Muffins

Cherry Pistachio Butter Cookies
Adapted from iheartnaptime.com
This dough is pretty tolerant so be brave and let your kids help roll these.

1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 box (3 oz) instant pistachio pudding
1 2/3 c flour
1/2 c maraschini cherries, finely chopped

After you finely chop the cherries, fold them into a double layer of paper towels and press the excess liquid off of them. They need to be pretty dry when you mix them in.  Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, combine the first three ingredients until smooth and combined.  Gently mix in the cherries JUST until evenly distributed.  Scoop the dough into small teaspoon sized portions, roll between your hands to make a smooth ball, and gently press to make a slightly flat hockey puck shape on a sprayed or lined sheet pan.  Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are just lightly browned.  Cool and sprinkle with additional powdered sugar if desired.

Christmas Munch-Arcand Style

Christmas MunchThis may come as a surprise, but there is a bit of a story that goes with this recipe.  I know.  Shocker, right?

Years ago, during a pre-children Christmas get together, my husband and I were catching up with a bunch of his cousins.  We were stuffed to our ears with holiday food and had retired to the couch to digest, chit chat, and take turns trying to master Guitar Hero.  My cousin-in-law set a bowl of some kind of snack mix in front of me and I nearly fainted from just the thought of another bite passing through my lips.  Strike two was the fact that it appeared to be covered in white chocolate; not my favorite food.  If it isn’t swirled into a cheesecake, whipped into buttercream, or mixed with dark chocolate and espresso, I generally avoid it.  White chocolate isn’t actually chocolate at all, but I’ll stay off that soapbox until another day!

Needless to say, I smiled politely and declined.

But this cousin was sneaky and she knew the power of a Cheerio, peanut, and M&M combo.  She innocently left the bowl there and what happened next was nothing short of shameful.  I ate it.  All.  Every crumb.  It was seducing with its creamy sort of sweetness and addicting crispy crunch.  The sweet and salty combination just kept wooing me, pulling my fingers back for just one.  more.  bite.

I never forgot that day.  It has haunted my holiday dreams for more than a decade and about a year ago, I caved and emailed said cousin.  Did she possibly remember that snack mix, and would she be willing to part with the recipe?  Of course! was her reply, and I anxiously awaited the time of year when it is again acceptable to repeatedly serve unhealthy foods to friends and family.  A time of year when one batch of something is large enough to be used for a dessert buffet, a snack for that work meeting, after school munchies, and the unexpected treat that you now realize you forgot to make for you kids school holiday celebration.  It stays fresh and crunchy for several days so make sure you plan to throw this together on a family candy making day.  It looks beautiful in clear cellophane bags tied with ribbon.  It also makes a great gift for teachers, church volunteers, neighbors, or just a quick sweet treat to whip up that the kids can help with.  Fun, festive, and hauntingly good.

It tastes even better when you eat it while playing Guitar Hero.
Christmas MunchChillin on our screen porch.
Christmas Munch
Christmas Munch One Year AgoThe Best Creme Brûlée
Two Years AgoBon BonsRoasted Shrimp & Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three Years Ago: Honey Buns

Christmas Munch
Recipe adapted from Katie Arcand

2-12 oz-bags good quality white chocolate or 24 ounces of white chocolate chopped-NOT ALMOND BARK
3 T vegetable or canola oil
4 c Cheerios or other toasted oat cereal
4 c Rice Chex or similar cereal
2 c small twisted pretzels
2 c salted, roasted peanuts
1-12 oz bag plain M&M’s in festive Christmas colors

In a medium glass bowl, microwave the white chocolate and oil in 30 second intervals, stirring between times to distribute the heat.  Be careful that you don’t let the chocolate burn!  If only a piece or two of chocolate are yet unmelted, stir vigorously and the mixture will become smooth.  Meanwhile, gently toss the remaining ingredients together in a super duper large bowl. Divide the mixture between two if needed.  Pour the melted chocolate over and carefully mix until everything is lightly coated. Spread the munch out on two sheet pans that have been lined with wax or parchment paper.  Cool until set and break into smaller pieces.  Store tightly sealed.

Ruby Bars & Thanksgiving Inspiration

Cranberry Apple Butter Bars I call these bars Ruby Bars because if their color (obviously) and I will tell you that they are filled with a cranberry and apple butter sauce.  Intrigued?  I was too.  I am so excited to share this recipe with you, but before I do that, I have a quick little round-up of Thanksgiving ideas!  Just in case the influx of holiday magazines, Pinterest boards, recipe flip books at the grocery store registers, and family traditions have completely robbed you of inspiration!

Appetizers

Lemon & Herb Deviled Eggs Lemon & Herb Deviled Eggs- You won’t believe how lovely these are.  Just different enough to be interesting, but not weird enough to scare off your relatives.

Caramelized Onion DipCaramelized Onion Dip- There are certain places I am not allowed to show my face without this dip in my hands.  Its that good.  Make it the day before you need it to save yourself some time.

Hummus Instant Hummus- Guilt free snacking while you try to keep the kids fingers out of the jello salad.

IMG_0364White Sangria-Mmmm.  Light, fruity, and the perfect pre-drink to a turkey dinner.

Hot Apple CiderHot Apple Cider- Classic for a reason.

Main Menu

Pomegranate Glazed CarrotsPomegranate Glazed Carrots- So good, they should have been at the first Thanksgiving.

Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet Potatoes- Because you need them in your life.

Baked Garlic Brown RiceBaked Garlic Brown Rice- A spectacular alternative to potatoes when you want to add a starch.

Classic Buttermilk BiscuitsClassic Buttermilk Biscuits- The name says it all.

Maple Orange Cranberry SauceMaple Orange Cranberry SauceMake this today.  It will last for a good week in the fridge!

Roast Broccoli Roast BroccoliA healthy side that adds gorgeous color to your plate with minimal effort.

Dessert

Plum CrunchPlum Crunch- Just say yes.

Cranberry Maple Pudding CakeCranberry Maple Pudding Cake- You and your guests will be talking about this until next summer.

Rum Pumpkin PieRum Pumpkin Pie- Its pumpkin pie with rum, people.  Need I say more?

The Best Carrot Cake EVER!The Best Carrot Cake EVER- Not a fan of pumpkin pie?  You won’t miss it with this on your plate!

And now onto our feature recipe!!
Cranberry Apple Butter BarsThis is such an amazing recipe, I don’t know why it took me so long to share it here.  If you are someone who loves to make seasonal recipes but the thought of making a pie-wether from scratch or not-nearly causes you to swoon, this dessert is for you.  In fact, when you bring it down to science, 98% of those who have eaten this in my presence actually prefer this to pie.  To PIE, people!!  Better than pie!

It follows your basic layer bar kind of format.  You make an oatmeal butter cookie type of dough, put some of it in the bottom of the pan, pour in a filling, and sprinkle the last of the dough on top, making a crunchy, bar sort of deal.  These go together just like the Oatmeal Caramel Bars that I can never stop eating.  So naturally, I was drawn to this recipe.  Add in the fact that it contains one of my favorite ingredients, i.e. apple butter, and I was pretty much helpless to resist.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the way the apple butter changes the flavor of the cranberries.  They lose the ‘in your face’ sourness and mellow out to just taste like good, tangy, cranberries.  It is quite lovely.  A small hint of the spices but not enough sweetness to be too rich.  Which is nice because there is plenty of that in the crust.  Butter + oats + sugar = chewy and crunchy heaven.  All together it is a stellar match.  So not only are they a beautiful ruby color, but they are a great at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and on into the New Year.
Cranberry Apple Butter BarsTwo Years Ago: Sun Dried Tomato Dip
Three Years Ago: Corn Casserole

Ruby Bars
Adapted from Pillsbury
My test subjects spanned more than a dozen people over the course of several years and no matter what I did or suggested, they were split 50/50 on wether or not  they liked these bars with whipped cream.  Serve some on the side and let your guests be the judge!  I find that the store bought apple butter works best in this recipe because it tends to be a bit more spicy, but anything that you like would be great.

Filling:
1-12 oz-bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c sugar
zest of 1 orange
1/4 c of OJ
1/2 c apple butter
2 T butter (optional)
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium sauce pan, combine the cranberries, sugar, orange zest and orange juice and heat over medium low heat.  Once the sugar starts to melt, turn the heat up to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit pops and it starts to thicken.  You can use the back of a spoon to help break up the fruit if you need to.  Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the apple butter, vanilla, and the butter, if using.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Crust:
3/4 c butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 c quick cooking oats

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  While the filling cools a bit, combine all crust ingredients with a mixer, hand mixer, or wooden spoon.  Press 2/3 of the mixture into a sprayed 9X13 pan.  Pour the filling over the crust and spread evenly.  Sprinkle the remaining crust over the filling and pat slightly.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars or they will fall apart when you try to serve them.  Serve with or without whipped cream.