Banana Soft Serve Sundaes

Banana Soft Serve SundaesI am taking a tiny step away from my Back To School Series and instead, have taken a giant leap toward a post that can be filed under the Holy Swiss Cheese It Is Freaking Hot Outside category.

My daughter’s school has been let out early due to heat for most of this week.  Old buildings plus a heat index over 100 equals overheated and red faced children.  Even though we have been back to school for a few weeks now, and Labor Day (read: unofficial beginning of fall) is just around the corner, we are deep in the hot and steamy throws of a heat wave.  Yuck.  We have played in the sprinkler, splashed in a kiddie pool, eaten popsicles, hunkered down in the air conditioning and watched Looney Tunes, but we were still in the need for something refreshing and cool.

Enter the worlds most easy ice cream!  Although it isn’t actually ice cream at all.  And yes!  I know I know I know.  This recipe has been circling the web for forEVER now.  This dish is so popular it is even printed on the stickers attached to the bananas themselves.

But its hot.  Really hot.  And on the off chance that you have never seen this before, I am posting it so that you too can benefit from its healthy, yet temperature reducing properties.  Cold, creamy, heart healthy, and delicious.  Just what we all need when its 102 in the shade.

And congratulations to Daria from PA for winning the honey giveaway!
Banana Soft Serve Banana Soft Serve SundaesOne Year Ago: Roasted Tomato Pasta
Two Years Ago: Caramelized Onion Dip

Banana Soft Serve Sundaes

4 or 5 bananas, nice and ripe

Toppings-chocolate chips, peanuts, chocolate sauce, macadamia nuts, almonds, caramel sauce, toasted coconut, honey, cinnamon, walnuts, a drizzle of rum, chopped strawberries, or anything else that sounds good with bananas!

Peel the bananas and break them into smaller chunks and freeze until firm.  Dump them into the bowl of a food processor and whiz up for several minutes until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl so that everything gets processed.  Enjoy immediately and top with whatever floats your boat.  Or freeze in an airtight container for later!

Oatmeal Raisin CookiesBack to school recipes still comin’ atchya!  Like many of you, lunches and snacks and make-ahead meals are on my brain. So here is another one to pin, tweet, bookmark, copy, or bake  that can help with some of that!

This post comes to you via Marriott hotel complimentary internet service in Indiana!  The hubs and munchkins and I are taking a much needed last minute vaca; sneaking it in just before my daughter starts second grade on Tuesday.  Currently, it is late and my kiddos are still avoiding sleep on the hide-a-bed across the hotel room so I am hoping the clicking sound of my laptop as I type this lulls them to sleep.  Fingers crossed.

Phew!  So finally!!  I’m done!  After 12 (no exaggeration) batches of cookies, I have finally settled on the final version!  A nice, even dozen attempts.  Seriously.  Ask my friends and neighbors.  I was so desperate for opinions that one day I had taken to leaving labeled bags of cookies in their mailboxes.  If I had any inclination that it would take me so many batches-spread out over a month and a half-just to finalize this recipe, I probably would have skipped it in leu of something less labor intensive.  But anything worth doing is worth doing right, right?  Right!

Somewhere around version eight, I started to lose momentum and…well…get kinda sick of oatmeal cookies.  (Months from now I will probably read that line and chastise my former self, scolding ‘What?  For shame!  How could you ever be sick of oatmeal cookies!  They are your favorite!  Suck it up, you pansy!’)  I had sent hundreds of them along with my husband to work, frozen hundreds more, and ate-er, um-a few.  In the end, I scrapped everything I was making and started over with a pencil and paper and just created my own.  Admittedly, the very thing I should have done in the first place.  Then it was just a matter of working out the kinks.

These are not, I should tell you, a healthy oatmeal raisin cookie.  Healthy was before with the zucchini muffins and will be again later when we talk homemade hummus.  No, these are just easy and good.  They have no fancy ingredients and no extra steps.  You will not be making browned butter or sprinkling the hot cookies with gourmet salt in the last 2 minutes of baking.  These are just straight up, hearty, oatmeal-y and raisin-y.  They have been made a dozen different ways (Ha! Literally!) and every ingredient has been adjusted at least once.  Right down to the amount of nutmeg. This recipe is now the only plain oatmeal raisin cookie recipe I will ever use.  I promise.  Cross my heart and spit on the floor.  Its the best that I can do.  It has earned a spot here in my back to school series because it is as classic as can be, tucked into a lunchbox or waiting on the table with a glass of cold milk when the cherubs burst through the door after school.  Here’s hoping the all the oatmeal will hold them off till dinner.

And look at that!  My kids are asleep!  Well, what do ya know….
Oatmeal Raisin CookiesTwo Years Ago: Keebler Cracker Bars & Cocoa Cake

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 c (2 sticks) softened butter
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 c rolled oats-not quick cooking
1 1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 c raisins
3/4 c chopped walnuts

In the large mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugars.  Beat until smooth with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs and vanilla and combine.  Add the salt and spices and mix.  Add the oats, flour, and baking soda and mix slowly, just until combined.  Slowly stir in the raisins and walnuts.  Drop dough by measured scoop or rounded teaspoonfuls onto a lined cookie sheet.  Press gently with flat fingers to make little hockey pucks and bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.  Enjoy within 3 days or freeze, tightly sealed for up to 6 months.

Ice Cream Sodas for a heat wave!

Ice Cream SodasWhat a week!  I pretty much scrapped my plans for blog post this week for two reasons.  First of all, we are having a garage sale this week and as anyone who has ever had a garage sale knows, it kinda sucks.  Which leads me into my second reason: its HOT!!  Really really hot.  Put those two together and you have a really uncomfortable, long, stressful, troublesome couple of days.

So the recipes I was originally going to share here will have to wait.  Instead, I thought this longtime family favorite should make an appearance instead.  Its cold and refreshing, quick and simple.  All things that are on my list of requirements this week.  All right.  They are the ONLY things on my list this week.  If they don’t hit those marks, I ain’t eatin’ it.  Which means I have been living on salads, iced tea, and these ice cream sodas.

What I love love love about making these is that they are just a different enough to be kinda fun and unexpected, but they aren’t a big deal to do.  Root beer floats are an obvious classic and these are the same concept but not so sweet and much more original.  Kind of like old time soda fountain action going on in your kitchen.  Or on your deck.  Or your patio.  Or with your toes in the grass.  A fun straw doesn’t hurt either.
Ice Cream Sodas Ice Cream Sodas One Year Ago: Super Creamy Strawberry Ice Cream & Fried Rice Scramble
Two Years Ago: Oatmeal Raisin Snack Bars, Cornmeal Pancakes W/Blueberry Sauce, Grilled Pizza

Ice Cream Sodas
Inspired by Ina Garten and soda fountains everywhere!
I like to use sparkling water in these because unlike club soda or tonic water, it doesn’t have added salt.

flavoring: chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, butterscotch sauce
ice cream: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee
sparkling water

In a large glass, add about 2 T of your flavoring, or feel free to skip it entirely.  If you use the syrup, add a splash (about 1/4 c or so) of milk and stir.  This allows the flavoring to mix into the sparkling water without just sitting on the bottom of the glass.  Add your desired ice cream in whatever combo you like and fill the glass with sparkling water. Enjoy!

Note:  I have discovered through extensive trial and error 🙂 that mint chocolate chip ice cream, or any type with lots of little chunks of chocolate or nuts, are kind of lost in this recipe.  Save it for a bowl and go with the smooth stuff here.  Strawberry seems to be the exception.  Our most favorite combo is chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, but chocolate sauce with coffee ice cream is a close second!

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
I have never really like almonds.

Ok.  I shouldn’t say that.  Its not that I don’t like almonds, they just always seem to be in the way.  Ground up and coating my fish?  No thanks.  A whole, big, chunky almond in my trail mix?  Too big of a bite.  And for some reason, they just never seem to be as crunchy as other nuts.  Really, the only exception to this is when my sister introduced me to these, which incidentally, are strangely addictive and I highly recommend them.

But I digress.  Chocolate, cherries, and almonds are obviously not an original combination.  But I have never actually taken the time to combine them simply in a little snack.  And I have NO IDEA WHY!  Almonds are crazy good for you with all the fiber, healthy fats, and Vit E to benefit your skin and lower cholesterol.  Of course, cherries and dark chocolate are both filled with a wealth of nutrients and antioxidants.  That triple health combo makes these a powerhouse of good things for your body, but satisfying as well.  Just three little foods!  No muss.  No fuss.  Nothing extra, and using good, quality ingredients.  I am a little embarrassed to say just how many of these I have had over the last few weeks, so….I won’t tell you how many I have had.  But I may or may not be eating one right now and typing with one hand.

The only warning I have for you about these, other than the fact that you may hate me for turning you on to this incredibly munch-able snack, is that they will melt in your mouth, but also in your hand!  The point here is to use good ingredients so that you end up with something fairly good for you, not filled with chemicals and extra sugars.  Because a good quality, dark chocolate won’t have stabilizers in them like a commercial chocolate chip does, they will melt into a mess rather easily.  But as for downsides, thats all I got.  They are awesome.  And they make staying healthy taste oh so good.

Chocolate Cherry Almond ClustersOne Year Ago: Yogurt Salads
Two Years Ago: Guacamole & Red Velvet Cupcakes

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
The key here is to use good quality ingredients, with as few additives as possible.  These are awesome right out of the freezer.

8 oz good dark or bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cacao, finely chopped
1 1/2 c roughly chopped unsalted almonds
1 1/2 c roughly chopped dried sour cherries

In a medium glass bowl, melt the chocolate at 30 second intervals, stirring in between, and stopping before it is smooth. At the end, the heat of the bowl and a vigorous stir will work out the last of the lumps without overheating your chocolate.  Always err on the side of less heat when it comes to chocolate.  Stir in the almonds and cherries until well mixed.  Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper and scoop and portion out the mixture in large tablespoons.  I consistently get exactly 20 clusters out of a batch!  Chill until set in the fridge and store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

Cherry Galette

Cherry GaletteThe seasons first cherries are out and I am taking full advantage of them!!  I love to make this snack cake, or even these hand pies, but a galette is what is on the menu this week!

If you have never made a galette before (pronounced gah-let) then you are in for a big surprise.  They are quite possibly one of the easiest and most speedy desserts you will ever make.  They look so fancy but really are just a pastry topped with fruit.  The beauty of a galette is that they are designed to be a kind of free-form tart so the more imperfect they are, the more….charming, they appear!  You can’t screw them up and any recipe that is virtually foolproof is absolutely in my rotation!

So yes, I love galettes because they are quick, easy, and they make you look like a rockstar in the kitchen.  But I also love that they are the perfect size.  They aren’t so huge that they take days to eat, like a pie or big batch of bars would so you can make it as a special treat for your family, eat it and be done.  No lingering dessert around the house.  And you can easily cut the pieces smaller and add a scoop of ice cream when you have company over.  If you cut the pieces bigger AND add ice cream?  Well, then you are more on my level and I am totally giving you a virtual high five right now.

In the future I will share a ridiculously easy recipe for a homemade crust, but for today, I just want to make sure you get the method down so you can start making them!  This will take a bit. *deep breath* Are you ready?  OK.  Here goes: Unroll a pie crust, top it with fruit, fold in the edges, and bake it.  Huh.  I guess that didn’t take long at all!  🙂  So simple!  And the lovely thing is that you can use a huge variety of fruits depending on what is in season.

Enough talk!  On to the eats!
Cherry Galette Cherry Galette Cherry Galette Cherry Galette One Year Ago: Flank Steak W/Tangy Sauce & Far Eastern Salad 
Two Years Ago: Mocha Chocolate Chip SconesHow To: Freeze Berries, Cheeze-It Chicken, Strawberry Sauce

Cherry Galette
I don’t like to add a lot of sugar to my galettes; preferring to let the taste of the fruit be the star.  Eat a cherry or two.  It they are a little on the sour side, you can adjust the sugar as needed.  This exact recipe with 3 c of mixed berries is absolutely stellar.

1 refrigerated pie-crust, homemade is fine

3 c fresh sweet cherries, pitted
1 heaping T sugar
1 T cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg, beaten with a splash of water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and unroll the pie crust and press flat.  In a bowl, toss the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla together until there are no dry spots left.  Pour the fruit into a pile in the middle of the pie crust, spreading it gently out in a circle, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border.  Carefully fold one small edge of pastry over the fruit.  Fold over the next portion, and continue along the edge, until the whole galette is bordered.  Brush the egg wash over the pastry, and sprinkle with extra sugar if desired.  Slide the whole sheet pan in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, checking after 30, until the center of the cherries is bubbling gently and the pastry is nicely browned.  Let cool for 15 minutes before cutting into wedges.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

IMG_0471So, yeah.  Things have been pretty busy around my house this week.

My husband is off after a long crazy run at work and my daughter is finishing up first grade this week.  I have a birthday in a few days, my daughter has a birthday in a few days, and we are in the middle of completing several random house projects that have needed attention for about a year now!  Add in the fact that we still have to actually live our lives everyday with laundry, schedules, appointments, and plenty of playtime with a rambunctious 1 year old little boy, a blue eyed four year old that boomerangs back and forth between being a dinosaur, a ninja, and a race car…phew!

Oh!  And of course, I moved this little ‘ol blog to a new site!  DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE AWESOME GIVEAWAY! Just comment on the previous post and you could win a great prize package!  Giveaway closes at noon, May 25th!

I could not be happier with my crazy, hectic, and wonderful life and with all this happening now I feel like I should be celebrating!  I do like to buck convention a lot of the time, but in this case I am sticking to the classics and making cupcakes!Not just any cupcakes.  Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange Buttercream.  And lets see…how do I put this….they are freaking AWESOME!  *ahem*  I mean, super good.

IMG_0454What I think is interesting is that so many other blogs make it a point to post recipes for cupcakes because they are a major crowd pleaser.  Readers love a good cupcake recipe, wether they are actually turning around and baking them or not.  Put a cupcake recipe on Pinterest and you can just stand back and watch the craziness ensue!  Me?  I just don’t make them that often and this blog is a direct representation of what comes out of my kitchen.  But I do like to make sure I let you know when I have a good one.  That is why I have an ultimate Red Velvet Cupcake recipe on this site.  It is the best one I have ever made!  But I am always looking to master the basics, and I have been working on finding the perfect basic recipe for chocolate cupcakes for awhile now.

A few months ago, a friend approached me and requested chocolate and orange buttercream.  So really, it was about the best type of challenge ever!  When  I started testing recipes, I was kind of surprised at how picky I had become with my cupcakes.  If I was going to post a straight up chocolate cupcake recipe here, it was going to have to finally do the leg work and narrow it down to find my ultimate.  I have several cake recipes that I love, but cupcakes sometimes bake up differently, and therefore, often need a separate recipe all their own.  They have to be firm enough for you to pick them up and hold them and without being so moist that they just collapse under the weight of frosting!

And speaking of frosting, all I am going to say on the matter is that orange buttercream made with real orange zest and real ingredients does not compare to anything made with artificial flavoring and chemically dyed orange color.  My version is outrageously good.  Just take my word for it.  A fellow Mom, aka volunteer taste tester, tried it and rolled her eyes to the heavens, exclaiming, “Change nothing!  Its perfect!”  I took her advice.

So that outrageous buttercream is paired here with my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe.  It is THE recipe I use when I want a plain chocolate cake that I can top with anything that suits my fancy.  They are moist, but not fragile; incredibly chocolatey, but not overly sweet. I love them way more than a person should love a cupcake.

So what is your favorite kind of frosting to put on a chocolate cupcake?IMG_0468 IMG_0435One Year Ago: Shrimp Cobb Salad
Two Years Ago: Sweet Potato Salad W/Vinaigrette

Chocolate Cupcakes W/Orange Buttercream
Cupcake recipe adapted from Zoe Bakes, Buttercream recipe by Brittany’s Pantry

3 c sugar
2 3/4 c flour
1 1/8 c cocoa powder, sifted to remove lumps
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
2 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 c buttermilk
3/4 c canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350.
Whisk all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a large measuring cup, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla until blended.  Whisk into the dry ingredients until totally incorporated.  Slowly whisk in the hot coffee until smooth.  The batter will be thin.  Pour batter into paper lined, muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  The batch makes about 3 dozen cupcakes!

Orange Buttercream

1 c (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 c vegetable shortening
5 c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 orange
1/4 c milk, more or less depending on desired consistency

Be sure to zest the orange directly over the mixing bowl!  Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the ingredients until smooth, only adding milk until you get the desired consistency.  Remember, you can always add milk, but you can’t take it back out again!  Frost the cupcakes and store any leftovers in the fridge.

Pomegranate Sorbet W/Mini Chocolate Chips from Brittany's PantryGreetings!  I am just popping in quick to share one of my favorite recipes!

This past weekend was Race Weekend!  Otherwise known as the-weekend-my-family-comes-down-from-Minnesota-to-run-in-the-Illini-half-marathon!  My sister and her boyfriend drove down this year and surprised me by showing up with my other sister, just in from Seattle!  We had a wonderful little family reunion!

This sorbet has made it onto the race weekend menu three times now.  I always plan a menu that is especially vegetable, carb, and protein heavy the night before the race, but without a lot of fat or dairy to weigh them down.  Dinner the night after the race is always good lean protein and healthy fats for muscle repair.  Since my sisters each have varying degrees of dairy allergies, this sorbet is just about the most perfect dessert.  It is special enough that it really feels like we are celebrating our time together, but is light and refreshing to keep the runners light on their feet!

This sorbet is delightfully slushy and while it is great now in the spring, keep it in mind for mid summer too!  It has a clean, tangy taste that would be oh so welcome on a hot July day!Pomegranate Sorbet W/Mini Chocolate Chips from Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Strawberry Shortcake Cake Classic Buttermilk Biscuits
Two Years Ago: Lemon & Herb Deviled Eggs

Pomegranate Sorbet W/Mini Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Giada
With a short ingredient list, this sorbet comes together in no time!  If you think your kids might protest the herby flavor of the mint, just leave it out.  It will still be great!  In turn, you can omit the chocolate chips too!

1 c sugar
1/2 c water
1/2 c packed, fresh mint leaves
2 c pure pomegranate juice
1 c orange juice
1/2 c mini chocolate chips

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the sugar and water until just starting to boil.   As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat, add the mint leaves, stir to submerge, and let steep for about 20 minutes.  Strain and chill.  Once cold, add the mint syrup to the two juices and freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.  Stir in the chocolate chips and freeze until completely firm.  Enjoy!

Cream Cheese Ice Cream

Cream Cheese Ice Cream In the previous post, I mentioned that I like to serve the Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake with cream cheese ice cream.  Well, here it is!

This is actually the first ice cream I ever made from scratch at home.  Not strawberry, not vanilla, not a nice creamy peach.  Cream cheese ice cream.  And yes, it tastes just a good as it sounds.  Even better, actually.  Make no mistake about that.

There are only a few ingredients to this recipe, which allow it to wonderfully taste exactly as it is supposed to.  No extra flavors, no messing around.  Just pure, clean, tangy ice cream.  It goes ridiculously well with anything sweet because it cuts through the richness.  I highly recommend pairing it with chocolate cake or chocolate pudding cake.  Just about any kind of sauce spilling over the top is down right dreamy.  Caramel sauce, a simple homemade chocolate fudge sauce or strawberry sauce smothered over this ice cream will pretty much equal the best dessert you have ever had.  Need a simple end to a rich meal?  Cover this in fresh berries.  The flavor lends itself so just about anything.  I also like that it doesn’t freeze as hard as a rock so it makes it really easy to snitch little bites here and there.  Or so I’ve heard…

My favorite way to enjoy it?  Just as pictured above.  Plain.  Simple.  Stellar.
Cream Cheese Ice Cream One Year Ago: Root Beer Baked Beans
Two Years Ago: Speedy Glazed Salmon

Cream Cheese Ice Cream
Adapted from Gourmet
I continually go back and forth about wether or not I like the addition of lemon juice in this recipe.  With it, it has a full tanginess that lets you know it is cream cheese ice cream!  Without it, it is mellow and smooth and delightful.  I like it best without, but you be the judge.

8 oz of cream cheese, softened-I use neufchatel
1 c milk
1 T fresh lemon juice, optional
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c heavy cream

In a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients except cream until smooth.  Stir in cream.  Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.  Alternatively, pour into a freezer container and freeze 30 minutes, stir vigorously, freeze again, and repeat until you are unable to stir it.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake At the risk of posting a fall themed recipe in March, I decided to throw caution to the wind and share this with you anyway.  It has become one of my favorite deserts and with Easter coming up, the thought of finishing of a ham and cheesy potato dinner with this pudding cake makes me want to weep with joy.  It also makes me drool a little bit…

Cranberries can be found frozen in your freezer section which is fortunate because most grocery stores don’t carry fresh cranberries year round, only in November and December.  I usually buy them up fresh and then throw 3 or 4 bags in my freezer for cooking during the winter months.  This recipe is the perfect example of that.  Add cream cheese ice cream and you can kiss those winter blahs goodbye!  Especially this year when spring seems to be dragging its feet!

This recipe doesn’t act like a regular pudding.  It is kind faking it actually.  When I think of a pudding cake, I think of the magic that happens when you bake a more traditional recipe, like Chocolate Pudding Cake.  This version is almost like a cobbler, but there is an actual batter that you pour over top instead of dropping dough.  However you classify it, it all adds up to fantastic-any season of the year.
Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake One Year Ago: Honey Cheesecake Bars 
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars & Lemon Spaghetti 

Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit
This pudding cake is great for breakfast or dessert.  Its richness is best cut with ice cream but whipped cream is scrumptious as well!

2 c fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c pure maple syrup
2/3 c heavy cream
Combine above ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down, letting it bubble slowly for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.

2/3 c all purpose flour
1/3 c cornmeal
3 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Whisk together above ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk together:
1/2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/2 c (1 stick) melted butter

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Pour the warm cranberry mixture into a glass 9X9 square baking dish or small casserole dish.  Pour the topping batter evenly over the top of the fruit.  Carefully place in a 400 degree oven and bake for 28 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.  Let the pudding cake cool AT LEAST 20 minutes before enjoying.  Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or cream cheese ice cream!

Buttermilk Cremes

Buttermilk Cremes I had a brief moment of hesitation when deciding to post this recipe.  Very brief.  Like, so brief it is barely worth mentioning.  And yet here I am, talking about it…

But THEN!  Then, I came to my senses and started typing!  I thought that another custard recipe so soon after creme brulee might be too much, but ultimately, I had to share this.  How could I possibly keep from telling you about my new go-to, make-ahead dessert?  I can’t.  That is why we are here.

This is essentially a buttermilk panna cottta.  Panna whatsa?  If you haven’t ever had-or heard of-panna cotta, lets review!  Its Italian, it means ‘cooked cream’, and it is spectacular.  It is a bit like a creme brulee, but instead of egg yolks being used as the thickener to make it set, you use gelatin instead.  What does this mean?  It means that instead of a rich and decadent custard, you get a light, creamy, clean custard.  Also, there is very little cooking involved!  Always kinda nice, right?  It gets warmed on the stove just enough to dissolve the gelatin and then the fridge does all the work!

I make plain panna cotta every once in awhile, but the high ratio of buttermilk to cream in this recipe is what drew me in.  I still make it the regular way (i.e. mainly cream and/or milk giving it a more plain flavor and a good canvas for whatever fruit you serve it with) but the tang in this version makes it its own dessert.  A whole new ball game here, people!!  Its light and lovely and a little bit tart and gaaaaaahh!

And can I just say that the fact that it is such a lovely bright white is one of my favorite things.  I like white.  It just clean and perfect and delightful.  Just like this dessert.

There.  Aren’t you glad I decided to mention it?
Buttermilk Cremes Buttermilk CremesButtermilk Cremes
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

2 T water
2 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c sugar
2 c low fat buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
assorted fresh or frozen berries, optional

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set aside to soften for five minutes.  Meanwhile, heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan over medium low heat until very hot, but not bubbling.  As soon as it starts to steam, turn off the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin.  Whisk until smooth and gelatin is dissolved.  Set aside to cool until just warm.  Whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla.  Waiting until it cools keeps the buttermilk from curdling and the vanilla from evaporating.  Spray 6 (5-6 oz) ramekins lightly with oil and wipe excess away with a paper towel.  Carefully divide the cream evenly among the cups.  Chill until very cold.  Serve in the ramekin or lightly run a small knife around the edge and turn out into a plate.  Top with fruit it desired.  Cremes keep perfectly up to three days in the fridge.

Simple Fudge

Cranberry Fudge Greetings!  Its almost Christmas!!  AH!

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I recently finished testing a lot of fudge recipes.  If you follow me on the street you would probably be able to tell by the size of my hips that I have recently finished testing a lot of fudge recipes…

I have quite a few versions of essentially the same thing: melted chocolate mixed with a variety of ingredients to keep it soft and luscious.  I am not talking about peanut butter fudge, or rocky road fudge, cappuccino fudge, or the plethora of other confection concoctions.  Those are different.  I just wanted to eliminate all the choices and narrow it down to just one, basic, simple, classic, master fudge recipe that I could then add things too when I wanted to change it up.  A good base that would be able to handle nuts, dried fruit, or a shot of peppermint flavoring.  The whole reason I started this process is because I recently went to my data base of collected fudge recipes (to make fudge, duh) and I had way too many collected.  I have recipes for Microwave Fudge, Chocolate Fudge, Easy Fudge, Quick Fudge, The Best Fudge Ever, Double Chocolate Fudge, and so on.  They all were about the same.  So I took all the plain fudge recipes, narrowed them down to a half dozen or so that I figured would give me different textures, if not a big variation in flavor, and went to town.

I am proud to say that I now have a master fudge recipe! Woo hoo!  The others are deleted, freeing up all kinds of computer memory for more recipes!  Just what I need, right?

So why did we choose this particular recipe, you ask?  And I say ‘we’ because my husband and kids and neighbors did a heck of a lot of taste testing.  Well, I’ll tell ya.  It is smooth and creamy and not too sweet.  It is rich and decadent without tasting like factory chocolate that has a lot of preservatives and oil in it.  Also, I must add, it is easy and requires NO CANDY THERMOMETER!  This was a prerequisite for me.  Lots if foods require specific temps; things like caramel and marshmallows.  I am OK with that.  Fudge should be easier.  Don’t you think?  Who’s with me?!  Fudge for everyone!
Cranberry Fudge Cranberry Fudge One Year Ago: Fruit & Nut Rum Balls

Simple Fudge
Adapted from Carnation

This recipe is for your basic fabulous fudge.  The above pictures show my favorite way to make it: with dried cranberries or cherries stirred in.  It looks beautiful, festive, and gives a hint of tartness to break up the richness of the chocolate.

1 1/2 c sugar
2/3 c (5 oz can) evaporated milk
2 T butter
2 c mini marshmallows
9 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c nuts, or dried
1 tsp vanilla

Lightly butter a 9X9 square baking pan.  In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, evaporated milk, and butter.  Melt over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil.  Let boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate, marshmallows, and vanilla.  Off the heat, continue stirring until  everything is melted and incorporated and smooth.  Stir in nuts or fruit if desired.  Pour into prepared pan and let cool till firm.  Cut into small squares and store in an airtight container.
Note: Feel free to stir in any combination of extras!  Chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, dried cranberries, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, coconut, chopped andes mints, more mini marshmallows (at the end so they don’t melt), 1 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract instead of vanilla, or even top the fudge with mini pretzels.

White Chocolate Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake is a showstopper of a holiday dessert! {Brittany's Pantry}Sometimes you see a picture of a dish and say to yourself “Self, I must make that.”  That was my exact thought when I saw a recipe for this cheesecake in a Cooking Club of America magazine.  This was several years ago and if I remember correctly, I made it twice that holiday season.  When I made it again recently, scrounging up the recipe from deep within my archives, I was thrilled that it was just as easy and just and fabulous as I remembered it.

Generally, I am not a fan of white chocolate.  It is way too sweet for me (shocking, but true) and is, of course, not even actually chocolate.  About the only time I ever have it is when ordering a tuxedo mocha at a coffee shop.  But this was one of those pairings that I knew would be successful.  The rich, sweet creaminess of white chocolate cheesecake, punched with tart fresh cranberries cooked in orange juice; a winning combination!  And it is festive as heck, no?  A beautiful dessert to present for Christmas, New Years, or even a birthday!

Not only is it beautiful, it isn’t as hard as you think, as cheesecakes go.  You can make the cranberry sauce well in advance, making this a bit easier to put together if you are pressed for time.  Also, it will last for a good three days, so go ahead and make it a day or two before you need to serve it.  And even though I haven’t tried it myself, I don’t see why you couldn’t freeze it.  Wrap and seal it will and it would keep for a good month, I should think!  Just defrost it in the fridge.

The first few times I made this I made a mental note to cut the amount of cranberries in half.  Well, that mental note got lost somewhere on the desktop of my mind.  So needless to say, the pic you see above is with the whole amount of cranberries.  After I made (and then ate…) the cheesecake again, I thought gosh I should cut this in half.  The recipe below reflects that change.  It is really good, but a little too tart with so much fruit.White-Chocolate-Cranberry-Swirl-CheesecakeWhite-Chocolate-Cranberry-Swirl-Cheesecake One Year Ago: Potato Gratin & Chai Hot Chocolate
Two Years Ago: Indian Chili, Mini Corn Muffins, Brown Sugar Shortbread 

White Chocolate Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake
Adapted from CCA

If you feel like equal portions of fruit to cheesecake, and you really like tart cranberry sauce, double the cranberry part of the recipe.  It will still be fantastic, but be aware that it may take an extra few minutes to finish in the oven.

1 c fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c orange juice
zest of 1 orange
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

40 vanilla wafer cookies, crushed to crumbs (1 1/4 c)
1/4 c melted butter
1 T sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

8 oz white chocolate, chopped
2 (8 oz pkg) cream cheese, softened
1/2 c sugar
2 T flour
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1/4 c cream

Put all cranberry sauce ingredients, except vanilla, into a small sauce pan and put over medium heat.  Bring mixture to a simmer and cook gently until the berries pop.  Stir well and set aside to cool.  Once cool, add vanilla and stir.  Set aside until ready to make the cheesecake.  You can make this a few days ahead of time and store it in the fridge.  Just bring it to room temp before you use it in this recipe.

To make the crust, mix all ingredients together until it looks like wet sand.  Press evenly into the bottom of a standard, 9″ springform pan and bake at 375 for 8 minutes until golden brown.  Cool completely.

For the cheesecake, melt the white chocolate in 20 second intervals in the microwave, stirring until JUST MELTED. Alternatively, melt the chocolate in a double boiler.  Meanwhile, beat remaining cheesecake ingredients together until smooth.  Beat in white chocolate.  Pour cheesecake mixture over the cooled crust.  Drop the cranberry sauce in small spoonfuls over the surface of the cheesecake.  Swirl gently with a toothpick.  Bake at 300 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until just set.  The center of the cheesecake should shift just a bit, but not ripple as if liquid.  Remove to the counter and let cool slowly until nearly room temp.  Chill until VERY cold-at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.  Slice and enjoy!

Note: As long as it is sweet, any kind of simple, homemade cranberry sauce would work here.  If you have leftovers from Christmas dinner, save some and make this cheesecake for New Years!

Creme Brulee: Showstopper

Creme Brûlée Creme Brûlée.  A rich and creamy, lightly sweetened custard topped with toasted sugar so crunchy you have to ‘crack’ it to eat it.  *sigh*  If you have never eaten this, I have no words to describe it that would do it justice.  If you have had it, you are swooning off your chair right now.  Yeah.  It is that good.  And…*blushing*…I don’t want to brag….but…well…mine is the best.

I wish I could say I was kidding, but I’m not.  I have had a LOT of creme brûlée at a LOT of different places all over the country (in the name of research and self improvement, of course…) and I have yet to eat one I like more than mine.  I have been so disappointed with other versions that some years ago, my husband convinced me to stop ordering it and instead, just make it more often at home.  Umm, OK!

Truthfully, I don’t make it all that much; a few times a year is all.  Mainly for the obvious reasons.  It isn’t exactly health food.  But every once in awhile, I come across a recipe-recently, it was a batch of cookies-that calls for 4 egg whites.  And then, a little bell goes off in my head-DING!  Creme Brûlée needs 4 egg yolks…

And then I make this and all is right with the world!
Creme Brûlée Please do not be intimidated!  This is so much easier than you might think!  Years ago, when my husband I were first married, I came across a recipe for this dessert and was curious.  I had had it only once in a restaurant and, like the rest of the natural world, was hooked.  When I read the process for making it, I was floored.  I said to myself, “Self?!  This is easy!  You can do this!”  So I did.  I made it. I only had large ramekins at the time.  As in, the size of a cereal bowl.  So, not really ramekins, I guess.  More like mini soufflé dishes…Anyway, I made it.  Often.  And I experimented, but always came back to my classic original version.  To be fair, I was serving it to hungry sailors who will eat anything, but even they agreed; plain was the best.  As a result, to this day, I still get comments from our NAVY family about my creme brûlée.

And now, you can too!  Well, not comments from my NAVY family…that would be weird…but from your own family and friends!  It is a great make-ahead dessert!  You HAVE to make it in advance so it is perfect for busy get togethers.  It is gluten-free, already portioned, easy to make, and impressive! A few simple ingredients and you can have a showstopper of a dessert for the holidays, a birthday, anniversary, or a Tuesday.  And if you become locally famous for it and have to eat it over and over and over (bummer), I expect an email of thanks.  I offer a hearty ‘Your Welcome!’ to your tastebuds in advance.
Creme Brûlée Creme Brûlée Above: Cold, naked custards, ready for a burnt sugar hat!  Our blow torch is just outside of the frame.

Below: Pure, utter, scrumptiousness.
Creme Brûlée One Year Ago: Coconut Bon Bons, Peanut Butter Bon Bons, Roasted Shrimp CocktailSuper Easy Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies, Speedy BBQ Chicken Sandwiches W/Coleslaw
Two Years Ago: Honey Buns, Puppy Chow, Chewy Ginger Cookies

Classic Creme Brûlée 
Ramekins are unfortunately necessary to make this.  You can find them here and use them for a myriad of other things.  Bake dip in them, use them to serve ice cream, snacks, all kinds of stuff.  Most are freezer, oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe.

2 c heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp good vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and vanilla together.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, gently heat the cream and sugar together over medium low heat until the mixture is just starting to steam and the sugar is melted.  While whisking the yolks, slowly pour in the cream mixture, whisking all the while and going slow so as not to curdle the yolks. Pour the whole mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl or vessel easy to pour from.  The sieve will get any bits of yolk and ensure a super creamy custard.  Place four (5-6 oz) ramekins in a large glass dish.  Portion the custard out between them-carefully!  Pour hot tap water in the pan until it comes halfway up the ramekins.  The water bath cooks the custard gently so you have a creamy, wonderful dessert-not sweet scrambled eggs.  Blegh.  Bake in a 300 degree oven, for 25 minutes or until the custards are just set.  The centers should wiggle a bit but not ripple.  Remove custard dishes from water and set on the counter to cool.  Chill until very cold-a good 3 hours or overnight.  When ready to serve, sprinkle a thin layer of sugar (1 tsp or so) over the custards and slowly and VERY CAREFULLY melt the sugar until toasted and brown using a blow torch.  Alternatively, you can place all the custards on a sheet pan and quickly do this under the broiler. You don’t want to heat the custards, just melt the sugar.  Serve immediately.

Note: If you object to using fire, and just don’t want to mess with it, the custards can be eaten just as they are with a bit of whipped cream.  While technically, it won’t be creme brûlée, it would still be crazy good.  Also, if your ramekins are smaller or larger, just adjust the cooking time accordingly.  They will still turn out just fine!

Ginger Chai Blondies

Ginger Chai Blondes are chewy and perfect with a cup of tea! {Brittany's Pantry}My neighbor, who ate some of the bars you see in this picture, sent me a text later in the day.  These taste like Christmas!  And they do indeed.

These bars are kind of a cross between a blondie brownie and spicy cup of chai tea, but they aren’t as rich, heavy, or as overwhelmingly sweet as a brownie.  They are simple to make and utterly fantastic with a hot drink.  As in, I highly recommend sipping something steaming when you make these.  This would be perfect!  Although a huge glass of milk wouldn’t be terrible either.  They are lovely and different without being so weird that everyone just passes them by.  Don’t they just look like Fall?  🙂 Make them for a Holiday potluck, bring them to work, or pack them in your lunch all week.  Either way, they are hard to resist!  You, and maybe even your neighbor, will thank me.Ginger Chai Blondes are chewy and perfect with a cup of tea! {Brittany's Pantry}Ginger Chai Blondes are chewy and perfect with a cup of tea! {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Garlic Herb Bread
Two Years Ago: Piggy Pudding

Ginger Chai Blondies
Adapted from Cooking For Seven
Recipe Updated 11/11

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add:
1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Mix with the paddle attatchment until smooth.  Add:
1 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
the contents of two chai tea bags
pinch of salt

Mix dough just until combined.  Spread dough-it will be sticky!-into a sprayed 9X13 inch baking pan and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean, or with just a few crumbs attached.  Cool slightly before cutting.

Dark Chocolate Cookies & Drive-Thru Windows

Dark Chocolate CookiesI have come to accept the fact that I am somehow cursed when it comes to the drive-thru widows of restaurants.  I know I mentioned it before in a previous post (don’t ask me which one-I am way too tired  right now to try and figure that out) so I won’t rehash it all.  But to sum up, I almost never get what I order.  That is just the way it is.  I accept it.  My husband has come to accept it.  My friends deal with it.  It is a weird and yet totally normal phenomenon.

A few days ago, it was a chocolate cookie from Panera that I was after.  Lunch, yes, but the cookie was what I wanted more than my next five minutes of air.  I needed that chocolate cookie.  A chocolate cookie that they assured me was in the bag.  A half an hour later, when I arrived at home, it was of course, missing.  My solution?  Besides falling to my knees and throwing my hands to the sky, wailing, “Sweet Mary Mother of all the is good and Holy, WHY?!”  My solution is this cookie.

It isn’t an equal swap out and this cookie is not as thick and hearty as a Panera cookie.  But it is extremely chocolatey and that is what I wanted.  Not a brownie or cake or candy.  Just a rich, chewy, chocolate cookie.  Yeeeeeees!

It may not come as any surprise when I say that this recipe is adapted from Hershey.  Those people know chocolate.  Who am I to second guess them?  And I know there are superior chocolate cookie recipes out there.  For example, I make a Ghiradelli chocolate cookie that has so much melted chocolate in it you have to chill the dough just to be able to portion it out on a pan and bake it.  We are talking serious chocolate overload.  But the beauty of this one is that it mixes up and bakes just like every other drop cookie you would make.  No extra steps.  No extra time to melt anything, chill anything, or roll anything.  Just a lot of cocoa to give in that wonderful richness and flavor without an extra sweetness.  So simple and so good.  And bonus!  You can add just about anything to the batter to customize for any event or craving.  And I think we can all agree that is better than anything that comes through a car window.

One Year Ago: Ultimate Peanut Butter Cookies
Two Years Ago: Sweet Potato Biscuits

Dark Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Hershey
Mix in whatever goodies you like!

2 sticks softened butter
1 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c dark cocoa powder-regular is fine
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
In a mixer, combine the first 5 ingredients until well incorporated and creamy.  Add the dry ingredients and combine.  Fold in:
1/2 bag dark chocolate chips
1 c toffee pieces

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased or parchment lined sheet pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Be careful!  Do not over bake!  Cool and enjoy!  These freeze great!

Note:  You can make any kind of chocolate cookie here.  Try any or all of these combos!
White Chocolate Chips
Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
Reese Pieces
Peanut Butter Chips
Mini Chocolate Chips
Chopped Andes Mints