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Category Archives: Baking

Pina Colada Pound Cake

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My husband to the baby: Goobs (our nickname for the baby), tonight we begin Operation Go the ‘Fudge’ to Sleep.

The baby responded with a happy leg shake and wide eyes which clearly seemed to communicate, Oooh…sounds important!

Then he shook his hands excitedly above his head, I love secret missions! I’ve been working on Operation Stay the H.E.Double Hockey Sticks Awake for almost a year now. It’s been remarkably successful.

We know, Goobs. We know. But your mission ends tonight.

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Our littlest man’s sleep habits have been a challenge, to say the least. We’d established a routine where he’d spend the first half of the night in his crib and the second half snuggled in bed next to me. It wasn’t our ideal plan, but it enabled everyone to get some sleep, so we went with it. (And to be perfectly honest, I frickin’ love those snuggles.) But lately, this routine isn’t working and no one is sleeping. We’re being forced to confront his sleep routine head on. Parenting, much like being the president, is hard work.
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I could really use a vacation, preferably someplace sunny and tropical. Someplace where I can drift off into an uninterrupted sleep to the sound of gently crashing waves on a beach. Someplace with an endless supply of fruity beverages, garnished with bright red cherries and fresh orange slices. And pink paper umbrellas.
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Perhaps once the baby learns to sleep through the night, we’ll plan a weekend getaway. In the mean time, I’ve got this piña colada cake. I started with a buttery lemon pound cake and upped the ante with a touch of rum and a hefty dose of tropical fruits. Then, I drizzled the sweet cake with a tart lemon glaze and shredded coconut. It’s no drink on a tropical beach, but it’s pretty darn good!
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Piña Colada Cake 
Ingredients
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 lemon, finely zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon rum (optional)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup crushed pineapple, well drained
  • 1/3 cup mandarin orange slices, well drained and chopped
For the garnish
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a large loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Add the lemon juice, zest, and rum. Gradually add the flour mixture, about a third at a time. Beat just until blended. Stir in the coconut, pineapple, and mandarin oranges. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 75 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

To make the glaze: Combine the confectioner’s sugar with lemon juice, a little at a time, until it reaches a thick, but fluid consistency. Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the cake. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.

References: Martha Stewart’s Glazed Lemon Pound Cake and Gale Gand’s Lemon Pound Cake

Carrot-Raisin Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze

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My brain is in a major fog today. I have a bit of a cold, which is making my stuffy head feel like it’s going to explode. The baby has the same cold. I’m guessing his head also feels like it’s going to explode, since he’s been sleeping even more miserably than usual. And when he sleeps miserably, we all sleep miserably. It’s unfortunate, because I could really use a good sleep right about now. If only the dog could watch the kids for a bit while I took a nap…

Instead, I’m manning my post as captain of chaos central. The baby is howling in his crib, because he doesn’t want to take the nap he so desperately needs. The other two boys are healthy (thankfully) and buzzing with their normal dose of energy. And the dog, my only hope for a babysitter, just can’t decide which side of the door he wants to be on. Oh well…guess it’s just one of those days.

In other news, I’ve been back on track with my fitness goals for four days now. My little dietary hiatus resulted in gaining back about four of the pounds I’d lost earlier in the year, but I’m refocused and ready to get myself in shape, just in time for shorts-weather. I’ve put myself back onto phase 1 of South Beach diet, which always helps to reset my dietary habits. I’ve been enjoying cheesy morning omelets, protein-packed lunchtime salads, and veggie loaded dinners, with snacks of fresh veggies, roasted garbanzo beans, part-skim cheese and pistachios in between. I feel healthier already.

But, before I jumped back on my diet plan, we brought in Easter morning with these decadent pancakes. It’s taking every bit of my self control not to whip up another batch right now…well, that and the absence of a few crucial ingredients. These pancakes combine the flavors of a classic carrot cake with the feel of traditional pancakes for a really tasty breakfast treat. You could go heavier on the sugar and carrots for a sweeter, cakier result, but for me, these are just perfect. They’ve got the right balance of flavors and sweetness to remind you of carrot cake, while still maintaining the overall feel of a breakfast pancake. A simple cream cheese icing provides the perfect finishing touch.

And they’ve got carrots in them…so they must be good for you, right??

Carrot-Raisin Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • Butter, for pan

Directions

Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir with a fork until the ingredients are evenly dispersed. Add the milk, eggs, and vegetable oil (or melted butter). Whisk until combined. Stir in the grated carrots and raisins. Melt a little butter in a pan over medium heat. Add about 1/3 cup of the pancake batter to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Flip the pancake and cook for another minute or two on the other side, until cooked through.

Drizzle with cream cheese glaze before serving.

To make the glaze: Combine 4 ounces of softened cream cheese with about 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Then, add a bit of milk, a tablespoon at a time, until the glaze reaches your desired consistency.

Fluffernutter Bread Pudding

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On the weekends, my husband and I take turns sleeping in, while the other person brings the boys downstairs to get them started on their day. Yesterday was my turn to sleep in. Today, my husband’s.

But my husband picked the wrong day to sleep in. For today is April Fool’s Day. And while he leisurely slumbered, the boys and I began to lay a few tricks. We hid his breakfast cereal and the coffee K-cups. We turned the chairs around in the dining room and planted a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs to trap him. We agreed that when he came into the room, we would all pretend not to know him and demand to know what he was doing in our home. Just a few fun, non-destructive tricks.

And then I lost all control over the situation. Within moments, the two boys were giggling wildly as they ran from room to room trashing the place. Apparently their idea of an April Fool’s joke involves complete demolition of our home…dumping out every bin of toys, pulling cushions off the couch and rearranging every piece of furniture. Clearly the joke was on me now.

As I buzzed around after them, fruitlessly trying to contain their holiday spirit, my husband came down the stairs to find himself trapped by the gate. One of the boys immediately thrust a coloring book at him and demanded that he sign his name in order to be released from the gate (he came up with that part on his own). All the while, his younger brother stood there repeatedly shouting “Butt” in between wild giggles…because shouting butt is clearly hilarious. A moment later, Señor Butt ran off and came flying back over to wag the bag of hidden K-cups in his father’s face, totally busting that joke before my husband had a chance to discover they were missing. I might as well tell you that we also hid your cereal and there’s a giant plastic spider in your work bag.

I have a feeling that I’ll be contending with a higher than usual level of mischief and mayhem today. Lesson learned…kids shouldn’t be told about April Fool’s Day.

But fun days require fun food. And I can’t think of anything more fun that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches turned into a warm bread pudding and drizzled with marshmallow topping. I’m not even sure if this qualifies as breakfast, lunch, or dessert. Almost certainly dessert, but I won’t tell if you serve it for breakfast or lunch. It’s made out of PB&J sandwiches…sounds like lunch to me! The marshmallow Fluff was an afterthought. I’d initially planned to sprinkle my pb&j bread pudding with powdered sugar, but the marshmallow fluff caught my eye at the grocery store. Not sure I’ve ever purchased fluff before, but it certainly works for this fun little treat!

Fluffernutter Bread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 small/medium loaf of crusty Italian bread, sliced
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (approximately)
  • 1/2 cup jam or jelly (approximately)
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup marshmallow fluff or other marshmallow topping

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Use the bread, peanut butter, and jelly to make several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then, cut the sandwiches into small (approximately 1″) chunks. Arrange the chunks of PB&J in a large baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together the half and half, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt until well combined. Pour the mixture over the PB&J chunks. Press down on the mixture to ensure that all pieces have been moistened. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, periodically pressing down on the mixture to soak all pieces.

Remove the baking dish from the fridge. Bake for 45 minutes. While still hot, drizzle the marshmallow topping over the bread pudding. Serve warm.

**A little trick for drizzling the marshmallow topping: Place some of the topping in a small baggie. Cut off a tiny bit of one corner and squeeze the topping over the bread pudding.

Orange Creamsicle Custard Pie

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There’s a team spirit around here like nothing I’ve ever experienced anywhere else. Everyone goes bananas (or maybe I should say oranges) over our local Syracuse University basketball team, the Syracuse Orange. It’s a passion that has nothing to do with where a person actually went to school, and everything to do with the place we call home. I’ve never seen an entire city so consumed with team spirit. The way a typical city turns green on St. Patty’s Day is the way this place turns orange on the day of an SU game. There’s a sort of magic to it all.

Out of necessity, I broke my unwritten rule and ventured into my grocery store yesterday (on a Saturday) to return some movies I’d rented from Redbox. The place was a predictable madhouse. But there was something else at play inside the store. It was like an unspoken rally for our hometown team. Syracuse balloons floated up from every table. Displays of elaborately decorated SU cookies and orange and blue frosted cupcakes tempted team spirit with sweets. And a full wall of the store was decorated with an arrangement of Fanta and Pepsi boxes in an SU design.

But beyond that, nearly every person I passed was dressed in their favorite Syracuse Orange gear. T-shirts, hats, and hoodies. My grocery store was a living, breathing playground of team spirit. And it was contagious.

I’ve never really followed sports of any kind. Being a Yankees fan is in my blood and I’m darn proud of it, but I barely follow the baseball season. In fact, I know very little about baseball. I didn’t go to an undergrad college known for sports, so I never experienced that swell of excitement on game day. And though my graduate school had some teams to be proud of, I commuted to classes and was never engaged in that part of the school community.

But as I was walking through my grocery store, surrounded by the infectious excitement for our local team, I could feel my blood turn orange. I became a true Syracusian sometime during that grocery trip. I’ve lived here for almost five years now. It’s about time I joined the team. During that grocery trip, I bought myself my first SU t-shirt and a couple shirts for the boys. I even picked up a pack of SU shaped pasta in all of the excitement (though I refused to get the SU antennae balls that the boys insisted they needed).

And I made this pie. I call it an Orange Creamsicle Custard Pie, since it’s got the sweet flavors of fresh orange combined with a smooth vanilla custard…reminiscent of a bite into a frozen Creamsicle bar. I nestled the custard into a vanilla cookie crust and topped it with vanilla accented whipped cream and fresh orange slices. The boys are calling it ‘SU Pie’. Whatever you call it, don’t cheat on the fresh oranges with pre-squeezed juice. The fresh zest is one the MVPs when it comes to the flavor in this recipe. Use fresh oranges.

We let the boys stay up late last night to see the beginning of the game. They wore their new t-shirts, ate SU pasta salad and SU pie, and created long lists for all of the SU gear our family suddenly needs. Our team ended their run for the season last night, but it’s ok. It was a good game. I think I could get into watching basketball. In fact, I think this could be the start of something…

Orange Creamsicle Custard Pie

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 2 cups vanilla wafers, crushed to fine crumbs
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange zest*
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice*
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

For the Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
*Two large oranges should provide the zest and juice necessary for this recipe.

Directions

To prepare the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the vanilla wafer crumbs and the melted butter. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

To prepare the filling: Combine the milk, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla extract, salt, and orange zest in a sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 5-6 minutes until the mixture comes to a gentle boil and begins to thicken. (It should be quite noticeable when the thickening occurs.) Remove from heat. In a bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Slowly add about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and whisk to combine. Add another 1/4 cup of the hot milk and whisk to combine. (This slow addition of the hot liquid tempers the egg yolks and prevents them from scrambling when added to the hot liquid.) Pour the egg mixture into the pot. Bring the mixture to a very gentle boil, whisking constantly. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture becomes even thicker. Whisk in the orange juice and lemon juice. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Allow to cool slightly, whisking every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Refrigerate for a few hours to set.

For the whipped cream: Beat together the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract until thick. Use the whipped cream and additional fresh oranges or fresh orange zest to garnish the pie, as desired.

Low Carb Cottage Pie

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Earlier in the week, my husband bemoaned the fact that daylight savings time was approaching and we would be losing an hour of sleep. I’m not sure what world he’s living in, but the time on the clock has little relevance for our children. Lose an hour, gain an hour…doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not in control of how long I sleep anyway. If anything, I look forward to this evening when I can put the kids to bed an hour ‘early’.

Springing forward brings other benefits as well, specifically a bit of daylight past the kids’ bedtime…which translates into not running in the dark. That, combined with the warming temperatures of spring approaching, bodes well for resuming my evening runs. I have to admit, I’ve been sorely off-track with my fitness goals during these past two weeks and the number on the scale has been creeping upwards. Wintery weather and the early sunset has made it hard to get myself out the door for my evening runs. And finally being able to fit into some of my clothes again has made me complacent about my diet. But I’m not done yet (far from it) and it’s time to get back on track, before I undo the results I’ve achieved so far.

So, starting tomorrow (today I’m going to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner), I’m hopping back on the horse and refocusing on my fitness goals. With the warmer temps and later sunset, I’ve got no excuses for not heading out for my evening runs. And I’m going to refocus on reducing my refined carb intake (a la South Beach diet), since I know it helps me to feel more satisfied, make better food choices, and eat less overall.

With St. Patty’s Day just around the corner, comforting meat-and-potato type meals are on my mind. But potatoes fall firmly into that refined carb category which I’m aiming to avoid. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some comforting Irish cookin’ with just a few substitutions. You may remember a few weeks ago, when I shared a recipe for mashed cauliflower, which makes a wonderful substitution for mashed potatoes…a substitution which would also make the perfect topping for a low-carb, South Beach friendly cottage pie. Using lean ground beef and part-skim cheese helps lighten the meal even more, without sacrificing any flavor. Furthermore, making low-glycemic index choices for the veggie layer keeps this dish nicely in line with my diet plan.

If you’re looking to celebrate St. Patty’s Day without sacrificing your diet goals, this just might be the dish for you! Though, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I fully intend to make (and eat) more corned beef and cabbage egg rolls on St. Patty’s Day, with a few dark beers to wash them down. (All food and beer are zero calories on St. Patty’s Day…if you’re Irish, that is. I swear it…a little red-headed leprechaun told me so.)

Looking for a traditional lamb and potatoes Shepherd’s Pie recipe? Click HERE.

Low Carb Cottage Pie

Ingredients

For the beef layer:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt and pepper
For the veggie layer:
  • 2 cups green beans, steamed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
For the mashed cauliflower:
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped and steamed until tender
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup part-skim cheddar, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For the beef layer: Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring frequently, until fully cooked. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and stir, allowing it to cook for about a minute. Then, add the beef broth, worcestershire sauce, and onion powder. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for a few minutes until the liquid thickens into a gravy around the meat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour the mixture into a baking dish.

For the veggies: Wipe out the pan used for the beef. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for 7-10 minutes, until golden and tender. Scatter the mushrooms and the steamed green beans in an even layer over the meat.

For the mashed cauliflower: Using a food processor, blender, or immersion blender, combine the cauliflower, butter, milk, and garlic powder until smooth. Season with salt, to taste. Spread the mashed cauliflower in an even layer over the veggies.

Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, until heated through and slightly browned. (Allow for longer cooking time if preparing ahead of time and refrigerating before baking.)

Leap Day Monkey Breads

The interior springs, which prevent the unusually heavy dishwasher door from recklessly crashing to the floor, busted the other day. The repair man has assessed the damage and the necessary parts have been ordered. In the mean time, we’re fondly referring to the dishwasher as “toddler crusher”, which certainly kicks up the level of excitement in the kitchen. Because being in the kitchen should always feel a little like Thunderdome, shouldn’t it?

Aside from the added thrill of crashing appliance doors (thank you, LG), we are all buzzing with excitement around here today, because it’s Leap Day…and if we learned anything from last week’s episode of 30 Rock, you can do anything you want on Leap Day, because nothing counts. (Buh-bye diet!) Being as I learn most of life’s important lessons from Thursday nights’ TV line-up, we’re going to celebrate Leap Day as it ought to be celebrated.

Which means we’re going to wear mismatching socks, forget about chores, and eat ice cream sundaes for dinner. I might even buy that Mercedes E320 I’ve always wanted. And I’m totally going to bathe myself in salted caramel. Because it’s an extra day and you can spend it however you want. In an ideal world, I’d actually spend my extra day taking one very long nap in a warm, quiet sensory deprivation chamber. But since I still need to take care of my children…even on Leap Day…we’re going to go the recklessly over-indulgent and silly behavior route for the day.

In between our ice cream sundaes, we’ll eat monkey bread…because it has a funny name that I don’t understand and it’s just really, really yummy. It makes me happy. Monkey bread, though an old familiar to many, is pretty new to me. I made (and tasted) my first monkey bread for my super bowl party (aka the DeLine family super bowl massacre). I fell in love. Big time. It was a pepperoni pizza monkey bread, with gooey mozzarella cheese and bits of spicy pepperoni scattered between buttery, garlicky bits of pizza dough. But, the thing I loved most of all were the infinite possibilities.

You can make monkey bread with any number of flavors. Use whatever sort of dough floats your boat. Stuff the little balls of dough with anything your heart desires. Roll the balls in any coating. Go savory. Go sweet. Go crazy. It’s monkey bread! This time, I made two types of monkey bread. The first (your dinner course, if you will) is a buffalo chicken pizza monkey bread…gooey balls of pizza dough stuffed with spicy chunks of chicken, mozzarella cheese, and bleu cheese which are then rolled in a buttery wing sauce. Dip ’em in bleu cheese dressing…holy yum!

The boys enjoyed my second variation; s’mores monkey bread. We stuffed the chunks of pizza dough with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, then rolled them in a sugary graham cracker crumb mix. The final result is oozing with s’mores flavor. For an even more decadent treat, dip the warm chunks into hot fudge or some sticky marshmallow fluff!

Go ahead, indulge. All foods are 0 calories on Leap Day. Google it.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza Monkey Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 cup chicken, cooked and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot sauce, divided
  • Bleu Cheese Dressing, for dipping

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray four mini pie pans with non-stick cooking spray. (Alternately, you can use one large bundt pan or smaller cupcake-sized pans. Adjust baking time, longer for larger pans and a few minutes shorter for smaller pans.) Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of the hot sauce over the chicken and toss to coat. Mix the remaining hot sauce in with the melted butter. (If desired, add additional hot sauce for a spicier result.) Set aside. Pull off small chunks of the pizza dough (about 1″ diameter). Slightly flatten the dough. Place a little chunk of the chicken and a pinch or two of both cheeses in the center of the dough round. Wrap the dough around the fillings into a small ball shape. Dip the ball in the butter/hot sauce mixture to coat, then place it in the pie pan. Repeat until all dough has been used and each pie pan is filled with multiple stuffed dough balls. Scatter any remaining crumbled bleu cheese over the top of each pie pan. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the dough to rise slightly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Serve warm with bleu cheesing dressing and/or additional hot sauce.

S’mores Monkey Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • 40-50 mini marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 4 full-sheet graham crackers, crushed to fine crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray four mini pie pans with non-stick cooking spray. (Alternately, you can use one large bundt pan or smaller cupcake-sized pans. Adjust baking time, longer for larger pans and a few minutes shorter for smaller pans.) Stir the graham crackers crumbs and sugar together. Pull off small chunks of the dough (about 1″ diameter). Slightly flatten the dough. Place a mini marshmallow and several mini chocolate chips in the center of the dough round. Wrap the dough around the fillings into a small ball shape. Dip the ball in the melted butter, then roll the ball in the graham cracker crumbs. Place the ball in the pie pan. Repeat until all dough has been used and each pie pan is filled with multiple stuffed dough balls. Sprinkle any remaining mini chocolate chips over the top of each pie pan. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the dough to rise slightly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Serve warm. Dip in hot fudge or marshmallow fluff, if desired.

No diet report today. It’s Leap Day. Diets don’t matter on Leap Day!

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

I’m going to become an Irish step-dancer. Stop laughing… I’m serious. Well, that’s assuming I can find a dance teacher to take on this 35-year-old mess of incoordination, with zero dance experience, but a whole lot of passion.

It’s just always been one of those things for me. I regret never having done it as a child. Years ago, I told my husband that if we ever had a girl, I’d be signing her up for lessons as soon as she could walk, so I could live vicariously through her. He was smart enough not to argue with me on that plan. But since it seems we’re destined to create a big brood of boys (and they’re much more interested in busting ghosts than dancing), it looks like I’m gonna need to live this dream for myself. Probably best that I fulfill my own dreams anyway, rather than pushing them on my kids, huh?

I’ve contacted a few local Irish dance schools and have yet to find anyone offering adult beginners classes at a time and location I can get to, but I’ve not given up hope yet. This middle age mom is ready to show Michael Flatley who the real lord (rather, lady) of the dance is. Stay tuned…

We had a lovely Valentine’s Day around here, filled with enough delicious goodies to throw me off my diet for at least the rest of this week. Oh, but it was worth it. So worth it. I surprised my loves with this special breakfast, which had everyone oohing and ahhing with each bite. For a weekday breakfast, it’s surprisingly easy to pull off. Simply prepare the ‘sandwiches’ the night before, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. This will actually help firm up the Nutella, which will make the sandwiches easier to dip in the morn. You can cut the sandwiches into any shape or not cut them at all…though the scraps make a really nice snack with a glass of red wine…just sayin’.

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

Ingredients

For the French Toast:

  • 8 slices white bread
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 4-6 large strawberries, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
For the Raspberry Coulis:
  • 3/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of nutella. (Fight the urge to spread it too thick.) Place the sliced strawberries on four slices of the bread, then place each of the remaining four bread slices on top to make four nutella-strawberry sandwiches. If desired, use a cookie cutter to cut the sandwiches into creative shapes. If preparing ahead of time, wrap the sandwiches in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Eat the scraps.

Lightly beat the eggs with the milk and salt. Melt a bit of the butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Dip both sides of each sandwich into the egg mixture. Place the dipped sandwiches in the hot pan and cook for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. The nutella will become warm and melty. (It’s easier to carefully flip the sandwiches using a fork and your hands, rather than a spatula.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

For the raspberry coulis, puree the raspberries with the sugar. If desired, pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

Diet  Update: Avoiding the scale like the plague this week and enjoying my valentine’s day chocolates. Will be back on track next week…promise!

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

I love my children with all of my heart and every ounce of my soul. I really do. But, some days, I swear they’re going to land me in the looney bin.

Take the baby, for example, who is certain he’s signed up for the exclusive, all-inclusive, deluxe mommy package, which features uninterrupted day and night snuggle time. He’s been filing his very vocal complaints with customer service every time I place him down to wrap a gift or bake a cookie.

Then there’s my oldest. He’s four (and a half) now. And he’s bursting with Christmas spirit and big ideas involving my Christmas decorations and the pile of trash I just finished gathering. He’s like an eager elf with a sledgehammer and glue.

But, it’s my three-year-old who is going to sign the papers at the crazy house. This funny little fellow aptly took on the role of middle-child long before there was a baby to make it official. He is cute as a button and silly as a goose, but boy does he have a flair for the dramatics! He’s got a propensity for tantrums even on his best days and when he’s not feeling well…well, just be thankful you don’t need to be around him when he’s sick. He was sick last week, just in time for the Christmas rush…a little virus which led to a double ear infection, which caused a few miserable, feverish days. It put a bit of a kink in my carefully crafted schedule leading up to Christmas. But, such is life with a family. You take the challenges with the rewards and be thankful when the challenges are only as major as an ear infection and a few tantrums. He’s better now and back at school today, which means I can resume my elfing at double speed.

I’m about to run down to the grocery store now to start gathering provisions for Christmas entertaining. But first I have to share these cookies with you. I decided I needed to add some last minute chocolate chip cookies to this year’s collection, but I didn’t want the standard tollhouse cookie. I wanted something flat and chewy, with big chunks of chocolate and dried cherries. I thought that if I eliminated the baking soda, the cookies would stay flatter. A batch of those cookies proved me wrong. Turns out that the key to flatter cookies is a higher proportion of butter to the other ingredients. So, I reduced the flour, increased the sugar, and played around with the size and baking temperature until I came up with the perfect, flat and chewy chocolate chip cookie.

Trust me, Santa likes his chocolate chip cookies like this!

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries, chopped

Directions

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Then, beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and dried cherries. Refrigerate for about an hour. (You can skip the refrigeration, but the dough will be much more manageable after a bit of chilling.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll the dough into balls, just under an inch in diameter. (Refrigerate remaining dough between batces.) Place the balls at least 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake on the middle rack for 11-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Tutti Frutti Chocolate Fudge and Crispy Peanut Butter Snowballs

There’s less than a week until Christmas! Is anyone else absolutely buzzing with excitement? I mean, literally trembling with anticipation??? Or maybe that’s just the result of the extra caffeine I’ve been pumping into my system to give me enough Santa power to get everything accomplished in time.

I hesitate to admit it, but I may have taken on too much this time. I’m absolutely spinning in my to-do list. My kitchen looks like Pamplona post bull run. My guest room (which needs to be houseguest-ready by Wednesday), looks like Santa’s workshop in the 11th hour. There’s glitter permanently embedded in the baby’s scalp (you know that stuff never comes off) from the place-setting ornaments I decided to make for each of my sixteen Christmas dinner guests. And there’s still a googly eye hot-glued to my wrist from the small army of candy cane reindeer my sons and I prepared for their little schoolmates. Oh, and though I’ve been baking faster than the Keebler elves, I don’t think I’ve made enough to pass out to all of the people on my list.

It’s too late to turn back now. Onward we go.

I’ve been tossing around a few stories I’d hoped to pair with this post, stories about Christmas trees, wish lists, and snakes in my bathtub. Yes, snakes in my bathtub! But, I fear I may never get this posted if I don’t just get right to it! So, let’s just do this.

They say variety is the spice of life. Well, same goes for cookie platters. The key to a great cookie platter is variety of flavors, textures, and color. So, in addition to the standard mix of baked oatmeal chocolate chip craisin cookies, vanilla cherry drops, and sand tarts, I like to include a few other non-cookie type goodies…like chocolate dipped dried fruits or pretzels, truffles, and fudge. Like this simple and delicious tutti frutti chocolate fudge or kid-friendly crispy peanut butter snowballs!

If you’ve got even a little space left on your holiday to-do list, go ahead and pencil these in!

Tutti Frutti Chocolate Fudge

Ingredients

  • 3 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup fruitcake mix (finely chopped, mixed candied fruits), divided

Directions

Lightly butter two 8×8 inch baking dishes or one 13×9 baking dish. Combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and salt in a pan over medium heat. Bring to a full boil. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low if the mixture bubbles up too vigorously. Remove from heat. Stir in the marshmallows and chocolate chips until melted. Stir in 3/4 cup of the candied fruit. Pour the fudge into the baking dish(es). Sprinkle the remaining candied fruit on top. Cool completely at room temperature. Then, refrigerate until firm. Remove the fudge from the baking dish and cut into small squares. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

Makes 4 pounds

Crispy Peanut Butter Snowballs

Ingredients

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup crisped rice cereal (Rice Krispies)
  • 1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Directions

Combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, and rice cereal until well blended. Roll into 1″ balls. Roll the balls in the shredded coconut to adhere. Store in a cool place until serving or adding to cookie platters.

Coconut Crisps

I mourn my lack of singing ability every time O Holy Night comes on the radio. Man, do I wish I could sing the bananas out of that song! Mind you, my lack of musical ability doesn’t even begin to stop me from belting it out at the top of my lungs. My poor, unfortunate children who have to listen to me sing!

It’s one of my life’s greatest heartaches; my longing for even a pinch of musical ability. I would have been a Broadway star. Or maybe taken Michael Flatley’s place as the fast-stepping star of Riverdance. At least I could have tried, if I’d had even an ounce of talent to pursue that path. But I’m resigned to simply sing along with the soundtracks and watch episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, with both admiration and envy in my heart. It just wasn’t the path my life was meant to take.

But, I can bake.

And I can play around with ingredients to create delicious treats, like these coconut crisps. O holy night, are these good! Thin, crispy, and buttery. We’re going coconuts over these cookies around here. It’s gonna take a lot of self-control to save some for our Christmas guests. I promise I’ll try.

Coconut Crisps

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

Directions

Using a hand-mixer, blend together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the salt, vanilla, and egg. Beat until well-blended. Blend in the flour and the coconut. Form the dough into a ball and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, until firm and moldable. Form the dough in a log shape, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in the wax paper and roll the dough to make it as even and round as possible. Freeze for at least 2 hours, until hard.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the dough into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange the slices on cookies sheets, at least two inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown around the edges and on the bottom. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies will be soft initially, so you can somewhat adjust the shape, if necessary. Store the completely cooled cookies in an air-tight container.

Makes about 3 dozen

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