Double-Sided Caucus Sugar Cookies

Halloween fun time is over for another year. Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, so in meantime we can celebrate Election Day. As we do our civic duty to shape the country, the state or local government, I’ll show you how to make these fun-shaped Caucus Sugar Cookies for your election night results viewing parties. Does everyone do that with their friends? Or is it just me?

These fun-shaped sugar cookies are double the fun, because they are double sided. One side has your favorite political party. The other side has your state or the United States. Fun, right? Is it still just me? Well, these cookies get my vote, I hope they’ll get your vote, too. 

They’re made by layering pieces of dough. The bottom layer will be of plain dough, with a shape cut out. Then you insert the same shape that has been cut out from another piece of dough of the desired color. Then repeat with the top layer. Then lightly press around the surface of the cookie to make sure the pieces stick together. Be careful not to press too hard, so you don’t alter the shapes.

TIPS FOR A MORE PERFECT UNION

These cookies take patience and involves quite a bit of inactive time. This particular sugar cookie dough rolls out easier at room temperature, but it is best to work cutting out the shapes and layering the dough while it is very cold. Likewise, baking the cookies while very cold gives the cookies a perfect flaky, yet chewy texture with slightly crisp edges. So, once you’ve assembled the cookies, they’ll need to go back into the fridge. 30 minutes to one hour between steps should do the trick.

It’s more efficient to roll out the dough into a square to optimize the amount of shapes you can cut out of each piece of dough. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time making the dough into a square. So, a little trick I use is to make a lightly indented cross in the dough with the rolling pin. Then starting diagonally, from the center, roll out towards the corner. Then repeat for all four corners. Apply light pressure, spread the dough further with each roll of the pin. 

mark the dough with a cross
mark the dough with a cross

I like to roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. This trick keeps the dough and food coloring from sticking to your work surface and rolling pin. It’s also easier to stack and store your various dough colors until you’re ready for them. Especially if you’re limited on work and storage space, as I am.

Once you’ve cut out the shapes, you’ll have quite a bit of scraps. Just gather up the scraps of like colors, knead the dough, roll it back out, cut more shapes then make more cookies. Just make sure you flip the cookie cutter or dough so the shapes are facing the right way on each side of the cookie. Then, when you’re down to the last of your dough, just cut out the shapes and bake them 

This process works well for any shaped cookies you want to do. Just be sure to measure out your pieces of dough big enough to fit your largest cookie cutter. Since you’ll be layering the pieces, you’ll want all the pieces the same size. Otherwise you get an imperfect pattern on your cookie.

When layering the pieces of dough, be sure to match up the shape rather than the full pieces of dough. You’ll trim the excess dough and neaten up the edges once they’re lined up, so you need not worry about the pieces being even. Be careful when trimming the edges paying close attention to the bottom shape. If the state is on the bottom, you don’t want to inadvertently secede part of the state to the scrap pile. 

sugar cookie assembly line up the shapes
sugar cookie assembly line up the shapes
sugar cookie assembly flip side of cookie
sugar cookie assembly flip side of cookie

As you can see, the donkey cookie cutter is about twice the size of the others, so there will be some very large cookies in the batch. Maybe the lucky individual who gets this big cookie can share half of the cookie with someone who doesn’t have a cookie.

 

Sample of double sided sugar cookies

Double Sided Caucus Sugar Cookies

These cookies are easy to make, can be made ahead of time and frozen or baked fresh the same day. The layering of the dough gives you a cookie with a shape on each side. 

Course Dessert
Keyword Cookies
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 10 minutes
Inactive time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

  • 5 cups flour divided
  • 3 3/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups butter softened to room temp
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp almond extract or other desired flavor
  • food coloring desired colors
  • sprinkles for decorating if desired

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, add the extracts, then add the eggs on at a time.

  2. On low speed, gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Keep on low speed until all the sugar is added so you don’t get a cloud of sugary powder all over your kitchen. Then increase the speed until the sugar is fully incorporated.

    sugar cookie dough
  3. Reduce to low speed and add the salt then gradually add the flour (for the same reason noted above) until the dough starts to form. You may not need all 5 cups of the flour. The dough should be firm enough to form into a ball without crumbling, yet shouldn’t be so sticky that it sticks to your hand. I prefer to hand mix the flour after adding about 3 cups of the flour so I can get a feel for the texture of the dough. Empty the bowl of dough onto a clean, dry, lightly floured work space. Gradually add more flour by kneading the dough, until the dough is a texture that can be formed (like Play Doh). Reserve remaining flour to sprinkle onto the dough as needed while rolling and assembling the cookies. (I usually have a little flour left over when done.)

    sugar cookie dough texture
  4. Form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into portions as determined by how many colors you’ll be using. For this project, you’ll need more plain dough than the colored dough.

    sugar cookie dough divided
  5. Form one section of dough into a ball and poke an indentation into the dough. Then add the food coloring. (I prefer the gel food coloring.) Adding just a little goes a long way. Be careful not to add too much. You can always add a little more if it’s not enough, but can’t remove it if it’s too much. 

    sugar cookie dough adding food coloring
  6. Knead the dough until the food coloring is well incorporated. Then place between two sheets of wax paper. Roll out into a thin layer (approximately 1/8 of an inch). The layer should be thinner than a usual cut out cookie dough since we’ll be layering the dough. Refrigerate the dough until needed. Since the dough is so thin, it is much easier to handle if it is very cold.

    green sugar cookie dough
  7. Repeat this process with each color of dough and the plain dough. Remember to refrigerate each section of dough for at least 30 minutes once it is rolled out.

    sugar cookie dough rolled thin
  8. IF YOU’RE MAKING A LOT OF THE SAME SHAPE COOKIE: When the dough is cold enough to handle without it being limp, remove the top layer of wax paper. Cut out your first desired shape. Leaving at least one inch between your shapes so you’ll have enough dough to cut out the square pieces later. Add the cut out shape to a “scrap” pile to roll out later. 

    sugar cookie dough with shapes cut out
  9. IF YOU’RE MAKING A VARIETY OF SHAPES: Cut your refrigerated dough into square or rectangle pieces large enough to fit your largest cookie cutter. Then cut the desired shape out of each piece. 

    sugar cookie dough squares 2
  10. Cut the same shape of the desired colored dough then insert the shape into the whole cut out of the plain dough. If the dough doesn’t fit exactly, you can easily press the dough into the shape or stretch it to fit. Hint: If you are making a lot of a particular cookie, you can layer the sheet of the plain dough (with the shapes already cut out) over a layer of the desired colored dough. 

  11. Repeat this process with your desired flip side of the cookie shapes. Cut your dough into squares around your filled in shapes. Remember to flip the dough so your shape is facing the right way after assembling the cookie.  (Note: In this picture, the top side of the cookie is the elephant and the bottom of the cookie is the State of Maine. So in order for the State of Maine to be facing the correct way after assembly, it needs to be facing backwards in this step.)

    sugar cookie assembly
  12. Line up the shape in piece of dough that will be the top of the cookie over the shape of the bottom piece of dough. Some of the plain dough may be hanging over, but that will get trimmed in the next step. It’s important that the shapes be lined up so that portions of the shapes don’t get trimmed off.

    sugar cookie assembly line up the shapes
  13. Trim the uneven edges of the cookie paying close attention to the bottom cookie so that you don’t accidently cut off part of the state. Lightly press the two pieces together so they stick together without applying too much pressure to change the shapes.

    sugar cookie trim the edges 2
  14. Trim the corners of the cookie if you want a more round-ish cookie. Or you can leave them square if you prefer. Don’t worry if the shape has a flaw in the dough, it will bake out. But if you find you have a hole in the shape, you can lightly pack a small piece of the same color dough to fix it. 

    sugar cookie assembly rounded edges 2
  15. If they are assembled and trimmed correctly, you’ll have a double-sided cookie with a different shape visible on each side. Gather up any scraps of the same color, roll it out then make more cookies. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. If you don’t have enough dough remaining to do the double sided cookies, just make single shape cut outs until you use up all the dough.

    sugar cookie assembly flip side of cookie
  16. Refrigerate the assembled cookies for at least 30 minutes. 

  17. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. 

  18. When laying out the assembled cookies in preparation for baking, decide ahead of time which cookie you want to look prettier. The bottom side will have baked markings, but your shape will hold during the process.

  19. Leave the assembled cookies in the fridge until they are ready to go in the oven.
  20. Bake 5-12 minutes. 5 minutes for a single cut out cookie. 5-10 for medium sized (3 or 4 inch) double sided cookies. 10-12 minutes for the large double sided cookies (5 inches or larger). It’s best to keep an eye on them starting at 5 minutes. When the edges are slightly golden brown but the center still looks a little soft, they are done. 

    baked sugar cookies 2

How do you spend Election Day? Do you think you’ll try these for cookies for Election Day or another occasion? Let me know in the comments below. For more fun recipes, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Caramel Apple Brownie Crisps

How do you like them apples?

Everywhere I look this time of year is pumpkin-spice-this and pumpkin-spice-that. Although I am a sucker for the delicious seasonal trend, I must admit that I am a bigger fan of everything apple. Apple pie, baked apples, apple crisp, caramel apples, apple stuffing and pork chops. These Caramel Apple Brownie Crisps, however, are a perfect pairing of chocolate, caramel and apples and will surely be a hit at any Autumnal event. 

I may have mentioned a time or two before that I love brownies and cookies. This recipe is like a combination cookie and brownie. It’s the best of both of the baked confections worlds. It’s crispy, yet soft and chewy, and depending on whether or not you like toppings, there are many possibilities. You can eat them without a topping, but with so many options, why would you? The crisps go great with a ganache, peanut butter frosting, icing, or glazes. 

This Treat Does the Trick Everytime

This caramel apple sauce topping, by the way, is excellent on cheesecake or vanilla ice cream, too. I love this caramel apple sauce so much, I could eat it by the spoonful. I won’t do that though. Because I’m a grown up and need to exercise a little self control. Besides, today, it’s going on the brownie crisps that I cut into fun Halloween shapes. ‘Tis the season and all, so what’s better for a Halloween gathering than Caramel Apple…Brownie Crisps?

Caramel Apple Brownie Crisps

Caramel apple is a perfect flavor for the season. These brownie-like cookie crisps are excellent with the caramel apple sauce or can be enjoyed without the topping.

Course Dessert
Keyword Brownies
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

For the Brownie Crisps

  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 2 extra large egg whites
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

For the Caramel Apple Sauce and Topping

  • 3 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced I use Ida Red
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vanilla Crown Royal optional
  • 3 tbsp butter divided
  • 1/4 cup vanilla greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Seasonal sprinkles or candy toppings

Instructions

For the Brownie Crisps

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees then line two 11 1/2 X 15 1/2  X 1 with parchment paper.

    Brownie crisp ingredients2
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter then gradually add the chocolate chips. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Add the vanilla and allow to cool while you prepare the next steps.

    Melted chocolate
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.

    Flour and cocoa
  4. In a large bowl, separate the egg whites from two of the eggs and add two whole eggs. Beat until the egg yolks and whites are well incorporated then slowly add the sugar and beat until frothy. 

    Separated eggs
  5. Add the chocolate and vanilla mixture to the egg mixture. Then gradually add the flour mixture. Be careful not to overmix. Just stir until the flour is incorporated. 

    Eggs and sugar
  6. Divide the batter between two parchment-lined baking sheets then spread the batter out to the edges. 

    Brownie batter spread out
  7. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes. The batter will be almost set, but still very soft. Cut the brownie into squares of desired size or use cookie cutters for fun shapes. Don’t separate the shapes. Cutting the shapes before the brownie is done baking will give each piece a crispy edge. Return to the oven to bake for an additional 5-10 minutes watching closely so not to burn them.

    Partially baked dough with shapes
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before separating the pieces. (If you’re using a cookie cutter, you will have miscellaneous pieces of various sizes and shapes…use them as a topping, save them for nibbling or pulse them into crumbs in a food processor and save for use in a pie crust another time.)

For the Caramel Apple Sauce Topping

  1. In a medium saucepan bring apple cider, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to a boil. 

  2. Add 1 tbsp. of the butter to the boiling mixture. Once the butter has melted, reduce heat, add the apples and Vanilla Crown Royal, if desired, then simmer until the apples are tender. (Approx. 10 minutes.)

    Apple caramel sauce
  3. Remove the apples from the liquid and reserve for another use.

  4. Return the liquid to a boil then add the remaining 2 tbsps. of butter and Vanilla Greek yogurt. Stir until well incorporated.

  5. In a small bowl, add the cornstarch and about a 1/2 cup of the boiling cider liquid. Whisk until smooth then gradually add the mixture to the cider and whisking constantly so not to burn the sauce. Whisk until thick and smooth. Set aside to allow to cool before topping the brownie crisps.

  6. Spread a small amount of the sauce onto the smooth side (bottom) of the crisps. Top with sprinkles, crisp crumbs or candies of your choice.

    Apple Caramel Brownie Crisps

Let me know what you think in the comments below and be sure to not miss a single recipe by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

The Ultimate Comfort Food – Beginning With Mirepoix

Do you know what I like about mirepoix (pronounced meer pwa)? Besides the fact that it is fun to say, it’s the basic foundation of many soups, stews and sauces. It’s commonly made up of aromatics such as carrots, celery and onions. I’m adding garlic and green bell peppers to the trio because I find it packs a lot more flavor. It’s the beginning of many layers of flavor I’ll be using today in my hearty homemade tomato sauce which then goes on to the star of the show, American Chop Suey.

Sweat or sauté

The idea of mirepoix is to sweat the vegetables over a low heat for about an hour in a small amount of fat. I like to use a little butter and extra virgin olive oil for an additional layer of flavor. You don’t necessarily want to sauté the veggies because that method cooks the product too quickly and you will get a much different flavor result. Sweating is similar to sautéing, however, at a much lower temperature and for a longer period of time. Sweating softens the veggies, releases water from them without browning. This will draw out their natural sweetness and will be helpful later when we add the tomatoes. The reward for your patience in the slow cooking of the veggies is that the sweetness from the mirepoix will neutralize some of the acid from the tomatoes.

There are many different combinations to make a mirepoix. The possibilities are endless. Most often you will see a basic mirepoix is 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot and 1 part celery. That is an excellent starting point. However, you may want to experiment with the ratios to find different flavors that suit your tastes. I find I like more carrots than onions and that is what I use in this recipe.

As I mentioned, mirepoix is found in many foods. I like to make a big batch of it so I can have it on hand for a quick soup or stew. Depending on the dish you’re making, you might even consider adding some bacon to the mixture for additional flavor. Likewise, ginger adds a lot of flavor and goes well if you use a mirepoix when making a stir fry. For other recipes, which I will share another time, I use different combinations.

The. Ultimate. Comfort. Food.

For now though, get ready for American Chop Suey, the ultimate comfort food. I’ve made this dish countless times for lunches or casual get togethers. People always seem surprised that this dish has mozzarella cheese in it. How could it not? I mean, all of the ingredients are just screaming to be covered in cheese. *Disclaimer* I am a cheese fanatic. If I could find a way to add cheese to my breakfast cereal that isn’t gross, I would totally do it. Stay tuned, you never know what challenges await.

American Chop Suey

A hearty pasta dish packed with a hearty tomato sauce, ground beef and mozzarella cheese.

Course Dinner
Keyword Pasta
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours
Author Lisa

Ingredients

Mirepoix

  • 2 cups carrots shredded or diced
  • 2 cups red and green bell peppers diced
  • 1 cup onion diced
  • 1 cup celery diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • drizzle olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • pinch salt

Hearty Tomato Sauce

  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 12 oz can tomato paste (optional - as needed)
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef

American Chop Suey

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 3-4 cups mozzarella cheese shredded

Instructions

Mirepoix

  1. In a large skillet over low heat, drizzle olive oil  to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the butter until melted.

    Mirepoix ingredients
  2. Shred the carrots, dice the onions, celery and bell peppers, mince the garlic. Add to the skillet. Toss the ingredients until well coated. Add the pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for approximately one hour. (Be sure to keep an eye on the vegetables, you shouldn't hear loud sizzling while it's cooking and your ingredients shouldn't turn brown. If this starts happening, reduce heat.) 

    Mirepoix simmering

Hearty tomato sauce

  1. While the vegetables are sweating, in a separate skillet, over medium heat, brown the ground beef. Add half of the broth, and all of the seasonings. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

    Ground beef for tomato sauce
  2. After the mirepoix has simmered for the hour, add the remaining broth to the mixture and bring to a low boil. 

    Mirepoix plus broth
  3. Combine the mirepoix mixture and the ground beef mixture. Then add the crushed and diced tomatoes. Continue to simmer up to another hour. The sauce will thicken and get sweeter the longer it cooks. If the sauce is too thin for your liking, you can gradually add some of the tomato paste a little at a time until your sauce reaches your desired consistency.

    hearty tomato sauce
  4. Meanwhile, cook one pound of pasta according to the package directions.

    Elbow macaroni

American Chop Suey

  1. When the pasta is cooked to your desired tenderness, gradually add the sauce and mozzarella cheese to the pasta and mix thoroughly. 

    American chop suey assembly2

Mainely Salsa-tional

Salsa ingredients
Salsa ingredients

Pico de gallo or Salsa?

They are both basically salads, but classified as sauces. Salsa is made with tomatoes, onions, and one or more varieties of peppers. Depending on what recipe you follow, there may also be other ingredients, but they’re chopped and mixed together.

The actual definition of salsa is a spicy tomato sauce. Salsa is sometimes cooked, sometimes not, again it depends on the recipe. It will have more liquid and has a thinner, soupier texture than its counterpart. 

Pico de gallo literally translated from Spanish is Rooster’s Beak. It is also known as salsa fresco. Pico de gallo is not cooked, this seems to be a standard rule. The chopped vegetables are clearly visible in the mixture. It’s chunkier and more rustic. It doesn’t require much seasoning other than salt and cilantro.

With all that said, I call my recipe a “Salsa” even though I use all fresh ingredients, don’t cook it and you can clearly see all the vegetables in it. But, I do add seasonings and other non-traditional ingredients which gives it more liquid than a traditional salsa.

Don’t worry, though, by non-traditional, I don’t mean you’ll find any rooster beaks in this recipe; but what you will find, however, is a lot of flavor. You can control the amount of heat, by selecting milder peppers and reducing the amount of ground cayenne. But, if made as the recipe calls, you’ll find a pleasant refreshing, almost sweet-tasting salsa followed a moment later by a little spicy kick.

 

Too Many Players On The Field

This particular recipe is slightly different than my very first version made many years ago. I once had to make an emergency alteration to stretch the recipe.

Has this ever happen to you? You’re only expecting a few people to show up for a gathering, but next thing you know, you have twice as many people than you’re prepared for. What do you do? I mean besides freak out about whether or not you have enough food for everyone. Well, this happened to me once and necessity became the mother of creativity.

I invited some friends over to watch football. I was only expecting 6 people, so I only made a small batch of salsa. It was kind of an unwritten rule that I would strategically put out bowls of salsa and chips within reach so my guests could nibble throughout the game. Next thing I knew I had twice as many people than I expected. I did not have enough salsa to place around for everyone and I couldn’t place a skimpy bowl of salsa in front of my guests.

I scrambled for ideas, I fumbled at the thought of adding the salsa to a big brick of melted cheese and just making a dip instead. But, I recovered and decided to just add some random vegetables from the crisper drawer. That move ended up winning the game..I mean the approval of my guests. They liked it better than the first draft and I still make it that way to this day.

I debated for a long time about sharing this recipe. This is the recipe that was going to make me rich and famous. I made it for an office party once and a few people offered to pay me to make it for them again. At that time I offered to share the recipe, but for one reason or another they thought it was just easier for them to pay me to make it. So, for a while, word got around and I was making gallons of this salsa every week. I brought it to the office, craft fairs, made gifts for friends and it was requested often for parties or just when we were hanging out for no special occasion. 

So, finally, that brings me to the name. Mainely Salsational. I had some very clever co-workers who would be gracious enough to sample my experiments while I was trying to come up with some new varieties. Some of those experiments were successful and others, eh not so much. These clever co-workers used a play on words making salsational out of the salsa is sensational. And, of course, Mainely because we’re from Maine and no one expects salsa from Maine to be a thing. Today I’m just going to share what is now called my “Original” salsa. I’ll share the other successful recipes another time.

Original Salsa

A fresh salsa with a touch of sweetness and a slight kick

Course Snack
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes seeded and diced
  • 1 cup cucumber seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup red onion diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers (medium size) seeded and minced
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • sugar as need optional
  • cilantro optional

Instructions

  1. Set a strainer in a small bowl. Cut the stem end off of each tomato and cut in half. Squeeze the tomato over the strainer to catch the seeds. Reserve the juice to the side. If you have the handy chop wizard kitchen gadget, you can use it to dice the remainder of the tomato and other veggies to get a nice, uniform size. Otherwise dice the tomatoes as usual. Add the diced tomatoes to a large bowl that has a lid.

    Chop Wizard
  2. Peel the cucumbers, cut in quarters lengthwise then cut off and discard the sections of seeds. Dice the remainder of the cucumber then add to the tomatoes.

  3. Remove the seeds from the peppers and discard. Dice the remainder of the peppers then add to the tomato mixture. (NOTE: If you want to add a little heat to the salsa, leave some of the jalapeno seeds and membrane. If you want a milder salsa, be sure to remove all the seeds and the membrane.)

  4. Mince the garlic then add to the tomato mixture.

  5. Add the remaining ingredients (except the sugar) to the reserved tomato juice. Stir well until the dried seasonings are well dissolved.

  6. Pour the mixture over the tomato mixture and stir until all the vegetables are well coated. Cover the salsa and refrigerate. (Trust me, you want to cover this dish. Otherwise everything in your fridge will taste like salsa.)

    Salsa
  7. This salsa will taste even better the next day, so if you have time, I would suggest making it the day before you want to serve it. 

  8. Adding sugar to this recipe is sometimes needed depending on your taste. Sometimes, after the vegetables have had time to infuse with the sauce, it will become a little sweeter. I would recommend not adding the sugar until the next day. And if you do need to add the sugar, start with a 1/2 tsp at a time. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and well blended. Repeat if necessary.

  9. I listed cilantro as optional because I am not really a fan of it and I do not miss it in the salsa when I make it, but others feel that it is needed and have enjoyed it when I’ve made it with the cilantro. So, it is up to you. Use as needed.

Do you prefer your salsa cooked or do you like the freshness of uncooked better? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for more recipes.

Chocolate Cupcakes with whipped cream filling

cupcakes2
cupcakes2

I chose to make these chocolate cupcakes today for several reasons. First, these cupcakes are one of my favorites as well as a favorite among my friends and family that have had them. So, I’m counting on them being a hit for some other special people, too. Second, I recently purchased some new Russian piping tips that I have been dying to try, so this is the perfect opportunity to see if they measure up to the hype.

Russian piping tips
Russian piping tips

As some of my readers may have noticed, I’ve been on hiatus for a few months. Well, my mother had been sick, so sharing my recipes had to be put on the back burner temporarily. She is getting better every day, but she had to spend time in a local nursing and rehabilitation facility. She made some friends while there and she took a liking to some of the staff as well. I wanted to show my appreciation with a small token of what I do best. CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES.

cupcakes
cupcakes

I also had a friend’s birthday recently. She doesn’t ask for much, but she has been hankering something chocolatey. So, these chocolate cupcakes should do the trick.

They’ve got lots of butter and eggs, so they’re rich and moist. As an added bonus, I like to add a little fresh, whipped cream, peanut butter or jelly to center of these chocolate cakes, so you get a little surprise in each bite. There’s no limit to the possible types of frosting to finish them off either.

If you need some tips on making the perfect texture of cake, I provide a lot of information in my article Italian Cream Cake and Tips For A Better Batter.

Icing, glaze, ganache, frosting, or fondant?

So, what’s the difference between them all? It depends on who you ask. You’ll probably get a different answer from from different parts of the country and different parts of the world as well. But, I’m going to tell you what I call them so we can be on the same page for the purpose of these recipes.

Generally, though, frosting is thick and fluffy. The mixture is made from a base of dairy products, such as butter and/or cream cheese, and powdered sugar. It’s fluffy enough to stand on its own in various shapes made by piping, yet thick enough to spread with a spatula.

Icing generally has a thinner, glossier texture and is made with a powdered sugar base and water or milk and often times food coloring will be added. This mixture hardens somewhat when it dries, so it is perfect for decorating cookies.

A glaze also has a thinner, glossier texture and is made with a powdered sugar base, but generally uses a fruit juice for added flavor. This mixture can be easily poured over your scones, donuts or other pastries and cakes.

Chocolate ganache is the best of both of the worlds of frosting and icing. It’s thick enough to be a substantial addition to your cake, much like that of frosting. But it’s also thin and glossy, like an icing, that can just be poured over your desserts.

Fondant is a thick paste made of sugar, water and egg whites or meringue powder which, when dried, it can be rolled out into a sheet then laid out and formed around the cake.

Fun fact

Powdered sugar is also known as confectioner’s sugar, icing sugar or 10X sugar. The 10 in 10X represents the number of times the granulated sugar has been processed to make it into the fine powdery substance that easily dissolves. Powdered sugar is also a preferred sugar used by candy makers…or confectioners.

Cream filled Chocolate Cupcakes

A rich, moist, dark chocolate cake with a creamy filling.

Course Dessert
Keyword chocolate
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling and decorating 4 hours
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 42 cupcakes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 cup unsifted unsweetened dark cocoa
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee granules + 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 3/4 cups sifted flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

For the filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

For the cake:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine cocoa with boiling water, mixing together with a wire whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool completely (about 2 hours).

  2. In a small bowl, mix the instant coffee granules with the warm water until thoroughly dissolved. Add to the cooled cocoa mixture.

  3. Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda.

  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with liners. (I would recommend baking no more than 24 cupcakes at a time, otherwise you may need to adjust your baking time and temperature. This recipe would require baking the batter in two batches.)

    You can also make this recipe into a 3-layer cake using three, 9 inch cake pans.

  5. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, at the setting for creaming, cream the butter and the sugar for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

    Cake batter adding flour
  6. Add the vanilla then the eggs, one at a time, just until you can no longer see the ingredient you just added. Overmixing will flatten your fluffy butter mixture.

    Gradually adding the cocoa
  7. At low speed, beat in the flour mixture (in fourths), alternately with the cocoa mixture (in thirds) beginning and ending with the flour mixture, just until you can no longer see the ingredient you just added. Overmixing will flatten your fluffy butter mixture and will alter the structure of your cake.

    Mix just until the ingredient is added
  8. Fill cupcake cups approximately 3/4 to the top of the liner and bake for 13-15 minutes. There should be a few moist crumbs on a toothpick when inserted to the middle of the cupcake. The cakes will finish baking while they are cooling down. Allow the cakes to cool for about 1 hour before proceeding to the next step.

    (If you prefer the layer cake, divide the batter evenly between 3 cake pans, bake 25-30 minutes or until a few moist crumbs remain on a toothpick when inserted into the middle of the cake.)

    whipped cream2

For the filling

  1. Whip the heavy cream, vanilla and confectioner’s sugar on high speed of electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. 

    Filling tip
  2. Once the cupcakes are cooled, using a decorating bag fitted with a filling tip, fill the bag with the whipped cream. Insert the tip into the cake and gently squeeze until the cupcake is filled with the cream.

    (If making the layered cake, simply spread the whipped cream between layers.

    Glass stand
  3. If you have trouble filling your decorating bag, try wrapping the opening of the bag over the rim of a tall glass. This will keep the bag open while you are scraping your bowl and filling the bag. You can also rest your bag in the glass when not in use to avoid a messy work area.

  4. Decorate with your favorite frosting or check out my favorite recipes below.

    filled cupcakes

No matter how you choose to top these delicious miniature cakes, any one of the following recipes will be sure to please the crowd. I’m partial to either buttercream, ganache or cream cheese frostings for cake and not really a fan of fondants because I prefer a fluffy, whipped texture as opposed to the sheet of sweetness. I’ve only used store bought fondant before, but I have a few recipes I want to try. Who knows? I may change my mind and give fondant another chance. Look for my recipes for icings and glazes in the near future. I think you’ll enjoy the pastries that go along with them too. 

Buttercream Frosting

Course Frosting
Keyword Frosting
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup crisco I use butter flavored crisco
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk if needed
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and shortening until light and fluffy. (The butter should be at room temperature. If they are too soft, return to the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

  2. Add the vanilla.

  3. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue beating until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

  4. You may not need all the confectioner’s sugar. If your frosting becomes to thick, gradually add a teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach the desired consistency.

    buttercream divided

Cream Cheese Frosting

Course Frosting
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese softened
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp milk if needed

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and shortening until light and fluffy. (The butter should be at room temperature. If they are too soft, return to the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

  2. Add the vanilla.

  3. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue beating until frosting is smooth and creamy.

  4. You may not need all the confectioner’s sugar. If your frosting becomes to thick, gradually add a teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach the desired consistency.

    cream cheese frosting

Peanut Butter Frosting

Course Frosting
Keyword Peanut butter
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup crisco
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 4-5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and shortening until light and fluffy. (The butter should be at room temperature. If they are too soft, return to the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

  2. Add the peanut butter.

  3. Add the vanilla.

  4. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue beating until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

  5. You may not need all the confectioner’s sugar. If your frosting becomes to thick, gradually add a teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach the desired consistency. If the frosting is to thin, gradually add additional confectioner’s sugar.

    cupcakes

Chocolate Ganache

Course Frosting
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules

Instructions

  1. In a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate.

  2. Add instant coffee granules. Stirring until smooth.

  3. Gradually add the heavy cream and continue stirring until well incorporated and mixture is smooth and creamy.

  4. Decorate by dipping the tops of the cupcakes into the mixture or pouring the mixture over the cakes. The mixture will harden as it sits. 

    cupcakes

Chocolate Frosting


Course Frosting
Keyword chocolate
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Cooling time 1 hour
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 6 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, combine the chocolate pieces, cream and butter.

  2. Stir until all chocolate pieces have melted and mixture is smooth.

  3. Remove from the heat.

  4. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar whisking until sugar is fully incoorporated and mixture is smooth. It may be necessary to to place the pan in a bowl of ice to help with the cooling down process. 

  5. Decorate as desired. 

    cream filled chocolate cake

Classic Potato Salad – A Summertime Standard

With summertime BBQ season upon us, what is the best side dish to bring to the party? Potato salad, of course. There are so many variations of potato salad out there, but I prefer the classic American, creamy, potato salad. My grandmother made this recipe, then my mother made this recipe, so naturally, I make this recipe, too. I do not have children to take over the recipe, so I hope someone else finds it and makes it a tradition in their family, too.

In my opinion, the star of the show is the dressing. The dressing is where the flavor is packed. Adding different toppings, such as bacon crumbles or hard-boiled eggs are delightful, too. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about what type of potato to use in your salad. Pick the wrong potato and they could end up getting smooshed during mixing when you add your dressing. Then you’re left with mashed potatoes with mayonnaise.

TUBER OR NOT TUBER?

Yes. A potato is a tuber, specifically a stem tuber. A stem tuber is basically an enlarged structure of the plant where it stores its nutrients it will need for winter and for regrowth. In order to pick out the right kind for your dish, you’ll need to know a few things. Essentially, there are three categories of potatoes based on their texture. Starchy, All-Purpose, and Waxy. Potato salads need potatoes that will hold their shape after cooking. So, understanding what happens during the cooking process will help when making your selection.

Starchy potatoes, such as Russets are good for baking, mashing or French fries. The highly dense starch cells swell and separate from one another when cooked which give these potato items a fluffy texture.

Waxy potatoes, such as Red Bliss, have the least starch, so there is less cell separation and are best for boiling, stews, and salads. There is less breakdown, so these potatoes will hold their shape very well.

All-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, have a moderate amount of starch and are ideal for au gratins, roasting or steaming. As the name implies, they can also be used for any purpose, but just note that your results may vary slightly.

Potato Salad

The creamy, classic American potato salad. 

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword Potato Salad
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Cooling time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds Red Bliss potatoes
  • 2 tbsp salt for potato water
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Splenda or sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste for dressing
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonaisse
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced celery

Instructions

  1. Scrub potato skins then cut into bite-size cubes.

    Potato Salad
  2. Place in a large pot, cover with cold water, add 2 tbsp of salt to the water. Cover the pot with a lid. 

  3. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Remove lid, lower temperature to medium/high heat and continue a slow boil for 8-12 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. 

  4. Drain the liquid from the potatoes and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. (Spreading them out over a cookie sheet will speed up the cooling process.)

  5. In a large bowl, add the vinegar, Splenda, salt, pepper, milk, and sour cream.

  6. Add the mayonaisse, a little at a time until the dressing reaches the desired thickness. 

    Potato Salad Dressing
  7. Add the celery and onions.

  8. Once the potatoes have cooled completely, add them to the dressing and lightly toss the dressing to coat the potatoes. 

    Potato Salad 3

Recipe Notes

I use Splenda instead of sugar because I have diabetics in my family and try not to use sugar where it doesn't make a difference to the outcome of the dish. It also dissolves a lot quicker than sugar. But, sugar absolutely works too.  

What is your favorite summertime side dish? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

M&M Cookies A Memorial Day Favorite

If You’ve Had One, You’ve Had Them All?

Homemade cookies are one of my favorite things to make. I know, I say that about everything, but here’s the thing, homemade cookies are not only delicious, they are also easy and quick to make, how can you not love them? Pretty much every drop cookie out there has been derived from the basic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. But, does that mean that if you’ve had one, you’ve had them all? No, it doesn’t. There are so many variations available, how do you know which one to pick? I’ll share my M&M Cookies recipe today and then we’ll discuss what makes them soft and chewy, light and cakey or crisp and crunchy. We’ll also look at some mishaps in the kitchen and explain how to prevent cookie disasters.

But First, Some History

In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day, I thought it would be fitting to discuss the role U.S. soldiers played in the popularity of chocolate chip cookies.

The chocolate chip cookie, the official state cookie of Massachusetts, was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1938. She was the owner and chef at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.

The original, Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie, rose to popularity during WWII. American soldiers stationed overseas would receive care packages, which included these cookies, from family in Massachusetts. The soldiers would share the cookies with soldiers from other parts of the U.S. and soon, those soldiers were writing home asking for them. That led to many letters being sent to the Toll House Inn requesting the recipe causing the cookie craze to take off.

Ruth sold the rights to use the recipe to Andrew Nestle for $1.00 in return for a lifetime supply of  Nestle’s chocolate. I think Ruth got the short end of the stick in that deal. But, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

M&M Cookies

This recipe is based on the Toll House Cookie Recipe. A couple simple modifications of increasing the amount of brown sugar and swapping out the chocolate chips for M&Ms make these a fun substitution for the original cookie.

Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American
Keyword Cookies
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 48
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups mini baking M&Ms

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees

    M&M Cookies ingredients
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

  3. In a separate bowl, combine butter, sugars and vanilla. Beat until creamy. 

    M&M Cookies dough
  4. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat until each one is well blended. 

  5. Gradually add the flour, a little at a time. Mix until well blended. 

    M&M Cookies dough 2
  6. Stir in the M&Ms.

    M&M Cookies M&Ms
  7. Drop rounded spoonfuls of dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet. (I just use a teaspoon. For more uniform shapes, you can use a melon baller or small ice cream scoop.)

    M&M Cookies spoonful
  8. Bake 8-10 minutes. (I usually check them at 7 minutes...if they are starting to brown at the edges, I removed them from the oven and allow them to remain on the hot cookie sheet for a few minutes. They'll continue to "bake" while cooling down.) Move to a wire rack or a sheet of parchment paper to continue cooling. 

    M&M Cookies cooling

Soft and Chewy, Light and Cakey or Crisp and Crunchy?

What’s your preference? I prefer soft and chewy with a slight crisp around the edges. That can be a hard combination to master. You can look at a 100 different recipes and they’ll all have different measurements, but finding the one that gives you the texture you want is easier than you think.

In the Toll House Cookies recipe, the main ingredients which dictate what texture your cookies develop into are butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar. A typical cookie dough recipe will have 2 sticks of butter and equal parts of granulated sugar and brown sugar. You can customize your cookies with a few simple alterations.

Here are a few hints:

For instance, if you’re going for crisper cookies, you’ll want a recipe to have more butter and a larger amount of granulated sugar than brown sugar.

If you prefer a light and cakey cookie, your recipe will use less butter and significantly less sugar (but still using more granulated sugar than brown sugar).

For the soft and chewy variety, you’ll just need to adjust the sugars. More brown sugar will yield a softer, chewier cookie.

Cookie Catastrophes

Cookies spread too thin

When you’re making your dough, keep an eye on the texture of your dough. If the butter is too soft, your dough may be too warm and your cookies could spread too thin while baking. When you soften your butter, you should be able to press into the butter with the side of a knife and feel a little resistance. If you press down and your knife plunges to the bottom, the butter is too soft. You can return the butter to the refrigerator for a few minutes. Or, if you’ve already made the dough, place the dough in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before spreading out the dough to bake.

Thin cookies can also be caused by not using enough flour. Try adding a little bit more flour a tablespoon at a time.

Cookies browning but are not overbaked

When you purchase your ingredients to make the cookies, keep in mind that using dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar can change the color of your cookie, so they may appear to be browning too quickly. If you choose to use corn syrup or molasses as your sweetener, you may notice that the cookies start browning before the cookie is baked through.

Also, it is possible that the oven is just running too hot. Reduce the temperature by 10 degrees. If you don’t notice a significant change, reduce the heat again.

Cookies are too cakey and very pale

The likely culprit of this blunder is too much flour. This can be tricky to fix, but adding a couple more tablespoons of butter just might save the dough.

OH NOOOOs

Have you ever gone shopping for all your ingredients then realize after you have returned home that you forgot something anyway?

Well, I do it all the time, so I have a list of adequate substitutions for just such an occasion. I wouldn’t recommend substituting every ingredient, but in a pinch, one will do. I mean, if you forgot everything, how bad could you want to make them anyway?

BUTTER substitutes cup for cup with margarine or shortening.

TABLE SALT can be replaced with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (you may also want to pulse it in the food processor a bit before adding it to your dough).

SUGAR can be swapped out for honey. 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar for 1 cup of honey plus 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. (Also, reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees to avoid burning.)

BROWN SUGAR Light or dark can be used in place of the other. If you don’t have either, you can make some by pulsing 1 cup granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons of molasses in a food processor.

EGGS can be replaced by using 2 eggs whites in place of 1 large egg. Or 1/4 cup of egg product per egg.

SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE can be substituted with any other type of chocolate, fruit, nuts, or chopped up candy bars of any variety. I’ve even used leftover cake pulsed in the food processor and mixed it with the cookie dough. I call them Cake Crumble Cookies. They are pretty good, too.

What’s your favorite cookie? Do you approve of using candy bar bits instead of chocolate chips? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to like us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee Brownie Bites with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting

I bake a lot. Mostly cakes for friends’ and family birthdays or other special occasions, miscellaneous events and holidays. I’m a sucker for coffee, chocolate chip cookies and brownies. So, when I bake for myself, how am I supposed to decide between the three. Well, I found a way to incorporate all my favorite things with these Coffee Brownie Bites with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting.

Don’t Fear The Dough Though

No one openly admits to eating cookie dough with raw eggs and there seems to be a debate about raw flour nowadays, too. Although, I have sampled my cookie dough many times prior to baking (I have to make sure it tastes right, right?), I have never once died nor gotten sick from it. But, not to worry, this frosting doesn’t have any eggs or flour in it, so it is totally safe to eat.

Don’t make the same mistake I made once though. I added the chocolate chips to the frosting then decided I wanted to use a cake decorating tool. Those chips don’t fit through the opening of the decorating tips. So, instead, I added spoonfuls of the frosting sandwiched between two brownies, topped with coffee frosting, nuts and a drizzle of chocolate ganache.

brownie cakes with cookie dough frosting
brownie cakes with cookie dough frosting

Brownies – Cakey or Fudgy? What’s Your Pleasure?

As I said before, I love brownies. I’m not a fan of brownies that are too cakey, but I’m also not a fan of brownies that are too fudgy either. If I want something chocolate cakey, I will make a chocolate cake. Likewise, if I want something chocolate fudgy, I will make chocolate fudge. (Yes. Don’t worry. I have great recipes for those, too. I’ll share them another time.) So, how do we compromise on the perfect balance of textures for a brownie? I like them chewy, if you do, too, this is the recipe for you. These are chewy with just the right amount of cakey and fudgy textures.

A Decadent Dessert, A Decade In The Making

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve made brownies. But, my quest started about 10 years ago. Each time I made them I was told they are perfect and don’t need any changes. I wasn’t convinced though. There was always room for improvement. They were either too cakey or too fudgy.

There are so many factors that can make or break your brownie. For instance, did you know that the order in which you add the ingredients can make a difference in how they turn out? I’ve never strayed from my original ingredients, but I have experimented with the order in which they are added so many times, I think I finally got it just right.

Also, the baking time plays a huge role in the texture. Experiment with what texture you like, but be sure to check the doneness often. You can always bake it for a few more minutes, but you can’t undo it if you bake them too long.

A Few Tips For A Perfect Brownie

Use a double boiler to melt your butter and chocolate. If you don’t have an actual “double boiler”, just use a medium pot with a smaller pot or heat resistant bowl nestled inside the larger bowl. (As you can see in the picture below…the smaller pot has a handle on either side, so it just hangs in the larger pot perfectly.) Be mindful to use just an inch or two of water in the pot and do not allow your inner pot or bowl to touch the water. Even though the name “double boiler” suggests boiling the water, in this case you just want to simmer the water.

Coffee Brownie Cookie Dough melted chocolate
Coffee Brownie Cookie Dough melted chocolate

Be careful not to let the steam escaping from the bottom pot to form any droplets of water that can drip into your chocolate. Even the smallest amount of water added to chocolate can actually seize the chocolate and will turn it into a big lumpy glob. (It is possible to rescue the chocolate by gradually adding warm milk or cream, but it’s best to avoid a potential kitchen fiasco altogether.)

Since we’re using butter in this recipe, I would suggest melting the butter first then adding a little chocolate at time while constantly whisking until the chocolate has melted and is well incorporated. This should help avoid the possibility of seizing. Also, be sure to keep the temperature low. Too high of heat will brown the butter and scorch the chocolate. Neither will taste good in your brownies.

Once you’ve melted the butter and chocolate then added the sugar, it is important to allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs. You don’t want the eggs to start cooking before you put the batter in the oven. We’re making brownies, not chocolate scrambled eggs after all.

Once your batter is baking, it can be tricky to tell when it is done. Oven temperatures vary, so it’s best to not go strictly by the timing. You’ll need to text the doneness with a toothpick.

Obviously, if you check the batter and it’s still a jiggly in the middle, they’re not done. If it appears set in the middle and when you insert a toothpick it is gooey, they’re still not done. They’re done when you insert a toothpick and there are a few moist crumbs sticking to the toothpick. The brownies will continue baking as it cools, so you don’t need to worry about it being undercooked.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you insert the toothpick and it comes out completely clean, they are overdone. They’ll still be good as long as they’re not burnt, but they’ll just have a different texture.

Coffee Brownie Bites with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting

A dessert with various flavors. If you're just in the mood for a brownie without the other flavors, you can easily omit the coffee and the frosting and still have an excellent brownie.

Course Dessert
Keyword Brownie
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 16
Author Lisa

Ingredients

For The Brownies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 oz chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

For The Frosting

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • chocolate chips or sprinkles

Instructions

For The Brownies

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8X8 inch baking pan by thoroughly greasing the pan, addling a sheet of parchment paper, then greasing the parchment paper. (This allows for the easy removal of the brownies from the pan.)

  2. Prepare the coffee by adding the instant coffee to a small bowl. Add the warm water and mix until the coffee has dissolved.

  3. In the bottom portion of a double boiler, bring about 1 to 2 inches of water to a low simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium/low. In the top portion of the double boiler, add the butter and allow to melt.

  4. Gradually add the chocolate chips to the melted butter, a little at a time. Whisking constantly until the chocolate has completely melted and is fully incorporated with the butter.

    Coffee Brownie Cookie Dough melted chocolate
  5. Add the vanilla, salt and prepared coffee. Continue whisking until well blended.

  6. Add the sugar, a little at a time, until well blended. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

  7. Mix the flour and cocoa powder. (The cocoa powder is basically just to retain the rich, chocolate appearance of the batter, otherwise the flour lightens the batter. I prefer a rich, dark, brownies, so I use dark chocolate cocoa powder.)

  8. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, a little at a time. Mixing just until the flour is incorporated. The batter should have a thick texture.

  9. Pour the batter into your prepared baking pan and spread evenly.

  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Starting at 30 minutes, test the center of the brownies with a toothpick. The toothpick should not be gooey, but if it is, let it bake for a few more minutes. If the toothpick test results in a moist toothpick with a few crumbs, they are ready.

    The brownies will finish baking as they are cooling down. This will yield a chewy brownie. Baking them too long, will result in a cakier brownie that may be a little hard. They'll still taste good, but the texture won't be quite right.

    Allow the brownies to cool completely before removing from the pan.

For The Frosting

  1. Cream together the butter and the brown sugar in large bowl of a mixer.

  2. Blend in the vanilla.

  3. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar, a little at a time.

  4. Occasionally check the texture of the frosting. If the frosting gets a little too thick add a teaspoon or two of milk.

  5. Once the brownies have cooled, cut into squares and add frosting as desired.

    Coffee Brownie Bites with Cookie Dough Frosting
  6. Top with chocolate chips or sprinkles.

 

Speaking of kitchen mishaps, I highly recommend the book “How To Break An Egg“. It’s from the editors, contributors and readers of “Fine Cooking Magazine”. It has 1,453 kitchen tips, food fixes, emergency substitutions and handy techniques. It is full of everything from how to carve a leg of lamb to measurement equivalents to caring for your pots. I use the emergency substitutions section the most, but the whole book is fantastic. It should be noted that I’m NOT being paid for this recommendation. But, I just truly have found this book to be the most used book in my kitchen.

What’s your biggest kitchen mishap? How did you remedy the situation? Tell me about it in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garlic Breadsticks – A great bread for dipping

Do you ever get a craving for bread? I do. All the time. I love a rustic, hearty bread that you can dip into marinara or seasoned olive oil. Or better yet, toast the bread and load it up with garlic butter and parmesan cheese. My go-to garlic breadsticks are easy to make and you can top them with just about anything you like.

I’m a huge garlic fan. To be sure to keep the vampires away, I usually add a lot of minced garlic to the melted butter along with a blend of herbs and smother the bread in the final minutes of baking. I mostly use the Jack of all Herbs Medley that I wrote about here. Sometimes I just use sesame seeds or poppy seeds. If you don’t like those options, the breadsticks are very good on their own, too.

You can follow this recipe for the twisted breadsticks or make whatever shape you prefer. You’ll just need to adjust the baking time to accommodate for larger or smaller loaves. The leftover breadsticks are good for snacks, just place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper then bake for a few minutes then enjoy with your favorite dipping sauces or seasoned oils.

This dough is excellent for making a pizza dough as well. I have to admit, though, I don’t make homemade pizza often. Pizza is one of those things that I like to have when I don’t feel like cooking. But, since there aren’t any pizza places that deliver to my neck of the woods, sometimes I experiment at home when the mood strikes.

A Few Tips For Better Breads

Bread making can be very intimidating and sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right. But, don’t be discouraged if your first attempt fails. Practice makes perfect. I’m going to share some tips with you that took me many trials and errors and lots of research to figure out. Hopefully, you’ll master this process much sooner than I did.

As with most yeast breads, exact measurements and timing are not always consistent. The type of flour you use, the weather, temperature, humidity and altitude can all affect the outcome of your bread. Remember, you’re working with yeast that needs warm, moist climates to thrive, so you’ll want to make sure to work with warm or room temperature ingredients. Ingredients that are too hot or cold will cause a different outcome for your bread.

The Trick To Adding Flour

When making your dough, you may not need as much flour as the recipe calls for, but measure all of your ingredients as directed. However, when you start adding the flour, just use the amount of flour listed as a guide. Start by adding 1 cup of flour. Knead the dough until the flour is fully incorporated before you add more. Then continue by adding 1/2 cup of flour and kneading thoroughly. Once the dough starts to form a ball, reduce the amount of flour you add each time to a tablespoon or two.

The dough will have enough flour when it is still a little tacky but no longer sticky. This is the best way to tell when you’ve added enough flour. Keep in mind that when you roll out the dough, the dough will pick up a little more flour from  your floured work surface and floured rolling pin, so a little tackiness to your dough is necessary. Adding too much flour will make your bread tough. For this recipe, I’ve used as little as 3 cups of flour and, on occasion, I have needed all 4 cups of flour.

How Long Do You Need to Knead?

Kneading it too long or not long enough will also impact your final product. It will probably be different every time, so start with 5 minutes, then do this test. To ensure that you’ve kneaded it long enough, take a small piece of dough and work it with your hands, stretching it out as thin as possible. It should be almost transparent (I recently discovered this is called a gluten window or a windowpane test). If it rips or you can’t get it that thin, then you need to continue kneading it. Test your results every few minutes until you form the window.

Allow It To Rise To The Occasion

The last uncertain element to bread making is the rising time. The temperature of your ingredients and environmental factors will determine how long your dough needs to rise. It’s best to allow it to rise in a warm location. If your kitchen is very cool, try covering your dough with a towel or plastic wrap then allow it to rise on top of the stove with the oven set to a low temperature. If you live in a very dry climate, put a pot of boiling water next to your dough to rise in an enclosed space…perhaps your oven (without the heat turned on).

Most recipes will suggest that you allow the dough to rise for a certain period of time or until the dough doubles in size. These are good suggestions, if your environment is consistent. If it’s not consistent, like my kitchen, you’ll need to test the dough manually. Allow it to rise until it appears to have doubled in size. Poke your finger into the dough, if the dough snaps back into shape, a little more time is needed. If the hole remains, it is ready for the oven.

 

Garlic Breadsticks

An easy breadsticks recipe for an appetizer with a dipping oil or sauce. A bread to have with dinner or for a snack. 

Course Bread
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Rising time up to 1 hour
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 24 breadsticks
Author Lisa

Ingredients

Bread

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 packet yeast 1/4 oz or 7 grams
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Egg Wash

  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1 tsp water

Topping

  • 4 tbsp butter melted
  • 1 tsp Jack of all Herbs Medley

Instructions

Bread

  1. In a large bowl add the warm water, the yeast and the honey. Stir until the yeast is thoroughly dissolved. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes until it gets foamy. This is called proofing the yeast and "proves" that the yeast is active...which is necessary to make the dough rise.
  2. Add the salt and about 1 cup of flour then mix well. Continue to add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough starts to form a ball.

  3. Pour the dough onto a floured surfaced and knead the dough by hand.  Then add a tablespoon or 2 of flour at a time until it is just a little tacky to touch but doesn't stick to your fingers. You may not need all 4 cups of flour, so be careful not to add too much or your bread may be too dense. (Note: after the rising process, you'll roll out the dough on a floured surface, so the dough will pick up more flour, therefore, it is necessary for the dough to be a little tacky.)

    Garlic breadsticks dough
  4. Check the result of your kneading, by performing a windowpane test. Take a small amount of the dough and work it with your hands, stretching it until it is almost transparent...like a windowpane. If it tears or your can't stretch it that thin, continue kneading for a few more minutes.
    Garlic breadsticks dough risen
  5. When kneading is complete, return the dough to a bowl. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until at it is at least doubled in size. Poke your finger into the dough and if the dough snaps back, continue to rise a little longer. If the hole remains, your dough is ready.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
    Garlic breadsticks dough roll out
  7. Place the dough on a floured surface and gently press down to flatten the dough. Using a rolling pin, mark the dough with a cross shape. Then starting from the center of the dough, roll out the dough towards each quarter of the dough until your form a rectangle that is about a 1/2 inch thick. 

    Garlic breadsticks dough roll out2
  8. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough in 12 vertical strips then make one horizontal cut across the middle of the strips, making 24 individual pieces of dough.

    Garlic breadsticks dough twists
  9. Roll each piece into a log then fold in half twisting each side of the dough around each other.

    Garlic breadsticks dough twists2
  10. Lay out your individual twisted pieces of dough on a baking sheet. 
    Garlic breadsticks baking

Egg Wash

  1. Thoroughly beat the egg and beat in the water until well mixed. Brush the top of the breadsticks with the egg wash. This will help brown the bread as it is baking.

  2. Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until the tops have a tint of golden brown.

Topping

  1. Melt the butter then add the garlic and herbs. Mix well.

  2. Brush the mixture over the breadsticks.

  3. Continue to bake for for 2-3 minutes.

    Garlic breadsticks

Recipe Notes

Alternative choice for topping:

4 tbsp butter melted, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, pinch salt, 1/4 tsp oregano and 1/4 tsp basil.

 

 

The Jack Of All Herbs Medley – A blend of herbs for soups, salads, sauces and spreads

I love annual harvest festivals.  Farmers and vendors from all over the state gather to sell their goods to people like me who don’t have the magical green thumb required to produce such wonderful produce. They always offer so many specialty items along with the fresh produce, herbs, cheeses and meat products, too. Not to mention that the vendors usually offer samples of their delicious creations. So, while you explore the festival, you can usually sample enough items to make a lunch out of it.

About 6 or 7 years ago I stopped by the local harvest festival and found a vendor selling herbs. I was looking for saffron for a bread I will share with you at a later date. They didn’t have the saffron, but they did have a variety of other herbs on display in cute gift jars. They also had a separate display of their own blend of herbs. They offered pretzels to their visitors to sample the herb blend mixed with cream cheese. Well, I could have stood there all afternoon enjoying that concoction. But, instead, I purchased a large jar for myself and few smaller packets with salad dressing jars to use as holiday gifts then continued my quest for the saffron.

Over the course of the next few months, I found many uses for this blend. It has a bit of an Italian seasoning flair, so it goes great in marinara sauce, added to soups, salad dressings and to butter or cream cheese for delicious spreads. You can add it to some oil and vinegar and drizzle it as a condiment for Italian hoagies…or maybe you call them subs. No matter what you call those delicious sandwiches, this condiment is yummy on them.

So, when I started to run out of the blend from the harvest festival, I became very stingy with the remaining portions and decided to use it sparingly until the next harvest festival, so I could replenish my stock. Well, much to my dismay, none of the vendors at this particular festival sold anything like it. I didn’t keep the bag or the tag from the jar with the company name. I have looked for it everywhere, with no luck. Since I have no idea where to get it now, I had to get inventive and try to re-create the blend.

Well, after many batches of cream cheese and herb spread, I have a version that is similar to what I was trying to re-create. Even though it is still slightly different, this medley adds a little pizzazz to many dishes. It has many uses and is good on many things, hence the name, Jack of all Herbs Medley. The recipe is below along with some of my favorite uses.

Jack Of All Herbs Medley

This medley is a re-creation of a blend I can no longer find to purchase. It's slightly different but is still a nice addition to many dishes.

All of the ingredients used in this recipe are dried; although you could use fresh herbs. Just keep in mind that one teaspoon of dried herbs equal 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped herbs. 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder is the equivalent of 1 medium clove of garlic. 2 teaspoons of onion powder is approximately 1/2 a medium onion. 

Course Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp chives
  • 4 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp orange peel
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp sage

Instructions

  1. Thoroughly mix all ingredients and store in an air tight container or jar.

Now that you have combined all the ingredients, why not try one of these?

Jack of all Herbs Medley and Cream Cheese Dip

This recipe will work as a dip for your favorite chips or pretzels or as a spread for crackers.

Course Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp Herb Medley
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese softened
  • 1/4 cup mayonaisse
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Refrigerate for at least one hour. For best results, make one day ahead to give the flavors optimal mingling time.

    Cream cheese and herb dip

Jack of all Herbs Medley Bread Dipping Oil

This herb blend is perfect for adding to olive oil in place of butter for your dinner rolls.

Course Appetizer, Bread, Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • pinch Herb Medley
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients until well blended.

    Herb medley bread dipping oil

Jack of all Herbs Medley Butter

Excellent substitution for garlic butter for use on Texas Toast or Italian Bread.

Course Appetizer, Bread, Herbs
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted butter softened
  • 1 tsp Herb Medley

Instructions

  1. Mix the ingredients until well blended. Serve in place of butter for dinner rolls or in place of garlic butter for garlic bread.
    Herb medley butter

Jack of all Herbs Medley Salad Dressing

A great substitution for Italian dressing. Use as a salad dressing or veggie dip.

Course Dressing
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp herb mix

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a jar, seel tightly and shake until well blended. Shake well before each use. 

    Herb medley salad dressing

Hoagies or submarines? What do you call them? Let me know in the comments below along with where you are from.