Black and white cake

So, what are you giving your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day? (You do know it’s tomorrow, right?)

Sure, you could buy a big box of chocolates or a huge bouquet of flowers. Maybe some aftershave or a big honkin’ piece of jewelry. But what says “I love you” more than making something with your own two hands?

He Who Must Be Fed is getting this black and white cake, a recipe I found in the Food Network Magazine.  I happen to know he’ll love it. (I know because I made it a couple of weeks ago. I don’t like to take chances with Valentine’s Day, my friends.)

The cake was moist and just chocolate-y enough without being overbearing. The frosting was light and creamy, but had rich undertones of white chocolate. I think it’s the best white frosting I’ve ever tasted.

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for the pans
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for the pans
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 8 ounces white chocolate, chopped, plus shaved chocolate for topping
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Shaved dark chocolate, for topping

Heat your oven to 325°. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans and dust with cocoa powder, tapping out the excess. Combine the butter, milk and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Transfer to a large bowl, add the cocoa powder and granulated sugar and whisk until smooth. Let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
Whisking
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the cocoa mixture, then stir in the flour mixture in two additions until just combined (it’s OK if there are a few small lumps).Frosting

Divide the batter between the prepared pans; tap the pans against the counter to remove any air bubbles.BatterInPansBake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in the pans, then run a knife around the edges and invert onto a rack to cool completely.
CakesCooling
For the frosting, put the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring until smooth, then let cool. Beat the butter and salt in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the melted white chocolate until combined. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth and fluffy; beat in the vanilla. (Your frosting may be too soft to spread – mine was – so chill it about 15 minutes.)

MakingFrosting

Frost your cake and add shaved white and dark chocolate. Then present it to your sweetie and be prepared for an onslaught of love in appreciation.

FinishedCake

CakePiece

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Peanut Butter/Chocolate Bark

It’s beginning to get so very hectic, so much stuff to make …” sung to the melody of “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas.”

It’s nearly crunch time, and if you’re scrambling to get all of it done — particularly all the making and baking — remember you can make something wonderful that isn’t necessarily time consuming or hard.

Like this peanut butter/chocolate bark. I tried it out a week or so ago and gave it to He Who Must Be Fed who agreed to test it out. He took one piece, then another, then another, then another, then put the lid back on the container and begged me to put it back in the kitchen and out of his reach.

I didn’t have to ask him if he liked it. I didn’t have to.

It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s delicious. And it’s bound to make someone you love happy.

Ingredients:   

  • 8 oz. chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)
  • 1 10 oz. package of peanut butter chips
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • ½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped

BarkIngredientsCover cookie sheet or tray with wax paper.

Place your peanut butter chips with the shortening in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium for about a minute and stir. If the chips aren’t completely melted, wave for another 15 seconds and stir again until smooth.

Add the peanuts, and spread onto the wax paper-lined cookie sheet.

Place your chocolate chips in another medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium for about a minute, then stir. If the chips aren’t completely melted, wave for another 15 seconds and stir again until smooth.

Drop spoonfuls of the melted chocolate onto the peanut butter. Then, using a knife, swirl for a marbled effect. Gently tap the tray on your countertop to even out the thickness of the mixture.BarkSpreadOut

Refrigerate for about an hour or until firm. Break into pieces. Store in a cool, dry place, away from He Who Must Be Fed. J

If you need to roast your peanuts – I didn’t realize I bought raw peanuts – heat your oven to 350°. Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until light brown.

BarkFinished

 

Peppermint Patty Brownies

Sometimes I use my friends as guinea pigs. Don’t tell them that, OK? I was having a holiday lunch with my friends Anne and Sandy, and I wanted to make them something I hadn’t made before. I saw this recipe for Peppermint Patty Brownies and thought they sounded just perfect. But, I had never made them before. Should I experiment on my friends? (It’s a rhetorical question, faithful food readers. 🙂 )

I made them, and they looked really awesome. But, did my friends like them? You betcha. Just ask them.

Ingredients:

For the brownies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup chocolate chips

For the peppermint layer

2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
peppermint sugar sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter or nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, combine melted butter with sugar and vanilla extract, whisking until combined and almost smooth. Whisk in each egg one at a time, stirring until a smooth batter forms. (C’mon, work those biceps.) Add in flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, stirring until combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread batter in the 8×8 baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes until set. Remove and let cool.

While brownies are cooling, add powdered sugar, butter, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and peppermint extracts to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until smooth and creamy. Pour over brownies and spread in an even layer with a spoon or spatula. Place in the refrigerator until set, about 30 minutes.

This recipe called for ganache to drizzle over top. However, I realized I didn’t buy any heavy cream at the store the week before because it was $4.38 a pint. I could have bought a gallon of milk for that price. (I know, it was probably mismarked, but I was in too much of a hurry to ask someone.) So, I had to think of something else to do.

Ever the food fixer, I melted a half cup of chocolate chips and drizzled that over the top then added  some peppermint sugar sprinkles to make them look pretty and super-festive.

PeppermintPattieBrownies

 

Chocolate peppermint fudge

I haven’t had great success with fudge in the past. As a kid, I watched my Aunt Edie make it with ease, but for some reason, I could never get into her fudge groove. (I bet she never even knew she had a fudge groove.)

But, now I’m fudge grooving, too, because I found some super-easy fudge recipes, like the one I shared earlier this week for cookies and cream fudge. Here’s another one: chocolate peppermint fudge from Ree Drummond of the Food Network.

It’s easy. It’s tasty. It’s festive looking. What more could you want?

Ingredients:  

  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • Peppermint candy, crushed

Line an 8×8 baking pan with foil. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

CrushingCandyCanesIn a plastic bag, add your peppermint (I used candy canes) and crush using a rolling pin or another heavy tool. A meat tenderizer will work as well. Be sure to seal the bag first. 🙂

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the chocolate chips and the sweetened condensed milk. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.ChocolateMelting

Pour into your pan. Sprinkle with the crushed peppermint. Refrigerate for two hours.

Lift the foil out and peel it off the fudge. Cut into small (or big) squares.

Enjoy it along with your new fudge groove.

ChocolatePepperminFudgeDone

Cookies and Cream Fudge

As you can probably guess, I love holiday time. For me, it’s like the Food Olympics. I spend most of my free time in the kitchen, lifting heavy pots and pans (weight-lifting competition), wielding a chopping knife (fencing competition), racing to get everything made in time (marathon competition).

My goal is to make something delicious – at least I hope it’s delicious — for someone I care about.  I’m willing to put in the work, but it is awesome when I find a super-easy and super-yummy recipe.

A perfect example is this cookies and cream fudge recipe.

It’s so easy I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you. But, it’s so unbelievably good that I would be remiss in not sharing it with you.

Ingredients:

  • 18 oz. white chocolate chips. (I recommend Hershey’s brand because they melt very well.)
  • 2½ cups Oreo cookies, crushed
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

Line an 8×8 pan with foil. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

CrushingOreosPlace 2 ½ cups of Oreos into a plastic bag and seal it. Use a rolling pin, meat tenderizer or other heavy object to coarsely crush the cookies. Set aside.

Combine the white chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until the chips are all melted. Your time will vary depending on the power of your microwave. Stir until the mixture is smooth. VanillaChipsMelting

Add the cookies to the melted chocolate and pour into the pan. Let cool at room temperature for at least two hours. Or, you can pop them in the refrigerator where they will cool faster. When cooled, cut into bit-sized pieces. (Or bigger pieces if that’s what your loved ones like.)

Scary good. That’s what these are. And they were so easy that you now have time to make something else. I made chocolate peppermint fudge. That recipe is coming next.

CookiesAndCreamFudgeDone

 

Best. Prime. Rib. Ever.

Christmas is almost here. (If you haven’t finished shopping, I don’t mean to be a reminder that your time is running out.) And you may be thinking about what to make for Christmas dinner. Well, do I have the recipe for you.

My friend, James, who is pretty much the smartest guy I know, shared this prime rib recipe with me. I tried it, and He Who Must Be Fed — as well as the youngest spawn of He Who Must Be Fed — said it was the greatest prime rib he ever had.

Watch this to see how it’s done:

I’ve made this several times, so I have some helpful hints for you:

  • For this to work, follow Chef John’s advice by making sure the roast is at room temperature.  That’ll take at least six hours, so you’re going to have to plan a little bit.
  • When I first watched the video, I didn’t know what herbs de Provence was, so I skipped it, and the roast tasted great. However, I have since found it and now use it. Delicious. You’ll be successful whether you use it or not.
  • While Chef John says the roast needs to be bone in, it’ll work even if it’s boneless. The last time I made this, I inadvertently got a boneless roast, but it worked just fine.
  • When the roast is done, remove it from the pan and cover it with foil so it will stay warm. Then, deglaze your pan with some beef broth. Don’t waste those delicious bits at the bottom of the pan; they’ll make marvelous gravy.
  • Heed Chef John’s advice and do not — DO NOT – open the oven during this process. It’ll be tempting. You’ll want to open the oven, but fight the temptation. In fact, it’s easier if you just leave the kitchen.

If you make this, let me know how awesome it turned out for you. Merry Christmas, my foodie friends.

Salty triple-chocolate caramel bark

Is there a better flavor combination than salty and sweet? I don’t think so. When I went to the movies as a kid, I couldn’t quite figure out why alternating bites of popcorn and a Hershey bar was so damn delicious, but I knew it was and that’s all I cared out.

Now, years later, everyone recognizes the appeal of the luscious salty-sweet combination. And, I’ve found a bark recipe that will make your taste buds – or the buds of your loved ones if you make this for them — dance for joy. Last year, I found this recipe from Diamond Crystal, which makes the kind of coarse sea salt that you’ll need for this recipe. My family loved this so much last Christmas it’s going to make a repeat performance this year.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chewy caramels
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons coarse sea salt

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the chocolate and caramels in separate microwave-safe bowls. ChipsInBowlsMicrowave the milk chocolate for about 45 seconds. The time may vary depending on the power of your wave. Stir the chocolate until smooth then, using a spoon, drizzle the chocolate onto the parchment. You don’t have to drizzle it in any kind of pattern. Think Jackson Pollock.

FirstChocolateLayerTurn the pan 90 degrees. This will enable you to vary the randomness of the drizzles. (Hmm … that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d get the chance to write.) Microwave the dark chocolate and repeat.SecondChocolateLayer

Turn the pan another 90 degrees and repeat with the white chocolate. ThirdChocolateLayerTurn the pan another 90 degrees. However, before you microwave the caramels, add about a tablespoon of milk. This will make the caramel a little smoother and easier to work with. Plus, the caramel will be a little softer so no one will lose a filling trying to eat this. After you drizzle the caramel, sprinkle the salt on top. I used the full 1 ½ teaspoons.AddingTheCaramel

Place the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and break into small pieces. Store your bark in an air-tight container, though you’ll probably want a taste before you do, right? Or, you can store in the freezer for up to three months.

If you’re giving it as a gift, you can use a small container and add a ribbon or bow to make it look even more festive.

FinishedBarkUseThis

If you make this, let me know how you like it.

Easy and festive candy cane kisses blossoms

Some of my friends don’t like chocolate. I know that’s hard for chocoholics to understand, but it’s true.  So, when I’m baking something special for them for the holidays, I look for non-chocolate recipes. I found a great cookie recipe last year – ironically from Hershey’s – that my friend Jen loves: candy cane blossoms. They’re made with Hershey’s candy cane kisses, which are available only at Christmastime. (Thank goodness because I can eat an entire bag of them with no – well, maybe a few – regrets.)

Not only are these cookies easy and delicious, but they’re also beautifully festival for the holiday season.FinishedCookies

Ingredients: 

  • 48 Hershey’s candy cane kisses
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Red or green sugar sprinkles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While your oven is heating up, remove the wrappers from the kisses.

Beat together the butter, granulated sugar, egg and vanilla until well blended. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the sugar mixture the dry ingredients alternating with the milk.

Roll into one-inch balls then roll into your red or green sugar sprinkles. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.RollingCookies

Bake 8 to 10 minutes. (Nine minutes was perfect for my batch for Jen.) Remove from the oven and cool two to three minutes. Then place a kiss in the center of each cookie. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling.

KissingCookies

Enjoy.

Full recipe disclosure: I didn’t unwrap all 48 kisses in case my cookies were a little bigger, and I didn’t need all 48. Plus, I didn’t want any unwrapped kisses left over because then I would just eat them. I think I unwrapped 36, which was just enough. Of course, if you want to eat the rest, have at it. They are yummy.

Sweet, buttery baklava pie

When you think of holiday baking, you probably think about frosted sugar cookies in various holiday shapes and fudge and candy-cane topped goodies.

Well, I have an interesting and delicious pie you might want to try this year. I’ve made it for my friend James for the last few Christmases, and he likes it so much that I keep on making it. And, he never seems to mind, so why spoil a good thing?

I call it baklava pie because it has all of the delicious of baklava — honey, walnuts and butter, lots of butter — in a pie shell. The recipe comes from Pillsbury, which calls it Greek walnut pie. But I like my name better. Don’t you?

Anyway, it’s easy to make and just about dances on the tongue.

Ingredients:  

  • 1 box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on the box (Or, you can certainly make your own crust.)
  • 2 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup butter melted and cooled
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Heat your oven to 325 degrees. Spray a nine-inch pie pan with cooking spray and make the crusts as directed on the box.

In a bowl, combine your walnuts, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Pour and spread evenly 1/4 cup of the cooled melted butter over the bottom of the pie crust. Spread the walnut mixture evenly over the butter. Then, drizzle another 1/4 cup butter of the nut mixture.

Top with the second pie crust. Seal and flute. Cut three large slits in the top crust so the steam can escape. Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup butter evenly over the top crust.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until beautifully golden brown. About five minutes before you take the pie out of the oven, cook in a small saucepan the honey and lemon juice over medium heat. Stir frequently until mixture has the consistency of water.

Remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack. Slowly pour the honey mixture evenly over the top of the pie, making sure it seeps into the slits in the crust. Cool at least three hours before serving.

Pillsbury suggests you whip up some homemade whipped topping for the pie, but I can assure you that you won’t need it. This pie is delicious completely unadorned.photo

I hope you like it as much as James does.

Recipe full disclosure: If you melt your 3/4 cup butter in a measuring cup with markings on it, you’ll be able to easily see when you’ve poured 1/4 cup into the pie. Just an easy tip I discovered. Hope it helps.

Pumpkin bread perfect for holiday gifts

The best presents are homemade. Unfortunately, I can’t knit or crochet. So making sweaters, scarves or mittens is out. I can’t make jewelry, so no one on my Christmas list is getting a handmade necklace or earrings. I’m not good with wood, so there will be no handcrafted chairs or tables or desks next to anyone’s tree.

But,  I can cook. So, I’m going to be making some yummy things for my friends this holiday season.

First, a confession: During the past few Christmases, while I struggled to complete a master’s degree and had class right up to and including Christmas, I cheated a little. For example, I used those Pillsbury boxed breads, merely adding some chopped walnuts or cranberries or chocolate chips, then giving them as gifts. Not completely homemade, I admit, but better than nothing.

However, now that I’m done with all of that crazy schooling, I’m making it all homemade this year.

Fortunately for me, I found a pumpkin bread recipe that is not only delicious but easy. I’ll be making several loaves for friends this year. (And I’ll be using those paper loaf pans I mentioned last week.)

This pumpkin bread recipe is from King Arthur Flour and makes two large-sized loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups (or one 15-ounce can) solid pack pumpkin
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, optional
  • Coarse white sugar for sprinkling, optional

Full recipe disclosures: I eliminated the teaspoon of nutmeg — I’m just not that into nutmeg– and added a teaspoon of cinnamon instead. Also, I toasted my pecans in the oven before adding them to the batter. Toasting makes them taste so much better.

And, in my mind, the coarse white sugar is not optional. Liberally sprinkling it on the top before baking adds a delicious crust to the bread.PumpkinBreadUSE

If you get one of these for Christmas, know that I made them with my own two hands.  What are you making your friends and loved ones?