Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches

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Carrot Cake.   It’s popular.  It’s my husband’s favorite cake.  But I hate it.  Most are generally moist and full of flavor, but I just never acquired a liking to it.  So, because I don’t like it, I never make it for my husband.

We were hosting a Father’s Day barbecue for Rob and his parents were also coming over to celebrate with the family.  I couldn’t decide what to do for dessert.   I was perusing through websites and blogs and happened to come across this recipe for Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches.  I wouldn’t have a lot of cake leftover and the cookies would probably go faster than the cake!  Plus the kids may even like them.  So I decided to give them a try.  They turned out fantastic and were a big hit.  I did not personally taste them so I can’t really describe the taste to you.  But my husband loved them and my kids did too.  With a delicious cream cheese frosting, these cookies were a huge success!

If you like Carrot Cake, I’m sure you’ll enjoy these as well! 🙂

Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches

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Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches

Makes about 10 cookie sandwiches

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup finely grated carrots
1/4 cup applesauce
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup old fashioned quick oats
1/2 cup raisins (if desired)

Recipe courtesy of TodaysMama.com

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick butter, softened
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  Gently stir in the carrots and applesauce.
  3. Add the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon into the wet ingredients.  Stir gently until combined.
  4. Form dough into uniform balls (I use a medium size cookie scoop – about 1 – 1 1/2 Tbsp. of dough for each cookie).  Place on parchment lined cookie sheet.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.
  6. To make the frosting, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to combine the softened cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract.  When combined, add the powdered sugar and mix well.
  7. Spread cream cheese frosting between two cooled cookies and press together to make sandwich cookies.  Repeat with the remaining cookies.  Refrigerate or freeze in an air tight container.  (I store mine in Ziploc freezer bags in the refrigerator.  They don’t last long enough to go into the freezer!)

Enjoy!

Recipe from todaysmama.com

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Chocolate Fudge White Chip Cookies

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A couple of months ago I actually had some time alone!  Whoo hoo!!!  As a mom of three kids ages 6 and under, this is a big deal!  I’m constantly running and chasing after my almost 2 year old, getting my 4 and 6 year old to their respective schools, appointments, activities, getting homework done, laundry, house cleaning, dishes, meals, etc., etc., etc.  It.  Never.  Ends.

I digress.  Seriously, though.  I was craving something really ooey, gooey, and fudgy. Some really delicious fudge brownies would be perfect, but I didn’t have all of the necessary ingredients to make them and I didn’t feel like running out to the store.  So, the search online for another recipe began.  I ended up coming across this recipe for chocolate fudge cookies that seemed perfect.  I had just about all of the ingredients so I decided to give them a shot.  I substituted white chocolate chips for the milk chocolate chips since I didn’t have any.  But they still turned out great.

They turned out to be fabulous.  They were very fudgy and chocolatey.  They still baked up more cake-like, but I think the trick would be to shorten the baking time just a little bit to keep those centers really gooey.   For all of you chocoholics out there, this cookie is definitely for you!!  Enjoy!

Chocolate Fudge White Chip Cookies

Chocolate Fudge White Chip Cookies

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup + 3 Tbsp. AP flour
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 Tbsp. whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips (the original recipe calls for 1 cup milk chocolate chips, but I didn’t have any.  You can use whichever you prefer.)

  1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Place the semi-sweet chocolate chips and butter in a small bowl.  Microwave in increments of 15 seconds and then mix until the mixture is combined and the butter is completely melted.  (I did this over a double boiler instead by placing a heat safe bowl over a pot of boiling water allowing the butter and chocolate to melt and combine together.)  Set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
  4. In another medium-sized bowl, combine sugars, eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Whisk together.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir to combine.  Do not overmix.
  6. Fold in the melted chocolate/butter mixture and stir until combined.
  7. Scoop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets.  Place the pans in the oven. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees F and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Allow cookies to cool completely before serving.

Recipe adapted from http://www.bakerbynature.com.

Get Organized!

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I have always loved hosting events at my home.  Whether it was a simple dinner with a couple of friends to an elaborate event celebration.  I’ve enjoyed this since I was a little kid!  It was always fun having people come over to visit!!  My mother, on the other hand, didn’t like it as much as I did.  She seemed to focus more on the unpleasant things associated with having people come over – make sure the house was clean, buy the necessary supplies (paper plates, utensils, cups, soda, etc.), buy the food, prepare the food, etc.  My mom was not big on cooking.  My dad always used to joke that my mother’s idea of dinner was reservations.  As I got older, I was able to help out more and I think my mom did it more for me since she saw how much joy I got out of it.

Well, the tradition of hosting continues to live on strong in my home.  My husband and I love hosting parties, get togethers, dinners, events, holidays – you name it.  Pretty much everything happens at our house and I love it!  I wish my mom and dad could be here to be part of all of the celebrations and gatherings, but I know they are with me in spirit.

Just recently, we celebrated the Baptism of our three children.  Jesse, Tatum, and Julia were Baptized at our church and then we celebrated with a party at our house.  We enjoyed the company of family and friends as well as some great food and desserts.  It was a great day, but it certainly didn’t come without planning!  My dear friend, Darci, helped me out a few months ago and we prepared a number of dishes in advance.  My son wanted lasagna, so we made lasagna!  We also made meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, sausage and peppers, chicken cutlets, and chicken piccata.  All of which freeze wonderfully!  I took them out a few days in advance of the party to let them defrost and then baked them off in the oven before the party.

Then it was dessert.  My son wanted chocolate cake, I wanted vanilla cake, my daughter wanted lemon cake.  So many to make!  I decided to do one of each and some cookies!  My cousins were coming in from out of state and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible – not spending so much time baking and decorating cakes.  So I prepared and pre-measured my ingredients in advance.

I simply measured out all of my dry ingredients for the cookies and wrote the recipe on the front of a Ziploc bag with a Sharpie marker.  Then all I had to do was add my wet ingredients, mix, and bake off the cookies.  I also premeasured the powdered sugar I needed for my buttercream and make that in advance as well.  It was such a huge time-saver and I got to enjoy so much more time with my family!  It was wonderful!

So that’s my tip!  Organize in advance and you’ll save time in the end!  Enjoy your party with these time saving tips!!  (And don’t worry, these delicious chocolate fudge cookies will have a posted recipe on this blog shortly!)

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Homemade Toffee

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When I was a little girl, I remember going to the store with my Dad and he would buy Heath candy bars or Skor candy bars.  It’s a bar of toffee covered in chocolate – and it was my Dad’s favorite.  It was the only candy bar he would ever buy.  As a little kid of course I didn’t like it – even though I had never tried it.  You know how it is.

So, after years of watching my father devour these toffee candy bars, I decided to give one a try and oh my!  Now I know why it was his favorite.  They were incredible!!!!  I LOVE toffee and not only do I enjoy these amazing candy bars on occasion, but I use toffee bits for baking incredible cookies and other desserts.  They are also a great topping for ice cream!

I love making desserts, but I’ve steered clear from candy for the main reason being it is very temperamental and sometimes I just don’t have the patience to deal with it.  I had been wanting to make my own toffee for a while and had been searching for a recipe to try.  I finally found one and I gave it a try.  It was incredibly good.  Hard (as toffee should be) but deliciously buttery and creamy at the same time.  It takes some time and it takes some attention.  It’s important that you pay attention to the temperature on the candy thermometer because the slightest misstep could cause your batch to not set right.  Believe me, I know!  🙂

If you want to make homemade candy, this is still a fairly easy recipe to try if you’re willing to take the time.  It is delicious and truly worth it!

Alice Belle’s World’s Best English Toffee Recipe

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2 sticks of butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 – 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (if desired)
Candy thermometer

  1. Prepare a pan lined with buttered aluminum foil.  (I use a small cookie pan or jelly roll pan).
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the 1 1/3 cups sugar and 3 Tbsp. water.  Stir well.  Set your candy thermometer in the saucepan.
  3. Over medium high heat, cook the mixture stirring frequently, until it reaches 300-305 degrees.  If the candy appears to separate (with a layer of melted butter on top), stir vigorously until it comes back together again.
  4. Watch the mixture and temperature closely at 285 degrees as it cooks quickly and the temperature increases quickly.  You could scorch the mixture at high temperatures.
  5. Once it reaches between 300-305, remove from heat and add the vanilla extract.  Mix well.
  6. Carefully pour the toffee mixture into the prepared pan smoothing to desired thickness.  Allow it to set 1 -2 minutes.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top and smooth over the top.  Refrigerate until set.
  7. Break into several pieces and store in an air-tight container or Ziploc bag.

*I stored it in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator because the chocolate would melt not being refrigerated.  If you choose not to make it with chocolate, you can store it in a Ziploc bag or air-tight container and not have to worry about refrigerating it.

ENJOY!

Recipe courtesy of Skip To My Lou Blog “Alice Belle’s World’s Best English Toffee Recipe

Lemon Chicken & Pasta

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I love pasta.  It’s in my blood – I’m Italian.  My kids and my husband love pasta too, but I always make it the same way – served with tomato sauce.  I was getting bored with pasta the same way all the time and I wanted to do something different.  Every so often Rob and I will get a Bountiful Basket.  It’s a local co-op and each week you can sign up to pick up a basket that contains a variety of fruits and vegetables.  For me the great thing about it is you never know what you’re going to get.  I often find myself with something in the basket that I would never normally pick up at the store.  This is one of the things I love about Bountiful Baskets, it gets my creative juices flowing and I get a chance to come up with some different ideas for dinner!

So, I ended up with a package of grape tomatoes that I didn’t know what to do with, but of course didn’t want them to go bad either.  So, what to do?  I had some chicken and fresh lemons in the fridge and felt like pasta – but didn’t want the traditional, heavy tomato sauce.  So I whipped up a light, refreshing lemon sauce instead.  It was delicious!  And surprisingly enough – my husband and kids liked it too!!  YES – another keeper!

I chose to use penne, but you can easily use spaghetti or angel hair pasta if that’s what you prefer.

I love how light this sauce is.  It’s just enough to keep the dish moist without being overwhelming.  There is a freshness from the lemons that makes it just perfect!

Lemon Chicken & Pasta

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Olive oil as needed
1 onion, diced
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 – 2 cups chicken stock
Slurry mixture (about 1/4 cup water and 2 Tbsp. corn starch)
4 Chicken Breasts, fully cooked (I poached mine in chicken stock)
1 lb. pasta (penne, spaghetti, etc.) fully cooked
1 pkg. grape tomatoes, halved
Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder.
Parsley, if desired

  1. In a large, deep skillet, over medium heat cook the onion and garlic in a little bit of olive oil until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the lemon juice, white wine, chicken stock and lemon zest.  Add about half the slurry mixture. Mix well and allow to heat through.  The sauce will thicken as it heats.  Add the chicken and pasta and season well with the salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Mix well.
  3. Add the tomatoes and adjust the sauce as needed adding more chicken stock and/or lemon juice to adjust to your taste and thickness.  Cook until the tomatoes are slightly softened.
  4. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley, if desired before serving.

Enjoy!

 

Sauteed Red Onions & Yellow Squash

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I love fresh vegetables and I especially love fresh vegetables sautéed with white wine!  Yes, I cook with wine and sometimes even put it in the food!

Here in Las Vegas there is an organization called Bountiful Baskets.  It’s a food co-op (whatever that is), but you basically pay $15 a week or every other week and you get a basket of various fresh vegetables and a basket of various fresh fruits.  You never know what you’re going to get – which does keep things interesting!  My mother-in-law swears by them and picks up her basket bright and early on Saturday mornings at 7:00 am!  Frankly, after running around all week long after a 5 year old, a 3 1/2 year old, and a 9 month old – I’m freakin’ tired!!!  My wonderful husband lets me sleep in on Saturday mornings – so I don’t always get a Bountiful Basket.  Occasionally, my awesome in-laws will get one for us and this particular basket had a number of red onions and yellow squash.

I decided to use them and make a great sautéed vegetable dish to go along with dinner a couple of nights.  While my husband and I loved it, my kids were less than fond of it!  But that’s okay.  At least they tried it!

I sautéed the onions in a little butter and olive oil and then added the sliced yellow squash.  After letting them cook together for a few minutes – I added a generous splash of white wine which gives the veggies a wonderful flavor!  The richness of the butter and the lightness of the wine make for a delicious vegetable dish!

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Sauteed Red Onions & Yellow Squash

1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2-3 large yellow squash, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. diced garlic
1/3 cup white wine
Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter

1)  In a medium sized skillet, heat the olive oil and butter.  Add the garlic and cook the garlic 2-3 minutes.  Add the sliced onions and sautee 5-6 minutes, until the onions are lightly translucent.
2)  Add the sliced yellow squash and stir the mixture well.  Season with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Add the white wine and continue to cook for another 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally, until the squash are tender.
3)  Serve immediately.

*You can also use zucchini instead of yellow squash or combine the both of them for a delicious and colorful vegetable dish!

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares

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The title says it all.  There is nothing not to love about this incredible treat!  Creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty.  There’s something for everyone!  Seriously – what is not to love!

I was watching Food Network (duh) and a Trisha Yearwood episode was on.  I don’t really watch her show, but the TV was on and I was doing something else and I just didn’t change the channel.  Then she started talking about these amazing bars.  Peanut butter, chocolate, pretzels – wow what an awesome combination!!  I thought I’d give it a try and they, of course, were a huge hit!

This is a simple recipe – no baking involved!  It reminds me a lot of Reese’s peanut butter cups – only a little more crunchy and salty because of the added pretzels.  I love them.  They are a perfect treat if you’re looking for something for all of your taste buds to enjoy!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares

1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp.) butter, melted
2 cups pretzel rods, crushed
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup, plus 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter (you can use crunchy if you prefer)
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

1)  In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, pretzel crumbs, confectioners sugar, and 1 cup of the peanut butter.  Stir together until well combined.
2)  Press the mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish.
3)  Combine the chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of peanut butter in a microwave safe bowl (or over a double boiler).  Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate and peanut butter are melted and smooth.  Mix well.
4)  Pour over the peanut butter-pretzel layer and lightly smooth.
5)  Refrigerate at least 1 hour before cutting into squares.

Recipe courtesy of Trisha Yearwood

Cream Cheese Mints

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I was introduced to these at my husband’s cousin’s wedding several years ago.  They were amazing – and addicting!  They just melt in your mouth!  Rob’s Aunt had made them for her niece’s wedding and the staff put them out as part of the dessert table. They were beautifully displayed and everyone enjoyed them!

Turns out – they are Rob’s grandmother’s recipe.  I love recipes that are handed down from generation to generation.  I just find it makes the final product just that more special.

I ended up giving them a try as a gift for someone and they turned out great.  I love cream cheese frosting so I know combining powdered sugar with cream cheese was not an issue, but adding mint took this confection to a whole different level!  The combination is wonderful.  The sweetness and creaminess of the cream cheese with the subtle addition of mint is a great combination and these are so easy to make and they store well too!

They are a great addition to any party or gathering.  Just be sure to have a lot on hand – because they go very quickly!!!

Cream Cheese Mints

Grandma’s Cream Cheese Mints

1 lb. powdered sugar
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. Peppermint extract
Small silicone molds

 

1)  Mix sugar and cream cheese together until combined.
2)  Add the peppermint extract until desired taste is achieved.
3)  Remove from bowl and knead like bread until mixture is well combined and soft.  If mixture is too moist or sticky, gradually work in more powdered sugar.
4)  Press small pieces into silicone/rubber molds and turn out the formed candy onto waxed paper.
5)  Store in air-tight containers with wax paper in between each layer and store in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to serve.

Roasted Stuffed Pears

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I always like to try new recipes and dishes around the holidays.  For me they get boring always having the same main course and sides – especially Thanksgiving.  I’m not a huge fan of turkey to begin with so a turkey feast for Thanksgiving never really thrills me.  Then its the same old sides – mashed potatoes, string bean casserole, cranberry, stuffing, etc.  You get the picture.

Over the past few years my in-laws have hosted Thanksgiving dinner and made the turkey, stuffing, and gravy.  I usually do all of the sides.  I try to vary it up a little bit with different vegetables from year to year, but we pretty much keep things consistent.

This year I wanted to try something different but couldn’t think of anything.  I happened to be watching Food Network (what a shock!), specifically an episode of Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa and she made these amazing roasted stuffed pears.  I just had to try them!!!

They were a huge hit and absolutely delicious.  I made the original Barefoot Contessa version which contains blue cheese, but my husband doesn’t like blue cheese.  So, I made another version using goat cheese and it was just as delicious!  Not as strong, but still delicious!

The salty, creaminess, and pungence of the blue cheese paired with the richness of port wine and the sweetness of the pears is unique and delicious!  It’s a perfect Fall and Harvest dish!

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Roasted Stuffed Pears

3 ripe but firm Anjou pears
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 ounces coarsely crumbled sharp blue cheese such as Stilton
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup apple cider
3 tablespoons port
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1)  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2)  Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise into halves. With a small sharp paring knife and a melon baller, remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a round well for the filling.  Trim a small slice away from the rounded sides of each pear half so that they will sit in the baking dish without wobbling.  Toss the pears with some lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.  Arrange them, core side up, in a baking dish large enough to hold the pears snugly.
3)  Gently toss the crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries, and walnuts together in a small bowl.  Divide the mixture among the pears, mounding it on top of the indentation.
4)  In the same small bowl, combine the apple cider, port, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Pour the mixture over and around the pears. Bake the pears, basting occasionally with the cider mixture, for 30 minutes, or until tender.  Allow to cool and serve on a bed of arugula if desired.  I just served mine warm as a side dish.

*For the goat cheese version – substitute goat cheese for the blue cheese and make the recipe the same.

Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten

Ranch Chicken

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My kids love Ranch Dressing.  They put it on practically everything!  They especially love it on pizza (which drives this native New Yorker absolutely crazy!  How sacrilegious!!).

I was struggling to find something to make for dinner one night and I happened to have one packet left of Hidden Valley Ranch’s salad dressing and seasoning dry mix.  I also had some Panko bread crumbs left and decided to give it a try.  This is pretty much the same recipe on the back of the HVR packet, but I used Panko style bread crumbs rather than traditional bread crumbs.  I like how they stay really crunchy and crispy and they give the chicken a nice texture.  Even though it wasn’t my recipe, it worked in a pinch, it was easy to make, and the whole family loved it!  Dinner was a success and that’s what counts!  (Oh and yes, my kids dunked their chicken in Ranch Dressing!)

Ranch Chicken

Ranch Chicken

4-6 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Dry Mix
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (or traditional bread crumbs)
Resealable plastic bag

1)  Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
2)  In the resealable bag, place the bread crumbs and packet of dry Ranch mix.  Shake to combine.
3)  Add the chicken breasts and seal the bag.  Shake the bread crumb/ranch mixture and chicken together to coat the chicken.
4)  On an ungreased baking sheet, lay the chicken and bake in the oven for 20 minutes for thin sliced chicken (30-40 minutes for thicker sliced) or until a thermometer reads 160 degrees F.
5)  Serve and enjoy!

Recipe courtesy Hidden Valley Ranch.