December 3, 2014

Chocolate Mint Chip Bars

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I hope you did too!  After Thanksgiving, we spent the rest of the weekend decorating and shopping for Christmas.  We stayed home in our pajamas and did our shopping online.  We found some great deals and I'm so excited to see our kids' faces when they open their gifts this year!  Online shopping is the BEST!

It's time to start thinking about holiday goodies, too.  Each year, I try to stock the freezer with different kinds of cookie dough to have on hand for parties, gifts, guests and of course for Santa on Christmas eve.  This recipe makes one of our family's favorite cookies.  Technically, these are bars, but you can make them into cookies, if you want.  I wanted to save some time, so I just spread all the dough onto a large baking sheet to cook all at once.  If you're not a mint fan, these are equally delicious with peanut butter chips!

Ingredients (printable recipe)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 2/3 cups (10 oz. pkg.) Nestle winter dark chocolate and mint chips 
                                       OR Andes Baking Chips
Cooking spray
Directions
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; set aside.
2. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in chocolate-mint chips.
3. Spray a 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 1 inch jelly roll pan. Spread batter into pan. Bake 15-20 minutes or until set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack; cut into bars.
Makes about 4 dozen bars

To make cookies instead of bars: Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-9 minutes. Do not overbake, cookies will be soft. They will puff while baking and flatten while cooling. Cool slightly and remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Makes about 54 cookies.

Adapted from Hershey's Kitchens

Dry ingredients
Butter, sugar with eggs and vanilla
Adding the chips to the batter
Spreading the batter into the pan
Rich chocolate bars with fresh minty chips
The Results...
We love the combination of fresh minty chips with the rich chocolate bars!

If you want to stock your freezer, shape cookie dough into a log, wrap well with plastic wrap (I usually use two layers), label and throw in the freezer until needed.  When you're ready to bake, thaw the cookie dough and spread onto your baking sheet for bars or drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet for cookies.  These cookies/bars are sure to be a hit with your friends and family, too!

More Favorite Cookies and Bars
cinnamon roll cookies
orange cranberry white chocolate chip cookies
heath bits peanut butter cookies
1-2-3 bars

November 13, 2014

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

Thanksgiving is just 2 weeks away!  I swear it sneaks up on us every year.  Our last recipe post was my son's birthday apple pies from September.  Those were some delicious pies!  They would make a great addition to a holiday meal, too. 

These Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes would also be a nice addition to a holiday meal.  I've tweaked this recipe over the years to make it just how my family likes it---with plenty of rich, cheesy sauce.  My husband especially likes these scalloped potatoes.  He gave me a mandoline a few years ago to encourage me to make them more often. :) 

Ingredients (printable recipe)
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup unsalted butter (5 and 1/3 Tablespoons)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups milk
About 9 medium russet potatoes (or 2 1/2 lbs.) peeled and thinly sliced
2 1/4 cups shredded cheese (sharp cheddar is our favorite)
Directions
1. For sauce, cook onion in butter until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in cheese until melted through. Remove from heat. Taste and add more salt or pepper if desired.
2. Place half of the sliced potatoes in a greased (I used cooking spray) 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover with half of the sauce. Repeat layers.
3. Bake covered with aluminum foil in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Uncover; bake and additional 40-50 minutes more or until potatoes are tender.
4. Let stand 10 minutes uncovered, before serving.
Makes 10 servings

Kitchen helps:
I used a 1.5 mm insert on the mandoline to slice the potatoes.
You can use other types of potatoes like red, white, or yellow and/or change the type of cheese to something like swiss or gruyere.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Let's get started!
My helper :)
My husband gave me a mandoline a few years ago for making scalloped potatoes. It makes slicing go so fast! You could use a food processor, too.
Our favorite cheese in this recipe is sharp cheddar, yum!
Spray the bottom of your baking dish and layer half of the potatoes inside first.
Next, pour half of the sauce on top of the potatoes.
Here's the rest of the potatoes.....
And the rest of the sauce
Don't forget to cover it before it bakes in the oven. Set the timer for 45 mins.
After 45 minutes, take the foil off and bake about 40-50 minutes longer---until the potatoes are soft.
The Results...
Soft, tender sliced potatoes are smothered in a rich, cheesy sauce.  Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes are always a family favorite around here!

This recipe is delicious as written, but you can always play with the recipe and change it up.  I've added chopped ham to make it more of a main dish instead of a side dish.  You could try other seasonings in the sauce besides just salt and pepper.  Some fresh, chopped chives sprinkled on top before serving would also be delicious.   

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?  Or does it always "sneak" up on you, too?  Here are a few recipes that might help:
 

September 24, 2014

Apple Pie

We have two birthdays in September just 3 days apart!  My son had the first birthday this month.  He's now fifteen!  We reminisced about the fun cakes that I made for his past birthdays.  I know there won't be anymore Elmo, Cookie monster, Bob the Builder, Harry Potter or Star Wars cakes.  This makes me a little sad. :(

He's actually not a big cake fan.  The last few years he has asked for something different than traditional birthday cake and ice cream.  He knows I will make whatever he requests.  This year he asked for homemade apple pie.  I told him that I have never made an apple pie by myself---all from scratch!  That didn't seem to bother him.  I guess he had more faith in me than I did.  So, I began my search of which recipe to make, which apples to use and some basic pie making tips.

I finally settled on this recipe that is originally from Allrecipes.  It has 5 stars from almost 6000 votes.  I figured that was a good sign!  I drove to a local farmer's market to make sure I had the best apples before I got started.  After all this isn't just any apple pie, it's a special birthday apple pie for my special son!

Ingredients (printable recipe)
Pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie*
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
6-8 Honeycrisp apples (depends on size of apples) peeled, cored and sliced
1 egg white, whisked until foamy
Directions
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour and cornstarch. Add water, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil. Add vanilla and reduce temperature and let simmer.
2. Place the bottom crust in your pan. Brush with the egg white. Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Gently pour the sugar and butter liquid over the apples, reserving about a cup for the top crust. Cover with either a lattice work crust or a full crust with slits cut for venting. Pour remaining sugar and butter liquid over the crust. Pour slowly so that it does not run off!
3. Bake 10 minutes in preheated oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Continue baking for 35-45 minutes or until apples are soft. I recommend putting a foiled lined baking sheet at the bottom of the oven to catch any drips. This pie gets messy as it cooks! 
Let cool to room temperature before cutting.
Makes one double-crust pie

*I used this recipe for Perfect Pie Crust from Ina Garten

Adapted from Allrecipes


In search of the perfect apples for this pie, I went to a local farmer's market and found these Honeycrisp apples. They were seriously some of the BEST apples I have ever eaten. Definitely worth the trip! They were on the large side, so I used only 6 in the pie.
I didn't want a soggy bottom pie, so I brushed the bottom crust with whisked egg white. If you want to know why this works, check this out from everythingpies.com.
This is the first pie and it was full of those delicious Honeycrisp apples.
I poured most of the sauce over the apples. I saved a little for the top crust....
I didn't do a lattice top crust. I cut a circle of dough out of the middle to let this vent as it cooked and then, poured the remaining sugar/butter liquid on top. Looking at the edges makes my cringe! I'll have to work on making better looking edges. :)
You will definitely be happy that you put a foil lined baking sheet underneath this pie while it's in the oven. It drips and oozes and gets pretty messy as it bakes.
For my second pie, I did NOT pour the sugar/butter liquid over the apples. I followed the original recipe and put the lattice top on first. Then, I very slowly poured the whole mixture over the top of the pie. BTW, If you want some tips on making a lattice top, check out these instructions from Simply Recipes.
Wow! I had to be really careful while pouring this liquid stuff on top! Now it's ready for the oven.
Here are our Birthday Apple pies!!!
Happy Birthday!
The Results...
These pies came out terrific!  The top crust turned out crispy and sweet---my husband really liked that part.  The apples were just right---soft and tender, but not mushy.  The bottom was not soggy.  The filling was full of flavor and it wasn't runny at all.  It actually had a perfect consistency.  Most importantly, this special birthday apple pie was birthday boy approved!

Now, I'm going to enjoy this year.  I've been warned enough times that next year he'll be driving, yikes!  They really do grow up too fast!

 Here's another recipe you might like:
It's even easier than making pie and it still has all the same delicious flavors!

I share recipes at these link parties.