Chocolate Dreams (aka Surprise Cookies)

Chocolate Surprise Cookies

Wow, could it possibly be May already?  Well, considering that today is Mother’s Day, then yes, it must be.  I completely missed posting in April all together – I think that may just be a first for me – but I have not given up.  I am just slowing down a bit as the other parts of my life have been ramping up.  There are only so many hours in each day, and in order to try and stay sane, I have decided not to do it all.  Boy does that feel good to get out in the open.

Last month I forgot those words though, and I signed up for Book Larder’s Cookie Contest.  I knew it was the last possible thing I needed to do in my life, but I knew the girls would love it, so I gave in.  A few days before the contest, I still hadn’t decided what to make – and that’s where my very capable daughter came to the rescue.  She decided to test out a recipe that looked just AMAZING from the Martha Stewart’s Cookie book – and we were all sold.  They were moist, chocolatey, and had a fluffy marshmallow in the center.

Unfortunately we didn’t win, but that’s not at all why I did this.  We had a fun couple of hours stressing out trying to finish these cookies in time to get there for the judging – it was exactly my style – nothing like getting there just in time.  But we did, and it was super fun.  I must say that there are a lot of awesome bakers in Seattle.

So to all the mother’s out there – today is your day – and I hope you thoroughly enjoyed yourself.  Maybe next weekend you can bake these cookies for your kids to thank them…Happy Mother’s Day!!

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 12 large marshmallows, cut in half horizontally

Chocolate Frosting

  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 t. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 T. milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add reserved flour mixture; mix on low speed until combined.

Using a tablespoon or 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto ungreased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies begin to spread and become firm, 8 to 10 minutes. (I think next time I’ll only bake them 7 minutes)

Remove baking sheets from oven, and place a marshmallow, cut-side down, in the center of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Return to oven, and continue baking until marshmallows begins to melt, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Place confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in butter and cocoa powder. Add milk and vanilla, and whisk until well combined. Spread about 1 tablespoon of frosting over each marshmallow, starting in the center and continuing outward until marshmallow is covered.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Chocolate Dreams

Mini-Chocolate Chip Bundt Cakes

Mini-Chocolate Chip Bundt Cakes

Hard work really does pay off.  I tell my kids this all the time, and I actually think that they are finally starting to believe it.  Hard work is not easy though – which is why they call it hard…and I often see them on the brink of just throwing in the towel.  All it takes though is for one win, and it gives them the strength to keep going.  It is just one of the many reasons that I love being a parent.

Fortunately it doesn’t always take a lot of hard work to make a delicious dessert that the entire family can enjoy.  I found this recipe in Cooking Light many moons ago, and the other weekend I decided to dust off my mini-bundt pan to test these babies out.  I have such limited time these days to bake, and this recipe looked like one that I could actually fit into my schedule.  These were so good, I made them the next weekend as well.  It is not often that I do that, but these were that good.  The glaze was not very thick, but it didn’t need to be – it offered just the right amount of sweetness to brighten up the cake.

So choose wisely what you want to focus your hard work on – you don’t have to be good at everything.  But when you focus your attention and it actually pays off, the victory is sweeter than you can imagine…just like a delicious dessert.

Ingredients

  • 9 ounces white whole-wheat flour (about 2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup reduced-fat buttermilk
  • 1 cup mini-chocolate chips
  • Baking spray with flour or butter and flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Place butter and remaining 1 cup granulated sugar in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until fluffy (about 5 minutes). Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Fold in mini-chocolate chips.

Divide batter into each of 4 mini-bundt loaf cups coated with baking spray (or coated with butter than flour), spreading into an even layer. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove cakes from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Combine powdered sugar and 2 to 3 teaspoons water in a small bowl, stirring until smooth. Drizzle glaze evenly over cakes.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Mini-Chocolate Chip Bundt Cakes

Almond-Chocolate-Espresso Coffee Cake

Almond-Chocolate-Espresso Coffee Cake 2

It’s hard to get yourself out of a rut, particularly when you have been doing something a certain way for years, and it works.  We all know the phrase – if its not broken, don’t fix it.  Well, it’s not always that easy.  Sometimes if you keep doing things one way, you are missing out on something better.  That is one of the reasons why I love to cook – I am always searching for the perfect recipe – one that is better than the one I previously thought was perfect.  And I think of my kitchen as my lab – I am always experimenting.

Many months ago, I signed up to be a Stonyfield ambassador by applying to be in their blogger club.  When I was accepted, I almost wrote back and said thanks, but no thanks.  My life is like one of those duffle bags that is completely stuffed – I can’t fit even one more sock in.  But if I need that sock, I have to figure out what I am going to take out.  I still haven’t quite figured that out, but all I know is I never did decline the invitation, so here I am, stuffing one more thing in.

The good news is that it doesn’t seem like it is going to be that time consuming, especially because I love cooking and baking with yogurt – and this February’s opportunity also included Devine Chocolate.  Yum!

My girls had been asking me to make a coffee cake for a while, and all of a sudden it hit me – why do you need to use sour cream or buttermilk in a coffee cake, why couldn’t you use yogurt instead?  So I started researching a little – and I learned that it is a perfect substitution, and with a little milk, you have basically created your own buttermilk.  So, I heavily adapted this recipe that I found in the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, and I created my own perfect coffee cake.  The yogurt made the cake super moist, with a slight tang – and the chocolate bar – oh my word.  That was just perfect as the topping.

So the next time you go through the motions, doing the same thing you have always done – think more broadly – be creative, and think about ways in which you can make it better.  There is always a way…

Please note: As a Team Stonyfield ambassador, I am being compensated. All opinions are always my own.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3.5 ounce Devine Chocolate with Whole Almonds Bar, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup Stoneyfield Farms plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preparation

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray and line the bottom with parchment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, both sugars, the butter and the salt until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

To make the crumb topping, transfer 3/4 cup of the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the chocolate and espresso.  Set aside.

Sprinkle the baking soda into the remaining butter-sugar mixture.  Whisk the yogurt together with the milk. Add the yogurt/milk mixture, egg, vanilla, and almond extract to the butter-sugar mixture, and mix just until combined.  Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan, spreading it evenly.  Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the batter.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan.

* If you find yourself without espresso powder, replace it with 1 teaspoon cinnamon for an equally delicious cake.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Almond-Chocolate-Espresso Coffee Cake

Israeli-Style Hummus

Israeli Style Hummus

Hummus is one of those go to appetizers that everyone loves.  It is great with vegetables and crackers, and much healthier than the traditional “onion dip” which is why it has such a great reputation, and you can pretty much find it anywhere.  But how many of you have actually tried to make it from scratch?  I am not just talking about making it with canned chickpeas, I am talking the real deal – nothing from a can.

Last year my dear friend and colleague from Israel brought me some real Israeli tahini during one of her visits to the states.  At that point, I thought about making hummus, but the canned chickpeas where dragging me down.  I just didn’t want to ruin that authentic tahini with something canned.  Then something happened.  A pound of dried chickpeas showed up in my weekly market basket.  I had never even seen them before – but they had hummus written all over them.  Again though – they sat in my pantry for months – until the last and final sign came.  It was this recipe printed in Bon Appetit.  Seriously, the universe was somehow telling me that I had to make this.  So this time I listened – and wow.  This is no ordinary hummus – this is silky smooth, and packed with a nutty fresh flavor.  I could eat it with a spoon.  And it was so good, I made another batch two weeks later.  I know, I have no time to cook, bake, or post on this blog anymore, but somehow I carved out enough time to make this hummus twice in a month.  That’s saying something right there…

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • cup (or more) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
  • cup tahini
  • ¼ teaspoon (or more) ground cumin
  • Olive oil (for serving)

Preparation

Place chickpeas and 1 tsp. baking soda in a medium bowl and add cold water to cover by 2″. Cover and let sit at room temperature until chickpeas have doubled in size, 8–12 hours. Drain and rinse.

Combine soaked chickpeas and remaining 1 tsp. baking soda in a large saucepan and add cold water to cover by at least 2″. Bring to a boil, skimming surface as needed. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer until chickpeas are tender and really falling apart, 45–60 minutes. Drain; set aside.

Meanwhile, process garlic, lemon juice, and 1 tsp. salt in a food processor until coarsely puréed; let sit 10 minutes to allow garlic to mellow.

Strain garlic mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl, pressing on solids to release as much liquid as possible. Return liquid to food processor; discard solids. Add tahini and pulse to combine. With motor running, add ¼ cup ice water by the tablespoonful and process (it may seize up at first) until mixture is very smooth, pale, and thick. Add chickpeas and cumin and process, occasionally scraping down sides, until mixture is extremely smooth, about 4 minutes. Thin with more water if you prefer a looser consistency; taste and season with salt, more lemon juice, and more cumin as desired.

Spoon hummus into a shallow bowl, making a well in the center, and drizzle liberally with oil. Top as desired.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Israeli Style Hummus

Warm Spiced Cashews

Warm Spiced Cashews

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t…one of my all-time favorite jingles.  Even though they were talking about candy, I relate it to my state of being.  Most of the time I feel like a nut because of all that I have going on in my life.  I remember a couple of years ago my New Year’s resolution was simplify – and I really feel like I did a good job – I simplified my personal life so that my work life could continue to get crazier and crazier.  These days, if I can spend more than a couple of hours in the kitchen actually being creative, I feel like a new person.  I am very sorry that my blog posts are getting more and more infrequent, but that’s reality these days.  And as far as my New Year’s resolution this year, it’s called thrival.  I know it is not a real word, but I am sure you can imagine what it means.

A few years ago I started getting into making cocktails – not because I drink a lot of alcohol, but because it was a way for me to create something with almost instant gratification – I didn’t need to wait for it to cook or bake, and all of a sudden, I had a complex flavor creation that I could share with others.  Because at the end of the day, that’s what this is really all about – sharing.  Now what goes great with a nice cocktail, some awesome nuts!  I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, and I was so excited to be able to whip these up in an instant – seriously it was that easy.  They made the house smell like an exotic restaurant – and they went great with our New Year’s Eve cocktails.  At this moment, I was definitely experiencing thrival.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons peanut oil
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, five-spice powder, cumin, black pepper, red pepper, and water to pan. Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture begins bubbling. Add cashews to pan; cook 2 minutes or until well coated, stirring constantly.

Spread cashews evenly on prepared baking sheet, using 2 forks to separate them and leaving as much room as possible between nuts. Sprinkle nuts evenly with salt. Bake at 350° for 7 minutes or until fragrant. Cool slightly on pan before serving.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Warm Spiced Cashews

Chocolate Chunk-Pumpkin Seed Cookies

Chocolate Chunk-Pumpkin Seed Cookies

I have some exciting news!  First Look, Then Cook has finally joined the Instagram revolution!  I know I have been horrible about posting this year, and if you could shadow me for a day, you would completely understand why – but I figured this would be a great way to be able to share more with you – and not just what I am posting on the blog – but the amazing sandwich I ate yesterday, and other foods that I find when I travel.  I am super excited about it – so please check it out!  Right now I don’t have any followers – who will be my first?  Now for the post, as you can see by the picture, that has been ready now for a while…but is there ever a bad time to make cookies?

Making a decision is tough enough.  But imagine if you felt like everyone should have a say in every decision made – and worse, that everyone needs to agree.  You might feel good because your opinion really does matter – but imagine how often in life you can get everyone to agree on something.  Sometimes it is good for someone to make a decision that you don’t agree with – it opens your mind up to new ideas, to take risks, and to grow as a person.

Now think about applying that strictly to food – can you imagine if everyone in your family had to agree on what you made for dinner every night?  Wow, what a nightmare.  I would say that we have a 70% hit rate at home – where the majority of the time, everyone is happy with the dinner options – but there are definitely some times when my children are not happy.  Then out of those times, I would say that 50% of the time, they end up really liking it anyway.  Those are pretty good numbers right there.  And because of that, I continue to stretch the boundaries – making sure they are continuously trying new things.

There are other times when everyone is super excited about what I am making, and then the outcome is not what was expected.  I found this recipe in Bon Appetit, and it had been a while since I made some cookies – so I decided to give them a try.  The batter was delicious, but I decided to make the cookies smaller than they suggested in the recipe – and unfortunately I probably cooked them a little longer than I should have.  It did not impact the flavor at all, but these were definitely more on the crispy side.  My older daughter LOVED them, but my younger one, not so much.  She only likes soft chewy cookies, and although she did give them a try, they were just not her favorite.  Oh well, you can’t please everyone all the time – but that’s ok.  It was still an excellent decision to make the cookies.

Please note – I left the recipe exactly as it was printed below, and if you decide to make the cookies smaller, I would only cook them about 8 minutes max.

Ingredients

  • cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1⅓ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • cups bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
  • Flaky sea salt

Preparation

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Toast pumpkin seeds on a large rimmed baking sheet on upper rack, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and paprika in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Reduce speed to low; add dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing until well blended after each. Fold in chocolate and pumpkin seeds.
Portion dough into 18 balls (about ¼ cup each) and divide between 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 3″ apart. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake cookies, rotating pans halfway through, until edges are slightly browned and firm but centers are still soft, 18–20 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool.
For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Chocolate Chunk-Pumpkin Seed Cookies

Pumpkin-Caramel Tart

Pumpkin Caramel Tart

All too often we forget about the “assist.” I won’t even go into how this applies at work – that would be a white paper, not a one page blog post.  But I am talking about at home – particularly around the holidays.  Last year stress was at an all-time high.  We had two major events we were planning, one of them taking us away for almost 3 months – and work was its normal state of chaos.  The holidays were just a blur – and I remember vowing that I would never try to cram everything in ever again.  I remember having to explain to my daughters why we would not have time to make the holiday treats – they were crushed.  There was just too much going on, and it wasn’t until I was on an airplane flying far, far away, that I was able to take a breath.

This year my older daughter decided to take matters into her own hands.  A few weeks ago she sat me down to talk about our “holiday strategy” this year.  I loved it.  She wanted to help plan out everything we wanted to do, so we would have time to get that holiday baking in, and we would not be stressed.  We decided on a plan of attack, and the execution has been flawless.  We are already so far ahead of where we were last year – it is amazing.  All it took was a little planning, and some help.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you work together.

Thanksgiving was a quiet day for us – this was the first year ever that it was just the 4 of us. We decided that for dessert we would get together with our friends from the street – fortunately there were enough of us that we got to do a lot of baking, which meant experimenting in the kitchen.  Every once in a while a recipe comes along that really knocks my socks off.  This is one of those recipes.  It wasn’t until after I took a bite of this tart that I decided it MUST go into the blog – for nothing else than to document the fact that this was a home run winning recipe.  After all, that’s what this blog was intended to be – a way to document recipes for years to come.  I definitely adapted this one, but Bon Appetit deserves the credit here – thanks for yet another assist – I couldn’t have done it without you!

Ingredients

Crust

  • cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Filling and Assembly

  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin purée
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • Whipped cream (for serving)

Special Equipment

  • A 9-inch springform pan

Preparation

In a small bowl, combine the crumbs and sugar; add butter and blend well. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack before filling.

Bring cream of tartar, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 2 Tbsp. water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, swirling pan occasionally (do not stir), until caramel is a deep amber color, 8–10 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisking constantly, carefully add cream (mixture will be extremely hot and will bubble vigorously); whisk until smooth. Let caramel cool slightly in pot.

Whisk pumpkin purée, brown sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add caramel and eggs, whisking until well blended. Scrape filling into prepared crust.

Bake tart, rotating halfway through, until filling is set around edges and center barely jiggles, 30–35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in pan.

Serve with whipped cream.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Pumpkin-Caramel Tart