Pumpkin White Chocolate Blondies

Yesterday Luke and I attended our first and only wedding expo.  We were there for one specific reason: to sample the cake of a certain bakery so we could make a decision on where to get our wedding cake.

We accomplished this task about 10 minutes after the expo started.  Then we decided to nibble on a few of the provided hors d’oeurves and wander around carefully.  I say carefully because we just wanted to see what other kinds of booths there were, and not be assaulted by the salespeople attending them.  We already have all of our other vendors set, so we were just there to look.

 The woman at the front table was quite surprised to see us leave so early, but no reason to hang about needlessly since our decision was made.  With our extra time, we decided to go to the mall, looking for a new pair of corduroy pants for Luke.  I ended up getting a pair of jeans at the Gap for $7, but there were no corduroys to be found.  We also went to Trader Joe’s, to stock up on some of Luke’s favorite frozen food, as I’ll be away for a few days starting this coming weekend.

Ok, so that’s the life update, now onto the food.  I’m sure I must have proclaimed my love for pumpkin baked goods at some point, but here’s another out-of-season recipe to prove it.

These bars are thick and chewy, with just the right amount of pumpkin flavor.  I also like the pumpkin/white chocolate combination.  The original recipe called for semisweet chocolate, but I wanted to do something different.  Maybe next time I’ll use butterscotch morsels.  Oh goodness….to the kitchen!!!

Pumpkin White Chocolate Blondies

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

Makes one 9X13” pan

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp pumpkin-pie spice
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree

2 cups white chocolate chips

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Add pumpkin puree and mix well. The mixture will look somewhat curdled, but don’t worry about it.  Mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in white chocolate chips.

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake bars for 35-40 minutes or until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool bars completely in pan. Cut into squares and serve.


German Chocolate Tarts

Holy fish sticks, how is it already almost May?  This month has really flown by, leaving in its wake both joyous moments and disappointments.  But it’s almost May, and May means sunshine, and sunshine means sundresses, so I’m happy.

I didn’t start wearing sundresses until last year, and it’s still a big deal for me, so please bear with my excitement.  I can’t wait to move to the new house where I can be out in the yard, spread out on a blanket, reading.  Our apartment doesn’t have much by way of a yard, and every time we go outside, the new neighbor’s dog starts howling like a tone-deaf yodeler.

So I’m staying inside for now, and since temps are only reaching the mid 50s in MA right now, I’m ok with it.

I’ll just have to channel my warm weather frustrations into making some kitchen magic.  Take these tarts for example.  Pure. Kitchen. Magic.

KA and I made these back when she was visiting, since I was driving her home (which also happens to be my hometown) and wanted to bring something special to my dad.  You know, because I’m a good daughter like that.

I had some leftover filling from these cookies, so these tarts seemed like an appropriate vehicle for using it up.  Luke liked them so much he asked me if I really had to take them to my dad.  I mean, I don’t blame him.  My dad asked if it were possible for the tarts to mate, thereby replenishing the ones he ate overnight.  I think that means they’re good 😉

German Chocolate Tarts

Adapted from Scientifically Sweet

Makes 12 muffin sized tarts

For the pastry:

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

3 Tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, very cold and cut into cubes

1 large egg

For the filling:

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

2 large eggs

2 Tbsp sour cream

½ tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup all purpose flour

For the topping*:

2/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut

¾ cup evaporated milk

½ cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped

3oz semi sweet chocolate, for drizzling (optional)

To make the pastry, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Add butter and use your fingertips to rub it into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  The butter should be well dispersed with some larger, oat flake-sized pieces remaining.  Beat egg well with a fork in a small bowl until very fluid and drizzle into flour mixture while gently tossing with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened and it holds together in clumps.  Turn dough out onto a work surface and bring it together in a ball with your hands, turning it frequently and pressing in loose bits until it is cohesive.  You may need to add a little water if your dough is too dry.  Add water 1 Tbsp at a time with dough comes together.  Fold the dough over itself a few times so that the dough is evenly hydrated.  Shape dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

After the dough has chilled, roll it out to a 1/8 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.  Use a 3.5 to 4 inch round to cut out 12 circles (re-rolling scraps as necessary) and fit each round into the greased base of each well in a standard 12-cup muffin pan.  Press pastry into the bottom and up the sides of the muffin cups.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the filling, stir together chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pot with ½ inch of barely simmering water until completely melted and smooth.  Remove bowl from heat and stir in sugar and salt.  Stir in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.  Stir in sour cream and vanilla extract.  Fold in flour until batter is smooth and set aside.

Prick bottoms of chilled, unbaked tart shells a few times with a fork.  Spoon the batter into tart shells, filling them about halfway and bake on the bottom third rack of the oven until batter puffs up and pastry is crisp, about 15 minutes.  Let cool in pan at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Use a small offset spatula to help release them from the pan.  Reduce oven to 325 degrees F.

*I used leftovers from this recipe for the topping, so I didn’t actually make this part.

Spread coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until lightly golden, about 5 minutes, stirring once.  Transfer coconut to a bowl and let cool completely.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk together evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks and salt over medium low heat.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens considerably and reaches the consistency of sweetened condensed milk or pouring custard, 10-15 minutes.  Stir in butter until smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in toasted coconut and chopped pecans.  Let mixture cool for 5-10 minutes before spooning about 1 tablespoon of it over each tart.

If you’re making the chocolate drizzle, place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot with ½ inch of barely simmering water and stir completely melted and smooth.  Using a fork, drizzle warm chocolate over tarts as you wish.


Rosehip Jam Coffee Cake

Can I tell you guys a secret?   I love breakfast.  Big secret right?  But seriously, I think breakfast food is amazing and can unequivocally state that it is my favorite meal of the day.

Sometimes I go to bed hungry just so I can eat breakfast immediately after getting up.  That’s dedication.

There are very few breakfast foods I don’t like, though they do exist.  I am not a fan of oatmeal (the texture is like like gruel, though I do like baked oatmeal) nor any sort of sausage or bacon.  Obviously what I love most are breakfast baked goods.

I love how baked goods at breakfast can also be snacks throughout the day, as well as dessert.  Such versatility!

You made be wondering what the jar in my pictures is.  It’s rosehip jam, which my Nana gave me on my most recent visit to see her.  Rosehip jam is made from rosehips, the tiny red fruit of the rose plant. It doesn’t taste like roses at all, but has a very mild, fruity taste.  I wanted to put the jam to good use, and I think this coffee cake certainly accomplishes that.  Don’t have rosehip jam?  No problem, use whatever jam or jelly you’d like.

Rosehip Jam Coffeecake

Adapted from Scarletta Bakes

Makes one 9X13” pan

For the cake:
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup rosehip jam (or the fruit-based jelly or jam or your choice.)

For the crumb topping:
1 cup packed brown sugar,
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled, cubed

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with parchment paper, or grease with cooking spray and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating until just incorporated. Continue mixing and add the dry ingredients, alternating with the sour cream, until a uniform batter has formed. Pour the batter into the lined or greased pan, being sure to distribute it evenly across the pan and smoothing the top. If you’re working with a jelly as I did, I recommend stirring the jelly in a bowl until it has broken up a little and isn’t quite so solid and gelatinous. Stirring will simply make it easier for you to drop and swirl the preserve on the cake. Once you have a ‘looser’ jelly to work with, spoon it in six large spots onto the top of the cake.  Use a butter knife to cut through the jelly drops and create a swirl pattern. Once your jelly is arranged, set the cake aside to rest for a moment.

In a small bowl, use your fingers to combine the butter, flour and brown sugar for the topping into a uniform crumbled mixture. Spread the topping over the jellied cake and bake for 28-30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let cool for 10-15 mins and serve!


Pesto & Scallion Mac n’ Cheese

Sometimes you just need some comfort food.

Because you stubbed your toe on that stupid raised step into the kitchen that you know is there, but nevertheless you always seem to forget to pick up your foot that extra two inches.

Or maybe because it’s dark and rainy out, and that’s just a good reason in itself to do anything in the kitchen.

Or perhaps you whipped up an awesome batch of cupcakes, and wanted to top them with an equally awesome brown sugar marshmallow frosting.  Except no matter how long you hovered over your hand mixer churning away, the frosting never gets past the consistency of fluff, and so you give up and eat your cupcakes, slightly unsatisfied.

That’s reason enough for me to throw a nice, bubbly pan of mac n’ cheese in the oven.  And if scallions and pesto are added to the mix, my sad cupcake blues just melt away with each bite that feels like a hug in my mouth.  Excuse me, I have some more cheesy pasta to eat.

Pesto & Scallion Mac n’ Cheese

Adapted from How Sweet Eats

Makes 4-6 servings

4 cups pasta (smallish pasta works best, like elbow noodles, penne, rotini)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 Tbsp flour

2 cups milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

10 oz grated cheddar cheese, and more for topping

pinch of nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup pesto

½ cup scallions, chopped (optional)

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring water to a boil in a large pot and cook pasta according to directions.  Make sure to cook it a few minutes short as it will cook again in the oven.

While pasta is cooking, heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once sizzling, add flour and whisk until smooth to create a roux. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until golden and has a nutty aroma. Add milk and cream, bring to a boil while constantly whisking. Reduce heat to low and add cheese, then cook for a few minutes while stirring until cheese is melted and mixture thickens. Add nutmeg, then taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Add pasta to a baking dish (I used an 8X8″) and pour cheese sauce over top. Stir to distribute sauce, then stir in pesto and scallions. Top with additional grated cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top is golden and bubbly.


Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

I received major kitchen-related good news this week.  As I announced last week, Luke and I are in the process of purchasing our first house.   So exciting!  It’s an adorable three bedroom, with a charming backyard and a great kitchen.  Duh.

We had it inspected over last weekend, and it passed with flying colors.  The only questions remaining were about certain furnishings in the house, especially in the kitchen.

The gas stove is staying, as is the nice stainless steel fridge.  But I wanted to know about the other pieces that make the kitchen awesome, namely the great island with wooden countertop, the overhead pot rack, and a long table with a shelf underneath for storage.  It turns out, the current owners are leaving all of them behind!!  Yes!!!! Score!!!!  Goallllllll!!!! (sorry, Luke was watching soccer yesterday).  It feels like Christmas has come super early this year.

As you can tell, I’m thrilled.  My current kitchen has one tiny strip of counter and limited cabinet space, so branching out into a bigger kitchen has always been a dream of mine.

Where else will I have space to put all my small appliances, like my ice cream maker.  I love that thing so much.  If you don’t have one, I highly recommend picking one up; they aren’t that expensive and making homemade ice cream feels so sophisticated.

Even if you’re making something as simple as cookies & cream ice cream.  It’s automatically better because you hand chopped and folded in those Oreos.  Don’t like/have Oreos?  Fold in whatever you want!  You can be the master of your ice cream destiny.

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Adapted from The Sweets Life

Makes about 1 ½ quarts

1 cup whole milk (you can use 2% too)

2 cups heavy cream, divided

4 egg yolks

½  cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

15 Oreos, roughly chopped

Put one cup of the cream in a large heatproof bowl.  In a medium saucepan, bring milk, other cup of cream and sugar to just under a boil (bubbles will begin to form around the edges).

Meanwhile, whisk up the egg yolks. Slowly add the milk to the egg mixture while whisking continuously until well combined.

Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula for 3-4 minutes until slightly thickened. Pour the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl containing the cream. Stir in the vanilla, and let the mixture cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 6 hours.

Pour the liquid into the ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. When ice cream is finished, fold in chopped Oreos. Freeze ice cream 3-4 additional hours in a plastic container until hardened.


Tomato Basil Rolls

A model bunny for Hop Day.  To me, this pose says “No, darling I don’t mind if you take my picture, just don’t bother me, I’m trying to work on my tan.”  Maybe I should have photoshoped in some sunglasses.  Either way, Izzy is looking mighty fine in this one.  Just look at those little bunny legs.  Adorable.

I know earlier this week I talked about my disdain for certain vegetables.  First on the list is a red, juicy item that is ubiquitous in many kitchens around the world…except for mine.  Nope, you will never find a tomato in my kitchen, unless it’s been diced, crushed or sauced and then shoved in a can.   Or in the fridge in a clear plastic bottle.

You see, the thing I can’t stand about tomatoes is their texture.  Their skin is firm, but their insides are mushy, and the taste of fresh tomato has just never appealed to me.  I can however, tolerate cooked tomato, as long as there aren’t big chunks of the vegetable floating around.  Yep, I’m that person that picks tomato chunks out of their pasta sauce.

Also, I’ve been known to put ketchup on pretty much any protein source.  I know it doesn’t count since it’s mostly vinegar and high fructose corn syrup, but I’m just trying to prove a point.  As long as they’ve been mashed up and cooked, I’m ok with tomatoes.

Which brings me to these rolls.  They get their tomato flavor (and awesome color) from tomato paste, which is totally fine in my book.  Add in some dried basil, and you’ve got yourself one delicious bread bun.

Eat one with a slice of fresh mozzarella, and you’ve got a Caprese salad!  Well…maybe not.  But they are fabulously tasty with pasta, or as a snack.

Tomato Basil Rolls

Adapted from Thyme

Makes about 12 rolls

2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 cup hot water
6 oz tomato paste
1 Tbsp dried basil
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
4 ¾ cups bread flour (or all purpose)
A beaten egg and freshly grated parmesan for garnish (optional)

In a large bowl, mix together the yeast, water, tomato paste, basil, oil, and butter. Let sit for 3 minutes, until the yeast is dissolved and frothy. Add the sugar, salt and then the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-5 mins until the dough is elastic. Put dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth.  Let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled. Line a baking sheet with parchment or grease it. Form the dough into balls and place on the baking sheet. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 15 minutes more. Brush with egg and sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired. Bake at 425º for about 10 minutes.  Let cool for 10 mins and serve!


Dirt Cake

This is a nice spring themed dessert that goes wayyy back for me.  When I asked Luke if he knew what dirt cake was, he replied, oh you mean worms and dirt?

Crickets.  Sure?  I guess?  Yes, it turns out dirt cake and worms & dirt are one in the same.  I happen to like my title better.  I don’t know how keen I’d be on eating a dessert with worms in the title.  Even if they are the gummy kind.

My mom used to make this dessert when I was growing up.  If she made if during the spring, she’d clean out a flower pot and put it in there for added effect.  I would have put it in one too, only all my pots are currently occupied by herbs.

But I should back up.  What is dirt cake?  It’s layers of Oreo cookie crumbs and a cream cheese/pudding/whipped cream mixture all stacked together parfait style.

Sometimes there are gummy worms dispersed throughout.  Sadly, I didn’t have any on hand, so I couldn’t include them.  When they are in the cake, I tend to eat the cake part first and hoard all the gummies for later.

The original recipe that I got from my mom calls for Cool Whip, but I couldn’t find any at my grocery store, so I subbed homemade whipped cream for it.  I think it tasted better, but that’s just because homemade whipped cream is amazing.  And only adds to the amazingness that is dirt cake.

Dirt Cake

Recipe from my mom

Makes about 12 servings

1 package Oreo cookies (the regular kind, not Double Stuffed)

½ stick unsalted butter

8oz cream cheese

¾ cup powdered sugar

two 3.4oz packages instant vanilla pudding

2 ¾ cups milk

12 oz Cool Whip (or homemade whipped cream)

gummy worms (optional)

In a food processor, crumble the cookies until finely ground and set aside.  In a large bowl, cream together butter, cream cheese and powdered sugar.  In another large bowl mix the instant pudding powder with the milk to create your pudding.  Add the pudding into the cream cheese mixture and stir to combine.  Fold in Cool Whip or whipped cream.  In a serving bowl (mine was a 2.75 quart Pyrex dish but I made a half recipe) layer cookie crumbs and pudding mixture, beginning and ending with cookie crumbs.  Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before servings, then store leftovers in the fridge.  If using gummy worms, add them just before serving, as they will get very hard if refrigerated.