Peanut Brittle

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My Dad’s birthday was recently and I decided to make him a special treat, something he loves, but almost never gets…Peanut Brittle!  It also gave me a good excuse to test out my new candy thermometer.  I decided to use Alton Brown’s recipe for peanut brittle, and it came out great!  I left out the cayenne pepper, but the cinnamon gave the brittle a great flavor.  Just make sure you do use a candy thermometer and be sure it gets to 350ºF  (as stated in the video.)  I tried to make it again without the thermometer, judging just by sight and I must have taken it off too soon because that time it did not come out right at all.  Still, when it’s done right it’s a delicious treat.  My Dad loved it and I am really excited to make more recipes using a candy thermometer…Toffee perhaps?

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You can find a video of Alton Brown making the recipe here and the a text version of the recipe here.

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Bird’s Nests

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If someone had me write a list of my favorite desserts, Bird’s Nests would probably be in the top ten.   I am not exactly sure what to call them, they’re not cookies…but I don’t know if candy really fits either.  They are chocolate bundles of sweet and salty goodness.  In my family they have somehow become a Christmas only dessert, like gingerbread cookies.  However, this year I decided to change that.  Since Monday was Valentines Day, as well as my Birthday, I decided to treat myself with this delicious treat.

Chow Mein Noodles for Bird's NestsThe ingredients in this recipe are pretty straightforward, milk chocolate chips, semi sweet chips, peanuts…except for one, Chow Mein Noodles.  For some reason when I tell people about this recipe that one ingredient always throws them.  They add another layer of saltiness to the peanuts and they give the dessert another bird’s nest like quality, they act as the twigs.

Despite how easy this recipe is to make, the directions I have to make them are very vague.  “small bag of chow mein noodles”, about 3/4- 1 cup peanuts, “barely coat.”  I usually just keep adding the peanuts and noodles until it looks right, but that is a little difficult to explain through a blog post, so I’ll do my best! Despite this I think it would be very hard to mess this recipe up.  If you don’t add enough peanuts and noddles each nest will just be more chocolately, and vice versa.  Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

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Bird’s Nests
1/2 – 3/4 package (6-9 ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 package (12 ounces) Milk Chocolate Chips
About 3/4 – 1 cup Peanuts
About 1/2 – 3/4 can Chow Mein Noodles
1 bag M&Ms, whichever flavor is your favorite

Line two cookie sheets with wax or parchment paper.  In a pot on the stove melt chocolate chips over medium heat until melted.  Add in peanuts and chow mein noodles, add more if needed, they should be barely coated in chocolate.   Scoop small tablespoons of the mixture on the wax paper lined cookie sheets, quickly press in 2-4 (depending on preference and size of nests)  M&Ms to be the “eggs.”  Let sit for 1-2 hours, peel off wax paper and store in airtight container.  Enjoy!

And lastly, an update on the Surfer Squares my friend and her husband loved them!  He said they tasted just like his mother’s, though he wasn’t able to tell me how they got their name.

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Surfer Squares

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A couple weeks ago a few friends and I had a recipe exchange of sorts.  In this exchange I received quite a few recipes, and I am looking forward to trying all of them.  The one I decided to test out first is a recipe called Surfer Squares.  The recipe comes from my friend’s mother-in-law, and my friend has, in fact, never made this recipe herself, or even tasted it!  Her husband however, raves over how good it is, and since I bake more than she does, she thought I might want to try it sometime. I’m going to be seeing my friend and her husband tomorrow, and I thought it would be nice to make the “Surfer Squares” and surprise them both!  The real test will be seeing if he thinks they taste like his mother’s!

Now, I haven’t quite figured out why they are called Surfer Squares yet.  But they are delicious!  I was actually very skeptical about how this recipe would turn out. Butterscotch chips, semi-sweet chips, marshmallows?  It all sounded kind of strange to me, and I was having trouble imagining how it would taste.  It didn’t help that on my first attempt I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the butter, sugar, and butterscotch chips melting on the stove and I somehow had the butter separate into a greasy, gooey, glob. (Try saying that five times fast!)

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On the second attempt I was sure to pay more attention, and even though the mixture on the stove was still quite grainy and odd looking when the chips had melted I transferred it into a mixing bowl, and added the egg.  Almost as soon as I turned on the beaters it changed until a smooth glossy mixture, and I went ahead and mixed in the rest of the ingredients.  The batter was quite dense and sticky when I went to put it in the 8×8 pan, and I still wasn’t sure if it was right, but I popped it in the oven to see what would happen.

I baked it until it was golden brown on top and around the edges, it smelled really good, but at this point I still wasn’t sure how it would taste.  When it was cool I cut it into bars (which was slightly difficult because they are quite sticky) and tentatively took my first bite.

My verdict? They are delicious, rich and gooey! I taste the chocolate first, then the butterscotch flavor comes through after.  I am really not a marshmallow fan, but I don’t even taste them.  It’s like they melt quietly into the background, and make the bars wonderfully chewy.  They smell amazing as well!  All in all I think this recipe is a total hit!  I can’t wait to see what my friends think of it tomorrow, and maybe I’ll find out why they are called Surfer Squares.

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Surfer Squares
1 cup Butterscotch Chips
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Butter
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
3/4 cup Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 cup Mini Marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease 8×8 inch square pan. In saucepan melt butter over medium heat, when fully melted add in sugar and stir until totally dissolved and incorporated with butter.  Add butterscotch chips, stir constantly until melted*.  The mixture might be slightly grainy/lumpy.  Transfer mixture to mixing bowl, add egg and vanilla, beat well.  Mix in flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in chocolate chips and marshmallows.  Spread mixture into greased 8×8 inch pan.  Bake at 350ºF for 20-25 minutes.  Cool and cut into bars.

* I took the saucepan off the heat after the butterscotch chips were in about 20 seconds, the butter/sugar mixture was hot enough to finish melting the chips.  Remember to stir constantly.

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Filed under Baking: Bar Cookies

Cinnamon Bread

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This past Saturday I decided jump into my first solo attempt at making bread.  I have made bread in the past, but always with the help of a friend or my grandmother, both of which have much more experience at making yeasty type things than I do.   Recently though, I have been trying to veer away the cookies, muffins, brownies, etc. I always make and try out new recipes with a slightly higher level of difficultly.  It has been a lot of fun and I definitely feel like I am learning and improving my baking skills by trying out these new recipes.

I have been wanting to try out making bread for a long time, and I finally bought yeast to do so a couple weeks ago.  On Saturday I somewhat impulsively decided that it was going to be bread making day.  When I bought the yeast and decided I was going to make bread I had all the intentions of waking up early and getting everything together so it could rise as much as it needed to, and then be baked and out of the oven by a reasonable time in the afternoon.  This is what my grandmother always does when she makes her bread, so I figured that would be the best way to go about it.  Then Saturday happened…

We had gotten 12 inches of snow the night before and when I woke up in the morning everything outside was covered beautifully in white fluffy snow.  Even though Christmas has come and gone I couldn’t help but hum “Winter Wonderland” because that’s exactly what it was.  Naturally I wasn’t satisfied just sitting inside looking at the snow, so I grabbed my camera (after having to wait a half hour because I forgot to charge it the night before *oops*) and headed out the door.

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I wandered around my neighborhood for a little while, snapping pictures and chatting with some of the neighbors about the large amount of snow we had gotten.  I was just about to head inside when I decided that this would be the perfect time for a photo shoot with my golden retriever Cody.  I wasn’t able to take many snowy pictures with him last winter because he was recovering from his second knee surgery and he wasn’t allowed to run around off leash.

Cody 1

You can probably tell where this story is heading, by the time I got inside, rested for a while, and ate lunch it was well past two o’clock in the afternoon.  At that point I wasn’t even thinking about baking bread, until I opened my refrigerator and spied the yeast.  When I saw it my mind immediately went to The Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Bread recipe and I knew that the rest of the day was going to be spent making bread.

In the baking process (Cinnamon Bread)

The actual making of the bread was a lot easier than I expected it to be.  I used my mixer to knead the dough and once it all came together in the right consistency I tucked it in a canola oil coated bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and a tea towel and set it in a very warm place to rise.  I have read a lot about yeast and the right environment it needs to rise, so I had already decided that I was going to knock up the heat a couple notches (it’s usually set at around 68ºF, I pushed it up to 70ºF) and put it in the smallest room of the house keeping the door closed to trap the heat in.  This plan worked perfectly and two and a half hours later I rolled out the bread, covered it in cinnamon and sugar, rolled it up, then put it back in the same room so it could rise for another two hours.

Cinnamon Bread 1

Two hours and forty minutes of baking time later I pulled the bread out of the oven (it was nearly ten o’clock at night at this point so excuse the bad lighting) it came out perfectly!  I was so excited to cut it but I decided to wait until morning and have my first piece (or two…or three…) for breakfast in the morning.

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It is absolutely delicious! I have just been eating it plain, but it would probably taste great toasted with some butter, or just heated slightly to get a nice fresh out of the oven feeling. The only “bad” thing I would say about this recipe is that it only makes the one loaf, though I suppose doubling is always an option. One thing I know for sure, I will definitely be making this bread again and again.

The recipe can be found here at http://thepioneerwoman.com/

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Filed under Baking: Bread

Dark Chocolate Truffles

I have been wanting to make truffles for a while now, I tried once a few years ago and it failed horribly. I let the chocolate sit in the refrigerator for too long before I tried to roll it into balls, so it hardened up way too much. Then I was impatient and didn’t let it sit out long enough before I tried to roll the chocolate again, and I ended up with something like shaved chocolate and not nice round truffles (it still tasted good though :P)

This time, it went much much better! I ended up with 12 delicious round truffles. I used the recipe that was on the back of the Ghirardelli chocolate, but I decided to half it. It said it would make about 30 truffles and I really didn’t need that many. So all the amounts in the pictures are half the normal amount, the full recipe will be at the bottom of the page.

Truffles are so simple to make! Only three ingredients!
Truffles 1

As I said, I just took the recipe right off of the back of the chocolate.
Truffles 2

You start by adding the heavy cream to a saucepan and bringing it to a simmer.
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Once the cream is simmering add in the butter and stir until melted.
Butter

Then add the chocolate to the saucepan and stir until entirely melted. Once the chocolate is smooth remove from heat and pour into a shallow bowl.
Chocolate

Then put the bowl in the refrigerator until firm (but not solid) it will probably take at least two hours.
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Once firm roll the mixture into 1 inch balls and roll in a coating of your choice. I left half of mine plain and the other half I rolled in finely chopped walnuts. I prefer them plain, but my family likes the walnuts so by doing half and half everyone got what they liked.
Here is the finished product!
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Enjoy!

Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Truffles
Makes 30 Truffles
8 oz. (2 Bars) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar
1/3 Cup of Heavy Whipping Cream
6 Tbsp. of Unsalted Butter Cut into Small Pieces
Coating
1/3 Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa or 3/4 of finely chopped almonds or pecans (or whatever you want really)

Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan. Add butter and stir until melted. Add chocolate to saucepan, stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat and pour chocolate mixture into a shallow bowl. Cool, cover and refrigerate until firm, at least two hours. Roll mixture into 1″ balls. Roll each ball in coating.

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Russian Tea Cakes

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This afternoon I made the first Christmas cookies of the year, the honor went to Russian Tea Cakes.  It’s funny, I am not a fan of walnuts, but I love these cookies.  I know they have 3/4 a cup of walnuts in them, but since they are chopped so tiny it’s easy for me to forget they are in there.  I can just relish the lightness of the cookie and the delicious flavor the nuts provide.

I started baking the cookies around 3:30pm, and I forgot how fast the sun goes down this time of year.  So by the time I was ready to take pictures of the finished product the sun was already almost all the way behind the trees.  It was definitely too dark to shoot in my dining room where I had planned to do the pictures.  However, there still was  a bit of light coming through the big window in the living room.  So I set up a tray right in front of the window and moved everything I wanted to take pictures of to there.  It made it a little more difficult, and a lot more moving things back and forth.  But I got the shots!

The ingredients for these cookies are:
1 Cup of Softened Butter (or margarine but I prefer greatly prefer butter)
1/2 Cup of Sifted Confectioners Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 1/4 Cups of Sifted Flour
1/4 tsp. Salt
3/4 Cup of finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400ºF

I always chop the walnuts first, it’s my favorite part of making this recipe (besides eating the finished product, I don’t know why)
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Chop until the nuts are very very finely chopped.
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Mix together the softened butter, sifted sugar, and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
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I didn’t get a picture of this part (new to food blogging and all) but then sift the flour and salt and blend it in, then mix in the nuts. The dough will be very dry, I had to use my hands to get the last of the flour and the nuts combined.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on un-greased cookie sheets (the cookies will not spread.)
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Bake for 8-12 minutes (*Note* I used convection mode on my oven and the cookies only took 6 minutes) or until set and the bottoms are ever so slightly golden, the whole cookie shouldn’t be brown. Be careful not to over bake. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.
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While still warm roll in confectionery sugar. The sugar will melt into the cookie and make it sticky. Not to worry though, this will act like glue so when you roll the cookie in the sugar again when it’s cool it will stick and make the cookies look like little snow balls.
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And here’s what they look like when they are cool and have been rolled a second layer of confectionery sugar!
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Enjoy!

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Filed under Baking: Cookies

Out with the Old (Oven); In with the New (Oven)

I made this blog at the end of October, and fully meant to start posting in it right away.  But I am sure everyone knows what I mean when I say “Where does time go!?”  I seriously can’t even believe it’s December already again, the holiday season seems to have sprung upon me with me realizing it (despite the Christmas commercials that have been on for more than a whole month already!)

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(The Old Oven)

Anyway, what I meant to say was, I made this blog and then I was going to start up right away.  But then before I knew it it was November, which meant it was time for another NaNoWriMo as you can probably imagine while that was going on I didn’t really have time to write much else.  So, I won NaNoWriMo, I made it to 50,000 words two years in a row (whoohoo!) and I think to myself, now it’s time to start up my food blog!  But during that time…the oven broke.  My family and I have been ovenless for probably two and a half weeks now.  It was sort of a difficult time, especially over Thanksgiving when my Mom had to go over to Church and use the oven there to make the pies.  And I have wanted to start Christmas cookie baking.

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(The New Oven)

Finally!  Today, the new oven got put in, it’s a convection oven which might take a little getting used to.  I am very excited to try it out and make my first batch of cookies in it tomorrow, and then (hopefully) get this blog up and running!

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