Cookie Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I need to start out with this: I love Christmas.

This time of year just makes me happy. I love finding the perfect presents for family members. I love pulling out all the ornaments that we’ve collected on our travels so far. I love excuses to get together with family and friends. And, of course, I love making Christmas goodies.

A lot of my baking list is dictated tradition: I make up batches of my Opa’s cookies every year, because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. Cookie recipes I love but haven’t made recently get broken out for exchanges. And I make ranch pretzels in mass to give as gifts.

There’s always room for something new, though, which is where these cookies come in. I made up these delicious treats for a cookie swap with some of my foodie friends. They’ll be reaching their destination today so I hope they’re well-loved!

If you haven’t tried cookie butter, you need to. Really. Just stop reading now and go buy some.

In all seriousness, though, it’s sort of like a cross between peanut butter and a gingerbread cookie – which is totally perfect for a holiday goodie like this. It’s safe to say these will be making the baking list again next year!

Cookie Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
(from Knead to Cook)
Makes about 3 dozen

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Cookie Butter (I like Trader Joe’s)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the cookie butter, vanilla and egg until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon-fulls onto lined baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Let cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.


Last Minute Gift Ideas

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If you weren’t aware, today is Free Shipping Day – lots of online retailers are offering free shipping with no minimum purchase and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. In a nutshell, if you’re going to do any more online shopping for Christmas, you want to do it today.

The website is a little overwhelming, with nearly 1200 online merchants offering discounts, so I just wanted to highlight a few that might be of interest to you. None of this is sponsored – I just spent a bunch of time sifting through for some last-minute shopping and wanted to pass it along!

Shari’s Berries is offering free standard shipping on all orders today – which will get it there in time for Christmas Eve. I’m not generally a huge fan of mail-order food, but they sent me a box of strawberries when Jacob was born and they were marvelous. This is a great option if you’re still looking for something to send to out-of-town friends and family.

Pfaltzgraff is offering free shipping on any order with code “FREESHIPPINGDAY”. I’m a huge fan of their Winterberry dishes and think they’d be a great gift for anyone who likes to entertain this year. Whether you’re picking up a few pieces to add to an existing set or one special serving dish, there are a lot of great choices.

Brookstone is offering free ground shipping on all orders with code “SHIPDAY14″. They have a lot of fun novelty food and kitchen items for hard-to-buy for people, like this special shaped glass and round ice maker (perfect for whisky drinkers) and these never-soggy cereal bowls.

Shop PBS is offering free shipping with no minimum order. They’re home to DVDs of Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen, as well as some of their cookbooks. Both awesome gifts for cooks and food fans.

William Sonoma is offering free shipping with code “FREESHIP”. They have everything from gorgeous holiday linens and dishes and specialty snacks to everything you could possibly want for your kitchen. My Christmas list could be: “Anything/Everything from this store”.

Hope these spur some ideas for you last-minute shoppers!


Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting for 2

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You know what next Monday is? National Cupcake Day! Today, I’m linking up with lots of other bloggers to share some awesome cupcake recipes. Consider this your one-week heads up – plenty of time to pick out a recipe and make something special for someone special!

As a general rule, I try not to make things just for the sake of blogging them. I didn’t have any big gatherings coming up to make cupcakes for, and making a whole batch for just the two of us seemed daunting – and then I ran across this recipe in my folder of saved recipes. Just two cupcakes? And chocolate with Nutella frosting? I’m totally on board with that!

These were awesome – dangerously so. I really shouldn’t know how to whip up just two chocolate cupcakes because it totally takes them from a special occasion thing to a, yeah, I can whip these up during naptime for an afternoon snack thing. Dangerous.

But, oh, I love them so!

You can check out all the other awesome cupcakes bloggers made at the links below. Whether you’re looking for something small batch or to feed a crowd, seasonal or birthday-perfect, there’s something for everyone!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting
(from 52 Kitchen Adventures)
Makes 2

Cupcakes:
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon + 1/16 tsp. baking soda
1/16 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Frosting:
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup Nutella
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2-1 teaspoon milk

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Prepare a cupcake pan with two liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry cupcake ingredients. Whisk in the wet ingredients until all moistened. Divide batter between two cupcake liners.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes in the pan and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes cool, beat together the butter and Nutella. Beat in the powdered sugar. Add in the vanilla and milk and beat until thoroughly combined. Add more milk or powered sugar to reach desired consistancy. Frost cupcakes once they’re cooled.


Banana Bread

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There are a few reasons I love doing recipe swaps. One is that it encourages me to post (hello, unplanned blog break). Another is that I often find things I didn’t know I had in common with other bloggers. Like, the perpetual search for the perfect banana bread.

I currently have three banana bread or muffin recipes on the blog. I like them all for different reasons, but I always end up trying new ones – just to see what my other options are. Right after we got our assignments for this swap, I had a bunch of over-ripe bananas sitting on the counter. Hmm, does Carrie’s Sweet Life have any banana bread recipes to try out? I wondered.

The answer is yes, yes she does. At least a dozen, actually. She is, apparently, a chronic banana bread recipe trier, like me. Banana bread jackpot, as far as I was concerned.

I picked a simple recipe for this go around because I already had everything in the house (always a bonus!), but I’m drooling over some of her other versions, too. I’d like to say this one will stop my banana bread quest but, let’s be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever give up the hunt.

Banana Bread
(from Carrie’s Sweet Life)
Makes 1 Loaf

3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

Preaheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the mashed bananas and melted butter until thouroughly combined. Add in sugar, egg and vanilla and stir to combine. Add in baking soda and salt and stir to combine. Add in flour and stir until just incorporated.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.


Flourless Pumpkin Pie Muffins

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The theme for this round of What’s Baking is pumpkin – perfect for the season! Since I knew I’d be posting my pumpkin recipe this month, I wanted to pick one that would fit in with October Unprocessed. I actually made them last month and these aren’t totally unprocessed – I used a chocolate peanut butter and chocolate chips – but subbing an appropriate nut butter and leaving out the chocolate chips would easily bring them into line.

I’m going to be making them again soon. Like, probably today.

You can check out the roundup of other pumpkin goodies later this month on Carrie’s Sweet Life.

Flourless Pumpkin Pie Muffins
(from Running with Spoons)
Makes 9 Muffins

1/4 cup nut butter
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
6 Tbsp. honey
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees and spray a muffin pan with cooking spray.

Add all of the ingredients except for the chocolate chips to a blender and blend on high until the oats are gone and batter is smooth and creamy. Stir in chocolate chips then pour the batter into prepared muffin pans.

Bake until the tops of your muffins are set and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean,about 10-12 minutes. Allow muffins to cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.


Oven Fajitas

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One of the things that’s been difficult for me with October Unprocessed is that I tend to pick recipes that are more complicated and time-consuming. I’m not sure why they appeal to me so much, but they’re really just not ideal for busy nights when you’re also juggling a baby. I’ve had to made a conscious effort to find quick, easy dinners that don’t rely on processed ingredients.

This was one of the best dinners so far. I did the prep during nap time so when dinner time came, I just had to toss it with the seasoning and oil and stick it in the oven. I served them with lettuce leaves for wrapping to make it October Unprocessed friendly, but tortillas would be great too.

Oven Fajitas
(from Budget Bytes)
Serves 4

1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 Tbsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 Tbsp. corn starch
2 small onions
2 medium green bell peppers
1 medium red bell pepper
1 lb. chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium lime
Tortillas or lettuce leaves for wrapping

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. In a small bown, whisk together the first nine ingredients. Set aside.

Slice the onion, peppers and chicken into strips and place them into a 9×13″ baking dish. Sprinkle the seasoning over everything and then drizzle the oil over everything. Toss to coat evenly.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, stirring halfway through. When done, squeeze juice from half of the lime over everything. Serve on tortillas or lettuce leaves with your favorite toppings.


Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Quinoa Salad Jar

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While we’re really only a few days into October Unprocessed, I think I already found my favorite dish of the month. This salad is fantastic. I whipped it up on a day that baby boy was particularly needy so it literally took me all day to get it finished. When Mark walked in from work at 8 pm, he’s like, “Is that dinner?” and when I said, “No, its today’s lunch” he knew better than to ask too many questions (and graciously helped do the dishes when I finally finished. I had really thought about ditching these once lunch time passed and I didn’t have anything more than some burned sweet potato, but I’m really, really glad I didn’t.

Much like the oats I shared a few days ago, I suggest multiplying the recipe and making several at once – it’s just more efficient to cook a few days worth of sweet potatoes and quinoa in one shot if you’ll be eating this for several days.

Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Quinoa Salad Jar
(from Popsugar Fitness)
Makes 1

1 small sweet potato, unpeeled, diced into bite-sized pieces
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup black beans
1/4 red pepper, diced
2 cups baby spinach
1 Tbsp. dried cranberries
1 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds

For the dressing:
1/4 cup mango, fresh or frozen
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp. water

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Toss the diced sweet potato with the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the quinoa to a covered pot along with half a cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the water is all absorbed and the quinoa is tender.

Make the dressing: combine mango, vinegar and water in a blender and pulse until smooth.

Assemble the salad in a jar: Place the black beans at the bottom and then layer on the quinoa, dressing, red pepper, spinach, sweet potatoes, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds.

Cover jar and refrigerate until ready to serve. When you’re ready to eat, shake the jar or dump it into a bowl and toss to combine.


Pumpkin Overnight Oats

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I knew going into October Unprocessed that breakfast and lunch would be harder for me than dinner. Being home with the kiddo all day, I don’t always get a good break to make something so I need something I can make ahead that’s relatively grab-and-go. I’ve got a list of ideas for each that I’m planning to try out this month, but this breakfast got bumped to the top because it’s the quickest.

The amounts below are for one jar, but I’d highly suggest lining up a few jars and prepping them all at once. I did 4 days worth in one shot and it was really nice to not have to keep dragging the ingredients out nightly. And really, who isn’t loving pumpkin everything this time of year?

Pumpkin Overnight Oats
(adapted slightly from Greens & Chocolate)
Serves 1

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. chia seeds
2 tsp. flax seeds
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Place all ingredients in a mason jar or other container with a tight fitting lid and shake well to combine.  Refrigerate overnight.

Serve topped with fruit or nuts.


Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Vegetables

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This is actually a dinner I made last month, but it’s something we’ll be repeating this month since it fits October Unprocessed well.

And by I made, I mean it was a group effort. Our friend, Chris, just took a job in Saudi Arabia (!) so we had him over for dinner as sort of a last hurrah. I started cooking and then Mark took over when I had to feed the baby. Chris pitched in by making the gravy as Mark got the pork cut and plated. You know you have good friends when they have no qualms about jumping in to help in the kitchen! We’re really going to miss having him around.

This is a nice dinner because it’s a one-dish meal. I’m always a fan of fewer dishes! The marinade made for a really flavorful pork tenderloin and we used the last of the green beans out of the garden. I served this with a nice, warm loaf of bread to round out the meal.

Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Vegetables
(from The Other Side of Fifty)
Serves 6

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp. fresh sage, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin
2 lbs. medium red skinned potatoes, scrubbed, diced into 1/2″ cubes
3/4 lb. green beans, ends trimmed
1/4 cup canola oil
1 heaping TBSP whole wheat flour
1 cup chicken broth

In a large bowl or ziplock bag, combine the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mustard, garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper. Add the pork, turn to coat and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Heat the canola oil to shimmering in an oven-safe pan.

Remove pork and discard marinade. Sear on all sides then transfer to oven and cook until the pork reaches 140F degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove pork from pan and tent on a plate. While the meat cooks, microwave the potatoes on high for 8 minutes, stirring halfway.

Increase the oven temp to 450F degrees. Add potatoes and green beans to the pan and toss to coat in the oil. Roast for an additional 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the vegetables to a serving platter.

Whisk the flour into the juices remaining in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Whisk in the chicken broth and continue whisking until smooth and reduced to the desired thickness.

Slice the meat and serve with vegetables and pan gravy.


October Unprocessed 2014

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October Unprocessed 2014

For the last several years, Eating Rules has hosted October Unprocessed- a challenge to forgo processed food for the month. This year, I’m joining in.

We do a fairly good job of eating like this on a normal basis, but there are always things that find their way into the kitchen that could be better. Going completely unprocessed has been a goal of mine for a while and this seems as good of an excuse as any to bite the bullet and actually try it.

What is considered “unprocessed”? We’re using Eating Rules’s kitchen test – if a person with reasonable kitchen skills could make it in a home kitchen with whole food ingredients, it’s unprocessed. What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means things like canned tomatoes, peanut butter and humus I don’t necessarily have to make myself – I just plan on buying versions that I could make, if I really wanted to.

We will have two exceptions for the month – we’re going to two weddings and will be partaking in the festive food, whatever that may be, but any of our own cooking and eating out will be as unprocessed as possible.

So, for the month of October, I’m going to be sharing recipes that fit the bill for the challenge. It’ll be a little different than usual, but it should be interesting!