Sunday, October 31

Happy Halloween! (Cheesecake Cups)

The treats have been made, the party was thrown, the drinks were imbibed and then slept off.  Time for trick or treaters!

But first, some pumpkin carving.

Isn't my husband a hottie?  Needs a shave, though.  :o)

One of the other desserts that I made for last night's party was Trick or Treat Cheesecake Cups.  You think you're getting traditional orange colored cheesecake.  You unwrap the little guy and bite into it.  Bam!  Tricked you!  The bottom is an Oreo cookie!  What a treat!

OK, done with the cheesiness.  But these little cups aren't!  (Because they're cheesecake . . . hahahaha . . . )

I found this recipe a few weeks ago, and it's been an open tab in my browser ever since.  Needless to say, after 10 days of pretending to ignore it in mouth watering anticipation, I was very excited to be able to make them.  I wasn't disappointed.  This is a rich cheesecake and the added texture of the Oreos adds some great balance.  I highly recommend these; they're really easy to make, and you could probably personalize them with other holidays, like Christmas or Easter. 

Trick or Treat Cheesecake Cups
1 package Halloween Oreos
1 pound reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
Orange food coloring

Line a cupcake pan with liners, and in each liner lay down 1 Oreo.  (I got 16 out of this recipe.)  Beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add in the sugar and beat until smooth.  Add the vanilla and eggs, then sour cream.  Once the mixture is completely combined, add the orange food coloring (or a combination of red and yellow).  Crush 6 of the remaining Oreos and fold into the mixture.  Eat the rest of the cookies.  Fill each cupcake well nearly to the top with the cheesecake batter.  Bake at 275 for 25-30 minutes, until the centers are set.  Allow to cool.  Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Friday, October 29

Jack-o-Cake Balls (Cake Balls)

There's a chill in the windy air, the smell of smoky leaves and a nearly bare tree outside my window.  

There are also bloody hand prints on my door.

Maybe Dexter was here?
This can mean only one thing.  It's Halloween!!

In honor of Halloween and a good friend's 30th birthday, we're throwing a party tomorrow night.  Dessert is one of my contributions, so I've been busy this week.  I'll post all the recipes over the next few days, but these were so cute that they needed to be posted first.  

Inspired by Bakerella's Cake Pops, I thought that the cake-ball shape was perfect for jack-o-lanterns.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any fine tipped writing icing, so some of the pumpkins have what look to me to be snowman faces.  No one will ever mistake me for an artist.  Or a face painter. 

These are actually very time consuming, but not difficult, per se.  After my artistic struggles with basic jack-o-lantern faces, I whole heartily applaud Bakerella's abilities to make her balls o'cake absolutely adorable!  Check them out on her website - she actually came out with a whole cookbook for them.  Most inventive things on a lollipop stick since someone put a tootsie roll inside hard candy.

(redecorated from Bakerella)
1 box white cake mix (or make your own sheet cake)
1 can cream cheese frosting (or make your own with 8 oz cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla)
2 bags orange candy melts
50 green jelly beans 
Black writing icing/pen

Bake the cake according to the directions and allow to cool completely.  Crumble the cake into a large bowl and scoop the frosting on top.  Mix with a fork or your hands until all incorporated.  Shape into golf ball sized balls and chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Melt the candy melts in the microwave or a double boiler and dip each ball into the candy.  Push a jelly bean vertically into the top of each ball.  Allow to harden, 1-2 hours.  Decorate as desired.

Sunday, October 24

Cooking for Canines: Cheesy "Milk" Bones

Today I am excited that our evil giant cable conglomerate has opted to show the Steelers game, and I get to watch my boys play the Fish.

Layla is excited that in the midst of my biweekly bread baking, I decided that she also needed a fresh baked treat.  

For the past few weeks, I've been buying her treats from the natural pet store.  They aren't very much more expensive, and I feel good about the lack of fillers and preservatives in the ones we pick.  Yesterday, we ran out.  The store is maybe 3 blocks from me, so it's out of pure selfishness that I refuse to leave my television and go buy some more.  (Hey!  They show the Steelers on TV here about 4 times a year, and I soak it up as much as I can.)  I see this as a challenge.  If I can make Oreos and royal shortbread, I can certainly muster up some dog treats, right?

Plus, I have these adorable dog bone cookie cutters.

I think she's happy with the situation.

Layla's Cheesy "Milk" Bones
(You could easily customize this basic recipe with whatever your pup likes.  Substitute chicken broth for the milk, add garlic powder or bacon bits or whatever you like.  I wanted to try a basic recipe first.) 
1-1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1-1/4 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup milk

 Mix together the flour, salt and cheese.  Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix in the softened butter until crumbly.  Add the milk and mix until combined.  Press into a ball; roll out on a floured surface to approximately 1/4" thickness.  Cut into shapes.  Bake at 375 for14-15 minutes, until brown around the edges.  Cool completely before sharing with your furry friends.

Thursday, October 21

What I found in my empty fridge... (Fudgy Chocolate Cookies)

I've stopped buying food.  By that, I mean, I've stopped buying a week's worth of groceries that seem like a good idea at the time, but inevitably lose their excitement or appeal by the time I do with them whatever I had planned.  Like the broccoli that sits in the crisper until I remember that it's there and think that broccoli and red pepper calzones would taste yummy...and then when I go to take it out, it looks like I'm trying my hand at making penicillin.

I'm not proud to admit that this happens a lot.  With only two of us (two and a third, if you count when Sis is here for dinner), it's been a challenge for me to plan an entire week's worth of meals that has some variety and uses up all the things I bought in the appropriate amount of time.  Maybe it's lack of imagination or something, I don't know.  But what I do know is that even if  it means that I end up at grocery store every day, or every other day, I'm going to teach myself to cook without wasting enough food to feed Luxembourg.  The hope is that eventually I'll stop buying impulse things (but that cheese looked so pretty in the package!) and buy things that will get used.  So, once a week, I go to the store for things I know I'll use:  milk, flour, eggs.  Whatever I will cook in the next two days. 

Because of this, our fridge looks frighteningly empty.  One of the nice things about this, though, is that you never forget what you have in there.  For instance, yesterday I found a jar of sweetened condensed milk.  I'll spare you the details of the ridiculousness that caused it to migrate from a can on my shelf to a jar in my fridge.  Either way, there I stood.  A table full of pediatric nursing study guides behind me and a small jar of sweetened condensed milk in front of me.  It stared at me with it's ooey goodness.  It dared me to eat it right from the jar with a spoon.  I should have turned around and walked away.

Brownies?  Cookies?  Brookies?
What I did instead was make chocolate fudge cookies.

Milk and chocolate:  a match made in my mouth.
I promise, these won't go bad.

Check out the brownie like texture.

Fudgy Chocolate Cookies
These cookies are incredibly easy and take very little hands on time.  Perfect for a study break!
2-1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour 
1/2 cup peanut butter chips, chopped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate chips, butter and milk until smooth.  Pour into a medium bowl (or leave in the saucepan, if you so choose).  Mix in the egg, vanilla and baking soda.  Add the flour one cup at a time, stir well.  Allow to cool for a few minutes, then mix in the peanut butter chips.  The longer you wait to mix, the less the chips will melt.  For streaks of peanut butter, mix immediately.  For chips, wait a few minutes until the mixture is cooled.  Move the dough onto wax paper and shape into a log or square or dodecahedron, or whatever shape you desire.  Chill in the fridge for 2 hours.  Remove and slice into 1/2 to 1/4 inch slices.  Bake at 350 for 9-11 minutes.  Remove to wire rack.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Peanut butter chunks can be so beautiful...

Tuesday, October 19

Pumpkin Cinnamon Cookies - Finally!

Last post, I tried to tempt you with a little teaser about pumpkin cinnamon cookies.  Did it work?  Like on Law & Order, where the murder victim is just minding her own business, and then bam - cut to crime scene!  Insert Briscoe and Green!  Briscoe wisecrack.  Bum BUM bumbum bumbum bum...

Yeah, I love Law & Order.

Fact:  If you type "Lenny Bris" into the Google search bar, the second search that comes up is "Lenny Briscoe oneliners".  Apparently others share my love of L&O justice.

These cookies need further investigation...
Can you feel the procrastination in the air?  I have my second exam today in a couple hours.  I should be reviewing study guides and taking practice tests.  And I will, but first things first - cookies.  Priorities!

Cuddling cookies
I had some pumpkin left over after making the maple pumpkin muffins, and I wanted to try something different with it.  There is no dearth of pumpkin recipes in the world, but I wasn't looking for pumpkin pie (which accounts for about 98.2% of them in some form or another).  These cookies intrigued me.  The original recipe called for butterscotch chips, but in the store I spotted these cinnamon chips (which I'd forgotten all about until this point) and thought they might do nicely.

They did.  Nicely.  :o)

Distractions = good.
The texture is really more like a little cake top, rather than a cookie.  (Cakies?)  And since pumpkin is a vegetable and these contain no butter, well, it's just  like a side of veggies, right?!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Cookies
(borrowed with endless adoration from Joy the Baker)
2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cinnamon chips

Bake us, please!
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and salt.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs and sugar until fluffy and light yellow.  (I used a hand mixture for this because it gave me more control over the amount of air I was adding then the stand mixer.)  Add pumpkin, oil and vanilla, beat until combined.  Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.  Stir in the cinnamon chips.

Line your baking sheets with buttered parchment paper.  Drop the batter onto the paper in 1/4 cups (for large cookies) or heaping tablespoons (for smaller cookies).  Bake on the middle rack at 325 for 16 minutes (large cookies) or 12 minutes (small cookies).

OK, OK, study time...

Sunday, October 17

This one goes out to... (Stovetop Lasagna)

...the person in our circle of friends who doesn't eat dessert.  I was all set to post some amazing pumpkin cinnamon cookies that I made for the Phillies game last night.  This person, who shall be called He Who Hates Sweetness, was complaining that I had too many baked goods on my baking blog.  Keep in mind, this is the same person who once said that anyone who eats dessert cannot be taken seriously.  

We don't listen to him too much.  But in this case, I figured that I had a recipe that would make him happy.

Plus, that just means more cookies for the rest of us.

Diana's Famous Stovetop Lasagna
20 mini Italiain style meatballs, quartered
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups uncooked mafalda or campanelle pasta
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 jar chunky tomato pasta sauce
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese or 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (or both, if you prefer)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

(Note:  This recipe is kind of fun, you can definitely add or subtract whatever your unique tastes are.  I use mini meatballs because that's usually what I have in the freezer, but you can use 1 pound of Italian sausage or 10-12 regular sized meatballs.  Get creative!)

Cook meatballs, onion and peppers with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, in a 12 inch skillet or 4 quart dutch oven over medium high heat until the meatballs are brown and the veggies are soft.  Add the pasta, water, seasoning and sauce, stir and allow to come to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10-12 minutes (pasta should be tender).  Stir in the parmesan or ricotta, then remove from heat.  Top with mozzarella cheese, allow to sit for 2-3 minutes, until cheese is melted.  

Follow with dessert.  :o)

Thursday, October 14

I left my heart in San Francisco... (Maple Pumpkin Muffins)

...and thankfully not my luggage!

Hubster and me
We're back from the city by the bay.  It was a blast out there, despite the fact that I got sunburned.  Sunburned!  I thought San Francisco was supposed to foggy!!  Honestly, though, if the only thing I have to whine about is nice weather, you can tell how much fun we had.  I also had something really interesting happen for the first time while we were there.

At the tailgate before the game, we were sitting around the tables eating and drinking.  Someone cracked a joke, and one of the people at my table laughed and started to choke.  This person happened to be sitting beside me, and I immediately leaned over and assisted them while they unstuck the food that was stuck in their throat.  It seemed like a pretty natural reaction, and though I can't take credit for performing any sort of life saving intervention, the person did thank me for keeping her calm and instructing her how  to cough productively.  (Very glamorous, I know.)  

While this was going on, people at the other table came over and starting asking if the person was ok.  In the midst of this, I heard someone from my table tell them, "Don't worry, she's a nurse."


They were talking about me!!  Me!!  A nurse!  People thought I was a nurse!

OK, so even though that's not technically true (I have about 5 months and several gazillion exams to pass first), we do joke around that I'm at least 'half a nurse'.  But these strangers didn't know that.  I had been mistaken for an honest to goodness healthcare professional.


The little things make me happy.

Little things = Happy
Now that we're back home and it's been rainy and gross for a while, it's definitely time for some fall yumminess.  The day before I left, my clinical group had lunch at Reading Terminal Market.  Some of us got dessert from The Flying Monkey Bakery, which if you're in the Philadelphia area you need to check out.  It's all the way in the back of the market, between the sushi place and the fish counter.  They have the most delicious sugary treats.  I had a maple pumpkin gob with the most amazing cream cheese frosting in the middle.   That was my inspiration.  

However, everyone makes gobs this time of year, and I wanted to do something a little different.  These muffins are the perfect rainy day treat when you want a snack with your tea!

Maple Pumpkin Muffins
(Whatever you do, don't forget the brown sugar in the pumpkin mixture.  No good.  Also, I didn't use cupcake papers because I may or may not have made a first batch sans brown sugar that stuck horribly to the paper.)
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons maple flavoring

2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1-1/4 cup pumpkin puree

Beat the cream cheese, 2 tablespoon brown sugar and 2 teaspoons of maple flavoring until well mixed.  Keep in the fridge until you're ready to use.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda.  Mix the remaining brown sugar, maple flavor, eggs, oil, milk and pumpkin until blended.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated.  Fill 12 greased muffin tins 2/3 with the pumpkin batter.  Drop 1 teaspoon of the chilled cream cheese mixture onto the batter; top with 2 tablespoons pumpkin batter so that the cream cheese is complete covered.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Share with your sister for taking good care of your dog while you were gone. 

You might have to share with the dog, too.

Thursday, October 7

Anticipation (Hot Cross Apple Buns)

Anticipation.  That's about probably the best word to describe my day.  The gang and I are going to San Francisco this weekend.  Wait - let's rephrase that.  At this moment, my husband and all my local friends are in San Francisco or on a plane there.  I am at home.  I have one more day of clinical before I can hop on my own flight and spend the glorious three day weekend on the other coast, drinking California drinks and doing California type things.  Oh, and going to the Eagles football game.  (That's why they're all going - I'm going because I love San Francisco and I have an innate fear that if I miss out on group fun I'll turn into a pumpkin.)

This arrangement was OK with me, until this morning when my instructor canceled today's clinical.  Now I'm stuck doing some 22 page crap assignment and counting down the hours until tomorrow.  Tomorrow I'll go to the "Disaster Simulation" training at school (which is probably just 6 hours of trying to keep Sim Man alive while people laugh at our nursing student ineptitude) and count down the hours until my weekend starts. It didn't help that my father in law showed up 24 hours early to take me to the airport.

Maybe that's not totally fair - I did get to catch up on some things like I'm happy to accomplish before I leave.  And I took Layla on a long walk to make up for leaving her here with my sister while we're off having fun.  However, when your loved ones call you from a bar across the water from Alcatraz, and you're stuck inside on a beautiful fall day writing a pretend care plan for a made up pediatric cardiac patient, what's a girl to do?

Turn on the oven, of course.

Let's call it a "thank you" present for my sister.  After all, she has graciously agreed to give up her weekend of living it up to stay here with the pup.  I think that deserves some Hot Cross Apple Buns.

Let's hope she does, too!

Hot Cross Apple Buns
(adapted from The Pampered Chef)
2 large granny smith apples (or whichever kind you prefer), peeled, cored and chopped
1/4 cup pecans
1/4 cup raisins
1-1/2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 package refrigerator biscuits (or you can make your own)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Oven:  350 degrees

Mix the apples, pecans, raisins, flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl.  Microwave for 2.5 minutes or until hot.  Grease eight muffin tins with butter or cooking spray.  Mix the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Melt the butter into another small bowl.  Roll out the biscuits into 5 inch circles.  Place 1/3 cup of the apple mixture into the center, then gather the edges and pinch together.  

Holding the pinched edges, dip the top into the melted butter, then into the cinnamon-sugar.  Place butter/cinnamon sugar side up into a muffin tin.  With a serrated knife, lightly cut an X into the top of each biscuit.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Turn off the oven and go to San Francisco!

Saturday, October 2

Can We Call It Tallbread? (Royal Shortbread Cookies)

Now that I'm on this mission (mission: something I think about when I should be writing nursing care plans for clinical or scrubbing my bathtub) to make my own slightly more wholesome and homemade versions of our favorite processed/chemical preservative-laden treats, I've been thinking about what to make next.  The homemade oreos turned out to be delicious, despite the small problem I seem to have with portion control.  What's my next favorite kind of cookie?  

Hands down, it's Lorna Doone cookies.  Those little green packages make me swoon.  I love shortbread.  As it turns out, the "short" part of the name refers to it's crumbly texture.  I've added some almond extract (in place of vanilla) for a slightly nutty taste, and dipped them in melted chocolate chips.  Shortbread dipped in chocolate is called "royal shortbread", which just sounds more fun than plain.  Even without it, though, these cookies are fantastic - buttery, crumbly and just enough sweetness to get you through that chapter on "Drugs to Treat Peptic Ulcer Disease".

Nothing inspires love like butter and sugar...

Royal Shortbread Cookies
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
generous handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat the butter until it's smooth; add the sugar and beat until creamy.  Add the almond extract.  Stir in the flour until a dough is formed.  Gently pat the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour (this hardens the butter again).  Roll the dough out and cut into shapes.  Refrigerate the cookie sheet for 15 minutes (or until your oven is preheated).  Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes, until slightly browned.  Allow to cool completely.  

There's one in every crowd...
Over a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips.  Dip the cookies into the chocolate; place on wax paper and refrigerate 20 minutes or until chocolate is set.

Share with someone special!
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