Oreo Truffles

Oh Christmastime. It is most certainly my favorite time of the year.

Christmas music. Cinnamon spice candles. Candy canes. Cookies. Cheer.

Candy coated Oreo truffles. Yes please.

The first time I was gifted an Oreo truffle was last year when we received one of my favorite cookie trays from my parent’s neighbors. After taking one bite, we immediately added them to our Christmas ‘baking’ repertoire.

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It’s as if you’re eating a fancy chocolate truffle. So smooth and creamy but it tastes like an Oreo. Hallelujah.

…And there are only 3 ingredients. Oreos, cream cheese and candy coating. It’s that simple.

Oreos

I. LOVE. Holiday. Oreos. For three main reasons 1) Double stuffed 2) Festive red filling 3) Wintry designs.

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Not only are there only 3 ingredients, there are really only 3 simple steps. Starting with grinding the Oreos to a fine crumb.

It is very easy to eat the crumbs with a large tablespoon. I’m not at all saying that happened. Just an FYI.

Before adding in the cream cheese, reserve a 1/4 cup of the crumbs for topping the truffles later.

I decided to add the cream cheese in chunks to the food processor. Moments later, I was thisclose to a meltdown, as I thought I burnt out the motor on my food processor. There were some noises that sounded a little like when I describe my car problems to the service man. But KitchenAid came through and we were back in action.

That being said, I tried to be smarter than the recipe. I wasn’t going to use more than one bowl! No. Way. But I think the recipe writers knew what they are talking about. Shocking. Because of the thickness of the cream cheese, its almost a little too much to mix in the processor.

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Nonetheless, once it’s combined, roll the cream cheese and cookie mixture into small balls, not quite a tablespoon size. Stick ’em in the fridge for a few. While those are chilling, melt some white chocolate chips or vanilla candy coating.

Also, take the time to review the weekly grocery store advertisements from the newspaper you ingeniously laid on your counters for while you’re cooking and baking to make clean up a breeze. (My fellow baking friends give the best tips ever.)

After noting to pick up the 99 cent oranges, start the coating process.

Dunking and covering each truffle before placing back on the cookie sheet and sprinkling with the excess crumbs.
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Just a few minutes in the fridge to set up and they are ready to go.

Santa Claus is coming to town pretty soon and I think he’d be pretty impressed with a few of these waiting for him by the tree.

Here’s how to do it:

I didn’t change much (as there isn’t much to change), so I’ll send you right to the source.

Oreo Truffles

Instead of regular chocolate, I used vanilla candy coating and don’t worry about counting 36 Oreos, just dump in a whole package.

Enjoy!

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Meringues 101… and 201

This all started way back in March… when there was this little thing called March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament, and of course related bracket challenges.

There was one bracket in particular for the bridal party of the wedding I was in this past July. The Best-Man surprised the bride and groom by putting an unknown gift from their registry as the prize.

I usually participate in multiple brackets most of which end in me losing big due to my unfailing hope in the underdog. Not this time. I actually WON the bracket challenge, by picking the favored winner.

What was this prize you ask?!?

That’s right, an egg separator. I was stoked. Yeah yeah, I can use the eggshell to separate but that doesn’t make me nearly as happy.

You know all those books from childhood. If you give a mouse a cookie, if you give a pig a pancake, if you give a moose a muffin. The list goes on and on (and on).

So this? This is what happens when you give a cook a smiley egg separator…

Ok, let me re-phrase…. this is what happens when you give an amateur baker an egg separator and said amateur decides to make meringues for the first time.

When I initially attempted the meringues myself… it failed miserably, as evidenced above. I’ve never felt more of a failure in the kitchen when my meringues didn’t turn out not just once but twice!

So, I knew it would be the perfect thing to try when I was in Denver during our phase 2 of the 1st annual Cook/Bake-a-thon.

With a little hand-holding, guidance from a more experienced meringue maker and a new recipe… IT WORKED!

Oh-so-glossy and ready for the oven.

But, stiff peaks are no easy achievement. It’s a lot of concern and questioning, “Is that stiff peaks?… Well, maybe… let’s give it 2 more minutes….” And then the cycle repeats 2 minutes later.

Then you just have to make the game-time decision and get them on the sheet and ready to bake.

For guidance on what a stiff-peak looks like… I recommend google images or the Kitchn has a great tutorial. Also highly recommended, find someone else who knows what they are doing.

… And then after a little/long time in the oven… it’s magic. Meringue magic and success!

Here’s How to Do It:

Lemon Infused Meringues

Adapted from Betty Crocker

Ingredients:

6 egg whites

1/2 tsp. Lemon Zest

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. Cream of Tartar

Pinch of Salt

Directions:

Heat oven to 275ºF. Line cookie sheet with heavy brown paper or aluminum foil.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in medium bowl with electric mixer on high speed until foamy. Beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue beating until stiff and glossy. Do not underbeat. Add in the vanilla and lemon zest and beat to combine.

Drop meringue by 1/3 cupfuls onto cookie sheet. Shape into about 3-inch circles, building up sides. Bake 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave meringues in oven with door closed 1 1/2 hours. Finish cooling at room temperature.

“Semi-Homemade” Mini Cupcakes

Last weekend, one of my best friends came in town for her bachelorette party.

Becky and I really enjoyed our time sitting in traffic. 🙂

Other than the traffic, we went to the zoo, went shopping, took a break from shopping for Trophy Cupcakes, and of course there was a bachelorette party! It was busy and sooo much fun.

I had the pina colada cupcake with rum buttercream. It had a layer of sweet pineapple on the bottom. Uh-maz-ing.

For the party, I gladly volunteered to make a sweet treat and as time flew by, I realized that maybe semi-homemade was the way to go.

What exactly is semi-homemade, you ask?!?

Ask Sandra Lee from the Food Network. She is a semi-homemade genius, not to mention she coordinates everything on the show from the outfit to the Kitchen Aid. It’s my everyday living sort-of dream. My mixing bowls matching my mixer matching my t-shirt??? I’m sold.

The semi part of the mini cupcakes is a tasty box of confetti cake mix.

The homemade part is this buttercream frosting recipe from Food Network. I didn’t change anything about it and it was off-the-charts delicious so I couldn’t resist sharing.

The cupcakes looked so much prettier before tumbling over in the car and sitting in traffic for nearly an hour to go approximately 5 miles (well, maybe that part was me).

More from the party… delicious veggie platter and scrumptious fruit tray!

To get the recipe, just click the link here, since I didn’t make any modifications.

I will leave you with a couple of tips from my experience…

1. Use a large bowl. Ideally, I would use a stand mixer, if I had one. See tip #2 below and you’ll understand why!

2. If you have to use a hand mixer, don’t use the whisk attachment. At least on my Cuisinart model, the whisk was WAY too flimsy and there was frosting everywhere. Literally, everywhere including the refrigerator 5 feet to the right of me. The regular mixing attachment worked just fine and got it plenty fluffy.

3. This icing keeps very well. I made it on Wednesday and decorated the cupcakes Saturday and it was every bit as fresh and tasty!

Happy mixing, spreading, and licking the bowl clean!

Caramel Corn Snack Mix

This weekend I was forced soooo far out of my comfort zone.

My friends persuaded me to go contra dancing. (Typically Ally and organized dance are two words that just don’t go together).

Touching random people, coordinating movements to music, gazing into a strangers eyes (there’s a lot of spinning) and getting all out of breath and sweaty in public when you’re not running. Pretty much every single thing that makes internal Ally scream… “Warning, beware of discomfort!”

As we were walking up to the dance hall my heart was racing. I was freaking out.

Two and a half hours later, I had a fantastic time. I think I’m finally realizing after 24 years… doing something a little (or extremely) uncomfortable is as Martha Stewart would say “a good thing”.

Is it time for you to do something different and uncomfortable, get out of your boring habits and routine? Let me be the first to encourage you!

And if you do, I’ll reward you with this caramel corn snack mix.

Take your basic caramel corn and add in some peanuts and pretzels … its right in my comfort zone, besides just being down right tasty.

Sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt, vanilla, and baking soda make the sweet crunchy caramel to go over the popcorn.

After it comes to a boil, let it work on its own for 5 minutes and it will begin to darken. The bubbling is so enticing yet so ridiculously hot, having a deeper sauce pot helps to prevent any potential splatter.

When the 5 minutes are up, add the baking soda and vanilla. It blooms, fluffs up and gets frothy. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation for why this happens but it tastes good so the science is essentially irrelevant.

My apologies, it all moves pretty quick so getting goods photos of the steps was a little difficult.

It seems a little chaotic, you pop the popcorn, put the popcorn in the oven to keep warm, start the caramel,  the caramel finishes, the popcorn comes out of the oven, pour the caramel over the popcorn, stir/fold to combine and cover everything evenly, and finally put it all back in the oven to crisp it up (and take a breath).

But the chaos pays off…

30 minutes or so in the oven and gets golden and crunchy. Sometimes Instagram just makes things look soooo good.

Here’s how to do it:

Caramel Corn Snack Mix

Adapted from All Recipes.com

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unpopped popcorn
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups Dry-Roasted Lightly Salted Peanuts
  • 2 cups Pretzel Sticks, broken in half

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the unpopped popcorn. Moving the pan periodically to pop the corn. Remove from heat, place in a large baking pan, and keep warm in the preheated oven. Discard unpopped kernels.
  3. While the popcorn is popping, measure out the peanuts and break the pretzel sticks in half. Add into the large baking pan with the popcorn before putting into the oven.
  4. Mix sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt into a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture starts to boil. Continue cooking for 5 minutes without stirring.
  5. Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour over the popped popcorn. Stir popcorn until evenly coated. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from pan and put into a large bowl to cool (or cupcake wrappers for easy individual servings).

Chocolate Peanut Butter Easter Eggs!

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:25

At church today, my Pastor gave a very moving sermon on the Resurrection of Jesus and what it means for us.

The passage from which he taught was John 20:19-31, where Christ comes to the disciples and they all see and believe the Resurrection except for Thomas who was ‘out of the office’ at the time. Infamously known as “Doubting Thomas,” after the disciples pass on the message to him that Christ has been brought back from the dead, he reacts with unbelief. “So you’re telling me he rolled away that huge stone and came back to life. Okay guys, I’m never going to believe until I see Him for myself.”  (This is my modern day interpretation, obviously). Jesus knew what Thomas needed for belief and so he came to the group again and went directly to Thomas showing him the wounds from the crucifixion.

We all have to make a decision in life to believe what we can’t see and to confront our doubts… it’s the essence of faith. Thankfully, we have a Savior available to us who knows what it is we need to believe. Do you need to see the wounds from the Cross for yourself? He’ll show you, just ask.

Check out the song by Nickel Creek called “Doubting Thomas.” So good and so perfect.

Phew… okay, onto the lighter things of Easter… like candy and chocolate. No need for doubt here when I say that you need to make these peanut butter eggs.

This is a Paula Deen recipe so of course its going to be ultra tasty and slightly diabetes inducing.

Add powdered sugar and rice crispies with the creamed butter and peanut butter…

After the eggs have been shaped and are hardening in the freezer, melt the chocolate with 1-2 tablespoons of butter or crisco (for smoothness and shine) in a double boiler. This is my makeshift version. It’s a bowl over a pot with water that you heat slowly to melt the chips.

I had a hard time getting this shot just right, if you know what I mean….

Peanut Butter Eggs

Recipe slightly adapted from Paula Deen

Ingredients

  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
  • 1 1/2 packages (18 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons shortening/butter, additional to that above
  • Sprinkles (any type)
  • Coconut (optional)

Steps

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine peanut butter and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sifted confectioners’ sugar. Reduce the speed to low and add the crispy rice cereal just until combined. Cover and place the bowl in the refrigerator for about an hour (do not skip this step).

Line a baking tray with wax paper. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Shape mixture into egg shapes and place on the wax lined baking tray. Recipe makes approximately 20 eggs. Place baking tray in the freezer for a minimum of 30 minutes.

While eggs are freezing, use a double boiler and melt chocolate chips and shortening over low heat. Remove eggs from the freezer and using toothpicks, dip eggs in melted chocolate. Place back on wax lined baking tray. (At this point, you can sprinkle the eggs with coconut if you like.) Once all eggs are covered in chocolate, decorate with sprinkles, place tray in refrigerator to cool. To serve, line a plate with coconut and place the eggs on top.

Almond Biscotti

I’ve got this new thing I do. It’s called- eat a biscotti with my coffee every morning. I make my coffee, sit at a chair in my living room, and dip/eat my biscotti while delving into the Hunger Games series.

Speaking of the Hunger Games, I recommend them to everyone. I was a skeptic at first thinking that sci-fi really isn’t my thing but my friend Sara, who writes this book review blog, insisted. This series is in my top 10 out of all the books I’ve read the last few years…. and the movie of the first book is coming out in March. I can’t wait. 

I digress…. but this ‘eat a biscotti with my coffee every morning’ thing, it’s my 15 minutes of “me time” before heading off to my stressful job.

It makes me feel uber sophisticated and takes my Folger’s cinnamon swirl coffee up a few notches.

Be sophisticated with me and take a little time for you each morning.

My inspiration for wanting to make the perfect almond biscotti comes from the fantastic Mini Almond Biscotti at Trader Joes. If you don’t have the time or energy to make your own, this is one of the few times I say it’s okay to go with store-bought.

I found this great Joy of Baking recipe (see below) and made quite a few modifications and I think I got it down. The double baking sounds intimidating at first but it’s not. It just means it takes a little longer than you’re typical cookie and requires a mid-bake slicing. It’s pretty hard to mess up, it might be a little dense or a little crisp but that’s why you’ve got coffee for soaking!

Almond Biscotti (adapted from Joy of Baking):

1 cup sliced almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 cups (260 grams) all-purposeflour

1 cup granulated white sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoonpure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

Variation: Add 1 tablespoon orange juice and 1/2 tablespoon orange zest. Mix the almonds with chopped hazelnuts or any other nut you’d like.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast almonds for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool and then chop coarsely. 

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  

In a small bowl lightly beat the eggs and extracts together.  

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until blended (about 30 seconds). Gradually add the egg mixture and beat until a dough forms, adding almonds about halfway through. Spoon out dough into two roughly shaped logs on a prepared baking sheet and then perfect the shape with your hands. About 12-14 inches long and 3-4 inches wide. Bake for 30 -40 minutes, or until firm to the touch (log will spread during baking). Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.

Transfer log to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut log into slices 1/2 inch  thick on the diagonal.   Arrange evenly on baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes, turn slices over, and bake another 10 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Nanny’s Cookies

For the last 24 years I have had a Nanny. It’s not what you think, I am plenty mature for my age and can rock myself to sleep. On my mom’s side of the family, it has been what we call Grandma.

This recipe was my great-Nanny’s. NOT to be confused with Russian Tea Cookies or Crescent Cookies, or really any other cookie covered in powdered sugar. Nothing compares, these are Nanny’s White Cookies. The fact that I’m even sharing this with you is big time…. they are that special to me….

While these cookies will likely not fit well with your New Year’s Resolution – if one of them is to lose a few lbs. (a perpetual one for me, probably resulting from my complete indulgence in things like this and my general love of food)- it’s a must try. That’s why we exercise, right?!

It may seem dry but should stick together when you make the balls. Also, it helps to make the balls a little smaller so that you can just pop the whole thing in your mouth at once and avoid the crumble and fall of powder sugar onto your shirt. This has happened to me one too many times, so classy….

You can make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate for a few days, just take out and bring to room temp before shaping and cooking.

While we typically make these as Christmas Cookies… they are a great winter cookie too. I mean, it looks just like a bunch of snowballs, sweet-buttery snowballs. But in reality, I’d also happily eat these in the spring and summer. There is no such thing as a seasonal cookie….

Side Note: You may see some changes to the appearance of the blog. I’m trying to find something that I like, which means trying LOTS of different things, bear with me.

Nanny’s White Cookies

1 C. Butter, Softened

1/2 C. Powdered Sugar

1/4 tsp. Salt (Optional, we don’t usually do this. As the recipe says, its usually salty enough without it)

1 C. Nuts -Pecans, Chopped (Use a food processor, you want it to be like a small chop. Pieces a little smaller than pea size.)

2 1/4 C. Flour (It says Cake but we use A/P and it works well)

Vanilla (Try about a 1/2 tsp. or so, then taste to see what you think. If you’re one to worry about salmonella, there’s no egg so taste away.)

Combine all ingredients. Roll into balls and bake at 350 for 12 minutes, until you can pick up a cookie and its golden brown on the bottom. You can fit a lot of cookies on one baking sheet as the don’t really expand at all.

Once cooled, place cookies in a Ziploc bag with powdered sugar to cover them. You may have to do this twice to get a good layer of powdered sugar coating.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

Merry Belated Christmas. I had a great Christmas with my family and Santa brought me some great gifts on top of it all.

Oh yeah, and I got a cold… Fa-La-La-La-La.

This cold has been easier to handle than the usual likely due to the copious amounts of sugar and butter consumed. At Christmas time, my family competes with the best of bakers in our use of butter and sugar. (I’ll be putting a few up here in the next week or so.)

Nothing says wintertime like molasses and ginger. I made these butter and brown sugar delights a few weeks back.

I wanted to do something different so I decided to google what flavors go well with ginger. The list was endless- Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Curries, Honey, Lime…. Most of these would have been disastrous in a cookie.

I mean Ginger Soy Sauce Chewy- my mouth is anything but watering. But Ginger Lime Cookies…. that sounded interesting, so I tried it. Taking a great base recipe from Joy the Baker (see her link in my blogroll) and totally transforming it with a hint of lime.

I even refrigerated the dough overnight until I had time to make the cookies and bake them. It worked out great and I was able to get nice little balls before rolling in the sugar.

The Turbinado Sugar is key. The crunch and texture it adds to the cookies after baking is everything.

I was dying over the perfect roundness when they came out of the oven. I’m a little OCD what can I say. (And yes, I did bake them on foil. A tip I got from a friend of mine. Non-stick, cheaper than parchment, and super easy clean-up.)

Doesn’t this make you want to take a bite too. I just couldn’t wait.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

Adapted from Joy the Baker

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/4 cup molasses

Zest and Juice of 1 small to medium lime

about 1/2 cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar and spices until smoothly blended, about 2 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing.  Add the egg, molasses, lime juice and zest and mix until blended and an even light color, about 1 minute.  On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing just to incorporate it.

Spread the turbinado sugar into a small bowl.  Roll 2 Tablespoons of dough between the palms of your hands into a ball, toss the ball in sugar to coat and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Continue making cookies, spacing them about 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the tops feel firm but they are still soft in the center and there are several large cracks on top, about 12-14 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

The cookies can be stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Eggnog French Toast

I have the best friends.

There always there for me. They make me laugh. They like to run. But more importantly….

They like to cook. Not just anything but eggnog french toast.

That’s right, I have friends that make eggnog french toast. Jealous… you should be, you really should be.

After a fun Jingle Bell Run a few weeks ago we decided we needed to treat ourselves to a delicious breakfast. It was a 3 mile run, I ate WAY more than 3 miles worth….

Now you’re thinking… Look at that fruit… maybe this is going to be a nice healthy breakfast….

Just keep reading.

Sipping some delicious coffee.

Don’t worry, I made sure to put them to work. Have you ever seen a happier french toast soaker?!

Yup, that’s a big ol’ bowl of homemade whipped cream. Heavy whipping cream. This makes the fruit taste even better.

We used low-fat eggnog to balance it all out.

Now that is mouth watering….

You’ve got to try it but make it with your friends… it will taste sooo much better.

Here’s what you’ll need:

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. eggnog

Dash of Cinnamon

Dash of Nutmeg

Dash of Salt

1 loaf of bread. We used an artisan bread but challah, brioche, french would all work great.

Syrup

Whipped Cream

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a 9X13 baking dish. Whisk together until combined.

Slice the bread in 1/2-1 inch slices, depending on you’re preference. We went a little thicker probably 3/4 inch, and it was perfect.

Place two or three pieces of bread in the soaking mixture and let soak. While soaking, turn on the stove and begin to heat with a bit of butter (trust me, the flavor is so much better). Flip the bread to soak on the other side until saturated and place in the hot pan.

Once each piece  is browned on one side, flip over and brown the other side. After each piece is cooked, place in a 300 degree oven until the rest of the french toast slices are cooked. Make sure your last few pieces also get a few minutes in the oven. This really helps to get all the flavors baked in and keeps it hot. (I’d never done this before but one of the girls recommended this, and I think I will start doing it from now on too!)

Serve with hot syrup, fresh fruit and fresh whipped cream.