taking a breather.

September 12, 2014
To say it's been a rough couple of weeks is an understatement. Here's a rundown of what's been happening recently that's kept me out of the kitchen and off of the blog:

  • Still sick with this constant cough. It's been 6 weeks and I'm starting to lose my mind a little.
  • Been helping some friends through some really tough life transitions.
  • Getting Penny through her first heat is not something I want to do again. We're finally past it and she has an appointment next month to be spayed but.... good grief, Charlie Brown that was a pain in the ass. 
  • The first week of this month is when I lost two very important people in my life last year, and it still stings.
  • I'm turning 30 next week and the panic attacks have set in. Trying not to think about it too much, but... well, if you know me, you know that's not easy for me to do.
  • The Massachusetts Air Guard lost of of their own when one of their pilots crashed into the mountains of Virginia. Rest in peace, Moose.
  • Lost a coworker/friend who finally succumbed to a long battle with cancer - his funeral is this weekend. We miss you, Chris.
  • A good friend lost their eldest dog (a fellow "red dog"), who Penny adored. Losing pets are just as hard as losing people and it never gets easier. Penny and I are sending you puppy kisses, Kai!
  • Layoffs at my company this week eliminated about 75% of my work friends. 

So needless to say, I've been a bit distracted. Once I get my life back in order I'll be back, but I think I need a week or so to get back on track. For now, I'll leave you with this morning's sunrise over Lake Boon. Happy Friday!


Oreo Ice Cream

September 5, 2014

Summer might be coming to an end, but under no circumstances does that mean I can't keep making ice cream. I will make and eat ice cream year round and you can't stop me! Especially when it comes to Oreos. 


Oh... Oreos. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Actually, no counting. I'm tired. But plain and simple, I love Oreos. I'm not really into all these different flavors with all the crazy fillings and vanilla cookies and just... no. Stop it. Leave Oreos alone. They're perfect just the way they are.


This recipe is so simple. It's almost embarrassing how little effort is takes because it seems like a crime. How can something so delicious be so simple to make? I don't know, man, but it is. 

I accidentally made two quarts (oops) when I made this originally, so I cut the ingredients by about half so that you don't end up with an Oreo ice cream explosion in your kitchen like I did. Mind you... worse things could happen. 

Even Penny wanted in on it.



Oreo Ice Cream

Creamy, light vanilla ice cream made with coconut milk and packed with crushed Oreo pieces.

[Makes 1 quart]
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8-10 Oreos, crushed


Directions
1) In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except for the Oreos and stir until all sugar is dissolved and fully combined. 

3) Place bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour to let it thoroughly chill.

4) Place Oreos in a heavy-duty plastic baggie and crush with a rolling pin. Having bigger chunks isn't bad, you don't need it to be crushed to a fine powder. 

5) Pour batter into ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturers directions (usually 25-30 minutes of churning). During the last 5 minutes, add in your crushed Oreos. Note: The Oreos really bulk things up, so keep an eye on it so it doesn't overflow on you!


6) Store in freezer-safe container and freeze for a couple hours if you want it to be soft-serve texture (or overnight, if you want to eat it after it's hardened). Scoop it into a bowl or a waffle cone and enjoy!


August's BarkBox: The Nautical Edition

August 28, 2014

This month's BarkBox was a home run. It was nautical themed, which - really, let's be honest here - is all I need to be sold on it. 

The only downside is that I wish we had received this earlier in the summer, since Penny isn't going to get as much use out of one of the water toys they included as she could have if we'd received it sooner. 


First of all, it came with a "ruv note". Ruv note. I'm dying of cuteness.


This month's box included:

Not gonna lie - we haven't had a chance to thoroughly test it all out yet, but overall she seems pleased. BUT... guess which one is her favorite? She loves the floating lobster toy. Loves. She makes it her mission to save him when we chuck him into the lake. She swims twice her normal speed to get to him. You see the panic in her eyes.

video

Oh, right - yes, the lobster is a he. His name is Leonard. Get it? Leonard and Penny? Get it? Shut up, it's adorable.

Do you see how serious she is? Fetch is a serious business, my friends.
Another new toy we recently picked up is also nautical-themed, so apparently BarkBox was very in tune with Penny's current toy needs. We got her the Harry Barker Cotton Rope Tug and Toss Dog Toy from the Planet Dog company store in Portland, Maine. 



I highly recommend the toy as well as the store. Because... well, just look at this. It's a dog's dream come true.

If you look closely, you can see her Larry the Lobster toy in the middle of the picture (not to be confused with Leonard the Lobster).
Colorful, bright, and full of super exciting stuff for the pups. 

An entire wall of harnesses, leashes, collars - you name it!
Are you seeing this? A gourmet treat corner.  

They also have a store mascot who, at the time, was dressed like a shark for Shark Week. And it was adorable. How many times have I said adorable in this post? Probably too many. 

Do yourself a favor and go sign up for a BarkBox subscription - your furbaby will thank you!


Disclaimer: BarkBox has no idea who I am - I'm just writing about it because Penny loves it and wouldn't stop licking my face until I agreed to share it with all her furry friends!

Blueberry Muffins

August 21, 2014

Blueberries have never been my favorite fruit. I would never sit down and eat a handful of blueberries as a snack. When they're mixed in with other fruit in a bowl, or topping something as garnish (like a Watermelon Cupcake) I have no problem with them. In those situations, they're delightful. 


Another exception to the rule is muffins. I absolutely adore blueberry muffins. The more blueberries, the better. Well... I guess not really, because if you have too many they get soggy and no one wants a soggy muffin. That sounds vaguely dirty, doesn't it? Moving on.


There's something about the flavor of warm blueberries combined with a nice crisp muffin top that relaxes me. It's one of my comfort foods. It has to be a huge muffin - little ones don't make the cut. This is one food I do not want in mini form! Also, the perfect muffin top is essential to me. As a child, I was known to eat only the tops of muffins and give the rest of it away. And yes, I realize that sounds like an episode of Seinfeld - but it's true! I have a muffin top pan, but it's just not the same. I don't like to be wasteful, so as an adult I still eat the whole muffin... but I save the best for last. I peel off the top, set it to the side, and then place a little bit of butter on the inside and let it melt. It's just so good.


If you want to make these in a not gigantic way, you could certainly make them in normal sized muffin pans. But where's the fun in that?



Blueberry Muffins

Big, fluffy muffins stuffed with juicy blueberries and topped with a little sugar for good measure. 

[Makes 12 huge muffins]
Ingredients
6 cups all-purpose flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups milk 
1 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups fresh blueberries

Directions
1) Preheat oven to 425° F. Spray muffin tin(s) with non-stick spray. I don't recommend the jumbo muffin liners in this instance - just leave 'em naked.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. 
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar - don't overbeat! Mix until just combined.

3) Add milk, oil, and vanilla and whisk until just combined. You don't want to overmix, but just stir long enough that all the flour has been incorporated. Fold in blueberries and stir until just combined.

4) Pour batter into prepared muffin tins and fill to the top. If you want, you can add a little sugar to the tops of each muffin (and of course I do, because sugar). Now here's the real trick to getting these big and fluffy, and I wish I could remember who told me this so long ago! Bake at 425° F for 8 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 375
° F and continue to bake for 20 minutes. The tops of the muffins should be golden and should bounce back if pressed. Let them sit in the pan for a few minutes to cool and then enjoy!

#icebucketchallenge

August 14, 2014

I thought I had avoided it. Two weeks had gone by and no one dared challenge me in the #icebucketchallenge to encourage donations for ALS. I made a donation. I thought I was safe. And suddenly... a Facebook notification. I'd been tagged in a video.

Oh god.

Now, I usually don't participate in these kinds of things, but I was nominated by my boss and she might fire me or something if I don't follow through (just kidding... I think).

Since it's for a good cause, I decided it was worth the humiliation. I also made my donation, and that's the important part. Forcing your friends to dump ice on themselves is just a nice distraction and a great way to get people to spew expletives :) Thankfully, I bit my tongue and kept it clean, but I did end up having an audience as my neighbor sat outside on her porch and watched it all go down. At least I had a nice venue for freezing my ass off!

Donate today! Especially if you plan to stay dry and avoid 10 pounds of ice poured over your head.

It's National S'mores Day, so I present to you... S'mores Ice Cream!

August 10, 2014

Hey guys - it's National S'mores Day! And I had every intention of having this post ready to go and posted for you yesterday so that you had time to make it for the occasion. But guess what? I played with the dog outside all day and then I fell asleep. Soooo... yeah. Sorry about that. But better later than never, right? Right.


I love s'mores. It's not often that I have them since I don't have a fire pit to roast the marshmallows over, but I find ways to turn most anything into a variation on the classic s'more. Graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows. It's so simple (and messy), but it's so good and it just screams summer.


So what did I do this time? Turn it into ice cream. And I will tell you right now that you don't want to substitute the Fluff for mini marshmallows.

Why, you ask? Because the marshmallows could get frozen and then it's like chewing on little white rocks. And that's not fun for anyone.

And why do I specify Marshmallow Fluff? Because it was invented in Massachusetts, and I live in Massachusetts, and if I didn't it would be pretty much be blasphemous.

Could you make your own version of Fluff? Of course you could. If they don't sell Fluff where you live, or you just want the peace of mind that it's homemade, go nuts. Try this recipe over at Spend With Pennies.

Why do I keep asking questions and answering them myself? I really don't know, but I promise I'm done.


The one thing I wish I had done a little bit differently is to have added just one more graham cracker. I used three, but in the recipe below I note that you can use three or four, according to your tastes. If you don't have mini chocolate chips on hand, you can chop up a chocolate bar or use chocolate chunks. You can do whatever you want as long as you promise me that you won't forget the chocolate. The chocolate is very important. Maybe even top it will some chocolate syrup, or that magical chocolate shell that hardens when you pour it over ice cream. Mmmm.


Excuse me - I have some ice cream in the freezer I need to go consume so it doesn't go to waste. Omnomnomnom.


S'mores Ice Cream

A cold and creamy spin on an American summer classic! Smooth vanilla ice cream with chunks of chocolate and graham cracker is sure to cool you down and bring a smile to your face. No campfire required!

[Makes 1 quart]
Ingredients
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 or 4 graham crackers, crushed

Directions
1) In a large mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, sugar, half and half and vanilla. Mix until ingredients are well-combined and smooth.

2) Add in Fluff with a wooden spoon and stir until well combined.

3) Place bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour to let it thoroughly chill.

4) Place graham crackers in a heavy-duty plastic baggie and crush with a rolling pin. Having bigger chunks isn't bad, it doesn't need to be crushed to a fine powder. Add chocolate chips to the bag and shake it up to mix them together.

5) Pour batter into ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturers directions (usually 25-30 minutes of churning). During the last 5 minutes, add in your chocolate chips and graham cracker mixture.

6) Store in freezer-safe container and freeze for a couple hours if you want it to be soft-serve texture (or overnight, if you want to eat it after it's hardened). Scoop it into a bowl, plop it on top of a cone, sprinkle it with some mini marshmallows or whipped cream and enjoy!

Sunflower Cupcakes

August 7, 2014

I'm a self-proclaimed pessimist. 

I don't see the best in people, as much as I try to (although things like this help restore a little faith in humanity). I always fear the worst and err on the side of caution. I always assume I'll get the short end of the stick. I don't assume things will work out, in fact I assume they will turn out horribly and go up in flames. I also assume that when I go in the ocean, I will be eaten by a shark. Mind you, it hasn't happened yet, nor have I even come remotely close to being eaten by Jaws - but I feel that it's inevitable. I am in Massachusetts, after all.

In spite of my dark and twisty personality, I love sunflowers. They make everything bright and happy. And they are bright and happy, themselves. They lean toward the light they love it so much. To be fair, I do that, too in the rare times I actually get to just sit outside and enjoy it. 

And because I love sunflowers so much, it is only natural that I would want to turn them into a baked good.


It really wasn't even that hard - it took me a while to figure out what frosting tip I wanted to use, and how I wanted to do the layers of petals. I still want to give it another shot to do better, but I don't think they're half bad for a first try.

I settled on the Wilton #366 tip, and figured out that what I needed to do was hold the tip so that the "mouth" looks like it's going to bite the cupcake. Then I hold the tip around the middle of the cupcake, start piping while slowly pulling back, and then pressing back toward the middle a bit when I stop piping. That way, the "petals" don't just drip off the edges of the cupcakes. I used my favorite buttercream recipe with a few drops of yellow gel paste food coloring - it's great at holding its shape, and sort of crusts a bit as it sets (but not in a bad way).

As for the chocolate cupcake, I used my favorite secretly-sortofhealthyish avocado chocolate cupcake recipe. And for the center of each "sunflower"? Actual sunflower seeds! I quickly dusted them with some sugar and cocoa powder and threw them in the oven. The color doesn't come out black as night, but I actually like it that way. I also just love that the center is actually made of sunflower seeds - it makes me OCD happy. 


If you make these, I hope you like them as much as I did. They're a great treat to bring to a summer picnic!



Sunflower Cupcakes

Creamy vanilla buttercream tops avocado-based chocolate cupcakes with real sunflower seed centers. A happy and sunny dessert that is sure to brighten any gathering! 

[Makes 12 cupcakes]
Ingredients

Cupcakes:
Use this Chocolate Avocado Cupcake recipe!

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Yellow food coloring

Chocolate-Covered Sunflower Seeds:
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower oil (because, you know... sunflower)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

Cupcakes:
1) Prepare cupcakes according to recipe and let cool completely.

Sunflower Seeds:
1) Preheat oven to 300° F. 

2) In a medium bowl, combine sunflower seeds and oil and stir to coat. Add cocoa powder and sugar. Stir until seeds are fully coated.

3) Spread seeds evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet and set aside.

Frosting:
1) In a large bowl, whisk together butter and sugar until smooth on a low speed. Increase speed to medium and mix for an additional 2 or 3 minutes.

2) Add vanilla and mix on medium speed until smooth.  If desired, add heavy cream a teaspoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency. For me, it was a little less than 1 teaspoon. 

3) Add yellow food coloring, one drop at a time, until desired yellow shade is acquired.

4) Fit a piping bag with your tip of choice (I recommend the Wilton #366) and pipe frosting by holding the tip so that the "mouth" looks like it's going to bite the cupcake. Now hold the tip around the middle of the cupcake, start piping while slowly pulling back, and then pressing back toward the middle a bit when I stop piping. That way, the "petals" don't just drip off the edges of the cupcakes. The frosting will eventually "crust" and set in place, so make sure you have it the way you want it. 

5) Before the frosting "crusts", pile some sunflower seeds in the center of each cupcake. If needed, add another layer of frosting petals on top to sort of seal them in place. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

August 4, 2014

One of my family's traditions has always been Buckeye Balls. We made them at holidays and it always ended in a huge, peanut buttery, chocolately mess. Now mind you, as a child I didn't mind being covered in chocolate and eating the peanut butter balls that fell apart when I tried to dip them. But as an adult? Different story.


Don't get me wrong - I still love them. Love them. But the idea of double broilers and constant stirring to prevent the chocolate from burning... not appealing. Recently I had a terrible craving for peanut butter and chocolate, and it coincided with a coworker's (now, former coworker - sniffle) last day at the company. He likes peanut butter and is moving to a country that does not make it easy to obtain said commodity. So I figured that would be a good excuse to concoct some sort of new PB+C, sugary solution.


This is pretty much a Buckeye Ball, except in cookie form. There's more chocolate than peanut butter to these, so I drizzled some peanut butter on the outside to make up the difference. One of the things that has always bugged me about Buckeye Balls is that as soon as I pick one up to eat it, my fingers are covered in melted chocolate. So unless I want to eat them with chopsticks, they're always going to make a mess of me. God help me if I decided to wear white the day I try to eat them. But these cookies? No chocolate fingers. I considered calling them "Buckeye Ball Cookies" but then people might think they're going to be chocolate-dipped cookies, and the chocolate fingers situation would still an issue. 



Just handheld, delicious, Reeses-reminiscent cookies. One of them satisfied my craving, but didn't really make me feel that great about handing these over to my coworkers. I mean, I'm happy to share and all, but... okay, I'm not really happy to share. Not these. So if you see me hunkered over a plate of these on my couch, it would be in your best interest not to approach me. I might bite your hand. Just fair warning.



Peanut Butter Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

A cookie-style spin on an old family favorite, Buckeye Balls. Instead of the tedious process of coating peanut butter balls in melted chocolate, you can just roll it all together!

[Yields 24-30 cookies, depending on size]
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter, divided
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon coconut oil

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or non-stick silicon mats and set aside.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

3) In a large bowl, beat butter until fluffy and light. Add sugar, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of peanut butter and beat well until mixture is fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, beating to combine. Slowly add dry mixture to wet mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside and move onto prepping the peanut butter filling.

4) In a medium bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of peanut butter and powdered sugar until smooth. It may take a while, but hang in there - it will become smooth.

5) Grab a heaping tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball. Flatten it with your hands and lay it down on the prepared baking sheets, keeping each disk of dough an inch apart.

6) Now grab about a teaspoon of the peanut butter filling mixture and roll it into a small ball. Place each peanut butter ball in the center of each cookie.

7) Now wrap the cookie around the peanut butter ball, making sure it's sealed all the way around and roll back into a ball and place back on the baking sheet. Flatten each ball and make sure each of the cookies are 1-2 inches apart.

8) Bake for about 8 minutes, but make sure not to overcook! They will still be a little puffy, but they'll settle once you let them rest on the baking sheets for a few minutes. Move to a wire rack to cool completely.

9) In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup peanut butter and coconut oil. Melt in microwave in 10 second increments, stirring until melted and combined. Place mixture in a plastic baggie with a teeny, tiny corner cut off and drizzle over your cooled cookies. Let them set and then enjoy!

High Five For Friday (a super exciting edition)

July 18, 2014
1) It's Friday.

2) It's not Monday.

3) I don't have to look at code tomorrow. Or put on pants.

4) My dog is so cool - thank you for noticing, Pack! (If you have a dog you love to show off, I highly recommend signing up for Pack - learn more on their site!) 



5) Did I mention it's Friday?

Yep... it's been one of those weeks. 



Link up with me below, and join me in linking up with Lauren with your own #H54F!

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