Thursday, December 17, 2009


I used to consider myself a pretty committed runner. And I was...until I moved from Los Angeles to Indianapolis. Then I found out just how fair-weather I am. Winter here is COLD. Ridiculously cold. And I, put to the test, simply do not care THAT much about exercise (or so it would appear). When the thermometer drops below that ominous little blue line and it's officially below freezing (not to mention windchill), sorry, but running is out of the question.

For me, at least. The neighbor lady down the road is another story altogether. It'll be 15 below, and she'll be out running, bundled up like an Eskimo and churning out white breath clouds like a little steam engine.

Good for her. I applaud her.

And I think she's nuts.

Speaking of which (how's this for a transition?), I've found two great new uses for nuts--AND a much warmer way to spend a winter afternoon. Yeah, it's also much unhealthier...but, then again, I consider mild hypothermia pretty unhealthy, too. Your choice.

Anyway, here we go: Turtle Thumbprint Cookies. And Caramel Turtle Cheesecake. Both recipes include chocolate, pecans, and caramel. You sold? Me too.

Here's are pictures:

These are a bit time-consuming, but they're really that good. And they make nice gifts, if you like to give out baked goods around the holidays. I'll post the recipes in the next few days, if you want them.
Anyway, I know it's only December, and there's much more cold weather to come. My advice is to bake these cookies. Eat these cookies. Be warm. And we'll all go running together come spring.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Decisions, Decisions...

They say that a healthy lifestyle is about choices ("they" being the Health and Fitness gurus of the world). I give you Exhibit A:

Remember the Animaniacs cartoons, and the "Good Idea, Bad Idea" segment? (Yeah, I know; that show was hilarious.) Zucchini=good idea. Cookie=bad idea.

But at this point we have to ask ourselves the inevitable question: who, in their right mind, would choose the zucchini, when the two are presented side-by-side like that? Oy.
Zucchini, to be fair, is a great vegetable. I like zucchini. A lot.

But let me introduce you to the Monster Cookie:

We're talking butter, brown sugar, peanut butter...

Oats, peanut-butter chips...

Yeah, I admit we're talking ZILCH nutritional value, unless you count a little bit of fiber from the oatmeal. But they're

Thus I posit to you, O Health-and-Fitness guru people, that a healthy lifestyle is not about choices, but about compromise.

My compromise? Voila!

Monster cookie + multivitamin. Yes! (And maybe zucchini for dinner?)

And, yes, I'll give you the recipe.

Monster Cookies
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups creamy peanut butter
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups old-fashioned oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips or M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugars. Add peanut butter and next 3 ingredients; mix well.

In separate bowl, stir together oats, baking soda, and salt. Add to peanut butter mixture; stir to combine. Stir in chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.

Drop heaping spoonfuls onto parchment-lined cookie sheet. Flatten slightly. Bake about 12 minutes, until edges are set. (Centers will still appear wet.) Cool on pan 2-3 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interesting Things

They say you should try to learn something new every day. Well, I've learned several interesting new things lately. Three, to be exact: (1) The speed limit on a certain stretch of highway between here and Greenwood drops rather sneakily from 55 to 35. (2) Speeding tickets are both embarassing and expensive. (3) Baking peanut butter brownies is therapeutic. Eating peanut butter brownies also is therapeutic.

I won't elaborate on Items 1 and 2, because...well, because I don't want to. Ha. I WILL, however, give you the peanut butter brownie recipe. Because it's very good and very easy. And, of course, because I like you.

First, here's a picture:

Looks good, huh?

Okay, here's the recipe:

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
splash of vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

(1) Heat oven to 350. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper; set aside.

(2) Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, then milk and vanilla. In separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix well.

(3) Divide batter between two bowls. Add cocoa powder and chocolate chips to one; mix well. Add peanut butter and peanut butter chips to other; mix well.

(4) Drop batters alternately by heaping spoonfuls into prepared pan. Swirl through with knife to marble. Bake about 25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting.

(Recipe adapted from Taste of Home Baking cookbook)

Note: I've also done this replacing both the semisweet chips and peanut butter chips with chopped Reese's cups; it's really, really good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cupcake Lava and Cake-Related Hilarity

Yellow cake, I've decided, is a rather challenging animal. Spice cake, or white chocolate cake, or carrot cake, or what have you...those can rely on their extra "stuff" for the wow factor. But yellow cake is just so darned basic. If it isn't really good, it...well...isn't really good.

So I decided to try a new recipe for yellow cupcakes. This should not have been incredibly time-consuming or challenging. Unfortunately, I, genius that I am, managed to overfill the cupcake liners (bad, bad habit) and wound up with little cupcake replicas of Mt. Vesuvius--post-explosion. Not that the cupcakes really exploded, per se...they more sort of bubbled up and oozed all over the place and then crusted over--more like one of those Hawaiian dome volcanoes, actually, than the explosive ones.

Aaaanyway...after scraping/peeling/pouring the cupcake lava into the garbage, I attempted Round Two. Much more successful.

Here was the result:

Yellow cake. Chocolate buttercream. Oh, and chocolate sprinkles (which, let's face it, are just fun). Simple, basic, yum.

I don't think I'm done with the Search for the Perfect Yellow Cake Recipe. But these were pretty good, anyway.

Now, on a different note. People, you have GOT to check this website out:
CakeWrecks. It. Is. HILARIOUS. You know how you sometimes see those grocery store bakery cakes that just make you go "Eh?" or "Whaa...?" or "You have got to be kidding"? The frightening, the humorous, the very oddly decorated or atrociously colored? Yeah. Well, this site is dedicated to those, and not only are the photos themselves really funny, but the commentary leaves me rolling. (And I have to admit, I feel like my baking looks really darned good compared to some of this stuff. Haha.) So check it out. CakeWrecks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wedding Pics (Finally)

Yep, I'm finally posting pics from the rehearsal dinner and wedding! And rather than waste space rambling, I'll just let the pictures do most of the talking. Oh, and I'll give you the menus.

Friday night was the rehearsal dinner, a Southwest burrito buffet. The meats I am NOT posting pictures of (shredded meat, in a basement, under fluorescent lighting...well, it just does not photograph well), but they were a cilantro-lime chicken and adobo chili beef. There were all the fixings, too: tortillas, cheese, sour black beans and rice, chips and salsa, etc.

For sides, I made a layered Southwest salad with cilantro lime vinaigrette. It didn't photograph so well either, so use your imagination. Then there were these little cheddar pepper corn muffins, served with chili cream cheese spread. LOVE these; they're so yummy.

Here's a picture of the dessert/coffee/drink table. Dessert was white chocolate fruit tart and cookies. Drinks were the standard (water, tea, coffee, etc.) plus horchata! (That's a sweet Mexican rice milk spiced with cinnamon, if you've never had it.)

Oh, and here are the two "specialty" salsas: cilantro/lime-corn salsa and a mango pepper salsa.

Here's a picture of ME taking pictures of the dessert table. Haha.

Closeup action for the white chocolate fruit tart. Mm.

THEN, moving on to the wedding (Saturday afternoon).
This was an afternoon dessert buffet. Here's the one picture I have of my prep work the night before. I'd like to point out three things: (1) the crazy number of chocolates covering the dining table turned workspace, (2) the fact that the entire table is covered in bubble wrap (long story), and (3) the lovely Starbucks apron I'm wearing. Adam doesn't work at Starbucks anymore but generously donated his old aprons to my kitchen collection--and they're GREAT.

Okay, moving on to the day of. The menu included the following:
  • spinach dip and crackers
  • fruit and cheese skewers
  • sweet breads: banana chocolate chip, frosted pumpkin rum spice, and cherry almond
  • cheesecake bites--two kinds: white chocolate almond and chocolate chip cookie dough
  • candies: cookies 'n cream truffles, red velvet cake truffles, chocolate-dipped cherries and apricots, and (heart shaped!) peppermint creams
  • miniature trifle cups, in two flavors: pumpkin spice and black forest
  • mint water, raspberry tea, and virgin autumn sangria
Here are some pictures, in no particular order.
In this one you can see the crackers and dip, plus the pumpkin spice trifles (with gingersnap garnishes!):

Here are the fruit and cheese skewers and sangria:

Here, cherry almond bread chunks:

Here, cookie dough cheesecake bites (bottom left), black forest trifles, and chocolate chip banana bread (on the right).

White chocolate almond cheesecake bites, banana bread (again), and pumpkin rum spice bread...

These are some of the candies (on Marla's adorable lazy Susan):

And some more of them:

Here's my caterer's cameo shot: me getting ready to go re-stock the candy trays.

Oh, and a final shot of the sangria. (Isn't it pretty? I loved the presentation on this.)

I have to say, this was a lot of fun and great experience...but I'm glad it's over! Next time, no back-to-back rehearsal and wedding. Whew!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's the Little Things

Yes, yes, I know. It's been ridiculously long since I've updated this blog. I blame this on the fact that I have no Internet access at home and usually don't make trips to the public library computer lab just to update my blog. (I know. Excuses, excuses...)


I've discovered (more like finally admitted) something about myself: I like cutsey. You know what I'm talking about. Baby animal calendars, rainbows and butterflies, Hello Kitty...stuff like this:

(Um, yeah. Everbody together, now: Awww...)

I know. I've denied it for a long time. But it's true: I'm a girl...and I like cute. I do.

Part of this cutesy-ness affinity is an appreciation for teeny things. Take mini chocolate chips, for instance. I use them all the time, and do you really believe it's just because of how nicely they regulate the chocolate distribution in baked goods? Uh, no. I like 'em because they're CUTE. It's the same reason I'm so attached to my mini heart-shaped springform pans. (Remember those?)

With the above in mind, you can see why I like cupcakes. I mean, they're cake (good) with an impressive frosting-to-cake ratio (even better)...and they're small sized (great!). What could possibly be cuter? And, lest you think that's a rhetorical question, the answer is: mini cupcakes! Cuteness multiplied! (Whatever. Groan if you want. You know I'm right.)

SO...I recently bought two new mini cupcake tins and a bunch of the mini paper liners. Fun stuff, and just in time for a mini cupcake order for a bridal shower. (See? I'm not the only person who likes the things.) Here's a pic:

The cupcakes were white chocolate, with white-chocolate cream cheese frosting. The "S" monogram was for the last name of the soon-to-be newlyweds. (Now honeymooners; the wedding was this past weekend.)

Here they are all boxed up and ready for delivery:

I rest my case: cutesy is good. Mini cupcakes are cute--and therefore good. Embrace it, people. Eat a mini cupcake. (And then, if you absolutely must, go watch Die Hard or something.)

Oh, and I'll be posting pics from the reherasal dinner and wedding in the near future. It was my first wedding reception to cater, and it was tiringcrazyfunoverwhelmingawesome. You get the idea. More to come on that front!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sweet Summer

Berries, I've determined, have personality. Think about it:

Strawberries. These are the berry-next-door--sweet, friendly, laid back, and familiar. They're not the most expensive or classiest berry, but they go well with just about anything, and just about everyone likes them.

Raspberries. These are the snazzy berries, a little froofier and with more attitude than strawberries, and definitely more expensive. They're more bistro than backyard, definitely not everyday fare.

Blueberries. They're slightly more mysterious and hard to nail down--and, let's face it, sorta seedy. Not everyone gets off to these guys (but that could just be because they're misunderstood).

Skipping all the "what the heck?" berries, like loganberries, huckleberries (the only Huckleberry I know is from Mark Twain), etc., we come to my intended topic: cherries. Cherries have ridiculously subtle pizazz. They're simple, sleek, and breezy. They're juicy and plump. They're America. And they're SUMMER.

In honor of the last leg of summer (which I am NOT ready to say goodbye to), let's give the cherry some stage time. Come on, put the apples back in the produce bin, folks; they can wait a few more weeks. For now, let's just lounge on the back porch together, soaking in the sunshine, chatting, and having iced tea and soft hunks of cherry almond bread.

Summer Cherry Almond Bread

  • 2 tablespoons white sugar

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup white sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose is fine; I just like bread flour, if I happen to have it)

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt (or light sour cream)

  • 1 cup chopped frozen cherries (NOT thawed)

Heat oven to 350. Spray an 8-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Combine white sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle into bottom and sides of pan; tap out excess.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and extracts and mix well. In separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture, mixing well; then stir in sour cream. Fold in cherries.

Pour batter into pan, and bake about 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; then remove to wire rack to cool completely (if you can stay out of it that long).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Crazy Crack Cookie Dough Cheesecake...the Sequel

I'm posting about the cookie dough cheesecake again for two reasons. One, I love it that much. And two, I didn't post the recipe last time! Silly me. So, without further ado/rambling, here it is:

Crazy Crack Cookie Dough Cheesecake
For the dough:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon coarse-grained sea salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
For the cheesecake:
1 (10 oz.) box graham cookies (I like Teddy Grahams), crushed
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 (8 oz.) blocks cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

To make the dough
: (1) Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add milk and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt, then chocolate chips. (2) Refrigerate dough at least 1/2 hour; then form into tiny balls and refrigerate another 1/2 hour or so.

To make the cheesecake: (1) Heat oven to 350. (2) Combine cookie crumbs and butter, and press into bottom of mini cheesecake pans (greased) or 8-inch square pan (lined with parchment paper). Bake 10 minutes; then move to wire rack to cool. (3) Reduce oven heat to 300. (4) Beat cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until completely smooth, about 1 minute. Add vanilla and cream, then eggs, one at a time, mixing just until incorporated after each. (Don't overmix!) (5) Gently fold in half of cookie dough balls (return rest to fridge) and 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips. (6) Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Tap gently on counter to remove air bubbles. (7) Bake 20-30 minutes, until edges are set but center still wobbles a little. (8) Turn off oven but leave pan inside for about another hour. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

To assemble/decorate: (1) Remove pan from refrigerator. Remove mini cheesecakes from springforms, or gently lift the parchment/cheesecake from the square pan and cut it into small bars. (When I use the square pan, I like to use a pizza cutter to cut the cheesecake into little squares.) (2) Stack a small mound of the leftover cookie dough balls on top of each cheesecake/bar. (3) Melt 1-2 ounces semisweet chocolate in the microwave. Spoon it into a Ziploc bag, snip the edge, and drizzle the chocolate over the cheesecakes/bars. (4) Refrigerate another 1/2 hour at least before serving.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Crazy Crack Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Hi, my name is Amber, and I'm a cookie-dough-aholic. (And,, I don't have any desire to recover.)

My former roommates will attest to the fact that I'm seriously stinkin' addicted to the stuff. Not the baked version, mind you. I can take or leave those. But the DOUGH...the glorious, glorious dough. Hm. I'd probably be scared to know how many pounds of it I've put down in the last few years.

Now, before you give me the gasp/shocked look/"What about salmonella!?" reprimand check this out: I've learned how to make egg-less cookie dough! I admit, this never would have happened except for the fact that I decided recently that I needed to come up with a cookie dough cheesecake. I'm all about eating the raw-egg-laden stuff myself, but feeding it to other people is quite a different store. (Can't have people getting sick.)

As a (related) side note, I just received from UPS a wonderful little package containing the (NON-heart shaped) miniature cheesecake pans I recently ordered. Can I tell you how much I love them?

Here was the outcome. I call these my "Crazy Crack Cookie Dough Cheesecakes." Seriously addicting. Dangerously addicting. (But eat all the dough you want; it's safe!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

At the Races?

Remember that scene in "My Fair Lady" where Eliza goes to the Royal Ascot races, and everyone's dressed in immaculate black and white? Love it, love it.

So, the cake I made this past weekend was totally my Royal Ascot cake. At least, that's what it made me think of. (I had "My Fair Lady" songs running through my head every time I so much as looked at it.) Technically, it was a bridal shower cake. But all I could think of was Audrey Hepburn and green lawns and tea cups and enormous ladies' hats (meaning the hats were enormous, not the ladies).'s definitely time to rent that movie.

ANYway--Sam, the bride-to-be, chose black, white, and some undefinable shade of blue/teal for her wedding colors. Since I didn't know what the blue looked like, I went with black and white. Classy. Elegant. Did I mention I love it?

Here I am, applying fondant flowers.

And here's the cake at the shower, on the table. The little "thingy" on top was supposed to be a flower. But it fell apart (sad!). Thankfully, I was able to sort of prop it up with floral wire. But it was supposed to be perkier and taller.

A closer shot:

And even closer...

Here are a few of us hanging out in the church parking lot after the shower. (No, we didn't all plan to wear black and white...but, yes, it did happen. Cheesy? Maybe. Funny? Definitely.)

And, finally, another closeup--this time, of us! If only we'd had some of those "My Fair Lady" hats. Ah, well. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Baked (Vanilla) Beans

Have you ever seen vanilla beans, up close and personal? They're basically little flat, shriveled-up black sticks with stems, sort of forlorn looking, like they're had the life sucked out of them--the raisin of the spice world.

In spite of their lack of aesthetic appeal, though, the suckers are high dollar. I actually paid $8 for a tiny glass jar containly exactly two. And then I used both of them to make exactly one dozen vanilla cupcakes. (Goodbye, $8.)

No, Kroger didn't rip me off. According to Wikipedia, "vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron." I know you were dying to know that. It has something to do with how expensive it is to grow the seed pods. (Yes, I did plug "vanilla" into Wikipedia. Tell me you haven't researched stranger.)


The point of this whole expenditure was to make a knockoff of those vanilla bean cupcakes at Starbucks. You know, those ruggedly appealing, ridiculously expensive (I guess we know why now) ones? Exhibit A:

I have to say, this was a success.

AND to celebrate, I'm going to give you my vanilla bean buttercream recipe. Just cuz I love you.

Worth-the-Extra-$8 Vanilla Bean Buttercream

¼ cup Crisco
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
heavy whipping cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Beat Crisco and butter until smooth and creamy. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, along with 2 tablespoons cream. Beat well, adding more cream (by the teaspoon) as needed to reach desired consistency. Add scraped vanilla bean seeds and mix until seeds are evenly distributed.

Makes about 3 cups

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ah, memories (and cake)

I had a nostalgic moment the other day.

Yes, I'm actually having those at the ripe old age of 25, and I think it might mean I've crossed an important threshhold, age-wise. I find myself saying things like, "When I was a kid..." and "Oh, I remember when..." and even "Back in the day..." And I've even contemplated the need to start writing down some of those memories so that when my kids (the hypothetical kids I don't have yet, that is) say, "Mommy, tell me a story about when you were a little girl," I'll have plenty to pull from. (I remember asking MY mom that when I was a kid and absolutely loving to hear those stories, no matter how mundane they might have seemed to her.)

Anyway, the particular nostalgic moment I'm talking about happened last weekend. (Yeah, I'm just now getting around to posting the pictures. Sorry.) I had an order for a couple of birthday cakes, for a joint birthday party for two kids. One was supposed to be baseball themed, the other dance themed.


This totally catapulted me back to my childhood. First, baseball.

I remember all those summer days spent hanging out at the baseball field during Adam's games and practices. It was always blazing hot (think Texas summers and shorts on metal bleachers; ouch!). A lot of times my friend Monica (her little sister was on the same team as Adam) and I would go buy candy from the concession stand and then go amuse ourselves until time to go home. Good times.

And then cake #2: dance.

There were years of dance mania on my part. I loved dance. (And by "loved," I mean was utterly obsessed with.) I ate, slept, BREATHED dance. Dance class, dance team, competitions, performances, costumes, shoes, music, makeup...something like 12 or 13 years of it. (And yet I ended up an editor. Huh.)

Anyway, here are both cakes together:

And then boxed up and ready to go:

What can I say? Good times, good memories.