Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oatmeal Cookie Insanity!

At any given moment the thoughts going on in my head are far from normal and definitely not relevant to what I'm physically doing..muti-tasking at its finest. So yesterday I was thinking about all the random ingredients I have lying around from countless baking projects and entertaining guests, then obviously my mind went off on a tangent.  Oatmeal, Pretzels, M&Ms, Sprinkles,  Chips, Coconut.. I mean there is an endless list of foods in my kitchen that I won't ever eat, so I might as well put it to good use.  Admittedly, I don't even eat half the things I make due to my picky palate and healthy eating obsession.  But there are some things I just can't deny *cough* rice krispie treats *cough*. In fact it may be hard to believe that I could be a pretty good baker without having a knack for all things sweet, but it's my mind's crazy concotions and mid-sleep epiphanies that are the foundation for my passion.
I think we have a strong enough relationship now that I can share one of my biggest flaws with you and trust you won't judge me.  Some of you may be confused and maybe even dislike me for a little bit after this, but promise you won't totally write me off.  Peanut butter and Chocolate are two separate worlds for me, never to be combined.  Yes that's right, I hate Reese's in all forms.  Ever since I was younger peanut butter didn't even go with jelly, it was one or the other.  It's a lone entity, strictly in the chunky form, undeniably only paired best with an empty spoon or a nice crisp apple {seeing as the normal choice of bread hasn't really been in my food group for a quite some years now}. 
But wait, that doesn't mean I don't bake with them together! I know how much the rest of the normal population appreciates the combination and after all, my goal is to make other people happy through my creations.
So my base cookie was an easy choice I hadn't made in a while. Soft Chewy Oatmeal. You can't go wrong.

But then the thoughts that started running through my head couldn't be stopped.
1) Why doesn't anyone EVER make chocolate oatmeal cookies--I'll patent that!
2) Why only ever put raisins or chocolate chips or nuts inside? Boring.
3) Why not throw in all sorts of candy and chocolate and really get this cookie going? Okay!
Yup that's actually how last night started out. Chopped up Reese's, Twix and Pretzels with White Chocolate. Those were the inspiration for this batch of oatmeal cookies.
Theses perfectly thick, chewy and overloaded oatmeal cookies were an adaptation of a recipe from the fabulous Bake at 350, which can be found here!

Soft, Thick, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies
{adapted from Bake at 350}

1/2 cup butter
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
6 Tbs light sour cream
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 & 1/2 cup flour

1 Tbs cocoa powder
1 cup chopped Twix
1 cup chopped Reese's
1/2 cup cupped pretzels
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl of a mixer, cream together butter, oil and sugar on medium until smooth. Add the egg and beat until fluffy. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla. Stir in the oats.

Add the flour mixture and beat until well combined.Separate evenly into 2 bowls.
In one bowl, mix in 1 Tbs of cocoa powder.
YUM! Now mix in your Reese's to this batch!

Now divide the plain bowl of cookie dough into two bowls.  Stir in the Twix to one bowl and the white chocolate-pretzel combination to the other.

Let dough sit about 15-30 minutes.  Drop by tablespoon onto lined baking trays. 
Bake 10-12 minutes until edges turn light brown, and move to a cooling rack to cool completely {or eat them warm, I definitely won't judge!}.
Hope you enjoy what my crazy mind has done this time! :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hottest Chef in America 2013- VOTE!

Good afternoon ladies and gents! hosts an annual Hottest Chef in America contest on their website: starting with the city, then regional, and finally NATIONAL!

A fellow food-loving, executive chef, and friend of mine Karen Akunowicz had been nominated and won for the Boston Area last week.  Not only is Karen a phenominal chef at Myers +Chang, but she is a total hottie rocking amazing pink hair!

After a suspenseful weekend and early morning, Karen was declared Hottest Chef for the Northeastern Region.We are down to the wire as polls reopened just moments ago for the final 4 in the nation.  PLEASE GO ON AND VOTE FOR KAREN!

Voting closes tomorrow, Wednesday February 20th at 2pm so please go on and help her out!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Last Minute Quick and Easy Valentine's Treats

It's finally here. The day men all over the world are still scrounging to land reservations at top restaurants all around the city and buying gifts to show their special someone how much they Love them. While others, like myself, see it as just another Thursday. Disregarding the fact that I am Valentine-less, I'm not interested in all the hype that comes with this holiday.   It's not about the expensive meal or candy or flowers (although I do buy flowers nearly every Friday).  I'd prefer a night at home, cooking dinner, watching a movie, and just spending time with my Valentine. The quality time and relaxation far exceeds any $200 steak dinner. 

But what I DO enjoy about this holiday is all the pink and red baking I get to indulge in! This holiday I decided to go simple with my valentines treats, and create quick and easy sweets that you can make for your loved one even at the very last minute.  Nothing says I love you like a homemade gift...especially an edible one!  

Earlier this week I made an assortment of themed cupcakes that are simply decorated with hearts and pearls. Now cupcakes take a little while to bake, cool then ice, so if you have reservations tonight you may run out of time to whip up one of my recipes or even the boxed version:
Red Velvet with Cream Cheese Frosting, Vanilla Funfetti with Chocolate or Vanilla Buttercream and Oreo cupcakes with Oreo Buttercream.

Have you yet to pick up your heart shaped box of candy or chocolate covered strawberries for your special someone? Well if thats the case, you still have time to whip up some of these sweets that are sure to show them how much you care.

Chocolate Covered Pretzels
During the holidays, people will spend insane amounts of money on chocolate covered pretzels and strawberries, and yes while they are delicious, they are SO easy to make on your own.

Pretzels (any shape or size)
Chocolate Candy Melts or Chocolate Chips
Pink, Red or White Candy Melts, optional
Sprinkles, Nuts, Mini chips etc, optional

Step 1: Melt the chocolate in a microwavable bowl (or double boiler but I take the quicker route), for 1 minute initially then stir.  Continue in 30 second intervals until completely melted.
Step 2. Drop the pretzels in the bowl of chocolate, cover completely.  I use a fork to lift the pretzel out and tap excess chocolate on the edge of the bowl before carefully placing them on a parchment paper lined tray.*This would be the time to add sprinkles or nuts if you wish! Place in the fridge for about 5 minutes until hardened. 
Step 3: using disposable decorating bags (I use Wilton), fill with any additional melted colored chocolate.  Snip off a tiny portion of the tip, and drizzle as much or little as desired.
...Okay so I may have gotten a little excessive, but "too much chocolate" is not in my vocabulary.
Step 4: return the fridge for 5 more minutes or so. Remove from from the fridge and remove the pretzels from the tray.  Dont be alarmed if they look like the image below {perfectly normal}, just gently remove the extra chocolate from around and in between the pretzel holes.

A perfect hand made treat that your Valentine will absolutely ADORE! :)

Other ideas for quick chocolate covered goodness include:

Chocolate Covered Oreo Truffles {recipe earlier in the blog}
Dipped Pink Rice Crispie Treats

All Assembled in cute little heart boxes with some Chocolate Covered Stawberries {not pictured}, and they make for the perfect Valentine!

I hope you have time to try out some of these last minute delights! Remember, everything tastes better covered in chocolate, so experiment a little :) and if you just change the color scheme and you'll be set for your St. Patty's day parties and many holidays to come!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sweet & Salty Layer Bars

I think my love for playing with chocolate surpasses my sprinkle addition {hard to believe, I know, but true}.  There is an endless amount of food that is easily enhanced by being submerged in a generous amount of chocolate.  Sure strawberries, pineapple, pretzels, marshmallows, graham crackers, rice krispie treats..they're all delicious snacks on their own, but has anyone in their right mind EVER argued that they weren't better dipped in chocolate? I think not!

So, happy belated Super Bowl everyone :) in my weekend mix of making layer bars, Oreo cookies, and rice krispie treats, I just couldn't resist playing with a little chocolate for some cute game day treats!
Now growing up my mom was always into the box of brownie mix and break-and-bake cookies {can't knock the box, still tastes good}. But she has this one special go-to "layer" type bar that is always a party hit.  Graham crackers. Caramel type mixture. Chocolate chips. Walnuts. Delicious and easy.

It's similar in concept to the popular 7 layer bars or "Magic Bars", so I had an idea to make my own combination of layers, to make this sort of sweet & salty, butter-filled heaven bar.
Sweet & Salty Layer Bars
2 cups graham crackers, crushed
1/2 cup butter, melted

1 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
Pretzels, crushed
Chocolate chips
White chocolate chips
Coconut, toasted
Pinch of sea salt

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9x13in baking pan.
Combine graham crackers and melted butter together and press into the bottom of the pan to create the crust.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine butter and brown sugar.  Stir constantly to avoid burning, until a thick caramel type mixture develops.
Remove from heat and pour over the graham cracker crust, spreading evenly.
Begin to sprinkle on generous amounts of the layers, staring with pretzels, white chocolate chips, chocolate chips, toasted coconut and ending with a touch of sea salt.
Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the caramel on the edges start to bubble.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to cool before cutting. 

Salty-Sweet melt in your mouth heaven. You can't go wrong with these. ENJOY! :)