On Cooking with Alex #2: Mini Turtle Cheesecakes with Salted Caramel Sauce

I can’t believe how much I look forward to these posts! I love to cook on my own, don’t get me wrong, but getting to cook with one of your best friends (and my oldest friend for that matter, going on almost 22 years of friendship) and see actual moments of what it is that made us friends to begin with, that’s something extra special! And with that, I present: Mini Turtle Cheesecakes with a Homemade Boozy Carmel/Caramel Sauce!

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So I do have a springform pan to make full cheesecakes, but you know what, nothing gets any cuter that mini cheesecakes! And especially since a certain future husband doesn’t like cheesecake, making a full one doesn’t seem like the best way to go. With the minis, I can bring them to work in my little cupcake carrier, which I did, and shared my delicious treats with everyone else! But these turned out SO good and they are light, fluffy, and so creamy! The added caramel sauce was also just the right amount of sweetness, and with that splash of bourbon in there, it elevates the cheesecake to a whole new level of scrumptious!

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With regards to the caramel sauce, Alex decided to double the caramel recipe, and also decided to throw in some bourbon (this was an optional part of the recipe). Being the follower that I am, I thought, WHY NOT! So I went to our bar and took a gander at what we had in stock that would lend itself nicely to the sauce that wasn’t too inexpensive, too expensive, and happened to already be opened. Now, I should mention, Frankie is a whiskey fan, particularly bourbon, so a lot of our selection (outside our ever steady Jack Daniel’s for mixing) is pretty fancy, but I didn’t want to use Jack (sorry Jack drinkers) because I felt it was going to smell too boozy, if that makes sense? So I grabbed the bottle of Noah’s Mill that was 3/4 empty anyway and added a solid splash to the sauce. As I was telling Alex all of this, and showed her my bottle, she told me to shut up, ran away from her kitchen, and came back with her own full bottle of Noah’s Mill (for she and her man are also fancy bourbon drinkers as well). This, this is why we are friends. #greatmindsthinkalike

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Now, we did notice a few differences between our batters, which might have been due to the equipment used? Mine was a little on the runny side, and I used my stand mixer, plus a hand mixer to smooth out some of those leftover lumps. Alex’s was firmer, and she had used an electric whisk, and at the end, both of ours turned out very similarly in terms of appearance. Weird right? I know we couldn’t taste each others, but both of us found our own cheesecakes to be very moist and creamy! The caramel on top was also incredibly delicious, with the bourbon being helpful in cutting a bit of the natural sweetness of the sauce. I also particularly liked and preferred brown sugar to white sugar in a cheesecake and these recipes were incredibly delicious together! A home run to be sure! I even brought all of mine to work with me, and all of them were gone, gone, gone by lunchtime. If you’re in the mood to bake this weekend, definitely give this combination a try! Until next week’s cooking with friends! — Cooking Maggie


Mini Turtle Cheesecakes from Handle the Heat

6-Minute Small Batch Salted Caramel Sauce from Baker by Nature

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On Christmas Parties & First Christmas Trees

I don’t know WHY I bothered trying three different grocery stores, but when it came to finding party sized samosas, spring rolls, and spanikopita, ONLY TONY’S HAD SOME! Seriously?! Ugh, and I think I may have posted about Tony’s when I was making Empanada’s and how Tony’s was the only place that sold the premade empanada wrappers…so I hereby solemnly promise, on my honor, that I will only go to Tony’s for all my International food needs. If this promise seems repetitive, my apologies, but sometimes a good reminder can go a long way. But Christmas is my favorite time of year because this is when Frankie and I throw our only party of the year, and it’s definitely a highlight! We also go ALL OUT! I mean, we’re taking catering from Spiro’s up in Waukegan, a special cocktail, a pony keg of Spotted Cow, appetizers made by yours truly, and some appetizers not made by yours truly because I have spent whole parties in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up, and sometimes, not making everything yourself is okay, especially if it means getting to spend more time with your guests, am I right?!

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This year’s menu looked like this:

Drinks: Make-Your-Own Moscow Mule’s (using antique spirit pumps filled with Tito’s, the Dog Lover’s Vodka), Spotted Cow (purchased from Tenuta’s Deli in Kenosha; their price for the keg was exceptional, even though I think their deposit is a little steep, but you get that back as soon as you return the empty keg, so only a temporary hurt on the credit card), and access to other spirits that our guests may prefer if beer and Moscow Mule’s don’t sit well with them.

Appetizers: Baked Brie with Blackberry Jam & Apricot Jam (now, these are SUPER easy to make on your own at home, BUT I happened to find two of them premade from Jewel, for a little less than I would have paid to make it from scratch, so I thought, what the heck! And most grocery stores should sell the premade bakable brie in the special cheese area), my famous Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers, standard cheese tray that included gruyere and white cheddar cheese with water crackers, and spanikopita (purchased frozen from Tony’s), chips & two kinds of salsa (pico & blended). I also had some frozen vegetarian spring rolls & Tostino’s Pizza Rolls for any 2am hunger crunches too, but ended up not needing them! And yes, I did say 2am. This year, most of our guests left at 2.30, and the final guests left at 3.30 I believe, so I guess everyone enjoyed themselves!

Dinner: Catering from Spiro’s: Make Your Own Italian Beef/Bomber’s complete with dipping au jus, bread, sweet peppers, and giardiniera; Cathy’s Baked Chicken (always a favorite and can be stripped from the bones to be made into a casserole or soup afterwards; Greek Salad; Mostaccioli (penne & red sauce). This is where we splurge the most, but it’s worth it to see everyone happy and full! And the key for us is to start saving for our party starting January 1st of every year. Also, no joke. We put a little bit away every month and whatever we have at the end, that’s our entire party budget!

Dessert: Funfetti Cupcakes (a normal addition) and Gingerbread Sheet Cake Bites with Stabilized Whipped Cream made by Ed (he had them cut into bars, but we thought bites would be better for a larger group, and then we topped the whipped cream with just a sprinkling of cinnamon), and this was an AWESOME addition that may become tradition after how well it went over with everyone! I even plan to take a crack at this myself over new years with my new Kitchen Aid Mixer, which was a fabulous Christmas present from my future in-laws, and I cannot WAIT to try that sucker out! (Recipes are linked.)

Decorations: Honest to goodness, almost EVERYTHING came from the Dollar Store. No joke because honestly, people don’t come to your parties to analyze your decorations or wonder if it’s Crate & Barrel or Pier 1. They are there to spend time with the people who matter in their lives and just be joyful! So I firmly believe that any home can look beautiful with a budget, and while I hesitated with revealing my secret, I actually am really proud of what I have put together in years past, which is why they keep appearing in years future, and why I decided I wanted to share! The potpourri, Dollar Store. The red candles on my wine glasses, and the wine glasses themselves, Dollar Store. The fake garland, which I think I will replace with something juuuuuust a little nicer next year, Dollar Store. Most of the bigger ornaments, Dollar Store. The small ornaments, Walgreens (yup, you read that right, Walgreens) and I add to them every year for about $20…each year the patterns change, and if they can be integrated with some of the setups I already have, done deal. And all the other decor we’ve accumulated over the years were from mine & Frankie’s family, and some are even Christmas gifts! My rule of thumb is that you should be able to use what you have to decorate your house without breaking the budget. I think the only things I splurged on where the gold & silver plates for the wine glasses, which I bought at Target for $12 each I think? But if you find something similar for less, do it!

The big kicker this year was that Frankie & I got our very first Christmas tree together, and it was a momentous occasion! Sure, it’s not enormous, but it was perfect for our apartment and the space we had to work with! And using all the ornaments we’ve received from friends & family over the years, including a large set of straw stars made in Haiti by Frankie’s mom, we were able to really deck the tree out! And on top, well, that’s  Frankie special from our favorite Urban General Store, Enjoy. If you haven’t been, definitely go next time you’re in the Lincoln Square area! They are one in a million for all things interesting and unique, and I mean, you can’t find a more unique tree topper than this one!

And that’s it! Another Christmas party for the books, and a great anticipation for next year as it will be the first Christmas party that Frankie & I will throw as a married couple, which, can I just say I am SO excited about?! EEK!!! But if you’d like to share your own decorating hacks or favorite appetizers to serve! I’m always looking for new ways to keep our parties interesting and would love to hear what you do! Hoping you all had a Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year! — Cooking Maggie

On Baked Apples (aka. Rainy Day Away Apples)

My apologies dear readers for the delay. This season has been a busy one, but with Christmas only a week away, and all of my gifts now safely in transit or arrived at their various locations, I am able to finally breathe and get back to a more normalized schedule! Oh, and did I mention I was in New York City just a couple weekends ago to see Stephen Colbert live for Frankie’s birthday?! Because I was in New York City just a couple weekends ago to see Stephen Colbert live for Frankie’s birthday!! AND I GOT TO SEE BOBBY FLAY!!! AHHH!!! (Okay, that’s my one alotted school girl squeal out of the way.) But boy oh BOY was that a show to remember! And if you like Colbert and watch both Thursday, December 7th and/or Friday, December 8th’s episodes (we got to be the audience for both days, which was an added OH MY GOSH!! moment), Frankie & I are sitting FRONT ROW all the way to the right (right in front of Stephens desk)! And we’re somewhat coordinated/matching: me in a green sweater dress with maroon tights, and Frankie in his Christmas green plaid shirt with maroon khakis. And then we walked almost 28 miles total over the course of our one day in the city eating and drinking our way into food coma happiness! And before I forget, all the spots we ventured to are up on my recommendations page—while I would love to write more about the spots we ventured to, I have neglected some of my drafted blog posts for too long, so I had to prioritize, but feel free to comment/ask questions about the spots listed if you’d like to know more! Now, with housekeeping out of the way, onto this yummy little nugget!

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The first time I made this, it was maybe the second week of my Graduate program, and I was a complete newbie to Chicago on top of feeling, well, a little homesick. How many of us, in times like these, have turned to food to help abate those bottomless cravings for home? And naturally, that’s where I turned as well. One of my favorite desserts to eat is Apple Crumble, and especially during the winter time, this was the most comforting thing to dig into while snuggled on the couch with White Christmas basically playing on repeat on our TV all season long. But given that it was the apex of summertime, and the last thing I really wanted to do was bake myself alive in my studio, or try and finish an entire casserole of apple crumble by my lonesome. So instead, I decided to miniaturize the recipe and remove the casserole dish entirely. May I present, mini baked apple crumbles!

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Now, what makes this dish so easy is the lack of equipment that you need to use. Granted, I’ve now lived in the city for about six years and have since found myself owning an apple corer (very helpful) and a melon baller (slightly helpful, but I don’t really ball melons on a daily basis, so it’s a tool I don’t use as much), but you can EASILY cut/core/scoop out your apple with a paring knife and a spoon. Then after that, mix up your crumble (I usually use a knife because it won’t get as much filling stuck to it), pack them in, and bake the apples for about 20 minutes, which I think is the sweet spot between overly soft and not soft enough. You can cook it for a little less if you don’t like super soft apples, or a little more if you want it softer. And then voila! It’s warm, it’s sweet, it’s tart, and it’s just oh so good! Oh, and did I mention how easy it was to make? I’m realizing that the more complicated the recipe, the less likely I am to make it, especially during the week, so here is to easy and delicious!

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Sorry again for the delay, but definitely keep an eye out for future posts in the coming week regarding Christmas Cookie making (with a guest appearance by none other than Momma Sully!) and the best baked garlic chicken you’ll ever have! Oh, and some Cooking-Maggie-fied Ragu Pappardelle! It’s all in the works, I PROMISE! OH, and I have some exciting developments for the blog in 2018, so keep an eye out for that announcement as well!

Wishing you & yours a very Happy Holiday! – Cooking Maggie


Baked Apples

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 apples, cored & sliced in half
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup flour (I used whole wheat) or gluten-free ‘flour’ of your choice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (or white sugar with date syrup or molasses or agave syrup)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

 

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Remove some of the inner apple, leaving a little center hollow
  3. Mix remaining ingredients together in a large bowl
  4. Fill all apples with the mixture, covering the tops.
  5. Bake for about 15-30 minutes, depending on preferred apple softness, until golden brown/apple swells.

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On Banana Cake

Fall = Baking Fever! I know I’ve really dropped the ball on the baking challenge I had set for myself at the beginning of the year, but with Fall officially upon us, all I want to do is fill my kitchen with warmth and the smell of baked pies and cake!! Basically, I want my home to smell like BAKED GOODS GALORE!! So, to start off my baking fever, I started with something a little on the healthy side! BANANA CAKE!

I’ve been on a banana binge now that I’m doing breakfast smoothies (two recipes on the way, I promise!), so I definitely had a handful lying around to put to some good, delicious use! I love Banana Bread, but I wanted to push the envelope a little more and do something I hadn’t tried before. I used this recipe specifically because it came with a video, which for the baking-challenged such as myself, was VERY helpful for me in knowing what was the right consistency and there was a really helpful note regarding baking time because all ovens are different with cooking time.

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The cake was delicious, but after a bite, realized it could have used a few more minutes to bake (I only baked for 60 minutes, and the toothpick came out clean, but wasn’t as brown on top as I would have likes, whereas 65-70 would have put it to perfection), and I should have whipped/mixed my batter just a little longer so it got more air into it (the cake was a little on the dense side). But overall, amid the lessons I am still learning about baking—which is okay because I do like to learn new things every time I make something new—this recipe is easy to make and pretty hassle free (especially if you cheat and use store bought icing instead of making your own, which I did because I was baking at night and after a long day, sometimes those little outs are the way to go)! Plus it looks really pretty! More baking to come, especially a funfetti cake, strawberry cream scones, and more cheesecakes! Not very fall, but baking nonetheless! — Cooking Maggie

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The Best Banana Cake from Spend with Pennies

On Pupcakes

On Sunday, we celebrated Tuggs’ Second Birthday! In dog years, that’s 14 years old, which makes Tuggs an actual dog, rather than a puppy, but he’ll always be my puppy forever. But to make his day a little more special (because I am that kind of dog mom, which if you don’t believe me, just check out Tuggs’ Instagram page: @lordtuggs), I made him Apple & Peanut Butter Pupcakes, using a recipe I found on Sugar & Soul Co.

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The main two things that I did differently was that I used brown rice flour instead of whole wheat flour so as to make these pupcakes gluten free, which, for some of my fellow dog owners, is the preferred dietary need of their fur babies. And honestly, there shouldn’t be too much difference between them to completely alter the final product. And then, on that note, to make it just a little bit healthier, I decided to forgo the whipped cream topping. Not because I wanted to make this pupcake any healthier, but rather because we have zero A/C in our new apartment and with the oven on already, it was an inferno in my kitchen that would immediately melt any kind of whipped cream that I could in fact whip up. No use in wasting good heavy cream when the conditions are less than ideal. But considering how fast Tuggs scarfed down his cake, I don’t think he cared much anyway.

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What I think I like most about this recipe is that this isn’t just for the dogs. Because all the ingredients are human grade, you can absolutely enjoy one of these cakes yourselves. Though, I will warn you, it’s not going to be what you think it is. Given the kinds of ingredients used, and the fact that the batter is incredibly wet, the cake itself is very dense, and almost has the texture of a carrot or zucchini cake, especially with the grated apple in the batter. It’s not great, but not terrible either. I can still remember the dog cake I ordered for Tuggs’ birthday last year, and THAT was terrible. I won’t mention the bakery I got it from because you know what, their cake was absolutely perfect for the dogs that got to enjoy it, but I will say, mashed potato frosting is definitely not my thing…and the cake itself tasted like dirt, but Tuggs & his puppy friends didn’t seem to mind all that much! Also this cake is not super sweet, even with the honey, but again, this is more for the dog than for the hoomans that love them. Oh, and if you do decide to try on, I would recommend eating it sans doggie treat, which I included in all the cakes I made for the dogs.

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And overall the cakes were a complete success (if you couldn’t tell by Tuggs’ happy smile), and we brought them up north to Frankie’s parents house that evening to share them with all of their dogs, and boy oh boy were there some happy canines! This was incredibly easy to make, no fuss, just mix, pour, bake, and serve, and definitely a recipe I’ll remake for special puppy occasions to be sure! It’s just a cute way to brighten up the days of the animals that brighten our lives! Even they deserve a little extra attention now and again!

—Cooking Maggie

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Apple & Peanut Butter Pupcakes from Sugar & Soul Co

On Smitten with Brown Butter Krispie Treats

So, we are still not totally unpacked, and likely won’t be for some time. Why is it so much faster to throw things into boxes than it is to pull things back out again? Yes, organizing is one of my most favorite things to do in this world, but at the same time, our dining room and bathroom are taking FOREVER to get to everything! Not to mention I’m still jet lagged out the whazoo, so it’s all I can do to just make something yummy to eat before my body starts to feel like a million pounds. Safe to say, I am definitely struggling just a little bit (a lot). BUT that being said, everything is coming along, and our neighborhood couldn’t be more perfect for us right now! Oh, and did we mention that Tuggs loves his new doggie pool in the backyard? Because this little guy is in heaven!

But with it being summer, and most days warm as get all, the last thing we ever want to do is click the oven on to make anything, even the sweet stuff like pies or cupcakes. I mean, don’t get me wrong, what’s a July 4th without a little Cherry Pie? (Not a typical July 4th, that’s what!) But sometimes, it’s just too hot to even contemplate turning on that dastardly cooking device, so when that happens, what do you do? You stick to making something that requires almost no heat, that’s what! And again, turning to my ever delicious Smitten Kitchen, have I got the dessert for you: Rice Krispie Treats! Universally loved by most, if not all, for being soft and chewy, and not too sweet around the teeth, this is a really great go to treat for those really warm days where the thought of an oven alone makes your skin sweat (gross). And naturally, being the kitchen whiz that she is, Ms. Perelman has turned this on its head in the best way ever! BROWN BUTTER! I’m going to say it again for you, and you let me know if your mouth hasn’t begun to water yet. Brown. Butter. MM!

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Now, the way to get your brown butter is to go low and slow, and to keep your eyes on it at all times! And I do mean at all times, stirring often enough that it doesn’t brown too quickly, which equals burnt butter instead of nutty deliciousness! And this is precisely why I have zero photos of the browning process (Frankie was not at home otherwise I would have put him to work on snapping the color transformation). BUT, you should be able to smell it as it browns, getting that almost toffee-like sweetness as it cooks and darkens. And this will absolutely take your rice krispies to the next level! See the darkness mixed with the marshmallows (pictured below)? THAT’S what you’re looking for! Not too dark that it then becomes bitter, but not too light that it doesn’t impart that nice new layer of flavor to the rest of the mallows & cereal!

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I plan to try making a caramel to drizzle on top next time around (but perhaps more in fall weather so that I don’t have to stand over my stove any longer than I absolutely have to), and try my hand at Salted Caramel Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats. (What a delicious mouthful!) Oh! And now to quickly address the controversy between large marshmallows vs. mini marshmallows. Now, large marshmallows, I think, have a higher gooey content to them that a mini just can’t compare to, BUT they take longer to melt completely, so if you’re not careful, you risk taking them too far over in the cooking process. As for tiny marshmallows, I do have to admit that these are my preferred way to go, mostly because they don’t take as long to completely melt, so there’s no risk of over cooking. And in addition to that, I never let them melt completely anyway, ensuring that there will be some marshmallow chunks within the treat for added gooey factor! A good idea might be to do a 75% mini and 25% large to enhance the gooey mallow chunk factor, but for now, my mini mallow way has been working for me and you know what they say, don’t fix what’s not broke.

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JUST LOOK AT THAT! Mm mm good! OH! And throwing a little sea salt in there REALLY adds a delightful little pop on the tongue to be sure! So smart! And then the rest is heat free easiness! Just form your rice krispies into a pan, let it sit for an hour until completely cool (overnight is best, but you know, when they look that good, how can you not help yourself, right!?), then enjoy! Though, I will give another tip for ease of forming. Vegetable Oil. Lightly spray your spatula or wooden spoon (or hands if you’re not afraid of getting a little bit dirty) and that’ll help prevent sticking! I’ve even gone so far as to make little Pumpkin Rice Krispie treats for a Buzzed Broadway Halloween Themed show, and boy were they super tricky to mold without the help of a little oil on the hands! I’ll be making them again this year, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for some decorative holiday treat ideas! But these treats are SUCH a great idea and will definitely get your guests talking about these delicious bites of joy! — Cooking Maggie

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Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats from smitten kitchen

On “Just Get Off Your Butt & Bake” Apple Raspberry Crumble

Okay, I lied. No chocolate cake this time, but I had had so much chocolate the last few weeks, I needed a reprieve. So I turned to fruit, and one of my FAVORITE desserts of all time: Crumble. I LOVE CRUMBLE. The tart sweetness of the fruit, with the crunchy, sugary top? I mean, you can’t get much better than that! Not to mention that I am really enjoying this new baking blog I found: Just Get Off Your Butt & Bake. I mean, it just…spoke to me, given all the dragging my feet and constant anxiety about baking…but it’s a good skill to practice, to perfect, so I got off my butt and baked!

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LOOK HOW BIG AND BEAUTIFUL THESE ARE!!

The best kind of crumble, I think, is strawberry rhubarb, mostly because I love the texture & tart taste of rhubarb paired with subtle sweetness of strawberries. Some will disagree with me on this, finding rhubarb to be too strong a flavor or really fibrous, but perhaps it was because I was introduced to rhubarb really early in life by my Papaw, who used to make a really fantastic rhubarb pie! And if it’s done properly, while strawberries turn to mush, the rhubarb can stand up to the heat, but not be cumbersome to get through either! And now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I haven’t cooked with rhubarb more at home…but I digress from the recipe I found: apple and raspberry crumble. Apples, in this case, are also great for all sorts of preparation, and can withstand heat fairly well without loosing its composition (unless you’re making homemade applesauce, another to do on my list for when my stomach doesn’t want to cooperate, or a kind of puree, then apples tend to be pretty flexible and will gladly mold itself into whatever form you’d like it too). However, as I was grocery shopping, I found myself in the midst of another freak shopping trip. NO RASPBERRIES! Blackberries? Okay, I can see not always having those. But raspberries?! I’ve never gone to a store and not been able to find raspberries…but cest le vie I guess…so when I found these big, beautiful strawberries, which I think are a great first alternative to raspberries, I just went with it (NO ANXIETY IN SIGHT EITHER! Winged it like a champ!).

But crumble is such a nonchalant kind of dessert, and I felt myself approaching the whole process in very much the same way (not going to lie, I was totally in my PJ’s when I made this, and I’m not sorry for it one bit), and perhaps that’s the whole point with something as homey and gooey and sweet as this. It’s too easy a recipe that it makes intentionally messing up or get the proportions wrong incredibly difficult, even for someone as nutty about particulars as myself. So long as there is equal fruit to crumble (or a little more fruit because that’s the best part, though some may disagree), then it’s a success! And this, was a success! I really wanted to do something traditional this time, just to say that I did it/could do it, even though I think most anyone could make this without breaking a sweat, despite being WAY too much food for just two people, but I have a great recipe alternative that I may end up baking in the next few days to sweeten up this downpour of damper rain (single servings for the win)!

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But for those of you who don’t have a strong sweet tooth, or aren’t the biggest chocolate, cookie, brownie, cupcake, etc. kind of muncher, then this may be the dessert for you! Easy, delicious, and really enticing with that golden brown crust! How can you not sneak a secret spoonful of this stuff straight from the oven?

To burning my mouth over and over again (and not feeling bad about it one bit) — Cooking Maggie


Apple Raspberry Crumble from Get Off Your Butt & Bake

On Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Final Chapter [OR IS IT?!]

Part 3: Nope, this is not it…and browning butter? Yeah, definitely not a fan of that. I didn’t even get to baking this batch because 1) I couldn’t stand the smell, or taste, of the butterscotch embedded in the batter, and 2) My batter basically hardened like a caramel…ugh, baking is hard ya’ll. I’m telling you! SO, there will be one more baking session, since I had to toss the solidified mass I had managed to create, and stuck two sticks of butter on a plate to soften up over the next 24 hours…I swear, there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

B95945FA-E5F3-4C86-BC5E-594B71138435Part 4, The ACTUAL Final Act: Okay, I’m officially done making chocolate chip cookies, that’s for sure. Maybe most cookies actually…I just don’t think I’m a cookie person, BUT I know I can make cupcakes like a boss, and I had mentioned that bitter chocolate cake that I have my eye on, so I’m going to see if my baking strengths lie in other categories…though, now that I think about it, I don’t think I have made a cake in…maybe ever? At least not from scratch…But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this entire experience, I’ve learned how NOT to make chocolate chip cookies, which is something in itself.

With this batch, I did the butter traditionally, softening it using a cool trick because my kitchen is almost the second coldest room in our home! The trick: Fill a tall glass—big enough to fully cover a stick of butter—with water, and microwave until hot. Dump out water, and cover a standing stick of butter with the glass. Leave for about 5 minutes before checking to see if it needs more time, but as soon as it’s soft, get it in the bowl and start to cream. Ta-da! And I adjusted the sugars, just as I had mentioned I would, which I think allowed the cookies to stay soft, just how I like them! There’s structure around the edges, but it’s soft in the middle. But since I was going on my second batch of batter in 24 hours, I stopped caring about making each scoop PERFECT, and the ones I just scooped & plopped onto my pan, those were the ones that turned out the best I think…oh! And I also realized, when I was trying to prepare a second round of trays to go in, while my first batch was baking, that I liked the cookies that were baked on parchment paper MORE than the ones I baked on my silicone pads! WHO KNEW THERE WOULD BE A DIFFERENCE!? As I understand it, parchment paper is better for crisper edges, and that’s I think why I like the parchment paper better. I like it when there’s a little structure/crispness to the edges, but the cookie stays soft and gooey in the middle. Those are the best, and that makes them great for dunking into milk, which is my favorite way to eat a cookie! YUM!

So, without further adieu, I would like to present my FINAL go-to Chocolate Cookie Recipe! Bye bye cookies, hello cake! —Cooking Maggie


Chocolate Chip Cookies
Thank you Mama!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups oatmeal, slightly ground up
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 10oz bag of chocolate chips (roughly 1 1/2 cups, but you can add less or more depending on your preference for cookie chocolatey-ness)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your over to 375°F. Prepare your baking sheets with either parchment paper, or silicone pads. (See blog note above about the difference between parchment paper & silicone pads.)
  2. Cream together butter & sugars.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing just till incorporated, then add the vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, add all the remaining dry ingredients, mixing with a spoon or whisk, then add the dry to the wet just a little at a time, mixing to fully incorporate before adding more (so you can gauge if you have enough versus too much).
  5. Scoop 3 tablespoons work of the batter on your sheets (about 1-2 inches between each ball), and bake for 8-9 minutes.
  6. Let cookies rest on cookie sheet until completely cool (I even let them sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then let them set out over night). Then ENJOY!

On Chocolate Chip Cookies Part 2

Now that I think about it, I should have asked my mom for this recipe YEARS ago…this is where I should have started, because these cookies? ALMOST PERFECT! [So, yes, there will be a part 3, but no recipe for this post…I want to share the final recipe when I’ve tested it to perfection, but will include the changes I plan to make so you can always back track what’s in here to what Not almost perfect in the way I remember eating them in high school after I’d get home, dipping two (okay, maybe three) cookies into a big glass of milk, but perfect in the way that they’re what I was aiming for when I started this whole Chocolate Chip Cookie journey.IMG_3370

Part 1 Cookies: Too rich, too soft, too thick. I know, it’s pretty much how I like my cookies too, but the richness just stuck with you, a little cloying, that’s what I’m trying to say. This batch? Well, first off, I had more confidence behind my actions. Definitely just put my head down and baked those cookies, trying to not get so caught up in what I was doing and just making them. Secondly, I was A LOT more aware of what my cookies were doing, and instead of blaming myself for doing something wrong, I was thinking about how the ratios were impacting how the cookies were coming out. I already know the sugar ratios (this recipe, 1-1 cup of white to brown, is off, and would have been less crispy/brown around the edges if it had been 1 1/2 to 1/2 brown sugar to white sugar – since my research has shown that brown sugar = chewy, and white sugar = crispy). And it would have helped if I had cooked them about 2 minutes less (12 minutes total), so I’ve already noted that a 9/10 minute cook time should be most appropriate (cooking one pan on the bottom, one on top, and rotating up and down, back and forth, halfway through of course). I also did a microwave soft butter (so some was melted, some was not, but my research has also shown that in most cases it doesn’t make the biggest difference), but next time, I’m going to completely melt and brown that sucker! It should add a nicer brown color to my cookies too, so I’m excited to try that out!

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Next, my mom added oatmeal to her recipe, but recommended (like she did from the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe I did) to grind them up a little first. Now, here I did screw up, because instead of grinding them separately (because I thought my mini food processor was in the dish washer, when in fact, my lunch bag was hiding it), I threw it into my blender with the other dry ingredients. Nope. I got oatmeal flour, and even if I had blended the oatmeal first in the blender, it would have likely done the same where my processor would have just broken it up a little more. So that was on me, but I’m making these suckers again this weekend, so I’ve got that on my radar NOT to do again.

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Then, after reading this step on numerous occasions, I did add my eggs into my batter one at a time so that they mixed and emulsified with my other wet ingredients better. And I had my scoop this time for PERFECT little balls of joy! They were all the same, which now makes that step one less thing for me to be nervous or anxious about! [My new favorite, delightful little contraption!]

So now, here’s where I’ve chosen a side based on how I’ve seen these little cookies perform in my oven. I did NOT let this dough rest in the fridge this time around, and I won’t do it again. While I was thrilled these cookies spread as beautifully as they did, I do realize that the chill factor does prevent them from getting as thin as they did. Not that this batch wasn’t delicious, they were more to my taste (albeit not as soft as I would have liked them to be), so I’m on the right track, but now it’s just about getting the ratio right. When in doubt, everyone should know that momma does in fact know best!

Continuing to bake like a fiend! —Cooking Maggie

On Chocolate Chip Cookies Part 1

As I bake more often, I’m realizing that the process of baking makes me incredibly nervous, where cooking relaxes me, excites me. Baking excites me too, or rather the idea of it, but I find I second guess myself a lot when I’m in the actual process of baking. For one, is my butter too soft? Does it matter? Is it even better when its melted over just soft? Then, am I adding too much flour? Are the rest of the ratios correct? I know it’s what the recipe says, I follow it to a T, but then sometimes my dough is still wet and seems like it needs more flour, and other times too crumbly and needs more liquid, and then I wonder if I just have a bad recipe, but just didn’t know any better…and then I always freak out when I place the dough on my silicone sheets. Are the balls too compact or too large (I picked up a new ice cream/cookie scoop because I’m that paranoid) and whether they will come out soft and chewy like I like them…and so on, and so on. I know, I’m overthinking this.

 

I have coworkers who love to bake and say it’s the easiest thing in the world, preferring baking over cooking even. Nope, baking makes me so nervous, but that’s because it’s a science, not an art, though I think others would disagree with me on that. I don’t know, everything is just so exact and doing one step out of order or not having enough of something could be the difference between deliciousness and complete failure. I like to play with amounts and flavors, rather than having to be so specific, and I think that’s where I seize up when I start to bake. Sure, I can change up the flavors, but I’m just not as savvy as some of my fellow baking buddies who are smart enough to know that adding more vanilla means something has to change with the recipe so that it all still comes together. [Again, am I just overthinking this?] I know I need to relax, keep baking, and if I do a little research on cookie science, then I’ll learn more about cookies and what makes them…well…cookies! Though, after a week of reading recipe after recipe after recipe, I am starting to notice a pattern…and I spent a good hour reading Food Lab’s Cookie Science article, which was incredibly illuminating (read here).

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And lets be honest. The only way I’m truly going to get better at making cookies is by making cookies. SO, I thought, WHAT THE HECK! Let’s do a two-fer! If I’m going to sift through recipes, I might as well try them, see what happens, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find the recipes that really are “The Best” for me (and my friends & family of course, because I can’t be eating all these cookies by myself, which brings me to draw your attention to the ugly paper plate underneath my finished cookies that I used at work because I forgot to photograph at home, but none of my coworkers seemed to mind much).

 

 

This batch, an Averie Cooks recipe (recipe link below) I had tried before, came out okay, but not like it had the last time I made it about a year ago, and I don’t think I did anything differently! See? THIS is what I’m talking about, why I get nervous when I bake! Maybe I was just more aware since I’m not just baking to feed others, img_3261I’m baking to photograph and write about my experience with cooking and so am hyper aware of everything I’m doing. [If you’d like to help me come to my senses, now would be a good time.] I did notice that the flour seemed really high (2 cups in addition to a packet of vanilla pudding) and came out a little crumbly, but the dough was still workable and came out chewy and rich, definitely how I like my cookies! So in the end, I totally over thought the whole process, but I think it could have done with perhaps 1/2 a cup less flour, and maybe 1/4 cup less white sugar because other folks found the richness to be a little cloying. Things to consider, but it’s back to the grind for me, and tomorrow I’ll be prepping/chilling the cookie recipe my mom made when we were in Hong Kong, and I’ll actually have a story to tell! Keep an eye out for Part 2 soon!

Hopelessly Lost in Flour, Cooking Maggie


The Best Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Averie Cooks

On Chocolate & Valentine’s Day

img_2820Like some couples, Valentine’s Day is not really a big deal for Frankie and I. Sure, we like to do something small and romantic for just the two of us to mark the occasion when it comes around—like making dinner and sharing a bottle of wine and getting flowers from my man, which always makes me happy—but honestly, we spend every day loving one another to our fullest and finding ways to make the other feel special and appreciated. I mean, Frankie HARD CORE cleaned the ENTIRE apartment last Friday, which is huge because normally that’s what I end up doing on the weekends, so if that doesn’t say “I love you” I don’t know what does…and he always leaves me messages when he gets stuck cleaning our bathroom too, which I think makes him even more incredible of a partner!

 

And of course, we do gifts if we’re up for it, and this year, especially after a rather rotten 2016, I was definitely up for it, and VOILA! I presented him with an authentic, autographed Duncan Keith jersey! He seemed pleased by it! But my favorite part is getting to make something yummy that we can enjoy and share! So, of course, that is a perfectly good reason to experiment and challenge myself! Naturally, for someone who doesn’t do a lot of baking or dessert making in general, I decided to play with the ever popular, and my absolute favorite thing in the world, CHOCOLATE!, after being inspired by the Valentine’s themed episode of Worst Cooks in America on Food Network!

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Normally, I don’t like to reveal my final creations, but I am way too proud to not share!

Without further ado, may I present, my Valentine’s Day dessert cup!

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TA-DA!

I used Smitten Kitchen’s chocolate mousse recipe, and while it was definitely an involved process—so much whipping!—it was so worth it! Oh, and please note, while some use their spatulas like it were an extension of their arm, I’m a wooden spoon kind of girl, and actually preferred that for the final folding of all the ingredients!

The mousse was rich, but not heavy, and so incredibly decadent that you can’t just scarf this down (not that you would, but I’m just saying). You have to take your time with each bite, you have to make sure you have licked every last chocolatey smear on the spoon before you go in for more, and when I decided to top it with blueberries and raspberries (my favoritebs of the berry family), that helped to cut through some of the richness. A little reprieve if you will! I mean, I love my chocolate, but sometimes too rich a chocolate can become too much, and there’s something incredibly luscious about the way chocolate marries so well with fruit. And before I get to the cute little chocolate cup I made, my mom, who has made mousse on a couple occasions, did recommend that I should use a piping bag to squeeze it out so that it looked smoother (for next time of course because there’s barely any left right now).

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But as to why I wanted to experiment in the first place. DESSERT CUPS! And by that, I mean chocolate cups! Now, I definitely made these cups to be WAY too big, and would next time pick some smaller balloons, but I essentially followed what was done on the episode of Worst Cooks in America. Mine didn’t look the same though because, I realized later, I didn’t let the bottom of my balloon drip off as much as I should have/dipped them in too far. Just place/dip a little and roll. How I did it (dip a lot and roll) caused my cups to turn out a little heavy and uncrackable with a spoon, which is no fun! And I noticed that when I did beautiful sprinkles, because there was so much covering the balloon, they were falling towards the base. So, what I would also do next is make one balloon at a time (and have included that note in the recipe below), sticking each in the freezer to set better before moving on to the next one so my sprinkles stay where I wanted them in the first place! I’ve also considered including a rubber band to make the edges a little neater as well, but that’s just an idea for now.

But overall, I mean, it is one of the prettiest desserts I’ve made thus far this year, and certainly one of the most involved. I had to be so careful not to over whip, to not just mix, but actually fold my img_2952mousse in on itself over and over till it was beautifully combined! I mean, it was exhausting and I definitely ended up bailing on my steak & veggie dinner for a Penne Arrabiata instead. But I want to perfect these dessert bowls, knowing this was not my last attempt at them, and already have ideas for using different chocolates and maybe trying to make some chocolate decorations too! I don’t know, but I’m excited at the prospect! Next week though, my baking instincts are leaning towards something perhaps not so sweet…banana bread maybe!

So my fellow love birds, if you’re looking for something fun and delicious to do at home with your sweetheart (or with your pet, because I mean, this little pup’s been giving me all sorts of love this week), this was way too much fun to not do again!

Sending a ton of love, happiness, and delicious bites your way, Cooking Maggie!


Silky, Decadent Old-School Chocolate Mousse from Smitten Kitchen


Chocolate Dessert Cups

Ingredientsimg_2967

  • 8oz baking chocolate
  • 4-6 Balloons (smaller in size preferable)
  • Cooking Spray
  • Optional: FINE toppings, such as sprinkles or chopped nuts

Instructions

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, nestled on a pan of barely simmering water, till smooth. Prepare some parchment paper on a baking sheet (you can keep it in place by putting some drops of water on the baking sheet).
  2. With the back of a spoon, make little discs a few inches apart from each other to act as a base for the dessert cups.
  3. Spray the bottom of the balloons before you dip them.img_2991
  4. OPTION 1: Pour chocolate into a dipping cup or bowl that fits the balloons you’re working with. Dip balloons in, wait for some of the bottom run off, add sprinkles/nuts if using, then place on top of one of the chocolate discs. Repeat with the rest of the balloons.
  5. OPTION 2: Keep the chocolate in the large bowl, and dip/roll the balloon so that you cover as much as you want of the balloon with the chocolate. Add sprinkles/nuts if using, then place on top of one of the chocolate discs. Repeat with the rest of the balloons.*
  6. Stick your balloon bowls in the freezer to harden. When chocolate has set, use a needle to pop a small hole in the balloon so it will deflate and you can pull it out of the cup. Then fill with whatever you want!
  7. Remaining dessert cups can hang out in the freezer for up to four days!

*Note: try to do this as quickly as possible, especially if you’re using sprinkles or light/fine toppings, because they will run down to the bottom. If you want to take your time, do steps 2-6 for each balloon on their own to make sure the sprinkles stay where they are.

On Fantastic Finds & Mini Cheesecakes

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YAY NEW COOKBOOK!

So, I wasn’t expecting to expand my cookbook shelf so soon, but as I was perusing Barnes & Noble for a couple copies of Goodnight Moon for a couple of couples I know who are expecting (it’s my most favorite children’s book ever, so it’s one of my go to gifts), I figured I would check out the cookbook section, not really planning on finding anything. Well, that did not turn out to be the case…Barnes & Noble currently has a GREAT sale on Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs (as shown) for 50% OFF! Yes, 50% off, or rather 60% off if you are part of the B&N Member Program (like Mama Sully is)! So how could I not jump at this amazing deal? Simple, I couldn’t, so I didn’t! Ta-da! The sale is still going on now (as of February 10th!) so if you’ve also got this on your to read/buy list, GO GO GO! I have not had the chance to peruse it yet, but I’m very excited to!

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However, this week’s baking challenge was cheesecake! Now, I know not many people like cheesecake (Frankie being one of them), but I happen to adore them, especially ones made for our monthly office birthday celebration by one of my coworkers! She makes all sorts of delicious flavors and they’re always gluten-free, which makes these cheesecakes even more incredible! So of course, when I decided I wanted to make my own in mini (because I don’t have a spring form pan yet, and since Frankie isn’t a fan, it would just be me eating the whole thing unless I brought it into work), I picked her brain a little before I even attempted to make it!

 

Important thing #1: Put a pan of water in the oven while it preheats and during the baking process! My coworker said that this will keep the oven humid and prevent cracking (which for small bites, was not likely to happen, but for future reference as well when baking a big one)! And important thing #2: Get the eggs & cream cheese to room temperature (you can even heat up the cream cheese for about 10-15 seconds), which also helps prevent cracking and makes the blending easier.

 

 

 

And this was so easy! Like…way too easy! As in, watch me make this again and try some additional modifications to make them even more delicious! So if you’re looking for something delicious and easy, TA-DA! Look no further! Enjoy my fellow bakers and munchers! Cooking Maggie Out!

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Revision 2/13/2017: Upon further conference with my cheesecake guru at work, she made mention the following tips. 1) Add your eggs in one at a time, and mix at the lowest settings. And 2) If you want a creamier cheesecake, use 1/4 cup sour cream per 8oz cream cheese, OR 1/8 cup heavy cream per 8oz cream cheese. These additions will be reflected below.

Revision 6/7/2017: And upon further reading and munching, you can also turn this recipe into no bake by first removing the eggs, and then swap out the 1/2 cup regular sugar for 1 cup powdered sugar and add 1/2 cup sour cream and 3/4 cup heavy cream, and you can add a tablespoon of regular sugar to the crust, but this is optional [tested and approved by my friend Ms. Carly Jo! She even brought me some and boy are they creamy and tasty!]


Creamy Mini Cheesecakes
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Ingredients:
For Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1 Cup Graham Cracker crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened

For Cheesecake

  • 16 ounces cream cheese (2 bricks), softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more to taste)
  • 1 bunch fresh strawberries
  • Optional: 1/2 cup sour cream OR 1/4 cup heavy cream (if you want a creamier cheesecake)

Instructions:

  1. Prior to Baking: let eggs and cream cheese sit on counter to get to room temperature for 1-2 hours, OR heat cream cheese up in microwave for 10-15 seconds.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Place a pan with water in the over during the preheating and baking process.
  3. Add cupcake liners to cupcake/muffin tin. Place graham crackers in a food processor and pulse/blend into a fine crumb. Mix crumbs with softened butter, blending with a fork or cut the crust with  your fingers (which is just a fancy way of rubbing the crackers and butter together between your fingers). Set aside.
  4. Blend cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl, mix until soft and creamy. (You can use a fork or an electric mixer on low.)
  5. Add eggs (ONE AT A TIME) and sugar, (and sour cream/cream if using), and mix on the lowest setting until well combined. Add vanilla and mix for 3-5 minutes until creamy and soft. (Note: if using an electric mixer, mix for only 1-2 minutes.)
  6. Add 1-1 1/2 tablespoon of graham cracker crust mixture to the bottoms of each cupcake liner, pressing firmly with spoon or finger until firm and level. Then add about 2 large tablespoons of cheesecake batter, distributing any remaining. (There should be enough of both mixtures to make exactly 12 mini cheesecakes.)
  7. Place the cupcakes in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove the top of strawberries, and either halve or slice them (making sure there are enough for 12), then set on top of cheesecakes for garnish.
  9. Allow cheesecakes to chill before serving.