Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Slow Cooker Big Mac Dip

The Big Mac is an iconic American food consisting of "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun." And we all know the sauce is what makes the Big Mac so special.

For years, the sauce recipe was a big secret, but now if you search "Big Mac sauce recipe" online, it yields nearly two million results. It's the contrasting sweet and tangy flavors that make it taste so good. That's why I decided it would make a perfect dip!

Chips and dip are my favorite part of parties, and they're a great centerpiece for social interactions.

I decided to make this a slow cooker recipe for several reasons. If you use  a slow cooker, you don't need to do worry about prep work or mixing because everything just melts together. Also, you can take the slow cooker with you to the party to keep your dip warm.

This dip is thick and meaty and could double as a meal. Not necessarily a healthy meals. But a good splurge meal nonetheless.

I used tortilla chips as my dipper, but you can definitely use any kind of chip. Actually, I saw these dill pickle-flavored potato chips recently that I really want to try with it next!

Slow Cooker Big Mac Dip
Yield: Comfortably serves 6 to 8 people
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound Velveeta 
  • 8 ounces Challenge cream cheese
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced and seeded 
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced (you can add more if you like a lot of onion)
  • 1/2 cup French dressing
  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  1. Brown ground beef in skillet and drain; add to slow cooker
  2. Cut Velveeta into small cubes and add to slow cooker
  3. Add cream cheese, tomatoes, French dressing, relish, and vinegar to slow cooker.
  4. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour or on low for about 3 hours
  5. Stir and serve with chips

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Easy treats with 3 ingredients or less for St. Patrick's Day

I've always loved holiday-themed desserts! They're just so cute, and they seem to make everyone happy. I recently realized that I didn't have any St. Patrick's Day recipes in my repertoire. So I decided to make a variety of cute and very easy treats for everyone's favorite Irish holiday! Each recipe is more like a craft than  dessert, and I guarantee they'll be a hit wherever you take them!

Leprechaun Hats
  • 1 (11.5 oz) package Keebler Fudge Stripes Original Cookies
  • 1 (10 oz.) bag large marshmallows
  • 2 cups dark chocolate
  • 1 cup green candy melts (or white chocolate with green food coloring)
  1. Dip marshmallow into melted chocolate and set on parchment paper until chocolate hardens.
  2. Dip one end of marshmallow into melted green candy melts and set on fudge striped cookie
  3. Let chocolate harden so marshmallow adheres to cookie and serve
End of the rainbow marshmallow treats
  1. In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows, stir until completely melted, and remove from heat.
  2. Add Fruity Pebbles to marshmallow mixture and stir until fully combined.
  3. Coat 9x13 pan with nonstick spray and press mixture into pan.
  4. Let cool and cut into squares.
Gold coin Oreos
  • 1 package Oreos
  • 1 container Wilton Gold Color Mist Food Spray
  1. Place Oreos on parchment paper and spray with color mist
  2. Flip Oreos on opposite side and spray again

Shamrock pretzels
  • 1 bag tiny twist pretzels
  • 1 bag Rolos
  • Green M&Ms
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Arrange 3 pretzels into shape of shamrock on baking sheet
  3. Place unwrapped Rolo in center of pretzel shamrock
  4. Place in oven for about 3 minutes
  5. Press green M&M onto Rolo
  6. Let cool before serving

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

5-Ingredient S'mores Pie

Every week I try to think of new ways to attract readers and differentiate myself from other food bloggers. I know your free time is very valuable, and it really is an honor to me that you’re spending that time reading my blog.

One way I’ve been trying to differentiate myself is by sharing more of my personal experiences and thoughts. I could just write a few paragraphs about how yummy this s’mores pie—I mean, the pie is the reason you clicked on this blog post in the first place, right? But I kind of feel like that would be redundant. I wouldn’t post the recipe in the first place if I didn’t think it was delicious!

So instead, I want to spend the next few minutes talking about success. You see, exactly one year ago I saw success with my blog like I’ve never seen before. My video for Samoas Pie went viral, and it racked up nearly 10 million views on Facebook. I was on cloud 9. I immediately began to expect that level of success with every single recipe I published, and every video that didn’t go viral felt like a failure. I spent months trying to figure out the perfect formula for a popular post, but one year later, I still have no idea what exactly propelled that recipe to internet fame.

Also, I no longer feel like I “failed” every time one of my recipes doesn’t take off. I ditched my ego and reminded myself why I started this blog in the first place—to share my favorite recipes, not become “internet famous.” I spend hours and hours developing these recipes to give you the best experience possible when you try them. And I really hope you try them. If you do, please tell me and give me your feedback! I’m always trying to improve my content for my readers!

If you took the time to read all of that—THANK YOU! I appreciate you! Now, let’s talk pie! I wanted to make a super easy pie that you could memorize and keep in your repertoire.

Since there are only 5 ingredients in this s’mores pie, it is important that every ingredient you use is the best quality ingredient available.

The first step is the pie filling, aka chocolate ganache. Normally the ganaches is equal parts chocolate and cream and a little butter. But I added more chocolate because I wanted it to be thick like fudge! Use whatever chocolate you want, but as I mentioned earlier, I recommend using high-quality like Ghirardelli. I tried this pie with milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and a combination of the two. If you have a major sweet tooth, go for all milk chocolate. My personal preference is the combination.

Also, make sure to use a high-quality butter, like Challenge Dairy butter. Challenge butter is made with 100% real cream from local dairies, and you can really taste the difference in quality. There seems to be some debate over whether or not to use butter in ganache, but I think it makes the ganache richer and it doesn’t taste so flat, if you know what I mean.

Next step is to pour the ganache in a graham cracker crust. I used a store-bought crust for this. Why? Because it was on sale for $1.19, and I think Keebler’s crust tastes delicious. However if you prefer, you can use your favorite graham cracker crust recipe. After the ganache is in the crust, let it refrigerate for a few hours so it’s solid.

The third step is to add the marshmallows to the top of the pie. Lay the marshmallows flat on their side and add as many to the top of the pie that will fit. I used nearly an entire 10 oz. bag of large marshmallows. Once the pie is covered in marshmallows, stick it in the broiler until the tops of the marshmallows are golden brown. Be careful and watch the pie the entire time because it burns quickly. My perfect broiling time was 2 minutes, but it may take less time in your oven.

You can serve the pie right out of the oven when the marshmallows are gooey, but forewarning, it will be very difficult to cut! I recommend refrigerating the pie once again, and then cutting it.

If you’re looking for more pie recipes on Pi Day, check out this No-Bake Snickers Bar Pie, this Chocolate Pecan Pie, and this Pumpkin Cheesecake Pecan Pie!

5-Ingredient S’mores Pie
Yield: Serves about 10
  • 2 cups milk, dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Challenge butter
  • 1 graham cracker pie crust
  • 1 (10 oz. bag) of large marshmallows
  1. Melt chocolate chips, heavy cream, and butter in microwave for 2 minutes; stir to combine.
  2. Pour chocolate mixture into pie crust and refrigerate 2 hours.
  3. Lay marshmallows on top of pie until it’s completely covered.
  4. Stick in broiler for 2 minutes or until marshmallows turn golden brown.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thin Mint Sheetcake Cookies

I want to preface this blog post by saying I love Girl Scout cookies. LOVE THEM. As you know by now, I was a Girl Scout (and top cookie seller, obviously), so I support their cause and buy one or two or six boxes each year.

I've made several Girl Scout-inspired recipes throughout the years (like my Samoas Pie and Samoas Brownies), but it recently occurred to me that I have never honored Thin Mints. How rude of me! Chocolate and mint are such an incredible flavor combination which is probably why Thin Mints were voted America's favorite Girl Scout cookie.

I decided to create a Thin Mint recipe of my own because as much as I like the boxed cookie, I wanted a softer version. I've never really been a fan of crunchy cookies, or cracker cookies as I like to call them.  I want something I can sink my teeth into. So I started checking out some recipes online to see how others replicated the classic cookie, but their recipes seemed like a lot of work. I didn't want something that required you to roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter because I feel like the extra work can deter people from making a recipe. So I developed a cookie dough that doesn't need to be rolled out or use cookie cutters.

Additionally, for the coating, I decided it would be best to use a recipe that could be poured over the cookies because it really is a pain to dip them.  I saw a lot of people just use melted chocolate for the coating, but in my opinion, that's not very flavorful or inspiring. So I came up with an icing that's rich and creamy and made even better by using Challenge butter.

Challenge Dairy uses 100% real cream so the flavor of the butter really stands out, and when you use it you'll see that it combines really well when you melt it together with the milk and cocoa powder. Challenge also uses hormone-free milk and there are not unnatural additives, so nothing stands in the way of the rich butter taste.

As you can see by my pictures, these cookies turn out thicker than the original, but that's because they're softer and chewier. -- just the way I like them. The flavor is really outstanding, and I'm so excited with how these turned out! I won't call these a copycat Thin Mint cookie because I don't want to step on the Girl Scouts' toes, but I will say these are a Thin Mint-inspired cookie that are so rich and addicting, you'll have people lining up to buy them!

Thin Mint Sheetcake Cookies
Yield: 12 cookies

For the Cookies
  • 1/2 cup Challenge butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar (67 grams)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 and 1/3 cup all-purpose flour* (167 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
For the Icing
  • 1/2 cup Challenge butter,
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar (315 grams)
For the Cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit*
  2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat and set aside.
  3. In large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add egg, vanilla, and peppermint extract and continue mix slowly until incorporated.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt.
  6. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix on low until just combined.
  7. In a microwave-safe bowl heat chocolate chips on high in 30-second intervals until melted, stirring every 30 seconds.
  8. Add melted chocolate directly to bowl with cookie dough and mix until combined.
  9. Scoop out dough in Tablespoon-sized mounds, roll into ball, and place on baking sheet.*
  10. Bake for 7 minutes; they'll still appear very soft on the inside -- that's okay.
  11. Let cool before coating with icing.
For the Icing
  1. Add butter, cocoa powder and milk to medium saucepan on medium heat, whisking until melted together.
  2. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in peppermint extract and whisk in powdered sugar.
  3. Pour icing over cookies and allow icing to set before serving (about 1 to 2 hours).
*Make this recipe gluten-free by replacing all-purpose flour with Cup4Cup Gluten-Free Flour.
*I baked these cookies below 3500 feet elevation.
* You can refrigerate dough for about 10  to 20 minutes first so it's easier to work with.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Homemade Strawberry Pop-Tarts

Back in the 1990s, Pop-Tarts were every kid's favorite breakfast / snack. You were considered "cool" if you brought one of those shiny foil packets with the two frosted, sugary-filled pastries to school.

My mom refused to buy me Pop-Tarts. She was too busy making sure I actually ate healthy meals with nutritional value (oh, the horror). Actually, one time she did buy Pop-Tarts, but she bought them without the frosting. She said that's just how they make them now. They tasted horrible without the frosting, of course, because the Pop-Tart's pastry crust really isn't very good unless it's covered in sugar.

Recently I decided to make my own version of strawberry pop-tarts with a more flavorful crust and filling. If you think about it, strawberry pop-tarts are really just hand pies with preserves inside instead of pie filling. 

I started the pop-tarts with my mom's pie crust recipe. It's flaky and buttery and really simple to make. The recipe actually calls for all of the ingredients to be combined in a food processor which is a lot easier than using a pastry cutter or your hands. I highly recommend using a good quality butter like Challenge butter for maximum flavor. It's made with real cream and without artificial flavors or coloring. 

If you're short on time or just don't feel confident making your own pie crust, don't fret! You can always buy a refrigerated store bought crust.

For the filling, I used some leftover strawberry preserves that I still had from strawberry season last year. You can absolutely use store-bought strawberry preserves instead. Just make sure you choose a brand that is low in sugar -- there's going to be enough sugar in the frosting.

The frosting recipe took me a little while to figure out. You should be able to spread it, but it needs to be thick enough to harden. I found the perfect ratio to be 1 tablespoon milk for 1 cup powdered sugar. If it's too thick for you, whisk in about 1/2 teaspoon of milk. If it's too thin, add 1/8 cup powdered sugar. It's best to only add a little at a time. Also, I recommend testing it on a corner of one of your pop-tarts first and making sure it will set before frosting all of them.

I realize this seems like a long process for something you can buy at the grocery store for $2.99, but I promise all of the steps are very easy. Plus, these homemade pop-tarts taste infinitely better than the store-bought ones.

Homemade Strawberry Pop-Tarts
Yield: Makes about 8 StrawberryPop-Tarts
For the crust
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 5 Tablespoon Challenge butter, cold and cut up
  • 1/4 cup shortening, cold and cut up
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoon ice cold water
*Or 1 box refrigerated pie crust, using both rolls inside box

For the filling
  • Egg wash (egg + 2 Tablespoons milk)
  • 1/2 cup strawberry preserves
For the glaze
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon milk
For the crust
  • Add flour, butter, shortening and salt to food processor. Pulse in 3-second intervals until combined. Mixture will appear like sand.
  • Add in water and pulse again--just until the dough starts to get crumbly and stick together.
  • Dump the dough into a bowl and form it into a ball with your hands.
  • Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Roll out dough so it's about 1/8 inch thick. Use a knife to trim the edges of the dough so it looks like a rectangle.
  • Cut 16 equal-sized rectangles into the dough.
For the filling
  • Brush each rectangle lightly with egg wash.
  • Add a Tablespoon of strawberry preserves to the center of half of the rectangles and spread, leaving 1/2 inch from edges.
  • Place another rectangle on top (egg wash side down) and seal the edges with your fingers.
  • Use a fork to crimp and seal the edges and gently poke the top with a fork a few times to allow the steam to escape.
  • Refrigerate the pop-tarts for about 20 minutes and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove from refrigerator, brush with egg wash, and bake for 22 to 24 minutes or until golden brown.
For the glaze
  • Whisk to combine powdered sugar and milk, glaze should be very thick but still spreadable.
  • Decorate cooled pop-tarts with glaze and sprinkles.
  • Store pastries in air tight container for up to one week.
*If using refrigerated pie crust, skip to the part in directions that requires you to shape pie dough into rectangle.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Maple Bacon Sticky Buns

For 15 years of my life, my Yia Yia (Greek for grandma) lived in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. For the most part, I only saw her when my family visited for spring break every year. As I've said before, my memories are very closely tied with food, and one of the things I most remember about visiting Yia Yia is the cinnamon rolls she would make for breakfast. My mom never let us eat anything sweet for breakfast so this was a really special treat.

Almost exactly three years ago, Yia Yia had a stroke. As a result, she ended up moving from Florida back to Indiana. A lot has changed with Yia Yia since her stroke. She's not as outspoken and sometimes it takes her a moment or two to find her words But one thing hasn't changed--she still has a big sweet tooth. Every morning for breakfast she likes to eat a little something sweet. Usually, it's a doughnut.

This past weekend when I visited her, I wanted to treat her to something extra special. I thought about making her cinnamon rolls like she used to bake for me, but instead I decided to experiment with a new recipe. I had never made sticky buns before, but Yia Yia loves pecans so that sounded like a good idea.

In my research this past week, I learned that there is indeed a distinct difference between cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. Cinnamon rolls always have a cinnamon filling, and they are topped with frosting or icing. Sticky buns, on the other hand, don't have a cinnamon filling and they are topped with a brown sugar glaze and either pecans or walnuts.

Both breakfast treats start with a yeast dough. I didn't have time to make the dough from scratch, so I used my favorite shortcut--refrigerated biscuit dough.

No one will judge you if you use refrigerated biscuit dough. Actually, better yet, don't tell them. They won't notice a difference. This shortcut will save you at least an hour of time. For this recipe, I used a tube of regular-sized (not jumbo) refrigerated biscuit dough, and it cost 59 cents. Seriously, you can't beat that!

This recipe really could not be simpler. Once you've acquired the dough, all you have to do is make the brown sugar glaze. I decided to make a variation of sticky buns and make maple bacon sticky buns. If you don't want to use maple syrup, I recommend increasing the amount of butter and brown sugar so they are both an equal 2/3 cup.

As you prepare this recipe, you'll notice that you're actually baking the sticky buns upside down. When they come out of the oven, you'll need to invert them on a plate. If you want, you can flip the entire muffin tin either onto a plate or a wax sheet of paper after removing them from the oven. Or, if that's a little too dramatic for you, just scoop them out of the muffin tin with a spoon and place them on a plate pecan side up.

Just in case you're curious, Yia Yia loved the sticky buns. In fact, she's eaten two for breakfast the past three days. And she is a very picky person, so I'll give myself a point in the "successful recipe" column.

Maple Bacon Sticky Buns
Yield: Makes about 10 sticky buns*
  • 1/2 cup Challenge butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 7 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 (7.5 ounce) can refrigerated biscuit dough
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare muffin tin with nonstick spray.
  2. In medium bowl, combine butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar. Stir in pecans and bacon.
  3. Evenly distribute mixture amongst 10 cavities in muffin tin.
  4. Place biscuits over maple bacon mixture in each of the cavities, gently pressing down.
  5. Bake until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown or about 15 minutes,
  6. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before inverting onto plate or wax paper.
  7. Serve immediately and store leftovers in airtight container for up to 5 days.

*If your refrigerated biscuit dough tube has more or less than 10 biscuits, that's okay. Just use all of the biscuits in the tube, and distribute the mixture among the same number of cavities in the muffin tin. If your tube of refrigerated biscuit dough has more than 12 biscuits, I recommend doubling the ingredients in the brown sugar glaze (butter, maple syrup, brown sugar).

Monday, February 13, 2017

Chocolate Lava Cakes for 2

We all know the stereotypical “single on Valentine’s Day” clichés where you’re supposed to act lonely and sad and spend the night eating Ben & Jerry’s. But I want this post to be a reminder that it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.

Despite the fact that I’ve never really had a boyfriend, I have always loved Valentine’s Day.

When I was younger, I remember having trouble sleeping the night before because I was so excited about it. My parents always did such a good job of making me feel special and loved and including me in their plans.

Valentine’s Day wasn’t an exclusive holiday reserved only for those with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. Valentine’s Day was about celebrating all of your loved ones. And wearing pink. Lots and lots of pink.

I feel like now that I’m older, some of my friends and coworkers get depressed that they don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend for Valentine’s Day, and that makes me really sad. In my opinion, being able to find a significant other is not as big of an accomplishment as being able to love yourself.

I understand that you may have a tough time being single, but just know that no one sees you any differently.

To everyone that is reading this blog post right now, you are loved! Remember that.

I wanted to focus my Valentine’s Day post this year on small serving size desserts you can make that are more practical for just two people. So if you’re making dinner for a date or a small family you can bake a cake and not feel guilty that you have a ton left over.

This chocolate lava cake is as easy as it gets. I love a good recipe that requires very few ingredients, all of which are pantry staples, and takes less than a half hour to bake.

The most important thing to focus on with this cake is don’t over bake it! After the 14-minute baking time is up, the top will not look done. Just focus on the edges. If the edges look firm, then it’s done.

Also, don’t wait a while to invert your cake onto a plate. The cake will stick to the ramekin if you wait too long. I recommend waiting no longer than 3 minutes. If the ramekin is too hot for you to touch, you can always wrap paper towels around a pair of tongs and flip it that way.

Chocolate Lava Cakes for 2
Yield: Makes 2 servings
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup Challenge butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (63 grams)
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons flour (24 grams)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional but recommended to enhance chocolate flavor)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare 6-ounce ramekins by greasing them well with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter in medium size microwave bowl for 1 minute. If chocolate is not smooth after 1 minute, continue to melt in microwave at 15-second intervals.
  3. Add powdered sugar, egg, and egg yolk to bowl, and mix until smooth.
  4. Add flour, salt, and instant espresso powder and mix until just combined.
  5. Evenly distribute batter between two ramekins and place on baking sheet so it’s easier to remove from oven.
  6. Bake between 12 to 14 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and let cake sit for 1 to 2 minutes.
  8. Run pairing knife along edges of ramekin to loosen cake.
  9. Invert cake onto plate by placing plate upside down on top of ramekin and flipping the cake so that the plate is on bottom and the cake is upside down on top.
  10. Tap the ramekin a few times and then lift straight up.
  11. Garnish with berries, whipped cream, or ice cream and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Averie Cooks

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