Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Samoa Waffles

Yum

Why is it that chocolate, caramel, and coconut go together so well? I have been obsessed with the flavor combination ever since I made Samoa Pie for Pi Day back in March. Lately, all I think about is, “Hmmm I wonder if I can turn that into a Samoa.”

If I made every Samoa-flavored food that popped into my head, I’m quite certain I would have a Samoa cookbook by now. Also, there’s a very good chance I would look like a Samoa cookie.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I’ve used some restraint.

Until now…

When I found out about National Waffle Day on Wednesday, my first thought was, ”I could make a Samoa waffle.”

And I was totally right.

Last month when I did my segment about unexpected uses for a waffle iron, I remembered reading about cake mix waffles.

They consist of just four ingredients: cake mix, milk, eggs, and butter. The box of the cake mix will tell you to use water and oil, but don’t do that. Using milk and melted butter make the cake richer. Especially when you use a product like Challenge butter. Challenge churns their butter from real cream and salt. That’s it. There’s no artificial coloring or flavoring.

Once the mix is combined, you can use it the same way you use waffle batter.  I found that about 1/2 cup of waffle mixture works best in the waffle iron at one time.

The chocolate waffles are delicious, but I think the real winner of the recipe is the caramel coconut syrup. Believe it or not, there are only 2 ingredients: coconut milk and brown sugar. Combine the ingredients together in a saucepan with a 1:1 ratio and boil for just about 5 minutes. The syrup is so flavorful and pairs PERFECTLY with the waffles!

It doesn’t get easier than that, kids!



Samoa Waffles
Serving: Makes about 6 waffles

Ingredients
For the waffles
  • 1 (15.25 ounce) chocolate cake mix
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup Challenge butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
For the caramel coconut syrup
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar
Directions
For the waffles
  1. Mix cake mix, milk, butter, and eggs in large bowl for about 2 minutes until very few lumps remain
  2. Cook waffles according to your waffle maker's instructions. I recommend using 1/2 cup batter per waffle.
For the syrup
  1. Combine coconut milk and brown sugar in saucepan and bring to a light boil. Let syrup boil for about 5 minutes. Syrup will begin to thicken.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Pour syrup over waffles and sprinkle with shredded sweetened coconut if desired.









Thursday, August 18, 2016

Peach lemonade

Yum

I’ve had peaches on my mind since a recent trip to Washington where I had the best peaches of my life.

At Pike Place Market in Seattle there are hundreds of vendors that sell fresh produce from all over the state. One particular vendor would offer samples of the “best peach you’ll ever eat.” He served the sample by cutting a chunk off the peach with a pairing knife and putting the juicy fruit right in the hands of eager passersby.


And he was not lying. It was the best peach I’ve ever eaten. And despite the fact that my hands were a juicy mess due to his unorthodox sampling style, I went back for a second sample. And then I went back for a third and a fourth sample because free samples are the best thing this world has to offer.

(Okay I’m kidding about that last part. I only took one sample, and we actually bought the peaches.)

I think more than anything, peaches taste like summer. So when I was thinking about a refreshing summer drink, I knew it should include peaches! And I wanted it to be extremely easy. So I decided on Peach Lemonade.


There are only a couple of ingredients, and I love that you can stick the drink in the freezer and make a slushy. I added mint leaves to the side of my drink to make it even more refreshing. Delicious!

Peach lemonade
Servings: Makes about 48 ounces

Ingredients
  • 3 peaches, chopped
  • 12 ounces frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup ice
Directions
  1. Add peaches and frozen lemonade concentrate to blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Add water and ice and blend. If it is too sweet for you, add another cup of ice.
  3. Serve with mint leaves (if you want) for a refreshing drink!




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Creative ideas for making s'mores indoors

Yum


The Olympic summer games are in session, and it's just about all I can focus on. I've never been a competitive swimmer, but the adrenaline I experience while cheering for Team USA is exhilarating!

My favorite event has always been women's gymnastics. When I was younger, I would flip around the living room while watching the gymnasts compete. The way they twist and turn their bodies is truly mesmerizing.

This year, I invited several girls to watch the team gymnastics competition with me. We turned off our cell phones in order to avoid spoilers. I think this was the first time I haven't checked my cell phone over the course of several hours in YEARS. And I kind of loved it.

So instead of staring at our screens we socialized over a homemade indoor campfire and roasted marshmallows for s'mores. I'm not a very crafty person, but the project was extremely. It consists of just three parts: a pot, rocks, and a Sterno.

Roasting marshmallows over the flame was such a great activity, and we all definitely enjoyed ourselves. This would be a fun project for kids on a rainy day or for a party. My biggest piece of advice is to stay away from the lit flame because even though it's not easy to see, it's a real burning flame.

I know that there are some people online that are very cynical and right now they’re thinking, “Why would I make this contraption if I can just make s’mores using the microwave or the oven?”

Answer: The taste of microwaved marshmallows and oven-baked marshmallows doesn't even begin to compare to the taste of a roasted marshmallow. Also, like I said earlier, it's a great social idea!



Indoor s'mores roaster
Materials
Directions
  1. Fill a terra cot pot halfway with rocks 
  2. Place Sterno in pot so it sits straight on rocks
  3. Add more rocks to side of Sterno so it stays in place
  4. Remove lid from Sterno and use lighter to light it on fire
  5. Roast marshmallows being careful not to get too close to flame



IMPORTANT: Some people may be concerned that Sterno isn’t safe to use to roast s’mores, but according to the company, it is perfectly safe to roast food. Sterno ethanol gel burns safe and clean and is endorsed by Green Restaurant Association.

Additionally, we tried out several unique s'mores ideas for fun variations of the tasty treat!

Peanut Butter & Jelly S'mores
Spread peanut butter and jelly on two graham crackers, add marshmallow, sandwich


Reese's Peanut Butter S'mores
Spread peanut butter on one graham cracker, add marshmallow and Reese's cup, sandwich


Red, White & Blue S'mores
Spread strawberry jelly on one graham cracker, add blueberries and marshmallow, sandwich


Samoas Cookie S'mores
Add chocolate bar piece and marshmallow to graham cracker, drizzle caramel, sprinkle shredded coconut, sandwich


Idea for homemade s'mores machine from One Good Thing by Jillee

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Perfect chocolate chip cookies every time

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 In my lifetime, I’ve made a lot of cookies. And throughout the years, I’ve perfected the method and the recipe for the perfect chocolate chip cookies. I don’t want to be modest when talking about these cookies because you need to know that these really are the best cookies. They’re thick and chewy and just the tad bit crispy on the edges.

So how do you get your cookies to turn out this way every single time? Follow the following tips in my handy guide! It may seem like a lot to remember, but pretty soon it will become second nature.

1. Room temperature ingredients

It’s important that all of your ingredients start out at room temperature – the eggs, the butter, the sugar, the flour… everything! This is important because ingredients can react with each other if they’re different temperatures. For example, cold eggs will curdle when combined with dairy.

I always set my refrigerated ingredients out on the counter for an hour before I start baking.

This is ESPECIALLY important with butter. Butter is the foundation for many baked goods. You know your butter is the right temperature if when you touch it, your finger leaves an imprint. It shouldn’t be too soft though that it doesn’t pull away from the wrapper.

2. Salted butter

I use salted butter because the salt cuts into the sweetness of the chocolate and brings out the flavor. And also if you use salted butter you won’t have to add salt later to the recipe – hooray for one less step!

Personally, I prefer Challenge salted butter because it seems to be extra creamy and it has a richer flavor compared to other brands.

3. Only use brown sugar

Most recipes call for a mixture of brown sugar and white sugar, but I use ALL brown sugar.

So what makes the sugar brown? Molasses. Brown sugar is essentially white sugar + molasses. Don’t believe me? Check the ingredient list on your bag of brown sugar!

The molasses retains moisture and as a result prevents spreading during baking – making the cookies thicker.  Also, brown sugar gives the cookie a deeper flavor.
4. Measure ingredients by weight

Unlike cooking, baking is an exact science, and it’s important all of the ingredients are measured properly.

The best way to do this is to measure your ingredients by weight. One of my favorite baking tools ever is the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale. I use it to measure everything.

I try to add weight (in grams) to each ingredient listed in my recipes, but when I encounter a recipe where the weight isn’t listed, I used this ingredient weight chart to check.

5. Cream butter and sugar

Many times in recipes you’ll probably see a step that says “cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy.”

What this means is you beat the butter with the sugar on medium speed with the mixer. Cream the butter with the sugar on medium speed for about 4 minutes.

We do this because the sugar granules cut into the butter creating little tiny air pockets. The air pockets will make your baked goods more tender and fluffy. Because who wants flat cookies, right?!

6. Instant vanilla pudding mix

Yes, you read that correctly! Instant vanilla pudding mix is my secret ingredient!

A lot of people add cornstarch to their cookies for extra softness and an added lift because cornstarch, like molasses, retains moisture.

But if you add to much cornstarch, your cookies may taste funky.

Fun fact: A package of instant vanilla pudding mix contains cornstarch. So when you add the mix to your recipe, you’re guaranteed the perfect amount every time.

Also, I think the vanilla in the pudding gives the cookie a deeper flavor.

7. Chill the dough

Chilling the dough allows the ingredients to settle together after the mixing stage. Also, cookie dough that is refrigerated spreads less. And less spread = thicker cookies!

So after mixing, cover the dough and chill it for at least one hour. You can also chill it up to three days if you can resist waiting that long!

8. Make all of your cookies the same size

It’s important that your cookies have a uniform size so that they bake evenly. You don’t want to pull out a baking sheet of half over-baked cookies and half under-baked cookies.

I use a one-inch cookie scoop to measure out all of my cookie dough balls.

9. Bake in small batches

To ensure even-baking, only put one sheet of cookies in the oven at a time. The top rack won’t bake the same way as the bottom rack and the results will be unpredictable. Also, you should always place your baking sheet in the center of the rack, not too close to the oven’s sides

10. Importance of cooling rack

When you pull your cookies out of the oven, only keep them on the baking sheet for just a few minutes. Then take them off of the sheet and place them on a cooling rack.

It’s important to get your cookies off of the baking sheet as soon as possible because the cookies will continue to bake if they stay on the hot baking sheet.



Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: Makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients
  • 2 and 1/4 cups flour (281.25 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup Challenge salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar (207 grams)
  • 1 (3.4 oz) package instant vanilla pudding
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Directions

  1. Measure flour and baking soda in medium bowl. Combine and set aside.
  2. In large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until light and fuffy.
  3. Add instant vanilla pudding package and beat until well blended.
  4. Mix in eggs and vanilla.
  5. Slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture until just incorporated.
  6. Fold in chocolate chips with a spatula.
  7. Cover dough and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.
  8. Remove dough from refrigerator.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Roll dough into balls (the size of 2 tablespoons) and place on greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat.
  11. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheet for several minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
  13. Cookies stay fresh in covered container for up to one week.



Thursday, July 28, 2016

Milk Chocolate Candy Cookies

Yum

I have a bit of a confession to make – sometimes I get very self-conscience about my baking.

I always taste-test my baking, but even afterwards I sometimes still have doubts.

This is the issue I had when making chocolate cookies for the first time this week. I had never made chocolate cookies; actually, I don’t think I had ever eaten chocolate cookies either.

So after taking the first bite I wasn’t so sure about them.

The texture was definitely right; they were soft and chewy, but I had doubts on the flavor. They were very… chocolatey (surprise). They weren’t something I would choose for dessert, and I think that’s what threw me off.

Fortunately, I know plenty of people who are willing to test my baked goods! And my parents and my co-workers were happy to report the cookies were delicious. Several co-workers told me they were the best chocolate cookies they’ve ever had.

So I think this is a lesson in self-confidence. I need to perpetually remind myself that being overly critical of anything won’t make the situation better. Instead, it causes more anxiety, and I miss out on enjoying delicious chocolate cookies.



Milk Chocolate Candy Cookies
Yield: Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients
  • 1 (15.25 ounce) box of milk chocolate cake mix
  • 8 Tablespoons Challenge butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ounces Challenge cream cheese,
  • 1/2 cup M&M's
  • 1/2 cup chopped Snickers
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate morsels
 Directions
  1. In a large bowl, combine dry cake mix, melted butter, and egg.
  2. Add cream cheese and beat until completely incorporated.
  3. Stir in M&M’s, Snickers, and morsels.
  4. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes so it’s easier to shape into a ball.
  5. Once dough has been chilled for a half hour, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Form dough into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
 Recipe adapted from Inside BruCrew Life






Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jalapeño Popper Hot Dogs

Yum

Hot dogs are the epitome of a classic, all-American meal! Most people don’t go to a baseball game without eating one, and hot dogs are the stars of backyard barbecues.

But I have to be completely honest with you all – I’m not the biggest hot dog fan. I know, shame on me! It’s not that I don’t like them. If we’re being honest, there probably isn’t a food I dislike (Oops, double negative! I hope my English teacher isn’t reading this!)

It’s just that most of the time I would prefer something else. So when I was asked to do a segment for National Hot Dog Day, it was a little bit of a challenge because I wanted to come up with something that I would actually choose to eat!

As I was thinking about it, for some reason I couldn’t get jalapeño poppers off of my mind. I have no idea why considering I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a jalapeño popper. Maybe it’s because I planted jalapeños in my garden for the first time this year. Who knows! But anyway, it was at that moment that I knew I wanted to use that as the foundation for my hot dog treat.

What I ended up making was a cross between a cross between jalapeño poppers and pigs in a blanket. And just like everything I make, it is super easy!

You start by making a mixture with cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and a little cumin and garlic powder. I use Challenge cream cheese because it’s definitely creamier than all other cream cheeses and I know there are no hormones in the product.

Then you just open up a can of refrigerated crescent rolls (probably the trickiest part of the recipe), spread the cream cheese mixture on top, and layer on sliced jalapeños. I generally use about half a jalapeño per crescent roll, but you can add more or less depending on your taste preferences. Stick half a hot dog on top of that, roll it up, and pop it in the oven! If you’re feeling really bold, you can serve it with jalapeño mustard, recently I even saw jalapeño ketchup!



Jalapeño Popper Hot Dogs
Servings: 12 jalapeño popper hot dogs

Ingredients
  • 8 ounces Challenge cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 (8 ounce) package crescent roll dough
  • 4 jalapeños, sliced
  • 4 hot dogs, cut in half
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, cumin, and garlic powder in bowl
  3. Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray
  4. Remove crescent roll dough from packaging and lay out the 8 dough triangles on the baking sheet
  5. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture on each crescent roll.
  6. Layer jalapeño slices on cream cheese mixture
  7. Stick hot dog on top and roll up crescent roll dough
  8. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown
  9. Serve hot with ketchup and mustard





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