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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Freezer-friendly pizza bagels

In my opinion, staying busy is a good thing. It means you’re doing something and accomplishing something and working your and staying active.

But this year I think that maybe I’m stretching myself a little too thin.

I finished my chemistry class last semester and moved on to anatomy this semester. This is my first time ever taking an anatomy class, and as I’m sure you all know, it’s really hard!

Between class and work and my Kylee’s Kitchen segments, I don’t have a whole lot of free time. And when I get home at the end of the day, I want to eat right away. I don’t want to worry about cooking something and waiting an hour.

So I either prepare all of my dinners for the week on Sunday or I pull out a meal from the freezer. Keeping your freezer stocked with homemade meals is one of the best changes you can make in your life. You’ll spend less on takeout, you’ll eat healthier, and you’ll save time.

I’m sure you all know what frozen pizza bagel bites are, but I promise you these pizza bagels put those bagel bites to shame.

Just like pizza, you can customize the bagels however you want. This is great for people with food allergies and maybe need to use dairy free cheese or gluten free bagels. It’s also a great idea for anyone trying to lose weight because you could curb your pizza craving by using 100-calorie bagels and fat free cheese.

Personally, I recommend assembling an abundance of pizza bagels at once then only bake the ones you’re going to eat that night and freeze the rest for later.

The best way to freeze these pizza bagels is to individually wrap them (before or after cooking them) in Saran wrap and then put them all in a gallon freezer bag. When you’re ready to eat one, just pull it out of the freezer and bake as normal. If you put the bagel in the freezer already baked, you can just pop it in the microwave.

Pizza bagels are really a non-recipe recipe because you just add whatever ingredients you want to your favorite bagel, but regardless I’ve provided 4 of my favorite ideas.

Margherita Pizza Bagel
  • Bagel
  • Pesto
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Tomato, sliced
  • Basil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment paper or baking mat.
  3. Split bagel in half and place split-side-up on baking sheet.
  4. Spread pesto on each bagel half.
  5. Top with Mozzarella cheese, tomato, and basil
  6. Bake for 10 minutes and serve.

Pepperoni Pizza Bagel
  • Bagel
  • Pizza sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Pepperoni
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Oregano
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment paper or baking mat.
  3. Split bagel in half and place split-side-up on baking sheet.
  4. Spread pizza sauce on each bagel half.
  5. Top with Mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, Parmesan, and a little oregano.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes and serve.

Sausage Pizza Bagel
  • Bagel
  • Pizza sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Sausage
  • Basil 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment paper or baking mat.
  3. Split bagel in half and place split-side-up on baking sheet.
  4. Spread pizza sauce on each bagel half.
  5. Top with Mozzarella cheese, sausage, and a little basil.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes and serve.

Four Cheese Pizza Bagel
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment paper or baking mat.
  3. Split bagel in half and place split-side-up on baking sheet.
  4. Spread pesto on each bagel half.
  5. Top with Mozzarella cheese, white cheddar cheese, and Parmesan.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes and serve.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Spinach Artichoke Pretzel Skillet

Dips are undoubtedly the heart of every Super Bowl party. If you search the definition of Super Bowl in Merriam Webster, the actual definition is “an excuse to have a party with lots of dips.”

But with so many people bringing dips to your Super Bowl party, how do you make your dip stand out?

Your cast iron skillet is currently in the back of your cupboard raising it’s hand and saying “Pick me! Pick me!” That’s right—a cast iron skillet is the secret to transforming an ordinary dip into the coolest appetizer at the party.

Cast iron skillets have obviously been around for centuries. But I’ve noticed that they have become very very popular in the past year. They are extremely versatile, and I love that the skillet is used as both the baking dish and the presentation dish.

I made my first dip with a cast iron skillet last month and it was a huge hit. My favorite part about the Spicy Cheese Pretzel Skillet is that the dip and the pretzels baked together in the same skillet. The soft pretzels were extremely easy to make (store bought biscuit dough for the win), and ultimately that’s what made the dish look deceptively stunning. So I decided to try the same concept with this skillet artichoke spinach dip. The creamy and cheesy dip with baked-in pretzel dippers is what dreams are made of.

In my last skillet post I went into great details about the science behind homemade soft pretzels. So this week, I’m going into great detail about the best practices for taking care of your cast iron skillet.

First of all, the best time to clean your cast iron skillet is immediately after using it. You can’t be a set-aside-to-soak kind of person. Soaking the skillet is one of the worst things you can do to it because it will rust.

Instead, immediately after you’ve removed all the food from it, wash your skillet by hand using a sponge or a stiff, non-wire brush. Don’t use soap! If there is food stuck to the pan that won’t come off with water, scrub it with a mixture of salt and hot water.

Completely, dry our skillet immediately after you’ve finished washing it so it doesn’t rust. I recommend heating the pan over your stovetop burner on high for about 5 minutes to ensure it’s completely dry.

After drying, add a thin layer of oil to the pan to keep it well-seasoned.

Store your cast iron skillet with a paper towel on it to absorb any moisture and protect it from dust.

I realize this entire post is about cast iron skillets, but I do want to point out that you can still make this delicious dip as well as the pretzel bites without a cast iron skillet. Just bake the dip in an oven safe dish and bake the pretzel bites separately on a baking sheet.

Or if pretzels aren’t your thing, you could buy a big loaf of bread, hollow it out to make a bread bowl, and then use the inside scraps to dip—similar to what I did with this Buffalo Chicken Stuffed French Bread. Enjoy and Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

Spinach Artichoke Pretzel Skillet
For the dip
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 14 ounce can artichoke hearts, drained
  • 8 ounces Challenge cream cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dill
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce

For the pretzel bites
  • 1 can refrigerated biscuit dough
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • Egg wash (1 egg mixed with 2 Tablespoons water for brushing on dough)
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling

For the dip
  1. Place spinach in a bowl with 1 Tablespoon water and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
  2. Microwave on high for 1 minute; leave covered 15 minutes to cool. Drain spinach well and add to medium bowl.
  3. Chop artichoke hearts and add to bowl.
  4. Add remaining dip ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the pretzel bites
  1. Generously oil or butter your cast iron skillet.
  2. Open can of biscuit dough, cut each pre-sliced biscuit into quarters, and roll into balls; set aside.
  3. Bring water and baking soda to a boil in a small saucepan. Drop biscuit dough into boiling water and let cook for one minute. Remove biscuit dough from water with slotted spoon and transfer to cast iron skillet, forming a ring along the inside edge.
  4. Brush biscuits with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt.
  5. Transfer spinach artichoke dip to center of skillet.
  6. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until pretzels are golden brown and dip is bubbly.
  7. Let skillet cool about 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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