Joanie’s Favorite Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

I can honestly say that these are the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever had.  No exaggeration.  I’m a big chocoholic and, in my opinion, the darker the better!  Sure there’s a time and a place for milk chocolate (and even white chocolate, though that’s not really chocolate) but dark chocolate takes the cake.  Or rather, MAKES the cake!

I came across this recipe from Life, Love & Sugar in the news feed of our Facebook page.  The chocolate cake was layered with a decadent pumpkin cheesecake and frosted with pumpkin icing.  The photos were so beautiful and enticing that I was more than happy to test it out for a friend.  While the original layer cake was delicious, the chocolate cake really stood out to me.  Since then, it has been my go-to for chocolate cake.

This recipe is rather quick and easy, and you don’t need a mixer.  So far, it has been absolutely fool proof.  The best part is, they are so rich and delightful that you really don’t even need icing…that’s just a bonus.  =)  However, if you do want something sweet to spread on top, try our Basic Buttercream or Coconut Pecan Spread.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark baking chocolate powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water water
2 tsp real vanilla extractIMG_5447

Directions:
Prepare your pans ahead of time.  Line cupcake pans, OR thoroughly grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans.  You may consider adding parchment paper rounds to the bottom of the pan to ensure an easy release.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and whisk together thoroughly.
Dry Ingredients

Add eggs, buttermilk & oil and mix until combined and glossy.
IMG_5465

In a measuring cup, combine the boiling water and vanilla and add it to the chocolate mixture.  Give the batter a final stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.  The consistency will be a little runny, but, trust me, it’s perfect.
IMG_5477

Pour the batter into prepared pans.  For cupcakes, leave about 3/8 inch to the top of the liner to avoid ugly muffin tops.  =)
IMG_5481

For cupcakes: bake 25-30 minutes.  (My stone pan takes 30 minutes on the dot, every time.  Metal pans may need a little less time.)
For round cakes: bake for about 35-40 minutes.

You know your cake is done with you can insert a toothpick into the middle and it comes out clean.  However, DON’T disturb the cake until the final minutes of baking.  You don’t want to cause it to collapse.  Collapsed cake is not pretty, I’ve seen it.
IMG_5485

Allow the cakes to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to cooling racks and let them come to room temperature before you frost them.

Makes 24 cupcakes (25 if you’re lucky!) or one decadent, layered round cake.
Final 3

 

Zesty Fried Pickles

pickleAnyone who knows me knows that pickles are one of my favorite foods.  I’m obsessed with pickles, so I’m always looking for new and fun ways to incorporate them into my meals.  These fried pickles are addictive and are a fun finger food!  Who needs utensils, right?  Everytime I make them they are gone in a matter of minutes!  These go perfectly with my hot wings on game day, GO SEAHAWKS!!!!  Or my pretzels and beer cheese!  Fried pickles and beer cheese?  I think I’m on to something!!
~JannaDSC_0119

Ingredients:

About 3 cups of dill pickle chips, drain on paper towels.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
¾ tsp dill weed or fresh chopped dill
1 cup of buttermilk
1 qt vegetable, (canola or peanut oil works too) oil for frying

Directions:

Combine all dry ingredients into a bowl, put buttermilk into separate bowl.  Make sure your pickles are well drained.DSC_0122

Heat oil in a 4 to 6 quart heavy bottomed pot to about 350 degrees F.  Dunk ½ a cup or so of pickles into the buttermilk, coating all sides.  Shake off excess buttermilk and put into the flour mixture, toss the pickles around so they are all coated.
DSC_0124

Fry in the hot oil until golden (2-3 minutes) and let them drain on paper towels for a few minutes.  Repeat with the remainder of the pickles.
DSC_0125

Enjoy as they are or for an added kick of flavor dip them in ranch or bleu cheese dressing spiked with hot sauce!!  These go fabulous with a cold beer!

Orange Essence Zucchini Bread

Zucchini is one of the most abundant fall vegetables here in the US.  And zucchini bread is one of the most popular ways to use it up, especially when your garden produces an abundance of overgrown, deep green squash.  While I don’t have a garden (just a few tomato plants on my patio), one of my associates at work has generously shared this years zucchini crop.

Quick breads often seem more like cake than bread, and I’m ok with that.  Classic zucchini bread is so comforting and delicious!  However, I wanted my zucchini bread to really stand apart, so I started baking.  And baking.  And baking.  I don’t know how many loaves and muffins I’ve given away in my quest for the perfect bread, but it’s been a lot!  However, it has been well worth it because I really do believe that this is the best zucchini bread I’ve ever had.  It’s subtly sweet with just a hint of orange while still maintaining that classic zucchini bread flavor.  If you like to drizzle yours with a sweet glaze, I’ve included directions for a quick orange glaze that perfectly compliments it.  I hope it’s your new favorite!

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest from 1 large orange
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts or unsalted pistachios (optional)

Orange Glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspooon orange zest

Makes about 2 full-sized loaves, 4 mini-loaves, or about 24 muffins.
Ingredients.jpg

Directions:

Prepare your loaf pan or muffin tins.  I highly recommend using parchment if you’re making loaves because, for some reason, this bread seems to stick to my stoneware EVERY time if I don’t.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 C)

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the orange being careful to get as little white pith as possible.  Toss the orange peel and the granulated sugar into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulverize until the peel is very finely minced into the sugar.  Set aside.Orange Sugar 1.jpg

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla, brown sugar and orange sugar together.  Add sifted ingredients to the wet mixture and beat will.
Mix Logo.jpg

Stir in the zucchini and nuts until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 40-60 for a loaf pan.
Bake approx 30 minutes for muffins.

Test doneness by inserting a toothpick or small tester into the middle.  When it comes out clean, it’s done!

Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes (not necessary for muffins using liners), then turn them out and let it cool completely.

To prepare optional glaze: whisk sugar, orange juice and zest in a bowl until smooth.  Drizzle over bread.

Enjoy!
Title 2.jpg

 

Wheat n Honey Bread

There’s something satisfying about making food from scratch using delicious, wholesome ingredients.  I love knowing exactly what is in the foods that my family and I are eating, and I think we all appreciate it more when there’s a little elbow grease involved in making it.  My sister in Alaska frequently grinds her own wheat for bread (she also has six kids and a full time job).  I would LOVE to do this, but in reality I just don’t have the kitchen space for a wheat grinder right now.  Hopefully in a few months I will have that needed space, and someday I hope to grow my own wheat too.  For now, I buy my flour.

This recipe is the best I’ve found to make yummy wheat bread that is perfect for slicing for sandwiches or toast.  I used it for French toast this morning and it was delicious as well!  As you can see, this bread is pretty versatile and you won’t want store-bought bread after you make this.  This bread was adapted from a cookbook called Baking With Julia (Childs).  I’ve changed a few things and added a couple more to fit my tastes.  The wheat gluten I’ve added is essential for getting a good rise and a light, fluffy loaf.  You can find wheat gluten in your local super market.  Also, don’t skimp on the kneading, you don’t want to end up with a brick!
IMG_4726
Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups of warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 Tbs active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
2 cups (plus 1/4 cup for kneading) all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 Tbs salt
1/4 cup wheat gluten
1 Tbs vegetable or canola oil, plus more for oiling the bowl

Directions:
Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the yeast and honey and whisk slightly to blend.  Allow the mixture to rest for approximately 5 minutes until bubbly.IMG_4707

In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups of the all purpose flour and 3 cups of the whole wheat flour, gluten and salt.  Stir to combine and set aside.
IMG_4706

Using your mixer on low speed with a dough hook attached, add the rest of the warm water to the yeast mixture, also add the oil and about half of the flour mixture one cup at a time, scraping sides as needed.IMG_4708

On low speed, add the rest of the flour.  Increase the mixer speed to medium, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together.
IMG_4711

If dough is too dry add a teaspoon of water, if too sticky, add a tablespoon of a/p flour. Continue to knead at medium speed for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  You can skip kneading by hand in the next step if you increase kneading time in the mixer by five minutes.  I don’t recommend this though.  Your mixer motor could get really hot and possibly burn out.  Kneading dough by hand is more romantic anyway and it’ll make you appreciate the bread more.  Also, you’ll get killer arms and shoulders if you do this on a regular basis!
IMG_4713

Flour a clean counter top and put dough out.  Knead the dough by hand for 8 to 10 minutes.   This dough will be slightly sticky(tacky) even after it’s kneaded sufficiently.  If the dough is really sticky (sticks to your palms while kneading) add flour a sprinkle at a time until it barely sticks to your palm when kneading.

Once you are done kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place it into a large oiled bowl (big enough to hold at least double the volume of your dough).  Turn dough once to coat both sides.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
IMG_4715

Oil or butter the bottom and sides of two 9×5 (I recommend glass) loaf pans and set them aside.  Punch down the dough and turn it out on to a lightly floured surface.
IMG_4717

Divide the dough in half.  Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 9×12 rectangle.  The dimensions don’t have to be perfect, but it should be uniform.  with your dough laying vertically start rolling the dough (snuggly, but not tight) roll it all the way to the other end and pinch to seal the edges.  Gently tuck the ends under to make it look nice and set the bread in the loaf pan.
IMG_4718

IMG_4719

Turn the dough so that seem side is down and tuck in the ends just enough so the dough will fit nicely in the pans.
IMG_4722

Drop the dough in the pans and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap (the easiest way to oil plastic wrap is to spread it on a flat surface and spray with cooking spray, then pick it up two edges and drape over the dough).  Allow the dough to rise again until about double in the pans.  This will take about another hour.
IMG_4723

IMG_4725
In the meantime, turn oven on 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

The breads is risen sufficiently when it is about double and if you poke a finger into it, the impression your finger makes stays in the bread.  Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.  The internal temperature should be 200 degrees Fahrenheit when bread is done.
IMG_4698

Turn bread out onto cooling racks right away and let them cool to almost room temperature before slicing.  Keep bread sealed in a plastic bread bag, it should last for 2-3 days before getting dried out.  You can also freeze it.

America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread

I have been baking banana bread as far back as I can remember.  It was one of the first things I learned how to make by myself when I was a kid.  I remember pulling the steaming loaves out of the oven and being so proud of my creation!  They never lasted long, and to this day, banana bread is one of my favorite comfort foods.

This recipe is not the same recipe I used growing up.  It is a creation of America’s Test Kitchen and was introduced to me through a foodie friend at work who generously shared the banana bread she had made with the rest of the office.  Although I wasn’t fast enough to snag a piece out of her bread from the break room, she did provide me with the recipe.  After hearing the comments around the office, I knew I had to make it for myself. Seriously, this is the most banana-y banana bread I’ve ever had and it is so incredibly moist!  Don’t scoff at the little bit of extra work with the bananas because THAT is what makes it so incredible.  Just do it, you will be rewarded!

When selecting bananas, be sure to use those that are heavily speckled, or even black.  If you are one of those people who freezes bananas, this is YOUR recipe!! The darker the banana, the sweeter and more developed the banana taste will be.  A lot of grocery stores will even sell these “overripe” bananas at a deeply discounted price.  Yes, those mushy, black banana’s seem really gross, but trust me, you’ll be hoarding them in your freezer like they are gold once you’ve seen (and tasted) what they can do.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ Cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp table salt
5 large very ripe bananas, peeled
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tsp granulated sugar

**Note:  The photo below shows baking powder, which is NOT in the recipe…my mistake!

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray an 8 ½  by 4 ½ inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

Place bananas in a microwave safe bowl.  I used a round casserole dish with a lid.  You can use plastic wrap with a few cut steam vents to cover if you don’t have a lid, but personally I avoid putting plastic in the microwave.  

Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released most of their liquid, about 5 minutes.Transfer bananas to a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl and allow them to drain, turning the bananas occasionally for about 15 minutes.  You should end up with ½ – ¾ cup of liquid.  

Transfer liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to about ¼ cup.  Liquid should be light caramel color and thick, almost as thick as syrup.  I stirred mine pretty vigorously and ended up with some bubbles, but you get the idea.

Remove from the heat and stir this reduced liquid back into your mashed bananas and mash everything together with a potato masher.  The original recipe says “mash until fairly smooth” but mine never made it to that point…it stayed semi-lumpy.  I’m sure whatever stage of lumpiness your bananas end up is just fine.

Whisk in melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.


Pour banana mixture into your flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Do not over stir. Some flour streaks are okay.  Gently fold in walnuts if you’re using them.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the surface.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, approx 55-75 minutes.  Cool bread in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.

**Note:  I used a mini loaf pan and a muffin pan instead of the larger, single loaf pan.  I started checking them at 30 minutes.  The muffins were slightly drier than the loaf and I would probably turn the oven down a few degrees the next time.

***Variation:  I added ½ cup of flaked coconut to the muffins and they were SO good!

Slice loaf and serve slightly warm or room temperature.  Enjoy!

Hearty Beef Stew

This beef stew is the best beef stew you will ever have!  It’s loaded with delicious meat potatoes, veggies and fresh herbs. It’s slow simmered to get a thick, silky broth that is perfect for sopping up with a crusty piece of French bread with homemade butter.  This is one of those times when I wish I still lived in a cabin in the woods in Alaska.  I’m sure fresh moose steak or caribou would be fabulous in this stew.  I can just imagine the stew simmering away all day while I’m out shoveling snow or bringing in fire wood.  I envision my husband’s soggy coat and gloves hanging by the wood stove to dry after a hard days work.  The sun is going down, making way for a frosty evening, the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of hearty stew.  Is your mouth watering yet?  Mine is.

Beef Stew Ingredients

Ingredients:

1lb Stew beef chunks or any beef steak cut into bite sized chunks
4 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of pearl onions, or any onion
1 cup of chopped celery
2 cups of chopped carrot
3 cups of marble potatoes or any potatoes cut into bite sized chunks
4 cups of beef stock
1 cup red wine (I used syrah)
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

Method:

Brown beef in a skillet.
Beef Stew Beef

In a large stew pot, melt butter on low heat, when melted add the flour a little at a time and whisk until you make a paste called a roux.  Add the garlic, onion, celery, carrot, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, bay leaves and cook on low for a few minutes.
Beef Stew Roux

Add the beef stock, cooked beef, potatoes, wine and Worcestershire sauce.  Simmer on low/med heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.  If stew isn’t as thick as you like, make a thickener by whisking 1/2 cup of cold water with 2 Tbs flour, pour into soup and stir.
Beef Stew in Crock

Ladle into bowls, serve with crusty bread slathered with homemade butter and enjoy!
Hearty Beef Stew 2

Strawberry Shortcake Scones

These scones were a very happy accident. Fresh strawberries are in abundance this fall and I wanted to use them in a simple recipe that really elevated the strawberry flavor without adding a ton of sugar.  I remembered the basic scone recipe that my friend Dani game me and, hence, these babies were born.  They only take about 30 minutes from start to finish, so not only are they delicious, they’re easy!


Ingredients:

2 Cups Flour
2 Tbs Sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp baking soda
5 Tbs butter, cold and cubed
1 egg, separated
8 oz plain greek yogurt
2 Cups chopped strawberries (sweetened slightly with 1 tsp sugar, if desired)
3 oz cream cheese, cubed and frozen (or VERY firm)
1 Tbs raw sugar

Glaze (optional):
5 Tbs powdered sugar
½ tsp milk
⅛ tsp vanilla
*This amount only makes a TINY amount of glaze…just a few “stripes” for each scone.  If you want a heavier glaze, just double the recipe.

Directions:

Put all dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk to combine.  Add cold butter in chunks and stir into the flour mixture.  Add egg yolk and greek yogurt and cut it into the flour mixture using a pastry blender.  Dough will be crumbly.  Add strawberries and cream cheese and gently fold them into the dough.Lightly flour your counter top and form the dough into a flat disk.  If the dough seems moist, due to the juicy strawberries, press a little extra flour into the top and sides of the disk.  Cut into 10 even triangles. 

Place the triangles on a sprayed baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.  Brush with the egg whites and sprinkle with raw sugar, if desired.  I use Sugar in the Raw.Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Tops should be golden brown.  Drizzle a small amount of glaze over each scone.  Serve immediately.

*Due to the short shelf life of strawberries, these scones need to be eaten within a day of baking…if they last that long.

Lemon Pound Cake

To me, nothing says Spring better than a sour, yellow lemon. I love how versatile they are, whether you’re adding some tang to your sweets or brightness to your savories, all the while keeping that distinctive lemony flavor.
This pound cake is SO easy and SO delicious. My favorite thing about it is that it takes FRESH lemon juice and zest, which you can see when you slice it. Also, many recipes call for a sugary glaze, but I don’t think this one needs it. It pairs perfectly with fresh strawberries and cream, lemon or vanilla pudding, or simply on it’s own. Enjoy! ~Joanie

* * * * * * * *

Ingredients:

½ Cup butter, melted
1 Cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
Juice & zest from 1 lemon
¼ Tsp salt
1 ½ C flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ Cup milk


Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine butter and sugar. Add the beaten eggs and stir until incorporated. Add lemon juice and zest, mix well.


In a separate bowl, combine salt, flour, and baking powder. Sift flour mixture into lemon mixture and stir until smooth. Add milk and give one final stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Pour into a well greased loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour 325 degrees, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (I doubled the recipe and used my mini loaf stone, so I only baked for 50 minutes).

Remove cooked loaves from pan and allow to cool completely before slicing. I actually prefer these the next day, after they have been wrapped over night. It gives the exterior a moist texture. Slice and serve!

White Chip Coconut Cookies

If you love coconut as much as I do, this is the cookie for you!  Sweet and chewy, they stay soft, AND they freeze incredibly well.  Just bake a batch and you will see.  ~Joanie

Ingredients:
1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
⅔ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 ½ cups white baking chips
1 ½ cups flaked coconut plus extra for topping
1 cup chopped candied pineapple (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 F. 

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugars and vanilla until creamy.  Beat in the egg, then gradually stir in the flour mixture.  Stir in white chips, coconut and chopped pineapple (if desired).
 

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto un-greased cookie sheet.  Mine were about 1 inch.  Top with a pinch of coconut.

Bake approx 10 minutes or until edges are slightly brown and coconut is toasted.  Consume by the handful.  Makes about 4 dozen.