Coconut Pecan Spread

Coconut seems to be one of those foods that people have a definite opinion on:  you either love it or hate it.  Janna and I both love it.  LOVE.  And what better way to enjoy coconut than combined with crunchy pecans, mixed into a messy, delicious batch of sweet custard and piled high onto a Dark Chocolate Cupcake? Okay, so maybe there are some other equally delicious ways to eat it, but it’s hard to beat that yummy combo!

This blog post just happened to coincide with my nephews birthday.  It’s a labor of love for me to make birthday cakes for the family whenever possible, and this time the request was for German chocolate cupcakes.  So, I baked 2 dozen Dark Chocolate Cupcakes, topped them with the spread and delivered them to the birthday boy, all the while snapping pictures, of course.

This spread is more than just a cupcake topping.  It’s pretty versatile and can be used as a filler or frosting for layer cakes, a topping for ice cream, a finishing touch for cinnamon rolls…the sky’s the limit!  However you do it, enjoy!
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Ingredients
:
1 12 oz can evaporated milk
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter
10 oz sweetened flake coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
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Directions:

In a large saucepan, whisk together the milk, egg yolk and vanilla until well blended.  IMG_5513Add sugar and butter and cook on medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly, about 10-12 minutes.  Resist the urge to turn up the heat to avoid scorching

Once thick, remove from heat and stir in the coconut and pecans until well combined.  Allow mixture to cool completely before using as a spread or filling.

Makes about 4 cups.
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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.
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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.
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Pour the batter into prepared pans.  For cupcakes, leave about 3/8 inch to the top of the liner to avoid ugly muffin tops.  =)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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Six Pepper Chili

I love chili! Probably partly because I like spicy food and I put a lot of kick into my chili.  In our house, when Joanie and I were kids, chili was a staple and it was always homemade. Sometimes we would even make moose chili but that’s a whole other blog!

Over the years I’ve tried many different chili styles adding this or that, making it spicy or mild, or trying different meat or beans.  I even made it cheesy a time or two, which essentially turned out to be a chili dip that went perfectly with nacho cheese Doritos!  I finally perfected this chili on a crisp autumn evening up at our cabin in the mountains.  I also recently used it to win a chili cook-off!  One thing I would change in this recipe is I would fire roast all of the peppers to bring out all of the flavors in the different varieties.  This one is a little spicy, fair warning.  If you don’t want as much spice, omit the cayenne pepper and jalapeno.  ~Janna

Serves: 12

Ingredients:

1 lb sweet Italian pork sausage
10-12oz of pearl onions, whole (or 1 medium yellow onion roughly chopped)
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
2 Serrano peppers, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
2 poblano peppers, diced
12 oz bottle of beer
2 cans 15oz tomato sauce
1 can 12oz tomato paste
1 can, 14.5oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 cans 15.25oz each of dark kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
Cayenne pepper
1 Tbs Chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbs sugar
black pepper
salt to taste

Method:

Brown pork in a skillet on med/high heat.

In large stock pot, sauté onions and all peppers. Once tender, (about 5-7 minutes) add the bottle of beer and stir a couple of minutes.

Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and beans, stir to combine and bring back to a simmer.

Add the pork without draining (unless there is tons of grease) and all of the spices.  Stir to combine and Simmer at least 1 hour.  Salt to taste and enjoy on a cold winter evening!6 Pepper Chili with Title

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!

Chocolate Dipped Cherries

This post is dedicated to our beautiful Mama.  She always worked hard to make life special for each one of her 6 children.  We lived in “the woods” in Talkeetna, Alaska, a very small town that is an hours drive from the nearest suburban town.  For us, the finer things in life did not come from a store, but from Mom’s hands.  She made a lot of our clothes (and our doll clothes!), cooked and baked from scratch, and always let us help even though I’m sure our “helping” just made more work for her.

Chocolate dipped cherries were one of Mom’s special Christmas tradition.  I remember watching her make them step-by-step, anticipating when we could FINALLY partake in this gooey, sweet treat.  It was always worth the wait.  I have continued this cherished tradition into my adult life…and I even like to indulge once in a while and make them on non-Christmas occasions. =)

And what better occasion to make these beautiful candies than Valentines Day!!!  A day filled with love and flowers and romance pretty much demands an accompanying sweet treat.  The fact that you put the time and effort into hand making each cherry makes them than much sweeter.  Your Valentine, or whomever you are making these for, will taste the love.  ❤

Ingredients:
25-35 Maraschino cherries WITH stems
3 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
3 Tbs light corn syrup
2 cups powdered sugar (+extra for kneading), sifted
1 lb (approx) melting chocolate
double boiler
Optional: decorative mini candy cups

Directions:
Start by draining your cherries on paper towels.  You can do this a couple hours ahead of time, just don’t let your cherries get shriveled!  Four hours is probably the max time you want to leave them out.  I usually set mine out about ½ hour before I begin, change the towels once and blot the tops when I’m ready to work with them.  If your cherries are too wet on the outside, the juice will begin to break down the dough before you’ve had a chance to dip them.

Next, prepare your sweet dough, the gooey filling of the cherry.  Mix butter and corn syrup together to form a paste.  

Add in the sifted powdered sugar and stir until combined.  If your “dough” looks like a crumbly mess, perfect!  Now get your clean hands in there and start squishing until the dough will stick together.  Knead it on a clean counter top until it forms a smooth dough.

Optional:  To ensure you have enough dough, divide it into portion sizes (about 1 tsp) for the amount of cherries you need.

Shape your dough around each cherry and set aside on wax/parchment paper.


Next, break up your chocolate block into small, uniform pieces.  This helps it melt quickly and evenly.

**You can use chocolate chips instead, but they have an additive to help them keep their shape which affects the tempering process.  You can also use chocolate melting wafers, but a lot of the time those aren’t made of real chocolate and you can definitely taste the difference!

Measure out your chocolate.  About 1 lb should do.  You will have extra in the end, but you need the chocolate to be deep enough in your pan to be able to dip the cherry in.

Add water to the bottom of your double boiler and turn the heat on LOW.  The steam from this water will heat  your chocolate pan at a gentler temperature.  Chocolate tempering is not hard to do, but it does take patience.  Don’t be tempted to turn the heat  up, lest you end up with grainy chocolate.  Low and slow is the key!

If you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t) you can improvise…sometimes I use a metal milk steaming pitcher set on a steam basket in a sauce pan.  This time I balanced a saucepan over a slightly smaller one.  Sounds a little precarious, but it worked great!  The thing to remember is that you don’t want direct heat and you don’t want ANY steam vapor or water droplets to get into the chocolate.  Heed my warning, water in your chocolate will ruin it.  For more on tempering chocolate, check out this article.
Using a candy thermometer, monitor the temperature of your chocolate.  You don’t want it to get above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stir frequently but gently to make sure you aren’t getting any hot spots. 

While you’re patiently waiting you can set out your candy cups if you’re using them, or spread out a sheet of wax paper for the dipped cherries to dry on.

Holding the cherries by the stem, dip them one at a time into the prepared chocolate, making sure to completely seal them, paying special attention to the base of the stem.  Any holes or breaks will allow the filling to ooze out  You don’t want that.  Allow any excess chocolate to drip off.

Place the dipped cherries stem side up in your candy cups or wax paper and chill until firm (but don’t freeze!).

Now, here’s the thing…you can eat these now, they are incredible!  OR, you can allow them to “ripen” in the refrigerator for a week to allow the cherry juice and the sugar dough to meld together to form that ooey-gooey filling that makes traditional cherries oh-so-messy to eat.  Personally, I like them fresh, but I’m not picky.  =)

Happy Valentine’s Day!!  

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!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache and Mint Cream

These light and fluffy cupcakes are a perfect vessel for fudgy ganache.  They are very easy to make and require ordinary ingredients.  The mint cream adds a nippy not-so-sweet element, and the green candy garnish is a tribute to St. Patrick’s Day.  These cupcakes do take a bit of time to complete all the steps, but they are beatiful and delicious and well worth the effort.  Enjoy!
~Joanie


Ingredients 

Cupcakes:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup half & half
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Ganache:
8 oz (approx 1 ½ Cups) Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream

Mint Whipped Cream:
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
3 Tbs Confectioners Sugar (Powdered Sugar)
1 Tsp Mint Extract

Candy Garnish:
1/2 Cup White or Chocolate Baking Chips
Food coloring, if desired

Directions:
Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes
Preheat oven to 350*F.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Add eggs, half & half, oil and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed for about one minute.

Stir in boiling water (don’t worry if the batter looks thin).
Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full with batter.  Bake for approximately 18-22 minutes.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

 

Ganache Filling

Place chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl.  Bring the cream just to a frothy boil, remove from heat and immediately pour over the chocolate.  Let it sit about 1 minute to allow the chocolate to melt.  Stir gently until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is uniform in color and glossy.

 

 To Fill the Cupcakes

Make a slit in the cupcakes, about an inch long, and about half way deep with a plastic knife.  (The cake won’t stick to a plastic knife.)  Lightly pinch the cupcake so the slit opens up like a mouth.  Using a piping bag or plastic bag with the corner snipped, carefully fill the opening with ganache.  You want it to come to the top, but not overflow.

 

Mint Cream & Candy Garnish

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To create candy garnish, using a microwave safe bowl, melt candy for about 30 seconds in microwave.  Add food coloring to desired color.  Use a piping bag to create designs on wax paper.  Allow to cool completely in freezer before handling.


In a chilled metal bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in sugar and mint until peaks form.  If you want a sweeter cream, add more confectioners sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.  Be sure to taste between additions.

Tip:  You can make the whipped cream ahead, but don’t “frost” the cupcakes until just before serving.

Use an piping bag to pipe whipped cream onto cupcakes.  Top with ganache drizzle & candy garnish or fresh mint leaf, if desired.  Serve immediately.

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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.