Cinnamon-Glazed Pecans and Two Cookie Recipes

Happy Halloween, lovely people!

Have I told you about my sister? I think I’ve let you in on some fun tidbits . . . like how I’m living with her this year, that she owns awesome kitchen gadgets (hellooo food processor), and that I learned all my baking skills from her. Though she’s a lot more organized in the kitchen, believe me. Somehow I missed that tutorial?

But the most important point about her today is that she loves holidays just as much as I do! Which is pretty ridiculous, considering my insane level of holiday cheer (I’m SO excited to break out my Little Miss Christmas shirt!). As lovers of the holidays, one of our favorite things to do is spread the holiday spirit through treat bags.

Why yes, I do actually own this sign. What can I say? I’m a festive person!

This has led to some pretty crazy baking (mis)adventures for us. One time, a day of testing molten lava cakes led to a sugar high for me, followed by a massive headache, resulting in my sister basically force-feeding me dumplings to stabilize my blood sugar as I tried to simply wallow on the couch. True. story. By the way, that was literally the first time I realized that consuming too much sugar could produce such a terrible result. Before that point, I thought people were weak when they talked about getting “sick” from too much candy. Yeah, point taken.

In celebration of Halloween, she decided to make treat bags for her co-workers! And by that I mean, we made treat bags for her co-workers. I may also have eaten some of the cookies (and I also tested the pecans just for quality purposes). However, that’s really not the point.

The point is, treat bags are delicious, sorta nutritious, and totally brighten the days of the recipients! Especially if they are bestowed with cute little treat tags tied on with ribbon. The treat tag pictures, by the way, are most definitely not my work. Way too profesh (from here). These are super adaptable for all seasons/holidays as well.

For the bags, we decided to make the cinnamon-glazed pecans that my best friend Hannah and I tested out this past weekend! If you’re buying these from a vendor/store, stop it right now. As Hannah put it, “Man, we’ve been getting ripped off for years!” Because these pecans are quite easy to make at home. Though we tried out a recipe using brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice, I would actually recommend just using brown sugar and cinnamon. Hannah tried this simpler version at home and gave it mad props.

We also made two kinds of cookies. One cookie is based off these award-winning chocolate chip cookies that I adapted in my very first post. These are, as I said, my very favorite chocolate chip cookies – so ridiculous soft and melty! For the second, we tried out these amazing Peanut Butter Cup Pudding Cookies. There’s really no going wrong with chocolate and peanut butter, and these were just about perfect. Simply based on my own tastes, I’ve slightly increased the pudding amount in my version below (more chocolate always), and changed up the ratio of white to brown sugar.

What are you waiting for? Make treats, eat treats, trick or treat . . . whatever you do, I wish you a safe and happy Halloween!

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Lightened Up Mac & Cheese Bites

My first experiences with macaroni & cheese took place at the Ryan’s Buffet in Wichita, Kansas. Although this haven of all-you-can-eat steak is now closed down (eliciting great distress from my dad), I still remember my plan of attack at the buffet spread: First, a spoonful of mac & cheese – with the baked cheese crust on top.

Next, a visit to the mashed potatoes diagonally across from the mac & cheese. I would put a dollop of mashed potatoes on my plate, then – most importantly – brown gravy on top of both the potatoes and the mac & cheese. Thus, it was of utmost importance to visit the mac & cheese pan before sojourning to the mashed potatoes. Let’s not even talk about what happened if all the baked cheese crust had already been taken from the mac & cheese pan. Sob city.

My mac & cheese passions fluctuated over the next decade or so (gah how old am I??). The summer before high school, when I was exhausted and absolutely ravenous from the full days of summer P.E. class (ughhhh), I actually melted sour cream with cheese, then poured it over pasta. Never. again. In college, though, I was more a fan of Kraft Easy Mac Cups. Now those, those I could talk about for days. Three and a half minutes to cheesy pasta heaven.

Recently, I’ve been craving mac & cheese again. This craving happened to coincide with my hosting a (small) Halloween party this past weekend. Basically, it was an excuse for me to make a lot of food, eat, and decorate…which are three of my favorite activities in the entire world. Though, really, I can’t take credit for the decorations. My best friend Hannah (who I’ve known since basically the womb) visited me this past weekend (yayyy!), and worked some serious crepe paper magic.

In terms of food, though, I really wanted to make mac & cheese. I mean, who doesn’t like mounds of cheese heaped on pasta (AmIright? Crayola even named a crayon after it!). But, I wanted an option that didn’t require all sorts of fork/plate/mouth/napkin/messy shenanigans. So when I saw this recipe for mac & cheese bites – baked in a cupcake tin!!! – I knew I’d found a winner. Buttt. Since I also wanted a recipe that I could eat at least five of and not feel guilty about, I looked around for a “healthy” mac & cheese option as well.

These mac & cheese bites are a product of both of these recipes, plus some of my craziness/perpetual messing around with recipes. I also baked them in a mini cupcake tin to perfectly fit in the palm of your hand! But I do need to highlight one thing: Greek yogurt, people. Say it with me: GREEK YOGURT! I’ve used it before to substitute for butter in baking, and man oh man. Who knew it was so perfect in mac & cheese as well? Now you know. No excuses.

So, tell me, am I a crazy person? Or do you, too, go through mac & cheese phases/cravings/recipes galore? Hit me up with your mac & cheese recipes!

P.S. I now have a twitter – @3PastriesaDay. Follow me for delicious blog updates and drool-worthy pics!

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Pumpkin Spiderweb Cheesecake

Since Halloween is an occasion traditionally associated with food (and yes, candy totally qualifies!), I – for once – don’t feel totally crazy about my food rants today. Such as the fact that I most definitely went trick-or-treating senior year of high school…after I told my parents I was going to study for the SAT IIs. Whoops? And then things seriously went south after my mom found a huge bag of candy in my closet. I really need to improve my hiding skills. And lying skills (maybe not?).

Or, the fact that Chipotle used to give out free burritos if you dressed up like a burrito on Halloween! I am convinced that if Chipotle had reserved the free burritos for those completely wrapped in tinfoil (like me – with green tissue paper for lettuce!), the free burrito deal would still be alive. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Thankfully, there are many more ways to get your food fix in on Halloween. And since amazing Halloween recipes (like this…or this!) have been popping up on all over the place, I decided it was time to give it a try. Unfortunately, my dessert decorating skills (as opposed to my dessert eating skills) are a bit below par. I generally try to dress up my desserts with sprinkles, cover mistakes with frosting, or, in severely desperate cases, drizzle melted chocolate on top as a distraction.

Um yeah sorry about all those finger marks…

When I came upon this picture of spiderweb cheesecake, however, I thought it looked pretty doable. What I didn’t factor into the picture was my running out of chocolate chips! Like, completely out. Which, considering the amount of chocolate chips I buy and the number of chocolate chip bags in the pantry only two weeks ago, is absolutely ridiculous.

So, I used a glaze…to initially good, and later abysmal (like when it started running all over my cheesecake) effects. That is why, though I used a glaze, I recommend using ganache, like Martha Stewart (the best) did.

I used my Mom’s recipe for cheesecake, which is a long-time family favorite that pops up every Thanksgiving! She actually got the recipe from her friend Anita (if you’re reading this, thank you for introducing this cheesecake into my life!). Trust me, it’s absolutely delicious. Continue reading

Baked Pumpkin Donut Holes with Pumpkin Glaze or Cinnamon Sugar

My love of fried dough started with a church and a box of Dunkin’ Donuts. When I was younger, I would always drop by my parent’s Sunday school class before heading to my own. Of course, as a dutiful daughter, I wanted to say goodbye to my parents. As a bonus, I also managed to nab a donut out of the boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts virtually guaranteed to be sitting on the back table.

I don’t know why we never had Dunkin’ in my second grade Sunday school (perhaps something about children and massive amounts of sugar?). I guess it doesn’t matter, because I was lucky enough to find another pathway to donut bliss.

But although I had access to plenty of donut flavors, none enticed me so much as the Chocolate Kreme Filled Donut: A powdered sugar donut filled to the brim with delicious chocolate creme (actually, filled past the brim – look at the little rosettes on each donut due to too much filling ahhhhhh). Hang on, let me wipe the drool from my keyboard.  Sorry. But I have not eaten one for years.

Unfortunately, the Dunkin’ in my town closed down, which I despair over to this day (A little courtesy notice, please? I would’ve pitched in my allowance!). The years between the closing of Dunkin’ and my leaving for college were filled with the opening of Krispy Kreme (fine, their glazed donuts are friggin’ delicious just out of the fryer, but do people really need to line up at 3am for the opening?!) and LaMar’s (chocolate glazed is pretty dec).

When I got to college in Houston, though, I found Shipley’s. Ohhhh Shipley’s. Did you know that the one on Kirby used to open at like…5am (before they closed down…like all the great donut shops of my life)?? And that the one on Richmond is open until 10pm? I did.

Unfortunately, upon being tossed from that great blanket of security and fun known as college, I have yet to find a donut love in Dallas. Probably because I am still too traumatized from the Dunkin’ Debacle of 1999. So when I started seeing a plethora of donut recipes pop up (check out this ridiculous milkshake), I knew it was time to make some of my own. And, I found this amazing baked recipe! Plus I replaced almost half the oil with applesauce. So. healthy. Also, I tried out two different topping options. Because when is one (donut) ever enough? Enjoy! Continue reading

Favorite Fudge Brownies

I have a confession. This is big time…but I think we’ve reached the point where I can divulge these types of secrets. Here goes: I have always preferred brownies from the box to homemade brownies. Always. It doesn’t matter if the brownies have cheesecake, peanut butter, excessive amounts of chocolate chips, or even if they’re from a restaurant (actually, especially restaurant brownies…ugh), they’ve just never been as good as the box mix brownies.

So, when my friend Bernard (hi Bernard!) requested that I post a brownie recipe, I was scared. Outwardly, I was smiling and saying, “Yeah, of course, I love brownies!”…but really, I was thinking, ‘I do love brownies. Brownies from the box. The Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Box. FAMILY SIZE.’

And then…I started researching like a mad person. My google search history is now filled with searches like “Cakey vs fudgy brownies number of eggs” and “How do I make fudgy brownies???” I guess that’s not such a bad search history to have.

Especially because these searches did, in fact, yield a bounty of results. It turns out that there are actually three categories of brownies: 1. Cakey (ew), 2. Fudgy, (yay), and 3. Chewy (what?). And then I couldn’t figure out which one I liked better: Fudgy or Chewy?

Fine cooking described fudgy as “dense, with a moist, intensely chocolatey interior” and chewy as “moist, but not quite as gooey as a fudgy one.” First, please stop using the m-word. Secondly, I’ll take one of both, thanks.

Hey, where’d that brownie go? Oh, that’s right. In. my. BELLY.

But really, here’s what I learned:

  1. More fat = fudgier. Ain’t that the truth (if you replace the “f” in fudgier with a “p”). Thus, I used butter and melted chocolate chips (in addition to a tiny bit of cocoa powder).
  2. The development of a brownie crust while baking depends on how much you beat the batter after the eggs are added. This is because beating the eggs forms a meringue, also known as the elusive brownie crust. More beating, more crust. And I do love those brownie crusts.
  3. Less flour = less cakey. My recipe calls for only 1/2 cup all-purpose flour in the entire recipe!

These brownies . . . have a light, delectable crust. And then. Fudge heaven. I know it’s a bit (extremely) presumptuous to call these “Favorite” Fudge Brownies, but I actually like them as much as (or maybe more than? gasp) my trusty Betty Crocker box. And that is saying something. Continue reading

S’mores Rice Krispie Squares

You already know about my love of all things s’mores.

But here’s something I haven’t told you (for fear that you won’t be my friend anymore): I am a fiercely competitive individual. Once, when I was about eight years old, I convinced my opponent (and, yeah, I guess she was my friend) in Monopoly that I could build hotels on any of my properties without owning all three of the same color block. By the end, she owed me $8000. I know, despicable, right?


Don’t say anything yet. We haven’t even talked about one of my favorite games of all time: Taboo. I pretty much turn into a monster whenever I play this game. I am that girl. Yeah, the girl who is blaring out all these random words that don’t even relate to the description because she doesn’t trust anyone to describe the target word besides herself and is hoping one of these words she’s screaming out will somehow hit the mark. And then she swears profusely when she doesn’t get it right. Quite. Obnoxious.


Though, in my defense, my scream-out-every-possible-word strategy does often work. And, top secret tip: People always crack up when the target word is “bimbo.” Like, every single time. So, every time the person giving the hints starts laughing, I shout, “bimbo!” Pretty sure my success rate is at least 1%.

But, back to the whole competitive thing. Even though evidence points to the contrary, I’m not actually telling you incriminating stories about myself just for the sake of it. I’m actually building up to the fact that I developed this recipe for the “incredibly easy” category of the Dallas Morning News Holiday Cookie Contest! My awesome friend Alexa, who is from Dallas and thus, super in the know about these things, told me about the contest, and my competitive side immediately started rearing its ugly head.


Unfortunately, it found its enemy in my procrastinating self, and thus, I may or may not have started thinking about this recipe a couple of nights ago. Sooo I’m not getting my hopes up. I am, however, quite enjoying these bars. Graham cracker crust + marshmallowy rice krispies + melted chocolate = love.

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Sparkling Mint Lemon-Limeade

This weekend was pretty fancypants. Happy Centennial, Rice!

And, like most trips to Houston (or anywhere, really), it was filled with my favorite foods and drinks. Like the mint lemonade at Tiny Boxwoods, which is bursting with insanely refreshing sweet lemony flavor and just a hint of mint.

It also doesn’t hurt that Tiny Boxwoods actually opens out onto a nursery! No, not the kind with babies, but rather, the garden/nature variety. Absolutely gorgeous. But don’t get me wrong, I think babies are gorgeous as well!

Anyway. In addition to my favorite mint lemonade, I also drank Perrier on ice with lime juice for the first time and it. was. SO GOOD. Which is weird, because, 1) I am so not a fancy Perrier drinking kind of girl (who can afford it??), and 2) I don’t generally like plain sparkling water. I find the taste weirdly salty.

Side Note: Clearly Canadian Sparkling Water, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Did anyone else love this stuff?? Strawberry Melon all the way, man.

My sudden palate change may have been related to the glasses of white wine I was also drinking (hey, all in the name of celebrating Rice!)…but perhaps not. I say that because I continued thinking about that Perrier all the way home. Not a joke.

So, because I am quite the indecisive person, I decided to combine all of my favorite drinks from this past weekend for you into Sparkling Mint Lemon-Limeade! You should really be flattered, because this venture required me to finally find the power switch for fix my ice dispenser.

 

But it was so totally worth it. Continue reading