Peanut Butter Marbled Brownies

To begin, I must say this: Yay for the 200th post! :D

So our big vacation is creeping steadily closer. And while I'm thrilled with the "only so-and-so many working days left!" countdown, I am starting to get a bit nervous.

Oh, did I mention where we were going? For Dave's mom's 60th birthday, his dad decided to take the family on a cruise. An Alaskan cruise. (Have I mentioned how glad I am to be part of this family? Just kidding lol) We fly out on May 8th, for two days in Vancouver (haven't been there yet; heck, haven't been to Canada either!), then a seven day cruise through the southern part of Alaska, two days in Denali National Forest, and then what winds up being a day and a half in Fairbanks. We get back here on the 21st. I am super-duper excited. So many new places and all the food! I was looking at the cruise website and their sample menus. *jaw drops* Holy moly.

But I am nervous, though. I'm not a big fan of boats. I've been on two in my entire life (those dinner/dance cruise-around-the-harbour kinds in Norfolk, VA, and up in Boston), and those were okay. They were big enough. So I'm sure I'll be fine. But still, I wouldn't be me if I weren't a bit wary of it.

Anyways, that has nothing to do with these brownies, but I couldn't come up with anything else to say. :D (It was a long day at work today, can you tell?)

So. Brownies. I poked through the cabinet and discovered I still had some of the Nestle's Swirled morsels. When nothing came up on my usual blogs, I decided to go the Nestle website. These won mostly because it involved the same temperature as the strawberry lime bars.

They remind me a great deal of those Peanut Butter Munchies from January. PB and I got along well enough. But these I have no qualms about bringing to work or sharing with my dad. Besides, there are still some of the pomegranate chocolate cupcakes; everyone else can have those and these, and I'll have my lime bars. ;)

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1-2/3 cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. water
10-oz. Nestle's Peanut Butter/Chocolate Swirled morsels, divided
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13x9-inch baking pan.

Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl; set aside.

Beat butter, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture alternately with water. Stir in 1 cup morsels. Spread in prepared pan.

Combine peanut butter and granulated sugar medium, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until it reaches a pourable consistency. Stir until smooth. Drop mixture by teaspoonful over batter in pan. Swirl into brownie batter with back of a spoon. Sprinkle with remaining morsels.

Bake at 350F for 23-28 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out still slightly sticky. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

Strawberry Lime Bars

Last week, when Johanna told me it was in the 90s in the San Jose area, I told her to send me some. Because, frankly, spring really hadn't felt like it arrived yet. Yeah, some low 60s here and there, but that's it.

Until she sent me some warm weather. It hit 87F here, folks. Probably about 84F by the water where I am. It's about freakin' time. :D

So, having seen the forecast, I knew I wanted something summery. And I'm sure you can imagine where this is going. The Lime Monster snuck in the back door when I let the dog out. ;)

These are pretty much the exact same thing as last year's Strawberry Lemon Bars, which tasted just like strawberry lemonade. And, hey, amazingly enough, these taste like strawberry limeaid. (Hmm... wonder if I could do this with cherries? Mmmm, cherry limemade...)

Usually I bring a good portion of the baked goodies to work to share with my friends. I don't know if these are going to make it there. LOL Can you tell sometimes that I'm an only child? ;)

7/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Lime Filling:
2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1½ Tbsp. flour
¼ cup lime juice
2 tsp lime zest, from 2 limes
2 Tbsp milk
Pinch of salt

Strawberry Puree:
1 cup chopped strawberries
1–2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, depending on how sweet the berries are

Mix the chopped strawberries with sugar and set aside to macerate for about 30 minutes.

Mix flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a bowl. Add the pieces of butter and, using a pastry blender or your hands, mix until it's a pale yellow and looks like coarse cornmeal. Line an 8x8 baking pan with a sheet of parchment. Press crust mixture into an even ¼-inch thick layer and about ½-inch up the sides. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

Blend the strawberries in a food processor (for a few seconds) or mash with a fork until there are no large chunks. Cook over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes until thickened. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350F and bake crust for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

For filling: Whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and salt in a bowl until the sugar dissolves. Then whisk in the lime juice, zest, and milk.

Reduce the oven temp to 325F.

Pour the filling into the crust. Drop spoonfuls of the strawberry mixture on the surface. Use spoon or knife to swirl the strawberries through the filling.

Bake at 325F for about 20-22 minutes, or until the filling feels firm when touched lightly. Cool to room temperature, and dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.


Cooking to Combat Cancer 3 : Mini Pomegranate Chocolate Cupakes

I am very, very happy to see that Chris from Mele Cotte is once again hosting the Cooking to Combat Cancer blog event. The first one was my very first blog event. That and like so many others, cancer hits close to home.

My dad's currently going through round number four of chemo. He started it earlier in the month, and is starting to hit the not so fun stage of the side affects. Extreme tiredness and vertigo seem to be the big ones right now. And trouble hearing, oddly enough. It's harder on me, personally, this time, since during the previous rounds, I was still out in California. But when it gets hard, I always have baking and books to distract me. ;)

We all know how wonderful pomegranates are. Not just taste-wise, but also their benefits towards health. High in antioxidants, vitamin B5 and vitamin C. While most studies have mentioned it's use in heart disease, there are clinical trials going on now for its effects on prostate cancer.

For my dad, I figured this would be an easy way to get him something that's high in antioxidants. We all know chemo greatly weakens the immune system, so any extra help has got to be good, right? And if it's bite-sized and involving chocolate, my dad's likely to be there. :)

The cupcake itself is vegan, and the cream cheese frosting can easily be converted just by using non-dairy cream cheese. So it's a win-win for all, I think. Definitely use the straight up pomegranate juice, not the combination of flavors or anything made from concentrate, as the flavor will be stronger. (POM brand would be excellent; same with Whole Foods' brand.) The cream cheese provides a nice contrast in flavor, plus, hey, there's calcium! ;)

Oh! I used the recipe on this without halfing it at all. I wound up with 24 mini cupcakes and 12 regular sized. So, feel free to half it or third it, whatever, to make the amount you want.

1½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup pomegranate juice
½ cup boiling water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. vinegar
½ Tbsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 mini muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together into a mixing bowl, leaving a well in the center.

Combine pomegranate juice and boiling water in a measuring cup, stirring to combine. Add vegetable oil, vinegar, and vanilla to the cup. Pour into mixing bowl, beating until combined. Batter will be thin. Fill paper liners about halfway full.

Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. milk
1½-2 cups confectioners' sugar

Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and milk. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating until combined. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes before using.


Vanilla Marble Blondies

As many people will attest, the Kitchen Aid mixer is like the Ultimate of the Kitchen Appliances. Mine answers to the name of HG (short for Holy Grail; we don't want to be uppity, after all). I discovered something this weekend, however.

HG has a sidekick. Yep. The KA Handmixer. A birthday present, the as yet unnamed buddy, proved his/her worth with this recipe. Any suggestions on a name? HG, Jr seems a little... simplistic. I think the handmixer needs its own identity. A superhero cape would be pushing it, though. HG gets that first. ;)

Anyways, this is my other weekend baked good. I can't remember how long ago I found this at the Domestic Goddess blog. And I kept putting it off and putting it off, and I could just hit myself over the head for doing that.

Oh my god. The batters by themselves were awesome, but together? What a marriage made in heaven. I really need too work through that list a bit faster. :)

Blondie Base:
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 oz white chocolate, chopped
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

Cheesecake Top:
8 oz. cream cheese, well softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
¼ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment and set aside.

Over a pot of simmering water start to melt butter. Add white chocolate and stir until melted. Allow to cool to room temperature.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs until creamy. Add sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until pale and thick. Reduce speed to medium and add cooled, melted white chocolate.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt and stir into egg mixture, by hand. Set aside.

Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop into pan along with blondie batter, then swirl together with a knife or spatula.

Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, or until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Spiced Brownie

This weekend was all about that ever-growing "to make" list. I keep discovering all these delicious looking treats, bookmarking them, and then, well, the cycle repeats. :) But this weekend, not only did one on the list get made, but TWO! That have been languishing for quite some time.

Thie first one comes from Smitten Kitchen, who acquired it from the Baked: New Frontiers in Baking cookbook. I really liked the idea of a spicier brownie, but knew that the chipotle would not go over well with my parents. That, and, well, there wasn't any in the spice 'rack'. I did up the cinnamon quantity a wee bit, though.

My dad felt he sould do a taste test... for "quality control," of course. "It's like a cake, but fudgier," was his commentary. Then he wanted another piece. And then another. This is good, though. If I can keep him eating through/despite the chemo, it'll definitely be helpful.

So my thoughts? I'm adoring these. For once, something with cardamom DOESN'T taste citrus-y. It compliments the chocolate and the cinnamon, and it is just fabulous. I'll make these again in the "full" version. (I did a half-batch, just in case.) :)

Oh, and I'm posting the full version, and minusing what I didn't include. So it's easier for my future reference. LOL

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. dark unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cardamom
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9x13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake at 350F in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, before cutting into squares.


Strawberry-Kiwi Cream Tart

This is one of my favorite recipes. Not only because it's so super-duper easy, but it's also one of the first recipes that I ever put together myself. And it's versatile. I prefer the strawberry/kiwi combination, but you could do whatever the season calls for. A few years ago I made an apple variant, with cinnamon and nutmeg, and mmm! Just as good.

Another plus? Only 6-8 minutes in the oven, and that's it. Perfect for the warmer weather.

Do make sure to grease the tart pan (I forgot this time). It still came out easily enough, but it wasn't the prettiest slice at first. :)

(Oh, and Dave gets credit for this picture) :D

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup sugar
8 Tbsp. butter, melted

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. almond extract
1 4-oz. package vanilla pudding

1 or 2 kiwis, sliced
1 cup strawberry slices

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9- or 10-inch tart pan.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter; press onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract until smooth and combined. Spread over cooled crust.

Make pudding according to package instructions. Pour over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate for at least 10-15 minutes. Decorate with fruit as desired.

Chocolate Layer Cake

Confession time: before yesterday, I had never made a layer cake today.

Yeah, there was the "helping" as a kid when my mom was baking, but at six, how much help can a kid be? Other than licking the beaters afterwards, of course. And once I started baking, out in CA, I never made layer cakes because so often it was just me and my roommate, or me and Dave. So, thus, my layer cake virginity is no more.

My family, for the most part, loves chocolate. So when it was official family would be coming over for Easter, chocolate cake was a must. Hershey's website was most helpful for the cake recipe, but, alas, when standing in front of the confectioners' sugar at the grocery store, I got lazy and went with the pre-made frosting. *cringes* I know, I know.

I did get creative, though. Vanilla frosting between the layers, then covered in chocolate frosting. And everyone loved it, enough to bring home some for later. :)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
½ cup applesauce
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, applesauce, and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.


Lemon Cheesecake Bars

Alright, not to toot my own horn here, but honestly, I really feel that I outdid myself on these babies.

Backstory: I asked my friends at work what they wanted for baked goods this week, since I didn't really have anything set in mind. Tasha suggested cheesecake bars, since she loved the Nutella ones. Mind you, this is the girl that says she doesn't like cheesecake (What the duck?!). I've maintained from that day that I'd bring her over to the cheesecake side. And this might be the winning step.

Shockingly enough, it's a Martha Stewart recipe. Martha and I have had our, ahem, disagreements in the past, so it's a big deal that this recipe turned out as well as it did. And I would very much like to try this with lime juice next time. Mmmm... lime. ;) The only change I made is to up the amount of lemon juice, because I really want a stronger flavor than the previous bars.

8 graham crackers, crushed
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

16 oz. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3-4 Tbsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease an 8-inch baking pan.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter. Press onto the bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and lemon juice, beating until combined. Pour over hot crust.

Bake at 325F for 30-35 minutes, or until center is nearly set. Let cool completely (or overnight) before cutting into bars.

Simple Peanut Butter Cookies

When I woke up yesterday morning, I only knew of one thing that I was going to be baking. This wasn't it.

I started poking around my usual fave blogs for inspiration, and somehow peanut butter came to mind. I guess me and PB are having some good times right now. And, not surprisingly, I found myself over at Cookie Madness, browsing through the peanut butter section. Simplicity was the goal, since I'm so ehh on cookie-making still. So when I found this recipe, I just halved everything and went from there. I wound up with about a dozen normal-sized cookies and one larger heart-shaped cookie for Dave. :)

Oh, and the taste? There are five cookies left. That pretty much sums it up, right?

¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
½ cup peanut butter
1 egg
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in peanut butter and egg, followed by the salt, baking soda, and vanilla. Gradually add flour.

Form dough into 1-inch balls, placing them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Use a fork to create criss-cross marks on the top.

Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Let sit on pan for a few minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.