Saturday, September 13, 2014

Treats for the Troops

The military will always hold a special place in my heart. My Dad served in the Navy for 30 years and my husband for 24, so I guess you can say I've "been" in the military all my life. 

While being the daughter and wife of a service-member often comes at great personal sacrifice, I can honestly say I wouldn't have traded the experience for the world! There were countless times when my Dad wasn't there for birthdays, holidays and school functions. He missed a lot of our major milestones, but in spite of having an absentee Dad, through him I learned the meaning of courage. 

The same can be said for my husband. He wasn't there for the birth of our first child and deployments somehow seemed to fall around the holidays. There were many Christmas mornings spent watching the kids open their presents alone. I can't say you get used to those times, but you do learn ways to cope. Having a husband in the military taught me the meaning of strength.




Now that my husband is retired, I still try to find ways to honor both his and my Dad's service and to show support to our Armed Forces out there serving our country, often in harm's way. My heart goes out to the spouses and children of those families.

Recently a friend asked me to sponsor a unit stationed in Afghanistan by sending them some homemade baked goods. Of course, I was more than happy to help!

I knew I wanted to send something healthy, that could withstand shipping and hopefully still arrive fresh! 




The healthy option I chose was Peanut Butter and Honey Roasted Almond Granola Bars. Peanut Butter is a great source of protein, the oats a great source of fiber and honey is a healthier sweetener than corn syrup. 

I also wanted to include something a bit more fun like this Mini M&M Cookie Brittle. 




The fact that this was a brittle instead of a cookie is what sold me.  I figured if cookies were going to be hard by the time they were delivered, why not send something that was already intended to be crunchy, like brittle.

Here's the link to the recipe I used for the M&M Cookie Brittle. It was really easy to make and delicious! 

Remember, whether you're a baker or not, you can still show your support for the troops in numerous ways. Military.com is a great resource with lots of information. 




Here's the recipe for the granola bars I made. They're inexpensive, easy to make & don't require any baking! Why not whip up a batch, try them for yourself or send some to the troops?


Peanut Butter & Honey Roasted Almond Granola Bars
Makes approx 16 thick, large-size bars


Ingredients:
4 cups quick oats
3 cups rice krispy cereal
1 1/2 cups sliced honey roasted almonds (I used Trader Joe's brand)
1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 cup honey
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Prepare a 13"x9" baking pan (mine was actually 15" so my bars were a little thinner) by spraying with non-stick spray, lining with non-stick foil or lining with regular foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cereal and almonds. Set aside.

Place the peanut butter, brown sugar, honey and salt in a large microwave safe bowl. Heat on high for 1 minute, remove and stir, then heat on high for another minute, stir and heat for another 30 seconds. 

Remove, add vanilla extract and whisk for 30 seconds or until well combined making sure there are no lumps of brown sugar.

Pour the mixture over the oat-cereal-nut mixture, then fold well with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is well coated.




Dump the mixture into the prepared pan and press down into an even layer, pressing firmly to compact the mixture. 

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a few hours. When well set and firmed up, remove from the fridge and cut into bars.




Store tightly covered in the refrigerator or wrap individually and store at room temp for about a week.

For shipping, I wrapped the bars individually and stacked them in an air tight container from the Dollar Store.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

Roasted Veggie Salad with Israeli Couscous & Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette

When it comes to comfort food, Salad is usually not at the top of my list. To me, comfort food is usually something warm and substantial, like your favorite cozy blanket. When I've eaten a salad, I usually feel like I haven't eaten anything afterwards and it leaves me wanting more. This salad, however, is different. I find myself craving it. I think it has something to do with all of the roasted veggies - there are over 7 in this salad and you can always add more if you like (think eggplant, butternut squash or red potatoes)! The pasta also helps to make the salad feel like it has body. 

Add a protein on top (so far I've served it topped with salmon and steak, chicken will be next!) and you've got a complete meal.



I know all of the prep work sounds like a lot, but don't let all of the roasting dissuade you from trying this recipe. Plan ahead and roast the veggies the morning of or the night before! Make the dressing and your protein (if adding) ahead. Then all you need to do is make your pasta, toss and serve! 



Roasted Veggie Salad with Israeli Couscous & Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette
Serves 6 as an entree or 10 as a side dish

Salad Ingredients:
1 package Roasted Garlic Israeli Couscous (aka Pearl Pasta)
1 package mini sweet peppers (usually 3 colors in the package - red, orange and yellow) - I use 14 of the peppers for this recipe. Remove the stem, ribs and seeds, then cut the small peppers in half and cut any large peppers in quarters
3 large carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1/2" thick slices
2 medium size zucchini cut into 1/2" disks, then halved
1 package of white button mushrooms, halved
1 large red onion cut into chunks
1/2 bunch of asparagus cut on the diagonal into 1" pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes , halved
1/2 package fresh baby spinach
1 package spring mix greens or field greens
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 tablespoon honey (for roasting the carrots)


Dressing Ingredients:
6 T good quality extra virgin olive oil
6 T fresh lemon juice
Zest from 1 large lemon 
6 small garlic cloves finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped chives
kosher salt & fresh ground pepper to taste


Protein of your choice cooked as desired. So far, I've served this salad topped with grilled salmon and chimichurri steak. Here's the link to the steak recipe - 

Directions:

Make the dressing - 

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small mason jar and shake well to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
** The dressing recipe makes more than you'll need for the salad. It's a great all-purpose dressing so save the remainder for another use!

Roast the veggies:

Preheat oven to 450F

Line rimmed baking sheets with foil. You'll need about 3-4 baking sheets. If you don't have this many, just roast the veggies in batches. Make sure you like the baking sheets with foil for easy clean-up in between roasting.

1. Place the carrots on one of the foil lined baking sheets. Drizzle with the honey, season with salt & pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15-20  minutes or until just tender and beginning to caramelize.

2. Place the peppers and onions together on one of the foil lined baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Roast for approx 15-20 minutes or until the peppers and onions are lightly charred. You definitely want char on these veggies for more flavor.

3. Place the zucchini and mushrooms together on one of the foil lined baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Roast for approx 10 minutes or until tender (but not too mushy).

4. Place asparagus on one of the foil lined baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Roast for approx 5 minutes.

5. Place the halved tomatoes on one of the foil lined baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Roast for approx 3 minutes or just until the tomato skins burst.

Place all of the roasted veggies in a large bowl or platter. Drain any juices that may have accumulated during roasting.



When you are done roasting the veggies, cook the Israeli Couscous according to the package directions. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before assembling the salad.

Assemble the salad - 

1. Place the slightly warm Israeli Couscous in a large bowl. Add the spinach and toss. This will help to wilt the spinach a bit.

2. Add half of the dressing and all of the roasted veggies. Toss gently to combine.

To serve the salad - 

1. Use a very large platter (preferably with a rim). If you don't have a platter large enough to fit all of the salad, serve the majority of the salad on the platter then replenish as needed.

2. Place the spring mix or field greens on the platter. Carefully arrange the roasted veggie mixture on top of the greens.

3. Top with your protein of choice and serve.

Enjoy!!

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge until the next day. Add additional spring mix or field greens before serving (and top with more dressing if needed).

Here's a photo of the Israeli Couscous I used. Feel free to use your favorite.




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Peanut Butter Overload Brownies for The Leftovers Club

You can never go wrong with Chocolate and Peanut Butter, at least in my opinion. It's a match made in food heaven. When I saw that Oreo introduced a new peanut butter filled flavor (how could they!), I knew I had to bake something with them, so this happened... 

It all starts with a layer of brownie batter that gets topped with Peanut Butter Oreos, followed by a layer of peanut butter "frosting", dark chocolate ganache and more Peanut Butter Oreos. Boy are these good!



I hope my partner for this month's Leftover's Club, Michele from Alwayz Bakin enjoys them. They're a little over the top, but that's not a bad thing, is it?

If you'd like to join a fun group of fellow bloggers and exchange delicious treats once a month, please head over to Food Ramblings to sign up!



Peanut Butter Overload Brownies 
Makes 12 brownies 

Ingredients: 

Brownie Layer: 
Use your favorite brownie recipe or a boxed mix 
10 Peanut Butter Oreos (5 kept whole and 5 coarsely chopped in large chunks) 

Peanut Butter Layer: 
2  2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2  cup peanut butter
6 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache Layer:
9 ounces dark chocolate
1/3 cup peanut butter
11 Peanut Butter Oreo Cookies (6 kept whole, 5 coarsely chopped into large chunks)

Directions: 
Preheat your oven to 350f
Line an 8"x 8" or 9" x 9" baking pan with non-stick foil or spray regular foil with non-stick cooking spray. 

Prepare your favorite brownie recipe (or boxed mix) according to the directions and bake as directed. About 8 minutes before the brownies are done, top with the whole and chopped Oreos. Finish baking then remove from oven and allow to cool completely. 



When brownies are completely cooled, prepare the peanut butter layer by combining all of the Peanut Butter Layer ingredients in a large bowl and whisking until well combined. Dollop over the cooled brownies and spread into an even layer. Refrigerate for approx 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes. 

When brownies have finished chilling, make the chocolate ganache layer. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and stir until completely melted. All the peanut butter and stir to combine. Pour over the chilled peanut butter layer, then top with the whole Oreos and sprinkle with the chopped Oreos pressing slightly to make sure they adhere to the chocolate. 







Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes until chocolate is set and brownies are firm.

Cut the brownies into 12 equally sized squares. To serve, allow the brownies to come to room temperature for about 15 minutes. 




Store leftovers in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Seal of Approval ...Simple Blackberry Lemonade




I actually second guessed posting this recipe. It's just so simple, I figured how could it be great? But it truly is. Here's how it came about...
 
Last month I had my 6-year old Goddaughter and her parents over for the weekend.  I made them dinner, but needed a refreshing drink to go with it.  Of course I didn't have any juice in the fridge since I don't really drink juice. 
 
   Not wanting to make a run to the store, I searched the fridge for ingredients to make juice. Luckily, I found a bag of frozen blackberries and a few lemons.  That is how my Simple Blackberry Lemonade was created! LOL! I have to laugh, because, honest to God, that was all it took. Everyone loved it!   
 
The following day, I found myself in the same predicament....My boyfriend and his friend were in the garage working on his car.  It was a warm day and I knew they were dying from the heat so I decided to whip up another batch of the refreshing Simple Blackberry Lemonade.  Once again, I received tons of compliments.
 
At that point, I figured I might be onto something, however the final stamp of approval came a few weeks later when my Aunt was visiting from Mexico. We were relaxing and chatting about the blog, food and other general stuff we talk about when we get together. The topic of my Goddaughter's visit came up and my Aunt asked me about the "amazing" drink I had made. My Goddaughter's exact words to my Aunt were, "My Nina made me the best juice!"  Let's just say that her compliment made my day...heck it made my whole week! At that point I was starting to think I should bottle this stuff!
 
 
Instead I am sharing this recipe with you so you can enjoy this refreshingly simple drink at home. It has great blackberry flavor with just the right amount of sweetness and just enough lemon to make sure it's not too tart. Plus it's kid & adult approved!  
 

Happy cooking everyone!
 


 


Simple Blackberry Lemonade
Makes 1 pitcher (approx. 6 servings)
 
 
Ingredients
1 bag Frozen Blackberries (approx. 2 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large lemons (or 4 small ones)
7-8 cups cold water
Ice



 

Directions:
Add Sugar and 1 cup of water into small pan.   Cook at low heat for  3-5 minutes, just enough to dissolve the sugar (this is very similar to making a simple syrup, but usually with simple syrup you reduce the liquid to 1/2, in this recipe you do not. You just need to dissolve the sugar and warm it up a bit)


Put 1 1/2 cups of frozen blackberries into your blender  with the juice of 2 lemons (not 3) and two cups of water.  Blend for 1-2 minutes till the berries are completly blended into pulp. 




In a large pitcher, add the blackberry pulp and mix in 1/2 cup of frozen blackberries and 1 lemon cut into slices.

















By this time your sugar has dissolved, add it to bowl filled with 4 cups of very cold water. Stir to cool it down   

Final step, add Berry Lemon mixture to pitcher, add cold water with sugar.  Mix.  If you need a bit more water, add one more cup of cold water (depends on how sweet you want it).



Serve over ice

Yep, that is it!!!













Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sea Salt Dulce de Leche Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars

For this month's Leftover's Club, I was paired with Sarah from The Self-Trained Chef.  Sarah has a wide variety of great recipes on her blog. She most recently made this homemade Rosemary Focaccia which I have been dying to try to make at home. I'm definitely going to have to give her recipe a try!
I knew I wanted to send Sarah some type of cookie bar using my favorite Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips, but I wanted to make them extra special by using some ingredients I had on hand - leftover Dulce de Leche from these Mini Churro Cheesecakes I made recently for a friend's baby shower and some toffee chips I had in my pantry. To counter balance the sweetness of the bars, I sprinkled sea salt on top for just a slight touch of saltiness.
Sweet + Salty = Delish!
If you'd like to join a great group of fellow bloggers and exchange goodies with us each month, please sign up at Food Ramblings

Sea Salt Dulce de Leche Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars
Makes 12 large bars or 16 regular size bars
Adapted from Bakerita
Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (use dark brown for best flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temp
1 1/4 cup Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chips
1/2 cup toffee bits
3/4 cup Dulce de Leche
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Directions:
Line a 13"x9" baking pan with non-stick foil (or spray regular foil with non-stick cooking spray).
Make the brown butter by placing the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Allow the butter to melt, swirling the pan frequently to prevent burning. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter stops foaming and golden brown bits form on the bottom of the pan. Watch carefully, once the butter starts to brown it can burn very quickly.
Pour the brown butter into a small bowl and allow to cool for 20-25 minutes.
While the butter is cooling, preheat the oven to 350f.
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using your hand mixer) cream the cooled brown butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar together at medium speed until well combined (approx. 2 minutes).
Mix in eggs, one at a time, at low speed until well combined, then mix in the vanilla extract.
Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until combined. A few remaining streaks of flour is ok.
Fold in the chocolate chips and toffee bits by hand using a rubber spatula.
Spread half of the cookie batter into the prepared baking pan.
Place the Dulce de Leche in a small bowl and microwave for approx. 10-15 seconds just to loosen it up. Stir well.
Dollop the Dulce de Leche over the cookie batter in the pan, then carefully spread into an even layer (the dough may not be completely covered which is ok).
Dollop the remaining cookie batter over the top of the Dulce de Leche and spread carefully.
Sprinkle the top with the coarse sea salt.
Bake approx. 25 minutes or until light golden brown and set. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Cool completely, then remove from pan & cut into bars.
Enjoy!
Store leftovers tightly covered at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mini Churro Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche Swirls, Fresh Cinnamon Whipped Cream & Churro Hearts

If you've been following LiveBakeLove for a while, you know that last year we made desserts for a friend's wedding.
 
One of the desserts we made were these Churro Cupcakes. Since then, this recipe has been a big hit for us. If you haven't tried it yet, I strongly recommend that you do.

 
 
Well, as life would have it, this same friend is now pregnant with a baby girl and we had the honor of catering her Baby Shower! I wanted to pay tribute to this special occasion by making an updated version of the Churro Cupcakes we served at her wedding.  And really, what better update is there than cheesecake?
 
I took the same flavors of the Churro Cupcakes (cinnamon, dulce de leche and vanilla) and incorporated them into this delicious, creamy, cheesecake recipe. But wait, I didn't stop there! I used Biscoff Cookies for the crust. Yum! Who doesn't love Biscoff (aka Cookie Butter)?

 
 
And of course, no Baby Shower dessert is complete without a cute topper. These "Churro" Hearts were the perfect finishing touch.
 
Both recipes are winners & we hope you give them both a try!



Mini Churro Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche Swirls, Fresh Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Whipped Cream & Churro Hearts
Makes 28 cupcake size cheesecakes

Ingredients:

Crust:
1 1/2 packages Biscoff Cookies
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Filling Ingredients:
3  8 oz packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Dulce de Leche (I use La Lechera brand found in the Mexican section of your grocery store)

Topping & Garnish:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or sub vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 whole wheat tortilla
extra granulated sugar and cinnamon for dusting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300f. Line cupcake pans with 28 cupcake liners.

Make the crust:

Place the Biscoff cookies in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until crumbs are formed. Place the Biscoff Cookie Crumbs in a medium size bowl. Add about half of the melted butter and mix with a fork until well combined. Gradually add and mix in more butter until the mixture holds together when squeezed in the palm of your hand. You may not need to use all of the melted butter.

Evenly distribute the crumb mixture between the 28 prepared cupcake liners and press firmly to create a crust. Set aside.

Make the filling:

Place the cream cheese, sugar,  cinnamon and vanilla in a large bowl. With your hand mixer, beat the mixture at medium-low speed until creamy.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

Mix in the eggs one at a time at low speed mixing just until combined after each addition and scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

Add the sour cream and mix on low speed just until combined. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared cupcake pans.

Place the Dulce de Leche in a small bowl and microwave for a few seconds and stir well to soften slightly. This makes it easier to swirl into the cheesecake batter.

Top with approx. 1/2 teaspoon of Dulce de Leche and swirl gently with a toothpick or skewer. Be careful not to go too deep so you don't disturb the crust. Also don't swirl too much or the caramel will dissolve into the cheesecake batter.

Bake (2 pans at a time) just until the cheesecakes are set and don't jiggle in the middle (approx. 20 minutes). The cheesecakes may puff up a little, but they shouldn't be puffy and cracked.

Remove from oven and place on a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool to room temperature then place in the fridge until chilled. Remove the cheesecakes from the pans and allow to chill in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 8 hours or overnight.

Decorate and garnish (after cheesecakes have chilled 8 hours or overnight)

Place the heavy whipping cream in the bowl of your electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Tip: I chill my bowl and whisk in the freezer for 10 minutes before mixing.

Whip on medium speed until foamy then increase speed and gradually add the powdered sugar, the vanilla bean paste and the cinnamon. Whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Do not overmix. Place in the fridge while you make the Churro Hearts...

Place 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon in a bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

Using a small 1" heart shaped cookie cutter, cut 28 hearts from the wheat tortilla. Working in batches, fry the tortilla hearts until golden brown and crispy, then immediately toss in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Top with the cheesecakes with the whipped cream and garnish with a churro heart.

Enjoy!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mexican Banana Cream Pie




If you love pie, I mean really, truly, deep down in your heart love pie, especially Banana Cream Pie, then you will LOVE this recipe. I needed a dessert for a "Mexican inspired" dinner I was making for a friend that had recently been ill. I made a Corn and Poblano Lasagna (recipe to come), Kale Salad and this delicious Mexican Banana Cream Pie.  
 
I'm asked all the time where I get my inspiration from. Honestly, from anything that sounds, tastes, looks or smells delicious! I got my inspiration for this recipe while watching an episode of  The Kitchen hosted by one of my favorite Food Network chefs, Marcela Valladolid. She was making her Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie. That was all I needed to be inspired!  
 
I made Marcella's recipe and it was amazing, but I wanted something a bit more like the traditional American Banana Cream pie so I came up with my own version. It has all the same ingredients as the original recipe, just made a bit lighter in texture. 

 
Both recipes are delicious, so I wouldn't be offended at all if you make her recipe (which you can find here), but I really hope you'll give this recipe a try as well.
 
I can't say enough how much I love this pie! It is truly a pie lover's dream - sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy all in one.  And of course, you can't forget the star of the show, the fresh bananas! 

Happy cooking everyone!


Mexican Banana Cream Pie
Makes one pie (serves 8-10)

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup roasted peanuts (finely chopped, food processor works the best)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick butter - melted (I used the sweet cream, which has salt)

FILLING:
Top layer
4 oz cream cheese (softened)
1/2 stick butter (softened)
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Middle layer
3 medium banana (you don't want the bananas to be over-ripe for this recipe. Skin should still be yellow with no browning)

Bottom Layer
1 Cup Dulce De Leche (Nestle makes it, in the Mexican food section, but if you cannot find, a thick Caramel will work)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (liquid)

Sprinkle Top
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
3 tablespoons Caramel (reserved from your Dulce De Leche before making the bottom layer filling)

DIRECTIONS:

Crust-
1. Mix Graham cracker crumbs, peanut crumbs, cinnamon and butter.  Toss to combine until the crumbs are coated.
2. Press lightly into the bottom and up the sides of you pie plate.
3. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.



While the crust is chilling start on the filling....

Cream Cheese Top layer Filling-
1. Cream the softened butter and cream cheese until well combined and fluffy.
2. Add the powdered sugar and cinnamon, beat slowly until combined.
3. Add the heavy whipping cream.  Whip until stiff peaks form.
4.Refrigerate for 10 minutes.





Caramel Bottom layer filling-
1. Cream whipping cream until it forms stiff peaks. Set aside
2.  Mix the caramel enough to loosen it up.  Not too much or it will become liquid.
3. Fold in whipped cream.
4.Refrigerate 5-10 minutes





After all of the ingredients have been chilled, slice the bananas. 

Assembly:

1. Remove cold crust from refrigerator.
2. Spread the caramel into an even layer on top of the crust.



3. Layer the sliced bananas over the caramel.


4. Spread the cream cheese mixture in an even layer over the bananas.


5. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours
6. Sprinkle with peanuts and drizzle with melted caramel (optional)



Enjoy!!!!