Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

I apologize for the huge gap between this and my last post, but adjusting to graduate school has been….different.  I’ve been really stressed and my body is cruel in that it chooses to handle stress by making me drop-dead tired 24/7.  Cue sleeping my blog time away.  But I’ve still been cooking, and I have a couple of exciting things in the works for this blog.  For one, I bought the domain!  I now own my own little piece of the web.  I also have a new layout coming!  This place is screaming for some color and cuteness.

Okay, about these peanut butter & jelly bars.  My partner is obsessed with peanut butter so he’s always requesting peanut buttery treats, and while I have no problem making them for him, I generally don’t partake because I’m not a huge peanut butter fan outside of a good ol’ PB&J.  These bars, however?  I inhaled them.  I made them while he was away doing his monthly Army stuffs, and it’s a very good thing he came back that night or I probably would have eaten the entire pan.  These bars are just so gooey and chewy and delicious! Continue reading


Filed under Bars, Dessert, Peanut Butter

Moroccan Stewed Chicken

Yumm-o.  This dish is one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever had and it’s simple and quick to put together.  Could you ask for anything better?  This dish has so much flavor; the cayenne provides a little bit of heat, while the cumin and cinnamon add depth and a special touch to the dish.  I served this with some roasted pine nut couscous and plenty of fresh cilantro, and it was the perfect quick weeknight meal.

See, I told you it was simple!  It’s amazing that so few ingredients can produce such big, bold flavor.

Trim the gross stuff off the chicken breasts.  The recipe calls for chicken thighs, by the way, but I chose breasts because I had some in the freezer.

Chop the chicken into one inch pieces.  I’m happy to say that I still have all my fingers, mom!  (I’m fairly very accident prone, so my mom won’t allow me to peel potatoes at her house because she’s sure I’ll lose a finger.  But I do it all the time without any trouble, so ha!)

Salt and pepper your chicken bits (try to pretend that doesn’t sound naughty!).  And if you don’t have a Party Hat Penguin salt shaker, you should be ashamed.

Chop the zucchini into small cubes.

Brown the chicken in some olive oil.  Don’t worry if the chicken doesn’t get completely cooked through; it will be cooked later in the sauce.

When the chicken has browned, add in the zucchini cubes and brown them lightly.

In the meantime, make your stew/sauce.  Add the garbanzo beans…

…the diced tomatoes…

…the chicken stock…

…and the spices.

Add in the browned chicken and zucchini.

Stir to combine all of the ingredients.  Simmer for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender.

Have plenty of cilantro prepared for garnish!  I may have gone a little overboard with the cilantro, if that’s even possible.

Moroccan Stewed Chicken  (from Women’s Health)

makes 6 servings

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 16oz can garbanzo beans
  • 1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Place a drizzle of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Cut chicken into 1 inch chunks.  Season chicken with salt and black pepper and cook until browned.
  3. Add zucchini to chicken and continue cooking, stirring often.
  4. When the zucchini pieces have browned lightly, add garbanzo beans, tomatoes, chicken stock, cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon.  Turn heat to low and simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Season to taste and garnish with cilantro.

Leave a comment

Filed under Chicken, Moroccan

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream and Pastry Cream Filling

Special occasions call for special desserts, and my dad’s surprise 50th birthday party was no exception.  His favorite flavor combination is yellow cake with chocolate frosting, but my mom requested I make these chocolate cupcakes after they were a hit at another party she planned.  This chocolate cake recipe is my go-to; they’re richly flavored and perfectly moist.  Unfortunately, the recipe came from Ina Garten, a woman who can cook like hell but that I can’t stand.  I’m sorry; she seems so snotty and unrelatable with her requirements of “good” ingredients.  You can’t just use cocoa powder, you must use “good” cocoa powder.  Really, Ina?  Why would I want to use “bad” cocoa powder in my baking?  If “good” is her synonym for “expensive”, she needs a reality check.  I doubt many of her fans also reside in the Vineyard and have closets full of over-priced cashmere sweaters that are never actually worn, just draped around the shoulders.  I digress.

Note:  I was seriously lacking on time, so please excuse the lack of pictures and the quality of those I did manage to take.  Also, I doubled the recipe (only for the cake), but this is not reflected in the ingredient picture.  Just want to avoid confusion!

Also, I am a rebel cook.  I rarely follow directions accurately and I don’t quite understand why some people use a timer to tell when something is done.  I never sift dry ingredients together, and I generally fail to add ingredients in the “correct” order.  All in all, I don’t think it matters very much.  So, if my pictures don’t reflect what the recipe says word for word, it’s just because I’m doing my own thing.  Feel free to follow suit.

That delicious liquid in the measuring cup is coffee.  Hot, Moose Munch coffee from Harry & David (my favorite coffee).  Please note my (affect a snotty tone) “good” cocoa powder.  I even used a different brand of cocoa powder for the frosting, gasp!

This is a rather disgusting picture of  vegetable oil (I used olive oil) and eggs.  Yum.

The batter is very thin, but that’s what you’re going for here.  Don’t fret.

I want one of those nifty (but not totally necessary) batter dispensers so I don’t end up with batter everywhere.  I hate a mess.

Voila!  These cupcakes are a gorgeous deep, chocolatey color.

I made the pastry cream filling next so it could have time to cool while I made the buttercream.

This is vaguely what it should look like when finished.  I misread the recipe and used too much liquid, so hopefully yours thickens better than mine!  Oh well, it was still tasty.

Time for my favorite part:  buttercream frosting!  I honestly make icing without measuring, I just taste as I go.  It’s much more fun to do it that way!

Creamed butter is so pretty.  Weird, I know.   And yes, I use an ancient hand mixer from the 80’s that I got for $1 because I am a broke graduate student and I can’t afford a fancy stand mixer.  I’m sure Ina would be impressed.

Finished buttercream!  You can add more cocoa to deepen the flavor and give it a darker color if you’d like, but I was running out of time.  Go ahead and lick the beaters; I won’t tell.

Sloppily filled cupcakes.  This was my first time making filled cupcakes, so my inexperience combined with my horrible piping bag skills was a disaster.  Towards the end, I had a pastry cream explosion and I gave up, leaving a few cupcakes without filling.  No one seemed to notice, and I wasn’t about to waste more time trying again.

The finished product.  I somehow managed to drive over two hours and walk through a very crowded Gatlinhellberg without ruining too many cupcakes.  One boy in the crowd did knock the corner of my box, but he’s still alive so it’s safe to assume he didn’t do much damage.  Rude kids.  I the end, my stressed, rushed baking turned out well and dad’s surprise party was fantastic.  But next time, I’m giving myself more time to work.  Oh, and investing in actual bakery boxes or a cupcake carrier.  My plastic containers and filched shipping box from Walmart cause some of my beautiful buttercream swirls to be smushed.

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake Recipe (from Ina Garten)

(makes 20-ish cupcakes)

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups “good” cocoa powder (puh-lease)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I generally sour milk with vinegar; outcome is the same)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease and/or line your pans.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients.
  4. Combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a separate bowl.
  5. Slowly add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients while mixing on low speed.  Add in the coffee and mix until just combined.
  6. Pour the batter into prepared pans and cook until a cake tester comes out clean, 35-40 minutes for two cake layers or 25-30 minutes for cupcakes.
  7. Cool completely before decorating.

Chocolate Buttercream (from SavorySweetLife)

(makes 3 cups)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Cream butter for a few minutes on medium speed.  Turn off the mixer.
  2. Add confectioners sugar and cocoa powder.
  3. With mixer on low speed, let butter absorb the sugar and cocoa.
  4. Turn back to medium speed and add in wet ingredients.
  5. If the frosting needs to be stiffened, add more confectioners sugar.  If the frosting needs to be thinned, add more heavy cream.  More cocoa powder can also be added to adjust the level of chocolate flavor.

Pastry Cream Filling (from Wilton)

(makes 1 1/3 cups)

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Blend all ingredients except vanilla in a saucepan.
  2. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly until the consistency of medium cream sauce.
  3. Remove from heat; add vanilla extract.
  4. Stir occassionally to prevent skin from forming, or brush top with melted butter.

Note:  I misread the recipe (I was in a hurry, remember?) and added 1 cup of half and half AND 1/2 cup of milk.  It still tasted great, but the consistency was runny.  Oops!

1 Comment

Filed under Chocolate, Cupcake, Dessert, Filling, Frosting

Mini Monkey Bread

Maybe it isn’t the prettiest dessert you’ve ever seen, but your taste buds will not deceive you; this monkey bread is sweet, gooey, and dripping with buttery goodness.  I originally got the idea from my mother, who used to tease me by making this yummy breakfast for her co-workers.  Imagine waking up to the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house, only to be denied a taste.  Maybe one day I’ll forgive her.  Maybe.

The ingredients are simple.

They’re also totally interchangeable.  If you prefer to use white sugar or a mixture of sugars, go for it.  Swap out the vanilla extract for maple syrup or butter flavoring.  I wouldn’t recommend using those gross flaky biscuits as a swap, however, because they are a biscuit abomination.  You want doughy chunks, not flaky, papery chunks.

Combine your brown sugar and cinnamon.  I didn’t measure these ingredients, but I ended up needing about double this amount.  Feel free to use as much or as little sugar and cinnamon as you’d like.  But more is always better, right?  Right.

Combine.  Resist the urge to build a sugarcastle.

Melt the buttah.  Yes, the entire stick.  Add the vanilla extract and whisk it all around.  Then take a moment to squee over my teeny-tiny-itty-bitty wisk.  Aw!

Pop the biscuits out of the can.  I don’t know about you all, but trying to open those cans puts me on the edge of a nervous breakdown.  You just never quite know when that can will pop…..

Cut up the biscuits with your handy kitchen shears.  You can make the bites as large or as small as you’d like; I made them small since I was using a mini bundt pan.

Voila.  They look like little pillows of soft, gluten-y goodness.

Prepare the pan you’re using by greasing it.  My mom always makes monkey bread in a regular bundt pan, but I wanted to use my cute mini bundts.  I sprayed the pan with some cooking spray, but you can use more butter if you’d like.  Can’t hurt, right?

Now for the fun part.

Take a chunk of biscuit dough and slather it in butter.  Yep, dunk it right in there.

Throw that butter-covered chunk of dough into your sugar and cinnamon mixture and roll it around until it is nicely coated.

Try to resist eating the raw dough.  But if the urge is too strong, I can’t fault you.  That looks darn good.

Lather, rinse, and repeat until you’re all out of dough chunks.  Seriously, just look at that gooeyness.  Yum-o.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes (or longer, depending on your pan of choice).

Grab a fork and dig in!  Or, in the case of an emergency, no one will blame you for using your fingers.  These mini monkey breads are best served right out of the oven, but they also reheat well.

Mini Monkey Bread

  • 1 can of biscuits (10-count)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease your pan (with spray, butter, etc.).
  2. Melt butter (about 60 seconds in the microwave).  Add vanilla extract and combine well.
  3. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl.
  4. Cut biscuits into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Dunk each biscuit chunk into the butter mixture, then roll in the sugar mixture until covered.  Place finished chunks into pan.
  6. Repeat step 5 until all biscuit chunks have been covered.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until firm to the touch, as baking times will vary.
  8. Let pan rest for 5 minutes, then turn out monkey bread.  If it sets in the pan, it will be nearly impossible to remove (thanks to the dried sugar).

Leave a comment

Filed under Bread, Breakfast, Cinnamon, Dessert