In the Kitchen: Caramel Apple Mini Pies

For the past ten years or so, my husband and I have gone apple picking on my birthday. The timing is perfect for us (October 15) because our favorite, braeburn, are pretty much the only thing left on the trees. We pick a lot of apples, so many we can hardly carry them all. I think we usually go back for more, too.

I spend the next few weeks making apple butter, apple sauce and apple jelly (my dad’s favorite), but we’ve actually never picked enough to leave room for making pie filling. Honestly, I’m not really a huge fruit pie fan, will the exception of cold soggy tart cherry pie, which any family member of mine will attest to.

This year we will not be picking apples on my birthday, because I’ve been picking them from my very own trees for the last two months! There are still a few left hanging and I still have buckets around the house and bowlfuls in the fridge, but I’ve already processed more apples this year than the last ten combined. That meant my first attempt at pie filling! It was almost a debacle. Actually, I think it does qualify as a debacle, but a salvaged one. In the end all it meant was the quarts I intended to have became pints. I’ve since been on a mission to come up with some mini dessert recipes that someone could easily make with a smaller amount of pie filling, and here’s my first! Did I mentioned those are marshmallows on top?

Ingredients
pie crust dough (homemade or store bought roll)
apple pie filling (homemade or store bought can)
caramel baking bits (in the baking aisle with the chocolate chips)
mini marshmallows

Aside from being quick and easy, the beauty of this recipe is you can make just a few or a whole baking sheet worth at a time. Leftover dough and filling can be stored in the fridge to make something else or bake more fresh later.

Preheat oven to 400°. Cut 4″ to 5″ circles from the dough, depending on what size you’d like the finished pies (I cut about 4.5″). Spoon one to two tablespoon of filling in the center (you can cut up the apples if you’d like or need to). Sprinkle the caramel bits on top of the filling (as few or as many as you’d like), then fold up and crimp the edges.

Bake for about 10 – 15 min until the crust edges start to brown. Remove from the oven and cover the top with the mini marshmallows. You can also cut up full size marshmallows if you happen to have those. I wasn’t sure if too many would make the pie’s too sweet so I went light on them as you can see in the photo, but they were amazing and next time I’m totally piling them on!

Return to the oven for about 3 – 5 minutes until the marshmallows start to puff and brown.

As hard as it will be, I recommend waiting about 10 minutes before serving for the marshmallows to set and the pies to cool a bit because they will be bubbling!

I made a few without the caramel bits and they were excellent as well. You can also drizzle caramel (or butterscotch) sauce over the top in lieu of baking with the bits. Hope you enjoy!

Advertisements

In the Kitchen: Glazed Lemon Cheesecake

If I could eat only one dessert for the rest of my life, anything involving peanut butter and chocolate would win hands down, but this cheesecake would be a close second. There’s just something about lemon that I find irresistible no matter what the form.

This creamy, lemon-flavored cheesecake is topped with a homemade lemon curd glaze that is truly just too delicious for me to express, especially considering it requires only seven basic ingredients and is quick and easy to make.
Crust
2 1/4 cups honey graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted
Filling
3 8oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice*
1 heaping Tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Glaze
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons grated lemon peel
6 Tablespoons butter
*You will need a total of 3-4 medium to large lemons. Zest all the lemons before squeezing.
Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl and press onto the bottom and 2″ up the sides of a 9″ springform pan. Set the pan on a baking sheet and bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Let sit on a wire rack while you prepare the filling. Keep the oven at 350°.
For the filling, in a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and beat on low until combined. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon peel and vanilla until just blended.
Pour slowly into crust, return pan to baking sheet and bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until edges are set and center is almost set. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the crust, cool for another hour then refrigerate overnight before serving.
For the glaze, in a small heavy saucepan, whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and peel until blended. Add butter and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Transfer to a small bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.
Spread glaze on cheesecake before serving or serve it on the side with slices – yum! You will have about twice as much curd as you need to glaze the cheesecake but if you don’t just eat it with a spoon (trust me, you will want to), it’s delicious on toast, biscuits, scones, ice cream and sugar cookies!
This dessert is rich and decadent but still feels and tastes light and refreshing because of the lemon making it the perfect ending to a heavy holiday meal or a backyard BBQ on a hot summer day.
And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Tired of traditional pumpkin pie or looking to shake things up this Thanksgiving? Then I have just the recipe for you. Best part is you could practically make it with your eyes closed, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. I’m just sayin’, it’s really easy! My mom described it as ‘orgasmic’, so I guess that means it’s also pretty darn tasty, and I’ll second that.
Ingredients
10 oz bread*
15 oz pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1/4 cup light brown sugar**
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup pecans, optional
Bourbon Caramel Sauce
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3/8 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp Bourbon, optional

*When it comes to bread just about any will work and you want it to be a little stale, so whatever kind you use, let it sit out uncovered for about a day. I first tried this recipe with sourdough, then with whole wheat and italian, and all three were delicious. A brioche or french would also work nicely or you can get extra fancy by using croissants or cinnamon raisin bread.
You shouldn’t need more than 10 oz of bread, maybe less depending on what kind and the shape you use, you’ll just want to fill your pan nicely. You can either use 1/2″ slices as shown on the left (quick and easy!) or you can cut or tear 1″ cubes from an unsliced loaf and scatter them in your pan.
When you’re ready to make the dish, preheat the oven to 350° and place the bread in a buttered 2qt baking dish.

To make the custard, whisk all the wet ingredients and spices together in a large bowl then pour the custard over the bread in the baking dish. Be sure to stir it around or lift the slices to spread it in between and under, making sure all the bread is thoroughly coated.
**If you’re not planning on serving this dish with any kind of sweet sauce, I recommend doubling the light brown sugar in the custard to 1/2 cup total.

Next, toss the pecans in a bowl or plastic bag with 1 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon then spread them evenly over the pudding, if desired.
Bake until set, about 40 – 45 minutes. You’ll need to cut into the middle to check the doneness as the top will set faster.
In the meantime you can make the sauce.

In a large saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar and salt and heat to a simmer over medium heat.
When it begins to bubble, remove from heat and stir in the baking soda. It will foam up a bit.

Return to simmer and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off foam as needed. Sauce will begin to thicken and turn golden brown within 30 – 45 minutes.

Continue cooking until sauce is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. When the sauce is almost finished, add the Bourbon if desired, and continue cooking until it reaches the desired consistency. If you’re concerned about liking the flavor, start by adding one Tablespoon, then add the second if desired.

Serve scoops or slices of warm pudding topped with warm sauce and enjoy! The pudding and sauce can both be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to two weeks and you can definitely make this ahead of time for Thanksgiving dinner. Just reheat it in a low stove or microwave before serving and fill your gravy boat with the warm caramel sauce!

I’d love to hear what you think about this one and if it graces your dinner table this Thanksgiving.
p.s. It’s also really good for breakfast!
And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: Mini Oreo Cheesecakes

Why yes, that is a mini cookies and cream cheesecake with an Oreo for a crust. Need I say more? I think not.
Ingredients

21 oreos (15 whole plus 6 coarsely chopped)
1 pound (16 oz) cream cheese, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temp
1/2 cup sour cream
1/8 tsp salt

Heat oven to 375° and line 15 muffin cups with paper liners. Put one whole oreo in the bottom of each lined cup and crush the remaining 6 oreos into small pieces, but not crumbs.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and beat until well mixed.
Beat in the vanilla and eggs, scraping the bowl as needed, until well blended. Lastly beat in the sour cream and salt and then stir in the chopped oreos by hand.

Fill the cups with the batter almost right to the top of the liner. The cheesecakes will not rise, and if anything, they will sink a bit after cooking, so you can fill them all the way up.

Bake for 11 minutes, rotate the tins and bake for another 11 minutes or until the center is set.

Cool completely in the tins on a wire rack then transfer to the fridge and cool in tins for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove from tins before serving and store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

These sweet little temptations require minimal ingredients and are super fast and easy to make. You can also substitute a different cookie such as Golden Oreos, Nilla Wafers or Gingersnaps – or how about those Oreo’s with the peanut butter or mint cream centers? Now we’re talkin…
And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken with Pasta Croquettes and Tiramisu Cupcakes

I’m sure there is a proper way to pound meat, and a proper tool for doing such. But, as with all things in life, if you don’t have what you need, improvise. In this house that means a big rubber mallet. Did it get the job done? You bet. Was it perfect? Not even close. But in addition to an impressive meal, I also got a workout.

Now this meal requires some serious patience in the kitchen, and if you have anything less than an over abundance, don’t even attempt a single part of it. But if you’re feeling frisky, then go or it — and revel in the beautiful bounty you have created. Read on for all the yummy details and find printable recipe cards at the end of the post.

· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
MOZZARELLA STUFFED CHICKEN

Ingredients
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
6 oz frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
1 cup (4 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
4 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup seasoned fine bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil

To toast the pine nuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium high heat and cook until they start to brown and become fragrant.


If you’ve never used a shallot, it’s kind of like an onion that looks like a big purple bulb of garlic. You can find them in the produce section of your market near the onions or garlic. Peel off the skin, just like you would garlic, and chop em up.
To make the filling, saute the shallot and garlic in a skillet with some olive oil until tender. Remove from heat and stir in the spinach, mozzarella and pine nuts. Set aside.

And now we pound the meat. As I mentioned, I’m sure there are better tools to do this that a rubber mallet, but it gets the job done. I placed the breast, one at a time, in a gallon zip loc bag and pounded, pushing out a bit, until the breast was about 1/8 thick.
Once all the breasts are flattened, season with salt and pepper if desired. Working one at a time, spoon about 2-3 Tbsp of filling in the center.

Fold in one of the short sides, then the two long sides (as shown in the upper left photo above). Starting at the folded short end, roll the chicken, keeping the sides tucked in, towards the unfolded end and secure with toothpicks.
Brush each rolled breast with olive oil.

Mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in a bowl and roll each breast until coated. Place seam side down in a shallow baking dish and bake at 400° for about 25 minutes until chicken is tender and no longer pink.
Remove the toothpicks before serving. They may be a little hard to pull out, so feel free to utilize more tools (like a pair of pliers) if needed 🙂
If you’d like a crispier breading, saute the crumb coated breasts in a skillet with a little oil until browned before baking. These are delicious served as is or you can top with a little marinara or white sauce.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
PASTA CROQUETTES


Ingredients
8 oz egg noodles
6 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp green onions, chopped
6 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh is best!)
2 cups milk
3/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten

For breading
Flour
2 eggs beaten with 2 Tbsp water
Panko bread crumbs
Oil for frying

Prepare the noodles according to package directions and drain well. Even though my package of noodles said ‘wide’, I wouldn’t consider them wide. They are about the size of fettucini and flat – these will work best.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the green onions and saute until tender. It may look like a lot of onion, especially if you’re not a huge onion fan, but it is important to the flavor, which is not a strong onion flavor, so use them all!
Stir in the flour, salt and pepper and stir well. Cook until it begins to bubble. Stir in the milk and cook until thickened and bubbly, stirring almost constantly.
Stir in the parmesan cheese and once melted, add a little of the mixture to the beaten egg in a small bowl then add the egg mixture back to the saucepan and cook until it just begins to boil.

Mix the sauce with the noodles and press into a greased 8″ or 9″ pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, pressing down on the noodles, and chill in the refrigerator for several hours or preferably, overnight.

To finish the croquettes, cut the chilled pasta into squares and working a few at a time, first thoroughly coat the squares with flour. Next dip them in the beaten egg/water mixture and finally coat them completely with the breadcrumbs.

Fry them in oil until crispy and brown on all sides, turning as you go. I used canola oil, you can also use vegetable or any oil of your choice. Set them on a paper towel to drain until all squares are done.
Place them on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and heat in the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes (you can put them in with the chicken), until thoroughly heated throughout. Depending on how you fry them and the type of pan and oil you use, they may be heated through after frying, but putting them in the oven won’t hurt them and it keeps them all warm until ready to serve.
I prefer these with a little marinara on top, it really pulls all the flavors together, but you can also serve them plain or top them with a slice of provolone cheese when you put them in the oven and let it melt on top. Mmmmm! I just can’t get enough of this dish.
You can store any leftovers covered in the fridge, but reheat in the oven, rather than the microwave, and they will come out tasting like you just made them.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
TIRAMISU CUPCAKES


Ingredients
1 1/4 cup cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
4 Tbsp butter, room temp and cut into pieces
3 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks, room temp
1 cup sugar
Coffee-Marsala Syrup
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp strong brewed coffee or espresso
1 ounce sweet Marsala wine
1/4 cup sugar
Mascarpone Frosting
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz mascarpone cream, room temp
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 325° and line 16 standard muffin tins with paper liners or grease and flour the cups.

If you’ve never used a vanilla bean, it will be a fun adventure. They are expensive and a little bit of work, but well worth the flavor in a dish like this.

Cut one vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, placing them, along with the empty pod, into a medium saucepan with the milk. Heat over medium until bubbles appear around the edges. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until melted.
Let stand about 15 minutes and strain through a fine sieve or strainer into a bowl. Discard the bean pod and set the butter mixture aside.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.
With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a heat safe bowl until combined. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk by hand until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.
Remove the bowl from heat and beat again with the electric mixer on high until pale and fluffy and thick enough to hold a ribbon on the surface for several seconds.
Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture in three batches. Stir 1/2 cup batter into the strained butter mixture then fold it back into the batter stirring gently until just combined.
Divide the batter among the cups, filling about 3/4 cup full and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating tins halfway through, until center is set and edges are light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

To prepare the syrup, stir together the coffee, marsala wine and sugar until dissolved. Brush the syrup on top of the cupcakes, repeating until all syrup has been used. The tops will get soggy, but they will be covered with frosting so it’s ok!

To prepare the frosting, beat the cream with an electric mixer on medium speed until stiff peaks form. In another bowl, whisk together the mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Gently fold the two together until thoroughly mixed.
Dollop the frosting onto the cupcakes and dust with cocoa powder before serving. I guarantee everyone will be impressed by the amazingly light, spongy texture of the cupcakes and the rich creaminess of the frosting.
If you don’t plan on gobbling them all up at once, I recommend keeping the frosting and cakes separate and topping each before enjoying. They get a little soggy and the frosting starts to thin out after a day or two.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
I told you it was a lot of work, but this is definitely a meal to impress. I made it for my Dad on Father’s Day and plan to try it out on some chef friends of ours – it’s that good. At least I think so, and I hope you do to.
I’d love to hear what you think and how it goes if you try out any of these recipes! Have fun 🙂

In the Kitchen: Orange Chiffon Pie

Today I had planned on sharing one of the fanciest (and most time consuming) dinner + dessert combos I’ve made in quite some time. However, yesterdays purging bin got the best of me and I fell way behind on all the ‘real work’ I was supposed to do, and since a three-part recipe post usually takes me a few hours to whip out, it’s gonna have to wait ’til next week.

Ultimately though, it all works out, but I realized that the Chocolate Crusted Orange Chiffon Pie I’ve been waiting to share would be another perfect Fourth of July picnic addition, so here it is. Light yet rich, creamy and delicious, the flavor of this pie comes from real fruit, no jell-o mixes here, and you can taste the freshness in every bite.
Now if you’ve never made a true chiffon pie before, I’ll tell you, it’s not all that difficult, but it does require that you have your wits about you and that you be around to keep an eye on things for awhile. It’s also not an exact science, but one that you’ll come to perfect by instinct the more you do it.
Crust:
2 cups chocolate crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Filling:
1 Tbsp (1 1/4 envelopes) unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup fresh orange juice (~ 2 large oranges)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (~ 1 lemon)
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks (save the whites for an omelette!)
2 Tbsp grated orange zest
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
You can use just about any type of un-iced and un-filled cookie to make crumbs for your crust. Any flavor of graham crackers work well, as well as gingersnaps, vanilla wafers or even biscotti. You can use a food processor to crush the cookies into fine crumbs or alternatively you can place the cookies in a heavy duty large ziploc bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
To make the crust, mix the crumbs, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and stir until well blended and all crumbs are moist. Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 9″ pie pan, building up just slightly above the rim.
Bake the crust at 325° for 8 minutes and set aside to cool.
I used a larger zester on the oranges for this pie, as I wanted to see some of the zest throughout, but you can also use a microplane zester for a finer grate. Just be sure to zest your oranges before squeezing them.
To prepare the filling, in a medium saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the orange and lemon juice. Stir with a fork and let stand for a few minutes to soften the gelatin.

Add the sugar, egg yolks, orange zest and salt and whisk until blended. Then whisk in the milk.
Cook over medium heat, whisking almost constantly, for about 5-10 minutes until the mixture starts to become foamy around the edges. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until it has thickened slightly and you start to see wisps of steam rising, but be sure to not let the mixture boil.
Pour into a large bowl and place in the fridge.

Whisk the mixture every 10 minutes until it feels cool and thickens up significantly. When a lifted spoonful dropped onto the surface makes a small mound and does not sink back in, it’s ready. Depending on your fridge and the size of your bowl, this will take 1 – 2 hours, which is longer than most chiffon mixtures.
About 10 minutes before you anticipate the mixture to be thickened, whip the cream with an electric or stand mixer in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form.
Spoon the cream over the orange mixture and gently fold the two together using a flexible spatula until well blended. Spoon the mixture into the prepared crust, mounding in the center, and chill in the fridge for several hours before serving.
If desired, garnish with additional orange zest, mini chocolate chips, shaved chocolate curls or additional whip creamed, serve and enjoy!
At my Memorial Day picnic, I thought the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes would be the temptress but this pie lasted about 3.5 minutes and there wasn’t a crumb left. Im sure you can guess what everyone’s asked me to make for the Fourth of July…
And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: It’s Strawberry Season!

For me, nothing says summer like strawberries! Here in Northeast Ohio, they’re the first fruit ready for picking and since they aren’t available (even in stores) for most of the year, I tend to go a little crazy when I see the juicy red berries come to life.
Aside from my standbys of strawberry lemon marmalade and cheesecake with strawberry sauce, I try to make different treats each year. I’m not always successful with my kitchen endeavors but today I have three delicious recipes to share that I couldn’t be happier with – strawberry cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese frosting, strawberry crumble pie and strawberry scones.
My initial pick of about five quarts got me through these three recipes, two failed frosting attempts, a batch of cheesecake sauce and plenty of daily eating. Just in time to head back out and pick the second batch of bloomers. Get your buckets ready and read on for the recipes, how-to’s and printable recipe cards. Happy Picking!
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

If you aren’t tempted to lick your computer screen right now, you better check your pulse. These cupcakes are like heaven in a little fluted liner. Perfectly moist, soft and fluffy with a zen like balance of fresh and sweet. Plus they’re pink, which automatically kicks up the awesomeness a few notches. They’re also pretty easy to make, so what are you waiting for?


Ingredients yields about 16 cupcakes
1 1/3 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 1/8 cup sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries
Frosting
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp strawberry puree

Preheat the oven to 350° and line muffin tins with paper liners. I often bake muffins (and some cupcakes) without liners but I find these cupcakes work better in liners.
If you have trouble finding cake flour, look by the cake mixes rather than the bags of flour. It’s in a box and looks like a cake mix so it’s hard to spot if you haven’t seen it before. Pillsbury Softasilk is the most common brand but there are others, too. It does make a difference in this recipe, so do use it.
Sift together the flours, baking powder and salt, set aside.


With an electric mixer (stand or hand), cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla on medium high speed. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until just mixed.
On low speed, beat in half the flour mixture, then half the milk, then the remaining flour and lastly the remaining milk, beating until well mixed. Gently stir in the strawberries by hand.

Spoon batter into prepared liners, filling about 3/4 full. I have one 12-cup muffin pan and two 6-cup muffins pans for recipes that make more than 12 cupcakes. Having the smaller 6-cup tins allows for better baking when you have 3-4 extra cupcakes and having two of them allows for two full 12-cup batches.
Bake for 15 minutes and rotate tins in oven. Bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the tins on a wire rack for 15 minutes then remove the cupcakes from the tins and allow to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, you’ll first need a little strawberry puree. Finely chop about 5 – 8 strawberries (depending on size) and mash them in a bowl with a fork or masher until pureed.
Next, cream together the butter and cream cheese with a electric mixer. Beat in the strawberry puree followed by the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Beat until well blended and thick. Add additional powdered sugar as needed to taste or for thickness. Do note, this frosting will be a little thinner than a standard cream cheese or buttercream frosting because of the strawberries. Chill it in the refrigerator for 30 – 60 min before piping and it will work nicely.
My piping is a little sloppy because I was impatient (and running out of daylight), so I piped my cupcakes before the frosting chilled enough. It still works just fine and wont run off the cupcakes, but will look much prettier and stay put a bit better if chilled.

All that’s left now is to enjoy! If these don’t make it into someone’s belly the first day, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Allow them to sit for at least 30 minutes (or longer) and warm to room temperature before eating. Trust me on that one, they’re too hard when cold but just as good as fresh baked after they warm up, even a week later. Fat chance if they make it past day two.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Strawberry Crumble Pie
If pie is more your thing, listen up. Chances are you are used to cold strawberry pies, topped with piles of whipped cream or made chiffon style. And while there’s nothing wrong with those classics (trust me, I’ll throw back a piece or seven), you don’t often see a warm, gooey baked strawberry pie. Topped with a sweet crunchy crumble, sitting atop a chewy cream cheese crust you say? Yes, please.
It’s not a very sweet pie, it lets the simple strawberry filling speak for itself, but the crumble topping adds a sweet crunch and the buttery cream cheese crust has the perfect bite. I don’t even like fruit pie, let alone warm fruit pie, but I’ve been on this one like a duck on a slug.

Ingredients
Crust
1 stick butter, slightly softened
3 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/8 tsp salt
Crumble
1/3 cup sugar (I use raw turbinado sugar)
1/2 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup old fashioned or quick-cook oats
4 Tbsp melted butter, cooled
Filling
5 generous cups quartered strawberries
1/2 cup sugar (if you like a sweeter pie, use 2/3 cup)
2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp grated orange zest

To make the crust, beat together the butter and cream cheese until combined. If you have a food processor, you can make the crust in there, otherwise, you can use a hand mixer and a spoon!
Add the flour and salt and mix until blended. Dough will start to come together but still be in pieces. Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

While the dough is chilling, you can make the crumble topping. Combine the sugar, flour and oatmeal in a small bowl, stir until blended. Add the melted butter (cooled slightly) and stir until incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Back to the dough! Once chilled, remove from the fridge and on a lightly floured surface, roll to about 1/8″ thick and large enough to fill a 9″ pie pan.

I find the easiest way to transfer dough to a pie dish is to roll it around the rolling pin (add a little flour as you go so it doesn’t stick to itself). Hold the rolling pin over the pie dish and unroll over the pan.
Press to fit as needed, trim edges about 1/4 above rim of pan and shape as desired.
Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve never been all that fond of rolling pie dough. It really is a fine art but I do ok after years of practice. However, this dough is a different story. It’s soft, it’s hard to work with, it will probably tear and make you go crazy. But don’t worry! Just smoosh it back together and move on. It won’t look pretty, but it doesn’t have to. The deliciousness will far outweigh a less than perfect fluted edge and everyone will be so impressed that you even made the dough, they won’t care what it looks like.
Place the crust back in the fridge for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 350°. Once chilled, prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and bake the empty crust for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden. Place on a wire rack to cool while you prepare the filling.

Increase the oven temperature to 375°.
Add the lemon juice and orange zest to the strawberries and toss gently to combine. Next add the sugar, cornstarch and flour, stirring gently until thoroughly mixed.

Spoon the strawberries into the crust and top with the chilled crumble mixture.
Bake for 50 minutes until topping is golden brown and filling starts to bubble. Place on a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving.
As I mentioned earlier, I find this pie best served warm, slightly gooey and syrupy and just cool enough to not burn your mouth. You certainly can eat it cold, which is how I usually like my pie, but I think you lose the sweetness of the strawberries and pick up more of the flour taste in the filling when it’s cold.
Store any leftovers in airtight container in the fridge and heat slices in the microwave for about 30 – 45 seconds before serving.
I’ll end by simply saying, look at that crust…
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Whole Wheat Strawberry Scones
Scones – you either like ’em biscuity (like me), like ’em sweet (like my parents) or you don’t really know what they are (like my husband). Essentially a scone is a small british quickbread of scottish origin. It was originally round, flat and baked on a griddle but the invention of baking powder took this treat to a new level and the common triangle or wedge shape took popularity to minimize dough wastage.
Most scones in the US these days are sweeter than their foregin counterparts and often topped with icing, but I prefer mine less sweet with a sprinkling of coarse sugar and made with whole wheat flour for extra nutrition. You could equate my recipe below to a slightly sweetened fresh strawberry biscuit and for me, it doesn’t get much better than that on a rainy Sunday morning.
Ingredients
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 cup unbleached flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter, slightly softened
2/3 cup cream
1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries
Topping
1 egg + 1 Tbsp cold water
Coarse sugar
*You can omit the whole wheat flour and use 2 cups total white flour if you prefer.

Preheat the oven to 400°.
Coarsely chop the strawberries and let sit in a colander for about 5 -10 minutes to drain any excess liquid. Toss with about 1 Tbsp sugar and set aside.
Mix flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and cut it into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, fork or two knifes until it resembles coarse, pea sized crumbles.
Stir in the strawberries and then add the cream, stirring gently until combined and dough starts to hold together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface (it will be a little sticky, add a little flour as needed) and shape into a disc about 1″ thick. Cut into 6-8 wedges and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Alternatively you can shape the dough into a rectangle, cut two squares and then cut each square in half forming 8 triangle scones.
Bake at 400° for 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together one egg and one tablespoon of water (alternatively you can use milk). Remove the scones from the oven, brush with the egg wash and generously top with coarse sugar. I use raw turbinado. You can skip this step if you prefer and top with a powdered sugar icing if you like a sweeter treat but I find them perfect with the sparkly, crunchy raw sugar topping.
Return to the oven and bake an additional 5 – 10 minutes until tops start to brown. Mine took an additional 7 minutes. Be careful to not overbake or they will get dry.
Let cool on pan or a wire rack about 10 minutes before munching. I find these most delicious when served fresh out of the oven and slightly warm, topped with a little butter and fresh fruit spread (like homemade peach butter!).
You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days and allow them to warm to room temperature or pop them in the microwave for a few seconds before enjoying.
You can also substitute a variety of fresh fruit for the strawberries in this recipe, such as blueberries, raspberries or peaches – yum!

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s strawberry celebration! I’d love to hear what you think if you give these recipes a try and I’d also love to see you’re favorite strawberry recipes. Feel free to share in the comments below and happy picking!

In the Kitchen: Double Chocolate Toffee Cheesecake

For those who have little-to-no interest in the all natural, healthy recipes I’ve been sharing lately, this one’s for you! It may, in fact, be the exact opposite of healthy, if there is such a thing.

If you’re looking for delicious gluttony in a chocolate graham crust, look no further. Yes, it’s rich and sweet and decadent, but the sour cream style filling keeps it light and balances the flavors perfectly. You’ll find a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Ingredients

Crust:
2 1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp sugar
Filling:
6 oz semisweet chocolate (chips or bar broke into pieces)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Topping:
4 Heath candy bars, chopped
1 dark chocolate candy bar
Grease a 9″ springform pan and wrap two layers of aluminum foil around it.
To make the graham crumbs, you can either crush the crackers in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or use a mini food processor. You’ll need 1 1/2 to 2 packages of full graham crackers to get 2 1/2 cups of crumbs.
Once the crumbs are ready, combine them with the melted butter and sugar in a small bowl.
Press the crumbs into the greased pan, on the bottom and one inch up the sides. Place the foil wrapped pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350°. Let cool and prepare the filling.
Place the chocolate chips or pieces and the heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl or heavy saucepan and melt, mixing until smooth. If you melt chocolate in the microwave, the key is to remove it before all the pieces are completely melted. Heat until soft and then stir to melt the rest of the way. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla, then gradually beat in the melted chocolate mixture. Add the eggs and beat on low until just combined.
Pour into the prepared crust and place the foil wrapped pan in a large baking pan. Add 1 1/2″ of hot water to the baking pan and bake the cheesecake at 350° for 55 – 70 minutes until the center is just set.
Allow to cool on a wire rack or about 20 – 30 minutes then top with chopped heath pieces. You want the cheesecake to still be a little warm so the pieces melt a bit and stick to the top and each other. Let the cheesecake cool completely before adding the dark chocolate. You can do this after another 30 minutes or so, or refrigerate and add the chocolate before serving.
Chop the dark chocolate (one small candy bar is plenty) and melt in a glass bowl in the microwave. Drizzle with a spoon over the top of the cheesecake, allow to cool and harden then serve and enjoy!
If you’re looking to impress, bake one of these up for your next party or get together. But be warned, no matter how much of a chocolate lover you are, cut small pieces. This one means business.

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Yogurt Frosting

I can hear it now, gingerbread in May? Well trust me, it’s not just for Christmas. Chances are many of you have never made it, or have only made the popular cookie form, but this healthy, often all natural, dessert option can be baked up many different ways and may just become a new year-round favorite in your house. Yeah, I said healthy and all natural again! Sweetened with honey and molasses and made with whole wheat flour, today’s recipe is for a light and moist cake version of gingerbread which is delicious all by itself any time of day or dressed up with a springy, lemon yogurt frosting for a unique dessert that will wow. You’ll find printable recipe cards at the end of this post.

GINGERBREAD CAKE
Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, very soft
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup hot water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
A note on spices: If you like a milder cake, use 1/4 tsp cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp ginger. If you’d like a spicier cake, use 3/4 tsp cloves, 2 tsp cinnamon and 2 tsp ginger.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, spices and baking soda. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the butter, honey, egg and molasses, first with a spoon, then with an electric mixer on low until well blended.

Heat the water in the microwave for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until very hot but not boiling.
Add about 1/3 of the water to the flour mixture and stir well, next add half the molasses mixture, then another 1/3 of water, the remainder of the molasses and the last 1/3 of the water, stirring well after each addition. Once blended, whisk to ensure all lumps are out. Batter will be very soupy.

Pour the batter into a well greased and lightly floured 13×9 baking pan.
Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
This cake is lightly rich, super moist and uber delicious when served all by its lonesome, but if you’d like to add a unique, refreshing zing, try this healthy frosting alternative…
LEMON YOGURT FROSTING
Ingredients
3 cups Dannon lemon yogurt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
powdered sugar
cornstarch

You have some options with the ingredients when whipping up this frosting, but first you have to drain the yogurt.
Dannon brand works best for draining because it is made with pectin and contains no gums or additives. You’ll want to start with three cups (four 6 oz containers).

You’ll need a colander or wire strainer and cheesecloth or coffee filters. Line the colander with the cloth or filters, place it over a deep bowl and spoon in the yogurt. The bowl doesn’t have to be large but make sure it’s tall enough so that the bottom of the strainer doesn’t sit in the draining liquid. You’ll end up with about 1 1/2 cups of yogurt and 1 cup liquid after it drains, but you will only be using the yogurt.

Place it in the refrigerator for at least 16 hours (longer is ok!) until the yogurt drains and resembles the consistency of light cream cheese.
You are now you are ready to make the frosting. If you’d like to keep it as simple and healthy as possible, add 1/2 tsp vanilla and whip it up with an electric mixer. It will be on the thinner side, but not overly runny and will have a yogurt like flavor.
If you’d like a thicker, sweeter frosting with less of a yogurt taste, whip the 1 1/2 cups drained yogurt with 1/2 tsp vanilla, 6 Tbsp powdered sugar and 3 Tbsp cornstarch. You can then add additional powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it reaches your preferred level of sweetness.
You can also meet in the middle of the two recipes – it’s pretty flexible! Don’t expect it to spread like a thick buttercream or cream cheese frosting, but it’s definitely thicker than an icing and a refreshing, healthy alternative. You can store it covered in the fridge for about a week, and if you’re anything like me, you’re already thinking of all the other treats that this frosting would be good slathered on…
A little bit of frosting goes a long way and you don’t want to overpower the flavor of the cake, so keep it light. I also don’t recommend storing the cake frosted, as it will make it a little soggy.
I find this cake most delicious when served slightly warm, so if you are not serving it right after baking, keep it stored in airtight container. Heat individual servings for about 15 – 20 seconds in the microwave and then spread a little frosting on top or serve a dollop on the side. Enjoy!

In the Kitchen: All Natural Brown Rice Pudding

As I start to share more all natural, sugar free and healthy recipes, I want to make a few points and distinctions about terms and ingredients. When I say something is all natural, it means that it’s made of only whole, natural ingredients containing nothing processed or refined.

When it comes to sugar free, the lines blur a bit depending on who you are talking to. I personally call a recipe sugar free if it contains no refined sugars such as white granulated sugar, brown sugar or powdered sugar. However, most of those recipes do contain honey, rice syrup, molasses or fruit which are natural sugars, therefore technically not completely sugar free. Take it as you will.
Which leads me to my final topic of ‘healthy’. If I say a dessert is healthy, I don’t mean healthy like a bowl of broccoli so eat as much as you want, I mean healthy as in healthier than a piece of mile high mudd pie brimming with chocolate, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and refined sugars. A dessert made with natural sweeteners and whole grains can still be high in calories and carbs, so always practice moderation when it comes to sweets, but at least you’ll be eating natural, wholesome ingredients with some nutrients and proteins to balance out the natural sugars.
So now onto today’s all natural healthy dessert! It’s not called Brown Rice Pudding because it’s brown, but because it’s made with brown rice. For some ridiculous reason some day back in history, it was decided that we as a society prefer foods that are bright white and clean – white rice, white bread, white pasta. Why? Who knows. ‘White’ foods are simply overly processed, nutrient stripped and sometimes bleaches versions of their natural brown counterparts.
When it comes to rice, brown rice contains about four times more fiber, dozens more nutrients and also takes less energy to produce, therefore making it a healthier and more eco-friendly choice. If you’re not used to eating it (plain), it may taste a little different at first, but when used in a recipe like this one, you won’t even know the difference.
If you’re a fan of rice pudding, please do give this healthy version a try, I was amazed at it’s deliciousness and it’s very easy to make. You’ll find a printable recipe card at the end of the post.
Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups cooked short grain brown rice
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Using 2% milk makes a creamer pudding than nonfat milk, but you can also substitute plain or vanilla soy, rice or almond milk.
I’m not usually a fan of raisins in my food, but I love them in this. You can leave them out, however, if they make you think you’re eating bugs, or you can sub in another dried fruit such as cranberries.

You may have just read the list of ingredients and thought, what is rice syrup? Can I find that here? It’s a delicious natural sweetener, similar to honey, and you can read all about it here. You probably won’t find it in your average grocery store but you can find it at any Whole Foods Market or similar health food grocer and you can also order it online. If you can’t find it or don’t have the time, you can also use honey in this recipe, it works just as well though I prefer the flavor of the rice syrup for this dish.
Now when a recipe calls for vanilla, use the pure stuff. It’s important, trust me. Not only because pure vanilla is natural (rather than being synthesized from sapwood or coal extracts) but because it has a pure, spicy, delicate flavor that cannot be achieved with imitation vanilla, which can often leave a bitter aftertaste. I’ll warn you now, you may be surprised to see the pricetag of a bottle of pure vanilla compared to imitation vanilla, but it is the second most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron, we just never realize because we’re used to buying imitation.

Ok, ok, I’ll get to the recipe now…
Begin by cooking the brown rice. You’ll need 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice so check your package to see how much dry rice to make and for full cooking instructions. This recipe is also a great way to use up leftover rice you may have from a dinner or other recipe.
In a large mixing bowl, blend the the eggs, milk, rice syrup and vanilla until well mixed. Stir in the rice, raisins and cinnamon and mix well.
Spoon into a one quart casserole dish. Don’t worry if it seems the rice and raisins are settling to the bottom and the cinnamon is floating to the top, it’ll happen.
Bake at 350° for one hour, take it out of the oven, give it a good stir and sprinkle some additional cinnamon on top. Return it to the oven and bake for another 20 – 40 minutes until center is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
It’s delicious served warm or cold, plain or with a garnish of whip cream or ice cream. Makes about 8 – 10 servings depending on who’s dishing the serving size. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
And stop back this afternoon for another new recipe – Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Yogurt Frosting!