As you can probably tell by now, I'm a huge fan of sweets. Obviously I know that junk food isn't good for you, but I think its perfectly acceptable in moderation. I grew up on Hostess treats, and I survived somehow. Yet I do worry a bit about all of the preservatives and fillers they add. I've always heard that when Armageddon finally strikes all that will be left is Twinkies and cockroaches, and that doesn't bode well for the Twinkies. (Apparently Hostess Snowballs will also survive, and I agree that its the texture, not the taste.... you'd get that if you'd ever watched Zombieland.) One of the great things about baking treats at home is that I get to be in charge of how much sugar, flour, and other fillers and preservatives go into the cakes and cookies that we are consuming. Now, I won't lie and say this is a healthy snack, but this copycat version is slightly more healthy than its original counterpart. And Homemade always wins over store-bought, right?
My favorite thing about this recipe is that the cake is actually an Angel Food Cake recipe from one of my Grandmother's cookbooks. Cake flour, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla, LOTS of eggs, and a pinch of salt all come together to form a soft and airy, golden sponge cake.
Here comes the bad news- you will have to have to make a Meringue. Most bakers I know do not like making meringue. It takes a good hand mixer or stand mixer (or really strong arm muscles), time, and patience. To make it easier on myself I always follow the same steps:
Not to toot my own horn, but that is a beautiful cookie. Dark chocolate, candied bacon, coarse sea salt, and homemade bourbon vanilla extract all came together to create this masterpiece.
This has been a cookie floating around in the abyss of my brain since November. You're probably wondering why its taken me so long to make, especially since there are other recipes online for Bacon Cookies. I had to wait on my Bourbon Vanilla Extract to, well, marinate (for lack of a better word.) See, its that extra rich, smoky extract which helps elevate these cookies to another level. So go ahead and treat yourself to a bottle of booze and some vanilla beans, and whip up your own extract. Go ahead; I'll wait.
Now, in the mean time, go ahead and try the recipe without the extract. I promise- it will still be delicious. Remember a while back when I said I was trying to get through a large bottle of Bourbon that I bought for the explicit purpose of making a special vanilla extract? Well, I'm still trying to get through that bottle. So this cookie gets an extra boost of bourbon-y goodness in the Candied Bacon. If you've never tried Candied Bacon before, you're in for a treat. Here comes a quick science tidbit- there are actually five different types of taste receptors on your tongue. Sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami. I whole-heartedly believe that combining two or more of these is the secret to delicious food, and Candied Bacon hits just the right balance of sweet and salty.
Candied Bacon is a great snack on its own, and so easy to make. For these cookies I only used 6 strips of bacon, as I didn't want to be grazing on bacon all day while I cooked. (Its really too yummy to resist.) Mix together your brown sugar and a bit of Bourbon (it can be the cheap stuff, if you like. I used Jack Daniels.) Dredge both sides of each bacon slice in the mixture and lay in a foil covered baking pan. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup. PLEASE- make sure to use a baking pan with sides or else you will have caramelized bacon grease dripping all over your oven. Trust me on this, as I speak from experience. Unless you WANT your house to smell like bacon each time you turn on your oven. Our family loves the smell, but its pretty disappointing when there is no actual bacon to back up the promising aroma. (I don't think I've ever seen my daughter so despondent as when I pulled some dinner rolls out of the oven the other day when she was expecting bacon.) Anyway, cover the bacon with another sheet of foil and bake at 400*F for 15-20 minutes, or until desired crispness. Set up your cooling racks over a paper towel lined cookie sheet and allow the bacon to cool completely on the racks, while simultaneously allowing the extra bacon grease to drain. Once cooled, dice and set aside. Six slices gave me one cup of diced candied bacon.
Now onto the rest of the recipe. Combine your flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy and light. Add in a large egg (always making sure all of your ingredients are room temperature) and vanilla and mix. Slowly incorporate your flour mixture into your butter, a bit at a time. I like to do this by thirds, as I find it is easier to mix without overtaxing your dough. For this same reason, once the dough has come together I prefer to mix in my chocolate chips and bacon pieces with a wooden spoon.
Lemon Bars tend to be one of those desserts that fall squarely in the zone of either love or hate, no in-between. I happen to love them. Sadly, they seem to have lost their popularity in recent years, with many viewing them as an old-fashioned dessert. I cannot tell you how many times I have whipped up a batch of these and been informed that they're "Just like my Grandma used to make, but I haven't had them in years." I like to think of them a classic dessert, perfect for a hot summery day (which we see a lot of here in Hawaii.) They're also a great treat when you feel like you can't face another cold, winter day and are looking forward getting a jump-start on Summer. Lemon Bars are also a great dessert alternative when you're all chocolated out. (Which apparently DOES happen to some people.) The perfect lemon bar should have a buttery, slightly sweet shortbread crust that crumbles on your tongue and a tart, creamy, custard-like filling.
Any good Lemon Bar starts with shortbread, and the base of this one is just your basic 3 ingredient shortbread. Personally, I prefer a little more shortbread in my shortbread-to-filling ratio, so I typically double the crust. Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before you begin, especially the butter. The flour, butter, and sugar comes together to form a powdery dough. To make it easier to get the bars out of the pan and to cut them more easily, line your baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a little overlapping the sides to lift the bars by. Now get your hands dirty and press the dough into the bottom of your 9x13 inch baking dish. Press a bit of the dough up the sides to create a slight edge. Bake the shortbread in your preheated oven at 350*F for about 15-20 minutes, until your crust is slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside, making sure to leave the oven on.
I have a picky eater in my home. I'm sure you can relate. Many of us moms are blessed with that one kid who gags at the slightest scent of vegetable. The one who can smell spinach from three houses away. The one who lives off of McDonald's chicken nuggets, Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, and peanut and butter jelly sandwiches.
My picky eater is nine years old, and I have slowly been attempting to wean her out of her "Gross, I'm not eating that" stage. Keep in mind, this is the same child whom I recently took for sushi and her favorite item was the Spam/Tamago Nigiri, so clearly there is no accounting for tastes. But I refuse to go through life making two separate meals for a household of only three people, and I just don't see letting her continue to graze her way through life as a healthy option. So I have been on a mission to find some yummy alternatives.
So far one of our mutually favorite options has been my Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings. Tasty enough so that I neither have to threaten her nor bribe her to eat it; easy enough so that I don't mind cooking it. I grew up on Southern Style Chicken and Dumplings, and it remains one of my favorites to this day.
In my opinion, the best crockpot meals are cheap, filling, healthy, and you can basically just dump the ingredients into the pot and turn it on. This one checks off all of those boxes. Protein (chicken), veggies (carrots), carbs (Dumplings), and a yummy sauce.
I start with lean, boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Throw in a bag of baby carrots, a couple of cans of cream of chicken soup, some chicken broth, and seasonings. Salt and pepper to taste. Dump, set, go. (Use a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner for virtually no clean up.) You could even sneak in some other veggies, maybe broccoli or peas, but I'm not ready to press my luck just yet. Cook on high 5 to 6 hours.
About one hour before serving, use a fork to shred your chicken. It should fall apart fairly easily. Start your dumplings. There are two options for the dumplings. Option one- pop open a can of refrigerated homestyle biscuits, tear into pieces, toss them in. Option two- make the dumplings from scratch. Don't be scared. Option two takes maybe an additional 20 minutes.
For homemade Buttermilk dumplings:
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Chilled, Unsalted Butter
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
3/4 cup Buttermilk
Pinch of Salt
In a large bowl, Combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Cut butter into flour mixture with a fork or pastry cutter. If you don't mind some extra clean up, use your food processor for this part. Make sure to mix the. buttermilk in by hand though. Mix in buttermilk just until combined. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Dust counter with flour and form a dough ball. Use rolling pin to roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut square shaped dumplings. Lightly toss dumplings with a bit more flour. (The flour will keep dumplings from sticking together and help thicken up sauce.) Drop and mix in a few dumplings at a time. Cook about 30-45 minutes more, or until dumplings are no longer doughy. Serve and enjoy.
Easy. Delicious. What more could you ask for? Except maybe the Cleaning Fairy to visit.
Introducing you to my next installment of my obsession with Biscoff Cookie Butter- a cookie butter layered cheesecake. Please note that as much as I cook and bake, I am still thoroughly intimidated by cheesecakes. I have a not-entirely-irrational fear of all that can, and usually will, go wrong. Soggy crusts, sunken middles, cracks, dry and tasteless cheesecakes. But, as my husband will tell you, I am extremely stubborn in the face of a challenge and will keep trying until I get it right. So I proudly present to you my latest recipe:
Seriously, isn't it beautiful? No sunken middles, no cracks, just a sweet, creamy confection of perfection. So how did I accomplish this feat? Lots of trial and error so that you, my readers, could learn from my mistakes.
Cheesecakes, unlike cookies, are a bit more of an exact science. You must start with all of your ingredients at room temperature, which means a fair bit of planning ahead. If your cream cheese isn't at room temperature you will never get that smooth and creamy texture you're after. And, unfortunately, "cheating" to bring it to temperature faster just doesn't yield the same results. So clear some room on your counter for your cream cheese, eggs, sour cream, cookie butter, etc. I recommend leaving everything out for at least 30-45 minutes before starting the process.
In the meanwhile, you can get started on your graham cracker crust. Preheat your oven to 350*F. Line the bottom of a 9 inch Springform pan with a circle of parchment paper or lightly grease the bottom and sides. You can buy Graham Cracker Crumbs or make your own by throwing Graham Crackers in your food processor. Just make sure that they are finely and evenly ground. Combine your crumbs, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl and mix in melted butter just until combined. Then press into the bottom of your pan and halfway up the sides. Using the bottom of a small glass helps insure the crust is evenly spread across the pan and helps create a nice smooth finish. Then bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Now that your cream cheese is room temperature and softened, beat together the cream cheese and sugar with your hand mixer on medium speed until fluffy. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add in eggs and vanilla, beating on low just until combined. Then add in your room temperature sour cream and beat on low until smooth.