Thursday, December 13, 2012

Homemade Food Gifts - Candy, Infused Vodka, Etc.

Food gifts have always been popular. They are perfect for those people in your life that are hard to buy for or don't need/want anything.  Today's list of homemade gifts includes a wide assortment of candy as well as some nuts, pastries and infused alcohol.  If you missed my cookie roundup, head on over to this post.


Salted Vanilla Bean Caramels  This quickly became one of my most popular treats.  Everyone absolutely LOVES these caramels and hoards them whenever they're available.

Cake Balls  This is my most popular food recipe of all time.  People are really into cake balls.  I go for simple decorating, but you can go all out with fancy designs.

English Toffee  Right next to the caramels, this is one of my favorite candies.

Truffles  Homemade or not, truffles are impressive gifts.  This post shows four different recipes: Champagne Truffles, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles, Dark Chocolate Strawberry Balsamic Truffles, and Toffee Truffles.

Chocolate Bark  This is one of the easiest candies you can make.  Use any chocolate, fill ins and topping

Eggnog Fudge  This fudge is a nice addition to your regular fudge recipes, and the white chocolate and eggnog flavors go perfectly together.

Butter Pecan Fudge  This is my absolute favorite fudge!  I highly recommend you try this recipe.

Miscellaneous Food and Drink

Cinnamon Rolls  My aunt always makes a ton of sweet rolls and delivers them before Christmas so we can eat them on Christmas morning.  This is not her recipe, but I love her gifting idea.  This recipe makes 7-8 pans so it's perfect for giving away (don't forget to keep some for yourself).

Coffee Cake  It's breakfast, it's a snack, it's dessert!  Who wouldn't want a delicious all purpose cake?  It's a heck of a lot better than a brick of fruit cake.

Spiced Nuts  This is a great (healthy) alternative to all these sweets!

Candied Walnuts  Mmmm, more nuts great for snacking!  Can't go wrong with candied walnuts (well, unless you're allergic).  If you make extra, they're great on salads or these amazing appetizers: Grape, Goat Cheese and Candied Walnut Bruschetta.

Tea Infused Vodka  Who says iced tea is only a summer drink?  Mid-winter we need a little reminder that the sun and warm days will be back again.  This is my most popular post of all time.

** Contact me if you want me to do your holiday baking for you! **

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread cookies with espresso and chocolate in them? Yes, please!  The dough comes together quickly, then you flatten it into a gallon sized zipper bag and stick it in the fridge.  This method is genius!  When you're ready to bake, cut the bag off and slice the dough.  So easy!  I wasn't sure if it would be noticeable, but the cookies actually have a coffee flavor.  I keep a jar of instant espresso in my pantry for those random times I need it for baking.  You could use instant coffee, but the flavor won't be as intense.

I made these cookies for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and the Ohio Blogging Association Cookie Swap.  So if you're headed to the OBA party tonight, this is what you have to look forward to from my kitchen.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap exchanges cookies between hundreds of food bloggers around the world.  Last year I participated in the first annual cookie swap with my Chewy Ginger Cookies.  If you want to be notified when 2013 registration is open, sign up here.  Thanks to Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen for hosting.  Almost 600 bloggers participated, and over 20,000 cookies were mailed! Here's the collection of cookies sent: Recipe Round Up Part 1 and Part 2.

This year the GFBCS is raising money for Cookies for Kids' Cancer, and for every dollar donated OXO will match it.  *Update:  We raised over $4,400!*
I sent Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread cookies to A Half Baked Life, A Less Processed Life and This Momma Can Cook.  Out of all those bloggers I thought it was really funny that I got to send cookies to A Half Baked Life because she sent some to me last year.  What are the odds?!

These are the delicious goodies I received:

Thanks for the cookies Urban Sacred Garden (Chocolate Cranberry Shortbread), Addicted to Recipes (Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies) and The Tasty tRuth (Honey Vanillla Coconut Macaroons)!

Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
Yield: 42-49 cookies (depending on how much you spread the dough in the bag)

1 Tbsp instant espresso powder
1 Tbsp boiling water
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Dissolve the espresso in the boiling water, and set aside to cool to tepid.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth. Beat in the vanilla and espresso, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the dough. Don’t work the dough much once the flour is incorporated. Fold in the chopped chocolate with a sturdy rubber spatula.

Using the spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that’s 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from the dough so it doesn’t cause creases. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board (discard the bag) and, using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The shortbreads will be very pale–they shouldn’t take on much color. Transfer the cookies to a rack.

If you’d like, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while they are still hot. Cool the cookies to room temperature before serving.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Spiced Nuts

These are spiced nuts, not spicy nuts, but you could totally add some heat by way of more cayenne pepper or a little hot sauce.  I tend to use almonds, but feel free to use whatever nut you want. These spiced nuts are crunchy, flavorful, filling, and a great healthy snack.
Cooking Tip:  The salt tends to fall off, but I have found that the flavor is better and the salt sticks to the nuts better if you crush it.  If you have a mortar and pestle, I recommend using that to crush the salt.  If you don't have one, I wouldn't worry about it, I've made this for years before I came up with this trick.
Making Large Quantities:  If making more than two cups of nuts, I like to toast them on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 for about 10 or so minutes.  Use a large pot (instead of a skillet) to heat the spices and oil, it just makes it easier to mix a large amount of nuts.

Spiced Nuts
Adapted from Ellie Krieger
Yield: 8 servings (1/4 cup)
2 cups whole unsalted almonds (or any nut you'd like)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional) (I prefer the flavor without it.)

Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a bowl.

In a small bowl, stir together the cumin, garlic, cayenne pepper and salt. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Stir the spices into the oil and cook, stirring until warm, about 30 seconds. Add the almonds and cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are warm and the spices are evenly distributed. Add the hot pepper sauce (if using) and stir to distribute. Remove the almonds from the pan and allow them to cool before serving.  Store in an airtight container.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Homemade Food Gifts - Cookies

Homemade food can be an inexpensive gift for family, friends, neighbors, the mailman, etc.  This time of year brings out the baking bug in a lot of people.  Whether you make one kind to take to a cookie swap or you go all out with multiple cookie flavors, you might be looking for some recipes to change it up. 

If you fear your recipient may be swimming in treats, you can give them frozen cookie dough balls (or logs if they're slice and bakes). Make sure to include baking instructions and they can have fresh cookies whenever they want.

Today's list is all about cookies, but head over to the next post for other food gift recipes (candy, fudge, infused vodka, cinnamon rolls, and much more).


Chewy Ginger Cookies  These are probably my favorite cookie on the list!  They get an extra boost of gingery goodness from the crystallized ginger.

Chocolate Crackles  I've had these cookies every year since I can remember.  They are a family staple and quickly became Kevin's favorite.  I've tried versions without the cake mix, but everyone prefers the family recipe.

Butter Spriz Cookies  A relatively recent addition to my must bake list, these are a traditional spritz cookie.  The cookie press makes fast work and you can cram a lot on a cookie sheet so it's a quick job.

Chocolate Mint Cookies  Chocolate and mint are a classic combination.  There are a few brands of mint chips these days, but most are only available this time of year so stock up if you want to make them after the holidays.

Slice and Bake Cookies  You can make many different types of cookies using the same base dough. 

Brown Sugar Shortbread  A variation of traditional shortbread, this recipe uses brown sugar.  It has only three ingredients and they can easily be scaled up to make many more cookies.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies  If you're looking for chocolate and peanut butter without a Hershey Kiss on top, this is a nice alternative.

** I can do your holiday baking and treat making!  Contact me for details. **
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Blog Swap: Eat*Drink*Cleveland - Pretzel Crusted Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares

I would like to introduce you to my lovely friend Crystal.  She's one of my favorite people that I've met through blogging.  She writes Eat*Drink*Cleveland and we've swapped interwebs as part of the Ohio Blogging Association's All State Blog Swap.  Check out my post on Crystal's blog today, I have a great list of easy appetizers for all the parties you'll be attending this holiday season.  To check out the list of all the participating blogs, head over to Poise in Parma.

Hello everyone!
My name is Crystal and my blog is Eat*Drink*ClevelandI'm here on Sarah's blog today as part of the Ohio Blogging Association's 2012 Blog SwapI write about food and fun in NE Ohio. Restaurants, local festivals, recipes, food events and favorite cocktails are just some of the topics you'll find on my blog. 

I was so happy to find out that Sarah was my blog swap partner! Not only do I love her in real life, but we also have a lot in common including our love of cooking. But I can never follow a recipe exactly ~ I always like to tweak recipes and come up with new ones.

Except for this past Friday - for once I actually followed the recipe! I took the day off and was cooking for my Stella & Dot trunk show later that night. I wanted to try something new so I sent out a Tweet asking for people's favorite things to make for parties. @SarahCLeimbach sent me several recipes but one jumped out at me: Chocolate Chip Bars with a Salty Pretzel Crust from Simply Scratch. I'm a pretzel fiend and absolutely love chocolate chip cookies so I knew I had to try these!
I liked this recipe because they are BAR cookies which means that you don't have to be a slave to the oven every 8-10 minutes.

I didn't like this recipe because you end up losing most of the pretzels ~ they don't stick to the bottom of the bars! The picture on the right below shows all the pretzels that were left behind. I needed to find a way to fix that.


They recommended using more butter but I didn't want to add even MORE calories so I decided to turn the crust into a topping - problem solved! Here's my version of the recipe, Pretzel Crusted Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares:

  • 2-1/2 cups Pretzels, crushed
  • 1 cup Toasted Salted Pecans
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 2-1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 cup Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13x2 baking pan with parchment paper. This makes it a lot easier to remove the cookies from the pan, trust me!
  • Beat butter and sugars at medium speed until creamy. Add eggs and the vanilla, beating just until blended.
  • Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until combined and gradually add to the sugar/egg mixture, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides and add the chocolate chips. Gently mix until chips are incorporated. Pour into prepared pan.
  • Place pretzels in a food processor. Pulse until almost crushed. Add pecans and pulse until nuts are chopped. You don't want fine crumbs so keep it a little chunky. Once the pretzels and nuts are crushed, combine them with the melted butter and stir. Spread pretzel evenly mixture over the top of your batter. Press gently into the cookie dough.
  • Place the pan in your preheated oven and bake for 20-24 minutes, rotating the pan half-way through the cookie time. Remove when the bars are golden and a tester comes out clean.
  • When bars have cooled, remove by using the parchment paper and cut into bars.
Do you see how gooey those bars are? I like to under bake my chocolate chip cookies so I did the same with these. 

These were a huge hit and are definitely one of my new favorites. I'll be making them again for sure and hope you like them as much as I do!

Wowzers Crystal, these look great! I prefer bar cookies and blondies for the same reason, and I'm with you on under baking.  Somehow I totally missed these at your party, thanks for sharing the recipe!

UPDATE:  I made these bars last night and they are goo-ood!  Make sure you really press the pretzel and pecan mixture down into the dough so it's sticks really well.  It'll seem like too much topping, but the dough will puff up a bit and will be the perfect ratio once it's done baking.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

When I think about coffee cake, family gatherings come to mind.  This recipe is what my mom and gram have always made and I love it.  Kevin's family uses a very similar recipe for Christmas morning so it brings up good memories for both of us.

This sour cream coffee cake can be made ahead, it freezes well and travels well. These pictures were taken after the coffee cake traveled from NY to OH via Gram and it still looks good.  Coffe cake is perfect for all the upcoming holidays.  It's especially great when you have house guests (or if you'll be a house guest, Gram always brings one when she's comes to CLE).  It could be a supplement to brunch, but it's also nice on it's own if you don't want to make a huge deal out of breakfast (bonus: house guests can help themselves as soon as they wake up). 
Cook's Note:  My gram's advice is don't substitute butter for the shortening, it makes the coffee cake too crumbly.  Other than that, you can't really screw it up. 

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
From Gram V, published in Favorite Recipes of the Medina Memorial Hospital Employees
Yield: 12 servings
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening (don't substitute butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a tube pan (aka angel food cake pan).
Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  In a separate mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla, beat until creamy.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the sour cream to the creamed sugar mixture.
Combine all of the ingredients except the filling in a bowl.
Put half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle half of the filling over the top.  Add the remaining batter to the pan.  Sprinkle the rest of the filling on top.  Using a knife, cut through the very top of the batter to make the filling stick better.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Today I Turn 30 (A 30 Before 30 Wrap Up)

Happy Birthday to me!  I am now officially 30 (and happily embracing it)!  After your 21st birthday, the only milestones are at the change of the decades so I'm taking advantage.  I started celebrating last weekend and will continue for the rest of the month!  I don't usually make a big deal out of my birthday, but I am making a point to this year.

Let's see how I did on my list.

30 Before 30:
(in no particular order)
  1. Attend a concert at Blossom
  2. Keep in touch with people better  (I need to keep working on this, but I have been doing better.)
  3. Blog more regularly
  4. Participate in a blog swap
  5. Sing karaoke in public 
  6. Bake for a good cause
  7. Visit my sister in Atlanta (Don't worry Melissa, this will happen and I'm looking forward to it!) 
  8. Visit my brother in New Orleans (NOLA was on our list even before Jim moved down there so we'll definitely be visiting.)
  9. Volunteer (Since my last update I've been back to the Cleveland Foodbank and I volunteered at MedWish.  My friends Julie and Amanda have a great write up about our time at MedWish.)
  10. Attend a Tremont Art Walk 
  11. Visit one of Cleveland's beaches  (I visited Edgewater Park on a nice fall day.)
  12. Now that the elephants are back in their new habitat, I want to visit the zoo again. 
  13. Visit the MetroParks outside of Solon
  14. Host more parties
  15. Learn how to draw (Sometimes I don't start things because I'm afraid I won't be any good.  I need to get over this and just try.)
  16. Spend less time on the computer
  17. Visit Stan Hywet Hall (I didn't get here before I turned 30, but I have plans to vist when it's decorated for the holidays. I heard it's gorgeous!)
  18. Try to relax (I think overall I was better at relaxing and giving myself a break about things.  Thanks to online deals I've also gotten a few massages and my first pedicure.)
  19. Make our wedding album (our 5 year anniversary is a month before I turn 30) (I'm so overwhelmed by this task that I keep putting it off. It would be a good thing to do on a wintery weekend when we don't feel like leaving the house.)
  20. Visit the West Side more often
  21. Attend a Lake Erie Monsters hockey game
  22. Attend a Burning River Roller Girls bout 
  23. Go skydiving (I bought the Groupon to do this, but I failed to schedule a "dive" before it got too cold so I'm waiting until next spring.)
  24. Learn how to use some of the features on our camera (We have a point and shoot that allows some manual tweaking.  I learned some controls for exposure and aperture.)
  25. Go tobogganing (We didn't have hardly any snow last year so this was nearly impossible.  It's high on my winter to do list for this year, I hope we have better luck!)
  26. Be more positive about day to day stuff (I happier now than I was a year ago so that definitely helps with being more positive.)
  27. Try at least 6 new restaurants
  28. Drink more wine
  29. Visit Cleveland's Asiatown and eat dim sum
  30. Exercise more (I exercised more than the previous year so I'm going to mark it off, but I need to make it a higher priority.)

I'd say that I was pretty successful with my list.  I'll work on the ones I didn't get to and continue the ones that are good ways of life.

If you want to check my progress over the past year, here are my other updates:

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Soup & Chili Roundup

I hope you're all doing okay after the storms. Even around Cleveland Sandy made quite a mess!  A lot of people are still out of power and will be for a few more days.  Luckily, we didn't have any issues at our house.

The cold, rain and storms have me craving a warm bowl of anything.  Soup and chili can be a good way to help clean out the fridge without a recipe (leftover Fresh Fork veggies anyone).  Sometimes you want a little more guidance when you cook things up so here is collection of soups and chilis that are sure to warm your bones. 

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup)
Tomato Soup
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Creamy Mushroom Soup

Buffalo Chicken Chili
Italian Wedding Soup
Broccoli Cheese Soup

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cabbage & Noodles

When I was trying to figure out what to do with some of our many heads of cabbage, I had two recipe requirements:  it used a lot of cabbage and it wasn't coleslaw (I have a non-traditional slaw recipe on the way!).  One of the suggestions Crystal gave me was cabbage and noodles.  I've never had them before so I gave it a whirl.  
This is Old World peasant food at it's finest.  I didn't know what to expect and didn't have high hopes, but I was pleasantly surprised!  It's not the most exciting dish I've ever made, but it was so easy to throw together and I really enjoyed it (good thing too because the leftovers went on forever!).  The smoked meat added a nice component to the mellow cabbage and onions.

Cabbage and Noodles
Original Recipe
Yield: 6-10 servings (if not more depending on your cabbage size)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (don't be afraid of the butter, look how many servings it's being divided into)
2 large onions, chopped
2 small heads of cabbage, chopped
1 (12 oz) package egg noodles
Salt & pepper to taste
Herbs to taste (Caraway seeds are traditional choice, but I didn't have any so I used herbs de provence, feel free to sub whatever you want)
2 lb kielbasa (or other smoked sausage), grilled and sliced
Cook the egg noodles in salted boiling water until they are al dente.  Drain well and set aside.
Heat the butter in a large pot at medium heat.  Once the butter is melted, add the onions and saute for 5 minutes before adding the cabbage.  
Stirring occasionally, cook until the cabbage is tender (time varies depending on the size of your pot and the amount of cabbage).  
Stir in the egg noodles and kielbasa until everything gets warm again.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and herbs.
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Food News: Event, Cookie Swap, Giveaway

Willoughby Junior Women's Club Holiday Luncheon

I will be selling baked goods at the Willoughby Junior Women's Club Holiday Luncheon!

The event is on Saturday, November 10 at Normandy Party Center in Wickliffe from 10am-2pm.  It's one of two major fundraisers put on by the Club.  The holiday luncheon raises money for various donations made throughout the year, about $10,000 goes back into the Willoughby/Lake County area.  The event features a large Chinese auction, crafters and various vendors, and a 50/25/25 raffle (2 winners get 25%).  It's a great way to kick off the holiday season and get started (or at least start thinking about) your shopping.  By the way, Julie will be there selling Stella & Dot jewelry!

If you're interested in attending, please contact me.  Tickets are $30/person, and the money is due by Monday, November 5.

If you live or work in Willoughby (or a neighboring city without a women's club), come see what we're all about!  Our next meeting is Monday, November 5 at 7pm in the basement of Willoughby City Hall.

Disclosure: I'm a member of the Willoughby Junior Women's Club, all opinions are my own.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012

The 2nd Annual Great Food Bloggers Cookie Swap
Last year I participated in the first cookie swap and it was fantastic.  Over 620 food bloggers sent cookies around the world!  I got some really interesting flavors and look forward to doing it again this year.
All the details can be found at the official cookie swap blog.  There are a few basic rules this year so make sure you check to see if you/your blog qualify for the swap.  I definitely recommend participating, it's a great way to "meet" new bloggers and discover new recipes.  It's great fun, and who doesn't love cookies?!
Cleveland's a Plum 1,000th Post Restaurant Giveaway
Alexa over at Cleveland's a Plum has reached a huge milestone and wants to celebrate!  Head on over to her blog and sign up for her ridiculous giveaway!  One extremely lucky person will win $1,250 worth of food and drink from various local hot spots!  Two additional people will win a runner up prize yet to be determined.  If you live anywhere near Cleveland, you can't not sign up!  If you don't live near Cleveland, I'll gladly help you spend those gift certificates.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Roasted Cabbage

Is everyone still playing along with Pinterest?  I know I am!  I saw roasted cabbage go by recently and since I have a surplus of cabbage, I decided to give it a try.

I think this might be my favorite way to eat cabbage!  I was really surprised how good it was.  The intense flavor of the cabbage diminishes and picks up a roasted sweetness.  If you prefer, pass a bottle of vinegar to sprinkle onto the cabbage, they go great together.  I thought it was great without it, but either way you should definitely try this recipe!
I've got a few more cabbage recipes up my sleeve so stay tuned!

Roasted Cabbage
Adapted from Everyday Food, April 2010
Yield: 6-8 servings
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 head green cabbage, cut into 1-inch-thick rounds
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tsp caraway or fennel seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with one tablespoon of the olive oil. (My cabbage was large so I needed two baking sheets and a little more oil). Place cabbage in a single layer and brush with the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with caraway or fennel seeds (if using). Roast until cabbage is tender and edges are golden, 40 to 45 minutes.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

I love baking with apples and pumpkin this time of year. When I heard about a charity bake sale at work, I knew I wanted to use one of these flavors. The bake sale turned out to be HUGE, there were tons of goodies brought in (we raised over $600). I was surprised to see that I had the only apple treat and there were only a few pumpkin choices. Over 90% of the donations were based on chocolate or contained chocolate. Now I love chocolate, but come on people!

This recipe makes a 9x13 cake and I baked it as two cakes (one for the bake sale in a disposable pan and one for me). My cake was cut into slices and turned out to be a hit! There were easily over 50 baked goods to choose from so I was happy that my cake was gone by the end of the sale.

This cake had a nice apple and cinnamon flavor and the crunchy brown sugar glaze was a nice topping. It was definitely moist, but a tad oily for my taste. Next time I'll try reducing the amount of oil or substitute applesauce for some of the oil. Did you know you can do that? For a healthier version of baked goods you can substitute up to half of the oil for applesauce. You'll sacrifice some moistness, but sometimes cakes can be too oily anyway.

This is a great recipe to try if you're looking for a taste of fall.

Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze
Adapted from The Biscuit Pusher, originally from Southern Cakes
Yield: 9x13 cake or two 8" or 9" cakes (16 servings)

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Whipped cream for serving (optional)

Brown Sugar Glaze:
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
5 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp milk, half and half or cream

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 13x9 inch pan, or two 8" (or 9") pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a mixer at low speed until pale yellow and frothy. Add the oil and vanilla, beat well. Add the flour mixture and continue mixing until it disappears. Add the apples and nuts and stir with a wooden spoon to distribute them into the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 40 to 50 minutes (depending on size of pan), or until the cake is golden brown.

To make the glaze:
Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat stirring often until the mixture comes to a gentle boil and cook for 3 to 5 minutes.

Spoon the hot glaze over the hot cake and let it cool completely.

When serving, add a dollop of whipped cream to each slice of cake. 
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cooking Confessions

Sorry folks, no new recipe today, but I do have something a little different.  But first, since I feel bad for not posting a recipe in a while, you should check out these two quick recipes from the archives. They are both perfect for this time of year.

Smoky Corn Chowder Great recipe for those of us doing Fresh Fork. This week we're getting what is probably the last of the corn.

Candy Corn and Peanuts Quickest treat ever and no baking required.

Today marks the beginning of a series of posts called Cooking Confessions.  It won't be weekly or anything, I'll just throw them out there at random.  These confessions (sometimes embarrassing) will be about cooking, baking or food things that I like or don't like.  Some of them might surprise you even if you know me in real life so stay tuned!

Grilled Cheese & Pancakes: This is basic cooking right here, but I can't do it without "burnination". The problem is that I'm impatient. I start it off at the right temperature, get impatient then walk away and forget. Or I standby, get impatient and end up cranking the heat. It seems I'm willing to wait for more elaborate cooking (probably because there are other food tasks to be handled) but when it's such a simple food and it seems like it takes forever I have issues. I AM getting better with grilled cheese, but I haven't attempted pancakes for two in such a long time (I'm a waffle girl anyway).

On a recent family vacation, I made breakfast for everyone one morning and only had whatever pans the rental house provided. I had the bacon in the oven and pans on all four burners. None of the pans and burners heated the same so I was constantly having to adjust (aka no time to get impatient). I think these were the best cooked pancakes I've made in forever.

Tomato Sauce:
I use jarred tomato sauce. *gasp* I don't use red sauce that much so I just buy it. Sometimes it's a jar of local stuff and sometimes it's just whatever's on sale, but it's rare if I make it myself. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs:
While we're on the subject of tomato sauce I might as well tell you my feelings about spaghetti and meatballs.  Even though Kevin loves spaghetti, I won't make it.  I just don't like it. I'm not sure why, but it is what it is. I love me some bolognese sauce, but that's really the only meatsauce I like (is it a coincidence that bolognese isn't usually served with spaghetti noodles? hmm).  Everything else is meh including meatballs.  So you can count me off the band wagon for this meatball craze that's going on.  I'll eat them, but they don't really do anything for me.

So there you have it, my first installment of cooking confessions.  Do you have any cooking confessions?
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Thursday, September 6, 2012

30 Before 30: 10 Month Update

Only 2 more months until I'm 30! I have to say I'm not nervous/scared/whatever some people feel as they age. I'm actually a little excited! I don't know why, but maybe it's just because a milestone birthday is a great excuse to have a party. And I am having a party!

30 Before 30:
(in no particular order)
  1. Attend a concert at Blossom (We went when the Cleveland Orchestra had a John Williams tribute: soundtracks from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., Jaws, etc.)
  2. Keep in touch with people better (I've been texting a lot more so this helps)
  3. Blog more regularly (I was doing well until the summer hit, but I've been getting back into again)
  4. Participate in a blog swap (Since my last update I guest posted on Clue Into ClevelandEat*Drink*Cleveland and Peave Love Bagels. My posts were about local BLTs with homemade mayo, my favorite wine shop and how to DIY microwave popcorn, respectively.
  5. Sing karaoke in public 
  6. Bake for a good cause
  7. Visit my sister in Atlanta
  8. Visit my brother in New Orleans
  9. Volunteer (nothing since April, I should volunteer at least one more time)
  10. Attend a Tremont Art Walk 
  11. Visit one of Cleveland's beaches
  12. Now that the elephants are back in their new habitat, I want to visit the zoo again.  (I won tickets to Date Night at the Zoovies. We got to wander around after hours and watch The Breakfast Club in their ampitheater.) 
  13. Visit the MetroParks outside of Solon
  14. Host more parties (I've hosted 5 parties in 10 months and I've got my first bimonthly supper club dinner this weekend.)
  15. Learn how to draw
  16. Spend less time on the computer (I've been doing okay)
  17. Visit Stan Hywet Hall (I work near there now, so this should be easy to do in the next few months)
  18. Try to relax (This is even harder now that we have 5 temporary roommates)
  19. Make our wedding album (our 5 year anniversary is a month before I turn 30) (Haven't even started, I need to get moving!)
  20. Visit the West Side more often
  21. Attend a Lake Erie Monsters game
  22. Attend a Burning River Roller Girls bout 
  23. Go skydiving (Coming soon!!)
  24. Learn how to use some of the features on our camera
  25. Go tobogganing
  26. Be more positive about day to day stuff
  27. Try at least 6 new restaurants
  28. Drink more wine
  29. Visit Cleveland's Asiatown and eat dim sum (This was so fun!  We took my parents when they were in town for Father's Day)
  30. Exercise more (I'm on and off)
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Monday, August 27, 2012

I'm Guest Posting on Clue Into Cleveland Today: Local BLTs and DIY Mayo

Head over to Clue Into Cleveland to check out my guest post! 
  • I challenge you to locally source a BLT from a market near you. 
  • I share a recipe for making your own mayo, it's really quick and easy.  Even if you don't normally cook, mayo is definitely doable!
  • I give you the perfect BLT layout (I believe there is a certain order a BLT should be stacked).
This is the perfect opportunity for you to try my Bakin' Bacon method.  Since the bacon doesn't curl up very much, it creates a flat base to stack the rest of the ingredients!
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bakin' Bacon

Mmmmm bacon. I love bacon so much I had a Bacon Party!

Cooking bacon for more than two people can be time-consuming and messy. After today, you can forget about making multiple batches and splattering hot grease all over your stovetop. My secret?  I cook it in the oven. This method is perfect for makin' bacon for a crowd. Just throw it in the oven until it's done to your desired crispiness. And you don't even have to flip the strips! I like to save the bacon fat so once I pour it off, the lingering grease cools/hardens fairly quickly, then just crumple the foil and throw it away.

If you want bacon for breakfast without cooking it every morning, you can it in the oven, then reheat it with a zap in the microwave.  When I make BLTs, I just cook up the whole package for the two of us.  That way we get BLTs two days in a row and only one day of cooking bacon. 
It's surprises me that more people have not heard of this method. I've been doing this for a few years and have no idea where I first heard it, but it's genius.  Now that you know the trick, I hope you'll try it next time you have a bacon craving!

Oven Bacon
Original Recipe
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 lb bacon (I prefer thick cut, but use whatever you like)
2 rimmed baking sheets

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line baking sheets with foil. Lay the bacon on the foil. Don't be afraid to put them right next to each other, they'll shrink as they cook. As long as they're not piled on top of each other, it'll be fine. Put the trays into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until they're done to your satisfaction.  Timing will vary depending on how thick or thin your bacon is so start checking around the 10 minute mark for thinner slices.  Remove the bacon onto a paper towel-lined plate to degrease a moment before devouring.

BLTs are one of my favs!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

3 Year Blogiversary (My Favorite Year So Far)

Way back on June 16th was my 3 year blogiversary.  It slipped right by without any fanfare, but I really wanted to celebrate this past year.  I never imagined Cooker Girl would be anything more than a place to document recipes, but it's become so much more for me!  I wanted to point out a few things that have happened because of this blog (directly or indirectly).

I bought my domain name! was taken so I chose

I created a Facebook fan page.  C'mon "like" me!

I've met a lot of really great people through blogging and Twitter.  I've even made some new friends that I see pretty regularly.

Cleveland Magazine chose my blog to be part of the 32 Most Entertaining Blogs.  All the blogs went through a March Madness-style voting brackets.  I got into the Top 8 and ended up being #2 in the Food and Drink category!  Thanks again for your votes!

I won a Hunger Games recipe contest with my Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables recipe (aka Roast Groosling).  My prize was a cookbook (Lidia's Italy in America), but because the Plain Dealer was delayed in sending the prize, they threw in an extra cookbook. I love Lidia Bastianich!  She's in my top 3 favorite celebrity chefs along with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.  (By the way, Jacques is coming to Cleveland for the Fabulous Food Show in November!)

I've been busy guest posting for some lovely ladies!  My Sugar Cookie Bars were on My Retro Kitchen, I did a restaurant review and shared my favorite shop for wine tasting on Eat Drink Cleveland and taught the readers of Peace Love Bagels how to DIY Microwave Popcorn.

Earlier this year I started baking for a cause, for two causes actually.  Two of my siblings were cycling in the Tour de Cure for Diabetes and I volunteered baked goods in exchange for donations.  The other recipients of baked goods have been US military troops through Operation Baking Gals.

Dump Truck Dirt Cake: Chocolate Cake, Oreo Filling, Vanilla
Buttercream with Oreo garnish around the sides and top

Last, but certainly not least!  I started baking for people outside of the family. Thanks to some nudging from friends, I've turned my passion into a little side business. I'm currently working on a "menu" to put on the site.  Let me know if you need any bakery!

Salted Caramels and Chocolate Cake Balls
I had stickers made so I can put them on my bakery boxes, etc.

Totally unrelated to the blog, but still something significant was a trip to Europe last fall.  Kevin and I spent three weeks in France and Italy.  It was completely amazing, a trip of a lifetime!

Siena, Italy (Tuscany)
A few random facts before I let you go:
 - Cooker Girl's third year had more posts than the two previous years combined!
 - This is my 100th post!
 - Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday.

So there you have it, it's been quite a year!  Thank you so much for reading!