dessert

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[the makings of a caprese salad]

[making peppermint bark with my cousin]

[bowlin' the night away at lebowski fest]

[my niece, madeline's, work of art]

[snapped a pic post-lunch at nighttown]

[a couple "light meat" & "dark meat" turkeys from oakmont bakery]

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In honor of All Hallows Eve I wanted to share my delicious holiday twist on Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake Mix.

This coffee cake is to die for, I really can’t emphasize enough how GOOD it is. It’s silky and smooth, the perfect bite to go with your morning cuppa joe. Just thinking about it makes me want to peel open the [safely out of sight] tupperware and grab a piece… but I’m staying strong. If you, however, end up eating the whole batch in one sitting I wouldn’t blame you one bit.

I’m sure this cake mix just on it’s own would be delicious but I figured, it’s October, I have a can of pumpkin, what the heck let’s get a little wild. I’ve also read that you can sub in pumpkin puree for butter & oil in boxed cake recipes to cut down on fat but it does give the cake a distinct pumpkinny flavor so unless you’re aiming for that, I’d stick to butter & oil.

If you want to follow the box directions, go for it. You’ll still come up with a yummy cake. If you want to walk on the wild side, read on for an unbelievably moist, creamy [and festively orange colored] cake that will quickly become one of your fall staples.

Cinnamon Pumpkin Silk Coffee Cake

for cake:

  • 1 bag of cake mix from Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake Mix
  • 1 egg, room temperature [same as box recipe]
  • 3 1/2 tbsp butter, melted [a little less than box recipe]
  • 2/3 cup water [box says use water -or- milk, i went with water because the added pumpkin would already thicken it up]
  • 3/4 can of pure pumpkin [note: not pumpkin pie mix]
  • 1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tbsp pure maple syrup

for crumb topping:

  • 1 bag of crumble mix from TJ’s Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake Mix
  • 3 1/2 tbsp chilled butter, cut into cubes

Grease your favorite pan [I used an 8" square pan] and preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, add all cake ingredients together and whisk for 15 seconds, or until just combined [be careful not to overmix or the cake will be tough]. In a separate bowl, use your hands to mix the cubed butter and crumb mix together until well-incorporated yet still crumbly. Add 1/2 the cake batter into the pan, then add 1/2 the crumb mix. Pour the rest of the cake batter on top, then cover with the remaining crumb mix. Place in oven [on the center rack, if possible] and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Keep a close eye on this cake, if it’s overcooked it will loose some of it’s creaminess. Run a knife around the edges of pan while still warm to loosen bits stuck to the side. Wait for cake to cool completely, then cut and enjoy with a glass of cold milk within reach.

 

[and then there was one.]

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[rustic house]

Last night to celebrate Vince’s birthday we went to the [relatively] new kid on the block, Rustic House. I was initially drawn to this Lincoln Park locale because of the fireplace [love] and it’s cozy, intimate interior. Once I did a little digging I fell in love with the menu… the executive chef frequents Green City Market [yeaa!] and they have really interesting dishes like hand-rolled gnocchi with hudson valley foie gras & crispy pork belly, but also feature traditional feel good comfort foods like chicken pot pie and braised lamb.

[the birthday boy & his present, which i stealthily concealed in a missoni for target shoebox. more on that traumatizing shopping experience to come.]

We had the gnocchi to start, it was a modest portion but delicious. For dinner Vince ordered the halibut ["sweet corn & lobster succotash/champagne beurre blanc"] and I got the veal cheek ragout ["pappardelle/pear tomato confit/saved pecorino"]. Vince’s was REALLY good, he got quite a sizable piece of fish and the sweet corn & lobster succotash combo was amazing. I wasn’t as crazy about mine, it was a wee bit salty for my liking, but I’m a sucker for fresh homemade pasta and enjoyed the pappardelle. Oh and we also got a side of roasted garlic mashed potatoes, they were tasty.

[onto dessert. decisions, decisions.]

[worth noting: you can order wine by the glass, carafe, or bottle. the carafe is the equivalent to a glass and a half, the perfect middle ground.]

[we went with the whatchamacallit]

Highlights of the night were the excellent service, great beer recommendations, warm’n cozy ambiance and tantalizing menu. Overall verdict: we loved Rustic House and will be back soon!

 

 

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Oh dear. I’ve been a bad, bad blogger. Here August has come and gone and not a peep from me… nadda one. I certainly had plenty to talk about, like the time I traveled home for my niece’s 4th birthday where I made these itty bitty cinnamon buns for breakfast:

[hi dad!]

And the fateful day we went to an ice cream shop I had been dying to try, Jeni’s in Chagrin Falls. I’m going to level with you all, it’s hard to go wrong as far as ice cream is concerned but when you throw nutty ingredients like cayenne pepper into the mix things could theoretically go either way. Right? Right! Well Jeni’s was… utterly fantastic. It surpassed all of my expectations. My mom’s favorite? Salty caramel & she even bought a pint to take home. I feel bad but I ate nearly the entire thing… I didn’t know ice cream could be that velvety smooth. What does Jeni put in there?! I need help.

I got {1} scoop of sweet corn & black raspberries and {1} scoop of goat cheese with red cherries. Life changing. In every way. At that moment I decided to be a better person, pay my electric bill on time and be nice to my grumpy doorman who I believe has a moral objection to smiling. It was that good.

You’ve got to love Jeni’s creative twist on ice cream flavors: burbon buttered pecan, queen city cayenne, wildberry lavender, the milkiest chocolate in the world:

So I hope you’ll let this one slide. We’ll be back soon with some new exciting finds from Wednesday’s Green City Market. ‘Til then if you’re eager to get your hands on some of Jeni’s ice cream she sells pints at several local grocers in Chicago including The Southport Grocery & Cafe and The Goddess & Grocer. Get some for dessert tonight.. or breakfast.. lunch… anytime you have a spoon nearby, really.

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t let your eyes trick you, that says ‘heath’ up there, not ‘health’. While I do consider these brownies healthy for your soul and peace of mind, in the traditional sense… not so much. I chose to make this recipe for three reasons:

1] it required me to clean one dish {two if you include the baking pan}

2] it did not require the use of an electric mixer

*these two reasons are paramount when the baker at hand lives in a small city apartment with limited counter space and a noticeably absent [and sorely missed] dishwasher

**although an easy cleanup, take heed: hand-mixing leads directly to higher cake batter transferal from bowl to mouth during the baking process.

3] I had to see what gooey cookies & cream heath brownies tasted like!

My friend from college, Lyndi, texted me the other day asking that I post another easy dessert recipe. She is pregnant right now [the cutest pregnant girl ever, it's not even fair] and she is also perfecting her baking skills [she's a pro at making these nutella pillows]. Lyndi could eat 38 double fudge chocolate chip cookies and still look like a darn bikini model. So Lyndi these are for you [and baby O.]!

I found this recipe on one of my daily reads, Picky Palate, and decided to slightly alter it. It is a breeze to make and if you like soft, gooey freshly baked cookies, you will absolutely love these.

Gooey Cookies’n Cream Heath Brownies

  • 1 butter recipe fudge box of cake mix
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 14 oreo cookies, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bag of heath bar bits [found in the baking aisle by the chocolate chips]

1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line a 9×13 inch baking pan with tin foil, spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Place cake mix, butter and egg [must be room temperature] into a large bowl, mixing with your hands to combine. Attempt to demonstrate self-control and resist the urge to eat the whole bowl o’dough then & there. Press into prepared baking pan and top with broken pieces of oreo.

3. Pour sweetened condensed milk over cookies and top with heath bits. Bake for 23-25 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. After 5 minutes of cooling, run a knife around edges to loosen. If the knife gets stuck, run it under cold water. Let cool completely, remove foil from pan, then cut into squares. Makes 12 brownies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[#1 dad]

I often wonder… for as much as our parents love us and for all they do for us, how can we possibly thank them for giving us… everything?

I wish I knew.

Until I think of something really really good all I can say is… Dad, thank you for being my biggest fan, my rock, my constant. Thank you for filling my childhood with the best of memories. Thank you for driving me to school each morning [and passing your love of the beatles onto me... lovely rita, meter maid..], for taking me down to the kitchen to fix me a midnight snack when I couldn’t sleep [orange slices sprinkled with sugar], for telling me a bedtime story each night [he created them on the fly every single night], for being strong, imaginative, kind and unfailingly dependable.

I love you more than you know. Happy Father’s Day.

And now some pictures from our weekend on the homestead…

Happy Father’s Day dad! :)

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My mom got me these adorable mini bundt cupcake pans from Target [these ones are similar but mine are pastel] and they came with a tasty looking recipe right on the package. A quick scan revealed that I had nearly* all of the ingredients on hand, always an exciting moment. Vince was getting over a nasty bout with the flu so I decided to bake them as a hooray-you’re-able-to-keep-food-down treat.

* I thought I had all the ingredients except the recipe calls for two sticks of butter and I only had one. Not to be deterred I halved the recipe which led me to my first experience attempting to halve an egg… not sure I was entirely successful. I also underestimated the amount of batter poured into each cup, hence the half-eaten appearances of the freshly-baked cakes above.

Despite my shortcomings [wink] these little two-bite cakes were really fun to make and they’re just so darn cute.

Itsy Bitsy Strawberry Shortcakes

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • strawberry jam
  • dash of pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour pan. In large mixing bowl, mix butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and egg until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture; mix well. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the batter into each prepared cup. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan, cool completely on rack. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of the strawberry jam in center of each cake. Lightly dust with powdered sugar, if desired. Yields 12 cakes.

 

 

 

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Ever since I saw Lindsay Lohan’s character dunk an oreo in a jar of peanut butter in The Parent Trap, I was hooked on the snack. I found this recipe for a no bake bar [my first] and had all the ingredients on hand. Remembering how good peanut butter + oreos are together, I strayed from the recipe and added a touch of peanut butter to the mix. I also didn’t have a full package of oreos so I improvised and added some reduced-fat chips ahoys.

Cookies’n Cream Bars

  • 1 package oreos [I used Trader Joe's Joe-Joes  {like oreos but better} and again, only had half a package so I used some reduced-fat chips ahoys. use any cookies you have.]
  • 2 spoonfuls natural peanut butter
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 package mini marshmallows

Place cookies in a ziploc bag and crush [doesn't need to be a fine crush]. Place marshmallows, butter, and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl and microwave for 1.5 – 2 minutes or until marshmallows begin to puff. Remove and pour in cookie mixture. Stir to combine then transfer to a foil lined 8×8 baking pan. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove bars out of pan with edges of foil and cut into squares. Makes 9 large bars. Told you it was easy!

 

 

 

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{When life hands you mushy bananas…}

I had a couple bananas that were turning on me and it was the perfect time to bake a batch of banana bread. In the spirit of St. Pat’s I wanted to add some green flair to my grandma’s recipe but without any green food coloring in the cupboard I wasn’t sure how to pull it off. As my eyes settled on the basil pot on the windowsill it hit me, why not give the savory Italian herb a try? I had a hunch the subtle, slightly minty flavors of the basil would compliment the sugary sweetness of the banana nicely. Although I didn’t get the vibrant green hue I was hoping for, the incidental marrying of flavors was right on.

Basil Banana Bread

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3-4 ripe bananas
  • 1-2 tsp sour cream, if you have it
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 bunch [4-5 large leaves] fresh basil, chopped

Reserve:

  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 3-4 large basil leaves, chopped – for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix butter, sugar, bananas, sour cream, water, chocolate chips, basil and eggs thoroughly in big bowl with electric mixer. Mix remaining dry ingredients and add to wet mixture slowly [otherwise the flour will fly everywhere and make a huge lovely mess...]. When all ingredients are combined, gently fold in reserved chocolate chips with a spatula. Grease one large loaf pan. Bake in oven 35-40 minutes or until butter knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on rack, remove from pan, slice, top with reserved basil. Enjoy a piece for breakfast [wrap in a lightly damp paper towel and steam it the microwave for 15 seconds. Slather a pat of butter on top while still warm], or have a slice as a sweet after dinner treat.

 

 

 

 

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One of my favorite things to do is go out to a relaxed dinner, unrushed, unhurried, savoring every bite and enjoying each plate the talented chef concocts. Last night I had the pleasure of trying out one of Chicago’s newest up-and-coming restaurants, the distinctive Argentinian~Italian fusion restaurant, Caminito. Located in Lincoln Park, across from Steppenwolf, this gem is mere months old, but somehow [he never reveals his ways] my thoughtful boyfriend found out about it and, knowing how much I love eclectic, unique cuisine, made plans for us to try it out.

[winnie + kev, quintessential sweethearts]

We both love gnocchi [pasta + potatoes, basically sums up the two of us] and he’d heard Caminito had the best gnocchi in the city ~ which, news to me, is a common dish in Argentina. After dousing some of our freshly baked bread in housemade chimichurri [our server clued us in that it's a blend of oregano, red pepper, fresh parsley, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar] we both ordered the Gnocchi al Fruto del Mar [homemade potato dumplings sauteed with fresh seafood on a semi-spicy tomato sauce]. As we sipped our champagne and sopped up the addicting chimichurri with the hot crusty bread, diners slowly started trickling in, and before we knew it the place was packed. Oh, and how could I leave this part out, it’s a BYOB! Genius right?

[some bubbly for date night]

Our gnocchi came, a prettily arranged plate piled with calamari, crab, mussels, and the famed dumplings. In went the first forkful. Heaven, I tell you. Each bite of the gnocchi was pillowy soft and creamy, matched by the hearty chunks of fresh seafood. We both chewed in silent admiration, this gnocchi was legit. In the midst of all this a person approached our table, professional-looking camera in tow. “Mind if I take your picture?” He was a photographer from Metromix/RedEye and they were featuring Caminito in their Friday edition. We were going to be famous! Okay, not really, but it was pretty cool and a first for both of us. Snap, snap, snap. “Can you cheers with your champagne glass?” Sure! Snap, snap, snap. A very memorable end to an already wonderful evening.

ps: apologies for the shoddy photos, the dim light works like a charm for romantic ambiance, not as well for snapping non-flash iPhone pics.

[let the stomach growling commence]

[every bit as good as it looks]

[+ dessert: almendrado con dulce de leche]


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