Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Special Brownies Because I'm Getting Old!

I have a BIG birthday coming up on Friday. I'll be 30! To be honest, that number is kind of scary to me. I've always felt older than I am because I didn't have much of a childhood and I was always more mature than the kids that were my age. Even to this day, the majority of my friends are older than I am and I'm okay with that. I just couldn't relate to kids my age. When I was 18, I told people I was 19. When I was 19, I told people I was 20. It wasn't because I was lying, I just have always felt older than my true age. But now I am 29, and I want to stay that way. haha! I will NOT be telling people I am 31 once I turn 30. NO way!

So I am 29 years old for 2 more days and I am trying to make peace with my birthday (aka. Dooms Day!) I don't know why this number feels so different from all the others. I didn't feel that way when I turned 20. My aunt who is 51 says it's not a big deal and maybe when I'm her age it won't be because I'll be wishing I was 30 again. (Love you Letty :-P) All I know is that I'm entering a new age bracket and I have creaky knees. Seriously, I put Hayden down for a nap and quietly back out of the room and my knees crackle and pop like rice krispies. 

I'm getting older old and while I want to celebrate with all my friends and family in a big way, I also want to just ignore it and hope everyone forgets about it. I guess that's not an option anymore though since I'm announcing it to the world here on my blog, but you know what I mean. I was also hoping I wouldn't see my first white hair until after I turned 30, but that didn't happen either. I just discovered my second white hair and neither of them were on top of my head! Think a little further south. No, not that far down, this is a family friendly blog. Would you believe I got my first white hairs in my right eyebrow?! Weird huh? I plucked those suckers at a rapid speed. If you ever see a picture of me and I only have one eyebrow, you'll know why. 

And because this is a food blog, a quick note about these brownies. They're delicious and somewhat healthy.  At least that's what I'm telling myself since I had one for breakfast. Right after I baked them, they were fluffy and cake-like, then the next day they became somewhat fudgy and more like a brownie. The zucchini adds tremendous moisture without tasting like there are vegetables in your brownies. You don't taste the zucchini one bit and if you have skeptical ones in your family, then just peel the zuke before you shred it and they'll be none the wiser. The addition of the chocolate chips don't hurt either. Oh and I forgot to mention, if you omit the chocolate chips, then you'll be left with a completely vegan dessert. 

Zucchini Brownies adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
Printer Friendly Version
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 packed cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl combine sugar, canola oil, vanilla, flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda. Mixture will be dry and sandy. With a wooden spoon add the shredded zucchini and stir until well combined. (The mixture will be thick and somewhat dry looking, just keep stirring until it's fully incorporated and brownie-like). Stir in the chocolate chips, if using.

Pour brownie batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the brownies are set.

Cool on a wire rack. Cut brownies into squares and serve.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Grace's Sweet Life" Review & A Berry Crumble

I received a cookbook for review from Ulysses Press of Grace's Sweet Life by Grace Massa Langlois. Come to find out, Grace is also a dessert blogger and blogs at La Mia Vita Dolce (My Sweet Life). I was initially intrigued by this book because it's filled with all kinds of authentic Italian desserts from Sicilian cannoli to soft amaretti cookies and panna cotta. I love a good tiramisu and gelato but this cookbook has so much more to offer.

I picked up my book, admired the cover then read the intro about how Grace got her start in blogging. She says, "I spent years coming to terms with an injury that prevented me from returning to my career in business. Then when my husband passed away suddenly, I directed all my energy to my children. I needed to help them deal with the tragedy of losing their father. I had to feel happy not only for my sake but also for theirs. So I turned to cooking, because making and sharing food provided me with so much comfort. The more I cooked, the happier I was." Her daughter encouraged her to do something with her love of food and that led to her blog. I love that something wonderful came from such a devastating loss. 

Click the picture to enlarge it to see recipe details

There are 60 recipes and coordinating color photos in this book. While Grace bakes all the desserts, it's her daughter, Liana, that takes the photos for her blog and her son, Matthew is the champion taste tester- it's a family effort :-). There are so many good looking sweets in this book that it was difficult to decide on what to make first. The recipes are divided up into chapters: Cakes and CheesecakesMini DessertsCookies and Confections, Pies and TartsPastries and Fried DessertsCreams, Custards, Mousses and Souffles, and  lastly Frozen and Fruit Desserts. After reading page by page, I finally settled on a berry crumble. Did you know I don't have a single crumble or crisp recipe on this blog? It's about time I changed that!

One of the first things I noticed about this book is that it is very detailed. Several of the recipes are rather lengthy and go on for several pages which can seem intimidating, but Grace just wants you to succeed so the step-by-step instructions are quite thorough for your benefit. Some of the recipes that caught my eye were: Cannoli Cupcakes with Marsala-Chocolate Whipped Cream, Italian Cream-Filled Doughnuts, Vanilla Cream with Raspberry Coulis and Cheesecake with Brandy-Cherry Sauce. A nice feature of this book is that it has little tidbits of the Italian language in each recipe, so in a way I felt as if Grace was right there alongside me in my kitchen. My one complaint about this cookbook was the font choices, the multi-colored print and the use of italics in each recipe because it made it difficult to read at times. That's a minor issue though and obviously doesn't affect the overall taste of the dessert you're making. 

If you're looking for a cookbook with heart that is a little different than all the rest, then look no further than Grace's Sweet Life. And if  you're looking for a crumble recipe with a ton of flavor in the fruit as well as the nutty crumble, then here it is. It's also patriotic in color and would be a great dessert for any July 4th celebration. This recipe makes a lot of topping so I made a couple extra fruit crumbles. The fruit was perfectly softened and the topping was crunchy, sweet and delicious. Next time, I would decrease the amount of orange zest in the recipe since the orange flavor was more pronounced than I expected, otherwise they were prefect served warm or cold. 

Raspberry, Blueberry & Pistachio-Almond Crumble from Grace's Sweet Life

Printer Friendly Version 

Pistachio-Almond Crumble Topping: 

  • 1 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces

Raspberry and Blueberry Filling: 

  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 2 oranges)
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon sugar

To Make the Pistachio-Almond Crumble Topping: In a small bowl, stir together the oats, pistachios, almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until well combined. 

Rub the butter into the oat mixture with your fingertips until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. 

To Make The Raspberry-Blueberry Filling: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Butter 4 (6.5 ounce) oven proof dishes (I used 6- 5 ounce ramekins). Transfer to a baking sheet and set aside. 

In a medium bowl, gently combine the raspberries,blueberries, sugar, and vanilla extract until combined. Be careful not to crush the berries. 

Add the orange juice and zest, and the salt. Sift the flour over the mixture and gently stir to just combine. 

Assembly: Divide the filling evenly among the prepared dishes. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top of the filling, then evenly divide the pistachio-almond topping among the dishes. 

Bake until the juices start to bubble and the topping is crisp and golden brown, 25-35 minutes. 

Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and allow the crumbles to cool until warm. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, if desired. 

Order your copy of Grace's Sweet Life today!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tall, Dark, Rich and Handsome

This past Sunday was Father's Day. And there's nothing better than a tall luscious chocolate cake to celebrate with so I was thrilled when The Cake Slice Bakers chose this cake to bake for the month of June. Mr. H is a true chocolate lover and this cake hit the spot on so many levels. There's light and fluffy cake loaded with cocoa, a fudgy chocolate pudding to fill the layers and then it's lovingly swathed in dreamy chocolate buttercream. And just to gild the lily, you take some of the cake, crumble it up and pat it into the frosting. This is a true man's cake. 

We celebrated Father's Day with my family at my mom's house this year. My aunt, uncle and cousin were there as well as my in-law's. In total there were about 12 of us and 5 dogs- it was a full house! We had 4 different kinds of quiche (because real men eat quiche), a fresh fruit salad, Parmesan roasted tomatoes, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, this Brooklyn Blackout Cake (click the link to read the history) and a cheesecake that my MIL made. I'll share that one later on! There was so much food and I ate a big honkin' piece of cheesecake that I filled up and didn't get to taste the cake until the next day. But the slice pictured in this post, was all mine :-)

It just dawned on me as I was thinking of past Father's Day celebrations and June 20th, that this day in 2004 is when Mr. H asked me to marry him. I had been working that day and was tired, my feet hurt and I was hungry. Mr. H picked me up from work to take me back to his parent's house for Father's Day dinner. I remember calling my Dad on the way over there to wish him a happy day when I realized that we weren't going to his parents house. Mr. H made a detour and we were headed to Mount Bonnell (click the link to read about it)- one of my favorite places and also the place where we went on our first date 13 years ago. Mr. H was very nervous and I had an idea of what he was going to do but I wasn't totally sure. Shortly there after, overlooking the lake and a beautiful sunset, he asked me to marry him. All these years later, we have a sweet boy named Hayden Bonnell. 

Mr. H, Hayden and GrandBob
Brooklyn Blackout Cake from The Cake Book 

For the Chocolate Blackout Cake:
  • 1½ cups (6.4 oz/181 g) all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2.9 oz/85 g) natural (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (14 oz/400 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
  • ½ cup (1 stick/4 oz/113 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240 ml) hot brewed coffee

For the Chocolate Pudding Filling:
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup (4.6 oz/132 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (240 ml) water
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) heavy cream
  • 3 ounces (85 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Fudgy Chocolate Frosting:
  • 4 ounces (113 g) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 11 tablespoons (5.5 oz/156 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 2/3 cups (6.7 oz/191 g) confectioners sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of two 9" round cake pans. (see me NOTE below.) Dust the pans with flour.

2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the granulated sugar and, using the paddle attachment, mix at low speed until blended.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. At low speed, add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients in a steady steam. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then beat at medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the hot coffee, mixing just until blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir the batter up from the bottom of the bowl a few times to thoroughly blend it. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly and smoothing the tops.

4. Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.

5. Invert the cakes onto the racks and cool completely.


6. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt at medium speed until pale, about 1 minute.

7. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the water and cream and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk about half of the hot cream mixture into the yolk mixture. Whisk this mixture back into the remaining cream mixture in the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Continue to boil, whisking, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the chocolate until completely melted.

8. Pass the filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover the surface of the pudding with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until chilled.


9. Put the chocolate in a medium stainless steel bowl and place over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pot and set the chocolate aside to cool until tepid.

10. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat at medium-high speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract and melted chocolate, then beat until well-blended and creamy, about 1 minute.


11. Using a long serrated knife, cut each cake layer in half horizontally, to make 4 layers. Reserve one layer. Place another cake layer, cut side up, on a serving plate. Whisk the chilled filling until smooth. Using a small offset metal spatula, spread half of the filling over the layer. Top with another cake layer and spread it with the remaining filling. Top with a third cake layer, smooth side up. (See my NOTE below.)

12. Break half of the reserved cake layer into large pieces and place them in the bowl of a food processor (save the remainder of the cake layer for snacking). Process the cake to fine crumbs, and set aside.

13. Using a narrow metal spatula, frost the top and sides of the cake with the frosting. Pat a generous amount of cake crumbs onto the sides of the cake, pressing them lightly into the frosting. Sprinkle the remaining cake crumbs over the top of the cake. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

STORE in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for up to 2 days.

Yield : Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 10 to 12

NOTE: This recipe had you bake a cake in 2 9-inch layer then once baked and cooled, you slice them in half to make 4 equal layers. The cake uses 3 of those layers then half of the remaining cake layer is crumbled and patted into the frosting. Instead of having to cut the cake into equal layers and worrying about all the crumbs, I simply baked the cake into 3 layers and used about 1 cup of batter to make cupcakes for the crumbs on the outside of the cake. You can make it however you want, this was just simpler and less messy in my opinion and there wasn't any cake wasted. 

Hope you all had a delicious Father's Day!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

There's nothing like watching your offspring grow and learn. You can almost see the wheels in their head turning, absorbing what they're seeing then reacting. It's an amazing thing to witness. 

Contrary to what you all might think, I don't follow Hayden around with a camera all the time. But there are times when he commands my attention because he's just so darn cute and curious. 

The photo below is of Hayden discovering his Daddy's chest hair. With one hand, he pulled back his shirt and with the other he softly and gently ran his fingers through it. I love that. 

Father/son moments like these are just priceless. I know there are many more to come and I can't wait to go running after my camera to capture all those crooked grins. 

Happy Father's Day, Daddy! We love you!

~Mom and Hayden

Can you see his teeth? He has one on his upper left and one on
the lower right. He looks like  a little jack-o-lantern :-)

* * * * *

Before I go, I wanted to wish TJ, a new father and devoted reader, a very special Father's Day. Congratulations to you and Brittany on the birth on your new baby boy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No More Holding Out

I have a confession to make. I made this delicious cake back in December and I've been keeping it from you. Forgive me for withholding this sugary goodness. My friend, Ingrid from 3B's blog, made this umpteen years ago and I had been waiting for the perfect occasion to make it. I contemplated halving the recipe and making it in a smaller Bundt pan just so I could try it, but I held out, baked it in the biggest Bundt pan I had and shared it with my family. 
This recipe comes from the brilliant mind of Julia from Dozen Flours. It's a recipe I've seen all over the internet but it was Ingrid's love of snickerdoodles that convinced me to make it. This cake is downright delicious. What makes it similar to a snickerdoodle cookie? Well the pan is buttered then, coated in cinnamon sugar. When you turn the cake out of the pan, you're left with a thick sweet and spicy crunchy crust. There's also a ripple of cinnamon sugar that runs throughout the center on the cake. In my opinion the cake doesn't need the extra sweetness  because the cake was so moist, tender and flavorful all on it's own. 

Aaron showing off the beauty of a cinnamon sugared pan :-)
I'm not sure why I didn't take many pictures of the inside of the cake. Maybe because I was enamored with the sparkly exterior and just plain forgot about it. I don't know how else to convince you of how good this cake was. If you have a cinnamon sugar lover in the family, this cake is sure to please. I think the only thing that I would do differently next time is to use the streusel filling from this cinnamon swirl buttermilk cake. instead of the one below. Yes, that would make it near perfect. Enjoy with a glass of icy milk or creamy coffee for the full effect. 

Snickerdoodle Bundt Cake from Dozen Flours via 3B's 

Printer Friendly Version 
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup full-fat sour cream, at room temperature

In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Mix together really well and set aside. 

Preheat oven to 325F. Generously spray a 9 inch Bundt pan with a nonstick baking spray with flour, being careful to cover all the nooks and crannies, as well as the center tube.  If you don't want to use baking spray with flour, you can just grease the pan with shortening. Gently dust the entire inside of the pan with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. You should only need about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar, but you want to try and evenly coat the inside surface of the pan, including the tube. Save the remaining sugar and cinnamon mixture and set everything aside. 

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Beat just the butter on medium speed for one full minute. Add the white sugar and mix for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and blade and add the brown sugar.

Mix for 2 minutes until the mixture looks light brown and uniform in color. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each for 1 full minute. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream; beat well. 

Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of the cinnamon sugar mixture over top the cake. Spread the rest of the batter into the pan and sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture over the top. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Look at that crust!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

One Cannot Survive On Sweets Alone

We interrupt this sweet fest to bring you a savory, very tasty meal! No, there's not any a stick of butter and a cup of sugar in this recipe, but it is darn delicious so don't go yet! I've wanted to make Penne with Vodka sauce for years now. I once saw Rachael Ray make it on her show and she said this meal would turn your boyfriend into your husband. Well, I don't know about all that, but this recipe is a keeper and the men in your life will love it. I didn't plan it this way, but it might be a good dish to celebrate Father's Day too. 

Uncle Aaron and Hayden acting silly after nap time
Y'all, I've been crazy busy lately. I know I say that a lot, but this little guy is wearing me out! He's such a little busy body and is into EVERYTHING these days. He grabs and must touch all things around him. He's crawling and rolling all over the place and exploring. He pulled the DVD player out of the entertainment center the other night and as of the 1st, when he turned 9 months old (how is that possible?!) he cut his first tooth and discovered his boy parts. heehee :-) See, I told you he's been busy! He's also been experiencing some separation anxiety and had been ultra clingy which makes night time tough because he's waking up several times a night looking for me, which results in a sleepy baby throughout the day....and a sleepy momma.

I have been cooking and baking, but haven't really been picking up my camera other than to take pictures of Hayden. I've made this vodka penne a few times now and it goes so fast there's never any leftovers. As you've guessed it, there is vodka in the sauce. I bought a small inexpensive bottle since it's not something I drink, but it's been the perfect size for this recipe. This recipe takes a basic marinara sauce and kicks it up with the addition of the vodka, which adds a smoky robust flavor to it. It's just so full of flavor but you don't really taste the strong aspect of the alcohol- it just blends so nicely. It's slightly spicy and garlicky and just so good. Have I mentioned that already?

Vodka Penne / Penne alla Vodka
adapted from Lidia Bastianich via Picky Cook 

Printer Friendly Version 
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 12 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 - 8 garlic cloves - minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup vodka plus 2 tablespoons to put in at the end
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon all purpose seasoning  ( I used Emeril's Essence)
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 pound penne - cooked just shy of al dente
In a large pan, heat the olive oil and saute garlic and red pepper flakes until fragrant. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, all purpose seasoning, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Let simmer for 5 - 6 minutes.

Add the 1/2 cup of vodka and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add cream, butter and Parmesan and stir to combine. Let simmer for a couple minutes. Add the final 2 tablespoons of vodka.

Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Let cook in sauce for few minutes.

Serve with additional Parmesan.

Serves 6 - 8

The first time I made this recipe, I made it as written, and then the times after that I added cooked and crumbled Italian sausage to it. My husband is a big meat eater so he, of course, loved this addition. However you make it, it will be good. Serve it with a big crisp green salad, some crusty bread and pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy!

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