autumn oatmeal cookie bars

Another squash recipe, but this time – a sweet version!

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I don’t know if it’s the cooler nights, seasonal flavors, or the fact that it’s no longer “swimsuit season” {LOL} but this time of year I start craving desserts. There’s something so special about sitting down at the end of the day, dinner cleaned up and dishes put away, and enjoying the perfectly sweet bite of dessert. For some people – ice cream {year round!}, others – cookies and cakes. I am not going to say no to any of those options, but boy…do I love me a good cookie.

This particular recipe was inspired by…as mentioned above…squash. I LOVE pumpkin, y’all! It’s a great ingredient to work with; packed with vitamins and minerals, full of flavor, and it serves as a great way to scale back on some of the typically not-so-good items that go into cookies. Paired with tangy Greek yogurt, the resulting cookie is perfectly moist and chewy, and loaded up with spices. A combination of rolled oats and all-purpose flour lends a hint of nutty flavor, which is beautiful with the pumpkin and brown sugar. The little nuggets of chocolate chips and raisins don’t hurt, either ; )

Once you bake up a batch of these, don’t expect them to last long. BUT! If you want to, portion of a section of the pan to freeze; your weeknight self craving something sweet, but not overly indulgent, will be glad you did.

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Autumn Oatmeal Cookie Bars {recipe adapted from Averie Cooks}

Traditional chocolate chip cookie meets pillowy pumpkin cookies. They taste every bit delicious as they look: perfectly fluffy, with crispy edges and bursting full of flavor and goodies. Ideal for any autumn get-together; I promise, they won’t last long. 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed {light or dark is fine}

1 large egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree {not pumpkin pie filling!}

1 Tbsp. molasses

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

pinch salt

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour {I used a combination of 2 cups AP flour and 1-1/4 cups oats, just for extra texture and flavor}

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2-1 cup assorted dried fruits…cherries, apricots, cranberries, raisins, etc. *nuts of your choice can also be used

*optional: for a sweeter cookie, add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar 

**optional topping: 1/3 cup granulated sugar + 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, mixed together

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine plain Greek yogurt, brown sugar {optional granulated sugar to be added here, if using}, and beat on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes to cream ingredients together; stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the egg and vanilla, and beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes or until mixture is light and fluffy.

Add in the pumpkin, molasses, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, pinch of salt, and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute.

Add in the flour {or combination of flour and oats} and baking soda, and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips {and any add-ins you might like} by hand. Cover the mixing bowl and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 90 minutes {I only chilled for about 30 minutes because of time constraint}. Dough can be chilled for up to 4 days.

Prepare your 9″ x 13″ baking dish by coating liberally with nonstick spray. Evenly distribute the batter into the dish, making sure to spread it out evenly and ensuring that all corners are filled. Top with optional cinnamon/sugar mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes {edges will be golden and set, and the top will have just set; they will continue to firm up as they cool}. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into bars.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to three months.

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cookies n’ cream cake

Oreo lovers, you’ve found your ::literal:: slice of heaven.

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We all know pretty well by now that I have a sweet tooth the size of the planet, but it’s not too often that I do a lot of baking. Don’t get me wrong, I love baking! – it’s a methodical, precise process; entirely different from the way most of my day-to-day cooking goes. But the art of baking requires concentration and focus; sometimes I need that in the kitchen. Which is why I always let the hubs choose as intricate a birthday dessert as he wants. It’s a win for the both of us – he gets an awesome dessert, and I get my focus fix {and yes, the entirety of the dessert is consumed solely by the two of us!}.

This year’s cake was a no brainer. I mentioned above that Oreo cookie lovers have found a slice of heaven. I kid you not, this cake is hands-down the embodiment of an Oreo cookie, crafted into a glorious 2-layer cake. Every inch, every crumb of this cake pays homage to the iconic cookie. We have crumbled Oreo wafers in the actual cake base. The creme filling finds its way into the frosting that is sandwiched between the two cakes. Whole Oreos have been pulverized into a fine powder, and folded into the buttercream frosting.

One  might think that such a cake will be cloyingly sweet. But I promise that it’s not! I tweaked the original recipe just a bit; eliminating a bit of the sugar, presenting alternate options for the oil and sour cream ingredients. It is a perfectly balanced dessert; sure, it’s indulgent, but worth every delicious bite.

 Have I described it well enough? Are you running to the kitchen to make this?

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Because you very well should be : )

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Oreo Cookies n’ Cream Cake {recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Oreo lovers will fall head over heels in love with this decadent creation. Full to bursting with both Oreo cookie crumbs and the oh-so-loved creme filling, it hits all the right notes. Finished with a fluffy buttercream frosting, this cake is sure to win a spot in your hearts – not to mention, bring back fond childhood memories of dunking Oreo cookies into a tall glass of milk! 

Ingredients: Chocolate Layer Cake

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder {not dutch process}

1 cup granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups cake flour*

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup applesauce {you can also use vegetable or canola oil}

1 cup full fat sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup hot coffee or hot water

3/4 cup  Oreo cookie crumbs**

*if you don’t have cake flour, simply remove 3 Tbsp. of the all-purpose flour, the add in 3 Tbsp. of cornstarch. Sift the all-purpose flour and the cornstarch together before using

**scrape out the filling before pulsing the cookies, and set to the side for later use

Ingredients: Oreo Cream Filling

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

reserved Oreo creme filling {from the 3/4 cup of Oreo cookie crumbs}

2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 Tbsp. milk or cream

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Ingredients: Vanilla Buttercream

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup milk or cream

10 additional Oreo cookies, pulsed into a fine crumb

To Prepare:

Position oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. Generously spray two 9″ cake pans with nonstick spray, and set aside.

In a large bowl, using a handheld or standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the cocoa powder, sugar, cake flour, baking soda, and salt together on low speed for 30 seconds. Add in the eggs, applesauce {or oil of choice}, sour cream {or Greek yogurt}, and vanilla. Mix on low speed for one minute.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the coffee and Oreo cookie crumbs; stir to combine. Some of the chocolate chips will melt as you stir. Avoid overmixing the batter!

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 28-32 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes come out clean. Allow cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cakes cool, make the Oreo Cream Filling. 

In a large bowl, using a handheld or standing mixer fitting with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening {or just all butter}, and reserved Oreo creme filling on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time, alternating with the milk/cream and vanilla. The filling will be thick, but you may add more milk/cream if you prefer. Set aside, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

While the cakes cool, make the Vanilla Buttercream. 

In a large bowl, using a handheld or standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on high speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla on low speed, then add in the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, alternating with the milk/cream. The buttercream will be thick. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the Oreo cookie crumbs. Set aside, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Once the cake is cooled, assemble the cake.

Place one cooled layer on a cake stand or large plate. Using an offset spatula or knife, cover the top with a 1″ thick layer of the Oreo Creme Filling. Top with the second cake. Cover the tall layer cake with the Vanilla Buttercream.

Slice and serve! Leftover cake can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

make ahead tip: the cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. The frosting and filling can be prepared, then covered and refrigerated overnight. Assemble and frost the next day, when you are ready to serve. 

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that was the size of one slice <3

apple cake with bourbon-vanilla buttercream

As a child, we had a tradition in my family. On your birthday, you got to pick whatever dish you wanted for dinner. No if’s, and’s or but’s, my mom was always up for the challenge. Most years, my sisters and I would pick our tried and true favorites – dishes that were easy to create but nonetheless special, because mom made them just for you on your birthday. Is it just me, or does food taste just a tad bit better when it’s like that?

The same went for desserts. Again, tried and true favorites were picked. Yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting was on regular rotation for my sisters, and sometimes evolved into a certain chocolate ganache cake that was so rich, only a mere sliver could be enjoyed. Cheesecakes would often sneak in, and ever so often a pie would appear.

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with today’s recipe.

Well, y’all, the tradition of special birthday meals has not been ignored every since I flew the coop and got hitched a couple years back. As long as the hubs and I have been together, I’ve enjoyed preparing dishes and desserts for him every year on his birthday. The only stipulation? It has to be something uncommon, and something we wouldn’t necessarily make at home. The same applies for dessert. We’ve had the cake version of my Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes, trifles, and various twists on the classic chocolate cake. So this year, I challenged HIM. We had to select a dessert that had never passed our lips, but that would be delicious and sumptuous.

With fall just around the corner, the mental light bulb was quick to turn on. Almost simultaneously, after discussions of how amazing our wedding cake was, we thought “APPLES!”. It couldn’t be more perfect – the hubs love apple-based treats, and when I suggested a buttercream centered on his favorite libation {bourbon}, he was instantly sold.

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And I’m telling y’all, this is to.die.for. Like, seriously. It is perfectly moist and decadent, but not at all overly sweet or heavy. We use applesauce, not oil {!}, in the cake, and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.It adds the perfect amount of sweetness to the cake, and creates the most beautiful crumb when you slice through it. One bite of this, topped with fluffy buttercream, and you’ll want this for your birthday.

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Apple Cake with Bourbon-Vanilla Buttercream {cake adapted from A Beautiful Bite, & frosting recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma}

Just because it’s not quite yet fall, doesn’t mean the desire for apples in baked goods isn’t here! This cake is full of apple flavor, and the bourbon buttercream takes it over the top. Supremely moist and full of flavor, this is sure to satisfy. 

Ingredients – Cake:

4 cups firm fleshed baking apples, cored and diced {I used a mixture of Fuji/Granny Smith/Red Delicious}

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup turbinado sugar {granulated will work fine; I think the turbinado offers a richer and more complex taste}

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1-1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla extract {homemade, if you have it!}

Ingredients – Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream:

6 cups confectioners’ sugar

16 tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter

3 tbsp. milk, plus more if needed

2 tsp. vanilla extract {again, if you have homemade, go for it!}

1 to 1-1/2 shots of bourbon {optional, but encouraged!}

pinch salt

To Prepare – Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (2) 9″ baking pans and set aside. As these cakes tend to bake a bit taller than usual, I would recommend greasing all the way up the sides of the pans, and the lips as well!

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In a large mixing bowl, combine flour/cinnamon/salt/baking soda. Mix well and set aside.

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Using a stand mixer or hand mixer set on medium speed, combine both sugars/eggs/applesauce/vanilla. Mix until incorporated.

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Slowly add in the flour mixture; mixing only until incorporated.

Stir in the apples by hand. Pour cake batter into the (2) pans, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Remove from oven and let cool, in pans, for at least 20 minutes. Flip out of pans and cool completely on a cooling rack.

Once cooled, cover with Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream.

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To Prepare – Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream:

Have all of the ingredients at room temperature for best result.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, milk, bourbon and vanilla and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixture and scrape down the sides. Increase the speed to medium and beat another 3 minutes. Stop and scrape the sides down again. Turn the mixture onto medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, another 3-5 minutes.

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Cake will stay, covered, on the countertop for up to 3 days. If it lasts that long, transfer to refrigerator.

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Let’s Discuss: do you and your family have any special birthday traditions? What is your favorite birthday treat, whether savory OR sweet?

summer popsicles

I have lots and lots of frozen fruit in my fridge from earlier this season, just waiting to be blended up and poured into adorable little molds.

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I promise y’all, it doesn’t get much simpler than this! If you’re looking for a way to use up {and healthfully, I might add!} and overload of summer produce, you have come to the right place.

For the past several summers, I’ve been a popsicle-making freak. Odd combinations of fruits and veggies are the least of my worries when it comes to these tasty treats – in fact, the fruit used will often mask any sort of veggie hint. So when you see cucumbers listed in the ingredients below, fear not! You know that I will never steer you wrong.

I promise. I mean, just look at these lovelies…how can you go wrong?!

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Summer Popsicles {makes 6 popsicles}

This is probably one of my favorite combinations to make – I love that the sweet berries are the star of this treat. The bright notes of cucumber simply amplify the taste of the berries, and provide just a teeny bit of flavor to make you question “what is that fresh taste in there as well?” Balanced out with a drizzle of honey, this dessert screams summer. And if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, or in the search of happy hour…place this popsicle in a bowl and let it sit with a shot {or two!} of good gin. It will be our little secret. 

Ingredients:

one 16 ounce bag of fresh strawberries {you can also use frozen}

1/2 of a large cucumber, cut into chunks

1/2 the juice of one fresh lime 2 tablespoons of honey

*special equipment: high powered blender, popsicle molds

To Prepare:

Place all the ingredients, except for the honey, into the barrel of your food processor. Process all ingredients until a very smooth, velvety consistency is reached.

Add in the honey {I used the above-mentioned 2 tablespoons, but depending on how sweet you like them, feel free to use more}, and puree for another minute or two, until all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour into popsicle molds of choice, and freeze until solid. Serve on a hot day with plenty of napkins – no one likes sticky wrists!

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Let’s discuss: did you like popsicles when you were a kid? What about ice cream? Is there one or the other you are partial to?

candied citrus peels

A recent bout of juicing has left me with a riduculous wonderful amount of residual citrus fruits. Because we sadly don’t compost, and because I couldn’t bring myself to throw so much deliciousness out, I knew that there had to be another solution. A few Google searches later, and I knew I had come up with the perfect answer…

…candied peels!

This is something I had yet to try, in all my time spent in the kitchen. To be quite honest, the thought of preparing and making candy anything always felt slightly out of reach; something I longed to try, but just couldn’t bring myself to do. I blamed it on my lack of resources {not having a candy thermometer}, not trusting the cheap stovetop in my kitchen {the worst for uneven heating and cooking!}, and really, I was just a little scared. So I though this would be the perfect trial run – I mean, how hard could it be to work with what’s little more than simple syrup? My cutting skills are up to par, and my knives are good. I was set, and ready to start this adventure.

I’ll be honest in saying this is, easily, one of the quickest and tastiest treats I’ve whipped up in quite some time. The bitterness of the pith is removed prior to cooking, so all you’re left with is a sweet burst of citrus flavor, highlighted and rounded out with the simple syrup in the second part of the cooking process. The final sprinkling of sugar at the end takes it over the edge, making it seem more indulgent than it really is. A few adaptations I found along the way:

-if you like less sweet treats, scale back on the sugar during the second cooking {I reduced mine to 3/4 cup, and it was perfect for my palette}

-a squeeze of fresh lemon juice in the second cooking helps to enhance the flavor

-mix in a little bit of fine sea salt with the sugar {for tossing at the end} to get more of that “salty sweet” combination so many of us love

The hubs has plans to integrate these little jewels into summer cocktails, both as garnishes and flavor enhances. Myself? I can see a second batch happening soon, with one end dipped in chocolate and maybe a few sprinkles of fun, flavorful toppings. Happy candy-making, y’all!

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Candied Citrus Peels {adapted from Martha Stewart}

Ingredients:

2 grapefruits

3 oranges

1-1/2 cups sugar

 

To Prepare:

With a sharp paring knife, slice off ends of all fruits. Following curve of fruit, cut away the outermost peel, leaving most of the white pith on fruit. Slice peel lengthwise int to 1/4″ wide strips.

In a medium pot of boiling water, cook peel until tender, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer peel to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Spread in a single layer to dry slightly, about 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peel and boil until it turns translucent and syrup thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer peel to wire rack, separating the pieces as needed.

Let peel dry for 1 hour. Toss with 1/2 cup sugar to coat.

Candied Citrus Peel

 

 

vanilla buttermilk ice cream

A generous scoop of ice cream, whether heaped atop a sugar cone or nestled tightly into a traditional cup, is perfection. Does this remind you of your childhood? For me, this image draws to mind countless summer nights standing in line at our local ice cream joint, tucked away in the downtown area. Being a single window service counter, the line would often times wrap around the perimeter of the building. Everyone was waiting to get their fix, myself and my family included.

Everyone has their flavors. For me, I’m a chocolate ice cream lover, through and through. Vanilla just never really did it for me. Aside from said ice cream joint, I’ve always found it to be just…normal, I suppose. I love the depth and intensity that a rich chocolate adds to the ice cream. Throw in some chunks and other varietals? It’s pure heaven.

That is, until I got my first ice cream maker a few years back. Reading and experimenting with recipes for it {like my Greek frozen yogurt I love to make} has ignited a newly found passion and appreciation for more and more things vanilla. The recipe I wanted to share with y’all today has quickly become a quick and easy go to in our household. Comprised of simple ingredients, it makes the perfect dessert for a hot summer night. Yes, we’re going vanilla!

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This ice cream is the perfect balance of creamy and slightly sweet, with a hint of tang from the buttermilk we’re going to add in. That’s right – buttermilk! Aside from the health benefits {does anyone else remember having a few sips of buttermilk to help settle your stomach?}, it’s a great way to balance sweet, both in cooking and baking. The resulting flavor when added into an ice cream base is astounding, if you ask me. And it comes together in a matter of minutes. Win.

I do hope you enjoy, dears.

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Vanilla Buttermilk Ice Cream {adapted, slightly, from MyRecipes}

makes about (9) 1/2-cup servings

Ingredients:

1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar

2 cups half & half

2 cups whole milk

2 cups fat-free buttermilk

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract {use my homemade version, if you’ve made it!}

To Prepare:

Combine sugar with half & half in a large bowl. Whisk heavily, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add in the whole milk, buttermilk, and vanilla.

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Pour mixture into the canister of your ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Mine usually takes anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes. 

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Once done with the churning cycle, spoon mixture into a freezer-safe container {you’ll need (2) two-quart containers, as this recipe makes a lot!}. Cover and freeze one hour until firm.

To serve: set ice cream out and let it come to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes. The ice cream itself will be easily scoopable, but leaving it out for a bit really helps it soften and get even more luscious. Serve with your favorite toppings!

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black bean brownies

Don’t let the title of this recipe fool you, dears. I promise, this is a winner.

I like to think of these particular brownies as the perfect balance between healthy and indulgent. There are times in life, certainly, when nothing beats a full on, calories-don’t-count kind of dessert, but there are also times when sometimes you want to be a little bit more mindful.

Enter these brownies. The rich cocoa powder brings depth of flavor, the maple syrup adds the perfect amount of sweetness…and then there’s the black beans! These little gems are what brings the “fudge factor”, if you will, into this recipe. Thick and creamy, they elevate a rather simple list of ingredients into something amazing. So rich, when you bite into these, you’ll think you are eating the most decadent and gooey brownie you’ve ever tasted.

The black beans also provide a great nutritional punch. A one cup serving sets you back only one gram(!) of fat. Low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium but high in fiber, iron, magnesium and manganese – let’s talk about a vitamin powerhouse! Not to mention the 15 grams of protein in there as well. You won’t need to cut a big slice from the pan in order to feel satisfied…but I won’t be upset if it does end up on the slightly larger side.

Before I forget, there is also the fact that this recipe is essentially a one-bowl wonder. That is a treat in itself, no? Because who wants to be doing dishes when there’s the alluring aroma of freshly baked brownies sitting on your counter…not this girl, that’s for sure.

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Black Bean Brownies {recipe modified from Chocolate Covered Katie’s recipe}

I doubled the recipe so the amounts listed below reflect that – if you want to use the original size, simply halve everything

3 C. black beans, drained and rinsed very well (2 15-ounce cans)

4 tbsp. cocoa powder (I use a Dutch processed)

3 C. quick oats

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tbsp. freshly ground coffee (espresso powder would also work well)

2/3 C. pure maple syrup or honey (I went half and half)

4 tbsp. turbinado sugar (regular granulated sugar will work fine, if that’s what you have on hand)

1/2 C. peanut butter

4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 C. peanut butter chips

1/2 C. chocolate chips (I prefer a semi-sweet variety)

To make the brownies:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine all ingredients except chips in a good food processor, and blend until completely smooth. Blend very, very well. A blender can work if you don’t have a food processor, but the texture is much better when a food processor is used. It results in a smoother, creamier batter.

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{Photo courtesy of Chocolate-Covered Katie}

Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, then push down slightly into the batter.

Cook in the center rack for 20 minutes, then let cool at least 10 minutes before trying to cut. When tightly covered, these brownies will last several days in the refrigerator.

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{Photo courtesy of Chocolate-Covered Katie}

irish car bomb cupcakes

I couldn’t resist. One more St. Patrick’s Day post. I mean…the title is intriguing, no?

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Whether or not you participate in the traditional antics of good ol’ St. Patty’s Day (green beer, anyone? goofy “kiss me, I’m Irish!” t-shirts), please do me a favor and make these cupcakes. Whoever invented the controversial “car bomb” drink…a pint of Guiness with a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson floating atop it, probably didn’t know what they were doing, but I for one sure am glad they did. And yes, I have been known to enjoy this unusual flavor combination more than once in my college days; maybe I still do?…

Want to know something funny? The first time I made this recipe wasn’t for St. Patty’s Day; heck, it wasn’t even for an Irish celebration! The hubs had requested something “different” for his birthday dinner…so upon copious digging through my recipe files, I stumbled upon this gem. I don’t think I had even finished reading him the title when he began eagerly nodding is head up and down. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have started shouting; as you all know, by now, we have a thing for anything “liquid libation”. After our first bite of these treats, we were sold. They’ve become a St. Patty’s day staple in our household ever since then.

But before I get too far off topic, let’s talk flavors, shall we?

A basic chocolate cake and buttercream frosting recipe has been elevated with the add-ins of this drink. Traditional chocolate has its flavor embellished with the addition of Guiness beer. I mean what I say, and this malty addition truly takes the cake to an entirely different level. It results in a rich, velvety crumb texture, with a chocolate taste unlike anything I’ve yet to match. A smooth, dreamy chocolate ganache is intensified with a healthy dose of Jameson’s Irish Whisky. Luscious buttercream becomes heavenly with Irish Cream liquor. I don’t know about y’all, but this has sent me into a foodie spiral. These cupcakes are, without a doubt, unlike anything other.

I urge…no, implore…you to make these cupcakes. Whether or not you make them to celebrate the “luck of the Irish”, I promise you that you’ll feel lucky to be indulging in something so delicious. Because no matter the time of year, everyone deserves a treat.

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Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes {adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen}

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sour cream (I prefer to use Daisy Light sour cream)

Ganache Filling
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional…omit if you are planning on sharing with non-drinkers)

Baileys Frosting
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatue
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

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Make the filling: Fill a large pot with water and set it atop your burner, around medium heat. You want the water to be simmering, but not boil. Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl, and place atop the pot on the stove (we’re essentially creating a double boiler here). Pour the cream over the chocolate, stirring constantly until the chocolate and cream have created a smooth, luxurious sauce.Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

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Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Using a small paring knife (or a small apple corer), cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. *Save these little gems – we’ll talk about them them shortly* Fill the centers of each cupcake with the ganache.

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Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time. When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys (or milk) and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

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Frost the cupcakes, then store in an airtight container. After a day, be sure to refrigerate them, otherwise they will start to go stale. And be sure to share. Because I guarantee you, if these sit around your house, you will eat them all. I speak from experience.

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*because these cupcakes centers are so delicious, I decided to fold them into vanilla ice cream I made with the leftover heavy cream. The recipe I used can be found here. After preparing the ice cream according to your manufacturer’s directions, gently fold in the cupcake centers. Freeze in an airtight quart container. 

strawberry frozen yogurt with dark chocolate chunks

Raise your hand if you like dessert. that’s what I thought.

Now, raise your hand if you like healthy dessert. (hopefully it’s not just me sticking my hand up in the air!)

I adore frozen treats in all ways, shapes and forms. I also have a sweet tooth the size of China, which is a blessing and a curse. Very rarely do I meet a dessert that I don’t like, which is why I decided that, after a year(!) of sitting idle in my pantry, I had to bring out the ice cream make that the hubs and I got for a wedding gift.

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Now, we all know that winter is the season of comfort food. For me, ice cream is comfort food. I can’t help it, I’ve always enjoyed digging into a bowl of delicious, indulgent ice cream. It could be 100 degrees or 0 degrees, it ain’t no thang to me. And the more chocolate involved in there, the better! But with the holiday season finally coming to an end, I figured that I had to “jazz up” or so to speak, my dessert. I had to do it in such a way to balance out all the richness from Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s, and their corresponding celebrations.

Enter the trendy, hip and super cool ingredient of Greek yogurt. I know, I know…everyone cooks with this, sings its praises, and yes – I am one of “those people”. But I just can’t help myself, I love it. Chock full of protein, and low in sugar, it makes the perfect base for a delicious, frozen treat. And yes, I like just plain ol’ Greek yogurt. Sure, I’ll eat a flavored one if you put it in front of me (there really isn’t anything I would eat, except lima beans, but that’s another story for another time), but I like it plain, drizzled with a little bit of local honey. Perfection.

So! Let’s talk fro yo, shall we?! The reason that I am such a huge fan of this machine (I’ve used it twice already this week!), is because you can crank out a scrumptious, homemade, and healthy treat in just a matter of minutes. I kid you not, this dessert comes together in just a matter of minutes before placing it in the ice cream maker. Dump all the ingredients into a food processor, whirl away until combined, then pour into your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Boom! You’re done. And well on your way to enjoying a cold dish of healthy frozen yogurt. *If you don’t have an ice cream maker (or even if you do, but want to try something different!), give this a try in popsicle molds! I promise you, it will not disappoint. 

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Strawberry Frozen Yogurt with Dark Chocolate Chunks

{recipe adapted slightly from Two Peas and Their Pod}

The manufacturer suggests placing the mixing bowl of the machine into the freezer before using. This aids in the process of making the final product – if you don’t have overnight, any time will do!

32 ounces of Greek yogurt (I used Chobani 0%)

1/2 – 1 C sugar (feel free to adjust according to your taste; I went big and went for the full cup – though I think next time I will go closer to the side of the 3/4 amount)

1 tsp. good vanilla extract

1 bag of frozen strawberries, thawed

pinch salt

1/2 C (heaping is fine!) of good dark chocolate chunks, shaved thin

In your food processor, combine all ingredients except for the dark chocolate chunks. Process until very smooth.

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Turn into the bowl of your ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Mine goes for about 25 minutes. Once completed, turn out into your storage container and fold in the chocolate chunks. Serve immediately, or freeze for later.

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*be warned – while this comes out of the machine with a soft-serve like consistency, it will harden once it sits in the freezer for some time. I like to set it out an hour, at least, before serving, checking occasionally for softness. That is, if you can wait that long! 

loaded oatmeal cookie bars

Soft and warm…so thick and moist, you can’t wait to sink your teeth into these as soon as they come out of the oven. My friends, we’re talking cookies today. And these aren’t your average joe, slice and bake cookies you find in the market – these are super loaded, an explosion of awesome dessert for your taste buds.

Photo 2014-01-26 08.50.36 PM   I’ve always had a soft spot for chocolate chip cookies. When I was a child, my mom would often make my sisters and I the classic Nestle Tollhouse cookies. Because there were three of us, it was a constant battle as to who would get the coveted beaters, and who got stuck with the meager amount of dough left in the bowl (she’s a professional scraper, my mom, never wasting a drop). Elbows were thrown, no holds back – if you wanted it, you had to fight for it!

These cookies are no different. But with just the hubs and I in our household (for now, at least), there’s no scrambling over who gets to lick what. In fact, we both enjoy the fruits of my labor with these cookies, enjoying the beaters, the bowl, and whatever else flew out of the bowl. We leave the kitchen smiling, and I’ll tell you what – the best part about this recipe, my dears, is that it is a one bowl wonder. Amen.

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Because I am never satisfied simply following a recipe, I had approach this recipe with fresh eyes. I am a HUGE oatmeal lover, so I decided that I would draw my inspiration from the traditional Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies. You can’t go wrong with an oatmeal cookie, amiright?? With the perfect balance of tender oats, sugars, sweet vanilla, and just a hint of salt, I knew I was on to something good.

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From here is where I started to get a little creative. Surprise, surprise! As I mentioned earlier, these were going to be a spin on my mom’s classic, so naturally a hefty dose of chocolate was in order. I am all about semi-sweet chocolate in my cookies. I find that milk chocolate is a tad to sweet for me, and I like the way semi-sweet balances out the sugar in most recipes. My vanilla sugar* replaced the standard granulated sugar, adding another layer of flavor. Greek yogurt** was subbed in for a substantial amount of the butter, which resulted in a fluffier cookie. And lastly, for even more texture, crushed bits of salted pretzel twists were folded in and lightly pressed into the top of the batter before going into the oven.

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In addition to coming together quickly and easily, these cookies also freeze beautifully. I like to cut them after they’ve cooled, wrap half of them individually in foil, and place them in the freezer. But…I’m just saying…if they don’t make it that long, I completely understand.

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Enjoy!

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Loaded Oatmeal Cookie Bars {adapted from Quaker Oats}

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. butter, softened

1 C. plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

3/4 C. firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 C. vanilla sugar (regular, granulated sugar works just as well here too, the infused sugar just adds another depth of flavor)

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1-1/2 C. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/2 tsp. salt

3 C. Quaker Oats

1 C. (heaping) of chocolate chips

several handfuls of plain, salted pretzels

To Make:

Heat oven to 350°F.

In large bowl, beat butter, Greek yogurt, and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, and salt; mix well. Add oats and chocolate chips; mix well.  Crumble up about 1-1/2 C. of the pretzels, and fold in.

Press dough onto bottom of a greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

*to make vanilla sugar, I simply cut a vanilla bean in half from end to end and put it in a mason jar. Fill it up with sugar and store in a cool, dry place. Give it a turn every so often to fully incorporate the flavor.

**if you’re not a huge fan of Greek yogurt in baked goods, simply use the original amount of unsalted butter that the recipe calls for. In this particular recipe, you would use 1 stick + 6 tablespoons.