Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Best of 2012 (Your Picks)

Did ya miss me?

What can I say?  It's the holidays.  I've been on a little blogging hiatus (sorry.  Family, food, lazing around, and opening presents got in the way), but I thought today I would bring you a little recap of my most-viewed blog posts of twenty-twelve (well, since the inception of my blog last March, anyway).  So here goes ladies and gents...The Best of Serves Two 2012 (Your Picks):

1. Pumpkin Kiss Cookies.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bits and Bites

While I do have some fun stuff to share with you on today's Bits and Bites, I'm going to ramble first...

Ok, so the holiday's are apparently wearing me thin.  There is so much to do and so little time and I have suddenly started to feel and hear the agitation exuding from people whom I encounter out and about.  My To-Do List keeps growing and (this is my blog and I'm just going to be honest with you) it's making me...grumpy.  There, I said it.  I'm becoming one of the angry, impatient strangers I have been meeting daily.   I will admit though, I was happy to hear a co-worker tell me this morning that she felt the exact same way: everyone was annoying, every question was stupid, every thing was a hassle.  I think we both felt better knowing we were bah-hum-bug together

But at the same time, I feel guilty.  No, not guilty from some Christmas-cookie-binge-induced-coma.  Guilty for being a Scrooge.  It's time to fix this.  And what a better time than now as we reach the end of 2012 and delve into the New Year.  A fitting point in the calendar year to make changes and better ourselves- whether it's physically, mentally, or spiritually. 

My first thought was to reread The Happiness Project (a HIGHLY recommended read), but then I remembered another book that I had heard of several months ago: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  It focuses on one basic premise:  live simply.  Or, in other words:  we don't need as much crap as we think we do.  So how is reading this going to stop me from becoming the Grinch?  Well, it ultimately makes you step back and realize that wow!  I really am lucky to live the way I do!  I have all the things I need:  people who love me, food on my table, clothes on my back, heat in my home, a reliable income...things are not too shabby.  Life is pretty darn good.

So let us all remember this holiday: 'tis the season to be merry!

You ready for the yummy stuff now? 

1.  Cranberry and Cheese Danish Cupcakes.  Holy Moses.

2.  Pumpkin, Cranberry, and Pecan Pie.  Now this is a pumpkin pie I would eat!

3.  How To Make Sugared Cranberries.  So pretty and easy!  (Can you tell I'm on a cran kick?)

4.  Homemade Sugar Plums.  Ever wondered what exactly those visions were that danced in their heads?

5.  Triple Layer Chocolate Chip-Fudge Brownie-Peanut Butter Blondie Bars.  Make these now before those January resolutions hit!

6.  Skinnytaste.  A recent blog rec from a friend after telling her about my fiance's on-going health kick.  And speaking of resolutions, this site may be everyones bff come 2013.  At least for the first four weeks...

7.  Hungry Girl Por Vida.  Another new favorite blog find of mine!

8.  Super cute kitchen printables!  The "Be Grateful" one is fitting for the context of my rambling above.

9.  South Carolina Yellow Barbecue Sauce.  I'm intrigued.

10.  And finally, to end things with a laugh...check this video out :)

Happy Weekend to All!  May all your shopping, wrapping, and baking be merry and bright! ;)


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cranberry Cake Pie

I have mixed emotions when it comes to crust...

Absolutely looooove pizza crust.  Indifferent when it comes to bread crust- don't mind it on sandwiches, but I tend to nibble my way around the less appealing perimeter of toast, saving the best for last- the jam filled center.  And pie crust?  Well, not a very big fan.  It's just kind of...bland.  And dry.  And I'd really rather just eat the filling.  (We have a slight exception here that I feel must be noted: over Thanksgiving, my sister made a wonderful spiced crust with her pecan pie and it was phenomenal.  Best I've ever had, hands down.)

Well these mini pies have a different take on the whole traditional pie crust thing.  It's a pour-over crust that bakes up almost cake-like.  All buttery and sugary with a tender crumb embedded with tart, juicy cranberries- this is a crust I can definitely get on board with.

Cranberry Cake Pie

Makes one 10-inch pie (or 6 mini pies)

2 cups raw cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 1/2 cups white sugar, divided
2 eggs
3/4 cup  butter, melted
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 cup all-purpose white flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 10-inch pie plate.  Wash the cranberries, leaving some water on them.  Place the cranberries in the pie plate and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar.  

In a mixing bowl, cream the remaining 1 cup sugar with the eggs and butter.  Stir in the almond extract.  Add the flour and mix well. The batter will be thin. Pour over the cranberries.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes (25 to 28 for mini pies) or until a tester inserted near the center of the crust comes out clean.  

Adapted from Beantown Baker.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cake

My brother likes chocolate.

Yup.  That's him.  Digging into his cake at his second birthday, circa 1989.  He still does this by the way.  Now I'm pretty sure he never reads my blog (thanks Mike, thanks), but that doesn't mean I don't love him enough to dedicate an entire post about him (and it lets me secretly post pictures of a small, chubbier version of him 23 years ago). 

Growing up there was one thing my brother (Michael is his name if you didn't catch it) wanted on his big day:  Macaroni Grill's Warm Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce.  So every year, on December 15th, that is where my family would head for dinner.  And dessert.  (And I grew up in an anti-chain eating household, so this was extra special!).  We would arrive to the restaurant and wait patiently to be seated while watching the nearby chefs prepare and toss pasta dishes.  Our buzzer would eventually go off and we would then be taken to a paper-lined table where us kids would proceed to color every inch and play countless games of tic-tac-toe.  Finally, after dinner was served and cleared, the waitress would bring out a huge candlelit slab of the warm cake, make my brother stand on a chair with a napkin draped over his head and sing an a cappella rendition of "Happy Birthday".  Then, 8-year-old to 13-year-old (those are roughly the years we kept this tradition) Michael would dig in.  And eat the entire...single...piece.  By himself.  (Oh don't you worry, I got my own slice). 

But before I tell you about this cake I made just for him, I must first tell you that he also loves oreos.  So when I saw this recipe over the summer for an Oreo Chocolate Bundt Cake (I adapted it with my own twist, as you can see, it's obviously not a bundt), I knew I would be making this come December.  Three layers of chocolate cake spread with cookies and cream cheese filling and topped with a thin, sugary glaze and oreo crumbs.  A chocolate-meets-cake-meets-oreo-lovers dream.   

Happy Birthday little bro!

Cookies and Cream Cake

Makes one 6-inch round cake (If you would like to make it in bundt form, click on the link embedded in the post or at the end of the recipe)

Chocolate Cake:
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons boiling water
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons buttermilk

Place melted butter and sugar in large mixing bowl and mix to combine.  Add in egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.  Fold in flour, baking soda, and salt until no lumps remain. 

Heat water until boiling (I did this in the microwave in a 2-cup glass pyrex).  Whisk in cocoa powder.  Add in chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and combined.  Whisk in buttermilk .  Stir chocolate mixture into batter until combined.

Pour into 3 greased 6-inch round cake pans (to distribute evenly, use a third-cup dry measuring cup and add a third-cup at a time to each one until there is no more batter.  Each layer should take about two and a half, 1/3rd cupfuls).  Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 15 minutes.

While cake is baking make the filling and glaze.

Oreo Filling:

5 oreos, crushed
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place oreos in a food processor and pulse until crumbled. Alternately, place oreos in a ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush. Set aside 1 tablespoon of crushed oreos for topping,

Cream together cream cheese and sugar.  Add in vanilla.  Fold in oreos.  Set aside. 


1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 to 1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon crushed oreos (saved from earlier)

Add powdered sugar and milk to bowl and whisk to combine until desired consistency is reached and it can be poured over the cake.


Once cake has cooled, spread half of filling on top of one layer.  Place second layer on top of filling and spread the rest of the filling evenly over the second layer.  Top the second layer of filling with third layer of cake.  Pour glaze over top of third layer and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon crushed oreos.

Adapted from Bakers Royale.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Christmas cookie time, baby.

Back when I still lived at home (oh the lovely days before I had to go and grow up, get a job, and officially start to dread getting the mail- stupid bills), my mom, sister, and I had a little tradition every Christmas season:  the three of us would sit down and lay out a list of all of the cookies we intended to bake and then each choose a few to make.  Then, we would spend the entire day baking in the kitchen.  (Eventually my brother contributed with some out-of-this-world hershey's kiss peanut butter cookies- which I will probably be sharing in the near future).  In the end we had a lot of cookies...and some pretty good memories. 

While each of us kids has moved out of the nest, and some of the cookies have come and gone, every year, without fail, there are a select few that have endured and remained on the "list".  Now I should probably tell you that no, these here cookies are not on this little list I speak of, but that doesn't mean they aren't good.  In fact, they are insanely good.  Santa would be one jolly fellow if he was left a few of these.  Soft from the cream cheese and filled with a healthy dose of toasted coconut...yea, they didn't last long.  Therefore, they may have to make a reappearance in a couple of weeks when I set out to bake a few goodies to take home to the fam for the holidays.  I finally started making my cookie list today, have you?  Suggestions are always welcome!

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

Makes 35 cookies

2 cups coconut
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted & cooled until room temp
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spread out coconut evenly.  Bake for 10-20 minutes stirring every 5 minutes for even toasting. Remove from oven when coconut turns light brown (be very careful not to burn!).  Allow to cool completely before adding to dough.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. Mix butter and cream cheese together with a mixer until smooth.  Add sugars and beat until thoroughly combined.  Beat in vanilla until combined.  Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in cooled coconut.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Drop dough onto parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 12-14 minutes or until edges are set and bottoms are light brown (mine went 12 minutes, but I suggest you set the timer for 10 minutes and check before cooking the full 12-14).  Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking and place on wire rack to cool.

Adapted from vanilla sugar blog.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup

Mmmmmm noodle soup....

Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup, that is.

Eating out, I have had a few too many bowls of chicken noodle soup that are "eh, whatever...this is boring", but I occasionally come across a bowl that is worthy of declaring "I must recreate this at home!"  For example, has anyone had Panera's?  They decided to change their chicken noodle soup a year or two ago and the new version just doesn't cut it for me.  I loved  their old one.  It was a "recreate at home" bowl, but their new one?  Ugh.  Don't fix it if it ain't broke, Panera.  Bad move.

Anywho, I recreated.  And this soup is gooood.  Warm and salty with thick noodles and tender veggies.  I like to let my noodles boil for quite a while so they get extra soft and extra thick (I know, any well-seasoned chef would frown at this as I let them go well past the al dente point).  In addition, you can make it as brothy or as...unbrothy? as you'd like (some places like to basically just give you a bowl of broth containing a few noodles and about three pieces of carrot sprinkled in with a single chunk of chicken for good measure.  Again, not gonna cut it.  I didn't order some hibachi soup people!)  But at home, I was able to up the ante and make it more to my liking. Oh, and since I'm on a roll of giving out my chicken noodle two cents worth, here's one more:  make it, eat it, and freeze the leftovers for a quick and easy meal in the future!  Genius.

Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup

Makes about 8 cups worth, depending on how much broth you choose to add

2 cups egg noodles, uncooked
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
4-6 cups chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon herbs de provence (italian seasoning would work too)
1 cup cooked, roasted chicken, shredded or chopped

Bring a small pot of water to a boil on the stove.  Add noodles and cook until soft.

In separate, larger stockpot or Dutch oven, heat 4 cups broth.  Once it comes to a slight boil, add onion and celery and simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Add carrots and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add cooked pasta, pepper, herbs, and chicken.  Cook until heated through adding more broth if necessary.

Adapted from my friend, Maria.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How To Roast A Chicken

I miss Thanksgiving :(

Seriously.  I got spoiled with such wonderful food and family last week that it put a slight damper on the usual routine.  Unfortunately, being five hours away from my loved ones means I can't really fulfill the family portion of this little stupor; however, the food bit...that one I can do.

Here's what I did:  I roasted a chicken.  All by myself.  I'm pretty proud considering (1) meat is not really my forte so this was a bit out of my usual comfort zone and (2) it turned out fabulous.  And guess what else?  It was SO easy!  This does not have to be a complicated, day-long process saved for special events, my friends.  This is more of a pop-it-in-the-oven, do a little wine drinking, internet surfing, or nail painting and voila! Dinner's ready! event.

We chose to complete the meal with some traditional holiday fare-- stuffing, green beans, and cranberry sauce (see that pretty red stuff up there?  That's my mom's knock-your-socks-off chutney.  She makes a mean stuffing as well).  As for how we chose to eat the rest of that little chick,'ll just have to wait and see.

How To Roast A Chicken: A Step-by-Step Guide

1 (4 to 5 pound) whole chicken, defrosted if frozen
1 small white onion
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Peel and slice your onions. Arrange them in an even layer on the bottom of the pan to make a bed for the chicken. Mix the salt and pepper together in a small bowl.

3. Over the sink, slit the plastic wrapping around your chicken (if it's still wrapped up) and drain out any juices or blood trapped in the plastic. Reach inside the chicken's body cavity and remove the bag of giblets. The giblets can be discarded, saved for stock, or used to make gravy later on.

4. Pat the chicken dry very thoroughly with paper towels or a kitchen rag. Make sure to absorb any liquid behind the wings or legs. Blot inside the body cavity too, getting the chicken as dry as you can, inside and out.

5. Rub the chicken with olive oil. Rub the oil all over the chicken, paying special attention to the breast and the drumsticks.

6. Sprinkle the outside of the chicken generously with salt and pepper, and rub a little salt and pepper inside the cavity as well.

7. Set the chicken breast-side-up on the bed of onion. The chicken should be lifted an inch or two above the pan by the onion.

8. Put the chicken in the oven and lower the oven temperature to 400°F.

9. Set a timer for 1 hour and go about your business.

10. After an hour, check if the chicken is done by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the meatiest part of its thigh. The internal temperature should be at least 165° for the chicken to be done. If you're under, put it back in to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and check it again.

11. Let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes. During this time, you can prepare a salad or side dish or whisk some flour into the pan juices to make gravy.

12. Carve the chicken and serve.

Adapted from The Kitchn.