Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Coconut

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Cakes are always so much fun to make! While neither of us would necessarily call cake our favorite dessert (we prefer things like ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, and anything citrus…a lemon bar sounds good right now), we love to make them. This cake, however, is fun both to make and to eat. It is spectacular!  It starts with a super chocolatey cake that isn’t dry, like some tend to be. The layers weren’t quite as tall as we wanted them to be, but once there was frosting between them, the cake looked fine. And it tasted so good that it more than made up for the height.We topped the cake with our favorite cream cheese frosting and a cloud of coconut. It’s based off of one of our mom’s best-loved cupcake flavors from a little cupcake place in Princeton, NJ (best town ever) that is one of our favorite cupcake places. It is a perfect combination of flavors!

Technically, this is our mom’s birthday/yay, we made it through midterms cake. Her birthday was in December, but we were taking the SATs and had a broken oven, so no homemade cake. And, since we don’t need much of an excuse to make cake, we figured better late than never. Plus, before it is cut, it looks kind of like a snowball, so it’s a great January cake!

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Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Coconut

Cake Recipe from Hershey’s, Frosting from Martha Stewart

Serves about 12

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

2  eggs

1 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups sugar

For the Frosting:

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softer

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature for softer icing, cold for firmer icing

1 pound (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

Directions:

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease three 8-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, and grease and flour the parchment.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. The batter will be very thin. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then vanilla; mix until smooth.

Place one cake round on a pedestal, turntable, or plate and cover with frosting. Repeat with the next layer. Put the final layer on top and cover the cake with frosting. Normally when frosting a chocolate cake with a light-colored icing a crumb coat is necessary, but since the cake will be covered with coconut, there is no need. Press coconut into the top and sides of the cake until it is completely covered. Enjoy!

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Nutella

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For a while, we haven’t really loved Nutella, shocking though that is. Neither of us really like hazelnuts that much, so we usually don’t bother eating it. That is, until we saw these cookies. We figured that there was nothing to lose as far as making them, so why not try them out? Well, good thing we did because they were amazing (and, getting to dip pretzels in extra Nutella was another bonus. Guess we do like Nutella after all!).  Basically, you start out by browning butter, and then making a base similar to these cookies. Then comes the fun part: fill a piping bag with Nutella, and pipe little dollops on a parchment paper- lined baking sheet. Then you freeze them for an hour so you have little Nutella discs to stuff the cookie dough balls with. We did probably a little over a teaspoon per cookie, but we think that it definitely would not hurt to add a little more. Regardless though, everyone from some friends to our brothers and grandparents loved them. Including our brother who would never touch anything including hazelnuts with a 10-foot pole!

What are you waiting for? Go make them!

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Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Nutella

Makes about 24 large cookies

Recipe slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Ambitious Kitchen

Ingredients:

About 1/2 cup of Nutella, or another chocolate hazelnut spread

1 cup (16 tbsp.) unsalted butter

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

1¼ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. coarse sea salt

1 cup light brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk

2½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. Greek yogurt, sour cream, or cream cheese (to add moisture)

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

¾ cup dark chocolate chips

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper.  Place Nutella in a piping bag (or, if you don’t have one, a ziploc bag- we just found a piping bag easier).  Snip one corner off the end of the bag and pipe small dollops of the spread onto the parchment paper paper, about 1½ teaspoons each (do more or less, if you like).  Make about 24 dollops.  Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and let sit until firm, at least 45 minutes.

Place the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Melt the butter.  Continue to cook until the butter foams, bubbles slightly, and begins to brown, whisking often.  Continue whisking until the butter is evenly browned. Be careful not to burn it! Remove from the heat and let cool.

Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugars and the brown butter.  Mix on medium speed until smooth.  Blend in the egg and egg yolk, and scrape down the bowl.  Blend in the vanilla and yogurt, sour cream, or cream cheese.  With the mixer on low speed, blend in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Chill the dough briefly, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Scoop a two-tablespoon portion of cookie dough.  Press an indentation into the center of the dough ball to create a bowl shape.  Place a dollop of the frozen Nutella in the indentation and pinch together the edges of the cookie dough over the top to completely seal it in the center. Keep the other Nutella dollops in the freezer while you are working on one sheet.

Place the shaped cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 2-3 inches apart.  Bake until the cookies are golden brown and set, rotating the pans halfway through, about 14 minutes total.   Let sit a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Repeat with the remaining dough as needed.  Enjoy!

Note: the original recipe calls for sprinkling your finished cookies with more coarse sea salt, but as we aren’t huge fans of overly salty desserts, we omitted that step. We loved the cookies as-is. However, if you like the combination of chocolate and salt, feel free to give each cookie a light sprinkling of salt. Either way, they will be delicious!

Pesto Focaccia

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Focaccia is something we have always had mixed feelings about. A lot of the focaccia we have had is kind of salty and crispy, almost like a cracker but thicker and more chewy (and more often then not, bland or way too herby). But then again, we had never had it homemade before, and 95% of the time, homemade is better. This is one of those times! It’s reminiscent of a bread stick/pizza dough, but with a crunchy edge and flavorful pesto topping. We added a little grated Parmesan cheese to the dough, which, while adding flavor, ended up sticking to the pan. We were able to successfully remove the fococcia without breaking it, but for ease in the future we will be using a layer of parchment paper below the dough and recommend that you do the same.

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Pesto Focaccia

Recipe for the dough and the pesto (adapted) from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

Makes 2 9-inch focaccia rounds

Ingredients

For the sponge:

1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)

1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

For the dough:

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping

1 1/4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)

1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt

4 tablespoons olive oil

For the pesto topping:

1 cup fresh basil leaves

3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small cloves garlic

1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

For the sponge:

Combine flour, water, and yest in a large bowl and stir until a uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 8-24 hours (after this, store in the fridge for up to 3 days if not using immediately. Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before proceeding), then use immediately.

For the dough:

Stir remaining flour, water, and yeast into the sponge with a wooden spoon until a uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt and the 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese over the dough and stir in until fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Spray rubber spatula with vegetable oil spray. Fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees and fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times for a total of 8 folds. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat this process 2 more times.

1 hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle or upper rack. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

For the pesto topping:

While the dough rises, place unpeeled garlic in a small pan. Toast over medium heat until skin has browned slightly and the garlic has softened. Remove from heat. In a food processor, combine garlic, basil, olive oil, and salt. Pulse until basil is mostly chopped. Add Parmesan cheese and pulse until the mixture is mostly smooth. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Assembly:

Transfer dough to a lightly floured counter. Dust the top of the dough with flour and divide it in half. Shape each piece of dough into a 5-inch round. Place a parchment paper round in two 9-inch round cake pans and coat with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan lightly with salt. Place each piece of dough into a pan and turn to coat with oil. Cover pans with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes.

Using fingertips, press dough out toward the edges of the pan. Using a fork, poke surface of dough 25-30 times to pop air bubbles. Brush half of the pesto topping over each dough round. Let dough rest in pans for 5-10 minutes.

Place pans on baking stone and lower oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until tops are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer pans to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove focaccia from pans. Let cool for 30 minutes, then slice into wedges. Enjoy!

Butterscotch Pudding

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We recently got a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, and this recipe immediately popped out to us for two reasons. One, we had a lot of leftover egg yolks from making macarons, and two, butterscotch pudding is delicious and this sounded like a great recipe. And oh, it is. This pudding is creamy and full of flavor from making homemade butterscotch (which previously has always ended in burnt sugar for us!). It did take quite a while from start to finish because of all the time it took to make the butterscotch, but the results were more than worth it. If you are looking for an elegant but simple dessert to serve, this is it! It probably would be great with a dollop of freshly whipped cream on top, too!

P.S. We actually lightened this recipe quite a bit. The original recipe called for whole milk and heavy cream (in addition to butter and the egg yolks), but we deemed that unnecessary. We ended up using half-and-half and skim milk, and it was still fine. You can certainly make the full-fat version, but we recommend making it as stated below to make it slightly less rich.

Butterscotch Pudding

Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine January/February 2013 Issue

Serves 8

Ingredients

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed (3.5 ounces) dark brown sugar

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

2 1/4 cups whole, 1%, 2%, or skim milk

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon dark rum (optional)

Directions

Bring butter, sugars, water, corn syrup, lemon juice, and salt to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar and melt butter. Once mixture reaches a full rolling boil, cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes (until caramel reaches about 240 degrees). Immediately reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture has darkened, 12-16 minutes (the caramel should be about 300 degrees, and smell very faintly burnt).

Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half and stir to incorporate (mixture will steam). Whisk vigorously and scrape corners of the pan until mixture is completely smooth for about 30 seconds. Return pan to medium heat and whisk in remaining cream or half-and-half. Add 2 cups of milk and stir until mixture is smooth, scraping edges of pan to remove and bits of caramel stuck to the sides.

Microwave remaining 1/4 cup milk until simmering, about 45 seconds. Whisk egg yolks and cornstarch together in a large bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk in hot milk until smooth and set aside (do not refrigerate).

Return saucepan to medium-high heat and bring mixture to a full rolling boil, whisking frequently. Once mixture is boiling rapidly and foaming upwards, pour into the bowl with yolk mixture in 1 motions, not gradually. Whisk for 10-15 seconds (mixture will thicken after a few seconds). Whisk in vanilla and rum. If need be, strain the pudding to remove any lumps. Spray piece of parchment paper with vegetable oil spray and press on the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate until cold and set, about 3 hours. Stir until smooth before serving. Serve in small bowls or cups. Enjoy!

French Macarons with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

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We are super excited about today’s post because it is about our first time making French macarons and Swiss Meringue Buttercream. We have been wanting to make macarons for ages because they are just so pretty and delicious!  We weren’t able to make them until now because they require almond meal, which for some reason, we couldn’t find for at any store in a 20-mile radius, except for one expired bag at Whole Foods (for $14). Finally, we found some at a Fresh Market, the second time we visited. Technically, you can just grind blanched almonds, but we wanted to use professionally ground for the best texture. We used Bob’s Red Mill brand, and it was worth the cost because our macarons had perfect texture!

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Supposedly, macarons are really finicky. They can crack, not develop those ruffled little “feet,” have rough tops, etc. This recipe uses an Italian meringue in it- you beat a hot sugar syrup into egg whites. Some recipes use a French meringue, which involves beating sugar into egg whites. Even though they are made using the Italian method, they are still called French macarons! Anyway, though, the Italian method supposedly creates a slightly more dependable cookie than the French one. Since they are kind of expensive cookies to make, we were super happy when ours came out of the oven looking like this (ignore the fact that they are a little brown- we left the first tray in a minute too long):

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Yay! So, next up was what to fill them with. Since the shells are pretty sweet on their own, we decided to go with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It’s a little less sweet, and the kind of frosting you would find on a wedding cake. You can flavor it with pretty much anything from lemon zest to strawberry to chocolate, but we chose vanilla bean. Again, some people have trouble with this type of frosting, but by using somewhat firm butter and following the recipe to the letter, we were fine. If yours gets kind of curdled or soupy, keep beating it, and it will eventually smooth out. It has a very light texture, and is super smooth and easy to pipe.

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Once filling them, we knew that we had reached macaron perfection! Yes, they definitely require a good amount of work, but they are pretty fun to make and super delicious. We will definitely be making them again with some more adventurous flavors!

French Macarons

Makes 25-30 sandwich cookies

Recipe from Annie’s Eats, originally from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook (on our wish list!)

Ingredients:

212 grams almond meal (or finely ground blanched almonds)

212 grams confectioners’ or powdered sugar

82 and 90 grams egg whites, divided

236 grams granulated sugar, plus a pinch

158 grams water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and place a rack in the middle of the oven.  Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, combine the almond meal and powdered sugar. Whisk together to blend and break up any lumps. If your powdered sugar is really lumpy, we would recommend sifting it. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in 82 grams of the egg whites.  Blend the egg whites into the dry ingredients until evenly mixed.  It will be thick and paste-like.

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Combine the granulated sugar (minus the pinch) and water  in a small saucepan over medium-high heat with a candy thermometer clipped to the side, which will make a syrup.  When the temperature is around 200˚ F, combine the 90 grams of egg whites with a pinch of sugar.  Begin whipping on medium-low speed.  Continue whipping the whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks.  If you get soft peaks before the syrup reaches the target temperature, reduce the speed to low to keep the whites moving.

Once the syrup reaches 248˚ F, remove it from the heat.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and pour the syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the meringue until stiff, glossy peaks form. You just made Italian meringue! If you like, you can add color at this point. Use powdered or gel food coloring.

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Add one third of the meringue mixture to the bowl with the almond mixture.  Fold in gently until the mixture is smooth.  A bit at a time, gently fold in the remaining meringue until the batter is smooth and runs in thick ribbons off of the spatula.  You may not need all of the meringue- we used most of it, but there was a little meringue left.

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Add the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip with about a ½-inch opening.  Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet about ½-inch above the surface of the pan.  Steadily pipe rounds about 1¼- to 1½-inches in diameter.  The batter may create small peaks immediately after piping, but they will smooth themselves away after a minute or two, if your batter is the right texture. If it is too thin, your shells will spread out a little more.

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Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325˚ F.  Bake for 8-12 minutes, until the tops are smooth and set and “feet” have formed around the bottom. Watch them carefully so they don’t brown too much.  Let the shells cool briefly on the baking sheet, about a couple of minutes, and then peel away from the parchment.  They should come away easily.  Transfer to a cooling rack.  Repeat with the remaining batter, replacing the parchment paper with each batch. Before putting each new tray into the oven, bring it back up to 350˚ F. Once the shells are baked and cooled, match them up in pairs by size and sandwich with your filling.   Store in an airtight container.

Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Makes about 5 cups (You probably will need only about half for the macarons, but the rest can be frozen for later use)

Recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Ingredients:

5 large egg whites

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch of salt

4 sticks (1 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still firm (Yes, we know it’s horribly fattening, but only a little bit is on each macaron)

1 1/2- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean

 Directions:

Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips). To be on the safe side, check to see if the temperature has reached 160˚ F.

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes. Split the vanilla bean, and scrape its seeds into the bowl.

With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, add the vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. If you are using it the same day, it can sit out at room temperature. If not, it can be refrigerated in a air-tight container for a few days, or frozen for several months.

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Side Note: These two recipes together use about 11 egg whites! We have a recipe coming on Wednesday that will use up a few of the leftover yolks! Also, the shells can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container, but we recommend filling the macarons within a couple hours of serving. While they still taste the same, the shells get soft and less crispy/chewy over time.

Cranberry White Chocolate Ricotta Scones

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The combination of cranberries and white chocolate is a wonderful one. The sweetness of the white chocolate seems to really work well with the tartness of the cranberries. In fact, one of our favorite store-bought cookies is the white chocolate cranberry oatmeal dunker from Trader Joe’s! It is the best!

Anyway, back to the scones. These scones are possibly the most tender ones you will ever eat (which is funny, considering how half the flour in them is whole wheat). They are easy to whip up and are perfect for breakfast or brunch. We sent some to our grandparents, who love scones and usually don’t get them homemade. They pronounced these “the best scones we have ever had!” That is high praise, and we hope you will try them soon and find them to be as delightful as we did and they did!

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Cranberry White Chocolate Ricotta Scones

Serves 9

Recipe adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour (120 grams, we used whole wheat pastry flour)
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons  cold unsalted butter
1 cup fresh cranberries

1 cup chopped white chocolate (or good-quality white chocolate chips)

3/4 cup (189 grams) whole milk ricotta cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bottom of a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, sugar and salt. If you don’t have a pastry blender, cut the butter into small pieces with a knife and work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (if you do have a pastry blender, no need to chop the butter- simply add it to the bowl and use the blender to break it into the flour mixture until the largest pieces are the size of small peas). In a food processor, pulse the cranberries a couple times until the are broken up.

Add the ricotta and heavy cream and stir them in with a rubber spatula to form a dough. Stir in the cranberries and white chocolate. Using your hands, gently knead dough into an even mass in the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured counter (or floured circle of wax paper), flour the top of the dough and pat it into a 7-inch square about 1-inch tall (we just made a large disk and cut the scones into wedges). With a large knife, divide the dough into 9 even squares. Transfer the scones to prepared baking sheet with a spatula. Bake the scones for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden at the edges. Cool on the pan for a minute, then transfer to a cooling rack. Let partially cool, then serve warm. Enjoy!

Note: Feel free to substitute the fresh cranberries with dried if you like!

Strawberry Pineapple Kiwi Smoothies

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This smoothie came together to use up some fruit that we had- fresh, frozen, and canned. We were expecting it to be great, but not this great! This smoothie is one of our favorite things we have made recently, and that is saying something. It is very refreshing, and brings up visions of a tropical paradise when stuck inside on a chilly winter day! Originally our plans were to make just a kiwi strawberry smoothie, because we had a lot of ripe kiwis that needed to be used up, but then we spotted a can of pineapple rings in our pantry and figured, why not add them too? It was a smart move, and this smoothie is pretty fabulous. Even though it’s not the time of year when you can sit by the pool to drink this smoothie (unless you are a super lucky person who lives in Southern California, Hawaii, or Florida), it’s perfect for January anyway because it’s healthy and delicious and a necessary break from winter drinks like tea and hot chocolate. We are making this again multiple times, because, well, it’s amazing! (And we still have kiwis!)

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Strawberry Kiwi Pineapple Smoothie

Serves 2-3

Recipe developed by us!

Ingredients:

3 ripe kiwis, peeled and cut into quarters

1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries

3 canned pineapple rings (or fresh, subbing orange juice for the pineapple juice)

1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon pineapple juice (from the can of pineapple rings)

1-1 1/2 tablespoons honey (add less or more, depending on how sweet you want and how sweet your kiwis and strawberries are)

Directions:

Pulse the fruit in a blender or food processor until mostly smooth and thick. Pour in the juices and honey and pulse until completely smooth. Divide into two glasses and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Side note: We would imagine other tropical fruits would go here nicely- guava, passion fruit, mango, etc. Just substitute them for the pineapple and add a little extra orange juice!

Broccoli Potato Soup

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Usually when we pick out recipes they are either a) unhealthy, which means they are probably a bad idea to make or b) require us to go get a bunch of ingredients.The other day, our mom wanted us to make something that used up things in the fridge instead.  Our solution was this soup. Potato soup and broccoli soup are both pretty yummy on their own, and this hybrid was excellent too. It’s cheesy, vegetable-packed, and super healthy. The only fat in the recipe comes from the chicken stock and cheese.

One thing to note is that we think that this could use a little bit more broccoli.  Also, since we were making it out of things we already had, we were out of celery and had to omit it. We highly recommend adding it for even more flavor. Both of these changes are reflected in the directions. Try it out for your dinner this week; we highly recommend it!

Potato Broccoli Soup

Recipe adapted from Simply in Season

Serves about 8

Ingredients:

2 cups diced potatoes

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup shredded carrots

1/2 cup minced celery

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup water

2 1/2- 3 cups chopped broccoli

4 cups milk, divided (any fat percentage is fine)

2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1/3 cup flour

1 cup shredded Swiss, Havarti, or sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Combine the potatoes, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and water in a large saucepan and cook together at medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Add the broccoli and continue to cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Add 3 cups of the milk, bouillon cubes, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper, and heat until boiling.

Blend the additional 1 cup of milk and the flour in a small bowl until smooth. Stir into the soup and cook until thickened. Turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese until melted.

At this point, you can either leave it chunky or puree it. If you would like to puree it, transfer to a blender, food processor, or use an immersion blender and process until smooth. Serve with a little extra shredded cheese. Enjoy!

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

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We both love lemon poppy seed stuff. There’s something so fresh and delicious about the combination. These muffins were no exception! A while ago, we made lemon poppy seed muffins and they were dense, dry, and lacking muffin flavor. We set out to find a better recipe, and we did! These muffins are tender, vibrantly lemony, and are more like cupcakes than breakfast. We liked these both with and without the glaze, which is optional, but if you plan to serve these as a special treat or even a dessert then we recommend the glaze. Anyway, these muffins are reminiscent of spring, which is nice in January when the skies are gray and it’s cold out!

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Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Recipe slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

Makes 12-14 muffins

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. poppy seeds
1¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp.vanilla extract                                                                                                             1/4 tsp. lemon extract
1 cup yogurt (we used Greek yogurt and thinned it out with some milk)

Glaze:                                                                                                                                    ½ cup powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line a muffin pan with paper liners.  Combine the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.  In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Mix in the lemon zest, vanilla extract, and lemon extract.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in two additions alternating with the yogurt, beating each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared liners, filling each about two-thirds full.  Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl to make the glaze.  Drizzle a small amount of the glaze over each muffin. Let that set, and then drizzle again.  Let the glaze set before serving. Enjoy!

 

Apple Cider Caramels

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To be honest, I’m not totally sure why we made apple cider caramels in the middle of winter. Apple cider is usually a fall kind of thing. Regardless, though, they are awesome. Chewy (but not stick-to-your teeth kind of chewy), buttery, and tangy. They taste like apple cider and cinnamon, but who says that you can’t use those ingredients year round? You’d be missing out!

Another great thing about these caramels is that they are surprisingly easy for homemade candy. We had never attempted anything like this before, but they weren’t really much harder than anything else. The only tricky thing it getting the temperature right. Usually you are supposed to use a candy or deep-fry thermometer, but since we didn’t have one that was accurate, we just used our instant read thermometer, checking the temperature every minute or two and then keeping it in towards the end. The caramels were the perfect texture, so if you don’t have a candy thermometer, don’t worry.

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These caramels were so awesome that we can’t wait to try some plain vanilla ones sometime soon!

Apple Cider Caramels

Recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Makes 64 Caramels

Ingredients:

4 cups  apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
Butter, vegetable oil, or canola oil for the knife

Directions

Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This should take at least a half hour, but could take up to about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and salt salt together in a small dish.

Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, about 5 minutes. Or, use an instant read thermometer and check every couple of minutes. Watch it carefully, because if you overcook it, the caramels will be hard.

Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and stir to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm, about two hours. Or, put in in the fridge for about an hour. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper to transfer the caramel to a cutting board. Use a well- greased knife, oiling it after each cut, to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. The caramels are relatively soft at room temperature, and slightly firmer from the fridge. Once they are wrapped, they can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week or two. Enjoy!

Note: If you don’t have flaky sea salt, you can use a different kind. If the salt is finer-grained, cut back on it a little, or your caramels will be too salty. This is because more salt will be able to fit by volume into your measuring spoon.