Infinitely Adaptable Blondies

What happens when you throw in almost every single ingredient from your pantry into a bowl of batter? You get these blondies. For those not familiar with blondies, they are the chocolatey brownie’s cousin. Or its hot sister, depending on who you ask. It’s basically an amalgamation of butter, brown sugar, flour, and anything you could possibly mix in there. And no matter what you do decide to throw in, they come out unbelievable.

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Inspired by some of my leftover ingredients from Christmas, I decided to throw them all into one dessert. My sister is the blondie fan in my house, and together, we brainstormed the rest of our add-ins. I knew it had to have sprinkles and mini white chocolate chips, so that was a given. We love coffee flavored anything, so we threw some of that in there. Finally, we threw in some leftover sweetened shredded coconut I had from making macaroons. Our add-ins were set, all we had to do was get a recipe.

I went to my standby, Smitten Kitchen, for this recipe. Deb was absolutely right in naming these “infinitely adaptable” because they just are. If you think the batter can withstand it, I’m sure you can throw in all of the add-ins for a magical dessert that’s less blondie and more chunky. The recipe is ridiculously easy and can come together last minute. The best part? You don’t even need to wait for butter to soften! What makes this recipe even easier (as if that’s even possible): setting up your mise-en-place. That super fancy French term literally means “everything in its place.” For cooking and baking, it means having all of your necessary ingredients pre-measured and organized at your work station; ready to be used at will. It helps things go by way faster since everything is within reach, and helps keep things less stressful. I love having a little set up because not only does it make me feel like a real baker, but I like the whole “dump-and-ditch” of the bowls into the sink. And because having all the ingredients laid out looks super cute.

After melting the butter, everything is basically a free for all. I think you don’t even need any help from a hand/stand mixer! The only difficult time was waiting for them to bake and cool. I wanted to wait until they were completely cool because I have patience like that, but my sister thought otherwise. They were still a little warm when I cut them but they were TO DIE FOR. These blondies were chewy and fudgy; despite not being its darker and well known cousin (sister?) The top crust gets crunchy when cool, which adds dimension to this cookie; because you knew blondies were cookies, right? Despite the crazy amount of add-ins, these blondies kept their composure; even if they weren’t that photogenic. The coffee was ever present, adding a hint of bitterness to an otherwise sweet piece of heaven. With every bite, you’d get tiny hits of white chocolate and a surprise bite of shredded coconut. The sprinkles were mostly for color ūüôā

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I have to say, for a whim dessert, these sold alarmingly quickly. With the success of these blondies, there’s no telling what other combinations we could possibly think of next.

Infinitely Adaptable Blondies – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 9 large bars 16 tiny squares

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Add-ins:

For these blondies, I added:

  • about 1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup mini white chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder, mixed with the vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of sprinkles (mixed in with the flour so they wouldn’t sink)

Deb’s list of add-ins include:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped nuts, toasting them first for even better flavor
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon mint extract in addition to or in place of the vanilla
  • 1/2 cup mashed bananas
  • 1/4 cup bourbon, scotch or other whiskey (increase the flour by one tablespoon)
  • Stir 1/2 cup dried fruit, especially dried cherries, into the prepared batter
  • Top with a vanilla butter cream or chocolate peanut butter cream frosting

Directions:

  1. Butter an 8√ó8 pan. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, or in the microwave. Bonus if you melt it in the mixing bowl (only if your bowl isn’t metal and is microwave safe!)
  2. Mix the melted butter with the brown sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
  3. Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions.
  4. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350¬įF 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. ¬†Cool on rack before cutting them.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I like to add most of my add-ins with the flour, so they won’t sink to the bottom. This works well with chocolate chips, nuts, and dried fruit.
  • ¬†For easier removal, you can place a piece of parchment in your pan before buttering the pan. Just make sure the edges are a bit longer than the rim of the pan for easy lifting.
  • These make a great game day dessert! Make different variations, cut into tiny squares for easy pickup!

No Knead Sandwich Bread

I know I’ve mentioned this here before (several times, actually) but my family and I are carb lovin’ fiends. We all have this immense love for bread. It’s actually kind of shocking how much bread four people can go through! It is a definite staple in my house, and the fancier the better. The biggest fiends in the house are actually my sister and me. We have the reputation of finishing loaves of bread within a day, often in one sitting. Shameful, I know.

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Sometimes, when we would go food shopping, my dad would pick up a double bag of challah bread from the bakery section of the giant supermarket. The bag brought two moderately sized loaves; enough to probably feed 8-10 people. He’d usually give one away and we’d keep the other. No joke, my sister and I would tear into that loaf and scarf down more than half in one sitting. We’d just keep tearing off chunks and eating until our willpower would show up, and we’d try to put the rest away. I have to say, when my sister and I go hard, we go HARD.

These days, we’re not limited to challah bread. While it is on my baking bucket list, I’ve jumped into more serious forms of bread baking: the sandwich loaf. Coincidentally, we ran out of our store-bought loaves earlier this week, so I jumped at the opportunity to make my own. I tread lightly when it comes to bread, not only because of the carb lovin’ fiend in me, but because it is a lot harder to do everything the good old fashioned way. On one hand, I’m glad I get to really get to know what it’s like to make bread by hand but it is A LOT of work. I wish I had the convenience of a stand mixer or a bread machine but til then, I’m gonna continue to get down and dirty with my dough.

I decided to make it easy on myself, and chose a no knead bread recipe. I’m not really too familiar with the science behind no knead doughs, so I wasn’t sure how this was even going to work. Skepticism aside, it worked and it was a cinch. The only difficult thing about this recipe is the wait time. The bread rises for five hours, proofs for another hour, bakes for about 30 minutes, and then you need to wait ANOTHER hour for it to cool before slicing. I was basically hounded all day by my sister, asking if the bread was done!

It was definitely worth the wait! The loaf filled my house with the aroma of freshly baked bread, which was enough to send us into a tizzy. Hot out of the oven, it resembled the ordinary bread you’d find in the grocery store. When finally sliced, its crackly and crunchy exterior revealed a soft, yeasty and spongy interior. The five hour rise allowed the bread to form a million nooks and crannies (can I even say that if I’m not describing English muffins?) that are just ready to be filled with sweet butter or jam. It doesn’t exactly resemble the spongey bread you’re used to but it is surprisingly chewy, toasts beautifully and makes a mean grilled cheese. It has only been two days, and half the loaf is already gone! I’m planning on making more bread (really soon, actually), so expect more carbs in the coming weeks. For now, let me get back to this loaf before it completely disappears!

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No Knead Sandwich Bread – adapted from Food52

  • 3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups of water

Directions:

  1. Combine the flours, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add water and stir together with a wooden spoon to form a shaggy dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let proof at room temperature for around 5 hours. At this point the dough can be used immediately, or covered with plastic wrap and kept in the fridge for up to two weeks.
  2. Turn the dough out on a floured surface, sprinkle some flour on the dough and lightly knead 3‚Äď4 times. Shape dough into a large rectangle. Fold one third of the dough into the center, followed by the other third.
  3. Place seam side-down in a buttered loaf pan. Sprinkle some flour over the top and cover. Let rise for approximately 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Preheat your oven to 450¬į. Dust the top of the dough with a little more flour and score with a serrated knife. Bake for 30‚Äď35 minutes, or until the top of the loaf has just begun to brown. Let cool for at least an hour before slicing.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used a combo of whole wheat and all purpose flour. If you have access to bread flour, please use it! The texture will be different but delicious nonetheless.¬†
  • The original recipe didn’t say what temperature the water should be, so I used warm (a little warmer than body temp.); just to be on the safe side.¬†
  • I used a large loaf pan and made one big loaf. Alternatively, you can use two small loaves.

Martha’s Mac and Cheese

Last week’s Polar Vortex inspired me to make something that wasn’t dessert. I have to be honest, I’m not much of a cook. I prefer baking because it’s formulaic, and that gives me reassurance that it’ll work every single time. I mean, it’s science; when has science ever been wrong? Anyway, I don’t like cooking much because it’s basically a free for all in a pot, while crossing your fingers that everything will taste good. I know that there are recipes for savory dishes but I feel like I have a bigger chance to mess up, which makes me nervous.

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So, this Polar Vortex. It was freezing everywhere last week. In my house, there was a lot of hot and liquid dinners happening. My mom made a giant batch of soup for two reasons; this crazy cold and because my dad is sick. I’m not a fan of soup, so I was on my own. They ate that stuff for the entire week, while I had to figure out dinner myself. I’m not a stranger to making my own dinners, as I have been doing so for quite some time. They’re usually super simple, like a baked potato or a bowl of brown rice (which I still can’t make). The lack of formulas and rules in cooking scares me, which is why I am a baker. Having this blog has pushed me into the kitchen more often, which I love, but there’s more to cooking and baking than sweets (blasphemy!).

I trucked into my ¬†kitchen, looking for something warm to make. I got sick of eating potatoes and dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets (don’t judge me; they’re delicious), so it was time for a real dinner. I’m kind of a fan of mac and cheese. I say kind of because I’m usually hot and cold about it. I love pasta and I love melted cheese but eating a bowl of mac and cheese can get old really quickly. The lack of tastes and textures usually found in mac and cheese is boring to me, which is why I rarely eat it. However, in a moment of freezing weakness, I decided to make up a batch and am really glad I did.

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This recipe, which I found through Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs), is actually Martha Stewart’s. If you don’t know, Martha is the queen. She knows her stuff, so I knew this recipe was a good one; a bonus because Deb had made it as well. I was intrigued because this recipe seemed to solve my monotonous mac and cheese issue with the homemade crouton topping. I love my carbs with more carbs; the more the merrier! I made half of the original recipe, and followed it pretty much verbatim. The only change was that I used yellow sharp Cheddar instead of white.

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This mac and cheese was amazing. It was so much better that that boxed stuff (anything is better than that, honestly)! Not only was it delicious but it was so easy to make. I set up a mise-en-place and breezed right through everything. It helped to have an extra set of hands, too. This was also my first foray into making a bechamel sauce, a.k.a one of the mother sauces. I was so nervous about messing it up but it was a lot easier than I thought. The result was a super cheesy and delicious pasta dish. Both of my parents, and even my lactose intolerant sister, loved it! The fact that my dad, Mr. “I hate melted cheese” liked it was enough of an indication that this recipe is a winner. The crispy cubes of bread was a welcomed texture change, in the mix of soft, and gooey elbows full of cheese. Accompanied with a salad, this is the perfect dinner for one of those super chilly nights.

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The success of this recipe has inspired me to continue getting in the kitchen to make things other than cakes and cookies. I hope to make and post a savory dish at least once a month. It’s important to face your fears, even if you were pushed into it by (freezing) outside factors.

Martha’s Mac and Cheese – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves six

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 3 slices of bread, with the crusts removed and cut into 1/4-1/2″ cubes
  • 2 3/4 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp coarse salt, plus more for water
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Gruy√©re or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2lb elbow macaroni

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 2 quart pan/casserole dish and set aside. Cut bread into cubes and place into a bowl. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and pour onto bread cubes, toss and set aside.
  2. Warm milk in a saucepan over medium heat. In another medium saucepan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. When bubbling, add the flour and whisk to prevent lumps; cooking for one minute while stirring.
  3. While whisking, slowly pour the warmed milk, a little at a time. Continue cooking, while whisking, until bubbly and thick (8-12 minutes).
  4. Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne. Add 1 1/2 cups of the grated Cheddar and 3/4 cup of the Gruyére (or 1/2 cup of the grated Pecorino). Stir until cheese is melted. Set aside.
  5. Cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook macaroni until the outside is cooked but the inside is undercooked (about 2-3 minutes less than the time indicated on the package). Transfer the macaroni to a colander and rinse under cold water. Stir into the cheese sauce.
  6. Pour mixture into the prepped dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup of Cheddar and 1/4 cup of Gruyére (or 1/8 cup of Pecorino), and then top with the bread cubes. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used an 8×8 pan, also known as a brownie pan, and it fit perfect. Any 2 quart pan/casserole dish will do for this amount. The original recipe that serves 12 needs a 3 quart pan/dish.¬†
  • Quick trick: use the butter wrappers to butter the pan.
  • I used a yellow sharp Cheddar, but I think any kind will work fine.¬†
  • I originally wanted to use whole wheat elbows but was unable to find some at my supermarket. Any short pasta with a hole should work well.¬†
  • If you’re not feeling wasteful, you can leave the crusts on the bread like I did. No one will notice.
  • To add more flavor to your croutons, consider adding some chopped garlic to the butter while melting.¬†

No Bake Energy Bites

It’s January, which means that troves of people made the exact same New Year’s resolution; “I want to lose __ pounds this year!” No offense to those who make resolutions, but let’s be real for a second. How many people who make this resolution actually stick it out? Come January, everything and everyone is all about the diets and the “cleanses” and “detoxes.” After touting the “enjoy and indulge” messages of months prior, everyone seems to be on the same boat about losing the holiday weight gain. After a couple weeks (or even days), most people want to give up and give in.

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I personally know how hard it can be to stay on track, especially after the holidays, but seeing and hearing all this “diet” talk does the opposite of motivating. See, diets, “cleanses” and “detoxes” are all about restrictions. It’s all “Don’t eat this for x amount of time, don’t eat this kind of food after a certain time, don’t eat anything but this drink for the next week.” It’s too stressful to try and stick to all these guidelines, which are really just set ups for failures.

A healthy lifestyle is not about restricting. A common misconception people have about living healthy is that no one ever eats sweets; that it’s all fruits and veggies all day. Granted, it’s mostly that but a small part of it is about enjoying yourself and living your life stress free (at least about food). That’s the healthy part!

Anyway, these no bake energy bites are an awesome and relatively healthy snack that are as easy to make as they are delicious. All the ingredients in these babies are actually good for you! Oats are a great complex carb, which means they’ll keep you full a bit longer. The peanut butter and the coconut are both full of good fats, even though the coconut is slightly sweetened. Honey’s a natural sweetener that is okay in moderation. And chocolate is surprisingly good for you if you use the right kind! Dark chocolate is the “healthiest,” touting plenty of antioxidants; depending on how dark the chocolate is.

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One of the standout ingredients on the list is the ground flaxseed. ¬†Not only is it a great source of dietary fiber, but it is laden with micronutrients (like Vitamin B), omega-3 fatty acids, and even more antioxidants. It’s a great addition to most baked goods and is awesome (and tasteless) in these energy bites.

When you finally get sick of hearing about all that diet talk and are ready to jump ship, remember that it’s a race rather than a sprint. A healthier lifestyle includes all of the things life throws at you, including these little bites of energy that’ll help you tackle the rest of the day!

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No Bake Energy Bites – adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Makes 20-25, depending on size

  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground¬†flaxseed¬†or¬†wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup dark¬†chocolate chips¬†or chunks
  • 1/3 cup¬†honey,¬†maple syrup, or a honey/agave combo
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tsp.¬†vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Stir all of the ingredients in a bowl, making sure everything is thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove mix from the refrigerator, portion and roll into equally sized balls about 1 to 1 1/2″ in diameter. Store in an airtight container in the fridge; they should keep for about a week (if they last that long!)

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I chopped up a small 72% dark chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s, in lieu of chocolate chips. Use whatever you have on hand!
  • I used a disher to scoop these out. Each ball came out about 1 1/2″ in diameter.¬†
  • This recipe is infinitely adaptable. You can use a variety of mix ins and nut butters; anything to suit your tastes!

Happy New Year!

Welcome 2014! It’s already been a couple days and I haven’t really stopped celebrating. A day after everyone else has welcomed the new year, I celebrate the addition of another year to my life. I have to say, having a birthday right after the holidays can sometimes suck.

When I was younger, I hated my birthday. I cried every single year because I hated the thought of getting old and how my birthday was after all these celebrations had died down. I always felt like I got the short end of the stick because everyone forgets my birthday, and because mostly everyone is still recovering from their New Years hangovers. Also, the lack of presents may have something to do with it. With age, I realized that it’s actually kind of cool to celebrate my birthday at the same time everyone else celebrates a new year.

A long time ago, I made a promise to myself that I will celebrate my birthday every year in some way. All my celebrations are on a super small scale; I dress up, have a special dinner consisting of a favorite food, and have a cake of my choosing. Balloons and decorations are optional but almost always present.

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In the last three years, I started baking my own cakes. My mom always ordered a Dominican cake for my birthday but I got bored with having it every year. Dominican cakes are simple, and are a celebration staple back in D.R., and for Dominican families in the U.S. It is a tender and moist yellow layer cake, filled with your choice of a pineapple marmalade, guava marmalade, a creamy custard filling, or the popular dulce de leche. It is all covered in a deliciously fluffy and marshmallowy cooked meringue frosting. My favorite part was when the frosting hardened a bit on the outside, adding a much needed crunch to the soft and tender cake.

One of the many Dominican cakes I had for my birthdays.

This was the last Dominican cake I had for a birthday. Since then, they’ve been reserved for other celebrations.

I knew I wanted to make something different every year, starting with my first homemade birthday cake. It was a very poor but albeit delicious rendition of an Opera cake; a four layer cake with alternating yellow and chocolate layers, filled with alternating layers of chocolate and espresso whipped cream and then drenched in the same espresso whipped cream. Last year’s cake was a tribute to three of my favorite foods and an American tradition; a Smore cake from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. A graham cracker layer cake, filled with chocolate ganache and covered in marshmallow frosting.

This year, I decided to incorporate another one of my favorites: sprinkles. I am a huge sprinkles fan and will put them wherever I can. A cake full of this stuff sounded like a dream, so I knew I had to have it. I turned to one of my favorite and visually stunning blogs: Sweetapolita. Rosie has a knack for making gorgeous cakes, and if they taste anything like they look, they are delicious. I chose her Funfetti Layer Cake with Whipped Vanilla Frosting. It is an insanely delicious and moist white cake; which should’ve been speckled with sprinkles but all of mine sunk to the bottom and floated to the top, covered in a fluffy vanilla buttercream and decorated with more sprinkles. With a cake this adorable, you’d think I was turning 10, not 24.

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The cake came out amazingly delicious, despite its absence of color inside the cake. The moist and tender cake went very well with the sweet and fluffy frosting, and got a nice crunch from the sprinkles. This delicious cake is just the beginning of all the great things to come. I can already tell this is going to be a sweet year!

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For the Funfetti Layer Cake with Whipped Vanilla Frosting recipe, please visit Rosie’s blog Sweetapolita.