Vanilla Sugar Shortbread Wedges

Last year, I took part in the LA Food Bloggers Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry!  I met so many wonderful bloggers and had a great time.  Plus, I had BLD‘s life-changing Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes.  So really, it was a win-win day!

This year, my wonderful husband spotted a newspaper article asking for volunteer bakers for a No Kid Hungry Bake Sale closer to home!  The Redlands Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry sponsored by a Team called the IE Cookie Monsters.  It had to be fate!  You know how I feel about cookies!!

After sending an Email to Team IE Cookie Monsters, I started planning what I wanted to bake. Of course, I had to make brownies. That seems to be a tradition now.  I knew I wanted to do something different, but what?   After a bit of recipe searching, I settled on these easy and delicious Vanilla Sugar Shortbread Wedges.  They are thick, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, have with a cup of tea on a rainy day, cookies.
Scored Shortbread Wedges

I’m planning on making these again for Mothers Day.  That is, if I can wait that long for another batch.

Vanilla Sugar Shortbread

Vanilla Sugar Shortbread

Ingredients:

2 Sticks Unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1/4 cup Vanilla Sugar (or regular sugar, with one tsp vanilla bean paste), plus extra for dusting

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar

2 cups Flour

1 tsp salt

Directions:

In a bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until it turns a pale yellow.  On a sheet of parchment paper, sift sugars together using a fine mesh sieve. Pick up the parchment paper and use it to gently add sugar mix to the butter. Continue to beat until thick and creamy (about 5 minutes).  If you are using regular sugar, add the vanilla paste after you’ve creamed the sugar and butter together.

Sift flour and salt together over the same sheet of parchment paper.  Add to butter/sugar mix, mix until just incorporated.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

After dough has chilled, press gently in an 8″ round cake pan.  No need to grease the pan, there is plenty of butter in the dough!  Score the dough into wedges, so it will be easier to cut when it’s done baking.

Bake for 1 hour, or until the top of the shortbread has barely browned.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Cut the shortbread along the score marks, forming eight large wedges.  Dust lightly with 1 tsp granulated sugar.

Share these with a friend and a cup of hot tea or coffee.

Vanilla Shortbread Wedges

NOTE:  These make very thick cookies.  You can split the dough in half and use two cake pans.  Shorten your cooking time to 35-40 minutes (watch carefully).  You can also roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and use cookie cutters.  If you use cookie cutters, place the dough back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before baking.  Baking cold cookies will help them maintain their shape.

ENJOY!!

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Cake In A Cup!

I have a secret. My food bloggers card may be revoked when I tell you. Then again, I might be your new hero!

I love cake! Oh wait. That’s not a secret.

I love things that are quick and easy! No… not a secret either.

I have boxed cake mix in my pantry. *GASP*

Now I know what you’re thinking. Food bloggers are supposed to make everything from scratch! They sit around fancy tables with gorgeous napkins and fine china, eating perfectly plated, gourmet food! (Remind me to take a wide shot of what my kitchen actually looks like when I’m taking food pictures! HA!) I’m here to tell you, that’s just not true. Of course, if you’ve been following along for a while, you already know my kitchen isn’t perfect so…

Not only do I have boxed cake mix in my pantry, I have two! Specifically, these two.

Cake Mix

My friend Laura is falling out of her chair right now, because I’ve made an Angel Food Cake for her birthday the past several years and she probably thinks it’s from one of these boxes. Hey! Now that I think about it, maybe my food bloggers card won’t be revoked after all! Laura, I promise, your cakes have never been from a box!

So why are they in my pantry? Is the secret really boxed cake mix? No. The secret is the magic that happens when you mix the two together! I keep this hidden for those moments when I want something sweet – just for me – and I want it RIGHT NOW. In less than two minutes, I can have a delicious, personal size, chocolate cake in a cup that satisfies the cravings and doesn’t leave me with a lot of extra cake in the house.

Here’s how it works: In a large ziplock bag, combine the two cake mixes together. Shake the bag until they are fully incorporated. In a microwaveable coffee mug, combine three tablespoons of the mix with two tablespoons of water. Nothing else, just water. Stir to combine. Put the mug in the microwave on high for one minute. THAT’S IT!

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When it’s done, let it sit for a few minutes to cool. After that, you have your own individual “cup cake” to satisfy your sweet tooth. It looks a bit like a sponge but that’s ok!
IMG_9217

If you want more chocolate, as soon as the cup comes out of the microwave, toss mini chocolate chips on top. They’ll melt a bit from the heat of the cake and it tastes almost like frosting!

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So there it is. Cake in a cup using boxed cake mix. If you don’t like chocolate, you can use your favorite flavor box mix, but don’t substitute the Angel Food cake mix. You will have a lot of mix, so store it in the bag in the back of your pantry. It will be there for you when your own cake cravings hit.

Cake in a cup

Have fun with this! Just remember, it’s our secret!!

The California Spiny Lobster

How many of you eat locally grown fruits and vegetables? If I could look into cyber land, I’d probably see many of you raising your hands. That’s good! We do too! In the last year and a half, I’ve made a serious effort to pay more attention to the food I bring into our house and where it comes from. It’s important to support local farmers and learn as much as you can about what you eat every day.

If I were to ask you if you eat local meat or seafood, I wonder if I’d see as many hands in the air? My hand would have gone down, I’ll admit it. Even living here in Southern California, local meat and seafood isn’t something I know a lot about, but it’s just as important.

Thanks to a free demo at Surfas last weekend and a collaboration by Edible Westside, A Sustainable Kitchen, Seafood for the Future, and Chef Ray Garcia of FIG, I learned something new about local seafood! Did you know California has its own lobster? No? We have everything else, why not lobster too? 😉

Meet the California Spiny Lobster!
California Spiny Lobster

These lobster live between Monterey Bay California, down Baja California and all the way to Gulf of Tehuantepec, in Mexico. The main difference between the California Spiny Lobster and the American or Maine Lobster, is the California lobsters don’t have claws. Those big pincers are only gangly accessories Spiny lobsters don’t need! They’re Californian. They’re cool that way.

Another fun fact, the Spiny Lobsters tend to yield more edible meat, pound for pound. While the texture is a little different, it is just as delicious as its East Coast counterpart!
Spiny Lobster

Most of the California Spiny Lobsters are shipped overseas to Asian markets due to such a low local demand. Well, jinkies! I didn’t even know there was a California Lobster until a few days ago! How can you buy or ask for something you don’t know exists? That is one of the great thing about demos. People passionate about sharing local and sustainable products get an opportunity to share their knowledge and you learn new things. It’s a win-win!

On the menu for the demo was Chef Ray Garcia’s Grilled Spiny Lobster Salad.
Grilled Lobster Salad

Of course, the California Spiny Lobster took center stage in the salad, but the rest was equally delicious! Made with fresh, local greens, shiitake Mushrooms were sliced, grilled, then baked in duck fat and aged soy, along with celery sticks that were tossed with EVOO, lemon, salt and pepper. Beneath the salad was a drizzle of chestnut purée, that added a creamy contrast to the delicate lobster meat and the richness of the mushrooms. A beautiful slice of Pink Lady Apple garnished the top of the greens for a sweet snap of texture. It was amazing!

Spiny Lobster Salad

While Chef Garcia prepared his salad, he talked about the California Spiny Lobster. He featured them in his restaurant during the height of Spiny Lobster season this year. I have a lot of respect for Chef Garcia and the groups supporting this demo. They are really making a difference in how people eat and teaching others about the importance of eating locally! Look how many people where there!
Demo

I got to meet Chef Garcia and his Spiny friend before the demo.
Chef Ray Garcia

Our salads were even served on compostable bamboo plates. It’s true, little changes can add up to a big difference. Not just with our food, but how we treat the world.
Spiny Lobster Salad

Helping each other is essential too. Everyone pitched in to plate salads for the crowd!
Team plating

THANK YOU to the wonderful folks who sponsored this demo! Linzy from Edible Westside Magazine, Annette from A Sustainable Kitchen, Chef Ray Garcia from FIG, Kim from Seafood for the Future (my sincere apologies to the last woman on the right, I didn’t catch her name) and to John and his team at Surfas Culinary District for hosting this great event! You’ve inspired me to learn more about the local and sustainable seafood options in our area!
The Whole Gang!

That was my fun foodie day last week! Get out and explore your local foodie world. It’s amazing the things you can learn!

Till next time, friends!

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Muffins

Lately, I’ve been on a muffin kick… I’m not sure why.

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Muffins

Perhaps because it’s winter and my mornings have been lazy lately. Muffins satisfy the desire for something warm to go with my coffee. Additionally, muffins are very flexible creations. They can be plain or you can add your favorite fruit. They can have chocolate chips! Try muffins with lemons and homemade ricotta for a special treat! Add nuts, vegetables, grains, whatever your heart desires! They can be topped or left alone. No matter what you like in or on your muffin (wait… does that sound bad? 😉 ) be creative and have fun!

This morning, the forage through the pantry found a half box of raisins, some oatmeal and a small bag of pecans. Perfect muffin makings!

And since I was feeling fancy, I added a quick cinnamon struesel topping! Isn’t breakfast much more fun with one of these?

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Muffins

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Muffins with Cinnamon Struesel Topping!

Muffins:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flakes
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBLS baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Topping
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

FOR THE MUFFINS:
Lightly grease a muffin tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, baking powder and spices. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the milk, vegetable oil and eggs, until well blended.

Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until just incorporated. Add the raisins and pecans, also mixing until just incorporated.

FOR THE TOPPING:
Combine all the struesel ingredients in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Alternately, you can mash the ingredients together in a bowl using a pastry blender or fork. Alternately, you can also just smash everything together with your fingers!

Fill your prepared muffin tin two-thirds of the way. Spread 1 TBLS struesel topping over each muffin. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let the muffins cool slightly before popping them out of the pan, slathering them with butter and dipping in your coffee. Oh wait. That’s just me.

You will have extra topping! Toss what is left in a plastic bag and place in the freezer until the next time you make muffins!

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Muffins

Happy Breakfast Foodie Friends!

Monday Morning Muffins

Mondays can be a real bummer. People have to go back to work. Traffic is terrible. The weekend is a full five days away! The first cup of coffee doesn’t seem to cut through the morning haze as easily as it does the rest of the week. In my “I need more coffee” mode this morning, I decided I needed muffins too. Not just any muffins, but muffins that would make Monday better. After digging through my pantry, I discovered a few ingredients that might work very nicely! There was half a bag of Dark Chocolate chips and a bag of Pomegranate infused Craisins. Those flavors together are fabulous and thus, my Monday Morning Muffins were born!

Dark Chocolate and Pomegranate Muffins

Dark Chocolate and Pomegranate Muffins

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Monday Morning Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBLS baking powder
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup dried pomegranate infused Craisins (I used Ocean Spray!)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly grease a muffin tin (or use cupcake liners) and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, salt and baking powder. Add the chocolate chips and pomegranate seeds, tossing well to coat them with flour. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the milk, vegetable oil and eggs, until well blended and a light yellow color.

Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients. Mix with a fork for about 20 seconds – seriously NO MORE THAN THAT! Just until everything is barely incorporated. Most people make the mistake of over-mixing muffin batter. Stopping after just a few seconds will make them light and fluffy! You’re going to have to trust me on this!

Fill your prepared muffin tin two-thirds of the way. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

When you put your muffins in a super hot oven, then drop the temperature, it creates lovely high peaks!

Yield: 6 mega-muffins, 12 muffins, or 24 mini-muffins, depending on the pan you use!

Monday Muffins
I hope these make your Monday better. They certainly made mine delicious! Enjoy!

The Top 12 of 2012!

The year is drawing to a close. As we say goodbye to 2012, I want to share with you the Top 12 posts of the year (according to Word Press!) It’s been fabulously delicious journey and I am looking forward to seeing what new things we can eat and experience together in 2013!

Number 12: Follow That Chef – Kirsten Gum!
Chef Kirsten Gum
Kirsten is a crack up! She is one of the most down to earth and vibrant people I met this year. I was blessed not only to follow her around the Santa Monica Farmers Market, but also take several other classes with her at The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories. Coming in at Number 12 and the ONLY Follow That Chef to make it into the top 12!

Number 11: Ghirardelli Brownies!
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I have never been shy about being a self-proclaimed “Ghirardelli Girl” (that really should be trademarked!) I made these brownies after the Ghirardelli outlet opened just a few miles from my house. The girl working there suggested this recipe to another customer and I was HOOKED! The variations of these brownies are only limited to your favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares!

Number 10: Chocolate Covered Strawberries with Cheesecake Filling!
Chocolate Covered Strawberries with Cheesecake Filling!
These were a Valentines Day treat I made for my store team. As I recall, I had to make two batches because they disappeared so quickly! They are a sweet combination of three of my favorite things!

Number 9: PBK Brownie Bars!
PBK Brownie Bars
Brownies layered with peanuts and chopped peanut butter cups,then covered with chocolate rice crispy treats. I made them originally as bowling snacks and they took off from there! My very first guest post on another blog, I shared these brownies! I took them to the Share Our Strength LA Food Bloggers Bake Sale this year and have made them several times since. If you haven’t tried them yet, you’re missing out!

Number 8: Sweet Heaven Bars
Sweet Heaven Bars
Another bowling snack favorite! Chocolate chips, Toffee Chips and a gooey Caramel Center! It’s a triple threat of awesome-ness!

Number 7: Chocolate dipped Potato Chip Cookies!
Chocolate and Potato Chip Cookies
Thanks to Smitten Kitchen and Chef Emeril Lagasse, these cookies have quickly become a family favorite! A brilliant way to use the crumbs at the bottom of a potato chip bag. They go from brilliant to legendary when you dip them in chocolate. YUM!

Number 6: Bacon wrapped Jalapeño Poppers!
Bacon wrapped Jalapeño Poppers
We’ve made these for Christmas Parties, New Years Eve Parties, Superbowl Parties, Fourth of July celebrations! They are perfect for any celebration really! For a simple vegetarian version, just omit the bacon.

Number 5: Chocolate Caramel Surprise Crackle Cookies!
Chocolate Crackle Cookies with a caramel center
The most recent of my posts to make it into the top 12, these Chocolate Caramel Surprise Crackle Cookies are deceptively simple to make and very hard to resist! The caramel center is a sweet surprise hidden in these indulgent cookies!

Number 4: Chocolate Chip Cookie and Oreo Brownie Bars
Chocolate Chip and Oreo Brownie Bars
Another layered bar from our bowling days! My youngest son made these recently for a “Bake Off” at work. That’s right, my boy bakes! He won first prize with them too. 🙂 They are very decadent!

Number 3: Zucchini and Potato Pancakes!
Zucchini and Potato Pancakes
I am so happy these savory pancakes made it into the top 5! This was one of the first recipes I made from my Sunday’s With Joy cooking group. Cooking and baking our way through Joy The Bakers cookbook has been awesome. I’ve learned so much from Joy and from our group! There are so many talented people out there! Plus, I love Zucchini and this post has some of my favorite photos too. Food as art! Who knew?!?!

Number 2: Santa Hat Brownie Bites!
Santa Hat Brownie Bites
Adorable little brownie bites with frosting and a strawberry “hat” on top! These are perfect treats for Christmas parties! P.S. They are kind of like potato chips… no one can eat just one!

We’ve made it all the way to #1! DRUM ROLL PLEASE! Taking the top spot by a landslide…

NUMBER 1: Melted Snowman Cookies!!
Melted Snowman Cookies
I LOVE the expressions on these cookies! They are my greatest accomplishment in cookie making thus far. They are also probably part of the reason most of you are here, so THANK YOU for that!!

Hmmm… in looking over this list, I wonder if I should be concerned that nine of the top twelve are desserts, eight have chocolate in them, five are made with brownies and only two are savory? Nahhhh! It’s just been a SWEET year!

Thank you so much for joining me on my culinary adventures! I hope the coming year brings bright blessings for all of us and perhaps a few more savory items. 😉

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