Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dark Chocolate Mint Squares

This is a recipe adapted from a Cooking Light issue. It is a pretty easy dessert that really looks nice (and tastes just as great). I've made this for a baby shower before, and added pink food coloring to the mint layer, which was as cute as can be.
These are for a church function tomorrow evening, so I used the green food coloring so people would know what flavor they are.

Because everyone knows that anything green tastes minty, right?

Dark Chocolate Mint Squares

Bottom Layer:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) can chocolate syrup

Mint layer:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops green food coloring

Chocolate glaze:
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. To prepare bottom layer, combine flour and salt in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, eggs, 1/4 cup melted butter, water, vanilla, and chocolate syrup until smooth. Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture, stirring until blended. Pour batter into a 9 X 13-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
3. To prepare mint layer, whisk together the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, milk, extract, and food coloring until smooth. Spread mint mixture over cooled cake.
4. To prepare the glaze, combine the chocolate chips and 1/4 cup butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute or until melted, stirring after 30 seconds. Let stand 2 minutes. Spread chocolate glaze evenly over top the mint layer. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quiet Snowy Day

I can't believe it is blizzarding on my birthday. As I didn't actually blow out a candle and wish for no snow, I have only myself to blame. ;)

Here is Justin giving Storm a hug:

Here is Storm not liking her hug, and is moments away from becoming the embodiment of her name:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stuffed PAST the Gills!

Oh. My. Goodness. I think I will be full for the next week and a half. Justin surprised me with tickets to Christian's Bistro's Fat Tuesday celebration this evening, with friends Jim & Jenn. We had such a good time eating, laughing, eating, taking pictures, eating, being silly, and eating again. Servers continually were bringing out plates of New Orleans-inspired wonderfulness. Crab fish pocket pies, jambalaya, etouffee, hush puppies, crab boulettes, smoked sausage meatballs in a parmesan cream sauce, flatbread pizza, plus, my all-time favorite - Parmesan potato chips with truffle oil. Over the top, Off the hook Fantastic. Great food and great friends definitely equal a great birthday gift!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stereotyping Grocery Shoppers

Two college students were in front of me in the checkout line at the grocery store this evening.
A young Asian man with a single 1 lb bag of jasmine rice and
a young American man buying a single pound of bacon.

I had to stop myself from giggling in the store.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Blue Cornmeal Caramel Cake (and birthday wishes)

We went up to Wausau this evening to celebrate my mom's birthday with a quiet dinner and a yummy cake.  I love my mom.  And I have come to realize that she is pretty dang smart (I doubted this for a bit when I was in high school) and pretty dang funny (also didn't notice that in high school).  Don't get me wrong, we never had any knock-down, drag-out screaming matches, but she was a pretty strict mom with high expectations and I was a know–it-all kid that thought I wasn't having enough fun in life (I was).  But there is something about growing up a bit that helps us appreciate our parents a bit more, and how much time, energy, love, and hope that they pour into us childish children.  
So, here's to you, Mom.  You deserve so much more than just a yummy Blue Cornmeal Caramel Cake, but know that it was made with a whole lot of love!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Buttery Jam Cookies

Alright, as you all have surmised, I have zero control over what Justin posts.  I could revoke his editor status, but life wouldn't be quite as interesting, now would it?

For your viewing and reading pleasure (and if you make them, your tasting pleasure), are a batch of tasty Buttery Jam Cookies, via Joy the Baker.  These little darlings might not look like much, but there is a punch of ginger and sweet smack of Strawberry Rhubarb Butter turned into the dough that gives them a unique and flavorful twist.  In fact, if you aren't a ginger fan, I would recommend cutting back a little bit, as it is definitely the first thing you taste.  I also threw a half bag of leftover peanut butter chips into the dough because, well, because that just seemed like the proper thing to do with them.  And let me tell you, it was. 
Here is the link for the Strawberry Rhubarb Butter from Galena Canning Company.  If you get some, could you get another jar for us?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Even this is too much for me

I was perusing thisiswhyyourfat today and ran across this:

I am fine with bacon rolls and giant Oreos, but this is a little too much. I think I threw up in my mouth a little.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

French Bread

This is one of my very favorite bread recipes.  I picked it up while taking an artisan bread baking course in school.  The only measurements I have are using a scale, rather than cups, but the recipe is well worth the cost of an inexpensive digital cook's scale (mine was $20 at Target).  I usually make mini baguettes with the dough, and can get about 12 small loaves from the recipe.  You can go ahead and make larger ones if you like.  We've affectionately termed this bread "guppy bread," as my small loaves will often bulge or bust open.  I'm getting better and this doesn't happen as much as when I first started, but the name has stuck, even if the loaves no longer resemble the little fish!

French Bread

37 oz. Unbleached Flour
2 oz. Whole Wheat Flour
24.5 oz Warm Water
1/2 Tblsp. Dry Instant Yeast
.75 oz Kosher Salt

1. Place water in bowl.  Combine all dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the water.  Mix until dough forms, adding additional water if needed to form a loose dough.

2. Knead dough by hand for 10-15 minutes, or with a stand mixer for 5-8 minutes, or until gluten has developed and a small ball of dough is at "windowpane" consistency (see photograph below).

3. Place dough in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow dough to rise for 3 hours, turning out dough and folding it in half after each hour.

4. After third fold, allow to rest, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

5. Cut dough into similar sized portions, and allow to rest for 5 minutes, covered.

6. Shape dough into baguettes, rounds, ovals, etc, as desired, and place in pans or on parchment lined sheet trays.  Score the loaves as desired.

7. Cover and allow to rise for an additional 45-60 minutes. 

8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  If using, put baking stone in oven prior to turning the oven on.  Once preheated, place pans in oven, or slide parchment paper containing the loaves onto the baking stone.  Small loaves will take about 15 minutes, while larger loaves will take 20-25 minutes.  Loaves are done when a knock to the bottom will sound hollow, or internal temperature reaches 210 degrees.

9. Allow to cool before storing.  Loaves can be frozen after they have been baked and cooled.  To reheat: 320 degrees for 8-10 minutes in the oven.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Travis = gone

Trav is traveling to New Zealand today, and the house feels kind of empty. In the spirit of his love for Dawson's Creek, I have emulated Dawson's horrible "cry face". I just wish I could get my hair to look like it had crab claws gripping my forehead.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Sweet Holiday

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Red Velvet Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies will always be a favorite of ours.  They're easy to make, take minimal ingredients, and are always a hit.  Well, while checking some of my favorite blogs, I came across Bakerella's post for these.  They're almost identical to our beloved chocolate sandwich cookies, but perfect for Valentine's Day!  So I stopped at the store to pick up a box of red velvet cake mix (all I could find was Duncan Hines) and threw them together this morning.  Rather than using butter or margarine, as Bakerella suggests, I stuck with the trusty chocolate sandwich cookies recipe - the cake mix, 2 eggs, and 1/3 cup of vegetable/canola oil.  I scooped the dough onto the cookies sheets and smooshed them just a bit, and baked them for 8 minutes.  And I probably could have dropped that back to 7 1/2, or even 7, but the main thing is not to overbake them.  Take them out when they are just cracked, but still very wet-looking on the inside.  Let them cool on the cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes, and then remove to wire racks to cool.  I make my cream cheese frosting the same as Bakerella does, which is delicious.  I scoop my frosting into a zip top bag, snip a corner, and then pipe a mound of frosting on the cookies to make sandwiches.  Verdict - very yummy, perfectly red-tasting, and Valentine-y to boot.  A great holiday version of an old favorite!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


While in Texas last year and during a trip to India, Travis developed a taste for Indian cuisine.  Over the past few months, he has worked at cooking dinner about once a week, and this often involves a new curry recipe.  Being his last week with us, and probably the last time he makes dinner, he asked if I would make Naan, an Indian-style flatbread, to go along with the meal.  I found this highly-rated recipe and felt it didn't look any harder than any other type of bread.  I'm not sure how traditional or authentic it is, but as it turned out great, I don't really care!  The individual naan(s?) came out smaller than I've seen, only about the size of my hand, and I made about 20-25 of them from the recipe.  I'll definitely make this again, but will roll the balls of dough larger, about the size of racquetballs rather than golfballs, to increase the size of the finished naan.  I'm excited to have a bag full of them in my freezer now.  They reheat in only 2-3 minutes in a 375 degree oven.  Easy!

Also.  To clarify.  At the bottom of each of our posts, you can see which of us (Justin or Julie) actually wrote it.  Please do not think that I posted the entry about the thisiswhyyourefat website.  I wouldn't do that to you.  Justin would though.  He did it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My new favorite website

Since I (Justin) have a thing for over the top food, imagine my surprise when I found out there is a whole website dedicated to that very topic:

Here are a couple choice entries:

#1: "Mega Oreo"

#2: "Deep fried Coca Cola"

#3: Self explanatory. Every piece of equipment made should have a button labeled "Push here to dispense gravy"

Other nasty favorites include "The meat ship", and "60 pound rice crispy treat"

Not Quite "Spreads"

I was looking for a quick and easy recipe yesterday that would cover two bases - a church function and treats for small group.  This "Spreads" recipe seemed to fit the bill, so I thought I'd try it out.  I didn't have margarine, so I just used good ol' butter.  The consistency was a bit different than PW's, as the dough was much thicker, and not really spreadable.  I just patted it into a rectangle shape on my cookie sheet and it worked just fine.  I also put a silicone baking mat on my cookie sheet before the dough, simply to make removing the giant cookie/bar easier.  One other minor variation - I put a combination of semisweet chocolate chips and butterscotch chips on the top, and it came out very tasty.  It really was pretty simple to put together, and I was able to turn two of these puppies out of my kitchen in under an hour.  Nice, simple, yummy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Two Thumbs Way Up!

This past weekend we had a good friend come visit.  Emily flew up from Texas on Friday, ready to experience Wisconsin.  It was a whirlwind of a visit, but we had a fantastic time catching up, laughing, making bread, laughing, visiting a cheese factory, laughing again, playing games and watching movies, and oh yeah, laughing some more.  All of us wished she could have stayed a few more days, though we've already talked about heading down to Houston in the fall.  We have too much fun together to stay apart for too long!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Random Photos

I take quite a few photographs each day, and the majority of them don't see the light of day.  Today I thought I'd go back and pick out a few that I liked, but for whatever reason hadn't posted them.

Regular and Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Bars.

Clementines that I cooked for a cake.  
We didn't really like the cake, so I didn't write about it, 
but I like the shot.
I thought, with the air hole, that it somewhat looked like a beehive.

Vanilla Bean Buttermik Cake Batter from Jenn's birthday cake.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Paprika Cheddar Biscuits

Looking for an easily portioned, super fast, super yummy bread-type item to go with your bowl of chili, cheesy pasta, or for breakfast?  These biscuits definitely fit the bill.  The batch mixes up in minutes and they don't even have to be rolled out and cut - just drop them onto cookie sheets and bake.  I used a 1/4 cup cookie/ice cream disher for mine, scooped the dough onto the sheet pan and then froze them solid, about 30 minutes.  I then kept a few out for us to have with dinner, and sealed the rest into a zip-top freezer bag.  When you are ready to have fresh biscuits, just take the frozen lumps of dough, set them on a sheet pan, and bake them for about 20 minutes - perfect, fresh, warm biscuits, without any work!  I followed the recipe exactly, except for the fact that I didn't have any smoked sweet paprika - I just used regular sweet paprika, and they turned out wonderfully!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Mini Vacation

Yesterday we drove down to Wisconsin Dells to the Kalahari Resort (link will play music - awful music).  This was set up by John and Sarah as a chance for the immediate family to get together and have some fun.  John, Sarah, Travis, Luke, Niki, Justin and I all shared two rooms (upgrade to suites upon arrival!) and had a blast going between the Indoor Theme Park and the Indoor Water Park.  We rode the go-karts, braved the ropes course, won tickets on "ski-ball" and "Deal or No Deal", and played many games of laser tag at the Theme Park.  The water park was a blamy 75-80 degrees and we enjoyed our time in the wave pool, floating around the lazy river, and zipping down the water slides.  We are definitely worn out from all the activities, but we had a great time.  

And then, as a "welcome back" greeting (?), our cats had somehow knocked down and shattered one of our side tables upstairs.  Look.  You can see the guilty look on Storm's face.