Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake

I love that my son Max asked me to make an ice cream sandwich cake for his birthday. It's so stinking easy. I had it assembled and back in the freezer in about half an hour, really. The recipe below says to let the cake freeze until hard before serving it, but I only said that for insurance. If you start with very cold ice cream, you really only need to freeze the unfrosted, assembled cake while you mix up the vanilla "frosting" part of the cake. You can take this basic idea and add other "toppings" or different flavors of ice cream for the middle layers and "frosting." I think I need to try it with some sort of coffee ice cream...
At any rate, everyone LOVED this cake at Max's birthday celebration, and I didn't even have to turn on the oven or crack an egg. Good stuff, indeed.

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake


  • 12 ice cream sandwiches
  • 2/3 half gallon cookies & cream ice cream (or other flavor) in rectangular container
  • 1/4 gallon vanilla ice cream
  • 38 (approx.) Oreo Minis

Unwrap four ice cream sandwiches and place them snugly side-by-side on a serving plate that is large enough to hold the cake.
On a cutting board, disassemble the cookies & cream ice cream box so that it's exposed on all four sides and the top. Cut off about 1/3 of the rectangular prism, lengthwise, and place resulting rectangle onto the side-by-side ice cream sandwiches on the plate.
Add another layer of unwrapped sandwiches on top of the cookies & cream layer.
Cut another 1/3 of the cookies and cream and place on top of the second layer of sandwiches.
Top with the final four ice cream sandwiches. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until ice cream is hard. Be sure to wrap of up and freeze remaining 1/3 of the cookies & cream ice cream. Eat it later when the cake is gone.
During the last 15 minutes or so of the cake freezing, remove the vanilla ice cream from the freezer and let it sit at room temperature (for about 15 minutes).  When ice cream is soft enough to scoop easily, but not at all melted, scoop about 1/4 gallon (half of a half gallon) into a bowl (preferably a standing mixer bowl). Stir with a spoon or paddle attachment on your mixer, until ice cream is smooth. 
Get the cake out of the freezer and quickly frost the cake with the vanilla ice cream. Then decorate the edges with the mini Oreos.
Cover cake with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least two hours before serving.
Cut along the long side and then cut each of those large slices into three slices.
Makes about 12 generous servings

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cranberry & Walnut Granola by Christie

Granola by Christie

So, I had this walnut oil sitting in my fridge for almost a year. I mentioned this to my friend Christie one day--that and the fact that I had no idea what to do with it--and she immediately said, "I can make GRANOLA with that walnut oil! And I'll give it to you!" Sounded good to me; so I handed over the oil. Well, I got a pic on my phone that afternoon of the beautiful granola, but days turned into weeks, and she never did bring me any of that granola. Apparently, she took it to work where of course it was devoured. I'm not afraid to make Christie feel guilty, so I laid it on pretty thick whenever I saw her. Last night when Christie came over for a Christmas dinner of Chile Colorado Burritos, she brought me a big bag of this stuff. Oh my gosh. I'm so glad I harassed her about it. It's the perfect granola--crunchy, nutty, slightly chewy and tart from the cranberries, and just sweet enough. So, so good. I ate a bunch last night right out of the bag, and then I had some in milk this morning. Fabulous. 
Now, Christie didn't put the flaxseed meal in this batch, but when I make it I probably will--just to make myself feel like I'm eating healthier. 
At any rate, thank you, Christie, for letting me guilt you into bringing me this last night. You are a good friend, my friend.

Cranberry and Walnut Granola
    --Adapted from bonappetit.com

  • 4 tablespoons walnut oil, divided
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 cup egg whites
  • 1/2 scant teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup walnut halves, broken in half
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal 
  • 1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Brush a heavy rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons walnut oil.
Whisk 2 tablespoons walnut oil, sugar, egg whites, and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the oats, walnuts, and flaxseed meal. Toss to incorporate.
Spread mixture evenly on prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Stir with a metal spatula and then bake 8 more minutes. Stir again. Sprinkle cranberries over the top and drizzle with honey. Bake until golden brown, about 7 more minutes. Stir to loosen and transfer to a clean baking sheet to cool completely. 
Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Bon Appetit says it keeps up to a week.
Makes about 6 cups

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tamales (Masa and All)

Finally, I'm taking the time to type out this recipe. We've been making tamales at Christmastime for about 9 or 10 years now, I think. I never did this in California, but once I moved to Iowa near a sister-in-law, it seemed the thing to do one Christmas, and it became a tradition. My sister-in-law dated mostly Latinos in high school, so she had actually participated in the Mexican tradition of holiday tamale making before. I, on the other hand, had only enjoyed restaurant tamales and the occasional one I'd get from an adult student or in Mexico when our church youth group was working down there.
At any rate, this past year, sister-in-law found out she is allergic to pork, so we had to forego the store bought masa because it contains lard, which is pork fat. This was a good thing though, because it forced me to face my masa fears and to just go for it and make my own. I googled "tamale masa recipe" and found the one you see below at FoodandWine.com
I was going into it blind, hoping for the best, and I have to say, I think I really prefer this fresh homemade masa over the store bought. The cooked masa is relatively light in texture, flavored just right, and compliments the meat nicely. It's just good masa--hard to explain if you've never eaten a tamale. 
So there you go. My reasons for making masa, and here you go with the entire recipe. Now go make some tamales.

Beef* Tamales
      --masa recipe from FoodandWine.com

  • 4-5 pound chuck roast
  • 1 tablespoon chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

     Masa Ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 cups instant corn masa flour
  • 3 cups very hot water
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 4 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup juice from the beef roast (fat and all) and/or chicken stock
  • 60-70 dry corn husks
Special Equipment:
  • large stock pot with a steaming basket or rack (or a special tamale pot available at most Mexican markets)
  • spoons
  • tongs
  • friends to help assemble tamales
The day before or early in the morning of the day you plan to assemble the tamales, preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place chuck roast in a roasting pan and sprinkle with chile powder, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and salt. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and roast for about 3 hours, or until meat is pull-apart tender. Carefully pour pan juices through a strainer into a heat proof container (preferably a glass measuring cup). Set aside meat and juice and allow to cool.
When meat is cool, shred, discarding fat and gristle. Refrigerate until ready to use.

About 8-10 hours before you plan to assemble tamales, place corn husks in a large bowl or smallish plastic bin and cover with hot water. Allow to sit in water so that husks soften.

To make the masa... Place the masa flour in bowl of stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Mix on low as you slowly pour in the very hot water. Mix on low until dough comes together and almost forms a cohesive ball (which it won't really do because you're mixing it). Add the shortening and butter and mix on low to incorporate. Increase speed to medium and slowly add the salt and baking powder. Beat on medium high for about two minutes. Reduce mixer speed, and slowly pour in the beef juice. Beat for another two minutes until dough is creamy and looks like a loose cookie dough (Picture 1 below). If it really seems too loose, you can add a little more masa flour (probably up to a quarter cup). Place dough in a gallon size zip top bag, or in a bowl. Cover/seal the dough and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to two days. If it's in the refrigerator for more than a couple of hours, remove from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to assemble the tamales.

Now for the tamales... Drain a stack of husks and place in a bowl at your tamale assembly station. Place a husk on a plate or other surface with the narrow end on top. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of masa dough onto the husk and spread with the back of the spoon so that your margins are 1/2 to 1 inch on each side, 3 to 5 inches on top, and 0 to 1/4 inch on the bottom (see Picture 3 below). Place about 2 to 3 tablespoons of meat in the center as shown below (Picture 5). Now this next part is tricky. I think everyone does it differently, but here's what I do: turn the tamale a quarter turn so that the length of the husk is going left to right. Grab both sides and bring them together at the center, smooshing the masa from one side together with the masa from the other side. You should end up with about a 1/4 inch to 1 inch flap of corn husk that you just fold over. Take the narrow end and fold it up against the tamale (Picture 7). Tear a strip of husk from one that is too narrow to use for a tamale and use it to tie a little belt around the tamale to keep it compact (Picture 6). Stack up tamales as you go. When you think you have enough to fit inside the pot snugly, but without crowding and cramming, start cooking/steaming your first batch. 

To cook/steam tamales, place the steaming rack/basket in the bottom of your stock pot (tamale pot) and fill with water to just under the steaming rack/basket. You want as much water as possible, but you really don't want it touching the tamales directly. Place tamales in the pot, folded end down and open side up. Cover and place over high heat on the stove. Steam tamales for about 1 hour, adding a little water occasionally. Make sure the water does not go dry or else the bottom of your pot will burn and your tamales will pick up the burned flavor. Not good. While tamales steam, finish assembling the rest of the tamales. 

After about an hour of steaming, turn the heat off and remove one tamale. Let it cool for about 5-10 minutes. Gently open the husk up to see if it's cooked through. If the husk comes off easily, and there are no parts that look like the raw masa dough, they're done. Remove remaining tamales to a plate, bowl, cookie sheet, or something else, and either serve them or allow them to cool. Once cool and you're done eating all you want, seal leftover tamales in a zip top freezer bag and refrigerate or freeze. They will keep in the fridge for a few days, but if you know you won't be eating them within that time, go ahead and freeze them.

Makes about 50-60 tamales

To reheat frozen tamales, place in a steaming situation again (either the stock pot with the steaming rack or basket or a smaller version for fewer tamales). Steam for about 20 minutes, or until heated through. You can microwave them, but I don't recommend that method, as some parts of the tamale will over cook and get hard while other parts remain cool. 
If you're reheating them from the refrigerator, it's safer to microwave them: about 40-50 seconds on high for one tamale. Microwave ovens vary, though, so start off slow, and see how it goes. You can also steam them from the refrigerator too. About 10 minutes in the steamer should do it.

*You can use whatever filling you'd like in tamales. For one recipe of masa, you'll need about four cups of cooked filling.

Picture 1: Masa looking like cookie dough
Picture 2: Masa (lots of it) going to the fridge
Picture 3: masa spread on damp husk
Picture 4: the meat
Picture 5: meat on masa on husk--ready to close it up
Picture 6: uncooked tamales ready to be steamed
Picture 7: cooked tamale, ready for inspection

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Better Than Whoopie Whoopie Pies

Better Than Whoopie Whoopie Pies
I got some shiny new baking pans for Christmas, so I decided that I needed to make something new and fabulous. Whoopie pies are always good, but I wanted to ramp them up a bit. That got me to thinking about Better Than Sex Cake. I think there are several versions of that cake out there, but the one I am familiar with is a 9 X 13 inch chocolate cake, doused in caramel sauce and sweetened condensed milk, frosted with Cool Whip, and sprinkled with toffee or Heath Bar bits. I haven't made that cake in a while, but I thought the whoopie pie would be a great form for that cake, so this is what I did. Initially I thought I would include the sweetened condensed milk, but I didn't want to waste a whole can of it on an experiment. Next time, I might go ahead and add the sweetened condensed milk. We'll see. For now, though, these things are fantastic. I don't know that they live up to their name, but I enjoyed one and half of these this evening, and I probably could have enjoyed more. The cookie/cake part is moist, tender, and chocolatey. The caramel is sticky sweet layer, but it also makes the mascarpone frosting fabulous. The toffee bits around the edge add texture and just that yummy buttery brown sugary goodness. 
So, thank you Lori and Mark, for the pans and the inspiration for this sweet creation. 

Better Than Whoopie Whoopie Pies
    --adapted from Martha Stewart 's Whoopie Pie recipe

  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 recipe Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce (recipe below)
  • 1 recipes Vanilla Bean Caramel Mascarpone Frosting 
  • 1 cup (approx.) toffee bits
Make the caramel sauce first so it has time to cool. (See recipe below.)
Sift together flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light-colored and fluffy. Add egg, buttermilk, and vanilla and beat until combined.  Slowly add dry ingredients, mixing until combined. Scoop into an airtight plastic container and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Using a medium sized cookie scoop (I used the medium Pampered Chef cookie scoop, which is about 2T), drop 2 inches apart onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until puffed and cracked on top.
Allow to cool a couple of minutes on the cookie sheet and then carefully move to a wire rack to finish cooling. You should end up with 32 cookies.
Once all cookies are baked and cooled, work on the filling.
Once cookies are cool and frosting is made, turn half of the cookies over and drizzle enough caramel sauce on it to almost completely cover the bottom of the cookie. Place frosting in a large zip-top bag and cut one of the bottom corners 1/2 inch.  Squeeze about 2 tablespoons of frosting on each of the 16 cookies that do not have the caramel sauce. Place each frosted cookie on top of a cookie with caramel. Place toffee bits on a plate and roll the edge of each whoopie pie in the toffee bits. If they don't seem to be sticking, pick some toffee bits up and sprinkle/press them into the edge of each whoopie pie.
They taste best at just about room temperature, but store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

Makes 16 pies.  

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoon butter 
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon Karo Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla paste
Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, pouring the sugar into the center of the pan to prevent the sugar crystals from sticking to the sides of the pan. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, uncover and continue to boil until the syrup is thick and straw-colored, about 7 minutes (it will register 300° on a candy thermometer). Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the sugar syrup is golden and just begins to smoke, 1 to 2 minutes (it will be 350°).
Meanwhile, bring the cream, butter, vanilla, salt, and corn syrup to a simmer over medium high heat in a small saucepan. (If the cream mixture reaches a simmer before the syrup reaches the proper stage, remove from the heat and set aside.)
As soon as the sugar syrup reaches 350°, remove it from the heat, pour about half of the cream mixture into it, and let the bubbling subside. Add the remaining cream mixture and whisk until the sauce is smooth. Pour 1/4 cup into a small bowl, and then pour the remainder into a heat-proof container and set both bowls aside to cool.

Vanilla Bean Caramel Mascarpone Frosting 
  •  8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  •  1/4 cup Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce, cooled 
  •  1 cup heavy whipping cream
Vanilla Bean Caramel Mascarpone Frosting Instructions:  In a mixer bowl, cream mascarpone and Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce.  Add cream, and mix on low/stir until combined. Then whip on high until stiff.
Toffee Bits

  • 1/4 cup packed C & H Light Brown Sugar 
  • 1/2 cup C & H White Sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
1. Line a square Pyrex pan (8X8) with parchment paper or non-stick foil. 
2. In a heavy saucepan heat butter and sugar to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat until it reaches 300° on a candy thermometer. Pour into prepared pan and evenly spread with a silicone (not rubber) spatula. Allow to cool completely.
3. Break toffee up into big chunks with your hands and then on a clean cutting board, chop into smaller bits. Be sure to taste some to see if it's good.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of toffee bits. Store extras in an airtight container.

I inadvertently over cooked the caramel sauce,
so this is quite a few shades darker than I'd
intended. Still good, but not perfect. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Minty Brownies

Minty Brownies
Mmm... another tasty recipe compliments of a parent at the school I teach at. These brownies were one of the sweet offerings with our PTO-provided dinner at parent-teacher conferences. After my first bite, I knew I had to get the recipe. The brownies were dense and moist, chocolaty, with a thin chocolate frosting on top. It wasn't a typical frosting, though, it was just like a think layer of chocolate. It took me two weeks to get the "recipe" from her, and when she sent it to me, I was surprised at what gave it the minty flavor. It was just Hershey's Mint Chocolate Chips. She baked a box brownie mix and then sprinkled the minty chips on top and spread them out after they'd melted. That's it. I added the Andes Mints to the top to avoid confusion and potential waste by non-mint lovers.
Since I enjoy making brownies from scratch, I just adapted my regular recipe and put the mint chocolate chips on top. As I ate the first one from this batch, I was reminded of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. Only this was thick and soft chocolate minty-ness, not thin and crisp. Mmm. They're so good. I'm going to have to take some to friends to make sure I don't eat them all myself.
Now, if you're like me, enjoying minty chocolate things, but avoiding it in baking because of the odd, unpleasant graininess that quickly sets in with minty baked goods, this recipe is for you. I think because all of the mint flavor is in the chocolate topping, rather than the brownie itself, the brownie stays soft and fresh. Good, good stuff.

Minty Brownies

Instructions:Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a spoon, stir eggs with sugar and vanilla. Add melted butter. In a separate bowl, mix the ground chocolate with flour, baking powder, and salt with a whisk. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture. Spread evenly into a buttered 8” pan (or a pan lined with parchment paper or non-stick foil).  Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out relatively clean. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with the mint chocolate chips. Cover with a plate or pan and allow to sit for a few minutes. Remove plate/pan and spread melted chocolate evenly over the top. Now you have a choice: either sprinkle the chopped Andes mints now and let them melt in (at which point you can run a toothpick around the top to make an abstract design on top) or you can wait until brownies and chocolate have cooled for about 15 minutes, and then sprinkle with the chopped Andes mints that will hopefully keep their shape but still stick to the top. Allow brownies to cool completely, and then cut into squares (I like to use a pizza cutter for this--as long as I've used parchment to line the pan). 
Makes 16-20 brownies.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Baked Oatmeal

Warm and satisfying baked oatmeal.

Oatmeal is one of those comfort foods that has always eluded me. Those who love oatmeal sing its praises about how it's so filling and cozy on a cold winter's morning. Every time I'd tried oatmeal, though, it just didn't taste, well, good. It was pasty and bland. "Add some brown sugar!" people would encourage me. That did something for the taste, but the texture was still off-putting: either drippy pasty or stiff and gummy. Not at all tasty.

The crockpot recipe I have here on the blog is pretty good, but still not worth singing about.

Then a month or so ago, at a women's group for church, my friend Becky made some baked oatmeal. I'd already had breakfast before leaving my house (I very rarely skip breakfast in the morning, even if there is the possibility of breakfast at my destination), but I thought I'd give this oatmeal a try, since I'd never tried oatmeal baked. And oh my goodness. THIS oatmeal I like. It's not pasty at all--just moist enough to make the oats al dente tender. It is sweet--like an oatmeal cookie. And it's warm and delicious. Mmm. A winning oatmeal indeed.

So now that we're in the depths of winter, I'm blogging about this new discovery. Whether you're an experienced fan of oatmeal, or you're like me, never really getting what the big deal is about oatmeal, give this recipe a try. I think you might just like it.

Baked Oatmeal


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups old fashioned oats (or 1 1/2 c. steel cut oats)
  • 1/4 cup flax seed meal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk (buttermilk is good, too)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9x9 inch pan and set aside.
  • Mix together sugar, oil, honey, eggs, and vanilla.
  • Add oatmeal, flax meal, baking powder, and salt. Mix thoroughly and then stir in milk.
  • Pour into the prepared pan, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. (Note: I baked my half recipe for 30 minutes and it was perfect. When I baked a full recipe, the center still moved like a water bed when I tried to remove it from the oven after 30 minutes, so I left it in there for 6 more minutes. Another time I accidentally over baked it by I don't know how long, but I liked how it got all brown and crusty on top.) Remove from the oven.
  • Serve with milk, nuts, fruit, or whatever sounds good with oatmeal.
  • Leftovers can be refrigerated and warmed up in the microwave easily. I also wrap single serving portions in foil and freeze. When I want to use it, I open the top of the foil and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes or until heated through. Sometimes I'll microwave it a little at the end to get it hot.
Makes 8 servings (I halved the recipe today)

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