Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whiskey Caramel Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars

Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite. A simple, classic cookie that everyone instantly recognizes and loves. Perfectly soft, chewy, and super chocolatey. 

This is one of those someone-hide-these-from-me-immediately desserts. After quite a bit of quality control, I was able to send these packing to my mom and sister.

I may or may not have left a couple hiding somewhere in the kitchen.
I doctored these up by making them into bars, throwing in some crushed pretzels and toffee pieces...oh and of course adding some whiskey caramel to top it all off. The salted caramel just finishes the bar off perfectly and gives it the perfect level of gooeyness. I could seriously put this stuff on anything and it would be amazing!

These cookie bars on their own don’t taste super boozy. The caramel layer brings a nice kick of whiskey, but it isn’t over-powering, just a nice addition to the sweet, salty, and chocolatey flavor from the bars.

Whiskey Caramel Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars
Ingredients
For the cookie layer:
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup crushed pretzels
1/4 cup toffee pieces (I used Heath)

For the whiskey caramel:

1/2 cup whiskey
1 14 oz bag of soft caramels unwrapped (I used Kraft)
1/2 tsp sea salt


For the chocolate layer:

1 cup chocolate chips
1 tbs butter

For the topping:

16 whole salted pretzels

Directions:
Preheat oven 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8 baking pan or line with aluminum foil and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugars. Add the egg and yolk, mixing until smooth and well-combined. Add the vanilla.

Add the flour, baking soda and salt over the wet ingredients and use a spatula to fold together until just incorporated with no streaks of dry ingredients. Stir in the chocolate chips, pretzels, and toffee.

Spread dough into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the edges are golden and crisp and the inside feels set. Cool.

For the caramel:
While the bars are baking, combine the whiskey and caramels in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until caramels have melted completely and the whiskey is mixed in. Cook until you reach the softball stage (240 degrees F), which is about 5-7 minutes. The mixture should have reduced a bit. Spread over cookie bars.


For the chocolate:

Place chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 20 second intervals until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. DO NOT OVERHEAT. 

Spread over the caramel layer and top with pretzels - sticking them into the melted chocolate. Let bars cool completely before removing from pan and slicing.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mini Peanut Butter Cheesecakes with a Pretzel Crust

I love peanut butter and chocolate. I love cheesecake. So, these little beauties are a big winner with me. I'm a little obsessed with the whole chocolatey, peanut buttery, salty, sweet, cheesecakey combo.
I decided to pair these with a pretzel crust instead of the traditional graham cracker crust. Best. Decision. Ever. You know me, I'm a sucker for sweet and salty! I love the hint of saltiness that the pretzels give. 
The pretzel crust is a bit crumbly, so expect a bit of a mess when you dig in to these. I thought about adding some more melted butter, but it seems like there's just no way around it. No worries...they are totally worth the mess! 

Mini Peanut Butter Cheesecakes with a Pretzel Crust
Makes 6 mini cheesecakes
Ingredients:
Crust
3/4 cup crushed pretzels
1/2 cup peanuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling
1 1/2 (8-ounce) packages reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup non fat, plain Greek yogurt (you could also use non fat, vanilla)
2 eggs
1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Glaze
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Crust
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a food processor, pulse the pretzels and peanuts until a crumb mixture. With the machine running, slowly add the melted butter and pulse until it just starts to come together.
Divide the crumb mixture into your mini cheesecake pan then press evenly with the bottom of a glass to create an even crust. Bake crust in the oven for about 5 minutes and let cool.
Reduce oven to 325 degrees.

Filling
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, Greek yogurt, and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Add the vanilla extract. Add the peanut butter and mix until it just comes together. Continue to mix with a spatula until well combined.
Transfer the filling to the cooled crust and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be slightly puffy and lightly browned. Remove cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely.

Glaze
Combine the chocolate chips, milk, and vanilla in a small microwaveable bowl. Microwave for about 15-20 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth. Pour glaze over the cheesecakes. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

Refrigerate the cheesecakes for about 4 hours or overnight. Remove carefully and serve. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kale and Strawberry Salad with Creamy Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

I've been making this salad for a while now. It's my go-to lunch during the week. It's super filling and full of yummy goodies. Kale is all the trend these days, and I'm definitely jumping on board with this one. 
I just make a huge bowl of this salad and separate it into different tupperware containers for the week. If you decide to make this for lunch, be sure not to add the dressing until right before you eat it. 
The hearty kale is topped with sweet strawberries and crunchy almonds. I love the added crunch from the sunflower seeds too. The tangy goat cheese and creamy dressing is the perfect contrast of flavors. You can completely customize this recipe to suit your taste buds. Sometimes I substitute feta cheese for the goat cheese, dried cranberries for the fresh strawberries, and pecans for the almonds. It's totally up to you. 
The dressing is also super simple. I literally just put all of the ingredients into a jar and shake it all up. It only takes like 2 minutes to make! No more store bought dressing for me...this one is simple, light, refreshing and so much better for you. Enjoy! :)

Kale and Strawberry Salad with a Creamy Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves 4
Ingredients:
For the salad:
3 cups chopped kale, stems removed
1 cup mixed greens
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, hulled
1/4 cup goat cheese

For the Creamy Citrus Balsamic Dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp non fat, plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

Directions:
1. Put the kale and mixed greens in a large bowl.
2. Add the strawberries, sunflower seeds, almonds, and goat cheese. Toss gently.
3. In a small mason jar, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, honey, Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Shake until mixed well.
4. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Serve.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Homemade Peanut Butter Doggie Treats

Don't leave out your dog when you're celebrating Valentine's day! Our little pup is full of love...she always stays close, smiles for the camera, and loves to snuggle and cuddle with us on the couch. She’s such a good girl, so I thought it was about time I made something special just for her. 
Homemade dog treats are super simple to make and you can easily alter the recipe for your pet's diet. 



These treats have a strong peanut buttery taste, the texture is hearty and nourishing due to the rolled oats. I read that the parsley will give your dog fresh breath, while also helping with digestion. Parsley is also high in vitamins A and C. Your dog will be giving you extra slobbery kisses of love and appreciation!

If you think your dog might be allergic to peanut butter check with your vet before making these. I have read that you can substitute pumpkin puree or sweet potatoes for the peanut butter.

You can adjust the size of the treats depending on the size of your dog, baking them a few minutes less or a few minutes more, as needed.  Bailey is still a pup, but you can tell she's going to be a big girl!

The next time you’re in the baking mood, whip up a quick batch of healthy homemade dog treats for your pooch! They'll love you (even more) for it! :)

Homemade Peanut Butter Doggie Treats

Recipe adapted from Whole Foods
Ingredients:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup vegetable broth (you could also use water or fat free milk)
1 large egg
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1/3 cup quick cooking oats (you could use whole oats as well)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, gently mix the peanut butter, broth, and egg together with a whisk to until there are no lumps. Add the flour, parsley, and baking powder. Turn the dough out onto the counter and use your hands to work in the flour. Mix in the oats. The dough will be thick and heavy.
  3. Roll the dough out into 1/4" thickness. Cut into shapes using a cookie cutter. 
  4. Place on the baking sheets and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom. Remove from the oven, and flip the treats to bake the other side for another 10 minutes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Homemade Granola Bars

I've been making a lot of granola lately, and I mean A LOT. It's the perfect breakfast or snack on the go. I just love it. 

I found a recipe for homemade granola bars on Pinterest and couldn't wait to try it. We've been buying these super delicious peanut butter and dark chocolate granola bars made by Nature Valley lately, and they are sooo good. After looking through a few different homemade granola recipes, I realized it was actually pretty easy. 

The best thing about granola is that you can literally add ANYTHING you want! Just look at this amazing  mix of oats, quinoa, almonds, sunflower seeds...

Don't like almonds? You could use walnuts, pecans, pistachios, or cashews. You can add in or leave out any ingredients to suit your taste buds. And of course, adding in some peanut butter would be amaaazing!

If you don't have all of the ingredients laying around...(maybe you don't hoard almonds, oats, quinoa, and chocolate chips like I do)...you could also just use a bag of your favorite trail mix and turn it into granola bars. SO EASY! :)

Homemade Granola Bars
Makes 12 bars
Ingredients:
3 cups old fashioned oats 
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
5 ounces dark chocolate

Instructions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Scatter the oats, quinoa, almonds, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds on a baking sheet. Toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once. 
  • Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper or foil. Make sure you have a piece that is long enough to hang over the sides. It will make it easier to lift the bars out of the pan.
  • While the granola is toasting, heat the coconut oil in a small saucepan on the stove. Add the brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • Bring it to a simmer over medium heat and stir to make sure the brown sugar dissolves.
  • Put the toasted granola in a large bowl. Pour the hot liquid over the oats and stir to coat evenly. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.
  • Fold the parchment or foil over the top of the granola in the pan and press down to fill the corners and flatten. Keep pressing and smooth the granola out so that it is even.
  • Let the granola bars set up in a cool dry place for at least an hour. You could also let them set up in the refrigerator.
  • Life the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice down the middle and then cut each half into 6 bars. Lay the bars on a clean piece of parchment or foil. 
  • Melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat. Use a spoon to drizzle the chocolate over the sliced bars. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mini Almond Joy Cheesecakes

I've been eyeing this recipe for quite some time now and I finally found the time to make it. You would think that I would be spending these last two snow days grading the bazillion papers I brought home...but NOPE, I'm baking instead. 
I absolutely loooove coconut and chocolate together. It's one of my favorite combinations.

My dad's birthday is this weekend, so I knew he would just love these. My parents are both huge fans of coconut in anything. And in case you didn't know already, my mother is where my sweet tooth comes from! She's the one person I can count on when I want to eat dessert for breakfast. No judgement, she just grabs a spoon and joins right in. :)


These mini Almond Joy Cheesecakes are the perfect version of the candy bar. The cheesecake on it’s own is super creamy, coco-nutty, and delicious, but the crust is where it's at! I love how you can see the little specks of coconut and almonds throughout. It is the most amazing crust and full of flavor. 


I tried to make these "skinny jeans approved" by using coconut oil instead of butter for the crust, reduced fat cream cheese, and I threw in some Greek yogurt for good measure. The result: super smooth, creamy, and amazing! I love the extra boost of flavor from the coconut oil. It has the perfect amount of sweetness from the toasted coconut and chocolate glaze. I also opted for the "mini" version...hey, it's all about portion control!  

If your significant other is a fan of chocolate and coconut, these would be perfect to serve on Valentine’s day! 

Mini Almond Joy Cheesecakes
Recipe adapted from The Curvy Carrot
Makes 6 mini cheesecakes
Ingredients:
Crust
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, toasted
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon sugar
4 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted

Filling
1 1/2 (8-ounce) packages reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup non fat, plain Greek yogurt (you could also use non fat, vanilla)
2 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, toasted
1/2 tablespoon coconut extract

Chocolate Glaze
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Crust
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers, almonds, and coconut until a crumb mixture. With the machine running, slowly add the melted coconut oil and pulse until it just starts to come together.
Divide the crumb mixture into your mini cheesecake pan then press evenly with the bottom of a glass to create an even crust. Bake crust in the oven for about 5 minutes and let cool.
Reduce oven to 325 degrees.

Filling
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, Greek yogurt, and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Add the coconut extract. Gently fold in the coconut with a spatula until well combined.
Transfer the filling to the cooled crust and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be slightly puffy and lightly browned. Remove cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely.

Glaze
Combine the chocolate chips, milk, and vanilla in a small microwaveable bowl. Microwave for about 15-20 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth. Pour glaze over the cheesecakes (which are still in the pan) and spread evenly. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and sliced almonds.

Refrigerate the cheesecakes for about 4 hours or overnight. Remove carefully and serve. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Red Velvet Pancakes

IT'S SNOWING IN GEORGIA.

So you know what that means...no school! :) It has been a pretty crazy 12 hours around here. Snow and ice covered the roads starting around noon yesterday. So many people have been stuck on the roads for 8+ hours, or even overnight! We are so thankful to be home and safe. 

Even Bailey loved her first time playing in the snow!

I love breakfast. I love pancakes. This morning was the perfect chance to try out these red velvet pancakes. I just love red velvet anything
These pancakes are soft and fluffy, with just the perfect amount of sweetness. I don't normally use a mix when making pancakes, but we had some left over so I didn't want it to go to waste. These are super easy to make and using the baking mix just takes out a few extra steps and ingredients. 

They are absolutely perfect with a dollop of cream cheese (you can't have red velvet without cream cheese!) and a drizzle of warm maple syrup. 


Looks like the perfect surprise for breakfast in bed on Valentine's Day! :)


Red Velvet Pancakes
Recipe adapted from Cooking Classy
Ingredients:
2 cups Bisquick mix
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon red food coloring

Directions:
In a mixing bowl, whisk together baking mix and cocoa powder, set aside. Measure out milk into a liquid measuring cup and whisk in vinegar, allow mixture to rest for 2 minutes. Pour milk mixture into a separate large mixing bowl and add in sugar, eggs, red food coloring, vanilla and melted butter. Whisk mixture until combined. While whisking, slowly add in your dry ingredients and combine. Do not over mix! 

Depending on how big you want your pancakes, pour about a 1/4 - 1/3 cup batter at a time onto hot griddle. Cook until bubbles begin to appear on the top surface of the pancakes then flip and cook opposite side until pancake is cooked through.

Serve warm with a dollop of cream cheese and a drizzle of maple syrup. :)