It’s funny to me how much a baking (or even cooking) idea can evolve over the course of one evening’s culinary adventures. Last night, for example, I wanted cake. I didn’t want a chocolate cake though, so after some perusing of recipes I decided to go with an old standby of mine, a recipe for vanilla cupcakes that I would just pour into cake pans instead of a cupcake pan.

The cupcakes recipe calls for the zest of one lemon, which I have always ignored. I’m not a fan of lemon in my desserts or baked goods, so I always just left it out. Last night, though, I noticed that there was a large, partially zested orange in the fridge so I figured, what the hey, might as well try it out. So I tossed the rest of the orange zest into the vanilla (cup)cake batter.

Putting the orange flavor into the cake batter got me thinking about what I would do with the frosting. Up until this point I was entirely undecided about what kind of frosting I would put on my cake–again, knowing that I wasn’t in the mood for chocolate. It wasn’t long before I remembered an old favorite: cream cheese frosting! But, why do a plain cream cheese frosting? Heck, I had some orange extract and almond extract lying around… thus, an orange-vanilla cake with orange-almond cream cheese frosting was born.

And, my friends, was it ever DELICIOUS. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, I put the recipe below, adapted from my old vanilla cupcakes standby recipe and a recipe for cream cheese frosting I found on AllRecipes.

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1/2 cup (one stick) butter, room temp
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 lg eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest of one medium to large orange
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk

For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (one stick) butter, room temp
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temp
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • Orange extract to taste
  • Almond extract to taste

 

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F.
  2. In a bowl (or in your stand mixer if you are so blessed), beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla extract and orange zest.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.
  4. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk, mixing well after each addition, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between two 8-inch cake pans (or one larger rectangular cake pan, whatever cranks your tractor). Bake for about 20 min or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the pan comes out clean.

For the Frosting

  1. Beat together the butter and cream cheese until well-mixed.
  2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until creamy. This may take a few minutes – just be patient and watch for that wonderful soft frosting texture.
  3. Add the orange and almond extracts in VERY SMALL INCREMENTSS and beat to combine until you have your desired taste. I really cannot give you exact measurements for this, because it is not an exact science at all. I just added each extract, tiny bit by tiny bit, until the frosting started out with an almond-y taste that faded into a lovely orange taste. You may want yours more orangey. Just experiment until it tastes right to you!
  4. Wait until your cakes are completely cooled, then frost.
  5. Enjoy!

So, the other night I was wanting cookies.

But not any old cookies.

No, I wanted something different. I knew I wanted something chocolatey, but to be perfectly honest I’ve grown kind of bored with my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. So, I went straying. I skulked down darkened alleyways and wandered into the brothels of the Internet until, at last, I fell upon this most appealing lady of the night: the all-chocolate cookie.

I linked the original recipe above, but of course I altered it. Not only did I not see the point in using unsalted butter then adding salt separately, but I know the way I like my cookies—dense and chewy—and I know how to get them that way. Plus, I had a bag of butterscotch chips sitting in the freezer calling my name, so I cut back on the regular chocolate chips to make room for those butterscotch beauties. My altered (and, obviously, improved) recipe is below.

Double Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies

  • ½ cup (or one stick) butter, room temp
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup regular sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup butterscotch chips

1. With a hand mixer or in a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars together until it’s all happy. Beat in the egg and vanilla until they, too, are happy.

2. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour and baking soda (or, you know, dump them all in a bowl and mix them with a whisk or a fork until it looks good enough) and mix it gradually into the butter-sugar-egg-vanilla until it looks all… you know… batter-ish.

3. Now, the original recipe says to fold in the chips. But if you’re like me, you just toss the chips into the bowl of the stand mixer and let the paddle have its way with them. (Wow, that sounds dirty.) Whichever way you prefer, have at it until the chips are fully incorporated.

4. Plop some chunks of dough on a baking sheet, about 9 to 12 per sheet (depending on how big you like your cookies – I’m a nine-per-sheet girl meself) and stick ‘em in the oven for about ten minutes. After, take ‘em out, let ‘em cool on the sheet for a few minutes then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. (Or transfer them straight to your mouth as a warm, gooey treat. Y’know. Whatever works.)

Et voila… chocolatey, butterscotchy goodness!

Now, I did do one batch of all chocolate chips in the cookies. The chips themselves are more of a subjective science – just add as few or as many as you like in your cookies. I added the cup of chocolate chips, parceled out my first batch, then added a little less than half a cup of butterscotch chips to make up for the diminished amount of dough. But assuming you’re just going to make all cookies with both kinds of chips, go with the measurements above. More or less.

Enjoy!

If you’re a coffee lover at all, then Ree the Pioneer Woman’s Coffee Cake Literally will be right up your alley. With intense coffee flavor in both the cake and the frosting, it is a java-induced cakegasm just waiting to happen.

Ree’s original recipe yields a superdense, borderline brownie-like cake. I enjoyed it the first time I made it (although I think mine was even more dense than Ree’s for some reason I haven’t yet figured out), but this time I thought I might try substituting cake flour in for the all-purpose flour the original recipe says to use. The all-purpose flour to cake flour conversion is one cup and two tablespoons of cake flour for every cup of all-purpose flour, so for this recipe I ended up using two cups and four tablespoons cake flour. The cakes turned out thusly:

Still pretty dense if you compare them to your average cake recipe, but a lot fluffier than when I used all-purpose flour. I also had to keep them in the oven for a bit longer than the original recipe calls for, so if you’re going to use cake flour I would just be sure to do the toothpick test before proclaiming them done.

The frosting part of the recipe I didn’t modify at all, because really, how does it get more perfect than coffee-flavored buttercream?!

And at last, the finished cake. It was dense but not too dense, moist, flavorful and all around absolutely delicious. I always used to think that using “special flour” versus all-purpose was just a waste of time (and money), but I am now a believer. In my opinion, cake flour turned this already fantastic recipe into sheer coffee-flavored perfection.

Again, for the original recipe, please visit the wonderful Pioneer Woman’s website. Just remember: instead of two cups all-purpose flour, use two cups and four tablespoons cake flour for a cakier cake!

To anyone who is a diehard kitchen connoiseur or dessert fanatic, this recipe will probably seem like the height of heresy. But for those of us who like our cooking quick, easy and delicious, this microwave fudge recipe I got from a Kitchen Keepsakes cookbook is just the thing.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. powdered sugar (easiest to just go buy a pound bag of the stuff)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, different flavored chips, M&Ms or whatever else makes your skirt fly up, assuming you want anything in your fudge but fudge!

Directions

  1. Blend sugar and cocoa in a big (but not too big for your microwave) bowl.
  2. Add milk and butter. DO NOT STIR. I repeat: DO NOT STIR. Do you copy?
  3. Microwave on High for 2 minutes, then stir, and stir well.
  4. Add vanilla and your “extras,” if you’re using them. Stir until it’s all mixed and happy.
  5. Pour into a buttered 8″ x 8″ dish.
  6. Refrigerate until set.
  7. Eat and ENJOY!

I really do love this recipe. It is SO fast – I mean we’re talking twenty minutes tops, and that’s only if you have to melt the butter down from a frozen state. Ahem, not like I would know from experience or anything. And for something so ridiculously fast and simple, it is nirvana-inducing deliciousness. It is the perfect recipe if you’re pressed for time but need to whip something up for a holiday party or other such gathering.

This recipe is based off of a recipe that I found online a while ago and have simplified even further to make it about the easiest chocolate chip cookie recipe you could ever come across. The original recipe (not mine, by the way – I altered someone else’s recipe and cannot/will not take credit for the original!) can be found here, which includes a handy serving size calculator. Since the original recipe makes four freakin’ dozen cookies, that calculator comes in very handy when you’re only making them for, say, yourself and your mother. *cough* Not that I would know that firsthand or anything.

On with the show!

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups (or 3 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups regular sugar (whatever “regular” is to you – the white processed stuff, sugar substitute, organic cane sugar, etc)
  • 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (or M&Ms, or any other flavor chip, or mini PB cups – whatever strikes your fancy)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, if you’re the kind of crazy person who likes nutty cookies. Ya nut.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Or don’t. It doesn’t really matter in the end. I promise you – I’ve done this recipe both sifting and not sifting, and the cookies came out exactly the same. So feel free to skip this step if, like me, you’re loathe to dirty up another dish.
  3. In a big bowl, cream together the butter and both kinds of sugar. Try not to eat all of this mixture, as it is ridiculously delicious.
  4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until it’s all happy-happy.
  5. Gradually stir in the flour mixture. Try not to coat your entire kitchen in flour.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips/whatever goodies you decide to use. Use more or less than two cups depending on your preference. Honestly, I usually just end up throwing in chocolate chips by the handful until it looks like enough. I like my cookies VERY chocolate-chippy.
  7. Bake  on ungreased cookie sheets for 10 to 14 minutes or until edges are light brown. (12 plops of dough to a sheet for smaller cookies; 9 for bigger cookies.) Ten minutes will get you lovely chewy cookies, and fourteen will get you slightly crispier cookies. My trick for perfectly chewy cookies: bake for ten minutes, then check to see if the edges and the “points” of the cookie (where the dough is not totally smooth) are juuuuust starting to turn brown. If they are, take ‘em out. They will look underdone when you take them out but trust me, give them a few minutes to cool on the baking sheet and they will be P-E-R-F-E-C-T-I-O-N.

Do remember: cookies are not a perfectionist art. Once you get comfortable with the recipe, you really can do most of this just by eyeballing the amounts. Your cookies will not be ruined if you add a little too much vanilla, or forget the baking powder entirely. (There again, not like I would know from experience or anything. Ahem.) So just have fun! And try not to stuff yourself on too much cookie dough.

Oh, and one extra special tip: want to make these BACON chocolate chip cookies? Add about 3/4 to 1 cup (or MORE if you really really really like bacon) real bacon bits – not the crunchy salad topping – or fried, crumbled bacon to the batter when you mix in the chocolate chips and these cookies will turn into sweet/salty/savory perfection.

For many of us, summer has given way to autumn (although I hear many of you down there in California are still sweating, yikes!). For me at least, autumn = APPLES! Amazingly, given my love for all things apple, I had never eaten nor tried creating baked apples before today. A small blip in Better Homes and Gardens magazine put the idea in my head and it sounded so ridiculously easy, I had to give it a shot. Especially since I have a big ol’ bag of delicious, ripe, crisp Fuji apples in my fridge just begging for attention. No surprise–it WAS ridicuously easy. It’s almost more ridiculously easy than throwing together a Crock Pot hodgepodge meal, with the added bonus of getting to lick brown sugar off my fingers afterward.

Ingredients:

  • Apples. I used Fuji; you can use whatever you like or have on hand. Or Google “best apples for baking.” Whatever makes your skirt fly up. Amount should be one per person if you know exactly how many people you’re cooking for.
  • Brown sugar
  • Chopped nuts/dried fruit/raisins/whatever you think sounds good stuffed inside a baked apple. I think my next experiment will be with various kinds of chocolate chips and grated/cubed cheddar cheese. Although probably not at the same time.
  • Butter, preferably softened enough to where you can easily get a knife through it.

Directions

Core the apples, either with a corer if you have one or just by slicing/scooping the core out with a knife. Leave a little bit of the core down in the bottom so that your filling doesn’t go everywhere during baking. Then, start stuffing! I started with a little brown sugar, then nuts/dried cherries in layers, then topped off with a nice cap of more brown sugar. On top of that I put just a tiny slice of butter, juuuust enough to help flavor/texturize the mixture as it bakes down. Place your apples into a baking dish, then pop into a 350-degree oven for forty minutes.

Et voila! Baked apples. Ridiculously easy and insanely delicious, the perfect easy fall treat for those of us too intimidated by (or too busy for) making pies.

One of my favorite things to mess around with in the kitchen is marinades for meat and vegetables. My mother, formerly a “grab a bottle of marinade from the grocery store” kind of person, has recently seen the light and together we came up with this gem of a recipe. Keeping with the theme, naturally, of pretty much no measurements at all.

Note: I used this marinade with boneless skinless chicken breasts. Theoretically it could probably be used on any kind of meat – or tofu if that’s your protein source of choice – although I’m not sure how well it would go over on beef. It would probably be pretty good on something like pork chops though.

Ingredients:

4 “glugs” apple juice

15 “shakes” soy sauce

8 “shakes” sesame oil

2 small spoonfuls minced garlic

Directions:

Combine in a Ziploc baggie or in a container and let your meat soak for a few hours or overnight. After that, do whatever floats your boat! Since I used chicken breasts, I ended up cubing them and combining it with a box of Rice-A-Roni, but you could also:

  • Keep the breasts whole and grill them with veggies
  • Bake them, again with veggies and maybe some rice or couscous on the side
  • Cube them and make kabobs
  • Slice them into a stir fry
  • Grill and make into chicken burgers with green cabbage instead of lettuce and maybe an Asian salad dressing instead of regular condiments
  • Slice or cube and put into the Pioneer Woman’s Asian Noodle Salad

The meat does end up with a very distinct Asian flavor because of the soy sauce and sesame oil, so keep that in mind when making this marinade. It is definitely a good recipe to try when you’re doing “Chinese take-out at home” night.

Oh, and if you don’t have sesame oil and are wondering where the heck you would get some, try your grocery store’s Asian foods aisle. Just about any decent grocery store will have it; heck, my local Winco has it! So good luck, and enjoy!

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