# seventh anniversary: caramelized rice krispies

Whew! Seven years. A lot has happened during that time, but I’m thankful to say there’s no itch — unless you count our mutual itch to get outta Wyoming.

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Our actual anniversary last month fell on a day when I was still reeling from a virus and drugged to the max, but it didn’t stop us. We made the most of it by once again trying to find the craziest burger in town. Last year we had burgers on doughnuts, and this year I found a veggie burger that used grilled cheese sandwiches (plural) for buns.

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It was decadent and fun and confusing and delicious. The brewery we visited also had homemade pretzel bites and Joe got to sample a few of their beers. Alas, they were all out of their peanut butter beer and I was too medicated to have any anyway.

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But, the best part of any anniversary is the dessert. I didn’t find any inspiration from our anniversary-year gift themes (cooper and wool), but did find incredible inspiration from a new cookbook my aunt had sent me the week before: Hello, My Name is Ice Cream.

One look at Blue Ribbon Chocolate with Peanut Butter Ribbon, Brownie Bites and Caramelized Rice Krispies and I was completely and utterly sold. Aren’t you?

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Lucky for me/you/us, you can make all of the mix-ins in advance and just assemble when you churn the ice cream. Perfect for any sickly wife trying to make it happen. First, a little layer of your extras…

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…until you have everything together. (With a little of everything left over to use as toppings.)

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It was pure magic. I always, always say this, but one of my favorite ice creams I’ve ever made.

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Here’s what it looks like on day three, when you scoop it right out of the container without any toppings.

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It was so full of flavor.

I’m a sucker for brownie bites in my ice cream, but these rice krispies stole the show. They are completely transformed by just a little sugar and salt. I couldn’t believe how easy they were to make and how much they added to the dish. They are like the world’s best ice cream croutons.

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Joe and I both agreed that we loved them more as toppings instead of folded into the ice cream. The longer they sit enveloped by the cream, the softer they become. They still taste good, but lose the edge of that crunch you covet. What’s awesome, is that you keep them in the freezer for a month, so they are ready whenever you need them.  And, believe me, you need them.

Bonus: Getting featured on the author’s What’s Your Flavor site!

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Caramelized Rice Krispies

Source: Hello, My Name is Ice Cream

1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbs. water
1 tsp. salt
3 1/4 c. Rice Krispies

Place the sugar, water and salt in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar crystals dissolve.

As soon as the bubbles slow down in the syrup and it reaches 240-degrees on a kitchen thermometer, remove it from heat and add the Rice Krispies all at once. Stir gently to coat with the syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring until the syrup around the cereal pieces begins to turn white and crystallize.

Pour the krispies out onto a sheet pan and spread gently with a spatula. Let cool enough to handle, about 2 minutes, and then gently start tossing them with your hands to break up any large clumps.

Allow them to cool completely, then gather them into an airtight container and store them in the freezer for up to one month.

# easter brunch 2017

I love whipping up a good holiday brunch for just me and Joe (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E, Exhibit F…), but having company is even better. Last week my mom and Mike were visiting over Easter and we were able to enjoy a lovely brunch with dishes from all my foodie faves: Ina, Ree and Joy. Instead of breaking out each dish in a separate post, you get the whole experience here. Let’s check out all the details:

I knew I had to upgrade last year’s Maleficent-looking napkin folds, so this year I tried out roses.

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There were nestled in everyone’s bowl, which helped them keep their shape. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make them.

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I’ve said this before, but when hosting big (or small) gatherings, make things 250% times easier by setting out all of the plates, silverware, serving dishes, glasses, etc the night before. Everything out and ready to go!

My mom and I made four dishes, which was plenty for us. Let’s start with the sweets, my favorites.

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My brunch table will always, ALWAYS have Reese’s Eggs. I don’t know why they taste better as eggs than cups (which are still good!), but these babies make Easter for me.

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This year we displayed them and our baked goods on a sweet floral tiered stand that Bobbie gave me for Christmas. I love it. So perfect for Easter!

On the bottom of the stand are the Barefoot Contessa’s Easy Sticky Buns, which were a hit.

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Very easy to make, and to devour.

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For our fruit option, we made the Pioneer Woman’s Champagne Oranges instead of a traditional fruit salad.

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I was surprised how much I loved them. The syrupy sauce packs quite a punch, and bonus: you can make it the night before!

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For the savory, we made Joy the Baker’s Spinach and Artichoke Strata from her new cookbook Over Easy.

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Egg dishes will never be my favorite, but I did love the flavors and crusty bread around the edges. Also the bonus that you prep it the night before and just throw it in the oven the next morning.

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By far the standout dish for all of us was the Barefoot Contessa’s Maple-Roasted Carrot Salad.

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The FLAVOR of this dish is incredible. I want to make this every week for dinner.

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It was the last thing to the table, so not easy to get a great shot of it, but it’s bursting with caramelized carrots, almonds, cheese and dried cranberries reconstituted in orange juice. Just ridiculous.

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Then we were ready to get to it!

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Thankful for the great company and help in the kitchen. Wishing we could spend all holidays with family!

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The recipes:

Barefoot Contessa’s Easy Sticky Buns

The Pioneer Woman’s Champagne Oranges

Barefoot Contessa’s Maple-Roasted Carrot Salad

And because Over Easy is hot off the press…

Spinach and Artichoke Strata

source: Over Easy

2 Tbs. unsalted butter (plus more for prepping dish)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed, excess liquid removed, and chopped
1 (15 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
8 c. sourdough bread cubes
2 c. grated Gruyere cheese
2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 Tbs. whole-grain mustard (I omitted)
8 large eggs
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Generously butter a 3-quart casserole dish and set aside.

In a medium skillet set over medium heat, combine the butter and oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the spinach and artichoke, stirring well to heat through.

Place one-third of the bread cubes in the prepared dish. Top with one-third of the spinach-artichoke mixture and one-third of the cheese. Repeat the layering, finishing with cheese.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, mustard (if using), eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour over the casserole, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, though overnight is best.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Let strata sit on counter for at least 20 minutes to remove some of the chill.

Bake until golden brown and cooked through–45-55 mintues. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Served best slightly warm or at room temperature.

 

# homemade lofthouse cookies

I’m pretty confident that the things I bake in my own kitchen taste better than the items withering away in plastic containers around grocery store bakery counters. All except Lofthouse Cookies.

What IS IT about these cookies? They are so soft and sugary — in a “this makes my teeth hurt, but I’m okay with it” kind of way.  They are also so full of weird crap. Not that these babies would be considered healthy without it, but, you know. Baby steps.

I’ve been on the Lofthouse Wagon since late high school, which is why I had a high-school-worthy freak out when I saw that a homemade version was included in Dessert for Two’s new Sweet & Simple cookbook! (If yesterday’s post didn’t convince you to nab it, perhaps this will!)

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Like the originals, these are pillow-like soft topped with a generous cloud of frosting and a more-generous handful of sprinkles.

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I think the most redeeming quality of Lofthouse cookies is the melt-in-your-mouth texture of both frosting and cookie. These did a good job of replicating that without all those weird-named chemicals Lofthouse has up its sleeve.

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There are tons of copycat recipes for these, but this one only makes six cookies and doesn’t require a stand mixer. Perfect for anyone battling wars on moderation and laziness. *cough*

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Any other Lofthouse Enthusiasts Addicts out there? Come out from the shadows!

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Homemade Lofthouse Cookies

source: Sweet & Simple 

Cookies:

3 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
4 Tbs. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt

Frosting:

5 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. heavy cream
Sprinkles (all of them)

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for about 10 seconds. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Next, add the egg yolk, heavy cream and vanilla. Beat until just combined.

Evenly sprinkle the flour, baking powder and salt over the batter and beat until just combined.

Press the dough into the bottom of the bowl and score it in half. From each half, you should get three balls of dough. Roll each dough ball and place on the baking sheet, flattening them slightly with your fingers.

Bake for 14-15 minutes. The tops will appear slightly dry. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Mix together frosting ingredients (minus sprinkles) using an electric mixer on medium-high speed. Frost the cookies once they are completely cool, and decorate with sprinkles.

# doughnut gooey butter cake

Joe’s performing in Cheyenne this week, so I’m going to take the quiet time to catch up on some posts from the last three months. So even though yesterday was Easter, we’re going to swing the holiday clock back all the way to Valentine’s Day so I can tell you about the cake that stole my heart.

But first…the pizza of my dreams.

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This last Christmas brought a beautiful Baking Steel into my life. I’ve wanted one since Chris and Chilali would host pizza parties at their house. This is the one I have, but check out their other offerings (like griddles!) too. The steel is heavy, but worth its weight in gold when it produces this in less than five minutes.

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Look at that bubbly crust! I used their 72-hour Dough recipe, which isn’t as labor intensive as it sounds and absolutely delicious. Here’s my dough ball after fermenting for three days.

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We topped this one with a Gorgonzola cream (melt 4 oz. Gorgonzola and 2 Tbs. heavy cream over low heat until melted and thick), caramelized Bosc pears and toasted walnuts. It was sublime!

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What could top that?

….

Cake.

Not just any cake, but a Doughnut Gooey Butter Cake.

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If you follow me on Instagram, you know I can’t shut up about Dessert for Two’s new cookbook Sweet & Simple. I love both of her cookbooks, but this one is the most-used book in my kitchen these days. The recipes are perfect, portion-controlled and delicious.

This cake is like my favorite childhood cake, which was called Chewy Pound Cake, but with a thick crusty lid that “shatters like the first bite of a glazed doughnut” and doesn’t use a cake mix. Signed, sealed, delivered, baby!

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This cake did not sit long on my counter, which is why I’m glad it only make an 8-inch square cake! This is how we Valentine around here.

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Doughnut Gooey Butter Cake

source: Sweet & Simple

Bottom Layer:

6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted (optional: try browning it first – YUM)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Top Layer:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
6 Tbs. brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar, plus extra for serving

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper so it hangs over edges on two sides. Lightly spray the exposed sides of the pan with cooking spray.

Bottom Layer: In a medium bowl, whisk melted butter and sugars. Add the eggs and salt. Whisk well to combine and then gently fold in the flour and baking powder. Scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and press flat with your hands.

Top Layer: Beat cream cheese and brown sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat until combined, then add the powdered sugar and beat until well mixed and smooth. Pour top layer over the bottom layer.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until center only has a slight jiggle. Don’t overbake it! Let cool completely, then refrigerate until firm enough to cut.

Optional: Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

# thanksgiving 2016

Three posts in one night! I’m on a roll. 🙂 Maybe I’ll be caught up on all the fall happenings before we reach 2017. …maybe.

Our Thanksgiving was a quiet affair — a manageable meal for the two of us with only our favorites gracing the table. Most of the recipes were new, with a few staples making repeat appearances. Everything was easy and almost everything we were able to make ahead. I did very little other than reheat on the day of — that’s the perfect Thanksgiving to me!

Here’s the rundown:

We started with a cheese plate: warm brie with honey and pomegranate seeds…

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…and a new favorite: Wensleydale Cheese with Cranberries. SO. GOOD.

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To drink, we had a festive apple cider sangria with apples, pears and more pomegranate seeds.

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Joe did a great job with his turkey….

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…while I handled sides like mashed sweet potatoes…

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…homemade green bean casserole with onion rings (YUM – a new favorite)…

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…and cornbread stuffing with vegetarian sage sausage.

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We also made some Rhodes rolls to pair with Joe’s favorite strawberry rhubarb spread and my favorite vegetarian gravy by The Grit (not pictured).

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I was trying to get a picture of our tabletop before we ate, but ended up needing to capture the little eager face waiting for us to sit down and dig in. Isn’t she precious?

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Desserts were pumpkin chocolate cheesecake bars (DELICIOUS) and a new recipe for pecan pie bars (I like these better).

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Here are all the recipe links!

Apple Cider Sangria — How Sweet Eats

Green Bean Casserole — Sally’s Baking Addiction

Cornbread Stuffing — Carlsbad Cravings

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars — What’s Gaby Cooking

Pecan Pie Bars — Sally’s Baking Addiction

# glazed orange scones

When my dad visited us in Utah, we made some pretty killer pumpkin scones. For his trip to Wyoming this fall, I asked if he wanted to up the scone game and he suggested trying a knock-off recipe of Panera’s orange scones.

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I’ve never had one from Panera, but he assured me that our take was pretty darn close and they were absolutely delicious. Orange for days.

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The key is the zest–put it in the batter and put it in the glaze. Everywhere you look should be little flecks of bright orange.

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The sour cream doesn’t hurt either!

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Another key to perfect scones: I’ve said it a million times, but you’ve gotta have cold ingredients. The liquid, the butter, the dry — I keep everything in the fridge until I need it.

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Once you start handling the batter, do so lightly and quickly. Scone batter is dry, don’t worry. You want just enough moisture to bring it together. (We had to add extra in this high altitude.)

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They were so delicious. Move over, Panera!

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Glazed Orange Scones

1/3 cup sugar
3 medium oranges (zest of two for batter, zest of one for glaze)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg

Glaze:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter; melted
1 cup confectioners’ sugar; sifted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine sugar and orange zest (from two oranges); mix with your fingertips until the sugar is moistened and fragrant. Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix until combined.

Grate butter into flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater; use your fingers to work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream and egg until smooth.

Using a fork, stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball. The dough will be sticky first, but as you press, the dough will come together.

Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles; place on prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and prepare the glaze.

In a medium bowl, prepare the glaze by mixing together the melted butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, orange zest (from one orange) and orange juice. Whisk until smooth. Dip the top of the scones into the glaze and allow the glaze to harden. At this point, you can leave them as is or go for the double dip. I glazed my scones twice.

# chocolate-peanut butter pretzel cake

Hellllloooo! I haven’t been in a blogging mood for a while, but I have still been documenting things we’re doing as if I someday will. Right now I’m watching my husband on ESPN as he stands in pouring rain, conducting his band at the San Diego Poinsettia Bowl. Poor guy. It was so nice when we were there three years ago.

But let’s talk cake. Specifically my birthday cake from S E P T E M B E R. For shame! But look how gorgeous it is! (Thanks in part to those beautiful flowers from my awesome friend, Amy!)

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Joy the Baker never, ever, ever lets me down. This cake is on the cover of her Homemade Decadence cookbook that I absolutely love. It has all of my favorites: peanut butter + chocolate + pretzels. The perfect salty sweet combination.

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At three layers tall, it was obviously waaaay too much cake for just the two of us, but go big or go home. (We didn’t eat it all, btw. My fitness app would want me to tell you that.)

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Because it took us so long to eat *about half* of it, the pretzels on the side became stale and mushy, so if you’d going to make this, eat it with a crowd and eat it fast. I did love how the frosting would push its way through the holes.

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Some people don’t like making their own birthday cake, but I really enjoy it. It’s always like a gift to myself.

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This cake, other than the pretzels getting stale, was near perfection–the peanut butter frosting being my favorite part {duh, just check out the ingredient list!}.

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A good choice for anyone who is a card-carrying member of the Peanut Butter + Chocolate club. Grab your Bavarian Inn cake toppers and get to it!

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Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pretzel Cake

source: Homemade Decadence

Chocolate Cake:

3 c. cake flour
3/4 c. unsweetened natural cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
2 c. buttermilk

Salted Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting:

2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. smooth all-natural peanut butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
6-7 c. confectioner’s sugar
3-4 Tbs. heavy cream

Toppings (optional):

mini pretzels
salted peanuts
chocolate chips

To make the cake:

Put oven racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat to 350-degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch round baking pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and instant espresso powder.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add half of the flour mixture, and beat until incorporated. Add the buttermilk in a slow stream and beat until thoroughly combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish stirring with a spatula. Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans.

Bake until golden brown on top and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes before inverting to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until softened, about 1 minute. Add the peanut butter, salt and vanilla and beat well. Add 2 cups of the confectioner’s sugar and beat until well combined.

Add another 2 cups of sugar along with 3 tablespoons of heavy cream. Add the remaining 2-3 cups of sugar and remaining cream and beat until it is your desired thickness. Beat on medium speed until the frosting is smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

To assemble:

When the cake is cooled, assemble layers with frosting and a handful of crushed pretzel pieces between each one. Then frost outside of cake. Top with mini pretzels, salted peanuts or chocolate shavings or chips.

# kentucky butter cake…at 7200 feet

Wyoming didn’t really feel like home until I was reunited with my stand mixer. Since we only seem to move in the summer, it’s convenient that I’m {insert air quotes} *forced* to try my hand at high- and higher-altitude baking for Joe’s July  birthday. First it was this coconut wonder at 4500 feet and, now, this beauty at 7200:

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Luckily Joe and I were able to be together for his birthday weekend thanks to a camp taking place at his new school. Hurray for small summer victories!

Speaking of victories…

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…this cake was everything.

And it couldn’t have been easier. You start by dumping every single ingredient in one bowl at the same time. Everyone in the pool!

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Then you mix…

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…and ta-daah! All you have to do after it bakes is drench it in a decadent butter sauce that will make you forget your first name. Extra glaze! {Next time I’m totally replacing the water in the glaze with bourbon. Who’s with me? It’ll just make it even more Kentucky.}

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It looks a little bare when you remove the cake from the pan, but that’s nothing a little sugar dust won’t fix. Ready…aim…

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*sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle* Make it rain!

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And you’re left with this perfection. See that butter glaze that’s seeped into the cake’s core? Gah!

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It wouldn’t be a birthday if these Bavarian Inn friends didn’t make an appearance. (They get around: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C…)

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Make a wish, my love. So happy to have another year and new adventures with you.

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Kentucky Butter Cake

Source: Cookies & Cups

Cake

1 cup butter, cubed and brought to room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk

Butter Glaze

⅓ cup butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water (or bourbon…just sayin’)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325°F

Grease a 10″ bundt pan with butter or shortening very liberally. Dust the pan with flour and set aside.

Place all the cake ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for 30 seconds and then increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 65-­75 minutes until a toothpick entered into the center comes out clean.

When the cake is done, make the glaze. Combine all ingredients into a small saucepan over medium­-low heat. Stir continuously until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Do not bring to a boil.

Poke holes all over the warm cake using a knife (or a chopstick) and pour the glaze evenly on the cake while still in the pan.

Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan and then invert the cake onto a serving plate. Make this cake a day in advance–it’s more m-word and flavorful when it rests overnight.

High-Altitude Adjustments for 7200 feet

Cut the amount of leavening in half (1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda); bake at 350° for 50 minutes

# sixth anniversary : easy candy bar tart

Remember me? I’m so behind thanks to work, packing, almost taking my entire knuckle off with a cheese grater and, oh yeah, sheer exhaustion. But I’m determined to catch you up on our trip to Florida, this blog’s third anniversary and all the other latest and greatest from Utah. Moving day is in less than two weeks, so let’s get crackin’….

Joe and I celebrated anniversary #6 two weeks ago with a day of fun and Utah-bucket-list check marks. It was a rainy, dreary day, but we piled in the car and headed to Utah’s most famous doughnut shop: Banbury Cross in SLC. By the time we got there the line was still out the door (in the rain), so we figured that was promising.

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I, of course, chose sprinkle…

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and Joe tried a chocolate cake with icing.

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They were fine–not as good as Daylight or Spudnuts, but that didn’t stop us from digging in! We shopped around some of our favorite places before checking out our main reason for driving 3-hours round trip: Chedda Burger.

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Joe had found the former food truck on Yelp. One look at their “Kill Me Softly” burger and he was sold.

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That would be a beef patty with bleu cheese, bacon, arugula and cranberry sauce on a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

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That’s Joe fainting..or his heart exploding…either one.

The best part was definitely the cheddar tots that Joe had with his burger. I could have eaten them all day, especially their cilantro chipotle dipping sauce.

I went for the “modest” Hipster: veggie patty, brie, roasted mushrooms, tomatoes, arugula and hummus. Wowza.

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Then, to top it off…or make matters worse, we split their Urban Camp Fire milkshake — ice cream, toasted marshmallow, fudge, peanut butter and graham crackers. It was also magical.

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But WAIT! THERE’S MORE! {food}

Sixth anniversaries are marked as either the candy anniversary by traditional standards and the wood anniversary by modern lists. I really wanted to use this to create a fun anniversary dinner at home for Joe. Candy I could do…but wood? I wracked my brain before Joe came up with the perfect solution: Risotto. What do you need to make risotto? A wooden spoon.

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So we stood over the stove to coax out those incredible starches together with that wooden spoon and a bottle of wine. Totally my love language.

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Joe paired his roasted sweet potato risotto with a steak, which was heavily guarded by Bella until it went on the fire.

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But, the dessert! I knew the “candy” theme would win, but I didn’t estimate by this much. I made Baked’s (those Brooklyn boys I love) Easy Candy Bar Tart — a no-bake miracle.

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Especially when paired with our sweet anniversary forks from the Z’s.

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The tart starts with a simple oreo cookie crust, but then you top it with homemade caramel mixed with slightly over-toasted walnuts. Get ’em as smoky as you can without burning them.

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Then topped with chocolate glaze…it truly lived up to their description of it as a “gigantic, chewy candy bar.”

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This would be a perfect don’t-you-dare-turn-the-oven-on summer dessert!

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Easy Candy Bar Tart

Source: Baked Elements

Chocolate Cookie Crust:

30 oreo cookies
1 Tbs. water
3 oz. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Caramel Walnut Filling:

1 c. sugar
1/3 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 oz. (5 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. fleur de sel
2 c. walnuts, toasted at 300-degrees for 12-15 minutes

Chocolate Glaze:

4 oz. good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 oz. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and softened
1 tsp. light corn syrup

Toast walnuts and set aside to cool. Lightly coat a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

In a food processor, pulse the cookies into a very fine powder. You should have about 1 1/2 cups. Place the crumbs in a medium bowl and stir in sugar. Pour the butter over the crumb mixture and mix until well combined. It should feel wet.

Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and press into the bottom and up the sides using a large measuring cup. Put it in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

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In a medium saucepan with high sides, combine the sugar and 1/4 c. water. Stir the mixture gently so you don’t splash any on the sides of the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high, and, without stirring, allow the mixture to boil. Once it begins to turn a rich amber color, remove it from the heat and slowly stream in cream.

After the mixture stops bubbling, return the pan to very low heat and whisk in the butter. Continue whisking gently until the caramel is uniform and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and fleur de sel.

Remove pan from heat and stir in walnuts. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and chill for at least an hour.

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Place chocolate, butter and corn syrup in the bowl of a double boiler over medium heat. Using a rubber spatula, stir the mixture until everything is combined and smooth. Remove the bowl from the water and stir to release excess heat.

Pour the glaze over the tar and use an offset spatula to smooth to edges. Refrigerate for 1 hour to set glaze before slicing and serving. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. (Or share with friends, like we did, and you’ll have no leftovers. Just really happy friends.)

# blue apron trial

Since 99.5% of my posts these days are about what I’m cooking or baking, I’m guessing it’s not a surprise to anyone that it’s one of my favorite hobbies. I love to plan menus, I love to cook for friends, I love to bake for Joe. I just love food.

A few of my friends–some of whom do not love cooking or planning meals–have told me about Blue Apron, which delivers fresh ingredients right to your door. It promotes less food waste (though the recyclable packaging was no joke out of control) and I can see how people who aren’t as familiar in the kitchen, or just hate to shop, would love it.

My friend sent me a free week’s trial to see what it’s like. Once you create an account, you can choose which plan is for you (2 people for 3 meals, 4 people for 2 meals), then you can input your dietary restrictions/preferences and choose your meals from the six available options for that week. Three of those were vegetarian, so we didn’t have much of a choice!

Here are the recipes we received (click name to see recipe):

Falafel Pitas & Tzatziki
Fresh Fettuccine Pasta with Porcini Mushroom Bolognese
Asparagus & Arugula Pesto Pizza with Pink Lemon Ricotta

Sounds good, right?

The shipment contained recipe cards for each meal with step-by-step instructions along with the ingredients, clearly packaged.

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Let’s go through the three meals (which did last us a full week).

First up: Falafel

I personally love falafel, so I found myself most excited to try this, but it was probably my least favorite of the three. Too oily.

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I did enjoy the pea shoot salad, which I don’t think I’ve ever tasted before. It almost tasted like fresh grass–which sounds weird, but it was like a vibrant bite of first spring.

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Downside: Some of the ingredients didn’t arrive so fresh. This Persian cucumber had seen much better days and, in fact, its sorry state was the only reason we chose to make this one first. I didn’t trust it sitting in the fridge for a few more days.

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Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (Bonus: It wasn’t too spicy for Joe.)

Next was the mushroom pasta.

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I had read some complaints on the Blue Apron site about the lack of recipes that avoid mushrooms or kale. I guess they are the go-to ingredients for the vegetarian options. I was a little weary of this because Joe isn’t thrilled about mushrooms, but I just chopped them to death so he wouldn’t have to chew them much.

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Hands down, this was my favorite. The depth of flavor coming from those re-hydrated porcini mushrooms was unreal, as was the fresh pasta.

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I would definitely make this one again with my own ingredients–which is always an option since the full recipes are online, or I can just use my trusty card.

Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars (Joe wasn’t as crazy, but still ate it.)

The pizza…hahaha…oh, the pizza.

I’m not sure what made me think leaving a yeast-based dough in the fridge until the very end of the week was a good idea. That dough just kept rising and rising and by the time I noticed it, it was a full-blown WE-MUST-MAKE-THIS-TONIGHT panic. I wish I had taken a photo, but the plastic bag it came in was stretched to the absolute max. I think because of this, or maybe because of the altitude, the dough wouldn’t stretch. No matter how much rest time I gave it, it wasn’t budging…so here’s our ridiculous pizza attempt:

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It was like a pizza dough bowl with cheese and vegetables in the middle. (And because I like my cheese on top of my toppings–big debate!–you can’t really see anything but the cheese.) I did like dotting my pizza with the pesto and ricotta, and we added some tomatoes.

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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A definite pro of this service is being introduced to new ingredients. I had never heard of pink lemons and they even sent a separate card explaining the foreign ingredient. Pretty cool.

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The final verdict:

Cons:

  • It’s expensive to me. I know I can cook for us for way less than what this costs per week.
  • As a vegetarian, you don’t have much choice in your menu and might encounter ingredients you aren’t thrilled with without a way to change, other than skipping the week.
  • Some ingredients arrive in questionable condition

Pros:

  • I can see this as a nice service for those who don’t know how or like to cook very much. It’s (mostly) fool proof.
  • I liked being introduced to new recipes and ingredients. It was a nice break from the same recipes we make all the time.
  • Recipes are (mostly) healthy
  • Less food waste and all of the shipping containers are recyclable.

Would I use it again? Maybe. I’ve cancelled my service for now, though. Have you used it?