4.26.2013

I Hear...Wedding Bells?

.  That's right folks.  And guess what? 

They're for me!

Can you believe it?!  Because I can't. 


You may have noticed my subtle mention in my last post that I had some exciting news to fill you all in on from this past weekend in Colorado.  Well...'exciting' is probably a bit of an understatement.  Because from my perspective, I have some mind-blowing, absolutely life changing news...

I'm.  Getting.  Married!!


For those of you who know Robbie and I, you're probably saying 'it's about dang time!' [yes, we've been dating for 7 years!].  But we've always danced to our drum and never really rushed in to anything [except for maybe that house, cough].  So in our minds, this engagement happened exactly when it was supposed to.  And through the happy and outright black-hole times, Robbie and I have beaten the odds and come out on top.  And I'm fairly certain I can speak for us both when I say we've never been happier.

So how did it happen, you may be wondering?!


Well to get the story, you must check out the wedding website I set up for Robbie and I over at The Knot.  You'll see that we've only filled out the Our Proposal section but patience is a virtue my friend.  Just kidding, I must tell myself that all of the time.  But we'll gradually fill in the remaining sections over time!

And for those of you newly engaged, soon-to-be, or just because you love weddings, use The Knot.  I felt completely overwhelmed at the slightest thought of planning a wedding, but this website provides so much guidance with it's handy checklists, guest list manager, etc.  And as you'll see if you click on our link, you're able to set up your own personal website chronicling the whole engagement/wedding process!  And no, they aren't paying me to say that.


So stay tuned for more news about our special day! 

And be warned, 'wedding' is on my mind 24/7, so you'll more than likely read a lot about it on LSM.  Sorry, I can't help it!  .

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4.22.2013

Secret Recipe Club: Grasshopper Bars

.  Good day all!

I mentioned last week that Robbie and I made an ad hoc visit to Colorado this last weekend for all of about 24 hours and drove for 18 hours...but who's counting.  Nevertheless it was a lovely trip and I have some exciting news for you all that I can't wait to share.  But today...it's all about SRC!


This month I was assigned the cutesy blog The Freshmen Cooks.  And even though I felt like an old fart, I had a great time browsing through the vast array of savory and sweet recipes, some of my favorites including Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding, Four Cheese-Stuffed Shells, Creamy Stuffed Mushrooms, and S'more Cheesecake.

 But amongst these enticing recipes, my eyes fell upon one I just couldn't pass up.  So in my meager attempt to usher in the Spring-that-will-never-come, I baked me [and my co-workers] up some Grasshoppers Bars.


At first glance these bars looked rather familiar.  And then it hit me.  My mama-sita had made these before when I was growing up and I remember having an outright addiction to these bars.  But a fudgey brownie, creamy mint buttercream filling, and smooth chocolate topping is hard to pass up.  

But this recipe kind-a one-upped my mom's...sorry mom!  She can [and will] correct me if I'm wrong, but the version she so kindly made consisted of a boxed brownie and I think the filling/topping must have been a touch different as well.  But there ain't nuttin' but homemade lovin' from The Freshman Cook and I truly think you can taste the difference.

The Freshman Cook's brownie is one superb brownie.  Extremely chocolate and dense, just how I like 'em!  But that filling is what really knocked my socks off.  SO creamy and perfectly minty, I don't even know how to begin explaining it.  It's just....delish.  And when I say creamy, I mean really creamy.  As in spilling-over-the-sides-of-the-bar-when-you-cut-into-it-creamy.


As I mentioned before, I brought these bars into work and [not surprisingly] received an extremely favorable response.  And maybe it was because I hadn't brought in anything in a while, but it seemed like my co-workers really loved these because I'd hear mmmm's and these are good! every once in a while from their desks.  It's a sound I sure love to hear!

Thanks again, The Freshman Cooks, for a scrumptious recipe and one that I'll be making again and again!  Happy SRC, everyone!  .

Adapted from The Freshman Cooks
Ingredients:

Brownie:
3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
5 oz. quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. butter, cut into cubes
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Mint Buttercream Filling:
3/4 c. sugar
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. heavy whipping cream
3/4 c. butter, cut into cubes
2-1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
Green food coloring (optional)
Chocolate Glaze:
6 oz. quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. light corn syrup
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 325F.  Butter sides and bottom of a 13x9-inch pan-inch pan; set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and cocoa powder; set aside.
  2. For the brownies, in a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate and butter until smooth.  Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in sugar until completely combined.  Let cool to room temperature
  3. Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.  Add vanilla extract and stir until combined (do not overbeat the mixture or your brownies will turn out cakey).
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and gently fold the mixtures together until wet but there's a trace of the dry ingredients left.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and evenly spread the batter.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few loose crumbs (the brownies should be slightly underdone; trust me on this).  Let cool while making the filling.
  6. For the buttercream, in a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar and flour. Add heavy whipping cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally until mixture comes to a boil and has thickened (5 to 7 minutes).
  7. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.   Beat on high speed until cool.   Reduce speed to low and add the butter and mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until filling is light and fluffy.
  8. Add the peppermint extract and food coloring (to desired color) and mix until combined. If the filling is too soft, chill slightly in the refrigerator and then mix again until it is the proper consistency.  Evenly spread the filling over the cooled brownies and place in refrigerator for 45 minutes.
  9. For the chocolate glaze, in a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate, light corn syrup, and butter, and stir until completely smooth. Pour the mixture over the chilled mint layer and  spread in an even layer.  Place the pan back in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the glaze hardens.  Let bars stand for 15 minutes before cutting.
Yield: 2 dozen bars

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4.17.2013

Brownie Fantasy Bars

.  And the chaos continues.

I'm not really sure how it's happened but the next month or two of my life is jam packed with events, including babies, weddings, and a special baking opportunity I'll fill you in on later.


It's all very exciting but a touch overwhelming when you throw in the fact that I work 8-5 err'day.  And 99% of the time, work is on my mind anyway.  Boo.  But I can't complain, none of these upcoming things are obligations, so it should all be fun-filled...I hope.

But one thing I am uber excited about is the trip to Colorado Robbie and I will be making this weekend.  In our typical fashion, this trip was decided upon maybe last week and we're setting out for the beautiful mountains Friday after work.  Word has it [and the Weather Channel confirms] that Colorado is filled with massive amounts of snow, and though I'd like to get away from this winter-weather-in-spring climate, I can never get enough of the Colorado scenery.  So give it to me.


But before we head off, I figured one last treat was in order.  And this is one monstrous dessert, comparable to the mountain slopes I'll be hittin' in a few days.  And I'm fo reals...no joking here.  This is easily the thickest and most decadent bar I've made to date.  Brace yourselves.

Brownie Fantasy Bars are pretty much that.  One big fat fantasy of a baked goodie.  Not just one, but two batters are somewhat swirled together and absolutely stuffed with crunchy rice cereal, gooey marshmallows, rich semisweet and milk chocolate chips, chewy dates, decadent Oreo cookies, nutty walnuts, and a trio of baking chips topping.  


Whoa.

Now I know what you're thinking, how could all of those things really come together to make an unforgettable bar?  Well...how can they not?!

Trust my taste buds, which have sacrificed themselves for the better of the baking community and tested more cookies and bars than I care to even admit.  These are legit.  And you.  will.  love them.

Have a wonderful rest of the week my dearest readers, until Monday!  .

Adapted from A Passion for Baking

Ingredients:
Blondie Batter:
3/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
1-1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Brownie Batter:
1 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. all purpose flour
2 c. rice cereal
1 c. mini marshmallows
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. milk chocolate chips
1 scant c. chopped dates
2 c. chopped Oreo cookies
1 c. chopped walnuts

Topping:
1/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 c. butterscotch chips
1/4 c. white chocolate chips

Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 325°F.  Generously spray 13x9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. For the blondie batter, blend butter and brown sugar.  Mix in eggs and vanilla extract.  Fold in flour, baking powder, and salt to make a soft batter.  Set aside.
  3. For the brownie batter, combine butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and flour and mix well.  Fold in cereal, marshmallows, semisweet chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, dates, Oreos, and walnuts, using a large spatula or wooden spoon.
  4. Place the brownie batter into the prepared pan and use wet hand to spread the batter evenly.  Spoon the blondie batter over the brownie mix and spread evenly.  Using the handle of the spatula or a knife, marbleize the two batters by using up and down motions with the handle.
  5. Bake 45 minutes or until set and spots of the blondie batter seem set and slightly browned. Immediately sprinkle on the semisweet, butterscotch, and white chocolate chips and smear with a knife as chips melt.  Refrigerate two hours before cutting.
Yield: 2 dozen bars
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4.11.2013

My Long Easter Weekend plus Mrs. Wakefield's Chocolate Chip Cookies


.  Geesh, I feel like so much has gone on lately that I haven't been able to update you all on.  That is, if you care.

Let's see...where to begin?

How about Easter!?  I ended up taking a few days off during the week before Easter so I could head back to Minne.  I mentioned earlier that my parents are moving back to Seattle [to be closer to family, my mom got a new job, etc.], so this visit was a little more special than most.  And odds are it's the last time I made the drive through [boring] ol' Iowa and on up to Woodbury with an actual place to call my home.  So all in all, it was a bittersweet trip.


But ironically, it was one of my most favorite visits back home I've had in a while.  I headed into the long weekend with virtually no plans aside from hitting up the Mall of America [a.k.a. my heaven on Earth] and that was a great feeling in itself.  I started off the vacay with meeting up with my two very best friends in the entire world, Mel and Brit.

But it wasn't simply a trio, Brit just had her second daughter, Grace, in January, so this was my first encounter with the beautiful little babe.  And Brit's first, Nora, is basically my favorite little person ever and spending time with this group was easily the highlight of the week.  We did nothing but lounge around and catch up on each other's crazy busy [and very different] lives but I don't think any of us would have had it any other way.  Don't you just cherish those types of friendships?


And of course I brought along my own babies, Graham and Tilly, and let me tell you...Nora couldn't get enough of them.  Just like her favorite aunt [that would be me], she's a true animal lover and I think she probably walked Graham for four miles throughout the house while the 'grown up's' chatted.  And lucky you, I managed to snap an adorable video clip of Nora doing what she does best.


The rest of the week was laid back city.  The fam and I made a trip to the MOA, watched a lot of [March Madness] basketball games, and just enjoyed each others company.  Pretty nice, if I do say so myself.

Sadly, I had to leave back to Omaha on Easter so I didn't actually get to experience stuffing myself silly with holiday foods.  Sad day, huh?  But I did manage to contribute to the Easter spread by making my forever-favorite Hummingbird Cupcakes and decorated them like birds nests.  Supa cute, huh?!


So to go with my very family oriented, nostalgic trip back home, I felt like this classic chocolate chip cookie recipe was the perfect complement.  Not only are plain chocolate chip cookies [or PCCC as my comical Dad likes to call them] are my dad and Robbie's absolute favorite treat, but what person doesn't associate their family [particularly you mama's] with the smell of buttery PCCC's baking in the kitchen?  Because I know growing up, Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies were a staple in our house.

So why is this particular recipe my absolute favorite?  Well for one, it's buttery.  And uber chocolatey.  Oh, and includes a chewy center with ever so slightly crispy edges.  I'm basically describing the quintessential cookie, but you shouldn't be surprised because this recipe is a play off Mrs. Wakefield's Chocolate Chip Cookies.  And who doesn't go gaga for that homey Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the package?  But I do love the fact that I found this recipe in a cheap old book I bought from a used book store...who-da thunk?! 


I bet reminiscing about your childhood cookie favorites has your mouth watering by now, so hop on into the kitchen and whip yourself up some good ol' PCCC's.

Let's see if we can get that acronym to stick...  .


My Notes:
  • If you're looking for a little crunch in your cookies, add in 2 cups of chopped walnuts or pecans.  I omitted this ingredient when I made them but like usual, it's all your preference!



Ingredients:
2-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. plus 2 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 375°F.  Coat baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.  In a large bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, brown sugar, and sugar until blended and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until evenly incorporated.  Stir in the flour mixture, chocolate chips, nuts (if using), just until evenly incorporated.
  3. Drop dough onto prepared baking sheet by scant tablespoonfuls, spacing 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake 8 to 11 minutes or until golden brown all over and slightly darker at edges.  Remove baking sheet from oven and let stand for 1 to 2 minutes before removing cookies to wire rack to cool completely.  
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

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4.05.2013

Why I Support the AHA Omaha Heart Walk!

.  So...this post is a little different than normal.

No recipe, whatsoever.  Sowwy guys.  But I do think what I have to share with you all is worth the click.  You'll get what I mean as you read on.

This year I'm one of the team captains for the American Heart Association Heart Walk at my work, Union Pacific (UP).  This is my first year joining the team and I can't tell you how excited I am for it.  All I'm asking is that you take one click to my personal donation page where you can read about MY reason for supporting this truly life saving organization.


I'm by no means asking you to donate, but to just simply read my family's story.  And then, if it happens to pull at your heart strings [pun intended], then of course it would be wonderful if you could spare even $5 to show your support.  My story alone demonstrates that these donations really do save lives!  And what's even better is that my company matches every donation of $25 and above (e.g., donate $25, UP donates $25, and your donation magically becomes $50!)!!

And for those of you in Omaha who would like to actually participate in this walk, just select the Join My Team option [AERO is the employee resource group I represent], go through the registration, and I'll see you at 9:30 AM sharp on Saturday, May 11 And for you out-of-towners, you can also search for a nearby Heart Walk in your area!

If you're looking to donate, but for some reason are having a hard time navigating the page, please send me an e-mail at jesswaka@gmail.com and I'll be more than happy to help you out!  Thanks in advance for taking a moment to read this post and/or choosing to spend your hard earned dollars to support AHA!.


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