Category Archives: Dessert

Life Lately

Happy Friday! I hope you had a great week and are looking forward to a fun and relaxing weekend. I sure am! As always, there’s lots going on here so I thought I’d take a break from regularly scheduled recipe posting (who am I kidding? there’s no schedule) and catch you up on a few fun things:

1. Wedding Photos!

We got our wedding photos last weekend!! Looking through our photos for the first time and reliving our happiest day is something I’ll always remember. We recently got a new TV and somehow Robert figured out how to view the images on the big, fancy hi-def screen. So we got cozy on the couch and scrolled in total comfort and joy. Every time I look through them I find a new gem I hadn’t noticed before or discover another favorite. I plan to share more with you early next year, but for now a sneak peak at my current fave:

2. Pure Barre

A few weeks ago I found myself in a Pure Barre class. I was actually on my way to yoga and decided, on a whim, to try Pure Barre. I’m the least spontaneous person on the planet so I surprised even myself with this move. At first, I liked it. A few days later I went again and liked it more. By the third class I was falling in love. Pure Barre and I are officially dating. We see each other 3 to 4 times per week. It took me a few classes  to figure out how exactly to do the moves (and I’m still learning). For instance, when your leg lifts up behind you, you’re not actually moving your leg, but activating muscles deep in your glutes. Your leg is along for the ride. I love that it creates both a physical and mental challenge. You know how much I adore yoga, but I needed something new lately. The hour flies by and I can’t believe it’s over. I always leave class feeling great–in a way I haven’t experienced with any activity before. I feel like I worked my body really hard, but I’m totally energized, alert, and ready to tackle the rest of my day.

3. These Peppermint Cookie Brownies

Peppermint Cookie Brownies

There’s only one time of year when I think putting cookies IN brownies is a totally genius thing to do and fortunately that time is right now. WOW! Fantastic brownie recipe + crushed Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (find them at Trader Joe’s) = the most delicious brownie I’ve ever had. Plus, it only dirties one pot. That’s huge! Sometimes I avoid baking because I don’t want to deal with the dishes afterward (true story), but with this recipe there’s no excuse. I’ll probably be making another batch later today. Find the recipe at What’s Gaby Cooking. The only change I made is adding about 2 to 3 extra crushed cookies on the top before baking for a visual clue of what’s inside.

Orange Cranberry Bread

Orange Cranberry Bread ABalancedLifeCooks.com

Excuse me while I have a little love affair with carbs lately. I just can’t get enough. All I want to do is hang out in the kitchen and bake yummy confections all day. Good thing the season is upon us where that’s a totally normal and acceptable thing to do. And thank goodness for a husband who brings most of it to work so I don’t eat it all on my own.

This little number is pretty spectacular if I do say so myself. It’s a winterized version of my favorite lemon blueberry bread that I made all summer long. Except in place of lemon zest we’ve got orange zest and instead of summery blueberries there are tart and juicy cranberries. I’m always at a loss when it comes to updating my wardrobe for the seasons, but food? Food I can do.

Orange Cranberry Bread. ABalancedLifeCooks.com

As I bit into the first piece of this fluffy bread all I could think is how perfect it would be for Thanksgiving morning or Christmas morning when you’re still in your jammies. Although it tasted pretty darn great at 8pm on a Monday evening, too. Something this good can do no wrong.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I’m so thankful for you. Thank you for visiting this little ol’ blog post after post and thanks to the new readers who’ve started following along this year. Cooking and sharing my recipes with you is one of my favorite things in the whole world and I’m so grateful you’re along on this journey with me. There’s so much more goodness to come.

Cranberry Orange Bread. ABalancedLifeCooks.com

Orange Cranberry Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (8 oz) bag fresh cranberries
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a bowl, add flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine. Add cranberries and orange zest. Zest the orange directly over the bowl, if possible, to get the oils from the skin too.

With an electric mixer (stand mixer or handheld), cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the yogurt. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 55-65 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Let loaf cool slightly in the pan before inverting onto a cooling rack.

Adapted from PBS Food

*Note: In previous trials of this recipe I substituted 1 cup whole wheat flour for one of the cups of flour and it made the bread too dense and dry. It’s much better to stick with 2 cups all-purpose flour.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt CakeHoly moly, can you believe it’s Thanksgiving week? I’m not sure it’ll actually hit me until I’m sitting down to a plate filled with turkey and as many sides as I can manage to drench in gravy. This year, Robert and I are doing something a little different. We’re staying right here in our home in Chicago. As much as we’d love to be with our families in Kansas City (his) or Vermont (mine), we’re looking forward to four straight days of cozy and calm. We’re going to cook our very own feast (my first time cooking Thanksgiving and a whole turkey) and our friend Jenni will join us for Turkey Day.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

As we head into this holiday season, there’s something I should confess. Pie is great and all, but dessert isn’t truly dessert to me unless chocolate is involved. (I am my mother’s daughter through and through). If you’re sending out a virtual amen on the dessert-must-contain-chocolate point then this is a fantastic cake even the most die-hard pie fanatics will adore. It’s rich without being too decadent. It’s a perfect way to wrap up a perfectly satisfying meal as you head dreamily into your food-induced coma. Sweet dreams, indeed. Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt CakeChocolate Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Makes 1 Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 4 oz sour cream (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease or butter a bundt pan and set aside

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine

In a small bowl, mix together milk and sour cream.

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla. With the mixer speed on low, alternate between adding the flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 50-60 minutes, until tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and invert cake. Once cake has cooled, dust with powdered sugar.

Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Dark Chocolate Toffee Almonds

DSCN2891It’s Friday! We made it! I live for Fridays. Somehow, the time seems to stretch on a Friday afternoon and it feels like you can pack two days into one. Whenever possible, I try to wrap up my workday slightly earlier and run errands or take care of things around the house. Today I have a dentist appointment and I don’t even care because it’s Friday. Then we still have the whole evening ahead of us to do whatever we like. The. Best.

You know what else is the best? These dark chocolate toffee almonds. I recently received a lovely package filled with Blue Diamond Growers goodies. A.K.A. almonds galore. Among the raw, roasted, salted, wasabi & soy sauce, and even blueberry flavored almonds (SO GOOD) was a package of butter toffee almonds. So of course I had to sass them up even more ASAP.

All you have to do is melt some dark chocolate, immerse the almonds in a warm chocolatey bath, and then roll them around in some powdered sugar. Wait for them to cool and enjoy every moment of the sweet salty buttery crunch.

Of course since we’re combining almonds (hello, fiber and vitamin E) and dark chocolate (flavonoids!) this is practically a health food. Obviously. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll bring some to my dentist this afternoon. I’m sure he’ll totally get on board with that.

Dark chocolate toffee almonds. ABalancedLifeCooks.com

Dark Chocolate Toffee Almonds

Ingredients

Preparation

Dump the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 1 minute increments, stirring after each one, until melted. (About 2 to 2.5 minutes). In a separate bowl, add half the almonds. Pour enough chocolate on top to coat and use a spoon or spatula to coat all of the almonds completely. Pour in enough powdered sugar to coat, and mix until they’re covered. Using you hands, place each almond on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (It gets pretty messy.) Repeat with the remaining chocolate, almonds, and sugar. Place baking sheet in refrigerator or freezer for about 30 minutes until chocolate hardens.

 

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bark

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bark. ABalancedLifeCooks.comAs I write this (on Monday night), I’m sitting on the couch watching Parenthood on DVR and   nibbling away at some awesome chocolate bark. Even though we have two Target bags FILLED with candy (we thought we’d have Trick or Treaters last week….it was cold and rainy…no one came to the door…we have tons of candy…someone take it please…) I bypassed all the mini Snickers, Baby Ruths, and Skittles and went right for the bark. That’s saying a lot

With the holidays just weeks away (gasp…true story), this is the ideal thing to whip up when you want to make something festive but don’t have the time/energy/ingredients/desire to bake.

Here’s how simple it is: Melt a bag of chocolate chips in a glass bowl in the microwave. Add chopped almonds and coconut (or whatever add-ins you like…leftover chopped up chocolate Halloween candy would work well, too) and mix. Smear it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Stick it in the fridge or freezer for 30-60 minutes. Break up the bark into smaller pieces. Pat yourself on the back because this looks like it takes way more time than it does and if you put it out at a party it’s always the first very thing to go. Trust me, I have first-hand experience.

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bark. ABalancedLifeCooks.com

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bark

Ingredients

  • 1 (16 oz) package of chocolate chips such as milk, semi-sweet, or dark
  • 1/3 cup chopped almonds (I like to use lightly salted ones)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (the same ones used here)

Preparation

Dump chocolate chips into a glass bowl. Microwave in 1-2 minute intervals, stirring after each one, until chocolate is melted. (It takes about 4-6 minutes.) Add most of the almonds and coconut flakes to the melted chocolate, but reserve some of each for the topping. Pour melted chocolate mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Smear with a spatula as thick or as thin as you like it. Sprinkle remaining almonds and coconut flakes on top. Place baking sheet in the fridge or freezer for at least 30-60 minutes (longer is fine). Remove and break it up into pieces using your hands. Store in an air-tight container or bag at room temperature or in the freezer.

Chewy Molasses Crinkles

These cookies have such an incredible story I’m giddy with excitement to finally share them with you. The story begins several months ago, in May or June, when Robert’s former roommate, Dan, graduated from business school. Dan’s parents were in town from Kansas and his mom brought these homemade molasses crinkles. I stood at the kitchen counter working my way through the bag of cookies (classy, huh?) They were the softest, chewiest molasses cookies I’d ever had. Between mouthfuls of crumbs, I asked Dan’s mom for the recipe. Time passed and the cookies slipped my mind. (Now that I’ve had them again it’s impossible to believe how that could have possibly happened.)

Fast-forward a few months to early September and we’re in Kansas City celebrating Dan and his now-wife, Anna’s, wedding. About an hour before the wedding Dan comes down to greet his guests who are enjoying pre-ceremony cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. He spots me and, out of his tuxedo pocket, beneath his rose and wheat boutonniere, presents an envelope containing this recipe. His mom remembered I had asked for it and didn’t want to forget to give it to me. At her son’s wedding. So an hour before he was to say “I do,” Dan, the groom, delivered a hand-written index card with the recipe for molasses crinkle cookies.

But that’s not all.

After the ceremony I pulled the envelope out of my clutch to read what ingredients these magical cookies contained. At the top right corner of the recipe card I saw a note from Dan’s mom. The recipe was his grandmother’s. Grandma Eleanor. My heart leaped out of my chest. My grandma, whom I’ve mentioned countless times on this blog…the person I think about every single time I step into the kitchen….the woman I wish I could call to tell about my latest cooking endeavors because I know she’d be “tickled”…her name was Eleanor.

I was tickled.

Of course, I made the recipe as soon as I could. I made it twice in two days to be exact. I had to get it right. The thing is, I noticed the recipe contained a secret ingredient that lends the cookies their fluffy chewiness: Shortening…3/4 cup of it. I can’t really explain why, but I couldn’t bring myself to use shortening. I had to use butter. Because butter’s practically a health food, right? See, there’s no explaining my logic.

For the first batch of cookies I replaced the shortening with an equal amount of butter. Although buttery and delicious (you could see the butter melting into the hot cookies), they came out of the oven and quickly deflated into flat pancakes. These were not the pillowy cookies I remembered. After some Google searching I learned that unlike butter, shortening doesn’t contain water, which is why it makes food fluffy. Still, I was determined. So I tried again–this time with less butter. See the cookie below? That did the trick.

But this story may not be entirely over just yet. While there’s no doubt in my mind these cookies were chewy, ginger-y perfection I may be making another, different batch this weekend. When I relayed the story to my mom about Dan’s Grandma Eleanor’s molasses cookies she pulled out my Grandma Eleanor’s recipe for molasses cookies. Although it’s very similar (shortening and all) there are a few changes such as more molasses and different spices. So stay tuned, folks. My parents are headed to Chicago this weekend and you can bet there will be some hardcore cookie taste testing going down in this kitchen. After all, we’ll take any excuse to eat more cookies.

Dan’s Grandma Eleanor’s Molasses Crinkles

Ingredients

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup molasses

Preparation

Combine flour through ginger in a bowl and whisk to remove any lumps. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand-held electric mixer), cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix until combined. Add molasses and mix until combined. Add dry ingredients in three separate additions, mixing until combined after each one. Cover and chill dough in refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into balls and then roll in sugar. Place dough on cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes.

Blueberry-Honey Frozen Yogurt

Now you know all about last Saturday, a.k.a. the best night of my life. But I haven’t told you about Sunday yet. Well, Saturday night friends left our apartment around 1 or 2 a.m. (we invited our friends over after we all left the bar. In my blissed-out state it didn’t matter that we were still working our way through boxes and our place was still far from company-ready. Nope it didn’t matter at all!)  Sunday morning I woke up at 6 a.m. and stayed in bed. Robert finally woke up at 7:30 a.m. (ha!) and asked me what I’d been doing that whole time.

“Oh nothing. Just staring at my finger.”

True story.

And here’s how I spent the rest of the day:

  • Calling/video-chatting/surprising close friends and family with the news. One of my favorite conversations was with my PopPop in Ocean City, Maryland. I don’t call him often enough and I feel guilty about this. But I’m so happy I called him Sunday to tell him that Robert asked me to marry him. Hearing the joy in my PopPop’s voice was the best feeling and he kept telling me what a gentleman Robert is (even though he hasn’t met him yet) based on everything I and my parents have told him. I know my PopPop will love my future husband (!!!!) the moment they meet. In fact, they often remind me of each other so hearing my PopPop so happy for us made my heart swell even more.
  • Lounging on the couch and reading.
  • Walking to a nearby nail salon for a mani/pedi. (Had to. Duh.)
  • Making this blueberry frozen yogurt.

Here’s how Robert spent the rest of the day:

  • Assembling the dressers we bought at IKEA the day before. (And doing a mighty fine job, if I may add.)

Yep, I’m one lucky gal! I offered to help, I promise. I even held a box for about 16 seconds while he extracted some of the dresser parts. And I bought him a Chipotle burrito for lunch and chips and guac…which I mostly ate. But really, I was in such wonderful happiness overload and got to spend the entire day soaking it in.

The idea for this recipe comes from my friend Ali from Vermont who’s a wild woman in the kitchen–she’ll throw together any ingredients she has (often from her garden) and somehow it’s always amazing. She made a version of this recipe with blueberries and mint! I would’ve loved to try some mint, but it was best I didn’t get behind a wheel on Sunday to drive to the store so I used what I already had. Inspired by her boldness I decided to give it a whirl and it was delicious. It’s healthy, too–just plain nonfat Greek yogurt, blueberries, and honey. You could even eat it for breakfast (just ask Robert…)

Now, if you’ve made fro yo before then you know that while it’s awesome straight from the ice cream maker it can become a frozen brick in the freezer afterward. Ali said that adding a splash of vodka will help maintain the creaminess. I tried this and it was a slight improvement, but was still frozen pretty solid the next day. If you have any insight please let me know (Ali?) Not to worry–it softens easily in the microwave and still tastes great.

Robert said that I probably just need more vodka, which is what my martini-loving parents have been telling me for years. Yes, he’s going to fit in just fine : )

Blueberry-Honey Frozen Yogurt

Ingredients
1 cup fresh blueberries or 1.5 cups frozen blueberries, thawed
2 cups plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey
Splash vodka

Preparation
In a blender, combine blueberries, yogurt, honey, and vodka and blend until combined and almost all the black specks from the blueberry skins are gone. Add to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.