Valentine’s Day

Lip Balms

Valentine’s Day is officially one week away folks! So let’s gets our lips soft and ready with some homemade lip balm. You’ve ever got two different options to choose from! The bases for both are the same but with slightly different additions so if you have a flavor idea to build upon these, go for it!

But first you need a couple of things. I bought my beeswax, shea butter and peppermint essential oil from Whole Foods, however the beeswax was in a solid pound block that I had to struggle with to cut. But I’ve been told you can find beeswax and oil-based candy flavorings at craft stores, which is where I buy my colored candy melts. Also, I used mini plastic bead containers from Joann Fabrics for the peppermint lip balm and and 0.25 oz. mini glass jars from Freund Container & Supply for the honey lip balm. But you can really use anything you want that is lip-balm sized. Ready?

The first bath I made was the peppermint and it reminded me a lot of Burt’s Bees lip balm. If that doesn’t convince you to make this lip balm I am not sure what will. And it was so easy to make, I immediately set out to start another batch!

The second batch was a honey lip balm with some pink candy melts mixed in for a little festive coloring. Unfortunately, the pink candy melts didn’t add hardly any color, so next time I would use red instead. But it did add a hint of sweetness along with the honey, which was quite lovely. But don’t try to east it because it will definitely still taste like beeswax, haha.

One year ago: Whole Wheat Blueberry Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Two years ago: Velveeta Chicken & Veggie Mac

Lip Balm 1

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Red Velvet Rice Krispie Treats

Tomorrow I meet with my graduate committee to determine my fate for the remainder of the school year and hopefully the last of my graduate career. Which means I will be preparing bribe-worthy treats tonight and ordering up lots of coffee in the morning to keep them happy. But for now, enjoy this other equally bribe-worthy treat.

Every year for a labmate’s birthday I come up with a different red velvet creation. The lab as a whole loves my red velvet cake, but I don’t want to make the same thing every time so I find new variations. With my excess of stress in preparation for my presentation to the committee and writing a research paper to be published, I decided to go for something a little easier to make without sacrificing taste. And these red velvet rice krispie treats taste just like red velvet. But what is red velvet without cream cheese frosting? It is the most important part!

Two years ago: Leftover Turkey Tetrazzini
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Flower Bouquet Cake Pops

I know I don’t talk about my personal life in much detail on here, and more so lately than usual (mostly because I have no life other than working 13 hrs a day at lab). But today I am sharing something about my mom, which is the reason I made cake pops in the shape of flowers to form an edible bouquet. Yes I do realize it is Pi day and being the nerd that I am, contemplated changing today’s post to a pie but I don’t think anyone will argue that my mother is more important than any pie in the world.

1985 – Mom, brother & me

Let’s begin with the year 2002. I was a senior in high school and my mom moved from upstate NY to live with family in Maryland (why she moved there is an entirely different story that I’m not getting into today). Shortly after, she was diagnosed with not one but two aneurysms in her brain, one located behind each eye, and they were not small (golf ball-sized). Her neurosurgeon attempted to put a stint in for the one behind her right eye but it was not successful and therefore moved on to the next option – a craniotomy. Unfortunately in the process her optic nerve was cut for that eye and obviously resulted in the termination of vision through that eye. As far as I know none of the family was aware that this was going to be a possibility. I was none too pleased because having the terrible vision that I do, I am very conscious of the ability to see. And upset because not only were we unaware that this may happen, but it did happen and there was nothing to do about it.

Naturally, my mom feared losing sight in her remaining left eye and did not want to pursue a second craniotomy for the other aneurysm. I can’t say that I blame her but it was always in the back of my mind, “What if it decides to rupture? Would I rather have a blind mom than none at all?”. But the decision was hers not mine (thankfully). So she continued to live her life, got remarried, moved to Delaware and is the happiest I have seen her in a long time.

Then last year, I got a message from my aunt (in MD) saying my mother was being helicoptered to the hospital – no more details given. WHAT!?!?!!? Commence ultimate freak out. Later I was told she had been bumping into things and saying things which did not make sense so they thought her aneurysm was acting up. For the next couple of days, my mom sat in pre-op, not being able to eat anything because she was told she would go into surgery in the morning after they ran tests, but then never having the surgery the next day, or the next. Meanwhile, I was preparing for a seminar I had to present on my research and was juggling whether I needed to jump into my car and haul the 15 hours to be there for her surgery. If my mom was going to lose her vision completely I wanted her to see me one more time. The fact the hospital was being so wishy-washy whether or not they were going to perform surgery was most frustrating. In the end, they decided her aneurysm was stable and that she was just suffering side effects from dehydration (she and my step-father as been battling a cold of some sort). Yup, all that drama just to find out she needed a glass of water.

I wish I could say that was the end of it all. But unfortunately over the next year she started to notice the occasional symptom (headache, cheek numbness, blurred vision) but it would fade away and she’d let it go. One day she confessed to me that these symptoms were becoming more persistent and severe. (Guess a glass of water wasn’t the solution after all.) After an MRI last week it has been decided that surgery needs to be performed. The aneurysm is growing and the size of it categorized her as an emergency – life or death. Which started my frantic scanning of flight prices which were not economically friendly. After talking with her, since this surgery is “just” for a stint, I am holding off on the last-minute travel for now. If for some reason the stint doesn’t work on this one either (crosses fingers and every body part possible), then I will fork over whatever it costs to be there. That’s assuming she even goes through with another craniotomy, because from talking to her she has no intention of doing so.

Unfortunately my older brother is also unable to be there because my sister-in-law is full term and due any day now with their first child (YAY!). But our step-dad, aunt (her sister) and uncle will be there. Mom goes in for pre-op at 8 am EST and will go into surgery around 10 am (and I will be tethered to my cell phone all day). I called her yesterday and she was scared but is in good spirits. (I know the feeling. In early high school I had surgery on my left eye to correct the strabisthmus and I cried while waiting to go into the operating room.) She did mention that her headaches have intensified and cannot wait for it to be over. We all hope that the stint relieves her pain swiftly.

Little does she know what is crawling to her doorstep at this very moment. I cannot wait for my package containing these flower bouquet cake pops to reach her today, she will be so excited! I know she will want to show them off to all of her friends too because that’s what mothers do.

/

I LOVE YOU MOM! Be strong. I wish I could be with you today like you have been for me. And even though you don’t have the internet to see this post, you get the better end of the deal – the cake pops!

(Please excuse any poor grammar or lack of fluidity in this post. I can’t proof-read emotions haha.)

One year ago: Cookies and Cream Peanut Butter Pie

FLOWER BOUQUET CAKE POPS

Makes 45-50

Ingredients:

1 box chocolate fudge cake mix*, plus ingredients

1-16 oz. tub chocolate frosting *

Pop sticks

Colored chocolate candy melts (such as these)

White chocolate M&M’s

*or whatever flavor variety you prefer

Directions:

  1. Prepare cake as directed for a 13 x 9 inch cake.
  2. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl. Mix thoroughly with frosting. Form into two large balls.
  3. On a lightly greased surface (I like to use a pastry mat) use a rolling pin to roll one ball to about 1/2-inch thick. Cut out shapes using greased small flower-shaped cookie cutters (I used these by Wilton). Gently push out of the cookie cutter onto a wax paper lined cookie sheet.
  4. Chill for several hours. (You can speed this up by putting in the freezer.)
  5. Melt chocolate in microwave (or over a double-boiler) per directions on package.
  6. Dip the end of a pop stick into the chocolate and insert halfway through the bottom of a cake-flower. Roll in chocolate, tap off excess, add M&M and insert into styrofoam (or lay on wax paper) until firm.
  7. Repeat with the remaining shapes and use different colored chocolate coating if desired. (I started with the yellow and worked towards the darker colors so that I could keep using the same bowl.)

Source: Adapted from Bakerella.

Raspberry Hugs Cheesecake Blossoms

Happy Valentine’s Day!! Are you doing anything special today? I actually prefer to stay in and cook (or preferably be cooked for) on this occasion. It’s too stressful to plan far enough in advance to make reservations at your place of choice, and many times they have a more expensive holiday menu for the evening. Being a graduate student, higher prices don’t excite me one bit. Oh and don’t forget the crazy issue of finding parking if you are going downtown. Instead, I will be wearing my red skinny jeans in all their glory while cooking dinner and watching a movie with two of my friends. Is anyone else staying in to celebrate?

For my coworkers/labmates (whichever term you want to call my little lab family), I made this variation of a blossom cookie. It has a cheesecake cookie base, and a Hershey’s hug on top that is swirled with raspberry. They quite literally smell just like a raspberry cheesecake coming out of the oven. I may have eaten one (or more) of them before the chocolate had any chance of hardening back up, and it was totally wonderful.

One year ago: Sweet Swirl Cookies

RASPBERRY HUGS CHEESECAKE BLOSSOMS

Makes approximately 32 cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, softened

1-1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 Tbsp 2% milk

2/3 tsp salt

3 cups flour

2-1/4 tsp baking powder

Course white sugar (or festive sprinkles)

32 Hershey’s raspberry hugs

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer or large bowl with electric hand mixer, mix ingredients in order (except course white sugar and Hershey’s hugs) until fully incorporated. Cover and chill dough in refrigerator for one hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour some of the course white sugar into a small bowl. Shape dough into walnut-sized balls (I used my cookie scoop to ensure they were all the same size) and roll in the sugar. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 8 minutes.
  3. Gently push a raspberry hug into the center of each cookie immediately after removing from oven. (Be careful not to push all the way through the cookie.) Let cool slightly before transferring to wire rack. Allow chocolate to harden before serving (transfer to the fridge to speed up the process).

Source: Adapted slightly from Baking Serendipity.

Pasta with Vodka Sauce & Chobani Giveaway

I am always on the lookout for fun food items. When I found heart-shaped pasta from World Market (while in east TN since the store no longer exists on my end) I snatched them up – perfect for a Valentine’s Day themed meal! Which lead me to think about vodka sauce (don’t ask why this holiday perked thoughts of alcoholic food).

Samantha from The Little Ferraro Kitchen lead me to this recipe. It’s not to thick, but not runny either, and has great flavor which I am sure has many thanks to the full cup of vodka. But I did try something new and used a cup of Chobani‘s 2% plain Greek yogurt in place of the heavy cream. I’ve been enjoying finding new ways to substitute in Greek yogurt for other ingredients in order to add protein and reduce fat. In this instance it made the sauce a bit tangier but thought it paired very well with the already present vodka tang.

While I am on the subject of Chobani, how would you like to win some!? One of you will be the lucky recipient of a bundle three 32 oz. containers including plain in 0% and 2% and 0% vanilla. This giveaway is open to US and Canada (but a Canadian resident will just receive three of the  32 oz. 0% plain containers as vanilla & 2% plain aren’t available across the border yet). To enter, please leave a comment sharing your favorite way to use Greek yogurt. Giveaway ends Monday, February 20th. Winner will be contacted via e-mail and has 48 hours to respond. **GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED** Samantha from The Little Ferraro Kitchen is the winner!

PASTA WITH VODKA SAUCE

Serves 4 to 5

Ingredients:

1/4 cup good olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, diced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1-1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 cup vodka

2 (28 oz) cans peeled plum tomatoes

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 pound pasta

4 Tbsp fresh oregano

3/4 to 1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt

Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof saute pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.
  3. Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands (be careful and crush slowly because the juice will squirt*). Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1-1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, and set both aside.
  5. Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan. Or blend in the pot if using an immersion blender.
  6. Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough yogurt to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add reserved pasta cooking water if the sauce it too thick. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate.

*The first one I squeezed resulted in an explosion of sauce all over my (thankfully already not-perfectly-spotless-clean) kitchen.

Source: Adapted slightly from Ina Garten on Food Network. Discovered by The Little Ferraro Kitchen.

Dark Chocolate Strawberry Shortcakes with Amaretto Cream

The blog hopping party is back in time for Valentine’s Day! I was so excited when Erin, from Big Fat Baker,announced that she was thinking of extending the Holiday Blog Hop past Christmas. These blog hops are great for finding new blogs and recipes with a theme involved (if you would like to join fill out the contact form found HERE). Today for the Valentine’s Day theme, we had to incorporate at least one of three ingredients, which were: beef, heavy cream, or strawberries. Once you’re done here, be sure to check out the others blog hopper’s posts listed at the bottom!

While digging through my bookmarked recipes, I noticed there were far too many that would be great to make for your Valentine this year. Even with the help of narrowing it down by ingredients! But when I saw this dark chocolate version of strawberry shortcake I knew I had a winner. After all, in addition to the dark chocolate and strawberries (already making me happy) the whipped cream topping has pudding AND Amaretto in it – wee!! I’ll have my dessert with a little liqueur, thank you very much. This recipe just screamed “love”, even if it’s only a love affair with the dessert itself ;-).

For the first shortcake I assembled, I wanted to slice the shortcakes in half like a bun in order to make a multilayer shortcake. Yea, that shortcake crumbled into a (delicious) pile. Learn from me – do not try to cut the shortcakes. Just stack them up in their slightly thicker glory. Then serve with a little extra cream topping and strawberries.

And the Amaretto cream? Sure at first it looks like you’ve made far more than necessary, but you’ll end up wanting to eat it straight up. Or maybe you’ll start thinking of the strawberries and chocolate shortcake as mere vehicles for the cream. With the cream cheese and pudding mix in there it tastes like cheesecake, in the consistency of pudding. So where does that leave me? I’ll be in the corner mixing the attempted-sliced-but-crumbled-shortcakes in with the strawberries and cream. Make-shift trifle anyone? You don’t want to see the pictures of that though. Focus on the prettiness I’ve shown here (when I did not try to cut the shortcakes in half).

P.S. I love mixing Amaretto and coke together. It’s lovely beverage.

One year ago: Guiltless Fettucine Alfredo

DARK CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES WITH AMARETTO CREAM

Makes 3 large or 6 small

Ingredients:

SHORTCAKES

2/3 cup 2% milk

1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

1 tsp vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup unsalted cold butter, chopped

CREAM

8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, softened

1 (3.4oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix

1/4 cup Amaretto

1-1/2 cups 2% milk

8 oz. frozen light whipped topping, thawed

2 lbs. sliced strawberries, leaving a few whole for garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat (or grease pan well).
  2. Place 2/3 cup milk and dark chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Cool.
  3. Meanwhile, add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl, and whisk together until combined. Add butter and cut in with fork until crumbly in texture. Slowly add milk and chocolate chip mixture and stir in until just combined.
  4. Using an extra large cookie scoop, spoon mixture into 6 large circles (or 12 small) onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set (or about 8-12 minutes for small). Cool on wire racks.
  5. Meanwhile, in large bowl mix together cream cheese and pudding mix with electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Slowly mix in Amaretto and milk until well combined. Fold in whipped topping. Cover and refrigerate for about 1-2 hours or until firm.
  6. To assemble, place one shortcake on serving plate then top with cream and strawberries; end with another chocolate shortcake. Top with more Amaretto cream and strawberries if desired. Repeat with remaining shortcakes.

Source: Adapted slightly from Snappy Gourmet.



Valentine’s Day Recipe Roundup

Is it just me or have I been doing a lot of roundups lately? I guess it’s just that time of year to have a lot of holidays and events going on to warrant them! This time around I have a list of Valentine’s Day-worthy recipes. And while we are on the subject of compiled lists, my Funfetti and Nutella recipe roundups are also great sources for inspiration as well! If you make something from this list for your Valentine this year, let me know how it went ;-).

One year ago: Nutella Cream Cheese Swirl Heart Brownies

Breakfast

Appetizers & Snacks

Side Dishes

Entrees

 

Dessert

 

Sausage Lasagna Heart Calzone

Have you made plans for Valentine’s Day yet? I actually do not have any yet, but in the meantime have not slacked off on making Valentine’s Day inspired treats and meals. For example, after I mastered the stromboli I decided it was time to take on the calzone. But not just any calzone, but a heart-shaped one! And it conveniently serves two people. Or maybe four if you serve anything substantial on the side.

And if the shape alone wasn’t enough this baby is actually stuffed with sausage lasagna filling. Gooey, cheesy, meaty loveliness wrapped up in dough. Yup, go ahead and eat your heart out. (Sorry sorry couldn’t resist)

One year ago: Oreo Truffles

SAUSAGE LASAGNA HEART CALZONE

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1/2 lb pizza dough

1 lb spicy Italian sausage

1-1/2 cups pizza sauce

8 oz low fat ricotta cheese

1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

Pinch of salt, fresh cracked pepper

1/4 tsp Italian seasoning, plus more for topping (optional)

1 egg, beaten (for brushing dough)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown sausage until browned. Drain and return back to skillet. Add pasta sauce and reduce heat to low to simmer.
  2. Place ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella cheese and seasonings in a mixing bowl. Mix until well combined.
  3. Cut the pizza doughs in half. On a floured sheet of parchment paper, form two large hearts and roll until about 1/8″ thick. Move one dough-heart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Top the dough-heart on the baking sheet with sausage marinara then with ricotta (you may have leftovers), leaving a 1/2″ edge. Brush the edges of the dough with egg and top with remaining dough-heart. Press seams together, brush entire top lightly with egg then sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Cut a few slices in the top, transfer to a cookie sheet  and bake  for 25-30 minutes or until browned and cooked through.

Source: Adapted slightly from Picky Palate.

 

Almond Cherry Chip Blondies

Valentine’s Day is sneaking up on us and I am sharing my first Valentine’s Day treat over on Blog is the New Black. Check it out HERE!

ALMOND CHERRY CHIP BLONDIES

Source: Adapted slightly from Lovin’ From the Oven, originally from Eat, Live, Run.

One year ago: Apple Oatmeal Breakfast Muffins

Red Velvet Crème Brulee Cupcakes

Desserts that combine two things into one are always a good choice. Makes the decision process of which one to eat a no-brainer, especially if you are trying to be good. But until now I never thought I would see a cupcake combines with crème brulee. And the flavor combination possibilities are endless! What type of cupcake would you like to top with crème brulee? Or maybe you have a flavored crème brulee you’d like to throw into the mix as well?

For these, I tried out a different red velvet recipe than I usually use. This one is Paula Deen’s, but I think I like Bobby Flay’s better. Who would’ve guessed I would pick the master-griller’s recipe over the butter-queen’s? Although this one was a much brighter red, the other recipe seems less greasy and produces a much richer flavored red velvet, which is what I think a cake called “velvet” should be.

As for the topping unfortunately, I was not able to brulee it as much as I would’ve liked – who knew that a paper cupcake liner would light on fire when put under flames? Whoops. As a result only the middles were toasted. Next time I think I would core out a little of the cupcake in order to fill them up with some of the crème brulee, since you can’t pile it up as much as regular frosting. But overall, still very awesome!

RED VELVET CRÈME BRULEE CUPCAKES

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups sugar, plus more for the crème brulee topping

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cocoa powder

1-1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 Tbsp red food coloring

1 tsp white distilled vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 ramekins prepared un-torched Crème Brulees

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a handheld electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.
  3. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
  4. Spread the chilled crème brulee over the cooled cupcakes.
  5. Sprinkle with regular or maple sugar and brulee with a culinary torch just before serving.

Source: Cupcakes from Paula Deen on Food Network and overall concept from Cupcake Project.

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