homemade peanut butter cups

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A couple weekends ago, my amazing mom surprised me with the cutest little gift from Le Creuset.  It was these mini heart-shaped silicone baking cups.  I knew I had to use them immediately, and for some reason, I instantly thought of using them to make peanut butter cups.  I thought the size would be perfect, not to mention I knew the silicone material would lend perfectly to removing them from the cups once they were completed and ready to be eaten.  Plus, I’ve always loved the store-bought peanut butter cups, but I couldn’t help but think that I could recreate them on my own, and with a lot less (bad) ingredients than what the store-bought kind has.

So this weekend, I played around with a few different ingredients and in no time, I ended up with the perfect peanut butter cups.  In a few simple steps and with a little patience, I had a giant batch of these ready to be eaten.  Complete with a smooth creamy peanut butter center that melts in your mouth.  Coated in a hard milk chocolate outer shell that sweetens it all up.  And so itty bitty that there’s zero shame in popping these like they’re M&Ms.   I couldn’t help and sneak one as dessert after every. single. meal.

Peanut Butter Cups
(Makes 24 candy cups)

2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

In a double boiler (my personal preference), or in the microwave in 30-second increments, melt the chocolate.  Using a small pastry brush, brush a thin even coating on the inside of each candy cup, being sure not to leave any paper exposed on the inside.  Freeze for 10 minutes.

While the cups are in the freezer, prepare the filling; in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the confectioners sugar, peanut butter, and butter until smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a large opening (about 1/2″ diameter).  Pipe the mixture into the frozen cups to about 1/8″ from the top.  Smooth with an icing spatula.

Transfer the remaining melted chocolate to another piping bag with a small opening (about 1/4″ diameter).  Pipe the chocolate onto the tops of the cups to the rim.  Smooth with another icing spatula and return to the freezer for another 10 minutes.

Once completely frozen, remove the paper cups from each peanut butter cup.  The colder the cups are, the easier (and less messy!) it will be to remove the paper.  Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.

– chocolate on,
Sharon

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slow cooker garlic chicken thighs

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I jumped on the slow cooker train way too late.  Even when I actually had one in my small kitchen, I kept it in the box because there just wasn’t any room for it.  So this year, when K and I moved into our new townhouse, which had a kitchen about double the size of our old kitchen, I couldn’t wait to give the slow cooker a try.

Since then, the slow cooker gets used about once a week.  Our regulars are pulled pork, chili, and of course, these garlic chicken thighs.  I love this chicken dish (and generally any slow cooker dish) because I can put everything in the slow cooker (even if the chicken is still frozen) and voila! 8 hours later, I have a stunning, juicy yet crispy chicken dish.

Slow Cooker Garlic Chicken Thighs
(Makes 2 servings)

4 chicken thighs, skin on and patted dry
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup white wine such as Chardonnay
1/3 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the wine and flour until no lumps remain.  Set aside.

Add the onion and garlic to the slow cooker and season with salt and pepper.  Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the slow cooker, skin side up.  Pour the wine mixture on top of the chicken.

Cover and cook for 4 hours on high, or 8 hours on low.

Transfer 2 cups of the sauce from the slow cooker to a small saucepan over medium heat.  Allow to simmer and reduce to about half the volume.  Set aside.

Serve the chicken thighs over couscous with some of the reduced sauce.

slow cook on,
Sharon

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back to basics: strawberry sauce

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I know it’s not strawberry season, but for some reason when I walked through Whole Foods this weekend and saw the cartons of strawberries, I couldn’t help but grab one right away.  It’s probably the fact that the weather has been so spectacular lately.  Today is March 1st, a time of the year when it is often still frigid and snowing, yet for the past couple weeks, the northeast has been blessed with beautiful sunny days in the 50s and up.  I even turned my A/C on in the car this weekend!  And walked outside with a long sleeve shirt on!  So when I saw those bright red strawberries, I immediately started thinking about what I could do with them.  I knew that I had to bake a cake during the weekend, so a lightbulb went off instantly – I would make a vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting and fresh strawberry filling.

I love being able to make a basic sauce like this strawberry sauce because the possibilities with it are endless.  And we all know how much I love a versatile ingredient.  Sure, I used this sauce as a cake filling.  But this sauce also works great as a filling in a cupcake, as a sauce to incorporate into (or top) your vanilla ice cream, or even as a filling in doughnuts!  Mmmmmm.  Now excuse me while I go wipe the drool off my face!

Give this recipe a try and let me know what you use it for in the comments below.

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Strawberry Sauce
(Makes 2 cups)

2 1/2 cups cubed fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch

In a small saucepan, combine the strawberries and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Add the cornstarch and continue to stir.  Let boil for 2 minutes and remove from heat.  The sauce will thicken and go from translucent to opaque.  Allow to cool completely before using.

– sauce on,
Sharon

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chocolate chip waffles

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I’m embarrassed to say this, but the first purchase I made when I moved out of my mom’s house and into my own apartment was a waffle iron.  About 5 years have passed since that day, and I still love pulling out my waffle iron every weekend and making waffles.  Over the years, I’ve developed my go-to recipe.  It is a simple recipe that calls for one bowl (easy clean up), simple ingredients that you’ll without a doubt always have in your kitchen, and only a few minutes of work.  And it leads to super fluffy waffles that are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.

I usually make these with chocolate chips, because… well… chocolate.  But this recipe can easily be made without the chocolate if all you want are some plain jane waffles.  Nothing wrong with that!

Chocolate Chip Waffles
(Makes about 4 8-inch round waffles)

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat your waffle iron.  I set my Oster waffle iron to the max setting.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs.  Slowly whisk in the flour, baking powder, and melted butter.  Whisk until just combined – small lumps are okay!  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Add about 2/3 cup into the center of the waffle iron – make sure you are grabbing chocolate chips, too!  They tend to sink to the bottom of the bowl.  The batter will spread throughout the waffle iron, but you can use a small spoon to quickly make sure that the batter is spread evenly throughout the iron.  Close the lid and cook for about 5 to 5 1/2 minutes, or until the waffle is golden brown.  Remove with a fork and repeat until all the batter has been used.

Serve immediately with chocolate sauce, maple syrup, or whipped cream!

– breakfast on,
Sharon

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creamy spinach

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For the longest time, I didn’t have an immersion blender in my new apartment.  And when you have such a love for creamy spinach like I do, that’s a real issue.  So as soon as my birthday rolled around, and the “what do you want for your birthday?” talks began, it was only logical for this young lady to request a purple immersion blender.

What’s the big deal about some creamy spinach, you ask?!

Well, this creamy spinach is only the most delicious side dish you could ever have.  Shirley and I grew up with our mom making this dish for us.  I always loved that it felt like a meal in itself.  It wasn’t just a piece of broccoli or asparagus that I got sick of after two pieces.  Heck, I even remember standing over the stovetop with a spoon sneaking bite after bite while my mom yelled at me to move!

This is an easy dish that you will not regret!  Enjoy!

Creamy Spinach
(Makes 6 servings)

2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp salted butter
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup 2% milk (may be substituted with another 1/2 cup of vegetable stock)
1/2 tsp salt
10 oz frozen chopped spinach (or about 24 oz fresh spinach)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup grated cheese (Gruyere, Fontina, or Cheddar)
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour until blended in.  Continue to stir on low heat until the mixture is light yellow.  Add the stock, 1/2 tsp salt, and milk in a few batches, stirring after each addition, until a uniform texture is reached.  Keep adding liquid to form a smooth and thick paste.  Remove from heat.

In a large pan, sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until translucent.  Add the spinach and reduce heat.  Let cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the sauce to the spinach and stir well.  With an immersion blender, process the mixture until smooth.  Add the grated cheese and stir well.  Lastly, add the salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg to taste.

– food on,
Sharon

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cannoli cupcakes

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It’s no surprise that I love baking, especially cupcakes.  My favorite part about cupcakes is that the batter and frosting is so versatile.  I think one day I’m going to stick a bunch of batter options (vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, confetti, strawberry, etc.) into a hat, and a bunch of frosting options (chocolate buttercream, vanilla buttercream, cream cheese, whipped cream, etc.) into another hat, and just make whatever I get.  Pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting?  Chocolate cupcake with mocha whipped cream frosting?  Yum.

When I first decided to make this cupcake, I had no idea what to make.  I knew I wanted to go simple with the batter, but I was very open to the frosting options.  I was making this cupcake for a friend with deep Italian roots, and all I could think of was cannoli.  How hard could it be to turn a cannoli into a cupcake?  Turns out it is incredibly easy, and incredibly tasty!

So if you want the cannoli flavor, but want to avoid the cannoli frying, this cupcake will do the trick! Enjoy!

Cannoli Cupcakes with Cannoli Chocolate Chip Frosting
(Makes 12 cupcakes)

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup 2% milk

For the frosting:

1 cup whole milk ricotta
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

For the chocolate-dipped cannoli decoration:

4 oz dark chocolate, melted
12 cannoli chips

Prepare the frosting first; In a large bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract until smooth.  Slowly add the powdered sugar and ricotta to the mixture and beat until combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Place the bowl of frosting uncovered in the fridge for about 2 hours.

Prepare the cannoli decoration by dunking each cannoli chip halfway in melted chocolate.  Place each dipped chip on a parchment-lined sheet and leave in the refrigerator for about an hour to harden.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line the cupcake pan with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking powder.  In a separate large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until uniform.  Starting and ending with the flour mixture, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Fill each cupcake tin about 2/3 full with batter.  Bake in oven for 16-18 minutes, or until the sides of the cupcake begin to brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Once the cupcakes are cool, frost them with the cannoli frosting.  Top each cupcake with a chocolate-dipped cannoli chip.

bake on,
Sharon

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back to basics: hummus

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With the Jewish New Year having just passed, I’ve been thinking a lot about home.  Growing up along the Mediterranean Sea, hummus and pita was almost always a part of every meal.  Authentic hummus and freshly out of the oven pita is one of the simplest, yet most delicious meals you could ever have.  So since moving to the US, our standards for both have been very high.  Over time, we’ve found that there’s really nothing better than homemade.  There’s just no comparison.

Today we’ll start with the hummus.  Because the truth is, when hummus is this good, you could literally eat it with a spoon.  No cracker, chip, pita, carrot, or bread required (although all will be just fine along with it).  The prep time may seem daunting, but I assure you, the patience will be so worth it once you take that first taste.

Hummus
(Makes 8 cups)

2 cups dry chick peas
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup raw tahini
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the chick peas in water for 8 hours (or overnight) in a large pot.  Drain.  Add water once again to cover, plus 1 inch, as well as the baking soda.  Mix well.  Cook the chick pea and water mixture on low heat.  Skim off any foam with a spoon.  Continue to cook over low heat for 60 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Drain the water, being sure to reserve the liquid.

In a food processor, combine the drained chick peas with the garlic, and process to a uniform mixture.  Add the tahini and lemon juice and continue to process.  The mixture will become thicker over time.  If you feel that the mixture becomes too thick, add some of the reserved liquid.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with fresh parsley, olive oil, za’atar, and/or pine nuts.  Serve chilled with pita bread, vegetables, pita chips, or crackers!

food on,
Sharon

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