Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mint Chip Crispy Rice Treats

UPDATE 2/14/14: I'm thrilled so many of you are loving this recipe. It's certainly a popular one on Pinterest. I'd love to have you drop by my new site My Midwest Table and see what I'm posting there. Oh, and you can find these treats over there, too, in a great printable format!

There was a time in my life that I couldn’t make crispy rice treats. That was also the time in my life when I spent my summer babysitting the most fun kids ever, when I could eat as much Schwan’s Raspberry Rumble ice cream as I could stand and not gain pound, and when the most important decision I had to make was what swimsuit to wear to the pool. Oh, that was a good time.

Except for the fact that I couldn’t make crispy rice treats to save my life. Believe me, I tried. And I failed. Those kids I babysat? Yeah, they would tell you I failed. Terribly. Now, 11 years later, I look back on that time and wonder what the heck? How did I mess up crispy rice treats? How?

The treats were hard as a rock. No knife was going to cut them. So, doing what any great (?) babysitter would do, I turned this kitchen disaster into a learning moment. For the kids, of course. We threw that 9 x 13 inch brick of cereal into the yard, thinking (me hoping, really) the birds would love it and that we would be able to identify tons of them. Not a chance. No critter came close to it. You’re wondering if the Nebraska sun and humidity softened the brick? Hardly.

Fast forward to today. I am proud to report that I have conquered the crispy rice hill. That’s only slightly embarrassing.

These Mint Chip Crispy Rice Treats are ridiculously good. And soft. And such a festive dessert for March, especially when everyone’s thinking of and seeing green.

I attribute the softness of the treats to the whole stick of butter. You and I both know that more butter is better. The mint flavor in these treats is perfect. It isn’t too minty. Not like a stick of gum. That wouldn't be good. The chocolate mint topping takes these treats, well, over the top. Sorry not sorry for that play on words.

And of course, what’s Mint Chip Crispy Rice Treats without chips? The mini chocolate chips are the cutest sprinkled over the chocolate topping.

These treats have the seal of approval from my boys! Just look at those chocolate smiles.

I can guarantee you these won’t have to be thrown into the yard for the wildlife in your neighborhood. But they would probably enjoy the chocolate mint goodness.

 Mint Chip Crispy Rice Treats
An Ashley Original

Crispy Rice Treats
5-3/4 cups crispy rice cereal
8 tsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 10.5 oz. bag marshmallows
3/8 tsp. mint extract
Green food coloring

Chocolate Mint Topping
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 tsp. mint extract
1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (for sprinkling)

Butter (or spray with non-stick baking spray) a 8 in. x 8 in. OR a 9 in. x 9 in baking dish. Measure crispy rice cereal into a medium-sized bowl and set aside. In a large cooking pot, melt the stick of butter on medium-low heat. Add marshmallows to the pot. Stir constantly with a spatula to melt the marshmallows, creating a smooth mixture. Add mint extract and green food coloring to reach the color of preference. Add the crispy rice cereal and stir well, coating the cereal evenly by the marshmallow mixture. Pour the crispy cereal rice into the baking dish, and spread the cereal into the dish evenly with the spatula.

In a microwave-safe bowl or double boiler, melt the chocolate chips until they become smooth. Add the mint extract and stir well. Pour the chocolate onto the crispy rice treats, and spread the chocolate evenly over the treats. Sprinkle the mini semi-sweet chocolate chips over the melted chocolate. Cool completely and let the chocolate set before cutting. The treats may be refrigerated to set the chocolate quickly; remove bars about 20 minutes before cutting. Store in an air-tight container. Makes 9-16 treats, depending on the size cut.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Parmesan Baked Potatoes

Goodness these are good potatoes. Like, really good. Delicious. Flavorful. Crispy and melt-in-your-mouth at the same time.

The ingredients for Parmesan Baked Baby Potatoes are so simple it’s ridiculous: baby potatoes, butter, grated Parmesan cheese, and parsley. I told you these are simple ingredients.

To make these magic potatoes—and they truly are magic—halved potatoes are placed (and nestled cozily beside one another) on top of melted butter, Parmesan cheese and parsley.

These bad boys are baked for about 45 minutes. If it wasn’t for the amazing smell that fills the kitchen, you could forget these are in the oven. I love this kind of cooking!

This is one of my go-to side dishes. It’s versatile, so it pairs well with nearly any protein entrĂ©e. Oh yeah, and it’s easy. Who doesn’t love that?

Parmesan Baked Potatoes
Source: Ashley’s recipe box

About 1-1/2 pounds baby potatoes (I use baby Dutch Yellow), halved lengthwise
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped, or 1-1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Pour melted butter in a 9” x 13” glass baking dish. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and parsley over the butter. Place potatoes, cut side down, over the butter, cheese and parsley. Nestle as many potatoes as the pan will allow. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Red Velvet Cheesecake Heart

Hooray for Valentine’s Day! I will admit that before I became a mom, I wasn’t really a fan of Valentine’s Day. Maybe because I wasn’t into all the mushy-gushy stuff. Maybe because I thought (and still do, actually) that love should be shown all days of the year. Maybe because my birthday falls exactly one week before, and well, I don’t like my day being overshadowed by hearts and shades of red. Wow, that makes me sound like a total diva.

Things have changed. I am so excited for Valentine’s Day this year. My oldest, Garrison, is at a fun age to enjoy the holiday. Every time he sees a heart, he excitedly exclaims “Balentine’s day!” (and yes, that’s Valentine’s with a “b”). It’s so cute, and it really has me looking forward to celebrating this week! I am sure you can imagine how big his eyes were when he saw this beautiful Red Velvet Cheesecake Heart.

I pinned this recipe not too long ago, and I knew it would be a must-make this year. I was so excited to attend a potluck and Make-A-Wish fundraiser over the weekend. I’ll give you one guess for what I made. This cheesecake heart? You bet!

This dessert is such a breeze to prepare, and the ingredients are simple. I’m a lover of made-from-scratch cooking and baking, but sometimes boxed cake mixes are the way to go, and this was an instance in which I was glad to use a mix. The color of the heart, from the cake mix, is so gorgeous. The mini chocolate chips are great for finishing the heart, and they add a wonderful texture that complements the smoothness of the cheesecake and the crunchiness of the cookies.

Everyone you serve this to will be oohing and aahing over it. Guaranteed. It’s such a feast for the eyes and the tummy.

We’ll be celebrating the V-Day with our traditional heart-shaped homemade pizza—this year it will be barbeque chicken—and chocolate-covered strawberries. I can’t wait to spend the evening at home with my hubs and our two little Valentines!

Do you have any big plans? Please share! I wish you the happiest Valentine’s Day! Xoxo.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Heart
Adapted from: Fab Food 

8 oz. Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups red velvet cake mix, dry
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar, packed
1/2 to 3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Assorted cookies

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cheese and butter until well combined and smooth. Add the cake mix, powdered sugar and brown sugar. Beat until well combined and smooth. Turn the mixture onto piece of plastic wrap. Using buttered fingers or a spoon, shape the cheesecake mixture into the shape of a heart, making the shape about 1-inch to 1-1/2-inches high. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Unwrap the cheesecake heart and place the bottom (flat side) on a serving plate or platter. With a small handful of chocolate chips, gently push the chocolate chips into the heart. Repeat until the heart is fully covered. Remove from the refrigerator about 20 minutes prior to serving. Serve with assorted cookies. Serves around 16.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cinnamon Pancakes + Blueberry Maple Sauce

We had a fantastic weekend that involved some friends’ housewarming party, fun with a new babysitter (the boys loved her!), playing in the snow…


…being lazy in front of the fire, and oh, these pancakes.

When we lived in Kansas, our sweet neighbor and friend gave us this fantastic Cinnamon Pancake Mix for Christmas. Since then, we have been hooked. Everyone at our house is a fan. Big time. In case you didn’t know, I have a thing for cinnamon (like these doughnuts), so it’s no mystery why I would love these, too.

The mix is so easy to prepare, and it keeps well in an air-tight container. Preparing the pancake batter is easy, too. Did I hear clapping? Yes? You’re on board, I can already tell. I love the addition of cottage cheese to the batter. It’s a delicious enhancement to an already delicious mix. And if you’re thinking cottage cheese in pancakes is weird, please open your mind (and your mouth) to this experience. Trust.

What takes these pancakes over the top is the Blueberry Maple Sauce. A rich, smooth, sweet sauce with whole blueberries. It’s a beautiful thing. My little guys (and the big guy, too) practically lick their plates to get every last bit of the sauce. For real. It’s that good. And if you have any left (you might not), it is excellent on vanilla ice cream.

We have breakfast food at least once a week, whether for actual breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner night. You can bet these pancakes and the sauce show up often in the rotation.

Cinnamon Pancake Mix
Adapted from: Whole Foods Market

6 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sugar

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Whisk well to incorporate and store mix in a well-sealed container.

Cinnamon Pancakes
Adapted from: Whole Foods Market

1 cup Cinnamon Pancake Mix
3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2/3 cup milk
1 large egg (or 2 large egg whites)
3 Tbsp. melted butter
Additional butter for melting on the griddle

Heat a skillet over medium heat. In a large bowl, combine pancake mix, cottage cheese, milk, egg, and melted butter. Whisk well to incorporate. Melt butter on the skillet to get good coverage; this will yield diner-like pancakes with the perfect griddle markings. Drop batter by 1/4 cup onto the griddle. Once the batter starts to bubble, flip the pancake and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter, adding additional butter to the skillet as needed. Serve with warm Blueberry Maple Sauce. Makes about 9 pancakes.

Blueberry Maple Sauce
An Ashley Original

2 to 2-1/2 cups frozen blueberries
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1-1/2 Tbsp. cold water

In a medium saucepan, combine blueberries, maple syrup, and orange zest. Bring to a boil over of medium heat. In a small cup, mix the cornstarch and water until a smooth liquid is formed. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the saucepan, stirring well, and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and serve the warm sauce over Cinnamon Pancakes.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Baked Chocolate Cinnamon Doughnuts + Vanilla Glaze

My most favorite sweet treat of all time…the treat I’d pick over a cupcake, cookie, brownie, and a slice of pie (Gasp! It’s my runner-up, don’t worry!)…is a doughnut. That’s right, a doughnut. There is something so beautifully simple about a doughnut. And there is something so amazing about its potential. It’s like the ultimate canvas for me, a baking enthusiast.

One of the combinations I can’t get enough of lately is chocolate and cinnamon. When I get back from the gym in the late evening, I usually make a hot bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and semi-sweet chocolate chips. I can’t eat it fast enough. Delicious.

My recent favorite flavor pairing was the inspiration for Baked Chocolate Cinnamon Doughnuts with Vanilla Glaze. I used an easy chocolate cake doughnut recipe, and I added enough cinnamon to get a good flavor without it overpowering the chocolate. I think the amount is perfect. The glaze is super-simple, and I added a tiny bit of red food coloring to get that vibrant pink color. Of course, sprinkles are a must. These darling Xs and Os are perfect to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

These baked doughnuts are truly a breeze to prepare. To make things extra-easy, I spoon my batter into a re-sealable plastic bag and then cut a small piece from the corner to squeeze the batter into the doughnut wells in the pan.

I hope you find the chocolate and cinnamon combination as tasty as I do. Make these for your family. Make these for your love. Make these for your co-workers. Make these for yourself. Just make them! You won’t be sorry.

Baked Chocolate Cinnamon Doughnuts
Adapted from: Shugary Sweets

1 cup flour
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. butter, melted and slightly cooled

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the milk, egg, vanilla and butter. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until well incorporated.

Spray a doughnut pan with non-stick cooking spray. Fill each doughnut well about 3/4 full. Bake for 1o minutes or until the doughnut springs back when lightly pressed. Let the doughnuts cool in the pan for a minute or so and remove them from the pan. Make about 6 doughnuts.

Vanilla Glaze
Adapted from: Wilton

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Food coloring (I used “No-Taste Red” Wilton Icing Color)

While the doughnuts are cooling, make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, milk, vanilla and food coloring until a smooth liquid is formed. Dip tops of doughnuts in the glaze immediately and top with sprinkles.