Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Small Batch Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I'll admit, there have been weak points in my life where all I've really wanted to do is indulge in a little bit of cookie dough.  The solution tends to be that I will whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but since the cookies aren't the actual goal, for simplicity's sake the dough just get pressed into a 9x13 pan and voila, cookie bars.

The problem then becomes that you have a large pan of cookie bars sitting around the house that you will be constantly tempted to devour.  When there's only a couple of people in the house, it becomes a real test of your self-control.

To help solve this problem I came up with the very ingenious solution to simply make a smaller batch!  I can still get my cookie dough fix but with much less temptation after the fact.  The cookie bars are now made in a smaller 9x9 pan instead.

The bars don't lose any of their chocolatey cookie goodness with the smaller serving.  My only complaint is that as a middle piece lover, those perfectly soft pieces on all four edges become a hot commodity.  Any other middle piece lovers out there?  Or are you like my mom and sister who fight over the corners?  Not to worry, all pieces middle and edge alike can do the trick, especially when enjoyed with a tall glass of milk.


Recipe adapted from Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup dry oats
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper and non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together butter, vegetable shortening, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat in egg.
  4. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips and oatmeal.
  6. Press cookie dough into prepared pan.
  7. Cook for 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vanilla Bean Caramels

Yum, I love caramels. They're sweet and chewy and addictive! Last year around the holidays was the first time I tried making caramels. It can take awhile getting use to your candy thermometer and trusting it. My first ever batch was a bit runny like caramel sauce because I didn't let the mixture get hot enough. Lesson learned.

Luckily, I perfected my technique just in time for Christmas. They were a hit! So, I think it will become a tradition that I bring the caramels each Christmas from now on. This year, I tried a new recipe with less ingredients but I still think it has a great flavor.

What are some of your holiday must-have recipes? A few of ours include peanut butter blossoms, cake balls, and spritz cookies. The best part about these goodies, along with these caramels, is that we really only get them once a year. I think that makes them taste twice as good!

Happy Holidays!

2 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/2 lb. butter
1 c. light corn syrup
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk

1. melt butter on medium heat in a sauce pan.
2. Mix in brown sugar and stir until it begins to melt
3. Add corn syrup and stir for 2-3 minutes.
4. Mix in the sweetened condensed milk.
5. Cook to exactly 245 degrees. This may take awhile and you may need to up the stovetop to high heat. The mixture will bubble vigorously for awhile. This is normal.
6. Off the heat, stir in vanilla.
7. Pour into a greased 9X13 pan.
8. Allow to cool, cut, and enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Kelsey's Sunday Brunch

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and has been able to enjoy the start of the holiday season!  I saw this picture on Instagram the other day and wanted to share it because I think we all can use a little reminder every once in a while of what the holidays are really about.  It's so easy to get swept up in it all.
Image via Instagram
Holidays can sometimes be a little tricky when you're in a relationship and all of a sudden have twice the family gatherings to get to.  Lucky for Nate and me, both of our family's have somewhat different schedules so although they're in different cities, besides leaving slightly early or arriving a little late, we're able to spend time with everyone which is really great!

I've been in charge of desserts for both families the past couple of years and this year I ended up going with Smitten Kitchen's Pumpkin Pie (made my first pie crust from scratch!), this Low-carb Pumpkin Cheesecake (because even if you have dietary restrictions you should still be able to enjoy dessert) and this Double Layer Pumpkin Oreo Cheesecake from Carlsbad Cravings.  Everything was a hit!

Last weekend we went to the final home Badger football game of the season against the Minnesota Gophers.  I was really excited to go not just because the Gophers are our biggest rivals and the winner takes home the coveted trophy that is Paul Bunyan's Axe, but there was also a great epilepsy awareness campaign that an organization I used to intern with, Lily's Fund, had put together.  In case you were wondering, we got to keep the axe and had a beautiful purple sunset to boot!

I've been chugging away with the wedding planning lately.  We sent out our save-the-dates a couple of weeks ago, have our ceremony site officially reserved and have our flowers in the works with a non-traditional florist.  Last weekend we took advantage of some Black Friday sales to get some odds and ends from The Knot Shop and bridesmaid dresses ordered from Weddington Way.  Only seven months to go!

I'd like you all to meet our newest roommate, Ruger!  He's my oldest sister's dog and will be temporarily living with us for the next few months.  I'm thinking I might have to whip up some homemade treats for him, like the apple cheddar pupcakes that Brittany has made for Bear.

One of my favorite new cookbooks is The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka.  Gina's blog Skinnytaste has been one of my favorites pretty much since I discovered food blogs a few years ago.  She makes lightened up versions of a wide variety of foods from different cultures and for every occasion.  I've never come across a recipe on it that disappoints so I knew that her first cookbook would be a must-have.

One of my favorite things about the cookbook is that every recipe has the nutritional information printed right on the page so it's nice and easy to find and there's no guessing as to whether the recipe is in fact healthy or not.  If you're a reader of her blog, one thing you will definitely notice is that she does not provide Weight Watchers points for the recipes in the book.  Since that is one of the features that I think really helped her blog grow it would have been nice to have it in the cookbook as well but I can only assume there were legal issues associated with that.

Throughout the book almost every recipe has a tip or "skinny scoop" that accompanies it as well as many food facts that really help you to learn about what you're putting in your body.  There is also a set of icons used throughout the book on both the recipe page and the recipe index at the beginning of the chapter which is one of my favorite features because it makes it really easy to identify some of my favorite types of recipes quickly.  The "slow cooker" and "quick" labels appeal to me the most, but there's also "vegetarian", "gluten-free" and "freezer-friendly".

Just like the Skinnytaste blog, I haven't come across a recipe yet that we haven't enjoyed.  Recently we've enjoyed the Greek Chickpea Salad and the Slow-Cooker Santa Fe Chicken.  Some recipes are cross-overs from the blog, but they are some of the most popular so you can't really blame her for including them in the book.  This cookbook would make a great gift this holiday season and the pictures are sure to leave the recipient's mouth watering.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  All opinions are my own, honest truth!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hard Cider Bourbon Cocktail

You need a cocktail right now, it has been a long busy week and things aren't going to let up anytime soon. You disagree? Well maybe you need a quick cocktail for a party in the coming month because there will plenty of parties in your future. This is it.

This cocktail reminds me of a loaded corona, but for fall and with a boat load more class, mostly because we drink it from a glass and not a bottle. You don't know what a loaded corona is? Well let me enlighten you. Open yourself a corona, take a swig, now that there is a little room in the bottle, fill 'er back up with a shot of tequila and drink responsibly.

This is just like that, but a loaded cider, with bourbon. It is more classy though because we are making in a glass. Trust me, it is classy and tasty most of all.

A lot of ciders are, Crispin in particular, suggested to be served over ice. I'm not a fan of this suggestion though. Not at all.

No body likes a watered down cocktail. To make this super simple cocktail feel special and keep it cool and fall like, I made some apple cider ice cubes. It "apples" the cocktail down instead of watering it down. It just makes sense!

I've tried making this with a lighter cider like Crispin and a darker richer cider like the one pictured from Door County's Island Orchard Cider. Which to use is a personal preference. I think the bourbon boozy flavor comes out more with a lighter cider and the darker, richer cider blends with the bourbon because they are both bold and full flavored, duh. Just kidding.

Garnish the whole thing with some sliced apples. You could even use apple cubes as a garnish. Because who doesn't love a little booze soaked fruit at the bottom of their cocktail to wash the whole thing down.

This is a really easy simple cocktail to bring along to a party last minute. All you need is a bottle or six pack of your favorite cider and a bottle of bourbon and it is cocktail time. You can pick it all up en route to your party. It is perfect. My boyfriend who usually only drinks white russians loved it.

It is just the right amount of sweet, rich, apple and fall in a glass. I realize it doesn't feel like fall anymore, but I think this cocktail is a nice addition to all the eggnog, hot toddy and cocoa that will be consumed in the coming month.

Just remember to always keep it classy and mix your cocktail in a glass, not the bottle. Nothing good ever comes from a beer cocktail made in a beer bottle. Trust me. Plus, it is the holiday season and it should be filled with joy, class, laughter and kindness! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know I did!

Makes 1 cocktail
1 shot/jigger or 1.5 ounces bourbon
12 ounces hard cider (such as Crispin or Island Orchard Cider)
Apple cider ice cubes
1 apple, cored and sliced or cubed

to make the ice cubes: Pour your favorite apple cider into and ice cube tray and freeze overnight.
to make the cocktail: Combine the bourbon, hard cider and cider ice cubes in a glass. Garnish with sliced or cubed apples. Enjoy and be merry.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

April's Sunday Brunch

The holidays are approaching, well more like they have arrived. I have not had much time to get into the spirit of it all. My life is consumed by writing papers, social work issues and mental health. Any situation I encounter these days, I immediately translate it into a social work, criminal justice or mental health context.

Like the other day, a friend told me my brother hadn't slept for a few days. My mind immediately thinks, oh my goodness, he must be having a manic episode. Totally normal train of thought. My concerns were immediately invalidated when I was informed a new expansion to World of Warcraft was recently released.

The next thing I thought was, he hasn't been awake for three days straight. That is unnatural. He has had to have taken some cat naps. Inmates, I intern at the Dane County Jail, are always complaining they haven't slept for days. It just isn't true. Your body needs sleep. You have not been awake for three days. You just haven't been. Trust me. Jail may not be fun, but you've slept. I digress.

Well, there you have it. These are the thoughts I have all day ever day. Plus a lot of worries about everything. I might catastrophize every situation. I might be a little neurotic, thanks Dad. I diagnosis myself with a different mental health disorder weekly. I have too many thoughts and not enough time to think them all through. I'm rambling. I apologize.

I'm going to school to be a licensed clinical social worker and sometimes I think I might be the one who needs to see a therapist. I blame it on school. I can't keep my thoughts straight. There is so much to do all day every day. There is an end in sight at least. 166 more days to be precise.

If you can't tell from my above ramblings, I haven't had a lot of time to stop and enjoy myself. Sure there have been pleasant moments here and there, but its immediately on to the next thing, which I worried about at least 20 times while I was supposed to be enjoying myself.

I look forward to the day where I can step back, process and appreciate my day to day life. I'm not sure when that will be. Sometimes I don't think it will ever happen. Growing up scares me. Is this the way my life will always be? Is it just a consequence of graduate school? Probably.

It is a balance, I suppose. I haven't figured out that balance yet. It scares me. There are too many things I want to enjoy and accomplish in life.

I've rambled, but this is what my life has been lately. A little glimpse into my head. It's a bit crazy in there, but I'm thankful to have a lot of supportive people and a very special cat in my life. They put up with me and make me smile. I'd be a lost puppy without them. Although being a cute, fun-loving, care-free puppy sounds pretty nice right now.

I've been working on some recipes for you all though. It is just a matter of finding the time to share them will you all! The other weekend I made some killer drinking chocolate and pickled beets, while my mom and man-friend split wood for the million fires I will be having this winter.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? I'm going to the man-friend's family Thanksgiving and then to my own family's on Saturday. I'm making this pumpkin cheesecake, by request from my sister-in-law. Then I will be feeding everyone the sweet potato hash, I shared the other week for breakfast.

Speaking of puppies, Thanksgiving and my sister-in-law, there will be two dogs at my Thanksgiving. I'm so excited. My brother and sister-in-law's pit bull and our family friends border collie will be there. They are going to have the best time.

I'm going to have the best time watching my mom cook, drinking wine and playing with the pups. I hope your holiday is as magical as mine should be. Happy Thanksgiving, a little early everyone!


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