Thursday, February 26, 2009

Operation Chocolate Chip Cookies

This month of Operation Baking Gals fell right around the heartfelt day of Valentines and Team KelseyKakes took full advantage of sending all our love to the troops overseas. I had such a wonderful group this month stretching all the way from Alaska to New York City...that's a lot of baking mileage! These chefs went above and beyond for our sponsored troop of the month, Bryan Tull. 

SGT Tull is a broadcast journalist in the Army Reserves. His unit's primary mission is to work directly with members of the international media who visit Iraq to get the real story for audiences around the world. His unit also has a daily blog - Blogs Over Baghdad - that I encourage everyone to read, it will truly touch your heart. His job of maintaining the integrity of journalism is such an important one, as we all know that the information we have access to is a priceless tool for understanding what is really happening in our world. He is protecting our freedom of press and freedom of speech...and for that, we bake!

I was so inspired by SGT Tull and caught up in the moment of Valentines, that I decided what better a treat than to bake up the largest, most yummy batch of my famous chocolate chip cookies...with a lovely twist of red and white M&M's to replace the chocolate chips of course! These cookies are perfect for shipping to a troop or a crush because they contain a secret ingredient of instant vanilla pudding. Why pudding mix you ask? Well, adding instant pudding mix to your cookie dough prevents the delicious bites from getting stale and hard during shipping. These cookies will stay soft for weeks on end and remain perfect with every nibble to come.

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 package (3.4 oz.) instant pudding (I like vanilla)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used valentines M&M's for this recipe)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour and baking soda - set aside
3. Using a stand mixer (or similar) cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar for about 2-3 minutes
4. Beat instant pudding mix 
5. Gradually stir in eggs and vanilla 
6. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and blend until just combined
7. Using a spatula, hand stir in chocolate chips and nuts
8. Drop cookies by rounded spoonful on baking sheet lined with parchment (or an ungreased cookie sheet)
9. Bake for 10-12 minutes...they will look undone, but set up once removed from the oven

*TIP: You can really make these cookies you own by changing the pudding mix flavor or your add-in ingredients. Have fun with it! 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Love is in the Air

Honing in on the latest trend of "staycations", my fiance and I decided to put on our PJ's and make valentines dinner at home! Not quite willing to sacrifice the sweet tastes of a great restaurant, I set off to begin the menu planning. After all, this was my chance to bring romance into the kitchen and add a little bit of loving flare to everything I touched.

We started the evening with a romantic roll...heart shaped biscuits! These are very easy to make and if you can keep a secret, your guests will even think they are homemade. 

First, start with a store bought canister of buttermilk biscuits (I like the Pillsbury reduced fat variety), pop open the casing and separate each biscuit out onto your cutting board. Then, using a small heart shaped cookie cutter, go ahead and press into each biscuit and pop out the heart shaped dough. Place the little hearts on a well greased cookie sheet and bake as directed...easy!

Next up, my honey was in charge of the main meal cooking (since I am a baker by nature and a sorry excuse for a dinner chef!) and whipped up his seductive staple: roast chicken and root vegetables...yum. I won't spill his trade secrets to the perfectly crisp skin and utterly scrumptious veggies with rosemary essence, but you can trust me that this course was oh so good.

As the evening dwindled on and we let our indulgent tummy's settle a bit, I smiled knowing that I had saved the best for last, dessert.  When I was thinking about what the most romantic sweet could be for our finale, I had one dish that seemed just right - chocolate covered strawberries. Not only are these incredibly easy, but they are also incredibly lovely when paired with a glass of bubbling champagne.

What is this easy trick of a dessert you ask? Shhh, its all in your microwave! Simply buy your favorite melting chocolate (I like to use Bakers semi-sweet because the bitterness of the chocolate is the perfect balance to a nice ripe strawberry) and place it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between until melted. Once your chocolate is nice and smooth, take your washed and fully dried strawberries and dunk away, making sure to brush off excess chocolate on the side of the bowl before placing on a cookie sheet lined with foil. After you have dipped all your strawberries, place them in the refrigerator until set (about 30 minutes). If you feel like going the extra mile, go ahead and melt some white chocolate too and drizzle over your chocolate after it has set! The are so delicious, so easy, and so romantic that you are sure to make your loved one smile with sweet delight.

So go ahead and order some romance in! It's not hard, easy even, to bring everything you love about date night right to your living room. As they say...home is where the heart is, and I agree!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Super Bowl Cupcakes

These cupcakes speak for themselves...touchdown in the sugar zone!

While most people count down for the Super Bowl with six packs and a bowl of wings, KelseyKakes hits the kitchen loaded with football fueled inspiration. Now I must admit, I am no expert in the sporting arena, but I am an expert of my oven and when Haydn and I decided to throw a Super Bowl party I knew exactly where I would be the kitchen! With the seven layer dip down and some pizza on order, I set to the bigger task at hand - cupcakes themed to match the biggest day of football all year. 

Seeing as we were not rooting for a particular team this year, I decided that these cute little cakes would get some masculine love with frosting colored like grass and yard lines thinly piped with white buttercream frosting. But what would a Super Bowl cupcake be without the footballs?! These small pieces were made by hand rolling chocolate and adding laces stitched with frosting. Stick them on the 40 yard line and you've got yourself a first down!
So go ahead and get baking, there is no event to big or too small, too girly or too manly, cupcakes take the cake no matter what the occasion!

*TIP - to pipe on the frosting evenly and thinly, simply cut a small hole in the bottom tip of a Ziploc bag filled with frosting and pipe away!*