Chewy Chocolate Chip & Dried Cranberry Granola Bars

Chewy Chocolate Chip & Dried Cranberry Granola Bars

Yesterday, for the first time in (many) weeks, I actually felt like spending time in the kitchen. I took advantage of that to make these granola bars. While I definitely don’t make all of their snacks from scratch, I don’t like to rely too much on store-bought snacks for the kids—they’re pricy, and all too often full of a ton of crap that I’d rather them not eat too much of. And it had definitely been too long since I made anything for them.

Chewy Chocolate Chip & Dried Cranberry Granola Bars

I love that these are relatively healthy, use ingredients that I pretty much always have in the house, and are easy to make. They also freeze well, so you can make a big batch and have them for a while.

You can find the recipe for these HERE. I doubled the recipe and mixed in a 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips and 2/3 cup dried cranberries, which was plenty—I’d probably cut down on them next time.

Chewy Chocolate Chip & Dried Cranberry Granola Bars

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Root Beer Bundt Cake

I’ve been having such a hard time in the kitchen lately. Figuring out what to make for meals has been feeling like such a chore. I’ve had absolutely no patience for cooking. And don’t even get me started on cleaning up the kitchen after I cook. Maybe it’s because my brain wants to be on summer vacation like my kids are. I don’t know, but I sure hope this passes soon.

However, I did feel like it was time to bake something. Something new, but something simple. I thought a bundt cake would be perfect. After looking through a few of my cookbooks, I decided on this root beer bundt cake. It’s very easy to make (you don’t even need a mixer), and it tastes fantastic—like a chocolate cake, but with a twist from the root beer. We ate it as-is, but the authors suggest serving it with vanilla ice cream—a cake version of a root beer float!

Root Beer Bundt Cake

For the root beer bundt cake:

2 cups root beer (NOT diet)

1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

For the root beer fudge frosting:

2 ounces dark chocolate (about 60% cacao), melted and slightly cooled

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup root beer

2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder

2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Make the root beer bundt cake:

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray (I used the kind for baking, with flour in it). Or you can butter and flour it.

2. Combine the root beer, cocoa powder, and butter in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add both sugars, and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat, and cool.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

4. Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl, until just beaten. Whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. Do not overbeat, or you can end up with a tough cake—the batter will be slightly lumpy, and that’s fine.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cake is done when a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

6. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. After the cake is cooled, run a dull knife around the sides of the cake, and turn it out.

Make the root beer fudge frosting:

1. Place all the ingredients for the frosting in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the frosting is smooth and shiny.

2. Use a spatula to spread the frosting in a thick layer over the top of the cake, and let set before serving.

From Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito

Peanut Butter Cookies

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

Classice Peanut Butter Cookies

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

I love trying out unique recipes, those that have unusual flavor combinations or new-to-me ingredients. It’s part of what makes baking, cooking, and eating so much fun.

But sometimes? Sometimes I just want something classic.

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup (6 1/2 ounces) vegetable shortening

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

1 cup (8 ounces) dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (9 1/2 ounces) creamy (or crunchy) peanut butter

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Cream together the shortening, sugars, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, salt, and peanut butter. Stir in the flour.

3. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the lined baking sheets. Press down on each cookie with a fork to make a crisscross design.

4. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, allow to sit on the baking sheets for a minute or so, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies (I got quite a bit more than that, but I made them on the small side)

*Recipe from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

Cara Cara Orange Ice Pops

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I feel silly even posting these, but my kids loved them, so why not?

My kids fell in love with cara cara oranges over the winter. They’re a little sweeter than regular oranges, and are a lovely pinkish-orange on the inside (which totally did not translate to these ice pops). Last week I came home with two big bags of them, and thought that making ice pops would be a great way to use some of them up.

Cara Cara Orange Ice Pops

1 cup cara cara orange juice

1/4 cup simple syrup*

Combine the juice and simple syrup in a large measuring cup with a spout, and mix well.  Pour into ice pop molds (or small paper cups). Place in freezer for about an hour, until the mixture starts to freeze. Insert popsicle sticks, and return to freezer until completely frozen

Makes 4 ice pops (or more, or less, depending on your molds)

*To make simple syrup: Combine equal amounts of water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Note: You can obviously make these with any oranges (or any citrus, really). Just adjust the amount of simple syrup accordingly. You want it to taste a little sweeter than you want the finished product to taste, since it will taste less sweet when frozen.

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Tomorrow morning we are heading up to Las Vegas to visit family, and I wanted to write a quick post about these cookies I made for us to have during the drive.

The recipe for these is from one of my favorite new cookbooks, Pure Vanilla. I’ve always loved vanilla, and when I saw that there was going to be a cookbook coming out that was devoted to that awesome flavor, I immediately pre-ordered it. However, I’ve not had a chance to make more than one recipe until now. But I was determined to make something else from the book before our trip, and I chose these since I figured they’d survive the trip relatively intact.

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Oh my goodness, these are good! The texture is perfect. And since there is lots of vanilla extract in the cookies, and vanilla sugar on top of the cookies, the flavor really shines.

Heirloom Vanilla Sugar Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil)

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup Vanilla Sugar (see below)

Coarse rainbow sugar or other decorative sugar, for sprinkling (or sprinkles)

1) Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2) Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil and egg in a medium bowl.

3) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla extract on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale in color, about  2 minutes. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn mixer to low and gradually beat in the oil-egg mixture until smooth. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until smooth. The dough will be soft.

4) Roll the dough into balls, about 2 tablespoons each, and place 2 inches apart om the prepared baking sheets. Pour the vanilla sugar onto a plate. Spray the bottom of drinking glass (a flat-bottomed glass), and dip the bottom of the glass into the vanilla sugar to coat. Press into each ball to flatten to about 1/4-inch thick, re-sugaring the glass each time.

5) Sprinkle the flattened cookies with decorative sugar, if desired. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through, until pale golden and just beginning to turn golden brown around the edges. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Vanilla Sugar

Fill a lidded container with about 2 cups of granulated sugar. Bury a vanilla bean or two, split lengthwise, in the sugar. Tighten the lid and shake the container well. Store in a cool, dark place for at least 2 days.

*Adapted from Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever

Notes:

—I found that the dough was easier to roll into a ball with wet hands (it keeps the dough from sticking to your hands too much.

—I refrigerated the trays of cookies before I baked them because I was worried about them spreading too much. If you choose to do this they will take longer to bake, so keep an eye on them to see when they are done.

—For some of the cookies I used a small scalloped cookie cutter to imprint the cookies with a design. Simply push the cutter partially through the dough after flattening with the glass.