Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

For a 4 and 6-year-old, my kids are not what I would classify as “picky eaters”. They don’t like spicy food, trying new things is always a challenge, and 90% of the time they tell me they’d prefer cereal to whatever it is I’m cooking. But my 6-year-old can inhale spring rolls and sushi at an alarming (and expensive) rate, my 4-year-old’s favorite snack is a Cliff bar, they both love fruit, drinking lots of water, and mostly understand that you don’t get a sweet treat unless you’ve eaten some “real food”.

They both love these chocolate zucchini muffins – and what’s better, they KNOW that they have green stuff in them and THEY DON’T EVEN CARE. There are a million recipes for zucchini muffins out there, but they tend to fall into 2 categories for me:

  1. Overly healthified, as in, there’s no way my kids would eat them.
  2. Full of sugar and vegetable oil, which kind of negates the health benefits we’re seeking. Essentially, a chocolate zucchini cupcake.

These are the Goldilocks of muffins for me – not overly sweet, so you feel like you made a healthy choice, but sweet enough that you feel like you’re getting a treat. Win/win.
Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

1.5 lbs zucchini (about 3 standard size)

2 cups flour (can use WW if you don’t mind a denser muffin)

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

6 TBSP butter (can substitute coconut oil)

2 eggs

1/4 cup sour cream or greek yogurt

1 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat to 350°. Grate the zucchini (no need to peel) on a box grater. Place the shredded zucchini into a colander and press on the top with paper towels to soak up excess moisture.
  2. Stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Melt the butter or coconut oil and whisk in the sugar (it’s not much, I do it in a Pyrex measuring cup).
  3. Whisk the eggs into the sugar/butter mixture and fold in the sour cream/yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. At this point, the batter will seem overly dry, but then add the grated zucchini and the remaining moisture will loosen things up. Stir until combined, then fold in the chocolate chips.
  4. Grease a muffin tin and fill with batter 3/4 full. I usually yield between 16 and 18 muffins. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

Kimchi Noodles

Until Robin started kindergarten last fall, I never really understood the allure of 30-minute meals. Before then we lived with my parents and I stayed home with my two pre-schoolers. By dinnertime, I was so excited to do something other than play Barbies or watch another round of Octonauts, I had 3 other adults (a dad and 2 grandparents) who were stoked to play with the kids, my dad loves cooking as much as I do so we worked together, and my mom always did the dishes. I never minded spending an hour cooking dinner with my dad with no impending clean up – and, as much as I love being a stay-at-home-mom, it was often the highlight of my day.

Of course, seasons change. We now live 28 whole minutes away from my parents, Robin’s in kindergarten all day, I’m only cooking for two adults, the kids have evening activities that make dinner complicated, and though I require everyone to do their part, I end up with the bulk of the dishes, too. While we were adjusting, we ended up picking up a lot of takeout, which was so great when we were 23, but at 33 your body just doesn’t handle Taco Bell like it used to. So here we are, renewed interest in 30-minute meals.

On Wednesday nights, Robin has a Daisy Troop meeting that lasts an hour 5 minutes from our house starting at 6. Eating at 5:30 is too early, and 7:30 is too late, but by the time I’ve dropped her off, chatted with the moms, and driven home, I’ve only got 40-minutes max to cook and eat before I have to leave to pick her up. My 6-year-old does not handle late pickups well.

Enter Kimchi Noodles – which can be cooked, start to finish, and eaten by me, a notoriously slow eater, in 40 minutes. If you love kimchi, noodles, and runny eggs, this meal is for you. As much as I like to brag about my kids loving a wide variety of foods, this dish is spicy and I won’t subject my kids to fermented vegetables yet, so they get macaroni and cheese at 5:30. Kimchi, gochujang, and udon noodles can be a bit hard to find, but they last forever, so stock up and you can bust this out when all you’ve got is eggs to work with.

Kimchi Noodles

9 oz. dry wide udon noodles (they come in a pack with 3 little portions – you only need one per person, so I either cook the 3rd for leftovers or save it for next time)

3 T butter

1 cup or so of kimchi (I use Mother-In-Law Kimchi – which is absolutely the best I’ve had and I use about half a jar) and some of the kimchi juice.

2-3 T gochujang paste, depending on how spicy you want to go.

1/2 cup of any kind of broth or water

eggs

optional: broccoli, green onions, and/or sesame seeds – but it’s fine without any of those.

  1. Start the water boiling for the noodles and cook according to package directions (usually about 4 minutes. In a large skillet or dutch oven, melt 2T of the butter over high heat and roughly chop the kimchi. When the butter starts to sizzle, add the kimchi and gochujang and stir everything together. If you’re using broccoli, add it here and cook with the kimchi mixture for about 5 minutes until nice and caramelized.
  2. Turn the heat down a little, add the broth and whatever leftover kimchi juice you have to the kimchi to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking until the noodles are done. Drain the noodles and add them to the kimchi mixture and stir and cook it all together while you do the eggs.
  3. In a small frying pan, melt a pat of butter over high heat, then crack in the egg and cook until the edges are set (around a minute). Flip the egg and count to 10, then serve over the noodles (my husband likes 2 eggs, I usually only like one).
  4. Garnish with some sliced green onions or sesame seeds if you’ve got them.

 

Chocolate Cupcakes

I don’t have much to say about these cupcakes other than that they’re basically the perfect chocolate cupcake. They’re moist, rich, not lacking in chocolate, and don’t have any weird specialty ingredients. I haven’t made another chocolate cupcake in years because these are, actually, the best.

They’re great topped with a basic buttercream, French buttercream (if you’re a true player), chocolate frosting, cream cheese frosting, or as a hi-hat. They’re the perfect chocolate cupcake base. They DO have coffee in them (divided out it’s a pretty negligible amount), but while I wouldn’t send them to school, I don’t mind if my kids have one.

Chocolate Cupcakes

yields 24 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee (my Nespresso only makes a bit more than a cup, so I use a strong variety and top it off with hot water).

3/4 cups cocoa powder

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°.
  2. Stir the cocoa powder into the hot coffee until dissolved. Set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and both sugars for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract and beat until fully combined. Stir the baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the flour in a small bowl.
  4. Add the flour mixture and coffee mixture to the batter in a few alternating additions. I usually do about 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the coffee, and so on until everything is combined and smooth.
  5. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full (be careful not to overfill – they will grow) and bake 18-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

P.S. I used this same batter to make my son’s birthday cake last year – it easily can convert to 2 8″ or 9″ round pans, but you’ll need to bake for quite a bit longer (30-40 minutes).

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie Cake

Baking cookies with kids is one of those things that sounds so wonderful when you’re pregnant. You picture yourself with your angel children carefully measuring and pouring ingredients in your well-stocked, immaculate kitchen all while wearing matching aprons with just a little dab of flour on your rosy cheeks. It’s a perfect Martha Stewart moment. You’ll do it every week!  It will be magical! Memories will be made!
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Then you actually have the baby and see how absolutely ridiculous this idea is because you don’t have time to even take a shower by yourself, much less go to the store, get ingredients, bake cookies, and clean up. I’ve always loved baking, but I’m definitely a control freak in the kitchen and just couldn’t see how to involve my kids without making it a miserable experience for all of us. I like baking – it brings me pleasure and relaxes me, so adding my kids to the mix seemed a little ridiculous so I avoided it for a long time.

But baking with your kids really can be awesome if you do it right. First, if you can manage to do it with one kid instead of 2 or 3, it’s much better. Second, I suggest starting when your kitchen is already a mess – because it will definitely be one by the time you’re finished. Finally, young kids don’t have much of an attention span. Make something fast and easy, or only involve them in a small part (trust me on this – if you’re going to make, cut out, bake, frost, and decorate 100 Christmas cookies, spread it out over a few days and only make 20). This skillet cookie cake is one that RG and I make together a lot. It’s one bowl, there’s plenty of fun measuring and pouring to do, you probably have all of the ingredients on hand, it’s forgiving, and it takes about 20 total minutes. No scooping our individual cookies, waiting for anything to rise, frosting – nothing. You mix, pour, and bake. It’s also absolutely heavenly.
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Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie Cake

2 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup regular white sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder

2 cups flour

2 cups chocolate chips (I use 1 cup of bittersweet and 1 cup of semisweet, both ghirardelli)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large mixing bowl or bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs one at a time, mixing and scraping the bowl between additions. Mix in the baking soda, espresso powder, and salt until everything is combined and smooth.  Add the flour  one cup at a time, making sure the first is fully incorporated before adding the second. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  2. Grease an 8″ cast iron skillet (I just spray a little vegetable oil on mine) and pour the batter/dough in, using a spatula to smooth out the top. Bake for 35+ minutes, until the middle is set and a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cookie cake cool for 20 minutes, but then serve warm out of the skillet, preferably with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate Strawberry Dipcakes

When I was little, driving through Dairy Queen on a road trip was one of the finest pleasures known to me. A blizzard lover myself, I long lamented the lack of DQs near my home, but was able to satisfy cravings frequently on weekend trips to our lake house. When my youngest brother was about 2 years old he fell in love with Dip (or is it dipped?  I live in Texas, here it’s just dip) Cones. He would savor it slowly, letting all of the melted chocolate and ice cream cover the entirety of his body, hair, and overalls. It was always a look of pure bliss.

I didn’t know you could apply the dip cone process to cupcakes until a few years ago.  It’s called a “hi hat”and it’s much easier than it looks. It is a 3-step process – baking the cupcakes, making the frosting and piping, then dipping, but it’s worth the process. You could do this with any flavor of cupcake and buttercream, too, but Valentine’s Day kind of lends itself to chocolate covered strawberries. I call them “dipcakes”. When I last made these, I did make the mistake of making mini-cupcakes. You get about 4 mini cupcakes for every 1 regular cupcake, so it sounds awesome in theory, but baking, frosting, and dipping 100+ cupcakes was super annoying.  Half the recipe if you want minis.

Also, let it be known that I finally figured out how to make a degree symbol in wordpress.
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Chocolate Cupcakes

yield 24 regular cupcakes or a million little cupcakes (90+)

1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee

3/4 cup cocoa powder

12 T (1.5 sticks) butter, softened

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3/4 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 T vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups AP flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a small bowl, whisk the cocoa powder into the coffee until it is all dissolved and set aside.
  2. In a bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time until incorporated, then the vanilla and beat it all together for a minute or two.
  3. Stir the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. Add the flour mixture and the coffee mixture to the butter mixture about a cup at a time, alternating the two and making sure each addition is fully incorporated and scraped down before adding more.
  4. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes (12-14 if you’re making minis), until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to completely cool.

 

Strawberry Buttercream

yields approximately 8 cups of frosting – plenty to frost 24 cupcakes.

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

1 cup crisco (I buy the foil wrapped packs, it’s one stick)

7-8 cups powdered sugar

1 T vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

1/3 cup milk or cream (up to a 1/2 cup)

1 cup finely diced fresh strawberries

  1. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy – at least 5 minutes. Add in 7 cups of powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, making sure to fully incorporate between additions.  Beat the mixture for another few minutes to fluff it up.
  2. Add in the vanilla and cream and beat the whole mixture for an additional 3-4 minutes until the whole mixture becomes light and fluffy. If the mixture seems too dense, add in a bit more cream, a tablespoon or two at a time, if it seems too runny, add in powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
  3. Pour in the strawberries and beat on high until the strawberries are beaten in, this takes a few minutes on high. Stir to make sure no big strawberry chunks remain and check consistency again.
  4. Frost cupcakes using a wide tip (because the strawberry bits tend to get stuck – I use my biggest round tip). Be generous with frosting and remember that the chocolate hides a lot of imperfections.

 

Chocolate Dip

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I use the ghirardelli in the brown bag)

1-2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

  1. Stick the frosted cupcakes in the freezer for about 10 minutes, heat the chocolate while they cool.
  2. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments (it will burn if you go any longer). I use a pyrex glass 2-cup measuring cup for this. Between each microwave, stir the mixture completely and allow to cool. The chocolate will melt as it sits, so be patient. Stir in 1 T of oil after the first microwaving and add more if the chocolate doesn’t easily ribbon off of the back of a spoon. Once your chocolate is smooth and luscious, get the cupcakes out of the freezer.
  3. One at a time, dip the cupcakes into the chocolate, making sure to twist them a bit on the way out to let the excess chocolate drip off.  I use a toothpick to make sure all areas are covered.  After letting the chocolate run off for a few seconds, let the chocolate cool and harden – this can take about an hour, especially if it’s warm in your kitchen. If you’d like to add sprinkles or gold dust, add that about 5 minutes after you’ve dipped.
  4. Once completely cool and hardened, store the cupcakes at coolish room temperature (the refrigerator does weird things to them, but heat will melt them).

Reese’s Pieces Cookies on Steroids

Do people in your life refer to items that are excessively good or over-the-top as “on steroids”?  You know, like when you make homemade ice cream with booze in it, it would be “ice cream on steroids” or seeing Dave Matthews at Red Rocks would be a “concert on steroids”.  Given this information, you’d think that we call these cookies “cookies on steroids” because of excessive deliciousness or the myriad of add-ins, but that’s actually not the case.

See, my poor husband came down with pneumonia last month and, as a result, was prescribed steroids to help him recover.  They worked really well, but a side effect of prednisone is that it makes you want to eat everything in sight.  He requested these cookies 36 hours after his diagnosis was confirmed and I’m pretty sure I saw him stack 8 of them on a plate as his “dessert”.

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These are sort of a riff on a double chocolate cookie and a peanut butter cookie.  My husband and I don’t typically keep candy in the house (a combination of not loving it and admitting to a lack of willpower), but Reese’s Pieces tend to be our downfall. The only thing challenging about chocolate cookies is that it’s hard to tell when they’re done.  I’d recommend baking only a half dozen on your first cookie sheet to pinpoint your level of doneness – you want chewy for these, not crispy.

Reese’s Chocolate Cookies

yield: 24-36 cookies depending on how large you make them.

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Reese’s peanut butter chips (they look like tan chocolate chips and can be found in the same spot)

1 cup Reese’s pieces candy

1. Preheat your oven to 350. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Mix in the egg and vanilla until combined.  Stir the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, and salt together and add slowly to the butter and sugar until it forms a nice dough.

2. Stir the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, and salt together and add slowly to the butter and sugar until it forms a nice dough.

3. Fold in the peanut butter chips and most of candy until well-distributed (save a tablespoon or two of candy).  Note that if you’re using a stand mixer and add the candies into the mixer, the paddle will crush some of the candy.  This doesn’t bother me, but if it bothers you, then stir in the candy by hand.

4. Scoop tablespoon sized mounds onto a cookie sheet and, if you’d like, stud the tops with the extra candies (this isn’t necessary, but it makes your cookies look prettier).  Bake for 10-12 minutes and allow to set for a few minutes before you remove them from the pan.

Note:

1. I do not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs.

2. I made homemade ice cream with booze this weekend.  It was life-changing.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

So, you’re looking for the easiest dessert you could possibly make that also tastes incredible?  Here it is.  It’s not fancy, it’s not difficult, and it’s not really cheesecake, but it’s the ultimate potluck dessert.  I send it to work with Ross often and none of it ever comes home.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

2 cans crescent rolls

2 8oz. packages cream cheese (low fat is fine, fat free is not), softened

1 1/4 cup sugar, divided

1/2 stick of butter

1T cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll out one can of crescent rolls (don’t break apart) and press into the bottom of a glass 9×13 baking dish.  You may need to manipulate it a bit to cover the whole bottom.

2. Beat a cup of the sugar with the cream cheese until fluffy and combined.  Using a spatula, spread the mixture all over the layer of crescent rolls leaving about a half inch border around.

3. Unroll the second can of crescent rolls and arrange to cover the top,  I press the edges together.  Melt the butter and pour over the top, stir the cinnamon and additional 1/4 cup of sugar together and sprinkle over the top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.