Saturday, May 12, 2012

Strawberry Nutella Empanadas

I was recently out for dinner with some lovely friends of mine. Whenever we get together, food is always the main topic of our conversations. If it doesn't start out with it, it will certainly end with it.

This particular conversation, however, the girls were going on and on and on and ON about Nutella being the best combination since peanut butter and chocolate collided.

Um, you're kidding, right? No, seriously, you are kidding? You dare to compare peanut butter and chocolate to hazelnuts and chocolate? You kiss your mother with that mouth?

Then I chimed in with, "Oh for heaven's sake, what is all the fuss about Nutella?"

Well, you would have thought I just shot Brad Pitt. It was like deer in headlight glares. Needles zipping off records. Forks being dropped onto plates. Cries from two tables over. Servers passing out. Then...silence.

As the ambianic music turned back on and everything returned to as it was before, I was like, "Calm down. Seriously though, what is the deal?"

Five women immediately began rambling at once, as if trying to explain to their husbands why there was a hefty $575 charge from Macy's on the credit card bill, singing the praises of this chocolate hazelnut spread.

Because I am who I am, I like to give everything the benefit of the doubt. I gave Nutella another try, but this time, in dessert empanadas. I went with strawberries in this as well, but chose them over bananas due to my strong aversion of the banana and chocolate combination. Gag. I know, and I call myself a foodie.

Suddenly I understood the craze. The mister and I couldn't stop eating them. There was a nibble taken out of one every time we passed the plate.

I admit defeat and stand corrected. However, chocolate and peanut butter will forever remain the original and favored classic - and like I've said before, some classics should never be messed with or one upped.

Yeah, I'm still talking to you Johnny Depp.

Willy Wonka?

Seriously bro, WHATEVER.


1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 jar Nutella
6 large fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and chopped 
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon cinnamon
¼ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats. 

In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon and sugar together; set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and butter until well blended, scraping down sides of bowl. Add flour and salt to butter mixture and mix well until dough forms a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead for about 1 minute. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20-30 minutes.

Divide dough into quarters. Roll out each section to ¼ inch thick.

Using a glass or circular cookie cutter, cut desired rounds. I used a martini glass as I wanted larger empanadas. 

Place a tablespoon of Nutella and about a teaspoon strawberries on one side of dough. Be sure the strawberries have as much of the juice taken out of them as possible. Fold dough over and seal or crimp tightly with fingers or fork.


Arrange empanadas on baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture. 

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until tops are a golden brown. 

Remove from oven and allow to rest on tray for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Yield: 12 empanadas.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Root Beer Float Cookies

So I've been umming and ahhing whether or not to make these cookies for the past few weeks now.

My curiosity finally got the best of me.

You see, my dilemma is in the combination of the two. The thought of ice cream being plopped into my soda and slowly melting has never appealed to me. It actually kind of grosses me out. I mean, I love root beer and I love vanilla ice cream, just not necessarily together as a couple. Mind you, I love root beer ice cream. Yeah, I really don't know what to say about that one. Just chalk it up to a wonder of the weird world.

Once I convinced myself that these are not and will not be like the actual drink, my inquiring mind took off like a fly ball right over center field and into the screaming crowd. After all, a cookie's a cookie and I certainly won't discriminate now.

Unfortunately, my husband doesn't like root beer, full stop. Psshha. I've been trying to bring him over to the frothy dark side for quite sometime, but it's like kicking a boulder 2 feet. Hoping to change his mind, I found these little gems. Seriously, what can you NOT make in the kitchen these days?

We were impressed how good they were. The root beer flavor isn't overpowering at all and the cookies themselves are soft, light and oh, so yummy.

I know that root beer isn't for everyone, but these cookies are.

Welcome to the delicious dark side. Join us.

Recipe adapted and slightly modified from Makes and Takes

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons root beer concentrate

3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons root beer extract or concentrate (I used 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.

In a large bowl, mix flour and baking powder together; set aside. In another large bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and beat until fluffy. Add vanilla and root beer concentrate and blend until incorporated.

Add in flour mixture, along with the buttermilk. Beat until blended.

Using an medium ice cream scoop with a retractable mechanism (this will help yield a more uniform cookie), drop onto cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Mine took 9 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes. Transfer to wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To make frosting:

Beat ingredients together until creamy and smooth. Pipe or spread over cookie tops. Drizzle melted white chocolate and top with a cherry if desired.

Yield: About 3 dozen. 

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blueberry Almond Strata

Happy Sunday Morning!

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the air is warm and inviting, and I was smart enough to think ahead and make this last night. Clever girl I am.

So please excuse me while I go and enjoy with a nice cup of tea, but not before teasing you first.

My sincerest apologies.


8 cups challah or egg bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese, cut into small cubes
7 eggs
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ cups packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sliced almonds

Prepare a 13 x 9-inch baking dish by buttering bottom and sides.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and brown sugar together. Pour over bread and pat down lightly so bread absorbs egg mixture. I like to add the bread to the egg mixture and then transfer to baking dish.

Dot bread mixture with cream cheese, blueberries, and almonds. Cover baking dish with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Next morning, heat oven to 350°F.

Bake covered for 40 minutes to 1 hour. The time will depend on the sort of texture you would like. I baked mine for 40 minutes. I like mine to be a bit moist and dense in the middle, but slightly crunchy on the outside. If you'd like the same results, remove foil the last 15 minutes of baking.

Drizzle with maple syrup or honey. 

Yield: About 8-12 servings.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Caribbean Escape Cupcakes - Bath & Body Works Inspired

I have been a super fan of theirs since the early 90s, when I was still in high school and wet behind the ears. My sister and I would make the 25 minute trek every few weeks to our "local" and spend most of our paltry paychecks there. Anything to smell like a goddess. 
A lot has changed since then, but my visits to the shop have not.

I was in Bath and Body Works this past week, checking out their new spring line. The scents are way intoxicating and will definitely shake away some of the cobwebs leftover from Old Man Winter. In fact, when I walk into their stores, I like to take a moment to enjoy the fragrances around me with some deep cleansing breaths, letting the world go by for a couple minutes. It is so therapeutic and way cheaper than a therapist. I once had an employee come up to me and ask if I was okay. She thought I was having a anxiety attack. For real.

Although common sense stops me from drinking the product right from the bottle, can I tell you how hard it is not to stick a finger in and have a taste, just to see if it tastes like it smells? Then, the proverbial light bulb turned on. What if I were to incorporate these flavors into a cupcake? 

I chose Caribbean Escape scent as my muse. I literally washed my hands raw the other day because I didn't want to leave my little bathroom oasis. The room smelled A-MAZING.

I think these cupcakes would do the scent proud. They certainly helped curb my need to dip a finger into the bottle.

Now if I can only find a gorgeous cabana boy to serve these up to me on the beach with a few Mai-Tai's, we'd be all set. 


Cupcake recipe adapted and modified from Martha Stewart  

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1¼ cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Lychee Custard Filling: 
Please see my Boston Cream Cupcakes for instructions on how to make custard

1½ cups heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar
a pinch of salt
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold & cut into 2 pieces
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup lychee fruit, pureed - you can use fresh or from a can. Just be sure to drain all the juice from the can and pat fruit down before pureeing.

Mango Buttercream Frosting:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3½ cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons coconut milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup mango puree - you can use fresh or from a can. Just be sure to drain all the juice from can and pat fruit down before pureeing. 
Orange and yellow food coloring

To make cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 2-12 cup muffin tins with paper liners. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition.

Mix any remaining wet ingredients in a bowl if needed. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with wet ingredients and ending with dry. Scrape sides of bowl. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.

Bake cupcakes for 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into centers come out clean. Let cool in tins on wire racks.

To make frosting:

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add coconut milk, vanilla, and mango puree and beat until incorporated. Slowly add in powdered sugar. Mix until frosting is fluffy. 

Pipe or spread on cupcakes. Embellish with pineapple, cherries, or any tropical fruit of your choice.

Yield: 24 Cupcakes

Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way from Bath and Body Works to write this post and all views, opinions, and weight gain are all my own. 

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fluffernutter Sandwich Cookies *Gluten-Free!*

There is nothing like a good cookie, but there is really nothing like a good peanut butter cookie.

I am nutso about peanut butter. Ha. I know. Nuts? Peanut Butter? I get it. Seriously, I adore the stuff. I often gasp when I hear someone say they don't like peanut butter. WHA? Weirdo. A life without peanut butter cups, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter candy, or even peanut butter cashew chicken stir-fry is just not much of a life.

I was making a fluffernutter sandwich for my kidlets the other day. I love that they have embraced some of my favorite lunchtime staples as a child. As I was licking the butter knife clean, (I know, my mother would be completely horrified) I thought, 'How amazing would this be as a cookie?' Cue light bulb over head.

My little sous chef and I went to work and came up with these. The perfect little snack for a lovely afternoon and they're gluten-free to boot! No more licking knives clean and passing on habits that I, myself, would be horrified to see.

You're welcome Mom. You too hubby.


1 cup peanut butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg

1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow fluff
½ cup peanut butter*

* This is to help reduce the stickiness of the fluff. 

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer until incorporated.

Hand roll out 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet prepared with parchment paper or silicone mats. You can leave the tops plain or make crisscross designs with the tines of a fork. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Mine took 9 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and allow to cool completely. 

To make filling:

Scoop out marshmallow fluff into a large bowl and stir in peanut butter. You can add more or less peanut butter to your liking, but adding it helps stabilize the fluff a bit more. Otherwise, it'll be pretty gooey and messy.

Spread over underside of one cookie and sandwich with another. 

Yield: 12-14 sandwich cookies.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Sopapilla Cheesecake Pie

Did you ever try something or do something once when you were a kid and are reintroduced to it again as an adult and remember every detail of when you first tried it?

This never happens to me.

I kid, I kid. This actually happens to me quite often. It could be a song or a smell and I'm suddenly transported back to another time. However, nothing does it for me more than food.

When I was 9, my family and I went to visit my aunt and uncle in New Jersey for the weekend. We only lived about an hour and a bit over the state line, but as a kid, any road trip is seen as a one hour too many in the car.

I'm not sure why we went to visit, but I have a feeling it was my Uncle T's birthday and it must have been a milestone at that. I remember his extended family were there, which would be the reason we were there as well.

My uncle is Puerto Rican and man, can he cook. I remember this was also the weekend I learned of my doomed shellfish allergy. 4 hours in the ER was not a fun place for a 9-year-old.

Anyway, when we woke on Sunday morning, my Aunt had set out a brunch to send everyone off. I couldn't stop eating these particularly awesome little pastries. I didn't know what they were and I certainly didn't have the confidence to ask. I just ate as many as my hands could grab and did so like there was no tomorrow, but I honestly never forgot about them as I grew up. I really didn't.

I had this pie a couple weeks ago at a potluck. I was like, 'Are you kidding me??' Let me tell you, I was totally transported back to that day and realized those gorgeous puffs MUST have been sopapillas. It was the weirdest feeling to FINALLY put a name to a, well, pastry.

I felt like I had finally found Waldo.

For good.

Recipe adapted and modified from

1 box refrigerated ready made pie crust - I used Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust.
2 (8 ounces) blocks cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon**
1 cup granulated sugar**
½ cup butter, melted
¼ cup honey, optional

**Just know that you won't use all the cinnamon sugar mixture once it's combined.

Preheat an oven to 350ºF.  Line a 9-inch fluted tart pan with one roll of dough; set aside.

In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar, and pure vanilla together until smooth. Place cream cheese mixture into pie shell. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly over the pie crust and cover with second pie crust. 

What I did to ensure every part of the crust is coated and the cinnamon sugar adheres, I melted the butter and honey, if using, together and brushed on with a pastry brush. 

In a small bowl, stir sugar and cinnamon together until combined. If you have a shaker, it's so much easier to get an even coat of cinnamon sugar that way. If not, a spoon is fine as well. Sprinkle until top is completely covered. 

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Allow to completely cool before cutting. You can drizzle melted chocolate on top for an extra special treat.

Yields: 8-12 servings.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mini Cake Batter Doughnuts

I love garage sales. Rummaging through other people's junk treasures and finding a bunch of stuff you don't really need, but just have to have?

It's amazing the things you can find for a pocketful of change. A friend's Mom from back home once furnished an entire apartment with garage sale finds. It was beautiful and cost her only $75!

I love them and couldn't imagine a better way to spend an early Saturday morning.

My mother-in-law is more of a fanatic than I am. If you're looking for something, she will ALWAYS find it. And I mean, A-L-W-A-Y-S. I remember when someone needed the back of a clock from a certain make, several years ago. Would you believe she found it like 2 weeks later? We're talking a needle in very big haystack.

I've had a doughnut pan on my 'to get' list for a few weeks now. I didn't say anything about it as I knew I would be going shopping stateside within the next few weeks and could most likely find one there. Guess who comes over yesterday with one - in pristine condition nonetheless? Can she read minds now? It was pretty spectacular. She grabbed it in a 'fill a bag for a dollar' at a church rummage sale. How awesome is that?

Even more awesome is that I didn't have to wait to get a pan anymore to make these lovely treats.

God bless garage sales. And those who throw away money so I don't have to.

Recipe adapted and modified from Tasty Kitchen

1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup yellow cake mix - I used Betty Crocker
¼ cup vanilla pudding mix
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sprinkles

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons mil

To make doughnuts:

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Lightly spray doughnut pan with no stick spray; set aside.

In large bowl, mix flour, cake mix, vanilla pudding, sugar, baking powder, and salt. 

Stir in milk, egg, vanilla, and butter. Mix well to combine. Stir in sprinkles. 

Scrape batter into large ziploc bag, snip corner, and squeeze batter into prepared pan, filling about ¾'s of the way. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until doughnuts spring back when touched. Since I have a mini doughnut pan, mine took 8 minutes exactly. 

Cool completely before adding glaze. 

To make cream cheese glaze:

Beat cream cheese until creamy. Add powdered sugar and mix until incorporated. Stir in milk and vanilla. You can add more milk if need be to get desired consistency. 

Yields: 12 large or 24 mini doughnuts.    

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