Caribbean Banana Bread

Have you ever been asked about your stance on banana bread? The options are pretty much always plain, nuts, or chocolate.

Why is this? Why limit yourself to these simple, obvious ingredients?

Why not add whatever you want?

Don’t get me wrong: classic banana bread is wonderful. But sometimes you want to shake things up, sometimes you want to try something new, sometimes you realize your shredded coconut is – shoot! – past its expiration date and you could either throw it out or test your immune system’s ability to defend itself against expired coconut (what even happens when coconut “expires”? It just seemed dry to me)…

banana bread

This recipe starts with a good staple version from The Kitchn, and then amps it up. In the easiest way possible. Because I was bored. And hungry. And maybe a teensy bit lazy (what, can’t a girl crave some banana bread with minimal work involved?). A little rummaging in my cabinet lead to a Caribbean-inspired bread that really just tastes like dessert. And happiness. Why wouldn’t you want to add to banana bread?

You can go crazy with this recipe. Banana bread is hard to mess up. Once you get the basics (flour, eggs, sugar, bananas, etc.) then you can play with it (walnuts, pecans, toasted shredded coconut, chocolate chips, toffee bits, raisinettes, butterscotch chips, the possibilities are endless!). I added ~3 extra cups of ingredients to this recipe and it was perfectly fine. So get creative, work with what you have, and report back to me on how it goes!

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CARIBBEAN BANANA BREAD

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar (brown or white; I used half and half)

2 large eggs

2-3 bananas, super ripe

¼ cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ cup chocolate toffee bits

1 ½ cups chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted

¾ cup shredded coconut, toasted

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Instructions adapted from The Kitchn.

1. Heat the oven, prep the pan, and toast the coconut and nuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Grease the loaf pan with butter or baking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, spread the shredded coconut and nuts evenly over the top, and toast in the oven while it preheats (~10 minutes, but watch them closely and pull out once the coconut turns golden). 

2. Melt the butter: Melt in the microwave. Or, if you have room temperature butter, you can use that for a fluffier cake.

3. Combine the butter and sugars: Whisk together the melted butter and sugars in a large bowl until combined. (Or cream in a mixer until fluffy.)

4. Add the eggs: Crack the eggs into the bowl and whisk until completely combined. The mixture should be smooth.

5. Add the milk and vanilla: Whisk into the batter until combined.

6. Mash in the bananas: For chunky banana bread, peel the bananas and add them directly to the bowl. Using a dinner fork, mash them into the batter. If you want a smooth bread, mash the bananas separately until no more lumps remain, and then whisk them into the batter.

7. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt: In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Use a spatula to stir the dry ingredients into the wet batter until they are just barely combined and no more dry flour is visible.

8. Fold in the nuts, coconut, chocolate toffee bits, etc, if using: Scatter everything over the batter and gently fold them in.

9. Pour the batter into the pan: Use the spatula to scrape off all the batter from the bowl. Smooth the top of the bread batter.

10. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes: Place the pan in the oven. Bake until the top of the cake is caramelized dark brown and a tooth pick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Baking time will vary depending on the age of your bananas, how many things you add, etc. — start checking around 50 minutes and then every five minutes after.

11. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes: Set the loaf, still in the pan, on a cooling rack. Let it cool for 10 minutes so it solidifies and gets easier to remove from the pan.

12. Remove from the pan and cool for another 10 minutes: Place your (clean!) hand gently on top of the loaf and flip it over into your hand. Set it back down on the cooling rack to cool for another 10 minutes before slicing. Leftover bread can be kept, covered, at room temperature for several days or wrapped in foil and frozen for up to 3 months.

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Easy, delicious, and unique. Use any ingredients you have on hand – the only things that really matter are the ripe bananas. Recommandation d’experts: spread some butter on a freshly cut piece of this bread for a perfect, decadent treat. Besides, what are a few more calories anyways?!

caribbean banana bread

Nanaimo Bars

For being so on top of the Fourth of July (did you make the star-spangled cupcakes yet?), I sure failed at alerting you to the other major holiday of the week: Canada Day!

(July 1, for you oblivious folks out there)

nanaimo bars canada day dessert

Canada is the only country I got to visit outside of the U.S. during the first 18 years of my life. I owe a lot to our northern neighbor: Grandma’s love of Cribbage. Older cousins who let us braid, clip, pin, and tie their hair. Hours-long drives through gorgeous forests. Grinning every time I hear “loonie” and “toonie.” Learning how to play A**hole/Janitor (depending on whether the children are playing) late into the night. Tim Horton’s (not for coffee, seeing as I was a kid and also don’t like coffee, just pastries). Coasting down a river in giant inner tubes. Multi-story indoor-and-outdoor water fights. Crazy, awesome, hilarious relatives. Snow. Snow on Christmas (we don’t get that in California). Oh, yeah, and my dad, who coincidentally is responsible for my last name and thus the name of this blog. He’s pretty cool I guess, so thanks for him, Canada!

canada day dessert nanaimo bar

Canada also gave me Nanaimo Bars. Aka nana-what?! bars. Aka “Finding Nemo?” bars. Aka nanananananaMO!! bars. Aka a chocolate coconut cookie-like base, vanilla kind-of-custard-kind-of-frosting filling, and smooth chocolate on top. Aka perfection out of the fridge. Aka try these now, and you can appreciate a little slice of Canada without the travel cost. Aka thanks, Canada, you rock!

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NANAIMO BARS

Recipe from Hidden Ponies

Base layer:

¾ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup granulated sugar

6 tbsp. cocoa

1 large egg

1 tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup shredded coconut

Middle layer:

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

6 tbsp. milk

4 tbsp. custard powder (or instant vanilla pudding powder)

4 cups powdered sugar

Top layer:

8oz (8 squares) semisweet or dark chocolate baking squares (NOT chocolate chips; they won’t melt properly)

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

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1. Make the base first. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat and stir over medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in the graham crumbs and coconut. Pack firmly into ungreased 9×13” pan. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the middle layer.

2. To make the middle layer, beat all four ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth. Spread evenly over the first layer. Chill for at least 45 minutes.

3. When the second layer is chilled, make the top layer. Melt the chocolate and butter in a small bowl at 50% power in microwave. Microwave for about 1½ minutes, then stir thoroughly. Microwave another 30 seconds or longer if needed, stirring frequently. Spread fairly evenly over middle layer. Chill for 1 hour, then score chocolate with a sharp knife (aka make shallow cuts that will prevent your chocolate from cracking later) and return to fridge to chill completely before cutting into bars. Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

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nanaimo bars canadian dessert

Homemade Marshmallow Peeps

A fellow grad student in my department asked if I could make my own peeps for Easter.

Challenge? Accepted.

peeps1

I used this simple marshmallow recipe from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Gourmet 1998, and added a bit of red food coloring to make them pink. I also divided the marshmallows between the pan size she calls for and a smaller (about 5×7-inch) pan because I didn’t want the marshmallows to be too thick.

To make sure I got the look just right, James made a special bunny cookie cutter for me. This is the same guy who made the heart cookie cutter for Valentine’s Day; crazy talented, right?! If you don’t have an equally remarkable labmate with impressive machine shop skills, I’m really sorry. You’re missing out. You’ll have to find a bunny cookie cutter somewhere or use a different shape. Hearts for Valentine’s Day? Clovers for St. Patrick’s Day (green food coloring, of course)? Red and blue and white stars for Fourth of July? Orange pumpkins for Halloween? The possibilities are endlessly intriguing. Conversely, we could see if James is interested in a side business selling custom cookie cutters… That is, assuming I’m willing to share my cookie cutter-making virtuoso. Big assumption.

bunny

Look at that seam… I have no idea how he does it, but I’m not going to question the wizardry so long as it keeps producing this sort of magic!

After punching out each bunny, I rolled the edges in pink and purple sugar sprinkles. Oh, and make sure you lightly grease the cookie cutter before you try cutting out marshmallows! (I may have learned that one the hard way…)

Finally, dip a toothpick in melted chocolate to dab on eyes and a nose. Cute, cute, cute!

peeps3

It’s so easy, I’m not going to give you the recipe – follow the Smitten Kitchen link to make the marshmallows and then come back here for directions on how to do the rest. Soft, fluffy, and sugary homemade marshmallow peeps? That completely blow regular, plastic-y peeps out of the water? Done and done. No more store-bought peeps for moi!

I hope you all had a lovely Easter. And please let me know if you try a different holiday or celebration version of these!

Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Peanut Butter & Cream Cheese Filling

whoopie pie peanut butter

Confession: I don’t care for the name “whoopie pie,” but it’s really the quickest way to say “soft, cake-like cookie sandwich with awesome frosting inside.” And these really are awesome. Incredibly light and soft chocolate “cookies” filled with an I’m-so-tempted-to-eat-this-by-the-spoonful peanut butter cream cheese frosting. One of my labmates requested a pairing of chocolate and peanut butter for group meeting this week, hence the veering from traditional marshmallow cream filling. Mm peanut butter and chocolate… oui, s’il vous plaît!

I have a theory that the ugliest cookies taste the best, probably because they get eaten almost directly out of the oven (after an approximate 6.72 second wait for them to cool down). You couldn’t possibly serve an ugly cookie to other people. The only logical action is to put these cookies out of their misery as quickly as possible. And of course, ugly cookies eaten directly out of the oven only have half the calories, right? Right?!

Lucky for me (and you, if you make these), this recipe produces quite a few ugly cookies if you don’t have a cookie scoop. Which I didn’t. Until one arrived in the mail after making these. (Thanks, Lauren!! Once again, that Williams-Sonoma card is making my life!) These are best the day that you frost them, but often that’s not practical, so you can store the sandwiches in the fridge if you’re not going to eat them within a few hours. (Keep in mind everyone in my building ate them the next day and had nothing but praise for them, so it’s perfectly fine to make these in advance!) Make sure to remove them at least two hours before you plan to serve them, though, so they can soften up a bit.

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WHOOPIE PIES WITH PEANUT BUTTER & CREAM CHEESE FILLING

Cookies (from Annie’s Eats)

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Filling

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 cup peanut butter

4-6 cups powdered sugar

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1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. In a medium bowl, stir/whisk together the flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs individually, beating well after each one. Add the buttermilk and vanilla extract and beat until just incorporated.

4. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients until just mixed.

5. Using a 1-oz cookie scoop (or a spoon and your talented estimating eyes), drop batter onto the prepared cookies sheets, leaving 2-3 inches between cookies (these spread!). Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on the pan for ~5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. When you’ve baked all the cookies and they’re cool, make the filling. Put the cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter in the bowl of the electric stand mixer and beat until smooth and evenly-mixed. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar until you’re happy with the consistency. It should be easily spreadable but thick enough to hold its shape between the cookies.

7. Pair cookies up by size and spread a generous amount of filling on one of the sides. Press the pairs together and store in an airtight container (in the refrigerator if you’re not going to eat them within a few hours).

8. Eat. Smile. Repeat.

Sugar Cookie Heart Sandwiches (Chocolate-Dipped and Red Velvet Cake-Filled)

heart sandwich cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear friends!! I hope you feel loved and appreciated today. Even the snow was bitten by the love bug:

snow heart

Many people will try to tell you how Valentine’s Day is pointless, worthless, or silly. But I ask you: if we didn’t have Valentine’s Day, how could I get away with packing this much pink, white, & red and this many hearts & sprinkles into one sweet treat?!

heart sandwich cookies 4

People would think I was crazy or love-obsessed on any typical day for handing these out. But today it is perfectly acceptable to be a bit over-the-top. So I say, embrace the excuse to be ridiculous! Celebrate Valentine’s Day! Make these treats! Though you’ll want to thank me for this recipe, there is no need – I am sharing it with you because (1) it is Valentine’s Day and (2) this is my way of putting just a bit more love out into the world. Because these treats? These are love.

The basic layout: sugar cookie + red velvet cake with cream cheese filling + sugar cookie, edge-dipped in chocolate and topped with sprinkles. Each sandwich has one sugar cookie that’s white with a pink heart and one that’s pink with a white heart, so the sides are reverse mirror-images of each other, sort of like a sugar cookie ying yang metaphor for love. Yup.

A few people declared this their favorite treat that I’ve brought to lab so far. Which is mighty high praise indeed! If you haven’t been convinced up to this point, now I’ve got you: you should really want to make these. And they’re not too difficult! Promise. There are a lot of steps, yes, but it’s quite fun and the payoff is worth it in both appearance and taste. How could you go wrong with sugar cookies, cake, chocolate, and sprinkles? (You can’t.)

I pretty closely followed this Valentine’s Day Cookie Cake Pop recipe from Bakingdom. My changes came in the details: instead of stamping pictures and words on the cookies, I swapped heart cutouts. Instead of lining the edges with candy melts, I dipped the sides in chocolate so you can still see the red velvet filling (and to save time). Finally, I decided to make them little sandwiches instead of putting them on cake pop sticks. Just a few variations, but the general theme of love remains and the genius of combining cookies, cake, and candy belongs to Bakingdom. :)

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SUGAR COOKIES (from: Bakingdom)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

5 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. salt

red gel food coloring

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RED VELVET CAKE FILLING

1 box red velvet cake mix

required ingredients to make the cake (eggs, vegetable oil, water, etc.)

1 can (16 oz) cream cheese frosting

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TOPPINGS

2 bags (~12 oz each) chocolate chips (I used 1 white and 1 semi-sweet)

2 tsp. shortening (for white chocolate only)

Valentine’s-themed sprinkles!

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IMPORTANT SUPPLIES

1 large heart-shaped cookie cutter

1 mini heart-shaped cookie cutter

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Preparation (aka my Day 1):

1. Make cake according to instructions.

2. While the cake is in the oven, make the sugar cookie dough. In a medium bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl + hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well-combined after each egg, and then beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the dry mixture until everything is well-mixed; scrape the sides of the bowl regularly.

3. Remove half the dough and press into a fat, round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

4. To the remaining dough, beat in red gel food coloring until you are satisfied with the color (keep it mind it will lighten slightly during baking). Press into a fat, round disk, cover with plastic wrap, and chill with the other dough.

4. When the cake is done, let it cool completely. If you are waiting overnight, cover with plastic wrap until you’re ready to use it.

Baking the cookies (aka my Day 2):

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with baking spray.

2. Roll each chilled dough disk out on a floured surface to a thickness of slightly less than 1/2-centimeter.

3. Using the large heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as you can from both the pink and white dough, pressing the dough scraps together until you can’t make any more cookies.

4. Using the mini heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out small hearts from every cookie. The small hearts should be offset inside the big hearts, on either the right or left side. Make an even number of right- and left-side cutouts for both the pink and white doughs. Swap hearts with the opposite colored dough and gently press the mini heart and the large heart together.

5. Gently transfer cookies to the lightly greased cookie sheet (use a spatula or they’ll fall apart!). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until you start to see any edges turn slightly brown. (Watch these like a hawk: they’ll turn crispy really, really fast. Ideally, you want to catch them right before they brown.)

6. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Assembly (aka my Day 2 continued; could be a Day 3):

1. Match up cookies of opposite color so that when they’re back-to-back, the mini hearts are touching. Do your best to pair up similarly shaped cookies.

2. In a large bowl, crumble the cake and stir in the frosting until very well-mixed.

3. For each cookie pair, place 1.5-2 tablespoons of the cake mixture onto the bottom side of one of the cookies. Gently press the dough until it fills the whole cookie evenly, then top with the other cookie and gently sandwich together.

4. Chill the sandwiches in the refrigerator for half an hour or freezer for 15 minutes.

5. Pour 1 bag of chocolate chips into a bowl and microwave for 1.5 minutes. Stir together until all the chips are melted. (For white chocolate chips, add 2 teaspoons of shortening immediately after microwaving to thin it out.)

6. Dip in chocolate the side of the sandwiches that does not have the mini heart cutout. Using a spoon or the side of the bowl, gently scrape off excess chocolate. Make some sandwiches with the pink side face-up and others with the white side face-up. Set on wax paper to harden and decorate with Valentine’s Day sprinkles.

7. When half of the sandwiches have been dipped, repeat steps 5 & 6 with the other bag of chocolate chips.

8. Do not store or stack until the chocolate has set; you may have to let them harden overnight.

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I recognize that this recipe has a LOT of steps, but it’s really not too difficult. You can do it! And they’re so, so good. Seriously: make these. You won’t regret it!

heart sandwich cookies 3

Also, did you notice how gorgeous these photos are? Robin and Ruby (two amazing people in my department) both told me that my photos had a lot of room for improvement (apparently iPhone photos aren’t good enough for them…). To help me step up my game, they both volunteered to share photography duty. So today, Robin conducted a mini modeling session complete with fancy lighting and a studio box and everything. My little babies, all grown up and turned into supermodels! Expect better photos from now on, folks: I’ve made it to the big leagues. I’ve got PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS!!

heart sandwich cookies 2

Chocolate Mint Hearts

chocolate mint hearts

In case you don’t have a bunch of friends posting pictures of the recent blizzard that attacked New England, let me bring you up to speed: Nemo found us. He left piles and piles and piles of snow EVERYWHERE. It’s a winter wonderland out there! It’s gorgeous and fairytale-like, perfect for playing and exploring and gawking at the whiteness that covers absolutely everything. That said, something about bundled up people treading slowly down the center of car-less streets (the cars are all completely covered in snow, not to mention there was a travel ban) with huge mountains of snow everywhere lends a bit of an eerie, post-apocalytpic vibe to the wonder. It’s a strange world, my friends, and a bit disconcerting in all its magnificence. What better way to bring back some normalcy than with homemade treats?

I knew I wanted to use powdered sugar in honor of the blizzard. With Valentine’s Day coming up, the heart sprinkles were a natural choice. My labmate is a wizard in the machine shop and helped me make a small heart-shaped cookie cutter last week. (Translation: he made it, I hovered around taking up space. More on that later, since the cookie cutter is actually for an upcoming project you’ll hear about soon!) Finally, I had a box of Junior Mints from Christmas that were begging to be used in some way. Some searching later, I found this Food.com recipe that looked perfect for adapting. Thus, meet these darling treats! These would be oh so cute in little cellophane bags tied up with cute pink, red, and white ribbons to give away to friends for Valentine’s Day. These hearts are somewhere between a cookie and a brownie, come in a sweet bite-sized heart shape, pack a delicious minty chocolate punch, and, according to my friend, “could put Girl Scout Thin Mints out of business.” I don’t know if I’d go that far (don’t kill me, Thin Mint fanatics!), but these are very addicting. And the best part is how easy they are to make!

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CHOCOLATE MINT HEARTS

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup cocoa

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 package (~4oz) Junior Mints

Heart sprinkles

~1/2 cup powdered sugar

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking tray that has edges/walls (about 12×15×1-inch) with parchment paper, so that the parchment paper goes up over the edges. Do not a use flat sheet; if you don’t have a walled baking tray, use a pan or something else with walls (you might have to divide the batter between pans).

2. Stir/whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together well. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, vegetable oil, and sugar together until soft and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs individually, beating well after each one. Beat in the vanilla extract.

5. Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet one, beating in small scoops at a time. The mixture will be fairly thick.

6. Add the Junior Mints and beat a few times so the mixer crushes up the mints and mixes them throughout the batter.

7. Spread onto the baking tray. Press the dough into a flat rectangle, leaving about a 1-inch clearance to the edges of the tray. Spread heart-shaped sprinkles all over the top and press them gently into the batter so they stick. Bake for about 16 minutes, then remove and cool on the tray.

8. When the dough is cooled, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many cookies as you can. (Oh darn, look at all those leftover pieces… You know what to do. Grab a glass of milk and you’re good to go!) Lightly dust with powdered sugar. Voilà! So cute!

NOTE: If you don’t have a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, or if you want to make something else, any cookie cutter shape would work. You could even cut them up into squares to save time. Similarly, you could use any kind of sprinkles, so these could be decorated for different holidays or just everyday fun. Have fun playing around with these!

Simple & Addicting Caramel Chex Mix

caramel chex

Meet one of easiest to make and most addicting sweet snacks you will ever encounter. I think you two will get along very well!

My lab is partnering with another group on campus for a field campaign at Cape Cod over the next few weeks. I’m part of the set-up crew. One of our responsibilities was driving all the equipment out to the site and prepping instruments for sampling. Since the drive was a few hours, that’s kind of like a road trip, right? And all good road trips require proper snacking supplies, right? (Answers: yes and heck yes.) Fortunately, I just so happen to have the perfect, incredibly addicting road trip snack.

My family made this mix to take to our relatives a few years ago. We ate the entire batch en route and, upon arrival, handed them the empty tin with the sheepish promise to fill it up if they’d let us use their oven (and go grocery shopping). We must have made at least three more batches of this stuff over the course of our visit. I’m not even sure where it all went, but somewhere between all the card playing and drinking, bowl after bowl kept disappearing.

This recipe is embarrassingly easy to make. But everybody needs some fallback quick and delicious party/road trip/family gathering snacks in their repertoire, so I thought I’d share one of my family’s staples with you. Maybe you could use it for the upcoming Superbowl? I hope you find it as ridiculously addicting as we do. One note of warning: this makes a LOT, so plan to either have plenty of people over or give bags of this away!

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SIMPLE & ADDICTING CARAMEL CHEX MIX

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

3/4 cup white corn syrup

1 cup brown sugar

1-2 cups chopped pecans, almonds, and/or walnuts (adjust mix to your liking)

1-2 cups pretzels*

1 (12oz) package Chex cereal (rice is my family’s favorite, but corn or wheat will also work)

*If your grocery store is also organized by a five year old and, even after half an hour of searching, you can’t find the normal pretzels anywhere they should logically be, use whatever you can find. For example, pretzel Goldfish work great.

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1. Preheat oven to 275 F. Spray a large roasting pan generously with baking spray.

2. Pour the cereal, nuts, and pretzels in two large bowls or one extra large bowl (you’ll need space to stir them).

3. Microwave butter, corn syrup, and brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl for 2 minutes. Stir together until well-mixed. The butter will want to float on top, so you’ll have to do some creative stirring (stir in large vertical loops, pulling up the bottom and folding it over the top so that the butter gets pulled into the rest of the mixture).

4. Pour the butter/syrup/sugar mix over top of the cereal/nut/pretzel mix and stir to coat as evenly as possible.

5. Spread the coated mix in the roasting pan and bake for 1 hour. Every 15 minutes, pull the pan out of the oven and stir the mix really well. The more you stir, the more even you’ll coat all the pieces and the better the final mix will be.

6. Spread the mix on sheets of wax paper to cool. Be sure to break up any large clumps or it’ll harden together in a big lump.

7. Serve to anyone you want to fatten up. (Just kidding, but it really is impossible to stop munching on this stuff once you get started!)

big batch

Oreo Truffles (mint & regular)

Layers on layers on layers!

Makes about 50 truffles per type (so yes, I made 100 truffles… don’t ask how long that took). The yield will depend on how flat you press the dough and what size cookie-cutters you use. These are so cute and would be great for gifting during the holidays! Other cookie-cutter shapes and sprinkles could make them good for different seasons, too. These are soft and dense. I like both the mint and the regular equally, so pick whichever grabs your attention more.

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MINT OREO TRUFFLES

1 pack mint Oreos (green)
6 oz cream cheese (softened)
1/8 tsp. peppermint extract
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 bags of chocolate (semi-sweet, milk, white, or dark)
Peppermint candy canes (crushed)

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1. Grind whole Oreos to fine crumbs in a food processor (a blender works, but be gentle on the blender since you’re not using liquid!).

2. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric hand mixer for about 30 seconds until it’s not in a block anymore. Add peppermint extract and blend another 30 seconds, then blend in about half of the Oreo crumbs. Switch to a large spoon and stir in the rest of the Oreo crumbs and the powdered sugar.

3. Line a baking tray with wax paper and coat with a fine layer of cooking spray. Spread the dough out into a 1/2 inch-thick layer and put in the freezer for 15 minutes. This step is necessary or else the dough will be too soft and sticky to make shapes with!

4. When the dough is hard, pull it out of the freezer and punch with small cookie cutters. I used gingerbread man, tree, star, and stocking shapes from Target. You’ll have to keep pushing the dough back together to make more cut-outs. Separate them onto two trays, and put them BACK in the freezer for another 15 minutes. During this time, melt your chocolate in the microwave for 1 minute, and then stir until all the chocolate is melted. You can microwave at additional 15-second intervals to get the chocolate nice and smooth, but be careful not to burn it!

5. When the chocolate is smooth and the truffle cut-outs are done hardening, dip the truffles in the chocolate with a fork and tap off the excess chocolate. Set down on wax paper and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. Repeat with all remaining truffles. You’ll have to keep melting the chocolate at 15-second intervals to keep it liquid-y enough (as it thickens, it’ll be difficult to tap off the excess chocolate). And you’ll have to keep rotating which tray of cold truffles you use, because as they warm up they’ll be too soft to dip in the chocolate without falling apart.

6. When the chocolate coating has hardened up enough (about 2 hours), use a spatula to put them back onto a wax paper-lined tray. Store in the fridge; remove ~30 minutes before you want to eat them so the chocolate softens up a little!

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REGULAR OREO TRUFFLES

1 pack Oreos (red for the holidays!)
6 oz cream cheese (softened)
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 bags of chocolate (semi-sweet, milk, white, or dark)
Sprinkles

Follow the same instructions as above, but use regular Oreos, no peppermint extract, and sprinkles instead of crushed candy canes. Enjoy!

Chocolate Oreo Buttercream Cups

Diabetes, anyone?
These are basically candy. Sugary, delicious candy. Like a chocolate bar. With Oreos and buttercream frosting. Yum. I made about 40 cups and went through four bags of chocolate chips. FOUR. Seriously! The original recipe is only designed to make four individual cups, which is great if you just want to make a few for yourself. But if you’re trying to feed a large group, get the following:

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1 pack of Oreo cookies (this will make 30; if you want more, get 2 packs)
3/4 cups (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
~6 cups of powdered sugar
3 bags semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
Sprinkles!

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Scaled up from: Picky Palate

Prepare according to instructions in the link. I used vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean seeds because, while I do have a vanilla bean, it was expensive and I’m saving it for something special. I also don’t have those cute little short cups she uses, so I made them in regular muffin cups spread out on a baking sheet. Which made them a lot bulkier with a lot more sugar… hence the label as “candy” far more than “baked good” (there also wasn’t any baking, so there’s that!).

A few things:
~I would use less chocolate next time. As they are in the picture, these basically are pure sugar. Go easy on the chocolate!
~Be generous with the buttercream frosting. It’s fantastic.
~Personalize this! For the holidays, use red/green Oreos. Also, dye the buttercream frosting red or green (I meant to do this but forgot; add ~5 drops of coloring when you’re creaming the butter and keep in mind that the color will dilute as you add the powdered sugar). Since the green Oreos are mint flavored, I’d put crushed candy canes on top instead of sprinkles!

Chocolate Caramel Cookie Dough Peanut Butter Cups

Lucky for you, they weigh enough to double-time as paperweights!Let me break this down for you: Chocolate shell. Chocolate cake + peanut butter layer. Caramel sauce layer. Chocolate chip cookie dough layer. Chocolate lid. Sprinkles. AKA everything that is good about baking. Happiness in a cup. Bliss made tangible. Need I go on?

These are brought to you by my insane, driven-crazy-by-research brain. The recipe was dreamt up over the course of a very stressful week, with the caramel added by a last-minute stroke of genius (even though you can’t see it in the photo, the caramel layer is there. Oh yes, it is there.)

Just make these. It might take you a few hours, but it’s worth it. I mean, LOOK AT IT. Did you read what’s inside?! Pure joy.

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CUP SHELLS

4 cups semi-sweet chocolate (2 for now, 2 for the top)
2 tbsp. shortening
cupcake liners (I used foil ones)

1. Microwave 2 cups of chocolate chips plus 1 tablespoon shortening for a minute.

2. Stir until all the chips have melted and it’s smooth, microwaving at 15-second intervals as necessary (stir first; usually simply stirring will work out the un-melted chips).

3. Drop a spoonful or two of chocolate into each cup, using your finger to push it up the sides of the cupcake liners. You might have to do this a few times to get a good coating on the sides and bottom.

4. Let these harden in the fridge or on the counter; I used foil liners so once the chocolate hardened, I could take the liners out of the muffin tin (the foil will hold the shell’s shape, and you can place these chocolate-filled foil-liners on any baking tray or plate) and make another round to get 24 cups.

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COOKIE DOUGH

¾ cup unsalted butter (softened)
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp. milk
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
1 ½ cups mini chocolate chips

1. Use an electric mixer to combine the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until fluffy (1-3 minutes).

2. Mix in the milk and vanilla extract until combined. Add the flour and powdered sugar until well-mixed.

3. Stir in the chocolate chips.

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CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CAKE

Chocolate cake mix
1 cup peanut butter

1. Prepare the chocolate cake mix according to instructions, bake, and let cool completely (the refrigerator can help with this).

2. Cut off all edges (and eat, obviously). Crumble the cake into a bowl.

3. Microwave the peanut butter for 30 seconds; stir until it’s smooth and almost liquid-y.

4. Mix the peanut butter into the cake crumbles. You might need to use your hands to mix it in really well and get the cake sticking together.

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ASSEMBLY

More chocolate
Caramel sauce
Sprinkles

1. Push about a ping-pong ball-sized scoop of chocolate & peanut butter cake into each cup, spreading it out to the edges.

2. Pour in a thin layer of caramel sauce.

3. Top with another ping-pong ball-sized scoop, this time of the cookie dough, and press down until smooth.

4. When all the cups are filled, melt another 2 cups of chocolate chips plus 1 tablespoon shortening. Top off each cup (about 1 tablespoon) with the chocolate and spread a spoon or tilt/shake the cup gently to get the chocolate to spread out.

5. Decorate with sprinkles before the chocolate hardens. If the chocolate hardens before you get the sprinkles on, a quick blast with a hair dryer on the highest heat setting will melt the top layer of chocolate so you can add sprinkles. Cool on the counter or in the fridge.

Inspired by: Cake-filled Peanut Butter Cups on Vanilla Sugar