I realize relatively simple granola seems like a boring thing to post. It's not something that sparks too much excitement on its own. The only reactions I ever have to different types of granola are along the lines of, "I like the dried berries," or "How is the serving size only 1/3 cup?!" It's granola. It shines when combined with other ingredients.

This granola is a different story.

It's just your run of the mill granola in terms of ingredients, but I had no idea how easy it was to make. The honey and coconut are sweet, and the pecans have a nice crunch from being slowly roasted while coated in honey. I found myself snacking on it throughout the day on its own, despite the fact that I intended to use it solely for breakfast parfaits.

I got the recipe from my mom who said it "made such a large batch that it lasted for weeks"... Let's just say mine did not last for weeks. She was right, though, it does make a huge batch. It stores wonderfully in a large mason jar or any sort of jar that can be sealed with a tight lid. You can jazz up the recipe by adding various seeds/nuts and dried fruit at the end, but don't feel the need to change a thing -- simple is a very good thing when it comes to this recipe!

Enjoy!

Coconut Pecan Granola

Ingredients
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or other nuts
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line two baking sheets with sides* with parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with a large spoon or sturdy spatula until fully incorporated and all oats are coated. Spread mixture evenly on both baking sheets, breaking up any large clumps. Place in oven for 70 minutes, stirring granola and rotating pans after 35 minutes. Coconut flakes and granola should be toasted.

Loosen granola from parchment immediately after cooking, but leave the granola on the pans until cool.

*Use baking sheets with sides to avoid having the entire sheet of oats sliding off into the bottom of a hot oven.





I think it’s about time I get back on the blogging train. What do you think? I figured I would start things off with a recipe that many people have requested over the past few years: a way to make Three-Ingredient Crockpot Chicken Tacos without using processed, preservative-packed salsa and seasoning from the store. For a long time I was hesitant to break down the components of this recipe into homemade versions because 1) If you make your own salsa and taco seasoning, the recipe is no longer three ingredients, and aside from the taste, that’s the best part about it. 2) The original recipe only takes about 2 minutes in prep time. 3) As we all know, making something healthier often means spending more money to buy fresh ingredients.

I decided that my approach would be to make a homemade salsa that would be delicious on its own.  Homemade salsa is easy to make if you have a food processor -- just throw in all of the ingredients you like and pulse them together. I did use canned tomatoes (no salt added) and canned green chiles in mine, but you could leave both of these out and just add in more fresh tomatoes if you're opposed to anything canned. I’d recommend blanching the tomatoes first if you decide to do that.

I used the standard All Recipes taco seasoning for the second “ingredient” in my crockpot chicken tacos. The recipe has thousands of 5-star ratings, so I made it exactly as written.

After cooking the chicken, salsa and seasoning in the crockpot for 6 hours I was ready to go. The results? The chicken tasted the same. Hooray!

I know what you're thinking: "What?! There's nothing spectacular and fresh about the taste now that I've used all fresh ingredients?" No, but the flavor in the original recipe is exactly what you want. The reward is that you feel slightly better about eating it because you know exactly what you used to make it. I’m generally not one to care too much about this (judge me, if you will), but that’s not to say I don’t appreciate knowing my ingredients, when possible.

Make the salsa on its own, or go ahead and make the salsa, seasoning and the tacos. Regardless, you will love the results. You can keep it healthy and top the chicken with fresh ingredients like corn, tomatoes, and avocado. I ate mine in corn tortillas with guacamole and cheese, BUT I used greek yogurt instead of sour cream on top. That was enough for me to justify eating another one..or two.

Enjoy, and thanks for your patience during my long hiatus. I’m back!

Crockpot Chicken Tacos
1oz Homemade Taco Seasoning (See Recipe Below)
16oz Homemade Salsa (see Recipe Below)
6 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, Thawed*

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and stir to mix the seasoning with the salsa, coating chicken. Cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 6-8 hours. Chicken should shred easily with a fork once it is done. 

Shred all chicken with a fork until it is fully incorporated into the remaining sauce. Serve in tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, taquitos, on salads, etc. You can't go wrong!

*Use standard-sized chicken breasts that you find at the grocery store. I often only use 4 breasts, and keep the other amounts the same. There will be slightly more liquid if you reduce the size or number of chicken breasts, but the recipe will still work.

 

Homemade Salsa

Juice of One and a Half Limes
1 Red Onion, Chopped
1 Clove Garlic, Chopped
1 14.5oz Can ‘No Salt Added’ Diced Tomatoes, Drained
1 4oz Can Green Chilis, Drained
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Diced*
Large Handful of Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Tsp Ground Cumin
5 Fresh Tomatoes, Sliced

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Pulse until salsa has reached the consistency you prefer.

*If you want more heat, you can leave some of the jalapeño seeds in.

Homemade Taco Seasoning
Recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:
Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl. Store in airtight container if not using immediately.











If you've never tried grilled Mexican street corn (elote), go ahead and make a note that as soon as you're able to light up the grill again it needs to be on your list. If you're lucky enough to live in a place where grilling in January doesn't mean brushing the snow off the cover first, by all means, treat yourself to some grilled corn earlier. Something about grilled corn and snow just doesn't seem to go together. Maybe that's just me.

Winter doesn't mean you need to deprive yourself of the amazing combination of flavors in Mexican corn, though. It's prime dip season, and adding this Mexican Corn Dip to your repertoire can only be a good thing. 

I paired it with Tostito's Hint of Lime, which pretty much rendered me helpless against polishing off way too much of it. When I finally cut myself off of the chips, I kept thinking about how good the dip itself was, so I just ate more of it plain.... This is what happens when you make things solely for the purpose of trying out a recipe and no one else is around.

Minus the mayo, it's pretty healthy as far as dips go, so it's the perfect thing to enjoy while watching the games without ruining your new year's resolution quite yet. I think using Greek yogurt would taste fine if you're really trying to take the healthy aspect up a notch (obviously skip the Tostito's if that's the case).

Enjoy!

Mexican Corn Dip
Recipe from Damn Delicious (originally adapted from Closet Cooking)
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Yield 4 servings

Ingredients

    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    5 ears corn, shucked and rinsed
    1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
    3 tablespoons mayonnaise
    2 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese (or feta), crumbled
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
    1 teaspoon chili powder, or more, to taste
    1 clove garlic, pressed
    Juice of 1 lime

Instructions
  1.     Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn kernels and cook until slightly charred, about 6-8 minutes (a cast iron skillet works great for this). Stir the kernels and add jalapeño. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 2-3 minutes.
  2.     Stir in mayonnaise, cotija, cilantro, chili powder, garlic and lime juice.
  3.     Serve immediately.




When December comes around, you're pretty much obligated to add peppermint into at least a few desserts. It'd be strange to bring peppermint treats to a party in the summer, but in the winter, people expect them somewhere on the dessert table.

Sometimes I feel like my blog is an ode to pudding cookies and chocolate, so it's only natural that I incorporate peppermint into my winter baking in the form of delicious white chocolate peppermint pudding cookies. They're sweet and sugary, which is to be expected with white chocolate and peppermint. It's a good thing because I could eat a million chocolate chip cookies, but I find myself satisfied with just one of these (and then maybe going back for another in an hour or so). They also have the soft inside with slightly crisp edges that you get by adding a box of pudding to the mix and allowing the dough to chill.

I've talked about my love for pudding cookies countless times, so it seems pointless to write much more since the only thing different about these are the mix-ins. Regardless, you should all put these on your holiday baking list because they are a perfect winter cookie!

Peppermint White Chocolate Pudding Cookies
Recipe adapted from Averie Cooks (idea adapted from The Baker Mama!)
Yield: 15 large cookies Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 11 minutes
Total Time: about 3+ hours, for dough chilling

Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup instant vanilla pudding mix (not sugar-free and not 'cook & serve'), OR use 2 teaspoons cornstarch in place of pudding mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
 3/4 cup white chocolate chips (1/2 cup in the dough and 1/4 cup for placing on top of the dough mounds)
3/4 cup Andes Peppermint Crunch (1/2  and 1/4 cup for placing on top of dough mounds)

Directions:

  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large mixing bowl and electric mixer) combine the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 4 minutes.
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour, pudding mix (or cornstarch), baking soda, optional salt, and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup of the peppermint crunch. Beat on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Using a large cookie scoop, 1/4-cup measure, or your hands, form 15 equal-sized mounds of dough, roll into balls, and flatten slightly.
  5. Add about a few white chocolate chips and peppermint crunch pieces to the top of each dough mound. This will make them look even better when they come out of the oven!
  6. Place mounds on a large plate or tray, cover with plasticwrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 5 days. Do not bake with unchilled dough because cookies will bake thinner, flatter, and be more prone to spreading.
  7. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Silpat or spray with cooking spray. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart (8-10 cookies per sheet depending on the size of your cookie sheet) and bake for 11 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just set, even if slightly undercooked, pale, and glossy in the center. Cookies firm up as they cool. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving.
  8. Cookies will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Alternatively, unbaked cookie dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, so consider baking only as many cookies as desired and save the remaining dough to be baked in the future when desired.




Crisp edges + soft inside = the perfect cookie.



I'm back! My apologies for the November hiatus. Work was busy as ever, and since that pays the bills, sometimes blogging ends up getting pushed aside.

But back to the good stuff -- and by good stuff I mean more chocolate. In particular, this amazing chocolate cake. I've been holding out on you with this one. I actually made it this summer (hence the summer platter you can see in the pictures). I don't know why I haven't posted it. I already have one cake on here that I declared the "best-ever" chocolate cake, so it seems like if I say the same about this one I'm just throwing out that award left and right. 

But really--I don't know what else to say about it. Maybe they can be tied? Given that I posted that old one almost a year ago it's hard to say which is actually better. At the time I made that one, I thought it couldn't be knocked from its top spot. Then I made this one and thought the same thing. I may have to do a bake-off and eat both of them at the same time so I can declare a winner. Such a hard task, but I'd do it.

This cake is rich, chocolaty, moist and delicious. The espresso powder adds an extra level of richness the same way that the coffee does in the other recipe. Coffee or espresso powder are always great additions to chocolate baked goods. Either one brings out the chocolate flavors and gives the recipe a depth that you wouldn't be able to achieve without it. I kept this cake in the refrigerator, and it got better every day. That said, I don't think it made it past the morning of day three, so the timeline is short. 
This is a perfect cake for making for family for the holidays. You could decorate it with red and green accents or top it with fun holiday sprinkles.

Enjoy!
The Best Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Robyn Stone,  Add a Pinch
Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter.
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.
  6. Frost cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.
Chocolate  Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from Robyn Stone, Add a Pinch

Ingredients
  • 1½ cups butter (3 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon espresso powder
Instructions
  1. Add cocoa to a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer. Whisk through to remove any lumps.
  2. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until well-combined.
  3. Add sugar and milk to cocoa mixture by adding 1 cup of sugar followed by about a tablespoon of milk. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute. Repeat until all sugar and milk have been added.
  4. Add vanilla extract and espresso powder and combine well.
  5. If frosting appears too dry, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. If it appears to wet and does not hold its form, add more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.






Whoever invented pesto was really onto something. I typically stick to basil pesto, but recently I've been on a Cosi kick (not sure how widespread that chain is), and they have the most amazing sun-dried tomato spread. I could eat it on anything. I'm thinking about it now, and I'm honestly getting hungry as I type.

So, I decided I'd make my own sun-dried tomato pesto spread, and proceed to eat it on delicious bread and then use it as a spread for one hell of a grilled cheese sandwich. Everyone has different opinions on how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. I change it up depending on the recipe I'm making, but I usually butter the bread (not the pan), use shredded cheese, and heat the pan over medium low so it can slowly get a nice crunch to the outside while getting the perfect melty cheese inside.

The pesto couldn't be easier to make. You just toss everything in the food processor and pulse until it's done. If you use fresh sun-dried tomatoes you will need to add 1/4 cup olive oil, but if you're just purchasing a jar of sun-dried tomatoes (which is what I did) they come pre-packed in olive oil.

It's a grown up grilled cheese that kids will like too because it tastes slightly like my pizza grilled cheese, just without the pepperonis. I used the Swiss and Havarti grated blend from Trader Joe's for the cheese, but you could also use mozzarella. Some of the other  mild white cheeses would work as well. This should be your lunch tomorrow.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
Makes roughly 1 cup 
 

Ingredients
8-8.5oz jar of sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil (or 1 cup fresh sun-dried tomatoes)
1/2 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
*If using fresh sun-dried tomatoes, add 1/4 cup olive oil.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, basil, Parmesan cheese, and garlic to a food processor. Pulse until well-combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you are using fresh sun-dried tomatoes, add all ingredients except the olive oil and pulse together prior to adding the EVOO. Once ingredients are combined, slowly add the olive oil and pulse until smooth. You do not want the spread to be liquidy, so use your judgment to pulse until it is spreadable and combined.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Makes Two Sandwiches

Ingredients
Four slices thick white or wheat bread (sourdough works well)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (optional)
3/4 cups shredded Havarti cheese or six slices of fresh mozzarella
4 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto 
1 tablespoon softened butter


Heat skillet/pan over medium heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread, making sure to cover the whole surface. Spread approximately 2 tablespoons of the Sun-dried Tomato Pesto on the opposite side of two of the slices. On the remaining slices, spread a thin layer of mayo on the non-buttered side (this is optional, but you're already eating a super cheesy grilled cheese sandwich, so why not go all out and make sure it's the best grilled cheese sandwich?).

Place the two slices with the tomato spread buttered side down into the pan. Sprinkle on cheese generously. It's ok if some falls into the pan, it will sear into the outsides of the sandwich and make an even more delicious crust. Lower the heat to medium-low. Cook about 2-3 minutes, or until sides have turned golden brown. Flip the sandwiches and cook another 2-3 minutes. Slice and serve immediately.

*A tip for getting gooey melted grilled cheese sandwiches is to grate your own cheese and bring it to room temperature before adding it to the sandwich. I did not do that here, but I recommend it for amazing grilled cheeses.





I would love fall a lot more if it weren't a direct descent into winter. There are just so many things to like about this season -- football, nice temperatures, beautiful colors, pumpkins and, of course, delicious food.

I've mentioned before how I am really not a fan of pumpkin pie. I'd choose cake over pie anyways, but pumpkin pie, in particular, just doesn't do it for me. In fact, if I had the choice of pumpkin pie or no dessert at all, I'd probably choose no dessert (actually, I'd just eat the crust). Pumpkin in any form other than pie? Sign me up. 

This is a perfect, easy pumpkin bread. It is SO moist (there's no getting around using that word in this instance), and it's simple, yet packed with flavor. I bought one of the larger sizes of canned pumpkin, which has allowed me to make/eat this multiple times in the last week. Healthy choices. 
Another great thing about the recipe is that it only uses 2 tablespoons of cream cheese for the frosting, so let's say you buy an 8oz block of cream cheese and a 28-29oz can of pumpkin. You can make this bread 3 times! All of the other ingredients are probably things you have on hand. In a world of expensive baking ingredients, this recipe is a godsend. Just try to block the amount of sugar from your mind, and you'll love every bite.

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe from Garnish and Glaze

Prep time 
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 12 slices
Ingredients
For the Bread:
  • 1¾ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ⅓ cup water
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ¾ - 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease 1 4½" x 8½" loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together. Make a well and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, thoroughly beat together the eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree, oil, and water. Add to the well of the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake for 60-70 minutes but tent a piece of foil over the top half way through (you need to pinch it at the ends so it forms a dome so the bread can rise) to prevent the top from browning too much. Start checking the bread at 50-55 minutes and if it looks too wet on top, take off the foil and finish cooking without it. Cook until toothpick comes out clean. Let the bread cool completely in the pan before removing.
  5. Make the frosting by creaming the frosting ingredients together. Spread on top of bread.


When I was in high school, my friends and I loved Chili's. This was before Durham, NC was quite the foodie town it is today, and before our metabolisms started to slow down. So, eating there sometimes even weekly was perfectly acceptable and normal. We'd all head there and get a big entree each, and then we'd order molten lava cakes...one each of those as well.

I remember being a sophomore and having a group of older girls from our school walk by our table one time (because yes, everybody was at Chili's), and with a look of shock one said something like,"Wow, did you all really order one each?" Up to that point I guess we hadn't considered the fact that maybe some people would split this giant dessert. To us, seven girls meant seven molten lava cakes. It just made sense. Long story short, we didn't let that judgment faze us, and continued to order our individual molten lava cakes for years.

The best thing about molten lava cakes is that you have multiple different elements all coming together at once. The cake is warm, the lava center is hot, and the ice cream is cold. When you cut into the cake with your fork, the heat from the chocolate core starts slightly melting the ice cream and the "lava" and ice cream flow out in chocolatey glory. It's incredible. When consumed following a giant plate of Chicken Crispers it will also send you straight into a food coma, but it's worth it.

I try to eat at local restaurants rather than chains these days (fast food chains not included), but Chili's is one of the few restaurant chains that holds a soft spot in my heart. Since I'm no longer close to one, this homemade version of the molten lava cakes does the trick. I think it's probably even better than the real thing. I debated taking a shortcut and using some leftover hot fudge for the filling, but opted to make the homemade version. If you have time I highly suggest doing this. The recipe as a whole is a breeze, so one step that takes slightly longer is worth it.

For the cake I used Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate Cake. I topped it with Smucker's Chocolate Pretzel Magic Shell, and used just plain store-bought ice cream. I didn't have caramel around for the sauce and didn't feel like making it, but I have no doubt that would take things to a whole new level.

Enjoy!

Copycat Chili's Molten Lava Cake
Recipe from Oh, Sweet Basil

Ingredients
  • 1 Duncan Hines Fudge Cake Mix and ingredients
  • Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Chocolate Shell Ice Cream Topping
  • Caramel Sauce
  • Hot Fudge, recipe follows
  • Hot Fudge
  • 1 Cube Butter, Unsalted (1/2 cup)
  • 1 Cup Evaporated Milk
  • 1 Cup Chocolate Chips
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1 Pinch of Salt
  • 2 Cups Powdered Sugar
Instructions
  1. Mix the cake mix according to instructions and bake in a Texas size muffin tin according to package instructions. Turn out to cool. (Remember you will be eating these upside down so you'll want them level)*
  2.  Hot Fudge
  3. Melt all of the ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil and stir for two minutes.Remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir for one minute. Allow the fudge sauce to cool.
  4. Once the cupcakes and fudge are cool, use a serrated knife or another sharp knife to level the top of the cupcakes. Once level, turn the cupcakes over and at a slight angle carefully cut a well out of the bottom of each cake. Do not cut all the way through!
  5. Fill the cake with the fudge sauce, wrap in saran wrap and freeze for 1 hr or up to a few days.
  6. Once you are ready to serve, heat each cake in the microwave for 35-45 seconds or until warmed through. Drizzle caramel over the cake and the plate.
  7. Quickly top with vanilla ice cream and pour the chocolate shell topping over the ice cream. Serve IMMEDIATELY. 
*Note: I believe a Texas size muffin tin is just an oversized muffin tin. The only jumbo pan I had made six muffins, which, when using all of the batter, resulted in me having to cut off a lot of cake to make it level. I think this amount of batter would probably make 8-10 cakes, filling each section no more than 3/4 full. When making these again (since that will be happening), I will probably bake up six, wait for those to cool, and then re-use my pan for the remaining batter instead of just pouring it all in the six pan at once!








I'm not a snob when it comes to pizza. I have been happily enjoying greasy pizza for years, and I'm not really sure whether I will ever grow out of it. After all, when you want pizza at 2am you have to make some sacrifices. You may regret those sacrifices in the morning, but quality is never an overriding factor when the pizza craving hits right as you're heading in for the night. I also make homemade pizza a decent amount, and I'll admit that I'm not remotely above using jarred sauce. 

All that said, nothing beats great pizza with fresh ingredients. Using a homemade sauce makes a noticeable difference. The same thing goes for using homemade dough (even if you purchased that homemade dough from the bakery counter or a local pizza place). This sauce has a bold tomato flavor mixed with the perfect blend of spices. It's slightly sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar, and has a little kick from the red pepper flakes. It's well worth the time if you have it. I've also found that eating pizza with homemade sauce and homemade dough reduces the guilt factor you get from eating it by at least half.

I realize I'm talking about pizza and my pictures only show a jar of sauce, which is only part of the equation. You'll have to imagine the sauce on a delicious, cheesy slice of pizza because I didn't take pictures of the one I devoured shortly after making the sauce. But it was good. This recipe makes enough for more than one pizza, and if you keep it stored tightly it will stay good for over a week.

Enjoy!

Homemade Pizza Sauce
Recipe Slightly Adapted from
Serves: 2 cups
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon fresh basil (or 3/4 dried)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Instructions
  1. Drizzle olive oil into 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent and tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, chopped basil and dried oregano. Cook for about 1 minute to release flavors.
  2. Pour in tomatoes, tomato paste, and add salt, sugar, and black pepper. Stir well to combine. Add fresh oregano. Reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring often to prevent any sticking or burning.
  3. Remove from heat and use immediately or allow to cool before storing in an airtight container for up to one week.
 






Growing up, one of my favorite activities was grocery shopping with my mom and choosing what my lunchbox dessert would be for the week (easily entertained kid). I was usually an Oatmeal Cream Pies or Swiss Cake Rolls kind of person, sometimes swapping out for the occasional Nutty Bar or Zebra Cake.

It's worth noting that this was before everyone started frowning upon pre-packaged, preservative-filled lunchbox treats. From what I can tell, kids these days have really stepped up their lunchbox game (e.g. elaborate bentos - ?!?). But for my 12-year-old self, organic was a completely foreign concept, and I enjoyed my Little Debbie's in judgment-free bliss.

The Little Debbie dessert that never made the lunchbox first-string was the Cosmic Brownie. I couldn't tell you why my chocoholic self never wanted those, but if those Cosmic Brownies taste anything like this copycat version I was wrong.

Forget cakey brownies. If that's what you're into this isn't the recipe for you. These are fudgy, rich and delicious. It's like brownies and fudge joined up for a fun party (obviously with lots of confetti m&ms) and realized they were meant to be together.  I would recommend adding the m&ms after cutting the brownies/ganache so that you can get really smooth lines. A trick for cutting into something like this is to run a knife under hot water for 5-10 second and dry it off before slicing into the dessert. Repeat the process between each long slice. The heat from the knife will help create the smooth line.

Enjoy!

Copycat Cosmic Brownies
Recipe from Averie Cooks

Ingredients:

For the Brownies
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons coffee or water (coffee leftover from the morning brew is fine)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder or dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso granules (make sure it's instant so it dissolves), optional but recommended
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

For the Ganache
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half or cream
1 cup M&M minis (you can either buy them in small tubes or check out your local grocery store for the larger bags. I like the little ones, but if you can't find them anywhere you can use regular size)

Directions:

  1. For the Brownies - Preaheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a large, microwave safe bowl, melt the butter, about 90 seconds on high power.
  3. Add the eggs, sugars, coffee, vanilla, and whisk to combine.
  4. Add the cocoa powder, instant espresso, and whisk until incorporated, free from lumps, and smooth. It could take a few minutes if your cocoa powder is lumpy.
  5. Add the flour and stir until it's just incorporated; don't overmix.
  6. Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Bake for 25 to 29 minutes, or until top has just set, isn't jiggly in the center, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few fudgy moist crumbs, but no batter. I baked mine for 26 minutes. Allow brownies to cool completely in pan. While brownies cool, make the ganache.
  7. For the Ganache - Add chocolate chips to a medium, microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power for 1 minute to soften chips. They won't be melted, this is okay. Don't stir; set bowl aside.
  8. Heat cream in a glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl until it begins to bubble and show signs of just beginning to boiling, about 1 minute on high power.
  9. Pour cream over chocolate chips and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
  10. With a whisk, beat mixture until silky, smooth, and combined. If your mixture isn't smoothing out, heat in 15-second bursts in the microwaves until it can be stirred smooth.
  11. Pour ganache over mostly cooled brownies (after about 30 minutes is fine; they don't have to be completely cooled). Smooth ganache lightly with a spatula or offset knife.
  12. Evenly sprinkle with M&Ms. Cover pan with a sheet of foil to prevent fridge smells, and place pan in refrigerator until ganache sets up before slicing and serving, at least 2 hours. Do not slice into them until the ganache has set; feel free to make these in advance and store them in the fridge; they get better with time. Brownies will keep airtight for 1 week at room temperature, for 2 weeks in the refrigerator, and for up to 6 months in the freezer. I highly recommend storing them in the refrigerator because having a slight chill to brownies this rich and fudgy is almost imperative.