Tailgate food. Can anyone ever get enough? I know I can't.  I could eat appetizers every meal for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. I would also be 400 lbs..but still happy. Something about bite-sized foods always gets me. I'll sit there and eat 10 mini pigs in a blanket without ever thinking I've had 3 full hotdogs worth. Whoops.

This weekend was the Duke-UNC football game. I've mentioned before how my brother and I are UNC fans (he's a 2009 grad), and the rest of my family is full of Duke fans. This year the game happened to fall on Thanksgiving weekend, and it was at Duke. This meant I was forced to tailgate with the enemy since I was home for break anyways. Truthfully, I didn't mind because I have been bookmarking tailgate recipes all year just dying for a chance to make them. It's not that I couldn't come to a UNC tailgate with a batch of mini hotdogs in hand...but it is.

So, when my mom told me we were having a big tailgate I immediately started listing off the items I planned to make. I ended up limiting it to buffalo chicken dip (since I have never made anything that receives as amazing of a reaction as this always does), caramelized onion dip and mini homemade pretzels stuffed with ham and cheese. We of course brought many other things as well, but those were my addition. I'll stop rambling now and get to this recipe because these were GREAT! Simple, delicious and awesome for a tailgate. We served them with honey mustard which was especially good. And on top of everything, they have yeast...still conquering my fear of yeast one recipe at a time. I see a great friendship in our future.

Oh, and UNC won. Go heels!

Ham and Cheese Pretzel Bites
Yield: 48 bites
1 package (1/4 oz) active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup warm water (110-115˚F)
1 cup warm milk (110-115˚F)
2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
1/2 cup finely chopped ham (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup shredded cheese of choice (I used cheddar)
6 cups water
4 teaspoons baking soda
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1-2 Tablespoons coarse salt
Combine the yeast, 1 tsp brown sugar, and warm water in a large bowl. Set aside until foamy, 5-8 minutes.  (If using the instant yeast, you can skip this step and just add it to the flour.) In another bowl, stir together the remaining 2 Tbsp brown sugar and warm milk until dissolved.
Add 2 1/2 cups flour and milk mixture to the yeast. Stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Add the remaining flour as needed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead a few times, forming a smooth ball.
Brush the inside of a large clean bowl with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm, draft free area for about 2 hours, until dough has doubled in size and bubbles appear on the surface.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 4 equal pieces. Lightly dust your hands and rolling pin with flour. Roll one of the four sections into a 12×4-inch rectangle. With the long side facing you, gently press 1/4 of the ham and cheese into the bottom third of the dough, and roll as tightly as possible, starting with the end that has the filling. Cut into 12 1-inch pieces and transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining 3 portions of the dough.
Let rest, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Again, if using instant yeast you may choose to skip this step as it only requires one rise.) Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400˚F.
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the baking soda and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Boil pretzels in batches, cooking about 20 seconds each, turning once. They should be slightly puffed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them back to the baking sheets.
Bake until puffed and golden-brown, about 15 minutes.
Brush warm pretzel bites with melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.

There's a little coffee shop on UNC's campus that I frequently stop in before a night of studying at the library. For as long as I can remember I have had an extreme aversion to the library, so I always reward myself for going with a frozen drink or cookie (or both). I avoided the library for the first two months of school, but then my class schedule caught up with me and doing work at my desk just wasn't cutting it. As you can imagine, this cookie/frappuccino habit is not so good when going multiple nights per week.

In the five days leading up to Thanksgiving break I worked on a group project a total of 30 hours. 30 hours! And that is on top of my full class schedule and all other homework. What in the world are these teachers thinking? Anyway, I became a frequent coffee shop visitor to get my cookie and caffeine fix before work time. I've seen the shop's buffalo chip cookie a few times, but had never actually tried it. I think theirs is pretty similar to this one: coconut, chocolate chips, pecans, oats. Lots of ingredients but so worth it. My week of studying left me wanting to make a batch of these at home (that didn't cost me $2 a cookie), so after some research this is the recipe I decided on.

I never read through entire recipes as much as I should. Therefore, when I started putting the ingredients into the bowl to make these cookies I had no idea the GIANT batch of dough it made. Not only did it deplete my ingredient stash, it also broke my spatula. It's a good thing they turned out so well. I do think there are probably great buffalo chip recipes that aren't so ingredient-heavy, but these are great. I just need to remember to cut the recipe in half next time, for my spatula's sake.

Buffalo Chip Cookies
Recipe from CD Kitchen

1 cup margarine or butter
1 cup shortening
1 box dark brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups white granulate sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups oatmeal
1 (6-ounce) package of chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecan or walnuts
2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1 cup coconut (optional) *I used it

In a very large bowl, cream butter and shortening. Add brown sugar, eggs, white sugar and vanilla. Sift and add flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add oatmeal, then stir in the chocolate chips, nuts, Rice Krispies and coconut. Use a large measuring spoon (approximately 1/4 cup) for batter per cookie. Put on an ungreased cookie sheet (9 cookies to 1 sheet). Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Let cool 3 minutes before removing from baking sheet.

At long last, I worked up the courage to try a recipe with yeast. Thank goodness because I don't know how I could have survived another day without these cinnamon rolls. I'm not sure what scared me off from yeast my whole life. Kneading, maybe? I now know my mixer handles that part. I honestly didn't even know what yeast looked like. How can you be terrified of something you've never even seen? I pictured something along the lines of baking soda or baking powder. That's a negative.

But the funny part about it is that some of my favorite things (read: carbs, carbs, carbs) require yeast. I don't know what I was thinking not at least attempting a recipe with it before now. I must admit I'm still a little scared of active yeast since it requires "warm" water.  The use of the word warm throws me off. Warm is subjective in my book. I'll just save that one for another day.

Back to the point: these rolls are incredible. They are light and fluffy with an incredible glaze over the top. They are also pretty easy to make. Most cinnamon rolls are thick and filling. I can't tell you how many times I've passed the IKEA cinnamon rolls or the Cinnabon stand and resisted because I just couldn't think of a justification for eating one. I can definitely justify these. They taste light, therefore they are light. Right? Whether you are conquering irrational yeast fears or not, these rolls are a must-make!

Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze
Recipe From My Kitchen Cafe

*Note: to make these rolls ahead of time, once the rolls are formed and placed on the baking sheet, immediately cover them with lightly greased plastic wrap and refrigerate them; do not let them rise. Refrigerate overnight, up to 16 hours. Let the rolls sit at room temperature, covered, until they have doubled in size about 3-4 hours and then uncover and bake as directed. The rolls can also be frozen at the same point as mentioned above (cover with a layer of greased plastic wrap and a top layer of tin foil). They will need to sit at room temperature for 9-11 hours to defrost and rise before baking.

Makes 12 rolls
¾ cup buttermilk, warm (I pour the buttermilk in a glass liquid measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute on 50% power)
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs
4 ¼ cups (21 ¼ ounces) flour
¼ cup (1 ¾ ounces) sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Glaze (or use the delicious cream cheese frosting from this recipe):
1 ½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners sugar
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons buttermilk or milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the dough, whisk the warmed buttermilk and butter together in a large liquid measuring cup. Combine 4 cups of flour, sugar, yeast and salt together in a standing mixer fitted with dough hook (or you can use a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon or electric handheld mixer). With the mixer on low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and eggs and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Increase the mixer to medium speed and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes (knead for 15-18 minutes by hand). If after 5 minutes of kneading, the dough is still overly sticky, add 1/4 cup flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but has a slight tacky feel when pressed between your fingertips. (See this tutorial for a visual.)
Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover the top tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled, around 2 to 2 ½ hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Meanwhile, lightly grease a 9X13-inch baking dish (if doubling the recipe, I’ve found using a large rimmed baking sheet, 11X17-inches, works great). In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together. Set aside.
When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter (I use my trusty roul’pat for this step) and press it into a 16 by 12-inch rectangle (if you have doubled the recipe, split the dough in half and roll out one half at a time). Gently brush the softened butter over the rectangle, using an offset spatula or rubber spatula. Sprinkle on the brown sugar mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the top and bottom edges. Lightly use the palms of your hands to press the brown sugar mixture into the butter, adhering it to the dough.
Lift the longest edge closest to you and begin rolling the dough into a tight log. Pinch the seam closed and roll the log so it is seam side down. Gently stretch the log to be 18 inches in length with an even diameter all the way throughout and pat the ends to even them up.
Using a serrated knife, slice the log into 12 evenly sized rolls (or more if you like your rolls thinner). Arrange the rolls cut side down on the prepared baking pan and cover with lightly greased plastic wrap. Let the rolls rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes, until the rolls are lightly golden on top and cooked through but not overly browned.
While the rolls are baking, mix the softened cream cheese and buttermilk together until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar. Add additional milk or buttermilk one teaspoon at a time until desired glaze consistency is reached. It should be thick yet pourable. Drizzle the warm rolls with the glaze.

Well, I can officially say school has taken over my life. There is always a point in the year where you can stop hoping for any slight break in the chaos that might have existed before. That point is here. Whenever I call my mom to complain about all that I have to do, she likes to tell me I can get used to it because that's how life is. I guess there's only so many times I can tell her I've figured out my teachers' secret ploy to pick the same due dates for everything. Still, where's the optimism when I need it?

I kept on looking at the blog over the past few weeks and getting mad at myself for not having posted since the pumpkin cream cheese muffins. I was so excited they made #1 on Foodbuzz and how did I thank everyone who buzzed them...went on a three-week hiatus. My sincerest apologies, you can thank school for that one. This weekend I decided that since the workload showed no signs of slowing, I might as well just indulge in some chocolate therapy. After all, my blog isn't named that for nothing. So I spent Friday and Saturday baking things I had on my list of must-bakes.

To start, I made these chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake bars. Do I even need to tell you they were amazing? They come together relatively quickly despite having three parts. Everyone who tried these loved them–even the people who normally don't like cheesecake (weird that those people exist, I know).  Thankfully, I practiced excellent restraint and sent the majority of these over to my boyfriend's house where I doubt they will make it past tonight. It's a good thing I've got people like that around because I have a good feeling they wouldn't have lasted past tonight at my house either!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 Tbsp butter, melted
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Cookie Dough:
5 Tbsp butter, room temp.
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips

Cheesecake Filling:
10 oz. cream cheese, room temp.
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325.

For the crust:
Grease a 8x8 pan with butter, line pan with parchment paper and butter the paper, leaving enough to extend over the sides.

Crush graham crackers into crumbs to make 1 & 1/2 cups. Add to butter and stir until crumbs are moistened. Stir in chocolate chips.

Press crust mixture into bottom of pan. Bake for 6 minutes. Set pan on wire rack to cool.

For cookie dough:
Using mixer and the paddle attachment, mix butter, brown sugar, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract at medium speed until smooth. Adjust mixer speed to low and add flour. Mix just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.
For cheesecake:
Using mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add egg and vanilla extract, beating just until blended.

Pour batter into cooled, baked crust. Drop cookie dough by teaspoonfuls over the top of the filling.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until set. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Place in the refrigerator to chill several hours.