dessert party

 

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My daughter graduated from high school in June. (YAHOO! YIPPEE! WAHOO!) On that Sunday we had a dessert party to celebrate her graduation. She and I love to bake, so instead of typical luncheon foods and/or party snacks, it made sense to serve only desserts. A graduation open house dessert party!

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In order to not have too much to do the day of the party, we started a few days prior. Here is the rundown of what we did:

Two days prior to the party my daughter baked the cupcakes, both cinnamon chocolate and vanilla bean. We kept them in the basement fridge until Sunday morning, when she made the corresponding frostings, and she then frosted all the cupcakes about one hour prior to the party.

 

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With some of the cream cheese frosting, my daughter piped it onto the edge of oreos, then rolled them into color sugar. She did this right after frosting the cupcakes. It took longer than expected, and required a steady hand, but they were worth it! Cute and delicious!

foodwithpictures frosted oreo cookies

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Three days prior to the party I made the cookie dough for the chocolate kiss cookies, rolled each teaspoon of dough into blue sugar (her school color), then put the balls into silicone ice cube trays so that they wouldn’t form one large ball by sticking together, then those trays were put into a large plastic zipper baggie. This was stored in the freezer until the morning of the party. On party day it sat out for about an hour, then the cookies were placed on parchment lined cookie sheets into the preheated oven. Cooking time was about 1-2 minutes longer than usual. These were baked about two hours before the start of the party.

 

foodwithpictures chocolate kiss cookies

 

 

foodwithpictures kiss cookies with blue sugar

 

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The other cookies made ahead of time were the m&m cookies. I used the dough from our favorite chocolate chip cookies, but used a large bag of m&m’s instead of chocolate chips. Each teaspoon of dough was rolled into a ball, then placed into a mini-muffin paper liner, and then stored in the freezer in a covered 9×13 pan. The cookies also had an additional minute or two added to the baking time, but one batch came out a little too brown, so in the future, if baking from frozen dough, I would only add 1 minute to the baking time, not 2 minutes.

foodwithpictures m&m cookies

 

 

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The night before the party I melted semi-sweet chocolate and in a separate container I melted milk chocolate.  I dipped some pretzel rods into each of these (not both chocolates on the same rod), then placed them on wax paper. Once on the wax paper, I quickly sprinkled a bit of sea salt on them. These were stored in airtight containers until just before the party was to start.

 

foodwithpictures pretzel rods dipped in chocolate

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When I had the melted milk chocolate, I pierced marshmallows with decorative toothpicks (either one regular size marshmallow or 3 minis on each stick), dipped them in the melted chocolate, then rolled them in crushed graham crackers to create Smores-on-a-Stick. (These were very cute … but in my opinion almost too sweet!)

foodwithpictures smores on a stick

 

 

foodwithpictures smores on a stick

 

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Shortly before the party started I washed strawberries, then cut a store-made pound cake into one-inch cubes. These were put onto wooden skewers, placed on a serving tray, then drizzled with chocolate sauce.

foodwithpictures pound cake and strawberries

foodwithpictures strawberries and pound cake

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For my party guests who are gluten-free we purchased gluten-free pretzels and dipped half of the pretzels into melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, and the other half were dipped into melted milk chocolate. We also dipped marshmallows into the melted chocolate, such as for the Smores-on-a-Stick, but without the graham crackers. Also, strawberries and grapes were put on wooden skewers and served on another tray. And we made hot air popcorn, added butter and salt, and put that into individual paper cups.

foodwithpictures gluten free

foodwithpictures popcorn

 

 

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In addition to the desserts, we had individual milk boxes (chocolate milk and white milk), juice boxes, water, iced tea, and lemonade. I meant to make a pot of coffee, but completely forgot! I also had some wine, sangria, and beer, for those that wished to drink that kind of beverage.

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Can’t forget the decorations! I wanted the kitchen to look festive, colorful, and whimsical, but didn’t want to spend a lot of cash making it so. I purchased two rolls of crepe paper, and two packages of inexpensive paper lanterns.

foodwithpictures decorations 2

foodwithpictures decorations 1

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For the paper products, I have been keeping a keen eye on the clearance section of Target for the past year and as I found bargains I purchased a few packages of plates and colorful napkins. I was also lucky to acquire some plates, paper straws, and bowls from a friend who had extras after purchasing too many for a large school party she planned. The dollar store was my final stop for the plates that said “Congrats 2014 Grad”.  Total cost for all the paper products was less than $10.

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The party was fun. And sweet! The vanilla bean cupcakes were the first to go, and the m&m cookies and the cups of popcorn were also scooped up quickly.

Prior to the party I had plans to make whoopie pies, and made the cake part two days ahead, but I made the mistake of using a new recipe and they didn’t turn out as expected. They were very tasty, but LARGE. More like cupcakes rather than easy to hold and eat whoopie pies. After the party I sliced each one in half, then put in the filling, and my kids enjoyed them very much.  Here is a pic of those.

foodwithpictures whoopie pies 1

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foodwithpictures plate

granola bars

chocolate granola 7

I don’t know how best to say this in order for you all to understand the significance: My youngest son can now eat granola bars!

You may be thinking this isn’t big news or noteworthy, yet it is. He has a severe tree nut allergy, and there is not a granola bar available for purchase that is safe for him to eat. Because of this he hasn’t had a granola bar since before his diagnosis, which was about 4 years ago. But now, thanks once again to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, he has granola bars daily! And this makes him happy.

Since I started making these, we always have granola bars in the house. Not only are they easy, but the ingredients are not expensive, and are easy to keep stocked in my kitchen.

I’ve made these in different variations, and my son has declared his favorite are the ones with cocoa as well as chocolate chips that aren’t melted in the mix. I prefer the ones without the cocoa. They’re all good … but we each have our favorite!

Below are the two variations I’ve made lately.

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Chocolate Granola Bars

1 3/4 cups quick oats *Note: Important to use quick oats and not old-fashioned.

1 cup crispy rice cereal

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

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Line a 9×9 (or similar size pan) with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats and cereal.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir well and often.

Once bubbles appear, simmer and continue stirring for about 2 minutes.

Add cocoa. Stir well to combine then remove from heat.

Add vanilla. Stir.

Pour this mixture over the oats and cereal. Stir well to combine everything into a big sticky bowl of yumminess.

chocolate granola 1

chocolate granola 2

Spread the mix into the pan lined with parchment paper.

chocolate granola 3

Top with chocolate chips. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top and press firmly to make the mixture even and to push the chips into the granola a bit.

chocolate granola 4

chocolate granola 5

Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

After the 2 hours, slide the parchment off the pan onto a counter and cut into whatever size and shape you want.

chocolate granola 8

Note: I like cutting them into 1×1-inch pieces — a few of these are perfect for my son’s daily snack at school. Also, for Valentine’s Day I used plastic heart cookie cutters (large and small) and, as you can see, I got the cutest heart shaped granola bars! Since I make these granola bars weekly, I’ll start cutting them using other cookie cutter shapes that I have just to make my son’s daily school snack a little more fun.

Another note: In addition to — or in place of — the chocolate chips, you could add chopped dried fruit and/or crushed/chopped pretzels and/or raisins. I wouldn’t add more than a total of 1/3 cup of these items. Remember to add them to the oats and cereal before pouring on the butter and honey mixture. 

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granola 11

Granola Bars

2 cups quick oats *Note: Important to use quick oats and not old-fashioned.

1 cup crispy rice cereal

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Line a 9×9 (or similar size pan) with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cereal, and chocolate chips.

Note: If you don’t want the chocolate chips to melt from the heat of the liquid, keep them to the side until after the mixture is pressed into the pan (as I did in the above batch). 

granola 2

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir well and often.

granola 1

Once bubbles appear, simmer and continue stirring for about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir.

Pour this mixture over the oats, cereal, and chocolate chips in the large bowl. Stir well to coat all the oats and cereal.

*Update: I’ve made these so often now that I’ve changed my favorite version. Adding the chocolate chips at this point is not my favorite way of making these anymore. I prefer to add them at the end, as in the first example. By the way, if I were to add other ingredients, such as chopped pretzels, I might add the chocolate chips to the oats and cereal, because I’m not sure how well it would all stick otherwise.

granola 3

granola 4

Spread the mix into the pan lined with parchment paper.

granola 6

Place a sheet of parchment paper on top and press firmly to make the mixture even.

Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

granola 7

After the 2 hours, slide the parchment off the pan onto a counter and cut into whatever size and shape you want.

granola 8

granola 9

granola 10

Note: As noted above, in addition to — or in place of — the chocolate chips, you could add chopped dried fruit and/or crushed/chopped pretzels and/or raisins. I wouldn’t add more than a total of 1/3 cup of these items. Add them to the oats and cereal before pouring on the butter and honey mixture. 

candy cane kiss cookies

candy cane kiss cookies (1)

Today I made a large batch of chocolate kiss cookies, but used the Hershey’s Candy Cane kisses instead of chocolate ones. Usually I make a batch of each to give as gifts, but this year we ate all the plain chocolate kisses before I had a chance to make the cookies!

These are very festive and colorful and cheery…. A perfect cookie for the holiday season!

The recipe is the same as for the chocolate kiss cookies — just the flavor of kisses is different — so I’m not reposting that recipe (you can click the link above to go directly there). Instead I’ll offer you the photos from the photo shoot I did this afternoon. Those cookies are so photogenic!

candy cane kiss cookies (7)

candy cane kiss cookies (6)

candy cane kiss cookies (5)

candy cane kiss cookies (4)

candy cane kiss cookies (3)

candy cane kiss cookies (2)

Christmas cookies

It’s that special, magical, yummy time of the year…. Christmas cookie time!  

As Christmas approaches I’m getting my recipes in order and stocking up on flour and chocolate and eggs. During this time of year I like to make lots of cookies and put a few of each on festive trays to distribute to neighbors and friends and teachers.

I don’t make all the cookies on the same day. Instead I freeze some, such as the gingersnaps and butter cookies, as described here.

frozen balls of cookie dough

These are the cookies I’m planning on making for this cookie-giving season:

cocoa cookies

cocoa cookies 6

butter cookies

butter cookies (4)

shortbread cookies

shortbread cookies

chocolate kiss cookies

kiss cookies (6)

hidden kiss cookies

cookie close up

gingersnaps 

gingersnaps

And a non-cookie as well:

candy cane bark

candy cane bark

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Okay, your turn…. What kind of cookies are you planning on making this holiday season? What’s your favorite cookie?

chocolate kiss cookies

kiss cookies (6)

This is a cute recipe for holiday cookies. When I make Christmas cookies to give as gifts, or for holiday parties or cookie exchanges, these are the cookies I usually pick, because they are easy, delicious, and festive. The recipe is from Hershey’s (they call this Candy Cane Blossoms, because they use candy cane flavored kisses, but my younger kids prefer regular chocolate kisses, so this time those are what I used).

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Chocolate Kiss Cookies

48-60 Hershey’s chocolate kisses, unwrapped

1 stick butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons milk (I used half & half)

red and green colored sugars

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Heat oven to 350F.

Cream together the butter and sugar.

Add egg and vanilla; mix well.

In a bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, until well blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. *Note: Be careful not to make them bigger than 1-inch! If you do, you’ll end up with a bad chocolate/cookie ratio, in my opinion.

Roll each ball in colored sugar. I had one small bowl with green sugar, one with red, and one with both red and green.

Place on lightly greased cookie sheets, or on parchment lined cookie sheets (my favorite way to do it!).

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until they are lightly browned and slightly cracked.

Remove from oven and allow to sit on cookie sheets for 1 minute.

After the minute is over, press one chocolate kiss into each cookie.

Transfer the cookies from the cookie sheets to a cooling rack.

Cool completely and then store in an airtight container.

*Note: The original recipe states that this recipe makes 48, yet by keeping the size consistent at exactly 1-inch, I am able to make 60 cookies from one batch.

kiss cookies (1)

kiss cookies (2)

cookies ready to go into the oven

kiss cookies (3)

cookies out of the oven

kiss cookies (4)

kiss cookies (5)

They’re so pretty!

homemade snickers bars

So excited!!!! Today, for your reading (and drooling) pleasure, we have a guest blogger! Anne is a college sophomore who loves to bake. She is the eldest daughter of one of my cousins (the one that gave me the banana muffin recipe). Such a great family and a wonderful daughter and an overall good person. And she loves chocolate and baked goods … which makes her a pretty cool person, for that reason alone!

Thanks Anne!

*Note: Source of the recipe is listed below, and all photos were taken by Anne.

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Some of my earliest memories involve baking. My mom, who is a fabulous baker, would sit my sister and I on the counter and let us “help” her mix cookie dough or frosting. When I was 10, I made a boxed cake mix all by myself and I was so proud of myself you would have thought I’d created the most elaborate, decadent dessert ever. Eventually I progressed past boxed mixes and began baking things from scratch, sometimes making up the recipe as I went along. Over the years, baking has become one of my favorite hobbies. Even now that I’m at college, I still find time to bake. My best guy friends live in a house and I keep a shelf of baking supplies in their kitchen. Almost every Friday, I’ll go over and bake them something. It works pretty well – I get to bake and they get to eat!

The recipe I’m posting today is something I found on Pinterest while I was home for Spring Break. I was looking for something new to try and I found a recipe for homemade Snickers bars. They are absolutely delicious and fairly easy to make. Enjoy! 🙂

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Homemade Snickers Bars

[lightly adapted from an old Taste of Home recipe]

Line a 9×13 pan with aluminum foil and grease with cooking spray.

Bottom Chocolate Layer

1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

1/4 cup peanut butter

Thoroughly grease you baking pan. Melt ingredients together in a saucepan or microwave, then pour into the baking dish and spread until even. Let cool and harden completely.

Nougat Layer

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups marshmallow fluff

1/4 cup peanut butter

1 1/2 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in sugar and milk, stirring until dissolved and bring to a boil. Let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in fluff, peanut butter and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Turn off heat and fold in peanuts, then pour over bottom chocolate layer. Let cool completely.

Caramel Layer

1 14-ounce bag of caramels

1/4 cup whipping cream

Combine ingredients in a saucepan over low heat. Let melt, stirring occasionally, until smooth – this took about 10 minutes for me. Pour over nougat layer and let cool completely.

Top Chocolate Layer

1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

1/4 cup peanut butter

Melt ingredients together in a saucepan or microwave, then pour over caramel and spread until even. Let cool and harden completely.

Refrigerate for at least one hour, then cut as desired. For best results, refrigerate overnight and then store at room temperature. If they get too gooey, just refrigerate them again to let them firm up.