Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The things that truly make me happy: Part 2: Family

There are constant reminders in my life why my family is so important and special to me. I speak mostly of my immediate family, my Mom, Dad, and Brother. I include my Brother's wife in this mix as well, as she's like a sister to me and I do not honestly feel comfortable calling her my sister in law.

Christmas 2010, New York City, New York
Christopher (Big Brother), Amber (Sistah), ME, Sally (Mom), and Chris (Dad)
My family is really great at cheering me up and just really recognizing when I'm having a rough week, and seeing the unspoken and going out of there way to be there for me.

Dad, Amber, Mom, and Christopher
Yes, we love Mizzou

My Dad, Chris, is a huge goof and we spend a vast majority of our time together cutting up. He's also my sous chef when I take on large cooking projects, however recently I've been trying to fly solo, to release him from some temptations. He's your resident bird man, more on that later...

I make this face when I wait on the Subway....
I smile huge when I realize my Daughter's taking my picture

My Mom, Sally, is like the rock. She's your typical grew up on the farm and did everything you can think of on a farm with animals and planting crops and then some. She's now our prototypical animal "lover," we use lover loosely obviously. The most amusing thing is she's allergic to birds, dogs and cats and we have all three. All animals love her, but she doesn't love them (but she does). Case in point, She left for three days to visit her Mom and little sister, and Francie missed her terribly. My Mom came home on a Wednesday and Friday Francie had finally started treating her normally again...kind of.

My brother, Christopher, is mister calm and collected. He reminds me of my Dad in so many ways it's not even funny. Sometimes when we talk I feel like I'm talking to my Dad. They even laugh the same! It's hilarious, and their laughter is infectious, you can't help but laugh with them. My brother recently surprised me with his awesome brother skills, by agreeing to go March 13th and get me The Pioneer Woman's new cookbook, signed. He lives in NYC with his wife, their dog and two it hopefully won't backfire on us. Did I mention that he's the bestest brother ever?!! Seriously...I don't think I can find a complaint about him, because he's just that cool...

Finally, my sister, Amber, is your animal lover. This time I'm not being sarcastic. She sees an animal and wants to take it home, much like myself...hence why I'm not allowed to go to Humane Society....ever... She's honestly been there for me through thick and thin during college and much of our time together after. She's always been encouraging to me to do what I love, and love what I do. Needless to say, in law, will never come after her name, as I always call her my sister first, then when people question me, I say my brother's awesome wife!

He sure does look pretty in that Headband!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The things that truly make me happy: Part 1: Francie

There are many things and people in my life who truly make me are just a couple that I recently have had to rely upon to get through some rough weeks.


Our cute Siamese Manx kitten. There are endless opportunities for our precious girl to keep us entertained and cheerful. Our favorite is the classic Francie burnout. You may think...what the heck is a burnout when it involves a cat...well imagine if you will a cat trying to run away super fast, but not moving at first... Yes, a burnout like you'd do in a car, though none of us I'm sure do that!

First Day home, already being tortured with a bath!
I'm a percher...the better to see you

Back when I was still a baby and I loved to snuggle

I love my perch that Nikki and Josh made me...

This is just one of the many ways they let me play with my newest toy
Stop holding me funky or you're liable to lose that hand

Must eat string!

Almost got it!

Stop buggin' me I'm tryin' to blend

Monday, February 27, 2012

I'm way way behind: Homemade Fudge Rounds

I am way way behind on blogging, but I am still cooking constantly and trying to take pictures of what I make...either with my phone or my camera...sometimes I make it through the entire process...sometimes I don't.

I owe this recipe a moment in the spotlight since back during the Super Bowl. Yes, that's how far behind I am!

Fudge Rounds. Little Debbie's fantastic fudge treats that most any chocolate lover will devour. Unless you don't like chocolate; in which case this recipe is so not for you.
Up Close and Personal
Look at how delightful and fluffy that filling is. It's rich so be warned now, I made my fudge rounds huge, by mistake so try and scoop according to the size of cookie you want, the dough spreads.

I stumbled upon this recipe and many more on Confessions of a Cookbook Queen. I can't wait to cook additional treats and treasures that I discovered on her blog at a later date.

courtesy of : Confessions of a Cookbook Queen


1 1/4 cup salted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs 
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda 


1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons warm water

Heat oven to 350.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Mix in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and baking soda. Add slowly to the butter/sugar mixture in the mixing bowl. Beat until combined.

Drop spoonfuls** on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 7-9 minutes. Remove baking sheets to cooling racks and remove cookies after a few minutes to continue cooling.

While cookies cool, make your filling.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the shortening and butter on medium speed until smooth and combined. Beat in vanilla. Add cocoa powder and powdered sugar and beat on low until just combined. Add water and beat on medium high for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy.

Once cookies have cooled, pipe or spread filling on the flat side of half of them***. Gently press another cookie on top of the filling.

****For the stripes, microwave 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a microwave safe bowl, stirring every 15 seconds until smooth. Drizzle or pipe on top of Fudge Rounds. Refrigerate until chocolate is set.

Nom, Nom!
 **Spoonfuls, are a very generous measure. I would suggest using a scoop if possible to keep them more uniform and this way you can control the size somewhat.
***Just another reason you want to try and keep your cookies uniform. If they aren't similar in size and shape sandwiching the filling between cookies will get really messy really fast.
****I omitted the stripes because I really didn't feel like adding more to them. Frankly, I'm glad I didn't because they were so rich.
Huge cookies!!!
With all of that being said, I love chocolate. I mean I love chocolate as much as the next person and typically I can eat it like it's going out of style when I have to, however I took one bite out of Josh's fudge round and I was done. I guess to me it was too rich for my tastes, plus let's be honest I made monster Fudge rounds, normal people can't eat a hole one. 

(Sorry honey, I love you but your belly isn't normal)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cookbook Purchase: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Okay...I'm going to admit it. I bought a new cookbook this weekend. Now not just any cookbook though, one that I've heard a lot of mentioning and have really been curious about the contents it held.

That's right I bought The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond. No, this isn't her new cookbook, but I will tell you that I was sucked in from just turning to the first page. I actually sat down and read her entire cookbook Saturday, much to the chagrin of my honey. Poor guy doesn't get much time with me and suddenly I discover a new shiny and he waits until I focus on the world again. 

Anyway, honey I love you and you’re a sweetheart. 

Back to the cookbook. I actually sat down at read it. I know you're thinking it's a cookbook, you can't really read a cookbook, but this one you have to! You actually end up wanting to read sections from the book and learn more about Pioneer Woman and her romance between her hubby Marlboro man. It's a really sweet story and she gives tons of visuals. If ever I felt like I couldn't cook something I would definitely feel much better having viewed her pictures and step by step processes.

I mean honestly she made something with prunes look like the most amazing dessert I'd ever seen. I'm not kidding, I wanted to eat the picture. It looked that good!

Anywho. Huge plug for her book, obviously I don't know Ree Drummond on a personal level nor do I get anything from referrals for her cookbook, I just really enjoyed it and wanted everyone to know. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day to my Employees and colleagues.

Let’s just say I’ve been getting teased a lot recently, due to my cooking so much, as it must be because I’m “nesting.” Turns out some of my employees and colleagues want a miniature Nikki running about terrorizing the world. I however am not anywhere near that stage and give them a hard time right back.

As of yet though, everything I’ve made and brought into my girls has been met with lots of praise and lots of sharing of the recipes. Everyone always has something they think you should try, once they find you adore anything food. I love it, and I’m in love with creating something new!

Getting back to the topic of Valentine’s Day and the special treat I made for our group of girls at work. As it was not only Valentine’s Day, but also practically the entire departments birthdays of 8 staff lie within November, December, January and February, we decided a fun birthday lunch would be a great way to celebrate the staffs’ birthdays and also thank them for all of the hard work they do. I don’t thank them enough, and they are Awesome!

I didn’t decide until last week that I had found the perfect recipe for them, and I truly didn’t decide until Friday the 10th that I wanted to create them this wonderful White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake from Sweet Anna’s. I’ll be honest her most recent blog sent me into a panic with her use of the “b” word. No no, she’s not using expletives, she’s using that word that no woman ever wants to hear! Budget! Ugh! I hate that word so much, but as an avid food lover, I cannot help but feel I might be headed that way as well.

Back to the cheesecake…the name of the recipe may be a mouthful, but the mouthful of cheesecake you have at the end is truly delightful. I’m a huge cheesecake fan, and my honey went shopping with me for ingredients, so a few items changed from Sweet Anna’s recipe.

White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake Recipe
Adapted from Sweet Anna’s

1 (10oz) package frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
Oreos (I used leftover double stuffed, golden Oreos tops or bottoms without the icing)
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups chopped white chocolate (roughly)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 (8oz each) packages cream cheese (1/3 less), softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 regular sized Hershey bars, milk or dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cup chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
left over Raspberry Sauce

Make the raspberry sauce:  Stir together the raspberries, sugar, cornstarch and water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil 5 minutes.  Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl and store in the fridge until you are ready to make the cheesecake.

Make the crust:  Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Stir together the finely crushed Oreos and melted butter in a medium bowl until well mixed.  Press into the bottom of a Springform pan and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is set.  Remove from the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF and let the crust cool while you prepare the filling.
(This is where Nikki started getting creative, if you will. I very roughly beat the tar out of those Oreos in their plastic baggy, mixed in the golden Oreo tops and some additional tops. Double stuff Oreos were a temptation; I’ll admit I ate one…ok two…but still. The mixture I came up with for my crust was really quite lovely, the contrast of golden and black with tons of Oreo filling made a lovely albeit thick crust.)

Make the filling:  In a medium saucepan, heat the half & half to almost simmering.  Remove from the heat and stir in the white chocolate until melted and smooth.  Set aside.
(note: though the recipe says roughly chopped, don’t just chuck it in there and expect it to melt perfectly, you’ve got to work with it constantly…also would have helped had I followed the recipe and chopped my pieces down a bit more.)

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure to blend completely after each one.  Beat in the vanilla, salt and the melted white chocolate mixture.

Wrap the pan with the cooled crust in it tightly with foil.  Place the foil-wrapped pan in a roasting pan, and put a pot of water on the stove to boil (you will be making a water-bath for the cheesecake to bake in).

(My first thought upon reading water-bath for a cheesecake, Holy crap…it’s a spring form pan! That suckers going to leak that’s just the worst idea ever…sometimes my brain reads but doesn’t comprehend recipes…obviously. This is a brilliant idea, and honestly I’ll probably be doing this all the time now when using spring form pans.)

Pour half of the filling over the crust.  Sprinkle with the chopped Hershey's bars.  Drizzle 4-5 tablespoons of raspberry sauce over the filling and chocolate bits and swirl with the tip of a knife.  Pour the rest of the filling on top of that, drizzle with another 4-5 tablespoons of the raspberry sauce and swirl again with the knife.

            (I will admit I had a hard time doing the filling halfway, then sprinkling, drizzling, and swirling. Holy heck! I was thinking to myself at this point. EPIC FLOP! It was only after I saw the second round of drizzling that I realized just how gorgeous the top of the cheesecake was going to be. I also realized how much extra raspberry sauce I had…)

Place the roasting pan into the oven and pour water into the roasting pan to reach about halfway up the sides of the Springform pan.  Bake the cheesecake at 325ºF for 60-70 minutes, until the center is almost set.

            (Yes it will jiggle, yes I had a panic attack thinking it was too jiggle-y, this was my first cheesecake…forgive me here, but I finally had the cheesecake cooled down enough that I brought it into the room and showed my parents and said, “Is this right?” Poor Mom and Dad they suffer through so much with my ignorance sometimes)

Remove the roasting pan from the oven, let the cheesecake sit in the hot water for another 30 minutes or so, and then remove the Springform pan from the water onto a cooling rack to cool.  Let the cheesecake cool to room temperature and then place in the fridge to chill at least 3 hours.

The recipe calls for a lovely ganache to be poured over the top of the cheesecake. I just couldn’t bring myself to cover my pretty swirls on the top that I had worked so hard on creating. I decided instead…I would follow the guidelines for the ganache but make it my own. You can follow the original recipe below, or you can make a drizzle…

Make the ganache:  In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream just to a boil.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until smooth.  Pour the ganache over the top of the cooled cheesecake, smoothing with a spoon and allowing some of the ganache to drip over the sides of the cheesecake.  Return to the fridge to chill an additional 3 hours or until the ganache is shiny and set.

Nikki’s take on a Raspberry Chocolate Drizzle: In a small saucepan, I also brought the heavy cream just to a boil, I added the chopped chocolate and the remainder of my raspberry sauce and stirred it all up until everything smelled heavenly raspberry and delicious. Save to the side in a container and serve on the side.

The primary reason why I made a drizzle instead of the ganache was beauty and appealing to the eyes. The other reason is sometimes people don’t like a lot of chocolate. I like to have some form of control in my eating experience when someone else makes something, so the more I can control my chocolate levels on a cake the happier I am. Odd I know, but that’s just me. Turns out this was a great idea as our lunch included strawberries, which several of the ladies dipped their strawberries into my “drizzle” chocolate for their own version of chocolate covered strawberries.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bird's Nest Breakfast Cups

All I can say to truly explain our household is to say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We don’t skip breakfast…ever. We will eat almost anything for breakfast too. I’ve been known to grab a cold slice of leftover pizza and eat that on the drive to work. Now I’ve found something new that I can snag out the door instead of waiting to grab some eggs at work.

I found this great recipe on Pinterest, and had to check out the blog it came from, The Little Birdie Blog. They looked so tasty I just couldn’t say no to a recipe that would entice my entire family to munch!

I made a few modifications but not much. It also would’ve helped the bottoms of mine to read the recipe first, not after having started them. Ha! This is what happens when you’re anxious!

Bird’s Nest Breakfast Cups
Modified from The Little Birdie Blog

1 24 oz. bag of shredded hash browns (more or less)
2 t salt (I forgot)
1 t pepper (I forgot)
2 T oil (I forgot)
1/3 cup shredded cheddar (I forgot)
Hormel Real crumbled bacon (be your own judge)
8 eggs
1 cup whipping cream
salt and pepper
Extra shredded cheddar (cheese of your choice, I used a Colby Jack blend)
Muffin tin, I used small

1.                     Take your bag of hash browns and mix in the salt, pepper, oil and 1/3 cup shredded cheese. (I neglected this one)
2.              Divide amongst the cups in your muffin tin, making sure to grease tin beforehand. (Did this and they still stuck, however that extra oil you use to coat, helps)
3.              Bake hash browns at 425 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until toasty.
4.              Once they're finished, take them out and lower the temp of the oven to 350 degrees.
5.              Top the hash browns with a hearty helping of bacon and extra cheese
6.              Pour your egg mixture over the top of the bacon and cheese until you feel is an appropriate level. Don’t get too full or they will expand and cook over (ever seen an egg in the microwave?)
7.              Bake at 350 degrees for 13-16 minutes
8.              Slide a knife along the edges; we didn’t wait until the pan was cool so this could have been the problem with sticking. Also, I used a spoon to help scoop out more of the hash browns that got left behind.

I used Hormel real bacon crumbles, because that’s what we had on hand. Not saying this is your best choice by any means, you can use any bacon pieces or cook up some fresh bacon and crumble into the cups. I also didn’t follow the amounts in the original recipe. We’re big on protein in this house so I added lots of bacon and cheese.
YUMMY!!! Bacon!!

The recipe calls for one egg per cup, however you can take 8-12 eggs and beat them with some milk or whipping cream to make them a bit more thick and yummy and pour over the top. It works just the same. My mom and I are not yolk people, plus that was a lot of our farm fresh eggs, and I felt guilty using one egg per muffin cup.

This recipe really allows for you to have some creativity here. I would say adding broccoli to a larger breakfast cup would be a good idea, sausage would be another…basically what I think and what the original blogger of the recipe think are the same. Add, add, add. It’s yours to play with.

I'll be honest it never ceases to amaze me all of the wonderful and great recipes that I've found on blogs recently. I cannot stop cooking, and wanting to cook! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bake Apple Fritter Muffins

In my household we have two dieters currently, Mom and Dad. So when I make the items on my list that are considered “cheat food” for them, I have to keep those to weekend days, typically Saturdays. Due to the Super bowl we moved the cheat day to Sunday. For breakfast I tried Baked Apple Fritter Muffins from Sweet Anna’s.


To say I was shocked at how much I loved them would be a lie. I love apples and so does my family. The fact I veered from the amount of apples a bit didn’t make me change any of the other ingredients though. I probably added 2 cups more apples than it calls for.

I apologize in advance these picture do not do the fritter muffins justice. Let’s just say biting in to them was appley delicious and Sweet Anna deserves some kind of medal for coming up with this idea.

Below is Sweet Anna’s recipe in parenthesis is my change.

Baked Apple Fritter Muffins Recipe
Adapted from Sweet Anna’s 
Due to the size tin I used, I got about 12 small muffins and 5 extra large

For the coating:
2/3-cup sugar
1-tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup butter, melted and browned*

For the muffins:
1-½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
1/3-cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1-teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup milk
3 cups finely diced apples (about 3 large) (I used one large granny smith, and 3 medium sized baking apples)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping; Set aside.

*To brown the butter:  In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat until melted and starting to foam.  Stir occasionally while the butter continues to cook, turning a bit brown on the bottom and smelling rich and nutty.  When the butter is browned and aromatic, pull it off the heat and set aside.

Browned butter has the most delicious smell and taste to it; seriously don’t be afraid to brown the butter!! Honestly, the nutty flavor the butter gets when browned only adds to the heavenliness of the fritter muffins.

Butter or spray 2-24 ct. mini muffin pans and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg & salt.

In the bowl of your mixer, cream together the 1/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined.

Gently stir in the flour and milk, a bit at a time and alternating (1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour) until just combined.

Fold in the apples and spoon into the muffin tins, about 3/4 full.  (You won't probably fill all of both pans, but you will get more than one pan-full!).

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the muffins a springy when you press them and a toothpick inserted in to one of them comes out clean.

Remove the muffins to a wire rack until they are just cool enough to touch.

When you can pick them up...  take each muffin and dip it in the browned butter and then roll it in the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Serve warm with a big glass of cold milk!

A picture snapped quickly with my cell phone, Naked Baked Apple Fritter Muffins (they taste just as good, ask my Dad)

Not only can you serve nicely with cold milk, my boyfriend drinks ice-cold milk with everything (so it was a given he would drink milk with his). My Dad couldn’t wait to try them so he ate several naked fritter muffins (those without the cinnamon sugar brown butter bath) covered in syrup. He loved them like that. Bless my Dad’s heart, he had it set on French toast. My mom and I popped a few into our mouths and savored the flavors while we each moved onto our next cooking project for the day.