The Baker Upstairs: February 2013


refried beans


I've posted this recipe before, but I wanted to share it again (with fresh pictures) for freezer week! This is another of my favorite recipes to have in the freezer at all times. I love that it's so easy to throw the beans together in the morning, and then they cook all day and smell amazing. Plus, the recipe makes a ton, so it's only a little work for a lot of payout. We use refried beans in so many things... burritos, tostadas, nachos, as a side dish, even just as a snack with tortilla chips! My super picky five year old Abby is completely obsessed with these beans, and wishes she could have them for every meal. I usually get about three pints of refried beans from a pound of dried beans, which means they are very economical compared to store-bought refried beans. Plus they taste amazing! Give them a try!
Refried Beans
Budget Bytes

1 pound dry pinto beans
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium jalapeño, diced small, seeds removed.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt

Rinse beans with cool water. Place in a slow cooker. Add onion, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper. Pour water over the top. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 8 hours. (The longer they cook, the easier they will be to mash.) After the beans are cooked, remove as much water as possible (I usually get about one cup of liquid out) and reserve in a small bowl or measuring cup. Mash the beans (I use an immersion blender) and add the reserved liquid as needed. Make them a little thinner than you like them, because they will thicken as they cool. Add the salt, and mix well (you can add more to taste if you need to). Serve warm.
To freeze the beans, I ladle them into containers while they're warm and let them chill overnight in the fridge. The next day, I label the containers with the date and contents, and then freeze. To thaw, I either  put them in the fridge overnight, or thaw using the defrost setting on the microwave. Depending on the texture, I sometimes add a little chicken broth or milk to thin them out a little after thawing. If they're too runny, I find that just slowly simmering them on the stove for a few minutes gets rid of the extra moisture. Enjoy!


creamy broccoli and cheese soup


Soup! Another soup recipe! I already have a great cream of broccoli soup on the blog here, but I love broccoli (and cheese!) so I'm always up for trying a new recipe. And this recipe is the bomb! It's the only broccoli soup I've made that maintains its texture perfectly after freezing. I love that it's still creamy and cheesy and delicious, even after a month in the freezer. This is one of my very favorite things to keep in the freezer for an easy dinner! I usually just ladle it into pint or quart sized reusable containers (I like the Ziploc Twist n' Loc ones so I know they're actually closed) and let the soup cool in the fridge overnight, then freeze the next day. When we're ready to eat, I thaw it just a little in the microwave on the defrost setting, and then heat it the rest of the way on the stove. If I was better at planning ahead, I would just thaw it in the fridge overnight, since that's by far the easiest way. Fresh or from the freezer, this soup is awesome!
Creamy Broccoli and Cheese Soup
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 small onion, diced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend)
4 cups chopped, lightly steamed broccoli (I did mine in the microwave)

Simmer chicken broth and chopped onion for 15-20 minutes in a covered small saucepan, until onions are soft. Heat milk in microwave for 1-2 minutes.

In a separate medium-sized stockpot, melt butter then add flour, salt and pepper. Cook together, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, then whisk in warmed milk. Stir and heat together on medium heat until soup starts to thicken, about 5-8 minutes.

Add warmed chicken broth and continue to stir until well blended. Add cheese and stir until completely melted. Stir in steamed broccoli. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve immediately in bowls or bread bowls.


easy cheesy muffins


Between working part time, blogging full time, being a mom to two little girls, and trying to keep up with the endless laundry, dishes, and housework, I have so many days where I'm just too tired to cook. I actually cook and photograph most of my blog recipes for the week on Fridays and Saturdays, and the rest of the time, we eat very simply. One of the best ways that I've found to simplify our meals is to take advantage of the freezer! Whenever I'm cooking a big meal, I freeze half for another day, so we have something delicious and homemade to enjoy when I'm too tired to cook.

Since soup is pretty much my favorite meal, you can usually find several quarts of soup in our freezer, just waiting for those nights when I'm exhausted. You can find my very favorite soup recipes to make and freeze here, here, and here. And stay tuned for a new awesome creamy broccoli & cheese soup recipe tomorrow!

The best thing to go with soup, of course, is some fresh bread, and these easy cheesy muffins are perfect! They come together super quickly and bake up into delicious muffins that are soft on the inside and a little crunchy on the outside.

Easy Cheesy Muffins
adapted from Gastronomy Recipes

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten well
4 tablespoon butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk egg, milk, butter, and vanilla together in a small bowl (I used a liquid measuring cup). Pour the milk mixture over the dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined. Add shredded cheese and lightly stir.

Place a scoop of batter into each well of the muffin tin. (I used an 1/4 cup ice cream scoop and it worked great.) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top. Let muffins cool for five minutes before removing from muffin tin. Makes 12 muffins.

Come back all this week for more freezer cooking tips and tricks and ideas!


freezer cooking: the basics

It's freezer cooking week on The Baker Upstairs! I am by no means an expert, but I definitely have discovered some tips and tricks that make cooking (and therefore life) easier. So far, I haven't gotten into freezer cooking to the point that I'm preparing a month's worth of meals in an afternoon (someday, maybe?) but I always have a few essentials tucked away in the freezer to make dinnertime run more smoothly.

First of all, shredded cooked chicken!

I use this in so many recipes... tacos, enchiladas, soups, casseroles, salads, etc. It's quick and easy to thaw in the microwave or in the fridge, and it makes it super easy to add some quick protein to dinner. There are lots of different ways to cook chicken, obviously, but to me the easiest way is to use the slow cooker. I layer in as many chicken breasts (fresh or frozen) as I can fit (usually around 5-6), pour in 1/2 - 1 cup of chicken broth, cover, and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 5-6 hours. When the chicken's done, I put it in a bowl and shred it with two forks. It comes apart super easily! I usually season with a little salt and pepper, and then let it cool down just a little before putting it into freezer bags.

I've had the best results with using quart sized bags and filling them up about halfway. I squeeze as much air out as I can, and then seal the bags. I label with the date and the contents, and then freeze. When it's time to thaw, I usually just use the thaw setting on the microwave, because it's quick and easy, but it would be equally easy to just throw it in the fridge the night before and let it thaw. To make tacos, I usually mix in a little salsa and taco seasoning (or just cumin and chili powder).

Second, I love to always have homemade bread available in the freezer.

I've been surprised at how well homemade bread holds up in the freezer. Especially when I freeze it right after baking, as soon as it has cooled. You really wouldn't think it would be the case, but it tastes just as yummy and fresh when it thaws as it did before it went in the freezer. If I'm freezing loaves of bread, I like to slice them before I freeze them so it's easy to pull out a couple of slices for toast in the morning. If we want bread for sandwiches, I usually just thaw the whole loaf overnight in the fridge. I've had a lot of success with both loaves and rolls in the freezer. When freezing rolls, I like to flash freeze them first on a baking sheet, and then add them to a freezer bag after they have frozen for an hour or two. This helps them maintain their shape and not get stuck together. You can find some of my favorite breads to freeze here, here, here, and here.

Stay tuned all this week for more freezer cooking ideas!


orange knots


There's not much that can top a warm, gooey, orange roll... not in my estimation, anyway! Last week my parents watched our kiddos so Geoff and I could go to a hockey game. I had the afternoon before the game free, and was trying to think of something I could make for the girls to eat while we were gone, that my parents would enjoy as well. I remembered coming across these on my friend Meg's blog a few months ago, and realized that I had all the ingredients on hand. Sweet! They were super easy to mix up, and tasted amazing! When we came home from the game, my parents raved about them too. Even my little Lizzy (who eats any and all vegetables/fruits/exotic foods, but is not a big fan of bread lately) gobbled them up! We will definitely be making these often!

Orange Knots
adapted from Big Red Clifford

for the rolls:
5 1/4 to 5 3/4 cups Flour
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) dry yeast
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cups butter
1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
1/4 cup orange juice

for the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
2-3 tablespoons orange juice

In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine two cups of flour and yeast. In a large measuring cup or microwave safe bowl, combine milk, butter, sugar, and salt, and heat in the microwave for one minute, or until milk is slightly warm and butter just starts to melt. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and stir. Add eggs, orange juice, and orange peel, and stir until combined. Gradually add remaining flour, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, and is just slightly sticky to the touch. Let rise one hour, or until doubled in size. Separate dough into two equal-sized pieces, and let rest ten minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Roll each piece of dough into a long rectangle, about 12 x 6 inches. Cut each rectangle into twelve pieces, one inch wide and six inches long. Tie each into a loose knot, and place on baking sheet. Let rise on warm oven until nearly doubled, about half an hour.

Bake 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. While the rolls are baking, make the glaze. Whisk together powdered sugar, orange peel, and orange juice in a small bowl until well mixed. Brush over the rolls immediately after removing from the oven.


cheesy tomato and pesto bagel sandwiches


A month or so ago, Geoff changed his schedule at work so that he now has an hour long lunch period. Since we live a little less than a mile from his work, this means that he gets to come home for lunch now most days. I love having a little time with him in the middle of the day, and since Lizzy is usually napping when he comes home, it almost feels like a little date! The only slight problem with Geoff coming home for lunch is that instead of eating my usual random two crackers here and a chunk of cheese there, I actually have to prepare a proper lunch. And on the days when the cupboards are bare and the fridge is full of expired food that I haven't gotten around to throwing out yet (I loathe cleaning out the fridge), pickings are pretty slim.

One day last week I happened to have just the ingredients needed for this meal (and not much else) and decided to go for it. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but it was heavenly! The pesto kind of sunk into the bagel and made it taste like the best basil-y garlic bread I've ever had, and the creamy mozzarella and tomato were perfect together! Even Geoff, who often raises an eyebrow at the weird hodge-podge I throw together for breakfast and lunch, said it was delicious and asked when we could have it again. Yum!
Cheesy Tomato and Pesto Bagel Sandwiches

2 bagels, sliced in half
4 heaping teaspoons of basil pesto (I used the fresh pesto from Costco)
4 slices of fresh mozzarella (again, I used the sliced mozzarella from Costco)
4 slices of tomato
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Spread one teaspoon of pesto on each bagel half. Top each with a slice of mozzarella and a tomato, then add salt and pepper to taste. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Enjoy!


raspberry shortbread tarts


Today is kind of a big day... it's my thirtieth birthday! I still can't quite wrap my mind around that! Yikes. Thirty sounds so old. I keep thinking that at some point I'll feel like a grown up, but I still feel like a giggly sixteen year old most of the time. The older I get, the more I realize that nobody ever really feels like a grown up. We're all pretty much just flying by the seat of our pants. :)

Anyway, the best way to celebrate a birthday is with an awesome treat, and I have one for you today! I got the idea for these tarts when my mom came home from her annual trip to visit my great aunt in California. She brought home with her an assortment of awesome baking supplies, including these adorable tartlet tins:

I've never made any sort of tart before, but those tiny little tins were just calling to me. I adore anything in miniature! I have no idea when or where my great aunt purchased them, but I found some similar tins here on Amazon, in case you want to snag a set for yourself. If you don't have them, though, I'm sure this recipe would work great in a large tart pan, or even in a mini muffin tin. Feel free to experiment, though, and let me know how it goes! I'm excited about the new world that making tarts has opened up to me... I can't wait to try them with a chocolate custard filling, or whipped cream and strawberries! This crust is a good base for pretty much any filling.

To assemble the tarts, I made a batch of this vanilla custard, and piped it into the cooled shortbread shells. I then topped each with a fresh raspberry and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. I love how pretty they are, and they tasted amazing too!

Shortbread Crust 
adapted from A Hint of Honey

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
9 tablespoons very cold butter (1 stick plus 1 Tbsp.), cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375. Mix flour, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix egg yolk and water, and add to dry mixture. Mix just until incorporated. Kneading as little as possible, pat the dough into a disc shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours.

When the dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured surface or silicone mat to about 1/4 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter that is appropriate to the size of your tart tins or muffin cups, cut out circles of dough (I used a 1 1/2 inch cutter for my size tins). Press dough into tins or muffin cups. Poke the bottom of each piece of dough with a fork to allow steam to escape. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool for 10-15 minutes in tins before removing to a cooling rack. Cool completely before filling. 


bacon potato and corn chowder


At this point, I'm tired of so many things about winter. I'm tired of shoveling the walks. I'm tired of bundling the kids up every time we need to go somewhere. I'm tired of getting stuck in the slush that collects at the bottom of my driveway thanks to the snow plow. But one winter thing I never get tired of is soup for dinner! For me, it never really stops being soup season (I make soup for dinner in July), but it is especially comforting in the winter to cozy up with a big bowl of warm soup. This bacon potato and corn chowder is just a nice bowl of comforting, delicious warmth!
Bacon Potato and Corn Chowder
adapted from Life {Made} Simple

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. butter
1 c. whole milk or half & half
4 c. or (1) 32 oz. box chicken broth
3 slices of thick-cut bacon, cooked until crisp and diced
½ c. medium-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 russet potatoes, rinsed, peeled (optional) and cubed into 1" chunks
2 c. fresh corn
1 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. sea salt + a pinch for sweating
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

Set a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add butter and melt. When butter has melted add onion and a pinch of salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes until tender and transparent. Add garlic and corn and cook for 3 more minutes.

Sprinkle in flour and whisk. Slowly add chicken broth and then milk. Turn heat up to medium-high, then add potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Once the potatoes are tender and the soup has thickened, turn heat off. Add in cheddar cheese and stir until incorporated. Spoon into individual bowls and top with crisp bacon pieces. Serve immediately.


churros con chocolate


This is pretty much just the best dessert/breakfast/snack EVER. I got the recipe from my adorable friend Katie, who is quite the world traveler. I love hearing about her adventures! She's always off somewhere fun (Disneyland, Hawaii, Paris, Scotland, Hong Kong, and so on) and all with her super cute twin toddlers in tow! I met her when I was in nursing school, and we discovered that among other things, we share a love of cooking. Along with our sweet friend Emma, we love to get together periodically for a day of sharing recipes and baking. Katie shared this recipe with us a few months ago, and told us that she used to eat churros con chocolate with fresh orange juice every morning while she was doing an internship in Spain several years ago. (I know, some people have all the luck!)

It was love at first bite for me... the chocolate sauce is sort of a cross between hot chocolate and chocolate pudding, and the churros are very lightly sweetened, crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. When the churros are dunked in the sauce, though... holy hannah they are delicious! I've mentioned before that I'm not super into deep frying, but these are worth making an exception for. I really thought churros would be harder to make, but they're super easy and fairly foolproof. These are the perfect treat for your Valentine!
Churros con Chocolate
recipe from my dear friend, Katie Hagen

for the churros:
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
3 eggs
oil for frying
powdered sugar

for the chocolate sauce:
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 cups milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup sugar

Boil water and butter in a saucepan. Add flour while boiling, stir all at once to form a dough. Transfer to a mixing bowl, and add eggs one at a time while beating. Mix until smooth. Bring 2 inches of oil to 365 degrees in a deep sauce pan.

Meanwhile, whisk cornstarch and milk in a saucepan. Add chocolate and sugar. Bring just to a simmer, then remove from heat.

Put churro dough into a pastry bag with a large star tip. Pipe six inch pieces of dough into hot oil, and cook until golden brown (2-3 minutes per side). Drain on paper towels and dust with powdered sugar.

Serve with a cup of chocolate for dipping and fresh orange juice!


strawberry cream cheese coffee cake


I'm guessing from my recipes lately that you can tell which two produce items have been abundant and inexpensive at Costco lately... strawberries and broccoli! I'm excited to share yet another recipe using fresh strawberries today. I just love them! I've never actually made a coffee cake before, but this was the perfect recipe to start with. It was fairly easy to make, and incredibly delicious! I can't even say which part was my favorite... the sweet, moist cake, the cheesecake-y cream cheese, the sweet strawberries, or the crumbly streusel topping. They were each amazing in and of themselves, but combined? Holy cow! I've had a slice of this cake for breakfast every morning this week, and I'm dreading the day I eat the last piece. I guess that will be just the excuse I need to make it again!
Strawberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
adapted from Food Wanderings in Asia

Cake and Crumb Topping:
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into chunks
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sour cream (full fat)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Filling:
1 - 8oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg

Strawberry Filling:
1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, cut into pieces
3 tbsp sugar
3 tsp water
1.5 tsp cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8 inch round pan with non-stick baking paper (or spray with cooking spray).

For the strawberry filling:
Combine the cornstarch and water in a bowl. Mix the strawberries and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until the strawberries release their juices, about 5 minutes, then add the cornstarch mix and stir until well combined. Cook for another minute or two, stirring frequently, until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the cream cheese filling:
Beat the cream cheese on medium speed for about 30 seconds until smooth. Add in the sugar and egg and beat until well combined.  Set aside.

For the cake:
Combine the flour and sugar together in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter or just 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Measure 3/4 cup of the mixture and set aside. Add the baking soda, baking powder and salt and mix well. In another bowl, beat the sour cream, egg and vanilla extract until well blended. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until just combined.

Spread the batter in the pan. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the batter, being careful to keep the cream cheese mixture 1/2 - 1 inch away from the edges of the batter. Spread the strawberry jam on top of the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup crumbs over the strawberry filling. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes before removing.


banana bread oatmeal


I always try to get excited about oatmeal for breakfast... I mean, it's super healthy, right? And filling. And a good all around breakfast. But it has always just seemed kind of... bland. (Like oatmeal.) I can tolerate it if I add roughly equal parts brown sugar and oatmeal, but that pretty much just defeats the health benefits of oatmeal. Anyway, when I came across this recipe on Pinterest, I was excited to give it a go. I love banana bread, so why not try to duplicate that flavor in my oatmeal? The result? Amazing! I love that the bananas give it enough sweetness that you don't have to add a ton of brown sugar, and the spices and bananas in combination with the warm oatmeal make it a bowl of comfort food. Yum!
Banana Bread Oatmeal
adapted from A Pastry Affair

1 1/4 cup milk
1 -2 overripe bananas, mashed (plus more for topping, if desired)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup quick oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons chopped nuts of your choice (I used almonds, but I think walnuts would be fab)

In a large saucepan, whisk together the milk, mashed bananas, and spices and bring to a boil over medium heat. When it starts to boil, add the rolled oats and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the oats are soft and the liquid has been absorbed. Pour into a bowl, top each serving with a tablespoon of brown sugar, slices of banana, and nuts.


cheesy broccoli and quinoa casserole


So you know how I've said before that I'm not really sold on quinoa? Scratch that! One bite of this casserole, and I was head over heels in love with it. I guess my theory holds true that adding cheese to anything makes it taste delicious! What's more, I served this to my family and not a single person complained about the quinoa. (The broccoli was a different story, but I'm still counting it as a victory.) This was so amazingly yummy! It tastes like a cheesy ricey casserole, but has all the awesome health benefits of quinoa. And it's gluten free, for those who swing that way. But really, I would make it again anyway, even if it wasn't healthy, just because it tastes so darn good. I served it with some baked salmon and fresh fruit salad, and it was a delicious healthy dinner.
Cheesy Broccoli & Quinoa Casserole
adapted from The Novice Chef

2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
2 heaping cups steamed broccoli (I did mine in the microwave)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9x9 baking dish and set aside. In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add quinoa and salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 18-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

While quinoa is cooking, melt butter. Whisk in cornstarch, cook for 30 seconds. Add onion and garlic, sauté for 5 minutes - stirring as needed. Stir in mustard and cayenne pepper, and cook for 30 seconds more. Slowly whisk in milk. Simmer for 7-9 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese, stirring until completely melted.

In a large bowl, toss cooked quinoa and steamed broccoli together. Carefully pour sauce over quinoa/broccoli, stirring to coat. Transfer to prepared baking dish and top with grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned. Serve immediately.


almond chocolate chunk cookies


One of the best life lessons I've learned is that you can win pretty much anyone over with freshly baked cookies. Whenever I need to make a good impression, or apologize, or cheer someone up, cookies are my first line of defense. I'm still getting to know everyone at my new job, and I figured bringing some awesome cookies to my meeting yesterday afternoon might help build some friendships. Turns out I was right! These almond chocolate chunk cookies are ah-mazing! They're huge (like, 3 inches across or so) but still soft and chewy on the inside. The chocolate chunks turn into melty pockets of heaven, and the chopped almonds add a lovely dimension to the texture. The little hint of almond flavor is a fun addition too!

As far as the chocolate chunks, I chopped up some of this giant chocolate bar that I found at Trader Joe's (for only $4.99! Best deal ever!), but feel free to use whatever floats your boat. Hershey's bars, chocolate chips, baking bars... it's all good!

Almond Chocolate Chunk Cookies
adapted from How Sweet Eats

12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 - 1 1/2 cups chocolate chunks
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 325. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugars and mix until combined. Add egg and egg yolk, vanilla, and almond extract, and mix until combined. Add flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix until just combined (be careful not to over mix). By hand, mix in chocolate chunks and chopped almonds. Divide dough into eighteen large balls. Pull each ball into two pieces using your hands. Place one half, rough side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet, then place the other half, rough side up, on top of the first half. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. The middles of the cookies should still be soft. Let cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, then remove to cooling rack. Enjoy!


cheesy chicken and broccoli pockets


When my daughter Abby was about two months old, Geoff flew to Germany to teach classes there for about six weeks. I was a first time mom, with an unusually fussy baby (she had GERD, and we didn't know about it), and it was terrifying to me to think of being on my own for so long. I remember dropping him off at the airport, and crying so much on the way home that I had to pull over. I know, sad, right?

All I could think about was that Geoff was going to go around, exploring castles and viking settlements, and I would be stuck at home with a screaming baby and no help. Amazingly, though, within just a few days, Abby and I had a comfortable routine going. She started sleeping through the night, and I found that I enjoyed the freedom that came with not having another adult's needs to consider. We developed a really great routine of walking for about an hour every night with a friend from the neighborhood, and I spent the days playing with Abby, and cleaning or doing crafts while she was napping. The thought of cooking dinner for just myself was a little overwhelming, so I subsisted mostly on Lean Cuisine and Lean Pockets, and loved it! By the time Geoff came home, I was much more confident and sure of myself as a mom. What had started as a nightmare ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, because it taught me to trust myself.

So how does this all relate to the above chicken and broccoli pockets? Well, one of my favorite meals from that period was the chicken and broccoli flavor of Lean Pockets. I probably went through at least one package of them per week while Geoff was gone. Now that I'm much more confident in my cooking skills, and also more interested in eating whole foods and making things myself, I decided it was high time to recreate that flavor combo at home. And, like most things that are homemade, these completely blew the original out of the water! I am completely in love with these pockets, and could eat one for lunch every day. (And last week, I did...) Seriously, make them!
Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Pockets

adapted from Your Homebased Mom

1 cup warm water
3 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil


1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups milk (I used skim)
1 tsp chicken base
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups chopped steamed broccoli, cooled slightly
1 - 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
olive oil
parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine yeast and sugar with warm water and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbly. Add flour, salt, and oil to yeast mixture. Combine wet ingredients in dry ingredients into mixer and knead for 5 minutes until dough is smooth and just slightly sticky. Allow to rise for at least one hour.

While the dough is rising, make the filling. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add flour, and whisk until combined. Let cook for a few minutes, until very lightly browned. Add milk and chicken base, and quickly whisk until the flour mixture is mixed in completely. Cook for a few minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat, and whisk in shredded cheese. Set aside for a moment to cool.In a medium bowl, combine broccoli, chicken, and chunks of cheese. Pour cheese sauce over the top, and mix to combine.

Divide dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into circle. Scoop 1/6 of the filling onto one side of each piece of dough. Be careful to keep the cheese sauce at least an inch away from the edges, or they will be difficult to seal. Pull the other half of the dough over the top of filling and seal the edges closed. Using a fork, pierce the top of the pockets once or twice to allow steam to escape. Brush the tops of the pockets with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 450 until golden brown - about 12-15 minutes.