Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, my husband and I went to Zola’s New World Bistro in downtown, State College, PA. We had a great time!

My good looking date for the evening!

My good looking date for the evening!

Deep fried red snapper with sweet chili sauce, a tarter/mustard sauce, & soy sauce.

Deep fried red snapper with sweet chili sauce, a tarter/mustard sauce, & soy sauce.

Josh was kind enough to share some of his fish with me! It was fantastic! My favorite sauce was the tarter/mustard sauce! I must find a recipe for this so I can make some at home!

My schnazzy meal of salmon, spaghetti squash and cranberry couscous.

My schnazzy meal of salmon, spaghetti squash and cranberry couscous.

At home, I like to eat spaghetti squash with actual spaghetti meat sauce on top, so this was a fun way to have it served. The top of the spaghetti squash was crunchy, so it added a fun texture. This was my first time having couscous. I liked it, it is less grainy than quinoa, so I think I would like to make it. This also had whole fresh cranberries inside. And of course the amazing salmon.

I was quite proud of myself as I looked up the menu online ahead of time to find the most healthy option to stay with my Weight Watcher goals. In order to minimize my points so I could save them for some vanilla bean creme brulee (which I figured was 11 points for a half serving, typically 23 points for a whole serving!!!), I ordered the salmon without the chartreuse butter sauce, and I asked to have it baked instead. I found the item on the menu with the most 0 point or low point side options. The spaghetti squash was 0 points and the couscous was a small serving, so it was only about 3 points. By choosing this menu item, and opting for a healthier cooking method, I could save my points for what I felt was worth it-the dessert! 🙂

 

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Valentine’s Day Treats for Co-Workers

Good morning! Just wanted to share with you about an amazing Valentine’s Day treat I made for my co-workers last week. I made my favorite chocolate chip cookie dough recipe and then added about a cup of mini M&M’s and a cup of chocolate chips to the batter! Yum! I typically like to use M&M’s that match the season, however, I could not find any plain chocolate Valentine’s M&M’s at Walmart, so I opted for mini M&M’s which fit right into every nook and cranny.

Next I used my Wilton “heart pop” cookie pans to make my  heart shaped cookies on a stick. I sprayed the pan with a little olive oil, then I spooned in some cookie dough (the heart cookie pans I have seem to  be about 2-1/2 to 3 cookies worth of dough that I spooned into each tin). Then I used my fingers to press the dough into the form of the heart mold. I used Wilton 5″ white lollipop sticks and I placed the stick about half the length of the cookie, and placed the stick so it lied flat against the little groove built into the pan. I moved some dough from the center strip of the cookie where the lollipop stick would be buried, and I covered it up with the dough so you could not see the stick any more through the cookie dough. Then I baked them in a 375 degree F oven for about 10 minutes. I watched the edges so they didn’t burn, but it is important to ensure that the cookie is completely cooked so that when it sets it will be able to be supported by the stick, and it won’t break your cookie.

When they finish baking, let them cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes then flip the pan over and tap on the back of the pan and the heart cookies should come right out without a hitch. Let the cookies cool, then my favorite part…decorate them!!! 😀

I layed out some wax paper on the counter & melted some chocolate almond bark in a little bowl in the microwave. Remember with chocolate, it is important to stir it about every 30 seconds so it doesn’t burn, as it tends to hold its shape, so its easy to think its not melting, but it is! Then I held each cooled cookie (not by the stick, but by the left half of the heart) and spooned some melted chocolate almond bark on the right side of the heart, spooning the chocolate in a straight line down the center, and using the back of the spoon to spread it out on the right half of the cookie. I set each cookie on the wax paper and sprinkled with the cute little X & O sprinkles. (A little known fact is that you can buy little tubs of sprinkles at the Walmart bakery for a few bucks-so next time you walk by, check out the sprinkles on the cakes to see if you like any! Then, let them know you would like to buy some. )

After I coated one half in chocolate, I decided the cookies were missing a little pizzazz, so I took some pink almond bark melts (those little colored disks that you can buy) and melted some in a little dish in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Then I let it cool a few seconds, and poured the colored melted chocolate into a little Ziploc bag and cut a tiny hole in the corner of the bottom of the bag. Then I drizzled the almond bark over each decorated half of each cookie. Perfect! That is just the extra touch it needed to take it to the next level.

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I let each cookie dry completely, and placed them in Wilton plastic goodie bags and tied with some curling ribbon. (I had some pink left over from our wedding, and the red was from Christmas-perfect combination for Valentine’s Day!) I also had some clear labels at home, and I wanted to make a cute little tag on the cookies since they were my “valentine” to my co-workers. On Pinterest, I remembered pinning some pretty fonts  from DaFont.com. So, I downloaded some of the pretty fonts I liked and created cute little labels to place on the cookie bags.

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These brought back memories of our wedding day since we gave out these heart shaped cookies on a stick, with one half dipped in chocolate with pink and lavender almond bark drizzled on that side, as our wedding favors to our guests. They were gorgeous! Big thanks to my family and friends who met at the church to help us make these beautiful favors for our guests.

Wedding Favors! They had a little label on the back that thanked our guests for coming!

Wedding Favors! They had a little label on the back that thanked our guests for coming!

Red Velvet Cheesecake Filled Cupcakes

Red velvet cake is my husband’s favorite cake! Growing up, his mother made him red velvet cake for his birthday. When I was growing up, my mom always made red velvet cake only for Valentine’s day & would use a coolwhip type frosting on top. As an adult, I have experienced the joy that is THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY!!! So, I wanted to make a red velvet cheesecake dessert and was all set on making a Red Velvet Cheesecake recipe from Willow Bird Baking blog. However, I wanted the dessert to be in a smaller, “shareable” form, so I wouldn’t be tempted with a giant cake around the house all week.

Therefore, I decided to combine a few different recipes and create these Red Velvet Cheesecake Filled Cupcakes. The cake recipe is from Willow Bird Baking, and the filling and frosting are family recipes. I was a little hesitant as I know that sometimes each element may taste fine on their own, but when paired they may need some tweaking. However, this was not the case and it all tasted amazing together! These are the Best Cupcakes I Have Ever Had!!!-says me and everyone else who tried one! (Now you can too!)

Bought a 1M Wilton decorating tip to make these beautiful roses like a pro! :)

Bought a 1M Wilton decorating tip to make these beautiful roses like a pro! 🙂

Red Velvet Cupcakes

A view of the cheesecake filling on the inside, complete with mini chocolate chips!

A view of the cheesecake filling on the inside, complete with mini chocolate chips!

Red Velvet Cake: 

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 egg

1 Tablespoon cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk (using powdered is fine)

1 & 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 Tablespoon white vinegar

1 ounce red food coloring (liquid)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream shortening, sugar, and eggs. Add the cocoa (Next time I might try adding 1 or 2 Tbsp. more cocoa powder to give it a bit more chocolate flavor-but it was fabulous anyway) and food coloring to the mixture. Add salt and vanilla. Add buttermilk alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with the flour. *If using dry buttermilk, follow the directions on the package and mix the powdered buttermilk with the dry ingredients and then use the 1/2 cup of water as the liquid buttermilk (wet ingredient).

My mom taught me a trick to maximize every drop of food coloring in the bottle. After dumping in the food coloring, carefully, so as not to splash yourself. 🙂  Save the bottle, and then measure out the 1/2 cup of wet ingredients (water if using powder) in a measuring cup, then pour some of the liquid into the red food coloring bottle & then into the cake to wash out any remaining dye to help give your cake a nice vibrant red color.

Then mix the vinegar and soda together in a little bowl before adding to the cake mixture (this will cause the soda to foam). Thoroughly mix into the batter and begin to partially fill your lined cupcake tins. Then make the filling below and spoon that in the lined tins next, then top with a bit of remaining red velvet batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-25 minutes (know your oven, if it cooks hot-set it for less time). Use a toothpick inserted into the center to test the doneness of the cake-should come out clean.

Cheesecake Filling: 

1-8 oz. cream cheese (softened)

1/3 c. sugar

1 egg

1/4 c. Canola oil

1-6 oz. pkg chocolate chips (I used mini chocolate chips in this case)

Cream the sugar and cream cheese until smooth (very important so you don’t get a lumpy cream cheese filling). Then combine the egg and canola oil and mix thoroughly. Then stir in the chocolate chips. This filling is great with a German chocolate cake! Typically you fill your cupcake tins with the cupcake batter, then drop in a rounded tsp. of filling in each cupcake tin- it sinks to the middle of the cupcake as it bakes. However, for this recipe, I wasn’t sure if the batter would sink to the middle, so I spooned a bit of the red velvet cake batter in all the cupcake liners, then a rounded tsp of filling in all the liners, then more red velvet cake batter on top. The cake did not rise much during baking, so filling the liners about 3/4 full worked well.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1-8 oz. cream cheese (1/3 less fat Philadelphia cream cheese) (room temp)

1 stick butter (room temp)

1 lb powdered sugar (This would be half a 2lb bag)

1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth (using the whisk attachment to your stand mixer), then add vanilla and powdered sugar & mix some more, adding a little powdered sugar at a time using low speed so as not to create a mess! Taste the frosting as you go, if you think it is sweet enough without the full 1 lb of powdered sugar, stop there, just make sure it is the right consistency for piping/spreading. If you accidentally put in too much powdered sugar (which has happened to me on occasion) feel free to thin it with a splash of milk.

Traditionally, this frosting is for my family’s carrot cake recipe (I’ll have to do a post on that another time), but it pairs amazingly with this red velvet cake! I found an amazing tutorial from Glory over at “Glorious Treats” on how to frost cupcakes like a pro. Her tutorial helped me “up my game” immensely! Link to her quick video tutorial on frosting cupcakes: http://www.glorioustreats.com/2011/08/cupcake-basics-how-to-frost-cupcakes.html

I used a Wilton 1M tip ($3 at Walmart) and a plastic frosting bag. I also used her “cup method” to fill the bag, by placing the tip inside a large cup and putting the frosting bag ends over the top of the cup to create an open pocket to spoon in your frosting. I frosted the cupcakes in a spiral motion beginning in the center of each cupcake and piping the frosting from directly over the top of the cupcake (not from the side, or anything difficult) to create the beautiful rose. Then I topped with some pretty pearl white ball sprinkles (from Walmart). I think they turned out beautiful.

I figured each of these cupcakes to be 11 WW points, so I found it best to stick with my plan by cutting a cupcake in half and only taking half of it to work for my dessert at lunch, then I would eat the other half at lunch the next day. This gave me something great to look forward to and gave me more of an opportunity to burn it off throughout the day. I hope you love them as much as I do!

Fancy Homemade Valentine’s Dinner

Valentine’s Day is my 3rd favorite holiday! My favorite is Christmas as I love the Christmas music, all the lovely lights and the amazing food! Then Easter because of all the beautiful spring colors, and finally, Valentine’s for the chocolate & the flowers! 😀

On February 9th, I knew I wanted to make my husband a nice early Valentine’s Day dinner since I knew we had dinner reservations planned to go out on the 14th. As I was watching Food Network that morning (my weekend ritual) I happened upon The Sandwich King(which I honestly hadn’t watched a full episode of in the past). However, thanks to Food Network’s “The Kitchen” I got to know Jeff Mauro a bit more, and realized that he is quite intelligent and an excellent cook, despite his goofy humor. So, I gave it a chance and he was making this wonderful delight! 🙂 Filet Mignon Crostini with Rosemary Pesto-Link to the fantastic recipe and easy to understand instructions: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jeff-mauro/filet-mignon-crostini-with-rosemary-pesto-recipe.html

So I headed out to Wegman’s (our amazing local grocery store that feels like every fancy local butcher, cheese shop, bakery, etc. all in one) and I could not find the filet mignon. So I texted my awesome little sis (since she took a Meats class in college) and she informed me that a beef tenderloin would be from the same cut of beef so I could use that!

I followed the recipe to a “T”, other than the fact I do not have a food processor (I informed my husband this would make a great future birthday present), so I used Buitoni fresh basil pesto instead and spooned some out into a bowl to mix with the rosemary to create the “Rosemary Pesto”.

We both absolutely loved this fancy little dinner! Served with a nice red wine (or in my case I actually prefer Welch’s sparkling red grape wine), this is a great dish-the flavors all pair so wonderfully, coming from someone who typically doesn’t care for a blue cheese flavor, it coordinates so well with the rosemary pesto and the beef tenderloin.

Also, if your love (like mine) doesn’t care for fresh tomatoes, you may top with a sprinkle of shredded Parmesan cheese & a dash of salt. Enjoy!

Recipe: Filet Mignon Crostini with Rosemary Pesto by Jeff Mauro, Sandwich King, Food Network

Recipe: Filet Mignon Crostini with Rosemary Pesto by Jeff Mauro, Sandwich King, Food Network.

Cut French baguette into 1/2 inch slices.
Cut French baguette into 1/2 inch slices.

Sprinkle with olive oil and salt & fresh cracked black pepper on both sides.

Sprinkle with olive oil, salt & fresh cracked black pepper on both sides.

3 oz. Gorgonzola cheese ( I asked the deli to cut a 6oz in half for me. Nice way to save money and only buy what you need. )

3 oz. Gorgonzola cheese ( I asked the deli to cut a 6oz in half for me. Nice way to save money and only buy what you need. )

I chopped fresh thyme ($1.99 for a sprig like that) & mixed with my store bought fresh pesto.

I chopped fresh rosemary ($1.99 for a sprig like that) & mixed with my store bought fresh pesto.

This was my first time pan searing a steak (my husband normally does this).The trick is to really use ample salt and pepper to form a nice crust and then don't mess with it until it is time to flip over.

This was my first time pan searing a steak (my husband normally does this).The trick is to really use ample salt and pepper to form a nice crust and then don’t mess with it until it is time to flip over.

Finely sliced cherry tomatoes.

Finely sliced cherry tomatoes.

Spread a thin amount of the gorgonzola dolce over the toasted baguette slices. (Gorgonzola has a similar taste to blue cheese, though a bit more mild)

Spread a thin amount of the gorgonzola dolce over the toasted baguette slices. (Gorgonzola has a similar taste to blue cheese, though a bit more mild)

After the cheese is spread, top with thinly sliced meat, then the rosemary pesto and finally, the sliced tomato & sprinkle with fine sea salt.

After the cheese is spread, top with thinly sliced meat, then the rosemary pesto and finally, the sliced tomato & sprinkle with fine sea salt.

Recipe: Filet Mignon Crostini with Rosemary Pesto by Jeff Mauro, Sandwich King, Food Network
Recipe: Filet Mignon Crostini with Rosemary Pesto by Jeff Mauro, Sandwich King, Food Network