With Sweet Dreams and Even Sweeter Days

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

I am so so excited to share these peanut butter cheesecake swirl brownies with you today!  Not only because they are awesome, but also because they are brought to you not only by myself, but also by the Loveland Center in Venice Florida.

When I heard a few weeks ago that Loveland was participating in The Giving Partner 36 Hour Challenge, an online only fundraising event, I knew I wanted to make something super special to celebrate even though I couldn't be there in person.

At first I thought about making something to integrate their brand new logo, which I happen to really love.

But then I realized, what better way to show how important I think the work done at Loveland is than through my own personal experience with the cause that they serve.

I have a pretty small family.  Small but great.  One of the most wonderful members of my family, let alone one of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure to know, is my cousin Trisha.

If anyone has the right to complain about the cards they've been dealt in life, it's her.  And yet she never once has.  She has the funny way of putting things into perspective for me and helping me to remember what it's all about.

A prime example would be when one day I was chatting with her about my love of traveling and all the places I'd love to visit one day.  I asked her where she would go if she could travel absolutely anywhere in the world.

After a little thought she looked at me and said, "Mare, I think I'd come to your house and hang out with you."

Trish is, simply put, amazing.  And not to mention one of my favorite people to bake with.

Therefore when I was thinking about what I would make to help celebrate Loveland's participation in the 36 hour challenge, I knew brownies (one of Trish and I's favorite thing to bake together) were the perfect way to praise all that they do.

To quote Loveland themselves,

 "Loveland Center focuses on offering individualized services which empower adults with developmental disabilities to make informed decisions in regard to work, lifestyle and citizenship so that they may become more self-sufficient and interconnected within the community."

I can say first hand that the time I have volunteered there has been well spent.  They do wonderful work.  

The Giving Partner 36 Hour Challenge is an online only fundraising event where every donation received will be automatically doubled. This event begins at 6:00am on Tuesday, March 27th and ends at 6:00pm on Wednesday, March 28th.

Loveland is competing against over 100 local nonprofits for the funding out of $500,000 available.

And there is more than one way for you to help out!

1.) Call and make a donation at (941)-685-0720.
2.) Go to www.givingpartnerchallenge.org, search for Loveland Center and donate in that way.
3.) Like them on Facebook.
4.) Check out their website and learn more about what they do.

I don't put all of my effort behind just any cause, but for me this one is absolutely worth it.  So definitely take a minute and check it all out if you can.

I would also like to take this moment to say thank you to my wonderful mom, who has encouraged me from my youngest days that not only should every person be accepted for exactly who they are, but that they should be positively embraced for it as well.  No matter what.  

If I am half as good a person as I try to be most days, it is because of you.

But for now, Loveland and Trisha, these brownies are for you.


Peanut Butter Cheesecake Swirl Brownies
Servings: 30-36


For Brownies:
- 14 Tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
- 6 oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 eggs
- 2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup flour

For Peanut Butter Swirl
- 8 oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
- 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
- 6 Tbsp sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  

Line a 9x13 inch pan with aluminum foil and spray with baking spray.  In a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate chips and butter and stir until smooth.  Take off of the heat and whisk in sugar, cocoa powder, cream cheese, and eggs until smooth.  Whisk in vanilla and salt until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Stir in flour until equally distributed.

Pour batter into pan and smooth with a spatula.

To make the peanut butter swirl combine peanut butter, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat until creamy (1-2 minutes).  Add vanilla and egg and beat until smooth.

Dot peanut butter swirl all over the brownie batter and with a butter knife swirl up and down as well as back and forth until your desired swirl has been reached.

Bake for 30-33 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Let chill in the refrigerator at LEAST one hour before slicing for the best presentation and smoothest slice.  Store either wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator or in an air tight container at room temperature with parchment paper between each layer.


Recipe adapted from: Annie's Eats

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Boozy Whiskey Banana Bread

When I mentioned the other week that I've been throwing whiskey into all the baked goods I can get my hands on, I wasn't kidding.

There's been something about it lately that has just kept setting my radar off.  I can't get enough.

Therefore when I had a few bananas on the verge of being inedible sitting on my counter the other week, I knew banana bread was in order.  And there was no question that whiskey was joining the party as well.

This is a throw together kind of bread that can be tweaked in a million different ways.  Although I recommend giving it a try as is.

Smeared with some apple butter, it was basically irresistible.  Truth be told it was pretty stellar as is too.

If you have any leftover you could always turn it into some whiskey banana bread french toast.  Because if that doesn't sound like the best idea ever, really what does?

And don't forget to stop by the blog on Tuesday morning.  We'll be having a big party for one of my favorite (and the most wonderful) places and there will be more than a few surprises on tap.  You'll just have to show up and see!

But for now.  Make the bread.  Throw it together and spread the joy.

Boozy Whiskey Banana Bread
Servings: 1 loaf

- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2-3 very ripe bananas (mashed)
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk (any kind)
- 1/4 cup whiskey
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

To toast pecans, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake 6-8 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until pecans are golden brown.

To make bread, spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with baking spray.  In a bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars until well combined.  Add the bananas and eggs and beat until smooth.  Add milk and whiskey and beat until just combined.  Stir in flour mixture until combined, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until top is brown and cake tester comes out clean.  Let bread cool for 5-10 minutes in pan.  Turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.

Cut in thick slices and serve.

To store wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep in refrigerator.

Recipe: A Mary Original

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ultimate Green Smoothie


It turns out my old laptop has finally bit the dust.  After four years together I finally had to part ways with my first Macbook.

But. But. But. But.

I knew it was only a matter of time before I invested in a new one for myself. And I'm beyond thrilled.  It has features I don't even really understand yet, in the best way possible obviously.  With time.

Really, it's the little things.

Anyway, after being unable to blog for a week or so I found myself with a recipe for the ultimate green smoothie as well as one for whisky banana bread.

And no willpower to pick between the two.

So, I did what any self-respecting 22 year old would do in that situation.....

I called my Gram and asked which one I should post.

Things also discussed: whether or not we'll be taking a few irish car bombs together this summer.  (I'll leave the results of that conversation for another time.)

But yea, these smoothies.

This is going to be one of those times when you just have to trust me.

Channel all the feelings you were feeling when you were eating things such as "Fast Break Blondies" and "Jumbo Brownies with Perfect Chocolate Frosting" and take a leap of faith with me.

I guarantee you won't believe it if you do.

If I could mail each and every one of you one of these to try, believe me I would.

They are incredible.  They taste just like an orange and pineapple juice smoothie, with more nutrition in them than anything else I've yet seen.  As for the green color, I have tried a number of different techniques to get people beyond it to take that first sip.  Because once you do, there will be no going back.  

I really can't stress this enough.  Smoothies are never my first choice of food and I'm having a hard time not getting up and going to make one for myself right now.  I'm no health nut, but I just can't get enough.  They are that good.

So if you even think you'd have an inkling to try these, go out on a limb and do it.  I did.  You can switch the fruit up as you see fit, but honestly I found them perfect just as they are.  These will definitely be a staple in my life for a long time to come.

Just trust.  And enjoy.

Seriously, these are so good.

Ultimate Green Smoothie
Serves: 1-2 (depending on the size you want)

- 1/2 banana
- 1/2 cup pineapple
- 1/2 pear
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 1 1/4 cup baby spinach
- 1 Tbsp honey

Chop banana, pineapple, and pear into small chunks.  Place in a freezer safe container and freezer for a least 1 hr or more.  When ready to make smoothies, take out pieces and make sure they're not stuck together in big chunks (if so separate by chopping into small pieces again).  Blend frozen fruit with orange juice, spinach, and honey in a blender until very well combined.  Really the more combined the better.  Drink immediately and prepare to be wowed.

Recipe adapted from: Annie's Eats

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Things I'm Loving Lately

I'm sorry I've been absent on here the past week.  I was recently visiting down in sunny Florida and when I got home I arrived to see my laptop wasn't working. 

After a quick (few) trips to the store, my computer has been sent away for maintenance and I won't have it back until either later this week or the beginning of next.  And until then all my food photos are floating on the limbo of its hard drive.  Not to worry, it'll be back in action with plenty to share very soon.

But in the meantime I didn't want to leave you completely post-less so in no particular order, some of the things I'm loving lately, food related and not.

 1.) Jumping out of airplanes.  Because I did it for the first time in Florida and it changed my life.  Terrifying.  Exhilarating.  Beyond words.  It will not be the last time.

2.) Red Velvet Pancakes

The idea didn't sound out of this world to me and truth be told I ordered them on a whim at  3 Oaks Cafe in Clearwater Florida.  And let me tell you, I was blown away.  Three light and delicate red velvet pancakes doused in cream cheese vanilla icing and powdered sugar, they were absolutely out of this world.  If you're down in that area a must try. A must try.

3.) These brownies.  Even though I haven't made them yet.  I can't stop thinking about them.

4.) Putting whiskey in all of the baked goods I possibly can.  (No one is complaining yet)

5.) All things sunny and warm and Florida and vacation time

Because let's be honest, getting back into the swing of things is hard.

6.) Pushing the limits of when I can wear flip flops and dresses in the weather at home.  We're getting there.

7.)  And this girl

but sincerely, that one's nothing new. :)

I promise I'll be back very soon with many more treats to share.  Let's hope this is the last time my laptop goes MIA for awhile.

Until then! xoxo

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

I have a really hard time sitting on recipes.

As in I can't do it.

Like at all.

The minute I make something that I think is out of this world I immediately want to share it and get it out there for all of you.  Normally this is far from a problem.

Except for the weeks when maybe I make one or two treats that are great and only get around to posting one.

That's when we fall into some trouble.

I'm talking Chocolate Bundt Cake from May 2011 that's been sitting on my desktop patiently waiting to be posted ever since trouble.

Yea.  About that.

I will promise to find a spot for the lonely bundt cake around these parts soon, if you promise to forgive me for shoving these lovely little cookies at you instead.  I think you'll be inclined to do just that though.

They're kind of incredible.

A light and airy cookie that basically bursts with citrus flavor; they're slightly crisp on the edges giving way to a chewy center all the while studded with poppy seeds, both within and sprinkled on top.

The kind of cookies that make you want summer to get here as soon as possible, while also making the remaining weeks of winter just a little bit brighter.  My kind of cookies to say the least.

Now here's the thing.  In the directions it says to roll the cookie dough into a mixture of sugar and lemon zest.  Which is absolutely awesome. Except for the fact my dough was WAY too soft to roll.  It just wasn't happening. 

But I improvised and came up with a pretty fun way to whip them up instead.  It's really not hard at all, it just benefits from some pictures as a guide.

So I figured I'd walk you though it.

Bear with me.

Using a small scoop with a release mechanism, scoop out some dough.  It's easy to go overboard.  Less is more.  You'll get in a rhythm as you go.

Plop it in your sugar/lemon mixture.  Without touching the doughball, scoop the sugar/lemon mixture over the dough until it completely covers the doughball.

See the dough is so soft, if you tried to shape it by hand you'd end up with a big sticky mess, but the sugar/lemon mixture acts as a kind of shield (a delicate shield but a shield nonetheless) and helps you to shape the cookies.

Gently toss the doughball between your two hands to remove excess sugar.  Gently.

Place the doughball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. (If you're planning to bake the cookies immediately space the balls at least 2 in apart.  If you want to flash freeze the dough they only need to be about 1 inch apart - full instructions below for either method)

Gently press down on the cookie with the bottom of a glass to flatten them slightly or until they are approximately 1/4 inch thick.  Gentle is the name of the game here.  This cookie dough is soft and benefits from a light hand.

Doughballs before and after pressing down.  Flattening them makes them uniform and shape and size and also helps while they are cooking so the edges don't burn before the centers bake.

If I can do it, you can do it.  Most definitely.

Then either sprinkle some poppy seeds on top and bake or flash freeze them for later.  And enjoy some of the best cookies I've churned out in awhile.

I hope the step-by-step on shaping helped at least somewhat if you do try these cookies out.  If that's the case, I'll try to include them on here more frequently.  And if it didn't help out at all, I hope you're only a little more worse for wear.

I'm off to sunny Florida tomorrow to soak up some real sunshine, but for right now, these cookies are more than enough.


Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
Servings: 2-3 dozen cookies

- juice of 2 lemons (approx 1/4 cup)
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- zest from two lemons
- 1 Tbsp poppy seeds (plus more for sprinkling)

If baking immediately, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Bring the lemon juice to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add 1 stick of butter and stir until melted.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer beat remaining stick of butter and 1 cup of the sugar until creamy and light (about 2 minutes).  Add egg and reserved lemon butter and beat until pale (about 2-3 minutes).  Mix in the vanilla and 2 tsp of the lemon zest.  Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and poppy seeds.

In a small bowl stir together remaining 1/2 cup sugar and remaining lemon zest until well combined.  Using a small dough scoop with a release mechanism, scoop out approx 1 Tbsp size doughballs one at a time.  Place each doughball into the lemon/sugar mixture and cover with lemon/sugar mixture without touching the doughball itself.

Gently toss the doughball between your hands, while they are close together to remove excess sugar.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat (spaced 2 inches apart if baking immediately or 1 inch apart if flash freezing).  Press each doughball down lightly with the bottom of a flat glass until approx 1/4 inch thick.

If baking immediately sprinkle with poppy seeds and bake for 9-11 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through or until the cookies are lightly golden brown on the edges and seem mostly set in the centers.  (Mine were done at 9 minutes).  Cool completely on baking sheets on a wire rack and store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

If flash freezing, place tray(s) of cookies into the freezer for 20-30 minutes (or until the cookies have firmed up considerably.  Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer until ready to bake.  When ready to bake, pre-heat oven and take out as many cookies as you'd like to make.  Line on baking sheets and sprinkle with poppy seeds and allow to sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.  Bake as directed, adding a minute or so to the baking time if the edges are not golden by the 11 minute mark.

Cookies will last in the freezer for at least a month.  I have not tested longer.  (Mine never last that long)

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart's Cookies