August 28, 2011

Mocha Cake Ball Truffles


I think this is the last in quite a string of cake ball creations.  I seem to have been on a run of cake ball flavor development!  I tend to do that ... get on a roll with one type of confection and just keep on a-going with the different ideas in my head.  Let's see, this summer there's been Salted Chocolate Cake Balls & Pops, Margarita Cake Ball Truffles, and Funfetti Cake Balls.  Following a similar method, there's also been Oreo Truffles and the-start-of-it-all Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles & Pops.

And now ... Mocha Cake Ball Truffles!  Of all the varieties I've played with this summer, these are my absolute favorite.  Vanilla cake mixed with rich coffee buttercream, then dunked in dark chocolate coating.  To quote one of my all-time favorite movies, it's scrumdidilyumptious!  (That's from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, just in case you were wondering.)

If you like coffee sweet treats, try these.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

Mocha Cake Ball Truffles
Source: Concept & process adapted from Bakerella
(Printable recipe)
Click here to view a detailed post about making cake pops and cake balls.

1 baked 9x13" vanilla cake (I used a recipe from scratch, but a box mix also works just fine)
1 to 1 1/2 c. strong coffee buttercream frosting (recipe below)
1 (1 lb.) package dark chocolate candy melts
About 2 T. shortening
Chocolate sprinkles

1.  Crumble cake into a large bowl, working it into small crumbs. Add frosting and mix until well combined.

2.  Shape into approximately 1" balls, using about 1 T. of the cake mixture per ball; set aside on wax paper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour, or place in freezer for about 15 minutes.

3.  In a small deep bowl, melt candy melts and shortening together in the microwave per candy melt package directions (typically in 30 second intervals, stirring in between). Use a fork to dip each cake ball in the candy coating, letting excess coating drip off back into the bowl. Place on wax paper. Immediately sprinkle with a few chocolate sprinkles. Let stand for coating to set up.

Strong Coffee Buttercream Frosting
Source: Adapted from The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine

I had to really amp up the coffee in this frosting to get the flavor to come through in the truffles, hence the name Strong Coffee Buttercream.  If you want to frost a cake or cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream, click on the link to use this recipe instead.

3 T. instant coffee granules
1 1/2 T. water
1 1/2 T. vanilla extract
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 c. confectioners' sugar
3 T. milk

Combine water, coffee granules, and vanilla extract in a small bowl; stir to dissolve coffee.  Set aside.

Beat butter in bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low.  Add confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating for a few seconds between each addition.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes.  Add the coffee mixture and milk; beat on low speed to combine.  Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 4 minutes.


August 24, 2011

Classic No Bake Cookies to the Rescue!!


You know, a lot of my friends think I'm a 'perfect' cook ... which I am soooooo not!  I mess up all the time (and actually seem to have a string of mess-ups going on right now!).  For me, that's actually part of the adventure of cooking ... figuring out what works and what doesn't.  I decided when I started this blog that I'd be man (or in this case, woman) about my bloopers and share them.  Well, not all of them.  Just some.  I do still want you to think I'm at least somewhat of a decent cook!  So I'll share some every now and then, like these Funfetti Cake Balls that started out as a botched up batch of cupcakes, or these Peeps Brownies that just made me think of some horror movie where Easter Peeps were maliciously buried alive, or my oh-so-over-crispy-and-black Sweet Potato Chips.

And then there's this cheesecake.  My poor little Honey Cheesecake that I've been working on developing the recipe for.  As you can see, I'm not at the point of success yet.  Look at those disappointing cracks (they were DEEP!), and how over-browned the sides are! 

Mark and I were going to dinner at my parents' house one night, and I was supposed to bring this cheesecake for dessert.  What to do, what to do??  Well, the first thing I did was cover the cheesecake with chocolate ganache.  When in doubt, cover it!  Frosting, ganache, sprinkles ... they are our friends.

In this case, even ganache couldn't come to the rescue.  The cheesecake cracks were so deep, the ganache just 'fell' in.

Onto another plan.  I looked through my pantry to see what options I had.  It seemed I was lacking one or two ingredients for just about everything that came to mind!  Don't you hate it when that happens??  So I went to the good ol' classic No Bake Cookies.  I quickly whipped them up on the stovetop ...

... dropped them by spoonfuls onto waxed paper ...

... and let them set up.

Then off to my parents we went with No Bakes in tow.  The funny thing is, my Dad was super excited about the cookies!  I guess we just can't resist the simple classics ... after all, they did became classics for a reason.

Perfect with a big glass of milk!

No Bake Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cookies
Source:  My Mom
2 c. sugar
5 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
8 T. (1 stick) butter
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. peanut butter
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats

1.  In a saucepan, mix together the sugar, cocoa powder, butter, and milk.  Bring to a boil and boil for 1 1/2 minutes.

2.  Remove pan from the heat and add the peanut butter, vanilla, and oatmeal.  Stir until well combined.

3.  Drop the oat mixture by spoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool.


August 20, 2011

Tarragon Chicken Salad


It's back-to-school time!  The end of this week, I'll be getting to know my 20 new little first grade chicklets!  Of course, that also means I'll be setting my alarm for 5:00 a.m., actually getting up to that alarm, and packing my lunch.  In honor of back-to-school, I decided to share with you one of my favorite pack-your-lunch items ... my Mom's Tarragon Chicken Salad.  I eat this a lot.  I mean really a lot.  At school I don't eat my lunch from a china plate, with a real fork, and a flower dressing up my place setting as you see in this post's photo.  No.  No, at school I eat my chicken salad out of a tupperware container with a plastic fork, half standing and half sitting, with between-bite openings of ketchup packets and milks for my little chicklets.  But I wouldn't  have it any other way!  I love my job.

Happy back-to-school, everyone!

Tarragon Chicken Salad
Source:  My Mom
4 chicken breasts, or a small whole chicken
2 stalks celery, chopped
Dried cranberries or halved grapes, to taste
Chopped pecans, to taste
1 T. dried tarragon
Salt & pepper, to taste

1.  Cook chicken and remove meat from the bone (if necessary); chop into small pieces.  

2.  Combine chicken with remaining ingredients, adding mayonnaise to desired consistency.  

3.  Chill.  Serve with greens or in a sandwich.


August 17, 2011

Funfetti Cake Balls - recovery of an 'oops!'


I have a question.  What do you do when you commit to making a dessert for a friend for her family's beach trip, decide to test out a new vanilla cupcake recipe, bake the cupcakes, and they're absolutely terrible???  I mean horrible.  Dry.  Not a lot of flavor.  A huge 'oops.'  And ... you don't have a lot of time to come up with something else?

Well, one option is to crumble up all the cupcakes, stir in a bunch of vanilla buttercream and a whole lot of rainbow sprinkles, and make funfetti cake balls.  And that's how these funfetti cake balls were born!
Fortunately, I had some yellow candy melts in the pantry leftover from a previous cake pop adventure.  And I always have an assortment of sprinkles on hand ... you just never know when you're going to need them, right?  So I went to work turning the disappointingly failed cupcakes into fun and pretty little cake bites.

Not too bad a recovery of a huge 'oops,' right?!?  Hope they go over well with my friend's family!

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Funfetti Cake Balls
Source: Concept & process adapted from Bakerella
(Printable recipe)

Note:  This is just a 'general' method, not really a recipe ... as I was wingin' it the whole way!!
Click here to view a detailed post about making cake pops and cake balls.

1 baked 9x13" cake (or, in my case, a botched up batch of cupcakes!)
1 to 1 1/2 c. vanilla frosting, canned or make your own
1 (1 lb.) package vanilla candy melts, any color
About 2 T. shortening
Rainbow sprinkles
Larger confetti/disc sprinkles for decorating

1.  Crumble cake (or cupcakes) into a large bowl, working it into small crumbs. Add frosting and mix until well combined. Mix in rainbow sprinkles - I'm not sure how much I used; I just kept pouring them in and stirring until the mixture looked "confetti'ish."

2.  Shape into approximately 1" balls, using about 1 T. of the cake mixture per ball; set aside on wax paper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour, or place in freezer for about 15 minutes.

3.  In a small deep bowl, melt candy melts and shortening together in the microwave per candy melt package directions (typically in 30 second intervals, stirring in between).

4.  Use a fork to dip each cake ball in the candy coating, letting excess coating drip off back into the bowl. Place on wax paper. Immediately sprinkle with a few large disc/confetti sprinkles (or additional rainbow sprinkles).

5.  Let stand for coating to set up.

August 13, 2011

Pea Salad - I didn't think I'd like it either!

Peas, celery, hard-cooked egg, shredded cheddar, and pimentos combine to make Pea Salad???  I didn't think I'd like it either! {but it's really  good}

Pea Salad

I remember well when my Mom told me about this recipe.  We were on the phone discussing recipes for the family cookbook I was pulling together as a gift for our family members.  My immediate thoughts: 

"That.  Sounds. Disgusting.  Peas, hard-boiled egg, pimento, cheddar cheese, and a mayo-based dressing?  All together??  Who thinks of this stuff?  I mean, seriously, were they cleaning out the refrigerator or something???  And she wants to include this recipe in the family cookbook?  I don't even like peas!"

Making Pea Salad

But, it's one of my Dad's favorites.  So (reluctantly on my part), into the family cookbook it went.

That didn't mean I had to try it, though!  Well, not until I set the personal goal of {eventually} cooking every recipe in our family cookbook ... ya know, kind of like Julie cooks through every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook in the movie Julie and Julia.  Here's our family cookbook ... I'm slowly-but-surely cooking my way through it:

(Sidenote:  I worked with The Great Family Cookbook Project to publish it.  If you're ever considering creating a family cookbook of your own, I highly recommend them... they were wonderful to work with.)

To make sure I actually tried the pea salad, or to at least give it a good shot at being tried, I put it on my "50 Recipes for 2011" Project list.  Then, alas, the day came when I decided to make it.  Having faith in my Mom's culinary taste, I took the plunge when I was having some friends over. 

Pea Salad

Generally, my friends know that when they come to my house, they're going to get some truly-Tracey-tried-and-true food ... along with an experiment!

Pea Salad

I never fill a guest menu with experimental dishes, but I pretty much always take the opportunity of having the opinions of my friends handy to try out at least one new-to-me dish.  And I typically make the experimental dish be a side, or a dessert when I'm offering a selection of desserts.  Worst case - when I give it a taste test, I can just choose not to serve the dish if it disappoints!

Well, guess what.  I loved the pea salad.  I know, I know ... I should have never doubted my Mother.  At 40'ish years old, you'd think I would have learned that by now.

Pea Salad
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Pea Salad
Source:  My Mom
(Printable recipe)
1 (20 oz.) package frozen peas (I used a 24 oz. package ~ I couldn't find a 20 oz.)
1 c. chopped celery
1/4 c. chopped green onions (I just put in the whole bunch of green onions, chopped)
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 (2 oz.) jar pimentos, drained
1/2 c. mayonnaise
3 T. sweet pickle relish
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. seasoned salt (I used regular salt)

1.  Thaw peas by running them under cool water.

2.  Combine peas, celery, eggs, green onions, cheddar, and pimientos in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, relish, and seasonings; stir into pea mixture.

3.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.


Please enjoy these other delicious salads from The Kitchen is My Playground ...

August 9, 2011

Black Bottom Cupcakes - mnah, mnum!


Well, that jukebox my Mom says I have in my head is at it again!  See, I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppets.  Thinking back, that Jim Henson is truly a genius, isn't he?  Remember the song "Mnah, Mnum" from The Muppets?  You know, it goes ...  "Mnah, mnum, do-do-do-do-do.  Mnum, mnum, do-do-do-do."  My Mom and I used to sing that song whenever we were cooking and something turned out really good. 

So why am I talking about this song now?  Because these Black Bottom Cupcakes deserve to have that song sung for them!!  Yup, they're that good.  Dark chocolate cupcake with a chocolate chip cheesecake center ... Oh. My. Gracious.  Amazingly delicious.  And we owe my Mom for this fabulous recipe - I have no idea where she got it, but I'm so glad she shared! 

So, in honor of these cupcakes and all the great times I've shared with my Mom in the kitchen, here's Animal (and a few other Muppets) singing "Mnah, Mnum."  I love Animal!  He was always my favorite.  Take it away, Muppet friends!

Thanks for indulging me on that!  Animal always cracks me up.

Okay, time to step off Memory Lane and come on back to baking cupcakes.  It's hard to believe, as delicious as these cupcakes are, that they're so easy to make.

First, mix up a simple cheesecake batter ... cream cheese, an egg, a bit of sugar, and some mini chocolate chips.  Set that aside ...
Batter for the cheesecake center
... and mix up a really easy chocolate batter.
Chocolate batter
Spoon some chocolate batter into paper cupcake liners, and then top each with a heaping teaspoon of cheesecake batter.
A perfect pair!
Bake them up, let them cool (this is the hardest part!) ...
Cooling ... the toughest step.

... and then dig in!  I love how the cheesecake just peeks out on the top, but then is a really big ol' hunk of cheesecake when you bite in.  De-lish.  I bet Animal would destroy the whole batch in about 30 seconds flat!


Black Bottom Cupcakes
Source:  My Mom
(Printable recipe)
Cheesecake center:
1 c. cream cheese
1/3 c. sugar
1 unbeaten egg
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. mini chocolate chips

Chocolate bottom:
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. cocoa
1 c. water
1/3 c. oil
1 T. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla

Prepare the cheesecake center:
1.  Combine cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, egg, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.  Beat well.

2.  Stir in mini chocolate chips.  Set aside.

Prepare the chocolate bottom:
3.  In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cocoa.  Add water, vinegar, oil, and vanilla; stir to combine.

4.  Line a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.  Fill each cup 1/3 full of chocolate batter.  Top each with a heaping teaspoon of cream cheese mixture.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes.  Makes 18'ish.

I always seem to have extra cheesecake batter.  I drop a 'Nilla Wafer, an Oreo, a crushed up graham cracker ... or whatever I have on hand ... into the bottom of a couple of cupcake liners as a crust, top them with the leftover cheesecake batter, and bake these up as mini cheesecakes right along with the cupcakes.  I've even used a couple of animal crackers as the crust!  These make-shift mini cheesecakes are quite tasty, too.


August 6, 2011

White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons

White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons is the perfect summer sipper.  Whip up a batch and beat the heat!

White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons

Here's what I consider the perfect summer sipper!  White sangria, chock full of sweet, ripe nectarines, juicy plums, and fresh lemons ~ it tastes oh-so cool and refreshing on a hot summer day.  Oh, and did I mention the splash of rum?  Mmmm hmmm ... I think you're going to want some of this.

I made this White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons for a visit from two of my college friends.  Their first night here we reminisced about our college days, caught up about current life, and enjoyed this very scrumptious pitcher of sangria {~ it's so good it didn't last long, let me tell ya}.

White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons

Isn't it wonderful to catch up with dear friends?  Especially the kind of friends who, even though it's been several years since you've gotten together, the friendship flows on like you've been together every day.

The only down-side to my friends' visit was that it reminded me how I much I miss them.  Guess I just need to make sure I see them more often!

White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons comes together really quickly and easily.  Pretty much all you do is combine wine, rum, and a touch of sugar ...

... and then stir in some sliced fresh fruit.  

White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons

Chill it, and add in a little seltzer just before serving.  That's it!

Grab a glass, pull up a chair with some great friends, and enjoy beating the heat with this delightful white sangria.

White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons
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White Sangria with Nectarines, Plums, & Lemons
Source:  Adapted from Food Network Magazine, May 2011
  • 1 (750 ml) dry white wine {such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc}
  • 1/4 c. light rum
  • 2 to 3 T. granulated sugar
  • 2 nectarines, sliced
  • 2 plums, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 1/2 c. seltzer
  1. Combine the wine, rum, and sugar in a pitcher; stir until sugar is dissolved. Add sliced fruit.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day.
  2. Add seltzer just before serving.

Enjoy these other wine cocktails from The Kitchen is My Playground ...

August 3, 2011

Brandied Peach Cobbler

With its little flavor hit from brandy, Brandied Peach Cobbler is the BEST peach cobbler ever!

It's that time of year in the South ... peach season!  Believe it or not, I'm really not that big a peach fan.  But when I get them fresh from the tree, that seems to change.  Juicy, ripe, straight-from-the-tree peaches are wonderful little fruit jewels.  And I'm fortunate enough to live where I can drive right up to a peach farmer's roadside stand and grab a basket ...

Peaches at the farm stand

... or, pick my own.  Mark and I tend to go pick our own.  We have four local peach orchards within a 15 minute drive of our house, and you can drive your car right into the orchard!  How easy is that?  I kid you not, from leaving our door to coming back home through it, it takes us all of about 45 minutes to an hour to pick our fill of fresh peaches.  I'm spoiled.  Definitely spoiled.

We pick our own!

My favorite way to enjoy fresh peaches is in this Brandied Peach Cobbler.  (Well, after learning about chocolate vincotto, cobbler may be my second favorite way to enjoy fresh peaches ... but we won't quibble.)  The peaches in this cobbler are spiced up with just a touch of brandy and ground cloves, lending a totally amazing flavor to the peaches.  The topping is a bit different than your typical cobbler, too - it's like a sugar cookie dough that you drop on in spoonfuls.  Absolutely delicious.

Slice up some peeled fresh peaches and toss them with a little sugar, cornstarch, brandy, and ground cloves.  Bake them until they start to release juice ...

... and then drop on really yummy sugar cookie-like dough.

Bake that until it's golden brown.  Then dish out a big ol' bowl and dig in!  You can top it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but I'll be honest - I like mine best just plain.  I have one little dab of this pan left, and I'm going to go finish it up right now!  Yum.

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Brandied Peach Cobbler
Source:  Adapted from The Best Recipe cookbook, by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine
Peach filling:
2 lbs. fresh peaches
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 T. brandy
Pinch of ground cloves

1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 c. sugar
8 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 large egg yolk

Prepare the Filling:  

1.  Peel and pit peaches; cut into thick slices.  Combine with sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, ground cloves, and brandy.  

2.  Please in a greased baking dish; cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees until peaches begin to release liquid - about 15 minutes.  (Note:  Let the peaches go the full 15 minutes.  I tried to rush this one time, and my topping didn't cook correctly.  I think the peaches need to be fully heated through when you put the topping on.)

Prepare the Topping:  
3.  While the peaches bake, mix flour, baking powder, and salt together; set aside.  

4.  Beat softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Beat in egg yolk and vanilla.  Stir in dry ingredients just until combined.

5.  After the peaches have cooked for about 15 minutes, remove them from the oven and stir them.  

6.  Drop topping dough by tablespoons evenly over the fruit (it won't cover every spot completely!).  Return baking dish to the oven, uncovered, and bake until the topping is nicely browned and peaches are bubbly, about 40 minutes more.


Please enjoy these other delicious desserts from The Kitchen is My Playground ...

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