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Nutella French Toast with Maple Syrup, Bananas & Strawberries

This creation was a total one-day-I-got-a-wild-hair experiment that sooooo worked!!  I had seen some postings out in blogland about peanut butter and jelly french toast and about chocolate french toast.  As usually happens with me, I started to wonder ... I'm always wondering ...

My wonder was (which you've probably already guessed), if you can make french toast with things like chocolate or peanut butter and jelly, I wondered if it would work with Nutella?  Well, it did!  Oh, it more than worked - it's delicious.

I love "wonderings."  In my 1st grade classroom I call them "I wonders."  I love to hear my little 1st graders wonder.  When we do our first science experiment of the year, I just start wondering aloud about things we could test and try.  They quickly catch on, start wondering themselves, and I start testing out their "I wonders."  It's so fun. 

Our first science experiment of the year is always dealing with force - the students are learning about pushing and pulling as the two types of force.  We take various objects and see if the force from a common, personal fan is strong enough to push them.  Who would think such a simple activity would be so much fun for the students?  But they love it!  One of the objects I always use is a balloon.  I take it straight out of the package, deflated, and see if the fan can move it.  No deal.  It never takes long for one of the students to say, "I wonder what would happen if you blew up the balloon?"  Ahhh, music to my teacher ears.  They're thinking.  They're wondering.  I love it.

And so it went with this Nutella French Toast.

I started out dipping some French bread slices in an egg-and-milk mixture, just like you would for traditional French toast.  Then on to testing out my first "I wonder" ... I slathered Nutella on each piece and stuck the pieces together in a stack ... tasted it ... and it was fabulous!

"I wonder" #1 - French Toast slathered with Nutella

Then the experiment continued with another "I wonder" --- I wondered if Nutella and maple syrup are good together?  I'm a Vermont girl, so French Toast without maple syrup just seems wrong.  I had to give it a go.  So, on went the maple syrup ...

"I wonder" #2 - Nutella French Toast with maple syrup

... and Oh.  My.  Word.  Nutella and maple syrup are indeed very good together.  Like truly indescribably good. 

And then the experiment continued with another "I wonder" --- I wondered how it would be with banana and strawberry slices?  On went some bananas and strawberries ...

"I wonder" #3 - adding sliced bananas and strawberries

... and it's even better!!  Of course, when I ate it, my plate was certainly not as neat looking as the plate in this picture.  I cut up the French Toast, bananas, and strawberries and made sure everything was all swirled in with the maple syrup.  Yum.

And that's how this treat came to be.  A Nutella-y, maple syrup-y, banana, and strawberry swirled-up concoction that is oh-so-yummy for my tummy!  This will become a staple in my breakfast-for-dinner line-up.  I foresee frequent appearances.  Very frequent appearances.

Ooey-gooey Nutella

Nutella French Toast with Maple Syrup, Bananas, & Strawberries
Source:  Tracey creation
(Printable recipe)
Note:  Recipe yields 4 slices (2 servings).  Adjust quantities as desired.

4 (1/2"-thick) slices French bread
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 c. milk
1 T. butter, to coat pan
Nutella (about 1/4 c.)
Maple syrup (preferably pure Vermont maple syrup!)
1 banana, sliced
4 strawberries, sliced

1.  Combine beaten eggs and milk in a wide shallow dish.  Dip a bread slice in the egg mixture; turn and dip the other side, coating well.  Repeat with remaining bread slices.

2.  Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add butter to the pan, and coat the skillet surface with the melted butter.  Place coated bread slices in the pan and cook each side until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes per side.

3.  Remove bread slices from the pan and place on a plate.  Spread two of the slices generously with Nutella; place the remaining two slices on top to form sandwiches.  Top with maple syrup, sliced bananas, and sliced strawberries.


(NOTE:  I have also made this with regular sliced bread.  It's good that way, too.)


Neapolitan Sheet Cake (a.k.a. ~ my birthday cake!!)

Today is my birthday!  Happy birthday to me!!  So, I made myself a cake.  Neapolitan Sheet Cake to be exact.  See, this has been my birthday cake ever since I can remember ... I can't recall ever having something different on my birthday.  With the classic Neapolitan combination of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, along with a light-and-fluffy vanilla mousse-y frosting, why would I ever have something else??

No matter where I've been in life ... college, graduate school, living in a different state from my parents, ... Mom has always made me my cake and gotten to me with it somehow.  She's sweet like that.  Well, one year she was at the beach 1,500 miles away on my birthday, so she arranged for my boyfriend at-the-time to make my cake.  I think that counts.

This year, Mom and Dad are at the beach again for my birthday, and we truly don't have any weekends where we're both free for us to get together until about mid November.  While Mom has promised to make my cake as soon as we can get together, I decided not to wait for her.  (Note to Mom - that doesn't mean you're off the hook!  I have no problem having two cakes this year!  That's totally fine with me.) 

This cake uses a chocolate-vanilla marble cake mix and the Jello "poke cake" method to create it's Neapolitan goodness.  Mix up your cake mix and put it in your baking pan, according to the package directions.

Then gently swirl a knife through the chocolate and vanilla batters to create a marbled effect.  You want to just swirl, not stir.  If you stir, you'll mix the two batters together instead of getting a nice marble-ing.

Bake up the cake, and then use a fork to poke holes all over it.  Be careful to stop your fork before you get to the bottom of the pan!  You want the Jello to go all in the cake, not create a layer at the bottom of the cake.  Slowly pour strawberry Jello over the cake into the holes.

Refrigerate over night, and then whip up a light-and-fluffy vanilla frosting from Dream Whip and vanilla pudding.  After chilling for just a bit more, you're reading to serve it up.  And mmmmm, mmmmmm, it's good!  I wish I could share a piece with each of you to celebrate my birthday!

Neapolitan Sheet Cake
Source:  My Mom (she adapted the recipe from a magazine a looooonnngggg time ago!)
1 package marble cake mix + ingredients specified on cake mix package
1 large package strawberry Jello
1 1/2 c. boiling water
1/2 c. cold water

1 envelope Dream Whip
1 package vanilla instant pudding
1 1/2 c. cold milk
1 tsp. vanilla

For the cake:  
1.  Dissolve Jello in 1 1/2 cups boiling water.  Add 1/2 cup cold water.  Set aside at room temperature.

2.  Mix and bake cake, according to package directions.  Bake in a 13x9-inch pan.  After removing cake from the oven, cool for 25 minutes.  

3.  After cooling for the 25 minutes, use a fork to poke holes all over the cake (be careful not to go all the way through to the bottom of the cake).  Slowly pour Jello into the holes.  Refrigerate  over night.

(NOTE:  Marble cake mix can be a bit tricky to find.  In a pinch, as happened for me this time, try this method:  Buy a yellow cake mix.  After mixing up, reserve about 1/4 of the batter.  Melt a 1 ounce block of unsweetened baking chocolate; mix into reserved yellow cake batter to create the chocolate batter.)

For the frosting:  
4.  In a chilled deep bowl, whip Dream Whip, pudding, milk, and vanilla with an electric mixer until fluffy and stiff, about 5 minutes.  

5.  Immediately frost cake. 

6.  Store cake in the refrigerator and serve cold.  



Okra Creole ... because I'm hanging on to Summer!

Am I the only one not yet ready to succumb to fall?  I'm seeing a flood of apple and pumpkin 'fall-ish' recipes around the blogosphere, but I'm just not ready to go there yet!  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the fall flavors of juicy apples, rich pumpkin, cinnamon, gingerbread ... and all those other 'warm' tastes we associate with fabulous fall.  But I'm just not ready for them.

I'm still hanging on to cooking with the produce of late summer.  The last few tomatoes.  Not-quite-gone-by blueberries.  Yummy fresh figs.  And straggler okra. 

I'm told that the okra plants will continue to produce until the first frost.  I have no idea whether or not this is true, since I've never attempted to grow okra myself.  But since bags of this wonderful stuff continue to appear on my desk at school from our very generous custodian Clayvon (a.k.a. Mr. Clay), I'm going to take people's word for it!

Keep it comin' Mr. Clay, and I'll keep on a-cookin' it up.  Maybe when the okra's done, I'll finally be ready for fall.

Okra Creole
Source:  Adapted from Cooking Light magazine
(Printable recipe)
3 slices bacon or turkey bacon
1 (16 oz.) package frozen okra or about 1 lb. fresh okra, sliced
1 c. chopped onion
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1/2 c. water
2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp. black pepper

1.  Cook bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp; remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  Crumble bacon and set aside.  (Note:  If you use turkey bacon, I recommend putting a small dab of olive oil in the pan.)

2.  Add remaining ingredients to bacon drippings in the pan.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

3.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Top with crumbled bacon.

4.  Serve over hot cooked rice or cous-cous.



Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Don't want to make cinnamon rolls but still want great cinnamon taste?  Give Cinnamon Roll Cookies a try!

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

You know what my Mom used to do with leftover pie crust dough when she'd make a pie?  She'd sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, roll it up jelly-roll style, slice it, and bake it up.  And I loved it.  Absolutely loved it.  I think I might have even liked these little 'cinnamon snails' better than I liked the pie itself.  (Well, unless it was blueberry pie.  Blueberry pie's my favorite.)

These cinnamon roll cookies remind me of my Mom's 'cinnamon snails.'  Only better.  Because they've got  glaze on the top.  And because they're oh-so-soft and cinnamon-y.  Yup, I know cinnamon-y isn't a word.  But it's still perfect to describe these cinnamon roll cookies.

When I found the recipe for these cinnamon roll cookies at one of my favorite blogs, Heat Oven to 350, I knew immediately that I had to make them.  When I made them, I knew immediately that I loved them ... cinnamon-rolled shortbread with powdered sugar glaze.  What's not to love?

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

But if you're a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I can rarely leave a recipe alone.  I've always got some idea I want to try!  As fabulous as the original was, I wondered what would happen if I tried these cinnamon roll cookies with a different dough.  The dough I had in mind is Barefoot Contessa's rugelach dough, which is a cream cheese-based pastry dough.  So off I went to the kitchen to whip up another batch!

I was thrilled with the result.  The cream cheese-based dough baked up so soft, and with a little bit different look than the original.  Both are fabulous ... it's just a matter of preference as to which one someone likes better.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Original shortbread dough on the left ... 'experimental' cream cheese-based dough on the right
Regardless of your preferred version, these cinnamon roll cookies are simple to whip up.  Just mix up your base dough, chill it for a while, roll it out into a rectangle, and then cover it in a big ol' sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.
Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Rolled out & sprinkled

Roll it up jelly-roll style, slice the roll into pieces, ...

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Rolling up

... and bake 'em up.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Baking up

After the cookies have cooled, drizzle them with a powdered sugar glaze.  Don't they look just like miniature cinnamon rolls??  So cute!  And so yummy.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

So whether you prefer crisper shortbread-y cookies like the original recipe, or softer chewier cookies like this altered version, you really can't go wrong.  Hey, actually, why choose?  Just go right on ahead and give them both a try!

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
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Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Source: Concept adapted from Heat Oven to 350, dough from Barefoot Contessa Parties! Rugelach
(Printable recipe)
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour

1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 egg white
1 T. water

1 c. confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 T. hot water

For the Dough: 
1.  Bring cream cheese and butter to room temperature; cream together until fluffy.  Add 1/4 c. granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla.  With mixer on low, add the flour, mixing until just combined.

2.  Dump dough onto a well-floured board; roll it into a ball.  Cut dough ball in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate 1 hour.

3.  After chilling, roll each dough half into a 9x6-inch rectangle.

For the Filling:
4.  Whisk together the egg white and water until foamy.

5.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the cinnamon and 1/4 c. granulated sugar.

6.  Brush egg white mixture onto the surface of the rolled out dough; sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

7.  Starting with the 9-inch side of the dough rectangle, roll each into a log, pressing gently to seal the edge.  Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

8.  Preheat oven to 350.  Remove dough logs from the refrigerator and unwrap.  Using a serrated knife, gently cut dough logs into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Transfer to a baking sheet.

9.  Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.  Cool.

For the Glaze:
10.  Combine confectioners' sugar and hot water until smooth.  Drizzle over the top of cooled cookies.  Let glaze set to dry.


Please enjoy these other scrumptious cookies from The Kitchen is My Playground ...

Insanely Delicious Turtle Cookies

Grandma's Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies

Molasses Crinkles

Lemon Glazed Butter Cookies

Stovetop Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese {Crazy Cooking Challenge}

Welcome to the first ever Crazy Cooking Challenge!  I'm thrilled to be participating in this challenge, hosted by and the brain-child of Tina at Mom's Crazy Cooking.

What's the Challenge, you ask?  Well, let me tell ya.

Crazy Cooking Challenge is a group of food bloggers getting together once a month to bring you one featured food item for each month. We will all make this one item, but, of course, we will each make it in our own special way.  Because that's what we do best! - we put our own personal spin on the stuff we make.  Sound fun?  I think so!

So look for us to post our Challenge on the 7th of each month.  And first up - which you probably already figured out by the photo at the start of this post - is macaroni and cheese!  Ahhhhhh, one of my favorites.

Now, the rules of The Challenge are that we can't just make our own personal recipe favorite, or a recipe that we have posted before.  We are to make a new-to-us recipe, or to use a new-to-us method, found somewhere out in blog-land.

When I learned that our first challenge was macaroni and cheese, I immediately thought of a macaroni and cheese recipe posted by one of my favorite bloggers, Nicole at Heat Oven to 350.  I've always made baked macaroni and cheese, but Nicole's recipe is made on the stovetop instead.  Well, that meets the new-to-me method requirement of The Challenge!  So I set to work making Nicole's Simple Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese.

I was drawn to this particular recipe for three reasons:

1.  It was made by Nicole.  I love reading her blog.
2.  It was made on the stovetop instead of baked, like I usually do.
3.  Nicole used Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, made by Cabot Creamery in Cabot, Vermont.  I grew up 20 minutes from Cabot Creamery and am a loyal fan.  After moving to North Carolina, I initially had Cabot cheese shipped to me.  Fortunately, it is now readily available throughout the area so I no longer have to ship.  Yay!

Given my love of Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar, you will find it very ironic, then, that one of the modifications I made to this recipe is to use Smoked Gouda instead of the cheddar.  That doesn't mean I don't love the original!  I do love it!!!  And highly recommend it.  I just wanted to try a different twist.  And the Smoked Gouda version is fab, too ... If I do say so myself.

The other modification I made to the original recipe is to use cavatappi pasta instead of elbow macaroni.  Cavatappi is a fun twisty-shaped pasta.  See in the picture below?  Doesn't it look fun?

Fun & twisty cavatappi

So, whether you choose to go with the original cheddar-based recipe or this Smoked Gouda version, I think you're in for a treat!  I know I certainly enjoyed both versions!

(By the way ... I made this bowl back in my pottery-throwing days.  I'll get back to pottery someday... someday.)

Stovetop Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese
Source:  Adapted from Heat Oven to 350
14 oz. cavatappi pasta (or elbow macaroni)
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1/4 c. flour
2 c. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
4 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4 oz. shredded smoked gouda cheese

1.  In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.

2.  While water is coming to a boil for the pasta, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk together. Cook for 1 minute. 

3.  Slowly add milk, just a bit at a time, whisking well after each addition until the milk is incorporated. Cook and stir mixture until it thickens, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove milk mixture from heat and stir in cheeses until melted. 

4.  Drain pasta and toss with cheese sauce. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed.  



S'more Pralines

Oh.  My.  Word.  These are AWESOME!!  Other words to describe them - Delicious.  Decadent.  Whimsical.  Easy.  Amazing.  Addictive.  Dangerous.  Definitely dangerous.

If you're like me and can't resist the wonderfully delicious gooey-ness of s'mores when you're around a campfire, then you are absolutely going to want to make these.  Trust me.  I promise I wouldn't steer you wrong.  This recipe is from Kerry at Bakergirl: Confessions of a Budding Baketress.  Seriously, these are sooooo good I want to ask Kerry if she'll be my new blogger BFF.

As you can probably tell, I absolutely love s'mores.  But I can't be around a campfire all the time, can I?  Not to mention that I'm one that actually hates to camp.  Camp fires, yes!  Camping, not so much.  And sure, I've done what all us s'more lovers have probably done a time or two - taken a big ol' marshmallow and a piece of chocolate, sandwiched them between two graham crackers, and popped it in the microwave for a few seconds.  It's good.  It'll do to satisfy a s'mores craving in a pinch.  But it's not great.

Now these, these are great.

Mine didn't come out quite as pretty as Kerry's.  I think I was afraid to leave them in the oven long enough - mine didn't get quite as melty.  But then I took my kitchen torch to them to give them a bit of fire-roasted toastiness.  Regardless of their looks, they sure tasted good!!  So I'm cool with a little 'awkwardness' in their appearance.

And they're so easy to make.

Lay some graham crackers out on a jelly roll pan.  Bring some butter and brown sugar to a boil and pour it over the graham crackers.

The brown sugar-butter mixture

Then sprinkle on some Hershey bar pieces, marshmallows, and chocolate chips.

Sprinkling ...

Pop it in the oven for a couple of minutes until everything's good and melty.  I didn't leave mine long enough.

I did take things a step further and gave my S'more Pralines a little toasty touch with my kitchen torch.  You certainly don't have to do this step, but it did give the Pralines that nice fire-roasted flavor.  If you want to do this and don't have a kitchen torch, simply pop them under the broiler for a couple of minutes (watching them closely the whole time, of course!).

Torching ...

See that red glow in the picture below?  Yes, I caught the marshmallows on fire a couple of times ... just like in the great outdoors, right?

Fire!!  Help, help, I'm on fire!

After they're cooled (if you can wait that long), break it up into pieces and enjoy.  If you can't wait for them to cool down, no worries.  I tested them both warm and cooled for ya.  They're great both ways.  These will certainly get me through a no-campfires-in-sight stretch. Thank you, Kerry!


S'more Pralines
Source:  Adapted from Bakergirl: Confessions of a Budding Baketress S'mores Cracker Candy
12 sheets of graham crackers (+ a few more broken up ones, if they'll fit in your pan)
3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 c. mini marshmallows
4 Hershey bars, broken in pieces (or 16 small snack-size)
1 c. chocolate chips (milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate, your choice)

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Line a 15x10" jelly roll pan with aluminum foil; spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.  Lay graham crackers on prepared pan so the edges are touching.

2.  Melt butter and brown sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture just begins to boil (about 4-6 minutes total time).  Remove from heat and pour evenly over graham crackers.  

3.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 5-6 minutes, or until bubbly.

4.  Remove pan from oven and immediately sprinkle Hershey bar pieces, marshmallows, and chocolate chips evenly over the graham crackers.  

5.  Return to oven and bake for an additional 2-3 minutes, until marshmallows begin to soften and puff up.  OPTIONAL:  Do this step under the broiler, or brown tops of the marshmallows with a kitchen torch after baking.

6.  Cool completely.  Use foil to lift pralines from pan and cut into bars.  


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