Festive Foodie: Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Well hello! It’s another early Monday morning and after a busy few days packed with overtime at my office last week- I’m ready to slow things down a little and get to work at a steadier, calmer pace. The holidays can be crazy enough- what with trying to get holiday shopping done, balancing party plans, and making sure I don’t indulge in too many Christmas-inspired sweets- so I’m trying to keep any work-related stress to a minimum if it’s possible.

So when I stumbled across this “set it and forget it” style crock-pot recipe for cocoa late last week- I knew it was something I wanted to try during my downtime over the weekend. Anything that is advertised as a “drinkable brownie” is right up my alley!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • A dash of vanilla extract

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Pour all of your ingredients into your slow cooker/crock pot. Lightly stir.
  2. Cook the ingredients on low for 2 hours.
  3. Whisk everything really, really well.
  4. Add marshmallows, whipped cream (or both!), sit back in your footie pajamas by the Christmas tree- sip and enjoy!

Creamy, super-chocolatey and indulgent- this cocoa hit the spot after a long afternoon out in the cold with my friends on Saturday. I think the next time I prepare this, I might use mint-chocolate to give it a more seasonally-appropriate taste- but this is definitely going to be my go-to recipe when we start having some serious blizzards here in New England, because I couldn’t think of anything better to enjoy while I’m bundled in blankets and warming up after shoveling the snow!

xx

– Ashley –

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Desserts: Snickerdoodle Chocolate-Chunk Bundt Cake

Good Morning and Happy Monday, everyone! It’s a short work week for me, what with the upcoming holiday- so I’ll be tying up some loose ends and staying glued to my desk for the next couple of days so I can return to my office next week and not be completely swamped or overwhelmed. It’s all about prioritizing my tasks and my time properly!

To wrap up my series of Thanksgiving-inspired recipes before this Thursday arrives, I wanted to share one of my favorite dishes for one of my favorite parts of the meal- dessert, of course! This cake, a twist on the classic cookie- incorporates the expected flavors: brown sugar and cinnamon- but adds some chewy, gooey chocolate goodness to make it a rich, decadent finale to the one meal out of the year where it’s okay to be a little gluttonous.

While it may look like a lot of steps- I assure you that this recipe is surprisingly easy to pull off!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 2⅓ cups chocolate chunks, divided
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray.
  2. MAKE THE CAKE: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, light brown sugar and ¾ cup of the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the mixture to the wet ingredients in three additions, mixing until just combined after each and alternating with the buttermilk until both are fully incorporated. Fold in 1⅓ cups of the chocolate chunks.
  5. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining granulated sugar and the cinnamon. Pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan and top with half the cinnamon-sugar. Pour the remaining batter on top and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-sugar.
  6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 60 to 80 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then invert the cake onto a rack and cool completely.
  7. MAKE THE GLAZE: Place the remaining chocolate and cream in a medium-size heat-safe bowl. Microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between until the chocolate is melted and smooth.
  8. Pour the chocolate glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides and set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

This cake is packed full of flavor- chocolate, cinnamon, toasted brown sugar and a pinch of salt to balance everything out- and every bite is absolutely delicious. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a hot cup of coffee and you’ve got yourself the perfect way to draw a conclusion to the meal for your family and friends.

Enjoy your day, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

Side Dish: Stuffin’ Muffins

Good Morning and Happy Friday, everyone! We’ve made it through another week and it’s time for the final stretch before the holiday season is officially underway. You know the markets and grocery stores are going to be packed this weekend with people picking up their last minute Turkey Day necessities- so be careful out there!

Continuing with my brief series of Thanksgiving-inspired recipes leading up to next Thursday, I wanted to move on from the starters/appetizers and onto a fun and easy side dish you can serve your guests that is not only full of flavor- but is also perfectly proportioned where everyone will get a fair amount, too!

Meet “Stuffin’ Muffins”- the mess-free, compact and convenient way to enjoy a classic recipe.

These measurements make 12 muffins- so adjust accordingly depending on how many people you plan to feed!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • ½ loaf crusty bread, cut into small (⅓-inch) cubes
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter, divided
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2½ cups turkey, chicken or vegetable broth

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the bread with 4 tablespoons of the melted butter.
  3. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter into a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more. Stir in the parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
  5. Pour the onion and celery mixture over the bread and toss well to combine. Add the broth and toss well to coat. Let the mixture sit 10 to 15 minutes to absorb the liquid, tossing occasionally.
  6. Divide the stuffing evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Bake until the tops are golden brown and crusty, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving warm.

Warm, buttery, and crumbly with a kick of spice- these muffins are the perfect pairing to your ham/turkey/tofurkey and vegetables. They’re just the right amount of stuffing to keep you from feeling overly- well, stuffed- and they’re just as great to store for leftovers, too!

Enjoy your weekend, everyone! Next week I’ll be sharing a really fantastic dessert recipe to wrap up my Thanksgiving series- and I’ve got some fun changes coming to Blondie Birdie, too!

xx

– Ashley –

Starters: Prosciutto and Fig Salad Board

For the next couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I plan on sharing a brief series of recipes that I handpicked to serve as creative and/or unexpected alternatives to a starter, a side, and a dessert for those gearing up to prepare the big “Turkey Day” meal but who want something a little different than the standard cheese and cracker appetizers, mashed potato side dish, or pumpkin pie finale.

The first recipe of the series I’m putting up on Blondie Birdie is the starter. This sweet and slightly tangy salad is lightweight and delicious- and only takes 10 minutes to prepare. The best part about serving it spread out on a board as opposed to tossed in a large bowl, however- is that all the incredible toppings and dressing don’t sink down to the bottom. Everything stays fresh and spread out evenly over and between the spinach to guarantee a ton of flavor in each and every bite!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces spinach
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces prosciutto
  • 12 figs, quartered
  • ⅓ cup crumbled blue cheese

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and Dijon. Gradually add the olive oil, whisking continuously until the mixture is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the spinach and shallots. Add the dressing and toss well to coat.
  3. Spread the spinach on a large board and arrange the prosciutto and figs on top of it. Finish with a sprinkling of blue cheese. Serve immediately.

I made extra portions of this salad to bring to work with me this week- that’s how good it was.  The fig gives it an unexpected texture and sweetness while the mixed in Dijon mustard adds a kick to each serving. Depending on your preferences, you can add/reduce certain ingredients- but I really like it the way it is!

xx

– Ashley –

Favorites: October 2017!

Is it Monday again already? Ew. This past weekend sure flew by quickly! The bright side (there’s always a bright side) is that tomorrow is Halloween, of course- which means we all still have a couple of days left to squeeze in some last minute scares and sweets before we hang up our costumes and usher in November and the impending Holiday Season. I’m a bit overwhelmed just thinking about it already!

Before that, though- I wanted to share some of my favorite products/items/miscellaneous odds and ends that helped to make October the fabulous fright-fest that it was. Most of the things that made the list are silly finds I picked up along the way these past few weeks, while others are some my favorite kinds of entertainment- but all of it holds a special place in my heart when I look back on October of 2017.

Up first are the things I was able to photograph in one place!

A couple of weeks ago, while at the Rock and Shock Horror Convention in my hometown- I picked up one of these ‘Stranger Things’-inspired natural soaps from the booth that had been set up for Fiona’s Fright Soap. This bar in particular smells like a pretty amazing combination of pancakes and maple syrup- and with the second season of ‘Stranger Things’ premiering on Netflix a few days ago (spoiler alert: it’s awesome so far)– it felt like an appropriate time to start using it.

The soap not only makes me smell like a delicious breakfast- but it makes my skin feel really soft and smooth, too. I know this was a limited edition product but I’m hoping Fiona’s eventually makes it a regular item so I can order more of them!

One of my girlfriends, Stef, recently got into canning goods/food with her fiancé- and she’s been kind enough to give me enough food to get me through the zombie apocalypse every time we hang out. Her most recent concoction- and probably my favorite- is this vanilla & whiskey infused apple sauce. She makes it from scratch, air-seals it so it doesn’t go bad- and passes it around like Halloween candy- and it’s AMAZING. It tastes like apple pie filling with a little bit of a boozy kick.

I’ve been hounding Stef for the recipe so I can put it up here for everyone to enjoy. That’s a foodie post I’m really, really going to like putting together!

Speaking of food and sweets- one of my favorite things about Halloween is cooking/baking some seriously macabre snacks for my friends and co-workers. I’ve been loving these edible cupcake/cake toppers from Wilton. They make everything so much more funny- and I REALLY love seeing people’s reactions when they realize that they’re edible and bite into them for the first time. It’s priceless.

I’ll be turning to them when I start baking for next Halloween, too! (Side Note: I love the little edible hatchets you can buy as cupcake toppers. A little bit of red icing and you’ve got a sweet, delicious murder-themed dessert!)

With all of my Halloween stuff going on this past month, it was easy to neglect my nails sometimes. Thankfully, Saks Fifth Avenue had my back- and were nice enough to ship this milk chocolate-inspired shade of nail lacquer from Smith and Cult to me. The color (called “Tenderoni”)– which has quickly become my signature hue on my nails, eyes and lips- is going to be perfect for the remainder of the Fall through the Winter.

It’s smooth, long-lasting, and I’ll be posting a swatch of it soon on Instagram!

Finally, this was another find at the Rock and Shock Convention that I’m completely in love with! I’ve been wearing this Ouija pendant necklace non-stop since I got it- since it’s not only seasonally appropriate- but it looks pretty damned cool, too. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from people who have leaned in close enough to get a good look at it- and I’m thinking I may keep on wearing it even after Halloween is over!

And that is everything I was able to photograph for my October favorites.

Of course, some other things made the list, too!

– MUSIC/MOVIES/TELEVISION –

“The Walking Dead” – OOOOOH, IT’S BACK, BABY- AND IT FEELS SO GOOD. Although we’re only a couple of episodes into the eighth season of my number one obsession- the pace of the show has been incredible. Rick Grimes is straight up murdering people. Daryl looks like he actually showered for once. Carol remains my flawless Queen- and Ezekiel still won’t break character. It’s everything I hoped for and more and I’m praying this season makes up for all the heartbreak viewers experienced around this time last year!

“Broad City” – On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of my favorite comedies is back and I couldn’t be happier. One of the things I love most (and there’s a lot I love about it) about “Broad City” is that it focuses on common issues for women everywhere- but it does it in a funny, and often touching or poignant way. The most recent episode, where Ilana admits she’s having trouble finding sexual gratification since Election Night while Abbi comes to terms with aging after finding her first grey hair- was some of the best writing I’ve ever seen on the show. I want to be BFFs with those girls.

– GAMES/APPS –

“South Park: The Fractured, But Whole” – I’m a longtime ‘South Park’ fan (it’s social commentary is spot. on.) and the last game that came out, “The Stick of Truth” is one of my favorites. While “Stick of Truth” was like a ‘Lord of The Rings’ parody- “The Fractured, But Whole” is geared towards making fun of the successful string of superhero movies that have come out in recent years. Featuring more predominant characters in the latest seasons- my friends and I have been pretty much dying laughing while we take turns playing this at get-togethers. It’s a riot- and really, really fun!

And I think that’s everything for the month of October. Most of it was Halloween and Horror-related, sure- but it’s the one time of year where it’s universally appropriate! I’m sure I’ll come back around to less gory and scary things come November.

Try to enjoy your Monday, everyone! I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about October 2017 overall before we pass out some candy and kiss this month goodbye!

xx

– Ashley –

Fall Foodie: Candy Corn Cake

Alright, let’s just get this out of the way- candy corn is actually really gross, you guys.

I don’t know anyone who willingly eats it and it’s always the last ditch resort for those who didn’t buy their candy for Trick-or-Treaters in enough time and just grabbed whatever was left at the store. Even “fresh” candy corn tastes/feels stale- and there’s no way it doesn’t cause permanent damage to your teeth. It’s just a flavorless, chewy nightmare.

BUT the colors are nice- and are quite appropriate for the Fall- so I decided to make a lemon, orange & vanilla bean layered cake inspired by the white, orange and yellow trio that comprise this triangular crime against humanity and decent candy-lovers everywhere. The taste of the cake was considerably better than the candy itself- and it’s pretty easy to whip up if you have a little bit of extra time and a couple of round baking pans to play with!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 3 boxed cake mixes (1 vanilla, 1 orange and 1 lemon. I used Duncan Hines Signature mixes!)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 9 large eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 containers of your choice of frosting (I used a white buttercream for the one pictured above.)
  • One small bag of candy corn and decorative toppings of your choice. Don’t worry- the candy corn is more than likely going to go in the trash when it’s all said and done.

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350°F for metal and glass pans (325°F for dark or coated pans)
  2. Grease sides and bottoms of pan(s) and flour lightly.
  3. Working box by box- blend the cake mix, 1 cup water, 3 large eggs, and ⅓ cup vegetable oil in a large bowl until mixture is completely moistened.
  4. From there, beat the mixture at a medium speed for approximately 2-3 minutes.
  5. Pour the batter in your pan.
  6. Repeat the process with the remaining two boxes of cake mix- using the same amount of water, eggs and vegetable oil- until all of your batter is smoothly mixed and poured evenly into their separate/respective pans.
  7. Bake the pans in the center of your oven for approximately 22-27 minutes. Be sure your cake layers are cooked through evenly by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake and checking that it comes out clean.
  8. Cool your cakes on a pan/wire rack for about 15 minutes before removing them from their pans.
  9. Your cakes should be layered with vanilla on top, orange in the center, and lemon on the bottom. Be sure to frost each layer before stacking them on top of one another to get them to stick together and not slide around!
  10. Frost your stacked cake and decorate with sprinkles and candy corn.
  11. Take as many photos as needed.
  12. Pick off the candy corn and promptly throw it in the garbage. From there- enjoy the rest of your cake!

While I typically enjoy more citrus-flavored desserts in the Summertime- this was an excellent and festive treat to bake now that Halloween is right around the corner. The vanilla and the orange/lemon zest really paired well together!

I’m actually whipping up a batch of cupcakes using this same recipe (just a different type of pan, of course!) to bring to my company’s Halloween party next week. I’m hoping they are just as big of a hit as this cake was for my friends!

xx

– Ashley –

Fall Foodie: Mini Mason Jar Apple Pies

Happy Friday, everyone! I’ve been in the midst of a 6-day vacation from work (I’ve been out of the office since Wednesday and I return next Tuesday) just because I needed a break- but before I left- I wanted to make a quick treat for some of my co-workers since we’ve all been busting our asses in recent weeks and I thought it’d be a nice change of pace for a bit. I’d seen a couple of variations of this recipe floating around on social media and Pinterest over the past few days- and finally caved in and tried making my own variation of it. After a quick stop at Michael’s Arts & Crafts to pick up these cute glass mini mason-jars and gathering some apples I had recently picked at a local orchard- I was ready to put my canning/jarring skills to the test.

The recipe below will make 6 jars. I had to double up on everything to accommodate 12 co-workers (excluding myself).

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 baking apples, peeled and chopped (like Honeycrisp, Granny Smith or McIntosh)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 packages store-bought pie dough (4 circles total)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1½ teaspoons turbinado sugar

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Have ready six ¼ pint (½ cup) mason jars on a baking sheet.
  2. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apples and sauté until nearly tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and vanilla extract, and sauté for 2 minutes more. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is flat and slightly thinner than it originally was. Cut the dough into six 3-inch circles and six 2-inch circles.
  5. Press a 3-inch circle into a mason jar, pressing it firmly to the base and sides and taking care not to poke holes in the dough. Trim any excess from the top edge with a paring knife. Repeat with the remaining 3-inch circles and jars.
  6. Scoop the cooled filling into the pastry-lined jars, mounding it about ½ inch over the top rim.
  7. Place the 2-inch rounds over the filling and tuck the edges under so they meet the edge of the jar. Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork. Chill the pies for 10 minutes.
  8. While the pies chill, whisk the egg and water together to combine. Brush the egg wash over each pie top, and then sprinkle the top of each with ½ teaspoon turbinado sugar. Cut small vents into the top of each pie with a paring knife.
  9. Bake until the pies are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

I would like to mention that I didn’t fold over or crimp the tops of the pie crusts to the jars since I didn’t want to risk them getting damaged during transport from my home to the office. Instead, I cooked them separately as individual discs and brought them with me to place on top of the jars as they were being served. For the record- nobody seemed to mind!

These were a big hit with my co-workers, which made me happy- and when I tried one that I had made for myself when I got home after I’d left work for the day/week- I had no complaints! These came out amazing and I think they’re going to be a success when I attempt them again this coming Thanksgiving. I’m actually thinking of trying some different versions, as well- like lemon meringue and key lime pie.

I’m kinda’ craving one right now, actually.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –