Almond Joy Brownies: A Hershey Inspired Dessert

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This month, I made a trip to Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, PA on the way back from visiting my alma mater.  One of my memories as a child is going to Hershey Park in the summer to ride all the thrilling amusement rides and to visit Chocolate World.  The best part of Chocolate World was the ride inside that detailed the process of making Hershey’s chocolate.  As you walk into Chocolate World, you are blown away by the smell of chocolate emanating from the building.  The aroma is overwhelming and you become immersed into a magical world where nothing matters except all the chocolate treats that you can purchase there.  Needless to say, I went home with a goodie bag.

When i returned home, I felt the need to whip up my very own chocolate creation inspired by Milton Hershey himself.  I put a Hershey twist on brownies.  I used Pillsbury Dark Chocolate brownie mix and doctored it up to make Almond Joy Brownies.  I made the batter as stated on the box, then added 1/2 tsp of coconut extract, 1 tsp of almond extract, and 3/4 cup sliced almonds to the batter.

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I poured the batter in a 13×9 inch pan and then topped the batter with coconut flakes.  I used Toasted Coconut Chips from Creative Snacks Co.  This sample bag was given to me by one of my sales reps this summer.  If you use regular coconut, be sure to toast it in the oven before you top off the brownies.

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Bake the brownies as directed on the box.  The result is a twist on a classic and your dinner guests won’t be able to pass on dessert.  Top a brownie with the ice cream of your choice and hot fudge sauce to make an even more irresistible dessert.

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Third Time’s the Charm

Last weekend I ran the Richmond half marathon, which was my third half marathon ever. It was a lot of fun! I got to spend some time with great friends, and had a great run! Turns out I just keep getting faster! My first half marathon was the 2012 Richmond half and I finished in 2:04. Then in February of 2013 I finished the Colonial half marathon in Williamsburg, VA in 2:02. Last weekend my goal was to break the 2 hour barrier, but my expectations were low because I really only ran once, maybe twice a week this fall. I did a lot of cross training, but I didn’t think it was enough to improve my time.

My brother and I posing with the Governor pre race!

My brother and me posing with the Governor pre race!

On Saturday it only took me 1 hour and 57 minutes to run 13.1 miles! I was so excited!

I had a terrible night’s sleep the night before, and I wasn’t feeling particularly well. But I took a few tylenol and suited up with the expectation to try my best. Once I started running I actually felt great! I was running pretty fast (for me) and I just kept pushing because it felt good. Here’s how the race played out in terms of splits and some of the songs I remember that came up on my shuffle.

1: 9:20- Weaving through the crowd at the start. Lips are Movin by Meghan Trainor- I got this at the beginning and towards the last couple miles.

2: 9:01- Found my pace. Irreplaceable by Beyonce- This was a short uphill. Beyonce=motivation.

3: 8:58- Gold Digger by Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx- This one got me through mile 3, and reminded me of senior year of college!

4: 8:55- So Emotional (David Morales mix) by Whitney Houston kept me moving.

5: 8:57- Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson came on- It’s a classic.

6: 9:06- I think this was a little uphill. Stutter by Marianas Trench got me through.

7: 8:56- I’m surprised my splits were that consistent for 6 miles straight. If I Could Change Your Mind by HAIM.

8: 9:14- This is a rough mile (for me at least) because you’ve run 8 and you still have 5 more. You need to refresh that motivation! Rich Girls by Down With Webster definitely made me laugh on the inside at this point.

9: 8:50 This was when I really decided I could push it and make sure the tank was completely empty at 13. Amazing by Kanye West feat. Young Jeezy came on, I think I listened to this 3 times in a row in mile 9.

10: 8:37- Killing it. Shake it Off by Taylor Swift- Obvi.

11: 8:36- Killing it. Bailando by Enrique Iglesias feat. Sean Paul, Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona, because Enrique is the pinnacle of inspiration.

12: 8:42- Killing it. Dancing On My Own by Robyn, because Robyn is awesome running music.

13: 8:23- full disclosure: the last half mile of the race is downhill. I have no idea what songs finished the race for me. I was just so happy to be finishing!

This unflattering look says I'm freezing, tired, and ready to take a shower asap.

This unflattering look says I’m freezing, tired, and ready to take a shower asap. My brother is just happy he’s still in one piece. My dad is clearly elated with our accomplishment.

What’s for Dinner Tonight – Chicken Marsala

IMG_0918An easy and comforting meal to make is chicken marsala.  I usually serve this with mashed potatoes or rice pilaf because I’m not a huge fan of pasta.  You can pick whatever you want to pair it with depending on what your mood is that night.  You simply can’t go wrong because the flavorful sauce is the shining star of this dish.  The marsala wine and the saltiness of the prosciutto make this dish stand out.

The recipe that I use to make this dish is provided by Tyler Florence.  I must say that he is a master at perfecting a classic dish.  You can find the recipe here.  Be sure to use a good marsala wine when making this dish.  Don’t use something that you buy at the grocery store.  Please take the time and go to your local wine and beer store.  I like to use Taylor when I use marsala wine or sherry for cooking.  Always choose something you wouldn’t mind drinking on its own.  If you don’t want to drink it in a glass, don’t cook with it either.  You’re taking time to make a home cooked meal and you don’t want to ruin it with low quality ingredients.

Now let’s get going.  Ready, set, cook!

In the Kitchen with David

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Sadie and I have a love for In the Kitchen with David on QVC.  It airs every Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon hosted by the fabulous David Venable.  I got the unique opportunity to go see the show live at QVC Studio Park in West Chester, PA.

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It was everything I thought it would be and so much more.  I saw Tara McConnell, the creator of Temptations, and the oh-so-famous Bob Warden.  Before the show started, we had a chance to have a quick question and answer session with David and Mary.  It was confirmed that David is down to earth and really cares about his fans.  In fact, he announced that he would be available for a cookbook signing session after the show.  My mom and I were ecstatic.  In fact, my mom was a little starstruck when she met David.

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He mentioned that one of his favorite recipes from his new book was Italian Wedding Casserole.  Well folks, it is simply divine.  I made it last night and I must say it was a success.  You can find the recipe here in this preview of his latest cookbook, Back Around the Table.  Have fun foodies!

Monster Cookies: Not Just for Halloween

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For Halloween, I was trying to find a recipe to make some cookies for the children around my neighborhood. I stumbled upon these cookies but quickly discovered that they are not just for Halloween despite their name. These cookies are crispy and make a delightful after school treat for your kiddos. If you don’t have kids, no worries. They are great for grown-ups as well. I haven’t met a cookie I didn’t like.

This cookie recipe comes from the Pioneer Woman. i must say that most of her recipes are easy and enjoyable. I was originally not a fan of her but she has grown on me. I find myself watching her show and wanting to make her recipes. I even bought her cookbook, pictured below, which is a great book for beginner cooks because it has step by step photos for you to look at.  The recipe for the monster cookies is not in this book but you can find it here.  I often leave out the pecans because I don’t usually have them on hand in my pantry.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

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The Divine Miss M.

I asked my grandmother about six months ago: if you could be any movie star, who would you want to be?

Guess who she said: Bette Midler.

So I guess this is hereditary.

When I was in middle school and my family got our first CD player (am I dating myself?), we used to check CDs out from the public library. My favorite CD to checkout from the library was Experience the Divine- Greatest Hits. I will never get enough of that album.

When I heard that Bette Midler put out a new CD, It’s the Girls, covering some of the greatest girl group songs of all time, I felt like the stars had aligned. I could write a review on the album without even listening to it. There is no way I would not like this album.

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She covers a couple Carole King songs, the Ronettes, the Supremes, TLC, and so many other classics. I love a good cover of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and she does a great one.

This could not come at a better time. I am definitely in the market for cooking music for Thanksgiving.

Bingo!

And guess what. Nana will be there too!

A Proper Cheese Plate

With the holidays coming up, I think it’s important to go over what I like to call the basics of putting together a cheese plate. I must say that this is the easiest way to put out “appetizers” and it always goes over well with your guests. I don’t think there is any reason to do much more than this when hosting a party. Although I must say that I always make Ina Garten’s sausage stuffed mushrooms as well because they are simply out of this world.

Here are the 7 components of a fantastic cheese tray:
1. Sharp Cheese
Choose a sharp cheese like an aged cheddar, aged gouda or parmesan.
2. Blue Cheese
Choose a good blue cheese such as stilton, moody blue (Smoked Blue Cheese), or gorgonzola.
3. Goat Cheese or Sheep’s Milk Cheese
Choose a delicious, tangy chèvre, goat gouda, drunken goat, or manchego.
4. Cheese Spread
This is a great option to have in case there are any children at the party. I often go with a port wine cheddar cheese spread. If the store is open, I will go for our own hand-mixed champagne cheddar.
5. Brie
Choose some type of brie-like cheese such as Fromage D’Affinois, Delice de Bourgogne, St. Andre, or St. Angel. You can also top them with fig jam or have a side of chutney as an option. The possibilities are endless.
5. Cured Meat
Choose prosciutto, chorizo, salami, or sopressata. Go wild and choose a couple!
6. Pickled or Brined Item
Choose from olives, cornichons, gherkins, roasted red peppers, or marinated artichokes.
7. Cracker or Fresh Bread
Choose any type of cracker that you prefer or a freshly baked bread. Of course, I like to use French bread from the bakery. I also prefer to use pita chips, flatbreads, and nut and fruit crackers such as the Almondina brand.
An arrangement of these will make for a successful cocktail hour. Everyone will be pleased to meet your cheese tray at your next holiday party.

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This is a cheese platter that I put together for a customer at the bakery. Their guests were happy with the choices I made…Five Counties, Delice de Bourgogne, Stilton, Miticrema, and Bellavitano.

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This is a cheese platter I put together for a friend and I for a fun summer picnic on my back deck. It was all we needed for dinner. Everything you see here can be found at my bakery. That’s an advantage of owning your own store!

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This graphite serving board allows you to write the name of the cheese onto the platter using a piece of soapstone. My friend Kelly got this for me for my 30th birthday and I love it!