Sea {Salty} Cookies, Eat Cookies

Oh, sea salt.

I love you on my roasted veggies, but mostly I love you on my chocolate… because The Husband doesn’t like you so I get to eat it all.

True story.

These cookies are not my invention, but I wish they were. I picked them from a sea of photos on Pinterest for a cookie exchange because they looked impressive, easy, chocolatey and involved salt and Kahlua. Perfection, am I right?

Not too sweet, I could really taste the rich coffee flavor of these little guys (and the bite of the salt on your tongue is a fantastic complement!). Go on, give ’em a try!Salted Mudslide Cookies

Recipe created by: How Sweet It Is

Ingredients

  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled for 10-15 minutes
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur + 1 teaspoon (Godiva, Kahlua, etc)
  • 1 cup chocolate chunks
  • sea salt for topping

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, coffee powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
  • In another bowl, mix the melted butter and sugars until they are combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and stir until mixed. Stream in coffee liqueur and mix.
  • Gradually add flour and mix until a dough forms – it will look crumbly at first, but it will come together. I even used my hands to help at one point. If you find you absolutely need more liquid add in a teaspoon of coffee liqueur, but it should come together. Fold in the chocolate chunks.
  • Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes. Try not to eat it. I suggest distracting yourself with a cheesy Christmas special on TV.
  • Remove dough from the fridge and roll into golfball sized balls. Set on a non-stick baking sheet with 2 inches between each. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the edges are set and the middles are still soft (depends on your cookie size). The centers should be puffy. Do not over-bake. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool completely just enough so you don’t burn yourself, then dig in!

These are great for Christmas… and for freezing and eating on long drives to Grandma’s house. You might even want to save one for her.

Enjoy!

On a side note:

  • My hairdryer decided to get festive and burst into a shower of sparks over the weekend… I keep forgetting to buy a new one until I’m dripping in my towel at 7:30a.m. before work.
  • I am in a brace for a tendon injury in my right foot and I have to wear tennis shoes everywhere for three weeks. Work. Shopping. I want to sob quietly every time I look at my stupid shoes with a cute outfit. And, I can’t run.
  • It’s only Four days until Christmas, so the above doesn’t really matter.
  • The Husband made his second “Annual Dinner” last night (Yes folks, this was the second dinner he has made in our 2.5 years of marriage. It’s about quality, not quantity, people).  It. Was. Fabulous. Recipes to come!

{Top Secret} Family Recipe

Random life lesson #642: Sister-in-laws know best.

In my naivety, I attempted a classic family cookie recipe for the Ugly Sweater party over the weekend (don’t worry…photo below). I knew it was simple. I knew how to google. I thought I was set.

Wrong.

Jessica, one of my dear sister-in-laws, makes totally killer mint chocolate chip mini cookies for just a few events throughout the year. I inhale them with abandon.

{This is Church camp, circa 2007. The cookies in question… in that unassuming box on the table. Not for long!}

They are like thin mints on steroids. Fudgy-fresh. Best eaten chilled.

Well, long story short,  my googled recipe didn’t turn out as good as Jessica’s. They were fine out of the oven (a little fluffy, perhaps) but, once they were cold, they just didn’t have the magic… In fact, my coworker Elizabeth said they were like rocks. (In my defense, they had been open on the counter at the office for two days…). Thanks for the reality-check, Elizabeth. :)

Soooo, I crawled humbly back to Jessica for the real recipe, which she generously gave me.

Folks, this is a closely-guarded FreshlyMinted family secret…. feel privileged. Very privileged.

And thank Jessica next time you see her for saving this post. Even though when she emailed the recipe to me she started her note with:

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but here it is…

We love each other… we really do ;)

Top-Secret Mint Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix (How cool is that?)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 bag pre-chopped Andes mints (If you can’t find these, you can chop them yourself. Or, you can use seasonal mint chocolate chips…. heath bar, M&Ms…possibilities are endless!)
Directions:
  • Combine cake mix, oil, and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in mints.
  • Drop by rounded teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes.
  • Note:There is an art to baking these cookies to perfection. You underbake – they won’t hold their shape; you overbake – they are too crunchy; you find that very sweet spot in the middle – you’ve baked a soft version of the Thin Mint that tastes like heaven in your mouth.

Enjoy!

(And beware…there are a lot of imposter “Cake Box Cookies” out there. Listen to my Sister-in law,  and spare yourself the humiliation of breaking your co-workers teeth.)

Right, Carla?

Some more of our holiday fun for your enjoyment…

{Ugly Christmas Sweaters, The Nutcracker, Cookie Swap}

{Swanky Office Shindig…. yes, we did end the evening at Waffle House}

{The Little House}

It’s almost here… Merry Christmas!

Now my other SIL, Ashley, knows she is next on my hostile-takeover-recipe list… her famous rolls, maybe? No one is safe… Haha!

{festivities}

It’s only just begun…

It’s okay. Go ahead and sing the Carpenters’ song in your head.

I won’t judge.

We’ve been busy getting into the holiday spirit: Our tree, my parent’s tree and our annual “Thank God it’s Christmas” party with friends! I LOVE the Holidays (read: pretty much crazy/obsessed/drive-The-Husband-nuts-with-non-stop-christmas-music). So, I am totally in hog heaven right now.

{Best Christmas Tree impression}

We went to Kaleidoscope Farms to cut down our tree – our third “married” Christmas tree! They have a lovely little shop, a donkey, a reindeer, and absolutely beautiful trees…

{Hot Cider – Yum!}

It’s a tradition to go out to a fun dinner before we set the tree up. This year, we went to Alexandria’s (remember this concert?) for cocktails and appetizers, and then headed over to Revolver (Yum) for dinner and dessert.

It was divine.

After that, we trimmed the tree, drank “egg” nog (really soy nog… surprisingly tasty!) and listened to music… perfection.

The next day, we ran errands, strung lights outside, cooked, cleaned and headed over to Andy and Sara’s house for the Annual Thank God It’s Christmas party with our friends!

{Brussels sprouts with maple, cranberry and sliced almonds and roasted squash & harvest grains were my contributions. So much good food!}

Everyone brought delicious food and fun drinks, and we laughed, talked and ate until late that night. We also worked with Halley on her Christmas card project – she is sending cards to soldiers overseas and in VA hospitals. This is her second year of the tradition – such a worthy cause. It’s a great feeling to give back during the holidays. Learn more on Halley’s blog.

{Bottom right: Zane (14), Dad, Me, The Husband, Joe (21), Bekah (9)}

The Christmas-themed marathon didn’t stop there: on Sunday we headed over to my parents to get their tree with my siblings! Mom, Dad, Bekah, Zane, Joe, The Husband and I packed ourselves into the car for our annual trek to Timbuk Tree Farm.

We ALWAYS ride the bus, and we ALWAYS go to Granville for dinner and ice cream afterwards. We started these traditions with my great-grandparents years and years ago.

We ate at Brew’s Cafe (portobella mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries) and then went to Whit’s Custard (PB Whister) for dessert. Everything was. to. die. for.

We trimmed the tree when we got home (it was MY year to put the star on top!) and drank egg nog… only UDF brand will do in that household (it is sinfully delicious).

{Whew! Yes, that did take as long as it looks. But I got the job done. Eventually. Let’s just say that there were some picky bystanders.}

It was a wonderful kickoff to the Christmas season, and we’ve got so much more to look forward to! Potluck at the office, Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, The Husband’s huge office party,  The Nutcracker, a cookie exchange, Office Christmas lunch downtown, family celebrations and lots of traveling… can’t wait!

What do you have in store in the weeks leading up to Christmas?

Uncle Glenn’s {Cheesy} Potato Soup

Sometimes, it is better just NOT to know what is in your favorite dishes.

But, there’s a problem with that. If you never get the recipe, you’ll never be able to enjoy that cake, pick apart those little creamy-bacony-puff appetizer things, scoop up mom’s gooey dip, or…. savor Uncle Glenn’s Potato Soup.

So, continue if you dare. A staple at our family gatherings, this cheesy, rich goodness is so worth it… especially if you need to whip up something for a crowd after a day of sledding. Or intense game playing/movie watching/shopping/present wrapping…

{My Uncle Glenn, my sister, my dad and Lulu the puppy – Too. Cute.}

Uncle Glenn’s Cheesy Potato Soup

Serves 6 (double for a crowd!)

Ingredients

  • 1 Two lb. bag of cubed frozen hash browns (you can use fresh potatoes too, but hey – we’ve got a bunch of hungry cousins on our hands. Can’t dawdle).
  • 1 Jar Cheese spread (Yep. That’s Cheez Wiz. Don’t hate.)
  • 1 Qt. Heavy Whipping Cream, room temperature (You’ve already done the Cheez Wiz…why stop now?!)
  • 3 Chicken boullion cubes
  • 1 1/2 Cups Chopped Carrots and Celery (See – vegetables! This is practically a health food… Food chopper/processor is the easiest).

Directions:

  • Place potatoes and bullion cubes in a stock pot. Add water just to cover, cook on medium-high heat.
  • When potatoes are soft (poke with a fork), add cheese, carrots and celery. Stir until cheese is completely melted.
  • Slowly add heavy whipping cream, continue stirring.
  • Reduce heat to low, stir frequently.
  • Simmer for about 15 minutes until warm through, and well combined.
  • (Note: To thicken, add instant potato flakes!)

This rich, creamy, fast soup is best paired with crackers, bread, bacon bits, and enough green leafy things to make you feel better about yourself… or (Uncle’s recommendation) deer salami. That part is totally optional.

Be brave. You’ll be the hero of family tales for years to come.

Enjoy!

Do you have any indulgent, quirky, fun, family-gathering favorites that you are looking forward to this season?

Retro Squash {Truffles}

First off, these really aren’t truffles. Sorry to disappoint, but I just didn’t want the name of my post to be “Squash Balls”.

Umm… doesn’t exactly inspire cozy, happy, holiday thoughts. So, because these little treats are round and have somewhat of a crispy, sweet coating… truffles they became.

I found the inspiration for this recipe in a April issue of Family Circle from 1955 (one of my grandmother’s magazines). “Crispy Sweet-Potato Balls” – They are little funky-retro, and a lot fun to eat.

Unlike Mrs. Eisenhower’s Apple Pie, I did make some modifications to this recipe.

With the biggest eating day of the year looming close, I wanted to be sure I could pound some stuffing, mashed potatoes and Black-Friday-Power-Shopping-Frappuccinos without overwhelming guilt.

Don’t worry. The “yummier” PG-13 version is below also… Worth a shot if butter and zweiback crumbs are your thing. I’ll let you choose for yourself ; )

Retro Squash Truffles

Makes about 10 larger-than-golf-ball-sized truffles

Squash Mixture:

  • 2 Cups of roasted squash (I used a Kabocha, but Butternut or Sweet Dumpling would work well also, or even Sweet Potatoes like the original recipe suggests.)
  • 1 T Earth Balance (or butter), melted
  • 1 t Brown sugar (May need to vary based on the sweetness of your squash)
  • 1/2 t lemon juice
  • Dash of Nutmeg and Pepper (to taste)

Coating Mixture:

  • 2/3 Cups of Panko Breadcrumbs (graham crackers or a few crushed pecans would be great additions, too)
  • 2 t Earth Balance (or butter), melted
  • 1/8 t Cinnamon and Nutmeg and Salt

Directions:

  • Mash squash in a large bowl; add remaining squash-mixture ingredients; beat until fluffy; form into balls truffles.
  • Combine coating-mixture ingredients in a pie-plate; roll truffles in the mixture until coated well, place in a shallow baking pan.
  • Bake in slow oven (325) for about 35 minutes, or until truffles are heated-through and coating is crisp.

Garnish these little spheres of sweet-fluffy-mashed-potato-like goodness with a drizzle of real maple syrup, or….

…yep, I went there.

Add half of a marshmallow for the last five minutes of baking time for a gooey treat. Perfect nestled next to a turkey, and fun to make (and eat) with kids.

That is, unless you get TOO into the retro thing, and make the whole family dress alike…

Just. Don’t. Do it. They won’t appreciate that when they’re older. And, therapy is expensive.

Enjoy!

For all of you adventurers out there, here is the original recipe, as printed:

Crispy Sweet-Potato Balls

Makes 8 large Potato Balls

Potato Mixture

  • 2 Cans (1lb, 2oz each) of vacuum packed sweet potatoes
  • 4 T (1/2 Stick) of melted butter or margarine
  • 2 T Brown Sugar
  • 1t Salt
  • 1/4 t Nutmeg
  • 1/8 t Pepper
  • 1 t Lemon juice

Coating Mixture

  • 3/4 Cup coarse zwieback crumbs (About 6 slices)
  • 2 T Brown Sugar
  • 2T Melted Butter or Margarine
  • 1/8 t Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Salt

Directions: Same as above, but bake for 40 minutes.

Harvest Salad with {Apple Cider} Vinaigrette

Yes, there is squash involved. Avert your eyes now if you can’t handle another bite. But really… you’d regret it.

You are sort of getting this recipe third-hand: This dish was inspired by Steph, who was inspired by this dish from The Daily Garnish. The genius that she is (that’s a math teacher for you!), Steph substituted apple cider for orange juice in the millet recipe. As I was licking my fork after sitting down to dinner with her and her husband a few weeks ago, It dawned on me that it would make a delicious salad dressing. Boy, was I right! (Thanks girls!)

P.S. Little known secret fact about Steph: She loves Honda mini-vans. Shhhhh.

This salad is packed with everything I love about this season: Salty-sweet roasted squash, tangy Gorgonzola cheese, crunchy toasted pecans, tart dried cranberries and melt-in-your-mouth pan-fried cinnamon apples. I declare these match(es) made in heaven.

A perfect accompaniment to any meal (Like Thanksgiving…), but this delightful concoction could be great as a main dish as well. Add chicken, toast a crunchy baguette, and you’re set. (Or, you could have it at 9:00p.m. with leftover quinoa loaf and BBQ sauce like we did. Super classy.)

Harvest Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Serves 4 (ish) as a side dish

For the Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

For the Salad:

  • One squash, thickly sliced – I used a Sweet Dumpling, but Acorn or even butternut would work as well (you would just need to peel and cube the butternut)
  • One to two apples, sliced – Depends on size
  • 1/3 cup of pecans, toasted and chopped- Can use without toasting, but they are more flavorful after a just a little bit of time in a dry skillet!
  • 1/3 cup Gorgonzola crumbles – Any strong cheese will work, and even Feta in a pinch.
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • About 6 cups of spinach or mixed baby greens
  • 1 T Earth Balance, or olive oil (or butter) for sauteing
  • A few dashes of cinnamon

Directions:

  • Slice squash, and bake on a foil-covered baking sheet with olive oil and salt at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until it starts to get a little brown and caramelized. You will probably have leftovers… never a bad thing.
  • While squash is baking, combine the dressing ingredients, and whisk. You will have plenty for a crowd, or just to save in the fridge for another day.
  • Toss the sliced apples into a skillet with the Earth Balance or olive oil, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Let them cook until tender (they will smell soooo delicious!), about 15 20 minutes minutes on medium heat. Note: These apples are wonderful on freshly baked biscuits with honey (like my mama makes)…or almost anything for that matter.

  • Arrange cooked squash, apples and other toppings over a bed of greens, and serve! I like to have my dressing on the side, but feel free to toss a little in with the finished salad if you like.

When you eat this salad, it’s like the entirety of the month of November is having a party in your mouth. You wouldn’t want to miss out on that, would you?!

So, slip on your comfy PJ’s best party dress, grab some leftovers baguettes, and enjoy…

A {Happy} Harvest

Happy Harvest!

Our weekend involved music, friends, a race and far, far too much pumpkin fluff. In other words, it was great :)

We woke up on Saturday for a “Pumpkin Run” at a local park. Proceeds from the two-mile trail run went to benefit a Youth Leadership program. It was c-c-c-cold early in the morning, but our two miles through trees, puddles and over bike paths warmed us up in no time! We dressed up (keepin’ things festive) and had a fun time with a few friends that joined us. I placed second for women, and one of our friends took home the first place prize. It was for a good cause, but the race was also a great reason to go to a fun breakfast out :) We didn’t meet anyone famous this time, though…MMMMM… Oats!

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, watching movies, and getting ready for one of our FAVORITE seasonal traditions. Danny & Halley’s Annual Pumpkin Carving Party! Danny works with the Husband, and his lovely wife Halley is the queen of all hostesses, She always makes every party delightful with her attention to detail and fun, crafty decor. I could have taken pictures all night!

I brought Pumpkin Fluff that I made using this amazing recipe (I just switched out the whipped topping for marshmallow fluff, and used a little less sugar. It was good on everything…. including pancakes the next day!) and an old favorite, Spinach Artichoke dip (from Cooking Light! Try it…it is easy and so, so yummy. Just use the whole box of spinach instead of half : )

We actually had to leave the party a bit early to make it to our next event, but Halley and Danny had a special announcement for their guests that they shared with us before we left:

Congrats on the ‘lil punkin’ (to arrive May of 2012)! And thanks to good friend Heather for the beautiful photo. We can’t wait to meet him or her!

After the party, we made a quick change, and went to a brand new venue for a special throwback concert – The Contours. Their big hit was, “Do you love me? (Now that I can dance)” recorded in 1962. I adore music from that era (I have a stash of my parents’ records and have seen Paul McCartney (Beatles), Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel), Bill Medley (Righteous Brothers), Don McLean (American Pie), Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits) and Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees) in concert!) They sang a ton of great hits by other Motown artists, and Alexandria’s – a new tapas bar and event space downtown – was breathtaking.

Look at that lighting…and those sparkly suits! We danced the night away, enjoyed fun cocktails and got autographs… Loved every groovy minute of it.

Because we had to leave a little early from the pumpkin party, I didn’t get to finish my carving. But, I loved the design I had picked out so much (and my white pumpkin) that I rounded out my festive weekend by carving it on Sunday!

Loved the finished product! Super easy, too (yay for stencils!)

All of these activities put me into full-fledged harvest/crunchy leaves/thanksgiving/just-double-digits-until-christmas mode. So, for dinner I HAD to whip something up that matched my autumnal-hued mood…

I have something special for you coming soon!

Sorry -But this little post is a book already. Get the recipe next time!

{In the mean time, visit Halley’s blog – The Halley Daily!}