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Cinnamon Rolls During the Storm

It's snowing!  Here in Virginia the snow has been falling fairly consistently for about 24 hours, which is a BIG deal.  The only cars on the road have been heavy trucks and the occasional plow. 

What to do on a snowy day?  Make cinnamon rolls, I say!  And if the power goes out while they're on the 2nd rise?  Fire up the generator to power the oven! (Yes, this happened today.  Cameron saved the cinnamon rolls.)

My inspiration for this recipe comes from "Clone of a Cinnabon" on AllRecipes.com.  I have modified the instructions for those of us who don't have bread machines.
 
Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup milk, warm
1 pkg. (2 1/2 teaspoons) yeast
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tablespoons cinnamon (I recommend some really good stuff, like King Arthur's Vietnamese Cinnamon.)
1/3 cup butter, softened

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (This organic version is a favorite.)

1. Combine warm milk and yeast in mixing bowl.  Stir to dissolve yeast.  Let sit for 10 minutes, until bubbly.

2. Add melted butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and flour.  Mix until combined. Knead with dough hook for 5 minutes or by hand for 8-10 minutes.

3. Transfer dough to a large buttered bowl.  Turn dough once to coat with butter.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location* until doubled, about 1 hour.
4. Punch down dough and transfer it to a floured surface.  Roll it out to a rectangle about 16 by 21 inches.
 
5. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon.  Spread softened butter evenly over rectangle of dough.  Sprinkle evenly with sugar and cinnamon mixture.

6. Starting with a long edge, roll up dough into a log.  When you reach the other long edge, pinch the dough to seal it and place it seam down on your work surface.  Use a very sharp knife to cut log into 12 disc-like pieces.  (Or use thick thread - run a piece under the log and cross the two ends over the top to slice each piece.)

7. In a buttered 9 by 13 pan, arrange the 12 pieces.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Place in a warm location and let rise until doubled.

8. Once doubled, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake rolls for 15-18 minutes.

9. As soon as you remove them from the oven, mix the frosting.  In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy.  Add powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla extract.  Beat until well blended.  Spread on top of warm rolls.
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Molten Chocolate Cakes

I've been making quite a few Molten Lava Cakes in the past twelve months because they a) are ridiculously easy to make and b) they are a 100% cure for a chocolate craving. I looked at a few recipes online and even one in an issue of Martha Stewart Living, but I wasn't really satisfied with the results until I consulted my "The Essence of Chocolate" cookbook. (Every recipe I have tried in this book has been a winner!)  I have modified the recipe slightly to use whole eggs (I'm so bad at keeping track of extra whites in the fridge) and I added vanilla extract. My favorite way to serve the cakes is with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon.

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NOTE: It's really important to use good quality chocolate. The flavor will suffer greatly if you don't. I have used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet baking bars, Trader Joe's bittersweet pound-plus, and, when feeling especially indulgent, Green & Black's 70% dark chocolate bars.

6 ounces 60-70% bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3 large eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unbleached, all purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter four ramekins or custard cups and dust with flour.

2. Combine chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl.  Heat over simmering water, stirring until chocolate is melted. (Or heat in microwave and stir every 30 seconds.)

3. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Beat until thick and pale (about 4 to 5 minutes with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer).  Add vanilla, chocolate mixture, and salt. Beat until combined.  Sprinkle flour on top and fold in.

4. Divide batter evenly among prepared cups. (Optional: place cups on a rimmed baking sheet.) Bake on the lower shelf of the oven, 8-10 minutes (edges will appear baked, quarter-sized middle will be somewhat glossy). Remove from oven to cooling rack.

5. Loosen edges of cakes with a small, flat metal spatula and un-mold onto individual plates. Serve with whipped cream & sprinkle with cinnamon.
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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

I always have a hard time figuring out what treats to make for Christmas.  My mom has her repetoire of favorites and I look forward to them on the rare occasions I get to be in Bismarck for Christmas.  I think my problem is that I like trying new recipes.  A friend recently asked me for this recipe, though, and it is certainly one worth revisiting.  I'm a sucker for most any combination of peanut butter and chocolate and these really deliver on both flavors!

A friend from high school made these cookies and shared the recipe with me, so first credit goes out to Sara.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies Recipe
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
5 - 2 oz. peanut butter cups, chopped into pieces
6 oz. or 12 oz. of semi sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla, and eggs. 

3. Sift dry ingredients and add in two parts to creamed mixture until just combined.

4. Stir in peanut butter cups and chocolate chips.

5. Drop rounded tablespoonsful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for 13-15 minutes. 
 
6. Allow to rest on baking sheet for 1-3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
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Chubby Hubby Cookies

Peanut butter + chocolate + pretzels = YUM!  
(Ben & Jerry figured this out a while ago.)

A few months ago I tried an internet recipe for Chubby Hubby bars and found them a bit dry and lacking in full peanut butter-ness.  I tweaked a few quantities and while you can still bake these as bars, I prefer cookies so that I can freeze the dough and bake a few at a time (otherwise I would eat waaaaaay too many!)

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats 
1 cup natural creamy peanut butter (I use Smucker's.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup peanut butter chips
3/4 cup crushed pretzels, divided (set aside 1/4 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and oats. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat peanut butter, unsalted butter, light brown sugar, honey, egg, and vanilla until blended.
4. Stir in chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and 1/2 cup crushed pretzels.
5. Using a medium cookie scoop, form cookie balls & roll top of each ball in reserved 1/4 cup crushed pretzels. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and press down to about 1/2 inch tall cookie rounds.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-13 minutes, until they just start to brown on top (will still be very soft to touch). Remove from oven and cool cookies on sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Makes approximately 28 cookies.

To bake in bar form, spread dough into an ungreased 9 by 13 pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of crushed pretzels. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes, until edges are golden. Cool completely before cutting.





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Scratch Lounge Magic

Comet the Cat stays cool on his new Scratch Lounge.

Yes, we handed over $$$ for cardboard. It has been worth every penny, though, since it's been so HOT here in Virginia. It really does serve both purposes, as its name suggests. Comet loves to scratch it (instead of or in addition to the carpet, as you can see) and lounge in it. The cardboard pieces are reversible, so this style will last a bit longer than other scratchers. 

Purchase a Scratch Lounge through Amazon.com, your local Petco, or visit ScratchLounge.com for other vendors.

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