Easy Chocolate Covered Treats

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Hello and happy Tuesday! Last Friday I made these yummy chocolate covered treats for a holiday office party. It was such a wonderful evening filled with so much delicious food and fun moments. We had lasagna three ways (meat, veggie, and chocolate), a secret Santa gift exchange that had me rolling on the floor laughing, a Skype conversation with a co-worker and her puppy, and a hilarious conversation about the slang term basic.  It was truly an amazing night, and I feel very fortunate to have such delightful co-workers.

I know, I know!  Get to the chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate covered pretzels already.  The recipe and assembly of these treats is so simple that you can whip them up in no time.  This quick dessert recipe is fun to make and truly tasty…

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. milk chocolate chips
  • 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 8 oz. white chocolate chips
  • food coloring (I used red & green gel food coloring)
  • 1 bag of large pretzels
  • 1 pint of strawberries
  • Assorted toppings such as toffee pieces, crushed candy canes, etc.
  • Parchment paper

Directions

  • Over very low heat melt white chocolate chips in a small sauce pan,
  • Over very low heat melt milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips in a small sauce pan
  • After both are melted dunk and cover pretzels and strawberries
  • Carefully place pretzels and strawberries on non-stick parchment paper
  • While chocolate is still soft, sprinkle various toppings over them
  • Take remaining white chocolate and divide into two small bowls, mix food coloring until desired color is achieved
  • With a fork drizzle colored white chocolate over pretzels and strawberries
  • With a fork drizzle remaining milk/semi-sweet chocolate over pretzels and strawberries
  • Allow to cool for at least 2 hours or half an hour in the refrigerator

Remember to use very, very low heat or melt chocolate in a heat proof bowl over boiling water.  Work quickly once chocolate has melted, that means that organization is key.  Have all strawberries and pretzels prepped and ready.  Lay out the parchment paper neatly, ready to be topped with yummy chocolate covered goodies.  If the chocolate starts to thicken just pop it onto the stove over low heat again.  Just remember to leave enough time for the chocolate to firm up.  I suggest making them at least a few hours before a party, or placing them in the fridge to speed things up if you are in a hurry.  And, last but not least, don’t eat all of them!  Lol!  That was my worst problem making these.  I kept eating them, and eventually gave myself a stomach ache.  But, at least I got my full serving of fruit for the day.

Enjoy! Buen Provecho!

Xo, Maria

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Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Brownie Bars Recipe

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Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Brownie Bars Recipe (adapted from Pillsbury)

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 packages room temperature cream cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 room temperature eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 salt
  • 1 1/2 – 2 packages andes mint baking chips

Directions

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Heat unsweetened baking chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and butter over low heat until melted and smooth.  Let cool about five minutes.
  • Beat cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla, and 1 egg in a mixer on medium to low speed until smooth.
  • Into cooled chocolate mixture, stir in  remaining 2 cups of sugar, remaining 4 eggs, and peppermint extract.  Stir in sifted flour and salt until combined.
  • In a greased 13 x 9 inch pan, spread half the chocolate mixture.  Then, drop cream cheese over chocolate batter.  Finish by  carefully spreading the remaining chocolate mixture over the cream cheese.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Check by inserting a toothpick in the center, if it comes out clean its done.
  • Scatter andes mint chips over the hot brownie bars after they come right out of the oven.
  • Cool completely before cutting, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

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Merry Wednesday!  Do you think if I leave a few of these Andes Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Brownie Bars for Santa he’ll leave me something special under the Christmas tree?  Fa, la, la, la, la, let’s hope so…

Enjoy! Buen Provecho!

Xo, Maria

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Salted Caramel Sauce…

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The holidays are here, the holidays are here!  Last week I tested out this chocolate cupcake recipe and it was extreme!  The ultimate chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and salted caramel sauce is just crazy good.  I can’t wait to make them again for the family gatherings to come.  I’m so happy I tested this recipe because I learned so much.  I’m going to share my whole debacle with you and give you the right tips to make it a success.

Let me say first, and foremost, patience is key.  I haven’t baked in almost a year because of the issues with my hands and wrists.  So, I think I lost sight of why I loved baking so much.  What’s that?  Putting love into what you are making.  And, to do that, you need to take your time to enjoy the art of baking.  What happened to my cupcakes, and why was it such a disaster?  So many things, where do I start?  I had to make the batter twice because my eggs started to scramble when I added them to the chocolate, my frosting started cracking and melted off the cupcakes, and I put them in the refrigerator so they hardened.  I know, I know!  What a mess!  So, here are my key tips:

always preheat your oven, and note hot spots in your oven

make note of cooking temperature and time differences for high altitudes

allow noted ingredients to get to room temperature

sift dry ingredients, especially when making frosting

don’t over mix batter ingredients

refrigerate frosting if it becomes too soft after preparation

having an icing disaster (like me)?  use an ice cream scoop for a different aesthetic

And, please feel free to share any baking tips in the comments section below.  I love reading all your comments!

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Recipe (adapted from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • warm chocolate glaze (recipe below)
  • cream cheese frosting (recipe below)
  • salted caramel sauce (recipe below)
  • caramels and chocolate bark for a decorative touch

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees & line 12-cup muffin pan with liners
  • Simmer water in a sauce pan and place chocolate in a heat proof bowl.  Warm chocolate over simmering water and add butter slowly.  Stir over heat until smooth and then set aside to cool.
  • Combine flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda
  • Combine sugar and melted chocolate mixture
  • Slowly stir in eggs and vanilla to the sugar and chocolate mixture
  • Then, combine chocolate sugar mixture with flour mixture.  Be careful not to over mix.
  • Fill cupcake 3/4 full and bake 20-25 minutes
  • After baking, poke holes in cupcakes with a fork and dig a small hole in the middle.  Pour warm chocolate glaze over the top of warm cupcakes.  Let cool, and top with icing, salted caramel sauce, caramels, and chocolate bark.

Warm Chocolate Glaze

  • In a saucepan combine 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk, 8 oz, semisweet chocolate chips, 2 tbsp. unsalted cubed butter.  Heat over medium heat until chocolate is smooth and starting to boil.  Stir in a tbsp. or two of milk until sauce is thinned slightly, be careful not to make it too runny.  Wait until glaze has cooled slightly, and then pour over and into cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • With an electric mixer beat two 8 oz. packages of cream cheese with 6 tbsp. of butter.  Be sure that all ingredients are room temperature.  Mix (slowly) until combined, then add in 1/2 – 1 tsp. vanilla (personal preference here) and 1 cup of powdered sugar.  Make sure you sift all lumps out of the sugar before you add to cream cheese.

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • Combine 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil (do not stir). Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Remove the sugar mixture from heat and whisk in 3/4 cup of heavy cream.  Add this slowly and carefully.  Stir in 3 1/2 tbsp. of unsalted butter and 1 tsp. of salt
  • Allow to cool before serving

Luckily, I tried the cupcakes before they hardened in the refrigerator.  The texture was amazing after cooling down slightly.  When I added the chocolate glaze, whoa.  Too good for words!  I could have stopped there, but I wanted to dress it up with my favorite frosting.  The salted caramel sauce was for Mike, my husband, he loves salted caramel anything.  If you’re not in love with the idea of chocolate and cream cheese frosting, switch it up with a vanilla buttercream or classic chocolate ganache frosting.  Another idea is to just finish the cupcakes by pouring the caramel sauce directly over the chocolate glaze.  Which ever variation you go for, it’s going to be simply delicious.

Enjoy! Buen Provecho!

Xo, Maria

cafe con leche & cafe cubano…

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It has been rainy and dreary everyday since we returned from the mid-west.  I’ve been making different variations of coffee and espresso as a pick me up on these dark days.  Mike loves straight espresso with no sugar.  It’s pretty intense!  I love espresso with milk, lots of foam, and a sprinkle of cocoa.  DIY café cubano and DIY café con leche is so simple to make.  Save yourself a drive in the rain and a few dollars with this recipe…

Ingredients

  • Espresso
  • Organic Milk
  • Organic Sugar
  • Cocoa Power
  • Water

Directions

  • Simply prepare the espresso by filling water in the bottom of the espresso maker (don’t over fill – please see your specific manufacturer’s instructions .  Place the espresso in the second piece and screw the pieces together. Place over the stove on high heat until steam forms and the top piece is full of espresso.  BE CAREFUL handling the espresso maker and the espresso itself because it will be HOT!
  • Heat the milk in the milk frother or use a small pot.
  • For the espresso – add sugar to taste and pour espresso over the top
  • For the café con leche – add sugar to taste, pour hot espresso over the sugar, add milk, and sprinkle with cocoa power

 Technically, with the proportions of espresso, milk, and foam I use it’s a cappuccino.  Whatever you call it, I love it and I hope you do too!

Enjoy!  Buen Provecho!

xo, Maria

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St Louis, Columbia, & Carbondale via Instagram

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I just wanted to share some pictures of our recent trip to Columbia, MO, St. Louis, MO, and Carbondale, IL.  As you can see from the pictures, we packed in as much as we could while visiting family.  Here are some highlights of the trip…

University of Missouri vs. University of Central Florida @ Mizzou – The Mizzou Tigers love their footfall and have a gorgeous stadium.  I enjoyed visiting the small college town of Columbia, with unique eateries and local boutiques.

Hermann, MO – A quick stop to this predominately German town left me wishing I could return for their Octoberfest.  The tour at Stone Hill Winery was amazing and I took some amazing pictures in their cellar.  I’ll share those pictures in a future post.  Not to give it all away, but there is a giant wine barrel that is pre-prohibition.  I’m not much of a drinker, but I loved the architecture of the cellar and the history behind the business that still stands there today.  Another wonderful spot in Hermann was the Wurst Haus.  Can you say Bratwurst?  Can you say pretzel bun?  Seriously delicious!

St. Louis, MO – This was a whirl wind trip packed into just a few short days.  Mike’s cousin and aunt live in the city.  We went to a few local breweries, Urban Chestnut and Schlafly.  Anheuser Bush is also headquartered in the area and we toured the Budweiser facility.  I really didn’t partake in the beer drinking, it’s not my thing.  But, I did enjoy seeing the unique local breweries and, the best part of Budweiser, the Clydesdale horses.  Last, but definitely not least, we ate some great food.  Mission Taco and Pi Pizza were my favorite restaurants of the trip.  Oh, and, the Arch is so cool.

Carbondale, IL – Mike’s parents and another aunt live in this cute town, home of Southern Illinois University.  This visit included everything from wineries, national parks, lodges, apple orchards, to a farmer’s market.  I know you won’t believe this, but I saw an apple tree for the very first time near the Rendleman Farmer’s Market.  There was an entire apple orchard and I thought it was the coolest thing to see how loaded the trees get.  (Hey!  Don’t laugh, I’m from Florida and all I’ve seen growing up was Orange groves.)  There was so many great highlights and I can’t condense it all here.  So, I’ll have to do an extra post to share some of the sights.

That was a quick snap shot of the trip.  I hope you enjoyed the pictures!

xo, Maria

grilled pizza with chorizo and olives

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I was watching the Food Network the other day and was inspired by two different shows, The Pioneer Woman and Bobby Flay.  Bobby Flay always makes grilling anything seem so effortless and delicious.  The Pioneer Woman has great classic family recipes that don’t ever disappoint.  Ree from Pioneer Woman was making an olive cheese bread and Bobby was grilling pizza.  I had a moment of inspiration and combined the two to create this recipe.  I thought that chorizo would be a good combination with olives (plus Mike loves chorizo).  Win, win because he liked it.  Yay!

I have to admit that this was my first attempt at grilling pizza and even though it came out ok…it was almost a disaster!  I have a few tips just in case you attempt to do this.  So, keep reading…

Inspired by Pioneer Woman’s Olive Cheese Bread and Bobby Flay’s Grilled Pizza with Hot Sausage

Ingredients

  • Pizza Dough (both Publix and Trader Joes carries pizza dough)
  • Sliced Chorizo – one small package
  • Mexican Blend Cheese – 4 ounce package
  • Roma Tomato – I used just one very thinly sliced
  • Green Olives – large handful
  • Black Olives – large handful
  • Garlic – one to two cloves minced
  • Butter – 1/4 tablespoon room temperature
  • Olive Oil – just to drizzle
  • Pepper (optional)

Directions

  • Let the dough rest at room temperature for at least half an hour.  An hour is really best, but if you’re pressed for time half an hour should do.
  • Preheat the grill to 325.
  • Mince all the olives and garlic.
  • Combine butter, a drizzle of olive oil, garlic, and half the olives in a food processor.  Process until butter is combined.  The softer the butter, the easier this step will be.
  • Roll out the dough to desired thickness (the thinner the pizza the less cooking time).
  • Baste both sides of the pizza with olive oil.
  • Slather the olive, garlic, butter mixture on the top of the pizza.
  • Top pizza with the chorizo, cheese, olives, tomato, and drizzle with a little more olive oil.
  • Place pizza either directly on the grill or on a pizza pan.
  • Grill about 15-25 minutes depending on thickness of pizza.  Keep an eye on it because the crust can burn quickly!

The trick is to get the grill at a low enough temperature to cook the crust slowly.  My grill was too hot and I nearly burned the pizza!  I had to finish the pizza in the oven because the dough hadn’t fully cooked.  It was still raw and doughy inside.  Another alternative, if you want to play it safe, is to pre-cook the pizza in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350 and then finish it off on grill.  Oh and don’t skip basting! Basting the bottom of the pizza with olive oil gives it a crunchy crust.  I wish you could see it in the pictures because the crust looked like it was straight from a pizzeria.

Enjoy! Buen Provecho!

xo, Maria

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watermelon feta bites…

 

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I’m trying to enjoy these last days of summer by sitting on the patio in the evenings while it’s still light outside.  What better way to cool off then by having a refreshing snack?  Watermelon has always been one of my favorite treats because it reminds of summer vacations by the beach.  I remember eating sweet juicy watermelon while sitting on white sandy beaches.

  So, today I’m sharing a healthful recipe that enhances the sweet flavor of watermelon.  These little bites with balsamic sauce were amazing.  I loved how fresh and light they tasted and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did.  The recipe is so simple!  Although I made them as a snack yesterday, I can see this recipe being the hit of any party.

Ingredients

  • Fresh watermelon cut into cubes or circles
  • Feta cut into cubes
  • Fresh mint
  • Black olives
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sugar (optional)

Directions

  • Simply cut the water melon and feta into small cubes (or circles).  Place a mint leave between each layer and finish off with another mint leaf and a black olive.  To hold them together place a small skewer through all the layers.
  • For the balsamic sauce, place half a cup of balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan over medium to high heat.  Once the vinegar begins to boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the desired consistency is reached; 5 minutes for a runny consistency or closer to 10-15 for a thick glaze.  I add a few tablespoons of sugar as the vinegar is reducing but this step is optional.  When finished reducing, just drizzle the sauce over top of the watermelon bites right before serving.

Enjoy!  Buen Provecho!

xo, Maria

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