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Adventures in early literacy


Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

This delectable dabbling comes from a cookbook called ‘wichcraft by Tom Colicchio. Check the book out at your local library. You might even decide to buy it if you love sandwiches as much as I do. There are some really amazing looking things in this book, but being a sweets junkie I opted for the back of the book-desserts. It was a tough decision between the chocolate sandwich cookies and the peanut butter ones, but in the end chocolate won out.

Because our grocery stores are void of cocoa nibs I had to alter the recipe right off the bat. Plus, the recipe calls for 65% cocoa bittersweet chocolate and our store only sells 60%. Not a big deal, though. It will sub straight across and unless you have a palette refined for chocolate you will never know the difference. You can also sub with semisweet chocolate (maybe add 1/4 tsp of unsweetened for a richer flavor).
The cocoa nibs were harder. For starters, I had NO idea what they were. According to the book they are little pieces of roasted cacao beans. Well, I’m fresh out of those and wanting to keep with the idea of adding a bit of extra crunch, I experimented with coffee beans and chocolate. In a coffee grinder place a Tbsp of bittersweet chocolate chips and about Tbsp ground coffee (I used a dark roast). Grind it up until it is a powder.

Now, in a stand mixer or large mixing bowl place 1 and 1/2 sticks of softened unsalted butter (just nuke it for about 20 seconds to get it soft) and the powder you just made. Mix with 2/3 cup brown sugar (dark or light) and 2/3 cup granulated sugar until everything is well mixed.

Next, in a double boiler, if you have one, or in a small pan on very low heat, melt 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. Add 1 tsp vanilla to the melted chocolate and add the whole mixture to your sugar mixture.

Now for the dry ingredients: 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup cocoa powder. Mix these all together and then add the mixture to your wet mixture until you have a smooth dough. Chill in the freezer for about 5 minutes (I forgot this step and they turned out fine).

On your countertop spread parchment paper or wax paper to cover a fairly large area. Plop the dough down on the paper. Top the dough with another layer of paper. Now get out your rolling pin and whack the dough until you no longer feel any stress about your life. Wait! I mean, gently roll the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough into about 2.5 inch rounds and place onto an ungreased cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart. Bake them for 12-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Gather any leftover dough and roll it out again, cut more cookies, and bake more cookies. Place cookies on a baking rack or a paper bag to cool.

Cooling Cookies

While cookies are cooling, make your filling:

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped–seriously, the finer, the easier it is to melt)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup heavy cream

Place chocolate , salt, and butter in a bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan, or in the microwave just until it boils. Don’t overheat it or it will scorch. Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter to melt the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Lay half of the cookies with the pretty side facing down. Using a spoon (or a piping bag if you have one) pour filling onto the cookies.

Half Way Done

Complete the sandwich with the other half of the cookies. Voila! You just made sandwich cookies. They look store bought and super fancy! If you don’t plan to eat them right away store them in the fridge, or some other cool place.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies


Cake Balls

Now don’t go getting your mind in the gutter. This is not like something you would find in Voodoo Donuts. But they are still totally amazing in my completely unbiased opinion.

The recipe is so simple unless you decide to make it harder (and better):

1 cake from a cake mix

1 can prepared frosting

almond bark or dipping chocolate to cover the balls

Bake the cake according to the directions on the box and let it cool. Once it is cool dump it into a large bowl (don’t skimp on the bowl or you’ll be sorry) and crumble it up. Now dump in the frosting and stir the two together until you have a workable “batter”. Using a melon baller or something similar scoop the batter out of the bowl, form it into a ball and place it on a cookie sheet or wax paper. After you have rolled all the balls I like to refrigerate them for at least an hour so the stiffen up and are easier to dip. Melt your dipping chocolate and dip the balls into the chocolate using a toothpick, or if you are more talented than I, use a fork. After you have dipped all the balls use the remaining chocolate to fill in the hole on top, caused by the toothpick and drizzle some on top for decoration if you like. That’s it! Told you it was easy.

Now, if you want everything to be totally homemade here are the recipes I used for amazing raspberry chocolate balls. 

Chocolate cake (from an old Hershey’s cookbook):

3/4 cup butter (softened)

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 2/3 cups water

Cream butter and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 1 minute at medium speed (3 on a stand mixer). Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; add alternately with water to creamed mixture. Pour batter into greased pans. You can use two 8 or 9 inch layer pans or one 12×9 pan (I used the bigger pan).  Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool before dumping into a bowl and adding frosting.

Raspberry cream cheese frosting: see original recipe here

8 oz (1 package) cream cheese

1 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup raspberry preserves

2 tsp raspberry flavoring or 2 Tbsp Raspberry Chambord liquor

2 lbs powdered sugar, or enough to get your desired consistency

Beat cream cheese and butter and light and airy. Mix in preserves and flavoring until evenly blended. Add sugar until you reach the desired consistency and taste.

Dipping chocolate:

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/8 lb paraffin wax (Gulf Wax, Parowax or some other kind of wax from the baking isle)

Melt the chocolate and wax on low heat until it is very runny. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting just to keep the chocolate hot, but so it won’t burn. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking or burning.

This isn’t a really great picture, but you get the idea. You can see pictures where people have really spent lots of time decorating them by googling “cake balls”.

Cake Balls


Mother’s Day, Charbroiled Burgers and the best Chocolate Chip Cookies

There was no post last week because for Mother’s Day my Mom and I met up in Seattle for a girl’s day out. Something we haven’t done for a long time. We spent Sunday in Seattle Center and in the Queen Anne area shopping (the Marketplace there is awesome and has really nummy gelato) and eating. We checked out Easy Street Records, my new favorite store, and picked up several great CD’s to jam with on the drive home. If you love music and haven’t been to this place you have to go. Before we shopped we ate lunch at Racha Noodles and Thai Cuisine. Probably the best Thai I have ever eaten. I had Pud Thai and Mom had the Racha Special dish with spinach, wide noodles and chicken breast, all topped with peanut sauce (her fav). She had the Racha Special to drink and it was so beautiful. See pictures below! 

Crab and Cream Cheese filled appetizer

Racha Special

Racha Special

Pud Thai

After lunch and shopping we headed to the fountain by Key Arena to wait for the James Taylor/Carole King concert to start. We really enjoyed watching the kids play in the water and attempting to do some self shots (inspired by Eliza, of course). Then we headed in to the arena. The concert was amazing! Mom had seen James Taylor before so it might not have been as mind-blowing to her as it was to me. I was just taken aback by how fantastic these legends still are! No offense James and Carole, but you’re no spring chickens, but you still got it!!! BIG TIME! 

Mom and Me at the Fountain

After the concert we were hungry (no WAY we were going to spend money in the arena-robbers, all of them!) so on a recommendation from the hotel desk clerk we headed across the lake to Joey’s. Salad, nachos, and a drink for each of us really hit the spot. We walked back to the hotel and crashed (I did at least-Mom was coughing all night so I don’t see how she got any sleep, poor thing). Monday morning we got up and headed in search of breakfast. We ended up at 14 Carrot Cafe in Eastlake for biscuits and gravy and huevos rancheros. SO good! Very non-traditional versions of things, but a must try! After breakfast we headed home. Sad. 😦 It was such a fantastic weekend we’re going to have to make it a tradition.  

14 Carrot Cafe

Biscuits and Gravy

Huevos Rancheros

14 Carrot Cafe Library

Now on to charbroiled burgers and chocolate chip cookies.  After a grueling day of yard saling (if you could even call it that) we decided to fire up the charcoal grill and grill burgers on it for the first time. I’m the burger queen, according to Kev so he prepped the grill and I did the rest. It was actually a lot easier than grilling on propane and so much tastier. The store didn’t have any good ground turkey when we were there so we got organic ground beef instead. A special treat. 🙂 I mixed about 1/2 tsp garlic and onion medley, 1/4 tsp seasoning salt, 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper, and about 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce into the meat before making them patties. I sprinkled a little cayenne pepper on Kev’s patty since he likes a little heat. Once the grill was ready to go (Kev insists I mention how impatient I am waiting for the grill to be ready) I cooked the burgers for about 5 minutes on one side, then flipped them and cooked them about 4 minutes on the other side, putting cheese on top about 2 minutes before they were done.  They were actually a little too done so next time I’ll cook them 4 minutes on one side, flip them and cook them 3 or 4 minutes on the next side, putting the cheese on as soon as I flip them. Regardless of the done-ness the taste was awesome! Kev topped his with sweet onions, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. Mine was topped with barbecue sauce. Simple. 

Cheeseburgers right off the grill

After dinner I whipped up a batch of my all time favorite chocolate chip cookies. I don’t think I’ve ever given out the recipe here, but they are too good to keep to myself. The recipe actually comes from a kids cookbook book called the Alpha Bakery which is, amazingly, still available from Amazon. It is a cookbook I can highly recommend if you have kids, or even if you don’t. When I was baking as a little kid this was pretty much the only cookbook I used for cookies and lemon bars (it is by far the best lemon bar recipe).  Anyway, here’s the cookie recipe from it: 

1/2 cup brown sugar 

1/2 cup white sugar 

2/3 cup butter, softened (it is very important to soften the butter, not melt it in order to get the perfect consistency) 

1 egg 

1 1/2 cups flour 

1/2 tsp baking soda 

1/2 tsp salt 

6 oz. chocolate chips (1/2 a bag) 

Mix both sugars, the butter and the egg with a wooden spoon until they are creamed together. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. The dough will be very stiff (if you are feeling a little wimpy you can throw this all in your stand mixer to make it easier on yourself-if you want to build some arm muscles skip the mixer). Add the chips. Drop spoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet and make for 9-12 minutes, or until they are light brown on top. Don’t wait until they are darker brown because they will cook more on the sheet when you take them out and you don’t want to overdo them. When you take them out let them cool on the sheet for a minute before removing them to a cookie rack or a brown paper bag to cool. This recipe is so easy and so perfect it is the only one I will ever use. If you aren’t completely satisfied when you make them I will personally mail you a batch. 🙂 

This should give you enough reading for a while! The Maine trip blog is still in the works-there are lots of pictures to add! By the time I post it you will have forgotten we ever took the trip. 😉 

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Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Worth a try, but not my personal favorite. Kev and I both prefer a lighter pound cake. This one literally weighs a pound. It is very dense and should not be consumed after a very large dinner. Seriously.

It was really tasty with strawberries and a chocolate ganache, though. Of course, anything would be good with strawberries and a chocolate ganache…

Here’s the recipe:

Not a lot of different ingredients, but huge amounts of the ones used. This is the first time I have ever used 6 eggs in a dessert! The unique aspect of the recipe is its use of cream cheese. It really does make a difference in the denseness of the cake. Anyway, here’s how it’s done:

If you have one, pull out your kitchenaid mixer now. Otherwise get the hurkinest (so a word) bowl you own and an equally hurky (okay, that might be pushing it) mixing spoon. Dump in 3 sticks of softened unsalted butter and an 8 oz. package of cream cheese. Mix it until they are creamy. Then add 3 cups of white sugar and the 6 eggs (2 at a time) and mix well. Add 3 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 tsp vanilla and mix even better. 

The recipe says to pour it into a tube pan. I’d say more like “spread”. The batter is really thick so I really had to squish it into my bundt pan and even after trying my darndest to get it all even one side ended up with more batter than the other so my cake was lopsided. 😦 Anyway, after you get the stuff in the pan put it in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour. Check it to see if it’s done. If not, stick in there for another 10-20 minutes.

Drizzle chocolate ganache (1 cup boiling heavy cream poured over 8 oz. choc. chips) over it and serve with strawberries or raspberries, or just sprinkle on some powdered sugar and enjoy!

That’s it! Easy as pie. Or pound cake.

P.S. Maine trip blog on its way…stay tuned.

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Chocolate Cookies-first made up recipe!

Last night I got really brave. I was going to use that bravery to cut my hair off, but no salons in Vancouver had openings. So, I decided to create my own cookie recipe instead. It seems like all the chocolate cookie recipes I try turn out too soft and caky for my tastes. I want a nice, crisp chocolate cookie. After I mixed my batter and it tasted good I did a test bake. They came out a little flat, although if I had made them smaller they would have been perfect for biscuit-like cookies. So I added a little more flour and tried again. Success!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie


3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup butter, softened

1 egg

Mix these ingredients in a mixer or a bowl with a wooden spoon.


1/4 cup baking cocoa

1 1/3 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

Mix until all dry ingredients are completely incorporated. If you want plain chocolate cookies you can drop spoonfuls on a cookie sheet now. You can also add chocolate chips, or anything else you like and then put them on the cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 375.

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Cherry Pie

It has been a really long time since I’ve made a pie. I used to be pretty good at it in my early teens, but after a bout of failed crusts I walked away in search of easier things to make. This weekend I faced my fears and made a crust. The problem with making a pie crust is that shortening has trans fat in it unless you can find some in the refrigerated section. We don’t have room in our fridge for anything else so I opted to make a butter crust. It was super easy and I’m not really sure why I was so scared to begin with!

Basically you only need 3 ingredients: flour (all-purpose), salt, and butter. You need water too, but hopefully that isn’t something you have to go to the store for. I searched my recipe box for a butter crust recipe from my grandma or Aunt Lu, but all the recipes I found had shortening in them. So off to Allrecipes I went:

Put the 1 1/4 cups flour in a bowl and mix with the 1/4 tsp salt. Drop in 1/2 cup diced, chilled butter. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. I didn’t have all-purpose flour so I used self-rising and the same amounts of everything else and it worked fine. Add the 1/4 cup of ice water one Tbsp at a time, mixing after each Tbsp is added. Continue adding water until dry ingredients are moistened. I ended up adding about 1 Tbsp more water than the recipe called for.  After the water is added, ball up the dough in the bowl (you may have to knead one or two times to get all dry bits incorporated) and place the ball in saran wrap. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

After refrigerating the crust, split it into two parts. Roll out one part on a well floured surface (the dough will get sticky because of the butter so flouring your hands and counter is important) for the bottom crust and press into the bottom of a 9″ pie pan.  Pour filling into the bottom pie crust. Roll out the top crust and place on top of the filling. Pinch the edges of the top and bottom crusts together to bind them.

For the filling I used dark sweet cherries from the frozen section at the grocery store since cherries are not in season. Other than that I followed the directions exactly and it turned out wonderfully!

Fresh Cherry Pie

Flaky Crust

Must Have Ice Cream


Easter Cooking

Creamed Eggs and Biscuits, Kevin Style

After hunting for and finding all the eggs and york peppermint patties my fantastic hubby hid for me, I got cracking on our traditional Easter breakfast: Creamed Eggs over Biscuits. My family has eaten this meal every Easter for as long as I can remember. The last couple of years I have cheated and used canned biscuits. However, since then we have learned all about the crap in canned biscuits so we refuse to purchase them any more. So, I called my mom and asked her for her biscuit recipe. Turns out, she uses the one in the Joy. You can find it under Biscuits, Rolled in the index.  Or, just follow these simple instructions:

Ingredients: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 5 or 6 Tbsp chilled unsalted butter, diced, 3/4 cup milk

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Use a pastry blender or fork to cut in diced butter. Work the butter until the chunks are pretty small and all pieces are coated in flour. Add the milk all at once and stir until most of the mixture is moistened. Make a ball with the dough and knead it against the side of the bowl a few times to pick up all the extra little bits of flour in the bottom and on the sides of the bowl. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick, or thicker if you like bigger biscuits. Cut out biscuits with your favorite cutter and place on a cookie sheet. Bake the biscuits at 400 for 10-12 minutes, or until they are golden brown on top.

Wasn’t that easy?  Hopefully you aren’t all reading this going “No way I’m every trying that!” because it really is easy and homemade biscuits taste so much better than canned. Not to mention the chemicals you are saving your family from, and the garbage you will not contribute to the landfill. Need I go on? I didn’t think so. 🙂

Now for the gravy, which is equally as easy. You need 5 or 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped up, if you do creamed eggs. You can just have biscuits and gravy by leaving out the eggs.  To make the white gravy melt 2 Tbsp butter in a small pan. Whisk in 2 Tbsp of seasoned flour (if you have it) and after the butter and flour are mixed whisk in 1 cup of milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer and stir until gravy gets to desired thickness. What really makes this gravy special is the seasoned flour my granny sends me from Kentucky. It’s just perfectly seasoned.  AFter your gravy has thickened, stir in your eggs until they are coated in gravy and pour over biscuits. Then stuff your face and remember to only make it once a year or you will be the size of a sumo wrestler in no time. 😉

Now I have a cherry pie in the oven, but that’s for another blog.

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S’mores Bars

This is a super easy, very rich, but very delicious dessert. Not as nice as sitting around a campfire making s’mores, but if you are city bound like we are, this is the next best thing. It’s so easy kids will love making it, too.

S'mores Bars

Here’s the recipe.

Here is the basic run down:

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Butter a 13×9 baking dish. Make a graham crackers crust using 1 cup melted butter, 1/3 cup sugar, about 3 cups graham cracker crumbs (2 of the packages of graham crackers inside a box-grind ’em up in a food processor). Press half the graham cracker crust into the pan. On top of this pour a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips (or you could do a layer of milk chocolate bars or chips). On top of the chips pour 3 cups of marshmallows, or more if you really like them. Sprinkle the rest of the graham cracker crust on top of the marshmallows and press down with a spatula. Stick it in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the marshmallows are melted. If you want to eat it hot you will have to use a spoon as it is really messy. You can let it cool completely in order to eat it as a bar, but personally I think the mess is half the fun!

Told you it was easy. 🙂

On another note, we cleaned out our guest room last night. More than twice Kevin looked at me and said “Kendra. You have a problem.” And he was usually looking at a random box of random craft stuff, some of it dating back to the early nineties. There were more bags of yarn than any one woman should probably have, in addition to five or six bags and boxes of gift wrap, gift bags, tissue paper, and ribbon. It looks like I’m going to have to start crafting. Maybe I’ll blog on that too…


Crepes, Crepes, and More Crepes!

Yep, that’s right. We ate crepes three times (actually I ate them four times!) the last two days. On Sunday morning we went to breakfast with some friends from Seattle and I had super delicious apple crepes. As soon as we got home I knew crepes would be the challenge for this weekend. Since we ate them at a cafe in Santa Monica I have been dreaming of crepes filled with ham and cheese followed by one filled with chocolate and strawberries. First, though, I had to learn how to make the actual crepes. Luckily crepes don’t require any strange ingredients so we didn’t have to go to the store first.

Here’s how to do it:

In a large bowl whisk together: 4 eggs, 1 1/3 cup milk, 2 Tbsp melted butter, 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt.  Whisk until smooth. If you are having a hard time getting rid of lumps you can transfer the batter to a blender and mix it that way. Or, just mix the whole thing in the blender to start with!

Heat a medium sized skillet (one with low edges) or a crepe pan, lightly greased with a little butter, over medium heat.  Spoon a small amount (about 4 Tbsp) of batter into the skillet. Tilt the pan so the batter spreads out across the bottom of the pan. You have to do this fairly quickly because the batter starts to cook pretty fast. Cook the crepes until they are light golden brown on each side, about 1 minute on each side.

Cooking Crepe

Monday morning we ended up spreading raspberry jam on them with a little sprinkling of powdered sugar. It was really tasty! After dinner (delicious flank steak from Trader Joe’s) I made a chocolate ganache (1/2 cup milk brought to a boil in the microwave and them poured over half a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and whisked until smooth) and chopped up some strawberries.  Then I cooked up some more crepes and filled them with chocolate and strawberries. When I say they tasted like heaven, I’m not exaggerating. So yummy I dreamt of them last night.

Ganache and Strawberries


Inside of the Crepe

Finished Dessert Crepes

Before I made the chocolate and strawberry crepes I made miniature Key Lime Pies. Isn’t this one cute!?

Mini Key Lime Pie

I still had some crepe batter left over so I covered it with saran wrap and stuck it in the fridge (you can keep it like this for about 2 days). This morning I heated some smoked ham from the deli and grated some monterey cheese to fill the remaining crepes. Oh so good!

Ham and Cheese Crepe

If you are ever in need of a quick, easy meal I can highly recommend whipping up some crepes and filling them with whatever kind of yummy stuff you have around. You won’t be disappointed!

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Chicken Marsala…for weeknight cooking? Yes!

Tonight Kev is sick so I decided to force him to rest and make dinner myself. I’ve been wanting to make Chicken Marsala for a while and didn’t realize how simple it actually was. It always looks so fancy! I started cooking about 6:20 and we ate about 7:15. Not too bad for the first time I’ve every made something, if you ask me! It would probably look a lot nicer on the plate if you added some asparagus or a sprig of parsley, but we didn’t have either. Oh well, how it looks isn’t the most important thing for Thursday night dinner.

Chicken Marsala and Pasta

Basically, roll your chicken (I had 6 tenders) in this flour mixture: 1/8 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp oregano (or more if you like it a lot). In a large skillet melt 4 Tbsp butter in 4 Tbsp olive oil. Lightly brown one side of the chicken in the oil. Flip the chicken and add about 1 cup sliced mushrooms (fresh makes all the difference), 1/2 cup marsala wine and 1/4 cup cooking sherry. Put a lid on your skillet and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes, turning the chicken half way through. That’s it! You have chicken marsala. How easy is that? Because chicken seems pretty sad by itself I cooked up some angel hair pasta and dressed with my made up pasta sauce: a few Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter, 3 cloves of pressed garlic, 1 tsp parsley. Toss the pasta in the sauce and then add some freshly grated parmesan to the top. Yum.

This is the recipe I followed, although not exactly. Instead of pounding chicken breasts thin I just used chicken tenders. Either way apparently works because this dish was really tasty! I really love the gravy-like smooth and creamy consistency.