Peppermint Mocha Cookies

These treats taste just like the classic wintertime coffee drink, but in cookie form!peppermint_mocha_cookies4Do you like grabbing a Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks?  If you said “yes”, then you’ll love these cookies.

These cookies are better than they have any right to be.  They’re fudgy and full of mini chocolate chips, and are flavored with cooling peppermint extract and bold dark roast instant coffee.  A little white chocolate and crushed candy canes are the cherry on top of the sundae, so to speak.peppermint_mocha_cookies7I can’t stop eating them, and frankly it’s getting to be a little problematic.  It’s a good thing that I can bring them to work and pawn them off on the folks in the lab.

Add them to your holiday cookie tray, bake them for a cookie swap, or just bake up a batch for some friends.  You will not be disappointed.peppermint_mocha_cookies3

This recipe comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I doubled the recipe listed on her blog.  Because, more cookies.

You’ll need (makes 36-40 cookies):

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder/instant coffee, and salt.  Set the bowl aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together for a few minutes, until they are light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, allowing for each egg to incorporate completely, and add the vanilla and peppermint extracts.

Little by little, add the dry ingredients to the wet, on low speed.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the mini chocolate chips.  Turning the speed up a bit higher helps to incorporate them throughout the thick, sticky dough.

Next, you’re going to want to chill the dough.  This is important.   If you don’t chill the dough, the cookies will spread waaay too much.  Trust.  Anyway, cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap (you can chill it right in the bowl of the stand mixer, or transfer to another bowl if you want.  Chill the dough for at least 3 hours, and up to overnight.  I opted for overnight.

Once you’re ready to bake the cookies, after appropriately chilling the dough, let the dough sit out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.  While the dough warms up a little, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop and roll cookie dough into 1.5 tbs-sized balls balls.  Place them on the baking sheets, leaving a couple of inches between cookies.

Bake the cookies for 9-10 minutes.  The cookies will look pretty soft in the middle, and that’s okay.  Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes or so before removing them to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Once the cookies have cooled, melt the white chocolate.  Dip the cookies into the chocolate, or drizzle chocolate over the cookies, and sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

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Peppermint Mocha Cookies | A Nerd Cooks

Herbed Kale and Sausage Dressing

This has been my go-to dressing for the past couple of years. It’s savory, herby, and makes for excellent leftovers.Kale and Italian Sausage Dressing | A Nerd Cooks

Can we talk about the stuffing vs. dressing terminology for just a second?  I have a hard time calling anything “dressing”, and almost always want to say “stuffing”.  This is probably due, in part, to me growing up in Pennsylvania, where I don’t think think that “dressing” is part of our Thanksgiving food-related lexicon.

However, I realize that anything of this nature that’s cooked in a pan is called “dressing”, while stuffing is technically stuffed into the cavity of the turkey, and cooked that way.  But, let’s be honest, the concept of stuffing is actually pretty disgusting.  The innermost stuffing rarely has a chance to come up to a high enough temperature to be safe to eat.  Enjoy that holiday meal with a side of gastrointestinal distress.

Anyway… I suppose we should attempt to be as correct as possible here.  So, “dressing” it is.

Even though Thanksgiving has come and gone, this dressing would make a lovely addition to your table for Christmas dinner.  Or anytime you feel like eating a ton of carbs, really.  The leftovers are fantastic, too.  Heat them up in the oven, microwave, or in a skillet.  Enjoy as is or top with a runny egg (breakfast/brunch, anyone?).  Perfection.

Kale and Italian Sausage Dressing | A Nerd Cooks

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This recipe comes from the blog Kitchen Konfidence.

You’ll need:

  • 3/4 lb loaf of good quality ciabatta or French bread
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 2 lbs mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tbs fresh basil, chopped (or 1 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1 tbs fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1 tsp fresh sage, chopped (or 1/4 tsp dried)

If making the stuffing to be served immediately, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  If you’re making this dressing a day ahead of time, don’t bother preheating.

Cut or tear the bread into bite-sized cubes.  Place it in a shallow baking dish and drizzle with the milk to saturate. Let it sit for 30 minutes, gently tossing things around occasionally to ensure that the bread is soaking up the milk uniformly.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the sausage and cook through, crumbling as it cooks. Stir in the onion, celery, parsley, and garlic.  Add a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Cook until the onion and celery begin to soften, stirring occasionally.

Add the kale, 1/2 cup of water and another pinch of kosher salt. Cook until the kale wilts.  This should take about 5 minutes.

Transfer the bread to a large bowl.  Add the sausage and kale mixture to the bowl along with the parmesan cheese, basil, rosemary, sage, 2 pinches of salt and several turns of black pepper. Gently toss the mixture until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.  Give the dressing a taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.  Transfer the dressing to a 9×13-inch baking dish.

This dressing can be made a day ahead of time (one of my favorite things about this recipe, TBH) and refrigerated until you’re ready to bake it.

Whenever you’re ready to bake and eat the dressing, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake uncovered until hot (at least 150 degrees in the center) and lightly browned.  This should take about half an hour.

 

Double Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes

These cupcakes have the texture of brownies and are intensely chocolate-y . Frosted with chocolate buttercream and decorated with mini chocolate chips, these cupcakes are a chocoholic’s dream.Double Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes | A Nerd Cooks

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I made these super chocolate-y cupcakes for Sean’s birthday, which he celebrated last week.  He’s a pretty serious chocolate lover.  Check out this epic chocolate cake I made for him a couple of years ago.  These cupcakes seemed like a fitting choice for his birthday this year.

Double Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes | A Nerd CooksNot only was it Sean’s birthday, but he turned 30!  I managed (with help, of course) to arrange for three of our good friends and some of his family to come down to Durham to visit for the weekend.  He had no idea that anything was happening, and was completely surprised.

After the surprise visitors arrived, we went to the Hurricanes-Canadiens game, and then had a party at our house the day after.  I made these cupcakes for the party.Double Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes | A Nerd Cooks

The recipe for these brownie cupcakes, along with the basis for the buttercream frosting recipe, comes from Joy the Baker’s 2nd cookbook.

You’ll need:

For the cupcakes (makes 12) –

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a muffin tin with paper or foil liners and set aside.

Put the butter and dark chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water).  Stir the butter and chocolate together until they are completely melted and combined.  Whisk in the brown sugar and vanilla extract.  Remove from the heat, set aside, and allow it to cool slightly.

After the chocolate mixture has cooled just a bit, whisk in the eggs one at a time, making sure that they are each thoroughly combined before adding another.  Whisk in the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Fold in the dark chocolate chips.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin tins.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick, when inserted into the center, comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

For the buttercream frosting (makes more than you’ll likely need for 12 cupcakes) –

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tbs milk/heavy cream
  • mini chocolate chips, for decorating (optional)

Add the softened butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat it on medium for about 1 minute.

While the butter is being beaten, whisk together the cocoa powder and powdered sugar.

Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar/cocoa powder mixture, the salt, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed until the powdered sugar is incorporated.

Add another 2 cups of the powdered sugar.  Beat on low speed, and add the additional 1 cups of sugar as needed to thicken the frosting.  Use the milk/heavy cream to thin things out as needed.

Once the frosting is as stiff as you’d like it to be, beat it on medium speed for about 4 minutes, or until the frosting is fluffy and smooth.

Frost the cooled cupcakes and decorate with mini chocolate chips, if desired.

Double Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes | A Nerd Cooks

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A Nerd Travels: Charleston, SC

I haven’t blogged about travel in a while.  Probably because I haven’t really gone anywhere since heading to Palm Springs for CPDD over the summer.  This is just now striking me as a little depressing.  At any rate…

Almost a month ago, Sean and I spent a long weekend in Charleston, SC.  Neither of us had ever been, and we were in desperate need of a trip that didn’t involve holiday-related travel.  Luckily Charleston is only about 4 hours away from Durham.  So, we used Airbnb (first time; definitely using it again!), hopped in the car with Maeby, and went.

The focus of the trip was on relaxation, so we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do.  But we’ll be back.  While we were there, we ate a lot of amazing food and did some exploring.

We spent an afternoon at Folly Beach.  We ate a fantastic brunch (Lost Dog Cafe ftw), walked on the beach, and took a short hike out to the Morris Island Lighthouse.

A Nerd Travels | Charleston, SCA Nerd Travels | Charleston, SCA Nerd Travels | Charleston, SC

We had a small houseguest with us in the cute little bungalow we rented, too.  He hung out on the blinds, minding his own business, for two days.  I eventually scooped him up and set him outside.A Nerd Travels | Charleston, SC

After another delicious brunch at Fat Hen (thanks for the recommendation, Megan!), we also saw the Angel Oak: a big ass, super old tree.  It’s 500 years old!  It was beautiful and very impressive.A Nerd Travels | Charleston, SCA Nerd Travels | Charleston, SC

All in all, we had a really fun time.  The city is vibrant and charming, with beautiful architecture.  The food was pretty incredible.  We were able to recharge our batteries while exploring a new city.  We will definitely be back.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup – Updated!

This soup is healthy, delicious, and filling.  A vegetarian recipe that’s easily made vegan by omitting the cheese!Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd CooksThis post may contain affiliate links.

It’s cold and rainy today in Durham.  And by “cold” I mean “in the 50s.”  Because evidently living here for a year has drastically altered my perception of the temperature outside.Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd CooksAt any rate, it’s the perfect day for soup.  Soup + snuggling up on the couch with your favorite furry friend.

Kale and butternut squash are so, so good together.  Check out this healthy Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad, along with these cute Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies for more delicious examples.

I’ve made this soup many times before, and blogged about it way back when.  It’s so delicious that I felt it was deserving of a facelift.  In addition to being very good, it’s pretty healthy, too.  So don’t feel bad about going back for a second bowl.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd Cooks

You’ll need:

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbs fresh rosemary, minced
  • 8 to 10 oz. kale, de-stemmed and cut into ribbons
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 6 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 15 oz. can white beans (cannellini or great northern), drained
  • parmesan cheese, grated (optional, but highly recommended)

Add the olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (I have one just like this, and it’s been great over the past 5 years) over medium-high heat.  Cook the onions, garlic, and rosemary until the onions are translucent.

Add the kale and cook until it begins to wilt.  Add the cubed squash and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the broth, salt, and pepper.  Bring the soup to a simmer and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Once the squash is tender, use a spoon to smash some of the squash against the side of the pot.  This will help thicken the soup.  Add the can of beans and simmer for 5-10 minutes more.

Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings as necessary.  Ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd Cooks

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Butternut Squash, Kale, & White Bean Soup is healthy, filling, and delicious!

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars

These bars have it all. They are full of sweet and salty caramel, spicy cinnamon, and sweet-tart apples.Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars | A Nerd Cooks

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For my birthday this year, I picked up a few new cookbooks.  One of them was the Cookies & Cups Cookbook.  Though I’ve salivated over many a thing in Shelly’s lovely book, I’ve made Key Lime Pie Cookies and these amazing apple pie bars.  Both undisputed winners.  I can’t wait to keep cooking and baking my way through this cookbook.

These bars are out of control good.  The salted caramel and tart Granny Smith apples are perfect for one another.  They’re perfect for enjoying some really classic Fall flavors.  And, let’s face it, the near-obscene amount of butter in these bars doesn’t hurt, either.  Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe is modified slightly from the one found in the Cookies & Cups cookbook.

You’ll need:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • 14 oz (about 55 pieces) soft caramels (like these ones), unwrapped
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbs flaked sea salt
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced*

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with parchment paper, lightly coat with cooking spray, and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour and cinnamon.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and mix well.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour little by little until the dough just comes together.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Press half of the dough into the bottom of the prepared baking dish in an even layer.  Reserve the other half of the dough for later.  You can wrap it in plastic wrap and stash it in the refrigerator.

Bake the base for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden brown.  Place the baking dish on a wire rack and allow it to cool almost completely.**

When the bottom crust is nearly cool, you can start making the caramel sauce.  In a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine the unwrapped caramels and heavy cream.  Stir frequently until the caramel is melted and smooth.  Pour it over the cooled bottom crust in an even layer.

Sprinkle the sea salt (seriously, I’m having a love affair with Maldon sea salt) over the caramel and layer the apples on top, evenly.  Overlap the apples a bit if necessary.

Take the reserved dough out of the fridge.  Crumble it onto the apples in an even layer.  You probably won’t totally cover the apples, and that’s okay.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the caramel is bubbling.

Allow the pan to cool completely before cutting it into bars.

These bars are pretty amazing no matter how you eat them.  But may I recommend reheating a bar and topping it with a little vanilla ice cream?

*I found that using one of these apple corer/slicers made the job go a lot faster.  Use one of those bad boys after peeling the apples.  Take each segment of apple and cut in half lengthwise.  Then cut each of those pieces in half again, lengthwise.

**Make sure that the base is pretty firm, and adequately cooled, before moving on.  The first time I made these bars, I was impatient.  I didn’t allow the base to cool much at all, and poured the salted caramel on top, thinking that all would be fine.  However, because the base never quite baked the whole way through, the bars didn’t retain their shape when cut.  It was still delicious, but was a bit of a sloppy mess.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars | A Nerd Cooks

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars | A Nerd Cooks

Dark Chocolate Halloween Chip Cookies

These festive cookies are the perfect sweet treat to help you celebrate Halloween!Dark Chocolate Halloween Chip Cookies | A Nerd Cooks

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These cookies are all dolled up for Halloween.  They’re made with dark cocoa powder so they’re nearly black.  PLUS they’re full of white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, peanut butter, AND orange candy baking chips.Dark Chocolate Halloween Chip Cookies | A Nerd CooksDark Chocolate Halloween Chip Cookies | A Nerd Cooks

I found this recipe on the blog House of Nash Eats.

You’ll need (yields ~3 dozen cookies):

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Nestle Halloween baking chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter baking chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure that each one is combined before adding the next.  Add the vanilla extract and mix well.

In a couple of batches, add the dry ingredients to the wet.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Mix until just combined.

Add 1 3/4 cups of the baking chips/chocolate chips, mixing until they are well distributed throughout the dough.  Reserve the remaining 1/4 cup of chips for topping the cookies.

Using a cookie scoop, or two spoons, scoop dough into 2 tbs-sized balls and place them on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each ball of dough.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until just set.

Once you remove the cookies from the oven, press some of the leftover chocolate chips into the dough.  Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Dark Chocolate Halloween Chip Cookies | A Nerd Cooks