friday links AND cookbook giveaway

Let's just get to the good stuff. There's lots of good stuff we need to click on.

Is this not the coolest clock?

I'm a leggings junkie no doubt about that. Have you seen these "Leggings in a Bag"?

Or how about these leggings from Billabong. LOVE!

Super cute dress for summer.

Crazy brownie combo that totally works. Bacon-bourbon brownies. I am so trying that one.

la102386c_0107_chalkboard_l la102386c_0107_mcenter1_l
I just love this new 'chalk board paint' craze that's going around. Martha Stewart gives a small tutorial on how to make that fabulous check board like calendar.

Want to make your own chili powder at home? I never thought of doing this, but apparently it is a LOT cheaper. From Nick at Macheesmo

Do you use parchment paper on a daily basis? Here are half-sheet parchment sheets already perfectly sized for you baking sheet. Brilliant!

The latest food craze and I love it. The Meatball Shop in NYC. A place I must go. Have you been there? Even the website is cool. Click on the little meatball slider image in corner! LOL

Dean & Deluca spice rack. It is so pretty but so expensive. I need way more than a rack to hold all my spices.

Are you throwing a party for New Years Eve? Want to learn an inexpensive way? Here are a few smart tips from thekitchn. Don't make a full meal! True.

Peanut butter smores with strawberry marshmallows AND bacon peanut brittle. Irvin is a genius at eatthelove.com

Tips and places to use coupons for organic produce? Right here.

That bow is just fabulous.

Slouchie hats are in. Love or hate?

I'll take this one too. Would be fabulous in a black & white color too.

Dear Sir Richard Branson: please hire me. I will do a fabulous blog post all about your perfect Necker Island.

Petite indoor gardens. How cute is this?

Can boot trays be made somewhat pretty? Yes they can.

Lately I've been into hats, like this one. Element Thistle hat. How cute is that?

Does your pie crust always shrink? Follow these steps--this is exactly what I do. It works.

I really want a Soda Stream. Talk about saving money on soda. What a great invention.

Extra dark brownies with fresh lime. This is new but I can definitely see why it would work well together.

Chubby Hubby Truffles! From Brown eyed baker. Heavenly.

Just in time for New Years Eve party, Heather makes a champagne mousse.

I do love the mini pie craze that's happening now. I'm all for it!

This is the backsplash I want!

This is how I should be spending my winter, right here.

Argan oil seems to be all the craze lately. Do you use it?

Now this is a fabulous way to display your travel photos. Love love!

Cherry pie shortbread bites from raspberri cupcakes. I have no words, just drool.

Pulled pork empanadas with peach bbq sauce. Clever little baker!

Pepperoni pizza monkey bread! Thanks Shawnda at confections of a foodie bride.

Giveaway! Three lucky people can win a copy of this book!

SWEETS ON A STICK is the only cookbook that provides recipes for cakes, cookies, brownies, pies, and candies that are convenient, eye-catching, and a treat to make. You will find everything from cake pops and mini pies to cookies and marshmallow kabobs. From fruity to chocolate, crunchy to smooth, there are dozens of tasty bites to tempt your taste buds.

Parents will encourage kids to play with their food when they get together to create these delicious and decadent desserts, including unique holiday creations such as:

• Coconut Christmas Wreaths
• Abominable Snowman Pops
• Gingerbread Cookie pops
• Christmas Tree Cookies

Whether its cake pops or candied fruit, this book offers a variety of treats to satisfy everyone's sweet tooth. Many of the recipes in this book make the perfect activity for a play date or party. Invite kids of all ages to make, bake, and decorate—then sit back and watch as they laugh and play with the unique results. It’s just plain fun for everyone involved, and with full-color photos and step-by-step instructions, this book is guaranteed fun for the whole family.


All you have to do to enter is leave a comment here telling me what kind of "sweets on a stick" you'd like to see.
Please also make sure to LIKE Vanilla Sugar Blog on Facebook.
And please have and SHOW a valid email address when you leave a comment.
Drawing held Friday Jan 6, 2012
Contest closed. Congrats to: Tree #8, Janet Rudolph #59 and Cake Duchess #66. Please email me your address so we can get these books out to you. CONGRATS!


quick and easy chocolate chip cookies

quick & easy cc cookies

If you're like me you hate waiting for the butter to come to room temp to make chocolate chip cookies. You want them now, not in a few hours because by then the craving for the cookies will be gone--well, maybe for some of you.
So you turn to the melted butter version of chocolate chip cookies and turns out they always turn out to be flat: thin and crispy. Which is fine, but I don't always like thin & crispy. I lean more towards the side of thick and chewy with a nice crisp outside.
After a few experiments using a basic cookie recipe from america's test kitchen or cooks county whatever they call themselves today--I found a good one using melted butter that resulted in giant, thick, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside chocolate chip cookies. It's really all about the right ratio of baking powder to flour to salt and butter. haha. But all that does make a difference if you break it down. Less flour less chewy, more butter more crisp/flakiness, and of course using good quality chocolate helps too as well as using the right kind of chocolate. If you used milk chocolate the cookie might be too sweet, so using a bittersweet won't overpower the chocolate thus making the dough flavor shine through. You all know this already..... just get to the cookie recipe already!

quick & easy cc cookies
Use an ice cream scooper for all cookie doughs. Makes the cookies nice and round and even. Use any size really, just watch the baking times if you use smaller scoops.

quick & easy cc cookies

quick & easy cc cookies

Baking times matter! Of course this is dependent on various ovens, but keep an eye on your cookies after the 10 minute mark. They burn up fast.

quick & easy chocolate chip cookies
based on America’s Test Kitchen
print recipe

2 cups plus 2 TB all-purpose flour
1/2 ts baking soda
¾ TB baking powder
¾ ts sea salt
1 and ½ sticks (12 TB) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
2 ts pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Cook notes: make sure to let the melted butter cool a bit (about 15 minutes before using). When you are ready to use the butter give it a good stir to incorporate the butter solids and fats back together.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line about 4 cookie sheets with parchment paper. I found that using milk chocolate chips were just too sweet with this dough. Using bittersweet or semi was just right. Always make sure your baking soda and baking powder are fresh; when they go stale they result in thin tasteless cookies. I love to use ice cream scoopers to make the perfect, round size cookies. I adore large cookies so I used a regular sized ice cream scoop. If you want smaller size cookies, use a smaller ice cream scoop but remember to reduce the baking time a few less minutes!

Whisk all the dry ingredients together; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, either by hand or using a mixer (I don’t have a mixer so I did this by hand) mix butter & sugars until thoroughly combined. Add in the egg and egg yolk and vanilla extract, mix well. Then add in the dry mixture, mix until just combined, do not overmix. Next FOLD in the chocolate chips (if you want to add in nuts go ahead—about 1 cup).

Using an ice cream scoop, and making sure to compact the dough in the scooper as much as possible, scoop out on baking sheets about 1 & ½ inches apart.
Bake about 11-14 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. You’ll know the cookies are done by light golden brown edges and slightly puffy middles. As soon as they turn golden brown, in a matter of minutes they turn dark, so take them out, plus they do continue to bake once out of the oven. Don’t try and take them off the cookie sheets, they will just break. Should make about 15-18 large, if using a smaller scoop then you’ll have a few more.


Merry Christmas

nauset lighthouse

I'm very blessed to have friends like you.
It truly is all of you that keep me going creating new recipes.
Your positive comments and admiration are a blessing to me.
Thank you all so very much.
Merry Christmas!



Lately the sunsets (and warm weather) here on cape cod have been amazing. This is Corporation Beach in Dennis, MA.

Hard to believe it's winter, but I'll take this weather.

Even some of my surfing buds are still catching some swells over at cape cod national seashore: nauset beach.

Wouldn't it be nice if this warm weather stayed right up until spring?

Most parts of cape cod are all closed up for the season--its like a ghost town. Nice though for long walks on the beach. Photo of Chapin Beach Conservation Land, Dennis, MA.

And of course we still get a ton of rain and fog here. Local guy clamming in Harwich, MA.

But after the rain, the sun finally comes out, and boy is it something spectacular--each and every time. This is a beautiful summer home on the beach in harwichport, ma. Wouldn't it be nice to vacation here?

Spring can't come soon enough for me.

Merry Christmas! And happy new year too!


smoked gouda and walnut shortbread

smoked gouda & walnut shortbread 6

Cheez It's. Just say those two words to me and I swoon. I know they are filled with crap and salt, but I love them. I remember reading an article about a local Boston area chef on how she opened her restaurant, how she did it, where did she get her culinary training from, you know all the usual questions, then at the end they asked her "what are your favorite-can't live without comfort foods?" She answered wine and Cheez It's! I said YES, a chef after my own heart. I love to hear what the top chefs like to snack on; most of them are just like us and need that comfort/salty stuff. I try my best to not eat a lot of Cheez It's. The creations I make with them are insane, but good. I got a ton of emails on the infamous cheez it bark and white chocolate cheez it bark. 

smoked gouda & walnut shortbread 7

Lately I've been on a quest to make my own healthier version of cheeze like crackers. Or are they called shortbread?
Years ago I made a cheddar and cranberry one--super tasty.
These gouda and walnut crackers go so well with the red pepper jelly I recently discovered at Trader Joe's. If you need a good, crispy, tasty, decadent cracker for a new years eve party or for you last minute louies for Christmas appetizers, then give these a go.
They are tasty little critters and pair perfectly with a nice cold glass of white wine.

Make sure to grate the butter and cheese for nice crisp, light cracker.

For the love, use this stuff, makes a world of difference.

Do not over-work the dough. work with your hands till just combined.
It's ok if the loaf is still crumbly--it will firm up in the fridge I promise.

Slice them nice & thin for a crispy crackers, thicker for a chewy cracker.
If knife gets sticky when slicing the dough, just wet the knife in water over and over. IMG_6628

smoked gouda & walnut savory shortbread
print recipe
1 & 1/2 sticks butter, grated and kept cold
1 1/2 cups smoked gouda cheese, grated and kept cold
1 1/2 cups white flour
About 4-5 dashes of half & half
1 ts sea salt
1 ts baking powder
½ ts black pepper
7-8 dashes of worcestershire sauce
1 cup toasted walnuts, rough chop

Cook notes: 
You could use another kind of cheese. If you do you might want to reduce the amount of salt added in. If you like crisp cookies then slice these really thin before baking. If you like chewy cookies then slice them thicker; just don’t go too thick.

In a bowl mix the butter and cheese together. Sift the flour, salt, pepper and baking powder together. Combine flour mixture with the butter and cheese mixture. Then add in the nuts. Using your hands (I found this the easiest way to get it all combined) mix it up the dough until JUST combined. Halfway through mixing add in a few dashes of half and half. Turn dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper. Roll the dough into TWO logs.
Cover in wax paper, tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. You can freeze the dough at this stage as well. If you do freeze make sure it’s wrapped really good so air does not get in there. When ready to bake; preheat oven to 375F.
Unwrap the dough log and, using a very sharp knife, slice the log into rounds 1/2 inch thick or as thin as you can. The thinner they are the more crisp; if you want chewy cookies then thicker slice. Place rounds on cookie sheets and sprinkle cookies with just a few pinches of sea salt.
Bake for 13-15 to 12 minutes; you will need to flip the cookies over halfway cooking to get the other side brown.
Bake until the bottoms and tops of the cookies are golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. Serve with red pepper jelly or other savory/sweet jelly. Store in an airtight container. They do not keep that long, maybe 3 days? Should make about 30-35 or more.


raspberry-chocolate blondies

raspberry-chocolate blondies

Do I like blondies?
I do. They're ok. I mean I like the dough better than the cooked version really. Blondies (cooked) remind me of an over-floured chocolate chip cookie. And they are a bit boring. I try to jazz em up a bit from time to time. Truly I think the best way to dress up a butter-vanilla dough is with fruit and some sort of chocolate background. As it is raspberry and chocolate are an excellent combo to begin with; to then go and house them in a buttery, chewy house just makes it all the better--no brainer really.
So these are super easy to whip up. If you still have no clue what to give as a baked good to a friend or party, these might be the one? Plus it's different--different is good when you show up to a holiday party/dinner/function right?

raspberry-chocolate blondies

raspberry chocolate blondies
print recipe

10 TB unsalted butter, room temp
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ts baking powder
3/4 ts salt
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ts pure vanilla extract
1 pint raspberries
Not even a ½ cup melted milk or semi-sweet chocolate (8 ounces or less of chips, for drizzling)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease up an 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick spray or butter or if you prefer using parchment paper then do so
In medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt, set aside.

In a glass or cup, mix the eggs and vanilla extract until combined.
In a large bowl mix the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; cream on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Then add in eggs and vanilla mixing well.

Pour batter into prepared pan; spread with a rubber spatula or wet hands.

Place the raspberries on top of batter.

Bake in oven for about 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into blondies comes out “almost” clean; okay to have a few bits of crumb on the cake tester. Cooking times vary depending on oven, so please check at 25 minute mark. Cool brownies at least an hour.
Melt the milk chocolate over a double boiler. Then drizzle over cooled brownies for decoration. Dust with confectioners' sugar before cutting into squares, optional.


hot pepper jelly candied walnuts

pepper jelly candied walnuts 2

Lots of holiday parties this time of year. And while at these holiday parties do you ever find yourself sizing up the all the dishes and trying to figure out which one belongs to which person? Do you see the same old dishes year after year and think "jeez, did that person bring that crappy dish again?". Are you as bad as I am? And put a face to each and every dish and then wait to see which person comes over to the dish to 're-organize it', 'clean it up'? Well, yes I am guilty of that. But I'm also guilty of waiting to see who belongs to the fabulous dishes too. Dying to find out who it is and ask them why this, what made you think of that? Because that means there is another foodie at the party and a good "food" conversation will surely start.
So I made these candied walnuts with the hope in mind that a few people will bite into them and then a few seconds later a gentle expression of "oh, that's different", "what's in this?". I love that part. And of course I love to answer every single ingredient query. Do you?
What's the worst party themed dish you've seen?
What's the best?

pepper jelly candied walnuts 7

These candied walnuts came about when that jar lone of peppered jelly was just sitting in the cupboard for a couple months. I did have plans to use it in a cheese/wine roll of some sort, but saw the walnuts and knew immediately what to do with it. I was hesitant at first because it doesn't make it completely candied/hardened but does lend a nice unique flavor. They are sticky but tasty.

pepper jelly candied walnuts 1

hot pepper jelly candied walnuts
print recipe

¾ cup hot pepper jelly/jam
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
2 cups walnuts (pecans would work well too)
1 egg white, room temperature

Cook notes: the nuts will be sticky after baking; they will not form a hard shell; sticky but very tasty. The pepper jelly is not that spicy at all--a gentle heat.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
In a bowl mix the hot pepper jelly with salt and Tabasco sauce. Set aside.

In separate bowl beat egg white frothy but not stiff. Add in the walnuts, and stir to coat evenly. Next add in the pepper jelly mix and toss until evenly coated.

Spread the nut mixture onto a parchment or silicone mat lined cookie sheet.
I gave them a light sprinkle of salt before baking, optional.
Bake for 30-40 minutes; halfway thru mixing up the nuts and/or rotate the pan. Check at the 30 minute mark for doneness.
You will know the nuts are done when they are slightly browned and the jelly coating is firmed up a bit.
Remove from oven. Nuts will be hot, so be careful touching them.
After they’ve cooled a bit, separate and break up any large clumps.

When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.


PMS Christmas Bark: Part 1, 2, & 3

Jokingly on facebook I stated to my friends that years ago I created a Christmas bark that can easily be given as a gift and double as a PMS bark. The agreement was overwhelming by all my female friends; a bark made of salty, sweet, sticky, chewy and a hint of crispy--how could anyone, let alone a female disagree? I mean it covers all the four food groups that females tend to crave while going through PMS. Right?

Here is the PMS Christmas bark Part 1. Made of Cheez It's, chocolate Oreo's all nice and cozy warm in a base of thick white chocolate. Last year it's first appearance was resounding BUT this year people went crazy for it.

white chocolate bark w Oreo's & Cheez Its

Part 2 was a whole other kind of creation made to satisfy those wanting milk chocolate instead of white chocolate.
So here is PMS Chrismtas Bark Part 2, or Cheez It Bark. Made with again Cheez It's with a hard caramel middle, covered in milk chocolate then a nice sprinkling of salty pecans.

cheez it bark

cheez it bark

And now we have a Part 3. The peanut butter and bacon chocolate bark. Bacon of course is a very important food group when creating a PMS bark? So why not.

pb & bacon chocolate bark 7

pb & bacon chocolate bark 4

Part 3 is very easy to make. Just roll out the dough onto a baking sheet. Originally this was done with cookies--my almost flourless peanut butter cookies with chocolate. This dough makes the perfect bark.

pb & bacon chocolate bark 1

As soon as it comes out of the oven place cooked strips of bacon on the top. Gently pushing them in.

pb & bacon chocolate bark 2

When the cookie layer has cooled then drizzle with bittersweet chocolate. You can use whatever chocolate you like; I found that bittersweet was just the right balance as the semi and milk chocolates were just too sweet and overpowered the bacon and peanut butter flavors. Can't have that can we?

pb & bacon chocolate bark 3

peanut butter & bacon chocolate bark
print recipe

1 cup chunky or smooth peanut butter (natural peanut butter works best just not too oily)
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
½ ts baking powder
1 ts baking soda
2 TB flour
1 ts sea salt

5-7 strips of cooked bacon, in strips or in small chunks
6-8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

Cook notes: this dough cooks very fast. It may not look like its done at the 10 or 11 minute mark but it is. Since there is almost no flour in there it cooks very fast. The next time I make this I will drizzle way less chocolate. In my opinion I put too much chocolate on there and it drowned out the peanut butter flavor. I highly doubt this freezes well. Natural peanut butter is best for this, just not one that's too oily.

In a small bowl mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
In a mixer or by hand, combine peanut butter and sugars until well combined.
Crack egg open in a small bowl and beat. Add egg to the cookie mixture, mix well.
Next sprinkle the flour mixture over the cookie dough, not just depositing it in one large dump. Mix till combined. Cover bowl and let it sit in fridge for about an hour or more.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place a parchment sheet on jelly roll pan. Place dough on sheet and spread it out. It will not spread out the whole size of the jelly roll pan only about halfway
If dough is sticky, just wet your finger tips.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, until very lightly browned. As soon as you remove it from the oven, place the strips of bacon on top and gently push down/in. Let cool at least 2 hours at room temperature.
When cooled drizzle with the melted bittersweet chocolate. Let chocolate harden and slice into squares.

Makes about 12-15 bars depending on how you cut them.


And finally the winner of the Nescafe Dolce Piccolo giveaway is Jen of Duluth, GA who was the lucky number 62. Please contact me Jen with your mailing address. Congrats Jen!


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