Chocolate Chip Confetti Brownies

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I love these fun, colorful brownies–they’re kind of like a celebration in a pan! This easy and yummy recipe is from an M&M’s promotional recipe card that I’ve had for quite a while. There are two layers to these brownies– a bottom chocolate layer and a top yellow batter layer, with mini M&M’s mixed in and sprinkled on top. They’re rich and chewy…perfect when you’re craving something chocolate! I changed the recipe a little by adding some semi-sweet chocolate chips in the bottom chocolate brownie layer. It never hurts to add more chocolate, right? :)

CHOCOLATE CHIP CONFETTI BROWNIES by NancyCreative, adapted from M&M’s

Makes a 9 x 13″ pan

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup M&M’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Baking Bits, divided

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan; set aside.

In large bowl, cream butter, granulated sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy; beat in eggs and vanilla.

In medium bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups of the flour (save 1/4 cup for later), baking powder, and salt; blend into creamed mixture. Divide batter in half, putting half into another bowl.

Stir cocoa powder and melted butter into one half of the dough; then stir in the mini chocolate chips. Spread cocoa dough evenly into prepared baking pan.

Stir remaining 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup of the M&M’s mini baking bits into remaining dough; spread evenly over cocoa dough in pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of M&M’s mini baking bits. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until edges start to pull away from sides of pan.

Cool completely and cut into bars. Store in a tightly covered container. Makes about 20 brownies, depending on how large you cut them. (NOTE: I’ve seen a version of this recipe using regular-size M&M’s, so you could try substituting those for the mini baking bits).

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I actually cut into these while they were still warm, after about 10 minutes of cooling, and they are really good warm! If I had some ice cream in my fridge, I think I would have been tempted to add a scoop on top!

Here’s a helpful tip if you want neat, less crumbly brownie slices:  Line your baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a little overhang on the ends so you can lift your brownies right out of the pan after they are done baking and have cooled. After removing brownies from the pan, turn them upside down onto a cutting board or other cutting surface and slice them from the bottom–this way, the tops of your brownies will have nice clean edges…just like a bakery shop brownie!

Do you like making brownies too? Do you have a favorite brownie recipe?

Linked to Create With Joy, Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays.

Eat Your Peas and Carrots!

My foodie friend Jane made some really cute cupcakes a few weeks ago. She made Peas and Carrots Cupcakes and Popcorn Cupcakes–I’ll show you the Popcorn Cupcakes in a little bit.

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The “peas” are green Skittles® and the “carrots” are orange Starburst® candies–just cut an orange square candy piece into fourths to get four cubes that look a lot like carrot chunks! Frost your cupcakes with white or green tinted icing, then add the candies on top, pressing them into the frosting.

Jane also showed me a photo of some other fun cupcakes decorated like food…I’ve seen photos of cupcakes like these on the web, and they’re called TV Dinner Cupcakes. This photo is from a lifestyle and design blog called BlackEiffel.

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Here are instructions for the TV dinner cupcakes from MarthaStewart.com…the instructions are also in the cookbook Hello, Cupcake! by Karen Tack.

TV DINNER CUPCAKES  (makes a total of 6 cupcakes)

You’ll need 6 vanilla cupcakes, baked in silver foil liners.

FOR DRUMSTICKS (makes 3):

  • 1/4 cup white chocolate melting wafers, melted
  • 1 cup Vanilla Frosting (homemade or canned)
  • 3 plain store-bought doughnut holes
  • 1 cup cornflake crumbs
Place the bone template (from the book Hello, Cupcake) on a baking sheet (or draw your own shape of half a bone–you’ll have to estimate the size). Cover with parchment paper; set aside. Place melted chocolate into a resealable plastic bag and snip a 1/8-inch corner from the bag. Following the bone template, pipe an outline onto the parchment paper. Fill the bone in with chocolate and lightly tap pan to smooth top of chocolate. Repeat process 3 times. Refrigerate until firm, about 5 minutes.
Spread vanilla frosting on top of 3 cupcakes, mounding it slightly. Place 1 doughnut hole on top of each cupcake. Spread frosting over the doughnut hole until it is smooth and covered. Place cornflake crumbs in a medium bowl. Gently press frosted cupcakes in crumbs to cover completely. Place cupcakes in a 6-cup disposable aluminum cupcake baking tray. Using a sharp knife, make a small slit in the top of each crumbed doughnut hole. Carefully peel 1 chocolate bone from the parchment paper and insert the pointed end into one of the slits. Repeat with remaining 2 bones and cupcakes.
FOR MASHED POTATOES (makes 1):
  • 1 yellow fruit chew, such as Laffy Taffys® or Starbursts®, cut into a 1-inch square
  • 3 tablespoons Vanilla Frosting (homemade or canned)
  • 1/2 tablespoon store-bought caramel sauce, heated
Spread vanilla frosting on 1 cupcake, mounding it slightly. Use a small spoon to create a well in the center of the frosting. Place cupcake in aluminum baking tray. Place yellow fruit chew in the well at an angle. Drizzle caramel sauce on top of cupcake so that it fills the well and spills over like gravy.
FOR PEAS AND CARROTS (makes 1):
  • 3 orange fruit chews, such as Starbursts®, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons Vanilla Frosting (homemade or canned)
  • Green gel food coloring
  • 2 tablespoons green candies, like Skittles® or M&M’s®
Color vanilla frosting with green food coloring and spread on top of 1 cupcake. Arrange orange fruit chews and green candies on top of cupcake, pressing them into the frosting. Place cupcake in aluminum baking tray.
FOR CHOCOLATE PUDDING (makes 1):

Place chocolate frosting in a resealable plastic bag; press out all the excess air and seal to enclose. Snip a 1/4-inch corner from the bag. Pipe chocolate frosting into a spiral swirl onto the remaining cupcake. Top with sprinkles and place in aluminum baking tray. Serve.

Now here are the Popcorn Cupcakes Jane made–aren’t they cute? She followed instructions on how to make them at eHow.
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Here are the steps…Jane said they were easy to make! All you need are cupcakes, frosting, and miniature marshmallows.

POPCORN CUPCAKES

  1. Bake a regular batch of cupcakes, using a cupcake pan lined with paper or aluminum cupcake liners. Although white or light-colored cupcakes are easier to cover with icing, the cupcakes can be any flavor you like. Allow the cupcakes to cool (Jane used a cake mix to make her cupcakes).
  2. Frost the cupcakes with white frosting. Use homemade frosting, or simplify the process with boxed or canned frosting (Jane used canned frosting on her cupcakes).
  3. Cut an ‘X’ shape into the top of each miniature marshmallow, using a clean pair of scissors. Leave the bottom of the marshmallow intact. Cut enough miniature marshmallows to cover the top of each cupcake (about 30 to 40 miniature marshmallows).
  4. Press the miniature marshmallows into the frosting on the top of the cupcakes. Pile the marshmallows so the cupcake looks like a bag filled with popcorn.
  5. Place a small amount of water in a cup. Add a few drops of yellow food coloring to create a buttery color. Use a pastry brush or a clean paintbrush to coat the miniature marshmallows with the butter-colored water.
  6. Create bands from red construction paper, or use red and white striped gift wrapping paper. The bands should be large enough to wrap around the base of the cupcake — about 8 inches by 1 and 1/4 inches. Alternatively, create a band on your computer, then duplicate it several times. Note: Jane used a pre-made band she found at Scribd.com
  7. Wrap a paper band around the base of each cupcake, securing each band with a piece of clear tape.

Hope you have fun trying these out!

Linked to Foodie Friday, I’m Lovin’ It Friday, Sweet Tooth Friday, Sweets for a Saturday, Make it Yours Day, Show and Tell, Strut Your Stuff.

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Ann’s Easter Egg Cupcakes

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Here’s one of the yummy cupcakes I told you about in my Springtime Cupcakes post. My friend Ann made these and she found the recipe in a cookbook called Celebrating Cupcakes and Muffins. These delicious cupcakes have a creamy custard filling and are topped with a fluffy buttercream frosting. You can put chocolate eggs covered with a speckled coating or malted milk speckled eggs in your buttercream “nests.” And then just top them off with some colorful sprinkles!

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Here’s the recipe–it makes 12 delightful cupcakes!

EASTER EGG CUPCAKES (adapted from Celebrating Cupcakes and Muffins)

CUSTARD FILLING:

  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small heatproof bowl, vigorously whisk egg, egg yolks, and sugar until mixture is pale in color. Add cornstarch and mix until fully blended.

In a small saucepan, heat milk and vanilla extract over medium-high heat until mixture just comes to a boil. Slowly add half the milk to the egg mixture and mix until smooth (the heated milk warms up the eggs slowly so they don’t begin to cook and get lumpy).

Pour this egg/milk mixture slowly through a fine metal sieve back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes, whisking constantly so the custard doesn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. NOTE: Ann told me that she actually didn’t use a sieve–the purpose of the sieve is to strain out the lumps of the egg mixture. The trick is to do it all SLOWLY, warming the eggs slowly, so you don’t get any lumps. If you don’t have a sieve, just remember that tip and your custard will turn out fine! Using a whisk when mixing is definitely important to get a nice smooth mixture.

Remove custard from heat and pour into a shallow flat tray. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the custard to prevent a crust from forming. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 days.

GOLDEN SOUR CREAM CUPCAKES:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard cupcake pan with paper liners. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and smooth. Add vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternating with sour cream and beating on very low speed until just blended. Be careful not to overmix!

Spoon batter into cupcake liners, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool cupcakes to room temperature.

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Gel food coloring, optional

With an electric mixer, cream butter and 1 cup confectioner’s sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add remaining confectioner’s sugar and beat until smooth. Add milk, salt, vanilla, and food coloring; beat until creamy. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days (let refrigerated buttercream sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, then beat on low speed until creamy before using).

ASSEMBLING THE CUPCAKES:

  1. Prepare the custard filling; refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Prepare cupcakes and cool completely.
  3. Transfer chilled custard filling to a piping bag fitted with a round tip or into a squeeze bottle.
  4. Insert tip into center of each cupcake and pipe in about 1 Tablespoon of filling.
  5. Prepare frosting and transfer to a piping bag with a star tip.
  6. Pipe frosting on cupcake tops, then place egg candy decorations on top. Add your favorite sprinkles on the “nest”, if desired.

Then serve and enjoy these cupcakes! They will disappear quickly! Here’s a close-up of that lucious creamy custard filling…

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You could also make these without the custard filling, but if you have the time, it’s worth making them with the filling!

Linked to Show and Tell, We Did It! Wednesday, Make It Yours Day, Muffin Monday, This Week’s Cravings, Strut Your Stuff, Foodie Friday, I’m Lovin’ It Friday, Sweet Tooth Friday.

Broccoli-Cauliflower Salad

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I really need to eat more veggies, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for good salad ideas and veggie side dishes. I found this veggie salad over at Nap-Time Creations last month–it was called Holiday Veggie Salad, and it looked really good and healthy! It also has feta cheese in addition to the veggies, and I love feta cheese! So I knew I had to try this. :) I changed a few little things in the recipe, so I’ll share my version with you. It’s really good and a great way to get more broccoli and cauliflower in your diet!

BROCCOLI-CAULIFLOWER SALAD  adapted from Nap-Time Creations

  • 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 medium heads of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups raisins (or substitute dried cranberries or other dried fruit)
  • 6-8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1 1/3 cup light balsamic vinaigrette dressing (I used Newman’s Own Light Balsamic; I think it would even be good with a raspberry vinaigrette)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice (omit this if you’re using raspberry vinaigrette or another type of sweet vinaigrette, and just add a little more vinaigrette to the salad)
  • additional raisins and chopped pecans or walnuts for garnish

Cut broccoli and cauliflower into florets; place in large bowl. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and add to bowl. Add raisins (or other dried fruit), crumbled feta cheese, and sesame seeds if desired. Toss these ingredients together to distribute evenly. Then add the vinaigrette dressing and lemon juice; toss to mix and coat all the ingredients with the dressing. If serving in a large salad bowl, sprinkle additional raisins and chopped nuts in the center of the salad as a garnish. If serving on individual salad plates, garnish each serving with a sprinkling of raisins and nuts. Makes 4-6 servings.

If you want some tips on cutting cauliflower, I found some over at a site called cookthink. There were some very helpful instructions and photos, some of which I’m posting below…

Cut the head of the cauliflower in half (remove leaves first), by wedging a knife into the core from the bottom. Then slice through the core of each half, which will give you four quarters.

Slice the thickest part of the core away from each quarter (you can chop the core into smaller pieces and use in your salads or cooking–the stems will be tender when they’re cooked).

Then just pull the florets apart with your fingers!

I had never visited the cookthink site before…I just came across in when I was googling how to cut cauliflower. It looks like there are lots of helpful tips and recipes over there, so you’ll have to check it out when you get a chance!

The Amazing Cucumber

I found out some pretty interesting things about cucumbers from a blog called Stir, Laugh, Repeat. For instance, did you know that cucumbers contain most of the vitamins you need every day? One cuke contains Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Zinc!

It’s amazing how good cucumbers are for you and all the different things you can use them for–and now when cucumbers are in such abundance, it’s a great time to try these tips:

FOR PERSONAL USE:

  • If you’re feeling tired in the afternoon, snack on a cucumber. Cucumbers are a good source of B Vitamins and carbohydrates that can provide a quick pick-me-up. They’re also a good snack if you are having the “munchies”–a cucumber will help curb your appetite until mealtime.
  • To help reduce stress, cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water. The chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber react with the boiling water and are released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma.
  • For reducing the appearance of wrinkles and cellulite, rub a slice or two of cucumbers along your problem area for a few minutes–the phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite and wrinkles.
  • If you’ve had a spicy meal and are out of mints, take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath–the phytochemcials in the cucmber kill the bacteria in your mouth that cause it.

USES FOR YOUR HOME:

  • To keep your bathroom mirror from fogging up after a shower, rub a cucumber slice along the mirror to eliminate the fog and provide a soothing, spa-like fragrance.
  • Use cucumbers to polish your shoes! Rub a freshly–cut cucumber over your shoes; you’ll have a quick and durable shine that also repels water.
  • If grubs and slugs are ruining your planting beds, place a few slices in a small pie tin and your garden will be free of pests all season long. The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off a scent undetectable to humans, but drive garden pests crazy and make them flee the area.
  • If you’re out of WD 40 and need to fix a squeaky hinge, just take a cucumber slice and rub it along the problematic hinge–the squeak will be gone!
  • Here’s a “green” way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel: take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean. It will remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but it won’t leave streaks and won’t harm your fingers or fingernails while you clean.
  • If you’re using a pen and make a mistake, take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the pen writing. You can also use this on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls. :)

Hope you find these tips helpful! I’ll need to add a few more cucumbers to my shopping list!

Sprinkle on some Cinnamon Sugar!

Every now and then, I make something that calls for cinnamon sugar and sometimes I don’t have the pre-made version on hand. But it’s really easy to make–just blend 1/2 cup sugar with 1–1 1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, depending on how cinnamon-y you want it!  You need to stir this thoroughly to blend it well. (The Cook’s Thesaurus website, where this photo is from, suggests mixing 7 parts sugar to 1 part cinnamon, which is pretty much the same ratio as blending 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp. cinnamon). Store your cinnamon sugar in a clean spice jar with a shaker top (or other airtight container) at room temperature.

Cinnamon sugar is great on buttered toast. And it’s a good topping for other breakfast treats like quick breads, muffins, and coffee cakes. It’s even good sprinkled on desserts like cobblers, bundt cakes, and cookies.

Here are some other variations I found on cinnamon sugar that you may want to try:

CINNAMON–FLAVORED SUGAR: This is different from regular cinnamon sugar, because the color stays white and it has a more subtle flavor. To make it, just put 3 cinnamon sticks in a pound of granulated sugar (bury it in there!) and keep it there for 2 weeks, stirring once a week. You could add a few more cinnamon sticks if you want the flavor to be stronger.

CHOCOLATE–CINNAMON SUGAR: Stir together 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, 3 Tbsp. sugar, and 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon. To make Chocolate-Cinnamon toast, spread 8 slices of toast with butter and sprinkle a rounded teaspoon of this chocolate–cinnamon mixture evenly on the toast. Broil the toast about 1 minute, until the top is bubbly. This would also be good sprinkled on other breakfast items when you’re wanting a little extra chocolate-cinnamon flavor.

Cupcake Eye Candy

Have you heard of Hello Naomi? I’ve just discovered her on the web as I’ve been looking for tips and inspiration on cupcake decorating. I was “WOWed” by the many photos I saw of her work!

Naomi’s advice on making creative cupcakes is to collect ideas, colors, and patterns from anything that grabs your attention. Also have a good selection of dyes. She mainly uses red, yellow, blue, green, black, brown, and purple, and can mix any other color she might need from those. For icing, Naomi uses roll fondant for most of the decorations and royal icing for the piping. She recommends trying different brands of fondant to find a good one, because some “taste like gelatin.”

Growing up in Australia, Naomi began baking when she was young, learning from her “mum.” Naomi thinks the best thing about eating cupcakes is “the complete happiness felt eating something so cute and yum.” Her cupcake creations are definitely cute, and I’m sure they’re as yummy as they look–too bad we can’t taste-test any of them! You can find out more about Naomi and other cupcake ideas by visiting Cupcakes Take the Cake. But don’t go there on an empty stomach! :)