Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies February 22, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:32 PM
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Typically I am not a joiner, especially when it comes to work-related social events. I enjoy sharing lunch with my teammates, chatting with colleagues at professional development meetings, and exchanging rants over the error-prone copier in the workroom. But I usually avoid work parties and Secret Santa and the like. They’re just not for me and my introverted self. So I surprised myself by signing up for the Secret Valentine exchange at work earlier this month. Graduate school has me rather stressed, so perhaps it was a moment of sleep-deprived whimsy. When I drew my secret valentine, though, I was rather excited because I would get to surprise Jenny, our school receptionist. She beautifully handles a job I could never have. She is the one person standing between irate parents and the rest of us. She is kind but firm. I would cry.


On her secret valentine profile, Jenny wrote in the food section that she likes dark chocolate, peppermints, peanuts, and coffee. Immediately I thought of the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies that I had seen on the Girl versus Dough blog around Christmastime. These brownies would incorporate three of Jenny’s four favorites in one go. Plus, they would count towards my February chocolate cooking challenge. I picked up the ingredients for the brownies that very day.


I followed the recipe directions exactly, and soon I was rewarded with a beautiful pan of brownies that smelled ridiculously good.




I made the brownies on a work night, so I hurried along the final stages of brownie making in which the chocolate mocha brownies are transformed into peppermint-topped ones. I did not take as much care as I could have when drizzling on the dark chocolate at the end, so my brownies often had globs rather than decorative streaks of chocolate running across their tops. I wasn’t too worried; I just knew they were going to be delicious no matter what the topping looked like.  The only deviation I made from the recipe was that I used soft peppermint candies rather than hard peppermints, mainly because I knew the leftover soft candies would happily be eaten by my husband.




While the dark chocolate topping was still slightly soft, my husband and I ate a brownie apiece. They truly were as amazing as promised on Stephanie’s blog. She and I apparently share not only a first name but also the exact same taste in brownies–fudgy and chewy, if you please. I gave them 5 stars. John was slightly less enthusiastic, as neither dark chocolate nor chocolate-and-mint are his favorite flavors, but he still gave them 4 stars.  I wrapped up a plate of the brownies and couldn’t wait to surreptitiously deliver them to Jenny the next day.  I knew the brownies were a hit when she oohed and aahed about them on Facebook that night.  Maybe I can be a joiner after all.


Chocolate Pain Perdu February 15, 2015



While growing up we teasingly called my sister “Sweet Tooth,” but really, I have always been just as addicted to sweets. So it’s safe to say that I have been most excited about this month of my 2015 Cooking Challenge. February is chocolate dessert month!


I kicked off the chocolate dessert challenge last Saturday night when we had my mother-in-law, Loveta, over for dinner. I had been dying to try Chocolate Pain Perdu from Melissa d’Arabian’s Ten Dollar Dinners cookbook. As a lover of both French toast and bread pudding (not to mention chocolate), this sweet treat had my name written all over it.


I never buy white bread, but I made an exception for this dish. My husband was rather thrilled to have a loaf of Mrs. Baird’s white bread on hand, as he’s mostly subjected to the loaves of light whole wheat bread that I typically buy for my work lunch sandwiches.


I was slightly unsure about how to arrange the bread triangles in the loaf pan. I ended up laying them flat and layering them atop one another, which worked fine. You can see the top layer of triangles in the baked pain perdu pictured below:



The recipe instructs you to whip 1/4 cup heavy cream for the topping, but I opted for light vanilla ice cream instead. I’m unable to resist serving cold ice cream on top of warm desserts. (This is why I have to limit myself to only having light ice cream in the freezer.)


With or without the ice cream, however, this is a stellar dessert. We gave it 4.5 stars that night, but it’s really a 5-star recipe. Need proof? I made it again last night to end our Valentine’s dinner at home. It’s that good.


Nutella-Swirled Banana Bread April 28, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 7:51 PM
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Over the course of many trips to Menard to visit my in-laws, a certain Nutella cake always seemed to find its way into our dinner conversations. Typically this occurred as the four of us were diving into a delectable dessert lovingly prepared by my in-laws, and we would all start throwing out the names of other favorite desserts and dessert-related memories. The Nutella cake came up every time. This was a cake that my in-laws had made and enjoyed multiple times, but that they had never made and enjoyed with us. Finally, it was decided: next visit, Nutella cake. And so it was that over spring break we four adults made quick work of an absolutely wonderful cake featuring–what else?–Nutella.


The cake was so tasty, in fact, that upon returning home I suddenly had an eye out for any and all recipes with “Nutella” in the title. It did not take long before I stumbled across this Nutella-Swirled Banana Bread recipe found on the blog Pass the Cocoa. It was a guest post done by Stephanie Wise of Girl Versus Dough (whose new e-cookbook, Quick Bread Love, you should definitely check out in the menu to the right). When I found myself one Saturday with four ripe bananas on hand, I decided to make up a double batch of the banana bread.


The recipe does involve multiple steps, but with the help of my KitchenAid stand mixer, I had the batter ready to go fairly quickly. My anticipation ratcheted up as I poured in the Nutella layer and swirled the batter around. Even before baking, this bread looked and smelled amazing.


I baked the loaves about 45 minutes rather than the stated 55-60 minutes, but my oven typically runs hot. At this point, I was too eager to try the bread to wait for the loaves to cool completely so that I could drizzle the melted chocolate on top. I sliced John and myself a piece off the end of one of the loaves while they were still warm from the oven. Even without the chocolate topping, the banana bread easily earned 5 stars. It was moist and full of banana flavor, and the Nutella-swirl layer made this the best banana bread I’ve tried.


After the loaves fully cooled, I did drizzle the melted chocolate on top as directed. After letting it set, I wrapped the uncut loaf in plastic wrap and foil and placed it directly into the freezer. John and I would eat up the cut loaf over the following week, but I had a particular destination in mind for the frozen loaf:  Menard on Easter weekend. What better way to reciprocate the Nutella deliciousness that my in-laws had shared with us on spring break than with a Nutella-flavored baked treat of my own?


Dark Chocolate Brownies March 24, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:29 PM
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For Valentine’s Day, I surprised my husband with the Winning Hearts and Minds Cake from Molly Wizenberg‘s A Homemade Life. When Wizenberg married, she served about 20 of these cakes (that she made herself and kept frozen until the wedding day) to her guests in lieu of a traditional tiered wedding cake. After just one bite of the cake, I could see why. John and I literally moaned with each forkful. For me, this was no big surprise (I do love my sweets, after all), but chocolate is usually not at the top of my husband’s favorite foods list. Between the two of us, we gobbled up the entire cake in just a few days. Ever since then, I’ve practically been dreaming about chocolate. While it is incredibly tempting to bake up another Winning Hearts and Minds Cake, my more rational self knows it would be an unwise move, health-wise. So when I felt the baking urge last weekend, I decided to try out Ellie Krieger’s Dark Chocolate Brownies instead. Chocolate would still be involved, but it would be in a recipe that had received the Krieger treatment: less fat, less sugar, less guilt.


For the chocolate, I used two 4-ounce Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bars, and for the flour I used Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour. Ellie lists chopped walnuts as an optional ingredient, but knowing my husband would be eating these, there was no optional.  I sprinkled pecans instead of walnuts on top of the brownie batter.


I baked the brownies for 15 minutes, but they were not yet done. I kept them in the oven for an additional five minutes, at which point they were definitely cooked all the way through. In fact, I wish I had checked the pan a minute or two earlier.


The brownies were definitely chocolatey, but they were not as dense or rich as a typical brownie. In fact, they puffed up in the pan like a cake, and their texture was more akin to that of a cake than a brownie. John and I still granted the recipe 3.5 stars, for it did produce a decent chocolate dessert. No, it was no Winning Hearts and Minds Cake (which, oddly enough, is more like a brownie than a cake), but it did satisfy my sweet tooth–especially when served warm with light vanilla ice cream on top.


Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 19
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 134


Dark Chocolate Brownies

Nonstick cooking spray
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole-grain pastry flour or whole-wheat flour
¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup chopped walnuts, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double broiler or heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt, oil, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and whisk until blended. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing just enough to moisten.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and sprinkle with nuts, if desired. Bake until the wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into 24 pieces.

Yield: 24 servings. Per serving, 4 PointsPlus


Super Bowl Snacks February 16, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:51 AM
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For the second year in a row, John and I spent Super Bowl Sunday at my parents’ house, munching away on my dad’s smoked ribs and an array of healthy appetizers that my mom and I prepared. With my dad on WeightWatchers, it was the perfect time to try out four new Ellie Krieger recipes from Comfort Food Fix, my cookbook of the year. Ellie can always be counted on for tasty-yet-good-for-you recipes, so I had no qualms about trying so many new recipes at once.


For savory snacking, I selected Ellie’s Triple Onion Dip and Smoked Paprika Potato Chips as well as her Blue Cheese Dip that we served with raw veggies rather than buffalo wings. We rounded out the meal with the ribs, turkey Lit’l Smokies in BBQ sauce, WeightWatchers Jalapeno Poppers (another new recipe that turned out to be a winner), Pioneer Woman Homemade Salsa, and my mom’s homemade guacamole.


For a sweet finish (and my fourth new Ellie Krieger recipe of the night), my mom and I agreed upon the Double Chocolate Banana Milkshakes from Comfort Food Fix, which would be easy not only to make, but easy to make gluten-free for my mom.


I made the two dips at home the day before the big game in order to let the flavors meld. Even before tasting the Triple Onion Dip the following day, I knew as I stirred the ingredients together that it was going to be good based upon its looks and aroma. I found my interest in this dip to be surprising considering that onion dip (almost always made from a package) has never been a big temptation or delight for me. Apparently I just hadn’t had good onion dip because good onion dip calls my name when I am near. I granted the dip 4.5 stars.


Ellie recommends serving the Triple Onion Dip with her homemade Smoked Paprika Potato Chips, so it seemed inevitable that I would make the chips, too. I ordered a Benriner mandolin slicer expressly for this recipe. I had been wanting one, anyway – this was just a good excuse to go ahead and click “Order Now.” Originally I had intended to make the chips at home the day before, but time got away from me and I didn’t make them until I got to my mom and dad’s on Sunday. I was glad of this in the end, as John and I discovered on Monday that the chips did not stay crispy overnight.


The potato chips gave me a little trouble while baking; they would go from underdone to burned and black in a matter of seconds, it seemed. Part of the issue was that I had not evenly sliced all of the potatoes (it took me a little while to get a feel for the slicer), so it was hard to cook them evenly as a result. But some of the chips did crisp up as stated in the recipe, and they all tasted delicious. The smoked paprika flavor was the perfect pairing for the Triple Onion Dip, and the four of us ate an embarrassing number of chips. They earned 4 stars from me, with potential for more if I can perfect the baking time.


As for the Blue Cheese Dip, I only took a little taste of it as blue cheese is not a favorite of mine. John hates blue cheese, so for the first time ever, he refused to try even a bite of something I had made. My parents are blue cheese fans, however, so they were given free reign over the dip and seemed to enjoy it with the raw veggies. I would give the Blue Cheese Dip 3 stars, but blue cheese fans would likely rate it higher.


Finally – the Double Chocolate and Banana Milkshakes. Both my parents and I looked unsuccessfully ahead of time for chocolate frozen yogurt, so we ended up using Blue Bell’s No Sugar Added Lowfat Dutch Chocolate ice cream, which worked perfectly with the unsweetened cocoa powder to make up the “double chocolate” in the recipe’s name. With some cold nonfat milk, frozen ripe banana chunks, and a little ice, we quickly blended up four tall glasses of chocolate-y goodness that only cost 6 PointsPlus apiece. The milkshakes garnered 4 stars despite the “diet” aspects of the recipe’s ingredients. They are a definite make-again!


All in all, our Super Bowl party was an unqualified food success. The game may have been a dud, but with such tempting treats before us, we could not have cared less.


Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 11
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 142


Aunt Doe’s German Chocolate Cake (New Recipe #100) December 8, 2013

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 3:03 PM
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For Thanksgiving, my husband requested that I make his Aunt Doe’s German Chocolate Cake. John’s Grandma Pierce and her sister, known among the Pierces as Aunt Doe, used to spend hours upon hours baking (and bickering) together in order to produce this cake. The dessert has been a longtime favorite of John’s, but he typically gets to enjoy it only once a year because frankly, it is a pain to bake. While it doesn’t take an entire day, as Grandma Pierce and Aunt Doe would do, it does involve multiple steps — and a good deal of patience. I readily agreed to John’s request, however, as the German Chocolate Cake appeared to be the perfect recipe for me to make as my 100th new recipe of the year: the layered confection has a long history in the Pierce family, it would require me to stretch my baking skills, and it is incredibly rich. What better way to celebrate reaching my cooking goal for 2013 — one month ahead of schedule — than to whip up this special dessert for my husband?


I baked the cake the day before Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, where we would have our family feast the following day. My mom graciously let me take over (and utterly dirty up) her kitchen for the morning and afternoon, and she went above and beyond by acting as my helper, dish-washer, and in one frantic moment, my calmer-downer. Moms truly are the best.


The cake portion of the recipe went very smoothly. I used my mom’s stand mixer to create the batter and beat the egg whites. I did not sift the cake flour, but I did give it a few good stirs to “fluff” it up before measuring it out. My mom ended up with the most challenging role during this part of the cake-making process: preparing the pans. She managed to cut 3 perfectly round circles out of wax paper, however, and had the pans greased and lined just when I needed them. Into the oven the cakes went, and out they came about 30 minutes later, smelling chocolaty and delicious.


The frosting, however, was not anywhere near as painless to make. My first mistake was to select too small of a saucepan. By the time I added in the evaporated milk, the mixture was nearing the top of the pan. One too-vigorous stir sent a large spray up and over the edge, right into the burner pan. It quickly boiled and blackened on the metal. At this point, my mom strongly encouraged me to pour the budding frosting into a larger saucepan; I followed this advice.


Then the mixture — the hot, burning mixture — began to thicken slightly and splatter. I spent the following thirty minutes at the stove stirring, sweating, and fruitlessly trying to avoid being burned. I had no idea if the frosting was thick enough or not, and frustration set in. John and I were needing to leave for an appointment in half an hour, and I had not even begun to assemble the cake. I had a mini-tantrum right there in the kitchen when one particularly large, hot blob landed on my wrist. I dropped my spoon and said I was done. My mom and husband swooped in, calmed me down, and helped me finish the cake. Mom started on dish duty and John helped me frost the cake (by this point we decided that despite not having reached “soft ball stage,” the frosting was ready). I again felt a surge of frustration when we began to run out of frosting, but John assured me that the cake always had a bare spot here and there. At any rate, the cake was complete, and we were able to make it out the door in time.


Fast-forward to the following day: our Thanksgiving meal turned out just as planned, with my dad’s smoked turkey, my mom’s dressing, and my ginger-pear cranberry sauce among the highlights. We let our food settle during the first half of the Cowboys game, and then out came the desserts at halftime. I was especially eager to try the German Chocolate Cake after the prior day’s efforts. Despite my fight with the frosting, the cake was perfect. The chocolate cake was moist and sweet, and the frosting — oh, the frosting — was indulgently rich, just as German Chocolate cake frosting should be. This cake is a 5-star recipe — but one I plan to make only once per year.


Aunt Doe’s German Chocolate Cake

1 pkg (4 oz) Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate
½ cup boiling water
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups sifted Swan Down cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
4 egg whites, beaten stiffly

1 2/3 cups sugar
1 and 2/3 stick butter
5 egg yolks
1 can evaporated milk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
2 cups chopped pecans

Cake Directions:
1. To melt chocolate, pour boiling water over chocolate in a small, heat-proof bowl. Let cool.
2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in vanilla and chocolate.
3. Sift flour with baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture, beating after each addition until smooth.
4. Fold in beaten egg whites.
5. Pour batter into three 9-inch round cake pans, greased and lined on bottoms with wax paper.
6. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool on wire racks. Once completely cool, frost.

Frosting Directions:
1. Melt and mix the sugar and butter in a large saucepan until they are well mixed.
2. Add the egg yolks, one at a time. Mix well after each addition.
3. Add the evaporated milk. Cook to soft ball stage. Take off burner.
4. Stir in the vanilla, coconut, and pecans.
5. Frost and assemble the cake, placing frosting on both the tops and sides of each layer. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: 12-16 servings (at least). PointsPlus per serving: I do not want to know.