Friday, July 3, 2015

Chicken Cordon Bleu - The Easy Way!

Chicken Cordon Bleu is one of those old-school recipes that is a real pain to make. There is nothing worse then trying to stuff ham and cheese into an uncooperative piece of chicken. Actually, scratch that. There is nothing worse than spending copious amounts of time meticulously stuffing your chicken only to have the filling run out all over the pan and burn. A true occasion for tears.

This is precisely why I make Chicken Cordon Bleu in casserole form. Now, I normally am not a huge casserole fan because most casserole recipes involve throwing together a lot of canned or pre-made ingredients and the end result is normally watery and bland. The only casserole that I could probably eat continuously is the iconic tuna casserole with canned cream of mushroom soup, tuna, mayonnaise and lots of cheese. I even tried making a fancy version of tuna casserole that nixed all the canned ingredients in favor of a bechamel sauce but it just did not hit the spot. However, with the exception of tuna casserole, all other casseroles normally leave me underwhelmed.

However, this Chicken Cordon Bleu casserole is prepared with all fresh ingredients to become a dish that is truly crave-worthy. It is probably one of Paul's favorite meals (at least I'm pretty sure it is in his Top 10). Layers of potatoes, chicken, and ham are tossed in a creamy swiss cheese sauce and then topped with fresh breadcrumbs. The entire concoction is then baked until all the flavors have melded together into a bubbly, comforting dish with all the flavors of chicken cordon bleu but NONE of the painful prep work. Paul has claimed that this is even better than the classically prepared chicken cordon bleu. Score! No more stuffing chicken.

Give this recipe a try and it might just become your new favorite casserole recipe! This is also a great take-in meal.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
from Cover and Bake

For the Topping:
4 slices good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters (Pepperidge Farm works great)
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Filling:
3 pounds russet potatoes (about 4-5 medium), peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream or milk
6 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded, about 2 cups (we love Jarslberg!)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat and sliced thinly
9 ounces deli ham, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves (optional - we almost never add this)

For the topping, process the bread and butter in a food processor until coarsely ground. Set aside.
For the filling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, making sure the oven rack is in the middle. Place the potatoes, 6 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are partially cooked, about 2 minutes (don’t overcook because they will continue to cook in the oven!). Carefully drain potatoes, or remove them with a slotted spoon, and transfer them to a bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onions are softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute (this helps cook out the flour taste in the roux). Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and the cream or milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking often, until slightly thickened (if using milk instead of cream, you may have to cook longer for it to thicken up a bit). Off the heat, whisk in the Swiss cheese, Dijon, and cayenne pepper until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

Toss the potatoes with half of the sauce and spread into the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13-inch glass baking pan. Layer alternating pieces of the chicken and ham over the potatoes, overlapping as needed. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the chicken and sprinkle with the bread crumb topping. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the casserole is bubbling, about 30-35 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley if desired and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast Bake

For Father's Day, I almost always make Paul biscuits, sausage gravy, and eggs. It is not only his favorite breakfast, but probably one of his favorite meals overall. Personally, I don't get it. I love biscuits, I love gravy, but I'm not really wild about pouring a whole mess of sloppy sausage gravy over my biscuits and making them soggy. However, I have to admit that since marrying Paul the whole concept has really grown on me. It is certainly a very homey, comforting dish. I appreciate how easy it is to make. I love recipes that are quick, easy, and guaranteed to please the wonderful husband who gladly puts up with eating my frou-frou food 90% of the time.

I made fresh biscuits to go with the sausage gravy and eggs on Father's Day but, as usual, I made way too much gravy. The biscuits and eggs were all gobbled up and I still had about two cups of delicious sausage gravy. Feeling lazy and not wanting that good stuff to go to waste, I made breakfast for dinner and "reinvented" our biscuits and gravy into a casserole form. Basically, I was looking for a way to avoid making fresh biscuits all over again. I'll pull the baby card once more and blame Lucy for my lack of motivation in the kitchen recently.

So here's the deal with this casserole. You can throw it together in about the amount of time it takes your oven to preheat. It uses refrigerated biscuit dough, but I imagine you could also make fresh biscuit dough. However, that would definitely take away from the ease factor and, in my opinion, you might as well make traditional biscuits and gravy.

Anyway, after about five minutes of prep and 30-40 minutes of baking time, you have a delicious breakfast casserole that should appeal to just about everyone. Our entire family loved it - there were absolutely no complaints from the kids whereas the same gravy concoction, when eaten in deconstructed form the day before, spawned an entire symphony of "yuck" "eww" and "I won't eat that bad sauce stuff." This is probably one of only two meals we have had recently where some coaxing was not required to try to get the kids to eat everything on their plate. The other meal is smoked salmon with oranges and arugula. Yes, I know. We have trouble getting our kids to eat homemade cheeseburgers, string cheese, and apple pie, but smoked fish they go for. Our kids are weird.

A side salad of arugula, toasted pecans, blueberries, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette rounded out the meal. Delicious.

I will definitely be making this recipe again. It is a great way to use up leftover sausage gravy, but honestly is also a fantastic dish to make on it's own. I could see this being a great casserole to make on Christmas morning. I suggested that to Paul and his face lit up. I have a feeling that's probably what we'll end up doing this year.

Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast Bake
adapted from Just a Pinch

For the Sausage Gravy:
1 pound hot breakfast sausage
1/3 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (add to taste)

For the Breakfast Bake:
12 ounces biscuit dough (or 1 can Pillsbury Grands! biscuits)
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Pinch of Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the sausage gravy, brown  the sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add in half of the 1/3 cup of flour and stir until it is completely absorbed. Add the remaining flour and continue to stir for another minute or two until completely cooked. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. When all the milk is added, switch over to a whisk and stir/scrape the pot continuously for another 2-3 minutes.

Cook the gravy, stirring frequently, until it thickens. This usually takes a while, around 15 minutes or so. Be patient! Once the gravy is thick, add in the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference. Set aside until ready to use or let it cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for a few days.

To make the breakfast bake, break the biscuit dough into 1-inch pieces and scatter over the bottom of a 13x9 glass baking pan. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the dough. Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper and then pour over the biscuits. Dot 2-3 cups of the sausage gravy over the entire top. Slide into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly brown, puffed, and cooked all the way through. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lucia's Baptism in Pictures

On June 14th, our little Lucy was baptized as a child of God! My entire family came to Erie for the event and it was so wonderful to have everyone in one place - all 11 brothers and sisters along with their spouses and children. We felt very loved to be surrounded by so many members of our family as we welcomed Lucy into the church.

Matthew and Emma were very excited to help me dress Lucy in her baptismal gown. In fact, Matthew was very involved for the entire baptism. He wanted to stand front and center to get a good view of the action. I thought he was an absolute angel during the entire baptism. Then, while perusing the photos afterwards, I found that he had been making faces the entire time. Little boys!

Lucy herself was in a rotten mood that morning - I think she was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of attention she was receiving. She certainly did not want to be baptized. In fact, she cried throughout 90% of the ritual - complete with nonstop quivering of her lower lip. However, once it was all over and done with, I brought her back home and she slept for most of the afternoon. Getting baptized is such an exhausting affair.

Emma was a bit of a nomad during the baptism, wandering from person-to-person. 

We asked Patrick and Jennifer O'Mahoney to be Lucy's godparents. Jen was my roommate at Notre Dame and we attended her and Pat's beautiful wedding a couple years ago as a family. Pat and Paul have since struck up a friendship over their mutual love of engineering and beer. They are wonderful people and awesome friends and we feel honored to have them as extended members of our family!

Our good family friend Father Nick baptized Lucy. The stole he wore for her baptism had previously belonged to blessed Pope Paul VI - how very fitting to have a relic from the author of Humanae Vitae present for the occasion!

Family photos are getting too ridiculously large. It's fantastic. You just have to accept the fact that you're never going to get everyone smiling and not-blinking at the same time.

Obviously, Matthew was so over all this photo-taking!

Immediately after the baptism, we had a casual cook-out at our house. Paul, Pat, and some other friends grilled some brats and dogs. The girls and I had prepared a bunch of salads that morning - broccoli salad, macaroni salad, and strawberry spinach salad. Catherine brought an amazing homemade salsa and Maria contributed a refreshing watermelon. For dessert, there was a bunch of cookies, brownies, and a huge coconut cake (my favorite cake!). I only managed to snap a picture of the cake before we headed to the church. It was a 12-inch monstrosity of butter and sugar. About 80% of it disappeared at the party and the rest went to work with Paul for his co-workers to fight over.

Good thing I made that cake before my oven exploded. But that's another story.

If you would like a copy of the Coconut Cream Cake, email me and I'll send it to you. It requires a bit of planning ahead and quite a few steps, but is overall a very easy cake to make. I first had this cake at a restaurant and we loved it so much that I asked the pastry chef for the recipe and he emailed it to me! It's been my favorite cake ever since. If you're a fan of coconut, you'll love it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Beer-Battered Fish Tacos with Mango, Pickled Onions, and Creamy Lime White Sauce

Ch-ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the strange...

Some things have certainly changed around here now that we have three little ones. I am enjoying most moments watching the three of them interact and in some ways it has been tons of fun so far. But there is also the sleeplessness, the constant noise, never-ending cleaning, and the generally exhausting business that is keeping up after three kids in different stages of development. Here are just a few observations of how life has changed or rather evolved since we've added Lucy:

1. Emma's favorite books are no longer Apples up on Top, Little Pookie, Madeline, or Olivia. Now, her favorite book is Breastfeeding 101: Tips & Tricks. I came home with a whole bunch of freebies from the hospital and was about to throw that little book away when Emma claimed it because she saw that it was filled with pictures of babies.

2. Taking all three kids to the grocery store is a bit interesting. We put Lucy's car seat into the body of the cart, strap Emma into the seat on the cart, and Matthew stands on the shelf beneath the cart and holds on tight for a ride. There is barely any space for groceries.

3. Speaking of taking the kids places, because there are now three different sets of car seats for the three kids, buckling them all up to go anywhere is like preparing to blast out of the atmosphere. Click, click, clickety-click! So many buckles and straps to readjust, align, and secure! Add in a wriggly toddler (EMMA) who does not want to be in her seat and you have a super challenging arm workout as well.

4. Cereal has been a lifesaver. Before the baby, we almost never stocked cereal in the house and ate mainly oatmeal or eggs for breakfast. Now, it's fantastic because Matthew can pour cereal for both himself and Emma when I am tied up nursing the baby. Bring on the Lucky Charms!

5. The older two kids now play exclusively with baby toys. Who cares about blocks, trains, trucks, dolls, and dinosaur figurines when you have rattles, plush animals, and light-up sun that sings to you as you lie beneath it on a cushy play mat? Emma even goes so far as to recite on a regular basis: "Waaah! I a baby!"  Not annoying at all.

6. Nighttime stories are now accompanied with the melodious soundtrack of hungry baby screams.

7. I've learned that Emma knows way more lullabies then I thought. I found here singing "Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon to Baby Lucy the other day, only she changed the lyric to "beautiful girl". I was impressed - I had no idea she knew that song! Now, I'm trying to teach her Lucy's theme song: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". Matthew still insists on making up his own lullabies. I can say with certainty that he does not have a talent for composition. His songs make both me and Lucy cry. Not really a change, but rather a fun observation.

8. Before we had Lucy, people around town would often smile at us as we were out and about and comment: "What an adorably perfect family - one boy and one girl!" Now that I am toting around three kids, I see people staring at me with a look of shock and hear comments like this:

  • "Woah! Got yourself an army!"
  • "Your hands are certainly full!!" 
  • "Do you want to have like a million kids?" 
  • "Time to break out the birth control!" I wish I was kidding about that one. How insulting.
  • "Are these all yours?" 
Geez people. It's three kids. THREE kids. But clearly in today's society three kids is basically synonymous with a million. 

A dear friend of mine posted this quote on her facebook page recently and it really is a wonderful thing for me to keep in mind whenever I become stressed or overwhelmed in my role as a mother to these crazy awesome kids:

"You'll never be this loved again. So on those days when you are feeling stressed out, touched out, and depleted, just remember that you will never be this loved again. One day you will long for their affection. So choose a soft voice, gentle hands, choose love." -AK

Beautiful words. How very true they are!

Switching gears a bit, let's talk food! Until we adjust to all the changes around here, meals have been fairly simple and straightforward. For example, we have grilled dogs and brats twice this week and served it with fruit and a simple salad. I'm sure I'll get back to experimenting soon, but for now I am just trying to enjoy baby Lucy while she is still so tiny.

Below is a fantastic recipe for fish tacos that Paul and I made a couple days before we had Lucy. Now, I have never had an authentic Baja-style fish taco, but I loved all the different components that this recipe included. Some heat and tang from the pickled onions, crunch from the slaw, and a creamy white sauce that complemented the flavor of the warm beer-battered fish. I could not resist adding some chopped mango to the mix and I do think it added a little bit of a sweet, fresh element that helped round everything out. The best fish tacos we've had, hands down! We'll make them again soon - perhaps once we're a bit more settled.

Beer Battered Fish Tacos with Mango, Pickled Onions and Creamy Lime White Sauce
barely adapted from America's Test Kitchen

For the Pickled Onions:
1 small red onion, halved and sliced thin
2 jalapeƱo chiles, stemmed and sliced into thin rings
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

For the Slaw:
3 cups shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup pickling liquid from pickled onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the White Sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons milk

For the Fish:
2 pounds skinless whitefish fillets, such as cod, haddock, or halibut, cut crosswise into 4 by 1-inch strips (I used cod)
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup beer (light bodied lagers work best)
1 quart peanut or vegetable oil

For Serving:
1-2 ripe mangoes, diced small
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
8-10 small flour tortillas (taco size), warmed

To make the pickled onions, combine onion and jalapeƱos in medium bowl. Bring vinegar, lime juice, sugar and salt to boil in small saucepan. Pour vinegar mixture over onion mixture and let sit for at least 30 minutes. (Pickled onions can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.)

For the cabbage, toss all ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make the white sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. (Sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.

To make the fish, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Set wire rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add beer and whisk until smooth. Transfer fish to batter and toss until evenly coated.

Add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about 3/4 inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working with 5-6 pieces at a time, remove fish from batter, allowing excess to drip back into bowl, and add to hot oil, briefly dragging fish along surface of oil to prevent sticking. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 325 and 350 degrees. Fry fish, stirring gently to prevent pieces from sticking together, until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer fish to prepared wire rack and place in oven to keep warm. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining fish.

Divide the fish evenly among tortillas. Top with pickled onions, cabbage, white sauce, mangoes and cilantro.

This recipe serves approximately 6 people.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New York-Style Crumb Cake

It has been a rough couple of nights with little Lucy. She has a posterior tongue tie that causes her to gulp a lot of air when she eats. As a result, her poor bloated little tummy causes her a lot of anguish. She has been sleeping for only very short little stints and crying hysterically when she awakes. I feel so bad for her - she seems so uncomfortable!

Thankfully, I saw the doctor the other day and she recommended another medication to help break up the bubbles in her stomach. We tried it for the first time last night and already saw a remarkable improvement. Hopefully, our little girl will continue to find some relief!

Since Paul and I have been averaging about three hours of sleep each night, coffee has been a greater friend to us than ever before. And what goes better with coffee than a slice of cake? Especially one with a soft, spongy buttermilk base and a topping of sugary, buttery crumbles. This coffee cake has almost twice as many crumbles as it does cake - and that is exactly what makes it so delectable.

A slice of crumb cake with your morning cup of coffee is a perfectly cozy breakfast to enjoy after a not-so-restful night. Paul loved it. The kids loved it - although their fork-to-mouth-skills leave a lot to be desired - my floor and table was littered with crumbs. An edible battle zone indeed. I had to sweep up quickly before Emma "the Human Vacuum" licked them  off the floor. That goes to show how much she enjoyed the cake - good to the last crumb!

New York-Style Crumb Cake
from Baking Illustrated

Note: Do NOT substitute all-purpose flour for the cake flour. It will not bake up the same and the cake will be very heavy and dense.

For the Crumb Topping:
1/3 cup granulated sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour (7 ounces)

For the Cake:
1 1/4 cups cake flour (5 ounces)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

To make the Topping: Whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

To make the Cake: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 16-inch length parchment paper or aluminum foil and fold lengthwise to 7-inch width. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and fit parchment into dish, pushing it into corners and up sides; allow excess to overhang edges of dish.

In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping once if necessary.

Transfer batter to baking pan; using rubber spatula, spread batter into even layer. Following photos below, break apart crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter, beginning with edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang. Dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Emma the Big Sister

By this time, Matthew is a pro at being a big brother. If I need to get something done, I know I can rely on him to hold and protect Lucy. He does get a little anxious if she's upset (but really, who doesn't?) and prefers holding her while she's peacefully asleep. But really, this is his second time around the block with a new baby sister. He's seasoned.

But what about little Miss Emma? She's also very eager to help with Lucy and is learning what it means to be a good big sister.

Before we brought Lucy home, Emma was all about her baby dolls. She loved to dress them, sing to them, play with them, and sleep next to them. However, as soon as Lucy came home from the hospital, Emma has completely abandoned her baby dolls in favor of the newer more lifelike substitute that has suddenly come into her life. All of her attention has been shifted to playing with Lucy. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It's great that she has such an interest in her little sister and wants to help care for her. However, I have also seen how she treats her baby dolls. Sure, she rocks them, cuddles with them, and seems to have great maternal instincts...bus she also drops them on the floor, sits on their faces, whacks them against the staircase as she carries them, and shoves bottles and pacifiers violently into their faces. In short, she's rough. I am completely afraid that she might be just as aggressive with her new doll - Lucy!

And she is - whenever she hones in for a kiss, I practically have a heart attack as I try to prevent poor Lucy from being smothered in the process.

As another example. the other day I had just finished changing Lucy and was getting up to throw some items in the washing machine. I left Lucy happily kicking and squirming on her blanket. I was gone for no more than 30 seconds, when I suddenly heard Lucy start crying frantically. I rushed back into the room to find Emma sitting next to her looking guilty. I picked Lucy up and began to calm her and then asked Emma: "What happened? Why is she so upset?!"

Emma replied, with a look of smug satisfaction on her chubby face: "I spanked her!"

She had to put her head in the corner for that one.

Later, I was thinking about what had happened as I was burping Lucy and realized that perhaps Emma mistook me slapping the baby's back while burping for spanking. Who knows.

Poor, unsuspecting Lucy.

Despite that little incident, Emma loves her little sister dearly. She drops everything she is playing with when I come into the room with Lucy. She loves to help me pick out a little outfit for Lucy to wear each day and relishes the fact that she can have her diaper changed at the same time as her baby sister - something I am not too happy with because she has completely regressed and is no longer interested in being potty trained. She loves to brush Lucy's hair - something that terrifies me because, again, she is very rough. When running errands or driving about town, Emma is thrilled to be seated next to Lucy. Paul and I have not been so thrilled with the car seat arrangement since Emma loves to poke baby Lucy in the face ("I touch her eyes, Mommy!"), shove books in her face, and knock on the side of her car seat with her chubby fist while asking: "Is anybody home?!" over and over and over again. And, since we're driving, there is really not a darn thing we can do about it. However, last week we returned home from an errand and saw that both girls had fallen asleep during the ride and a sleeping Emma was clutching onto Lucy's tiny hand. It was so sweet.

Paul and I have to continually remind ourselves that Emma is only 26 months old and was a baby herself not long ago. All in all, she is doing wonderfully adjusting to her dethronement from her role as Baby of the House and trying her best to be a good big sister. I'm excited for the relationship between my two little ladies to continue to evolve over the years. My wish for them is that they will remain close for the rest of their lives. They're off to a good start.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Best Brownie I Ever Ate

While pregnant with Lucy, sweets were really not my thing. If I had too much sugar, I felt pretty sick. I never had a craving for chocolate, ice cream, or baked goods. It was very easy to turn down sweets and desserts because they frankly just did not taste good to me. This is why I was actually half surprised to find we were having another little girl - because what female is resistant to chocolate!??!

Now that I am no longer pregnant, sweets suddenly sound amazing to me. While we were stuck in the hospital for 48 hours following the delivery, the only thing that sounded decent on the hospital menu were the desserts - carrot cake, chocolate cake, apple pie, ice all sounded so amazing! I am guessing my sweet tooth came back the second the baby popped out.

When I came home, my Mom made me these most delicious brownies. The recipe was courtesy of the Pioneer Woman and she calls them "Knock You Naked Brownies." This intriguing title might have been the reason Paul could always be found lurking nearby whenever I decided to snack on one of these brownies. The creep.

Anyway, these brownies were basically the greatest thing I have ever eaten. Look at that caramel layer oozing out!! Beautiful.

They really satisfied my sweet tooth and I loved the flavor of the German Chocolate cake mix. Plus, you throw in a bunch of pecans and some chocolate chips - heaven!! The caramel layer is super thick and gooey, making these a bit of a pain to slice without thoroughly chilling first. They also don't look as pretty on a plate but they are so gooey, sticky, and marvelously delicious that nobody will care! Have I sold you on these yet? I think they would also be great heated with a gigantic scoop of ice cream melting over the top. I also have envisioned adding a layer of toasted coconut on top of the caramel to make them more decadent. I think everything is better with a little coconut.

Make these. They are fantastic. Perhaps it's just all my hormones and my newly rediscovered love for sugar talking, but I truly think these are the greatest. Thanks, Mom!

Out-of-this-World Caramel Stuffed Brownies
from The Pioneer Woman

1 stick butter, melted
1/3 plus 1/2 cup evaporated milk
One box German chocolate cake mix
1 cup finely chopped pecans
60 caramels, unwrapped
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips plus 1/2 cup more for the top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-9-inch baking pan.

Begin by pouring 1/3 cup evaporated milk into a bowl with the cake mix. Add the melted butter and the chopped pecans. Mix the ingredients together; it'll be pretty thick!

Divide the dough in half down the middle. Press half of it into the bottom of the prepared pan to make the first brownie layer. Bake until slightly set, about 8 -10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and set aside.

While the brownie layer is baking, in a double boiler (or glass bowl set over a bowl of simmering water) combine the caramels and the remaining 1/2 cup evaporated milk. Stir occasionally until the caramels are totally melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour the caramel mixture over the first baked layer, spreading so it's evenly distributed. Sprinkle the chocolate chips all over the top.

Next, on a clean surface or a sheet of waxed paper, press the remaining dough into a square shape slightly smaller than the baking pan. Carefully set it on top of the chocolate chips. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is set. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips over the top. Once melted, use an offset metal spatula to spread the chocolate evenly all over the surface of the brownies. Let the brownies cool to room temperature. Cover the pan and refrigerate the brownies for several hours to allow them to set.

Cut into how many pieces you desire. Bring to room temperature before serving.