Triple Gold Bars

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It’s the return of the butterscotch chips! Recall I bought them on a whim for a 2-for-$5 deal. We used one bag, which means we’ve got to put the second bag to good use. I’m getting more than my money’s worth here with these Triple Gold Bars.

Where does the name come from? We’ve got a triple threat contributing to the gorgeous golden color. One, as already mentioned, we’ve got the sweet and rich butterscotch chips. They’re balanced out by element number two, salty peanut butter. And finally, our third golden weapon is browned butter – a nutty, indulgent next-level ingredient that makes these bars exceptional.

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Imagine your favorite soft and chewy peanut butter cookie in bar form, and that’s the texture you’ve got here. They’re salty-sweet, with a unique, deep flavor laced through from the butter. This is next-level comfort food, adding a sophisticated twist to the classic peanut butter cookie.

I personally think bars beat cookies every time because a) you can cut them as big as you want, and b) you don’t have to chill the dough. Just mix it all up in one big bowl, plop it in the pan, and bake away. The only real effort these Triple Gold Bars require is fetching a glass of milk from the fridge to go with.

We struck rich with this recipe. You could buy three gold rings or wear three gold necklaces, but it’ll never be as satisfying as the triple gold powers of these peanut butter treats.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Overbaking is the enemy. Take the bars out just before you actually think they’re done, and they’ll probably be just right. This ensures a soft, moist bar.
  2. Not a butterscotch fan? Throw in whatever kind of chips you like, or even swirl in jelly.
  3. You can, in fact, make this in cookie form if you chill the dough then bake like you would regular cookie dough.
  4. Parchment paper isn’t required, but you may struggle to get the bars out of the pan otherwise.

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Triple Gold Bars
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups butterscotch chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick cooking spray then line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until you see the butter start to foam and sizzle gently. Start to stir frequently. It will begin to form dark golden specks at the bottom, and it should smell nutty. Remove from heat immediately and let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together browned butter, peanut butter, and sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and vanilla and beat together on medium speed just until evenly combined. Beat in the egg on low speed then fold in the butterscotch chips.
  4. Transfer dough to prepared pan and flatten into an even layer, pushing dough all the way out to the edges. Bake 18 minutes, or until puffed and set and just turning golden around the edges. Let cool completely then cut into squares and enjoy. Store in fridge in an air-tight container.

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Cotton Candy Oreo Bark

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Every time Oreo releases one of their new tantalizing limited edition flavors, I go into a tizzy trying to track them down. My stores here are always behind, so they wind up not carrying them until much later, or they sell out quickly.

I’ve been essentially stalking my local Target after I heard they were selling Cotton Candy Oreos, but to no avail. Those whimsical Oreos have yet to appear there as far as I know. Meanwhile, I’ve been drooling at the thought of trying one of my favorite flavors in the form of an Oreo.

Perhaps it’s the kid in me, but I always have – and still do – loved cotton candy-flavored foods, especially ice cream. Any time I got ice cream as a kid, it had to be cotton candy. So you see, this Cotton Candy Oreo and I were meant to be, if only I could get my hands on them.

Luckily Mother Cookie came through and brought some all the way from…where ever she lives right now. My parents move every other month, it seems, and I can’t keep track. Anyway, I’m just lucky she takes such good care of me because I finally got to try these Oreos.

Being a lover of all things sugary, these babies are right up my alley. The filling tastes scarily like cotton candy, and you only need one or two to hit your sugar quota for the day. That’s all the more reason I enjoy them. But I couldn’t just let them sit in my pantry, not living up to their full potential; I needed to baked with them.

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With only four ingredients, this Cotton Candy Oreo Bark is barely a recipe, but it’s so fun and scrumptious that I had to share it with you. If you could boil all the fun of a carnival down into one treat, it’d be this swirly, pastel-tinted confection.

Is it too much sweetness to embed Cotton Candy Oreo chunks into white chocolate? Heck no. I actually think the white chocolate makes the flavor of the Oreos seem a bit more subtle. Plus, the good thing about bark is that you can partake in tinier pieces and get your sweet fix in a little bite.

I could see this being a huge hit at parties, for kids and adults alike. When it’s so simple to make, why not embrace your inner child? Go track down a pack of Cotton Candy Oreos and experience the taste of a carnival in your kitchen.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Make sure you melt the white chocolate in intervals. This prevents burning. Plus, it melts faster when you stir in between the intervals.
  2. Get creative with swirling the chocolates together. It’s meant to look messy and fun.
  3. This makes a great gift, especially for birthdays.
  4. Using parchment paper on the bottom of the pan ensures you’ll be able to get the chocolate out of the pan without any fuss. It also makes for easier clean-up after.

Cotton Candy Oreo Bark
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 2 sleeves of Cotton Candy Oreos, crushed
  • 12-oz. bag pink Candy Melts
  • 1 ½ cups white chocolate chips
  • Pink & blue sugar sprinkles

Directions:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Place Candy Melts in a medium microwave-safe bowl and melt according to package directions. Whisk until nice and smooth.
  3. Working quickly, place the white chocolate chips in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring well in between, until completely melted and smooth.
  4. Immediately pour melted Candy Melts into prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
  5. Pour white chocolate over top then use a butter knife or fork to gently swirl the white chocolate and pink together.
  6. Immediately sprinkle crushed Oreos over top in an even layer. Add the sprinkles, if desired. Cover and place in fridge until completely set, about 1 hour.
  7. Break the bark apart into sloppy pieces and enjoy. Store in fridge in an air-tight container.

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Triple Review: Swifty’s, The Garden Grille, & Cafe Del Buono

Spring 15

I spent my weekend pigging out in honor of my commencement. My family came up for the big day, which meant we had to celebrate with food. Admittedly, the feasting started off a bit rocky when one of the events I went to didn’t offer anything vegetarian. But that just meant I got to grab food at the hotel restaurant afterwards.

My parents were staying at the Radisson in Utica, NY. I’m always a little apprehensive of hotel restaurants because they can be really awful, but I didn’t have any other options, and I was ravenous at this point. The Garden Grille‘s menu was refreshingly enticing, offering something for pretty much any craving you could have. I was pleased that there were at least a few meatless options for me.

Because I’m indecisive, I ordered two dishes. The first was their Three-Cheese Mac & Cheese. I must admit that it looks pretty darn impressive with that breadcrumb topping. Underneath, there was a surplus of sauce. That’s a major requirement for any mac I eat; dry mac and cheese is the worst.

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That said, the sauce was a teeny bit runny, but pleasingly full of flavor. The cheese selection was likely cheddar, parmesan, and another mild melting cheese like Monterey jack perhaps, which made for a classic but flavorful taste.

The breadcrumb were delightfully crunchy and a bit garlicky too. Good as they were, – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – there was actually too much. It overwhelmed the pasta.

Overall, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Next, I selected a Margherita Pizza Flatbread. It looks pretty impressive, but was average at best. The crust was not crisp like I wanted it to be, and although the sauce was not bad at all, it tasted like it was from a jar. The fresh mozzarella did not have the level of quality I want on a margherita pizza, and the “fresh” basil didn’t taste fresh at all; it had little flavor.

The pizza gets 2.5 stars.

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After the actual ceremony the next day, we had a casual lunch at Swifty’s Bar in Utica. I love their plentiful menu and that some of the options are refreshingly different. You can get Irish Nachos for an app, complete with homemade potato chips, or even Fried Brie.

I chose Waffle Fries with Cheese for my appetizer. The fries themselves were well-seasoned and crisp, but they need way more cheese. I was seriously unsatisfied. I also wish the green onions were cut bigger for more flavor. I give them 3 out of 5 stars.

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For my meal, I got the Black Bean Burger Wrap and subbed in onion rings as my side. I adore this wrap! It’s overstuffed with so many good fillings: a crispy black bean burger, guacamole, tomato, fried onions and peppers, corn, and cheese. They wrap it perfectly too so not a single bite falls out of the tortilla. It’s flavorful, hearty, and an amazing vegetarian option. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

As for the onion rings, they were perfectly crisp and flavorful. You definitely could taste the beer in the batter. I give ‘em 4 out of 5 stars.

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Only two days after graduation, I hopped into my first full-time job, and the ladies in my department were kind enough to treat me to lunch. They took me to one of their favorite joints, Café Del Buono in New Hartford. My boss says they “haunt” the place quite frequently, and I guess she wasn’t kidding because they knew her by name.

I knew I had to try the Vodka Riggies; this is Utica, after all! If you didn’t know, the Utica area is known for its riggies (aka rigatoni). The ladies ordered it too, so I knew it must be good.

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They brought out a plate big enough to feed a family of six, which means it was just enough for my insatiable tummy. I took it easy though since these ladies don’t know the power of my appetite just yet. But let me tell you, those riggies did not disappoint.

They were cooked perfectly al dente and covered in an abundance of creamy, smooth sauce. It was the right balance of sweet and tangy with fresh homemade flavor. I do wish the parsley had been basil though, but I’m a big basil lover.

Here’s my one gripe, and I hope you Uticans can clear this up. Shouldn’t riggies be rigatoni? I mean, penne, is technically penne rigate, but I was still expecting chunky rigatoni. Thoughts?

I give them 4 out of 5 stars.

Have you tried any of these restaurants?

Spider-Man Cake

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There are many times when we fight with every fiber of our being to avoid becoming like our parents. To some, it’s the ultimate idea of failure. We don’t want to be nags, and we don’t want to be old and stuffy. Some of us even dedicate our entire lives to acting in ways we think are opposite from what our parents would do.

To some degree, maybe that’s been me. Maybe there have been little qualities I’ve tried to avoid bubbling up through my Bierstine blood. But in many ways, I strive to be like my parents. What’s the point in avoiding the inevitable anyway? I’d like to think that winding up like they are isn’t the worst thing I can become.

Father Cookie celebrated his birthday this Saturday, and throughout my entire life, he’s been the hardest-working man I know. He is where my determination and motivation stem from. He taught me the importance of making what you want happen and not letting life turn you into a victim.

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Among these outstanding qualities, I also learned a thing or two about embracing my nerdiness. Did I try to quiet my corny sense of humor that I learned from him? No. Did I push down the love of Marvel comics as I’ve gotten older? Heck no.

These little quirks remind me of the man who raised me, and they make me who I am. That’s why I knew a Marvel cake would be perfect for commemorating Father Cookie’s birthday, a Spider-Man Cake to be more specific. This cake is surprisingly simple, with basic shapes that compose it. The end result is striking, bound to impress the comic book lover in your life.

I don’t care if you’re a kid, an adult, a boy, or a girl – anybody can appreciate a sick superhero cake like this. I truly believe no gift holds the same wow factor as a handmade, personal cake like this. It’s better yet if it reflects an interest you and the birthday boy share.

Here’s to Father Cookie and all the things that make him the dad I love. The cake was a hit from the second he saw it, and my signature vanilla buttercream made it a favorite to eat too.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. I used Wilton red food dye to achieve the bright hue.
  2. That said, be careful with red dye. Depending on what kind you use, if you use too much, it’ll have a bad after taste.
  3. Another option is to use red fondant and lay it over plain white frosting.
  4. I use the Wilton frosting because my Wilton tips attach right to them.
  5. For an extra clean decorating job, slip pieces of parchment paper under the bare cake so that they stick out. When you’re done frosting, gently pull them away and take the mess with you.

Spider-Man Cake
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 9×13 cake, any flavor (I recommend this recipe)

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extra
  • Red food dye

Décor

  • Parchment paper
  • Black Wilton Ready-to-Use frosting
  • White Wilton Ready-to-Use frosting
  • Blue Wilton Ready-to-Use frosting (only necessary for writing)
  • Round frosting tip

Directions:

  1. Place cake on a cutting board. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the cake. Reference a picture of Spider-Man to lightly draw the shape of Spider-Man’s face on the parchment paper so that it fits within the size of the cake.
  2. Take the paper off of the cake and cut out the shape. Lay it back over the cake and carefully cut around it. Gently pull away extra cake and discard scraps (or snack on them). Place cake in fridge.
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  3. To make the frosting, place butter and 2 cups sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Start on low speed then turn up to medium as the sugar starts to incorporate. Continue like this, adding 2 cups at a time, until all sugar is incorporated. Add vanilla, cream, and red food dye and beat on high until fluffy, about 1 minute. If it’s too thick, add 1 tbsp. more cream. The amount of dye will depend on how red you want it.
  4. Spread the frosting in an even layer on top of the cake. Smooth out the top and then the sides.
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  5. Use the black fitted with the round tip to draw a straight black vertical line right down the middle of the cake.From here, draw black lines equidistant from each other, branching out from the center of the cake. Work all the way around, 360 degrees.
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  6. For the eyes, use the black to draw two large triangles centered towards the top of the cake. The top of each line should be lined up with one of the lines you’ve already drawn on the face. The bottom long side of the eye should be slightly curved. Make the edges very thick.
  7. Use the white to fill in the center of the eyes.
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  8. Use the black to finish drawing the webs once the eyes are done. Connect each long line with slightly curved lines equidistant from each other.
  9. You can finish here, or use the blue to write a message.
  10. Store cake in an air-tight container in the fridge.

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Zucchini Bites

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When it comes to zucchini, I manage to forget how much I love it between the times when I eat it. It’s a simple but delicious squash with a slightly sweet flavor, and there are so many things to do with it. I grabbed my first zucchinis of the season during my last trip to the grocery store, not knowing exactly what I’d do with them. Inspiration would come with time.

In fact, the second I stop thinking about something is usually when I’m inspired. So I looked at those lonely little zucchinis in my fridge for a few days, and I almost forgot about them until my stomach started grumbling for a snack. I thought how tasty tater tots would be, but then I imagined something fresher and better for me: Zucchini Bites.

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These cuties come together easily for an exceptionally hearty snack – with a kick! That red pepper hits you when you least expect it, waking you up along with the bright flavor of the zucchini. The bites are golden outside and tender inside, much like a tater tot. However, these are much more filling and satisfying – although equally poppable.

You can enjoy these tasty little devils as is or with a complementary dip like salsa, or a cheddar cheese sauce. I guarantee that any age group will gobble up this snack quicker than you can say, “More, please!” Kids will love that it’s finger food, and adults, well, they’ll love that it’s finger food too.

Now that it’s warming up, our palates are craving fresh flavors in foods that don’t require us to stand around a hot stove all day. These Zucchini Bites are a perfect healthy treat you’ll eat all summer long.

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A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Mix in half summer squash, if you’d like.
  2. If you don’t like heat, avoid the red pepper flakes. That said, if you can handle it, go ahead and add some more.
  3. Fresh garlic is a must, adding incredible flavor that you won’t get otherwise.
  4. You can add more cheese to the top during the last few minutes of baking.

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Zucchini Bites
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – 24 Bites

Ingredients:

  • 4 small or 3 large zucchinis, ends removed
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • ½ a medium red onion
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Place zucchini in a large microwave-safe dish and fill ¾ with water. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Flip the zucchini and cook for another 2 minutes or until tender.
  3. Slice the zucchini into large chunks. Place in a food processor with the garlic and onion and process until finely chopped or roughly pureed.
  4. Transfer zucchini mixture to a strainer and press down gently to drain thoroughly. Place drained zucchini mixture in a large mixing bowl with all remaining ingredients. Stir well until evenly-combined.
  5. Drop mixture into muffin tin, filling each cup. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and set. Use a butter knife to run around the edges and remove bites. Enjoy.

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Princess Graduation Cake

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I graduated in December, so I thought I had been done with college for many months. However, I got a phone call a month or so ago asking me to return to the school to discuss academic honors. Well, what do you know, this Smart Cookie was named salutatorian for the class of 2015, and I have to walk at spring commencement in order to receive the honors.

Okay, I guess I can manage that.

So call this the most drawn-out graduation celebration of all time. It’s been months in the making, and I’m ready to really, for real be done when I walk this weekend. This Smart Cookie worked hard for her degree.

Believe it or not, this Princess Graduation Cake actually isn’t for me. You wouldn’t expect me to bake my own cake, would you? I made this fit-for-a-fairytale cake for a friend of mine and former co-worker who is graduating this spring too. She’s a Disney fanatic, so she needed her own princess-inspired cake.

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No princess grad cake would be complete without a sparkly pink graduation cap. But I felt like a pink cap wasn’t enough; there needed to be a tiara too so the princess could switch to the appropriate headwear at the – wait for it – drop of a hat.

Pretty flowers add to the feminine feel of this cake. I’m no flower expert, but these ones were easy enough. Pearl sprinkle centers make them extra elegant. And no one can deny some confetti sprinkles.

Did I mention it’s complete with my best vanilla buttercream frosting?

If you really want to make friends, serve this cake with a few extra tiaras for everyone to wear, and don’t be surprised when the dudes enjoy them more than the ladies.

Congrats to everyone graduating this spring!

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A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. I bought my tiaras in the birthday section of Party City. I chose them because they’re tinier.
  2. I use Wilton Ready-to-Use Frostings because my Wilton tips attach right to them. If you don’t have Wilton tips, you might want to opt for a different brand.
  3. Almost all of this is optional. Make it your own, and use whatever elements you like.
  4. Confetti sprinkles are hard to find, but I have had success at Hobby Lobby.
  5. When making the frosting, always start mixing the sugar in on a low speed to let it incorporate a bit. Otherwise, you’ll have a powdered sugar dust storm.

Princess Graduation Cake
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients

  • 2 8×8-inch round cakes (I used confetti)

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tbsp. chilled heavy cream

 

  • Pink Wilton Ready-to-Use Frosting
  • Purple Wilton Ready-to-Use Frosting
  • White Wilton Ready-to-Use Frosting
  • Black Wilton Ready-to-Use Frosting
  • Green Wilton Ready-to-Use Frosting
  • Blue Wilton Ready-to-Use Frosting
  • Yellow Wilton Ready-to-Use Frosting
  • Pink luster dust
  • Small white pearl sprinkles
  • Confetti sprinkles
  • Small tiara (I bought mine at Party City with the princess-themed stuff)

Tools

  • Parchment or wax paper
  • Round frosting tip
  • Leaf frosting tip
  • Drop flower frosting tip and/or petal frosting tip

Directions:

  1. Place one cake round centered on your working surface. Take small strips of parchment or waxed paper and stick them around the edges of the cake so they stick out. This will let you make a mess with the frosting, then you can pull the paper away when you’re done and take the mess with you.
  2. Make the frosting: place butter and two cups sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat on low speed until the sugar starts to incorporate then increase speed to medium until well-combined. Continue adding 2 cups of sugar at time, mixing in at low then increasing to medium speed, until all sugar is incorporated.
  3. Add the vanilla and cream and beat on high until light and fluffy. If it’s still too thick, add 1 tbsp. more cream.
  4. Put 1/3 of the frosting on top of the first layer of cake and spread out to the edges in an even layer.
  5. Place the second cake layer centered on top of the first frosted layer. Scoop the rest of the frosting out onto the cake, leaving a little bit so that you can use it for touch-ups.
  6. Spread the frosting out the edges, letting it fall over. Smooth the top out into an even, smooth layer. Then smooth out the edges. Gently remove paper from under the cake.
  7. Use the pink frosting fit with a round tip to draw a graduation cap. Start with a diamond shape for the top of the hat, then draw a lowercase “m” under it and connect it to the top of the hat. Fill in the cap and dust with pink luster dust.
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  8. Outline the cap with black. Use the white to draw highlights.
  9. Use the purple frosting fitted with a purple tip to draw a dot centered on the top of the hat. Draw a tassel falling over the edge of the cap. If you like, you can place one of the small white pearl sprinkles on top of the cap.
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  10. Stick the tiara into the top right of the cake. Choose whatever color you like fitted with the drop flower tip, the petal tip or a little of both to draw flowers underneath the tiara. Vary the sizes and stick a few pearl sprinkles in the center of each flower. Use the leaf tip on the green frosting to draw leaves around the flowers.
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  11. Use pink or purple frosting fitted with a round tip to write “Grad Princess” in cursive underneath the tiara. Write the cake recipient’s name above.
  12. Use the same color with a round tip to write your congratulatory message centered at the bottom of the cake. I wrote “Congrats and good luck.”
  13. Use the blue fitted with a large ribbon tip to draw a thick border around the top and bottom edges of the cake. Top the blue border with confetti sprinkles.

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Smart Cookie Shopping 52: Lunchbox Snacks, Frozen Foods, & Fries

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I’ve got a fresh load of Smart Cookie Shopping products for you, straight from another one of my late-night grocery trips. This one was in the pouring rain too. Why do I do this?

Oh yeah, for the food!

And for you guys, of course.

It’s time to take our bi-weekly voyage to the grocery store to see what’s new in the world of food. I’ll give you the low down on all my finds so you can decide which ones you’d like to try next time you go shopping.

Grab your carts, and let’s roll!

1. Ore-Ida Bold & Crispy Garlic and Pepper Steakhouse Friesavailable in the frozen section

Even though these are labeled “steakhouse” fries, they’re not quite as thick as the typical steak fry, which is just fine with me. They are still undeniably heartier than your average fry, and the seasoning on them makes them smell intoxicating. As far as frozen fries go, I give these a thumbs-up.

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2. Turkey Hill Box of Chocolates Ice Creamavailable in the frozen section

This was probably put out around Valentine’s Day, but I’m just catching wind of it. I love the idea of assorted chocolate boxes since you get a little bit of everything, so getting that in a bowl of ice cream is basically heaven. I never did quite figure out how many different little flavors there were speckled through the ice cream, but it was fun all the same. The ice cream itself was nice and creamy with a mild but tasty chocolate flavor.

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3. Lance Bolds Pizza Cracker Sandwiches available in the snack aisle

I used to love cheese cracker sandwiches as a kid, so I couldn’t resist trying this fun flavor. They were surprisingly pizza-esque, with a hint of Italian herbs, tomato, and a lot of cheesiness. It’s one tasty snack that kids and adult will love.

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4. Food Should Taste Good White Cheddar Tortilla Chips available in the organic chip section

Y’all know I love Food Should Taste Good’s Sweet Potato Chips, so I had to try these white cheddar tortilla chips. As my boyfriend exclaimed, “They’re very cheddar-y!” They’re great to snack on their own, with a hearty crispness, and they’d be delicious dipped in just about anything. The downside: It’s about 3 bucks a bag, and you only get a few handful of chips.

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5. Snyder’s of Hanover Three Cheese Pretzel Poppers available in the chip aisle

I loved the original flavor of these when I first tried them because they take out all the dryness of pretzels that makes them hard to eat without gallons of water. You just get the crispy exterior, and they’re a great shape for dipping. Although this cheese flavor is tasty, there’s barely any flavor powder on the pretzels. A pretzel just doesn’t have a surface that powder can adhere to well.

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6. Knorr Pasta Sides Cheddar Chipotleavailable in the pasta aisle

Look, sometimes, you just need a packaged pasta side dish. Homemade is amazing; we all know that. But there’s something comforting about a ready-to-cook starch like this. If you’re a fan of smoky flavor, you’ll definitely enjoy these cute and cheesy shells. Bonus tip: use cream instead of milk in the preparation for extra richness.

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7. Nature Valley Salted Caramel Peanut Nut Crisp Barsavailable in the snack aisle

In true Nature Valley fashion, you could feed a small country with the amount of crumbs you produce while trying to eat these bars. That said, they are salty and sweet with a delightful crunch, making them a great snack for <150 calories.

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8. Post Great Grains Dark Chocolate Nut The Bar Undoneavailable in the snack aisle

This is glorified granola, and although it certainly isn’t bad, it’s nothing special. It’s not filling at all, and it lacks flavor.

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9. International Delight Hershey’s Chocolate Caramel Coffee Creameravailable in the dairy section

I don’t think this tastes like chocolate and caramel, but it does taste and look like chocolate milk. If you like chocolate, it’s worth buying for your coffee.

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Which of these products will you try?

Butterscotch Cinnamon Whipped Cream Pie

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I believe in signs, not necessarily divine ones, but just little occurrences that try to nudge you in the right direction. Take for example my most recent trip to the grocery store when the bags of butterscotch chips caught my eye. I almost never cook with butterscotch, simply because I forget about it. But what would you know, in the split second I was considering picking some chips up, I saw the bags were 2-for-$5. How could I pass up a deal like that?

So I took the chips home without a single idea of what I’d make with them. But I knew I was meant to buy me some butterscotch, and that it was only a matter of time before inspiration hit. Admittedly, the warm weather here played a part in influencing my final decision; I needed something light and refreshing.

Hello, Butterscotch Cinnamon Whipped Cream Pie.

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I don’t know if Fate is actually to thank for the creation of this cool and creamy pie, but I am darn grateful for the inspiration that came my way. You’ll see the ingredient list is quite short, and the directions aren’t much longer. And yet, you wind up with a beautiful doubled-layered pie that tastes like sweet, sweet indulgence.

It’s in eating this that I wonder why I don’t bake with butterscotch more often. The stuff is rich, yes, but the warm and spicy cinnamon balances it out. We make a thick ganache out of the butterscotch to blanket the bottom of our crust. Then it’s topped with a 5-ingredient, no-bake filling that’s as fluffy as a pillow.

We know the filling is good, but the crust is just a vessel for serving it in, right? Wrong! This crust is extra delectable thanks to a bit of brown sugar, and its crunchiness is the perfect complement to that light and smooth filling. You might leave subpar crusts behind from time to time – be it from a pizza or pie – but you’ll eat every last crumb of this.

So here’s to a grocery store sale that prompted me to pick up a rather under-used ingredient. Don’t ignore those little signs; you never know where they may lead you.

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A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You don’t save much by buying a crust. It’ll cost you more, it won’t taste as good, and my crust is so easy that there’s no point in skipping it.
  2. You can make the filling a bit richer by beating in ¼ cup mascarpone cheese.
  3. You want to beat the filling to the point of forming stiff peaks, but don’t beat it past that or it will take on the consistency of butter.

Butterscotch Cinnamon Whipped Cream Pie
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

For the crust

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp. butter, melted

For the butterscotch ganache

  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips

For the filling

  • 1 ½ cups chilled heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and butter until evenly combined.
  3. Press crust mixture into the bottom of an 8×8 pie dish, pushing up and around the edges so the entire pan is covered in a packed, even layer. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
  4. Place butterscotch chips in a heat-proof bowl. Set aside.
  5. Microwave ¼ cup cream in a microwave-safe bowl on 20-second intervals until it is simmering (about 3 intervals). Immediately pour over butterscotch chips and let sit for 2 minutes. Whisk together until completely smooth.
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  6. Pour ¾ of the butterscotch ganache into the cooled pie dish and place in fridge. Reserve the extra.
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  7. In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to beat the 1 ½ cups heavy cream, powdered sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch and vanilla until whipped, thick and fluffy.
  8. Spread filling over the butterscotch layer in the pie crust. Smooth out evenly. Drizzle with extra butterscotch sauce and return to the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Enjoy.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn Bark

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This is the 2nd day in a row with a banging 4-ingredient recipe. How do I pack so much punch into such a short ingredient list? I guess that’s why I’m The Smart Cookie Cook!

Today’s sweet and simple recipe is my Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn Bark, the ultimate snack. Hello, salty…hello, sweet…hello, crunchy…hello, creamy! We’re hitting every craving with one easy treat. It’s the kind of food your mind craves, catering to every sense and every want.

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When we put that salty popcorn and peanut butter together with sweet, sweet chocolate, it forms a beautiful friendship. Crunchy popcorn might seem like an unconventional topping for candy, but it makes sense when you think about it. When you go to the movies, you grab popcorn and candy from the counter so you can have a little bit of everything to enjoy. Now, we’re just compiling it all into one awesome hybrid snack.

I’ve got the grub; you can pick the movie.

This Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn Bark is in my fridge right now, but it won’t last for long. A snack that addicting disappears fast. It’s not a matter of will we eat it all, but when. The true question is whether my boyfriend or I will be the one to eat the most.

I do have a head start though.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You must microwave the chocolate in intervals, stirring in between, in order to keep it from burning.
  2. Caramel corn or kettle corn would be a sweeter but equally yummy topping.
  3. No need to be neat when it comes to chocolate bark. You’re an artist – get messy!
  4. If you’re in a rush, set the chocolate faster by starting its chilling in the freezer first.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn Bark
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredient:

  • 3 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • ½ tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 generous cups unbuttered, salted popped popcorn

Directions:

  1. Cover a cookie tray with parchment or wax paper.
  2. Place chocolate in a microwavable bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring well in between, until completely melted and smooth. This should take about 3 intervals.
  3. Pour chocolate in prepared pan and smooth into an even layer.
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  4. Place butter and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 25 seconds. Stir well until butter is melted and pour over chocolate.
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  5. Use a knife to swirl the peanut butter and chocolate together gently.
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  6. Sprinkle popcorn over top and press down lightly. Transfer to fridge to set completely, about 1 hour.
  7. Break or chop chocolate into sloppy pieces. Enjoy or store in the fridge in an air-tight container.

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Mozzarella Tomato Pesto Pretzel Bites

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You almost didn’t see this recipe. Sometimes, I’m baking and cooking and concocting so many different recipes at once that one will occasionally slip through the cracks. I think I made these scrumptious Mozzarella, Tomato, & Pesto Pretzel Bites months ago, and I only recently stumbled upon them again while I was looking through an old camera card. I was completely beside myself that I forgot to share such an addicting treat with you.

The good news is, I didn’t go and wipe my memory card before I realized these gems were still hidden on it. And that means y’all get to experience this 4-ingredient treat too. Talk about a close call! These little bite-sized appetizers will make you look fancy and sophisticated with next-to-no effort on your part, and they’ll be so salty-cheesy-awesome that you won’t be able to stop eating them.

I love that we get a little saltiness, a little tangy-sweetness, and a little freshness in every perfect bite. Any good finger food should be able to encompass a variety of flavors in its tiny surface area so you get the biggest bang for your bite. That’s what these Mozzarella, Tomato & Pesto Pretzel Bites do.

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If you’ve got a fancy-shmancy dinner party approaching, you need these cheesy bites. Or perhaps you’re having an evening in with Netflix and your friends? You still need these cheesy bites. No matter what the occasion, you can’t go wrong with a snack this simple and this flavorful.

Thank goodness fate led me to the glorious reunion with this recipe. There’s a reminder for you to always check your camera card before you empty it.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you know someone with a nut allergy, avoid the pesto. Pesto often has pine nuts in it. Instead, you can achieve the same flavor profile with fresh basil.
  2. You have to eat these immediately because, like nachos, they’ll soften as they sit.
  3. Add some black pepper for a little kick.
  4. Find Pretzel Crisps in the chip aisle of the grocery store.

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Mozzarella, Tomato & Pesto Pretzel Bites
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 2 dozen Parmesan & Garlic Pretzel Crisps
  • ½ cup pesto
  • 48 fresh mozzarella pearls
  • 1 dozen grape tomatoes, halved

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Lay pretzels out in an even layer on pan. Place a dollop (about 1 tsp.) of pesto onto each pretzel then top with two mozzarella pearls per pretzel. Place one tomato half on top of the cheese.
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and enjoy.

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