Experimental baking! (And my skillet is done!)

Yesterday afternoon, Julie came over for a round of Experimental Baking! We chose three recipes for sweets, another for dinner, and one condiment. We started at about 3:00 in the afternoon, with a run to the grocery store before we could start baking, and finished all our baking around 10:00 at night. It was a long, delicious afternoon!

The three sweets recipes all came from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Her website is one of a couple baking sites that I follow. I’ve wanted to tackle a couple of her recipes for a while and a lazy, Sunday afternoon seemed like the perfect time to do that. We decided to make:

Snickers Cheesecake Bars

These were a pretty straightforward cheesecake bar. The Oreo crust might be the best part about these, though, because it’s nice and thick and we’re big fans of Oreo cookies around this house.

They did unfortunately crumble a bit when I pulled them out of the pan to cut them, but they’re still delicious. The chunks of Snicker’s candy bars melted a lot, so it doesn’t really come across as being very Snickers-ey, and the baking time took a LOT longer than it said, but that might be because of the pan we were using.

All in all, it was not that tricky to put together and turned out delicious. Jessi was over here this afternoon and specifically asked if she could take another one to go home with her, so she has a resounding vote in favor of this one above all the other ones we made yesterday.

No-Bake Reese’s Peanut Butter Bars

These might be my favorites because I love peanut butter so much! They are super rich, though, so even cut into tiny little bars, I can’t eat more than one before I start to go into sugar overload.

These were super easy. There’s only five ingredients. It calls for salted butter, but I only ever have unsalted butter, so I’m not sure how that effected it. We did have trouble with the chocolate topping sinking into the peanut butter layer, so we had to put it into the fridge for a while to chill before we gave it a second try. And I think Julie doubled the chocolate layer again when she did it the second time, so our chocolate layer here might be thicker than it would be strictly following the recipe.

I don’t think we’re going to complain about there being too much chocolate, though. And I kind of like how the first attempt made little dips of chocolate into the bars. These do start to melt right away once they’re out of the fridge. But they are fantastic.

(Both the Snickers Cheesecake Bars and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Bars should be kept refrigerated.)

Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies

These cookies won a Nestle baking contest for Sally!

These were the most troublesome of all the baking yesterday. We got into the mixing and discovered that we were 1/4 cup short of baking cocoa powder, so we had to send Justin to the grocery store to get us some more. It worked out just fine because we just transitioned to one of the other recipes while we waited. But the cookies definitely had the most ingredients and the most work involved.

The pictures I have don’t show that there’s actually a Rolo inside of these cookies. (I just now realized that I must have had candy on the brain because they ALL have candy involved, if not as an ingredient, then in the title and as inspiration.) When they’re warm, that candy is all liquidy and goopy and delicious. And yes, that is salt on the top of the cookie and it’s surprisingly yummy as a contrast to all that chocolaty goodness.

Amazingly delicious, but enormously complicated to make. We had wet ingredients and dry ingredients, which mixed together to make a very thick, sticky batter that we had to chill for a couple hours before even trying to roll into Rolo-covering balls. Julie did all the rolling and her hands were completely caked over with chocolate after just a couple of these. But the payoff is amazing. They’re another very rich dessert, evidenced by the fact that Justin, who can usually chow down on a half-dozen chocolate chip cookies with no trouble, made it through 3 before he had to stop. I call that a good cookie!

And, once again, all the credit for these three recipes goes to Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing was  the next recipe we tried.

Justin loves Ranch dressing, but he’s very particular about the ones that he likes. For example, we only buy Hidden Valley Ranch from the store because he’s tried several other brands and likes Hidden Valley’s version the best. When we go out, we know exactly which restaurants have good Ranch dressing (Outback and Kickin’ Chicken, for example). I’ve wanted to see if I could find a good recipe for making this at home and since Julie ended up with a bunch of buttermilk in her fridge, it seemed like a good time to test this out.

This recipe is from a site called The Mother Huddle. I love this website for crafty sewing ideas and fun recipes. I haven’t spent as much time on the site as I’d like, but I’ve enjoyed the bits that I have read. I have several bookmarked ideas from this site that I need to explore sometime.

Also, just so you know, it’s tricky taking a picture of what is, basically, white goop.

That’s the only picture that actually turned out even reasonably attractive looking.

Anyway, this was, by far, the easiest recipe of the day. Basically, put buttermilk in a jar, add spices, shake. Add mayonnaise, shake more. Chill. Start to finish, maybe 5 minutes of hands-on involvement, followed by several hours of chilling.

And it’s yummy. I think it might be a little too heavy on the mayonnaise flavor. I like mayo, so it doesn’t make it taste bad or anything. I just think it could be a little less strong on the mayo and a little more strong on some of the other flavors.

Justin is amazed at this recipe. He think’s is delicious. He’s surprised at how easy it was to put together. I think we’re going to be exploring this concept more over the next while.

Finally, we made Tuscan Tempeh Pasta for dinner.

BEFORE YOU CLICK THAT LINK! Be aware that the website you’re going to is called Thug Kitchen. He swears. A LOT. It’s a website by a mostly-vegetarian guy who does some delicious-looking stuff. But you have to be okay with him dropping the F-bomb *several* times during each recipe. Seriously. If you’re offended by strong language, then don’t click on the link.

And I don’t have a photo of dinner because it doesn’t look as good as leftovers as it did fresh yesterday and I was so tired yesterday, that I didn’t take photos of anything. And we did some alterations to the original recipe anyway because he obviously calls for tempeh, which is apparently something made out of soy and we went straight to hamburger instead.

So here’s what we did: Boiled a whole box of penne pasta. Browned a bunch of hamburger. Sauteed some onions and garlic and carrot discs and added in a bunch of spices (chili, thyme, oregano, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice), and a can of tomatoes. Steamed a bunch of broccoli and peas, and then threw it all together in the biggest bowl we had available.

Justin pulled out cheese to add to the top, which was a great idea and added a lot of flavor. I think the next time I make this, I’ll throw it into a baking dish, cover it with some breadcrumbs and cheese, and bake it for a while. I think I’ll also half the recipe because we had three people eating it yesterday, two people tonight, and we still have a TON of leftovers.

Browning the hamburger for dinner was the first time I got to use my new cast iron skillet! I finally finished seasoning it and now I need to cook several greasy things in it to finish that off. Of course, I went and threw tomatoes into it after the hamburger, which set me back some and I might go back and season it one more time again now. But it was still amazing to cook in, cleaned right out once it was cooled, and was just a whole heck of a lot of fun.

I failed to take a picture of it before I seasoned it, but it looked something like this one did, with a bunch of brown bits and very gray and matte looking.

(Image stolen from this website here)

And now it looks like this:

It’s beautiful and shiny and I’m so pleased!! This is six coats of grape seed oil and baked at 550* for an hour each time. And then washed last night by scrubbing it with fine sea salt. And then coated again with more grape seed oil just to make sure it’s not losing the coating because of the tomatoes.

Seriously, I’m so tickled by how good this thing looks!

Tomorrow we’re going to try the Foolproof Pan Pizza recipe again using this pan and I’m excited to see how it turns out this time!

This is the current status of tomorrow’s dinner:

 Justin will be eating his pizza with homemade buttercream ranch dressing.