The Best Chocolate Chip Muffins

It’s that time of year again.  The days are getting shorter and cooler, the last of the summer produce is being snatched up from the grocery store, and today was my last first day of school.  (Until college, that is!)  Every year it’s pretty much the same routine…as the end of August approaches, I start to get a little excited for school.  I go school shopping and spend way too much money, scramble to finish all the summer assignments I’ve been putting off since June, and spend the last few days of summer soaking up the sun, hanging out with friends, and just relaxing….wishing that I could relax but being overwhelmed with work, helping my mom prepare her kindergarten classroom, and doing last-minute loads of laundry.  Then I enjoy the first few day of school, getting to see all my classmates and breaking out my nice new school supplies, and right around day ten I’m ready for summer again.  It’s a vicious cycle.

To make the kick-start to a new school year a little easier, I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip muffins, whose title appropriately labeled them “the best.”  And that they were.  Honestly more of a cupcake than a muffin (muffins are justifiable to eat for breakfast; cupcakes are not, so let’s agree to call them muffins), these were just what I needed to get me in a positive mood about my last year of high school.  Their crisp, golden exteriors and tender, moist, fluffy, chocolate-studded interiors made it impossible to moan and groan about school.  Quite literally, because of course my mouth was full of muffin.  They also helped counteract the excruciating pain of changing my alarm clock setting from 9 am to 6:30.  Gosh, I loved summer.








The Best Chocolate Chip Muffins

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin (I used a square muffin pan) or line with paper liners.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, and then stir in the milk.  Stir in the flour, mixing just until combined, and finally stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tins.  Sprinkle with turbinado sugar (or any coarse sugar) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Yield: 12 standard-sized muffins

(Recipe adapted from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice, originally from King Arthur Flour)


Blackberry Cobbler


I once read an article proclaiming that memories can be triggered most easily not by sight or sound, but by smell.  This surprised me at first, as I thought that familiar sights would cause the most remembrance, but as I thought about it I realized that scents have an uncanny way of bringing back memories.

Whenever I carve into a fresh pumpkin in the fall, I’m immediately taken back in time to Halloweens of the past where I worked so long and so hard to scoop out all the membranes from my pumpkin because I wanted to do it myself; I’m taken back to the bone-chilling Halloween nights in Colorado where I’d stay up way past my bedtime and thrill at the satisfying thud as candy after candy was dropped into my plastic pumpkin basket.  The same thing happens every Christmas when I inhale the scent of fresh pine needles and feel the nostalgia of Christmases come and gone, and again in the spring when I rub the season’s first dandelion between my fingers and smell the sticky nectar which brings back memories of weaving necklaces out of the yellow weeds as I sat in my old backyard.  Being a person who possesses a strong aversion to change (which I’m working on 😉 ), I find a certain comfort in knowing that no matter how much time passes or how many miles I travel, there will always be the familiar scent of pumpkins, pine trees, and dandelions, among many other things, to make me feel at home.

When I moved to my home in Washington nine years ago, I was ecstatic to find that our island is home to dozens upon dozens of wild blackberry bushes.  At the end of each summer, when the sunsets are gradually coming earlier, the nights are starting to get cooler, and the beginning of school is just around the corner, the blackberries reach their peak.  Along nearly every street there are tangles of blackberry bushes studded with dark berries in varying degrees of ripeness.  One of my favorite ways to spend the last few nights of summer is to go blackberry-picking along my road.  I tend to be a little too self-sacrificial when it comes to getting every ripe berry I see.  I always wind up with scratches up and down my arms, a handful of lost hairs, and several minutes lost to extricating myself from a cage of thorns.  But it’s all worth it when I end up with a bucketful of sweet, juicy berries!

I can never resist the temptation to stick my nose over a bucket full of fresh-picked berries and inhale their sweet scent.  Memories of warm summer days are dredged up from the past, and I can recall baking numerous blackberry pies, picking berries with friends, and savoring a bowl of blackberries over vanilla ice cream on the night before the first day of school.  The smell of wild blackberries will forever be equivalent to end-of-the-summer activities on my little island.

While I love blackberry pie, sometimes a cobbler just hits the spot.  Cobbler is much easier and faster than making a pie, and you get a higher ratio of berries-to-topping (whether it’s crust or biscuit) in a cobbler.  The other night I served this blackberry cobbler for dessert and savored every bite of its tender biscuit topping and sweet blackberry filling, made complete with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.  The transition between summer and fall is always bittersweet, but this cobbler will tip the balance closer to the sweet side!







Blackberry Cobbler

Fruit filling:

4 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen

1/3 cup granulated sugar (more or less to taste)

1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)

1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

pinch of cinnamon

1 1/2 Tbs cornstarch

Biscuit topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 Tbs granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup milk or buttermilk

1 large egg


Stir together sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, and cornstarch in an 8″x8″ baking dish.  Gently fold in the blackberries (if using frozen, make sure they’re thawed and drained) until berries are coated with the sugar mixture.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes so the blackberries can release their juices.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, 3 Tbs sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Drop the cubes of cold butter on top of the flour mixture and cut in using a pastry blender or two forks.  When the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, make a well in the center.  Crack the egg into the center and whisk it slightly.  Add the milk to the well and stir until moistened.

Drop the biscuit mixture by large spoonfuls on top of the berries.  (I like to divide it into 9 pieces to make serving easy.)  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until biscuits are light golden and berry filling is bubbling.

This is best served with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!

(Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes)

Secret Ingredient Brownies

This recipe is a good example of mind over matter.  I think that a lot of times, how things taste to us is only partly influenced by the actual food we’re eating.  The rest is affected by what we think about what we’re eating.  I think that a cool experiment would be to bring diners to an upscale, super-expensive restaurant and serve them generic, run-of-the-mill food presented in a fancy arrangement.  Then you could give the same food, served with a less inviting presentation, to people in a cheap, low-quality fast-food joint and observe the two groups’ reactions.  I’d bet anything that the people in the expensive restaurant would think their food tasted a whole lot better than that of the people in the cheap restaurant.  It would all be in their heads!  This thought-interfence is why it’s often said that food tastes better when someone else prepares it, and why parents are often successful in finding creative ways to sneak vegetables or other unsavory items into their children’s meals.  It’s not only the actual taste of spinach (for example) that makes kids cringe; it’s the knowledge that their food contains it!

These brownies have a secret ingredient in them, and I think they’re much more enjoyable when eaten with an open mind or just plain ignorance.  Since I was the one who made the brownies, I could taste the secret ingredient, but the rest of my family, who had no idea what it was, simply tasted a moist, chocolatey brownie.  I won’t lie, these are brownies that have been bumped up several notches on the healthiness scale, and they really do taste different than your usual homemade, boxed, or store-bought chocolate brownie.  But they taste different in a good way, and are still sweet, dense, and fudgey.  Make these for your unsuspecting friends and family and do a little experiment yourself…don’t tell them about the black beans secret ingredient, and watch what happens.  You just might be surprised!

Dark Chocolate Black Bean Brownies

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup + 1 Tbs coconut sugar*

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan and set aside.

Place the black beans, olive oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large blender or food processor.  Blend or pulse until smooth.  Add in the coconut sugar, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder and blend again until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.  Let brownies cool in the pan before cutting.  Yield: 12-16 brownies.

*Coconut sugar is great in this recipe because of its not-overly-sweet taste and low glycemic value, which makes it healthier than cane sugar.  However, if you can’t find coconut sugar in your store and don’t want to order it online, the same amount of regular granulated sugar is an easy substitute.

(Recipe adapted from Eat Good 4 Life, originally from All Recipes)

Southwest Rice & Bean Salad

Some nights, I love to make fancier, time-consuming dinners.  I am by no means a fast cook, so I like to give myself plenty of time to prepare a complicated meal, which often means starting dinner in the afternoon.  Not that I mind it!  There’s something so relaxing to me about spending time in the kitchen cutting, peeling, measuring, and cooking.  However, life often gets in the way of my lengthy dinner-making plans and sometimes I just need to make something that’s quick and simple, but better than plain old pasta or baked chicken, two of my old stand-by fast meals.

Enter this rice & bean salad, which is full of fiber, protein, and lots of good southwest flavor!  I like to think of this salad as a main course and side dish in one since it contains rice, beans, chicken, and corn.  And it’s highly adaptable!  Use whatever kind of rice you have on hand (quinoa or barley would also be great!), as well as whatever type of beans are in your pantry.  Red onion can also be substituted for the green onions, lemon juice for the lime, etc.  Furthermore, it all comes together in a flash; basically all you have to do is combine everything together.  Aaand it can be served either warm, chilled, or at room temperature.  Have I sold you on it yet?  If not, let me mention that not only is this salad quick, easy, and changeable, it’s absolutely delicious!  The dressing is slightly sweet, slightly tangy, and slightly spicy if you choose to add the chopped jalapeños.  It lightly coats the hearty rice, beans, and chicken, and you get even get a bit of veggies from the corn and green onion.  My mom summed it up pretty well by commenting that this was “the perfect dinner.”  You don’t have to wait for a busy night to throw this southwest salad together…make it ASAP!







Southwest Rice & Bean Salad

5 cups cooked rice, warm or at room temperature

1/2 tsp salt

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups cooked, cubed chicken breast (about 2 medium breasts)

1 12-oz can corn, drained

4 green onions, chopped

Juice of 1 large lime (about 1/4 cup)

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

1 Tbs brown sugar, lightly packed

1/2 Tbs finely diced jalapeño pepper (optional)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin


Combine rice, salt, beans, chicken, corn, and green onions in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, vinegar, brown sugar, olive oil, chili powder, and cumin until smooth.  Pour dressing over the salad and toss to combine.  Salad can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature.  Serves 8-10.

(Recipe adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

Blueberry-Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cake

The third week of August is, without fail, a crazy week.  Summer job schedules are full-force, our county fair takes place, summer schoolwork is uncovered from the depths of procrastination, spending time with my horse is squeezed in whenever possible, and my birthday falls on the 15th.  No matter how much I try to plan ahead and get things done in July, that end-of-the-summer rush inevitably arrives right around now.  This year was no exception!

Luckily, although I took a raincheck on entering baked-goods in the fair this year, I still had time to bake myself a birthday cake.  I’m all about prioritizing when times get busy…should I wash my car, which is currently covered in a quarter-inch thick coating of dust, or sit outside in the sun?  Get started on my English homework, or go for a run in the forest?  Change my sheets, or watch an episode of Desperate Housewives?  Responsibly, I picked the latter of all these tough decisions.  Yep, I definitely have my priorities straight!  So when it came to baking a birthday cake or giving my bathroom a much-needed cleaning, there was really no question.  As for what I decided, this post should clue you in…..

After much debate, I finally settled on making this Blueberry-Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cake.  I usually go for a more traditional, 2-tier, buttercream-frosted birthday cake, but there was something about the combination of plump blueberries, fresh lemon zest, and tangy buttermilk that I couldn’t resist.  And I’m so glad I didn’t!  I couldn’t be happier with my decision.  The result was an incredibly moist, lemony Bundt cake studded with sweet, juicy blueberries and topped with a tart-sweet lemon and buttermilk icing.  It was the perfect end to a wonderful birthday…my eighteenth!








Blueberry-Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cake


2 1/2 cups + 2 Tbs all-purpose flour, divided

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup buttermilk

3 cups fresh or unthawed frozen blueberries

Lemon-Buttermilk Icing:

2 cups powdered sugar

1 Tbs buttermilk

1-2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

1 Tbs unsalted butter, very soft


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan.  Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and the salt.  Set aside.

Place the sugar and lemon zest into a large bowl.  Using your fingers, rub the lemon zest into the sugar until evenly combined.  Add in the butter and, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until light and fluffy.

Add in the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition.  Add in the vanilla and mix until combined.

Still on low speed, add in 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix just until flour is incorporated. Add in half the buttermilk, then another third of the flour, the other half of the buttermilk, and the last third of the flour, beating after each addition.

In another bowl, toss the blueberries with the 2 tablespoons of flour.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the blueberries into the batter.  Spread the batter evenly into the Bundt pan, smoothing the top.

Bake for 55-60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in its pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely.

When cake is completely cool, whisk together the powdered sugar, buttermilk, lemon juice, and butter until smooth.  For a thinner glaze, mix in additional buttermilk or lemon juice 1 teaspoon at a time or until it reaches your desired consistency.  Spoon the icing over the cake using a knife or offset spatula, spreading it downward every now and then.

Store the cake at room temperature, loosely covered in plastic wrap, for up to 4 days.

(Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies

I happen to love the TV show The Office.  It seems to be one of those shows that people either hate, or love.  So if you’re a member of the former group, or you have no idea what The Office is, feel free to skip down to the bottom of this post, where I’m sharing a fantastic recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies.  I promise I won’t be offended; it’s almost impossible to get upset when you have one of those cookies in your hand!

Now that it’s just us Office-lovers, I can get down to business.  My favorite character of the show is Dwight Schrute.  Also Michael.  And Jim.  And Kelly.  Well, anyway, right now we’ll say it’s Dwight.  I often wish he was a real person and could be my co-worker, but unfortunately he is not.  Not real, I mean.  Or my co-worker.  If I wanted to be really nerdy, I would supply you with a list of my top-ten favorite Dwight Schrute quotes, so naturally, here it is:

1) “Before I do anything I ask myself  ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if the answer is yes, I do not do that thing.”

2) “When my mother was pregnant with me, they did an ultrasound and found she was having twins. When they did another ultrasound a few weeks later, they discovered that I had adsorbed the other fetus. Do I regret this? No, I believe his tissue has made me stronger. I now have the strength of a grown man and a little baby.”

3) “Dolphins get a lot of good publicity for the drowning swimmers they push back to shore, but what you don’t hear about is the many people they push farther out to sea! Dolphins aren’t smart. They just like pushing things.”

4) “Security in this office park is a joke. Last year I came to work with my spud-gun in a duffel bag. I sat at my desk all day with a rifle that shoots potatoes at 60 pounds per square inch. Can you imagine if I was deranged?”

5) “I am fast. To give you a reference point I am somewhere between a snake and a mongoose…and a panther.”

6) “Reject a woman, and she will never let it go. One of the many defects of their kind. Also, weak arms.”

7) “I don’t have a lot of experience with vampires, but I have hunted werewolves. I shot one once, but by the time I got to it, it had turned back into my neighbor’s dog.”

8)  “I never smile if I can help it. Showing one’s teeth is a submission signal in primates. When someone smiles at me, all I see is a chimpanzee begging for its life.”

9) “In the wild, there is no health care. In the wild, health care is, ‘Ow, I hurt my leg. I can’t run. A lion eats me. I’m dead.’ Well, I’m not dead. I’m the lion. You’re dead.”

10) “Lonely people mixing with one another? Breeding? Creating an even lonelier generation? Ha, you’re not allowing natural selection to do its work. Pssh. You’re like the guy who invented the seat belt.”

One of the things Dwight always says, and which I’m sure you Office-fans know, is “Fact.”  Also “Question.”  So, to borrow some of his lingo….Question.  What do you get when you cross fudgey dark chocolate cookies with a surprise pocket of creamy peanut butter buckeye-like filling, all rolled in sugar and baked until soft and warm?  Answer.  You get a to-die-for dessert.  Or snack.  Or breakfast, if you’re so inclined.  I fully give you permission to indulge in one of these killer cookies while watching re-runs of The Office.  Fact: It will make you smile like a chimpanzee begging for its life. (see #8 above)







Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies

Chocolate cookies:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate cocoa powder)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg

Peanut Butter Filling:

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

3/4 cup powdered sugar

additional granulated sugar, for rolling


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together sugars, butter, and peanut butter (1/4 cup) until light and fluffy.  Add in the vanilla and egg, beating until creamy.  Gradually stir in the flour mixture, mixing until combined.  Set aside.

In another medium bowl, stir together powdered sugar and 3/4 cup peanut butter until smooth.

Scoop up a heaping tablespoon of the cookie dough and flatten it slightly.  Place about 1 teaspoon of the peanut butter mixture in the center and wrap the dough around it, pressing to seal.  Roll the cookie into a ball and roll in the additional granulated sugar.  Place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and flatten to 1/2-inch with a drinking glass.  Repeat.

Bake the cookies for 7-9 minutes, or until edges are set.  Let cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

(Recipe from Liv Life Too)

Sea Foam Bars

Living on a tiny island has its pros and cons.  One con, for an example, would be the fact that the only way to get to our island is via boat or plane, most often one of the Washington State Ferries.  I’ll admit there is a special kind of tranquility that comes from looking out over the miles of ocean and tree-covered islands as the ferry treks from island to mainland, but after the hundredth time it becomes much more of a chore than an adventure; an inconvenience rather than a luxury.

And the worst part is the ferry lines.  A 90-minute boat ride quickly turns into a 2 1/2 hour ordeal when you add up the time spent waiting at the ferry landing after arriving early to ensure a place on the boat.  Sometimes I long to be back in Colorado, where a shopping trip in the next town wasn’t plagued by watch-checking and carefully planned departure/arrival times.  Now all of our trips off-island lie at the mercy of the ferry schedule, allowing little room for flexibility and a lot of room for hurrying to the ferry landing just in time to sit and wait.

Yesterday one of the ferries broke down and its replacement was stalled, resulting in the most chaotic ferry mishap in decades.  All of the usual routes were either delayed, rerouted, or cancelled.  Our ferry system includes four islands as well as the dock at the mainland, so people at various locations sat waiting in the hot sun for hours on end.  My parents had planned to celebrate their silver anniversary on one of the other islands and they arrived at the ferry landing at 11 a.m.  They were told that the ferry had broken down, but if they came back at 11:30 they could wait for the next one.  An hour later they were asked to wait until 1:50.  And then 3:30.  And then 4:30.  At 5:00, my parents were lucky enough that the man behind them drove away in frustration, and since they were now at the back of the line they were able to pull out and go back home.  Otherwise they would have been stuck in the ferry line, surrounded by cars and unable to leave, for who knows how long!  I think it goes without saying that yesterday, the cons of living on an island seemed to outweigh the pros by about 10,000 tons.

But there’s always tomorrow to bring back the pros of island life.  I’m going away to college in a year, and I know that I’m going to miss this beautiful place, frustrating ferries and all.  A few nights ago my mom and I rode the ferry home after a long day of shopping, and the full moon sat low over the ocean, casting golden ripples across the water.  It was breathtaking, and it’s times like those that I feel so lucky to be living in such a gorgeous location.  Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, I only saw the ocean every few years when we came to Washington, and now that I’ve lived by the sea I don’t know how I’ll ever stand to leave it.  At least I know that it’s not going anywhere!

Now you might be wondering, what does all of this have to do with a baking blog?  This time I’m stretching the relevance just a leeetle.  Today I’m sharing a recipe for Sea Foam Bars….Sea Foam Bars, just like the sea I’ve been talking about.  See the relevance?  Okay okay, I said it was a stretch!

Anyway, these bars, a favorite of my brother’s, are a delicious spin on your everyday cookie bar.  They have a soft, buttery base topped with chocolate chips, marshmallows, and nuts, and then covered with a light, sweet meringue that gets wonderfully crunchy after being baked.  I’m not sure where the name Sea Foam Bars came from, but probably because of their puffy, sea-foam-like meringue top.  And the recipe I used calls them Mud Hen Bars, which makes even less sense.  So we’ll go with the Sea Foam.

I’m not sure what the best part of these bars is….the cookie base, the gooey, chocolatey, marshmallow middle layer, or the sweet crackly top.  What I am sure of is that you should make them; then you can decide for yourself! 🙂






Sea Foam (aka Mud Hen) Bars

1/4 cup butter or shortening, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs (2 separated, 1 whole)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1 cup mini marshmallows

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1 cup light brown sugar, packed


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease or spray a 9″x13″ pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter (or shortening) and sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add in 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks, and the vanilla.  Mix well.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients just until combined.  Spread the dough into the prepared pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips, marshmallows, and nuts.

Beat the 2 egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the brown sugar.  Spread the mixture over the chocolate chips/marshmallows/nuts.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden-brown.  Let bars cool before cutting.  Yield: 24

(Recipe from Your Home-Based Mom)