Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network
Yesterday was the first day of the fall season. After living in Boston for four years, fall became my favorite season of the year because I loved the kaleidoscope of colors, the cooler temperatures, and, most importantly, the flavors! I loved how the season was filled with hot chocolates, apples, pumpkin, cinnamon sugar, and butter. Now that we are in Chicago and the weather is becoming more fall-like (really though, what's summer weather in Chicago because I missed it), I find myself in that familiar place of wanting long walks outside and baking anything and everything with apples. 

Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

This past weekend we took the girls to experience a quintessential fall activity: apple picking! I had been researching different orchards beforehand and on Sunday decided we would be visiting Jonomac Orchard. This orchard was close to an hour and a half from home, but it seemed to offer the most bang for the buck and I liked that they didn't charge a per person rate for the apple picking. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

We bought a half peck ($13 for about 5 lbs of apple) and went to town picking Golden Delicious, Ruby Jon, and Jonathan apples. The girls had so much fun (we adults did, too) and I couldn't get over how cute they looked picking apples. Little things like this make me so happy we are in Chicago and able to give the girls such unique experiences. The best part of this experience was being able to eat the apples right then and there. We tried all three varieties and Cati determined "delicious golden" was her favorite. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

After apple picking, the girls played in the huge Barnyard that had slides, haystacks you could walk on, a mini maze, a corn shed, and tricycles. Then, we had the crazy idea of doing the corn maze. This was fun at first, but then we couldn't figure out how to get out and our anxiety must have trickled down to the girls because Elina started asking for home and Cati started saying her legs wee hurting. The funny part is that our anxiety was due to wanting to get out before the girls started complaining and here we were instigating that! It was still fun though, but because it took us so long to figure out the first half, we didn't get to do the second half. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

Before we left I knew I had to get us apple cider donuts. The line was out the door by 1pm but it moved quickly. Everyone loved the donuts. I also bought a slice of apple pie and I wish I would have bought more as that pie had the best crust I have ever tasted. 
Apple picking Jonomac Orchard

It was such a great experience. The girls loved it and Cati has already asked if we could go back this weekend. We'll definitely be making another trip before the picking season ends in November. 

Apple picking Jonomac Orchard
See? Adults had fun, too!
Jonamac Orchard is located at 19412 Shabbona Road in Malta, IL. A half peck (about 5lbs) of apples is $13 and a full peck is $26. A half dozen donuts is $4.50, a dozen donuts is $7.95, slices of apple pie are $2.75, and a full apple pie is $12.95. Corn maze and barnyard admission is $10 for kids (2 and under are free) and $8 for adults. The orchard accepts credit cards, but not American Express and all the bathrooms are port-a-potties (Elina refused to use these bathrooms). My advice would be to try to get there early as it's less busy and the lines are shorter. However, as an adult it seems like a fun place to go later because of the live music and wine tastings. For more information visit their website http://www.jonamacorchard.com/

Apple picking Jonomac Orchard
Follow me on Pinterest @steppystar to see what I plan on baking with these apples. Also, give a follow on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner to see more about my Chicago adventures!
Stephanie

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Not only is it delicious, but it's also a meal that is always quick and easy for me. Since I started working, we've had more breakfast-for-dinner meals and, thankfully, no one is complaining! I saw this recipe for Sour Cream Pancakes on Pioneer Woman's website and knew I had to try it because (1) sour cream and (2) it's Pioneer Woman! The pancakes absolutely did not disappoint as they were soft and buttery. We ate all the pancakes in one sitting (!) because they were that good.

Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes
Source: Pioneer Woman

1 cup sour cream
7 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 whole large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter, for frying and serving
Warm syrup, for serving

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sour cream with the dry ingredients until just barely combined (don't overmix.) Whisk in the egg mixture until just combined.

Heat a griddle over medium-low heat and melt some butter in the pan. Drop batter by 1/4 cup servings onto the griddle. Cook on the first side until bubbles start to form on the surface and edges are starting to brown. Flip to the other side and cook for another minute. (Pancakes will be a little on the soft side.)

Serve with softened butter and syrup.

Follow me on Pinterest @steppystar to see what's on my baking and cooking To-Do list. Also, give a follow on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!
Stephanie

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Bailey's Irish Cream Cake

I'm all about balance so to balance out my fitness post from Monday about my record-setting half marathon time at the Chicago Half Marathon, today I give you a post about cake. Not just any cake, but a Bailey's cake that Alex gave me the recipe for and requested I make. This recipe came highly recommended and I was happy to fulfill the request, especially since I have been baking more (mostly tried-and-true recipes).

Other than being a Bailey's cake, I really liked and appreciated how quickly and easily the cake came together. I was able to make a home-cooked meal and dessert in the same night and that makes me feel like such a champ!

I will warn you, there's no denying this cake has alcohol in it. I even halved the syrup recipe (full recipe is posted below) and it still felt like more than enough syrup for the cake. I actually tasted the cake before putting the syrup on it and I think I liked it better that way. Alex, on the other hand, loved the cake and ate two not-so-small slices.
Better lighting the next day so you can see the layer of nuts.

Bailey's Irish Cream Cake
Yields: 1 bundt cake
Source: Cooks.com

Cake:
1 cup nuts (I used pecans)
1 package yellow cake mix
1 (3 oz.) pkg. Jello instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a tube or bundt pan. 

Sprinkle nuts on the bottom of pan. Combine the rest of the ingredients. Pour over nuts. 

Bake 1 hour. Cool cake completely. Prick cake and pour glaze over top and sides.

Glaze:
1 stick butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream

Melt butter. Stir in water and sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. 

REMOVE from heat. Stir in Bailey's Irish Cream.

Note: If using cake mix which includes pudding, omit pudding from recipe, decrease eggs to 3, and decrease oil to 1/3 cup.

By the way, I rediscovered Pinterest and I'm in trouble! Follow me @steppystar on there to see what's on my baking To-Do list. Also, give a follow on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!
Stephanie

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Race Recap: Chicago Half Marathon

On September 7th I completed half marathon #13, Chicago Half Marathon. I had been meaning to post about it, but with the new job and learning how to balance working full-time with parenthood and marathon training has been no easy task. As always, I thought I was busy before!

Anyway, back to the race. I'm in the last third of my marathon training and I've been running 5-6 days a week and averaging 45 miles a week. I ran 10 miles the Saturday before the race and, including this Saturday run, I was at 36 miles for the week so my expectations for a PR (personal record) was low. I didn't know how my legs would feel come race morning-would they feel tired, sore, or heavy? Also, would my mind be into running strong and fast for 13.1 miles? With all this in mind, I woke up race morning with the intention to treat this race as another training run and, if I bettered my half marathon time of 2:04, then great!

The weather on the day of the race was spectacular. Or at least, it was perfect running weather for the first hour or so of the run as the temperatures were in the 50s. I knew that first mile would determine how the rest of the race would go so I ran purely based on how I felt and not by looking at my watch. When I saw that first mile was in the 8-minute range and I didn't feel like I pushed myself too hard, I knew that as long as my mind held out, I would be able to get the sub-2 hour finish I was hoping for.

I fueled as I normally do, stuck to my run-walk intervals (1:30 run/:30 walk), and kept a mostly consistent pace. Even so, mile 9.5 is where I began to struggling. I wasn't in pain and my body felt good, but for some reason my brain started getting louder with the "you can't do this" messages. I did the only thing I could do, which was to keep moving forward. I was so thankful for my intervals because I forced myself to focus on just running for a minute and a half, instead of just having three more miles to go. I recovered by mile 11, but even so, I did cadences that last mile to help me get to the finish line.



Crossing that finish line felt so good! Even better was realizing that I smashed my previous time by almost 10 minutes! My official time was 1:55:20 and I could barely believe it. I was hoping for a sub-2 hour finish but I was thinking I only had it in me for a 1:59 finish since my PR times in the half marathon distance have usually gotten better by 5-minutes at a time between races I've ran for time. I'm still on a runner's high from that race. To think that I ran my first half marathon in 2:30 in January 2013 to this last one in 1:55 is amazing.


This race reminded me that if you train consistently, you will see results. It also reminded me that most of the time, I'm my biggest enemy and that the person I have to prove myself to IS myself.

What I liked about the race:
  • Packet pickup was quick and easy.
  • Race day weather was perfect at first.
  • Nice course. I especially liked the part that was on Lakefront Drive.
  • Lou Malnati's pizza!
  • Long-sleeve technical shirt.
  • I really liked how they organized the groups. I was in corral G and, based on other races, was expecting to start running 10 minutes after the first group of runners left, but this wasn't the case with this race. There was no wait time between corrals going off and I started a little over 2-minutes after the first group of runners started.
  • Motigo: this is an app where people can leave you messages that you get during the race. There was a glitch and I got all my messages in the beginning, but the idea behind this is awesome. If I would have gotten the messages when they were intended, I would have been that person at mile 10 crying and laughing.
  • Plenty of water and Gatorade on the course.
  • Meeting Instagram friends, like @runningprado in person. 

What I didn't like about the race:
  • I love expo and expo seemed small for this race for some reason.
  • I didn't see any pace groups.
  • This relates to all races, but I heard it more at this race: "it's ok, you can do it" or "don't give up" or "you're almost there" from spectators every time I was on a walk break. This is my fourth race in Chicago and I am realizing that the run-walk method is not very popular and people don't understand that my walks are intentional. I wish I could have gotten more "you go girl" or "looking strong!"

Next official race is Spartan on September 27th and I'm debating whether or not to sign up for the 20-mile run this upcoming weekend.

For more on my running and training for the Chicago Marathon, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Chicago Eats: August Edition

When I first started this blog, I did so because I wanted to keep track of all the new places we ate at in Boston. Then, I started baking and stopped keeping track of where we ate. Then, I had kids and started running so the baking and eating out when down. Now that we are in Chicago and in full exploration mode, I'm going back to the roots of this blog: talking about the places I've eaten in the new city. Funny enough, my girls have gotten to the point that they know they have to wait to eat until I've taken a picture of their food. I am, however, not going to write full blown reviews of places. Instead, I'm just going to highlight the best things I've eaten in the month. With that said, here are my August favorites:

Cheesie's

Lunchtime in Lincoln Park. Cranky, hungry kids. I walked into the first place I could find that had no wait and that place was Cheesie's. I knew it was going to be a winner because everyone in the family loves grilled cheese. What I didn't know was how cheesy the sandwiches were going to be. I ordered "The Melt," a grilled cheese sandwich with chicken, bacon, Thousand Island dressing, American cheese and Chihuaha cheese. All this on Texas toast. This was so good, but oh so bad. It was delicious, but it felt like the ultimate cheat meal for me. (Cheesie's is located at 958 West Belmont Ave.)

Hoosier Mama Pie Company

A friend recommend Hoosier Mama Pie Company and told me it was the best pie on the planet. Curious, I went on a trip with the girls and we ordered their apple pie and chocolate chess pie. The pies were delicious! I loved the apple pie and the girls tore up the chocolate pie. The apple pie had apple chunks in it and the crust was so buttery. The chocolate chess pie was creamy and had a cookie-like crust. After eating these two slices and leaving, I felt guilty for not grabbing a pie to go. I have been plotting a return trip ever since I swallowed the last bit of apple pie. (Hoosier Mama Pie Company is located at 1618 1/2 Chicago Avenue).

The Pub at Mayne Stage

The Pub at Mayne Stage is another place we just happened to dine at after an afternoon of walking around a local art show. They were still on the brunch menu and I indulged just a little and ordered their Steak and Eggs. This dish came with skirt steak, onion strings, black beans, potatoes, and two eggs. Everything about this dish was amazing. The beans surprised me a bit because I have never seen beans served with steak and eggs but I was pleasantly surprised. The steak was tender and almost made me wish I eat steak more often. I think, however, that my favorite part of this restaurant was the $2 mimosas. (The Pub at Mayne Stage is located at 1330 West Morse Ave).


Mekato's Colombian Bakery

Mekato's is a bakery that a colleague recommended to Alex. Being Colombian myself and having a deep love for Colombian food, I was anxious to get out to this bakery. We went on a Sunday (free parking) and basically ordered everything they sold. What you see in the picture below are traditional Colombian foods like empanadas (turnovers), arepa de choclo con queso (corn cake topped with cheese), papa rellena ("stuffed potatoe" or fried pastry filled with meat and potatoes), and bunuelos (fried cheese balls). I was basically in love after the first bite. We cleared the table! This is another place that I can't wait to go back to so I can pig out again. (Mekato's is located at 5423 N. Lincoln Avenue).


It's the beginning of the month and I'm already eager to get out and eat. I have a list of restaurants I want to try but I love the ability to go out with no plan and just stumble on something new. If you have any recommendations please let me know!


For more on my move to Chicago and my food-finding adventures, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Baking in Chicago: White Cupcakes

First cupcake batch in the new city happened a couple of weeks ago and it felt so good to get back to basics with my baking. I started really baking in Boston and was a part of different baking groups that had baking challenges each week or each month. I was able to really expand my knowledge of baking and go outside of my comfort zone. Being in Chicago takes me back to that time when baking was so new and exciting for me. It's even better now because I have kids and I can really have fun with what I make, like the frosting for these cupcakes that were an orange and green (Go CANES!) swirl. This recipe is probably the best white cake recipe I've tried and I loved how easily it all came together; I spent more time on making the frosting than the cupcakes themselves! I make my frosting from scratch but I never measure it out and it's some combination of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. 

Simple White Cake
Source: Scottosman on Allrecipes.com
Yields: 12 cupcakes

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth.

Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cakes spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

For more on my baking in the new city follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!
Stephanie

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Happy Runner: Coconut Protein Pancakes

In seven weeks, I will have hopefully crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon. My training has been going well (minus a little IT band achiness a couple of weeks back) and I've gotten up to 18.5 miles but the thought of 26.2 miles still scares me. I'm doing everything I can to physically prepare and, now that I have gotten into a great groove with my commitment and dedication to my training plan, I'm starting to focus more on the nutritional aspect of my training. Really this just means I'm trying to eat a little healthier and working on constantly seeing food as fuel. This is not an easy task when you like to bake as much as I do. It's all about balance though as this recipe for protein pancakes proves: pancakes made with my favorite yogurt combo and topped with my favorite crunchy chocolate Nuttzo butter.  The pancakes were thin and full of flavor and a great alternative to my traditional pancakes that are delicious but rarely make me feel that "food as fuel" mentality. (Note: this recipe is for half the original recipe and was enough for two servings for me).

Coconut Protein Pancakes
Source: Foodfanatic.com
Serves 1 to 2

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Chobani Almond Coco Loco flip
1/3 cup vanilla almond milk
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
Desired toppings, like fruit or syrup


Add all of the ingredients to a blender. Blend until smooth.

Heat a large skillet or griddle to medium heat. Spray with non-stick spray. Using a cookie scoop, scoop batter onto hot skillet or griddle, placing about 2-inches between pancakes.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until bubbles start to form. Flip, and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

Serve with desired toppings.

For more on my eating and training for the Chicago Marathon follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner!
Stephanie

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

A Rose So Sweet Headband Review

I remember how clueless I was when I started running. I actually wore a drawstring bag that carried my keys, phone, and a large water bottle and I would later wonder why my back hurt so much. I've come a long way in the two years that I've been running and, while there is still a lot to learn, I'm happy that what started as a way to do cardio has turned into a life-altering passion. I went from having a few running items to a closet full of them (I currently have five pairs of shoes in rotation) and, as my love for running grew, so did my love for running accessories. 

One of the accessories I love the most are headbands, especially with my hair that does this crazy sunflower thing when I get really sweaty. Headbands help tame the mane and help me feel really feminine, so I was pretty excited when Liz from A Rose So Sweet asked for bloggers to review her headbands. Liz sent me her pink and gold chevron and I immediately tried it on and was impressed with how tight the headband felt. I have a shoebox full of headbands and none of them felt as tight as this one.

The headbands are all lined with velvet and are adjustable. I was still skeptical because I have lost two velvet-lined headbands in the past and have gotten used to wearing headbands with a clip to make sure they stay on my runs, but I was hopeful as I took this headband out for a 7-mile run.
 

I was pleasantly surprised when it stayed on the whole time and did not need any adjusting during my run. Still skeptical, I wore the headband for all my exercising the week I got it and the headband survived some intense yoga workouts, daily runs, and one extremely long 17.50-mile run.
 

To say that I am impressed is an understatement. This is the first headband I've ever worn that I don't have to worry about fixing or adjusting. The key for me was its ability to make it through my long run at my goal pace as I'm already thinking about what I want to wear for the Chicago Marathon. One of the last things I want to think or worry about on that run is whether or not my headband is going to stay put. This may seem silly, but I can still remember the races where I lost my headbands and how distracting that was for me (the headbands were not cheap!). 

A Rose So Sweet headbands are reasonable with the most expensive of headbands costing $9.50. The designs are pretty spectacular as well and I would quite literally love to own them all.

For more on A Rose So Sweet headbands, you can check out Liz's Etsy shop and her Instagram page @arosesosweetdesigns. Because Liz is so nice and I recommend her headbands, you can use COOKIERUNNER15 in her shop for 15% off through September 20th.
A Rose So Sweet provided me with a headband in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.

For more on my running and training for the Chicago Marathon follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner to find out!
Stephanie

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Miami to Chicago: Arroz Con Leche

 I finally did it. I made a dessert that I grew up eating and it actually tasted just like the dessert my mom used to make. I grew up eating Arroz Con Leche and have great memories of standing by the stove in the kitchen watching the rice cook into a sweet and sticky dessert. The last time I tried to make Arroz Con Leche it took forever and my rice was hard so I gave up on this dessert. Then, shortly after moving to Chicago I went to my aunt's house and she made it and I was inspired to try again. I ended up making this recipe because it was so simply and simple is what I remember my mom doing with few ingredients. The end result was amazing and everyone in the family was singing my praises the day I made this Arroz Con Leche. Making this dessert was a reminder that traditions and culture are not limited to a physical place, but are actually something we can carry with us wherever we go.

Arroz Con Leche
Source: Taste of Home
Serves 4

1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
Ground cinnamon, to taste

In a small saucepan, combine the water and rice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until water is absorbed.

Stir in milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until thick and creamy, stirring frequently.

Serve warm or cold. Add cinnamon to taste.

For more on my move to Chicago and my baking adventures, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 
Stephanie

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network

Book Review: Jen Besel's Custom Confections

I was sent a copy of Jen Besel's book, Custom Confections: Delicious Desserts You Can Create and Enjoy, to review and, as usual, I am thankful for any reason to bake. Part of what really had me excited about the book was that it claimed to have recipes that were easy enough for kids. Now that my girls are older, especially Cati at almost 4.5 years old, they are very interested in everything that I do in the kitchen and are constantly asking to help add and mix ingredients. As soon as Cati saw the book she grabbed it, sat down, and started leafing through the pages. Right off the bat, the book's cover is eye-catching and I can't blame Cati for being immediately drawn to it.
The meaning behind the name, Custom Confections comes from Besel's view that everyone can make custom desserts. With this view, Besel has developed recipes with easy-to-find ingredients, short prep time, and shortcuts to creating showstopping desserts. The book is divided into five sections and includes recipes for everything from cakes to cookies to bars to popsicles to frosting. Like a good cookbook (or at least my favorite ones), there s a conversion chart and a list of tools that not only are useful for a fully stocked kitchen, but also for making the recipes in Custom Confections.

Aesthetically, the book is gorgeous to look at with pictures for every single recipe and fun colors and fonts. For the majority of the recipes you can lay the book flat on the counter and have the picture on one side and the recipe on the other. For someone who has baked as much as I have, it's always been a bit of a pet peeve when recipes are pages long and I have to flip back and forth to check the ingredient list and see where it matches up with the directions. Besel gives a one-sentence intro/commentary to every dessert, making you want to try every single dessert.

The only issue I had with the book was that the serving amount wasn't identified or clear. This is an issue for me because I usually cut recipes down so we don't have too many sweets in the house at a given time.

As part of my review I picked five recipes from the book. Recipes were chosen based on what I thought the family would like, tools I had, ease of making, and involvement of kids. The five recipes were Molten Caramel Cake, PB & J Cheesecake Brownies, Stained Glass Cookies, Stuffed Strawberries, and Ooey, Gooey Turtle Cake.

Molten Caramel Cake

Eight ingredients, 10 steps, and about 20-25 minutes from prep to table. Cati was able to help with unwrapping the caramel candies, adding them to the batter, and sprinkling with sea salt. This recipe was, by far, the favorite for everyone in the family. I baked for 12 minutes, but my cakes (4) could have used an extra minute or two in the oven. The leftover cake was put in the fridge and reheated the next day and tasted just as good as it did fresh out of the oven. This dessert is perfect for the chocolate lover and I loved that sea salt was added as caramel-sea salt is one of my favorite combinations. I've made molten cakes before and, while they are one of my favorite desserts, I rarely make them because the recipes I have tried before have been too involved. This recipe solves that problem for me and now molten cakes will be a dessert that I make more frequently.

PB & J Cheesecake Brownies

Nine ingredients, eight steps, and at least 40 minutes from prep to table. Instead of making an 8x8 pan of brownies, I made 12 brownie cups, quartered the cream cheese recipe, and added PB & J to half of the cups so that I could get a good taste of the finished cheesecake (plus, I'm not a fan of peanut butter in desserts). I also added a chocolate drizzle to the cups to make them look even prettier. The cups baked for 25 minutes and neither of the girls helped with the prep work for this dessert. The finished dessert was a hit and it was hard to get the girls to only have one for dessert. The brownie portion is made from a mix, but the cheesecake is made from scratch and, when baked, the cheesecake was smooth and didn't crack when cooled! The only thing I would change about this recipe is heating up the jam before putting it in the cheesecake mixture so that it mixes easier.
 

Stained Glass Cookies

Four ingredients, eight steps, and about 25 minutes from prep to table. This recipe was probably the funnest one for the girls as they got to unwrap the candies, help break them up into small pieces, place them in the hole of the cookie, and decorate their own cookies. They even sat in front of the oven, looking in to watch the candy melt. Once the cookies were out of the oven I was surprised by how hard the candies were! For some reason, I thought the candies would melt and become more pliable, but once cooled, the melted candy became hard again. My mistake with this recipe was thinking I had cookie cutters when I went to buy the ingredients and not actually checking to see if I did so my cookies did not end up with the wide opening I would have wanted. 

Stuffed Strawberries

Five ingredients, eight steps, and about 20 minutes from prep to table. I made half the filling recipe and had enough filling to "stuff" a dozen small- and medium-sized strawberries. The girls helped with this recipe by eating the cut-off tips. The finished product was so beautiful that it was almost a shame to eat. But eat them we did, and I am so happy we did because the strawberries were delicious and I fell in love with the tart-tangy-sweet combination. We ate all the stuffed strawberries in one sitting so I would call this recipe a complete success.
 
Ooey, Gooey Turtle Cake 

Five ingredients, nine steps, 10 minutes prep, and a torturous four hours to table. I made half the recipe and refrigerated the cake to expedite the process. The girls helped with unwrapping the caramel candies and sprinkling the cake with the pecans. I will warn you now, this dessert is completely addictive and incredibly dangerous. This was the simplest of the recipes I tried and, along with the Stuffed Strawberries, one of the recipes that I think best exemplifies Besel's efforts at creating easy-to-make custom desserts.

Custom Confections: Delicious Desserts You Can Create and Enjoy by Jen Besel will be available for purchase September 1st, 2014 for $12.95 USD ($14.95 CAD).

A copy of this book was provided to me by IWPR and the publisher, Capstone Young Readers, free of charge. The views and opinions in this review, however, are my own.

For more on my baking adventures follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner
Stephanie