Chocolate Cookie Dough Cupcakes



Happy Easter, everyone!  I hope you had a wonderful celebration with families, celebrating the beautiful weather.  This year, Charlie and I wanted to just have a nice Easter celebration with the two of us.  I wanted to make it special, so I made a somewhat traditional Japanese dinner, 4 dishes and two types of desserts, including the one pictured!  We had a few friends come over and join (which is why I made SO much food), and we had a great time celebrating the holiday.  I’ll be posting some of the recipes here periodically, so you can recreate some of these at home!

For today, I will be starting with these amazing cupcakes.  There are few cupcakes that I need a moment afterwards to enjoy the delicious flavors and taste—-these cupcakes are one of them.  The cupcakes and frosting taste like a chocolate chip cookie, but what makes it even better?  THERE IS ACTUAL COOKIE DOUGH INSIDE.  Don’t worry, the cookie dough is egg-less and very safe to eat.

To make these, you make the cookie dough, form into balls, and freeze them.  The recipe dictates that you should put the dough on top of the batter in the cupcake tins, but when I made them, the cookie dough of course came out on top of the cupcake, making it look like a one-eyed monster.  Luckily the frosting covered it up, so I could post it here….but I would suggest putting the cookie dough in the center of the cupcake FIRST, then pour the batter on top.  Theoretically that should work, and I will definitely try that next time so my cupcakes look just as pretty before frosting them.

If you’re looking for a low calorie option, DO NOT EAT THESE.  Eat half of one.  Eat 1/4 of one.  But these have so many calories; almost enough to equal half of my calorie intake for the day!!  But if it’s a holiday or you’re feeling like “screw the calories!  I want brown sugary chocolatey goodness!,” then this is your winner here.


YIELD: 32 cupcakes

TIME: 2 hours (plus several more hours to let cookie dough freeze)

CALORIES: 432 per cupcake

2 sticks softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips
3 sticks softened butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks softened butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tablespoons milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the cookie dough, cream butter and sugar. Beat in milk and vanilla until smooth. Beat in the flour and salt until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Shape the dough into balls, and freeze on a parchment lined baking sheet for 3-4 hours or overnight.

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake tins, and cream butter and brown sugar.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Stir together to blend.  Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl on low speed, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, mixing each addition just until incorporated.  Blend in the vanilla.

Fill the prepared cupcake liners with a cookie dough ball in the center of the cupcake, and pour the batter on top evenly in each cupcake tin.  Bake at 350 F for 16-18 mins.

To make the frosting, combine the butter and brown sugar in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.  Beat in the salt, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth and combined.

Pipe onto cooled cupcakes, dust with chocolate sprinkles, and consume immediately!

Hope y’all enjoy!

xoxo, Sara


original recipe here


Broiled Perch with Tomatoes and Fennel



mmmm, I love fish.  It doesn’t take long to cook, and it’s extremely healthy for you!  Now that I’m watching my weight a little bit more these days, I’m going to start making a lot more fish dishes.  Perch is one of my absolute favorite white fishes—flaky, juicy, and always delicious!  Most recipes for perch are fried, but I decided to broil mine.

Funny story—I found this recipe in an old recipe book for broiled striped bass with tomatoes and fennel, and decided to try it!  However….striped bass is apparently really hard to find!  I was in the grocery store and saw some perch which looked delicious AND lower in price…so I figured I’d give it a shot.  Perch does have bones; I don’t know about you, but I HATE picking out a lot of bones in the fish.  I picked out a total of 6 bones, which really isn’t too much if you think about it.

This is a great weekday meal, very light and easy!  I love the broiled grape tomatoes with the white fish….gah, I just want more!  I’d highly recommend this dish with broccoli or asparagus, maybe some brown rice if you want a complete meal.  Or do as I did, and just eat the fish itself with those yummy olives and grape tomatoes :)


YIELD: 4 servings

TIME: 30-40 minutes

CALORIES: 140 per filet

1 lb perch filets (I used four filets)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 lemon, zested
1 Tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large bulb fennel, with stalks and fronds
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 cup Kalamata olives, with juice

Preheat broiler.  Make diagonal slashes through the center of the fish, 1/4″ deep and 2″ intervals across the fish.  Mix garlic, oregano, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and 2 Tbsp oil until combined.  Rub on top of the fish, rubbing into the slashes as best as you can.  Place fish on a baking sheet, about 2″ apart from each other.

Thinly slice the fennel bulb, and place in a medium sized mixing bowl with cherry tomatoes, olives and juice, and remaining Tbsp oil.  Mix well, and spread evenly on top of the fish.  Broil for 8-10 minutes, until fish is cooked evenly and some of the tomatoes and olives have wrinkled.

Divide among 4 plates, and serve with a healthy serving of olives, tomatoes, and fennel.

Hope y’all enjoy!

xoxo, Sara


original recipe from Martha Stewart Living, July/August 2013


Chicken Enchilada Casserole



As of today, I have made it official—I will be attending the University of Texas at Austin for my Masters of Music in Violin Performance!!!  Charlie and I are so excited about moving, especially with this crazy snow tonight.  Yes, SNOW IN APRIL.  So furious.  UT just seemed to be the most logical decision for my education, and for Charlie’s current job market.  I just hope Kikko can get used to the heat!

So, on to the casserole.  IT IS EPIC.  Possibly the best thing I have ever eaten in my life.  Charlie said it is one of the best things I have ever made for him!  It is perfect for something to make early in the day and to heat up after a long day.  I would say it’s the epitome of comfort food.

Because I live in central Illinois, there were no poblano peppers at our local grocery store.  I used one green pepper instead, and it worked out just fine!  Regarding the chicken, you can either shred it or do what I did—just cube it.   It takes a heck of a lot less time, and it still will taste epic.

If you love comfort food and mexican food, just do me a favor and make this.  MAKE THIS TOMORROW.  You’ll thank me later :)


YIELD: 10 servings

TIME: 2 hours


1/2 white onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 (10-3/4 oz) cans Heart Healthy cream of chicken soup
8 oz low fat sour cream
1 can diced green chiles (I used mild)
1 cup low fat chicken broth
1 oz envelope taco seasoning mix
18 corn tortillas, quartered
2-1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed
16 oz shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
16 oz shredded pepper Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F, and cook chicken until no pink remains.  Heat a large saute pan with olive oil over medium high heat.  Saute onion and peppers for 5 minutes, until soft.  Add garlic for 1 minute, and stir in soup, sour cream, chiles, chicken broth, and taco seasoning until combined.  Remove from heat and spread 1 cup soup mixture in a 13×9″ baking dish.  Arrange 24 tortilla quarters, slightly overlapping, over the soup.  Top with half the chicken and spread evenly.  Sprinkle 8 oz cheddar and 8 oz pepper jack on top of chicken.  Spread 1-1/2 cups soup mixture on top of the cheese, and repeat layers until everything is used up (you may have some soup mixture leftover).  Bake for 45-50 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.  Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Once consumed, make sure you enjoy the epicness for at least 30 minutes.

Hope y’all enjoy!

xoxo, Sara


original recipe from Southern Living, January 2014


Red Velvet Cupcakes



Red Velvet Cupcakes.  My absolute favorite thing in the entire world.  Back when I was playing with my former bluegrass band, The Black River Belles, red velvet cupcakes was one of the things I was most known for.  I made these cupcakes for a fundraiser for the music school I teach at, The Conservatory of Central Illinois.  As far as I know, they completely sold out…all for a good cause :)

The recipe is pretty straightforward, but the only thing I might suggest is to be careful how much frosting to use.  The recipe for the frosting makes EXACTLY enough for 32 cupcakes, no room for wasting frosting!

Hope you guys decide to make these—they are the perfect dessert after a hard day of work :)


YIELD: 32 cupcakes

TIME: 3 hours


2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter
2 eggs
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 oz red food coloring
2-1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp white vinegar

8 oz package cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 lb confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F and line cupcake tins.  Cream the butter and sugar, and add in eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.  Mix cocoa and food coloring together in a small bowl, and add to sugar mixture.  Sift flour and salt together; alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk to the sugar mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.  Blend in vanilla, and in a small bowl combine baking soda and vinegar.  Mix into batter and pour enough batter so half the cupcake tin is full.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

For the frosting, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Gradually add in powdered sugar until consistency is reached.  Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and serve immediately.

Hope y’all enjoy!

xoxo, Sara


original recipe here


Pan-Roasted Chicken Cutlets with Maple Mustard Sauce



Today is the first day I am finally able to cook a meal while standing!  I sprained my ankle badly and strained my Achilles tendon, along with major soft tissue damage, so it’s been tough keeping up with my diet.  But for the past week I have been calorie counting using the website Lose It.  It actually works great, and you can even join these monthly weight loss challenges with other members on the website, which is a great incentive to shedding those pounds!  Other than the foot/ankle stuff, life has been pretty darn good.  I have been accepted to two graduate programs, so I just need to make the final decision as to where I will be going.  Wish me luck—I need to let the schools know by April 15!

This chicken is AMAZING.  It tastes a little like honey mustard chicken, but because of the maple syrup, it adds a different thickness to the sauce.  Charlie described it as “a very interesting taste, with lots of flavors and spices.”  It’s true, there are a ton of really weird flavors you’d never think to combine!    The chicken is incredibly easy to make, not a ton of prep work….overall a great weeknight meal.  Hope you decide to try it!

YIELD: 4 servings

TIME: 40 minutes


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half diagonally
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
olive oil
2 Tbsp red onion, chopped
6 Tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp orange rind, grated

Heat oil over medium high heat in a large saute pan.  Dredge chicken in salt and pepper and place carefully in the heated pan.  Heat 4-6 minutes on each side, being careful flipping the chicken with the hot oil.  Remove chicken and set aside on a plate.

Reduce heat to medium and saute onion in the same pain for 1 minute.  Add syrup and remaining ingredients until completely combined.  Add chicken to the sauce and baste in the sauce until ready to serve.

Hope y’all enjoy!

xoxo, Sara

original recipe here


Italian Sausage Pasta Bake


It is still so cold outside.  Ugh.  But that means I get to try out more comfort food recipes!  This particular recipe is quite tasty :)  I’ve tried a lot of pasta casserole dishes in my day, and this one almost has a sweet flavor to it.  With the orange juice, peel, and red peppers, it adds a really nice touch.  I could not find basil at the store, so the only thing I had to substitute for was Italian Seasoning.  Not the perfect substitute, but it turned out alright!  I’m sure basil would be a ton better, but the Italian seasoning added a nice contrast to the sweet sauce.  Hope you decide to try it!

YIELD: 8-10 servings

TIME: 2 hours

16 oz penne pasta
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 medium-size fennel bulb, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 jars marinara sauce
1 package mild Italian sausage
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 tsp orange zest
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup torn fresh basil
8 oz mozzarella, sliced
shredded Italian mix cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F and cook pasta according to instructions.  Saute onion and fennel in heated olive oil over medium heat for 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic and fennel seeds and cook 1 minute.  Stir in marinara sauce, and then mix in Italian sausage, orange juice, chicken broth, orange zest, red pepper, and salt.  Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil.  Reduce to medium low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in basil, cooked pasta, and salt to taste.  Transfer to a lightly greased 13×9″ Pyrex dish and top with mozzarella slices and shredded cheese.  Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbly, and serve warm.

Hope y’all enjoy!

xoxo, Sara

original recipe: Southern Living, January 2014


Individual Chicken Pot Pies


The epitome of comfort food: chicken pot pie.  Seriously, how can you go wrong with chicken and veggies in a thick sauce with a biscuit on top?  The recipe is very easy to follow, and the biscuits are SO GOOD—if you have any leftover dough, put them on a baking sheet and bake them for extra yummy biscuits!  Hope you guys decide to make these, especially with this winter still not getting the hint to leave.

YIELD: 3-4 servings

TIME: 1 hour

1 cup sliced carrots
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
3-4 ramekins

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Microwave carrots and 2 Tbsp water for 1-2 minutes; drain.  Saute onion in melted butter for 2 minutes, and add peas and carrots for an additional 2 minutes.  Sprinkle flour, salt, and pepper over vegetables, and stir for 1 minute.  Gradually stir in broth and cook over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes, until mixture is thick and bubbly.  Stir in chicken.

Mix self-rising flour and cream until moistened.  If using a Kitchen Aid (kneading attachment), form dough into a ball, lightly dust with flour, and place in the bowl.  Knead for about 10-20 seconds, and roll out dough.  If doing by hand, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 3-4 times.  Roll out dough.  Cut dough into circular shapes, making sure it will fit over the ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a jelly roll pan, and divide the chicken mixture into each ramekin.  Top each with a biscuit and bake for 20 minutes, or until biscuits turn golden brown.

Hope y’all enjoy!

xoxo, Sara

original recipe: Southern Living, February 2014