Salted Caramel Mocha Cookies

I’ll never forget the year Starbucks released their Salted Caramel Signature Hot Chocolate. It was simultaneously the best and worst holiday season ever. It didn’t take long for this perfect flavor combination to become a near every day occurrence in my life.

Did I mention I was living in northern Idaho at the time? It was cold, and nothing says comfort from the cold like a warm, rich, delicious drink. Except maybe a warm soft and chewy chocolate cookie filled with gooey caramel and topped with coarse sea salt. I knew as soon as my amazing friend Nicole shared some of her amazing caramels with me, that I wanted needed to make these cookies.

Do you feel comforted yet? Once upon a time I used to be the comforting one. I was the one everyone went to when they had a bad day, and I would listen and give tons of advice that I probably had no business giving because I was kind of a hot mess myself, but I was, like, 20 years old and thought I knew everything. You know how it goes. I had (ummm, wait…I still have…) a special “heart to heart” pillow. That’s a little embarrassing. You hold it while you cry then I feed you words that magically fix everything, and at the same time put an end to world hunger. I know, I am so cool.

These days however, I’m painfully aware that I know basically nothing, and so instead of pretending to be smart, I shove cookies in people’s face and call it “my way of showing I care”. Somehow, I think people prefer this.

I may not be a master with words, but I have to say, I am pretty much a master of soft, gooey cookies. I mess up a lot of things in the kitchen (including ending up with things that are kind-of-not-really-at-all-baked on a regular basis…), but I always have soft cookies, and these cookies are like biting into a dark chocolate mocha brownie, finding surprise caramel on the inside, and then getting the hint of salt that cuts through the sugar to provide perfect balance.

I wish I could solve all your problems by shoveling them into your mouth right at this moment. Keep me in mind for the next time, though…   Salted Caramel Mocha Cookies yield 20 cookies

  • 1/2 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process or Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup + 2 tbs white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 2/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 10 caramels, halved
  • 2-3 tbs mini dark chocolate chips
  • coarse sea salt for topping (such as fleur de sel)
Directions:
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together espresso powder, cocoa powder, baking powder and flour. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together apple butter, sugar, vanilla and egg until well combined. Beat in dry ingredients. Cover dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350. Form dough into 1″ balls. Press 1/2 caramel into the center of each ball and roll dough around until it is covering it completely, then place on lined baking sheet. Gently press a pinch of mini dark chocolate chips onto the top of each dough ball, then top with a pinch of salt.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes until the edges have set and cookies pull easily off of the baking sheet. Let stand for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 

Skinnified Sunday: Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars

It’s the mooooost wonderful time of the year!

Okay, so the truth is I’ve been listening to 99.9 since the day after Thanksgiving when they first started playing Christmas music, and I made these babies long before Thanksgiving.

I just can’t even contain my excitement! When Target put up the first few holiday items back in October, everyone else scoffed while I got secretly giddy.

I am a sucker for the holiday season and I have no shame. The lights, the shopping for presents, the music, and of course, the amazing holiday flavors.

I swear, every time I step into Starbucks it’s like an exercise in self control. Between the salted caramel hot chocolate (my favorite), those freaking snow man cookies (I just love those guys!) and of course the cranberry bliss bars–a white chocolate chip blondie topped with cream cheese frosting and sweet dried cranberries? I diiiiiie.

White chocolate and cranberry go together like peanut butter and jelly. No, like peanut butter and chocolate! For a long time I thought I hated cranberries. BIG MISTAKE!

I made these delicious bars last year and they were a huge hit, but the pictures were, um….

Yeah….suffice it to say, they didn’t do the food justice ;) These are absolute perfection–the perfectly soft gooey blondie filled with while chocolate chips and the smooth and creamy white chocolate cream cheese frosting topped with the sweet and tart dried cranberries. Heaven.

I adapted this recipe from Recipe Girl’s Cranberry Bliss Bars.

My swaps:

  • Half recipe
  • Pumpkin puree or apple butter for butter (-fat, -saturate fat, -calories)
  • Egg substitute for eggs (-fat, -calories, -cholesterol)
  • Less brown sugar (-sugar, -calories)
  • White whole wheat flour for regular (+fiber, +protein)
  • Reduced fat cream cheese for regular (-fat, -calories)
  • Less white chocolate (-fat, -calories, -sugar)

 Skinnified Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars

yield 16 small bars or 8 large

Skinnified Cranberry Bliss Bars

For the blondie:

  • 6 tbs pumpkin puree or apple butter (I’ve tried both and they both work really well)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup + 2 tbs white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • dash salt
  • pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 4 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ounces white chocolate, melted
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2.  In a large bowl, combine pumpkin/apple butter, and brown sugar using a hand mixer.  Add egg substitute and vanilla.
  3.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder.
  4.  Add dry ingredients into wet mixture and mix until incorporated. Fold in cranberries and white chocolate.
  5.  Bake for 18-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, cool completely.
  6.  Using a hand mixer, combine cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar. Add in melted white chocolate. Spread cream cheese frosting across cooled bars and top with cranberries.

 

Skinnified Sunday: Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

Every day is a pumpkin day in the blog world this time of year. Luckily (for me, maybe not for you), I am obsessed with pumpkin. I buy canned pumpkin year round, and eat it almost every day. Weird? Well, yes….I am, but pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors, plus it has tons of health benefits and is a great substitute for oil in baked goods!

I confess, I’ve already started adding pumpkin to my coffee drinks, and cheating on my beloved Dutch Bros with Starbucks because I know *exactly* how I like my flavor pumps at Starbucks and I prefer their pumpkin syrup…

You know what, though? These cupcakes are, like, 5 billion times better than either version. That’s an exact number based on factual evidence. Like surveys, and stuff. Things that people with grown up jobs do to test things. If it were me, they would each do an audition, which I guess they kinda did. The cupcakes get the lead fair and square.

The pumpkin makes them perfectly fluffy and soft, while also adding the perfect fall flavor. And don’t even get me started on my serious love for ground cloves. Ummm, best spice ever maybe??? I love me some cumin, but lately I cannot get enough of the cloves. In my yogurt, in my cupcakes, straight out of the little shaker…

Combine that with cinnamon and nutmeg, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. Brushing the coffee on after they’ve been cooked makes a huge difference. It keeps them soft, and brings out a bold coffee flavor that usually gets lost during baking. You can also control your coffee intensity. I sit there and brush those things over and over and OVER because I have a mild ridiculous wallet blowing obsession with my little caffeinated friend, but if you feel less in love with coffee, you can use less. Just never, ever tell me about it. I can’t handle it.

This is actually not the first go around for these bad boys. They first made their appearance on the blog about a year ago, and they looked a little like this.

Womp womp.

Oh the things you learn in a year. I’m still not an excellent cupcake froster, not like this girl, but I’ve certainly learned a thing or two.

The original recipe for these muffins (which includes all the smart brushing with the coffee, and all that goodness) comes from one of my very favorite recipe blogs Annie’s Eats.

Original recipe

My Swaps:

  • Half the recipe (-temptation)
  • White whole wheat flour for all purpose flour (+fiber, +protein)
  • Apple sauce for oil (-fat, -calories)
  • Egg substitute (ie: egg beaters, liquid egg whites, flax egg, or corn starch egg) for whole eggs (-fat, -calories, -cholesterol)
  • Lighter cream cheese frosting for whipped cream (-fat, -calories)
  • Caramel sauce (-fat, -calories, -sugar)

Skinnified Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

yield 1 dozen

  • 1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 tbs espresso powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash nutmeg
  • pinch ground cloves
  • dash salt
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso for brushing

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine flour, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Set aside.
  2. In a mixer if you have one (if not you can use a hand mixer or your muscles!) combine pumpkin, sugars, and applesauce. Add egg substitute, followed by dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated.
  3. Fill lined muffin tin 3/4 full with batter and bake for 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Pierce each cupcake 2-3 times with a fork, then brush with coffee. Wait 2-3 minutes, then brush again.
  5. Cool completely on wire racks and then top with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting.

 

Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8oz package reducated fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In an large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in honey and vanilla. Top cupcakes, or store in the refrigerator.

 

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Hello from Ashland, OR! Tons of exciting things happening right now! Yesterday, I left Phoenix for the next 7 weeks. I’m on a little bit of a vacation for the next few days visiting my friend Mandie, then teaching/directing/choreographing in Portland, then off to Maui for my (late) honeymoon. Whew. Can you imagine packing for that many things at once? It was a little ridiculous. Even Clementine thought so.

“Mom. I think you’re forgetting something. If you don’t pack me, who will run circles around your neck and nibble on your nose all summer? Huhhhh???”

It’s definitely going to be a challenge to be away from Steve for the next 6 weeks. Before I left, he took me on the best date ever. This guy. He is amazing. It started out with my first trip ever to the baking supply store!

Then dinner at Bandera.

They have the bessssst cornbread!

Yummmmm.

Baking store and bread? Clearly, he know the way to my heart. ;)

I arrived in Ashland late last night, and pretty much went straight to bed. I can’t stay with Mandie because she has a cat, but she put me up in a super cute hotel down town! It kind of reminds me of a fancier hostel. There’s a shared bathroom, but private rooms, and the rooms are super cute and homey looking.

I woke up bright and early this morning. Of course. Why would my body ever possibly let me sleep in? Actually, it wasn’t bad, though. I looked at my phone, and it read 52 degrees, and I looked outside and saw clouds, and felt a beautiful breeze. I couldn’t wait to get outside, get my workout in, and explore the city! Today is the first official day of my marathon training. I had high hopes that my body would be like “OMG marathon training!! ALL BETTER!! Run all you want, Ari!” You can call me silly, but I prefer idealistic ;)

The truth is, running still hurts. Almost immediately. But it’s okay. I had surgery less than 2 weeks ago, and as much as I would love to wear a cape and stuff, I’m not super woman. The good news is it’s so early that this won’t set me back, and the mileage is really low, so I can walk my training plan until I’m back to normal. I actually forgot how great walking can be! I walked around downtown Ashland before finding Lithia Park that Mandie had mentioned to me when we drove in last night.

This park was absolutely gorgeous!! I really wished I had brought my camera with me, and not just my phone. I will definitely have to go back before I leave. I did manage to capture a bit of it on the android, though.

This beautiful creek runs all the way through the park, and there are tons of benches, and places to sit, as well as little paths down to the water. If I lived here, I would be here every day. The road started off paved, then turned into a trail.

I just kept walking, and let myself kind of get lost in there. I had been so excited to get out this morning, I hadn’t even thought to grab my ipod, and I ended up being really glad to be out there without it, and just be with nature. I saw lots of other walkers, a few runners (jealous face), and even some people doing yoga! Everyone was super friendly. In fact, I am kind of obsessed with this town. If I never make it back to Phoenix, you know why…

I have this thing for water. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the desert.

And the coolest part? I saw DEER!!!!!

I was walking by, and I heard rustling. The next thing I knew I was 3 feet away from these deer, staring them in the face. They weren’t the least bit frightened of me. How cool!!! Speaking of, I don’t know if I ever mentioned the time Nicole and I went on a driving adventure in Tempe, and saw a zebra in someone’s back yard?

Not quite as cool as the deer, but definitely interesting, haha. Can you imagine owning a zebra? Anyway, now I’m sitting at Starbucks enjoying some hot coffee.

Ohhh, how I’ve missed you. Grande bold coffee, 2 pumps sf mocha, 1 pump sf caramel, steamed soy.

Also, I have some really exciting news! A couple of weeks ago, I finally did something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, and I applied to be a FitFluential ambassador. I never thought in a million years that I would be accepted, but last night I received an email inviting me to join the team, and I am BEYOND thrilled!!! What an amazing opportunity to be a part of a community I value so highly with other bloggers that I admire. I am a lucky gal!

 

Barrio Cafe

When I told people that I was having a birthday dinner with my Starbucks friends, I definitely got some odd looks. I mean, everyone knows I have a coffee problem, but maybe they didn’t know they extent ;) The truth is, I’m just a chatty person and I like to meet new people, so after 3 years of seeing the same baristas almost every day, having one of them officiate my wedding, and running a half marathon with an other, this group has become pretty important in my life.

I gave Kara a list of a few restaurants I’ve been wanting to try, and left the rest up to her. We ended up going to Barrio Cafe. As soon as we arrived, it was like love at first sight! It has a tiny, hole in the wall feel. There was live music, and the whole atmosphere seemed really authentic! There was a pretty significant wait, but we all sat outside and chatted, and the food definitely was worth the wait!

In addition to the Starbucks group, Nicole, Lance and Carolyn were also able to join us. It ended up being the perfect group! When we first sat down, we immediately ordered margaritas and took lots of pictures.

This is my super awesome friend Amelia who married us. She makes good faces, :)

Carolyn

Mona

Kara

Nicole & Lance

Charlie

I was a little surprised when the salsa came out with a bread basket instead of chips, but it was delicious!

The margaritas were also pretty amazing. Nice and tequila-y, and not super sweet. I hate a marg that tastes like sour mix!

We ordered the guacamole–they make it table side, and oh my gosh, it was absolutely incredible!!

I was totally skeptical of the pomegranite seeds because I usually don't like pomegranites, but it was such a perfect flavor combination! I must try putting fruit in my guac!

And look, we did end up getting chips also! But bread and salsa is a surprisingly delicious combination.

Then the food came and everything looked incredible.

Enchiliadas

Tacos--I had a little bit of food envy when these babies came out!

Steve and I split this steak dish that came in a sweet and spicy sauce with bleu cheese on top. It was ridiculously good. The steak was crunchy and slightly charred on the outside, while perfectly tender on the inside! YUM!

Every single item I tasted was absolutely delicious. I must admit, I was a little surprised at the prices when I first opened the menu, but the flavors were all unique and well worth the price.

After our dinner, we had cookie bar cake made by yours truly :)

And we resumed our photo session…

They even have a super awesome graffiti wall that we had fun in front of!

Me + Starbucks group

Oh no! Someone killed Carolyn! And apparently, rolled her over afterwards...

At least she looks happy about it.

Oh good! She came back to life! Hey Steve, I don't appreciate this whole from below angle that makes me look like I'm expecting. Let's work on that.

Okay, you picked me up, we're good again ;)

And then Nicole suggested we practice our jumping pictures….

Clearly, I don't need any practice.

We regularly pose for White Girls Can't Jump Weekly.

This was just one of those nights where everything is pretty much perfect. Perfect company, food and atmosphere. I was also super in love with our waitress who was hilarious and even tried a piece of the cookie bar cake! Ohhhh, and the band even sang me happy birthday! Pretty much, if you live in Phoenix and haven’t been to Barrio Cafe, that needs to change immediately. And if you’re ever visiting from out of town (like if your name is Mac and you will be here in a month), you cannot leave Phoenix without eating at the best Mexican restaurant I have ever been to.

Special thanks to Kara for organizing such an incredible night, and everyone who made the last couple of weeks super special for me :)

 

 

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