Remington and the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) Calendar Contest

This past February, the hubby and I took an unexpected leap and opened our hearts to a new family member: Remington.

We met Remi (formerly "Mortimer") through the shelter where we volunteer, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA). It was a chance spotting on their Facebook news feed of this incredibly darling rescue from West Virginia. I instantly was drawn but knew a dog wasn't planned in our immediate future. I resisted the temptation of meeting him for two weeks. He would be scooped up in a heart beat with those beautiful brown eyes and funny left ear, right?

During that time, all Mike heard from me was Remi updates: "he's still there" or "not adopted yet." Never before had I raved about a dog at the shelter, just the occasional kitty crush. Eventually, I sheepishly raised the question if Mike would consider meeting Remi. 

He exhaled a deep sigh. It turned out he had been planning on adopting Remi as a surprise for Valentine's Day. He was so taken aback by my Remi ramblings that he knew that this dog was special. Is the man good or what?
In honor of AWLA, we decided to enter Remington into one of their key annual fundraisers, the Calendar Contest! It only seemed right to participate since they helped us find a home for Penelope, introduced us to Slade, and brought us Remi. Time to pay it forward!

All donations from the Calendar Contest are in support of the day to day activities of the shelter including medical procedures. AWLA places more than 1,500 companion animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, iguanas, chinchillas and many more, in permanent, loving homes each year. An additional 300 stray pets are reunited with their owners through the League annually. Any animal adopted through the shelter receives vaccinations, spaying/neutering, and is micro-chipped. 

Please consider supporting this worthwhile cause! Spread the word! And naturally... feel free to vote for our little Remington! *wink wink*

Since 1946, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) has been a resource for the community and a shelter for homeless animals. AWLA operates the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter and Animal Services for the City of Alexandria. AWLA's shelter is the only open door facility in Alexandria, Virginia and takes in any animal in need. AWLA also investigates animal abuse and neglect and works hard to charge and prosecute animal abusers. The League plays a key role in promoting responsible pet care across Northern Virginia by facilitating animal adoptions as a viable option to purchasing animals from breeders, spay and neuter assistance, education and community service and outreach.

Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies

My father-in-law is a connoisseur of the oatmeal cookie. Well, that and carrot cake. He eats oatmeal on a regular basis for breakfast and will sometimes crack a raw egg into it. That's right. A raw egg. In short, I've deduced he's essentially trying to eat oatmeal cookie dough for breakfast. It's an interesting approach and respectful endeavor but I'll stick with the baked stuff : )

The usual oatmeal cookie that I bake is a Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookie with Dried Cranberries and Nuts from (surprise surprise) America's Test Kitchen. Don't let those "awesome" pictures fool you from that post... those cookies are wicked good. The real pull is the gooey chocolate chunks that create craters of indulgence. I am 110% believer that chocolate chunks are better than measly chips!

This round, I decided to switch it up and try a new oatmeal cookie recipe. These cookies were made to kill two birds with one stone: a birthday treat for my father in-law and a lovely addition to a baked goods basket being donated for a Nepal Relief fundraiser. It was my husband's stroke of genius; the recipe made more than enough cookies to go around and could rest in the fridge until needed. Super efficient.

I started gathering ingredients and that's when I did the double take. This recipe for oatmeal cookies... has no chocolate chips or chunks. Nada. What madness is this? @.@ Rest assured; the kids from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking know what they're doing.

This recipe plays its cards wisely with dark brown sugar and dried cherries to ensure just enough sweetness without overpowering the palette. It finds the line and stops right on the edge. The result is a cookie that doesn't make you feel insanely guilty. The slight tartness of the cherry is a refreshing change of pace from the traditional raisin. You can use your nut of choice but we stuck with walnuts for their subtle flavor.

As for the crowd pleasing, I heard no complaints! It was agreed though that it's not right to compare these cookies to the America's Test Kitchen recipe; it's like apples and oranges. The lack of chocolate chips creates a whole new perspective. If you're looking for something a little less decadent and more cozy, these Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies are for you.

The recipe for these delicious Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies can be found in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Top with a touch of honey if you're feeling mischievous and enjoy with some tea. 

Spiced Blondies with Chai Ganache

Chai is one of those magical blend of spices that's aromatic, earthy, warm, and soothing all at the same time. Add it to some black tea, steep with a touch of heavy milk, a kiss of sweetener, and you have the perfect cup of goodness. I like chai in just about anything, from pancakes to icecream (can't wait make some)! This recipe for Spiced Blondies with Chai Ganache takes things to a whole new level.

Picture it now: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, coriander, and nutmeg with a hint of a ground black pepper for gentle bite. Mix in some vanilla extract, almost equal parts flour to brown sugar, eggs, and add a generous serving of butter. So evil! Bake into blondie form (a brownie without the cocoa). Now as if that's not inviting enough, add a luscious layer of chai-tea infused, white chocolate topping. 

Don't make a face you non-white chocolate lovers! This is different... there's tea involved! I hate white-chocolate and this swooned even the likes of me. Admittedly, I halved the amount of ganache to cut back. If you're really all that adverse, try this tasty cream cheese chai frosting instead.

This is a lovely dessert because a small bite packs a lot of awesome. Initially, I cut these into 9 squares from a 8x8 pan but that proved to be serious a serving. In bite-sized form, they are perfect for parties and people quickly become addicted. The danger is lies in the delicious spices masking the richness of the blondie. It's the jungle juice of baked goods. Make at your own peril!

If you're not into tea, don't worry. These taste nothing like tea! Think of fall flavors, almost like pumpkin spice, with a very subtle pow from the peppercorn. Serve with a cup of chai if you want the ultimate experience or a glass of milk! You could even do espresso if you want a "dirty chai" - boo barista humor.  However you serve it, they're delicious!

This recipe for Spiced Blondies with Chai Ganache can be found on Raspberri Cupcakes!

Salted Brown Butter, Vanilla Bean Rice Krispie Treats

If you're ever in need of a wham, bam, thank you ma'am recipe, this is it! Fancy Rice Krispie treats! They are one of the easiest desserts to make in the whole wide world and require only a handful of ingredients. That's why when it came time to knock out a Baked Goods Basket, they immediately sprung to mind!

This was actually my first time ever making any kind of Rice Krispie treat! I've eaten the standard version before but it never occurred to me how they're a perfect canvas for creativity. Plain rice cereal and some marshmallow fluff as the base? The possibilities are endless! There are some super creative recipes out there, you could make a cook book with this Pinterest board alone.

I selected this classy version from Baked Bree: Brown Butter, Vanilla Bean. In the title of this post I added the word salted because... well... I forgot to add the salt. They still tasted good - the cereal has a touch of sodium built in. Just to be on the safe side, I lightly sprinkled 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt on top and voila! A whole new dimension to the yumminess!

The aroma of the vanilla while you brown the butter is pure heaven. The bars have a slightly nutty after taste that contrasts with the subtlety of the vanilla. The flavor is mature while the texture is fun! The end result is a dessert that's easy to make, serve, keeps well in an air tight for container, and is an addictive crowd pleaser. It's a whole new perspective to a childhood classic!

The recipe for these awesome Brown Butter, Vanilla Bean Rice Krispie Treats can be found on Baked Bree!

Baked Goods Basket : Chocolate Almond Truffles

As I mentioned in the last post, my college suite mate recently asked me to donate a baked goods basket for a fundraiser in response to the earthquake in Nepal. Her mixed martial arts studio, Pentagon MMA, was hosting an event to raise funds to help support relief efforts. There were going to be games, free self-defense lessons, a backyard barbeque, and a silent auction - what an awesome idea and cause!

Even more exciting than the opportunity to help this fundraiser through baking was deciding what to make for the basket. I busted out a pen, notepad, and arsenal of recipes. These had to be recipes that would survive in transport and could keep at least one night ahead of time. Game on!

After careful deliberation, four recipes made the cut: 

>> 1. Chocolate Almond Truffles

What a killer line up! None of these recipes were terribly difficult and I tried to stick with ingredients that were practical without being bland. I'll review each of these in future posts but for now, let's focus on the Chocolate Almond Truffles from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (pictured below, on the left).

These truffles are decadent, luxurious, and sinful. I would LOVE to dunk one in a warm cup of coffee and let it slowly melt on a fall morning. They would be just as good chilled on a summer day! I would compare them to a less processed version of those Lindt chocolate truffles you see everywhere. The ingredient list is extremely short and sweet (oh come to me dark chocolate) but don't let that fool you. They are the most labor intensive to make and need time to set. You have to form each individual ganache ball, dip it in melted chocolate, and then sprinkle on the fixings.

The saving grace of this recipe is the truffles can be made way in advance and frozen until show time. This definitely kept my mind at ease knowing there was an army of bons bons waiting in the freezer.  Should anything go wrong, at least this one thing was right and ready!

The other cool part about the truffles is that they do not have to be almond flavored. There are three, yes three, different versions in Baked. These could have been a gift basket by themselves! Get creative and make your own modifications with a dash of peppermint extract or a dusting of Oreo crumbs. Nothing's better than a versatile recipe!

Please note on the side of this blog, there is a section titled "good karma" where I try to recommend charitable efforts.  From an earthquake in another country to a puppy that needs surgery, I strongly encourage and support helping those in need. It's not about doing nice things in hopes you will receive something in return. The world simply needs more compassion and generosity. Just being thoughtful is huge! Thank you!

The recipe for these delicious Chocolate Almond Truffles can be found in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. This is one of my few go-to baking books and a worthy investment!