Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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The weather has been gorgeous lately and I have been able to fire up our backyard grill a few times already this season. The longer, warmer days make me feel like summer is right around the corner. We’re planning outdoor activities for our weekends and starting to think about miniature summer vacations to go camping, hiking, canoeing and tubing in the area.

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Last weekend, Kyle and I met up with some friends at Dominion Riverrock, which is an outdoor sports and music festival in Richmond, VA. We spent hours outside in the sun, watching demonstrations and competitions for various outdoor sports, including mountain biking, bouldering, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, trail running, and even dog jumping! It was amazing to be surrounded by people with so much love for the outdoors. It got us thinking about planning a camping trip this summer. Do you have any ideas for must-see spots to share?

Because my mood and the weather always influence my kitchen adventures, I made a campfire s’mores-inspired sweet treat to fuel our research and planning. These peanut butter s’mores cookies are soft, chewy, and packed with peanut butter flavor, with little bits of graham cracker and chocolate mixed throughout, and soft marshmallow middles (which is exactly what I’ll have, if I don’t stop eating these cookies).

I used one of my favorite basic peanut butter cookie recipes from chocolatecoveredkatie.com and modified it to dream up this unique combination. When enjoyed in moderation, they are quite delicious!

Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all natural applesauce (no sugar added)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Sucanat (or substitute brown sugar or Turbinado if you prefer)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips
  • 1 rectangular regular size graham cracker (4 sections), crumbled
  • 12 miniature marshmallows

Preparation:

  1. Combine peanut butter, applesauce, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  2. In another bowl, combine Sucanat, baking soda, flour, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and stir to combine until a dough is formed. Fold in the chocolate chips and crumbled graham crackers.
  4. Roll the dough into about 1-inch balls. Push a miniature marshmallow into the center of each cookie dough ball, and re-roll into a sphere. This should make 10-12 cookies.
  5. Chill dough balls in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. At 25 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Transfer dough balls to a lightly greased cookie sheet and space 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

How do you enjoy the great outdoors this time of year? Have any tips on cool camping or hiking spots?

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How Melissa’s Produce Got Chile Peppers Into My Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I recently received an email from Melissa’s Produce, proclaiming that Hatch Chile Season is upon us! I had no idea what a hatch chile was, but already I was excited to find out. Within a few days, I had a box full of hatch chiles and a cookbook sitting on my desk, along with some information about this short-lived seasonal pepper. Because I had so much fun learning about and experimenting with these versatile peppers, I want to share my hatch chile experience with you.*

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Hatch chiles are grown in New Mexico and harvested for just a few weeks each year, in late August and early September. They range from mild to hot, and they taste best roasted, with their thick skins peeled off. I learned all of this while flipping through the cookbook in my office, when my coworkers asked me why I had a box of peppers sitting on my desk. I had the samples shipped to work, and consequently I left the office that day with just half the peppers in my possession. The other half went on to other experiments in five of my coworkers’ homes. I can only imagine that by now they have been grilled, roasted, stuffed, and chopped into a variety of dishes.

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A few local Kroger grocery stores partnered with Melissa’s Produce to host hatch chile roastings over the last two weeks, and I visited one last weekend to see the pepper roasting in action. There were samples of three heat levels to help shoppers decide which peppers to buy: mild, hot, and extra hot. The hot ones were my favorite, but a lot of people preferred the extra hots. While there, I saw several people buy whole cases of peppers and then have them roasted on-site for free. I opted to roast mine myself, in two batches. The first batch of mild peppers that were delivered for free, I roasted under the broiler in my oven. The second batch of hot peppers that I purchased at Kroger (for $1.40 per pound!), I roasted on a charcoal grill.

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After roasting, it is best to peel the peppers (with gloves!) to remove the skin and seeds, slice them, and freeze them for use over the next few months. Another way to experience hatch chiles in the off-season is to stock up on the hatch chile powder now, and then toss it in soups, stews, chili, and enchiladas into the fall and winter months. I froze six peppers after roasting and peeling, and I cooked with the rest, using the Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook.

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I could not believe how many great recipes were in this book, all using hatch chiles, and I was very glad to see that most of the recipes were vegetarian. The book covers all types of dishes, including breakfast, snacks, soups, stews, sides, entrees, desserts, and even beverages! I am looking forward to trying that hatch chile margarita!

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So far I have used the hatch chiles in black bean tacos and in chocolate chip cookies. I used the mild peppers in the cookies and couldn’t even taste them. The cookie recipe is seriously good – great flavor and consistency, not too soft, not too crunchy. However, next time I think I will use the hot chiles to balance the sweetness of the cookie because I was a little bummed that the cookies did not taste as weird as they sounded. The cookbook really opened my eyes to how versatile these peppers are, and I am glad that I stocked up when I did because I am looking forward to continuing to test recipes from the book and create more of my own.

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* I did receive a free box of hatch chiles and a cookbook when I expressed interest in learning more about the chiles and testing the recipes for my blog. As always, my opinions are all my own, and I never recommend a product without testing it first.

Strawberry Apple Rhubarb Muffins (Vegan!)

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Do you ever have those moments when you finally realize something that should have been obvious to you for a long time, and you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’ve never thought of this before?”

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That is exactly how I feel about strawberries, green apples, and rhubarb. In this in-between season, why not bring the best of the fall and the best of the spring together, in one delicious “tweasonal” snack? One day it’s fifty degrees and the next day it’s eighty – why not embrace the seasonal identity crisis in your kitchen as well? Strawberry and rhubarb is a tried and true pairing, but apple and rhubarb? That is a little less common. However I feel that the vibrant green stalk of the rhubarb has been trying to tell me something for years.

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Plays well with others. . . particularly with strawberries and Granny Smith apples. Because cramming three flavors into one muffin wasn’t enough of a challenge, I opted to make these vegan as well. I have made vegan cookies and breads before, but I believe these are my first vegan muffins. Non-dairy milk and a flax egg work wonders.

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If you have never made a flax egg before, do not be intimidated.

First, grind whole flax seeds into a fine powder. I use my coffee grinder for this step. The oils in flax are very temperamental and ground flax meal can go rancid quickly, so I always keep the seeds whole then grind them immediately before using in a recipe.

Second, mix 1 part flax seed meal to 3 parts water. Stir with a fork or whisk to combine. This recipe calls for two flax eggs (2 Tbsp flax + 6 Tbsp water).

Third, refrigerate for 15 minutes to achieve the consistency displayed below. This ingredient is a binder, so it needs to stick. When it has set up enough, you can turn a container of flax eggs on its side and the contents don’t spill out.

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Another unexpected part of these delicious muffins is the whole strawberry hiding in the middle of each one. I folded chopped apples and rhubarb into the muffin batter, then I sliced the tops off of twelve strawberries.

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After filling the muffin tins halfway, I shoved a whole strawberry into the middle of each tin, then topped off with some batter. As the muffins bake, the strawberry juice starts to leak out into the muffins, and when you bite into one, the whole strawberry center is like a fresh jam filling. I really should try this with peanut butter muffins, right?

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Some of the strawberries couldn’t stay hidden, and they chose to leak sweet strawberry lava out of the tops of the muffins. They look exactly how they are: irresistibly delicious.

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Vegan Strawberry Apple Rhubarb Muffins

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh ground flax meal
  • 3 ounces water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (I used soy milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup of peeled, chopped apple (I used Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 cup chopped rhubarb
  • 12 small strawberries, tops removed

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Combine flax meal and water, refrigerate for 15 minutes. The result is a “flax egg.”
  3. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients: flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
  4. In a smaller bowl, combine wet ingredients: flax egg, oil, applesauce, vanilla, non-dairy milk, and vinegar. Stir until mixed.
  5. Add wet ingredients to large bowl and stir to combine with dry ingredients, until just moistened. Make sure all flour is incorporated.
  6. Fold in apple and rhubarb.
  7. Grease or line a muffin tin with paper liners. Fill each cavity halfway with batter. Place one strawberry inside each cavity, then top with more batter until filled.
  8. Bake muffins in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the largest muffin comes out clean.

Note: if vegan isn’t your thing, you may substitute 2 eggs, beaten, for the flax eggs, and 1 cup buttermilk for the non-dairy milk and vinegar.

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Is it Spring time yet?!

Strawberry, Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Empanadas

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My friend Melissa came to visit this weekend. Melissa is one of those friends who takes you as you are. No matter how long it has been since we have seen each other, we pick up right where we left off. We always have awesome adventures, and I have no doubt that I am a better person because I met Melissa. One of the great things about my BFF is her generosity; she never shows up empty-handed! This time she brought fresh picked produce from her family’s vegetable garden and a bunch of flowers: a delicate arrangement of snapdragons and lavender, transported in a small clear plastic cup in her car’s cupholder for the two hour drive.

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We had a lovely weekend sunbathing at the river, cooking fresh local food, and spending hours chatting about work, families, boys, and life. The usual. I was so sad to put her on the train Monday morning! When I arrived home from sending her off on her return trip to NYC, I felt antsy. To take my mind off the sudden quiet of my house, I headed to the kitchen to find a way to use up an abundance of fresh strawberries.

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Feeling super girly, I made a pretty pink filling of strawberries, fresh chevre, and black pepper. Then I made a buttery empanada dough to surround the strawberries and goat cheese in a soft, light, flaky crust.

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Like a sunny afternoon at the river, a meandering bicycle ride, or a late night of girl talk, these soft little pastries are oh so whimsical. Sure, we cut them out into almost perfect circles. But then we stuff, fold, crimp, and brush them, then shower them in sugar. No two empanadas are the same. They’re all about taking it easy, having fun, and unapologetically being what they are. On the inside, they’re sweet, tangy, peppery and utterly unpredictable. On the outside, each one is uniquely beautiful (and so buttery…. have I mentioned the butter?). Edges not perfectly crimped? Filling spilling out onto the pan? Overstuffed, understuffed, thick, thin or lopsided. It doesn’t matter.

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As the saying goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Strawberry, Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Empanadas

Makes about 16 empanadas

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Ingredients:

  • 2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp cold water
  • 1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 4 oz. fresh chevre (goat cheese)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • about a palmful of granulated sugar (white or turbinado)

Preparation:

  1. Add flour and salt to a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
  2. Beat together one egg, 1/2 cup of water and vinegar. Add to flour mixture and incorporate with a fork.
  3. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few times just until the dough comes together.
  4. Roll the dough into a ball and flatten slightly. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  5. For the filling, combine strawberries, goat cheese and black pepper in a small bowl. Stir and mash ingredients together until combined.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F when ready to assemble the empanadas.
  7. Remove the dough from the refrigerator once chilled. On a floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick. Work in batches depending on the size of your surface.
  8. Using a 3 inch cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, or the rim of a wide drinking glass, cut out roughly 3 inch rounds.
  9. Spoon 1 tsp filling into the center of each one. Fold the circle in half and crimp the edges using the tines of a fork or your fingers for a more rustic look. Place the empanadas on a prepared baking sheet, 1 inch apart.
  10. Beat the remaining egg with 1 Tbsp water. Brush each empanada with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
  11. Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache

As promised, I have a sweet new cupcake recipe for you. This winter citrus is insanely fresh and delicious right now. After enjoying fresh oranges for a few weeks, I decided to feature that nice zesty seasonal flavor in a sweet treat. I could pretend and say I was saving this recipe for Valentine’s Day, but I’m not much of a Valentine’s Day person so my close friends wouldn’t let that fly. The truth is I have been super busy and just haven’t gotten around to writing the post.

I went on a citrus kick a few weeks ago and made lemon cream cupcakes (from allrecipes) and these chocolate orange cupcakes ( my original recipe to follow) one weekend. It is amazing what a difference fresh ingredients can make! The subtle sweet orange flavor that is baked into these chocolate cupcakes is so fresh tasting, with this slight tang from the orange zest. The orange plays really well with the rich cocoa flavor.

I have mentioned before that I am not a natural baker, so when a confection turns out for me, I am genuinely surprised and delighted. Lately I have been experimenting a bit more with baking, and I am starting to get comfortable enough to make up my own recipes. Those work out for me even less frequently so it’s really nice when I come up with something tasty.

I am not even going to lie – this recipe is the second attempt. The first attempt did not work out so well. I am still learning about the delicate chemistry of baked goods. I did not realize that putting finely diced fresh orange in a cupcake would result in the batter soaking up all the orange juice, leaving chunks of stringy pulp behind. Because I believe that cupcake eating should not require post-dessert toothpicks and floss, I tried again. This time with juice.

The first batch never made it to the office. I choked down one or two cupcakes then threw them away. They just weren’t right. I brought the final batch into work and my coworkers approved. Success! I think they were pretty surprised to find out that the cake is vegan. The frosting, however, is not. I couldn’t resist topping these with dark chocolate ganache. I had never made ganache before and I was really surprised at how easy it is! If you want to go the vegan route though, you could use any vegan icing that your little heart desires and I am sure they would still be delightful.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes (makes about a dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift flour and combine with other dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well.
  3. Combine wet ingredients in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and stir. Mix with a stand/hand mixer until well combined.
  4. Coat a muffin tin with non-stick spray or line with baking cups. Pour batter into cups until each cup is two-thirds full.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for a a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to continue cooling.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • Patience

Preparation:

  1. Pour the chocolate chips into a medium sized mixing bowl.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat. Bring to a boil then remove from heat.
  3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and stir to combine. Continuing stirring until chocolate is melted, then whisk until smooth.
  4. Let cool completely. Pop the bowl in the fridge for an hour or overnight if you have a lot of patience.
  5. Bring the frosting back to around room temperature then whip with a whisk until light and fluffy.
  6. If you’re fancy, use a pastry bag or a cake decorating gadget to top your cupcakes. If you’re like me and have a ton of gadgets that you always forget to use, don’t bother dusting off the cookie press / cake decorator gadget, and just use an old fashioned knife to spread the frosting on to the cupcakes.

Hope you dig them as much as I do!

Adventures in Vegan Baking

I never understood how it worked. Vegan baking. If baking is a science, then vegan bakers must be mad scientists. Breaking all the rules, mixing up cookies and cakes with ingredients that most of us would never put in a baked good, vegan bakers are trailblazers in the kitchen. Baking scares me, because I am much better at stovetop cooking. For years, vegan baking totally frightened me and then I became intrigued. Recently, I finally rose to the challenge and tried it out. I dove headfirst into a sea of recipes and tried my hardest not to sink.

Miraculously, I swam. And in the process I discovered a few awesome things about vegan baking.

  1. Not all vegan baked goods are healthy, but a lot of healthy baked goods are vegan. Replacing sugar and butter with applesauce makes things a tad healthier. It also may make them vegan. There are a lot of healthy cookies and bars out there that are vegan, so entering this world may help you build a better breakfast for yourself.
  2. In most cases, you can eat the dough! And not worry about salmonella poisoning! This fact alone should convince you to whip up a batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies today.
  3. Searching for vegan baked goods recipes online will introduce you to a whole new world of awesome bloggers. So open your mind and make some new friends already.

Here is a rundown of all the things I tried:

Pumpkin Protein Bars from Peas and Thank You

These scared me because they came out exactly as I feared they would; they tasted like pumpkin scented cardboard. I think it was my protein powder. This vegan protein powder I tried tasted great in smoothies but it was pretty gross by itself. The pumpkin and sweetener in these bars did not cover up the bland chalkiness of the protein powder. I am going to try this one again with a different protein powder because the nutrition stats on these were awesome.

Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf from the Post Punk Kitchen

This bread came out really dense and moist with a very rich chocolate flavor. The pumpkin pie spice played well with the chocolate and I felt comfortable serving this to non-vegan friends as it tasted pretty normal. I doubled the recipe and made two loaves and I am glad I did. One is in the freezer for me to thaw out next time I have unexpected guests.

Fall Harvest Fruit Cake from FatFree Vegan Kitchen

I omitted the persimmons because mine weren’t ripe enough and I am not a patient person. I added pumpkin puree so as not to ruin the consistency by leaving out the persimmon pulp and I added sweetened dried cranberries because apple and cranberry is a winning combination. This one turned out awesome. I served it to a few friends and family members and they could not tell it was vegan at all.

Cherry Almond Cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

So delicious! And excellent with a glass of vanilla soy milk. . . or dunked in almond milk? You definitely cannot tell these are vegan. Something about the oils and the almond extract make you think you are eating a buttery drop cookie, but there is no butter involved! Grab a Christmas gift card or scrape together a few dollars and buy this book. I can’t wait to try out more of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s and Terry Hope Romero’s vegan baking recipes.

I think I have more experimenting to do. The excitement of vegan baking is putting all these things that you don’t think should go on a cookie sheet or in a cake pan, popping it in the oven, and crossing your fingers that it comes out somewhat resembling a baked good. It’s science! It’s magic! It’s completely fascinating!

Maybe if you win my OXO Spatula giveaway, you could whip up one of these recipes to test it out. Don’t forget – today is the last day to enter my giveaway for a Good Cookie gift pack! Click here for details. Contest closes at 11:59 PM tonight!

Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and OXO Giveaway

Being in the midst of the holiday season means that we are also in the season of giving, the season of baking, and the season of eating delicious treats until the buttons on our pants pop off. That is why this giveaway couldn’t come at a better time. As the days  left in December fly off the calendar and we prepare for a new year, let’s continue the giving and keep baking while we’re at it.

I recently received some information from OXO about their charity, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Founded by two OXO employees, this organization raises money to fund research on new therapies for pediatric cancer. By baking cookies and holding bake sales, supporters around the country raise funds that are then matched by OXO through December 31st of this year. Check out their website here: OXO Good Cookies.

As a part of my recent foray into the world of baking, I developed my first cookie recipe, and I think this is the perfect occasion to share it with you! My Mocha Coconut Cookies are inspired by my sister, who once had a love affair with a Starbucks Frappuccino of the same name. I created this recipe for Meghan, who is a bit of a philanthropist herself. Throughout college she worked with her sorority to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She is a proud cheerleader for my Dad’s efforts with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Ever since she was a little girl, she has felt a responsibility to protect and nurture all creatures, great and small. Especially the small. From taking in stray kittens to rescuing stray broccoli (“baby trees”) from the grim fate of being tossed in the garbage disposal, Meghan sweats the small stuff, so to speak.

I think Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is a charity Meg would really get behind, so I hope that she is honored to share the dedication of the recipe with this great organization. Boyfriend-tested and coworker-approved, this one is a keeper. These delicious cookies are light and fluffy like a dollop of whipped cream and rich and chocolatey like mocha syrup. To top it off, they include that tender flake of coconut and bitter hint of espresso that makes Meghan’s favorite (non-alcoholic) frozen drink so delightful.

Meghan’s Mocha Coconut Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 tsp coconut extract for true coconut lovers
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 1-1/2 cups sweetened flaked or shredded coconut

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the first six ingredients, flour through salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand mixer until fluffy.
  4. To the butter and sugar, add the eggs and vanilla and coconut extracts.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix thoroughly. Fold in the chocolate chips and flaked coconut.
  6. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet and bake in the preheated over for 12 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

And now for a gift to you! OXO has been generous enough to provide me with an additional FREE Be A Good Cookie spatula for one lucky veg:ology reader. Let me tell you, this spatula is the bomb dot com. It is perfect for cookies and all my sweet treats lifted off the baking sheets with ultimate ease. And I’m going to throw in a few cookie ingredients to sweeten the deal.

There are two ways to get entries in the contest to win a Good Cookie gift pack, complete with an OXO Be A Good Cookie spatula and an assortment of my favorite cookie ingredients:

  1. Leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite type of cookie to receive one entry.
  2. Visit www.oxogoodcookies.com and register your own bake sale to benefit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer*. Leave a comment on this post with the name you registered your bake sale under to receive two additional entries.

The deadline for entries is Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 11:59 PM. I will use a random number generator to select and announce the winner on Wednesday, December 28th. Good luck and happy baking!

*OXO has pledged to match the proceeds of all bake sales held through December 31, 2011. However the fun does not stop there; feel free to register a bake sale in 2012 and continue the giving into the new year.