Chocolate Nutella Cookies

It’s that time of the year again…cookie season! And my favorite way to kick it off is by participating in the Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap hosted by The Little Kitchen and Love and Olive Oil. This is my third year participating and I feel like it just gets better and better every year! Here are my cookies from Year 1 and Year 2 if any of you are curious.

The way it works: Food bloggers sign up online and then we receive 3 matches. We then make 3 dozen of the same cookie and send out 1 dozen to each match. In return, we get 3 different types of cookies (1 dozen each) from 3 other bloggers. It’s pretty amazing, especially when you have hundreds of bloggers participating from all over the world!

Also, this year Julie and Lindsay got some great sponsors who matched our donations, and we ended up raising over $13,000 for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer! I’d say it was a huge success!! :)

Chocolate Nutella Cookie Recipe

These cookies are chewy and chocolatey with a rich nutella undertone. Holiday baking with Nutella is a must!

If you’re looking for an easy, delicious cookie to whip up, give this recipe a try. It’s fantastic! For another twist, you could omit the powdered sugar and sprinkle on some sea salt to make it a salted nutella cookie :)

Also, does anyone have any great holiday cookie suggestions? I’d love to add them to my list!

Chocolate and Nutella Cookies

I received delicious cookies from Valentina (The Baking Fairy), Justine (Cooking & Beer), and Stacey (Treats 4 Ta-Tas). It’s always fun to get packages, and when they’re cookies, it’s even better! I had them delivered to my office so it was awesome to be able to share all the treats with my colleagues.

I hope Erin (Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts), Renee (Kudos Kitchen by Renee), and Corinne (Reverberations) enjoyed these chocolate nutella cookies! Sorry I didn’t include the powdered sugar on them…I didn’t think it would look too great when they arrived haha.

Recipe only slightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Chocolate Nutella Cookies
 
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, gently packed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Nutella
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Powdered Sugar for garnish

Instructions
  1. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa powder in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Using a hand held mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together until the mixture is creamy. Then mix in the vanilla extract and nutella.
  3. Pour half of the flour mixture into the butter/nutella bowl and mix until everything is incorporated. Add the milk and then the second half of the flour mix. Mix well.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and place the cookie mix in the fridge for at least 15 mins.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and roll 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball.
  6. Place the balls on the sheet and press down on each one (using your hands or the bottom of a glass cup) until the balls are flat, disks aka cookie shaped :)
  7. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until the the edges start to set. Remove cookies from oven and let sit on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. Then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  8. Once completely cooled, dust cookies with powdered sugar.

 

Homemade Mulled Wine

We haven’t seen rain in San Francisco for over 2 months. 2 months! And when it did rain 2 months ago, it only rained for one day…it’s so weird and I’m anxiously waiting for some drops so that we can get some snow up in Tahoe. Fortunately for me, I’m running away and heading to the warm beaches of Mexico for a few days this week! Muahaha. But when I get back…I expect rain. :)

However, the warm weather has not stopped my friends and I from embracing Fall and enjoying some seasonal festivities (including a Friendsgiving potluck this past Saturday and a friendly game of softball yesterday). In my opinion, the best way to celebrate the holiday season is by chowing down on some delicious food and sipping on tasty drinks.

Warm, spiced drinks scream comfort to me. It’s quite possibly my favorite part of the holiday season (besides snow!!). If you’re looking for a last minute drink to make or an item to contribute to a potluck, this is your recipe! It’s extremely quick to whip up, it will make the entire place smell like winter spices, and you can double or triple the recipe to accommodate a huge group of people. Plus, you don’t need expensive wine for this so it’s pretty cheap to make…Helloooo, 2 buck Chucks from Trader Joes.

I do love making this mulled cider with fresh fruit recipe but this mulled wine might have surpassed the cider this time around. If you already have the spices on hand, all you need to buy is wine, an orange, and some brandy.

Trust me, this recipe is a must.

Mulled Wine

You just add orange zest, sugar, and spices to a medium sized pot, pour in enough wine to juuuust cover all of the ingredients and then bring everything to a rapid boil for about 8-10 minutes to create a spiced syrup. Then you add the rest of the wine, squeeze in the juice of the orange you zested, and warm everything up over low heat.

Once your mulled wine is heated (not boiling or else you’ll burn off the alcohol), you top it off with some brandy, and that’s it! Serve and enjoy.

What’s your favorite holiday drink?

Mulled Wine
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

Serves: 4

Ingredients
  • 1 bottle of Cabernet Savignon (or your favorite red wine)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large orange
  • 1/4 cup brandy (more or less to your taste)

Instructions
  1. Zest the orange skin (by using a vegetable peeler or knife) into thick slices.
  2. In a medium sized pot, add the orange zest, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, nutmeg, and sugar together.
  3. Pour just enough wine to cover everything (in a medium pot, this was a little less than 1/4 of the bottle for me).
  4. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil for about 8-10 mins while stirring occasionally. This will thicken it a little bit and create a flavorful syrup.
  5. Bend head over mixture and smell..it smells like winter!
  6. Once the syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low. Add the rest of the wine. Squeeze the juice out of the orange you zested earlier into the pot.
  7. Let the wine slowly warm up. You must do it at a low temp so that the alcohol doesn’t burn off.
  8. Once it’s warm enough, add the brandy and serve immediately.

 

Cotopaxi Ecuador

I got to hike the second highest volcano in the world on my 25th birthday with amazing friends–this day is going to be a hard one to top!

Megan, Kristina, and I hopped in Paul’s car around 6am so we could get an early start to Cotopaxi, a national park just outside of Quito. Paul and Santiago, Kristina’s classmates, navigated the roads while the three of us tried to sleep a little more in the backseat. We had to get to the volcano early in the day because if you arrive too late, the fog covers up the entire thing and you miss the beautiful view. The five of us planned to leave even earlier than 6am but struggled to wake up on time. Hikers intending to climb to the summit usually spend the night at the base camp and start their trek at midnight or 1am in order to avoid the thick fog.

An hour of driving brought us to a small town called Machachi. We stopped there just as the breakfast stands were opening up, and we ordered a few bowls of encebollado mixto con concha y camaron, a seafood stew filled with large chunks fish, shrimp and shellfish. A bowl was only $3.00 USD! The stew is served with ketchup and mustard (weird, right?) and it also comes with a side of popcorn that you’re suppose to throw into your soup. The popcorn addition was amazing, but I was reluctant to mix in the ketchup and mustard. We also enjoyed music from a live band that played while we ate which was sweet treat in the morning.

Encebollado Mixto

Once we arrived at the entrance of the national park, the security guard almost didn’t let us through because Megan and I were tourists–apparently, you need a guide if you’re not a local. Paul and Santiago motioned for us to go wait in the car, and when they came back we were told that we were fine to drive through. Not sure what they said, but I’m so glad they let us in!

The dirt road leading to Volcán Cotopaxi was beautiful. We constantly stopped to take pictures, and you can see below that the fog was already starting to cover parts of the volcano so we were definitely racing the clock.

Road to Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi

After driving up a few windy roads to a parking lot where other cars and tour busses that carried mountain bikes stopped at (I think people can bike back down the volcano!), the fog had cleared a bit and we were ready to go.

Cotopaxi Elevation Sign

It was freezing (the volcano’s summit is at 19,342 feet), and the parking lot sits at such a high elevation so we could feel the temp drop immediately after stepping out of the car. The view was worth it though, and then we began our hike up to the base camp!

Cotopaxi Climb

The path was made of loose dirt/gravel so it felt like you were climbing up a sandy beach. With the strenuous (and slippery!) road and thin air, we took a few breaks along the way…but eventually we made it to the base camp (which is at just under 16,000 feet in elevation)!

Paul Santiago Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi Meg Steph

Cotopaxi Panorama

Meg Steph Cotopaxi

The view from the base camp was breathtaking and truly surreal. We also walked up the glacier path a bit and saw some camp sites set up, ready to hike to the summit of the volcano.

It was lightly snowing when ventured back down to the car, and when we looked back, the volcano was almost entirely covered by the fog so we had barely made it on time to catch the killer views. On the drive back to the main roads, Santiago noticed that the brakes were not working properly (luckily, we were driving very slowly at the time) but it was a little startling. When adding additional brake fluid didn’t work, we thought we were going to be stuck in Cotopaxi all day. After about an hour of just hanging out, the breaks were working again! Turns out that the brake fluid had been frozen from the cold and needed some time to warm up. Lesson learned! :)

After arriving back in Quito, Paul and Santiago took us to their friend’s restaurant for an early dinner where we were given the VIP treatment. We only ordered a few plates of mote con chicharron (pictured below) but so many more dishes came out. It was amazing!

Mote con Chicharron

Mote con Chicharron

We shared a huge bowl of soup, and I even got a special birthday plate of carne colorada!

Carne Colorada

Carne Colorada

Santiago also had one of the servers sneak out and buy me a birthday candle…a question mark birthday candle, that is :) It was really sweet! I’m guessing that either the server was unsure of how old I was turning or that the question mark was the only candle at the store. Regardless, the dish was ridiculously delicious–I’d be ok eating this instead of cake on every birthday going forward.

Steph Bday Meal

After stuffing ourselves until we couldn’t eat anymore, we headed back to Kristina’s and just hung out for the rest of the night. The next day, we all stopped by the local craft market before Megan and I headed to the airport to catch our flight back to California. It was a bittersweet departure, but I’m SO thankful that we got to visit Kristina and meet all of her wonderful friends on this trip. What an amazing adventure!

GNO in Ecuador

South America was incredible, and I’m so grateful that I was able to experience this trip with my best friend.

Hasta pronto, SOUTH AMERICA!!! I guarantee that I’ll be back. <3

Group at Cotopaxi

[This is the final post of the South America series. Click here to see the entire recap of my trip.]

I’m sure some of you have already noticed, but this blog has been pretty quiet due to an unexpected (but much needed) blogging hiatus. This is actually the longest I’ve ever gone in 2.5 years without posting, which is kind of startling but I’m absolutely ok with that. I didn’t mean to take a blogging break but something just told me I had to. As rewarding as this blog is, it takes a huge amount of time and effort. And sometimes, I really enjoy stepping away from the computer screen and it’s difficult to balance my time. But I find that I come back to this space every single time, and when I do, I’m glad I did.

So here I am, refreshed and determined to finish my South America Recap (just one more post after this!), and I’m also looking forward to posting some fun recipes that I’ve had on my mind lately.

So thanks for sticking it out with me :)

-Steph

____________________________________________________________

Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador – June 2013

Mitad del Mundo South America

After spending the night at the Lima airport and running off of about 4 hours of sleep, Megan and I finally arrived in Ecuador. Kristina, our very close friend from college, picked us up and drove us back to her apartment. Kristina’s studying for her Master’s degree in Quito so when we were planning our trip, we knew we had to visit her. We relaxed in her apartment while she went back to school for a few hours. Later that night, she and her friends took us for a quick night tour of the city. We got to see her school and a bit of the beautiful, historic buildings of old town Quito. Then we went to bed pretty early that night so we would be well rested for our day trip to Mitad del Mundo (aka the center of the world) the next day!

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

Kristina’s friend picked us all up the next morning and we ventured towards Mitad del Mundo. It’s a few hours outside of Quito so we got to see a lot of great scenery on the road! There are actually TWO Mitad del Mundos–one was established by French explorers and is distinguished by a huge monument (pictured below) and the other spot, which was later determined by official GPS calculations, is about 240 meters north of the first line. We visited the monument first and walked around the area for a while.

Mitad del Mundo Ecuador

Mitad del Mundo Equator

Straddling the equator!

Mitad del Mundo Monument

The second center of the world location offers a tour with more history about the area and fun activities that you can only do along the equator line. We got to see water spin in different directions on each side of the equator (not that exciting) and also got a chance to try balancing an egg on the head of a nail (really, really fun!). Some say that these activities are a hoax, but it was really cool to partake in them anyway.

Mitad del Mundo Line

On the drive back, Kristina and her friend raved about the helado (ice cream) in the area so we kept an eye out for heladerias along the side the road. Once we found one, we pulled over and each ordered two scoops. The ice cream was so refreshing and really delicious–a perfect ending to our little adventure!!

Helado Ecuador

When we got back into Quito, we headed to Old Town again but this time to enjoy some food and nightlife. There was a lot of excitement on the streets and it was awesome to see some of the culture in Quito. While walking around, we ate a bunch of empanadas, drank some morocho (a warm rice drink), and shared a plate of mote con chicharrone. Then Megan and I stumbled upon skewers of strawberries that had just been freshly dipped in chocolate. Each skewer was only $1.25 and the strawberries tasted fantastic so we treated ourselves to a few skewers–we really could have eaten the whole batch!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries Quito

This day was also the eve of my birthday so we gathered at a bar that was playing live music and ordered a round of canelazos, a hot drink made of naranjillas and sugar cane alcohol. It was realllly tasty and warmed us up right away! At midnight, a birthday toast was made (ah, 25!!!!) and then we headed home to get some rest before having to wake up at the crack of dawn to head to Cotopaxi, a national park in Ecuador that is the home of the world’s second highest volcano!

Old Town Quito

Celebrating my birthday at midnight – Megan, Kristina, and I on the right with Kristina’s friends!

A birthday volcano hike and a fantastic Ecuadorian birthday meal to come in the final post of this South America series!

Huacachina Sand Dunes

The little town of Huacachina is beyond amazing. We only spent one night there but every moment of it was so much fun! If you are around the Lima area, I highly suggest visiting this place. Disclaimer: This post if filled with way too many sunset photos. But I don’t care!

There was only one minor travel issue (yay!) on the way down which consisted of Megan and I hanging out too long at the airport after we landed in Lima, losing track of time, and then barely making our bus to Ica! The Cruz del Sur bus station in Lima is about 3 times as big as the one in Cusco so we didn’t anticipate such long lines to get our tickets and check our bags. The ticketing system at the bus station is sort of like going to the DMV–you receive a number from a self-serve kiosk based on the reason you are there. In our case, we needed to get a hard copy of our tickets. Trying to decipher which number/category to choose was the first time Megan and I truly realized how poor our Spanish skills really were–we didn’t understand any of the options! Except for the first option, which was to purchase tickets–the ONLY option we knew we didn’t need.

Megan ended up frantically selecting every option, hoping that 1 out of our 5 numbers would be called before our bus left without us. While we were fumbling with our numbers and trying to figure out where we could check our backpacks, we realized that a few of the numbers were being called all at once so I grabbed them from Megan and ran to the first teller yelling, “Es mi numero! Es mi numero!” so that they wouldn’t pass us up. I almost had to hip-check a guy who was trying to get to the teller before me! I’ll never know what the number was actually for but fortunately, we got our tickets, checked our backpacks and made it on the bus with about 5 minutes to spare :) It was a 4.5 hour bus ride to Ica and then we got a taxi to the little town of Huacachina.

Huacachina Lagoon

Huacachina wraps around a small lagoon in the middle of the desert. You can literally walk around this lagoon in about 15-2o minutes. The town itself is pretty average, with little shops, restaurants, and hotels along the main street but the view of the desert just outside the town is incredible.

Bananas Adventure Hostel

The courtyard at our hostel

Our hostel here was…interesting :) When we arrived, it was very late at night and the first thing we did was head to our room. It was our first private room of the trip and we were so excited! Until we realized that it shared a wall with the group bathroom and had a window that opened up to the bathroom (why???). You could hear EVERYTHING. We heard every little detail in private conversations, people coming in one at a time to brush their teeth, and I swear that one person even heard me whisper to Megan, “They forgot to turn off the lightttttt….” because all of a sudden we heard footsteps running back to the bathroom and then the lights turned off. Oops! And when we woke up in the morning, there was some sort of construction going on in the courtyard just outside our door. This was probably the worst hostel we stayed at during our time in Peru but I’m sure it would have been much better experience if we just had a different room.

However, the courtyard (pictured above) was amazing and had a bunch of hammocks for us to relax in, and the beautiful flowers and trees made everything feel like paradise, which totally made up for the weird room situation.

Steph Hammock

We ventured around town to grab a bite to eat before our dune buggy tour and our view during lunch overlooked the lagoon–so amazing. For the first time during our trip, we finally ordered ceviche! We also grabbed a plate of chicharrones mixto (deep fried chicken, fish, shrimp, squid) and it was really tasty especially when paired with an Inca Kola (the local soda that tastes like bubble gum). Everything was delicious and the people at the restaurant were incredibly friendly. They even gave us some fresh passion fruit juice on the house.

Ceviche and chicharrones Huacachina

After lunch, we walked around the lagoon a bit more and then waited for our dune buggy and sandboarding tour. We bought the tour through the hostel and it was SO WORTH IT! For only 30 soles (less than $11) we were driven around huge sand dunes and given sandboarding lessons. It was one of the best experiences throughout our whole trip! Pics don’t do it justice but I’ll try…

Desert Huacachina

Meg Steph Huacachina

The dune buggy ride was probably our favorite part of the tour. The tour guide drives really fast and finds huge sand dunes for the buggy to go over so it feels like you’re on a roller coaster in the middle of the desert! Here’s a short video clip of our ride:

 

The buggy ride was probably about 70% of the tour so we got to see a lot of the desert area!

Megan Sandboarding

Megan about to sandboard down the dune for the first time!

Sandboarding was really fun as well. It’s pretty much like snowboarding except the boards are very basic and you get sand everywhere! We were guided down two huge dunes. Some of the girls went down on their stomachs and others stood up. Megan and I stood up but after struggling with keeping the weak velcro straps fastened we realized that it’d probably be more fun to just lay on our bellies and penguin it down the dunes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go again so we never got to try going head first! 

Huacachina Sand Dunes Sunset

Our entire group hopped back into the buggy after sandboarding, and our tour guide raced to the top of a huge sand dune so we could catch the sunset. It was so ridiculously gorgeous–Megan and I couldn’t believe it.

Cue obsurd amount of sunset photos…

Huacachina Sunset Dune Buggy

Huacachina Desert Sunset

Meg Steph Huacachina Dunes

Desert Sun Huacachina

Huacachina Sun

Oh, and let’s also add this sunset video in the mix while we’re at it :)

 

After the sunset, we were driven to a dune that overlooks the town of Huacachina. What an oasis! It was the perfect way to end the day and tour. Once we got back into town, Meg and I grabbed a taxi and headed back to the bus station so we could catch the bus back to Lima where we would spend one night before heading off to Ecuador!

[Two more travel posts coming up next week and then normal posts will resume :)]

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