Sunday, December 30, 2012

Countdown to 2013 - Best Desserts of 2012

I suppose it comes as no surprise to anyone who frequents my blog that this is my favorite, and largest by far, recipe category.

I thoroughly enjoyed looking back over all the sweets I've made this year and remembering how much we enjoyed each one.  These are listed in chronological order of when they were made during the year, by the -way.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Cheesecake Filling
This was the cake I made for my dear friend Ellen's birthday.  I created it especially for her because she loves almonds and chocolate.  Her birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and I can't make her a cake again, since we've moved 1300 miles away. Makes me sad. I miss you, Ellen.  

These are seriously some of the most fun cookies I've ever made.  Seeing childrens' reactions to them is priceless.

Even though I'm still not very good at making pie crust, this pie is beautiful and scrumptious.  Made for Grant, because it's his favorite kind of pie.

Triple Layer Fudgy Mint Cookie Brownies
These are dangerous.  Oh, so dangerous.  And perfect for St. Patrick's Day.  Or any day.  

Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
More green, minty chocolately goodness!  I adored these so much.  

Black Bean Brownies
These aren't the best brownies in the world, but they are really so tasty and people will never guess they have  beans in them.  I promise.  My family can eat a pan of them in one meal.  And we don't feel too guilty about it, because we're eating beans, after all.  

Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Cheesecake
My creation for my was totally amazing and just as good as I had imagined it would be.  

Oreo Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
I finally gave Swiss meringue buttercream frosting a try and was so delighted at how fabulous these turned out.  My friends couldn't stop talking about how good the cupcakes were, especially the frosting.  

Blackberry White Chocolate Cheesecake
One of our favorite cheesecakes.  The blackberry sauce is just a perfect complement to the creamy white chocolate cheesecake.  

Chocolate Fudge Swirl Peanut Butter Ice Cream
The ice cream that I basically hid away and ate when the kids weren't around, hoping they'd forget I had made it. They didn't. 

Chocolate Raspberry Pie
This is a fantastic pie.....Grant loves raspberries and chocolate, so this was one of his top-ranked desserts of the year.

Oreo Cheesecake Cake
Our anniversary cake.  Beyond delicious.....Grant declared it his favorite dessert ever.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
These were my favorite new cookies of the year.  I could.not.stop eating them.

Mallow Brownie Bars
Brownies, marshmallows, and chocolate peanut butter crispy rice topping - hard to beat that.  

I know, I know.....beets in a cake?  But truly, you can't taste them at all, and they add such an incredible moistness (and lots of nutrition) to the cake.  We loved it.

Fauxstess Cupcakes
Who doesn't like biting into a cupcake and discovering a luscious, creamy filling?
A remake of the classic packaged treat, but SO much better.

Head on over to Finding Joy in my Kitchen to see more incredible desserts for her Countdown!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Countdown to 2013 - Best Snacks/Appetizers of 2012

I am really enjoying participating in the Countdown - as usual.  It's so fun - and enlightening - to look back over the recipes of the year and see which ones have become family favorites, and I'm also seeing which food categories are sadly lacking in many new options. (Like the Soup/Bread category for me).  

Well, I won't be lacking in the category for tomorrow.  Can you guess what that is???

Pizza Rolls
These are so fun for people to eat - especially for kids.  They're a perfect food for a birthday party or a game night and any leftovers reheat wonderfully.  I'm sure they'd freeze well also.  

Yeah.  It's as good as it sounds.  I could eat this stuff all day long.

A fun variation on caramel corn, it's very popular with folks and makes great gifts.

Mini-Pretzel Dogs
I can't even tell you how excited my family gets when they hear I'm making these.  Especially Grant!

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Tortilla Chips
I love how fresh and healthy the fruit salsa is, and the homemade cinnamon chips are a great accompaniment or just a tasty snack on their own.  You can always buy some cinnamon sugar pita chips if you're short on time.

If you want to see other bloggers' favorites from this year, check out Finding Joy in my Kitchen's Countdown Series! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Countdown to 2013 - Best Main Dishes of 2012

The Countdown continues......

These are some of the favorite new dinners that have come out of my kitchen this year.
Each of them is pretty low fuss.....simple ingredients, fairly quick prep time, and very delicious.

Interestingly, I think the one that I can rely on all of my children eating with no complaints the most often is the Mexican Bean Casserole. And it's vegetarian.  That's pretty cool.

Crockpot Fiesta Chicken

Don't forget to head over to Finding Joy in My Kitchen for more main dish favorites!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Countdown to 2013 - Best Soups/Breads of 2012

I haven't made a lot of new soups or breads this year - and one of our new favorites hasn't made it to the blog yet - but this soup is definitely a hit in our house.  It's nutritious, frugal, and the whole family loves it.

I made it a couple of weeks ago for dinner here at my parents' house and they enjoyed it also, along with my sister-in-law and nephew.

It's a winner for us.

I just realized that you can see my warped, upside-down reflection in the spoon.  Ha.

Be sure to head over to Finding Joy in my Kitchen to see more Soup and Bread favorites.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012

After getting a little overwhelmed at the consumerism that was overtaking us last Christmas, we decided to make a change.

Christmas is about Christ - celebrating His birth, the reason for His coming, the joy of our Savior - and the obsession over presents and new things was beginning to overshadow everything else.
So we started to think.
Giving gifts to each other is fun - but whose birthday are we really celebrating anyway?  

How could we give gifts to Jesus, and what would that look like?

Matthew 24:31-46 gives a pretty good answer to that question.  
I'll quote just a few of those verses here, starting with verse 37.      

                Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed 
                you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or 
                naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?"
                And the King will answer and say unto them, "Assuredly, I say to you, in as much as you 
                did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me".

Around the same time we were pondering this, my friend Tracy posted about what her family does at Christmas, and it sounded just like what we wanted to do. 

We explained to the kids that Christmas would look a little different for our family this year, but that it was going to be amazing to give gifts to people who really truly have needs, some of them a matter of life and death.  Our three oldest kids were completely understanding about the situation and excited about the possibilities that we had for giving.  The little girls, of course, don't understand yet and can't remember the past Christmases anyways. We didn't eliminate all gifts for each other - but we limited it drastically.  At least compared to the past few years.

After perusing several catalogs and websites for weeks in advance, we got ideas of what we wanted to purchase and from which organizations.  Not all of them are equal in the benefits, of course.  And not all of them are equal in they way they manage their $$$ donations, do your research.  We prefer that the majority, if not all of the money we donate goes to the actual mission, not just administrative overhead costs.  

So Christmas afternoon,  when the little girls were sleeping and not being a distraction, we sat down with Corban, Marissa, and Annika, and Grant made a spreadsheet to help track who was spending how much on what. 

Here's what we got from Gospel for Asia:
  • 2 pigs
  • 1 BioSand Water Filter
  • 4 Rabbits
  • 1 Lamb
  • 2 Mosquito nets
From Samaritan's Purse we got:
  • Dozen chicks or ducklings
From World Vision, we picked gifts that were multiplied by 12 or 5 (due to donations from manufacturers and corporations), which made the total value of the gifts enormous!
  • $100 for emergency food supplies - value = $500
  • $70 for Clothing - value = $840
  • $35 for Medicine - value = $420
  • $50 for School Supplies - value = $600
Our total spent = $471.
Total worth of items = $2576

That felt amazing.  The kids loved picking out gifts that were important to them and spending their own designated money how they saw fit.  Encouraging giving is one of the best things we can do for our children, I think.  

I just wanted to share this to maybe inspire others to reconsider their own mindset about Christmas and dare to break free from the societal norm a little.  

Countdown to 2013 - Best Breakfast Recipes of 2012

It's Countdown time!

Every year, my blogging friend SnoWhite hosts a Countdown to the New Year starting December 26 with a theme for each day, highlighting favorite recipes from the past year in different categories.

I love participating - hopefully I'll get at least something posted every day.

Breakfast is such an important part of my day - I always eat breakfast and just cannot function well without it.  My only problem with breakfast is that my favorite meal category, dessert, isn't served.  

My solution for that?

Make desserts that can qualify as breakfast!

Yeah.  Works for me.

So these are my favorite breakfast recipes from the past year, and yes, they all are a bit on the sweet side.  Big surprise.

My favorite

Come back tomorrow to see the Best Soup/Bread recipes!!  
And head over to Finding Joy in my Kitchen to see other bloggers' favorites as well.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Yesterday was the Saturday before Christmas.  I was hankering for a special breakfast - either something we hadn't had in awhile or something new.  
I remembered that I had seen cinnamon roll pancakes in several places in the past few months and the idea just wouldn't go away.  

I asked Grant if he'd rather me make Gingerbread Pancakes or Cinnamon Roll Pancakes.  

I had a strong feeling I knew what his answer would be.

See, Grant and Corban are h.u.g.e. fans of Gingerbread Pancakes.  I don't even know when I made them last, but it's been months. Plus, what better time to make them than at Christmas time?  Not to mention the fact that Grant isn't always a fan of me trying new recipes - he enjoys the old faithful ones that he's sure he'll like. (of course, all of my recipes were new to him at some point....but I digress.)

So I was surprised and delighted when he replied, "Make Cinnamon Roll Pancakes."  

Alrighty then!  Good thing, because I couldn't find my mom's ginger anyways and she wasn't up yet.  hehehe.
Cooking/baking in a kitchen that isn't your own can be a challenge.  

So I have to say, these are so much easier than you might think.  They only take a few extra minutes to make versus plain pancakes, and they are so amazingly delicious.  

They'll probably make your griddle or frying pan a little messy - I recommend scraping the excess cinnamon mixture off between batches of pancakes.  

The original recipe called for a cream cheese frosting. I decided that was a little over the top - I reserve that sort of decadence for Christmas Day with these, after all - so I just made a simple glaze that is a lot less calories and cheaper, too.  I also reduced the amount of filling the recipe called for and still had some left over.

I was feeding my family of seven (some being small children) plus two extra adults (my parents) with this recipe, and we only had two leftover after everyone had their fill.  Feel free to cut the recipe in half or thirds if you have a small crew.  

But plan for extras - because once you taste these, you won't want to stop at a reasonable portion.  They're just too good,  

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes (adapted from Recipe Snobs)

Cinnamon Filling:
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 T. cinnamon

3-1/4 cups flour (I used part whole wheat, part unbleached all purpose)
2 T. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 T. brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups milk
1/3 cup oil (I used expeller pressed coconut oil)

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2-3 T. milk

To make the filling, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon well.  Spoon into a ziplock bag and snip off one tiny corner.  Set aside in a bowl.

Preheat your griddle or frying pan while you're making the pancakes.  

To make the pancakes, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and oil.  Pour into the dry mixture and stir to combine.  Don't over stir; a few lumps are just fine.  

Drop the batter on the griddle using a 1/4 cup  measuring scoop.
When the pancakes begin to form bubble, add the filling.  Starting at the center of the pancake, squeeze the filling on top of the pancake batter in a swirl, just like you see in a regular cinnamon roll.  Be careful to not get the filling too close to the sides.  It will bleed over. Cook the pancakes until the bubbles begin popping on top and they're golden brown on the bottom..  Flip over and cook an additional 1-2 minutes, until golden.

To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to make a drizzling consistency.  Stir until smooth and drizzle over warm pancakes.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

I can hardly believe we've been in Arkansas for 4 weeks already.  So much has happened and it all seems a bit of a blur.

We are looking forward to closing on our new home at the end of the month and hopefully moving in the first week of January - whenever our household good get delivered.  We can hardly wait to get settled into our own space and start feeling like we're really "home".

This past weekend, my older brother and his family (wife and six kids) were in town.  They actually just moved from here to the Houston area last May.  My brother completed his PhD. in educational philosophy at the University of Arkansas this year and his wife just completed her nursing degree, and their graduation ceremonies were on Saturday.   We had a little graduation party for them on Saturday evening and I jumped at the opportunity to make these cupcakes that I had been thinking about for months.
(who thinks about cupcakes for "months" anyways?)

These are for the true chocolate lover, there is no question.  Incredibly rich, they're chocolate cupcakes filled with a dark chocolate ganache and topped with an amazing cream cheese chocolate frosting that is made even more smooth and delectable by the addition of sour cream.

A cup of chilled milk or red wine (if that's what floats your boat) makes a perfect accompaniment for these decadent cupcakes.
While I used bittersweet chocolate in the ganache filling and thoroughly enjoyed it, I think I would prefer semi-sweet chocolate even more.  I wouldn't change a thing about the frosting - it's just wonderful.

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes  (adapted slightly from Annie's Eats)
Yield: 36 cupcakes

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1-1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter
2-1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, room temperature

8 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips)
1 cup plus 2 T. heavy cream
4 T. butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

14 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips again)
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
11 T. butter, room temperature (1 stick plus 3 T.)
3 cups powdered sugar
6 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 T. sour cream

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line standard cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and sugar over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally to combine, until the butter is melted.  Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium-low speed for 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating well after each addition.  Mix in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating just until combined.

Pour into prepared cupcake liners, filling about 3/4 full.  Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.  Let stand about 1 minute.  Gently stir until smooth, then whisk in butter 1 piece at a time until incorporated.  Place bowl in freezer or refrigerator to chill and thicken the ganache a bit.  Whisk every 5-10 minutes to help it cool evenly.  Once it is slightly thickened and no longer runny, you are ready to fill the cupcakes.

To assemble the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake with a small paring knife.  Cut off the pointed end of the cone and set aside, so you are left with a cap of cake to cover the filling.  Drop a spoonful of ganache into the center of each cupcake and recover the hole with the cap.

To make the frosting, melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Set aside to cool until just barely warm.  With an electric mixer and the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Gradually mix in the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.  Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate and then the sour cream.  Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well blended.  Frost cupcakes using a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip (I used a Wilton 1M).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Almond Cake

One of my big concerns about our move has been the sale of our home.  
What if it didn't sell?
What if we had to drop the price drastically and take even more of a hit?  (since we built it at the peak of the market, we've lost quite bit of appraised value in six years.)
The agent warned us not to be discouraged if there weren't even any showings in December, since it's not a popular month for buying a home.....that with the market being what it is, not to be surprised if it took 3-6 months to sell.

So it was listed last Monday.  
On Friday, we had an offer. (!!!!)
Not a full price offer, mind you, but not a terrible one, either.  
We counter-offered, they accepted, and the papers were all signed on Saturday.  

Extra confirmation that we are doing exactly what God had planned for us.  Wow!

We put in an offer on a home here on Sunday - we're still in negotiations with it. It's a lovely home that Grant had his eye on for a couple of months - he even got to look through it when he came out here for his interview.  He fell in love with it and it's been his top choice all along.  I really like it too....I think it's a great choice for our family.  So we'll pray and see what happens!

So about this cake.

We don't celebrate Halloween.  In the past, we've just had a candlelight dinner with the kids and watched a movie - they LOVE doing something different like that.  But last year, Miranda was just 3 weeks old and a friend from church asked if she could bring us dinner that night.  We happily accepted and she brought us a huge "Thanksgiving"ish turkey feast and their family stayed and ate with us.  We had so much fun!

This year, she asked if we could do it again - and another family joined us as well.  We had a turkey potluck again - which was especially nice for us, since we didn't really get a Thanksgiving dinner this year.
I was in charge of desserts.  I made Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Blondies - and this Almond Cake.

See, my precious friend sister Ellen was there....and almonds are one of her favorites.  She had given me a tube of almond paste to try out since I had never eaten it, and I wanted her to get to enjoy whatever I made.

This cake is very simple, like an almond pound cake really, but it's such a treat.  It's moist, rich, and dense, has a tender crumb, and a wonderful almond flavor.  It's actually great to make a day or two ahead of time, as the flavor develops over time and the cake maintains its lovely texture for several days.

You can serve it with berries and whipped cream, plain with the powdered sugar dusting, and it's also delicious with some Strawberry Freezer Jam drizzled over the top.

The most important thing to do in the baking of this cake is to really break up the almond paste as much as possible.  It's recommended to use a food processor, but since I don't have one, I used my Kitchenaid mixer and just beat it for about 10 minutes.  Large clumps of almond paste will decrease your chance of having a nice crumb in the cake - so you have to try to get the paste to about the consistency of sand.  Mine was still a little clumpy - a mixer can only do so much - but the cake turned out wonderfully, so I guess it was okay.

Note: You should use a 9 or 10" pan with at least 2" sides for this cake.  Standard layer cake pans will not be tall enough and the cake will probably overflow.  I used a 9" spring form pan with perfect results.  

Almond Cake (adapted slightly from David Lebovitz)

1-1/3 cups sugar
1 (7 ounce)  box almond paste (I used Odense brand)
1 cup flour, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oveo to 325°F.  Grease a 9 or 10 inch spring form pan with butter, dust it with flour, and tap out any excess.  Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor or a stand mixer, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt.

Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating a bit before the next addition.  Scrape down the sides as needed to make sure the eggs get fully incorporated.  After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled.  Don't worry, it will come back together after the next step.

Add half the flour mixture and stir a few times - then add the rest, stirring until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.  Do not overmix!

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.

Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan.  Let the cake cool completely in the pan.

Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve. (Tip: If necessary, warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.)

Sift a little powdered sugar over the top before serving.

Storage:  This cake will keep for 4-5 days at room temperature, well wrapped.  It can also be frozen for up to two months.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday and Crazy Sweet Tuesday

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Still here....just in a different here.

I've been MIA for a few weeks now because of a major life change for our family.

As many of you know, we've lived in eastern Virginia for the past 9 years (almost) and because we moved there for Grant's new job, we had no family nearby.  Throughout the years, we tried multiple times to move back closer to family, but the doors kept getting shut and we felt like we were in Virginia for good.  
We settled ourselves in for the long haul and just decided to grow where we were planted.

This year, however, the desire to move became stronger than ever and became a goal for us.  

After months of us praying, wondering, and waiting, God answered our prayers and provided a job for Grant at the Walmart home office in Northwest Arkansas, which is where I'm from and my parents and two of my siblings still live.  

Because we didn't want to run "split" operations, Grant in Arkansas and me and the kids in Virginia trying out sell our house, we decided to move all of us to my parents' home until we find a home to buy.   
We were faced with the task of packing up most of our house - a rather remarkable amount of stuff going with us, and lots more stuff just packed up in boxes in the garage to make the house "show ready".  

Oh, and we can't forget all the cleaning......and the efforts to spend time with our dear friends before we left.  
It was a complete whirlwind of activity, little sleep, excitement, and stress.  And we can't forget the tears.  

It was so difficult to say goodbye to our best friends who have walked through life with us and shared in the ups and downs of pregnancies, child-raising, homeschooling, church, sports, and everything else you can imagine.  We have been so incredibly blessed with wonderful people surrounding us - and we don't take that for granted.  

So we made our 3 day journey on Thanksgiving weekend - a real adventure complete with a child vomiting all over the floor and seat the first evening.....our credit card being rejected multiple times because they were suspecting fraudulent activity (never mind that we had already informed them that we were on a trip and would be making lots of charges), and arriving at a hotel past midnight and exhausted beyond description to discover that the room was much smaller than expected and wouldn't accommodate our family.  Fun times.  :)  
On the up side, the weather was great, the traffic couldn't have been better, and the kids and dog did very well.  

We're trying to settle in, get some homeschooling done, and look for a home right now.  So that's about it....
I'll be posting more recipes soon and will definitely be trying out some new ideas on family for the holidays!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Blondies - SRC

I am really loving the Secret Recipe Club.  This month was especially fun because I was assigned to a fellow baker's blog - the Secrets from the Cookie Princess.  Colleen is a gal after my own heart for sure - she loves baking for friends, family, co-workers, and her husband and has a great variety of 
amazing goodies and treats.....and several savory options as well.  

I was tempted to try all sorts of delicacies - like Brown Sugar Cinnamon Biscotti, Pecan Pie Cookies (wouldn't those be great for Thanksgiving???) and Mint Fudge Swirls (a beautiful cookie for Christmas), but since we were having an early "Thanksgiving" dinner with some friends in a couple of days and I was responsible for dessert, these bars jumped out at me.

I was not disappointed. The lightly spiced snickerdoodle cookie is a perfect base for the pumpkin layer - which is flavored like pumpkin pie, but with some flour added in, it's a bit thicker and sturdier than pie. The cinnamon and sugar on top add just the right amount of extra sweetness and spice, and of course, I couldn't resist adding some whipped cream on top, 'cause you can't have pumpkin desserts without whipped cream.  

These bars were popular with our guests and I was more than happy to have a few left over for munching the next day.  Grant wasn't the biggest fan, because he prefers pumpkin in cheesecake - but the kids and I loved them.  

You can store them at room temperature, unless you've already piped the whipped cream on top, in which case, keep them in the fridge.  They taste great either way.

Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Blondies (from Secrets from the Cookie Princess)

Snickerdoodle Layer:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1-1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pumpkin Pie Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

2 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Optional - but highly recommended
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

Snickerdoodle Layer:
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until well blended.  The batter with be thick. 

Lightly grease a 13 x 9" pan and lay a piece of parchment paper across the pan, leaving overhang on the edges.  This will make it easier to get the bars out of the pan later.
Spread the snickerdoodle batter into the lined pan and press into an even layer.  Use your fingers  - it's a bit sticky and the paper may slide about, but try to get it even.

Bake for 4 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie layer:
Use the same bowl from the snickerdoodle batter.  Mix the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla and mix until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add flour, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice and mix to combine.
Pour the pumpkin mixture over the slightly baked snickerdoodle batter and smooth the layer over the top.
In a small bowl, mix topping ingredients (sugar and cinnamon) and sprinkle evenly over the pumpkin pie layer.

Bake for 37-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean.  
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for about an hour.  Bars may deflate slightly and the top layer will have a pie-like texture.  The edges will be more firm.

After bars have cooled completely, gently lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment as a sling.  Cut into squares.  Store in an airtight container.

Before serving:

Whipped Cream (optional):
In a chilled mixing bowl, beat cream on medium/high speed for 30 seconds.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. 
Put into a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe whipped cream on each square. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fauxstess Cupcakes

Whew.  The election is over.  Can't say that I'm happy about the results.....state or national.....but at least I was able to take my kids with me to the polls and exercise my duty to vote. You can only imagine the spectacle we made, me with my gaggle of children, complete with an umbrella stroller holding the baby, maneuvering our way down the length the crowded hallway in the local high school to find our place at the end of the line.  Oh, and there was only a handful of Caucasians in the mix, so we attracted even more attention.  I got some *interesting* looks.  Thankfully, we only had to wait in line for 30 minutes, which is pretty good compared to a lot of people.  
The one upside.....I am more than happy that my phone will finally stop ringing with political calls.  I guess because Virginia was a serious swing state this election, we were completely inundated with calls for at least a month.  (I know, I know....ditch the landline already. We will soon.)  So that's over.  

So what do you do when you're down in the dumps or unhappy?  Do you do the smart thing and go exercise or vigorously clean your house?  Or are you like me and sit down and stuff your face with chocolate? 

My family didn't eat a lot of prepackaged things when I was young, although I do fondly remember the Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls making an appearance occasionally.  Did you know those are really good frozen? Try them sometime.  The filling almost tastes like ice cream.  Anyways.  I don't know if I have ever eaten a real Hostess cupcake, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that these are better.  

I mean, it's chocolate cake, with marshmallow buttercream hiding in the middle, and ganache.  And we can't forget the whimsical swirl on top - because cute food automatically tastes better. No contest with that package.  

I got the recipe from Annie's Eats - and made them for Annika to take to her Wed. night church class several weeks ago.  While they were a huge hit and everyone loved them, Grant commented that he didn't particularly like the cake part. I thought it was good.....but not my favorite. 

So when it came around for Marissa to take snack to her class a few weeks later, I decided to make them again and use a different cake recipe. We both liked them even better.  Of course, Annie has tons of positive reviews on her cupcakes, so maybe we're just the odd ones.....either way, you can't go wrong.  They're scrumptious. 

Wish I had some around to munch on today.  Guess I'll have to settle for chocolate covered peanuts. 

Fauxstess Cupcakes (cake from Food Network, filling and ganache from Annie's Eats)

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
12 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups plus 2 Tbs. sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/4 cups water
1/4 cup milk

Filling and frosting swirl:
1 container marshmallow fluff
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch salt
1/2 tsp. cream or milk

Chocolate Glaze:
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the sugar.  Continue beating until light and smooth, about 4 minutes.  Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Sift the cocoa powder into the bowl and add vanilla.  Beat on medium speed for 1 minute bowl.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 

Combine the water and milk in a saucepan and bring just to a boil.  Remove from the heat.  With the mixer at low speed, add the flour mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time.  Carefully pour the hot liquid into the batter.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to finish combining the batter until smooth.

Fill paper-lined cupcake pans 1/2 full with the batter. I ended up with around 30 cupcakes.  Do NOT overfill.  I nearly always do that and I always regret it.  

Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cupcakes comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling, combine the marshmallow fluff and butter in a mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed until smooth.  Blend in the powdered sugar and salt and whip until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes more.  Transfer the majority of the filling mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip, reserving 1/3 cup in the mixing bowl.  Blend in the cream to the reserved filling mixture to make it smooth for piping the swirl on top of the cupcakes.  Transfer this to another pastry bag fitted with a small round tip (Wilton #3 works well). Chill until ready to use.

Fill the cupcakes by inserting the pastry tip directly into the center of each cupcake and squeezing in a dollop of the filling. If excess filling comes out of the top, just scrape it off with a knife so the top of the cupcake is essentially smooth. If you overfill too much, the top of the cupcake will crack, so be cautious about that.  

Make the chocolate glaze by placing the chopped chocolate in a small bowl.  Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan or the microwave.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes.  Whisk together until a smooth ganache forms.  Let cool briefly, about 5 minutes.  Take the cupcakes one at a time and invert them, dipping the top into the chocolate glaze.  Transfer them to a wire rack or baking sheet and let the glaze set.  (You can speed up this process by chilling in the refrigerator.)  Once the glaze is set, use the reserved portion of marshmallow frosting to pipe a uniform swirl across the top of each cupcake.  Store in an airtight container until ready to serve. 

Yum.  The filling is my favorite.  

It tasted so good.....better take another bite.

Can't just leave a chunk of cupcake there....oh, the hazards of cupcake baking.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Little Pet Peeve......

Now, I know I'm not the skinniest gal on the street......

but I'm not exactly huge.  

Miranda and me - September 29, 2012

I'm 5'8-1/2" tall, and I usually wear size 6 or 8, depending on the brand. 
Losing baby weight isn't easy, especially when you know I love to bake like crazy.....and I love to eat what I bake.  That being said, I am still breastfeeding, I practice moderation and
I exercise 4-5 times per week, either running 2-3 miles or doing P90X videos (usually just part, because I'm a homeschooling mom of 5 kids - hour long workouts are hard to come by).

So why is it that when I browsed through a JCPenny ad from the paper, 
the Plus Size model was significantly skinnier than me?????

Something is seriously wrong with this picture. 

Where are the real women in the ads?  

Grant and me - Sept. 29, 2012

Photos by our friend....Kristina Johnson

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cheesy Bacon Lentils

So Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, and we were among the very fortunate ones.

We had steady rain for probably 55 hours straight and some heavy wind, especially last night, but while the news of our region was filled with videos and photos of flooded streets and buildings, nearly submerged cars, and gigantic waves, we are far enough removed from low ground and water that we weren't really affected at all.  We didn't even lose power, which was my greatest concern.

But our prayers are definitely with those who were so devastated by the storm - I can only imagine how difficult it must be.

We actually got to enjoy some extra time with Grant - since the Army post where he works was closed yesterday.I know some people go a little stir crazy when they are house-bound for a few days, but I really enjoy it.  With no option of really going out, we got stuff done around the house and I spent some time cooking and baking.

I made cheesy potato soup for our lunch yesterday, a delicious new peanut butter banana bread (that ended up getting eaten before I took photos - guess I'll have to make it again!), simmered chili in the crockpot today, and baked a couple of new desserts for a dinner with friends tomorrow.  Yep, our house has smelled pretty good the past couple of days!

After posting a lot of sweets lately, I figured I'd better even the tables a little and show you we don't only survive on sugar and butter.

There's bacon too!

This simple and frugal dish combines our favorite breakfast meat with lentils, onion, and cheese and a few spices...couldn't get much easier than that.  And the entire family really liked it.  For two dinners in a row.
That makes it a success, in my book.

You could make it vegetarian if you wanted - I'm sure it would still be tasty - but honestly, we enjoyed it so much with the smoky flavor of the bacon, I don't think I'll ever leave it out.

Serve with a nice green salad and some bread if you like.

Cheesy Bacon Lentils - (adapted from The Cheapskate Cook)

1 (1 lb) package lentils, soaked 24 hours*
4 cups broth (chicken, vegetable, beef) or water
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
6 oz (about 8 or 9 pieces) turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
2-1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (I use sharp white cheddar)

In a saucepan, combine lentils, broth, onion, and bay leaf.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Drain excess liquid.
Turn off heat, remove bay leaf and add salt, pepper, bacon, and 1-1/2 cups cheese into lentils, stirring until cheese melts.
Evenly spread mixture into a lightly greased casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.
Bake 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbly.

*Soaking the lentils is an optional step.  It's an easy way to help your body digest the nutrients found in the lentils.  The day before making this dish, pour the lentils into a strainer, rinse them with water, and then pour them into a large bowl.  Fill the bowl with filtered water to 1 inch above the lentils.  Allow them to soak for 24-72 hours, changing the water every 12 hours.  Drain the soaking water before using them in this recipe.  If you choose not to soak the lentils, simply rinse them in a strainer and increase the stock/water to 5 or 6 cups.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Puppy Cupcakes - our Girl Turns 7

Tell me these aren't some of the cutest cupcakes you've ever seen.

Go on, tell me.

Ha.  I knew you couldn't.  :)

I took the idea for these straight from Hello Cupcake (which I borrowed from a friend) and Marissa, our little dog lover, couldn't have been more delighted.  The other little girls were pretty excited about them too.  
They're really simple, and not as time consuming as I anticipated.  

Since I don't want to violate any copyright laws or anything, I won't give all the instructions on how to make them.....but I will tell you that you use miniature cupcakes for the heads - and miniature marshmallows for the ears and shaping the nose.  For the tongues, I used tiny bits of pink Mamba candy (Starburst would work just as well), and the eyes and nose were mini Reeses baking bits.  

They were very fun to make and the girls sure had fun eating them!

The biggest activity at the party was cake decorating. 
I had gotten the idea from Glorious Treats months ago and just HAD to do it for Marissa's party.

I baked little cakes for each girl - most were 5" layer cakes, a couple were 4" cakes.  I frosted them with white vanilla buttercream and then set out various sprinkles, candy (I knew those Easter M&Ms I got on clearance would come in handy!), and bags of colored frosting with various tips for the girls to decorate their own cake to their heart's content.

It was SO. MUCH. FUN. to watch them and to see their personalities reflected in their work.

One little guest started out very meticulously working on a design - but by the end she had thrown all caution to the wind and just piled the frosting and candy on as high as she could.  It was hysterical.  

Marissa was very proud of her cake.

All the girls - Marissa, Natalee, Annika, Lydia, Anna, Esther, and Elizabeth. 
An awesome group - just lovely.  
And their cakes were lovely too.  

Here's a look at the food table.

Yeah, not a lot of healthy stuff there.  But they sure enjoyed it!

Honestly, it was one of my favorite parties we've ever had at our house.  
Children in this age range are just a blast to have around.  

I just wish our kids weren't growing up so fast.  

And for the record, I wouldn't recommend having three children born in the same month -  if you can help it.  Not only is it a lot of work planning and pulling off three parties, it's really hard to not gain like 10 lbs with treats like Cinnabon Popcorn and Puppy Chow sitting on my counter.  Not to mention the cake and ice cream. 
Great, now I need to diet going right into the holidays. 

So now we have a *short* 1 month break until the next child's birthday.....

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