Saturday, December 31, 2011

Countdown to 2012: Best Dessert Recipes of 2011

Just like last year, I couldn't possibly choose only one dessert to highlight, but at least I managed to keep it to ten instead of fourteen.  Of course, that's probably because I just didn't get to bake as much this year.  

This cake just makes me happy.  It's feminine, beautiful, elegant, yet so simple to decorate.  And it tasted fabulous. Three layers of moist chocolate cake, with raspberry filling and chocolate mousse filling, frosted with raspberry butter cream.  It was amazing.  

The best. sugar. cookies. ever. 

Rich and decadent, chocolatey and peanutty, I found these bars impossible to resist.

We could not believe how awesome these were.  They inspired the Cake of Roses mentioned above.

When my chocolate-loving husband said he actually preferred this ice cream, I knew we had a winner.

Very easy to throw together and sure to gather compliments wherever you take them, these are a huge crowd pleaser with tons of chocolate and oreos.

I love caramel.  I love apples.  I love cheesecake.  And don't even get me started on streusel. 
All together?  Awesomeness. 

So so smooth and creamy.  The perfect chocolate ice cream.

Yeah, we like the never-old raspberries and chocolate combination.  These bar treats are just wonderful.

Fruit pizzas are so simple, but so delicious.  My kids have been begging me to make this for months, despite my explanation that we can't get good fresh strawberries at this time of year.  It is seriously one of the top-requested recipes around here.

Be sure to check out Finding Joy in my Kitchen for more collections of Dessert Favorites!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Countdown to 2012: Best Crockpot Recipe of 2011

We absolutely love this Spicy Pulled Pork.
It is without question our favorite crockpot meal of the past year. 
I've made it several times for guests and gotten rave reviews from everyone, and Grant says it's one of his absolute favorite meals that I've ever made. 
Try it, you won't be disappointed!

Be sure to check out other crockpot favorites over at Finding Joy in My Kitchen today!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Countdown to 2012: Best Main Dishes of 2011

Truth be told, I greatly prefer baking over cooking. 
I know, I know, that comes as a huge surprise to anyone who frequents my blog. 


But there is something very satisfying about cooking up a delicious dinner and having the other five people at your table eat with gusto and clean their plates, possibly asking for seconds.

And there wasn't even chocolate involved.

Yeah, cooking is pretty fun too.  

Here are some of the favorite main dishes of our house this past year.  
(Another top dish is coming tomorrow with the Crockpot Favorites, so don't forget to come back for that one!)


Super Bean Burritos

As always, be sure to check out Finding Joy in My Kitchen for lots of Main Dish Favorites from other bloggers!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Countdown to 2012: Best Soups and Stews

Like I've mentioned before, this year has not been one in which I had oodles of time for trying new recipes, as several months we were just in survival mode and sticking to old favorites.  

These two soups definitely made it to our favorites list, and the second one is even vegetarian, part of our attempt to eat less meat.  When you have four young children, it's hard to find meals that everyone will eat without complaining - and both of these dishes pass that criteria for my family.  So that makes them winners in my book!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Countdown to 2012: Best Bread Recipes of 2011

I love making bread - there's just something so comforting and welcoming about the smells of bread wafting through the house, and there's no denying the health benefits and superior taste of homemade breads.

Here are my favorites from the past year - at least of the ones I got posted!

Homemade Wheat Bread

Old Fashioned Corn Bread

Be sure to check out other favorites over at Finding Joy in My Kitchen!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Peanut Brittle

I know, I know, Christmas is over and here I am, posting one of my favorite Christmas candies. What can I say, the past week has been really busy and I just couldn't make time to blog.  I'm just happy I made time to even make the peanut brittle in the first place!

I got this recipe from my grandma many years ago; it was one of the Christmas candy traditions for our family along with Divinity and Buck-Eyes.  I absolutely loved eating the candy, but as I got into my teen years, I treasured the time spent learning how to make it and getting special time with Grandma. She passed away in '98 and to the best of my knowledge, I'm the only one of her grandchildren who makes these recipes anymore.   

I had a batch turn out really badly a couple of years ago - I didn't cook it long enough and the result was so chewy/sticky that you could barely eat it and keep your teeth intact.  It was extra disappointing because I had made it to give as gifts to some ladies in my MOPS group and it was such a flop, I couldn't possibly give it away. 

My point - be SURE to cook it to 300°!

Which brings up another point - be SURE to test your candy thermometer (stick it in boiling water and see if it registers 212°F; if not, make necessary adjustments when making candy) before you start making the candy. 

The end result is a wonderfully crunchy, sweet, peanutty candy that makes a great addition to your candy or cookie trays and really nice gifts to neighbors and friends. 


2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
12 oz. raw Spanish peanuts
2 T. butter
1-1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda

Grease a large cookie sheet with rims generously with butter.  Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water, cover with a lid, and heat over medium heat for three minutes.  Uncover and cook to 250° or it spins a thread.  Add peanuts and cook until it reaches 300°, stirring frequently. 
Remove from heat and add butter, vanilla, and salt, then baking soda.  Stir until blended.  Mixture will foam up and lighten in color when you stir in the baking soda.
Pour immediately into prepared pan and spread to the edges. 
Break into pieces after it cools.

Countdown to 2012: Best Breakfast Recipes

SnoWhite is hosting a Countdown to 2012 this week, with today's feature being Breakfast Recipes.

I participated in the countdown last year and really enjoyed I decided to give it a shot this year as well.  Hopefully I'll be able to post every day! 

As I was perusing my posts from 2011, I realized that the events of the year really limited my posting of new recipes this year.  Something about dealing with pregnancy nausea for four months, having a newborn, homeschooling with five children 8 and under, and having a knee injury (could be looking at arthroscopic surgery for a meniscus tear soon)....let's just say I've kept my kitchen adventures to a minimum. 

That being said, here are a couple of breakfast recipes that we have enjoyed tremendously this year and that I make often. 

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the best Bread recipes!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Sweeties

I first tried these a couple of years ago, after spotting them in a Taste of Home magazine
I thought they were fantastic

They remind me (quite rightly so, since the recipe is nearly identical) of Buck-Eyes, but with the pleasant addition of pretzels, which not only contribute to the fun factor with the salty crunch to complement the chocolate and peanut butter, but they also make the peanut butter balls infinitely easier and faster to dip. 

That makes a win/win combination, if you ask me. 

Recipe: (adapted from Taste of Home)

1-1/2 cups peanut butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
60 miniature pretzels
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
2 T. shortening or butter

In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar until completely incorporated.
Shape into 1" balls; press each one onto a pretzel and place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 
In a microwave safe bowl, heat the chocolate chips with shortening until melted.
Stir until smooth.
Dip the peanut butter ball into chocolate; allow excess to drip off.  Return to baking sheet, pretzel size down.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: 5 dozen

Monday, December 12, 2011

English Muffin Bread

In the past few months, in a further attempt to decrease our breakfast cereal consumption, I started making English muffins once a week.  I would usually make them on Thursday nights to have for breakfast with scrambled eggs on Friday, with any leftovers making their way to our Sunday morning breakfast.  I tried numerous muffin recipes and finally decided this one was our favorite.  They really are great muffins. 
I found that I had to bake the muffins in two batches on my griddle, which required a lot of attention with the flipping, testing, dropping more muffins, etc.  Not hard by any means, just time consuming.
Then I saw this recipe for English muffin bread.  I was intrigued!  Could we really have the flavor of English muffins in an easy to bake bread? 
Yes, we could.
Admittedly, the texture is a bit different than the muffins because of the shape and baking difference, but there are plenty of nooks and crannies to soak up the butter and jelly, the taste is great, and I love the fact that I can just spoon the dough into the bread pans and put them in the oven (after they rise), not worrying about standing over a griddle for 30 minutes. 
The other great thing about English muffin bread (as compared to regular bread) is that you do NOT knead it, you just stir it together until mixed, cover it and let it rise.  So fast and easy! 

It really is best toasted and is wonderful as a sandwich with eggs or spread with jam or just plain butter.
The family voted unanimously that they prefer it to store bought whole wheat bread as toast with breakfast.   

Recipe:  (From Mel's Kitchen Cafe)
Yield: 2 loaves

2-3/4 cups very warm water
1-1/2 Tablespoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 Tablespoons sugar
5-1/2-6 cups all-purpose flour (I use at least half white whole wheat)

In a large bowl or bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast. Mix. Add half of the flour. Mix. Add remaining flour. Mix. The dough will be very, very sticky. Don’t be alarmed! Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled. Stir down the dough with a wooden spoon.
Grease two loaf pans (8 1/2-inch by 4 1/2-inch) generously with cooking spray. Divide the dough between the loaf pans. I just spoon it in there. The dough should fill the pans about halfway. Cover the loaves with lightly greased plastic wrap and let the bread rise until doubled. It will look puffy and bubbly.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-28 minutes until lightly golden brown on top and baked through. Remove from the oven and turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. Butter the tops while still warm.

This bread can be frozen and/or it lasts, covered or bagged, at room temperature for several days

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bacon Braised Green Beans

Green beans with bacon - how can you go wrong with that?

For me, they bring back memories of my grandparents, who used to cook numerous things with either bacon or bacon grease.  Good old Southern cooks, that's what they were.
I wanted a new recipe for beans for Thanksgiving and this was what I picked. 

We were not disappointed; in fact, Grant said this is his absolute favorite way to eat green beans now. 
I can't deny it, they're probably my favorite too.  If only they were low in fat....but I suppose they fit right in to a low-carb diet.  Which I am NOT on, nor will ever be for that matter.  But if that's the way you roll, these could be a great addition to your menus.  

I'll probably save them for special occasions, because of the extra effort and cost, but I know they'll be making an appearance on our holiday tables in the future.  

Recipe:  (adapted slightly from the Food Network - Emeril Lagasse)

1 T. olive oil
6 slices bacon, diced
1 cup thinly sliced onions
4 cloves sliced garlic
2 lbs. fresh green beans, rinsed, ends trimmed
1 cup chicken stock, vegetable broth, or water
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

Set a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is well browned, about 5 minutes. Drain all but about a Tablespoon of grease. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the green beans and toss to combine with the bacon and onions.

Increase the heat to medium high and add the chicken stock. As soon as the stock begins to boil, place the lid on the pan and cook the beans for about 6 minutes. Remove the lid, season the beans with the salt and pepper, and toss well. Replace the lid and cook until the beans are tender, 1 or 2 minutes longer.

Remove from the heat and transfer the beans to a serving dish or small platter.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream

We were having guests for dinner recently and I was contemplating what to make for dessert.  As I perused my blog for inspiration, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Squares caught my eye.
I couldn't stop thinking about how fabulous those are, but I just didn't have the time to make them. 

Then I thought, "Why not make cookie dough ice cream?"  I've made cookie dough truffles before (in my pre-blog days) that were egg-free and fantastic, so I knew it couldn't be too hard to make some cookie dough ice-cream.   This was what I came up with.

The cookie dough is really wonderful - I had a hard time keeping from eating the chunks just plain. 
Had to make sure they were suitable for the ice cream, you know.  Right.

This makes a delectable dessert, which could only be made better with the addition of a chocolate swirl.  I thought about that too, but didn't have the time to make that either.  Regardless, this is one of my favorite ice creams and everyone really enjoyed it. 

yields: 2 quarts

Ice Cream Base: (from Cuisinart manual)
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 T. vanilla extract
3 cups heavy cream

Combine sugar and milk in a large mixing bowl.  Use a hand mixer or a whisk to beat until sugar dissolves completely, which can take several minutes. 
Gently stir in the extract and cream. 
Freeze in ice-cream maker as explained in your owner's manual. 
Meanwhile, make cookie dough.

Cookie Dough: (from
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugars, and vanilla until blended.
Add flour and salt.
Stir until well mixed.
Form into a long log, wrap with plastic wrap, and put in the freezer until ready to use. 
Cut off slices about 1/8" thick and cut each slice into small pieces. 
You may not need all of them in the ice cream - you can save the remaining dough in the freezer for your next batch, or just munching!

When there is about 5 minutes left before the ice cream is done, add in small chunks of cookie dough.

Ice cream will be soft-serve consistency - if you want it firmer and scoopable, put in a plastic container and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Butterfly Cake

Our sweet, rambunctious, independent Ellia turned 2 last week.  She is full of life, laughs, and plenty of squeals......she loves babies, both real and dolls, she talks in 5-8 word sentences, she calls Corban "Pibben" and until just yesterday, said hiccup as "Hippup".  Irresistibly cute!  Now she says it correctly, which is still cute in her little voice, but it's just not the same.  

Ellia loves butterflies, so it was a no-brainer to make a butterfly cake for her birthday.  I ended up choosing this one from Betty - and made two of them, since each butterfly is made from one 9" cake layer.  I also made some flower cupcakes from another cake mix, because I didn't want to run out of cake!


1 cake mix, baked according to box directions in 2 9" rounds
Buttercream frosting of choice
Assorted candies for decoration - optional
Colored Sugar in desired colors
Fruit roll-ups 

After cake is completely cool, wrap in foil and freeze overnight if possible.  
Remove from freezer when you're ready to decorate and trim the top of the cakes if they're rounded.  
Then cut each circle exactly in half.  Cut out a little triangle out of each straight edge just below the center and use the cake pieces to form the body of the butterfly, as shown below.

Frost and decorate as desired, using fruit roll-ups for the antennae (or you could use licorice if you want).
I wanted to make them a little more detailed, but I just didn't have the time.  The lovely thing about butterflies is that really the sky is the limit on how you can decorate them - just be creative!  
And what little girl doesn't love butterflies?  

She really did like her cake, she was just a bit overwhelmed at the group of people staring at her and trying to get a smile out of her.

This is her big gift - the mac-daddy of all dolly strollers.  It's awesome.  There's little she loves more than pushing dolls around the house - and we figured we might as well get a nice, sturdy stroller that would last a few years.  This one most definitely will.  She could hardly believe it when Grant brought it out for her.  Her face was priceless.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Can she be 1 Month Old already?

Holding up her head like a big girl - 11/7/11


One Month Old Today - 11/9/11
At her check-up, she was 22" long (grew an inch since birth) and is now 11 lbs even. 

Just the hint of a smile. 

Very very serious.  11/16/11

Starting to get a little happier. 11/16/11

Now that's downright funny.  11/16/11

She's 5-1/2 weeks old, and we're getting genuine smiles every day now.  Love it!

Sleeping so peacefully - little angel baby.  11/12/11

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cake of Roses

Meet Marissa's 6th Birthday Cake.  Isn't she lovely? 

She had originally asked for a horse cake, but since I knew I was going to have a 2-3 week old baby consuming most of my attention, I wouldn't have the time or energy to attempt what she desired, so I talked her into a rose cake.  I first saw it on foodgawker and was completely smitten.  There are several such cakes on there by different bloggers - the first one I ever saw was posted by I Am Baker.
She has a lovely tutorial on how to make this cake and so I took her method and my ideas for flavors and here we are. 
The great thing about it is that this beautiful cake can be achieved with just a 1M tip. 
(it took me a few months to get one - our local stores were consistently out of stock every time I checked, which was often - when I finally found them, I bought 2!)

Per Marissa's request, I made a chocolate cake using this recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, along with the raspberry filling and Raspberry Buttercream Frosting (a double batch).  The cake recipe made 3 layers - which I baked ahead of time and froze to make them easier to trim and frost.  This cake is extremely moist and can be difficult to frost, but the taste and texture are SO worth it. 

After a bit of deliberation, I decided the raspberry filling wasn't thick enough to be a sufficient filling between the layers, so I added a chocolate mousse copied from this cake.   

Then all was left was to give the cake a thin coat of the buttercream and then pipe the roses. 
Easy breezy! 
 I've never finished decorating a birthday cake so fast! 
I could have been a little neater on the piping job, but I had a sweet little newborn calling for me, so I rushed a bit. 

Marissa with her cake - she LOVED it!

And for the record, it should be refrigerated - if you leave it out at room temperature too long (most of the day) and only half of the cake is left - this might just happen.

We didn't see it happen - but it had been leaning a bit, which concerned me, and while we were getting the kids to bed, it decided to fall apart.   Thankfully, all the festivities were over.  I did salvage the cake and we did eat it and enjoy it tremendously - but it sure wasn't pretty anymore!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fudgy Mint Cookies

These have to be some of the easiest cookies I've ever made. 
And some of the tastiest.  
Okay, so they do use a cake mix, which I generally try to avoid.....
but for these delicious morsels, I'm willing to make an exception.  
Chewy, fudgy, chocolaty, with little chunks of minty goodness in every bite, 
they're a huge hit wherever I take them.  

Recipe:  (adapted slightly from Taste of Home)

1 Devil's Food Cake Mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 T. water
2 eggs
1/2 package of Andes Mint Baking Chips
4 T. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375°.
In a large bowl, beat the cake mix, butter, and water until well combined.  Beat in eggs.  Stir in Andes baking chips.  Shape into 1-inch balls; roll in powdered sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set.
Allow to cool for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack. 

Yield: about 3 dozen

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