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
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