Saturday, December 21, 2013

Peppermint Fudge

My mom makes the best mint fudge.  But, when I asked her for the recipe, she told me she actually uses one bag of mint chocolate chips (not the green ones!) and one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  And I could not find mint chocolate chips anywhere!  So, I made do with peppermint extract.  Still yummy!  I've made it twice this month... 


The crushed candy canes are optional - I just wanted to make it look festive for the Holidays.  Red and Green sprinkles would be cute, too.


The first time I made it, I only used one bag of chocolate chips and the fudge was too thin for my liking.  The next time, I doubled everything and got these monster bites of fudge (which is exactly what I wanted!).  The recipe can very easily be cut in half.  

Serves 18

 Peppermint Fudge

5 cups chocolate chips
2 (14 oz) cans sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup milk
4 teaspoons peppermint extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 or 2 candy canes, crushed (optional)

Line a 9 x 9-inch square baking dish with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Combine chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan over medium heat.  Cook stirring frequently, until the chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat and immediately stir milk and butter into the chocolate mixture.  Stir in peppermint and vanilla extract.

Pour into the prepared baking dish and refrigerate until set, about 2+ hours. Gently pull up on the sides of the foil to release it from the pan.  Cut the fudge into small squares.  Store covered in the fridge.

*Tip - if yours doesn't really "set" you can store this in the freezer.  When I did the double batch, it never really firmed up and was not so easy to cut straight out of the fridge.  So, I've been keeping it in the freezer and it's prefect!

(Source:  Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Apple Cake with Caramel Glaze

I love a cake with fresh apples!  And the brown sugar, caramel glaze puts this cake over the top.  Pecans are optional, but they go so well with the cinnamon and apple that unless you are totally against (or allergic to) nuts, I would absolutely use them. 


I used a spring form pan because I wanted the glaze to drip down the sides.  If you use a square or round cake pan, then your glaze will just be on top - and just as good!  


The cake is moist and sweet and just so good!  I think it's best served at room temperature, but I did end up keeping it in the fridge.  

Serves 8-10

Apple Cake with Caramel Glaze

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups peeled and chopped apples
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

For the glaze
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon half & half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8-pan (round or square) or a spring form pan.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs until they are light in color and foamy.  Add the oil and vanilla and mix well.

In a smaller, separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon.  Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and mix until just combined.  Stir the apples and pecans in by hand.  Pour the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  While the cake is still hot, prepare the glaze.

For the glaze: Combine all of the ingredients into a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the mixture comes to a gentle boil.  Cook for 3-5 minutes.

Spoon the hot glaze over the still warm cake.  Let the glazed cake cool completely before serving.

(Source:  Adapted from Lick the Bowl Good)

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Chocolate Banana Brownies with Vanilla Glaze

 There is never a shortage of bananas in my house - some weeks I swear we go through 2 or 3 bunches.  Other weeks, not so much, and the bananas have to get consumed some other way.  Believe me, I'm not complaining...but when you already have banana muffins and banana bread in your freezer, it's time to try something new.    


This recipe is from Averie Cooks and it is so decadent.  Super fudgy brownies meets incredibly moist banana bread.  A combination of Greek yogurt and instant pudding mix will keep these soft and moist for days (if they last that long!).  You could omit the glaze, but it goes so well with these brownies - plus, it's pretty!  Drizzle it on or spread it just like you would if you were icing a cake.    
   
Makes 12-16 brownies

Chocolate Banana Brownies with Vanilla Glaze

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
6 oz plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 bananas, mashed
1 (3.9 oz) box of instant chocolate pudding mix
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the vanilla glaze
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray and 9 x 9-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.  In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the butter.  Add the sugar, brown sugar, egg, yogurt and vanilla and whisk to combine.  Add the bananas and stir to incorporate.

Add the instant pudding mix and cocoa powder and whisk to combine.  Add the flour, baking soda and salt; stir until just combined.  The batter will be thick.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40-44 minutes, or until top is set and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of pan (a toothpick inserted into the center will not come out clean because these are so fudgy).  Allow brownies to cool in pan for at least 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the glaze.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  To the melted butter, add the brown sugar and bring to a boil, stirring almost constantly.  Allow the mixture to boil rapidly for 2 minutes, keep stirring.  Remove the pan from burner, allow to cool for 1 minute.  Add the cream carefully (mixture could bubble).  Whisk fast to incorporate the cream and calm the bubbling.

Add the vanilla and whisk carefully (mixture could bubble again at this point).  Add the confectioner's sugar 1/2 cup at time until desired glaze consistency in reached.  Drizzle glaze over brownies with a spoon or squeeze bottle or spread over the entire pan.  Allow glaze to set for a few minutes before serving.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or freezer for up to 3 months.  Unglazed brownies can be kept at room temperature, in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

(Source:  Recipe adapted from Averie Cooks)

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

I've been noticing a trend lately - pudding mixes in everything!  Thought I'd give it a whirl in chocolate chip cookies.    


They turned out amazing!  Moist and gooey, a little crispy on the edges...perfect!  This is very similar to my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe, except I added one more egg (and the pudding mix).


Do NOT overbake.  Seriously, you want these underdone.  Even if they don't look done, 12 minutes max is all you need.  I mean, how can you argue with this next picture??

Makes 3 dozen

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

2 sticks butter (1 cup), room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 (3.4 oz) package vanilla instant pudding mix
2 eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Mix in the pudding mix.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, followed by the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and stir.  Add chocolate chips and stir by hand to incorporate.  

Using a cookie scoop, drop the dough onto a cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until starting to turn a little brown on the edges.  Do not overbake! 

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Pretzel Bites

This is the best recipe I've found for pretzel bites.  I've tried a few, but I love the simplicity of the ingredients, plus the added brown sugar that gives it a touch of sweetness.

  

I love very simple pairings - like serving these with just regular ol' yellow mustard.  My favorite! 


This recipe makes a lot, but beware - they are addicting.  I think I may have eaten half the batch myself when they were first made (which is when they are the absolute best).  Great for a party snack, but maybe consider doubling the recipe.    

Makes about 60 bites

Pretzel Bites                                                                                                                        

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)
2 1/2 - 3 cups of flour
1 package instant dry yeast
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt 

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (or stir by hand), combine the brown sugar, milk, 2 1/2 cups of flour and the yeast.  Stir until a soft dough forms, adding the remaining flour as needed (dough should be soft, but not really sticky).  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to form a smooth ball.   

Spray the inside of a large bowl with non-stick cooking spray.  Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover with a clean dish towel.  Allow to rise for about 2 hours until dough has doubled in size.  

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Punch it down and divide into 4 equal pieces.  Start rolling and stretching each piece of dough to about 12 inches long.  Cut into 1-inch pieces and transfer to a greased cookie sheet.  Let rest, uncovered for about 30 minutes and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring 6 cups of water to boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Boil pretzels in batches, cooking about 20 seconds on each side (they will be slightly puffed).  Use a slotted spoon to transfer them back to the baking sheets.  Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 15 minutes.  

Brush warm pretzel bites with melted butter and sprinkle generously with kosher salt.  Serve immediately.  

(Source:  Adapted from Pip and Ebby)

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday Sand Tarts

I know that classic sand tarts are typically sprinkled with a cinnamon-sugar mixture, but I thought it would be so fun to decorate these for Christmas.  After all, I typically only make these around this time anyway!



I had the best helper...my daughter, who turns 4 on Christmas Eve, practically did everything herself.  I rolled the dough, she cut the shapes, brushed them with egg wash and did all the sprinkling! 


I'd say my little helper did an excellent job!  I love getting my kids involved.  Especially Jules - she always wants to help when I bake.  There's so much that they can do at this age and sometimes I feel like I'm just the supervisor!  She's learning so much.


These are supposed to be super thin, like 1/8-inch.  Most of mine ended up about 1/4-inch, which I actually like better.  They don't get as crispy when they are baked if they are a little thicker.  So, whatever your preference.   


So into it!!  


Our cookie cutters were rather large also so you may end up with more or less cookies depending on yours.  The dough should be chilled in between each batch, other wise the cookies won't cut very well.  They'll break and start to stick.  

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 
Holiday Sand Tarts

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten (but in separate bowls)
1 3/4 cups flour, plus more for dusting work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
Holiday sprinkles

Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar together.  Mix in 1 of the beaten eggs.  Stir the flour and baking soda together and add to the creamed mixture to make a soft dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap and set in the fridge to chill.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees, lightly grease your cookie sheet and remove chilled dough from fridge.  Generously flour your work surface, and roll the dough about 1/8-inch thick.  Cut into shapes with cookie cutters.  Brush with the remaining beaten egg and top with Holiday sprinkles.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake

Any kind of cake or bread that has ricotta immediately makes me think of my grandmother, my Nona.  Specifically around Easter time we always had Ricotta cake, which from what I remember, is just yellow cake with ricotta mixed in and powdered sugar dusted on top.  So good, so Italian.  When I was looking for something to make with the lemons I just picked off my tree (sweet, right?), I came across this Lemon Ricotta Loaf from Alexandra's Kitchen.  


Look at those beautiful lemons!  The tree we had took 3 years to produce any fruit and since then, we've been getting 6-9 lemons each year (it's potted and not a huge tree).  I'm not sure why the loaf sank in the middle so much, but it didn't affect how wonderfully delicious it was! 


It makes one regular loaf or 3 mini loaves - I might double it next time to make two full size loaves.  We devoured one of these in less than a day!  Instead of spraying the loaf pan with non-stick spray, you butter the heck out of it.  It keeps it so moist and gives it that pretty golden color.  
  
Serves 8

Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks of butter, room temperature, plus more to grease the pan
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter (very well) a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. 

Using a mixer, cream butter, ricotta and sugar for about 3 minutes.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Mix in the vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Add the dry ingredients, slowly, until just incorporated. 

Pour batter into pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.  Check at 40-45 minutes and if the top is getting too brown, cover loosely with foil.  It is done when the cake starts to pull away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool for about 15 minutes before turning out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.  

(Source:  Recipe from Alexandra's Kitchen)

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Strawberry Blackberry Freezer Jam

Ready to have fresh jam in your fridge and freezer in 30 minutes?  I never knew that making jam could be so easy.  I used Ball Real Fruit Instant Pectin and in about a half an hour, I had 3 jars of this wonderfully, fresh, tasty jam!


The strawberries were fresh, but frozen over the summer when I purchased way too much at one point.  The blackberries were purchased frozen and can be omitted (or substituted!) if you don't care for them.  They definitely gave this jam a more tart flavor.  You'll need 2 1/2 cups of whichever fruit you choose, defrosted if you are using frozen.  


I love the color!  My kids love to just slather it on a bagel (toasted or not) or any kind of good bread for breakfast or a snack. 


My jars are Weck, 12 oz.  I kept one in the fridge and the other 2 in the freezer (they will keep up to a year).  Such little effort for so much product - would make a great neighbor or teacher gift! 

Makes 3 (12 oz) jars

Strawberry Blackberry Freezer Jam

1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled
1 cup blackberries
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons instant pectin

In a medium bowl, combine the fruit and crush with a potato masher.  In another bowl, combine the sugar and pectin and stir.  Add the fruit and stir for 3 minutes.  Ladle jam into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (to allow for expansion during freezing) and let sit for 30 minutes.  

Use immediately and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or the freezer for up to a year.  

(Source:  Recipe adapted from freshpreserving.com)

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pimento Cheese

Pimento cheese...so Southern, so good.  I was buying it from the grocery store until I discovered how easy it is to make on my own.  Cream cheese, mayonnaise, and definitely sharp cheddar cheese.  There are differences in recipes where some use only mayo, no cream cheese, but on the sharp cheddar cheese, there is no substitute.  


 Incredible with butter crackers, veggies or in a grilled cheese (my favorite!).


Makes 3 cups 

Pimento Cheese

3 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons diced pimentos
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the remaining ingredients, beat until well blended and the shredded cheese has been broken up some.  Serve with crackers or as a dip for veggies.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Crock Pot Baked Potato Soup

If you love loaded baked potatoes, then this is a must try.  It's rich and creamy and reheats really well for the next day's lunch.  I used red potatoes (no peeling!) and diced frozen onion (a huge time saver for meals like this), but you can use large baking potatoes and peel them if you like (you'll only need about 6).  Depending on the size of your red potatoes, you'll need about 8-10.  I think I used 9 because in my bag, some were much larger than others.    


Start cooking your bacon just before your soup is done.  We love this soup topped with bacon, more cheese and sour cream.  Green onions or chives would be great, too! 

Serves 6-8

Crock Pot Baked Potato Soup

8 -10 red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup frozen diced onion
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup half & half
1 cup cheddar cheese, plus more for topping
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
sour cream, optional

 Combine the potatoes through the pepper in the Crock Pot and cook on high for 4 hours (or low for 7).  Potatoes should be tender.  Using a potato masher or fork, mash the potatoes until they are coarsely chopped and the soup has thickened.  Stir in half & half and cheese.

Serve topped with crumbled bacon, more cheese and sour cream.

(Source:  Adapted from Food.com)

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Just in time to start baking for the Holidays!  I know these will definitely be on my cookie list - they are my husband's favorite.  


In the past, I've bought the prepared tube of peanut butter dough, but I am so in love with this recipe that I'll never go back.  And believe me, that says a lot because I am the queen of shortcuts!  I think you'll probably need to buy the large bag of kisses - I honestly have no idea how many are in each bag, but just know that this recipe makes 4 dozen cookies.  Plus, you never know how many will end up in your kid's mouths and not in the cookies!

Makes 4 dozen

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
48 Hershey kisses 

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking sodand salt.  Set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugars and peanut butter.  Add the eggs and vanilland mix.  Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet mixture and mix until everything is combined.  

Place cookie batter into the fridge until firm, about 2 hours.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out dough and roll into balls.  Roll in the extrgranulated sugar and place on greased or non-stick cooking sheets about 3 inches apart. 

Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.  Immediately press a kiss into the center of each cookie (don't worry if the cookie cracks).  Let cool completely.  

(Source:  Dough recipe adapted from About.com)

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Salted Caramel Sauce

Oh my gosh - how in love with this sauce am I???  I could not stop licking the spoon, bowl, saucepan, you name it.  I could have poured it into a glass and drank it!  


It's creamy and glossy and sweet and perfect for swirling in brownies or Salted Caramel Blondies (which I can't wait to make).  Both recipes come from the blog Add a Pinch.  So glad I found it!  I made enough for about 1 1/2 cups - just store in the fridge in an airtight container and use some whenever you are in the mood!

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon sea salt 

In a medium saucepan, add brown sugar and melt over medium-high heat until sugar begins to melt and clump together.  Lower the heat to low, add butter, stir constantly until melted and sugar and butter are smooth.  

Remove from heat and gently stir in cream and salt.  Stir until caramel is smooth and glossy.  Let cool slightly and store in an airtight container.  Will keep in the pantry for a week or the fridge for up to a month. 

(Source:  Adapted from Add a Pinch)

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Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

This soup is my cure-all when my family is feeling icky.  It's the easiest noodle soup you can make - I've even made it for myself when I've been sick.  That's how easy it is!  I have two little ones with coughs and colds, plus it's freezing out, so I decided to whip this up for lunch.  It was done in about 20 minutes.  It's incredibly warm and comforting - add a chicken breast when you add your veggies if you want actual chicken noodle soup.  It will take around twenty minutes to cook (after it starts boiling), then remove, shred and put back in when you stir in the pasta.  Serve with butter crackers or good bread for dipping! 

Serves 4-6

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

2 quarts reduced sodium chicken broth 
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
2 cups dried pasta (I used rotini)

In a large saucepan, combine the chicken broth, bouillon cube, celery, carrots and bay leaf.  Salt and pepper to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper).  Turn heat on medium-high, let it come to a boil and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Add the dried pastand cook according to the time on pasta box.  Check for seasoning and serve.  

Tip: If you have leftovers, you may need to add more chicken broth the next time you heat it up - as it sits in the fridge, the pasta really soaks up the broth!

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I'm a super busy mom of 3 and a Beachbody coach. Follow along as I try to find a balance between eating good food and keeping my family healthy and happy! We eat mostly clean with a few fun treats thrown in every once in awhile. Thanks for stopping by!

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