Monday, December 28, 2015


  Are you hosting a New Year's Eve party? Here's a easy drink idea that will surely get the party going. I saw Allie and Georgia making it on the cooking channel, and immediately thought "oooo that sounds good!" It's the perfect signature drink for your party because it's FUN! And that's exactly what you want your New Year's Eve party to be! You can even make your own marshmallow vodka if you're so inclined. How fun is that?  So, be safe, have a great party, and may you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year! Enjoy!

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup water

3 ounces marshmallow-flavored vodka, such as Pinnacle or Smirnoff
1 1/2 ounces hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico
Ice, for chilling
 2 marshmallows, for garnish
1 teaspoon peanut butter, for garnish

  For the peanut butter simple syrup: Combine the sugar, peanut butter and 1 cup water in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Pour the vodka, hazelnut liqueur, and 1 ounce of the peanut butter simple syrup into a shaker filled with ice. Shake well until chilled and frothy. Pour into small up glasses and garnish with a marshmallow that's been injected/stuffed with the peanut butter. Then try not to eat peanut butter from the jar with your hands.

 To make your own marshmallow vodka, chop up a couple handfuls of marshmallows and place them in a large mason jar, then pour regular vodka over them. Place the lid on the jar and leave at room temperature overnight. Give the jar a good shake every so often, if you so choose. The vodka will dissolve the marshmallows. That's all there is to it!
Instead of injecting marshmallows with peanut butter, I just rimmed the glass with a little of the simple syrup and then again in crushed salted peanuts.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Spinach, Artichoke, and Tomato Bites

 Here's the perfect little appy to serve at your next holiday party. They look really impressive (all festive in red and green) but they're easy enough for a culinary beginner.
 I was having a few friends over for a little holiday get together, and I wanted to serve something quick and easy. So I googled a few things (literally while I was standing in the middle of the grocery store) and I happened upon this Pillsbury recipe. (Actually, they called it Spinach Artichoke and Feta Bites, but since I wasn't using feta, I decided to change the title just a little. I'm sure the folks at Pillsbury won't mind!). They were done in no time, and were a HUGE hit among my friends. I'm sure your friends will love 'em too! Better make a double batch!

1 box (10oz) frozen creamed spinach, thawed
1 can (8oz) crescent dough sheet
1 jar (6oz) marinated artichokes, drained, chopped, patted dry
2 tbs drained chopped oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
grated Parmesan cheese

 Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 24 mini muffin cups with cooking spray. Unroll dough on work surface. Press into 12x8-inch rectangle. Using pizza cutter, cut dough into 6 rows by 4 rows, to make 24 squares of dough. Gently press squares into mini muffin cups and three-fourths of the way up sides. Add 3/4 teaspoon artichokes, 1 heaping teaspoon spinach, a couple of pieces of tomato and a sprinkle of grated cheese to each cup. Bake 11 to 13 minutes or until dough is deep golden brown. Let stand 1 minute in muffin cups. Remove from muffin cups with fork. Serve warm.

If you'd like to use feta cheese as the original recipe does, just divide about 1/4 cup of crumbled feta evenly between all the cups and then proceed as directed. I used Parmesan cheese just because I like it better and I happened to have it on hand. Use whichever kind you like! 


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Classic Peanut Blossoms

 This is one of those cookies that has been a favorite for years. Just like chocolate chips and snickerdoodles, these fall right into the "Classic Christmas Cookies" category. But somehow the recipe never made it to my blog. How is that even possible??? I swear I thought I had posted it at some point, but I was recently looking for them on my blog and they were nowhere to be found.
 So lets fix that! Here they are! Delicious and chewy peanut butter cookies with a Hershey's kiss placed right in the center. You just can't go wrong with the PB and chocolate combo, and they're easy enough that you can knock out a batch or two in no time. Goes perfectly with a tall glass of ice-cold milk. You could also pair them with a cozy mug of hot chocolate. Yum!

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
48 milk chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped
Heat oven to 375°F.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, butter and peanut butter in bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and salt; continue beating until well mixed. Add flour and baking soda; beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. If dough is too soft, refrigerate 30-60 minutes
Roll balls in 1/4 cup sugar.* 
 Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until very lightly golden brown. Immediately press 1 chocolate kiss in center of each cookie. Remove to cooling racks.

I like my cookies to be on the chewier side, so I always slightly underbake them. This recipe directs to bake them for 8-10 minutes, so I take them out of the oven at 8 minutes.
 *I used turbinado sugar to roll them instead of regular sugar. It gives a little crunch and it makes them sparkly! And sparkly is always good!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sweet and Saltines

 Here's an easy sweet treat for those of you who have an insatiable sweet tooth. It only takes a few minutes to make and the payoff is positively amazing! Plus, it has that sweet and salty thing that I absolutely love. They're delicious enough to make for a holiday treat, but simple enough to make anytime. I know there are probably several versions, but this recipe is from Trisha Yearwood. I think she and I would get along quite well in the kitchen! LOL
  You should definitely try this one! Enjoy!

Cooking spray
35 to 40 saltine crackers
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1 cup light brown sugar
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 1/3 cups)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Line 1 large or 2 small jelly-roll pans with aluminum foil, spray with nonstick spray and arrange the saltines salt-side down in a single layer. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together and boil until it turns a caramel color, a few minutes. Remove from the heat and pour over the crackers, covering them evenly. 
Put the jelly-roll pan into the oven and bake for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just bubbly, watching carefully. Remove from the oven and pour the chocolate chips over the crackers. When the chips melt a bit, spread them over the crackers with a knife. 
Transfer the pan to the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until completely cold. They will form one big sheet. Break up into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Instead of using foil and cooking spray, I just lined my sheet pan with parchment paper. It worked perfectly!
Full disclosure, I didn't even measure my chocolate chips. I just sprinkled them evenly across the whole sheet. I also placed the pan back int he oven for about 30 seconds just to help the chips melt a little more evenly.
I think the next time I make this I'll use milk chocolate chips (since that's my favorite). Perhaps I'll use a combination of milk chocolate and semisweet chips.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Joey's Easy Eggnog Ice Cream

 It seems to me that people either LOVE eggnog, or they absolutely despise it. There never seems to be any in-between, am I right? It's true!! I happen to fall squarely into the first category. Frankly, I've never met an eggnog I didn't like. So, of course, I like finding recipes that use it as a prominent ingredient. I've made eggnog cookies, eggnog spritz cookies, eggnog fudge, eggnog bread, and even an eggnog and cherry trifle. I LOVE it all!! So then I thought, oh! why not make ice cream? When you make ice cream, you start with a base, often with eggs and cream, then you add a few flavorings and then freeze it. Well, with eggnog, you already have the base, so it's perfect! And then all you need to do is add a few things to bump up the flavor. EASY! Yes, I thought of starting by making homemade eggnog, but then that would defeat the purpose of using the eggnog as a ready made ice cream base. Know what I mean? So I just threw a few things together, tasted it, adjusted it, tasted it again, and here's where I landed! I asked a few of my friends to taste it for me and they all gave a BIG thumbs ups! I must say, I'm pretty pleased with it as well.
 So if you're as much of a fan of eggnog as I am, you should ABSOLUTELY make this! And if you don't own an ice cream maker, perhaps you can add one to your Christmas wishlist! Enjoy!

1 1/2 cups eggnog
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp rum flavoring
1 tsp grated nutmeg

Simply stir all ingredients together and then chill in your ice cream maker according to package directions. Then transfer it to another container and place in the freezer until firm. That's all there is to it! Serve with gingersnaps or your favorite sugar cookies. 

If you want to cut back a bit on the sugar, you can pull it back to 1/2 cup, but I wouldn't cut it back any further than that. Otherwise your finished product will be bland.

Snickerdoodle Bread

 I love finding new versions of familiar things. We've all heard of Red Velvet Cake, Apple Pie, and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, right? But have you ever heard of Red Velvet Pancakes, Apple Pie Bread, and Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Cupcakes? Each one has the same flavor profiles as the original, but they've been kind of repurposed to come up with something new! That's exactly the idea behind this Snickerdoodle Bread. Fun, huh? It has the same wonderful cinnamon flavor as cookies, and it even has its signature cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top. AMAZING! Makes  the whole house smell heavenly and it's perfect for gift giving too!
If you like Snickerdoodles, I know you love it!

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
10oz bag Hershey's cinnamon chips
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

 Pre-heat over to 350F and spray two 8x4-inch loaf pans with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pans; set aside. Recipe could be made as mini loaves or muffins; baking times will vary.  With an electric mixer, mix together the butter, sugars, eggs, vanilla, and beat on high power until creamed, light, and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add to bowl, beating on low speed until just incorporated. Set aside.
 To a small bowl, add the cinnamon chips, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour, and toss to coat chips in flour (to prevent them from sinking while baking). Add contents of small bowl (chips and any excess flour) to mixing bowl and stir until just incorporated. Turn batter out into prepared pans, divided evenly. Batter is thick. Smooth the tops of pans lightly with a spatula; set aside
 To a small bowl, add sugar, cinnamon, and stir to combine. Sprinkle topping mixture evenly over the loaf pans. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Allow bread to cook in pan before inverting to a rack to remove from pan.

 When you invert the pan to a rack, do it over a towel or sink, otherwise all the extra cinnamon and sugar will go everywhere.
Tastes great while it's still slightly warm. Also makes great French Toast or Bread Pudding!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Cookies

 Every year, when work gets really really busy, my boss and I like to bake Christmas cookies for our customers, just to show our appreciation. Usually, I just bake a tray of Mom's Butter Cookies, but this year I decided to add these delicious lemon cookies to the mix.
 You don't often hear of thyme being used in a cookie, but I remembered seeing Martha Stewart making them, and I figured, why not? Actually, instead of using Martha's recipe, I decided to try this recipe that I found on a baking blog called Treats. It's just a simple shortbread recipe with the addition of lemon and thyme. Now, I know there might be one or two of you who are crinkling your nose at the thought of putting fresh herbs into a cookie, but seriously, you won't even believe how tasty it is! The flavors of lemon and thyme are quite simply a match made in heaven! The lemon is subtle without being overpowering, and the thyme rounds everything out. It's the kind of cookie you could imagine having with a nice cup of tea. In fact, several of my customers said exactly that!
 So whether they're for Christmas or an afternoon tea, You simply must give them a try. I know you'll love them! And since I get so many requests for "anything lemon", we can now add yet another new and different lemon thing to our repertoire! Great then!

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 medium lemon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add lemon extract, vanilla extract, lemon zest, chopped thyme and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add flour, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Continue mixing until well combined.
Divide dough in half. Place one piece of dough on a large piece of plastic wrap; cover with a second piece of plastic wrap and roll out dough between plastic wrap to 1/4-inch thickness. Place on a baking sheet and transfer to refrigerator and chill until firm, about 45 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough.
Using a 2-inch round fluted cutter (or other shaped cutter), cut out dough, re-rolling scraps as necessary. Transfer to prepared baking sheets.  Bake until firm, 12 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes; carefully transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Instead of using plastic wrap, I rolled mine between two pieces of parchment paper. Use whichever you happen to have on hand.
You can place them RIGHT next to each other on the baking tray because they don't spread out at all. So go right ahead and get as many on the tray as you can fit. It'll save you baking time.
When I rolled mine, I rolled them VERY thin, so that they came out like little wafers. SO good! Tbh, I had no intention of doing that, but then it happened and I went with it. They were so crisp and delicious, I think I might stick to that idea the next time I make them.
I sprinkled them with a little turbinado sugar before baking. I like the little sparkle and crunch that it brings to the party. 
I also kept thinking (since I had rolled them so thin), I bet they'd be great to make into a sandwich cookie. I wonder what kind of filling I could do... hmm.. maybe something lemony and buttery? I'll have to think on it a little more!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Cherries

 I'm always trying to find Christmas cookies that are just slightly different, but still easy to bake. And of course, they have to be delicious! Well, here's one that fits the bill! Just looking at them, you'd think you're about to have your usual butter or shortbread cookie, right?  Buttery, yes, but then you get hit with a nice burst of citrus. It's REALLY a nice blend of flavors! And you can already see how lovely they look on a plate. Add them to your mixed tray of cookies to add a festive touch! They're perfect with a cup of tea or an ice cold glass of milk. I betcha Santa would love them too! Leave him a plate of them on Christmas Eve, and you just might get a few extra presents!
I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin!

2 sticks salted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks, stirred
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted twice
Green and red candied cherries, for topping

 In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice and orange zest and mix until combined. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl, then mix again. Add the sifted flour and mix until combined. Transfer the dough to a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. When ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Cut about 18 candied cherries in half. Roll the dough into small balls and set on the prepared baking sheets. Gently press 1 cherry half cut-side down into each ball. Bake about 20 minutes, removing the cookies from the oven before they brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Be sure to really press the cherries into the dough so that they'll stay centered in the ball of dough. A few of mine sort of baked sideways and wound up looking a little wonky. LOL 
Btw, I forgot to mention that this recipe is Ree Drummond's. Just giving credit where it's due! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Brownie Cookies

Ok, let me start off by saying that I think this just might be your new favorite chocolate cookie. Now, you may ask "Is it really that good?" In a word, YES! It's seriously that good! I've tasted many different chocolate cookies and the brownie-ness of this one just puts it WAY ahead of the others. It's everything you want in a chocolate cookie. It has DEEP chocolate flavor and it's rich and fudgy and chewy, just like a brownie. SO GOOD! And the dusting of powdered sugar makes it look perfectly festive on a tray of holiday cookies. They're easy to make too! So, thanx go to Ree Drummond for the recipe. I'll definitely be making these again and again. You should too!

4 ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened or bittersweet)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks salted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
 Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt it in the microwave, 10 seconds at a time, until melted. Stir and let cool. Using an electric mixer, mix together the sugar and butter in a large bowl until totally combined. With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle in the cooled chocolate. Scrape the bowl and mix again. Mix in the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. Scrape the bowl once more and mix. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir it together. Add it in scoops to the mixing bowl with the mixer on low. Scrape the bowl once and mix one final time until all combined. Scoop generous tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, then bake until the cookies are poufy and set, 11 to 12 minutes. Let them sit on the baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough. Once cool, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

To make your cookies all the same size, use a tablespoon to measure your chilled dough, then roll it into balls before placing on your baking sheets and baking as directed. You'll end up with perfectly round cookies that are all the same size!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Trisha's Cheese Boat

 Doing some holiday entertaining? Or just a movie night with friends? Here's the perfect thing to serve! It's REALLY simple to make and it's a total do-ahead. You just mix together all of the ingredients ahead of time, and then about a half hour before your guests arrive, scoop the mixture into a hollowed loaf of bread and bake. BOOM! Instant party! A, it smells amazing while it's baking. B, it looks impressive. And C, your guests will devour it! Works for me! When I saw Trisha Yearwood making it on her show, she was making it for friends for a poker night. My first thought was ooo Holiday Party! It would also be perfect for a Super Bowl party! (I hear people have them sometimes.)
 So whatever the occasion, give this one a try! I PROMISE it'll be a hit!

1 loaf French or Italian bread
Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
10 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 ounces corned beef, such as Carl Buddig, finely chopped
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Large corn chips, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut an oval in the top of the loaf of bread, scooping out the bread in the center and make a "bread boat." Place the bread on a cooking sheet. In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, Cheddar, beef, green onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot sauce, and chili powder until fully combined. Spoon the mixture into the hollow center of the bread loaf. Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling, and serve warm with corn chips.

If you would rather do a bread bowl instead of a bread boat, just use a round loaf of any kind of bread. Sourdough, pumpernickel, all good!
 Don't have a loaf of bread? Just bake the filling in a casserole dish!
Not a fan of corned beef? Use any kind of meat you like! Sliced deli ham, crisped bacon, or for a spicier twist, how about chopped sliced pepperoni? You really can't go wrong!
Instead of corn chips, I used broken soft pretzels as dippers. Use anything you like!
To make it look even more rich and delicious, I melted some shredded Swiss cheese over the top, just to make it even more ooey gooey. Full disclosure, I had originally intended to reserve some of the Cheddar cheese to melt on top, but I inadvertently mixed it all in with the filling. I just happened to have some Swiss, so I figured why not? Turned out great!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

 You know how they say Oreos are milk's favorite cookie? Well, I think they might now have a little bit of competition. This is Martha Stewart's recipe and they're absolutely AMAZING! They seriously scream for a tall glass of ice cold milk. So rich, so peanutty, and they have that salty hit that is just perfect to cut the sweet. The cookies themselves are soft, kind of like a shortbread cookie, but they have this little crunch thing goin' on with the oats and the coarse sugar on the top. OMG it's insanely good. The combination of all of those things results in one of the best tasting peanut butter cookies you'll ever find! Not even kidding. I had to stop myself from eating them. Actually, come to think of it, the sparkle and crunch from the sugar was one of my favorite things. Be sure to include it!
 So if it's a holiday cookie swap, or an after school snack, or even just a treat before going to bed, I know you'll absolutely love 'em! If you have any peanut butter lovers in your life, this is definitely the one for them. Try 'em!

For the cookies:
1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add oats and cook, stirring, until toasted, 5 to 10 minutes. Spread oat mixture onto prepared baking sheet and let cool. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together remaining 1/2 cup butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Add peanut butter and mix until well combined. Add oat mixture and flour mixture; mix on low speed until combined. Turn dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. Cover dough with a second piece of parchment paper and roll out dough, between parchment, to 1/4 inch thick. Carefully slide rolled dough onto baking sheet and transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about 20 minutes. Remove top layer of parchment paper; cut out cookies using a 2-inch round cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets; sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Transfer baking sheets to oven and bake until golden, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheets. When cookies have cooled completely, snip end of a pastry bag and squeeze peanut butter filling in a spiral motion on bottom side of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies to form sandwiches.

For the peanut butter filling:
3/4 cup peanut butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

 Mix all ingredients together in the bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Fill cookies as directed.

 I found it easier to handle the cookies after they were COMPLETELY cool. Even better when chilled. They seemed very fragile when I was assembling the sandwiches and many of them broke. I'm not sure if I did something wrong, but that's what happened. At first I wasn't going to post the recipe, but my friends tasted them and said OMG Are you KIDDING? So that settled that. They taste SO GOOD, that a little careful handling seemed well worth it. And once they were filled, I let them chill in the fridge for a while, and the filling helped to keep everything together just fine. Definitely worth making, but just handle with care!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Roll Ups

 Here's a simple and festive party appetizer for you. They're called Holiday Roll Ups and I saw them on Ree Drummond's show, Pioneer Woman. They're so easy, you don't even need to cook! You just mix up the filling ingredients, schmear 'em on some flour tortillas, and roll 'em up! Simple, right? The red and green bell peppers make them so festive and they're absolutely delicious. They're also a great time saver because you roll them ahead of time and then let them chill in the fridge to set up for a while. Before your guests arrive, slice them into rounds, and serve. Perfect party food!
 Oh, and here's a little party hint: Instead of placing all of your hors d'oevres on one big table, place them on smaller snack tables in several locations. Your guests will spread out and mingle a little more, instead of all hovering over the kitchen table. Clever, huh? Plan ahead, do things in advance, and your party will be a hit!
 In my opinion, the best holiday parties are simple and casual. Surround yourself with family and friends. Decorate with a few personal touches. Have some holiday music playing in the background. And, of course, serve some delicious picky-uppy foods that are easy to taste with just one hand (since you'll be holding a drink in the other). These roll ups fit right into that category. SO Good!!  Definitely give 'em a try!

2 packages cream cheese, softened
1 package ranch dressing mix
Freshly ground black pepper
5 flour tortillas
1/2 cup finely diced green bell peppers
1/2 cup finely diced red bell peppers
2 green onions, sliced
Mix the cream cheese, ranch dressing mix and the black pepper together thoroughly. Spread the mixture on the tortillas, and then sprinkle over the diced bell peppers and green onions. Roll up tightly, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until party time (for at least 1 hour). Slice into small wheels and serve.

To cut carbs, I used low carb tortillas, but feel free to use any you like. Regular flour tortillas, or even red or green ones, for an added festive touch. All good!
To make it even easier, I added all the filling ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer, (including the chopped peppers and green onions), mixed everything together and then proceeded as directed. Easy!
For larger roll ups, use burrito size tortillas. For smaller bite sized roll ups, use taco size tortillas. Great then!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Orange Marmalade Cookies

 A few weeks ago, I was in the mood to do some canning, so I decided to make a few jars of my Sweet Orange Marmalade. Out of all the jams and jellies I've made, this is definitely in my top 5 because it's has such a HUGE punch of fresh orange flavor without the bitterness that you might find in other marmalades. Anyway, I shared it with a few friends (just because that's how I roll), and I quickly got a text from my friend Alana that said "Sweet Orange Marmalade, for the win!" LOL I'm telling you, it's REALLY that good!
 Cut to the night before Thanksgiving when I was making my Candied Sweet Potatoes, and I figured OK! Time to make another batch of marmalade! I'll use some in the sweet potatoes and I'll drop some off to Alana. Perfect! (My niece, Terri was also an immediate fan, so I saved some for her too!)
 But then I still had a few jars left, so I decided to see what else I could make with it. 'Tis the season for baking cookies, so I figured, why not? It didn't take me very long to find this recipe on and I loved them from the very first bite. They're a nice refreshing change from your usual vanilla cookie, and they're just as buttery and crispy and chewy as you want them to be.
 So there you have it. They're perfect for holiday entertaining, gift giving, and you should DEFINITELY bring them to your next cookie swap. Better make a few extra batches!

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
6 tablespoons orange marmalade (any brand, or home made)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

 Preheat oven to 375°F
Grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and orange marmalade and mix until thoroughly combined. Add additional marmalade if the batter is too stiff.
In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. With the mixer running, slowly add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture until blended.
Drop by spoonfuls on the cookie sheet; do not crowd the cookies as the batter will spread during baking. Bake until the cookies spread out and are lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Cool a minute or two on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Whenever I bake cookies, I ALWAYS chill the dough for at least 30 minutes, and I always use parchment. It's just makes everything so much easier. Just sayin!
I wanted to add a little more orange flavor so I added a few tiny drops of pure orange extract. You can also add a bit of grated orange zest.
To make perfectly round cookies, roll your measured tablespoonfuls of chilled dough into balls and then place them onto your baking sheet and bake as directed.
This recipe makes a very small batch. I imagine you can probably double it!
I suppose you could try this recipe with other flavors of jam or marmalade. Hmm.. I bet lemon would be delicious!! I'll let you know if I ever give it a try!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Slow Cooker Chocolate Candy

  Here's an easy and yummy do-ahead recipe that falls squarely into a category that I like to call "stupid simple." I'm not even kidding. If you're not usually one to cook, then this is the recipe for you. It's about as easy as it gets! You just throw everything into a crock pot and then in about 3 hours you give it a stir. That's all there is to it! See what I mean? Simple!! When I saw Trisha Yearwood making this on her show, I knew this would be a perfect recipe to share around the holidays, just because everyone is in such a rush with shopping and cooking and decorating and baking. But with this recipe, you can start your crock pot on a Sunday morning, put on a load of laundry, go finish running your errands, then by the afternoon, you're ready to stir everything together and fill your candy cups. You'll be finished in no time at all! You could even put the cups in decorative tins and give them as gifts. And everyone will be SO impressed that you made your own candy! It's so much more personal than just buying a box of candy, dontcha think? So give it a try! And just think, maybe this will be the recipe that you become famous for making every year! It could happen!!

2 pounds salted dry-roasted peanuts
4 ounces German's sweet chocolate (about 4 squares)
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
2 1/2 pounds white almond bark

Put the peanuts in the bottom of a 4-quart slow cooker. Layer the chocolate over the peanuts, beginning with the sweet chocolate, followed by the chocolate chips and then the almond bark. Set the temperature on low and cook for 3 hours. Do not stir the mixture. After 3 hours, stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until smooth. Drop the candy into cupcake pan liners using about 2 tablespoons per liner.* Allow the candy to cool completely before removing the cupcake liners.

 *I decided to use mini cupcake tins instead of the regular ones. I wanted smaller bites, and I also like how they dress up a plate of cookies. No mini cupcake tins? No problem!!  Just place the mini cupcake paper liners in empty egg cartons to help them hold their shape while they set! Easy!
Btw, be sure to use salted nuts. The salt is key! Just sayin!
Not a fan of peanuts? Use any kind that you like! Cashews, pecans, and macadamia nuts would be high on my list. I think I'll try them next time!
This recipe makes quite a few mini candy cups, probably 100-110 depending on how full you make them. I'm not seeing this as a problem, but if you don't want that many, it seems to me that cutting the recipe in half would work just as well.
I also decided to use a small ice cream scoop to portion each one, just to make it easier. Turns out this was a really good idea!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Cream Cheese Glaze

Once upon a not so long ago, I invited a few friends to dinner. For some reason, I never seem to have a problem finding people to be testers for new recipes! LOL What can I say? I like to try out new recipes to get everyone's opinions, see if anything needs to be tweaked, etc.
 I was thinking I wanted to do a pumpkin bread pudding, but I needed to up the wow factor a little. A sauce, perhaps? a glaze? Hmm.. So I happened to be working with my friend, Mary, and I told her about my dinner menu plans. I said "OK, which one do you think I should do, a caramel sauce or a cream cheese glaze?" She looked at me like I had two heads and said "Um.. hello.. BOTH!" (as if this was the most obvious answer in the world, duh). So I went with it!!!
 Let me just say that I need to buy a vowel because O. MY. GOD. It's possibly one of the most heavenly desserts I've ever made. It's warm and comforting, and creamy and chewy and crunchy and gooey all at the same time! This is ABSOLUTELY gonna be your new favorite pumpkin dessert. I'll even go so far as to say that this might be competition for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie! There. I said it. I'm not even kidding, it's just that good!
 So thank you, Mary, for suggesting BOTH sauces. LOL That was definitely the wow factor I was looking for! Make this for your next special occasion or holiday dinner and I just bet you'll agree!

For the bread pudding:
2 cups half and half
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 cups 1/2-inch cubes egg bread (about 10-ounces)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans

 For the caramel sauce:
1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream

For the cream cheese glaze:
 4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 to 4 tbs milk 

For bread pudding:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk half and half, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend. Fold in bread cubes and golden raisins. Transfer mixture to 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle pecans over the top. Let stand 15 minutes. Bake pudding until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. While the pudding is baking, make the caramel sauce and cream cheese glaze.

To prepare caramel sauce:
Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.

To prepare the glaze:
Beat cream cheese until very creamy. Beat in powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla. Add 3 tablespoons milk or enough to make it the right drizzling consistency.

After you remove the bread pudding from the oven, let it cool for about 10-15 minutes, then drizzle with caramel sauce and cream cheese glaze. Serve warm.

Obviously, you don't have to do BOTH toppings. You can just do one or the other, but I highly recommend doing both!
Not a fan of nuts and/or raisins? Leave 'em out! 
If you'd like to save a little time, you have a couple options. You can make it up to the point just before you bake it, then cover it and keep it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, then bake it and top it as directed. You can also bake the whole thing as directed, then keep it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Then pour your topping(s) over it just before you serve. You can heat it up a bit in the oven if you'd like to serve it warm, or just take it out of the fridge in time to serve it at room temperature.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Buttered Rum Raisin Pie

 I was recently watching Martha Stewart's cooking show called Martha Bakes, and she was making a rum raisin pie. My first thought was "ooo that sounds good!" but then I realized that what she was making and what I had pictured in my head were two different things. When I think of a rum raisin pie, I immediately think of something that's sticky and gooey and buttery, kind of like a pecan pie with raisins and rum instead of pecans. But Martha was making a CUSTARD pie with raisins in it. Hmmm..  that's not what I wanted. So then I figured, "well, I'm gonna find one that's sticky and gooey." I did something googling and I found one! This is my version of a recipe I found on a website called, and it's just what I wanted. It's sweet and mildly spicy, but more importantly it's buttery and sticky and gooey and chewy and EXACTLY what I had in mind all along! It kind of has a similar vibe to the Mince Pie that my Mom used to make, since it has dried fruit and spirits in it, but it's not as strong. It's just sweet enough, just spicy enough, just rummy enough (rummy?), and the raisins are definitely the star of the show. I brought a piece to my boss and asked her if it's good enough to have as a Thanksgiving dessert and she said "Absolutely!"
 So if you're looking for something new and a little different to add to your Thanksgiving dessert table, give this one a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

4 cups raisins
1/2 cup Bacardi gold rum
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbs cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tbs butter
1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice
1 tbs cider vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 9-inch prepared pie crusts

 Preheat oven to 425°.
 Place raisins and rum in a small bowl. Give it a stir, and let it sit until the raisins absorb the rum, about 20-30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the pie pastry and prep the other ingredients.
Line a 9" pyrex deep pie dish with one pie crust.  Set aside.
 In a medium saucepan, before turning on the heat, whisk together water, cornstarch, and salt. Now turn on the heat and bring to boil. Stir in brown sugar, butter, and spices until combined. Add the rum soaked raisins and any remaining rum. Return to boil and let simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until syrup thickens. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add cider vinegar and vanilla. Pour filling into prepared pie pastry. Top with second crust. Crimp edges and vent as desired. Place pie on bottom rack and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375° and move pie to middle rack. Bake for 30 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Use a pie crust shield or foil tent to keep the edges of the crust from becoming too brown. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

If you'd like to serve it in a regular 9" pie dish instead of the deeper pyrex dish, just use 2 cups of raisins instead of 4 cups. The rest of the amounts stay the same.
I used a store bought ready made pie crust, but feel free to make my Easy Pie Crust or your own if you so choose.
When I first served this, it was chilled (which is usually how I like to enjoy a piece of pie). But in this case, you definitely don't want it to be chilled because it sets up rather tightly which makes it much more dense. It's much more buttery and gooey when you serve it warm or at room temperature. SO much better!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Butternut Squash Slaw

Ok, so, before you crinkle your nose, just go with me on this one, ok? Do you trust me? Have I ever lied to you before?
 I saw Damaris Phillips making this on her show, Southern at Heart, and I immediately thought "oo that sounds interesting!" I mean, don't get me wrong, I LOVE regular Cole Slaw, but I figured maybe this is the perfect swap for someone who isn't a fan of cabbage! Makes perfect sense to me! Only one way to find out! So I gave it a try. And guess what! It's absolutely delicious! At first I wasn't sure how it would go with this being a vinaigrette dressing, since regular cole slaw has a mayonnaise based dressing. But it absolutely works! Its fresh and crunchy, and sweet and tangy!
 So if you're not a fan of regular cole slaw, or if maybe you'd just like to try something new and interesting, give this one a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, grated on a box grater
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
2 tablespoons chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Whisk together the maple syrup, vegetable oil, and sherry vinegar in a large bowl. Add the squash, parsley, dried cherries and sunflower seeds; toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.
The key to this recipe, at least for me, is the parsley and the toasted sunflower seeds. The parsley gives such a freshness to cut through the sweetness, and the sunflower seeds add the most amazing toasty note. 
I used apple cider vinegar, just because I had it on hand, and I used dried cranberries instead of cherries, just because I like them and dried cranberries felt more like Thanksgiving. 
Btw, I used a food processor to shred my squash. SO much easier!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sweet Potato Gratin

 One of my all time very most favorite dishes in the whole wide world is Sweet Potato Casserole. It's one of the top 5 reasons I look forward to Thanksgiving every year! I mean, come on, with all the butter and brown sugar, what's not to love, right? But let's think about sweet potatoes for a minute..
Do they really need to be covered with sugar ALL the time? We're so used to doing sweet potato recipes that are sweet enough to be a dessert... what if we just do a savory dish instead? I say let's try treating sweet potatoes just like a regular potato and see what happens. So that's exactly what I did!
 This recipe was adapted from a recipe called Four Ingredient Potatoes Au Gratin from a website called Always Order Dessert. I was looking for a fabulous gratin recipe that I could tweak a little for my sweet potatoes and this was the one that seemed like the perfect fit. Very often, a potato gratin will have some sort of cheese in the recipe, but for this particular dinner, I was cooking for someone who doesn't like cheese (I know, I know, it makes no sense to me either). This was definitely the right recipe! It turned out great!!! The sweetness from the potatoes went so perfectly with the garlic, and the cream just made everything rich and comforting. And actually, if you're all about the cheese like I am, I bet you could add a little grated cheese to the top with the bread crumbs for a little extra salty hit. Doesn't that sound amazing?? I'm definitely gonna be making this one again!!

3 sweet potatoes, peeled
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons butter, sliced thinly plus more for greasing pan
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
panko bread crumbs (or any that you prefer)

Butter an 8" round baking dish all along the bottom and sides. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Set your mandoline to the thinnest level possible and slice your potatoes into paper-thin slices. Layer the potato slices with just a light overlap all the way around your baking dish, covering the bottom completely. Scatter with a bit of minced garlic and a few slices of butter. Season with salt and pepper, then repeat with another layer of potato slices, more butter and garlic, S&P. Continue to repeat the layers until you use up all the potatoes. Top with a few final slices of butter and a generous sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pour the cream over the dish, making sure it distributes evenly. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake for 40 minutes, then increase the temperature to 400 for an additional 10 minutes or until the top of the dish is golden and the potatoes are crisp at the edges. Remove from the oven and let sit for a good 10-15 minutes before serving.

I have to be completely honest. When I made this, I didn't measure a thing. I just sliced up a bunch of potatoes, chopped up the garlic, layered everything until my pan was completely filled and then poured cream over everything. I was using a 9x13 pan, and I figured it wouldn't make any difference. It worked perfectly!
 Btw, be sure to season everything well. I was afraid of adding salt and pepper to every layer, and I wound up needing to add salt at the end.
Also, I think I may add caramelized onions to each layer the next time I make this... just sayin!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Parmesan Corn Pudding

 A few years ago, I was looking for corn recipes to make for a 4th of July BBQ. I happened upon a version of this one, and I thought "This is clearly more Thanksgiving than 4th of July..", so I saved the recipe and planned to revisit it at a later date. The following year, it occurred to me that I still hadn't tried it, so I gave it a whirl. Honestly, it was not at all what I was hoping it would be. Hmm.. set it aside.. let me think on it,  I'll revisit it again at a later date....
 Cut to this year... and I thought, "ok, let's figure out what's going on with this recipe."
 My main problem was that the recipe is called Parmesan Corn Pudding, only you could barely taste any Parmesan! Seems to me that if an ingredient is in the TITLE of the recipe, then you should at least be able to taste it, dontcha think?? So I switched a few things around, added a couple other things and here we are!! THIS is what I was hoping for all along! It just goes to show that recipes are not engraved in stone. I know I always say it, but seriously, you can always tweak a recipe to fit your personal tastes. Read your ingredients. Taste as you go. I'm sure the person who originally wrote this recipe was quite thrilled with it, but it just needed a few adjustments to work for me! Do what works for YOUR family! If you want to add a little kick, add some diced jalapenos. Would you like it to have a little more onion flavor? Add a few more chives, or even some chopped scallions. Make it however you like it! I'm sure the love you put into it will be greatly appreciated!!

2 (12-oz.) packages frozen corn, thawed and divided
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
2 tablespoons plain yellow cornmeal 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
6 tablespoons butter, melted 
4 large eggs 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives 
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a couple tbs more
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Garnish: chopped fresh chives

 Preheat oven to 350°F.
 Place 1 package of corn and the milk in a large food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add the other package of corn along with remaining ingredients, stirring until completely combined. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; sprinkle with more grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until set. Garnish with fresh chives, if desired.

Even though I love to play around with recipes and switch this and that, I still make sure to try it once as it was originally written. How can you switch things up if you're not sure what you don't like about it in the first place? In this case, I wanted more Parmesan flavor, and I also wanted the cheese to be grated instead of shredded (as the original recipe had suggested). I also found it was easier to stir most of the ingredients together instead of doing the whole thing in the food processor! Boom.
Oh, one other thing.. this recipe only makes a 2 qt casserole. If you're cooking for a crowd, or if you're making it for a huge holiday dinner, you'll probably want to make it in a 9x13 pan, right? In order to fill a 9x13 pan, don't double everything.... but instead, increase the recipe by HALF. You'll wind up with just enough to fill your casserole pan!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Green Beans with Garlic Butter and Cashews

When you think of green beans for Thanksgiving dinner, you usually think of the classic Green Bean Casserole, am I right? That's fine and all, but I say there's nothing wrong with mixing things up a little every now and then, dontcha think? That's how new classics are born!! So when I decided to have a few friends over for a Fall dinner, I decided to do a new green bean recipe.
 My first thought was to do something a little bit lighter than a heavy casserole, since I was already planning to do a sweet potato gratin. Then I thought it might be fun to do a variation on the classic Almondine, which has slivered almonds. I thought, hmm... how about cashews? So I did some googling and I found a recipe for broccoli and cashews.. Ok, lets try it with green beans instead!
OMG it turned out great!! It was EXACTLY what I was hoping for and everyone loved it! It was easy as can be, too. So even if you're not looking for Thanksgiving side dishes, you should still add this one to your repertoire. This one's a keeper!

1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
1/3 cup butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped salted cashews

 Remove stem ends from beans, and break or cut them into small pieces. Place them in a large pot with about 1 inch of water in the bottom. Bring to a boil, and cook for 7 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside. While the beans are cooking, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Mix in the brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Mix in the cashews, and then pour the sauce over the beans. Toss everything together. Pour onto a serving plate.  Serve immediately.

If you want to get a head start, you can prep and par cook the beans the night before. After you cook the beans, plunge them into a big bowl of ice water. It will stop the cooking and it will set the bright green color. Then when it's time to serve, just heat them back up again (either in the microwave or a few seconds in boiling water), and then toss them with the cashew sauce. Easy!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Spirited Orange Cranberry Sauce

Ok, first, let me start off by saying that this is one of the easiest recipes you will ever try. Here's the thing.. In my family, everyone contributes to our amazing, fabulous, can't-wait-for-it-all-year Thanksgiving dinner. The more experienced cooks will take care of cooking the turkeys (yes, PLURAL), and all of the other sides dishes. The less experienced cooks will do appetizers and dips, etc. The ones who don't cook at all will bring the ice, paper products, egg nog, and booze. Is that how it works in your family? Well, cooking novices, here's the perfect recipe for you! If you're usually someone who doesn't contribute to the dinner, you should give this recipe a try! It's amazingly simple to make, you can do it DAYS in advance, and everyone will be so amazed and impressed that you made this yourself. And seriously, the flavor is just SO much better than your basic cranberry sauce out of a can, I can't even put it into words.
 I originally found this recipe on, and it was described as "An easy and slightly different cranberry sauce recipe. Great with turkey or with Brie and crackers." I tweaked it a little, just because I couldn't help myself, and it turned out so great, I couldn't stop eating it. You just throw everything into a pot and let it simmer! Easy, huh? But definitely don't just serve it at Thanksgiving! It goes great with weeknight baked chicken as well! If you like cranberries, I PROMISE you will love it! And everyone will love you for it, especially if you are not known for your cooking skills.
 Try it! And then take a bow.  :)

2 (12 ounce) bags fresh cranberries
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 large orange, zested and juiced
1 cup port wine
2 tbs Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

 Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the cranberries have popped and the sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes. Let it cool for a bit so it's not piping hot, then pour into a serving bowl and refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.

Be sure to zest the orange before you juice it. It's just easier that way.
I was a little heavy handed with the port wine. I probably added about 2 tbs more than the 1 cup listed. (I'm not really seeing the downside to this, are you?)
This recipe can be doubled if you're cooking for a crowd. Just sayin!
If you're making this for Thanksgiving, you can do it 2 or 3 days ahead and then just keep it in the fridge. It will be perfectly fine for Thanksgiving, and you'll have one less thing on your to-do list!
Don't just serve this in the Fall. When fresh cranberries are in season, buy several bags and throw them in the freezer! They freeze amazingly well, and then you'll have them on hand to make cook throughout the year!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pumpkin Cupcakes

 When you receive an invitation to a Halloween party, what's the first thing that comes to mind? You'd usually think "What costume shall I wear?", am I correct? But when my friends, Casey and Chris invited me to their "I Put a Spell on You" Party, the first thing I thought wasn't "what shall I wear?" but rather  "What shall I BRING?" hehehehe Here's how the actual conversation went:
Me: So... If I happen to be baking something for a Halloween party, what do you think might be a good something?"
Casey: "Something orange and black? Like an orange cake or cupcakes with chocolate icing?" 
Me: "How about Pumpkin Cupcakes and maybe orange cream cheese icing?"  
Casey: "Oh my GOD that is the best thing I've ever heard in my life. CLASSIC Joey Quaile shenanigans!!!!
 LOL She always cracks me up. And I'm so thrilled with how the cupcakes turned out! I used Martha Stewart's cupcake recipe and added a few little simple decorations. Don't they look cute? They were really simple to make too, and they made exactly 2 dozen cupcakes, which is exactly how many decorations I had. Perfect!
Even if you're not going to a Halloween party, you should still give this recipe a try. If you love anything pumpkin as much as I do, I PROMISE you'll love them! SERIOUS yum.
 Thank you Casey and Chris for inviting me to your party! Hopefully everyone will love the cupcakes as much as I do! 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
Orange Cream Cheese Icing, if desired

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.
 In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.
 Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Not a fan of Orange Cream Cheese icing? Are you feeling ok? Use regular cream cheese icing! Not a fan of regular cream cheese icing? Maybe you should lie down, something is definitely not right. Use regular butter cream! Use any kind of frosting you like!
Instead of measuring out each different kind of spice, I just threw in a couple teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice blend. I had it handy and it was just easier. Just sayin!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Gingersnap Pumpkin Squares

 This is one of those recipes that I had tucked away, figuring I'd get around to trying it one day. It's a Taste of Home recipe, and it just sounded so good, I thought "ooo I should probably hold onto this one, say, for Halloween parties and such." Well, today's the day!!
 I recently invited some friends over for a Fall diner, just so I could test a few recipes. (Somehow I never seem to have any problems finding volunteers for taste testing.. lol) Anyway,  I made my Mom's Chicken Cutlets and tried a bunch of new side dishes. Everything turned out great! And this was one of the desserts I made. Since I had planned on making several different dishes, I knew I'd have to be careful about time management. In other words, I needed a dessert that I could make in advance, and this was the perfect choice. That's definitely the answer when you know you'll be doing a lot of cooking. If you can make anything ahead of time, do it!! I made it the night before, left it in the fridge to chill overnight, an then cut it into squares just before serving. Easy! It's crunchy and tasty on the top and bottom and creamy and rich in the middle, sort of like a pumpkin cheesecake kind of filling. Doesn't that sound awesome? I loved every bite!
 So be sure to add this one to your "easy-make ahead-Fall dinner-Halloween party-Thanksgiving dessert" repertoire. Your family and friends will devour them!

1 package yellow cake mix
1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten 

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (29 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract 

1/2 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 cup chopped pecans

     Set aside 3/4 cup cake mix for topping. In a small bowl, combine gingersnap crumbs and remaining cake mix; stir in butter and egg. Press onto the bottom of a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish; set aside. 
     For filling, in a large bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs. Beat in the pumpkin, milk, cinnamon and vanilla and mix well. Pour over crust. 
     For topping, in a small bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs, sugar and reserved cake mix; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle over filling. Bake at 325° for 70-75 minutes or until filling is set. Cool on a wire rack for 1-1/2 hours. Store in the refrigerator.

    As I always do, I lined my pan with parchment paper, leaving some to hang over the sides. Then, after it was baked and completely chilled, I used the paper as a sling to lift the entire batch out of the pan, and used a large knife to cut it into squares. You get perfectly clean cuts and you don't ruin your pan!
    When I served them, I cut them into 24 large squares, but you can stretch it further if you're making them for a party. They're thick enough and rich enough that you can cut them into 32 smaller squares.
     For an extra special presentation, place the squares on a big platter in one layer. Top each square with a swirl of whipped cream, then top each swirl with a ginger snap half, or just sprinkle with gingersnap crumbs. 

    Monday, October 19, 2015

    Trisha's Apple Dumplings

     OK, seriously, before I say another thing, I have to tell you that this is one of my favorite desserts that I've ever made. I'm not even kidding. My favorite thing ever is vanilla ice cream melting down over a piping hot apple dessert, and this one is right up there with the best of them.
     I saw Trisha Yearwood making this recipe on her cooking show, and immediately placed it squarely in the "how can this not be good?" category. It's easy to do, makes the house smell heavenly while it's baking, and it's delicious enough to serve for a special occasion or holiday dinner. I made this when I had some friends over to kick off my week of birthday celebrating, and everyone agreed that it's pretty freakin' amazing!
    So I'll just this this: If you like apples and cinnamon, you simply MUST make this, and that's just all there is to it!

    2 Granny Smith apples
    1 lemon
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    8 canned buttermilk biscuits
    4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
    Peel, core and slice the apples vertically into 8 slices each. Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water and add the apple slices to keep from turning brown.
    In a medium saucepan, mix 1 cup water, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the butter and vanilla. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat. Separate each biscuit into 2 layers. Wrap a biscuit layer around a slice of apple, stretching the biscuit slightly to overlap, and seal on the bottom. Place the wrapped slices, sealed-side down, in a 9- by 12- by 2-inch casserole dish. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the apple slices. Mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture over the tops of the wrapped apples. Bake until golden brown, 35 minutes.
    You can serve this with whipped cream, of course, but I definitely feel that vanilla ice cream is the way to go on this one. 
    Be sure to use Granny Smith apples. You can use a sweeter apple, but you really want the tartness of the Granny Smith, plus it holds up wel when you bake it.
    I don't have any other tips or variations to offer because the recipe is pretty much perfect as it is! I wouldn't change a thing!! 

    Monday, October 12, 2015


     For years, I've searched for the right pumpkin brownie recipe. Now, I'm not talking about Pumpkin Swirl Brownies that are your basic chocolate brownie with pumpkin swirled through them. I'm talking about a pumpkin bar recipe that is not chocolate, but has the same texture as a brownie, know what I mean? Just like the Orange Brownies, or the Lemony Lemon Brownies, or my favorite, the amazing Vanilla Bean Brownies, I wanted a pumpkin version. Well, friends, I think I've finally found it. And they're appropriately called Pumpkies! I found them on a website called Mother Thyme, and they're just exactly what I was looking for. Soft and delicious, and just about as close to a brownie texture you can get without being an actual chocolate brownie. It was suggested that you can add cream cheese frosting, (which would be amazing), but I just sprinkled mine with a little cinnamon and sugar over the batter before baking them. They turned out EXACTLY as I hoped they would! And they were a snap to throw together. They're absolutely perfect for a Halloween party and they're good enough to add to your Thanksgiving dessert menu.
    This one is definitely a keeper!

    1/3 cup butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 large egg
    1/2 cup pumpkin puree
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ginger
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon salt

     Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside. Using electric mixer cream butter and sugar. Add egg, pumpkin puree and mix until combined. In a small bowl, mix flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Gradually add into wet ingredients until just combined. Spread into baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes until cake tester comes out clean. Cool pan on wire rack before cutting.

    The recipe directs to cool them before cutting, but I went further than that and let them completely chill in the fridge, I was able to remove the entire batch from the pan in one piece (using the parchment paper as a sling) and then I used a big knife to make perfect cuts for a perfect presentation!
    This recipe is for an 8x8 pan, but I doubled it and baked it in a 9x13 pan. It worked perfectly!
    If you'd like to add a little extra cinnamon, go for it! Like I always say, you can never have too much! Or you can just use a couple teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice blend, which is one of my favorite things, EVER. Also be sure to include the salt. It makes a world of difference!