Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Posts of 2012

Happy New Year's Eve! 2012 sure has flown by, our family has made lots of great memories, we've had our good moments and our fair share of bad ones. I'm looking forward to what 2013 has in store for us and ready to embrace each new adventure.

I'm excited to share with you the top 10 posts from this year. So here we go:

This creamy snickers dip is absolutely amazing! Definitely one of my favorite desserts I made this past year, it offers a wonderful sweet and salty combo when dipping with pretzels.

Talk about comfort, this one dish meal is perfect for a cold winter's day. You'll love this hearty Italian meal, add chicken penne casserole to your menu soon!

It's no secret that I love freezer cooking. I have a small group of friends that I exchange meals with and we try to get together every few months to do so. In this freezer cooking post I share some items I stocked our freezer with along with their recipes.

Mexican chicken stuffed shells, another favorite I know you'll love! Pasta meets Mexican, you can't get any better than that.

The inspiration for this maid-rite came from a local sandwich shop in town. They've been around for as long as I can remember and will quickly become a favorite in your own home.

I made these back in May for our daughter to share with her preschool class. Ice cream cone rice krispie treats are probably one of the easiest and most fun kid's treats to make.

I make a point to make this strawberry banana split dessert at least once every summer. It's become one of our favorites and always a big hit with others. I always bring home an empty pan.

These handprint/footprint reindeer shirts are one of my favorite crafts to do each year with not only my girls, but my daycare kids. They make such a great keepsake for parents!

Frozen fruit cups are a delicious and healthy treat year-round, but especially during the warmer months. Let the kiddos enjoys these outside on their picnic tables so you don't have to worry about the mess inside.

I loved sharing this incredibly easy freezer spaghetti sauce with my readers this summer. Each year when I've got tons of tomatoes to use up from the garden, I make sure to stock my freezer with this delicious sauce. Next summer you must give this one a try!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cinnamon Crescents

A few weeks ago I asked my facebook readers for their favorite brunch recipes. I was in the process of planning for my cookie exchange and wanted some new inspiration. Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats shared this recipe with me. Her cinnamon crescents looked so good but I already knew I had plenty of sweet options so I tucked it away for another time.

Our family tried these a couple days ago for breakfast. The kids and I loved them, my husband's not much of a sweet he doesn't count. It's the perfect way to enjoy a cinnamon roll but without all the work.  They are seriously so simple to make, I can't wait to make them again!

Cinnamon Crescents

1 tube crescent rolls
4 tbsp butter, softened
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c packed brown sugar
Cinnamon {Just a little bit, I sort of eyeballed it, 1/4-1/2 tsp}
1/2 c flour

2 tbsp butter, softened
1-1/2 c powdered sugar
Splash of vanilla extract
Splash of milk

Unroll crescent rolls and flatten onto a nonstick cookie sheet. In a bowl mix together butter, both sugars, cinnamon and flour. Sprinkle on top of crescent rolls, I sort of patted the mixture evenly all over. Bake at 350 for 12-13 mins or until they are a light golden brown. For frosting, mix all ingredients together, add additional milk if needed to reach your desired consistency. Drizzle over warm crescents and serve. Makes 8

Slightly adapted from: Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Favorite Reads of 2012

I sure hope you and your family enjoyed a wonderful Christmas! We got to spend lots of time with both of our families and the girls were spoiled to pieces, of course. You can say I got spoiled a bit too, I am really excited to add this stack of new cookbooks to my collection. I can't wait to sit down and read through them all!

At the beginning of the year I shared my reading list for 2012. I've always been a big reader but realized in the past few years I haven't made the time to read many books throughout the year. This year I decided to make a goal to finish at least 1 book each month, well did I ever surpass that goal! I quickly realized that even just sitting down for 10-15 minutes each day I was able to read many more books than I had originally thought. I've since tracked all the books I've read throughout the year on Pinterest, here's my list, all 35 of them.

I've really enjoyed just about every book I've read so it was really hard to only pick a few of my favorites. But here it is for you, a list of my favorite reads in 2012. I hope this might inspire your own reading list for the upcoming year.

Kisses from Katie- Seriously devoured this book in 2 days, really one of the most inspiring stories ever!
I had two absolute favorite books I read this year and Kisses from Katie was one of them. You can read my review here

Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie - Love, LOVED this book!
Making Piece is also at the top of my list. I recently heard of Beth's story and immediately became engrossed in it. You can read my review of her book here.
7: An experimental mutiny against excess
One of my main goals this year was to declutter our home more and to get rid of excess. When I heard of 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess I quickly added it to my list. The author, Jen, along with her family tackle seven different areas of excess in their life. Devoting a month to each topic they discover some areas are more difficult than others but I think they soon begin to relish their new found simplicity in life. Jen also throws a lot of her wit and humor in, which makes for a fun and interesting read.
Cleaning House- overall a wonderful book, a must read for all parents
I think most parents wish their children would help out more around the house and fend for themselves.  Kay trains her children with necessary life skills through her year long experiment. After reading, you'll feel inspired to start doing the same with your own children.  Cleaning House is one of the most influential parenting books I've read and one that I think everyone should take the time to read for themselves.
Pinned Image
My Berlin Kitchen was one of my most recent reads and another favorite. A blogger's memoir that's filled with delicious sounding recipes, Luisa tells her story of being shuttled between her dad's home in Boston and her mother's Italian roots in Berlin; all while trying to find her way in this world of ours. You'll love this heart-felt story. The author keeps it real, her story is filled with emotion and I guarantee you'll have a hard time putting this one down.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Overnight Pumpkin French Toast

It's hard to believe Christmas is already here. Seems like the month has flown by us. We're off to the in-law's tonight. The girls are so excited, they keep asking if it's time to see all of their cousins yet. Ever year we all bring in a few appetizers and make a huge spread of it. It's become our little tradition and I always love trying out at least one new recipe each year. Today I'll be busy preparing hamburger cheese dip, chicken wing dip, shrimp salsa (recipe coming soon!) and chicken enchilada roll-ups.

Well I don't know about you but I like to take the time and make something extra special for my family on Christmas morning. We don't usually have anywhere to go right away and it's nice to have an extra yummy dish to enjoy. I made this pumpkin french toast last weekend for my cookie exchange gals. I decided to serve brunch this year, it was a nice change up.

I had an extra loaf of Italian bread that needed used up, so we decided on some breakfast food for dinner on Saturday evening. My husband didn't get a chance to try this new favorite, I know how much he loves french toast so I had to make this for him. If you love pumpkin, you'll absolutely love this! If you're not a pumpkin fan, I'm going to guess you just might be converted if you try this.


If you're still undecided on what to serve come tomorrow morning, I highly encourage you to give this dish a try. The ingredient list is short and by preparing it the night before, you've got it easy in the morning.

Overnight Pumpkin French Toast

1 loaf Italian bread (you don't want to use a crusty bread for this)
6 eggs
2-1/2 c milk
1 c pumpkin puree
3/4 c sugar
2 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 c flour
1/2 c brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter, cut into cubes

Coat a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Tear bread into chunks and layer evenly into pan. In a large bowl combine eggs, milk, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk well to combine. Pour evenly over bread. Cover pan and store in fridge for several hours or overnight. 

In a separate bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly and resembles sand. Cover and store in fridge.

When ready to bake french toast, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove french toast from fridge, sprinkle the streusel topping over french toast. Bake for 50-55 mins or until french toast is set and golden brown. Serve warm with syrup if desired.

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

Have you made any cookies for Santa yet? That's exactly what we did on Thursday. We were snowed in so it was the perfect day to bake cut-outs and let the girls decorate with frosting and sprinkles.  They were good helpers, they loved taking turns picking out which cookie cutter to use next and cutting out the different shapes.

We may have ended up with a gallon of sprinkles on some of the cookies, but I don't think Santa will mind so much. This is my favorite recipe to use for holiday cut-outs, we make up a batch at almost every holiday during the year and they always turn out wonderful. I've actually had friends offer to pay me if I'll make up a batch just so they can make cookies with their kids and won't have to resort to pre-made dough at the store.

I add just a small amount of cream cheese to the batter as I'm mixing it up.  It helps to add a nice richness to the dough. You'll taste just a hint of almond extract, if you're not a fan of almond just add vanilla extract instead. They'll taste just as great and they really do sort of melt in your mouth.  Leave Santa some of these this year and I believe you just might find an extra special present under your tree!

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
1 c butter, softened
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 c sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
2-1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
In a large bowl, cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk and extracts. Combine flour, salt and baking soda in a separate bowl. Gradually add to cream mixture and mix well. Turn out onto plastic wrap, cover and roll into a log shape. Refrigerate for 3 hours.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes or until edges begin to  brown. Let cool for a couple of minutes on sheets and then transfer to wire racks. Decorate with tinted frosting as desired. Makes about 4 dozen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

DIY Hot Cocoa Mix

We are officially snowed in today, we're in the midst of our first snowstorm of the year, a blizzard to be exact. I'm perfectly fine staying inside all day long, I've got plenty of baking and other things to keep me busy. The girls on the other hand are itching to get out and play in the snow. With the high winds I think they might have to wait another day. I'm hoping a cup of this hot cocoa might be a fair trade though, that and letting them get all sugared up by decorating cookies.

I spotted this cocoa mix in my latest issue of Taste of Home and then over on Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats so I knew it must be pretty good. My husband's grandma gave us a mason jar filled with homemade hot cocoa mix a couple years ago but the girls always thought it was too much, a little too strong if that makes sense.

Every Monday night after dance class the girls and I sit down to a warm cup of cocoa before bedtime. The hubby bowls that night so it's sort of our little tradition. Good thing this makes a lot, I have a feeling we'll be going through our fair share of hot cocoa this winter.

Have you spotted these Jet-Puffed Mallow bits at the store yet? They come in both vanilla and chocolate flavors and they're perfect for hot cocoa. The girls love adding a few....or maybe 50 to their mugs. This year we're filling adorable coffee mugs with this mix for some quick and easy teacher gifts. I think on days like today they just might appreciate a warm cup of hot cocoa!

DIY Hot Cocoa Mix

2 3/4 c nonfat dry milk powder
2 c powdered nondairy creamer
1 c powdered sugar
3/4 c baking cocoa
1 (3.9 oz.) pkg instant chocolate pudding mix
1/2 c mini chocolate chips
Optional- add mallow bits to your mugs before serving

In a large airtight container mix together dry milk powder, powdered nondairy creamer, powdered sugar, baking cocoa and instant pudding mix. Add in chocolate chips.

To prepare cocoa: Mix 1/3 c of mix with 3/4 c hot milk in a mug and stir well. Add regular marshmallows or mallow bits if desired.

Store cocoa mix in a cool, dry place. Keeps for 6 months. Makes 7 cups of mix.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Crispy Peanut Butter Balls

I'll be posting a little more than usual this week, I have numerous desserts to share with you. I'm sure you won't mind though, right?

Last week I started working on my personal baking list for the holidays. Each night I plugged away at one treat and stashed them in the freezer. I'm finishing up some cookies this week and then I'll be packaging them all up to be delivered to our friends and family.

While I love to bake and it really isn't quite so bad when I'm able to spread out my baking and candy making over the course of a couple of weeks. Life is busy and even this year I had to cut back a little bit compared to what I normally would do. I came across this post on Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats, she gets together with some friends each December and they do all of their baking in one day. I might have to get a group together and do something like this next year!

These are very similar to a buckeye candy but with the addition of Rice Krispie cereal. It's a perfect treat for gifting because the recipe yields so many, close to 5 dozen to be exact. Not only are these really simple to make, they look so elegant on your dessert trays. A little white chocolate drizzle is a nice finishing touch.

Crispy Peanut Butter Balls

2 c creamy peanut butter
1 stick butter, softened
3 1/2 c powdered sugar
3 c Rice Krispie cereal
1-20 oz. pkg chocolate almond bark
3 squares vanilla almond bark or 1/3 c white chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix together peanut butter and butter. Gradually add in powdered sugar until smooth. Stir in cereal. Shape into 1 inch balls. Place balls onto cookie sheets lined with wax paper and chill in fridge for at least 1 hour.  Once balls are chilled, melt almond bark in a microwave safe bowl, stir until smooth. Dip balls into chocolate, allow excess to drip off. Place onto wax paper and let stand until set. Melt vanilla almond bark and drizzle on top. Refrigerate until set. Makes 5 dozen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Peanut Butter Delights

On Sunday I hosted my annual cookie exchange. For the past four years a group of 12 ladies and I meet at my house for good food, games, laughter and of course swapping cookies. I won't lie, it's a lot of work to pull this off but I love entertaining and it's one event I look forward to each December.

Each lady brings a tray with 3 dozen cookies in the particular recipe she's chosen. At the end of our party we go around the tables and evenly distribute the cookies so everyone goes home with a nice variety.
Last year I started what I hope is becoming another favorite tradition of our group. While baking their cookies, if they ended up with more than their 3 dozen; they have the option to bring those along with to donate to a retirement center or some organization in our community. Last year we brought a huge box to an assisted living home for the residents to enjoy. This year we took a box to a local Hospitality House for the homeless and then the rest went to a fire station down the road from my house. Everyone is always so appreciative of them and it feels good to give back to our community....even if it is only in the form of cookies.

Normally I try a new cookie recipe each year but this time I decided to stick with an old favorite. I like to include these decadent chocolate and peanut butter cookies into my Christmas baking whenever I can.  While they are a little time consuming, I will say they are definitely worth it! You'll fall in love with this soft, chewy peanut butter cookie with a creamy peanut butter thumbprint filling and lots of chocolate to go along. There's still plenty of time for holiday baking, I don't think your list is complete without these!

Peanut Butter Delights

1/2 c shortening ( I used butter flavored)
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 c sugar, divided
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
3 c flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 c creamy peanut butter
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 c sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 c milk chocolate chips
Chocolate almond bark for drizzling on top

In a large bowl, cream together shortening, butter, peanut butter, 1 cup white sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix together well.

Roll into 1-1/2 inch balls, roll ball in bowl with remaining sugar. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Using the end of a wooden spoon, make an indentation into the center of each cookie.

For filling, mix together peanut butter and cream cheese. Add in sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Spoon about 3/4 tsp into each indentation. Bake cookies at 350 for 12-15 mins. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Once completely cooled, melt milk chocolate chips in the microwave. Dip each cookie bottom into melted chocolate and let excess drip off. * You might find it easier to just spread the chocolate with a spreader or butter knife, I usually resort to this method halfway through. Lay cookies onto wax paper chocolate side up. Once bottom of cookies are dry, melt chocolate almond bark in microwave and then drizzle on top of cookies. Makes 4 dozen

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Paula's Pulled Pork

I've already got a pretty good pulled pork recipe, it happens to be one of my favorite meals so I couldn't resist giving Paula Deen's recipe a try. I tend to slow cook mine but this time around I roasted it in the oven for a good 4 hours and it produced the most delicious, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth piece of meat.

My husband does not share my love for pulled pork like I do, but to my surprise he gave me props for a fantastic meal. I generally don't want to mess with recipes that require a long list of ingredients but please, don't be intimidated by the amount of spices listed. You'll be able to mix up this rub very quickly and it's a key component to this flavorful pork.

 Serve this with your favorite BBQ sauce (we always love Sweet Baby Ray's) and you've got yourself one heck of a sandwich.

Paula's Pulled Pork

2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp paprika
1-1/2 tbsp salt
1-1/2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp mustard powder
3-4 lb. boneless pork butt
2-1/2 c apple juice
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
BBQ sauce to serve with
Hamburger buns

In a small bowl, combine all spices together. Place meat in a large bowl and rub mixture all over. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or even overnight. When ready to cook pork, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour apple juice, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce into a large dutch oven. Place pork in pot, tightly cover with foil and then lid. Bake until meat is fork tender and shreds easily, about 4 hours. {I did also try to baste the pork with cooking juices every so often}

When pork is done, let cool just a bit. Remove meat from pot and shred. Toss with BBQ sauce if desired and serve on buns.

Slightly adapted from: Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cookie Dough Truffles

I think I'm finally in the mood to start some holiday baking. Last week was a very sad week for my family, as my grandmother passed away. The last two weeks leading up to her death were emotionally draining and I think we were all relieved to know she was no longer suffering.

I had quite the baking list started before all this happened, but last week I started feeling like I didn't want to do anything Christmas related anymore. I still have my moments throughout the day but I'm feeling more like myself again, I know she would want us to continue our traditions and enjoy this wonderful time of year.

After revamping my list a bit, I went grocery shopping for everything on Saturday and started with these easy and delicious truffles. I first made these several years ago for the husband's bowling Christmas party. They were an instant hit and since cookie dough desserts seem to be popular these days, I knew you would love them!

The recipe makes around 50 truffles so they are perfect for gifting or holiday parties.

Cookie Dough Truffles

1 stick butter, softened
3/4 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1-14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 pkg chocolate almond bark for coating

In a bowl cream together butter and brown sugar, add in vanilla. Gradually add in flour, alternating with milk. Stir in chocolate chips. Shape into 1-inch balls (I used my smallest cookie scoop) and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Loosely cover and chill in fridge for 2 hours.

Once they truffles are firm, melt the almond bark in a microwave safe bowl. Dip balls in coating, allow excess to drip off and place on wax paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 mins.  Keep stored in fridge, if you're making these a couple weeks ahead of time like I did you can put them in the freezer. Thaw out before serving.

Well we received our first light dusting of snow yesterday morning, the kids were so excited when they woke up. I'm not a big winter person but I sure enjoy the first few snowfalls. It just doesn't seem like Christmas without a little snow.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ham and Corn Chowder

I told you I was slowly warming my husband up to incorporating more soups into our meal times. I think it's working, this was another fabulous winner. Not to mention easy to prepare and I always say how much I love being able to use the slow cooker.

This sure made for a great Friday meal last week. I wasn't particularly in the mood for cooking and had this simmering all day. You see that amazing cornbread in the corner? We served slices of it alongside our soup, it was a great bowl of comfort. You can find the recipe for the honey conbread here. It's really one of the best I've ever tried and our family loves it.

I added chunks of potatoes to the soup which we love. When you're ready to serve this, you can certainly mash them up a bit or leave them like we did.

After dinner last week we took the kids for a drive around town looking at all of the Christmas lights. It's one of our favorite activities to do during this time of year. Our youngest will be 3 in March and she's really understanding everything this year which makes it that much more fun. Anytime we're out driving at night she's the one to point out all of the Christmas lights.

Ham and Corn Chowder

2 cups diced ham
6 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1-11 oz bag of frozen corn
1 can chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup butter
1-2 cups half-and-half (I used 1 cup, you may want to use more)

Place potatoes, ham, corn and chicken broth into slow cooker. Cook on low for 7 hours. If desired mash the mixture to the consistency of your liking. Add in butter and half-and-half. Turn up to high and cook for an additional 30 mins.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sweet Chicken Salad

I've been meaning to share this recipe with you for a few weeks now and for whatever reason it just keeps getting pushed aside. I'm not a big chicken salad person, every so often it sounds really good though. After I made the rotisserie chicken in my crock pot, I had a good amount of leftover chicken to play around with. That's where these sandwiches come in.

I first had these at my sister-in-law's bridal shower a few years ago. Myself, along with a few others hosted the shower at my house and her now sister-in-law made these. I'm a big pineapple lover, I love to eat it fresh, on top of my pizza, drink it in my smoothies, etc. So when I found out she incorporated pineapple into the salad, I knew it would be good.

While the pineapple does add a nice sweetness to the mixture, it's not overly done. I like to add in chopped dill pickles or relish to balance out the flavors. These are great to have on hand for a quick lunch, the mixture would be great served with crackers for a snack as well.

Sweet Chicken Salad

2 c chopped chicken
1/4 tsp onion salt
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 c chopped pecans (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp sweet or dill pickle relish (or even just chop up 1-2 pickles like I do)
1- 8oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 c mayo (I use Hellman's)
1 celery stalk, chopped
1-2 thinly sliced green onions

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Makes about 2 1/2 cups. Serve on your choice of bread, buns or rolls.

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