Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February Reads

I managed to get four books read this month, I'll take it. Some weeks were a little busier than others so I didn't get much time to sit down with a book but overall I finished some really good stories for February. What was on your bookshelf this month?

I really enjoyed Gretchen's first book, The Happiness Project, so it didn't take me long to reserve her latest book from the library. In Happier at Home, she tackles yet another happiness project only this time focusing on things at home. While I think I really did enjoy her first book a little more, this time around I found some parts where I was losing interest; it was an okay book. Not one of my absolute favorites but I did feel inspired by a few things I read. I really enjoyed reading about the months during which she focused on spending more time with her husband and her children. I loved her Wednesday afternoon dates with her oldest daughter, it's important to spend one on one time with your kids and this was a great example.

I've had this cookbook for several months now and had yet to read it. I don't know what I was saving it for because I knew it was one I really wanted to sit down and read through. Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories is probably one of the best dessert cookbooks I've ever read through. I love reading the stories behind treasured family recipes and I especially am drawn to southern cooking. Most of the recipes call for simple, everyday ingredients and I can't wait to try some of them out!

I first heard about Amy's book while searching through Pinterest one day. I enjoy reading books about homemaking and those similar subjects so I knew this would definitely be one I would like. The Good Life for Less is filled with tons of tips for cutting costs in your home and budget, frugal ideas for holidays and gift giving, as well as helpful household cleaning/organizing hints. Oh and did I mention there's a nice selection of recipes?! All which are pretty frugal, yet delicious. I happened to have already tried Amy's Snickerdoodle Doughnut recipe and they are fantastic! My only complaint regarding the book would be, I wish Amy would have told more about her own family's journey regarding getting out of debt and learning to live this lifestyle in which she writes about.

I found The Homemade Pantry at our local library one afternoon while browsing the new bookshelf. I'd remembered glancing through this at the bookstore but was hoping to sit down and really read through the whole thing. I try to prepare many of our foods from scratch and this was filled with so many great, everyday staples that all of us eat. Alana keeps it real, but also makes it seem so simple to make your mozzarella or pasta. I was definitely inspired to branch out and try to make some of my own homemade pantry staples.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Candyland Birthday Cake

Yesterday we celebrated our youngest daughter's 3rd birthday with a bowling party. We kept it pretty small as usual, inviting both of our immediate families. We had a total of six kids bowling, they each got to bowl 2 games....boy, did I forgot how much work it is when they're this little! Despite the couple meltdowns we had, it was a lot of fun.

Definitely the highlight of the party was this candyland cake I made. I seen a similar cake in a Taste of Home issue many years ago and have always loved it. I finally got one of the girls to agree on my making it for their birthday. I love decorating cakes and this was by far one of the cutest ones I've ever made! It really was pretty simple and only took me a couple hours to finish. The kids of course loved all of the different candies on there.

If you're interested in making your candyland birthday cake, here's a list of all of the ingredients/candies you'll need:

Candyland Birthday Cake

You'll need to bake a large sheet cake, I use a 11x15-inch Wilton pan or you can put two 9x13-inch cakes together. Either using a homemade buttercream or store bought frosting, frost the cake in a light green color.

Candies needed:
1 large bag of Starburst candies
mini candy canes
mini marshmallows
pink conversation hearts
Dum-Dum suckers
mini peanut butter cups
large peanut butter cup
cake ice cream cones
waffle/sugar ice cream cone
clear and blue rock candy
chocolate frosting
various colored sprinkles

Use a candyland board game as your guide or the picture above, start of by forming a path with the Starburst candies. With white frosting write "Happy Birthday" on the Starburst. Using chocolate frosting make an arrow in front of the candies and write "Start" using white frosting.

For the different forests, add peanut butter cups topped with chocolate frosting, gum drops, Dum-Dum suckers, candy canes and clear rock candy.

For the Mountain/Gumdrop pass, line up yellow dots to make a bridge and fill the gap in with red colored sprinkles or sugar.

For the castle, pipe vanilla frosting (I used a large swirl tip) onto ice cream cones. Garnish with sprinkles and red Dots.

Between the pathways, add in colored sprinkles, mini marshmallows, peppermints and conversation hearts. Pipe additional swirled frosting to fill in spaces and top with sprinkles.

Pipe a border around the base of the cake using the white frosting and then place peppermints all around top edge. You'll probably want to use white frosting as your glue when placing the peppermints all around, it helps them to stick much better.

*Much to my surprise, this cake was actually pretty easy to transport. I did have a few peppermints that fell off overnight but I was able to apply a little bit more white frosting to the backs and stick them back on.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Homemade White Bread

I don't know about you, but cold, snowy weather gives me the baking itch. We're in yet another winter storm, I'm ready for spring-bring it on! Although this one is hardly bad enough to close schools like they did. I kid you not, every single snow storm this year has ruined a fun day for the kiddos. First it was their holiday parties before Christmas break, then it was the 100th day of school and last night their family movie night at school was cancelled. They were not very happy, so instead we had our own movie night at home to make up for it. I think it worked.

I spent a little bit of time yesterday baking a couple loaves of this bread. I was certainly in the mood to bake but couldn't decide on what, I think these were the perfect choice. We enjoyed slices with homemade strawberry jam for snack after school, with dinner last night and let me tell you, cinnamon toast is awesome on this bread.

The bread is light and airy with a hint of sweetness. It's perfect for sandwiches without being too heavy. I bet french toast would be wonderful, I need to give that a try! Really, it's just the perfect bread. We especially love it warm out of the oven with a bit of jam. What a great treat for a cold, snowy day. Perfect!

Homemade White Bread
2 c warm water
1-1/2 tbsp dry active yeast
2/3 c sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 vegetable or canola oil
5-1/2 c bread flour (I'm sure all-purpose flour would work great too)

Add water, yeast and 1 tsp of sugar to a medium bowl, set aside for about 10 mins. In the bowl of a stand mixer add rest of the sugar, salt, flour and oil. After the 10 mins. is up, add the liquid mixture to the bowl. Using a dough hook mix for 7-8 mins. * I usually do have to add in 1-2 tbsp of water to help dough clear sides of the bowl. Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1-1/2 hours. When done rising, punch dough down and divide in half. Shape into two loaves and place into greased 9x4-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise for another 45 mins.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 mins.

Makes 2 loaves

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Snickerdoodle Doughnuts

My mother-in-law got me a doughnut pan for Christmas and I finally put it to use yesterday morning. I've seen tons of delicious looking recipes all over the Internet and have wanted to make my own for a long time now. I was really surprised at how easy they were to make, how little time it actually took for them to bake and how incredibly good they were!

I found this particular recipe in a book I read a couple weeks ago. Our family has always loved snickerdoodle cookies, so what's not to love about doughnut filled with all kinds of cinnamon-sugar goodness? The kids all got to enjoy these for breakfast, along with some fresh fruit and they loved them. They're best served warm from the oven; they have a wonderful light, fluffy texture. So far I'm loving my new pan, I can't wait to try some new variations.

Baked Snickerdoodle Doughnuts

2 c cake flour
3/4 c sugar
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 c milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Cinnamon-Sugar topping:
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/3 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl whisk together cake flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Add in milk, eggs, butter and vanilla; mix all together to combine. Careful not to overmix. Lightly grease doughnut pan. Fill each cavity of the pan about 1/2-3/4 full with batter. Bake for 9 mins or until donuts spring back when touched. They will be light in color. Let cool for a couple mins, then remove from pan. While those cool, in a small bowl combine cinnamon and sugar for topping. Brush each doughnut with melted butter and then dip into cinnamon-sugar mixture. Shake off excess and serve immediately.

Makes 12-14 doughnuts

Adapted from: The Good Life for Less

Monday, February 18, 2013

White Bean and Bacon Chicken Chili

I'm back! I didn't purposely stop posting last week, my schedule just got the better of me. I spent any of my free time Wed-Fri working on cake and cupcake orders. It's a lot of fun, I love what I do but man I was so tired by the time I finished up Friday evening.

We enjoyed this soup one night last week, I relied on my slow cooker quite a bit. I had this recipe bookmarked in my new Picky Palate cookbook, along with tons of others! This was well liked by everyone in the family, I haven't made a white bean chili in awhile so it was a nice change of pace. I loved all of the unique flavors, and one of the best parts: the kids didn't even realize all the veggies they were eating because the carrots were shredded and the celery was diced so small. Now, my kids are pretty good about eating their veggies; but being able to "sneak" even more into their bellies, that makes my day.

White Bean and Bacon Chicken Chili

5-6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 jalapeno pepper
2 peeled, shredded carrots
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
32 oz chicken broth
2 c shredded, cooked chicken
2-15 oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
small handful of cilantro, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to slow cooker and stir to combine well. Cover and cook on low during the day while at work, etc. You can even cook in a large pot over stove top for about 20-25 minutes, until heated through if you don't have a slow cooker.

Slightly adapted from: Picky Palate cookbook

Monday, February 11, 2013

Strawberry-Banana Brownie Pizza

I love holidays. I love doing little things here and there for the kids to make their day extra special. My husband and I don't usually do anything special for Valentine's Day, I don't expect him to go out and spend a ridiculous amount of money on flowers and I don't usually get him anything either. The girls always love when I make all of their food into heart shapes, anything from sandwiches to these cinnamon rolls.

I have a Wilton heart-shaped pan that we received as a wedding gift several years ago. I love to make muffins, cupcakes and even cinnamon rolls in there. I normally make homemade cinnamon rolls but we decided to use the standard Pillsbury rolls for these. We baked them in the heart-shaped pan, iced them and added some cute valentine sprinkles to make them extra festive. It's the little things like that, that make their day and I hope they remember the most.

On to this yummy dessert, we have dinner with my family every Sunday night. I love bringing dessert over to share with everyone. Last night I brought this along for everyone to enjoy. If you're still searching for something easy to make for Valentine's this is definitely your treat. I picked up some really good strawberries at our grocery store over the weekend, they helped make this the perfect fruity chocolate combo! I used a boxed brownie mix as my base but you can certainly substitute your favorite brownie recipe. Either way this is a great, inexpensive way to make Valentine's Day a little more special for your family.

Strawberry-Banana Brownie Pizza

1 boxed brownie mix (large 9x13 size)
1/3 c boiling water
1/4 vegetable or canola oil
1 egg
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 bananas,sliced
8-10 strawberries, sliced
Melted chocolate chips for drizzling

In a medium bowl combine brownie mix, boiling water, oil and egg. Mix well and pour into a well greased 12-inch pizza pan. Batter will be thick. Bake at 325 for 20 mins.

While that's baking, combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and egg. Pour over brownie and bake for 10-12 mins longer or until filling is set. *Be careful not to over bake brownie! Remove brownie from oven and let cool.

Once brownie has cooled, add sliced strawberries and bananas on top. Melt chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and drizzle over fruit. Serve right away.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lasagna Soup

I'm not a big fan of traditional lasagna, I think it has to do with the ricotta and cottage cheese that are typically in between the layers. Whenever I make it at home I try to leave those ingredients out, you probably think I'm weird but I enjoy it that way.

This has got to be one of the best soups I've made to date, hands down. I felt like I was enjoying a dish of lasagna for dinner. It contained all of those wonderful Italian flavors that we love, except in a soup form. I picked up some nice crusty bread from Panera Bread to dunk into our bowls, it was great! The kids were busy fishing out the noodles in their bowls, I think that was their favorite part.

This made for a pretty quick weeknight meal but I'm sure this would be adaptable for the slow cooker as well. I'll list instructions below for both. We even had plenty leftover for lunch the next day, it tastes even better the next time around.

Lasagna Soup

1 lb. ground beef
1 green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp brown sugar
2-15 oz. cans chicken broth
1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1-15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
5 broken lasagna noodles
1 c grated parmesan cheese
Mozzarella cheese for topping

In a large skillet combine ground beef, green pepper and garlic; crumble beef and let cook until browned. Drain well and then add in thyme and brown sugar. While that's cooking, in another pot combine chicken broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and salt. Let come to a boil.  Add in cooked ground beef. Add in broken noodles and let simmer until noodles are tender, about 15-20 mins. Stir in parmesan cheese. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle grated mozzarella cheese on top if desired and serve with a nice crusty bread.

Slow cooker instructions: Brown ground beef in a skillet along with green pepper and garlic. Add in the thyme and brown sugar. Dump chicken broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and salt into slow cooker. Add in cooked ground beef and stir well to combine. Let cook on low during the day while you're at work, etc. About 30 minutes before serving, turn slow cooker up to high and add in broken noodles. Let those cook until tender and then add in parmesan cheese. Ladle into bowls and serve with mozzarella cheese and crusty bread.

Adapted from: Paula Deen

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Nutella Fluffernutter Cupcakes

I can't believe I'm going to admit this to you, I just tried nutella for the first time last week. I promise I haven't been living under a rock. But I think I like it! I don't know about eating it by the spoonfuls or anything but I'm looking forward to incorporating it into more of my desserts.

Today is World Nutella Day if you weren't aware. I created these cupcakes with today in mind and just for you. I don't normally share any of my own cake recipes since I do have a home-based business but sometimes things are just too good not to share. So now you really need to make these for yourself and taste this deliciousness.

A fluffernutter sandwich is one with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, I've never tried one myself but I hear they're pretty good. I've always wanted to create a cupcake based on the sandwich; armed with a jar of nutella last week, I thought why not?

I started with a rich peanut butter cupcake base, mixed up my fluffy marshmallow buttercream and folded some nutella into a small portion; this became my filling. I then filled the cupcakes with the nutella marshmallow buttercream, topped them with the regular marshmallow buttercream, then melted some nutella and drizzled it on top, to finish these beauties off, I topped them with chopped peanuts. Are you convinced yet?!

Take a moment of our your day and enjoy a little nutella, smoother it on some toast, a cookie or better yet make these cupcakes.....and share of course. You'll have plenty, and you just might become their new favorite person.

Nutella Fluffernutter Cupcakes

1-3/4 c flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 sticks butter, room temp
1-1/3 c sugar
2/3 c creamy peanut butter
3 eggs
1/2 c sour cream
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 c buttermilk

2 sticks butter, room temp
1-7 oz jar marshmallow fluff
1 tsp vanilla
2 lb. bag powdered sugar
milk for thinning
Chopped peanuts

In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in peanut butter, add in eggs one at a time and mix until fully incorporated. Next add in sour cream, vanilla and buttermilk. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gradually add in to creamed mixture. Using a large cookie/ice cream scoop drop batter into prepared muffin tins. Bake at 350 for 18-20 mins or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool before frosting.

For buttercream: In a stand mixer cream together butter and marshmallow fluff. Add in vanilla. Gradually add in powdered sugar. Frosting will become thick, start with a couple teaspoons of milk to thin and add more as necessary.

Remove 1 cup of frosting and put into a small bowl. Add in a few tablespoons of nutella and stir together. Once cupcakes are cooled, take a small paring knife and cut out a small circle from the middle. Discard that portion of the cupcake (or eat it if you choose!) and using a pastry bag, fill the middle with the nutella filling. *If you don't have any pastry bags, simply take a baggie, open up over a cup and fill with your frosting. Then snip the bottom and use that as your bag. Works wonderfully!

Frost cupcakes with marshmallow buttercream using a knife, spatula or with a pastry bag using a large round tip. I used Wilton 2A. In a small bowl melt a little bit of nutella in the microwave, drizzle over top of cupcakes. I use that baggie method I mentioned above for drizzling, works great every time and makes it look professional. Garnish with chopped peanuts.

Makes 20-22 cupcakes. Feel free to cut recipe in half if you don't need that many.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pretzel-Crusted Chicken {Stuffed w/Ham & Cheese}

We've been lucky to avoid all this nasty sickness floating around until this past week. The little ones and I all ended up with a slight cold and sure enough Wednesday evening our 5-year-old came down with this stomach bug that's been going around. She was so disappointed to have to miss her 100th day of school party, but I think she was more upset with ruining her perfect attendance for the year. After getting plenty of rest she's finally on the mend, but I've sure been busy washing every single blanket and sanitizing like crazy in hopes that no one else gets it.

Between taking care of her and the other kiddos, the laundry and the cleaning I haven't felt like making anything much for dinner lately. That is until tonight, I thawed out chicken breasts for dinner not knowing exactly what to make with them. Chicken breasts can be so bland and boring but if you're not afraid to experiment with marinades, etc it can also be a really delicious meal. We had some honey ham in the fridge needing to be used up as well and I remembered making these pretzel coated chicken breasts before a long time ago and how we stuffed them with ham and cheese; they were quite delicious.

So that's what we decided. I worked on our menu for the upcoming week, got the grocery shopping done; then came home about dinner time and the hubby and I got to work on these chicken breasts. I usually do most of the cooking around here but it's fun when he likes to join in and help me. They turned out just a good as I imagined and we even have enough leftover for lunch today. Can't beat that!

Pretzel Crusted Chicken

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Sliced ham 
Your choice of cheese for stuffing {we used swiss and cheddar/monterey jack}
2 cups crushed pretzels
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set up dredging station with 3 separate bowls. One for crushed pretzels, one for flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and one for eggs (lightly beaten). For easier handling, cut each chicken breast in half, then cut a slit into each chicken breast half. Stuff each piece with 1-2 slices of ham and then your choice of cheese. Secure meat with a toothpick to hold everything together. Dip each side of the chicken into flour first, then egg (letting excess drip off) and finally into the pretzel crumbs. Once coated well, place onto a baking sheet. Bake for 30 mins or until juices run clear and chicken is no longer pink. 
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