Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ham and Egg Breakfast Bake

Well I really can't believe Christmas is already here. Maybe it's the lack of snow here in Iowa or just the fact that we've been so busy. Regardless, I am excited to be off work for almost two weeks! I'm looking forward to spending the holiday with our families, relaxing and who knows,  maybe even doing a little freezer cooking.

Christmas morning I always like to have something special for us to eat after we open presents. The usual cinnamon rolls or waffles are favorites but the hubby likes more savory dishes. So I created this with him in mind.

I combined some of his favorites: ham and cheese. And it can even be made ahead of time which I love. Christmas eve night toss everything together in a casserole dish and let it set in the fridge overnight. Then while you're busy opening presents in the morning, your breakfast can be baking away in the oven. Perfect if you ask me!

Ham and Egg Breakfast Bake

4 slices thick deli ham, cut into small pieces
4 English muffins, cut into chunks
6 eggs
1 cup milk
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

In a 2 qt. casserole dish place two slices of ham in bottom of dish. Layer muffin pieces on top.

In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, milk and seasonings. Pour over the mixture and sprinkle cheese over top. Cover with foil and let set in fridge overnight or at least 4 hours.

Remove from fridge when ready to bake. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 mins. Then remove foil and bake for another 10-15 mins. or until center is set. Remove from oven and serve warm.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Candy Clusters

In our family we have our usual favorites we make each Christmas and these are definitely on the list. For as long as I can remember my mom has added them to her list. However, this is the first year I have decided to try them for myself.

The little miss and I spent a weekend afternoon doing some baking and we tackled these first. Start to finish, with a four-year olds help, we finished in about fifteen minutes.  Simple is what I like.

Like I said, the recipe has been in our family for many years. It originated from a close friend of my grandmothers. I even found the handwritten recipe in a box belonging to my great aunt. It was labeled Betty's Candy.

My mom always makes a batch and tosses them into the freezer until she's ready to assemble her holiday treats. They'll keep just fine and taste as if you just made the clusters.

I love how you get a nice sweet and salty combination from these treats. I say if you're looking for any treats to make this weekend, add these to your list. They are so simple and a treat loved by all!

Candy Clusters

20 oz. package vanilla almond bark
1 cup chunky peanut butter
2 cups mixed nuts
2 cups miniature marshmallows
3 cups Rice Krispie cereal

In a large pan melt almond bark over stove top. Once melted completely remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until mixture is smooth. Add in nuts and cereal and stir to combine. Lastly, add in marshmallows and stir again.

Using a medium sized cookie scoop, drop mixture onto wax or parchment paper. Let set until cooled and clusters are set. You may then store in airtight containers at room temperature, in the fridge or freezer.

Makes about 4 dozen clusters.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 Cookie Exchange

What a busy, busy weekend we just had. Lots of activities from our preschoolers Christmas program, to my annual cookie exchange, to other family events that took place over the weekend. For the past five years I've hosted a cookie exchange each December. I know I've talked about it many times before, but it's really one event I look forward to each year.

Nine other ladies joined me this year and it was a big success again. It's always a lot of fun to spend time together because unfortunately, this is one of the few times of the year that we get to see each other.

Our exchange took place where my husband works, they've got an awesome employee lounge for us to use. It's also nice to not have to worry about having everything take place in my own house. I'm always a big stress ball about having everything perfect.

I didn't do a very good job about taking pics of our food, I guess I was too busy feeding my face. I did manage to sneak a few photos though. This year I asked everyone to bring along a small appetizer to share with the group. I think it worked out wonderfully and we had a very nice spread to choose from.

We then played a few games such as a Christmas word scramble, an ornament exchange and this fun paper plate game. You'll want to add this one to your holiday party plans, everyone will be laughing the entire time and it's always fun to see their drawings afterwards!

Then of course, comes the best part of all. Swapping cookies! All of our cookies are displayed between a couple tables and we walk around gathering a few from each platter. All in all, we each went home with five dozen. Plenty for our families to nibble on, share with friends and family or bring along to our holiday parties. Here are just a few of the varieties we had this year:

Each year I also encourage the ladies to bring along any extras they have while baking. That way we can compile them into one large box and donate to an organization in our community. It's a great way for us to give back. Yesterday my girls and I dropped off a big cake box full of cookies to a local homeless shelter. The guests we very excited for some home baked treats! It's truly one of my most favorite aspects of hosting this exchange each year. Sometimes it can be a lot of work pulling it all together, but it's so much fun and I always look forward to the next year!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chocolate Caramel Brownie Bites

I'm not exactly sure who ever made up these national food days, but they sure are fun to celebrate. I made these brownie bites specifically for national brownie day today. Others at work also participated by bringing in their own brownie creations to share with others. It was fun to see what everyone came up with.

I like these bite sized brownies because they're perfect when you're trying to feed a crowd. Especially during the holiday season, easy is crucial. These are a spin off of another brownie dessert I've made before. Since we're a peanut-free school, I had to take a different route with the frosting. No fear though, a simple chocolate fudge buttercream did the trick.

You can most certainly top these with a store bought frosting, but homemade buttercream is really pretty easy to make and tastes so much better! I've already made this dessert easy by using a packaged brownie mix so please don't skip the frosting, it's worth your time I promise.

Holiday platters are always chock full of cookies, if you're not much of a cookie person, give these brownie bites a try. They're sure to please a crowd!

Chocolate Caramel Brownie Bites

18 oz. fudge brownie mix {plus ingredients called for on pkg}
1 bag Rolo candies unwrapped
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 lbs. powdered sugar
few tsp of milk, for thinning

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two mini muffin pans and set aside. Unwrap Rolo candies, place in a bowl and set in freezer while you prepare brownies.

In a large bowl, prepare brownie batter according to package directions. Using a small cookie scoop, drop batter into prepared pans, filling only 3/4 of the way. Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and immediately place a Rolo {small side down} into each brownie. Place back into oven and bake for two minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool completely before trying to remove from pan.

To make buttercream; in the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl, cream together butter and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add in powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Use milk to thin frosting to your desired consistency.

When ready to frost; simply add a dollop on of each brownie bite or use a pastry bag with the Wilton 1M tip or other star tip to frost each individual brownie. Makes 40+ brownie bites.

*You're likely to have extra frosting leftover, don't throw it away! You can easily stash it in the freezer to have for another time. Just put into a freezer safe bowl, make sure to label and date with contents.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Apple Spiced Granola

Well I sure hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We kept things pretty low key around here. We were with the hubby's family part of the day and mine in the evening. Friday was the perfect day since we all still had the day off. The majority of the day was spent being lazy and watching movies, something that doesn't happen often enough! It was a much needed time of relaxation for all of us.

Granola is a favorite around here. I always like experimenting with different variations and flavors. We like it to snack on, as a cereal and especially in our morning yogurt. In this new version I incorporated some of my homemade applesauce. The chunky apples cook in the oven and leave a wonderful soft dried fruit in the granola.

Like usual, most of the time I use whatever we have on hand in the pantry. You can do the same. For extra nutrition, throw chia seeds, flax seed or wheat germ in there as well. It's always better tasting and even more cost effective to make your own granola at home. I can make a large batch for probably about the same price as a small bag costs me in the store.

The problem we always run into in our house is, it just doesn't last long enough. If you've got a good applesauce in the fridge or freezer, try this spiced granola for a yummy new treat!

Apple Spiced Granola

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup raw coconut
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
pinch of salt
3/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine together all dry ingredients and spices. Mix well. In another bowl, whisk together applesauce, oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Add wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine.

Pour granola onto a large baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Make sure to evenly distribute. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, making sure to turn with a spatula every 15 minutes or so. Let bake until golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool and then transfer to an airtight container.

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