Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookie in a Cup

'Tis the season for cookies and all things sweet. I love the holidays and all the baking that comes with it, but I know it can also be a lot. A lot of work and a lot of calories for our waistlines. That's why I love these single serving type of desserts.

They're the perfect size for one or two people to split and just enough to satisfy that craving. Over the weekend the girls and I experimented in the kitchen and came up with this delicious sugar cookie version. It's very similar to my favorite cut-out sugar cookie recipe, I especially love the combination of vanilla and almond extract.

It's also a great way to get the kiddos busy in the kitchen with you, there's nothing complicated about this recipe at all. Especially for those of you that cringe at the thought of rolling out cookies, this one is calling your name!

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookie in a Cup

1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp sugar
splash of both vanilla and almond extract
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
sprinkles, if desired

Place tablespoon of butter into a coffee cup and microwave for about 25 seconds, until melted. Add in sugar, both extracts and salt, stir to combine. Add in egg yolk and flour and stir well, batter will be slightly thickened. Throw some fun sprinkles in there if desired.

Microwave for 1 minute. Remove and let cool just a bit and serve warm with a spoon. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ranch Veggie Pasta Salad

I've been trying to come up with some different ideas when it comes to packing lunches. Leftovers, sandwiches, wraps, etc can get old easily. And frankly, I don't always have a lot of time to eat; so I like something light yet filling. Enter in this pasta salad.

I threw together this easy pasta salad on a Sunday evening while prepping for the upcoming week. It made enough for me and our oldest to enjoy throughout the week. I'll also make sure to keep this in mind when spring and summer make their appearance again. You can't beat a good salad during grilling season!

What I like best about salads like this is they're so versatile. You can throw in any of your favorite veggies, perhaps chunks of cheese or even meat such as ham or pepperoni slices. Of course a good ranch dressing slathered all over is always a good thing. I even lightened it up a bit by incorporating plain Greek yogurt. You can't even tell the difference, I promise.

If you're searching for some new lunch inspiration as well, give this one a try. Or maybe you're in charge of salads for the upcoming holiday gatherings. Why not add this one to your menu? I know you'll love it!

Ranch Veggie Pasta Salad

8 oz. cooked pasta
2-1/2 cups assorted chopped veggies
5 oz. container plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
pepper, to taste
1 oz. packet ranch seasoning mix

In a large bowl combine cooked pasta and veggies, mix together. In another bowl, combine yogurt, mayo, pepper and ranch seasoning and mix together well. Add dressing to pasta mixture and combine until pasta and veggies are well coated.

Cover and chill in fridge until ready to serve.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Freezer Fridays: Apple Pie Filling

A friend of mine dropped off a couple boxes of apples two weeks ago, I hadn't gotten the chance to pick up any apples from area farmers' markets this season so I was really excited when she stopped over. Now my freezer can be set with applesauce and other treats for the winter.

Apple pie is another favorite that I like to stock the freezer with during this time of year. My family has a little tradition where us girls get together and prepare a bunch of pies to be frozen. It's perfect right before the holiday season hits us and we might be needing a dessert for Thanksgiving or what not. We can then thaw one out and bake and you won't ever tell the difference.

Since time seems to be so limited for everyone right now, I don't expect we'll be getting together to prepare any pies this fall. But that's okay. When that happens I know I can prepare this filling and stash the bags in the freezer for another time. The apples freeze just fine and again, my pie will taste just like I prepared everything fresh that day. If I wanted, I could even make sure I have my pie crust all ready to go in the freezer as well.

If you're lucky enough to still have a nice supply of apples on hand, I highly recommend you add some bags of pie filling to your freezer stash. You'll appreciate it come Thanksgiving time when apple pie is on your menu. Save yourself some time in the kitchen!

Freezer-friendly Apple Pie Filling

6 cups sliced apples
1/4-1/2 cup sugar {depends on what type of apple you use, mine were a little on the sweet side}
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp flour

In a large bowl combine all ingredients and mix together well. Dump apples into a gallon sized freezer bag. Make sure to label with date and contents. Remove as much air as possible and seal shut. Place in freezer until ready to use.

When ready to prepare a pie, remove from freezer to thaw a bit while you prepare pie crust. Add apples to pie plate and bake as directed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Beef Stew

Well October sure went by in a flash! Blogging sort of fell to the wayside, unintentionally of course. We've been dealing with a lot lately and I feel like I hardly have time to do much for cooking and baking let alone write about it. But I'm feeling refreshed and ready to get back to posting on a more regular basis. So here's to a more productive month!

I've always thought Sundays are the perfect day to spend a little extra time in the kitchen creating a nice meal for your family. It's generally the one day of the week where we slow down a bit and try to relax. A few weekends ago that's exactly what I did. I spent part of my afternoon preparing this hearty stew for us to enjoy.

Now normally during the work week I would toss everything into the crock pot and let it cook on low all day while we're gone. But when I'm able to, I love letting this simmer on the stove top in the dutch oven. It warms up the house and the aroma is wonderful!

The stew is chock full of vegetables we love like potatoes, celery and carrots. Served with warm rolls, it's a perfect meal for a chilly day. I can't wait to make it again.

Beef Stew

1-1/2 lbs. stew meat
1 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
pinch of sugar
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, diced
4-5 potatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp dried thyme

In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Season stew meat with salt and pepper and then add to the pot. Brown meat on each side. Once browned remove to a plate and set aside. Add in garlic cloves and let cook for about one minute. Add in tomato paste and stir. Gradually add in beef stock while stirring constantly. Add stew meat back into pot along with Worcestershire sauce and sugar.

Toss vegetables in as well as thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cover with lid and let simmer for about 3 hours. Vegetables should be tender and meat cooked through. Add in additional beef stock if needed. Serve warm with dinner rolls. Serves 4-6

Monday, October 20, 2014

Stuffed Pancakes

I didn't have a very good plan for dinner as we were heading out the door this morning. I quickly pulled out a package of sausage from the freezer to thaw and decided it was a breakfast for dinner kind of evening. It's one of my favorite nights and I don't think anyone else complained.

We had some fun with our traditional pancakes. I decided to add some of our favorite spreads to the inside and make them sort of like dessert pancakes. Some had a warm, gooey Nutella filling, we tried peanut butter and also Biscoff cookie spread. Almond or any other nut butter would be good, as well as jam. Then lightly dusted with powdered sugar, there's no need for maple syrup here!

Give these a try next time you've got pancakes on your menu, whether it be for breakfast or in the evening like we decided. The kids will love helping and picking out their desired fillings. Feel free to use your own favorite pancake recipe or my go-to version listed below.

Stuffed Pancakes

2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil {canola, coconut, etc}
1-1/2 cups milk
Filling options: Nutella, nut butters, Biscoff, jam

In a medium sized bowl, combine together all dry ingredients. Add in wet ingredients and mix together well using a whisk.

Preheat a griddle or small pan over the stove. Ladle a small amount of pancake batter onto the pan, place a large dollop of desired filling directly onto pancake. You can try to sort of spread it out a bit, but it's not necessary. Add another small amount of pancake batter on top to cover the filling. Let cook as usual, until browned and pancake is cooked through.

Repeat with remaining batter.  Before serving, lightly dust pancakes with powdered sugar if desired.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Homemade Chicken Strips

Chicken strips or nuggets are always a favorite by children and many adults for that matter. No matter the cuisine served, you can almost always find them on any restaurant menu. And I can see why, they're just really good.

I know for a fact before we had any of our younger children, I purchased store bought chicken strips in a bag. It makes my stomach turn just thinking about it, but hey; it was convenient and something effortless for us to make. For several years now I've been making my own instead. It's still pretty easy and tastes so much better, and better for our health too. None of those preservatives and ingredients that we can't pronounce.

Many times I'll just throw these into the oven and let them bake, but I do like the extra crispy texture from pan frying them in a little olive oil. It's not much at all I promise, but if you'd rather, just bake in the oven and they'll taste just as good. By using panko crumbs you're guaranteed that crispiness that everyone loves.

Homemade Chicken Strips

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups panko crumbs
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
salt and pepper, to season
choice of seasonings: garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, Lawry's, etc

Start by cutting chicken breasts into strips using a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen sheers. Set aside. Set up your dredging station by placing flour in one bowl, eggs {slightly beaten} in another and panko crumbs in the final bowl. Season the flour with salt and pepper. Add desired seasonings to the panko crumbs next, I don't always use the same seasonings. I like to change it up.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add more as needed when cooking. Start by dipping chicken pieces in flour first and shake off excess, then dip in eggs and finally, the panko crumbs. Add prepared chicken strips to the heated skillet. Let cook in oil for a few minutes on each side, until completely cooked through.

Remove from skillet and place onto a plate lined with paper towels. Serve warm with desired sauce.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Streusel Pumpkin Bread

It's already been an exciting for week for me. After what seems like forever, well more like the past several weeks; I am officially a permanent employee for our local school district. I've accepted the position in which I've been subbing for since the end of August. I work with special needs preschoolers and let me tell you, they are so much fun! I completely felt at home right away and I'm so excited to start my career with an awesome school.

With that being said, I also made this spectacular bread a couple nights ago. We love pumpkin bread, but this streusel on top is really the moneymaker. I love the buttery, brown sugar and walnut topping. The pumpkin bread itself is full of spice and very moist.

It's really a perfect fall dessert. The loaves freeze really well so why not add a couple loaves to your freezer while you're at it?

Streusel Pumpkin Bread

1-1/2 cups pumpkin
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil {coconut or canola work well}
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1-3/4 cup flour

for topping:
4 tbsp butter, cubed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, eggs, both sugars and oil until mixed together well. Gradually add in dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Pour batter into a lightly greased loaf pan and set aside.

In another bowl, combine all topping ingredients and cut in butter using a pastry blender. Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs. Generously sprinkle over batter and pack down. You may end up with some extra topping.

Bake in an oven at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.
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