Top 10 Recipes of 2013

Tomorrow is the start of 2014. :-) It’s completely crazy to me that we’re already here, but it seems like time flying is becoming the norm in my life. It’s been a rough year for us, so I’m hoping that 2014 brings better news. At least it’s a fresh, new start.

I want to thank y’all for reading this blog. Next month will be my 6 year blogiversary, and I’m thankful for each and every one of you who take the time out of your day to read this blog. Your comments, tweets, etc. make my day, and I’m excited to share more with you guys in 2014.

Here’s the list of the top 10 most popular recipe posts of 2013:

10. Peanut Butter Cup Cookies 

These cookies are a favorite of mine. I’m a sucker for Reese’s, and these cookies are just SO good!

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

9. Fireworks Cupcakes

I started challenging myself to use cake decorating tips more often this year, and these were just so fun. You could make these for the 4th of July or hey, if you’re looking for something to make tomorrow, these would be perfect for the New Year, as well!

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8. 20 Minute (Pressure Cooker) Beef Stew

One of my favorite new appliances this year has been our pressure cooker. Meats that you cook low and slow are no big deal in this cooker. It’s so much quicker than a crock-pot or conventional cooking in the oven!

20 Minute Beef Stew

7. Banana Biscoff Protein Shake

I make this protein shake all the time. It seriously tastes like a milkshake, and is such a treat before/after a work-out!

Banana Biscoff Protein Shake

6. Pumpkin Bread Pudding

I think I’m going to have to make this before the fall again. Oh man…this was insanely good!

pumpkinbreadpudding

5. Whipped Chocolate Pudding Frosting

Pudding in frosting? Oh yeah…this fluffs up beautifully, and while it doesn’t taste like conventional buttercream, it certainly has has won me over for a new type of frosting to make!

Whipped Pudding Frosting

4. Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

Boozy cupcakes….there’s nothing wrong with boozy cupcakes. :-)

Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

3. Melting Chocolate Cake (for two)

Since we just came back from our cruise, I’m itching to make these again. I miss that warm chocolate melting cake so much! This tastes JUST like the cake from the cruise ship!

Melting Chocolate Cake for Two

2. Red Velvet Cookies

I was pleasantly surprised by these cookies. They baked up perfectly, and really tasted just like red velvet!

Red Velvet Cookies

1. Holiday Spritz Cookies

This was a quick favorite of y’all’s! The most popular recipe of 2013, and it was just posted in November! I love that you don’t need a cookie press for this…a large piping bag and a large star tip — that’s it! These are just so tasty. I can’t keep them in my kitchen whenever I make them, or I’ll just snack on them like crazy. :-)

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In case you want to see what was popular in past years, check out my top recipe posts:

Top 10 Recipes of 2012

Top 10 Recipes of 2011

Top 10 Recipes of 2010

Thanks again for a wonderful year, and I hope you enjoy the start of the new year surrounding by the ones you love! :-)

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies & A Giveaway

pbchocchipcookies

One of the hardest things about the holidays is facing the scale. I’ve been watching those numbers creep higher and higher, and well….it’s sort of depressing. Usually I can catch myself, and just go back to hardcore dieting. However, training for this half marathon has turned me into a crazy, hungry person. I’m hungry for junk food, too. It’s a real struggle, especially with all of the holiday baking that has been going on in our house!

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted to review a copy of Southern Living’s The Slim Down South Cookbook. I was definitely intrigued, because I feel like this book (just based on the title alone) totally gets me. Living in Louisiana, most dishes aren’t the healthiest. While I was hardcore calorie counting, I would have one cheat meal a week to enjoy those comforting southern dishes that I missed. With this book, I’m super excited to try lightened up versions of my favorites. No cheat day necessary!

Some of the recipes that stuck out to me are baked cheese grits, buttermilk biscuits, bourbon balls, and baked smokin’ mac & cheese…I mean…seriously? Every recipe (there’s 120 of them) also has the nutritional information below it, and the book is full of tips/tricks for slimming down. There’s also a whole chapter dedicated to healthier eating, and there’s even a 14 day eating plan, featuring recipes throughout the book.

Since I’m all about cookies lately, I decided to make these flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies out of the cookbook first. I was skeptical, because I’ve never made a peanut butter cookie without flour. However, these cookies were fantastic. and at 137 calories a cookie (vs. well over 200), it’s not a bad indulgence at all!

slimdownsouth

The generous folks at Southern Living/YC Media are offering a giveaway for a copy of The Slim Down South Cookbook to one lucky reader!

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Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Carton Smart for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

triplechocolatepumpkinpie

With the holidays just days away, I'm starting to make my to-do lists and finalize the menu for the big Christmas dinner. We're hosting my husband's family this year, which is about 20 people, so the menu is getting a bit crazy. Thankfully, we have some family members willing to help out, and bring some dishes, but you guys know me…I'm all about the desserts! :-)
 
When it comes to the holidays, I always enjoy a good homemade pumpkin pie, and this year, I wanted to try something different since chocolate & pumpkin are a match made in heaven: triple chocolate pumpkin pie.
 
Yup…that's pie with bittersweet chocolate spread on top of a graham cracker crust, along with chocolate in the pumpkin pie batter, topped with a milk chocolate drizzle. If that doesn't scream holiday decadence, I don't know what does!
 

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I was recently sent a package of products from Pacific Foods, and was asked to use one of their products to make a holiday dish. I chose the organic pumpkin puree to make this pie.
 
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They also sent me a container of organic cranberry sauce and chicken stock.
 
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One of the great things Pacific Foods has is their packaging. Their products are packed in Tetra Pak cartons, which is great for many reasons…the main one to me being that there are no preservatives. For example, the cranberry sauce ingredients are organic cranberries, organic cane sugar and water. That's it!
 
Here's more information about Tetra Pack packaging on the graphic below:
 
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Based on the information above, how do you think you can be #CartonSmart this holiday season? You can also learn more by checking out their Carton Smart page (link below), as well as their social media sites:
 
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Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Pie
Source: Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

For the crust:

 
  • 2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 oz. bittersweet (61%) chocolate, finely chopped

For the filling:

  • 6 oz. semisweet (55%) chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
  • 15 oz. pumpkin puree
  • 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves

For the drizzle:

  • 1 oz. milk chocolate, melted

Directions:

  1. To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugars, salt and cinnamon. Evenly press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a deep 9 1/2 inch pie dish. Bake the crust until firm and fragrant, for about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Remove the pie dish from the oven and immediately sprinkle the bittersweet chocolate pieces over the bottom of the crust. Return the pie dish to the oven for about 1 minute, until the chocolate is melted. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate in a thin layer on the bottom and up the sides of the crust. Allow the crust to cool on a wire rack and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  3. While the crust is cooling, make the pie filling. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the semisweet chocolate and butter together in 30 second increments on 50% power, stirring well between each cycle, until the chocolate is smooth and melted.
  4. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, brown sugar, eggs, cornstarch, vanilla, salt and spices together until everything is well-mixed. While whisking the chocolate, slowly add in 1/3 of the pumpkin puree mixture to the chocolate mixture. Once that's mixed well, add in the rest of the pumpkin puree mixture and whisk until everyhing is well incorporated.
  5. Place the pie dish on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the pumpkin/chocolate mixture into the crust. You may have some extra filling (you could bake this in ramekins for mini servings…it will take less time to bake, though), so only fill the pie dish until you have about 1/4 inch of space left at the top (for rising).
  6. Bake the pie until the center is set, but still wobbly, for about 55-60 minutes. Allow the pie to cool in the pie dish on a wire rack, and then refrigerate the pie until chilled (at least 8 hours or overnight). Before serving the pie, drizzle the milk chocolate over the top. Enjoy!

Disclosure: I was compensated by SocialSpark to write this post, and was sent product samples from Pacific Foods at no cost to me. All opinions are 100% my own.

 

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Red Velvet Peppermint Bark

redvelvetcakebatterbark

One of the things I can’t get enough of lately is peppermint + chocolate. I’m obsessed with Chick Fil-A’s peppermint chocolate chip shake, and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten half a bag of Candy Cane kisses. It’s just insane how much I love it, because usually I could give or take peppermint bark. Eggnog is usually my thing. I’m really not sure what’s gotten into me, but I’m not complaining!

I originally saw the idea for cake batter bark on How Sweet It Is. I’ve been wanting to do it with red velvet, and thought that it would be so festive to use red velvet cake mix in peppermint bark. The results were great! One of my coworkers tasted it, and then grabbed 4 pieces haha! It’s also very simple to make, and it makes a good bit!

Red Velvet Peppermint Bark

I packaged these in simple printed cello bags, and added Christmas sprinkles with the crushed candy canes for a more Christmas-y touch. Y’all know I’m all about sprinkles!

Red Velvet Peppermint Bark
Source: inspired by How Sweet It Is

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 lb. white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tsp. canola oil (divided)
  • 3 1/2 tbsp. red velvet dry cake mix
  • 10 mini candy canes, crushed
  • Christmas sprinkles
  • red powdered food coloring

Directions:

  1. Melt the 1/2 lb. of dark/semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, along with 1/2 tsp. of the canola oil, until melted. You’ll want to do this in 30 second increments at 50% power, being sure to stir well between each microwave cycle. Pour and spread the chocolate, using a spatula, on top of a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Allow it to set for 15 minutes.
  2. Melt the 1/2 lb. of white chocolate with the remaining 1/2 tsp. of canola oil, until melted. Microwave this in 30 second increments as well, at 50% power, being sure to stir well between each microwave cycle. Mix in the dry cake mix, as well as the powdered food coloring (a little at a time until desired color is achieved), until everything is well combined. Pour this over the set dark chocolate and spread the red velvet white chocolate carefully, making sure to cover the dark chocolate. Sprinkle the crushed candy canes and Christmas sprinkles liberally over the red velvet white chocolate.
  3. Allow the bark to cool completely before breaking into pieces and serving.

A Bunch of Randoms

Randoms

1. Um…OMG…Christmas is 13 days away. I mean, don’t get me wrong…I’m ridiculously excited, but I also don’t want Christmas to just come and go. I could listen to Underneath the Tree on repeat 490834 times right now.

Randoms

2. I got my very first Kate Spade accessory last week. While I love my Otterbox, I wanted something a little prettier. Is it blonde of me that I had to YouTube how to open the phone cover to put my phone in? There were seriously no instructions in the box…I felt like a doof, but I really didn’t want to break the case.

Randoms

3. When we were driving home from Thanksgiving, my husband and I both noticed how pretty the lake we always drive by from Baton Rouge to New Orleans (Lake Pontchartrain) was. The picture probably doesn’t do it much justice, but this normally murky lake looked like water in the Caribbean. I know it had something to do with the sunset reflecting off of the water, but oh man, it was gorgeous. It made me long for another Caribbean vacation…..

Randoms

4. This is probably the only Christmas project I can show y’all right now (since I’m making gifts and family tends to read the blog from time to time). This afghan was ridiculously simple to make, and it’s so cozy. I will say that the size 50 needles aren’t as natural to knit on, but man, projects knit up SO quickly! It took me longer than 6 hours, but it was a casual knit. I think I’m going to make a couple of these for gifts in the future.

Randoms

5. Does anyone else own this palette? I bought it a year ago or so, and I’ll admit, it hurt a little to spend $50 on eyeshadow. However, I find myself constantly surprised by this palette. I feel like every eyeshadow looks amazing on me, and all of the colors look great together. I can’t say it’s going to look amazing on everyone, but for me, it’s perfect.

6. I know I haven’t done Training Tuesdays in a while, but I’m in week 7 of training for my half marathon. I have to run 7 miles this weekend (gulp)…I still can’t believe my race is a few short weeks away! Eek!

2013 Holiday Bake-Palooza

2013 Bake-Palooza

This past weekend was a busy one in our kitchen. We had our annual holiday bake-palooza for coworker/neighbor gifts! I think after doing this for 4 years, we have figured out a good system for doing this. We were done much earlier than I anticipated, which is awesome. :-)

2013 Bake-Palooza

At the end of the weekend, this was what we ended up with. The packaging this year was a mish-mash of items from Wal-Mart, Target, Hobby Lobby, Pick Your Plum, TJMaxx & World Market. This year was a year to use up leftover packaging from previous years, so nothing is really uniform. However, it doesn’t really matter to me, because I think it looks really fun sitting together.

The recipes that we decided on this year were:

To divide things up, about a month ago, I made all of the cookie dough and froze it using this method in the post. Then on Friday, we made all of the candy (2 batches of fudge, caramel, elf’s mix & bark)., and on Saturday, we baked up all of the cookies and made the bread. It really wasn’t bad at all, compared to previous years. The biggest time saver is making all of the cookie dough in advance, especially when you’re making 3-4 batches of each cookie dough.

2013 Bake-Palooza

These are trays that I made for each of our offices. I purchased these at Wal-Mart for $3, and they come with a lid and a handle. They hold a ton, which is perfect since we wanted to give our coworkers a nice variety of things to enjoy.

2013 Bake-Palooza

This is the inside of the tin in the first picture. We gave these gifts to neighbors, and they were the perfect size. We squeezed in some fudge, homemade caramels, as well as cookies.

2013 Bake-Palooza

Since I work on a very small team, I wanted to give little bags of treats to them as well. Sure, they could pull from the large break room tray that I made, but since my office is pretty large, I wanted to make sure they had their share of the goodies too. :-)

Have you done any holiday baking yet? When do you plan on baking for holiday gifting?

Tree & Wreath Cupcakes

christmascupcakes

This weekend is the grand bake-palooza in our house. I have the bags of pre-scooped cookie dough ready, and went on one last Target run for necessary ingredients for Mom’s fudge, Elf’s Mix & a few other recipes that I’ll be sharing on here soon. :-) I just love making these gifts every year…edible gifts are always a winner, and it’s fun to package them up. I’m a sucker for treat boxes, cellophane and a ton of curling ribbon. :-)

This week, I was just itching to throw some cupcakes together. Sometimes, I just have to take those old Wilton tips out and go crazy with buttercream. I actually first attempted these with a grass tip, and they just looked so messy. However, a star tip (#21) did the trick.

I didn’t take pictures of every step with these cupcakes, because they’re pretty simple to pipe out, and you can easily see where I piped the stars.

I started off by thinly frosting (completely cooled) cupcakes with a layer of un-dyed vanilla buttercream (I used this recipe for the buttercream). To make the trees, I started with 5 stars on the bottom, then a row of 4 (between each star in the 5 row), and then 3, 2, 1. For the wreaths, I piped two stars next to each other, and continued in a circle around the whole cupcake. To make the bows, I just used a small round tip (#5) and piped a sideways “8”, and added the edges. The ornaments were made using the same tip, in small, random dots in the gaps of the piped stars. The tree trunks were piped with the same round tip in brown frosting.

I think these cupcakes would be especially festive with a confetti cupcake recipe, using holiday colored jimmies!

Are any of y’all baking this weekend for the holidays? I’d love to hear about what’s baking in your kitchen. :-) I’m sure I’ll be tweeting about the flour/confectioner’s sugar clouds in my kitchen.

Holiday Cards from Minted & A Giveaway!

As much as I love Christmas, one thing I’ve always gone back and forth on was our Christmas card. Since it’s just me and my husband, nothing really changes in the pictures from year to year, and we don’t really take many posed photos together. Since we never have a picture of us for a Christmas card, who were we going to feature?

Well, one year I decided to take pictures of our dog, Millie. I wasn’t sure if it would be well-received or not, but people loved them! It became our little tradition. Every year, I found it so fun to put Christmas decorations around her (closely watching her, of course), and take probably 100 pictures, praying that she didn’t move since there was a large treat above the camera lens for her to stare at and drool over (which usually resulted in the perfect puppy smile).

Time to fill my stocking, Momma!

This was last year’s picture. I mean seriously…how adorable is that?

So, this year, when I was looking for Christmas cards, I was hoping to find a card with a more pet-centric message. Usually I’d buy something that said “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” from (our last name) and leave it at that. However, this year, I discovered these holiday cards from Minted.com, and included in that are some cards that are specifically meant for pet photos!

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Christmas Cookies & A Giveaway!

handmadeholidays

It’s now socially acceptable to decorate with all of the Christmas things! I just felt like stating that to you guys. :-P

Since it’s now officially the holiday season, I think I’m going to ask a certain husband who isn’t afraid of heights to go in the attic and grab all of the Christmas decor. ::fingers crossed:: I seriously can’t take 3 steps on a ladder without taking deep breaths and telling myself “I think I can…I think I can…”.

I just love making cookies for the holidays. I bake so many for gifts, since it’s always a winner with coworkers and neighbors. I learned a great trick when it comes to baking in bulk for the holidays…make your dough in advance to freeze and then bake them all later. It makes things a lot easier when you’re making dozens of cookies at once. :-)

What also makes things easier while baking is knowing that your favorite recipes will always come out the same when using quality ingredients. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that good, quality ingredients really do make a difference in your baking. For example, I used to grab store brand flour, and the results of my baking weren’t always consistent. I really thought it was me making a mistake in the recipe, but when I switched to a bag of King Arthur Flour, my favorite recipes come out the same way every time. I will admit that King Arthur Flour is slightly pricier than store brands, but to me, it’s worth it to use a brand that has such high quality standards when it comes to flour. You don’t have to order their flour online only either…they carry their flour at so many stores now (I recently saw their flour at Walmart for $3.95/bag!). Also, I’ve seen quite a few of their baking products, like espresso powder (which is so hard for me to find anywhere else…is it just me?) and specialty extracts, at Sur La Table. :-)

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Peppermint Swirl Sugar Scrub & A Giveaway!

handmadeholidays

**NOTE: This gift is NOT edible. This sugar scrub is NOT for consumption…it’s a bath/body product.**

I just thought I’d get that out of the way, since all of the other gifts in this blog series are food related….this one is not, due to the use of essential oils.

I love this time of the year, but one of the biggest issues I face is how drying the winter is, especially on my hands. I use so much lotion throughout the winter, and sadly, with all of the cooking/baking that I do, the constant hand washing doesn’t make things any better. It’s probably because the winter sucks the humidity out of Louisiana, but I’m always prepared with shea butter hand lotion and some sort of moisturizing scrub. I know a scrub sounds counter-intuitive, but a sugar scrub exfoliates with the sugar and also moisturizes your skin using the oil. It always leaves my hands feeling nice and soft. I thought that it would be a great gift idea to make these for the other women in my family, since we all go through the same thing this time of the year!

When I saw this idea for a Peppermint Swirl scrub on Dixie Crystals’ website, I knew that this was going to be a winner. I just love minty scents around this time of the year, and since I’m making it myself, I’m able to control the scent (which is great, because some mint scents can smell too overpowering).

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