Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cookie Monster


Sweet B's Christmas Cookie Baking List.

I'm fully aware y'all have been sitting on the edge of your seats, checking the blog, and wondering this entire month when I would post my mile-long baking to-dos for this season. IT'S HERE!

Of course, I have my regular must-make-so-everyone-is-happy items, which include:

Mr. B's Chocolate Chip Cookies. Earlier this year I stumbled across a vegan recipe and, along with a few personal touches, I haven't made another recipe since. This is THE cookie dough for those who like to eat cookie dough. <-- that would be me.

*On a side note: I have already made these cookies twice this month for said husband. I have learned to only bake a dozen cookies at a time, freezing the rest of the dough and pulling it out once the house has been devoid of the last batch for a few days. I'm trying to space these out! It's not working. We're just eating the cookie dough instead.

Black Bottom Cups.
Almond Blueberry Cookies.
Grandma Barb's Cut-Outs.
Browned Butter Cookies with Caramel Frosting.Two years now and no one else has received these cookies on their platters. If I don't stop Mr. B from eating them all this year, I might start opening hate mail. I [casually] mentioned this to him, he responded with a firm "Everybody else eats all of the other cookies and I only like these cookies. These are mine." Okay.
Reindeer Chow-Chow.
Apple Snickerdoodles.
Apricot Pinwheels.
Pretzel Bark. We forgot to didn't, umm, make this last year. I heard about it. Multiple times. It was also "suggested" that I don't forget it this year, and to make some with white chocolate.

Let's see, this now brings me to the new [finalized] cookie recipes I've been waiting all year to try:

Pioneer Woman's Angel Cookies. Found in her first cookbook, I'm considering making Ree's simple cookies for my "Polar Express" program at work, complete with reindeer faces. I think my kiddos will love them. (Or possibly the Snowmen S'mores I never got to last year.)

Cranberry-Lemon Cookies. I feel like I need a holiday-ish cookie, and to me "cranberries" scream holiday. And you know I love lemon. Giada's cookies look perfect.

Cranberry Bliss Cookies. I was all set on the above cranberry cookies when Pinterest led me to these. I immediately added them to my list because, with two cranberry cookie recipes, I'm sure to at least make one of them. Right? And they're copy-cats. Although I have yet to try the original bar. I go to Starbucks for the coffee, people!

Cappuccino Cookies. I think these are a must. Maybe use instant espresso instead....

Either the Mocha Madness Cookies from a past Cooking Club endeavor, or my Triple Chocolate Cookies that have been with me since the very first Baking Extravaganza but have yet to be made again since their debut (not sure why; they were well received).

The Raspberry Poinsettias I made with my mother-in-law a few years back that were heavenly, but lacked greatly in the appearance department. Maybe I'll give them another try with a little more patience this year.

Salted Bailey's Chocolate Truffles. I will try to make sure the Bailey's actually makes it into the truffles. No promises.

No-Bake Gingerbread Pumpkin Snowballs. Gotta love the no bakes :)

Giant Chai Tea Frosted Cookies. I believe, truly, third time is the charm. (fingers crossed) If not, I'll be a third-year failure.

Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies. I have a few people on my list who will looovvveee these.

Daphne Oz's Cherry Crusaders Cookies. The oatmeal-cherry-walnut cookies I saw featured on my beloved show, The Chew.

Peanut Butter Lava Cookies. Because when I first looked at these pictures, I might have drooled a bit.

Fudge? Bars? Bread? Extra treats? I'm attempting to keep a cookie mind this year. I am well aware I will fail at this attempt. If I don't write it down and then don't do it, I will feel like less of a failure when it comes to checking off ALL to-dos on my list. I'll drink to that. Bailey's that is ;)

This year Jessica's mother-in-law is joining us. We'll have to check our crazy.

What's on your baking list this season?

Happy Holiday Baking!

With Love and God Bless,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving {Smoothie} Breakfast

I get it. We're all super busy on Turkey Day. But, I promise, you have time to mix up one of these in between basting the turkey, catching the Rockettes in the parade, and mashing the potatoes. Bonus: it requires one hand only.

Y'all I do have to mention this smoothie was inspired by my latest Yogi Kids program at work. A co-worker and I teamed up for a "Thankful" yoga program at my branch; I brought the yoga, games, and crafts while she supplied the smoothies. I wanted to stay with a Thanksgiving-ish smoothie and I had mentioned my latest pumpkin yogurt obsession. (If you haven't tried it yet, stop what you're doing, drive to your nearest Target, fill your cart before the season is over and it's no longer available, and finish reading this post with yummy yogurt in hand.)

In lieu of the pumpkin yogurt, my co-worker opted for a vanilla yogurt and plain canned pumpkin---going for a more flavorful smoothie where the cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice would stand out. The kiddos did not like it one bit. Out of the eight, only one kid drank it, and another decided to take it to-go because he would add some honey to it at home. The kids were expecting a sugary, milkshake-like smoothie and what they got was a healthy smoothie instead. However, the parents and I gobbled it up, quickly beating each other to small refills. My co-worker mentioned the honey option and I suggested using pumpkin-flavored yogurt. Even though there were 19 grams of sugar(!) in just one serving of the vanilla yogurt, the kids didn't find it sweet enough. This makes my heart sad. Too much sugar in every thing these days.

I, on the other hand, was quickly calculating the ingredients in my fridge and pantry because, yes, I was having this tomorrow morning. And the morning after. And the morning after. I have a lot of pumpkin in my pantry.

Pumpkin Smoothie

Serves 1

3-5 ice cubes
1 c unsweetened almond milk
1 small banana (frozen, if possible)
1 heaping T canned pumpkin
1 heaping T cottage cheese
1 T coconut oil
1/2 t pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 scoop protein powder
1 T chia seeds

Combine all ingredients in a blender (put your ice in first!), and mix until smooth. Drink up!

Nutritional Information:
378 Calories, 22 Fat, 35 Carbs, 10 Fiber, 16 Protein, 15 Sugar

With Love and God Bless,

Monday, November 24, 2014


I'm currently....

Watching.... football, and a lot of it. But I'm also gearing up for the plethora of TV Christmas specials, plus the huge selection on Netflix. This right here is why I'm never behind on my wrapping. You must multi-task, people! It's the only way to get things done, allowing the last few days before Christmas to be relaxing, peaceful, and fun instead of stressed, exhausting, and busy.

Eating.... PUMPKIN. This is odd for me. I guess I'm a new woman. Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin oatmeal, and an amazing pumpkin smoothie I've been devouring every morning as of late. I will share with y'all this tasty breakfast-to-go soon. It pretty much consists of every healthy thing I have in my fridge.

Planning.... my huge Polar Express interactive movie program at work.There's going to be games, hot chocolate, train tracks, presents, snowballs, and popcorn. And many, many more things if only I can get everything accomplished. I'm starting to slightly panic because with Thanksgiving approaching, I realize I only have eight (eekk!) working days to finish. It looks like I'll be cutting props out through my turkey dinner.

Reading....a couple of things, per usual, but I have picked up Scarlett again. I first read this Gone with the Wind inspired "sequel" years ago and never finished it actually, which I find funny because I always thought I had. Apparently, I became distracted with Rhett Butler's People, which I did finish, by the way. Margaret Mitchell's novel is my second favorite book (right behind Pride and Prejudice), but considering it's length, I return to it every five years. After excitingly experiencing the movie in actual theaters this year for it's 75th anniversary, I realized it had been a while since I last picked it up. I checked and discovered I was due to read it again. (Thank goodness for GoodReads!) However, I'm opting to turn through Scarlett instead...since I, regretfully, forgot about it.

Inspired by.... my puppy. I'm a huge lover of snow and I enjoy the colder weather, but after watching Mr. Darcy's first experience with snow, I am falling in love with it all over again! Too bad we had this heat wave (hovering around the 50-degree mark) because it melted all the snow. Mr. Darcy is very confused when he heads outside. I keep promising him more will be on its way. I must show him the snow dance.

Excited about....THANKSGIVING!!!! For the food, family, games, football, pumpkin cookies, the PARADE! I love it all. My husband and I are both off the few days after; the BIG GAME is this weekend, and Turkey Day opens the door to the best holiday of them all :)

With Love and God Bless,

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I Promise, This Is It for A While....

I discovered a few more favorites. Let me tell y'all about them.

A few notables worth mentioning include both of Yotam Ottolenghi's books, Plenty and Jerusalem. These cookbooks are not only beautifully photographed, but have me wishing I had more time at home to create these heavenly dishes. And thinking I could easily be satisfied on a Jerusalem-inspired diet. The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book has me convinced I'm a closet pie lover. Although I can't seem to make a decent crust to save my life, I know with patience and this cookbook these two sisters could teach me the delicate trade. And, yes, I finally got my hands on Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I was drooling over every page. I know [good] ice cream is my true dessert love. However, I couldn't help but think I'd better stick to visiting her ice cream shop or finding her ice cream in stores rather than make it myself. It's a bit intense. The best part is learning about how her ingredients are all local and Ohio-grown, if possible.

Of course, I fell in love with Pioneer Woman's latest cookbook endeavor, A Year of Holidays. I'm pretty sure Mr. B knows this had better find it's way under the Christmas tree this year. I really, really love her cookbook layouts, the way she includes snippets of family-life and story insights is fun and refreshing. Although my favorite part of this particular cookbook are the convenient holiday menu spreads.

Another favorite was Gwyneth Paltrow's It's All Good. I found that I enjoyed this second cookbook much more than her first one. I liked her reasoning behind her restorative diet and why she eats the way she does. My favorite part is the weekly recipe guides in the back, and the "go-to" food section. The meals seem adaptable and without fuss.

But the one book out of this pile I'm dying to put on my shelf is The Oh She Glows Cookbook. I have been an avid fan of Angela's blog for years, and could not hold back my excitement when she let her readers know of her publishing date. And now she has her own Tea Shoppe!?! LOVE HER! The layout of this cookbook is gorgeous and it's equally user-friendly. I'm not sure if I can hold off until Christmas, especially if my gift-buying self winds up in a bookstore. Eeek!

Okay, I think I'm done with my cookbook kick.

With Love and God Bless,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Salted Pumpkin Caramel Thumbprints [Review]

Always read a recipe through once before beginning.

Always read a recipe, preferably, the night prior before beginning.

Always read a recipe.

Yes, this has been drilled into my head by my grandmother, mother, aunts, friends, cookbooks, cooking shows, etc., etc.

However, when my mother-in-law requested these cookies for Thanksgiving, and though I decided to try them out a week prior just to see how they'd turn out (thank the Lord!), I only read the ingredient list. I ignored the directions. I overlooked the required time.

I did lay out the butter the night before, hoping upon waking it would be room temp. Upon waking I realized it's November. In Ohio. In a house full of hard-wood floors. Where people don't want to pay a ridiculous heating bill. My butter was still cold. Oh, it was sort of close to room temp; too bad our house is COLD. After nuking it (along with the coconut oil) slightly in the microwave, I tossed it into the stand mixer and began to add the rest of the ingredients. Once the flax egg and vanilla were added, my mix just wasn't...well, mixing. After a minute or so, I decided to just add the flours and get on with it. My dough looked much better. And tasted great.

Then I read the dough must chill for about an hour in order to make it easier to handle. Okay, that's fine. I chill most of my doughs anyway. I'll just start the chocolate chip cookies for Mr. B. (We decorated for Christmas. Phoebo is out. Phoebo is empty. I had to make the hubby some cookies STAT.) Thankfully, before I started the chocolate chips, I decided to read through the rest of the recipe. You know, just in case the pumpkin caramel needed to chill, too. You know what? It did. FOR FOUR HOURS.


That's why you read through your recipes, folks. ROOKIE mistake. Jessica would be embarrassed for me. Scratch that. If Jess was there, this is probably the time she'd bring out the wine. (Side note: while I was picking up these cookie ingredients, I had wine in my cart and put it back. Next time I'll focus on trying to save my sanity rather than some money. Always buy the wine.)

Okay. Good thing I planned on staying at home all day anyway. Time to start the caramel. Pumpkin caramel, that is. This was a slight pain. Once I reached the perfect amber color and boil, I added the cream only to have it solidify. Immediately. After fishing out the hardened caramel, I put it in a bowl and microwaved it a few seconds. Once melted, I added it back to the pan along with the melted coconut oil. Solid caramel. Immediately. Again. With my last bout of patience, I fished it out, put it in the microwave, and melted it again. This time I slowly added it as I stirred the caramel color right out of that caramel. It worked. Perfect. In goes the pumpkin stuff, transfer to bowl, cover, and chill FOR FOUR HOURS. Thank goodness, there was football.

By half time these cookies were ready to go. I removed the dough from the fridge, rolled it into the suggested-sized balls, thumb inserted, and into the oven they went. Yes, the middles puffed up like the recipe warned. No, they didn't go down once pushed with the back of a spoon like the recipe advised. My "prints" weren't very deep, and a few cookies were cracking. Okay. Next sheet in were of the bigger ball sort. These were a little deeper but not quite. By this time I was thinking these darn things were going to be frosted and that was that. But, surprisingly, once the pumpkin caramel was scooped into the cookies, and dusted with a little sea salt, they looked like the picture. I wonder if they're holes weren't that deep either. The pumpkin caramel covered it perfectly.

Although I made these specifically for my mother-in-law, I couldn't give them to her without tasting one. I mean, what if they were awful. I'd be horrified. I don't bake awful things. Time to be the taste-tester. The smaller balls from the first batch made nice bite-sized cookies, so I opted for one of those instead of the prettier bigger ones. A little too much pumpkin for my liking I thought (probably due to the fact I cut down on the sugar). After a few photos, I tried another one. These really aren't bad. After gobbling up, let's say, five more, I quickly placed them in two containers and hid them in the fridge.

Later that night, I told Mr. B in between mouthfuls of cookie he had to tell his mother about the cookies and she must pick them up immediately if she would like any of them. She came the next day and had one and a half containers to take home.

Honestly, there's never a dull moment with me. And, you'll be happy to know, these cookies are Thanksgiving perfection.

Salted Pumpkin Caramel Thumbprints
*slightly adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

1/3 unsalted butter, softened
1/3 c coconut oil, softened
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
1/4 t salt
1 flax egg (1 T flax seed + 3 T water)
1 t vanilla
3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c all-purpose flour

Pumpkin Caramel:
1/3 c sugar
2 T water
2 T light corn syrup
2 T coconut oil
1/ 3 c whipping cream
3/4 t pumpkin pie spice
1/2 c canned pumpkin
Sea salt, for sprinkling

FIRST. Make your caramel. In a medium saucepan bring sugar, water, and corn syrup to boiling over medium heat, swirling the pan to stir. Once a light amber brown color (about 5 minutes), remove from heat and add coconut oil and cream, stirring the ENTIRE time. (As soon as my cream hit the liquid it immediately solidified. I had to spoon out the solid piece of caramel, transfer it to a separate bowl, melt it in the microwave, and add it back to the pan. I had to do this twice, so be patient; hardening of caramel can be salvaged.) Once combined add in spice and canned pumpkin. Mix until smooth, transferring to a bowl. Cover and chill caramel at least 4 hours, so it can thicken.

When caramel is almost ready, make the COOKIES. In a large mixing bowl beat butter and oil on high 30 seconds. Add brown sugar and salt. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go. Beat in flax egg and vanilla. Beat in flour slowly. Cover and chill 1 hour or until easy to handle (without being too sticky).

Preheat oven 375 degrees. Roll dough into 1" balls, placing 2" apart on ungreased baking sheet. (My 1" balls turned into bite-sized cookies, while the bigger ones were a more decent size. Roll the balls however big you like.) Press thumb into center of each ball. Bake 8-10 minutes (mine were done in 9 minutes) or until bottoms are lightly browned. (If centers puff use back of spoon to gently press back down...however, this didn't really work for me.) Cool on pan 1-2 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, spoon pumpkin caramel into centers and sprinkle with sea salt.

With Love and God Bless,

Sunday, November 16, 2014

We Went to MAINE!

If you were wondering why it was all quiet over here on the Sweet B's front, it's because Mr. B and I were off enjoying the chilly air, colorful trees, and sights of Maine. It was glorious. I didn't want to come home. I'm already planning my next trip back.

While we were only gone for a couple of days, it was just the perfect mini vacation I'd been longing for, desperately in need of an extended time out. I came back feeling refreshed and ready to dive head-first into festive plans and endless shopping for the upcoming holidays, not to mention the load of programming at work. I'm ready, ready, ready. But first let me share with y'all the vacation details.

Mr. B and I love being in the car, road tripping our way to the next vacation destination, and instead of putting the miles on our own vehicles, we always opt for a rental. We see it as part of the vacation, experiencing various types of cars and discovering what we like and don't like (which is how I fell in love with the Dodge Caliber. We drove it while spending a week in Buffalo, NY. I was determined it was going to be my next car, until the kind salesman informed us the transmissions have issues. And that's how I ended up with my Ford Fusion. But I digress). However, this time we decided to go through Enterprise for the rental. Big mistake. Huge. Yes, it might have been a tad cheaper than the airport, but you pretty much had to sign over your first-born along with a heap of other personal information, and Mr. B said it was ridiculous and took our business to Hertz.

This was our first time with them, we usually go with Budget, and I'm 100% sure we are always going to go with Budget from now on. The car they gave us was a Chevy Spark. Watching Mr. B try to cram himself into this little two-door car had me shaking my head, terrified of spending hours in this car driving through multiple states alongside huge semis, and wondering how in the world I'll fit all of our luggage in this sad excuse of a trunk. Thank goodness, Mr. B was of the same mind, heading back into Hertz and coming out with a Kia Forte. Better. Because of this delay we were unable to make my alma mater's Homecoming Football game (which we saw as a great kick-off tour vacation week); it was no biggie really with it sleeting and all, we'd just go home and enjoy the warmth. Negativity begone. Alas, we came home to a garage door that decided it no longer wanted to work. Said garage needs fixed and won't be fixed until early next year. Goodbye, luxury. Hello, manual labor. Negativity begone.

After all that, we hit the road by 3:30 a.m. on Sunday and almost 13 hours later arrived in Freeport, ME. The drive up was absolutely gorgeous. The absolutely gorgeous day helped. We were able to see the beautiful colors while detouring in Connecticut, and let me tell you, boy, do they have some steep roads in their neighborhoods! I can't imagine driving down some of those in the dead of winter.

And Maine has THE nicest, cleanest, and friendliest rest areas I've seen, kindly reminding visitors that "snacking is not a meal replacement" and to do it wisely. Love it. When we arrived at our hotel, we discovered we had been bumped up to a king suite with a decent kitchen and separate living and sleeping quarters. Sweet. Mr. B was excited because that meant two TVs, one for watching his 49ers, the other for The Walking Dead. He went back and forth from room to room. He loved it. I was quite amused.

That night we had dinner in a neighboring town (I can't remember where or the name of the restaurant!), where I enjoyed some fantastic crab cakes along with THE best French onion soup. It was the perfect ratio of broth to onions to melted cheese. Even Mr. B wanted to gobble it up, but he had his Lobster Alfredo to eat. I tried it and even ate a steamed claw. <--Big Deal for me. The lobster was fabulous but still a tad expensive. The next morning found us across the street exploring a fantastic, albeit expensive, natural food store where I wanted to buy everything in sight and had Mr. B reaching for a bag to breathe in. I settled for a handful of organic dark chocolate squares along with a few new-to-me Australian yogurts, while Mr. B was satisfied with his bag of apples.

And then it was onto the most anticipated part of the vacation, Portland (about 15 minutes south of Freeport), where we went on a 90-minute Lighthouse Lover's Cruise. It was freezing on the water, but quite beautiful. I was in awe of the well-kept state of the oldest U.S. lighthouse and learned the water never goes above 63 degrees. A second Starbucks stop was needed to thaw my hands before we window-shopped various stores on the historic waterfront strip where we spent a ridiculous amount of money on the perfect winter coat for Mr. Darcy at a cute shop called Fish & Bone. He's going to need it when he tunnels through the snow that will amount in our backyard this winter.

We headed back to Freeport for lunch at the town's local Restaurant and Pub where I was in heaven with my lobster stew. At $10 a cup, I devoured it, along with my side of sweet potato fries, very slowly. Not only was I impressed with how sinfully tasty this cup was, but also with the amount of decent-sized lobster pieces. If I could have shipped this back home I would have. After lunch, we hiked through Wolf's Neck State Park where, thankfully, we did not encounter any large animal the sign so kindly warned us about, such as moose, bears, mountain lions, and the like. This park was breath-taking with all of it's foliage and little paths leading us to the water. I would have liked to hike longer than we did, but it was getting dark, and you know, there were bigger animals than squirrels out there.

That night we had dinner at Buck's Naked BBQ because who wouldn't? When driving past I hollered "HERE!" and Mr. B pulled in, and I enjoyed a nice plate of ribs while the hubby dined on a huge steak tip salad with rice. They know their BBQ in Maine, too, folks.

The following day brought the rain so our outlet shopping was cut short enticing us to head into Hartford, Connecticut a few hours earlier than planned. However, this allowed us time to hunt down the life-size chocolate moose that I kept seeing signs for. Mr. B didn't believe me, and the entire time we were in Cabela's (where, yes, I bought a new flannel shirt, and no, Mr. was not allowed to get another coat) he tried to convince me I was making this up. Thankfully I kept the hotel pamphlet, dug it out of the luggage in the trunk, and within a couple of minutes our GPS led us to the chocolate shop where I finally met, Lenny.

The chocolate smell greeted us at the door, along with hundreds of chocolates. Surprisingly, we only left with a miniature white-chocolate version of Lenny.  Afterwards, we made our way into Hartford, where we hit afternoon traffic and discovered the city of Hartford is not as pretty and quaint as Portland. We had dinner at Ruby Tuesday's because it was close to the hotel, near a Target, and you can't pass up that awesome salad bar. We both filled up on salads, and didn't have any room for our burgers, leaving us with quite the late-night snack back in our hotel room where we watched the first game of the World Series. Yes, even on vacation we don't miss our sports. (I'm the girl who planned her entire wedding/honeymoon around the NFL Draft.)

Before heading home, we made one more early morning stop. There was no way I could stay over in Hartford and not see Mark Twain's house! Mr. B was aware of this, too, and made the necessary arrangements. This house is unbelievable. Honestly, ignoring the fact it doesn't have modern day amenities, this house felt like I could live in it today. The restoration on it was that phenomenal. Other than the fact I couldn't touch anything but the staircase banister, still immaculate.

On our way home I finally convinced Mr. B to give Panera a try. Can you believe he wasn't impressed? He said he'd much rather go to Zoup. Yes, I too, love Zoup. But come on, who doesn't like Panera??! I'm sure I'll never get him back there again. We arrived home about five hours sooner than we originally planned, but we missed our puppy. And he clearly missed us.

All in all, we had a wonderful time and we both decided we would love to go back some time soon. Possibly to Bar Harbor? While our vacation in Georgia is still my absolute favorite, I'd return to Jekyll Island every year if my bank account and vacation time allowed, this is a close second.

Vacation recap:
Packing a cooler full of healthy snacks, beverages, and deli sandwiches prevented us from eating crappy fast food AND saved us money to put towards shopping :)

Where we ate, the notable ones:
Breakfast was at both hotels, The Holiday Inn Express.
Freeport Grill Restaurant and Pub
Buck's Naked BBQ
Ruby Tuesday's

Places visited:
Freeport, ME (home of L.L. Bean, the Big Indian, and great outlet malls)
Portland, ME (Lighthouse Lover's Cruise, various quaint shops)
Wolf's Neck State Park
Freeport Public Library (I'd love to work here just because of the work environment!)
Scarborough, ME (Cabela's and Lenny the Chocolate Moose)
Hartford, CT (home of The Mark Twain House & Museum)

With Love and God Bless,

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What's on My Kitchen [Book]Shelf?

My cookbook shelf, that is.

I've been bringing home bagfuls of cookbooks, unloading them onto the kitchen table, and leafing through them like crazy, and realized I neglected my own. Since my last cookbook shelf look-in back when the blog first started (in 2011!), my lifestyle, diet, and tastes have changed considerably.

Since then I've weeded (library term!) my cookbooks because I need space for my beloved new ones. I kept a handful of them, and boxed up the rest for our next yard sale, making plenty of space for the countless number of newbies on my list of need-to-buy SOON. Among those headed out the door were the Cookies, Bars, and Brownies and the Fast Fixes with Mixes because, let's face it, I don't use box mixes. I make desserts from scratch. I try with every being in my body to avoid the chemically processed stuff like cream of "whatever" soup and soup mixes. Instead I make these items from scratch and store in my pantry, so when a recipe suggests these toxic ingredients, I readily pull out my homemade versions. As for the sweets cookbook, I have enough pinned desserts that I won't even know it's gone.

Within my old favorites, I've noticed I haven't thumbed through my old favorite, The 1,000 Best Recipes, nor The Chocolate and Coffee Bible. This makes me sad and I hope to remedy this very soon. There are some wonderful recipes in those cookbooks, sinful desserts and rich dishes just waiting to be made. Over the past few years, I learned how to replace ingredients with healthier-better-for-you ingredients. This will help when I do dig out my old favorites.

My latest additions include Pioneer Woman's first and second cookbooks. This woman is just fabulous, and I loved tuning into her show on The Food Network, but now I just satisfy myself with her blog pieces. She's hilarious. And her recipes are just as delicious. I find they're easily adaptable to what meat is on sale that week, the current veggie season, and versatile depending on diet needs.

A few years ago I add The Daniel Fast to my cooking collection, and since then, sadly, I have only tried a handful of its recipes. I am quite determined to submit to a full 21-day Daniel fast at some point, but I want to try more of the recipes first so I will know what I like and have meal ideas at arms length when the time comes.

Back when I had cable I was obsessed with The Chew. What food lover isn't? While it's not my favorite cookbook, there are still quite a few decent and fast dishes in there. Great for weeknights. Oh, and the other Chew books, Food. Life. Fun. and Celebrates the Holidays, are on my list, too. Obviously.

Honestly, my Christmas list year is full of cookbook needs wants.

Just look at all of those tabbed pages. Full of recipes I am excited to try. ASAP. I need to do a "cooking through a [cookbook] month/blog series." Sort of Julie & Julia style. My intentions are there; they're just distracted by Pinterest. Maybe a goal for next year....

Any new cookbooks you added to your collection recently?

With Love and God Bless,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Re-Visited: Cooking Club #15

[Original post date Dec. 2011. --Updated 11/10/14: original, but separate content, with updated photos and/or more details, if available.]

---> Cooking Club is coming up soon, and now that I'm blogging, I want to share these moments but I thought I should play catch-up first. So without further ado, here (and in more posts to come) is what we've been up to. Enjoy!

#15 September: 5-Ingredient Fix

The Menu:
Homemade Apple Butter on Toast
Orzo with Parmesan and Basil
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I'm not sure who came up with this month's theme, but the stipulation was the recipe could have no more than five ingredients. Unfortunately, I missed this Cooking Club (so I don't have pictures of the other dishes), but I was able to try the recipes the next day at work. Later on, I brought the recipe I had intended to make into work for everyone to try. I made my homemade apple butter in the crockpot. The apples slow-cooked their way to a chunky mess of butter-like goodness.

Apple butter is my absolute second favorite topping on toast, right behind cinnamon-sugar. Growing up there were always jars of this stuff in our refrigerator. And we usually purchased ours from the Amish Country. But as I've grown, the apple butters I've had recently are just too sweet. The last jar I purchased back in April actually hurt my teeth. I've never had apple butter as smooth as butter. I like mine a little chunky. And I've been meaning to try my hand at it for a few months now.

So when I was given the 5-ingredient only assignment, I went to work in my kitchen to make a delicious apple butter. But my main concern was the sweetness. I did not want mine sweet. I decided to pass on adding actual sugar, and replaced it with maple syrup. Added some spices, cinnamon (well, because apples and cinnamon, duh) and nutmeg (which is my favorite spice), and juice, and a couple of hours later I had a tasty, luxuriously, chunky apple butter for my morning toast.

Homemade Apple Butter

4-5 lbs apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1/2-3/4 c apple juice
1 c maple syrup
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon

Add all of the ingredients to your slow cooker. Cook on low 5 1/2-6 hours. During the last 2 hours, stir the mixture every half hour to break up the apples. After cooking, if apples need broken down any more, use a potato masher. Then cook on low another 1/2 hour with the lid off, stirring frequently, or until desired consistency is reached. (If you like yours sans chunks, break out the hand blender or wait until cooled and place in a blender; puree until smooth.) Store apple butter in containers in the fridge. Enjoy!

P.S. I definitely plan on canning and sharing this homemade apple butter with family and friends. It makes a great housewarming/hostess gift.

*I hope you enjoyed these Cooking Club snippets. I've finally caught up! I hope these themes, and even Cooking Club itself, inspire you to gather with your friends and family in the kitchen, and make sweet moments (and delicious food) of your own.

**I've only included the recipes to the dishes I made. Only because I'm unsure of where everyone got theirs...and hey, we gotta give credit where credit is due. If you have any questions about the other dishes, I'll ask the other members where they got their recipes and pass it along!

Check out our previous meetings!
Cooking Club #1-4
Cooking Club #5-8
Cooking Club #9-12
Cooking Club #13
Cooking Club #14

With Love and God Bless,

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pumpkin Butter & Spice Oatmeal

The early mornings are chilly. And very dark. It's a must to have a warm mug of coffee or tea in my hands before Mr. Darcy and I head outside. Multiple times. This morning I donned gloves, a hat and scarf as well. You know what this means, don't you?

Time to break out the oatmeal!

My favorite breakfast during these cold days. My favorite breakfast in which I will be feasting on until well into April. A perfect fall breakfast choice. Fall. Beautiful fall days.

Fall is for oatmeal. And pumpkin. Which is exactly what I've been eating these last few days, which I'm positive will turn into weeks because I went a little crazy at the store and decided, YES, yes, I did need that entire shelf of canned pumpkin. When Mr. B opens the pantry in search of his cereal I'll have to let him know it's behind the pumpkin. When Mr. B looks for his soup, he'll have to move the pumpkin. When Mr. B wants Saltines crumbled in his chili, "Yes! It's behind the pumpkin." When my sugar bowl is empty and the in-laws need some for their coffee, well you know....

And alongside the 15 cans of pumpkin is a jar of Pumpkin Butter. My wonderful-I-don't-know-what-I-would-do-without-her-because-she-shops-for-me-at-Trader-Joe's-friend found this seasonal item and knew I'd want to try it. (And it would just bring my whole pumpkin shelf together, you know? It did.) I decided to try this instead of apple butter on my bowl of oats. Two things: 1) it was a good call; and 2) oh my stars, is that sweet!

Please caution yourself to a little bit at a time because ouch (!) my teeth. Not exactly a sugar-in-the-morning kind of gal, unless I'm enjoying my once in a blue moon treat, the Double Tall Caramel Macchiato. Or my seasonal Caramel Apple Spice. Hmmm....I need to get me one of those. YUM.

Pumpkin Butter & Spice Oatmeal

Serves 1

1/3 c steel cut oats cooked in water with a splash of unsweetened almond milk and a pinch of salt
unsweetened almond milk
pecans, walnuts, or almonds
1 T chia seeds
1/2 t pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp coconut oil
1 heaping tsp Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter

Once your oats are cooked, place them in a bowl and top with remaining ingredients. Easy-peasy.

Nutritional Information:
308 calories, 14 fat, 38 carbs, 10 fiber, 3 sugar, 11 protein

*Knowing I'll be eating this all week, I'll make a big batch of oats and store individually in small glass containers in the fridge. This way I can grab a container, pop it in the microwave, add my toppings, and GO!

With Love and God Bless,

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My Beautiful Month

In case you aren't on Instagram, or don't follow me, here's a peek at my Insta-Life lately.
[*All photos are taken from my Instagram account.]

Nothing like a pantry-raid lunch.

 Build-a-Scarecrow family program at work. These guys were so creative!

This was a gelato frappuccino made with espresso gelato, my friends. I was dying.

Play hard. Nap hard.

All smiles because it's Red Cup season.

With Love and God Bless,