Tuesday, December 22, 2015


The holiday season!  We're having such a fun time and the delight that the girls have in the sights, sounds, and events of the Christmas season has made it so enjoyable.  We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

My girls were both angels at the preschool Christmas program

Hot chocolate with candy canes by the fire- doesn't get much better! 

Crazy hair & Christmas PJ day at school
Still not too big for a chat with Santa Claus!
Took the big girls to their first "real play" at the Pasadena Playhouse
My cookie helper! 
One of my most favorite holiday flavors is gingerbread - gingerbread cookies, gingerbread lattes, gingerbread itself.  I made this gluten free gingerbread for Christmas last year with my family and served it with whipped cream and it was good.  I'm going to make it again this year.

Gluten Free Gingerbread

Pamela's classic vanilla cake mix
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup molasses
2 T crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 T ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk oil and molasses together.  Add eggs and ginger and combine well.  In a medium bowl, combine Pamela's classic vanilla cake mix, spices, and salt.  Add to the larger bowl and mix until throughly combined.

Bring 1 cup water to boil.  Add baking soda and mix.  Add to larger bowl until just combined.   Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 inch pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool; cut into squares and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cranberry bliss bars

'Tis the season to bake!  I'm headed to my friend Ellen's today to spend the morning baking and I can't wait.  Here's the recipe for the other bars I made for our book club.  Watch the baking time - mine turned out a little dry, but still yummy.

Cranberry Bliss Bars (makes 15)
from Skinnytaste blog

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. brown sugar (not packed)
1/4 c. melted unsalted butter
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/3 c. dried cranberries, chopped

8 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray a 9x13 inch pan with baking spray

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and stir to blend.  In another bowl, whisk the sugars with the butter, egg whites, applesauce and vanilla until light and fluffy.

Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until the batter is very well blended.  Fold in white chocolate chips and 1/3 cranberries.  Spread batter into the prepared pan using the back of a measuring cup to smooth (wet the measuring cup if it's sticky).

Bake 10-14 minutes until the edges are light brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Don't over bake or the bars will be dry.  Let bars cool completely on a wire rack.

Next, prepare the frosting.  In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Frost the bars and then cut into squares or triangles.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Eggnog Cheesecake Bars

We're in the Christmas spirit in my house!  We decorated our tree, went to see Santa and Christmas lights, and have been listening to Christmas music around the clock.  Big asked me why the song was called "Walking Around the Christmas Tree" and I hear "having a nature sing, having a nature sing" when Middle sings the chorus of "Joy to the World."

Last night, I got to host our book club and I made a few holiday desserts that turned out great.  Trust me when I tell you that you want to make these eggnog cheesecake bars - they were light and perfect cut into little squares.  I thought at first that I'd rather make a bigger pan than a 9x9 but all you need is a small bar.

Eggnog Cheesecake Bars (makes 16 bars)

12 graham crackers, finely ground (1.5 cups)
3/4 cup + 3 T sugar
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup egg nog (not the "light" kind)
1 T + 1.5 tsp flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 T brandy (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Lightly grease a 9x9 pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and the melted butter.  Press into the bottom of the pan.  I use a measuring cup to pack it all evenly.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let the pan cool (about 15-20 minutes should be fine).

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.  Pour the cream cheese mixture over the cooled crust.  Place the 9x9 pan into a larger roasting pan.  Pour hot water (I boiled it in a tea kettle) in the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the 9x9 pan.  Place the whole thing in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the middle is just set.

Cool on a rack for about a half hour.  Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.  Slice and serve with a little more nutmeg sprinkled on top.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Pumpkin Pasta 2.0

I have made a very similar recipe previously but when I made it again, I played with the amounts and ingredients a little bit and this turned out absolutely delicious.  It's still fall, folks and this is comfort food at its finest!

A note about method:  You can either cook the bacon up separately (I like it on the crispy side) and add it at the end, or you can start with the bacon in the skillet, leave a little bacon grease in the pan and then saute the shallots and sage in that.  It's a little greasier but adds more smoky bacon flavor.

Pumpkin Pasta 2.0 (serves 2)

2 c. rotini or penne
1 shallot, chopped
5 sage leaves, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1 c. pumpkin puree
1/4 c. whole milk
2 tsp. (or more) Sriracha 
nutmeg, cinnamon, salt & pepper to taste
4 slices hickory smoked bacon, cooked crispy

Cook penne according to package instructions.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.  Heat a little olive oil in a skillet and add the shallots and sage.  Saute until the shallots are tender and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and saute one more minute.  Add the broth, pumpkin, cream chili sauce, and seasonings and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens.  Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings to taste.  I added a little more Sriracha for some kick.  If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the pasta water.  Chop the bacon up and add it to the sauce with the cooked pasta and toss.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

In no particular order, some photos from the ghost of Thanksgivings past:

Now onto Thanksgiving future (aka next week):

Here are some of my picks for what you should make for Thanksgiving.  I'm making an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, and a pecan pie - probably the traditional recipes.  But, this sour cream apple pie and pumpkin gingerbread pie have never disappointed me.  We're not a big "appetizers on Thanksgiving" family but if you are, these two are always a big hit.  And, make a pitcher of sangria . . . because, why not?

Cranberry Jalapeno Salsa
Pumpkin Fondue

Pecan Pie
Sour Cream Apple Pie
Pumpkin Gingerbread Pie

Other Sweets
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce
Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Ice Cream

Side Dishes
Country Bread Stuffing with Goat Cheese & Cranberries
Wild Rice Pilaf 
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cranberry Chipotle Dressing 


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Snacking: Fall edition

These kids . . . they keep changing and growing up so fast.  And you know why?  Because they are constantly hungry and eating me out of house and home.  One of the things I hear the most from my kids is "Mom, I'm hungry.  I want a snack."  In my pantry, I have a "snack box" - a clear plastic bin in which I keep all the pre-portioned non-perishable snacks that I buy.  It takes up way less space than all the boxes of cereal bars, fruit snacks, pretzels, etc. and when I'm packing lunches or snacks, I grab from there.  One of our rules is that those snacks are for when we're out of the house.  At home, we eat fruit, yogurt, veggies, toast, or crackers and snacks from the big boxes, not the pouches.  If you're a mom, you already know the next part of this - the constant asking and negotiating for something from the snack box.  It's a never ending cycle.

But, here are two snacks I made this fall that were a big hit.  We ate them at home and I put them in baggies to take to school & the gym. The Fall Chex mix with more ingredients actually took less time to make and the apple chips, well, they were a lesson in patience.  We finished off both batches pretty quickly. 
Apple Chips

Slice the apples really, really thin.  I used a mandolin slicer on the thinnest setting.  Because they were that thin, I didn't bother to core or peel the apples.

Place the apples in a single layer on a silicon baking mat (or parchment paper) and sprinkle with a little bit of cinnamon.  Bake in a 200 degree oven for 2-3 hours, flipping them over after the first hour.  Mine weren't crispy enough until at least the 3 hour mark. 

Fall Chex Mix (makes about 10 cups)

adapted from MyBakingAddiction.com

4 cups Vanilla Chex
4 cups Golden Grahams
1.5 cups mini salted pretzel twists
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 cup candy corn (if you don't like candy corn, you could do m&ms or yogurt covered raisins)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix the cereals, pretzels, and raisins.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the honey, stirring until smooth and combined.  Add the pumpkin spice and stir.

Pour the honey mixture over the cereal mixture and stir until coated.  Spread on a large rimmed baking skeet and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  Let it cool for one hour.  Add the candy corn and serve.  Will keep in a covered container for about a week (unless your kids eat it all first).

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Autumn Chicken Bake

Let me start by saying that Thanksgiving is two weeks from today!  I absolutely can't believe that - this month has just flown by.  When I put this on the table last night, my husband said that it looked and smelled like fall.  I couldn't agree more and that was exactly what I was going for!  I happened to have most of the ingredients in my kitchen and it all cooks in one pan so this dinner came together easily.  The bonus was that my family loved it.  Okay, my girls ate a bite of each vegetable (one half brussels sprout each) but they loved the chicken and asked for seconds - that's a success around here!

You might be tempted to substitute chicken breasts (and you can) but the thighs were just delicious and don't get as dried out when you bake this.  The original recipe called for bone-in skin-on thighs and a little broiling at the end to crisp it up but I went with boneless skinless.

Trust me - this is what you want for dinner tonight!  Did I mention it has bacon?

Autumn Chicken Bake (serves 4-6)
from Cooking Classy blog

4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 cups  butternut squash (peeled and cut into cubes)
2 cups brussels sprouts (trimmed and halved)
1-2 Fuji apples, sliced
4 slices hickory smoked bacon, cut into 1 in. pieces
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
4 T olive oil, divided
1.5 T red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T each chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Pour 2 T olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and herbs in a large ziplock bag and add the chicken.  Add some salt and pepper, close the bag, and massage the chicken.  Leave this on the counter while you get the vegetables ready.

Spray a 9x13 pan with olive oil spray and add the squash, brussels sprouts, apples, and shallots.  Drizzle with remaining olive oil (or spray with more olive oil spray) and season with salt and pepper.  Set the chicken thighs on top of the vegetable/fruit mixture and sprinkle everything with the bacon pieces.

Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is done and the brussels sprouts are tender. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween over the years










Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fall Adventures

Last weekend we had to drive out to Palm Desert and back in the same day.  We decided to break up the trip with a detour to Oak Glen to do some apple picking.  Unfortunately when we got there, we found out that due to the drought and low crop yield, apple picking (especially the U-Pick) was over for the season.  After being pretty disappointed, the girls got to taste some different varieties of apples, sample cider, watch the cider press, and at least get out of the car for a little while.

At $15/bag, it wasn't exactly farmer's market prices, but we did buy some apples to make Dad a belated birthday apple pie.  In the past, we've gone to Los Rios Rancho and Riley's Farm, but this trip we stopped at Snow-Line which had some yummy smelling BBQ, hard and regular cider, wine tasting, antiques for sale, and apples galore.

We also went pumpkin picking (well, picking out, not picking from the vine) at Cal Poly Pomona's pumpkin patch.  We didn't go to the pumpkin weekend which is usually super crowded but they still had lots of pumpkins left ($5/apiece for any size) and it was fun to watch the girls decide which pumpkin was "perfect" in their eyes.

Back at home, we celebrated the arrival of slightly cooler weather with making some soup.  I know I've had many versions of broccoli soup and green soup in the past, but this was a riff on a popular family recipe - roasted broccoli.  If you don't make this for your family, try it tonight - just do the roasting step of the broccoli and serve with parmesan cheese (or you can leave it off).  I added more lemon juice than the recipe calls for and wished I hadn't, so try a little at a time.  But, I liked the overall result and it's pretty clean eating.  It reminded me more of the asparagus soup I make than other creamy broccoli soup recipes I've tried and I'm sure we'll be making it again!

Roasted Broccoli Soup (serves 4)

Two large heads broccoli
1 head of garlic
1/2 onion, diced
4 c. vegetable broth
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1 T lemon juice
grated parmesan
olive oil
salt and pepper

Slice just the top of the head of garlic off (leaving the cloves still tucked inside).  Drizzle the top with olive oil and wrap in a piece of foil to make a packet.  Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Separate the broccoli into florets and place in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread into a single layer on a large rimmed cookie sheet and add to the oven after the first 20 minutes with the garlic.  Cook another 20 minutes (the broccoli will take 20 and the garlic will take 40).

When the garlic and broccoli are done roasting, put the broccoli into a pot on the stove and add the onion, broth, and thyme.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the broccoli is really soft.  Add the cooled roasted garlic cloves to the soup.  Blend in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.  Taste and add salt and pepper and the lemon juice.  Serve with grated parmesan on top.