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.