Soft Cut-Out Cookies with Fluffy Buttercream Frosting

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What are your all-time favorite Christmas cookies? I adore a lot of them, but the top spot in my heart goes to soft cut-out cookies with fluffy icing. The whole process brings back a lot of happy memories from
my childhood. If my mind serves me right, my mom usually made spritz, snowball, and cut-out cookies at Christmas time. I always loved helping frost the cut-out cookies and eating the icing when my mom wasn’t looking. One Christmas, I ate so much, I ended up with a bad stomach ache. Or maybe that was the Christmas when everyone in our family came down with a nasty bout of gastroenteritis? Nothing says “Merry Christmas” quite like spending the night curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor. Happy memories… and a great topic for a food blog.

Anyways, back to these particular cookies…

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I used one of my favorite drop cookie recipes for sugar cookies and decided to see if the dough would hold up as cut-outs. Boy, does it ever. The cookies are soft on the inside, but have enough of a sturdy exterior that they can be topped with frosting. And the frosting is just lovely. It’s fluffy, pillowy, and it pairs so well with the cookies.

I should point out that the cookie recipe calls for a lot of vanilla and baking powder, so make sure your pantry is well-stocked. This recipe can also be doubled and it freezes great. It’s perfect for making a few weeks in advance.

I hope you will fall in love with these cookies as much as we did.

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Soft Cut-Out Cookies with Fluffy Buttercream Frosting 

Ingredients

For the Cookies

  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream (or milk)
  • 2 teaspoons  pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Directions

1. Make the cookie dough ahead of time: beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the vanilla and mix until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture, just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure the dough is evenly mixed. Chill the dough for a hour.

3. While dough is chilling, make the frosting. Place the butter, salt, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip the butter at medium speed until it is pale yellow and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add in the powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time until well-combined. Add in the cream and mix well. Add in desired food coloring.

4. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface with a rolling pin until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out with desired cookie cutters.  Transfer to baking sheet and dpace the cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake about 8-9 minutes or just until set. Be careful not to overbake – they should barely browned on the bottom. Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely,

5. Decorate cooled cookies with frosting using a knife, offset spatula, or piping tips (I used Wilton 233 tip for the Christmas trees). Top with sprinkles, if desired.

Source: Cookies- Annie’s Eats (originally adapted from Hostess with the Mostess), Frosting- barely adapted from Sweetapolita 

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Date Nut Pinwheels

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When I was planning what cookies I was going to bake for this Christmas season, I perused through my cookbooks and surfed my Pinterest boards and found myself in absolute sensory overload. I couldn’t decide, so I asked Bert what his favorite Christmas cookies are and after brief deliberation, he decided on date nut pinwheels. I was kind of surprised to learn this little fact about the guy I have grown to know so well that I can (and, so annoyingly, do) finish his sentences. My husband, who has declared chocolate chip the supreme cookie of all time and holds a classic double chocolate cake as his most revered birthday treat, had revealed to me a side of him that I never knew. The lad loves the underrated and often overlooked date nut pinwheel. My heart swelled with pride and I marked my notebook in pen; date nut pinwheels were a must for this holiday season.

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These cookies are a little more time-consuming in that you have to allow plenty of time to make and cool the filling, and chill the dough two separate times. The actual rolling up of the pinwheels can be a little intimidating, but the folks at America’s Test Kitchen included great instructions on how to do it simply with parchment paper. I was feeling a little sassy and festive on the day I was baking these and decided to have Bert and Smith record me rolling up one of the pinwheel logs . I always learn better by watching a video over a series of pictures, so I’ve included the video here. It’s very homemade, but I hope you find it helpful.

Have a wonderful week, everyone, I am going to be posting more holiday treats on the blog as Christmas nears. It’s going to be extra sweet around here, but I have some lighter recipes to share in a few weeks, as well.

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Date Nut Pinwheels

Yield: America’s Test Kitchen says 40 but I got around 48

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped fine
  • 9 ounces pitted dates, chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

1. Bring the pecans, dates, 1/2 cup sugar, and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir frequently and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 hour.

2. Use the paddle attachment in a standing mixer to beat together the butter, brown sugar, and remaining 1 cup of granulated sugar. Beat for about 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, soda, and salt. Set aside. When your butter mixture is nice and fluffy, turn the mixer to low and slowly add in the eggs, one at at time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowls and mix again. Next, add in the vanilla and mix until well-combined. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the flour mixture, in about 3 additions, until the dough is just sticking together. Turn off the mixer and divide the dough into two equal-sized hunks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

3. After the filling is cooled and the dough has chilled, place one of the hunks of dough on a lightly-floured piece of parchment paper. Roll the dough into a 9×13 inch rectangle and spread half of the date filling on the dough using a rubber spatula. Pull up on the long side of the parchment paper that is facing you and slowly peel and roll the dough while pulling up on the parchment paper to form a log (see video above). Repeat with the other hunk of dough. Place the logs on a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 1 day. You can also speed up this process by freezing the dough for about 1 hour.

4. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with greased parchment paper or silicone mats. Carefully slice the logs using a sawing motion as to not flatten the pinwheels into rectangles. Gently adjust the sliced cookies with your fingers to make them rounder. Place on baking sheets, about 2 inches apart, and bake for 14-16 minutes**, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from the oven and let cookies cool completely.

**America’s Test Kitchen provides a baking time of 18-22 minutes, but I found that my cookies were a little overdone at this time. My advice would be to do a test cookie and see which duration works best for you.

SourceAmerica’s Test Kitchen Best-Ever Christmas Cookies

Pumpkin Bread

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We celebrated my birthday this past week. I’m in my final year of my twenties and as I get older, I’ve noticed that I am much better at accepting myself for who I am and, also, who I am not. Sadly, I will never be asked to sing in the church choir nor will I be able to wedge my feet into a “petite” size 10. I’ve come to the realization that I am a little clumsy, I have a huge head circumference, and I am prone to embarrassing myself.  Case in point- the other day I thought I was wearing leggings all day until I went to smooth the front of my shirt and I discovered I was actually wearing Bert’s long johns. I felt reeeeeeally great. Here I thought my “leggings” were looser and my better eating habits were paying off. Yeah. Not really. I had a good laugh at myself and carried on. Something I have learned in my 29 years is that it’s better to embrace our eccentricities than to try to conform to the normal. It makes life much more interesting. Plus, male long johns are actually seriously comfortable.

In baking news….

It’s time to kick off the holiday baking season with this pumpkin bread recipe. If you’re looking for a sturdy baked good that would hold up well in the mail, this is a great option. Another bonus- this particular recipe makes two plump loaves, so you can make a few batches and gift them to your loved ones or freeze them for a Christmas brunch. My little rump roast has tasted a few bites of this bread and he loves it!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Pumpkin Bread

Yield: 2 loaves

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two standard loaf pans.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, vanilla and sugar until well blended.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined.
4. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour batter into the prepared pans.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Source: My Baking Addiction, originally from All Recipes

Thanksgiving 2014 Recap

 

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We held our first Thanksgiving feast in our new home this year and, I have to say, it was my favorite Turkey Day holiday in recent memory. We had my immediate family, my in-laws, and my brother’s girlfriend’s family over and it was so much fun. I tried to do as much dinner prep ahead of time as I could and it made for a virtually stress-free and incredibly enjoyable day.

I read an article about hosting dinner parties a few months ago that really made an impression on me, The author made the statement that the most important part of having guests over for dinner isn’t about having fancy china or serving perfectly put-together food. It’s about the people you are with, especially in the case of Thanksgiving. It’s a day set aside to reflect on the good things in life and to share that reflection with the ones you love most. This year, in particular, I have so much for which I am thankful: family, friends, health, and my baby boy (aka little rump roast).  I have been the stressed and frazzled hostess in the past and I always regretted it afterword. This year, I tried to keep things in perspective and it made all the difference. There was a moment during the dinner, when everyone was eating and enjoying each others’ company, that I looked down the dinner table and my cheeks flushed and my chest tightened because my heart was so full of joy. “Thank you, God,” I thought. Those feelings may have been the wine talking; but, whatever, I’m chalking it up to joy.

As for the feast- I think I accidentally deleted the few food photos I took before we ate in an attempt to clear up storage on my memory card (woops!), but the menu was as follows:

  • Roast Turkey
  • Baked Ham
  • Bert’s Mashed Potatoes
  • Connie’s Amish Dressing
  • Corn Casserole
  • Roasted Yams
  • Selby’s Salad
  • Anna’s Dinner Rolls
    • Cinnamon Honey Butter
    • Herb Garlic Butter
  • Apple Pie
  • Dutch Apple Pie
  • Pecan Pie
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Kelly’s Lemon Bundt Cake

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The ceremonious turkey carving. We may or may not have watched a you tube video to make sure we were doing it right. Isn’t the internet great?

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Bert makes some mean mashed potatoes. The trick to perfectly smooth and lump-less potes? Don’t add in any butter, sour cream, milk, etc until you have adequately whipped the potatoes into submission and gotten rid of any chunks. A little fun fact for you from Robert’s side of the family.

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My mom was the gravy master and she also manned the ham and whipped up some delicious homemade salad dressings for the feast.

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My dad was kind of a jack of all trades. He provided the wine, played with Smith, and even washed a window for us. Thanks, Dad!

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My brother-in-law, Kenny, and his lovely girlfriend, Kelly (side note- how cute is that: Kelly and Kenny!?), brought a lemon bundt cake and so dutifully filled water glasses and then helped do the dishes after the feast.

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My sister Selby made two delicious salads and we managed to get a few “J. Crew” poses in as we assembled them.

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Robert’s mother brought her world-famous Amish dressing that was adored by all. Grandpa (on the left) provided Smith with lots of entertainment.

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My brother’s girlfriend’s family. Such kind and sweet people, and they brought scrumptious homemade dinner rolls and strawberry jam.

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My brother-in-law, Kevin, and my sweet niece, Nora.

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My brother, also known as Uncle Seaweed, loves playing with his nephews.

I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving weekend. It’s officially holiday season! Have a great week, everyone.

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Baked Pumpkin French Toast

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Here we are on the brink of the holiday season and I am feeling peculiarly calm. In past years, I often end up frazzled and overwhelmed with the thoughts of the china that needs cleaned, gifts that need purchased, cards to be mailed, cookies to bake, and negotiating work and vacation time. So much so that I would basically breathe a sigh of relief when January rolled around. I really don’t like that trait about myself; the fact that I am always thinking ahead to the next step and I forget to enjoy the present. There is a quote I really love, “Wherever you are, be all there.” My goal this holiday season is to be all there. To soak it up and to actually savor the Thanksgiving turkey we’ve worked so hard to prepare, to sing along with the Christmas tunes blaring through the speakers, and to put my phone away when we’re curled up on the couch watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

One of the ways I’ve improved my ability to be more relaxed during this hectic time of year is to make dishes that can be prepared ahead of time (superb timing for a cookbook release, Ina Garten!). This baked pumpkin french toast is a perfect example and would be great for Thanksgiving weekend if you have guests staying over or it would make a fabulous addition to a Christmas morning brunch. It’s warm and comforting and really lovely served with a little drizzle of maple syrup and a tall glass of cold milk.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Here’s to focusing on the now and enjoying today.

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Baked Pumpkin French Toast

Yield: Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf stale French Bread (stale bread soaks up the liquid better than fresh)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk when I made it)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces

Directions

1. Grease a 9×13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Cut the french bread into 1 inch cubes and place in the dish in an even layer. Set aside.

2. Make the streusel: stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and use your (clean) hands to combine until it looks like oatmeal flakes. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

3. Assemble the french toast: Place the milk, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and whisk together until well-combined. Carefully pour this mixture over the bread. If the bread pieces aren’t fully submerged or they start to float, you can gently press them down with your fingertips. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. When you are ready to make the french toast, remove the casserole dish from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven preheats, sprinkle the streusel topping on top of the bread chunks. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the french toast is puffed up and golden brown. Remove from oven and serve with maple syrup. Enjoy!

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

Homestead Living: Making Apple Butter

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My mother-in-law’s family has a rich tradition of making homemade apple butter in a big copper kettle. As it was our first year back in the country, we thought it would be fun to have our city friends up for a weekend with a little cultural experience, if you will.

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The whole process starts very early on a Saturday morning when someone (not me!)  fires up the heat source and begins cooking down several gallons of fresh apple cider.

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Once the cider has been reduced to about half of the volume, things start to get a little cray cray.  A large stockpot of homemade applesauce (made with local golden delicious apples and cider) is added, followed by several cups of granulated sugar. Then, according to the lore of the apple butter masters, one must keep stirring the mixture AT ALL TIMES until the desired consistency is achieved. This way, the sauce doesn’t burn and everyone’s day isn’t ruined. The stirring is done with this long, wooden apparatus, pictured below, and the passing off between stirrers can be compared to an intense relay. Or maybe it just feels like that to me.

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When the optimal apple butter thickness has been achieved, the kettle is removed from heat and a sprinkle (not more than a teaspoon) of ground cinnamon is mixed in. An assembly line is formed and the piping hot delicious goodness is ladled into clean jars, topped with lids, and allowed to seal.

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When it was all said and done, it had taken us about 5 hours from start to finish to create this tasty topping. I made a brunch for everyone to enjoy and there was plenty of hot coffee and donuts to fuel us through the rest of the day. A fun time was had by all and I am hoping we can extend this lovely tradition into the future and continue to include both our families and our friends.

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Spooky Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

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Halloween week is here! This year is extra exciting because it’s our first time celebrating with our little beefcake. Since he is crawling and on the move, I decided to make Smith a turtle costume so he could participate in the fun. My sewing abilities leave much to be desired, so the turtle shell may not make it through All Hallows’ Eve. Oh well. I am hopeful my costume-making skills will improve exponentially as Smith grows older.  After all, Halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays and I want to share (and probably vicariously relive) that same fun and excitement with my kids.

I have so many fond memories of Beggar’s Night.  Trick-or-treating wasn’t widely-celebrated in our part of the county, so my parents would take us to a neighborhood across town where some of my parent’s good friends lived. Oh baby, was it the motherload of all neighborhoods. The majority of the houses handed out full-sized candy bars and there were fabulous decorations. There were even a few people who foolishly left baskets of candy unattended outside. Looking back, I’m wondering if this was some sort of child psychology experiment; in which case, I surely failed.

After we’d made our rounds in the subdivision, we would go home and divide our candy into piles and revel in all the sugar that sat before us.  I can vividly remember lying on the carpet in our living room one Halloween, still in my costume, and pouring all of my candy over my body in pure joy. Life, for the moment, was perfect.

As for the recipe…. I made these spooky chocolate sugar cookies in the spirit of Halloween this past weekend. They are a great break from the traditional sugar cut-out cookies and I will definitely be keeping this treat in my mind for future baking endeavors. Smith is still too young to eat cookies, but I’m hopeful he and I can start baking up Halloween sweets in the years to come. Right now, though, I’m having too much fun enjoying my little turtle. 😊

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Spooky Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies (depending on the cutters you use)

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

For the royal icing

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 6 tablespoons water

Directions

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the vanilla and instant espresso so that the espresso powder begins to dissolve. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides as needed. Next, add in the vanilla/espresso mix and the cocoa powder. Beat until well-combined. Scraped down the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure the ingredients are well-incorporated. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

2. While the dough chills, make the royal icing. Place the powder sugar and meringue powder in a bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Gradually add in the water. You may need to add more based on the desired thickness. Store in an airtight container until ready for use.

3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out a fourth of the dough on a lightly-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out cookies using the cutters of your choice (I used a standard gingerbread cookie and bat for this particular batch). Place unbaked cookie cut outs on baking sheets lined with silicone sheets or parchment paper. Bake for 9-11 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cook on a baking rack.

4. To decorate, place royal icing in piping bag fitted with small round tip. Pipe decoration as desired. Allow the royal icing to harden completely before adding facial features with toothpick and black food coloring.

Source: Cookies slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Apple Bran Muffins

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This past month I have been trying to change my eating habits for the better. While I do make an effort to cook a lot of meals from scratch and we have limited supplies of pre-packaged snacks/treats in our house, I do tend to gravitate towards recipes that are higher in sugar and saturated fats. Yes, new research shows that real butter is much better for us than the trans fat-laden margarine; but, as with most things in life, moderation is the key. Ain’t that the hard truth?  Rats.

My breakfast of choice is usually oatmeal, cereal, or a smoothie; but on the days that I work, I prefer a quick meal I can eat on the go. Enter these muffins. Most muffin recipes are just disguised as cupcakes without frosting. These particular bran muffins, however, are different. There isn’t much added sugar and they are chock full of wheat bran and fruit and whole wheat pastry flour replaces the standard all-purpose flour. I make a batch and store them in the freezer so I can easily grab one as my little guy and I are shuffling out the door in the morning on the way to drop him off at Grandma’s.

Another bonus is that you can easily substitute other fruits and/or add in nuts. It’s very much a customizable muffin. If you’re looking for a fast and nutritious breakfast on those busy mornings, this is the recipe for you.

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Apple Bran Muffins

Yield: 2 dozen muffins

Ingredients 

  • 2 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups wheat bran
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons raw sugar (or regular granulated sugar), for sprinkling on top
  • 2 cups chopped apples (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 1 cup raisins

Directions 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, vegetable oil, brown sugar, and vanilla. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (wheat bran, pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt).

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture, being careful not to over mix and stirring until only a few streaks of the flour mixture remain. Add in the apple chunks and raisins and mix just until combined. Again, do not over mix.

Using a large spoon, or 2 inch ice cream scooper, evenly divide the batter into the muffin tins. The liners will be pretty full. Sprinkle the raw (or you can use granulated) sugar over top of the muffins. Bake for 16-18 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and allow to cool longer.

Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Maple Vinaigrette

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After 28 years of deliberation, I have decided to declare October my favorite month of the year. The Autumn sunlight is gorgeous against the rich hues of gold and burgundy saturating the leaves,  it’s perfect weather to break out those throw blankets and candles and watch Harry Potter movies, I adore the earthy flavors of the seasonal produce, and I love to reminisce to my days of trick-or-treating in my youth every Halloween. As our first Autumn back in the country, I find myself especially inspired by all the beautiful scenery. Sometimes the views are so breathtaking that I feel compelled to pull my car over when I’m driving to/from work and snap pictures on my iPhone. I’m usually disappointed that I can’t capture what I am experiencing. Autumn involves all five senses and there just isn’t an Instagram filter for that, folks

Onto the recipe…

Though I know maple syrup is collected and boiled down in the spring (thanks to  the knowledge of our friends who started to tap their own sugar maple tree), I crave this local topping in the Autumn. It pairs so well with the flavors of fall and I recently found an especially delicious maple vinaigrette for our greens.  It is the perfect combination of tart and sweet and it is positively scrumptious served with a salad that is adorned with chicken, goat cheese, sugared walnuts, dried cherries, and apples.  My own green vegetable-leary husband gladly chowed down on our dinners when this dressing was available. Do yourself a favor and add this simple vinaigrette to your repertoire. You will be happy you did.

Happy fall, everyone. To get you in the spirit, I’ve included some pictures of Autumn at our homestead below.

 Maple Vinaigrette 

Yield: About 3/4 cup dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Directions

Place all ingredients into a mason jar with a lid or a dressing shaker. Shake vigorously until ingredients are well-combined. Serve over salad of your choice. Store leftovers sealed in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Adapted from Smells Like Home

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The view from our from our front porch. I took this particular picture on a chilly Sunday morning when I was still dressed in my red pajamas, robe, and bright pink slippers. I wonder what our Amish neighbors think of their crazy neighbor who is always snapping photos outside. :)

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These are our sheep: Molesly (in the back), Daisy (on the left), and Mrs. Patmore (right). They are fabulous lawn mowers and they will eat grain right out of your hand.  In other news- I will never eat mutton again. IMG_2767

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Smith got to go on his first 4-wheeler ride. We went at a snail’s pace and used extreme caution. He loved it!

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My little pumpkin and his mini pumpkin that his cousin Jack gave him.

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Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

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It’s a caramel apple with a kick, folks. Except the “kick” is cooked off in the process and is present to simply add a little bit of extra dimension to the standard Autumn confection. I made these bad boys for a friend’s baby shower over the summer. The theme was “The Giving Tree” and it only seemed fitting. This treat is much more appropriate now that apple season is in full swing.

As always, making caramel can be finicky and I often get myself all flustered and nervous in the process that I almost undoubtedly ruin the first batch. That’s exactly what happened in this case. I should have calibrated my candy thermometer before I started, but I didn’t, and I thought it would be wise to let it go just a touch past the 245 degree mark; just in case. I’m not really sure why I thought that was a good idea; but I had morphed into a semi-panicked, self-doubting lass as the process neared its end. I had the same feelings of unease as I did while I was watching the final scenes of Argo. Clearly, I have a bit of a warped perspective on caramel-making. It was no surprise when the caramel started to cool that it had reached the hard-ball stage and could easily be used as a make-shift weapon. So those ingredients went down the drain and I started again. I got it together, and the end product was much better.

I’m hoping to make these again soon. With a renewed sense of confidence in my back pocket.

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A few pictures from the shower I co-hosted with my lovely friends, Jess and Chelsea. 

Chelsea constructed this adorable tree

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Jess made most of the delicious, apple-themed food

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Chelsea’s cheese “branches” and chocolate pretzel “bark”

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I made apple cupcakes (vanilla buttercream)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made apple cupcakes (vanilla bean with vanilla buttercream)

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The beautiful new mama

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And, of course, the apple of my eye. My boy.

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HAPPY OCTOBER!

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

Ingredients

8 medium-sized apples (I used Gala)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 wooden craft or popsicle sticks

Directions

1. Remove stems from apples and push the popsicle stick inside each. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat it with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan (bigger is better to avoid overflow), stir together the sugar, cream, bourbon, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Cook over medium high heat , stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Attach a candy thermometer to the side and cook without stirring until temperature reaches 245 degrees F (about 20-25vminutes). Do not leave the caramel because it can heat very quickly towards the end of the process.

3. Once it reaches 245 degrees, remove from heat. Carefully stir in vanilla (it will bubble violently). Dip apples immediately, sprinkle with toppings (if desired) and place on wax paper. Let sit in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container or wrap in cellophane to keep them fresh for a few days.

Source: Slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is