Pioneer Bread

Pioneer BreadCan I just, say something…crazy?
In my head, that request was stated like Princess Anna in Frozen.
Ok.  Here is the crazy thing.  Are you ready?

This bread tastes like history.  Like the Old West.  Like The Oregon Trail.

I TOLD you it was crazy, and although I am not a woman prone to exaggeration (*cough cough* ahem), I promise you this is true.  It makes you think of covered wagons, sod houses, and Little House On The Prairie.  I take a bite, close my eyes, and I no longer hear the beep of the microwave timer, but instead, the clang of the iron cookstove door as my husbands adds more logs to the fire.  I can almost smell the waist high grasses blowing outside of the open kitchen window.  My calloused hands bring the still warm slice of bread to my lips for another taste and a sudden bellow from Mazy in barn reminds me that its almost time for evening milking.

Don’t you love it when food does that to you?  Transports you to another time and place or evokes a thought or feeling with just a taste?  I do.  That is one of my favorite things about food.  Perhaps a little of it is the name, but I feel stronger, more independent, and more adventurous just mixing up a batch.

The recipe-or a version of it-has been handed down through families for generations.  It relies on the acid of sour milk to do its leavening and contains no refined sugars and no butter or oil.  Certain items have been changed over time, such as the use of  wheat flour, but I think it still stays true to its name.  It is hearty and a bit heavy, due to the denseness of the ingredients, but it isn’t TOO heavy.  The dried fruit helps sweeten the bread but the honey flavor comes through and results in a bread that nearly tastes like sunshine itself.  We like to eat it sliced thick, plain, right out of the hand.  When you get to the end of the loaf after a day or two, toasted with butter is down right excellent.  Milk cow and covered wagon optional.
Pioneer BreadPioneer BreadPioneer BreadOne Year Ago: Pomegranate Sorbet W/Mini Chocolate Chips & White Sangria,
Two Years Ago: Classic Buttermilk Biscuits, The BEST Strawberry Rhubarb Jam,
Three Years Ago: Lemon Chiffon Pie & Outrageous Grilled Pork Chops

Pioneer Bread
Adapted from Americas Test Kitchen
The little boost of sugar is not necessary, but I found that it makes the honey flavor a bit stronger in the finished bread.

3 c white whole wheat flour, or regular whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/4 c sugar (optional)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 c buttermilk
1/2 c honey
1 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c chopped dates
1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and honey until combined.  Gently stir into dry ingredients, folding together until not quite mixed.  Add the nuts and dried fruit and gently fold together until completely combined.  Pour the batter into two, well greased or sprayed 9X5 inch loaf pans.  Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and let cool the rest of the way.  Store well wrapped on the counter for a day or two, or freeze.

Granny’s Buttermilk Pound Cake

Granny's Buttermilk Pound CakeSometimes things come along in life that you just know are special.

The first time I tasted this pound cake was one of those times.  Not special like the birth of my children or my wedding day, but something that you know is different.  Lovely.  My best friend makes this pound cake and yes, as you may have guessed, it is her Granny’s recipe.  The same Granny, I might add, that is also responsible for this wonderful casserole of deliciousness.  The Granny who’s granddaughter introduced me to some of my most favorite southern foods; this classic pound cake among them.  Once I tried this, I have never really cared to try anyone else’s.  It is just simply-the best.
Granny's Buttermilk Pound CakeThat specialness I was speaking of, is love.  Yeah yeah.  I know.  *eye roll*  Sappy right?  What I mean is love, as an ingredient.  There is something about this cake that makes people stop and smile.  It is velvety and moist and perfect and…well…special.  Just like chicken noodle soup can taste like home and comfort, so can this cake remind you of something familiar and warm and loving.  Which, as I experienced the handful of times I personally got to spend with Granny, is exactly the kind of woman she was.  I may make different kinds of pound cakes over the years, but nothing beats this traditional, classic version that has been through the hands of generations of southern women and made (literally) hundreds of times.

With this move to South Carolina coming closer and closer, I know I will be able to hold my own at the church pot-luck dinners and any school bake sale that comes my way.  I may still throw a Tator-Tot Casserole or Wild Rice Soup at them once in awhile, just to remind them that Yankees can cook too.  But you just can’t argue with tradition.

Granny would approve.
Granny's Buttermilk Pound CakeGranny's Buttermilk Pound Cake Two Years Ago: Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Three Years Ago: Lemon & Herb Deviled Eggs

Granny’s Buttermilk Pound Cake
Adapted, ever so slightly, from Jewel Amason (Granny)
This recipe originally called for Crisco but I rarely ever keep it in my house.  For the sake of convenience, I use butter.  If we are being totally honest here, I actually prefer the taste of this cake with shortening (gasp!) but butter works well too.  It is the ONLY thing I have changed from the original recipe as given to me by the family so I hope they can overlook it! :)  This cake is not fussy or temperamental which makes it very reliable.  It freezes WONDERFULLY and that is one of my most favorite things about it!  Because it makes a full bundt pan, I usually serve half the cake and then wrap the second half well and store it in the freezer.  Give it a bit to thaw on the counter and it is just as good-even a bit better!-than freshly baked.  Being a simple pound cake, it is fantastic with just a dusting of powdered sugar and eaten out of hand.  I am sharing it with you now because it is also the perfect vehicle for spring berries!  The pic above is smothered in a strawberry/rhubarb sauce and that is hands down our favorite way to eat it.  Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream isn’t too bad either!

The recipe format is a bit different because I am going to write it exactly how it was given to me.  I have never deviated from the directions for fear of it turning out different!

Add ¼ tsp baking soda to 1 c buttermilk and stir.  Set aside.
Cream:
1 c Crisco (or softened butter)
2 ½ c sugar
Add 5 eggs one at a time.
Alternate adding 3 c flour and buttermilk mixture until blended.
Add 2 T boiling water and 1 tsp vanilla.
Blend well.
Pour into greased and floured bundt pan and bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Let cool in pan for 5 minutes then turn out to cool completely.
Slice and enjoy!

Super Quick Peanut Butter CooPeanut butter is a funny thing.

You can turn it into a savory sauce for noodles, no-bake confections for the holidays, or the ever classic favorite, straight up peanut butter cookies.  Speaking of cookies, peanut butter needs little in the way of help to bake up as such.  The following recipe is a kind of classic formula that has recently become popular again due to the demand of gluten-free, dairy free, and grain free recipes.

But this isn’t some fancy schmancy new development.  I remember making something like this when I was a kid and maybe rolling them in sugar before baking?  Not sure.  But throwing together treats with few ingredients is old hat in the foodie world and these cookies are a prime example.  They just happen to be naturally gluten and dairy free.  Which, in turn, makes them great for the masses, just in case you need something that covers all your bases with guests.

In the end, what is really important here is that they taste good.  They taste awesome, actually, and may just replace your classic peanut butter cookie.  They are just so much more….peanut-ty…than other cookies.  Like, the essence of peanut butter in cookie form.  I still kind of marvel that you can put so few things together and have them bake up so perfectly cookie-like.  Because they are so wonderfully simple, they are the perfect platform to use in other applications.  For example, I highly recommend putting a scoop of chocolate and vanilla swirled ice cream between two of these.  I mean, its just…*sigh*…outrageously good.  Crumbled up and added to a bowl of vanilla frozen yogurt?  Also not a terrible idea.  Neither is using them as a scooper for applesauce.

Do YOU do anything special with your peanut butter cookies?
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Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
I have never tried making this with almond butter, but I have no doubt it would be fantastic.

1 c creamy peanut butter
1 c sugar
1 large egg
3/4 tsp baking soda

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a sprayed or parchment covered sheet pan and bake at 350 for 9 minutes.  The cookies should be just barely golden around the edges.  Let cool on the pan until set enough to remove with a spatula.

Honey Cardamom Snack Cake

Honey Cardamom Snack CakeA year or so ago, my friend Thea and her family stopped by to visit on the way through town.  Aside from the fact that I have know her more than 20 years and she remembers what I looked like in the mid 90′s, she is a professional baker.  She has been mostly special occasion cakes for the last 8 years, but recently opened up a store front, giving the general public a chance to enjoy her creations on a day to day basis.  Needless to say, we talk flour, butter, sugar, and eggs whenever we are together.

On this particular visit, I was baking something.  For the life of me I canNOT remember what it was, but I assure  you, it wasn’t cake.  Of all the things to feed a professional baker, I avoid baked confections as much as possible.  Usually I lean toward things like creme brûlée, fruit bars, and puddings.  Whatever it was I was making, Thea walked into the kitchen, sniffed, and her eyes lit up.  “Are you using cardamom?” was her immediate question.  Yes, I told her.  Why?  “It is one of my favorite spices,” she declared.  “But it is so under-used!’

I agreed.  Even though it is a warm flavor with an almost herb-y quality to it, and is often mixed with Christmas spices, you don’t often see it used completely on its own.  I happen to love it.  I add it to my plain banana bread, shortbread cookies, and most recently, as the feature flavor in snack cakes!
Honey Cardamom Snack CakeHoney Cardamom Snack Cake As you can see, my two year old wasn’t willing to wait until I was done photographing.  The honey is the only sweetener in this recipe so please please PLEASE use local, raw honey if you have the chance.  The flavor is incomparable to the stuff from the grocery store.  It also gives it the perfect level of sweetness.  Paired with a simple, sour cream snack cake base and the warmth of the cardamom, it is just homey.  If you want to use it as a dessert, fresh strawberries and sweet whipped cream are outstanding with this cake.  But generally, I just like to pick it up and take a bite.

Thea would approve.
Honey Cardamom Snack CakeIMG_9145IMG_9102 One Year Ago: Loaded Black Bean Quesadillas

Two Years Ago: Cream Cheese Banana Bread

Three Years Ago: Honey Carrots & Non-Traditional Shepherd’s Pie & One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Honey Cardamom Snack Cake
This tastes great on day two so whip it up when you have time and enjoy as an after school snack!

1/2 c (1 stick) butter, room temp
1 c honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c white whole wheat or whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
large pinch of salt
3/4 c sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325.
Using a hand or stand mixer, combine the butter and honey until creamy.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add half of the mixture to the honey mixture.  Mix slowly until starting to combine, and add half the sour cream.  Still mixing slowly, add the last of the dry ingredients and the last of the sour cream.  Mix until just barely combined, finishing by hand and scraping down the bowl at the end.  Pour batter into a greased and floured 9 inch cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool on the counter for 10 minutes or so, and then turn out onto a rack and let cool the rest of the way.  Slice into wedges and serve!

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda BreadI think Irish Soda Bread is one of those things that people always think is really complicated, when really, it couldn’t be simpler.  I make soda bread year round because it is just so darn good, but given the impending Irish holiday-a heritage that my husband and I both share-I thought posting it now was apropos.

I know this sounds a little crazy, but I like making things like this bread because it makes me feel like I have stepped back in time.  Everything about the way it looks, smells, and even the way it feels in your hands when you break it apart calls up images of green fields, rock walls, a heavy knitted sweater or two, and cloudy skies.  You get a feeling that you are doing something, that at the root of it, is worthwhile.  Meaningful.  Rustic.  Do  you ever feel that way when you get your hands dirty?  Wether it is digging in the garden or mixing a hearty bread with your fingers, you just feel like you have survival skills.  Like you know you would make it in a post apocalyptic world.  Assuming you survived the zombies, of course…

The basics of this bread, traditionally, consist of whole grain flour, baking soda, some sort of acid to activate the soda and make the bread rise, and water.   It was plain and eaten with meals or on its own as a quick lunch.  Different regions of Ireland have different variations on shape, cooking, and flavorings, but there are a few things that seem universal.  Most include some sort of dried fruit, such as raisins or currants, and often have the shape of a cross carved in the top of the loaf to ward off the devil.  Who am I to break tradition??

Irish Soda BreadIrish Soda BreadI really have nothing more to say about this fantastic recipe other than it is just fabulous.  I have made a LOT of Irish Soda Breads in the last few years and all of them are good.  I may even share a different one some other day.  But as for a great, straight up, fairly traditional and classic recipe-this is it!  I actually tossed out and deleted several of my other versions because they just don’t compare.  And now I am one step closer to surviving the end of the world.
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Three Years Ago: Two Kinds of Cranberry Sauce & Crock Pot Chocolate Mess

Irish Soda Bread
Recipe inspired by numerous places.
This bread is not sweet by any means.  It is rustic and thick and heavy and lovely.  It seems to have the best flavor and texture the day it is made, but toasted on day two is wonderful as well.  Serve this with plenty of cold, salty butter.

3 c flour, plus more as needed
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 T (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
1 c wheat bran
1/4 c caraway seeds
1 c raisins
1 2/3 c buttermilk or 1 1/3 c whole milk + 1/3 c apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350.  If you are using whole milk and vinegar in place of the buttermilk, combine them now and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the first four ingredients together until combined.  Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembled course crumbs.  Alternatively, cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, to knives, or by rubbing the butter between your fingers.  Dump into a large bowl and add the caraway, raisins, and bran.  Mix gently to combine.  Pour in the buttermilk and stir with a large fork until the mixture starts to come together and is just combined.  Dough will be very sticky.  Flour your hands and gently pat the dough into an 8 inch domed round on a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a Silpat.  Score the top of the round with a large cross and sprinkle with a dusting of flour if desired.  Bake for 1 hour, or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool on a wire rack.  Slice, or break into four chunks along the grooves and then slice.  Serve with lotsa buttah!

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

Whole Wheat Banana BreadOne look through my recipe archives and you know how much I love things made with banana.

It is not so much that it is my favorite flavor, but that it is just so dang easy to make.  Banana type baked goods are virtually guaranteed to come out naturally sweet, moist, and popular with everyone.  I always have bananas in the house and on the frequent occasion that I end up with some that are too ripe, it is a no brainer that having an arsenal of quick bread and muffin recipes is handy.

A few weeks ago, I decided to use up my rather large amount of soon to be mush bananas and make a quadruple batch of this Double Chocolate Banana Bread.  However after the first loaf, I realized that someone (not me) had used up all the cocoa powder (I didn’t do it) making hot chocolate (not I) and never added it to the grocery list (fine, it was me).  So I decided to do one of my favorite things: pull random cookbooks off my shelf and start rifling through them to find a new recipe.  I do this pretty often when I need a little extra inspiration, or when I just get bored with what I have been cooking.  With over 100 cookbooks in my possession (not including the 5000+ recipes on my computer) it could keep me busy for years.

Fortunately, the first cookbook I picked up was my Whole Grain Baking cookbook by King Arthur Flour and I had no need to go any further.  I found this recipe and immediately whipped it up.  A plain, straightforward, whole wheat banana bread was exactly what I was looking for.
Whole Wheat Banana BreadI made a few adjustments to accommodate what I had on hand.  And then I made it again.  And then again.  At one point in time, I even shmeared a few slices with cold, salty butter-OH my stars-which is something I rarely do with bread but may now have to do on a regular basis.  Butter.  Goooooood.

So just in case you were planning on searching high and low for a great whole wheat banana bread recipe, look no further.  I got ya covered.  And you don’t have to sift through 100 cookbooks to find it!
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Whole Wheat Banana Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
As with all quick breads made with bananas, be sure to use over ripe fruit-as in past the point that you would eat it out of the hand.  The skin will have dark spots on it and they will be VERY fragrant.  This makes for a moist, sweet, banana-y flavored bread.  If you use fruit that is not over ripe, the flavor and texture will suffer.

3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/4 c honey
2 eggs
1/3 c canola or grape seed oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c brown sugar
2 c whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 c chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or other large mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients until well incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and combine until barely mixed.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix the last few turns by hand.  Fold in the walnuts.  Pour into a greased, standard loaf pan-about 9X5- and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  If your bread is getting too brown near the end of baking time, tent a piece of foil over the top.  Remove from the oven and let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes or so, until it has a chance to set a bit, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.  This freezes great and is quite fantastic for breakfast.

Triple Chocolate Mexican Cookies

Triple Chocolate Mexican CookiesI had no idea that this recipe was going to be such a pain in my tush.
Triple Chocolate Mexican CookiesI was making guacamole and margaritas for a meeting this past week and was going to test a few of my spicy mexican cookie recipes so that we would have something sweet to nosh on after the salty stuff.  Mexican cookies, much like Mexican hot chocolate, are basically a cinnamon spiced chocolate cookie.  If you frequent Caribou Coffee, you saw the Spicy Mocha make an appearance this year.  It has a spice mix added that has cinnamon and chili in it and will clear your stuffy nose right up!!  Yowza.  Zippy!  It is quite fantastic and when I can make it to a Caribou, I treat myself.  When I make cookies though, I prefer to give it a bit of a kick with some heat so that you really know you are eating something other than a standard chocolate cookie.  I narrowed it down to two recipes, but neither was exactly what I was looking for.  Eventually, in an effort to avoid the 13 tries it took me to get the oatmeal raisin cookies just right, I started from scratch and crossed my fingers.

The result?  I ate so much chocolate and ingested so much cayenne and cinnamon that I gave myself a headache and took to driving around town and harassing my friends so that they would eat them instead because my tastebuds were fried and I could no longer tell the difference between one cookie and another.  Major antioxidant overload.  Thankfully I hang out with opinionated and honest people so I knew just what to do to finish off this recipe.  Now you can make them too and share in the spicy triple chocolate experience.  Add a cup of coffee (or tea if that is your poison) and you will be oh so cozy and warm.  Never mind the snow falling outside the window.
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Triple Chocolate Mexican Cookies
These are wonderfully chewy without being cake-y.  Kind of like a sturdy, round brownie.  Obviously you can adjust the spice level to your liking as everyone prefers different levels of heat.  Doubling the amount of cayenne tastes awesome, but makes it hard to eat more than one.

5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 c (1 stick) of butter
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c white whole wheat flour-or another 1/2 c of all purpose
1/2 c cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 T of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp of black pepper
1 c mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Put the chopped chocolate and butter into a medium glass bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between each time until just barely melted.  Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugars, vanilla and eggs until smooth.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the melted chocolate and combine.  Scrape the bowl until the chocolate is all incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.  Add the chocolate chips.  Scoop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a lined or greased sheet pan and bake for 11 minutes.  Cool slightly before removing to a cooling rack.  This recipe makes exactly 3 dozen and these freeze wonderfully.  Otherwise keep sealed in a container at room temp for up to three days.

Cherry Pistachio Butter Cookies

Cherry Pistachio Butter CookiesAren’t these festive?  So pretty on a white plate!  Let me tell you about them….

Essentially, someone made a cross between a russian tea cake, shortbread, and holiday fruit cake-minus the booze.  The result? A pale green (yet mint free, for all of you who have mint aversions, and therefore avoid green confections) crumbly kind of butter cookie that taste delightfully nostalgic.  I don’t really know why, but the green pistachio pudding mix in the cookies are probably the reason.

For the record, my Mom never ever ever made instant pistachio pudding for us when we were kids, but something about it tastes like coming home.  Add in bright red maraschinos and you have a down right merry little cookie.  They are quite sweet looking (pun intended) on a dessert tray at a party and kids seem to gravitate toward them especially.  I mean these are green cookies, people!  How can that NOT put you in the Christmas spirit?!
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Cherry Pistachio Butter Cookies
Adapted from iheartnaptime.com
This dough is pretty tolerant so be brave and let your kids help roll these.

1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 box (3 oz) instant pistachio pudding
1 2/3 c flour
1/2 c maraschini cherries, finely chopped

After you finely chop the cherries, fold them into a double layer of paper towels and press the excess liquid off of them. They need to be pretty dry when you mix them in.  Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, combine the first three ingredients until smooth and combined.  Gently mix in the cherries JUST until evenly distributed.  Scoop the dough into small teaspoon sized portions, roll between your hands to make a smooth ball, and gently press to make a slightly flat hockey puck shape on a sprayed or lined sheet pan.  Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are just lightly browned.  Cool and sprinkle with additional powdered sugar if desired.

Ruby Bars & Thanksgiving Inspiration

Cranberry Apple Butter Bars I call these bars Ruby Bars because if their color (obviously) and I will tell you that they are filled with a cranberry and apple butter sauce.  Intrigued?  I was too.  I am so excited to share this recipe with you, but before I do that, I have a quick little round-up of Thanksgiving ideas!  Just in case the influx of holiday magazines, Pinterest boards, recipe flip books at the grocery store registers, and family traditions have completely robbed you of inspiration!

Appetizers

Lemon & Herb Deviled Eggs Lemon & Herb Deviled Eggs- You won’t believe how lovely these are.  Just different enough to be interesting, but not weird enough to scare off your relatives.

Caramelized Onion DipCaramelized Onion Dip- There are certain places I am not allowed to show my face without this dip in my hands.  Its that good.  Make it the day before you need it to save yourself some time.

Hummus Instant Hummus- Guilt free snacking while you try to keep the kids fingers out of the jello salad.

IMG_0364White Sangria-Mmmm.  Light, fruity, and the perfect pre-drink to a turkey dinner.

Hot Apple CiderHot Apple Cider- Classic for a reason.

Main Menu

Pomegranate Glazed CarrotsPomegranate Glazed Carrots- So good, they should have been at the first Thanksgiving.

Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet Potatoes- Because you need them in your life.

Baked Garlic Brown RiceBaked Garlic Brown Rice- A spectacular alternative to potatoes when you want to add a starch.

Classic Buttermilk BiscuitsClassic Buttermilk Biscuits- The name says it all.

Maple Orange Cranberry SauceMaple Orange Cranberry SauceMake this today.  It will last for a good week in the fridge!

Roast Broccoli Roast BroccoliA healthy side that adds gorgeous color to your plate with minimal effort.

Dessert

Plum CrunchPlum Crunch- Just say yes.

Cranberry Maple Pudding CakeCranberry Maple Pudding Cake- You and your guests will be talking about this until next summer.

Rum Pumpkin PieRum Pumpkin Pie- Its pumpkin pie with rum, people.  Need I say more?

The Best Carrot Cake EVER!The Best Carrot Cake EVER- Not a fan of pumpkin pie?  You won’t miss it with this on your plate!

And now onto our feature recipe!!
Cranberry Apple Butter BarsThis is such an amazing recipe, I don’t know why it took me so long to share it here.  If you are someone who loves to make seasonal recipes but the thought of making a pie-wether from scratch or not-nearly causes you to swoon, this dessert is for you.  In fact, when you bring it down to science, 98% of those who have eaten this in my presence actually prefer this to pie.  To PIE, people!!  Better than pie!

It follows your basic layer bar kind of format.  You make an oatmeal butter cookie type of dough, put some of it in the bottom of the pan, pour in a filling, and sprinkle the last of the dough on top, making a crunchy, bar sort of deal.  These go together just like the Oatmeal Caramel Bars that I can never stop eating.  So naturally, I was drawn to this recipe.  Add in the fact that it contains one of my favorite ingredients, i.e. apple butter, and I was pretty much helpless to resist.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the way the apple butter changes the flavor of the cranberries.  They lose the ‘in your face’ sourness and mellow out to just taste like good, tangy, cranberries.  It is quite lovely.  A small hint of the spices but not enough sweetness to be too rich.  Which is nice because there is plenty of that in the crust.  Butter + oats + sugar = chewy and crunchy heaven.  All together it is a stellar match.  So not only are they a beautiful ruby color, but they are a great at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and on into the New Year.
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Ruby Bars
Adapted from Pillsbury
My test subjects spanned more than a dozen people over the course of several years and no matter what I did or suggested, they were split 50/50 on wether or not  they liked these bars with whipped cream.  Serve some on the side and let your guests be the judge!  I find that the store bought apple butter works best in this recipe because it tends to be a bit more spicy, but anything that you like would be great.

Filling:
1-12 oz-bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c sugar
zest of 1 orange
1/4 c of OJ
1/2 c apple butter
2 T butter (optional)
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium sauce pan, combine the cranberries, sugar, orange zest and orange juice and heat over medium low heat.  Once the sugar starts to melt, turn the heat up to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit pops and it starts to thicken.  You can use the back of a spoon to help break up the fruit if you need to.  Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the apple butter, vanilla, and the butter, if using.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Crust:
3/4 c butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 c quick cooking oats

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  While the filling cools a bit, combine all crust ingredients with a mixer, hand mixer, or wooden spoon.  Press 2/3 of the mixture into a sprayed 9X13 pan.  Pour the filling over the crust and spread evenly.  Sprinkle the remaining crust over the filling and pat slightly.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars or they will fall apart when you try to serve them.  Serve with or without whipped cream.

Maple Nut Cookies

Maple Pecan CookiesI love it when I find a recipe that I have made several times before and then kind of forgot about.  And a Christmas cookie to boot!!!

Its like…well…Christmas!  Discovering a little surprise package.  Oh look at this!  A great cookie recipe!  Tucked away in the catacombs of my cookbook collection, it was just sitting there.  Quietly waiting for me to bring it back after years of neglect.  I’ve been searching out a lot of those recipes that were-um, pre-blog, if  you will.  Tasty recipes I made, tweaked, served, and loved, and then just took a break from them for a bit.  Then some smell or thought or different dish triggers my memory and I suddenly think, “Hmmm.  Whatever happened to that one cookie/bar/bread/chicken dish I used to make?”  Much like my closets, I feel my archives are always in the need of weeding.  I don’t like holding onto something that I am never going to use.  Either it is a good recipe, or its out.  It is also why I like to go back through my personal boards on Pinterest and clean them out.  But everyone does that, right?  Don’t all of YOU scan your pins and think to yourself, ‘Self?  What in the flagnog* was I thinking pinning a recipe for a dish that contained browned butter?’  DELETE.  That is totally common.  Right?  RIGHT??

What I am particularly fond of regarding these cookies is that they mirror a buttery, crunchy shortbread but are not as fussy.  This recipe for Maple Pecan Shortbread is spectacular and classic with a mild maple flavor.  But today’s cookie recipe has fewer steps, a very pronounced maple flavor, but with that same satisfyingly crispy and crumbly texture that shortbread has.  It is also a great recipe for kiddos to help with.  Smashing cookie dough with a fork dipped in sugar or letting glaze randomly drip all over dessert are both tasks that are right up their alley.  The visual texture and color contrast makes them perfect for a dessert buffet, cookie tray, and a leading candidate for a pretty Christmas gift box for a neighbor.

Just so darn pretty, dontcha think?

*Flagnong will make sense to anyone who saw the movie Monsters vs Aliens.
Maple Pecan Cookies Maple Pecan Cookies Maple Pecan Cookies Maple Pecan CookiesOne Year Ago: Classic Mashed Potatoes (Oooooooh baby!)
Two Years Ago: Sweet Potato Casserole & Maple Orange Cranberry Sauce
Three Years Ago: Spiced Tea

Maple Nut Cookies
Adapted from Pillsbury 
These can be baked and sealed and stored in the freezer if you want to get ahead with your Christmas baking, but don’t glaze them until you are ready to serve them!  They last about 48 hours in a sealed container on the counter before they start to lose their crunchiness.  But the taste is still great!

Cookies:
1 c pecan halves, toasted *see note*
2 sticks (1 c) butter, softened-preferably unsalted
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp maple flavoring
1 egg
2 c all-purpose flour
sugar for pressing

Icing:
3/4 c powdered sugar
1 T milk
1 tsp maple flavoring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If you haven’t yet, toast the nuts now.  Cool slightly and chop finely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer or a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together until fluffy.  Add the egg and maple flavoring and scrape the sides of the bowl, combining the ingredients well.  On low, add the flour and chopped pecans until just combined.  Using a teaspoon or small scoop, portion the dough into 1-inch balls and roll between your hands until smooth.  Place balls on a greased or parchment/silpat lined sheet pan.  Dip a large dinner fork into plain white sugar, and press the dough balls flat in a criss-cross pattern, as you would traditional peanut butter cookies! Bake for 11-12 minutes, or until just barely golden brown at the edges.  Cool slightly on the pan, then remove to a cooking rack to cool completely.  Meanwhile, combine the icing ingredients, being very careful not to over pour the milk!  Whisk together until smooth and just able to drizzle.  If the icing is a bit stiff, add the milk by a few drops at a time until drizzle-able.  Glaze the cookies sparingly by sweeping a spoon back and forth over the top.  If your kids are helping, well, then, just stand by with a damp rag.  Enjoy!

*Note: To toast the pecans, or any nuts you need toasted for a recipe, spread on a sheet pan in a single layer and bake in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.  Toss the nuts and toast for another 5 minutes, being careful not to let them burn!  WATCH CLOSELY!  If you can smell the toasted nuts, THEY ARE DONE!!!  Alternatively, you can put them in a dry pan on the stove over low heat, tossing occasionally until fragrant.

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins I see Banana Nut Muffins as a pretty standard type of baked good.  When I set out to create this recipe, I wanted all the great flavor but with just a tweak (just a smidgen) of an update.  So I made it heart healthy but kept the classic brown sugar taste that I love with banana.  Nothing all that fancy; just a healthier version of a great muffin that just may become your ONLY version.  It is for me.  And I am not saying that just because I can’t stop eating them.  I generally like to eat my muffins the way I was raised to; sans butter.  But when I smeared a good ‘ol salty glob of the good stuff on these muffins, I nearly dropped to my knees in thankfulness.  Stellar.
Brown Sugar Banana Nut MuffinsOne Year Ago: Pork & Prune Stew & Ginger Chai Blondies
Two Years Ago: How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree & Garlic Herb Bread & Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
Three Years Ago: Piggy Pudding & Broccoli, Bean, & Cheddar Soup

Brown Sugar Banana Nut Muffins
Of course these freeze beautifully and this recipe makes exactly 12 muffins.  If you are feeling particularly fancy, sprinkle the muffins with a pinch of extra brown sugar just before you bake them!

3 ripe bananas
1/3 c canola or grape seed oil
1/3 c buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 T ground flax seed
3/4 c brown sugar
1 c all purpose flour
1 c white whole wheat flour or standard whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c chopped walnuts-pecans would be fine too

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the first 7 ingredients until bananas are mashed and everything is evenly incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just until barely combined, then add the nuts, stirring the last few times by hand to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 1 dozen count muffin tin or line it with baking papers.  Divide the batter evenly into the 12 muffins wells.  They will be full, but not overflowing.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then turn the muffins out onto a cooling rack.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake W/Brown Sugar Streusel

Pumpkin Coffee CakeI wish…

Oh! How I wish…

…that I had found this recipe years ago!

Like so many of you, I love the pumpkin season.  Homemade pumpkin puree gets stirred into muffins and pies and even dip!  I don’t jump on the pumpkin spice latte bandwagon, but most everything else I am game for!!  I have a major soft spot for coffee cake and when I saw this recipe, I knew it was right up my alley.  For some reason, the fact that it gets cut into wedges is more appetizing to me.

I have no idea why.

Regardless of the shape of the pan it is baked in, this coffee cake would be excellent baked in a shoe box.  It is simple and classic, which is what I like most about it.  On Pinterest the other day, I saw a recipe for pumpkin glazed roast chicken and I wanted to strangle whoever created that.  Not EVERYTHING should be pumpkinified people!!  It should be limited to things like…well…coffee cake.

This isn’t too sweet and it is moist and lovely.  Add a hot cuppa tea and-gah.  I just.  I can’t even.

The recipe makes two round coffee cakes so that means I have eaten….a few.  We won’t go into details, but suffice to say that I can say with confidence that these bake up great every time and hold a full 24 hours and the streusel is still crunchy on top!  Defrosted from the freezer and warmed a bit in the oven is very nice so add these to the menu when guests are coming over the holidays.  Heck!  Bake one after dinner and eat it with hot cider for dessert!  Or as a mid day snack with that tea I mentioned.  I hear that it is also good eaten with your hands standing over the sink with a huge glass of cold milk, but thats just a rumor.
Pumpkin Coffee Cake Pumpkin Coffee CakePumpkin Coffee Cake W/Brown Sugar Streusel
Recipe adapted from here.
Note that this makes two coffee cakes.  You could freeze one, but I prefer the eat coffee cake two mornings in a row meal plan.

Coffee Cake:
1 stick (1/2 c) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree-not pumpkin pie filling
2 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 T cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp salt

Streuesel:
1/4 c flour
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 T butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix all streusel ingredients together until well incorporated.  Set aside.

With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix until smooth.  Add the pumpkin and mix, scraping the sides of the bowl and mixing again to combine thoroughly.  Mixture will look curdled.  Add the dry ingredients and mix slowly until just barely combined, scraping the bottom and mixing by hand with a spatula at the end.  Spray and flour two, 8 inch round cake pans.  Divide the batter evenly between the pans and sprinkle with the streusel.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for at least 10 minutes to let the cakes set a bit, then run a thin spatular or knife carefully around the  edges of the cakes and turn out onto a cooling rack.  Serve warm or room temp.  If you want to freeze either of the cakes, cool completely and wrap well in cellophane and seal in a gallon ziptop bag.  Defrost and serve, or warm briefly in the oven before slicing.

Coffee Swirl Coffee Cake

Coffee Swirl Coffee CakeI am so in love with this coffee cake.

Adding coffee to baked goods at breakfast is nothing new.  But this recipe is fun, unique, and totally feeds my coffee cake addiction.  I really love coffee cake of any kind.  My Mom used to make it all the time when I was a kid and even though she was partial to making them with cinnamon and streusel, I try not to discriminate.  All coffee cake deserves a fair shot at my table and this one is my new favorite.  I have already added it to my holiday recipe list, marked as a make-ahead addition to brunch menus when family is in town.  I can bake it up long before I need it and stash it, wrapped tightly, in the freezer. Just pull it out, defrost, and slice it up next to some baked eggs, fruit, and enormous mugs of spiced tea.

Mmm.  Ushering in Autumn in a very tasty way.
Coffee Swirl Coffee CakeOne Year Ago: Veggie Enchiladas
Two Years Ago: How T0:Make Vinaigrette & Roast Broccoli
Three Years Ago: Roast Pork W/Peach & Mustard Glaze, Simple Soup

Coffee Swirl Coffee Cake
Recipe adapted from Mad Hungry
This is a basic sour cream coffee cake with a swirl of delightfulness.  Its not overly sweet and my favorite way to eat it is with a slice in one hand and a steaming cup of tea in the other.

In a small bowl, combine:
2 T sugar
1 T instant coffee
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
Mix thoroughly and set aside.

1 stick (8T) of softened butter
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add half the flour, the baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Gently mix until almost incorporated.  Add the sour cream, then the last cup of flour.  Mix just until barely combined, stirring with a spatula at the end.  Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray and add half the coffee cake batter.  Sprinkle the coffee/cocoa mixture evenly in the pan and pour the remaining batter over top.  Spread evenly and swirl layers together using a skewer or small knife.  Bake for 45-50 minutes  or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then gently turn out onto a cooking rack.  Enjoy warm, cool, or half frozen. :)

Oatmeal Raisin CookiesBack to school recipes still comin’ atchya!  Like many of you, lunches and snacks and make-ahead meals are on my brain. So here is another one to pin, tweet, bookmark, copy, or bake  that can help with some of that!

This post comes to you via Marriott hotel complimentary internet service in Indiana!  The hubs and munchkins and I are taking a much needed last minute vaca; sneaking it in just before my daughter starts second grade on Tuesday.  Currently, it is late and my kiddos are still avoiding sleep on the hide-a-bed across the hotel room so I am hoping the clicking sound of my laptop as I type this lulls them to sleep.  Fingers crossed.

Phew!  So finally!!  I’m done!  After 12 (no exaggeration) batches of cookies, I have finally settled on the final version!  A nice, even dozen attempts.  Seriously.  Ask my friends and neighbors.  I was so desperate for opinions that one day I had taken to leaving labeled bags of cookies in their mailboxes.  If I had any inclination that it would take me so many batches-spread out over a month and a half-just to finalize this recipe, I probably would have skipped it in leu of something less labor intensive.  But anything worth doing is worth doing right, right?  Right!

Somewhere around version eight, I started to lose momentum and…well…get kinda sick of oatmeal cookies.  (Months from now I will probably read that line and chastise my former self, scolding ‘What?  For shame!  How could you ever be sick of oatmeal cookies!  They are your favorite!  Suck it up, you pansy!’)  I had sent hundreds of them along with my husband to work, frozen hundreds more, and ate-er, um-a few.  In the end, I scrapped everything I was making and started over with a pencil and paper and just created my own.  Admittedly, the very thing I should have done in the first place.  Then it was just a matter of working out the kinks.

These are not, I should tell you, a healthy oatmeal raisin cookie.  Healthy was before with the zucchini muffins and will be again later when we talk homemade hummus.  No, these are just easy and good.  They have no fancy ingredients and no extra steps.  You will not be making browned butter or sprinkling the hot cookies with gourmet salt in the last 2 minutes of baking.  These are just straight up, hearty, oatmeal-y and raisin-y.  They have been made a dozen different ways (Ha! Literally!) and every ingredient has been adjusted at least once.  Right down to the amount of nutmeg. This recipe is now the only plain oatmeal raisin cookie recipe I will ever use.  I promise.  Cross my heart and spit on the floor.  Its the best that I can do.  It has earned a spot here in my back to school series because it is as classic as can be, tucked into a lunchbox or waiting on the table with a glass of cold milk when the cherubs burst through the door after school.  Here’s hoping the all the oatmeal will hold them off till dinner.

And look at that!  My kids are asleep!  Well, what do ya know….
Oatmeal Raisin CookiesTwo Years Ago: Keebler Cracker Bars & Cocoa Cake

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 c (2 sticks) softened butter
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 c rolled oats-not quick cooking
1 1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 c raisins
3/4 c chopped walnuts

In the large mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugars.  Beat until smooth with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs and vanilla and combine.  Add the salt and spices and mix.  Add the oats, flour, and baking soda and mix slowly, just until combined.  Slowly stir in the raisins and walnuts.  Drop dough by measured scoop or rounded teaspoonfuls onto a lined cookie sheet.  Press gently with flat fingers to make little hockey pucks and bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.  Enjoy within 3 days or freeze, tightly sealed for up to 6 months.

Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsHere we are again!  More back to school recipes and ideas!

This recipe came about fast and furiously.  Much like the way zucchini grows.  It sneaks up on you unexpectedly and then BAM!  You have a garden full of green bats that could feed a whole vegetarian army.

I was in the mood for a super healthy, plain, spiced zucchini muffin and I didn’t feel like searching through all the recipes in my archives to find one and test it.  So I just started from scratch with a pen and paper.  The first batch was just blegh!  Into the trash it went.  The second batch was much better  and the the third and fourth were perfect.  Boom.  There.  I did it.  Problem solved.  Then I went to the computer and erased all my other zucchini muffin recipes.  Into the virtual trash you go, inferior and less-healthy zucchini muffin recipes!

Recipe development is extremely satisfactory for me.  My husband thinks I’m crazy but doesn’t complain because he gets to take all the UN-perfect batches of food to work.  Like…um…I don’t know, say…the first 10 batches of oatmeal raison cookies that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.  Batch number 11 is slated for tomorrow, but thats neither here nor there.  The point is, I love it.  I love it love it love it.  And even though the challenge is against no one by myself, it is one of the things I love most about being in the kitchen.

I of course tackled this recipe with a plan.  I wanted to use honey as the sweetener, use all whole wheat, no dairy, and make it super spiced.  So I did!  I had to tweak the sugar a bit at the beginning as the honey just didn’t have enough umph to hold its own against the spices.  I was however walking around using my best Schwarzenegger voice and repeating the phrase, “I am da zucchini shreddah!” whilst filling bowl after bowl of the veggie ribbons in preparation.  Because cooking should be fun, right?  Or at least filled with 90′s movie references….?  But they turned out great and more batches have already collected in my freezer.  The plan?  Snack on them, eat ‘em for breakfast, throw them at my hubby when his blood sugar gets low, and tuck them into my daughters’ school lunches when she starts a new year in a few weeks.  She loves getting muffins in her lunch (pulled right from the freezer, they defrost by lunchtime) as they fill her up perfectly when paired with some fruit salad and low fat string cheese.  I always send her with water to drink since she is getting milk at afternoon break, dinner, and sometimes breakfast.
Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsThe kids rolled their eyes to the heavens when I presented them with these this morning.  I took that as a good sign.  Or maybe they were just glad I was done shredding zucchini…

Here are some other great, bake ahead, healthy lunch recipes!

Earth Bread: There is a reason this is one of my most popular recipes.  Its darn good!  Baked as muffins, they are just as yummy to pull from the freezer as these zucchini ones.  Baked in loaf form, it is a great snack or addition to a lunchbox.  But two slices with cream cheese between them, and you have one stellar sandwich!  My daughter’s favorite!

Blueberry Maple Muffins: Healthy and a fruity change of pace!

Apple Carrot Muffins-Gluten Free: These delightful little nuggets are addictive to just about anyone!  Bake them up in a mini-muffin tin and add 3 or 4 pop-able bites to your brown bag!  They also make the ideal afternoon snack!

Homemade Granola Bars: One of these babies can easily sub out for a sandwich.  After you cut them up, wrap them individually in cellophane and throw them all in a gallon zip top freezer bag.  Just pull from the freezer and toss in your lunch box!

Pumpkin Pie Muffins: These are easily up there in the #1 or #2 spot as the most favorite muffin in our house.  They are simply awesome.  Yes they might remind you of fall.  But make them anytime of year and after one bite, you won’t care.

Oatmeal Raisin Snack Bars: Despite the title of the recipe, they are great as the main attraction in a school lunch.  So healthy and soooo good.

Banana Bran Muffins: I have no words.  These are just so good.  A freezer with a bag or two of these inside makes for a happy household!

Also, if you follow Brittany’s Pantry on Facebook, you heard about the Muffin Caper in our house.  This all happened while I was trying to photograph this recipe!
Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsCutest thief ever if you ask me!

One Year Ago: Summer Salmon
Two Years Ago: Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Baked Pasta W/Summer Veggies
Three Years Ago: The BEST Margaritas, June Bugs, Herbal Iced Tea, BBQ Pulled Pork

Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Muffins

In a large bowl, combine:
1/3 c canola oil
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1/2 c honey
1/4 c brown sugar or raw sugar
2 eggs
2 c shredded zucchini, lightly packed
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
Mix till thoroughly combined.  Fold in:
1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder

Gently fold dry ingredients until just combined.  Don’t over mix!  Portion into 1 dozen paper lined, or sprayed muffin cups.  Bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes, or until lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool slightly and enjoy. If freezing, cool completely before sealing.