Apricot Scones

Sweet Apricot Scones | Brittany's Pantry I really love dried apricots-its the chewiness; it pulls me in-and the day I decided to randomly create this recipe…well…it was a happy day.  And all the other days that I made test batches?  Yup.  Those were happy days too.  I have to be careful when I make these because I end up eating a lot of them.  Like, a LOT.  They are simple and easy.  Not too sweet, but definitely special.  Nothing too crazy.  That is unless we are talking about crazy GOOD!

Ok.  That was cheesy.  I retract the last statement.  Just make them, mmkay?Sweet Apricot Scones | Brittany's PantrySweet Apricot Scones | Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Corn Cake Muffins & Sticky Chicken

Apricot Scones
The glaze here is totally optional.  They are killer without it.

2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 T sugar
6 T cold butter, cubed
1 c chopped dried apricots
1 1/4 c heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 beaten egg w/a splash of water (egg wash)

1 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 T milk

Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor until combined.  Add the cubed cold butter and pulse until butter is smaller than the size of peas.  Dump the mixture into a large bowl and toss with chopped apricots, using your fingers to break up the sticky fruit and even distribute it.  Combine the vanilla and cream in a measuring cup and stir into the flour mixture with a fork, just until it starts to come together.  Dump the dough onto a floured counter top and press it together, kneading lightly, just until the dough barely forms a mass.  Press or roll into a rough square about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 6 equal portions and cut those portions in half to give you 12, roughly formed triangles.  Place on a lined baking sheet and brush with egg wash.  Bake at 375 for 20-22 minutes, or until golden brown.

Alternatively, mix the recipe the same way, but use a pastry cutter for the butter, instead of a food processor.  Proceed the same way with the recipe.  Whisk together all glaze ingredients and drizzle over just warm scones.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Hash

Sweet Potato Hash I made this for dinner last night and my husband was very upset with me.  Not because we had Sweet Potato Hash for dinner, but because I was making it while he was on the treadmill.

He came up from the basement, panting and sweaty, with a scowl on his face.  “Are you trying to torture me??” he exclaimed with more than a hint of annoyance in his voice.  Whoops.  I guess it was a long nine miles!  🙂

Of course, the beauty of hash is that you can throw anything in it.  It goes back hundreds of years and usually consists of some type of meat and potatoes, diced small, and sautéed with onions and spices.  You will see turkey hash around a lot after Thanksgiving, given the ease at which you can throw it together.  An abundant amount of leftover meat?  Check.  Veggies?  Check.  The need to make something other than sandwiches?  Check.

Leftover roast beef, potatoes, and veggies (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, & winter squash all work great) make an outstanding hash for dinner, but for breakfast (or in this case having breakfast for dinner) there is something about crispy sweet potatoes, melt in your mouth caramelized onions, and spicy sausage all topped with a hot fried egg; over easy of course because I am, after all, my Father’s daughter and that is just how I roll.  If you brown the sausage ahead of time and keep it in the fridge or freezer you can make this hash on a Saturday morning without too much fuss.  If you dice the potatoes and onions a day or two in advance (they will keep just fine in a sealed container in the fridge) it is even faster.  It smells so good it will pull your family right out of bed.  Or off a treadmill.
Sweet Potato HashOne Year Ago: Bite-Sized Cinnamon Rolls & Roasted Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Hash
Obviously you can serve this with any type of egg you like.  Or feel free to omit the egg or even the sausage.  It is equally good any way you do it.

1/2 lb bulk breakfast sausage
3 or 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced small (about 6 cups)
1 large onion, diced small
salt and pepper
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1/4 c fresh chopped parsley

In a large skillet (cast iron works great) brown the sausage, drain, and set aside.  In the same skillet (I like to wipe out most of the grease with a paper towel) add the olive oil and butter and let melt over medium heat.  The butter is for flavor and the oil is to keep it all from burning.  Add the potatoes and onions, toss to coat, and let sit for several minutes to brown.  Continue to stir and leave them be for several minutes, allowing them to get crispy on all sides.  Cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, maybe 20 minutes, depending on how big or small your potatoes are diced.  Add the sausage back in and heat together, tossing well.  Taste for seasoning, being careful not to add too much salt as the sausage already adds quite a bit!  Add the chopped parsley and top with fried, poached, or scrambled eggs.  Enjoy!

Note: If I have it, I like to add fresh thyme, but don’t use dried!  Also, chopped garlic is good in here, but we found we prefer it left out so that the flavors of the sausage and potatoes shine through a bit more.  Fresh diced mushrooms are stellar too!

IMG_7004 Quite often, food reminds us of special times in our lives.  Culinary memories, if you will.

My Mother-In-Law was telling me over the weekend that the smell of cinnamon rolls makes her think of her Mother.  She used to bake them in the afternoons so that they were fresh and warm for an after school snack.  Nice, huh?  I think I should adopt that tradition too…:)  I have talked about all of this before, I know!  So I won’t ramble on about it, except to say that this recipe represents one of my own food memories.  Just looking at the picture above makes me smile (and it makes my stomach growl)!  Years ago, before we had children, my husband and I were staying at a hotel in St. Paul while enjoying a few days in the city.  In the morning, while I slept in, he got up early and ordered room service for us.  Not knowing what I would be hungry for he asked for one of everything!  Did I mention my husband is the best ever?  He knows the way to my heart is through my stomach!  Well, and Barnes & Noble.
Banana Sour Cream Pancakes Anyway, I opened my eyes to our very own personal breakfast buffet!  A pile of fresh fruit and yogurt, scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, granola, hot chocolate (my FAV), coffee, juice, everything!  And we…erm…ate it all.  And it was really, really, good.  But something that stood out was the banana maple topping for the pancakes.  With the exception of using them in baked oatmeal, I am not a huge fan of warm bananas.  They get mushy and squishy and uhg!  Ishy.  But that day, our beautiful pancakes arrived with a little ramekin of sliced bananas that were literally swimming in warm maple syrup and pecans.  So we just kind of shrugged, and then dumped the whole thing over the lake of melted butter that had formed on the top of our stack.

Un-be-LEIVable!  We dubbed them ‘those hotel pancakes’ and never looked back.  Who knew that warm maple bananas on pancakes would be so good?!  Add the crunch of nuts and the saltiness of a side of bacon and you have one special meal.  All of that on top of a banana sour cream pancake?  Yes, please!!!  I have been making these pancakes for years and they are so good, my daughter prefers them unadorned and in the hand like a snack.  And if you decide to throw this combo together, the full breakfast buffet is optional.
Banana Sour Cream Pancakes One Year Ago: Weeknight Apple Pie, Gringo Chicken Soup, Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps, Chocolate Pudding Cake 
Two Years Ago: Chicken Salad, Midnight Crunchies, Crispy Bars

Banana Sour Cream Pancakes
Inspired by Ina and that one hotel we stayed at once.

2 bananas, mashed with a fork
In a large bowl, whisk together:
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
In a small bowl, whisk together:
1/2 c sour cream
3/4 c milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 T honey

Gently stir in the mashed bananas.  Carefully mix the wet ingredients into the dry until just barely combined.  There should be lumps!  Fry pancakes in butter on a griddle or large skillet over medium low heat.  Top with warm maple syrup, sliced bananas, and chopped walnuts or pecans!

Rum Banana Bread: Fruit & Booze

Rum Banana Bread Did the title of this post reel you in?  I must admit…that was my secret plan…. (or not so secret if I am telling you)
*Evil laugh* while ringing hands…

The first time I tried this bread I was intrigued.  The extra step of cooking the bananas in the rum was kind of a red flag, given the fact that I like to keep my quick bread recipes…well…quick.  Duh.  But the obvious pairing of bananas and rum (i.e. bananas foster) sounded so blasted scrumptious I decided to go for it.

And a new traditional holiday bread was born!  I mean, don’t get me wrong; regular banana bread is great.  I make it every once in awhile.  See?  Cream Cheese Banana Bread, Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, Earth Bread, and Banana Bran Muffins, Double Chocolate Banana Bread… Oy.  But this bread is special enough to add to your holiday platter of sweets.  I tell you, the flavors just makes sense.  And people will look at you and say, “What IS this?” and you will just smile and continue to mingle amongst your guests, secure in the knowledge that you were smart enough to make an extra loaf and get to eat all you want for breakfast in the morning  You are so smart…

And while we are on the subject of intelligence, it would be a fabulous step in the right direction if you wanted to wrap up a loaf of this in a clean, Christmas tea towel, tie it gently with a big ribbon and gift it to a friend or neighbor.  Gratitude will abound and fruitcake will never be mentioned among your circle again. 🙂
Rum Banana Bread Rum Banana Bread Rum Banana Bread One Year Ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Dip, Baked Doughnuts, Rosemary Orange Mixed NutsParmesan Dip & Butternut Squash Crostini

Rum Banana Bread (Bananas Foster Bread)
Adapted from Cooking Light
Bananas with dark spots that are just starting to go soft are perfect for this or any other kind of banana bread.  Don’t be tempted to use under-ripe fruit.  It has little or no flavor for baking.

3 bananas, mashed
1/2 c brown sugar
5 T butter
3 T dark rum
Combine the above ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until the butter and sugar are melted and the whole thing just starts to bubble.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.  In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl, add:
1/3 c plain, low fat or fat free yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 c brown sugar
1 tsp rum extract
Beat till smooth and add banana mixture.  Mix till smooth.  Add:
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1/4 c ground flax seed
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice

Mix until ingredients are just incorporated.  Pour into large (about 9X5), sprayed loaf pan and bake at 350 for about an hour, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Note: If desired, add 1 T of melted butter & 1 T of dark rum to 1/2 c of powdered sugar and drizzle over top of warm bread.  This will make you swoon, but hang in there.  Cool completely.  You can also add a few drops of rum extract in place of the rum in the glaze.  Just add a bit of water or milk to get it to a nice, pourable consistency.

Apple Butter Bran Muffins

Apple Butter Bran MuffinsAh Fall.  This time of year, on blogs especially, everyone is raving about how much they love cooler weather, how excited they are for this time of year (i.e. the beginning of ‘The Holidays’) and how wonderful it is to be able to indulge in Pumpkin Spice Lattes again.  Don’t deny it.  You were one of those people posting pics to Facebook while in the Starbucks drive thru, weren’t you?  I know.  Its all good.  I am right there with ya.  Except not on the whole coffee thing because I am still nursing, but I would be if I could.  Except for me it will be a decaf Peppermint Mocha.  Um num nahm num.  *drool drool*

But I digress…

My point is, at the risk of sounding, well, like everyone else, this really is my favorite time of the year.  It always has been.  When I lived in San Diego, I didn’t crave snow at Christmas, but I desperately wished I could bundle up in a sweatshirt, blue jeans, a stout pair of boots, and a tote a thermos of hot chocolate while the brisk air turns the end of my nose red.  Attractive I know, but THAT is what I wait for all year.  And even though, as a foodie, I love the produce and bounty of the warmer months the most when it comes to my kitchen, it is autumn that my heart belongs too.  The smells that waft from a kitchen in fall are unlike any others and these muffins contribute to that.  Also, most of my wardrobe is in earth tones so I am much more fashionable after Labor Day…

Apple butter is what makes these muffins stand out, giving them a sweet spiciness that sets them apart.  They are healthy and super good for your heart and your scarf and boot clad bod.  They somehow go perfectly with every hot drink in creation (I know.  I’ve tried.) and they make the perfect snack or breakfast for this time of year.  And yes, while baking, will make your house smell beyond amazing.  Throw in a latte and you just won’t be able to stand it.
Apple Butter Bran MuffinsOne Year Ago: Baja Fish Tacos, Double Chocolate Banana Bread & Pumpkin Pie Muffins

Apple Butter Bran Muffins
Idea from Eating Well
Of course, these freeze great.  I recommend a double batch.

In a large bowl:
1 egg
1/2 c milk
1/2 c apple butter
1/3 c brown sugar or raw sugar
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c molasses
Mix until completely incorporated.  Add:
3/4 c wheat bran
3/4 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
3/4 c white flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
Fold ingredients gently, just until incorporated.  Add:
1/2 c raisins
1/3 c chopped walnuts

Fold very gently just until mixed.  Pour into greased or lined muffin cups (it seems to make exactly 10 every time I make these) and bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a crumb or two.

Fried Rice Scramble

Fried Rice ScrambleWithout really meaning to, I have been making some gradual changes to the weekly menus that I plan for my family.  Over the last several months, in the interest of time, money, health, and wanting to use up those items exiled to the bottom corners of my chest freezer, I have been making two meals a week that are meatless, one meal that contains some kind of fish or seafood, and the rest centered around a common protein of chicken, beef, or pork.

Generally, the only rule I really try stick to when cooking for my family is variety.  When I hear people tell me that they need ideas for dinner because they are making the same ten dishes over and over, I inwardly cringe.  The majority of the time it has nothing to do with food allergies or outrageously picky individuals.  Usually, it is just the comfort of making something that they know tastes good, is reliable, and the safety of knowing the people they are serving it to will actually eat it.  Often times, it is these same people that complain that they can’t get their kid to eat anything other than macaroni and cheese when they have been making it for them for dinner (out of a box) once a week since toddler hood.

So I tell them it is never too late to try something new.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, fancy, or time consuming.  You don’t have to make something you know your crowd will hate.  And you don’t have to suddenly start trying to up your game by mastering culinary techniques that are beyond your ability or even your desire to try.  I’m talking about switching out your go-to barbecue chicken for shrimp kabobs once in awhile.  Or trying pasta scuie scuie (which you can make in the time it takes your pasta to cook) instead of spaghetti sauce from a jar and reheated frozen meatballs.  There is a time and place for convenience foods but they should not be in your weekly rotation.  And if small changes help you eat healthier, save money, and keep your family-and you!-interested in dinner, it is a big victory.

Take the meal pictured above.  It is hot outside!  And I was planning to make something for dinner that was light, healthy, did not heat up my house, and wasn’t going to completely undo all the good stuff I had done for myself that day.  I had a super healthy breakfast and lunch, narrowly avoided eating an entire box of honey Wheatables, got in 45 minutes of cardio, and was managing to ignore my craving for fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies.  My solution?  Breakfast for dinner!

When I was a kid, my Mom used to make fried rice as a kind of side dish.  It was years and years before I realized that the rest of the world did not eat fried rice like our family ate fried rice.  Our version?  Leftover white rice-usually from chow mien, a dish I hated as a child and still loathe with the fire of a thousand suns-bacon, onions, and some egg.  I am fairly certain that is the entire ingredient list.  And yowzer! it was good.  But my favorite part was always the bites of rice and egg together.  OK and bacon too.  About a year ago, after glaring at the leftover white, sticky rice from Chinese take-out that was slowly drying out while taking up precious room in my fridge, I thought to myself, I am going to make some fried rice like my Mom used to make!  Only I had no bacon.  And I really didn’t feel like dicing an onion.  So I threw some rice and bit of butter in the pan and added all the eggs I wanted!  Bingo!  My new favorite breakfast food!  Eventually, I moved onto brown rice and added cheese and leftover veggies, but the basics stayed the same.  I cannot tell you how many times I ate this when I was super sick while pregnant with Lane.  It was comforting, filling, warm, and good for me.

If you are looking at the mushrooms in the picture and shaking your head at the computer screen, stop it!  If I had a nickle for every person who told me that they hated mushrooms growing up but that they love them now as an adult, I would be…well, I would have a lot of nickles!  The common thread with all of them?  They were fed canned mushrooms as a kid.  Blegh!  Give real, fresh mushrooms a try and see if it works.  The flavor, obviously, isn’t even comparable.  And while you can obviously serve this scramble for breakfast or brunch, it is so filling you won’t miss the meat at dinner.  It is just a simple, minor adjustment.
Fried Rice ScrambleOne Year Ago: Cornmeal Pancakes W/ Blueberry Sauce

‘Fried’ Rice Scramble
I made this once with leftover quinoa and it was absolutely killer!

1 c leftover, cooked brown rice
1/2 lb sauteed sliced mushrooms
6 eggs
1/4 c cheese
snipped chives
salt and pepper

Add a small pat of butter to a medium nonstick pan and put over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir around in the butter until hot.  Turn the heat down to medium low and add the mushrooms and eggs.  Break the yolks and stir everything gently together, patiently letting the eggs cook slowly and gently.  Just before the eggs are done, stir in cheese and snipped chives.  Season with salt and pepper.  Along with 12-grain toast and fresh plums, this feeds three adults.  Or two adults and two children that eat like adults.

Note: Obviously, you can add whatever you want to this.  Cooked crumbled bacon, leftoverroasted broccoli, cut into smaller pieces is fantastic, diced tomato, sauteed zucchini is awesome-endless possibilities!

Yogurt Salads

Yogurt SaladsI am not a fan of eating plain yogurt, well, plain.  Have you ever had it?  It is really sour.  Not rich and creamy and delightful like sour cream is, but actually sour.  If you are one of those people who like it untouched or unsweetened I salute you, but I am not one of those people.  I never quite understand why I keep seeing recipes and advice in magazines that always suggest eating a bowl of it as a healthy snack or mixing some with chia seeds and kiwi to make the perfect breakfast.  Have they eaten it themselves?  Aack!  I can’t stomach that much acidity without something sweet to break it up. I know, I know.  Flavored yogurt has added sugar and stuff and it isn’t as good for you as they plain stuff.  But I buy organic!  Does that win me some points?

And while we are on the subject, I am talking about plain yogurt, not vanilla yogurt.  Vanilla yogurt has sweetener and flavoring in it, no matter how plain it may seem to you.  Actual plain yogurt is just that: cultured dairy and nothing else.  My husband learned this the hard way several years ago when I sent him a quick run to the store for VANILLA yogurt and he came back with plain.  When I stared at it questioningly, he replied rather indignantly, “What?  Its plain.  No fruit or fancy flavor.  Just plain vanilla.”  He learned his lesson when I made him eat a spoonful of it right from the container.  He then wanted to know why anyone would sell it that way and I told him that it was the same stuff that makes this bread and half a dozen other recipes so moist and lovely and irresistible.

Now please do not misunderstand.  I love to cook with plain yogurt and do so with such regularity that it is one of those ingredients that is always in my fridge.  You know how on the very last page of every Bon Appetit magazine where they feature some sort of celebrity in the culinary world and they proceed to ask them the same down to earth question-What is always in your fridge?  Well plain yogurt is on my list.  And milk.  And eggs.  And capers.  Gotta have capers.
Yogurt SaladsEnough with the yogurt lecture!  On to the food!

This is a full on example of prime comfort food for me.  I ate this nearly exact meal so often in my childhood that I really never gave it much thought.  It never crossed my mind as anything all that spectacular until I made it for my husband and I for lunch one day.  He loved it immediately and I just shrugged.  I made it for breakfast for guest and they inhaled it like it was their last meal.  I now make it for my kids, as often as they request it of me.  And sometime recently it occurred to me that some of you might like it as well.  And will you love it for the same reasons we do?  Love it for its perfect balance of tang and crunch and sweet chewiness that we crave?  I don’t know.  I hope so.  But however you make it-plain or vanilla-I promise not to give anymore speeches about yogurt.
Yogurt SaladsOne Year AgoRum Raisin Rice Pudding, Garden Salsa, & Guacamole 

Individual Yogurt Salads
I should let you know that for all my ramblings above, I ate this with only plain yogurt for as long as I lived in my parents house.  It was basically the only kind my mom would buy.  Her solution to the sourness-bless her-was to drizzle the whole thing oh so generously with honey.  This is not a bad idea if you want to eat it that way.  It makes it wonderfully sticky.  Also, you can, of course, add anything to yogurt, but for some reason this combination works exceptionally well.  The only think I ever do different is to occasionally add a sliced banana.

Making this in one big batch just makes the whole thing look messy and kinda gross.  Just add the ingredients individually to each bowl.  It is just as easy, looks better, and you and adjust the amounts  accordingly based on age and hunger level.

apple, chunked
yogurt, vanilla or plain
ground flax, optional
toasted wheat germ
chopped walnuts or slivered almonds
chunked banana, optional
a generous drizzle of honey, also optional
a spoon

Baked Oatmeal

Baked OatmealI know that this recipe works.  I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is consistent, easy, streamlined, and adaptable to many different palettes.  How do I know this?  Because I have made this a CRAZY number of times in the last three months!  There has been oatmeal coming out our ears over here!  And we have loved every minute!

Other than the fact that it is just frustrating to photograph-How do you make it come out looking decent?-this recipe is perfect.  Nutty, hearty, not too sweet, and oooooh so easy!  I have made it plain and with three different types of fruits so I have you covered from all angles.  If you have been trying to find a reliable recipe that is good for you and tastes fantastic too, look no further.  I mean, I love a good muffin, but sometimes you need to shake it up a bit!

This is actually quite different from the Overnight Oatmeal recipe I have posted before.  This is not creamy and I do not recommend adding milk or cream to it.  Well, especially not cream, as that would defeat the purpose, right?  Just scoop and eat!  Your fruit and grain all in one.

Please Note:
In the recipe, I say you can use maple syrup or honey, but the general consensus was that we like the flavor of the maple syrup better.  I have not tried it with agave or raw sugar but I have no doubt that either would work just fine.

Also, I list a few different fruit options.  Amazingly (and I was the most shocked by this than anyone) we liked bananas the best.  Weird, huh?  The apple was fine, but the juice made it a bit watery on the bottom.  Still very good though.  Blueberries are my personal favorite and a close second of everyone else.  Certainly the easiest to do.  I didn’t bother with blackberries and raspberries because I thought they would just be way too juicy, but if that is how you roll, I doubt it would taste bad!

Bottom line: Make this oatmeal.  So incredibly healthy.  So easy.  So yummy.  You may even want to make so much that it is coming out your ears.
Baked Oatmeal One Year Ago: How To: Roast Asparagus

Baked Oatmeal
Adapted from Super Natural Everyday
If you want to make this plain, sans fruit, just omit the fruit layer and make it the same unless a different quantity is noted in parenthesis.

Spray a small casserole dish or 9X9 glass baking dish.  In a single layer, add blueberries, fresh or frozen, sliced banana, or 1 grated apple that has been peeled and cored.

In a medium bowl melt 2 T (3T if making it plain) butter in the microwave.  Add:
1 c rolled oats, not quick cooking (1 1/2 c)
1/4 c chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 tsp baking powder (3/4 tsp)
3/4 tsp cinnamon (1 tsp)
pinch of salt

Mix well to evenly distribute the butter and carefully spread over the fruit.  In a large, glass measuring cup, combine with a whisk:
1 c milk (1 1/2 c)
1/4 c pure maple syrup or honey (1/3 c)
1 egg (2)
1 tsp vanilla

Pour evenly over oatmeal and carefully slide into a 375 degree oven.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned and oats have set.

Homemade Granola BarsAt the end of April my youngest sister came to visit, meet her newest nephew, and run a half marathon.  Yeah, we like to test the physical endurance of our guests every now and then.  Look!  Aren’t they cute together?
189Nearly every spring since we moved to central IL my family, my husband, and sometimes friends, have run at least one of the races during the Illinois Marathon weekend.  Usually the half marathon is the murderously torturous event of choice (Have I ever mentioned that I hate to run?) and this year my sister ran it for the second time.  Mike ran it too-his third half marathon overall.  Such craziness.  I am actually kind of the odd one out.  Between my husband, my sisters, all my sisters-in law, and some of my brothers, you would think I would join in too.  Well forget it!  You will never break me!!

But I digress…

Even though I don’t run, I have a deep respect for all of the severely misguided athletes that do.  In fact, the spirit of racing is one of the things that make that race weekend one that we excitedly look forward to every year.  The race finish line is at the fifty yard line inside the U of I stadium so it is as exciting for spectators as it is for runners.  Isn’t that neat?  The runners round a curve and the whole stadium is there before them with songs like Eye of the Tiger urging them on for those last fifty yards!  It totally would make a person want to run…almost.  My responsibilities include things much less sweaty.  Like picture taking, runner chauffeuring, and cooking for body fueling-with the exception of the two years (’06 and this past spring) that I had just given birth a few weeks before.  I stayed home then.  But anyway, for my part, I like to research different foods that are good for pre-race fueling and post race recovery so that I know I am cooking something that is just what their bodies need.  A few years ago when my other sister and her friend ran the full marathon, I really felt the pressure.  I didn’t want to be responsible for runners that ate five pounds of BBQ Ribs the night before-not good running fuel-or worse, *gasp*, were hungry!  “No one around here goes hungry!” I declare out loud, slamming my fist on the kitchen counter!  These granola bars have made an appearance several times, as well as being part of our normal snacking repertoire year round.  Mainly because they are fun to make, easy to freeze, you can pick your flavors, and..well…they are awesome.  Oh yeah, and good for you.  I recommend taking the time to just make a double batch.  Kind of like a marathon granola bar making day.  Blasting Eye of the Tiger is optional.
Homemade Granola Bars Homemade Granola BarsOne Year Ago: Fried Corn & Mocha Chocolate Chip Scones

Homemade Granola Bars
Adapted from Ina
In addition to having plain old granola around, these are fantastic to pull from the freezer for a quick breakfast, snack, or road trip munchie.  Feel free to mix and match whatever kind of fruit and nuts you like.  So far, these two combos seem to be universally pleasing and particularly gorgeous.  Aren’t the colors awesome?  And, I might add, they are addictively good.

Fruit & Nut

2 c rolled oats (not quick cooking)
3/4 c sliced almonds
3/4 c shredded coconut
1/2 c wheat germ

Place the above ingredients on a dry sheet pan and toast in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Beware!  The coconut has a tendency to burn so watch it!  When it is done, carefully pour into a large mixing bowl and reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

1 c shelled pistachios
3/4 c dried cranberries
1/2 c chopped dried apricots

Toss all dry ingredients together.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt together:
4 T butter
3/4 c honey
1/3 c brown sugar

Once it is melted, bring to a slow boil and cook and stir it for about a minute.
Add 1 tsp vanilla and pour over the contents of the bowl.  Stir carefully-its HOT!-until everything is coated and even.  Pour into a greased 9X13 pan and with wet hands, pat mixture down to lightly flatten evenly.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  Cool completely before cutting.  Twelve or sixteen bars seems to be the perfect size.  Granola bars can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap, and frozen in a gallon freezer bag for up to 3 months.

Chocolate Cherry Almond
Make the bars the same as above but increase the almonds and coconut to 1 c each.  Add 2 c of dried sour cherries to the mix instead of the cranberries, apricots and pistachios.  Proceed with the recipe just as above and when the bars come out of the oven, sprinkle the top evenly with dark chocolate chips.  I used about a cup or so, but it is up to you as to how thick you want the chocolate.  Wait a minute for them to melt and then spread evenly over the top.  Cool completely before cutting.

SmoothiesWhen I say leftover smoothie I mean a smoothie made with leftovers, not a smoothie that was not finished and then saved for later.  I should be more clear with my post titles…

This smoothie, as with all smoothies, is just dumped in a blender and whirred away!  Usually I think smoothie recipes are kind of silly.  They are a smoothie after all-the kind of meal that you just sort of figure out what you will put in it as you go along.  Unless, like in this case, the combo is maybe a bit different or it uses unexpected ingredients.  Right now, my Mom is experimenting with avocados in her smoothies (so goooood) so I will keep you posted on her discoveries.  But this one is fun because I decided to use my favorite flavors from the smoothie place at the mall.  I had some leftover fruit from making Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and immediately wanted to make this.  I am normally kind of a banana and berries kind of smoothie gal, and I honestly have no idea how I ended up ever ordering a smoothie with pineapple in it.  It was probably a mistake.  But it tastes so good, it is all I ever order anymore.  And bonus!  Zipping it up at home in my own blender is healthier and just as good!
SmoothiesThe bubble that formed at the top of this drives me crazy.  Just sayin’.

One Year Ago: Cranberry-Mustard Relish & Cranberry Sauce W/Port

Strawberry-Orange-Pineapple Smoothie

In a blender:

1 c nonfat vanilla yogurt or two large scoops of frozen yogurt
1/2 c chunked fresh pineapple
1/2 c chunked strawberries
1/2 c orange juice
1 T wheat germ
1 T honey, or to taste

Whiz away till smooth.

Bite-Sized Cinnamon Rolls

Bite-Sized Cinnamon RollsEvery once in awhile, I find myself doing something really out of the ordinary.  Culinarily speaking, of course.  Take last week for instance.  I had a tube of crescent rolls in my fridge.  Now, this is not something I normally buy and I am unsure as to why I had purchased them in the first place.  Also, they had been in my fridge for a long time and as I am trying to purge my freezer, fridge, and pantry in preperation of some make-ahead meals to have  after the baby is born…they really had to go.  I accidentally came across a recipe on tastespotting and decided to give these a try.  As it turns out, there are about a bazillion different versions of these little darlings out there on the web and I am apparently the last person to discover them.  I am posting about them now.  Just in case any of you were as clueless as I was.  And in case you are wondering this is the recipe I was refering to when I mentioned on facebook that I had just made something super cute; as most things baked in a mini-muffin tim are!

What it comes down to is that these are super quick, quite tasty, and so darn adorable you will just want to eat them all up!!  Healthy, they are not.  They will probably make a rotation in my house only as a fun surprie to whip up on a weekend or as an addition to a quick brunch.  But no matter when I make them, they will be devoured.  They are super fast and totally fun-especially for kids!  These are a much more convenient size than eating a huge carmel or cinnamon roll.  Not that those are bad things…
Bite-Sized Cinnamon RollsBite-Sized Cinnamon Rolls

1 tube crescent rolls
1 T soft butter
3 T brown sugar

Open up the package of rolls into one big rectangle and gently press the seams of the dough together.  Spread the butter evenly and thinly across the whole piece of dough.  Use more butter if you need to.  Spread the brown sugar evenly on top of the butter.  It should be nice and thin.  Sprinkle the whole surface lightly with cinnamon.  Start rolling the dough along the long side of the rectangle, keeping it tight, until you have a long log.  Pinch the seam together.  Spray a mini-muffin tin with non stick spray and cut the log into 3/4 inch pieces with a sharp knife.  Lay the rolls cut side down, one in each mufffin cup.  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed.  Yum!!

Baked Doughnuts

Simple & Classic Baked Doughnuts can be on your table in a matter of minutes! {Brittany's Pantry}Wow.  OK.  I don’t even know how to start this post.

As good as these may look in the picture above, let me assure you.  They are so much better than that.

My Mom used to make homemade doughnuts when I was really little, but as our family grew and the older kids took it upon ourselves to experiment with coffee cakes, (How much brown sugar topping can you really put on a coffee cake?  Three times what it calls for in the recipe?  Four times?) she abandoned any recipe that called for a vat of hot oil.  But ooh! they were good.  It is hard to beat a hot, fried pastry tossed in cinnamon and sugar.  That said, these come close.

They have a few things going for them that my Mother’s-or Dunkin, or Krispy Kreme for that matter-did not.  These are baked, not fried.  They are made with vanilla yogurt, maple syrup, and canola oil, not butter and sugar.  I mean, really!  They are practically health food!  Sure they are brushed with melted butter and then covered with cinnamon and sugar but that is neither here nor there…And in case you are wondering, when you raise the amount of gooey topping on a coffee cake, it squishes the actual cake part underneath to a very thin pancake, resulting in a pan of baked brown sugar and butter.  Just so you know.

As you can see in the recipe below, I give you a maple glaze option if you don’t want to go the classic route.  This was my Father’s genius idea and I am still can’t believe that I didn’t think of it first.  However, after three batches and a lot of tweaking to get the consistency of the glaze juuuust right, we discovered that plain cinnamon and sugar was way better.  And trust me.  I am a plain glazed doughnut kind of gal.  It is hard for me to admit this, but the cinnamon and sugar made the actual doughnut taste even better, not overpower it like the glaze did.  In the end, the choice is yours, although I hope you make them both ways to get the full effect.  Either way, you still win.  And bonus!  You can make a double batch and tell everyone that I made you make that many.

I think I speak for all my test subjects when I say that it was the texture that surprised us most about these doughnuts.  I generally like raised yeast doughnuts more than the cake-like kind, but these are a pleasant cross between the two.  Light and spongy, they aren’t heavy or dense or oily like many cake doughnuts are.  WARNING:  This also makes it easier to eat more than one. Simple & Classic Baked Doughnuts can be on your table in a matter of minutes! {Brittany's Pantry}Simple & Classic Baked Doughnuts can be on your table in a matter of minutes! {Brittany's Pantry}Simple & Classic Baked Doughnuts can be on your table in a matter of minutes! {Brittany's Pantry}Baked Doughnuts
Adapted from Lovin From The Oven
Please note that this recipe relies on a special piece of equipment.  An inexpensive, non-stick doughnut pan, available here or from any kitchen store, is absolutely worth it.  This recipe is so fast, easily done in 30 minutes, start to finish, making it perfect for Saturday morning brunch or even Christmas morning!

In a medium bowl, mix together:
1 c flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
In a large measuring cup mix:
3/4 c nonfat vanilla yogurt
1 egg
1 T canola oil
3 T pure maple syrup or honey

When mixed, gently stir into dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Batter should be thick but airy.  Lightly spray a 6 doughnut pan and divide batter evenly. This makes exactly 6 doughnuts!  Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until puffed and just starting to get golden brown on top.  Let sit in pan for just a minute and then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Melt 2 T of butter in a small bowl and brush both sides of the doughnuts.  Mix 1/2 c sugar and 3 tsp of cinnamon together and toss the doughnuts in the mixture while still warm.  Doughnuts are best eaten the same day they are made.

Maple Glaze: Mix together 1 c powdered sugar, 2 T maple syrup and 1/2 T milk in a bowl until smooth.  Dip doughnuts in the glaze and set on a rack to drip.

These Spice Muffins are loaded with pumpkin, chocolate chips, and topped with streusel! Plus, a spice cake mix make them quick and easy! {Brittany's PantryI had every intention of posting this yesterday.  Or even the day before that.  I don’t like it when this much time passes between posts.

But my Internet was down.  For yesterday and most of today actually.  And I was pretty sick yesterday.  And tired.  And kinda cold.  So I wasn’t that disappointed that my computer was toast.  It was a wonderful excuse to reheat leftovers for my family and curl up on the couch under a blanket, repeating over and over that the current state of my body was temporary and the result is soooo worth it.  In addition to the drama caused by this pregnancy, we are currently potty training our youngest.  Seriously, we are just a barrel of fun at our house these days.

All sarcasm aside, I have actually been working on developing a recipe for an apple snack cake.  Using up my over abundance of apples has become a top priority, but after numerous attempts, I just could not get the recipe quite where I wanted it.  I mean, it is good and passable, but not great.  So I kind of got tired of it and decided to do something entirely different.  It was about that time that my energy sort of fizzled out, what little food I had eaten that day threatened to make a second appearance, and the couch beckoned.  But I still wanted to whip something up.  A few days before this, I had been reading The Noble Pig blog and saw the following recipe.  It sounded really good.  Now, I am not the biggest fan of what I call ‘cheater’ recipes (recipes that are made based on some kind of convenience food), but I won’t deny they have their place.  I have a cookie recipe that I absolutely love that is made with a box of chocolate cake mix and Corn Casserole is based off of a corn muffin mix.  When it is a winner, it is a winner.  OK, fine.  I guess I should clarify that I don’t like to use ‘cheater’ recipes a LOT.  I prefer the old fashioned, from scratch, taste much better kind of method.  But like corn casserole and those killer chocolate cookies which I will share with you one of these days, this one is a winner.  It is fast and easy and tastes great.  No matter what kind of cook I am, I can always use a little help once in awhile.  And this past week, I needed the help.  Oh!  Did I tell you we have been continuing to remodel our house this week too?!

I mean, we can’t leave it looking like this, can we?Construction Granted, it looks better than this right now, but the work seems to be never ending.  Actually, shortly after this picture was taken, an extremely large television was mounted on the wall to the left of that door.  Aside from electronics, we have a lot to do.  Mike and I are hosting a cocktail party the beginning of December so Thanksgiving is kind of our unofficial try-to-have-as-much-done-as-we-can-with-the-exception-of-furniture cut off date.  Furniture-and we need a lot of it-is expensive.  That kind of stuff we are picking up bit by bit over time.  Everything else like trim, painting, a kitchen back splash, doors, hanging stuff on walls, painting, trim, and all that other finishing stuff is fair game.  *sigh*

So back to these cupcakes-er, muffins.  Yeah, so they are really good.  Honestly though, they are really cupcakes, they just have streusal instead of frosting, making them kinda muffin-like.  Whatever they are, in spite of the abundance of flavors going on (spice, pumpkin, chocolate) the flavors work.  The chocolate chips with the pale orange cake makes them almost festive.  Very easy to whip up and take to work or share with family.  No matter what you may have going on this week…These Spice Muffins are loaded with pumpkin, chocolate chips, and topped with streusel! Plus, a spice cake mix make them quick and easy! {Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Vegetables W/ Pasta

Spice Muffins W/ Pumpkin, Chocolate, & Streusal
Recipe from The Noble Pig

1 box Spiced Cake Mix
1 can pumpkin
1 c sour cream
1/4 c canola oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-12 oz bag chocolate chips

Put all ingredients, minus the chocolate chips, in a mixer and combine.  Once mixed, turn up the speed and lightly beat for a minute, till color pales slightly and batter is light and fluffy.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Divide among sprayed or paper lined muffins cups (it should make 18-24 muffins).

Top with streusal:
3 T softened butter
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, optional

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and sprinkle over muffins.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

Healthy Pumpkin Spice Muffins are my favorite pumpkin muffins. Period. {Brittany's Pantry}Yup.  This is just for you.  An autumn recipe that makes your house smell fantastic and is actually good for you.  Here it is, for your eyes alone.  No one else except the World Wide Web.  We are keeping this between you and me.Healthy Pumpkin Spice Muffins are my favorite pumpkin muffins. Period. {Brittany's Pantry}The above is no exaggeration.  This recipe will make your house smell just like the front of the fall issue of the Pottery Barn catalog looks.  It basically makes you want to dress like a pilgrim and dole pumpkins out to your neighbors.  The fact that it may remind you of pumpkin pie (hence the happy feeling) is irrelevant.
I actually make these year round.  They taste so fantastic and are so good for you, why limit yourself to a season?  As a matter of fact, when canned pumpkin goes on sale during the holidays I stock up.  Like, my purchase of cans goes well into the double digits.  In the fall, when sugar pumpkins are everywhere, I prefer to just bake my own, scoop out the flesh and keep it in the fridge to cook with, but during the off season, canned pumpkin is a great substitute.  Pumpkin is incredibly good for you with more potassium than a banana and more Vit A than carrots.  The high potassium make these a great snack before or after you exercise.  These muffins are light, fluffy, and full of flavor.  Don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredient list.  A lot of it are the warm spices that help make them so irresistible.  This batch makes a lot of muffins so don’t forget to freeze those which you won’t eat right away.  Although I can guarantee they won’t last long.  They are so moist, these muffins are nearly cake-like in texture.Healthy Pumpkin Spice Muffins are my favorite pumpkin muffins. Period. {Brittany's Pantry} Pumpkin Pie Muffins
Adapted from Ellie Krieger
To make your own mashed pumpkin, cut a small, baking pumpkin in half from stem to stem and clean the seeds it out with a spoon.  Lay the two halves cut side down on a sheet pan covered with foil or parchment paper.  Bake at 350 until you can easily pierce the sides with a knife without resistance.  Let cool slightly and scoop the flesh away from the shell into a separate bowl and mash with a potato masher or fork.  Store in the fridge for several days and use just like you would canned pumpkin!  Here is a step by step!

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add:
1/2 c canola oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 c brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 c molasses
1 can (2 c) solid-packed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
Mix well, scraping down sides if necessary.  In a separate large bowl, whisk together:
2 c flour
2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Measure out 1 1/2 c low fat buttermilk and with the mixer running alternate adding the dry ingredients with the buttermilk, ending with buttermilk.  Mix just until combined, stirring by hand at the end to make sure the sides and bottom is scraped clean. Bake in paper muffin cups or a sprayed muffin pan at 400 degrees for 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

Basic Granola

Easy Basic Granola that you can customize to suit your tastes! {Brittany's Pantry}Hello all!  I am currently in the middle of a family vacation so this post comes to you from a hotel lobby!  Recipes may not be quite as frequent for a few weeks, but I still have a few things ready to share with you!

Speaking of on the road, one of the snacks we have packed for munching in the car is granola.  Several months ago I was planning for this trip and started collecting all my recipes for granola, figuring I could eliminate a few on site and then just whip up a couple batches and choose our favorites.  Badda bing.  Badda boom.  Turns out, it is not that simple.  Where one recipe may be made with brown sugar, melted butter and cinnamon, another might be maple syrup, canola oil, honey and orange juice.  The oat, nut, and dried fruit combos didn’t bother me because those I could mix and match to suit our tastes.  But the actual syrup base that gets poured over everything, making it crunchy and toasty-endless combinations.  The other problem I had was that they all tasted good.  I mean, other than maybe bland, have you ever had bad granola?  I didn’t think so.  It is good for you, crunchy, sweet, great on yogurt, and if you grew up in my parent’s house, usually served dumped in a bowl with milk.  Whats not to like?!  How could I choose?

So this is what I did.  I tested and tweaked and came up with my own basic recipe.  Nothing fancy, minimum ingredients, least amount of steps.  That is what I was going for.  I still have a stack of ideas for other, more complicated, and I am sure just as good, granola recipes.  But when I want to make it in bulk, fast and simple for everyday use, this is now my plain, base recipe.  Good crunch and good flavor.  Great sprinkled on yogurt, ice cream, stirred into cookies, or added to trail mix.  Or go old school and just dump it in a bowl with milk.

One Year Ago: Spiced Peach Jam

This will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.  If you want to make a double batch, it freezes for several months as well.

3 c rolled oats-not quick cooking
1 c sliced almonds
1 c chopped walnuts or pecans (or a mix of the two)
1 c shredded sweetened coconut
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c pure maple syrup
1/4 c canola oil

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.  In a separate bowl mix together the last two ingredients.  Pour over the oat mixture and mix and toss until thoroughly combined.  Dump onto a parchment lined sheet pan and bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes, or until toasted to desired color.  Be sure to stir it every ten minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Add dried fruit of your choice.

Note: You can use honey in place of the maple syrup, but we found we liked the flavor of the maple better.  Feel free to change it up if you like.