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Orange Fig Bars

This year I am running behind on everything!  Shopping, baking, mailing the Christmas cards and gifts… So I am absolutely grateful to have a quiet weekend just before the big day.  I’ve been craving something fig lately and I came across this wonderful recipe in the Family Circle Magazine 2013 holiday edition.  Being a huge fan of figs, I just couldn’t pass it up!

So….(drum roll, please) here is my first attempt at homemade fig bars!

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Pre-heat your oven to 350* F. The next thing I do is get the figs cooking down so that once I finish the cookie layer, they are ready to go and I don’t have to wait for them.

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You’ll need a large, lidded pan that can hold 4 cups of dried figs that have been coarsely chopped.  In this pan will go the chopped figs, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, orange juice (I squeezed a fresh naval orange) and the zest from an orange.  I also added a little water.   The figs I used were organic, dried figs that we found at Costco.  They are wonderful!  And since figs can sometimes be difficult to find depending on where you live, this was a nice treat for me.

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First chop your figs into smaller chunks.  I cut these figs in half, the cut each of those halves into another half.  Wash your orange really well (organic is best) and take your zester, pictured above, and zest all the peel off into the pot. Then squeeze the juice of that orange. It will look like a sticky mess once you add the honey, orange juice and water!  But it will smell absolutely wonderful!!

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On medium heat, bring the figs to a simmer, lower the heat, put the lid on and let cook about 15 minutes or until they are all soft.  I made sure to stir occasionally and was actually able to resist the urge to lick the spoon!  While the figs are cooking, put together the cookie layer.  Once that is done and the figs are soft, you will put them into a food processor, or blender, and run until they are completely smooth.  This mixture will then be spread on top of the cookie layer to be baked for about 25 minutes.  Make sure you cool completely or cutting them into bars will be a nightmare!

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The recipe is below.  Have fun with it and enjoy these!  I actually ended up cutting them smaller than what is on the plate.  They are so rich and delicious and not very sweet at all!

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Orange & Fig Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour (make sure it is unbleached) or whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt (I used Celtic Gray Sea Salt)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (vegan butter works well here)

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

4 cups dried figs, roughly chopped

1/2 cup orange juice or the juice of one large orange

1/4 cup water – this is my addition to the recipe

zest from a large orange

2 tbsp. pure honey

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.  Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  (I am partial to parchment)

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  In another bowl, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.  Slowly pour in the flour mixture and beat on low until well combined.  Press firmly and evenly in the bottom of your lined baking pan.

In a medium, lidded pot, combine figs, orange juice and zest, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, and water, if you are adding it.  Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook until soft…about 15 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a food processor (or blender) and run until smooth.  Let cool about 5 minutes.  Using a spatula dipped in warm water to prevent sticking, spread the fig mixture over the cookie layer. (re-dip your spatula in warm water as needed to prevent sticking)

Bake at 350*F for 25 minutes.  Cool completely.  Lift from the pan to a cutting board.  Cut into small squares.

Per cookie: 122 cal; 3g fat (2g sat fat); 2g pro; 24g carb; 2g fiber; 41mg sodium; 7mg chol

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Healthier Red Velvet Cupcakes

One of my favorite shows to watch is “Not My Mama’s Meals” where Bobby Deen takes his Mama’s dishes and revamps them to lower calorie, healthier versions.  Since that is something I like to do as well, I feel in an odd sort of way that he and I have something in common!

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Since we keep getting teased for Spring by Mother Nature with some warm days here and there and my daffodils and crocus popping up, then a day or three of snow and ice….I wanted to make something that would just exude Spring.  What about cheery red velvet cupcakes with that fresh taste of spring?

So, here goes!  Yes, I altered this even more….couldn’t help myself.  Next time I think I will reduce the amount of almond extract.  It was a bit much in my opinion, but still very good. And those eggs are farm fresh eggs, which as you can see, I whittled down to just 2 from 4 in the recipe.  Isn’t the blue one beautiful?

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Bobby’s Red  Velvet Cupcakes

6- small roasted beets

1/4 cup canola oil

3/4 cut low-fat buttermilk

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2-1/2 cups cake flour

1-1/2 cups raw granulated sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Frosting:

1- 8oz pkg Neufchatel (reduced fat) cream cheese

1-1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar

1/4 c. reduced-fat sour cream

zest of 1 orange, reserve some for garnish

1/4 c. chopped pecans

1/4 c. toasted coconut

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Directions:

For the cupcakes – Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line cupcake pan with liners or spray with nonstick baking spray.

Add the roasted beets and oil into a blender or food processor.  Puree until the mixture is a thick liquid.  Add the buttermilk, butter, almond extract, vanilla extract and eggs, pulsing until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt together until well incorporated.

Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir/pulse until there are no lumps.  Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or about 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool completed in the pan on a cooling rack.

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For the frosting – Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium then high speed until very smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  On low speed, add the confectioner’s sugar, sour cream, a big pinch of the orange zest (reserve enough to garnish tops later) and blend together about 1-2 minutes.

Frost each cupcake and garnish with pecans, coconut and/or orange zest.

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In the frosting, the sour cream was also omitted as I didn’t have any and I don’t usually add it to my frosting.  And I didn’t have any coconut or pecans on hand.  I also substituted some of the flour for whole wheat pastry flour. These were really good.  And my husband’s co-workers got to enjoy these since I sent most of them with him to work the next day!

Enjoy!

Birthday Cake For The Birthday Boy!

In celebration of my husband’s birthday, I decided to bake a German Chocolate cake this morning.  I’ve been wanting to try a homemade frosting for it and have searched high and low for the right recipe.  Finally finding one, I became quite the “busy bee” this morning!

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The cake is the tried and true Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe and I’ve played around with it a tiny bit. Here’s the recipe (My changes are in parenthesis):

Thanks to Hershey’s for the simply awesome recipe that has been one of my favorites.

HERSHEY’S Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake

2 c. sugar  (1-1/2 cups sugar)

1-3/4 c. all purpose-flour (1-1/2 cup unbleached AP flour + 1/4 c. ww pastry flour)

3/4 c. Hershey’s cocoa

1-1/2 tsp baking powder (1-1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder)

1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 eggs

1 c. milk (I will sometimes use Unsweetened nut milks)

1/2 c. oil

2 tsp. pure vanilla

1 c. boiling water

(1 tsp. coffee)

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.  Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).  Pour into pans.  Bake 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Cool 10 minutes then cool completely out of the pans.  Ice when completely cool.

This is the icing recipe for a 2-layer cake. Since I’ve never made it before, I will follow it exactly before I start playing with it! Ok, so I lied. I did play around with it, but only a little bit!

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German Chocolate Cake Frosting

1 c. evaporated milk

1 c. sugar

3 egg yolks beat with 1 tsp. water

1/2 c. butter

1 c. chopped pecans

1 c. flake coconut

1 tbsp. corn starch (optional)

Cook over medium heat until thick.  Then stir in nuts and coconut. Spread on cooled cake while still warm. Let set for about 1/2 an hour, then serve it up as big, thick slices!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Jeff! I love you more than you’ll ever know!

Banana Bread

One of our favorite breakfast items is homemade banana bread.  I’ve been making it for years, tweaking the recipe and messing around with it changing out the bananas for other fruits.  It has become a family favorite and my husband requests it for the guys at his office every now and then.

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Gather together all your ingredients and grab a big mixing bowl and your favorite wooden spoon and let’s make banana bread!

I have found a fantastic new use for my potato masher….mashing bananas! This wonderful tool pictured below was a gift from my thoughtful friend, Tonya.

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One of my “secrets” to having plenty of bananas ready for baking at any given time: freeze those overripe Produce Manager’s specials. You know, the ones where you can buy a whole bag of bananas for 99c! Every time they are on sale at the market, I buy 1-2 bags and peel them, lining them up in a large freezer bag. Lay the flat and you’ll have bananas ready at any time!

Here’s the recipe that I have used:

Banana Nut Bread

Preheat oven to 350F

1/3 c. shortening – note: I do NOT use shortening, substitute canola oil, extra virgin coconut oil or safflower oil – cup for cup

3/4 c. sugar – I cut this back to 1/4 cup

2 eggs – I half this

1 3/4 cup flour – I take the 3/4 cup & change it out to whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp. aluminum free baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt – I use kosher salt or sea salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 c. mashed bananas – as you can see from the picture above, I pour the thawed bananas and the juices in all together, plus I use more than a cup…..makes it extra good!

1 cup chopped walnuts – or your favorite nut – pecans are good for this too.

3 tbsp. milk – I use unsweetened soy milk – you can use whatever you want

In a large bowl, cream together milk, oil/shortening and sugar; add egg and beat well. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda and add to creamed mixture.  Stir until well mixed. Fold in bananas and nuts, blending well. Pour into greased loaf pan.

Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown and pick inserted comes out clean.

Remove from pan and cool on a rack. Wrap and store overnight.

Or as we do in our house….slice it up hot and chow down!

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Cutting back on the sugar works okay for this recipe if the bananas are super ripe. If you are concerned about any bitter taste, make sure that your bananas are just spotted, not super black. But if they are that ripe, a couple little scoops of stevia will help adjust the flavor and allow the sugar amount to be cut in half or more.  Pure honey also works well as a sugar replacement in this recipe. You’ll need to reduce the oil/shortening amount to compensate for the extra moisture that honey provides.

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Won’t you pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and a slice of banana bread with me? I’d like that very much!

Cheesy Corn Dog Cakes

Is there any one food that takes you back to childhood? Do the memories flood back front and center when you think of certain dishes that mom used to make and everyone gobbled them up like there was no tomorrow?

For me there are many fond memories in the kitchen. Mom started me out at the age of 6, shortly after I learned just how hot a burner was by putting my hand flat on the big red, cool looking swirly thing on the stove. Needless to say, singed, blistered fingers and palm taught me quickly that in the kitchen, red hot means red hot and not to touch! But there are just as many good memories with mom in the kitchen and homemade corn dogs is one of them.

Recently Jeff and I were hungry for these tasty treats but because I am incorporating healthier cooking in our lifestyle, frying them just didn’t seem a good option. Not to mention having to eat them off sticks! The wheels in my head started to turn…..why couldn’t corn dogs be baked AND have no sticks? The solution? A 12-cup muffin pan!

You’ll have to forgive me for not having pictures of the ingredients and preparation because I was so excited about this that I forgot to take any!

Cheesy Corn Dog Cakes Muffin Pan

The feverish search for the best corn dog batter recipe began on Google! I wanted one that enveloped the whole essence of growing up in the 70s and was just good, old’ corn batter.

Here is the recipe I found:

Corn Dog Batter

1-1/4 c. all purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

3/4 c. corn meal – not corn bread mix

4 tbsp. sugar – you can use any substitute like stevia extract-1/4 tsp, etc.

1 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

2 eggs

1-1/2 c. low fat milk or unsweetened soy or other nut milk

(just take care to select one without strong flavors)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. This batter will be thick, but make sure it’s not too stiff. Add milk or water by tablespoon if too stiff until you get your batter thick again.

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Now to assemble the Cheesy Corn Dogs:

Taking your hot dogs or franks, cut them into thirds

Shred 1 cup Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Optional – your favorite chili (This became Jeff’s favorite addition)

Grease muffin pan or ramekins using non-stick spray

Cheesy Corn Dog Cakes

Using a 12-muffin baking pan or 4-ounce ramekins, spoon 2 Tbsp. batter into the bottom of each muffin or ramekin, place 1/3 piece of hot dog or frank on end into the center of the batter. Sprinkle cheese around the hot dog or frank. Add a teaspoon of chili – not too much or you will have a mess! Top off with spooning 2-Tbsp. batter over the top, completely covering the hot dog/frank, cheese and chili.

Bake in a 350F pre-heated oven until golden brown. About 14-15 minutes depending on altitude.

Serve with ketchup, your favorite sauces or just alone!

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These were an absolute hit with my hubby and the girls at work. I’ve received a special request from my nephew, a very hungry Marine, who has just recently returned home from his 2nd Tour. I’m sure that once you serve these up, there will be requests for them again and again.

Just a Spice of Heaven

This year my birthday is on the weekend so to celebrate my husband treated me to a day in Gatlinburg for the first part of the weekend. We love Gatlinburg. It’s about 50 miles from Morristown, easily driven in about an hour unless you get caught up in traffic on the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge end. One way to go is from Newport off of I-40 with a stop off at Wal-Mart to top off that gas tank and pick up any snacks you might need!

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While it is the quintessential tourist-trap, there are some neat little nooks to check out. Whether you want to shop, eat, see the sights or just people watch, there is plenty to do!

For one, I think that Gatlinburg is a place chockfull of delightful places. There are so many great little mom and pop places to shop and dine at as well as many of the easily recognized chain restaurants, if that is what you’re looking for.

One of our most favorite places to eat is Best Italian. We usually go to the original location near the National Park entrance because you can get patio seating there. There is nothing like sitting down next to a bubbly creek and having your dinner in the shade. Our favorite is the spinach pizza and they have the most sinful garlic rolls that are just to die for! If you’ve Best Italian rollsnot eaten there before, it’s a great place to stop! You can see more of their menu at Best Italian – Gatlinburg. They have an extensive menu of the usual pasta favorites, entrees and a wide range of appetizers and salads. But don’t forget dessert! Don’t be surprised if you have to wait a little for this wonderful food, because once you’ve been there, you’ll understand exactly why it’s such a popular place! And for those who enjoy a glass of wine or other drink with their meal, Best Italian offers teas, sodas and drinks from the bar.

But if you like pancakes and enjoy a great pancake breakfast then you have to stop at Pancake Pantry. Serving Gatlinburg since 1960, they have a wide assortment of choices from buttermilk pancakes to whole wheat and buckwheat pancake meals that are available all day! If pancakes are not your thing, then lunch is also available after 11:30. I was particularly delighted to see that in the middle of all their PancakePantryFrontlunch choices there was a veggie burger! For all you vegetarians out there, you can have a sandwich with that salad! So the next time we are back in town, I’m going to be sure and try their black bean burger! This time is was the Morningstar! Shredded potatoes, green and red peppers, onions, scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes. (I did not eat anything from the day before to be sure I had room for these scrumptious pancakes!)

Their claim to fame? Everything is made from scratch and they use real butter and fresh whipped cream. Since I make most of my dishes from scratch at home, this is what I really look for. The taste is so different and so wonderful that you’ll want to return again and again! Once inside, the warm atmosphere of days gone by welcomes you. Surrounded by rich oak, rustic copper and century-old brick, you’ll immediately feel at home. Cozy table settings and friendly staff make this a great place to bring the family as well. And the best part of all, it’s easy on the wallet! Check out this great place the next time you’re there!

We love going to this section of the Strip, because it’s where The Village sits. There are several little shops and eateries tucked into the mountain side creating a look much like the one found in story books. There are shops for The Villagesouvenirs and gifts, a Thomas Kinkade gallery shop, the Cheese Cupboard & it’s restaurant, a toy shop, a coffee shop and one that I’m particularly delighted with, The Spice & Tea Exchange of Gatlinburg.

Their invitation to come in and “smell the spices” is an invitation that this home-grown cook could not resist! This shop is tucked into a little corner on the back side of The Village and walking into it was like walking through a dream. Jars lined the walls filled with hand-blended spices, teas and salts! It was spice heaven for me! These are gourmet rubs, salts, sugars and herb blends to create dishes like never before! I couldn’t leave without trying something, so I spent some time debating which of the sea salts I wanted to try or should I get a tea or seasoning rub? In the end my love of teas won and I chose a delightful tin of International Breakfast Tea. It is a loose leaf black tea with chocolate undertones to it. And after smelling and letting my mind go wild with what I could create in the kitchen, I chose the French Grey Sea Salt. This is one that you’ve heard chefs, cooks and other culinary experts talk about! I cannot wait to try it!Spice & Tea

Like I said earlier this weekend is my birthday weekend. This little day trip was a gift from my husband to celebrate my special day!

Since we did not do any birthday cake and had decided we didn’t want to buy one then have so much of it sitting around enticing us to eat it the rest of the week, we went to another one of our favorite stops in The Village: The Donut Friar. Freshly made and in smaller quantities, these wonderful donuts have that melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Now since we’ve been cutting back on our sugar intake it was a bit of a sugar shock but let there be no doubt, every bit of it was enjoyed! They have cake donuts, éclairs, filled pastries, and several other types of yeast, glazed and filled donuts. As you can imagine, this donut shop is quite busy no matter when you stop by! But the great news is that you can just buy one, enjoy it and not worry about having more around to tempt you! Then next time you’re in Gatlinburg, stop by and get another!

Despite the rainy day, we had a load of fun and can’t wait to spend more time over there again. And we have a couple more places to take some very special friends the next time they are here visiting us!

Happy New Year Week! May the rest of your year be as wonderful as the first day of my “new year” was!

Clafoutis aux Cerises

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Yes, clafoutis aux cerises….you read right! I decided to try and make it after a co-worker made it for us the other day. To say the least, it is a delightful French cherry “cake” that just melts  in your mouth. The tartness of the cherries mix wonderfully with the slightly sweet custard.

It’s very simple to make and only takes about 15-20 minutes of time to prepare then about an hour to bake. Serve it warm, just like they traditionally do in France. You’ll love to wow your friends and family the next time you have a dinner party!

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. (I am in the mountains, so if you are at a lower elevation, you may want to watch your custard closely and lower your oven temperature to 300-325F.)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 whole eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

1-1/4 cup milk (whole is best, but low fat works well, too)

Mix the flour, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla and milk together until a custard batter is formed. It will be smooth.

Pour enough to cover the bottom of your greased pie plate and bake at 350F for about 7-10 minutes, just until the custard is set.

Place 2 cups pitted cherries in the pre-baked custard and sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar. Pour the remaining batter over the top covering the cherries and sugar completely.

Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes or until the edges of the custard begin to brown.

Let cool 10-minutes, dust with powdered sugar and serve while warm.

Optional: trade out the cherries for berries that are in season or mix berries with the cherries, also good are apricots, pears, and peaches. Adjust the sugar based on the sweetness of the fruit.

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Also, no worries if the clafoutis aux cerises fluffs up in the oven. As it cools a little, it will settle down. Mine poofed up really high and I got worried, I thought cherries would be all over the oven, but they settled down as you can see in the photo.

Your guests will love it and beg for more!