Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012

I have composed a list of twelve of my favorite recipes, pulling one recipe from each month. Some months I did a lot more cooking than others making it a bit more difficult to choose and other months I wonder if we ate anything at all.

January- Bran Muffins
February- Spinach and Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

March- Low-Fat Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Scones

October- Homemade Granola

November- Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

December- Stuffed Chicken with Spinach, Goat Cheese, Cranberries and Pecans

2012 has been a wonderful year and I feel blessed beyond words for amazing family and friends. Jason and I celebrated our one year anniversary, we took a trip to California and Hawaii , I celebrated my 30th birthday and we added our wild sweet little Abby into our family. By far the biggest and best thing to happen in 2012 was finding out I was pregnant and that we will be expecting our first child in early April. I am looking forward to 2013 and watching as this new chapter in our lives unfolds.




Friday, December 28, 2012

Holiday Salad

In years past Christmas has always been a jam packed day as we try to fit in as many houses as we can in order to see all of our family. However, now that I am older and my brother and I have families of our own Christmas day has become much more relaxed as we have started visiting with other family members prior to the big day. We spend Christmas Eve with Jason's family and Christmas morning is spent at my parents house taking our time opening gifts and spending time together as a family.  Since we don't have to be anywhere till later in the afternoon this gives us plenty of time to cook a big brunch, that ends up being a joint effort among all of us. For the past two years I have made this Holiday salad and it has been such a hit that now my family requires it as part of our brunch spread.

 Don't let the green and red grapes fool you into thinking you can only make this salad at Christmastime. This is one of those dishes that can be served year around at family gatherings, wedding and baby showers, or just because you are looking for something sweet and refreshing. The rich and creamy sauce adds a sweet burst of flavor to the grapes, also making it a great option as a low fat dessert.

Holiday Salad

- 2 lbs seedless green grapes, halved
- 2 lbs seedless red grapes, halved
- 1- 8oz. carton light sour cream
- 1-8oz. package light cream cheese
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/3 cup brown sugar

- Slice the grapes in half and add to a large bowl.

- In a separate bowl mix together the sour cream, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Add mixture to grapes, coating well.

- Mix together the chopped pecans with the brown sugar and stir into the salad.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Book Thief Review

I haven't mentioned it much on the blog before but I love reading and for me it's another key ingredient in my life that makes me happy. I love to talk about books and find myself falling in and out of love with characters in the stories I read. I am linking up with other bloggers once a month to do an online book club so I am going to start posting book reviews on the blog to switch things up a little. In addition to my book book club reviews I may on occasion mention other books that I am reading or ask for book recommendations from all of you. 

The Book Thief
I had  purchased this book at a used book store just weeks before Back to her Roots announced it was the book chosen for this months book club. While purchasing The Book Thief the lady behind the counter mentioned how wonderful it was and how they weren't able to keep it in the store long enough before someone else was snatching it up. Immediately I was intrigued and when I heard I would be able to read this book along with other bloggers for the online book club I was so excited.

Brief Summary:
Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in Germany during World War II, life begins to change after she begins stealing books and learning how to read from her foster father. Keeping a promise that he made long ago Hans, Liesel's father, agrees to hide a Jew in the basement of their home as German cities are being destroyed by air raids and the raging war. A complicated friendship is formed between the Jew hiding in the basement and Liesel's family. As Hitler is destroying people with words, Liesel is discovering the power of words, which will eventually lead her to write her own story and and save her life. This is a wonderful yet tragic story about courage, love, friendship and death.

Goodreads: 4.34 out of 5 stars( Based on 256,285 Ratings)
Amazon: 4.7 out of 5 stars (Based on 1,678 Ratings)
My score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Review:
I did not realize that death was the narrator in the story for the first 20 pages or so but once I did I felt that it was a different and creative approach by the author. Once I adapted to this writing style I was immediately hooked into the story. With the use of foreshadowing used often, Zusak does a wonderful job of keeping his readers engaged and wanting to keep reading. One of the things I found most interesting about this book is that it takes place in Nazi Germany, but focuses on Germans who don’t follow Hitler. He gives his readers a different perspective of this time in our history by showing that not all Germans agreed with Hitlers views and there were good people who wanted to care for and protect the Jews.

Although its not always noticeable at first, love and friendship is a recurring theme that takes place  throughout the story. Of course there is Rudy and his love for Liesel. His love is the most obvious and as a reader you immediately fall in love with his character. From the moment Liesel moved into the Hubermann's house, Hans worked at gaining her love and trust while his wife Rosa was mean and harsh. I found Rosa to be the most surprising character of all. She first shows that she is in fact capable of love when she agrees to keep Max hidden in the basement. When Liesel catches Rosa with Hans accordion while he is away at war Rosa expresses a sadness that she has not shown before then. Then there is the friendship between Max and Liesel. They both know what it's like to wake up with nightmares and to feel abandoned because of things that  happened in their past. They learn to trust each other by reading and writing their own stories and I think each of them felt protected by the other. As their friendship enfolds they share their words and stories with each other.

 In the end Liesel learns that nothing and no one can take away her books and the power of words.

The Book Thief is one of those books that keeps you thinking about it days after you are done reading. I loved this book and would highly recommend it, especially if you are interested in the Holocaust or just looking for a good read.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!
We hope your holiday is filled with love, joy, and laughter.

From our family to yours.





Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mini Pecan Pie Muffins

There is something wonderful about eating bite sized desserts. It is the perfect portion for a little taste of something sweet. I consider these to be more of a dessert muffin because they taste just like pecan pie however I do think they would make a great addition to a brunch menu for the holidays or for a wedding or baby shower. With only five ingredients and a few simple steps you can make these muffins in no time at all.

Pecan Pie Bites
(Recipe yields approximately 3 Dozen)

- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup melted butter
- 1 cup chopped pecans

- In a mixing bowl mix all the ingredients together.
- Pour mixture into a greased mini muffin pan about 2/3 full.
- Bake on 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Taco Soup

There is nothing more cozy than sitting down with a hot bowl of soup on a cold winters night.  This is another recipe passed down to us from Jason's mom but instead of using ground beef like the recipe called for I chose to use lean ground turkey. It's a hearty soup which has a little bit of spice and lots of flavor. This simple throw together soup cooks for 1 to 2 hours on the stove top or in the crock pot for 6 to 8 hours. It taste even better the next day as all the ingredients are able to blend together. Yay for leftovers.
Taco Soup
- 1 lb lean ground turkey
- 1 medium chopped onion
- 1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
- 1- 14.5oz can tomatoes with green chilies
- 1- 15oz can pinto beans, undrained
- 1- 1 1/4 oz. envelope low sodium taco seasoning
- 1 can tomato soup
- 1 cup water
- Baked tortilla chips and shredded cheese (optional)
- In a large skillet saute the chopped onion in olive oil. Add the ground turkey and cook till the meat is cooked through.
- In a large pot (or crock pot) add the cooked turkey with all the ingredients above except for the cheese and tortilla chips.
- Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours on the stove top or in the crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.
- Serve with baked tortilla chips and shredded cheese on top



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Peanut Butter Balls

Here is another simple recipe for you to make this holiday season. Because there is no cooking involved this is the perfect treat to make with your kids. This decadent candy has a smooth and creamy peanut butter filling covered in a rich layer of chocolate, tasting just like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

Peanut Butter Balls
(Recipe  Yields 3 Dozen)

- 2 sticks butter
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 bags semi-sweet chocolate morsels (18oz.)

-Combine butter and peanut butter together in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 to 40 seconds for the butter to melt and the peanut butter to soften.
- Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Mix together until mixture has the consistency of dough,

- Form dough into 1" round balls and place on a baking sheet. 
- Place baking sheet in the freezer for an hour (or refrigerator 3 to 4 hours) till the dough becomes firm. (This makes the dough much easier to melt into the chocolate)
- Melt the chocolate morsels in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water. Dip the balls one at a time making sure all of the ball is covered with chocolate. Using a spoon remove the ball from the chocolate, allowing excess chocolate to drip off into the bowl.

- Place the chocolate covered balls back on a baking sheet. Once all the dough has been dipped in the chocolate place the baking sheet back into the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens.
- Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Blue Cheese and Pear Crostini

This past weekend we went to a progressive dinner that was put on by a few members of our Sunday School class. If you aren't familiar with progressive dinners they are dinner parties in which different courses are eaten at different homes. Since several members of our class live in the same neighborhood we were able to walk from one house to another as we ate our way through appetizers, the main course, and dessert. In addition to the host, each couple brought along a dish to contribute to one of the houses. I chose to bring along these crostini's for the appetizer portion of the meal. The great thing about this appetizer is that it was easy to pick up and there was no cooking involved so I didn't have to worry about it getting cold on our way to the dinner. I took the easy way out and bought pre-made baguette rounds from the deli section but you can also make your own by slicing one whole baguette into 1/4 " slices brush with olive oil and bake in a 400 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

Blue Cheese and Pear Crostini
(Makes approximately 40 pieces)

- 1 baguette, sliced into 1/4" pieces and toasted or 1-2 containers of pre-made baguette rounds from the deli section.
- 1- 8oz package light cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese.
- 2- 15oz cans sliced pears in juice, drained
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- chopped parsley to garnish

- In a small bowl combine cream cheese and blue cheese crumbles, mixing well.
- Spread the baguette slices with the cheese mixture. Top with the pear slices and chopped pecans. Sprinkle with chopped parsley


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eggnog Muffins

I want to take a moment to express my condolences to the innocent victims, families and all others who were affected by the tragedy yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I can't begin to imagine what the families and community are going through but my thoughts and prayers are with each and every one of them.

Eggnog Muffins

Until this year I wasn't sure if I was a fan of eggnog because it's not something I grew up drinking during the holidays or perhaps one time I tried it and decided I didn't like it. As I was doing some grocery shopping the other week I found myself stopping in front of the eggnog display in the dairy section. I picked up this Silk Nog, quickly read through the nutrition facts, and threw it in the buggy without giving it another thought. It turns out that I do in fact like eggnog and if you are one of those people who are on the fence about it, give it another try. I really like the Silk Nog because it's lactose free and only 90 calories per serving but if you prefer a different eggnog then feel free to use it instead.

As we are approaching Christmas and can still take advantage of this festive holiday drink these muffins are the perfect breakfast to make for your family. Like most muffins they are best hot out of the oven or can simply be reheated in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds before eating.

Eggnog Muffins
Recipe Yields 12 muffins

- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups eggnog
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

- Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl combine eggnog, melted butter, egg, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Mix together and add into the flour mixture.
- Bake on 400 degrees in a greased muffin tin for 20 minutes.
- Once the muffins have been removed from the oven brush the warm muffins with melted butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

M&M Peanut Butter Pudding Cookies

Lately I have seen lots of recipes around the blog community for pudding cookies so after my curiosity finally got the best of me I cooked up a batch this week. Adding pudding mix into cookies is an absolutely genius idea and my only regret is that I am just now giving this a try. They are soft and chewy, just as a cookie should be, and with the addition of the peanut butter chips and M&M's it's like a little bite of heaven. These cookies can easily be adapted to work for other holidays or can be made on those days where you just feel like having a good cookie...or three dozen good cookies.

M&M Peanut Butter Pudding Cookies
 (Recipe adapted from Sweet Pea's Kitchen)
Recipe Yields: 3 Dozen Cookies

- 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 (3.4 ounce) box instant vanilla pudding
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 cup M&M's
- 1 cup peanut butter chips

- Preheat the oven to 35o degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and dry pudding mix; set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
-Add eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add vanilla extract and honey and beat until combined.
- Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, beat to combine. Add M&M's, and peanut butter chips and mix until incorporated.
- Roll a tablespoon of dough into a 1½-inch ball between your palms and then place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart. Gently flatten the dough balls until they are about ¾ inch thick.
- Bake 10 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to another plate to cool completely.

Enjoy as an afternoon snack with a mug of hot chocolate:)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quinoa Pilaf with Brussel Sprouts

Jason was out of town last night so when it came time for dinner I found myself rummaging through the refrigerator and pantry looking for something easy and nutritious to make. I actually do this quit often but the meals I come up with are usually not worth writing about. And then last night happened.
 I may or may not be slightly obsessed with the combination of goat cheese and cranberries. Perhaps my love for Christmas is starting to show in my cooking. Either way this colorful pilaf is bursting with flavor. I know brussels sprouts aren't every ones favorite vegetable so you can substitute something else green such as peas or spinach into the mix. Make this pilaf to serve along side some salmon or chicken or simply have it as your main meal. 
Quinoa Pilaf with Brussels Sprouts
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups chopped brussels sprouts
- 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup good olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Cook quinoa according to the package directions (15-20 minutes). Drain any excess water.
- Meanwhile in a large skillet saute the brussels sprouts in butter. Once the sprouts are tender and starting to brown add in the cooked quinoa.
- In a small bowl mix together olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour mixture in the skillet with the quinoa and mix well.
- Stir in the goat cheese and let it melt. Add sunflower seeds and cranberries mixing all the ingredients into the pilaf. Remove from heat and serve
Top with additional goat cheese


Monday, December 10, 2012

Stuffed Chicken with Spinach, Goat Cheese, Cranberries and Pecans

The only negative thing about this recipe is that I only made two chicken breast so therefore we do not have any leftovers. This chicken turned out so well and Jason and I kept commenting on how moist and flavorful it was. With all the beautiful and festive colors this would be a wonderful dish to make during the holidays. The recipe below is for two chicken breast but you can easily double or triple it to feed a crowd.

Stuffed Chicken with Spinach, Goat Cheese, Cranberries and Pecans

- 2 chicken breast
- 1/2 cup fresh spinach leaves
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped pecans
- Salt and pepper to taste

- Butterfly chicken breast and add salt and pepper to the inside.


- Divide the spinach leaves and lay inside of each chicken breast.
- In a small bowl mix together cranberries, goat cheese and pecans. Divide evenly among the chicken.

- Close the chicken making sure all ingredients are stuffed inside and seal with toothpicks.
- Add salt and pepper to the outside of the chicken and drizzle with olive oil.

- Bake on 400 degrees for 30 minutes. 





Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Party Mix

I have a super simple and delicious recipe for you today that requires no baking and is perfect for the holiday season. The combination of salty pretzels and peanuts, melted white chocolate, and M&M's makes this party mix the most addictiong thing ever. Perhaps that is why some people refer to this as Christmas Crack. Consider yourself warned. This is a great gift idea for the holidays and as you can see from the picture below a few lucky people will be enjoying this sweet snack soon.

Christmas Party Mix

- 3 cups mini pretzels
- 1 cup cocktail peanuts
- 2 cups wheat Chex cereal
- 2 cups cheerios
- 2 cups holiday colored M&M's
- 12 oz. white chocolate morsels

- Mix all ingredients except M&M's, in a large bowl.
- Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate morsels over a double boiler.
- Once the chocolate has melted , drizzle it over the cereal mixture and combine with a wooden spoon or spatula. Make sure everything is evenly coated then add in the M&M's.

- Once the entire batch has been coated and the M&M's are mixed in spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet and let cool.
- Break into pieces and store in zip lock bags or an air tight container.