Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast, Brunch, Crock pot, slow cooking

Slow Cooker Apple & Cinnamon French Toast

A cold snap bringing a dose of freezing rain and light snow showers has made for an icy, Midwest spring morning. Last evening, before heading to bed, I loaded the slow cooker with a mixture of bread, eggs, milk, cinnamon and spices. I had looked at the forecast earlier in the evening and the weather sure didn’t look pretty for the early morning hours. I thought it might be nice to have a warm and toasty slice of French toast casserole ready for the family upon waking. A fresh pot of coffee and a few fruit & yogurt parfaits would round out the meal.

As the “baking” takes place in the crockpot, the house smells heavenly. The aroma alone acts as a warm hug wafting through the house. A tip that works great; cover the slow cooker with a clean, dry towel before placing the lid on the vessel. This helps to reduce excess moisture making the French toast less soggy. If you so desire, add a handful of chopped walnuts before sprinkling the final product with maple syrup and powdered sugar. Delicious.

Slow Cooker Apple & Cinnamon French Toast

15-20 slices of day old bread

10 large eggs

1 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoons salt

pinch ground nutmeg

2 small apples, diced

Maple syrup, for serving

Powdered sugar, for serving

Grease a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Slice bread into 1” cubes; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, vanilla, salt and nutmeg and beat until well combined. Gently fold bread and diced apples into egg mixture making sure each piece is well coated. Place mixture into prepared slow cooker. Place a clean, dry dish towel over the slow cooker before covering with lid. (This helps to reduce moisture build up and prevents a soggy French toast.)

Cook on low for 2 ½ to 4 hours, until the French toast is warm and cooked through. Carefully lift the entire round out of the slow cooker with a spatula.

Serve warm with chopped walnuts, maple syrup and powdered sugar.

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Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast, Brunch

Cherry Jubilee Scones

I just love when the kids return home for the weekend. After graduating, they seem to have settled into different parts of the United States. This weekend, our town held their annual spring run making this a great kickoff to one of my favorite seasons.

Friday evening, after a long week of work, I was disappointed in myself as I hadn’t had the opportunity to plan a few meals and gather some groceries. This morning, as my pack of runners was out enjoying the spring race, I jumped into action and scoured the freezer, fridge, and pantry. To my surprise, I actually had the fixings for a great mid-morning breakfast. My pantry was chocked with items that I had unknowingly pushed to the back of the shelf over the course of many weeks. A tall container of old fashioned oats, an unopened package of dried “cherries jubilee” and some turbinado sugar sat on the shelf. I quickly opened my baker’s cabinet and scooped up the flour, sugar, almond extract, and leavenings. I remembered a blueberry scone recipe that I had so I rummaged through my blog of past posts and tweeted the recipe to make it work. To round out the breakfast, I found a bag of frozen hash browns, a pound of bacon, a carton of eggs. Opening the carton, there were only three… Grabbing my phone, I quickly sent a text to the group requesting they stop by a mini-mart to purchase two cartons of eggs. Scurrying around the kitchen, I completed each dish. I would then quickly cook the scrambled eggs as everyone showered after returning home. Laying everything out on the kitchen counter, plates were filled and tummies were satisfied.

What a delight… the scones were a hit… everyone enjoyed the meal as they slathered a good dose of butter on the warm scones and gobbled them up. Before they disappeared, I set aside a few for a Sunday visit with extended family. I’m sure I’ll be making these again.

…Great memories shared as we welcome the first days of spring!

Cherry Jubilee Scones

1 1/2 cups whole oats

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons butter, cubed

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Combine oatmeal, flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a medium sized bowl. Use a pastry cutter or two forks and cut in the butter with the flour mixture until crumbly and well blended. Stir milk and extract into the flour mixture until just combined. Lightly fold in the pecans and blueberries. On a lightly floured surface, collect the dough into a ball and pat into a large circle about 1″ thick. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of turbinado sugar (optional). Cut into 8 wedges, and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes.

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, breakfast, cookies

Hearty Oatmeal Brownies

This recipe takes a (slightly) healthier spin on a traditional bar brownie. A couple cups of old fashioned oats act as a substitute for a hearty helping of cocoa. When munching on these tasty squares, I am often reminded of a few other family favorite recipes. The flavors are a cross between a sweet crunchy oatmeal cookie and the hearty texture of my baked oatmeal. Adding a hearty helping of chopped walnuts adds a bit of crunch to an ooey-gooey oat-filled center. Pair this sweet treat with a tall, cold glass of milk, or a piping hot cup of tea.

Hearty Oatmeal Brownies

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degree. Grease a 13×9” baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until well combined. In a medium bowl, mix salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, flour, rolled oats, and chopped nuts. Mix to combine all ingredients, and spread into the prepared baking pan.

Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Posted in Baking, breakfast, Brunch, Desserts, Food

Puff Pastry Cups with Cherry Crumble

Cleaning out my freezer proved to be a positive experience this morning. In the far left corner of my freezer compartment, I found a box of puff pastry cups that I had purchased several weeks ago and completely forgot about them (as they slowly made their way to the back of the freezer). I’m sure many can relate to this. As we pack our freezers and pantries with new items, other items are slowly shuffled “out of sight, out of mind”. I’m thrilled that I was able to quickly assemble this easy recipe for a Sunday dessert. Use any fruit flavored filling for this delicious treat.

Puff Pastry Shells with Cherry Crumble

1 package (6) Puff Pastry Cups, prepared according to package directions

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling or your favorite flavor

Puff Pastry Cups with Cherry Crumble

Cool pastry shells on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove center tops. Do not turn off oven. Keep temperature at 400 degrees. In a small bowl, stir the flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter until crumbs form. Sprinkle evenly over pie filling within each pastry. Bake for 5-7 minutes or until the crumb mixture is golden brown and filling begins to bubble. Remove from oven and let the pastries cool for 10 minutes. Return tops to the pastry. Sprinkle with powder sugar when completely cooled, if desired.

Posted in Food, Soup

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

This past week we took the opportunity to leave the bitter cold of the Midwest to fly down to our favorite vacation spot. As Disney Vacation Club Members, we frequently visit the land of Mickey and Minnie to enjoy the warm southern breezes and bright Orlando sunshine. Our visit is most relaxing as we love to grab a cold drink and visit the pool, hang out on the deck while reading the latest novel, use the boat system to travel to various hotels and marvel as we view the beautiful flowers and unique shrubbery. We try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. “Been there, done that…” is my motto. As our children were growing up, we always made a few trips to the parks. These days, I’d much rather sit back and relax.

The DVC homes are spacious and bright. They have all of the amenities of home. Most nights, I cook in our beautiful villa, other nights we take a short ride to a neighboring hotel to enjoy a meal or dinner show. This year we enjoyed the Ohana dinner show at the Polynesian Hotel. Another evening was spent sharing a meal at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge. One of the appetizers served during the “storybook” dinner at Artist Point was a mini vessel of winter squash bisque. The garnish; a “lollipop” marshmallow stick. What a delightful treat. We had a fun night celebrating with Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, and the Wicked Queen.

Arriving home, the Chicago winds were incredibly cold and the icy rain was pouring from the heavens. Running from the courtesy bus to our car in the economy parking lot, The rain had soaked through my clothing and I was, once again, freezing. I really wanted to turn around and jump back on the flight to return to the warmth of Orlando. I decided then and there that I would make a trip to the grocery store and purchase ingredients to make a big pot of Spicy Butternut Squash Soup to warm our bones and remind us of our last evening in Disney World.

This recipe is certainly not the same as Disney’s version, but it is a favorite. I add lots of ground black pepper to balance the sweetness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. Garnish with pine nuts, walnuts, maple syrup, or pumpkin seeds.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

2 large butternut squash (seeded and roasted)

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup chopped shallot (about 2 medium shallot bulbs)

1 tablespoon salt

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon brown sugar

¾ – 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Lots of ground black pepper, to taste

4- 5 cups chicken broth (or water mixed with chicken base)

½ – ¾ cups half & half

In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until. Add the chopped shallot; stir and cook until the shallot has softened and begins to turn golden in color. Add garlic; stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add butternut squash, maple syrup, brown sugar, nutmeg, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour in chicken broth. Bring to a boil and turn down heat to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Cool slightly before using an immersion blender to cream the soup. Stir in half & half and serve immediately.

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, breakfast, Brunch, Cake, Desserts, Food

Peanut Butter Blondies

Everyone in our house loves peanut butter so this recipe is definitely a family favorite. A few simple ingredients come together to make a delicious bar great for lunch time or snack time. If you’re a peanut butter lover… pour a giant glass of cold milk, grab a serving-sized blonde, find a quite spot to sit and enjoy a little slice of heaven.

Peanut Butter Blondies

1 cup crunchy peanut butter

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

2 cups brown sugar, packed

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13X9” baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, beat peanut butter and butter together with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually mix in brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Add flour and mix until well combined. Pour batter into prepared baking dish and spread evenly in the dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Optional: Microwave until spreadable, 2-3 tablespoons of peanut butter. Spread over warm bars. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Cool before slicing into bars.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Baked goods, Baking, Chicken, Dinner, Food

Spicy Chicken Roll

On Sunday afternoons, I often set up my crock pot to cook several pounds of chicken to be used for various meals during the work week. I load up my slow cooker to let the chicken simmer away for 8 hours and then chop or shred the poultry for chicken salad, chicken lasagna, spicy buffalo chicken sandwiches, or to be used as a green salad ingredient. This is a complete time saver when trying to juggle a full work day and a lengthy commute, while working to get a decent meal on the table in a timely manner.

I usually serve this Spicy Chicken Roll with a fresh green salad. My children will often take a slice for their lunch bag, to be eaten cold or heated. The mild spicy flavor is a family favorite.

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 1/2 cups chicken breast, shredded

1/2 cup hot sauce. (I use Franks brand)

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 cans crescent rolls

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In small saucepan, mix cream cheese, hot sauce, chicken and shredded cheese. Heat on medium-low until combined and cheese has melted. Cool.

Unroll both cans of dough; separate into 16 triangles. On cookie sheet, arrange triangles in ring so short sides of triangles form a circle in center. Use a small oven- safe bowl to guide and maintain a circle. Dough will overlap. Dough ring should look like a sun.

Spoon cream cheese mixture on the half of each triangle closest to center of ring. Bring each dough triangle up over filling, tucking dough under bottom layer of dough to secure it. Repeat around ring until entire filling is enclosed.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until dough is golden brown and thoroughly baked. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before slicing into serving sized pieces.

Posted in Crafts, Gifts, Sewing

Machine Embroidered Sweatshirt

My daughter had seen one of the famous Fixer Upper hosts wearing a sweatshirt with the words, “Book Club” screen printed onto the front of the garment. Being an avid reader, she immediately declared her desire to have a shirt like this for Christmas. After looking up the cost for said sweatshirt, I decided to make one of my own using my trusty embroidery machine. Carefully reviewing the garment, I quickly found a few heather colored sweatshirts at the discount store and identified a font that would work the the “Book Club” design. I didn’t care for the font used in the original design so I settled on a text style that looked just like one found when reading a book; a contemporary spin on Times New Roman. Here are the steps I used to embroider font or text onto the front of a basic medium-weight sweatshirt.

Use a temporary spray adhesive (found in the sewing department) to adhere a piece of medium weight stabilizer to the wrong side of the fabric. Make sure the stabilizer is large enough to cover and extend beyond the outside of your embroidery hoop.

Crease the sweatshirt to find it’s center and position the embroidery hoop paying close attention to desired design placement.

Audition various threads to decide which will work best for your design. I used a heavy weight black thread for the book style font.

After you have created your design (I use my laptop), send the design to your sewing machine and begin sewing.

I usually stay with the machine for a simple design and trim threads when possible.

When the machine has completed the design, remove hoop from the embroidery arm and trim any threads carefully.

Remove hoop and turn the garment inside out to sparingly trim threads from the back of the design. I usually leave connecting threads intact to further secure the design. Trim stabilizer, if needed.

With a thick pressing cloth or towel, carefully iron the crease out of the center front area.

Fold the sweatshirt neatly and get it ready for gift giving…

Have fun creating other “book related” designs…

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, Bread, breakfast, Brunch, Cake

Banana Crunch Cake

This semi-homemade recipe is a true winner. A few simple ingredients are combined with a basic cake mix for a light and lovely dessert. Oats, brown sugar, and walnuts are combined to make a tasty crumble. While, eggs, sour cream, bananas, and a few extracts are combined with a basic cake mix to form a simple batter. I stock overly ripe bananas in my freezer for just such an occasion. All of these ingredients are layered into a tube pan to make a beautifully textured cake.

Banana Crunch Cake

½ cup flour

1 cup rolled oats

¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup margarine or butter

1 ½ cups (2 large) very ripe bananas, mashed

½ cup sour cream

4 eggs

1 teaspoon butter extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 yellow or white cake mix

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10″ tube pan. In medium bowl, combine flour, rolled oats, brown sugar and pecans; mix well. With fork or pastry blender, cut in margarine until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine bananas, sour cream, extracts and eggs; beat at low speed until smooth. Add cake mix; beat until fully combined. Spread 1/3 of batter in prepared pan; sprinkle with 1/3 of brown sugar crumble mixture. Repeat layers 2 more times using remaining batter and brown sugar mixture, ending with brown sugar mixture.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool upright in pan 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan; place on serving plate, crumble side up. Cool completely before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Posted in Baked goods, Baking, breakfast, Brunch, eggs, Food

Farmhouse Breakfast Squares

During the Christmas holiday, I assembled quite a few casseroles to feed the army of family members that were home for the holidays. Many of these recipes had their fair share of carbohydrates nestled throughout. I, on the other hand, try to watch my carb intake as I always seem to have severe migraines when I consume refined sugar and loads of carbs. This recipe is quite simple to assemble and chocked with flavor. A bit of Frank’s hot sauce added to the egg mixture is a welcome addition to the recipe. A few teaspoons add a hint of flavor. If you like a spicy egg dish, feel free to kick up the heat by doubling or tripling the sauce. One other trick, try to seed and core the tomatoes before dicing them. This helps eliminate a soupy casserole.

The serving sized squares are compact and great as leftovers. Super for breakfast lunch or dinner. Serve along side a cup of yogurt with granola, a field greens salad, or a few hash browned potatoes.

Farm House Breakfast Squares

1 pound breakfast sausage

12 large eggs

½ cup heavy cream or half & half

1 ½ cups cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons hot sauce

1 medium green pepper, diced

½ cup onion, chopped finely

1 medium tomato, seeded and cored

In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the breakfast sausage for about 10 minutes, breaking apart with a spatula, until fully browned. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13×9” baking dish, set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half & half, and hot sauce. Add the pepper, onion, tomato, and cheese; whisk thoroughly. If desired, set aside a few veggies and a bit of cheese for garnish.

Pour the egg mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle cooked sausage evenly over egg mixture distributing all ingredients. Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes or until center is set. Cool slightly and cut into serving sized squares.

Optional: Garnish with a bit of cheese and leftover chopped veggies. Salt/pepper to taste.