12.29.2011

The 2011 Rewind

Wow.  Can you believe that 2011 has come and gone already?  I can't.  Where did the year go?  It seems like just yesterday I came up with the name for this very blog, brainstorming ideas on the couch with Robbie.  And that's another thing.  Have I really been blogging for just about a year now?  Ha, crazy thought.  I will say that within this last year, I have learned quite a bit about the blogging world though.  The do's and do not's, what constitutes as a pretty picture [I obviously need some lessons in this department], or how to get my posts out there and gain some popularity [again, I need help with this]!  But all in all, it's been a year of changes and growth for Life's Simple Measures [and myself], a journey that I have thoroughly enjoyed. 

I thought it would be fun to do a little recap, providing a list of eleven [for 2011] of my favorite recipes that have been posted this year.  You can see on the right of the blog the most popular posts for the last month, and which have generally been the most popular period, but there are a few of my personal favorites that didn't quite get the attention I feel they deserve.  So, for 2011, here's my 'must-bake' compilation for each and everyone of my beloved readers.  I highly suggest ringin' in the New Year with one [or many] of these goodies.  Happy clicking!  .

A moist cupcake filled with banana, pineapple, and pecans, and adorned with a rich cream cheese frosting.


No picture for this one, because why?  Because this post is entirely videos!  Robbie made a FABULOUS Redless Velvet Cake for my birthday this last year and we had an absolute blast taping it all, so I had to include it in my list.  Check it out!

One of my most absolute favorite breads, this recipe is always fantastic.  Not difficult whatsoever, all it needs is a little TLC.


The most beautiful pie I have made to date [and not to mention, ridiculously easy!].  A buttery, flakey pie crust encases all of the berries of the world: raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, apples and rhubarb.


TheseAreDivine.  They take a little time but are SO very worth it.  A chocolatey mini cupcake surrounds a homemade soft and chewy salted caramel and is then finished with a dark chocolate frosting.  They remind me of giant Rolos!


A personal favorite because this creation uses a family sweet dough roll recipe!  Seriously, these are phenom.  Soft and fluffy rolls filled with a sweet cream cheese mixture and burst of tart blueberries.  The treat is then slathered with a smooth cream cheese frosting.


Loved this.  A very pleasant suprise as well.  This goodie starts with a soft cake topped with a sweet cream cheese layer, topped with sweet and tart blackberries, and THEN finished with a fabulous streusel.  Four layer of heaven.


One of my first SRC posts and probably the most memorable.  Don't get me wrong, they've ALL been beyond fabulous but this recipe really takes the cake.  The Danish Puff is a simple pate a choux dough sitting atop a shortbread-like base, with a generous drizzle of simple icing and finised with toasted walnuts.  A real beaut.


A true favorite of both myself and readers!  These bars are indescrible, but I'll try.  The bars themselves are ridiculously moist, you'll see fingerprints in them they're that moist.  And to take them over the edge, they're paired with an unbelievable maple cream cheese frosting.  Yes, you read right.


Yum.  A fall favorite.  The dough is flakey and buttery, filled with a mixture of apples and apple butter.  Truly simple yet so delicious.


I don't make many things twice, but this fudge has graced our presence on more than one occassion and been devoured the moment I set the plate out.  Rich, rich, and rich fudge studded with tart cherries and toasted walnuts.  Indulge.



This year had me tasting [way too many] outrageous treats as you can see and I know this next year will be no exception.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read Life's Simple Measures and following me through this crazy blogging journey.  I can't wait to see what 2012 brings!

12.27.2011

Tried & True Tuesday: Cheesecake Truffle Bombs

.  Don't judge a book by it's cover.  An important lesson in life, no?  Well the same goes for this post.  Don't judge the cheesecakey deliciousness of this recipe by the oh-so-crap picture below.  Remember, my Tried & True Tuesday posts are of [quality] recipes I've made long before I ever knew the blogging world existed.  Hence, my photography is terrible [not that it's good in the first place!].

These Cheesecake Truffle Bombs are actually quite simple but fabulous nonetheless.  What we have is creamy cheesecake encased in the rich chocolate of your choice.  That's it?  That's it.  Sometimes the simple things in life are all we need.

I made these for a graduation party some years ago and I figured this Tried & True Tuesday post should highlight a treat perfect for the big night.  The big New Years Eve night, that is.  These goodies have it all: wonderful flavor, easy assembly, bite size [gotta make sure we fit in those dresses ladies ;) ], and wow-factor presentation fit for either a party or casual gathering.

So now that we have New Years covered, how was everyone's Christmas?!  Mine?  Well.  Lovely.  In every way.  As I mentioned before, my Christmas weekend began with the arrival of my parents in Omaha Friday afternoon, followed by a gathering of former softball friends and families.  Christmas Eve was very laid back, filled with football, some last minute shopping [cough, Tyler, cough], and our traditional pizza making.  Onto Christmas, we began the day with gift openings, which was followed by lots of eating, lounging, and basketball.  Overall, a very memorable couple of days with my loved ones.  Don't worry, I'll be getting some pictures up after our upcoming weekend in Arizona.  Yes, we're taking another trip.  More to come on that one though.

Happy Tuesday!  .

My Notes:
  • Shape wise, you can cut the cheesecake into circles, squares, rectangles, or whatever other shape you can think of.
  • It's best to make sure that the cheesecake is very firm and cold before dipping into the chocolate.  Otherwise the cheesecake bits can be hard to work with.
  • Remember that you can use whatever combination of chocolate to dip the cheesecake in that you'd like.  One fun suggestion is dipping the cheesecakes into one chocolate and then dipping half of the cheesecake bit into another type of chocolate.  Pretty and yummy!


Ingredients:
Cheesecake:
1 lb. cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. heavy whipping cream
Pinch of salt

Chocolate Casing:
12 oz. milk chocolate
10 oz. semisweet chocolate
10 oz. white chocolate

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350°F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Line 8- or 9-inch square pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray with non stick cooking spray.  Place pan on prepared baking sheet.
  2. In food processor, blend together cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, heavy whipping cream, and salt.  Pour batter into pan.  Bake 30 minutes or until set (cake should be firm to the touch but not dried out or curling in at the sides).  Cool well in refrigerator.  Cut cheesecake into desired shapes.  Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for 1 to 2 hours.
  3. When cheesecake bits are ready for dipping, melt chocolate(s) in individual bowls.  Using a fork, dip and turn each cheesecake in chocolate to evenly coat and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Decorate as desired.  Freeze briefly to set.
Yield: 24 to 32 servings

12.25.2011

To One and All...

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Wishing each and every one of you the happiest of days and hoping you have a wondrous time celebrating with your loved ones.  

See you next week!

12.24.2011

Eggnog Cookies

.  ONE. MORE. DAY.

I can't believe it.  Christmas is finally upon us.  It's one of those days that you can't wait to get here but once it does, you want time to slow down.  But I guess that's what makes it so special, huh?  What a wonderful day.


To get our Christmas weekend kicked off, Robbie and I had some long lost Creighton softball friends and family over last night for what we call a 'safety meeting.'  Long story short, the softball girls parents would meet out in the parking lot between our double headers every weekend for a 'safety meeting', which entailed large amounts of beer drinking.  Unfortunately I never really got to participate in the ridiculous amounts of fun those parents had [since the team was obviously supposed to be focusing on something else!] but boy, did those parents of ours create some lasting memories.  It's hilarious to see them get together and reminisce about the good ol' days.

But same goes for the softball ladies.  I had some of the most wonderful teammates, ladies that are unforgettable and will be lasting friends.  We're, of course, all off living our own [crazy busy] lives so  I don't get to see them ever.  So needless to say, last night was an absolute blast.

Since it's the Christmas weekend and my family is here, I'll have to share other pictures and recipes from the weekend later.  So stay tuned!


But I did want to give you an amazing holiday recipe that I made for the party last night.  Eggnog Cookies.  Okay, if you're not an eggnog fan, you can 'X' out of this post right now.  Because these are eggnog-goodness cookies.  Seriously, they exceeded my expectations and have easily become one of my most favorite cookies ever.  They're subtly sweet, made so by the eggnog, and have a great soft, soft shortbread texture.  It's not a crunchy shortbread, but I can't really think of another way to explain them.  But basically all you need to know is that they're fabulous.  And for a little extra eggnoggy boost, the cookies are drizzled with a simple eggnog glaze.

Due to the busy-ness of baking, cooking, and cleaning for the party yesterday, I didn't bother to take time of the actual baking process like I usually do.  But these cookies are pretty straight forward and I didn't have any extra notes I want to fill you in on.  So head on over to The Girl Who Ate Everything to get the full recipe and some additional pictures of these lovelies.  Also, here's a sneak peak of another dessert I made for the party but that'll have to come later  .


Merry Christmas Eve!

12.19.2011

Secret Recipe Club: {Cherry Walnut} Fudge

.  Hey, hey, hey!  Let the count down begin {if it hasn't already}.  Less than one week from Christmas!  And what better time for an SRC post than...NOW!


This December I was given the honored assignment of That Skinny Chick Can Bake by Liz Berg.  First off, what a great blog name, huh?  Absolutely love it.  And to boot, Liz's blog is ah-mazing.  Beautifully designed and filled with outrageous recipes, both savory and sweet.  Since Liz is an avid baker, there was an endless number of possibilities for me to choose from, which is good but also made my decision that much harder.  Thanks, Liz {wink, wink}.  

Some of Liz's sweets that made my 'possibly make' list included Baked Cake Donuts with Chocolate Glaze, Chocolate Truffles and Chocolate Covered Caramels, Cinnamon Roll Danish, and Triple Layer Cocoa Cake {please note my chocolate theme, I was looking for something Christmas-sy, give me a break}.  But don't forget about those savory dishes I mentioned, there's an equal number of them on her blog and all are mouthwatering.  If I cooked, I would have hit some of those up.

But what I finally decided on making was based on a number of things.  I wanted something Christmas-sy, as I mentioned.  But I also wanted to try something out that I could use this coming Friday because my family is coming into town and we're also having some old softball friends over for a little get together.  Party time!  Just kidding, but I wouldn't doubt it getting a little rowdy over here on 56th Street.


So these few things landed me on Liz's Fudge Redux.  Honestly, I don't know what 'redux' means or how you even correctly pronounce it.  And I haven't taken the time to Google it either {yes, I'm that lazy}.  Sorry.  All I do know is that though my fudge expertise is quite limited, this is the best homemade fudge I have ever had.  I will even go out on a limb and say it compares to bakery fudge.  It's that delish.  And Robbie completely agreed after taking two {extra} huge chunks of this stuff.  

The funny thing about this recipe though is how stinkin' easy it was.  Yes, you have to be a little careful in the beginning using the candy thermometer and making sure you reach the right temp, but guys, I'm not good with a candy thermometer AND I don't think I have a great one at that.  But everything still turned out fantastic.  Beyond my expectations.  

The fuge is dense, uber rich, and oh-so-flavorful.  The only thing I changed about the recipe was adding in toasted walnuts and dried cherries.  I wanted a couple of add-ins and this combination just sounded so Christmas-sy to me {Christmas theme?  Check}.  The wonderful nuttiness and crunch from the walnuts complements the tart dried cherries and creamy fudge so perfectly.  I was a little worried that my fudge would turn out crumbly, as can happen a lot to homemade fudge, but Liz has that covered.  In her original post, she explains that the addition of the marshmallow creme prohibits the sugar from recrystallizing {absolutely no clue what that means} but after this recipe, I will blindly follow anything Liz says.


Oh how I love SRC.  Yes, yes, I do.  And thanks so much, Liz, for another fabulous addition to my SRC posts.  I absolutely fell in love with this recipe and many of your others, glad to be your newest follower!  .

My Notes:
  • Like most recipes when chocolate is the star, I suggest using the best quality you can find/afford.  For this fudge, I used Ghirardelli Semisweet Chocolate Chips, which is one of my go-to's.
  • After I placed the fudge in the pan to set, I did notice a little collection of some juices.  I'm still not positive why this happened, but my only guess is that the juices from the cherries were brought out.  But it didn't effect anything, nothing a little paper towel can't soak up!
Adapted from That Skinny Chick Can Bake

Ingredients:
3 c. sugar
3/4 c. butter
2/3 c. evaporated milk
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped dried cherries
1/2 c. toasted chopped walnuts

Directions:
1.  Heat oven to 350°F.  To toast walnuts, place walnuts evenly on baking sheet and bake 10 minutes or until fragrant.  Set aside.  Line an 8x8-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang (this will allow you to easily pick the fudge block out of the pan).  Set aside.

2.  Meanwhile, combine sugar, butter and evaporated milk in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to boil (cover with a lid for about 1 minute to make sure sugar is dissolved).



3.  Remove lid.  Insert candy thermometer into liquid.  Continue boiling for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently until thermometer reaches 234°F.  


4.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.


5.  Stir in marshmallow creme and vanilla extract until there are no white streaks.


6.  Fold in cherries and walnuts until evenly distributed.


7.  Pour fudge mixture into prepared pan to let set completely.  Use the parchment paper to lift the fudge out of the pan and cut into squares.


Yield: 24 servings


12.17.2011

Frosted Cranberry Sugar Cookies



.  Okay, I promise.  This might be my last cranberry post for 2011.  Don't quote me on that though.

So what do we have here?  Well, let's take you to the grocery store.  You know, and I know you know, those packages of frosted sugar cookies at any and all grocery stores across the country?  Those pillowy cookies slathered with a mound of delicious buttercream?  The ones that no person can resist taking just one?  Yes, those sugar cookies.  Those lovely, lovely cookies.

Well I bring to you those cookies in homemade form.  Sound the trumpets!!  "Thank you, thank you [insert bowing to the crowd]."


Just kidding, I can't really take credit for these creations.  I stumbled upon this recipe over at Brown Eyed Baker, a blogger I've been 'following' since I first stepped foot into the world wide web scene.  Her recipe is for the original Lofthouse-style Frosted Sugar Cookies, but you know me.  I had to add in something, right?  My inspiration sprang from the holiday season, I wanted to turn these cookies into White Chocolate Frosted Cranberry Sugar Cookies.  Kind of makes my mouth water just thinking about the idea.  But lo 'n' behold, I didn't quite think the whole thing through.  I initially made the White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting from my Banana Cupcakes, but once I tasted the frosting, I didn't really think it would go with the cookie.  Well...it would, but they wouldn't resemble the grocery store sugar cookies and I just wasn't having that.  So I opted to use the [fabulously easy] buttercream recipe from Brown Eyed Baker.

In the end, the cookies were stupid good.  Yes, stupid.  It's a compliment.  But I kind of felt that without the White Chocolate Frosting, the cranberries were kind of a pointless add in.  If I would have had leftover white chocolate to blend into the buttercream, I would have.  But I didn't.  Next time!


But with the cranberries or not, these are a must for everyone to try.  Trust me, you will be more than pleased with the results and if you decide to make them for Christmas weekend [or any occasion for that matter], you can decorate the cookies accordingly.  Bring on the colored frostings and festive sprinkles!  .


My Notes:
  • Prior to baking, the dough needs to be chilled for about 2 hours.  Thus, you may need to plan a little ahead before making these.
  • You definitely don't want to over bake these cookies because they won't be as soft as the infamous Lofthouse goodies.  The cookies don't actually turn a different color until you've probably baked for them for a bit too long, so don't be scared to take them out even while they're still very light in color.  I baked my batches for exactly 8 minutes, but you'll have to adjust accordingly depending on how your oven heats.
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Ingredients:
Cookies:
6 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c. sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. sour cream
1 (6 oz.) package dried cranberries

Buttercream Frosting:
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tbsp. heavy whipping cream

Directions:
1.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2.  In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated.  Add vanilla extract, sour cream and cranberries and beat at low speed until combined.




3.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat at low speed until combined (dough will be sticky).


4.  Divide dough into two sections and flatten into 1-1/2-inch thick rectangles, then wrap with plastic wrap.  Chill in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight until firm.


5.  Heat oven to 425°F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

6.  Place a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper on countertop and place dough on top.  Lightly flour top of dough.  Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness.  Using a 2-1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut out circles and transfer to baking sheet.




7.  Bake 7 to 8 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.



8.  For frosting, in a medium bowl, cream together butter and vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar and salt.  Once smooth and creamy, add heavy whipping cream, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Then beat frosting at medium-high speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until light and fluffy.


9.  Once cookies have cooled, frost cookies and decorate as desired.  


Yield: 5 dozen cookies

12.15.2011

The Improv Cooking Challenge: Cranberry Eggnog Bread Pudding


.  It's that time of the month again!  No, not that time of the month.  Get your head outta the gutters, it's the holidays! ☺  But you guessed it, it's ICC time!!  And as you know, one of my favorite parts of the months [nerd alert!].  I had such a blast making Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls and Mini Pumpkin Pie Cheesecakes, how could I not look forward to this?!

So what did we have to work with in December?  Well, very festive ingredients for sure...

Cranberries and Eggnog  


Gah.  Love.  

However, I will say that when I first saw eggnog, I had a little [or more than usual] blank in my head. I've only ever done anything with eggnog just last year when I made Eggnog Cheesecake [which I have not posted, but if you would like the recipe let me know and it'll be my next Tried & True Tuesday].  And when I baked with it for the first time, it was also the very first time I had ever tasted eggnog.  So I felt a little behind the eight ball with this ingredient.

I did know that I wanted to do something decadent and rich.  Something perfectly holiday-like.  And what I came up with is just that.  Not bragging, but just puttin' it out there.


My little concoction of Cranberry Eggnog Bread Pudding is absolutely wonderful.  It screams Christmas, winter, and any other word you can associate with this time of the year.  Seriously, it's scrumptious.  I was a tad skeptical thinking this would dish would turn out, but the eggnog worked perfectly as a substitute for heavy whipping cream, giving the bread a little sweetness and extraordinary spice.  The cranberries add a burst of tartness every other bite, complementing the breadiness and eggnoggy flavor juuuuust right.

And the texture of this bread pudding?  I know, for some people bread pudding is just not their thing.  But the combination of bread, liquid, and flavor are just right, not too soggy or too dry.  But landing right in the center, a tender and moist bread pudding.  I will be using the base of this recipe for years to come, it's that memorable.

I realize my blog has been flooded with cranberry treats lately, but what can I say, it's the holidays [that rhymed]!  So you can bet you're favorite present that I'll be throwing out some more cranberry recipes, I can't help it.  I'll try to mix it up a bit for you though.


Anywho, another great ICC experience!  Let's hope it rolls on into the New Year.  Happy eating!  .

My Notes:
  • The eggnog flavor in this recipe is by no means over powering.  I was pretty nervous about this happening, because as we all know, the flavor of eggnog is very distinct.  But I really do think the amount I chose to add is just right; however, if you're an eggnog fanatic or not so much, you can adjust the amount of eggnog you'd like to use, just add or take away the same amount of heavy whipping cream to equal 2 cups of liquid.
  • I chose to use cherry-flavored cranberries.  I personally adore these but you can use whichever type of cranberry you'd like.
  • I used exactly 1 round loaf of cinnamon chip bread from Great Harvest Bread Company [my definite go-to business for any type of bready goodness].  I chose this bread because I thought the extra cinnamon would be wonderful, but you can use what ever type of bread you have on hand.
  • Not sure if you took note, but I would like to point out my brand new 2 quart Emile Henry baking dish that I won from a giveaway over at Zoe Bake's.  First, I NEVER win anything, so I was literally jumping up and down when I found out.  And second, this dish is the bomb.com.  It's absolutely beautiful and if you don't know anything about the brand, well...it's one of the best.  It would sure make for some good holiday gifts ☺


Ingredients:
1-1/2 c. eggnog
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 eggs
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 c. dried bread cubes
1 (6 oz.) package dried cherry-flavored cranberries


Directions:
1.  In a small bowl, combine eggnog, heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract


2.  In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, and cinnamon.


3.  Gradually whisk milk mixture into egg mixture.


4.  Place dried bread cubes into an ungreased 2-quart baking dish.  Sprinkle cranberries evenly over bread, making sure some of the cranberries get into the center of the mixture (I just lifted up a few pieces of bread here and there to get the cranberries evenly spread throughout).


5.  Pour milk mixture evenly over bread mixture, making sure to get all of the top pieces covered.  Press down lightly with the back of a large spoon to moisten bread.  Cover with foil and chill for 1 to 24 hours.



6.  Heat oven to 350F.  Bake, covered, for 1 hour or until top appears evenly set.


Yield: 12 servings


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