Baked Carrot Cake Donuts

.  Easter, Easter, Easter.  Oh, Easter.  How you have snuck up on me!

Shocking?  Not quite.  To me, it seems like the various holidays creep up on me faster and faster every year.  Good or bad thing?  I haven't quite decided yet.  I'll get back to you on that.

Anyway, we all know how fun holiday-themed goodies are.  And being the try-to-be seasonal baker, I obviously want to take advantage of the once-a-year opportunities I have to make certain things.  Because, duh, one can never make a pumpkin dessert in the Spring!  That is simply preposterous.

So my goal for this upcoming week is to pump out a couple of Eastery desserts and possibly even a little round up of past Easter-themed goodies I've made.  You may have to hold me to that though so I actually get it done.

When I think of Easter, my mind immediately jets to Carrot Cake.  That classic Carrot Cake with a dollop of thick, rich cream cheese frosting [queue in the drool].  Carrot Cake is actually one of Robbie's favorite cakes, so this time of year is particularly good to him.  I was personally never a huge carrot cake fan until I was older, I think the fact that the cake literally has carrots in it made me think there was no way it could be good.  But once I took a chance, I never turned back!  It got me.

So because of my [and Robbie's] love for Carrot Cake, I'm especially excited to share with you..ta dah!..Baked Carrot Cake Donuts.  But wait!  This isn't just any old Carrot Cake recipe.  Nope.  Well yeah, Jess.  It's a donut.  Yes, you are correct.  But!  There's also a few added ingredients that make this Carrot Cake Donut uber special.  Let's just say pineapple, nutmeg, and toasted walnuts are a few of those uber components.  Intrigued yet?  You should be.

These donuts were just too good.  I must say, they are extremely light and fluffy, you won't get that dense donut most of you are probably thinking of.  They're much more cake-like, but absolutely perfect for a morning treat that won't put you in a food coma.  I likey  .

My Notes:
  • I chose to ground up my walnuts because I thought it would look much prettier than the huge chunks.  But feel free to leave the walnuts in larger pieces and you don't even need to toast them if you don't like.  Completely up to you!
  • When making the frosting, make sure to have your cream cheese and butter pretty soft, otherwise you'll end up with a chunky frosting like I did.  If this does happen, I popped my frosting into the microwave for a few seconds to break down the chunks.

Adapted from BrueCrew Life

1/2 c. butter
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. vanilla yogurt
2/3 c. crushed pineapple, drained (save juice for frosting)
2/3 c. finely shredded carrots
2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting:
3/4 c. toasted walnuts, ground
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 tbsp. butter, softened
2 tbsp. pineapple juice
3/4 c. powdered sugar

  1. Heat oven to 375°F.  Spray donut pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.  For the donuts, cream together butter, sugar and salt in large bowl.  Add egg, vanilla extract, and yogurt and beat until smooth.  Stir in pineapple and carrots.  
  2. Sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and baking soda.  Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, beating on low speed until combined.
  3. Fill a ziploc bag with donut batter, snipping off one corner.  Pipe batter into prepared pan, filling cavities 1/2 full.  Bake 10 minutes.  Let cool in pan before removing to wire rack.
  4. Place walnuts onto baking sheet and bake about 8 minutes or until fragrant.  Let cool on baking sheet.  Place walnuts into food processor and pulse until walnuts are ground (don't ground them too much, some larger pieces are still desirable).  Set aside.
  5. For frosting, beat cream cheese, butter and pineapple juice in medium bowl until smooth.  Slowly add powdered sugar until smooth.  Frost cooled donuts as desired and sprinkle with ground walnuts.
Yield: 18 donuts

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Swirly Roasted Banana Bread

Lordy, lordy, lordy.  No, literally.  Lordy.  Easter is just around the bend and I can't.  Even.  Believe.  It.  I'd like a tally of how many times I've said 'Where has my life gone?', because it's been a lot.  And I'm saying it again.  Where the crap has my life gone?!  I feel like Christmas just passed, yet we're already 1/3 of the way through 2012!  Geezzzzzzz.

But I guess I can't complain that life has kept me busy.  I should probably be jumping for joy that I have things that keep life exciting and that I have things to look forward to.  There...that's better

Anywho, back to Easter.  What do you guys have planned for the holiday weekend?  I'm sure most of you are on top of planning the Easter meal, desserts, and goodies for visitors, more than I am.  It obviously just registered with me that Easter is in a few short days.  But for those of you in your own world [like me!], I have here a Swirly Roasted Banana Bread that's an absolutely perfect treat to have around the house over the holiday weekend.  Snack here, snack there, and then...it's gone.  But your family, relatives, friends [or whoever you may have over at your house] will surely thank you for your efforts.  Believe me.  Hallelujah!

Hollyann approved!

I was inspired to make this bread from a post over at Arctic Garden Studio.  Take a quick peak at their own version of this recipe and you'll understand why.  And how can roasted bananas and cream cheese swirls not peak a girls interest?  Well let me tell you, it does.  OH!  Annnnd brown butter.  How could I forget?!

So what I did was take the banana bread recipe from my Banana Struesel Bread [minus the caramel bits...sad, I know], roasted the bananas, browned that butter, and added in the lovely stripe of cream cheese filling.  Oh, hey.  Yumminess!

The only thing I can say about this recipe that I would possibly change next time around is the sugar amount.  Dumbly enough, I didn't account for the lack of sweetness from taking out the caramel bits in the original recipe.  However, the cream cheese filling definitely made up for it and honestly, I think makes the bread, but let it be known that this is not an overly sweet goodie.  Perfect for breakfast, in my opinion, but I know that some people may like sweeter banana breads.  Cha know?!  Also, not quite sure the roasted banana really made that much of a difference?  But roasting them was fun!  So still do it.

Regardless, this bread is moist, full of banana flavor, and has a beautiful layer of sweet cream cheese swirling through the center.  And as most banana breads go, it gets better with age.  Much, much better.  Not that it will last that long though, right?  .

Slightly adapted from Arctic Garden Studio

Cream Cheese Filling:
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 c. sugar
1 large egg
2-1/4 tsp. all purpose flour

Banana Bread:
2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large ripe bananas, roasted and mashed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 c. flavored yogurt (plain, coffee, vanilla, or caramel flavored)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. For cream cheese filling, combine cream cheese, sugar, egg, and flour in a small bowl with a wooden spoon.  Mix until smooth.  Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. For banana bread, heat oven to 350°F and place rack in center of oven.  Butter or spray with non-stick cooking spray 9x5-inch loaf pan.  Set aside.
  3. Place bananas onto baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until black.  Let cool slightly before peeling skins and mashing.
  4. While bananas are roasting, place butter into small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Gently swirl butter in pan (do not stir), watching closely as butter bubbles and begins to brown.  Remove from heat once butter is brown and nutty smelling.  Set aside until ready to use.
  5. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
  6. In a medium bowl, combine bananas, eggs, butter, yogurt, and vanilla extract.  Lightly fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until combined and batter is thick and chunky (do not over mix).
  7. Spread half of banana bread mixture onto bottom of prepared loaf pan.  Evenly spread the cream cheese filling on top, followed by the remaining banana bread batter.
  8. Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until bread is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Place on wire rack to cool before removing from pan.
Yield: 1 loaf

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Sunday Special: Toasted Almond Parmesan Dip

.  Have you all been keeping up with March Madness?  For those of you who care, I mean.  As you know, Robbie and I are pretty avid sports followers, so we've been all about it.  Brackets filled out [mine's doing rather well, I must add], watching all of the games we've been able to, and we even went to some of the second round games held here in Omaha.  It's been a good March!

And to go along with all of this game watching, you know I've been perusing all sorts of appetizer recipes.  Gotta have game time snacks, right?!

So the latest recipe that grabbed my attention comes from How Sweet It Is.  I pinned this recipe a while ago and knew it'd be making an appearance on our kitchen table for whatever excuse I could conjure up.  Creamy cream cheese,  sharp parmesan, and toasted almonds.  Can you blame me?  I think not.

I made this fan-taaaastic dip to bring over to Robbie's parents house to watch the some of the March Madness games.  I absolutely fell in love with it and I'm fairly certain everyone else did, too.  Between Robbie, his dad, and myself, about half of the dip got eaten [and that's with a dinner of pizza].  So that's saying something!  I did try to lighten the dip up a bit by using light cream cheese and I probably wouldn't do that next time around.  If you've ever used light cream cheese, it tends to be a bit more crumbly when baked and that's basically what happened here.  Yes, the dip still had wonderful flavor [that nutmeg is phenomenal!] but I just wish it would have the creaminess that full fat cream cheese would have given it.  Yep dad, trying to make things 'healthier' wasn't the best in this case.  I'll give it to you ☺ But still, that didn't stop me from chowin' down.

So if you're having some guests over, or just hanging out on your own, I suggest you give this number a go.  It's a winner, winner, toasted almond parmesan dip dinner!  If you watch Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, that makes sense...  .

My Notes:
  • I double the ingredients for the original recipe, so if you want a smaller batch, just halve the ingredient amounts.
  • I thought this dip was best right out of the oven, nice and toasty warm.  If you don't serve it right away, I recommend heating it up a bit in the oven again or in the microwave.

Adapted from How Sweet It is

12 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1-1/2 c. sliced toasted almonds
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Scant pinch of salt

French baguette, crackers, etc. (for serving)

  1. Heat oven to 375°F.  In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, parmesan cheese, 1 cup toasted almonds, pepper, nutmeg, and salt using a spoon.  Mix together until thoroughly combined.  Spread evenly in 2-quart baking dish.
  2. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until top is browned.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining toasted almonds.  Serve immediately.

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Key Lime Pie Fudge

So it's officially Spring, eh?  Doesn't quite seem like it around Omaha since it's been raining the entire week.  But hey, let's not be a Debbie Downer about it!

I know I'm a few days past due [the first official day of Spring was on March 20th, oops] but I feel obliged to ring in the new season anyway.  Don't you agree?  I think you will after you take a whopping bite out of this breath-of-fresh-air fudge.  Yep, I totally think that.

So I refer to these little bites as a breath-of-fresh-air because well, they are!  They're so citrusy and refreshing, I can't really think of a better phrase to describe them.  And the heavenly light-tasting key lime fudge is paired with a crunchy, buttery graham cracker crust.  Duh, it's called Key Lime Pie Fudge for a reason.  Right?  And what's a pie without a crust?  Not a pie, I tell ya.

The one thing I will note in regards to this goodie is that the consistency is not exactly fudge-like.  I would say it's more of a chewy, chewy caramel.  Yeah, that about says it.  But caramel- or fudge-like, I know we'll all agree on how absolutely deeelish these are.  And addicting.  Which is always a good thing.

Well I hope everyone is off to a good spring.  The weather does seem to be turning here, so let's just keep our fingers crossed for bright, sunny skies.  Happy Spring!  .

My Notes:
  • Unfortunately, the grocery store I went to didn't have any Key Limes, so I had to use regular ol' limes.  However, I still loved them.  So if you have the same problem I did, you'll need about 3 limes and use the juice from them as well.

1/3 c. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar
1-1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
3 c. or 4 (4 oz. each) bars quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp. finely grated Key Lime zest (about 5 to 6 Key Limes)
1/4 c. Key Lime Juice

  1. Line 8x8-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper (leaving about a 2-inch overhang).  Butter sides and bottom of pan; set aside.
  2. For crust, heat oven to 375°F.  In a medium bowl, melt butter in microwave.  Stir in sugar with fork, breaking up any lumps.  Add graham cracker crumbs and toss to mix well.  Spread evenly into pan and bake 4 to 5 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, for fudge, stir white chocolate and sweetened condensed milk in large saucepan over low heat until chocolate is melted and all lumps are gone.  Remove from heat and stir in lime zest and lime juice.  Spread mixture evenly into pan.  Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight.  Lift fudge from pan using overhanging foil or parchment paper.  Cut into desired shapes.  
Yield: 64 (1-inch) servings

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Liebster Blog Award

So guess what?

LSM has received a third award!  Yes, that's right.  And I'm so very excited!

So what is this award, you're wondering?  Well, it's called the Liebster Blog Award and it was given to LSM by a fellow Omaha blogger, Amanda from At the Red Table.  In German, Liebster translates to 'beloved' or 'dearest' [aww!].  The award is given to up-and-coming blogs with less than 200 followers and is meant to acknowledge that the 'newbie' blog is inspiring, motivating, or a fun read.  A rather nice compliment, I must say [though I'm not sure I've turned LSM into any those?], and I'm extremely thankful to Amanda!

To keep the Liebster Blog Award alive, one must follow only a few rules:
  • Thank the blog that presented you with the Liebster Blog Award on your blog.
  • Copy and paste the Liebster Blog Award on your blog.
  • Present the Liebster Blog Award to five other blogs with 200 followers or less that you feel deserve the recognition.
  • Leave a comment on the selected bloggers blog to let them know they've received the award.

Check, check, check, and check!

Thanks again, Amanda, for this award!  If you can't already tell, I feel incredibly honored that you chose to recognize LSM.  And for the rest of you, check out the following blogs who I chose to keep the Liebster Award going because I absolutely love them so very much!  Happy clicking!  .

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Secret Recipe Club: Cake Show Pound Cake

Woop, woop!  It's SRC time again!

It's funny how a month seems so long yet I feel like SRC posts come around so quickly.  But I love it!  And I'm even more eager for this months reveal since I was sadly orphaned last month [i.e., the person assigned to me didn't post...sad day!].  Here's hoping it doesn't happen again.

Fortunately, Eliot's Eats won't have that problem.  Yep, that was my assigned blog for the month and what an interesting one at that!  The blog is run by Debra and her husband, and of course, their cat Eliot, which you can guess who the blog is named after.  From what I read, Debra and her hubby are strong advocates of eating locally grown foods as well as growing their own and much of their blog is about that adventure.  Props to them for taking such an adamant stance, I think we can all learn from them!

Browsing through their long list of recipes was rather fun, Debra and her husband have an array of dishes and themes, including a soup challenge I found rather intriguing!  So if anyone is looking for some fabulous soup ideas, click on over to their blog and there you go!  Some of my favorites include Yukon Gold Baked Potato Soup, Cheesy Chicken Tortilla Soup, and Dilled Potato Soup.

But when it came to picking out a sweet, I knew almost immediately what I needed to make.  Mmhmm, Cake Show Pound Cake [from Debra's very own mother].  C'mon, if something is Cake Show worthy, it has to be outrageous, right?  You got it.  And Pound Cake is one of those desserts I have yet ventured to try, so why not!

And folks, this deserved to win two blue ribbons in that cake show.  Now, I don't have much to compare this particular pound cake to besides Sara Lee Pound Cakes [I know, I must be sheltered], but I do think I can point out quality when I taste it.  This Pound Cake is dense and rich, but in a subtly rich kind of way.  The cake itself carries only a hint of sweetness, with a slightly crunchy topping, and that signature dark rim around the light yellow interior.  Truly a classic.  I recommend serving the cake with a healthy topping of whipped cream and some fresh-cut fruit would be delectable as well.  Nom, nom, nom!

To Debra and the hubs, thanks for this wonderful recipe!  It was a cinch to make and produced such quality loaves, I know this will be in my baking repertoire from here on out.  To Eliots Eats!  .

My Notes:

  • After tasting the pound cake, I kind of wished there was a tad more almond flavor.  So, to resolve this slight issue, I made an Almond Whipped Cream, which turned out too-good-to-be-true and I will be making several times over.  It was that good.
  • Instead of using loaf pans, you can also use an angel food pan, still baking for the 2 hours listed.

From Eliots Eats

1 lb. unsalted butter
3 c. sugar
6 eggs
4 c. flour
3/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract

  1. Heat oven to 300F.  Spray two 9x5-inch loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  3. Add flour alternately with milk, vanilla extract and almond extract.  Beat one minute at high speed.  Divide batter evenly into pans.  Bake 2 hours.  Let cakes cool in pans before inverting.
Yield: 2 loaves

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Improv Cooking Challenge: Crunchy Sweet Potato Cupcakes

Let's just say that this month's ICC was a bit of a debacle.  And because of that, creating this post was a mad rush.  But in the end, I think I prevailed.  Sort of.
Let's first start with what I had to work with...

Potatoes and Cheese

Uhh, huh?  Crap.  First thing that crossed my mind was to skip this month's challenge, this was totally geared towards savory dishes.  But then I thought 'I ain't no quitter'! In those exact words, too.  So my brainstorming adventure began and I must say, I'm glad I took up the challenge. Even though these cupcakes caused me some stress, having something to snap pictures of was well worth it.  And they turned out pretty cute! 

So what we came up with [and I say we because several co-workers took part in this] was a Sweet Potato Cupcake topped with your classic Cream Cheese Frosting.  I'm [not so] secretly hoping that Kristen doesn't kick me out of the club for fudging the lines with sweet potatoes and cream cheese.  That's technically cheese, right?  Right?! 

But from this idea, I wanted to go just one step further.  I had a vision of Sweet Potato Casserole Cupcakes and to bring this idea to fruition, I added a crunchy layer of cinnamon-sugar pecan streusel [exactly like the streusel layer in my French Toast Cupcakes!].  Does that sound good or weird to you?  Well with my new found love for Sweet Potato Casserole, I went with it.

I started with a sweet potato cupcake recipe I found while browsing online, but here's where it all crumbled.  Literally.  I had to make a couple of ingredient adjustments and somewhere along the way, I didn't account for something.  Something I can't quite put my finger on, but what I ended up with was completely caved-in and overflowing cupcakes [somehow magically all at the same time].  The cupcakes were so incredibly delicate that the streusel layer literally sunk into the cupcakes.  But then I also apparently overfilled the liners so we had cupcake tops like no other.  And I am not a fan of cupcake tops.  I like my cupcakes sitting snugly within the liners, plain and simple.  So needless to say, those sad cupcakes marched their way straight to the trash.  Sad [and frustrating] day.

So onto the next sweet potato cupcake recipe!  Second time's a charm, in my book.  Learning from my previous mistakes, I adjusted accordingly and came out with these little guys.  The cupcakes themselves are not overly sweet potato-ey [which may be a good thing for some of you] and if you didn't know any better you could probably mistake them for pumpkin.  Texturely, they didn't quite come out how I would have liked but Hollyann vowed they're still good nevertheless.  Now on to that streusel!  I sadly have to admit that the streusel sank into the cupcakes a bit, but it still lends the cupcakes a hidden sugary, crunchy layer that is unexpected yet perfectly complements the generous helping of creamy cream cheese frosting.  And though these are a bit St. Patty's Day inspired, Hollyann and I wanted to give a nod to March Madness, which is beginning this weekend.  SO!  Hollyann made those adorable little fondant basketballs you see.  Too cute!

The fondant maker!

Aside from the near nervous breakdown, these cupcakes were a joy and true challenge.  So thanks again Kristen, from Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker, for once again hosting a fabulous ICC.  On to April!

My Notes:
  • The original cupcake recipe only made a dozen cupcakes, so I doubled the recipe.  But if you're looking for a dozen cupcakes rather than 24, just halve all of the ingredients below.
  • I absolutely fell in love with this frosting.  Not only is it extremely tasty, but it was ridiculously easy to pipe.  I'm not a great piper by any means so this easy-to-use frosting was perfect for me.

Adapted from Picky Palate and Snappy Gourmet 

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. chopped pecans
5 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1-1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. canned sweet potato pie filling
2 eggs
1-1/2 c. buttermilk

2 (8 oz. each) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. powdered sugar

  1. For streusel, combine brown sugar, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and pecans in a small bowl.  Cut in butter with hands until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Heat oven to 350 F.  Line two muffin tins with liners; set aside.  For cupcakes, add flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, sugar, sweet potato pie filling, eggs, and buttermilk, in a large bowl.  Combine using a large spoon until well mixed (about 15 to 30 seconds). 
  3. Fill prepared muffin cups just about 3/4 full.  Top evenly with streusel, making sure to cover the tops.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean.  Let cool completely on wire rack before frosting.
  4. For frosting, beat together cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until well combined.  Beat in vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar until smooth.  Frost cupcakes as desired.
Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

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Tried & True Tuesday: My Grandma's of New England Coffee Cakes

.  Wow, looking back it has been quite some time since I've last done a Tried & True post.  Oops.  I think TWD had a little something to do with that though so I'm sure you'll forgive me.

But to make up for my post-slacking, I definitely have something extra special for you all today.  Odds are many of you haven't heard of My Grandma's of New England.  Is that a correct statement?  I know I most certainly never had but before the fork full of rich coffee cake goodness hit my lips, I knew I was hooked.

I first experienced this mind blowing goodie while Robbie and I were last in Arizona.  His mom dished out breakfast plates to everyone and insisted we all at least take a bite of the Pumpkin Spice Coffee Cake she had waiting for us.  And not one of us regretted that push.  My goodness, I can't even think of where to begin and how my love for this coffee cake grows with every thought.

Well Robbie's mom obviously caught on to my subtle hints [i.e., running around the house yelling to the world about this coffee cake] and sent two of these beloved coffee cakes to us for my birthday [both Pumpkin Spice and Blueberry].  However, I'm still not quite sure if she secretly knew about the surprise party and that we'd be having extra guests I hadn't planned for...?  Hmmm?!

Anywho, the least I can say is that My Grandma's was a hit.  A complete homerun.  Actually, more like a grand slam.  Both of the coffee cakes were demolished by the end of the weekend and people were still walking around the kitchen asking if we had any left.  That good, I tell ya.

The elements of each cake are nothing complex, but they have mastered the art of making a quality, straightforward coffee cake.  I'm going out on a limb and saying these are the best coffee cakes I have ever had.  No joke.  They're ridiculously moist, the texture of the cakes strongly reminded me of the Pumpkin Bars I've made before.  And each of the two cakes were also adorned with a simple cinnamon-sugar mixture that adds the perfect crunchy sweetness to the cakes.  And, of course, the blueberry version had pops of fresh, succulent blueberries.  Heaven sent!

Dad approves!

What also has me outrageously excited about this company is not only the abundance of varieties [e.g., cranberry, apple, chocolate, banana-walnut, and even low fat versions!] but these coffee cakes make the most perfect gift!  Just like Robbie's mom did, you can spread the love to friends and family across the country.  So let that be my warning that my friends and family may be receiving some of these in the near future...

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Sunday Special: Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole

.  I think I may still be on cloud nine from my surprise birthday party last weekend.  Yep, definitely am.

And I do believe that the tremendous amount of effort taken to bring everything together deserves at least one more shout out.


Thank you, thank you, thank you, my dearest mother and best, best friends for everything you did last weekend!  It was most definitely a weekend I will always remember

Fortunate for me [and my unexpected guests!] I had already planned breakfast meals for the weekend.  So Sunday morning, as everyone made their way to the kitchen one by one, we were all able to sit down to a rather large breakfast spread of fruit, toast [with peanut butter], ridiculously good coffee cake [post to come] , and of course, this [healthier] Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole.

Now, try not to judge this flavorful, hearty, and savory casserole on the pictures I have provided.  We were all anxiously waiting for this dish to pop out of the oven, so once it did, I snapped some fast pictures before letting everyone have at it.  Thus, no pictures of the gooey cheesiness, chunks of turkey ham, and luscious bread. Oh, and loads of soft spinach and roasted red peppers.  Nope.  Just pictures of the top.  Sorry...

I would have tried to take a couple of pictures of the inside of the casserole once everyone was done.  But, I didn't really have that option because the entire pan got devoured.  Yep folks, the entire thing.  None left.  So I guess that speaks for just how good this is.  I quite honestly wasn't expecting such superb quality since this was labeled a 'healthier' recipe.  I mean healthy means no flavor, right dad?  WRONG.  And I think my dad would even agree with me on that one.

Now, I know it's the morning right now, but there's still time to gather the ingredients together and slap this sucker in the oven.  Or you can always save it for next weekend.  But I wouldn't recommend waiting that long  .

My Notes:
  • The only things I changed in this recipe was the bread type and ham.  I used a rustic round loaf of white bread my mom and I grabbed from the Bread Oven while we were out shopping.  Oh, and it was the best bread I've ever had.  So if you're in Omaha, GO THERE.  Or don't, so there's more bread for me.  And then I used Turkey Ham in place of the ham steak.  Maybe those are the same things, but I'm not quite sure...

4 large eggs
4 large egg whites
1 c. nonfat milk
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
5 c. chopped wilted spinach
4 c. whole grain bread, crusts removed if desired
1 c. diced ham steak
1/2 c. chopped jarred roasted red peppers
3/4 c. shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

  1. To wilt spinach, rinse thoroughly with cold water.  Transfer to large microwave-safe bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and punch several holes in it.  Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until wilted.  Squeeze out extra moisture; set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 375°F.  Coat 11x7-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Thoroughly whisk eggs, egg whites and milk in a medium bowl.  Add mustard, rosemary and pepper; whisk to combine.  Toss spinach, bread, ham, and roasted red peppers in a large bowl.  Add egg mixture and toss well to coat.  Transfer to baking dish and push down to compact.  Cover with foil.
  3. Place in refrigerator overnight or bake immediately for 40 to 45 minutes until custard has set.  Remove foil, sprinkle cheese and continue baking 15 to 20 minutes until casserole has puffed and top is golden.
Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): Calories 286 ; Fat 10g ; Cholesterol 167mg ; Carbohydrates 23g ; Protein 23g ; Fiber 4g ; Sodium 813mg ; Potassium 509mg

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A Birthday to Remember, Forever

.  I must begin this post by saying that I have the most absolute best family and friends a girl could ask for.   Hands down.  And though there is no recipe today, I do think this post is worth reading to find out why.

I think I may have forgotten to mention that this last Sunday was my 25th birthday.  Gah.  The quarter century mark [yes, I plan on living to the ripe old age of 100].  And I also may have forgotten to mention that my parents came into town to celebrate.  Well, you may have noticed the lack of posts as of late.  They're the reason.  I was busy readying the house, trying to stay caught up with work, and planning meals for the weekend [remember, my dad is quite food needy].

Anywho, the weekend started out rather normal.  My parents came into town Friday afternoon to me baking some cookies [post to come!] and waiting patiently for their arrival.  We had our traditional Friday night pizza, watched a little Creighton basketball, and headed to bed as the parentals were wiped from their travels.  Saturday morning, my mom and I headed out to get our nails done [try shellac, you'll never be the same] while the guys "hung out at home" and made a run to the grocery store per my mom's request.

Now here's where it gets fishy.  Prior to my parents arrival, my mom had mentioned her and my dad wanted to take Robbie and I out on Saturday night for a birthday dinner.  BUT, my mom is trying out a new diet and claimed that she didn't want to eat late, so she asked if I could make a reservation somewhere around 5 or 5:30 P.M.  5 or 5:30?!  People eat dinner that early?  Okay, I know that's a pretty regular dinner time but Robbie and I usually don't get around to eating until 7 or even later.  But whatever, if my mom really wants to do this, I'll suck it up.  I know my parents are laughing right now reading this because I'll admit, I put up a little fuss about this whole early dinner thing.  What the heck were we going to do the rest of the night?  And the cherry on top was when we actually got to the restaurant, the host greeted us with a 'good afternoon.'  Ha, that's right!  We're here for BRUNCH!  You better believe I didn't let that comment pass without giving my parents a hard time ☺

But after a lovely dinner at Mark's [here's my plug: this is the BEST restaurant I've been to in Omaha.  Food quality was superb and Mark's is such a quaint little place.  Love it.], we all headed back to the house to see the pups. And you can most likely guess what happened...I walked into a living room filled with the special people I hold closest to my heart and was greeted with the loudest 'SURPRISE' I've ever had! It basically knocked me back into the door completely stunned. I have the whole thing on video but wasn't able to get it uploaded. I most likely saved my self some embarrassment though so that's probably a good thing.

Unbeknownst to me, my mom and best friends from home had been planning a little surprise party for me.  So needless to say, once I walked in that door, all of the funny little pieces started to fall together.  Nail appointment to get me out of the house?  Early dinner?  Robbie actually helping clean?!

And did you catch that tid bit?  My best friends from home [i.e., Minnesota] made the trek to Omaha, along with my brother, to see me!  The moment I saw them, the tears started flowing.  Not for one second did I ever dream that I would be seeing my brother and bestest of friends on my birthday.  And there they were.

Aren't they beauties?!

But not only were they there, but friends from work and a few of my former Creighton softball teammates [and parents!] were also in on it.  Seriously, I couldn't believe it.  It goes without saying the tremendous amount of work and coordinating my wonderful mother and friends put into the whole shebang.  I'm honestly not sure how they did it, but I do know that I am quite undeserving of their efforts.  Cheesy line warning: that group of people made me feel incredibly loved and blessed.  I realized how unbelievably fortunate I am to have people like them in my life, it's a rarity to have such an incredibly thoughtful family and truly genuine friends.  Uh oh, here come the waterworks...

So obviously my birthday weekend turned out much more exciting than I had originally planned. And it will be a birthday, and a moment, I will forever remember.

Thank you, mom, for being you.  You'll never know how much I admire you as a strong woman and I'll never be able to repay you for the sacrifices you and dad have made for me to get me where I am today.  I still can't believe that you [and dad] took so much time out of your crazy life to organize everything.  To my besties, I truly mean when I say I will never find another group of friends like you girls.  No matter near or far, I always find comfort knowing you ladies are in my life.  And to my remaining cherished friends in attendance, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy lives to celebrate my [old fart] birthday with me.  I love each and every one of you and am so incredibly thankful that I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with you all.  I know it may not have seemed like a big deal, but I was overwhelmed with emotion [hence, the tears] that people would do something like that for me.  It's the little things in life, you know?

Okay, I think I've said it all ☺  .

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TWD Baking with Julia: Rugelach

.  Say it with me: rug - eh - lock.  Yep, you got it ☺  Well, that's according to Google.  I've actually been pronouncing it roo - ga - losh.  Oops.  But either way, it's a scrumptious treat all the same.

As you can see, it's that time again.  Another TWD post featuring a recipe from Baking with Julia.  For March, this fancy cookie we call rugelach was chosen for the first monthly post [the second one will be on March 20, we'll see if I get around to making it!].  And my oh my, were these a trip.

First of all, I didn't have a dang clue what rugelach was.  Heck, I can't even pronounce it!  I'd seen recipes for it in several of my recipe books but I've never actually seen it in person.  So when I saw that rugelach was our next assignment, I was all in.  But first, a little Googling was in order.

Rugelach is a Jewish rolled cookie surrounding a filling and literally means 'little twists.'  According to Wikipedia, some say rugelach share a common ancestor with the French croissant [uh, yum?!] and I would have to say that would be a fantastic comparison for this particular recipe.  Since I have never had rugelach before, I don't have much to compare it to.  But what I will say is that these are utterly fantastic and I've been missing out my entire life.  Thanks, mom...

These cookies start with a cream cheese pastry.  Okay, you had me at cream cheese.  And like I said, the cookie element in this recipe is strongly reminiscent of a croissant or a flakey, flakey pie crust.  And to accompany this wonderful pastry is several layers of filling.  Several.  As in four.  As in an apricot jam, cinnamon-sugar, cinnamon-sugar ground nuts, and plumped dried fruit layers of filling.  Can we say decadence?  Yes we can.  And I thoroughly enjoyed every single whopping bite.

The only thing I must put out there is that this treat is quite time consuming.  But, I would take my advice and break the steps up into a couple of days, such as making the pastry one day and completing the rugelach the following day.  The part that sucks up the time is chilling the pastry two times for several hours, otherwise nothing else is overly complicated.  And despite some pouting on my end from the feeling that I had made these wrong, I will say that if you have the time, these are more than worth it.  I've truthfully never made anything like these, so it was an interesting [and deeeeelish] adventure!

If you're feeling a little kitchen courageous, head on over to The Urban Hiker or My Baking Heart for the rugelach recipe.  Happy baking!  .

My Notes:
  • As you'll see in the recipe, you have the choice to pick what types of nuts and dried fruits you would like to use.  I chose to use almonds, pecans and walnuts, and cherries, apricots, and dates for my filling.
  • All of the fillings combined makes a LARGE amount of goodness.  So while you're rolling your pasty, you'll have to really tuck in the fillings [it will fall out some] and be patient.  I got a little flustered at this part because it can be a bit messy, but if you do everything on wax/parchment paper, it'll make for much easier clean up.
  • As you can see from some of my pictures, I didn't generally get that signature twist in my rugelach like I had hoped.  I'm not really sure what happened there...  Nevertheless, the taste was still spot on!

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