Monday, October 31, 2016

Mummy Pepperoni Pizza Bites



Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays when I was younger. I grew up playing with two neighbor boys, and every year their mom would make us group costumes. If blogs had been big back then, she would have had the best blog because these costumes were amazing!

One year we were Mario characters (I was Princess Peach), another year we went as the Rugrats (I was Angelica), and then another year we were the characters from Harry Potter (I was Hermione). I wish I had some pictures of these costumes handy because I’m sure you all would get a big kick out of them!

Fortunately, we lived in a very large neighborhood, so we would go to dozens and dozens of houses! It was just a really magical day!

I haven’t dresses up for Halloween in quite a few years, but I do have an adorable dog who will let me dress her up! This year she’s the presidential candidate of the puppy party. The costume doesn’t seem to bother her, and honestly, I think she likes all the attention she gets while wearing it!


 I think it’s important to have traditions, especially when you have young kids or grandkids because they really do remember these things regardless of whether or not you think it’s a big deal.

This year I wanted to come up with an idea for a Halloween dinner recipe that could become a new tradition to serve each year. I saw this idea for pizza mummy bites on another blogger’s website, and I loved the idea!

Mummy pepperoni pizza bites require very few ingredients and are so easy to make! Start with a thin crust refrigerated pizza dough. Thin crust is ideal because you don’t need these to be very thick. And regular crust may puff up a little too much and not look like mummies. Cut as many 3 inch x 5 inch rectangles as you can out of the pizza crust. (I was able to get about 15 rectangles.)

Take one of your rectangles, lay it down landscape style and make several cuts into the dough so they look like strips. Spread a little marinara sauce on the side of the rectangle without the strips and then add cheese and a piece of pepperoni.

Fold the strips over across the toppings so it looked like it has a wrapped effect. And then add two olives for the eyes. Cute!

Before popping them in the oven, I recommend brushing them with a little garlic butter. It may seem like a lot of extra fat, but it’s not because you’re just brushing it on for added flavor and to prevent them from drying out in the oven. And if you use good quality butter like Challenge that doesn’t have any added hormones or preservatives, there’s nothing to feel bad about!

After you bake them until they’re golden brown, you can serve them with marinara sauce to dip them in! Or even tomato soup if it’s a cold Halloween night!

I hope you like this idea, and I hope it becomes a new tradition in your household! Happy Halloween!



Mummy Pepperoni Pizza Bites
Yield: Makes about 15 bites
Ingredients
  • 1 can refrigerated thin crust pizza dough
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 15 - 30 pepperonis
  • 30 sliced olives
  • 1 Tablespoon Challenge butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Roll out refrigerated pizza dough and cut into 3 inch x 5 inch rectangles
  3. Take one rectangle and lay it so it’s facing you in “landscape mode” and cut 4 strips halfway through the rectangle
  4. Spread a small about of pizza sauce (about half a spoonful) on the side of the rectangle that isn’t cut in strips. Lay mozzarella cheese on top of the marinara sauce and then add one or two pepperonis on top of cheese.
  5. Fold the strips over the toppings and tuck them into the other side of the dough.
  6. Add two sliced black olives on top of dough so they look like eyes.
  7. Place the finished product onto a greased baking sheet.
  8. Combine the melted butter and garlic butter and use a basting brush or pastry brush to brush the garlic butter on top of each pizza dough mummy.
  9. Bake for about 8 minutes or until the pizza dough is golden brown.

Recipe adapted from Printable Crush




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Crunch Cake


I have always loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. But when I was in the fifth grade I became obsessed, and Paula Deen was my inspiration! I used to tape her show on the Food Network (yes, I said tape) because it aired during the school day. And I would watch study it every evening.

Now this was pre-diabetic Paula so there was an entire stick of butter and pound of sugar in everything.

I’ll never forget the first recipe of Paula’s that I made—Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake. I was so excited to make it for Thanksgiving! You see, pumpkin gooey butter cake has a yellow cake mix crust and a pumpkin filling that has the same texture as pumpkin pie.

My mom was concerned after finding out it had an entire pound of powdered sugar and 16 tablespoons of butter, but she didn’t care after one bite. In fact, no one cared that there were nearly 1,000 calories in a piece the size of a thumbnail. Even my cousin who doesn’t like pumpkin loved this.



Now that I create my own recipes, I wanted to develop something similar to the gooey butter cake, but with a little different texture. I know some people who say they don’t like pumpkin have the biggest issue with its texture. And I understand that. It definitely can be slimy especially when it sits around and develops a pool of water on top from condensation. So for this recipe, I wanted to make something with a little crunch! Instead of using all of the cake mix for the crust, I saved a cup of it and made a streusel to go on top with brown sugar and pecans. If you don’t like pecans or maybe you’re allergic to nuts, you can always substitute the pecans with chunks of graham crackers or whatever else you prefer.

I also changed up the pumpkin layer a bit so it has significantly less sugar and butter. Don’t worry, it’s still incredibly delicious!

If you look at the recipe, it may seem complicated because there are three different layers. But really, it’s very simple. There are only seven ingredients in this entire cake—you just use them in different proportions at different times throughout the recipe. I separated each layer in the ingredients list because I think it’s easier to see as you’re making the recipe.

I wanted to call this recipe “Pumpkin Crunch Cake,” however, I just found out that already exists! So I just went with “Pumpkin Gooey Butter Crunch Cake!” If you have better ideas please let me know!

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Crunch Cake
Yield: Makes one 9x13 cake
Ingredients
Base
  • 1 (16.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix (reserve 1 cup)
  • 1 egg
  • 8 tablespoons Challenge butter, melted
Filling
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Topping
  • Reserved 1 cup cake mix
  • 4 tablespoons Challenge butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine cake mix (minus the reserved 1 cup), egg and melted butter; mix well. Press evenly into bottom of pan.
  3. Combine pumpkin, 3 eggs, brown sugar, milk, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla and pour      evenly on top of base
  4. Mix together reserved 1 cup cake mix, melted butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and pecans. Sprinkle mixture evenly over pumpkin mixture.
  5. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, and test for doneness with a toothpick.
  6. Serve warm or chilled.




Friday, October 21, 2016

Mini Caramel Apples


Caramel apples are a classic fall treat! But I don’t know anyone who enjoys biting into them. They’re so big and they get all over your face and you practically lose a tooth in the process.

But then it occurred to me if I make mini caramel apples, like cake pops, they’re much easier to eat! You can just pop them in your mouth without getting a facemask of caramel in the process!

So the concept for mini caramel apples looks simple enough, but it’s a little more complicated than what you may think. It’s important that you follow these tips in order to make this adorable little dessert a success!

1. You should use Granny Smith apples. Normally, I’m not a fan of Granny Smith, but they’re known for being less juicy and that’s what you want. You see, the biggest issue with making these a success is the fact that because the apple ball doesn’t have skin, the caramel has trouble sticking to the outside because of the apple’s juice. So you want to start out with the least juicy apple possible.

2. It’s crucial that you squeeze the apple balls into a paper towel to remove excess juice before dipping into caramel sauce.

3. Do not let you caramel sauce cool off too much! You want it to stay warm so it easily coats the apple.

4. Make sure you get some of the caramel sauce about ¼ inch up on the stick so that it creates a better seal when you dip it into the ice water bath.

5. The ice water bath is absolutely necessary because it helps sets the caramel.




Mini Caramel Apples
Yield: Makes about 16 mini caramel apples

Ingredients
  • 2 Tablespoons Challenge butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Granny Smith Apples
  • Crushed peanuts, sprinkles or mini chocolate chips.
 Other necessary items
  • Candy sticks or toothpicks
  • Small bowl of ice water
Directions
  1. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and honey, stirring with wooden spoon until combined.
  2. Slowly add the heavy cream and let mixture come to a boil.
  3. Boil for 10 minutes, stirring continuously and then set aside.
  4. Peel apples and then use a melon baller to scoop out apple balls.
  5. Thoroughly dry apple balls with paper towel to soak up any extra moisture from its surface.
  6. Insert candy stick into apple balls, making sure to not puncture the other end.
  7. Dip apple into caramel, letting any excess drip off.
  8. Immediately stick it into ice water bath for a few seconds to harden caramel.
  9. Press caramel apple into crushed peanuts or desired topping.
  10. Immediately transfer them onto plate with wax paper and stick in freezer for at least 15 minutes to finish setting.
  11. Once caramel is hard, remove from freezer and enjoy.

Recipe adapted from Instructables and Divas Can Cook






Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to pack healthy lunches every single day and save money in the process


Ever since I posted a photo of my organized refrigerator a few months ago, I’ve received numerous questions about how I meal prep and plan healthy lunches for the week.

I decided to write this blog post to share my method of packing lunch and share some tips to help motivate you to pack lunch!

So why do I pack my lunch?

I work in the news industry, and when I enter the station I work non-stop until I leave. There is absolutely no time in the day for me to leave to buy lunch. Heck, some days I’m so busy I don’t even have time to heat my food up in the microwave. So personally, packing a lunch is absolutely crucial to me eating that day.

I understand most people aren’t in the same boat, and they get an hour to leave the office and eat lunch. So in that case, why bother packing lunch?

Packing your lunch has a long list of benefits, but in this blog post I’m just going to focus on the two most significant benefits: eating healthier and saving money.

If you bring your lunch to work, you won’t be tempted to order a pizza from the Hot Box down the street and you don’t have to worry about that bag of corn chips and package of mini donuts from the vending machine becoming your next meal.

If health benefits aren’t enough to motivate you to pack your lunch, maybe extra cash in your pocket will.

Packing your lunch probably costs about $5 per day at the most. Compare that dollar amount to what you spend eating out (probably around 10 bucks, right?) and the savings are really pretty shocking!

Now that I’ve covered WHY you should pack your lunch, let’s focus on HOW to pack a healthy lunch!

I would say without a doubt, the key to packing a healthy lunch is planning ahead.

So I’m going to share what I pack for lunch and how I pack it so that it stays fresh several days later.


This is what my lunch looks like just about every single day – turkey sandwich, salad, grapes, clementine, carrots, nuts, and SkinnyPop popcorn.

On Sunday, I prepare all of my turkey sandwiches for the week. I use sandwich thins for the bread, and I’ve never had any issues with it becoming soggy. I wrap each sandwich in Saran Wrap to keep it fresh and also store it in a plastic container to keep it from getting squished in my refrigerator.


For my salads, I put the spinach and cherry tomatoes at the bottom of a Tupperware container, and then I wrap the veggies that get soggy (cucumber and red peppers) in little Saran Wrap packs so they stay fresh. I also put a paper towel on top to collect any extra moisture. I’m not kidding you, this method keeps your salads fresh for like a week and a half.


By Sunday night, I make sure my grapes are cleaned, taken off the vine, and placed into individual snack bags. I divide my carrots into individual snack bags as well. For me, I know that if I don’t do this before Monday morning, I’ll be too lazy to bother doing it later, and they’ll go to waste.

I like to pack a small pack of nuts because the protein helps keep me full and gives me a little boost of energy in the middle of the workday.


Also, I love packing 100-calorie bags of SkinnyPop. My favorite things about SkinnyPop are the fact that you get a lot of popcorn for 100 calories so you can munch on it for a while, and also the flavor is incredible—it tastes freshly popped like it’s homemade.

The only downside with this style of meal prepping is that I end up eating the same thing just about every day for lunch. Personally, that doesn’t bother me one bit! But I can understand where some people may be turned off by that. If that is the case, my suggestion is to swap out the sandwich with dinner leftovers or make something like Mexican Chicken or Lasagna that reheats well.


I realize this looks like a lot of food, but it’s all pretty healthy and the calorie and fat content aren’t very high—especially when you compare it to a greasy fast food lunch. Also, since I’m going back to school, I’m gone from home for about 13 hours, so I need to fuel up when possible because otherwise I’m famished by the time I get home to eat dinner around 9:30 p.m.

I hope these meal prepping and lunch packing tips helped! Let me know if you have any questions!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cinnamon cheesecake-stuffed apples


Okay I’m getting personal on the blog today. I am going to tell you the weirdest thing about me.

Crunchy apples give me goosebumps. That’s right. I said it. I cannot stand the sound of a crunchy apple. The sound of someone biting into an apple or someone cutting an apple is like nails on a chalkboard for me. I’ve felt that way ever since I can remember. In fact, it’s so extreme that just the thought of it makes me cringe.

However, I still like the taste of apples, and I love cooked apples.

And this is where the problem lies – there is no way for me to indulge in a baked apple without being tortured by the sound of a crunchy apple.

There are so many delicious apple desserts this year that it’s such a shame.

I was especially tempted by a recipe I saw on Pinterest for cheesecake-stuffed apples. Like what?! How has that existed without me knowing about it?!

So over the weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it!

No joke guys, thinking about cutting the apples and scooping out the insides is giving me goosebumps right now just thinking about! Yes, yes, I realize I’m weird!

But I have to tell you, it was totally worth it! These apples were delicious!

When making this dessert, it’s very important to choose the right apple. As you all know, there are thousands of varieties of apples – 7,500 to be exact! And certain apples are better for certain things than others.

For this dessert, you want to use an apple that is sturdy enough to hold its shape when it’s cooking.  I used Gala apples, but honey crisp apples would also be a good choice. If you were to use McIntosh or Jonathan apples, they would be too mushy. Those are better for applesauce. In this recipe, some people may also want to use granny smith apples. Totally fine! I’m just not a big fan of the taste.

Also, the quality of cream cheese you use in this recipe really makes a big difference. I used Challenge cream cheese because it’s very tangy and really makes the flavor of the cheesecake stand out. Also, it’s made with real milk and cream from cows that aren’t injected with synthetic hormones so you don’t have to be concerned with what you’re putting in your body.



Cinnamon cheesecake-stuffed apples
Yield: Makes 6 stuffed apples

Ingredients
  • 4 apples
  • 4 tablespoons Challenge butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 ounces Challenge cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Slice the top off the apples and use a paring knife and a spoon to scoop out the insides; place apples in baking dish
  3. Mix the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon together
  4. Brush mixture on inside of apples
  5. Bake apples for 30 minutes
  6. While apples are baking, mix cream cheese, egg, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon together until smooth
  7. Remove apples from oven and fill 2/3 full with cheesecake mixture
  8. Place apples back in oven for 25 minutes​ or until cheesecake filling is set
  9. Remove apples from baking dish and top with caramel and graham crackers if desired
  10. Let apples cool for about 30 minutes before serving
Idea for apples adapted from Creme de la Crumb 





Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Monster Sandwich Cookies


As I've said before, I love making themed treats! So last week when I made the cookie cake for Kristin, I was trying to figure out how I should use my leftover frosting and cookie dough! (I made a triple batch of each because I wasn't sure how much was needed for the cake)

I landed on cookie-frosting sandwiches, but then when I saw these goofy candy eyes at the grocery store I got the idea to make monsters!

I love how they turned out! Adorable! I gave a few to the neighbor kids and they loved them too.

If you can't find candy eyes, you can just use M&Ms or even marshmallows. I know at my local grocery store, they sell regular white candy eyes all year round in the baking department.

Also, I ended up making new frosting for these monster sandwich cookies after all because I wanted it a little creamier than the cookie cake frosting. The frosting recipe I used for the cookie cake is really good for that purpose because I needed it to be very dark so that it would stand out and I needed it to harden. But I didn't need that for the cookie sandwich. So I reduced the amount of confectioners' sugar (which makes your frosting stiffer) and I reduced the cocoa powder so it was more milk chocolatey.

For this frosting recipe, I used European Style Unsalted Challenge butter. It's one of the newest Challenge products and it tastes just like you would imagine if you lived on the farm. It's so rich, and it creams really really well!



Monster Sandwich Cookies
Yield: Makes about 10 cookie sandwiches

Ingredients
For the chocolate chip cookies

  • 2 and 1/4 cups flour (281.25 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup Challenge salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar (207 grams)
  • 1 (3.4 oz) package instant vanilla pudding
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • (Plus candy eyes and white chocolate chips for teeth)

For the milk chocolate frosting

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) Challenge unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (441 grams) confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
Directions
For the cookies

  1. Measure flour and baking soda in medium bowl. Combine and set aside.
  2. In large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until light and fuffy.
  3. Add instant vanilla pudding package and beat until well blended.
  4. Mix in eggs and vanilla.
  5. Slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture until just incorporated.
  6. Fold in chocolate chips with a spatula.
  7. Cover dough and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.
  8. Remove dough from refrigerator.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Roll dough into balls (the size of 2 tablespoons) and place on greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat.
  11. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheet for several minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
 For the frosting

  1. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy - about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla extract, and milk, beating on low speed after each addition.
  3. Once everything is added, beat on high speed until creamy for about 2 minutes.
  4. Spoon frosting into resealable plastic bag or piping bag. Cut 1/2 inch off one corner of bag, and pipe and ample amount of frosting on bottom of 1 cookie. 
  5. Place another cookie on top and press down at an angle so cookies look like an open mouth.
  6. Use extra frosting to attach candy eyes and place white chocolate chips in frosting to look like teeth.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Taco lasagna


Tacos are the best. First of all, they’re delicious (that’s a given), and secondly, there’s an infinite variety of tacos. Every part of the taco is customizable: the shell, the meat, the veggies, the sauce, the cheese, etc.

That being said, the way you eat tacos should also be customizable. A lot of people love finger foods, but sometimes it’s more convenient (and less messy) to eat with a knife and fork.

So for Taco Tuesday, I decided to make taco lasagna! Taco lasagna combines all of the flavors of tacos into a comforting casserole.

Taco lasagna reheats well, freezes well, and it’s great to pack for lunch.

The recipe below is my favorite combination of tortillas, salsa, and meat, but just like regular tacos, you can customize it however you please.

And if you’re like me and ask, “Can I make this in the slow cooker?” about everything, I have good news for you! You can absolutely cook it in the slow cooker! Just remember that you still have to brown and drain you meat before assembling it.

You’ll notice in this recipe that I added cream cheese. The cream cheese prevents the taco lasagna from getting soupy while it is cooking. Challenge Dairy actually makes salsa-flavored cream cheese that is perfect for this dish! It blends really well and adds an extra depth of flavor.



Taco Lasagna
Yield: Makes about 10 servings

Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups salsa
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 ounces Challenge cream cheese
  • 1 (1 ounce) envelope taco seasoning
  • 6 (10 inch) tortillas
  • 3 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. In large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute longer. Drain beef mixture.
  3. Return beef to skillet and stir in salsa, beans, cream cheese, and taco seasoning; continue to stir over medium heat until cream cheese has melted into mixture.
  4. Place two tortillas in a greased 13x9-inch baking dish.
  5. Spread 1 1/2cup meat mixture over tortillas and sprinkle 1 cup cheese on top.
  6. Repeat layer two more times.
  7. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Cheese on top should be completely melted.
  8. Let stand for 10 minutes and serve.
  9. Dish stays good in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
*Note: You can also make dish in slow cooker by cooking on low for 2 to 4 hours.


Recipe loosely adapted from Taste of Home






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