My Top Ten

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vanilla Bean Peppermint Cake

a.k.a Jesus' birthday cake...

Vanilla Bean Peppermint cake

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, grease one 9"cake pan

Cake Batter:
Dry ingredients, sift together:
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In small bowl, combine:
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean*, slit & scraped 
(*no substitutions- this is what makes the cake)

In large bowl, combine & beat with hand mixer until fluffy:
1 stick (softened to room temperature) butter
1 cup white sugar

Add to large bowl:
2 eggs; one at a time, mixing well after each

Alternate adding the flour mixture & the vanilla bean milk to the large bowl, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour batter into greased pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. 

3 Tablespoons softened butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1-4 teaspoons milk

Put butter and powdered sugar in a medium sized bowl, and beat with a hand mixer. Add the milk one teaspoon at a time until desired frosting consistency is reached. Finely crush one peppermint candy cane and sprinkle atop your cake. 

FYI: Anytime you are baking, it is ideal to have all ingredients at room temperature.
FYI number dos: Vanilla beans can be found at most grocery stores, all health food stores or online at a place such as the Savory Spice Shop. They have the best deal for organic vanilla beans, in my area. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

May your Christmas day be filled with meaningful family time, good food, warm cozy beverages, Classic Christmas music, joyful gift exchanges, and most importantly; time for reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas day:

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village where He worked in a carpentry shop until He was thirty. Then for three years, He was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn't go to college. He never set foot in a big city.  He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place He was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies. And went through a mockery of a trial.

He was nailed to a cross, between two thieves. 
While He was dying, His executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on Earth.
When he was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. 

Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure for much of the human race. 
All the armies that ever marched, 
all the navies that ever sailed, 
all the parliaments that ever sat 
and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, 
have not affected the lives of man upon this earth as powerfully as this.......

One Solitary Life.

by Dr. Jame Allen Francis, 1926

the nativity. from Marianne Bach on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

fun eats & sweet treats; easy salmon dip

This recipe is very simple to make. As far as finger foods go, it provides a little more sustenance than say cheese & crackers or fruit. It's actually a great addition to both of the aforementioned foods. I will say no more.

Salmon Dip
1 - 6 oz. can skinless, boneless pink salmon
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon real lemon juice
1 Tablespoon dill
1/2 teaspoon garlic or 1 garlic clove
1/4 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped

In bowl, gently break the canned salmon apart with a fork. Next, add all ingredients and mix well with fork. Put into small serving bowl set in the middle of a dinner plate, spread crackers or baguette slices around the salmon dip. Serve.

Done. See? I told you. Easy.

And just to get you in a festive Christmas mood....

The Polar Express Theme 2009 from Scott Reinhold on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

fun eats & sweet treats; ginger spice cookies

These cookies are the best ginger spice cookies I have ever had in my life, hands down. Enjoy them with a steamy cup of Celestial Seasoning's Vanilla Sleepytime herbal tea. Mmmmm.....

Gingerbread Cookies (slightly adapted from
 Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ginger
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1/4 cup molasses
3 Tablespoons additional sugar for rolling cookies

*(2-3 whole cloves equal 1/2 tsp. You can pulverize them in your coffee grinder)

Sift together flour, spices, salt and baking soda.

Cream butter and sugar, add egg, water & molasses. Stir to incorporate.

Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

The dough is a litte stiff once all the flower has been added in, but just keep mixing (I use my hands) and it turns into a nice, smooth pliable dough. Resist the temptation to add something, stay strong.

Using your hands, roll cookies into bite-sized balls, and then gently coat each cookie with sugar. Then press the cookie down ever-so-gently to slightly flatten, it will flatten even more as it bakes.

Bake for 8 minutes, then move cookies to a cooling rack.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What an incredible Christmas story.....

This video is a beautiful reminder of what Christmas is really all about. And the reason we refer to it as the season of perpetual hope. I ask you to join in me in praying for this man, Thomas Coates, his girlfriend and their son this Christmas season.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

fun eats & sweet treats; rum balls

If you don't know what movie that quote is from, we can't be friends anymore. Just kidding. My husband and I can hold entire conversations solely using favorite movie quotes, it's what we do. If you are ever on a tv game show where the looming question is about movie quotes, and you've only one phone call to aid you in selecting the correct answer, call me. (Disclaimer: I get 5% of your prize money, though). Anyhow...

I have tried to experiment with the recipe to make it healthier. Not so successful. In this case, go big or go home. So, for the holiday season, I splurge on the not-so-healthy ingredients and really enjoy these rum balls. Ok, I refuse to use the corn syrup. But they do taste best with the corn syrup. I just can't bring myself buy a whole bottle of corn syrup for the 3 tablespoons the recipe calls for, because it will sit in my cabinet unused for all eternity. Make no mistake, it will last that long. And that's the scary thing!

Classic Rum Balls

1 (12 oz) box Nilla Wafers, crushed
1.5 cups finely chopped nuts (toasted pecans highly recommended)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup Dutch cocoa
3 Tablespoons corn syrup or honey or brown rice syrup
1/2 cup rum
additional powdered sugar for rolling balls into

In mixing bowl, add all ingredients in order listed. First add the dry ingredients, stir to blend. Then pour in the corn syrup and rum. Mix well. Using your hands, shape the dough into bite-sized balls. Finish them by rolling them in powdered sugar. Refrigerate. The longer they sit, the better they get. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

fun eats & sweet treats: succulent scallops

Why, oh, why is the succulent little scallop so intimidating? For starters, it has a high price tag. Another major drawback is that when overcooked, it turns into expensive rubber. The good news is that the positive aspects of scallops vastly outweigh the negative. If you cook scallops properly, they are so worth it. Because scallops are so rich and delicate, you need only one. So they might have a high price tag, but when you are purchasing only one per person, it's not really a splurge after all. Bonus, they cook extremely fast. Hence, they are perfect as a first course for a nice sit down dinner.

Purchase high quality scallops, preferrably from a local Seafood Market that specializes in fresh sea food daily or a Whole Foods. Key words to look for when purchasing scallops: dry packed, chemical free, or IQF (individually quick frozen).

How to cook a scallop:

Look for a little adductor muscle, or tab, on the side of the scallop. It is firm and will easily tear away if you pull on it. It will be chewy if consumed. Scallops cooked properly should melt in your mouth, so the chewy muscle will be unpleasant in contrast to the delicate scallop meat.

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, allowing a mixture of olive oil and butter to melt & sizzle.

Rinse and gently blot scallops dry. Season each side with sea salt.

Cook scallop for 2 minutes. You want to hear the scallop sizzle when it hits the pan, and there will be smoke.

Important: Once the scallop touches down, leave it alone. You want to sear the scallop, allowing it to caramelize. Since scallops have a seriously limited cooking time, moving them around will prevent the nice crust from forming.


Sear scallop for 1.5 minutes more. Yes, I mean precisely 90 seconds. It's better to undercook than overcook a scallop. If you purchase high quality scallops, the matter of it being slightly undercooked in the middle is irrelevant. If it's high quality, you could eat it raw. Also, it'll continue cooking a bit even after removed from the pan since the cooking temperatures are so high.

Serve immediately.

Serve the scallop with something, or rather - serve something with the scallop; such as, two roasted sprigs of asparagus or a very small mesclun salad.

You want your scallop to have a nice brown caramelized crust, much darker than what is pictured above. I took this photo the second time I had ever cooked scallops and I hadn't properly schooled myself on the art of cooking scallops. The only problem now-a-days is that they are so fantastic to eat immediately - who has time to take a picture? Apparently, not I.

Friday, December 16, 2011

fun eats & sweet treats: bacon wrapped stuffed dates

These bacon wrapped stuffed dates are a sophisticated hors d'oeuvre to offer at a Christmas gathering. They are nutritious, easy to prepare, can be prepared ahead of time & baked just before your gathering, and are low maintenance. Meaning, you could serve them right out of the oven, or they could sit at room temperature for awhile and they will still be delicious.

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Dates

Using Medjool dates, slit them just enough to remove pit
Stuff with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon goat cheese or cream cheese
Insert an almond into date
Squeeze date shut
Wrap each date with one piece of bacon*
Place date seam side down on baking sheet

Bake @ 400 degrees for 10 minutes, or until the bacon is cripsy
 (Turn each date at 5 minutes)

*Most recipes call for half a slice of bacon, but I prefer a full slice per date. Since the dates are fairly sweet & soft, the contrast of the salty & crispy bacon is perfect, why not go for the gold? I knew you'd agree. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

fun eats & sweet treats; homemade almond coconut candy bars

Welcome to fun eats & sweet treats; my mini series offering unique ideas for your Christmas menu!

This delicious candy, an organic take on the well-known Almond Joy, is extremely simple to make with minimal ingredients. The recipe calls for no sugar, as the coconut is held together with maple syrup. It is also a very kid friendly recipe. As in, they can help each step of the way, and feel a sense of accomplishment when they make these sweet treats all by themselves. Whip up a batch of these for your neighbor's goodie tray or the office Christmas party, and you will be the star of the show. Guaranteed.

Recipe by Carrie Vitt of Deliciously Organic

Homemade Almond Coconut Candy Bars

What you need:
2 cups unsweetend coconut
1/3 cup maple syrup
*12 whole almonds 
6 oz. dark chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon coconut oil

*Next time I will chop the almonds so as to get little pieces in each bite, instead of one big nut in the midst of enjoying your sweet treat. Also, don't be afraid to roast the almonds for 7 min. at 325 degrees to add more flavor to your sweet treat. Pecans would be a killer substition.

What you do: (this is my personal preference, for Carrie's specific directions, click the link above)
Blend or process the coconut flakes into finely ground coconut. Add maple syrup and pulse until it turns into a moist mixture. Using your hands, form the mixture into minature sized candy bars, and place on a Silpat mat or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Set one almond atop each candy bar. Gently melt the coconut oil and dark chocolate chips over low heat, stirring constantly. To ensure that you don't burn the chocolate, use a double boiler method. Spoon the choclate over the coconut candy. Refrigerate at least 10 minutes to allow chocolate to set. 

My little chef, licking the chocolate stirring spatula. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

christmas time ponderings...

I have no food inspirations to offer today. Instead, I have late night ponderings from a tired mama who is holding onto the quietness & stillness of her sleepy household, but should be in bed too.

I just finished trimming the tree, admittedly; I enjoyed my time alone to carefully unpack, remember each ornament, and find it a perfect spot on the tree. My tree itself was gift, and most ornaments on it were gifts, or were purchased for special occasions so they have an "event" tied to them.

What is it about Christmastime that makes it so....wonderful? This question was consuming my thoughts as I decorated my tree. It is love, that came to the world in the form of God incarnate - Jesus Christ. Christmastime is a wonderful time in general, and the wonderfulness comes from the one wonderful gift, Jesus. Even if you don't know Him, or don't believe in Him,  you are experiencing His presence in this "Spirit of Christmas" as so many refer to it. He is the reason for the joy that exists within this season we call Christmas.

You can see it all around you if you stop and look; Salvation Army bell ringers, local toy drives, paying it forward at the drive-through window, genuine smiles from strangers, food pantry drives, thoughtful gifts from family and friends, Angel trees, Christmas Cards, setting aside time to connect with family and friends, handy men stopping in cold weather to assist with roadside emergencies, and my favorite - receiving a genuine "Merry Christmas"from a complete stranger. In essence, loving others.

I believe that God is pleased to see His son celebrated in the giving that goes on within this holiday. These are self-less acts, ones that I most certainly applaud. But for me, for this Christmas, I choose to focus on loving. Loving God, my husband, my beautiful children, my family, my friends, my church, and strangers.

What can happen? Only good. Only good comes from love. This may come out in some of the ways listed above; or it may be family time spent together, prayers for other, really listening to my three year old, encouraging a girlfriend, serving my husband, choosing others above myself. I don't know.... I don't have a list. I just have love.