18 December 2014

Christmas is just a week away!  Wow!  Are you feeling as harried as I am?  Such a busy time of year.  The recipe I'm sharing with you today is so easy that it will make your holiday entertaining a breeze.

Today is reveal day for the Improv Challenge!

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.

This month's assigned ingredients were red and green.  Pretty open to interpretation this month.  I had planned to make a fun Christmasy dessert, and unfortunately, waited until the last day to do it (because I wanted to take it to our Advent dinner at church last night).  Well, it didn't turn out so good.  It was edible, but not good enough to take to church or share on the blog.  Womp, womp!  Time for Plan B!  I hopped on Pinterest and found another little goody that contained red and green elements and would be perfect for Christmastime.  Not a dessert this time though.  A savory appetizer.  I ran to the store quickly to get what I needed and whipped these babies up in no time.  I got the idea from Betty Crocker.

Christmas Tree Appetizers

Pita pocket bread or flatbread
Olive oil (optional)
Pretzel sticks
Guacamole Dip (I used Dean's)
Red bell pepper, chopped finely
Sliced cheddar cheese

If you want to toast your pita or flatbread, preheat oven to 400.  Cut pita or flatbread rounds into 8 pieces using a pizza cutter.  Place on a baking sheet.  Brush each piece lightly with olive oil.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until bread is toasted and crunchy.  Remove from oven and cool completely.

Place the "trees" on a serving platter.  Break pretzels in half and stick a half into the bottom of each tree.  Spoon a bit of guacamole dip on each one, smoothing it to cover the whole wedge.  Place the chopped red bell pepper on each tree, making a zig-zag swag design, if desired.  Cut the cheddar into small squares and place them on top of each tree like a star.  

Serve and enjoy!

So easy, but everyone is going to love them.  Look how adorable they are!  They will make any Christmas party super festive.  

I didn't give specific amounts in the recipe, because it depends on how many you need. I would plan on two to three trees per guest, depending on how much other food you will be serving.  I used flatbread instead of pita pockets.  The package contained 5 rounds, so that would give you 40 trees from one package.  

You will notice that I used Dean's "guacamole dip" instead of real guacamole.  Since this was "Plan B", I didn't have the time to make my own fresh guacamole.  I thought about buying it pre-made from the deli, but then I remembered the dip (found with the chip dips in the dairy aisle).  The dip is nice because it will not turn brown on you in a matter of minutes like guacamole will.  That's nice if you are having a party where the food will be out all night for people to munch on.  The Dean's brand does have some chunks of tomato in it, but they didn't cause any problem.

You don't have to toast the pita or flatbread if you would rather not.  The Betty Crocker recipe didn't call for it, but I thought it would be nice.  I really liked it with the flatbread being crunchy instead of soft.  Just make sure you let the bread cool completely, or the guacamole dip will melt when you put it on. (Don't ask me how I know this!)

I had first thought of using yellow bell pepper for the "star", but then I saw the sliced cheese and thought that would be easier.  I tried cutting a star shape out of the cheese, but I am horrible at free-handing stuff like that and it looked hideous.  So I went with simple square/diamond shapes instead.

These are not only pretty, but yummy too.  Unfortunately, I don't like bell peppers. so I didn't try any with them on it, but my two daughters did the taste-testing for me and gave them two thumbs up.  I had some without the bell pepper and liked it a lot.  

This will probably be my last post before Christmas, so I would like to wish all of my lovely readers a very Merry Christmas!

Check out all the other red and green goodies below and come back next month to see what I make with pork and rice.

13 December 2014

Here's a great Christmas dessert for you.  I love blondies.  I have made several different kinds now, and I love them all.  Nothing can beat a great brownie, but I love blondies too because they are so versatile and can be changed up in a million different ways. This is a great blondie for the holiday season. The warm cinnamon flavor is awesome for the fall months as well as around Christmastime. I got the recipe from A Little Bit Crunchy.

Cinnamon Blondies


1 cup butter
3 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
2¼ cup flour
½ tsp salt
4 tsp cinnamon
½ cup cinnamon chips (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9x13” baking dish with baking spray. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together over medium-low heat.  Cook for 1 minute, until it starts to bubble around the edges.  Do not let it come to a full boil. Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Add the vanilla, eggs, and yolks and stir well.  Add the flour, salt, and cinnamon and stir until just combined.  Add the cinnamon chips, if desired.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes.  Let cool before cutting into bars and serving.

Makes 15 bars.

These bars are so yummy.  The buttery caramel flavor is a great base, and the warm cinnamon goes so well with it. I highly recommend using a quality cinnamon (Penzey's has several varieties), and not the cheapo grocery store stuff for this recipe. Since the cinnamon is so prominent, you will really be able to tell a difference.

Have you seen those cinnamon chips at your grocery store? They are with the chocolate chips and other baking chips. Those are really good in these blondies, if you want to add a little bit of texture. I have made them both ways and they are awesome either way.

My favorite thing about these blondies is the top. Do you see how the top is flaky and crackly, like brownies are? I love that. So good.

I have another great Christmas treat coming up for you on Thursday when I post my Improv Challenge recipe for this month.

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06 December 2014

Happy St. Nicholas Day!  Later this afternoon our church is hosting a big St. Nicholas Festival with snacks, crafts, storytime, Irish step dancers, and of course, St. Nicholas himself (played by my husband).  And Christmas caroling in the neighborhood.  It's going to be lots of fun and we hope to see many families from our community.  

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I am totally on board with all things Christmas.  I have already made my favorite Christmas-y dessert, Peppermint Crunch Brownies.  They are so good.  I love anything and everything peppermint and chocolate this time of year.  Another great Christmas flavor is eggnog.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but did you know you don't have to drink it to enjoy it?  I love baking with it.  Remember my Cranberry Eggnog White Chocolate Muffins from a few years ago?  Today I've got another great breakfast goodie starring eggnog that you will love.  I got the recipe from Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts (the glaze is from Mandy's Recipe Box).  

Eggnog Coffee Cake

1½ cup sugar, divided
1 cup butter, softened, divided
1 cup + 1 tbsp eggnog
1 cup sour cream 
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
3½ cups flour, divided
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
½ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9x13” baking dish with baking spray.

In a mixing bowl, cream together 1 cup sugar and ½ cup butter.  Stir in the 1 cup eggnog, sour cream, eggs, and almond extract.  

In a separate bowl, mix together 2½ cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring gently until just combined.  Pour batter into the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, using a pastry blender or a fork, combine the remaining ½ cup sugar, remaining ½ cup butter, remaining 1 cup flour, brown sugar, and nutmeg.  Sprinkle over the batter.

Bake for 25­35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cool 20 minutes before adding the glaze.  For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and remaining 1 tbsp eggnog.  Add more eggnog if necessary to get the desired consistency.  Drizzle over cooled cake.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Makes 15 servings.

This coffee cake is so good.  The eggnog and the sour cream make it so moist and tender.  The eggnog, almond extract, and nutmeg combine to give this such a great holiday taste.  This really is a great holiday treat and would be awesome for Christmas morning. If you want to make it ahead, you can refrigerate it after pouring the batter into the baking dish.  Then in the morning, sprinkle the struesel topping on and bake. 

I am off to bake a bunch of loaves of Irish Soda Bread and a few pans of Irish Cream Brownies for today's St. Nicholas Festival.  I hope you get the chance to bake something fun this weekend!

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