Apple Nut Skillet Spice Cake

– johanna | December 31st, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Serving Spice Cake on New Years has been a tradition for the past two years. Last year Grammy gave our son a Ratatouille game for the Leapster. He was never into baking or cooking with me like his younger siblings. However, the game ignited a temporary passion to explore his culinary talents. One day while traveling home from the ocean he asked if we could make spice cake. The game called for 6 eggs. Thinking that was a bit excessive we got to work looking for a recipe. We sifted through cookbooks and searched the internet. Once a month we would bake a new version of spice cake. Finally in May we found one worthy to keep. The cake was moist, tender and most of all full of flavor. The pecans are my favorite part. They add a wonderful crunch.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups apples – peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Place an 8- or 9-inch cast iron skillet into the oven to preheat. Whisk together the flour, white sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a bowl; set aside.

Beat together the eggs, vanilla extract, and melted butter in a mixing bowl. Toss the apples and pecans in the flour mixture, then stir into the egg mixture until combined. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the preheated skillet, swirling to coat the pan

Pour the batter into the hot pan, and replace into the oven. Bake until the sides are dry and a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownie comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool in the skillet 20 minutes before removing and slicing.

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Panettone French Toast

– johanna | December 24th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Breads, RECIPES - Breakfast

Panettone {Pan e toni} (meaning large bread) is an Italian sweet bread, studded with dried fruit that has been soaked in liquor, commonly associated with Christmas. Historians are unclear as to the exact history of Panettone; however, it is said to have originated during the 15th-century in Milan Italy, when the ancient Romans used honey to sweeten breads. Writings dating from the 18th-century associate the bread with Christmas; yet, it was not until the early 20th-century that panettone became a widely shared Christmas tradition. Today Panettone is shipped all across the world and not only at Christmas time but Easter too.

There are just as many legends as there are versions of the bread. The first story tells of a young noble man, Toni, and his love for the baker’s daughter. To win the heart of his true love he disguised himself as apprentice to her father. One day he made a special domed bread that impressed the baker and the daughter so much that the baker sanctioned his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The second tale occurs one Christmas Eve at a lavish banquet held at the court of Ludovico Sforza. The cook accidently burnt the dessert. A kitchen hand, named Toni, saved the evening by making a sweet bread using the remains of the burnt cake and adding dried fruit, spices, eggs and sugar.

How ever Panettone came to be this rich buttery sweet sensation is a world wide Holiday favorite. Panettone is often toasted and served alongside coffee. You will also find recipes for Panettone stuffing and bread pudding in addition to this version of Panettone french toast. Panettone is not a fruit cake although it does contain dried fruit. Freshly made is always preferred over store bought but if it is not available at the local bakery try finding the brands by Bauli or Flamigni.

Source: Williams Sonoma
1/2 Panettone, about 1 pound
3 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup milk
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tbsp Cointreau (optional)
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Softened unsalted butter for brushing
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Warm Maple syrup for serving

Slice off the end pieces and discard. Cut panettone into 5 or 6 vertical slices then slice pieces in half.

In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, orange zest, orange juice, Cointreau, granulated sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour into a large shallow bowl; add bread slices. Soak, turning once, 10 seconds per side.

Heat griddle on medium heat; brush with butter. When the butter foams, add a few bread slices. Cook, turning once, untl lightly browned, 3-5 minutes per side. Turn slices over again; cook a few minutes more per side. Transfer French toast to serving plates. Place in oven; turn oven to 200 degrees. Cook remaining slices.

To serve dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve with maple syrup.

Serves 4 or 5.

Keep any left overs refrigerated. Reheat in the oven, spread with butter and eat with a cup of hot chocolate. Mmmmmm.

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Family Togetherness: Traditions

– johanna | December 21st, 2010


Artwork: Home Dinner II (Family Series) by Yau Bee

The smell of the hall closet in my home growing up is one of my favorite smells. The closet is where my mom stored all the Christmas boxes. I remember as a child becoming so anxious and overcome with excitement from all the lights and music and smells I wanted to burst. Every Christmas morning we were met with the task of waking my father. Notably known as Mr. Scrooge. We would pounce on top of him begging for him to wake up. Mind you it was 8:00 in the morning. He would bat us off feigning sleep mumbling, “Ba-hum-bug!” It is the memories we create that bind each year to the next. Waking my father up on Christmas morning was part of the Christmas festivities. While I rememebr a few coveted Christmas presents I so badly wanted I mostly remeber the smell of Christmas and the repeated traditions that made Chrstmas delightful.

The Holidays can be  a marvelous time of year. In my young little family I watch as their little brains transform the ordinary tinto extraordinary. This magical world of theirs fills with excitment at every turn. In an excerpt from a book entitled, “Strengthening Our Families” it states that, “When conceived in principles of righteousness…a heritage of family customs can serve as the social glue that holds families together, ushers family members through difficult life passages, and weaves loving ties…”

Helen Bateman author of “Roots and Wings: A Book of Family Traditions” wrote,  “parents must give their children two things: roots and wings. Give them roots to keep them grounded through tough times. Give them wings to soar above everything, explore new worlds and fly farther than we ever did.”  Family traditions are rituals that link us to the past while providing a foundation for the future. Sharing our stories and past rituals gives us roots and wings. Simple rituals unanimously agreed upon as a family can be long lasting. They give us a sense of family connection or roots.  Our personal identity is founded on traditions. These traditions define our character. They strengthen and mold our morals and values. The more traditions our family fosters the more secure we feel thus allowing for greater personal freedom and possibilities, wings.

Traditions set the mood in our home bringing warmth, fun and unity to our families. Caryl Krueger wrote, “traditions unite a family in love, end divisions and are imperishable gifts to those who follow after us.” Traditions are not limited to a holiday or celebration. Any repeated ritual can be a tradition. Reading stories and singing songs at bedtime is a family tradition. Gathering together every Sunday for brunch is a tradition. Playing music after the evening meal, family breakfast, family counsel and even small gestures or sayings help add excitement and charm within our homes.

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Old Fashioned Cinnamon Rolls

– johanna | December 17th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Old FAshioned Cinnamon Rolls

In our quest to find the perfect cinnamon rolls we had to take a few important details into consideration. First, the finished dough had to be soft, light and doughy not dry and airy. Second, the filling had to be gooey and buttery. It had to have just the right amount of cinnamon to sugar ratio to create that bubbling sea of caramel like confection. Last of all the frosting could not be too sugary, lemony or taste like cream cheese. We wanted the perfect balance of flavors encompassed in a pillowy soft blanket. It has taken me two years to narrow down the list of contenders. From my final list of three I forgot which of the top two contenders was the one we liked best. Fortunately for us we had family in town to help devour the re-test. Our favorite recipe for cinnamon rolls is actually a combination of the two.

Tips: For best results use a 9X13 baking dish. We found that when the rolls were baked on a baking sheet they came out dry and thin.

Source: Adapted from allrecipes and The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner

1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 pinch sugar
1 cup warm milk (110 degrees)
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
5 cups bread flour

2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup butter, softened

Dissolve sugar in water. Add yeast. Let proof (yeast will bubble up), about 5 mins.

In a bowl combine the warm milk, eggs, butter and salt.
Add flour, one cup at a time stirring until well blended. Knead dough for 10 minutes until smooth. Place dough in a bowl, cover w/ a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour until doubled in size.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon.

Punch dough down. Knead a few times. Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. Spread dough with 1/3 cup softened butter and sprinkle evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 20 (1 1/2-inch) rolls or 12 larger rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Bake rolls in preheated oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. While rolls are baking make icing or frosting.  Spoon frosting on warm rolls before serving.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (6 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and salt.

1/3 cup softened butter
3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk

Beat the butter in a bowl until creamy; add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. Beat until smooth and creamy. Drizzle over warm rolls.

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December Resolution: Attitude

– johanna | December 14th, 2010

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

Photo: Edward Blackbeard “Teach” By Dunechaser via Flickr

As I reflect on the past year looking towards the future I am reminded of my ninth grade history teacher. Upon the close of the school year he counseled us that if we wanted to have a successful year come next fall we would have to come to school believing that our classes will not be difficult. On the first day of school that fall I walked onto the campus sure of my future successes. It was not long before my phobia of exams triumphed leaving me feeling defeated like an extinguished flame.

This mind over matter mantra was most apparent at school and church dances. Some of my friends who lingered by the wall would always complain afterwards that they were bored. I never shared their lack of enthusiasm for these activities because I always had fun. I think what helped me most was my brother. He taught by his example to go out there and have fun. No one ever critized his corny… I mean fabulous dancing. We all thought he was “way cool”. I went to the dance with a mind set that I was going to have fun no matter what. Some of my friends on the wall believed that the event should make them happy regardless of the effort or lack of effort they put forth. A few others showed up at the event convinced it was going to be boring. The stood along the walk filling their heads with idle criticisms.

As we come face to face with new opportunities we can’t afford to allow negative thoughts to take residence within our conscience. If we believe we are going to fail we will most definitely fail. However, if we stand tall with confidence, a host to an abundance of positive thoughts, we have a better chance at succeeding. Moreover, a positive attitude will help us overcome disappointment in the unlikely event that things do not happen as planned. With a positive attitude in command we are more likely to entertain pleasant feelings and constructive thoughts. This euphoria gives us joy which in turn lends us energy. Thus, our happiness can lead to better health and ultimately more confidence.

Our attitude plays a pivitol part in our daily achievements. My favorite yoga instrutor tried to encourage us when he would say, “you must put in what you want to get back.” My mind knew that bending my knees deeper in Warrior prose was going to push my thighs to their limit. If I wanted more results from my workout I needed to change my attitude and work harder. If we want to be positive we must act and think positive. Gossiping, criticizing others and ourselves and other unkind selfish behaviors will only produce negativity. Not everyone is a positive thinker. But we can all strive to become more positive. To begin start thinking as least one positive thought a day. You can even keep a journal to reflect back on each week.

As I approach the new year I admit I am hesitant at the distant probabilities that a new year brings. It is the feeling knowing I should workout today but I really do not feel like it. This month’s resolution is attitude. I need a positive attitude going into the new year. I do not know why I dread the unknown so much this time around. I do know that my preemptive worrying will quickly squash any hope of change. I also know that if I want a successful year I need to put in what I want back and do so with a positive attitude. The question is what exactly do I want this year to bring? What do I want to accomplish?

Goals rely on three components to guarantee success.

The first is Visualization. Visualize your goal. Goals can be personal accomplishments or they can be a vision you have for your family. Map out every detail from start to finish. What is your goal? What are the steps you need to accomplish that goal? What do you need to do daily, weekly and monthly to meet the requirements for each step. Display the goal or goals where you can see them. Go over the goals daily as a family.

Second, be Prepared. If you are on a diet you would make sure there is always something healthy to eat at work and at home. Take the time to do the necessary things needed to prepare for each day. Every morning and evening look over the details on your list. Schedule your time accordingly.

Third, keep your Thoughts in check. Negative thoughts, doubts, reservations and excuses must be turned off immediately. In the visualization stage come up with a game plan to avert potential pitfalls. When I reach my limit of patience with my children I tell them I am “brain dead”. They have learned to give me a few moments to relax and pull the broken pieces of my mind back together. If you have to walk past the kitchen constantly at work and office treats are your weakness you can politely ask coworkers to limit them to once a week or keep them at their desk. A brisk walk will help take the edge off a craving. If you do give in and snack at least you burned a few calories first. You can sing songs, read a book, do deep breathing exercises or a reward. Find what will work best for you to get those positive thoughts back on track.

A positive attitude means understanding that if you do not try you will never know. If you fail at least now you know what you need to work on. A positive attitude will allow you to enjoy life to the fullest. Even accomplish goals you never thought possible.

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Saucy BBQ Cran-Apricot Pork Chops with Oranges

– johanna | December 10th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

I had some pork chops I did not know what to do with. With a few searches on the net I came across a recipe for Saucy Pork Chops with Oranges. I did not have any orange juice (that stuff never lasts in this house) or marmalade. I did however have cranberry juice and apricot jam. At the last minute I discovered the oranges were eaten. No worries, the oranges are mostly for presentation.

Serve with a garden salad and baked sweet potato.

Source: Adapted from Southern Living Mag.
4 Pork Chops (1 1/4 inch thickness)
1/2 cup cranberry juice
2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp red pepper
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup apricot jam
1/2 bottle BBQ sauce
Orange slices

Combine the cranberry juice, soy sauce and red pepper in a large zip-lock bag or container with a lid. Pierce chops several times then place in the marinade. Allow to sit at least 30 minutes.

Heat grill to 350 – 400 or oven to 375 degrees. Combine apricot jam and BBQ sauce. Remove chops from marinade. Discard marinade. Season with salt and pepper. Brush one side of pork chops evenly with half of BBQ mixture mixture.

Grill 10 minutes. Turn pork chops, and brush evenly with remaining half of mixture. Grill 10 minutes or until done. Remove chops from grill, and let stand 5 minutes.

Grill orange slices, covered with grill lid, over medium-high heat 1 minute on each side. Serve with pork chops.

*grill boneless pork loin chops 8 minutes on each side or until done.

— Replace cranberry juice with 1/2 cup orange juice.
— Replace apricot jam with 1/4 cup sweet orange marmalade.

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December Website Review: Roots and Wings

– johanna | December 7th, 2010


This month’s website review is on one of my three favorite craft sites: Root and Wings. I came across the site last year when I was looking for a book my sister-n-law recommended on the importance of family traditions. I am not sure if this website is related to the book Roots and Wings. I did find that the sister’s who own the site Roots and Wings have a passion for the Holiday’s and the traditions surrounding them.

“Parents must give their children two things: roots and wings. Give them roots to keep them grounded through tough times. Give them wings to soar above everything, explore new worlds and fly farther than we ever did.” (Helen Bateman) Traditions are the roots that hold the family together. When our children feel safe they feel secure and confident. Their wings of imagination and creativity will let them soar to discover new things and share those ideas with their children someday.

Erika, Rebecca, Anjeanette and Katrina hope to help families establish the roots to grow from, and wings to soar with by sharing their ideas for fun traditions, stories and crafts.

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Orange Spice Banana Bread

– johanna | December 3rd, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Breads, RECIPES - Snacks, RECIPES - Treats

This orange spice banana bread smells absolutely amazing. The aroma fills the house with the pungent fall spices. It is so hard to wait until the bread is completely cooled before pinching off a nibble.

The most important tips I can pass on is to make sure the cream cheese is completely softened. Unwrap the bar and leave it out for at least 25 to 30 minutes to soften. Brown speckled very ripe bananas are the best type of banana to use in banana bread, it gives the bread a more intense banana flavor. This rule may be broken if you are looking for a subtle banana flavor to showcase the orange. Lastly blend the wet ingredients well, no lumps remaining in the cream cheese, before combining with the dry ingredients.

Source: Good Life Eats
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 Tbs orange zest, (about 2 medium sized oranges)
1 1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 pinches of allspice
1 1/2 c very ripe bananas, mashed
1 (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
6 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 35o degrees F. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan with cooking.

Sift together the flour, sugars, baking soda, salt, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Set aside.

Mix the mashed bananas, cream cheese, eggs, butter and vanilla using a wooden spoon. Gently combine the flour mixture with the mashed banana mixture until just combined. Do not overmix; the batter should look slightly lumpy and thick.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing. Cool on a wire rack.

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