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These No Bake Toffee Fudge Bars Are The Perfect Holiday Gift!

23 Nov

Well. It’s that time again – the holidays. It really snuck up on me this year, not sure about you – but suddenly it was September and fall, then Halloween, and now Thanksgiving, and Christmas is looming, too! 2016 is quickly coming to an end, and if you haven’t started Christmas shopping already, then you might want to get on it!

I love to incorporate handmade gifts whenever and wherever I can – I make applesauce and jar it every year to share with friends and family, and cookies are another item I love to give (and receive!). This year I plan to make at least two kinds to share (maybe more, time permitting!), and I came across a recipe that would make a perfect addition to my sweet gifts – these No Bake Toffee Fudge Bars. Whipped them up in no time and they were so easy and delicious! Check it out:

No Bake Toffee Fudge Bars Recipe

Ingredients:

2-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup (2 sticks) butter , divided
1 cup sugar
1 can (5 oz.) evaporated milk
1 bag (10 oz.) miniature marshmallows
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) HERSHEY’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 cup HEATH Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits
1 cup HERSHEY’S Milk Chocolate Chips or HERSHEY’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Directions:

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1. Line 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan with foil. Melt 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter; combine with graham cracker crumbs. Press crumb mixture evenly in bottom of prepared pan.

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2. Combine sugar, evaporated milk, remaining 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter and marshmallows in large saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, stirring until chips are melted.

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3. Immediately pour over crust, spreading evenly. Sprinkle surface with milk chocolate toffee bits and milk chocolate chips, pressing in lightly. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. Cut into bars. Store leftover bars covered in refrigerator. Makes 24 bars.

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These set up nicely and were easy to remove from the pan and cut after being in the fridge all morning

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These were loved by all – big and small!

And the great thing is the recipe makes 24 – so they are great to share (as they are pretty sweet so you only need to tuck a couple in each gift package!).  What’s better than an easy and delicious recipe that you can share with those you love this Christmas? Not much in my book!

Pumpkin Season Continues With Easy Cookies And Delicious Oatmeal

27 Sep
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Me and my (three!) pumpkins love fall!

I already kicked off my fall baking season with this amazingly easy Crock Pot Pumpkin Butter – and I loved it so much that I figured why not keep the pumpkin-y good times rolling? Plus – I am officially 9 months pregnant now – and I figured this might be one of my last chances to bake or try some new fall recipes before our little guy arrives, so I wanted to take full advantage!

Starting with the most important meal of the day, I decided to whip up some Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal so I could get my breakfast on before I moved on to the heavy labor of making cookies

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal (Recipe Courtesy of Food Network)

Ingredients
One 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
2 cups milk, plus more for serving
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1/4 cup light brown sugar (packed), plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Kosher salt
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
Pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds), for serving

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Directions
-Whisk the pumpkin puree, milk, 2 cups of water, the dried cranberries, brown sugar, pumpkin spice, vanilla and a large pinch of salt together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then add the oats and reduce the heat to medium-low
-Gently simmer, stirring frequently, until the oats are tender and the oatmeal is the consistency you like, 10 to 15 minutes (15 minutes for very thick oatmeal)
-Ladle the oatmeal into bowls and serve drizzled with milk and sprinkled with a little extra sugar and pumpkin seeds

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The only modification I made to this was I didn’t include the toasted pumpkin seeds – not for any particular reason except that I forgot to get them at the store – whoops…but I am thinking that if you don’t have them on hand, you can substitute sliced almonds or other nuts

My husband and I both really enjoyed the way that this turned out – the oats were well cooked and it wasn’t too thick – my husband’s only complaint was “too many raisins” but that is a matter of personal opinion I think! The spices and pumpkin taste weren’t too overpowering, and since I am an oatmeal LOVER – this really hit the spot!

 

Delicious breakfast – check! Now on to the COOKIES….

Last year I tried out these Salted Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Cookies – and they had a nice cake-y texture and were overall a success. But personally, I prefer a more dense, thick cookie – which is what led me to this recipe for Pumpkin Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Someone is ready to help make cookies (and eat them!)

Pumpkin-Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies (Recipe courtesy of Cooking Classy)

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 14 minutes
Yield: About 4 dozen

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups quick oats
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups packed light-brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin puree
1 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger for 30 seconds, set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until creamy (occasionally stop and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl throughout entire mixing process). Blend in egg then blend in vanilla extract and pumpkin puree.

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Various stages of cookie dough – is there any sight more beautiful than when butter and sugar meet?

With mixer set on low speed, slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and pecans (if you want some chocolate to show through set some aside to press into tops before baking). Let batter rest 5 – 10 minutes (this just gives the oats some time to absorb the liquids so batter isn’t so sticky and cookies don’t spread so much)

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Before and after their time in the oven

Scoop dough out 2 Tbsp at a time (I used a 1 1/2-inch cookie scoop, which I recommend using for evenly shaped cookies and fill it heaping), and drop onto Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheets, spacing cookies 2-inches apart. Bake in preheated oven 12 – 14 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet several minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

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The deliciously moist finished product – oats, chocolate, pumpkin – what more could you want?

 Aside from the slightly selfish reason of wanting a dense cookie (which these definitely were by the way!), I wanted to make something my husband would enjoy but with a slightly fall twist – as his favorite cookie is oatmeal chocolate chip. He liked these too – and kept sneaking them off the rack when he thought I wasn’t looking! The pumpkin gave them a nice flavor but also helped to keep them moist and dense – and between the texture of the oats and the chocolate chips, I would say it’s definitely something I would make (and eat!) again!

The great thing about both of these recipes is that I had most of the items on hand, and the few items I needed (canned pumpkin and raisins) were easily and cheaply obtained. Overall these are both easy and would please just about any crowd – and are perfect for celebrating the best season of all – FALL!

Products I Love: My Rubber Spatula

17 Jul

Every great cook/chef (and us amateur bloggers know it too!) knows that in order to be successful in the kitchen, there are certain tools that we need to have to make those cookies come out uniformly (like our trusty cookie scoops!), or to make that cake batter nice and fluffy (I rely on my trusty Oster Hand Mixer for that!), and when it comes to mixing/combining/incorporating ingredients, I use my super versatile Rubbermaid Rubber Spatula!

Spatula

From mixing up that giant bowl of chex mix, to scraping every bit of sugar into the mix for the perfect frosting – this spatula does it all! Why do I love this particular one so much? Well, it’s withstood the test of time first of all – I’ve had it for 10 years, and the main reason I love it is its thickness and its shape – the flat side is great for scraping, and the thickness means it won’t fold under pressure. Find a similar model to use and love in your kitchen here

I would love to hear what you think – do you have a favorite spatula or kitchen tool? What gadgets/products can’t you live without in the kitchen?

Battle Of The Oatmeals – Crock Pot Vs Oven

16 Nov

It’s no secret to my friends and family that I LOVE OATS – especially oatmeal, but put them in bread, cookies, meatballs, a shoe – doesn’t matter where they are, I will eat them. And like it.

So naturally, I am always on the lookout for more oat recipes – and I found two different ones I could not WAIT to try. Cranberry Apple baked oatmeal seemed right up my alley – using ingredients I already had at home, and it would be perfect to share with company. Pumpkin Pie Slow Cooker Overnight Oatmeal appealed right away to my “crockpot obsessed pumpkin loving” side, plus the chance to work with a new ingredient (steel cut oats) is always fun

So up first, the baked version:

Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal (Recipe Courtesy Of Budget Bytes)
Serves: 6

Ingredients
1½ cups unsweetened apple sauce
2 large eggs
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
1 cup milk (dairy or soy)
6 oz. (about 1¼ cups) fresh cranberries
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the apple sauce, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder until smooth. Add the milk and whisk until smooth again.
2. Rinse the cranberries in a colander. Slice or roughly chop the cranberries in half (they don’t have to be perfect). Stir the cranberries and oats into the applesauce mixture.
3. Pour the oatmeal mixture into an 8×8 or 9×9 casserole dish (coated with non-stick spray). Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the surface is a light golden brown and it is no longer sticky in the center. Serve hot or refrigerate until ready to eat.

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I whipped up a double batch of this – and I am glad I did! The leftovers were great! The only thing I changed about the recipe is that I didn’t cut the cranberries in half – I tried, but they are slippery and kept rolling around – so that was really just a personal preference (and a time saver!), and I don’t think it really affected the finished product.

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It was nice and thick, almost a bread pudding consistency, it tasted great – just a hint of apple, tartness of the cranberries, and slight sweetness of the warm middle. I added a bit of brown sugar to the top of mine and it was the perfect addition!

Ok. One down, one to go. My Crock Pot Is Ready, so let’s do this…

Pumpkin Pie Slow Cooker Overnight Oatmeal (Recipe courtesy of Sweet Anna’s)
Yield: 6+ large servings

Ingredients
6 cups water
1 cup half & half or milk
1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
1 cup pumpkin purée
1/2-1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (my family likes things sweet, so we use one cup)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions
Stir all the ingredients together in the slow cooker, cook on LOW overnight, about 8 hours.
When it is done, it will still look liquidy. Give it a good stir and it will all come together.
Serve immediately. Save any leftovers in the fridge or freezer… this stuff reheats beautifully!

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So like I said, I had never worked with steel cut oats before, they are definitely different than any oat I had ever seen! They are much more “grain-y” looking, and need to be cooked much longer than traditional oats

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One SUPER IMPORTANT CHANGE I will be making to this recipe for next time – I will be heavily spraying the inside of the crock pot with non-stick cooking spray before adding the ingredients to it. It stuck to the sides without the spray, which wasn’t a huge issue, but it can be avoided next time for sure!

Also, when I woke up (to the gorgeous smell of pumpkin wafting through the house!), I turned the crock pot to “warm” and left the lid off for about an hour – it let the oatmeal cool off a little and thicken up a LOT – made all the difference in the world!

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The taste of this is great – it definitely has the essence of pumpkin pie, but a much healthier version (I used skim milk in mine, and you can control the amount of sugar you add too!), and I love the texture of the steel cut oats. This was a winner – even my husband (who is not a big pumpkin fan) had two helpings!

If you don’t have time or want to mess around with the oven or crock pot to make your oatmeal, you can always stick with a delicious breakfast of plain old oatmeal. The great thing about it is that it’s like a blank canvas – you can add TONS of different toppings/mix-ins to it and create some delicious custom flavors. Here are some ideas for Oatmeal Mix-ins: Raisins (or any fried fruit!), cinnamon, maple syrup, brown sugar, applesauce, pumpkin puree, apples (or peaches, or bananas, or any other fresh fruit!), milk, butter, fruit jelly/jam…really the list is endless!

These two recipes are great because they allow me to take a cherished pantry item (oats!) and use it in new, different ways. These flavors are perfect for fall, so you can whip these up before you go out to rake leaves, or on Thanksgiving morning! Plus, the leftovers from both are delicious, and I love leftovers, so I will definitely be making both of these again

So In the battle of “oven oatmeal” vs “crock pot oatmeal” I would say it’s a draw – they are both great for different reasons, and will both warm you and fill you up on a chilly fall day!

Bake With These Easy (And Healthy!) Substitutions

9 Oct

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At the start of the year I did a post about Healthier Chocolate Chip cookies, and I was reading it over last night and it got me to thinking about substitutions – ones that are quick and easy and can make a recipe healthy without sacrificing taste.

Check these out:

If It Calls for: white bread, Use: Whole grain bread

If it calls for: Bread Crumbs, Use: Rolled Oats of Crushed Bran Cereal

If It calls for: Butter/Margarine/Shortening/Oil, Use: Applesauce or prune puree to replace half the called for fat

If it calls for: Butter/Oil, use: Mashed Avocado or mashed banana

If It calls for: Cream, Use: fat free half and half or evaporated skim milk

If it calls for: Cream Cheese, Use: Fat free or reduced fat cream cheese varieties, or low fat cottage cheese (pureed until smooth)

If It calls for: Eggs, Use: Egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute (egg beaters!)

If It calls for: Flour, Use: Whole wheat flour (for half of the called for flour)

If It Calls for: Frosting, Use: Marshmallow Fluff, or meringue  (they are a lot lighter and fluffier, without all the fat of frosting)

 

Most of these substitutions work really well because they use things you likely already have in your pantry at home – what a great way to cut out calories and fats from the things you love to bake (and your family probably won’t even notice the difference in taste, so it can be your little secret!) Easy, right?

What about you – what baking substitutions do you swear by?

Products I Love – The Oster Hand mixer

8 Oct

I decided it was time to start a new series here on the blog where I could give a shout out to some of the things that help simplify my baking and my life!

First up? My beloved hand mixer!

 

 

DSCN4289I received this mixer as a wedding gift, and it has seen me through three years of mixing, pulsing and baking – but then alas, it recently sputtered out and died on me. I don’t blame this on a faulty product – I’m pretty sure I just plain wore it out. I certainly got my money’s worth out of it, so I didn’t shed any tears of loss as I tossed it in the trash and headed out to find its replacement

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My initial thought? Buy something better, more expensive, more powerful – that will last you longer and be worth the extra money and fancy brand name that comes with it. So, I snatched up this adorable red Kitchen Aid hand mixer from Target for $40 and ran home to mix me up a cake and test it out

…Unfortunately, it’s red color was about the only benefit to this mixer. It was slow, and lacked power. Looking back, I probably should have read some online reviews before making this purchase – as they all were pretty clear that it was slow, and wimpy in the power department. I am not ashamed to admit that I used it once, and returned it the next day.

Now let me be clear – this is in NO way a dismissal of the Kitchen Aid brand as a whole – I LOVE my retro stand mixer and have had luck with other home products of theirs as well – but this 5 speed mixer is not worth the money in my opinion, as I needed something with more power and speeds to handle my near constant use

OsterMixerOk, so don’t laugh, but I ended up getting the newer model of the exact same Oster mixer I had just thrown out. Why? Well, there are a few particular reasons
-more power
-More speed options
-The TURBO option – I love this! It gives you a burst of power when you press the button, and I use it all the time!
-Price – I know I said I was willing to spend more for something better, but this was on sale for $24, and I knew I already loved it, so how could I say no?

I am happier, my cookies are more well blended, everyone wins.

What about you – what products are necessary for you in the kitchen (or in life?!)

Applesauce – Easy To Make, Delicious To Eat, Fun To Give!

26 Sep

Confession: I have already gone apple picking three times this season, and will be going at least once more. Maybe twice. Or three times….but anyway, who’s counting? And besides, I need a lot of apples because this year I decided to make and jar applesauce to give as gifts at Christmas time. It’s been my first attempt at jarring, and honestly, it is so easy, I don’t know why I haven’t been doing it for years

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 Thankfully I have a VERY tall husband who can reach up to the very tops of the trees to pick me those perfect apples!

 

But first, I must make the applesauce – which is probably the easiest thing to make ever. I just peel and core the apples, cut them up into chunks and toss them in a big pot with a little water, and let them bubble away on the stove for a good 20-30 minutes. Once they are soft, I will mash them with my handy potato masher, and add some cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar to taste. Give it another 5-10 minutes or so on low, and voila – you have delicious homemade applesauce!

Homemade applesauce is so delicious that I figured I HAD to share it with the world – and by the world, I mean my family and friends – and that meant it was time to roll up my sleeves and get canning!

There is a TON of fancy equipment out there for canning/jarring, but I decided to forego that since I was new to the whole thing, and I went with this Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit, which came with instructions, 3 pint jars, and this cool basket/rack that fits right into a stock pot and holds 3 pint or 4 half pint jars. Not only does it work perfectly, but it was only $10 – what a deal, right?

Jarring

Here’s me – all ready to seal up some jars!

 

Here’s how easy it is:
-Fill the jars (leaving a little space at the top)
-screw on the lids (not too tight – you want air to be able to escape)
-Set the jars and basket into a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes (covered)
-Remove the lid and let the pot go for 5 more minutes
-Remove the basket from the water, and leave the jars in an undisturbed place overnight (you might be able to hear them “pop” – which means they have sealed!)

Check out the official instructions on the Ball website

I’ll wrap these up with cellophane and ribbon and cute little tags, and they will make perfect Christmas gifts! What better to give than something from the heart and homemade!

If you aren’t an applesauce fan, then maybe you could try a classic Apple Pie, or even these adorable Mini apple pies perhaps? Or there’s one of my other faves – Apple Crisp…yum. So many apple possibilities, so little time!