Almond Cherry Muffin Goodness

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Warning: Only proceed if you like delicious muffins and don’t mind a few extra calories every once in a while.

The recipe below combines two things I love. The essence of almond pound cake with cherries but in muffin form. Yum!

I have a habit of creating muffins. I don’t know why. I like taking a 59¢ Jiffy Blueberry Muffin mix, and transforming it into some wonderful: add a little apple sauce and fresh blueberries with some other secret ingredients. My coworkers act as if I am some culinary genius. Of course, I don’t tell them my muffins are based on a 59¢ mix. A girl can’t give away all her secrets.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Adapted from Taste of Home, Cherry Almond Muffin

Batter

  • 3    cups all-purpose flour
  • 1     cup sugar
  • 1      teaspoon baking powder
  • 1      teaspoon baking soda
  • 1      teaspoon salt
  • 1      cup cold butter, cubed
  • 2      eggs
  • 3/4  cup sour cream
  • 1/8   cup milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1       teaspoon vanilla
  • 2      cups fresh (or frozen) cherries, chopped
  • 1/4  cup almonds, sliced

Topping:

  • 1/2   cup all-purpose flour
  • 3      tablespoons sugar
  • 4      tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/4   cup  almonds, sliced

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease muffins tins with cooking spray or fill muffin tins with liners. Set aside.

Muffin Batter:

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs(this takes a while but it’s worth it). In a separate bowl, beat the egg, sour cream, milk and extracts until smooth; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened (batter will be thick). Then, fold in the cherries and sliced almonds. Set aside.

Topping:

Combine flour and sugar in a small bowl; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in almonds; set aside.

Fill greased muffin cups 3/4 full with batter. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to wire racks. Yield: 18-20 muffins.

I liked these muffins right from the oven but I think they were even better the next day. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Common Sense Note: If you buy your spices and nuts in the Ethnic/Hispanic food aisle in the grocery store, they are almost always much cheaper for some reason. I only paid 75¢ for the sliced almonds for this recipe.

cooling-rack

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Oriental Stir-Fry in the Oven

I try to be a good girlfriend by cooking my boyfriend dinner once or twice a week. Sometimes I ask what he would like for dinner, and other times I just cook what sounds good to me because I am selfish like that, unfortunately.

Yesterday, I told him I was going to make stir-fry and “Would you like chicken, steak, or shrimp?” Without batting an eye he said “Steak and shrimp.” I then rolled my eyes and made some comment about how spoiled he was, and how he was mistaking my semi-ghetto kitchen for an Asian steakhouse. Anyway, I gave in and made both steak and shrimp. And boy, was it good. I based the meal loosely on this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. See my notes in orange.

Disclaimer: He is happy with whatever I make him for dinner. I just like to give him a hard time. I can’t make his life too easy, can I?

Beef with Snow Peas

Prep Time 5 Minutes Cook Time 15 Minutes Servings 8 Difficulty Easy

Ingredients

  • 1-½ pound Flank Steak, Trimmed Of Fat And Sliced Very Thin Against The Grain (1/2 lb raw shrimp and 1/2 lb sirloin steak)
  • ½ cups Low Sodium Soy Sauce ( I added a little Sesame oil as well)
  • 3 Tablespoons Sherry Or Cooking Sherry (Cooking white wine b/c that’s all I had)
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Ginger (1 tsp Gound ginger) 
  • 8 ounces, weight Fresh Snow Peas, Ends Trimmed (8 oz Snow peas, 16 oz Baby bella mushrooms, 8 oz Broccoli)
  • 5 whole Scallions, Cut Into Haf-inch Pieces On The Diagonal (skipped)
  • Salt As Needed (use Sparingly) (I didn’t use any salt)
  • 3 Tablespoons Peanut Or Olive Oil ( I added a little Sesame oil as well)
  • Crushed Red Pepper, For Sprinkling (skipped)
  • 3 tbsp of toasted Sesame seeds
  • Jasmine Or Long Grain Rice, Cooked According To Package

Preparation Instructions

In a bowl, mix together soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, cornstarch, and ginger. Add sliced meat to bowl and toss with hands. Set aside. (I marinated the shrimp and steak separately.)

I tossed the broccoli and mushrooms in a couple tbsp of the marinade and olive oil, placed them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and then baked them in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or so. (The reason that I roast the vegetables instead of stir fry them is because I never can get the veggies to the right consistency. Either they are almost raw or way over cooked. Roasting them until tender crisp is just the perfect compromise. The veggies cook while I am stir-frying the meat. Makes for a super quick meal.)

Be sure to cover your baking sheet with foil unless you want to spend your evening chipping baked sugar/soy sauce mixture off the sheet. Of course you are free to use your free time how ever you want but I don’t have a dishwasher!

Heat oil in a heavy skillet (iron is best) or wok over high heat. Add snow peas and stir for 45 seconds. Remove to a separate plate. Set aside.

Common Sense note: Turn on your exhaust fan unless you have a semi-ghetto apartment like mine! I just open a window.

Allow pan to get very hot again. With tongs, add half the meat mixture, leaving most of the marinade still in the bowl. Add half the scallions. Spread out meat as you add it to pan, but do not stir for a good minute. (You want the meat to get as brown as possible in as short amount a time as possible.) Turn meat to the other side and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove to a clean plate. Repeat with other half of meat, allowing pan to get very hot again first.

(I then cooked the shrimp in the same manner.)

After turning it, add the first plateful of meat, the rest of the marinade, and the snow peas. Stir over high heat for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Check seasonings and add salt only if it needs it. Mixture will thicken as it sits.

Serve immediately over rice. Sprinkle crushed red pepper over the top to give it some spice.

Rene’s Easy Rice – Serves 4

1 clove of garlic or shallot, finely chopped

3 tbsp of olive oil

1 cup of long grain rice

2 cups of chicken or beef stock

In a medium sauce pan, add olive oil and garlic (or shallot). Turn the stove burner on to medium. Once the oil is warm, add in the dry rice and cook in the oil for 1-2 minutes over medium heat, until the rice is nice and toasty. Then add the stock to the rice and turn the heat up to high and cover the pan. When the stock boils, turn the heat down to low, return the cover and let cook for 15-18 minutes. Fluff and serve. It will have the flavor of rice pilaf but the texture of Chinese sticky rice. Yum!

Please forgive the quality of this picture. I ordered a decent camera this weekend. It arrives on Wednesday. So excited!

Fun Purse Find Over the Weekend

I used to have a bad habit of buying a lot of purses. Part of the reason I bought so many was because I didn’t really care about the quality. The cuteness factor was really the only thing that mattered to me. I am so glad I have gotten over that stage of life and am no longer shallow or vain about my looks (insert sarcastic tone).

Then came the day when I bought my first vintage designer 100% leather bag with real brass accents. My life changed. I no longer cared how cute the purse was or how many pockets it had. Or how inexpensive it was. Or how well it matched a specific outfit I owned. I only wanted good leather bags. A bag that was classic, yet still chic. In some cases, the plainer the better. One that I didn’t have to “match” to every outfit.

I discovered a new thing about myself. Who knew purses were doors to the soul? Anyway, I found that I was much more organized and “of sound mind” when I kept everything organized in one bag. The only exception to this rule is when I take a big shopping trip or go out of town. I usually downsize to a small cross body bag so I don’t cause myself back injuy lugging a heavy bag. The other option being a fannie pack which my family all wore (with the exception of my dad) on our trip to Disney World 20 years ago. I have pictures to prove it. I try to tell myself fannie packs were at the height of fashion at the time. Bless my mom’s heart for trying to keep all five of us kids organized while on vacation.

I now buy a new leather bag once, or twice a year. And the crazy thing is that sometimes I end up re-selling them for what I paid for the bag originally.

I nabbed this deal over the weekend. Vintage(1980 or so) Dooney and Bourke Leather Crossbody bag for $22. I could not believe it because I had been hunting for a vintage black leather bag for a while but could not find a whole lot for under $100.

Common sense note: I am just glad that I no longer get in line at the grocery store and then realize that my wallet is in another purse. Or leave my apartment, locking the door on the way out, and then realized I put my house keys in another bag. Anything to simplify life helps keep me sane. And being sane is the mindset that I strive for:)

Easter Traditions and Hot Cross Buns

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. It means new beginnings to me, a fresh start. It is a celebration for Christians all over the world that our Saviour lives!

It also reminds me of the eventful Easter dress shopping as a little girl. Going with mom to find the right socks, shoes and matching hairbow in addition to our dresses for Easter morning was a big deal. I was probably in 4th or 5th grade when my dad decided that he wanted to take my sisters and me spring dress shopping. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into. Nancee Lee (age 5) cried through the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee because Dad bought her a huge Coke at McDonalds in Greenville, SC but forgot how tiny her bladder was. She cried because we could not find a bathroom for many mountain miles(I love alliteration). When we finally found a rest stop, the restrooms were closed because the janitor was cleaning. Apparently, he saw the sad state of my little sister and finally let us in.:) We drove all the way to Pigeon Forge, TN late that night.  Stayed at a hotel and shopped at the outlets the following day. We were each allowed to get two dresses plus accessories. It was so much fun, and I still remember the dresses we purchased that weekend.

In my immediate family, our other Easter traditions have always been to have “Easter Eve” dinner with my mom’s family on Good Friday or Saturday. And then on Easter Sunday we attend church(dressed in our Sunday best, of course:) and then eat a big dinner with my dad’s family. When I came across several good recipes for Hot Cross Buns, traditionally a Good Friday bread I knew it was something I wanted to try, maybe even start my own new tradition.

Family Picture, 2011

Hot Cross Buns have a varied history depending on what you read. Some say the Greeks started the tradition in the first century or that the Saxons started the tradition in the 13th century. Others say that the tradition was started by Catholics as a symbol of their hold over the English monarchy even after the country proclaimed itself Protestant in the 15th century. Traditionally, leftover dough made for the communion supper was baked into spiced rolls. Although the English government tried to outlaw them because of the connection with Catholicism, the rolls became so popular that eventually in England, Elizabeth 1 made a law that the buns could be sold but only on Christmas and Easter.

Regardless of who is right about the history of these rolls, they are a delicious holiday treat always iced with a cross to symbolize the crucifixion on Good Friday. One that symbolizes the true meaning of Good Friday and Easter, better than bunnies, chicks, and egg hunts anyway.

I referred to several recipes before I decided to make these rolls from the Pioneer Woman‘s basic recipe with just one or two variations. I couldn’t be happier with the way they turned out. Kind of a cross(no pun intended) between a yeast dinner roll and a cinnamon roll. Simple and delicious. Total preparation, baking, and cooling time was under 3 hours.

 

Recipe from http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/04/hot-cross-buns/

Ingredients

  • Buns
  • 2 cups Whole Milk
  • ½ cups Canola Oil
  • ½ cups Sugar
  • 1 package (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
  • 4 cups All-purpose Flour
  • ½ cups (additional) Flour
  • ½ teaspoons (heaping) Baking Powder
  • ½ teaspoons (scant) Baking Soda
  • 2 teaspoons Salt
  • ¼ cups Sugar (I doubled this amount)
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • Spices: Cardamom, Nutmeg, Allspice (optional) (I just used nutmeg)
  • ½ cups Raisins (I used orange infused dried cranberries)
  • GLAZE (I used more of a buttercream icing, just because of personal preference)
  • 1 whole Egg White
  • Splash Of Milk
  • Icing
  • 1 whole Egg White
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Splash Of Milk

Preparation Instructions

BUNS

Combine 2 cups milk, canola oil, and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan. Stir and heat until very warm but not boiling. Turn off the heat and allow to cool until mixture is still warm, but not hot–about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Add 4 cups of flour and stir to combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover with a towel and set aside for 1 hour.

Add 1/2 cup flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir till combined.

Combine 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon and whatever other spices you want to use.

Lightly flour surface. Press to slightly flatten dough. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Sprinkle on about a third of the raisins. Then fold the dough over on itself and flatten again so the dough is “plain” again. Repeat the sugar/raisin process, then fold the dough again. Repeat a third time until all the raisins are used. (You won’t use all the sugar/cinnamon mixture.)

Pinch off ping pong or golf ball-size bunches of dough. With floured hands, quickly roll it into a ball, then turn the edges under themselves slightly. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes…an hour-plus is better.

PREHEAT OVEN TO 400 degrees

GLAZE

Mix 1 egg white with a splash of milk. Brush onto each roll.

Bake for 20 minutes, give or take, or until tops of buns have turned nice and golden brown.

Remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

ICING

Mix 1 egg white with enough powdered sugar for icing to be very thick. Splash in milk as needed for consistency.

Add icing to a small Ziploc bag and snip the corner. Make icing crosses on each roll, making sure they’re completely cooled first.

Naptime Diaries, Etsy.com

Quick Meals- Grilled Pork Chop Dinner

So I have been “dieting” for a little over three weeks now. I lost a little over 40 lbs 3 years ago. And slowly but surely the pounds have started to creep back on so before it gets out of hand I figured I better do something about it.

Dieting for me = 1200 calories a day. I know counting calories does not work for everyone, but I love food nutrition and food science so it works well for me. I have also tried several food diaries over the years. My favorite is myfitnesspal.com. One of the reasons that I love it is because you can track exercise and water intake, too. MyFitnessPal also has records of most restaurant food nutrition which makes eating out much easier (and less stressful if you are dieting).

If only there was a magic skinny pill….I digress. My sister-in-law, Holly, likes to refer to my diet food as gerbil food. So after eating gerbil food for three weeks, I was in need of a real dinner last night. I dreamed up this little meal while driving home from work; swung into Publix to pick up what I needed. And after 30 min of arriving home, dinner was ready. Bam! I love quick cooking.

Here is what I dreamed up on my way home from work:

Grilled Boneless Pork Chops (4 servings)

4 chops, 1/2 in to 3/4 in thick

Turn the grill on to high for fifteen minutes or so to get it nice and hot. While you wait on the grill to heat up, rinse the chops and pat dry. Then cover both sides of the chops with the dry rub (recipe below).

With the heat still on high, place the chops on the grill for  8 – 10 minutes (depending on how thick the chops are), flipping the chops halfway through the grilling time to get a nice grill marks on each side. When the chops are finished, place on a platter(I used a warmed platter). Let them rest 5-8 minutes before for serving.

Dry Rub

2 tsp Cumin

2 tsp Curry Powder

2 tsp Paprika

1/2 tsp Cayenne (optional)

2 tbsp Brown sugar

Combine in a small bowl. Make sure to mix the spices thoroughly.

Grilled Asparagus (4 servings)

Chop the hard ends off about 1 lb of fresh asparagus, approximately the last inch or so of the end of the stalk. Toss in the dressing (recipe below) and then place on a hot grill for about 4-5 minutes. Serve warm.

Asparagus Dressing

1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

1 tbsp Olive Oil

1 tsp Lemon juice

1 tsp honey (or a little brown sugar would work)

Salt and pepper

Grilled Pineapple (if you have never grilled pineapple, you have not really lived:) (4 servings)

Cut up one pineapple in whatever size slices you prefer. Make sure the slices are sturdy enough for the grill. (I just bought the pre-sliced pineapple at Trader Joe’s.)

Typically, I toss a little balsamic vinegar and ground cinnamon on the slices before I place them on the grill. Place the slices directly on a hot grill for 4-5 minutes. Turning the slices halfway through the grilling time.

Whole Wheat Couscous (not pictured)(4 servings)

1 1/4 cup chicken or beef stock

1 tsp olive oil

1 clove of Garlic

1 cup Whole wheat couscous(or regular couscous)

1/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese (or parmesan)

1 tbsp parsley

Bring the stock to a boil in a small sauce pan. Remove from heat and add olive oil, garlic, whole wheat couscous. Cover with a lid and let it steam for 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff. Gently fold the in gorgonzola cheese and parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

On a large platter, I piled the chops, asparagus and pineapple on top of a bed of couscous. It was beautiful, as well as tasty! According to my simple calculations, my whole dinner was under 500 calories which is pretty great for a hearty dinner. And my grand total for the “restaurant style” dinner was under $9.00 for two people which made me happy too!

PS. As I served this and my boyfriend dug in, he looked up at me and said, “Am I going to see my dinner on the internet tomorrow?” I could not help but laugh.

Boursin Cheese Pasta

Have you ever tried Boursin Cheese? If you have not, please go to the store and get some. But don’t read the ingredients. It will negate the blissful feeling you get when you eat it.

Anyway before I found this recipe, the only use I had for Boursin cheese was to spread it on a cracker, celery, or a bagel. But now a new world of cheese spread goodness has open up to me. In this recipe, I doubled the amount of asparagus to “beef up” the nutrition values. I also just chopped the asparagus and tossed it in olive oil and broiled it on a cookie sheet for just a few minutes, rather than boiling it with the pasta. The texture of boiled asparagus bothers me, just a personal preference.

photo by vegkitchen.com

I also made two other additions and one subtraction.

  • The recipe calls for roasting tomatoes. I am sure roasting the tomatoes would have been better, but I didn’t have any cherry tomatoes. I did have a whole bag of sun-dried ones; so I just used those.
  • I also added some chopped rotisserie chicken to the mix for a little added protein. (If my mother is reading this she probably just gasped. I am forever making fun of her for buying those cooked rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. Okay, Mom, you caught me. I finally succumbed to grocery store pre-cooked meat.)
  • And last, but not least I didn’t have any pine nuts; so I just skipped them.

Overall, this makes for a very yummy spring dinner (and the leftovers are great too!). Here is the link to the recipe from Belle of the Kitchen.

photo by Dorothy at Belle of the Kitchen

Heat Wave and a Giveaway- Winner Announced

UPDATE: Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker Winner Announced: Erin A. from Greenville, SC.

I will contact you via email to get your shipping address. Thanks for everyone who participated!

This crazy spring southern heat wave has me in the mood for ice cream. Check out these unique ice cream recipes from around the web.

photo by iambaker.com

Greek Yogurt Ice Cream from BonAppetit.com

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream from joythebaker.com

Secret Crazy Ingredient Ice Cream from iambaker.net

Strawberry-Orange Sorbet from deliciousshots.blogspot.com

photo by http://deliciousshots.blogspot.com/

Okay so here is the giveaway. Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker Yay! No more ice and kosher salt! And you can make the ice cream right on your kitchen counter!

To enter leave a comment with your favorite ice cream flavor and share the post on your facebook or twitter and/or leave a comment that you did. The winner will be annouced on Monday morning.

Party Planning on a Budget

So for the last 5 weeks or so I have been planning a surprise birthday party for my mom (who turned 50) and my mother’s first grandbaby (who turned 1). When I take on projects like this, I like to do my best to do it right (ie. proper invitations, great food, pretty decor) but not spend too much. Some of you may think this party budget is extravagant while others may be amazed at how little I spent. It all depends on your point of view.

$100- Venue: Legacy Park @ Hollingsworth. I could have done this at my parents’ home for free but part of the gift to my mom was that she would not have to clean-up after yet another party in her home.

$34- Invitations and postage for 90 guests. I created personalized invites from ready-made Anna Griffin cards by Target.

$20- Paper products from Target and aluminum pans from Dollar Tree (I used fabric tableclothes and toppers that I already owned from previous parties).

$195- Picnic food and beverage to serve 80-90 people

Sweet cured ham and swiss sandwiches with honey mustard and onion puree (my sweet boyfriend helped me put together 150 of these tiny sandwiches!)

Southern slow-baked beans with bacon

Bowtie pasta salad with fresh basil

Mango Pineapple Sparkling Punch with fresh mango and pineapple “ice cubes”

Iced water with lemon and lime slices

$150- Cake to serve 80, carrot and strawberry cakes with buttercream swirl, Kathy and Company in Easley, SC. I just had them iced in plain buttercream so I could add whatever decorations I wanted. Kathy and her ladies always do a great job for me. I had planned to make these myself but at the last minute I decided toting (southernism for “carrying”) cakes to an event with all the other food I had prepared was just too risky! My sister-in-law picked up the cakes for me. Thanks, Holly!

$35- Party decorations, “spring trees”, birthday banners, cake toppers, party hats etc.

Finished Spring Trees with Birthday Banner

The guests of honor.They were sure surprised!
They were starting to figure out what was going on.
Bailee's 1st birthday cake