Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut Twists

I made this super yummy and super easy treat for my husband, for breakfast, Christmas morning (along with pumpkin spiced pancakes). If you love Nutella (who doesn't??) and hazelnuts, then you must make these very soon!

Chocolate Hazelnut Twists
(recipe adapted from

2 cans (8 oz each) Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls (or 2 cans of the Pillsbury seamless dough sheets)
1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
Powdered sugar, for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with baking spray (you'll use only 8 cups though).

Unroll one can of dough on a very lightly floured work surface. Firmly press together perforations if using regular crescent rolls. Press into a 13x7 rectangle.
Spread Nutella evenly over the dough, to 1/4 inch on the sides. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top of the Nutella.

Unroll remaining can of dough; seal perforations. Press into a 13x7 rectangle as well. Place over filling, and press together the edges firmly to seal.
Cut in eight (13 inch) strips. Twist each strip about 5 or 6 times. Shape into a tight coil and place one in each of the prepared muffin cups (muffin cups will be full).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove immediately from pan to wire racks and let cool for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Jen's Lasagna

My husband requests every year that I make my lasagna for our Christmas Eve dinner. I usually make it early in the morning so I can just pop it in the oven for dinner and not have to worry about making a huge mess in the kitchen. I prefer to spend my time with my family, watching Christmas movies and snuggling :) Here's my "healthier" lasagna, I hope you enjoy it!

Jen's Lasagna
Serves 8

1 lb lean ground beef*
1 lb Italian chicken sausage, casing removed, and crumbled*
1 medium onion, diced
1 small zucchini, diced (optional)
1- 15 oz can petite diced tomatoes, drained
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil (or about 1 T fresh, chopped)
1 1/2 tsp dried parsley, divided (or about 2 tsp fresh, chopped)
Kosher salt, to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
1 jar favorite pasta sauce (about 24 oz)
1 T granulated sugar
1- 16 oz container fat-free ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup reduced-fat grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
2-4 cups 2 % reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles (about 13 oz)

* Can use 2 lbs of ground beef or 2 lbs of chicken sausage instead

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lean hamburger and chicken sausage and cook for about 5 minutes. Add diced onion and zucchini to the meat and continue to cook until meat is thoroughly cooked through. Drain if needed.

Add diced tomatoes, garlic, basil, 1/2 teaspoon of the parsley, about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or basically to taste), and fresh ground black pepper, to taste, if desired. Mix well and simmer on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.

Then add the jar of pasta sauce and the sugar. Stir and let simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat a large pasta pot with water to a boil. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Add lasagna noodles and cook for about half the amount of time recommended on the box (probably 5 minutes total). Drain.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, blend together the ricotta cheese, remaining 1 teaspoon parsley, egg, and Parmesan cheese. Drizzle in about a teaspoon of olive oil, and add salt to taste to the cheese; mix well.

To assemble: Spray a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, and lay 4 lasagna noodles lengthwise in the pan, overlapping the sides.
Next, use about a third of the ricotta mixture and spread evenly on the noodles. Then sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta. Then spoon about a third of the meat mixture on top of the mozzarella. Then sprinkle another 1/2 cup of the mozzarella on top of the meat (optional--add if you want the lasagna to be extra cheesy!).

Repeat layers two more times, ending with a good sprinkling of mozzarella on top of the meat and sprinkle with parmesan.
Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and then allow to cook for another 10 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

(This lasagna can be made ahead of time. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two days. When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap, and replace with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove foil, and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or so until hot and bubbling.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tortilla Snowflakes and Andes Cookies

I spent a wonderful afternoon with my children baking and decorating cookies, sipping hot chocolate, and listening to Christmas music. I live for moments like these. We laugh, we joke, eat cookies (and frosting), and we sing along with the's just so heart warming and such a blessing.

This year, we also made tortilla snowflakes, inspired by a post from Our Best Bites. I thought this was SUCH a great idea. My kids loved it and they had a blast making and eating them. I highly recommend you make these with your kiddos!

I made a ton of different types of cookies this year for Christmas. I even tried a few new recipes, and everything has come out great. Last year, I found a great recipe on a blog using Andes baking chips, but for some reason, I never bookmarked the page, and never wrote the recipe down. I bought more Andes baking chips to use this year, so I tried to track down the recipe, but had no luck. I was bummed, but still wanted to make something using these chips. So, I did something I don't normally do....I made the recipe that was on the package. The cookies came out really good! My whole family loved them and so did my husband's employees. This recipe is definitely a winner and I will be making them again.

Andes Creme de Menthe Chunk Cookies
(slightly adapted from the back of the Andes Creme de Menthe baking chips package)

1/2 cup salted butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 package (10 oz) Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla and eggs, until well mixed.
Stir in the Andes Baking Chips and then add the flour, mixing well.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position the oven rack to one level above the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop out about one tablespoon of dough, roll into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet. Slightly flatten (using fingers is fine). Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake for 8-10 minutes (try not to over-bake). Let cool on baking sheet for two minutes before removing to wire racks.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and many blessings in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies--Egg, Dairy, and Nut Free

I made this cookie recipe for the first time last year, and I fell in love with it instantly. I vowed to make these cookies every Christmas from that moment on. They are so good, AND they are egg, dairy, and nut free!

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies--Egg, Dairy, and Nut Free
(recipe slightly adapted from the Food Allergy Mama)
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup confectioners' sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the oil, sugar, applesauce, cocoa and vanilla; mix well. In a separate, medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and mix well.

Scrape the cookie dough out of the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and then place in the freezer for an hour (or refrigerate for at least 3 hours).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lightly "flour" your hands with confectioners' sugar and  then scoop out about a tablespoon of dough. Roll dough into a perfect ball, and then roll the ball in the confectioners' sugar until completely covered. Place at least an inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes or until just set. Do not over-bake. Cool on wire racks. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Peppermint Bark

I love peppermint bark. It's a Christmas staple in our house. I make LOTS of this candy every year. It's so easy to make, and to give!
Here's my favorite recipe:

Peppermint Bark

16 ounces white chocolate chips (or bars/block white chocolate)
12 ounces dark chocolate chips (or chocolate bars)
2 tsp peppermint extract, or 1 tsp peppermint oil, divided.
12 peppermint flavored candy canes, crushed

Line a baking sheet, or jelly roll pan with nonstick foil or wax paper (I prefer the wax paper).

Using a double boiler, heat the water to a simmer and melt the dark chocolate, or in a microwavable bowl, heat the dark chocolate at 50% power in the microwave, until melted, stirring every 30 seconds or so. Briskly stir in 1 tsp of peppermint extract, and then spread the dark chocolate onto the prepared pan, in an even, thin layer (I recommend not spreading it all the way to the edges of the pan).
Place pan in the fridge until almost set, about 5 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, Use a double boiler to melt the white chocolate following the previous step, or in a microwavable bowl, melt the white chocolate, in the microwave, at 50% power until melted, stirring every 30 seconds or so. Then, while stirring, add remaining 1 tsp peppermint extract (the chocolate may thicken or "chunk" a little--just keep stirring until smooth again).
Remove the dark chocolate from the fridge, and quickly spread out the white chocolate in an even layer over the top of the dark chocolate.
Sprinkle the crushed candy canes over the top of the white chocolate (pressing down very gently, if needed, so the candy will stick).

Return the pan to the fridge, and chill until completely set (about 10 to 15 minutes). When ready, remove the pan from the freezer and break candy apart into pieces. Best if stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Date-Nut Filled Cookies

I would like to introduce you to my most favorite Christmas cookies of all filled cookies. They may not sound all that awesome, but seriously, they are the best ever.
My grandmother would make these cookies every year for our family Christmas gathering, and my mom would also make them for us, for a Christmas treat. I love them SO much. Whenever I bake these cookies, I am reminded of the many wonderful Christmas memories I have.....of my cousins and extended family....and all of the happy times of my childhood.
Here's my beloved recipe:

Date-Nut Filled Cookies
(Recipe adapted from an old Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Makes about 30 filled cookies.)

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies:

1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 T milk or cream
1 tsp vanilla
3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Date-nut filling:

1 cup chopped raisins
1 cup finely chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp all-purpose flour

To make the cookies:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Beat in the milk and vanilla; mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add to the butter/sugar mixture slowly, mixing well. (add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if needed, until dough isn't very sticky)

Divide the dough in half, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour (can be left overnight).

To make the filling:

In a small saucepan, combine the raisins, dates, walnuts, water, sugar, flour, and heat to just a boil over medium-high heat; stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and boil gently for about 20 minutes, until the mixture is thickened. Let cool to room temperature (mixture will thicken more upon standing).

To assemble cookies:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper so the cookies won't stick.

Remove one half of the dough from the refrigerator (keep other half chilled until ready to use). Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4 inch thickness. Use a round 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter or biscuit cutter to cut out the cookies. Lay them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet; about an inch apart.

Spoon about one teaspoon of the date-nut mixture on the center of each cookie. Then place a second cookie over on top of each, slightly pressing down along the edges. Using the tines of a fork, seal the edges of each filled cookie, and prick the centers. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake for about 13-16 minutes or until light brown on the bottoms and the edges. Let cool, and then enjoy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

M&M Party Cookies

The holiday season is now in full swing, and it's time for me to start planning my Christmas goodie bags that I send to my extended family each year. I usually mail cookies, candy and other yummy treats. My mom used to do something similar to this for her family every year. Giving homemade gifts is such a wonderful way to show love to each other during the holidays.
These M&M cookies are one of my absolute favorites. I've been baking them since I was little girl, and I still make them every year for Christmas. Everyone loves them.
When my father-in-law was serving in Iraq a few years ago, I mailed a HUGE box of these cookies to him to share with his fellow soldiers for Christmas. They all loved them and were so thankful for the homemade treat. Here's the recipe:

M&M Party Cookies

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate M&M's (or mini M&M baking bits)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Beat in the vanilla and eggs.
In a seperate medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and mix well.
Add 3/4 cup M&M's (or 1 1/4 cups mini M&M baking bits) to the batter and mix well, using a spoon.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto parchement lined baking sheets. Use remaining M&M's to add to the tops of the unbaked cookies (I usually put 3 on each).
Bake for 10 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on wire racks. Enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Individual Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecakes

I love, love, mini or individual sized desserts, and I also love cheesecake. Combine the two and well, I'm in heaven. There are so many different flavor cheesecake combinations out there, but I happen to love these little pumpkin spiced cakes. They are so good. If you prefer plain cheesecake, try this delicious recipe as well. Either recipe will be a wonderful addition to your holiday menu!

Individual Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecakes
(recipe adapted from the Can you stay for dinner? blog)

Makes 12

For the crust:

5 oz graham crackers (9 whole crackers sheets)
3 T granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
6 T unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

2- 8oz packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
2 T all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with double thickness paper liners.

To make the crust: grind the graham crackers finely, using a food processor. Then whisk in all of the spices until evenly combined. Stir in the melted butter and mix well. Scoop about a tablespoon of the crust mixture into each of the prepared muffin cups, pressing down firmly.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Do not remove from pan.

To make the filling: In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the pumpkin, flour, spices, salt and vanilla; mix well. Add the eggs and egg yolk and mix on low speed until just combined.

Divide the batter into the prepared crust cups, filling them to just below the top of the paper liner (you may have left over batter).

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the center is just set.
Remove to a wire rack and let cool in the pan.

Refrigerate (in the pan) for at least 4 hours or over-night (over-night is best!). To serve, remove the well chilled cheesecakes from the paper liners and place on serving plates. Top with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Enjoy!