A Very Special Giraffe Birthday Party

One of the big events in my family's life last year was welcoming our beautiful granddaughter into the world on May 22, 2011. She is such a sweetheart, and we are loving learning how to be grandparents.
When I look at these pictures of her right after birth, it's hard to remember that she was ever this tiny.  She has grown so much, and I know we need to hold on to these memories because before we know it she will be grown like our children (and I'll be an old lady!).

To celebrate her first birthday, my daughter-in-law Betsy and her friend Rikki planned a joint birthday party because Ada and Rikki's son Daniel were born five days apart.  They did a great job, and it was such a fun party.  They chose a giraffe theme, and the colors were orange and blue.

Aren't the outfits adorable? They were made by my friend Sally McCurry. Check out her Etsy shop Pigtails and Patches.  She does really great work!

The birthday girl and boy with their mommies (Betsy and Ada on the left, Rikki and Daniel on the right).

Most of the activities were outside. There were fun water activities for all the kids, and Ada had a fun afternoon. I had a good time creating the cakes and cookie favors for the event. It brought me great joy and I enjoyed reliving memories of helping my mother make and decorate cakes when I was growing up.

Inspiration from here
I love the tradition of smash cakes!

Inspiration from here
So thankful for the joy Ada has brought to our lives! 


White Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Okay, these are some pretty magnificent cookies.  One day I was in the mood to bake, but wanted to make something a little out of the ordinary.  Instead of the standard chocolate chip or monster cookies, I pulled some unusual ingredients out of the pantry.  After looking at recipes for a while, this is what I came up with:

I must say that these are some of the best cookies I've ever eaten.  The white chocolate, toffee and nuts are a great combination.  They are delicious, and a real crowd pleaser.  I have made them for friends a couple of times and everyone loved them! 

 I made these with gluten free flour (this time I used Cup4Cup gluten free flour) and gluten free oats.  For those that don't follow a gluten free diet, feel free to use any all purpose flour and oats.  Also, I scooped these with my medium sized cookie scoop and made pretty large cookies.  I got 3 1/2 dozen from this recipe. 
Please make these.  I promise you won't be disappointed--and neither will those you share them with!  Happy baking!  And please, leave me a comment and let me know if you try them.  I love to hear from you.

White Chocolate Toffee Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups oatmeal (I put rolled oats in the food processor for a couple of seconds to chop a little)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups white chocolate chips
2 cups toffee bits
1 1/2 cups pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut parchment paper to fit baking sheets (or use a silpat).

In a stand mixer beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.   Beat in eggs and vanilla until well combined.  Put flour, oatmeal, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and combine well with a whisk.  Add these dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture until just combined.  Stir in white chocolate, toffee bits and pecans. 

Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 9-12 minutes (depends on your oven--keep a close eye on them!) until just beginning to brown on the edges.  Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove the cookies to cooling racks to finish cooling. 

Adapted from here.

Printable Recipe


Amazing Chocolate Layer Cake (Gluten Free or Regular)

Recently I saw an article in my local newspaper with a recipe for a 12-Layer Chocolate Cake. This has always been one of my very favorite cakes for my birthday, Thanksgiving, or any special occasion or holiday. Most of my children also love it. However, since going gluten free I have not been able to have this fantastic treat.

I don't typically get in the kitchen and create wonderful gluten free things because I am the only one in my family that has to eat gluten free, and I don't usually want to "make" them eat gluten free. Often my solution is to keep pre-made, store bought gluten free desserts in my freezer in individual servings so when we have a special dessert I can just pull it out and have something. Somehow it's never as satisfying as the wonderful creation that everyone else is having. So I decided to change that.

When I saw this, I got in the kitchen and made this fabulous cake, gluten free. The only change I made was using Jules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (definitely one of my favorite gluten free flours!) in place of the flour called for in the recipe. I used a cup measure to scoop the batter into my pans, but there was only enough for 10 layers instead of the 12 that the recipe calls for--but I didn't miss the other two!

As the article states, this was time consuming because of baking the layers at separate times, but it wasn't hard. It was fun! And the results were DEFINITELY worth it.So, gluten free friends--go for it! Why not? Or pass this recipe on to your friends or family. Who knows--maybe you'll get lucky and get surprised on your birthday!And for all you regular gluten eaters out there, don't be afraid--bake this cake! Use any flour you like, but I always prefer White Lily.

Let me know if you make it. I bet you all have someone in your family that would be thrilled to have this as their birthday cake!


Brussels Sprouts Salad

Well, this was a new one for me. Before visiting Chicago in October, I researched restaurants online so we would have an idea of some that we might want to try. Since I must eat gluten-free (for those that don't know I have celiac disease), I try to always choose restaurants that offer good options for me while also offering dishes that will keep my husband with the adventurous palate satisfied. The menu at this particular restaurant didn't have tons of choices for me, but the one that caught my eye was a Brussels Sprouts Salad. I ordered it, and boy, was I happy I did. The rest of the food that we were served was just okay, but this salad was memorable.

I came home and immediately began to search for a similar recipe. I found it here, and I made it for our Thanksgiving dinner. It was good, but not as great as I remembered the one in the restaurant being. So I played with it some, and actually simplified it and to me it is once again over-the-top delicious.

Looks yummy, huh? Before I share the recipe for the salad, I want to tell you about the dressing. It is a mustard vinaigrette that is very versatile. I keep a jar of it in my refrigerator to use not only on this salad, but on quinoa (a recipe for this coming later), spinach salad, mixed green salad, etc. It is so easy to mix up a quick batch of this, and so much healthier and cheaper than buying bottled dressing. Mustard Vinaigrette
2 Tablespoons stone ground mustard
6 Tablespoons white wine vinegar (1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons)
3 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 Tablespoons apple juice concentrate
2 cups canola oil
1/4 cup water
In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, vinegar, sugar, garlic, salt, pepper and apple juice concentrate. Place this mixture in a food processor or blender; slowly add water and oil and mix until combined. Store in a jar in the refrigerator; shake well before using.
Printable Recipe

Now, for the salad recipe. Couldn't be easier. Play with it. Add different nuts, different dried fruits, different cheese. Even a different dressing! But keep the brussels sprouts. I promise--even if you're not a brussels sprouts lover--you will love them prepared this way!Brussels Sprouts Salad
16 oz. brussels sprouts
1/2 teaspoon - 1 teaspoon kosher salt (to your taste)
12 dried figs, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, toasted
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
Dressing to taste

To prepare the brussels sprouts, trim the ends off (don't take much off, just the very end). Slice lengthwise into fourths, then chop into smaller pieces. Place in a colander and rinse very well (sometimes dirt can hide in the leaves, so I rinse several times), then put into a medium saucepan and cover with water and add salt. Cover, and heat just until they begin to boil. Remove from heat and pour back into a colander, then run cold water over them thoroughly. You do not want them to cook much at all. Allow to drain well (do this ahead of time if possible so they can drain for a while). After draining, spread several paper towels out on your countertop and place the brussels sprouts on them, then put more paper towels on top and press as much water out as possible. If you don't do this your salad will have a bland taste because of too much water left in the sprouts.
Place the drained and dried brussels sprouts into a large bowl, then add the figs and almonds. Pour the desired amount of dressing over this mixture and toss well. (I start with a minimal amount and add more if needed--doesn't take much!). Sprinkle the cheese on top.

The amounts recommended in this recipe are definitely suggestions--you can add more or less per your taste.
Printable Recipe
I can't wait for you to try this recipe! Please leave a comment and let me know if you enjoyed it--especially if you are converted from a brussels sprouts hater to a can't get enough, where have they been all my life brussels sprouts lover!


Pineapple Salsa

I have been in the kitchen a lot lately, and it has made me very happy! Baking, preparing meals, having get togethers with friends--and rather than feeling like a chore as a lot of cooking can often feel, my kitchen has been a place of happy days for me.

I have lost a good bit of weight over the last year, and cooking healthy, light meals is a priority for me and my husband. Before my diet, I very seldom ate fish. I didn't really care for fish, and only ate it when absolutely necessary. Fast forward to today, and I eat fish an average of 3-4 times a week. "Fishy" fish is still something I avoid; mild, flaky fish is my top choice. Tilapia and mahi mahi are my favorites.

Since I eat fish so often now, I am always trying to think of new ways to prepare it. Pineapple is so good right now, so I came up with this salsa to go on the tilapia we had this weekend. It is so delicious--it really tastes like something you would have in a restaurant. I encourage you to try it! This recipe, like most of the ones you see on this blog, is simple and fast--so easy to prepare! And this one is naturally gluten-free--always a plus.

Pineapple Salsa
1/2 cup finely diced pineapple
2 Tablespoons finely diced red pepper
1 scallion, sliced
2 Tablespoons pineapple preserves
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon juice from pineapple (if you have it; if not leave it out)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients. Serve over fish, chicken, pork tenderloin, or anything!

(In case you're wondering, I seasoned tilapia with salt and pepper, lightly dusted it with gluten-free flour, and sauteed it in a pan lightly coated with 2 teaspoons of olive oil until done).

If you read my blog and enjoy it, please let me know by leaving a comment. I would love to hear if you try any of the recipes!

Also, I am adding a feature on each post that will allow you to print out the recipes. Just click on "Printable Recipe" and it will allow you to do just that.


Printable Recipe


Chocolate Toffee Espresso Cupcakes (Regular or Gluten Free)

I have been in a baking mood lately. There is so much inspiration from blogs and Pinterest. Recently I came across a blog post from Kevin and Amanda for Caramel Toffee Latte Cupcakes. I cannot tell you how amazing these fun cupcakes are. Not only are they over-the-top delicious, they are beautiful as well!

Even though I followed the recipe exactly, I felt that these cupcakes needed a new name. Since they are chocolate cake, I thought the name needed to tell you that. And because I thought the toffee and coffee flavors were more distinct than caramel, I decided on Chocolate Toffee Espresso.

I made these with a King Arthur Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix, which I buy at my local Fresh Market store. These are readily available in supermarkets everywhere, and also online. This cake mix bakes up beautifully, and I use it all the time. All the gluten eaters in my family love it! And it is delicious with all the added ingredients from this cupcake recipe.

These cupcakes taste as good as any I have ever eaten, homemade or from a specialty cupcake bakery. I encourage you to get in your kitchen and bake! Have you made any yummy things lately? Please leave a comment and share what you've been up to!


Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cake

I love to bake. I love to cook most anything, but I especially love to bake. (Rather ironic, considering that most classic baked goods I can't have anymore since my diagnosis of celiac disease in 2007). There are so many great ideas on the internet, especially on Pinterest, for the most creative cakes, cupcakes, cookies, candy, etc. I am so appreciative of all the wonderful bakers out there that so willingly share their talents on their blogs so all of us can make fabulous creations.

One such creation is this beautiful Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cake shared by Something Shiny. I often try to make the cake that my family member wants for their birthday (sorry, Sarah--I know you didn't get one last year. Promise I'll do better this year!). About a week before my daughter Maggie's birthday I asked her what kind of cake she wanted, and she said chocolate cake with chocolate icing. A bit of a departure for her, since she is not a huge chocolate lover, but I began scouring my recipe files and the internet to see what I wanted to make. Then I came across the aforementioned beauty on Pinterest. With excitement, I shared it with Maggie because she has always loved cookie dough, and thankfully, she was sold.

As far as technique, I pretty much did everything the way it is described by Kelly on Something Shiny, with just a few changes. I baked three 8" layers; if I were doing it again I would do two 9" layers. I decided to only put cookie dough balls between the bottom two layers, with just icing between the top two. Instead of putting chocolate chip cookies around the top, I put balls of cookie dough; I liked that since it is a "cookie dough" cake. I used the chocolate chip cookie recipe recommended, but if I made it again I would use my cookie recipe found here because everyone said my cookies are better (which of course made me happy!).

The finished product was beautiful, definitely one that will be remembered. And I don't know first hand since I couldn't eat any, but everyone seemed to enjoy it very much. Definitely a keeper for the recipe file and Pinterest board.


It's Been a Long Time.....and I Have Some Amazing Bread to Share!

I've been absent from this blog for many, many months for many, many reasons. The last year was like a whirlwind for me. Once 2012 arrived I have been determined to begin blogging again. I have a lot to share, but for now I want to share two fantastic recipes.

Recently, Bob and I were honored to be joined at dinner with our son's wife (Betsy), our granddaughter (Ada) and our daughter's husband (Myles). It was a precious time and we loved every minute of our time together. We had a pretty simple dinner, but I wanted to try something new so I made two loaves of homemade bread. I wanted to be able to eat some, so I made one loaf gluten-free using this recipe and another loaf that was not gluten-free using this recipe. Now I will be the first to say that making bread can feel very intimidating, and I don't have much experience with it. But the few times I have attempted it I have always had success, so I think it gets a bad rap. Both of these recipes are very simple and take very little time. I encourage you to give one or both a try!

I was very interested to see what the others enjoying dinner would say about the difference in the two breads. The loaves were both beautiful, as you can see here:

First, the regular, gluten filled loaf:

Yummy looking, huh? Makes me wish I could have a bite! It was a very traditional bread, good for spreading with butter or whatever your favorite topping is, or dipping in your favorite olive oil or dipping sauce. Now I bet a lot of you are thinking....who cares about the gluten-free loaf?

Well, don't dismiss it too quickly. Here is the gluten-free beauty:

And another:

I asked each person to give their honest opinion on both breads, and they all agreed that the gluten-free loaf was best! I don't think it means the regular loaf was bad (they all loved it!). But the gluten-free one was just better. It is a lovely, rustic bread that is full of flavor and is made from several different flours. Perfect to serve with dinner, or to have with breakfast or for a snack. It reheats beautifully in the microwave. Who could ask for more?