Monday, December 30, 2013

The best present under my tree

Back in July when Bailey was diagnosed with cancer we were told he only had a few months without treatment. We made the decision to do treatment to improve his quality of life but knew this wasn't a cure.  The vets told us his cancer is so rare they couldn't even really tell us how much time we would have. We could have a few months or a few years.

I remember crying on the couch and saying to my husband "We won't see him attack his stocking again."  Every year since he was a kitten Bailey has loved his Christmas stocking like nothing else.  He's slept on it, cuddled with it and even attacked it (blame it on the catnip toys inside)

 Here he is back in 2001 seeing his stocking for the first time

And this year we were lucky enough to have him with us once again enjoy Christmas Day.
and his stocking

Bailey's first Christmas he met Santa Clause and wasn't too sure about him lol

So this year I was determined to get some really good pictures of him, that he wouldn't hate. 

That's when I came up with this...a box!  Cats love boxes so why not turn one into a photo shoot that he would actually enjoy?!

We just took an empty box, wrapped it in some Christmas paper and he immediately jumped in and posed while I took all the pictures I wanted.

I love this SO much!  

We are so happy we decided to treat his cancer.  Even though we don't know how much more time it will give us, He is so much more active now and his quality of life has dramatically improved.  Despite his age and arthritis, he still chases our other cat Louie and gives him a run for his money

We're still worried this will be our last year with Bailey.  We have no idea when or if the tumor will come back. He has also developed other issues unrelated to his cancer.  He now has the early stages of heart disease and kidney disease that too often occur in older cats.  

So we just try to take it one day at a time and enjoy every minute we have with him.

One thing we know for sure...this Christmas he was the best present under the tree! 

Fun Healthy Party Food

I definitely indulged in my fair share of Christmas cookies this year but I tried to balance it out with a few healthy, but fun, treats too.

I made these easy party foods for my family's get together

So simple- just get a Christmas movie going, a Styrofoam cone, grapes and toothpicks and get to work.  Top with a Star Fruit and you are all set! 

I made it even more festive at the party by placing it on a platter covered in coconut...instant snow! 

Next up...get your veggies in with this Christmas wreath.  It's really self explanatory.  Just need a round serving tray, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes and red pepper.
Perfect for getting my nieces and nephew to enjoy some healthy food along with a few Christmas cookies! 

Christmas cookies

My sister and I did a Christmas cookie exchange this year and didn't realize we both made each other Mint Chocolate cookies!  Great minds, huh?!

Mine are a take on the Chocolate Chip Pudding cookies I made last year...this time using all of those half-broken candy canes you end up with after Christmas is over! 

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1 small package (3.9 oz) Devil’s Food instant pudding mix
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup crushed candy canes or to make it even easier and pick up a bag of Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips 
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks.  Chips will work but the chunks are sooo good!

Cream together butter and sugars.
Beat in dry instant pudding mix.
Add eggs and vanilla and beat until well incorporated.
Add baking soda and flour and beat until well incorporated.
Stir in candy canes and semi-sweet chocolate chunks.
Roll into 1″ balls (Make them taller rather than wider for a thick cookie) 
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
Refrigerate for at least an hour. 
Bake at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes.

Next up...I had a a box of cake mix left over from another recipe with exactly 1 and 1/4 cup mix left in it.  When I found this recipe for Cake Batter cookies I couldn't believe it. I was MEANT to make them! 

Get the full recipe here

I know New Years Resolutions are about to kick in but just think of it like this

Cookies = Energy!  Enjoy :) 

Ligthened Up French Toast Eggnog Casserole

Christmas morning- the only morning of the year I'm actually excited to wake up early! And not just to see all the presents under the tree

Some of my favorite gifts this year were food related :)
My husband has wrapped a gift up for me in this same popcorn box for 7 years!  This year it had a new sweater inside.  Trickster! 

So, of course, Christmas breakfast is very important in my house.  You need something hearty after all that work unwrapping presents.  But who wants to cook Christmas morning? That's where this French Toast Casserole comes in!  Just throw it together the night before...pop it in the oven before you start unwrapping gifts and by the time you're done you are ready to eat! 

The best part- I lightened up the ingredients and still kept all of the flavor!


4 tablespoons (1 / 2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons Splenda Brown Sugar baking blend (or 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar)

2 Tablespoons Maple flavored Agave syrup

1 loaf of bread cut into 1" cubes (I used my English Muffin bread I baked a few weeks ago and froze)

2 cups Egg Beaters

2 cups Silk Eggnog (only 90 calories compared to 200 in regular Eggnog!)

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped pecans 

Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter.  Stir in the brown sugar and Agave syrup. Continue stirring until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and pour into the bottom of the pan.

Arrange the bread cubes on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. 

In a large bowl whisk the egg beaters and mix in the vanilla and egg nog.  Pour the egg mixture over top of the bread cubes. Press down lightly to make sure all of the bread is evenly coated. Top with the pecans. 

Tightly cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning preheat the oven to 325. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Turn the oven up to 375. Remove foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Peppermint Patty Brownies

So my last blog I showed DIY Christmas goodies like granola in jar.  But you have to have a little naughty with nice, right?! So I decided to make a sinfully delicious treat to give as Christmas gifts along with the granola.

That's where these come in...Peppermint Patty Brownies!

Yes it tastes exactly how it sounds!

I've made these homemade peppermint patties before but combining them with brownies is genius! In fact, my husband said it was the best thing I've EVER made. 

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar  (I used 1/2 cup Stevia and 1/2 cup sugar)
2 large eggs  (I used 1/2 cup egg beaters)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup milk chocolate chips

For the Peppermint Patty layer:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 tablespoons evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the chocolate ganache:
3.5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2.5 tablespoons heavy cream

Grease an 8x8 pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees for a dark pan or 330 for a glass pan. 

Whisk the melted butter, sugar and vanilla together. Then whisk in each egg one at a time, stirring until a smooth batter forms. Add in flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, stirring until combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread batter in the 8x8 baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes until set. Remove and let cool.

Sorry, couldn't resist :)

Ok for the peppermint layer:  Beat powdered sugar, butter, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and peppermint extracts until smooth and creamy.  Pour over the brownies and spread into an even layer.  Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes until set. 

Now to REALLY make it taste like a peppermint patty we need a dark chocolate layer! Heat heavy cream until warm and pour it over chopped dark. chocolate. Stir for a few minutes smooth and creamy. Spread over the top of the peppermint layer and you're done!

Recipe adapted by 

It seems like a lot of steps but it's actually really easy and a perfect Christmas goodie gift!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DIY Christmas Gifts

It's the season for giving!  But it can be hard finding the perfect gift for someone

My Dad always says "I don't need anything" and when I press him he'll finally say he needs socks.  Not exactly a gift from the heart :) So that's when I thought of my Heart Healthy Granola.  

I always save my Spaghetti sauce jars so I took a clean empty one, scrubbed the label off with some Goo Gone and spray painted the lid red.  

I found these chalkboard labels on the Williams Sonoma website for only $4 and couldn't resist.

For the finishing touch I hot glued a Christmas ribbon around the lid.

Now Dad can get something homemade that shows how much I love him.

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas decorating tips

Christmas is almost here! 
and I may have gone a little overboard decorating.

I'm not ashamed!  I love Christmas.  I pick up decorations year round when I spot them.

Something as simple as a plain blue ribbon can easily transform a Christmas tree in minutes.  Just cut a ribbon long enough to reach the ground- fasten it to the top of the tree (I tucked mine into the tree topper) and twist it until it hangs beautifully.
I found a box of ornaments at Give Me Shelter Thrift Shop in Smithfield last month for only $3 and knew I could make something great out of them.  

Like gluing a few to a DIY wreath
and filling a vase for an easy centerpiece for the dining room table

and the best part- all sales at the Thrift Shop benefit the local animal shelter. Win win! 

Now that the house is all decorated I can sit back and relax and watch some of my favorite Christmas movies.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

ACA Awards recap

The American Country Awards were on Fox last night with Trace Adkins and Danica Patrick as the hosts.  I have to say, they are no Brad and Carrie or "Bluke" but they had their moments during the show..

Like when Danica dressed up as a showgirl...the show was live from Vegas after all!

and not wanting to feel left out Trace joined in on the fun singing "I Feel Pretty"

I may never look at Trace Adkins the same again LOL

Luke Bryan was the big winner of the night taking home Artist of The Year
The ACAs may not be country's best award show but the one thing they DO get right- giving new artists a chance to perform like Randy Houser, Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett 
But the performance of the night went to Leann Rimes and her tribute to Pasty Cline

She rocked it!  Here's the performance

She was given a standing ovation and was overcome with tears. 

Here's a complete list of last night's winners

Artist of the Year: Luke Bryan
Music Video by a Female Artist: 
Carrie Underwood
Female Artist of the Year: 
Miranda Lambert
Group of the Year: 
Lady Antebellum
Breakthrough Artist: 
Scotty McCreery
Single by a Male Artist: 
Blake Shelton
Music Video by a Male Artist: 
Blake Shelton
Album of the Year: 
Based on a True Story, Blake Shelton
Radio Track by a New Artist: 
"Cruise," Florida Georgia Line
Single by a New Artist: 
"Cruise," Florida Georgia Line
Music Video by a New Artist: 
"Cruise," Florida Georgia Line
Radio Track of the Year: 
"Cruise," Florida Georgia Line
New Artist of the Year: 
Florida Georgia Line
Single of the Year: 
"Cruise," Florida Georgia Line
Male Artist of the Year: 
Luke Bryan

English Muffin Bread

Jam, Jelly, Preserves...whatever you call it I am obsessed!  Every roadside stand we pass I have to pick out a new Strawberry jam or Triple Berry jelly.  It's become a problem.

Until this English Muffin Bread came into my life.  Problem solved!

As my husband so eloquently put it "I will eat the crap out of this bread!" 

Luckily for me, it's easy to make! 

Recipe- Modified from Finding Joy in My Kitchen

·                     3 C flour (I used 3 C bread flour)
·                     2 1/4 tsp. yeast
·                     2 tsp. sugar
·                     1 tsp. salt
·                     1/8 tsp. baking powder
·                     1 C milk (I used Unsweetened Almond Milk- it's half the calories and doesn't affect the taste) 
·                     1/4 C water
·                     cornmeal, for dusting the pan (optional)

I used my Kitchen-Aid mixer

Combine 2 C flour, along with sugar, salt, baking powder and yeast in the mixing bowl, and mix for about 1 minute until well blended.

Mix milk and water in a small sauce pan and heat until warm.  The original recipe said for about 2 minutes on low but I found it took a lot longer for mine to warm up. I did about 5 minutes on the lowest burner setting. 

Pour into the flour mixture and mix with the dough hook for 2 minutes.

Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix for 3-5 minutes with the mixer until it comes together. Dough may be a bit sticky.

Grease a loaf pan and sprinkle with cornmeal, if desired. Spread the dough into the pan, cover and let rise for about 45 minutes, or until doubled.  My house is very cold so I put it in the microwave and shut the door.

Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes

I know bread normally goes longer but trust me- that's all needs.  

It's perfect toasted with butter

and yes, jam!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Brownie Pecan Pie

I'm all about food mash-ups!  My favorite is mixing my breakfast cereals.  

like a big bowl Honey Bunches of Oats combined with Honey Nut Cheerios!

Even Cheerios know how good this is...look at what they came out with! 
Yep, basically the same thing I've been doing for years.

My love of combining foods doesn't stop at cereal. Just think of desserts.  Peanut Butter and Chocolate together...French Fries dipped in Frosty's and this...a Brownie mixed with Pecan Pie!

Brownies AND pie?!  You can't go wrong.


1 Pie Crust (homemade or store bought)  I was making this for Thanksgiving and pre-made the crust and then left it at home. Oops! Guess I'll have to save that homemade crust for another pie :) 

1 box brownie mix plus the ingredients it calls for on the box

1 cup chopped pecans (plus more for the top)

2 eggs

¼ cup brown sugar

¾ cup light corn syrup

1 Tablespoon melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


Mix together the brownie mix as directed on the box.

Pour into the pie crust

In a separate bowl mix together the eggs, sugar, corn syrup, butter and vanilla.  Stir in the pecans.  Pour over the brownie batter layer.  Top with a layer of pecan halves.

Cover the pie with foil and poke a hold in the center of the foil. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and make for another 30 minutes. 

I found the recipe on Pinterest and it was a Pinterest WIN for sure!