Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

Saturday morning we woke up to snow falling. I love snow, and so do my kids, but snow seems to make them a little bit frantic, and crazy. Sadly, even after four kids, I am still not a morning person, but there’s something about snow falling while sipping my piping hot cup of coffee that can make even the most chaotic morning  just a little bit magical. Still, there was something missing, and my coffee seemed…lonely. So I decided to use my last can of pumpkin and make some pumpkin bread, the perfect accompaniment to any snowy morning, and another pot of coffee. The kids went out to play in the snow, which wasn’t even sticking, and I waited for our bread to finish baking, soaking up every stolen minute of peace and quiet. Right about the time the troops clomped in feeling frozen the bread was ready to eat. This pumpkin bread is easy and delicious, and sure to get all the kids around the table ooh-ing and aah-ing. It’s so good, that they won’t even want to talk between bites of deliciousness and sips of milk. For a treat I threw in some chocolate chips, around 1/4 cup, and even threw a few on top for a ‘garnish’ because I find chocolate so aesthetically pleasing. I was going for magical in the midst of chaos, remember? Morning, noon, night, what day couldn’t use a little magic in it! Make some ‘magic’ of your own today.

Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

4 Sons 'R' Us: Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

  •  1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar*
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • chocolate chips (optional)

*To make your own easy brown sugar, add 1 tbsp molasses to 1 cup of sugar and mix together thoroughly. Just like store-bought brown sugar, extras can be stored in a ziplock bag and put in the pantry, cabinet, etc. for future recipes.

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer, blend oil and sugars together.
  2. Stir in the beaten eggs and canned pumpkin.
  3. Gradually add the remaining dry ingredients, mixing until evenly incorporated.
  4. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan.

Crockpot Cooking

  1. Add 2 cups of water to your crockpot, and then sit the loaf pan inside the crockpot.
  2. Cover the top of the crockpot with 8-10 paper towels. This is important as it traps the moisture and condensation so the bread doesn’t become ‘mushy’.
  3. Place the lid on the crockpot, keeping the paper towels securely in place.
  4. Bake on high 2 1/2-3 hours.

Oven-Baked

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bake pumpkin bread 50-60 minutes in the oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

I’m always on the lookout for easy breakfasts I can prepare ahead of time and have ready for my kids to eat on the go on busy morning. I had been eyeing this breakfast ‘cake’ recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen for awhile and decided to give it a try last month. The result was wonderful! Moist, crumbly, and full of flavor it was a real treat for the everyone. The recipe takes minimal time to prepare, which is a blessing on nights I’m scrambling at the last minute before bed to throw something together for the morning. My whole family, even the picky eaters, love this, whether we’re sitting down at the table for a relaxing breakfast, or grabbing a piece to go, hurrying to school or practice.

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

4 Sons 'R' Us: Blueberry Breakfast Cake

  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp lemon zest*
  • 3/4 cup & 2 tbsp sugar (7/8 cup) + 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour, set aside 1/4 cup of this
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed and drained
  •  1/2 cup buttermilk**

*If you’re using fresh lemons for your zest, go ahead and zest the whole lemon. Any extra, or leftover zest, not used in the recipe can easily be stored in a ziplock bag and frozen for later use.

**To make your own buttermilk, add 1 tbsp white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes before using. The recipe can be halved or doubled depending on the quantity needed. Just keep the ratios between the milk the the acidic ingredient equal. Lemon juice can also be used in place of vinegar.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter with lemon zest and 7/8 cup of sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Meanwhile, toss the blueberries with 1/4 cup flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk.
  4. Fold in the blueberries.
  5. Grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter, or coat with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Pour and spread batter evenly into the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Let cool and serve.

Cheeseburger Macaroni

Have you ever pulled a box of Hamburger Helper, or something similar, out of the pantry for a quick and easy meal for your family on a rushed evening? I, myself,  am guilty of having done this at least a few times. Even when I’ve bought these ‘box’ meals on sale or with coupons it’s still not particularly ‘cheap’ considering I always have to add more pasta, spices, and other ingredients to spruce it up. It doesn’t even taste that good to my husband or I, although I am sure my kids would eat it any day with no complaints. I know in the past I’ve sacrificed our personal preferences, quite a few times, for efficiency, using a ‘box’ meal to get dinner served to my kids on time, but NO MORE! Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni is creamy, cheesy, and easy. Both the kids and the adults will love it. It even takes about the same amount of time to make as it’s pre-packaged competition. Ditch the ‘helping hand’ and make your own batch from scratch. My recipe feeds my family of six, with enough leftovers for my husband’s lunch the next day. The recipe can easily be cut in half to accommodate a smaller family.

Cheeseburger Macaroni

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger Macaroni

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 lb. box of pasta, elbows or small shells work best
  • 2 packets of taco seasoning
  • 2 10 oz cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 4 cups beef broth

Cheese Sauce

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Directions

  1. In a dutch oven brown hamburger meat until cooked through and then drain and return meat to the pot.
  2. Stir in taco seasoning, tomatoes, beef broth, and macaroni.
  3. Heat to boiling, now reduce heat and cover. Simmer 12-14 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cheese Sauce

  1. While the beef and noodle mixture cook, melt butter in a saucepan. 
  2. Whisk in the flour and cook over medium heat, constantly whisking for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Slowly add in the milk, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil.
  4. When your sauce base is smooth and thickened remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted.
  5. Add the salt and pepper to the cheese sauce.
  6. Pour the cheese sauce over the hamburger mixture. Stir gently until evenly combined.
  7. Remove pot from heat and let sit about 5 minutes for the sauce to thicken up and serve.

Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

With my food guzzlers, I’m always on the lookout for a quick addition to my menu that can help top off their tanks. I love a good dessert that I don’t feel terrible about giving my family that helps keep them full until morning. This gem is one of my go-to favorites. It’s like a special edition chocolate muffin, with a hint of apples. They love a nice, warm slice of my chocolate ‘bread’ before bed with a cold glass of milk. It makes them feel all warm and fuzzy. I may, or may not, have also been talked into making this for them for a special breakfast as it contains both eggs and applesauce.  Even better, this from scratch dessert, or breakfast, or snack, is easy and takes hardly any time to whip up. Did I mention it’s versatility? So find yourself a reason to give it a try, you won’t be disappointed in the results.

Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

4 Sons 'R' Us: Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

  •  1 & 1/2 cups  semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 & 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 & 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

GLAZE:

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp half and half
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a pot on the stove top over low heat, melt 1 cup of chocolate chips; set aside to cool.
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs and cooled chocolate, mix until evenly combined.
  4. Add applesauce and vanilla; set aside.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until evenly combined.
  6. Add flour mix to the batter and mix until evenly combined.
  7. Lightly mix in the remaining chocolate chips just until incorporated into batter.
  8. Divide batter evenly between two* greased loaf pans.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean
  10. Cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

For Glaze:

  1. In a small pot over low heat, melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring until evenly combined.
  2. Stir in half and half.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt.
  4. Drizzle over warm loaves, or pipe onto loaves using a ziplock bag.
  5. Let the chocolate cool and serve.

* If you’d prefer to make one full sized loaf, simply add all the batter to one full size loaf pan. Baking time will take a little over an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Typically the chocolate piping is spread between two loaves so there’s not nearly as much piled on, but the ‘breakfast’ bread I was coerced into making I left glaze free. I didn’t want too much chocolate on my mom-conscience before sending them off for school. All that chocolate on their dessert though was a real treat.

Cake Decorating Frosting

I do not like bakery cakes or their frosting. (Gasp) Shocking, I know, but I grew up never eating store bought cake, not even sampling bakery cakes, or pre-made frosting.  Now that I have, I know I wasn’t missing anything. The few times I attempted to use store-bought frosting for decorating cakes, the results were disastrous. It’s not stiff enough to hold it’s shape, and the addition of any food coloring makes it runny. With four boys who request custom cakes for their birthdays, this obviously, was just not going to work. That, and I couldn’t stomach paying outrageous amounts of money to a bakery when I was sure that with a little practice, trial, and error I could duplicate their designs. My Grandma and Mom, made beautiful cakes that always tasted just as good, if not better, than they looked and the frosting was always rich and creamy. So when I made the decision to give my boys the same kind of catered cake experiences I had grown up with, I just knew I had to have my Mom’s recipe to make it happen. The recipe is simple and easy to whip up. It’s even easier to adjust for stiffness so you can customize and create a simple or elaborate cake or cupcake design that will hold firmly in place, but still taste smooth and sugary when cut.

Cake Decorating Frosting

  •  3-4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup of shortening
  • 4-5 tbsp milk, or half and half for a richer frosting
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract, optional (I omit)

Directions

  1.  In a stand mixer, add all ingredients.
  2. Mix on low speed until evenly combined. Do not whip!
  3. If the frosting is still chunky add milk, 1 tbsp at a time until it’s mixed smooth.
  4. Alternately, if the frosting is too runny, add more confectioners sugar until mixed to desired stiffness.
  5. Frost!

If you’re not interested in a white cake, add a couple of drops of food coloring until your desired color is reached, and then frost. If chocolate frosting is your fancy add cocoa powder, 1 tbsp at a time, until it tastes chocolate-y enough for you.

A few other points about working with this type of frosting. If your frosting is too stiff, and you’re trying to frost any parts of a cake that have been cut or aren’t browned by the outside of the baking pan, it will pull up pieces of cake and make a mess. Also, don’t wipe! For a neat look that won’t ruin the cake, gently wipe frosting back and forth until frosted. To achieve a smooth, finished look, smooth over with a HOT knife. Dip the knife in hot water to keep it hot and free of any icing clumps. Otherwise, get your bake-on and frost. There will be mistakes made along the way, but the results are well worth it! Practice makes perfect, and nothing beats your child’s smile when they see you’ve managed to create something from their imagination, or yours, just for them. Just for fun, and hopefully some inspiration, here are a few of the various cakes I’ve made for my boys.

Basketball Cake 076 003 001 002 010  DSC03637060

Key Lime Pie Fudge

I needed something quick to take to a friends’ dinner party, but couldn’t decide between my usual list of go-to favorites. Everything just seemed boring, or over-used. Imagine you’re trying to get ready for a night out and staring down the gauntlet that is your own closet. Nothing grabs you, nothing fits the venue just right, etc. Giving up on finding inspiration within my own pantry, I decided to troll through my browsers bookmarks, and settled on tweaking some Key Lime Pie Fudge bites that I had found on About.com.  The prep was simple, the amount of effort involved was minimal, yet when finished I was left with creamy little bites of heaven. These are THAT good! This is not your Grandma’s fudge. Give them a try. You will never think of fudge the same way again.

Key Lime Pie Fudge

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  •  1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 & 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 bag white chocolate chips
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp lime zest, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Line an 8×8, or 9×9 baking dish with aluminum foil and spray, to evenly coat the foil, with non-stick cooking spray
  3. Either in a microwave, or on the stove-top, melt butter.
  4. When melted combine butter, sugar, and graham crackers in a bowl, stirring until evenly combined and moist.
  5. Transfer graham cracker mix into your foil lined pan, smoothing and spreading to make an even layer.
  6. Bake the crust for 7-10 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool.
  7. Melt chocolate, salt, and condensed milk in a stove-pot over medium low heart, stirring until evenly combined.
  8. When mixture is smooth, add lime juice and zest, stirring until evenly combined.
  9. Transfer the fudge to the prepared baking dish, spreading into an even layer over the graham cracker crust.
  10. Refrigerate fudge until it is set, about 2 hours, or overnight.
  11. Using the foil as handles, remove the fudge from the baking dish.
  12. Using a sharp, hot knife (run under hot water periodically to keep hot) cut the fudge into 1 inch squares.
  13. Let the fudge rest at room temperature for 15-2o minutes before serving.

Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip

One of my guys go to appetizers when we eat out is spinach and artichoke dip. While I don’t always want to eat out, I do enjoy serving them their restaurant favorites from the comfort of my own kitchen. That, and they look at me like I’m a magical kitchen wizard which kinda tickles my fancy. So, several years ago, I set to work making a delicious at home version of their eat out favorite. Now, it’s become a recurring cast member at our annual celebrations, including holiday dinners and parties.

Now, are you looking for the perfect creamy, rich, and indulgent dip to share as a special treat with family? Or for a perfect Super Bowl appetizer that’s easy to prepare, but has guests thinking you’ve slaved away all day in the kitchen? Look no further than this recipe. This is the best Spinach and Artichoke dip I’ve ever had. I’m talking plate-licking good. Even better, it’s one of the easiest possible appetizers to make. Prep takes maybe 5 minutes, and that’s being generous. If you’re looking for something versatile, this is also the dip for you. My family enjoyed it for New Year’s Eve, and I served it with slices of a very crusty baguette. We’ve also enjoyed it with tortilla chips, crackers, mini toasts, and pretzels. Since it was for a special occasion I went with full fat ingredients but, if you’re looking for something more figure-friendly, you could easily shave off half of that by using the reduced fat, or non-fat counterparts.

Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip

creamy, rich, and delicious!

  • 3 cups frozen spinach, finely chopped and drained, or more or less to desired consistency
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 6 oz can marinated artichoke hearts, finely chopped and rinsed
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a food processor, or in a bowl with a spatula, mix all ingredients together until evenly combined. 
  3. Transfer dip to a baking dish and bake 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the edges are golden-brown.
  4. Serve with bread slices, tortilla chips, crackers, etc.