My brother asked me the other day if I ever got tired of receiving cookbooks for Christmas. This year may have been a record: eight cookbooks. I guess he thought that was a little excessive, but I honestly never get tired of them.  I love reading through each and every page and finding recipes to try out. The best part is that you never grow out of a good cookbook. A great recipe 50 years ago is most likely a great recipe now (with the exception of recipes from the jello mold phase that my grandmother attempts to bring back from time to time). Cookbooks are timeless.

I've been wanting The Pioneer Woman Cooks for a long time now. I got it this Christmas, and I am already obsessed. There is nothing fancy about the cookbook, but it's good. In fact, it's great. I'm at the beach this week with family and friends, and there are 19 of us to feed. What better time to break out the new cookbooks? I started by making these breakfast puffs because there's a bakery in town that makes something very similar. They're called doughnut muffins at the bakery, but that doesn't matter because french breakfast puffs have now replaced doughnut muffins for all of us. These are not light and airy like the name "puff" might imply, but the incredible flavor works well with the dense centers. I would compare them to the consistency of a poundcake. The 19 people who ate these will all vouch that they are delicious.  The only issue I ran into was that there weren't enough to go around. That's not an issue at all, though. Batch number two is on the way!

French Breakfast Puffs
Recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 cup milk

1/2 pound (2 sticks butter)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
  • In a separate large bowl, cream together the sugar and shortening. 
  • Add the eggs and mix again.
  • Alternate adding one-third of the flour mixture and one-third of the milk to the creamed mixture, beating well after each addition.
  • Fill the muffin cups two-thirds full.
  • Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden. Remove the muffins from the pan and set aside. 
  • To make the coating, melt the butter in a bowl or glass pan. In a separate container, combine the sugar and cinnamon.
  • Dip the warm muffins in the butter, coating thoroughly...
  • Then roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Also: after cooling completely, puffs can be frozen in plastic bags and reheated later.

Red velvet is hands down my all time favorite cake. It is the perfect cake: rich, moist, vibrant, flavorful, elegant, filling, impressive...the list goes on. But then I read a funny quote in Virginia Will's Bon Appetit, Ya'll that said red velvet is "the Dolly Parton of cakes–she's a little bit tacky, but you love her." It made me laugh because as many times as I've eaten or made red velvet cake, I've never once thought of the red color as even slightly tacky. This is coming from someone who grew up eating key lime pie that was sea foam green, though. That's natural, right? But I'll give her that one, two whole containers of red food coloring definitely qualify this cake as tacky. Good thing we love it anyways.

I spend months trying to decide what I'll make for Christmas dessert. I probably have bookmarked at least 15 possible recipes by the time Christmas season actually arrives. This particular recipe appeared on Tastespotting in the beginning of December, and there was no question in my mind that it would be making an appearance at Christmas dinner. I made pumpkin spice cheesecake for Thanksgiving, so I wasn't going to choose another cheesecake. But cheesecake inside a cake is a different story. This cheesecake cake not only tops the list of my holiday dessert picks, but it is also one of my favorite cakes I have ever eaten period. If you are like me and try to add cream cheese to just about anything, this is the ultimate recipe for you. The cheesecake layer is cold and rich with a slight lemon tinge that gives it a different taste than the regular cream cheese frosting. The cake is perfect, too. It's a rich red color (I hate it when red velvet cakes are pink), and the flavor is strong enough not to be taken over by the cheesecake layer.

I've mentioned before that we eat a lot in my family. By the time dessert gets around it is expected that you will feel full to the point of bursting. I made this Christmas night, so as usual I ran into the problem of poor lighting for pictures. To solve this problem I tried to cut small pieces for my 16 person Christmas dinner so that I could have a piece to photograph the next day. Never in my life have I had so much opposition to the serving size. Everyone wanted seconds. Bookmark this recipe, and bring it out when you want to impress a crowd!

Red Velvet Cheesecake Cake 
Recipe from Beantown Baker
(previously from Erin's Food Files, cake and frosting adapted from Apple A Day, originally adapted from Saveur cheesecake adapted from Martha Stewart)
Serves 12-16
Printable Recipe

1 1/4 pounds bar cream cheese (20 oz), room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest, plus 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp coarse salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

2 1/2 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp (1 oz.) red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white distilled vinegar

12 oz. cream cheese, softened
12 oz. butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cup confectioners' sugar

1 bar white or dark chocolate (Optional for decoration)

Make the cheesecake
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Set a kettle of water to boil. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium until fluffy, scraping down side of bowl. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in lemon zest and juice, and salt. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down side of bowl after each addition. Beat in sour cream.

Cut parchment paper in a circle and line the bottom of the cheesecake pan. Wrap bottom half of pan in foil. Pour in filling; place in a roasting pan. Pour in boiling water to come halfway up side of springform. Bake until just set in center, about 45 minutes. Remove pan from water; let cool 20 minutes. Run a paring knife around edge; let cool completely. Cover; chill overnight, then wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.

Make the cake
Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt into a medium bowl.

Beat eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Divide batter evenly between 2 greased and floured 9" round cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool 5 minutes, then invert each onto a plate, then invert again onto a cooling rack. Let cakes cool completely, then level.

Make the Frosting
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Add sugar and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 5–7 minutes.

Place bottom layer on cake stand. Remove cheesecake from freezer, unwrap, and remove from metal bottom, then peel off parchment paper. Place cheesecake layer on top of the bottom layer of the red velvet cake.

If the cheesecake is wider than the cake, and it is necessary to to trim it, wait approximately 10 minutes for the cheesecake to soften, then trim it with a knife. Place top layer of cake on top of the cheesecake, and coat with a generous layer of the cream cheese frosting to act as the crumb coat. Be careful not to get any red velvet crumbs in the bowl of frosting!

Refrigerate approximately 30 minutes, then frost with as much of the remaining frosting as necessary.

Top with shaved white chocolate and/or shaved dark chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (This cake doesn't have to stay in the fridge until IMMEDIATELY before serving, so don't worry if you have a 30 minute lapse between the refrigerator and serving.)

Had to take this one at night. Pardon the tacky wallpaper and bad lighting!

Regardless of how health-conscious I’ve been all semester once break hits it’s time to eat. It would be an understatement to say my family likes to do it big during the holidays. From when I came back home on December 20 until today, we have had some sort of large meal every day. Whether it’s a big Christmas party for all of our family friends or one of our four Christmas meals, there has been enough food around my house to feed a small army (which is good because when my whole family is together we literally have a small army to feed).

Christmas is when you just have to toss in the towel and say, to heck with it, I’m going to eat and I’m going to eat a lot. I will cook every waking hour for days straight and be more relaxed than I’ve been in months.  I guess entertaining is in my blood. There’s nothing better than seeing all the hard work pay off with a room full of happy people. One of these days I’ll start posting all of my cooking recipes to add to the sweets and baked goods. Despite the blog’s name I actually love to cook, I just haven’t quite figured out how to get the lighting right at night when most of the meals are served.

Ok, now I'll get to the recipes. I didn’t take pictures of everything I made, but I’ll post the ones I did. I knew I had to bake these oatmeal raisin pecan cookies after the review said they were some of the best oatmeal raisin cookies ever. That’s all I need to read to bookmark a recipe. It's way too hard to judge recipes without a review. I want someone to tell me what they thought when they made it. I loved these cookies. They may not have been the best oatmeal raisin cookies I’ve ever had, but they are definitely top three (and I’ve had a lot). I love the addition of pecans, and I also love that they’re nice and thick. They’re not the moistest cookies ever, but they’re chewy so I’m willing to let that slide. My whole family loved these, and I will most certainly be making them again soon!

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies 

Recipe from Jonesing for..

Based on the recipe from Ina Garten’s “Back to Basics
Ina always calls for extra-large eggs in her recipes which frankly, I never have. I read somewhere that an extra-large egg usually has 1-2 tsp. more weight than a large, so to make up the difference I’ll crack an extra egg, scramble it up, and add in the difference. Or you could, yknow, just buy extra-large eggs.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
  • 1½ cups raisins
  • 1½ cups pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
1.) Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 3-4 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2.) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer with a large mixing bowl), beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer down to low and add the eggs one at a time, letting each one completely incorporate before adding the next. Stir in the vanilla extract.
3.) In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. With the mixer running on low, add the dry ingredients a little at a time. Stir in the oats, raisins, and pecans at the end until just combined.
4.) Using a large cookie scoop, drop 3 Tbsp. sized mounds of dough onto sheet pans about 2 inches apart. Slightly wet your hand with cold water and press lightly down on cookies to flatten. Bake 14-16 minutes or until lightly browned. For chewier cookies, let cool completely on sheet pans. For crisper cookies, transfer cookies from sheet pan to cooling rack after about 5 minutes.

There wasn't a doubt in my mind I would love these cookies. After all, the only thing better than one delicious cookie is when it's doubled and you add filling to the equation. The recipe said they were similar to Do-si-dos, but the cookie part is much softer than the Girl Scout cookies. This is a definite plus in my book. The texture is more comparable to an oatmeal cream pie (and who doesn't love those?). I made these before exams and put them in little bags to bring to my family and friends. Well, I definitely should not have kept the bags in my room because apparently peanut butter sandwich cookies and studying are a great combination.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Recipe from Rara Bakes

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal

3 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
3 Tbsp milk

Cream together butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well.

Add baking soda, salt, baking powder, and flour. Stir. Fold in oatmeal.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Flatten balls with a fork. I suggest only cooking 9 at a time because these cookies spread quite a bit (they are meant to be thin).

Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes or until edges lightly brown. Let cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then move cookies to a cooling rack.

In a small bowl, cream together remaining butter and peanut butter. Add powdered sugar and stir until no lumps remain. Add in milk and stir until smooth.

Spread frosting inbetween two cookies and make sandwiches with them. Serve with a glass of milk! 

Banana bread is my weakness. I've mastered the skill of resisting cookies, cakes, candy and just about every other sweet (when I want to, that is), but banana bread I just can't seem to keep myself away from. I think this is because I can't figure out what category to place it in. Is it breakfast? Dessert?  Snack? 

I've decided banana bread fits in all of those categories, and that is my issue. I just eat it all day. I've been studying so much for finals recently that this is even worse because I have a tendency to find myself in the kitchen when I'm bored, and when is anyone ever not bored studying?

I made this banana bread a few days ago, and at first I was not happy with it at all. It required too many bowls for my liking, and the "room temperature" directions test my patience. But, then I tasted it. And then I made it again. And then again. I have made it three times since last week. Truthfully one time I had to run errands and left it in the oven for too long, but it should say something about it that I threw that one away and made a new one the next day. It's great. I should have known considering I've never doubted the incredible combination of chocolate and bananas. I think the best thing to do for this recipe is start with all of the measuring and separating things out into bowls FIRST. I realize normal people always do this, but I tend to do a recipe as I read it. Not surprisingly this has come back to bite me many of which was the first time I made this recipe when I poured all of the batter in before the chocolate. The pictures were taken round #1, but needless to say the swirling was much better round #2 and #3.

Chocolate Banana Marble Bread
Recipe from a 1/2 food blog
  • 2 large or 3 medium very ripe bananas, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (2ounces) sour cream, at room temperature – feel free to use cream or buttermilk!
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sifted plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unsifted unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) boiling water, plus more if needed
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened (65° to 68°F)
  • 3/4 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the center.  Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter or high-heat canola-oil spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper that extends 1 inch beyond the long edge of both sides of the pan.  Peel the bananas and place them in the bowl of the food processor.  Process to a smooth puree.  (Alternately, mash them in a bowl using a fork.)  Measure out 1 cup of the puree and transfer it to a medium bowl, discarding the rest of the puree or saving it for another use.  Add the sour cream and vanilla and whisk just until blended.  Set aside.
Use a fine-mesh strainer to sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder together into a medium bowl.  Whisk to blend well.  Set aside.  Place the cocoa powder in the small bowl.  Pour the boiling water over the cocoa and stir until it forms a smooth paste – it should run thickly off the spoon.  If it is too thick, add another tablespoon of boiling water and stir again.  Set aside.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until the butter is very light, almost white in color, 4 to 5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl with a spatula.  Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs, 1 tablespoon at a time, completely blending in each addition before adding the next.  About halfway through  the eggs, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with the spatula, then continue adding the rest of the eggs.  Scrape down the bowl again.
With the mixer running on the lowest speed, add one-third of the flour mixture.  Just as it is barely blended and you can still see a few patches of flour, add half the banana mixture.  Repeat with the remaining flour and banana mixtures ending with the flour.  Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.
Transfer half of the batter to the second medium bowl. Add the cocoa paste and, using the rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly blend it into the batter.
Drop alternating spoonfuls of dark and light batters into the prepared pan, then marbleize by using a spoon to gently turn the batter over in 3 places down the length of the pan.
Bake the banana bread for 55 to 65 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.  When cool, remove from the pan, peel off the parchment paper, and cut slices by sawing gently with a serrated knife.
Makes 1 Loaf

Twice, recently, I have baked and taken pictures of food that I have already posted at other times without realizing it. Not sure how this keeps happening–it's not like I have hundreds of posts on here. One time I even did it with my favorite cookie recipe. I make them all the time! How did I somehow convince myself that the most recent batch was different? I have no idea. I think I may be losing my mind.

My most recent repeat was with this delicious blueberry muffin recipe. I meant to separate the pizza puffs and the appetizer recipe below here with the blueberry muffins so that I could change up courses a bit. I took a set of new pictures and everything. But it's on here! I guess it's ok since at least that means you all can still make these muffins (they are single-handedly getting me through exams).

But, I guess I'll carry on with the appetizer trend. These pepperoni pizza puffs are awesome. They are also without a doubt the easiest thing I've made recently. I had a  big bag in the fridge that I just finished off for lunch today. Make sure to serve them warm with some marinara sauce on the side. You can whip these up in literally no time at all, and I guarantee they will be a crowd-pleaser!

Pepperoni Pizza Puffs
Recipe from The Family Kitchen 
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 1/4 cup Italian Cheese blend
  • 4 ounces Pepperoni Mini’s (or regularly-sized pepperoni, chopped)
  • 1 cup your favorite marinara for dipping
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil, thyme, or italian parsely, chopped
Grease a mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients together, stirring until completely mixed.  Spoon into the prepared mini-muffin cups. Bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs, and serve with warm marinara for dipping.

*I put a tablespoon of Italian seasoning in the batter so that I didn't have to go buy fresh herbs.
Maybe should use nicer marinara than Ragu next time?