Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! (And Mama Me's Top 2011 Recipes)

Happy New Year! Just as the ice melted off this cocoon (I hope the little creature inside made its way out long before the ice and snow!), 2011 is melting away and giving way to a fresh start to a brand new year. Bring on 2012!

I've been filled with blessings in 2011 and I hope you have, too. I've also been battling some health issues these last few months and will hopefully have some answers soon. I pray they will be good answers, but regardless, I'm making some lifestyle changes in 2012. I don't plan on giving up many of the foods I love just yet - I will if I need to - but I'm definitely going to be juicing more, growing my own sprouts (I'm excited about this!), making more green smoothies and just generally making my diet more alkaline.

Will you join me in this venture? Let's all make a pledge together to make sure we are eating more greens in 2012 - are you with me? I actually have several delicious and healthy recipes I've been meaning to share with you for ages now - I plan on getting to that this next year! I pray we are all blessed greatly in 2012.

In the meantime, let's take a look at my top 10 favorite recipes from 2012. It's always a difficult thing for me to pick my favorites because I really love all the recipes I put on here. I had no less than 15 others that didn't make the cut into the top 10.

1. Mama Me's Four-Egg Cake

2. Best. Ever. Chocolate Chip Cookies

3. Yeast Bread (and cinnamon-raisin yeast bread)

4. Shrimp Casserole

And now, dear readers, here are the top five most popular recipes based on hits from all of you in 2011:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (Do you have a top 2011 recipe list on your blog? If so, please feel free to add a link  in the comments below!)

This virtual party is being hosted at Lite Bite. I found the party at EA Stewart's fabulous Spicy RD blog where she lists some favorite 2011 recipes here.

welcome 2012 recipes
Image created by Heather from Farmgirl Gourmet 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pecan Macaroons

Did you all have a wonderful holiday season? I sure hope you did! As must be evident from the lack of treats posted that I truly hoped to have for you before Christmas, I took some much-needed down time and relaxed with my family.

I didn't make even a quarter of the goodies I normally make this time of year, but I did make some pecan macaroons. This is my grandmother's famous recipe (famous among our family and friends, anyway - and probably far beyond!) and I just couldn't not make them when she sent 3 cups of finely ground pecans in our Christmas package. I have an amazing grandmother. :)

The recipe is super-easy, and these morsels of heaven are downright addicting. So, while I was taking it easy and enjoying taking photos of our WHITE CHRISTMAS (yay! day and eve were blanketed in snow ...) and my husband, daughters and dogs enjoying the fun, we did get to munch on some macaroons.

I don't know how my grandmother seems to get a perfect batch of macaroons every time they go in and come out of the oven, but I know several factors are involved. Mine don't ever act like hers each time. My first cookies in the oven came out like perfect heavenly pillows just like hers, with crispy exteriors. The second and third were spread out and chewy (but equally delicious!) and the rest came out like pillows again. To help, make sure your cookie sheets cool off completely between batches and use parchment paper for ease in removing.

Projected prep time: 15 minutes; Projected baked time: 7-9 minutes
(Printable Recipe)

3 large egg whites
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/3 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 tsp. pure almond extract
3 cups finely ground pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If using a gas oven, bake on top rack. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper for ease in removal.

Chop pecans in food processor until finely ground.

Blend cream of tartar in egg whites while beating at low speed, then increase speed to whip up. While beating, gradually add sugar and almond extract.

Carefully fold in finely ground pecans ...

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared sheets. If you drop larger portions, it will affect the baking time and how they come out.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes or until beginning to brown around edges. You might want to check at 6 minutes depending on your oven. You DO NOT want them to brown very much at all on the bottom or they will taste like they burned.

Cool on cookie sheets a few minutes before removing to wire racks to finish cooling. Store in airtight container between layers of wax paper.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Counting My Blessings ...

Image source: World Vision
How are you all doing? Staying healthy, I hope, and getting a lot done? The holidays can be a very emotional time for many of us for various reasons, and I hope you you're taking some time out for you - and to reflect on the blessings you do have this year even if things have been rough.

I was enjoying an amazing harpist Christmas performance the other night with my family and was reflecting on my life 10 years ago.

Ten years ago, pretty much the entire year of 2001 was living hell for me. I lost, for the first time, a grandparent to a terrible battle with cancer. (I'm so thankful to say that while I have lost another one since then, I still have two of my grandparents here. I am very close to all of my grandparents and always have been - another huge blessing!) Moving on in 2001, we had the 9/11 attacks and significant problems and much stress in both my job and my husband's job. Finally, 2001 ended with the loss of our first child two weeks before Christmas while I was in my second trimester.

2001 was pure hell. I was hating life and wanting nothing to do with God because of it.

As I sat there the other night with my incredible husband and our two beautiful daughters listening to an amazing harpist performance, I reflected on my Christmas 10 years ago and how helpless and hopeless I felt, and how many blessings I've received since then.

God is good, and has blessed me beyond measure - even when I have turned away so many times. The last couple of years have been a spiritual struggle for me, but I pray I will always remember to count my blessings. They are actually countless, and I am very thankful!

There are so many who have so little in this world and we have so much to be thankful for, even when things get tough. My toughest day is nothing compared to that of so many others. Please count your blessings this season, and consider giving to those who are less fortunate.

There are so many organizations who help others in this country and around the world, especially at this time of year. Last year I wrote a post about this and the organizations/services we like to give to:

Compassion International (we sponsor a child)

Operation Christmas Child

World Vision (there are few things more fulfilling than purchasing animals for families with nothing to help them with sustainable living - do you have someone on your list who has everything? Consider buying animals in their name!)

Other organizations I am impressed with: 

Share Our Strength (ending childhood hunger)

Piece by Piece (providing a unique, sustainable way for underprivileged to help themselves)

There are many, many more organizations helping others this time of year. If the list above doesn't suit you, please consider finding another reputable organization to help this year.

Next week, I plan to have some more holiday goodies for you!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cardamom Date Cookies

How many batches of cookies have you made for the holiday season so far? Let me tell you a little secret: This is my first batch.

Normally in the past, I've made quite a few tasty holiday treats at this point in the season and I didn't think this year would be any different. So far, however, it has been one busy thing after another. That's why I was quite grateful that this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally challenge was cookies. It's given me the kick I needed to put my mind in the holiday baking mood.

Logo designed by Anile Prakash
A big thank you to Caroline over at the G-Spot Revolution for being our host this month and choosing cookies as our challenge. Be sure to head over to check out her delicious double chocolate chip peppermint cookies. (Oh. Yum.) Caroline also has the links to all the other amazing cookies the rally participants baked up this month.

If you aren't familiar with the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally, check out my rally page where I include all of my rally recipes as well as the very first rally post by Shauna Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl. Ratios and using weights have given me freedom in the kitchen I never imagined possible.

I began with Michael Ruhlman's suggestions for cookie dough ratios as I decided what kind of cookie I wanted to make for this challenge. I knew I needed something simple this time around that wouldn't take a long time to make, or (hopefully) take too many trials. Ruhlman's basic 1:2:3 cookie dough ratio suggests 1 part sugar: 2 parts fat: 3 parts flour. I wanted to make a drop cookie, however, and he suggests equal parts of sugar, fat and flour for drop cookies, with the addition of an egg.and some baking powder.

I was concerned that the gluten-free flours would create a dough that spread too much if I used an equal amount of butter, so I cut back on that just a little. I also used molasses as part of the sugar because I thought it might moisten the stickier flours a little more and help bind them with the rest of the ingredients. Using the egg as the starter 2 oz. in the ratio, my ratio ended up being 1:3:4:4 -- 1 part egg: 3 parts fat: 4 parts sugar: 4 parts flour. (2 oz. egg: 6 oz. butter: 8 oz. sugar: 8 oz. flour)

These certainly aren't a cookie that I traditionally make this time of year - I've never even tasted a cookie with these exact flavor combinations before - but the flavors were stuck in my head and I had to try them in this cookie. The whole family agreed the cookies are delicious - and the warmth and smell of the cardamom certainly fits into the season. The only thing I might change if I made them again is try adding more dates. Not too many more, but a few. This ended up being a cookie that spread a lot and were slightly crispy on the outside and a little chewy on the inside. The different sugars help with this.

Projected prep time: 10-15 minutes; Projected bake time: 7-9 minutes
(Printable Recipe)
1 large egg
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 oz. (29 grams) organic pure cane sugar
2 oz. (57 grams) molasses
5 oz. (143 grams) pure dark brown cane sugar
2 oz. (57 grams) sweet rice flour
2 oz. (57 grams) tapioca starch
2 oz. (57 grams) sorghum flour
2 oz. (57 grams) brown rice flour
1/2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (2 1/4 oz. or 62 grams) chopped dates (best to chop them yourself unless you wash any extra ingredients off dates bought already chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flours together with baking powder, salt and spices.

Cream together butter and sugars. Add molasses, then add egg and mix together thoroughly.

Gradually add dry ingredients and mix well. Let stand a few minutes to moisten the flours. Fold dates into the dough.

Drop dough by tablespoon balls (a cookie scoop works well for this, especially as the dough isn't stiff enough to roll into balls) onto ungreased cookie sheets. Leave sufficient room for spreading - they will spread quite a bit.

Bake 7-9 minutes, or until cookies are browning on edges and mostly or completely cooked in center.

Let cookies cool on pans for several minutes before transferring to wire racks to finish cooling. They are a little crumbly when hot, but they are no longer crumbly when cool.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we did! If you don't have a scale yet and find all those numbers daunting, I can assure you that it's easier than measuring by cup - and less messy. And I just happen to be giving away a scale and a copy of Ruhlman's Ratio cookbook until noon (CST) today on my anniversary blog post - so hurry!

Please be sure and stop by Caroline's blog to see all the incredible cookies the rally participants baked up for you this season - thanks again, Caroline!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gluten-Free Goodies This Holiday Season

Are you busy in the kitchen these days preparing for your holiday parties, gifts and treats? I'll admit that I haven't had a chance to get started on them yet, but that changes this week!

I hope to have a few more recipes for you this month (this list doesn't cover all the goodies I try to make during this season!), but in the meantime I thought I'd post the links to the ones I already have up. These are cookies that I try to make each year around this time. In the evenings after we are bathed and have our cozy pajamas on - especially after the kids are on their break - we enjoy eating some goodies with a cup of tea or hot cocoa while we enjoy a fire and the Christmas lights, and read Christmas stories.

Do you have fun family traditions that involve baked goodies? What are your favorite holiday goodies? What are your favorite Christmas or Chanukah stories?

I hope you enjoy these recipes!

Angel Slices

Candied Pecans

Chex Mix

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

Classic Christmas Cookies/Rich Roll Cookies

Molasses Cookies

Pecan Pie Tarts

Pecan Scotch Shortbread

Pumpkin Bread


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