Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cranberry Spice Infused Vodka


Ok so how is it nearly Christmas already?

I know I always say how time is flying, but seriously... nothing makes the time go faster than taking care of a baby!

Which is kind of funny considering every day is like Groundhog Day.  Basically they sleep, eat, poop, repeat... and inevitably your day is centered around that.  Nothing new to the moms out there, but to anyone who doesn't have kids yet - yes, it's really true.  Of course there is some slight variation, but essentially every day is the same.

The first few weeks are SUPER rough (or at least they were for me) and you think "Oh I'm home from work, I should be doing so much stuff."  And then you do none of that stuff, because it's amazing how time consuming sleeping, eating, pooping & repeating can actually be!

However, life is starting to mellow out in the Vittles household and before I know it, I'll be back to work.  And probably crying that I won't see my little monkey all day... and that she's growing up & changing so fast. (Yes I know she's only 8 weeksold,  but when it's YOUR baby they really do change incredibly quickly).

Speaking of Miss Mara.... I do have to take a moment to brag about how stinkin' cute she is. Check out a few of her professional pictures I mentioned last post (by Sarah Fuller, of Purple Circle Photography):

2012 Sarah Fuller

2012 Sarah Fuller

2012 Sarah Fuller

FYI, my mother-in-law knit her that fabulous stocking (may as well brag about that, too, while I'm at it!)  And yes... it is actually big enough for her to fit in.  Santa will have his work cut out for him filling that bad boy!  Thanks Gigi :)

In any case... since things are calming down, I've had a chance to make some of my homemade gifts for friends & family.  My favorite this year is this Cranberry Spice Infused Vodka.


I'm not much of a drinker, but I'm still kind of a sucker for all those flavored liquors that seem to be cropping up at the store.  At Thanksgiving I saw a pumpkin spice liqueur that I wished I could drink (and now I could, but let's face it, Pumpkin Spice is spent til next year).

So when I saw an idea in Country Living magazine for infused vodka, I started searching for other interesting recipes.  I came across one for the Cranberry Spice on About.com, and changed it slightly to suit the containers I bought.  (If you're wondering, I bought 16 oz. swingtop glass 'flask' bottles, and made labels on my computer - the below recipe was enough to fill two bottles.)

Super fun for the holidays!


Cranberry Spice Infused Vodka

  • 32 oz. vodka
  • 1 1/2 C. fresh cranberries
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 whole nutmeg, cracked
  • 1 whole vanilla bean, cut in half
  • 1 1/2 sticks cinnamon, cracked
  • 9 whole allspice berries, cracked

Place cranberries & spices in the bottom of a large pitcher or container (I used a large, widemouth mason jar with a lid) and pour vodka over them. Cover & let steep 3 days, then strain & discard berries/spices.  Place liquor in decorative containers, if desired.

Recipe Adapted from About.com

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast 'Cheesecake'




At my shower, my mother-in-law gave me the fabulous gift of a newborn photo session for the baby.  The original photographer's studio was unfortunately ruined during Sandy, so she had to schedule with a new one & we had the shoot at my in-laws house yesterday.  (BTW- considering the fact that Mara is no longer a sleepy, pliable newborn it went surprisingly well.  I am SO excited to see the pictures!)

The photographer is a mother of two children (3 and 5 years old) and one of her first questions for me was, "How are you adjusting?"

My immediate answer was "Good!" with raised eyebrows & a happy little smile.

And I realized right after I said it... that's not true at all.  (And she probably knew it!)

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that having a baby is not the most incredible thing in the world.

Every day I look into the eyes of this adorable little person and think, "Holy crap.  We created her."

But I'm not gonna lie... this mom business is exhausting.  "Adjusting" to not sleeping and spending your days & nights tending to an extremely needy little critter is no easy task!

As a person who functions best with about 8 hours of sleep per night, six weeks of catnapping is really not cutting the mustard.  (Also I would just like to say for the record that the next person who tells me "Sleep when the baby sleeps!" is taking their life in their hands.)

It was also not helping matters that our munchkin was having terrible gas pains that were making her miserable.  Sleep, eat, cry, repeat - this was how it went for weeks.  We tried everything to help her, even the pediatrician was out of ideas.  Then my dad pointed out that as a wee Maggie, I too cried all the day long.  Eventually they discovered I had a sensitivity to lactose.  He said my mom had to stop breastfeeding & switch to a soy formula, and then I was "a very different baby."

At Mara's one-month checkup, the pediatrician noticed the gas situation right off the bat, and actually told me to avoid dairy... (and vegetables... and anything else that might potentially be gas-producing.  Which is, like, everything under the sun.)

Like a good little mommy I tried to avoid it but a) it's in sooo many things you don't even realize, and b) telling me I can't have dairy is like telling me I can't breathe air.  I pretty much live for cheese and Greek yogurt.

So after a week of us BOTH being absolutely miserable, I called the pediatrician back and said nothing I had tried was helping.  She was fresh out of ideas, so I started doing some poking around on the internet about lactose sensitivity.  As a last resort, I decided to try two days of strictly hypoallergenic formula - and lo and behold we had a much calmer and more pleasant Mara.

So, long story longer... I'm not sure she'll be enjoying any 'breakfast cheesecake' anytime soon?  Especially not of the peanut butter variety.


But at least I can again.

 :) :) :)

Please note:  This is a breakfast, not dessert.  So don't expect the ingredients below to magically morph into a 1,000-calorie slice of heaven from The Cheesecake Factory, ok?  It still beats a a bland bowl of oatmeal any day!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast "Cheesecake"

  • 1 6-oz. container plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 3 T. creamy peanut butter
  • 2 t. honey
  • 1 1.76-oz package chocolate BelVita breakfast biscuits (4 biscuits), crushed

Mix yogurt with peanut butter and honey in a small bowl.

Reserve a bit of the crushed biscuits for topping, then divide remaining crushed biscuits between 2 separate, small serving bowls/cups.  Top each with half of yogurt mixture, then reserved biscuit crumbs.  Serves 2.

Original Recipe

Monday, December 3, 2012

Red & Green Striped Sugar Cookies (and a Giveaway!)


Is it seriously December already?

Time is flying, I can't believe my little munchkin is almost 6 weeks old & I feel like she has already changed so much!


Living up to her nickname of Mini Smalls, so far she takes after her mommy in a few regards.  For one, she likes her sleep.  (Sadly, she enjoys sleeping in the day a little more than the night, but hey it's a work in progress).  

Two, she loves to eat!  She was a peanut at birth but now (as my brother-in-law would say) she's getting her 'man weight.'  At her 4-week checkup, she was up to 9 pounds and 21 inches.  The pediatrician actually told us we can't let her eat so much at each feeding- ha!  When she's awake, all she wants to do is eat and even when she's asleep you can tell by her mouth movements she's dreaming about eating.

Ugh, truly a girl after my own heart.

Now if only she could have solid foods, I bet she would LOVE these sugar cookies with her milk.  (Santa would probably love them too.  Just sayin'.) 

Which brings me to my next point - I am excited to introduce my second promised guest, Amy of Yummi Yogi   We have actually never met in person, but she is a friend of a friend of a friend (!) who contacted me a couple months ago about doing a giveaway on V&B.

Yummi Yogi is company that makes cookie cutters in the shape of yoga poses - so cute, right?


Call me a nerd, but to me this is one of the coolest things about blogging.  You get to 'meet' so many amazing & interesting people that you might not have otherwise come in contact with!

Anyway, not only was Amy kind enough to giveaway of one of her designs to a lucky V&B reader, she also shared her recipe for these super fun striped sugar cookies AND a peek into her life via the interview below.  

Please check out her online shop for any yoga (and baking!) lovers on your Christmas gift list.  Or maybe for yourself... don't be shy now ;)

To enter the cookie cutter giveaway-- now through December 16, 2012, just leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite holiday recipe or tradition.  I will randomly choose a winning comment, and that person will receive one of Amy's adorable cookie cutters!  Easy peasy! (Please  just make sure there's a way for me to contact you in your comment in the event you are the winner.)

Interview with Amy from Yummi Yogi

Please tell us a little bit about your family and the area where you live.
I have a beautiful new 10 month old baby girl, Elle Ruby and I married my soul mate, Dennis but I call him Dube (Doobie) which is our last name. (long time nick name for him) We reside along the coast of NJ. I love our area and to be able to see the water everyday if we choose to is so refreshing. Especially in the summer for beach yoga :)

How did you get started doing yoga, and how long have you been practicing?
I started yoga over 5 years ago searching for more activities to do after the company I was working for closed down. I was familiar with yoga from my childhood friends growing up but never practiced when I was younger. I thought I would try different classes at my club/gym and after I walked into my first yoga class I never stopped! 

What do you enjoy most about the hobby?
I feel very connected to yoga and love how it encompasses your mind and body off the mat as well. It is challenging which I like and it helps me stay focused. There’s always something new to learn that is why it is called a practice, it will never be perfect and I love that. You can express yourself on the matt and let your mind go which is not easy for a lot of people to do. I wish everyone can experience it. And I’ve met some really amazing people through yoga.

What were some of the things that were most important to you to include in your business model? 
I not only want to reach yoga studios with this product but to be able to grow the business into health food markets as I really enjoy the life style of healthy eating/living and also to children. Both through kids yoga schools/groups etc., and also with kids eating healthy, very important to me!
I am also interested in helping my retailers grow their business. So I provide a free marketing service to them. I try to provide merchandising ideas for selling the cutters and also help promote their business events etc., through my platform of social media. I am a small business and hope to help other small business grow too. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting their own business?
That it is possible! I believe organization is a key factor to being successful. Take your time, think everything through and go for it! If you have a true passion for something you won’t mind putting the time and energy into your business because it is so rewarding.

What are some of the biggest challenges of being a business owner?  Most rewarding aspects?
For me at this stage in my career, it is the time management now that I am also a mom and have my own business. I have a strong support system with my family that I am grateful for but it is very challenging! I love what I do and I also love being a mom :)

The reward from a business aspect is that I am proud of myself that I have come this far and that I am positive about what the future holds for Yummi Yogi. Each day I grow and learn more and more. I love that the customers & followers really respond positively to what I am doing which makes me happy as well. I also love that I can be creative with the cookies and also from the marketing perspective too. I do every part of my business from designing the cutters, assembling the cutters, to slapping on the shipping labels and also marketing my business and creating the website.

How did you become interested in cooking/baking, and which do you prefer?
I love to cook and explore all types of styles. My favorite is Indian. I don’t eat meat but do eat fish on occasion. Baking is something that I have grown up with especially during the holidays, it is tradition to make a plethora of cookies and give them away as gifts. I like to bake because I can be creative in a visual way with decorating etc., however cooking is being creative with your ingredients which is fun too!

Where do you like to go to find inspiration on recipes and different ways to use your products?
I love to see what others are coming up with in the kitchen. For cooking I usually take bits and pieces of different recipes and mold them into my own. For baking, I don’t always look at baking recipes but just seasonal inspirations and then try to incorporate it into using the cookie cutters, like the corn bread and chilli for example. I love pinterest and food blogs for ideas too.

What are some of your family’s favorite holiday traditions & foods?
I grew up with both my parents having polish parents so there was a lot of pierogies and cabbage! At Easter we always would dye eggs and before our Easter Brunch everyone at the table would take a decorated egg out of the basket and usually one of the kids starts by turning to their neighbor and “bang” eggs. Who’s ever egg got cracked loses that round. And it continues around until there is a winner or crackless egg :) We still do this today. 

Christmas was all about the cookies! From Kruscyki’s to anise cookies to name a few.

I hope to carry on my family traditions and also create a few new ones of our own too. I think it’s important for the kids to have that and now as an adult I really appreciate it. 

Thank you to Amy for sharing her story & talent with us!  Now... get to commenting so you can win one of these cuties for yourself!

Striped Sugar Cookies
  • 1 lb butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 C. sugar
  • 5 C. sifted flour
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • red & green food coloring
Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla & mix well.  On low speed, add one cup of flour at a time & mix until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place into 2 bowls.  Mix green food coloring into one bowl to desired shade.  Mix  red food coloring into other bowl to desired shade.  Wrap each ball of dough in plastic and flatten with a rolling pin.  Refrigerate for 2 hours, then preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place a new piece of saran wrap on a flat surface.Cut a 1”x 6” strip of red dough and place on the new piece of saran wrap. Repeat with green dough and place green strip next to red strip. Continue this process until there is enough dough to fit a Yummi Yogi™ cookie cutter. (Approx. 5” x 5”).  Gently roll dough again to join strips, then place dough in freezer 5 minutes.

Cut dough with cookie cutter and transfer to a greased cookie sheet or a non-stick baking mat. Gently press dough out of cookie cutter onto sheet and bake in preheated oven 10-14 minutes.  Cool briefly on sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.   

Family Recipe & Cookie Photos Courtesy of Amy Dube, Yummi Yogi™

*Note:  I did not receive any compensation for this post, only one product to give away.  All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pumpkin Tiramisu



Today I am excited to introduce to you a good friend of mine, Pauline.  Pauline is married to one of Mr. Vittles childhood friends, Bryan, and over the years she and I have found we have a lot in common - particularly a love of cooking & baking!  She is a middle school English teacher, so she also happens to be a great writer.  She has always been a wonderful supporter of V&B and I am honored to have her guest post.  She's been kind enough to share not only a special Thanksgiving recipe with us, but also a peek into her holiday traditions.  So a big thank you to Pauline, and a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thanksgiving is a bittersweet time for me both literally and figuratively.  The sweet part is that Thanksgiving is a holiday that symbolizes my two favorite passions…family and cooking!  I love the shades of amber and scarlet leaves, I love the flavors of nutmeg and pumpkin, I love the sounds of neighbors of all ages playing touch-football in their yards, and the scent of thyme and mirepoix sautéing in preparation for stuffing.  On the other hand, the bitter part is that my job prohibits me from ever hosting my own Norman Rockwellesque Thanksgiving. On top of enduring an hour commute each way, I am a teacher and have 80 parent conferences the days and nights leading up to the holiday.  It is exhausting.   In addition, my husband and I travel from New Jersey to Queens, New York and battle at least three hours of white-knuckle driving in order to celebrate with 45 members of  his side of the family.   It is well-worth the drive, and I love that his family’s tradition has become my tradition;  however, it presents me with a conundrum. 

What do I bring to Thanksgiving dinner that does the following:

  • is not time-consuming
  • travels well
  • does not require me to use an oven or do any preparation in someone else’s kitchen
  • reflects the elegance of the holiday and stands out in a crowd of golden homemade pies

The answer… pumpkin tiramisu.

Pumpkin Tiramisu

The basic version of this recipe appeared in Bon Appetit in November 2006.  I made major changes in the ingredients and measurements.  This recipe must be made 1 day ahead of time, which makes it perfect for Thanksgiving.  I serve it in a glass trifle dish because you can see the layers and colors.  The quantities below will fit your basic trifle dish.  However, you can use any deep serving dish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¼ cups chilled whipping cream
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 12 ounces of mascarpone cheese (it comes in 8 oz. containers)
  • 22.5 ounces canned pumpkin (I prefer Libby’s Pure Pumpkin, and it comes in 15 oz. cans)
  • 1 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 packages of halved, soft ladyfingers  (24 total) *
  • ¼ cup of Frangelico (It is a hazelnut liquor)
  • 1 bag of Gingersnap cookies (I prefer Archway and crush them in a Ziploc bag with a hammer)
  • 1 bag of toffee bits or Heathbar bits (found in the baking aisle)

Preparation:
1)      Beat whipping cream and sugar until soft peaks form.  Add mascarpone cheese, pumpkin, and pumpkin pie spice; beat just until filling is smooth.
2)      Line bottom of trifle dish with one layer of ladyfingers (crowd them in and cover the bottom).
3)      Lightly brush ladyfingers with Frangelico.  Air on the side of caution.
4)      Spread about ¾ cup-1 cup of pumpkin filling over ladyfingers.
5)      Cover filling with a thin layer of crushed gingersnap cookies and toffee bits/Heathbar bits.
6)      Repeat layering (ladyfingers through toffee bits/Heathbar bits) until you reach the top of the trifle dish.  The final layer should be the gingersnap cookies and toffee/Heathbar bits).
7)      Cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.  Serves 8.

*Note:  Lady fingers vary in quantity by brand.  I prefer the soft ladyfingers because it is easier to layer in a round trifle dish.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Apple Crumb Pie

***If you can find it in your hearts, please help the victims of Hurricane Sandy by making a donation to the Red Cross... every little bit helps!***


So if there's one thing I've learned recently, it's that your world can be turned upside down in a matter of weeks.

Just for kicks, let's look at a little timeline, shall we?
  • Monday, October 22, 2012: First day of Maternity Leave (23 days prior to my due date)
  • Thursday, October 25, 2012: Mara Melissa is born at 37 weeks at 2:44PM - 6 lb, 7 oz, 19 inches
  • Saturday, October 27, 2012: We are discharged from the hospital at 12PM
  • Monday, October 29, 2012: "Superstorm Sandy" hits the Jersey Shore - we lose power around 7PM
  • Thursday, November 1, 2012:  Mara is admitted to the hospital with jaundice
  • Friday, November 2, 2012: Mara is discharged from the hospital
  • Saturday, November 3, 2012: We drive to my hometown of Point Pleasant Beach to see the damage, and return home that evening to find our power has been restored
  • Monday, November 5, 2012: Mara has her first pediatrician visit and is now 6 lb 10 oz - the doctor is very happy with her progress
  • Wednesday, November 7, 2012: Nor'easter brings 7 inches of snow to our area, and we lose power again

So essentially, I went from being giddy about my last day of work and making freezer meals & apple crumb pie to being a stressed-out vampire.

For those of you that are interested... let me take it back to the beginning.  Warning: I am a proud, new mama and I happen to have a lot of stories to tell at the moment - so for those of you just here for the apple crumb pie, I hear you, see recipe at the bottom ;)


Anywho... Thursday morning of October 25, I woke up very early with some pesky abdominal cramps.  I thought maybe I was finally experiencing those Braxton-Hicks contractions I kept hearing so much about.

But as the day wore on, the pain got worse & worse.  I tried to power through it, cleaning pretty much the entire house and doing other various chores on my to-do list (like paying the mortgage & watching a 30-minute mandatory work presentation online about taxpayer confidentiality- woo hoo!).  But eventually it got to the point where I could not concentrate on anything.  The only thing that gave me even the slightest relief was a hot shower.

I had an appointment with my OB practice at 2:30PM, but by noon I feared I would not make it til then.  The pains were severe & coming in waves, but not in any recognizable pattern.  I truly thought something might be wrong with the baby.  I called the doctor's office & asked if there was any way they could take me earlier, and they told me to come right then.

Luckily their office is less than 10 minutes away, so after a painful ride there and pacing laps outside the office waiting area, I was seen by an OB.  She did an exam and looked at me dumbfounded. "Honey, you are in LABOR. You're 6-7cm dilated and you need to get to the hospital right away.  How did you get here?"

I told her I drove, and she deduced that if I made it there, I could make it another 10 minutes to the hospital on my own.  So she called the hospital and off I went, calling to explain to Mr. Vittles on the way that I was... in labor?  And he better come to the hospital as soon as he could.  And ... "Ugggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Sorry, contraction."

Unfortunately the area where he typically works is about an hour from our house, but I figured that was plenty of time.  From everything I'd heard about labor, I'd be in the hospital for quite a while before our daughter made her appearance.

Which was a good thing & a bad thing, because that meant I had a number of HOURS more of this pain?  Get real.  I was already dreaming of an epidural.

I pulled up to the valet at the hospital, stunned him with my contraction-bearing, grimacing silence, and he figured out pretty quickly that I needed a wheelchair up to the maternity ward.  When I got there (by this time it was about 1PM), I was greeted by nurses and another OB in the practice, Dr. Keelan.

From that point on things got a little blurry.  I got situated in my bed, got hooked up to an IV & fetal monitor, and they called the anesthesiologist.  When he arrived, he was taking his time, waiting "to get some of those fluids in me"- meanwhile my contractions were barely giving me time in between to breathe.  Getting impatient, the nurse pointed out to him that I was already more than 8cm dilated - labor was progressing quickly and there was no time to wait for the slow drip to enter my system.

"What! Why did you wait so long?" he asked, and she snapped "Because she just got here!"

Holding completely still for the number of minutes it took to actually do the procedure was perhaps the hardest part of the whole birth process for me... but 15 minutes later I was feeling great.

Until about 20 minutes after that when I was feeling ... pain again?

According to Dr. Keelan, that meant it was time to push.  At that point, Mr. Vittles had arrived, and also my stepdad Chris (who actually got there first because Mr. V called & told him he had to drive home from work).  I couldn't believe she was almost here already! What happened to the hot bath and massage & breathing techniques that my 'coach' and I learned in childbirth class?  The closest I had gotten to the bathtub that day was scrubbing it.  This was not the endless hours of labor that I had been anticipating.

But Dr. Keelan told me that how long this next part took was up to me - some women push for hours.

Hours? Oh no.

Thankfully, after 15 minutes of some determined pushing (not to mention faces & noises I never knew I could make) Mara Melissa was born!  Since everything went so quickly, our little angel looked pristine... not to mention she had a full head of hair.


We hadn't even settled on any names yet, so we got to work reviewing our mental lists.  One name they both had in common was Mara, so that seemed like a no-brainer.  Her middle name is after my husband's sister, Melissa (the cat-dancing extraordinaire).

While we were in the hospital, we kept hearing about this hurricane Sandy that was supposed to come up the eastern coast & make landfall in New Jersey within a few days.  After the problems Irene caused for us last summer, we started getting nervous.  If we lost power for days again, this time it would be cold - and more importantly, this time we would have a newborn.  We called around to area stores looking for a generator, but there were none to be had and no promise of any coming in.

By some miracle, my father-in-law found a lead on a new shipment coming to a Home Depot in Philly.  He got up early in the morning, drove all the way out there & waited on line.  From what I understand he was one of the last to actually get one off of the truck.  He truly saved the day as we would soon find out.

When we got home with Mara on Saturday, Mr. Vittles got right to work preparing for the storm.  Other  than spending a little time with Mara's many visitors, he barely rested that day or Sunday.  By Monday, we were nervous watching the forecast - unlike most hurricanes that come this far up the coast, this one was not projected to make a right turn out to sea - in fact, Sandy was making a beeline for our area.

By Monday night, it got extremely windy and our power went out that evening.  Mr. V got the generator going and we were able to power a decent bit of the house (most importantly at that point, the television so we could see what was going on).  Outside, a piece of siding blew off the house and a large tree branch crushed part of our fence.  We eventually moved down into the basement because we were afraid something might come through a living room window.

Not impressed with Superstorm Sandy

Neither one of us slept that night.  I was up with the baby most of the night anyway, but we were both pretty stressed.  The following morning, we turned the TV back on and saw what damage Sandy left in her wake.  My hometown of Point Pleasant Beach, NJ (just 10 minutes from where we live now) was devastated.  I read on Facebook that my stepdad and his wife had a foot and a half of water through their whole first floor.  They just spent so much time this past winter renovating the house, only to have their hard work ruined.

As the day wore on, the terrible stories and images kept coming.  People died from trees falling on their house, people's homes burned to the ground in massive fires that were unable to be put out (or sometimes, even accessed) by firefighters, and floods carried some people's homes right off the foundation.  To date, so many people still are without power, and many more are unable to even access their homes.

After day one, we also realized that we may not be able to get gas for a while, so we started rationing the cans of gas that we had.  We would turn up the heat, let the house get super warm, and then turn the generator off for a few hours.

On Thursday, Mara's one-week birthday, I promised my grandmother that Mr. V would check out her house in Point Pleasant Beach and report back any damage.  Before the storm, my aunt took her up to Harrison NY (where as I understand, they are still without power).  However, late that morning I noticed a yellowing in the corner of Mara's eyes.

We were supposed to see the pediatrician on the Monday following our discharge, however the doctor's office was closed due to the storm and had yet to reopen.  I called spoke to the doctor on call, and based on what I described she thought it was best that we went to the emergency room.

So back we went to the hospital.  They took her blood (after pricking my poor sweet girl FOUR times and her mommy having a sobbing fit) and her bilirubin levels were slightly elevated.  The pediatrician on duty explained that at those levels, they would normally just have us come back the next day for another blood test.  But she consulted with Mara's pediatrician, and given the situation with the storm they decided she should be admitted overnight to spend some time under the blue "bili-light" and be monitored.

Mr. V went home to turn the generator back on (we were trying to avoid losing all the food in our 2 refrigerators) and I got Mara settled in to her new digs.  Then he came back to the hospital, and I drove home to shower and pack a little bag.  There was only enough space for one of us to stay in the room, so I slept there overnight.  Mara had to be fed 2 oz every 2 hours- I was insistent on keeping up breast feeding if possible, but the doctor wanted her to spend as much time under the light as she could.  So I requested use of a pump and was able to feed her bottles under the light.

(Which, by the way, lit up the room like a UFO or something.  Good thing I was dead tired and slept in spite of it.  Mara didn't seem to mind though - she was nice & cozy and looked like she was tanning in her little eye mask!  I think we're gonna have a beach girl on our hands.)

'tanning' like a true Jersey Shore Girl

The next day, Mara was taken out of the light mid-morning and finally got to meet her pediatrician.  (Our doctor was away when Mara was born, so her partner saw her before we were discharged.)  The first thing the doctor did when she walked in was hug me.  That's when I knew I made the right choice in picking a pediatrician!

Mara's levels went down overnight and the jaundice had receded to just her face.  The doctor was happy with her progress, and said she could be discharged that afternoon.  Mr. Vittles came back to the hospital mid-morning, almost killed the woman at the front security desk for telling him to wait until 'visiting hours' due to the emergency storm situation (since when are parents considered visitors?).  Then he stayed with the munchkin while I made a run out to Target (one of the few places in the area that had power) to get myself a pump and some other much-needed supplies.

Mara was such a peanut when she was born that almost all the clothes we received as gifts were too big for her!  Luckily I had bought one set of onesies and shirts that were newborn-sized, but a little more variety would be nice.  It was so weird to be out and about by myself- after a week I was already so used to having a little person attached to me constantly!

We were discharged in the afternoon and hoped to return home to power, but no such luck.  However Mr. Vittles had found an open & stocked gas station about a half hour inland the night before, so we had refilled our tanks for the generator.

On Saturday we made it to my grandmother's house, and I was truly shocked by the level of devastation that many parts of my hometown had seen.  (And sadly, there are towns in far worse shape than Point Pleasant Beach in this area).

Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

The street that runs parallel to the beach was completely covered in sand by the storm.  Some of it had already been "plowed" and you could drive down the street, but other parts were still inaccessible by car.

Ocean Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ (cleared)

Most of the homes/businesses near either the beach, inlet, or any of the 3 lakes in town got water in them and peoples' ruined belongings were stacked along the sides of the road.

Luckily for my grandmother, her house is raised up over a crawl space - water did ruin both her car and her garage, but you can see the water line came within 2 inches of the first floor of her house.

you can see the water line between the top of her steps & bottom of door

She did not get water inside the house, it's completely dry.  In comparison, her next door neighbor's house is right at ground level and everything in their first floor was out at the curb.

When Mr. Vittles and I got home from our little excursion, we found that our power was restored.  It was such a relief that some aspect of life was about to return to normalcy!  We spent the next few days trying to get our house back in order, get into a routine, and most importantly enjoy some time together as a family.

Daddy & Mara

(Somewhere in the midst of all this I caught a terrible cold, almost lost my voice but I think I'm finally on the upswing!)  This past Monday, Miss Mara had her first official pediatrician appointment and we were happy to hear that all was well... she had even exceeded her birth weight by 3 oz!

(We were also happy to welcome our first trick-or-treaters that night in our new neighborhood, since Gov. Christie officially changed the date of Halloween in New Jersey this year to November 5!)

Today, our little munchkin has snoozed most of the day away. (Oh yeah, to our friends & family that keep begging to see Mara's eyeballs -- come to my house at 2AM!  She'll be happy to show you her peepers then).  Mr. Vittles took the day off, and we were back to watching The Weather Channel as inches of snow fall outside our window from the Nor'easter they've dubbed "Winter Storm Athena."

Except the snow is so wet and heavy that the power went out... again.  This time so did the satellite TV.  So it looks like we're back to partial power and the generator off & on schedule until further notice!

The past couple weeks have been crazy, stressful, heart-breaking, amazing, and awe-inspiring all at the same time.  But every day I am humbled by this new little life we've created.  And I know it will just keep getting better and better!


As for Mother Nature... lay off us, already!  I think this area has been through enough now.

Apple Crumb Pie
  • 1 9" unbaked pie shell (either refrigerated, or your favorite recipe)
  • 6 C. apples, peeled, cored, & thinly sliced
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2/3 C. sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. cloves
  • 1/8 t. allspice
  • pinch salt
Crumb Topping:
  • 1/2 C. (1 stick) butter, cut in tablespoons
  • 1 C. flour
  • 1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. cloves
  • 1/8 t. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.

Peel, core, and slice apples thinly.  Place in large bowl.  Sprinkle with lemon juice, and stir with rubber spatula to coat apples.

In separate small bowl, whisk cornstarch, flour, sugar, spices, and salt until combined.  Sprinkle mixture over apples, and stir to coat evenly.

Arrange apples in pie shell, mounding slightly in the middle.  Place entire pie dish onto a baking sheet to catch any drips or rogue crumbs.

In a medium bowl, combine all crumb topping ingredients.  Cut butter into dry ingredients using a pastry blender or two knives.  (I actually start with a pastry blender, then I just use my hands to rub the ingredients between my fingers - I feel like everything gets mixed more evenly this way).

Sprinkle crumb mixture over top of pie evenly.  Bake 50-60 minutes until crumbs are browned.  Cool on rack at least 2 hours before cutting.

Adapted from Family Recipe

Monday, October 29, 2012

She's Here!

This past Thursday, Mr. Vittles and I got a little surprise...

'Mini Smalls' came 3 weeks early!

I would like to introduce to you the newest member of our family- Mara Melissa.  She was born at 2:44PM on October 25, 2012, 6 lbs 7 oz and 19 inches.


To sum it up- I'm hopelessly in love.  She is pretty much the sweetest thing I have ever laid eyes on.

So... despite the fact that Hurricane Sandy is upon us and is devastating the coastal areas around us...

Despite the fact that I've hardly slept in days...

Despite the fact that I only ended up with three days off of work to 'rest & prepare' for Mara's arrival...

And despite the fact that and I only cooked two of the freezer meals on my list (ha ha) .. life is extraordinarily good :)

I will post more soon when things calm down.  I also have two really fun guest posts coming up, which I am so excited about!  

Until then... all my fellow east-coasters (especially those of you at the Jersey Shore) - be safe in this storm! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Countdown to Mini Smalls


Today was my last day of work before maternity leave.

It's so weird to think I won't be going back there for months.  It's also weird to think of all the changes that will take place in our lives during that time.

Mini Smalls is due November 14, and time has been flying.  She will be here before we know it!

I think the nesting phase has officially set in - I can't stop going over my mental list of things I want to do.  I even dream about it at night.  As one of my coworkers put it, "Oh yeah, soon enough you'll be washing the walls in your house."

Aside from apparently wall-washing, one of the bullet points on my list is to prepare some make-ahead meals that I can freeze and reheat later when we're zombies.

I have been perusing other blogs for inspiration, and here are some of my favorite ideas that I can't wait to try.  Do you have any good freezer recipes to suggest?


Crockpot Teriyaki Chicken from Ring Around The Rosies



image from Skinny Taste

Spinach Lasagna Rolls from Skinny Taste



image from Make Ahead Meals

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes from Make Ahead Meals



image from Emma Christensen

Make-Ahead Calzones from The Kitchn

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Bread


So I've been all about the easy stuff lately, at least when it comes to the kitchen.

At the grocery store, I recently found this refrigerated, roll-out pizza crust with whole grains- which I am super excited about!  It's by Pillsbury, called Artisan Pizza Crust.

Ok ok, I know it's still not as good (or good for you) as homemade, but at least it's a slightly healthier, convenient option.

Now somewhere deep in the dusty annals of my brain lay a recollection of this taco ring that we made in Home Ec in high school, where we braided dough around a meat & cheese filling.

Do not ask me how I remembered this, considering I have to write myself notes to remind myself of pretty much everything these days - but I did.

That, in turn, gave me the idea to do a braided stuffed bread.  And what better to stuff bread with than buffalo chicken and cheese (especially when your husband is Mr. Vittles?)


By the way, I apologize for the atrocious photos - it's not that I'm regressing back to the early days of V&B, but rather that I made this for dinner and there was zero natural light available.  And the aforementioned lazy factor prevented me from getting out my special indoor light.

So deal, ok?  You get the idea.

Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Bread

  • 1 can refrigerated roll-out pizza crust (I recommend Pillsbury Artisan crust)
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked & shredded
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 t. garlic, minced
  • 1/2 C. Frank's Red Hot sauce (or hot sauce of your choosing)
  • 1/4 C. blue cheese dressing
  • 3/4 C. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • sesame seeds, for garnishing (optional)

Unroll pizza crust onto a cookie sheet that's been greased or lined with nonstick foil.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place shredded chicken in a large bowl.  In a small frying pan, melt butter over medium heat until foaming.  Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Pour butter mixture over chicken in bowl, and add hot sauce.  Mix well to coat chicken evenly.

Turn the cookie sheet with the crust so the short side is facing you.  Evenly distribute chicken mixture down the middle of the crust, vertically.  Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, make a horizontal cut in the middle of each side of the crust, to within a 1/2" of the filling.

You will now have 4 squares of crust surrounding the chicken.  In the very middle of each of those squares, make another cut to within a 1/2" of the filling.  You will now have a total of 8 strips surrounding the chicken.

In the center of each of those strips, make another cut to within a 1/2" of the chicken so that you have a total of 16 strips (8 on each side of the chicken).  See diagram below (the tan color is crust, the peach is the chicken, and the dotted lines are the cuts you need to make):
Once you have all the cuts completed, drizzle top of chicken with blue cheese dressing.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.  Then, using two hands, alternate pulling the strips across filling to cover.  At the ends of the braid, pinch any holes together so none of the filling comes out.

Brush the beaten egg white over the top of your braid, and sprinkle with sesame seeds (if desired).  Bake in preheated oven 12-15 minutes, or until top is browned.  Let sit 5 minutes on sheet before cutting and serving.  Serves 4.

Original Recipe

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Coconut Blondies


I'm beginning to think there needs to be at least 4 more hours in the day.

I am still working full-time, and at 34 weeks pregnant I feel like have so many things I want to do to prepare for the baby.

Plus, be social with friends & family.  Maybe relax & watch a TV show.

Blog.  Bake some coconut blondies.

Hmm what else... oh yeah, SLEEP.  That is, if I could get comfortable, which is nearly impossible these days with the raging heartburn and feeling like I can't breathe.  (My father reads this occasionally so allow me to clarify - not in a 'hospitalization required' sort of way, Dad.  It's normal for us preggos to feel a bit winded, things are getting awfully crowded in there so that means the ol' lungs can't expand like they used to.)

But oh well, I guess it's all just preparing me for the ZERO sleep I'll probably be getting in a matter of weeks!

I'm starting to rethink this 4 hours though - maybe we should go with an extra 6 or 8 hours in the day, just to be safe?

Coconut Blondies

1 C. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
3/4 C. packed light brown sugar
1/3 C. (5 T.) butter, softened
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 C. (6 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 C. sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease 8-inch square baking pan.

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, beat brown sugar, butter and vanilla extract until creamy.  Beat in egg.  Gradually beat in flour mixture until combined and no flour streaks remain.

Stir in morsels and coconut.  Press into prepared baking pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack, then into bars.  Makes 16 bars.

Recipe Slightly Adapted from Nestle Very Best Baking

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chewy Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pretzel Granola Bars


This past week has been amazing and crazy and wonderful.

Between a visit from my best friend Lauren & her family, and my baby shower on Sunday, I got to see (almost) all of my favorite people in the world.

(I don't have any pics from the baby shower yet though, so that is To Be Continued!)

Lauren and her husband are both managers at her mother's restaurant (Fire Island Grille) in Myrtle Beach, so  unfortunately they were only able to stay until Saturday.  But I was SO excited to see them, and their son Holt!


I know I go on and on about him every time I get to see him, but I think Holt might honestly be one of the most low-key toddlers I've ever met.  Mr. Vittles and I were shocked at how "chill" he is for being 22 months old.


On Thursday night, the 5 of us watched the Giants slaughter beat the Panthers.  Holt sat on the edge of the couch, with his arm up on the armrest, and 'talked' to Mr. V for at least 3 minutes straight - mostly gibberish of course, but complete with hand gestures and expressive faces to drive his points home.

Needless to say, he had us all cracking up.

On Saturday morning, we got to have a little high school reunion with our girlfriends Vanessa and Mary, and their husbands.  Mary also has a 22-month old named Bryce (born just a week before Holt) who is adorable, and it was so awesome to see the kids play together!


We ladies also had fun 'playing' together ;)


So anyway... about these granola bars.  Usually when I have house guests, I like to make special food.  But at 32 weeks preggo, I didn't feel much like spending a lot of time in the kitchen!  I did, however, make a loaf of pumpkin bread, and also these granola bars.

The last time Lauren and Tyler visited us, Tyler loved the Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies and ate most of the batch himself.

This time it was the Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pretzel Granola Bars that stole his heart.  Lauren told me that while I was at work, he ate 3 the first morning they were there.  So she ever-so-gently reminded him that I probably "slaved" in the kitchen to make those while he was just devouring half the batch in one sitting.

He shrugged & said "They're really good."


Luckily, I hardly slaved over them ... and I love that he loved them!

Chewy Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pretzel Granola Bars

  • 1/4 C. butter
  • 1/4 C. honey
  • 1/3 C. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 C. creamy peanut butter
  • 2 C. quick cooking oats {not to be confused with rolled oats!}
  • 1 C. crispy rice cereal
  • 1/2 C. coarsely crushed pretzels
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 2 T. mini chocolate chips

Line an 8x8 square pan with foil, and grease foil with nonstick spray.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir oats, rice cereal, and pretzels together.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter, honey, and brown sugar together over medium high heat until mixture comes to a bubble.  Reduce the heat and add the peanut butter; cook 2 more minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, pour in vanilla and stir.

Pour peanut butter mixture over dry ingredients, and mix to coat evenly.  Using a spatula, empty contents of bowl into prepared pan, and pack the mixture into the pan very tightly.  You really want to press them down so they stick together.  Sprinkle top of bars with mini chocolate chips and press down lightly (& quickly before they start to melt!)

Cool to room temperature for two hours, or until the chocolate chips are set.  Lift out of pan using the edges of the foil, and cut into 8 bars.  Stack bars between layers of waxed paper, and store in airtight container at room temperature.

Recipe Adapted from Lauren's Latest (who adapted from Rachael Ray)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Frappe... In The Raw



Is it just me, or is anyone else done with summer?

Maybe it's because I'm currently lugging around a 2 1/2-pound watermelon in my stomach, but I am totally over this season.

It doesn't help that Fall is my absolute favorite time of year, and I probably got a taste of it too early going up to Canada a few weeks ago. I want it to be here NOW!

I want cool, crisp air. I want jeans and sweatshirts. I want fallen leaves and apple-picking.

I want PUMPKIN SPICE!

Who's with me on that?

I recently applied through BlogHer to review In The Raw sugar, and when I was looking at their collection of amazing recipes, I noticed all the fall-themed ones were jumping out at me.

So naturally, I had to make the Pumpkin Pie Frappe ... which totally lives up to its name, and gets me even more excited for the upcoming season change!

Is it wrong that I want to swim in this creamy, pumpkiny goodness?


But in all seriousness - for those of you who are regular readers, hopefully you know by now that I'm very picky about my reviews. Making money off of a hobby is great, but that's not why I blog, and I would never personally endorse a company, product, or recipe I didn't truly like.

So that being said, I highly recommend checking out In The Raw's products. Like me, you've probably seen their sugar and Stevia packets in coffee shops and the like, but did you know that these products are also offered in bulk for baking and cooking?

Check out the lineup of goodies I received from In The Raw, which included their all-natural Turbinado sugar, organic agave nectar, and zero-calorie Stevia. So fun!


In all honesty, I was a strictly-white sugar type of gal until a couple years ago when I was diagnosed with a hormone imbalance; it puts me at a higher risk for diabetes if I'm not mindful about my carb intake. So at that point, I started looking into less-refined sugars and sugar alternatives and was pleasantly surprised to find out there are some really great options available.

For one, Stevia is the only low-calorie sweetener that I actually enjoy - I think it tastes the closest to 'regular' sugar, and I love that it's natural, not made from chemicals.

Agave nectar is great too because it's slightly sweeter than sugar, so you can use less, and it has a lower glycemic index. (In The Raw's Agave is also organic, so that's a bonus!)

But if all that health stuff doesn't tickle your fancy ... I recently discovered that In The Raw has this hilarious Au Natural In The Raw app that will 'censor' your sassy food photos.

Yep you heard me right. You can blur out your goodies', umm ... goodies?

In the age of 'pinning' and 'food porn' sites, one of the most fun things about baking is sharing your creations via photo. And now your hottest desserts can go "au natural" on the internet... without fear of showing too much!


How cute is that?? To view other photos or make your own, just visit hotintherawaction.com (and perhaps warn your significant other first, in case they see the site in your browser history - ha!)

And if that wasn't enough fun for you ... In The Raw is also giving you all a chance to win a $100 Cooking.com gift card! Entering is easy peasy, just visit the recipe section of their website, and leave a comment on this post telling me which recipe you'd most like to make.

Official Sweepstakes Rules:
No duplicate comments.
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
"b) Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the
following unique term in your tweet message: ""#SweepstakesEntry""; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post"
c) Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
d) For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
The Official Rules are available here.
This sweepstakes runs from 9/10/12-9/30/12.
Please also be sure to visit the In The Raw brand page on BlogHer, where you can read other bloggers' posts and get more chances to win.

In the meantime... bring on the pumpkin spice!

Pumpkin Pie Frappe
  • 1/3 C. canned pumpkin puree*
  • 1/4 C. Sugar In The Raw®
  • 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. ground allspice
  • 1 C. whole milk
  • 4 C. vanilla ice cream (slightly softened)
  • Grated nutmeg for garnish
Combine all the ingredients in an electric blender and blend until smooth. Serve in frosted glasses and garnish with the nutmeg. Makes 4 servings, about 3 1/2 cups.
*Be aware that there is a difference between pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie canned mix. The pumpkin puree works best for this recipe.
Note: The frappe can be stored in the freezer if not serving immediately. The consistency will be like soft ice cream.

Recipe from In The Raw

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Cookies


This past weekend we celebrated Mr. Vittles' cousin Devon's birthday.

Devon is awesome.  She's incredibly smart (a nurse practitioner), funny, charmingly OCD, and she has the nicest handwriting I've ever seen.

I wish I had a sample to show you.  Then again, maybe that's for the better, because you'd just be super jealous. (Trust me.)

For such a tiny thing though, she loooves food... and wine.  See Exhibit A:


I asked her mom, the hostess of the party, what we could contribute to the celebration- and apparently Devon requested I bake cookies.

Naturally, I was more than happy to comply.

Her mom hinted that she likes dark chocolate, so I knew it was the perfect time to test out these brownie cookies I bookmarked a while back.  I used dark chocolate morsels, threw in some peanut butter chips for good measure, and these bad boys did not disappoint.


They're really chocolaty and chewy like a brownie, but with the portability of a cookie.

Because let's face it - once birthday girls blow out their candles & eat their cake/pie, they need to make the rounds to their adoring fans!  They can't be bogged down with plates and napkins... it's all about the grab & go, baby.

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Cookies 

  • 1/2 C. (1 stick) butter, cut in 4 pieces
  • 4 1-oz. unsweetened chocolate baking squares, chopped
  • 1 10-oz. bag dark chocolate morsels, divided
  • 1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 C. sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C. peanut butter chips (I like Reese's brand)

Combine butter, unsweetened chocolate, and 1 1/2 cups of the dark chocolate morsels in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until butter and chocolate melt; cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to  350° F.  Line baking sheet(s)* with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt until combined; set aside.

In large bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with an electric mixer. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture, beating well.  Add melted chocolate mixture and beat well.  Stir in remaining dark chocolate morsels (about 1/3 C.) and all of the peanut butter chips.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 1 inch apart onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake 10 minutes in preheated oven. Cool slightly on baking sheets (2-3 minutes), then transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

*Note: You can bake two sheets at once, just be sure to adjust your oven's racks to the top & bottom third and you switch the sheets halfway through baking (move the one on the bottom to the top & vice versa) so they bake evenly.

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living Best Loved Cookies, Oxmoor House 2009

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Red Velvet Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling


Sometimes... things just don't work out the way you want them to in the kitchen.

Especially when you're 26 weeks pregnant, and preggo brain is in full effect.

So this past Friday morning, my stepdad Chris married his beautiful girlfriend of 2 years, Janice.  (This may sound strange to anyone reading for the first time- so just to explain, a) my mom passed away a few years ago and b) I lived with my stepdad since I was about 5, he and I are very close).

Chris & Janice had a really nice, quaint ceremony with some close family & friends on the beach early in the morning, and then invited everyone back to their house for breakfast.

Naturally, I wanted to bring some type of food to share, and I settled on muffins.

I know that one of Janice's favorites is red velvet, so my first thought was red velvet muffins.

However, after a quick search online, I didn't find many recipe choices.  I toyed with the idea of making my own, but I was concerned that creating something totally new had too much potential to backfire on me.

So I eventually decided I better stick with a more traditional recipe, and settled on lemon poppy seed muffins.  Easy peasy, right?

Right.

That is.... until your muffins are busy baking and you realize, OMG I have no recollection of cracking or mixing eggs, and there were definitely supposed to be two in the recipe.

Yep.  Completely forgot the eggs.

The muffins were still edible, and honestly they weren't even that bad without eggs.  But still, I felt like this mistake could not be my only contribution to their celebratory breakfast.

I might have just made another batch of the same thing... if I hadn't used all my poppy seeds in the eggless muffins.

Ahh!

So to sum things up... I picked a tried & true recipe as the "safe bet," only to end up screwing it up and making the red velvet ones anyway.

I was definitely a little nervous putting the red velvet batch in the oven, because the batter is a little more moist than a traditional muffin batter.  I had also envisioned the cream cheese filling staying closer to the top, but I guess since it was heavier than the batter, it sunk to the middle.


But despite my concerns, all in all I would call these a success.  I did have to sacrifice one for Mr. Vittles and me to taste test, just to make sure I wasn't poisoning anyone.  But we enjoyed them, and the guests who tried them seemed to as well.

They're nowhere near as fun (or as sweet) as a cupcake, so don't get your hopes up - this is still breakfast, people!  But if you're looking for something different, these could fit the bill.

Also, don't worry if cream cheese isn't your thing - you can just omit the filling.  I made a few plain ones to see how they'd come out, and to me they tasted just as good.

More importantly... congratulations to Janice and Chris :)  Mr. V and I were so happy to be a part of their special day, and wish them many years of love and laughter together!


Red Velvet Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Muffins:

  • 1 3/4 C. + 2 T. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 C. canola oil
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1 T. red food coloring

Filling:

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1/4 t. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, or coat with non-stick spray; set aside.

Make filling: In medium bowl, add cream cheese, yolk, sugar, and vanilla.  On low speed, mix filling ingredients until well-combined and no lumps remain.  Set bowl aside.

Make muffins: In large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to combine. In separate medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk eggs, oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and food coloring until combined.

Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, and pour in liquid mixture. Fold ingredients in with rubber spatula until just combined - do not overmix.

Divide batter evently amongst prepared muffin cups. Place a rounded tablespoon of cream cheese filling in the middle of each cup.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until tops look lightly browned & no longer 'wet.'  Let sit in pans briefly until cool enough to handle, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes 12 muffins.

Original Recipe

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gooey S'mores Bars


Sooo... I know I've been MIA again lately and I'm sorry.

Mr. Vittles and I have been super busy.  I just feel like there are not enough hours in the day!

Bad news out of the way first - my grandmother has unfortunately been ill this week, so I've spent a most of my evenings with her and my aunt at the hospital.  Unfortunately they don't know what is causing her issues yet, but she's been a trooper!  Hopefully we will get a resolution to that soon, and she'll be feeling better.

On a lighter note, I finally got my act together and started checking out baby stuff for my registry.

Holy time-consuming.

I have been talking to moms & soon-to-be-moms, poring over websites, reading reviews, and adding & deleting items for hours on end.  

And I'm still... not... done.

Soooo different from doing my wedding registry!  That was incredibly easy.  Mr. V and I had lived together for a while and acquired a lot of stuff, so I was mostly concerned with one thing - what do I want?

This is totally different.  Now I need to think about what I need, what's good, and what's safe.  

Or more like find out what I need, what's good and what's safe because let's face it - I HAVE NO IDEA!  (So feel free to leave me any comments telling me things you couldn't live without with your kids/friends' kids/family member's kids/whatever - I welcome suggestions!)

Aside from that, we also went away for a long weekend to my mother & father in-laws' vacation home on the St. Lawrence River in Canada.  Their place is in the Thousand Islands, and you can only get to it by boat.  

They already had a full house of 8 guests (5 adults & 3 kids), but still welcomed us and two of our friends!  The house (while adorable) is not overly big, but it sleeps a lot of people - so it worked out great.  Never a boring moment, AND we all got a bed - best of both worlds!

I wish I had pictures, but you'll have to take my word for it - the area is just so beautiful and relaxing.  

And we had so much fun!  I was really reveling in the cool air, outside shower, fun conversation, and delicious foods.

One night we sat around a fire and made s'mores.  Well, actually the kids made s'mores, and the adults just mostly ate toasted marshmallows.  

Know why?  

Because as delicious as s'mores may be, they are also very messy.

Enter gooey s'mores bars.  These are actually a little messy too, but not nearly as bad as a real s'more.  Plus you don't need a fire, which is pretty convenient if you're not camping or at your in-laws' awesome river house.

I'll be honest though - Mr. Vittles didn't seem to be a fan of these bars.  He didn't say they were bad or anything, he just wasn't overly impressed.  

I disagree.  Although I'll admit, I thought it would be a good idea to add a layer of 1/2 cup of Nutella between the chocolate bars and fluff, but unfortunately you could barely taste it with everything else.  (This is not in the recipe below since, in my mind, it was not worth it - but feel free to try it for yourself.)

I did also get really worried at one point that I didn't have enough of the graham cracker dough left for the top, to hold the insides together.  But once it was all baked & cooled it was totally fine.  So if this happens to you too, have no fear.  I thought these were great, and I give the original recipe two thumbs up!  

Apparently my co-workers did too, because once I realized Mr. V wasn't eating them I brought a plate of these into work...

...and they were gone by noon.  

Now mind you, I get into work a half hour earlier than most people in my office and I just left the plate in the kitchen without saying a word to anyone.  So people didn't even know what they were or where they came from - and they still ate them all.

Although... not sure if that says a lot for the bars, or just not much for my coworkers?  

Maybe a combination of both :)

Gooey S'mores Bars
  • 1/2 C. butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 C. brown sugar
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 C. whole wheat flour (or you can use all-purpose flour instead)
  • 1 C. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 C. graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s), trimmed to fit 8x8 pan
  • 1 7-oz jar marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, beat butter & brown sugar until light & fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until dough forms.

Press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough - cut or break the chocolate (if necessary) to get it to fit in a single layer. Then, using the back of a spatula sprayed with non-stick spray, spread marshmallow creme over chocolate bars. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (*see note below).  

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.  Makes 16 bars.

*Note: Easiest way to do this is to flatten pieces of the dough and shape into small rectangles, then lay them on top of marshmallow layer. Pinch the dough pieces together to make a solid top piece).

Recipe Adapted Slightly from Lovin' from the Oven, as seen on Wit & Whistle

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