Apple Pecan Carrot Cake

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Guys, can I ask you all a random, but still perfectly serious question?

How old do you think I am?

Take a look at my picture to the right, or the pictures of me in my last post at my sister’s wedding. (Disclaimer: I usually ‘look’ like the picture to the right on a day to day basis, whereas at my sister’s wedding I was dolled up with lots of pretty makeup and a gorgeous hairdo which is NOT the norm for me.)

But anyway, yeah: how old am I?

Don’t be shy. I won’t be offended. Let’s hear it. Your best guesses.

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If you guys are anything at all like most random strangers I meet, my estimation is that a lot of your guesses are in late teens, early twenties. A lot of people think that I’m young enough to just be starting college or midway through at the most.

Not so.

I actually graduated from college three years ago.

And I’m not in my late teens or early twenties.

As a matter of fact, this weekend, September the 27th to be exact, I will officially be out of my ‘mid twenties’ and step into the later half of them.

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In a nutshell: my 26th birthday is on Sunday, guys.

I’ll be twenty six. In a manner of speaking, I guess I already am considering twenty six years ago I was alive and kickin in my mom’s stomach with Jas.

When I’ve informed people that I meet of this that mistake me for a teen or early twenty-something, I always get the same reaction. Shock. Disbelief. Then, immediate congratulations at having “good genes” or “aging really well.” I’m personally not sure how I feel about it. I mean, I’m sure that soon enough further down the road if I still look younger than what I really am, I’ll feel great about it. But for now, still being mistaken for someone who’s still not old enough to legally purchase alcohol, when in actuality I crossed that bridge LONG ago is…meh.

Birthdays stopped being something that were really important to me years and years ago. I typically let my own pass by without much fanfare or celebration; it just isn’t that big of a deal anymore. Still, the one tradition that I do still like to continue- especially since I learned how to cook/bake, is the tradition of having a cake. Because cake, is ALWAYS a big deal. Last year it was this Caramel Snickerdoodle Cake. This year, I knew I wanted something that really tasted like Fall. My mom had just bought me The Southern Cake Book released by Southern Living, and I picked this one out as my and Jas’ birthday cake pretty much as soon a I saw it.

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Let me break it down for you guys: small chunks of apples, pecans and grated carrots mixed into a SUPER moist cake batter with a mild spice flavor gets baked into 2 9-inch cakes. The middle filling is a GLORIOUS, smooth and easy Apple Cider caramel sauce that comes together in minutes. Sandwich the two cake layers together, then spread a light n’creamy cream cheese frosting on top and sprinkle with more pecans.

I made the cake last weekend- and we’re down to the last few slices already. Yep. It’s THAT good. If you’ve got a birthday coming up in the family or your circle of friends, I highly reccommend this one: you’ll make your loved one and anybody else lucky enough to get a slice VERY happy. I’ll be linking up this post with our host Angie at this week’s Fiesta Friday #87– that way, we ALL get cake.

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Apple Pecan Carrot Cake


Recipe Courtesy of The Southern Cake Book

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Ingredients

2 1/3 cups finely chopped lightly toasted pecans, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons apple pie spice
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and grated Granny Smith apples
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
2/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. Apple Cider Caramel Sauce, recipe follows
Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows

Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

1 cup apple cider
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup whipping cream

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8-oz.) container cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whipping cream

Directions

For Cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Sprinkle 1 1/3 cups toasted pecans into 2 well-buttered shiny 9-inch round cake pans; shake to coat bottom and sides of pans.

2. Stir together flour and next 3 ingredients.

3. Stir together eggs and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl until blended. Add flour mixture, stirring just until blended. Fold in apples, carrots, and remaining 1 cup pecans. Pour batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely (about 1 hour).

5. Place 1 cake layer, pecan side down, on a serving plate. Spread top of cake layer with 2/3 cup Apple Cider Caramel Sauce; top with remaining cake layer, pecan side down. Spread Cream Cheese Frosting over top of cake. Drizzle 2 Tbsp. Apple Cider Caramel Sauce over frosting, and swirl sauce into frosting. Serve immediately.

For Apple Cider Caramel Sauce: Cook cider in a 3-qt. saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, 10 minutes or until reduced to 1/4 cup. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; boil, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool completely. Refrigerate up to 1 week. To reheat, microwave at HIGH 10 to 15 seconds or just until warm; stir until smooth.

For Cream Cheese Frosting: Whisk together first 3 ingredients in a large bowl just until blended. Beat whipping cream at medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into cream cheese mixture.

Chinese Chicken Salad

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I went to a popular restaurant in our city for breakfast with my mom and sisters one day a few years back. It was a pretty good day, I was in a pretty good mood, and ready to eat some food that was more than pretty good (actually it’s fantastic, so if you’re ever in the Lansing MI area then make sure you go to Sophia’s House of Pancakes).

When we were seated, I noticed that there was an elderly couple that had also been recently seated in the booth just behind ours. The woman was sitting with her back to me, while the man was sitting on the opposite side, facing me. As well sat down, he smiled at me. I thought it was a very nice, kind smile, and even though the strangers I’ve come across normally didn’t throw out smiles like that, I decided to go ahead and throw a great big smile back at him. I didn’t really think too much of it after that, focusing my attention on ordering m food and engaging in conversation with my family.

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I think it was a few minutes after the food we’d all ordered had come out- we were about mid way through, when suddenly our waitress comes over to our table. She bends down and starts murmuring to us quietly, “Excuse me: I know this is our of nowhere, but I’ve just been told to let you now that your meal’s been completely paid for.”

TimeoutwaitWHAT?!

That was about the collective response at our table. When we asked her if she was sure about that, she nodded and pointed across the restaurant, “Yes: it was that gentlemen over there. He said that he just wanted to cover your bill for you because of how nicely you,” She nodded at me, “Smiled at him when you came in.”

You guys, I’m not the type of person who gets embarrassed easily. I think I’ve blushed a grand total of three times in my entire life.

Well, that was one of them.

At hearing that, my face got all hot and pink, I started grinning like an idiot and I paused long enough to swallow my mouthful of pancakes to choke out a sheepish, “Oh my God, are you serious?!” I was in a state of mild shock.

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I looked up to find the elderly gentleman and his wife and saw that they were just then leaving the restaurant. He waved at all of us as we shouted out a collective, stunned “thank you!”. I still remember the way that he grinned at me and mouthed, “Keep smiling!” as they went out the doors.

It’s the year 2015. Everywhere I look, I see people posting about New Years resolutions to accomplish things that (if we’re being completely honest with ourselves) are almost entirely superficial. I’l be upfront with you all and even admit that I’ve made similar resolutions to myself in past years. It’s easy to focus on what’s ‘wrong’ with you as a person and resolve to change it. Heck, that’s not always a bad thing.

However, this year I’m hoping for more moment like that day in Sophia’s House of Pancakes where I come across people like that kind elderly man and his wife that aren’t too old, jaded or bitter to notice and value the important of seemingly little things like kind smiles and random acts of generosity to strangers. I’m also hoping that this year I can do more to take my focus off of myself and be like that elderly man was in noticing the beautiful things of life that are far too often taken for granted. I believe that days and moments like the one I just shared are a large part of why we’re here on this Earth in the first place. They make the world seem brighter and filled with hope. They’re what’s really important in life.

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I’m still keeping things light and healthy this week with a salad that’s become a new favorite of mine. Although the recipe is originally for chicken, we are just coming off of the holidays and if you still have some leftover turkey in your fridge (like I do) then you can definitely sub that in. The dressing is both tangy from the vinegar and ginger, and also earthy from the flavor of the peanut butter. The chipotle gives it a nice little kick of heat in the aftertaste. If you can’t find dry crunchy Chow Mein noodles where you are (they’re usually in the Foreign Cuisine aisle of the grocery store) then using peanuts would also give the same ‘crouton’ contrast of textures that you’re looking for in a salad.

I’m taking this salad to Fiesta Friday #49 this week, hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener and co-hosted this week by Mr Fitz @CookingwithMrFitz and Kaila @GF Life 24/7. Happy New Year everyone!

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Chinese Chicken Salad

Recipe Courtesy of Bobby Flay

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle pepper puree
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 head Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 head romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 pound snow peas, julienned
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • Handful of Chinese crunchy chow mein noodles

Directions

1. Whisk together the vinegar, peanut butter, ginger, chipotle pepper puree, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and canola oil in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

2. Combine cabbage, lettuce, carrots, snow peas, cilantro, and green onion in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to combine.

3. Transfer to a serving platter and top with the shredded chicken and chow mein noodles.

Old Fashioned Beef Stew

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Do you guys remember the first time that you had beef stew?

No, I don’t mean anything that came out of a can or white plastic package that was labeled Dinty Moore, Hungry Man or  Campbell’s that you had to nuke inside a microwave. That doesn’t count here.

I mean, do you remember the last time you had real beef stew: a thick, rich, , hearty, completely homemade brew of tender meat and vegetables simmering on the stove that filled the house with an aroma that made everyone literally salivate with hunger? Does anyone remember when they first had stew like that?

I sure remember the first time that I did.

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I was in my third year of undergrad at college, right before the time that I started to become interested in learning how to cook. Me and my sister (my roommate) had moved out of the dorms and into an apartment on campus. The dorm that we lived had for two years had recently been remodeled just our freshman year, including the cafeteria. We were very fortunate in that the food was not only edible, but pretty good for the most part. It spoiled us, to be honest. We didn’t realize just how much until we moved into our apartment without a cafeteria meal plan. It was…a learning experience.

We learned that frozen chicken patties got old. As did the microwaveable dinners. We also found out that as college students, consistently ordering out at local restaurants and take-out joints was not economically sustainable. Something would have to be done.

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I reached out to my mom with our ‘desperate’ situation. Her maternal instincts were completely dependable and she immediately made it apart of her routine to cook homemade meals for her daughters on the weekends that we would pick up when we came home so that we wouldn’t have to eat processed crap or takeout all the time.

My mom’s a fantastic cook. Really, truly fantastic. She made us a lot  of big, bulk dishes that could either be really stretched out to last during the week, or frozen to eat later in the future. It was one week in the Spring that one of the things Jas and I got sent home with was a big pot of beef stew.

I’d never had beef stew that wasn’t microwaveable before. But I had absolute confidence in my mom’s cooking and figured that anything she made had to be pretty good.

I was wrong.

Her beef stew wasn’t ‘pretty good’. It was absolutely incredible. To this day, that stew is seriously one of the best tasting things I’ve ever put in my mouth. The blend of spices and seasonings was just perfect. It may seem weird, but I actually remember being jealous that my mom was able to produce something that tasted so good. It was the start of my wanting to be able to learn how to cook for myself. When I finally did get comfortable in the kitchen, I still remembered the taste of that beef stew. I wanted it again. Badly. So I asked my mom what she put in it.

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Remember my mom’s philosophy about cooking? She doesn’t really use recipes anymore. Her answer was somewhere along the lines of  “Oh, I don’t know, I just put some stuff together.”

Which, you know, was loads of help.

Nevertheless: I made it a personal goal of my kitchen aspirations to be able to replicate the taste of that beef stew my mom made me in college. I’m still trying to get it down to this day. Not to say that the ones I’ve tried aren’t good- everyone, including her, tells me that they are. But they juuuuuust aren’t quite as wonderful as my mom’s.

This one though? It’s close. Not the same…but it is close.

{P.S: The rolls you see in see the background were not put there at random: there WILL be a recipe for them coming your way soon ;-)}

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Old Fashioned Beef Stew

Recipe Adapted from The Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook (14th Ed)

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 12 ounces beef stew meat, cut in 3/4 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 3 cups vegetable juice
  • 1 cup beer (Don’t use anything you wouldn’t want to drink)
  • 1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Instant beef bouillon granules
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups cubed potato (sweet or white, according to preference)
  • 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
  • 1 cup sliced carrot (2 medium)

Directions

1. Place flour in a plastic bag. Add meat cubes, a few at ta time, shaking to coat.

 2. In a  Dutch oven or large saucepan brown meat in hot oil; drain fat.

  • 3. Stir in vegetable juice, water, onion, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon granules, oregano, marjoram, pepper and bay leaf.

4. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until meat is tender.

  • 5. Stir in potato, corn and carrot. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered about 30 minutes more, or until meat and vegetables are tender. Discard bay leaf.

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Honey Garlic Pot Roast

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There are some things that never get old. No matter how often they happen, you never get tired of them. You’re always happy to see them coming, sad to see them gone, and waiting for the next time that they happen again.

Weekends. Football season. Christmas. Reruns of The Golden Girls. Cheap Honey Crisp Apples (the result of which was a wonderful Apple Cider Cinnamon Bread). I can never get enough of any of it.

Another thing that never gets old:

Pot Roast.

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Pot roast is one of those things that just about everyone can relate to in some way. We’ve all had it. We all love it. It’s everything we love about home, comfort food, and good memories. It’s wonderful on Sundays. It’s wonderful during the week after a long day after work. It’s wonderful hot. It’s wonderful cold. See where I’m going with this? It’s just everything wonderful.

I haven’t made a pot roast in a really long time. Why? I don’t know. It’s one of those unexplainable questions of the universe that we’re just not supposed to make sense of, I guess. All I knew going to the grocery store this week was that I was buying a chuck roast, and I was making a pot roast out of it. I have some recipes for some ‘unique’ pot roasts that I have yet to test out, but this time around I wanted to stay pretty traditional with my approach. Nothing fancy. No fireworks. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that have the best results.

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Pull it off on the fork, so I know it’s real.

My grandma was subscribed to this mailing database called Great American Recipes where she would receive several recipe cards in the mail for a while. Since she doesn’t like to do as much cooking as she used to, she would just give the cards to me. As a result, I’ve got quite a collection of recipe cards from GAR now- they even sent a cute little binder to put it in.

This recipe was in one of the mailing packs that they sent. It seemed like a pretty straightforward pot roast recipe, and I liked the idea of rubbing honey over the meat before searing it off. So I tried it. Well, the smell alone was enough for me to decide that this was a good life choice. And the taste was enough to make me want to slap myself silly for letting such a long time pass since I’ve last made pot roast.

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Long story short, this pot roast rocks.  Don’t be an idiot like me and take a prolonged hiatus from pot roast roast…ing. Do the right thing. Make this.

By the way, if you don’t love pot roast, then I just don’t know what you’re doing with your life.

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FEED(ME) BACK: What’s one dish you like to cook that never gets old?

Honey Garlic Pot Roast

Recipe courtesy of Great American Recipes

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

*2 tbsp vegetable oil

*2 1/2 lb boneless beef chuck roast

*2 tbsp honey

*4 cloves garlic, minced

*3 cups beef broth

*1lb. baby red potatoes, (1-1 1/2 inches in diameter) scrubbed

*1 cup of baby carrots

*2 envelopes (1 1/4 oz each) beef gravy mix

*1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, drained

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Rub the roast with the honey. Firmly press the garlic onto the roast. Cook the roast until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes.

2. Pour the broth over the roast. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Turn the roast over and add the potatoes and carrots. Cover roast and simmer until the roast and vegetables are tender, 45-55 minutes longer.

3. Transfer the roast and vegetables to a large deep platter, using  a slotted spoon. Discard all but 2 1/2 cups liquid from the pot. Whisk in the gravy mix and increase heat. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.

4. Pour half of the sauce over the roast and vegetables to serve. Pass the remaining sauce with the sauce.