On Organizing + Homemade BBQ Sauce

Just as I thought my work schedule was starting to calm down a bit, it’s actually going to get worse than ever…at least for a little while. Even still, I’m going to try even harder than ever to work some time for organization into my already-hectic schedule. Over the last year or so, I’ve sort of let my schedule get the best of me lack-of-organization-wise, but I function best when there is order around me. So, I need to put some attention to getting a handle on a few house projects. Lack of money is also an issue, but we’re going to make the best with what we already have and what we can afford.

I considered putting together an organization challenge for the month of June. I started to plan one today and began jotting notes down on different categories. What I realized is that there are far more categories and topics than there is time in the month of June. So, instead, I will have a different June-challenge and I will work on mini-organization projects throughout the year!

Any guesses what the June challenge will be about? Hint: it’s related to eating healthier. No cheating twitter and Facebook friends!

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Anywho, as far as organization, some of ours crosses into the decoration realm. Either way, check out this new clock we got at Crate and Barrel for the kitchen area. Hubby put it up this weekend, and it’s already made such a big difference. No more squinting at the microwave (which may be getting it’s own “organization” soon).

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And since we have more projects than time/money, Sis suggested we stick to just one. We wrote down and reviewed several and decided that the patio would be the easiest and wouldn’t cost anything.

First up, we swept all the leaves away.

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And then we organized my herbs. I told my sister that I wanted to put a shelf on the porch somewhere so I could get my herbs off the ground to help protect them from pests. We actually had a small shelf on the porch already but were using it to store garden supplies, citronella candles, and other yard randomness. We re-organized some of the tools to the garage and cleared the whole thing off. Then, we moved it closer to the natural sunlight and placed the plants on it.

I still have some temporary plastic pots that need to be replaced with nicer ceramic ones, but it looks a lot better already.

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Bailey even got to hang out for the cleaning action.

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And then hubby played frisbee with him and chased him around with a sprinkler.

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Run!

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Bailey!

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Run!

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After a quick breather and lots of water, we got started on dinner. First up, Sis and I worked on a new Cake Mini flavor – an idea we came up with together.

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And we also worked on something fun…

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Homemade BBQ sauce! We used this version, which came out pretty tasty.

I’d really like to test out a few different ones and then figure out our own special formula. This was a good start. Do you have any BBQ sauce recipes you recommend?

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We ended up inviting the neighbors over for dinner. It was awesome having the porch all nice, clean, and ready to go. We just had to add food!

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We made grilled BBQ chicken breasts using our homemade BBQ sauce and Earthfare chicken.

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Hubby has come up with his own grilled potato wedge recipe! I’m so proud. Once he perfects it, I’ll help him write it and publish it here on TCL so you guys can check it out.

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We had quite the feast.

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We had the chicken, potato wedges and also corn on the cob and steamed broccoli.

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And as for those Cake Minis…we made…

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake Minis!! Aren’t they cute? The pineapple rings are almost the perfect size for the 3 inch ramekins I use. The recipe will be publishing soon. I think so far the Carrot Cake Minis are my fave flavor, but there are lots of fun ones ahead! ;)

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Lookie! I’m organizing the blog, too. I’m making TCL easier to use! ;)

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I’ve added a list of my 5 most recent recipes where you can get the newest TCL recipes. You can find the others on my Recipes page.

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I’ve also added a archive calendar for searching for old/archived blog posts. It will display whatever the month is for the current post you’re viewing (so if you’re viewing a post that was published on 2/20/11, it will display February 2011). You can click on a particular day to see a list of posts published on that day.

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Like this post? Then click here to get free updates!

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Next time on TCL – another mini organization project (on clothes!) and a preview of the June Challenge.

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What are your organization strategies? Do you use any particular plans, guides, checklists, etc.?

Carrot Cake Minis (for two) – Vegan

Bake This…Today!

Looking for something to bake this weekend? Then whip these up! They take only minutes to mix up, 1/4 of the time of a regular cake to bake, and you get 100% of the deliciousness.

What is a Cake Mini? Why Bake One?

I’ve been working lately on a new style of dessert – Cake Minis. A Cake Mini is a basically just a small version of a regular cake. So, I know what you’re thinking…what’s the difference between this and a cupcake? Well, a cake mini is baked in a ramekin instead of a cupcake tin. This means no more putting an awkward, mostly-empty cupcake tin in the oven AND (perhaps the best part) easier clean up for you! Score!

But I’m not Vegan!

Oh and you don’t have to be vegan to make these. I’m not vegan. Heck, I’m not even vegetarian. But, I’ve found that when baking in small sizes, which I like to do a lot, it’s easier to make something vegan since eggs are really hard to portion out in the small amounts needed for these types of recipes. Feel free to use eggs instead of flaxseed-eggs (use 4 teaspoons egg instead of mixture of 1 teaspoon flaxseed + 3 teaspoons water).

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My first Cake Mini recipe was in one of my favorite flavors – Coconut Cream. This one is perhaps a more popular flavor (or at least one you guys have been asking for with such enthusiasm) – Carrot Cake!

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Yup, I used freshly grated carrots in these cupcakes.

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In fact, there is almost one carrot in each Cake Mini! So it’s like healthy…ish. Ok, not really, but we can pretend, right? ;)

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I doubled my recipe to make four Cake Minis since I was entertaining last weekend. It worked out quite nicely.

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I think I need another Crate and Barrel ramekin since I had to use a turquoise Le Creuset dish to bake my fourth! lol. But, really, any baking dish that is 3 inches in diameter should work.

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Anywho, like I said, this recipe really is easy and fast. Just mix dry, mix wet, mix wet mixture into dry mixture, pour, bake, make frosting, frost and enjoy. Ok, there is some time required to allow the cakes to cool to room temperature, but the best things come to those who wait, right? At least you don’t have to bake a cake for a full hour like full-sized versions! See what I do for you guys? I saved your 40 minutes of your weekend! ;)

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Carrot Cake Minis (for two)

Having a sweets craving? Why waste all the ingredients and time baking a full-sized cake when you can make just enough for you and a very lucky friend (or ok, enough for you to enjoy twice)? These Carrot Cake Minis are easy to make with a wonderful, spiced flavor, moist interior, and creamy-cream-cheese frosting. What are you waiting for? Let’s bake!

*Vegan* (with traditional substitutions listed below)

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon flaxseed meal or ground flaxseeds + 3 teaspoons water (or sub chia seed egg or 4 teaspoons egg)
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons Earth Balance, softened (or sub butter)
  • 3 tablespoons sucanat (or sugar, which will yield a slightly sweeter cake)
  • 1/2 tablespoon oil (use non-flavored, i.e. canola or safflower)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons non-dairy milk (or milk)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup carrot grated, preferably organic (about 1 1/2 medium sized carrots)
  • 1/8 cup pecans, chopped, plus additional for topping

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two ramekins (3 inch diameter) with non-stick cooking spray. Note: I’d go ahead now and set aside the butter and cream cheese used in the frosting recipe so they can come to room temperature while your cakes bake, see below for details.
  2. Mix flaxseed meal and water together and set aside to bind while you continue with the rest of the recipe.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt until ingredients are well-combined.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together Earth Balance and sucanat until well-combined. Stir in oil. Stir in flaxseed/water mixture, milk, and vanilla until well-combined.
  5. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture until just combined (careful that no flour bits remain, but that you also do not over-mix). Gently fold in pecans.
  6. Evenly distribute batter into the two ramekins. Bake until top is golden brown and cake is cooked through (or a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean), about 19-22 minutes.
  7. Cool cakes to room temperature. Run a knife around the edge of the cake in the ramekin to loosen the cake (circling a couple times until you see the cake loosening from the bottom).
  8. Frost cake with Creamy-Cream-Cheese Frosting, recipe follows, and top Cake Minis with additional chopped pecans.
  9. Enjoy!

Creamy-Cream-Cheese Frosting

*Vegan substitute listed below*

Makes enough to top 2 Cake Minis. I actually made this with real cream cheese since I’m not vegan, but there are vegan cream cheese products out there that you could use. Check your health food store for options. :)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tablespoon Earth Balance, room temperature (or sub butter)
  • 1/2 tablespoon cream cheese , room temperature (or sub vegan cream cheese, i.e. Tofutti)
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

  1. Combine Earth Balance, cream cheese, and powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Using a handheld mixer, slowly mix until dry sugar is mixed into the Earth Balance and cream cheese. Then on medium to medium/high speed, whip frosting for a minute or so to get it light and fluffy.
  2. Apply frosting to Cake Minis from previous recipe.

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Nommmm!

I still have a full list of additional flavors you guys have requested and trust me, I will enjoy every moment working on those new flavors for you! :) You can check out the list of future Cake Mini flavors (or reader requests) here.

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Poker + Basketball Night at the Chic House

I don’t know about you, but I love having people over…even if I’m not the one organizing. Last night, hubby invited a bunch of his guy friends over for a night of playing poker and watching basketball. ACC fans around may have been tuned into the same game – Duke vs Carolina.

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Hubby is a huge Duke fan, but most of his friends are Carolina fans. Differences set aside, they all gathered at the Chic house for a fun night.

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Hubby kindly asked me to help out with the food, and since I love cooking, I happily agreed. I missed the poker playing since I was busy in the kitchen, but I’m not a big poker person anyways.

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We had a nice veggie tray with organic veggies – cauliflower, celery, baby carrots, red bell pepper, and cucumbers. We even had local broccoli, which we picked up at the market earlier in the day.

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We also had baked spinach ricotta dip.

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And I made more of those delicious and super easy crock pot meatballs – the same ones we had at our Halloween party. (We had a lot of people comment that they liked these alot better than the ones typically made with jelly. Btw, ever since I found out those cute cocktail meatballs at most parties are made with jelly…they just don’t quite taste the same. *sad face*)

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We also made 2 flatbreads with Earthfare pizza dough, a corn meal dusting on the bottom, spicy tomato oil from the market, mozzarella cheese, bell peppers, and pizza seasonings. The flatbread is becoming a TCL staple for entertaining. They are so simple, tasty, and can easily be made vegan/vegetarian for your non-meat-eating friends.

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I was worried about having enough food with roughly 12 adult men in the house (they eat a lot!), but we seemed to have just enough with some leftovers.

I managed to get a nice plate of food, even after the boys had made their first sweep of the eats table.

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After…it looks like locusts attacked the food! lol

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Luckily, I had one more trick up my sleeve.

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Homemade (not from the box) cupcakes. I used a combination of this recipe and this recipe for the cake part of the cupcakes. I used the latter recipe by the famous Magnolia bakery in NYC for the frosting. I was going to post my adapted recipe, but I’m not happy with it. Though I didn’t increase the flour or other ingredients (save increasing for the purpose of having 24 cupcakes instead of 12), the recipe yielded way too much batter. I’m going to play with it to see if I can get it to fit 24 cupcakes. I will say, the flavors and textures were totally amazing. Everyone loved them. So, as long as you don’t mind filling an extra ramekin with batter, these recipes are great to use!

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I made vanilla cupcakes with vanilla icing and colored the icing blue in honor of the basketball game. The color fell somewhere between Carolina and Duke blue. No one complained. In fact some of the guys were so thrilled with the cupcakes, they ate them in one BIG bite! Ok, they didn’t do that because they were so thrilled. They probably just did that because they were hanging out with a bunch of dudes and trying to be funny. But either way, it was entertaining to watch.

Sadly, Duke lost the game. But everyone seemed to have a good time regardless.

Reader question: Are you into sports? Which team is your favorite and why?

PS Did anyone get the Hyperbole and a Half joke made in this post? ;)

Not So Sweet Heart-Shaped Cookie Cake for Two

Love is in the air!

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Or maybe that’s just the smell of sweet baked goods glowing gently from your oven? ;) I know I made a little something-something today for my sweetie. ;)

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Check out the beautiful flowers hubby got me for Valentine’s Day! I can’t wait for all those lilies to bloom!

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Hubby and I had a late lunch at Earthfare while we were out running errands. I had chicken noodle soup and salad.

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Then we took a pit stop at Barnes & Noble for some snackage and magazine browsing.

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I had a bite of hubby’s coffee cake.

It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to make a coffee cake from scratch some time. I’ve done a quick coffee cake before (click), but I want to do one NJ style next mirror.

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I actually snagged a vegan chocolate chip muffin from Earthfare before we headed to the book store.

I don’t know if you do this, but when I find something I like, I look for it relentlessly, no matter the odds. I say odds, because for awhile I thought Earthfare had canned these delicious little muffins. One day I was seeing them there all the time, the next…no mas. *sad face* Seriously, I’ve spent the last few months making sure to swing by the muffin case on my grocery trips to look for this little guy and for the last few months, I’ve been disappointed. But today, just as I was giving up on my scrumptious little treat, there it was! Score!

Perhaps I should come up with a recipe to replicate them just in case, eh? ;)

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Hubby and I were pretty tired today, so we did a cheat meal and got a rotisserie chicken for dinner from Earthfare. We also made micro-baked potatoes with butter and dried herbs, plus steamed organic broccoli with a drizzle of real butter.

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I know I said I was tired, but not too tired to bake something sweet for Valentine’s Day.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about cookie cakes lately…I don’t know why.

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But…I knew I just had to make one for V-day…heart-shaped of course.

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I also went for a Not So Sweet concoction because that’s how I roll.

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My frosting technique could use some work, but that’s another story. lol

Heart Shaped Cookie Cake for Two

Ok, so this cookie cake serves more like 4 or 5 people. But, it’s large enough so as not to be confused with a regular cookie and smaller than your normal cookie cake. I made this using a Not So Sweet cookie base, though the chocolate chips and buttercream frosting definitely add a sweet kick here. While the cookie is less sweet than normal, I didn’t want to mess with the buttercream. I’m not sure a Not So Sweet buttercream would go over, though I do have some ideas using sucanat to test the waters.

Be sure to set your butter out long enough in advance for your butter to come to room temperature…at least for the frosting part. You could probably microwave the butter to soften it a bit for the cookie base, but that won’t go over so well with the buttercream. Luckily, if you set the butter out when you start, by the time your cookie cake is baked and cooled, your butter should be close.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 stick butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9×12 heart-shaped cookie pan with non-stick spray. Line bottom with parchment paper and spray lightly on top of the paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light. Stir in egg and vanilla until well-combined.
  4. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and mix until just combined (incorporate all dry flour, but be careful to not overmix). It will look like there isn’t enough of the wet mixture, but be patient and carefully combine.
  5. Gently stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Pour cookie dough into the baking pan and carefully press cookie dough into the bottom of the pan. It will be a very thin layer of dough. If you want, wet fingers and smooth dough.
  7. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until edges are lightly brown and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
  8. Let cookie cake cool to room temperature and decorate with buttercream frosting, recipe following (see below).

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Cookie cake always makes me think of my friends Justin and Emily. When they got married, they had a traditional wedding cake AND a cookie cake because Justin loves them so much. It was the only time I’ve seen a cookie cake at a wedding…and it was awesome! Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure Justin always gets cookie cakes for his birthdays, too (even the ones on boats).

Buttercream for Cookie Cake Decoration

This recipe makes just enough buttercream to decorate your Heart-Shaped Cookie Cake for Two. You may even have some leftover!

I used a stand mixer to do the work, but you could use a hand held mixer or even do it by hand.

Be sure to use the gel coloring recommended – the drop kind is too liquidy. You can get the gel color at stores selling cake decorating tools. I got mine from Michael’s.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 – 2 teaspoon milk
  • gel coloring of desired color

Directions:

  1. Starting on a low speed (so the sugar doesn’t go flying everywhere), whip sugar and butter together until just combined. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add milk, as needed, but in small increments, just until mixture comes together to desired texture.
  2. Use a toothpick to add a bit of gel color to frosting and mix in until evenly distributed. Repeat until frosting reaches desired color.
  3. Put frosting into a decorating bag with tip or decorating-gun-tool and decorate cookie cake as desired.

Do you prefer cake or cookie cake?

Individual Apple Breakfast Cakes + Shop Till You Drop

Ahh, my first free day from work. I expected to have a million things queued up to make, but this morning, I puttered around a bit trying to figure out something interesting to make. It’s not every day you have as much time as you want to do something creative for breakfast.

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In addition to not having a plan, I also didn’t have a lot of ingredients. I decided to combine pantry items with fresh fruit…the only fruit being apples and bananas. I’ve done bananas a few times, so I turned my attention to the apples. I recently made that quick apple topping, so I chose to do something different…something…baked?

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I decided to do a play on my apple topping as a layer in a breakfast cake, but individual-sized so it would bake faster. I did something silly and decided to just mix stuff up and see what happened.

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I crossed my fingers as I put everything together and pushed my creation into the oven. As the timer ticked by, I kept expecting to pull a monster mixture or raw dough or who knows what.

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To my surprise, the end result was not only edible, but it tasted pretty good, too!

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Individual Apple Breakfast Cakes

Traditional cake lovers may hate this recipe. Personally, I don’t really like cakes that are so sweet they give you headaches when you eat them, so this recipe has a lot less sugar than most cakes. This cake is also lacking in the butter department, so it’s not as rich-tasting but still has a nice fluffy texture. If you like richer, sweeter cakes, you may want to up the sugar and butter amounts, though I’m not sure how that would affect the texture. To make extra healthy, try subbing whole grain flours.

Serves 2, makes 4 individual cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 apple, chopped small (I left skins on for nutrition, but you may get a smoother texture if you remove them)
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon, another 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup milk or non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg or flaxseed egg
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened, but not melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • sliced almonds, optional

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare 4 cups of a muffin pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Combine apple, water, maple syrup, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon in a small pot and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or till apples are tender. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.
  4. In a medium bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Whisk/stir in milk, egg, and vanilla till combined.
  5. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture until just combined, careful to not overmix.
  6. Fill bottom half of 4 cups in a prepared muffin tin with cake mixture. Use finger to smooth to cover bottom. Batter will be a bit thick.
  7. Evenly distribute cooked apples into the 4 muffin cups.
  8. Evenly distribute the rest of the cake batter over the apples. Smooth/spread as needed.
  9. If you’re using a nut topping, add that to the top.
  10. Bake for 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  11. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
  12. Enjoy!

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After breakfast, I worked on some stuff around the house and then met up with Michelle at the mall to get my Christmas shopping. Somehow, I’ve waited till the last minute to buy…all my Christmas presents. Oy vay!

Here are some photos from our shopping adventure…ok just the food. :lol: Excuse the crappy iPhone photos.

We first stopped by Banana Republic where they had an extra 40% off sale items till 2pm. I used to love clothes shopping, but since getting the house about a year ago, I’ve cut waaaay back. I’ve been able to restrain myself from buying lot of clothes…till today. But hey, I’ve worked hard this year, so I think I’ve earned a little shopping spree. Especially considering the fab deals I was getting!

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After BR, Michelle and I broke for lunch at Blynk – the organic food place at the mall. Thank goodness for Blynk!

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I had a half simple turkey sandwich and white bean soup with water. This was way better than your typical food court fare. I loved the soup especially.

Then, it was back to the races!

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We met up with Jen for the last half of the shopping day.

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Michelle, Jen and I hit up California Pizza Kitchen for dinner.

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We split this field green salad 3 ways. Loved this – from the walnuts to the dressing.

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And I got the BBQ Chicken Pizza for the main event. I saved half for hubby, which he enjoyed when I got home.

We ended up spending almost an entire day at the mall, but I’m happy to report that my Christmas shopping is DONE-ZO! I have a couple wee items to pick up, but the main event is over. Phew! We really did the whole “shop till you drop” thing. I guess that’s the price you pay when you wait till the last minute to go shopping.

I was really dreading Christmas shopping this year (the crowds, the craziness!) but it was sooo much better with friends! I actually had a blast!

Do you like Christmas/holiday shopping or do you dread it?

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