Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013: My Favorites

I had the hardest time narrowing down my list of favorites for this year. Although I haven't been doing too much cooking in the past month, 2013 was still a delicious year in my kitchen. I made quite a few recipes this year that became instant family favorites. You'll see a pattern appear in many of my selections: Quite a few of them involve bacon. I don't think it's any secret how my family feels about bacon. :)

10. Roasted potato and tomato gyro wraps

These wraps combine so many of my favorite things: crispy roasted potatoes, burstingly sweet roasted tomatoes, and feta cheese. This is definitely a "Cassie meal," as Greek flavors aren't Joe's favorite, but I love having this recipe in my arsenal for those nights when I'm having dinner by myself.

 My whole family loves this meal, and I love how easy these little cakes are to prepare. Using boxed stuffing makes them come together very quickly, and since this meal is made with staples, it's great for nights when I just don't know what to make -- or just really don't feel like cooking.

There are very few dishes that I want to make solely for the leftovers, but pot roast has definitely become one of them. I think I enjoy these patty melts the second night more than I enjoy the pot roast on the first night!

7. Completely homemade chicken noodle soup.

Chicken noodle soup is one of my very favorite comfort foods, and since I made it completely from scratch earlier this year I'll never look back. Honestly, I'm usually not one to enjoy spending hours upon hours in the kitchen (Christmas cookie baking notwithstanding), but this is one of those meals where I just love the whole process of preparing and eating it. It's so...soul-feeding. Chicken soup for the soul, if you will. (Ba-dum-ching.)

6. Avocado bacon tomato melts.

These melts are one of the most memorable meals I had this year. They're so simple but so incredibly flavorful. They're definitely best in the summer with thick, juicy, beefsteak tomatoes, but I wouldn't turn one of these away any time of the year.

5. Bacon cheddar burgers with corn and bacon relish.

No list of yearly favorites would be complete without a good burger, and this one? It's definitely the best burger I made this year, and probably the best burger I've ever made. After eating it on this burger, I made the corn and bacon relish no less than 5 times: I used it on chicken, on pork chops, in a quesadilla, and probably ate it directly from a bowl a few times too. I'm not too proud to admit that. Try it yourself and you'll know why.

4. Chipotle pork tostadas with pine-apple salsa

Joe still swears these tostadas are one of the best things I've ever made, and I have to admit that they are pretty incredible. They're slightly spicy, slightly sweet, a little crunchy, a little creamy, and completely delicious. The pineapple-apple salsa is just out of this world.

3. Jalapeno popper breakfast scramble

We love a good breakfast dish in our house, and this one is definitely a favorite. It hits all the same notes as a jalapeno popper (cheddar, cream cheese, jalapenos, and bacon), but it's all mixed up with hashbrowns and scrambled eggs to make one decadent, delicious breakfast (or breakfast-for-dinner).

2. Peach BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches with peach coleslaw.

I remember the night I made these for dinner very well, because it was completely silent in our house that night. We were all too busy eating these to speak or make any kind of noise other than the occasional "Mmm" or groan of culinary ecstasy. And that includes the boys! The peach BBQ sauce is perfect, smoky and spicy and sweet, and it's cooled down with a refreshing, crispy coleslaw made with peaches. In fact, these sandwiches would have been number one on my list, if it weren't for...

1. Sweet and spicy pork and asparagus stir fry.

There are very few dishes in this world that will make me shell out the money for asparagus out of season, but this stir fry is definitely one of them. This meal is universally enjoyed in our house, but especially by Andrew. He claims this as his "most favorite meal of all of them ever." I can't say that I blame him, actually. When asparagus is in season, we'll eat this three times a week. When it isn't, I'll cut it back to once a week. I can't think of a better reason than that to give it the number one position on my list of favorites.

As 2013 comes to a close, friends, and we get ready to ring in 2014, I just want to thank all of you who stopped by to visit this year -- who shared or pinned my recipes, who took the time to leave a sweet comment or send a sweet e-mail. I can't even tell you how much it all means to me. I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store for all of us -- but I can assure you that, at least here in my little corner of the internet, it's going to be delicious. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of 2013: Your Favorites

I hope you all had a wonderful December full of fun family celebrations and holiday cheer! My blog break this month started out as unintentional, but became purposeful around the middle of the month. I had so much going on this month, just like everyone, and shelving the blog for a while gave me time to focus on just allowing myself to enjoy the season to the fullest. Our Christmas was downright magical; seeing the boys' faces on Christmas morning is probably  my most favorite thing, ever. Looking forward to 2014, I'm ready to get back into our routine and start cooking again (not a lot of that happened this month, that's for sure!).

But before we bid 2013 adieu, there's one more task: to recap the most popular recipes of the year here at Cassie Craves. Today I'm bringing you the most popular recipes on the site according to you, and tomorrow I'll share my own personal top 10 favorites.

10. Chocolate chip cookie pudding cake.

This layered dessert is impossibly rich and crave-worthy -- like chocolate chip cookies, pudding, and cheesecake had a delicious culinary baby together.

Here's an instance where your favorites and mine definitely intersected; these sandwiches are one of my favorites of the year, too. It's amazing how just the simple addition of chipotles in adobo can take a sandwich from pretty good to incredible. These have become a family favorite in our house.

8. Beer-battered zucchini rings.

Flavorful and indulgent, these zucchini rings are the perfect use for the zucchini giants that show up in my (and probably your!) house every August.

7. Farfalle with chicken in sun-dried tomato pesto cream sauce.

It's funny that this recipe showed up in the most popular of the year, because it was literally made from odds and ends that I just had lying around -- and it sat in the drafts folder of my posts for the longest time. I don't know why it took me so long to share it, because it's so delicious, and it absolutely deserves its spot in this countdown!

6. Slow cooker chicken bacon ranch sandwiches with ranch slaw.

This is one of those recipes that is just perfect in every way. The hands-on cooking time is less than five minutes, and the results are so tasty. These sandwiches are a huge hit with kids and adults alike!

5. Chocolate chip cookie whoopie pies with cookie dough buttercream filling.

I'm pretty sure these whoopie pies are one of the best desserts I've ever made. Not only are the whoopie pies themselves chocolate chip cookies, they're filled with a cookie dough buttercream made with brown sugar. They're the ultimate chocolate chip cookie experience.

I made these cupcakes for Will's third birthday last year, and he's already asking for me to make them for him again this year. I think they are just about the cutest cupcakes I've ever seen!

Since I re-posted this recipe earlier this year, it's graced our meal plans frequently. It's just so good, and so simple -- made with only a handful of ingredients, most of them pantry staples. My kids would happily eat this once a week or more.

I was dubious of this chicken the first time I tried it; 40 cloves of garlic sounds like a ton. But I was definitely a convert upon my first taste of this juicy, flavorful chicken. I love this recipe because we always have leftovers, which can be turned into all kinds of new dishes.

This dip is by far and away the most popular recipe I posted this year, and I can definitely see why. It's such a fun and festive treat for all kinds of occasions. It's also incredibly addictive, and the recipe makes a ton -- so it's perfect for sharing! (If you can bring yourself to share it, that is...)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cream Cheese-Stuffed, Streusel-Topped, Cranberry Orange Mini Muffins

A few years ago, I started hosting a Christmas brunch for my family every Christmas. It's always so much fun, and I try to keep the menu very simple so it doesn't become stressful. I make a Crock pot breakfast casserole and some muffins, and my sister brings her French toast casserole. I serve things I can make ahead of time, and never have I been more glad about that than last year.

I can't remember if I mentioned it here, but last Christmas Eve, I was struck with a horrible, terrible, no-good stomach bug. It was so awful. I was stuck at home in bed, feeling miserable, while my family was celebrating without me. Thankfully, I'd prepared everything for our brunch the next morning earlier in the day before I got sick, so I didn't have to cancel it. I didn't feel like eating much on Christmas morning, but I was so happy to just be with my family at that point!

Sorry for talking about sickness in a post about food, but all of that was to say: I made these muffins for Christmas brunch last year, and they were ah-mazing. Like seriously, seriously delicious. As I mentioned, I like to keep things easy for this particular celebration, so these muffins start with boxed mix that is jazzed up with the additions of a sweetened cream cheese filling and a delectable orange-pecan streusel. I don't typically bake muffins from a box, but I was so surprised by how well these came out and how fresh they tasted. They're the perfect balance of sweet and tart and such a festive way to start Christmas morning...or any morning, really.

Cream Cheese-Stuffed, Streusel-Topped, Cranberry Orange Mini Muffins
slightly adapted from StoneGable

For the muffins:
1 box cranberry-orange muffin mix (I used Krusteaz Light)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange zest

For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon orange zest

For the streusel:

1 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest

1. Preheat oven according to muffin mix recipe. Spray two 24-cup mini muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray. Mix muffin recipe as directed, adding vanilla and orange zest. 

2. In a seperate bowl, add all filling ingredients and beat on high with a mixer for 1 minute. 

3. In a third bowl, mix all topping ingredients with a pastry cutter or fork. The butter should be well-incorporated and the topping should be crumbly. 

4. Add a tablespoon of the muffin batter to each mini muffin cup (about half full). Add 1 teaspoon of the filling to the center of the muffin batter in the cups. Top with another tablespoon of the muffin batter. Top each muffin with crumb topping. 

5. Bake according to box directions, minus about 5 minutes for mini muffins. When done, cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Take muffins out of pan and let cool completely.