Apple Pear Pecan Salad

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It’s always fun trying out different ways to make salads–it makes salad-eating a little more interesting! In the summer months, I like adding strawberries and blueberries to my salads. So I thought I’d try making a more “wintry” salad with apples and pears, inspired by this recipe. There’s also creamy crumbles of feta cheese mixed in, along with some healthy pecans that give this salad a nice flavor and crunch! I learned recently that pecans are rich in antioxidants and contain heart-healthy mono and ployunsaturated fats. They’re also rich in fiber–a handful of pecans contain the same amount of fiber as a medium-sized apple! I had received a complimentary sample of Bergeron Pecans through the National Pecan Shellers Association, and they were a perfect addition to this salad!

APPLE PEAR PECAN SALAD by NancyCreative, adapted from Kraft Foods

Makes 6-8 servings

  • 8 cups of packaged salad mix (about a 5.5-ounce package) or coarsely chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries, divided
  • 1 medium or large apple, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium or large pear, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese, divided
  • 1 cup pecan halves or coarsely chopped pecans, toasted or untoasted, divided (I used Bergeron Pecans)
  • 1 bottle of your favorite Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing (regular or lite)

In a large salad bowl, toss together the lettuce, half of the dried cranberries (1/3 cup), and all of the chopped apple and pear. Then add in half of the crumbled feta cheese and half of the pecans (1/2 cup) and toss all ingredients together. Sprinkle the remaining dried cranberries, pecans, and feta cheese on top. Serve on individual plates and drizzle each serving with Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing.

Toasting Pecans: For more crunchiness and flavor, you can toast your pecans in the oven by spreading in a single layer in a shallow baking pan; bake at 350˚ for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. To toast pecans on the stove top, place them in an ungreased skillet and cook on medium heat until golden brown, stirring frequently. To toast pecans in the microwave, place up to 1 cup pecans in a microwaveable shallow dish; microwave on high until crisp, stirring every 30 seconds.

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This salad is great with a meal–a larger serving of it can even be a meal in itself! What types of recipes do you like to use pecans in?

Linked to Tidy Mom–I’m Loving It.

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Cranberry Orange Banana Smoothie

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I usually have a few bags of frozen cranberries in my freezer this time of year. During the holidays, I buy a some extra bags of fresh cranberries and freeze them so I can use them later–for recipes that I come across like this one, which I found at Williams-Sonoma. The cranberry-orange flavors in this smoothie are so good together and I used honey to sweeten it (you can also use agave nectar). It has just the right amount of sweetness and if you like cranberries, I’m sure you will love this smoothie!

yogurt-24_vanillaI like using thicker, creamy yogurts in my smoothies, like Greek yogurt, but in this smoothie I used Green Valley Organics Lactose Free Vanilla Yogurt. I had received a complimentary sample to try out, and I really liked it. This yogurt has a thick, creamy texture–perfect for smoothies! In addition to being organic and lactose free (which is important for those of you who are lactose intolerant), it’s also gluten free and has less sugar than other yogurts, so it’s very healthy!

Hope you get to try out this yummy winter smoothie–perfect for a quick, easy breakfast. Maybe not in zero-degree weather, but great for a warmer winter day! :)

CRANBERRY ORANGE BANANA SMOOTHIE by NancyCreative, adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Makes about 20 ounces, or 2 (10-ounce) servings

Add all ingredients to your blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve immediately.

It feels good to eat a little healthier after all that holiday food! Are you trying to eat healthier after the holidays too?

Linked to Tidy Mom–I’m Lovin’ It.

Decorating Ideas for Next Christmas

It never fails…when Christmas is over, I come across ideas I wish I had seen earlier in the season so I could have tried them out. Well, I’m saving these ideas for next Christmas! Maybe you’ll find something here you’ll want to try next year, too!

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From My Picture-Perfect Life–Top photo: display ornaments in a variety of glass containers or covered plates or stands. Even larger vases work great! Bottom photo: Silver and gold are a great combination–add fullness to a silvery Christmas tree with decorative gold stems.

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From A Fanciful Diversion–a Shabby Chic lantern filled with a collection of snowy, glittery treasures.

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My artistic friend Eileen had a similar idea this Christmas, making such a pretty arrangement, above, on her table!

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From Carpe Diem–Glttery gold ornaments paired with rustic and natural elements–and more lanterns surrounding the bottom of the tree.

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Love this outdoor lantern on a vintage sled–from Self Architecture. Gives any porch a warm and welcoming look!

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A great way to add a touch of Christmas to bedrooms–hang stockings at the foot of the bed and add a Christmas pillow on top! From Passion Decor.

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Top photo: Pinecones go great with the other rustic decor in this Shabby Chic display, from Seda y Nacar. And from the same site, a festive bannister with gifts and greenery.

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What a cozy entryway from Texstil Design!

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Cute little Christmas trees add a nice touch on tables indoors or out. From Jaynes Cozy Corner.

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A glowing, golden vintage village warms up any room. From Old, but gold.

Well, we will sure be prepared for next Christmas, won’t we? :) Have you collected some ideas you are saving for next Christmas?

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread or Dip

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After I made my Pumpkin Hummus, I had half of a can of pumpkin left over. What to do with it? I thought some of it might be good in a cream cheese spread. I was inspired by this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens. I wanted to sweeten the spread with honey instead of sugar (although you could use brown sugar instead if you want to have a thicker spread) and made some other changes, and this is what I ended up with!

It’s a lightly sweet and spicy spread with a very creamy texture that’s great on bagels or pumpkin bread for breakfast. Or, use as an appetizer spread on crackers or as a dip for fruit. It’s very soft and creamy when you mix it up so it does need to be refrigerated for at least an hour or two after mixing. Even after it’s refrigerated, it’s more creamy than other cream cheese spreads I’ve made–so if you want a thicker spread, use brown sugar instead of honey and omit the vanilla. If you don’t have all the spices I used in this, you can use 1 1/4 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice.

PUMPKIN SPICE CREAM  CHEESE SPREAD by NancyCreative, adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Makes 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese or light cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 3 Tablespoons honey (or substitute brown sugar for a thicker spread)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In medium bowl, blend all ingredients together until smooth (if using an electric mixer, blend on medium speed). Pour mixture into a small serving bowl, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Makes about 1 1/2 cups of spread. Serve on bagels or pumpkin bread for breakfast. Or, serve as an appetizer with crackers or apple and pear slices.

If you like pumpkin-flavored things, you’ll need to try this out! What other ways do you like to use leftover canned pumpkin?

Childlike Wonder

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It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when the Creator was a child Himself. –Charles Dickens, from A Christmas Carol

Wishing you a blessed and joyful Christmas and New Year!

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,  The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. ISAIAH 9:6 (KJV)

Pumpkin Hummus

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I started eating hummus about 10 years ago. A coworker and friend of mine made the best hummus, and he’d bring me some every so often. And I have been a big hummus fan ever since! I usually make this hummus recipe, but I thought I’d try making some hummus with pumpkin in it for the holidays. I liked most of the ingredients in this Pumpkin Hummus recipe and this one, so I used them as a starting point. I really like this Pumpkin Hummus! It’s a great healthy dip–really smooth and creamy, with a light pumpkin, savory taste. Perfect for balancing out all those holiday sweets! If you’re making this for a party or large group, you may want to double the recipe.

PUMPKIN HUMMUS by NancyCreative

Makes about 4 to 6 servings

  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), drained
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or a little more, to taste)

Add all ingredients in a food processor, starting with the garbanzo beans, and process until smooth.

To serve, spoon out on a platter or in a small bowl. Sometimes I garnish it with a little paprika. Serve with veggies, crackers, or pita bread.

It’s nice when a dip that tastes good is healthy, too! What are some of your healthy holiday snack recipes?

Christmasy Chocolate Dipped Pretzels

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I’m a big fan of sweet-and-salty flavor combinations! So of course I love chocolate covered pretzels! I like dipping them in white and dark or milk chocolate, then coating with a variety of holiday sprinkles or crushed candy canes. Since these are only half-dipped, they’re easy to handle and quick to make. They make a great snack or homemade gift for the holidays!

CHRISTMASY CHOCOLATE DIPPED PRETZELS by NancyCreative

Makes about 47 white chocolate and 47 semi-sweet chocolate dipped pretzels

  • 1 (4-ounce) bar semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped (or use a milk chocolate baking bar)
  • 1 (4-ounce) bar white baking chocolate, chopped
  • optional: 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil mixed into each small bowl of melted chocolate to make it smoother for dipping (stir in the coconut oil after the chocolate is all melted!)
  • 94 small pretzel twists
  • Different kinds of holiday sprinkles put in very small bowls or tea cups, for coating the chocolate (I used crushed candy canes as one of the coatings)

Place the two kinds of chocolate in separate small microwaveable bowls, breaking each bar into 4 pieces. Heat each bowl at 30-second intervals on medium, stirring after each time, until the chocolate has melted, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (melt one bowl of chocolate at a time, and when you use up the first bowl, melt your second bowl). If desired, stir in 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil into each bowl of melted chocolate (stir in after chocolate is all melted) to make it even smoother for dipping.

Dip each pretzel twist into the white or semi-sweet chocolate, and shake off any excess chocolate. Then dip in one of the sprinkle toppings or the crushed candy cane topping. Place on parchment paper or waxed paper until chocolate sets.

These are really super-easy to make and they’re a fun snack for Christmas! What fun and easy treats have you been making this holiday season?

Linked to Inspire Me Monday.

Chocolate Candy Cane Kiss Sugar Cookies

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Here’s a cute yummy little Christmas cookie–little rounds of chocolate sugar cookies with a Hershey’s Candy Cane Kiss tucked in the middle! As you can see above, you can also decorate these other ways, but I really love that peppermint-and-chocolate flavor combination for Christmas! These are easy to make, but you need to use these tips to get the best results:

  1. Unwrap the Candy Cane Kisses and keep them refrigerated until ready to use (these kisses get more melty faster than the regular chocolate kisses when you’re placing them on hot cookies (as you can see from the top photo–refrigerating them helps!)

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    Beware of Cookie Fail!

  2.  You need to work fast–after the cookies come out of the oven, press the Candy Cane Kisses into all of them quickly, then remove them from the pan onto a wire rack to cool. If the cookies stay on the hot pan over a minute, the kisses start to get too melty and you will have Cookie Fail! (see small photo)

Those are really the most important things you need to know–and even if you work fast, these Candy Cane Kisses will still get a little melty on you. But they taste so good on top of the little chocolate cookies, I’m okay with that! If these Candy Cane Kisses turn out to be a problem for you, you can use milk or dark chocolate kisses, or butterscotch, peanut butter, vanilla, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate chips (it’s a great way to use up those extra small amounts of baking chips you have left over from other recipes!).

CHOCOLATE CANDY CANE KISS SUGAR COOKIES by NancyCreative

Makes 36 to 38 cookies

  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 36 to 38 Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses (refrigerate them until ready to use) Or, use milk or dark chocolate kisses; or butterscotch, peanut butter, vanilla, milk chocolate or dark chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In medium bowl, cream softened butter and sugar until well-blended. Beat in egg, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Add flour and cocoa powder, and mix until a dough forms (this will be a thick, stiff dough).

Chill dough for 10 to 15 minutes to make it easier to form into balls. Then scoop out slightly rounded teaspoons of dough and roll into balls. Place balls on parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350˚F for 10 to 11 minutes, until edges are firm and cookies are dry to the touch.

Remove from oven; working quickly (because the candy cane kisses get soft and melty quickly), gently press a candy cane kiss into the center of each cookie (surface of cookies may crack slightly). As soon as you’re done, remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Do you like making chocolate and peppermint-flavored treats for the holidays?

Homemade Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix

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If you like making homemade Christmas gifts, here’s a great idea I found at MyRecipes. Just about everyone loves hot cocoa, so you really can’t go wrong giving this! You can get jars like the one above at Wal-Mart, or you can use whatever kind of jars you like. This recipe makes enough to fill a 1-quart jar (12 servings; I upped the amount of the mini chocolate chips and crushed peppermint candy from the original recipe, since I had some extra room in my jar). If you want to use smaller jars, you can divide the mixture up equally between those. A ribbon tied around the neck of the jar makes this hot cocoa gift really festive, too. And you’ll need to add a tag that gives directions on how to make the cocoa (directions are included in the recipe below).

This is a rich, chocolatey cocoa mix that makes a great cup of hot cocoa! And it has a nice touch of peppermint, so it’s perfect for the holidays. If I have the time, I may just make my own hot cocoa mix from now on!

HOMEMADE PEPPERMINT HOT COCOA MIX adapted from MyRecipes.com

Makes about 12 servings, enough to fill a 1-quart (32-ounce) jar

  • 1 cup powdered milk
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy or candy canes (I used 3/4 cup)

In a 1-quart jar, layer powdered milk, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, chocolate chips, and last of all, the peppermint candy on top. Cover jar with lid, tie a pretty holiday ribbon around the neck of the jar if desired, and attach a homemade gift tag with cocoa-making instructions on the back.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR BACK OF GIFT TAG: “Mix contents of jar in a large bowl. For each serving, place a slightly heaping 1/3 cup cocoa mix in a mug and stir in 1 cup boiling water. Store remaining mix back in jar or another airtight container.”

NOTE: This mix will fill a 1-quart jar (about 12 servings, with each serving being a slightly heaping 1/3 cup), but if your containers are different sizes, just keep the ratio of ingredients constant.

Are you making any homemade Christmas gifts this year?

Linked to Inspire Me Monday.

OREO Holiday Chocolate Chip Cookie Balls

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OREOs are always a treat, and these cookie ball truffles are a great way to enjoy them over the holidays! So now that the Christmas season is in full swing, I thought this would be the perfect time to make them. They’re easy to make and all you need are a few ingredients–OREO cookies, cream cheese, and chocolate–plus an extra ingredient I added! I decided I’d make these cookie balls a little extra chocolatey by adding in some mini chocolate chips (you need to use the mini chips–the regular size would be much too big)! And I used both semi-sweet and white baking chocolate to coat them for a little variety. I topped these yummy treats with different kinds of Christmas sprinkles, coconut, and crushed candy canes. Chopped nuts would also be a great topping.

You can make these cookie ball truffles without the mini chocolate chips if you prefer; you’ll get about 48 if you make them that way. If you make them with the mini chocolate chips like I did, you’ll get at least 70 truffles, maybe a little more, so you may want to have an extra 4-ounce package of baking chocolate on hand in case you need more chocolate coating. I had just enough chocolate to coat all of mine with the 4 packages, but it never hurts to have a little extra on hand. I also added 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil per bar of baking chocolate–I mixed the coconut oil into the chocolate after it was all melted–it made the chocolate a little thinner and easier to dip the cookie balls in.

I also found it was easiest to dip these cookie ball truffles into the chocolate by using a regular spoon, turning each one over in the melted chocolate with the spoon until it was all coated. Then I immediately put it on a parchment-lined pan, using the spoon to drop it on. After dipping about 5 cookie balls, I adding toppings before the chocolate started setting–the toppings adhere much better when the chocolate coating is still very melty.

So that’s all there is to it! And I thought it would be fun to arrange these cookie balls in a tree shape–a great way to serve them at a holiday party or get-together!

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OREO HOLIDAY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BALLS by NancyCreative, slightly adapted from the original OREO Cookie Ball recipe

Makes about 70 cookie ball truffles

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 36 OREO Cookies, finely crushed (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (this is an addition to the original recipe)
  • 4 to 5 (4-ounce) packages semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted (I used 2 packages of semi-sweet and 2 packages of white chocolate, melting the different chocolates separately; I also mixed in 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil per 4-ounce melted chocolate baking bar after the chocolate was all melted, for easier dipping–if you don’t do this, your melted chocolate will be thicker, and you may need a 5th 4-ounce bar to have enough chocolate coating)
  • Assorted toppings to sprinkle on the chocolate-coated truffles: Christmas sprinkles, crushed candy canes, coconut, nuts

Mix cream cheese and cookie crumbs until blended. Shape into 70 (1-inch) balls. Place in a shallow 10 x 15″ pan lined with parchment paper and freeze for 10 minutes.

For cookie balls, dip each ball into melted chocolate. Place in single layer in your lined 10 x 15″ pan (I dipped about 5 at a time, then sprinkled them, so the toppings would stick well before the chocolate started setting). You may need to use an extra lined pan, since you’ll need to leave more space between the chocolate coated cookie balls while they’re setting.

After dipping and topping all the cookie balls with your choice of sprinkles or toppings, refrigerate them on your lined pan or pans for 1 hour or until firm.

I partnered with Yummly and OREO on this post, but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own–I’m a longtime Oreo fan! :)

Do you like Oreos too? Have you made these cookie balls and do you have a special way of making them?