One Year Blogiversary

Today is my One Year Blogiversary!  I can’t believe that it’s already been a year.  There have definitely been some up and downs along the way.  I’ve learned many things about programming and photography over the last year, but more importantly I’ve learned a lot about the people in my life.  I’ve been surrounded by so many supportive friends and family.  I just want to thank you for your encouragement and belief in me.  It means more than you will ever know.  Thank you to everyone who has come to visit my site and especially those of you who have left comments.  Sometimes putting up a post is very nerve-racking.  I write about something that I love (mostly food) 🙂 and then I wait to see how it’s received.  It makes me so excited when I hear about your successes with a recipe I’ve posted or a product I recommended!

I’ve decided that I want to celebrate by taking a look back at some of my favorites from the past year. Thank you again for your support and here’s looking to an exciting 2nd year!

bolognese-w

This Crockpot Bolognese is a favorite around here.  I especially love that it makes enough for two dinners. (freeze half of the sauce for a quick meal in the future)

close-2Bbreadstick

 

These breadsticks are a HUGE hit wherever I take them.  The garlic seasoning mix on them is one no kitchen should be without!

 

churro-muffinsHave you tried these Churro muffins yet?  These mini muffins are dipped in butter and tossed in cinnamon sugar.  Need I say more?

 

 

 

 

brownie-oatmealThis decadent breakfast is actually good for you and low in calories!  I like to make a few at the beginning of the week and keep them in the fridge for a quick breakfast or snack.

 

 

ham-fried-rice

I love this Ham Fried Rice!  I tried for years to make fried rice and it never tasted right, until now.  We have it for dinner at least once a month. (which is really often for this house)

 

 

homemade-ketchup

 

I love this ketchup!  It’s just as good as any I have ever bought and it has no high fructose corn syrup.  I also love that I mix it up in the crock pot and just let it simmer.

 

 

strawberry-lemonade

 

Simple syrup is the key to this Strawberry Lemonade turning out perfect every time!  Make sure and make a double batch because it will go very quickly!

 

 

 

bubbles5

 

These bubbles were so fun to make!  Young and old enjoyed making and popping them. I highly recommend making them for a guaranteed fun time!

 

 

 

bottom-lash-mascara

Last, but not least, if you missed my post about Bottom Lash Mascara, check it out.  It’s my favorite makeup find this year. 🙂

 

Hope you’ve found one or two things that you’re excited to try!  Thanks for visiting!!

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Avocado Salad

avocado-saladThis is one of my family’s favorite dishes.  My sister made it for me once and I think that it took me all of a day to make it for myself after I got home from visiting her.  It’s wonderfully fresh and everything in to is good for you!  How do you beat that?

 

AnneOpinion

The ingredients are very simple, which is what, I think, helps make this salad so good.  There’s nothing getting in the way of all of the great flavors.  I like to use either fresh corn (from corn on the cob cooked this way) or a high quality frozen corn that I let defrost on the counter.

Here’s a tip for cutting the tomato.  Cut the tomato in half and gently squeeze it over a bowl or sink.  This will get rid of most of the seeds and mess that can come with tomatoes.

The lime juice helps to brighten the flavors and keeps the avocado from going brown.  The garlic and the hot sauce are added to taste so mix it up, try it out and add from there to get the flavor you want.

I generally make this to go with a Mexican themed dinner and serve it with tortilla chips.  My family eats a ton of it this way.  Everyone loves it!  I personally love to have a bowl of this salad with some grilled chicken for dinner.  So good!

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Avocado Salad
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Avocado Salad
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Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Cute the avocado and the tomato into bite sized pieces. Slice the onions and drain the black beans. Mix all of the ingredients together, season with garlic and hot sauce to taste. Let it sit for 1 hour before serving. Serve as a side dish or as a dip for tortilla chips.
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Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

browned-butter-chocolate-chChocolate Chip Cookies are favorite around our house.  In fact, I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve asked my husband what I should make for dessert for Sunday dinner and his answer is chocolate chip cookies.  Every. Single. Time.  I used to be bothered by this because I would think, “I could make you any number of fancy desserts and all you want is chocolate chip cookies?”  I’ve gotten past that now and am grateful that something so simple is all that it takes to make him happy. (and if I want to make a fancy dessert, I just don’t ask for his opinion on what I should make.

Nestle Toll House is the standard recipe that I use.  I’ve tried many over the years and I always go back to it.  I think it’s the goto recipe for most people.  I always think of this moment in “Friends” where Monica spends two days trying to figure out Phoebe’s grandmother’s cookies recipe only to realize it was Nestle Toll House all along.

Last week, on my Instagram feed, I saw that America’s Test Kitchen had a link for their best chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I decided to check it out and when I found that they had used the Toll House recipe as the basis to start from , I knew that I needed to try it. I wasn’t disappointed.  These cookies look and taste like you picked them up at a local bakery.  They have that wonderful crispy ripple on the outside and the inside is soft and dense.  Perfection!

AnneOpinion

First of all, they start with browned butter.  Browned butter is a bit of an obsession of mine and I’m convinced that it makes all things better.  It gives the dough a softer and greasier texture than a regular dough so don’t be surprised by that.  It also will start bubbling and foaming when you add the additional butter after taking it off the heat.  Don’t be alarmed by this!  I actually think that it’s kind of cool.

Adding the white sugar to the eggs and letting them rest for 10 minutes gives the sugar a chance to dissolve, and helps sugar to caramelize more quickly in the baking process, resulting in a more flavorful cookie.

The use of one egg and one egg yolk helps make the cookies less cakelike and the small amount of cinnamon (which I added) helps to enhance the flavor of the cookie and the chocolate while not standing out as a single flavor.

If you have the time, a variety of cookie experts swear by letting your dough rest, at least overnight.  It really is amazing how much the flavor intensifies and becomes more complex over time.  If you don’t have time for that, don’t worry, they’re still really good right away.  🙂

If you have the option of using a convection oven, I found that I like the spread on the cookies better when I used it vs my regular oven.  Also, give the dough a few minutes to warm up if you have had it in the refrigerator overnight.  The warmer the dough, the more the cookie will spread, so you can decide which you like and make accordingly.

I was so impressed by these cookies I wrapped them up individually in plastic wrap and gave them to my kids’ teachers.  They looked and tasted like I’d picked them up at a gourmet bakery and I wasn’t going to tell them any different. 😉

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Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
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Servings
19 cookies
Servings
19 cookies
Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
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Servings
19 cookies
Servings
19 cookies
Ingredients
Servings: cookies
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small skillet, melt 10 tablespoons of butter 1-2 minutes. Continue cooking until butter turns a light brown color and has a nutty aroma 1-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add additional 4 tablespoons of butter; allow to melt. In a medium bowl, mix white sugar and eggs. Allow to stand for 10 minutes. Add brown sugar, salt, vanilla and butter and mix together. Add flour, baking soda, and cinnamon and mix until just combined. Add chocolate chips and nuts (if desired) and mix together. (if you have time, chill overnight) Using a large cookie scoop, place cookie balls on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 10-13 minutes. Allow to cool for 2 minutes before moving to a cooling wrack.
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Ice Cream Cake

ice-cream-cakeMy summer birthday boys have a bit of a tradition.  All three of them want to have an Ice Cream Cake.  Their favorite is chocolate cake with mint ice cream.  Sometimes they pick a different kind, like the S’more Cake in the picture.  I love making them because they are so easy to put together, easy to decorate and with the ice cream and cake together it’s a complete dessert.

AnneOpinion

An ice cream cake consists of two round cakes, a container of ice cream frozen in a round cake pan, and a container of Cool Whip.  Stack cake, ice cream, cake; cover with Cool Whip and you’re good to go.

The flavor combinations are endless.  Chocolate cake and strawberry ice cream; chocolate cake and cookies & cream ice cream; yellow cake with rocky road ice cream…use your imagination.

I like to decorate the top of cake by sprinkling it with a coordinating topping.  Junior mints for a chocolate/chocolate chip mint; Crushed Oreos on a chocolate/cookies & cream; graham crumbs, marshmallows and chocolate chips on a chocolate/s’more.

Make sure that your cake plate fits in your freezer and that you have enough space to put the cake in once it’s assembled.  Nothing is worse than having an ice cream cake melting because there was no where to freeze it.

The only down side to this cake is that it is not a last minute thing.  I always start 1-2 days before so that I can have 6-12 hours between each step.  But, as long as you plan in advance, you’ll have a cake that everyone will be super impressed with and took you very little prep time!

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Ice Cream Cake
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Ice Cream Cake
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Prepare a cake in two round pans. Wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and freeze them for 6-12 hours. Set ice cream out for 1/2-1 hour. Line a round cake pan with plastic wrap. Scoop ice cream into pan, filling the pan and smoothing the top flat. Freeze ice cream layer. O for 6-12 hours. Once all three are frozen, place a cake on a cake plate, place the ice layer on top of it, and the second cake on the top. Cover all of the cake with Cool Whip. Top with desired candy or crushed cookies. Freeze completed cake for at least 6 hours before serving.
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Earthquake Cake

mudslide-cakeEarthquake cake is

  • Chocolate Cake
  • Coconut
  • Pecans
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Cream Cheese
  • Butter

Is it just me or does that sound like it has to be a winning combination?  I found this recipe on The First Year and I think that I tried pinning it at least a half a dozen times (I always get that little “oops! looks like you’ve already pinned this!”) I finally got around to making it and here’s what I thought.

AnneOpinion

This was good.  It really was, but it wasn’t “I’m dying to have this again and need to think of an excuse to make it today” good.  I think that if I were to make it again that I would use a regular chocolate cake mix and not a German chocolate cake mix.  I wanted more chocolate flavor in the cake.

The chocolate chips add a rich chocolate taste and the crunch from the pecans add a nice texture to this rich dessert.  The melted butter and cream cheese is good but I can’t decide if it’s worth the calories.

Raspberries or strawberries were a delicious addition, when serving, that complimented the flavors in the cake well.

This would be a great dessert to take to a potluck.  It would go over well in a crowd and it looks like something that you just want to dive into.

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Earthquake Cake
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Earthquake Cake
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle the coconut, chocolate chips, and pecans on the bottom of the pan. Mix the German chocolate cake mix with the oil, eggs, and water using a spatula or hand mixer on low. Pour the cake mix on top of the coconut/chocolate chip/pecan layer. In a saucepan, melt the butter and cream cheese. Using a spatula or hand mixer on low, beat in 1 pound of powdered sugar until it's smooth to the butter/cream cheese. Spread this mixture on top of the uncooked chocolate cake in the pan, and swirl into the cake mix using a knife. Bake for 35-45 minutes. It is done when it doesn't wobble in the pan if you shake it. The toothpick test shouldn't work because the cake should be more gooey in nature. Enjoy! Store any left over cake in the fridge.
Recipe Notes

AnneOpinion from The First Year

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Random Thoughts and Boxed Pasta Salads

pasta-salad-reviewI was feeling a bit of frustration yesterday.  I had seen a recipe on one of my favorite blogs and I was super excited to try it.  The blogger (I love her so I’m not going to say who) had raved, multiple times about these cookies and so I, of course, needed to try making them right away.  I went and picked up the ingredients, which included a jar of almond butter ($8 and the recipe used 90% of it) and a cup of almonds, which also ran me a couple of bucks.  All told I spend at least $10 on this one batch of cookies.  The batch made 32 cookies the size of a mini muffin and while they are good, they’re not something that I’ll ever feel the need to make again.

Please tell me that I’m not the only one who gets super frustrated about things like this?  I hate wasting my time, money and energy on things that aren’t stellar.  I know that bloggers have to be continually posting to keep their audience engaged, but sometimes you wish that there was a way to have posts marked “This is so super good and I love to make it all the time” or “This was good, but not that great and I’ll never make it again, but I have to do a blog post so here it is.”

In an effort to not become a blogger that only posts because I have to put up some thing today, I have decided to only post 2 days a week, instead of three.  I want to make sure that what I put up is stuff that I actually want to recommend and not just so I can get something else up.  I hope that you’ll find that my opinion is something that you can trust and rely on.  In keeping with that, here is my opinion on the two boxed salads above.

AnneOpinion

When I was first married and “cooking for real” for the first time, I tried out some of these boxed products that I’d never had growing up.  I decided that the flavors in them were a bit too artificial for me and I felt that they always tasted like they were too high in sodium.  I’ve been married now for 18 years and so I thought that I’d give a couple of them a try and hope that, in the last almost 20 years, the taste of them had improved.

I think that they have, but only a little.  As I was preparing them I thought that the Hidden Valley one had a great bacon scent to it and I personally preferred eating it.  My boys all liked the Suddenly Salad one better and I even got my husband to take some to work one day.  That said, my spoiled family that is used to most things made from scratch, would not go near the leftovers and I had to throw the remainer out.  As an added bonus to this experience (insert sarcastic voice here), Boy 2 is now craving my Chicken Bowtie Salad and has been asking for it daily.  I’ve added it to the menu for next week and will probably not be buying either of these boxed salads again.  I did think about doctoring them up, but decided if I was going to do that, I may as well start from scratch.

Not wanting to leave you empty handed for the day, I thought I’d share the menu for an impromptu lunch that I’m having today with a friend.  It’s very last minute and so I needed to keep it simple, but at the same time I feel like one of the ways that I show others that I care is through my food and so I wanted to have a couple of special things.  )If you haven’t made the Coconut Cream yet, quit waiting!  I was reminded again today how amazing it tastes!!)

Lunch Menu

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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Popcorn

peanut-butter-popcornLast week I spent a couple of days really wanting something sweet to munch and not finding anything to satisfy that craving.  Do you ever have that?  You really want to eat something, but you have no idea what it is?  I finally figured out what I was wanting, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Popcorn.  20 minutes later, I was eating it.  I love it when something is fast to make, I have all of the ingredients on hand, and it’s super yummy.  It’s the ultimate trifecta of a recipe.

AnneOpinion

What you neged to make this delectable treat: popcorn, peanut butter, sugar, corn syrup and chocolate.  That’s it!  Five ingredients are all that stand between you and this sweet and salty snack.

After you make the peanut butter sauce and mix it onto the popcorn, the popcorn will taste great, but be very sticky.  That’s why you’ll then pour the popcorn onto a baking sheet and put it in the oven for 15 minutes.  When it comes out you’ll be amazed at the difference.

Make sure and break up the popcorn as soon as it comes out of the oven.  If it cools in the pan all of the popcorn will stick together in one big rectangle.  Which will still taste good, but may not be the effect that you’re going for.

I like to use pre-popped popcorn, like Skinny Pop or Popcornopolis, because they have salt already on them. The salt adds a nice contrast to the sweetness of the peanut butter and chocolate.

I like to use the chocolate melting wafers (the ones that are labeled for candy making) because they’re made just for something like this.  They melt in the microwave easily and they harden up nicely after you drizzle the chocolate on the popcorn.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Popcorn is perfect for an afternoon snack, a late midnight snack or a fun little gift to share with others.  I took some to the teachers at my kid’s school last week and let’s just say it got rave reviews!

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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Popcorn
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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Popcorn
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place corn syrup and sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Stir together and microwave for 2-3 minutes (sugar should be completely dissolved and syrup should be boiling). Add peanut butter into the syrup and stir until completely smooth. Pour over popcorn and immediately mix to coat all of the popcorn. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and pour popcorn onto baking sheet and spread out evenly. Place in oven and baking 15 minutes. Cover a counter with wax paper or parchment paper, break popcorn apart while it is still warm. Melt chocolate in the microwave and drizzle over the popcorn. Try and wait until chocolate has hardened to eat. 🙂
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Healthy Banana Chocolate Muffins

banana-chocolate-muffinsToday is the last of our healthy muffins for this week.  I got this recipe from my sister years ago and it’s great go to when you have ripe bananas.

AnneOpinion

These are half white flour/half whole wheat flour.  That gives you the benefit of having whole wheat without everyone turning up their noses at it because the muffins are too grainy. In fact, if you don’t tell, no one will guess that they’re have whole wheat flour in them.

You really need the bananas to be ripe.  They provide a good amount of the sweetness and moisture to the muffins that won’t be there if you use under ripe bananas.

You’ll be surprised at how far the 1/2 Cup of mini chocolate chips goes.  I love using mini chips in my baking because I get all of the chocolate flavor with less calories and sugar.  Always a staple at our house!

I hope that you’ll give these and the Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins and the Morning Glory muffins a try!  Let me know what you think.

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Healthy Banana Chocolate Muffins
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Healthy Banana Chocolate Muffins
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Place paper liners in 12 muffin cups and preheat oven to 350. Mash bananas and place in a medium sized bowl. Add all ingredients to the bowl and mix until everything is incorporated together. Evenly distribute between muffin cups. Bake for 15-18 minutes.
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Applesauce Oat Muffins

apple-oatmeal-muffinsSo, I know that I’ve referred you to recipes from Mel’s Kitchen Café a few times now and I tried really hard not to do it again. I wanted to include an apple muffin recipe for my healthy muffin week and I gave a couple recipes that I found on Pinterest a go and they were not good!  I guess I should have had a clue when the recipe said I could use flour or smelt that it was a little more hard core than I like.  Needless to say, I had to go back to my standby because nothing could beat it.  Why, you may ask?  Let me explain…No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

AnneOpinion

These muffin are simple, sweet and chewy.  They only have 1/3 Cup of sugar in the recipe, which makes 12 muffins.  That is a really small amount in case you were wondering!

They are soo simple to make.  No peeling, slicing or dicing here.  Just pour, measure and dump.

They are fine plain, but we really like them with dried fruit, in particular cran-blueberries.  They are big and plump and add just the right burst of flavor.

One suggestion that Mel had was to send them in school lunches in place of a sandwich.  I love that idea!  I’m always looking for new things that I could send and these are so healthy I wouldn’t feel a moments guilt about putting a muffin in the kiddos’ lunch.  They also freeze great so make a double batch and save some in the freezer for those morning when you’re out of bread and need a lunch time alternative. (does that just happen to me?)

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Applesauce Oat Muffins
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Applesauce Oat Muffins
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin cups liners or grease the muffin cups. Set aside.. In a medium bowl, stir together the oatmeal, applesauce, milk, egg, vanilla, butter and sugar. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt (and dried fruit if using). Make a well in the center and pour in the applesauce mixture. Stir until just combined (don't overmix or the muffins will be dense and dry). Distribute the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Don't over bake or the muffins will be dry. Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely. Eat immediately or freeze for later enjoyment.
Recipe Notes

AnneOpinion from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

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Morning Glory Muffins

Carrot-cake-muffinsWe’re going to be talking muffins this week.  With school starting and everyone being more “on the go,” I need to have some things on hand that are healthy and that everyone likes.  Those two things are the requirements for all three of the muffin recipes that I’ll be sharing this week.  My oldest is attending a church class at 6:00am before school and I am not getting up and making him a hot breakfast every day (sorry honey!), but I want to make sure that what he is eating is healthy, filling and most importantly, portable.  My solution has been muffins and so far they are being met with great applause.

AnneOpinion

If you’ve never had a Morning Glory muffin, they are kind of like a carrot cake in muffin form.  They’re very nutritious with carrots, apple, nuts and coconut.

These muffins are great right away, but even better the next day or after freezing.  The flavors get the chance to meld together and really complement each other.

I like to use coconut oil in these, but if that’s not your thing, melted butter or canola oil also work well.

If I’m making these for a brunch or a morning meeting, I put a dollop of frosting on them.  If they’re for my family, I just leave them plain.  They are bursting with so many flavors on their own I don’t feel like they need it and that would undermine the “healthy and nutritious” goal that I have for them.  With the nuts, and the coconut and the cinnamon and the orange, you don’t really need more; but if you add the frosting it’s like you’re eating a really good carrot cake for breakfast and nobody complains about cake for breakfast!

I love the little bit of orange that I added into these.  It’s a wonderful surprise background flavor that adds a fresh taste to the muffin. If you have any fans of carrot cake or spice cake around, you need to give this recipe a try!

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Morning Glory Muffins
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Morning Glory Muffins
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
Muffin Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or place paper liners in 18 muffin cups. Toast pecans for 5-7 minutes. Let cool and chop. Toast coconut for 3-4 minutes; let cool. Peel and finely grate carrots and apple and set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, oil, orange juice and vanilla. Add carrots and apple and fold together. Add flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, orange zest, pecans, and coconut and mix together until just moistened. Evenly divided batter between muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing to wire wrack. Let cool completely. Eat, freeze or frost. Whatever you do, they're going to be good!!
Frosting instructions
  1. Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add a dollop to each muffin.
Recipe Notes

AnneOpinion adapted from Joy of Baking

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