Friday, December 13, 2013

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 3 - Receiving Cookies

Two days ago, I wrote about Baking for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, and yesterday I wrote about Packaging and Shipping those cookies. Today, I share with you the treats I received in the mail from my fellow food bloggers.

On the left you see one of the molasses cookies I received from Chelsea of This Grand Adventure.  My husband especially loved them!

In the middle is a cranberry caramel bar from Martha of Simple Nourished Living. These were incredibly tasty.

Finally, on the right is one of the gingerbread cookies that Meghan of Spoonful of Flour sent me.  They are probably some of the best gingerbread cookies I have ever had.  I have been raving for days.

In addition to the cookies and bars sent by my fellow bloggers, I received some great freebies from the Cookie Swap's sponsors.  Oxo sent a set of three of their silicone spatulas.  Imperial Sugar and Grandma's Molasses both sent coupons for a free item, redeemable at my local grocery store.

This experience has been great fun and I look forward to next year's cookie swap!

See The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 1 - Baking Pepperming Biscotti.
See The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 2 - Packaging & Shipping.
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 2 - Packaging & Shipping

In my first post, I talked about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and the Peppermint Biscotti I made for it.  Here, I give tips for packaging and shipping cookies.

Packaging and Shipping Cookies

For the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap I needed to make cookies that would ship well, and biscotti are known for that.  But, they still need a little help.  Here are my steps for packaging cookies to mail:

1. Place two cookies flat side to flat side.  Wrap in plastic wrap.

2. Pack tightly into a sturdy bakers box or cookie tin.  Fill in any extra space with tissue paper.  Once the lid is on, you should be able to gently shake the box and not hear the contents shuffling.

3. Pack the box of goodies into a larger box, surrounded by crumpled newspaper, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or all three :) Once again, you should be able to shake the box gently with no movement inside.

I found the USPS Priority Medium Flat Rate Box (top load) was the perfect size for the cookie tin I used.  Use packing tape on all open seams to prevent moisture from getting into the box during shipping.  Take it to your local post office, or, even better, use to have them pick up the package at your doorstep!  Priority shipping through USPS comes with a small amount of insurance and you can get a tracking number for free.

My final post on the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap will be on the cookies I received - and, might I say, they were quite tasty!

See The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 1 - Baking Peppermint Biscotti.
See The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 3 - Receiving
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 1 - Baking Peppermint Biscotti

In December of last year, I read about The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, and I wanted to participate so bad!  The problem - a food blog was required and a food blog was exactly what I lacked.  So, What This Mama Eats was born (probably one of the dumber reasons to start a blog ever...).

This year, when the announcement was made in November, I was ready to go!  Here's how it works: you sign up, pay a $4.00 tax-deductible donation to Cookies for Kids' Cancer, receive the names and addresses of three fellow food bloggers, choose your recipe, bake it, ship it, and blog about it.

I signed up, got my names, and decided to make peppermint biscotti.

Biscotti is a fairly easy cookie to make.  It gets its texture from two separate baking periods.

First, mix sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and peppermint extract. (If you are planning to dip in almond bark and candy cane bits, you can skip the peppermint extract.  Without the extra peppermint on the outside you need the extra flavor on the inside.)  In a separate bowl, stir together flour and baking powder.  I do this using a sieve to sift out any lumps.

Add flour mixture to egg mixture, blend.  Fold in peppermint bits.

Separate the dough into two sections. Shape each half of the dough into a rectangle, 10 x 3 inches, on parchment. The benefit to using parchment paper is that you can measure the 10 inches by 3 inches so you know exactly how big to make the loaf.  The dough is a bit sticky, so put flour on your hand or use a silicon spatula to shape it.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Cut each section crosswise into 3/4 to 1 inch slices. (I also marked those measurements on the parchment paper.)  I use a dough cutter, that you can see in the picture below, to cut the slices.  It is perfect for this. Place slices cut sides down on a baking sheet.

Bake 15 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Optional: Melt almond bark according to package directions.  Place broken bits of 10 candy canes on a plate.  Dip each biscotti first into the almond bark and then into the peppermint.  Place on a piece of wax paper.  Allow the almond bark to harden before storing or packaging for shipping.  See tomorrow's post for packaging and shipping tips.

Peppermint Biscotti

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4-1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional)
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
20 small candy canes + 10 small candy canes (optional), finely crushed (keep separate)
1 package almond bark (optional)

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

In a large bowl use an electric mixer to blend the sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and peppermint extract (if using) until smooth and creamy.

In a separate bowl stir together flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir until all the ingredients are blended together. Fold in the broken bits of the 20 candy canes.

Separate the dough into two sections. Shape each half of the dough into a rectangle, 10 x 3 inches, on parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Cut each section crosswise into 3/4-1 inch slices. Place slices cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Optional: Melt almond bark according to package directions.  Place broken bits of 10 candy canes on a plate.  Dip each biscotti first into the almond bark and then into the peppermint.  Place on a piece of wax paper.  Allow the almond bark to harden before storing or packaging for shipping.

Makes 24 - 26 cookies.

This recipe is adapted from a post by Elaine Smit of Chow Bella Kids on Williams-Sonoma's Taste blog.

My peppermint biscotti were sent to Kitchen Joy, Western New Yorker, and Chew Nibble Nosh.

Check back tomorrow for packaging and shipping tips and Friday to see what I got in the mail!
See The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 2 - Packaging & Shipping.
See The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Part 3 - Receiving
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Monday, December 9, 2013

Cranberry Crumble (or Leftover Cranberry Sauce's Best Friend)

I make the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving every year, and I always make the mistake of looking at the recipe and thinking, "Yeah, I should definitely double that."  I am always wrong.  Even though people like my cranberry sauce, they still only eat a few spoonfuls.  So, every year I am left with approximately 15 cups of extra sauce.  (I may be exaggerating, but it really is a lot.)

This year we discovered that my 1 year old LOVES cranberry sauce.  She has helped to make a dent, but I still have a lot left.  I put together this recipe for cranberry crumble in an effort to unburden my refrigerator of its continued presence.

Cranberry Crumble

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups packed brown sugar
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 cups cranberry sauce (enough to create a layer in a 9x13 pan) - see my recipe below

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, brown sugar, and oats with a pastry cutter or your hands until the butter is worked through.  Press 2/3 of the mixture into an ungreased 9x13 pan.  Pour enough cranberry sauce over the oatmeal layer to cover it.  Sprinkle remaining oatmeal mixture over the top.  Bake until the oatmeal topping begins to turn golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Cool slightly before serving.  The filling will thicken as it cools.

This recipe can easily be halved and baked in a 9x9 pan.  I haven't tried it yet, but it is possible that you could use less cranberry sauce (make a very thin layer over the base oatmeal layer) and make these into oatmeal bars.

Cranberry Sauce (the recipe as is - not doubled, like I usually mistakenly make):

2 cups unfiltered apple cider
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 12-oz bags fresh cranberries

In a medium-large nonaluminum saucepan, combine the apple cider, sugar, water and cinnamon stick.  Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add the cranberries, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries have burst, about 10 minutes. (Do not overcook.  Cranberries naturally have pectin, which will help them to set a bit.  If you overcook them, they will be watery.)

Cool to room temperature.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to develop the flavors.  Remove the cinnamon stick and let the sauce come to room temperature before serving.

Makes approximately 6 cups of sauce.

The cranberry crumble recipe is inspired by a recipe for Fruit-Filled Oatmeal Bars in The Amish Cook's Family Favorite Recipes by Lovina Eicher (Rodale, 2013).

The cranberry sauce recipe is from Thanksgiving by Williams-Sonoma (Simon & Schuster Source, 2001).

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gifts in a Jar: Cranberry Apple Oatmeal Mix

I don't know about you, but I struggle every year to decide what to give my grandparents for Christmas.  I want to give them something thoughtful and something they will like, but most grandparents don't have room for a bunch of extra knick-knacks.  Enter the food gift.  I love to put together homemade food gifts and am able to express my love for them by giving them gifts that they can enjoy, while not cluttering up valuable space in their homes.  This year that gift will be oatmeal mix in a jar.

Start by finding a cute jar.  I bought these at Wal-Mart for around $6 a piece.  If you can't tell, they have a snowflake on them.  You can also find individual jars at Hobby Lobby (don't forget to pull up their 40% off coupon on your phone if they aren't on sale!).  

Next, mix up your oatmeal.  Here is there recipe I used:

3-4 cups quick cooking oatmeal (not instant)
1 cup dried fruit (I used 1/2 c cranberries and 1/2 c chopped dried apples)
1/2 cup sliced almonds (toasted in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 cup flax seeds

Put all ingredients into a gallon zip top bag and shake to mix. Pour into jar, filling to the top (contents will settle).  Notice there is no sweetener added.  I know that each of my grandparents like to control the sugar they take in, so I left it unsweetened.  I will include with the gift a small bottle of maple syrup, like the ones you can buy at Cracker Barrel.  

After completing the jars, make a card with instructions.  I provided several options for my grandparents so they can choose a serving size.

1. Combine water and oats in a medium microwaveable bowl. For a small serving, use 1/3 cup oatmeal mix and 1/2-2/3 cup water.  For a larger serving, use 2/3 cup oatmeal mix and 1-1 1/3 cup water.
2. Microwave 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.  Stir.

Finally, tie a ribbon around the jar or top with a bow and you are finished!  Easy, right?  These also mail well - just be sure to surround it tightly with packing peanuts or bubble wrap.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Making Fresh Butter (Really - It's Easy!)

We have some friends coming over tonight, and I thought it would be fun to use some extra herbs I had to make some compound butter - that is, butter with a flavoring like citrus zest, berries or herbs in it.  When I opened the fridge to grab some butter to soften, I realized that I had 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream left in a quart container.  It was a perfect opportunity to make fresh butter.  

You see, it often happens that I have to buy a pint or quart of heavy whipping cream for a recipe and don't use it all.  So, it sits in my fridge waiting for the odd splash into oatmeal or coffee.  If I needed it, I could whip it for fresh whipped cream, but today, those leftovers were used up making butter - and it is unbelievably easy.

Start by pouring 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream into the bowl of my stand mixer and turning it to high.

Let it run for 15-20 minutes.  Beat it like you are making whipped cream and then let it keep going. 15-20 minutes seems like a long time, but you want it to be nice and pretty and smooth and then break into something that looks like cottage cheese or scrambled eggs.  You will want to stop it every once in a while to scrape down the sides.  The first picture below is about halfway through and then after that is what it looks like when it is finished.

Notice that liquid has separated out from the fat solids.  This is technically buttermilk, but it isn't the same thing as the manufactured buttermilk we get in stores. 

When you get to the cottage cheese/scrambled egg stage, scrape it out into a strainer or piece of cheese cloth.  You want to drain off the liquid and then knead the butter into a ball and squeeze out any extra liquid.  This is a little easier with cheese cloth, but it isn't a big deal to just squeeze it out with your hand.

At this point, you can just spread it onto toast if you want.  Or, mash in some strawberries and spread on an english muffin.  Or, you can do what I did and chop up some fresh herbs and mash with a pinch of salt.

When you finish mixing in your extras, put the butter on a piece of plastic wrap, roll into a log, and twist the ends as tightly as you can.  Put it in the fridge and pull out when you are ready to spread.  

See - all you have to do is whip cream until it separates into liquid and fat solids (15-20 minutes), drain, flavor (if you want), and refrigerate or spread.  A perfect way to use up extra heavy whipping cream!  As you can see, my 1/2 cup cream resulted in about 2 tablespoons of butter.  You can do this with large amounts of cream as well - it just might take a little longer to separate.  It is certainly cheaper to buy your butter, but fresh butter is fun for a special occasion!
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tomato Basil Soup

A winter favorite for my family has long been LaMadeleine's Tomato Basil Soup.  If you have had this soup, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't, you have two options: visit your local LaMadeleine if you live in Texas or a handful of other southern states OR make your own. This recipes was printed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1994.  I made a big batch a few years ago for the family at Thanksgiving, and it was a hit.

LaMadeleine's Tomato-Basil Soup

4 cups fresh tomatoes, cored, peeled, and chopped (8-10) or 4 cups canned whole tomatoes, crushed
4 cups tomato juice (or part vegetable or part chicken stock)
12 -14 basil leaves, washed fresh
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb sweet unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
lemon juice (optional)

Combine tomatoes, juice/and or stock in saucepan.
Simmer 30 minutes.
Puree, along with the basil leaves, in small batches, in blender, food processor (or better yet, one of those handy hand-held food blenders, right in the cooking pan). Return to saucepan and add cream and butter, while stirring, over low heat. Garnish with basil leaves and serve with your favorite bread.
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Cooking with Venison

OK, I know that a BUNCH of you just decided this post was not remotely interesting to you.  But, I also know that I have friends out there who hunt, or whose husband hunts, or whose father-in-law's cousin hunts and you have deer meat in your freezer just waiting for inspiration.  (Interesting factoid I learned recently: The term 'venison,' though commonly used for deer meat, actually refers to all game meat.)

I can't say we always get it right, but I do have a few tips for cooking with venison.  I can tell you right now - if you don't like the taste of deer meat, you can just move on.  Nothing to see here.  These recipes aren't made to mask the taste of game, though some do take the edge off.

First, we use ground venison for anything we would use ground beef for.  I love it because it is usually free (coming from my husband, father-in-law, or brother-in-law), and you are basically getting free range, all-natural meat.  We use it in spaghetti, tacos, sloppy joes...the list goes on.  One thing to note, though, is that if you are making hamburgers with venison you will want to mix it with something fattier like ground pork or beef.  Otherwise your burgers will turn out a bit dry and crumbly.

Next, if you have a say in how your venison source gets their meat processed, make requests.  My father-in-law sometimes has it made into ground sausage.  We make patties for breakfast that are especially tasty, and healthier too.  I haven't tried it, but I can imagine it would make a good sausage gravy for biscuits and gravy.  Again, use it wherever you use ground sausage.  You can get sausage links and jerky.  Don't be afraid to ask!

Finally, I need to address backstrap.  Honestly, I'm scared of it. It is a good piece of meat but I rarely fail to overcook it!  I know people who swear by slicing, battering, and chicken frying it.  That must be tasty, but I don't like to fry any more than I have to.  I have found two ways to prepare backstrap that I love and want to share.  First, is to cook it in a slow cooker.  I don't have a specific recipe that I use every time - just Google "slow cooker venison" and look for a recipe that has 4 1/2 to 5 stars.  Also, you can use a recipe that calls for venison roast. If it calls for a 2 pound roast, put in 2 pounds of backstrap.  My favorite backstrap recipe, though, is adapted from one by the British chef, Jamie Oliver.

Mushroom and Venison Stroganoff for Two

Rice or Egg Noodles
2 teaspoons + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
11 oz (or about ¾ lb) venison backstrap, fat and sinews removed, trimmed and sliced into finger-sized pieces
1 tablespoon paprika
8 oz any type of mushroom, cleaned and sliced
Small bunch fresh parsley, stalks and leaves finely chopped separately (end up with one pile of each)
2 tablespoon butter
1 lemon, zested
2/3 cup sour cream

Cook the rice or noodles according to the package instructions.

Heat a large frying pan on a medium heat and pour in 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes until softened and golden. Remove from the heat and spoon the onions and garlic out of the pan onto a plate. Set aside.

Season the meat with salt, pepper and the paprika and rub in. Place the frying pan back on a high heat and pour in the rest of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and fry for a few minutes until they start to brown. Then add the meat and fry for a minute or 2 before adding the parsley stalks (you can do this in 2 pans or in batches if your pan is not big enough) and the cooked onion and garlic. Toss and add the butter.

After a couple of minutes of simmering, stir in the lemon zest and all but 1 tablespoon of the sour cream and season, to taste. Continue simmering for a few minutes. Do not cook the meat for too long! This is the death of backstrap. It should still be pretty pink in the middle. (Don’t worry – it won’t hurt you.)

Serve over rice or noodles. Top with the remaining sour cream and the parsley leaves.

(This recipe is adapted from the recipe found in JAMIE AT HOME by Jamie Oliver. Copyright (c) 2008. Published in the U.S. by Hyperion. All Rights Reserved.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Husband's New Favorite Cake

Until a few weeks ago, my husband's favorite cake was Martha Stewart's Carrot Ginger Layer Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.  That all changed a few weeks ago when our friends, Ashley & Jared, came for dinner and brought a chocolate chip banana cake with coconut cream cheese frosting.

Seriously, this cake is good.  When I told Anthony I would make him any dessert he wanted for Father's Day, he requested this.  Ashley generously shared her recipes (linked above).  She made her version into a layer cake with walnuts in the frosting (super tasty), and she doubled the chocolate chips.  We shared our cake with several others, all of whom asked for the recipe, so I thought I would share it here - with all due credit given to the sweet friend who introduced it to us in the first place!

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Unsolicited Gadget Endorsement: Pampered Chef Herb Infuser

The Pampered Chef Herb Infuser is one of my favorite new additions to my kitchen.  It is inexpensive ($9.95) and SUPER easy to use.  Pack it with herbs, cap it off, and drop it into any liquid you want to infuse with flavor.  No more fishing around for loose bay leaves or thyme stems.  It withstands high heat and is dishwasher safe.  I know I sound like an infomercial, but I really do love this thing.

I have used this for herbs in soups, but most recently, I had leftover mint leaves from a recipe.  I stuffed them into the infuser and dropped it into the iced tea I was brewing with the tea bags. When I removed the tea bags I also took out the infuser.  Perfect mint tea! This product is a great one to keep in mind if you are invited to a Pamper Chef party and don't have a lot of money to spend.   
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Covered Toffee Popcorn

I know I'm horrible about posting, and heaven knows I don't have time for this today, but you must know about Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Covered Toffee Popcorn. Seriously. I can't stop eating it. If you have Trader Joe's, go buy some now. If not, I'm truly sorry to burden you with the knowledge of a divine product out of your reach.
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Neiman Marcus Cookies

Our church is having an event tomorrow, and I have to bring 3 dozen cookies.  My husband immediately suggested Neiman Marcus cookes - with no hopes of getting extras for himself, I'm sure.  When having lunch at Neimans last year I ordered the cookies for my dessert, and it came with the recipe.  I made them tonight and WOW.  They really are good.  If you need a chocolate chip cookie recipe, try this one!

Neiman Marcus Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (approximately 30 seconds).
Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and chocolate chips.
Using a 1-ounce scoop or a 2-tablespoon measure, drop cookie dough onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2 inch circle. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispier cookie.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Recipe courtesy Neiman Marcus.
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Monday, March 11, 2013

Best Pickles for Tuna Salad

This one is going to be short and sweet and most people will be like, "What? Who cares." But, these pickles really make the best tuna salad. What makes it great is chopping up some of the other veggies in the jar with the pickles (except the cloves of garlic. That's a little too intense for us)

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Unsolicited Product Endorsement: Buttermilk Powder

Buttermilk powder. Have you tried the stuff? It changed my baking life. How many times have you skipped a recipe or used a questionable milk/vinegar concoction because you didn't have buttermilk or didn't want to buy a half gallon for two tablespoons?

Buttermilk powder is available on almost any baking aisle and goes in the fridge after you open it, so you use what you need and keep the rest for your next recipe. The can tells you how much powder to mix with water. This stuff is pretty cheap and, I won't lie to you, I keep it in my fridge for months with good results (Disclaimer: the FDA probably doesn't condone my cavalier attitude towards shelf-life...). So, next time you come across a recipe that calls for buttermilk, don't be afraid to go for the powder. You'll be glad you did when future buttermilk-requiring recipes come along.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Dinner with The Pioneer Woman

Last weekend Anthony and I were watching the Pioneer Woman's show on FoodNetwork when we saw her recipe for Fancy Mac and Cheese. We looked at each other and immediately decided we were having THAT for our Valentine's dinner. Anthony found that it and a recipe for bananas foster were in her latest cookbook. So, with a salad on the side, we had our menu complete.

The mac and cheese requires some special cheeses, so it is definitely a special occasion dish. I knew the cost would add up, so I compared prices at Kroger, Trader Joe's and Central Market. Trader Joe's won by a landslide. PW uses 3 separate skillets/pots for the onions, bacon, and cheese sauce, but I just made them all in my trusty large cast iron Dutch oven, draining the fat after the bacon. It worked perfectly! This recipe is to die for and not as heavy as one might think.

For dessert, we made PW's Bananas Foster. It was easy and tasty, although I would have liked the sauce to be a little thicker. I think that was my fault for not cooking the butter and brown sugar long enough, for fear of burning it.

All-in-all, a success! I never cease to be amazed by the Pioneer Woman. I have not found any other source for recipes that i can count on 100% of the time to not only work, but taste fantastic. If you haven't checked her out, you must!
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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine Pretzel Buttons

I found this idea for Valentine Pretzel Buttons on Pinterest and thought they would make a great treat for my niece and nephew. It couldn't have been easier. You could really do these for any holiday. My grocery store was out of regular M&Ms, so I used the cherry ones they had for Valentine's. They were perfect! I'll be keeping this idea for when Eleanor is older because kids could definitely help with it.

Original post:

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie

WAIT!! Before you tune me out, this is not your mama's pot pie (which I'm sure was lovely). It has a couple if twists that might sound strange, but trust me. You won't want any other chicken pot pie again.

I have to admit, I did not make this up. I got it from Judy Byrd ( at my sister's bridal luncheon (I can't remember if we had it at mine too). The great thing about this recipe is that it is impossible to mess up and you can change it to suit your tastes.

1 deli Rotisserie chicken
1 jar alfredo sauce (I have tried the different variations and have come to the conclusion that the plain alfredo tastes best in this recipe, but you can try others like garlic or four cheese if you want)
vegetables - (we use 3/4 cup frozen peas and carrots, 1 tbsp pimentos, and 1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes, drained, but you can use any combinations of vegetables you want. mushrooms and artichokes are good too)
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 box of 2 refrigerated pie crusts (we use Pillsbury)
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine chicken, sauce, vegetables, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl. Put 1 pie crust in the bottom of a pie pan, pour in chicken mixture, and top with the other crust. Beat the egg in a small bowl with a little water or milk. Brush on top of the pie. Bake for 45 min. or until the crust is browned and the filling is warmed through. If the crust starts browning too early, cover it with foil.

Easy, right? Keep in mind - everything but the crust in this pie is already cooked, so you are just baking the crust and warming everything else up. Have fun and experiment with different vegetables!

P.S. Don't throw away the remains of your rotisserie chickens - put them in a bag in the freezer until you have a couple and make chicken stock with them.  YUM
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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Trader Joe's Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter Cookies

On my most recent trip to Trader Joe's, I purchased one of their new products - Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter. I tried it several ways including straight out of the jar with a spoon, on some Trader Joe's cinnamon graham crackers, and on a piece of toast with bananas.  My favorite version was on the toast.  The crunchy cookie butter is very tasty with little cookie crunches throughout, but it has a little bit of a chalky texture when eaten by itself. So, when I found a recipe for Crispy Cookie Butter Cookies that used a whole cup of the stuff, I jumped on it!  This recipe is SO easy and, once you have the cookie butter, you probably have the other 5 ingredients in your pantry and fridge.  These cookies are flourless and so have a crispy texture that melts in your mouth.  Make them!!
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Trader Joe's Report

Trader Joe's is one of my all-time favorite places to buy groceries. What it lacks in selection it more than makes up for in quality, unique offerings, and price. If you haven't been and have one nearby, GO! Sometimes, instead of going out to dinner we'll show up at TJ's and put a meal together. (I know. We need to get a life.)

My visit this past weekend was mainly in preparation for a lunch with some friends, including one who is allergic to most soy ingredients. I had no problem finding some great options. At the store they were sampling Seasoned Pork Roast I with Barbecue Sauce and Sweet Potato Tots, and I liked both enough to purchase them for our lunch. The meat is microwaveable in the bag it comes in and is REALLY good. The tots tasted fine but never got crunchy.

For dessert, I thought we'd try the gluten-free brownie mix because it specifically said "soy free." If it was good, my friend would have a good brownie mix to use. I can't say that anyone enjoyed them. They had a good texture but a weird initial taste. In the end they tasted chocolatey, but weren't worth it unless it was your only option (she can make brownies from scratch).

Other purchases that day included crescent rolls (that I used to makes pizza pockets), cinnamon graham crackers, and Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter (amazing stuff that I used to make cookies - another post on that coming soon). All-in-all, it was a pretty successful trip. I always find fun treats at Trader Joe's!

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pizza Casserole

This recipe isn't fancy or technically challenging, so if that's what you are looking for, you're on the wrong blog - at least for today :-) I found this recipe for pizza casserole on Pinterest and have made it several times with my own twists.  This is a classic example of an easy recipe to change up to fit the tastes of your family.  This, for us, involved the addition of everything we like on pizza - onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms, multicolored rotini noodles instead of egg noodles, and a "lightening-up" with the use of Italian seasoned ground turkey and turkey pepperoni.  I also threw some Parmesan cheese in with the mozzarella to add a little more depth to the flavor.  The casserole is very family friendly, since you can modify it for your kids' tastes, and is definitely husband approved!

If you add vegetables, like I did, you might want to saute them until they are a little soft before adding them to the casserole, but you can probably just throw them in raw.  With my additions, here are the layering steps:

1) Put a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish.
2) Add half the noodles.
3) ...half of the meat
4) ...half of the vegetables
5) ...half of the remaining sauce
6) of the noodles
7) ...half of the cheese
8) of the meat
9) of the vegetables
10) of the sauce
11) of the cheese
12) ...pepperonis (it only takes half of the package)

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ham Steak and Red-eye Gravy

Have I mentioned how much I love America's Test Kitchen? Well, I do. I get a weekly email from them, and one time I noticed a link at the bottom that asked for volunteers to test recipes. Um, YES! I clicked on the link and never heard a word. That was months ago, but last week I finally got my first recipe - ham steak and red-eye gravy.

I have to admit, I wasn't exactly jumping for joy. I love ham and had heard of red-eye gravy, but I wasn't really excited about gravy with coffee in it. It turns out, red-eye gravy isn't so bad - at least not this recipe! In fact, it was really good.

The recipe used butter - which never hurt anything - and instant espresso powder - which gave the gravy a deeper flavor.
This is usually a breakfast food, but I made it for dinner and served it with biscuits and baked sweet potatoes. Another side benefit to testing this recipe is that I got to test out the great flat whisk my sister gave me for Christmas. Turns out it really is good for making gravy!

The unfair part about this post is that I can't share the recipe with you. But I will say that, if you do try to make red-eye gravy, make sure it has butter in it and use instant espresso instead of coffee. I found mine at Kroger next to the instant coffee. If this recipe comes out online, I will share for sure!

P.S. This one also gets the husband stamp of approval!

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hot Chocolate Bar

A group of us girls hosted a baby shower for one of our friends today, and in the planning stages Peggy, one of the hostesses, suggested we have a hot chocolate bar.  With my recent foray into marshmallow-making, I volunteered to take the task on.  To start with, I made two types of marshmallows - peppermint and vanilla.  You can see that adventure here.  Next, I put together the hot chocolate mix.  Over Christmas my mom brought an America's Test Kitchen (my favorite!!) recipe for the best cocoa.  I used this mix, and it did not disappoint (ATK never does!).  The next homemade item I made was white chocolate dipped spoons.  I attempted to decorate them by tinting the remaining white chocolate pink and piping it on, but the chocolate was too runny and most ended up looking like blobs.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.  Finally, I added some Cool Whip with cinnamon mixed in and a bottle of caramel ice cream topping.  It was great fun, pretty easy, and very tasty!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013


You might be saying to yourself exactly what my mom says (and I myself have said), "Why in the world would anyone ever make marshmallows from scratch???"  For me, it is for the same reason that I try many recipes - just to see if I can do it.  I was not interested in trying to make marshmallows until I saw this video posted on Facebook by America's Test Kitchen.  You need to know - America's Test Kitchen is one of my favorites.  I DVR the show on PBS, I read the blog, and I own several cookbooks.  The recipes aren't always the easiest, healthiest, or fastest to make but they are ALWAYS the very best version of whatever recipe it is.

So, I saw this video and decided it would be fun to make some peppermint marshmallows to share with family and friends for Christmas presents, and, guess what? America's Test Kitchen succeeded again - and with a recipe that is actually pretty easy and fast as well.  The only special equipment you need for this recipe is (are??) a candy thermometer and a stand mixer.  You could use a hand mixer, but it would be a nightmare.  These turned out great, and I was happy to share them!  This recipe is only published in one of their books that I don't own, so I wrote out my own recipe from the video.  If you want to make these marshmallows, watch the video first.  It helps. Also, always read through a recipe before starting.  I will point out again that this is not my recipe.  It is only what I put down from watching the video.

Homemade Marshmallows

2 1/2 tablespoons gelatin
1 cup water
1/3 cup corn syrup
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla (or 1/2 teaspoon other flavored extract)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Line a 9x14 baking pan with a foil sling (A sling is two pieces of foil laid across each other in a + shape and pressed down into the pan. You want the foil to be long enough to come up and over the sides of the pan.). Spray with cooking spray.

Bloom gelatin in 1/2 cup water in the bowl of a stand mixer (that just means to pour the gelatin on top of the water). Let it sit for 15 minutes.

While the gelatin blooms (sounds lovely, but it is kind of stinky...), combine 1/2 cup water, corn syrup, sugar and salt in a saucepan.  Pour the sugar slowly into the center of the saucepan.  You want to avoid getting sugar on the sides of the pan as it will crystalize and ruin everything.  If you do get sugar on the side of the pan, brush the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Don't stir.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat (on my gas stove that's a 4).  Swirl the pan periodically if you feel like the mixture needs to be combined more.  Boil for 6-8 minutes until the syrup reads 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer on low to break up the gelatin.  Slowly pour in the sugar syrup, being careful not to let the syrup hit the side of the bowl or the whisk. (You just don't want to boiling syrup to splatter on you.)

Gradually increase the speed of the mixer to high.  Whisk for 10-12 minutes until the outside of the bowl feels barely warm.  Add vanilla or other extract.  (If you want to add color, now is the time.  For pink peppermint, I added 5 drops red food coloring.)

While the mixer is running, mix together the corn starch and powdered sugar.

Spray a rubber spatuala with cooking spray and use it to spread the marshmallow mixture into the pan quickly after it is finished mixing.  The cooler it gets, the stickier it gets.  Don't worry about scraping the bowl.  Smooth the top and set aside.

Sift 2 tablespoons of the corn starch/powdered sugar mixture (cs/ps m from this point on - much easier to type) on top of the marshmallow mixture.  Cover and let set overnight.

Sift 2 more tablespoons of the cs/ps m onto a cutting board.  Spray a knife with cooking spray (are you catching that this stuff is sticky!!).  Dump the marshmallow on top of the cutting board.  Cut into 1 inch strips.  Cut the strips into 1 inch cubes.  If the knife starts sticking, spray it again.  Roll the cubes in the remaining cs/ps m.  Toss in a strainer over the sink to remove extra cs/ps m.  Store in a plastic bag.

These are GREAT in hot chocolate!  Let me know if you try them out :)

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Magnolia Cheese Company

As a self-professed cheese-aholic, one could imagine my delight when I heard of the opening of the Magnolia Cheese Company in our part of town. We finally got a chance to try it last night. My mom was coming over for dinner so we thought it would be fun to stop by and get a couple of cheeses to try before dinner.

First, I must say that this shop is SUPER cute. There are regular tables but also a quaint corner with a couch and armchair. I haven't mentioned that they also have a menu of sandwiches and small plates that looked mighty tasty, not to mention the hummus of the day! I will be making a trip back for a meal.

When we approached the counter we were met with a cheerful welcome and, "Have you been in before?" When we said no, the lady behind the counter gave us a brief rundown of what they are all about. We told her what occasioned our visit and that we could use help picking out our cheeses. Her passion for the shop's cheeses was contagious and, after a couple of samples, we were soon on our way with an incredible bleu cheese and a yummy, creamy cheese that I can't remember the name of. They were the perfect appetizer!

Needless to say, I loved our experience with Magnolia Cheese Company. While we were in the shop, all of the employees seemed helpful and happy to be doing their jobs. Check them out!

Magnolia Cheese Company
1251 W Magnolia Ave
Fort Worth, Texas
(Their website isn't quite ready yet:

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