Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Black Bottom Cupcakes

I was first introduced to these at my mother-in-law’s home. Every time W and I would come home for Christmas, there would be a large Tupperware bowl full of bite size versions. Multiple times throughout the days, I would quietly sneak into the kitchen when no one was looking, and pop a whole one in my mouth. I think I ate most of them over the week of our visit. Hopefully the empty bowl was blamed on W. :)
I wasn’t much of a baker back then. My resources of time and energy and money were dedicated to finishing up my degree. When the price of a cake mix became affordable, I called my mother-in–law for the recipe. To my horror, she listed ingredients like flour and cocoa. I simplified it on my own and have used a cake mix ever since.

Black Bottom Cupcakes

1 devil’s food cake mix, made as directed on box.
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/3 cup white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Beat together cream cheese, egg, sugar, and salt.
Stir in 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips.
Fill muffin tins 1/2 full with the batter and top with a dollop of the cream cheese mixture.
The cream cheese mixture “sinks” during baking.
Bake in preheated 350 oven for 15-20 minutes (depending on size), or until done.

These really don’t need a glaze, but to fancy them up, use your favorite chocolate glaze.

The 3 dozen mini cupcakes I made yesterday are nearly gone. I am not to blame! (I’ve been snacking on lemon cake.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chocolate Chocolate Cookies

In the neighborhood where we bought our first home, we were blessed with great neighbors. As the years passed, they all moved on and out of our starter home neighborhood. We added a couple of extra bedrooms and a large family room to the house and thus had plenty of room for our growing family. The dynamics of our neighborhood changed, and I felt a little lonely. When the house next door again sported a "For Sale" sign, I prayed for good neighbors that could provide friendships for me and my kids. God smiled on us and an amazing family moved next door. Their oldest daughter learned to bake these chocolate cookies at an early age. We would often hear the doorbell ring and answer the door to see her with a warm plate of cookies. Life was perfect!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 chocolate cake mix (devils food, triple chocolate, chocolate fudge)
1/2 cup buttered flavored Crisco
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix the cake mix with the eggs and Crisco until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Don't over bake. They will set as they cool.
Fancy them up by drizzling cooled cookies with 2 melted Hershey bars (1.55 oz. size). Immediately sprinkle them with holiday sprinkles, or chopped nuts.

I have used many different brands and versions of chocolate cake mixes. I've never heard a complaint. This is a quick, simple recipe resulting in a fantastic chocolate indulgence.
Our perfect neighbors and friends are now someone else's blessing far across the state. However, every time I make Rylee's cookies, our family's friends don't seem so far away.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chocolate Cake

A day or two before B was to arrive home from school for Christmas break; I asked him if he had any special requests for meals. His reply- “Anything. . . Everything!. . . Oh yeah, can you make that chocolate cake?”
He has not stopped eating since he has been home. And I knew just the chocolate cake he was talking about. It’s a little lighter than the one I posted last week, but very similar.

Begin by making a devil’s food cake mix as directed, or make Yummy In My Tummy Chocolate Cake, omitting the chocolate chips.
Let cake cool completely. Mix together 2 small packages of instant chocolate pudding mix with 2 cups milk (Skim to Half and Half—you choose). Fold in 16 oz. Cool Whip.
To assemble cake, cut into half, length wise. If using two rounds as I did, cut each one so you have four thin rounds. Place one round onto the serving plate. Spread a layer of chocolate cream on top. Repeat with cake and cream, until all layers are on the cake, and end with cream on top. Use remaining cream to “frost” the sides.
Chill cake for several hours. I like to drizzle the top with chocolate glaze. B prefers his cake glaze free so I just served individual pieces with warm glaze.

B has been home for a few days now. It’s been fun to see his friends again, whom scarcely visited while he was at school. It’s nice to see Y with a perma-grin, happy to be riding shotgun again. Now, the late night giggles from the kitchen do make me wonder what they’re up to, but I simply drift to sleep with no worries and the peace of all being under the same roof again.
This cake truly says, “Welcome home B-Oh how we missed you!”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holiday Pumpkin Bread

I’m completely outnumbered in my family. They all prefer their pumpkin bread, muffins, or bars with chocolate chips. I think the blend of spices is lost against the chocolate. However, tonight I bake for my Sunday School class. Now that B is back from school, he will rejoin us in class tomorrow, along with several others who have returned for Christmas break. I’m excited to see them all and hear of their experiences.
I’m also excited for the program that the choir has prepared. I did not inherit Mom’s musical talents. However, she taught us many hymns, most of which I still have memorized. If I had to pick a favorite—“O Holy Night”. I’ve been singing it to myself in many a quiet moments this week.—Part of my refocusing effort to remind me the reason for the season.
So, if baking for a friend, or neighbor is on your list, you can make these bars the way B likes them.
Begin with Mom’s Holiday Pumpkin Bread. Spread the ingredients in the pan, omitting nuts and chocolate chips. Scatter 12 oz. chocolate chips on top of batter and then bake. I came in once they were cooled drizzling on a half of a can of white frosting.
Tomorrow in class, we are discussing our most memorable Christmases. And the thought by Thomas S. Monson, “The Christmases we remember best generally have little to do with worldly goods, but a lot to do with families, with love, and with compassion and caring.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

Molasses Cookies

Starbucks used to carry a really good molasses cookie. Costco sells them in my area for about six weeks of the year. In my effort to replicate either cookie- both similar, both really good, I've done much experimenting. Too bad my dad doesn't live closer. He would have really enjoyed the process.
This recipe is deep in flavor with four different spices. You can deepen the flavor still by using full flavor molasses instead of mild and dark brown sugar vs. light brown sugar.

Molasses Cookies

3/4 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 2/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. allspice

Cream Crisco and brown sugar. Stir in egg and molasses. Add dry ingredients and spices all at once. Stir until well incorporated.
Roll into balls and into a bowl of sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

These cookies are not overly sweet. But it'd be awfully sweet if you made them for a neighbor or friend. They are especially favorable with the 40 plus crowd.
B is now home from school. When he saw the Kitchenaid on the counter, he asked what kind of cookies I was making. He (being under 40) was disappointed when I told him "molasses". And yet he downed three large cookies on the way out the door to the gym. Ohhhh. It's good to have him home :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nutter Butter Balls

Don’t stop with the Oreos!!
Y informed me last night he was ready for more chores to be compensated by Oreo Balls. Y’s stats are that he is pushing 5’11”, but just over 125 lbs. Oreo Balls seem like they won’t do much for him as far as building muscle fibers. I watched a news segment the other day about what to feed underweight kids. The answer: peanut butter.
So, let’s use the same idea behind what makes Oreo Balls so irresistible, but pack a little more protein in them:

Nutter Butter Balls

1 16 oz. package Nutter Butter Cookies
8 oz. cream cheese
Melting chocolates
Chopped peanuts, if desired.

Crush Nutter Butters. Add softened cream cheese. Mix well. I prefer the food processor for both of these jobs. It takes less than a minute each. Roll into 1 inch- balls. Chill thoroughly. Dip into melted chocolate. Drizzle with additional chocolate or top with chopped peanuts. Serve chilled.

After I mixed and formed my Nutter Butter balls, I had a decision as to how to spend my time while I waited for them to chill enough to dip into chocolate. The temps outside are a balmy 45 degrees, and my car desperately needs to be washed. My closet is a disaster with 3 different sizes of clothes sharing prime reachable space. (Yes, the treadmill being broken has caught up with me.) But I was delighted with the third option. My older sister called just as I was headed for the bucket and soap. I sat on my sofa, and visually got lost in the Christmas tree lights. We chatted about Christmas season plans, jobs, kids, and memories. Did my chat make me miss being “home” for Christmas a little more? Perhaps. But more than anything, it lifted my spirits and reminded me of how blessed I am. I’m grateful all of my kids will be home for Christmas this year, and how privileged we are that everyone is happy and healthy. I truly have great reason for gratitude and pray for an increased desire to pay it forward—immersing myself in the true reason for the season.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chocolate Cream Cake

I was at the store today with the intent of just quickly picking up some Cool Whip. I noticed cake mixes were on sale. I went back to the store entrance and exchanged my basket for a cart so could stock up.
My thoughts returned me to my most memorable childhood Christmas.
On that cold December night, long ago we stood in awe for a moment of the service done on our behalf. After we brought all if the tall brown grocery bags into the house, we unloaded each one with delight. It had been a few years since we had this much food in the house at one time. One of the sacks had a couple of cake mixes in it. All of our eggs had been used to make the Holiday Pumpkin Bread, so it wasn't possible to make a cake. Nonetheless we dumped one of the mixes into a large bowl and the six of us kids huddled around it eating the dry mix by the spoonfuls. We were thrilled by our treat.
The recipe I share today isn't written down in any of my recipe indexes. Thus- I haven't made it in a considerable amount of time. But it's a simple dessert that is a hit anywhere I take it.

Chocolate Cream Cake

Use a 12 x 17.5 baking sheet. Begin by making Yummy In My Tummy Chocolate Cake, omitting the chocolate chips. This is a refrigerated dessert. If you make the cake with chocolate chips, they will be hard and produce an undesirable crunch to your dessert.
Chill the cake.
Spread the chocolate cream onto the cake layer.

Chocolate Cream
12 oz. softened cream cheese
3/4 cup dry chocolate pudding mix (about 5 oz.)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)

I use the food processor to thoroughly blend all of the ingredients until smooth.
Then, fold in 12oz. Cool Whip.

Spread 12 more ounces of Cool Whip onto the chocolate cream layer.

Refrigerate for several hours.
Before serving, drizzle with room temperature Chocolate Glaze.
Serve cake well chilled and refrigerate leftovers.

The 12 x 17.5 baking sheet makes nice snack size informal desserts. You can also make this into a round, square or rectangular layer cake.

I have been experiencing some memory glitches lately- can’t remember why I enter a certain room, names of people I’ve known for twenty years are unable to be recalled, etc. A friend who is just a few years older than me has assured me it is just a phase. She told me I’d never again be as sharp as I was in my twenties, but I won’t settle into middle age long term being quite this bad. My family was delighted that I could still remember this recipe :) It was enjoyed tonight after the Stromboli we ate for dinner.

Oreo Balls

A friend brought us a plate of these the other day. I went seeking them out the next day- couldn't find them anywhere. I texted Y while he was at school because clearly this was an emergency. He responds, and I learn that he had hid them from me --on purpose to keep them all for himself. Later I find the container they were delivered in empty with a note throwing me off course of the actual location.
So -a treat that good? That Y would go to great lengths to claim them all for himself? And I- a fairly reasonable individual would spend so much effort trying to track them down, even compromising my son’s education?
I failed in my quest, so decided to make my own:

Oreo Balls

18oz package of Oreos
8oz. Cream cheese
Melting chocolates.
Sprinkles, if desired.

Crush Oreos. Add softened cream cheese. Mix well. I prefer the food processor for both of these jobs. It takes less than a minute each. Roll into 1 inch- balls. Chill thoroughly. Dip into melted chocolate. Drizzle with additional chocolate or top with sprinkles. Serve chilled.

Today my husband will participate in "goodie day" at work with some fancy looking- simple to make Oreo balls. Since Y has eaten all of the delivered treats, maybe I can convince him to do a few extra chores in exchange for a (few) of these delectable morsels.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chocolate Glaze

I am a member of the largest women’s group in the world. Usually, I take this membership for granted. I try and sign up for volunteer opportunities sanctioned by this group, or within this group, but rarely take the opportunity to attend social functions.
Last week, I finagled my schedule, and was bailed out of a responsibility by Y, and was thus able to attend the Christmas progressive dinner. Y attended the parent meeting for my daughter's basketball team :) Many of the women contributed some form to the dinner. I had volunteered to make dessert. I decided to make a dessert that isn't so popular with my own kids nor with my husband’s extended family, thus I rarely have a platform for or excuse to make it.
I had thoroughly enjoyed the evening of delicious flavors and textures atypical of a Tuesday night. We all converged on the last home for dessert and a short program. I brought my tall layer cake to the kitchen and cut slices all the way around. It was a chilled dessert, complete with layers of fudge cake, coconut cream, and pecan filling topped with rich chocolate glaze.
"How soon 'til we eat?" I inquired.
"Right away." responded the P.I.C.
Begrudgingly I left my cake and joined the rest of the ladies in the large gathering room. I assumed there would be a short welcome and thank you to the ladies who had graciously opened their homes making the evening a delightful success. Moments later, an unexpected group of carolers came in from the porch. The tune was lovely, but I was immediately distracted by a series of phone calls and texts from Y. I was running a little late, and he needed to leave his sister (J) to make his next commitment. J is old enough to stay home alone, but is almost as afraid of what might be lurking in the dark as her mother. After several failed attempts to phone the kids, I felt I needed to leave the gala and safeguard the homestead. As I drove away, I was left wondering whether the cake I made was as good as I hoped it would be.
Someday, I'll make it again, and pass along the recipe. For now, I'll begin with a few chocolate glaze recipes that I use somewhat interchangeably with many desserts.

Chocolate Glaze

1 14oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz. chocolate chips (I prefer semi-sweet)
1-2 T milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Heat the condensed milk, chips, and milk on low heat stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
Let set until desired temperature. Transfer into a quart size gallon Ziploc and snip the corner. Pipe the glaze in desired pattern or coverage.

Chocolate Glaze

2/3 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cups chocolate chips
1 T butter

Heat the cream and chips on low heat stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in the butter until melted. Let set until desired temperature. Transfer into a quart size gallon Ziploc and snip the corner. Pipe the glaze in desired pattern or coverage.

I still think about that cake; must be because I never got closure on tasting the combination of layers :) The inspiration for making it came from a dessert I had at Cheesecake Factory. Unfortunately, there isn’t one of those restaurants in my town. Or maybe it is fortunate, since after all, my treadmill IS broken.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lemon Cake

Today, I made lemon cake represented differently when baked in a 15x10 jelly roll baking pan. This is actually the way I prefer it. I think it is most moist, and perfect for snacking and sharing.

It has me thinking about presentation and representation.
I’m also thinking about a question asked of the congregation at church today. The question was; “Is your Christmas Christ centered?”
This question caused me a bit of reflection over the past few weeks when I was asked by someone for some help. I provided a listening ear, gave some unsolicited advice, but was slow to jump in with both feet to really help out. I felt bad about my selfishness for days. Several days after that, I was asked to help out with something even less convenient. I didn’t want that lingering feeling of regret, so without hesitation, I agreed and did my best to assist. Its amazing how much better I felt.
As I think about Christ- I think about the selfless life he led. If He were to return tomorrow, what would He find me doing? I’m grateful for my re-focus of what I want this season to represent in my home, and in my heart.
May you all enjoy this Christmas season, and everything it represents!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sugar Cookies

Last night, I sat with Y as he pounded out the last of his homework problems. I told him about the texting chat B and I had that day about BBQ sauce :) I asked him "Are you excited for B to come home next week?"
"Oh yeah." was the response.
I'm excited too. I have been blessed that these two boys have always been friends- never enemies. There is a deep connection between the two, with a lot of mutual respect.
One of my favorite pictures is of my boys making Christmas sugar cookies together. They, the countertop and the floor are covered in flour. B seems to be instructing Y on the how-tos, but in reality, they were discussing Batman and Robin, and coming up with their own great adventures. Y was only two. He adored his big brother and only ever agreed with him. "Yea. . . Yea. . .Yea!" was the usual verbiage from Y when the two got together. Whatever B thought was a good idea, Y thought was a better one.
To be perfectly honest, my favorite sugar cookie used to be a store purchased Lofthouse frosted cookie. I spent 2008 experimenting with sugar cookie recipes trying to duplicate the soft mild flavored cookie.
I took some from one recipe, and a little from another, until the ideas and flavors blended nicely into this:

Sugar Cookies

1 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ cups sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
5 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

Cream together butter and sugar. Stir in eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients together and add ½ at a time. Mix well. Refrigerate dough for 3 hours. Roll out 3/16 inches thick and cut into desired shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes depending on size and thickness. Cool. Frost.
Today I used canned lemon frosting and came in with a lemon glaze (2 cups powdered sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons lemon juice) drizzled over the top.

I doubt B and Y hit the kitchen next week to make sugar cookies- perhaps Reese’s Brownies instead. For sure, there will be lots of basketball playing and maybe even some football (with and without game system controllers). I look forward to Y’s lifelong playmate and friend returning from school for a few fun filled weeks.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gingersnap Cookies

Dad called at 5am this morning. I think sometimes he forgets which way the time change goes. As I lay in bed this morning trying to fall back asleep, I grinned at the delightful man my father is. He has led a humble hard working life, and has taught me through faithful example to do the same.
I was 4'11" and maybe 70 pounds as a freshman in high school. I decided to try out for the volleyball team with my best friend. The first day of practice we had to record in the coach's notebook how many over hand serves we got across the net in our first 25 attempts. Tears filled my eyes, making focusing to record my 0 nearly impossible.
The next summer, after school got out, I began my quest for grand improvement. Dad and Grandpa put up a net in the side yard. My goal was to make 50 serves over the net every day. I would serve my ball over the net (or under) and run to the other side, retrieve it, and serve it from that side. It was a very slow process to reach my goal of 50 serves. Some days, it would take me hours. I had grown up watching my dad work hard, and never complaining, or seeking approval from others for his efforts. I expected the same from myself.
Some summer evenings, as I was trying to reach my serve quota, Dad would quietly approach our "court" and stand on the side I was serving to. He would then chase those erratic serves all over his side and toss them back to me. His presence not only gave relief to my fatigued body, but my Spirit felt renewed and uplifted.
I would love nothing more than to take Dad a plate of one of his favorite cookies this afternoon and listen to his stories. He lives 500 miles away, and although I'm grateful for our chat, I miss spending time with him.
Nevertheless, in honor of him and all that I am and do because of him, I'll bake some ginger- molasses cookies and think of him.
I have four gingersnap type cookies in my recipe book. This is the one I like the best:

Gingersnap Cookies

1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves

Cream butter, Crisco, and sugars. Stir in the molasses and eggs. Add dry ingredients all at once and mix until they are all incorporated. Mold into 1 inch balls. Roll into sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

To dip or not to dip? Not if they're for Dad. But definitely for me!
I like to use white almond bark. Wait until cookies are completely cool. Dip half-way into bark, or put bark into a quart size freezer strength Ziploc and melt it slowly in the microwave, being careful not to scorch it. Then drizzle bark onto cookies.

Many people associate this cookie with this Christmas season. For me- it's all about Dad.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Banana Bread

We never had banana bread growing up. If the fruit or vegetable wasn't grown in our garden, it never graced the kitchen table. Apparently, Iowa is the wrong climate for growing bananas. In my adulthood, bananas were purchased and eaten quickly. Until B left for college a few months ago, I was buying 2-3 bunches per week. They never seemed to stay around long enough to turn brown with the tiny giraffe spots, making them sweet and ideal for banana bread.
In the weeks after B (the family banana eater) left, I struggled making the necessary adjustments at the grocery store and during meal prep. We endured a lot of leftovers throughout September, and I have had plenty of bananas to try out a variety of banana bread recipes. In my quest, I turned where I normally turn- to my sisters. My eldest sister has a great recipe. In fact, I had banana bread for the first time in my adulthood at her home. I was reluctant to try it. But after my first slice, I kept returning to the loaf, hoping nobody noticed my over indulgence through a house full of kids and company. Her recipe is great, however, another sister introduced me to the hearty wholesome Williams-Sonoma recipe. I've tweaked it a little, and have used it ever since:

Banana Bread

2 large ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
6 T soft butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

Mash bananas. They should total about 1 1/3 cups. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl (except for brown sugar). Mix wet ingredients together with brown sugar. Add bananas. Stir in dry ingredients. Don't over mix. Fold in walnuts.
Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees.

In a few days, I will head out for my weekly grocery shopping venture. I will get to buy bananas in bunches because my banana eater will soon return from college for Christmas break. And- because it's the simple things in life, that seem to bring great joy; in anticipation of B's arrival, I will take great delight in that grocery trip!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Peanut Butter Blossoms

My daughter is the motivating factor in decorating for Christmas. She loves to have a house full of decorations throughout December. This year, I turned her loose. We brought up the dozen or so Christmas tubs from the storage room and she had the green light to distribute the decorations throughout the house as she liked. She assigned me the task of putting the stockings on the mantle. As I arranged them in order of age, my thoughts turned to a Christmas when I was a girl.
Each year, we could expect an orange tucked in the toe of our stocking. One year I recall getting a handful of Hershey Kisses. I remember immediately opening my first one and savoring the milk chocolate treat. As days would pass, I would ration my Kisses to extend the delights as many days as I could. My older sister and I both decided to save our last kiss and put it back in our stocking. Thus with great anticipation nearly a year later, we had a special treat when we decorated for Christmas.
I used to make this recipe much more often when I had little hands that wanted to help me in the kitchen. Chairs would be pushed up to the counter and hands kept busy by unwrapping dozens of little silver wrappings.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

1/2 cup buttered flavored Crisco
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream shortening, peanut butter and sugars. Mix in egg, milk, and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Dip in granulated sugar. Bake 6-10 minutes until lightly browned on the edges. Remove from oven and immediately press a Hershey kiss in the center of each cookie. Cookie will crack around the edges. Remove from baking sheet.
My favorite way to eat these is just after the chocolate has softened from the heat of the cookie. A warm mouthful of soft peanut butter cookie and melted milk chocolate.

My family hasn't had a Christmas together in over twenty years. I think that's why this time of year, I parallel many tasks of the day with thoughts of yesterdays long ago. In a way- I'm only as far away as my closest memory.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Yummy In My Tummy Chocolate Cake

The origin of this recipe is a little complicated, and very expensive.
It all began by our family being the recipients of tickets to an NCAA tournament session. We were lucky enough to see Kevin Durrant (now with the Oklahoma City Thunder) play. I was sitting between my two boys and had the unfortunate experience of listening to the obnoxious chatter of the two men behind us. At half-time my husband and daughter left their seats in search of some tasty snacks, leaving the boys and I to watch the entertainment. The two men behind us tapped me on the shoulder and apologized for being so loud. We exchanged cordial greetings and a few words about dreams on the hardwood. The one extended an invitation as he introduced himself as the owner of the Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team. His friend, Mike, told my boys if they were ever in the Sacramento area, they could be ball boys for a Kings game. He also delighted the boys by assuring them, they would receive a fan pack in the mail. Mr. Maloof turned to his promise- making friend and said- "you better make good on these promises."
Mike assured his friend- "She's a single mom, I'll take care of her."
I remained silent. (I know- but. . .)
Soon after the second half began, they left the game. A couple of days later, two generous packages arrived on our doorstep complete with autographs, jerseys, hats, and other gems. Then the pleading began to visit dear Aunt Cricket in Sacramento for spring break.
My husband and I threw caution to the wind and spent my patio furniture money on plane tickets. Weeks later, we thoroughly enjoyed a few fun-filled days with Aunt Cricket's family and an unforgettable evening at a Sacramento Kings game where I had two boys living the dream- or rather shagging balls for those living the dream.
Before leaving Aunt Cricket's, we were able to celebrate cousin Sid's 4th birthday complete with Yummy in My Tummy Chocolate Cake:

Yummy in My Tummy Chocolate Cake

1 pkg. chocolate cake mix
1 small pkg. instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
½ cup water
½ cup oil
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients in Kitchenaid for 30 seconds, scrape bowl, and mix for 2 more minutes. Stir in chocolate chips. Bake at 325-350 for 50-55 minutes in bundt pan. Or 11x17 pan for 30 minutes. Cool. frost.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls

My mom has a recipe called "Overnight Cinnamon Rolls". The dough is made, and shaped one day, then the rolls are refrigerated in their ready for the oven pan, and in the morning can be removed from the refrigerator and baked after rising. This was our traditional Christmas breakfast. As soon as we'd get up, Mom would take the cinnamon rolls out of the fridge and let them rise while we opened presents. We could then enjoy hot cinnamon rolls with our Christmas orange that was always stuffed into the toe of each stocking.
One Christmas, we "accidentally" woke up at 2:30 am, perhaps transfiguring the big hand and the little hand on the clock. We enjoyed the treasures and tokens of our stocking and unwrapped all of the gifts under the tree before our parents realized what time it was. All of us kids stayed down in the family room under the glow of the tree lights and "napped" with what were our newly unwrapped Christmas sleeping bags.
I've experimented with Mom's recipe, and then- disposed of it. The concept works with any recipe I've tried. It does take awhile for the refrigerated rolls to even reach room temperature, and then they rise for 30+ minutes, depending on the warmth and humidity in your kitchen. However, if you have time, and don't want to spend the few extra minutes of preparing your recipe in the morning, it may be a nice one to try. I just get up ten minutes earlier and make them the day I want them. Nothing beats them fresh- out of the oven.

Cinnamon Rolls

Begin by making Jane's Rolls as outlined here, with one change. I use 1/3+ cup of sugar in the yeast mixture.
After the first rising cycle, roll dough into a 20x14 inch rectangle. Spread dough with 3T soft butter and a mixture of:
1 1/2 cups brown sugar mixed with
3 Tablespoons cinnamon.
Roll dough up tightly the long way. Cut into 12 equal rolls. Place on a greased jelly roll pan.
(If you are trying the refrigerated method, put them in the refrigerator now.)
Let rise until double.
Bake at 335 degrees for 15-18 minutes.
Cool somewhat.
Frost, glaze, or dust with powdered sugar.

These rolls are simple. However, I'm sure your family, friends and neighbors think you should practice and share a time or two before Christmas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No cookies just out of the oven? No problem-

Earlier this week, my son needed to take a homemade decoration to his service activity. They were decorating for people who would appreciate a lift this holiday season.
It was Y's assignment, so he worked with me. We acquired an assortment of York Peppermint Patty snowflakes, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup christmas trees, Rice Krispie Treats, and Hershey Bar santas (thank you Target) and reinforced the top of each package with scotch tape. Then we put a paper clip through the reinforced area, folded it out and bent it to resemble an ornament hook. Lastly we took 2 inch ribbon and tied a bow to the paperclip, just above the candy.
The idea for this was, once the treat has been removed and enjoyed, there is still a pretty bow decorating the tree.
I scaled down the idea with great simplicity for my outdoor trees. I took assorted miniature Christmas candy, reinforced the seam with tape, and attatched a 8 inch pices of curling ribbon. The ribbon was tied and placed by my daughter on our trees. These are for nieces and nephews, and friends who stop by unexpected, or a handful for the generous friend who volunteers to drive your kids home from school. I've even given a few to the FedEx guy.
No cookies just out of the oven- No problem!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Almond Joy Brownies

Growing up in southwest Iowa, the region produced some ferocious lightning and thunder storms. Oft times the thunder was so loud, the windows would rattle. These storms scared me, especially if I were trying to sprint through the last few houses of my paper route as one would come on. When I was young, my dad told me thunder was the result of two storm clouds bumping into each other. I think he wanted me to understand it was nothing to be afraid of. Unfortunately, Dad never cleared up the inaccurate meteorology lesson. I’ll never forget hearing the “truth” into my adulthood and researching for myself the facts. I was devastated at my ignorance and had to quickly set my children straight, before they imparted their knowledge in the school classrooms.
Parents sometimes tell their kids things to appease the curiosity or quiet them.
As with Almond Joys- some parents convince kids that they won’t like nuts and coconut- leaving all those candies for the grown-ups. I think I must have been one of those parents; those were always the candies placed on “my” counter after trick-or-treating. I’m a big fan of the flavor combination, and was inspired by a neighbor down the road encouraging me to add them to my brownie repertoire. And so I did:

Almond Joy Brownies

Make a pan of brownies as outlined here.
For the 12x17 size, spread on 1 and ½ cans of chocolate frosting. Cut up 40+ Almond Joys (snack size). Gently press into the wet frosting.
Melt 3 Hershey bars (1.55oz.size) in a quart size Ziploc freezer strength bag. Clip a small hole in the corner and drizzle onto Almond Joy layer.
Immediately sprinkle 1 cup of toasted coconut and a few handfuls of toasted almond slices onto the wet chocolate.
Let set. Cut. Share.

Okay-this is my last official brownie recipe. Now your own creativity can take over and you can develop more of your own. These make nice friend, neighbor, and co-worker gifts at the holidays, birthdays, etc.
And, in case you haven’t already googled it, thunder is a loud, explosive, resounding noise produced by the explosive expansion of air heated by a lightning discharge. However, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher started the rumor of it being colliding clouds.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reese's Peanut Butter Brownies

Care packages to B at college always include ingredients to make this recipe:

Reese’s Peanut Butter Brownies

Make a pan of brownies as outlined here.
For the 12x17 pan, frost the cooled brownies with 1 ½ cans of chocolate frosting. Cut up 32 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. (I purchase 8 King size packages which have four cups per package.) Gently press the pieces of peanut butter cups into the wet frosting.
Put ½ cup of creamy peanut butter in a quart size Ziploc bag. Microwave for 10 seconds. Clip the corner and drizzle the peanut butter over the peanut butter cups.
Microwave 3 Hershey bars in a quart size Ziploc bag until melted. Clip the corner, and drizzle onto the brownies.
Let Set. Cut. Serve.

Yesterday, I was missing B- the brilliant, faithful side of him. But there is another side of him- the normal side. Here is one of the first college experiences he had- as told in his own words.-

“Several weeks ago me and some buddies came across the ultimate food challenge. We heard about it through the show Man vs. Food. The host of the show took a trip to Hawaii where he ate at this pancake joint in Honolulu; so we all watched the episode to see what it was. The challenge was to eat 3 ginormous pancakes that were each the size of a large pizza and as thick as a hamburger, with a pound of toppings added to it, no joke! So after man vs. food got his trash kicked by the pancakes we thought that we should go down and show him how it’s done.
We had been training all week for the eating completion. We started by researching what foods make the stomach expand which we concluded that we must drink gallons of water every day and consume large amounts of pineapple, the one thing that tastes good in the Café (campus cafeteria). Next we observed all the techniques from famous hot dog eaters to see what the best ways were to get the food down. If only this much time and effort went into our school work! Just kidding mom it does ;)
So it’s the day of the competition and we all have one slice of wheat bread and a little bit of Gatorade then off we go. After the two and a half hour bus ride to Honolulu we decided to tire ourselves out at the beach all day. After the long day at Waikiki we made our way to the Mac 24/7 for the pancake eating contest. Each stack of pancakes was bigger than my face (times 100). And it came with a pound of toppings on it; mind you- Man vs. Food didn’t even make it ¾ of the way through the stack before his time ran out which was 90 mins, and this is his JOB, to eat a lot of food! So we all get our pancakes and we all start going to town. I think of myself as a power eater and I love pancakes so this seemed like a reasonable task. My technique was to eat standing up, no fork, bouncing up and down while jamming out to some tunes. After about 20 mins I was more than half-way done and still cruising when shortly thereafter the starch from the mass of food in front of me was expanding in my stomach and I felt sick, but my goal was to finish and prove I could out eat Man vs. Food--so that’s what I set out to do. There was about 20 mins left in the completion, most of my friends had only finished one pancake and another finished 1 and a half. I was more than ¾ done, that’s right -I beat Man vs. Food! I should be the rich guy that is the star of the show, wouldn’t that be the life, get paid to eat food. At this point I was feeling way sick but still kept eating. I ate 2 or 3 more bites and then felt it, I was going to hurl! My friends tried to get me to finish it because I was almost there but it wasn’t going to happen so I tried making my way to the bathroom, bbbbbbuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I didn’t make it in time. I threw up all over the restaurants floor! It was Epic!! So the moral of the story is it is only possible to "beat" Man vs. Food if you make yourself sick then dominate a restaurant floor with the food they gave you :) "
So today I’ve shared one of B's favorite recipes and his favorite college experience; thus in one post, I’ve paired one of my most requested recipes with puke. Did I share too much? These brownies are "B’s treats". Therefore, the pairing in one post is him: a little bit of perfection mixed with some room for refinement.
Love you B- see you in 18 days!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oreo Brownies

Tonight is Y’s football banquet. He is essentially new to the sport. Although he was B’s main competition at age 2, he took little from his experience other than bruises and bumps. He spent most of his time on the bottom of the two man pile.
Football is a great sport, even if you’re somewhat undersized, or still developing your athleticism. More important than studliness- or lack thereof on the field, it’s what happens from a character perspective that can change a child.
The football team seems to think my brownies are a nice post game treat. Today’s version happens to be the coach’s favorite:

Oreo Brownies

Make a pan of brownies as outlined here.
For the 12x17 size pan, frost cooled brownies with 1 ½ cans of white frosting. Cut 3 sleeves, or 1 package of Oreos into small pieces. Gently press the Oreo pieces into the wet frosting. Put remaining ½ can of frosting in a quart size freezer strength Ziploc bag. Microwave for 7 seconds. Clip a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag and drizzle the frosting over the Oreo layer. Let set. Cut and serve.

We are grateful Y made it through his season injury free. We were not so fortunate a year ago with our eldest. He suffered a debilitating season ending shoulder injury in week three of the season. Later we found out he had fractured his femur in week two- but played through it. The day of B’s team's last game had been very difficult and emotional for me. It was hard to say goodbye and find peace in all the memories and lack thereof from the season.
In an effort to define the season, and find closure, I decided to write a letter to my son:
Dear B-
Football is a great sport- a rough one too. I wanted football to teach you lessons about life perhaps not learned quite the same by any other avenue.
I wanted you to measure your strengths and your weaknesses. I wanted you to learn how to make your weaknesses strong. I wanted you to experience what it is like to push yourself physically and mentally harder than you thought you could go- and then push a little further. I wanted you to gain respect: for yourself, your teammates, and your coaches. I hoped you would form friendships that would continue beyond the helmets and pads. Above all else, I wanted you to gain a greater identity of who you are as a son of God. I prayed that you would place your faith and trust in the Lord and yield to His will for you.
Son- you have made your dad and I very proud. My hope for your senior football season was for you to learn the lessons from your opportunities and experiences that would help prepare you for the rest of your life. In fact, I have learned from you. I have watched you face the many difficulties of this season with valiant faith, optimism, and inspiring energy.
I have missed not seeing you shine on the field with receptions, returns, and tackles as I know you could. But my heart rejoices as I watched you shine in the face of such great adversity.
My son, it has been a pleasure to watch you this season. I am grateful for the path you have laid for your brother and sister to walk through. We are blessed to have you in our family.
Now and forever, I’ll always be your biggest fan! I love you!

Tonight, we eat a fried chicken dinner and bring some Oreo brownies to share in support of Y’s efforts. Truly great character was built this season. My hope for his senior year is not unlike what I’d hoped for with B. What he does and says in the face of difficulty on and off the field, is more important than touchdowns and tackles.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turtle Brownies

NBA basketball player Tim Duncan once said, “"Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best."
I don’t know if he was quoting someone else, or if the saying is his own, but it’s a good one.
Yesterday’s recipe is good (especially if your crowd is kids). Today’s is better:

Turtle Brownies

Begin by making Triple Chocolate Brownies.
Just before the drizzle of melted Hershey bars, sprinkle down a few more mini chocolate chips, and some chopped pecans. Gently press them into the chocolate frosting.
Spoon some jarred caramel ice cream topping (I never use anything but Mrs. Richardson’s) into a quart size freezer strength Ziploc bag. Clip a small hole in the corner and generously drizzle caramel onto the chocolate chips and nuts layer. Then proceed with the melted Hershey bar topper.

In my opinion, Turtle Brownies are better than plain Triple Chocolate.
What is best?
A Turtle Brownie gently heated with vanilla ice cream, caramel topping and hot fudge sauce.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Triple Chocolate Brownies

Several years ago, on a warm fall day, I set out for a quick run along the irrigation canal ditch road. As I ran, a duck was swimming in the canal. He seemed to keep turning its head and looking over at me, as if to chart my speed and match it. I can be ridiculously competitive at times. I guess this was one of those days. I challenged the duck to a race. (What? You runners out there don’t talk to ducks while running?!?) I quickened my pace and laughed to myself at this duck that began to swim faster. Again, I turned up my intensity- the duck followed suit. I was running at a great pace as we neared the first cross road. Without even as much as a nod, the duck took off flying. Cheater!!! (Don’t worry- This I said in my head). So the duck won. Throughout the rest of my “race” he was a hundred feet or so in front of me, and would often take flight. Did the duck really cheat? No. He was simply using its resources. That’s how I feel about brownies. Use your resources-
Many would agree that brownies are my signature dish. For years, I’ve thought it funny that everyone from the attendees at a church potluck to the local high school football team raves at how good “my” brownies are. I’m never hesitant to share my recipe- because it belongs to Betty (Crocker). I am finishing up my last few mixes of her Original Supreme- (the old box). I've tried the new recipe of "Original Supreme" and to be honest, it seems overpriced for what you get. She cut the number of ounces in the mix, and made a few other changes. I'll experiment with what else is out there. Chances are, you may already have a favorite mix, or prefer your current scratch recipe. Nevertheless, I use a mix.
I believe the key is thickness. I prefer 44oz. of mix in an air bake jelly roll (15.5x10) or 56 oz. in a standard (12x17) baking sheet. I make and bake the brownies as the package indicates. I continue to use available resources by spreading the cooled brownie with canned chocolate frosting.
Perhaps what makes them my signature dish is the way I top them from here. Today, we’ll start off simple-

Triple Chocolate Brownie:
2-3 brownie mixes, made as directed, in a large baking sheet.
Frost with 1 – 1 ½ cans of chocolate frosting.
Immediately sprinkle with mini chocolate chips while the frosting is still wet, so they stick.
Melt 2 Hershey milk chocolate bars (1.55 oz. size) in a freezer strength quart size Ziploc. Snip a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag. Drizzle the contents onto the brownie sheet.
[I once helped a local high school football player make a pan of these in a quest to ask a girl to a dance. I explained to him to “drizzle” by making happy circles all over the brownies in varying sizes.]
Let cool completely. I find the brownies easiest to cut and serve if they are chilled. I use a thin paring knife to cut them. I’ve also heard a plastic knife works well, avoiding the “drag” that rips one brownie into the next, giving them uneven, unattractive edges.

Rumor has it, someone whom I’ve already shared my resources- uh I mean “recipe”- with is selling this product. Don’t I deserve royalties? -Or do we owe them all to Betty?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mom's Holiday Pumpkin Bread--Mom's Way

In church today, they announced that there were empty boxes in the foyer so those who were interested could participate in the Salvation Army Food Drive. I know that many receiving those boxes also receive in a sense a bit of hope- for better times. My thoughts wandered a bit to the Christmas of 1986. And in honor of such I made Mom’s Holiday Pumpkin Bread – the way Mom makes it..

I grew up in a somewhat large family of six children. Each Christmas our family would carol to friends and neighbors and upon leaving with our parting tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” my little brother would give a loaf of Mom’s Holiday Pumpkin Bead to our friends. Many of the friends and neighbors we caroled to considered our visit one of the highlights of their season. Money was always tight in our home, but one Christmas in particular things were especially tough. My parents called the children together to discuss the caroling plans and to let us know that there just wasn’t enough money for both ingredients for the holiday pumpkin bread for caroling and for our traditional Christmas meal of ham, rolls, Jell-O, and pies. My parents let us know the decision was up to us to choose between making the bread and having our Christmas feast. My parents left the room to allow for free discussion amongst us children. It wasn’t but a moment until my older sister announced our unanimous decision to our parents. We wanted the bread!
We caroled on several nights in the weeks preceding Christmas. With our last batch of holiday bread, our final night of caroling was Christmas Eve. It was cold and we were tired, but as a teenager, when I saw a tear fall down the face of a lady we caroled to, I knew it was all worth the effort. Our family returned home that evening to find our front porch lined with numerous stuffed grocery bags filled with Christmas ham and trimmings and much, much, more. Those people, who had gone out of their way to our home, tended to our immediate needs, but also left a testimony to children, teen-agers and a couple of struggling parents of a sense of love, compassion, hope and a desire to serve.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cobblestone Muffins

New snow fell this morning. We live in a region where we don't typically get very much, so the kids were constantly happily distracted during “family cleaning" with the activity going on outside
A week into this snow coverage, I'm feeling a little trapped in my home. So I try to distract myself with a new idea in the kitchen. Much of what I bake is inspired by something I've seen or tasted before.
A trip to Seattle means a stop at Panera Bread. I always want one of everything, but am content with a french toast bagel. Last time, my husband ordered a cobblestone muffin. Today I attempted to copy the idea for a sledding snack.

Cobblestone Muffins

Make your favorite biscuit recipe, or use refrigerated, or defrost frozen ones. My favorites are Schwann’s Country Biscuits.
Roll out 1/2 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, cut into 1/2 inch squares. Give each piece a light squeeze to form it into an irregular rounded shape. Dip in melted butter then roll into a mixture of:
1 cup brown sugar
4 tsp. Cinnamon
Fill each muffin cup heaping full and bake at 350 degrees. Time depends on size. Let cool somewhat before drizzling with glaze.

Winters in the town I grew up in Iowa were very harsh. When it snowed, it was often measured in feet, not inches. Oft times, I was the daughter selected to go out and help my Dad shovel the walks. As winter skies darken in late afternoon, by the time dad returned from work, the light from the street lamp reflected on the snow to give a strange luminating light to the task. The sounds of the shovel scraping the sidewalk and Dad’s breath as he worked hard and quick became sounds of comfort to me. I remember a particular evening that Dad had assigned me to help shovel the walks. I was eight years old, short and scrawny. There had been at least a foot and a half of new snow that day. As I tried to walk down the front steps to the sidewalk, trying to catch up to Dad, I could barely move. Every time I put my foot down, it sank up past my knee in the fresh snow. My Dad kept turning around and calling for me to catch up. I was trying to be tough (certainly a trait I was known for) and move quickly towards Dad; but I was truly having a tough time moving at all. I began to get frustrated and tears fell down my cheeks. Dad turned around again to call to me, and saw me crying. He came back to where I was struggling in the snow and pointed to his footsteps. He told me that if I walked in his footsteps, I wouldn’t get stuck. He had paved the way with his larger boot. We were both headed to the same place and all I needed to do was follow him. And I did. Not just in the snow that night, but throughout my life, I’ve recognized that when I follow in the wisdom that has gone before me, I have found peace, safety joy, and even a few smiles from the contents of the oven.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Monster Cookies

Today, the outside temps have raised enough to make sledding more fun. The frigid arctic cold system has left the area, and now it’s just cold enough for the snow to not melt, but be pleasant. From my warm, protected perch inside, I can look out my kitchen window and watch the group that has gathered today to sled.
A snow fight has now ensued meaning they will no doubt soon be in cold and wet. My Cocomotion is ready to brew some hot chocolate, and I’ve just taken the last batch of monster cookies out of the oven. The first time I made this recipe, I made it as directed. This time, I replaced some of the oats with flour. The finished product is a heartier cookie that I prefer- especially to help satisfy seven cold teenagers.

Monster Cookies

½ cup soft butter
1 ½ cups peanut butter
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. corn syrup
1 cup flour
3 ½ cups oats
2 tsp. baking soda
2 ½ cups combined of -chocolate, butterscotch, vanilla, or peanut butter chips and M&M’s.
Cream butters and sugars. Stir in eggs, vanilla and corn syrup. Add dry ingredients. Mix together. Fold in chips and M&M’s. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes, depending on size.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the cold. I suffered from frost bite as a kid and can’t tolerate the cold, but I enjoy watching those who seem invincible to it. Somehow this group outside today just keeps on playing. I’ll gladly keep my perch inside, and enjoy the view from here! When they are done, I’m ready with warm cookies and steamy hot cocoa.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pilgrim Hat Place Cards

When the boys were young, I had a subscription to Family Fun Magazine. Each month, I would sift through it to see if there was something fun to make or do. I went through the effort to cut out the pages of my favorite activities, games, and food crafts. The product of those hours is useless. Now, (for ease and quickness) I simply turn to the internet to retrieve what I need. My daughter, J is making this year’s Thanksgiving place cards.
Place Card Pilgrim Hats
• 24 chocolate-striped shortbread cookies
• 12-ounce package of chocolate chips
• 24 marshmallows
• tube of yellow decorators' frosting
1. Set the chocolate-striped cookies stripes down on a wax-paper-covered tray, spacing them well apart.
2. Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave or double boiler.
3. One at a time, stick a wooden toothpick into a marshmallow, dip the marshmallow into the melted chocolate, and promptly center it atop a cookie.
4. Using a second toothpick to lightly hold down the marshmallow, carefully pull out the first toothpick.
5. Chill the hats until the chocolate sets, then pipe a yellow decorators' frosting buckle on the front of each hat

The truth is, she made these same place cards about four years ago. They “complicated” Thanksgiving. My nephew was too young to want to wait until after dinner for his treat. An epic fit ensued lasting clear through the big meal. I only felt a little bad for being responsible for the reason. I was mostly entertained and somewhat delighted watching a grand toddler fit -as we had been out of that stage for quite some time. After he exhausted himself, he ate his required portions and then enjoyed his treat as dishes were being done. Better luck to you all- and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are the very reason I am here today- “here” meaning being married to W and living where we live.
I met W in college. One night my roommates and I crashed the Elder’s Quorum activity: a basketball game. W was undercut as he went up for a lay-up and suffered a gash over his left eye. His girlfriend rushed to his side. His not-so-secret and terribly awkward crusher (that’s me) was whisked away by a couple of wise roommates back to our apartment. We made chocolate chip cookies and delivered them that evening.
W may remember the details of our relationship a little different (hopefully with me being less awkward), but the truth is- the girl with the plate of cookies eventually got the guy.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
½ cup buttered flavored Crisco
½ cup soft butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 2/3 – 2 ¾ cups flour (2 7/8 cups for high elevation)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 scant tsp. salt
2 ½- 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream Crisco, butter and sugars by hand, or on the lowest Kitchenaid setting. Stir in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, soda and salt all at once, stirring until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-12 minutes. For a richer flavor and smoother texture, I form cookie dough balls and refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake.

I have made this recipe countless times over the years. It’s used to celebrate, console, and cheer on. It’s one of the very first things I learned to bake. A special thanks to two fabulous college roommates- Laura and Andrea for introducing me to world of baking cookies!
Today, we celebrate the first snowfall of the season and the hours of great sledding that are sure to follow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jane's Rolls

Grammy always made the best rolls. No matter what time of year we’d visit, she’d task long in the kitchen preparing a meal served with melt-in-your-mouth rolls.
I can’t get Grammy’s recipe to turn out. I think I can blame it on humidity, elevation, and barometric pressure. . .
So on a crusade to be triumphant with a simple no-fail dinner roll, I called all four of my sisters asking for their success stories. I only found one! It’s a recipe one of my sisters begged off of a neighbor.
I played with it, bumping up the flavor. I give credit to the recipe’s origin by calling it:

Jane’s Rolls

2 cups warm milk (microwave for 2 minutes)
2 T yeast
¼ cup sugar
Mix these three ingredients together and let sit for 5 minutes until yeast mixture is foamy.
Add :
¼ melted butter
1 egg
2 tsp. salt
3 cups bread flour
Beat in Kitchenaid until smooth.
Add 2-3 more cups of bread flour.
Change the Kitchenaid attachment to the dough hook for 5 minutes. (Or knead on your well-floured work surface.)
Let rise until double.
Form into any shape of roll you’d like. I divide dough into two discs. I roll each one out into a 14 inch circle, then brush with soft or melted butter. Then take the pizza cutter and cut into 16 triangles. Beginning with the wide end, roll up the dough to form crescent shapes.
Rise until double. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Lightly brush with butter while still hot.

My kids will begin Thanksgiving week by being grateful I made a “practice batch” of rolls for them to enjoy after school today. Your family would appreciate it too. I’ll be sure to tell Jane how thankful we are for the recipe.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baked Caramel Corn

As a young girl growing up in a large family in Southwest Iowa, I remember our family often took advantage of very strange opportunities. We were no strangers to work, and somehow “work” always revolved around Dad’s stack of 5 gallon buckets. The tougher the job, the more buckets he would get from the porch. We were delighted when the jobs were slight enough to only require one short stack of buckets. One November, in the late 1970’s, Dad loaded the family station wagon with a large stack of buckets. We were all told to bundle up and get in the car. As we drove about 10 miles from our home, my sisters and I asked Dad repeatedly, “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there” was Dad’s usual response. We arrived at a corn field outside of the neighboring town of Hamburg, Iowa. There were fields and silos and a light dusting of snow on the frozen ground. Dad unloaded the large stack of buckets, took two for him, and instructed each of us girls to take a bucket as he walked toward the field. Still the question “What are we doing?” had yet to be answered. As we neared the first rows of fields, dad picked up an ear of what looked like dried up sweet corn. We told Dad it was no good- it was old and frozen. Dad said “It’s perfect.”
My thought-“Perfect for what?” Dad then explained where we were-Vogel popcorn fields. (Vogel grows over half of the popcorn production in the United States and sells to popcorn giant Orville Redenbacher.)
So there we were- Dad had gained permission to glean the popcorn fields. He gave us quick instructions on how to gather the cobs and not to bother filling our bucket with the dried husks but to do our best to remove them. As a group of five girls ages 4-10, our “best” was certainly a matter of perspective. We worked to fill the buckets and as past family work had indicated, we were never done until the buckets were filled. Upon completion, dad loaded the car and we five girls squished together in the middle seat as the back was full of 5 gallon buckets of popcorn. As you may realize, the work did not end as we drove away. Once home, Dad taught us how to remove the popcorn from the cobs. The first few cobs were kind of fun as we ran our thumbs down the cob and watched to our delight as popcorn kernels fell into our bowls. But hours later, as our thumbs were blistered; this seemed like too much effort. However, our labors paid off in the end. After the work, Mom helped us pop the kernels and occasionally throughout the winter months, we’d have a special family night treat of caramel popcorn.

Baked Caramel Corn
6 quarts of air popped pop corn
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup corn syrup
½ tsp. baking soda

Pop the popcorn, set aside. Combine brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and turn heat down, boiling five minutes. Remove from cook top and stir in baking soda. Mixture will be foamy. Pour it over the popcorn and gently toss, coating each kernel. Divide caramel corn onto two greased jelly roll pans. Bake at 250 degrees for 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread out onto a large surface to cool.
Fancy it up a bit? Once caramel corn is cool, gather it together single layer on a flat surface. Drizzle melted milk or dark chocolate over the caramel corn and let set.


The whole family would huddle together in the kitchen as we watched our popcorn kernels gathered from a frozen field, removed from the cob with tiny blistered thumbs- be transformed into a delightful treat enjoyed by the whole family- who together, under the direction of a wise and resourceful father, had worked so hard to obtain it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fruit Crisp

Several weeks ago, Y had a hard day on the grid iron. Because of the misdeed in his direction, I wasn’t happy either. When he arrived home, I volunteered to head out and cause some trouble with him, if it would make him feel better. He wasn’t interested in throwing anything, damaging anyone’s property or delivering tainted brownies to a coach’s doorstep. (I silently wondered if he had any of my DNA.) He told me he wasn’t angry, but if it would make me feel better, I could make him cookies. And so I did make cookies, and we both felt better.
Yesterday it was my husband’s turn to have a bad day. He works on a government contract safeguarding nuclear materials. Neither you nor I have clearance to know any more than that. Needless to say, when he has a hard day, I never get details. I can be empathetic, but most helpful if I’m busy in the kitchen doing what I can to ease the burden. This is the comfort food of choice:

Fruit Crisp

5 cups fruit (sliced apples, peaches, berries, etc.)
1 T lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
¾ cup oats
¾ cup brown sugar
3/8 cup flour
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 T cold butter, cubed

Prepare fruit and toss with lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pulse oats, brown sugar, flour, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and butter in the food processor until it forms crumbs. Add 3/8 cup nuts if desired. Lay fruit in the bottom of a greased 9inch baking pan. Sprinkle crumb topping on. Bake at 350 degrees for 40+ minutes, or until done.
B sent me a text last night bemoaning a happening in his life. I was tired, and done consoling people who'd had a hard day. He was given the following advice:
“Keep your head up. Keep working hard. Go forth with faith. Your dad and brother had some rough days too this week. Pray for them and focus less on your own misfortune. I love you.”
He replied “Okay.”
Reading it this morning, I hope I wasn’t too harsh. But it makes me feel better knowing today he’ll receive a surprise care package in the mail with ingredients to bake some of his favorite treats.
–Recipes will be posted another day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pumpkin Bread/Bars

This morning, I head out to visit some ladies from church. I have been asked to check in on them to see how they and their families are doing, making sure all of their immediate needs are being met. I already know they are all doing well- however, today I will go and not go-empty handed.
This recipe can be compared to Mom’s Holiday Pumpkin Bread. The biggest difference is texture. The original recipe called for 1 cup of oil- it seemed heavy to me. I immediately cut it in half, and added more pumpkin to offset the moisture imbalance. This is the recipe I use when I want to make pumpkin bread or bars:
Pumpkin Bread/Bars
3 cups sugar
½ cup oil
3 eggs
2 ¼ cups canned pumpkin
3 cups flour
1 tsp. cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
I blend the first four ingredients in the Kitchenaid. The eggs can tolerate a little more beating since the desired end product is more cake like. Dry ingredients all at once and then mix until smooth. Divide batter into loaf pans or spread it in a jelly roll pan baking at 350 degrees. Time depends on size of pan.
Once the bread/bars are cool, frost with cream cheese frosting, or Steve’s choice of a ground clove infused powdered sugar glaze.
My message to the ladies today is about work. Just like the ground cloves in Steve’s glaze, it is infused throughout our lives- and it’s a good thing that it is.
I am extending a message of hope regarding the work that drives our everyday lives- I recently heard that “ a consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.”
So maybe we can find strength to continue the work we are asked and invited to do that leads us to progression in this life and throughout the next.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lemon Cake

A conversation via text between a friend and I last night awaiting the news on Y’s status with the basketball team-
Friend: “Hope the spirits are high at your home tonight because things went well for Y. Good luck!”
Me: “Actually, he was cut. He isn’t home yet so we haven’t talked.”
Friend: “Oh shoot…hope he handles it well. How is mom handling the news?”
Me: “Me?-I’m completely rational. All I want to do is sell the house and get the heck outta here!”
Friend: “Oh good…I was worried that you would lose it and do something crazy like make lemon cake!”
And so I did. . .

Lemon Cake
1 lemon cake mix
1/3 cup oil
½ cup water
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
1 small package of lemon pudding
I toss it all in the bowl and let the Kitchenaid work it. Several minutes later, it’s in the desired baking pan (jelly roll, rounds, bundt, cupcakes- whatever your feeling) baking at 350 degrees. Time depends on size of pan.
I keep it simple by frosting with a canned lemon frosting and setting the wow flavor factor with a glaze made of 2+T lemon juice to 2 cups of powdered sugar.
Mix.Bake. Share.

Y is handling the disappointment with toughness- probably because that’s how most 16 year olds think they should. He was quiet last night. In family prayer, his sister asked God to “help Y get over it”- before we could reverently giggle she quickly followed by asking “please let the Spirit comfort him.” I think he has felt that comfort. I have too- what an incredible gift the Comforter is.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Today is Y’s last day of basketball tryouts. He will be home around 6pm with the news of whether or not he made the team. If I were to bake his favorite thing, I know in an instant what it would be. It’s not a treat, but rather a pepperoni and sausage pizza enclosed in the crust, saving the sauce for dipping. We call it Stromboli. You begin with dough- enough for one pizza. You can make your own, defrost a loaf of frozen bread dough (this takes over 5 hours) or purchase some at your favorite pizzeria.
When my eldest, B, was 4 and Y was 2, we moved to a community near Washington D.C. for a temporary work assignment. We could be found many Friday nights at Bertuccis in Herdon, Virginia. It was a great Italian restaurant with brick oven baked pizza. Each time we would go, the waiter would bring the boys a small ball of dough. He told them to make it into any shape they wanted, and then he would bake it for them, and bring it back ready to eat. He suggested a car shape, a boat, their favorite zoo animal- whatever. The boys worked over their dough for quite some time. Finally the waiter returned and asked “Didn’t you want to make a shape?”
B, speaking for both of them said, “They’re basketballs!” Y raised both hands in the air with tiny clenched fists and said “Yeah!!!”
The waiter returned with some baked balls of dough not looking much different than they had been initially delivered to our table twenty minutes prior. And I had two delighted young boys.
So after securing some dough, follow the directions to make your own version of Y’s favorite:

Pizza toppings
Italian spices

Shape the dough into a long rectangle, no longer than your baking sheet, and about half of the width. Sprinkle it with Italian seasonings. Line the very center with pepperoni. Layer grated Italian cheeses on top of the pepperoni, and then cover the cheese with sausage. It is important to keep the cheese in the center or it will bake into the crust, and essentially disappear. Next, gather both edges, meeting in the center, pinching them closed, being sure to also seal the ends. Flip your Stromboli over onto your baking sheet, sealed side down. Dust with cornmeal, garlic salt, and or parmesan cheese. Bake it for 20-30 minutes(depending on size) at 350 degrees or until done. Serve with warm marinara or cheese sauce for dipping.
I’m sure you are already thinking of variations for this recipe to make it your favorite- ham and pineapple, chicken and spinach, veggie delight. A word of caution- Watch out for too much moisture. Ingredients with a lot of moisture can make your finished product soggy.
I’m doing my part in the kitchen today to try and tell you that no matter what- team member or not, I’ll always be your biggest fan!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quad Chip & Oat Cookies

Y was 5’2” as a freshman in high school. Two years later, he has grown over 8 inches, and based on the size 12 shoe he wears, he isn’t done growing. Many kids are full grown with puberty behind them by the time they enter high school. The fast twitch muscle fibers are responsible for speed, strength and power, and are typically the last to develop. So a kid still in the thralls of his growth cycle doesn’t quite have all the factors of success working together yet. This reminds me of flavors working together in an oatmeal cookie – no really, it does- my brain is funny that way! Many people unite cinnamon and chocolate in an oatmeal cookie. I am against it. I favor cinnamon with raisins, and chocolate with other flavors that unite and work well together. My favorite cookie used to be a classic chocolate chip, until I played with my oatmeal cookie recipe and began making these:
Quad Chip & Oat Cookies
1 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¾ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups oats
2/3 cup each of semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, butterscotch, and vanilla chips.
As with all cookies, cream Crisco and sugars first. Stir in eggs and vanilla, careful not to over mix once the eggs are added. Doing so will change the texture of your finished product. Add dry ingredients at once, and then stir in the chips. Drop onto baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees. Time depends on size.
These flavors work together nicely. However, if you prefer to omit the chips and add a teaspoon of cinnamon and several handfuls of raisins, you won’t be disappointed.
Y enters day two of basketball tryouts without fast twitch muscle development, but with great determination and an uncompromising work ethic. Will it be enough?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pumpkin Muffin with Crumble Top (Mom's Holiday Pumpkin Bread)

Today is the first of three basketball tryouts for Y, my middle child. The tryouts are in 7 hours and I'm already nervous for him. I remember tryouts my junior year. I remember sitting under the basket at the end of the gym, up against the cold concrete block wall. I was completely unsure in my abilities. I couldn't even lift my head as the coach called out the Varsity roster. I kept starring at the hardwood in front of me. That flashback early this morning sent me to my Kitchenaid. The weather is cloudy, with a little wind and rain. My thoughts have briefly returned me to my childhood, and one of the only things my mama used to bake (although only once a year- and for the neighbors). I've tweaked the recipe a little and exchanged a crumble top for the spice glaze. Based on texture, I prefer this recipe as muffins instead of bread, nevertheless, I call it:
Mom's Holiday Pumpkin Bread
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
3/8 tsp. ground gloves
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
3 T soft butter
I lazily toss dry ingredients and then add the wet. As a muffin, don’t over mix.
Bake them at 350 degrees. Time depends on size of baking cup. I prefer Texas size muffins.
Mom always added 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 6 oz. chocolate chips, omitting the cloves. Then she would glaze the cooled bread with a clove infused powdered sugar glaze.
I often substitute some whole wheat flour, scant the cup of sugar, use skim milk instead of buttermilk, and skip the nuts and chocolate inside. This way, I feel okay about having two!
I do like to pretty it up with a simple crumble on top:
1T cold butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup oatmeal.
I pulse it in the Cusinart for a bit and throw in a few tablespoons of mini chocolate chips and chopped pecans.
Good luck today Y! Your dad says to play smart, your mama says to play with your heart!