Friday, December 23, 2011

Rudolph Cupcakes



Merry Christmas!!
The dynamics of our holiday has changed over the years as the kids have grown. Gone are the lines to see Santa or desires to write him letters. It's all been replaced by sometimes the very reverse. This year, Y and J had the opportunity to play Santa to some families who have very little. They took part in an activity organized by the local church youth group. They were able to see the wonderment and awe that shone in their own faces in Christmases past. It truly is a season of miracles. All we need to do is look for opportunities to be a part of it.
If you have or know some little ones who may like to give a shout out to Rudolph this Christmas, try these simple cupcakes.

Rudolph Cupcakes

24 chocolate cupcakes
1 can chocolate frosting
24 Nilla Wafers
24 Red M&M’s
48 pretzel twists
White frosting
48 mini chocolate chips

Frost cupcakes (I did about 6 at a time, so frosting stayed wet while decorating.) Press one Nilla Wafer for the snout and two pretzels for the antlers into wet frosting. Add a touch of white frosting to one side of an M&M and fix as the nose. Add two dots of frosting for the eyes, setting a mini chocolate chip upside down into the white frosting.

Share with the little ones you love as you spread some holiday cheer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Acorn Place Cards



When B was little, he was a very active child. Part of our daily schedule would be to find a place where he could run. We lived in an apartment that was only 600 square feet, so we would often go to the park. While at the park, B may have hit the swings or slide for a minute, but he preferred to chase seagulls or squirrels in the open grassy areas. Back and forth, one after another, it took a lot for him to get tired. Usually I would have to bribe him to get him to leave for home.
This Thanksgiving, gather up your “squirrely” nieces, nephews, kids, siblings, or anyone else you can bribe and make some simple Thanksgiving Acorn place cards.

Acorn Place Cards

Silk autumn leaf
Hershey kisses, unwrapped
Bite size Nutter Butter cookies
Peanut butter chips
Peanut butter
Chocolate frosting

Use the chocolate frosting (Ziploc bag with a small hole in the corner) to “glue” the kiss onto the Nutter Butter cookie. Use some peanut butter (Ziploc bag with a small hole in the corner) to “glue” the peanut butter chip onto the top of the acorn.
Arrange a few acorns around each leaf with the name of your guest written in.
These Thanksgiving acorns can also be simple toppers for cupcakes!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brownie Cup Turkey Treats



The “Kid Table” has got to be a great place to be…
You’re just out of sight of the adults that want you to use manners, keep your hands to yourself, and not giggle when your cousin burps. But, is it far enough away to hide the fact that you don’t want to eat your vegetables?
One night at dinner when I was a young girl, fresh green beans graced the table that evening. None of us six kids really loved our vegetables, but we knew it was not an option to not eat them. My attack was always to try and hold my breath while I ate them all in one mouthful, and wash down the nastiness with whatever Mom served for the main dish. After dinner, Dad would always head outside and do a few chores. On this particular evening, moments after Dad had walked outside; we were all called back inside to the kitchen table. There sat a very sad looking pile of string beans. Dad had found them just below an open window outside of the dining room. It seemed as though one of the kids had tried to opt out of their veggie and perhaps hope a neighborhood pet would quickly come and eat them all. It was a weak plan at best, and we all sat at the table looking at each other with a pile of now even “ yuckier” green beans in the middle of the table. Dad said no one was going anywhere until the owner of the beans confessed.
To be honest, I don’t remember which one of my sisters claimed the beans. I do remember wondering why I had never thought of an idea of how I could not eat them…
Nevertheless, if you have some cute kids sitting at your Thanksgiving table this year and you’d like to make them a special treat, try these:

Brownie Cup Turkey Treats


Make plain brownie cups by mixing up brownie batter from a boxed mix as directed. Then spoon the batter into twelve cupcake tins and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Let cool. After they cool, frost them with chocolate frosting. Then place sliced almonds in for feathers, a candy corn for the beak, broken pretzel pieces for the feet, and a quick dollop of white frosting, followed with a dot of black for the eyes.

Simply add a name tag if you need place cards for your dinner.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Drumstick Scotcheroos



There’s been some Mama Bear heartache over the past couple of days, but as I keep watch on Y when he doesn’t know I’m looking, I think he’s doing okay. Over the years as my boys have had their struggles, especially in sports, I wait and wonder if I will see my DNA emerge. Y handled the disappointment of being cut with class and dignity. I would have been psychotically destructive. :)

Last year during football season, Y had a JV game against a team we thought would be a tough opponent. With the score of 27-0 after the first quarter, we realized all the talent for the opposing team was at the Varsity level. That was great news for us as we assumed it would mean some time for our #20 (Y). We waited and waited…and waited. Finally with 8:36 left in the fourth quarter, we get to see Y warm up his quarterback (2nd string) on the sidelines. This is the quarterback Y says he makes look good in practice with his amazing one-handed leaping catches that get replayed in the kitchen after practice. #12 (the quarterback) was sent into the game. Y held the football, waiting to be sent in as his receiver. Unfortunately the first string receivers were still getting all the reps. That’s it. That’s how the game ended. #20 never left the sidelines.
I became frustrated with the coaching staff, or rather those who deemed themselves such. Was it really that hard to rotate some kids in and give them an opportunity, essentially thank them for working hard in practice every day? Especially with a score like 27-0? I tried to distract myself with household business as I waited for Y to come home. As I saw the lights of his car slowly coming down the driveway, I seemed to become increasingly angry at the entire football program. How dare they ask me to volunteer and do my part when they can’t even rotate my kid into the ball game! It was raw Mama Bear anger!
Y comes into the kitchen. At my husband’s encouragement, I try to play it cool… I fail… It went something like this:
I asked Y if he wanted to go hit something.
He said no.
“Throw something? “
He said “No.”
“Slit someone’s tires?”
He said “No.”
“Make someone poisonous brownies?”
He said “No.”
I said “You’re not angry?”
He said “No.” Then he added, “It sucked not getting an opportunity. But I’m not angry, Mom. But if it would make you feel better, you can make cookies.”
And so I did. . .

This morning as I woke up early- 5:30 and failed in my attempt to fall back asleep. I wondered what Y’s course forward would be. He will meet all academic graduation requirements at the end of the first semester. His plan is to try and find a job and work full time until college in the fall. I’m just wondering what opportunities lay ahead for him. I hope his course forward brings him continued joy in the journey. Nevertheless, with my own angst filled energy at 6:00am, I headed to the kitchen to make one of his favorite treats—Thanksgiving style.

Drumstick Scotcheroos
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
6 cups rice krispies
____
1+ cup choc. Chips
1+ cup butterscotch chips

Over medium heat, dissolve sugar into corn syrup. Remove from heat as it begins to boil. Stir in peanut butter. Add rice krispies and stir. Pam hands thoroughly and form rice krispy mixture into drumsticks. Melt chips on low stirring constantly. With a small spoon, cover the “drum” of the stick in chocolate. Let set.

If you have helpers, and the opportunity to make place cards for your Thanksgiving dinner this year, you can mark the drumstick with a guest’s name.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Peanut Butter Pie



I can't help but be hopeful...
Today is the final day of Y's tryout. He said things have gone fairly well over the past couple of days. He's pretty honest with his strengths and weaknesses each day as he comes home and gives us a full report. And- he's definitely having fun--finding joy in the journey. He made it a goal for himself for his senior year to be more aware of the simple things in life and how they can bring him happiness every day. The other night, just before bed, (I was already tucked in) he sent me a text outlining why it had been one of the best days ever, and told me "thanks for everything". I love his attitude, his outlook and his resolve.
Our life doesn't have to follow a certain course for us to be happy. We just need to choose to be happier while on our everyday course. My own kid is leading the way for me, so I think I'll make him a pie to celebrate.
Today, we can also celebrate a courageous basketball tryout!
The recipe is from my sister-in-law. She often brings it to family dinners and gets nods of approval from all!

Peanut Butter Pie
1 Oreo crust
Hershey’s chocolate syrup
4 oz. cream cheese
1/3 cup peanut butter
¾ cup powdered sugar
8oz. tub of Cool Whip
Chopped peanuts

Whip together cream cheese and peanut butter. Add powdered sugar and beat until well blended. Fold in Cool Whip. Cover prepared Oreo crust with a thin layer of Hershey syrup. Spoon in peanut butter cream and smooth top. Chill thoroughly for 6 hours or put in freezer for a couple. Garnish each plate with more Hershey syrup and chopped nuts.

This pie is a quick, indulgent addition to your Thanksgiving table. Or- as it is for me, a way of simply taking delight in Y's attitude, outlook, and resolve while communicating
"Thanks for being all you are!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reese's Peanut Butter Cookies



The other day I received a text from Y while he was in class: “What are 3 traits that describe me?” Little did I know, he had been given an assignment to write an essay regarding the subject.
I quickly took the first two I thought of and replied, “Loyal, valiant and …” I paused a second and instead of writing courageous, I finished with “funny”. I don’t think he’s more funny than courageous, but he thinks he’s funny, and I’m sure he appreciated the fact, that I would use funny as a word to describe him. :)
But truthfully, he is very courageous. Today he will do something requiring a lot of courage. He is trying out for the Varsity Basketball team. He has already been cut by the program 3 times. He’s been watching this coach long enough to know, he never picks a kid back up after he’s been cut, despite improvement. Nevertheless, Y wants to see how he can compete with 4A Varsity basketball players. And doing so in this format, takes a lot of courage.
So how does a mom even begin to show her support?
I need to make something out of the ordinary--something that shows how proud I am of his courage.
Y doesn’t like me to use the word “posh”. He tells me nobody knows what it means. I’ve told him -he knows what it means because I’ve told him what it means. So I use it, just to get the dimpled grin and head shake that always follows. Today, I’ll make posh peanut butter cookies. I’d love to take credit for the idea, but my sister has already made them. She has a design blog, not a food blog, so I’ll get the glory of posting this recipe and sharing it with you.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookies

Make Peanut Butter Cookies -

1/2 cup shortening (Butter Flavored Crisco)
½ cup soft butter
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter, Crisco, and peanut butter with brown sugar. Stir in eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and fully incorporate. Roll into balls. Don’t criss- cross them with a fork or press them down before baking. You want them to puff up a bit. I put them on the pan as a ball and barely mold to make a thick disc. I like about a 1.5 inch ball that makes about 28-30 cookies per the recipe. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 min.

Immediately after you pull them from the oven, leave them on the pan (I recommend an aluminum baking sheet) and press a chilled Reese’s peanut butter cup in the center of each one. Once I have them all out of the oven, I gently heat 1/3 cup peanut butter in a quart size freezer strength Ziploc bag. Snip a hole in the corner, and drizzle each cookie with peanut butter. Follow that with drizzling each cookie with melted Hershey bars (2 of the 1.55 size). I let them set a bit and then remove them from the pans.

These are my new favorite cookies! I know Y will appreciate a bit of thoughtfulness his direction today as I cheer for him from my kitchen!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Waffles



Saturday morning, a friend and I were entrusted with the task of feeding 30 hungry teenagers after they returned from early morning service. Past experienced Breakfast makers for these youth had passed on to me their wisdom about how much they love waffles. So I borrowed a few flip waffle makers from friends and made my grocery list.
Several weeks ago as I opened the pantry to grab a morning packet of oatmeal, I noticed a can of Libby’s Pumpkin puree calling to me. I immediately dropped my oatmeal packet and decided to make myself pumpkin muffins for breakfast. As I completed mixing the batter, the thought occurred to me that I had failed to preheat the oven. I was devastated at the idea of waiting at least half an hour to eat my spice infused – perfect for fall- pumpkin muffin. So I grabbed my waffle maker, heated in within minutes and 2 minutes later was feasting on a delicious pumpkin waffle. I have made them at least three times a week ever since.
On Saturday morning, I made 6 batches of these waffles to add to the breakfast buffet:

Pumpkin Waffles
1 1/2 cups flour
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
½ tsp. Nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
3T soft butter
Mini chocolate chips and vanilla glaze for garnish.

Combine all dry ingredients, and then add the pumpkin, milk, egg, and butter. Stir until smooth. Spray heated waffle maker with Pam nonstick cooking spray. Spoon batter into waffle maker. Bake until indicator light signals it is done. Serve with mini chocolate chips and vanilla glaze.

Because I want one of these every morning, I adjust the recipe to make it healthier. I use all whole wheat flour, cut the sugar to ½ of a cup, and omit the butter entirely. But of course, I still top it with chocolate chips and glaze.

Y has been home not feeling well the last few days. When he finally wanders upstairs in the mornings, I fire up the waffle maker and prepare this warm breakfast hoping it will help jump start his day. Instead, I think I’ve created a kid who prefers a morning of pumpkin waffles and Sports Center to school… Oops!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Ghosts: Pumpkins Muffins with Crumble Topping

Happy Halloween!!
Today, my husband has "goodie day" at his work. I was undecided about what to make, and he had no suggestions. Previously, I had made these "ghosts" and they were screaming to come off the cupboard shelf and be used. They are a simple way to make any goodie festive with today's holiday. I glued 2 plastic craft eyes onto a Texas sized muffin paper, made my muffins, and put them in their costume. Be proactive, and make it a great day!

Pumpkins Muffins with Crumble Topping

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.
Variations:
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.
Mix-Bake-Share

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Scarecrow Cookies



Today is all about scaring away the pain in my finger! My choice of extra curricular activities isn't always obviously in line with my age. Fortunately, I've found similar aged playmates to agree that we can still hoop it up in our 40's. However, injuries are common. Yesterday, apparently it was my turn to get hurt. It's just a little hurt, so these cute little cookies are just the right kind of scaring. :)
The idea is from Pillsbury's Easy Halloween Treats cookbook. And also seen here-

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup vanilla ready-to-spread frosting (from 16-oz can)
10 creme-filled vanilla sandwich cookies
10 biscuits bite-size shredded whole wheat cereal, crushed.
5 large multi-colored "orange slices"
10 pieces candy corn
Black decorating gel (from 0.68-oz tube)
DIRECTIONS
Spread 1 slightly rounded teaspoon frosting on each cookie. For each scarecrow cookie, place shreds of biscuits on 2 sides of each frosted cookie to resemble hair. Place 1/2 orange slice, cut width wise , on cookie, Place 1 piece candy corn on cookie to resemble nose. Use black decorating gel to make eyes, mouth and hatband.

These go together quickly for a welcome home treat for kids of all ages, and anyone who needs to scare away the pain of the day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Ghost Brownies




No one has carved a pumpkin at my house this year. In fact, no one has bought them yet, or gone to a “patch” to pick one out. Sadly, no one here has even asked if we are going to get a pumpkin or two. I have failed as a Halloween parent ;(
But I don’t understand why. Although I’m not much into dressing up- (I would if someone just gave me the costume to wear- it’s the thinking about what to wear that derails me). I love Halloween.
Growing up in our small Iowa town, we managed our own back yard garden, our elderly neighbor’s plot and a ¼ acre lot across town. This gave us plenty of space to grow everyone’s favorite fruits and vegetables, everyone’s least favorite vegetable (beets), and lots and lots of pumpkins.
Beginning mid-October, our family would haul our pumpkin crop up to the town square and on the vacant corner lot, across the street from “the” gas station, we would sell our pumpkins.
There were still many left for us to each carve our own scary face and light up the porch for Halloween. I’m sure I’ll find my way to the grocery store this week, buy a few token gourds, and make my kids have fun carving them, but until then, we will celebrate the upcoming holiday by indulging in these treats:

Halloween Ghost Brownies

1 brownie mix, made as directed. I baked one mix per 12 regular sized muffin tins for 20 minutes.
Place a large marshmallow on each brownie.
Spoon glaze over the top, covering the marshmallow, leaving a “puddle” at the base. You can make your own glaze or do as I did by shortcutting this step. I heated canned frosting in the microwave until it was glaze consistency.
Once the glaze is nearly set, gently push Mini M&M eyeballs and a mouth into the glaze to make the ghost face. If you wait too long, as I did for some of mine, use a dab of frosting to “glue” the eyes and mouth on.

Let set, and share or scare your friends and neighbors!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Peanut Butter Brownie Cups



J had a rough day yesterday. 7th grade school volleyball ended the day before. In just a few short weeks, she had truly grown to love the sport. Her team only had one win the entire season, but she found joy in the daily process of developing new skills. She came home yesterday and called a friend she hasn't spent much time with since volleyball season began. Her friend had chores, but could meet up later. J took her volleyball outside and did a little setting with her brother while she waited.
I was pulling weeds and reminded her she would have to reschedule with her friend as we had both forgot about her soccer practice. She is playing soccer on a co-ed team and doesn't care for it one bit. She thought she would be paired up more to play against girls from the other team, but such has not been the case. She is the second tallest team member, and coach uses that as his guide for pairing. She feels out matched one on one against her competitor every game. I have taken great delight every time she gets frustrated and shoves her (male) competitor. Its always after the play, when the referee isn't looking. A smile comes across my face as I see this that is slow to recede. Nevertheless, she wishes soccer was over.
A short time after reminding her she had soccer practice, she called her friend to reschedule. The series of disappointments seemed too much for her and within moments, she left to go inside. A short time later, I came in. Her eyes were red and swollen. She wasn't talking. I knew not to make a big deal of it, but I was really glad I had finally successfully made these Peanut Butter Brownie Cups. It was the perfect treat to take her mind off of her troubles.
A friend had made them a few weeks ago, directed me to the website and I've played around ever since. Of course I used a brownie mix, and a little more peanut butter than called for.

Peanut Butter Brownie Cups

1 brownie mix, made as directed. (I used Ghiradelli because I wanted the chunks of chocolate)
Spoon brownie batter into 12 muffin baking cups, with or without paper liners. Sprinkle some peanut butter chips in the center of each one. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let the centers drop a bit as they begin to cool. You can drop the centers a bit further with the back of a spoon. Put a rounded teaspoon of peanut butter in the center of each brownie cup and then sprinkle with semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Then, carefully observe your surroundings. Someone you know has had a rough day and could use the lift this indulgent treat promises to deliver.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Peanut Butter Spider Cookies

For Family Night last night, we rolled back the clock a few years—quite a few and made some treats that were more typical in our kitchen a decade ago. I saw the idea, forgot where I saw it, and so we made these treats off of what I thought they might be. Funny enough, then I remembered where I’d seen the idea (typical day in my 40s) and had made them as I remembered—they really are that simple ;)
Here is the link:


Peanut Butter Spider Cookies

Ingredients
1 pouch Betty Crocker® peanut butter cookie mix
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon water
1 egg
36 chewy caramels in milk chocolate
Black or red string licorice
1/3 cup (72) miniature candy-coated chocolate baking bits
Betty Crocker® black decorating gel (from 0.68-oz tube)
Directions
Heat oven to 375°F. In medium bowl, stir cookie mix, oil, water and egg until dough forms.
Shape dough into 36 (1-inch) balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place 2 inches apart.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Immediately press 1 chewy caramel in center of each cookie. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks.
Cut licorice into 8 (2-inch) pieces for each spider. Attach legs by sticking into chewy caramel. Use baking bits for eyes and black gel to make pupils in eyes.

We also made a batch with miniature Reese's.


Simple and cute- just like Halloween a decade ago.



We combined some of the most recent treats we’ve made and put together a plate of “Spider Infested Corn”.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Halloween Spider Cookies- Simplified




We had a grand family weekend. My husband and I took Y and J to a college football game. We parked about a mile from the stadium and walked toward the stadium amongst a sea of home team orange and black. We were there to cheer on our Alma mater, the visiting team. Nevertheless, it was a thrill to feel the energy of a college town erupting in game day- home town pride.
I delighted in walking past tent after tent of tailgaters. I quickly scanned the menu at each private party and noted there was little variation from hamburgers, hotdogs, and chips. One tent had a notably large stack of leftover brownies. As we were nearing the stadium, the crowd still tailgating at this tent was small. I thought about asking for a brownie-- but the closer I got, the more I realized they looked a little dry ;)
All the way home from the game I thought about warm pulled pork, bacon BBQ chicken, and seasoned brisket sandwiches.
We arrived home happy for our opportunity, but a little worn out. So my efforts for today's treat are a simplified version of these spider cookies.

The ideas are similar.
Take two cookies (I used Famous Amos Chocolate Chip and Oreos), frost each side, lay "spider legs" (string licorice) in frosting and put frosting sides together to form a cookie sandwich. Attach "eyes (mini M&Ms) with a frosting dot.

Share and scare!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Double Chocolate Halloween Spider Cookies

I watched a short home video last night of when the boys were 2 and 4. The footage was taken shortly before we embarked on an adventure to move out east outside of the Washington D. C. area. They were playing with the neighbor kids.
Back when I lived in a neighborhood with young kids, I used to make a greater effort with special holiday baking- especially for holidays like Halloween. This year, despite my kids being older, I'm bringing out some recipes I haven't made in a lot of years and some new ones I've recently seen.
The fall we moved out east was filled with transitions. The kids had to transition from having friends and neighbors to play with to spending more time with just each other. They did this well. B took the lead and Y was happy to follow along. B would ask "Do you wanna play cars?"
Y always answered with an enthusiastic "yeah!!" usually while extending both arms in the air.
No matter what B would choose for an activity, Y would follow along. Y was B's wing-man, his shadow...even his Robin...So it fits that they were Batman and Robin for Halloween.
Get your kids, friends and neighbors excited for Halloween this year by making these Spider Cookies.

Double Chocolate Spider Cookies

Begin by making a double batch of Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies. I omitted the chocolate chips.

While they are cooling, dip a pretzel stick 3/4 of the way into melted chocolate. Tap gently and lay on waxed paper to set.

For assembly:
Frost the bottoms of the entire double batch of cookies.
Then place 8 spider legs (dipped pretzel sticks) -non-chocolate end in the frosted side of a cookie.
Put another frosted cookie (frosting side down) on top to form a sandwich cookie.
Finish with mini M&Ms for eyes on a dot of frosting.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Caramel Popcorn


I had the opportunity to visit my parents last weekend. It was Dad’s birthday. He is 70. He is a man of great wisdom, faith and love. He has taught his family the need for unwavering hard work through his quiet example. My last morning “home” I went to the kitchen to make a treat. With Dad at my side, helping me along the way we began to pop some popcorn in preparation.
“Tell me about the time we gleaned the fields.” Dad said. “I don’t remember it as well as you.”
“That’s because your thumbs weren’t blistered.” My sister laughed as she sat nearby cutting coupons.
I retold the story to Dad with all the details. He grinned in approval. By the time I finished the account with life lessons tied in, we had our first batch of Caramel Popcorn laid out ready to set.

Caramel Popcorn

1 cup butter
½ corn syrup
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
Bring to a boil the 4 ingredients listed above. Remove from heat, and add:
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
Toss the caramel mixture with:
3-4 bags of popped microwave popcorn

After the popcorn is evenly tossed, spread out on greased cookie sheets or aluminum foil. Let set.

Dad and I finished the second big batch of caramel popcorn as we visited about B on his mission, Y readying for college, and J playing volleyball. I then took a seat near my sister and watched in amazement as she clipped hundreds of coupons and sorted them in her binder. We chatted and took great delight in my niece and her friend who were happily riding bikes, and sampling caramel popcorn as they waited for the time to go to afternoon Kindergarten. Before long, Mom had gathered cellophane bags and ribbon. She separated the set caramel popcorn into pieces as she packed them in bags for friends and neighbors. After taking me to the airport, Mom and Dad delivered the treat bags. Their greeting at one door was unmistakably their favorite. The young girl at the door saw my Mom’s familiar face, looked at the two large treat bags in Mom’s hands and simply said, “I love you!”
My thoughts exactly- “I love you Mom! I love you Dad! It was good to come home even if just for a few days. And yes, next time I’ll bring your grand kids with me.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nutter Butter Brownies



Yesterday afternoon, moments after school got out I sent Y a text:
"You got a smile on your face and a skip in your step?"
"Hahahahahaha Yes!" was his reply.
An hour previously, despite the no cell phone rule in school, curiosity got the best of Y as his dad sent him a text saying:
"Call me if you want to hear some good news."
Y called his dad and received good news and was thus headed out of school with a smile on his face and a skip in his step.
Yesterday- doors were opened.
I’ve always told my kids that opportunities are expanded when you do the right thing by God. He will open doors for you.

Strangely enough, we've recently been a little worried about Y and how he was feeling about his senior year. A few nights ago we had discussed with Y the fact that he had been looking tired lately. We worried that he wasn't content with the immanent opportunities before him. He tried to assure us he was fine and that his fatigue was simply because he thinks he's having another growth spurt. We agreed as parents we would revisit this conversation with him again soon...

Days later, after a door was opened, I think we are all feeling better about near term opportunities.

Last night as I was headed down the hall to bed after encouraging Y to do the same, I hollered out "Woot! Woot! Y did awesome on the ACT!"

Unexpectedly awesome!!- Just like these brownies. I think it’s the crunch and the perfect pairing of peanut butter and chocolate. Oreo brownies are quickly becoming the most often requested brownie for me to make for people. These are very similar with just a different cookie and frosting choice. I've been thinking for months that I should try these so today I did.

Nutter Butter Brownies

Make a pan of brownies as outlined here.
For the 12x17 size pan, frost cooled brownies with 1 ½ cans of canned chocolate frosting. (Honestly, I prefer to use 2 brownie mixes in a 10 x 15 pan and 1 can of frosting.- adjust with what you have/like best.) Cut 1 package of Nutter Butter Cookies into small pieces. Gently press the cookie pieces into the wet frosting. Heat ½ cup creamy peanut butter in a quart size freezer strength Ziploc for 10 seconds in the microwave. Snip the corner and drizzle atop the cookie pieces. Gently heat remaining 1/3-1/2 can of frosting (or use 2-3 1.55oz. Hershey bars) in a quart size freezer strength Ziploc bag. Clip a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag and drizzle the frosting over the peanut butter layer. Let set. Cut and serve.

Y has spent sometime today exploring scholarship offerings -already guaranteed.

As an earthly parent, I get to relax a bit tonight and watch a kid - who has worked hard, had plenty of character building experiences and has served his God well- be happy. And -have some fun contemplating opportunities through the open doors all while munching on these unexpectedly awesome brownies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jamaican Jerk BBQ Chicken Pizza


Today is the second game for my daughter’s 7th grade volleyball season. Her first game was just two days ago. W was driving straight from work to the home team’s gym in a nearby town. I had Y as my navigator and we were expected to arrive about the same time. W texted “At the gym”. I took a wrong turn, glanced at the clock and noticed my heart race a bit. We would be close to not making it on time. I had tried in the past few days to find out from J where she settled in amongst her teammates. She assured me she wasn’t good enough to start but she didn’t think she was the worst one on the team.
I knew what it was like to be the worst. My mind flashed to my rookie volleyball season. I recalled the first day of practice where we were told to serve 25 times and record the number we successfully got over the net in the coach’s notebook. Volleyballs were flying every which way in the gym that day. Half-way through I had yet to make any over, yet I knew there would be many of us with low numbers based on the direction the balls were flying off the sides of server’s hands. I had served 20 times, all unsuccessful attempts. I was bound and determined to get my last five over. Unfortunately I did not. I sullenly wandered over to the grade book to record my 0. I scanned the numbers written before me and saw mostly high numbers. Tears immediately blocked my vision and my heart pumped nearly out of my chest as I resolved to tell the truth and scribble a sad 0 in the book.
A few minutes later, I took another wrong turn just as W sent another text. Y read the text out loud. “She’s starting…”
“What?!?” I screeched as I U-turned over the curb and onto a sidewalk- all four wheels. I screeched into the parking lot, took the buses only lane short cut to a parking space and moments after parking, and locking looked at Y and said “RUN!” We both sprinted leaping over curbs, bushes and perhaps even a small child or two all while trying to navigate which exterior door would lead us straight to the gym. We entered the gym at a whistle- the first whistle signaling the initial serve. We glanced at the scoreboard- 0-0. We made it! We high-fived each other and took our seats next to W at the top of the bleachers to settle in and watch J play her first volleyball game.
Several rotations in, it was her turn to serve. My heart raced a bit even though she didn’t look nervous at all. She actually had put forth descent effort this summer in preparing for the season. The $20 Wal-Mart net we purchased was strung across the basketball court. W, Y and I took turns shagging balls for her as she worked on serving.
My dad had done the same for me the summer before my sophomore season. I had decided in June that when I showed up for volleyball try-outs the next fall, I would be serving overhand successfully. My goal was to get 50 serves over every day. The first several weeks, the task had taken me hours each day to try and complete. I had strung a rope across an area of the lawn from a second story window to a tree at the edge of the lawn. I looked over my effort and decided the sag created about the right height of a volleyball net. Grandma and Grandpa came for a visit later in June. Grandpa watched as diligently served every evening to meet my goal. Grandpa went to town and worked for hours the next day to install a real net set in concrete. It was beautiful. I spent a lot of time there that summer. I would often only be half-way done with my goal when Dad would return from work. He would shag balls for me as they careened every which way.
J had practiced all summer. The referee whistled her to serve. I held my breath. Her serve successfully cleared the net and entered play. I sat back, enjoying the opportunity to watch my daughter play her sport that she is truly loving.
I didn’t quite exert that much effort this summer on my new recipe for Jamaican Jerk BBQ Chicken Pizza- but almost. Y had fallen in love with it at California Pizza Kitchen. I went with him once to taste “the best pizza ever”. I thought the ingredients on top were a little sparse. So I load mine up considerably more. Celebrate dutiful efforts today and make this pizza:

Jamaican Jerk BBQ Chicken Pizza

Jerk Chicken Pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast grilled, or cooked on stovetop
1-2 teaspoons jerk seasoning (depending on how spicy you want it)


Caribbean Sauce
1/2 cup taco or chilli sauce
½ cup BBQ sauce
3/4 teaspoon jerk seasoning
Cook on low heat, simmering for several minutes.

Prep for the Pizza
pizza dough- purchase at favorite pizzeria or make your own
Caribbean Sauce
1 cup+ shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup diced red and yellow peppers
1/4 cup diced red or green onions
1/4 cup crispy bacon pieces
Jerk Chicken pieces

Pizza Assembly

Use a spoon to spread the Caribbean sauce to within an inch of the outer edge of a stretched pizza dough.
Distribute ingredients to within 1/2-inch of the outer edge of the pizza.
Distribute Jerk Chicken over the sauce.
Distribute mozzarella over the chicken.
Distribute peppers over the mozzarella.
Distribute onions over peppers.
Distribute bacon over the onions.

Bake at 450 degrees in your oven or on a heated grill (I heat the grill then turn off the burners on the side I place the pizza on. The burners on the other side stay on and keep the grill cavity warm enough) until ingredients are hot and cheese is melted.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cowboy Cookies

I recently received an email from my eldest who is serving a two-year LDS mission. He is only a few weeks out of the Missionary Training Center where he spent nine weeks learning Spanish. He is serving in Salt Lake City, Utah and has been entrusted with the responsibility to teach and minister to several communities there. There are rewarding times, and some hard times. He wrote, “Sister McPherson came to the rescue! I love her to death! She brought me some cookies!”
I believe without a doubt angels are among us. They help bear us up when times are tough, when we struggle a bit, or when loneliness or heart ache sets in and tries to stay for awhile. Sometimes these angels are our neighbors, our friends, a family member, or even a perfect stranger.
Sometimes our kind smile, warm greeting, loaf of bread, or plate of cookies offers much more than we realize.
Sometimes… we are someone else’s angel.
We took a family trip to Portland, Oregon to get the clothes B needed to prepare for a mission. We also stopped in at the Nike Factory Outlet- because we always do…A few blocks away is a fabulous corner bakery. I can’t remember the name of it, but I remember how tasty their Cowboy Cookies are. This recipe is close… sort of.
Have a little extra time? Mix up some of these cookies and just maybe you’ll be an angel- just like Sister McPherson.

Cowboy Cookies

Cream:
1 cup shortening (Butter flavored Crisco)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
Stir in:
2 eggs
2 tsp. Vanilla
Add at once and stir:
1 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Soda
2 cups quick oats
Stir in:
2/3 cup shredded coconut
2/3 cup chopped nuts
1 ½ cups chocolate chips
Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Find someone who would benefit from you sharing.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Oops!

B printed my blog for me for Mother's Day! I love it. Tonight I made a recipe and realized a mistake. I had the wrong amount of baking soda i fixed it here and on the original blog post. I can promise you two things:
1. It won't be the last mistake I find.
2. I will post corrections as I find them.
It just so happens that J's 6th grade class has a very important standardized test tomorrow. The home room teacher is promoting the idea that if you eat a good breakfast, you will test better. So J will proudly take some pumpkin muffins to school tomorrow so that her and her classmates test better.
I had been out washing the car while she was in getting ready for bed. I come in, wet and tired to see a note hung from the top of the door frame reminding me to "Please make pumpkin muffins for J"s class". And so I did...


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.
Variations:
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.
Mix-Bake-Share

Monday, May 2, 2011

Buttermilk Cookie Salad

Tonight for dinner is fish- at my in-laws home. The boys took a day off Saturday and went fishing with Grandpa. They caught 71 fish and filled my kitchen with story after story of their adventures upon their return.

My thoughts drifted toward gratitude to Grandpa for creating the perfect day, and gratitude that they were safely returned home.

A few years ago a fishing day with Grandpa was cut short and ended with us meeting up at the Emergency Room. B was learning to fly fish. A cast went amuk and the hook landed squarely in the center of his ear lobe. We eventually secured an exam room after everyone else at the hospital was triaged and moved in front of us! The nurse came in. She took a look at B, and his ear and curtly chastised him. She told him there were safer ways to pierce his ear. She left the room to get supplies.

"She thinks I did this on purpose?! She's s freak show!" B observed in disgust.

"She’s a freak show?" I asked him as we waited for her return, a fishing hook dangling from his ear...

Tonight I know just what to make to contribute to the fish fry. It's a “salad” my mom-in-law taught me to make.

I'm not too fond of fish caught in a pond, but I'll lick the bowl clean of this “salad” any day!

Buttermilk Cookie Salad

1 lb. Strawberries- cleaned, hulled and sliced, then chilled.

3 bananas, chilled. (Slice just before serving.)

1 small package vanilla pudding

1 cup buttermilk

1 8oz tub Cool Whip

4-5 single serving packages of Keebler Fudge Striped Cookies (minis).


Thoroughly mix pudding and buttermilk. Fold in Cool Whip.

Refrigerate.

Just before serving, fold in strawberries, bananas and cookies into chilled pudding mixture. Garnish with cookies.


As we go through life, opportunities present themselves daily; some of which have potential to create a lasting memory. It’s painful to reflect and think, “I wish I had.”

Saturday’s fishing trip helped me to refocus my efforts in leading my life with the resolve of being able to claim, “I’m glad I did!”

I have two boys who are certainly glad Grandpa agreed to take a day off too, and create a lasting memory at the fishing pond.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Indoor S'Mores

One sunny Saturday afternoon - the summer after my senior year of high school I heard a strange car horn down at the corner, seemingly approaching. I went to the front porch and shrieked with delight. "You finished it!!" Without even being invited, I gently climbed in the front seat of the newly rebuilt 196-(something-I should know this!) navy blue Ford Mustang Convertible with white leather. I was taken on a ride. We stayed on paved roads; carefully making sure neither dust nor gravel would mar the pristine finish.
I helped my friend rebuild this mustang. It began as a seemingly pile of junk on the floor of his garage. When I say I helped, my job was to take my perch in the corner of the garage and chatter endlessly for hours, touching nothing while Brett worked. This division of labor was repeated throughout the summer of 1987, the following school year and into the summer of 1988. Brett was a good friend. I always felt blessed to have him as a friend and undeserving of his loyalty.
Brett was unassuming and very accepting. He treated me with incredible respect and helped me try to understand my potential. Despite his efforts, I was still a bit if a trouble maker.
One Friday at school in the fall of my senior year, I asked Brett what we were doing that weekend. He told me I was on my own because the boys were all going camping- no girls allowed! While pretending not to, I listened in on their conversation at lunch outlining the details of their campout including a specific description of where the site was located. I drug along a girlfriend and we set out to crash their “man” camp-out. I took a wrong turn on a darkened road in Allegheny National Forest. The turn left us stuck in a muddy cornfield. It was well past curfew by the time we became free and my friend and I headed to the car wash and then home having never found the boys.

Today I was saddened by the news of Brett's passing. He was 40 years old: A husband, a father, and no doubt, a treasured friend by any who knew him.

If I were to make him some Indoor S'Mores, I think after 20-some years I could tell him about the time I tried to crash his camp-out.
And knowing Brett, he would be grateful and overly enthusiastic with any treat prepared for him -because he really was that nice of a person.

Indoor S'mores

(adapted from Pampered Chef)

1 cup finely crushed graham crackers

¼ cup powdered sugar

6 T melted butter

5 Campfire sized marshmallows

5 Hershey milk chocolate candy bars (1.55oz.)
Preheat oven to 350°F . Combine graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar and butter . Place scant scoop of crumb mixture in each cup of 9 tins in a muffin pan. Press crumbs to form shallow cups. Bake 5-6 minutes or until edges are bubbling. Meanwhile, break the candy bars into rectangles. Remove pan from oven; place three rectangles into each cup.
Cut marshmallows in half crosswise. Place one marshmallow half, cut-side down, into each cup. Broil in oven 1-2 minutes or until marshmallows are just gently roasted. Cool Slightly.
Melt remaining candy bars and place in a freezer strength Ziploc bag. Microwave on HIGH in 3o second intervals until melted. Drizzle the top of each marshmallow with melted chocolate.

So Brett- if your new job in heaven allows you to read my blog-

"Thank you for the ride of a lifetime in the car "we" rebuilt. - Until we meet again dear friend. And may the family you left behind be comforted today and in all of their tomorrows -pass on the rich legacy you left behind."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Red Velvet Cakesters


When I was a sophomore in high school our family moved from the only place I'd ever known as home to a small village in Pennsylvania. I had been blessed to have a best friend live right next door to me for almost ten years in the small farming community in Iowa that we left behind.

The move was rough on me at an especially tough time in my formative years. I longed for a friend. One night, after coming home late from an out of town basketball game, I woke my mom up to tell her I was home. Customarily she would barely wake enough to acknowledge me. This particular night, I needed help. She sat up in bed and I took a seat too. I told her I was having a hard time- had been having one for over a year. I told her how much I missed my childhood friend.

Mom gave me sound inspired advice that night. She told me to "Pray, and ask Heavenly Father for a true friend."

I quickly left her bedside and retreated to my own, where without delay I took her advice.

A few weeks later, the seasons changed and track began. I knew I had no speed, but was gifted with endurance. I took a position with the distance runners. There was a runner a year younger than me. We could carry the same pace through our workouts and ran together every day. Meanwhile I was still asking God every day as I prayed - for a friend. As days turned into weeks I realized how much I looked forward to track practice every day. Not for the running- but rather because my prayer had been answered.

Carolyn was a true friend to me. I'm sure I never completely told her how much I appreciated her. I graduated high school and our family moved again. We've each married, and are raising our families thousands of miles apart. This time of year especially, I’ll often think of her and silently thank my Father in Heaven for a friend.

Yesterday, I visited with a neighbor friend. I stood at the front door and noted packed boxes neatly stacked in each room. She will soon move to another town in another state. I brought her a rendition of some treats that she first had at Starbucks. I received a photo and a text--and a challenge. I've experimented a few times and am content with the results-



Red Velvet Cakesters



1 red velvet cake mix

4 eggs

1/3 cup oil

2 T water

3/4 cup sour cream

1 package instant vanilla pudding



Mix all ingredients well. Grease muffin pans. Drop a one inch dollop (small cookie scoop) in each space. Bake at 350 degrees for six minutes. Immediately dump pan, re-grease and re-fill until you've baked all of the batter. Let cakes cool completely.

Prepare cream cheese frosting.



Cream Cheese Frosting



12 oz. softened cream cheese

3/4 cup soft butter

4 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla



Bear until smooth. Spoon into freezer strength ziploc bag. Cut a triangle off of one corner. Pipe a layer of frosting on half of the bottom of the cakes and put a "lid" on top.

Put remaining frosting in a clean ziploc and clip a small hole in the corner. Drizzle some frosting on top. This recipe makes 40 Cakesters.



As my friend does final preparations for the move, I share in her excitement in beginning a new chapter in their family’s life. And I acknowledge that I'm sure I have never completely told her how much I appreciate her being my friend. But I’m ever more aware that as people come into our lives; we are blessed -just simply by knowing them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fruit Pizza


A year ago I received a thank you gift. It was a fruit pizza in the shape of the gift preparer’s car. I was being thanked for rescuing one of B's friends from a trick he himself had mastered- locking the keys in the car. I was delighted with the generous thank you. B's typical thank you was a text and a shy "sorry" when I saw him next.
So if you have someone to thank, or just want to try something fun,why not make your fruit pizzas on the personal size of things.

Fruit Pizza

Begin with sugar cookie dough. Roll out and cut out into desired shapes. Bake and cool completely.
There are many versions to the typical cream cheese layer.
The classic is:

Cream cheese layer:
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat until creamy and spread onto cooled cookie. Finally, top with fresh fruit, and toasted coconut if desired.

For a lighter layer, make the Crushed Pineapple Fruit Dip with fat free Greek yogurt and sugar free pudding, even omitting the coconut.-

Or give it a chocolate burst with the Chocolate Cream Fruit Dip as the middle layer. -

A few weeks ago, Y called one weekend evening while he was out with friends. There was an initial silent pause after I answered the phone which immediately rose my blood pressure.
"Mom- I pulled a B-...".
"What does that mean" I shrieked!!
"I locked my keys in the car." He replied with a snicker regarding my freak out.
So I grabbed a spare set and was silently grateful for such an easy pardonable mistake that B is famous for.

Easter is coming- why not make some bunny shaped fruit pizzas?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chocolate Cream Fruit Dip



I slept really well last night. There is an indescribable peace in having all the kids home in their beds. My eldest returned home from college yesterday after completing his first year of coursework. He is only home for two months before he leaves for two years while serving a mission for The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's good to have him home, even if only for a short time. I forgot how much I missed him offering to help out with meal prep. I forgot how much I missed his generous thank-yous for food prepared. It's the simple things in life that make a mama happy!
And "simple" is the perfect word to describe this fruit dip that we love with a large bowl of fresh strawberries.

Chocolate Cream Fruit Dip

1 8oz. tub of Cool Whip
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla


Melt 1/3 of tub of Cool Whip with the chocolate chips in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Add vanilla. Stir again. Fold chocolate mixture into remaining Cool Whip and chill thoroughly.

This recipe also works nicely as a chilled "frosting" for a chocolate layer cake. Don't forget to garnish generously with Oreo Balls.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crushed Pineapple Fruit Dip


The grocery stores are flooded with strawberries. They have me making my favorite “berry” good recipes!
Today I am “berry” tired. The kind of tired that results from late nights, early mornings, skipped workouts, and Panera’s French Toast bagels for most meals for several days (although delicious, not the best “every meal” food.) Last night I came home from a long busy day and sat on the floor of my closet to take my shoes off. I received a text and laid on my back to rest a bit while I replied. Anticipating a texting conversation, I rested there a minute waiting for the reply. Sometime later, I woke up – realizing I had accidentally fallen asleep- on the floor of my closet. I guess that means I did all I could in a day.
So I’m thinking for a healthier pick me up that will encourage more fresh fruit selections, I will make some Crushed Pineapple Fruit Dip.

Crushed Pineapple Fruit Dip

1 20oz. can crushed pineapple
½ cup sour cream or greek yogurt (or both if you like it extra creamy)
1 small package instant pudding (sugar free or regular, and I’ve tried vanilla, lemon, coconut and banana cream – no complaints- they’re all good)
zest of one lime
1/2 c.-3/4 c. flaked coconut
4 oz. Cool Whip

Thoroughly mix pudding with sour cream and/or yogurt. Stir in pineapple and lime zest. Fold in coconut and Cool Whip. Chill.
This is great with fresh fruit and La Panzanella Sweet Crisps (cinnamon sugar) Croccantini.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Toasted Almond Cinnamon Sugar Pastries


Yesterday, I spent ten minutes making Y a treat for him to take to school as a special occasion for no occasion at all. He loved it. Today, I spent half the day baking these fragile, multi-layer flaky pastries. Why? Simply to prove to myself that I could. The recipe literally lists 40 steps. It’s a great recipe for a day when you are attempting to complete 18 loads of laundry and need an additional diversion from CNN's report on the earthquake/tsunami that kept you up most of the night as you waited to see how your eldest would fair as it hit his little island he currently claims as home. (Recipe from allrecipes.com but I renamed it from “Cinnamon Danish”, and made a few changes—of course!)

Toasted Almond Cinnamon-Sugar Pastries

Butter roll-in
• 1 1/2 cups cold butter
• 1/4 cup flour

Dough
• 2 (1/4 ounce) packages active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
• 1 cup milk, heated to about 110 f
• 2 eggs, at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Cinnamon filling
• 4 tablespoons butter (divided in half)
• 1 cup brown sugar (divided in half)
• 4 teaspoons cinnamon (divided in half)
• 4 tablespoons flour (divided in half)
• 1 cup Honey roasted almonds (finely chopped, divided in half)

Egg wash
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1 teaspoon water

Icing
• 3/4 lb powdered sugar (Add more if icing is too thin)
• 5 tablespoons milk (Add more if icing is too thick)
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
Directions:
Prep Time: 3 hrs
Total Time: 1/2 day
1. 1 Make the butter roll-in first.
2. 2 With a pastry blender or two knives (using two knives is actually easier) cut the flour and the 3 sticks of butter together until combined but do not let the butter become warm. The butter should never be allowed to become warm the entire to time you are working with this dough.
3. 3 Tear off a sheet of waxed paper and dump the butter on to it. Place another sheet of waxed paper on top.
4. 4 Beat the the butter between the two sheets of waxed paper with a rolling pin until it becomes malleable. Make sure it stays cold though.
5. 5 With a spatula, a knife or whatever, shape the mound of butter into an 7"x9" rectangle. It doesn't have to be perfect but try to get it into a rectangular shape as best you can.
6. 6 Set aside in a cool spot or place back in the refrigerator while you make the dough, but don't let the butter re-harden. You want the butter to be cold but still soft and pliable. If it's too hard it will break through the dough when you roll it out.
7. 7 For the dough combine the packages of yeast with the warm milk and let sit 5 minutes to soften.
8. 8 Mix in the salt, sugar, and eggs.
9. 9 Add the 3 1/4 cups flour all at once and stir until thoroughly combined. You should have a very soft and sticky dough.
10. 10 Chill dough in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes.
11. 11 If the block of butter is in the refrigerator remove it when you place the dough in there to chill. You don't want the butter to re-harden and it's best if the dough and the butter are approximately the same temperature.
12. 12 Sprinkle your work surface generously, and I do mean generously, with flour. I use a shaker to evenly distribute the flour and completely cover the area I'm going to be rolling the dough out on. A simple dusting won't do. You need a good thick layer of flour, maybe as much as a 1/16 to an 1/8 of an inch thick. Don't worry about using too much flour because any excess will be brushed away with your pastry brush.
13. 13 Roll dough out into a 11"x16" rectangle.
14. 14 With a pastry brush brush all the excess flour off the top of the dough. Excess flour will interfere with layer formation.
15. 15 Place the block of butter on one side of the dough leaving a small border around the edges.
16. 16 Fold the other half of the dough over and pinch the seams together slightly to seal to encase the block of butter. If dough sticks to the table when you try to fold it then simply brush it with flour. Don't worry if the dough doesn't look too pretty at this point. It will get better.
17. 17 Turn the dough 1/4 turn so the part of the folded dough that opens up is on your right(like a book). Brush away the excess flour that's on top of the dough.
18. 18 Roll the folded dough into an 8"x20" rectangle. When you roll out the dough you want to make sure you use even strokes and roll from one end to the other. Avoid quick back and forth movements with the rolling pin and do not roll over the edge of your dough. This will destroy the layers you're trying to make. If the butter breaks through the dough simply sprinkle a little bit of flour over the spot.
19. 19 Brush away all excess flour off the top of the dough.
20. 20 Fold 1/3 of the dough over and brush off the excess flour and then fold the other 1/3 of the dough over that so the dough resembles a business letter.
21. 21 Roll out the dough again and fold it in thirds like a business letter just like you did before.
22. 22 Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. This completes the first two "turns". Each time you roll out the dough and fold it you are doing what's known as a turn. A turn gets its name because after you fold the dough you have to turn it a quarter turn when you go to roll it out again. Each time you roll out the dough you want to make sure that the part of the dough that opens up is always on the right (like the way a book opens). It can open on the left if you want but the important thing is to be consistent.
23. 23 Meanwhile, take your pastry brush and a sheet of paper and sweep up all the flour on your work surface so you can use it again. You'll find that very little of the flour you used to roll out the dough actually gets worked into the dough.
24. 24 After the dough has chilled, sprinkle your work surface with your recycled flour and place the dough on it.
25. 25 Roll out and fold the dough in thirds exactly as you did before. (turn #3).
26. 26 Chill dough for 1 more hour.
27. 27 Repeat this rolling and folding one more time (turn # 4). You should now have a dough with 162 flaky layers (2x3x3x3x3). You started with two layers of dough separated by a layer of butter. Each time you rolled the dough out and folded it in thirds you increased the number of layers by a factor of 3.
28. 28 Chill dough for at least 3 hours or overnight if preferred. At this point you have a basic Danish pastry dough.
29. 29 With a sharp serrated knife, cut the dough in half.
30. 30 Keep one half in the refrigerator while you work with the first half.
31. 31 Roll the half of dough into a 9"x16" rectangle.
32. 32 Sprinkle the top of the dough with the cinnamon topping which consists of 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 tablespoons flour, and 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans.
33. 33 Roll dough into a tight 16" long log.
34. 34 Cut dough into 16 pieces. The easiest way to do this is to cut the log in half and then cut those halves in half and so forth. If dough is too soft to slice wrap it up and refrigerate it for an hour or place it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.
35. 35 Place cinnamon rolls on ungreased baking sheets at least 3 inches apart so they have room to rise and expand.
36. 36 Repeat with the other half of the dough.
37. 37 Cover the trays of cinnamon rolls with towels and set aside to rise until the rolls are ALMOST doubled (about a 75% increase in size). Don't put them in a warm spot because you don't want the butter to melt. Rising time may take a few hours or more. After a couple hours the surface of the rolls may start to dry out, especially if the air is dry. If this happens, cover the tray of rolls with a damp paper towel and then put another towel on top of that.
38. 38 Brush rolls lightly with egg wash and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until they are golden brown. Be sure to watch them carefully so they don't burn. If rolls are browning too fast on top lower the oven temperature about 15 degrees. If you have thin or dark colored baking sheets you may want to double-pan them so the bottoms of the cinnamon rolls don't get too dark.
39. 39 Drizzle powdered sugar icing over the rolls while they are still warm.
40. 40 To make icing simply combine powdered sugar with a teaspoon or two of vanilla and enough milk so you can drizzle it. I usually use about 3/4 to 1 pound of powdered sugar. As far as the amount of milk goes, I just kind of eyeball it.

So- I challenge you to make these- and let me know what you think!
My daughter claims they are scrump-deliocious!!

Reese's Cheesecake Chocloate Layer Cake

Way too many highs and subsequent lows in my kids lives lately- nothing too serious; just everyday teenager "stuff". It reminds me how important it is that home be a warm, happy, safe place to come back to.
B returns home in about a month following his first year at college. He has chosen to defer his schooling for the next two years and serve a mission for The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints. He received a call to serve in Salt Lake City, Utah --spanish speaking. He reports to begin his training on June 22nd. He is ready to dedicate this time to serve others searching for Christ.
Y is still pulling straight A's deep into his junior year. He appreciates the friends he has and the relationship he has with his dad. However, he is ready to reunite with his best friend and brother in a few weeks. In the meantime, he is learning and competing in a new sport. Ups and downs seem to follow him with every sport he plays. I'm trying to be grateful for the humility-based character that is being developed.
J has turned twelve. Although technically not a teenager, it's obvious the struggles have arrived. She is trying to balance the success she has in school and sports with identifying that (according to mom and dad) there is still more for her to learn.
Just a typical day in my life. Today, I'm not feeling defeated or exhausted by our family's course. Rather I'm content with the assurance and knowledge that these experiences will be for our good. Nevertheless, I wish I could have a piece of this cake while I wait up for Y to finish his homework. I made it a few weeks ago. It's not likely I will attempt it again based on how many hours it took. But it looks good, doesn't it?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cinnamon Swirl Bread


The other day I began my morning with my typical oatmeal. I scanned the day's news and weather, and a social networking site. A friend posted a video of some people who had been caretakers of a lion in its youth. The lion was then returned to its natural habitat. The caretakers planned a trip and a year later tried to visit their lion friend. They had been warned that their lion friend was no longer going to respond to them as he was now a leader in his pride. After locating the pride, the reunion was everything the past caretakers hoped it would be. This short video put to music had me dropping huge tears in my oatmeal. As I sat alone in my house, crying in my oatmeal, I wondered if I should be the caretaker of a baby lion rescued from a crowded zoo. Then when the lion became too big for my back yard and was sent to Africa, I could visit. And the lion would run to me and love me.

Or maybe I should just make some bread instead ;)
(Think Jane’s Rolls with a twist.)

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Combine and let set until foamy:
2 c. warm milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 T yeast
Beat in:
1 stick butter
2 tsp. salt
2 slightly beaten eggs
3 c. bread flour
Put on dough hook, and add:
3+ more cups of bread flour (until it makes soft dough)


Knead 7 minutes with dough hook attachment. Place in greased bowl, let rise 1+ hours, or until more than double. Punch down, divide into loaf size (6-7 mini loaves- probably 3 mid size and 2 full size), cover and let rest 10 minutes. Roll each piece out to 1/4 inch thick and brush generously with water; heavily sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (I made up 1 ½ cups for this recipe and used it all). Roll from small end and place in loaf pan, seam side down, let rise 45-60 minutes. Brush melted butter on loaves and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-40 minutes (depending on size).

This bread reminds me of home. Mom knew it was my favorite. Years ago, we lived a short two hour drive from mom. I liked to give her enough advance notice of a potential visit so that she’d have time to make some bread. I would come hungry and polish off half a loaf while we caught up- standing in the kitchen just inches away from another slice and another story about what adventures the boys (ages 2 and 4) had been up to. I miss living close enough to my parents to visit often, but I’m grateful for flavors that take me there- even if only for a moment.

Curious about the video that made me cry? Click here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

BBQ Pork Roast


Y got a haircut. It's been getting mixed reviews. He had grown quite a 'fro and then nearly shaved his head clean. I didn't know he was headed to the Barbers that day. He came home and handed me some papers I needed to review and sign. As I looked up at him I literally screamed. A long “flight or fight" scream. I hardly recognized him. The past six months of growing the ‘fro, he has changed- physically changed. He is losing his entire little boy look.
Throughout the evening, as he sat on the couch doing his homework, I found myself starring at him. It wasn't long ago that he would sit on the couch with his curly blond hair and drooling dimpled grin- legs dangling- and being goofy.
So much time has passed- and yet it's passed so quickly. I'm often in awe of all that he has to fight off as he navigates high school in these times. And yet he is truly finding joy in his journey.
So what can I make to celebrate the growth, the joy, and these fleeting moments? Maybe something hearty to provide him the energy needed to move forward, continue the fight, n'er wavering.
This pork roast is a classic at our house. It's affordable and flavorful. Any leftovers are great as a sandwich the next day.

BBQ Pork Roast

Prepare pork sirloin tip roast by slathering with a rub made of pepper, salt, garlic, onion powder, etc. I often mix Johnny’s seasoning salt with steak seasoning. It gives it a little kick of flavor.
Brown the roast on the stovetop with a drizzle of olive oil. Place in a slow cooker. Cover completely with water. Cook on low for 8 hours.
Just before serving, cut or fork pull.
Add your favorite BBQ sauce.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread


The sun is shining brightly today. I gathered my shoes and socks and found the little 2'x2' space in my family room where the sun was coming in through the windows. I sat down in that little space and soaked up some warmth from the sun.
It just so happens, my calendar is pretty empty today. So I chose to linger on that sunny spot on the floor of my family room.
As I closed my eyes, enjoying the quiet calm (indirect) sunlight, my imagination took me to the beaches of Hawaii. I imagined the sound of waves gently crashing on the nearby rocks at Hukilau Beach. And lost in my day dream, I decided to have lunch at Kahuku Grill. Today I'll order the Terriyaki Chicken plate. For dessert, I'll have the only item on the menu: Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Sundae!
Well- guilt from lack of progression woke me from my day dream, but my Kitchenaid was calling, and I heeded the call. I may not be able to lunch at Kahuku Grill today, but I think I'll try my hand at that banana bread.
It's a tropical treat. That said, the flavors need to complement each other, and the texture needs to be a bit lighter than my typical banana bread. I think I'll begin with a banana cake recipe from B's friend Saydi, tweaking it just a bit. Next I'll add chocolate chips and coconut. Topping the finished product with a lot of tropical love ;)
Wanna escape for a moment? Give this a try-

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Cream:
1 cup of sugar
6 T softened butter
Beat in 2 eggs
Stir in:
1 1/4 cups mashed bananas
1/4 cup buttermilk
Add:
2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
Mix until well incorporated.
Stir in:
½ cup chocolate chips (I use mini)
¾ cup flaked sweetened coconut
Divide batter between two 3” x 7” aluminum bread pans.
Bake at 350degrees for 50-60 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes clean.
Let cool.

Topping:
Coconut Glaze
1 can of Coco Lopez coconut cream
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
Put both ingredients in the food processor until smooth. (This will top six loaves. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.)
Mini chocolate chips
Toasted coconut
For the topping, layer glaze followed by chocolate chips and then toasted coconut. Repeat layer again ending with toasted coconut.

Everything tastes better with ocean breezes and warm sun, but this isn't a bad momentary escape for the middle of winter!
Go the distance making it a Sundae by adding vanilla ice cream and warm hot fudge!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Turtle Bars


B’s hip us really bothering him. He played a pick-up game of basketball yesterday- can hardly walk today. This is the same problem he was having a little over a year ago when they spotted the tumor in his femur. His actual diagnosis regarding his hip pain is leg length discrepancy. His left leg is more than an inch shorter than his right. Thus pain ensues when he runs. So he's a little bummed today.
This leaves me conflicted as a mom. On one hand it's good for him to have trials away from home so he can learn to navigate how to deal with them without the immediate help of his parents.
On the other hand, I want to make vats and vats of food and treats, and jump on an airplane to go see him.
I'm reminded of a story I recently heard told in a talk given by Elder Quentin L. Cook-
“Last winter my daughter had a white-knuckle experience driving in a severe snowstorm. She reminded me of a similar situation I had with my two sons many years ago. My youngest son, Joe, was three years old, and my son Larry was six. We were traveling by car from San Francisco to Utah in June. The weather had been very good.
As we started our ascent to the Donner Pass summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, suddenly and without warning an enormous snowstorm hit us. None of the drivers was prepared. A semitruck in front of us had jackknifed and was spread across two lanes. Other trucks and cars had slid off the freeway. One lane was open, and many vehicles, including ours, were desperately trying to gain traction to avoid the other vehicles. All traffic then came to a halt.
We were not prepared for this blizzard in June. We had no warm clothing, and our fuel was relatively low. I huddled with the two boys in an effort to keep us warm. After many hours, safety vehicles, snowplows, and tow trucks began to clear up the massive logjam of vehicles.
Eventually, a tow truck hauled us to a service station on the other side of the pass. I called my wife, knowing she would be worried because she had expected a call the prior evening. She asked if she could speak to the two boys. When it was the three-year-old’s turn, with a quivering voice, he said, “Hope ya know, we had a hard time!”
I could tell, as our three-year-old talked to his mother and told her of the hard time, he gained comfort and then reassurance.”


Sometimes in life, we have a hard time. Sometimes, we just need someone hear us say, “I had a hard time."
If B were closer, I'd make him his favorite brownies, or maybe his favorite cake or his oft requested favorite other treats: Turtle Bars.

Turtle Bars

Ingredients:
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 1 pkg. two layer yellow cake mix
• 1/2-2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
• 7oz caramels or 1/2 jar of Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch caramel Topping
• 1 can evaporated milk.
• 1 cup mini Hershey kisses or chocolate chips

Preparation:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter, cake mix, and 1/3 cup evaporated milk in large bowl. Mix. Add nuts. Spread 2/3 of mixture evenly over bottom of 9” square baking pan and press to form crust. Bake for 8 minutes. Melt caramels into 2 T evaporated milk. (I found these caramels that you don’t have to unwrap, yet I still prefer the ease of this recipe with the jarred caramel). Spread over cooked crust. Sprinkle with chocolate. Pat together and form remaining crust mixture on the top in pieces. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes more. Cool somewhat to let set before serving.
(This recipe can be doubled nicely in a 10 x 15 pan.)


I got the idea for this treat from a local cafe that I love. I purchased many of these treats and experimented until I decided I was content with my efforts. If you know of someone who has had a hard day- they might appreciate a Turtle Bar treat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Treats

Learning how to show love has been a process for me.
I had a cold reputation in high school. At my senior prom, all my guy friends dedicated a song to me- It was certainly not a compliment as the dedication was announced and the speakers boomed out the beat from Bon Jovi of "You Give Love A Bad Name".
In an effort to progress from a cold beginning toward love, on Valentine's Day- and throughout the year, I speak my love through the foods I make. Hopefully my family has learned to "feel the love."
I assume you've already figured out how to mix and match my recipes to create a lot of love this Valentine's Day. If not, give one of these a try-

This is a classic love note-

made by mixing this with this frosting

These says we make a great pair-

made by mixing this frosting with this - I ommitted the chocolate chips and rolled out the dough on a lightly floured surface before cutting.


These says "Be Mine"

made by mixing this with this frosting


These says "Luv u"

made by mixing this with this topping


These say “I’m Yours”

made by varrying this by gently rolling the "dough" and using a heart shaped cookie cutter



So choose your message. Share some love, but don't "play your game...(and) give love a bad name."

Happy Valentine's Day!!