Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Just wanted to say Merry Christmas to everyone, and I hope you all have a wonderful holiday!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Peppermint Bark

Although I wish I had all the time in the world to bake for Christmas, truth is I have so much else to do that I can only fit in a few batches of cookies here and there. So it makes it so much easier when I can make something with only a few ingredients and have it taste like I worked on it all day. That is the case with this Peppermint Bark. It's from Martha Stewart. (What is up with me and her recipes lately I have no idea. I'm more a Paula Deen type.) The recipe calls for only three ingredients. I altered the original recipe a bit mainly because I needed more bark than the recipe called for. This would make a perfect gift for friends, neighbors and kid's teachers. Just be sure to save a little for yourself!

Peppermint Bark

3 pounds premium white chocolate (I used the big block they sell at Sam's Club plus one bag of Nestle white chocolate chips)
12 large candy canes
3/4 tsp. peppermint oil

Line an 11x17 inch baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Chop the white chocolate into bite sized pieces. Place in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir chocolate until melted and smooth.

Place candy canes in a large storage bag. Using a rolling pin or kitchen mallet, pound the candy until it's less than 1/4 inch in size.

Stir the candy and peppermint oil into the melted chocolate. Remove from heat and pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread evenly.
Refregerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces with a knife (you can use your hands but it gets messy). Store in an airtight container.

Peppermint Patty: [on the phone, to Marcy] Marcy, what book were we supposed to read during Thanksgiving Vacation?
Marcy: This is Christmas Vacation, Sir.
Peppermint Patty: Christmas Vacation? How can I read something during Christmas Vacation, when I didn't read what I was supposed to read during Thanksgiving Vacation?
Marcy: Duck, Sir. Easter is coming

-It's Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gifts In A Jar- Hot Chocolate Mix

I am running like a crazy person getting ready for Christmas, as I'm sure most of you are as well. I love this time of year, but it's also the most stressful! One of my biggest stressors is finding a way to give a meaningful gift to the numerous teachers and friends of my three young ones. This year, I thought I'd try hot chocolate mix. It was easy and very tasty (oh yeah, I tried a few cups myself. Just a few....). I have yet to have time to cover the tops with the cute Debbie Mumm fabric I found at JoAnn's today, so that'll be this weekends project. Maybe I can get those wonderful kiddies of mine to help!
Hot Chocolate Mix

1½ cups skim milk powder
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
¾ cup non-dairy creamer

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well. For a finer mix, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and mix well. Add to small canning jars. Fill to the top. Seal with canning lids. Decorate as desired.

Store in an air tight container.

Directions for label (add to ribbon around jar or print out and use as a label on the jar)

Place 2 or 3 tablespoons in a mug and add boiling water or warm milk. Enjoy!

Decorate the jar lid with a circle of fabric or lace, tied on with ribbon or raffia.

"Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas."
-Peg Bracken

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday Thirteen- Underrated Movies and Shows

I haven't done a Thursday Thirteen in ages! But since I've done hardly any baking this week in anticipation of next week's baking blitz, I thought I might give this a go.

One of the things the husband and I do on a regular basis is veg out in front of the T.V. at night. Not exactly a recommended activity, but we are so pooped from the day it's the only way to keep our sanity. Because of all our wonderful viewing experience, we have quite a few shows and movies we've had a chance to see that made us wonder why they weren't more popular. Here are some of those shows:

1. Supernatural- A tv show about two brothers who travel from town to town searching for their father and seeking out mysteries that are weird or well, supernatural. Sort of like an X-Files but with siblings and easier to understand.

2. IP Man- A super awesome movie about Bruce Lee's trainer (which I didn't know until after I watched the movie) and how he made it through some very difficult times by sticking to his morals and using his seriously good martial arts abilities. A must see even if you don't like martial arts.

3. Jericho- An interesting show about what might happen if major cities were destroyed and most of the population was gone. The characters really make this show and the story line is quite plausible.

4. Survivors- A similar story line to Jericho, but a very smart British medical version. A bit liberal for my taste (no guns until late in the show, in the U.S we would have been armed to the teeth within an hour!) but understandable given it's Britian. Adds some medical drama to the already incredible story. Again, the actors really make this a good show.

5. The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn- Sidney Poitier is the star. What more do I have to say? That man can't make a bad movie! Very moving, grabs you in the beginning and pulls you in. You can't help but cheer for him.

6. The Jesse Stone series- Tom Selleck is the main character, a cop with a drinking problem who is hired in a small town. Tom Selleck really pulls off a great performance. Robert Parker wrote the series, one of my favorite authors. I really miss him.

7. Life on Mars- Set in the 1970's, it's about a present day cop that gets pulled into the past to a precinct in the 70's. He spends his time trying to figure out what happened to him, keeping himself out of trouble and solving crimes without letting anyone know where is from. Just fun to watch, remembering all the craziness of the 70's.

8. The Express- a story about racial inequality on and off the football field. Very well done, it's a tough but wonderful story that will stick with you for a long time.

9. Life- One of my favorite tv shows. To this day, I really don't get why they cancelled it. Excellent characters, interesting story line and funny too. It's about cop who gets wrongly accused of a crime, does time, then gets exonerated and gets rehired. He is quirky but lovable and the chemistry between him and his partner is strong. The music on the show is great too.

10. Band of Brothers and The Pacific- I know the Band of Brothers did well (one of the main characters is the lead in Life, the tv show) but I hardly heard anything about The Pacific. Both are fantastic and hard to forget.

11. Taking Chance- Kevin Bacon leads this movie and does an excellent job. It is a very still movie, no action except emotions, but it's unforgetable.

12. Moonlight- ok, it's a vampire show. Still, it was well done and fun to watch. Another one they cancelled and I can't figure out why.

13. Dark Angel- Jessica Alba before all the glamour. Great show, lots of action, a bit corny but it's worth it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Pie

It feels like it's been forever since I've had time to blog. So much has happened since Thanksgiving. My sister had emergency surgery on Monday to have her gallbladder removed. She is doing much better, but it was quite a saga for her. Then I had to attend an all day seminar for credits for my license (National Certified Counselor/Licensed Counselor), see the doc for a checkup and we have company tonight. Whew! Since this all started, I've been wanting to share a new recipe I tried over Thanksgiving. I've been getting a little tired of the same old pumpkin pie so I tried this one instead. Just a little twist on the old favorite! It was really good. Pumpkin with just a hint of tangy sweetness. The above photo is courtesy of Betty Crocker. I never got a chance to take a picture of our pie. It was gone that quick!

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Pie

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg (I used Egg Beaters)
1 9-inch pastry pie shell, unbaked
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sugar
dash salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, slightly beaten (again, Egg Beaters)
1 cup evaporated milk (I used skim/fat free)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla extract; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 egg; spread mixture in the unbaked pastry shell.

Combine pumpkin, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Blend in the 2 beaten eggs and evaporated milk. Pour pumpkin mixture over cream cream cheese layer. Bake for about 65 minutes, or until set. Cool pumpkin pie thoroughly. Serve with whipped cream.

"I've learned there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin."
-Linus from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

No Bake Graham Cracker Cheesecake

After all the craziness of the past month, I needed comfort food, something sweet and creamy. But since I've been eating a bit too much lately (stress does it everytime!), I also wanted something low in calories and fat. I found this recipe on one of my favorite websites, Sparkpeople. A former instructor at my gym recommended the site. She is a member and it helps her keep track of her eating habits. I joined (it's free) and I enjoy the heck out of the tips, articles and especially the recipes. This recipe was no exception. Even my kids, who didn't even know it was low calorie/low fat, loved this dessert. A definite make again in our house.

No Bake Graham Cracker Cheesecake

Two packets of low fat graham crackers
8 oz. fat free cream cheese, softened (I used low fat)
1 cup cold skim milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small box instant vanilla pudding (can use sugar free)
8 oz. fat free Cool Whip
1 can lite cherry pie filling (or any flavor prefer)

Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish with graham crackers. Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the milk and lemon juice to the cream cheese and beat until smooth. Stir in pudding mix, then fold in the Cool Whip. Pour mixture over the graham crackers then spread the pie filling over the top. Eat right away or refridgerate overnight to soften the crackers.
Makes about 20 servings (or in my case 5 large servings ;)
Fat: 0.3 grams
Calories: 80

"....I can dream away a half-hour on the immortal flavor of those thick cheese cakes we used to have on a Saturday night."
-Mary Antin, 'The Promised Land' (1912)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Roanoke Addendum

Well, Roanoke County did call again. On Thursday of this past week. It's just not the news we wanted to hear. I, of course, got myself all excited seeing the county's phone number come up on my husband's cell phone (he was home, off for Veteran's Day so he was with me). "Oh boy, they didn't forget about us and they are calling to offer the job!" was exactly what went through my head. Ha! Who was I kidding?

As Kurt listened to what the caller was saying to him, his expression changed to worry and strain. He mouthed the words, "What?!" and then said a few "Ok's" to the caller, said he call back in an hour and got off the phone. His first words were, "I don't believe this". Then he explained they wanted him to come down for another interview, an all day one this time, and meet the staff. They also wanted him to meet with the other candidate and compete with him during questioning. They explained that they couldn't decide on which candidate to pick so this was their solution. They named a day next week and said it was non negotiable.

So Kurt spent the next hour stressed trying to find a way to work around their demands. He was already scheduled with two important mandatory meetings at work that day plus he had his class to teach the night before. There were no direct or indirect flights to Roanoke and driving was out of the question since his class the night before didn't end until 9 pm. To add to the fun, Roanoke County refused to move his start date of mid December so if he did land the job, he would only be able to provide two weeks notice at his current job to make the Roanoke start date. That is just not something you do when you are a manager of an important social service program. Talk about burning your bridges.

We talked about the options, got upset about the options and finally decided the option was to call back and ask for another date for the interview. After another phone call back from Roanoke, Kurt was told that the administrator was not willing to compromise. It was over for real this time. No job, no moving. Kurt told them goodbye and that was it.

It was meant to be, nothing was going to change that. It was tough having hope again after I was just settling with the idea that it was done with before, but at least we knew now for sure what had happened.

Given the job situation, the economy, and the luck we've had so far getting calls on resumes we send (read: no calls at all!) I don't see us moving anytime soon. But hope springs eternal and that's what I've got now- hope. Like I tell my husband, and myself on bad days, it's not the end of the world. It's not like one of us is sick, our house burned down, or we have no jobs. It's just a dream I have. And though it may stay a dream the rest of my life, at least we tried. And to me, that counts for a lot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Job That Wasn't

It was close. So close. But it didn't happen. Moving back home just wasn't meant to be.

About three weeks ago, after sending an untold number of resumes over the last few years, my husband Kurt finally got the call. Roanoke County wanted to interview him for the Director of Social Services position they had available. I couldn't believe how great the job fit Kurt's experience. We both believed he had a great shot at the job.

After "the call" we went into big time prep mode. We looked up everything we could about the County, researched our butts off about everything and everyone and went over and over possible interview questions. After an intense phone interview and a series of written questions from the County in the first week, it was time for the face to face panel interview in Roanoke. By the time he left for the interview last Monday, Kurt was prepared. My stomach was in knots, not over how well I thought he would do (because I know him- he was prepared!) but how much of a shot he had at the job.

After the interview, Kurt called me on the way home. He was very happy with how it went, mostly because everyone seemed to love his answers during the interview and afterwards, the director of human resources told him he did a fantastic job. I couldn't believe it. Finally, a shot at going home. Raising my kids where I grew up. Man, I was on cloud nine.

Although the administration let us know there were more interviews and the competition was tough, they still gave us encouraging signs. Kurt heard a lot of "good answers", "thanks for being so quick with your response", "you did a great job with that problem" kinds of things. The immediate director seemed to really take to Kurt too. It all seemed to fall into place.

I started getting excited. It was really hard to not start planning our move. We got a little ahead of ourselves, but we also felt we wanted to be prepared in case he got the job. We looked up schools, apartments (for Kurt to stay in while we sold our house here), homes for sale, stores, gyms, and all the general information about Roanoke we could find. We loved everything we saw. Even the kids got into it when they saw the new Green Ridge Rec Center. What a cool place! I couldn't wait to take them.

Then last week, Kurt got a call saying they had more questions. After an hour and a half panel interview, we were perplexed at what more they could ask! But ok, it was a big decision they had to make. They asked a lot of questions that didn't make any sense. Then they started calling Kurt's references, asking odd questions about his faults. Things started looking bad. The final decision on the candidates was going to be this past Friday or Monday. They said would let Kurt know by then. As the days passed and no one called, we knew it was over. Not even a call to say, sorry we decided on someone else. Just nothing.

I got a little down in the dumps about the whole thing for the past few days. But I realized that in all the bad things that can happen to people, this one doesn't even register. So no hiding in bed with covers over my head. It's back to square one. Maybe someday I'll get back home, maybe not. Either way, it won't be the end of the world and it won't be for lack of trying. It was worth it just to know someone paid attention to one of the resumes my husband spends a good portion of his time every week filling out! Maybe someday someone will pay attention. All it takes is one time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chocolate Mint Cake

It's been a very busy couple of weeks. Every time I wanted to get back to blogging, something new came up. I've been itching to share this great cake recipe I found last week too. Again, my kids came up with the suggestion of making a mint cake out of Andes Candies. Like my kids need more sugar in their diet after Halloween, but hey, someone asks can we bake, I'm in! I have to say, out of all the cakes I've made, this one ranks up there as one of the tastiest. I literally could not stop eating it. You have got to try this one.

Chocolate Mint Cake

1 (18.25 ounce) package chocolate cake mix
1 1/3 cups water
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I substituted applesauce)
1 tablespoon melted butter
3 eggs
1 cup chopped chocolate mint candy pieces (Andes Candies)
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened (I used low fat cream cheese)
1/2 to 1 tsp. peppermint extract
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup light cream (I used skim milk)
2 drops green food coloring, if desired (I didn't use this ingredient)
1/2 to 1 cup chopped chocolate mint candy pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with nonstick baking spray with flour (I just used the spray without the flour, liberally). Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, water, oil, melted butter, and eggs. Beat for 30 seconds on low speed, then increase to high and beat for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the candy pieces and pour into the pan.

Bake for 28 to 34 minutes until top springs back when lightly touched. Cool completely.

For the icing, in a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, extract, salt, butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Add remaining powdered sugar alternately with the cream until frosting is fluffy. Beat in food coloring.

Frost cake. Top with remining mint candy. Store in fridge. Serves 16.

"It is the destiny of mint to be crushed."
-Waverley Lewis Root

Thursday, October 21, 2010

White Chocolate Chip Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

How about that for a loaded cookie?! Last week, I could not decide what snack I wanted to make and these cookies seemed to have it all. They bake up high, so the cookie is almost rounded at the top. All those ingredients in one little cookie gives it great texture and flavors. Great for days when plain old chocolate chip won't do!

White Chocolate Chip Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (I used instant)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups white chocolate, coursely chopped or white chocolate chips
3/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the dry ingredients together starting with flour and ending with salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat the butter in a large mixing bowl until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and mix until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture in three steps. Stir in the white chocolate and dried cherries.

Scoop out walnut sized mounds of cookie dough and place on cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are a light golden brown. Place on cooling racks and store in airtight containers.

From: Chocolate Lover's Cookbook for Dummies

"C is for cookie. That's good enough for me."
-Cookie Monster, Sesame Street

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Vacation, Sort Of

My husband and I decided earlier on in the year to spend our money to fix up our house instead of taking a vacation this year. Nobody was happy about it, but our house desperately needed updating. We have been working on it slowly since we bought it 10 years ago. We added a new sun room, installed wood floors, put in new kitchen counters and cabinets, painted and added crown molding, refinished the basement and added a bathroom. We both agreed that now it was time to update the outside of the home. Plus we needed more space for our family and a front porch would be a great place to hang out. So we had my brother in law, who owns his own contractor business, add a front porch to our house, a new driveway and a new stone wall. We also decided to build pillars with solar lights at the beginning of the driveway. It was a lot of work and took three months to complete, but I'm so glad we did it.

Since my husband had not taken his vacation time this year, he scheduled it for this week. Just some time at home. No plans. Having a husband at home is a lot of work! Just today alone he had us going out to buy bikes (I haven't owned one since I was 14 years old!) and riding them all afternoon on the local trail. He also took me to lunch the other day and tomorrow he wants to go for coffee. Some people. Really.

Needless to say, I haven't been home much to get any baking done and dinners have mostly been on the fly. It's a nice change of pace and I'm enjoying having some company all day! I'll miss him next week when he has to go back to work. I will have my baking to comfort me, though.

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in."
-Robert Orben

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Slow Cooker Apple Onion Soup

With this past week being in the 50's and rainy, I felt the need to make lots of soup. Being that French Onion soup is one of my favorites, when I received this recipe through Paula Deen's monthly newsletter, I was intrigued. A little worried too. Would it taste weird combining the apples with onions? To me, that doesn't sound too good! So after cooking it all day, I was dying to taste it. Suprisingly, it was good! The diced apples add texture and the apple juice in the recipe gives it a slight sweet taste. Add that to the cinnamon sprinked on the bread, and the flavors taste just like Fall should. I hope you enjoy it too!

Slow Cooker Apple Onion Soup

1/2 cup butter (I used about 4 tablespoons of SmartBalance butter)
4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
3 apples peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
5 cups beef stock
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup white wine (I used cooking sherry)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (I omitted due to large amount of salt already in recipe)
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground

For Cinnamon Cheese Toast Top:
6 slices French bread, sliced
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Swiss cheese

In slow cooker on high, combine butter, onions, apples and garlic. Cover and cook on high for 45 to 60 minutes or until the onions begin to brown around the edges. (I didn't use the cooker. Instead I completed this step on the stove top with a frying pan)

Sprinkle mixture with flour and stir to coat (at this point I added the mixture to the crock pot). Add beef stock, apple juice, white wine, Worcestershire, brown sugar, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high 3 to 4 hours until onions are tender and soup is hot.

To serve: Ladle soup into ovenproof crocks. Top with one slice of bread per crock. Sprinkle cinnamon over each bread slice and cover with 1/4 cup of cheese. Place under preheated broiler on low for about 2 minutes or until browned.
Makes 6 servings.

"Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all."
-Stanley Horowitz

Friday, October 1, 2010

Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal Squares

There are so many varieties of bar cookies that you could probably make a different one everyday and not run out of recipes for months! I love them cause they are so easy to make and fun to tweek to your own taste. They never fail to be chewy, crunchy and full of sweet goodness. These bar cookies have all of my favorite ingredients- peanut butter, chocolate and oats. And M&M's to boot! I used the minature instead of full size regular M&M's, but you can pick your favorite to add.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal Squares

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
12 ounces candy coated chocolate, like M&M's
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving some paper hanging over the edge of the pan to make it easier to lift bars out after baking.

Beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix in the peanut butter and vanilla to form a smooth batter.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and oats. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, mixing until flour is just blended. Batter will be thick.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared baking pan. Smooth over with a spatula. Sprinkle M&M's over the batter then top with remaining batter.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until top is lightly browned and toothpick or knife comes out clean. If middle is not done yet, cover pan with alum. foil until baked through.

Cool pan completely on a wire rack. Lift bars out of the pan and drizzle with melted chocolate. Cut into squares. Store in sealed container.

"Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are."
-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cool Site

I heard about this site on our local radio station this morning (KDKA). Even though the weather is so easily accessable anymore, it's a fun way to find out on this site too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Banana Crunch Muffins

I have found that it's really hard to come up with creative recipes using bananas. At least ones that my kids will eat. Searching my recipes and the internet usually gets me the usual Banana cake, banana splits, banana smoothies. This time I decided to search Food Network. I found this recipe by Barefoot Contessa, one of my favorite people on Food Network! The site even includes a clip from her show letting you see how she makes the recipe, which I find immensely helpful. These muffins took less time than I thought and came out beautifully.

Banana Crunch Muffins

3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 salt (I omitted since I used salted butter)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 extra large eggs (I used large eggs)
3/4 cup whole milk (I used skim)
2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 cup mashed bananas (2 bananas)
1 cup medium diced bananas (1 banana)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup granola (I used Just Bunches cereal ground up a bit and 1/4 cup oats)
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
Dried Banana chips, granola, or shredded coconut, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin pans with cooking spray to prevent sticking. Line with cupcake liners.

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into bowl of an electric mixer. Add the cooled butter and blend on slow speed. Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas in a bowl. Add the mixture to the flour and butter mixture in the electric mixer bowl. Mix on low, scrapeing the sides as needed. Do not over mix.

Fold in sliced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each cup to the top. Top each muffin with dried banana chips, granola or coconut, if desired.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until tops are brown and toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 18 muffins.

"As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists."
-Joan Gussow

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Better Than ? Chocolate Cake

I know what you are thinking and yeah, that is what this cake usually is called. But since I have little ones, I can't say that! So for now, it's Better than fill in a fun family activity here chocolate cake :) Anyway you call it, this cake is good! Lots of chocolate and very easy to make, it is fun to throw together and you can add or alter any of the additions to the basic cake to make it what you like. For me, I added different chips and left out the pecans. Everyone here liked the results. I hope you enjoy this one!

Better than ? Chocolate Cake

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain devil's food cake mix
1 package (6 ounces or 1 cup) semi sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup pecans
1 package (3.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Frosting of your choice

Spray and flour one tube pan. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place 2 tablespoons of cake mix, chocolate chips and pecans in a small bowl. Stir together and set aside.

Place remaining cake mix, the chocolate pudding, sour cream, oil, water, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Beat on low speed for 1 minute, scraping sides as needed. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 to 3 minutes more, scraping sides as needed. Batter should be well blended. Fold in chocolate chip mixture and mix until well distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing top with spatula.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the top springs back when touched. Remove pan and let cool 15 minutes. Using a butter knife, run it along the outer rim of the cake, separating it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack then invert onto a plate when cooled completely. Frost and decorate as desired.

"Anybody who believes that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach flunked geography."
-Robert Byrne, quoted in 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, 1988

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cowboy Cookies

Things are finally getting back to a semi normal routine with the kids settling into school and routines getting set. After all the stress from the starting school, the kids wanted nothing more than to snuggle up and watch a movie last weekend. We decided on the movie Up (which is fantastic, even for adults!) and as we were watching it, the kids wanted something sweet to eat. So I baked these cookies. We nearly made ourselves sick eating them! They are so good, full of wonderful chunks of chocolate and oats, my favorite. The recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen so you may want to cut it in half, unless you really love cookies like I do!

Cowboy Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter (I used Dark Chocolate peanut butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups quick cooking oats
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips or chunks (I used chunks)
1 cup coarsely chopped peanuts or pecans (I omitted these and substituted white chocolate chips)

Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and peanut butter with granulated sugar and brown sugar, until creamy. Beat in vanilla and eggs until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture then oats, chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop cookie dough by tablespoonful onto a prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned on edges.
Cool completely and store in tightly sealed container.

Carl Fredricksen: Hey, let's play a game. It's called "see who can be quiet the longest."
Russell: Cool! My mom loves that game!

-from the movie "Up"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Glazed Lemon Pound Cake

This is one of my all time favorite recipes. A friend of mine gave it to me and every time I make it, I think of her. The cake is so easy. And it's so good. Sweet, tart and moist, it would be perfect for a get together of any kind.

Glazed Lemon Pound Cake

4 eggs
1 package of 2 layer cake mix, without the pudding
1 3.75 ounce package instant lemon pudding mix
1/3 cup oil (I use applesauce instead for less calories)
3/4 cup water

Beat eggs until thick and lemon colored. Add the cake mix, pudding mix, oil (or applesauce), and water. Beat at medium speed for 5 minutes. Pour into an ungreased bundt pan or 10 inch tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool before removing from pan.


2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

In a saucepan, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring as it boils. Using a toothpick, poke holes over top and sides of warm cake. Pour warm glaze over the cake, using a plate underneath to catch drips. Decorate with lemon slices, if desired.

"When someone asks if you'd like cake or pie, why not say you want cake and pie?"
-Lisa Loeb

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Outrageous Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Wow. I made it. I feel a bit like Chevy Chase on Christmas Vacation at the end of the movie when he says, "I did it". Two and a half weeks of a house full of company, orientations for school, doctors appointments, karate lessons, and trips to zoos and amusement parks and a house renovation (we are adding a front porch). We even went through a possible adoption situation on top of all that. It didn't turn out :( but it worked out for the best (the kids were acting out too much to bring them into a family with other kids). I'd be lying my pants off if I said I wasn't a bit relieved when it was all over. Sad in a big way too with missing my brother and especially his kids, but happy to get the house back in order, the kids off to school, and some sanity in my schedule.
To vent some of the stress from our end of summer blast of fun, I baked cookies from a new recipe last night. Talk about your stress relievers; these cookies turned out better than I had hoped! I adapted them from a Martha Stewart recipe, changing some of the ingredients to what I had on hand. If you decide to try these (and I hope you do, they are to die for!), make sure you only bake them for the time recommended, just when they start to crack on the outside and are still soft. Store them in a sealed container and they will stay soft for 2 to 3 days.

Outrageous Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1 cup (8 oz.) semi sweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons butter (I used salted but unsalted works too)
2/3 cup all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt (I used 1/4 tsp. due to using salted butter)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 package of semi sweet chocolate chips (I also threw in 1/2 cup white chips and 1/4 cup Reese's mini peanut butter pieces)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat semi sweet chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave at 20 second intervals, mixing as needed, until melted. Remove and cool slightly.

In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, brown sugar and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and beat in the melted chocolate. Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chips.

Drop dough in rounded tablespoons on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets for about 10 minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Audrey: Do you sleep with your brother? Do you know how sick and twisted that is?
Ellen: Well, I'm sleeping with your father. Don't be so dramatic.
-Christmas Vacation (1989)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Be Right Back.....

Just letting everyone know that I probably won't be able to blog for the next few weeks. My brother is coming home on leave (Navy) from Cuba and will be shipping out back to the war early September, so this will be our last visit for a long while. He is also bringing my niece and nephew so my kids are all beside themselves about getting to see their cousins, who live several hours away.

So, needless to say, with a houseful of company and school starting August 30th, I'm one crazy woman! If I get a chance to sit down, I'll attempt to blog. But I'm hoping that if I don't get a chance until school starts, I will at least have some great recipes to share. My brother loves to cook and I'm sure he has some good ones up his sleeve!

I'll still be reading everyone's blogs so I hope to at least stay in touch.

Enjoy the rest of summer! Soon, we'll all be talking about the fall foliage!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chocolate Covered Popcorn

Talk about your lazy day desserts! Chocolate Covered Popcorn has got to be in the top ten. Yesterday, the kids and I were all lazy bums. No one felt like doing anything. Normally, I don't let the kids watch t.v. during the afternoon, but I made an exception yesterday and suggested a movie. That is when daughter number one decided we needed popcorn to go with the movie. And being my daughter, she of course suggested chocolate popcorn. In no time, we had a large bowl of yumminess!

Chocolate Covered Popcorn

2 packages of Simply Salted popcorn
1 cup (or more to taste) semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips (if desired)
1/2 cup peanuts (honey or regular) if desired

Pop the popcorn and let cool. Melt the semi sweet chips in a glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir as needed. Once melted remove from heat (do the same for the white chips if using).

Place popcorn on an aluminum lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Add peanuts if using. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted semi sweet chips (and melted white chips if using) over the popcorn, covering most of the surface. Using clean hands, toss the popcorn until the chocolate coats most of the kernels. Serve.

"The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves."
-W. C. Fields

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Japanese Rice Balls

My middle daughter loves anime. She watches it, reads about it and draws it. Ad nauseam. It was no surprise to me then when she asked if I would make her rice balls. She had seen characters on her shows eating them and wanted to try them. I found a recipe and got all of the ingredients together. It was surprisingly easy. I did substitute some things, like the fillings. I just could not find "ume" which is pickled plum nor did I think the kids would go for grilled salted salmon, but otherwise we stuck to the recipe. It was fun to make and even more interesting to eat!

Japanese Rice Balls

4 cups of Japanese rice, steamed (I used sticky rice from the grocery store)
8 strips of dried nori (seaweed)
Salt to taste
Recipe fillings- ume, grilled salted salmon, kombu tsukudani
My Fillings- sweet pickles, pepperoni (requested by my daughter- yuk!), pineapple, sweet smoked ham- all chopped to fit inside

Cook rice. After dipping your hands in water, take about 1/3 cup of rice and form a ball, pressing in until the ball is firm. Make a dent into the center of the ball with a chopstick. Place filling inside and cover with rice. Wrap the ball with one slice of nori, pressing firmly until nori forms over the rice firmly.
Serve with teriyaki and other Japanese dipping sauces.

"Success is 99 percent failure”
-Soichiro Honda quotes (Japanese Honda Motor Company Founder, b.1906)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Easy And Fast Cresent Roll Snacks

Last night, when we were running around with errands and Karate classes, everyone was hungry for a snack. I usually let the kids forge for themselves, eating whatever they like. But I recently discovered how easy it is to throw together some really yummy snacks with a couple of tubes of cresent rolls and a few extra ingredients. Last night, I made pepperoni rolls and chocolate filled rolls. I had already made the chocolate rolls at the beginning of last year for an after school snack, but I'd never made the pepperoni rolls. As I suspected, it was so easy! I imagine you could come up with your own ideas of what would work as a filling. Ground beef/turkey, a little cheese and some taco seasoning would make great taco rolls. Juliened carrots and zucchini and some dressing would make a great veggie roll. The ideas are endless. Please share any ideas you might have. I'd love to hear them!

Pepperoni Rolls

1 can reduced fat cresent rolls
1/2 cup pepperoni, small pizza sized
1/2 cup reduced fat finely shredded cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with Pam. Set aside.

Spread out the cresent roll dough, separating the individual rolls. On each section of dough, place about 1 tablespoon of cheese. Layer pepperoni over the cheese, using about 4 to 5 pepperonis. Carefully roll the cresent dough, starting with the wider side. When completely rolled, tuck sides over so no cheese leaks out. Place in rows on cookie sheet and bake about 10 to 15 minutes, or until browned on top. Serve.

Chocolate Filled Rolls

1 can reduced fat cresent rolls
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a cookie with Pam and set aside.

Spread cresent dough out, separating the individual rolls. On each section of dough, place about 1 tablespoon of semi sweet chocolate and one tablespoon of white chocolate chips. Roll dough over chips, starting at the wider end. Tuck sides in to prevent chocolate from melting out. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until browned. Serve.

“I like vending machines, because snacks are better when they fall. If I buy a candy bar at the store, oftentimes I will drop it so that is achieves its maximum flavor potential.”
-Mitch Hedberg

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Twenty Questions

Twenty Questions
1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing that you thought? ---I'm tired!

2. Do you miss anyone right now? ---my brother in the Navy stationed at Gitmo

3. If you could move anywhere else, would you? ---oh, yeah!

4. If you could choose, what would your last meal be? ---I would eat at my favorite restaurant, Hyeholde, and include every dessert they have!

5. What famous person, dead or alive, would you want to have lunch with? --Jesus. I'm not sure I would be able to speak, though!

6. What was the last book you read? ---A Matter Of Class- Mary Balogh. Gotta get that romance in sometimes :)

7. What was the last movie you watched?---Green Zone. What a bad movie! The entire story was about Hollywood's liberal point of view about WMD's in Iraq. It would be nice if they would just stick to acting and not political agendas. We couldn't even finish the movie.

8. What was the last song you heard? ---I don't what it was. I was on hold so something like elevator music.

9. What's your dream vacation?---A week in Williamsburg, VA and a week at the beach. That was my honeymoon, actually!
I would love to see France and England too.

10. What is the next trip you'll take? ---to the grocery store! Nah, we aren't going on vacation this year because of lack of funds.

11. Did you ever go to camp? --no

12. Have you ever been in love? --yes!

13. What do you want to know about the future?---if my children will grow up happy and healthy and if we will be together as a family. I pray for it everyday.

14. Where is your best friend?--- at work. He'll be home for dinner then off to teach school tonight.

15. How is your best friend? ---he is tired too! We both are struggling to keep things going but we are ever so grateful for our jobs and family.

16. Who is the biggest gossiper you know? ---some of my friends at my gym

17. What does your last text message say? ---I don't text too often (cheap phone) but probably something in response to my daughter asking to do something.

18. What are 3 things you've always wanted to do, that you still plan to accomplish? ---move back home to VA, own my own successful business, be there for my kids whenever they need me.

19. What is one thing you've learned from your parents? ---how not to parent.
20. What is one thing you hope to teach your own children? ---to put God first always in their lives, use their manners in all situations, treat others as you want to be treated. Ok that is three things, but they are all so important!

If you want to do this meme, just copy and paste then erase my answers and write your own. Let me know if you do, I'd like to see it!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chocolate Raspberry Brownies

Finding time to do anything with the kids home for the summer is tough. Don't get me wrong, I love having them home. But it is a challange some days (one I signed up for, so I shouldn't complain, I know!). Along with breaking up fights, getting house work done, outside activities and the "I'm bored" comments, getting time to bake is near impossible. But since all my raspberries came in this week, I really needed to do something with them and I was itching to bake again. I decided to make Chocolate Raspberry Brownies. Something simple yet fancy enough to be a bit challanging. Rich and moist, the kids love them and I'm happy!

Chocolate Raspberry Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
First layer:
1/2 cup butter, divided
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/2 tsp. instant coffee
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup flour

Combine 1/4 cup butter, chocolate and coffee in a small saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring. Once melted, set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter and sugar together. Add the egg and vanilla until incorporated. Add the melted chocolate mixture and the flour. Mix well.

Pour into an 9 inch square pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes or until top springs back when touched.

Second Layer:

1 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 walnuts, chopped and toasted (I didn't toast mine)
1 Tblsp. flour

In a small bowl, combine the raspberries, walnuts and flour. Stir until combined. Set aside.

Third Layer:

6 Tblsp. flour
3 Tblsp. butter, melted
3 Tblsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix until blended. Set aside.

Remove the brownie layer from the oven and sprinkle the second layer raspberry mixture over the brownie. Spoon the third chocolate mixture over the raspberry layer, carefully smoothing it out to touch the sides of the baking pan.

Return the pan to the oven and bake another 25 to 30 minutes.

Garnish with Raspberry sauce

Raspberry Sauce:

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons sugar

Mix all ingredients in a small pan and bring to boil, stirring. Stir until mixture becomes thickened slightly. Cool and use over brownies.

"There is something in the red of a raspberry pie that looks as good to a man as the red in a sheep looks to a wolf."
-E. W. Howe

Monday, July 12, 2010

Garden Pesto

Basil is one of my favorite spices. You can use it in so many dishes, or you can just leave it plain, adding it to tomatoes, mozzarella, whatever. I have two basil plants in the garden and both have produced lots of basil this year, something I'm really pleased about. The last few years, the bugs got to my basil before I did and I was so disappointed! But this year, I've found myself looking for ways to use my basil and pesto won out as the quickest, tastest way to eat it. I made two batches already and I'm freezing it to keep it fresh, as it does go bad fast in the refrigerator. Tonight, I tossed whole wheat thin spaghetti with the pesto, added fresh twisted bread from a local bakery, and threw together a salad from the garden. All that healthy food helps me compensate for the big bowl of chocolate ice cream I plan to eat later!

Garden Pesto

1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts

2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
4 gloves garlic, peeled and quartered (I used bottled chopped garlic)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil

In a food processor, combine basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and salt. Cover and process, adding the oil through the top until smooth. Stop processor and scrape down pesto as needed. Add more cheese and/or salt to taste.
Toss with hot pasta. If not using right away, pesto will store in the refrigerator for up to three days. Store in freezer if not using within that time frame.
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

"Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I'll like it? I keep trying to like it, like I have to like it. Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that's all you hear: pesto, pesto, pesto. Where was pesto ten years ago?"
-George Costanza, Seinfeld

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

No Bake Trash Cake

I hope everyone had a great holiday! We kept very busy, visiting the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and having a picnic at home. We also met my sister and her husband for fireworks, in our usual spot in a local church parking lot.

While planning the meal for our picnic, my husband said he wanted to make the dessert. Huh? My husband make a dessert? I thought he was joking! He's cooked before but he's never been interested in making desserts. He said he is quite happy letting me do that duty (like it's a duty- Ha!). But this time, he said leave it all to him. Now, you can imagine that my curiosity was super high about what he was going to make, especially when he came back from the store with pineapple and Twinkies. He said he overheard some of his co-workers talking about this "Trash Cake" they made and he heard the ingredients and wanted to try it. So I stayed out of the way. The results were a cool, refreshing and very good dessert that I have to say was a great first effort we all enjoyed :)

No Bake Trash Cake

1 large box of Twinkies
1 15 oz can of crushed pineapple
1 half gallon vanilla ice cream, softened
1 large tub Cool whip, softened
maraschino cherries

In a 9 x 11 glass pan, line the Twinkies next to one another in rows, placing them as close as you can to completely fill the bottom. Spread the vanilla ice cream over the Twinkies out to the edges of the pan. Drain most of the juice from the pineapple then spread over the ice cream. Top with the Cool whip and cherries. Freeze until served.

"If it can't be fixed with duct tape or WD-40, it's a female problem."
-Jason Love

Friday, July 2, 2010

Greens N' Beans

Speaking of Southern foods, my husband comes home the other week and says that a nurse he works with heard I grew up in the South and asked if I'd make her Greens and Beans. Now I send sweets with my husband all the time for his co-workers, but I've never made a regular meal for anyone. Plus, even though I'd consider myself a Southerner through and through, I'd never heard of Greens and Beans, nor am I known for my cooking! Since I couldn't find the recipe in any of my Southern cookbooks, I looked it up online. Good thing there is the internet! I found a recipe from Bon Appetit. While I was making it, I tested it on my eldest daughter and my husband. It got rave reviews so I felt a bit more confident sending it to work the next day to pass on to my husband's co-worker. The next day she told my husband that she had planned on eating half the bowl but ended up eating the whole container! She sent me a sweet thank you note too. I was surprised and thrilled at the same time that it all came out so well. Now the family is bugging me to make this for dinner!

Greens N' Beans

5 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
3 gloves of garlic, chopped fine (I used the bottled garlic)
1/4 to 1/2 crushed red pepper (add more if you like spicy)
1 large bunch of greens about 1 pound (I used bagged Collards and Turnip greens)
1 cup or more of chicken broth
1 15 oz can of white cannellini beans (white kidney beans) drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon of Sherry cooking wine

In a large pan, add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add garlic and red pepper. Stir until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. Add greens a handful at a time, using tongs to turn and coat with oil. Cook until greens begin to wilt. Add 1 cup of broth, cover and simmer until greens are just tender. Add more broth as needed, if dry. Add the beans and cook uncovered until heated through and liquid is evaporated. Add sherry and drizzle with last tablespoon of oil. Serve.

"Growing up Southern is a priviledge, really. It's more than where you were born, it's an idea and a state of mind that seems imparted at birth. It's more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, football and country music. It's being hospitable, devoted to front porches, magnolias, moon pies, and coca cola.....and each other. We don't become Southern, we are born that way."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Grits, Grits, And More Grits

One thing about living outside of the South is the unavailibility of Southern foods. It took many years for grits to even make it to Pittsburgh grocery shelves and when they did, it was in the form of instant grits. Greens are not common, and are mostly found at Wal Mart (I grow my own so that helps!). Any variety of beans is on short supply and any mention of ham hocks usually gets you funny stares and a "what's that?" from the locals. So when my husband asked me back in May what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I wanted some South in my mouth and to order me up some of my favorite Southern staples on line- White Lilly flour, Dixie sugar, Dukes mayo and real grits. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to taste that first bowl of grits! Usually I have to visit home to get some and now I can make it for myself. What a treat! A little honey and butter on top and if I close my eyes, I'm home!


2 1/4 cups of water
1/2 cup of grits
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. butter

Mix all four ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. If grits become too thick, add a bit of water. Serves 2 large bowls or 4 smaller bowls.

"No self respectin' Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits."
-Mr. Tipton, My Cousin Vinny

"Don't that just butter your grits?"
-Southern saying

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chocolate Banana Cake

Tired of the same old banana bread? Well, I've got a great recipe to share that I think you'll love! I found this recipe on Joy of Baking. And you know me and chocolate, I could not resist, especially when I saw that the icing is Chocolate Ganache. But don't let the fancy name fool you. It's just good chocolate mixed with cream. I threw this cake together in between chores this afternoon and was very happy with the results. The flavors of chocolate and banana go together very well, neither one of them overpowering. The only thing I changed in the recipe was to use half applesauce half oil instead of all oil in the cake. This would be a great cake to take to a picnic or any gathering this summer.

Chocolate Banana Cake

2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium sized)
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
1/2 cup safflower or canola oil (I used 1/4 cup applesauce 1/4 cup oil)
1 1/2 vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 11 inch baking pan with Pam.
In a medium bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients, blending well. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the next 6 ingredients (eggs through vanilla) mixing until blended. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just blended. The batter will be thin.
Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until center springs back with light touch.
Cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache

8 ozs of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks (I used Ghirardelli chips)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tblsp. unsalted butter (I used salted)

Place chocolate in a medium size glass bowl. Set aside. In a saucepan, heat cream and butter over medium heat. Stir and bring to a boil. Remove immediately. Pour over chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir until blended. When completely cool, beat with mixer until soft and fluffy. Spread over cake.

"Life without chocolate is like a beach without water."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Red Velvet Cream Filled Cupcakes

What is it about Red Velvet cake that is so appealing? It's a classic Southern dessert that never gets boring. When my new cookbook Southern Living Comfort Food arrived in the mail last week, I could not wait to try a recipe. My middle daughter begged for the Red Velvet cake. The recipe in the book was for a three layer cake but she wanted cupcakes so I cut the recipe in half and made cupcakes instead. Then we decided we wanted to fill the cupcakes with cream, something I'd never done before. But I found out it's super easy. The usual icing for this recipe is cream cheese but my middle one doesn't like cream cheese so I tried another regular white icing. The recipe turned out bad so next time, it's the cream cheese icing. She can just scrape it off :)

Red Velvet Cream Filled Cupcakes

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1/8 tsp. baking soda
4 oz sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1 oz. bottle of red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.
Stir together flour, cocoa, and baking soda in another bowl. Add to butter mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla; stir in red food coloring. Spoon batter into lined or greased cupcake pan, filling about 2/3 full.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted comes out clean. Remove cupcakes onto a wire cooling rack. Cool throughly.

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
sugar to taste

Whip the heavy whipping cream with a mixer until stiff peaks form. Add sugar to taste.

Using a decorator's bag and a long decorating tip (Joann's has these available with the cupcake supplies), fill the bag with the whipped cream. Insert the tip into the top of the cupcake about half way and squeeze the cream inside until the top moves up slightly. Cover with icing. Keep in the refridgerator.

"Cakes nourish much more than the body. They feed the soul."
-Southern Living Comfort Food cookbook

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

School's Out Campfire Meat Buns

School was over as of last Friday so the fun has begun! The kids are behaving themselves so far (which I'm very grateful for!) and it's been a non stop hub of activity with friends coming and going. We spent most of last week searching for our lost cat Cleo, but to no avail. Over the weekend we talked about her a lot, each of us expressing our feelings about what a great cat she was. We are slowly picking up her food bowls, blankets, and litter pan, dragging it all out as much as possible to avoid acknowledging she is actually gone.

On top of all the other activity, my husband had a bad wisdom tooth pulled the other day (ouch!) and is in pain; enough pain to make him pop aspirins around the clock. He's having trouble eating, so when contemplating dinner last night, I was balancing kids running in and out and my husband's need for soft foods. When looking around for something to try, I found Christy's Southern Plate blog had a easy and tasty recipe for Campfire Meat Pies. They sounded so good I had to try them! I changed the recipe to include ground turkey mixed with mild taco seasoning and piled with 2% fat cheese, instead of the lunchmeat Christy's recipe called for (though that sounds very good too!). I also changed the name to "buns" instead of "pies" just for my own entertainment! Everyone in the family loved them. My son was asking for more today for dinner. A little too soon, bud, but we'll be making them again in no time!

Campfire Meat Buns

2 tubes of reduced fat Cresent rolls
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup water
taco seasoning to taste
4 oz. finely shredded cheese

Cook turkey in a skillet until all meat is browned. Add water and stir. Add taco seasoning to taste and blend. Once water is mostly evaparated, remove from heat.

On a baking sheet sprayed with Pam, lay out indiviual cresent rolls. On the wide part of the dough, add about 1 tablespoon of meat. Top with a tablespoon of cheese. Fold the cresent roll matching up the corners until the meat and cheese are contained.

When all cresent rolls are completed, bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly and serve.

"I don't think a really good pie can be made without a dozen or so children peeking over your shoulder as you stoop to look at it every little while."
-John Gould

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rest In Peace, Cleo

She came to us on a brisk October night in 1990. I was coming home from a late class and she was there, a little orange long haired cat meowing at me on my front steps. My first reaction was to stomp my foot near her and I said, "Shoo, kitty!". I was allergic to cats and knew I couldn't get near her. I went inside and mentioned the cat to my husband. He said he'd seen her and didn't know if we should help her. I reminded him I was allergic, but if he wanted to leave out a bowl of tuna and a makeshift bed outside, I was ok with that. Although I thought we couldn't take her in, the thought of turning away a hungry kitty tore at me. My husband and I made a deal. If the cat was still there in the morning, we would call the landlord and ask to keep her. I would just have to stay away from her and let my husband care for her.

As it turned out, the kitty was there in the morning and we ended up letting her in. She seemed so grateful. For the first few days all she did was sleep, eat and crawl up on my chest to purr and purr. At first I was nervous, thinking I'd be allergic. It turned out that if I was careful and didn't touch my eyes after I touched the cat, I was ok. So we slowly got to know each other during her recovery period. We took her to the vet and he cured her ear mites and told us she was probably about 6 months old, making up the birthdate of May 1st. We named her Cleopatra, after the queen. Since neither of us ever owned a cat, we took a while to learn about her and she, never owning a human before, learned about us. We later learned from our neighbors that shortly before she came to us, she had been going house to house meowing at the doors. Some people fed her, but no one let her in. To this day that story brings tears to my eyes.

Over the years, Cleo would come to see us at night while we watched TV and she would sit on my chest and purr, just like in those first nights. She did funny things like trying to jump onto a window sill that was covered in plastic for the winter. That earned her the nickname, KittySplat. But she was most of all a very stoic, intelligent kitty who seemed very determined to be above it all and except for her love for us, dignified in all situations.

We thought she might be lonely so we adopted a sister for her from the shelter. We named her Nephertiti. But Cleo never seemed to take to her too well, always wrestling with her and attacking her when she did something stupid, which was often. They did curl up together and groomed each other, but Cleo never seemed to need anyone else for companionship. She didn't seemed bothered when we had to put Nephie down at age 9.

Cleo also seemed to defy odds with her health. The only time she was sick in her life, before now, was when she had a bladder infection. She started meowing at me one day and led me down to her litter box in the basement. She got in, tried to go to the bathroom, and looked at me when she couldn't, as if to say, "See, I can't go. Something is wrong." I took her to the vet and sure enough, she had an infection.

As Cleo got older, we began to wonder if she was a super cat. She outlived three dogs and Nephie. She was only sick once. She survived three moves. Year after year, she kept going. She just seemed like she'd always be here. But recently, we noticed Cleo started to look bad. She stopped being able to groom herself, leaving us to shave off knots in her long hair, a miserable process for both of us. She also couldn't walk steps anymore. She started having accidents in the house, something she never did before. She was always a clean and meticulous. She seemed to be losing weight. I took her to the vet a few months ago, after trying everything to help her. They took blood and said she had thyroid disease and kidney disease. Basically, her kidneys were failing from old age and there was nothing they could do. They recommended a low protein diet and sent us home. Poor kitty. I asked the vet if Cleo was in any pain, they thought she wasn't. So we watched her. We gave her a low protein diet, with some of her favorite wet food here and there. She drank a lot of water, even out of the dog bowl at times. We moved her litter pan so she had everything in one area. We gave her a fluffy towel to lay on and kept an eye on her.

Cleo always loved outdoors. She was an indoor kitty, but would meow at us to be let out. Most of the time, I would let her go. Though I was scared she wouldn't come back, she always did. I think she just looked around, ate some grass and came back. Smart kitty. But in the last few months, I was too scared to let her go out without keeping an eye on her. She only asked a few times to go out anyway. I think she was too sick.

This past Sunday, my husband stayed home from church to deal with the weekend flooding in our basement from all the rain. He left the glass sliding doors open for the dogs to go out so he could work on the basement, never thinking that Cleo would go out. She spent most of her time sleeping in the other room. She had been acting strange all week and truth be told, we actually considered putting her down. We wanted to wait to see if she seemed to be in any distress. She had acted so strange when the rain came, putting herself underneath a leaking window, letting the rain hit her in the back. It was odd for a cat who always hated water.

By afternoon, we were home from church and lunch was cleaned up. I asked my husband if he'd seen Cleo. He said he hadn't. We looked around the house and couldn't find her. He told me then that he had left the door open and we figured she might have slipped out. I went outside and called her. Nothing. We waited. We thought for sure she'd show up. By nightfall, still nothing. In the morning, we started to wonder if she was in trouble. I had heard that cats wonder off to die, but I couldn't imagine that would happen to us, to Cleo. But as the days went on and we had one night in the 40's, I started to realize she wasn't coming back. We looked every where, all through our yard, in the woods, on the next street. We told neighbors about her in case they saw her. Nothing.

She's gone. I can feel it in my bones. She would never do this normally. And she was too sick to go far. She is a smart kitty and knows how to come home. We've called her and the dogs have been barking, so she would hear us and know to come home. I can't stand the thought of her laying out there, by herself, dead. I could use the closure of a least having a body to mourn over. But knowing my smart kitty, she hid herself well in a small cozy place to rest her bones.

I think it's time to let go. Cleo, my wonderful baby kitty, rest well. We will always love you. I'll be seeing you in Heaven someday, where I know you've already taken over as queen of the animals. My smart kitty.

"Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat."
-Mark Twain