Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Black Eyed Pea Soup Recipe

Black Eyed Pea Soup
My husband is a special occasions cook. Although a weeknight dinner of chicken nuggets and fries can totally overwhelm him, a fully home cooked Thanksgiving feast including a succulent brined turkey and at least seven side dishes is something he has successfully accomplished for the past eight years. In addition to Turkey Day, he has perfected an incredible St. Patrick's Day meal that revolves around melt-in-your-mouth corned beef and home baked Irish Soda Bread. He has also been known to whip up a Christmas dinner complete with lamb chops, sautéed green beans,boiled red potatoes, and mint jelly. His holiday meals are elaborate and delicious!

Last year my husband added New Year's Day to his outstanding holiday food repertoire by making a pot of Black Eyed Pea Soup. Although he has attempted this traditional fare every year since we've been married, he didn't truly bring it up to his usual holiday food standard until we moved to Texas. Last year one of his co-workers, who is originally from Louisiana, shared her recipe with him. It is amazing! The flavor is robust and complex and the texture is hearty without being mushy. It is great the first day but gets even better the next day and also freezes well.

I am looking forward to welcoming in 2010 with a big bowl of my husband's steaming Black Eyed Soup. Happy New Year!

"I got a feelin' that this years gonna be a good year!"

Black Eyed Pea Soup Recipe

  • 4 cups of peas (black-eyed or other small pea, fresh, frozen, or dried. If you use dried, soak for an hour or more. If you use fresh, wash before using, drain and set aside for 20 minutes before cooking (this make the seed “wake-up”). )
  • 14-16 oz of chopped onion, carrot, and celery (Tammy recommends the frozen bags of “mire pois” mix). If you can’t find the mix, use 1 large onion, 3 large carrots, 3 stalks celery.
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 cup of diced Peppers (fresh, frozen, smoked, or roasted) (I have used a variety of these: sweet red or yellow bell, cayenne, poblano, cubanella, jalapeno, or any other of your favorites)
  • ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar (Tammy uses organic)
  • Approximately 2 cups Ham or Canadian bacon, chopped into bite size chunks (Tammy recommends the Central Market Natural smoked ham at HEB. It has no nitrates, no gelatin, no preservatives, no additives.) More or less depending on how meaty you want the soup.
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut or extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cups water or chicken broth

  1. Saute: Sauté the veggies in oil on med to low heat. Salt and Pepper liberally. If it becomes dry before the onions are clear, add a tablespoon or two of water. You want it to get really soft and mushy.
  2. Brown: Once the veggies get soft, turn the heat up and stir occasionally. This will dry out the veggies and make it stick to the bottom of the pot.
  3. Deglaze: When the veggies start turning brown, then deglaze with apple cider vinegar.
  4. Stew: Once most of the vinegar cooks off, add 6-8 cups of water, the peas, and the meat. Ham/Canadian Bacon adds salt, but the peas absorb lots of salt, so add more salt and pepper at this stage. Add a bay leaf if you have one. One alternate cooking method would be to have the water, peas, and ham already cooking in another pot or a crock pot while the veggies are being cooked since that takes some time.
  5. Time: I usually cook it for several hours at a simmer, but this is a preference. Fresh or frozen peas are technically cooked after 20 minutes of boiling. Taste the pea to determine its doneness. Some people like them al dente. I like them almost mushy, but not quite. However, I usually eat it after 20-30 minutes and then keep cooking it. The longer you cook it, the more mushy the pea and the more thick and starchy the soup base. I took Tammy’s recommendation, and used the emersion blender on the entire pot. OMG…it was fantastic. Very hearty and filling.


This will make a pretty good sized pot of soup. It tastes good AWESOME left over and it freezes well too. It can also act as a thickening agent for other soup bases – just remember to blend it before adding to the other soup base ( I use an emersion blender.)

Optional accompaniments:
• Chopped cilantro
• Squeeze of lemon
• Fresh red onion slices
• Fresh tomatoes slices with a squeeze of lemon
• Good with roast chicken or turkey or even pork loin
• Rice (some like sticky white rice, I prefer a mix of wild rices)
• Cheese – beans and cheese together make a variety of good proteins. I prefer a sharp cheddar or even a smoked cheddar either with or before the soup.
• Corn bread

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Mock Thin Mints Recipe

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Mock Thin Mints
Do you have leftover candy canes that you can't convince anyone in the house to eat? Were you a little over zealous with your purchasing of chocolate chips and have bags of them stacked in your pantry? Are your kids teetering on the edge of boredom and need a fun structured activity to pass a little time until the next holiday gathering? Do you love Girl Scout cookies especially thin mints, but don't have access to them for a few more months? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, then Holiday Mock Thin Mints is the recipe for you.

I first sampled these holiday delicacies a few weeks ago at a Christmas party. The dessert table was filled with cakes, cookies, pies, and a fabulous chocolate cheesecake so it was only as an afterthought that I perched one of these round chocolate treats on the edge of my already loaded plate. It was obvious that this dessert was bite-sized and festive, but what wasn't as apparent was that it possessed one of my favorite flavor combinations, salty and sweet with a hint of mint. Also, it reminded me of something that I couldn't immediately recall. As I was pondering just exactly what this treat tasted like, the lady next to me told me that she had made these cookies and that their flavor is similar to Girl Scout Thin Mints. She quickly spouted off the recipe and I made them the next day.

The recipe for Holiday Mock Thin Mints is easy and fun. The minty treats make a nice gift for teachers and friends and are a great way to clean out your post-holiday pantry. My younger kids joined in by crushing the candy canes (note to self: never hand an eight year old boy a wooden rolling pin and tell him to hit something as hard as he can, yikes!). My older children assisted by stirring the chocolate chips as they melted in the double boiler and then dipping the Ritz. Everyone enjoyed sprinkling each cookie with some crushed candy canes.

After saving a few for ourselves, we added the remainder of our Holiday Mock Thin Mints to our Christmas cookie plates that we delivered to neighbors. After tasting them, one of the boys on our street made a batch using white chocolate. He was thrilled to share them with us. We were all impressed with his creativity and want to try that next time. Enjoy the rest of your holiday and enjoy creating and sampling Holiday Mock Thin Mints.

Holiday Mock Thin Mints

33 Ritz crackers (about 1 sleeve)
1 bag Nestle's Chocolate and Mint Morsels (10 ounce) or
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate morsels with a few drops of peppermint extract added or
another melting chocolate of your choice including white chocolate
1 cup of crushed candy canes

  1. Place candy canes in a heavy duty gallon-sized zip-lock bag. Bang lightly with a rolling pin until candy canes are fully crushed, but still slightly chunky.
  2. Melt the chocolate morsels (add peppermint extract if using).
  3. Dip ritz crackers in chocolate and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or a silpat liner.
  4. Sprinkle each coated cracker with crushed candy canes.
  5. Place in refrigerator until chocolate is hardened.
  6. Store in an air-tight container.
Note: Crushed Candy Canes are also yummy sprinkled on a cup of hot chocolate.

It's a holiday party!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Oreo Balls Recipe

Oreo Balls
I thought I had heard it all when it comes to Christmas treats. I knew about rolled cookies, bar cookies, barks, salty mixes, and fudge. I own nine cookbooks devoted just to holiday baking, I always purchase Martha Stewart's special December issues, and in my free time I clip festive recipes from newspapers and magazines. My Christmas cooking repertoire, however, was expanded last week when my co-worker brought in a plate mounded with oreo balls.

During our early morning staff gathering this co-worker said that her husband's loss was our gain and that she had just put some oreo balls in the staff kitchen (apparently her husband forgot to take them to his holiday work party and she had graciously agreed to bring them in to our workplace so they wouldn't go to waste. . . oh, the sacrifice). My first clue to the deliciousness of this confection was when the staff (all except me) awoke out of their early morning haze and broke into a cheer at the mere mention of oreo balls. My second clue was when I fixed myself a cup of coffee and tasted one. Heavenly! Not only were they delicious, but I immediately knew that their fun factor for making and wow factor for sharing must be high.

A few days after my first scrumptious encounter with oreo balls my four year old son and I made a batch for ourselves. He loved dropping the oreos into the food processor and pushing the pulse button until fine crumbs appeared. Then he was thrilled to roll the cream cheese and oreo crumb mixture into little balls. I did the dipping and decorating by myself this time although I plan on inviting my older kids to help me with that part on our next batch. My daughter took a plate of our oreo balls to her Bible study Christmas party and they were a hit. This recipe lends itself well to holiday gatherings because it makes lots of balls and because they are quite rich so one or maybe two are enough for each person.

Since first sampling these lovely little morsels, I've found out that lots of my Texas friends know about oreo balls, but I've yet to find a Marlylander that has heard of them. Are they a southern thing? I'm not sure, but wherever you live I recommend that you make and share these oreo balls this holiday season.

Oreo Balls

makes about 42 balls

1-8 ounce cream cheese, very soft
1 package (1 pound 2 ounce) oreos
3 cups melted white, semi-sweet, or milk chocolate (I used white and milk chocolate bark coating, but you could use chocolate chips or Baker's chocolate)

  1. Finely crush oreos (I used my food processor, but you could also put them in a zip-lock back and hit them with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer).
  2. Mix oreo crumbs with the softened cream cheese (use a wooden spoon or your hands) until fully combined.
  3. Roll mixture into small balls, about one tablespoon per ball. Place balls on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and chill in the fridge for a few hours.
  4. Melt chocolate coating in a double boiler or the microwave. Using two forks dip chilled balls into chocolate and place on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. Put back in the fridge for a few hours or until chocolate is hardened.
  5. If desired, drizzle a little contrasting chocolate on top of balls. I tinted some white chocolate red and put it in a small squeeze bottle for drizzling.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Leftover Turkey Sandwich Recipe

Turkey and Avocado Sandwich

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! I love my husband's brined turkey with homemade stuffing, my creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, and my daughter's pies topped with whipped cream. I even love whole berry cranberry sauce straight from the can. Despite all of this abounding love I have for Thanksgiving, the feast is not my favorite part. . . it's the LEFTOVERS! I dream about the leftovers, I have a section in my Thanksgiving binder designated to leftovers, and I even plan the meal based on the leftovers (shhh, don't tell anyone I do that). My leftover repertoire includes platters of all the Thanksgiving deliciousness crammed together and then microwaved, turkey noodle soup made from homemade turkey stock, and my favorite leftover turkey sandwich.

Ahhhh, my favorite leftover turkey sandwich is the main reason why I agree to host Thanksgiving in the first place! Although I've tried to recreate it other times throughout the year, it is best the day after Thanksgiving, or maybe two days after Thanksgiving, or perhaps, if I hide a bit of white meat in the back of the fridge disguised in a cool-whip container, three days after Thanksgiving.

This recipe which I am so grateful to have acquired back on November 24, 2002 is from the food section of The Washington Post. I snipped it from my paper so many years ago and have lovingly treasured it ever since. It traveled with me across the country from Maryland to Texas and now has a prized place in my Thanksgiving binder. The description preceding the recipe says, "This whopping testament to left-over turkey is sliced with mayonnaise and layered with bacon and avocado. It takes the best parts of a club sandwich and a cobb salad and parlays them into a slightly messy stack of goodness." Oh how I agree! So today I am thankful for my family, and my health, and my leftover turkey sandwich!

My Favorite Leftover Turkey Sandwich
(1 serving)

adapted from The Washington Post Sunday; November 24, 2002

Italian or other dense, crusty white bread, warmed slightly
Mayonnaise (not nonfat)
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Paper-thin slices red onion (optional, but essential to me)
Leftover turkey (preferably a mix of white and dark meat)
About 1/4 ripe avocado
3-6 slices bacon, fried to your liking (I like it crisp)

  1. Using a serrated knife, slice 2 place of bread. It should be thick enough so it is sturdy but thin enough so it won't get in the way of all the other flavors. Place the bread on a flat surface.
  2. Start with 1 slice of bread and slather it with about 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, being careful to spread it all the way to the edge (and even a little bit over onto the crust). Season with salt and pepper.
  3. If desired, scatter a couple of slices of onion over the mayonnaise.
  4. Slice the turkey. It can be thin or thick, as you prefer.
  5. Arrange the turkey on top of the mayonnaise. If desired, season with more salt and pepper. Press the turkey down gently. Set aside.
  6. Take the remaining slice of bread and slather with mayonnaise. Then scoop the avocado onto the bread and, using the tines of a fork, gently mash the avocado so it adheres to the bread, being careful to spread it all the way to the edge (and even a little bit over onto the crust). Season with a little bit of pepper.
  7. Arrange the bacon on the avocado, pressing it into the avocado so it sticks and doesn't slide off the sandwich.
  8. Working quickly, invert the bacon-topped bread onto the turkey topped bread. The bacon should meet the turkey. Press the top of the sandwich gently to smoosh all the ingredients together.
  9. Savor it soon!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chicken Rice Chowder Recipe

Chicken and Rice Chowder
It's never good when 'the mom' gets sick. Laundry comes to a screeching halt, dogs go unfed, and dishes, well, dishes lounge in the sink or on the counter until someone needs a clean plate. Supportive husbands help in these cases, but every man has his limits and 4 kids plus one dog plus one puking wife (sorry to be so gross, but reality is often gross) is my husband's limit. The incredible news in my house, however, is that although my doctor quarantined me to my bedroom for 48 hours (she told me to hire help. . . ha ha), my house has run relatively smoothly today thanks to my competant yet stretched to the limit husband and to my ambitious yet almost teenaged daughter. While my husband schlepped kids to birthday parties and shopped for a much needed pair of new blue jeans (let's just say his last pair was purchased in a past century), my daughter unloaded the dishwasher, sanitized the kitchen, scrubbed the bathroom, and cooked. No really, she did all that and none of it was my idea, because I was shivering in my bed under 3 quilts (maybe I should get sick more often).

During hour 40 of my quarantine an amazing smell wafted into my bedroom. Someone in my house was cooking and I suddenly realized I was starving. In fact, aside from some ginger ale and a few saltines I hadn't had a thing to eat in 2 days. After stepping onto my bathroom scale (I'd lost 5 pounds!), I shuffled out to the couch, quilt in tow, and found my daughter happily dicing, zesting, and poaching. She was making Chicken Rice Chowder and Lemon Madelines! I love my daughter! I love her independence, her creativity, and her maturity.

The soup turned out perfectly. In fact, it tasted better than mine. Maybe it was because I didn't have to cook it, or perhaps it was because I was starving, or possibly it was the extra measure of love that my daughter added to her soup. In any case, the Chicken Rice Chowder was perfectly seasoned, slightly thickened, and was just the thing to finally warm me up. This is the ideal soup to make for anyone you love whether sick or healthy.

Chicken Rice Chowder

(this recipe comes from a stained photocopy that I made years ago, I believe it is from Leanne Ely in her book Saving Dinner)

4 1/2 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade (turkey stock would work too)
1/2 cup water
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and chopped (I often use a few cups of leftover chicken or turkey)
2 teaspoons thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup brown rice (or white or leftover cooked rice works)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk

  1. In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth and water to a boil and add the chicken.
  2. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper (a bit of Old Bay or your favorite seasoning salt would work too); add rice and reduce heat.
  3. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onion, carrots, and celery; cook until onions are transluscent. Add flour to the mix and combine well. Add this mixture to the broth mixture in the saucepan.
  4. Stir milk into everything and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20-30 minutes.
Beauty and Bedlam

Friday, November 6, 2009

Crock Pot Chocolate Mud Cake Recipe

Crock Pot Chocolate Mud Cake

On Thursday my husband turned 40! He had requested his favorite, German Chocolate Cake for his birthday. Because he asks for this every year I wasn't surprised. In the past, I've always used a box mix and even a tub of the coconut frosting that goes with it, but because I've recently been stretching my cake limits, I had planned to make a real German Chocolate Cake from scratch. I first went to Food Blog Search and quickly found an amazing recipe on David Lebovitz's blog. I couldn't wait to attempt this new recipe.

All was well until Tuesday morning when I went to preheat the oven to toast some bagels (our toaster is also out of commission) and found it to be stone cold. Needless to say, I was unable to bake a German Chocolate Cake from a mix or from scratch because I had no oven. We (or should I say I because my husband didn't really care and he knows that eventually he'll get a home baked German Chocolate Cake although he did patiently listen to me rambling on about the subject) considered our options: prepare the cake batter at home and bake it at a neighbor's house-no,too much schlepping; purchase an ice cream cake or a cookie cake-no, my hubby's not a big fan of either; or run on over to the Kroger and buy a bakery cake-no, too easy. My husband suggested that I wait until our oven is fixed and then bake him his German Chocolate Cake.

Sure, I said that I was fine with that idea, but really my mind continued to obsess. The viable option that I eventually thought of was to bake a cake in my crock pot. I remembered a recipe for Chocolate Mud Cake that I had ripped from a magazine years ago but had never actually made. With only a few hours until the birthday celebration I located the recipe, prepared the batter, and plopped it into my crock pot. Although it sure smelled good I still had my doubts.

No worries, my Crock Pot Chocolate Mud Cake was delicious! It consisted of a warm moist layer of chocolate cake that was surrounded by a thick fudgey liquid. I scooped some up for all of us and served it with vanilla ice cream. Yum! Although I still intend to bake a German Chocolate Cake from scratch and I am hoping my oven is fixed soon, I'm glad I tried a new recipe and was able to serve my husband a delicious dessert on his birthday.

Crock Pot Chocolate Mud Cake
(adapted from Family Fun magazine)

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chocolate chips
2/3 plus 1/3 cup white sugar
3 Tablespoons plus 1/3 cup cocoa
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup hot water

cooking spray
vanilla ice cream

  1. Generously coat the inside of a 2 1/2 to 5 quart crock pot with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, melt the butter and chocolate chips in the microwave. Whisk in 2/3 cup of white sugar, 3 tablespoons of cocoa, vanilla extract, salt, milk, and egg yolk.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the melted chocolate mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
  5. Pour this batter into the crock pot and spread it evenly.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup white sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup cocoa, and hot water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour this mixture over the batter in the crock pot.
  7. Cover and cook on high for 1 to 2 1/2 hours. The larger the crock pot, the less time this cake will take to bake. Check the cake after one hour. The cake is done when nearly all of the top is set and the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pot. There will be a layer of molten chocolate on the bottom and around the edges.
  8. When the cake is done turn off the power of the crock pot and remove the lid. Let it cool in the crock pot for at least 30 minutes.
  9. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
My daughter, who is now twelve years old, has been cooking with me since she could stand. When she was tiny, she would drag the kitchen chair over to the counter and happily join in with measuring, pouring, and mixing. She could crack an egg by age two and was inventing her own recipes just a few years later. Currently there are few dishes that are her specialties. These are recipes that she has perfected and are often requested by her three little brothers and other family members. Some of her specialties include quesadillas, black bottom cupcakes, pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, and roasted pumpkin seeds.

She started making roasted pumpkin seeds when she was in 2nd grade and saw them made on The Martha Stewart Show. I would tape record (yes, these were pre-tivo days and we used. . . gasp. . . VCR tapes that she actually had to rewind) the shows which came on during the day and she would enjoy them when she got home from school. She watched so many episodes that she even began to speak like Martha. Once her grandmother said, "Why does she talk out loud when she's doing things?" and I said, "Oh, she's just pretending that she's on Martha."

After being inspired by Martha, my daughter printed out the recipe and proceeded to make roasted pumpkin seeds from start to finish. This burst of cooking independence at age seven came about because roasted pumpkin seeds are frequently made in that chaotic space between pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating. During that interim I was usually nursing a baby, or scraping pumpkin goop off my kitchen table, or sewing up ripped super hero costumes, while my daughter was calmly preparing roasted pumpkin seeds. The first time she prepared them we were all pleasantly surprised. They were crisp, flavorful, and even her picky little brother scrambled for more.

This year we put off buying our pumpkins until a few days ago because as soon as we have at least one pumpkin in our possession my sons' start bothering their big sister to cut open the pumpkin and cook the seeds. Yes, these roasted pumpkin seeds are that good! Although the recipe is inspired by Martha, my daughter has definitely tweaked and perfected it over the years. We hope you all have a great time carving your pumpkins, and trick-or-treating, and, in between, perhaps, roasting some pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

2 Tablespoons butter (or other fat such as olive oil or coconut oil)
2 cups washed, cleaned, and dried pumpkin seeds
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt (or Old Bay or other favorite seasoning)

  1. Preheat over to 300 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan.
  3. Add seeds and spices; toss to coat.
  4. Spread seeds on a large cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan lightly coated with cooking spray or covered with a silpat liner.
  5. Bate 40 minutes, stirring often, until they're brown and crisp.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bakugan Cake and Chocolate Frosting Recipe

Bakugan Cake
For the past year my son has been a huge Bakugan fan. Although I've observed him 'brawling' with his pals, I've searched through the entire toy section of Target in order to find a 'red trap', and I've often stepped on his Bakugan balls, I have yet to truly grasp the finer points of the game. My lack of knowledge, however, was not enough to stop me from planning a Bakugan party completed with theme related games, decorations, and, of course, a cake.

My inspiration for the Bakugan cake came from pictures that I found on flickr (thanks to WoofBC and Hanna). I searched through the relatively small number of Bakugan cake pics and marked as favorites the ones that were cute and seemed doable. Without flickr this cake would not have been possible.

I used a yellow box cake mix and baked it in two nine inch round cake pans. After it was thoroughly cooled I made a batch of Hersheys "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting which I found on the back of the Hershey's cocoa container. I covered a cardboard circle that I had saved from last week's frozen pizza and covered it with foil. I attached the foil covered cake round to my cake stand with a glob of chocolate icing. In order to keep the cake round as clean as possible during the icing process, I put strips of wax paper down around the edges of the cake round and then placed the bottom layer of the cake on top of them. I used my mini offset spatula to ice the cake and then used the long offset spatula to smooth the sides and top of the cake. Next I carefully pulled out the wax paper strips. Around the bottom of the cake I placed red and yellow M&M's.

Now that the cake was fully baked and iced I was ready for the decorating brawl to begin. I used pre-packaged tubes of colored icing to decorate Lindt chocolate balls to look like Bakugan balls. My inspiration was my son's Bakugan collections and the cakes I saw on flickr. To create the Bakugan card I broke a Hershey's chocolate candy bar in half (snacked on the other half), turned it over to the smooth side, attached a small Bakugan logo to the center, and then drew on the red and yellow burst around the edges. I used wooden skewers to slightly blend the red and yellow icing. I wrote "Happy Birthday" on the cake and then placed two balls on top of the cake and the rest around the edges of the cake stand. When my kids came home from school they said, "Mom! Did you really make that?" What a compliment!

Hershey's 'Perfectly Chocolate' Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2/3 cup Hershey's cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Melt butter. Remove from heat.
  2. Whisk in cocoa.
  3. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency. Add more milk, if needed.
  4. Stir in vanilla.
Makes about 2 cups.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Playdough Recipe

Pumpkin Pie Playdough
My already quite full plate has become even more full. After a few years of staying at home with my four children, I am now easing back into the work force. I am very grateful for my position at a local preschool four days a week. I love my job! I love the sweet faces that greet me in the morning, I love that I can wear pumpkin shirts and pigtails to work, I love having lots of little people to sing and read with, and I love playing with play dough! In fact I believe that the world would be a much better place if everyone sat down with a big hunk of this soft, squishable stuff on a regular basis. It is the ultimate stress reliever, relaxer, and smile maker.

In my class we are finishing up our unit on "The Five Senses" and beginning to embark on our "Fall" theme. The director of my school printed this recipe in our October newsletter and I couldn't wait to try it. It is amazing! Pumpkin pie playdough has a soft smooth texture that isn't too crumbly and as it is kneaded and shaped it emits the aroma of pumpkin pie. . . nice! In fact, the mom who made us a double batch for our classroom told me that while she was mixing it her husband ran into the kitchen thrilled that a pumpkin pie was cooking. He was a little disappointed when instead he was greeted by a glob of flour, salt, and spices. She promised him a pumpkin pie soon.

The first day that I introduced pumpkin pie playdough in my classroom I gave the students each a big hunk and let them explore. They had a wonderful time using four out of their five senses and I enjoyed seeing what they created. We had a pumpkin pie volcano, mini pumpkin pies, a pumpkin monster, and pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Throughout the week I added tongue depressors, rolling pins, wooden knives, and mallets to the play dough area. Next week I'll put out some tart pans, a cookie sheet, and a few seasonal cookie cutters. I like to stretch the preschoolers creativity by giving them just a few materials at a time and letting the dough and their imaginations lead the way.

I hope your imagination will also lead the way as you enjoy this recipe for pumpkin pie playdough with your favorite child!

Pumpkin Pie Playdough

5 1/2 cups flour
8 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 ounces pumpkin pie spice
2 cups salt
3/4 cups oil
4 cups water
orange food coloring (2 parts yellow to 1 part red or orange gel coloring)

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a heavy bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until dough forms. The mixture becomes very thick so a big wooden spoon works well for stirring.
  3. When a ball begins to form, transfer dough to a floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth.
  4. When dough is cool store in an air tight container.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lemon Scones Recipe

"What would you like me to cook today?" Occasionally I pose this question to the members of my household. Sometimes I ask, "What would you like to cook with me?" Other times, however, I desire to prepare something by myself but enjoy taking requests from my family who range in age from four and a half to thirty nine and three quarters.

Glazed Lemon SconesLast week when I asked this question, three out of five of my family independently answered, "Lemon Scones". (I think it is so cute that a ten year old boy would request lemon scones as the thing he would most like his mom to cook. Awwwwwww!) I remembered that I had a few lonely lemons and some heavy cream hiding in the back of my refrigerator. The other two people in my family who had requested cars birthday cake and sushi were also big fans of lemon scones so we were all happy.

This recipe comes from a page I ripped from "Family Fun Magazine" in March of 2008. Some of my best recipes are from magazines. Before I ever put one of my periodicals in the recycling bin, I rip out interesting recipes. This is a habit I acquired form my mom and I'm so glad I did. Sometimes these clippings hang around my house for years before I actually get around to cooking them. Once I've prepared the recipe I either file it, if I like it, or pitch it, if I don't.

I filed this recipe for lemon scones because it produces a treat that can be made in less than a half hour with simple ingredients and because it is scrumptious. Although it has the texture of a great biscuit, it has the flavor of a delicious lemon cake. The addition of the lemon glaze makes it a favorite with the kids. My family and I often enjoy Glazed Lemon Scones on Sunday afternoons with a pot of hot tea, but they would be great for breakfast or, as Family Fun suggests, as part of a brunch.

Lemon Scones
    (adapted from Family Fun Magazine)

Scone Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch peces
1 cup whipping cream, plus more for brushing
1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
2 Tablespoons whipping cream


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly grease a baking sheet or preheat a baking stone.
  2. Sift or whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into large mixing bowl.  Add the lemon zest and gently toss together.  
  3. Using fingers or pastry cutter, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until mixture resembles fine crumbs.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the cream, the yolk, and the vanilla extract.  Use a fork to blend the liquids within the well.  Use a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients, just until the dough holds together.  Dough will be crumbly.
  5. Scrape the dough onto a floured surface.  Using floured hands, gently knead three or four times until a ball forms.  Flatten the ball int a disk about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut disc into 8 wedges (I use a pizza cutter).  Transfer the pieces to the prepared baking sheet or preheated stone, leaving at least 1/4 inch between them.  Brush the tops lightly with cream.
  6. Bake the scones in the center of the oven until golden brown, about 15-18 minutes.  Allow scones to cool for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.
  7. While the scones are cooling, make the glaze.  Whisk together the powdered sugar, fresh lemon juice, lemon extract, melted butter, and whipping cream.   Thin glaze with cream a few drops at a time to create a loose consistency.  Drizzle each scone generously with glaze.
Makes 8 scones.  

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pancake Puffs Recipe

Pancake PuffsFor my son's 7th birthday he got a pancake puffs pan. . . and he was thrilled! Yes, he also got a video game, some legos, and an iron man action figure, but I chose to give him his very own ebelskiver pan and he truly loved it.

We are a family that cooks and when my four little chefs move to kitchens of their own I want them to be equipped to prepare food for themselves and their friends. My daughter is the proud owner of a variety of cake pans, one of my sons has his own whisk, and another son possesses a pie plate. Also, they each have a personal collection of cookbooks. They share their culinary items with our family while we all live under the same roof, but when they go, their collection of cooking item will go with them.

Months prior to my son's birthday, he told me about a commercial he saw for a new food called pancake puffs. I thought he was talking about something sold at a grocery store like frozen waffles or toaster strudels. After searching the freezer department of my local Kroger and not finding his elusive pancakes puffs, I realized it was actually an advertisement for a pan that he saw. He was quite relieved when I finally understood.

Instead of ordering the pancake puff pan from the television, I purchased mine at one of my favorite stores, Williams Sonoma. As a previous Williams Sonoma employee, I know that this pan is made by Nordic Ware, is easy to clean, and will still be around when my son is cooking breakfast for his own kids.

This pan can be used to create appetizers, desserts, and breakfast treats (also called ebelskivers). I often use the basic recipe "Filled Pancakes" that came with the pan. We fill them with strawberry jam, Nutella, lemon curd, cinnamon sugar, or whatever else we have in the house. This recipe makes about 40 filled pancakes so we always make at least one experimental batch with a filling we've never tried.

This recipe is a labor of love. It's not difficult it just involves time and techniques such as separating eggs, whipping egg whites to soft peaks, and flipping little balls of batter (warning: never attempt to let out the dog, pour a glass of milk, or change your facebook status while making pancake puffs). All these cooking steps require a little more attention than, let's say, pouring a bowl of cheerios. In addition to producing light round pancakes that are filled with warm yummy surprises, this recipes also produces a sink full of dirty bowls, spatulas, and measuring cups, again a labor of love, but totally worth it. Pancake puffs are best attempted on a lazy weekend morning by a very relaxed and well-rested chef. Happy Labor Day!

Pancake Puffs (a.k.a. Filled Pancakes or Ebelskivers)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
4 Tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for cooking
Fillings: jam, peanut butter, Nutella, fruit, chocolate chips, lemon curd. . .
powdered sugar

  1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In another bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the milk and the 4 tablespoons of melted butter. Whisk the yolk mixture into the flour mixture until well combined; the batter will be lumpy.
  2. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff but not dry peaks from, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the batter in two additions.
  3. Heat the pancake puff pan over medium high heat. With a pastry brush, coat each well of the pan with butter. When the butter bubbles, pour 1 Tablespoon of batter into each well. Put 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each pancake and top with 1 Tablespoon of batter. Warning: do not let out the dog, pour someone a glass of milk, or change your facebook status, stay at the stove. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown and crispy, 2-4 minutes. Using 2 wooden skewers or 2 mini spatulas, flip the pancakes over and cook until the other side is golden and crispy, about 3 minutes more.
  4. Transfer cooked pancake puffs to a plate. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Repeat with remaining batter and fillings. Can be served with syrup or whipped cream.
  5. Serve immediately. Makes about 40.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Baked Ziti Recipe

Baked ZitiThis time last year I didn't know anyone that I could write on my children's school emergency forms, I never ran into people I knew at the Target, and my doorbell only rang when my kids were trying to annoy me. Now fast forward one year and I have at least two people that I can write on my kids' school emergency cards, I often bump into acquaintances at the Target, and my doorbell is constantly rung by neighbors and friends. Ahhhhh, I am part of a community and it only took one year.

My community is giving my family security, comfort, and joy. I am grateful and I am trying to give back. Recently I was able to give back to my Texas community by making a casserole to be served at the reception after my co-worker's mother's funeral. It was so sad that a life was lost, but it was so inspiring to arrive at church and see people sacrificing their Saturday afternoon to set up the buffet line, deliver casseroles and desserts, and serve food.

Food is an expression of love and it is one that we can freely give to families when they are in need. I was able to communicate this message to my children as I prepared the casserole. They asked me what I was cooking. I told them I was making two pans of baked ziti, one for our family and one to share at a funeral. This provided an opening for us to discuss death, funeral, and ways to support people who are sad and grieving.

I have made baked ziti many times in my life, but my family and I agree that this is the best. This recipe which was given to me by a co-worker contains a combination of provolone and mozzarella cheese slices that are layered with ziti noodles, sour cream, and a meat sauce. It can be made ahead of time and then cooked right before a meal. It tastes great freshly baked and can be warmed up for the next day. I think it's the perfect dish to prepare over the weekend and then store in the fridge to be baked for dinner on a busy weeknight. I also think it's the ideal dish to share with someone in your community.

Baked Ziti Recipe

1 (16 ounce) package ziti pasta or other tubular pasta
1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
2 (28 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce - I used less because my kids like to see their pasta.
6 ounces sliced provolone cheese
6 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil - optional

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes; drain.
  2. In a large skillet, saute onions until tender. Add ground beef and brown over medium heat. Drain off fat. Add spaghetti sauce. Simmer sauce for about 15 minutes.
  3. In a lightly greased 9 x 13 baking dish, place about half of the pasta; top with a layer of provolone and mozzarella cheese slices. Spread on a layer of half the spaghetti sauce mixture and all the sour cream.
  4. Cover with remaining pasta, cheese slices and sauce; sprinkle a layer of parmesan cheese and fresh basil (optional). Your baking dish will be very full. You may want to use a foil baking dish that is deep and can be thrown away if you are making this to share.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly browned and edges are bubbly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lemon Cheesecake Pie Recipe

Lemon Cheesecake Pie

Last week my father-in-law visited our home in Texas all the way from his home in Maryland. He is our first Maryland visitor since we moved here from Maryland a little over a year ago. My husband, kids, and I were all thrilled and couldn't wait to show him around our little corner of the Lone Star State and introduce him to some authentic and regional fare. My husband graciously treated his dad to kolaches, barbecued beef brisket, and queso. I, however, chose to introduce him to a food of real significance, Blue Bell ice cream.

I must admit that prior to moving to Texas I had never heard of Blue Bell, but it sure didn't take long. My husband's co-workers, acquaintances from church, and even strangers in the grocery store all raved about this frozen delight. At first I was skeptical. I've had Breyer's, Edy's, and Ben & Jerry's. What's so special about this Blue Bell? Considering the fact that the temperatures were in the triple digits the first few weeks after we arrived my family and I were more than willing to try a bit and see for ourselves what all these Texans were raving about.

Oh, my! Blue Bell ice cream did not disappoint. My family and I started by sampling the company's most popular flavor "Homemade Vanilla" and have been huge Blue Bell fans ever since. The texture is creamy and smooth, the flavors are unique and intense, and the quantity is still a half gallon, which I didn't realize until Blue Bell so kindly pointed it out, is not the case with most other ice cream brands. Now whenever Blue Bell ice cream is on sale or when we are having out-of-town guests we stock up on flavors such as Dutch Chocolate, Southern Blackberry Cobbler, Moo-llennium Crunch, and, of course, Homemade Vanilla.

So you might be thinking, "What does any of this have to do with Lemon Cheesecake Pie?" Well, just giving my father-in-law a bowl full of Blue Bell ice cream was not enough for me, so I took him to their factory in Brenham, Texas. It was fun, informative, and sweet! My father-in-law, my kids, and I all loved it. We ended the tour at the Blue Bell gift shop. Already extremely satisfied, I was beyond thrilled to spy "The Best Recipes in the Country" a cookbook filled with recipes from Blue Bell employees. I couldn't wait to get home and peruse it.

The first thing I made from my new cookbook was the Lemon Cheesecake Pie. I served it to my family, my father-in-law, and a few friends we had over for dinner. It is amazing! The lemon flavor is bright and the texture is smooth. It is easy to prepare and this pie can be made up to a day in advance. I will surely make Lemon Cheesecake Pie again and I can't wait to try many more recipes from my new Blue Bell compilation cookbook.

Lemon Cheesecake Pie

from "The Best Recipes in the Country" the Blue Bell cookbook

1 1/2 cup (12 ounce can) evaporated milk, undiluted

1-3 1/2 ounce package instant lemon pudding

2-8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup (1-6 ounce can) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

1 graham cracker crust

1 cup (8 ounce) whipping cream, whipped

In a small mixing bowl, combine evaporated milk and pudding mix; beat 2 minutes; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until light. Gradually add lemonade concentrate; continue beating until smooth, light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold pudding mixture into cream cheese mixture; blend thoroughly. Pour filling into crust; chill 3 to 4 hours, or overnight. Top with whipped cream; decorate as desired.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stop 'n' Go Cookie Pops Recipe

Last week my two youngest sons experienced a summer lull. I prefer to say summer lull rather than use the dreaded b-word. When I was a child (an only child, I might add) my mother went to great lengths to avoid my use of the b-word. She shuttled me to camps, swimming lessons, library clubs, and friends' homes all because she hated it when I said, "I'm bored." She detested it so much that she couldn't even utter the word bored and, therefore, referred to it as the b-word.

Now that I am all grown up and the mother of four children, I have acquired my own aversion to the b-word, but have adopted another positive approach to these summer lulls. When one of my children sluffs over to me and mutters, "Mom, I'm bored" I take a deep breathe, smile, and say something cheerful like "Oh great!  In Chapter 18 of the book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff it says that all human beings should allow themselves to be bored occasionally in order to achieve greater peace in their lives." At this point the b-word child usually glazes over and wanders off in order to avoid further quotations from my latest book selections. If they remain in my presence for more than thirty seconds, however, I often turn to my next approach which is to cook something.

The recipe we chose during our most recent summer lull was from my youngest son's cookbook Snack Attack! He received it from his little friend for his 3rd birthday. Oh, be still my parental heart. . . a kid's cookbook as a birthday gift! What a fabulous idea! And my son loves it! He often picks it from our book shelf as his before-bed story time selection. He'll cuddle up beside me and chirp, "Wet's wead about wecipes!" We always start by reading the handwritten inscription from my son's friend and his mom. It says, "Happy Birthday! We got you this book because we know you love to eat snacks. We hope every time you use this book to make a snack you think of us. Enjoy!" This is another way that recipes create loving memories, awwwwwww, so sweet. Although my son would totally dig it if I read him every single ingredient, utensil, and step in this cookbook, I force him to choose just one chapter of recipes such as "after -school favorites" or "travelin' food".

The Stop 'n' Go Cookie Pops come from the chapter called "travelin' food". My sons love them because they're on a stick and who doesn't love any food more when it's on a stick? I love them because they require basic pantry ingredients and the dough is very forgiving. They are a cakey chocolate cookie dough that is shaped into a rectangle, poked onto a stick, and embellished with colorful candies. Although the example on the recipe shows these cookies in the shape of a traffic light (hence the name Stop 'n' Cookies), my kids have made them into squares, circles, hearts, and blobs. This cookie dough lends itself very well to all types of creative possibilities.

So the next time you encounter a summer lull and your kids get that look on their faces like they just might utter the dreaded b-word try cooking something fun, easy, and delicious, such as Stop 'n' Go Cookies.

Stop 'n' Go Cookie Pops

very closely adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Snack Attack

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
red, yellow, and green candy-coated milk chocolate pieces

  1. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Put the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and slat in the medium bowl. Save until step 4.
  2. Cut up the butter using a table knife. Put butter in a large bowl. Beat with the electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds or until butter is softened. Stop the mixer.
    Add the sugar. Beat on medium speed until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally and scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Stop the mixer.
  3. Add egg and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally and scraping the bowl. Stop the mixer. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until combined.
  4. Add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, beating as much of it in as you can with the mixer. Stop the mixer. Stir in as much of the flour mixture as you can with a wooden spoon. If necessary, use your hands to work the remaining flour mixture into the dough.
  5. For each cookie, shape 1-2 tablespoons of dough into a rectangle on the ungreased cookie sheet (we used a silpat lined cookie sheet). Push a wooden stick halfway into a short side of each rectangle.
  6. Press red, yellow, and green candy piece into each rectangle for the lights of the stoplight.
  7. Put the cookie sheet in oven. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are firm. Use hot pads to remove cookie sheet from oven. Let cookies remain on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Makes about 26 cookies.

    Dough also works well for other cookie shapes such as hearts, circles, and blobs.
Linked to the following link parties:  Summer Link Party, Favorite Summer Activities, Made By You Monday

We Play

Friday, August 7, 2009

Julie & Julie Movie Review

Oh, what a happy day it is for movie goers and food bloggers! An extremely well-done film, entitled "Julie & Julia" has been released. It is the story of Julie Powell, a food blogger turned published author, and Julia Child, a food lover turned iconic cookbook writer. This movie perfectly assimilates the lives of these two women while simultaneously entertaining and inspiring people of all interests. Seeing this movie made me grateful that I started my own little food blog a few months ago, made me glad that I ventured out by myself on opening night to enjoy this unique biographical film, and made me embrace the fact that I often ask the question, "What should I do?".

This is my first official movie review as the writer and creator of Heidi's Full Plate so I will begin by sharing my criteria for a fabulous movie:

  1. Do my eyes smart with tears a few times during the movie?

  2. Do I belly laugh at least a couple times while viewing the film?

  3. Do I want to be best friends with the main characters or, better yet, do I want to abandon life as I know it and become the main characters?

  4. Do I want to live where the characters live or at least decorate my house like theirs?

  5. Do I forget for just a few hours about the laundry and the dentist appointments and the call I need to make to the exterminator and become fully immersed in the story?

  6. Do I desire to clap and cheer as the credits roll or, even better, do I actually clap and cheer as the credits roll?

  7. Do I want to be a better 'me' when the film is over?

After viewing Julie & Julia, I say "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" This film met all my criteria and more. I loved every second of it! The theater was packed, the music was enchanting, and for a 2 hours and 3 minutes I was not in Cypress, TX anymore, but was transported to Paris, France and New York City, New York.

Yes, Julie & Julia met all my criteria.

  1. My eyes welled up with tears when the film subtly conveyed that Julia was unable to have children and when Julie took her anger and frustration with herself out on her husband.

  2. I chuckled when Julia stuck out her tongue at the cooking instructor and when Julie dropped her half-trussed chicken.

  3. I had a strong desire to be BFF's with Julie and to 'be' Julia

  4. I now covet a large peg board in my kitchen on which I will hang all my imagined copper pots and I feel a strong urge to start a collection of vintage state samplers and hang them above my bed.

  5. During the movie, I didn't once check my watch or consider my 'to do' list.

  6. As the credits rolled, I began to loudly clap and was glad when that the rest of the theater joined in. The lady next to me said, "Delightful! Just delightful!"

  7. I no longer see the question "What should I do?" as a depressing and overwhelming necessity but now view it as a challenging and exciting adventure.

Considering that Julie & Julia met all my criteria for a fabulous film, I surprised myself by crying as I drifted back to reality after the movie. I arrived home, my husband asked, "So how was it?", and I began to sob. "Was it that sad?" he said as I continued to cry into his shirt. No, it wasn't that sad at all, it was amazing, entertaining, inspiring, and real, oh so real. I was crying because this movie weaved together the lives of two women (Julia Child and Julie Powell) who were seeking to answer the question, "What should I do?" Julie Child, who was portrayed flawlessly by Meryl Streep, asked this question of her husband when they arrived to live in Paris. Julie Powell , played perfectly by the adorable Amy Adams, also rambles on about this question after a particularly stressful day at her government cubicle job. I can relate! Can't you relate? "What should I do?" or my version "What should I do now that I'm 40 years old, happily married to my best friend, have 4 little people who call me mom, and live in a home with 2.5 baths? What should I do?"

So I cried, and continue to cry, not because I'm sad but because I feel the weight and the freedom of that question. I cry because this movie tells the story of Julie and Julia while they are in the process of asking and answering this question not when they've got it all figured out. Each of these women had an idea of what they wanted to do and they did it. Many scenes portray how they were never perfect, but how they always made progress. They were often discouraged by circumstances but they continued to be true to themselves and their passions. "Never apologize," says Julia Child as she attempts to flip an egg and it splats onto her stove.

Finally I cry because another enjoyable element of the movie is that both of these ladies had men that loved them. Julie and Julia's husbands listened when their wives babbled on for days and years about "What should I do?" The movie shows how the husbands were both encouraging and challenging toward their wives. I love that and I am grateful that I also have that type of support in my life!

Julie & Julia is a movie about two women who love food, who love to cook, and who accomplished amazing things after honestly pursuing answers to the question "What should I do?" It is entertaining to watch and inspiring to ponder. I'm glad that I spent $8.25 to see it in the theater and I hope that when the question "What should I do?" pops in your head in this weekend you will answer, "I should go see Julie & Julia!"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ukrainian Tomatoes Recipe

Ukrainian TomatoesFresh ripe garden tomatoes have the power to turn an ordinary meal into a flavor explosion. They are a superb addition to grilled cheese sandwiches, chef salads, tacos, quiche, and my list goes on and on. I am always amazed at how much a slice of local ripe tomato can improved my lowly ham and cheese or tuna sandwiches. These juicy fruits that often pose as vegetables are also perfect all by themselves with a sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. During their peak season my mother always serves a plate of sliced tomatoes with dinner. When I get my hands on a basket of garden fresh tomatoes, my mind begins to reel with all the culinary possibilities.

One of these potential recipes is Ukrainian Tomatoes. I first had this unique appetizer or summer side dish at the home of a beautiful Ukrainian woman. She cooked all day in order to present my family and I with a feast full of items from her home country. After the meal I was anxious to get all the recipes, especially the one for her tomatoes. She told me that she didn't have written recipes but instead prepared the dishes the way her mother had taught her back in Ukraine. Although I was completely mesmerize with her stories about growing up in a foreign county, I was able to ask a few questions about the food and record the steps for each of her dishes. I am so grateful to have this recipe as part of my tomato repertoire and I will always think of her when I make Ukrainian Tomatoes for my family.

Ukrainian Tomatoes

1 large ripe garden fresh tomatoes

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon water

2 cloves garlic

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 cup shredded white cheese (Russian white cheese, white cheddar, or mozzarella)

  1. Thickly slice a ripe garden fresh tomato. Arrange on a plate or platter.
  2. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Mix mayonnaise and water. Grate garlic using a rasp grater or finely dice. Add to mayonnaise and water mixture. Mix well.
  4. Place a dollop of the garlic mayonnaise on top of each tomato slice. Spread with the back of the spoon.
  5. Freshly grate cheese. Sprinkle each tomato liberally with cheese.
  6. Serve immediately or chill.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Heidi's Tips for Creating Kitchen Cakes

Cake TipsI don't know about you, but when I was a kid and my birthday rolled around, my mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted and then she called the "cake lady" to place an order. On the day of my birthday party she would go to the "cake lady's" house and pick up a white cardboard box filled with a cute and home baked confection. Throughout the years, I had Cinderella, Raggedy Ann, a box of crayons, and more. After the birth of my second child I realized "cake ladies" (and even good bakeries in our area) were few and far between and grocery store cakes were often gross and expensive (although I have been known to serve a few and the world did not come to an end).

When I realized that the "cake lady" was no more, and that the "cake fairy" wasn't going to deliver delicious, inexpensive, and theme-related cakes to my home on each of my children's birthdays, I decided to attempt to make birthday cakes for my kids in my own kitchen. I call them kitchen cakes. Preparing kitchen cakes for my family gives me a much needed diversion from folding laundry and is just the creative outlet I need to stay sane. I've yet to take cake decorating 101 at my local craft store (although I aspire to someday), but I have now manage to create about a dozen cakes for my children's birthday parties. Practice makes. . . well, not perfect, but I have made a lot of progress.

My kitchen cake resume now includes Pokemon, Wizard of Oz, Cars, Kirby, Mario, a monkey, and, most recently, a surfboard. The cakes are always met with huge gasps from my kids and lots of requests for second helpings from the party guests. Below is the process that has helped me add 'cake decorating' to my already full plate.
Heidi's Tips for Creating Kitchen Cakes
  1. A few months prior to the birthday: ask the birthday boy or birthday girl what type of cake they would love for their next party. Have them gather action figures, trinkets, and books that relate to their cake theme of choice. Use these items to get your creative juices flowing.
  2. A month or so prior to the birthday: search the chosen cake theme on the internet. Check out my group Kitchen Cakes on Facebook or explore the plethora of decorated confections on Flickr. As my kids are getting older they love looking at the pictures of cakes on the computer with me and offering their input. Our favorite cake pictures are always slightly imperfect ones made by amateurs. These photos serve as inspirations for me, but I never attempt to recreate them exactly.
  3. 3 weeks prior to the birthday: Record and watch all episodes of "Ace of Cakes" and begin to channel your inner Duff. Use all mental down times to contemplate cake.
  4. 2 weeks prior to the birthday: Decided on the flavor of cake you will be baking. I often use a box mix for my kitchen cakes and I'm not ashamed. I'd rather focus on the decorating. Also choose the flavor of icing. I always make a simple homemade icing. Domino's sugar has a nice recipe for basic butter cream that can be easily colored. Gather recipes as needed.
  5. 1 week prior to the birthday: decide on the pans, icing colors (I recommend gel colors), and embellishments that will be needed. Also consider what you will display the cake on when it is completed. I've put my cakes on pieces of cardboard covered with foil, cookie sheets, and my trusty cake stand. Stroll though your local Hobby Lobby or Michael's, and even the baking section of your grocery store. Keep your purchases to a minimum. Some of my most creative decorating techniques have been born out of necessity. I make sure I have a few basic icing tips, lots of gel colors, my trusty offset spatula, my mechanical pastry bag, tons of plastic disposable piping bags, and candles.
  6. The day before the birthday: Bake the cake, cool it completely, wrap it in plastic wrap. Clean the kitchen. Unload the dishwasher. Go to bed early. Set out butter to soften for basic butter cream if needed.
  7. The morning of the birthday party: Send your spouse and kids off on a grand adventure that involves being out of the house for as long as possible. Prepare tons of icing (better to have too much than not enough when mixing colors). Decorate the cake. Put on nice music and let your creative juices flow. Remember "progress not perfection". I never know exactly how my cakes will turn out, but I always love them in the end. Warning: At some point during the kitchen cake decorating process, I have to fend off a panic attack, but I have yet to have a failure.
  8. At the party: take tons of pictures, smile, enjoy yourself, eat cake!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer Cucumber Salad Recipe

Cucumber SaladNow I'm sure that I could make my cucumber salad recipe any time of the year, but I choose to make it and, totally enjoy it, only in the summer. In fact it is one of the dishes that I look forward to most during the warmer months. Cucumbers are inexpensive and readily available all summer so this is the perfect seasonal dish.

In addition to being seasonal, cucumber salad is also a fabulous and simple side dish that compliments any piece of grilled meat for dinner. It is great next to a fresh green salad or a sandwich for lunch too.

I love my cucumber salad so much that I often want to dive into it as soon as I prepare a batch, but it gets better with time. A few hours is nice, overnight is great, but making it a few days in advance works well too. In fact I often make a batch in the morning, serve it with dinner, and then add another thinly sliced cucumber to the leftover liquid mixture to eat the next day. My husband prefers a cucumber salad that has just vinegar, sugar, and water, but I like the creaminess that the sour cream adds. Feel free to add fresh dill or thinly sliced red onions to the this recipe, maybe adjust the spices, but, either way, do try Summer Cucumber Salad.

Summer Cucumber Salad

1 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup sour cream (could use half plain yogurt)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon sugar

optional: 1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup red onions, thinly sliced

  1. In a large bowl whisk together the sour cream, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar.
  2. Add the peeled and thinly sliced cucumber (along with the dill and red onions if using). Toss gently.
  3. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
  4. Serve chilled.