Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pineapple Cheese Ball Recipe

Looking through my recipe box is like leafing through an old photo album.  Tucked behind the appetizer tab of my Longaberger basket recipe file is a card with the instructions for Kim's Famous New Year's Eve Cheese Ball.  Not only is this appetizer delicious, but it also conjures up wonderful thoughts of saying "good-bye" to 2006 and "hello" to 2007 with my childhood friends, Kim and Chris.

That year my husband and I loaded up our young children and drove them over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to spend New Year's Eve on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  After stopping by the homes of aunts, uncles, and grandparents, we ended up at our BFFs' house and let our four children run wild with their six children!  Yes, that's right, we have ten children between us!  In addition to great food, our evening was filled with rocking babies, chasing toddlers, hunting down kids, and laughing about our carefree high school days when our biggest concern was what to wear to prom.

Although we took lots of pictures that night, eating a bite of pineapple cheese ball on a Ritz cracker conjures up just as many memories as looking through our scrapbook of that year.  My daughter, who was nine at the time, recently prepared this party food and enjoyed remembering how 'Aunt Kim' taught her the fine art of caring for curly hair and how 'Uncle Chris' taught her how to beat her daddy in a long game of Risk. I remembered marveling at all the cute little people who were calling Kim and I Mom, sampling  the Pineapple Cheese Ball, and recording the recipe as Kim simultaneously nursed her baby and spouted off the directions from memory.

Now our Pineapple Cheese Ball, also know as Kim's Famous New Year's Eve Cheese Ball, is a favorite at birthday parties, family gatherings, and, of course, New Year's Eve.  It is easy to prepare and has a festive golden color.  The secret ingredient, the vanilla pudding, adds an extra hint of sweetness and creates a lovely creamy texture.  When combined with the salty crunch of a Ritz crackers this Pineapple Cheese Ball becomes the most popular item on any holiday spread.  I am grateful for my collection of recipes that reminds me of good times from the past and I hope that Heidi's Recipes helps you create some fond memories for the future. 

Happy New Year from Heidi's Recipes!  

Pineapple Cheese Ball Recipe
     a.k.a.  Kim's Famous New Year's Eve Cheese Ball

1 small packet of vanilla pudding (3 ounce)
2 large blocks of cream cheese (8 ounces each), softened
1 large can crushed pineapple (20 ounce), drained well
1 cup crushed nuts (walnuts or pecans)

  1. Place softened cream cheese in a large bowl.  Sprinkle dry pudding mix onto cream cheese.  Mix well.
  2. Add the drained crushed pineapple.  Mix until combined.
  3. Roll cream cheese mixture into one large ball or two smaller balls.  If the mixture is too soft,  wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for about an hour.
  4. Place crushed nuts on a plate.  Roll cheese ball in nuts, pressing to coat.
  5. Chill ball for at least an hour or overnight.
  6. Serve with Ritz crackers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Gift: Plate of Cookies

One of  the many morsels of motherly wisdom that my mother taught me over the years was how to create an impressive plate of cookies to give to family and friends at Christmas time.  I always looked forward to this holiday tradition as a child and am now continuing it with my children.

My mother taught me that a great cookie plate takes planning.  We started right after Thanksgiving thinking about our holiday treats.  We would ask my father what he wanted (always Russian Tea Cakes and Sugar Cookies), browse through December issues of magazines for new ideas, and search through our recipe box for old favorites.  After deciding on a variety of sweets that included different shapes, flavors, textures, and colors, we wrote all the names of the cookies on a steno pad.  We then created a list of necessary ingredients, purchased these supplies over a few trips to the grocery store, and set aside a day or two of baking.

As an only child I was my mother's chief baking assistant.  Once the cooking began, our biggest challenge was making sure my dad didn't eat all of our fresh-from-the-oven delicacies.  As a batch of cookies was completed, we stored it in one of our holiday tins.  We lined these containers with wax paper and placed them  in our dining room which was the coldest room in the house.  A day or two before Christmas, we would open up all the tins and place a sampling of home baked cookies on each plate.  After wrapping the plates with plastic wrap and adorning them with a bow, we would deliver them to our neighbors and family members.  Whatever cookies remained were placed in a tin to offer at my grandmother's on Christmas day.

This tradition of sharing holiday baking is one that I am passing on to my children.  For Christmas 2010 we included lots of tried-and-true family favorites along with some new recipes.  We completed our cookie baking today and will deliver full plates tomorrow.  The cookie tins have been replaced with plastic containers, my cookie gifts are being delivered in a neighborhood in Texas instead of a rural town in Maryland, and I am now the mother instead of the child, but the tradition of giving plates of cookies for Christmas is the same.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cookies 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Orange Drop Cookies Recipe

Although this season I have made many pans of Cracker Candy for teachers, and I have prepared a batch of Oreo Balls for a party that my daughter attended, today was the official start of our Christmas cookie baking.  Just like my mom and I used to do so many years ago, my children and I will pass out plates of cookies to our neighbors on Christmas Eve.  The platters will contain an assortment of treats that have been home baked just a few days prior to us hand delivering them so that they are as fresh as possible.

My mother taught me that a good cookie plate includes sweets with a variety of shapes, textures, and flavors.  Because I gravitate towards recipes that include chocolate and peanut butter, this year I searched through my cookie cookbooks for something different. I found Orange Drop Cookies in my tried-and-true Betty Crocker's Cooky Book.  Although I've had this cookbook in my possession since I was eight years old, the main recipe that I use from it is Ethel's Sugar Cookies.  I'm not sure why it has taken me thirty three years to realize that there are lots of other wonderful recipes in this book including Russian Tea Cakes, Chocolate Crinkles, and Candy Cane Cookies.

The Orange Drop Cookies that I made today are a citrusy addition to any cookie platter or cookie exchange.  They are small, round cookies with a creamy dollop of Orange Butter Icing on top.  The addition of orange zest and orange juice in the batter and in the icing brightens the flavor and adds a subtle orange color.  When my eleven year old son walked into the kitchen  to find these lovely morsels cooling on the wire racks he said, "Oh, mini scones!"  After sampling one he said that their flavor and texture also reminded him of my Lemon Scones.  All of my children plus a few random neighborhood kids give Orange Drop Cookies a thumbs up.  They are easy to make and will round out our cookie plates nicely.

Linked to these blog parties:

Featured at Make and Takes

LoveFeast's Holiday Cookie Exchange<

Orange Drop Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons orange zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cream shortening, sugar, and egg thoroughly.
  3. Stir in orange juice and orange zest.
  4. Whisk together dry ingredients.
  5. Blend dry ingredients into shortening mixture.
  6. Drop batter by rounded teaspoonfuls of dough about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until delicately browded on edges.
  8. Top each cookie with a dollop of Orange Butter Icing.

Orange Butter Icing

3 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
  1. Blend butter and sugar together. 
  2. Stir in orange juice and zest until smooth.
  3. Spread a dollop on each Orange Drop Cookie.
adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gingerbread Play Dough Recipe

Recently the hospitality queens over at Love Feast Table featured a post about keeping Christmas sweet and simple.  Sandy from the Reluctant Entertainer shared her encouraging thoughts and ended with a question "What are some ways that you find peace in the Christmas season?"

This inquiry has motivated me to be more purposeful in my seeking of peace in my home this holiday season.  Among other things, I know I can encourage peace by providing relaxing non-electronic activities for my family and I to enjoy as we wish.  Last weekend my husband and children randomly gathered at the kitchen table to draw and write messages to our family in Maryland.  The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack was playing softly in the background, our decorated tree was glowing in the next room, and I was struck by the moment of idyllic peacefulness.   Sprinkled among the episodes of Sponge Bob and battles on the Wii, I desire more of these type instances.

In addition to a new box of crayons and some Christmas coloring books, I am also providing a large puzzle for my family to enjoy this year.  Last Christmas we set up a 500 piece puzzle on a table in the game room.  Different combinations of us would stop by the puzzle table, interact, and add a few pieces at a time until it was completed.  This simple act that reminds me of my childhood facilitated family unity and calm in our often electronic saturated environment.

Another activity that promotes peace in our home is working with play dough.  The act of kneading, rolling, and punching a large mass helps to release holiday tension and stress in people of all ages.  My youngest child loves to play bake shop with me and my older children often join in under the guise of assisting their little brother.  It is nice that I can be cooking or washing dishes while they are busy and content in  the kitchen.

This year I am thrilled to add a recipe for Gingerbread Play Dough to my dough repertoire.  It comes from a book by the Ooey Gooey Lady who is my newest early childhood education hero.  The dough is soft and pliable and looks and smells just like gingerbread.  Making real cookies can sometimes be frustrating for young children because they just want to play with the dough that their mother tells them should not be overworked.  Gingerbread Play Dough, however, gets better the more it is pinched and prodded.  After my five year old son tires of helping me make real cookies at the counter, he can enjoy his gingerbread play dough at the kitchen table.  To go along with the big ball of dough, I've gathered a garlic press, wooden skewers, a rolling pin, buttons, and cookie cutters on a Christmas tray for hours of peaceful fun.

Gingerbread Play Dough is also the perfect prop for acting out your favorite version of The Gingerbread Boy story.  Reading aloud is another activity that brings peace to our sometimes hectic lives.  I have a basket of Christmas books next to the sofa so that when things start to get crazy I can curl up with my children and share a good book.

I am grateful that Sandy's question motivated me to contemplate peace for my family.  Armed with crayons, a puzzle, some seasonal books, and a batch of Gingerbread Play Dough, I think I can counter the mayhem and truly enjoy this Christmas holiday.  Merry Christmas!

Gingerbread Play Dough Recipe

1 package gingerbread mix
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups salt
6 teaspoons cream of tartar
6 Tablespoons oil
3 cups water

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a large heavy bottomed pot, using an electric mixer or large wooden spoon.
  2. Stir constantly while cooking over medium heat until a ball forms.
  3. Remove from heat and place dough on a floured board.
  4. Knead warm dough.
  5. Store in a zip-lock bag or air-tight container.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Healthy Chicken Nuggets Recipe

It is my Christmas wish that when my children aren't squirting spray cheese directly into their mouths or smuggling baby root beers into their lunch boxes, that they will be ingesting food of a healthier persuasion.  I accept that cookies, candy, dips, and cylinders of meat wrapped in dough that pops from a tube are going to be a part of our lives for the next few weeks, but I also know that it is my job to counter all of these holiday goodies with nutritious meals and snacks.  I'm offering anti-oxidant rich smoothies at breakfast, iron-filled pumpkin muffins for snack, and healthy chicken nuggets for dinner.

Not being a huge chicken nugget fan myself, I must confess I do enjoy these little morsels.  They are crispy, flavorful, and as popular with my husband and I as they are with my children.  They are easy to prepare, can be made ahead, and, with the help of a little aluminum foil, simple to clean up.  I recently served them with my stash of leftover Chick Filet sauces and that made them even more desirable.

My recipe for Healthy Chicken Nuggets is adapted from a set of directions for oven fried chicken that my mother cut from one of her antiques newsletters and passed on to me many years ago.  In addition to the list of ingredients and steps for cooking, the recipe adds, "Whatever you do, don't tell your hubby, your sweetie, or the kids it has yogurt on it!!!"  Also, don't necessarily refer to this main dish as Healthy Chicken Nuggets.  My youngest son calls them "Mommy Chicken Nuggets".  Although I would like to strike the word nugget out of my vocabulary altogether unless it is referring to gold, when I call  them nuggets minus the word healthy more little people are likely to eat them.

I offer this recipe as a tasty respite from all of the holiday fare.  Enjoy the cakes, devour the cookies, relish in the cheese balls, and then sit down to a quick and nutritious meal featuring Healthy Chicken Nuggets.

Healthy Chicken Nuggets

4 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
6 boneless chicken breasts or thighs
1 pint nonfat plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
optional:  Lawry's Seasoning Salt or Old Bay Seasoning
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cover a shallow baking pan or baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  3. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into the bottom of the pan, spread to coat.
  4. Cut chicken into nugget shapes (or strips if you prefer).
  5. Mix bread crumbs with salt and pepper (or your favorite seasoning such as Old Bay or Lowry's).
  6. Dip the chicken pieces into the yogurt to completely coat.
  7. Roll the yogurt covered chicken pieces in the bread crumb mixture.
  8. Place coated chicken pieces in baking dish.  
  9. Drizzle chicken pieces with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  10. Bake, uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until the center of the largest chicken piece is no longer pink.
  11. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 5 minutes more or until chicken is brown and crispy.
  12. Serve with your favorite dipping sauces and a big salad or veggie tray.\

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Gift Idea: Cracker Candy in a Tervis Tumbler

    My favorite holiday food gift, Cracker Candy, just got even more present appeal.  I know it's difficult to believe that this sweet and salty confection could get even more gift-able, but it has.  Yes, it still can be made ahead and is as tasty on day seven as it is on day one.  Yes, Cracker Candy still has that addictive, yet mysterious quality that keeps gift receivers wondering about its ingredients.   And, yes, it continues to be an economical baked good that can withstand a jaunt in an eight year old's backpack.  Now, however, when teamed up with Tervis tumblers, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

    Tervis tumblers are drink ware that are both durable and adorable.  I was first drawn to them while browsing in my local Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  I love that these cups are American made and are offered with a variety of cute logos and stylish monograms.  The fact that they keep hot beverages hot and cold beverages cold with little or no condensation is also appealing, but what I am especially drawn to is the colorful lids and durable straws that are also produced by the Tervis company.  Teachers talk, teachers get thirsty, teachers need cute cups that can sit on their desks and hold their favorite beverages, and teachers love gifts.    

    Coupon in hand, I purchased some Tervis tumblers with coordinating lids and straws.  I then filled them with Cracker Candy.  The irregularly shaped  treats fit nicely down into these cups and are visible through the clear exterior.  In addition to teachers, a Tervis tumbler filled with Cracker Candy or another delicious Christmas sweet would make a nice holiday gift for bus drivers, neighbors, co-workers, and family members.  My children are excited to deliver this gift to their teachers and I'm hoping Santa might place a Tervis tumbler under the tree for me too!


    Cracker Candy Recipe

    1 cup butter (2 sticks)
    1 cup sugar
    saltine crackers (about 1 1/2 sleeves)
    12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

    1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
    2. Cover a sheet pan (cookie sheet with shallow sides also know as a 1/2 sheet pan) with tin foil or if you're lucky enough to own a silpat liner use that on your sheet pan.
    3. Lay saltines in a single layer to completely cover the sheet pan, break a few in half to fit along the edge.
    4. Melt the butter and sugar over medium high heat, stirring constantly. Boil the melted butter and sugar mixture for 2 minutes while continuing to stir.
    5. Pour butter and sugar mixture over the saltines and spread to completely cover them (an offset spatula works great for this).
    6. Bake for 7 minutes.
    7. Turn oven off.
    8. Sprinkle chocolate chips over sheet pan.
    9. Return sheet pan to oven (which is now turned off) for 10 minutes.
    10. Remove from oven and spread chocolate chips. Cool (place entire pan in the refrigerator if you have room).
    11. When cracker candy is totally cool, break it into pieces.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Guest Blog Post at LoveFeast Table

    LoveFeast's Holiday Cookie Exchange

    Today I am honored to be a guest blogger at the amazing lifestyle blog, LoveFeast Table.  These gals are not only my real life friends that go way back, but also my bloggy cheer leaders.  During the last millennium Chris Ann, Kristen, and I, along with our ever growing families, gathered at the same table to share amazing meals, nurse babies, chase toddlers, and even time contractions.   Now I love living vicariously through them at their beautiful and inspiring blog.  They are two of the most creative and smart women that I know.  Check out their table and see what cookies I brought to their Cookie Exchange.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Peanut Butter Blossoms Recipe

    The 1980's called and they want their recipe back!

    As crazy as it may seem, I have been toting around the actual magazine page with the recipe for Easy Peanut Butter Cookies and Peanut Butter Blossoms for 26 years.  I ripped it from one of my mom's many women's periodicals in 1984 and, although I've made the Peanut Butter Blossom part every Christmas, I am just getting around to baking these "Qick Fixin', Taste Ticklin' Peanut Butter Cookies".  Can you believe it?  This recipe escaped from my childhood dwelling, traveled with me to six other homes that I shared with my husband, and then survived a cross country move from Maryland to Texas with my four children in tow.  These Easy Peanut Butter Cookies deserve to be baked, don't you agree?

    The retro magazine ad, which was for Eagle Brand Sweeten Condensed Milk, pictures a batch of traditional peanut butter cookies along with a few Peanut Butter Blossoms.  It is the cookies with the Hershey's Milk Chocolate Kisses perched upon them that attracted me enough to deny my if-in-doubt-throw-it-out nature and save this page for over two and a half decades.  In the past instead of using the Easy Peanut Butter Cookie recipe that appears at the bottom of the page, I always used  a more traditional peanut butter cookie recipe.  I then followed the instructions that appear in tiny italicized type at the bottom of the advertisement to make my Peanut Butter Blossoms.

    Perhaps I shied away from this version of Easy Peanut Butter Cookies because it requires only five ingredients, one of which is Bisquick Baking Mix.  To me Bisquick means pancakes that my father makes on Saturday mornings, or strawberry shortcake that my mom prepares religiously every Spring, or even chicken pot pie that I made for my husband the first year of our marriage, but it does not scream cookies.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that mixing sweetened condensed milk with peanut butter and then adding Bisquick and vanilla does result in a tasty cookie.  It is a bit denser than my other recipe, but when topped with a chocolate kiss it is still divine, especially right out of the oven when the kiss is all melty and gooey.  I also enjoyed this recipe's simplicity.  It is perfect for tentative or beginning bakers.

    So if you happen to get stranded in the year in which Back to the Future was released with only a box of Bisquick, a can of sweetened condensed milk, some peanut butter, and a bag of candy kisses, then you should follow this recipe for quick Easy Peanut Butter cookies.  If not, use this recipe or maybe this one to make a big batch of peanut butter cookie dough.  Then follow the directions below to bake them from drab to fab.  Peanut Butter Blossoms are perfect for a cookie exchange or a holiday party.  They are festive and flavorful and very much a part of this decade, sorry 1980's.

    Featured at Make and Takes

    Easy Peanut Butter Cookies
         (makes about 5 dozen cookies)

    1 (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk
    3/4 cup peanut butter
    2 cups Bisquick baking mix
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    4 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, beat sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter until smooth.
    3. Add Bisquick baking mix and vanilla; mix well.
    4. Shape into 1-inch balls.  Roll balls in sugar.
    5. Place sugar coated balls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Flatten with a fork.
    6. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned (do not overbake).
    7. Cool.  Enjoy or store tightly covered at room temperature.

    Peanutbutter Blossoms
    1. Make a batch of your favorite peanut butter cookie dough.  
    2. Shape peanut butter cookie dough into one inch balls.  Roll balls in sugar.
    3. Place sugar coated balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Do not flatten!
    4. Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.
    5. Remove paper wrappers from about 5 dozen chocolate candy kisses.
    6. Press one chocolate candy kiss into the center of each peanut butter cookie ball immediately after baking.  
    7. Cool slightly and enjoy or cool completely and store tightly covered at room temperature.
    Linked to:

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Tried-and-True Thanksgiving Menu

    Nine years ago I gave birth to my third and largest child.  In fact, he weighed as much as a small turkey (10 pounds and 6 ounces)and his head was the size of an ample pumpkin.  At that moment, my husband realized that cooking our own Thanksgiving feast would actually be easier than schlepping all of our young children over the river and through the woods to two different grandmothers' houses.  Plus we are big fans of leftovers.

    That first year we used a disposable roasting pan, kept the sidedishes super simple, and somehow prepared a delicious Thanksgiving meal with all of our children underfoot.  I must say, I mostly nursed the baby, occupied the toddlers, and yelled words of encouragement from the fully baby gated fortress that was our living room, while my husband did all of the true cooking.  He's my hero!

    This Thanksgiving my husband and I will be collaborating in order to prepare our tenth feast!  Many things have changed during these past ten years - we had another baby, moved across the country, acquired a quality Williams Sonoma roasting pan, and lost all of our baby gates.  We've taken turkey cooking tips from my mother, Martha, Emeril, and Ina, but our favorite method comes from Alton Brown.  Yes, he's wacky and scientific, but his brined bird is consistently moist and flavorful.

    The first time we attempted an Alton Brown brined turkey, our biggest challenge was finding a container in which we could soak our bird while simultaneously refrigerating it.  My husband, being the resourceful type, went to the basement, dumped all of our sons' Supermans and Batmans out of their tub, and used that.  Although the site of a giant raw bird suspended in a liquid filled rubber maid container labeled action figures was quite disconcerting, the turkey was the best we had ever had and we've been brining ever since.

    My husband makes homemade vegetable stock, just like Alton recommends, and visits the local farmer's market and spice store to get the freshest herbs, spices, and vegetables.  We have retired the action figure bin and now use an Igloo beverage dispenser.  Not only does a large turkey fit nicely down into the cooler, but when filled with ice, it doesn't have to be refrigerated.

    In addition to perfecting our turkey brining process, we have also perfected our menu.  Last year I organized all our recipes, task lists, and past menus into a Thanksgiving binder which is on our top-ten-things-to-grab-during-a-natural-disaster list.   It contains our tried-and-true Thanksgiving feast menu which includes Real Simples Dried-cherry and Italian Sausage Stuffing, Pioneer Women's Creamy Mashed Potatoes, my mom's pan gravy, and my college roommate's Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole.  We also add one new recipe each year and for our 2010 feast it is Bobby Flay's brussel sprouts.  Our desserts includes pecan pie, apple pie, and pumpkin pie.  All of the links for the recipes are listed below.  

    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday now.  I love the days of preparation, the hours of cooking with my husband and children, the feast itself, and, most of all, the leftovers.  I am so thankful for all of the blessings in my life.  Thank you for reading Heidi's Recipes and enjoy this tried-and-true menu.

    Tried-and-True Thanksgiving Feast Menu

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

    Did you watch The Thanksgiving Throwdown  last night on Food Network?  If you did, please don't tell me who wins.  Although I love Bobby Flay, I'm totally rooting for my bloggy hero, Ree Drummond, a.k.a. The Pioneer Women.  When I found out that the Pioneer Woman, or PW (as she's called by all her closest friends:) had challenged Bobby to a turkey day throwdown, I jumped up and down, yes, literally jumped up and down (it's a good thing I had on my sports bra).  After much unintelligible jabbering, I calmed down enough to tell my family the reason for my excitement.  They were slightly less than impressed, but glad to see Mommy doing a happy dance in the privacy of our own kitchen instead of out in public.  Plus their brains and tummies were fast forwarding to all the the great recipes I would try after watching this Throwdown episode!

    "Do your children even know who the Pioneer Women is?" you might ask.  Oh, they know PW.  How could they not?  The Pioneer Woman Cooks, the first cookbook I've spent money on in at least a decade, has a prized place on our family room coffee table.  Also, my children and husband have all been the lucky recipients of PW's creamy mashed potatoes, luscious macaroni and cheese, and her best chocolate sheet cake ever.  Plus, kids of food bloggers just know these things.

    My current dilemma is should I curl up on the couch with a nice pumpkin spice latte and watch The Throwdown solo style or should I wait until all the kids have done their homework, bathed, and brushed their teeth and then curl up on the couch with lots of blankets and lots of kids and watch it?  Who am I kidding?  I'm going to watch it at least twice, so I think I'll watch my PW Throwdown and save it too!

    In the meantime, I'm sharing one of my favorite Thanksgiving dinner side dishes, Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole.  This recipes comes from my college roommate who transplanted from Virginia to Texas a few years ahead of me.  She and her husband helped me ease into the whole celebrating Thanksgiving hundreds of mile away from all family members thing, by inviting us to spend our first Texas Thanksgiving at South Padre Island instead of home alone.  Good idea! My husband and I multi-tasked that year by brining our turkey in a large beverage cooler perched in the back of the mini-van while we drove to South Padre (that's a whole other blog worthy story) while she and her husband provided the sweet potatoes.  I thought I had seen it all when it comes to sweet potatoes, but this recipe is 'all that' and a bag of pecans.

    In perfect Pioneer Woman style, "Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole" uses basic ingredients to create an amazing side dish.  The sweet potatoes are whipped together with lots of buttery sweet goodness and topped with a lovely pecan crumble.  This casserole can be made ahead of time and then baked until the nuts are lightly brown, the edges are bubbling, and your kitchen smells like heaven.  Yummy!  Until I watch my highly protected episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay - Thanksgiving Feast, I won't know just what Bobby and PW made for their sides, but I think Ree and Bobby would thoroughly enjoy this casserole.  Maybe, I should change the name to "Slap Yo PW Good Sweet Potato Casserole"!

    Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole

    For the casserole:
    3 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes*
    3/4 cups white sugar
    3/4 stick melted butter (6 Tablespoons)
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

    For the topping:
    1/3 cup flour
    1 cup brown sugar
    1/3 melted butter
    1 cup chopped pecans

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    2. Butter your favorite 2 quart casserole dish.
    3. Beat together mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon.
    4. Place sweet potato mixture in buttered casserole.
    5. Sprinkle the pecan topping over the sweet potato mixture.
    6. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until the nuts are slightly browned, the edges are bubbly, and your kitchen smells like heaven.
    *Wash sweet potatoes, poke them with a fork, place them on a tinfoil lined baking sheet, and bake them at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until soft.  Then cool completely, peel, and mash.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake Recipe

    Happy National Bundt Cake Day!  Did you celebrate this sculpted cake that has a pleasing hole in the center?  My family and I did.  While stranded at home with two sickish boys, I made a Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake which we enjoyed for after school snack and again for dessert.  A bundt cake is simple, homey, and the ultimate comfort food.

    When I heard from The Food Librarian that National Bundt Cake day was November 15th, I marked it in my calendar and began to contemplate bundts.  The first thing that came to my mother's mind when I asked her about bundt cakes was the tunnel of fudge cake.  That recipe won the Pillsubury bake off in the 1950's and although it called for a tube pan, many home cooks prepared it in a bundt pan.  After discussing bundts with my mother, I moved onto my husband.  He immediately remembered this Chocolate Pistachio Cake which my mother often made for my family to snack on when we visited her.

    I chose this recipe as my National Bundt Cake Day celebration dessert because it is moist, flavorful, and my entire family loves it. With the addition of pistacio puddding, orange juice, and Hershey's chocolate syrup, a lowly white cake mix is transformed into a delectable treat.  It's festive green color makes it perfect for Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, and National Bundt Cake Day, but you don't need a holiday to make Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake!

    Printable Recipe for Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake

    Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake Recipe

    1 box white cake mix
    1 small box instant pistachio pudding mix
    1 cup water
    1/2 cup orange juice
    1/2 cup cooking oil
    4 eggs

    1. Prepare bundt pan by buttering and flouring or spraying with baking spray that contains flour.
    2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    3. Blend together cake mix, pudding mix, water, orange juice, and oil in a large bowl.
    4. Add eggs and mix with an electric mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed.
    5. Pour 2/3 of the batter into the prepared bundt pan.
    6. Add chocolate syrup to the remaining batter and mix until fully incorporated.
    7. Pour the chocolate batter into the bundt pan.
    8. Bake for 50-55 minutes.
    9. Cool.  Dust with powdered sugar. 

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Apple Pie Play Dough

    Last year Pumpkin Pie Play Dough was such a success with my classroom of preschoolers and with my own children that I knew I had to add some other multi-sensory and seasonal doughs to my repertoire.  In my search I encountered a blogger named Mari-Ann, creator of Counting Coconuts, who seems to love making homemade play dough as much as I do.  She shared about Apple Pie Play Dough and inspired me to create some for myself.

    I began by making a batch of my tried-and-true salt dough.  I kept the dough in its natural color, which closely resembles real pie dough, and then let the children sprinkle on spices.  They added pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves.  When they began to knead the dough the wonderful aroma of apple pie was released.  Once the spices had been mixed into the dough, it took on a lovely brown color with beautiful shadings and stripes.

    I provided the children with pie tins, rolling pins, plastic apples, and a variety of cutting tools.  The more they worked with the Apple Pie Play Dough the better the classroom smelled.  I stored the dough in an air tight container for a few weeks.  After a couple days of free exploration and lots of other 'appley' classroom activities, I set out a ball of dough (this photo actually shows red Kool-aid play dough), an apple shaped cookie cutter, and cookie cutter letters that spelled APPLE.  Some of the children were thrilled to spell the word apple while others created an apple pie shop at which I was a very satisfied customer.

    I'm so grateful to have discovered the inspiration for Apple Pie Play Dough over at Counting Coconuts.  As with all play doughs, it is a multi-sensory experience that helps develop fine motor skills and inspires creative play.  It also makes any kitchen or classroom smell just like a fresh apple pie is baking, but without any calories.

    Apple Pie Play Dough Recipe

    3 cups flour
    2 tablespoons oil
    3 cups water
    1 1/2 cups salt
    2 tablespoons cream of tartar
    a few tablespoons each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves

    1. Whisk all ingredients together in a large heavy bottomed sauce pan.
    2. Stir constantly over medium heat.  The mixture will be soupy for several minutes and then suddenly it will stick together and form a rough ball.  
    3. When it thickens and sticks together, remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring.
    4. Turn the hot ball onto a floured surface, and began kneading as it cools.
    5. Sprinkle the spices onto the dough and continue kneading.
    6. Store in a large zip-lock bag or other air tight container.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Night Sky Birthday Cake Directions

    This year my son requested a Night Sky Cake for his birthday.  I probed his almost nine year old brain to find out exactly what a night sky cake is and instead found out what a night sky cake is not.  Although he is a fan of Star Wars, he was not talking about a Star Wars cake (been there, done that). Despite the fact that he likes planets, he did not want a cake with the planets on it. He also pointed out that he was not thinking of a cake in the shape of a star. O'kay, armed with lots of information about what a night sky cake is not, I began browsing blogs and flickr photos until I had a general idea of what I could create for my son's Night Sky Birthday Cake.

    After the birthday boy and I got on the same page about the theme of the cake, we moved onto the flavor and shape of it.  He wanted a tall round cake that, "kinda looks like a fat cylinder".  For the flavor of the cake he didn't really have a preference, but after browsing the color photos in my favorite cake cookbook The Cake Mix Doctor Returns!, we agreed that a Chocolate Peanut Butter Marble Cake with Chocolate Pan Frosting would be just perfect.  I then decided that I would create the stars and moon out of white chocolate using some molds that my daughter had in her chocolate lollipop making kit.

    The Cake Mix Doctor, Anne Byrne's, directions for the Chocolate Marble Cake were, as usual for her recipes, thorough and clear.  She had suggested to bake this cake in a sheet pan, but going with my son's wishes, I used two eight inch round pans instead.  Using my offset spatula I had an ample amount of chocolate icing to fully cover the cake.  I made an additional batch of basic butter cream frosting that I tinted blue and loaded into my Williams Sonoma mechanical pastry bag for some further embellishing.

    My son and my family loved the Night Sky Cake.  It was moist, flavorful, and delicious.  I'm not quite sure if this was what he had in mind when he put in his cake order, but he was thoroughly impressed on his birthday.  He said, "Wow, mom!  That's a Night Sky Cake!"  And I said, "Yes it is and I made it just for you!"  Can you feel the birthday cake love?

    Night Sky Birthday Cake Directions

    1. Bake your favorite cake in two 8-inch circular cake pans.  Cool completely.
    2. Mix up a batch of your favorite chocolate icing.
    3. Mix up a batch of Buttercream Frosting, tint blue.
    4. Using white chocolate tinted yellow and a star and moon mold create a few stars and one moon. 
    5. Ice the cake with chocolate frosting.
    6. Embellish the cake with blue Buttercream Frosting.
    7. Place the stars and moon on top of the cake, pushing gently.
    8. Enjoy!