Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Cookie Bouquets 2009

Round one of sugar cookie baking, decorating, packaging and giving was completed this past week. Looking back at last year's cookies proves the old theory true, "everything gets better with practice". Last Christmas was my first attempt with royal icing and sugar cookies and while they turned out pretty cute and were appreciated by all who received one, I am much more pleased with this year's version. Plus, I had WAY more fun planning and decorating these cute little goodies!

 The gingerbread house was the "centerpiece" of each of the bouquets. I loved the simplicity of the gingerbread boy and girl. Cute!!
 These three turned out to be my favorites of the bunch. I was so incredibly pleased with Santa and wanted to curl up and snuggle with Frosty!

The holly on the stocking was such a sweet addition. The peppermint candy and candy cane went perfectly with the gingerbread house.

The entire batch of 76 cookies that were completed very "early" in the morning. Some were for gifts and THANKFULLY there were several orders in there too which made the lack of sleep worthwhile. :)

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cheddar Topped Shepherd's Pie

I love one-dish meals! They are so versatile. Often, they are time saving, they offer less clean-up for the cook and they're great for busy weeknights. I won't lie, it has taken my kids some time and maturation to learn to like or at least try these types of meals, but more often than not, they end up really liking it.

I have always loved shepherd's pie. To me, it's one of the ultimate comfort foods. But, I've never fixed it for my family because only a few of us are mashed potato fans. When I saw this recipe that added sharp cheddar cheese to the potatoes, I knew I had to give it a try. The kids LOVE anything drowned in cheese. This did not disappoint! There is cheese stirred into the potatoes and then the entire dish is covered with more cheese that becomes a beautiful, delicious crisp topping to an already wonderful meal! Yum!

This would be a great dish to serve if you're planning on hosting family and friends over the holiday season because it can be made up to a day ahead of time and refrigerated separately. What a great time-saver for the busy hostess! This was also one of our "co-op" meals that was shared with my friend Sarah and her family. :)

From the heart of my kitchen to yours,  may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Cheddar Topped Shepherd's Pie

2 pounds baking potatoes (about 4), peeled and thinly sliced or cubed
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 medium carrots, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
6 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (6 ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place potatoes in a large saucepan, and cover by 1 inch with salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, 15-20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile heat oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring 1 minute. Add beef; cook, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 1 cup water; bring to a boil, and simmer 1 minute. Set beef filling aside.

3. Drain potatoes; return to pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until liquid has evaporated and a thin film covers bottom of pan, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; add milk and 1cup of cheese. Mash until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

4. Pour beef filling into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Drop dollops of topping over filling; spread to edges with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake until topping is browned and filling is bubbling rapidly, about 20 minutes. (If topping and filling were chilled, increase to 35 minutes). Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Source: I can't remember where I copied this recipe from.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicken Corn Chowder

I've said it before, but it bears repeating, I love the Autumn season.  I enjoy all the beautiful Fall colors, the crisp chill in the air, the beginning of Colts football and, of course, I love that the seasonal changes influence my cooking and baking. Fewer meals are planned for the grill while dinners become heartier, comfier soups and stews cooked on the stove-top or slow cookers. Fruity, leafy salads begin taking the backseat as squash casseroles and potatoes jump into the drivers seat and park on our dinner tables. Oh, Fall is such a beautiful and wonderful "experience" all around!

This chowder was perfect to serve my family after an evening of soccer and cheer practices. Both boys were cold from the damp, chilly weather and the girls were simply famished after a long day of school and practice. The chowder has so many wonderful flavors that come from the addition of celery, onion, red pepper and jalapeno pepper. Yes, jalapeno. I was so thankful that I followed Melanie's advice and added this. She shared that the pepper didn't add "heat" to the chowder, but gave it a delicious flavor, and she was so right. We LOVED this recipe so much that I'm already planning to prepare this with some leftover turkey the day after Thanksgiving. This will be perfect to return home to after a busy day of Christmas shopping. :)

Chicken Corn Chowder

**Plan Ahead: This recipe calls for cooked chicken. (Thanks Mel!)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped, seeds and membrane removed (DON'T omit this!!)
1/4 cup thinly sliced or cooked chopped ham
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14-oz.) cans chicken broth
3 tablespoons flour
3 ears of fresh corn kernels or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernals
2 large chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
4 oz. softened cream cheese
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Place olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute celery, bell pepper, onion and jalapeno until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ham; cook for another 3 minutes. Whisk the broth with the flour in a liquid measuring cup or bowl and then stir into the soup. Stir in the corn and chicken. Bring to a low boil and reduce heat. Whisk together the cream cheese and milk in a large bowl until smooth. (Make sure your cream cheese is really soft or you'll have lumps in the mixture!) Whisk the cream cheese/milk mixture into the soup along with the salt, pepper and cheddar cheese. Simmer on low until ready to serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Menu Planning, Meal Sharing and Meaty Lasagna Stoup

I've shared with you before that I am blessed to have the opportunity to work from home caring for my friend, Sarah's two precious little ones while she teaches first grade in our school district. When school resumed this fall, both of our households endured many major adjustments. For us, this marked the first year all four of our children would be in school all day. That probably doesn't sound like an earth shattering adjustment, but when you throw in homework, piano lessons, soccer, school cheer, competition cheer, youth group and daily responsibilities at home, I was struggling to keep our household afloat. For Mike and Sarah; she was returning to teaching after three long months of bed rest and six months of maternity leave with the birth of their second child. She is also continuing her education by pursuing her Masters Degree. Balancing a full time career, continuing education, family and household responsibilities were wearing on Sarah too. Several times during the first couple of weeks of school, we shared with one another our "leftovers" from a previous meal to help each other out on particularly busy nights. This worked so well that we decided to create a meal sharing schedule.

Here's how we've worked it out:

1.) We plan our menus two weeks at a time.
2.) We create our menus separately but communicate our ideas for the four meals that we will be sharing with one another.
3.) I am scheduled for Monday and Wednesday nights' dinners and Sarah is scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday. For our family, Friday is typically left over night and our weekend meals are planned according to whatever commitments we have.

I can't share with you how much of an INCREDIBLE blessing this has been for my family. On the two busiest nights of the week, when we're literally running in six different directions, I can relax knowing that there is a home cooked dinner waiting at home for us because Sarah brought it to me that morning when she dropped the kids off for the day. All I do is warm it up for the family and everyone eats according to their schedule for the evening. Whew-what a relief for me! On the nights that I send dinner to Sarah's, it offers her more valuable time to spend enjoying her kiddos without worrying about dinner preparations etc.  :)

We'll be sharing more tips and meal sharing ideas soon and I hope to begin listing our menus on the sidebar of my blog to share with you too. You can also check out the wonderful meal ideas that she has been sharing with us over at her blog;

This meal that I'm sharing with you today was a huge success for both families and made a large quantity of yummy goodness. This is basically lasagna in thick soup form. The noodles are broken up into the soup and they thicken the soup quite nicely. I loved that there were fresh veggies thrown into this too-always a great way to sneak nutrition into the kids' diet without them knowing. :) What's also wonderful about this recipe is that it's a Rachel Ray 30 minute meal, so you know it comes together quickly yet is full of wonderful flavors.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Lasagna Stoup

2 tablespoons EVOO
1 lb. ground beef sirloin
Salt and Pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and grated
3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
One 32-ounce container (4 cups) chicken broth
One 28-ounce can Italian crushed tomatoes
1 lb. lasagna noodles, broken into jagged pieces
1 cup basil leaves, torn
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, to pass around the table

1. In a soup pot, heat the EVOO over medium-high heat. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper and cook until browned, 3 to 4  minutes. Stir in the onion, carrots and garlic and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in 2 cups water, the chicken broth and tomatoes; cover and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Serve the stoup in bowls and dollop with the ricotta. Pass the parmigiano-reggiano at the table.

Source: Everyday with Rachel Ray-March 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Scones

Everything's coming up pumpkin!! We've been on a pumpkin eating spurt lately. I'm so thankful that my kids love the delicious taste of this versatile puree!! Last week I made my first batch of pumpkin scones and everyone was so captivated by their scrumptious taste and texture that the entire batch was gone in less than two days. I've made an additional two batches since then, adding dried cranberries and a little more pie spice both times (changes are noted in red), and they have been devoured quickly. Obviously, this has become a new favorite at our breakfast table!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy! 

Pumpkin Spice Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cups Brown Sugar, Tightly Packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ginger 
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 teaspoon Orange Zest, or Lemon, Optional
1 stick Unsalted Butter, frozen
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries 

For the Glaze (Optional)

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Ginger
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heavy cream (enough to let icing reach consistency of honey)
1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts (I omitted) 

Mix first 8 ingredients with a fork and add the frozen butter stick by grating it on a cheese grater over the flour mixture. (Note: work quickly, holding the frozen butter in its wrapper and a paper towel to keep it from melting.) 

Mix butter curls into the flour mixture with a fork. In a small bowl, mix the pumpkin and cream and pour into the flour/butter mixture. Add cranberries. Fold with a wooden spoon just until flour is moistened, then turn out onto a lightly floured board and gently knead over a couple of times. 

Pat into a circle about 1 inch thick and cut into 8 sections like pie slices. Separate scones onto a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes. (Or make these ahead and place them in the fridge overnight.) 

Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes till just firm and golden around the edges. Let cool to room temperature.

Mix the first 5 ingredients (powdered sugar, cinnamon, ginger, corn syrup and vanilla). Add heavy cream in small amounts at a time, stirring often, until icing reaches the consistency of honey.

With a lare soup spoon, spoon icing over the cooled scones. (I poured the glaze into a sandwich baggie, cut the tip off and drizzled the scones.) Sprinkle toasted walnuts over the top. Let the icing set a bit before putting the scones away in an airtight container. 

Source: Tasty Kitchen

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Want S'More Muffins!

Would a s'more still be a s'more if it didn't LOOK like a s'more? Huh? Whadya say? Did you ever wonder if you could enjoy the wonderful, chocolate-y, marshmallow-y goodness without a roaring fire and roasting fork? Have your kids ever begged and pleaded to have chocolate for breakfast? Have YOU ever had a craving for some rich, chocolate goodness before 9 a.m.?  duh!! If you answered yes to any of the afore mentioned questions, please continue reading my post for the solution to your problems! :)

These little babies catapulted me right up to "Super Mom" status in my children's eyes when they realized that I was seriously offering them chocolate for breakfast before school. Every bite is bursting with yummy marshmallows, chocolate chips and graham cracker crumbs, and they taste JUST LIKE their namesake, the s'more!! The kids really enjoyed these with a large glass of milk for breakfast and as an after school snack. Needless to say, they didn't last long!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

I Want S'More Muffins

3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons 2% milk
1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
6 tablespoons marshmallow creme

In a small bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Stir in sour cream. Combine the flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk just until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.

Coat six muffin cups with cooking spray; fill one-fourth full with batter. Spoon 1 tablespoon marshmallow creme into each muffin cup. Top with remaining batter.

Bake at 400 degrees for 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm.

Source: Taste of Home Fall 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cinnamon Caramel Corn with Pecans and White Chocolate

Who doesn't love the seasonal snack of popcorn coated in "stick-to-your-teeth" carmel? Every Autumn I begin making my Grannys recipe for carmel corn and we enjoy nibbling on many, many batches of the gooey snack all through the holidays. Lately, I've seen so many wonderful variations and additions to this traditional snack that I thought it would be fun to try a few different kinds this year.

My first recipe that I wanted to try I found on Our Best Bites. I was intrigued with the addition of cinnamon to the caramel and I knew the kids would flip over having the white chocolate drizzled over one of their favorite snacks. I followed my Granny's recipe for her caramel and then continued with the directions on Our Best Bites. I have to say that this variation was DELISH!! The cinnamon was a perfect addition, the chocolate enhanced the sweetness of the snack and the pecan halves added a wonderful crunch. Yummy!!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Caramel Corn with Pecans and White Chocolate

12 C popped popcorn (about 1/2 C kernels)
1 C pecan halves, roughly chopped
1 C brown sugar
3/4 t cinnamon
1/4 C karo syrup (or honey makes a good substitution)
1 stick real butter (1/2 C)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t baking soda

3 squares almond bark (about 4 oz)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

Place popcorn and chopped pecans in a large bowl and set aside.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a 2 liter capacity microwave safe bowl. Mix well. Chop butter into chunks and place on top of sugar mixture. Pour corn syrup over the top of everything. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and then stir to combine. Return to microwave and heat for 2 minutes. Remove and stir and then microwave for 2 minutes more.

Remove from microwave and add in vanilla and baking soda. Stir to combine. Mixture will foam and rise. Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and pecans and stir very well so everything is well coated.

Spread popcorn mixture onto a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and spread out on a large piece of parchment, waxed paper, or foil.

Melt almond bark according to package instructions. Drizzle over popcorn mixture. When almond bark is hardened and popcorn is cool, break into chunks and enjoy!

Source: Our Best Bites

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Birthday!

This past weekend we celebrated our youngest's 7th birthday. Shamefully, her birthday was earlier this month, but this was the first opportunity we have had to host a party for her. She was very excited to celebrate her birthday on Halloween afternoon and the possibilities that that offered for her party theme. Her only request for her cake was that it not be "spooky". Cuz "Mommy, spooky is no fun and it's my birthday. So it should be a happy cake with all the colors but no ghosts or spooky stuff." Her simple request made my heart swell and gave me even more determination to make her a beautiful and fun, Halloween themed birthday cake.

The bottom layer of her cake was chocolate fudge with buttercream filling. Very simple flavors, but we're talking about young girls taste pallats here. I didn't think they would appreciate some extravagent flavored cake with a fruit or fanciful filling. Simple is often times better, especially with youngins'. We decided that this layer would be wrapped with purple fondant and decorated with moons, pumpkins and witch's hats. This year Lauren chose an adorable little witch costume and when I told her that the hats on the cake represented her costume she thought that was pretty cool! :)

The top layer was milk chocolate with buttercream filling. One of Lauren's favorite Fall candy is Candy Corn. So I wrapped the layer with orange fondant and draped it with yellow and white "ribbons" of fondant and then rolled the ribbons to make a large bow for the top. She LOVED it!!
The birthday girl with her cake.
Another view of Lauren's cake

We also wanted to have special party favors for all of her friends and Lauren asked if I could make Halloween cookies for everyone. Well, when I bake cookies for everyone else who asks, and my husband and kids always come first, this was a no brainer....I geared up and baked and decorated 5 dozen cookies. The birthday cake cookies are inspired by, and a direct copy of, cookies I saw on Bridget's blog. If you enjoy decorating sugar cookies, you MUST check out her amazing blog!! She is so inspirational and offers so many "how-to's" for decorating. Thanks Bridget for sharing your talent and inspiration with all of us!! The birthday cookie was Lauren's favorite and she thought it was so cool that each one had 7 candles on them. :)

I think this little bucket of goodies turned out to be my favorite treat for all the girls! Why? Well, as I was rolling fondant and decorating the cake Lauren came to me and asked if she could do anything to help. One of the best advise I've ever received  has been to embrace and accept help from my children as often as possible. To learn to let go of my desire to have things perfect and cherish the opporunities of working alongside my kids. So..I melted the chocolates for the pretzals, stood Lauren on a chair at the stovetop, showed her how to cover half the pretzals with the chocolate and sprinkles and......stepped away. I wish I had taken a picture of her as she worked diligently at her task. She was so precious to watch with her serious little face as she worked on her task and I loved watching her tiny fingers twirl the pretzals in the colorful chocolate. But the best moment was when she turned to me with a HUGE smile of success after filling two baking sheets with cooling chocolate covered pretzals and said, "Mommy, I'm all done with my job. Is there anything else I can do?" Priceless!!!

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial of our precious daughter's birthday celebration. I know she'll be beyond excited when she sees her pictures on the blog and any responses that you may write.  :)

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chocolate Surprise Cookies

When I saw these cookies on Patsy's blog, I knew these would be perfect to bake up for a cookout we were attending a couple of weeks ago. Our friends were planning to have a bon-fire and we were looking forward to enjoying the evening roasting hot dogs for dinner and then letting the kids toast marshmallows for smores. A couple of my kiddos love the taste of ooey-gooey toasted marshmallow with melted chocolate, but aren't too fond of the graham cracker outside. These cookies looked to be the perfect solution, a chocolate cookie with a marshmallow-y center topped with a fudgy chocolate frosting. Holy yum!! The kids loved the "portability" of these as they ran by the table, grabbed a cookie and continued playing with their friends. The "big" kids (read, our husbands) thought up the brilliant idea of balancing the cookies on the roasting forks and slightly warming the cookies over the fire....oh my..they were so good. Leave it to the men to concoct such a great idea like that! Gotta love em'!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Chocolate Surprise Cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick)unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 large marshmallows, cut in half horizontally

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add reserved flour mixture; mix on low speed until combined.

3. Using a tablespoon or 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto ungreased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies begin to spread and become firm, 10 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove baking sheets from oven, and place a marshmallow, cut-side down, in the center of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Return to oven, and continue baking until marshmallows begins to melt, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

5. Spread about 1 tablespoon of frosting over each marshmallow, starting in the center and continuing outward until marshmallow is covered.

Chocolate Frosting for Surprise Cookies

2 cups confectioners' sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Place confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in butter and cocoa powder. Add milk and vanilla, and whisk until well combined.

Source: Family Friends and Food originally from Martha Stewart Online

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins

Unless you've lived in a hole over the last several weeks, you've noticed that there are a plethora of pumpkin recipes all over the foodie world. I have bookmarked more than my share and wish I had the time to bake every one of them. However, it would take me forever to bake and blog them all this Autumn season, so I'll try my darndest to get to as many as I can. *wink*

You all know that I have four kiddos that are incredibly crazy about anything muffin-y. Well, when you tell them that their favorite breakfast item has been baked up with pumpkin, they flip. Who knew that all I have to do to enjoy a few minutes of blissful peace is to serve up some pumpkin-y treats? So, when I was browsing through some of my fall baking magazines and saw these little treasures, I began fantasizing about what to do with my brief enjoyment of silence as my little wolves devoured their first taste of autumn.

These muffins were fantastically moist and flavorful and the addition of cranberries offers a nice tartness that offsets the sweetness of the pumpkin perfectly. I also chose to top each muffin with decorator sugar crystals that gave a nice added crunch to the tops.

If you've not jumped off the pumpkin baking wagon yet, you might want to consider baking these little gems for your breakfast table. Your family will definitely thank you!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans (I omitted)
Decorator sugar crystals

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 12 regular-size muffin cups with shortening or cooking spray or line with paper baking cups.

2. In large bowl, mix flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Stir in pumpkin, oil, eggs, cranberries and pecans just until dry ingredients are moistened. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Sprinkle sugar crystals evenly over batter in each cup.

3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan to cooling rack.

Source: Betty Crocker Fall baking 2008

Success Hint: Take care not to overmix the batter. Overmixing can result in tough muffins with peaked tops and tunnels inside.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ham and Sun-Dried Tomato Alfredo

Have you been looking for a quick and easy weeknight dinner recipe? This dish is super easy and perfect for a busy family, yet looks and tastes special enough to prepare for dinner guests too. And to top it all off; it's prepared with just FIVE ingredients!! Perfection!! Don't let the lack of time and ingredients turn you off from trying this dish. Nearly every delicious bite is full of cheesy goodness and the sun-dried tomatoes offer an added "wow" factor that my family absolutely loved. Be sure to give this one a try!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

On a side note; my friend
Sarah is tomorrow's (Thursday 10/22) featured blogger for SITS and is hosting a fantastic giveaway. Please check out her wonderful food blog and leave a comment to enter!!

Ham and Sun-Dried Tomato Alfredo

8 oz. uncooked linguine
1/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cubed fully cooked ham

Cook linguine according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet coated with cooking spray, saute tomatoes for 1 minute. Reduce heat; stir in cream and cheese. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered , for 5-7 minutes or until thickened.

Drain linguine; stir into sauce mixture. Add ham; heat through.

Source: Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious Sep/Oct 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn Cookie Bouquet

Oh my dear blogger friends; are you terribly disappointed in me and my lack of posting over the last month? Goodness, I've been incredibly sporadic with keeping you informed on the happenings in my kitchen! Just when I think that life will calm down a bit and I will have ample time to spend on doing things for me; such as blogging; my kids' activities, homework and obligations grab me by the shoestrings and we're off and running again and again. This first nine weeks of school has been quite an adjustment for our family and just thinking of all that has gone on around here tends to wear me out all over again...whew!! I have so many fun and fantastic recipes to share with you and I'm hoping (crossing my fingers) to catch up over the next few weeks.

This past week our bakery was busy with several bouquet orders and they turned out so incredibly cute that I had to share these with you first. The Fall cookie bouquet was a "Get Well" bouquet and our client was thrilled with the idea of using an Autumn theme. Check out the cookies below to see how each cookie turned out. We baked each shape with our regular sugar cookie dough and also in our chocolate sugar dough. Both were delicious!!

Autumn leaves filled with orange royal icing and sprinkled with a combination of red, orange and yellow sprinkles.

Autumn leaves filled with yellow royal icing and piped with brown and orange. We then pulled a toothpick through the wet piping to blend the colors.

Fall isn't complete without Candy Corn! These were so much fun to create!

Every squirrel's favorite, Acorns!! I think this was my favorite of the bunch.

All of our cookie bouquets are potted in our signature, customizable, clay pots. How can you not love all the colors of Fall? Cute!!

Wouldn't these make a great Thanksgiving gift for your dinner hostess? Or a cute centerpiece for the kids' table? Adorable and edible! Or, maybe, a special "Thank You" gift for your kiddos' teachers. If you're interested in ordering for Thanksgiving, please contact us and we can customize your bouquet. Watch for our Christmas themed pots too; coming soon!

We also completed another adorable baby bouquet last week. This was to be the centerpiece for a baby shower for a precious little girl due to arrive next month. Yes, you are reading the rattle correctly, her name is to be Poet Scout. Very artistic!

This time our little duckie didn't want to darn the standard "duck" yellow, so we dressed her up in light lavender and gave her tiny pink beads at her neckline. Very chic and stylish don't you think?

I just love little baby bottles!!

When a baby gets a bottle, she also needs a cute little bib too. Less mess for Mom. :-)

I hope you've enjoyed my little tutorial of last week's kitchen happenings! I promise to catch you up on all the yummy sweet and savory recipes we've enjoyed lately.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Source: Decadent Dreams Bakery Originals

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Double-Decker Confetti Brownies

I know it seems that I've been posting a lot of sweets lately, but with all four kids in school and packing lunches, I've been baking a lot of sweets and love sharing each of them with you! :) I promise to post some great new dinner recipes that are quick and delicious and perfect for your busy weeknight meals.

These double layer brownies were fantastic and pleased both the brownie lovers and cookie lovers in our family. My "confetti" (the mini M&M's) in the cookie layer sunk, so the bars weren't as cute as I was hoping for but they were still a huge hit with my little critics. The entire pan was devoured in one day between lunches, after school snacks and my 42 year old cookie monster.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Double-Decker Confetti Brownies

3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted
1 cup M&M's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Baking Bits, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 13x9x2 inch baking pan; set aside.

In large bowl cream 3/4 cup butter and sugars until light and fluffy; beat in eggs and vanilla.

In medium bowl combine 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder and salt; blend into creamed mixture.

Divide batter in half. Blend together cocoa powder and melted butter; stir into one half of the dough. Spread cocoa dough evenly into prepared baking pan.

Stir remaining 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup "M&M's" into remaining dough; spread evenly over cocoa dough in pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup "M&M's".

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until edges start to pull away from sides of pan. Cool completely. Cut into bars. Store in tightly covered container.

Source: The Great American Cookie Cookbook

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Cake

This past weekend my friend Sarah's son (Josh) celebrated his 3rd birthday. Josh is a huge fan of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I mean, the boy LOVES Mickey Mouse Clubhouse! Did I mention that Josh Loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? I did? Oh...okay. Sorry. Can you guess what the theme of Josh's big party was? Here it comes.....wait for it....almost...there....Mickey Mouse Clubhouse! Yay-you guessed correctly! You're SO smart!

Well, anyway, I was thrilled when Sarah asked me to help her with creating Josh's birthday cake. When she showed me her plan for the cake I knew we would have so much fun baking and decorating together. She baked the cakes, I prepared the fondant and we got together Friday night for the fun. Between giggles, pizza, six kids and two husbands we completed Josh's cake. I must say that we were pretty pleased with how it turned out. But, more importantly, the very special birthday boy LOVED it and that's all that counted!!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Black and White Cookie Ripple Coffee Cake

When I saw this cake on Donna's (My Tasty Treasures) blog I nearly drooled and knew instantly that I would be making this cake SOON!! I mean, seriously, who could resist eating a coffee cake loaded with Oreo cookies? This is my kids' definition of breakfast perfection! Have your precious little ones ever asked if they could have cookies for breakfast? Just this once, Mom...PLEASE?? Well, now you can say "Yes, you can!" You'll immediately become "World's Best Mom" in their eyes when you serve them a generous slice of this delicious coffee cake. :)

The cake itself is pretty much a standard coffee cake recipe, nothing too sweet. The sweetness and goodness is added with the cookies, and for our cake I used Double Stuff Oreos. To me, there is no other Oreo comparison. If it's not Double Stuff, leave it on the store shelf. I thought the double cream would be wonderful in the cake and it certainly did not disappoint! The kids loved, loved, loved this cake and ate it for their after school snack as well as breakfast. This cake will certainly be making future appearances at our table!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Black and White Cookie Ripple Coffee Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
30 + coarsely chopped sandwich cookies (OREOS!)

Soften butter by letting it stand for 30-45 minutes at room temperature or cut into chunks and allow to stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Coarsely chop the
Oreos (I followed Donna's suggestion and put 20 chopped cookies in one bowl for the filling and the remainder in another bowl for the topping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a tube pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a mixer bowl, cream softened butter and sugar on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs 2 at a time, and blend on medium speed until blended, scraping bowl often to make sure no butter or sugar sticks to the bottom. Add vanilla
and buttermilk and blend well. Fold in the dry ingredients and blend until batter is smooth, about 2 to 4 minutes. Pour 2/3 of the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle 2/3 of cookie pieces over batter (the 20 cookies), putting more on perimeter than directly in the middle (cookie pieces are less likely to sink when dispersed this way).

Top with remaining batter and top batter evenly with remaining cookie pieces.

Bake 45 minutes and then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Finish baking until cake tests done with a cake skewer that almost comes out clean, another 15-20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan before turning cake out onto a serving plate. Let cake cool completely before adding glaze.


1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-6 tablespoons buttermilk

For glaze, whisk sugar, butter and vanilla together. Slowly add enough buttermilk to make a thin glaze. (I used about half the milk). Drizzle glaze over top of cake with a fork or whisk. Let glaze set.

Source: Donna of
My Tasty Treasures

Monday, September 7, 2009

"Pleasing His Chocolate Cravings" with Chocolate Thumbprints

If you read my previous post then you understand the title to this one. As I previously stated, I've been baking special treats to put in my kids' lunches to let them know that I'm thinking of them during the day. My first "special" treat was met with a 75% approval rating, only disappointing our 9 year old son because of the lack of chocolate in the blondies. So to appease his chocolate craving, I searched and found the recipe for these remarkable, delicious cookies. Plus, Marty was headed to a meeting with some men who had requested some baked goods. I was thrilled to make two of my boys happy with one recipe. :)

These were a lot of fun to bake up and filling the centers of the cookies with the peanut butter filling gave me a little creative outlet. The only change I will make to the original recipe is to use mini-chocolate chips instead of regular sized. Using mini chips would allow making the "thumbprints" easier than maneuvering the larger chips.

Oh, did you ask how these tasted? Well, they were irresistible! If you've ever eaten a buckeye (the peanut butter ball covered in chocolate made to resemble a buckeye) then you can imagine the taste of this cookie. The filling was fluffy and creamy and complimented the chocolate cookie perfectly and tasted so similar to the buckeyes my family loves!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Chocolate Thumbprints

1/2 Butter Flavor Crisco Stick or 1/2 Cup Butter Flavor Crisco all-vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Peanut Butter Cream Filling
2 tablespoons Butter flavor Crisco Stick or 2 tablespoons Butter Flavor Crisco all-vegetable shortening
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheet with shortening. (I used parchment paper)

For cookies, combine 1/2 cup shortening, granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, vanilla and egg yolk in large bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer until well blended. Add melted chocolate. Mix well.

Combine flour and salt. Add gradually to chocolate mixture at low speed. Mix until blended. Add chocolate chips. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Press thumb gently in center of each cookie.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Do not overbake. Press centers again with small measuring spoon. Remove cookies to cooling rack and cool completely.

For peanut butter cream filling, combine 2 tablespoons shortening and peanut butter in medium bowl. Stir with spoon until blended. (I used my hand mixer.) Add confectioners sugar. Stir well. Add 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Fill centers of cookies.

Source: The Great American Cookie Cookbook

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fabulous Blonde Brownies

School is now in full swing. There's a part of me that is glad to be back into a routine, but I have to say that I desperately miss my kids!! One of the ways I find to let them know that I'm thinking of them during the day is to send yummy, homemade treats for their lunches. :) I baked these little blondies up late one night after our youngest had perused the "treat" drawer and found that we were out of cookies. GASP! She turned to me and asked, "Mommy, what will I have in my lunch for dessert?" :( I couldn't let my baby down and send her to school without something to satisfy her sweet tooth, right?! After saying our prayers and tucking four sleepy heads into bed, I went on a search for something that would be quick and simple to bake up. These little babies fit the bill. I loved that the recipe called for toffee bits with the white chocolate, gotta love that combination. The next day three of the four kids commented on how much they liked these. My 9 year old son came to me and said, "Mom, no offense, but I didn't really like the dessert you sent. It didn't have any chocolate in it. Can you please fix something chocolatey for tomorrow?" Hmmm, don't you love his honesty and truth be told...the apple didn't fall far from the tree! I MUCH prefer desserts with chocolate too!! Check back soon to see what I baked up to satisfy our chocolate cravings!!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Fabulous Blonde Brownies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) white chocolate chips
1 cup (4 ounces) blanched whole almonds (I omitted)
1 cup English toffee bits
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13x9-inch baking pan.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; mix well. Combine white chocolate chips, almonds and toffee bits in medium bowl; mix well.

Beat butter and brown sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture; beat until well blended. Stir in 3/4 cup white chocolate chip mixture. Spread evenly in prepared pan.

Bake 20 minutes. Immediately sprinkle remaining white chocolate chip mixture evenly over brownies. Press lightly. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool brownies completely in pan on wire rack.

Source: The Great American Cookie Cookbook

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Last spring, when my friend Sarah was enjoying her maternity leave, I spent many an afternoon at her home while her oldest and my youngest played...I also lavished the opportunity to snuggle with a precious, new baby!! Our lunches often consisted of left overs from our dinners. On one occasion, Sarah reheated this awesome tuna casserole. It was unlike any tuna casserole I had ever tasted and I asked her to share the recipe with me.

It's taken me several months to fix this for my family but it was such a huge hit with everyone, that I'm sure it's going to be on our dinner table often. Marty and I LOVED the "grown-up" flavor that the roasted red pepper added to this dish and the kids raved about the abundance of noodles and the bread crumb topping. The original recipe is prepared in an 8x8 dish, but I doubled it and baked in a 13x9. I was planning (and hoping) that this would be a success for dinner and needed plenty of leftovers for lunches and our buffet-style leftover night. :-) If you like tuna casserole, you'll LOVE this version of the favoured dish!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Tuna Noodle Casserole
8 ounces uncooked linguine
1 cup frozen broccoli florets
1 package (1.8 oz) leek soup mix
1 1/2 cups milk
Dash pepper
1 can (5 oz) albacore tuna, drained
2 tablespoons chopped drained roasted red bell peppers
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 8-inch square (2-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. Cook and drain linguine as directed on package, adding broccoli for last 2 minutes of cook time.
Meanwhile, in 1-quart saucepan, mix soup mix and milk. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pepper. Add linguine, broccoli, tuna and roasted peppers to soup mixture; stir gently to mix well. Spoon into baking dish. In small bowl, mix butter and bread crumbs; sprinkle over linguine mixture. Bake uncovered 20 to 25 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars

First off, I wanted to share this photo with you of an amazing storm that rolled in one afternoon of our vacation. The beauty of the dark, stormy clouds against the clear skies all hovering over the rough, gray waters of the ocean was absolutely breathtaking. God's creation at its finest. I quickly grabbed my camera and shot at least a dozen pictures. It was such a gorgeous sight to behold!

In my warped thought process, the definition of vacation reads, "time away from the daily grind that offers any and every excuse to overindulge on sweets for breakfast, lunch and dinner and as many snacks in between as possible". So, as I was planning the menu for the week, I selected some of the most mouth watering treats for our desserts
These little brownie bars were rich and chocolaty and packed a marvelous peanut butter flavor. I served these slightly warm with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream on top. (of course) They were a huge hit with all the "kids" big and small! These were so good that when we stopped in Atlanta to visit my brother and sister-in-law, I made them again! Their family loved them too. Huge success with very little effort. Love it!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
3 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey's Cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Reese's Peanut Butter (I used Jif-it's what was on hand)
1 cup Hershey's Milk Chocolate Chips, divided
1 cup Reese's Peanut Butter Chips, divided
3/4 teaspoon shortening (do not use butter, margarine, spread or oil)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13x9x2-inch pan.

2. Stir together butter, sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla in large bowl. Add 2 eggs; stir until blended. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; add to egg mixture, stirring until well blended. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, stir together sweetened condensed milk, peanut butter, remaining egg and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour evenly over baked layer. Set aside 1 tablespoon each milk chocolate chips and peanut butter chips; sprinkle remaining chips over peanut butter mixture. Return to oven; continue baking 20 to 25 minutes or until peanut butter layer is set and edges begin to brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

4. Stir together remaining milk chocolate chips, remaining peanut butter chips and shortening in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH (100%) 30 seconds; stir. If necessary, microwave at HIGH an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred. Drizzle over top of bars. When drizzle is firm, cut into bars. (I didn't wait that long!) Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Source: Hershey's Classic Recipes

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

All-Star Muffins

Right before the kids went back to school, we vacationed on the beautiful Emerald Coastline of Florida with some dear friends of ours. Everyday was filled with fun on the beach, swimming in the pool and the sounds of the surf. wonderful and relaxing!! What made our vacation even more perfect was the view out our condo window. There's nothing like waking every morning and looking out over the balcony and seeing the beauty of the ocean, sand and sky. I could even stand in the kitchen and still have a perfect view of the ocean and skyline. I was in heaven...what better environment to spark some creativity in the kitchen!!

The family we vacationed with also has four kids which made it double the fun for me to plan fun and tasty meals. Whenever we vacation we plan to dine out maybe once or twice, but most of our meals are eaten in our condo. After spending the majority of the day in the hot, summer sun, our kids are always wiped out and the last thing they have the patience for is to get cleaned up to go out to eat. So dining in allows the kids to clean up and put on their jammies and the added plus is it saves us quite a bit of money. Always a bonus!!

On one of our first mornings I baked these delicious All-Star Muffins that I found in my "King Aurthur Flour Baker's Companion" cookbook. This particular recipe grabbed my attention because of its simplicity and many variations that are offered. One of the variations that practically leaped off the page at me was the toffee chocolate chip addition. Holy Yum....chocolate and toffee chips for breakfast! Perfect for vacation!!

These baked up simply perfect!! Light and fluffy on the inside and just a little crispy on the edges. And the chocolate and toffee??? Oh. My. Goodness. Absolutely sinful!! The kids devoured these right up and the few that were leftover after breakfast were quickly eaten during lunch time. These will definitely become a "go-to" muffin for our breakfasts. I can't wait to bake up and blog about the other variations. :-)

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

All-Star Muffins

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
10-ounce bag of Heath bar bits
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 16 muffin cups or use paper liners.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a handheld or stand mixer until light and fluffy and almost white in color. Scrape down the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and sour cream and mix until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until the batter is smooth.

Add the Heath bits and chocolate chips to batter.

Fill muffin cups and bake for 18-24 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove them from the oven, cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan to finish cooling on a rack. (Muffins left in the pan to cool will become tough from steaming.)

Source: The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion