Saturday, December 25, 2010

Have the merriest Christmas ever!


From my home to yours, best wishes for a very happy holiday season!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Xmas!!!!

I don’t have a problem with Merry Xmas.

(pause)

I’ll say it again...

I do not have a problem with saying, writing, tweeting or posting Merry Xmas. It’s not offensive to me.

I do have a problem with individuals who get irate about other people using, saying, tweeting, writing or posting Merry Xmas. Typically their reason for being so severe is because they are “Christians” and they want to tell you not to take the Christ out of Christmas.

Well, to me, Xmas doesn’t take the Christ out of Christmas. In fact, to me, it puts the Biblical Greek back into Christmas. That’s right, folks. X in Xmas stands for “chi” (written as X) in Greek, which is the first letter of Χριστός (Khristós), the name for Christ.

(another pause…let this one sink in)

Χριστός, which means the anointed one, is the name used for Christ throughout the New Testament writings. The first two letters became a prevalent symbol for members of the early church. The usage of the chi-rho symbol dates back to the Roman emperor, Constantine, and was representative of the crucifixion.

When individuals refer to Xmas, it is just a shortening of Christ in the Greek form. Technically people should probably say Xpmas, but the X can stand in for Χριστός just as well as the full chi-rho symbol.

I think what bothers me most about the debate is not the use of Christmas verses Xmas. What bothers me is the fact that so many Christians get their panties in a wad and have to attack Xmas users by saying they don’t believe in Christ. You know, a lot of Xmas users probably don’t. But you know what else…a LOT of Xmas users know the true meaning of Christmas and may just need to shorten the word for a particular reason. Like fitting it in a 140-letter tweet!

Next time you feel a surge of anger when you see Xmas being used, think about why you are getting so mad. And think about your attitude and how it portrays Christ or Χριστός to those around you.

________________________________________

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” ~ James 3:9-10

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why is holiday baking reserved for the holidays?

The other day I was planning out my treats for Christmas at my parents’, and the following thought occurred to me – “Why do we only prepare special candies, cookies and treats for holidays or special events?” I mean…I typically go home once a month. Why don’t I take treats home most anytime? And why do I reserve them for only Thanksgiving and Christmas?

The truth is that on occasion I do take special treats home to my family. But that is typically when it is leftover from another event. I rarely make a special treat for a trip home unless there is an occasion. Now, at Easter and birthdays, I always try to make a cake. But I do that at my mom’s house in order to involve my nephew in the baking (bowl licking) process.

Maybe in 2011 I will make an effort to make more treats for my family. It can be something as simple as cookies or brownies. It can even be as elaborate as a homemade pie. (Which is my new obsession right now.) I know my father would appreciate this. He likes desserts a lot. Maybe that’s where I get it!

Since I’m going to my parents’ house soon for the holidays, here’s a list of the treats I am taking:


I also had plans to make buckeye balls, but I think I’m going to stop with the above. I'm thinking we'll have enough. (Remember...I still have to make melted snowman cookies with the kids!)

Come 2011, all of us will be fat and happy I guess! Maybe that's why we only reserve these treats to once or twice a year....Hmmm....

Happy cooking and merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Last day of work for 2010

Today is my very last day of work for the year. *sigh* It's been a long year. It has been an even longer semester! The lack of posts from August-November were a sure sign that things were hoping over at the HHC. We survived though, and we completed all of our 2010 projects with a few hours to spare! Go team SAS!

Even though I have only been at my current place of employment for two years, I have picked up on the annual "last day of work party." Last year we had a soup exchange for lunch, and this year a sweet/snack swap. Needless to say, in true Southern form, our last day of work is spent eating.

Today we has a variety of super yummy snacks to devour. I brought Martha Washington balls, fudge, pumpkin bread and chicken salad sandwiches. We had an assortment of chips and dips, candies, cookies, donuts, cakes, etc. One of my favorite dips came from a new division employee. Its super easy and a crowd pleaser, so I thought I would share.

As we look to Christmas, and close out another year, I hope each and every one of you are thankful for the blessings bestowed on you in 2010. It's been a great year, and I look forward to all of the new adventures of 2011!

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.....

Cheddar Cheese Dip

Ingredients:
2 cups cheddar cheese
4 stalks green onions, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped & toasted
mayo (Just enough to make the ingredients stick together - 2 tablespoons.)
1 jar red pepper jelly
1 box of crackers (Wheat Thins or Ritz)

Directions:
Mix first four ingredients together. Spread into serving dish or form into a ball. Best if you refrigerate overnight. Right before serving pour pepper jelly on top. Serve with crackers and ENJOY!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday baking with the kids

If you are a regular blog reader of mine, you’ll know that I love doing special projects with my nephew. I always like to involve him in activities. Something to keep his little boy hands busy. It also provides great bonding opportunities for us.

Now that the niece is getting older, it’s her turn to get involved. Hopefully. I have this baking project I want to do with them over Christmas, and I hope it’s not too much of a disaster with her. I mean…she’s just barely 19 months old. But we are going to attempt this cookie making activity with both of them this year. And yes, I will be sure to call in Mama and Nana for backup.

Last year we made reindeer out of gingerbread cookies, m & m’s and tiny pretzels. It turned out to be a pretty cute project, and Will loved helping. This year, though, my friend Sarah from high school (who has a cute little girl of her own) sent me the link for melted snowman cookies. Immediately I knew this would be our holiday baking project.

So…next week…pray for me. One night I will be making these cookies with two toddlers. I’m sure we will make a mess, and I’m sure we’ll have a blast doing it. And I’ll be sure to clean up the kitchen after so Nana doesn’t have to!

Melted Snowman Cookies

Ingredients:
1 batch of sugar cookie (either store-bought dough or the packets of mix)
1 pack of large marshmallows
Vanilla icing
Cake Decorating Gels (Colors for eyes, nose, mouth, etc.)
Mini M&M’s (Optional for buttons)
Pretzel sticks (Optional for arms)

Directions:
1. Bake cookies according to package and let cool.
2. Warm icing in microwave and spread across cooled cookies to make it look like is runny or melted.
3. Microwave marshmallows on a plate for about 15-30 seconds. (You don’t want them too, too melty.)
4. Let a grown-up place the hot marshmallows on top of the cookies for the head. Let cool to the touch.
5. Decorate snowmen with cake gels or optional food items.
6. Eat and enjoy!

I also want to make a chocolate frosty recipe I saw on Sandra Lee Semi Homemade. It looks like a Wendy’s Frosty! Sandra calls it a “moon and stars mocha,” and she makes it with her nieces and nephews. They named it that because she says she loves them to the moon and stars. That’s sweet! I love Will and Maggie that much (and more) too! Here’s the very simple recipe (that even grown-ups will love):

Moon and Stars Mocha
From Sandra Lee

Ingredients:
2 cups plain yogurt
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
2 cups ice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in blender and blend on high for 1 minute or until smooth.

______________________________________

Will you be baking anything with kids during the holidays? If so, share links to your projects in the comments section!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For a blustery cold day...

Since its been quite cold in Mississippi lately, I thought I'd share a chili recipe to warm you right up. As a side not, I did make her recipe as written with a bottle of beer, but I probably wouldn't do it again. It didn't taste bad. It really didn't taste at all...but the smell of the cooked beer just wasn't too appeasing to me.

Texas Turkey Chili

Ingredients:
extra-virgin olive oil
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste (About 1/2 to 3/4 can)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 lb. pound ground turkey
1 - 1.5 cups frozen corn or 1 can of corn
Salt and pepper, to taste
One 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
One 12-ounce bottle beer -OR- 12 oz. of chicken stock
One 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:
In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin and chili powder. Add the turkey, season with salt and cook, breaking it up and stirring to combine, 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour in the crushed tomatoes, corn and beer/chicken stock, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes. Add the kidney beans and cook until heated through, about 5-10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Top with cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, etc. Serve with Frito's or cornbread.

Because it's Christmas

And because I can sit here and "Elf Myself" all day long....
Along with my niece, nephew, mom and dad...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Sweet Swap

One of the best things about the holidays is the opportunity to spend countless hours in the kitchen. As you can probably guess by my blog, you probably know I like to cook. Given, huh? The holidays provide an opportunity for this cooking/baking lover to wear her little feet out and consume lots of calories in the kitchen.

The thing about living in the South is that I'm not the only one who likes to cook. Most women like to! Its just...part of who we are as women. I know we get a bad wrap about the whole barefoot and pregnant thing, but the truth is, even us career ladies who work all day still enjoy coming home, throwing on a apron, and creating something wonderful in the kitchen.

Since so many of my girlfriends enjoy baking, I decided to host a sweet swap this year. It wasn't a passive event where folks just brought their favorite treat, but a hands-on night of baking and cookie decorating. And in the end, everyone got to take home a variety of treats. We had apricot cookies drizzled with chocolate, sugar cookies with icing, chocolate-peanut butter-cheeze its, and butterballs.

The two treats we made that night were spiced apple cookies and my childhood favorites, chocolate oatmeal cookies. One was a no-bake that you boil on the stove, and the other was a traditional cookie. I set up two stations on each side of the kitchen, and two people took the recipe and made the treats. And while the apple cookies were baking, we decorated about 1,000 sugar cookies and laughed and talked and enjoyed each other's company.

That's the thing about Southern women. We love to bake. We love to laugh. And we love to spend time together in each other's home. The sweet swap was a great night, and I look forward to many more nights in the kitchen with these gals!

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
From Bell's Best II Cookbook

Ingredients:
1/2 cup milk
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups quick oats

Directions:

1. Melt butter on medium heat in medium stock pot. Mix in milk, sugar and cocoa.
2. Bring to a slow, rolling boil for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla and oatmeal. Stir well.
3. Immediately spoon mixture onto wax paper. Move quickly before mixture sets.
4. Let cookies cool completely until set.

Spiced Apple Cookies
From The Naptime Chef

Ingredients:
½ cup shortening
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
¼ cup whole milk
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chopped walnuts
1 cup unpeeled apple, finely chopped

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Beat together shortening and brown sugar until full combined. Add egg and milk and mix ingredients well.
3. In a separate bowl combine flour, soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients, scraping down the sides as necessary, until everything is fully combined.
4. Stir chopped apple and walnuts into the batter with a wooden spoon.
5. Drop cookies by rounded spoonfuls about 2-inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with Silpat or parchment paper. Press the tops of the cookie down with your top two fingers so they are slightly flattened.
6. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies hold their shape and are slightly browned on the edges.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Recap (It's About Time)

So, returning to the office from Thanksgiving is not the easiest thing to do. Especially when your office/university is anticipating the announcement of a bowl game. And then gets a bowl bid. Allz I know is that working for a university alumni association and foundation who is going to a New Year's Day bowl game can be quite busy. But I'm super excited about spending New Year's in Jacksonville!

Thanksgiving was just as busy as work is right now. Thanksgiving Day I made a trip to south Mississippi to visit my dad's family. Then headed back up north/central to the family compound. Friday was grocery shopped, cooked, and I visited with my long-time friends to see their new baby. Saturday we hosted my mom's family at my parents' house, and an Egg Bowl party at my brother's new (and gorgeous) home. (I spent a lot of time bonding with J&L's dog that weekend.) Sunday was back north to my house for the outdoor Christmas decorating. And Monday back to the grind...Whew...it was a doozy!

Thanksgiving brought some new and old favorites to the table. Wednesday night I made the largest and most beautiful apple pie ever! It was amazing! And it tasted good too! Friday night I made a chocolate chip pecan pie, per the brother's request. I also made tamale dressing with cranberry salsa, three loaves of homemade bread and jalepeno popper dip on Saturday. (I told you it was busy!)

All in all, it was a very good Thanksgiving. I spent lots of time with my family, and enjoy way too much food. Can't wait for our Mexican Christmas to roll around!

Here are recipes from my Thanksgiving table:

For both pies, here's a link to The Pioneer Woman's Perfect Pie Crust. (I recommend using regular or butter flavored shortening. Tried both. Both taste great!)

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

Ingredients:
1/2 pie dough from above recipe, rolled out thin and laid in pie plate
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 to 2 cups pecan halves
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup (I only had light, and it was fine.)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle chocolate chips over bottom of pie crust lined pan; top with pecan halves. In small bowl, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, eggs, and vanilla; beat well. Pour over pecans. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream. Store in refrigerator.


Dulce de Leche Apple Pie
From closetcooking.blogspot.com

Ingredients:
6 cups of apples (cored, peeled and sliced)
1/2 cup dulce de leche
2 tablespoons apple cider
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 pie crusts (One full recipe from Pioneer Woman's link above)
1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon of water

Directions:
1. Toss the apples in the dulce de leche, cider and vanilla,
2. Mix the sugars, cornstarch, spices and salt in a large bowl.
3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients.
4. Fit one of the pie crusts into a 9 inch pie plate and pour the apples in.
5. Fit the remaining pie crust on top and brush with the egg white mixture.
6. Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 400F oven for 40 minutes.
7. Reduce to 375F, remove the foil and bake until golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.
8. Let cool completely before serving. (Alton Brown suggests at least 4 hours so all the apple juices and sugars can meld together.)


Jalapeño Popper Dip
From annies-eats.com

Ingredients:
2 (8 oz.) packages fat free cream cheese, softened
1 cup light or fat free mayonnaise
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 (4 oz.) can diced jalapeño peppers, drained
½ cup shredded Mexican style cheese
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, green chiles, jalapeños, and shredded cheeses. Mix thoroughly with a spoon or spatula until smooth and evenly combined. Spread the mixture into a baking dish (approximately 9 x 9-inches).

In a second bowl, combine the Panko and Parmesan and stir with a fork until combined. Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture in the baking dish. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the mixture is hot and the topping is golden. Serve warm with Fritos Scoops, baguette slices, vegetables, etc. as desired.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mostly Classic Lasagna

I have a confession to make. Those who read my blog that were with me tonight, its really not a big deal. And it all turned out in the end. But my confession is that I have never made homemade lasagna before today. That's right folks! Up until this point in my life, I have only ever eaten frozen. *gasp*

The thing about homemade lasagna is that it takes a long time. It's really tasty, but most of the time its just easy to make the frozen one. The other thing is that its usually not that low in the fat or calorie count. The recipe I cooked from today said the average serving of lasagna has 1,313 calories! THAT'S INSANE!!!! But there are ways to cut back on the bad stuff and make a delicious dish that is better for you.

The recipe I used was in Everyday with Rachael Ray. Below is my modified version. I added meat since we were eating with boys and boys tend to like meat. And by the way, Mrs. Ray said prep-time was only 45 minutes. Ummm....it took me a LOT longer than that! But the end result was fantastic!

Mostly Classic Lasagna

Ingredients:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb. ground turkey (I used beef tonight.)
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
salt and pepper
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
One 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes (I used the kind with basil.)
Nine 8-inch whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 cup fat free cottage cheese
1 egg white
shredded Parmesan cheese
Part-skim mozzarella cheese
Red wine (optional)
1 tbsp. parsley flakes
1 tbsp. oregano
Italian seasoning

Directions:
1. Season ground meat with Italian seasoning (to taste) and brown in a large skillet. Drain (if need be) and set aside in a medium bowl. Clean skillet because you'll need it again!

2. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in large skillet, and add half of the mushrooms. Salt and stir mushrooms and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of red wine and cook until mushrooms are soft (about 5 minutes). Add cooked mushrooms to meat and repeat process with the other half of the mushrooms. (Why cook only half at a time? Because Julia Child says you should NOT CROWD THE MUSHROOMS!!!!)

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and cook lasagna noodles to al dente. (About 8-10 minutes, but consult directions on package.)

4. Return skillet to heat and pour in 1 tbsp of olive oil and chopped garlic. Cook garlic on medium-low for about 1 minutes. Add tomatoes, parsley, and oregano, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until sauce thickens up. Add 3/4 cup of tomato sauce to meat and mushroom mixture and set aside.

5. In a food processor or blender, puree cottage cheese, egg white, and 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

6. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish and spread just enough tomato sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish. (About 1/2 to 3/4 cup.) Lay three lasagna noodles across bottom of pan. Then layer 1/2 each of meat and mushroom mixture, cottage cheese mixture, and a light layer of mozzarella cheese. Lay three more noodles down, and repeat meat/mushrooms, cottage cheese, and mozzarella. Lay the last three noodles down and top with remaining sauce.

7. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake for about 10-15 more minutes, or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let rest for about 10j-15 minutes to let lasagna set.

Side suggestions: Salad, garlic bread, green beans

Other suggestion: Don't let a man cut the lasagna to serve. The pieces will end up being about 4 normal serving sizes large! : )

Happy cooking!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Do you know its Christmastime, oh yeah!

Christmas is one of my most favorite times of year. It magical and beautiful, and you get to decorate your house in bright lights and beautiful jewel tones! I love it! And yes, its also a time for family, friends and celebrating our Lord's birth. (Even though he was probably really born during springtime. But here's why we celebrate His birth in December.)

Another thing about Christmas that I love (besides baking fun goodies) is the music. I love Christmas music! I start listening to it the after Thanksgiving, and listen mostly to all Christmas tunes for the entire month of December.

There were also those songs that just meant a lot. In high school, we sang a song with the piano music being Canon in D, and the song and tune was The First Noel. My best friend Melissa and I reworked it for a piano and flute solo. She also played one year and I sang. I have so many great memories of with playing the flute or singing with my best friend accompanying me on the piano. I miss those days!

For several years in a row I would make Christmas mix CD's to give to my friends and family. There were pretty popular, and I really put a lot of thought and time into my song selection. Some of the songs were faves of mine, some were suggested by friends. But in the end, it was a great way to share my love of holiday music.

Do you have some Christmas tunes that mean a lot to you? Here are mine:

I do have a few favorite Christmas CD's: (in no particular order)
1. Mariah Carey - Merry Christmas
2. Sister Hazel - Santa's Playlist
3. Barenaked Ladies - Barenaked for the Holidays
4. Lee Ann Womack - The Season for Romance
5. Josh Groban - Noel
6. Bebo Norman - Christmas...From the Realms of Glory

I also have a few favorite Christmas songs:
1. The First Noel
2. Carol of the Bells
3. O Holy Night
4. Ave Maria
5. All I Want for Christmas is You
6. Man with the Bag
7. Baby, It's Cold Outside

And then I have the perfect Christmas mix:
1. The Amens – Brian Setzer Orchestra
2. Jesus Born on This Day – Mariah Carey
3. Frosty the Snowman – Fiona Apple
4. Jingle Bells – Brian Setzer Orchestra
5. 12 Days of Christmas – Punk Band???
6. Merry Christmas Baby – Bonnie Rait
7. Joseph’s Song?? – Mercy Me
8. Blue Christmas – Michael Buble? Brian Setzer?
9. I Pray on Christmas – Harry Connick Jr.
10. Jesus, O What a Wonderful Child – Mariah Carey
11. My Grown-up Christmas List – Michael Buble
12. Ave Maria – Rachel Lampa
13. The Merriest – June Christy
14. Let it Snow – Michael Buble
15. Count your Blessings – Diana Krall
16. Christmas, Baby Please Come Home – Mariah Carey
17. The First Noel – Jaci Valeasquez
18. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Coldplay
19. What are you Doing New Years Eve – Diana Krall
20. Auld Lang Syne – Barenaked Ladies


Sing a song of Christmas!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My favorite cookie in town

Bulldog Deli is a local establishment very popular with the kids. And the locals. They have great chips and rotel, potato salad and sweet tea. But they also make these really fantastic cookies called royales. They are chewy, sweet, crunchy and delicious! And it was quite hard to find a recipe similar to it. But...I did find one fairly similar that I tailored to make it work.

Yummy Royale Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup shredded coconut

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer (which I proudly now own thanks to a hand-me-down from my parents), cream shortening and butter. While still mixing, slowly add white sugar until combined. Add brown sugar until combined. Keep mixing until batter is fluffy.

Add one egg at a time, mixing well after adding. Pour in vanilla. Gradually add the dry, flour mixture while still beating. Mix until all of the dry mixture is incorporated.

Fold in chocolate chips, nuts and coconut, incorporating ingredients well. Spoon dough onto cookie sheet and loosely form into a ball.

Bake cookies until lightly browned. Approximately 15-17 minutes. It may help to under cook the cookies a bit to make them softer and chewier. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooking rack.

Yields approximately 4 dozen cookies.

___________________________________________________

One thing I haven't figured out is how to keep your cookies soft. I did cut the flour in the original recipe by 1/4 cup, but after the cookies cooled, they still were crispy. (I prefer really soft cookies, but they still tasted AWESOME!) If anyone has a tip on how to keep your cookies soft, I'm all ears! I thought about adding another egg, or more shortening, but I'm just not sure.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,

If you want to drop a wad of cash to pay for my home insurance, car insurance and car tag renewal, then it would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

About to be broke before the holidays....

Breakfast Burritos

One thing my family loves is breakfast. On the weekends, its one meal we can eat together on the compound. My dad is king of breakfast, and makes the most fantastic pancakes you have ever eaten in your life. Seriously. They are world reknown. : )

Each time my family comes to visit, I like to prepare different things each time. I like to experiement. Sometimes its sweet, sometimes its hearty. So far though, I've had no complaints!

This weekend my brother and I tag teamed and came up with a super fantastic breakfast burrito. It was really easy, fast, and left everyone wanting more. Here's what we did.

Ingredients:
Eggs (1.5 per person)
Shredded Cheese
Chopped bell pepper and onion
Home fries/Hash browns (chopped or quartered, not shredded)
Tortillas (We like the large burrito size)
Salsa
jalepenos
Oil
Butter
Salt and pepper

Directions:
Cook home fries according to directions on package. (We cooked them in a little bit of oil in a skillet.) Chop bell pepper and onion, and saute in oil and butter. Add salt and pepper for taste. Beat eggs in a small bowl and scramble on medium heat. Melt cheese on tortilla.

Assemble burrito by adding eggs first, home fries and vegetables. Top with desired condiments like salsa, jalepenos or salt and pepper.

Roll, serve and eat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Breaking News...

This just in. I have an idea. Saturday is going to be an all day, black bear themed feast. Why?

Because That School Up North is now the Black Bears.

And because we are going to beat them in the Battle for the Golden Egg.

How many black bear themed items can we come up with? So far, here's the list:

Black bear dip (aka...cream cheese rotel or man dip)
Blackberr Cobbler
Black Bear Cookies
Blackberr Bait (Substitute blackberries for blueberries)
Black Bear Pie Using No Black Bears
Black Bear Cake
Da Black Bears Roast

I could go on for days....I will have to narrow down my choices for Saturday night because after an all day family feast, we won't be able to eat THAT much during the game. But a girl can dream can't she....ha ha ha!

Go State! Beat That School Up North!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa....

All I want for Christmas are some Fiestaware ramekins (2 each in peacock, shamrock, scarlet, sunflower and tangerine) and a mini blowtorch. Then I could be a shaker, a baker, and a cream brulee maker! : ) Seriously though, I think I can find many uses for ramekins and a torch, and I probably won't even burn my house down! (I said probably. I didn't promise anything.) I've always wanted to make creme brulee....

Sincerely,

SMSA




Thanksgiving 101: A tale of two dressings

What’s the next step after making a turkey for Thanksgiving? Dressing! That’s right!

The first time I made homemade dressing was also the first time I baked a turkey. That day I hand chopped all of my ingredients. It took me like 47 hours because I’m not that quick with chopping. After that day, D bought me a mini-food processor. It has since changed my life, and I am forever grateful! : )

Most people like a traditional cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving. I’m a fan, and picky/somewhat of a control freak when it comes to making my dressing. Its actually a recipe my mother gave me several years ago, and in my opinion, it’s the best dang dressing you will ever eat in your life.

HOWEVER…when cooking for out Thanksgiving feasts, my father likes to make the dressing. And we do things differently. We use the same basic recipe, but he uses dry ingredients verses fresh. I prefer all of my herbs to be fresh in my dressing. You absolutely can taste the difference. And I’m not saying my dad’s dressing isn’t good. It’s very good. He is a very, very good cook. But…I will say I am partial to my own interpretation. Since that’s the case, I let him make the traditional cornbread dressing while I do a completely different version that is definitely far from traditional.

My dressing that I make for Thanksgiving every year now is a little bit of Texas and a little bit of Mexico. It is influenced by the 7 years I spent living out west. Not only did Texas play a huge role in forming who I am today, but it also had a great influence on my choice of foods. I like things a little bit hot and a little bit spicy, and therefore, my dressing is a bit of that.

Several years ago I learned how to make tamale dressing from a Dallas/Fort Worth news show. It is very similar to your traditional dressing, but uses crumbled tamales instead of cornbread. It is a bit of a risk, unless your crowd likes Tex-Mex. Which…mine does. So, I typically make it as an alternate to our traditional dressing. And top it with cranberry salsa…which is amazing.

Again, I stick to fresh ingredients. So, I use whole cranberries, jalapeños, fresh cilantro, etc. I think fresh vs. dry is the way to go. There is just so much more flavor there! And, the tamales add a little out of the box thinking to your typical southern Thanksgiving meal. It’s a nice change!

No matter what kind you choose, you have to have dressing with your turkey. We do both. If I picked one over the other, it would probably be the traditional cornbread dressing. But if you wanted to go Tex-Mex, then I would make a spicy turkey and season it with cilantro and lime juice! : ) I say use whatever herbs you use in your dressing to also flavor your turkey, or vice versa. Helps the two to compliment each other.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For the love of pumpkin...Part 3

Everyone loves pumpkin pie! Actually, I know that's not true. But most people love it. And, in all actuality, I didn't love pumpkin pie until several years ago. I made one because of my friend Scott's obsession with it. So, in order to appease my friends, I made one. And I was hooked. And now I love it a little too much. And no Thanksgiving is complete without a traditional pumpkin pie...

Traditional Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cloves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) Pumpkin Puree
1 can (12 fl. oz.) Fat Free Evaporated Milk
1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In medium bowl, combine sugar, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Beat eggs with a whisk in large mixing bowl. Stir in pumpkin and dry ingredients. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour mixture into pie shell.*

Bake pie at 425° F for 15 minutes. Then, reduce temperature to 350° F and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

*If you have extra mix after you pour into the shell, I typically put it in a ramekin to bake a mini pumpkin pie. No need for a crust. : )

Monday, November 15, 2010

Halloween snacks for the kiddos

I know this post is a little late, but I still wanted to put it up. First off, I have to give a shout out to my Internet/blog stalker who I met Friday night! HEEEEEYYYY!!!! I can't believe people other than Jana and April read my blog! Its kinda cool!

Halloween weekend I had the pleasure of hosting my sister's family in my home. Which means I had the cute little kiddos running around everywhere! : ) We got all dressed up , and went to the town fall fest Friday night. Will went as Diego (from Go Diego Go) and I was his precocious and youthful sidekick, Baby Jaguar. Pretty cute, huh?

Saturday we went to the park and lounged around the house before our football game that night. Whenever I hang with Will, I always try to encourage him to cook with me. Sometimes he goes for it. Sometimes he doesn't. Depends on his toddler mood of the day. On this particular day, though, he was willing to help me with lunch. So we made a cute and creepy version of hot dogs. Its a super easy treat to make with kids!

Mummy Dogs
Ingredients:
1 package of hot dogs (I prefer Bryan all beef juicy jumbos)
1 package of crescent rolls
Mustard

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll hot dog inside of crescent roll, and leave an opening for the eyes. Form crescent roll around the bottom and top of the dog to make sure it is covered. Place on cookie sheet and bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until crescent rolls are golden and crispy. Remove from oven and dot on mustard for eyes and mouth.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dear Santa...


Here's another new series of posts to be intermingled with the Thanksgiving ones. I'm calling it...Dear Santa. Figure that one out!

Dear Santa,

I have a lot of spices. I have a drawer these could go in. I would like approximately 4 sets of these. : )

Sincerely,

SMSA

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksgiving 101: It's all about the turkey

In my opinion, on of the greatest accomplishments one can do (as a cook) is to adequately prepare the Thanksgiving meal, from starters to dessert, all by yourself. I first attempted this my senior year of college. It was Thanksgiving Day. We had a football game that night. My family went to visit my dad's relatives, and I stayed at my house to prepare the meal. I did everything. Baked the turkey, made homemade cornbread dressing, made sides, baked an apple pie, everything. It took me ALL DAY LONG! But at the end of the day, it was quite delicious, and everyone enjoyed it.

So, over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to blog about my Thanksgiving meal adventures. Many of the recipes are already on the blog from year's past, but I will post again. I hope you enjoy!

First off is the turkey, the most important part of the meal. Growing up my family typically did a fried turkey (prepared by my mother's brother), so I always thought it was intriguing to try baking one. In my lifetime, I have bakes around 4-5 turkeys. I know that doesn't seem like much, but I am still young, and baking a turkey is kind of a big deal!

Your first step in turkey baking is choosing the right bird. You need to plan for 1-2 lbs. of meat per adult, which will leave ample leftovers. I would do 1/2-1 lb. per child. We will use my family as an example for this. We have 7 adults and 2 children in my immediately family. So, I would buy a 16 lb. turkey.

Turkeys, when purchased from your local grocery, are typically frozen. The preferred way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. You can submerge it in cold water, but the fridge is best. The turkey will need about 6 hours per pound to thaw, so a 16 lb. turkey will require about 3-4 days of thaw time in the fridge. Be sure to place it in a roasting pan or large plastic bowl before you place in your fridge. That way you avoid spreading any salmonella.

Now its time to prep the bird!

First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the turkey from its plastic wrapper, and unhook/unwrap/undo the feet. (They are usually fastened together by plastic, metal, or string. BE SURE TO CLEAN OUT THE INSIDE OF THE TURKEY! You will have a giblets bag, head, neck, etc. inside. You don't want to bake that in there!!! Some people save these things, but they gross me out so they go in the trash at my house! Do what you will...

Give turkey a good rinse, and don't forget to wash your hands and antibacterialize your sink when you are done!!! (Protect from germs!!!) Then place the turkey in a large roasting pan.

Now comes the fun part! Seasoning the bird!!! I use the same herbs that are required for my cornbread dressing. So, finely chop up fresh rosemary, thyme and sage. (About 2-3 tablespoons of each) Run your hand between the skin and the meat, and then rub in between the two layers. Wash your hands really good again!!!!

Take a generous amount of olive oil , a pastry brush and brush over the skin of the bird. Generously! Then rub remaining herbs on outside of bird, along with kosher salt and crushed black pepper.

Now its time to stuff your turkey. I don't think its super sanitary to eat anything inside a turkey, so I usually just put chunks of onion, garlic, celery and bell pepper inside the cavity. Then I toss them when done baking.

The key to baking a juicy, non-dry turkey is liquid. Pour 1 can of chicken broth into bottom of roasting pan to provide moisture while cooking. You may need to add more if it evaporates out. You will need to baste the turkey once an hour by taking a large syringe or baster to draw liquid from the bottom of the pan and squirt all over and inside the turkey. If your liquid is evaporating, then pour in more chicken broth.

A lot of times people use those pop up turkey times to gauge when done. The best thing to do is get a meat thermometer. You need to bake the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, and done push it through to the bone. That will affect the temp reading.

A turkey needs to bake about 1 hour per 2-3 lbs. A 16 lb. turkey will probably take about 5-6 hours. Again, it depends on the internal temp of the bird. Check it after about 4 hours in the oven, and see where you are on temp.

Once the turkey is finished, remove from oven and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes before carving. This is when I turn the project over to someone else. I mean...I'm just not fantastic with large knives. I do know you start with the breasts and work your way to the legs. Usually men are pretty good at this kind of thing...that's all I'm sayin....

Finally, you can take the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan to make some gravy. Do you know how to do that? Or do I need to explain it? I'll just let you figure that one out. Its like making any kind of gravy. : )

And there you have it folks....in 800 words or less....how to bake a turkey! Good luck! And no, you don't have to wait until Thanksgiving to try this one out!

Happy cooking!!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

On being a Bulldog and bleeding maroon...

Most of my readers know that I'm a Bulldog, through and through. From the time I was a child, I was wearing maroon and white and cheering on Mississippi State. My parents took us to a few games as kids. I distinctly remember going to a home game against Tulane and getting in trouble for booing the other team. And a trip to the Liberty Bowl around 1991-1992. I don't think visiting the campus made as much of an impression on my sister because she doesn't remember going to games! He he!

In August 1998, I officially became a Bulldog. I started out as a young 18 year-old, and graduated with my bachelor's degree in May 2002. The four years I spent at State were some of the best of my life, and I was fortunate to spend it with my best friends in the world, who also attended college here.

One especially fantastic year was 1999. I was a sophomore, and that fall something remarkable happened - we had a really, really good football team! In fact, we went 8-0 before losing a game! We also went to the SEC Championships that year, which we unfortunately lost.

During that season, I had the incredible opportunity to work for ESPN during one of our televised games. I was a broadcasting major, and we got paid $50 to be assistants. My job assignment was to help run cable for a camera on the Bulldog sidelines. I had an all access press pass to the stadium, and was on the sideline for the entire game.

The particular game I worked was Kentucky. It was cold that night, and I distinctly remember wearing my favorite pair of jeans and a navy J Crew pea coat. (Which I still have....) It was an exciting night, and instead of expressing it with words, I will share this video of the end of the game.



As you can see, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was right there as this unfolded. On the sidelines. With our team! Not 10 minutes before that field goal was kicked, Scott Westerfield looked over at me and winked. I was chatting it up with Kelvin Love and Fred Smoot on the sidelines! It is definitely a night I will never forget!

We play Kentucky tomorrow night at home. Last year we beat them in a thrilling game in their territory, and are pretty evenly matched against them this year. This is going to be a big game for us, because after have several terrible seasons in a row, we are finally on our way back up. We are 6-2, bowl eligible, and still have to face Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss in our last four games. (Quick soap box - SEC is THE HARDEST conference in the nation. Had to get that off my chest.) Its a BIG GAME for us, and I'm really excited about spending that time with my family.

I have been a Bulldog all my life. From childhood, to my college years, and now as an adult and employee of this great university, I have always been a Bulldog. And no matter what, win or lose, I will remain a Bulldog because I believe in this university, I believe in its people, and I believe in its purpose to educate our state. Having a good football team is just icing on the cake!

Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

For the love of pumpkin...Part 2

This could turn into a 14 part post if I'm not careful! : )

We had our bi-monthly staff birthday celebration at the beginning of October, and one of our secretaries made the most delicious pumpkin dip! It's cold, creamy, sweet and all around fantastic! This is a great tailgating treat during football season or appetizer for a family gathering! Definitely something you should add to your to-do list! : )

Pumpkin Dip

Ingredients
2 pkgs. Fat free cream cheese, softened
1 can pumpkin
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions
Whip cream cheese and pumpkin in large bowl until smooth. Stir in sugar and spices, mixing well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 at least hour. Serve with sliced apples, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, etc.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

For the love of pumpkin...

I love this time of year! Its one of my favorites! You know why?

Because we have football
Because I love the colors and smells of fall
Because it is guranteed that I will have lots of family gatherings
Because family gatherings ensure lots of baking needs
Because I get to change out the decorations of my house for various holidays
Because, because, because, because....
Because of the wonderful things [it] does....
(whoa...Wizard of Oz flashback there...)

But back to loving this time of year. One thing about this time of year is the abundance of pumpkin products available to the public. We have pumpkin coffee, pumpkin creamer, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cake, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin candles, pumpkin....everything. And as a lover of all things pumpkin, I especially enjoy this abundance.


So, last night, I ventured into the love of pumpkin with my baking, and ended up making pumpkin bran muffins. While watching the Cowboys lose. And about the time Romo broke his clavical, I put too much honey in my recipe. They turned out okay though! ; )

These are not sweet muffins by any means, but a somewhat healthier way to bake a muffin. If you don't like bran muffins, you will probably not like these. But I think they are quite tasty and a great way to start my day.

Because the recipe made nearly 2 dozen, I also froze two packages of them for later use. I debated on whether or not to freeze the baked
muffins or the batter, and ended up freezing the bread. If anyone can offer advice on freezing batter, please let me know!

The recipe came from www.verybestbaking.com, a great source for all of your baking needs! And since I called my mother, sister-in-law and solicited help via Twitter and Facebook...I have decided there needs to be a 24 hour help line for baking advice. Food Network, do you think you could take care of that? Because sometimes I have questions that my family cannot answer! Thanks!

Here's the recipe! Enjoy!

BestLife™ Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups wheat bran cereal
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup pure pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Directions
Preheat oven to 350º F. Place rack in the center of the oven. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine bran cereal, water and pumpkin and let sit for at least 5 minutes.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, honey, sugar and oil. Combine egg mixture with bran mixture and stir till smooth.

Mix in flours, baking soda and spices. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Put a scant 1/2 cup of batter into each muffin tin. Sprinkle with walnuts and bake for about 20 minutes till tops are brown and a toothpick tests clean.

Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Happy cooking!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Halloween Arts & Crafts

I got this great idea to make cat pumpkins from Good Housekeeping this year. I mean...who doesn't want cat pumpkins in their front yard? So, I set out to make them. Here was my process:

1. Find two regular pumpkins, 2 small pumpkins, and 4 tiny pumpkins.

2. Get some black spray paint, felt, hot glue, acrylic paint, ribbon, and sharp sticks.

3. Cut the stems off of the pumpkins, or get your neighbor to do it for you. (Don't judge. He offered.)

4. Spray paint pumpkins in black. Might take a couple of coats. Let it dry in between coats! : )

5. Once the black paint is dry, take the small pumpkin and stick it on top of the big pumpkin. (Difficult steps, I know.)

6. Take some kind of sharp stick and poke it through the top pumpkin into the bottom. I used small garden stakes. I took a hammer and just banged them right on down. I also stabbed myself with the sharp end in the process.

7. Take the tiny pumpkins and stake them into the bottom to make feet.

8. Get a light colored acrylic paint and make cat eyes. I used yellow.

9. Cut four ears out of felt. I outlined them in silver glitter puff paint. It made them real pretty.

10. Glue ears on top of small pumpkin in the place where ears go. Be very, very careful though! Hot glue on skin DOES NOT FEEL GOOD!!!! Don't learn this lesson the hard way.

11. Take ribbon and wrap it around the cat's neck. Don't choke it! Make it loose enough to breathe....And hot glue the two ends together in the back. But don't burn your finger. Seriously. Take. My. Word. For. It.

12. Set your cat pumpkins up in the yard, on the porch, or in the house. People will love them.

Meet Fritz. People love him.

Meet Hans. People like him too.


Fritz and Hans live in the front yard, and I think they are mostly happy. They watch over the bones of the last trespasser. God rest his soul. They also make sure no one messes with my witches cauldron. I have spells to conduct after all.



*Disclaimer - No cats were actually hurt in the process of making these. However, some pumpkins were. In fact, I don't think Hans will make it munch longer. His head is already rotting. Dang.



Thursday, October 7, 2010

To blog or not to blog...that is the question

Well, I may or may not start blogging again. What I do know at this point is:

1. I needed a new design. One that is simple and sleek.
2. I didn't need 2 blogs anymore, so I imported the other one and deleted it.
3. If I do start blogging "regularly again," it will not be daily. I'm just too busy for that.

I have been blogging for about seven or eight years now, and am probably on my sixth blog or something by now. When it was more of a hobby and fun, I was not working as someone who wrote professionally. Being a writer takes the fun out of blogging. And reading. Because its hard to get out of work mode and into casual mode. But we will attempt and see how much I can do and when.

I really wanted to start blogging again because I have a hilarious new project that I"m working on for Halloween. And last night, whilst spray painting black pumpkins in my front yard, I had a little assistance from my two engineering neighbors who circled my project and offered advice on how to really make it work. Pictures will come soon enough, but probably not until next week!

Anyway, this is just a quick note to say I'm going to give a go at blogging again. But you will see new things on SMSA's. It will not be solely on food and cooking anymore. Probably because I haven't been cooking as much lately. I know...but life has been busy and out of sorts for the last several months. Just deal! ; )

So...this blog will be about food, cooking, crafts, life, family, God, etc. Same name. New design. Some new topics.

Maybe people will read it. Maybe not. But it will be there...most likely.

peace love and cake

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Art of Being Neighborly

So, I live in a small town. So, I bake things for my neighbors. So, I'm really Southern. So what!

My sister made fun of me tonight because I baked a batch of brownies for my new neighbors. But, the thing is...I like to bake. AND...when you bake for your neighbors then eventually they might do things for you in return. Like move heavy things. Or kill snakes. At least...that's what I hope will happen in result of the brownies.

I had an idea the other night. I wanted some vanilla brownies. But with chocolate chips. And with cinnamon. But I couldn't find a recipe. So I googled a couple of things, and came up with this:

Vanilla Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Brownies

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla (I always use Mexican)
3 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10x15 inch pan. (If you don't have 10x15, use a 9x13, but you will need to bake longer.)

2. In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugars, cinnamon, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add 1 egg at a time, continuing mixing.

4. Slowly add flour mixture to batter and beat until well mixed. Fold in chocolate chips.

5. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake for 35-45 minutes.**

6. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. When cooled, cut into squares.


**Watch the brownies as you get near the end of baking. The top of mine started to get a little crunchy, but once it cooled, they cut fine.

______________________________________________

Ummm...these brownies were pretty darn good! Very rich, but good! And I might add a little more cinnamon next time to bring out that flavor. Or some nutmeg. Something to spice it up though.

I think the neighbors were impressed. You know, it never hurts to sweeten them up! I may need their muscles in the future!

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On fudge and love and remembering

I haven’t blogged in a while, on either site, if you (my three readers) haven’t noticed. I’m a writer by day, and though I love it in my pastime, it’s usually more…emotional and personal when it’s not for work. But yesterday I found the strength to post this, in an edited version, which was written at the end of May. Get out your box of Kleenex’s!
____________________________________________

Ever since I was a child, I have loved to cook. I honestly can’t remember how early I started cooking, or who first introduced me to cooking. It was probably my mother, who comes from a long line of great cooks. I’m sure I helped her back a cake or cookies or something, and somehow just took it on as one of my favorite things to do.

One of my earliest memories is baking around the holidays with my Mamaw (mother’s mom) and my Aunt Gloria (mom’s older sister). We would get together at my grandparent’s house and make all kinds of goodies like chocolate covered everything, buckeye balls, Martha Washington balls, divinity, etc. We would spend an entire day making candy and getting ready for whatever family holiday was to follow.

I have fond memories of the times spent in the kitchen with my aunt and Mamaw. They taught me a lot about baking, measuring, and the science of cooking. (Like how you should make candy on a crisp, cool day with no humidity. It sets better!) They also spent time investing in my life, showing me what it’s like to be family, to be a Christian woman, and to be good in the kitchen.

Every time we baked, we had our very own taste tester. My Papaw had a major sweet tooth, and would always sneak in and take a nibble of what we were up to. He was incorrigible when it came to the kitchen! We absolutely couldn’t keep him away from the candy, but that was okay because it needed to be tested anyway!

Papaw’s favorite homemade treat, or so I recall, was chocolate fudge. (His real favorite candy was chocolate covered cherries. The last thing I gave him was a box of those in the hospital.) Papaw was always a sucker for fudge. Anytime we made it, he came in and stole a piece, or two, or three... Sometimes he wouldn’t even let it set up properly before he stole a piece. I remember teasing him, and slapping his hand away, but always laughing because he was so silly and fun.

I have such good memories of those days with my grandparents. They really loved me and invested their lives in me, and I am so thankful for those times. I am thankful that I lived just a few miles away from them for most of my life, and that they were able to attend choir performances, plays, band recitals, soccer games, etc., etc. They took me camping, to ballgames, to the movies, to church, and were such an integral part of my childhood. I am thankful for their love and support of me over the last 30 years.

On June 6, my grandparents celebrated their 62 wedding anniversary. It’s remarkable to me to have been married so long. It was a blessing to witness how much they loved and cared for each other through the years. They continued to tease one another, flirt, hold hands, bat eyes, and act like two teenagers in love. They were sweet, and truly lived for the other. They showed me what it was like to love someone else unconditionally.


On June 6 my sweet, loving, adoring Papaw joined our savior in heaven. Mamaw was by his side holding his hand.

To say the last month has been hard is an understatement. I know grief is a process, and he is not the first person I have lost. But he is by far the most significant person in my life to go. I still get very sad at times when I think that I will never share a laugh, a hug, or a sweet moment with him. But at the same time I had 30 years of shared moments that will stay with me forever. I will always miss him, and I will always love him. I will always be thankful to our time spent together. And I look forward to one day seeing him again in heaven and worshiping our Lord for eternity.

My Papaw loved fudge. Plain, simple chocolate fudge. Every time I make it, I will think of him.

Love you, Paps!

Easy Chocolate Fudge
Adapted from the Eagle’s Brand Milk recipe

Ingredients
3 cups (18 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14 oz.) can Fat Free Sweetened Condensed Milk
Dash salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Wax paper

Directions:
Line an 8 or 9 inch square pan with wax paper. Slowly melt chocolate chips with the
sweetened condensed milk and salt in heavy saucepan. Be careful not to heat too quickly because it can burn. Remove chocolate mixture from heat and add vanilla. Spread evenly in prepared pan.

Chill fudge for 2 hours until it sets and is firm. Then remove the fudge by lifting the wax paper out of the pan. Cut into small, bite-sized squares with a knife.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Give me some sugar, daddy!


So, its kinda a running joke with some of my friends that I/we are "on the prowl" for a sugar daddy. Its a joke because:

1. Its kinda ridiculous to call myself "on the prowl" when I prefer staying home and hanging out with my friends, and not hitting up local bars and hot spots looking for men.

2. I live in a small town which has a limited number of decent, available men...MUCH LESS...rather wealthy, decent, available men.

Moving on....

So my sister emailed me, my mom, and my sister-in-law her dessert idea for our father's day cookout. Its called sugar daddy a'la mode. I asked her if it helps attract them, because I could use one. I mean...I am 30 and I am single! Its about time I settle down....right? *as I roll my eyes and sigh...*

Anywayz, it was funny. To me at least. Probably no one else. But I am known to laugh more at my own "jokes" than other people. At least it gave me a laugh! : )

The sister ended up making the gooey, scrumptious dessert, and it was a total hit with all the men in my family. Maybe I should find a boy and cook it for him and see if it works! Ha ha!

Sugar Daddy a la Mode
From E-mealz.com

Ingredients:
30 light caramels
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 pkg. Betty Crocker
German Chocolate cake mix
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup melted butter
1/3 cup milk
12 oz. bag chocolate chips

Directions: Melt caramels in evaporated milk. Set aside. Combine cake mix, milk and butter. Mix well. Add nuts. Pat 2/3 of dough into greased 9x13 pan. Bake 6 minutes at 350. Remove from oven. Cake will have risen but still be quite soft. Sprinkle chocolate chips over crust, then drizzle caramel mixture over melting chocolate. Drop remaining dough over top by spoonfuls. Return to oven and bake for 15 minutes or until set. Cool completely before cutting. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
(PS - That's my real "sugar daddy" up above! He's a pretty good one! I think I'll keep him.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Buttermilk Ice Cream

And they doubted me that it would taste good....

Last Saturday night I went home to visit the family and help my grandmother move. I ended up also cooking dinner for my parents, grandmother, sister, and kiddos. I made a thrown together version of the summery pasta that Jana and I cooked in Idaho last year. We used some of the vegetables my brother has been growing in his garden. (The compound really could be self-sustaining if it had to be. You can find fish and deer for meat (or cats, squirrels and raccoons if you are into that stuff), and eat corn, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, pears, squash, zucchini, etc. That's how we roll!

Anyway, for dessert I wanted a special treat, and since my mom had some fresh (from the market) strawberries and (grown by a friend) blueberries, I decided to make some homemade ice cream to go with them. I flipped through my mom's ice cream cookbook, and stumbled upon a buttermilk recipe. I'm always looking for ways to use the buttermilk I buy when I make banana bread, and this is a great follow-up to that!

Buttermilk Ice Cream
(Adapted from A Passion for Ice Cream cookbook.)

Ingredients:
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups buttermilk

Directions: Whisk together egg yolks, salt and 1/4 cup of sugar. Cook heavy whipping cream and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar on medium heat until almost simmering. Remove from heat, and slowly begin to temper eggs with cream mixture. As you add cream mixture into eggs, whisk and pour slowly in order to prevent "cooking" the eggs.

Return mixture to pan and cook on medium heat, stirring consistently with a wooden spoon or non-stick spatula. Use a candy thermometer to measure temperature, and continue cooking custard until it reaches 175 degrees and lightly coats the spoon. Strain custard into a medium sized bowl.

Fill a larger bowl with ice and water, and set medium bowl in the ice bath. Chill custard mixture in the ice bath for an hour or so. You can also put custard in fridge for four hours or overnight to chill.

When ready to put in ice cream mixture, stir in buttermilk. Then churn/freeze according to the manufacturer instructions of your ice cream machine. Serve immediately, or store in freeze. Top with fresh fruit or your favorite ice cream toppings.

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Side note: I totally rocked this ice cream! It was amazing! My family doubted the yumminess of buttermilk ice cream at first, but ended up LOVING it! Its a great treat for a summer holiday...such as...you know...4th of July!

Friday, June 18, 2010

A leave of absence

I'm taking a leave of absence. Its because I know what I need to write my next blog post about, for this one or the other one, and its going to be a hard post to write. Lots has happened over the last month, and my heart just isn't in it. But I will return soon, when I can muster up the courage and strength to write my tribute.

Friday, June 4, 2010

As American as Apple Pie

I DON'T HAVE TIME TO BLOG!

Correction: Usually at work I don't have time to blog...because I'M WORKING! And since I sit at a computer all day, the last thing I want to do is blog when I get home at night. Plus, I'm usually busy planting, weeding, mulching, baking, etc.

Last night I spent ALL NIGHT BAKING! It was kind of fantastic! I started out by making an apple pie for my new neighbors, then made dinner for me and my bro, followed by 2 loaves of banana bread. It was a long night. (But fun!)

My new neighbors moved in about a month ago, and I am just now getting around to meeting them. (Better than the 9 months it took for me to meet the other neighbors who ended up being introduced to me by a coworker.) They include a momma, a daddy, a three year old girl and a baby girl.

They moved into a house with a very neglected yard that was previously inhabited by a bunch a college kids. Since moving in, they have completely cut down all of the wild mess and are working to make the yard super beautiful. I can't tell you how happy this makes me! Before they moved in, I threatened to spray Round-Up on the yard in the middle of the night. It was that bad. Now its all gone, and its lovely!

I really like my new neighbors, so I made them an easy apple pie. I hope it tasted good, but here's the recipe:

Traditional Apple Pie

Ingredients:
3 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2-3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3-4 tbsp. butter, cut into small squares
1 frozen, 9-inch deep dish pie crust
1 flat (rolled) pre-made pie crust (You could just buy the flat kind and put one in a pie plate for the bottom and one on top)

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Once preheated, "prebake" bottom crust for about 5-10 minutes. Mix dry ingredients in bowl and set aside. Peel, core and slice apples and set in a bowl. If desired, sprinkle with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Mix dry ingredients with apples and pour into pie crust. Place butter squares on top.

For top crust: Roll out flat pie dough and slice (with pizza slicer or knife) into long strips. Lay strips on top of crust in a basket weave pattern. Pinch top crust to connect to bottom crust. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top, if desired, for a little added sweetness.

Bake at 375 degree for 30-45 minutes.

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Now, last night I did not use the basket weave pattern. I arranged the strips on top of each other to form a starburst pattern. I know, I should have taken a picture. I have also used a solid piece of dough on the top before, and cut little teardrop holes in it for a design. You can get really creative with your top crust.

I also use a pie crust shield to protect my edges from browning too quickly or burning. These cost just a few dollars, and are available at most home goods stores.

The recipe above was a first for me. I had never made this one before, and I hope it turned out okay. I looked really good! I guess my neighbors will tell me? Or not? Ha ha! However, I do have a "never fail" apple pie recipe that I typically make. It came from the Bell's Best Cookbook (I think in # 1, because I don't have that one, and I have it hand written in the front of # 2.)

In case you aren't from Mississippi, every true Southern cook I know has a set of Bell's Best Cookbooks. They are by the local AT&T Pioneers. I have #2 & #3. My mom has the first 3, and my grandmother has at least the first 2. My mom's books are so used that the pages are stained, falling out and the book is being held together by a rubberband. She's gotten her money's worth out of those! The Bell's Best cookbooks taught me how to cook when I was a kid!!! All of the first recipes I made came from one of them. Its like the Mississippi version of the Joy of Cooking! Trust me! Its a good investment!!!

You can view my Bell's Best Dutch Apple Pie recipe here.

If you want to buy a Bell's Best, go here. I think I need to get # 1 and # 4 to round out my collection...

What's your favorite cookbook?

(Side note...since we are on a cookbook kick, I met with a new vendor yesterday and his company prints a bunch of cookbooks. He asked if I liked to cook, and I said..."Uh...yes!!!" He's going to send me some samples! YEAH!!!! I can't wait!)


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quiche: It's what's for dinner...

**Update on quiche - I used 1/2 chopped onion and 1/2 chopped bell pepper. It was good! There were TONS of veggies in it, and the egg spilled over the side a bit. But, I did make it all fit in a 9-inch crust!

I have a good friend named Gwen. We met in seminary. We grew up about 15 miles from each other, attended college 2 hours from each other, but never met until adulthood. Gwen and I have been through a lot of life changes together. Through thick and thin, she has been a good friend to me. Though we live over 500 miles apart, our friendship that began 8 years ago is still going strong.

A year or so after I met Gwen (who lived with Jana who I met at orientation), she introduced me to Jennifer and Mayeli. They all worked in the library together. We enjoyed eating lunch or dinner, and playing games. Throughout my time in Texas, I became close friends with these three girls. They are all amazing women, Christians, and friends. Oh, and they are all married. I'm the only one who is not.

Several weeks ago I went to Gwen's house, and the four of us were reunited for the first time since I moved. Gwen made a quiche and salad for dinner, and we laughed and talked and played our dirty word game, Linkity. Despite the fact that I was on the verge of coming down with a terrible chest cold…it was an amazing time!

In honor of my lovely hostess and dear friend, Gwen…I am posting my version of the spinach quiche she made. It was fantastic! I’m also passing a long a salad dressing recipe that she gave me. I was going to make this for my brother last week, but he’s not a fan of quiche…so…this is going to be my Dancing with the Stars finale dinner meal. Sounds like a winner, eh?

Miss you Jenn, Gwen, and…Mayeli!



Spinach Quiche

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1.5 cups sliced mushrooms
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 (6 ounce) package crumbled feta cheese (Garlic & herb flavor if you can find it)
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 unbaked deep dish pie crust (9 inch)
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
Italian seasoning to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion in butter until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, feta and 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese. Season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Pour mixture into pie crust.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pastry shell, allowing egg mixture to thoroughly combine with spinach mixture. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from oven. Sprinkle top with remaining Cheddar cheese,
and bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes, until set in center. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Spring Poppy Seed Salad

Salad Ingredients:
1 bag spring mix salad
1 can mandarin oranges or 1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
red onion slices

Poppy Seed Dressing:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup light olive oil
1 tsp. poppy seeds
1 tsp. sesame seeds

Directions: Prior to dinner, mix all salad dressing ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. For dinner, mix all salad ingredients in a bowl and toss with dressing, or serve dressing on the side.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy birthday to all my girls!

May 20th is a very important and special day to me. Last year on May 20th, this chick entered my life:
I love her a lot. She's pretty cute!

This weekend we are celebrating her first year of life with cupcakes and kabobs. I also bought her a tutu.

May 20th is also special because 10 years ago I became a mommy! Not a REAL mommy...but a pet-owner mommy! Our family cat, PC, had a litter of kittens, and I kept two of them...Josephine and Juliet.
They are my little cuddle munchkins. My family loves their pets a lot, and these girls have hung with me through two houses, three apartments, two states, two diplomas, around 10 jobs (only 3 professional), and countless milestones over the last 10 years. I love them lots!

To all my girls, happy birthday! I'm glad they are all in my life!

Monday, May 17, 2010

All about the pineapple

I haven't blogged in a while. I've been busy. And out of town. And sick. And then doing loads and loads of laundry. And sick of the computer. I'm sorry.

I did make a pie this weekend. I made my great-grandmother's pineapple pie for my neighbors. I gave it to one of them, with the disclaimer that I took a chance on the pineapple and coconut combo. I know they don't like nuts. I don't know how they feel about coconut. I'm still getting to know the neighbor boys.

The recipe makes two pies, so I had a piece of the other one last night. It was good....not the BEST pineapple pie I have ever made. (It needed more lime or lemon juice.) But it was still good.

So, since I haven't blogged. And since I'm lazy. I'm just reminding you about my grandmother's pineapple pie recipe...

Also, if you like pineapple, I saw the following recipe on Food Network several years ago. This is an amazing summer dessert! Especially if you love fresh pineapple. And rum.

Grilled pineapple with ice cream and rum sauce
(From Food Network.com)

Ingredients:
1 (3 to 4 pound) pineapple
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rum
1 pint light vanilla ice cream

Directions:
Cut the top and bottom off of the pineapple, peel and cut it crosswise into 8 rings, about 1/2-inch each. Use a spoon or apple corer to carve out the center core of each ring.

Spray a large grill pan with cooking spray and heat over a medium flame. Grill the pineapple, in 2 or 3 batches, for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until it is nicely brown and grill marks have appeared. (You can also grill this on an outdoor grill sprayed with cooking spray before being heated.)

While the last batch of pineapple cooks, heat the butter, sugar and rum in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Place a pineapple ring on each plate, scoop 1/4 cup of ice cream into the center of the ring, and drizzle about 2 teaspoons of sauce on top.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Five O'Clock Friday: Special Cinco de Mayo Wednesday Edition...oh, and some cookies

Today is a special day for our neighbors to the south. Its Cinco de Mayo, or Battle of Puebla day. As the northern neighbors, we Americans feel like it is our duty to celebrate another nation's holiday, probably because it gives us an excuse to eat massive amounts of chips and salsa and drink margaritas.

None-the-less, it is a holiday that even we in Mississippi like to celebrate. I mean, I can understand celebrating in Texas. There are lots of Mexican immigrants that live there. But, in Mississippi, the only folks I know celebrating Cinco de Mayo have no Mexican heritage what-so-ever. But that doesn't matter. We still get to drink tequila!

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I made sugar cookies with a lime glaze last night. Talk about yummy! (I also made Joy the Baker's oatmeal pecan chocolate chip cookies. Find the recipe here - http://www.joythebaker.com/blog/2010/04/oatmeal-pecan-chocolate-chip-cookies/.)

I also wanted to post a make-shift recipe for a drink that one of my coworkers introduced me to - the margaveza. They used to serve these at The Grill, but last time I asked, it was off the menu. Basically its just a half and half mix of margaritas on the rocks and Dos Equis beer. Its worth trying!

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Have a great May 5!

Margaveza

How to make the margarita:
According to Tyler Florence, the basic margarita is a 3:2:1 ratio of tequila, triple sec and lime juice, respectively. That seems a big strong, but here are some different ways to mix your pitcher of margaritas.

Method 1: Pour 3 cups of white tequila, 3/4 cup of triple sec, and fresh squeezed juice from about 14 limes in a pitcher. Stir well.

Method 2: Mix 1 cup of white tequila, 1 cup of triple sec, 1/2 cup each of fresh squeezed lime and lemon juice in a pitcher. Add zest of 1 lemon and 1 lime, and mix with 1/3 cup of simple syrup (see below). Stir well! You may need to strain it as you pour into each individual glass.

For the simple syrup: Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water. Boil until sugar is dissolved. Chill before you add to margarita mix.

Method 3: (The 3:2:1 method) Pour 3 cups of tequila, 2 cups of triple sec, and 1 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice in a pitcher. Add simple syrup and mix well.

To make a margaveza:
Fill glass halfway with Dos Equis beer. Top off with the margarita mix. Stir and serve with a lime wedge for garnish.

Sugar Cookies with Lime Glaze:
Adapted from recipes by Paula Deen and Rachael Ray

Cookie Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 sticks of softened butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Directions: In a bowl, cream together the sugar and butter, then mix in the egg and vanilla and almond extracts. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cream of tarter and cinnamon. Mix the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, then cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spoon out a quarter to half dollar sized piece of dough, roll into a ball, and flatten to about 1/4 of an inch thick. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 9-12 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

Lime Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon (or so) milk
grated peel of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime (or so)

Directions: Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until sugar is dissolved and glaze is smooth. I had to add a splash more of milk and lime juice to get the right consistency for drizzling.

Once cookies are cooled, drizzle glaze over top of cookies with a spoon or spatula. Let the glaze dry/set before serving.

Happy cooking!