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.


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

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)

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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


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. took me a LOT longer than that! But the end result was fantastic!

Mostly Classic Lasagna

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

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

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


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?