Friday, July 31, 2009

Italian Penne Pasta Salad

Oh my, this last week seems like a whirlwind!! We are getting ready for my Mother-in-laws birthday party this weekend (you'd think I was inviting the queen the way I'm acting. Oh, wait - I AM inviting the queen!! LOL!!), I've got the last push of my decluttering/organizing going, housecleaning I didn't do during swim team championships, and sadly, we had an unexpected death last week. A close friend of my husband's and business associated was killed last Sunday in a motorcycle accident. His children were friends with my children and they had gone to baseball games together. Our entire family was devastated. So with all this, I just haven't been my same "bloggy" self - sorry about that!!
I did make the My Girl Paula! Basil Chicken, but my heart wasn't in it and I don't think mine turned out very good. It got an "alright" from the family, but they were pretty down too, so maybe that was more the issue. After looking around at all the photos (major yum!!) of everyone's chicken, I think I'll have to give it another try. Not like that recipe is very "diet" friendly, though!! ;)
So, at my last post I said I would share my Italian Penne Pasta Salad. This one is Tried N True!! It is a favorite of my husband and his entire office staff. I've been known to make it for them when they are on a deadline and have to eat lunch in (heave forbid!!). I suppose the highest compliment is when they say it's good enough to sell in a fancy restaurant! I personally think it's better than restaurant food!!
I made this last Wednesday for my son's swim team awards banquet. You know the drill - People with last names ending in A-K bring a side dish. People with last names ending in L-Z bring a dessert. Seriously, I've been a side dish person my whole life!! I might just get daring and switch ranks one day on a whim!! LOL! I love bringing this dish because it makes a ton (which has never stopped us from eating it all), and it always gets requests for a recipe. Even last Thursday I got an e-mail from the coach's wife asking for the recipe (how cool is that!?!). I like to make it with my favorite chicken marinade if I remember to start a day or two ahead. In this case I was pressed for time, so I used my second favorite marinade and it turned out fantastic. This recipe comes from the Marzetti Salad Dressing website. Marzetti's is headquarted here in Columbus, so it's a popular brand at the grocery. If you are unable to get the same brand, look for a creamy Asiago dressing.

Italian Penne Pasta Salad

1 bottle Marzetti Asiago Peppercorn Salad Dressing

1 lb penne pasta, cooked, cooled

1 1/2 lb grilled chicken breasts

8 oz Feta cheese, crumbled

16 oz Kalamata olives, pitted and halved (or sliced)

1 t oregano or Italian seasoning

6 sundried tomatoes, packed in oil - rinsed and chopped

2 medium roasted sweet red peppers from a jar, sliced thin

Begin with 1 cup of salad dressing, and combine with all the rest of the ingredients. Stir to coat. If pasta salad seems too dry, add more salad dressing. Serve and enjoy!!

***Tomorrow's Post: Dried Fruit Scones***

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paula Deen's Broccoli Salad

This is the first year I've had a vegetable garden, and it's been quite a challange for me. As you read my posts over the next several weeks, you'll come to understand just how ignorant I am about vegetables! Here's an example: I had no idea that broccoli produced flowers. If I had harvested my broccoli on time, I should still be as ignorant!! LOL!! I guess it makes sense, "broccoli flowerets" - flowerets has the word "flower" in it (am I making any sense??). Well anyway, I went out one morning to check my garden and there they were!! Honest, they weren't there the day before!! I quickly cut out my two heads of broccoli and brought them inside.
One thing I discovered is that the broccoli heads didn't get as big as the ones at the grocery store. I'd say they were about 1/2 the normal grocery store size. I didn't fertilize at all this year, so that could have been the reason. So now I had two heads of broccoli and needed to do something with them. I started looking at some recipes online and found a good one for Paula Deen's Broccoli Salad. It was a warm day, and I didn't feel like standing at the stove, so this was a good alternative. And we were grilling out that night, so this would be a nice side dish. After rinsing and trimming off the flowers, here is what my cut up broccoli looked like:
As you can see, it is just slightly yellow and some of the flowerets are not quite as compact (meaning, they were kind of spindly). This means I took too long to cut the head. I was probably off by about a day or two. Oh well, live and learn! Paula's recipe called for 6 - 8 slices crumbled cooked bacon, but I substituted Hormel's real bacon bits. Also, her recipe had cubed cheddar, and I substituted blue cheese, and added sliced sundried tomatoes for the cherry tomatoes (this was on the fly, so I used what I had on hand!) After putting that all together, here is what the dry part of the salad looked like:

For the dressing, you combine mayonnaise, white vinegar and sugar:Combine the dressing and the broccoli, and "WaLa!" - Broccoli Salad!! :)

This was an excellent side dish to a grilled dinner - a little sweet and sour. The homegrown broccoli was excellent - not as tough as grocery store broccoli and a little more flavorful. So for not knowing how to grow broccoli, and realizing last minute I needed a broccoli recipe, this was excellent and a keeper. Everyone in my family loved it and we had some leftover for the next evening! Here is the recipe with my modifications to the side. Hope you enjoy!!

Paula Deen's Brocccoli Salad

(with my adaptations for items on hand!!)

1 head broccoli

6 - slices cooked bacon, crumbled (I used 1/2 package Hormel Bacon Bits)

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/2 cup raisins, optional (I used golden raisins for their sweetness)

8 oz sharp Cheddar, cut into very small chunks (I used a handful or two of crumbled blue cheese)

1 cup mayonnaise

2 T white vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes (I used 1/2 cup thinly sliced oil packed sundried tomatoes, drained and rinsed)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim off the large leaves from the broccoli stem. Remove the tough stalk at the end and wash broccoli head thoroughly. Cut the head into flowerets and the stem into bite-size pieces (I only used the flowerets). Place in a large bowl. Add the crumbled bacon, onion, raisins if using, and cheese. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, stirring well. Add to broccoli mixture and toss gently. Serve and enjoy! (That last line was my comment!!)

***Tomorrow's Post: Italian Penne Pasta Salad***

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shopping Spree

My mom use to go on shopping sprees for shoes. I remember her telling me, if my foot can fit in the shoe, then I just had to have it! LOL!! Well, I'm not quite that bad, but I do have a "thing" for spices. I don't have a "spice rack", I have a "spice cabinet" - yep 8 slide out drawers devoted to just spices!! I guess it's somehow genetic - oh well!
So last weekend I found myself with about an hour of free time - what to do? No kids, no laundry, no emergencies - I was basically helpless for a few minutes! But then it came to me: Penzey's Spices!! I beelined over to their store and for the next 45 minutes I roamed around studying all the unusual herbs and spices in those pretty little glass containers - I was beside myself!!
One of my favorite things to do is find an unusual spice, then begin "googling" it to find recipes. You'd be surprised what you can find and the tangents it will lead you on. Granted, this is only done when I have time (LOL!!), am bored (ha! never a dull moment around here!), or just plain lazy and don't want to do housework (you're best bet!!). Here are a few quirky spices I'm looking forward to working with in the next few months:
This was one of my more unusual finds. The back of the bottle says to simmer 1/4 cup of seeds in 1/2 cup corn oil or shortening for ten minutes, filter out seeds, then store oil in a clean jar. Gives a natural yellow color and flavoring to rice, seafood, fried chicken, fish, stews and casseroles. Here's another one that is a little different. The bottle reads, "Use for grilling or braising pork, beef and rabbit. Also for making poultry stews with wine, meat pies, and pork sausages. Add to white sauces, cream soups, and egg dishes." Well, I doubt I'll be fixing up any rabbit soon, but I did like something different to add to cream based soups and egg dishes, which I make a lot.
Exactly why do I think I need two types of paprika? Good question! I like the Smoked Spanish Paprika for grilling whole split chickens (I'll try to get to that post sometime soon!), and the traditional Hungarian Sweet Paprika for any dishes calling for "paprika". The sweet paprika doesn't have as much "bite" to it and gives a more subtle taste. I know many people haven't heard of Fleur de Sel, which translates from the French to "Flower of the Salt". It is a specialty salt mined by hand during a short period of time each year off the French Coast. Sometimes you can get it in different colors (pinks, sometimes a shade of blue - very rare), but mostly the white, which really has a tinge of gray. It is a wonderful salt to add at the very end of cooking, just before serving. This is not a salt to add to your cooking, since it doesn't hold up very well. One recipe I have that uses Fleur de Sel is a Christmas carmels recipe that is very good. Once August comes around, and we start thinking "back to school", I get a good hankering for bratwurst. No, I don't make my own, like this seasoning suggests. While you can make your own with this, I like to use it to make a broth to boil my bratwurst in first. Bratwurst seasoning and some fennel seeds, simmering in a pot of apple cider, make a great broth for the traditional bratwurst. Simmer about 20 minutes, then drain and grill your bratwurst. They plump up and have a delicious flavor!
Yep, pizza seasoning and pasta sprinkle - is there really a difference? Well, I think so. The pizza seasoning is a little stronger and is best sprinkled on an actual pizza, just before baking. The pasta sprinkle will be used to make my spaghetti/pizza sauces. After doing some research, I've discovered the best way to make these sauces is to first cook down my ripe tomatoes into almost a paste and freeze. When I want to make a spaghetti/pizza sauce, I'll use some of the cooked down tomatoes with this sprinkle and add ground beef, sausage, etc. I think I'll be using a lot of sprinkle this winter!! Here are some dried Ancho Chili Peppers. For several years now I've wanted to enter a local chili cook off, but just haven't been able to. Well, this is going to be my year - and these chilies are going to be my secret weapon! I'm going to dress my boys up in ponchos, sombreros and give them some morocco's to dance around my table - I'm a "shoe-in"!! LOL!! I know, dehydrated red and green bell pepper flakes don't seem unusual, but this photo doesn't do them justice. These are simply stunning!! Add a little water and it's magic - you've got wonderful red and green bell peppers, already diced up, to add to meatloaves, stews, you name it. They are even good in salads, just not as crunchy. My husband doesn't like green peppers, but he likes these. I think it's because the flavor is more intense and not as watery. In addition, I got some specialty salts, taco mixes, and some rib rubs. Basically, if it was a spice, I bought it! LOL!! I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in my family!! ;)
***Tomorrows Post: Paula Deen's Broccoli Salad and a post about my home grown broccoli!***

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Girl Paula! - Gorilla Bread

Well, if you're watching your weight, this recipe isn't for you!! Cream cheese, sugar, brown sugar and butter - oh my! It is very rich and ends up making quite a bit.
Basically, this was pretty easy to put together. You just press out the biscuits, add a piece of cream cheese and some cinnamon sugar, fold up and place in a greased Bundt pan. When finished, mine looked like this:
After baking for 30 minutes I removed it from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes. Place a plate on top of the Bundt pan and flip. To my surprise (and relief!) it popped right out! I was afraid the brown sugar and butter mixture would have made it stick. It formed a pretty "wreath" shape that I just put in the middle of the table and let every take what they wanted.
I was a little worried at first that the "undersides" of the biscuits didn't bake all the way. They sort of looked "doughy". But after trying one, we realized the cream cheese just kept them soft and they were completely baked.
My one son, who is ADHD and craves sugar, couldn't get enough of these. We finally had to cut him off and make sure he ate some bacon and eggs! Everyone else had 1-2 pieces and seemed very satisfied. The problem is there is a lot left over, which I ended up throwing away since it just won't keep and I'm getting a little tired of feeding all my neighbors!! ;) If you'd like a copy of the recipe, then click here.
So, my verdict: This is a good recipe if you are feeding a lot of people. Perhaps in a potluck or a school/church brunch. I have a mini Bundt cake pan, and I'd like to convert it over to that to try to keep the portions under control. While I liked it a lot, I'd have to say I'll probably stick to my original Monkey Bread recipe for my waist (and thighs!) sake!!
***Note: I'll be taking the next several days off due to my son's swim team championships - see you Thursday!!**

Saturday, July 18, 2009

For All You Harry Potter Fans - Butterbeer!

To honor the first weekend of the new Harry Potter movie - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - I thought I would share a summertime version of Butterbeer. If you've never heard of Butterbeer, chances are you're not really a Harry Potter fan. Butterbeer is a fictional drink that has appeared in all the Harry Potter movies. It is usually served in the village of Hogsmead to both the wizards and house elves. While it "warms" the wizards, the house elves have been know to get quite inebriated!! This recipe is a cool, summertime Butterbeer, with no alcohol, if you want a more adult friendly version, try butterscotch snaps!!

Summertime Butterbeer

This recipe is per individual serving.

8 oz ginger ale or cream soda (we like cream soda)

2-3 T butterscotch syrup

Mix in a tall glass and serve over ice.

If you are in the mood for a hot and frothy Butterbeer, give this one a try.

Hot, Frothy Butterbeer

2 1/2 cups of milk

2 T brown sugar

1 t vanilla

1 teaspoon butter

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredient. Blend with a small hand mixer to make it frothy. Bring the mixture to almost boiling. Pour into mugs and serve.

If you are considering a Harry Potter themed party anytime in the near future, head on over to Madam Rosmerta's site. She has recipes for melon brains, chocolate covered frogs, and mini dino eggs!! Enjoy!!
***Tomorrow's Post: My Girl Paula! Gorilla Bread***

Friday, July 17, 2009

Marinated Grilled Chicken Dinner Salad

This is my new Weber charcoal grill - I just love it!! We had a charcoal grill when we first got married, but decided to get a gas grill about five years ago. A friend of ours owned a patio and hearth shop, and talked us into a very expensive gas grill. We both hated the thing. After doing some research, and watching a lot of Food Network shows, we decided to go back to the Weber. It seems the old kettle design just can't be beat!! If you're in the market for a good charcoal grill, I give the Weber Performance 5 stars!!
This recipe, for marinated grilled chicken, is pretty "tried-n-true" in our home. I probably make it a couple of times a month in various forms - kabobs, summer salad, with rice and vegetables - you name it. There's no real recipe, more just a method. So, Step #1: The Marinade: I love this marinade. I have several that I like that I make myself, but this one is awesome to just "have on hand" to whip together. It's McCormick's Grill Mates Baja Citrus. McCormick's makes other blends, but this one, in my opinion, it the best. Recently my grocery store ran a "10 for $10" special on the Grill Mates marinades - so lets just say I have enough to see me through Christmas!! LOL!! The chicken doesn't have to marinate all that long - maybe 30 minutes - which is a big help if you're running late. Just follow the basic directions on the back of the label, which is to mix the marinade with 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 Tablespoons water and 2 Tablespoons plain vinegar. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Place in the refrigerator about 30 minutes, as you begin to prep the other parts of the meal. If I'm going to make kabobs, I usually cube the chicken before I marinate it, so all the sides get coated. Step #2 - Grill Chicken Here's a picture of the chicken breast almost finished. Just grill as you normally would chicken breasts. For the Weber, that means grilling over indirect heat, maybe about 20 minutes total. I like to make sure the breast reaches an internal temperature of about 177 degrees. 180 degrees is considered done, but the breast will continue to cook after you take it off the grill a little.
Once you take the breast off the grill, allow it to cool for about 5 minutes to seal in the juices. In this recipe I sliced the breasts and added to a basic dinner salad. I like a Ranch dressing with crumbled blue cheese, but I'm sure this chicken would be equally as good with an Italian dressing too. My kids ate the chicken sliced and dipped in (yuck!) ketchup!! LOL!! Hope you enjoy!!

***Tomorrow's Post: Celebrating Harry Potter With Some Kid Friendly Butterbeer***

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Barbecue Cups - Here's One For the Kids!

My husband is off in Canada fishing this week. I'm happy because Canada doesn't let you bring back the fish you catch (they're kind of touchy about their fish, I guess!). But that means I won't have a whole week next week fixing fish! I guess that's what you call a "Win-Win"!!
So, this week my meals have been a little easier and "kid friendly". Of course, my three-year-old will only eat chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and yogurt - not much planning there! But for my older two I'm trying to make some of their childhood favorite recipes. One of those is barbecue cups. I found this in a cookbook years ago, and mysteriously the cookbook is now gone. I highly suspect my husband is slowly selling my cookbooks on E-bay to support my cookbook purchasing fetish! LOL!!
This recipe is very simple, and similar to sloppy joes, only in a biscuit. I had a hard time finding 10-count biscuits this week, so I used the Grands 8-count and divided them in half. I think they turned out just fine. They are very good served with Tater Tots or French Fries.
Barbecue Cups
1 roll of 10 refrigerator biscuits
1 lb hamburger
1/4 c brown sugar
2 t mustard
3/4 - 1 c barbecue sauce
1/2 c chopped onion, if desired
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 c shredded Cheddar cheese
Grease muffin tins and heat oven to 25 degrees. Brown hamburger and drain off excess grease. Add all other ingredients to taste except the cheese. Add 1 biscuit in each tin and spread out to form a cup. Divide meat mixture into each cup. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. As soon as taking them out sprinkle cheese on each cup. Serve immediately.
***Tomorrow's Post: Marinated Grilled Chicken Dinner Salad***

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What To Do With 12 Egg Whites

So, here I sit with 12 egg whites after making buttermilk ice cream - it presents a dilemma! After a little "googling", I discovered an article on that has tips for using egg whites. It's pretty interesting - everything from angel food cakes to pear souffle. Egg whites can easily be frozen, either individually in ice cube trays, or in mass in a freezer bag. Just defrost in the refrigerator, and you are ready to go. One interesting fact that I did not know was that if you want the best volume for whipped eggs, you should use small eggs. Smaller eggs have less water content and the white is more concentrated. Also, when whipping egg whites, make sure everything is spotlessly clean and the egg whites are at room temperature. I finally opted for an angel food cake from The original recipe was for an angel food cake with strawberries, but I decided on a plain angel food cake. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be. Just make sure when you are folding in the egg whites, you do it quickly and with as few strokes as possible. The more you "fold", the flatter (and denser) the angel food cake will be. You do need an angel food cake pan (a tube pan with a removal bottom). I prefer Chicago Metallic pans for baking - this one works perfectly and released the angel food cake without any problems. When cutting your angel food cake, use a serrated knife to keep the cake from flattening.
Angel Food Cake
(from - thanks!!)
1 c minus 2 T all purpose flour
1 1/2 c confectioner's sugar
12 egg whites (1 1/2 c), room temperature
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t cream of tartar
1 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 t vanilla
1/2 t almond extract
Sift together the flour and confectioner's sugar and set aside.
Whip the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar together until foamy. Add the granulated sugar 2 tablespoons at a time. Continue whipping the egg white mixture until stiff peeks form and it gets glossy. Fold in the vanilla and almond extracts.
Sprinkle 1/4 c at a time of the sifted dry ingredients into the egg white mixture. Fold in just until it disappears. A large, shallow bowl works well for folding the dry ingredients in. Turn the batter out into an ungreased angel food cake pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes - until the top springs back to the touch. If your angel food cake pan doesn't have cooling feet, invert the tube pan onto the neck of a bottle to let cool. Cool completely in the pan before removing and serving.
***Tomorrow's Post: Barbeque Cups - One For the Kids!!***

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Buttermilk Ice Cream - Celebrating National Ice Cream Month

I don't think I'd be shocking any of you when I tell you that July in National Ice Cream Month. Who would have thought it - 90 degree temperatures and they'd pick this month? LOL! In 1984 President Regan declared July National Ice Cream Month, and the third Sunday in July National Ice Cream Day. With all President Regan had to worry about in 1984 (the economy, Soviet missiles, tearing down the Berlin Wall), it's amazing the man had time for this!! That was one President with his priorities straight!! :)
Well, in celebration I've decided to make ice cream periodically during the month. Not too long ago I got an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer that allows me to make ice cream. It's a simple little gizmo with an insulated bowl I put in the freezer overnight. I was initially concerned the ice cream would be soft, but after a couple of tries I was surprised at the consistency - every bit of what I'd expect at the fancy ice cream shops!! I'd like to say at half the price, but ice cream really isn't that cheap to make. Cream, and all the good stuff you want to add to it, help to keep the price up there. But the positives of homemade ice cream - the fun of making it and the incredible taste you can't get anywhere else - make it worth every penny! Here's a recipe for Buttermilk Ice Cream I picked up over at SmittenKitchen. It's similar to a French vanilla, but with a "tang" at the end due to the buttermilk. It's a keeper in our home!!
Buttermilk Ice Cream
(recipe from SmittenKitchen - thank you!!)
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 c sugar
12 large egg yolks
2 c buttermilk
2 t vanilla
pinch of salt
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the heavy cream and one cup of sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.
Remove the cream mixture from the heat and drizzle a small amount into the yolks, slowly, and whisking constantly to keep the eggs from curdling. Do this a few more times to warm up the yolks before pouring the yolk mixture back into the cream, whisking constantly.
Cook over low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the mixture and whisk in the buttermilk, vanilla, and salt. Cool completely and freeze according to ice cream maker's directions. **I cooled mine overnight in the refrigerator. You want it good and cold going into the ice cream maker.
**Tomorrow's Post: What to do with 12 egg whites???**

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Girl, Paula! - Taco Soup

Awesome Mom! Yep, that's what my kids said last night when I made them Paula Deen's Taco Soup from My Girl, Paula's weekly cooking group. This was a very easy soup to put together in my crock pot. Hamburger was on sale last week, so that was another big plus. I began the soup early in the day, and let is cook on low all day long. The aroma was wonderful - mouthwatering!!
This does make ALOT of soup. Paula's cookbook says 12-16 servings, and I'd say every bit of 16 servings if not more. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but really it isn't that much - mostly canned beans and tomatoes. You don't add any chicken broth, water or individual spices. The soup gets all of it's flavor from the taco season pack and the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix. By accident, I bought the Hidden Valley dip mix, and it still tasted great (I'm not sure there is that much difference!!). I did skip the green olives, since they were fairly expensive at our grocery and in a large jar - I don't know any other need I'd have for them. Overall, the soup is similar to chili, but more "soup" like - not as thick and not "hot" like chili - just very flavorful. It is a great soup any time of year, but extra nice since it can be made in the crock pot during the hot summer months.
I plan on freezing the leftovers in quart size freezing containers for quick lunches and fast dinners. That's a BIG plus with me!! Here is a link to the recipe should you want to try it (I highly recommend it!!). I put a few Frito Corn Chips in the bottom of the bowl, and some shredded cheddar and a dollop of sour cream on top and served it with cornbread on the side. It was a hearty meal for the little cavemen!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baking GALS - My July Contribution

This month I joined Baking GALS (GALS = Give A Little Support) and baked cookies for two service people overseas. How it works is you log into their website, and during certain times of the month they have "teams" set up that you can join that support a certain serviceman/woman that is stationed overseas. The first group I joined is called "Team Capecrusaders". It's a mother-daughter team that is supporting a very young military policeman named John Odom out of the Nashville, TN area. Here's a photo of John (isn't he a cutie?) The funny part (well, sort of funny), is I have no idea if he is in Iraq or Afghanistan! I got the address to send him the goodies, but it's like written in code!! Something in one of the lines said "Palace", so I guess that eventually gets the box to him!! LOL!! I picked John because in the write up he said he would just like to know that they haven't been forgotten about. That just broke my heart!! Here's this 21 year old young man that has set aside his life to defend our country - how on Earth could anyone forget that!! Needless to say, I had to bake up some extra good cookies for him!! :) Originally I was only going to do one box since this was my first time, but I later stumbled on a post from Team East to West Bakers. This team was supporting Lt. Sarah Barbo who is originally from North Royalton, Ohio. I'm from Ohio, and our adoption agency we used for our two older sons is in North Royalton. I guess with my logic, that practically makes us family!! Sarah is the leader of a medical platoon in Iraq, and asked that we write because many never get any mail. Wow, that just amazed me. I mean, if you had a loved one overseas, wouldn't you write to them? Well, I had to sign up for Sarah's group too!! Remember, I've never done this before!! LOL!! The sign ups were from June 17th - 20th (but I think they let you sign up late if you just found out about the group), and you are expected to bake and ship sometime between July 1st and 17th. Around the 1st you get the mailing address for the service personnel you have signed up for. With the 4th of July holiday, I decided to bake on Monday/Tuesday for my groups. On Monday I went to the post office and picked up my boxes. I got two large flat rate shipping boxes. Because I'm mailing to military, the shipping is slightly reduced to $11.95 per box. I'm allowed to cram it full up to 20 lbs. I also saw on the post office website that I can get these same boxes sent to my home for free. I chose the "Support our Troops" boxes, set of 10. They will arrive in a few days, but will be good for future rounds. I also saw a post that if I called this toll free number the post office will send me the boxes, labels, packing material and tape for free because I'm shipping to military. That's darn nice of them!! :) I haven't called the number yet, so I can't verify. I also went to the grocery and picked up some "extras" that I thought they would like, based on my "little-bit" of research. By no means is this required, but I figured if my cookies crumbled, they'd have something other than a note about my family!! LOL!! So I got some gum, individual servings of Crystal Lite ice tea and lemonade, Mento, Tic-Taks, and some Easy-Mac macaroni and cheese. On Tuesday I began baking. These boxes are not all that big (like 12" x 12" I think and about 6" deep), so I had to get this packed in tight. I made Amish sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies. I wanted to make chocolate chip too, but honestly, I just got tired out. I know, what a wimp!! But I was also watching the Michael Jackson memorial, and I kept crying, and I think that wore me out too!! I decided to use my Food Saver and shrink wrap the cookies. I was able to get a dozen cookies in a bag, separated by some paper towel with thin apple slices tucked in for freshness (I sure hope they don't think I'm sending dried fruit too!! LOL!!). My kids took one look and said it looked like astronaut food! I'll forgo looks for (hopefully) freshness. I packed everything in, with crumpled up newspaper all around, and wrapped it all up in red-white-and-blue tissue paper. How creative is that? ;) Really, though, the hard part was the letter. It's hard to send a letter to someone you don't know. I told them about my kids (I'm always talking about my kids, so that comes naturally), and of course I thanked them for their service and told them I'd keep them in our prayers. I also attached a photo of my kids (just so they didn't think I was making it up!). I did give my e-mail, so we're hoping they might be able to e-mail us sometime after they get their package. I'm sure my kids would think that is really, really cool! It's always good to get a few "cool" points from your kids when you can!! So the final step was shipping. I managed to fill out the customs form, based on the help from the Baking GALS website, and off to the post office. Now most people are afraid of public speaking, the dentist, you know - the normal things in life. Not me. I'm mortified of the people that stand behind the counter at the post office. If I'm going to get yelled at, that's probably the spot. I remember one time getting a "next day" envelope to send a check that HAD to be there next day. In my world "next day" means just that NEXT DAY. Just to be sure, I asked the clerk only to be told there are no guarantees. For what I was paying, why not? Well, they do their best, but if they can't get it next day, they can't. Gee - then why don't you call it "maybe next day - maybe not". She wasn't amused and after a "heated" discussion we all decided it was better if I used Fed Ex!! So, here I go again. I stand in line for what seems like an awfully long time. One woman is working behind the counter (why do they only have just one person working behind the counter and not more? Where's the stimulus money??). She's giving some poor man an ear-full over filling out a "hold" card so he can go on vacation. Seems the poor fellow forgot a pen, and she's not about to loan him hers. I step over and give him my pen (he looks eternally grateful) and the clerk glares at me. Probably the wrong thing to do. By the time I make it to the counter my palms are sweating and I'm getting the customs forms clammy! She goes through the monotone questions "any-flammable-perishable-killeragent-substances"? Like I'd say yes to that! Duh! She looks at the label and groans. "Oh, no, military, I hate shipping these". Yep, you heard her right, that's exactly what she says!! Can you believe it? She studies the customs form like she's memorizing the numbers for the winning lottery. No joke. I feel my knees going weak, but I try to keep a brave face and my mouth shut. She finally starts typing something into the computer very slowly. She's muttering about having to get this just right, or the package won't get there. Uh..isn't that true of all packages? I keep that thought to myself. She finally gets to the part about "description". I had written "homemade cookies and toiletries", but wasn't specific about how many of each. She wanted exact numbers. Ok, 7 Crystal Lite ice tea packages, 5 packs of gum, 3 rolls of Mentos......on and on we go. Really. I can feel the people in line behind me burning a hole in my back with their glares! We're finally done and it's time to pay. She is gives me a three minute lecture on how my credit card has to have my name only on it, signed on the back by only me and not my husband too and something else (I tuned her out, but I swear she wanted my blood type!). I managed to pass and (Thank God!) the credit card was approved and I was out!! As I was walking away I turned back to watch her throw my boxes across the sorting area and into a large cart. I'm sure glad I sent the gum and Crystal Lite too!! Here's the recipe for my Amish Sugar Cookies. They are a crispy cookie, due to the oil, but are very flavorful. My kids and next-door neighbor ate up the extras in one night and proclaimed them "great"!!
Amish Sugar Cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup cooking oil
2 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
1 t cream of tartar
1 t vanilla
1 t baking soda
Mix granulated sugar, powdered sugar, butter, and cooking oil together.
Add eggs, mix again.
Add flour, cream of tartar, vanilla, and baking soda. Mix together.
Drop small balls of dough on cookie sheet.
Pour a small amount of granulated sugar in a bowl.
Dip bottom of a cup in the small bowl of sugar.
Then slightly flatten dough with the bottom of cup.
Bake in 375 degree oven about 10-12 minutes (I found 9 minutes to be the best for me).
Makes 36 cookies.

Monday, July 6, 2009

You Want Pies With That? - Simple Peach Pie

This seems to be the week for baking challenges for me! Five weeks in July, and they all seem to hit this week!! LOL! Well, that's OK. Here is my entry for this month's You Want Pies With That? pie baking challenge. The theme this month was "What pie reminds you of summer". Well, for me, it's 100% peach. I love really good ripe peaches. I'm talking the kind that is so juicy it runs down your chin while your eating it. I love a good ripe peach that tastes like "captured sunshine". So for me, it had to be a peach pie.
The other thing that was important to me is that it wasn't "muddled up" with something else. I didn't want a peach-blueberry pie, or a mixed fruit pie with peaches in it. Summer to me is all about "simple" and "kick-back-relax". So I wanted a simple peach pie that tasted like summer sunshine! Hey, I'm easy - right? LOL!! We are not quite into peach season here in the Midwest, so I had to rely on my local grocery store. All I could find was white California peaches. I bought them a few days early and let them "ripen" in a brown paper bag. They were just fine this morning when I began the pie.
Well, it's not that easy to find a simple peach pie recipe. Everyone wanted to complicate it - from Ina Garten to even (gasp!) Paula Deen. After some searching and playing around, I found a nice simple recipe from Recipezaar that I only changed ever-so-slightly by adding a little almond extract. So here's my recipe - hope you take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of summer!!
Simple Peach Pie
(modified from a Recipezaar recipe)
pastry for a double-crust 9" pie (I use the recipe from Hillbilly Housewife)
1 T apricot preserves
5 cups fresh peaches, sliced
1 cup sugar
1/3-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4-1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t almond extract
2 T butter
2 T sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Stir together flour, 1 cup sugar, and cinnamon and set aside.
Wash, peel, and slice fresh peaches.
Mix together peaches with almond extract and combine with dry ingredients.
Brush apricot preserves onto pastry-lined pie plate. This will help keep the pastry from getting soggy.
Turn peach mixture pastry-lined pie plate and dot with butter.
Cover with top crust, cut slits in it, seal the edges.
Sprinkle top with 2 T sugar
Cover the edges with foil to prevent over browning; remove foil for the last 15 minutes of baking.
Bake 35 - 45 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust.
Let cool then serve with vanilla ice cream.
Well, I've never "updated" a blog entry, but this one was needed. I was over on the You Want Pies With That? blog and looked at some of the recent entries for "Summertime Pies". I was shocked!! They are all so beautiful!! My "humble pie" was embarrassing!! People came up with pies based on favorite summer foods, one had a watermelon ice cream pie - one had a pie that was adorable, but I couldn't even pronounce the name!! They are incredible and the bakers are very talented. If you get a chance, hop over there and take a look at some of their entries. You'll really be inspired! So here I am with "simple peach pie" -YIKES!! I almost e-mailed the organizer to withdraw my pie. How could I possibly be so stupid? (well, don't ask my 12-year-old son that question - he thinks everything I do is stupid!!).
But before I withdrew my pie, I decided to have a bite. I know what you're thinking: "You haven't even tried the pie yet??" Nope. Hubby got home a little late last night after buying a boat (that's a whole other post), and after eating dinner everyone was too tired and too full to try my pie. My poor simple peach pie. So here I sit at 8:00 A.M. cutting into my pie. And let me tell you.......
That is the BEST PIE I have ever eaten in my whole life!! The peaches were "just right", the pie wasn't a bit running, and I could "taste" the sunshine!! I felt like I was sitting in a little diner in a small town eating some awesome pie. And the crust - WOW - the crust was perfect. Here's an updated picture for you. If you can get your hands on 5-6 really good peaches this summer then MAKE THIS PIE. You won't be sorry!!
So maybe my pie is simple and lacks creativity, but I'm not withdrawing. I probably won't win, but I sure hope someone takes a look at this easy-as-pie recipe and gives it a try. You sure won't be sorry!!
And one last note. I realized after reading some of the other blog entries that I neglected to mention the blogs of the creators of this month's pie challenge. By no means was this meant as a slight - just my complete lack of blogging social graces!! So without further adieu, I would like to thank Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake and Mary of Alpineberry for coming up with this month's "Summertime Pie" theme (and check out their adorable pies! True talent!!)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Girl Paula - Fruit Bowl

Wow, has it been (almost) a whole week since I've posted??? Yikes! All I can say is that the holiday weekend and our swim team schedule really played a number on me!
Ok, I was all set on making this recipe for My Girl Paula's entry this week for the 4th of July, but I was vetoed. The "boys" wanted watermelon. I decided to make it tonight with our dinner. I fixed it up early in the day so it could sit in the refrigerator. So what did I think.....hmm..interesting. I think it's really, really sweet - Tang, lemon pudding, pineapple juice. That's a really sweet combination. The color is a little too "nuclear" for me too. I'm not sure you can really see it in the photo, but the "syrup" it makes is very orange and thick. My three year old loved it, though!! Fruit cocktail that is as sweet as candy!! My older sons and husband had a couple of bites and said it was "alright". That's not too bad, considering if they really don't like something they'll tell me!
So, what's up for this week? It's another busy week. Hubby is getting ready to leave on a big fishing trip to Canada at the end of the week. My one son has a swim meet again on Wednesday evening, and I've got to get my cookies baked to send out for Operation Baking Gals and my pie for You Want Pies With That? I'm tired just thinking about it all!! I'll post more this week as I get things baked! Enjoy!!