Friday, December 24, 2010

Dear Grand: Why did the angels visit people as lowly as the shepherds? When angels visit, why are people always afraid?

Happy Christmas Eve! 

I hope your shopping is done and all the packages are wrapped and you are ready for a warm, relaxing holiday with family and friends. 

Before I sign off for the holidays, let me share a fun, little game we have in our family.  We have a Christmas Eve tradtion where everyone in our extended family races to tell all the others "Christmas Eve Gift."  This is serious business in our house and involves calling, emailing and texting each other at all hours of the night and day.  Uncles have been know to wake their own children at 5 am to yell "Christmas Eve gift" in their tiny, sleeping ears.  The ideas is that the winner gets to open a gift on Christmas Eve.  No amount of sneaking is off limits.  Even great grandparents can be awakened with shouts.  So, if we all make it through today, I will let you know who won the contest.  Grand pointed out that in his lifetime, he has yet to see a real gift opened by the winner.  Maybe this year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dear Grand: How many miles did the wise men travel and were they kings?

Day 4 in our family "Questions and Answers" about the Christmas story.  Today Grand answers Hannah's question!

Hannah, age 9

Dear Grand, How many miles did the wise men travel and were they kings?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dear Grand: Why did God come down to earth? Why did nobody help Mary and Joseph?

Dear Friends,

This week, I am so excited to share with you the answers to five questions about the Holiest of All Nights, the blessed Christmas Story. Each grandchild in our family asked their grandfather a question about the Nativity, and their sweet Grand was willing to take the time to answer not only for them, but for all of us as well.

My father, Dr. Terry Denton, has his doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary, but to the kids in our family, he is just Grand, the wrestler, the joke-teller, the golfer who lets his grand kids help drive the golf cart. We love him and are grateful God uses him to bless our lives in many ways.

Today Grand answers Alexandra's question.  So far, we have learned why Jesus Christ came to earth on that Christmas night long ago and we learned about the wise men travelling from afar to visit the Christ child, the foretold Jewish king.  Let's see what Alexandra asked.

Merry Christmas!

Alexandra, age 8

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Grand: Why and how did the wise men follow the star? And why are they called "wise men"?

Dear Friends,

Today is Day #2 in our "Dear Grand" series.   All week I am sharing with you the answers to five questions about the Holiest of All Nights, the blessed Christmas Story. Each grandchild in our family asked their grandfather a question about the Nativity, and their sweet Grand was willing to take the time to answer not only for them, but for all of us as well.

Check back each day this week for the next question...and answer...and we pray you will be blessed by this sweet exchange between the generations of our family. Merry Christmas!

Robin Walls

Molly, age 7

Grand, why and how did the wise men follow the star? And why are they called “wise men”?

In the ancient world, with few written documents and even fewer iPads, those in power who wanted to understand their world sought insight in other ways. One of the strong beliefs prevalent in biblical times was that information about the future could be discerned by a careful study of the movement of the stars. And so many men in that era devoted their lives to astronomy and the best among them came to be known as “wise men”.

The wise men in the Bible, also called Magi from which we get our word magician, were men of these sort. Some highly unusual astronomical events took place around the time of Christ that led them to believe the stars were announcing the birth of a Jewish king. Some of these wise men might well have been of Jewish descent and perhaps came from the Jewish remnants of the Babylonian captivity.

They came to Judah to pay their respects to this new king. And wise men and women have been doing the same thing ever since.

Love, Grand

Monday, December 20, 2010

DEAR GRAND: Why did Jesus have to come as a man?

Dear Friends,
This week, I am so excited to share with you the answers to five questions about the Holiest of All Nights, the blessed Christmas Story.  Each grandchild in our family asked their grandfather a question about the Nativity, and their sweet Grand was willing to take the time to answer not only for them, but for all of us as well.  My father, Dr. Terry Denton, has his doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary, but to the kids in our family, he is just Grand, the wrestler, the joke-teller, the golfer who lets his grandkids help drive the golf cart.  We love him and are grateful God uses him to bless our lives in many ways. 

Check back each day this week for the next question...and answer...and we pray you will be blessed by this sweet exchange between the generations of our family.  Merry Christmas!

Robin Walls

Sam, age 11

Dear Grand, why did Jesus have to come as a man?

The short answer is “He didn’t have to, he chose to.” And what an incredible act of selflessness and humility it was!!! But the question really is, why did the Son of God choose to take the history altering step of becoming the Son of Man?

1) To keep a promise. -- Throughout the Old Testament, prophets under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had predicted the coming of God in the flesh. One of the names given to the Messiah was Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God never breaks a promise.

2) To reveal God more fully -- God reveals himself through nature, through the law, through the prophets and through the Bible. While completely truthful, these methods are partial and incomplete. The perfect answer to the age old question of what God is really like is answered by the sinless life lived by Jesus Christ. To know God better, study the life of Jesus.

3) To redeem mankind – Had there been any other way to pay for the sins of humanity and open up salvation for all who would believe, I have no doubt He would have taken it. God’s holiness demands a sacrifice and it was His incomparable love which prompted Jesus to choose the path of a painful and ignominious death on the cross. By Jesus Christ becoming the Son of Man, now we can become the sons and daughters of God.

Love, Grand

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Marshmallow Snowmen and Marshmallow Reindeer

These pictures are not from a magazine shoot.  Real kids made these wonderful treats in our Christmas baking class today and it was so fun I thought I would share the recipes with you.  You can decorate the Marshmallow Snowmen and Reindeer yourself and give it to a child you love or better yet, invite them over and make them together.  They are super easy, super quick and look great.  Perfect for kids of all ages.

Marshmallow Reindeer

8 Large Marshmallows
8- 6” Lollipop Sticks
6 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
16 Tiny Twist Pretzel Knots
16 Candy Eyes (or Royal Icing for eyes)
8 Red Hot Candies

Lay sets of two pretzel knots onto the wax paper lined cookie sheet, so that they are touching each other. Stick a large marshmallow onto a stick. Melt chocolate in microwave. Dip each marshmallow into the melted chocolate, tap off excess. Place the flat side of each dipped marshmallow onto a set of pretzel knots. Let set a minute or two. Apply candy eyes and red hot nose. Chill 10-15 minutes.  Makes 8 reindeer.

Marshmallow Snowmen

18 large marshmallows
8 ounces almond bark

1 ounce, melted chocolate
Orange frosting

Push three jumbo marshmallows onto each lollipop stick. The lollipop stick should not go all the way through the last marshmallow. Melt almond bark in microwave according to package directions. Dip marshmallows into almond bark. Tap off excess melted almond bark by tapping the marshmallow lollipop back into melted wafers horizontally, so the entire length of the lollipop taps the surface. Lay lollipops down on waxed paper-lined cookie sheet. Chill 10-15 minutes.

Once marshmallow lollipops have set up, melt chocolate in Zip-lock bag and stick a pin in corner to make a tiny hole. Draw details onto snowman characters with chocolate and orange frosting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Peppermint Brownie Kisses

Peppermint Brownie Kisses

Nothing goes better with deep, dark chocolate than peppermint.  I love, dare I say adore, dark chocolate and peppermint.  I wait all year for Chick-fil-A's Peppermint Chocolate Chip shake.  My mouth is watering in a Pavlovian response at just the thought of such goodness.  And don't even mention Starbucks Peppermint Mocha...sinful!  Let's add Dove Peppermint Bark and I will need to run miles a day to keep up with all the calories.  Want a little homemade treat that combines the wonderful smooth chocolate and wintry peppermint flavors?
I've got just the thing!

Peppermint Brownie Kisses

Double Chocolate Brownie Recipe

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup  all-purpose flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray cooking oil into cups of 2 mini muffin pans.  Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, and whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs, 1 at a time, until combined. Whisk in cocoa and salt. Fold in flour until combined.

Scoop batter into muffin tins. Bake until set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 20-25 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Lift brownie cups from pan with a knife and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool completely. Pipe peppermint frosting onto brownies in a swirl pattern. Sprinkle with crushed peppermint.

Peppermint Frosting
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. butter, softened
3 tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring

Beat all ingredients until smooth and of spreading consistency. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Baking Class This Saturday!

Saturday, December 18th
Cypress, Texas

It is time for our annual Christmas baking class...
My favorite time of the year!

Visions of Sugarplums     

December 18; 10:00 am-12:00 pm
(7-12 year olds)

Do your children have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads? They will after taking this sweet-filled class where holiday baking and candy-making take center stage. Last year’s class was SO MUCH FUN for the kids and I had a blast too!! Each child will make marshmallow pops from our homemade marshmallow recipe, create handmade candies and of course decorate sugar cookies to take home in a holiday tin. We will enjoy Christmas music and partake of yummy Christmas punch! Sign up today to hold your spot!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Peppermint Swirl Cookies

Peppermint Swirl Cookies

This is a recipe idea in last year's Southern Living Christmas magazine, but of course I changed the recipe!  I just happened to be partial to my grandmother's sugar cookie recipe, which I feel is pretty much perfection.  I made the cookies, wrapped them like large peppermint candies and gave them in cute packages to friends and family last year.  The peppermint icing tastes so good!

The only extra hint I would give is that the recipe calls for red food coloring paste, be sure to use it and not the liquid version or the dough will be too soft.  To get that rich red color, it may take a little more food coloring than stated.  You can play around until you get the right color.  Just be prepared to get caught "red-handed" afterwards.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist the bad pun.)

Peppermint Swirl Cookies
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Beat butter at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy, gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time and vanilla, beating until blended, scraping bowl as needed.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

Divide dough into 2 equal portions and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll 1 portion of dough into a 12X8 inch rectangle on a piece of lightly floured plastic wrap.  Knead food coloring paste into remaining portion of dough while wearing rubber gloves (unless you like red hands ).  Roll tinted dough into a rectangle as directed in Step 3.  Invert untinted dough onto tinted dough; peel off top piece of plastic wrap.  Cut dough in half lengthwise, forming 2 (12 X4 inch) rectangles.  Roll up each rectangle, jelly roll fashion, starting at the long side and using bottom piece of plastic wrap as a guide.  Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 4 hours or up to 1 month.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut ends off each dough log and discard.  Cut dough into 1/4 inch thick pieces and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.  Bake at 350 for 6 to 7 minutes or until puffed and set.  Cool cookies for 5 minutes or until completely cool.  Place Peppermint Frosting in a zip-top plastic freezer bag.  Snip 1 corner of bag to make a small hole.  Pipe about 2 teaspoons frosting onto bottom half of cookie and top with another to form a sandwich.

Peppermint Frosting
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 (3 oz) package of cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended.  Increase speed to medium and gradually add milk and peppermint extract, beating until smooth.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sugar Glazed Pecans and Savory Snack Mix

Today I have two delicious snack recipes for you. 
One is sweet; one savory.  Both are easy recipes that store wonderfully and make great gifts.  Enjoy!

My "Savory Snack Mix" is a version of the ever famous Chex Mix but instead of the traditional recipe, I use all my favorite things including Kellogg's Crispix Cereal!  I like this cereal because it is super crispy and each piece has a corn side and a rice side.  Then I add all my favorite ingredients.  If you want it spicy, add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper with the butter.  I like to add a little "sweet" to this savory recipe, so some of the nuts are praline or honey roasted.

Savory Snack Mix
6 cups Kellog's Crispix cereal
2 cups Cheez-Its
2 cups pretzels
1/2 cup Praline Pecans (I used First Choice brand)
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup Honey Roasted cashews
6 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

In a large microwavable bowl, mix Kellogg's Crispix cereal, Chees-its, pretzels and nuts; set aside.  In a small Pyrex measuring cup, microwave butter and seasonings.  Stir butter mixture and then drizzle it over the cereal mixture.  Stir until evenly coated.  Microwave on High, uncovered for 6 minutes, stopping to stir every 2 minutes.  Spread on wax paper to cool.  Store in airtight container.

This is my friend Kris's recipe.  She makes these every Christmas and all her friends and family hope they will be on the receiving end of this delicious gift!

Sugar Glazed Pecans
2 lbs pecans (any nut will work)
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, combine sugar, salt and cinnamon.  Stir and set aside.  Crack egg whites into a large bowl.  Add water and beat until frothy.  Pour pecans into egg white mixture and stir until thoroughly coated.  Pour sugar mixture over the coated pecans and mix until coated. Pour nuts onto lined cookie sheet and bake at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, stirring every minutes.  When cooled, store in airtight container.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Merry Christmas: Advent Calendar

Merry Christmas dear sweet friends, 

To those of you I know and to those I wish I knew, I am hoping that you enjoy a peaceful, joyful holiday season.  I pray that this Christmas will be full of laughter and celebration as well as quiet moments full of tender reflection on the Christ child.  On a starry night some 2,000 years ago, in a crowded town busy with their own worries and troubles, lay a baby in a manger.  This child went unnoticed by most.  But heaven and earth were singing out the arrival of the God-child, the savior who had become flesh.  Many were too busy to hear the faint cries of the baby born in a stable, but had they paused for a moment they might have heard the heavenly host of angels singing, "Glory to God in the Highest."  Those chosen shepherds, keeping their flocks by night, did hear and see the multitudes of heavenly hosts proclaiming this good news of great joy.

"Fear not" for in this bustling city of David there has been born a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And so, the time to celebrate this holiest of nights, witnessed but by a few, is upon us.  Let us cast out all distractions, let us be purposeful with our time, let us revel in the miracle that saved us.  Let us celebrate the Advent of Christ!

The Advent Calendar

Many families use some type of Advent Calendar to count off the day until Christmas.  Our family uses this red box with little compartments which holds treasures for the kids.  With three children, I can just fit three small pieces of candy or stickers in each one along with a tiny scroll.

Chocolate snowmen and handmade scrolls.

Each scroll, handmade from paper and toothpicks, has a Bible verse written on it which tells a part of the Christmas story.  Most of the verses for the first week in December are from the Old Testament which prophesy the coming Messiah.  Then we hear about the angel who spoke to Mary, Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth and the arrival of John the Baptist.  We learn about Jesus' birth and the host of angels who tell the shepherds the good news of great joy.  At the end, I add the verses about the Wise Men. 

I finish with Simeon, who was promised he would see the Messiah before he died, blessing Jesus.  Since so much of the story happens after the birth, I didn't save His birth for the 25th.  I know many people like to save it for the last box, where they place a small baby Jesus figure, but I wanted to have our family dwell on each part of the story and I love the story of Simeon.  Simeon's blessing actually comes before the Wise Men in the Biblical account but many children think of the Magi when they think of the Nativity so I ended with Simeon.

I created a link to all the verses in case you would like to use them in your Advent celebration.  You don't have to take the time to cut each verse and tape them to toothpicks, but I will say the kids love unrolling the "little scrolls" every year.  You can find it at Advent Verses .

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Teaching Thankfulness: Focus on Others

Mom's Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving has come and gone in a blink of an eye and despite my promises to post lots of ideas, our personal plans for the holiday changed at the last minute and we left town in a flurry of activity.  OK, I could have carved out some time to post on Thanksgiving day but after the "Turkey Trot" fun run, stuffing ourselves with turkey and mashed potatoes and that glass of red wine, I was unable to get off the couch and do something productive.  If you were waiting in anticipation for fun ideas, I apologize, but I decided to post some of my ideas anyway.  We have the whole holiday season to focus on the blessings in our life and shouldn't we cultivate hearts of thankfulness all year round?

Each year we have a tradition where the grandchildren in the family
name the Thanksgiving bird.  Here we are carving "Tarzan the Turkey."

So, for those of you in the states, I hope you enjoyed your turkey and dressing and for the rest of you, maybe these ideas will fit in with your holiday celebration.

I mentioned in my last post, though it seems the holiday is mostly about food, the true tradition of Thanksgiving is rooted in the history of our country and the cooperation between two groups of people.  It is about people who endured great hardship and still found gratitude in their hearts for all that God had done for them.  With the food, parades and football games taking up a good chunk of time, I hope you all were able to focus on your blessings, even those who are in the midst of trials. 

If this week passed too quickly, as it often does, in a whirlwind of eating, shopping and travelling from city to city, then maybe this week will be a better time to count your blessings.  When we turn our focus outward, we naturally take our minds off ourselves and seeing those in need reminds us of all we have.  So consider serving at a soup kitchen with the kids or visiting a nursing home.  Sing carols in a poor neighbor and distribute hot home baked bread.  Love on the elderly or infirmed members of your family with special deliveries of sweets or holiday decorations.  

Here are a few ideas the Walls family are doing:

Alexandra's "shoebox" for Operation Christmas Child

In our family, we use Dave Ramsey's "commissions" method for allowances.  Each child earns money for chores and responsibilities they have in our home.  They are required to divide their earnings into three categories:  SAVE, SHARE and FUN. 

They have freedom to spend "fun" however they want.  They can save it for big items or spend it when the ice cream truck makes it's rounds in the summer.  "Save" goes in the bank for long term savings and "share" goes to charity.  They also have freedom to whom they give their "share" money.  We ask them to pray and let God lay the burden on their heart.  Often we save the "share" money during the year and spend it around the holidays.  This year, Alexandra chose Operation Christmas Child, an excellent charity that send shoe boxes full of gifts to children around the world.

Have the kids write down questions they would like to ask their grandparents or great grandparents.  It can focus on their they played, what they did for fun, what life was like for them or how the world has changed.  They can ask questions about holiday traditions.  Video record it for posterity.

Make homemade goodies and take them door to door.  The Walls family has been know to sing a few carols along the way. 

Homemade Chex Mix

We are working on this today so I don't have pictures yet.  I will post soon.  Have each person in your family write down five things for which they are thankful to God.  Encourage them to be creative. Food, shelter, freedom, family are all excellent answers but encourage descriptive answers.  Not just "dad" but "a dad who goes fishing with me every Saturday".  If your children are too small, write their answers for them.  Trust me, you won't have to tell them to be creative, it comes naturally!!  Then every day in December read a card at dinner time and say a prayer of thanksgiving and see gratitude cultivated in every one's hearts!  Even Mom and Dad!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Teaching Thankfulness: Consider the First Thanksgiving

What a wonderful celebration we will enjoy this week!  An American holiday, Thanksgiving is a time for remembering the "First Thanksgiving" celebrated long ago as well as a time for focusing on all God's blessings. 

On the last Thursday in November, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, just to name a few, will cover dinner tables all over the United States as we sit down with family and friends to consider all the blessings we have received during the year.  What does this celebration mean to you?  Do the children in your family know the history of the "First Thanksgiving?  Do we spend time being thankful along with enjoying a perfectly roasted bird? 

This Thanksgiving week I would love to share ideas on how to encourage "grateful hearts" in your home with ideas that may become new family traditions.  The idea is not to do everything but to pick something that works for your family.  Consider the ages of your children, the distance you have to travel, the amount of people you are hosting before adding something new to your routine, but I would love for us all to consider new ideas for encouraging gratefulness in ourselves and our children.  Maybe one of my ideas will spark a new idea or maybe you would like to share your own ideas here on the blog.  I would love for you to share with us some of your own family traditions!

I will give a few fun ideas every day, so check back often!

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln officially made Thanksgiving a national holiday as a time to give thanks to God for all the blessings He had given and to remember the "First Thanksgiving" celebrated by the Pilgrims, who voyaged on the Mayflower from England in 1620 and the Native American (Indians) Wampanoag tribe, who helped the Pilgrims survive.

We have several books that we pull out each year to read about the pilgrims and their voyage on the Mayflower.  Reading about all the hardships these men, women and children faced helps us to remember how blessed we are now.  We found our copies at Barnes and Noble, which has a great display each Thanksgiving.

Dress the kids up using paper sacks, feathers, construction paper and other inexpensive items and read the story from a simple children's book.  Small children can act out the scenes.  Put the older kids in charge of the whole production... they can direct, produce and narrate...which gives them something to do and helps everyone feel involved.  Plus Grandma and Grandpa really enjoy seeing the grandchildren perform!

This is a fun and easy recipe that even little children can do.  Your cookies might be a little neater but it is fun for all ages to try.  No cooking is involved, just heating the chocolate.  There might be messy fingers but a few licks will take care of that.

Marshmallow Pilgrim Hats

24 chocolate-striped shortbread cookies
12-ounce package of chocolate chips
24 marshmallows
tube of yellow decorators' frosting

1. Set the chocolate-striped cookies stripes down on a wax-paper-covered tray, spacing them well apart.

2. Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave or double boiler.

3. One at a time, stick a wooden toothpick into a marshmallow, dip the marshmallow into the melted chocolate, and promptly center it atop a cookie.

4. Using a second toothpick to lightly hold down the marshmallow, carefully pull out the first toothpick.

5. Chill the hats until the chocolate sets, then pipe a yellow decorators' frosting buckle on the front of each hat.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Grilled Citrus Basil Salmon with Pinapple Salsa

Grilled Citrus Basil Salmon

Since this is the Growing Gourmets blog, most of my recipes are family-friendly. I love to post recipes that the whole family can enjoy, especially yummy, homemade comfort food. But we can't eat like kids all the time! Sometimes they need to eat like adults, or at least, sample something new even if it is not their favorite. Around our house we call this being a "taste treat tryer." Don't you love that!

In other words, you don't have to love it, you may not even have to eat all of it (depending) but you have to try it! I have strong opinions on this issue. I don't make them eat everything prepared exactly the way my husband and I like it, for one thing, we like really spicy food and I think a child's palette is different than an adult's, particularly when it comes to spice. However, it is not unreasonable to try something new, and even eat a few bites of it. If the food is healthy, put it on the plate. Just seeing it there all the time, can help them get used to the idea. If they need a little Ranch dressing to eat all those vitamin-packed raw veggies, I am OK with it. They are getting used to the taste and texture of those vegetables and one day they won't need the Ranch dressing. This is my opinion...not everyone will agree, but I always wanted my kids to eat fruits and veggies even if they had to have a small amount of something to dip.

So, last night we grilled out one of our favorite dishes, citrus basil salmon, and when my oldest son actually said "YES!" as his reaction to finding out what was being served for dinner, I nearly cried. The pickiest child in our house was celebrating the fact he was being served grilled salmon for dinner. So take heart my young-mom friends, there is hope. It only took thirteen years...not too shabby!

This salmon recipe, including a version of the pineapple salsa, came from a dear friend of mine. The recipe is long lost, but I know the basic ingredients by heart, I've made it so often. Last night we made it into a salad with balsamic vinaigrette and fresh sliced avocado. So good!

Grilled salmon with pineapple salsa and avocado salad

Grilled Citrus Basil Salmon
1 1/2 lbs Fresh Atlantic Salmon fillet
juice from 2 orange
juice from 1 lemon
8 large basil leaves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine all the ingredients in a shallow baking pan. Place salmon, upside down on top of the juice mixture and marinate the salmon in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.

Lightly oil the grill rack, two-sided grilling basket or aluminum foil. Grill salmon over medium heat, starting on the skin side. Cook the fish until opaque, turning once during cooking. This will not take long, about 8 to 10 minutes, so watch it carefully. Make sure that no flame touches the fish directly. We prefer to keep the skin on while grilling because it holds the fish together. Then we remove it before serving.

Pineapple Salsa
1 cup fresh pineapple,chopped
1 tomato
1 tomatillo (optional)
1/2 Serrano pepper, minced
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
juice of 1 lime

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until fish is ready. The salsa just gets better with time as the flavors marinate together.

Toss fresh butter or bibb lettuce with your favorite balsamic vinaigrette. Layer on a plate and top with a slice of fresh grilled salmon. Cut several slices of avocado and place them around the fish. Top the salmon with a tablespoon or two of the fresh pineapple salsa. Enjoy. Serves 4-5 people.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Spiced Caramel Apple Cider

Spiced Caramel Apple Cider

I have many recipes for different versions of apple cider like candy apple cider, wassail and my mom's percolator punch, but I wanted to try a sweet version of caramel cider.  My kids thought it was good, hope yours will too.  Enjoy!

Spiced Caramel Apple Cider

6 cups apple cider
1/2 cup prepared real caramel sauce
1/2 cup half and half
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
10 cloves

In a medium saucepan, combine the the caramel and half and half over medium heat.  Continue heating until caramel and half and half are combined.  Add the apple cider and spices and simmer on low for 10 minutes.  Scoop out the cloves with a strainer.  Pour into mugs, top with whipped cream, cinnamon and drizzle a little of the caramel sauce on top.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze

Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze

I have always loved to mix up concoctions in the kitchen.  That's the word I used for the original recipes I created as a child and then bullied my younger sister into sampling.  She still talks about the time I made "cookies" by mixing bran flakes, peanut butter and honey.  I rolled this concoction into balls and refrigerated them.  You know, they might not have been that original but they didn't taste half bad.

Ever since childhood, I have been mixing and measuring, dreaming up new ways to create tasty treats in the kitchen.  It is a genuine hobby, and like I tell the children in my classes, we mix a little science and a little art to make magic!

Rows of yummy goodness.

I am grateful that I had lots of inspiration in my life including a little sister who was mostly willing to be brave and try what no one else was willing to try.  I should add that she is now an excellent cook in her own right.  More than anything in the world, I love going to her cozy house and sitting in the kitchen while she whips up treats for me!  I am supremely thankful for a mother who let me talk and talk and talk her ear off while I stirred whatever dinner she was making.  A ritual that we still participate in today and I am happy to say she still has both her ears.  My dear grandmother, Nini, who sat me down in college and helped me copy all the family recipes on cards for my own collection.  And my other dear grandmother, Grandma, who sifted through her family recipes and photographs and made a family cookbook.

Add in all the aunts, cousins, college roommates, coworkers, neighbors and friends and you begin to piece together your life by the recipes you've collected.  When I pull out my recipe box, it is a trip down memory lane, like an episode of "This is Your Life" each recipe is a reminder of the dear person who shared it with me.

So this beautiful Fall morning with sun shining and coffee brewing, I played in the kitchen, mixing this and adding that, and out came warm, slightly sweet and tempting pumpkin scones.  This recipe was created by me for you and I hope it will be good enough to find it's way into your recipe box!

Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
6 tablespoons butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pumpkin, canned puree not pumpkin pie filling
1 tablespoon molasses

Maple Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon half and half

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and pumpkin pie spice.  Add the butter and cut into the flour mixture using two forks until the mixture resembles course meal. 

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk, molasses and pumpkin.  Mix until just combined.  The dough should be thick.  Turn out onto a floured board.  Dust flour on the top and roll out to 3/4 to 1 inch in thickness. 

Using a fluted biscuit cutter, cut into rounds and place on a cookie sheet.  Bake in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes or until orange-brown in color and firm to touch.

While the scones are baking, mix the powdered sugar, maple syrup and half and half in a small bowl.  You want the glaze to be thick because it will melt onto the warm scone.

Remove scones from the oven and top with glaze.  Eat immediately.

Makes about 15 scones

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nini's Crispy Cheese Crackers

Nini's Crispy Cheese Crackers

My grandmother, Nini, makes these yummy homemade cheese crackers every Christmas.  It is a tradition in our family.  Amidst all the sweets, it's nice to have something savory on which to snack.  I always enjoyed eating these cheese crackers and homemade chex mix late at night while watching old Christmas movies like "It's a Wonderful Life."  When I eat these crackers I actually think about that famous line, "every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings".  I don't know how theologically sound that is, but it makes me smile when I think about it.  That movie holds special meaning to me for several reasons, but I will have to expound on another day.  Back to the cheese crackers.  They also make a great addition to cheese and wine.  They taste like cheese straws, but the addition of Rice Krispies makes them crunchy!  Nini's recipe uses a shake of cayenne pepper which is awesome but I have been on a Tabasco kick lately so I substituted and these turned out really well.  You can choose your poison. :)

Nini is a wonderful cook who still makes our cornbread dressing each Thanksgiving for the entire extended family.  There is nothing like traditional, southern cornbread and nobody makes it better than Nini.  She actually got her name from me. :)  I am the first grandchild on my Dad's side of the family and everyone tried to get me to say "granny."  All I could say was "nee-nee" hence her new name.  (Maybe I was a little slow as a toddler.)  I can't imagine her with any other name.  I love her very much and am happy to share one of her many delicious recipes with you.

Nini's Cheese Crackers

2 sticks butter
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups flour, sifted
2 cups Rice Krispie cereal
1 teaspoon salt
Tabasco Sauce to taste

Allow the butter and cheese to come to room temperature.  Cream the butter and cheese together in a large mixing bowl.  Add several shakes of Tabasco sauce.  Add flour and salt and continue to mix until combined. 

Taste a little it hot enough?  If not, add a few more shakes of Tabasco.  Add the Rice Krispie cereal and mix until just combined.  Roll the dough into quarter size balls and press them flat on a cookie sheet using the back of the fork.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes or until crispy and golden.