Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Rice Krispie Pops & Mickey Mouse Pops

Our Turkey Rice Krispie Pops are cute and yummy!

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Today we started the first day of our holiday break. It's so wonderful to sleep in, enjoy a good cup of coffee, read a magazine and blog a little.  For those of you still at work and school, so sorry!  I will try not to rub it in, since this is the first year we have actually enjoyed such a long Thanksgiving break.

Hopefully this will mean a few extra entries on the blog since I know everyone is already planning their holiday menu and grocery shopping, too!  This weekend I had a little help making these fun Rice Krispie Pops.  You can find the original recipe on the Kellogg's blog but I've included it here along with a few pointers that might help you as we figured out along the way.

Our messy little Mickeys taste delicious!

We also made a few into Mickey Mouse Rice Krispie Pops for our little 2 year old neighbor next door who loves anything Mickey.  These were a little messier to make and came out a little more "home-made" looking.  So, if kids are helping, turkeys are super easy and Mickeys, not so much!

Turkey Rice Krispie Pops

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
6 cups Kellogg's® Rice Krispies® cereal

1 package (12 oz., 2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups candy corn
48 small white candies
24 lollipop sticks or wooden ice cream sticks

In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.  Add Kellogg's Rice Kripies cereal. Stir until well coated.  Using 1/4-cup measuring cup coated with cooking spray divide warm cereal mixture into 24 portions. Using buttered hands shape each portion into ball. Cool. (We stuck each ball in the freezer for a few minutes because the warm chocolate seemed to make the balls fall apart unless they were really cold.)

In microwave-safe bowl combine chocolate morsels and oil. Microwave on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until smooth, stirring every 30 seconds. Dip each ball into chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. (We waited until the chocolate was set before we added the candy corn feathers and beak and the candy eyes.  Trust me on this one.  Super messy if you don't wait and super easy if you do!) 

Decorate with candy corn for tail feathers and beak. Add candies for eyes. Let stand until firm. Insert lollipop stick into each. Best if served the same day, but we think they still tasted great the next day.

Mickey Mouse Pops

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
6 cups Kellogg's® Rice Krispies®cereal

1 package (12 oz., 2 cups)semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces white chocolate
red sprinkles
yellow icing
24 lollipop sticks or wooden ice cream sticks

In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add Kellogg's Rice Kripies cereal. Stir until well coated. Using 1/4-cup measuring cup coated with cooking spray divide warm cereal mixture into 24 portions. Using buttered hands shape each portion into ball. Cool.  Next, take 48 mini marshmallows and attach two on either side of each ball.  We pinched a little off the of the long side of each marshmallow to make it flat and sticky. 

Put the marshmallow Rice Krispies balls into the freezer for about 5 minutes to set and harden.  In microwave-safe bowl combine chocolate morsels and oil. Microwave on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until smooth, stirring every 30 seconds. Dip each marshmallow-eared ball entirely into chocolate, allowing excess to drip off.  Let stand until firm.

Melt 4 ounces of  white chocolate in the top of a double boiler, stirring constantly.   Dip the Mickey's about 1/3 of the way down and then roll in red sprinkles.  With yellow icing draw on Mickey's buttons on the back of his red sprinkled "pants."  Let harden and then insert lollipop stick into each one!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Welcome Back S'more Bars

Welcome Back!

I went away for awhile...and I don't even have one big reason.  I have a million small reasons.  Three of them are not that small anymore ...they are growing bigger every day.  Those big feet and growing hands have busy schedules, sports practices, piano lessons, school projects.  Then add in my ever growing responsibilities... homeroom mom, job, homemaker extraordinaire (my family would be rolling eyes at this point) and the blog has gone from active, to occasional, to non-existent in recent months.

My apologies.  I hope a few of you out there remember me and the little cooking blog that could. 

Beyond all the activity that keeps me rushing from one place to another, I have just been in a resting place.  One of those times when you reevaluate all the ways you spend that precious commodity called time.  I am not always thrifty with those precious minutes, the ticking off of the past that propels you into the future.  I am the ultimate "fly by the seat of your pants" girl, which comes in handy when your child tells you the night before a project is due or someone needs six dozen of something delicious whipped up by tomorrow afternoon.  In these moments, I am your girl! Making something out of nothing really gets my adrenalin going!

However, those important goals that take planning and perseverance and plodding... Sigh! I am working on these attributes, learning from others who are better at it, who naturally make a choice, day-by-day and work and follow through, and emerge on the other side with something wonderful. 

So, I decided to slow down a bit.  Evidence in my life revealed itself.  That monster "Busy-ness" had taken over the family.  You know him, don't you?  Surely you've met him, too, at some point.  If I describe him, I'm sure you'll recognize him... the barring teeth ready to gobble up all your time, the strong arms that keep pushing you out the door to the next important something, the oh-so loud voice that drowns out solitude and quiet.  You know him, too?  He is very strong!  And on occasion, he quiets his loud voice to whisper into my ear.  "Everyone else is doing it."  "You will miss out."  "Your kids will fall behind."  "You don't have time to stop and think." "GO, GO, GO!"

Sigh.  But another voice has been whispering to me as well.  That still small voice.  Oh what a precious voice, so sweet, so beautiful...full of goodness and truth.  Telling me to,

"Be still and know that I am God." 

Be Still.  Be......still.   B...e.......s...t....i...l...l...

I do see the irony.  We are heading into the BUSIEST time of the year.  He is asking me to be still..NOW?  Absurd!  Unbelievable!  Impossible!

"With God, all things are possible."

OK, I will open my hands a little, loosen the grip I have on all the things, people, activities, self-made plans.  I will try to give them up to Him.  What He gives back is far greater, anyway.

So, the question becomes, "What stays and what goes?"  I have a suspicion that it can't all stay.  I don't really have the answer yet.  But asking the question is a start.  And I am sure about one thing.  I will never find the answer if I do not listen.

"Be still and know that I am God."

Why am I sharing??  Because I want to be a blessing to you.  I do NOT want to overwhelm.  Or heap more pressure. Or add guilt.   That monster is big enough without adding to his power.  I do want to add a few ideas and recipes over the holidays, fun crafts, treats for kids, yummy recipes.  I would like to encourage you to spend time with your family, or make something homemade together.  The trick is to pick ONE thing or maybe TWO... and let the other things go! 

Join me in some stillness this holiday season.  And if you see me at Target, running around like a mad woman with tinsel in my hair, you have my permission to reprimand me! :) 

It has been A LONG TIME... so here's a yummy treat that's easy to make.  I hope you have time to sit and enjoy them with the family!

Baby girl helping in the kitchen!

S'more Bars

1 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 packages of HERSHEY’S Milk Chocolate Bars
6 cups miniature marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Press a little more than half of dough in a prepared 9" x 13" pan. Reserve remaining dough. Bake 10 minutes.  I reduced the amount of time from the original recipe because it is easy for the cookies to become overdone.

After removing from oven, arrange large chocolate bars over baked layer, breaking as needed to fit. Sprinkle with marshmallows; scatter bits of remaining dough over marshmallows, forming top layer.
Bake 10 to 15 more minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.  Wonderful to eat when warm and gooey.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Popcorn Party & Movie Night: Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

Popcorn Party and Movie Night

Looking for something fun to do this summer...inside?  I mean, I love to spend my summer outside, grilling out and splashing in the pool, but at some point the Texas heat just becomes unbearable.  That's when my family starts looking for indoor activities.  We hit the museum, visit the library and book stores, and go see all the summer blockbusters- doesn't that cold theater feel so good?!  Not to mention the popcorn.  I am not sure how much trans-fat is in a handful of that crunchy, salty goodness but it's summer, who cares?   I just can't seem to resist!

If you have read the blog before, you know my proclivity for making foods that are readily available for purchase, and though a bag of microwave popcorn will never compete with a tub of butter-slathered movie popcorn, I think I have found a suitable substitute.  A popcorn party!  How about several flavors of popcorn, sweet, salty, crunchy?  Or pile on the extras and mix up a cup or your own creation with m&m's, nuts, pretzels and cheese crackers.  Puts a whole new spin on trail mix, doesn't it?

So, pull out some favorite movies...old black and white classics, a Pixar marathon, comedy hour (our family loves Tim Hawkins!) and celebrate summer with a popcorn and movie night.

At our party, I made regular popcorn with butter and a tub of  "light" for those concerned with calories.  I offered toppings and mix-ins and then I made a few "specialty" flavors.  First, I whipped up a batch of my Almond Caramel Corn.  This is a family favorite. 

If you want to see the recipe you can visit Chocolate Almond Caramel Corn for the full recipe!

I also made a yummy, can't keep your hands out of the bowl, batch of Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn.  Do you remember the old recipe for Puppy Chow?  This is a popcorn version and it is fabulous.  Quick caveat- it doesn't store well (maybe a day or two) and tastes best when it is first made.  So, don't feel bad when you finish off the entire bowl.  Waste not, want not!

Secret: Want to turn up the volume on your party?  Our popcorn & movie night was a pajama party- adults included!!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

7 cups plain popcorn (I used microwave popcorn.)
1 cup stick pretzels
2 cups Rice Chex cereal

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups powdered sugar

I used my Puppy Chow recipe, and substituted popcorn. I think it is better when you mix in the pretzels and chex mix too which is similar to a version I had tried in a gourmet popcorn store.

Pop the popcorn and pour into a bowl.  Shake the popcorn and let any unpopped kernels fall to the bottom of the bowl.  We don't want anyone to break a tooth!  Carefully scoop out 7 cups into a separate large mixing bowl.  Add the pretzels and Chex cereal to the seven cups of popped corn.

In a microwave (at 50% power) or over a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter until melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

Pour the chocolate mixture all over the popcorn mixture. Using a large spoon, carefully stir until all of the popcorn, pretzels and Chex cereal until evenly coated with the chocolate/peanut butter mixture.

Sift the powdered sugar over the chocolate-covered popcorn and stir until each piece is evenly coated. Spread the popcorn mixture on a baking sheet to cool. You can let it cool on the counter or speed up the process by sticking in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.  Break it up and serve it in a big bowl! Store leftovers in an airtight container.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Cooking Camps Are Back!

Hop on over to the "Class Schedule" page to find out how to register for one these fun classes.

Summer Cooking Camps are Back!

Join us for a week-long course designed for kids with a unique and exciting theme that offers hands-on participation, detailed cooking instruction and their very own notebook full of recipes to take home! Plus, every day the kids get to eat what they create! The camps will run Monday through Thursday during the months of June and July at my home in Fairfield. Your kids are invited to join the fun as I look forward to teaching them the art of cooking!

In an effort to keep the best hands-on experience for individual students, I have limited the number of students and increased the age limit for the summer camps. If you have a group of preschoolers or early elementary children who are interested in participating, please contact me to set up a special class!

Six Flags Over Texas
June 27-30   $70
Mon.-Thurs., 10 am-12 pm
8-12 year olds

Six Flags over Texas is the slogan used to describe the six nations that had sovereignty over the current territory of the US state of Texas. We are going to take a culinary tour through Texas history and explore how the cuisine of each nation is reflected in the foods we love today. We will travel through history creating and tasting recipes from the past. We’ll include a day for pioneers, eating like cowboys on the trail, and exploring the cuisine of the French, Spanish, Mexican (even German, though it is not one of the six flags) immigrants who influenced our current culinary tastes with dishes like homemade tortillas, kolaches and paellas. Join us for the best tasting history lesson you’ve ever had!

Pastries, Cakes & Pies, Oh My!
July 11-14   $70
Mon.-Thurs., 10 am-12 pm
8-12 year olds

Mixing science and art, this class will cover the fundamentals of baking as we create beautiful and delicious pastries and desserts. We will learn how to make classic pastry cream and pate’ sucre (French pastry dough) as we create delicious tarts. Add molten chocolate cake, crème brulee, Madeleines, and poached pear anglais for a complete French pastry tour. Finally we bring out the Michelangelo in all of us, but instead of using a paintbrush we will create edible art with a pastry bag as we learn the secrets for decorating beautiful cookies and cakes. This class is perfect for students wanting to expand their pastry skills and satisfy their sweet tooth all in one.

Manners Matter: Traveling in Style

July 25-28 $70
Mon.-Thurs., 10 am-12 pm
8-12 year olds

Having good manners are important every day, not just when we sit down to dine at a fancy restaurant. This four-day session will focus on etiquette, setting the table and good table manners as we cook recipes that test even the neatest and most polite child! Please don’t think this is a “stuffy, boring” class…for we will use our etiquette expertise to “travel” to exotic lands and have…high tea in England…pastries on the sidewalk cafes of Paris…fondue on the long voyage aboard the Orient Express from Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam to Turkey…and a fine dining experience at the Plaza in New York.

Cooks and Books Returns
Aug. 1-4    $70
Mon.-Thurs., 10 am-12 pm
8-12 year olds

Think “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!"  Kids will look at stories a whole new way, as they create recipes inspired from some of their favorite books. Classic children’s stories like “Stone Soup” and new favorites like “If You Give A Pig A Pancake” offer plenty of inspiration for growing gourmets. We will bake bread like the little red hen, eat like the hungry caterpillar and perhaps reprise a few of our favorites like “Green Eggs and Ham.” Come hungry for good books and good food.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Resurrection Rolls & Resurrection Cookies

The last few Easter Sundays, I have posted the recipe and instruction for Resurrection cookies, an activity that you can do with your children to help explain the Easter story.  You can find all the information HERE on my blog.  This activity is great for younger and older kids, but it may seem a little overwhelming in the midst of all your other Easter preparations.  Another recipe that is a lot simpler, especially when you are trying to keep  young children engaged, is for Resurrection Rolls.  We made the rolls this morning and they tasted so good!!

I love that even my teenager will participate with a smile in all of our holiday rituals.  This morning, as the kids hunted for their baskets for quite a while (Dad is a good "hider") and we made our Resurrection rolls, I had a sense that all the preparation and time expended on these activities is more than worthwhile.  I think they will remember our family traditions, the significance behind them, and I hope it will grow their faith.  Simple word pictures are sometimes the best way to remember significant truths.  I still find this to be true in my own life. 

Maybe one day they will remember when they have families of their own.  Can you tell I am feeling a little nostalgic today?  So, here goes...

Resurrection Rolls

1 can of refrigerated biscuits
1 package of large marshmallows, (must be fresh; stale ones won't work)
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Melt butter in a microwavable bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

Have the children each take a marshmallow.  Jesus was pure and sinless which is represented by the white marshmallow.

Now have the children roll the marshmallow in the butter.  After Jesus died on the cross, they anointed his body with oil.

Next, roll the marshmallow in the cinnamon sugar mixture.  This represents the spices that were put on Jesus' body before they placed him in the tomb.

Take one biscuit and flatten it with your fingers. Wrap the biscuit around the marshmallow and seal it very carefully.  Make sure it completely sealed.  Jesus was placed in the tomb and they rolled a large stone in front of it to seal it.

Roll the ball of dough in the cinnamon sugar mixture and place it on the cookie sheet.  Be sure and place them, seal side down, so the marshmallow doesn't expand and puff out the top.

Bake the biscuit tombs in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until browned on the outside.  Remind the children that Jesus was sealed up in the tomb for three days.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good!"

Finally, remove the biscuits from the oven.  Let cool slightly and encourage them to break open the tomb.  Where is Jesus?  He has risen!  The rolls taste sweet.  Easter is a sweet time because Christ died for us and then three days after the cross, he arose so that we also can have a new life in Him!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Passover, Easter and Chocolate Nests

Chocolate Nest with Candy Eggs

It is the blessed Easter Week and...
Sunday is coming! 

I love Easter and hold the sacredness of this holiday close to my heart.  I eschew the Easter bunny in favor of Our Risen Lord and the price he paid on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  Easter IS a time of renewal, of spring bunnies and chicks, of chocolate eggs and hopeful beginnings, BUT it is so much more.  Easter means Resurrection, hope and newness of life.  It means when we trust Jesus to save us from ourselves, one day we will be resurrected with him, with all believers, for an eternity of joy and peace.  No more sadness.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  Rev. 21:4

Because I am in such desperate need to be saved...because I can not go one day without selfishness and sin, I am all the more grateful for a perfect God who lowered himself to become man, and though was tempted in every way, remained sinless and then sacrificed himself in my place.  It is sometimes hard to conceptualize that sacrifice, to really feel the weight of the sin that entangles me and then realize the penalty that had to be paid.

This is why tonight our family will celebrate Passover.  Technically, Passover is a Jewish holiday, a tradition of remembrance of God's deliverance out of slavery in Egypt.  But what does that have to do with Easter?  In fact, the Last Supper was Christ celebrating the passover meal with his disciples. Do you remember those Sunday school stories about Moses?  Oh, yes!  "Set my people free."    God sent plagues that reigned down on Pharaoh and his people because he refused to listen to Moses and obey God by setting the Israelites free.  Each plague was sent to show God's power and to give Pharaoh a chance to repent.  Finally, the last plague was the death of the first born son of every living thing in Egypt.  The angel of death was coming to destroy.  But the people were given a way of escape. 

A continual story of a JUST God full of MERCY making a way for man.  If they sacrificed an innocent, blameless lamb and wiped the blood on the door posts, the angel would "pass over" the house and spare the life inside.

Can you imagine?

We have a baby girl who adores animals.  You remember the pictures from The Little House on the Prairie Party.  Remember her holding the baby goat in her arms.  Last night as she lay in bed, we were discussing the Passover story.  She reached out her hand to me and said, "I could not cut that baby lamb, Mommy."  I looked her in the eyes. 

"What if you had to do that every time you did something wrong?  Would you want to try and stop doing wrong things?"

She replied, "But I can't stop doing wrong things!"  Oh, sweet baby girl is right!  We can not stop doing wrong things, as much as we may try.  The number of innocent sacrifices would be too many to count.  But a JUST God full of MERCY made a way for you and me.  One perfect sacrifice.  God in flesh.  No more are needed.  It is finished.

"When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." John 19:30

We will have our Passover Seder tonight.  Our family will gather around the coffee table and follow the order of the Seder service.  We will wash each other's feet, I will light the Seder candles, "baby girl" will ask the four questions, we will break the bread and drink from the cup.  We will remember and be so thankful that the sacrifice is complete and it is indeed finished!

Chocolate Nests

1 can  sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)

1 package of (16 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1 large bag  (12 oz each) of  chow mein noodles
Chocolate Easter candies eggs

Line two baking sheets with waxed paper. Lightly coat with nonstick spray.  Pour condensed milk into a medium microwave-safe bowl; add chocolate chips. Place in microwave on high 30 seconds, stir, and heat again for 30 seconds.  Repeat until chips melt and mixture is blended and smooth.  Put noodles into a large bowl, pour the chocolate mixture over the noodles and toss with a rubber spatula until noodles are coated.

Drop generous 1⁄2 cups on prepared baking sheets. Lightly spray fingertips with nonstick spray. Form mounds into nests making a depression in the center to hold candies. When the nests begin to set, fill with candies.  Enjoy!

Do you want to learn how to host a Christian Passover Seder?  Visit Chosen People Minsitries.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fish Tacos with Jalapeno Cilantro Ranch Sauce

Fish Tacos with Cilantro Ranch Dressing

Want a nice summer dinner idea?  This dish is fairly easy and super yummy.  In fact, the whole family likes it.  Fish tacos are really popular right now, but I don't always want to wait for a night that we can go out to dinner.  I enjoy making the dish at home and making it often in the summer months.  I can add some fruit and it feels like a light summer menu.  I hope you will try this recipe.  The Jalapeno-Cilantro ranch sauce is really easy to make and you can prepare it ahead of time.  Just keep it in a closed container in the refrigerator and in theory, it should last about a week.  We love to dip our tortilla chips in it all weekend, so it doesn't last long in our house.

Up close and personal!

Fish Tacos
 1 quart oil for frying

1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into 2 to 3 ounce portions 1 package of Fish fry mix
1 teaspoon cajun seasoning
1 cup milk
1 (12 ounce) package corn tortillas
1/2 medium head cabbage, finely shredded
I avocado

1 tomatos, diced
Jalapeno-Cilantro ranch sauce

Heat oil in deep-fryer to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Place the milk and fish fry mix in seperate bowls.  Add the cajun seasoning to the fish fry mix.  Dip fish pieces in the milk and then dredge them into the fry mix.  Fry until crisp and golden brown. Drain on paper towels.  

Spray a skillet with oil and then warm the corn tortillas by turning them once or twice over low heat.  To serve, place fried fish in a tortilla, and top with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, avocado and jalapeno cilantro ranch sauce.


Simple, fresh ingredients for the Jalapeno-Cilantro Ranch Sauce.

Jalapeno-Cilantro Ranch Sauce

1 packet  Hidden Valley Ranch Traditional Dressing mix
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeno
 If you like it spicy, use the whole jalapeno.  If you like it super spicy, leave in the seeds.  It's up to you.  Mix all ingredients together in the blender. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spicy Shrimp & Cheese Grits and Letters from Out of the Blue!

Jackie Melton Wrigley, circa 1942

"In the late summer of 1942, a young woman with a sprained ankle and broken heart sat sipping a Coke in Bennett's Drug Store in Tallahassee, Florida when a gaggle of fresh-faced second lieutenants from nearby Dale Mabry Air Field strutted in the door.  The pilots sat down and began to converse nonchalantly about what a swell war this was going to be.  One of them noticed the forlorn young lady sitting alone in the corner.  He rose and sauntered over to her, observing in his best East Texas drawl, "Why, you look as pitiful as a dying calf in a snowstorm."  ...Letters From Out of the Blue

Lt. Guy O. Denton in North Africa, 1942

And so began the courtship of my grandmother, Jackie Melton Wrigley to my grandfather, Guy O. Denton,  a hot rock pilot from East Texas who pursued the love of a young widow despite the turmoil of a world filled with heartache and war.

So also begins a book, "Letters from Out of the Blue" authored by my uncle, D.G. "Rocky" Denton, that follows the love story of a handsome lieutenant with a witty tongue as he sends love letters to his beautiful girl back home.  The new book features a collection of love letters sent from my grandfather to my grandmother while he was fighting in North Africa with the famed 57th Fighter group during WWII.  While the book captures all the emotions of two young people falling in love, it reveals a larger story where the effects of a world-wide war had significant impact on individual Americans.  You can buy the book HERE on

When I discussed the book with my grandmother and her memories of the time, we talked about the fear and the loss but also the hope and the camaraderie.  The women back home were not idle. They worked in the home and out.  They saved, they scrimped and they shared with one another.  I wanted to share this book with all of you because I love to read these handwritten letters full of people and stories who are mostly forgotten. 

But since this is a cooking blog, I wanted to share a recipe to go along with it.  The problem is or should I say the problem "was" during that time their was a shortage on everything!  With rations on flour and sugar it was difficult to cook, but American women, rolled up their sleeves, tied on their aprons and came up with some pretty ingenious recipes.  Most of the substitute ingredients are not readily available now, but as I searched through lots of recipes I noticed that women used locally grown and readily available ingredients.  For instance, women in the North used maple syrup and maple sugar to substitute for white sugar and women in the South used a lot of cornmeal and grits to substitute for flour. 

Since my grandmother was from South Carolina, I asked her if she could remember any recipes from that time period that would have been served in the South and she said she remembered eating a LOT of grits.  Morning, noon and night!  Sweet grits and cheese grits if you could find the extra ingredients.
In honor of all those wonderful, courageous and ingenious women who found a way to make something out of nothing and provide good food for their families, I offer you an updated version of a Southern classic.

Spicy Shrimp & Cheese Grits
Cheese Grits
4 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 cup old-fashioned grits

1 1/2 cups of extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil.  Add the Cajun seasoning.  Slowly stir in the grits. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook, stirring frequently, until the grits are tender, 20 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cheddar cheese, the Parmesan cheeese, the butter and cream. Season with salt and pepper.  To serve, scoop a cup of grits into a bowl, top with shredded cheddar cheese, a few spicy shrimp with the juices from the pan, and extra Tabasco.  Serve immediately.

Spicy Shrimp
1 lb of peeled shrimp, uncooked and deveined
1/4 cup spicy flavored olive oil
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Tabasco to taste

Heat the spicy oil in a medium saute pan until hot, add shrimp, Cajun seasoning and a few dashes of Tabasco.  Saute until the shrimp are pink and firm.  Remove from heat and serve.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day Means Fun: Octopus Hot Dogs and Rice Krispie Sushi

Happy April Fool's Day!  Have you fooled someone you love today?  I love to see the constant stream of joke ideas on Facebook.  I particularly liked the one where Mom and Dad moved everybody around after they fell asleep so that they would wake up in the wrong bed this morning.  Way to go Julia and Roger!  You two have more energy than I do.  I thought about it last night around midnight, but the idea of trying to carry my almost-14 year old son to another room dampened my spirits, so I watched a rerun of 30 Rock instead. 

My friend Kara offered her boys registration forms for a fake "chore camp" for the summer-  LOVE IT!  Can you really send them there?  I think this may be on my agenda for this evening.

This morning I did a little teasing of my own.  Nothing too exciting, just the old "the clocks are wrong- we missed the bus" mad scramble which due to the fairly good nature of my kids produced much laughter and only a few eye-rolls!

Since this is a food blog- and a kid blog- we have to find something silly to do with food.  These two ideas are standbys at home and in my cooking camps. 

Smiling Octopus Dogs!

Octopus Hot Dogs

Using a sharp knife, slice the hot dog n half lengthwise, leaving 2 inches connected at one end.  Roll the hot dog 90 degrees, and repeat, slicing lengthwise in half but leaving the 2 inches connected at one end. You should now have 4 legs for the octopus.  Of course, a real octopus has 8 legs, so if you want you can carefully cut each of the 4 hot dog legs in half. This is where a sharp knife is essential, because the legs will be thin and fragile with some hot dogs.  On the "head" of the octopus, make two tiny slots for eyes and a half moon shape incision underneath for a smile.  

Place the hot dogs into a pan of boiling water and boil for a few minutes. You will see the arms  get curly and the head will plump.  Don't leave them in too long or it will distort the features.  Serve on a bed of spinach "seaweed" and enjoy!

A tray of candy sushi is fun for the kids to make.

Crispy Candy Sushi Snack

1/4 cup butter
4 cups mini marshmallows
6 cups crisped rice cereal
20 to 25 gummy worms
1 to 2 boxes fruit leather

Grease a 12- by 17-inch baking sheet. Melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the marshmallows and stir until smooth. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the rice cereal until it's evenly coated. Turn the baking sheet so that the shorter ends are at the top and bottom. Then press the marshmallow mixture onto the sheet, distributing it evenly.

Starting at one side an inch up from the lower edge, place gummy worms atop the mixture end to end in a horizontal line. Gently roll the lower edge of the marshmallow mixture over the gummy worms.  Then stop and cut the log away from the rest of the mixture. Use the same method to form 4 more logs. Slice each log into 1-inch-thick "sushi" rolls and wrap them individually with a strip of fruit leather.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best Banana Bread Recipe

Leanne's banana bread is the best ever!

I have never been a huge fan of banana bread. I've always had a "take it or leave it" attitude.  Until one of my former college roomies brought me some of her banana bread.  Talk about yummy!  It really was one of those treats you can't stop eating.   Someone asked me recently why this recipe is so good.  You know, I am not sure why.  I always dissect every recipe I get.  In fact, it's really hard for me to follow a recipe just as it is.  I usually want to add this or that.  Which is not always a good idea.  Sometimes, it turns out "fabuloso" and other times...not so much! 

Back to the banana bread.  When I dissected Leanne's recipe, it didn't seem that different from the rest.  I think the buttermilk makes it moist.  It does call for a whole lot of butter in the recipe instead of oil. Everything is better with butter, right?  I guess this is my fancy analysis- butter equals better.  Also, the banana flavor is not too intense.  This recipe is just the right parts "sweet bread" and "banana" if that makes sense.  So, I hope you enjoyed the banana bread break down (say that 5 times really fast).  If not, you will certainly enjoy the bread!

Leanne's Banana Bread
(makes two loaves)

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Beat eggs and add to sugar mixture.  Add bananas, vanilla and buttermilk.  Sift flour, baking soda and salt.  Add to the banana mixture and mix until fllour has been incoporated.  Pour into two greased and floured 9X5X3 inch loaf pans.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan.  Cool and remove from pan.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spinach and Pancetta Quiche

Happy first week of spring, dear readers!  Sunday was actually the first day of spring and I so wanted to post on one of my favorite days of the year, but alas, with the slightly messy blog remodel I am doing, I ran out of time.  I have lots of ideas brewing in my mind but never enough time to accomplish them all.

By the way, the redesign is still a work in progress, so I would love any comments or feedback, if you can conjure up a little courage to tell me what you think, especially since you are the ones who have to look at it!

Early last week spring came marching through town with rows and rows of battling rain but now, the days are just beautiful...the gentle wind, the warm is so beautiful I never want to go inside. These are the kind of days you wish you could capture in a bottle and store away for August when the sweltering heat makes it difficult to remember there is such a thing as spring.

Spring fever has definitely come upon me.  I can feel it coursing through my veins.  I know this because I am suffering from all the usual side effects that one might expect from such an illness.  I find myself perusing gardening magazines dreaming of vegetables and flowers way beyond my gardening ability, cleaning out closets (or at least thinking about doing it while I peruse my magazines), laying in the grass for no apparent reason (which is fine in your own backyard but slightly weird on the side of the road), and of course, cooking, cooking and cooking.  Any change in the season brings me back to the kitchen.  Honestly, I am always ready for a little change, a side effect from all the constant moving I did as a child, I suppose. 

Since I am cooking up spring recipes, I will share a few.  This weekend I made the most delicious quiche.  Yes, really.  You can still make quiche in the new millineum.  Now, fritata is our egg dish of choice and way more modern, but a really good quiche is still something to be savored.  So break out those eggs and try it again.  I used a prepared pie crust.  Mrs. Smith's makes a delicious deep-dish pie crust that makes the recipe so much easier than preparing your own.  You can even do a "Walls family" version with spinach only on one side!  Ha! I really try to make them eat their veggies but spinach is not always on the top of the list.  However, the Mr. and I love it!  So with or without, that is the question...

Spinach & Pancetta Quiche

1/2 bag fresh spinach
garlic flavored olive oil for sauteing

1/2 pound sliced pancetta
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup half n half
t teaspoons dijon mustard
1 cup swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 deep-dish prepared pie crust (I like Mrs. Smith's.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Stack the sliced pancetta on a cutting board and cut into small cubes.  Separate the cubes into individual pieces.  Place a saute pan over medium heat and cook the pancetta until crispy and brown.  Remove and drain on paper towel.  In the same saute pan, add a splash of garlic infused olive oil and the fresh, rough chopped spinach.  Cook until the spinach is just wilted about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, half and half and mustard until smooth.  Add salt and pepper.    Fold in the swiss cheese and parmesan cheese.  Finally swirl in the pancetta and spinach and pour into a deep dish prepared pie crust.  Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until just set.  Cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yellow Butter Cake Recipe

Baby girl with baby goat!

It's Pioneer week on Growing Gourmets!  I love, love, love the Little House series.  Have I told you that before?  Really, I appreciate anything that has to do with the amazing men and women who survived the American frontier by hard work, perseverance and cooperation.  Their ability to survive speaks to something inside all of us.  The question of whether, if we were in their place, we would be able to create something out of almost nothing and make a life for ourselves and our family.

I am reminded of this each time I plant tomatoes or basil or something small in our garden.  We don't really rely on it for sustenance, it's just a supplement to the many trips to the grocery store.  We have so much prosperity,it is good to be reminded of those who don't, both in the past and present.  It is inspiring to read stories of families who not only survived, but thrived, enjoying the goodness of hard work, fellowship and simplicity.

On a sweeter note, an anonymous reader requested the delicious yellow butter cake recipe I used for the baby girl's birthday cake.  Trust me, over the years I have tried so many different yellow cake recipes it would make your head spin.  I know, I know, there are perfectly good box mixes out there, but I want homemade!  All the cakes I tried in the past came out too dense; more similar to a pound cake than a light, fluffy birthday cake.  This recipe seems to do the trick for me.  I actually doubled it for the party to make three tiers but one recipe will get you two 9 inch rounds. 

Now, this cake was made in about an hour and a half, quite "fast and furious" because I was out of time.  So I went with the "home-baked" pioneer theme and kept it super simple.  I wanted to make an apricot filling between the layers, but baby girl wanted plain. (sigh)   I added almond flavoring to the batter which really enhanced the taste  It wasn't overwhelming, just a subtle addition to add more flavor.  My oldest said it was the best cake ever!  Which is always nice to hear, even if the compliments come when they are feasting on large amounts of sugar.

Yellow Butter Cake
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoons almond extract
3 1/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk

In a bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, then yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

In another bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir about a third of the flour mixture into butter mixture. Stir in half the milk just until blended. Stir in another third of the flour mixture, then remaining milk, followed by remaining flour. Scrape batter equally into two buttered and floured 9-inch round cake pans and spread level.  Bake in a 350° oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Don't over bake.  Cool on racks in pans for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks and remove pans. Cool completely before frosting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A "Little House on the Prairie" Pioneer Girl Party

Our "prairie girl" on her 9th birthday.

Our whole family loves the "Little House on the Prairie" books, so for our daughter's 9th birthday, we hosted a "Pioneer Girl" party.  The girls had a great time riding horses, milking a cow and feeding baby animals just like real pioneer girls.

First, I sent out handmade invitations, prairie-style, with paper wildflowers and calico fabric.  When the girls untied the ribbon, they found the invitation tucked inside.

All the girls lined up at the milking station.  Plenty of smiles because there was a lot of mooing going on in the background.

We chose a wonderful location for the party.  The Oil Ranch in Hockley, Texas has plenty of fun activities, we even went on a hayride out to the cow pasture to feed the cows.  It's a good thing they don't have teeth in the front but they do have long, wet, scratchy tongues.

I made prairie bonnets in all different colors and styles of calico fabric for the girls to take home as party favors.

I attached them to the table with twine and clothespins...they looked so pretty blowing in the breeze.

After a full day, the girls were hungry and just like Mary and Laura who carried their lunch to school in pails, the girls each had their own lunch pail full of healthy snacks including a sandwich, apple, carrots, pretzels, and homemade muffins.

I set bags of old-fashioned hard candy on the table in root beer and horhound flavors just like the pioneer girls would have found in the general store.

Of course, we had to finish off the party with an old-fashoned home baked cake decorated with wildflowers.  Best butter cake recipe ever!

I think our prairie girl had an amazing time and will treasure memories of a day filled with friends, family, horses, cows and baby animals.  It doesn't get any better than this.