Friday, December 30, 2011

Stuffed Mushrooms

One Christmas, I decided that I was going to make Stuffed Mushrooms.  Since then, I've been asked to bring it to Christmas Eve every year.  I figured I'd share the recipe!

The Recipe:
3 containers of button mushrooms
1 medium onion
2 sticks butter
2 sleeves ritz crackers, crushed
Garlic powder
Parmesan cheese

The Method:
Cut the stems out of the mushrooms and save them for later use.  Hollow out the mushrooms (I remove all the gills).  Chop up the mushroom stems and the onion (a small dice).  Saute these in the melted butter until the onions become translucent.  Add in the crushed ritz crackers and mix in thoroughly.

At this point, add in a small amount of salt, the pepper, and garlic powder.  Add in 1-2 palm-fulls of the Parmesan cheese and mix well.  Taste the mixture and add in more salt, if needed (you shouldn't need too much, as the cheese is pretty salty).

Stuff the mushrooms, ensuring to mound the stuffing in each mushroom.  Put all the mushrooms on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350* for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown.


Homemade Toffee (AKA Christmas Crack)

I've tried to make homemade toffee a number of times, and while it has had varying results, nothing has been as good as the recipe I'm currently using (Thanks to Tricia at work).  I remember the first time I made it, I didn't caramelize the sugar/butter enough at the beginning, so the toffee was super soft and had to be refrigerated.  Other toffees I've made have been better, but nothing in comparison.

Now - you may ask yourself, Why "Christmas Crack?"  Well....Once you start eating it, you can't stop, it's so addicting!!!

Homemade Toffee, aka Christmas Crack
  • 1 sleeve saltine crackers (I always use salted crackers)
  • 2 sticks butter (I always use unsalted butter)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (I always use light brown sugar)
  • ~1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 12-16 oz chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 400*.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and lay out saltines on the cookie sheet, all in one layer.
Melt the butter and sugar on the stovetop and bring to a boil.  Boil for 3 minutes and stir continuously (at the end of 3 minutes, the butter/sugar should look almost fluffy).
Take the butter/sugar off the heat and add the vanilla.  Stir to incorporate the vanilla and then pour the mixture over the saltines.  Spread the mixture over the saltines evenly.  Put the cookie sheet in the oven for 3-5 minutes - it should be bubbly when you take it out.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the toffee and put back in the oven for an additional 2 minutes.  Remove the toffee from the oven and spread the melted chocolate chips over all of the toffee.

At this point, you have some options.

  1. You can leave it just as it is.  Pop the sheet into the fridge overnight (or at least for a few hours) and then take it out and break it all up.
  2. Depending on the kind of chocolate that you spread out over the toffee, you can add some toppings (FYI - I usually use a mixture of milk chocolate chips and semi-sweet chips).
    1. Heath Bar Bits
    2. Chopped Walnuts, Pecans, Almonds
    3. Crushed Candy Canes (I used this when I used White Chocolate and it was a hit)
Now, ENJOY!!!

Christmas Crack with Heath Bar Bits on top.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crock Pot Beef Stew

Beef Stew is one of my all time favorite comfort foods.  The last time I made it in the crock pot, it came alright, but it wasn't anything great.  According to my husband, everything I cut (the meat and potatoes, specifically) was too big.  So this time, I made sure to cut everything at a smaller size, so that it would actually be possible to get the beef, potato and vegetable all on the spoon at the same time.

The result:  Delicious.

I really can't take much credit for the recipe.  I actually can't take any credit at all.  It goes to McCormick Seasoning, if we're being perfectly honest.  I bought a packet of Slow Cooker Beef Stew Seasoning, and essentially followed the directions on the pack.

The Recipe:

  • 2 lbs beef, cubed (I actually bought "stewing beef" at the market - it was delicious.  They had it already cubed up, but I cut the pieces even smaller)
  • 5 cups chopped vegetables (carrot, celery, onion, potato) (I think that I actually had about 6 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups water, mixed with the seasoning (I used 2 cups water)

The directions say about 4 hours on high, 8 hours on low.  I cooked it for about 2 hours on high and 4 hours on low for a total of 6 hours. 

For about 6 servings, I calculated about 10 points plus.  For 4 servings, 16 points plus.

It also reheated really well.  I added a bit of water, put it on the stove and it was delicious!

Monday, December 26, 2011


So, Christmas is finally over.  The cookies were baked, the toffee (aka Christmas Crack) was made and all the delicious traditional Christmas food was consumed (in copious amounts).  Now, it's time to make those New Year's Resolutions!

My friend Hillary made a post about Goals instead of Resolutions.  It makes sense.  Every year, I make (and usually break) the same Resolution - to lose weight.  Last year, I didn't make a resolution at all, because I knew I would just end up giving up on it half way through the year.  But this year, I'm setting up some goals.

  1. Get Healthy.  I think it's really important for me to set a goal to be healthy, rather than make the "Let's try to lose 100 lbs" resolution.  We all know that never works.  I want to feel good about myself and not always feel so large and uncomfortable.  I think that I need to do a few different things to encompass the entire Get Healthy Goal:
    1. Exercise at least 4 times a week (upcoming goals 2 and 3 will help with this one).  This shouldn't be too difficult.  Not only do I have a free (yes, free) fitness center right in my building at work, I also pay for World Gym.  I currently hardly ever use either....I need to get in the habit of bringing clothes to work with me, and either using the gym at work, or stopping at the gym after work.  I want to find exercises that I like and that don't bother my back.
    2. Continue to follow Weight Watchers.  The program works, I just need to follow it.
    3. De-Stress.  This may come in the form of exercise, or even yoga or meditation.  I bring a lot of stress on myself by letting things bother me all the time.  It's time to work on that!
  2. Prepare for the 60-mile Tour de Cure and ride in May.  We purchased road bikes back in April, and we've gotten a decent amount of use out of them.  We rode last year with the Johnson & Johnson Team, and while we signed up for the 15-mile ride (as new riders, we weren't too sure if we wanted to go for the big ride right away), but we ended up riding 30 miles, and really enjoyed it.  It's time to bump it up and go for the 60.  Time to Train
  3. Run the CVS 5-K in September.  You may think this is a whimpy goal, when other people are out there training for half-marathons and marathons.  Well, my goal is to run a 5-K.  I haven't run much since I tore my PCL two years ago.  But I think that a workout strategy will help me achieve this goal.
  4. Read more.  I read (really re-read) a lot of Harry Potter.  I would like to read more variety.
  5. Continue cooking and baking (and blogging about my food).  I really want to make more dinners and work on my repertoire.
I think that's a pretty hefty list of Goals.... But I feel that they're practical and I'll be able to stick with everything.

Here's to a great new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A treat for your pup

There are a lot of dogs in my family.  I don't like buying them toys, so this year, I made them cookies!

Peanut Butter Patties
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
3/4 cup oats
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup applesauce
2 eggs
2 tsp Vanilla

Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add all of the wet ingredients.  Mix until smooth.

Roll into a ball, and put on floured surface.  Roll out to about 1/2" thick.  Cut into desired shape (I didn't have a doggie bone, so I used a circle with a ruffled edge).  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and Bake for 20 minutes at 400*F.  Turn off oven and leave biscuits in oven for 1 hour to harden.

The Biscuits are in the oven!
There are going to be some happy Pups!

Bubba Boy





Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I finally did it!

It took forever to figure out!!!

Coffee Cake

I have a collection of recipes from various family members, and one of them, from my dad's Aunt Mary, is Coffee Cake.  Every year, she would make my dad a cake for Christmas, and even if she gave it to him 3 days early, he would keep it until Christmas Day and eat it for breakfast (he would share it with the rest of us, but this was really his cake).  When Aunt Mary got really sick with rheumatoid arthritis, she and my grandmother would make it together, and after a while, they took some short cuts to make it easier for them.  My aunt passed away a number of years ago, and while my grandmother really wasn't much of a baker, she made the cake for a couple years, but I soon after took over the tradition of the Christmas Coffee Cake.

This year will probably be the third year that I'm going to make the cake for my dad.  I actually made a cake last night to take to a Pot Luck today (it's a day-long pot luck, and I got volunteered to bake).  The last pot luck we had I brought banana bread, and everyone loved it - so I got volunteered to bring some kind of a cake again. 

I baked this coffee cake in a long loaf pan - It was easier for the pot luck purposes.  I usually bake it in a tube pan.
The Recipe:
For the Batter
2 sticks of butter (softened, but not melted)
2 cups of sugar
1 pint of sour cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla
4 eggs
4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
For the Filling
1 1/4 cups of brown sugar
3 teaspoons of flour
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 cup of chopped walnuts

Bake in either a greased/floured long (14") loaf pan, or a tube pan.
Layer into the pan, 3 layers, starting with the batter, filling, batter, filling, batter, and finally filling.
Cook for 1 hour at 350* (I usually bake for about 1 hour & 10-15 minutes) and then shut off oven and leave cake in oven for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.

The Coffee Cake - Sliced, with the layers of topping in the middle
It's really some of the best Coffee Cake I've even had.  I'm happy that my aunt passed the recipe down to me.  It's definitely a keeper!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Folding Sheets

My mom has an amazing method of folding sheets.  I call it a method, because each set of sheets that she has is a work of art, and the only way to consistently produce such a neat bundle of sheets is to have a method.

As a child, I remember (quite often) deciding that I wasn't going to take a nap, so my mom would have me help her fold the laundry.  While I was usually in charge of folding the face-cloths (in half, and in half again), I often helped to fold the sheets - It's always easier to have two people folding sheets...  

In college, I remember one of my roommates having trouble specifically with the fitted sheet.  I showed her my mom's method, and then said, and here's what I do with the rest of the sheets!  I love passing this method on, because it not only saves room in the linen closet, but it also looks pretty (or as pretty as sheets can get).

I'm going to go through how my mom folds her fitted sheets, which is the main part to "the method" .... I'm not going to go through the folding of the flat sheet - that one is easy!

So here goes (in picture form, of course :o) )

Fold the corners into each other by having one corner inside-out and folding it into the corner that is right side out.  Once your fold one corner into the other, do it on the other side, too

Lay your fitted sheet on the bed (or table) so that the all of the corners are folded into one area (in this case, the top left corner)
Fold the right side into the middle, and then continue to fold the fitted sheet by bringing the left side over (folding the sheet in 3's), and then folding up by 3's again.  You'll end up with a nice rectangle.  If your sheets are big enough, you can fold them in 4's and probably get a perfect square.
Fold the flat sheet into a rectangle (which is always so much easier than folding the fitted sheet) and stack the two together.  My mom gets hers to be the exact same size, I am not that good.
Take your matching pillowcases and fold them in half the long way
Put your stack of sheets right in the middle of the pillow cases
And you've got a bundle.
All of my sheets are folded like this.  The best part is, you never have to go searching for your pillow cases!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chocolate Cake!!

A while ago, I agreed to enter a "Cake of Choice" into a Silent Auction for the United Way at work.  This would be the second time I entered a cake.  The first time, I made a cake for four-year-old Twins who were having a bowling theme party (I seem to have misplaced the picture).

This time, the woman who won requested a chocolate cake for her husband's birthday, and I made it this afternoon.  I was pretty proud of myself, as it didn't take all day, and I made it with limited catastrophes.  

I ended up making "Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting" - as requested, and decorated it "elegant" since I didn't have a lot of information about likes/hobbies/etc.

Here's what I did, in pictures:

2-9"x13" chocolate cakes, baked and cooled

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (recipe obtained via Wilton)

White Chocolate and Milk Combination, Melted and cooling, ready to be added in

White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (recipe obtained via Wilton)

Chocolate Cake, set-up on the board, with chocolate frosting as the filling

Stacked chocolate cakes (ready to be trimmed - the top was a little bigger than the bottom!)

Cake, trimmed and ready - frosted with the White Chocolate Buttercream

Cake, Frosted!

Extra White Chocolate and Dark Chocolate, shaved with a vegetable peeler 

Dark Chocolate shavings added to all sides of the cake


Writing on Cakes has never been easy for me, but I think I did alright!

It's a lot of work to make a cake like this, especially knowing how much I spent on ingredients and that the buyer only paid $20....But it's for a good cause.

And an excuse to bake!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Baking

It has become a tradition that every weekend-before-Christmas, I bake so much that I can barely walk the next day.  I've made changes to my regular routine in that I make sure I have on good sneakers and comfortable clothes in order to ensure long hours of baking.

I'm starting to gear up for this coming weekend.  I see lots of sweets and treats in my future.  Here's what I've come up with so far:

Old Favorites I'm definitely baking:
  • Peanut Butter Blossoms (Those were always Santa's favorites)
  • Egg Biscuits (A family tradition)
  • Butter Balls
  • Coffee Cake - I will post on this after I make it.  This is a family tradition that my great-aunt always used to make for my dad.  I have taken over the tradition.
  • Chocolate Covered Grahams
  • Toffee (Otherwise known as Christmas Crack - it's so addicting!)
  • Layer Bars (caramel, chocolate, coconut deliciousness)
New Cookies I'm definitely trying
Possibly Baking:
  • Spritz Cookies - Obviously, I made these for the cookie swap, we'll see if I make them again.
Here are some examples of baking I have done in previous years (That I haven't already blogged about).  Some are new cookies I tried for cookie swaps, others were just for fun!

Turtle Tassies.  Sugar cookies packed with chocolate, pecans and caramel
Chocolate Caramel Delights.  They really are delightful
Struffoli.  Little balls of deliciousness with honey and sprinkles.  An Italian treat!
Layer bars with coconut, caramel and chocolate

Chocolate Caramel Delights, Egg biscuits, Peanut Butter Blossoms
What are your baking traditions?  Is there anything else I should add to the list???

Must be Santa!

Did you believe in Santa Claus? I did. 

Growing up, my parents shared the legend of Santa with me and my siblings.  It was something that I would never want taken away from me and it's something I'll certainly share with my [future] children.

When I was young, my Auntie Annette had taped a movie off television, Santa Claus the Movie.  I wouldn't say that it's necessarily the best Christmas Movie ever (many people actually regard it as a huge flop....), but it's definitely one of my favorites - Let's just say that it's not Christmas until I've watched it at least once.  It stars Dudley Moore as "Patch," David Huddleston as Santa and John Lithgow as "BZ" (the bad guy).  The movie starts out, explaining how Santa became Santa, and through the years how the different legends came out about him.  The second half of the movie is set in the 1980's where BZ decides to try and take over Christmas.  Like I said, it's not the best Christmas Movie out there, but I believe that this was really Santa - I used to believe that the head elf was really named Dooley, and my dad helped push that belief by "calling Dooley on the telephone" every year to let him know what we wanted.

David Huddleston as Santa
He told us that the phone number to call Santa was [something like] 555-6678, but that if we tried to call the number, Santa would know and make the operator pick up.  Well, one year, I took the cordless phone and snuck into the garage and made the call.  Sure enough, the operator picked up!  I remember being upset because a friend of mine was trying to convince me that there was no Santa and our parents were the ones to fill our stockings and leave presents out for us.  I was so upset, and making that telephone call and hearing the operator on the other end seemed like a confirmation to me that Santa just had to be real. 

So many Christmas memories revolve around Santa.  The year HE called me himself on the phone (It was my Godfather), the year he left me a note because he thought I was too young for a weaving loom but that if I still wanted one the next year he would bring it to me (and he really did - but honestly, what 7 year old wants a weaving loom????), and all those times I asked for ridiculous gifts - like the talking Steve Urkel doll - and he actually brought them, no matter how much they annoyed my parents.

I think I was 10 when I stopped believing.  That year, Santa had brought me a sweat suit from TJ Maxx where the sizes of the top and bottom didn't match and they needed to be exchanged.  I was in the car with my Auntie Regina and I remember saying, "Auntie, just tell me the truth."   She was so afraid to say anything to upset me, and she explained the true tradition of St. Nicholas and WHY we have Santa.  It made me understand and really the importance of carrying on the tradition.  It certainly softened the blow, I can say that.  Besides, I think I was ready to know the truth.  Since my brother was so much younger than me, I had fun carrying on the tradition until he was ready to stop believing.

I still enjoy Santa today.  I love seeing our friends post pictures of their kids with Santa, and I still get excited when I see a really good and realistic Santa in the mall.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yummy Treats

So while the Cookie Swap was today, I decided that with a whole bunch of extra melted chocolate, I would make a couple of extra treats.

My Aunt Annette has made these in the past, so I stole the idea from her:

Treat #1
Chocolate covered Grahams with Fluff
Small sections of graham crackers, cut in half
Stuffed with Fluff
Dipped in Chocolate.

Treat #2
Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Some were dipped complete, others half way.


A cookie to swap

So this weekend, I baked.  A lot.  A real lot.  I do this every December and voluntarily turn my kitchen into a cookie factory.  I started baking early this year, so the fun has only just begun.  My mother in law had a cookie swap scheduled for today so naturally, I needed to represent.  Every year we've done a cookie swap at my mother in law's, she included a fun competition of "Most Artistic Cookie," "Best Tasting Cookie," and "Most Traditional Cookie."  It is my goal, every year to win at least one category and I'm happy to report that this year I secured the award for "Most Artistic Cookie" - third year in a row!!!

So hear goes!

My sister in law, Erin, and I did some serious baking yesterday.  I report on two cookies.

Cookie #1:
Spritz Cookies:
1 1/2 cups butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

  • Preheat oven to 375* F
  • Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.  
  • Add the egg, milk, vanilla and almond and mix well.  
  • Add the flour/baking powder and mix until combined (the recipe actually calls to mix those together first and gradually add them, but I just dump everything into the wet ingredients all at once).  
  • Do not refrigerate.  
  • Fill cookie press with dough and with the desired disk and press the cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet (I baked mine on parchment paper).
  • Bake for 10 minutes.  Do not brown.

NOW - Because this was a cookie swap, I baked all my cookies as either Christmas Trees or Wreaths.  And half of the dough I died green (just for fun).

After everything was baked and cooled, I decided to decorate the cookies with some chocolate (my aunt gave me tips on how she decorates her cookies).  I left some cookies plain, I made little chocolate sandwiches with others, and on the last third, I put chocolate and chopped pecans on them.

I had a LOT of decorating to do!

Spritz Cookies!!!

Cookie #2:
Nutella Cookies stuffed with Chocolate Ganache (adapted from Everyday Italian, given to me from my Sister, Stephanie)
Nutella Cookie
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt (if you only have regular salt add under a teaspoon)
1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Sugar for rolling cookies

  • Preheat the oven to 375* F.
  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. (I did not do this step)
  • Cream together the nutella, butter, and both sugars for about about 3 minutes.
  • Add the egg and vanilla and blend until combined. 
  • Stir in the dry ingredients until incorporated. 
  • Chill dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  • Shape the cookie dough into 1 inch, about 1 teaspoon sized round balls. Rolls the cookie balls in sugar and place the cookies on a heavy cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. 
  • Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

(We rolled these to a true 1" ball and they were much bigger than the picture.  I think the originator of the recipe rolled balls that were closer to 1/2")

1/3 cup heavy cream
6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
  • Heat heavy cream just to the boiling point in a small sauce pan.
  • Remove from heat and add in chocolate chips and let stand for 2 minutes.
  • With a whisk, mix until smooth. Allow to cool to just about room temperature.
  • Spoon a small amount of the ganache on to the bottom of one cookie.
  • Top off with another cookie and allow to set. Then enjoy!

Nutella Cookies

NOTE:  In the original Giada recipe, she baked these like a peanut-butter Hersey Kiss cookie.  She baked the cookie for about 8 minutes, pulled out and put a Hersey kiss in the middle.  Delicious - but so is this version!

So - At the end of the day, there were a lot of delicious cookies!!!
From Top to Bottom (and left to right):  Pizzelles by Auntie Marie (WINNER of most Traditional), Cheesecake squares by Marie, Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake cookies by Maureen, Peanut Butter Cup Cookies by Vicki, Nutella Cookies by Erin, Chocolate Chip cookies with coconut, nuts and chocolate drizzle by Chris, Jam cookies by Maria, Spritz Cookies by Camille, Chocolate Hay Stacks by Suzie and Cherry Bars by Claudia - my mom!! (Winner of Best Tasting)