Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All About the Brontes Challenge 2010

Here are my picks for the All About the Brontes Challenge 2010 hosted by Laura's Reviews:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Juvenilia by Charlotte Bronte
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by Daphne Du Maurier
Emma Brown: An Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Bronte by Clare Boylan

I am focusing mostly on Charlotte, but wanted to add Agnes Grey because it's the only Bronte novel I've never read....or maybe I have read it and just don't remember.  Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favorites so I added the Branwell Bronte biography (if I can find it somewhere).

This challenge begins on Jan.1 and runs to June, so there is still plenty of time to sign up! Laura has an extensive list of books and movies on her blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Blog Update and Margaret Atwood Novels

Blog Update
I've noticed a lot of blogger folk are giving a kind of "State of the Union Address" about the direction and progression of their blogs.   The end of a year and the beginning of the next is a good time for reflection.  When I started this blog last summer, I thought to focus only on cooking.  Since then I have branched out to other things such as crafts and book reviews.  So I guess the focus of my blog is a bit unfocused.  For now, I'm okay with that.  So expect more random entries in 2010.  Random/unfocused is sort of the theme of my life right now!

Margaret Atwood
I am adding Margaret Atwood to my ever growing list of favorite authors.  This year I read two of her books, The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. Out of all the books I've read this year, these are the only two my mind continues to return to ponder. Both take place in the future and most people would label them science fiction. However, Atwood doesn't like this label and would prefer to call them speculative fiction.  I agree with this and would add that even people who would not typically enjoy science fiction would really like these books.

Oryx and Crake: a Novel
Oryx and Crake reveals a futuristic society that is divided between the elite science community who live in "safe" gated compounds and the pleebians who live outside these communities in an atmosphere of violence and disease. The science community focuses on using genetic engineering to make life better. Jimmy, who later is renamed Snowman, grows up in a compound where his father creates pigoons, pigs who have been genetically engineered to grow human body parts. Jimmy befriends Glenn, who later becomes Crake. They grow up together playing violent video games and watching internet porn. Both boys become fascinated with a young girl on the porn site, who they later meet and rename Oryx. 

The book begins with Snowman/Jimmy as a grown man. He seems to be the last man on Earth with Crakers, genetically engineered humanoids, as his only companions. In these scenes, Snowman is just trying to stay alive. He is hunted by the genetically engineered animals such as pigoons and wolvogs. Through his flashbacks, the reader learns how he (and the Earth) has ended up in this dire situation. It is an incredibly complex and interesting novel.

The Handmaid's Tale
After reading Oryx and Crake, I wanted to reread The Handmaid's Tale, which presents an alternate future outcome of society.  The Handmaid's Tale is written from the perspective of a handmaid, a woman whose sole purpose is for breeding, much like Rachel used her servant in the Bible to bear her a son.  Her life depends on her ability to do this. 

This handmaid experienced the transition from a society much like ours to this one where she has been stripped of her rights. Everything has been taken away from her including her daughter and husband from her previous life.Women are not allowed to own property or to read. Some women become Wives through arranged marriages.  Others become household workers called Marthas. It is heartbreaking and amazing portrait of survival....and eventually escape.  

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Irish Country Christmas

An Irish Country Christmas
If I could only use one word to describe An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor it would be charming! Reminiscent of Jan Karon's Mitford series, this novel centers around the lives of two country doctors and the colorful people they encounter in the small town of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland, 1964. Much like Father Tim, the doctors O'Reilly and Laverty go beyond the call of duty when caring for their"flock." 

O'Reilly, the owner of the medical practice is a large bear of a man while Laverty is the competent young assistant with hopes of becoming a partner. They both experience uncertainty in their romantic lives. O'Reilly, a longtime widower, renews a relationship with an old sweetheart, Kitty. Laverty laments over his girlfriend, Patricia, who is away at school and doesn't seem to be making much of an effort to come home for Christmas.  

There are laugh out loud moments as well as heart-wrenching ones. One of my favorite parts begins with a little boy who is upset about not being cast as Joseph in the local Christmas pageant. I don't want to give away what happens, but his plan for revenge ends with one of the most hilarious scenes I've ever read in fiction.

An Irish Country Christmas is the third book in the Irish Country Doctor series. Of course, there is a little catching up in the beginning for people who are new to the series like me, but overall is could be a stand-alone book. I will definitely be reading the first two books.  

Taylor has also written a Christmas short story available to read for FREE on his website

Here are some of my favorite Irish expressions I learned while reading:

bletherskite: a nonstop talker

heart of corn: someone who has a heart of corn is good natured

gobshite: an insult literally meaning dried nasal mucus

take your hurry in your hand: wait a minute

hooley: a party

This novel is my third and last selection for The True Book Addict's Christmas Challenge.  I tried to read Tidings of Great Joy by Sandra Brown, but couldn't get past this line on page 12,"He bit into the succulent slice of turkey breast.  It never had occured to Ria that teeth could be sexy, but she felt that bite right above her belly button." With a roll of my eyes, I put this book down never to pick up another Sandra Brown book ever again!  

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wilton Candy Kit for Pretzels

This kit was an impulse buy for me at the store this week. It turned out to be a pretty fun and tasty activity. If you'll notice on the box, some of the examples are fancy, using multiple colors. I tried to be fancy, too, but it was not as easy as it looked. I found it very difficult not only to paint with the chocolate, but also to actually see where I was supposed to paint.
Thinking this was beyond my artistic abilities and gaging my patience, or lack thereof, at the time, I decided I better just fill the molds with solid colors. It was very easy and practically mess free. The molds are washable, so I'll be able to do this project again next year.  It was well worth the $9 spent as all of the melting chocolate came in the kit.  It ended up making 18 chocolate coated pretzels.  

Mine may not look as pretty as the ones on the cover of the box, but my children love them! 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Velvety Vegetable Cheese Soup

The past couple of weeks have been a flurry of activity around here.  With all the holiday bustle, it's sometimes hard to get motivated to prepare dinner at home. Picking it up seems so much easier.  Here is an extremely easy and fairly quick soup that is perfect for those tired nights after a busy day.  Velvety Vegetable Cheese Soup comes from Kraft Food and Family online.  If you puree the vegetables, your kids won't even know they're in there!

1 (16 oz) package frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot mix
2 (15 oz) cans of chicken broth
12 oz Velveeta cheese cut into pieces (I use the 2% kind to cut calories/fat)

1.  Put vegetables and broth in large pan.  Cover and bring to a boil on med/high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 min. or until vegetables are soft.  
2.  Mash vegetables.
3.  Add cheese and and cook five minutes, stirring constantly.  

Optional:  Puree vegetables for a smoother consistency. 

Serve with bread or a sandwich.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Crafting with Kids: Trim a Tree Craft

My kids love crafts, so I'm always on the lookout for simple ones that even my three year old can do. This Trim a Tree Craft comes from Family Fun Magazine online. 

Gather all your materials and make supply kits for your kids. Old pie pans are nice for holding supplies.  Since my kids are 3 and 5, I cut the craft sticks for them.  If you don't feel like dealing with the mess of green paint as suggested in Family Fun, just have the kids color the sticks with a green crayon or marker. 

I put dabs of glue on the sticks for my children, and then let them assemble and decorate.  If you don't have sequins, consider small stickers, foam shapes, pom poms, or glitter instead.  

Tangy Pork Chop Stuffing Bake

Tangy Pork Chop Stuffing Bake comes from Kraft's Food and Family magazine. You can also access this recipe and many others online, without being a subscriber. The addition of cranberries to the stuffing makes this a really festive looking dish. I kept the basic recipe, but simplified it a bit.  


6 bone-in pork chops 
1 pkg. (6 oz) STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix for Pork (or Chicken)
1 can (16 oz) whole berry cranberry sauce
3/4 c KRAFT Original BBQ Sauce
2 TBSP brown sugar

(These are based on my modifications.  Follow the link above for the original Kraft recipe.)
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Mix stuffing, cranberry sauce, BBQ sauce, and brown sugar together.  Let sit.
3. In a skillet on medium heat, brown pork chops.  Aprox. 5 min per side.
4. Mist 9x13 pan with cooking spray and place chops in a single layer. Spoon stuffing mixture over chops.
5. Bake for 30 min. or until chops are cooked through.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review of Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber

Glad Tidings: Here Comes Trouble\There's Something about Christmas
I finished my second selection, Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber, for The True Book Addict's Christmas Reading Challenge.I finally found some time today to write my review.  (Christmas is coming along quite nicely here as I finished shopping both physically and virtually yesterday. Whew!)  Glad Tidings is a collection of two Christmas stories: There's Something About Christmas and Here Comes Trouble!  The protagonists in both stories are journalists, making it a nice pairing.  

The Lowdown on Debbie Macomber Books
Having read several Debbie Macomber books, I know what to expect from one of her stories. First, there will be some sort of conflict between two people who are attracted to each other. These two people will outwardly show disdain for each other, while inwardly long to be with each other. Due to circumstances beyond their control, the characters will find themselves forced to be in each other's company.  This contact will allow them to get to know each other. The resulting friendship paves the way for a deeper romantic bond.  The book will likely end with a marriage.  I have never read one of her books that deviated from this basic plot line.

So, Why Read Debbie Macomber Then?
Every once in a while, I enjoy reading a nice, wholesome love story.  The characters in Macomber's books are nice people, even though they sometimes have rough edges.  The situations she puts her characters in are fun to read...my favorite being The Midnight Sons series where lonely Alaskan Bachelors advertise for woman...so cute and usually pretty funny. 

Back to Glad Tidings
Out of the two stories, I enjoyed There's Something about Christmas better. The premise of this story revolves around a journalist, Emma Collins, who must face her fear of flying in order to further her career.  Her big break is to write a series of articles on National Fruitcake finalists in Washington state. The love interest is Oliver, the outwardly cocky, overly good-looking, maverick of a pilot who takes her to visit these contestants in his small aircraft. After a fair amount of misunderstandings and fights, he wins Emma's love through several heroic acts such as finding her a place to live after she is evicted from her apartment. (This new apartment just happens to be the one right next to his.)  He even manages to help Emma relearn the joy of Christmas, which is very endearing.  Plus, I loved all the fruit cake recipes!
The second story, Here Comes Trouble, begins on Christmas Eve when the young daughters of the protagonists ask to hear how their parents met.  Of course, the couple despises each other at first, being rival Seattle newspaper columnists.  Nolan, the father, publicly insults the mother, Maryanne by calling her a spoiled Debutante who depends on her daddy for home and career.  Maryanne is embarrassed, but sees some truth in this portrayal. Determined to be independent from her father, Maryanne quits her job and moves out of her posh Seattle apartment.  Nolan feels guilty about this and offers to help her.  He (surprise, surprise) finds her an apartment right next door to his.  There are misunderstandings and fights. Nolan must find a way to look past her wealth and upbringing, to see her for who she really is.  There was one small detail in this story that really bothered me, but that clearly reveals the wholesome nature of Debbie Macomber's mind.  Maryanne dresses for a date and wears a long black velvet skirt, a blouse, a black velvet blazer, and a cameo necklace.  Not exactly what I think a young woman in her twenties would wear on a date! 
Overall, Glad Tidings is an enjoyable book.  I'd recommend it to people who like light romances.  If you'd pick up this book because of the cute puppy on the cover, you're probably the type that would enjoy reading it.  

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Reading Challenge: The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

Christmas Box
Christmas is so over-commercialized that a part of me, just a small part, dreads it's arrival every October. Yes, October.  I'm a bit weary of the Christmas ads that overfill my newspaper, the articles about the must-have toy of the season (It's the Zhu Zhu Pet this year.), people who put up their lights before Halloween, the Christmas commercials, the nonsense of camping out in front of some store to get the best deals, and what seemed outrageous this year...The Merry Madagascar special that aired before Thanksgiving.  

My children are especially greedy this time of year. My five-year old wants every large LEGO set available.  This child informed me that Santa doesn't have to worry about how expensive something is.  He'll make it happen. Santa will make it happen.  (cringe)

But this is sounding a bit down on Christmas, which is not my intention.  The child in me still gets excited about picking out the tree, holiday baking, and singing Christmas songs. The adult, however, finds it increasingly harder to experience the wonder of Christmas.  

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans helped me to recapture that feeling of Christmas wonder this year.  It is not an elaborate story, but a remarkably simple one.  A young couple and their small daughter go to live with a lonely widow in her large estate.  In exchange for their room and board, the family does nominal work for the widow, such as preparing meals. This arrangement has deeper emotional consequences for both the family and the widow.  The father discovers an old Christmas Box in the attic, which intrigues him.  Tear stained Bible pages, dreams of stone angels, and unidentified music help to unravel the mystery of the Box. Through this mystery, Evans reveals the first gift of Christmas.  

I am a person who is very sensitive to cheesiness.  If I find it cheesy, I won't be able to take it seriously.  This novel definitely passes the cheesiness test.  I think it's because the emotion is not contrived, but is honest. Evans originally wrote the novella for his children.  It was definitely a welcomed reprieve from all the holiday madness.  I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sophie McKay's Chocolate Fruitcake (Sort of)

For the Christmas Reading Challenge, I chose Debbie Macomber's Glad Tidings as one of my selections.  There are two stories in this book, and I'm still on the first, so this is not my official review.  It's just that there are fruitcake recipes in this book, and one is for chocolate fruitcake! I'm not especially a fruitcake fan, but this recipe intrigued me.  I wanted to try it.  Although it is still in the oven as I write these words, I decided to go ahead and post.  If you want to make this cake, get on it in the next week because it takes 3-4 weeks in the fridge before it is ready.  

This recipe calls for soaking the cake in creme de cacao, which is a chocolate liquor.  I love Kahlua, so I am using it instead.  

Sophie McKay's Chocolate Fruitcake (Sort of)

Make 3-4 weeks in advance.  Store in a refrigerator.

Place into a large bowl:
2 c maraschino cherries (cut in half)
2 c chopped dates
2 c pineapple tidbits, well drained
1 c coconut
2 c pecan halves
2 c walnuts (I actually substituted 2 cups chopped pecans)
2 12 oz packages semisweet chocolate chips

Beat the following ingredients on low for 30 seconds, then on high for three minutes.  (I put my stand mixer on medium because the bowl was extremely full.):

3 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c shortening
3/4 c butter
2/3 c creme de cacao (or Kahlua)
1/2 c cocoa powder
9 eggs

**Now at this point, I had my extra large mixing bowl full of this:

My stand mixer full of this (After I mixed, it expanded to the top of the bowl):  

And I was getting nervous about mixing the two together, so I was feeling like this:

Fortunately it all fit.

Pour batter over fruit and nut mixture. (Pour is a very poor word choice. Unless you can hold a 10 lb bowl of batter steady with one arm while using the other to scrape the bowl.  I could not, so I spooned it. It was 10 lbs btw, I weighed it.) Pour into two well-greased loaf pans.  (I used a flute pan and a mini loaf pan...and then ate the leftover.)  Bake at 275 for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  After two hours, check with a toothpick every fifteen minutes. 

When cool, set each loaf on a large piece of plastic wrap and pour a jigger (This is the word she used) of creme de cacao (or Kahlua) over them.  Wrap tightly and place inside a Ziploc bag and keep refrigerated for 3-4 weeks.

I have no idea what this will be like.  The batter was delicious, and that is usually a good indicator.  Stay tuned for Fruitcake Part Deux.

Gingerbread Boys

Every Thanksgiving I enjoy making gingerbread cookies.  My recipe is a slight variation of one that appeared in Country Living Magazine ten or so years ago. Thinking that the dough was too dry, I cut down on the flour.  What I really love about this recipe is the strong spice flavor and slightly less strong molasses flavor.  

Gingerbread Boys
Country Living Magazine
(Makes 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies depending on cutter sizes)

2 3/4 c flour
1 TBSP ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 TBSP butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar (packed)
1 large egg
1/4 c molasses
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Combine flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed. Beat in egg, molasses, and vanilla.
4. Gradually add flour mixture.  Form into a ball and wrap in plastic.  Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
5. Roll, cut, and bake for 7-9 minutes on lightly greased sheet or Exopat Mat.

I always frost mine.  You can make your own icing using powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. Just keep adjusting until you get the consistency you want. Cake icing in the tub is also good.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Album: Snow Angels by Over the Rhine

'Tis the Holiday Season! Time to find your holiday playlist and add a new album.  This year I highly (yes, HIGHLY) recommend Snow Angels by Over the Rhine.  Please (PLEASE) follow the link to amazon and listen to the music samples.  

It's hard to pick a favorite song on this album.  "Snowed in With You" is a nice romantic holiday song and is perfect for slow dancing after dinner..."when the lights are gleaming I'll be leaning into you." "North Pole Man" is a bluesy song about getting your man warm..."it takes good friction to make good heat."  Uh huh...uh huh. "Snow Angels" is a sentimental piece about love lost in war.  The last words of the soldier to his true love are..."Snow Angel, Snow Angel I'll meet you in the sky."  There's also a nice Peanuts tribute song and a new take on the classic carol, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. The music is original and truly beautiful. One amazon reviewer described it as "beautifully haunting."  I couldn't agree more!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Last Piece of Birthday Cake

Another birthday come and gone. All that is left is this last piece of cake with one bite missing. It was a good one, and I enjoyed it all week. (Thank you, Mom!)  Luckily, I have the recipe book in which this cake appears, so I can share it with you even if I didn't actually bake it myself.  

Amaretto Cake
(I highly recommend this book.  The recipes include cake mixes that you "doctor up" to create fancier cakes.  One of my favorites is the Macadamia Fudge Torte!)

Vegetable Spray for misting pan
Flour for dusting the pan
1 pkg yellow cake mix
1 pkg (5.1 oz) vanilla instant pudding
3/4 c  amaretto
1/2 c water
1/2 c vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1/4 tsp pure almond extract

Glaze and Garnish
1 c powdered sugar, sifted (I'd be too lazy to sift.)
3 1/2 TBSP Amaretto
1/3 c slivered almonds, toasted

1.   Preheat oven to 350. Mist 10 in. tube pan with spray and dust with flour.
2.  Blend all cake ingredients on low for 1 min.  Scrape sides of bowl and beat on medium for 2 more minutes.
3.  Pour batter into the pan with a rubber spatula.  
4.  Bake 48-52 minutes until golden brown.
5.  Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.  Run a sharp knife around the edge and invert onto rack, then again onto serving plate.
6.  Mix powdered sugar and Amaretto.  Drizzle over warm cake.  Scatter toasted almonds over the top.  Allow to cake to cool before slicing.

If you don't feel like making this cake, you could always just buy some Amaretto.  My Dad assures me that it's quite tasty all on it's own.

Here are some other Birthday highlights:

cute new shoes...

a comfy sweater...

And a new cookbook!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christmas Reading Challenge

I've been checking out book blogs lately and came across The True Book Addict: Christmas Reading Challenge.  Since I've already purchased several holiday books, I decided to sign up for fun.  It starts on Thanksgiving and runs until New Year's.  You only have to read 1-3 books.  Join us! 

Here are my picks:
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber
Tidings of Great Joy by Sandra Brown

By the way, this is last year's tree.  I don't believe in putting up the tree until after Thanksgiving, but I do know people who have already put theirs up...you know who you are!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Window Washing: Eliminating Nose Prints, Handprints, and Misc. Goo

Windows do not stay clean at my house.  They are always smudged.   I yell.  I plead.  I shake my finger.  I am ignored.

Here are The Culprits:

After a few years of buying window cleaner at the store, I finally learned a better way...a cheaper way...a less chemical way.  It doesn't leave streaks.  It doesn't leave paper towel lint.  It is the way professional window cleaners do it.  (My Father-In Law asked one.) 

Here's what you need:
A bucket
Liquid dish soap
Window Scrubber (Found in the car washing area at Wal-mart)
An old bath towel

Here is what you do:
1. Fill your bucket with soap and water.
2. Dip your scrubber in and scrub the window all over.
3. Dip your fingertips in water and rub along the blade of the squeegee.  This will make the squeegee glide smoothly down the window.
4. Start at the top on one side and in one stroke and with moderate pressure, drag the squeegee down the window.
5. Wipe the excess water off the blade of the squeegee with one swipe of the towel.
6. Squeegee the other side.
7. Clean-up any excess dripping water with a swipe of the towel along the edges of the window. 
8. Repeat, repeat, repeat.....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mitford Series Week 2: Louella's Buttermilk Chess Pie

You, like me, may be wondering why this pie is called chess pie.  After looking it up on Wikipedia, I learned that no one really knows why it's called that, but there are a few theories. One is that the look and consistency of the pie is like that of soft cheese.  After making this pie, it seems like a plausible explanation.  It is a cross between a sugar cream pie and a custard pie...very sweet and very eggy and looks a little like soft cheese.  Another theory is that the pie kept well in a pie chest.  Chest pie turned to chess pie eventually.  The last is my favorite. Once there was a clever housewife (domestic engineer) who created a new type of pie.  When her husband wanted to know what her delicious new creation was called, her not so clever answer was "It's jes pie."  Just pie in a southern accent turned into Chess pie eventually.  It is an apt name for this pie.  It's not too fancy, but it's oh so tasty.  If you don't want to make this pie, please take note of the pie crust recipe, also from the Mitford Cookbook.  It is the perfect crust and would please the pickiest 4-H judges in the "flakiness" category.  

Louella's Buttermilk Chess Pie
1/2 cup unsalted butter melted and cooled, more for greasing the pie pan
1/2 recipe Pastry for a Double Crust (see below)
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk (I used low-fat.)
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice (I used lime)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of salt

1.  Butter your pie dish.  I like to use clear so that I can see if the crust is done on the bottom.Roll out crust and press into dish.  
2.  Mix sugar and flour.  Add beaten eggs.  Add the butter and buttermilk.  Mix well after each addition.
3.  Stir in the lemon juice, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt.
4.  Pour into the crust and bake at 400 for 15 min.  Then lower heat to 350 and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Mine actually went for 45 minutes.  It will be lightly browned on the top...kind of reminded me of creme brulee in appearance. Cool before serving.

It is very good slightly warm.  I stored the leftovers in the fridge, and it made a very tasty, if unhealthy breakfast.  

Pastry for a Double Pie Crust
***Remember to halve this recipe if making this pie.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup butter chilled and diced
1/2 cup shortening chilled and diced
1 TBSP sour cream
4-5 TBSP ice water.

1. Place flour, salt and sugar in large food processor and mix.
2. Add butter and quickly pulse five times.  Repeat separately with shortening and then sour cream.
3. Pour into a large bowl and add ice water until dough starts to form.  Form into two disks and place in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.  (If you half the recipe, make just one disk.)  

The recipe suggests cooling the crust for 30 more minutes after you put it in the pie dish.  I worked quickly and didn't have to do this.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Insanely Delicious Apple Streusel

This is one of  the best apple recipes ever, and it is very simple to make. Here is the link:  http://www.ourbestbites.com/2009/05/apple-streusel-bars.html

Monday, October 12, 2009

Kids in the Kitchen: Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Bryce did not have school today because of the Columbus Day holiday.  I wanted to plan a simple Halloween activity that would be fun for the boys, which led to the chocolate pretzels.  This was a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) activity a few years ago, and I've been making them ever since.  They are fast, easy, cute, not too messy, and most importantly yummy.  

The first step is to gather the children, wash their hands and fingernails, and make them behave!

That's better!

1/2 bar Chocolate Flavored Almond Bark
1 bag pretzel rods
1 large shaker of sprinkles (I bought Halloween themed sprinkles from ALDI)

1. Cover a large cookie sheet with a strip of wax paper.
2. Melt chocolate in the microwave according to package directions.  Stir well.
3. Dip a pretzel into the chocolate and use a spoon to pour chocolate over the length of the pretzel leaving about an inch at the top.  ( I do three at a time.)

4. Hold the chocolate over the wax paper and shake on the sprinkles.  
5. Let set on the wax paper until hardened.  Then put them in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.         Store in a Ziplock bag.

These make cute gifts.  Put them in a clear plastic bag and tie with a ribbon.   

Mitford Series Week 1: Puny's Chicken and Dumplings

Warning: this is not a quick recipe.  You will need to be home for several hours for this one.  Everything is fresh and from scratch.  No pre-cooked chicken, pre-made broth...no shortcuts please.  The work is well worth it I guarantee you.  

You will need to start the chicken stock first.  All the vegetables are rough chopped.

Puny's Chicken Stock
(from Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook 2004, pg 137)

1 (3-4 lb) chicken, rinsed and giblets removed (the plastic bag in the cavity of the chicken)
2 large onions, quartered
2 large carrots, sliced thick
3 stalks celery, sliced thick
10 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
3 sprigs fresh parsley
4 quarts cold water

In a large pot, combine all ingredients, adding water last.  Bring to a rolling boil. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 2-3 hours.  Remove chicken.  Strain and discard the vegetables.

Puny's Chicken and Dumplings 

2 cups self-rising flour (more for rolling out dumplings)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk
4 1/2 cups Puny's Chicken Stock
3 TBSP unsalted butter
4 cups cooked chicken meat (from the chicken stock)
1 cup milk

1.  Combine flour, salt, pepper, and sugar in a large bowl.
2.  Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until coarse crumb consistency 
3.  Add buttermilk and stir with fork just until dough forms.
4.  Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface (put a sheet of wax paper down for easy clean-up) to 1/8 in thick and cut into 1 inch squares.
5.  Bring the 4 1/2 cups of stock to a rolling boil in the large pot and drop dumplings in one at a time so that they don't stick, stirring gently occasionally.
6.  Put chicken meat on top of dumplings and pour the milk over all.
7.  Cover, reduce heat to med. low, and simmer for 20 min.  Do not open the cover.
8.  Add more milk, if it's too dry and season with salt and pepper if needed. 

I served my on top of homemade mashed potatoes.  

For more information about the Mitford books or how to purchase them please visit:

Working My Way Through Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader

Throughout the next couple months, I plan on trying out some of the recipes in the Mitford cookbook and sharing them with you.  For those of you who are not familiar with the Mitford novels, they are about an Episcopal minister living in the small quaint southern village of Mitford, North Carolina.  There are many colorful characters, and the recipes come from all these fictional folk. Please visit Jan Karon's website at http://www.mitfordbooks.com/ for information about the series, the cookbook, and where to order them.  I highly recommend these books.  

If you'd like to get started with the series the first book is called At Home in Mitford.  This is the amazon.com review of the book:

Father Tim, a cherished small-town rector, is the steadfast soldier in this beloved slice of life story set in an American village where the grass is still green, the pickets are still white, and the air still smells sweet. The rector's forthright secretary, Emma Garret, worries about her employer, as she sees past his Christian cheerfulness into his aching loneliness. Slowly but surely, the empty places in Father Tim's heart do get filled. First with a gangly stray dog, later with a seemingly stray boy, and finally with the realization that he is stumbling into love with his independent and Christian-wise next-door neighbor. Much more than a gentle love story, this is a homespun tale about a town of endearing characters-- including a mysterious jewel thief--who are as quirky and popular as those of Mayberry, R.F.D. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to the Paperback edition. 

The recipes are homestyle, southern, and from scratch!  I will not be following the order of the series, but will pick recipes based on what I think sounds good for the week.  First up is Puny's Chicken and Dumplings.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Soft Pretzels

I usually try to make healthy dinners for my kids.  Occasionally on the weekend, we are bad and eat something like ice cream for dinner.  Tonight, I made soft pretzels.  I used my stand mixer with dough hook attachment to knead.  The dough was very sticky, so I ended up adding a bit more flour.  I made these pretzels using cinnamon and sugar rather than coarse salt. Then made a simple glaze with powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk to drizzle on top and to use as a dip.   

Fall Decorating

Can you guess which item on the table got snickers from a couple of women at TJ Max while I was carrying this treasure around the store?