Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dreamsicle Fudge

My mom made these for Christmas a few years ago. I kind of feel like the recipe needs a few tweaks. It's not very fudge-like and everyone I know who has made it has the same struggles I had (it's kind of dry and crumbly). This time that I made it it was kind of grainy even though I cooked it long enough (wondering if it was because I was making a double batch that I should have cooked it just a bit longer). I'm not a wonderkin when it comes to this stuff, so I probably won't mess with it.

2-3 tsp. orange flavoring
9 drops red food coloring
12 drops yellow food coloring [on that note, I used a few drops of orange AmeriColor gel paste]
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
3 cups sugar
1 (12 oz.) pkg. white chocolate chips
7 oz. marshmallow cream

Mix orange flavoring, red food coloring and yellow food coloring and set aside.
Boil butter, evaporated milk and sugar for 5 minutes. Add white chocolate chips and marshmallow cream. Mix well.
Reserve 1 cup white mixture.

Add orange flavoring to remaining mixture. Pour into a 13x9 buttered glass dish.

Swirl the cup of white into mixture. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 1" squares.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cheesy Cornbread (ABM)

I've been looking for a good cornbread recipe for the bread machine. I've tried a few and never been satisfied - they were too mealy or too bready or too spicy... This one fits perfectly for what I want to use it for. It's a perfect side dish to chili, it's great with honey and butter. There is cheese in the recipe, but I couldn't pick up on the flavor enough to be overwhelmed, it was a subtle attribute of the bread. I did make a few deviations from the recipe - it called for buttermilk but I screwed up the grocery shopping (again) and failed to get either buttermilk powder or actual buttermilk, so I soured the same amount of milk with 2 tbsp of white vinegar. I also  used colby jack cheese instead of cheddar - and really I think you could use any kind of cheese, even Mexican flavored cheese for a little extra spice. This is the recipe for 1-1/2lb loaf.

1-1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tsp shortening
3 cups bread flour
3/4 cup shredded cheese
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp dry yeast

Place ingredients in order in bread pan. Select 1-1/2lb size, light crust and basic bread setting. Start machine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

Considering the hoopla that PSL's get each year, when I saw this recipe on Annie's Eats I knew it was a "must make" for me. I did make a few cheats to make these work for me (call me cheap and lazy, I'm okay with it). I did not brush with coffee before frosting (I thought it was unnecessary and I was right, these have a good coffee flavor to them already), instead I spread with store bought caramel sundae topping and then frosted. Trust me, the caramel adds just a little bit of sweet without being in your face. Next time I think I'll use actual pumpkin spice instead of separate spices for a little bit of flavor variety.  It was a perfect combination of pumpkin, coffee and the whipped cream frosting was like inhaling eating an actual PSL, and is probably the only time I have enjoyed a whipped cream frosting. In fact I hear them calling from my fridge as we speak...

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp espresso powder [this stuff is expensive, so I used a strong roast instant coffee]
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves [I had a hard time keeping this in the recipe due to my dislike of cloves, so I used a mere pinch of the stuff *shudder* that was enough for me]
1 tsp salt
15 oz can pumpkin puree [despite the fact that I have fresh, homemade pumpkin puree, I did use canned to clean out my pantry]
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 jar caramel sundae topping (you'll use about 1/3 of the jar)

Preheat oven to 350 degs F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, coffee powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Stir together and set aside.

With an electric mixer, blend pumpkin, sugars and oil. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add flour mixture in two additions, mixing just until incorporated.

Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Bake 18-20 minutes, until cupcakes are golden brown. Transfer pans to wire rack, cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans. Let cool completely. Once cooled completely, spread with caramel sundae topping.

Whipped Cream Frosting:
2-1/4 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Whisk heavy cream. Blend in the confectioner's sugar gradually. Whip until stiff peaks form, being careful not to over-beat.

Use a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip to frost the cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and more caramel sauce if desired.

Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Highlander of Her Own

A Highlander of Her Own (Daughters of the Glen, #4)A Highlander of Her Own by Melissa Mayhue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It wasn't a bad read as far as the genre goes. I felt kind of cheated on the plot and character development side, there was so much more the author could have done with the base storyline and characterizations. On the plus side, this was a well-written book - the POV's stayed with the character, there was no redundancy with the storyline when the POV shifted to another character, there was some irritation on my part with word usage (like a particular word was stuck in the author's brain and she used it every chance she could get), but otherwise a very clearly written book. I probably won't be reading the entire series, but willing to pick up the other book by this author that's on my shelf.

Series: Daughters of the Glen Book 4

Synopsis: TEXAS, PRESENT DAY. Ellie Denton's world has spiraled out of control. A strange new birthmark, animals talking to her, and her mother's ex-husband laying claim to the family ranch have her thinking life can't get more complicated. But Ellie doesn't know the birthmark's connection to her Faerie ancestors.Complicated takes on a whole new meaning with her innocent wish to find her true love.

SCOTLAND, 1304. Caden MacAlister has more trouble than he can handle. With his brother held for ransom and the laird missing, the last thing he needs is another problem. But the Fae have other plans. A mysterious woman shows up in his stables, sent by Faerie Magic to find her true love. Fighting his attraction, Caden insists she's meant for one of his brothers. With his history, he has no desire for a woman in his life — especially a woman sent by the Fae.

Only the magic of the Fae can determine whether Ellie will find a Highlander of her own...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orange Chicken

I found this recipe over at Annie's Eats, one of my favorite cooking blogs. I didn't change much, although I did make the marinade and sauce the night before. This is still a time consuming recipe that I won't be attempting again on a weeknight. Also next time I make it I'll probably skip the cayenne pepper in the breading, it was too spicy for The Diva to eat. This was pretty awesome as leftovers too!

Marinade and Sauce:
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup orange juice
1-1/2 tsp orange zest
6 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tbsp ginger [1 tbsp fresh]
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 lbs chicken breasts or thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp cold water
8 thin strips orange peel (optional)

Combine chicken broth, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in a large sauce pan; whisk to blend well. Measure out 3/4 cup of mixture and transfer it to a large zipper lock plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces to the bag, pressing out the excess air and sealing well. Refrigerate and let marinate 30-60 minutes, but no longer.

Place the saucepan with the remaining mixture on the stove and heat over medium high heat. Bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Add the mixture to the saucepan with the sauce. Continue simmering until the sauce is thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the strips of orange peel, if using. (I reheated this in the microwave the night I cooked the chicken.)

Coating and Frying:
3 large egg whites (I used two whole eggs)
1 cup cornstarch (I used half flour, half cornstarch)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Heated oil - I used my electric deep fryer to better control the oil temperature.

Prepare coating by whisking egg whites to a froth in a pie plate or shallow dish. In a second pie plate (or plastic bag works well for me), combine cornstarch (and flour), baking soda and cayenne pepper; whisk to blend. Drain chicken of marinade in a colander or large strainer; pat dry with paper towels. In small batches, place chicken pieces in egg whites, coating well. Transfer the pieces to the cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly, shaking off the excess.

Fry chicken until golden brown in oil heated to 350 degs F (about 5 minutes).

Toss chicken with sauce. Serve over rice.

Thankful For...

... a five day weekend! Much needed and appreciated.

I spent a little time this morning in bed, cuddling with The CofC and kittens, drinking my coffee and reading. Seems like a great start to things!

I have quite a few goals for my days off:

  • finish the two books I've started
  • make 10 dozen cookies for the cookie swap (technically it's 5 dozen cookies and 5 dozen fudge)
  • finish painting the kitchen
  • make a huge dent in my house cleaning
It seems like there's plenty of time to get everything done, but yet I know there isn't enough time once I add in all the other obligations that are piling up:
  • Thanksgiving Eve church service
  • two family get togethers (Thursday and Sunday)
  • wedding reception (Friday evening)
  • sleep
  • QT with The CofC and BB
  • Driving The Spawn back to his dad's
  • menu planning and grocery shopping for the next two weeks (this consumes hours of my time. it's ridiculous.)
Reality. It's kicking my butt.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lazy Day Beef & Vegetable Soup

I made very few changes to this recipe (that I've had forever *cough*). The most drastic thing that I did was use less beef (original recipe called for 2-1/2 lbs, I used just over 1 lb) to make it a little more economical. You can use any variety of diced tomatoes - plain, with garlic & onions, italian seasoning, etc. - for a little added oomph. I used a tri-colored pasta, but you can use any small shaped (ditalini, small shell, small penne) pasta. The tri-colored pasta is a little too big, but still yummy. I forgot to buy a bag of mixed frozen veg's, so I faked it for this post with a little bit each of a bag of corn, carrots and green beans. Next time I make this I'm going to add 1-2 tbsp tapioca because the broth was really thin.

1 lb. stew beef
29 oz can beef broth
15 oz can garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas), drained
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1 tsp salt (if needed) - I didn't use
1 tsp dried italian seasoning, crushed
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup uncooked pasta

Combine beef, broth, beans, tomatoes, water and seasonings in crockpot; mix well. Cover and cook on high for 5 hours or on low for 8 hours. No stirring necessary during cooking.

Stir in vegetables and pasta, continue cooking covered for 1 hour, or until beef and pasta are tender.

Stir well before serving.

When Size Matters

When Size Matters (Flipside)When Size Matters by Carly Laine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite sure where to start with this book... I wasn't so sure about it being written in first person, but turned out to work in the book's favor. I really liked the main character. She made sense to me, I saw a lot of me in her. This book really had some great characterizations, a lot of detailed backgrounds. We didn't really get to know the hero of the story and the plot was kind of thin. Well, as thin as a short trashy romance can get. Wholly unbelievable, but a fun and funny book. A nice diversion from heavy reading.

Series: Harlequin Flipside #19

Synopsis: Dallas hair, diamonds the size of boulders, double-D cups stacked with silicone - would these be the reasons Dylan Stone feels a jumbo attack of insecurity coming on? Considering that Texas boys equate "cheerleaders" with happily-ever-after, this computer whiz can't quite see how her own, um, all-natural gifts fit in.

Which might explain why she's the last virgin standing and a teensy bit concerned that the "problem" is out of control...

Until she meets Brad, a man as elusive as he is gorgeous. She's sure he's a contender for The One... if only he would stop running at even the slightest whisper of a glimmering rock!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blue Nude

Blue Nude: A NovelBlue Nude: A Novel by Elizabeth Rosner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was too slow-paced for me. I found the story wandered too much between (boring) current events to the past. I felt the lack of detail and symmetry to be a contrived way to build suspense that failed.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 14, 2011

Comebacks at Work

Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master ConfrontationComebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation by Kathleen Kelley Reardon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't finish this book. I found this book to be very logical, very explanatory, and what I did read has been helpful. I will probably be coming back to read this book again and give it the better review that it deserves.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkin Banana Bread

After slaughtering The Diva's pumpkin and making puree... you might think that makes me a bad mom, but once you taste this bread, you'll understand why sacrifices had to be made. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup mashed banana and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. I'm not the kind of girl who measures mashed banana so I used one whole banana, 2 cups pumpkin puree and skipped the oil completely. It came out very dense and moist... and oh-so-delicious! Oh, a few other tweaks that I made: instead of orange zest I used dried orange peel (the stuff you buy in the spice aisle, not homemade) and I used half the original cloves because I don't really like cloves. If you like cloves then double the amount I have here.
nonstick cooking spray
2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 15 oz can pumpkin (or 2 cups homemade puree)
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 mashed ripe banana
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, orange zest, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves in a medium bowl.

Stir together pumpkin, eggs, sugar and banana in a large bowl. Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove bread from pan and cool completely. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Slice bread and serve with Dark Chocolate Butter.

Found in last year's HyVee Seasons magazine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dark Chocolate Butter

This stuff is... yeah. What you don't see in the picture is my mouth waiting to pour this stuff in. For the purpose of pictures (and lack of patience) I did not refrigerate it. It does set up nicely once refrigerated. If it sticks around that long! The flavor wasn't a "dark" chocolate, more like "not as sweet" chocolate. I will probably be trying this with a dutch process cocoa for a darker flavor.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup baking cocoa
3 tbsp water
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

In a small heavy saucepan, stir together sugar, cocoa and water until smooth. Add butter; cook and stir over medium low heat until bubbly. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour into a small bowl. Cool for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Found in last year's HyVee Seasons magazine.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

It's no secret around my house that I love anything pumpkin. I even had a plan idea this year to go through all of my pumpkin recipes and actually make them vs. just drooling over them. I planned to do this in October, but then was distracted by The Diva's birthday and the kitchen painting project (still unfinished). Surprisingly, I have never attempted to make my own puree. This year, I tackled that little project. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, just very time consuming.

Although canned pumpkin is prized for convenience, you might discover that the satisfaction of preparing your own pureed pumpkin is worth the effort. Though baking time and water content vary with pumpkin size and variety, any pumpkin can be seeded, baked and pureed for use in recipes calling for canned pumpkin. One pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin yields about 1 cup of pureed pumpkin. When a recipe calls for a 15 oz. can of pumpkin, use 1-3/4 cups of puree; a 29 oz. can contains 3-1/2 cups.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut a clean pumpkin (sugar pumpkins are recommended, I used the one my daughter painted at daycare - washed, of course) in half from stem end to the bottom. Scrape insides with a metal spoon to remove seeds and fibers, reserving seeds, if desired. Place halves, cut sides down, in a roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until flesh is tender when pierced with a fork. [Note: I don't have a roasting pan large enough so I put each half in a 9x13 pan.]

When cool enough to handle, scoop out pumpkin flesh with a spoon, draining off any excess liquid and avoiding browned portions. Puree in blender or food processor or mash with potato masher until smooth. Place puree in a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a deep bowl. Bring ends of cheesecloth over puree to cover. Place a 1 lb. can on top as a weight. Allow to drain about 1 hour or until puree is the consistency of solid pack canned pumpkin. (Or skip draining step and cook puree over low heat, stirring frequently, until any free water is evaporated.)

Place puree in 1-3/4 cup portions in freezer safe resealable pastic bags or containers, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace between the top of pumpkin and the top of bag seal or container rim for expansion during freezing. Seal, label, date and freeze for up to nine months. Thaw before using in recipes.