Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Cake Mix Challenge

When it comes to cake mixes most people lay in one of two camps, either you love them or think they are a disgrace. Well, I do really prefer making my own cakes from scratch, but to be honest it's more of an ego thing than a real taste preference. I just enjoy the process of making them and the pride I feel when people are seemingly amazed that I made something from scratch. I do however realize that making a cake from scratch is a daunting, intimidating task for a lot of people. When you try out a new recipe you can never really be sure how it's going to turn out and there's the constant "is this cake going to be too dry" question. With a cake mix you are pretty much guaranteed success if you can follow directions. I also realize that a lot of people, myself included sometimes need a little shortcut to make everything fit in, or just want a shortcut so that they can watch 30 minutes more of t.v. I have made cakes in the past using box mixes and they have always been good and people have always thought they were homemade, and that is because a few years ago I figured out the secret to making a good box mix, throw away all of the directions and add your own stuff. I usually substitute sour cream for the water and always add in at least one extra egg, usually two. I also, depending on the cake flavor add in either vanilla or chocolate. I have heard of people adding in pudding mix and while I haven't tried it yet I'm definitely planning on it. There are really so many ways to dress up a store bought cake mix and all of this has led me to the "Cake Mix Challenge". This is entirely a challenge for myself, but hopefully some of you will play along. So every month for the rest of the year I am challenging myself to come up with a recipe for a cake mix that will be so good that nobody will believe you when you tell them it came from a box. That said, I do draw the line at store bought frosting, they are pretty much gross, they don't have real dairy products in them and that scares me and the texture is terrible, I have never frosted anything with them that didn't look terrible. I think they are just a bunch of oils and artificial sweeteners and colorings. Plus making frosting is really, really easy and only takes a few ingredients, so I really recommend that you take the 5 minutes and make your own. This month is very nearly over, but I have to get started somewhere and since it is my husband's grandmother's birthday this weekend I decided to give it a go. I had actually planned to make these cupcakes from scratch but when this idea came to me, I knew that they would be a good candidate for a box mix. These are a take on the famous Hostess cupcake that we all know and love. I figured I could make some that would at least be as good if not better. I also wanted to try out an idea that I saw over at Martha. Her cupcakes were just chocolate, no filling but the idea of taking the traditional white loops and making them into words was so cute I had to try it. So here is my version of a classic using a box mix.

Hostess cupcakes:

1 box devil's food cake mix- I used Betty Crocker, but whatever you like is fine
1 1/4 c. fat free sour cream
4 eggs
1/2 c. oil
1/4 c. buttermilk
4 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate

Mix all of the ingredients together in the bowl of your mixer, fill 24 prepared cupcake liners each 3/4 of the way full and bake at 350 for minutes. When a knife is inserted and comes out cleanly remove cupcakes from oven and place on a cooling rack.


6 tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups marshmallow fluff (buy the big size, my grocery only had the small size so it takes 1.5 containers to get three cups.)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. confectioners sugar
cream to thin

Cream the butter in the bowl of the mixer, add the marshmallow fluff and vanilla, mix. Now as for the confectioners sugar, I usually just add confectioners sugar to any frosting until it seems the right consistency to me. I can usually tell when its right for either filling, frosting or decorating. So use your best judgment, this is just an estimate, you can always add a little cream to thin it out. It should be creamy like what is normally in a hostess cupcake, not like the consistency of buttercream icing. When the cupcakes are cool, place the filling in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, insert the tip into the center of each cupcake and fill until the cupcake puffs up a little. If some of the filling spills out the top, just use a knife to smooth it out evenly.

Chocolate Ganache:

3/4 of a bag of semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream

In a heavy pot placed over low heat, heat the cream just until you see steam rising off the top, do not let it come to a boil. Remove from heat. Place chocolate into the cream and stir until the chocolate is melted and combined with the cream. Let cool. You can either dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache while it is still slightly warm and liquid or you can let it cool some and spread it on with an offset spatula. I transferred mine to a small bowl and popped it into the freezer for a couple of minutes. However you choose to do it, ice your cupcakes.

Decorators icing:

4 tbs. unsalted butter softened
3 tbs. shortening
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
cream to thin

Cream the butter and shortening in the bowl of the mixer. Add the vanila and mix. Slowly add the confectioners sugar and mix until incorporated. You can add some cream if the icing is to stiff. This should be a consistency that is pipeable, sort of like toothpaste. Place the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a writing tip, or small round tip. If you want them to look like hostess cupcakes pipe 7 connected loops onto them (yes I counted the loops on a real one) if you want to write a special message on them just use cursive to mimic the loops on the real ones.

Final step; serve to your loved ones and enjoy the happy looks on their faces when they bite into the cream filling.

So there you have it the first entry into my "Cake Mix Challenge". Look for more to come in the following months.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Soft Pretzel mmmm......

I've been wanting to try my hand at soft pretzels for a while, I love those big warm pretzels that you get at the mall and so does my husband. I had also thought that this would be a good project to try with Sweets, but it turns out that they are kind of hard to get rolled out into a rope that you can make pretzels out of and Sweets got bored after the first one. I didn't dare try to make my own recipe for this one since I'm still pretty new to the world of yeast breads and am positive I would ruin them if I went recipe less. I made the mistake of forgetting to put the egg wash on these which kept them from getting that nice distinctive golden brown color that we are so familiar with. They still taste really good and a lot like the ones you buy, which is good because they took like two hours of my day to make. If I make these again I will definitely make sure that I remember the egg wash, since by the next morning these were chewy and a little soggy. I think the egg wash would hopefully seal them and keep them a little fresher for a day or so, I mean who could be expected to eat a dozen pretzels in one day. So here is the recipe I used and hopefully if you make these yours will look a little better.


Owl Apron

Okay I am a fabric junkie, I admit it. I can't go into the fabric store without wanting to buy something new. I've been trying to be good lately since I have a huge stash that I am trying to work through but sometimes a fabric is just too good. Fabric is just one of my obsessions along with pretty much anything vintage. Those are the two categories in which a good find can incite major heart palpitations. This fabric sort of did it for me in both categories, while not technically a vintage fabric I don't think anyone can argue that the design has a heavy 60's feel to it, with the owls and black light poster color scheme. I had really only planned on buying some broadcloth when I hit the fabric store yesterday, I was planning to make an apron for my husband's grandmother's 75th birthday this weekend and she, like myself loves owls so I had intended to use some fabric with owls that I already had. Well a 40% off sign later I find myself clutching a bolt of this lovely stuff and breathing heavy. I'm happy with my purchase since 1.5 yards is proving to be enough for an apron for my husband's grandmother, one for myself and I think enough left over for the wallet I've been wanting to make.
Okay so on to the actual apron. I knew I wanted a 50's housewife inspired half apron, I looked at a few commercial patterns but thought the idea seemed easy enough that I could make my own pattern, so that's what I did. It is lined with solid broadcloth, has two patch pockets on the front, has a orange and pink handmade bias tape waistband and orange bias tape ties. It is technically reversible although the green side is pretty boring, on the next one I make, which will actually go to my husbands grandmother I am going to add patch pockets in the owl fabric to the reverse side so it will be pretty either way. I am thinking of trying to make a tutorial as I make the next one if anyone is interested. So I am happily wearing my apron as I sit here and type this morning and will probably be wearing it for the foreseeable future, I just can't get enough of the fabric and of course who doesn't love a big swirly apron to make housework a little more bearable.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Few of His Favorite Things.

I have been thinking lately about all of the favorite foods that we have and how so many of them tend to be things we don't actually make ourselves. We all have those favorite restaurant foods that we are too intimidated to try and make, the fear that they won't quite live up to the original always in our minds. So I have been feeling drawn to try and replicate or make an "inspired by" version of some of our favorite items. I'm not fixated on exact duplicates really, just trying to capture the feel and flavors that we love. This weekend I took on two of my husbands favorites, Barbecue Chicken Pizza and Boston Cream Pie. For both of these I went the "inspired by" route and made my own take on these favorites. For the pizza I made my own whole wheat pizza dough in the bread machine, my own barbecue sauce, and decided to add sweet peppers and onions and bacon to the mix. For the Boston Cream Pie I went for cupcake form. I really like making cake recipes into cupcake form, it's the perfect size portion for me and I like the ratio of frosting and filling to cake that you get in the smaller form. I really enjoyed both recipes even though they are rather time consuming, but you could easily substitute store bought sauce for the pizza and even use instant pudding for the filling of the cupcakes with a store bought yellow cake mix. Both of these recipes have the same feel of the originals but with my own spin and are perfect if you have time to spend in the kitchen some cold Sunday.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

1 3/4 c. warm water
2 tbs. olive oil
2 c. bread flour
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp garlic powder

Place all ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order suggested by the manual. Set the machine to the dough cycle. When the cycle is over there is no need to let the dough rest again, it can go straight to the pizza pan. I like to sprinkle some cornmeal onto the baking sheet before stretching and rolling the dough. I kind of just use a combo of stretching and rolling until I get the shape and size that I want. This recipe will make a pretty large size pizza, enough for at least 6.

Barbecue Sauce:

2 c. ketchup
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. ground mustard seed
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. hot salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. paprika
2 tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
salt/pepper to taste
1/4 c. water

Mix all the ingredients together in a small saucepan. Simmer for 30 minutes and then place in the refrigerator to cool. This recipe makes enough for the pizza so if you would like more you can double or triple the recipe.

Pizza Topping

4 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups of sliced green, red, and yellow peppers
1/2 sweet onion sliced
1/3 lb bacon slices cut into 1 inch pieces
1 c. pizza cheese or mixture of provolone and mozzarella
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese

In a skillet cook the chicken until no longer pink, add the bacon pieces and cook until almost done. On prepared pizza crust spread the barbecue sauce generously over the surface leaving a 1 inch border. Sprinkle the chicken and bacon mixture over the top. Spread the peppers and onions evenly. Top with both cheeses. Bake at 400 degrees until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cutting.

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes:


1 c. unsalted butter softened
1 c. white sugar
1/4 c. light brown sugar
5 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. milk
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Heat the oven to 350
In the bowl of your mixer cream the butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add the vanilla, stir until blended. Add the eggs stirring after each until all are incorporated. In a separate bowl stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the batter alternating with the milk until all is incorporated. Spoon batter into 24 prepared cupcake liners and bake at 350
for 15-18 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean, do not over bake. Remove from oven when done and let cool on a rack.

Custard Filling:

1 1/2 c. sugar
2 tbs. corn starch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
2 tsp. vanilla
4 egg yolks
2 tbs. butter

In a heavy saucepan add the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir to combine. Add the milk a little at a time until the sugar, cornstarch and salt are dissolved. Add the rest of the milk, cream and vanilla. Turn on the heat and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture starts to get very thick. In a separate bowl gently stir the egg yolks. Add a little of the hot cream mixture to the eggs yolks and whisk quickly. Continue to add a little more hot cream to the eggs, whisking after each addition until the mixture is half and half, this is tempering the eggs and will keep them from scrambling when you add them to the hot cream mixture. After you have the eggs tempered add the mixture back to the hot cream mixture, stirring as you add. Once the egg mixture is incorporated into the cream, heat without stirring for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the two tbs. of butter. Place in a bowl in the refrigerator until cool. When mixture has cooled place into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the center of each cupcake, making a small hole, pipe 2 tbs. of the custard filling into each cupcake. Some filling may spill out the top, I just use a knife to spread it evenly over the top of the cupcake.

Chocolate Frosting:

1/3 c. Cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. confectioners sugar
6 tbs. softened butter
1 tbs. milk

In the bowl of your mixer cream the butter, add the cocoa powder and mix until well blended. Add the confectioners sugar and mix until smooth. Add the milk a little at a time until the icing is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Frost the filled cupcakes with 1 tbs. of icing for each.

I hope you enjoy the fruits of my weekend. I am now very, very tired. This is pretty much all I did Sunday with the exception of a million loads of laundry and getting to watch Sweets puppet show that she put on with her new hoard of sock puppets courtesy of some Meemaw craft time. I also took a nasty spill when tripping over some of Bug's toy trucks and am nursing a bruised wrist so if my typing is terrible lets blame it on that. It's actually kind of ironic that I tripped over the toy trucks, I honestly can't tell you how much time I spend preaching each day about the need to keep toys picked up so that someone doesn't trip and fall and of course when it finally comes to pass it has to be me that takes the spill. I was proud of Sweets though, when I fell she very calmly stepped over me and made her way upstairs to where her dad was napping and woke him up to tell him that "Mommy had fallen and needed help". Bug on the other hand just came over and sat on me and cried, I think he actually felt pretty shook up by seeing mommy hurt. I also realized that there comes a point in our lives when falling down really sucks. Kids fall all day long and just brush it off but when we fall we feel it for days afterward. As a matter of fact, I'm feeling it right now so I'm going to have a beer and some Tylenol p.m and call it a week.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cheese Crackers for Playgroup

Well it has been a very long week. My cousin and her sweet little baby are leaving today for Japan. They will be gone for three years and are only going to get to come home once this June. All I can say is that we will be missing them dearly. I took the baby's picture this week and luckily have gotten to spend some quality time hanging out with them the last few weeks. But their leaving has left me very sad, so what is one to do when they are sad? Bake. Spending time in the kitchen measuring, kneading, mixing, all make my mind clear. I don't have to think for a while about whatever is upsetting me, just about the crackers or scones I am preparing. This week I decided to make something for the little ones for play group as well as the moms. So I thought what do the 3-6 year old crowd like? Cheese crackers of course. So I looked around at some recipes and then sort of combined some to get a flavor that would be more kid friendly. I also decided to make them into twists because that just seemed fun. For the moms I revisited the cinnamon-pecan scones from my previous post, because they were one of my favorite things I have ever made and I wanted to try the maple syrup in them. I'm still undecided about which I like best, but I think I have decided that scones are my official favorite baked good item. So here is the recipe for the cheese crackers:

1-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1/4 c. butter
1-1/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. cold water

In a large bowl combine the flour, cornmeal and salt stir to combine. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until small crumbs form. Stir in the cheese. Add the water a little at at time until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Heat oven to 425. After dough is chilled divide in half and place one half on a lightly floured surface and roll until about 10x10 in size, cut into half inch strips. On a lightly greased pan or silpat liner place each strip, slightly twisting and pressing down the ends to hold in place. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until crispy, will keep in an airtight container, but I found if you want them to be crispy you may want to reheat them in the oven for a few minutes.

Speaking of favorite dessert type items, last night we went to our favorite ice cream place, "The Pie Pantry" to say farewell to my cousin. We spent many a day there over the summer and if you live in Louisville you have to check it out. They have the best ice cream and desserts in town and pretty yummy coffee, as well as totally reasonable prices. They have a really great atmosphere, it's comfortable, the staff is nice, and it's usually not to crowded. They also serve lunch; sandwiches, salads and soups which are really tasty too. They serve Ehrler's ice cream and I usually go for the cherry vanilla although last night I had the chocolate covered cherry sundae, which is seriously unbelievable. Just imagine cherry vanilla ice cream on top of a brownie, covered with chocolate sauce, cherries and whipped cream, trust me it was even better than it sounds. They also offer ice cream to take home and they have a wide assortment of pies, cakes, and other baked goods that can be bought by the slice or whole. They even do decorated cakes and wedding cakes. So it may be winter and we're all freezing our butts off, but head on over to The Pie Pantry and have a slice of something.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cinnamon-pecan scones

Yes, more scones. They were just so good the other day. So I was looking at my previous post and it came to me cinnamon rolls + scones = cinnamon-pecan scones, and since I am going to visit my mother-in-law today I thought I should put the plan into action. So I took my recipe for the blueberry scones and gave it an overhaul to produce these sweeties. I used honey this time, but I may swap for maple syrup the next time since after I had them in the oven it occurred to me that the syrup would have been a good flavor combination. I made candied pecans to go in these but you could just use plain if you are short on time. So here is the recipe, enjoy!

Candied pecans

1 1/2 c. roughly chopped pecans
2 tbs. white sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat the oven to 350

In a 8x8 pan spray pecans generously with cooking spray and toss to coat. Add vanilla to the pecans and toss to coat. In a small bowl mix together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, add to the pecans and toss to coat. Heat in the oven for 10 minutes watching carefully so they don't burn. Remove from oven and let cool.

Cinnamon-pecan scones

2 c. all purpose flour
1 tbs. baking powder
3/4 tbs. salt
6 tbs. cold butter cut in pieces
1 tbs. white sugar plus some for sprinkling on top
2 tbs. honey
1/3 c. heavy cream, plus more for brushing tops
1/2 c. sour cream
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 c. candied pecans

Heat the oven to 400 degrees

In a large bowl stir together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter until the texture is very small crumbs. Make a well in the center of flour mixture. In a small bowl stir together honey, cream and sour cream, add to the well in the center. Add the cinnamon and pecans at this point also. Stir with a fork until a ball forms, take out of bowl and knead just a few times, don't overwork as this will cause a tough scone. Form into a 6x6 square on your baking pan, cut into 4 equal squares and then into 8 triangles. Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with a cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake 20 minutes. When cooled you can drizzle a "icing" on top. Just mix 1/2 c. confectioners sugar with 1 tsp. cinnamon and enough heavy cream to make a glaze.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Breakfast baked goods

Seeing as how Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday this year I felt obligated to make my family an old-fashioned breakfast to celebrate. This year I stuck with the old stand-by's of bacon, eggs, and fruit but worked my butt off throwing in some homemade baked goods. I went with these cinnamon rolls and these blueberry scones I followed the directions for refrigerating the cinnamon rolls over night and they were actually really easy. I have found that since I have my bread maker making yeast dough is much less intimidating. The only change I made was to use heavy cream for the icing instead of milk. They were the perfect cinnamon roll and I'm sure if we ever feel the urge to kill ourselves with calories again I will make this recipe. The scones were the perfect scone in my opinion, not too dense, slightly crunchy on the outside, perfectly crumbly, light and moist on the inside, and just a touch of sweetness from the berries. I used frozen organic blueberries for this recipe even though it called for fresh and it turned out fine, and just for note you can buy frozen organic blueberries for cheaper than a pint of fresh non-organic. These scones really worked up fast and as it says in the recipe the minimum amount of handling helps keep them light and not hard. So with a little prep work you can have fresh cinnamon rolls or scones for breakfast this weekend and trust me they are so much better than what you can buy in the store. You don't have to take my word for it, just check out bug enjoying his scone.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Appliqued Pillows

Let me just start off by saying that I love all of the kids in my life dearly, my niece and nephew and little cousin's mean so much to me. I love being called Aunt Kim or Aunt Im depending on who you're talking to and I love that they are so close in age to my own kids. I know that they are forming a bond that will last forever. So whenever holidays come around I find myself sewing for not two but four or more kids every time ( last Easter I made close to 10 little bunnies). I just feel like handemade gifts mean so much and I want to share them with my loved wee ones. So even though it may mean some late nights I am up to the task because its worth it when I see a little one running around with a toy I made, or wearing something I stitched. So this year I wanted to make personalized pillows since my kids and my niece are having their rooms redone. I did some major stash busting on this project and only bought two half yards of fabric from the remnant bin. Basically I wrote out the names on my wonder under, remembering to make the letters backwards so that they will be right side when reversed, then I ironed them to a variety of coordinating fabrics to match each room theme. I then figured out how big to cut out my pillow by laying the letters out on top of my fabric and leaving a few inches on each side (I just eyeballed it). Once I had my two rectangles cut out I layed my letters out again and after peeling the paper off of them, ironed them down. Next I carefully zigzagged around every letter with the smallest zig zag stitch on my machine. When that was all done (and believe me it takes a lot of patience) I placed the pillow pieces right sides together and stitched almost all the way around, leaving a small opening at the bottom for stuffing. Then I flipped it right sides out and stuffed. Last I tucked in my raw edges and stitched up. For the one that says "Kayleigh" I also added bows and a button. I still have one more to make for my nephew so hopefully I will get to that tonight. I think this may be the present that I make for all of Sweets' friend's birthdays this year, it was really easy and would probably be quick if you weren't mass producing them. :)

Peanut Butter Cups

I have had a recipe for peanut butter balls (aka buckeyes) that has been passed on for three generations at least and we make it every year for Christmas, Easter, and any other time we feel like having something extra sweet and indulgent. The only thing that gets tiring for me when making candy is the dipping process, when you make hundreds of pieces of candy at Christmas time you are really exhausted by the time you get done rolling and dipping all of it. So this year as I was making some candy for Valentines Day, I thought I would try something new. I got out my mini-muffin pans, lined them and then started on my attempt at peanut butter cups. First I spooned a little melted chocolate into each cup and set in the freezer to harden. Next I put a small ball of my peanut butter mixture into each cup and smashed it down, then I followed with more melted chocolate to cover, sprinkles and then refrigerated until set. Now they aren't exact duplicates of the store bought variety since they aren't completely covered in chocolate but the chocolate layers on mine are a little thicker so I think it works out to about the same ratio. To me they are just right, who can resist the combo of chocolate and pb, not I. I love how they look like little cupcakes. Oh and it saved my back a lot of discomfort doing it this way and a lot of time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

yummy candy for v-day, thrift store finds, and some pillows.

I've been keeping my v-day crafts in my back pocket so as not to spoil any surprises but I've been wanting to share something valentine-ish with you so I made something special just for you. Strawberry Cheesecake Truffles, they are way easy to do, take just 3 ingredients and are sure to make someone happy this Valentine's Day.

1 small tub of strawberry cream cheese
1 c. graham cracker crumbs
white or regular chocolate for dipping (or candy melts)

In the bowl of your mixer whip the cream cheese until fluffy, add the graham cracker crumbs and stir until blended. Use a small ice cream scoop to form them into balls, or just a teaspoon and your hands. Pop them in the freezer for an hour and then dip in your melted chocolate. Keep refrigerated.

I think that you could come up with a lot of different variations on this, some of the ones I have thought of are using vanilla wafers instead of the graham crackers, or how about regular cream cheese and chocolate chip cookies?

Today I managed to drag the kids out for a bit to check out some of my favorite thrift stores, I'm in search of a waffle maker, the old really heavy kind, not the plastic versions that are everywhere. I have had some pretty good finds recently and have actually discovered a new interest in Pfalztgraff china. I have seen this stuff before but it was always floral and never caught my interest. Recently however I came across a set of 8 white mugs that I love, they are perfect for coffee or tea and remind me of my favorite coffee shop. Today I added to my budding collection with a pistachio chop plate, which is just fancy talk for a really big plate perfect for a cake or cupcakes. I now have to keep my eyes open for some more of this fabulous stuff, it's really heavy stoneware that goes into the dishwasher beautifully. I love getting stuff from a thrift store, I feel like I am rescuing it and I love to imagine the person that it previously belonged to (who in my mind is always a little white haired lady with a cardigan on).

I'm also posting some pillows that I made two weeks ago and am just now feeling inspired to write about. We have this very nice brick fireplace that is unfortunately non-functioning, but has a nice wide ledge that is perfect for sitting on, just slightly uncomfortable. So I thought making some pillows to sit across it would hopefully make it more comfortable and less bare looking. I found these awesome decorator weight fabrics one day at Wal-mart for like 3 bucks a yard, so I got 1.5 yards of each and this is what I came up with. The bird and oak leaves pillows are done with appilique and feature my original designs. They are all stuffed with fiberfill and very cushy. They measure about 20 inches on each side.

And just because, a picture of tonight's dinner, beef stew.


Monday, February 9, 2009

What to do with leftover meatloaf

So as I had mentioned in my last post I made meatloaf the other night, now for anyone who has ever made meatloaf you know that you are always left with enough meatloaf to feed a whole other family after yours has eaten. So yesterday I was faced with making lunch and there was a tupperware dish full of cold meatloaf starring me in the face. So I decided not to let the leftovers get the best of me and set forth to make it even better than it started. So this tasty meatloaf sandwich was born:

Leftover meatloaf sandwich (makes 2)

4 slices bread
2 slices leftover meatloaf
1 wedge laughing cow garlic cheese
2 tbs. butter or margarine divided
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large pan heat 1 tbs, butter until melted. In the mean time heat the other tbs. of butter for about 10 seconds or until softened in the microwave. Combine the softened butter with the garlic powder, spread on one side of each slice of bread. Heat up the meatloaf slices in the microwave. Take two slices of bread and spread half of the garlic cheese on each slice, lay butter side down in heated pan. Sprinkle each slice with 1/4 of the mozzarella cheese and then top with the meatloaf slice, more mozzarella cheese and the other slice of bread butter side up. Cook until the bottom is toasted and then carefully flip and continue cooking until toasted, remove from pan, slice in half and serve immediately. The husband tried to steal my sandwich when he was done with his so I guess it gets the thumbs up.

On another note I've been surprised by how much cooking I've been doing lately, I think it must be weather related, sort of a hibernation survival thing. I always cook dinner, but its usually just throwing together something quickly. I haven't been spending nearly enough time on my sewing projects, I think it has just been too cold in our house for me to want to sit up at night and work. I usually just get under the electric blanket and watch t.v. I guess these days the warmth of the kitchen is much more appealing. I did start working on some valentines sewing projects for the wee ones in my life last night, it just so happened to coincide with the weather being an unseasonable 60+ degrees! I also began planning out Sweets Easter dress which I plan on making. Bug has a really cute Strasburg outfit that my cousin bought for him to wear, so this year I only have to make one outfit. I really want to tackle a more advanced sewing pattern for Sweets dress, just waiting for the pattern to go on sale at the fabric store. I have a lot of projects in the works for the husbands valentines gift but can't go into detail yet as I don't want to spoil it. Speaking of valentines, Sweets asked if we could go to the Chinese buffet for valentines day, when I asked her why she wanted to do that, she explained that her class had been working on Chinese New Year crafts and that every time she heard the word "chinese"all she could think about was, and I quote "those delicious noodles and rice". It's such a simple request that I think we will have to oblige and take the family out for chinese food Saturday. It's funny how your idea of valentines day changes when you have kids it becomes much more about love and less about romantic mushy stuff.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Triple Chocolate Brownies and Some Play Clay

Yesterday was spent mostly in the kitchen working on various projects. We had a "Meemaw Day" which means that my mother-in-law was spending the day with us. On these days I usually try to make a big family style dinner and she usually does a crafty project with Sweets and helps keep Bug occupied while I'm cooking. Yesterday's dinner consisted of meatloaf, not my recipe but it was really good and you can find the recipe here: I will note that I did sautee the onions with some garlic before adding them to the meat, and I also added a tbs. of worchestershire sauce to both the meat and topping mixures, and I used italian seasoned breadcrumbs. We also had southern style greenbeans, which are totally simple but I always find that people are saying they wish they knew how to make them so here are the basics; I use canned or fresh green beans, whichever I happen to have, if using canned I usually average about 1 can per 2 people, also get the cut kind, not the "french style". I then put them in a pot with a thinly sliced yellow or white onion, half a package of country ham pieces(usually found near the meat department at the grocery), garlic powder, and a generous amount of sea salt and course ground black pepper to taste. In the summer I tend to add baby red potatoes too, but since we had mashed potatoes with dinner last night I just stuck with the green beans. The most important part of making the beans is to cook them to death, I mean hours, the longer the better and no less than about 3 hours.

No family dinner would be complete without a good dessert, so I set about coming up with a new brownie yesterday. This brownie has the taste and texture of cheesecake without having any creamcheese in the recipe, it does however have sour cream so maybe that contributes to the cheescake like quality. It is definitley for the chocolate lover as the flavor is pretty intense, coming from the three chocolate sources, cocoa, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and chocolate syrup, you could even use chocolate chunks if you really, really love chocolate. I have decided that it is the perfect brownie to share with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or cold glass of milk(if you like milk, which I don't). With Valentine's Day coming up next week, I think these would be the perfect treat to make for your loved ones. Also even though these are very chocolate heavy both of the kids loved them, Sweets even had two.

Triple Chocolate Brownies:
1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 eggs
1/2 c. sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. cocoa
1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 c. chocolate syrup

Heat the oven to 350.

In a large bowl cream together the butter, and both sugars until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Add in the sour cream and vanilla, stir until combined. Add the cocoa and flour, stir until just combined. Add in the chocolate syrup and chocolate chips, stir until well blended.
Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 pan ( I like using butter flavored cooking spray when baking). Bake for 30 minutes. Makes 12-15 brownies depending on how large you slice them. When serving you can serve them warm over vanilla ice cream and drizzled with store bought caramel sauce.

The crafty part of yesterday also took place in my kitchen. Sweets is having her Valentine's celebration at school on Friday and being that it is a Montessori school the valentines are requested to be homemade and have no characters on them. While some would cringe at the thought of having to construct 17 homemade valentines with their 4 year old, I start thinking about it in January, trying to come up with the perfect idea. This year we decided to make play clay and put them in some little tins that we received boxes of for free from my husbands aunt. They are about 3 or 4 inches across and have a blank paper label that Sweets decorated with markers and stickers. The play clay recipe is something that I think has been around for ever and is by no means my original recipe. It is a great craft for kids and the clay lasts for a few weeks unrefrigerated. We let Sweets put all the ingredients in the pot and stir it up before we put it on the heat, and then carefully supervised her while she stirred it. Bug even got in on the action stirring the second batch before we cooked it. It was a lot of fun and I have to thank Meemaw since she did most of the messy part while I helped Bug with his stirring. Here is the recipe if you would like to try it with your little ones or make up a batch for playgroup which is exactly what I think I will do for our next playgroup.

Play Clay:

1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. water
1/2 c. salt
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. cream of tarter
paste food color

We let Sweets add all of the ingredients to a big pot and then stir up until combined off of the stove (I found that a whisk worked best for this part of the recipe). We added paste food coloring until the proper valentines hues of red and pink were acheived. Then we placed it over medium heat and very carefully supervised her while she stirred with some help from Meemaw ( I recommend a wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula for this part). You need to stir constantly until the mixture holds together so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. When it comes together transfer to a plate and let cool until you can handle it. We didn't find it necessary to add flour to the cooled mixture as it was just right, but if yours is a little sticky just add a little flour and let your kid knead it until you get the right consistency. Store in an airtight container. We made two batches and it was enough for 17 small balls for her class and two good size balls left over for Sweets to enjoy.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Muffins and More

I had seen a recipe a while back for banana-coconut muffins and remembered thinking that it sounded interesting. Fast forward to yesterday afternoon when I was trying to come up with something to make for today's playgroup, my mind drifts to banana-coconut muffins. So of course I set off to make my own version based on this idea. I did make one change. I decided that banana-coconut-chocolate chip muffins would be much better, who doesn't like chocolate? So a little of this and a little of that later, I bring you delicious mini goodness. I found that the coconut in this recipe gives a really nice almost crunchy texture while staying moist and yummy at the same time. So here you go:

Banana- coconut- chocolate chip mini muffins

1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. white sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. milk
2 ripe bananas mashed
1 c. sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350.

Cream the butter, sugars and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. In a bowl mix together flours and baking powder. Add the flour to the butter mixture alternating with the milk. Add the bananas until incorporated. Add the coconut and chocolate chips, stir to blend. Fill the mini muffin cups 3/4 of the way full. These bake up quickly about 10 minutes per tray. Recipe yields 50 muffins.

Also on the agenda yesterday were valentine cupcakes for Sweets playgroup as we are having a little Valentine's party today. These were just the boxed kind with the sprinkles. However Sweets enjoyed her baking experience and of course decorating the cupcakes. I love cooking with kids, it is such a great work for them. Sweets has always been very sensorial and she loves the process of cracking the eggs. I'm hoping to make some progress this weekend on a few valentine's gifts I need to make and will post the results soon.

- Kim

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Italian Pasta With Cream Cheese

I am always looking for recipes that are super fast, use few dishes, incorporate healthy ingredients and most importantly my kiddos will eat. So last night while looking through the pantry and realizing that I had poorly planned while at the grocery for our week's meals I had a brain storm. This dish can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, makes a ton
( leftovers), and is packed full of whole grains, veggies, and calcium. Best of all the family liked it, which is always the best compliment to any recipe. Something else I discovered about this recipe is that it is maybe even better cold, so I am thinking this will be a great summer pasta salad recipe also. So without further ado, the recipe:

1 box whole grain penne pasta
thinly sliced red, green, and yellow bell peppers (I used frozen, but you can use whichever)
1 small chopped white onion (once again I used frozen)
1 bag Bird's Eye steamable frozen asparagus, white corn and baby carrots ( you could use fresh)
12 oz fat free or reduced fat garden vegetable cream cheese
1/2 cup prepared light Italian Dressing
4 thinly sliced chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
Italian seasoning 2 tsp
garlic powder 2 tsp
Parmesan cheese as garnish

Place entire box of penne in lightly salted boiling water, cook until al dente, drain, meanwhile in large frying pan lightly sprayed with olive oil, add peppers, onions, chicken, garlic powder, and italian seasoning. Cook until chicken is no longer pink and vegetables are tender. Cook vegetables in their steamable bag 5 minutes in microwave. In pot with pasta add cream cheese and italian dressing, toss to coat. Add chicken and cooked veggies, toss to coat, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with parmesan cheese on top, or refrigerate over night and serve cold as pasta salad.

I hope you and your families enjoy this easy, healthy dish as much as my family did.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Today my daughter took her first cooking class, an after school activity led by her teacher. She loved it, she has really gotten into cooking over the last year, she loves to make cupcakes or cookies with me or her grandmothers, and is very capable in the kitchen, she can stir, break an egg and measure out ingredients like a pro. She has gotten to explore yet another part of herself with today's cooking class. This event has got me to thinking about the kid that Sweets has been growing into. The difference between 3 and 4 has been monumental, and now she is going on 5. The child that she was at 3 was sweet, girly, hadn't made friends yet, dependent on mommy, unable to read or write and loved Bert and Ernie, your typical 3 year old. Today I am looking at a totally different kid. She can't stand girly stuff, I mean absolutely hates dresses, princess stuff, and pink. She has so many friends I can't keep track of them all and at least once a week one or more are running through my house. She is for the most part really independent, she can play on her own or draw for hours. She is learning to read and write at what I think is a surprising speed, everyday she tells me a new word or writes something I didn't even know she was capable of. Bert and Ernie for the most part are for "babies" now all though every once in a while she still indulges in them with her baby brother. She is however still sweet. She is very emotional and easily gets her feelings hurt, I have to think she gets this from me. She is a joker and loves music and I think that comes from her dad. She is weird and I think that comes from both of us. The baby that I once carried around has now become a kid. I have to think that part of this growth is at least due in part to the fact that she has been attending a great Montessori school for the past two years where she has been given the opportunity to lead her own education and explore who being Sweets really is without pressure. This is so important to me, I don't want to influence her or take away from her individuality. Whatever she is interested in we try to encourage and allow and try to avoid putting our own stuff on her, even though she is undoubtably like us in many ways. So even though part of me would love to buy her dresses and play with Stawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids and dolls with her I am learning to be content with the fact that she prefers baseball caps, tools and sports. She does however love the Carebears so at least I have that. I find it really amazing to see how a child 's personality develops when they aren't overly influenced by others. So much of my own childhood was spent trying to fit in and just be like other kids. So my Sweets has become a little person with her own nutty personality that amazes me everyday. I'm so proud of the person that she is becoming and am loving every minute of encouraging that whimsical little person to do what she loves and love who she is.


The First of Many.

This is my first post on my lovely new blog. I have been thinking a lot about starting a blog lately and have spent many nights writing imaginary posts in my head and have finally decided to take the plunge. Why did I decide this? Well I have been inspired by the many blogs I read on a semi-regular basis, Sew Liberated, Indie Tutes, Sew Mama Sew, and others. I love reading about the lifes, projects and philosophies of these many talented women so I figured if they can do it why can't I? I was also inspired by a recent Facebook experiment that I took part in called "25 Random Things About You" after listing my 25 random things, I found that they were things I had not really vocalized before, they had just sort of lived in my head. They weren't secrets, just things that don't come up in the everyday going on's. During the trials of parenting I don't often have an opportunity to muse about random stuff, but my brain is full of it. My life is pretty simple, kind of normal and maybe even a little boring, but I love it and want to share it. In future posts I will be sharing my exploits in sewing and hopefully a project or two, my journey through mamahood, cooking fun, my photography and of course all of the random junk I'm thinking of. I hope you will join me in exploring my life.