Sunday, November 29, 2009

Recipe Time!

I really enjoy hosting and attending parties and it seems this is the time of year for lots of parties! If you have been to my house (or I’ve been to a party at your home), then you may have tasted one of these tried-and-true recipes. For SUPER EASY and SUPER YUM, I’d recommend the "Fiesta Dip" and "The Great Pumpkin Dessert." I always have the ingredients on hand to make these two recipes. While I do not care for the taste of pumpkin, I love the smell! The pumpkin recipe bakes for an hour and makes the house smell heavenly…better than any candle! It is worth finding the Fiesta Ranch dressing mix for the "Fiesta Dip." Where I live, I can find it with the salad dressings at Jewel, but it’s not carried in Dominick’s or Wal-Mart.

Because I love baking and entertaining/hospitality, recipes and I carry on a certain love-affair. I’m the nerd who likes to read cookbooks. I own the Food Lover’s Companion, and I buy new ingredients just to try them. (Another one of my new favorite cookies is made with a syrup from London. I originally bought the syrup from a specialty shop while on vacation in Florida only because I love anything having to do with England! Then I had to search for a recipe that used this syrup. I guess I’m also the one who likes to visit non-chain grocery stores and markets while on vacation…..) Along the way, I have stumbled across some fantastic recipes that I tweak to my liking, then I use my friends and family as taste-testing guinea pigs. These recipes have passed all taste-testings!

Enjoy and let me know if you have any specific questions about any of the recipes. Be SURE to let me know if there’s a typo!

1 ¼ c. flour
½ c. cornstarch
1/3 c. powdered sugar
¾ c. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel (opt)
frosting: 2 ½ c. powdered sugar
¼ c. butter, softened
2 - 3 Tbsp. lemon juice, more as needed for desired frosting consistency

With mixer, combine all cookie ingd. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often til well mixed. (2 – 3 min) Divide dough in half. Shape each half into 10" long roll (approx.) so that it’s about 1" in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate til firm, about 2 hours.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. With sharp knife, slice each dough roll into ¼" thick slices. Place 2" apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (or, just place directly on baking sheet) Bake for 10 – 12 min or til set. Cookies will not brown. Bottoms of cookies should be slightly browned. Cool completely.
With mixer, blend all frosting ingd, adding lemon juice as needed for consistency. Blend til fluffy. A thicker frosting is best. Frost cooled cookie.
**cookies can be made in advance and frozen if NOT frosted**

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk (I use fat free)
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 box (18 oz) golden butter recipe cake mix (or use yellow)
1 stick butter, melted
chopped walnuts (opt)

Oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 13 pan with Pam. Whisk together pumpkin, canned milk, eggs, sugar and spice. Pour into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin. DO NOT STIR OR BLEND. Drizzle with melted butter. DO NOT STIR OR BLEND. Top with chopped walnuts, if using. (I usually top half the dessert with walnuts.) Bake 1 hour or til set and golden brown on top. Serve warm with whip cream. Store leftovers in fridge.

1 ½ c. sugar
3/4 c. butter, melted
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 ½ c. flour
1/4 c. sliced almonds, lightly toasted
2 tsp. sugar (for topping) or use lg. granulated decorator sugar

Oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9" round cake pan with PAM and dust with flour. Blend melted butter and 1 1/2 c. sugar. Beat in eggs. Blend in extracts. Add salt and flour and mix well. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle with sugar and toasted almonds. Bake 30 - 35 min. or til edges are lightly browned.

(also known as "Jenni Dip" in my house, since she introduced us to this treat!)

1 – 16 oz. container sour cream (I use low fat)
1 dry package Fiesta Ranch dressing mix
1 can (about 15 oz) petite diced tomatoes with green chilies, well drained
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar in this recipe)

Mix all ingd together. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with thin wheat crackers or tortilla chips. Can be made a day before serving.
1 unsliced round loaf sourdough bread (about 1 lb.)
16 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, sliced thin (2 "bricks" of cheese)
½ c. butter, melted
½ c. green onion, chopped
3 tsp. poppy seeds

Cut the bread lengthwise and crosswise without cutting through the bottom of the loaf. Be sure to use a good, sharp knife. I do 6 to 7 cuts each way, to create a checkerboard look. Insert the cheese into all the cuts, stuffing the cheese as deep as possible. The bread will now be bursting with cheese and the more cheese that is deep in the bread, the better. Combine the melted butter, green onion and poppy seeds and drizzle over bread. Cut 2 sheets of foil and lay them on a baking sheet like a plus sign. Place the cheese stuffed bread in the center of the foil and bring the foil up the sides of the bread. Cover the top with another piece of foil. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 min. Uncover and bake another 10 – 15 min. more or til cheese is melted.

Monday, November 23, 2009

'Tis the Season!

Now it’s official….’tis the season! The catalogs are arriving daily, the dried fruit infused door stops are being sold (who actually eats fruitcake?!) and my coffee shop latte is sipped from its annual red paper cup. Although the local lite station has been playing Christmas music since the 4th of July (ish), it wasn’t until the Salvation Army bell ringers appeared that I believed it. It’s the men and women standing by the red bucket, ringing the bell who help put me in the "Christmas mood." I admire the fact that most of the bell ringers are volunteers and I like to support their efforts. Each Christmas, the kids and I have some purposeful habits we practice when we encounter the bell ringers, and I love when the kids get involved in giving! Yes, it’s small scale giving, but you have to start somewhere! I desire that my children grow to be generous and thoughtful adults, and that starts with practicing generosity and thoughtfulness as a child.

Smile and say "hi" with eye contact!
After watching person after person hurry in to and out of stores, often on their cell phone and ignoring the bell ringers, we have purposed to slow down. The power of eye contact is amazing. (Try it sometime with a bell ringer, a bus boy, and the drive-thru window employee.) The kids have become great with stopping to say hello to each bell ringer we see, and we usually offer a small-talk sentence. We don’t engage in a get-to-know-you conversation, but sometimes a smile and friendly comment can really make someone’s day!

Money bags
With so many people using credit and debit cards for everything, there is often an issue of not having change for the red buckets! It was too often that I realized I had this problem, so we now keep a little baggie of change in the minivan, and the kids grab a few coins on our way into the store. It seems like such a small effort, but it works and enables us to participate in giving.

The extra donation
I was out with then 10-year old Carter when we stopped at a local drug store, and he assured me that he already had some money for the Salvation Army bucket. As we approached the bell ringer (who was singing Christmas carols!), I saw Carter pull $5 out of his pocket. It was his allowance! I should be embarrassed to admit that my first reaction was to whisper to him, "Are you sure?" He was very happy with his choice to give away his allowance and I was proud of him. A week later, we were grocery shopping on a cold, windy, snowy day. The bell ringer outside was a slight woman who appeared to be a bit down on her luck. We greeted her as we walked in and made some small talk and a donation on the way out. Acting on a spur of the moment idea, we went back into the grocery store, heading for the Starbucks within. We bought a hot chocolate for the bell ringer, and it made me kinda sad to see her shock in response to the small kindness. That hot chocolate was the best $3 I spent all week!

The next time you’re out, try something new when you encounter a bell ringer! All it takes is a little consideration and thought. Never underestimate the smallest effort or friendly kindness.

Gotta run and change the radio station…I cannot handle that sad Christmas shoes song any longer!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nooks and Crannies

Today I saw an English muffin delivery truck with the phrase "nooks and crannies" written on the side. It is very possible that my ten gluten-free weeks are what caused my mouth to immediately water. It is possible I drooled. (Possible.) Without those nooks and crannies, an English muffin is not much more than a thin bagel, minus the center hole or a piece of round toast, minus the crust. It’s the nooks and crannies filling up with warm, melty butter that give this dough disk its yummy beauty.

I’m not much different than an English muffin. (And I do mean more than its shape!) Generically, I am a daughter, woman, wife, homeschooling mom, friend, etc. What I allow to fill up my life’s "nooks and crannies" is what can give my life its yummy beauty. Or not.

While I do not pretend to be a master or expert on any subject, there is one area which I frequently practice – to allow (or at least attempt to allow) to fill up the nooks and crannies. It is the practice of purposeful thoughtfulness. Proverbs 11:25 has been my continual confirmation and conviction in this area. It says, "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered." The giver of thoughtfulness is just as blessed as the give-e! When I practice purposeful thoughtfulness, it is a yummy flavor filling up my life. And without getting too deeply theological, the yummy flavor is NOT intended to pat my own back or sing my own praises. It’s to show others the "aroma [flavor] of Christ." (II Corinthians 2:14 - 16)

Thoughtful parents raised me. Because my mom was home with us, she set the bulk of the examples. I learned from the master! My goal has been to continue to practice thoughtfulness and to pass this "skill" on to my own kids. Thoughtfulness goes against our built-in selfish tendencies and there are a plethora of reasons why we don’t or can’t take the time to act on our "good intentions" of thoughtfulness.

While not being any kind of master expert, I do hope to share some ideas, successes and struggles along the journey of practicing thoughtfulness…to share the stuff of life that fills up who we are and decides our flavor. So many of my friends have (jokingly) asked when I planned to write about this subject, and one friend made herself my "just do it" accountability partner until it WAS done. Ok girls, it’s been done!

And to think it took an English muffin.