Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Last Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe You'll Ever Need

Years ago I had a friend who made the BEST chocolate chip cookies with a package of vanilla pudding mixed in. My hubby was not shy to admit they were the best he had ever tasted also, shamelessly gobbling them up when my friend set them out on the counter (hi, Shelly!) So recently, when I had a hankering for a good chocolate chip cookie and knowing there was a package of vanilla pudding mix in my cupboard, I got baking!!! The vanilla pudding adds to a unique flavor and texture and gives the cookies an amazing vanilla flavor. Here's the recipe I used from Pinterest. It yielded two dozen and they lasted all of two days. I did the math. That's six cookies apiece for each of us in my house...clearly not enough. Note to self: must double recipe next time!!!

1 cup softened butter
1 pkg. vanilla pudding mix
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
Mix all ingredients and bake at 350 for about eight minutes until just set and barely browned on edges. Enjoy!

Friday, January 24, 2014

All in a Day's Work

My daughter burps on me. And licks me. And coughs in my face. And then brother copies her because it's too fun not to but he ups the ante this time around, spitting water. So I clean that mess up, taking a deep breath and counting to ten. Why isn't coffee made?? They need their noses wiped, their bottoms wiped and want mommy to feed them (really?? You're five!). My kids sneeze on me, drink from my cup and leave backwash and want to be held...all. the. time. They fight over who mommy will carry up the stairs this time around. about neither of you? Pretty sure those sprightly little legs worked this afternoon when you ran from me!
Food prep. Meal cleanup. Sweeping. One wants pancakes, the other cheese and crackers and a Ring Pop. For breakfast. This is a battle I won't win so two meals I make (this time though no Ring Pop. Yet.) I am two steps ahead of my kiddos at all times and cannot leave them alone for more than a few minutes because their wheels are already turning. I have no mental rest because three seconds before they spill, I am reaching for a towel. Then wiping the table, chairs, them. It's a constant job, being a mommy. There is no end to the hamster wheel and nothing too gross or messy to stop my kids. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Puddles are just begging to be jumped in, drips of jelly await little fingers to smear them all over the counter. Large boogies retrieved from their noses dangle on their small fingertips waiting for a tissue. Always on car rides for some reason, while I fumble around trying to find a crumpled Starbucks napkin, something to contain the boogie. At least it didn't end up on their shirt or car seat. This time. And during cold season? Which feels more like a lifetime than a season! Forget about it!
Bath time is a whole job in itself. The running of water, reasoning with my kids to please not splash all over me and the pages of my book I try in vain to read. Then there's the hair combing, the lotioning up and the jammying. Snack, brush teeth (open your mouth! Don't spit on the mirror!) And finally? Bedtime. But not before book reading, a little snuggling, a thousand questions and requests for water, for going potty, for (another) snack. And finally, bed. Just to do it all over again tomorrow. Tired and weary and off to bed I go but not before sneaking one last kiss on my sweet angels, slumbering in their snug little beds. A quick kiss and a thought "God, they are perfect. Please protect them."
All in a day's work.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cheesecake: A Love Story

I don't think it's a secret at this point that I love all things sweet. Chocolate, ice cream, and cake specifically. But cheesecake? It's in a league of it's own. Decadent and rich, dense and creamy...does it really need an explanation? I thought not. So I've tried a couple recipes over the years and none hit the spot quite like the one I made most recently for my mom's birthday. I had tried a Junior's Cheesecake years ago when my mom ordered it for me as a special treat and I just had to try to recreate it. Yes, there was the fifty dollar price tag I wanted to avoid but then I also love a challenge. I knew it would take time and a commitment to following the steps, something I don't normally like to do. Take time and be patient..umm...what?? But I followed the recipe to a t and lemme tell ya, it's worth it!!! We had a little shindig for Ma at our house and I have to admit, was slightly giddy at the fact that with our small group, there was cheesecake to spare. How long did it last, you ask? Two nights. The hubster and I made quick work of it. Yes, I was bitter he felt he could just grab a fork and dive right in with me but I guess that's part of being a good wife. Sigh.
Here it is. Just do it once and you'll thank me.
Sponge Crust: (Much, much, much more time consuming than a graham cracker crust but just this it.)
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 drops lemon extract
3 tbs. melted butter
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
(Don't have lemon extract or cream of tartar on hand because maybe you don't bake all the time? Or maybe, like me, you love to bake but rely on your old standbys and boxed mixes so you don't have fancy ingredients on hand?? I understand. But please don't take shortcuts or omit anything. It's worth splurging for!!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9-inch spring form pan. Don't have one? You need it. Go ahead and take a quick jaunt over to Target and get yourself one. Ok? Ok. Now, beat the egg yolks for about three minutes then add the 1/3 cup sugar and mix. Add remaining ingredients (except egg whites and cream of tartar. Keep those separate.) Mix until combined. Then, with clean beaters, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar about five minutes, until thick. Fold those into the batter mix and bake about eight minutes until just set. Let cool.
(Stating the obvious. This is a time consuming mess. But if you've ever had a Junior's, it's that distinctive sponge cake crust that makes it sooo good!!)
4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese (must be soft! Room temp!)
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1 tbs. vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (I suggest you buy a pint and use the rest for homemade whipped cream..)
Mix ingredients until smooth and pour into pan, over crust. Bake for one hour or until just set. No burning allowed. Let cool until it comes to room temp. and then refrigerate, covered, overnight. If you are making homemade whipped cream, blend the remaining cup or so of heavy whipping cream with sugar to taste. Whip until thick and to your desired consistency. Serve slices of the cheesecake with the cream and toppings of your choice. This is the time to get creative. I served it with pecans mixed with caramel and it was amazing. Enjoy!

                                                                    The sponge crust...
                                                                Perfect just like this...
                                                                But how pretty is this???

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lasagna Roll-Ups

Looking for something to contribute to my honey's work holiday potluck, I decided lasagna roll-ups would be perfect. Actually, I first decided homemade chips and dips and then macaroni and cheese would be perfect but those were taken so eventually, I settled on the roll-ups. I have never made these little pouches of wonder before and I don't even know why. I make lasagna plenty but have never taken the time to change things up. Until now. Looking for something comforting, hearty and fit for a crowd, I thought a pan of delicious, cheesy, meaty lasagna rolls would be just the thing the buffet table needed. Turns out, I was right. It's so simple, it's stupid. As anyone who has ever made lasagna before knows, it only takes a few ingredients to make this dish amazing. The best part? There are endless ways to make this dish yours. Change the meat fillings, sauce and cheese to fit your taste: chicken and artichoke with pesto or meatball and marinara, for example. Here's how I made mine but feel free to go crazy with your recipe!

Lasagna Roll-Ups

-1 box lasagna noodles (If they are oven ready, go ahead and boil for about five minutes anyway so they are pliable.)
- 1 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 8 oz. bag shredded mozzarella
- 1 jar marinara sauce
- 1 pound italian chicken sausage
- 1 green pepper, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped

Boil noodles until tender. Meanwhile, combine egg and ricotta and set aside. Cook chicken, green pepper and onion until soft. Spread noodles on cookie sheet to cool then fill with a spoonful of cheese and then meat mixture. Roll and place in a 9X13 baking dish spread with a little sauce. Continue rolling then cover dish with remaining sauce and mozzarella. Bake in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Enjoy and repeat time and again!!

                                                  Easy, peasy! (Yes, that's my son's foot..)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cinnamon, Sugar and Butter

Come up with a better combination, I dare you! Ok, wait, I'm already thinking of a few...cheese and crackers, peanut butter and chocolate, rum and coke. Ok, so there are A LOT of amazing combinations in my life but seriously, how could cinnamon, sugar and butter NOT make food taste better?? On cinnamon rolls, smeared on toast, on pretzels at the mall. And speaking of those pretzels at the kiddos had a taste at the mall that left them (and me..) begging for more. Of course, I got to thinking how I could whip up something as equally delicious at home. Already planning to make cinnamon rolls because really, what tops a drive-through dinner of Carl's Jr. (but only because In N Out's line was so long...) aside from warm cinnamon rolls?? Exactly. So dough (which is a Paula Deen recipe, need I say more??) was already rising nicely on the counter when my gracious daughter announced she doesn't like cinnamon rolls. And because the world revolves around her, apparently, I asked "What if I made something like that pretzel you tried at the mall? The one with the cinnamon and sugar??", seeing if she would take the bait. She wasn't able to argue with that logic. She was all mine...
So I made the cinnamon rolls, saving about a quarter of the dough for some pretzel bites and can I just say, they blew the main event, the cinnamon rolls, out of the fricking water. I only wished I had used ALL the dough for them. Yes, I was willing to sacrifice the cinnamon rolls, cream cheese frosting and all, for those darned little pillows of heaven. Simple. Eaten straight from the oven, dipped in butter then dredged in cinnamon and sugar. My hubby and I tried in vain not to sneak bite after bite as we prepared little bowls for the kids but who could resist something like that? A crazy person, that's who! So we enjoyed the bites, savoring them and enjoying the cinnamon rolls later, when the kids had gone to bed. Yes, two desserts in one night. Don't judge. The rolls were great too so make one or both and enjoy. And try not to gobble up this entire batch of dough. Unless you are a family of four (or a single person. or a couple.) with a sweet tooth. Who feels it's best to experiment with dough. And has zero shame.

I suggest doubling the batch of dough. It says it yields 12-15 servings but it's more like nine. Also, if you want to make rolls AND the pretzel bites, you really need a batch for each. For the bites, simply allow to rise for an hour then roll out to about a 1-inch thickness and cut small bite-sized pieces of dough, baking for around seven minutes, just before they turn golden brown on the edges. Then melt a stick of butter and have a dish of cinnamon/sugar ready. Dunk the bites in butter then dredge immediately in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Work quickly so the bites don't dry before the cinnamon/sugar sticks to them. Try not to eat as you work, I dare you. I don't believe it is humanely possible. And for the icing on the cinnamon rolls, I added about two tablespoons cream cheese to the mix because I'm crazy like that. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Putting Me First

Being in the mindset of the new year and starting afresh, I have been thinking of all that I hope to accomplish in 2014. Along with taking strides in being a better friend and mommy, I hope to put my hubby and marriage first. Sounds well-rounded enough, right?? I'm hoping to spread the love to my loved ones and be a better me. But wait a minute. What Where do I fit into the mix?? My tendency, as with most women, is to put myself dead last. And it's no wonder. Being home with kids takes a lot. From laundry to cooking, grocery shopping, shuttling kiddos to can be exhausting. And then I have a marriage to contend with. Being a wife requires being present and there are times when I just want to turn in early and let the hubster fend for himself. But then I wouldn't have much of a marriage. So I give and give and find there are days when I just have nothing left for myself.
Well, this year, I hope to change that. Even if only a little. Well, you know how they say to "carve just ten minutes a day" to "meditate" to "get up before the rest of the family"???? Well...that's all bunky bunk! Ain't no way I'm getting up early to do anything and ten minutes is for the birds. I need a couple hours to really accomplish anything! But baby steps...
So here's what I propose to the haggard mommies everywhere: Let's start slowly to ignore that voice that says you need to do things perfectly, ignore the voice that at the end of the day reminds you that there is laundry in the dryer, that the floors need to be swept and that you just didn't do enough. Take that hour sitting at karate waiting for your kiddo and just. read. a. book. Head up to bed a few minutes early and flip through a magazine, paint your toenails, take warm bath. Your hubby will survive. Crack open that bottle of wine, or lotion, or really good olive oil you've been "saving" and use it already! Put on perfume in the morning if only for yourself. Wear your good undies. Or socks. Or jewelry. Just be nice to yourself. Don't wait for someone to spoil you. Take time to be a better you and I promise, you'll automatically be that better mommy. And friend. And wife. Go on and create a better you this year!