It’s Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day!

I’m actually not sure yet what I’m going to do for our meal tonight. Can you say “last minute”? I like to at least acknowledge Valentines Day each year with a meal, but for tonight I’m kind of thinking regular food with Valentine décor and dishes. I’m really in the mood for Parmesan Chicken and I don’t know how to make that heart-shaped without being too corny and chicken-wasting with a large cookie cutter and chicken breasts.

I’m not even sure why I said the corny part… that ship already sailed. Half of the stuff at Valentines is corny because we use our imaginations and anything goes as long as it involves hearts and red and love and “awwww”. I think you’ll see what I mean if you keep reading this post. ;)

Today I’m posting a meal that I made on a previous Valentines Day. So, if you’re looking for some last minute ideas for tonight, here you go.

valentines meal

The menu was:
-Meatloaf
-Amish noodles
-Salad
-Biscuits
-Red velvet cake

Meatloaf
I used this recipe because it’s THE *personal opinion alert* best meatloaf ever!! And I baked it in a heart-shaped pan. My mom used to always do that with meatloaf on Valentines Day.
valentines meatloaf

Amish Noodles
I made regular noodles and cooked a couple pieces of lasagna in with them. After it was cooked, I took a heart cutter and cut hearts out of the lasagna pieces and threw them back in with the noodles. When I dished it up, I pulled some of the hearts up to the top.
Here is the recipe for the noodles in case you’d like it:
1/4 c. butter
1 1/4qt. chicken broth
1 Tbsp. chicken base
1/2 tsp. Lawry’s
8oz. homemade egg noodles
1/3 of a can of cream of chicken soup
Brown the butter. Add the broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cream of chicken soup, stir, put on lid, and turn off the burner, and let set 20 minutes.
valentines noodles

Salad
Another one from my childhood that Mom did… it’s simply lettuce salad with little heart-shaped cheese tossed in it.
valentines salad

Biscuits with jam
I made regular biscuit and cut them out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter, and then just for extra color, piped a heart shape of jam on top before baking them (we ate more jam and butter with them at mealtime). The jam kind of got messed up in the baking process, but you could still tell what I was trying for.
valentines biscuits

 

Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese frosting
I used this recipe, made only a 1/2 recipe and 1 layer, and made it heart-shaped instead of round. The rose is red and green candy melts. The rose tutorial is here and then I just sorta winged it with the stem and leaves.
valentines rose cake

For the décor:
We put red ribbon around on the table and the girls used a heart punch to cut out hearts to sprinkle around.
We used goblets, dipped the tops into colored sugar, and tied red ribbon around the stems.
We had a red centerpiece (you can see the base of it on the first picture up there) that looked more or less like an explosion of spikes and hearts. Festive, but we didn’t end up using it because the table was too full.
Lexi sneakily made Valentines for each of us and put it on our plates.

I really wish I’d have seen this Valentine note that I made to myself earlier because now it’s too late because I don’t plan to (or feel like) going anywhere today, but here is an idea I had tucked away for this Valentines Day and just found a bit ago. I’ll put it on here though, because we’re in the Valentine mode.
Remember what I said up there about corny? Well, here’s a huge *corny alert*!
The idea was to put these on each plate:
For my husband: chocolate candy from our local bulk foods store that looks exactly like rocks, along with a note that says ”You ROCK my world”
For Lexi (11): Starbursts and “I’m BURSTing with happiness that you’re my girl”
For Tiffany (7): Gummy bears with “I love you BEARy much”
For Megan: (3): Suckers or smarties or anything sweet with “You’re my little SWEETie”

Wishing all of you a wonderful Valentines Day, and thank God for all the ones you love!

valentines rose

Puppy Chow, Monkey Munch, Muddy Buddies

It’s all the same thing… which do you call it? When I was a kid, we called it puppy chow. So, it will always be puppy chow to me. My kids seem to have heard it called monkey munch somewhere, in addition to me calling it puppy chow, because they call it monkey chow. Sometimes I wonder how foods get their names. This fun make-in-15-minutes-or-less snack has nothing to do with monkeys or puppies. Or buddies.

I’m going to post the regular recipe, but I’m also going to post a variation. It all ends up tasting pretty much the same. I tried it one time when we needed a puppy chow fix and we were out of chocolate chips. And it worked! Improvising when you need a chocolate fix and you’re out of chocolate chips reminds me of no bake cookies. Been there done that. I have a confession to make… I often don’t keep chocolate chips on hand for the sole purpose of not having to exercise as much self control. If it wouldn’t be for chocolate in my life, I fully believe I wouldn’t struggle with weight. Milk chocolate, that is. Why did they ever have to invent milk chocolate anyway? *she said, secretly thankful that they did because of the amazingness it has added to her life*. Dark or semi-sweet is about as tempting to me as, say, apples or something. Liz, I just now thought of you, my dark-chocolate-lovin’ sister-in-law. So anyway, having milk chocolate chips in my cupboard are as tempting as having a stash of candy bars in there. I’ve tried to switch to baking with dark chocolate chips, but my girls happen to not like dark chocolate very well. Hmmm, I wonder why.

puppy chow

Puppy Chow

9 cups Chex cereal
1 cup chocolate chips (variation: melt 6 T butter and stir in 1/2 cup cocoa powder and 1/2 cup sugar)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Put chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter in a bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Stir. If it’s not all melted, put it back in the microwave for 30 seconds until it can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla.

puppy chow chocolate

Dump Chex in and stir until coated.

puppy chow mix

puppy chow mixed

Pour into large ziplock bag, add powdered sugar, and shake to coat.

puppy chow coated

Spread on waxed paper to cool.

puppy chow cool

At this point, the puppy chow is dangerously vulnerable to kids, who magically appear in the kitchen while it’s cooling.

puppy chow eat

Liz and I were talking about puppy chow over the holidays because I was going to make it when she and a bunch of other family were here (but then didn’t because there were SO many snacks already sitting around) and she said she stores it in the freezer because it gives it extra crunch. Crunch is a good thing. So now I store mine in the freezer too.

If it makes it to the freezer, that is. (Refer to cooling picture above.)

4th of July Fun with Brownies

It’s July. And it’s blitzin’ hot! Right now, mid-evening, the thermometer says 89 degrees. Perfect… it’s July.

The girls and I had some red, white, and blue fun today. This is when we were ready to start. Excitement was high. I had a few ideas, but I didn’t know what the end result would be… there was gonna be alot of experimenting going on…

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And here was the end result:

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It’s basically 4 different things… parfaits, berry shish-kabob decorations, fireworks, and randomly decorated brownies.

I made a big pan of brownies and then cut them out with star cookie cutters. I thought that would be faster because my star baking pan has only 6 wells and I’d have had to bake 3 or 4 batches. But, having it to do over, I’d use the star pan. You know how brownies kind of stick to the knife when you cut (unless you use a plastic knife)? Well, they stick to cookie cutters too. It wasn’t too bad, though, and worked fine, but next time, I’ll use my star pan.

Or, instead of brownies, it could be done just as easily on sugar cookies, cupcakes, or mini cupcakes.

The parfaits…
4th-of-july-parfait.jpg
The parfaits tasted awesome and were easy and could be made in a large pedestal bowl instead of individual parfaits. This one is a layer of brownies, then cream cheese filling, then raspberries, filling, blueberries, filling, brownies, and then you can either put Cool Whip or filling on top and garnish with a bit of fruit and sprinkles. You could make a pan of brownies and cut them up into little squares to make this, or you could do what I did and use the brownie scraps left over from cutting out star brownies. ;) The filling is: 8 oz cream cheese mixed with 1/4 cup powdered sugar, then that gets mixed with 8 oz Cool Whip.

The fruit shish-kabob decorations…
4th-of-july-fruit-kabob-fireworks.jpg
These shish-kabob things had serious issues… they kept falling over. We had to keep standing them up before each picture. We originally thought we’d try to make them look like fireworks, but we kept lowering our standards til our only requirement for them was to be red, white, and blue. We should’ve just skipped the sticks and made a mound of fruit on top. Oh well, the girls had fun stabbing the stuff on… and obsessing about making sure to get them in the right order of red-white-blue… but one time, one of them asked, “Mom, would blue-white-red be ok, as long as white is in the middle?” See? Obsessing. And you know what TOTALLY makes my day after all that fuss? I didn’t notice it before, but just now I see that on the one tall one, it’s red-white-blue-white-red-blue. ;)

The fireworks…
4th-of-july-fireworks.jpg

Oh, what fun! Didn’t turn out quite like I had pictured, but that may be because the girls did most of it (also not what I had pictured) and I mostly just did damage control. We colored white chocolate blue and red and then piped the 3 colors on Saran wrap over a cutting board, then sprinkled on some colored sugar and star-shaped sprinkles, and put them in the fridge to harden.
4th-of-july-fireworks-parts.jpg

After 15 minutes or so, they were hardened and ready to assemble, which included jamming the sticks into the frosting on the brownies. Does ‘jamming’ sound a bit harsh for delicate little chocolate sticks? Yep. Harsh, but accurate. ;) I really should’ve taken a video clip of that process… it was hilarious to watch and listen. :lol:
4th-of-july-fireworks-assembly.jpg

So, did it end up looking like fireworks? I don’t know, but we at least have to give them credit for creating something that looks like some type of explosion…
4th-of-july-fireworks-3.jpg

4th-of-july-fireworks-2.jpg

The randomly decorated brownies…
4th-of-july-brownies.jpg

This was fun. I got an inspiration for this that I’ll do more in the future for any occassion. Make a page on the computer of writing or shapes or outlines or whatever. Then, print it out and put it on a cutting board under a piece of Saran wrap. Then, pipe over it with chocolate. It’ll make writing more even and shapes more accurate. Here is the Before/After…
4th-of-july-shapes.jpg

Then, put it in the fridge to harden. Peel off and garnish. The possibilities are endless with this print-out-and-pipe-chocolate thing! One tip is to make sure it’s pretty thick. Another tip is don’t hold it very long before putting it on because your warm fingers will start to soften it and it’ll weaken and break.

Here are a couple of close-ups. Next time, I’d make an extra little thing sticking down to go into the frosting because, like July 4 down there, the Y looks like a V and the 4 looks like a triangle.

4th-of-july-brownie-star.jpg

4th-of-july-usa-brownie.jpg

4th-of-july-close-up.jpg

And, last but not least, United States rice crispy bars. After cutting it out, I put all the scraps together and re-flattened it out and cut out stars, then, sprinkled colored sugar on top. The flag is M&Ms… I had the kids separate out all the blue and red ones from a package.
4th-of-july-usa-flag-rice-crispy.jpgI used to have a plastic United States shaped mold. I had put it away for the year and when I went to get it out this year, something heavy was laying on it (a 15-lb dumbell, to be exact… yeah, don’t ask, I have questions myself!) and it was hopelessly smashed. So, I just cut this freehand. The top does look a little odd from Michigan to Maine, but hey, you can at least tell what shape it’s supposed to be, right?

Happy 4th of July from all of us! (even from Shannon, who was at work when we self-timered this picture)

4th-of-july-eat-dessert.jpg 

Excuse us for eating in front of you, but we couldn’t help it when we saw that parfait sitting there. We’re going to kick back and relax this weekend, maybe grill a burger or two and watch some fireworks. See ya next week! 

Think Spring with Food… aka playing with your food :)

You can do so much more with food than just eating it. I mean, yeah, eating is usually the end result, but how about having a little fun first? ;)  It comes naturally, really. Kids do it without being taught… I remember using Bugles for fingernails, biting eyes and a mouth out of a round slice of bologna and using it for a mask, making roads with stirred up ice cream, shooting baskets with popcorn or M&Ms (in which the basketball net is your or your sibling’s mouth), and best of all was peanut butter playdoh… you could form a bowl and spoon and peas in the bowl, and then actually eat the ‘peas’, and well, eat the spoon and the bowl, too.

Now, I play with food in a more grown-up way. So does my mom. She made garden meatloaf a couple weeks ago for a group of school children.
 spring-meatloaf.jpg

The middle 3 rows are obviously corn, tomatoes, and peas. The 2 end rows are potatoes and carrots, which are there, but underground, of course. :) She made sure to put a potato and a carrot against the edge of the pan so you could see it from the outside. And that’s not all… she put in mushroom pieces and the white ends of green onions and told the kids to look for slugs and worms. They had a heyday, digging through their meatloaf.

She also made bird-shaped dinner rolls, which were also a real hit.
spring-bird-rolls.jpg

When Mom emailed these pictures to us girls, my sister Jan wondered if she had taken progress pictures. I thought that was a bit strange that Jan would need progress pictures because she has proven herself quite capable of creating in the kitchen with no directions (more on that later). Mom didn’t have progress pictures, so, Jan, this portion of the post is just for you. Awww. :)

Roll a rope about 7″ long. Tie it in a knot. Fan out one end and make little snips for tail feathers. Put a sliver of almond in the head for the beak and cookies decorations or bits of raisins or something for the eyes… I used cloves.
spring-bird-rolls-making.jpg

spring-bird-rolls-unbaked.jpg

Let them rise and bake them. And TA-DA! fat little birds awaiting butter and jelly. Ok, that may be an unappetizing choice of words.
spring-bird-rolls-baked.jpg

If you notice that the one bird (lower right in the picture with 3 unbaked in a pan up there) has some brown on it… I was making mini cinnamon rolls with this same bread dough, so I made a cinnamon roll bird by rolling the dough extra thin and into about a 4″ wide strip, spreading on butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, rolling it up, cutting about 7″ off, and knotting it the same as the rolls above. Then, glaze it.

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Another Spring thing we did was Bird Nests. This portion should be a Cooks in Training post, since my little cooks did these. Melt 1 cup of chocolate chips with about 1/2 cup of peanut butter and mix it with 2 cups chow mein noodles. You can either spoon them onto a plate of some sort and then make a little indent for the eggs to go in, or you can do it like the girls did and put them in little containers to keep them round. They put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes to harden the chocolate, then popped them out of the container with a spoon, put eggs in and put a chic— oops, I mean, a BIRD on top. Really, who ever heard of a little yellow chick sitting on a nest… of COURSE that’s a canary! :)
spring-nest1.jpg

spring-nest2.jpg
Uhhhh, is that what I think it is in Tiffany’s apron? How did part of her nest get there?!

spring-nest3.jpg

spring-nest4.jpg

Then, they took them in the dining room to eat some and Lexi in a very excited voice said, “Mom! Come look! If you’d ever make a river cake with beavers, this would make a PERFECT dam! See? Doesn’t that look just like a dam? All I did was flipped my nest upside down!” So, there you go… an idea for all those of you out there who are planning beaver cakes. :)  Then, Tiffany flipped hers upside down on her chic-, uh, canary, and said, “Or, it would make a good hat too.” I think it looks more like a turtle shell, considering the size ratio of hat to bird. Wow, the possibilities are endless with this chocolate chow mein noodle combo! Ha.
spring-nest5.jpg
It tastes really good too. Could forget about the whole nest thing and just make these things and drop them on wax paper until they harden and you’d have a yummy snack. I’d double the amount of chocolate and peanut butter for that though. Meanwhile, Megan sits in her highchair, healthily eating peeled apple chunks.

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Now, I want to add one more thing yet, even though it has nothing to do with Spring. It does, however, have to do with my sister Jan (who I mentioned up there) and playing with food (which I mentioned up there).  
Once upon a time, Jan won a contest. It was a Make Real Food Look Like Something Else contest from a few years ago on my cooking blog. If you feel like checking out the entries, here’s the link: Contest
Jan won it fair and square, I might add… no rigging of votes by her big sister.
Here was her entry:
contest-jan-teacup-set.jpg
She has that miniature tea set  (in the back) as decor in her kitchen and made a little knock-off set from it. It’s all cake and frosting except the ‘coffee’ is chocolate syrup and the cup/pot  handles are piped chocolate covered with frosting. She had some truffles on hand, so she put 3 on a plate to go with the coffee. So, this lovely detailed 5-piece tea set coming from a lady who sees bird-shaped rolls and asks for progress pictures?! C’mon, Jan! :)

As I was looking at these contest pictures again, I saw this, so I’ll throw it in here because it DOES actually have to do with Spring. You could serve this for dessert at your garden-themed party…
contest-dirt-pudding.jpg
Dirt pudding, in which one of the ingredients is crushed Oreo cookies. I think this entry was submitted by Lavonne.

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In other news, not really related to anything, but just something I’m excited about… I get to make a Lightning McQueen birthday cake tomorrow afternoon! I found this post with directions how to do it. ;) The one tomorrow will have cake under the racetrack and maybe a couple other differences. We’ll see how it all turns out, but the thing with having made it before is that I can learn from my mistakes. :)   

Chocolate Chip Craisin Cookies… with a chocolate comparison

Ok, people, take note. I am about to write a phrase that I have NEVER written before and that I will probably never write again. Ever.

White chocolate was better than milk chocolate. Oh, that sounds weird. Seems wrong. I feel like a traitor to milk chocolate.

But I made this cookie dough, split it in half, and added milk chocolate to one half and white to the other. When they were baked and cooled, I tasted them. In all my die-hard loyalty and love for milk chocolate, I’ll have to admit that white chocolate just plain goes better with craisins.

craisin3.jpg

This all reminds me of a little conversation Shannon and I have had now and then about the museum at Lambeau field. I know, it might seem strange that chocolate reminded me of that conversation, but I have always loved analogies. Analogies help me understand things, see them in a different perspective. And this is an analogy… in which I am the milk chocolate, Shannon’s brother Preston is the white chocolate, the Packer museum is the cookies, and Shannon is the taste-tester. In this conversation, we talk about his dream of some day going to Lambeau field and spending a day there going thro the museum, reading every piece of info and history, and when he does, it’s not me (you know, ME, his favorite person ever) that he wants along …the person he wants to go with is his brother. Evidently, strolling thro’ a football museum is not date material, holding hands as you go from one display to the next.????? :) I do totally get it, though… I wouldn’t want to browse Hobby Lobby and Michaels with him for a day. Things are always the most enjoyable when you get the right combo.

Like craisin cookies and white chocolate.

White Chocolate Craisin Cookiesrecipe ripped out of either Taste of Home or Country Woman magazine, I forget which one

2/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups oatmeal
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 6oz. package craisins
2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 375. Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well. Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate. Or do the taste-test for yourself and split the dough and try dark or milk chocolate.
craisin1.jpg

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
craisin2.jpg

This made 28 cookies.

These are wonderful for Christmas! Or for any time of the year, since Christmas is about 11 1/2 months away… (read: didn’t get it posted in time for Christmas). ;)

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