Friday, September 30, 2011

Super Soft Sugar Cookies

I like sugar cookies.   
I mean, there's sugar, in a cookie.  What's not to like?
But in all honesty, if given a choice between sugar cookies and something with chocolate or peanut butter or caramel (or all of the above), the sugar cookies would lose every time.  
Until now. 
These are seriously my Favorite. Sugar. Cookies. Ever.  

Reminiscent of the super soft frosted sugar cookies you buy in plastic containers at the grocery store, (did you know that at Wal-Mart, they'll give a free cookie to each child at the bakery....and it's often one of those sugar cookies?  I may or may not sneak a bite of my youngest's cookie once in awhile.), these are so much better, it's ridiculous.
Buttery, flavorful, perfect texture, they're just dreamy.  
No artificial ingredients, no chemicals, no weird stuff you can't pronounce, and unbeatable deliciousness.  

Can you tell I'm a fan?

I didn't try to roll out the dough to cut shapes, so I can't say for sure that it wouldn't work, but the dough is pretty soft and spreads quite a bit, so I'm guessing it wouldn't be the best for shaped cookies.  

But when you taste these, you won't care that they're in a plain ole circle shape.  I promise.

Recipe: (adapted slightly from Annie's Eats)

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature (I used salted)
1-1/2 cups sugar
5 t. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
4-1/2 cups flour (I used half all-purpose, half white whole wheat)
4-1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt

5 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter (5-1/3 T), melted
1 T. vanilla extract
6-8 T. milk
Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla.  
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk together to blend.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed.  Cover and chill the dough for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  
Scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Alternatively, use a medium cookie scoop like this one (love that scoop!) to make balls and flatten them slightly.  Your cookies will be a bit smaller, but you'll get more of them, so it's okay.  
Space the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart.  Bake 10-12 minutes or just until set.  (10 minutes exactly for me.)  Do NOT overbake!  The edges should be no more than very lightly browned if at all.  Let cook on the baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

To frost cookies, combine the powdered sugar, melted butter, vanilla, and 6 T. milk to a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in additional milk as necessary until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies.  Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Almost there.....

Because I got a request for belly pictures, and because I figured I might regret it someday if I didn't have any end stage photos of my pregnancy with this little one, I recruited Corban to be my photographer this morning. 

And just in case you're wondering, I did not succeed in my goal to gain only 25 lbs.  My sweet tooth and aches and pains of pregnancy prohibiting me from exercising much combined to result in my gaining the usual 35 lbs or so.  Blech.  I really have my work cut out for me once she's born.  Weight loss is harder after every baby.  


38-1/2 weeks along - she could come any day now. 

And like my last baby, I fully intend to live-blog this labor/delivery, so stay never know when it will happen! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Things that People Say....

I have a really large belly.

It's true.  

I do look like I "swallowed a watermelon seed" or "shoved a basketball up my shirt".   
It's just how I carry.  Every time, no matter if it's a boy or a girl.  

I'm getting rather weary of the constant stream of comments from complete strangers, though. 

"Wow!  You look like you're about to POP!"
(to which I'm tempted to respond, "Thanks, so do you!")
"You MUST be due ANY day now." 
("actually, I was due 2 months ago, I don't know why the baby won't come.")
"I can tell you're due anytime because your belly button has popped out."
(Oh really?  Because this is my 5th baby and my belly button popped out by the time I was 4 months along.")

I've been hearing such things for the past 8 weeks or so.  Yeah, when you still have 10 weeks till your due date, it makes you feel so wonderful to have people say things like that.  

The big kicker came last week.

I was shopping at Wal-Mart with my two youngest.  

Cute, aren't they?

As we strolled waddled down the aisle, an older woman came down from the opposite direction.
She had a scowl on her face and was unabashedly staring at my belly.
Gruffly, she demanded, "Is that a boy?"
"No," I smiled. "It's a girl!"
She grimaced and looked at my two little angels as if they were disgusting vermin before loudly exclaiming, 
"Oh NO, not another one."
I was completely shocked.
I managed to continue smiling and replied, "Girls are wonderful!"
"Hmmph", she grunted as she pushed past and continued down the aisle. "There's nothing like a boy."


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spicy Brown Beans

I used to only make a pot of brown beans when I had a leftover ham bone (with lots of meat still on it) to use up - brown beans and ham are wonderful together and that's the way my grandparents always made them.  
Now that I'm trying more meatless bean dishes, this one has been very popular with my family.  
You can make the beans as spicy as you want - just adjust it by adding less or more pepper and chili powder.  
The biggest thing with beans is to make sure they're salted well enough.  You can add some salt while they're cooking, but it's really best to wait until they're soft and ready, then add the salt to taste.  You can always add more if it's not enough - but if you over salt or season in the beginning, you can't take it away!  

We love these beans served with a big pan of cornbread - and sometimes some hashbrowns fried in a little coconut oil on the side.  
And don't forget the ketchup!  
Okay, maybe my family is weird, but we always ate ketchup on brown beans when I was a kid (and black-eyed peas too!) and I still love ketchup on beans.  

Recipe: (adapted slightly from the Pioneer Woman)

1 lb dry pinto beans
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 jalepenos, seeded and diced (or slice them if you prefer)
1-1/2 t. salt, more to taste
1 t. black pepper
1 t. chili powder
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder

If you're planning ahead, rinse the beans under cold water, sorting out any rocks/particles. Place in a large pot and cover with water.  Let sit overnight.  In the morning, drain and rinse the beans.  

If you did NOT plan ahead, after rinsing the beans, place in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.  Proceed with recipe.

Place beans in a slow cooker, cover with water by an inch, and cook on low for 4 hours.  Add onion, peppers, and spices, stir well, cover and continue to cook for another 4-5 hours, until beans are completely tender.  Add additional salt and seasonings to taste.  

Note:  If you want to add a ham hock to this, it would certainly be delicious.  Just throw the ham in with the beans in the beginning and let it simmer all day - before serving, remove the bone and any fat chunks, remove any leftover meat from the bone, and add it back to the beans. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Day We Went to the Fair

I hadn't been to a county fair since my early teen far as I can remember.  Around here, I didn't even know about any county fairs - just the state one.  And that one is too far away and costs too much for us to even consider it with young children.  But yesterday, we had a real treat.  Some friends invited us to join them at the Isle of Wight County Fair, which is about 45 minutes from our house.  We had planned on going today, but since there was rain forecast for the entire day (and so far, they were right), we made some last minute adjustments and went yesterday afternoon and evening.  
Here are some of the highlights.  

 Marissa is obsessed with horses right now, so one of the top two highlights of the day for her was getting a pony ride.  Her first ever.  She was just in heaven.

 Annika enjoyed it just as much.

Grant with his girls - we were watching a K9 acrobatics show - dogs doing jumping tricks and such.  The girls thought it was amazing.  

First ride on a Ferris Wheel for all the kids - here is Annika (far right) with her best buddy Lydia and Jenna (Lydia's aunt).

Natalee, Corban, and Marissa

Ellia got her first ride on a merry-go-round - she liked it pretty well.

Another favorite ride of the kids was the giant swings.  Natalee and Marissa here.

The older children insisted on going down this giant slide - fun but obviously not the longest ride out there.

We got to watch an alligator show - very cool.

The favorite event of the evening for both Grant and the kids was getting a ride on a monster truck.

Check out those laughs while they're rumbling and bouncing around a field!

Nothing like laughing with good friends!

Natalee and Lydia's grandparents own a specialty ice-cream and tropical treats trailer that was selling their goodies at the fair - so we got to hang out there some and the girls were peeking out of the trailer window.  

One of my favorite events of the evening - since being almost 37 weeks pregnant, I couldn't exactly go on the rides - was enjoying a chocolate dipped coconut cream pie on a stick from their business.  My goodness, that was awesome!  

There were more rides, a bull-riding competition, a cool magic show, and a great fireworks display that we also enjoyed throughout the evening.  We didn't get home until after 11:30 pm, so needless to say, we're a bit worn out today.  But it was well worth it, a night to remember for all of us. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Strawberry Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream is so much fun! 
Regular vanilla?  Awesome.
Vanilla with added Andes mints chips?  Delicious.
After I made the Very Chocolate Ice Cream, Grant and I were convinced it was really unbeatable.
And then Annika asked for strawberry ice cream for her birthday and I combined a couple of simple recipes and made this.  
Chocolate lovers that we are, I couldn't have been more surprised than when Grant declared that this strawberry ice cream was better than the chocolate.  And he should know, he had just cleaned out the container with the remaining chocolate ice cream in it to make room in the freezer for the strawberry.  
It is amazing.  
Smooth and perfect. 

I made it with fresh berries, but since strawberry season is really over, I am sure I'll be trying it out with frozen (thawed) berries at some point.  I'll be sure to update this post with the results when I do. 

Note:  This nearly overflowed my 2 quart ice cream maker, so if your maker is smaller, please reduce the quantity of ingredients to what seems appropriate or make it in 2 batches. 

Recipe: (inspired by the Cuisinart Recipe book)

1 lb. fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1 cup milk (I use whole milk)
1-1/4 cups sugar, divided
3 cups heavy cream
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Place berries in blender with 1/4 cup of sugar and puree until smooth.  If you prefer your ice cream to have chunks of berries, feel free to just mash them instead - but I don't know what that would do to the overall texture of the ice cream.  
In a separate bowl, combine milk and remaining 1 cup sugar.  With a hand mixer, beat on medium speed for a few minutes, until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Don't stop too early!  It will make your ice cream grainy if the sugar isn't dissolved.  Add cream, vanilla, salt, and strawberry puree.  Stir to combine.  
Pour into prepared ice cream maker and freeze as directed in your manual.  
Serve immediately as soft serve, or put in a freezer-safe container and freeze until hardened, a couple of hours at least.  

No, it's obviously not low calorie.  
Or low fat.
But it is worth every bite.  I promise!  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Curious George Cake

All of my kids love Curious George, so it was just a matter of time before one of them decided on a George birthday cake.  This was the year.
I showed Annika numerous cakes from Cake Central and Coolest Birthday Cakes, but she wasn't too impressed with many of them, or they were going to be far too time consuming for me to undertake.  I ended up showing her a bunch of George coloring pages online, and this was her favorite one.  
I was a little nervous about how to do the details, because it isn't a huge cake and the fingers were pretty tiny, but it all ended up working out okay. 

First, I baked a 13 x 9" chocolate cake, using this recipe.  I froze it to make frosting it easier.

On party day, I whipped up a batch of buttercream frosting and tinted a couple of cups of it light yellow.
After frosting the cake, I placed the outline of the picture Annika had chosen on top and traced around it lightly with a toothpick.

Next, I tinted a small amount of frosting black (helps a lot if you add cocoa powder to it first - it's hard to get black frosting from white.  I added a little extra cream to it, because the cocoa powder stiffened it up and it was hard to pipe.)  I used my smallest Wilton tip to draw the basic outline, saving the details for later. 

I tinted a tiny bit of frosting light brown with cocoa powder for the face, hands, and feet - and ended up spreading that on with toothpicks because my smallest tip was still in use with the black frosting.  Then I added more cocoa to some frosting for George's body - and piped it on with my smallest star tip.  I added in the rest of the details of George's face, hands, and feet both with my small tip and with a toothpick dipped straight in black food coloring.  

The ice cream was the easy part - just pink and white with some black accents.  
I used a larger star tip (#17, I think) for the border on the top of the cake, with tiny stars of white on top - and used a new tip, #199 for the shell border on the bottom.  It was a lot of fun to use.  

The cake turned out to be really cute, Annika was delighted, and everyone really enjoyed it.  Super delicious, too!  

Before the party, when she first got to see the cake.


 Lydia, Natalee, Marissa, Annika, Elizabeth, and Ellia

I printed out coloring pages for the kids from this website
and got lots of ideas for games and decorations from the PBS kids website.
Here is another great site with lots of printables and activites.
Finally, here's another site with lots of general games for kids - I got some good inspiration there.

Friday, September 9, 2011

English Muffins

I am always reluctant to call a recipe "The Best" because when it comes to food, preferences are exactly that - preferences.  Very subjective.  

So I'll just say that out of the four English muffin recipes I've made in the past couple of months, this one is the winner in our opinions.  All the recipes attempted were good, very well received by my family and entirely consumed with no problem - but these muffins just took breakfast to a whole new level.  

They're really easy to stir together, don't require any kneading, rolling, or shaping, and cook up in 10-12 minutes on an electric griddle.  And the flavor is just fabulous.  The first time Grant tried one, fresh and hot, his comment was, "You have got to be kidding me.  Is this dessert?"  Not because they're sweet, they're not.  Just because it was so good, you wouldn't even want dessert afterwards.  
Served toasted with scrambled eggs and cheese for breakfast, with a few extra slathered with fruit preserves, they delight my whole family. 

The recipe is written with weight measurements - if you don't have a kitchen scale (which I highly recommend), I've included approximations for the measurements.  

Recipe:  (from Michael Ruhlman)

2 ounces/60 grams butter (1/4 cup)
1 T. sugar
16 oz. milk (2 cups)
1 package instant yeast (2-1/4 teas.)
1 large egg, beaten
16 oz. white whole wheat (or all purpose) flour (about 4-1/4 cups)
1-1/2 t. kosher salt
2 t. baking powder dissolved in 1 T. water
Cornmeal for dusting

Combine the butter and sugar in a small saucepan over medium/low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter.  Add the milk, stir for a minute, and remove it from the heat.  Stir in the yeast and the egg. 
Combine the flour and salt in mixing bowl.  Add the milk mixture and stir till it's all well combined.  Cover and set aside for 1-1/2 hours, or refrigerate overnight (removing it from the fridge an hour before cooking).
Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. (325° on my griddle).   
Stir the dissolved baking powder into the batter.  Dust the griddle or skillet with corn meal.  Scoop-pour about 1/4 cup portions onto the griddle, free form or in rings.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until nicely browned.  Flip them and continue cooking until done, 5-7 more minutes.  
Allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes, pry in half with a fork, toast if desired, and serve with butter, honey, preserves, or with eggs and breakfast meat - however you like them!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Annika - for yesterday

Our middle child turned 4 yesterday.  
We celebrated on Monday with a Curious George party and a few friends.  

Annika is a delight to everyone who meets her.
She's friendly, energetic, has a great sense of humor, loves to be a helper,
tells great stories, sings to herself in the bathroom, is incredibly bright in academic skills,
runs laps inside our house to "practice for when I play soccer, Mama",
cries when she oversleeps and doesn't get to kiss her daddy goodbye in the morning,
wants to be like her big sister Marissa
in nearly everything, 
entertains and plays with little sister Ellia for hours every week while I do schoolwork with the older kids,
and more importantly that all of that, 
she loves Jesus.   

What more could you ask for in a daughter?   
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