Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Desserts of 2013

I'm joining up with SnoWhite today in her Countdown to 2013 - Best Desserts.  

As you probably already know, desserts are my favorite food category.  Both to make and to eat. And I've made some really terrific ones this year.

So here we go, in no particular order:

Surprisingly easy and fast to throw together, yet so elegant and scrumptious, especially with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.  

My birthday cake - simply fantastic.  I might just have to have a repeat next year. 

The ones Grant declared his FAVORITE brownies ever.  

Fudge pie, peanut butter nougat, caramel, peanuts, chocolate drizzle, and chopped snickers. 
My 6 year old still talks about this pie (that I made in March) and begs me to make it again.  It was truly fabulous.  

Because you can never go wrong with brownies stuffed with caramel, chocolate chips, and pecans.  Yum!

With strawberries in the cake and the frosting, and nary a drop of food coloring in sight, it's a perfectly delightful spring or summer cake.  And I have to add that the cream cheese frosting tastes almost like rich strawberry ice cream. It's amazing. 

Quite possibly the best chocolate cookie I've ever had.  

Chocolate crust, chocolate cheesecake, and a cookie dough topping.  All in a little bite-sized piece. 

It's like having a chocolate truffle, in a slice.  Rich and completely decadent.  And worth every calorie. 

If you've never tried pineapple pie, you just have to do it.  It's awesome.  One of my dad's very favorites. 

Think Hello-Dolly Bars mixed with Toffee and S'mores.  Yeah.  Utterly delicious.   

Monday, December 16, 2013

Triangle Delights - SRC

Need another recipe for a cookie exchange, party, potluck, to give away to friends or neighbors, or just for dessert tonight?  Wow, Christmas season is just so busy, right???

Look no further.  This one will blow your socks off.
And it's ridiculously simple, which makes it even better.

For my Secret Recipe Club assignment this month, I had the pleasure of browsing through Adventures in All Things Food,, where Andrea has tons of great recipes, three adorable children, and a huge, beautiful farm. Oh, and she also has a craft section and does frequent give-aways.  Awesome!

While I was tempted by many recipes, including her Challah Bread and this amazing Chocolate Espresso Bundt Cake, I just couldn't resist trying a cookie which Andrea said was one of her favorites from childhood.
What do you get when you combine graham crackers and a simple sauce of butter and brown sugar with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla with coconut, almonds, and chocolate chips????

A pan of pure deliciousness, that's what. 

I took a big plate of these luscious goodies to our homeschool co-op Christmas party, and they were devoured in minutes.  Frankly, I was disappointed.  Even though I had saved several at home, I was hoping to have a few left over.  I just could not get enough of them.

They're like a combination of Hello Dolly Bars and Toffee, both of which are huge favorites of mine.  I altered the recipe only slightly, adding a half cup more marshmallows because I thought it just didn't look like enough.

These are going into the *BEST* and *MUST MAKE* categories for me.  Thanks so much, Andrea!

Triangle Delights

2 sleeves of graham crackers (all may not be used)
3 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup sliced or chopped almonds
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line a rimmed cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan with parchment paper, then place graham crackers in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Cover with marshmallows.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon and stir until butter is melted and sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Pour the hot mixture over the marshmallows, then top with coconut, almonds, and chocolate chips.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

Allow the pan to cool, then use the parchment paper as handles to remove the cookies from the pan to a cutting board.  Slice into 3 inch squares, then into triangles.  A pizza cutter works great for this!

Source: Adapted slightly from Adventures in All Things Food

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cinnamon Almond Coconut Granola

Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet?  Got the menu all planned out, groceries purchased, and just counting down the minutes till you can stick that turkey in the oven???

Not me.

I'm still trying to plan the last kiddo birthday party of the year, which takes place this weekend.  On Monday, I'll start planning Thanksgiving stuff.

Okay, maybe I'll start planning a little earlier.  I still have to coordinate with my mom and other family members on who is making what, I can't really do too much planning yet.  I CAN tell you that I'm pretty darn sure I'll be making a Pumpkin Cheesecake for dessert - and maybe a Pumpkin Roll Cake for good measure.
Because you can never have too much pumpkin and cream cheese.


Oh, and I can't forget, no Thanksgiving would be complete without some variation on pecan pie - I like this Caramel Pecan pie , but the traditional version works too.  Just as long as there's plenty of homemade sweetened whipped cream.  Mmmmm.  Can you tell my favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast is dessert?  

You can't tell me you're surprised.

In the mean time, there's a few meals between now and then, and one of my favorite breakfasts is granola.
I've been making this version for several months now and just can't seem to get tired of it.  I know there are lots fancier granolas out there, but this is simple and consistently good.  So good that my 2 year old is known to sneak the container out of the pantry and hide under the dining table, stuffing it into her face (and scattering it on the floor) as fast as she can before she gets caught.

But what's not to like?  There's coconut, chopped almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla accompanying the oats.
You can always add raisins or craisins or other goodies at the table if you like.  I usually just eat mine as is, with whole milk, of course.

Major bonus - it smells incredible while it's baking.  

Cinnamon Granola

8 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup coconut oil (I use expeller pressed, organic virgin would be great too)
1/2 cup brown sugar      
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 T. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 300°.
Combine oats, coconut, and almonds in a large bowl.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut oil, brown sugar, water, honey, and cinnamon and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and add vanilla and salt.  Pour over oat mixture and stir well to evenly coat.
Spread on 2 large rimmed baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and stir, and rotate pans so the one from the bottom shelf is on the top and vice versa.  Bake for 10 more minutes, or until desired crispiness.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes - SRC

If you're looking for a special potato dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, your birthday, or next Thursday, I've got a winner for you.

Although they take awhile to bake, these potatoes are simple to put together and are definitely worth planning ahead for. They're tender and hearty, enhanced with thinly sliced onions, and drenched with creamy cheese sauce. A potato-lover's dream come true.
Although my mom would occasionally make a similar dish called scalloped potatoes when I was growing up, I can't remember ever making them myself.  But when I saw these on my Secret Recipe Club assignment for the month, Cheese Curd in Paradise, I knew I had to make them.  I need more scrumptious side dishes in my repertoire.

Ashley blogs from Wisconsin (hence the "cheese curd" in her blog title), a state that I have never visited but would love to see someday (in the summer, thank you very much).  Any place known for their cheese has to be amazing, right?  I can't imagine my life without cheese.  

She has lots of great recipes, from Pizza Muffins to Pumpkin Truffles, that I'm looking forward to trying - but I am beyond happy to have these potatoes in my life.  While they are a bit on the decadent side, I'll definitely bring out this recipe for special occasions and dinners.  Everyone in my family absolutely loved them.

Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes
Source: Adapted slightly from Cheese Curd In Paradise

6 large russet potatoes, sliced into very thin slices
1/2 large onion, sliced into rings
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (best if you grate your own!) 
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash paprika

Preheat oven to 400°.
Layer half of the potatoes into bottom of a buttered 13 x 9" pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.Top with onion slices, and add the remaining potatoes. Sprinkle again lightly with salt and pepper.  (I like to use Kosher salt.)
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Mix in the flour and stir constantly with a whisk for one minute.  Slowly stir in milk.  Cook until the mixture has thickened.  Stir in cheddar cheese and continue stirring until melted.  Season cheese sauce with salt and pepper to taste, and add a dash of paprika if desired.  Pour over potatoes and cover the dish with foil.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours.  Remove foil and cook for a few more minutes to slightly brown the top if desired.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Skillet Baked Pasta - Vegetarian

Everywhere in the blog world, all I see is pumpkin and apple, pumpkin and apple, with a little more pumpkin added in for good measure.

Not trying to complain or anything - I adore pumpkin in so many things and appreciate new ideas in the fall.
It just kind of strikes me as funny, since most of these recipes use canned pumpkin, which is available year-round, so you really don't have to make pumpkin stuff only in the fall. Really. I like pumpkin in May.  Don't you?

That's why I either buy a few pumpkins when they're cheap and cook them, puree, and freeze in 2 cup portions or buy a bunch of cans on clearance after Thanksgiving.  I do the same with sweet potatoes.  I had such a great stash last year.....but ended up eating it in a huge rush and giving away quite a bit when we moved.  My freezer has been bare of sweet potatoes and pumpkin this entire year.  Gonna have to remedy that soon.

All that to say, I have YET to make anything with pumpkin or sweet potato this fall.
It's heresy for a food blogger, I know.  But it is what it is.
(I have made apple butter and apple sauce, for the record).

Maybe you'll enjoy seeing something else anyways. :)

How about a vegetarian pasta meal???

Most of the vegetarian meals I make revolve around beans or lentils. For the protein, ya know.

But when I saw this dish from the Girl Who Ate Everything, I couldn't resist giving it a try.
Now, I think it would be totally awesome with some crumbled cooked sausage, or sliced smoked sausage, or even diced, cooked chicken breast.  I may try one of those sometime.
But I have to say - it was totally awesome as is. 

The pasta cooks right in the tomato sauce and water, along with some spices and sauteed garlic - then you add some heavy cream  and Parmesan cheese - oh, and can't forget the basil!  I wish I had had some fresh on hand....but even the dried worked well.  Then you top the whole thing with dollops of ricotta cheese and sprinkle mozzarella over all that.  And into the oven it goes, to get all nice and golden and toasty.

Come on, now....tell me your mouth isn't watering.

A little indulgent?

Okay, maybe a little.

But completely worth it.

And I didn't miss the meat at all.

Skillet Baked Pasta 

6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp. olive oil, divided use
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 oz. ziti pasta (3 3/4 cups)
4 oz (1/2 cup) whole-milk ricotta
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbsp. dried)
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

  • Preheat oven to 475°.
  • Combine 1 Tbsp. oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a 12 inch oven safe skillet and saute over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add crushed tomatoes, water, ziti, and 1/2 tsp. salt.
  • Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain a vigorous simmer, until ziti is almost tender, 15-18 minutes. Make sure you don't overcook - it will continue to cook in the oven.
  • Meanwhile, combine ricotta, remaining 1 tsp. oil, 1/8 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper in a bowl.  Set aside.
  • Stir cream, Parmesan, and basil into the skillet and season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  • At this point, if your skillet isn't oven safe, transfer pasta into a shallow 2 quart casserole dish before sprinkling with the ricotta and cheese and baking. 
  • Add dollops of the ricotta mixture with a spoon and sprinkle mozzarella evenly over ziti. 
  • Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cheese has melted and browned, about 10 minutes. Let cook slightly and sprinkle with additional basil. Serve. 

Source: The Girl Who Ate Everything, , originally from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Monday, October 14, 2013

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies - SRC

We are in the throes of birthday season at my house.
Meaning, three of my five children have October birthdays.
Which translates into a LOT of butter, powdered sugar, and heavy cream, with all the cake and homemade ice cream flying out of my kitchen.

You'd almost think I'd veer away from sweets for my Secret Recipe Club assignment this month. And I honestly tried.  I was assigned to Group B's fearless leader Suzanne's blog, Thru the Bugs on My Windshield.  Suzanne has a great sense of humor and some really great recipes that I wanted to try, like Salsa Verde , Chicken Asparagus Penne Pasta Salad, and Blueberry Delight Coffee Cake (which is in the breakfast category, so it doesn't count as sweets.)

In the end, I was fascinated by the idea of Apricot Empanadas and despite my tumultuous relationship with pie crust, selected them as my new recipe to try.

Unfortunately, I forgot to add apricots to my shopping list and when it came time to make them, I realized my distressing mistake.  I didn't have time this week to return to the I picked something I already had ingredients for in the pantry.  Peanut Butter Cookies.

I know, I know, everyone knows how to make peanut butter cookies.  But seriously, sometimes I get so distracted by the oreo-stuffed, salted caramel drenched, swiss meringue buttercream covered delicacies that I forget the tried and true, simple recipes.

These were awesome.
My husband loved them.
My kids gobbled them up with gusto.
And I relished the soft, slightly chewy cookies with just one prominent flavor, peanut butter.  And the little crunch of sugar on the outside sealed the deal.

Peanut butter cookies should never be forgotten.

P.S. Yes, I've tried the popular 3 ingredient peanut butter cookies - 1 cup pb, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg.  
They're good.  Great if you're in a pinch and out of flour or need to bake gluten free. But these are better.  And don't take much longer.  Really. 

P.P.S. Her recipe said to roll the dough in 1 inch balls and that you'd get 4 dozen cookies.  Apparently I'm incapable of rolling balls that size.....I ended up with just 31 cookies.  And they weren't huge, either.   

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used smooth, but crunchy would work also)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour (I used part whole wheat, part all-purpose)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Granulated sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 375°.

Thoroughly cream butter, sugars, peanut butter, egg, and vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients; blend into creamed mixture.  Shape into small balls; roll in granulated sugar. Place 2" apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Press tops gently with a fork or meat mallet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until set.  Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet.

Makes 30-40 cookies.

Source: Thru the Bugs on my Windshield, originally from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cinnamon Chip Breakfast Cake - and a Happy Birthday to my Baby

My baby turned 2 today!

Guess she's not so much a baby anymore.
Not in her mind, anyways.
'Course, that's been the case for several months now.  She thinks she can do whatever the big kids do.
And mostly....she does.
She's even partially potty-trained - we just need to work on the peeing business.
And to be quite honest, while I know she's totally ready and would probably have it down in a day or two of wearing big girl panties, I haven't tried because we're going on a road trip in a few weeks.
Frequent gas station bathroom breaks with a 2 year old?
No thanks.  
She can wear diapers for a couple more weeks.

So what on earth does that have to do with this cake?
Birthday breakfast, that's what!

It's tradition in our family for the birthday boy/girl to pick their favorite breakfast and dinner on their special day.....and since Miranda is a bit too young to really tell me what her favorite is, I picked this.

I made it a couple of months ago and we absolutely loved I figured it would be a good choice for her. It's a lovely tender cake with lots of cinnamon flavor, dotted with cinnamon chips (I know, unhealthy...but really really yummy) and a luscious crumb topping.
To say that this is well-received is a huge understatement.
I seriously think that my 5 kids (10 and under) could eat nearly this entire cake in one sitting if I allowed it.

Miranda got candles and a song with hers.....definitely a great start for a happy birthday.  :)

Cinnamon Chip Breakfast Cake

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat flour)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I use organic evaporated cane juice)
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, softened 
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cinnamon chips

2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. cinnamon chips (optional, I didn't use)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Lightly spray a 13 x 9" baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. 
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugars and butter.  Add in eggs and beat until creamy. Beat in sour cream or yogurt until combined.  Slowly mix in milk until combined.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir just until moistened.  Stir in cinnamon chips.
  5. Spread batter into prepared baking dish.
  6. Combine topping ingredients (except for cinnamon chips) in a small bowl until thoroughly mixed.  Sprinkle over cake batter.  Top with cinnamon chips if desired. 
  7. Bake for 24-26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

Source: Adapted from A Kitchen Addiction

Friday, September 27, 2013

Chocolate Banana Muffins with Peanut Butter Chips

There are some things you can just never have too many of.

Chocolate chips.
Vacation days.
Checks in the mail.
Banana recipes.

Because I know we're not the only family who never seems to eat all the bananas while they're in their prime (you know, that 2 day window) and before you know it, there's a pile of squishy, brown bananas languishing on the counter and you know nobody's touching them as is.

So we make banana bread, banana muffins, banana cake, freeze them for smoothies, etc etc etc.

But because it happens every.single.week., there may be certain people in the family who tire of the same recipes. There's even one individual around here who has decided he doesn't even like banana baked goods any more.  (ahem. Corban.)

Enter these muffins.

Corban looked at them skeptically and queried, "Do they have bananas in them?" before trying one because he knew that I sneak bananas into lots of breakfast options.
I admitted they did, but convinced him to try one. Admittedly, it didn't take much convincing because they do have peanut butter chips, after all.

He said they were the best banana muffins ever.

You might even say they're similar to cake, but since there's no frosting, I insist that they're muffins and therefore completely suitable for breakfast.

So between my 5 kids and me, we ate 14 of the 20 muffins in one morning. I only ate 2.  And truth be told, we probably could have demolished the whole batch if I hadn't made them stop.

Yep, that's a successful muffin.

Chocolate Banana Muffins with Peanut Butter Chips
Slightly adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Yield: about 20 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3-4 medium bananas)
1/2 cup yogurt (vanilla or plain - or use sour cream.)
3/4 cup expeller pressed coconut oil (or room temperature butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups peanut butter chips, divided

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another bowl or large plate, mash the bananas well and combine with yogurt, stirring until combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the oil (or butter) and both sugars on medium speed until well combined, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  With the mixer on low, add half of the dry ingredients followed by the banana mixture and then the remaining dry ingredients, beating just until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give one final stir.  Add 1 cup of the peanut butter chips.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each about 3/4-full.  Sprinkle the remaining peanut butter chips over the top of the muffins.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow the muffins to cool for a few minutes, then removed them to the rack to finish cooling.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pug Cake and Birthday Party

Our middle child, Annika, turned 6 earlier this month.

Yikes!  How did that happen?

Although she had given me numerous ideas for what kind of cake she wanted, I knew there was really only one choice.  A Pug Cake.  Annika has adored pugs ever since she watched "Milo and Otis" a couple of years ago.  Her favorite birthday gift last year was a Webkinz pug, whom she named Otis, and he's her most cherished stuffed animals (of many).

So I didn't want to make a fondant covered cake or just draw a picture of a pug, although the latter did cross my mind.  Nope, when I saw this cake, I  knew it was the one I had to try.  I don't think mine turned out as cute, to be quite honest, but it's all good.

So here's the breakdown.

You'll need:
2 9" round cakes
1 8"square cake
Buttercream frosting 
  *2 cups butter, softened
  *8 cups powdered sugar
  *1/4-1/2 cup cream or milk
  *1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  *1/4 tsp. almond extract
  *dash salt
  *Cocoa powder and food coloring (I use Wilton)

    Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth.  Add powdered sugar gradually.  Mix in
    1/4 cup cream, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Add additional cream
    or milk to achieve desired piping consistency.
    Separate into bowls and tint as desired.
    I tinted most of mine tan with a little bit of sifted cocoa powder.  A small part I added a lot more cocoa
    powder  (plus a little more cream) to make the dark mouth area, and added some black food coloring
    to part of that to make the ears, eyes, and nose.

I always freeze my cakes so they're easier to carve without falling apart.  I used 1-1/3 of this recipe to make my cakes. It's a delicious and moist cake that is also fairly sturdy and doesn't crumble too easily.
So here's how you cut it.

Take one of the round cakes and carve out sections to shape ears and the face.

From your square cake, carve out a niche for the head to rest into.  Cut a little off the corners to make rounded shoulders.

Use the other round cake to carve out the legs and paws.  I didn't do perfectly with that and ended up having to stick some scraps to the cake to make the shape I wanted....but when it was frosted, nobody was the wiser.

I just used a basic star tip (Wilton # 17, I think) to pipe all over the cake.  I didn't even bother with a crumb coat.  I used a small round tip to pipe the outlines of the legs with the dark brown frosting. 
For the nose area, I piped lots of extra frosting to mount it up more 3D like - it's kind of hard to tell from the photo. 

Sooooo......onto the rest of the party.  

I made a double batch of Puppy Chow and saved part for the party, but packaged the rest up in little cellophane bags to put in the goody bags for the guests.  Annika cut out some little bones and we stapled them onto the bags.  Cute!

In the goody bags, I also included some Sugar Cookie Dog Houses  (there were Dog bones as seen above in the cake photo for eating at the party), a ball, and some random candies that Annika picked out. 
I dressed up some white paper bags with a little bit of dog paw scrapbook paper before writing their names on them. 

Probably the funnest activity of the party was the Treasure Hunt.  I wrote little riddle clues and printed them out on dog paw graphics and hid them in their proper places around the yard (under a picnic table, behind the grill, in the playhouse, in the mailbox, etc).  Each clue led them to the next one - and the final clue led them back inside to find their goody bags hidden under the dining table.  :)  The girls LOVED it. 

I found this Photo Collage Banner idea from this blog - and absolutely adored it. She gave perfect instructions on how to do it - I'll be making more for my other kids' birthdays.  I wish I had taken a picture of Annika's face when she came downstairs and saw this on the wall - she was soooooo delighted.  

The cake table - also decorated with dog bones that we used for a "Musical Bones" (instead of musical chairs) game.  I taped them on the floor and when the music stopped, the girls had to get on a bone.  Nobody got eliminated, but as I removed the bones each time, the girls had to cram onto the remaining bones.  It got pretty funny by the end when there was only 1 bone left. :) 

Annika got baby pug (Otis Jr) that morning before the party - and she decorated a box for his doghouse and set both of her pups on the table with some of the bone cookies.  So cute!

Happy Birthday to our sweet girl! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Enchilada Stuffed Shells -SRC

Have you ever made a new recipe full of delicious ingredients that you know your family loves yet had skeptical, dubious children take one look and declare,  "I don't LIKE that!" before they've even tasted it?

It drives me crazy.

My 3.5 year old Ellia is a real master at that kind of stuff. If she even thinks a dish might have onions in it, she automatically doesn't want to eat it.  What makes it even worse is that she really doesn't mind onions, it's the 6 year old (Annika) who does.  Ellia just wants to be like Annika, so she has to copy the onion-hating.

There was one time recently that Ellia was eating her peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and she excitedly announced, "You can't even taste the onions!!!!"  

Yep.  I can't taste onions in my PB&J either.  Wonder why that is.

I use onions a lot in my cooking, so there are many opportunities to use that phrase, I suppose.

So there was a small amount of skepticism when this dinner was presented, but once the reluctant eaters were persuaded to take a bite, there were no more complaints and the plates were emptied.  Hurray!  Score for Mom!

Many thanks to Grandma Loy's Kitchen, whose blog I was assigned to for this month's Secret Recipe Club.
Grandma Loy has lots of down-to-earth recipes with simple ingredients and easy preparation - like her Herbed Potato Frittata (which I made a version of on Saturday and it was amazing!), Apple Pear Streusel Pie,  and Easy Pretzel Pralines (definitely trying those this fall).
I have really enjoyed reading through her blog and pinning all sorts of new things to try.

But I couldn't resist this entree option - I love enchiladas and pasta is always a hit with my I just knew these would be delicious.  When Annika came in and saw me filling the shells, she was less than impressed with how the filling looked....but I made her take a little bite and she was immediately convinced.....this was an awesome meal. :)   She couldn't wait to tell the others how good dinner was going to be!  And we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

I included our favorite enchilada sauce that I use for this recipe - Grandma Loy has her own version that you can also check out.  Or you can just use canned sauce.

P.S.  This would make a GREAT potluck meal.
P.P.S. I bet it would also freeze really well....although I haven't tried it yet.

Enchilada Stuffed Shells
adapted  from Grandma Loy's Kitchen

1 lb ground turkey or beef
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup red pepper, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups frozen whole kernel corn
1 can (15 oz) pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed
4 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 (10 oz) cans enchilada sauce OR homemade recipe below
20 jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
2 cups shredded cheese - cheddar and Monterey Jack combined, divided use

Brown ground turkey or beef with onion, red pepper, and garlic.  I like to sprinkle with garlic salt for flavor.  Drain if necessary.  Add corn, beans, cream cheese, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper and 2/3 cup enchilada sauce.  Let cook for ~10 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Spoon about 2 heaping Tablespoons meat mixture into each cooked pasta shell. Place in a greased 13 x 9" dish.  Sprinkle each shell with some of the cheese. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over the shells.  Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350°F. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 5-10 minutes longer.

Makes 10 servings of 2 shells each.

Enchilada Sauce: (makes enough for a double batch of stuffed shells  - freeze half for another time if you don't need a double batch)
2 T. olive oil
1 T. flour
1/4 c. chili powder
2 c. chicken broth
10 oz. tomato paste
1 t. oregano
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. salt

In a large saucepan or skillet, heat 2 T. oil and then add flour, smoothing and stirring with a wooden spoon.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds.  Add 2 cups broth, tomato paste, oregano, cumin and salt.  Stir to combine.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium/low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to develop.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chocolate Velvet Dessert

We are officially in the throes of birthday season.

All five of our children were born between September and November.  Three of them in October.

While mostly that was actually intentional......passing down clothes and all makes for a really busy fall.  (Like especially two years ago when I gave birth on October 9, Grant had ankle reconstruction surgery to repair 3 torn ligaments on October 11, and we had birthdays to celebrate on October 20 and 28.  Yeah. Fun times.)

We just celebrated our middle child's birthday - she turned 6 - this past weekend.  While it was a lot of fun to plan and execute, I'm glad it's over and everything went well.

One down, four to go. And then it's Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

So before all the party festivities began, we took the previous two weekends to have people over for dinner - lovely families from church that we had been meaning to invite over for months and just hadn't made it happen. One of the weekends, I made these cookies, which makes such a large batch that we had plenty for both evenings we had guests. (and I was reminded again just how much I love those cookies.)
For the next weekend, I wanted to make a new dessert. When I was deliberating what exactly that should be,  pouring through my pinterest board and foodgawker favorites, nothing was striking my fancy.

I is that even possible with 300 different options?

But then I remembered this dessert.

I had made it years ago for a special night with some friends in Virginia.....and we had all loved it.  I had been meaning to make it again and somehow just never got around to it.  Silly me.  It certainly deserves to be made more often than every 5 years.

So here's the breakdown.  A slightly crunchy and buttery Oreo crust, a rich, creamy filling made with melted chocolate, egg yolks, and heavy cream, and a sweet chocolate buttercream frosting.
It looks similar to a cheesecake - but it has such a smooth - and yes - velvety texture.  It positively melts in your mouth.  It's almost like eating a slice of chocolate truffle.  
To say that it's decadent would be an understatement.
And you really have to love chocolate to appreciate this treat.
Thankfully, everyone in my family (and our guests) fell into that category.

Chocolate Velvet Dessert
adapted slightly from Taste of Home

1-1/2 cups chocolate cookie or Oreo crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
6 egg yolks
1-3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder (or 3 T. regular cocoa powder)
3-4 Tbsp. whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°.  In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs and butter well.  Press onto the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan.  Place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

2. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate chips; stir until smooth.  Cool.  In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, cream, and vanilla.  Gradually stir a small amount of mixture into melted chocolate until blended; gradually stir in remaining mixture.  If it clumps up, don't worry - just keep whisking briskly until it smooths out.  Pour into crust.

3. Place pan on baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until center is almost set.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.  Refrigerate overnight.

4. In a large bowl, combine the butter, powdered sugar, sifted cocoa, and enough milk to achieve a piping consistency.  Using a large star tip, pipe frosting on dessert.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

(Healthy) Chocolate Oat Breakfast Cookies

As much as I love things like scones or cinnamon rolls for breakfast, I make them a special treat. We most often eat things like scrambled eggs, baked oatmeal, cereal, or banana muffins. The girls are fine with that.....especially the muffins part....but Corban (9.5) , who is in general my least picky eater, has started complaining about most of those offerings. He's not crazy about the non-sugary cereal I buy, doesn't care for homemade granola, and he hates bananas in baked goods.

So you can imagine his delight when one recent morning the kids came downstairs to see me baking cookies and then heard the announcement, "These are for breakfast!"


Chocolate cookies for breakfast????

You're the Best mom Ever!  
An elation that wore off sooner than I would have preferred......when I still insisted in doing schoolwork for the day.

So yes, these fall into the "occasional treat" category....or they could even fall into dessert sometimes.....because although they are healthy, with coconut oil and oats  and whole wheat flour, they still have chocolate. And they taste surprisingly decadent.   They're a little chewy, a little crisp, have a wonderful salty/sweet contrast, and are definitely hard to stop at just one.

I even heard a couple of kiddos declare that these would be their Birthday Breakfast choice.

That means they're really good.

(Healthy) Chocolate Oat Breakfast Cookies
adapted  from Fit Mama Real Food  and The Tasty Cheapskate

1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. natural cane sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional, but highly recommended)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional - I used unsweetened)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional - I didn't use)

1 .Preheat oven to 350°.
2. In a large bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a different bowl, whisk melted coconut oil, egg, and sugars together.  Add in vanilla.
3. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix.  Stir in oats, then add chocolate chips, coconut, and pecans if using.
4. Drop mounds onto an ungreased baking sheet.  The cookies don't spread much, so I found it best to flatten them with the bottom of a glass before baking.  Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until set.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Peach Cobbler Scones

I could eat scones for breakfast nearly every day and be a happy camper.  

Well, maybe not when I went to put on my jeans....but at the table?  I'd be happy

The thing is, they have to be good scones.  Like, you know, soft....buttery....tender.....if they have those qualities, I pretty much don't care what flavor they are.  Apple, pumpkin, cherry almond, berry, whatever. It's all good. 

Maybe I just have bad luck, but it seems like every scone I've had from a restaurant (Starbucks, Panera Bread, and the like) has been a bit dry and stale tasting.  Oh, they weren't so bad that I wasted the fortune $3 they cost and tossed them in the garbage, but they just don't hold a candle to homemade.  In taste or value.  So in general, I prefer to make my own at home.  

These are a really fun variation on the normal type of scones - because they're basically like a peach sandwich.  Sweet, rich dough encasing juicy peaches, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and baked until golden. 

Okay, to be perfectly fair, I'll admit that Grant wasn't the hugest fan.  But that's mainly because he doesn't really care for peaches unless they're plain....and he prefers scones with either frosting (ha, who wouldn't?) or a thick layer of jam, which would really be kind of weird on these scones. 

But the kids and I didn't mind because that meant more for us.  We thought they were incredible.  

Peach Cobbler Scones
makes 8 huge scones or 16 smaller ones
adapted slightly from Joy the Baker

3 cups flour (I used half white whole wheat, half all-purpose)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter, cold and cut into cubes (I used salted)
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus a couple Tablespoons for brushing
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 ripe peach, sliced thin (or more if needed)
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Cut in butter until    mixture resembles coarse meal.  Don't leave any chunks of butter larger than peas.

3. In another bowl, combine egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Beat lightly with a fork.  Add to the flour mixture  all at once, stirring enough to make a soft dough.

4. Turn onto a floured surface and knead about 15 times.  If the butter has warmed too much in the making  of the dough, shape the batter into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.
 I didn't have this issue - mine was fine.
 If the butter is still cool, shape the dough into a disk and on a well-floured surface, roll dough to a little less  than 1/2-inch thickness, making a rectangle about 12 x 10 inches, or a little larger.

5. Brush half of the rolled dough with buttermilk.  Arrange peach slices, in a single layer, across that side of  the dough. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle half of it over the peaches.

6. Carefully fold the empty side of dough over the peach layer.  Press gently together.  Add a bit of flour to your hands and press the edges of the dough in, creating more of a rectangle shape than a half-circle shape.  Slice dough into 8 or 16 pieces.

7. Place scones on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of room around each scone for spread  while baking. If dough has warmed and feels mushy, place in fridge for a few minutes to re-chill.  Again, I  didn't have this issue.  Brush each scone top with buttermilk and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar.

8. Bake scones for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Scones are best served warm, on the day they're made - but they're pretty tasty the next day too. :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream

We're fortunate to have a local peach orchard not too far away and I recently picked up half a bushel of my favorite late summer fruit.  That worked out to be 22 pounds, in case you're wondering.  (yes, I did haul out my kitchen scale to weigh them.....I just had to know.)

That's a lot of peaches.

I stuck at least half of them in our extra fridge in the garage so they wouldn't ripen too fast and left the rest on the counter.  My constantly hungry kiddos would make fast work of them, I was sure.

I had every intention of making peach freezer jam, and even bought the pectin for it.....but when I saw that the recipe called for a cup and a half more sugar than peaches, I just couldn't bring myself to make it.
Should have bought that less-sugar required pectin.

Also on my list of things to make was Peach Cobbler Scones.  Those I made on Saturday - the recipe will be coming soon.  Delish.

But above all else, I wanted to make peach ice cream.
But not just plain peach ice cream - peach cheesecake ice cream!
I couldn't get the idea out of my head.

So what I basically did was take the basic vanilla ice cream that I usually make and added a bunch of pureed peaches, with a block of cream cheese replacing one of the cups of cream.  I toyed with the idea of swirling in crumbled homemade ginger snaps or something of the like, but ended up just deciding to sprinkle individual servings with crushed graham crackers.

It was so. good.

Grant (aka Mr.Chocolate) was admittedly skeptical of it.  He was convinced that he wouldn't really care for it.  But after one spoonful, he was SOLD.  

In my opinion, nothing you buy at the store can hold a candle to homemade ice cream.  It's so rich, satisfying, and free of weird ingredients. (carrageenan, anyone??)  And this version, with so many sweet, juicy peaches in it, must have a full serving of fruit per scoop.  What store-bought ice cream can boast that?

Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream
Makes a generous 2 quarts
(a Rebekah original)

1-1/2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 8 (oz) package cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups sugar (I used organic evaporated cane juice sugar)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
Graham crackers for garnish (optional)

1. Place peach slices and cream cheese (cut into small pieces) into a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the milk and sugar and mix for a few minutes on medium speed, until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is smooth. I test it by rubbing a small amount of mixture between my fingers to make sure there's no grittiness left.
3. Add the peach cream cheese mixture to the milk and stir to combine.  Add the vanilla and cream and stir gently.
4. Pour into your ice cream maker and proceed according to your manufacturer's directions.

Mine nearly overflowed my Cuisinart 2-quart ice cream maker - so if yours is smaller, reduce the recipe in half or only freeze part of it at a time. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Lemon Zucchini Bread - SRC

This month I had the pleasure of getting introduced to Lea Ann from Cooking...On the Ranch for my Secret Recipe Club assignment. Lea Ann lives in Colorado and has seriously one of the best views in the entire world from her little town.  You HAVE to click over to her About page to see it.  Go ahead....I'll wait.

Didn't I tell you???  Looks like a little piece of heaven to me. I need to go on vacation there.

So I was tempted by so many recipes on her blog - from Chicken Macaroni Salad (definitely making that one soon - I bought the ingredients for it, just haven't gotten to it yet) to this mouth-watering Baked Zucchini and Tomato side dish.....but I had some organic zucchini that was desperately calling to me from the bottom drawer of the fridge to be used soon, and I had never tried Lemon Zucchini Bread before, so that was the big winner.

I was the designated "snack-bringer" to my ladies' Bible study that week, so I decided to double the recipe and share this treat with friends.  And I must say, it was a HUGE hit.  I got loads of compliments from the ladies and kids alike.....and everyone was super surprised that the bread had zucchini in it.

That's mostly because of an error I made.

See, I just got my first food processor a few weeks ago and was super excited to use it to shred the zucchini. Sooooo much faster than hand-grating it, right?
But silly me, I neglected to take the blade out of the bottom of the processor, so the zucchini got not only grated, but basically pureed.  It was a nice, fine pulp.

I just tossed it in the bread anyways and it essentially disappeared.  I don't think anyone would have guessed that there was zucchini in the bread - but it definitely did its magic of adding moisture to the bread.

The best part was the glaze - the tangy, vibrant lemon glaze.  It just made the bread explode with flavor.

You really have to try it - Lea Ann swore it was amazing and she was Oh. So. Right.
Definitely double the recipe - you'll be so glad you did.

Next year I am totally planting some zucchini in my yard so I can make this bread all summer long.

Lemon Zucchini Bread
Adapted slightly from Cooking...On the Ranch
(makes one 9x5" loaf)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil (I used expeller-pressed coconut oil)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Tbsp. lemon juice)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup grated zucchini

1 cup powdered sugar
Juice of half a lemon (or 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)

Preheat oven to 350°.
In a large bowl, blend flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat 2 eggs well, then add oil and sugar and blend well.  Add the buttermilk, lemon juice and lemon zest and stir to combine.  Fold in the zucchini.
Add wet mixture to dry mixture and blend gently; don't over mix.
Pour batter into a greased 9x5" loaf pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine glaze ingredients in a small bowl - add more juice or sugar if necessary to make a good drizzling consistency.  You don't want it really thick, but super liquidy isn't good either!  Spoon glaze over bread evenly and let set before serving.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cheesecake Bites

I know it's just the beginning of August - and there are lots of people who are still soaking in the love of summer for another month - but around here, we're already two weeks into our home school schedule.

We're attempting a new routine - one that I started last year but was completely disrupted by our move; six weeks on, one week off year round - with an extra ten weeks to take off whenever we want.  I'm sure a chunk of those will regularly be taken in the summer, plus we'll have extra time off in December and whenever grandparents come to visit. We'll see how it goes.

A couple of weeks ago, the leaders of our church hosted a dinner for the families who were new to the congregation in the past several months.  We were asked to bring a dessert (you know they had to twist my arm on that one) and I decided to make this variation on these Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Squares.  That's my second most popular blog post of all time - and well deservedly so - but I always like to try new things.

The recipe that inspired me was made in a 8x8" square pan.  Now, I know for some people, that's a reasonable amount of dessert to have around, but when you have a family of 7 and might like a dessert to last more than one meal, that's just not gonna cut it. Not to mention that we were taking it to a potluck.

So double it I did.  

Okay, I have a confession to make.  Any time a recipe calls for an amount of cream cheese that doesn't use up the whole block, I adjust the recipe to use it all  - unless I already have a purpose for the remainder. I just can't stand leaving 4 ounces of cream cheese in the fridge, knowing that I'll never have a recipe that uses so little or I'll forget all about it and end up throwing it away in 3 months.  (cause that's about how often I clean out my fridge.  I know. Ick.  But it's my least favorite chore.)

Sooooo.....I not only doubled the recipe but increased the cheesecake layer so I avoid having the icky cream cheese in the fridge.  The result was that my cheesecake layer was a little taller than the original and took a bit longer to bake - which in turn meant that the cookie layer on top got slightly brown.  I was worried about that at first, but you know what?  It still tasted fabulously delicious.

The proof was that people kept asking "Who made these bars??" with glowing eyes and blissfully happy smiles on their faces at the fellowship meal - and my family couldn't get enough of them.  I'm afraid my kids might have taken more than their share.  And the small pan that I saved at home and took to my parents the next night were equally as well received - my dad and brother LOVED them.

Oh, and another nice thing about making a huge pan - although I didn't have the chance to freeze any, I know they'd freeze perfectly and you could have little cheesecake bites just waiting for you any time the chocolate urge hits.
Or you have surprise company.
Or an accomplishment to celebrate.
Or you just like cheesecake with cookie dough.  Like me.  :)

Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cheesecake Bites
Adapted from Baby Gizmo

3 cups chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs (about 27 cookies)
1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter, melted (I used salted)

Cookie Dough:
10 Tbsp. salted butter, partially melted
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
6 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cheesecake Filling:
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 13 x 9" pan with foil or parchment paper allowing a little overhang.

Mix the melted butter and cookie crumbs until thoroughly combined.  Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.  I use a metal measuring cup to press the mixture in well.  Bake in preheated oven for 6 minutes.  Remove pan to a cooling rack.

While the crust is baking, prepare the chocolate chip cookie dough.  In a large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth.  Mix in the flour just until incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Mix in the eggs and vanilla on low speed just until combined. Add the melted chocolate and mix gently.  Pour the cheesecake batter into the prepared crust.

Flatten clumps of cookie dough in your palms and distribute onto the top of the cheesecake batter.  Get it as evenly spread out as possible.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cookie dough feels dry and firm and the entire pan looks set.  If it's really jiggly, give it a few more minutes.  If the cookie dough starts to brown too much, you can cover the top of the pan with foil.

Move bars to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours before cutting.  Remove from pan using the foil overhang and cut into desired size squares.  Keep refrigerated until serving.

Bars can be frozen also - just allow to thaw before serving.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Blueberry Crumb Bars

One of the best parts of early summer is fresh blueberries.  There are so many things you can do with them, from pies and crisps, muffins and cakes, smoothies and toppings for granola or oatmeal.  Not to mention eating them plain, which is what we do most.

And there's just nothing like going to pick them yourself.  I was so happy to discover that there is a blueberry farm just 20 minutes from our house - we went twice in June to pick and ended up with a total of 4 gallons.  I managed to freeze 2 gallons - the rest were eaten plain or baked into this mouth-watering dessert.

 Ellia (3.5) - she ate more berries than she contributed to the bucket. :)

Picking berries with my friend Kim and her children.

top  left - Jenika with Marissa and Annika
top right - Miranda with Hadassah
bottom left - Me with Kim - we've been friends for 23 years!!  
bottom right - Elisha and Corban - great buddies.

The second time we went to pick berries, it was so chilly out that we had to wear jackets - and our hands nearly froze from the wet bushes.  Unusual weather for June around here for sure.

These Blueberry Crumb Bars are really simple to make and just burst with berry flavor. A little lemon zest and juice add that extra special zing to the filling.  I highly recommend using organic lemons if you can find them, especially since you're using the zest.  I can actually get a bag of organic lemons at Walmart for just a marginal amount more than the conventional lemons cost.  Definitely worth it.

They store really well in the refrigerator and taste good chilled, but I definitely preferred them warmed up a little.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream would really take them over the top.  

Blueberry Crumb Bars
adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups flour (I used half white whole wheat, half all purpose)
1 cup cold butter (I used salted)
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tsp. cornstarch (use organic if possible)
4 cups fresh blueberries 

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 13 x 9" pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder.  Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg.  Dough will be crumbly.  Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.
In another bowl, stir together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, and cornstarch.  Gently mix in the blueberries.  Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. (My oven cooks fast, so I always check early.)
Cool completely before cutting into squares.

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