Monday, November 26, 2012

Butterscotch-Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Cream Cheese Drizzle

I was introduced to the original version of these couldn't-be-easier cake-like cookies by my younger sister, who has been making them for several years. Such a simple recipe - cake mix, pumpkin, and chocolate chips - is not only practically fool-proof, but also lots of fun to change up and make your own. My sister has used different types of chips, for example, and enjoys making them using gluten-free cake mix; she just uses her own added spices in place of the spice cake mix.

I enjoyed the version with cinnamon chips so much, but butterscotch chips meld so beautifully with the pumpkin, too... what to do? So I thought - why not use both?? Add a bit of flavoring, a hint more cinnamon, and a homemade cream cheese drizzle (which adds a lot of depth to the flavor and texture), and you've got yourself a cute, scrumptious cookie that you can whip up in a jiffy - and watch disappear almost as quickly. ;)

Butterscotch-Pumpkin Spice Cookies

1 box spice cake mix
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup cinnamon chips
1/2 tsp rum extract
1/2 tsp vanilla and/or almond extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place all ingredients into a large mixing bowl; stir to combine well. (A wooden spoon works perfectly for this; don't use a mixer.) Drop rounded tablespoons of dough about 1-2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until puffed and set; the tops should bounce back like a cake when lightly touched. I let my cookies cool for a few minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Drizzle with the following cream cheese icing if desired.

Cream Cheese Drizzle

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces salted butter, softened
1 1/2 - 2 cups confectioners' sugar
Few drops rum extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Cream all ingredients together until smooth and fluffy. Start with 1 cup of sugar and add more, 1/4 cup at a time, until you get the consistency you want for the frosting. You may need more or less than 2 cups total, depending on the humidity in the room. You're looking for a nice, smooth, light texture that isn't "drippy," but isn't stiff, either... you want it to flow easily when you squeeze it out of your piping bag, but not run all over your cookies. ;) Place icing in a piping bag (disposable decorating bag, parchment bag, or even a Ziploc baggie) and cut just the tiniest little bit off the tip of the bag... then, drizzle away! :) A lot of times I like to drizzle in opposite directions over the cookies to make a sort of lattice pattern; I didn't do that here, so you can get a better look at the actual cookie underneath. Either way, they are quite pretty on a tray!
(This icing recipe makes enough for a double batch of cookies, or you can save the leftovers in the fridge and use to top other cookies, gingerbread, cinnamon rolls, or..... mmmmm. In fact, I highly recommend using it on cinnamon rolls. :) )


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Freezer Meals: Honey-Wheat Pizza Dough

I've been trying to stock up on simple meals and other food items that will make life easier after the new baby comes this month. I saw a recipe for freezer pizza dough and decided to tweak it a bit to make it a little healthier, but still just as easy. The recipe made enough for 4 pizza crusts, so we baked 2 that night and still have 2 in the freezer... they'll be super-easy to turn into a quick and satisfying meal later on! Everyone LOVED this pizza and the dough turned out just perfectly... and I loved the fact that it was so easy to make. :)

Honey-Wheat Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water
2 Tbsp dry yeast
4 cups bread flour OR all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups cool water
2 tsp celtic OR kosher salt (you can use regular iodized salt if that is all you have)
1/2 tsp ANY or EACH: rosemary, oregano, basil, garlic, and/or onion powder (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil (plus more for greasing the dough later on)
2 Tbsp honey

- In large bowl, stir the yeast into the warm water until dissolved. Let stand until foamy.

-Add the flour, cool water, salt, oil, honey, and desired spices into the yeast mixture. Stir well, and knead by hand for 7 minutes (I did this right in the bread bowl). You can also use a dough hook on a stand mixer if you have one; that should do the work in about 5 minutes. (Still waiting on my stand mixer. :) )

-Place the dough in a large GREASED bowl and cover with a small towel. Let rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled.

-Punch down and divide into 4 equal portions. Coat each ball with more olive oil and wrap each in plastic wrap. Place in freezer bags, label, and freeze.

TO USE: Remove from freezer 8-12 hours before using. Let thaw in fridge. After thawing, remove from fridge and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down and make your pizza according to your favorite recipe. :)

Tip - Since I don't have a pizza stone to give my crust a nice, crispy outside and chewy inside, I figured out the next best thing... I rub a generous amount of olive oil onto my pizza pan, and then sprinkle that with a light coating of cornmeal. I also lightly brush the entire top crust with olive oil to help keep the sauce and toppings from making the crust soggy. My father-in-law brushed his pizza dough with an amazing garlic-infused olive oil he whipped up, and that was SO tasty!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Strawberry-Kiwi Jam (and other easy variations :) )

Freezer jam. For some reason, I spent most of my life believing that this quicker version of homemade jam must somehow be inferior to traditional, cooked, canned jams... boy, was I wrong! For one thing, it uses much less sugar, which highlights the natural sweetness of the fruit - and you don't have to feel as guilty when your kids happily slather a half-inch of it over their peanut butter. ;) For another thing, because it usually doesn't require cooked fruit (with a few exceptions), the true flavor of your fruit really comes through beautifully. And - a big bonus to busy moms with little ones under foot- not only is it quick and easy, it also doesn't require you to use a boiling-water bath to sterilize and seal your jars. Just fill clean jars, leaving about 1/2" headspace, allow to sit on the counter for 30 minutes, and place in your fridge or freezer. Nothing too dangerous about that! :) As long as you follow the basic guidelines for fruit/pectin ratios, you'll end up with a nicely set jam that tastes AMAZING - even after a year in the freezer.

My kids love  homemade jam - since they've started eating it, they've refused storebought jam completely. We've experimented with many fruit combinations, which have all turned out very well... strawberry-rhubarb, strawberry-mango, mixed berry, raspberry-peach, and so on. We've also tried a few yummy recipes from the Ball canning website, such as plum-cherry vanilla and balsamic-strawberry. (Oddly enough, while I thought the robust flavor of the balsamic-strawberry would be too much for their palates and be more fitted to serving with cheese and crackers, they all enjoyed it even more than the plum-cherry... and insisted on making peanut butter sandwiches with it right away!)

Here is one of the biggest hits of this season, though: strawberry-kiwi jam. :) One bite of this tangy, luscious jam will make you believe that summer is just around the corner, even when it's the middle of winter! :)

Strawberry-Kiwi Freezer Jam

3 cups crushed fresh strawberries (you may use partially-thawed, previously frozen strawberries instead)
1 cup crushed kiwifruit
1 1/3 cups sugar (you may substitute sucralose here if you wish)
1 pkg (1.59 oz) OR 5 tbsp Ball instant fruit pectin (the Ball brand really is the best - it requires the least sugar, and dissolves the most readily. It comes in various amounts, so be sure to check your package size.)

Combine the crushed fruit in a large bowl; set aside. Mix together the sugar and pectin, using a whisk if necessary to remove all lumps from the pectin. Add the sugar mixture to the fruit mixture; stir constantly for 3 minutes. Ladle into glass or plastic canning jars, leaving 1/2" headspace at the top. Seal jars with lids; allow to sit on counter for 30 minutes. Label jars and place in fridge or freezer. Jam will stay fresh in your fridge for 1 month (if it lasts that long ;) ), and up to 12 months in your freezer. Makes approximately five 8-oz jars.

That's it! :)

Easy variations:

 *For Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam, substitute 1 cup cooked, mashed rhubarb for the kiwi. This one is my particular favorite, I think. :)

 *For Strawberry-Mango Jam, substitute 1 cup pureed mango for the kiwi.

 *For Mixed Berry Jam, use a combination of your favorite, easily crushed berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries) to equal 4 cups. Keep in mind that blueberries have a higher pectin content and can make your jam quite difficult to spread if you use too many of them, so use a greater amount of other berries first.

No fresh fruit? No problem - use frozen! Just partially thaw it before crushing or pureeing. It shouldn't be completely thawed - just enough to be easily crushed. I tend to make raspberry jam variations using frozen raspberries, since these are usually less expensive than fresh raspberries. I'll often make combination jams, using both fresh and frozen fruit for best flavor. Any way you make it, though... it's going to be good! :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Iced Capps the Easy (and Cheap) Way

Looking for an easy but luscious alternative to those yummy but oh-so-pricey iced coffee confections at your favorite coffee shop? Here's one for you - a rich, chocolately iced "cappuccino" with little fuss, that makes a family-sized blenderful of summertime yumminess! :) We threw together this recipe yesterday, on a hot, muggy afternoon, and we all loved it. With these proportions, it is truly more like a nice, cold, rich cappuccino, but feel free to increase the ice and/or ice cream proportions in the recipe if you want it to be more like a milkshake. And of course, you can scale down the ingredients if you only want to serve one or two. Either way - YUM!

Blender Iced Cappuccino

-4  (6 ounces each) cups VERY STRONG coffee (I used decaf coffee, and about 2 tbsp of grounds per coffee-pot-cup of water. Coffee pots usually measure cups in 6 oz servings, not the 8 oz of a measuring cup.)
-1/2 cup instant chocolate milk powder (I'm sure chocolate syrup would work just as well :) )
-1 quart vanilla ice cream
-Handful of ice cubes
-Extra ice cubes for each glass

 Combine the first four ingredients in a large blender; blend until very smooth. Pour into ice-filled glasses and serve. Serves approximately 4-6 adults.

Any extra cappuccino can be chilled in the fridge until needed; it will be of a slightly thinner consistency since the ice cream and ice cubes will have melted, but it will be fantastic over ice nonetheless. :)

*Out of chocolate milk powder or syrup? No vanilla ice cream? Just substitute chocolate ice cream instead. :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Eggs - some easy tricks

Easter 2010

For the last few years, we've enjoyed doing our eggs a bit differently... and they come out so pretty, with a gentle sheen, that neighbors have asked whether they were real. ;) The secret? Plain old vegetable oil. It's a cheap ingredient and something most of us already have in our cupboards. We use it in two ways:

~~~~ After you've colored all the eggs you wish to do in a solid color, you can make swirly marbled eggs by adding 1 tbsp vegetable oil to each cup of egg dye. Stir briskly before quickly adding your egg (either a plain white one, or a dry, lightly colored one). Remove egg after just a few seconds, and lightly rub with a paper towel. Where the swirling oil touched the egg, no new color will appear - it will only appear where the color dye alone touched the surface. The whole surface of the egg will also have a gentle sheen from your paper-towel rub after dipping.

We made a batch of white/blue, white/pink, and pink/blue eggs at the end of our egg-dyeing a few years ago, and these were some of the prettiest Easter eggs we've ever made. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of those ones. :( But, you can see two swirled eggs from last year's bunch, in the back of the group in the picture at the top of this page. :)

~~~~ The other simple trick we do with vegetable oil is to simply pour a small amount (maybe 1/4 - 1/2 tsp) on a soft paper towel, and gently buff each solid-colored egg after they've been dyed and dried. This helps protect the eggs, brings out the color, and gives that pretty sheen as well. Add more oil to the paper towel as needed.

You can use these oil tricks on any kind of hard-cooked eggs, whether you dye them with commercial kits, liquid vegetable/vinegar dye, or any other kind of egg dyes. (This year I'm planning on using my paste food colors from cake decorating to make a bunch of egg dye colors we've never had before... should be fun, as long as this mama's not too sick! ;) )

May the love and peace of Our Risen Lord be with your family this Easter and always!

Good Friday, 2010 ~Timmy

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The "Best You've Ever Made" Granola

Ah... after 5 weeks of bedrest, anxiety, extreme boredom (how is that possible with 3 very active young children?! ...I have an even GREATER respect for disabled parents now!) and loneliness (ditto!), this mama is mostly back on her feet... thank God! To celebrate, we took the opportunity this week to make some good, old-fashioned, and easy recipes - like granola. It's simple, economical, tasty, healthful, and requires very little hands-on time... the perfect recipe for us. :) The basis for this recipe came from an older cookbook which still graces the bookshelves of both my mother and my husband's mother... La Leche League's Whole Foods for the Whole Family. Using their basic recipe and choosing our favorite additions, we came up with this fantastic combination of ingredients which everyone loved. When my husband came home from work, he grabbed a handful out of the pan and immediately declared, "Wow... This is the best granola you've ever made." That's settled... this recipe's a keeper!

Granola Recipe

In a large bowl, combine:
6 cups old-fashioned oats
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Choose any combination of some or all of the following ingredients to equal an additional 6 cups, and stir into the oatmeal base:
Wheat germ
Powdered milk
Flax seed
Coconut (shredded- unsweetened or sweetened)
Unsalted, unroasted nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
Unroasted seeds (pumpkin, sesame, or sunflower)
Rolled wheat flakes

 *We used the following ingredients and proportions to equal 6 cups:
           1 1/3 cups powdered milk
           1 1/3 cups wheat germ
           1 1/3 cups shelled almonds and pecans
           2 cups shredded coconut

Set dry ingredients aside. In a saucepan, combine:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 tsp vanilla
Cook over medium heat until warm and thinned. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.
Place mixture into a large roasting pan (we used a deep-dish [3 inches] 13x9 glass casserole dish, but any large, deep pan will work).
Bake at 250 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring well every 20-30 minutes, until mixture is dry and a nice, rich golden brown. Your baking time will vary, based on the size and depth of your baking dish, and the desired crispness of the cereal. (Keep in mind that it will crisp a bit more upon cooling.) 
Remove pan and allow to cool before placing the granola into an airtight container, stirring several times to allow for even cooling.

Add dried fruits - raisins, cranberries, cherries, chopped apricots, apples, chopped dates, etc - or other uncooked additions to the whole batch, or individual servings, if desired. :)

Makes approximately 14 cups of cereal.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Nutritious Strawberry Cheesecake Shakes

This afternoon, the kids and I decided to try something a little different for lunch. I'm almost at the end of my first trimester with our newest baby, and eating healthful, protein-rich foods is really important to me (not only for the sake of my health and the baby's, but also because light proteins help with my pregnancy sickness). And of course, 3 young children need all the good, nutritious food they can get! So we mixed, and we fiddled - and we came up with this absolutely delicious and energy-packed milkshake that tastes just like a strawberry cheesecake... in fact, my oldest son's reaction was, "HOLY COW! WOAH - that's deeeeeLICIOUS!!!!" All 3 drank it right up... even my picky 2-year-old, who told me that it was "Yummy!" And - it settled well in this new mama's tummy, too. :) A recipe like this is easy to adapt to your own family's tastes and needs, as well as the ingredients in your fridge... but here's what we did, to get you started:

1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla (or to taste)
1 frozen, ripe banana
1-2 cups frozen strawberries (or you could just use 2 bananas... or strawberry preserves... or whatever other fruit suits your fancy and goes well with a cheesecake flavor!)
A splash of milk if necessary, if your blender needs help mixing the frozen fruit

Blend all ingredients at medium speed in a blender until very smooth. Adjust sweetener and flavorings to taste. If you have only fresh fruit, just use that and add 1-2 cups of ice cubes to make a nice, cold milkshake. It won't be quite as creamy that way, but it will still be good.

Amazingly, the cheeses blend quite well together and this milkshake is luxuriously smooth, without feeling TOO creamy in your mouth. With so many possibilities for variations... chocolate, blueberry, cherry, etc. etc... I have a feeling this is going to be a lasting family favorite!