children, christmas, divorce, Holidays, home life, recipes, single parenting, Winter, Yule

On the First Day of Cookies

My true love made with me…
Italian Nut Balls …. or as some people may call them Thumbprint Cookies.
Before I had a million kids it was always so easy to whip out multiple batches of a dozen or so different cookie recipes during the holiday season. I have come to realize that the more children that are added to the family, the less time I have for anything that isn’t following after them cleaning up their paths of destruction. So, last year I decided that I would have each able child pick out a recipe that they would like to make with me and if I had time I would expand on that by myself. I’m sad to say last year we didn’t even make all the cookies that each child requested. In my defense I had just had baby 6 and was still trying to get used to adding another human to the family minus a husband.  I’m hoping that the 5 oldest kids will all get to make what they chose this year. 
Since the 4 oldest are still in school today and tomorrow before winter break starts, I thought Persephone and I could make her cookie choice. I am hoping to get the majority of cookie making done during the next two days because Wednesday is not only the first day of winter break, but it is also the Winter Solstice and I plan to have a little celebration with the kids!  We are going to do grinch night again with a grinchy themed feast and a showing of the Jim Carey live action movie.  We did it last year and they loved it. Well, Ophelia was indifferent but she’s also a high schooler. I also got the kids a little something warm and cozy they can open on the Solstice morning. Sally informed me he knows it’s clothes because he squished them! 🙂 haha

Then Santa will come by on xmas eve night and bring those fabulous children a gift. Later on xmas day the rest of the family will come by and we will have dinner and gifts with them. 
Persephone chose to the thumbprint cookies because she was excited about rolling the dough in to balls and smooshing her tiny thumb down 🙂 She is my go to gal when making and rolling meatballs as well.
Persephone helped me chop up all the nuts too! We’ve been practicing chopping with real knives. She’s so good about keeping her little fingers out of the way! I have actually noticed knife control improvement since the first time I let her help me chop a couple months ago. 



While the cookies were in the oven she took a break to wiggle on the floor.


After they came out I placed them on a cooling rack and she filled each cookie with jam. We did raspberry jam in half and blackberry jam in the other half.

Valentino watched, not so patiently. Thankfully he didn’t grab all over the cookies!


And since she didn’t have a xmas apron I let her have the last one that was in my shop. She loves the hungry caterpillar so it was perfect for her!

CHEESE!


Oh how she loves little baby ears! 🙂


Such a sweet big sister!


My little Krinkles (Valentino) with jam face! I let him lick the spoon when Percy Pie was done with it. 
I got this recipe from my mom years ago, and now to pass it on to you..

**I always use organic and/or local when possible.**
Italian Nut Balls / Thumbprint Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 F

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup butter

2 egg yolks (reserve whites)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

* in a large bowl or mixer combine ingredients, mix well

2 cups flour

* gradually add flour until well mixed
2 reserved egg whites, slightly beaten

1 – 1 1/2 cups finely chopped nuts (we use pecans)

Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Dip dough ball in to egg whites, then nuts

Place on greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart, make a deep depression in center of cookies with finger/thumb tip.

1/2 cup jam or preserves

Bake at 350 F for 10 – 12 minutes until firm to the touch and lightly browned. Immediately remove from cookie sheet, while warm fill centers with a little jam or preserves, allow jam to set before storing.  Store covered or in the fridge for about a week. 

Yield 3 – 4 dozen

(Today we got exactly 31 cookies)
Buon appetito! 

What are some of your favorite holiday treats?

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Hummingbird Cake for Valentinos 1st Birthday

Today my little pumpkin butt is 1! Holy cow! The time goes so quickly. I have noticed the accelerated passage of time more as I’ve gotten older and had children. It’s easy to see as seasons pass, birthdays and holidays anticipated then quickly fly by. 


Well, today I made my squishy fella a Hummingbird Cake for his first birthday. I got the recipe years ago from a magazine and tweaked it here and there. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe. I’m not sure where the name “Hummingbird Cake” comes from but it consists of Bananas, Pineapple, Pecans, and various spices.  If you don’t have enough bananas it’s ok, too much pineapple, throw it in!  I also like to put in more pecans than called for and I chop them up as tiny as I can. Some people may prefer to keep the pecans chunks a bit bigger. Do what calls to you!
Top this delicious cake with cream cheese frosting and your tastebuds will thank you.

We’re going to make a layer cake!

-Pre-heat oven to 350 F

-Butter and flour three 9″ cake pans.

Grab a large bowl for the dry ingredients, add to it

3 cups flour

2tsp cinnamon

(I also like to grate a bit of fresh nutmeg, or throw in some allspice)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

Sift together or stir gently with a fork

To an electric mixer bowl add

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs

Mix thoroughly then add

1 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix well then add all dry ingredients at once. Mix until moist and thoroughly combined.

Add

2 cups (4 large ripe) mashed banana

1 cup crushed pineapple (canned ok)

(Usually I use a whole can!)

1 cup chopped pecans

Mix until just blended.
Divide batter among 3 floured pans.

Bake at 350 F for 25 – 30 mins or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for 5 mins in the pan then turn out into cooling rack until completely cool.

Frost with cream cheese frosting.

Cream together in an electric mixer bowl

8 oz cream cheese – room temperature 

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter – room temperature 

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 – 4 cups powdered sugar depending on your taste preference. I usually use less than more.

You may need to double this to cover the entire cake.

Store cake in the fridge (overnight is best so all the flavors meld and love each other). Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Voila!


So delicious even Mr. Zombie Pants will forsake his usual feast of brains to partake in this culinary delight.

We practice safe eating in this house! Baby on the edge of the table with a fork in hand!


New hat from Uncle Joe!

My mommy loves my sweet face! (Don’t mind the mess, We are still unpacking!)

I love lamp.

Peek-a-boo!

The sweetest smile! Melts my heart!

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 Saturdays ago ended up being my last weekend of the 2015 season at the Anacortes Farmer’s Market.  The heat was really wearing me down with this pregnancy.  Each Saturday I would come home exhausted and feeling sick for the rest of the day.  I think in my older age (compared to the first 5 pregnancies of mine) the heat was really kicking my butt!  And it has been uncommonly hot this summer in the Pacific North West!  The last Saturday after market I ended up just laying in bed for the rest of the day!  Not fun.  I had plans on doing 3 more markets but I decided to cancel because I didn’t want to go through that again.  So I may be doing the Holiday Market in November (right now I’m on the wait list, as they are full!) but I may just wait and start back up next spring.  So a big thank you to all who came out this summer and supported local artisans and farmers!  I had a fun, although short, season!

Ok, so I’ve decided to share this most delicious recipe.. It is so, so good!  I said before that I usually always have a Ziploc bag or 2 of frozen cookie dough balls ready to go so when the mood strikes for a delicious home-made cookie it’s only 16 minutes away!  Depending on how big you make your cookie balls you may get up to about 60 cookies from the recipe.  We usually get somewhere between 4 and 5 dozen out of it.  My daughter likes to make the cookies bigger so when she makes them we have less.. I usually try to make them a bit smaller so they last longer!  And as always, use the best possible ingredients you can afford.  I especially recommend not to skimp on the chocolate as that is what makes this cookie the best! One 12 oz. bag each of Ghirardelli Bittersweet and Semisweet Chocolate Chips.

I got this recipe from my mom.  When I was 17 she used to volunteer at The Lincoln Theatre in downtown Mount Vernon and she got the recipe from them.  I have added a few different ingredients here and there over time to make it more mine.. Not much, but I like playing with things until I get the taste I love.  I really do think the chocolate helps make it extra special.  I’ve had them with other chocolate chips and they just don’t taste as fabulous to me.  But it might be just my tastes too.  I do prefer certain chocolates!

Can you tell I shop at Costco!  The jars in back hold flour, and sugars

Can you tell I shop at Costco! The jars in back hold flour, and sugars

Ingredients

Dry

5 1/2 Cups Flour

1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Salt

A few dashes of Cinnamon

A few grates of fresh Nutmeg

(any other spice you might like to add, such as allspice or about 1 cup of chopped up nuts if desired)

1 12 oz. bag Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks

1 12 oz bag Ghirardelli Semisweet Chocolate Chips

Measure the dry ingredients into a large enough mixing bowl.  Stir gently with a fork or whisk.  When I add in the Cinnamon or Nutmeg I don’t usually measure.  I just eyeball it.  Sometimes I’ll add both, sometimes just the Cinnamon, sometimes I’ll throw in some other spicy spice 🙂  Usually I’ll do the spices more toward fall and winter and sometimes omit the spices all together in the warmer months of spring and summer.  It just depends on what I’m in the mood for.

The dry ingredients with just a sprinkling of cinnamon

The dry ingredients with just a sprinkling of cinnamon

Wet

1 pound (4 sticks) Melted Butter

1 1/2 Cups Brown Sugar

1 1/2 Regular Sugar (I use organic raw type sugar, it’s less refined than white, not as fine)

1 Tablespoon Vanilla

4 Large Eggs

Getting the butter melted

Getting the butter melted

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan on the stove.  Watch the butter so it doesn’t burn.. You don’t need it hot, just thoroughly melted.  Measure sugars into your mixing bowl (I used a kitchen aid stand mixer with a paddle attachment) and add melted butter.  Mix until the sugars and butter are completely incorporated.  Add in the Vanilla.  I always put a bit more than the recipe calls for because I just love Vanilla!  Add in 1 egg at a time.  After each egg addition mix until incorporated then add the next.  Repeat until all the eggs are mixed in.

Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix.  If you are using a mixer you want to start the speed off on the lowest setting possible so you don’t get a big puff cloud of flour in your face or all over your kitchen counters.  Once the first addition of flour is just mixed in add more until all the flour in the bowl is gone.  Sometimes when I’m feeling hasty I’ll just empty the whole bowl of dry into the wet and turn the mixer on.  It’s not going to hurt if you add all the flour at once!  Just remember, start at a slow speed no matter how much flour is in the mixer!  After the dry and wet are mixed together you get to add in the chocolate!  My favorite part is taking a taste before the chocolate goes in!  and yes, I know it’s not good to eat raw eggs, and hopefully I will never get salmonella!  When you add the chocolate be careful not to over mix the dough.  One time I mixed it up too much and the paddle broke up a lot of the chocolate chips so my cookies turned into chocolate batter with chocolate chips, or double chocolate chip cookies.  Not that it’s bad, it just wasn’t what I was going for at the time!

Getting the Chocolate chip mixed into the dough

Getting the Chocolate chip mixed into the dough

You will now need to put your dough on your cookie sheet.  But before you do you either need to grease your cookie sheet with some butter, to prevent sticking, or use parchment paper to line the sheets.  I suppose a reusable mat would also work, but I have never tried one of those so I don’t know what the results would be like.  I prefer the parchment paper.  You can buy a roll in the baking section in most grocery stores.  I recently saw that Costco is carrying parchment paper now too!  I use a light color, shiny, aluminum cookie sheet with a slightly raised edge,  I do believe I bought those at Costco too!  Or they may be Nordic Wear.  Either way, I love them!  They also work great for cake rolls and Lemon cream cheese bars.

Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper for even cooking and so the cookies won't stick!

Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper for even cooking and so the cookies won’t stick!

So for now we just use a teaspoon, tablespoon, or a regular eating spoon to measure out the cookie dough.  I would love to get a cookie scoop but I haven’t gotten around to purchasing one yet!  Well, actually I purchased one from Michael’s a couple of months ago, but it was a piece of garbage that ended up breaking the first time we used it!  I do not recommend Duff’s cookie scooper from Michael’s!  Total waste of money.  Vollrath is the brand I will be purchasing (you can do a google search for a seller, http://www.webstaurantstore.com has a large selection and the prices seem pretty low)  they have many different sizes, each size is a different color handle.  I believe that is the brand I used when I worked in a deli kitchen a few years back.  They work great! I think for these cookies I would either use the red handle or the black handle scoop.

Measure a good amount of cookie dough onto your sheet.  You want to try to fit as many cookies as you can on the sheet because you will be freezing these cookies right on the pan.  Once all the dough is scooped out into as even as possible heaps you want to push an indent with your finger right into the center of each cookie.  This will help the cookie to bake more evenly and not have rawish center after the baking time is done.  But, if you like that extra gooeyness then by all means do not push the hole into the center. When my daughter makes the cookies she often forgets this step and they still turn out just fine!  We usually slightly under cook the cookie as well because she likes her cookies really soft and gooey.  You do not need to push the hole all the way to the sheet, but if you do, it will be ok.

The cookie dough divided up and proportioned as evenly as possible waiting for the freezer.  The sheet on the left is already frozen and waiting for the oven!  (See, Miss O forgot to push down the holes!)

The cookie dough divided up and proportioned as evenly as possible waiting for the freezer. The sheet on the left is already frozen and waiting for the oven! (See, Miss O forgot to push down the holes!)

You will probably have more than one cookie sheet of cookie dough so if they both don’t fit into your freezer at one time just put the first pan into the freezer for about 20 minutes then transfer to a Ziploc freezer bag for a more long-term storage.  At that point throw in your other pan of cookie dough so it too can freeze. If you prefer a different brand bag that’s ok, just make sure it is a freezer bag and not a storage bag or your foods can get freezer burn! Your dough doesn’t have to be completely frozen before you put it into the Ziploc bag.  They will finish freezing in the bag.  But you will want them completely frozen before you bake any.  Freezing the dough helps the butter solidify and the cookie retain its shape during baking.  If you just cook the dough right from the mixing bowl your cookies may end up being flat and pretty spread out.  You can also keep the cookies in the freezer for a couple of months to have fresh cookies on hand when you need or want.  As my kids have gotten older our frozen cookie dough doesn’t last longer than 1 or 2 months. Probably closer to 1. Though, when they were littler I could keep cookie dough a lot longer!  I suppose having 5 little mouths instead of 1 or 2 has also helped make the cookies disappear faster than before!

When you are ready to bake you will want to pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.  When the oven is heated put 12 cookie doughs onto the greased or parchment lined sheet in 3 rows of 4 spaced evenly apart.  (see above photo of cookie sheet on the right)  Depending on size is how long you will want to bake them.  We usually start at 16 minutes and go from there.  If they are really small you may want to start at 10 minutes and check the doneness.  If they are really big you may need to go up to 22 minutes!  Just use your judgment.  If you like a more underdone cookie then check them early and often..  Take them out of the oven when they look like how you want them, either light in color or golden brown.. You just want to make sure you’ve baked them long enough that they are set and you will be able to pick them up once cool enough to handle.. It’s not fun when your cookie falls apart in your hand, though it still can be very delicious!

all baked and waiting for some eating!  We pulled them out at 16 minutes so they would be soft set.. Just the way Ophelia loves them!

all baked and waiting for some eating! We pulled them out at 16 minutes so they would be soft set.. Just the way Ophelia loves them!

During the holidays you can swap out the Chocolate Chips for different colored m & m’s.  At Christmas we use red and green; Easter or Spring time gets pastels; Independence Day red, white, and blue; etc.. I still prefer my Ghirardelli chocolate chip over the m & m’s but the m & m’s can be fun too.  Feel free to add chopped up nuts or switch out the chocolate for your favorite brand!  If you want nuts then add them in to the dough when you add the chocolate chips.  This is a great base recipe and a good one to play around with!  Make it your own!

All the photos were taken with my cell phone, so sorry for the not wonderful quality!  Also, I am not affiliated with any links or products in this post,  I just added them for your convenience.  The products I use and love and so therefore definitely recommend!

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The Best Chocolate Pudding Ever!

I just made the best chocolate pudding I have ever tasted!  and I have tasted a lot..  I was so excited about it, I had to share!

Chocolate is one of my favorite things to eat.. in most forms.. When I was little I really only liked milk chocolate but after having to avoid dairy for a while in my late 20’s I started trying different kinds of dark chocolates.. I had a hard time at first.  A lot of them seemed very chalky.. Slowly my appreciation for dark chocolate grew, and now that’s what I prefer.  In my tastings I came across a couple of dark chocolate bars I love more than others..  If you haven’t tried them, I really do recommend them!

The first one, Endangered species chocolate in the Natural Dark Chocolate (72% cocoa) is my favorite..

My favorite Dark Chocolate bar!

My favorite Dark Chocolate bar!

I keep a bar or two in my cupboard for me to break off a piece every now and again when I want a chocolate fix.. The bonus about that is most of my kids don’t like dark chocolate!  Every once in a while I’ll come across an empty bar when I thought there was a full one.. On the rare occasion, My 2 youngest will sneak into the cupboard and eat it!  Naughty bunnies!  I’ve tried Green & Black and a few other of the “natural” or “fair trade” brands. For some reason I could never really get a taste for them, they seems more chalky or gritty to me.

The second bar that I recently tried and was very happily surprised how good it was, is Theo organic fair trade pure 70% dark chocolate.

as you can see all we have left is the wrapper. My little one's enjoyed this with me!

as you can see all we have left is the wrapper. My little one’s enjoyed this with me!

This was my first experience and I was not disappointed.  I ended up trying it because it was on sale at Fred Meyer for 2 for $5..  good deal for the good chocolate.  I always try to buy a few bars of my favorite when they are on that sale and just stash them away in the cupboard.  I don’t eat them every day, or even every week.  But there is something comforting to me knowing I have some in the cupboard if I want it.  It’s funny, I was the same way with regular chocolate candies when my oldest 2 were little (about 14-10 years ago).  I would always stock up on so much Halloween candy but we would hardly ever eat it!  Just having it there comforts me in some odd way..

I’m sort of the same way when it comes to frozen cookie dough.  I like to make a big batch of it and keep them individually portioned in the freezer so whenever the need arises for a delicious home-made chocolate chip cookie they are ready to go..  And this recipe is so good too!  My mom brought it home from an old theatre she used to volunteer at when I was 17.  I’ve tweaked it a bit here and there to give it my own goodness.  We almost always have frozen cookie dough on hand. When making chocolate chip cookies or any other baking I always use Ghirardelli brand chocolate.. That is my go to chocolate.   I know it’s not organic or fair trade but it is very good quality chocolate and it tastes wonderful.  I even try to buy Ghirardelli brand cocoa powder and baking chocolate squares.  In my cookies I use 1 bag of semi sweet and 1 bag of bittersweet.  I think the variety of chocolate makes it even better!  I will share that recipe later!

Lately I have been really wanting peanut butter, chocolate pudding pie.  The restaurant  (Anelia’s Kitchen and Stage in La Conner, WA  www.facebook.com/aneliaskitchenandstage  if you ever get a chance, go!  really good Polish food!) my 2 little brothers work at (one the head cook, the other a waiter) makes a delicious chocolate pudding pie with a walnut crust.  Between the crust and the pudding is a delicious layer of peanut butter frosting type stuff.  And to top the pie off is a home-made whipped cream, made with real cream.  It is one of the best pies I have ever tasted.  And for a few months while I was working there I got to help make it!  That was my first experience with making home-made pudding not from a box.  It is so rich and delicious.

Well, today, I think I have topped even that.  My pie doesn’t have the peanut butter frosting filling though, so it may not be as wonderful.  Even though I don’t have the peanut butter frosting filling, I did decided to make the crust with Nutter Butter cookies.  I was looking online for different Oreo crust recipes because I knew it would pretty much be the same concept.  But I didn’t have enough cookies.. almost but not quite.  Every recipe I saw called for around 24 or 25 for one pie crust and I only had 19.  But I decided to make it anyways!

My Little Biscuit, Persephone, helped me pulse the cookies in the cuisinart.  She was sad because the 2 middles were outside playing with the neighbor kids and she couldn’t go without an adult or big kid.  So, I had my Little Biscuit help me make a pie!  She put the 19 cookies into the processor and pulsed away.  I put in about 1/4 cup of butter and I had a bit of cream cheese left over from bagels this morning so I put that in as well.  About 2-4 TBS worth.  I also ended up throwing in about 1/4 C of pecans.  We pulsed it up really good until it was thoroughly mixed then I pressed it into an 8″ pie plate, bottoms and sides.  I baked it on 350 F for about 8 minutes then set it on the stove top to cool while I got the pudding cooking.

I was checking out a few different recipes online for home-made pudding and sort of did a combo of a few of them.  I ended up making a double batch of pudding, so we have a pie and another pie plate full of just pudding.  I think I’m going to save the pie for tomorrow night when my mom comes over for dinner and let the kids go crazy on the pudding tonight.  At this point Little Biscuit went to lay on the couch and watch Mickey Mouse while I cooked over the hot stove.

I will write down what I ended up with and then if you want enough for just half, or one 8″ or 9″ pie, just cut the pudding recipe in half.  The crust recipe would stay the same.  Most pudding recipes called for whole milk, but I only had 2% on hand so I ended up using half 2% milk and half Heavy Cream.

Chocolate Pudding Ingredients

3 Cups Sugar

1/2 Cup Cornstarch

1/2  teaspoon salt

3 Cups 2% milk

3 Cups Heavy Cream

8 Whole Large Egg Yolks

1 Bag Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips

3 Tablespoons Ghirardelli Chocolate Baking Powder

2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract

4 Tablespoons (1/4 Cup) Butter

Optional

Home made whipped cream for serving

heavy cream, a splash of vanilla, and powdered sugar to taste. whipped with a whisk or an electric whisk (I always use my kitchen aid mixer for this, as it can take a long time!) until light and fluffy

I’ll be adding whipped cream tomorrow before serving!  Possibly peanut butter flavor whipped cream.  Not sure yet.

Start by putting the sugar, cornstarch, chocolate powder, and salt in a heavy sauce pan.  Stir it gently with a whisk, so the powder doesn’t explode all over your stove!

Pour in Milk, Cream, and Egg Yolk and whisk together.

Whisk over Med – Med High heat until the mixture starts to thicken and have a slight boil.  You will want to stir this constantly so the mixture does not burn to the bottom of the pan.  Milk products burn quickly and easily if you aren’t careful!

When the mixture is getting thick remove from the burner and add the Chocolate chips, Vanilla and butter.  Stir it up until it’s all combined.  Pour immediately into the prepared crust and let it chill for a few hours in the fridge.  I always cover my pudding so it doesn’t develop a skin on top but I’ve seen a lot of recipes that say uncovered, so use what ever method you are comfortable with.

The finished Nutter Butter Crust, Chocolate Pudding Pie minus the whipped cream topping, cooling in the fridge

The finished Nutter Butter Crust, Chocolate Pudding Pie minus the whipped cream topping, cooling in the fridge

I tasted the pudding that was in the extra pie dish and I couldn’t believe how insanely good this turned out!  It was so rich and absolutely creamy!

The extra pudding cooling on the counter.

The extra pudding cooling on the counter.

I can not wait to try the pie tomorrow with the Nutter Butter crust and whipped cream on top!  Totally looking forward to that!  For tomorrow’s dinner I think I’ll be making a Green Chile, Black Bean, Chicken Enchilada Casserole.  Since we aren’t vege’s anymore we tend to eat a lot of chicken.  And all my kids  seem to really love that casserole!  It’s super easy and delicious.

I didn’t take any photos of the process of the pie making, not a super great thing for the blogging world, but I’m new ;).  I will try to remember to take a photo of the pie all done and with the whipped cream and post it up!  If you love chocolate, please try this pie!  It definitely will not disappoint!  Just make sure to use the awesome Ghirardelli Chocolate.. I think the chocolate is what makes it so lovely!  I also always try to use organic whenever possible or budget allows.  It isn’t possible all the time and with some things I prefer non organic (like peanut butter!) because it just tastes better to me.  Use what you can or are comfortable with budget or taste wise, but I really would not skimp on the chocolate in this one! Often times Fred Meyer will have sales around the holidays (not just winter ones) where you can buy 2 bags for $5 so I always try to stock up when I see that.

If you end up trying the recipe let me know what you think!  I’d love to hear how it turned out for you!

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