Saturday, December 22, 2012

Suncatcher Ornaments - Sis 1

Every year, I like to let my kids make some ornaments and give one to their school teachers, along with some sort of goody for Christmas.

This year, we made suncatcher ornaments. They are SUPER easy and difficult to mess up. My 3-year old made several of these and they're nearly as good as the ones made by my 10-year old.

First buy some transparent plastic beads. I'm pretty sure that any style will work.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees farenheit and turn on the fan.

Now let your kids put a single layer of beads in the metal container of their choice. The round one shown was done in a muffin tin. The heart was done in a metal cookie-cutter sitting on top of a cookie sheet. We also did star shapes, but they didn't come out as well because of all the corners. Maybe if we had put a few beads more than a single layer they'd have filled in better.

Bake your beads in their metal molds for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Pop your ornaments out of the cookie cutters or muffin tins. To get some of the ornaments out of the tins, I had to flip the tin upside down and give it a sharp tap with a butter knife. The rest came out easily.

Now for the holes to string them with: Use a power drill and your least favorite drill bit. Place a piece of scrap wood under the ornament and drill through the plastic. It really becomes more of a melting than a drilling, once the bit heats up. I found it helpful to let the plastic spin through the other side of the hole for a few seconds to remove extra plastic buildup from the drill bit. I also had to pull the plastic from the tip of the bit while it was still warm so that it would work on the next ornament. I broke all of the plastic off of the bit when I was finished, but it wasn't extremely easy.

We put the ornaments around the necks of sparkling juice for our teachers. I wrote "To Mrs. Blank from Child's Name 2012" on the backs (flat, unshiny side) of the ornaments in mirror letters with a very-fine tipped sharpie. You can read it better through the shiny side than from the side you wrote on.

Cold Porcelain Photo Ornaments - Sis 1

This project took A LOT of trial and error. I knew what I wanted, but I didn't know how to get it. I also took pictures of nearly every step, but somehow my SD card is now unreadable, so I only have the finished product to show you. I made a set of ornaments with photos of all of the grandkids for my mom, and wrote their names and the year on the backs. Then I made a set of just my kids for myself, plus a bunch with different pictures of the Saviour  that I liked (seeing as how this is His holiday.)

I started out by making cold porcelain. If you've ever made cooked playdough, the process is very similar, but the ingredients are much different.

Cold Porcelain

1 lb white school glue
1 lb cornstarch
2 Tbs. lemon juice
4 tsps. petroleum jelly

Get a medium to large saucepan that you aren't in love with. I was able to get everything off, but I may have been lucky. Put all of the ingredients in the pan and stir over low heat until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and looks doughy instead of gooey. Be prepared to use some muscle. It was not easy to stir this (and don't use a weak spoon.)

Remove from heat and let cool enough that you can touch it without burning yourself. Start kneading. Once the dough is all smooth, roll it out, again, this is difficult, because it's stiff dough. Cut out. I used a vaguely flower-shaped cookie cutter. (If you don't have a cookie cutter you like, you can always make one.) Then I punched holes in every bump with a large drinking straw. I used a slightly smaller drinking straw to punch holes inside the ring of bigger holes. If you wanted, you could use coffee stirrers to make another round of smaller holes, if you wanted.

To use a straw for a punch, the easiest way is to use the bendable straws and cut it off just above the joint section. Press the original sipping end into the dough and hold onto the contracted joint as a handle. To clear the dough out of the straw, stick a toothpick through the joint and push the "holes" out the other side. You may need a couple of each size of straw because they aren't terribly sturdy.

Once the shapes are cut, you can air-dry them for several days or dry them in a 175 degrees farenheit oven for a couple of hours. Either way, turn them over once in a while, because they start to curl and you want these flat.

Here's where the adventure started. I wanted to print photos and transfer the images directly onto the ornaments. These are the methods I tried:

Inkjet print-out on waxed paper, then dampen the ornament and rub picture face down onto it. Didn't work. Very blurry. With less water, the ink didn't come off of the waxed paper.

Inkjet print-out on velum, then hold the ornament over steam and rub the image face down onto the ornament. The image on the ornament was very undefined.

Inkjet print-out on transparency film pre-sprayed with spray hair-gel. Rub image face down onto the ornament. The image on the ornament was again, very undefined.

Inkjet print-out face-down on ornament with rubbing alcohol rubbed on back of paper. No transfer of image at all.

Laser print-out face-down on ornament with rubbing alcohol rubbed on back of paper. No transfer of image at all.

Laser print-out face-down on ornament with acetone rubbed on back of paper. No transfer of image at all.

Laser print-out mod-podged face down on ornament, then (attempted) to remove the paper. Came out a gooey, sticky mess.

Here's the thing about the laser print-outs, though. before going to get laser print-outs of my photos, I tried it out with a laser-printed bill from a utility company. The ink was only black, and it worked on the cold porcelain with both rubbing alcohol and acetone. The color print-outs I got didn't work at all, though. I don't know if it was a different kind of laser printer, or if it was the fact that it was color, but it didn't work.

And the thing I learned about every one of the ink-jet methods is that it worked very well and transfered a nice clear image onto paper or papertowel, so in the future, I could use this on other projects, perhaps, but it doesn't work on cold porcelain.

I gave up on the image transfer bit and decided to just cut the pictures out and glue them onto the ornaments. I wanted to print it onto tissue paper, so it wouldn't be as obvious that it was cut and glued on, so I tried to send a piece of tissue paper that was taped onto a regular sheet of copier paper through my printer. (I assumed that tissue paper isn't stiff enough. Maybe I should have tried it anyway, because then at least I'd know.) But the paper jammed both times.

In the end, I glued laser print-outs onto the ornaments and covered them with another thin layer of glue. If I'd had matte mod-podge, I would have liked to use that, but I didn't want to wait another few days to get it in the mail. I used the laser print-outs because they wouldn't smear when I put the glue on top of them like inkjet prints would.

I still like the results, but I still wish I could have made the image transfer idea work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Spinach Artichoke Dip - Sis 1

I remember the first time I had Spinach Artichoke Dip. Sis 2 brought it to a dinner party at my house and I was smitten. I've ordered it at several different restaurants and been disappointed every time. I think I got Sis 2's recipe, but I changed it a bunch, because that's just how I cook. I used that version for several years, but lately, I've been on a yogurt kick, so I redid the recipe again. It has less fat (I'm not going to pretend it's low-fat, because it isn't, but now it doesn't have a pool of grease on top when you reheat it.) and tastes every bit as good.

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip

12 oz. plain non-fat yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, plus more for top
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tsp. italian seasoning
1 (6.5 or 7 oz--I've used both) bottle marinated artichoke hearts
1 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Mix first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Drain artichoke hearts, then chop them into 1/2 inch pieces. Now pick them up in your clean hands and squeeze them over the sink, as if you were wringing a dishtowel. They need to be as dry as possible, or your dip will be runny. Put the artichoke hearts into the bowl. Now squeeze the spinach juice out the same way. Stir the artichokes and spinach into the other mixture. Since you squeezed them so hard, they'll be in clumps that need to be broken up.

Spread dip into a loaf pan, pie plate or 8x8 pan. Sprinkle extra mozzarella cheese over the top, just to produce a light layer.

Bake 30 minutes, or until top is bubbly and golden-brown.

Serve hot with crackers, chips or bruschetta.

Honey Orange Ham - Sis 1

Due to the "Obama Lunches," my children are very reluctant to eat school lunch. They often take sandwiches and I have been buying lunch meat, something I haven't done on a regular basis in years (OK, never.)

I was reading a post by Donna Freedman on MSN Money--I like a lot of her ideas--and was reminded that actual real meat costs less than lunch meat and tastes A LOT better, too. So I bought a ham. The way I cooked it makes it fall-apart tender, though, so I might have to chill it a while before I can slice it thinly for sandwiches.

Honey Orange Peel Ham

the peels from 1 medium orange, in pieces
1 ham, bone in is good
1/2 cup honey

Place orange peels in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and drain water. Repeat. (This will take the bitterness out of the peels.)

Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of a large crockpot. Place the ham inside. Drizzle honey all over the top of the ham. Drop the orange peel over the ham. Put the lid on and cook on the high setting for 6 hours. If you happen to be home, turn the ham over about halfway through cooking.

 Remove the ham and strain the orange peels out of the juices. (You can eat them, if you want.) Serve the ham and put the juices (still in the crockpot) in the fridge. I'm using it to make soup for tomorrow.

Chocolate Pie Crust - Sis 1

It's just too easy and cheap to make a chocolate cookie crust. There's no reason to go to the grocery store and buy one. In fact, I would wager that you can have it made in the time it would take you to drive to the store, buy one, and get home.

Chocolate Cookie Pie Crust

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dutch cocoa powder
1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Mix sugar and oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave 1 minute and stir again. Mix in flour, cocoa and salt. Stir until mixture resembles crumbs. Press into pie plate. Bake about 15 minutes, or until crust appears to be done. (Specific, huh?) Cool and fill with any filling you would normally use in a chocolate cookie crust.


This year for my daughters' friends, we made ornaments filled with cocoa mix. I bought the plastic ornaments from amazon. (I have Prime, and I live in a very small town where I can't find a lot of the things I'd like to buy.) You could probably get them at a craft store like Jo-ann, or, you might even get the clear glass ones and use a funnel to fill them.

I also had to order the ribbon online because I couldn't buy it in town like I thought I could, so these were a bit later than I had hoped. I already had Tulip Slicks fabric paint in assorted colors, but I only used 3, black, red and green. I wrote Each girl's name on a ball and embellished it with holly. (I'm no calligrapher, but the girls are between ages 6 and 11, so I'm hoping they don't mind.)

I let the balls dry overnight, then I filled them with cocoa mix, attached a candycane and instructions with a ribbon, and viola! a yummy, personalized gift for a little girl. For boys, I wouldn't have done their names in cursive, and maybe I'd have drawn snowmen instead.

Hot Cocoa Mix

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/4 cups powdered dry milk
1 1/4 cups non-dairy creamer
1/8 teaspoon salt, scant
3/4 cup dutch cocoa powder
1 large box jello, raspberry or orange, optional

My powdered milk is very fine, like creamer, so I just dumped everything together in a big bowl and mixed it up with a wire whisk. If your powdered milk is coarse, like some is, you may have to use a food processor to make it a nice powder first.

Since I was giving candycanes with my cocoa mix, I didn't add the jello for the girls, but I made another batch with it for our family. Yum!

Mix 3 heaping tablespoons of mix with one cup hot water. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chocolate Custard Ice Cream - Sis 2

Do you love ice cream?  Especially during the sweltering, hot summer?  It has been a sweltering hot summer.  So I decided to make some Chocolate Ice Cream to cool us off.

Chocolate Custard Ice Cream

3 cups Sugar
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
8 cups of milk
6 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a heavy saucepan combine sugar, flour, cocoa and salt.  Then add the milk.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly so the milk does not burn on the bottom.  Keep stirring and cook for about 8 more min after it boils, or until it thickens up a bit.  Remove from heat, and cool slightly.

Beat egg yolks.  Then whisk a small amount of the chocolate mixture  into the egg yolks to temper them.  Add the egg yolks to the rest of the chocolate mixture and cook over low heat until the mixture coats the back of a metal spoon.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Next, pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl and then put the bowl into a bowl with ice water  to cool the mixture off quickly.   After it cools for ten minutes in the ice water, remove.  Cover the top of the custard with saran wrap, pushing it down onto the top of the custard, so it does not form a skin.  Refrigerate for several hours. 

When ready to freeze, stir in the cream.  Then freeze in ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer's directions.

Note:  This ice cream is very rich!!

To make rocky road: just add 2 cups mini marshmallows, 1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips, and 1 cup chopped almonds after churning in the ice cream freezer.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cashew Chicken Stir-fry

Here is a new recipe I made up tonight.  It turned out very good.  My husband loved it, and even my kids liked it. 

Cashew Chicken Stir- fry

1 lrg chicken breast, cut in small pieces
salt, pepper, garlic powder
3 heads of broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1  cup beef  broth
1 tsp corn starch
1/2 cup salted, roasted cashews

Generously sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder over raw chicken.  Heat frying pan with 1 tbsp oil over Medium High Heat.  Cook chicken pieces in the pan until they are just done.  Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.  Add 2 tbsps oil, and the broccoli to the pan.  Sprinkle the sugar and salt over the brocolli and stir once.  Then add the mushrooms.  Stir fry the  vegetables until the broccoli is tender/crisp and the mushrooms are tender.  Add the beef broth and bring to a boil.  Sprinkle the corn starch over the cooked chicken and mix it together, then add the chicken back into the frying pan.  Cook the mixture long enough for the sauce to tighten a little bit.  Remove from heat and add the cashews.  Serve over rice, immediately.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Change Your Attitude - Sis 2

I spent the past weekend in Las Vegas, and let me just tell you, I'm so happy I don't live there.   Now, that I got that out of the way, I went to Las Vegas to go to a seminar with my husband.  The seminar  was called "Mastery Mindset" with Paul Finck, who is a life coach.  Some of the information I thought was good, and some of it not as good.  But he did talk about one thing that I thought was very good and applicable to me.  He said, "Just decide to change your attitude and do it."
Now, this was nothing new to me.  I have heard it many times in the past.  One time inparticular I remember.   When I was in sixth grade I remember one of my teachers putting a slide on a projector.  Unfortunately, I do not remember everything the slide said, but it was a quote about changing our attitude.  It really had an effect on me, becuase I still remember seeing the slide on the projector screen on the wall.  I remember writing the whole quote down and thinking about how I really am in control of my attitude and I can decide whether I am happy or not.  This is the first time I remember realizing that I really was in control of my attitude.  Now this may seem weird to you, that I had not realized this before.  I might have been taught it before, but this was the first time I think it really sunk in. 
Bu,t then life happens, and I a somewhat of a pessismistic person and sometimes I need to be reminded of the fact that I can change my attitude by simply deciding to do it.
Now, try an experiment with me. Just SMILE! How does it make you feel? Does it make you feel bad or do you suddenly feel uplifted, or happy, just from smiling?
Let's  remember that we can change our attitude about things in our life.  We can decide to be happy and find the good things in life. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

German Pancakes

I had not made German Pancakes for years, but then one day I was looking through my cookbooks trying to find something to make for dinner and I found a recipe for German Pancakes.  As I remember I didn't make the pancakes for dinner, but I made them the next morning for breakfast.  My kids LOVED them.  My six year old especially  loves them, and asks for them about once a week now.
If you are wondering what German Pancakes are; they are made from an egg based batter, poured into a 9x13 pan and baked in the oven.  They come out fluffy, puffy and golden brown.

I also have a recipe for maple syrup.  I bought some pure maple syrup from Costco one time, but my kids wouldn't eat it and my husband did not like it either.  So I just make this fake maple syrup.  It is very easy to make, my kids like it, and it doesn't have High Fructose Corn Syrup in it like all the syrups you buy at the store.  It does have lots of sugar though.

Here is the recipe.  I have changed the recipe a bit, from the one I found, but I got the original recipe from a cook book by Nancy Kimmerle.

German Pancakes

3 Tbsp Butter
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400.  Put butter in a 9x13 pan, while the oven is heating up put the pan in the oven to melt the butter.   Put the rest of the ingredients in a blender and blend well.  Scrape the sides of the blender with a rubber spatula and then blend again for 2 min.  Pour the batter into the 9x13 pan and bake for 25 min or until golden brown on top and sides.  Serve with syrup.

Fake Maple Syrup

3 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp mapleine  (This is imitation maple flavoring)
1/2 tsp butter flavoring  (You can find this and the mapleine by the extracts at a grocery store.)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring just to a boil over med heat.  Remove from heat and then use on pancakes.  This makes a lot of syrup, so I put it in a store bought syrup bottle and store it in the fridge.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Teacher Gifts - Sis 1

My little Monkey graduated from Kindergarten today. Sniffle. It's a good thing I was playing the piano for two reasons. 1) I had seen the whole program lots of times and 2) I couldn't even see Monkey most of the time. Otherwise, I'm sure I would have had a mascara mess.

Our family has been going to the best school in Tooele for 5 years, and this is our last. I do have fond memories of the school the kids will be going to next year, but we will miss Northlake (the people there, really) SO much. I have volunteered quite a bit at the school, more in the past than recently, because of Bear, but I am always in awe of the wonderful teachers my children have had.

There's really nothing that would come close to thanking teachers for all of the work, inspiration, and dedication they put in and sometimes the heartache that they go through, but I'm sure they knew that when they started on the teaching path.

So, here's the insignificant little gift that I chose to give to our teachers this year.

School Supplies Bracelets

Materials needed:
#6 recycleable plastic*
permanent markers of many colors
hole punch
string and findings

Here are the patterns I had my kids trace and color. Feel free to use them (Click and drag onto your desktop or right click and save as). Before shrinking, they were each up to 2 inches in the longest direction.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit. Trace and color (or draw your own) school supplies on #6 plastic. Cut out each shape as smoothly as possible. Punch a hole in each. (You will never be able to punch a hole once it's shrunken.)

Spread the shapes on a cookie sheet or pan, making sure none of the shapes touch each other. We baked our shapes one child's set at a time, so that they wouldn't get mixed together. Place pan in the oven and turn on the light. After about 5 minutes, check to see if the shapes have shrunken. If not, just wait longer. If they're curling a lot, they're in the process of shrinking. Once the shapes are mostly flat, remove them from the oven. If you want to flatten them NOW is the time.

When cooled enough, remove from pan and string, along with other beads to make a bracelet.

* #6 plastic is polystyrene, which is the same material styrofoam is made from. I collect the lids from any trips we make to Costa Vida or Cafe Rio (always get a to-go lid) and the lids of disposable casserole pans from the dollar store. You can still use the pan when you're taking dinner to someone. Just cover it with tinfoil and keep the lid for your projects. Some deli containers and plastic cups are also #6 plastic. Look for the recycle triangle with a 6 or PS underneath. Don't use any other number. It won't work. Just wash your used plastic by hand, dry it, and store it for later. The vertical sides can be used for fun things, too, but it's much easier to trace pictures if you have already cut them off.

Hot Fudge Sauce

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour into 1/2 pint jars, if using as a gift. You could make cutesy lids, too. I didn't.

Reheat in the microwave and serve on ice cream. (Or, you can get a clean spoon and sneak a bite right from the container in the fridge, like I usually do.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chicken Caprese Pasta

A couple of weeks ago I had knee surgery.   So, my good friend brought me dinner.   It was a very yummy dinner with a baked pasta, garlic bread, fruit salad and a yummy cookie for dessert.  I asked my friend for the recipe for the pasta, but I'm a little too impatient.  My kids love garlic bread and really wanted to have it tonight, so I decided to try to make the pasta.  It turned out pretty good.

Chicken Caprese Pasta

1/2 pound pasta
5 chicken tenders
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
5 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/4 tsp garlic powder, divided
1 cup mayo
1 1/4 cups mozarella cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chicken stock

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add some salt and the pasta.  Boil pasta until al dente, and then drain and rinse with cold water.   Heat a frying pan and 2 Tbsp oil.  Sprinkle the chicken generously with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and cook the chicken in the frying pan.  In a small mixing bowl mix the tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper and 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and just let it sit.
Mix the mayo, 3/4 tsp garlic powder, chicken stock, 1 cup mozarella and 3/4 cup parmesan together.  Then mix the sauce, pasta, chicken and peppers together.  Put into a 9x13x2 baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and mozarella cheeses.  Bake at 350 for 30 min.  Serve with the basil, tomato mixture on top.

Super Easy Cream Cheese Pie - Sis 1

I would like to have graham crackers on hand at all times, but whenever I have them, DH does stupid things with them like breaking up an entire sleeve at a time and eating them in a bowl with milk. So, I came up with my own graham cracker crust alternative. The filling is great, too!

Super Easy Cream Cheese Pie

1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup roasted almonds, blended*
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups lowfat vanilla yogurt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Mix crust ingredients in a small bowl and press into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Bake about 12 minutes, or until slightly browned. Allow to cool completely.

With a hand mixer, blend together cream cheese and powdered sugar. It is very important that you do this step first. If you add the yogurt before mixing the cream cheese with the powdered sugar, you will never get all of the lumps out. Add yogurt and beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. Pour into pie crust and chill at least 2 hours. Top with fruit pie filling of your choice.

*Place roasted almonds in your blender and pulse until they resemble coarse flour. If your almonds are unsalted, add a couple of pinches of salt to the crust.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cheater Pasta Salad - Sis 1

Last night, we met up for a niece's birthday party. Sis 3 lives a great distance from the rest of us, so she couldn't be there, but the rest of us were, along with one of our brothers. Everyone loved the hamburgers that Sis 2 made and her husband grilled, so hopefully, she'll let us in on her secrets.

Our brother and Sis 2's husband both said that they usually do not care for pasta salads, but that the one I took was very good. My own DH agreed. Several people said they wanted the recipe. The trouble is that I completely cheated, again, but in the interest of helping other people cheat and get away with it, here's what I did.

I had two pasta salad mixes on hand: a Kraft Classic Italian and a Betty Crocker Caesar pasta salad mix. I boiled the pasta from both mixes until they were al dente, then I drained the water and replaced it with ice cold water. Once the pasta was cold, I drained the water again and added:

3 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 can whole olives, drained
1 can marinated artichoke hearts, drained
about a 2-inch stack of sliced pepperoni, cut into bite-sized pieces

I dumped both seasoning packets from the salad mixes into a small bowl and mixed them with a cup of from-a-bottle italian salad dressing. I didn't put the dressing on the salad until I got to the party, because I've found that the longer a pasta salad sits, the more the pasta absorbs the dressing. You might think that the flavor would be stronger in this case, but the opposite is true. So, never add the dressing until the last minute.

I got away with taking a cheater pasta salad to a function, and so can you.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chocolate Filled Crumbles - Sis1

I'm taking dessert to a PTA luncheon today, and like I said I'm moving, so I'm only using stuff I already have in my pantry. That means I can't take anything that requires cream, white flour, white sugar (they're already at my storage unit) or, a handful of other things.

You may recognize part of this recipe from my Apple Crisp recipe. That's because the crust is the same. But with this fillling, there's no need to serve it on a plate, or top it with cream.

Chocolate Filled Crumbles


1 cup softened butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups whole white wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup rolled oats

Filling 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place all ingredients for the crust in a large bowl and cut together with a pastry blender. 

Press half of the crisp mixture into a 9x13 pan. I like to use pyrex, because it bakes so nicely. Reserve the other half of the crisp mixture.

Combine condensed milk and chocolate chips in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the chocolate chips are melted and the mixture is homogeneous.  Spread over crust in pan. Sprinkle the other half of the crust mixture over the top of the chocolate filling, making sure to cover the edges, too.

Bake about 35 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown. Cool well, and cut into squares to serve.

Zucchini Bread - Sis1

I'm moving, so I decided to make some zucchini bread.

I know you're scratching your head, wondering how that is a cause and effect relationship, but it all makes perfect sense. I am trying to use up all of the food in my freezer so I don't have to take it with me when we move. I froze grated zucchini in 2 cup baggies last fall when I was inundated with the stuff. Now, I have to use what's left. (I hate to toss perfectly good food.) Freshly grated zucchini works just as well.

Also because we're moving, I don't have any all-purpose flour in the house, which is what I normally use when I make zucchini bread. I already took all of that to the storage unit. So, I had to use whole white wheat (I'm too lazy to go back to the unit right now.) Since I was using whole white wheat, I decided to leave out some of the sugar and fat from my normal recipe. My family didn't notice any of my changes!

Zucchini Bread

2 3/4 cups whole white wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar, plus more for pans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini, drained a little if juicy

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Grease 2 large loaf pans and coat with sugar. (Any time a recipe says to coat a pan with flour, I use sugar. It makes a lovely crust.) Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Then I add a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, but you don't have to. It's good without them.

A quick note on chocolate: Dark chocolate has been linked to less skin damage when playing in the sun, AND, people who eat a lot of dark chocolate tend to be slimmer (than whom, I don't know) AND, dark chocolate has great antioxidants to prevent wrinkles. Those are all I need to know.

Divide batter between loaf pans and level. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Scientific Investigations - Sis 3

An old yellow Ford Pinto is camped in the covered parking stall next to mine. In the almost three years we've lived here, the Pinto has never moved. About a year ago now, someone drew stick figures and and smiley faces on the dusty windows. The scribblings are still there, just covered with an ever-growing layer of dust.

Mom and Sis 4 fly in to visit us every so often. After I pick them up at the airport, the first thing they say when we drive into the parking lot is, "Well, guess we came to the right place. The Pinto's still here." It has become a bit of a standing joke.

A few weeks ago, Mom came to stay with me while my husband was away on business. While she was here, we decided to figure out, once and for all, how long the Pinto has been sitting there. I had noticed there was a newspaper lying open on the back seat. Since the paper was at the top of the pile, we figured it would give us a fairly good idea of when the car had been driven last. 

Unfortunately, the paper was lying on the left side of the back seat--the side parked next to the wall. The gap between the wall and the car was much too small for us to get through, so we were limited to looking through the window opposite the paper. Between the distance and dust, we couldn't make out the date printed in the upper right corner. 

Not to be defeated, we used my phone to take a picture of the paper. Getting a clear shot took a few tries. The first picture showed nothing but the reflection of light on the dusty window. Six strong wipes at the dirt and using HD mode on my camera did the trick. We couldn't zoom in close enough on the phone screen to see the date, so we went inside and uploaded the picture to my computer. 

Still no luck. When we zoomed in close enough to see the date, the pixelation made the letters too fuzzy to read. We were stumped for a few minutes. 

Ah hah! The large headline of one of the articles was legible, as was the name of the paper. A few minutes search through the Chronicle's online archives and we had our answer. The paper was printed on June 27, 2006. Thus, according to our scientific deductions, the Pinto must have been permanently parked around the same time.

Now, why the Pinto has been camped here for nearly six years is another question altogether. Maybe we'll take up that investigation next.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad - Sis 2

While we were visiting family a couple of weeks ago, my mother-in-law made a yummy pasta salad. I really liked the pasta salad, but my husband said it needed more flavor, so I decided to try to make it even better. My husband says I succeeded, so try this recipe and see what you think.

This pasta salad has chicken, bacon and vegetables, along with the pasta so it can be the main dish for dinner. It is also very quick and easy to make.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta, cooked (I used bowties, but you could use shells, or another small shape.)
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 red peper, diced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, cubed
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 lrg cans, chicken breast
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Then add the sauce.


1 1/4 cups mayo
1/2 cup milk
1 packet ranch dressing mix


Monday, April 23, 2012

Spiral Curls - Sis1

Whenever I curl my girls' hair, which isn't too often, I get asked, "How did you do that?" So I'll tell you.

Using whichever type of curler you choose (type analysis to follow) take a section of hair and begin to wrap it on the curler, starting two to three inches from the scalp.Without letting go of the hair, wind it around the curler until the ends of the hair are wrapped. This will form a twisted spiral on the curler.

Now wrap the section of hair closest to the scalp over the ends of the hair, and around the curler, holding the ends in place. Fasten the curler in the normal way.Allow to set for at least the recommended time for the curler type. I have my girls sleep in the curlers.

In the above picture, I am using curlers I bought at Walmart several years ago. I like them the best for my girls' hair, but sadly, I don't have enough of them and can't find them anymore. They are a long cylinder of fabric filled with foam and have a snap on the ends to hold them together.

This is another type of curler that I got from Walmart several years ago. It is a rhombus-shaped pouch with a rectangle of foam in the center and a flexible wire going all the way through the long way. To close these, you twist the ends together like a twist-tie.

These are my two favorites for over-night curling.

Then there are the old standbys: rag curlers and foam rollers. For rag curlers, cut or tear a strip of old fabric and wrap the hair around it. Tie the two ends of the fabric together. This makes for pretty tight curls. Foam rollers work the same as any of the above, but if the hair is medium length to long, you need to spiral the hair around the curler one way and then back the other way.

When I curl my own hair, since I can't stand to live with myself if I don't wash my hair every morning, I use hot rollers. The method is the same, but the setting time is faster.

For any of the above methods, to get a tighter curl, use less hair per section. For looser curls, use more hair and/or bigger curler size. I still recommend the same setting times.

These are a type of curler that my sister-in-law introduced me to. She loves them. I decided that I'm not thrilled with them, after I bought three sets so I could do all of my long, thick hair with them. (Not the cheapest, either.)They're called Curlformers and I got them from Sally Beauty Supply. They're a semi-rigid plastic net tube that's shaped in a spiral. The starter set comes with a tool for pulling your hair through them. You might get away with using a large crochet hook, instead.

To use these curlers, you put the tool through the curler, then place the section of hair, near the scalp, in the hook. Now, while squeezing the end of the curler nearest the scalp, pull the hair through the curler. Adjust the placement of the curler so that the ends of the hair are inside the curler, all the while sqeezing the end, so that it doesn't rip the hair out of the scalp. Sometimes, it does that anyway (one of the reasons I don't love these.)

The other reason I don't love Curlformers is that the curls are less spiral-like and more wave-like, without a tighter curl at the end. And, since I can make my hair wavy simply by not brushing it after I shower, I have no real use for them. But, as I said, my sister-in-law loves them, and you might, too.

To complete the do: Once the hair is curled, gently remove the curlers. DO NOT BRUSH HAIR, unless, of course your goal is to have a frizz-ball. Just finger-comb to separate curls. If you decide the curls are too tight, mist very lightly with water and gently pull down on the curls.

Teddy Bear Cookies - Sis1

These are not an everyday cookie. They're expensive to make and not very fast, when compared to most drop cookies. (A lot less time and mess than sugar cookies, though.) They're best for special occasions or when someone you know needs a big bear hug. Or you could tell them they were "beary" cute, special, kind, etc.

A big shout-out for this one goes to the creative folks at Western Family. About a year ago, I guess, while shopping at Macey's, I noticed that the Western Family version of Cookie Crisp cereal was on a good sale. I rarely buy cereal that isn't in a huge bag, but I decided to get a couple of boxes that day. I guess I was hungry.

On the side of the box was a recipe for teddy bear cookies. I looked at the recipe and it didn't appeal to me, but the premise did, so we made them with this recipe, omitting the chocolate chips and powdered sugar.

Place balls of dough (I used my cookie scoop) in pairs on a cookie sheet and bake 6 min. at 350 degrees farenheit. Remove from oven and place cereal in the cookie dough to make ears and paws. Add eyes and a nose with whatever you have (chocolate chips won't show up well). We used peanut butter chips this time, but white chocolate chips or m&ms would work well, too. Return to oven and bake for 6 more minutes. Allow to cool somewhat on the pan before carefully removing them. They are a bit fragile.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Manhattan Cookie Project -Sister 4

A little background to set the stage: The Manhattan Project was a secret assignment created by the US, Canadian, and British governments between 1939 and 1946. Brilliant scientists, known for their intellect and initiative, were brought together to create one thing; the atomic bomb. Okay, there were probably many other goals associated with the Manhattan Project, but the most memorable accomplishment was the development of the first nuclear bombs. Now to the point: I recently got carried away by a strange wind; this prevailing gale probably came from the direction of my talented, and sometimes overly ambitious, sisters. I’m sure you’ve noticed all the cooking and craftiness. Anyhow, this gust made its way into my brain and I have acted on it. I decided I was going to make my own recipe book, just for cookies.
Since the plan started I’ve baked multiple batches of cookies, all different flavors, of course. Most have been tried and tested recipes, but I have tried a few new concoctions. Not too long ago I even created a recipe of my own. There’s a little bakery close to my office with the most delicious almond cookies and I was determined to figure out how to make them myself. It took a couple tries, but I did it. Now I make them all the time. But there are problems with this whole foolish plan. The first is that I have cookies everywhere. The girls at the office have been getting angry with me for bringing treats in all the time. Second, I’ve been eating way too many of them myself. Third, if I want the book to be successful, even if it’s just for me, I’m going to have to keep going on with this. But the fourth and most infuriating part is the constant chaotic and cluttered state of my kitchen. Thus, I have dubbed this scatter-brained idea “The Manhattan Cookie Project.”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Whole White Wheat Bread - Sis 1

I finally made bread today. It's been several weeks and I even resorted to buying a couple of loaves from the store.

When I was a kid, I loved wheat bread, especially as toast, under egg gravy. Yep. Sounds delicious. Now, I never even make white bread.

I used to think that homemade wheat bread had to be very dense and heavy. That's all I'd ever had. After about four years of marriage, I went to a stake seminar by a lady they called "the wheat lady". I don't know her name. She said that the key to making light and soft wheat bread is to use dough enhancer.

So, I went and bought dough enhancer (and I kneaded a lot more than I had in the past). Sure enough my bread turned out tall and soft instead of, as she called it, a brick.

It was about the time I ran out of dough enhancer and went to get more that I decided to look at the ingredient list. It turns out that the ingredients of dough enhancer are pretty similar to the ingredients of soy-based dry milk substitute. But when it's labeled "dough enhancer" it costs a lot more.

I haven't bought dough enhancer since. And guess what? My wheat bread is still tall and light. I used soy-based dry milk substitute for a while, but I have a lot of powdered milk that I am trying to rotate, so now I just use that.

Unfortunately, I can't give you a recipe for my bread. (There isn't one.) But I'll approximate.

Whole White Wheat Bread

3 cups warm water (I actually measure this.)
two huge serving spoons honey
two heaping serving spoons dry milk
roughly a tablespoon yeast
whole white wheat flour (keep reading to see how much)
about 2 tablespoons canola oil
almost a tablespoon salt

Place water in bowl of mixer (or large mixing bowl). Add honey and dry milk. Stir a bit. Sprinkle yeast over the top of the water. Stir a little more. Dump approximately 2 cups of whole white wheat flour on top of water. Pour in oil and sprinkle in salt. Add about another 2 cups flour. Turn on your mixer. With the mixer running, add flour about a cup at a time just until the dough pulls away from the side and bottom of the bowl. Now stop adding flour. Knead for about 4 minutes and check dough. If it's gotten too sticky, add a little more flour. Keep kneading for about 6 more minutes. (You need to knead whole wheat flour much longer than white flour to activate the gluten. I believe that this is the real key to non-brick-like bread.)

Cover and let raise until roughly doubled in size. Shape loaves and place equal parts in three well-greased tins. Let raise until the dough reaches the tops of the pans. Preheat the oven to 350. By now your bread should be higher than the tops of the tins. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from pans to wire cooling rack immediately. Butter the tops if desired.

Once the bread is cooled, I like to slice it before putting it in bags. I usually put two loaves in the freezer for later. When the bread is pre-sliced, my kids can make their own sandwiches, toast, etc. without cutting themselves or destroying a loaf of bread. If I'm in a hurry and didn't get the bread out of the freezer in time, I can also place a frozen slice in the toaster, which defrosts it perfectly.

Super-Fast Squash and Pasta - Sis1

This pasta takes as much time as does mac n' cheese. But it's a whole lot better (taste, looks and nutrition-wise). For me, it's even faster than gathering up the kids, making sure they're all wearing shoes, loading them in the van and driving to McDonalds. Again, a whole lot better.

Squash and Pasta


Dry pasta- I like penne rigate because it holds more sauce, and thus more flavor than most pastas
Olive Oil
1 medium onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 Tablespoons fresh basil (I have it growing in my yard. If you don't, substitute about 2 teaspoons dry)
2 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 14.5 oz. can stewed diced tomatoes, with the juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt!)
3/4 cup washed baby spinach leaves


Set a pot of water on the stove and turn it to high. Add a generous amount of salt. (I know you know this, but I'm telling you this so you know how fast it is.) Wash and chop your onion, basil, zucchini and yellow squash. Heat about 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is nearly translucent. Whenever your water is boiling, add as much pasta as you need to feed your family. Dump the basil and squashes into your skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally until the squash is nearly tender. Pour in tomatoes and spices. Drain pasta once it is al dente and add to the skillet (I said a large skillet) along with spinach leaves and about 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Toss together. Garnish with grated parmesan.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Moab - Sis 2

On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week my husband and I left our kids with Sis #1 and Grandma, while we went to play in Moab, Utah.
It was the week of jeep safari in Moab, so it was pretty busy, but it was a lot of fun. Now, if you are wondering what is Jeep safari, I'll tell you. Every year, during the week leading up to Easter people come from all over the world with their expensive, tricked-out jeeps to ride the wild rock trails around Moab. You can find trails that are pretty easy, or you can find trails that are crazy, I mean, five foot rock steps crazy.
My husband and I don't have a jeep anymore, so we took our four wheelers, and while my husband is an experienced four-wheeler, I am not so on Tuesday I told him we needed to do a fairly easy trail. We looked at a website that rated the trails from 1 to 4+, 4+ being the hardest. We found a trail quite a bit outside of Moab that was rated a 3 called the Top of the World Trail. I thought it sounded good, and my husband agreed so we picked that trail.
The trail was not too difficult on my four-wheeler even with my limited abilities, and it was a lot of fun. It was really fun to ride my own four wheeler. In the past I have ridden on the back of my husbands four wheeler, but then he does crazy things, that I don't like, and I get mad at him. It is way better to have your own four wheeler to control.
At the top of the trail was a breath taking view. It ended at some huge cliffs and you could see for miles, which I'm sure is why the trail is called Top of the World. Here are some pictures from that day.
On Top of the World

Views from the Top of the World.

Me, riding down the trail

The drive to and from the trail was along the Colorado River, it was beautiful.

On Wednesday my husbands parents came with us and brought their razor. That day they decided we had to do a harder trail. So they picked the Poison Spider trail, which is just outside of Moab and climbs to a cliff overlooking the town. I was a bit nervous since it was a harder trail, but I actually did pretty well on it. The poison spider trail was longer than the Top of the World trail and had a lot more big rock "steps" to go up. We did see a lot of jeeps break tie rods and steering "somethingorothers" (my husband could tell you the real words, but I really don't know)on the Posion spider trail, but my husband says that is part of the fun of it. Overall, it really turned out to be a lot of fun also. If you have a chance to ride the trails around Moab I would say "do it."
Here are some pictures from the second day.

An arch a little way off the trail.

Me, coming down some big steps

My husband going down a hill.

View from the top of the Poison Spider Trail.

This was a funny sight, we saw while driving into town. It is just a miniature horse, but it is funny that it is in the back of a truck.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring Break - Sis 2

Mexican Hat

Last week was spring break for my kids and their cousins, the kids of sister #1. Our family spent the whole week playing in south eastern Utah. Sister 1 was there for part of the time. So on Monday we all went to Monument Valley to show our kids the mittens, and the other rock formations that can be found there.
We stopped at Mexican Hat along the way, took a few pictures and hiked up close to the rocks.
When we got to Monument Valley we went inside the visitors center and looked around for a while, then we went outside to take some pictures.
But, it was a very cold and windy day, so we ate our picnic lunch in the cars. We did drive around the road in the bottom of Monument Valley and took some more pictures.
It was fun to take the kids and show them some of the beauty of that part of the world. And in case you have been to Monument Valley, I have some pictures for you.
The Mittens
A close up of one of the mittens
The Three Sisters Rock Formation
The Thumb Rock Formation