Friday, December 5, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

Warm chocolate chip cookies on a cold night... what could be better? How about a warm chocolate chip cookie wrapped into a pie?  I made a chocolate chip cookie pie a few years ago and my hubby didn't like it too much.  Well, I've revamped my recipe and I think this is a winner.  I took it, along with an apple pie, to Thanksgiving and the kids fought over the last piece on Leftover Eating Day.  Yes, our family devotes an entire dinner party just to eating leftovers.
1 unbaked pie crust (I always make my own)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place butter and shortening in a bowl and beat together.  Add brown sugar and white sugar. Beat. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix together.  Add flour and salt and stir until mixed together.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Pour into unbaked pie shell.  As the pie is baking, I sprinkle a few more mini chocolate chips onto the pie. (The chocolate sinks to the bottom of the pie as it bakes, so this makes it pretty on top.) Bake at 350 for 55 minutes. 
Enjoy your warm cookie pie!
Happy baking!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

I've decided I'm a soup snob.  I don't like canned soup anymore.  I will still eat canned soup if I have to, but I would much rather have homemade.  It snowed on Saturday, and of course that means I was craving soup.  I made two soups, one for lunch and one for dinner.  Soup #1 was a Loaded Baked Potato.  I found a couple of recipes on Pinterest, but neither was exactly what I wanted so I concocted this yummy treat.

1 pound bacon
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 yellow potatoes, diced (leave skins on)
3 red potatoes, diced (leave skins on)
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups cream
2 cups milk
sour cream and cheese for garnish

Cook bacon and set aside.
Heat olive oil.
Add onion, carrots, celery, and diced potatoes.  Cook until soft.
Add 2 Tbsp butter and melt.
Add flour and mix together.
Add chicken stock and stir until lumps are gone.
Slowly add cream and milk.  Cook until thick.

I love bacon in this soup, but I don't like smooshy bacon.  I added the bacon to the soup at the last minute so it would stay crunchy.  Then, I topped the soup with more bacon (you can never have enough bacon), shredded cheddar cheese, and a little sour cream.

It's the perfect cold day lunch, friends.  

Happy soup making!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hot Cocoa Station

The Hot Cocoa Station has made its return!

Every year, about this time, I set out a tray with everything we need to make a cup of cocoa after school.  My kids like Nestle Quick hot cocoa mix that you make with milk.  We also add marshmallows and sprinkles just for fun.  

This year, I let my 13 year old take the picture of our hot cocoa station.  He just finished up photography class in middle school and I thought it would be fun for him to play around with bokeh a bit.  He started by taking just a regular picture with the tree in the background.  I suggested he get the tripod and then gave him a few settings to try.  I was kind of proud of myself because it's not too often you will hear, "Whoa, that's so cool!" when a 13 year old is directing a comment toward his mom.  Yep, I made that happen!  I might need to mark this day on the calendar.

The cocoa station that sat on our kitchen table last Christmas had candy canes and Christmas mugs too.  So many choices, so little time.

If you have kids, set up a cocoa station for them!  It's really cute and it's the highlight of a cold winter day!

When Rolls Don't Rise Fast Enough

On Thanksgiving I was assigned rolls for both of the parties we were going to.  Cinnamon rolls were for one party and dinner rolls were for the other.  I ran into a little problem with my timing.  It has been SO cold out lately and my house wasn't as toasty as usual, so my rolls weren't rising as quickly as I would have liked.  

Enter my favorite trick for helping rolls rise faster:

The heating pad.

I placed the heating pad under the rolls and turned it to high.  The yeast in the rolls like heat, which makes them rise quickly.

Most of the time, when I'm making bread or rolls, I have the oven on and I can just set the pan of rising rolls on the stove top.  Since my oven wasn't going, this was a great way to get the rolls off of the cold counter top and start doing their thing.

While we're sharing tips and tricks, I always use my old bread machine on the DOUGH CYCLE to make my bread and roll dough.  It saves so much time.  I throw the ingredients in, set it to dough, and it beeps at me when it has had enough time to mix and rise.

I know a lot of people don't bake with yeast because it's kind of scary.  Yeast is tricky because you have to make sure your ingredients are warm, not too hot and not too cold.  But, I'm here to tell you that it's really not that hard.  Oh, and once you have your heating pad out you might as well put it on a comfy chair and snuggle up to watch a good show on tv.

Happy baking and stay warm!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Yummiest Mashed Potatoes Ever

I have been so hungry for turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes lately.  Fortunately, I don't have to wait much longer. Turkey Day is tomorrow and my cravings will be satisfied.  In honor of the Day of Yumminess, I'm reposting my mashed potato post from last year.  These were some yummy potatoes, friends!  It's a little more effort to make them this way, but certainly worth it.

My December Cooking Light magazine arrived in the mail yesterday. One of the articles was about common mistakes when making mashed potatoes. Gluey mashed potatoes are caused by overworked potatoes. The starch cells in boiled potatoes rupture when they are being mashed. The more you mash, the more gluey they become. Mashing potatoes with an electric mixer could cause an Elmer's Glue effect. The article suggested using a food mill or a ricer before mashing. Hmmm. I was up for the challenge.

When I got home, I boiled my potatoes just until soft. The food press is made for easy draining. After draining all of the water into the sink, I started pressing the potatoes.


I have to admit, as I was pressing the potatoes in the food mill, I was thinking, "This is so stupid! Who would take the time to do this? It's making a mess all over my counter AND I'll have one more step (washing the food mill) to clean up when I'm done." But, I kept going.

When I was done, the potatoes looked like fine rice in the bowl. I added a stick of margarine, 4 ounces of cream cheese, and about 2 cloves of chopped garlic. I also added salt, to taste and then used a spoon to mix it all together. Ok, at that point I was taking back all of my nasty thoughts about how stupid the people at Cooking Light were.... 'cause - YUM. They were the perfect potatoes. I would never have thought to use the food mill. I don't think I would use it for a big family dinner because it would just be too time consuming, but I will definitely try their idea again.


It's something to think about as Thanksgiving is approaching. Happy cooking!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cleaning and Organizing

It was kind of a stressful week last week.  Thanks to my many friends and family members who lifted me up with happy thoughts (and the flowers and little gifts were super kind too)!  I'm onto brighter days, with the Holidays right around the corner.  It's a new week and Thanksgiving is practically here.  (I'm so hungry for turkey and gravy that I can hardly stand it.) 

After a stressful week, I looked around my house and felt totally overwhelmed.  The clutter was taking over!  I don't have the time I had last year, now that I'm working full time with one job and part time at another.  (I love these jobs, so please don't think I'm complaining!)  The reality is, though, that I don't have the same amount of time to go through the clutter and junk that I used to.  So, with no basketball tournaments or soccer games last weekend, I decided it was time to tackle some clutter.  I worked through paper stacks and receipts that were piling up.  I filed and purged.  Then, I moved onto the craft room/den and dealt with kitchen counters.  When the weekend had come to an end, I could walk through my house and take a breath without feeling overwhelmed.

The sense of organization reminded me of this post, from about a year ago.  It starts off kind of snooty, but you might remember that it turns into reality rather quickly.  It's a fun read, if you're in for a good laugh.

Here you go:

I strive every day to have a clean and organized home.  Do you know that feeling when someone stops by unexpectedly and your house is a complete mess?  Not me!  I keep my kitchen counters clear, my kids know how to clean up after themselves, and I find it brings a sense of calm to our day.  

Each night, before I go to bed, I make sure everything is completely put away and if I feel to tired to do it, I just tell myself that clutter is the enemy of a relaxed and happy family.

Ummm. Then, I wake up!

It's only in my dreams that there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.  Sadly, there is always a pile of mail, kids' papers, and lunch boxes all over my kitchen.  Rarely do I actually see the surface of our little desk area. Yes, I do have a place for everything, but I'm not so sure about that part where everything is in its place.

The kids are constantly leaving things on the counter and, it never fails, we usually run out of room for all of our glasses in the dishwasher.  When I write a blog post about a meal I've created, you can rest assured that there is a pile of dishes that has been pushed out of the way before snapping the picture.

I can't even believe that I'm showing you the horrid laundry room.  It is a constant battle to get the kids to hang up their backpacks and put their shoes in the cubbies.  As a matter of fact, my son's backpack is sitting in the middle of the family room right now.  So much for those hooks I bought for them to hang their things on!

Those of you who are jealous of our walk-in-pantry will feel better know that most of the time we can barely walk in it.  I swear, the kids actually drop food as they are getting out a snack and don't bother to pick it up!

Most of the time, I'm not horribly embarrassed by our mess. We actually do live  here.  I do strive for cleanliness and organization, but I'm not perfect by any means.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the only blogger out there who is guilty of pushing aside some of the clutter so that it doesn't distract from the photo.  We clean up pretty well, when we have to.

I do believe that organization is important, but I can't say that my house is perfect (or even close).

I'm frequently asked by people how I get it all done.  People wonder how I keep my house clean, cook wonderful meals, spend time sewing and crafting, AND manage to take photos and blog about it.  Well, the reality is, I don't.  If you stop by my house, there will probably be warm cookies for you, but I guarantee my house will not be in perfect shape.

I'll just take a picture.  It will last longer.

Happy cleaning!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kid Sized Apple Pies

My Kid Sized Apple Pies are now posted on LeapFrog's Learning Path!  Talk about SUPER cute and yummy!  I really loved making these with the kids.  We used our apple corer, peeler, slicer which makes any  apple activity fun.  I'm in charge of a couple of pies on Thanksgiving, and I'm thinking my daughter might have to make these to bring to the party.

If you're interested in the recipe and how to use canning rings to bake them up, click over to LeapFrog's Learning Path.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Jam and Cream Cheese Braid

Don't you just want to reach through your screen and take a bite? This is a recipe that my grandma always made on Christmas. It quickly became a favorite in our family. I mean, how can you go wrong with cream cheese filling? It was destined to be a favorite.

This recipe is really simple and it is made the night before you serve it. There is such joy in pulling something this beautiful out of the oven and knowing that the dishes are already done.

Here's the recipe:

1/2 Cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 Cups Bisquick (I told you it was simple!)
1 beaten egg
1 Tbsp sugar

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Combine all ingredients to make the dough for the bread part of the braid. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead until it is no longer sticky.

Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Roll the dough into a 14"x9" rectangle.

1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 Cup sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Combine all ingredients. Spread the filling down the middle third of the dough. (For the record, my kids and hubby like it best when I leave out the lemon juice.)

Slice the outer edges of the dough in one inch strips.

Fold the strips over the filling at an angle.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Once the braid is out of the oven, it's time to top it with a little homemade raspberry jam.

It cooks for about 5 more minutes. Then it is the perfect golden brown, with the warm raspberry jam rolling down the sides.

I have the perfect tray for serving my jam and cheese braid. I've had this piece for years and I think this is the only thing I serve in it.

It's the perfect Sunday morning treat.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

LeapTV Review

I was recently given a LeapTV to try out.  The product was provided to me by LeapFrog but the opinions here are all my own.

The LeapTV was sent pre-loaded with several games. Some of the games that were loaded into my LeapTV are normally sold separately, but they were included in ours so we could review them.  The LeapTV comes with 1 controller and I was sent a second controller so we could play partner games.  Kart Racing is always a favorite when played as a 2 player game.

Let me start with the good things.  I will start by telling you that this is SUPER cool.  Yes, we have other gaming systems in the house, but those were made for adults and just sell kid games to go along with them.  The LeapTV was designed just for kids.  It's made for kids 3-8.  Not only is it made for kids, but it is also the PERFECT learning tool/gaming cross!  Kids combine activity and movement with educational curriculum.  So, your child might be playing the Spiderman game and all of a sudden they have to find all of the capital letters in order to gain more power, or find the capital letter A that is facing the right direction.  The cool thing about LeapFrog technology is that it is self-leveling.  So, your child might start out at a standard kindergarten level, but then if they breeze through things, the game will level up to a "just right" academic level.  In the same way, if your child is getting lots of answers wrong, it will level itself down to a more comfortable level.  Let me tell you, "just right levels" make this teacher very happy.  I was also thrilled with the kindergarten level skills I was seeing.  They were things that we are currently working on in the kindergarten clasroom!

The LeapTv has three different ways to play.  It uses body motion with a camera that senses movement, the regular controller which you play with the A and B button and the little joystick movement button, or you can convert the controller to a pointer and you kind of use it like a magic wand.  

The games that you can purchase are of high interest to kids.  They have games like Spiderman, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sophia the First, a LeapFrog Sports game, and LeapFrog Dance.  We loved the sports games the best.

Now for the negative stuff.  We wished that the controller had another "notch" so you could open it up a bit more, for larger hands.  There were a couple of sport games that would pause and wouldn't let us get out of that spot.  We ended up turning off that machine and turning it back on, and then just skipping that particular activity.  There were plenty of other activities, so it wasn't a big deal.  We also had trouble with lighting at first.  We started playing with the windows open and the bright light behind us made it hard for the sensor to read.  My 13 year old was the first one to say, "Well, duh... you're supposed to close the blinds when you play video games so the sensor doesn't have to work so hard."  Well, apparently that was a DUH moment that I would have understood if I spent any amount of time on the x-box."  Oh, and it actually mentions that in the directions but I missed that part.  That was a mom-error I guess. Looking at the big picture, the negatives were really very minor and not a big deal.  

One thing I noticed in playing this system was the lack of frustration.  I remember when we first bought our Wii, X-Box, and Playstation (no, we don't have all of those anymore), and the frustration my kids had.  I remember my husband coming to rescue many times because we couldn't get Franklin to the picnic or couldn't get Dora to fly where she was supposed to go.  Those gaming systems were HARD for little people.  The thing I love about LeapTV is that it's made just for kids.  When something is made for kids and it's just the right level, the frustration is gone and it's all about pure learning fun!

If you are looking for a gaming system for the 3-8 year old crowd, look no further than LeapTV.  It is absolutely awesome.  I've told people that it's the best thing LeapFrog has come out with since The Letter Factory DVD.  If you know me, you know how much I love The Letter Factory.  I love that this combines easy to play games that kids love with LEARNING!  I also love the self leveling that comes with LeapFrog products.  It's pretty cool!  

Happy gaming and learning!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Back From Dallas and Ready To Tell You All About It

I'm back from Dallas!  I have lots to share about the conference itself, but I think I'll do that on my Literacy Blog.  I'm not sure everyone wants hear about the current trends in early childhood, songs to engage young children, or about the authors I heard speak.  If you're interested in seeing a few cool photos of Dallas, you're in the right place.

This is the hotel  I stayed at.  It was in the historic district and I thought it was really cool.  The sign said it was built in 1925.  It had old doors and door knobs, which I love.  The elevator made a really old sounding ding at each floor. 

The city was beautiful and filled with lights.

I was kind of in love with the buildings.  This one was the building I looked at when I walked out the front door of the hotel.

These next two pictures are the views from my hotel room.  Yes, that's blue sky and sunshine out there too!  This Seattle native couldn't have been happier.

Just down the street from my hotel was this building.  Recognize it?  Look one floor down from the top, all the way to the right.  See how that window looks like it's open and there are a few boxes in the window?  That's the window that Lee Harvey Oswald stood in.

 This is the old School Book Depository.

I had to really hurry to be able to see the building and museum.  My last class ended at 4:30 on Thursday and they let the last visitor in at 5:15.  I ran back to my hotel, changed my shoes, dropped off my bag, and hustled down the street.  Luckily, my hotel was only about 2 blocks away.  The lady at the front desk told me to go to the 7th floor first because it was the only floor I could take pictures on and it was getting dark.  

When I got to the 7th floor, it was completely empty.  The only person there was the security guard.  He told me I was really lucky because normally there would be 50-150 in that room with me. It was kind of eerie.  The only sound I could hear was my shoes, as I was walking. I stood in the corner window and saw the same view that Lee Harvey Oswald did.  Honestly, I got a little choked up.  I don't know if it was seeing the same view or the eerie silence, but it got to me a bit.  I wasn't even born when it happened, but it felt overwhelming to be in a spot where such an historic event took place.  

As you look out the window, down toward the road, you can see that car driving along.  That is just about the exact spot where John F. Kennedy was when he was shot and killed.

Really, the only thing in this room is the view and two large pictures. I went to the 6 floor, where the shooting took place, and went through the guided tour of the museum.  I wish I could have taken pictures there too, but that's not allowed.

Here's the view, looking down the other street, so you can see how close my hotel is.  It's the smaller white building on the left.

As you walk down the sidewalk in the spot Kennedy was shot, you can see two X's.  They mark the spots  on the road where he was hit.

I guess I always thought that exact spot would be turned into a tribute area or something, but it shocked me that it was just a road with 2 white X's.

This is a view from across the street.  The far grassy area is the "grassy knoll" that you always hear about.

I can't even begin to tell you what a cool trip this was.  Being asked to help present at the NAEYC conference was overwhelmingly awesome.  Staying in an historic building with an amazing amount of history right down the street just pushed the trip's level of awesomeness over the top.

Thanks, LeapFrog, for the opportunity of a lifetime!


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