Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maggie's Shower

So my cousin Maggie is getting married in July, and being the matron of honor, I had the honor of throwing her a personal shower!  It was really fun to think of activities and details and I had lots of help along the way.  I know it's wedding season, so I just thought I'd share in case any of you out there need shower ideas!

We wanted to keep the decorations simple so we used pictures, decorative stones, and mason jars to create these.

Maggie and Dre are just so stinkin' cute!

We used lots of orange and purple vases, pots and flowers.

Maggie loves to scrapbook so we made that one of our activities.

We each made her one scrapbook page, I'm going to put them together in a book and she'll have a great keepsake!

Of course we had to have treats, these are melting moments cookies.

And white chocolate covered pretzels

The drinks just had to match the color scheme, and we also had punch.

Everyone got a ring pop so we could be blinged out like Mags!

All the girls were asked to bring one pair of unwrapped undies so Mags could guess who brought her each pair.

We also played picture telephone with a wedding theme, it got lots of laughs!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cookies for Breakfast?!


There's something about breaking out the waffle iron that just gets me really excited.  Have I mentioned how I love breakfast?  It's just the best meal, the perfect mixture of sweet and salty.  I love spending mornings at Burnt Toast or even better, Benedict's, this cute old house turned restaurant, just across the street from us.  It actually has a tree growing up through the middle of the house and they serve all their food on Fiesta Ware dishes (my favorite!!). 

But even more than eating breakfast, I love cooking breakfast.  When I was growing up we'd spend our summers up north at the lake, and there mornings were pancake paradise!  I'd have to fight a few of my cousins for flipping rights, but when I got them I loved watching those little bubbles surface and I'd concentrate so hard on the perfect flip - not wanting to contort Mickey's ears that were poured so carefully.  When we all had our fill we'd take the leftover pancakes down to the lake and feed them to the fish.  I loved sharing my pancakes with the bluegill, but I could always be found ripping off a piece and sneaking a bite myself; just a little post breakfast snack.

My love of cooking breakfast has stayed with me throughout the years.  When Jason and I were dating we started cooking breakfast together after church on Sundays.  He'd cook the eggs while I whipped up waffles or wheat pancakes with strawberries and yogurt on top.  I think breakfast making is special because it's usually reserved for weekends, when mornings can be longer and more relaxed.  These days it feels like our old ritual of Sunday breakfast is reserved for when we're 60 and all our kids are grown and out of the house!  Anyways.....in the absence of having the energy in the morning to indulge in pancakes, eggs, or waffles, I found a reason to break out the waffle iron.

 This recipe was in my Simple and Delicious magazine and then while searching baking blogs, I found it again on the blog Oh My Sugar High.


1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup mini milk or semisweet chocolate chips

Combine brown and white sugar along with egg, vanilla and butter in a large bowl.  In a separate medium bowl combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to sugar mixture gradually, stirring after each addition.  Mix in coconut and chocolate chips.

Preheat waffle iron and spray with cooking spray.  Drop cookie batter into tablespoons onto each section of the waffle iron.  Let cook for 4 min.  Remove very carefully.  I found the best way to do this was to use a fork to lift up one side of the cookie, then with a rubber spatula scoop it off the iron.  The cookies will still be soft, so you have to be careful.  If one side doesn't lift up with the fork, try another side of the cookie.  You'll get the hang of it after a while.

Let cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sweet & Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Chocolate and peanut butter.  It's probably one of the most loved culinary combos of all time.  I'm definitely a huge fun of just grabbing a Reese's, but if you're feeling like you want a bit more of a challenge, these bars are the best! 

I found the recipe at the guilty kitchen.

Base Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. Cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup coarsely crushed pretzels

First crush up the graham crackers and the pretzels.  A big ziplock bag and a rolling pin are your best friends for this job.

In double boiler (or a bowl resting over a pot of lightly simmering water), melt the first three ingredients.

While still over water, add egg and beat to combine (will thicken quite a bit here). Remove from heat and add crumbs and pretzels.

Press into an 8 x 8 cake pan. Set aside.  (You can also use a 9x13 pan, the bars will be thinner, but just as good).

Middle Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly.
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup smooth, natural peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Add peanut butter and butter together in small bowl.

Mix in sugar, salt and vanilla to form a thick paste.

Dump onto base layer and smooth over.  Cool in the fridge until it sets.
Top (final) Layer
5 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
sea salt

In double boiler (or microwave), melt butter and chocolate chips together. Stir until complete dissolved and smooth.

Pour over peanut butter layer and spread out evenly.

Cool in fridge for about 5 minutes (should still be slightly soft on top but not warm).

Sprinkle, lightly, with sea salt. Return to fridge or freezer and let cool until completely hard.  Enjoy!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

A tribute to my mom | Chocolate banana bread

I grew up baking with my mom.  Maybe the real draw to the kitchen was that she let me lick the beater, the spatula, and the bowl, but nonetheless, many of my childhood days were spent there.  When I was littler I remember sitting up on our Brady Bunch bright orange countertop and watching the electric mixer spin round and round as ingredients swirled together.  I loved hopping up on the countertop, it made me feel important, like sitting up there made me queen of the kitchen.  My queenship would soon come to an abrupt end as one night, wearing my wispy, pink Jasmine pj’s (yes, that Jasmine, from the movie Aladdin), I jumped up on the counter only to be met rear end first by the top of a hot crock pot!  That experience gave the phrase, “look before you leap” a whole new meaning. 

My phase of counter-sitting passed and I became more involved in the whole baking process.  Mom taught me the basics of mixing, measuring, and cleaning as you go.  The math teacher in her loved trying to turn simple measuring into fraction lessons, but I was successful at tuning that part out. I focused more on perfectly packing the brown sugar into little sand castles that still remained intact when I flipped them from the yellow measuring cups into the mixing bowl- that’s how you know you measured it right. 

When Christmastime rolled around mom and I literally transformed into non-stop baking machines.  We’d stay in the kitchen all day (well that’s kind of a lie because of course I’d have to take breaks to play out in the snow with my non-baking siblings) but when we came in and all our snowsuits, hats, mittens, and scarves were hanging snugly over the woodstove, and we finished our steamy cups of hot chocolate, I’d be right back in the kitchen with mom.  We’d bake spritz cookies (my duty was to sprinkle them; still is today), pecan moons, toffee squares, crème de menth bars, chocolate covered cornflakes, and cut outs (decorating those was a group effort where Zak and Kasey would pitch in too).  There’d be chocolate chip butterscotch layer bars (uncle Ron’s favorite), candied pecans, these thin, plain cookies with chocolate jimmie’s on the outsite, and each year a few new recipes just to try them out.  After the baking frenzy was over, mom would always pack away a few cookies of each kind in yellow butter containers to give to auntie Nell.

That’s the best thing about baking with mom; she always shares.  The students in her class who were smart enough to make good decisions and complete their weekly responsibilities were rewarded each Friday with a baked treat.  I secretly loved it when only five or six of her students got treat that week, because that meant lots of leftovers for us!  Our house was always filled with friends, which meant mom would make sure to have something right out of the oven to keep them happy.  Pumpkin bread, Saturday cake, poppyseed bread, and banana bread seemed to always make an appearance and if there wasn’t a fresh loaf handy, you could find one in the freezer all wrapped up, labeled, and ready to eat.  And when friends couldn’t make it to our house, mom made sure to send her baked goodies their way.  I can’t count the number of times I’d go to my best friend Michelle’s house and mom would hand me a loaf of pumpkin bread she made especially for Michelle. 
Along the way mom taught me lots of tips and tricks.

1. When cooling cookies you don’t need those wire cooling racks. Instead, just cut apart a brown paper bag and put the cookies on that. It works perfectly.

2.  Use the oven as a dryer. After you wash cookie sheets, pans, whatever you used to bake, just pop it in the still warm oven. Just make sure you check the oven before you preheat it for your next baking endeavor. You will forget this many times, believe me.

3.  When bananas go bad, peel them, put them in a ziplock bag, and stick them in the freezer. You might have to dig for them, but when you want to bake bread you have bananas ripe and ready.

4.  If you prefer your cookies slightly burned, like mom does, just pretend that you forgot to set the timer.  That way burning cookies is easy and seems completely innocent!  

I could go on for days about the memories mom and I have in the kitchen; about the talks we had while waiting for the timer to tick down and then finally indulging in our creation with cups of coffee constantly being refilled.  The time spent in that tiny kitchen helped shape me into the baker I am today.  I spend hours in my own kitchen whipping up old favorites and new creations too.  I’m known in my church as the dessert lady, and I have to admit I love bringing dessert to any event we attend. 

But more importantly, being in the kitchen with my mom allowed me to see the beautiful woman she is.  She’s a problem solver - she could always come up with an easy substitute when we ran out of a certain ingredient.  She’s resourceful – she’d always find a way to use leftovers, she’d never waste anything or throw away food.  “Waste not, want not” was one of her favorite phrases.  She let us be creative in the kitchen.  When we questioned how to do something, like how to properly flour a pan, she’d say, “you’re doing it, you can do it any way you want!” 

These traits in the kitchen transferred so easily into her skills as a mom.  She’s a problem solver- she always provided us with what we needed when we ran out of confidence or got hurt by a friend, or got let down.  She’s resourceful- she knows how to see the best in each person and she won’t let us; her kids or her students, give up or throw away chances to learn and grow.  She fosters creativity and individual thinking.  Of course she puts in her two cents, like any mom would do, but she realizes that sometimes we just have to do things the way we want, and she lets us go.  She’s always there too if our way didn’t work out as we thought.

I can proudly say I was taught from the best.  Mom taught me how to cook and bake, and I even learned my fractions along the way (although I still have trouble trying to double 2/3).  But I can truly say that my sweetest success was simply being able to observe and be loved by such a remarkable woman.  She put so much time, energy, and love into me, my brother, and my sister.  Our timers aren’t buzzing yet either.  She’s still there to help us grow and offer advice and give help when we need it. 

Now that I’m a mom myself, I’m so excited to continue this tradition with my own kids.  I hope they’ll be bakers with me, but if not they at least have to be bakers with grandma.  I know they won’t be able to resist hopping up on those bright orange countertops!

So here's a new one for you mom: Chocolate Banana Bread

  I found this recipe on the blog Good Food, Good Wine, and a Bad Girl.

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (around 2-3 medium bananas)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly butter a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, beat together sugar and butter until creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla extract, and stir until smooth and creamy-looking.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Fold in chocolate chips, if using.
Bake in preheated oven for about 50-60 minutes. Bread is done when the top is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Harvey House Granola


This past January, Jason and I enjoyed a weekend away at Harvey House, a bed and breakfast in Oak Park. (It was a fabulous Christmas present from Mom and Dad Marshall!)  If any of you local readers happen to be looking for a good B&B, we highly recommend this place.  Our room was so cozy with an oversided jacuzi tub and a three-sided fireplace that looked into the bedroom and bath.  For pictures, rates and more info check out the Harvey House at www.harveyhousebb.com

Beth, the owner, is so sweet and she’s an incredible craftsman in the kitchen.  Breakfast is my absolute favorite meal of the day and she sure whipped up some of the best morning meals I’ve ever tasted.  One of the most delicious treats she made was granola, and she was kind enough to share the recipe.  I’ve made this granola twice now.  The house smells so wonderful while it’s baking.  You may want to double the batch because it’s so good and it doesn’t last long!  Here's the recipe.

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 cup almonds – sliced or slivered
1 cup cashews – whole or halves
¾ cup sweetened coconut
¼ cup + 2 Tbs dark brown sugar
¼ cup + 2 Tbs pure maple syrup
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried cranberries

Combine oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar.  Mix until no clumps in sugar and well combined.


In a separate bowl mix together syrup and oil.


Combine both mixtures and spread out in two 9x13 pans


Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Cook 1 hour and 15 minutes, stir every 15 minutes. 

Cool and mix in raisins and cranberries.  


Serve with yogurt, with milk as a cereal, or enjoy on its own as a healthy snack! 

*A couple tips:  I never used pure maple syrup, I just had the cheap kind and it worked fine.  I also did a half and half mixture of syrup and honey and mixed in a tsp of vanilla.  For more flavor I added in a tsp of cinnamon.  :)