Monday, July 27, 2009

What I've been up to lately.

The best part about summer (for teachers & students at least!) is the free time! Time that I use to read, bake, garden, etc... and to tackle all those fun projects that the school year keeps me from.
One little project that had totally slipped my mind was my desire to find the perfect recipe for cookies from scratch. I've found some perfect cake recipes (long gone are the days of boxed cake mix!) so it's been high time I move beyond the world of break-and-bake cookies.
I've done the same to biscuits. It's just as easy to make them from scratch. I have the old tin measuring cup my Granny used for making and cutting hers, and it's getting used a lot. All it I do is mix up 3/4 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of shortening, and 2 cups of flour until the dough is nice and pliable. Then cut them out and bake for 20 minutes on 375- and the feeling you get from eating them knowing you made them from scratch makes them so much more yummy that any other biscuit! It's a similar feeling with these cookies...
Jake mentioned a craving for cookies & milk earlier this week and it dawned on me that, although I've made sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, and even Giada's AMAZING Lemon Ricotta Cookies from scratch, my chocolate chip cookies always end up being pre-made. Not that there's anything wrong with them, in fact- they are great, but that there is something to be said about going completely homemade. So anyways, I found a bag of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Chips in the cabinets and there was a recipe for cookies on the back so I tried it out. Unfortunately, I noticed half way through the recipe that it yields 5 DOZEN cookies, so be prepared to take them to some get-together. Luckily, I was able to pawn all of mine off onto the kids at VBS at church that evening.
These cookies turned out amazing. The only thing I did differently than the recipe calls for is I used butter flavored Crisco instead of butter, since I didn't want to use up all my butter. Also, I was fresh out of vanilla extract so I used almond flavored instead, and I'd be willing to be it made them even better. The cookies were beyond perfect, and I can't wait to make them again. By the way, the original recipe is here on the Hershey website, along with some cool ideas of things to make with all them cookies!

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
* 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup butter flavored shortening
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
* 1 teaspoon almond-flavored extract
* 2 eggs
* 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Chips
1. Heat oven to 375°F.
2. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Beat shortening, granulated sugar, brown sugar and almond extract in large bowl with mixer until creamy. Add eggs; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if desired. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. **Note: My cookies were in the oven NO LONGER than 8 minutes!
Add a glass of milk and all is well with the world! Hubby snapped this picture of me when I came into the office to show him how pretty the cookies turned out!
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Anyways, being that I have absolutely nothing pressing until school starts now that summer school and vacations are both over, cooking/looking up recipes is my biggest hobby! So much that I've been clipping so many recipes out of magazines and printing them left and right! One that I've been dying to share is for Bruschetta Chicken Bake. It was in the Kraft magazine, I believe. In fact, I just googled it and Kraft has it online as well. Anyways, I don't layer it like it shows online, I just kinda mix the chicken all up in with the stuffing, but I imagine it makes little difference.
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Here's the recipe:
Bruschetta Chicken Bake

*1 can (14-1/2 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
*1 pkg. (6 oz.) STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix for Chicken
*1/2 cup water
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*1-1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
*1 tsp. dried basil leaves (use fresh if you have it!)
*1 cup KRAFT 2% Milk Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Mix tomatoes, stuffing mix, water and garlic just until stuffing mix is moistened.
Layer chicken, basil and cheese in 3-qt. casserole or 13x9-inch baking dish.
Top with stuffing & tomato mixture, and sprinkle with extra cheese. Bake 30 min. or until chicken is done.
It is Hubby's newest favorite, and super quick and easy. <3

I keep having Blog ADHD and I can't remember what all I had to tell you all about so I keep having to look back on my last post to remind myself- lol!
Ah, the accidental Pineapple Right-side Up Cake.
Yeah, you know how some nights after dinner you get this crazy sweet tooth and you gotta have something for dessert or just die? We had one of those nights last week and I kept finding myself back in the kitchen, opening the fridge, staring into space and dreaming of sugar. I HAD to bake something. The only fruit I had (with the exception of some blueberries & blackberries I've picked and frozen for later in the year) was this can of pineapple. I googled some pineapple cake recipes, but decided to wing it and try it on my own. So, I did the usual flour-sugar-milk recipe like I do for a cobbler, but I put the pineapples in the bottom of the cake pan, with just a little melted brown sugar syrup on the bottom, hoping to create something like a pineapple upside down cake... well, goofus me put it into a Springform pan and the whole brown sugar and pineapple mess starts leaking out right after I poured the batter in on top. UGH. I almost through it out, but I said "oh, what the heck" and poured the whole mixed up mess into another cake pan and baked it like I would a cobbler. As it baked, I made more sugar syrup, just using brown sugar and granulated sugar and a little water until it was clear and thick and yummy looking. I noticed the pineapple had somehow floated to the top of the cake and so I poured the syrup over the top and continued baking it until the whole thing looked golden and delicious. It smelled amazing. It turned out to be so good. My parents were over visiting the next day and I gave them a piece. My mama crossed her eyes and moaned when she took a bite, and Daddy looked at me all big-eyed & said, "Good Lord, what are trying to do, kill me!?" and shoved in another huge bite! It was a total whoopsy and a complete success.
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Excuse the poor lighting of the picture, I didn't use the flash.
Here is the recipe, based off what I think I did:
*1 cup self-rising flour
*1 cup sugar
*1 cup milk
*1/4 cup water
*1/4 cup brown
In one bowl, mix flour, sugar, and milk until you have a smooth batter.
Melt the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan until almost but not quite thick.
In a greased cake pan, combine a can of drained pineapple chucks and about 4 tablespoons of the syrup with the cake batter and bake on 375 for about 45 minutes.
While the cake bakes, take the rest of the sugar syrup in the saucepan, add in a splash more water and about 1/2 a cup of granulated sugar and about another quarter of a cup of brown sugar, and keep cooking it down until you basically have a golden sugar syrup. Pour it on top of the cake until the top of the cake is just barely covered, and bake an additional 5-10 minutes.

I'm telling you, it was delicious, super sweet and tropically tasting.
I'm pretty sure I'm gonna put this one up on Tasty Kitchen, which is the Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond's food website. Although I'm a big fan of blog, I just recently stumbled onto the Tasty Kitchen site, and holy cow. I love it. I made me a membership, logged in, and I've already uploaded some recipes! Get on there and friend request me, my screenname is Breezybride08. It's really neat. :)

So in addition to all my fun in the kitchen, I'm spending my last weeks of summer being a book worm. I've been reading a novel every 2 days or so, staying up all night to finish them.
So far, the ones I've really, really liked are Jennifer Cruise's Faking It & Cecila Ahern's Love, Rosie. Ahern's book was a little corny and predicatble, but it was cute and girly. I think she wrote the book that's now the movie, P.S. I Love You. But Faking It was really crazy. It was a fun read. I'm not sure what's next up on my reading list, but sometime soon, I've gotta, gotta, gotta get my hands on Dorthea Benton Frank's newest, Return to Sullivan's Island. I've met her, got several signed copies, and read every book of hers. I love her books so much and this newest one revisits a family from one of her earlier books (and one of my all time favorites!) and I'm just sooo excited about it. I heard about it at a little bookstore we went to on vacation, where I was able to get a "buy two used books and get an advanced copy book free" deal. The advanced copies were miscellaneous books I'd never heard of, but this one called By The Time You Read This caught my eye. It was so, so good. It was very sweet, and when it comes out in August, you should get it. :)

That's kind of been the gist of life here these days. Cook, bake, read, garden, swim, visit with people, sleep, then repeat. I'm not complaining, lol. The only thing terribly interesting has been my neighbors. Bill Dauterive, the guy beside us, spent most of summer sleeping on his back patio, has seemed to completely disappear and I've not seen his new girlfriend, Lenore, over to visit at all. Maybe they're vacationing together. Or maybe she didn't come back after he made her sleep outside with his on swing that night she stayed over & all this time he's been inside nursing a bruised heart. I'm hoping the poor fella is okay in there. The lady that lives behind us has been suntanning like she has all summer, so no change there. But interestingly, right across the street, I saw a truck at Carol's. Carol is a lady my mom knows because she went to high school with her older sister (remember, I live in a town where everyone knows everyone). I couldn't figure out what they were doing over there. Her aunt, Miss Peggy, lives right down the block, and I noticed Carol's car was over at Miss Peggy's. I kept watching and realized they were moving stuff out of her place and into Miss Peggy's. Later, we were leaving home one day and saw Miss Peggy and Carol sitting together outside and Carol was in a wheel chair! My Hubby stopped by and talked with them while they were sitting outside again this week and as it turns out, Carol, who's only in her 40s, had a stroke while she was driving and was in a wreck! We hadn't realized the car was wrecked! Anyways, apparently some plaque in her arteries broke loose, went to her brain, and caused the stroke. It may be 6 months before she will be able to live on her own again, bless her heart. I was in shock! Women that young don't have things like stokes yet! Keep her in your prayers.

Well, I'm off to bed. I hope you all are taking the time to enjoy the rest of summertime. Read a book, bake something. Have fun or enjoy doing nothing. That's what I love about this time of year!

PS- Look at how pretty this picture of us from our vacation turned out after some editing with the color... :) In fact, it's so pretty I'm gonna add it to my sidebar pictures soon!
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PS (again)- while I've been either in the kitchen or in a book, Hubby has been bird watching. We've got a bird nest on the front porch, and it looks like we have BABIES! How exciting!
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Love, Love, Love Y'all!


Melissa Venable said...

Hey! Thanks for your other comment! And just to clarify... we DO own the trailer. We don't rent. It's just that it's... a trailer. And really small. And i really want a house! LOL. But Brad is really good w/ money & waiting till we have it. Which is wise. It's just that i hope it will happen sooner than he thinks! :)
Now, i'm going to read your blog! LOL.

Melissa Venable said...

OMG. Those birdies are so cute! & i can't wait to try your chocolate chip cookies recipe & the bruschetta chicken bake one! YES! I love to cook! Also, i'm thrilled you talked about books. I'm kinda addicted to Sophie Kinsella books. They are just a fun read, HILARIOUS. Well, i'm reading my last one of hers except for one that is still hardback so i'm afraid i'll be having a nervous breakdown when i finish this one while waiting for the other one to be paperback (i don't like hardback, idk why!). ANYWAY, all that to say... i'm going to try some of these authors you've mentioned! THANKS!

Carolina Girl said...

Yummy!! I'm hungry now, LOL! What a cute pic of ya'll...:)