Gooey Caramel Brownies

This brownies are awesome, you have to try them.  They are rich & yummy.  Perfect for the holiday season.  A little of this brownie goes a long way, so you can cut them into smaller squares for bite size serving.  Or just go all out like me & eat a big ol' hunk.  The diet starts in January right?!  Might as well pack it in while you still can.  The hardest part about these brownies is the large amount of cooling time they require.  But the actual prep time is minimal.
My husband said these are the best brownies he's ever had.  He says that a lot, "This is the best dinner you've ever made.", "This is the best pasta I've ever had.", etc.  I don't always trust that the item is truly the best he's ever had, a sort of "cry wolf" scenario.  But I do believe him on these brownies.  They are really that good.  Here's the skinny (yes I realize what an oxymoron of a statement that is)...
1 box German Chocolate Cake Mix
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts
1/3 + 1/2 cup evaporated milk (divided)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 14 oz package whole caramels, unwrapped
1/2 cup chocolate chips
powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together cake mix, chopped nuts, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, & butter.  Stir together until well combined.
Press half of the mixture into a greased 9 x 9 inch baking pan.  Bake for 8 minutes & remove from oven, set aside.
Using the double boiler method melt the caramels & 1/2 cup evaporated milk until smooth & pourable (is that a word?).  Evenly spread caramel sauce over the pre-baked brownies.  Evenly sprinkle chocolate chips on top.  Chill for about 1 hour, or until caramel is hard.
Evenly press remaining  brownie batter on top.  Return to the oven & bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Let cool at room temperature for about 2 hours.  Sprinkle top generously with powdered sugar, cut into pieces, & enjoy!

*In the recipe pictured I did not use the total amount of caramels, because I didn't have 'em & I was too lazy to go to the store.  But there will be a definitive layer of caramel in the center if you use the whole amount listed.

Happy Thanksgiving

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We have so much to be grateful for.  Remember to ponder on the many blessings in your life today & thank the Lord for his provision.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Vancouver Dip

This is one of my all time favorite appetizers.  My Mom would always make it for special occasions when I was growing up & I couldn't keep my hands off of it.  Not much has changed, I still devour this dish every time I make it.  Super simple, super quick, & super yummy.  This dip you don't really dip into.  Rather you spread it onto the baguette slices.  Bread AND dip, how can you lose.   Here's the skinny...
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 ounces cream cheese softened
1 can artichoke hearts
1 teaspoon dill (plus some for garnishing)
1 baguette thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a food processor add cream cheese & pulse a few times to break it up.  Add remaining ingredients & blend until everything is incorporated & fairly smooth.  Pour into a 9 inch pie plate or similar baking dish.  Spread out evenly & garnish the top with a little more dill.  Bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly & brown.  Remove from oven & let sit for 5 minutes.  Serve warm with baguette slices for spreading on to.

For The Kiddos

If your house is like mine while us mama's are busy getting dinner ready the kiddos are getting restless.  They need a little something to focus their attention on.  Here are some fun festive crafts for your busy dinner day.  Sure to keep little hands busy & easy enough that older children or men can help ;)
Turkey hats.  So cute & great for a range of ages.  Click here

My girls made a version of this in their class.  So cute.  Click here
We've also done the pine cone turkey using colored popsicle sticks as the tail & forming pipe cleaners as the legs & head.
This one is great for preschooler.  And who doesn't love using googly eyes!  Pretty self explanatory.  You'll need a paper lunch bag, dry pinto beans, construction paper, googly eyes, scissors & glue.   Fill the paper bag with some dry beans to give it weight.  Legs are crinkled by folding them accordion style.  Child's hand is traced to make the tail.  They could even write what they are thankful for on the "feathers".  A diamond shape folded in half makes the beak.  

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

The other day while searching for some vintage Thanksgiving Day images.  I came upon a bunch vintage Thanksgiving card.  Some of them were, well, bizarre.  The illustrations are so... um... creative.  I was laughing & saying "what in the world" a lot.  What makes these even funnier is the fact that they were done in all seriousness & that people actually sent these to love ones as a honestly loving gesture.  Artists got to make a living somehow I guess.

I'm not getting the appeal of children & turkeys interacting.  Turkeys kind of always freaked me out when I was a kid.  
The last thing I ever wanted to do was ride a turkey...
...or run arm & arm with one.
Turkeys driving a corn car with lemon wheels.  Yep, that makes perfect sense!
Who in their right mind wants to envision the turkey they're about to eat smoking a cigar.  Somehow cigar smoke & turkey meat just don't mix well for me.

Open-face Apple Pear Pie

I love open face pies like this.  So easy to put together without sacrificing on taste & tons of yummy pie crust.  Inspired by the galette, this pie looks pretty & the fruits are sliced thin.  This is a great pie to pull together in a jiffy.  A good Thanksgiving pie, pulling fruits from the current harvest.  Here's the DL...
1 full recipe for  Flaky Pie Crust
3 large pears cored & thinly sliced
2 large Gala apples peeled, cored, & thinly sliced.
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1 egg beaten
1 tablespoon butter melted
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix sliced pears & apples with the sugar, cinnamon, & nutmeg.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Roll out cold dough onto lightly floured surface into a circle shape.  Dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.  Gently fold dough in half & then in half again.  Transfer to a cookie sheet & unfold into circle shape again.  Pour fruit onto the middle of the dough.  Fold dough over the fruit allowing for the center to remain uncovered.  Brush entire top, including fruit, with melted butter.  Brush the crust with the beaten egg.  Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is brown & flaky.  Slice it up & enjoy!

*The apples I used were very large.  If you have smaller apples you may need to bump up the quantity.
Make the crust a day or two before to save time on Thanksgiving day.

Mashed Potatoes Two Ways

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching.  And unless you're Charlie Brown you will be having mash potatoes on your table.  If you are Charlie Brown, enjoy your toast & popcorn!  Here are two ways that I like mashed potatoes.  Hope this helps in your Thanksgiving dinner planning.

My Favorite Mashed Potatoes

I can't resist these potatoes.  They don't need any gravy & they are full of cheesy goodness.  The crunchy top adds a perfect texture.  They taste even better the next day.
6 medium russet potatoes
8 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
4 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Bring large pot of water to boil.  Meanwhile peal potatoes & rinse with cold water.  Cut potatoes into quarters.  Remove pot from burner & add potatoes, then return pot to burner & bring to a full boil.  Cook for 20-30 minutes or until fork can be easily inserted into potatoes.  Drain potatoes & return the pot.  Put on the burner on low heat.  Add butter & mash until all the lumps are out.  Remove from burner.  Add milk & using electric beaters beat on low speed until smooth & creamy.  Stir in the cream cheese, cheddar, & Parmesan.  Add the salt & pepper to taste.  Put into a baking dish.
In microwave melt the remaining butter for the topping.  Stir in the parsley, remaining cheeses, & Panko crumbs.  Spread mixture evenly on top of potatoes
Bake for 20 minutes or until top is brown.  Enjoy!
*This recipe also works great with instant potatoes.

Standard Mashed Potatoes

It's hard to beat a good ol' standby.  Here's basic mash potatoes in their purest and yummiest form.
6 medium russet potatoes
8 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 to 3/4 cup half & half
salt & pepper to taste
Bring large pot of water to boil.  Meanwhile peal potatoes & rinse with cold water.  Cut potatoes into quarters.  Remove pot from burner & add potatoes, then return pot to burner & bring to a full boil.  Cook for 20-30 minutes or until fork can be easily inserted into potatoes.  Drain potatoes & return the pot.  Put on the burner on low heat.  Add butter & mash until all the lumps are out.  If you want them really creamy take the beaters to them on low speed.  Stir in the sour cream & milk a little at a time until desired consistency.  Add the salt & pepper to taste.  Serve up warm with some good ol' gravy.  Enjoy!
*You can make these ahead of time.  Just put into a casserole dish & refrigerate.  They will keep in the fridge for a day or two.  When you're ready pop 'em into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until heated through.

Good Ol' Green Bean Casserole

I like green bean casserole because it taste so good & because it is so easy!  This is a must at any of our holiday tables.  Green bean casserole is a great dish to have your kiddos pitch in for the meal & make... it's that easy.  Here's the DL...
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 cans cut green beans
1/2 cup milk
1 cup French's fried onions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix soup & milk together.  Add in beans & stir well.  Pour into casserole dish & bake for 30 minutes.  Stir again & sprinkle fried onions on the top.  Return to oven & bake 5 more minutes or until onions are golden brown.  Enjoy.

House Reveal: Living Room

We have been in remodeling stage of our house since July.  And although it's not totally done, we are getting close.  Today I thought I'd share our living/dining room with you.  Here are the before & afters.

We decided to do a whitewash style of stain on the main wall in the living room.  I wanted to brighten the room up a bit & decrease yet another version of wood grain in the room.  A lot of different wood grains in this house... a lot.

I love our living room.  The cathedral ceilings make it feel so open.

And there are so many windows that no matter what the weather it is bright inside.  I love having a 180 degree view our of my living room.  
The major change we did in this room is replacing the banister with a wall.  We had to have the banister replaced & brought to code before closing because it was so dangerous.  I was afraid that I myself would fall through those pickets.  So this project was one of the first on our list.  I decided to do a wall because A)I needed more wall space in this room, there was very little on account of all the windows.  B) It closed off the family room/kid zone in the basement & greatly decreased noise between the main & bottom floors.  I love my new wall.
The fireplace makes this room so cozy & inviting.  (Those hieroglyphics are an old fan system that was in the fireplace before the gas insert.  I have plans to put mortar over the black caulking to make it blend in with the rest of the fireplace.  Or maybe I'll leave it so people can wonder what kind of weird stuff I'm into :)
It is a great place to gather.  The other major change we made in the living room was we added the dining area to it.  Before the dining room was over there to the right, directly in front of the sliders.  We use the sliders as our main door for the most part.  So having a big table in front of it was not good.  I didn't like the flow of it from the moment we first saw this house, & I knew I would change it right away.
So we placed it over on the other end of the living room creating more of a great room feel.  It works great with the flow of life & allows for a big table, which we need with a family of six.  Now we have a big entryway as well where you can sit & slip off your shoes.  Everything is almost done in this room.  Just two ceiling light fixtures & the top of the banister to finish it up.  I'm really happy with how it turned out.

Flaky Pie Crust

I love making pies.  For years I thought I had a pretty good crust going.  But then my mom showed me this recipe & it is by far the best I've ever had, or made.  There are a couple of tricks here:
1) Chilling the dough thoroughly before rolling it out
2) Keeping the butter cold
3) Not working the butter in too much
4) And VODKA
That's right my friends, in today's crust you will be throwing in a quarter cup of vodka.  Now you don't just do this because using vodka is somehow cosmopolitan.  No, no, there is a science behind it.  Alcohol cooks out (so no worries about intoxicating anyone.)  Therefore the vodka has the moisture required to bind your dough together, but when it is baked all that moisture is cooked out (unlike water).  In turn you get the flakiest pie crust ever.  And vodka is mild enough that you don't even taste it.  Here's the skinny...
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold butter cubed (I usually cube the butter & then stick it back in the fridge until I need it)
1/2 cup cold shortening cubed
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka
Mix 1 1/2 cups of the flour, salt & sugar until combined.  Add butter & shortening  cut in until crumbly mixture forms.  Scrape bowl & add remaining flour & cut in until mixture is uniform.  Sprinkle vodka & water over mixture & with a rubber spatula use a folding motion to mix the dough until it sticks together.  Divide into 2 even balls & flatten into 2 inch thick discs.  Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 45 minutes (or up to 2 days).  Makes two 9 inch pie crusts.  Fill with your favorite pie filling & cook as directed for the pie you're making.  Enjoy!

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Here's another good Thanksgiving dish.  I'm not a big fan of traditional sweet potato casserole.  You know, the one with marshmallows on it.  It just doesn't float my boat.  If I'm gonna eat sweet potatoes they'll need to have a good measure of salt in them.  Get some salt on a sweet potato & it's pretty much irresistible.  Therefore, this recipe is irresistible.  This is by far the best way to eat a sweet potato.  It's pretty much addictive & pretty dang easy to pull of.   Here's skinny...
6 medium size sweet potatoes
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons butter
Pepper garnish
Chives for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  With a fork prick each potato about 5 times.  Wrap in tinfoil & bake for about 1 hour, or until potato is soft throughout.  Remove from oven & unwrap.  Let potatoes cool.
Cut potatoes in half lengthwise.  Scoop out inside of potatoes leaving about 1/4 inch to create a shell (sweet potato skin is very delicate so you need to be careful & make sure to leave enough of the potato in the skin to provide a shell that will hold up.)
In a bowl mash up the sweet potato pulp that was scooped out.  Add 3/4 cup of the Parmesan, salt, & butter.  Mix well, add more salt if needed.  Fill each potato shell with the mashed potato mixture.  Set filled shells on a cookie sheet & bake in 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, until cheese melted & tops turn a little brown.  Remove from oven & sprinkle the tops with pepper, remaining cheese, & chives.  Serve warm & enjoy!

*These can be made a day ahead of time.  Cover filled shells & put in refrigerator until you're ready to bake them.

They're Taunting Me

I'm a hunter.  I like to get out & kill me a deer &/or elk each year.  I usually go by myself.  I enjoy walking slowly & my own pace.  I love the cool crisp air & the quiet of the outdoors.  But I mostly like getting a buck (that's a male deer in case there's any confusion) & having meat.  Hunting is more than recreation for us, it's how we are able to eat red meat year around- it's the only way we can afford it.
Well, last year I didn't get a deer & my husband was too busy to hunt much, so he didn't get his elk.  So this year we need to get something.  I went out the other day & saw one deer & got nothing.  I think the word has gotten out on the deer social circuit & now they're taunting me.
This morning I had four different good size bucks in my yard.
Normally this would be a good thing, except I live on a game preserve.  That means no hunting.
This one (although not a buck) was even brazen enough to lay down by our archery target.  The target even has an arrow coming out of it.  Yah, they're definitely taunting me.

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm a big fan of good ol' chocolate chip cookies.  There's nothing better than chocolate chip cookie dough- proven fact.  Follow that up with a warm fresh from the oven gooey chocolate chip cookie & you're pretty much in heaven.  I've made chocolate chip cookies since I can remember.  My Grandma was the one who originally got me hooked on them... & the dough.  After years of experimentation & trying various recipes, I've landed on a recipe that I use now consistently.  I'm a soft in the middle cookie kind of girl when it comes to chocolate chip cookie & this recipe does just that.  Here's the scoop...
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 large egg
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Using electric mixer beat well shortening & brown sugar.  Beat in egg & vanilla until fluffy.  Mix in flour, salt & baking soda until well combined.  By hand stir in chocolate chips.  Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes or until edges are brown & center is still gooey.  Let cool for a minute & then transfer to cooling rack.  Enjoy!

Thank You

Thank you to all those who have served & protected our country.  We are eternally grateful.  And a special prayer for those that are currently serving- thank you for your sacrifice.  Happy Veterans Day.

*painting by Jasper Johns, this is one of my favorite Pop art pieces.

Corn Fritters

Here's another recipe that can help you prep your Thanksgiving Day meal.  I love these little guys & I think you'll find it difficult to keep them from popping into your mouth while your making them.  You may also find this a problem with grazers who may be passing through the kitchen while you're cooking them.  Fritters are so yummy for young & old alike.  Make them right before you sit down so they are crispy on the outside, yet soft & warm on the inside.  I like to put corn in mine, but you can omit this if you prefer.  Fritters are also great for breakfast- replace corn with 1 cup diced apples & provide maple syrup for dipping.  So yummy.  Here's the scoop...
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salad oil
1 cup canned corn
 oil for frying
Fill up a pot or dutch oven with about 3 inches of oil & heat on medium or to about 375 degrees.  In a bowl mix flour, baking powder & salt.  Stir in eggs, milk & salad oil.  Mix until incorporated, but not too long because that will make your fritters tough.  Gently fold in corn.
Drop tablespoons* of the batter into hot oil.  Make sure that fritters are not touching when you first pour them in or they will stick together**.  Fry for about 5 minutes or until brown on all sides.  Turn the fritters half way through cooking time to get even cooking & nice color.  Drain on paper-towel & serve immediately.  Enjoy!

*Drop the batter in the oil in one quick motion, otherwise you'll end up with something more like corn funnel cake.
**If batter sits on the bottom of the pot for longer than 8 seconds the oil is not hot enough.  Turn up the heat & try again.

Thanksgiving Inspiration

Here a few Thanksgiving/Fall inspired photos.  Use them as you will, or just enjoy viewing them today.