Thursday, December 19, 2013

Easy Eggnog Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce


Around this time each year my family decides that they have had enough eggnog.  After all, I did start buying it around Thanksgiving time with a steady purchase of 1/2 a gallon every week.  I usually don't figure this out until I find myself pouring it down the drain because we have surpassed the expiration date and I need to make room in the refrigerator.

This year I decided to do things differently. I rounded up some ideas of how I could use the left over eggnog that I knew I would find it on the top shelf hiding behind the orange juice and milk.   My thoughts went from fudge, to bread pudding, then to an eggnog applesauce cake or, the best one, eggnog ice cream.  These recipes would pretty much cover any amount that I would find nestled in the very back shelf.   The ice cream is going to require a lot of eggnog, I can only hope I find a full half gallon.

Last night I could not sleep.  I call it Holiday/Christmas/Company anxiety.  My parents are coming into town on Saturday and any company causes me to "wig out" a bit.  The older I get the worse it becomes.  When my guests arrive on my doorstep, the anxiety melts away. It is the anticipation of people coming to stay in my home that riles me up.  

These are some of the random thoughts that swirl around in my head:

"What if I forget to clean something"? Like the microwave, which I have done before.

"What if I make something they don't like?" Again, it has happened.

"What if the activities I have planned don't work out?" This usually doesn't happen, but it could.

"What if I decide to run away and come home when it is all over?" This is one question I ask myself a lot but I have actually never done because, like I mentioned above, I always have a great time and things go according to plan.

I believe I am my own worst enemy and I am sure it stems from my childhood and the need to please everyone, be the peace maker and strive for perfection.
 
So what does this have to do with bread pudding, early mornings and eggnog?

Everything.

The anxiety was my reason for not sleeping, which caused me to clean out the fridge, which then led me to find the eggnog hiding behind the beef broth, that triggered my crazy 4am brain to make bread pudding. Remember that was on my list of things I could make.

I am going to assume that if you are like me, have Celiac or are gluten intolerant , then bread pudding is something that you do not make often (or, if you are like me, never). I don't usually make it because my family says they don't like it and I have never found the right type of gluten free bread to hold the egg/milk mixture (again, that was the case, until today).

A while back I was contacted by Udi's to try some of their products. If you remember I was a bit busy being pregnant and trying to stay afloat with the pregnancy. I turned down a lot of opportunities because I just could not handle one more thing.

After Finnley was born, I reached out to all of the companies that I wanted to work with.  Udi's made the cut.  They graciously sent me a box of goodies to sample and try.  

Let me tell you about this box: it was huge, filled to the rim and contained things that I did not even know they made. Gluten Free Flour tortilla's, pizza crust and bagels were three things I jumped for joy over.  I have to get my exercise in where I can.  {grin}

My family was equally excited at the sight of a box of food being delivered to our doorstep.  I just want to say thank you to Udi's for asking me to create a recipe using their products.



The one thing I find necessary when eating bread pudding is a sauce.  My daughter has been asking for butterscotch everything this year and so it sounded like the perfect addition to this Easy Eggnog Bread Pudding.  I am going to be the first to say, that it was excellent and I will be making it again.

Bread pudding has a tendency to get a little crispy or dry on top with the middle being warm and soggy.  Serving the bread pudding with a sauce will make the top layer soften a bit and add even more gooey-ness to the dish.

Two things I would recommend.  The first is to buy the best eggnog you can find and afford.  The second, don't try to change the bread combination.  You really need the gluten free bagel's texture to hold it all together.

My final comment is that this bread pudding does not have any added sugar.  I am trying to be mindful of the amount of sugar my family consumes.  If I can go without it, I do.  With that being said, this recipe is in no way a low sugar bread pudding because the eggnog has a lot and if you use the butterscotch sauce, well...it is super sweet.

I strongly recommend making the butterscotch sauce.

Strongly.

Let me know what you think. I do love hearing from readers.  Enjoy!

*Disclosure:  The opinions expressed in the above written content are those of the writer, Sherron Watson.  She has not been paid to write a review or create a recipe.  Sherron was given a box of products and asked to participate in a recipe round-up which will appear on Udi's pinterest board.  


Easy Eggnog Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

2 Udi's bagels, cubed
8 slices of Udi's white gluten free bread, cubed
1 1/2 cups eggnog
1/2 cup whole milk
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
Butterscotch Sauce (recipe below)

The night before:

1. Combine the bread, eggnog, milk and eggs.  Using a spatula, mix well. The bread will need to be stirred a few times to ensure that each piece is coated with the wet ingredients.

2. Place bread mixture into a well buttered baking dish.  I use a dish that is an odd size, 8X11 rectangular dish.  My mixture ends up being about 2 inches thick.  I would not go any shallower than this.

3. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.  I would recommend a minimum of 4 hours if you decide to do this on the same day.

Day of:

4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove bread pudding from refrigerator. Pull back the foil and give it a good stir to re-coat the top layer. Cover again.

5.  Bake eggnog bread pudding for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking for 15-20 more minutes.  You want the tips of the bread cubes to be a golden brown and the egg mixture to be firm.


6.  The last 15 minutes make the butterscotch sauce (recipe below).

7.  Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes and serve with sauce.

8.  Refrigerate all left overs and reheat in the microwave.


Butterscotch Sauce

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons soft butter

1.  In a small saucepan, combine all of the above sauce ingredients.

2.  Set your heat to medium and bring to a boil (5 minutes or so), stirring every once in a while.

3.  Once the sauce boils, turn heat down to a medium low and simmer to thicken the sauce.   Continue cooking for 5 minutes.  Stirring occasionally.  Sauce will start to darken when it is close to finishing.

4.  Remove from heat and serve warm.  Sauce will thicken more the longer it sits.

Written by Sherron Watson



Friday, December 13, 2013

Chorizo and Rice Casserole




Sometimes my kitchen is similar to the show "Chopped".  The only difference is that I don't keep my food in a basket.  Well, unless it is a bag of cereal and then I have a vintage picnic basket that all of the "last remaining cup of cereal that nobody wants in the bag before they move on and open a new box"is folded up and tossed in to.  When this is full I remove the bags, crush them all together and make some type of magic seven layer cookie bar.  You know the one with sweetened condense milk poured over the top. Thats a good day at my house.

Oh, and I don't wear a chef outfit, nor do I have a row of 3 judges watching my every move. Instead I wear my favorite apron and have four kids, one husband and three really loud cats that give me plenty of feedback.  Have you ever watched the judges eat the food..a tiny bite here, a lick there and then their eyes never leave the chef.  Some days this is what it feels like in my kitchen too.

I used to plan a week long menu and try to stick to it and get upset if someone ate a much needed item out of the fridge.

Yeah, those were the days. Now, I buy what I want and I will often throw things together based on what I have left in the refrigerator. Our nights are hectic with busy schedules and it is not uncommon for me to have "20 minutes on the clock" and to hear myself say "your time starts now".

I run from drawer to cupboard to sink to refrigerator to stove and then repeat.

I am sweating, my hair is frazzled and I am in the zone. A bead of sweat trying to escape my forehead before the back of my hand finds it with a towel.

Are you wondering what I had in my "basket" aka: refrigerator? 

chorizo Sausage, cream cheese, rice and red pepper.

I can work with these ingredients and my mind starts to race.  We have to leave in one hour to get Isabella to gymnastics. 

I start preheating the oven, turn the saute pan on and throw some butter into it.  Dice the onions and bell pepper.  Start another pan and cook the sausage, warm the rice in the microwave to soften it a bit and find my two favorite casserole dishes.  I still don't own a 9X13 pan so I use two small dishes.

My hands are moving from pan to pan, stirring and flipping; all the while working the microwave to soften the cream cheese, open the broth box and add seasonings to a medium size bowl.

I am on fire! <----Cue Alicia Keys song here.

I throw it all together, toss it in the dishes and bake for 20 minutes.  

CRAP--Did I add salt goes through my mind? I don't want my dish to be under-seasoned.

Oh well, my kids and hubby can add their own.  Its not like I am cooking for $10,000 dollars tonight.

I wonder if I will make the cut to the next round?  wink wink

Of course I will.  My family would starve if I did not cook for them each night or they would live strictly on ham sandwiches.  They have done this before while I was away for a girls getaway.

My five judges were unanimous in saying this casserole was very good.  The chorizo is a bit spicy so beware if you have those that don't enjoy spicy AND it needed a bit of salt.

Over all they loved it and want me to make it again.  I can certainly do that because it was quick, simple and hit the spot on these cold, wintery nights.

ENJOY!

Chorizo and Rice Casserole

4 chorizo sausages ( I buy mine from Whole Foods)
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon oil for sautéing
3/4 cup chicken broth
3-4 cups prepared rice (white or brown)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 brick of cream cheese, soft
1/2 cup grated fine parmesan cheese

1 cup of Jack Cheese, for the top


Preheat oven to 350.

1.  Heat oil over medium high heat.  I remove sausage from casings and break apart.

2.  Saute sausage, onion, garlic and bell pepper until sausage is browned and onion is clear.

3.  In a large bowl add remaining ingredients.  Stir to combine.  Add the ingredients from step 2.

4.  Add bowl to 9X13 baking dish, top with jack cheese and bake for 20 minutes.

5.  Serve immediately.

Written by Sherron Watson

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cookie Exchange: 10 Tips for a Stress Free Party


Hosting or attending a cookie exchange is always a fun activity to do for the holidays.  I have attended my share of these events and found them to be a fun time full of laughter.  They are a great way to collect delicious recipes, and best of all, eat COOKIES! 

Being invited as a guest is the easy part; we make our cookies and we show up to the party-- but what if you are the hostess? How do you plan and organize a Cookie Exchange, Cookie and Treat Exchange, or a Christmas Goodie Exchange? 

I have prepared 10 suggestions to help you prepare and plan your next goodie party.  Of course, this list can be added to or you can simplify the process.  I have attended some parties that feel as though the hostess spent all year planning the one event and other parties that were very laid back –both parties have their “season” depending on where you are in your life.  That is the great thing about being the hostess.  You get to set the tone, mood, theme, etc… for the party.  You are the cookie boss!

Pick a date and a theme.  Choosing a date early in the month of December is best or switch things up and host a Winter Cookie Exchange in January. A theme is not required but it does allow for your guest to have a direction when choosing their recipes or when buying products to wrap their goodies in.

Decide on a list of friends and send out invitations.  How many friends you invite will determine how many cookies you have each guest bring.  I would recommend 5-7 guests. They should each bring one dozen cookies for each guest in attendance (that is 6-8 dozen cookies).  If your guest list is larger, 8-12 guests, then having each guest bring a half dozen is not so overwhelming.   The extra dozen or half dozen is for trying and tasting at the party.

Ask each guest to RSVP by a certain date. This will allow you to inform all guests of exactly how many cookies to bake plus it allows the hostess to purchase the correct number of utensils, plates, napkins, drinks, etc…


Set the rules for the exchange.  It is important that every guest understands exactly what is expected of him or her at the exchange.  As an example, if you want only homemade cookies then this needs to be stated.  Other examples may include a list of cookies not allowed or a list of treats that are okay to bring.  Keep in mind that if an attendee spends three hours making her cookies she may be a little bit disappointed, if in return, she gets cookies that are store bought or no-bakes.  Everyone should be on the same page in regards to what is being exchanged and expected.

Have tables available.  The amount of table space that is needed will depend on several factors. Are you hosting a large group with lots of cookies to sample?  Will you have a wrapping station so the guest can create there goodie trays in your home?  Will you serve other food and have drinks available? Having answers to these questions will allow you to best situate tables and other surfaces needed for the party.

Party games.  Some hostesses enjoy having games at the cookie exchange.   Some suggestions would be an ugly sweater contest, the best holiday costume, favorite cookie, best decorations or an ornament exchange.  This is definitely just an option and not required for a successful cookie/treat exchange.

How will you display the cookies? Each guest will bring the cookies for the exchange, and they will also bring one dozen cookies to share and test with the group.  I have found that it’s easier and more appealing to have the cookies displayed on cookie trays or tiered dessert dishes.  This allows for a beautiful table and the cookies are a bit easier to sample.

Printed recipes and ingredient lists. This can be handled in two different ways. The hostess may want everyone to email his or her recipe and print a copy for each guest.  These recipes could also be printed into a cute booklet.   The other option is to ask each guest to bring a copy of his or her recipe for each guest.  The ingredient list is a good idea if you have invited guest with known food allergies to wheat, nuts, eggs, dairy, etc…

Wrapping Station.  A wrapping station is an option.  Some guest would like to come and exchange cookies only, while others would enjoy having the chance to exchange and prepare cookie trays for family and friends all in one night.  A wrapping station could include: fancy paper plates, cellophane, plastic wrap, ribbons, tags, bows, dessert boxes or cute tins.  If the hostess would like to share this responsibility, assignments could be made or a monetary contribution could be collected to purchase the products.

Have fun.  The holidays are always a busy and hectic time in our busy lives.  Know your limits, your budget and plan accordingly.  This will insure that you have a great time and that your guest will too.  A cookie exchange is a great tradition to start with family and friends and there will be enough time to have different types of cookie/treat parties in the future.

I hope these 10 suggestions for a successful cookie/treat exchange were helpful.  I have included four homemade cookie recipes and one treat recipe; my neighbors and friends love all of these cookies.

My family would like to wish each of you a wonderful holiday season filled with family, friends and, of course, cookies. 



Here are some of our favorite cookies and treats for this time of year:
















Written by Sherron Watson


            

Monday, December 9, 2013

Peppermint Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies


I love a cookie that melts in  your mouth.   These little morsels of tenderness have a wonderful texture that is soft.   The  buttery flavor reminds me of my grandmothers sugar cookies.  The frosting on top adds a little cloud of fluffiness and to top it off, the peppermint candy bits,  add the right amount of color and flair.

The reason I used these Thin Mint Peppermint Bits is because I made Cookies and Cream Popcorn with mini chocolate filled cookies and decided to throw these in the bowl for flavor and color.  It turned out pretty good.  So, don't fret about using the whole bag because you can easily make both items.


I am excited for the Christmas season in our home. We have a new baby and my parents are coming for a visit.  We have not spent a Christmas with them in 9 years.  My big kids were so little and now they are almost out of the house.

We will fill our home with lots of goodies and these cookies will be at the top of the list.

Enjoy!



Peppermint Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies
{adapted from Taste of Home Quick Cooking, 2009}

Makes 30 small cookies

1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 & 1/4 cup flour, sifted (to make gluten free-use an all purpose gluten free flour blend)
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

*Eggs are not used in this recipe

FROSTING

1 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Crushed Candy Canes or Peppermint Thin Mints

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.  Cream Butter and powdered sugar together in a medium size bowl; add extract and beat well. 

2.  Combine flour and corn starch in a separate bowl. Gradually add to butter/sugar mixture. Mix well. 

3.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Using a small cookie scoop, space cookie scoops two inches apart.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Do not over bake. 


For Frosting:   

1.  Beat cream cheese until its fluffy.

2.  Add powdered sugar, milk, and peppermint extract until smooth.

3.  Spread over cooled cookies and sprinkle with crushed candies.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Romanesco with Browned Butter




Look at this beauty!

Romanesco is something I have never used before and when I walked in to Graul's (our local market) and saw this my daughter and I both reached for it at the same time.  She knows me so well.

I honestly had no idea what it was, what it tasted like or if we would even like it.  My luck it could have easily been the pretty version of durian.  Thank goodness it was not.    They had it listed in the grocery store as "neon broccoli" so we had a small clue as to what it was.

My friend told me it was a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. My family loves both of them and I knew I could use it at home.

But how?

How would I use it: soup, side dish, raw or cooked. It took me a few days to decide on this recipe.  It is nothing fancy but it preserved the look of this beautiful vegetable and allowed us to experience the flavor profile with few distractions.

I served it with my homemade parmesan ranch dressing, some bacon pieces and of course, the browned butter.



We served it similar to how you would serve a wedge salad.  I steamed the whole head and then quartered it.  We ate it for lunch or I should say we devoured our quarter.   At first I thought maybe the wedge was too big for one person to eat.  Lets just say if anyone tried to take a bite from my plate, I would bite them.  The browned butter was heavenly and I just don't share browned butter (mine, mine, mine).  I am joking--sort of?

I used the left over wedge to make some broccoli and cheddar soup.  I found in the soup, it does have a stronger broccoli flavor than regular broccoli (just keep this in mind if you use it in soup).

Please enjoy this simple side dish or Romanesco salad recipe.




Romanesco with Browned Butter


1 large head of romanesco
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
ranch dressing, for dipping
bacon pieces, garnish

Instructions:

1.  Trim romanesco of all green leaves and wash well.

2.  In a pot large enough to steam the romanesco, add 1 inch of water and place a steaming basket  inside.


3.  Turn your oven to medium high and bring to a boil. Add romanesco and steam for 12 minutes.  I like mine soft enough to put a fork into the dark "tree like" parts.  The stem may need a bit more time or this can be removed before serving to your guest or family.

4.  To make the butter, I melted butter in a non stick egg pan (it was the perfect size).  Turned heat to medium and browned the butter.  It took about 5 minutes.   The butter smells nutty and there is brown residue on the bottom of your pan.  Remove from heat.  Be careful to not burn the butter--it will ruin the flavor.

5.  Remove romanesco from steaming pot and quarter.  On a plate, add a pool of brown butter or drizzle the brown butter over the romanesco.  I did a little of both. I served it with a cup of dressing and sprinkled the bacon pieces over the top.







Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pecan Crescent Cookies



Around election time our friends throw a "bologna party". This was the first year that we were invited. We all brought a few of our favorite things and enjoyed each others company.  The bologna sandwiches were amazing.  Iris also made Chicken Matzo Soup!  That was a real treat.

I brought two salads:  Broccoli  Salad and a family favorite,  Pea Salad.   I also wanted to test this recipe with the gluten free flour conversion. I brought a whole plate of these delicious Pecan Crescent Cookies or also known as Rugelach.

When ever I bring something to a party and I am testing a recipe I am always very honest with my friends.  In return, I need them to be very honest with me in their evaluation of the dish.  I don't get offended.  I expect all types of reviews.   After all, we are all different and like different things.

Everyone had rave things to say, but one friend in particular, ate half the pan.  I am not joking.  He could not get enough of this delicate pastry like cookie-gluten free or not.  I am going to take that as a fantastic review of the product--LOL

The only thing I notice to be a bit different in the dough are the layers.  The batch made with all purpose flour definitely had a more flaky texture, but the gluten free version was not far off in texture.

I also noticed that the gluten free dough was a bit different.  You want the dough pliable-not too dry and not too wet.  Do what you need to do to make sure this is the case by adding a drop or two more water if the dough is too crumbly or adding a bit more white rice flour if the dough is too wet.

Like with most pastry like doughs, handle it gently and not too much.

The recipe below is not gluten free.  To make it gluten free I substituted the 2 cups of flour for this conversion:

1 cup of very fine white rice flour (I purchase this from our local asian store)
1 cup tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon xantham gum

**Use the white rice flour to dust your surface and rolling pin.  Use a generous amount--I did.

The last thing I would suggest is to roll the cookies as tight as possible.  Any of the dough (for both versions) that was not rolled tight had a tendency to unroll during baking.  Take your time and you will have a successful batch of delicious cookies.

I can tell you that even if they don't turn out perfect, they still taste really, really good.  I had three piles on my plate--the first batch (not pretty), the second batch (getting better) and the the third (beautiful).  It took me a few rounds to make the perfect rolled up crescent cookie.

I hope that my few tips will help you make the first batch flawless.

Enjoy!


Pecan Crescent Cookies

Makes 36 cookies

*Dough needs to be refrigerated for 2 hours before being used

Easy Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour (for gluten free conversion, see above)
1 cup butter
1 cup cottage cheese

Filling

1/2 cup  butter, softened  
1 1/2cups packed brown sugar
1 cup pecans, chopped small


1.  In medium bowl add flour and butter. Use a pastry blender to blend until crumbly. Stir in cottage cheese. The dough will still be a bit crumbly but it will come together after resting in the refrigerator. Divide dough into thirds; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 hours.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

3.  Remove dough from plastic wrap and knead 4-5 times until dough is well combined. On well-floured surface, roll one part of the dough into 10-12 inch round.

4.  Combine brown sugar and pecans in a small bowl, set aside.

5.  Using a butter knife, spread one third of the butter used for the filling onto rolled out dough. Sprinkle with one-third each of the brown sugar and pecans; lightly press into dough with hands.

6.  Cut each round into quarters. Cut each quarter into 3 wedges. Roll up starting with long end; place, point side down on lined cookie sheets. 

7.  Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned. 

8.  Remove immediately from cookie sheets to cooling racks.  The brown sugar will melt onto the cookie sheet but there is still enough filling to make the cookie quite tasty.


Cool completely.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cranberry and White Chocolate Chip Cookies


Cookies!  We love cookies this time of year and our neighbors do too.

Each year we spend a few days preparing some of our family favorites as well as trying some new recipes.

One thing I miss from my childhood days are the cute Christmas tins that my grandmother would always use for fudge, cookies and treats.  The lids would be difficult to pop off, and as a kid, this was very frustrating, but then again, maybe that was her way of keeping little prying hands out of the "cookie tin".   Once we opened the tin we would fold back the wax paper and find delicate butter cookies or peanut butter fudge.  By the end of the season the tins would be stacked in the basement, the wax paper would be so filled with wrinkles and easily tossed into the trash can with hundred of tiny finger prints layered against the wrinkles of wax.

The older I get the more those memories hold a special place in my heart. I guess because I see my kids in my memory and hope that they will find some traditions that we have established in our family, dear and near to their hearts too.  Cookie tins is a small thing with a large place in my heart.

I love anything with a vintage look and those tins would often have Victorian Christmas scenes.  I think for my grandmother it was a memory of her childhood days of growing up in England.  When she moved to the states she hung on to anything that reminded her of the place she grew up and her ancestry.

This year I want to look for tins to hold our family treats. It won't be a new tradition for my older kids but the little girls may find joy in these tins for their families down the road.

These cookies are easy to make, have a lovely texture -soft on the inside with a crispy, bite on the outside-and the dough can be frozen into uncooked balls to be made at a later date.

Enjoy!


Cranberry and White Chocolate Chip Cookies


Makes 15 large cookies


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

*To make these gluten free use your favorite all purpose gluten free flour and gluten free rolled oats.



Instructions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

2.  In a medium bowl, beat together butter, egg and vanilla until fluffy. 

3.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together by hand until well blended. Dough will be a bit            crumbly.

4.  Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets

5.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges start to brown. Remove to cool on wire racks.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Cookies and Cream Popcorn



Here we are!  Knee deep in holiday fun and craziness.

Last year I made a similar version to this popcorn that was a huge family favorite along with 4 other delicious treats:  Peanut Butter Fudge,  Oreo Chocolate Balls, Pecan Balls and Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars.

This year the kids asked for it again but I decided to throw in a few "EXTRA'S" like the mini Oreo's and the Thin Mint Bits (which are fabulous by the way).

There are several gluten free options for this popcorn recipe.  One, is to not include the Oreo's for obvious reasons or two, buy the gluten free creamed-filled cookies.  I usually buy mine from Whole Foods or in the specialty diet section of most grocery stores.  They don't sell the mini's but the crush up to bite size pieces easy enough.

The reason I like these popcorn recipes is they make great teacher and neighborhood gifts.  I bought these cute boxes at Michael's and they hold about 2-3 cups.  The kids can easily deliver them with out the fret of a plate of cookies ending up in my drive way.

Enjoy this simple recipe.


Cookies and Cream Popcorn

Makes 5-6 cups 

5 cups of popcorn, popped
2 sleeves of chocolate cream filled cookies (gluten free are available at some stores)
1/2 package of white chocolate chips
1 cup of Peppermint candy or Thin Mint Bits


1.  In a large bowl, add your 5 cups of prepared popcorn.  

2.  Crush the chocolate cream filled cookies into small pieces. Add cookies and candy to popcorn.

3.  Melt white chocolate chips in the microwave.  To do this you will need to use a microwavable dish, add chips and heat for 30 seconds, stir, repeat until chocolate is melted completely, about 2 minutes total time.

4.  Pour white chocolate over popcorn/candy/cookie mix.  Using your hands, mix well.  Spread on a cookie sheet to set chocolate.


*Store in air tight containers until ready to serve.

Written by
Sherron Watson

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kid Friendly Cheese Manicotti




My kids love pasta!  What they really love is homemade pasta.  I can't always find the time in my day to whip up a fresh batch of pasta for every meal that requires it <--go figure!  LOL

I buy the organic brand of pasta by Whole Foods.  It is super inexpensive--$1.29 a box.   This is not an ad for Whole Foods it is just where I shop and so they get some free advertising from me.  You're very welcome Whole Foods.

What makes this manicotti kid friendly you ask?  I believe it is the cream cheese.  Isabella devoured a whole pan by herself in about three meals.  She absolutely loved the filling and has since requested this dish many times.  I know this is not a traditional filling but remember I am trying to keep it kid friendly.

I still included the parmesan and ricotta cheeses but the flavor of the cream cheese made this dish a familiar flavor to my six year old.  We eat a lot of cream cheese in our home.  Well, we eat a lot of cheese PERIOD.  

I feel a bit like Martha Stewart at the moment with my manicotti picture.  LOL  I will be honest,  pasta is hard to photograph and this is not the best image but hopefully you will forgive me for sharing the one and only picture I have of this dish.

I promise it is creamy, cheesy and melts in your mouth delicious.

Homemade Pasta

If you wish to make your own pasta, I have a wonderful  Spinach Pasta on the blog.  If you wish to have plain pasta, then visit this pasta making page too with step by step instructions using a pasta rolling machine.

To make this gluten free you will need to use gluten free noodles or make your own gluten free sheet pasta.  I do this all the time and it works perfectly.  Here are several links:






Kid Friendly Cheese Manicotti

Serves:  one pan-6 people
Prep Time:  15 minutes
Bake Time:  25 minutes


12-14 manicotti shells, cooked
1 large jar of marinara sauce or your favorite homemade sauce
1 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened
4 cups grated mozzarella cheese (2 cups for filling/2 cups for topping)
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 15oz. container of ricotta cheese
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons fresh chives, diced small


I made two pans with 7 shells each. I froze one tray for a later lunch or dinner.

Preheat oven to 350.

1.  Prepare shells according to package instructions.

2.  Pour marinara sauce in bottom of pan, enough to cover with a 1/4 inch of sauce. (The amount will vary depending on size of pan you use).

3.  In a medium bowl, combine all of the cheeses, garlic, pepper/salt and chives.  Combine well.

4.  Stuff each shell with cheese and place side by side in the marinara sauce.

5.  Add more marinara across to the top of the stuffed shells, top with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

**To freeze:  Cover with foil.  On the day of baking, remove from freezer and bake at 350 for one hour.  Remove foil half way through baking time. 

30 day shelf life in freezer.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Individual Chicken Pot Pies





For the month of October I was asked to contribute some kid friendly recipes for Capital Style Magazine. This is a local magazine here in Annapolis.  I asked my kids what they would consider "kid friendly" and my husband piped in,  chicken pot pie.

He said that this was a staple in his family and that his brothers, there were six of them, and his only sister, loved chicken pot pie as winter set in during the cold months in Oregon.  The rain in Oregon chills you to the bone; when you are walking from the bus to your door step, something warm for dinner is a great way to warm those chilly bones.

For me, chicken pot pie was always something my Mom bought pre-made in the freezer section when she had to work late.  Don't get me wrong, I loved it too. I didn't know any better and it beat having a bowl of cereal.  I am sure the flavors were a bit different, seeing how one was from scratch and one was store bought, but the same thought went into each: feed the children.  

I have one issue with chicken pot pie--soggy bottom crust.  I know some of you may love this and find it is delightful to your palette.  For me it is just mushy, icky and taste uncooked.  I decided to make my pot pies with no crust on the bottom. Instead I decided to top each one with a layer of pie crust and serve each individual pie with a set of pie crust shaped hearts.  This way the kids could dunk, break them up or eat them solo.  



I have learned a few things about being pregnant and having a baby.  I don't have time to make everything little thing from scratch.  I used to and I want to but the reality is, some days I am lucky to brush my hair and change my spit upon dirty shirt from the day before.  (I know some of you can relate or at least I hope you do).

You will find that I chose to buy a rotisserie chicken and pre-made pie crust.  PLEASE, if you have the time and cook from scratch make these for your pot pies and you will be rewarded with a wonderful treat.  Maybe next year this will happen for me.  (wink,wink)

Time is a juggling act right now.  One day I have lots of spare minutes and the next I have but a few minutes to spare.  When I was younger and over involved with too many obligations, I would get frustrated at this time game.

Not this time.

I treasure the days that I can hold Finnley for hours.  She is my last.  It is so weird looking into her eyes and knowing I have turned a mile stone. No more babies for me.  I am sad.  I take each day with stride and do the best I can.  Homeschooling Isabella takes priority over most things.  Once that is done then I can devote time to the house, laundry and work.

I have to remind myself of a saying that I have found myself saying to others, "there is a time and season; this time with your babies goes by super fast, enjoy it!"  I am taking my advice and enjoying it.

I hope that you find this chicken pot pie delicious.   I was able to make up a few extra and freeze them for use at a later date.

** I have added notations to the recipe to make this gluten free.  Notice instructions in bold.

Individual Chicken Pot Pies

Makes: 6 individual portions
Prep. Time:  20 minutes
Bake Time:  35 minutes (longer if frozen)

Preheat oven to 350.

2 packages of pre-made pie crust (I use a gluten free
pie crust from Pillsbury that is already to go).

For the Filling:

3 cups Rotisserie Chicken meat, diced
1/3 cup shredded carrots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 small yellow potatoes, diced small
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour (use white rice flour if gluten free)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme (optional)
Melted butter, to brush onto pie crust

1.  In a medium bowl combine: chicken pieces, carrots, garlic, yellow potatoes, and frozen peas. Set aside.

2.  In a medium sauce pan, melt butter. Add flour and whisk. Add chicken broth and cream.  Cook on medium until thickened, stirring frequently so the bottom does not burn..  Remove from heat.  Add creamy mixture to meat/veggie bowl.

3.  Using individual ramekins or individual foil pie tins, ladle filling into each one.  Leave 1/2 inch of head space.

4.  Unroll pie crust and cut 6 circles, one inch larger than top of ramekin.  I used a salad plate as my template.  Place pie crust on top of each and crimp crust. With a sharp knife cut three slits for the hot steam to escape.

5.  Brush each top with melted butter (optional).  Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown.

6.  I used the left over pie crust to make hearts (bake according to instructions on box) to be served on the side of each ramekin.


***These freeze really well. Cover with foil, freeze and label for 30 days. To bake, preheat to 350 and bake for 40-45 minutes.  No need to thaw them first.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Easy Black Bean and Sausage Soup



It is finally soup weather in Maryland.  Our family LOVES soup and the truth is we don't really need cold weather to enjoy it in our home.

I needed a quick dinner and canned black beans were eye balling me in the cupboard.  I buy canned beans to have on hand for emergency situations, like when our power goes out for a week or two. Unfortunately it happens more than I would like to say.

The chicken sausages just seemed like the perfect addition once I included them to the black bean soup.

Speaking of perfect additions, I will take this time to share some cute baby pictures of Finnley.  She is a joy to have included in our family.  To see my older children interact with her brings a smile to my face.

I will say though, going anywhere with our clan is weird.  I never imagined myself with four kids and when we go to the mall or out to eat, we are big group; especially when two of our kids are adults.  I wouldn't change it for the world, in fact,  if I were younger I would have another one.


I love my family and kids. To me there is no other job I would prefer to have occupy my time and energy.  I enjoy writing about food and taking pictures of food but I will have lots of time throughout my life time to devote to such things.  My kids are only with us for a very short time.

This soup recipe was shared in Capital Style Magazine and so I shot this ingredient picture.  I love that the recipe is simple, healthy and taste like a gourmet bowl of deliciousness-rich, thick and full of flavor.




Easy Black Bean and Sausage Soup

Servings: 4-6 bowls
Prep. Time:  10 minutes
Cook Time:  1 hour

2-15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 -16 oz cans of chicken broth
1 pound of smoked ham hocks (usually two hocks)
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 Chicken and Cilantro Sausage Links (optional)
3 cups of prepared rice (optional)
Toppings:  diced tomato, avocado, sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro

1.  In a large pot add the first 9 ingredients.

2.  Bring soup to a boil and then let simmer for 1 hour.  The soup will thicken, veggies will cook and any meat on the ham hock will fall off.

3.  Remove ham hock bones.  Using a potato masher, mash soup a few times.

4.  In a sauté pan, heat a small amount of oil.  Slice the chicken cilantro sausages and fry on each side.  Add to the soup.  Serve.


**To stretch the soup, it can be served over rice.  Top the soup with your favorite toppings.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing



Have you missed me?  I missed you very much and I hope to be back on a regular schedule of sharing recipes and updates a little more frequently than I have this past year.

I have been a little busy with Finnley and family.  Our little bundle of joy arrived 3 weeks early and she is such a joy to have in our lives.  With each child I always wonder if I will have enough... enough love and time, to share with one more little person.  I am amazed at how the universe seems to make room in your life for both--time and love--to be shared in abundance.



I had been on bed rest for the prior two weeks due to pre-eclampsia.  I was ready to have Finnley with our family at home in our arms.  On Thursday (9-19) I went to the doctor and with my current high blood pressure symptoms they told me I needed to be back at the hospital at 5pm--we were having a baby!

I thought I was ready--and I was--but then I felt not ready...LOL For a brief moment I was scared, nervous and excited all at the same time. I just wanted to hold her in my arms and kiss her sweet cheeks. I wanted to know that everything was okay. I needed to hear her cry and feel her next to me.

14 hours later she came into the world and we were all thrilled. She weighed 6lbs. 2 oz. and measured 18 inches long. Her little legs never stopped kicking--just like when she was inside of me. The nurses all joked that she might be a soccer player or dancer.

I stayed in the hospital for two days and came home full of energy. With the help of my hubby and older kids we have managed to get plenty of sleep and rest. I am anxious to get back to a schedule and start exercising again.


I gained 23 pounds during this pregnancy and have lost most of it...I am down to the final 8 pounds.  I have to think that my gluten free diet helped with the weight gain and also with the weight loss after she was born.  My other pregnancies I gained 50 pounds and it took me a long time to drop the weight.





One thing that I have been better about this time around is drinking lots of water. I have also increased the amount of vegetables and protein that I am eating.  I still indulge in a gluten free snack or treat once in a while but only on rare occasions.

My Mom makes a wonderful warm spinach salad with bacon dressing that I remember as a young adult. She still makes this for special occasions. Well, I think this is a special occasion and I made it this past week. I added a few of my own additions, like the apple pieces and toasted almond slivers, but that is because I wanted to add some crunch and a bit of sweetness to the tart dressing.

I want to say thank you to everyone that has continued to support this blog and follow along the past two years.  It has been a joy to share recipes, memories and photographs with each of you.  I will do my best to keep posting but my number one priority is and will always be my family.  This precious time I have with my new baby will go by so fast that I want to cherish each moment, each smell, every kiss and sweet smile that she choses to share with me.  



Recipe:  Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

1 Large container of spinach
3 hard boiled eggs, diced small or sliced
6 slices of bacon, diced and fried
1/4 cup of red onion, chopped small
1 small red apple, chopped small
1/4 cup toasted almonds or pecans

Dressing:

grease of fried bacon
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons of honey
salt and pepper to taste

Have bacon fried and eggs boiled.

In a large skillet with the bacon grease and heat turned off, add the dressing ingredients. With a whisk, blend well.  If the bacon grease has become solid, then warm until just melted.  When the grease gets too hot it will wilt your spinach.  The flavor will be the same but presentation may not be appealing.

 You want the dressing warm, not hot.

Right before you are ready to serve, toss the spinach with the warm dressing. It takes just a minute for the dressing and bacon dressing to be tossed together.  Do not turn the heat on for this or you will end up sautéing your salad.

Add the remaining ingredients to your salad and serve immediately.






Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gluten Free Chocolate Cookies

This is my favorite spatula and the handle is broken. My family has been threatened more times than I like to admit about the consequences of throwing this away.  I love the metal paddle because it is perfect for cookies and pancakes.  My biggest fear is when guest come and help with the dishes--they always want to trash this precious kitchen tool.

Have you missed me?  I have missed you.  My life seems to be moving without much time to breathe or slow down.  Summer schedules have taken over my life with running two teenagers to work and back and chauffeuring Isabella to her many camps, classes and play dates.

Making a baby is tiring, exhausting to be exact.  I know it sounds like an excuse to nap all day but I am sure feeling (kicking and all) the process this time around.

My taste buds are all off. I am still cooking and trying to stay active in the kitchen but  I will be the first to admit that we have eaten out way too often over the last few months.  I have spent time remaking the recipes on the blog to "test" them one more time.  My family has enjoyed revisiting some of their favorite meals without wondering what "new" cooking experience they will encounter at the dinner table each night.  LOL

When I sit in front of my keyboard I don't know what to write--baby brain, I guess.  I have felt a waves of emotion, thoughts and ideas over the last 6 months but, to be honest, they have been challenging thoughts.

Thoughts that have brought me down at times, made me question a few things, had me in tears other times and down right depressing.  I don't like to write about these things but maybe I should---who knows.

I was recently told that I like my life to be "fairy gardens" and " cat pictures".  This was in response to me unfriending  someone on Facebook.  I was accused of not wanting to have adult conversations.  I laughed.  This person did not know me and her statements were purely her opinions based on my personal Facebook updates.  In part she is right--I do like my life to be filled with things that make me smile, cheer others up and share a positive message.  My childhood was rough--it sucked to be quite honest.  I became who I am because of those challenges and have chosen to become someone better because of it and not let those things define me.  I don't want to be bitter, upset, a victim or focus on negative things.  I choose to see life with a smile, peace in my heart and with an abundance of joy towards other.  I spent most of my youth worrying about the opinions of others and letting fear be my beacon.  I have not lived this way for a very long time and don't intend to go back to that lifestyle--EVER.  For this reason, I have found myself in a place of not wanting to write my true feelings in blog post and updates.  I have waited for the time when I felt good and my thoughts were not percolating with random ideas.  Sometimes we need the time to refocus and regenerate ourselves to a higher place.  These past few months were necessary for me to slow down and regroup.  I find that if I listen to the small inner voice and accept the council it pays off in the end--I did and I feel good.


I am starting my 7th month of pregnancy and still have only bought a handful of items.  I am not sure if this is normal or not with your fourth child.

My Mom is shocked and might even be a bit worried for her latest grandchild.  I honestly don't feel the rush like I did when I was 28 with my first baby to have the nursery complete.  Finnley (her name) will be our fourth child and I am pretty sure I know how to do this.  The first few months she will eat, sleep and dirty a diaper or two.

Her needs will be simple and I want to keep things simple for myself too.   I don't want to over spend on all of the things that we will use for a month or two and then have to store.  Our home is small and I am trying to be very particular about the items I bring into our house, after all, they will be a part of the furnishings for a while.

Our goal of living on the road in two years is still in the planning stages.  We have already done this once and I know that many of the things we purchase now will be sold later at a huge estate sale.  I am shopping consignment stores and yard sales.  Doing it this way takes more time because it has to be safe, the right price and in good shape.  I like looking for the perfect deal.  We will be buying two things brand new though: a car seat and crib (and no I have not bought either of them yet--LOL)



If it sounds like I am rambling, it is probably because I am.  I have a lot to say but don't want to bore you with all of the details so I will get to the recipe of these soft and chocolaty cookies.

I make these for my family when we need a quick "cocoa" fix.  They are cake-like and make the perfect dunking cookie.  Oh yeah--it helps that you check if you have milk before you make them.  LOL  My kids were so mad the last time because our milk bottles were empty.  How can you eat cookies without an ice cold glass of milk?

An emergency store run was made and the troops were once again happy.  I hope you enjoy this snippet into my life over the last few months and I will try to be better about keeping the blog up to date with recipes and updates on family, travel and Finnley.


Recipe: Gluten Free Chocolate Cookies
Makes 24-30 cookies depending on cookie scoop used.

1/2 cup almond meal (purchased at Traders Joe or make yourself)
1/4 cup tapioca starch (can also be called flour)
1/4 cup super fine white rice flour (purchased at Asian market)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
7 tablespoons butter, soft
1 large egg
2 teaspoons coffee grounds ( I use the grounds from one of my Keurig cups)
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl combine all of the dry ingredients and whisk to blend.

In a medium bowl add butter and sugar, beat until butter is light yellow in color.  Add coffee grounds, egg and milk.  Combine well.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.

Using a cookie scoop, space cookies 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Bake 7-9 minutes.

Transfer to a cooking wire rack.  Serve while still warm or store in a sealed container for later.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Music, Coffee and Buckwheat Pancakes: A great way to start your day!


As I sat watching my daughter's gymnastic practice a few weeks ago, a friend decided to join me.  We started talking about our week and I casually mentioned to her, "Do you remember how that coffee jingle from when we were kids went, you know the one...'the best part about waking up...'?"
She immediately finished the song, "...is Folgers in your cup."  Her reply was instant and brought a smile to both of our faces.  We both agreed that it was a jingle we would know for the rest of our lives. It was part of our childhood.
I grew up with this jingle and Folgers coffee in our home.  A vivid memory for me is the can.  We used those huge cans for everything around the yard and in the garage.  Red cans filled with tools, nails, working gloves and potted plants. My grandmother never wasted a thing.
Today, in my own home, those cans have turned into cute cups.  Cups that I can easily pop into my modern coffee machine push a button and in a minute have a variety of flavors with each new cup.  I typically drink one cup of coffee every morning.  The aroma that fills my home when my husband comes downstairs and starts his cup of coffee is too tempting for me to stay in bed.  I do love my coffee.  It starts my day and before I even take my first sip, the smell brings a smile to my face.
Our kids are night owls and with this comes a few perks,  the hubby and I get to spend our mornings together eating breakfast and enjoying each other's company before our busy day gets started.  We both work from home, have three very active kids and one on the way.  Our time each day is spent juggling life's activities and parenting two teenagers and a six year old. We cherish this quality time that we have together. Some days we get 30 minutes to eat our breakfast and sip our coffee and other days it is a brief 5 minutes before we hear the pitter patter of little feet.
Our six year old wakes up happy every single day singing a tune.  She comes downstairs and turns the radio on without fail.  My kitchen has always had a radio.  Music is an important part of our family.  My husband loves to write his own music, I play the flute and our kids play a variety of instruments. 
One thing that I am proud of is the music in our home is not just one genre. We really do love it all and find that some days we listen to rock-n-roll and other days it is classical.   When I visited Folgers page and listened to the top 10 finalists I was amazed by the talent, the musical genius of the artist and how they were able to bring the catchy phrase of "breakfast in your cup" into the modern day.  I was really blown away!   Music does warm the heart and brightens each day.
Starting each morning with a good breakfast, warm smiles, music and a fresh cup of Folgers coffee is a great way to begin our day. I have included a recipe below for one of our favorite breakfast foods, buckwheat pancakes.  Our morning routine hasn't changed much over the years and I am sure that my own kids will carry on this tradition as they begin their own lives and families. 
I am excited to help spread the word for Folgers Coffee about their Jingle Contest.  They have found 10 finalist and you can follow the Road to the Jingle on Facebook to see how they traveled the U.S. to track down the Top 10 contestants!
Take a look at the Folgers® Jingle Contest Finalists, and listen to the tracks that earned them a spot in The Top 10. Cast your vote once every day through June 19th. You could win exciting prizes, like free Folgers Coffee, iTunes® gift cards, signed CDs from Gavin DeGraw, and even a $10,000 Grand Prize just for voting! Click here for official rules.
Disclosure: I was recently asked by Folgers to create a post about our morning routine and the influence music has in our lives.  All of the thoughts above are my own and given from an honest perspective and love for this product. 


Recipe:  Buckwheat Pancakes
Makes a large batch: 30 (3 inch) pancakes

3 cups buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons real maple syrup
3 1/2 cups of milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs, separated
1/2-1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk together well.

In a medium bowl, add egg whites and whip until soft peaks form.

Add the wet ingredients (milk, egg yolks, syrup and melted butter) to dry ingredients.  Mix well.

Fold in egg whites and gently combine.

On a heated grill, add butter to season surface.

Using a small ladle, add each pancake.  Cook until lightly brown and air bubbles appear on top of the pancake.  Flip and continue cooking.

Remove and serve with your favorite topping: syrup, molasses, jelly or jam.

Store any leftovers in a sealed container or baggie in the refrigerator for 5 days. May be frozen too.

2017 Spring Break in Portland,OR-LINKS, IDEAS, and PICTURES

This year we have decided to stick around Oregon for our vacations. Our first stop was Portland, OR. This is a place that Cory and I ...