Peanut Butter Polka Dot Bars

These Peanut Butter Polka Dot Bars make a pretty addition to a fall party table because of their seasonal colors, and they entwine the flavors of peanut butter and chocolate, always a winning combination. The best feature of these bars, in my opinion, is the wonderful creamy chocolate FILLING right in the middle between the chewy crust and the crunchy candy pieces.

The recipe is from my cookbook the Hershey's Recipe Collection. This is a favorite dessert cookbook of mine.

Peanut Butter Polka Dot Bars
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate filling (recipe follows)
1 (10 ounce) package (1 1/2 cups) Reese's mini pieces candies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter, peanut butter and brown sugar until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla, beat thoroughly. Stir together oats, flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture. (Dough will be thick) Remove 2 cups of dough; set aside. Press remaining dough onto bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2- inch baking pan.
Prepare Chocolate Filling. Spread filling evenly over dough. Crumble half of reserved dough evenly over filling. Sprinkle Reese's candy pieces next, then crumble the remainder of the reserved dough over the candy.
Bake for 25 minutes or until top is golden brown. (Chocolate will be soft.) Cool completely in pan on wire rack; cut into bars. Makes about 24 bars.

Chocolate Filling
Melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter in saucepan over low heat. Stir in 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/3 cup sugar. Add 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk; cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thick. Remove from heat; stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

After reserving 2 cups of the dough, press the rest of the dough in the bottom of a 13 x 9- inch baking pan. This pastry roller is a handy tool to help smooth out the dough for a crust like this.

Spread the chocolate filling over the dough.

Crumble half the reserved dough over the chocolate filling, then sprinkle with Reese's mini pieces. Sprinkle the remaining dough over the top. Bake for 25 minutes.

Let cool before cutting into 24 bars.

These bars are crunchy, chewy, and gooey, and the chocolate filling is unbelievable.


Green Beans with Caramelized Onions

Probably about ten years ago a teacher friend and I were discussing side dishes for Thanksgiving, and she told me that her family always requested these Green Beans with Caramelized Onions. She gave me the recipe, and I made it that year for my family at Thanksgiving, and it has often been requested at my house ever since. This is a very easy recipe that doesn't require any great cooking skills. If you can operate a can opener, you're on your way with this one.

Green Beans with Caramelized Onions
4 or 5 (14.5 ounce each) cans whole green beans
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 - 10 slices cooked bacon
Salt and pepper to taste

Drain most of the liquid off the green beans, reserving only about 1/2 cup liquid. Bring green beans to a boil in a large pot, then turn down to a low simmer. Saute onion in bacon grease (or olive oil) until tender, then add brown sugar to onion. Cook and stir on low heat until sugar and onion begin to caramelize. Pour the onion and sugar mixture into the simmering beans. Crumble bacon into the beans, add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few more minutes.

Saute the onions until tender.

Cook and stir the onions and sugar over low heat until caramelized, then pour this mixture into the simmering beans along with the crumbled bacon.

There are two things that I do a little differently from the original recipe as it was given to me. The original recipe called for 1 cup of brown sugar. I have cut that down to 1/2 cup, but if you want your beans sweeter, you may want to add more brown sugar. Also, after adding the onions, sugar, and bacon, I simmer the beans for a short while, but the original recipe indicated to simmer for 1 hour, so however you decide to prepare these beans, I think your family will love them.

They might even forget they are eating a vegetable.


Savage Chili

When the weather turns cool a bowl of chili is one of my favorite meals. Savage Chili is a recipe I have been making at my house for several years because it is easy to put together and super delicious. This recipe has been adapted from the cookbook Winning Recipes for Tailgating, a cookbook that was compiled by the Winston Cup racing wives auxiliary. I received the cookbook as a gift from a golf tournament my husband was playing in, and this has been a super cookbook. Now and then my husband even gets the cookbook out and makes the chili himself.

Savage Chili
1 pound ground round
1 pound pork sausage
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (10 ounce) can Rotel tomatoes
1 (4 ounce) can green chiles
1 (16 ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cilantro

In a dutch oven, brown ground round, sausage, onions, and bell peppers; drain. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, Rotel tomatoes, green chiles, and kidney beans; mix well. Stir in chili powder, pepper, salt, garlic powder, mustard, cumin, and cilantro. Cover, turn the heat low, and simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

Start by browning the ground round and pork sausage with the onions and the red and green bell peppers, then drain.

I like to assemble all the spices together and add them all at once.

Give everything a good stir to mix together well.

Put the lid on the dutch oven and simmer on low for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

This recipe can also be made in a crockpot by combining all ingredients after browning the ground beef,  sausage, onions, and peppers.

After it simmers and blends those delicious flavors, serve it up.

Top with shredded cheddar or sour cream, if desired, and serve with some Cheesy Cocktail Muffins for a great meal.

You can vote for Savage Chili every time you visit the Texas Star Chili Cook Off and click on Savage Chili.

Miz Helen’s Country Cottage


Cheesy Cocktail Muffins

Our weather was cool and damp in northeast Arkansas today, perfect for a bowl of Savage Chili, so I paired it with a new muffin recipe. When my friend Bonnie gave me this recipe she told me that at her house they enjoyed these Cheesy Cocktail Muffins with soup or chili, so I had been waiting for the summer heat to ease up so I could make some fall fare with these little muffins.

Cheesy Cocktail Muffins
1 3/4 cups butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onions
Fresh jalapeno pepper (to taste), finely chopped and seeded (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Melt the butter over low heat. Slowly add cheese until melted (about 2 minutes). Stir in sour cream, then add flour; mix well. Stir in chives or green onions and jalapeno pepper. Fill ungreased mini muffin pan cups 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Pop out of muffin pan. Makes about 48 mini muffins.

I used 1/2 of a  chopped jalapeno pepper in my muffins, and it was not too hot for me, it fact, next time I think I'll add the whole pepper.

These little muffins have a lot of flavor packed into the tiny bites with sour cream, cheddar, green onion, and jalapeño pepper. Thanks, Bonnie, for a great recipe, these Cheesy Cocktail Muffins were perfect with the chili.


Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

The dessert that I made today is from a recipe in my cookbook 500 Cupcakes. I could hardly wait to get these finished today. When I opened the oven to take out the cupcakes I could smell the mint mingled with the chocolate.

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
4 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
4 eggs
1 teaspoon mint extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate mini chips

1/3 cup (2/3 stick) butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon mint extract
green food coloring
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate mini chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place 18 paper baking cups into muffin pans. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Set aside. Beat the sugar and butter together in a large bowl until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture gradually, stirring until well combined. Stir in the mint extract and chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking cups. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pans from the oven and cool for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes to a cooling rack.
To make the frosting, beat the butter and confectioners' sugar in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. Stir in the mint extract and just enough food coloring to turn the frosting a mint green. Frost the cupcakes and decorate with chocolate chips.

Cool the cupcakes before frosting. This frosting has a very thick consistency.  It seemed too stiff to pipe through a decorator tip, so I just spread it on with a spatula.

The mint and chocolate made a tasty combination in these cupcakes.


Halloween Cake Pops

I have looked at Bakerella's cake pops with awe for quite some time now, and finally decided it was time to see if I could put some of those little treats together. The way she makes them is truly a work of art. Mine are more of a fun Halloween project. The general recipe and directions that I used came from the Pioneer Woman Cooks.

 Print Directions
Halloween Cake Pops
1 box (18.25 ounces) red velvet cake mix
1 can (16 ounces) cake frosting (any flavor you like)
2 bags (14 ounces each) melting chocolate (any color or combination of colors)
1 bag lollipop sticks
various tubes frosting or gel icing or sprinkles, if desired

Bake cake according to package directions, using a 9 x 13-inch pan. Allow to cool completely. After the cake is cooled, crumble the cake into a large bowl until the cake is in very fine crumbs. Use about 3/4 of the can of frosting, and using two forks, work the frosting into the cake crumbs until the frosting is no longer visible. Next, roll the mixture into small balls about the size of a walnut. A small cookie dough scoop can help get them the same size. Put the balls on a wax paper lined sheet pan and put them in the freezer for at least an hour.
After the cake balls are firm, melt the chocolate pieces in a double boiler. Working with only a few cake balls at a time, insert a lollipop stick into the cake ball and either dip it in the chocolate or spoon the chocolate over it until it is well coated. Lay the coated cake pops down on wax paper to harden. If using sprinkles, add those immediately after dipping. After the chocolate has hardened the cake pops can be decorated with gel or frosting as desired.

After the cake has cooled, finely crumble it in a large bowl.

Stir the frosting into the crumbled cake using two forks, working it in until the frosting is no longer visible.

A cookie dough scoop helps to measure the cake so the balls can be rolled about the same size.

Put the cake balls in the freezer for an hour before dipping.

Insert the lollipop sticks and dip the cake balls in the melted candy coating. Lay them on wax paper to dry.

Decorate any way you like.

My favorites were the green Halloween guys with sprinkles for hair.

Add a cellophane bag and a ribbon for a party treat. For more ideas see Halloween Cake Pops II.


Glorious Morning Muffins

Sometimes I spend a lot of time looking at my cookbooks and cooking magazines trying to decide which recipe I want to make next, but I didn't have to search far to find today's Glorious Morning Muffin recipe. One day as I was throwing away an empty Gold Medal unbleached flour bag, this recipe caught my eye. It was printed on the back of the package, so I cut it out, saved it, and it's now a favorite recipe.

This recipe has some wonderful ingredients. You won't believe all the goodness that goes into these muffins.

In addition to the regular ingredients these muffins contain carrots, apples, raisins, coconut, and sliced almonds. That's a lot of good munching.

Glorious Morning Muffins
2 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (2 to 3 medium)
1 cup shredded peeled apple
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup sliced almonds, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper baking cups in each of 18 regular-size muffin cups, or grease with shortening or cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla with wire whisk until well blended. Add flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in carrots, apple, coconut, raisins and 1/2 cup of the almonds.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup almonds over batter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan.

This recipe makes a big batch of 18 muffins. The last muffin recipe I baked and posted about was a good fruit-filled recipe, Apricot-Pineapple Muffins. Those muffins had a great taste, but weren't very pretty.

These Glorious Morning Muffins are a favorite of mine because they have both a great taste and a nice presentation.


Great Pumpkin Cake

Someone may have to take my new Kraft Philadelphia Classic Recipes cookbook away from me. I have so many pages marked to try, and I want to try them all at once. I chose a seasonal one today, and I had a great time baking the Great Pumpkin Cake.

Great Pumpkin Cake
1 package (18.25 ounces) cake mix, any flavor
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
Wilton orange and leaf green icing colors
1 ice cream cone

Prepare cake batter and bake in a 12-cup fluted tube pan as directed on package. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack; remove pan. Cool cake completely.
Meanwhile, beat cream cheese and butter in medium bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until well blended after each addition. Remove 1/2 cup of the frosting; place in a small bowl. Add green food coloring; stir until well blended. Spread half the green frosting onto outside of ice cream cone; set aside. Cover and reserve remaining green frosting for later use.
Add orange food coloring to remaining white frosting; stir until well blended. Spread onto cake to resemble pumpkin. Invert ice cream cone in hole in top of cake for the pumpkin's stem. Pipe the reserved green frosting in vertical lines down side of cake.

The mix I used was a Duncan Hines butter golden cake. I put my cake in the freezer for a while before I frosted it.

Frost the ice cream cone with the green frosting, then frost the cake with the orange-tinted frosting. I used a #3 tip to make the green lines down the sides of the pumpkin. The frosted ice cream cone should be inserted upside down into the hole in the center of the cake to represent the stem.

Here's the Great Pumpkin Cake right out of the pumpkin patch. Add this cake to the Creepy Popcorn Hands for part of your Halloween party menu.


Creepy Popcorn Hands

This treat is a popular one with school kids at the Fall Festival. Last year I made a big basketful of these Creepy Popcorn Hands and they were sold in the "Country Store" at the Fall Festival. These are also a cute and quick project to put together for parties, bake sales, or class treats. With only a few ingredients and a little time, you can easily make Creepy Popcorn Hands, too.

Creepy Popcorn Hands 

1. Assemble supplies you will need - plastic food service gloves, popcorn, candy corn, ribbon, and spider rings.
2. Pop the popcorn, either microwave popcorn or the old fashioned way, it's up to you.
3. Insert one candy corn at the end of each finger to represent fingernails, then begin to stuff the plastic glove with popcorn.
4. After the glove is full of popcorn, tie some colorful ribbon at the top to close it.
5. Last, put a plastic spider ring on one of the fingers and you are done.

Be sure to get this flat style of food service gloves - NOT latex gloves - to make your Creepy Popcorn Hands.



Rocky Road Cheesecake

This delicious Rocky Road Cheesecake has it all -  chocolate, peanuts, marshmallows - and it's a no-bake version. It took practically no time to put this pie together this morning and get it into the refrigerator to chill.

The recipe for this pie comes from Kraft Philadelphia Classic Recipes cookbook. I found this cookbook filled exclusively with cream cheese recipes at a school book fair. No matter how old I get, I always look forward to the book fairs at school. I love helping the kids shop for books, and I seldom leave without something for myself, too.

Rocky Road Cheesecake
3 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate, divided
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 cups thawed Cool Whip whipped topping
3/4 cup miniature marshmallows
1/3 cup chopped cocktail peanuts
1 Oreo pie crust (6 ounces)

Microwave 1 of the chocolate squares in a small microwaveable bowl on HIGH 1 minute; stir until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside. Beat cream cheese, sugar, and milk in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add melted chocolate; mix well. Gently stir in whipped topping, marshmallows, and peanuts. Coarsely chop remaining 2 chocolate squares; stir into cream cheese mixture. Spoon into crust. Refrigerate 4 hours or until set. Garnish as desired. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.

I sprinkled the top of the pie with chocolate jimmies, then chilled before serving. Top with a little Cool Whip and serve.


Apricot-Pineapple Muffins

On Friday I was in Little Rock celebrating Grandparents' Day by having lunch at school with Ginger and Charlie. I also spent the night with them so their parents could go out to eat and go to a movie. That evening the children and I baked some fruit-filled muffins. These Apricot-Pineapple Muffins are not going to win any beauty contests, but they rank high in the taste category. The recipe is from the Busy Woman's Quick and Easy Recipes cookbook.

Apricot-Pineapple Muffins
1/3 cup very finely cut dried apricots
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a muffin pan by spraying with nonstick cooking spray or use paper liners. With a mixer, cream butter and sugar; add egg and pineapple and beat well. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and oats; mix well. Fold in apricots. Spoon into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

Bake muffins for 20 minutes.

These muffins may look pretty plain on the outside . . .

. . . but with the oats, apricots, and pineapple, there's a lot going on inside these muffins.


Buffalo Hot Wings

Buffalo Hot Wings make a great appetizer, but at my house we make a meal of them. My daughter first discovered this recipe in one of her cookbooks then passed it on to me. These are so spicy good and much better than any take-out wings you'll find. I like to add celery sticks and ranch dressing for dipping. Serve these when friends are over or any time.

 Recipe from Southern Living Annual Recipes 2003

Print Recipe

Buffalo Hot Wings
3 pounds chicken wings
2 (0.60 ounce) envelopes Italian salad dressing mix, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/2 to 3/4 cup hot sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried Basil
Ranch dressing, for dipping

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Cut off wingtips, and discard; cut wings in half at joint, if desired. Place 1 package salad dressing mix in a large zip-top plastic bag; add wings, and shake to coat. Place wings in a single layer on prepared foil-lined pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until browned. Remove pan from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees F.
Stir together the remaining package of salad dressing mix, butter, hot sauce, lemon juice, and Basil. Pour over wings; bake for 30 more minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with Ranch dressing. Makes 4 - 6 servings.

A few of the ingredients used in this recipe taking a bow.

Use one envelope of the Italian dressing mix to coat the chicken wings by shaking together in a zip-top bag, then place the wings in a single layer on a foil-lined sheet pan.

After baking for about 25 minutes, remove from the oven, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and add the sauce. 

The recipe says to pour the sauce over the wings, but I like to brush mine on. Either way works.

After all the wings are covered in sauce, put them back in the oven for 30 more minutes.

Hot, spicy, and delicious.