Christmas Brownies

This is the time of year that I sometimes meet myself coming and going. Because of all that I need to get done, I look for ways to keep things as simple as possible. One example of keeping things simple is these Christmas brownies.

With just a little extra effort a plain brownie can be made fancy enough for a holiday tray.

Use your favorite basic brownie recipe, or simplify like I did and use a brownie mix. I baked two 9 x 13-inch pans of brownies, then cut them into 2 x 3-inch pieces.

I used green Wilton candy melts, mini M & M's in red and green, and regular M & M's in yellow. I used a squeeze bottle to apply the candy melts.

On each brownie I applied a line shape to resemble a Christmas tree.

For each brownie, I used 3 red and 3 green mini M & M's on the tree and one yellow M & M on the top of the tree. 

The candy melts dry quickly and hold the M & M's in place, so these brownies are also suitable for packaging.


Mission Organization: Week 47 - Cleaning the Oven Door

We had a great Thanksgiving at our house this year with all the children and grandchildren and some family friends. I did my best to use mise en place in the preparations so that I could get it all together a little easier this year. The usual family favorites were on the menu, as well as one new recipe that I tried. I made a Southern Living Sweet Potato Casserole, and it will now be a regular Thanksgiving dish. Too bad I didn't get pictures of it for a post, but I'll have my camera ready next time. If you have ever been the "designated cook" for a holiday meal, then you already know how much planning has to go into efficiently rotating the various dishes through the oven. It's kind of like a relay event because the casseroles have to be grouped by oven temperature, then various timers set, then the oven temperature adjusted for the next round, and more timers set, and on and on until the last pie is baked. Amazingly, everything turned out great. There were no disasters this year unless you count the oven door.

By Friday this was the look my glass oven door was sporting! It wasn't only the Thanksgiving meal preparation that caused it to look this bad, because it's a rare day that my oven is not used. But man, did it ever need to be cleaned now! I really hate using oven cleaners, so I took the advice at DIY Home Sweet Home and let baking soda do the work for me.

I used to only buy baking soda in small boxes for baking purposes, but I have found it to be it so useful I now also buy the large size for cleaning purposes.

For the oven door project, I used about a half cup of baking soda mixed with enough water to make a paste about the consistency of pancake batter. 

Using one of my kitchen brushes, I spread the paste all over the dirty glass of the oven door.

Once I had it all covered well, I set the timer for 20 minutes, then went to play on Pinterest while the baking soda did the work. If you have more pinning to do, you might want to leave it as long as 30 minutes.

After 20 minutes I used a warm wet cloth to wipe away the paste and the mess! 

Rinse the cloth out several times until everything is wiped away, then use a dry cloth or paper towels to dry the glass.

I now have a nice clean oven door ready for more baking, and baking soda made it such an easy, fuss-free cleaning method!


Sweetened Condensed Milk Pound Cake

Pound Cake has always been a favorite of mine because it is such a versatile dessert. Some pudding and sliced fruit will turn an ordinary pound cake into a fancy Trifle, or some strawberries and whipped cream can transform a pound cake into a Strawberry Shortcake. I might have even had pound cake once with coffee for breakfast, but don't tell.

I have several different pound cake recipes that I like, but I came across a recipe for a Sweetened Condensed Milk Pound Cake, and I just knew it would be something special. I'm adding this one to my keepers collection.

Recipe adapted from Food.com

Sweetened Condensed Milk Pound Cake

1 1/4 cups butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 can (12 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
6 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a Bundt pan by spraying with a non-stick cooking spray with flour (like Baker's Joy). In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture one cup at a time, mixing until blended well. Add vanilla extract, mix until blended.

Spoon cake batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until cake tests done. During the last 30 minutes of baking time, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the cake to prevent over browning. Allow cake to cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan.

A can of sweetened condensed milk is the ingredient that sets this recipe apart.

You can top this pound cake with whipped cream, ice cream, or fruit of any kind, but it's our secret if you have it plain for breakfast with a cup of coffee!


Mission Organization: Week 46 - A DIY Jewelry Rack

Most of my jewelry stays neatly organized in its jewelry box or stashed away in dresser drawers, but some of my jewelry always seems to be tossed on the bathroom counter. I don't know why I have the bad habit of taking off the jewelry that I frequently wear and laying it aside so carelessly. It makes my bathroom counter look cluttered, and the jewelry is put in the dangerous and precarious position of getting knocked in the sink and down the drain! The logical solution to this problem would be to always put the pieces of jewelry back where they belong when I take them off, but somehow I know that I most likely won't always follow through with the logical solution. I decided to make myself an alternative place for those commonly worn pieces of jewelry to "hang out" when I took them off at night.

I've seen jewelry racks made from a wide range of items including rakes and kitchen graters. Since don't have a spare rake or grater, I looked for something else that I could repurpose.

Far, far back in a cabinet I found this mug tree that hadn't been used in a very long time. I think this mug tree could be just as useful for holding jewelry as it once was for holding coffee mugs.

I dusted it off and used some leftover hammered copper spray paint to give it a new look.

I like the metallic effect of the hammered copper paint. This project was complete as soon as the paint was dry. I rescued the items from my countertop and hung them on the arms, and I must say it works quite well. Maybe I need to look again in that cabinet and see what else I have stashed there that I can repurpose.

And don't forget, there's only a few more days left to enter the giveaway for the P. Allen Smith Christmas wreath! Last day to enter is November 22, 2012.


Acorn Kisses

Although most people I know love and appreciate good food, not everyone I know likes to cook. In fact, one could even go so far as to say that the world is divided into two groups - those who truly love to cook and those who simply wish they never had to cook again. Thanksgiving makes the first group giddy just planning the menu, but the second group really has better things to do than pull raw giblets out of turkey cavities. Just in case you are in the second group, and you have been assigned to bring something to the family gathering for Thanksgiving Day, I have a recipe for you, guaranteed to be hit. These goodies do not require you to turn on an oven, to set a timer, or to use a mixer. The toughest skill required here is to be able to unwrap a package of Hershey's kisses.

I have seen different versions of these Acorn Kisses from several other sources. Most of them are made with either Nutter Butter Bites or Vanilla Wafer Bites. I couldn't make mine with either of those ingredients because one of my grandchildren has an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. Reading labels closely is a requirement when a family member has a serious allergy. Not even all brands of chocolate chips or canned frostings are safe for a person with a peanut allergy. I looked for alternative ingredients for my little Acorn Kisses so they would be safe for the whole family.

Acorn Kisses

1 (12 pack) Mini Fudge Stripe Cookies
1 package (19.75 ounce) Hershey's Kisses 
1 tub (16 ounce) chocolate frosting
1 package (12 ounce) chocolate chips
Frosting bag with #4 tip

Unwrap the Hershey's Kisses. Pipe a small amount of frosting onto the flat top of a Hershey's Kiss, then place a cookie, flat side down, on top of the frosting. Pipe a small blob of frosting in the center of the cookie top, then place a chocolate chip on top of the frosting. Let the frosting dry, or to speed it up chill the acorns in the refrigerator.


I set up an assembly line of ingredients - bowls of chocolate chips, unwrapped Kisses, cookies, and a bag of chocolate frosting. I had about a bazillion of these goodies made in no time.

Since I made so many, I decided to use some of them as a classroom treat at my grandson's school. I bagged up a basketful for the second grade class to enjoy during their milk break tomorrow.

Whether or not you are a person who likes to cook, this might be a treat you'll want to make for your Thanksgiving dessert table. Acorn Kisses are super easy and very yummy. Some assembly required.


Harvest Time Door Decor

As soon as Halloween was gone it was time to change out the door decor, so I did away with all my creepy spiders and moved on to something more appropriate for the fall season. There's not much time between Halloween and the Christmas season, but I wanted my door to have a seasonal look, so I put together some simple pieces in fall colors to welcome my guests.

This door swag was so easy to put together; I used only hot glue and florist wire to assemble the parts.

There are three main pieces to my door decor. I used one grapevine swag piece for stability and 2 fall floral stems for the foliage.

I also used some Indian corn and a roll of wired burlap ribbon for my bow. Some additional pieces that I used that I forgot to photograph in advance were a couple of squash and a small pumpkin. To make the swag I placed one of the floral stems at the top of the grapevine piece, and the other stem at the bottom. Next, I added the Indian corn, squash, and pumpkin, then I finished with a big burlap bow in the middle. This fall swag was super easy to make, and Hobby Lobby helped me out by having most of the supplies on sale too!

All opinions stated in this post are my own. I have received no compensation for writing this post.


Mission Organization: Week 45 - An Emergency Disaster Kit for the Home

Wow, after seeing the devastation that Superstorm Sandy caused recently for so many, I have been thinking about what would happen at our house in a similar emergency. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't have an emergency kit put together for a situation such as that, and it's high time that I got one assembled. The area I live in does not have a high risk factor for a disaster just like Hurricane Sandy, but we do have a high risk of disaster from tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods, and we have seen ice storms that shut down power for weeks, so disaster preparedness is important wherever you live.

I wasn't sure I knew exactly what needed to go in an emergency disaster kit, so I did some research on the subject. Probably the most essential item in a home kit would be a supply of water and food to last for at least a 72 hour period. Some of the other suggested items include flashlights with extra batteries, first aid supplies, a hand-crank or battery powered NOAA weather radio, dust masks, wrenches to turn off utilities, moist wipes, and garbage bags.

For a more complete list of supplies and information, these are a few of the sites that can help:




Disaster Preparedness - YouTube

An emergency disaster kit may be quite expensive to put together if you tackle it all at once. I plan to make a list of the supplies needed using the resources above, and put mine together a few items at a time. Of course, no pre-made list is exactly right for everyone. The kit should be personalized for your family. If you have an infant you will want to include formula and diapers, or if someone in the family needs prescription medications those need to be included in the emergency kit.

After my emergency disaster kit list is made, I'll want to prioritize the supplies in order of importance for the kit. Every week when shopping I'll add another item from the list until I have everything that is needed.

My emergency disaster kit will need to start with water and non-perishable food. One of the first extra purchases that I want to make for my kit is a NOAA weather radio that has a hand crank and the capability to charge cell phones.

My heart goes out to all those who have struggled with the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Some have not yet found needed relief. Disaster is no respecter of persons; you never know where it will happen next. All one has to do is turn on the news any day of the week to see people somewhere in the world in need of emergency assistance from a disaster. Because I know that emergencies can strike anywhere, anytime, I'm going to try to get some important things together that might help out when the unthinkable comes calling at my house.


Dilly Beef Cheese Ball

This Dilly Beef Cheese Ball is a recipe that was given to me by my friend Tammy. The recipe came to her from a friend years ago, and I'm glad that I now have a chance to enjoy it by making it for my family and friends. One great thing about this recipe is that it makes not one, but three cheese balls. Unless I am making these to serve at a large gathering, I like to serve one, give one away, and freeze one for later.

Print Recipe

Dilly Beef Cheese Ball

3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3 (2 ounce) packages deli-sliced beef, finely chopped
1 (2.25 ounce) jar dried beef, finely chopped
1 - 2 bunches of green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons dill weed
3 teaspoons dill juice
Additional dill weed for coating cheese balls

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, deli beef, dried beef, green onions, dill weed, and dill juice; mix until well blended. Shape into 3 balls, coat each in dill weed. Chill until ready to serve, or may be frozen, then thawed when needed. Serve with your choice of crackers.

The ingredients include cream cheese, small packages of deli beef, dried beef, green onions, dill juice, and dill weed.

This cheese ball is a yummy appetizer, and it goes well with the multi-grain Toppers crackers.
With the holiday season approaching, this is a recipe to remember!

All opinions stated are my own. I have received no compensation for this post.


Mission Organization: Week 44 - Mise en Place

Who among us has not been frustrated in our own kitchens by disorganization? At the very least, a lack of organization might cause a meal to be served late, but frequently it causes more serious problems. Maybe your recipe says to heat the oil, then add chopped onion. A disorganized cook will heat the oil, then start chopping the onion, a recipe for disaster.

The French have a term for organization in the kitchen called "mise en place," which in translation means "to put in place". For the organized cook this would mean that all the ingredients need to be prepared and ready to use before you start cooking.

As an example of cooking with mise en place, an organized cook would refer to the recipe for a list of ingredients and assemble those first. Raise your hand if you have ever started stirring up a recipe only to find that you were out of a needed ingredient or even two. (My hand is up.) No, your next-door neighbor does not want to loan you a cup of sugar or a stick of butter, don't ask. Also, if there is chopping, dicing, or other preparation that needs to be done in advance, take note and get those chores done before beginning the recipe.

When I am blogging I sometimes show a photo of ingredients I will use in the recipe. This has helped my cooking habits because now I routinely assemble all ingredients before starting any recipe. I'm getting better at mise en place.

Measuring out needed quantities of ingredients before starting to put a recipe together is another example of mise en place. This not only saves time when preparing food, it can help with the accuracy of measurements. Think of how much better it is to measure out 6 cups of flour and set those aside when baking bread than to try to measure one cup at a time from your canister and keep an accurate count as you mix. If you're like me, you'll lose count after about three cups.

In the process of getting all your ingredients assembled before you start to cook you can use a lot of prep bowls to have your supplies ready. The more bowls needed for preparation, the more dirty dishes will stack up for the cook. You can apply a little mise en place to this situation as well. One way is to always have some hot sudsy water ready in your sink while cooking so that you can keep utensils and bowls washed as they are used.

Another way is to re-purpose some different sizes of paper cupcake liners from the pantry to use as disposable prep bowls. I always keep a supply of paper liners on hand, and they come in handy when measuring out quantities of nuts, dried fruits, and spices. Most cooks I hear from love baking and cooking for their families, but hate the clean-up afterward. Practicing mise en place can make the clean-up so much easier.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, many of us will be planning meals for a crowd. A little mise en place will help tremendously with preparations for guests. Even though I love to cook and entertain, standing in the kitchen for long periods of time is not as easy as it once was. I plan to take my own advice and let mise en place help me out with my cooking. I think mise en place is another tool to help us work smarter, not harder. While I'm not too fluent in French, I think the concept of planning ahead is a good thing in any language. Lest I forget to practice what I preach, I have this reminder written on the chalkboard in my kitchen - Mise en place, y'all.