Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Birthdays, Family and Comforting Mac n Cheese

Mindy here, and as you may or may not know by now, I had rotator cuff surgery almost two weeks ago. Since then, I've been adapting to life with the use of only one arm and, believe it or not, I can still do most things, only in a different way and not quite as quickly. Except for hair. I think I mentioned last week that doing anything other than brushing your hair is virtually impossible with one hand. Fortunately, hubby has been quite the trooper.
This is me grating cheese. Normally I would use do this task with my right hand, but since that arm is now in a sling, it's only there for support while my left hand does all the work.
 Why was I grating cheese?
So I could make mac n cheese, of course.
My birthday was last week, so my family treated me to some of my favorite foods.
Beef brisket from my favorite barbeque restaurant, jalapeno tater tots, deviled eggs, barbeque beans and macaroni and cheese.
Now that's some comfort food, right there.
And since my oldest daughter wasn't able to make it, I had to make her mac n cheese myself, because it is now my go-to recipe for the ultimate comfort food.
Here's what you'll need for this yummy dose of comfort:

8 oz. Velveeta, cubed
8 oz. Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp cheese, grated (for whatever reason, the flavor this lends is superior to regular extra sharp cheese)
1 can condensed Cheddar Cheese soup
1 cup half and half
16 oz. package of your favorite elbow macaroni, cooked according to package instructions
Ground black pepper (optional)
1/3 cup bread crumbs (I prefer the Italian style, and while I happened to have the Panko (crunchy) variety on hand, you can use  whatever you like)
2 tablespoons butter
If you haven't already, cook your macaroni. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan, combine the soup, Velveeta and Cracker Barrel cheese over medium-low heat. 
Be patient and be sure to watch it, because you definitely don't want to burn your cheese. 

See, it really doesn't take that long.
I like to use a whisk to help eliminate any lumps.
Stir in your half and half.
If you like, add pepper to taste. I added about a 1/2 teaspoon.
Add the cooked macaroni.
And stir to coat.
Pour into a greased baking pan. An oblong casserole dish works well.

Next, over medium heat, melt butter.
Like you didn't know what that looks like.

Once butter is melted, add your bread crumbs.
Stir until butter is absorbed.
Then sprinkle over top of macaroni and cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until top is golden and cheese is bubbly.
That's heaven in a skillet, I tell ya.

And this is heaven in three tiers!
Aren't they beautiful?
My middle daughter made these. I was tickled pink. And purple.
And, of course, the best way to eat a cupcake is to take off the bottom and put it on top for a cupcake sandwich.
Man, I wish I had one of those right now.

As we prepare to move, we've been going through EVERYTHING and found these keepsake boxes I had put together for each of my three girls some years ago.
These two had so much fun looking at their baby books, old report cards and school projects that we liked to have never gotten them to come and eat.
My youngest, the one with her eyes closed, is now a kindergarten teacher, so it was rather interesting when she read over her own kindergarten report card and realized that she was that student that now drives her crazy. The one who "talks at inappropriate times" and "has problems listening."
Yeah, we all had a good laugh over that.
And I got to snuggle with two of my favorite girls.
Aren't they cute?

But spring has definitely sprung in north Texas. The grass is turning green, trees are budding and we had our first hail storm of the season.
Luckily, it was only pea-sized, so no damage.

Now it's your turn.
What's your go-to comfort food?
Have you ever been forced to use just one hand? Your non-dominant one? How did you handle things? I'd really love to hear your stories.

Mindy Obenhaus lives in Texas with her husband and kids. She's passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com

Monday, February 27, 2017

Carrie's Dreamy Bars

This is one of those all-purpose, make everybody happy recipes!

The original recipe is called “Uncle Bubba Bars.” My daughter found this gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free recipe on Briana Thomas’s blog

Since she wanted to make gluten-free bars, but not nut-free, she made some substitutions and came up with her own version of these delicious, dreamy, cream cheese/chocolate chip bars.

At the end of the recipe, I’ll give you the ingredients to make these bars with no special ingredients.

A win for everyone, right?

Carrie’s Dreamy Bars
(this version uses special ingredients available on-line at www.trimhealthymama.com or your favorite on-line retailer)

Cookie Layer Ingredients:
1 ½ cups THM baking blend
1 Tablespoon THM Super Sweet Blend
1/8 teaspoon THM Pure Stevia Extract Powder (can substitute 5 packets Truvia for the Super Sweet Blend and the Stevia)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon Gluccomannon
½ teaspoon salt

12 Tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter, softened/melted
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Molasses
¼ cup water
½ cup chocolate chips (use Lily’s sugar free chocolate chips to keep the recipe at zero sugar)

As you can see, we used regular chocolate chips - no Lily's
brand chips in the house!

Cream Cheese Layer Ingredients:

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 egg
1 ½ teaspoons THM Super Sweet Blend

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

additional chocolate chips for topping

For the cookie layer, whisk the dry ingredients together (this works best in a food processor), then add the wet ingredients. 

Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread just over half of the dough in the bottom of a 9"x13" pan, reserving the rest of the dough for the top layer.

Make the cream cheese layer. Beat all of the ingredients together until smooth.

Yes, this is my funny looking mixer. It's a Bosch - a
real work horse in the kitchen!
Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cookie layer in the pan.

Drop small blobs of the remaining cookie dough mixture on top of the cream cheese layer. Distribute them as evenly as you can. The cream cheese layer is a bit "soupy," so it's hard to spread the cookie dough on top.

No worries about how it looks - the cookie dough rises as the bars bake, and ours turned out beautifully.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top.

Bake at 350° for 20-23 minutes, or until the cream cheese layer is set in the middle. We did the jiggle test (no movement) and the finger-touch test (touch lightly with the tip of your finger - if a depression stays, it needs to bake longer).  Don't over bake these bars!

Refrigerate to chill completely before cutting.

And I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the finished product, but these were delicious!!!

If you go to Briana Thomas's blog (link here), you can see what they're supposed to look like.

Hey, I hear you non-gluten-free, non-special-ingredients people out there! I told you this recipe was for everyone, didn't I?

Here is the "no special ingredients" list - 

Cookie Layer Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 up sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter, softened or melted
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Cream Cheese Layer Ingredients:

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

additional chocolate chips for topping

The mixing and baking directions are the same!

Meanwhile, it's that time of year when our friends from the south and east are sharing pictures of daffodils, snowdrops, and crocuses.

We're still in the midst of winter...but do you see that sunshine? Spring will be here before we know it!

Jan Drexler loves her family, her home, cooking and just about anything made by hand. But she loves her Lord most of all.

Stop by Jan's website to learn more about her books: www.JanDrexler.com

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Quick and easy olive basil focaccia bread

Hi, everybody! Mary Jane here and I have a delicious recipe for quick and easy focaccia bread!
2 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2.5 tsp yeast
1 cup warm water
2 TBS oil ( we used our basil infused olive oil)
3TBS parmesan
1 tsp garlic powder
olive oil for brushing on the edges

Mix all the dry ingredients. Add the warm water and oil. Knead on a flat surface until elastic, then cover in a warm place for about 20 minutes, or until risen. Preheat oven to 450F. 

Roll out the bread dough and poke holes in it with your fingers. Kids love this part!
 We have a few people who don't love olives so we only added the olives on one side. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan and garlic powder.
 You can add different herbs at this time but make sure they're mixed with the olive oil or they'll burn. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
 Mmmmmm. Fresh out of the oven, cut into squares and serve with dipping sauce.
 Our sauce was actually left over pizza sauce. :)
 The bottom was delightfully crisp and the top was just crisped enough to hold the olives in place.
 There! A quick and easy appetizer for these cold February nights when nobody wants a whole meal.
                                      Hoping that everybody is keeping warm. Spring is on the way! Or so I've heard... We had a week of rain and then it turned cold again, but I know the sun will be out soon! Until then, I'll be baking and cooking and writing over here.
Be sure to stop by my author pages at Mary Jane Hathaway or Virginia Carmichael where I have all of my book news!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot...Oatmeal with Toasted Coconut

Missy Tippens

I think I already said this in a previous post: I love my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker! One of my new favorites is to make steel cut oats for breakfast. I really enjoyed this particular recipe.

I discovered this on Pinterest. Click here to find the original recipe on a site called Flavorrd: Mastering the Art of Feeding Ourselves.

I won't list the full recipe but will describe how I made it.

One of the nice things about an Instant Pot is that you can sauté things. So I toasted the coconut and the oats in the pot before adding the liquid ingredients and pressure cooking. Oh! I almost forgot. I also decided to toast some chopped pecans along with the coconut and oats.

I used almond milk because I didn't have any coconut milk (which would have made it even better!).

Once the sautéing is done and you add the other ingredients, it's time to set the pot manually. I only cooked for 2 minutes on high pressure. Then I allowed about 10 minutes for a natural cool down and depressurization. With anything milky or starchy you can't release the steam too soon or you'll have foam shooting out (don't ask me how I found this out!). :)

Here's a zoom in of the mystery photo bomber behind the cooker in the previous photo! :)

Now, after waiting for the pot to cool, I was able to open it and we have fully cooked oatmeal (yet it still has a little bite to it so it's not mushy)!

It's so good with the toasted coconut, pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mine isn't nearly as pretty as the website where I got the recipe. I forgot to save coconut to put on top! And I think I got a little carried away with the brown sugar and cinnamon. :) YUM!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ice Cream Cake With The Mighty Finn!

It is with great honor that I introduce today's guest chef in the Cafe' kitchen.... Those of you who aren't familiar with our pastry chef and somewhat short maker of desserts extraordinaire, might know him from his ongoing stint as leader of a mighty kingdom. Born just three short years ago, he's been a teller of tales (okay, sometimes to the extreme, but he does have a marvelous vocabulary!!!) and he's renowned on facebook for his wit and wisdom. Ladies and gentlemen, today I present to you the one... the only "Mighty Finn"!

Finn has been polishing his skills at making ice cream cake using ice cream sandwiches. BRILLIANT. (Mom's note: you need TWO big boxes of ice cream sandwiches for this but we didn't want them to melt as The Mighty Finn constructed his masterpiece

Layer 11 sandwiches in the bottom of the pan. Share 12th ice cream sandwich with little sister, mother or pesky Grammy.

Layer of Cool Whip

Clean spoon:

Drizzle caramel & hot fudge sauce

Clean additional spoon (s). (imperative directive)

Freeze for a bit while continuing to get the house ready for the impending birthday party 
Layer 12 sandwiches (this layer takes more because the bottom of the pan is more narrow)

Drizzle hot fudge & caramel sauce onto the cookies (you can do this on the first layer as well. I realized on this layer that I wanted the Cool Whip on top with the M&Ms, so I "hid" the sauce under the Cool Whip. 

Layer of Cool Whip

Sprinkle with mini M&Ms (or sprinkles, or chopped candy bars)

Or carefully place each little M&M on top while eating a few here or there. Whatever works. Great side shot here, Mighty Finn!

Freeze for a bit to firm up the ice cream sandwiches

Finn likes this because he can help make it and he likes to help with things... And he likes his little sister, Lena. He didn't send any pictures of her, because she didn't help make the cake. Hmm...

Yes, it looks great, but the real proof of any great recipe is the final test!!!

And that's a full approval smile right there! AKA: Cheesy Camera Grin. :)

Finn, thanks so much for being with us today! Great job on the cake and on making it special and those easy-to-follow directions are AWESOME!!!! Well done, little buddy!  And Finn, we are huge fans of your website!!!! http://themightyfinn.blogspot.com/

And for those of you who don't know, there are three Kindle books out about our fearless leader "Finn"...

What fun to have such a fun and diversified famous person in the cafe today! He's too short to handle the hot coffee maker, so Grammy Ruthy Logan Herne is your barista for the day, but Finn wants you to know that he loves coffee.... and that the best leaders of the very best kingdoms drink coffee ALL THE TIME.... no matter how tall they are!