A Midsummer Night’s Dream Party

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I just threw my last birthday party. Okay, I’m certain there will be other birthday parties and other events, but my youngest just had her sweet 16th birthday party, and while I have loved planning themed parties for her, it must someday come to an end. We have determined that the sweet 16th is the last one. Because of that, we tried to make it extra special. For years, she has wanted a fairy themed party, but she also wanted to invite boys. That may have worked when the boys were five or six and we could have gnomes and fairies together, but there was no way I could figure out how to do all of the fairy things with teenage boys. We morphed it over the years into Dungeons and Dragons parties, and Medieval feast parties, and Lord of the Rings parties, but never an out and out fairy party. This year, my youngest decided that she would be willing to invite just girls to get the fairy party she always wanted.

We chose to make it A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We hit the Pinterest boards for inspiration, and we ran with it. Having a family that loves fantasy and sci fi things, means we have quite a collection of magical things. We pulled them all out for the décor, making sure that shelves and cabinets were decorated with combinations of flowers, greenery, fairy figurines, glass bottles and other knick knacks. The table was a combination of greenery and baskets combined with crystal and silver for a lovely blend of fancy and earthy.

We served spinach wrap rollups with cream cheese and lunch meat or vegetables, pretzels, vegetables with dip, strawberries, and various candies that fit the theme. The centerpiece to all of it was the cake. I found a cake similar to this on Pinterest, but it was an angel food cake with lemon filling. My daughter wanted chocolate with raspberry. I made a basic Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate Cake mix, which is, in my opinion, one of the best cake mixes on the market. I filled the layers with a milk chocolate truffle mousse, and raspberry jam. I topped the cake with a dark chocolate ganache. Using melted chocolate, I then covered the cake with spearmint leaves, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, pansies (which ARE edible), and an awesome little cookie called Chocorooms. They look like mushrooms, but are a biscuit cookie shaped like a mushroom and dipped in chocolate. I covered the top and sides with random groupings of the toppings, and used a few decorative butterflies flying over the top.

As the guests arrived and we led them into the dining room to get something to eat, they all stopped when they got to the table and just stood there. I told them that they could get plates and start eating, and they still hesitated. One of them said, “It’s so pretty…” They had to get pictures of the table and the cake before they could start eating. One girl asked for the recipe, or if I could maybe make her a cake for HER birthday. It was the response I was hoping for! It was the last party, after all, and I was glad that I could make it special.

I might have to rethink my policy for next year.

Julie

Milk Chocolate Truffle Filling

4 oz milk chocolate- I used the leftover dipping chocolate from Christmas

½ cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

Melt chocolate in the microwave, or in the oven, or whatever your preferred method might be. Set aside. Scald cream. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Add vanilla. Beat chocolate with an electric mixer. Add the cream all at once, and mix until smooth.   Cover and chill for 30 minutes. Beat again with electric mixer until fluffy.

Semi Sweet Chocolate Ganache

4 oz semi sweet chocolate

½ cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

Follow the same method as above. Chill for only five or ten minutes. When the ganache has thickened slightly, but can still be poured, pour over cake, spreading as needed. Chill cake until ganache has set.

Happy Bunny Trail Mix

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Happy Bunny Trail MixHappy Bunny Trail Mix

My oldest daughter is serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in South Carolina right now.   She’s only been out two months, and we miss her like crazy. What has been a comfort to us is the wonderful southern hospitality she has received. She’s in a tiny town that is mostly dirt roads and trailers, and these wonderful people have been so generous in feeding their missionaries. She has been well taken care of with wonderful southern cooking! What she has said she needs are some healthier snacks to tide her over between meal appointments, but a little bit of chocolate wouldn’t be turned down either. For her Easter care package, I made up my own version of some trail mix that will hopefully fit both requirements. Happy Munching!

Happy Bunny Trail Mix

1 box Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies Crackers

1 container salted peanuts, or favorite nut of your choice

1-2 cups raisins (bunny droppings)

1 bag pastel M & M’s (Easter Eggs)

1 bag Snyders Butter Snaps Pretzels (bits of woven Easter basket)

Mix in a large bowl in proportions you like. Don’t feel like you have to use the whole box or package of anything. This isn’t an exact science. Package as desired. Nibble as needed.

The Great Cookie Experiment- Cookie Jar Nut Cookies

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The Great Cookie Experiment- Cookie Jar Nut Cookies

I had a few recipes this month that made HUGE BATCHES of cookies. I have to admit, I’ve been avoiding them, because there are just three of us at home now, and I don’t need 9 or 12 dozen cookies around the house. I was hoping that some major event would come up where I could use them, but even my daughter’s graduation didn’t have me making that many of one kind of cookie. This particular batch makes 9 dozen cookies, and I halved the recipe. Now, halving the recipe didn’t make 4 ½ dozen cookies. My small cookie scoop is slightly larger than 1 teaspoon. These are much smaller cookies, so maybe making the full batch with larger cookies isn’t a bad way to go either.

I liked the spices in this cookie. It tasted good, and with just nutmeg as the spice, it was a different, subtle spiciness that worked with the walnuts.

Nut Jar Cookies

Cookie Jar Nut Cookies

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 cup chopped walnuts

Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg. Add milk and vanilla and mix well. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Add to the creamed mixture, and stir well. Stir in walnuts. Drop by rounded teaspoon 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten with a glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 9 dozen.

The Great Cookie Experiment- Orange Macadamia Nut Cookies

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The Great Cookie Experiment- Orange Macadamia Nut Cookies

 I really liked these cookies. They were rich, buttery, nutty, orangey and overall yummy. My only dislike on it is that macadamia nuts are really expensive! Spending $8 on a bottle of macadamia nuts to use only half of them in the cookie is hard to justify when budgets are tight. Because of that, this probably won’t become a regular cookie recipe for me, but I would consider splurging for special occasions as warranted.

Orange Macadamia Nut Cookies

Orange Macadamia Nut Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1 egg yolk

2 Tbl orange juice

2 tsp grated orange peel

2 cups flour

½ cup cornstarch

½ cup macadamia nuts (or almonds) I chopped them slightly so they wouldn’t be SO gigantic in the cookies)

 

Frosting:

1 cup powdered sugar

4 tsp butter, softened

1 Tbl orange juice

½ tsp grated orange peel

Cream butter and powdered sugar. Add egg yolk, orange juice, and orange peel. Mix well. Combine flour and cornstarch and add to the creamed mixture. Mix well. Stir in macadamia nuts. Roll into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets, then flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Prepare frosting by combining ingredients and mix until smooth. Frost cookies. Makes about 3 ½ dozen.

Julie

The Great Cookie Experiment – Walnut Bars

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The Great Cookie Experiment – Walnut Bars

Some of you may recall that I made Black Walnut Cookies a couple of months ago. At the time, I couldn’t find black walnuts, and made do with regular English walnuts. Jana found me black walnuts and gave them to me as a gift at Christmas. As I was making this recipe, I decided to make good use of the gift and use the black walnuts. After making the recipe, I came to a surprising conclusion.

I don’t like black walnuts.

Seriously, I have no problem with other walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, whatever, but the mustiness of the black walnut was too overpowering. I didn’t like them at all! My grandfather had a black walnut tree when I was growing up, and I used to like them then, but whatever happened, I don’t like them now.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the recipe. It cooks up similarly to a pecan pie bar, so it’s nutty and chewy ( and if you use black walnuts, pretty yucky).   As an additional bonus, there’s a lemon glaze that goes over the top of the bars that is amazing. It was my favorite part of the cookie, and really added a great level of flavor on top of the walnut layer of the bar. Or at least it would if it wasn’t made with yucky black walnuts.

My mother-in-law loved the cookies, and loved the black walnuts. She ate two, which is not typical for her, and if I’d been smart, I would have packaged up the rest and sent them home with her. My husband thought they were pretty good too, so it must be in the blood. My daughter takes after me, and hated them just as much as I did. She brought them to her friends at school, and while some liked them, most took a taste and dumped them in the garbage.

Either way, this is definitely not a winning cookie if you stick with black walnuts. Make it with English walnuts, and I think you’ll be happy with them.

Unless you don’t like English walnuts either.

Walnut Bars

Walnut Bars

 

½ cup butter, softened

¼ cup sugar

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla

1 ¼ cups flour

½ tsp salt

 

Filling:

 

2 eggs

1 ½ cups brown sugar

2 Tbl flour

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking powder

1 ½ cups chopped walnuts (NOT black walnuts! Use regular grocery store walnuts!)

Lemon Glaze:

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour and salt and add to creamed mixture. Mix well. Press onto the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix filling. Combine eggs, brown sugar, flour, vanilla, salt and baking powder. Stir in walnuts. Spread over the crust. Bake for 25 minutes or until the filling is golden brown. Cool. Combine powdered sugar and enough lemon juice to make a spreadable consistency. Spread over filling. Let stand until set before cutting into bars. Makes about 2 ½ dozen.

Happy April Fool’s Day

So today is National Stay Off the Internet Day, because who knows what you’re going to find out there?

Honestly, I’m not big into pranks. My thought is that I like things which are good natured and fun, but not the mean spirited ones. I don’t want to eat toothpaste in my Oreos, but I do like the food that looks like other food, for example cupcakes which are actually meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Do you have a favorite disguised food?

The Great Cookie Experiment – Meringue Drops

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Meringue Drops

Meringues are so pretty! These egg white cookies cook up crunch on the outside and chewy on the inside. You can use any flavored extract you like to give them a little bit of flavor, and sprinkled with sparkling sugar, you have a lovely little dessert that is also low in fat and calories! A win for everybody!

There’s just one problem. My daughter hates them. She has texture issues with the stiff egg whites and the crunch. While I’d still make them for an event, it wouldn’t be a regular family cookie for us. Maybe it will be for yours.

Meringue Drops
Meringue Drops

3 egg whites
½ tsp vanilla or other flavored extract of your choice
¼ tsp cream of tartar
Food coloring, if desired
¾ cup sugar
sparkling sugars or pearls as desired

Let egg whites sit until room temperature. In a large bowl, beat egg whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar on high until stiff peaks form. Put meringue in a pastry bag and with a star tip or tip of your choice, pipe 2 inch circles or shapes 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with pretty sugar if desired. Bake at 300 for 20-25 minutes or until set and dry. Turn off oven and do not open door. Leave the meringues in the oven for an hour before removing from pan. Makes about 2 dozen.

Julie

Plum Cider

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Plum Cider

In addition to serving Romanian bread , in the book Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier, the characters frequently drink something called Tuica.  I looked it up, and it’s a plum brandy.  I know that there are many book clubs who will serve wine or other alcoholic beverages at their events, but most of us in our neighborhood don’t drink.  I did, however, have the perfect non-alcoholic solution- plum cider!

A neighbor gave me a jar of plum cider as a Christmas present one year many years ago.  A mixture of plum juice, and sugar, she said that she liked to serve it hot with mulling spices in the winter.  It was so yummy!  I got the recipe, and I’ve bottled my own plum cider every year.  Since the same neighbor has her back yard lined with plum trees, she’s desperate to share her plums, and this is something easy that I can make with them.   It’s become a Christmas/ New Year tradition for our family, and a nice change after apple cider in the fall months.

The nice thing about plum cider is that it’s good both hot and cold, spiced or unspiced.  The recipe is VERY concentrated, and if you drink it straight out of the jar, it’s pretty intense.  I generally add a jar of water to every jar of cider to thin it out.

Plum Cider

Plum Cider 

Juiced plums to make 1 quart- yes, you really do want the fresh stuff.

1 quart water

3 cups sugar

 

Mix juice, water, and sugar on the stove and heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Pour into 3 quart jars and process in a water bath for 35 minutes.

 

To serve hot:

1 quart cider

1 quart water

1-2 cinnamon sticks

8-12 cloves

2-3 allspice berries (optional)

Heat ingredients on the stove or in the crockpot until hot.

To serve cold:

1 quart cider

1 quart water

ice as desired

 

The Great Cookie Experiment – Butter Mint Cookies

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Butter Mint Cookies

Cookies shouldn’t taste like breath mints.  Cookies are a baked good, and while it can come in all kinds of wonderful flavors, breath mint shouldn’t be one of them.  This cookie is very simple with a base of butter, powdered sugar, and flour.  The addition of 1 ½ teaspoons of extract is a POTENT one- Altoid level potent.  When I was baking these the smell of mint filled the house, and when I opened the oven this wave of mintiness cleared my sinuses and acted nearly as good as mentholatum for a chest cold.  The problem here is that there is a very small amount of sugar for the amount of mint added.  This makes the cookie not very sweet and very minty.  I did not enjoy them very much, but my daughter’s high school friends thought they were just fine.  If I were to make them again, and I probably won’t, I would cut the extract down to ½ teaspoon, and add a glaze of powdered sugar and milk with a bit more mint extract in it.   That might tone things down enough to make these worth it.  Otherwise, give these a miss.   Cookies shouldn’t taste like breath mints.

Butter Mint Cookies

Butter mint cookies

1 cup butter, softened

½ cup powdered sugar

1 ½ tsp peppermint extract

1 ¾  cups flour

decorating sugar

Cream butter and powdered sugar.  Beat in extract.  Gradually add flour and mix well.  Roll into balls and place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Flatt with a glass dipped in colored sugar.  Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes or until firm.  Makes about 3 dozen

Brats and Roasted Cabbage

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roasted cabbage

Happy St Paddy’s Day everyone! Hopefully you are enjoying it safely and with much food and fun.

Around here we often make the traditional corned beef and cabbage or red potatoes, but not always.  This year we went a little simpler, but came up with a meal that was no less yummy.  It was Clam Chowder…

As this is not really a green meal I decided to highlight a meal we had a while ago that fits fairly nicely.

I purchased some chicken brats from one of the local stores here where they make them in store, which is the best in my opinion. I always appreciate it when I know where my food is coming from.  Then we got a good medium sized cabbage and some really nice saurkraut. (So it’s a German Irish dinner…  it works!)

The brats I just pan fried and finished off with a little bit of cooking wine and about 10 minutes in the oven to make sure they were done all the way through.

Then I roasted the cabbage.  This was the fun part and SO easy.  I lined a pan with aluminum foil and cut the cabbage into eight sections.  I hit both sides of each section with a little bit of herb oil and salt then put it in the oven at 425 for about 15 minutes on one side, flip the cabbage and another 10-15 minutes until done through.  This was such a fun flavor and a bright crisp texture that is often lost when cabbage is steamed.

Everything was served warm and eaten to the bottom of the plate!

Jana

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