Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Buckeye Candy

Buckeyes, the name brings to mind several things. First, Buckeyes are the state tree of Ohio. They are a deciduous tree, related to the Horse chestnut. The fruit is said to resemble the eye of a buck (deer), hence the name. Carrying this smooth, chestnut brown seed in your pocket is considered good luck. Then there are the Buckeyes, the name of the sports teams from that school out in Columbus, Ohio. Being from Pennsylvania we tend to pay to much attention to them. And finally, the most delicious of the Buckeyes, that delectable peanut butter and chocolate treat made to resemble the buckeye seed. These candies are very popular in both Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. The homemade ones are much better than the packaged ones you can sometimes find.

I make these every year because they are the favorite of my husband. Also in their favor is that a batch makes a lot, and they keep exceedingly well when kept in the refrigerator and can even be frozen with no ill effects. I haven't made mine yet this year, but will probably do so in the next day or two. This recipe comes from a postcard I bought years ago, at an Ohio rest stop along the turnpike.

Ohio Buckeye Candy
Mix together 3 cups (28 oz. jar) creamy peanut butter, 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) softened butter, and 2 lbs. confectioner's sugar.
Form into small balls.
Place on wax paper and refrigerate.

Using a toothpick, dip balls into melted dipping chocolate (recipe calls for 16 oz. although it always seems to take me 32 oz.) until almost covered, leaving some of the peanut butter mixture exposed on the top.

Refrigerate and Enjoy!

Bee at From the Desk of Bee Drunken has started a virtual candy exchange. Go to her site and you'll find candy recipes that will give you a sugar high just reading about them. It's also interesting to see what candies are considered the traditional holiday must haves in different parts of the world.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blogger Book Boost

'Tis the season for giving and receiving, and what better gift to give or receive than that of a book. In the age of over-consumerism and economic meltdown, a book is a gift that will be cost effective as well as entertain, transport, and be thought provoking. Books are the perfect gift of the young and the old and everyone in between. Even my one year old is a book lover and will sit and page through a book by herself. Of course, she also sometimes likes to eat her books, but we're working on that.

Sarah, at Sarah Laurence Blog, has come up with a great way to share book recommendations this holiday season. Click on the link to her blog and you will find her recommendations. Be sure to read the comments as well, because they are filled with more info and links to other Blogger Book Boost posts. If you don't know what to buy, this is a good starting point.

As I mentioned, I have a young daughter and so most of my book buying of late has been for her. One of her most beloved books and one that is very engaging is "Baby Says Peekaboo!" by DK Publishing. This was her favorite book when she was between six and nine months old, and she still picks it up at least once a day.

One of her current favorites is "One Snowy Night" by M. Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton. This is a touch and feel board book with a winter gift-giving theme. Lillian loves the different textures.

I recently had the good fortune to acquire the garden book "Planthropology" by Ken Druse. This is a great choice for any plant lover or gardener on your list. Not only are there beautiful pictures, but there is so much information about the history of plants, the mathematics in plants, and plants in art.

These last two selections are novels that I enjoyed, although I read both of them some time ago. The first, "Ocean Sea" by Alessandro Baricco, I read so long ago (probably eight years), I can't even describe to you what it is about. I just remember that I loved the language of this book and it was one that I saved to re-read some day.

The second is a book I bought because I love Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and thought it would be an interesting companion book to P&P. It is "Mr. Darcy's Diary" by Amanda Grange. I loved reading about the characters I had come to know and love from a different perspective and would recommend this to all Austenite's.

Thus concludes my list. Although I would also like to mention one book that is on my list to receive this year. "Hello, Cupcake" by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson is the foodie book I must have. Cupcakes seem to be the hot item these days and I love the artistry of cake decorating. This book just looks fun to me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

On our recent trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium we saw all three and much more. It was a perfect day for being out and about, the sun was shining, there was still gorgeous fall color, and being a weekday, it wasn't too crowded.

Lillian thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the animals, especially in the aquarium since she could be closer to them there. We thoroughly enjoyed her enjoyment.

The lion sleeps. Lillian is very good at roaring like a lion.

This rhino was pacing all over the place.

In the elephant house we saw not only the big elephants, like this one, but also one of the baby elephants. I'm sad I wasn't able to get a good picture of the baby, he was soooo cute.

You may have to enlarge this photo to see the poison dart frog. He's right in the middle, black and gold. This is Pittsburgh you know.

It's impossible to not include a picture of the jellies.

The penguins were having lots of fun swimming around.

Isn't this guy just the greatest? He's a sea dragon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Birthday Traditions

As my daughter's first birthday approached I contemplated what birthday traditions I wanted to instill in her childhood. My own childhood birthdays seem so long ago I can barely remember much about them other than there were presents, homemade cake, ice cream, and since I had so many siblings and there were cousins and grandparents close by, there was always lots of family to help celebrate. I think we also got to have our favorite meal on that day too. And does there need to be anything more to it than that? Probably not, but I did want to do something to mark the specialness of this first birthday and perhaps come up with some traditions that could follow for years to come.

Of course her proud Papa wanted to be sharing in all the festivities of the day so a vacation day from work was necessary. Our original plan was to take her to the zoo on her birthday but the weather was uncooperative. There were snowflakes coming down with the rain, not exactly a good day to go to the zoo. Two days later, the sun was shining and it was beautiful, a perfect day for the zoo, so her birthday was extended. But I will cover that in a different post. Forgoing the zoo for perhaps interior fun, we contemplated going to the Children's Museum, but in the end decided we would rather just enjoy her and her wonderment at wrapped presents and the subsequent unwrapped presents, in a leisurely day at home. It was raining with snowflakes after all. And what child wants to open toys only to be whisked away from them.

Her party with her nearby grandparents and a few close friends was to be on the weekend and she would have her homemade cake and ice cream then, but I wanted to make something special for her on her day. I decided on apple dumplings, since we had just had them at a fall festival. Although she enjoyed them at the festival, she was less enthusiastic about her birthday ones, although I enjoyed them very much. But maybe this is a tradition I can continue each year. And maybe next year she will gooble them up since they are so tasty. But if apple dumplings are not her thing, perhaps she will have a favorite dish that she will want on that day.

I also made her a birthday crown. This was after seeing numerous birthday crowns in catalogs and stores but deciding I could make one that I would like better and would cost less. I just had to pull out the sewing machine and dust it off a bit. I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do when I started and it turned out totally different than I had pictured in my mind originally, but to me it was perfect. Of course, since she hates anything on her head (hat,hood, etc.), I could only ever get it on her for mere seconds at a time. Forget a picture! Good thing I saved my money. Too bad it won't fit her next year, but one of her dolls can be the eternal birthday princess. Since I am hoping she outgrows this aversion to a head covering, I think making her a birthday crown each year might become a new tradition.

So I think she has had a good birthday start with several things to make it special and magical.
1. A party with presents, homemade cake, ice cream, party guests
2. Special treatment all day with a special meal
3. A Birthday Princess Crown
4. A special outing

What are your special birthday memories and do you have any family birthday traditions?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spooky Halloween Treats!

Since Halloween is such a favorite event, it deserves one last post as a wrap up to the Halloween season as we look onward to that day of eating delight ~ Thanksgiving.

Our Halloween decorations included these lovely jack o'lanterns. My husband carved the Raccoon free hand, while I used a pattern for The Monster Mash. It was my first time using one of those intricate patterns and I would definitely do some things a little different next time. Just in case you want to delve into this pumpkin art next year I will share my "I should remember this for next time" list with you. And this way I can refer back to this post next year before the carving begins!

The list is not too long but the main thought was that I should have scraped the inside of the pumpkin wall much thinner so that it would be easier to cut in the detail of the design instead of having to saw through an inch and a half of pumpkin flesh! Well, I guess that's my main tip, everything else seemed to be ok. I did have a slight mishap in breaking off a main piece but a toothpick helped secure it back, so keep some toothpicks handy. We were able to enjoy these for a couple of days but then the real raccoons found them and ate out my whole design. They didn't touch the pumpkin Raccoon, maybe they thought it some sort of deity.

And here are some spooky treats that can be enjoyed by all ghouls and goblins!

These Spooky Brownies will satisfy any sweet tooth. You can find the recipe at Betty Crocker's website ~ thanks Betty, they were a big hit!

And then my favorite ~ Cheesenstein from Taste of Home Magazine. As soon as I saw this, I had to make it. Not only is he just perfect for Halloween but delicious too! And he can easily be adapted to the other holidays, just use your imagination.

Prep: 45 min. + chilling
Taste of Home
Nila Grahl, Gurnee, Illinois

2 - 8oz packages cream cheese softened
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 - 4 oz cartons whipped cream cheese
Moss green paste food coloring
1 can (4-1/4 ounces) chopped ripe olives, drained
2 pepperoncinis
2 slices peeled parsnip
4 colossal ripe olives
Black decorating gel
1 pretzel rod
1 small cucumber
Assorted fresh vegetables

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce until smooth. Stir in the cheddar cheese, bacon, and onions.

Shape into a 5 inch x 4 inch x 3 inch rectangle; wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled.

Unwrap rectangle and place on a serving platter with a 3 inch side on top. Tint whipped cream cheese green and spread over top and sides of rectangle.

Add ripe olives for hair, pepperoncinis for ears, and parsnip slices and 2 colossal olives for eyes. With black decorating gel, pipe the brow, mouth, and stitches.

Break pretzel rod in half and add a colossal olive to each end. Press into side of head for bolts. Cut a small piece from the end of the cucumber for a nose.

Serve with vegetables, crackers, etc.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pennsylvania Autumn

A Maple on Fire

The leaves are quickly finding their way off of the trees and to the ground so I figured it was high time I posted some pictures of the glorious fall colors. Most of these were taken just a day or two ago. For more fall photos taken a week or so ago, you can check out my fall color post on my garden blog. And if you still need to see more leaves, go to Dave's Garden Blogger Fall Color Project, where he has compiled a collection of fall color posts from bloggers around the world.

I just love this photo, maybe it's the framing of it.

I think the red of the maple against the chartreuse of the lilacs just pops!

Most of the yellows of the Silver Maple are already down.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cooking Under Pressure

No, I'm not a contestant on a cooking based reality show. But I was using my pressure cooker to help me make dinner last night and I started thinking about this kitchen gadget. Yes, to me it is a gadget, simply a time-saving gadget. I bought this electronic gizmo almost a year ago and have used it a handful of times. Because I don't use it that often, each time I have to relearn how to use it and a couple of times I started out incorrectly so it ended up being more of a hassle than a help. No saving time on those nights. Last night I got it right though (finally!). Which was good because using it was just the first step in the Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas recipe I was making. Easy it was, after having all the ingredients assembled. I hate those recipes that say prep time is 10 minutes but call for cooked chicken. Unless you have leftover cooked chicken on hand, prep time is NOT 10 minutes. This is where my pressure cooker comes in handy. You can put frozen chicken in and about 15 minutes later, you have cooked chicken, ready to shred. And depending on the liquid that you add in with it, you could have flavored, cooked chicken, ready to shred.

Of course, I don't like chicken cooked this way normally, but if I need it for a recipe like Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas the cleanup is a whole lot easier than sauteing chicken on the stove. When you cook chicken in the pressure cooker, it comes out similar to poached chicken and poaching is a cooking method that I have never been crazy about. I don't go in for poached eggs despite the whole cache of Eggs Benedict. When I was in culinary school, we of course had to learn poaching. Poaching is not boiling! While I am not crazy about poaching, boiling would be much worse. The trick with poaching is keeping the poaching liquid at 170F. One thing that I thought poached very well was salmon and I have in fact made a poached salmon that was superbly flavored, all due to the poaching liquid. This is a recipe I made only once, years ago, and I still remember that meal. That's a good recipe. But I digress, back to pressure cooking.

My Grandmother used her old fashioned, stove-top pressure cooker all the time to make simple things like potatoes or carrots. To her, it was just like any other pot, it just had that wobbly thing on top. I've always been scared of those kind of pressure cookers. Maybe from the horror stories I've heard of how you have to be careful or you'll get a horrible steam burn. The new, electronic ones are made with all sorts of safety features so you can't get hurt - if it's under pressure, you can't open the lid, etc.

When I'm not using my pressure cooker to cook up chicken to shred for a casserole or tacos, I'm using it as a super fast crock pot. I love my crock pot and use it more than the pressure cooker, but if it's 4:30 in the afternoon and you want to eat the same day, you have to go for the pressure cooker. Just throw everything in, still frozen even, turn the lid on, and in about 15 - 20 minutes you have dinner. And like the crock pot, once it's going you can do other stuff. Of course, make sure it is going before walking away and coming back 15 minutes later to find you didn't have it set up correctly and you are still at square one (this has happened to me more than once).

I bought my pressure cooker on impulse, it wasn't a thought out or researched purchase. But it has broadened my cooking options. And I have a cookbook that has bread machine, crock pot, pressure cooker, and clay pot recipes in it. Hmmm, maybe I need a clay pot. Any opinions on clay pot cooking out there, please let me know what you think of that cooking method.

Here are two very different but both tasty recipes from my collection.

Easy Chicken & Cheese Enchiladas (cut from the newspaper)
Prep: 10 minutes Bake 40 minutes Makes 6 servings

1 can (10 3/4 oz) Condensed cream of chicken soup (I use Campbell's 98% Fat Free)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup salsa
2 tsp. chili powder
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 - 6" flour tortillas
1 small tomato chopped
1 green onion sliced

1. Stir the soup, sour cream, salsa, and chili powder in a medium bowl.

2. Stir one cup of the soup mixture above, the chicken, and cheese in a large bowl.

3. Divide the chicken mixture among the tortillas. Roll the tortillas and place them seam side up in a shallow baking dish. Pour the remaining soup mixture over the filled tortillas.

4. Cover and bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until the enchiladas are hot and bubbling. Top with the tomato and onion.

I increased almost all the ingredients and also added a can of corn and a can of pinto beans to the chicken mixture. I ended up with 12 tortillas which was plenty for a couple of meals for two people plus some leftovers for lunch.

Salmon a la Michael (from MasterCook cooking software package)
Serves 4

4 - 8 oz fresh salmon fillets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley sprigs
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 oranges, quartered
1 whole lemon, quartered
1 whole lime, quartered
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 gallons water
12 egg yolks
1 pound clarified butter, at 120 degrees
1 pinch salt, to taste
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest

1. Prepare the Citrus Court Stock --

In a large pot, lightly saute onion, carrot, and celery. Add water, bay leaf, parsley, oranges, lemon, and lime. Bring to a boil, simmer for 25 minutes and strain. Put strained stock in pan large enough to hold salmon fillets. Keep liquid simmering.

2. Prepare the Orange Hollandaise --

Whip the egg yolks with orange juice until light and frothy.
The butter must be clarified and at 120 degrees for the next step.
Slowly add butter while constantly whipping the egg mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: I've always made Hollandaise over a hot water bath so if you are comfortable making Hollandaise I would use whatever method you are familiar with.)

3. Poaching the Salmon --

Place the 4 salmon fillets in the simmering Citrus Court Stock. Salmon must be poached for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from the stock and coat with the Orange Hollandaise.

Garnish with orange zest and serve.

I don't think I made Hollandaise sauce when I made this salmon. It's not a particularly favorite sauce of mine (another reason for not being so thrilled with Eggs Benedict.) I don't remember how I served it, just that the flavor of the salmon from being poached in the citrus stock was fabulous. And to be honest, a Hollandaise sauce would complement that very well, but I don't care for it well enough to make it.