Friday, February 24, 2012

Pigs in a Blanket: Many Hands Make Light Work

Pigs in a Blanket.  It doesn't get much easier than this: packages of refrigerated crescent rolls and a package of little smokies cocktail sausages.  The only challenge, from my experience, is that no matter how many you make you will run out.  It's crazy.  If you think, "We have 25 people, let's make 50 so each person can have 2". You will run out.  If you think, "We have 12 people, and there are some males in the group, so we'll make 36, and play it safe, alloting 3 per person".  You will run out.
This can become expensive.

At our church we have breakfast snacks at the coffee table and I'm on the rotation to bring a goody once a month.  My kids LOVE pigs in a blanket and they often request them.   And, I love that they love to help make them.  The problem is, we can't make enough. And I can't afford to make ENOUGH for our 75 person congregation.  One time we served them and some children were eating them by the handful at church!  So, the next month when my kids asked me to make them for snack,  I told them about my reluctance, and my Lainey, said, "We'll just have to make a sign that tells people there is a limit".  I told her that was a little rude, or awkward, at best.  But in her 7 year old handwriting, it didn't seem as obnoxious.  So there it was.  A basket full of golden, savory pigs in blankets, made with thoughtfulness, with a sign attached with a request for restraint. 

It worked, kinda. Though we still ran out.

It's great to have a "recipe" that anybody can make.  This is helpful and fun.  It's sweet to see my kids' little (clean) hands wrapping the dough and placing them on the trays ready to cook. It reminds me of the time that we went on a long weekend mission trip with a group of Middle School students to Atlanta to work with some ministries in the community.  My mom ended up going to help with the food for our team, as well as the project.  One of our main roles was to prepare and serve a breakfast meal to the homeless and marginalized community through an inner-city church.  My mom thought these would be a great food to serve, as they are a crowd pleaser, hearty, easy to transport, and the youth could help prepare them.  So that Friday night, there were some students playing board games and cards and freeze tag and my mom got out the huge pans and piles of refrigerated dough and smokies and started recruiting volunteers to help prep.  It was so much fun to watch 12 and 13 year old girls and guys making an assembly line of pigs in blankets.  And because they are easy to assemble,  it went by really fast. As my mom always says in these moments, "many hands make light work".  

Some people make these with refrigerated biscuit dough, which is cheaper, but not as tasty.  Also, the instructions on how many blankets you can make from one crescent roll varies.  I try to cut the dough so that it makes 3 blankets out of each pre-perforated crescent roll.

Asher is usually "quality control"

"ta da! ready for the oven"

In case you want a "recipe" for this, I use a package of little smokey sausages, and 3 cans of refrigerated crescent rolls. (The store brand works just as well as the name brand). Preheat oven to the  temperature listed on the can of crescents.  Open the cans and unroll the crescents.  Cut each perforated triangle into 3 smaller triangles (or trianglish shapes, really).
Wrap the crescent around the smokey. Place with seam side down on parchment lined baking sheet or baking stone.  As you can see from the photos, they don't "grow" much in the baking, so you can place them pretty close together on the pan if you need to. Bake until golden. (The meat is already fully-cooked when purchased, it's just a matter of warming and crisping them up and baking the dough).  Serve.  Watch them disappear!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Anticipating Easter: Lent and Sweet Potato Biscuits

This wednesday is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar. It marks the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, which end with Easter.  I didn’t grow up in a denomination that celebrated or honored Lent. We just by-passed all of that and focused on Easter.  We bought new, fancy, spring dresses and white shoes (or sandals) to wear on Easter Sunday when people came out of the woodwork to join us at church.  During college I became aware of Lent and the season of anticipation of the days leading up to Christ’s trial, death, burial and then resurrection!   After college I began attending a church that had a Good Friday service.  This was insightful, in that it was a somber (uncomfortably so) service where we pondered – through song and word– the weight of the death of Jesus.

Easter had never felt so anticipated, relieving, and celebratory. 

So, when I began to consider participating in Lenten practices, I started with daily readings leading up to Easter and attempting to fast, or "give up something” during these days.  I used to say, jokingly, that I would give up smoking…(because I’m not a smoker)! I have had varying success/revelation/failure/struggle throughout the years with “giving up” things for Lent.  I have fasted from chocolate, coffee, caffeine, dessert (the hardest by far), and a “words fast” – fasting from gossip, complaining, judging, etc. 

Some of the past few years, I have felt like my life has been one big LENTEN FAST- with young children and an intense job, and a household to keep.  I feel that my every day life is a sacrifice!

Therefore, it's hard to feel inspired to fast from yet another comfort.

Then I begin to ponder what the point of Lent really is.   In my “researching” I have found that the answer to that can really vary.  Some people seek, through observing Lent, to align with Christ, who sacrificed his very life.  Some people use it as a time to cleanse their lives physically, mentally and spiritually.  Some people use it as a time to LEAN on God in a greater way by making sacrifices personally and meditating on Christ's life. Some people use it as a time to meditate and reflect on their own life in relation to Jesus and the gift of His death.

Fredrick Buechner, a favorite author of mine, beautifully explains the season of Lent from his perspective in his book, Whistling in the Dark:
In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use.  For Christians, to observe forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days.  After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.
If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you most deplore?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo?  Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become.  It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.

Last year, I wanted to involve my children in the season of Lent without legalistically requiring them to fast from something, when it’s not their choice. (I really don’t want to turn them off from this sacred season).   I contacted my friend Emily, who is always brimming with creative ideas for intentional parenting and celebrating.  She immediately sent me photos and reflections from this crown of thorns ritual they practice in their home.  We did it last year and it was profound.  I expect that the second time around it will be as well. (A little different, but equally stunning).

We placed a styrofoam wreath on the table, to be kept during the 40 days of Lent, with a cup of toothpicks nearby.  Each night at dinner, those at the table had the chance to confess sin from the day.  When they did so, they placed a toothpick in the wreath, symbolizing the thorns in the crown of Jesus on the cross.  It was uncomfortable to do this – on many levels– (being aware of the sin in our hearts, the physical placing of the thorns in the crown, and the admitting of sin out loud).
This is an especially vulnerable feeling when done with guests at the table.  (We warned them that we would be sharing and invited them to participate in whatever way they felt most comfortable…we didn’t want to impose this radical ritual on our guests)!

Last year when we did this we found that as the days progressed, we became increasingly more aware of our sin throughout the day and even began to see patterns of our repeated sins. 

The glorious part of this ritual is that on Easter morning, before the children awoke, I removed all of the thorns and replaced them with spring flowers!  When they came down to breakfast, they found that the thorns of our 40 days of sin had been replaced with beautiful, vibrant flowers!

Lucy was so excited she stuck the wreath on her head as a crown!
At first I told her to take it off, and then I realized that she was
embracing the joy of this beautiful redemption.
Another beautiful gift last Easter was that my friend Blair, introduced these lovely sweet potato biscuits to us, at our Easter feast! We host an Easter dinner/lunch each year for people who are in town and need a place to go.  It's a fun and unpredictable event.  I will go into the details more in the coming weeks, and share some of our favorite food traditions of Easter! But as I was reflecting on last year's Easter Season, the wreath of toothpick thorns and the sweet potato biscuits are the two new traditions that were introduced, that we are excited to repeat this year.

In case you came here today looking for a recipe, rather than a spiritual guide, here is a winner of a recipe!  The recipe is from Blair, via her mom, via Southern Living Magazine (always a good sign).

1 large sweet potato
2 cups self-rising flour

1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp shortening
2 Tbsp butter, cut up
1/3 cup milk

Bake sweet potato at 350 for 1 hour or until tender; cool slightly. 

Peel and mash; cool.

Combine flour and sugar in a medium bowl. 
Cut shortening and butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork until crumbly; add mashed sweet potato and milk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 3-4 times.  
Pat dough out into a rectangle 1/2 inch thick; cut into 12 pieces, then gently shape them into a circle with your hand, (or cut with a 2 inch round cutter). 
Place on a baking stone or a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 1 dozen

This week, the season of Lent begins, and I am excited to have a focus during these days of winter. Communal confession and sweet potato biscuits are part of what I anticipate might make this season special to me.  What about you??

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It's Valen-Time!

It's Valentine's Week and I love it. (Or as my little Lucy sometimes calls it, Valen-times).  It can be a really fun day: so pink and filled with sugar and love.  I know some people can't stand it.  They revolt, wearing black and are anti-Valentine's. But I've never felt that way.

And I was even dumped by two different boyfriends on Valentine's ridiculous is that!?  I told my friend this fun-fact about myself the other day and she asked, "Did their mothers not teach them that it is not okay to break up with a girl on Valentine's Day!?"  "Evidently not," I replied! My first boyfriend, a long-distance relationship, broke up with me via letter, which included his reason for breaking up, "I just got tired."  Well that makes a lot of sense.

But I'm not bitter. It's been a couple of decades.

And I really like Valentine's Day. I really do.

As a child, my mom always made Valentine's a day of friends and love and sweet treats.
I'm not very romantic, so that suits me well! I love a chance to make something beautiful, have a sweet treat and honor people I love.

We are gearing up for the holiday at our house:
My kids have been working on their Valentines for their classmates,

my friend Connie made a fun garland-of-love to hang in my house, and

I made my favorite Sugar Cookies.

Last year I wrote about the Linzer cookies that I think are just delightful.  They are a lovely Valentine's treat.  But most years I can't resist making my mom's timeless sugar cookie recipe for Valentine's.  They are just so pretty when they are heart-shaped!

I remember when my son, Asher, was one or two, I packaged bags of heart-shaped iced sugar cookies with little love notes attached for all of the adults in our life who loved him so well.  It was such fun to give "Valentines" as a way to thank friends for being so loving year round to our little boy!

I wrote last year about some of the Valentine's traditions that we enjoy at our house (My husband's clever tackiest Valentine's pursuit, dinners and bingo, etc.).

I'd love to hear of your great celebrations and ideas!

If you're looking for a good sugar cookie recipe, this one is time-tested and adored.

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1½ tsp. butter flavoring (extract)

Blend softened butter with sugar. 
Add eggs, then flour, baking powder and salt. 
Add vanilla and butter flavoring. 
Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. 
Roll out dough to ¼“ thick. 
Dust cutters and rolling pin with powdered sugar. Cut out cookies in desired shapes. 
Place on ungreased cookie sheet, (I line with parchment), allowing about 2 inches between cookies (they will spread). 
Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes (or until edges begin to turn golden). 
Remove from cookie sheet immediately. 
When cooled, glaze with the following glaze or frosting of your choice.

Glaze for Sugar Cookies
3 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. milk or water (approximately)
1 tsp. almond OR lemon OR vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients until smooth. 
If glaze is too runny, add more powdered sugar. 
If glaze is too stiff, add more milk.

Some tricks about these cookies that I've learned along the way:

*Mom taught us to sprinkle our cookie cutters, surface and rolling pin with powdered sugar rather than flour.  That way it provides the dusting effect without drying out or dulling the dough’s taste.

*Make sure you space these cookies apart a couple of inches because they really grow.

*It takes a while to make the batch of these cookies, as there are several steps and it makes a big batch.  I suggest you break down the steps into different sessions if you don't have a big time block.  You can mix up the dough and refrigerate it for another day.  Or you can make the cookies and let them cool until the next day when you ice them.

*If you  don’t want to deal with icing the cookies, you can put sprinkles on them prior to baking so they can stick on by baking OR my mom, when we were young, would sometimes let us “egg paint” the cookies prior to baking them.  Mix an egg yolk with some food coloring and a little water and use clean, new paintbrushes and paint the cookies.  Then bake and they come out looking glossy and colorful.

*Since being married to a lover-of-soft-cookies-husband (with a dislike of crunchy cookies) I have worked to find the correct amount of cooking time on cookies of all kinds.  The timing makes such a difference in the softness of the cookie.  Two minutes can make a huge difference.  So I remove them from the oven at the sight of the golden edges.  It is good to note, however, that glaze added atop a cookie will soften the cookie by the next day.

*I started making the almond glaze when I was inspired by Ham and Goody’s bakery that makes these yummy teacakes and sugar cookies with beautiful, smooth, glossy glaze that I am in love with.  I think it is the perfect companion to this great cookie and makes them so beautiful!  My friend Karin and I have observed the “marriage” that happens between the cookie and the glaze that makes the cookie soft and sweet and it is just mysteriously beautiful (kinda like marriage).  And I use the back-of-the-spoon technique where I blob some glaze on the cookie and then use the back of the spoon to guide my smoothing it all over the cookie.

*These cookies are fun on a stick (I use the paper lolly-pop sticks).  They are a great party favor or teacher gift (we have given “bouquets” to teachers and have given “single” flower cookie sticks to teachers).  

*Some of our young friends have milk allergies and thankfully there is a margarine that is oil based rather than milk that can be used in this recipe and it works! And tastes great.  And they can have a “normal beautiful sugar cookie" just like everyone else! ( Just a good thing to know.)

So, make something yummy and send a little love to someone this week!

P.S. I have the honor, this week, of being featured on (in)courage, for a Bible Study I co-authored, Relate.  I have written 3 posts for their blog this week on relationships. CLICK HERE if you want to check it out!

If you have made your way to my blog via (in)courage, then WELCOME! I'm honored you stopped by.  I hope you can look around and find some ideas and inspiration for food and life!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Guest Post - Birthday Wishes

My wife turns 40 today! I can’t even believe it. And what an amazingly stunning 40 year old she is! When we were in college, she would say that her dream was to be 40, have kids who are school aged and to be wise! She’s living the dream and I’m so thrilled and honored to celebrate her.

So why a guest post on her birthday? Basically because I hacked in to her account and she doesn't know that it's happening! Not really. A guest post today comes as a result of one of the things I love most about her – she’s HUMBLE. She doesn’t like to toot her own horn. She doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. As for this blog, she isn’t trying to get the largest number of followers that she can, she just wants to share the knowledge she’s learned along the way with anyone who wants to learn, and do so in a creative, fun way, as an outlet for this aspect of her life (cooking and such). So on her day, I didn’t want her to have to try to decide whether to let people know it was her birthday, I wanted to be able to do that for her.

Speaking of the cooking aspect of Julie’s life, it has been a skill that has been developed over pretty much 40 years. Sure, she wasn’t cooking when she was a baby, but I’m pretty sure, as soon as she was able to stand on a stool and reach the counter, her mom let her be a part of what was happening in the kitchen. Then even as she grew up and had projects at school, she used cooking as a way to earn a good science fair grade (thus the photo montage of “What’s missing from the Biscuits?”). 
"What's missing from the biscuits?"
an early date at a costume party in
college. Julie and I dressed up as
each other!
Our first date was even a date to make cookies together (it was actually a smooth move on my part to invite myself to do that – having no idea I was scoring the kind of points I was). And not only has she been doing it a long time, she’s really good at it.

Part of the reason I think Julie’s so good at cooking is because she has always been, and will always be, a STUDENT. She’s always open to learning new ways a recipe can be done to make it better, or to learning a new technique, or never afraid to ask for the recipe of something she tastes somewhere that is amazing. She’s never too cocky (or insecure) to ask, always wanting to grow. That extends beyond the kitchen and is another reason I’m so in love with her. I also think that’s one of the reasons she’s such a great professor. She models for her students what she expects out of them. And then, amazingly, if they don’t measure up, or are walking through a hard time, she is incredibly generous.  Her end goal is not the grade, but it is them growing and learning.

Potentially the source of her sweet tooth!
She is so GENEROUS! Not just to her students, but to everyone she encounters. She gives so much of her time, effort and resources to help others. I think she learned this early on from her mother. If she was ever feeling sorry for herself, her mother would encourage her to do something for someone else, therefore getting her mind off herself. So maybe she’s just constantly feeling sorry for herself? No, she’s learned the value of giving and the rewards that come with it. It has become who she is, not just something she does.

I’m trying to think how I can capture all the great things about Julie in a post without boring you all off the page, and I’m not sure I will succeed. So, I’ll sum it up with this. I’m married to a wonderfully beautiful (inside and out) woman who loves God and people, longs to be better, desires wisdom, lives generously and makes me a better person (sometimes whether I like it or not). I celebrate her today!

stuck to the pan!
Last year I surprised her by making a cake from the blog. This year, we collaborated, but I’m still doing most of the work. Italian Cream Cake. I’ve never made a layer cake. I’ve actually not made much of anything, although I have been doing some of the recipes from Cup-a Cup-a (meatballs, tomato soup, chicken and wild rice soup to name a few). I usually watch most of what’s being made, but this time I’m mostly on my own. 

She and I made the cakes last night, and I’m so glad Julie was with me because the layers stuck to the pan. A Mess. But it will be covered with icing right? We did have one layer that didn’t stick and it will for sure be the top.
holy cake

Why Italian Cream Cake?  It’s what she asked for. It was always her mother’s favorite, but Julie didn’t love it. Not until she turned 30 or so, that is. Then it became this cake that she began to love. She says it was a matter of growing up in her tastes. Now, it’s one of her favorites. So, it’s her birthday, whatever she wants, I’ll give it a shot.  For you, my love - Dave
At lunch on her day!

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup Crisco
5 egg yolks
1 cup butter milk
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sweetened coconut
1 cup pecans
5 egg whites

Cream together - sugar, butter and Crisco, then add the egg yolks and mix

In a bowl, mix 1 cup butter milk and 1 tsp baking soda

Add milk mix and flour alternately with creamed butter mixture

Add vanilla and then fold in coconut, pecans and stiffly beaten egg whites

Bake in 3 layers at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes 

Cool on cooling rack, then frost and layer.
first coat

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter
1 8 oz. cream cheese
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

blend together until smooth
(you might want to double this - I ran out after coat 1)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

To Substitute or Not to Substitute?

I am a believer in substituting.  I often replace a name brand thing or a fatty thing, with something less costly, caloric or prestigious.  In recipes,  I love finding cheaper, healthier ingredients to use.  
Sometimes substitutions work and other times they just don’t measure up.  There are some ingredients for which the generic just aren’t comparable to the brand name, others are equally good.  In recipes, it's sometimes trial and error.  For example: I think yogurt is a great substitution for butter in muffins, while I think applesauce in cookies alters them too severely.  

Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.  Which reminds me of middle school.  Do you remember being a middle schooler?  It’s just brutal.  No matter who you are or where you are from, it’s just awkward. And kids are mean. And insecure (I now understand).  My parents have always been very practical and prudent with their money. This trait is one I admire greatly.  I can remember my father talking to me about name brands when I was a growing up.  He would challenge me to consider that if the same exact shirt, when store brand, was $10, and yet was $38 if it was Polo brand, then I actually was paying $28 for that little embroidered man riding on a horse.   This made sense and I agreed that there wasn’t a difference anyway!

However, when I was in Middle School, I really wanted to get a pair of Docksiders.

Did you ever have Docksiders? They were all the rage back in the 80s when I was a teenager. I really wanted them.  I remember shopping with my dad to see if we could find some. Then my Dad found some at J C Pennys that were a knock off. They were significantly less expensive and my dad argued that they were just the same.  I tried to agree, but I knew deep down inside that they really weren’t Docksiders.  But I wasn’t paying for them, after all.  So, to home we went with the knock off docksiderish shoes. 

When I wore them to school the next week, my fears were realized.  My mean classmates began to make comments about my knock off brand shoes.  Flush-faced and devastated, I began to sit cross ankled, so as to hide the labels that were glaring on the outside of each of my shoes.  I am not sure how much I ended up wearing those shoes.  This was one of those situations, where I have to agree with Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell – Ain't nothing like the Real thing, baby.

So, a few weeks ago, I saw this incredible looking Carmelita Bar on Pinterest. (If you haven’t found pinterest, and you like beautiful things and collecting ideas, you should totally check it out). I pinned it and added it to my “Yum” board.  I was needing to make a dessert for our Social Work Chili Supper and was thinking it might fit the requests of my students: yummy, gooey, chocolate and no nuts.  So I made it.  It was everything and MORE than what I hoped it would be.  Carmelitas.  Layers of brown sugar/butter/oat bar cookie with thick, melted carmel, and semi-sweet chocolate in-between.  YUM!

Carmelita means "little caramel" and though you might cut them in small pieces, there's nothing really "little" about these bars.  I am thinking "Carmelgrande" might be a better name for them.

So when my mother was coming to town last week, I wanted to make them for her. I thought I would try substituting my 1% milk for the whipping cream used to liquefy the caramels.  I thought, “milk’s milk…and the caramels are so rich it will be okay”.  I thought with all of that butter, chocolate and caramel, the heavy cream was perhaps unnecessary.

But I was wrong. It wasn’t the same.  It was far thinner and when cooled, it was less rich-tasting.  Now, don’t get me wrong, my mom and sister, who tested them, thought they were fabulous, but when Amy and Dave, who had tasted the first batch as well, compared the two,  they wholeheartedly agreed that the caramel flavor was diminished with the milk in the second batch. 

So, I decided to make them one more time, just to make sure! (I didn’t want to give up too soon) and tried it with half and half.  It was much creamier than the milk, but still not as “wow” as the heavy cream.  So, I say, if you are trying to be healthy, make them as directed and just eat one –  share the rest with your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, but don't compromise on the ingredients.  In this case..."to NOT SUBSTITUTE" is the answer!

Lucy and I unwrapped and counted - educational yumminess


3/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup flour
1 cup oats (old fashion rolled oatmeal)
1 tsp. baking soda
32 caramel squares, unwrapped
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about a cup)

In a bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, and baking soda.  Pat half of the oatmeal mixture into the bottom of a lightly sprayed 8 x 8 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  

Unwrap caramels and combine them with cream in a saucepan over low heat (or in a bowl in the microwave). Stir and cook until completely smooth.  Set aside. 

Remove pan from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the warm bars.

Pour melted caramel over chocolate chips.

Crumble the remaining oatmeal batter over

Return to oven and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.

Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting. (It's tempting to not wait, but they really need to be cooled! You can put it in the fridge for a few minutes to help speed this up, if you need).

Slice and serve.
(They are very rich, so slice small!)

[I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 9 X 13 pan in these photos.]