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Apple Butter Happiness!

I wish you could smell my kitchen right now.  Not only does it feel like fall outside this morning, but it smells like fall because of what I just made in my crockpot.  Apple Butter….caramel apple butter to be precise.  This recipe is SUPER easy but it does take a few hours in the crockpot.  I started it last night before bed and was awakened to the smell of cinnamon and cloves this morning.  So good. 

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Caramel Apple Butter (in the crockpot)

14 large apples

2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cloves

1 Tbsp vanilla

1 bag of caramels

Peel apples and cut into quarters.  Throw them in the crockpot with the vanilla.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours (I did this last night and just set my alarm for 4:30am to continue)

When the cooking is done, mash the apples with a potato masher or a fork.  Stir in the sugars, cinnamon and cloves.  Cover again and cook for 6 more hours.  During the last hour, unwrap and throw in an entire bag of caramels.  Mix and recover to allow the caramels to melt into the apple butter.

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Someone was salivating just smelling it!

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This is so good!  I made this recipe last year and actually froze a few jars.  It worked very well.  I had apple butter until July of this year. 

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So good!  This would make an excellent gift with a little tag with the recipe.  

I put some on my maple pumpkin pancakes this morning.  I also added some of my granola mix from Mix My Granola

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Yum!  I have to say that this granola mix is some of the best that I’ve had.  I love the dates and the almonds and cranberries.  I can’t taste the bee pollen enhancer at all (which is nice, because I was a bit weirded out by it, but loved the health benefits).   But, my absolute favorite part (I can’t lie) are the peanut butter bites.  So good and so big!  I’ve been just eating this by the handful straight out of the can.  Honestly, I’m super impressed with Mix My Granola.  Not only is their granola great, but it’s organic, shipping is super fast, and the size they give you is incredible.  I’m definitely excited to try more combinations!

Okay, breakfast is over, the pups are at soccer practice with Daddy and…

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I’m hitting the treadmill for a quick run.  Have a great Saturday!!!!

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All Time Favorite Cookies!

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Andy and I attended a beautiful wedding on Friday night.  The venue was beautiful.  It was in an old barn-type building that was huge.  The cake was probably the best part.  Buttercream icing.  Sweet…just like it should be. 

Another one of my favorite sweet indulgences is Giada De Laurentis’ Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I started making these a few years ago, after reading rave reviews and I’ve been making them ever since. 

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup old fashioned oats

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)

1 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 oz English toffee candy (I used Heath) finely chopped

1 cup Hazelnuts, toasted, husked, and chopped

1 12 ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

Toast hazelnuts until slightly brown.  I did mine directly on the stovetop and it worked just fine.  I then chopped mine in my magic bullet. 

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Chop oats in a food processor.  Add oats, flour, baking powder and soda, and salt to a medium sized bowl.  In a larger bowl combine the sugars and butter and mix until fluffy.  Add the eggs and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture and stir until just blended.  Stir in the toffee, hazelnuts, and chocolate chips. 

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Drop 1 rounded Tbsp of dough onto cookie sheet spacing each cookie about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes.  Remove and let cool completely on a wire rack. 

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These are delicious!  My favorite part is that they are so moist and chewy….probably the toffee candy.  My favorite way to eat them is to warm them for about 7 seconds in the microwave and eat with a glass of milk or dunk them into my tea at night. 

While the boys did a little fall yard work

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I got busy making dinner. 

It was a bit chilly this evening, so we tried Jenna’s Creamy White Chicken Chili recipe with some French bread warmed in the oven.  Jenna’s right on with this recipe.  It was very good.  A bit spicy, but the sour cream seemed to cut the spice a bit.  Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE spice, the boys…not so much! 

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Andy even loved this one and he’s a picky eater.  We all went back for seconds and I have just enough left for lunch tomorrow.  Try this one if you haven’t already! 

I’m about to cuddle with the boys and sip some chai tea to accompany another one of those fabulous hazelnut cookies.  Nite!

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“D” is for…

Damn good dinner on a week night (if I do say so myself).  Okay, I promise, that’s the last of the alphabet.  I’m brain washed by a preschooler…somebody help me! 

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Okay, back to that dinner.  The temperature is supposed to get down into the 30’s tonight in western MD.  So, I decided a nice, warm comfort dish it was….shepherds pie…made with deer meat of course! 

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I was out of peas and carrots so I substituted and used some frozen corn.  Still good!

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Topped with mashed potatoes and grated cheddar cheese.  It was delicious.  Here’s the recipe:

Shepherd’s Pie

12 ounces ground lean beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 cup sliced baby carrots adn frozen baby peas

1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth

2 cups mashed potatoes

cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Brown meat in a skillet.  Add onion; cook, stirring constantly until onion is softened.  Add carrots and peas (or corn).  Continue to cook and stir until vegetable are tender.  Add broth; bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to low; let simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed (about 10 mins).  Transfer mixture to casserole dish or pie pan.  Top mixture with mashed potatoes and grated cheese (if desired).  Bake until heated through, 15-20 minutes. 

There you have it…the ultimate comfort food.  And because I had two rotting bananas on the counter, I decided to make banana bread…with a twist. 

Banana Bread (with chocolate chips)

1/3 c applesauce (I used my homemade applesauce)

1/2 c sugar

2 egg whites

1 3/4 c flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1-2 mashed bananas

3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together applesauce and sugar.  Add egg whites and mix well.  Add salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour.  Add bananas one at a time and mash with a potato masher until smooth.  Add chocolate chips and combine. 

Bake in a greased loaf pan for 45 minutes. 

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Oh my pups!  This is great.  I’m eating a slice right now spread with peanut butter!  Please…try this ASAP.  You won’t be disappointed.  It’s super moist.  I think it has to do with using the applesauce. 

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Blondies and Redheads…Oh My!

TGIF!  What a long week.  I was excited to come home tonight, cook a nice dinner, and relax.  The boys wanted sweet potatoes and I wanted to chop up our last squash from the garden.  We added baked chicken and we called it dinner.

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I normally do sweet potato medallions.  I chop them (skins on) and toss them into a Ziploc bag with olive oil, salt and pepper.  I give it a good shake and squish.  Then I spread them on a tray and bake them for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.  Today I did something a bit different.  I sprinkled them with cinnamon.  Yum!  The boys love them dipped in ketchup.

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Nice and crispy.  Then I sautéed the squash in some olive oil with some Seasoning Salt that I got from Tastefully Simple.  I love this stuff….so versatile. 

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I cooked them until they were mushy.  The boys tried them, but that’s where it stopped.  Oh well, one day!  More for Andy and I.  While I cooked, the boys played cowboys and truck drivers.  Apparently times have changed.

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Eventually dinner was ready.  My plate looked like this.

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I ate most of this…I left 1/3 of the chicken.  I was listening to my hunger…plus, I knew we were planning on a treat later. 

Enter Blondies.  I made the recipe that Jenna posted a few days ago.   Hello sugar and butter! 

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The boys helped.

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Occasionally I’ve have to wrestle a cooking utensil away.  Who invited Buzz Lightyear?  Why did I spend so much money on Halloween costumes.  Who knew we had all the accessories in our kitchen? 

Eventually the buzzer went off, the boys came running, and I cut these babies.

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Jenna was so right.  These are amazing.  Super sweet and super chewy.  The boys dove in and demolished this faster than I could snap a picture.  I really like the simple and short ingredient list.

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Thanks Jenna!  Great recipe! 

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Mama’s Going Green in More Ways Than One

I’ve read Sophie Uliano’s book Gorgeously Green and I really liked it.   I really need to get my own copy because I’ve nearly worn my sister’s out.  Sorry Brooke!  Though I’m a busy mom, I’ve really tried to be more conscious of taking care of the environment.  Lord knows I want to preserve this beautiful earth for my boys to be able to enjoy with their children and grandchildren.  One small step has been to minimize the use of grocery bags at the supermarket (or any store).  Enter the Chico Bag.   I just bought a few as teacher gifts for my son’s daycare teachers and I thought I’d pick up two for myself.  They’ve come in so handy.

Here is the bag unfolded after I picked up a few groceries…ignore the wrinkles…it’s a fabulous bag.

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What I love about it, is it folds up easily to be carried in my purse.  It’s smaller than my wallet.  I have two in there now and I can’t even tell.

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Notice the neat little clip on the side?  Now there’s no excuse for forgetting my reusable bags…I have two with me at all times.   I really think everyone should have a few of these….Christmas idea?  Absolutely! 

Let me rewind for a bit.  I was led to the grocery store this afternoon by a crazy craving for something light, cool and refreshing for dinner.  Spring rolls!  I have to admit that I was really moved by Sarah’s post today on “Making the Connection”.  We’re certainly a meat eating family, but I’m really intent on trying to eat 1-2 meals a week that are meatless.  I figured tonight was as good of a time as any.  And no Sam…we will not be swimming with the dolphins in North Carolina this coming week…we might not be swimming period, but that’s a different story

Andrea’s Yummy Spring Rolls

DSC_1550Ingredients

Spring Roll Paper

shredded carrots

shredded cucumber

cooked shrimp (I used baby)

mint

cilantro

Dipping Sauce

peanut sauce

soy sauce

I’ve been very intimidated to try these.  Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a much better baker than a cook and the whole rice paper thing intimidates me.  I’m happy to report…it was easier than I thought.

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I think the secret may be to soak the rice paper in hot water for only about 30 seconds (too long and they get too sticky) and to have all of your ingredients plated and ready to “roll”. 

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I then placed the rice paper on a wet tea towel and dabbed it with a dry, clean wash cloth until it was a bit tacky.  I filled the center with all of my ingredients:  carrots, cucumbers, shrimp, mint, and cilantro…not too much now…just fill the center of the paper.  Next was folding it.  I folded the rice paper in half like a burrito.

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I then folded each end in.  It kind of reminded me of wrapping a birthday present.

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One side

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Two sides.  I then rolled it up and pressed the top of the rice paper against the roll to seal it.

The peanut sauce is simple.  I just mixed a bit of soy sauce with the peanut sauce to give it a more runny consistency.

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They turned out really good.  I’m almost inclined to say they were just as good (if not better) than the ones that I’ve had in Vietnamese restaurants. 

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There you have it…yes, they have shrimp in them  (which is technically meat I know…I’m not a rocket scientist, but I am a scientist of other sorts), but for this family that’s a huge step.  I combined them with some yummy Channa Masala. 

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It’s packaged, I know, but I was impressed by the simple and short ingredient list.  I have to say that the pups weren’t too keen on this meal.  Sam did pick the shrimp out of the wraps (typical) and Logan licked the peanut sauce (typical, typical).  Change doesn’t happen over night my friends.  This is going to take some getting used to.  But we’re taking steps in the right direction and it makes me feel good! 

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Fabulous Bean Soup

Well, I did it again….2 days in a row.  I hopped on the treadmill this morning at approximately 5:20am for 2 miles.  Easy peasy…I’m feeling great.  I just heard of a local 5K on September 25th…think I should go for it?  Or is that the endorphins talking? 

Let’s move to dinner tonight.  A wonderful bean and ham soup made with a leftover ham bone from about 3 weeks ago that I froze.  So easy and so good.  I made this and froze what we didn’t eat for a cool fall evening. 

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Ham and Bean Soup

1 cup dry navy beans

1 to 1.5 lb meaty smoked pork hocks or ham bone

3 stalks for chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed

1/4 tsp pepper

1 bay leaf

Rinse beans.  In a large saucepan combine beans and 4 cups of water.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Cover and let stand for 1 hour.  Drain and rinse beans. 

In the same pan combine beans, pork hocks or ham bone, celery, onion, thyme, pepper bay leaf and 4 cups of fresh water.  Bring to boiling, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer about 1 hour or till beans are tender.  Remove meat.  When cool enough to handle, cut meat off bones and coarsely chop meat.  Discard bones and bay leaf.  Slightly mash beans in saucepan.  Return meat to saucepan and heat through. 

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Meanwhile, Sam decided that he wanted to “cook” some soup of his own.  This was a lovely combination of ham pieces, water, and corn stalks. 

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Creative…I’ll give him that. 

The entire time he was talking and mixing and explaining to me what he was doing.  Watch out Tyler Florence…there’s a new cook in town and he’s darn cute!

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We decided to pass on the “cream of corn stalk” and inhaled the Bean Soup with a few homemade corn bread muffins.  In our house there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen!   

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Tomato Quiche

With the days getting shorter, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is where I’ll be most mornings. 

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I’ve put it off as long as possible.  I’m definitely an outside runner.  I love the peaceful feeling of running outside first thing in the morning.  However, at 5:15am it’s too dark out to continue my weekday runs.  So, I’m going the safe route and starting on the treadmill.  I did 2 easy miles this morning and it felt great.  I made sure to hydrate adequately yesterday and it paid off! 

Dinner tonight was an old recipe passed down from my Great Aunt Betty.  Tomato Quiche.  Very easy and healthy. 

Tomato Quiche

1 pie crust

1 pack of mixed cheese

1 can of tomatoes with onions and peppers

oregano

salt and pepper

3 eggs

1 tsp sugar

bacon bits

3/4 c milk

Place half of the cheese in the bottom of pie crust

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On the stove, warm the tomatoes, oregano (to taste) and salt and pepper (to taste).  Pour this warm mix over the cheese in pie crust.  Add bacon bits. 

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Beat 3 eggs and milk together.  Add sugar to milk and eggs and mix well.  Pour egg mixture in pie pan.  Add the rest of the cheese package to the top. 

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Place on cookie sheet and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.  This is so yummy and easy.  It’s great made in advance and re-heated.

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We enjoyed this with some Green Monsters this evening. 

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Got Green Monster

The gang loved it. 

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Oh wait….is that a chocolate cookie?  Puppy Daddy…..you’re busted!!!!!!!!!

But I promise, we had happy plates all around! 

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