Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

– johanna | October 29th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

The oatmeal cookie is one of my favorite fall treats. The spiciness whispers autumn. In this particular version, cinnamon has been replaced with nutmeg for a nice subtle flavor. This recipe comes from the  Baking Illustrated Cookbook.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raisins, optional

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt together in a small bowl.
Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time.
Stir dry ingredients into the sugar mixture. Add the oats and raisins.
Roll two tablespoons of dough into a ball and place on prepared baking sheets at least two inches apart.
Bake until the cookie edges turn golden brown, 22-25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to wire rack. Do not over bake. The edges should be brown but the rest of the cookie should be light in color.

Substitute 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg for the grated if in a pinch.
A less sweet option: reduce sugar by 1/4 cup.
Date Oatmeal Cookies: Substitute 1 1/2 cups chopped dates for the raisins.
Ginger Oatmeal Cookies: Add 3/4 tsp ground ginger to the flour and omit raisins.
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies: Omit the nutmeg. Substitute 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips for the raisins.
Nut Oatmeal Cookies: decrease flour to 1 1/2 cups and add 3/4 cup ground almonds. Add 1 cup chopped walnuts with the oatmeal.
Orange and Almond Oatmeal Cookies: Omit the raisins. Add 2 tbsp minced orange zest and 1 cup toasted chopped almonds (toast nuts in 350-degree oven for 5 minutes) along with oats.

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BBQ Sauce Chicken Chop Salad

– johanna | October 28th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Soup / Salad

I have been excited to cook with barbecue sauce ever since I discovered Red Tail Ale Tangy BBQ sauce. I made a ham last week and smothered it with half the bottle. We ate it all week in sandwiches, omelets and with potatoes. This recipe for BBQ Chicken Salad comes from a friend of mine who had the salad at a ladies luncheon. It was so good she had to have the recipe. Fortunately for us, her friends, she thought we should have the recipe too. Wendy copied the recipe as stated from the book but she does not measure the ingredients, just throws it all together. She usually makes this dish with left over BBQ chicken. She adds a couple extra chicken breasts to the pan and refrigerates them to make the salad the next day. I love getting two meals out of one.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup barbecue sauce

Marinate chicken in barbecue sauce, then bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Chop into pieces and refrigerate.

1/2 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1/2 head Romaine lettuce, chopped
3 to 4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 jicama, peeled and diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen sweet corn, thawed
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated

Combine chicken in a large salad bowl with salad ingredients and toss.  Serve with Ranch Dressing, additional BBQ sauce and crispy corn tortilla chips.

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Card Board Princess Castle

– johanna | October 27th, 2008


Adelin is passionate about princesses right now. I am thrilled to see her actually playing and interested in something other than Caillou. She saw a Princess playhouse in a toy magazine and wanted me to take her to the store right away. I smiled, then tried to distract her with something else.

While we were in the backyard playing, I noticed a large cardboard box the kids had not yet managed to destroy. The dusty gears in my head started to grind and smoke. Ten minutes later, Adelin had her very own Princess Castle. I think I was more astonished that she actually loved it. The next step is paint.

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Enameled 7 Quart Cast Iron Casserole Dish

– johanna | October 26th, 2008


I have coveted this pot since Patty brought hers over to make raspberry jam. I love the colors: Sand, Red, Green, Blue. What I like most is how wide and roomy it is and how well it cooks. The dish can transfer from stovetop to oven with ease. My mom sent a gift certificate for my birthday to buy a set of Martha Stewart Ice Cream dishes that are no longer available. How convenient. I was able to put the money toward my Martha Stewart Cast Iron Casserole dish instead. Thanks mom! I love my birthday present.

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Makeing Time for the Family: Family Fun Table Talk At The Dinner Table

– johanna | October 25th, 2008


Sitting down at the table together is still one of the best ways for families to grow and stay connected.

When we gather around the dinner table, I envision happy children with hands washed, eager to devour the meal prepared for them. Once seated, there is a hush as we take hands and offer thanks for our bounties. The conversations are light and fun. There is a feeling of warmth as we enjoy one another’s company while we discuss the highlights of our day.

There is a book that has been nestled among my cookbooks since Christmas. It is called “Dinner? It’s in the Bag!” Bringing your family back to the table one meal at a time. I have only ever leafed through the recipe section. Tonight, however, I had a few spare moments while I was making dinner to peruse the book a little further. The last section is titled “Table Talk and Family Fun.” There were a few ideas I thought worth noting.

“Meal time is a time to relax, connect and learn. Discipline, unpleasant subjects, tragic stories and stern lectures have no seat at the dining table. Those subjects can be discussed later in a private setting. Laying the cares of the day aside, turning off the television, video games, internet, telephone and turning on soft background music, will greatly enhance your efforts. As families gather around the table, the door is opened to learning about what we are all thinking, feeling and dreaming.

The author goes on to say, when her children were young every morning during breakfast her husband would pose a question. The children were encouraged to think about it during the day and collect research on the topic in preparation for discussing the answers that night at dinner. I was reminded of stories I have heard Stephen’s father tell about growing up around the dinner table. It was a question and answer feast each night as his father would ask a trivia question based on the current events of the day, past history or uncanny bits of information.

Another suggestion that was made in the book was about the importance of gratitude. Meal time is the “perfect time to express love and gratitude for each other and for our blessings.” She and her husband encouraged their children to take turns sharing their positive feelings about what they like about each other. She then talks about a friend whose family keeps a gratitude journal. When their children were younger, they would tell someone what to write in the journal or they would draw pictures. Today, the grandchildren have the opportunity to add their thoughts to the gratitude book.

I feel our lives are so busy during the day and especially more so leading up to dinner time. There have been times when the kids have dug in and left before Stephen and I ever got to the table. When we gather around the dinner table, for me, it is a time to sit together as a family. The only time during the day that we can toss our to do list aside and focus on each other. We give a sigh and let the rush of the day go. Sometimes, in the silence I can hear the children wondering “what is that strange sound?”

We can make dinner time more exciting by playing games such as trivia or making up stories. Take the time to really communicate. Ask questions. Be interested. Be positive. Really Listen.

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Finding The Perfect Pumpkin

– johanna | October 24th, 2008


Halloween is nearing fast and it is time to pick out a pumpkin. It has become a tradition to visit the pumpkin patch in the area; however, this year we took a trip to the Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch in Lathrop CA.

We had a great time in the petting zoo, but the highlight of our day was picking the perfect pumpkin that will soon become a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.

With our bounty in hand we retired to the car and headed home for our traditional Pumpkin Picking Cinnamon Rolls.

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You’ve Been BOO-ed

– johanna | October 23rd, 2008


I love Halloween. It is absolutely my favorite holiday. Ok, I say the same thing about Christmas when I see the lights and hear the timeless carols. Oh, can’t forget the smell of pine trees.

Back to Halloween. Last year, little goblins were out in our neighborhood on a mission to spread a little Halloween spirit. When we arrived home one afternoon, to our surprise on the doorstep was a small paper bag with a card and goodies inside telling us we had been BOO-ed. We had not a clue who placed it there. But, over the next several days, little packages started appearing on the doorsteps of neighboring houses. It was a sweet gesture to bring our community together.

This year, why not stir up some excitement at work or among friends or church family. I did not keep the poem that was on our bag, but here is one I found on You can use this poem or make up your own. The fun is in leaving the treat for someone without them knowing who left it.

The air is cool, the season fall,
Soon Halloween will come to all.

Ghosts and goblins, spooks galore…
Tricky witches at your door.

The spooks are after things to do,
In fact a spook brought this “Boo” to you!

The excitement comes when friends like you,
Copy this note and make it two.

We’ll all have smiles upon our faces,
No one will know who “BOO”ed who’s places!

Just two short days to work your spell,
Keep it secret, hide it well.

Please join the fun, the seasons here .
Just spread these “BOO’s” and Halloween cheer.

Include a sheet of paper that says:

You have been BOOED! Please keep it going by following these directions:

Enjoy your treat
Place the BOO sign on your front door or visible in a window
Within 2 days, make 2 copies of this note, make 2 treats and 2 BOO signs to secretly deliver to 2 neighbors/friends without a BOO.

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Halloween Mystery Menu

– johanna | October 21st, 2008


This year for Halloween, we are adopting a family tradition from my sister-n-law. Every year for the past ten years, at least, they have celebrated Halloween with a mystery dinner complete with a menu. Does Eye of Newt sound appetizing? Don’t be too alarmed. That is what they call hot dogs in the land of witches and goblins.

Here are a few of our favorite Halloween Dinner ideas:

Witches Brew- Hot Chocolate
Love Potion – Orchard Apple Punch

Witches Fingers – Bread Sticks
Spider Egg Sacks – Boiled Eggs
Shrunken Heads – Raisin filled Apple Jack-o-Lanterns
Boogers on A Stick – Mini Carmel Apples
Witch’s Hair with Goblin’s Eyes: Shredded Carrots with Grapes

Monkey Brains with Alligator Eye Balls- Spaghetti and Meatballs
Bat Stew – Hearty Chili
Mummy Rolls – Hot Dogs wrapped in crescent rolls
Road Kill Pie – Chicken Pot Pie
Grilled CobwebsPizza
Ghosts and Baked Tombstones – Meatloaf and Mashed potato ghosts
Pumpkin Bites – Apple Ham and Cheese Sandwich
Roasted Pumpkins – Chicken Broccoli Braid

Flies on Decaying Pumpkin – Pumpkin Chip Cookies
Fried Bats – Bat shaped cookies
Moth balls – Cupcakes
Frosted Jack-o-Lanterns – Ice Cream filled oranges
Ghosts – Popcorn Balls
Candy Corn Cookies – Sugar Cookie Dough

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Experimenting with Celery and Food Coloring

– johanna | October 19th, 2008


We had to make “orange” play dough for Mason’s homework assignment. While the play dough was cooling, Mason decided he was more interested in making other colors using the food coloring. A lot of green and a few drops of blue made…well, green. In a quest to dye objects, I quickly turned him onto an experiment with celery I remembered reading in my Gadgetology book.

What you need: Celery stalk (that still has leaves), water, a few drops of food dye.
Put the celery stalk in a cup of colored water. Wait a few hours. What do you think will happen?

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Spaghetti and Meatballs

– johanna | October 18th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Growing up, if we had spaghetti sauce, it was always homemade. Through the years, my siblings and I have each put our own spin on my mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe. This is my brother Todd’s version.

This is not the easiest or fastest to prepare, but if you are looking for good restaurant quality experience, this will do. Plus, kids love spaghetti and meatballs and you will not have to worry about what’s in the sauce and whether it is healthy or not. The estimated time can be deceptive. Only about 30 minutes is actual work, the other time is letting it simmer. This makes a lot. A family of four will have plenty of leftovers. This actually does taste better as it ages, so do not rob yourself by cutting the recipe in half.

I know a lot of tomato puree is made from tomato paste, but tomato puree is easy. I like to use the tomato paste to control the thickness of the sauce. By adding less water with the paste, the sauce becomes thicker. But be careful, this still has to simmer for a few hours and some of the liquid will evaporate maker the sauce thicker.

2 (15.5 oz) Cans/Boxes Tomato Puree, with no salt or seasonings added
8 oz small can of Tomato Paste
1 tbsp Italian seasoning or 1 tbsp Oregano and 1/2 tsp Thyme
1/2 cup fresh Mushrooms, chopped or 1 small can
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 /2tsp salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1 lb. ground beef or 1/2 lb. ground beef and 1/2 lb. ground Italian sausage (for meat sauce, optional)
Frozen or homemade Meatballs

Brown meat in pan. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are close to transparent. Pour in puree and tomato paste. Add the meat to the sauce. Season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Bring sauce to a soft boil.

Add meatballs.

Once everything is combined, observe the thickness of the sauce. If it is runny, simmer uncovered to allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Once the sauce begins to thicken, it will splatter, so keep an eye on it. If the sauce is of good consistency simmer covered with the lid vented. (Lay a wooden spoon across the top of the pot to hold up part of the lid). This will make sure it does not get too hot and burn. Stir occasionally. Simmer a minimum of four hours. (If you only have an hour or two to simmer, use the fruit juice to help cut down on the acid taste and help blend things together.)

The flavors really start to come together at the 4 hour mark and the acid taste of the tomatoes is greatly diminished. Fresher tomatoes could lead to less simmer time, but the longer the sauce simmers the better. We use 6 hours normally.

Also great for baked pastas like baked ziti and stuffed shells.
I do not like to add sugar to my sauce, some people like it sweet. I like to add a little Cran-Grape or Grape juice or red wine.
zucchini, carrots, green peppers,

1 pound Ground beef
1 pound Italian Sausage
1/2 cup bread Crumbs
1 egg.

Mix the meat, sausage, bread crumbs and egg together. For more flavor, add chopped onions, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme or parsley. Scoop out a small hand full of meat mixture or use an ice cream scoop, and roll into a ball. If it gets too sticky and it bothers you too much, try adding some bread crumbs on the outside. Just do not get it mixed in, or the meat balls will become too dry and fall apart.
Place some olive oil in a pan and brown the out sides of the meat balls. Finish cooking them in a 350º oven or in the simmering sauce.

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