Creamy Decadent Cream Cheese Frosting

– johanna | February 26th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream cheese frosting is so versatile. It is paired perfectly with carrot cake, cookies, quick breads and layer cakes. I found this recipe quite by accident.

My mom gave Adelin a Leapster for Christmas. She gave Mason one when he turned four and so as a rite of passage Adelin received her’s for her fourth Christmas. Mason has played the games more often than Adelin has. He loves Ratatouille. The game has fostered a desire to learn how to cook. So on our last trip Mason asked if we could make Spice Cake when we got home. He proceeded to rattle off a list of ingredients I would need. I thought 6 eggs was pretty excessive. I have made two recipes for spice cakes and still am not satisfied. But I did find a decadent recipe for Cream Cheese frosting in the process.

Source: Where’s My spatula? By Christy Rost
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
7 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Using the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla , adding milk as needed until frosting is creamy.

Makes enough to cover 24 cupcakes or 1 two-layer cake.

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White 2-layer Birthday Cake Recipe

– johanna | February 24th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

White 2-layer Birthday Cake

The Target bakery in the Super Target the next town over has the most delicious and moist white cake I have ever eaten. The bakery is our go to for special occasions when we are in need of cupcakes. I am always up for a good challenge and finding a recipe that is just as good was my next assignment. Sure I could have called the bakery hoping they would spill the beans but where is the fun in that?

I scoured the web looking for a few recipes to try. I knew the Target cake used almond extract for flavor. After several failed attempts I discovered the answer was right in my cabinet. I have enjoyed many successes from my Baker’s Illustrated but was not impressed with the vanilla cupcake recipe. Thinking their cake recipes would not be up to par I completely eliminated the book from my list without a second thought. It was desperation that lead me to open the book. One last attempt to complete my quest. And at last I had found my holy grail.

The must have ingredient when making cakes is cake flour. The low protein in cake flour produces a light cake with a tender crumb. All-purpose flour has a higher protein resulting in a tougher more dense cake. Cake flour can be made by taking two tablespoons of flour out of each cup of flour and replacing them with corn starch. Sift the mixture 5 times to aerate. Although you can substitute cake flour in this way the results are not as perfect as when using the real thing.

Source: Baker’s Illustrated
2 1/4 cups (9-ounces) cake flour
1 cup milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat over to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 9-inch round cake pans and cover the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Grease the paper and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

Pour the milk, egg whites, and extracts into a small bowl and mix with a fork until blended.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer set at low speed. Add the butter; continue beating at low speed until the mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.

Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup liquid and beat 30 seconds more. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixer to medium speed and beat 20 seconds longer.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans; using a rubber spatula, spread the batter to the pan walls and smooth the tops. Arrange the pans at least 3 inches from the oven wall and 3 inches apart. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, 23-25 minutes. (Do not over bake!)

Let the cake rest in the pans for 3 minutes. Loosen from the sides of the pans with a knife, if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. Reinvert cakes so tops are facing upwards. Let cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.

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How to Make A Layered Cake

– johanna | February 22nd, 2010

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

My record of making perfectly symmetrical cakes is not very good. Either the bottom sticks to the pan or the layers are lopsided. Fortunately all my children see is a mirage of birthday sugary confection.

The trick of the trade is lots of practice and a few good tips from the pros. The following videos will demonstrate how to slice the layers, put them together and frost the sides and tops.

One note that is not mentioned that I find helpful is to freeze the cake before slicing. It creates less crumb and makes it easier to slice.

Cutting the Cake:

Stacking the Layers:

Frosting Cake Sides:

Frosting Top of Cake:

Frost and Transfer 2-Layer Tier Cake:

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German Chocolate Cookies

– johanna | February 19th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

German Chocolate Cookies

This recipe for German Chocolate Cookies was made with a lot of love especially for my mom. It is chocked full of all her favorites, pecans, chocolate and coconut. And…it is as healthy as a cookie can get and still tastes phenomenal. Each cookie is only 84 calories with 4 grams of fat and 11 grams carbohydrates.

I made a few alterations for my mom, who is abstaining from sugar, which you will find under Variations. This Low Glycemic friendly cookie is just as satisfying as the original recipe. No cardboard here. Just ooey gooey dark chocolaty goodness.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens September 2009
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
3 ounces dark or semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped or chips
1/3 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl beat butter until creamy. Add the brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat until well combines, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combines. Beat in flour. Stir in oats, flax seed meal and cocoa powder. Stir in chocolate, coconut and nuts. (Dough will be very thick)

Drop by rounded teaspoons 2-inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. If desired, sprinkle tops with coconut and chopped pecans. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are just firm and tops are set. Let cool on sheet for 1 minute before transferring to wire rack.

Store cookies for 2 days at room temperature or freeze up to 3 months.

For a low-glycemic version substitute the all-purpose flour for wheat. Replace the brown sugar with 1/2 cup agave sugar or maple syrup and increase the vanilla to 2 teaspoons.

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Corn Dog Muffins

– johanna | February 17th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides, RECIPES - Snacks

corn dog muffins

My first job after graduating high school was working in the Sears shoe department at the mall. It was not the most glamorous of professions, standing around for 9 hours but it paid. Occasionally for breakfast I would stop by Cinnabon for a mini roll and wash it down with a pint of milk. Sometimes for lunch the owner of the Chinese Wok would cook up a special plate of spicy Tai food for me. But my favorite lunch was at the corn dog place. I loved the cheese sticks. A stick of cheese dipped in corn bread and then deep fried to perfection. As a teenager there was no such thing as eating healthy. I have not had a corn dog in an extremely long time. When I bit into a corn dog muffin I was sent back in time to the little table in the Sears break room where I sat and ate my cheese stick.

These little guys are really great for an after school snack. I used one (16 ounce) package of Marie Calendar’s corn bread mix. It is a little sweeter than the Jiffy mix so I swapped out the sugar for maple syrup. I am thinking I might play around with adding some vegetables, carrots, peas or corn.

Source: Adapted from
2 (8.5 ounce) packages cornbread mix
2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
9 hot dogs, cut in half lengthwise then chopped into half moons or diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease muffin tins.

Stir together the cornbread mix and the brown sugar in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs and milk in a small bowl until smooth. Fold the milk mixture, cheese and hot dogs into the dry ingredients until moistened. Spoon mixture into muffin tins until 2/3 full.

Bake in a preheated oven 14 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown.

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February the “Month of Love”

– johanna | February 15th, 2010


Valentine's Day Heart by Claudia Bear

Source: “Valentine’s Day Heart” by Claudia Bear

Franklin Convey once said it takes 26 days to make a habit. Child Development therapists tell us when disciplining our children to modify one behavior at a time. I decided to take their approach to my New Year’s resolutions. Rather than become overloaded by all I want to accomplish my quest this year is to pour my heart into one goal each month. In the flavor of “Love” this month my goal is to plant seeds of kindness and grow some love.

Many, many, many years ago I had a roommate I could not stand. In addition to a very long list of irritating habits, she had a deviated septum that made it difficult for her to breathe through her nose quietly. What I remember is that I really started to despise the girl. You have to understand I am a peacemaker. Born in July makes me a Cancer and so I tend to try my best to avoid confrontation. So I set out to seek advice from a wise old man on how to remedy my problem. I was told to love her. Yep, love her. How do you treat someone who grates on your nerves with kindness? Well I will tell you this, it was not easy. At first I made her bed every morning. Then I would grudgingly give her compliments. By the end of 6 weeks she and I became great friends.

It seems in relationships the first line of defense is to ignore the problem or enact revenge in the form of hurtful words or actions. Or in the case above with my friend I would have allowed negative feelings for someone I hardly knew ruin a potential long lasting friendship. I know sometimes we just want to wallow a little in our sorrows. It is ok to feel hurt, even anger and jealousy, but it is not ok to act out on those feelings. Move on. I know, easier said than done. The way I explain it to my five year old is like this; when we harbor negative feelings they begin to grow until they take over our bodies like the Dark Side did to Aniken Skywalker. We have to forgive ourselves, the person we wronged or the person who wronged us and move on so we do not turn to the Dark Side.

I really had to think about what I wanted to achieve by my Love Dare. There is always room to improve when it comes to expressing love but I did not want my goal to be too vague or corny. I had to narrow it down enough that I would remain interested and most of all see the results. The answer came to me the day I was filling out a “Get to Know You” questionnaire for our kindergartner. The last question asked “Name one thing my parents think is especially great about me.” Mason could not grasp what the question meant. More importantly I wondered how often we express to him the things we admire most about him. His answer was “I play with the baby to distract him.” How sad is that? I decided that not only is it important to tell our children daily how much we love them, we also need to help them see how great they really are. The same thought can be applied to all of our relationships, most especially our spouses.

Ways To Give More Love:

  • Forgive and Forget: Accidents happen. Our mantra states “That’s ok!” All messes can be cleaned up. Some just take a little more work than others.
  • Be positive: No one likes a sour-puss. Nothing is worse than being told you cannot accomplish something. Be supportive of others and their dreams even if you do not share their enthusiasm. If we dream hard enough we can touch the stars or at least feel confident it was a successful failure.
  • No Nagging: Nagging is contention and contention creates nothing but negativity. Negativity can lead to animosity and the destruction of a soul. This can be a difficult feat to accomplish with kids. A kind warning and a strict consequence is easier on the ears than harsh criticisms for not following through.
  • Compliments Galore: The way to a man’s heart is not food but compliments. It is like their energy source. Fill them up with superhero power and they will dazzle us. Our friends and family could use a good dose as a pick me up too.

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Chateaubriand, The Language of Romance

– johanna | February 12th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish


Chateaubriand is a French dish created by chef, Montmireil for Vicomte Francois Chateaubriand. Francois was a 19th century author and statesman to Napoleon and was considered to be the father of Romanticism in French Literature.

It is said that Montmireil chose the thickest, less flavorful part of the tenderloin. He placed the meat in between two pieces of flavorful beef, brushed it with lard, seasoned with pepper and salt, then burnt the outside to a crisp. He threw away the burnt layers and was left with a rare interior. The Chateaubriand was topped with a reduced white wine sauce (made with shallots, demi-glace, butter and lemon juice) and served alongside chateau potatoes (peeled potatoes cut into the shape of olives then sautéed until browned)

Today there is a never ending dispute over the thickness of the steak (1 1/4 inches a typical tenderloin steak to 2 inches) and the use of a Bearnaise Sauce versus the standard white wine sauce. However, the French do agree on one thing, Chateaubriand is considered the recipe for romance. It is a meal that serves only two and is often prepared on special occasions for loved ones.

I am smitten with this version of Chateaubriand. The recipe calls for a wonderful combination of herbs known as Herb De Provence in a shallot sauce. The lavender in the Herb De Provence adds sophistication and romance to the Chateaubriand. It is sort of like lacy white gloves on an antique wooden bureau decorated with a delicate crocheted doily topped with a ceramic vase filled with wild flowers and an old black and white photo of a young couple forever in love.

Source: French Kitchen In America
2 pound trimmed beef tenderloin
2-3 large cloves garlic, slivered
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
4 medium shallots, minced
2 cups beef broth
Splash of cognac or Peach juice
2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
1 tbsp dried herbs de Provence
2 tbsp unsalted butter
freshly-ground pepper
Vegetables such as green beans, pearl onions, quartered yellow onions, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, carrots, leeks, ect.

Preheat oven to 450.

Cut 3/4-inch deep slits in the underside of the tenderloin. Fill these with slivered garlic. Brush tenderloin with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Heat the third tablespoon along with one tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat. Brown meat on all four sides, using tongs to turn it over so that it browns evenly. This process takes about 4-5 minutes.

Once meat is browned, set it on the top rack of roasting pan. Surround it with the vegetables you are using and bake for about 30 minutes for medium rare meat.


While the meat is in the oven, place one tablespoon of butter and shallots in the skillet. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, which will deglaze the pan. Turn up the heat and reduce the liquid by half before adding the Cognac, mustard and herbs de Provence. Whisk into butter. Season with pepper.

Shallot Sauce

Serve sauce over steak with vegetables.

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Bacon Wrapped Chicken

– johanna | February 10th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Bacon Wrapped Chicken

Several years ago, a group of moms started a monthly Bunko night. There were 12 of us with alternates in case one of us could not make it. Each member had to play hostess to a game night. She would provide the house, the meal, dessert and the prizes. Every month, we contributed $5.00 to the next month’s hostess to cover the cost for prizes. Everyone walked away a winner. That might be the most wins with a $15.00 prize to a complimentary $6.00 prize. The food was great, but the company was the best part. Being all moms, it was nice to let loose once in a while.

One month, my friend Lindsey surprised us all with this simple, yet elegant dish served with Parmesan Garlic Asparagus and Boiled Red Potatoes. I tracked the recipe down only to discover it belonged to my friend Cathy’s grandmother. She is also the woman who gave us the caramel recipe and Easy Crock Pot Chicken. Bacon wrapped chicken quickly became a Valentine’s Day tradition in our home. The meal is finished off with a rich chocolaty dessert of Molten Lava Cakes and vanilla ice cream.

6 chicken breasts (you can use regular chicken breasts and fillet them and pound them flat or buy the thin cut chicken breast. I still had to pound the thin cutlets. You want to be able to roll them up nicely)
Butter, softened
1-2 containers of chive and onion cream cheese
Salt and Pepper
6 bacon strips

Preheat oven to 350.

Dot or spread each thinned chicken breast with a pad of butter. (A pad of butter is like half a tablespoon). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spread 1-2 tbsp of Onion/Chives Cream Cheese. Roll up. Wrap with a slice of bacon. Pin with toothpick.

Bake 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until juice runs clear. Put under the broiler for 5 minutes to crisp the bacon.

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Chinese New Year Dragon Puppets

– johanna | February 8th, 2010


new_chinese_dragon-by Brittany Mei Hill

Artwork by: Brittany Mei Hill

In our home we enjoy learning about other cultures and their traditions. Last year for Chinese New Year we made lanterns and masks and fortune cookies. This year for our New Year’s craft we are making dragons.

Chinese New Year Dragons

In China, the dragon is a sacred animal. The legend has it that the dragon hibernates in the ocean in the autumn until spring when it ascends to the sky, bringing with it much needed rains. The dragon dance is a major highlight of the New Year celebration. It is believed to bring good fortune and power.

To make a dragon puppet for a Chinese New Year parade you will need the following:

Paper bags
Streamers in various colors or ribbon

Begin by using the markers to draw a face or designs on the bag. Then glue on strips of the crepe paper or ribbons and any decorations you choose. Let the dragons dry completely.

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Beef Tip Stroganoff

– johanna | February 5th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Beef Tip Stroganoff

Stroganoff is a classic 18th century Russian dish usually made with strips of beef, mustard and a cream sauce. Credit was given to the Count Alexander Grigorievitch Stroganov, a 19th century diplomat, although; similar accounts for a dish containing beefs strips in a cream sauce were uncovered as far back as the 15th century.

After his retirement, the Count frequently entertained the wealthy with “Open Table” dinner parties. Anyone in high society could walk in and sit down at the table. As the story goes, the Count’s chef invented the dish he called A La Francaise, a French recipe prepared in traditional Russian style in that the meat was mixed with a saucy gravy before serving. It is thought that the Chef learned of the recipe from a family cookbook. The dish was popular with the Count’s “Open Table” setting as it could easily be passed around.

It was not until the 1930’s the recipe turned up in American cookbooks and upscale restaurants featuring onions, mushrooms and a sour cream sauce. Because of the war and the price of beef at the time Beef Stronganoff did not became a popular American favorite until the 1950’s. The need for convenience and price replaced the sour cream with canned cream of mushroom soup and beef cubes with ground beef.

Beef Stoganoff remains a favorite in household’s throughout the world. Today’s influences include the addition of wine and herbs to yogurt. How ever you make it Beef Stroganoff is a classic recipe sure to please.

Source: Adapted from
1.5 pounds sirlion steak or stew meat, cut into bite sized chunks
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, divided
1 large onion, chopped
3/4 cup beef broth
1 tsp dried basil or dill
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
cooked rice or noodles

Season flour with a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss beef in flour to coat. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat; saute onions until tender. Remove onions from pan; set aside.

Increase heat to medium-heat. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter; brown meat on all sides. Add mushrooms; cook until slightly brown and softened. Add broth, basil, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and onions. Stir, scraping the burnt bits on the bottom of the pan. Turn heat down to simmer until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in sour cream. Heat through, but do not boil. Serve immediately over rice or noodles.

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