Halloween Mystery Dinner

– johanna | October 18th, 2011

Filed under: CREATING MEMORIES, RECIPES - Appetizer, RECIPES - Beverage, RECIPES - Main Dish, RECIPES - Treats

Photo: by Bunny Cakes


Slug Butter beer

Black Quagmire Potion


Freshly Picked Graveyard Morsels

Skinned Vampire Fingers

Zombie Brains

Crispy Fried Bat Wings

Main Course:

Roasted Heart of Troll

Ogre Eyeball Sub


Snickers Cheesecake

Fruity Ghosts and Pumpkins

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

– johanna | October 14th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Breads, RECIPES - Snacks

Fall finally arrived last weekend. Rainy and cold. It was heavenly. Thanks to Emily, my brother’s wife, the pantry is well stocked with canned pumpkin. Last year I was complaining about not being able to find canned pumpkin in the supermarket during the month of October. Emily made sure I had a few extra cans tucked away in the pantry to use this fall. This year we are hardly into october and I have used up two of those cans. The onset of rainy cold fall weather called for a batch of pumpkin muffins.

My favorite pumpkin recipe used to be Pumpkin Chip Cookies. I especially liked the ones from a grocery store in Utah. I searched recipe after recipe trying to find an exact match. Baked and baked, with unsuccessful results, until I found the closest contender on Joy the Baker. They were soft with a hint of spices just as I remembered. Pumpkin chocolate cookies are no longer my favorite. Although they still bring a smile to my lips as I remember wonderful dear friends I once shared them with.

Pumpkin Chip Muffins are similar to the cookie in taste. However, many people find the cake texture of the cookie to be annoying. If this is the case a chocolate chip pumpkin muffin might make more sense.

Source: Thorp House Inn of Fish Creek, WI
1-2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal, optional
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pre-spiced)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spray a standard muffin pan with cooking spray or line with paper baking liners.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, and cloves.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and set aside.

In another medium bowl, combine the eggs, pumpkin, and melted butter.  Add the pumpkin mixture all at once to the flour mixture.  Stir until just moistened (batter may be a bit lumpy).  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into the 12 prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes, or just until a wooden toothpick inserted into centers of the muffins comes out clean. Do not over bake. Let sit in the muffin pan to cool for 2 to 5 minutes. Remove from muffin cups.

Yield:  12 standard size muffins

–This recipe calls for mace. Mace is the outer red webbing of a nutmeg seed. Add it if available. Otherwise omit it and add a hint more of nutmeg.

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Apple Harvest Festival

– johanna | October 11th, 2011

Filed under: CREATING MEMORIES, RECIPES - Beverage, RECIPES - Breads, RECIPES - Main Dish, RECIPES - Treats

Photo: Courtesy of Istock Photo

One of my favorite children’s books is, “The Blackberry Mouse” by Matthew Grimsdale. “The Blackberry Mouse” is a wonderful tale about a greedy young mouse who learns a valuable lesson about friendship. The story ends with Mouse and his neighborhood friends gathered together around the table enjoying a blackberry feast. There is blackberry jam, blackberry jelly, blackberry pies, lots and lots of blackberry tarts, and blackberry juice.

September marks the beginning of apple season. Mounds of succulent apples have already made their way to the market. The fall apple harvest reminds me of Mouse’s elaborate table laden with delectable blackberry goodies. There are so many wonderful edible creations to make with apples. What better way to celebrate the fall apple harvest than with an Apple Feast.

Many apple farms across California open their orchards to the public to celebrate the apple harvest. U-Pick It farms are ideal for an adventurous family outing. Although, the fun need not stop once the basket is filled. The real excitement begins at home making apple cider, apple jelly, apple butter, applesauce, apple pie, apple turnovers… However, fanfare such as this should never be enjoyed alone.

Mouse, in the story Blackberry Mouse, recognized that blackberries are nice but even better when you share them. Preserved goods such as jams and butters make perfect gifts for Christmas or to say “Thank You”. Tasty cakes, muffins and turnovers make the grand beginnings for a family apple festival.

Photo: Courtesy of HomeMadeSimple.com

An Apple Festival can be a small intimate gathering with family and/or friends. Or a grand event involving the neighborhood or community. Fun activities and good food made with apples are a must to pull off a successful Apple Feast.

**For those with allergies to apples substitute pears.

Apple Festival Activities:
Apple Bobbing Fill a large container with water and apples. Bob for apples using only your mouth, no hands. Or attach apples to a string- participants must pull the apple from the string using only their mouth, no hands allowed.

Apple Toss Stand in two lines. Each person has a partner. Toss the apple to your partner. If they catch it you both take a step back. If you drop it you are out. Last couple standing wins.
Apple Darts Attach ‘red balloons’ to a board or wall. Participants throw darts to try to pop a balloon. If offering prizes place a ticket or several tickets in each balloon that can be exchanged for treats and prizes.
Apple Tasting- Display a variety of different types of apples. Place each variety on its own plate. Label. Keep a tally of who likes what best.

Apple Crafts:

Apple Treats:

1. Apple Butter 2. Fruit Leather 3. Applesauce 4. Apple Dip 5. Apple Cake 6. Apple Turnovers 7. Praline Apple Bread 8. Autumn Cheesecake 9. Caramel Apples (caramel sauce) 10. Apple Cider 11. Fried Apples Pies 12. Spiked Apple Cake 13. Apple Zeppole 14. Apple Cider Doughnuts 15. Apple shaped cupcakes 16. Apple Pie-rate Ship 17. Apple Crisp 18. Fried Apple Fritters 19. Apple Spiced Punch 20. Apple Muffins 21. Apple Scones, Walnut Apple Scones 22. Apple Dumplings 23. Almond Apple Strudel Bars 24. Apple Pie 25. Candied Apples 26. Apple Strudel Bars 27. Creamy Apple Chicken Chili 28. Pork Chops with Apple Chutney

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Southern Cottage Pie

– johanna | October 7th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

This version of Shepherds Pie, as it is referred to in America, is reminiscent of an old time country diner in the South. The flavor is superb. The bacon pieces sprinkled on top adds a little extra pizazz.

A traditional Cottage Pie would include both meat and more vegetables similar to Ellie Krieger’s Cauliflower with Mashed Potatoes Shepherds Pie. However, if you are searching for more of a meat and potatoes manly style pie, a Southern Cottage Pie is sure to hit the spot.

Source: Christine Fernandez
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup mushrooms
1 medium onion chopped
5 slices of pre cooked bacon
3 cups of beef broth
2 tablespoons of worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons of flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of milk
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
6 large potatoes

Place potatoes in a pot, cover with water and bring up to a boil. Season water with salt and boil potatoes until tender.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add ground beef to the pan and caramelize the meat. Add in the mushrooms and onions and cook until tender,then season with salt and pepper.

While meat cooks heat a small sauce pot over medium heat and melt butter, whisk the flour into butter, cook 2 minutes then whisk beef stock into flour, add Worcestershire and season sauce with salt and pepper, to taste. Thicken.

Pour gravy over meat and turn on broiler.

Place drained potatoes back into the pot you cooked them in to dry them out a little. Mash potatoes with egg yolk, Parmesan cheese, milk and 2 tablespoons of butter. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and spread across the top of the meat in an even layer. Garnish the potatoes with bacon and place under broiler to crisp and brown the potatoes, 2 to 3 minutes.

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November Website Review: Toad Haven

– johanna | October 1st, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

Toad Haven is more than just an educational family blog. It is a wonderland of ideas to keep kids entertained on a rainy day, to help kids learn a hard to understand concept, or for exploring the world around us. Think school projects. I have not seen many science fair projects about baking salmon in the dishwasher?

Toad Haven offers links to online educational games and fun activities for home, school, or church settings. Most of the ideas can be adapted for preschool to high school learners; utilizing many common items found around the house. The site is sorted by areas of study for ease in finding help in a particular course of study. Toad Haven is an educational resource for both home and community schoolers alike.

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Fall Afternoon Snacks

– johanna | September 30th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Snacks

Fall is my favorite time of the year. Ok, maybe a very close runner up to Spring, but for different reasons. I love the smell of Fall the most. Like an aged book or worn leather. It feels warm and cosy. I especially enjoy the crisp tendrils of wind encircling about, announcing the encroaching presence of Fall. I love sweaters, soup, hats and scarfs. As much as I have enjoyed summer this year I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Fall. Fall is being quite timid this year. We had a few chilly days followed by several muggy hot ones.

I have been working tirelessly trying to organize our home in preparation for the winter. The whole house goes toppsy turvy as we work to clean up the yard, trimming trees and bushes, and washing down the windows and the exterior.  Our goal to declutter the inside has been a month long project. There are not enough hours in a day anymore with all the schooling and extra curricular activities going on during the school session.

Making snacks is one item of business that cannot be put on hold. With all the ingredients my kids have allergies to we have to make the majority of our meals from scratch. Here are a few of our favorite Fall after school snacks that do not require too much time to make.

Muffin Tin– My favorite way to serve snacks is in a muffin tin. If you want your kids to eat fruits and veggies try putting them in a muffin tin. The Muffin Tin Mom has loads of exciting edible creations to serve in a muffin tin.

Apple Smile– You have probably seen these on Family Fun. I love the ghastly teeth for Halloween. We use peanut butter instead of the butterscotch chips.

Apple People– Little kids love to make apple creations. Place all the materials in a muffin tin or on a baking sheet and let them decorate.

Crunchy Apple Sandwich– There are serval variations to this snack. We use pears or whole grain crackers in place of the apple. Replace the peanut butter and serve with just jam.

Fig Newtons– Berry newtons are a nice alternative for children who dislike figs.

Bear cookies– On Fridays we like to make cookies for movie night. It signifies the week is over. Time to relax. The recipe calls for a boxed brownie mix. You can make your own cookies from a brownie recipe. I have not figure it out just yet. So we use a chocolate brownie cookie recipe instead.

Spider Crackers– Substitute your preferred cracker. We use Triscuits because they are on our approved list. Substitute real spreadable cheddar cheese for the peanut butter. Chocolate chips, frosting or nuts for the eyes.

Fluffer Nutter Bites– We buy our gluten free ricemallow cream from Natural Candy. I have not tried the vegan marshmallows yet. You can also make it following step by step instructions on Ginger Lemon Girl.

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Vanilla Nectarine Jam

– johanna | September 23rd, 2011


August and September is stone fruit season. Our little tree in the backyard had a nice bumper crop of nectarines last year. I scarcely knew what to do with them all. This year, sadly our little tree developed curl leaf in the spring. My plan to can nectarine jam this summer was thwarted.

One day while at Stephen’s parents house, their neighbor brought over a hefty supply of nectarines. I took several pounds home with me to make into jam. Trying to decide which recipe to use was quite a chore. I settled on this recipe with vanilla and a more traditional recipe.

This recipe for vanilla nectarine jam is more like a chutney. It is thick and lighter in color. It lacks the glossy brightness of a classic jam. I found it an amazing compliment to chicken or pork. Just add a little cinnamon and butter or light oil and bake.

Source: Canning for a New Generation
Large canning pot, with insert
Large stock pot
Jar funnel
4-5 sterilized 1/2 pint jars with lids and rings

3 pounds ripened nectarines
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 whole vanilla bean

Fill both canning pot and stock pot with water. Bring to a boil.

Wash jars and lids. Set jars in canning pot with simmering water until ready to use. Put the lids in a small sauce pan with water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. Leave the lids in the hot water until ready to use.

Wash the fruit removing any mushy fruit, stems and leaves. Cut a shallow X on the bottom of each nectarine. Place fruit in the boiling water in the stock pot. Let process for a minute (if ripe) or longer (if unripe). Drain water. Pour ice cold water and ice over gently over nectarines. Cover with a lid for 1 to 2 minutes. The skins should easily peel off.

Remove the nectarine from the pot. Rinse pot.
Cut fruit into quarters and dice. Place back in stock pot. Mash fruit slightly leaving some whole bits.

Combine nectarines, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla; bring to a boil over high heat.

Boil for at least 5 minutes to thicken. The jam is ready when a candy themometer reads about 220.

* To Test: place a spoon in the freezer. Dip the spoon into the jam. Set on an ice cube to cool. If the jam begins to conceal it is done.

Turn off heat and remove from stove.

Remove jars and lids from the water and place on a towel.

Skim off any foam from the top of the jam. (Use the sugary foam to sweeten popsicles or smoothies.)

Place the funnel in the mouth of a jar. Use the ladle to pour hot jam into prepared jars; filling up no higher than a 1/4-inch from the top of the jar. Wipe the rim of the jar with a warm wet cloth or paper towel to remove any syrup.

Cap with the lid and screw on the ring. Return the filled jars to the pot of water. Adjust the water level to cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover and process (boil) for 5 minutes.

Carefully remove the jars from the water bath. (Let sit overnight on a towel.) The lids should immediately make popping sounds. This indicates that the jars are sealed. Test each lid by pressing down in the middle of the lid. If there is a slight bump that is raised and pops back up when pressed, the jar is not sealed. Store the jar in the refrigerator. Sealed jars can be stored in the pantry.

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Old Fashioned Homestead Cornbread

– johanna | September 16th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Breads, RECIPES - Snacks, RECIPES - Treats

Cornbread as we know it today is a modern interpretation to the flat cakes of the 17th century. Corn, or Maize, was once a form of wild grass called Teosinte used by the ancient peoples of Central America 6000 to 10,000 years ago. The Teosinte kernels were small and unfused. In fact Biologist were certain that the Teosinte plant was a relative to rice. There was no possible way corn could have mutated from the Teosinte plant. Upon further investigation the science community discovered that the Native Americans selected particular Teosinte plants and developed the first hybrid corn plant through genetic modification. The hybrid was a shorter replica of the modern ear of corn.

Corn was a staple in the Native American diet. It was easy to cultivate as it grew well in the soils of South America. The Native Americans learned to dry and grind corn into corn meal for food. The husks were used to make shoes, baskets and mats. When the British Colonist arrived, in the 17th century, they taught the settlers how to grow and harvest the corn. Corn plants were planted with bean plants to provide support for one another. The spaces in between the mounds of earth were filled with ground covering melons. This method of planting provided an abundant supply of food in a small space. Cornmeal became a substitute for traditionally used grains of wheat and oats.

The type of cornbread depends on the area and family. Most culinary enthusiasts claim there are two factions of cornbread, Southern and Northern. Southern cornbread is made using bacon grease and little to no sugar. It is grainier and crumbly. Northern cornbread is a sweet cake-like bread with added sugar. Still there are more varieties of corn breads. Yeasted cornbread has a bread like texture. Savory cornbread mixes in fruits, vegetables and herbs. Skillet cornbread, or hoe cakes, are fast fried in fat before putting the pan in the oven. Corn Pone is a fried corn dough. Johnny cakes are corn pancakes.

This recipe for cornbread is a Northern cake-like bread. It is sweet and has a significant rise similar to a cake. I like to serve it as a dessert with honey butter.

Be sure to check out the variations after the recipe for some yummy alternatives.

Source: Patricia Bergstrom
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Honey Butter:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup

For Honey Butter: Whip 1/2 cup butter with 1/3 cup honey until smooth.

For Cornbread:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine cornmeal and milk; let stand for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix in the cornmeal mixture, eggs and oil until smooth, about 5 minutes on low speed. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Serve with a dab of fresh whipped honey butter.

– Substitute the white sugar with half white and half light brown sugar.
– If using a glass pyrex reduce oven temp by 25 degrees.
– For muffins bake 25 minutes
– For more corn flavor use 2 cups cornmeal and 1 1/2 cups flour.
– For a gluten free alternative replace all-purpose flour with amaranth flour using 2 cups cornmeal and 1 1/2 cups amaranth.
– Melt 1 tablespoon bacon grease in a 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the grease is sizzling hot add the cornbread batter to the pan. Smooth the batter. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. This creates a nice crispy outside.
– If you are looking to incorporate more whole grains into your diet try grinding your own cornmeal from popcorn. You read right, yes popcorn. Since popcorn is extremely hard a professional grinder like the WonderMill is recommended. (Grind with the dial turned as far to the right as it can go.)

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Family Togetherness: After Dinner Jaunt

– johanna | September 13th, 2011


Artwork: “Evening Stroll”, by Ludmila Korol

My summers as a kid were fantastic. It was not all about getting away from the confines of school; although, I am sure that was a great source of my happiness. I was glad to have the wind in my hair and the grass between my toes. The majority of each summer was spent alternating between my Aunt Sandra’s house and my Aunt Ruth’s; both lived in rural areas of Florida. My Aunt Sandra lived north of Tampa in the small town of Brooksville. Her house was nestled on a spacious piece of land on the outskirts of town. When we were younger my cousin Jean boarded a horse on part of the land. It was a real treat to feed the horse sugar cubes and carrots. The horse was old; still Jean would let us climb on for a short jaunt around the yard.

During the week when my Aunt had to work the house served as a base station for our mini day trips. The days we stayed in were spent lounging around watching movie rentals, playing games, or listening to music. At night after dinner we would take a walk around “the loop”. The exercise helped to ease digestion after stuffing our bellies. It also served as an outlet for our wiggles. During the cooler months with flash lights in hand we half-jogged and half-walked the mile long loop. Crazy as it may seem of the many memories I have while visiting my Aunt’s house, walking the loop is one of my favorites. It was sort of a mini adventure, walking around in the darkness.

My son has been begging to go on an after dark excursion. In the fall when the sunsets earlier in the evening the kids get so excited when they get to take their flashlights with them. Walks are not only to help wear out the kids for bedtime. They can be a free date night activity and a form of stress management.

Even though walking is a form of exercise it is a relaxing way to improve energy levels and boost your mood. Walking in the evening helps to unwind the body relieving the stresses of the day. The soothing rhythmic motion can clear away negative thoughts. It gives the mind time to resolve problems.

It is uncanny how a simple tradition of walking can create a lifetime of fond memories. Not to mention a happy soul and healthy color.

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Shredded Beef Enchiladas

– johanna | September 9th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

If you are looking to really stretch a dollar enchiladas are the way to go. A little bit of shredded meat can really go a long way. Use left over cooked chicken or a roast for more savings and shorten cooking time. Double or even Triple the batch to freeze for a later date.

The spice rub for the shredded beef is my go to taco seasoning recipe. For tacos I mix the quantity as stated but only use a tablespoon or two. Try ethnic markets or wearhouses to find good deals on spices and herbs.

Shredded Beef (recipe below)
Enchilada sauce (recipe below)
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 small can sliced olives
1/2 cup chopped red onion
Flour tortillas
Cojitas cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a 1/4 cup enchilada sauce on the bottom of a 13X9 baking pan. Dip each side of a tortilla in the enchilada sauce. Fill tortilla with a few tablespoons shredded beef and cheese. Fold up the sides and place seam side down in baking dish. Pour another 1/4 cup of sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle with cheese, chopped onions and olives. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cheese is melted and the sauce in the dish is bubbly.

Shredded Beef:
Source: Old Church Cookbook
2 1/2 cups of beef broth
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup onion minced

Spice Rub:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 to 3 pounds chuck roast
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. In a small bowl mix the cumin, chili powder, oregano, coriander, paprika, salt, and pepper. Rub the spice mixture all over the roast, completely coating the meat.

Place the beef in the hot pan for 2-3 minutes on each side to sear the meat. Transfer to a crock pot or deep casserole with a lid. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the beef broth to the pan stirring and scraping the bottom to loosen all the charred bits. Pour over roast. Add cilantro, garlic, and onion to pot with the meat. Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake 2-3 hours. Remove any fat then shred the beef using two forks.

Enchilada Sauce:
Sauce: AllRecipes
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 1/4 cups water or broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in flour and chili powder, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the sauce starts to thicken slightly, stirring constantly to prevent burning the flour.

Gradually stir in tomato sauce, water, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder until smooth. Continue cooking over medium heat about 5-7 minutes, or until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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