Wednesday, August 31, 2011

M&M Fudge Bars

I'm currently hearing little footsteps upstairs... any bets on how far I'll get on this post before I have to go put someone back in bed?
So as I was making these bars the other day, I felt like I was having a bit of déjà vu - the steps to make these are eerily similar to those from the Caramel Krispies I made the day before. And yet with different ingredients, they make something completely different. You start with a crust - this time made with oatmeal, brown sugar, flour and butter.
Then you melt together the filling - this time with semi-sweet chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and a little bit of shortening. (This step can easily be done in the microwave - I happen to like melting chocolate on the stove.)
(You can see that I ran out of semi-sweet chips and had to add in a few milk chocolate chips - although this turned out ok, the milk chocolate ones didn't melt at the same speed as the semi-sweet and the filling wasn't nearly as smooth as I would have liked.)
Now for the really good part - M&M's. The original recipe says to use 1 cup. I use somewhere between 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup, depending on how "colorful" I feel that day.
Then crumble, crumble, crumble - the rest of the crust  mixture gets sprinkled over the top. I gently press it down a little just so the finished bars aren't quite so crumbly. Then off to the oven - when some of the M&Ms start to crack open a bit it's done!
Sooo easy. (And what's that I hear? Nothing? *smile* The footsteps have stopped!)

M&M Fudge Bars
adapted from Westside Nazarene Church Cookbook

2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, melted
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening
1/2 to 1 cup plain M&M candies

Combine oats, flour, brown sugar and salt. Add butter and mix together with a fork until crumbly. Set aside 1 heaping cup of the mixture for the topping. Press remaining crumb mixture into a greased 9x13" pan.

In a saucepan, combine milk, chocolate chips and shortening. Cook and stir over low heat until chips are melted. Stir until smooth. Spread over crust. Sprinkle with M&Ms, then with reserved crumb mixture. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Caramel Krispies

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. If you've known me for long, you've probably had these at one point or another. And if you haven't, well, you probably will soon. :-)
It's a really simple recipe, but the trick is to get everything ready before starting. I don't know how many times I've started the recipe, only to rush around trying to finish before the marshmallow mixture hardens too much - although the only time this has ever turned out less than fabulous is the time I burnt the caramels.
So speaking of caramels, I start by unwrapping all the little ones. Apparently you can purchase sheets of caramel around the holidays, but I personally have never seen them. So I just set up shop and enlist the help of my husband and daughter and make them swear on their lives that they won't eat any in the process. (Ok, so I'm not that cruel. They can each have one.)
Next comes the marshmallow mixture - just like when making Rice Krispy treats, you melt the butter and marshmallows together. Since I use butter instead of margarine, I pre-melt the butter a little bit. Otherwise the marshmallows melt faster and you're left with a clump of butter. Easily fixed by stirring a little longer, but I like getting the cereal mixed into the marshmallows as soon as they're melted to give myself enough time to put it all together.
While the marshmallows are in the microwave, I go ahead and start the caramels, butter and sweetened condensed milk (YUM) melting together on the stove. On medium-low heat. Very important not to rush this process, especially if you're letting it go without stirring while you're working with the marshmallow mixture. The bars are NOT tasty if the caramel gets burnt; I know from experience.
My least favorite part is spreading the marshmallow/cereal mixture into the pan. I always forget what works best to spread it out without it all becoming a sticky mess. So I'm going to write it down, so now you know and I can look back and remember: baking oil spray on the back of a large spoon. Not waxed paper, not your hand (both of which I tried this morning with no success).
More marshmallows on top. Then when the caramel mixture is smooth and melted, pour it on top. It's actually important to make sure that the caramels are completely melted, because if any pieces are left, you're going to chew and chew and chew when you eat the bars.
Dollops of the cereal mixture on top, and you're all ready to go! Mmm, I wonder how I'm going to wait until tomorrow night to dive into them?

Caramel Krispies
adapted from Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church Cookbook

8 cups Rice Krispies
3/4 cup butter
2 packages caramels
2 packages miniature marshmallows
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Melt 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/2 packages marshamllows. Pour over cereal, mix and press 3/4 of mixture into bottom of jelly roll pan. Sprinkle on the rest of the marshmallows. Melt together 1/4 cup butter, caramels and milk. Pour over marshmallows. Make pats with remaining cereal mixture and put on top.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Cake

Doesn't the name just say it all? Y.U.M.
First, I have to show you my new door hanging I found at a local shop - I'm pretty excited about it. We went to Rhode Island for our honeymoon, and there were pineapples everywhere. We finally asked someone, and apparently it dates way back, and is a sign of welcome and hospitality. So now I'm rolling out the figurative welcome mat... even though it's always been there. :-)
Oh, and just so you know... I'm doing a live football draft while I'm typing this post. So if it seems a bit choppy, it's just because I'm researching football players while writing about food. It all goes together, right?

So this pie starts out with a chocolate chip cookie crust. But instead of making a cookie as the crust, you use pre-made cookies and crush them, then add some butter to keep it all together.
Then comes a layer of hot fudge sauce - I heated it up a bit before measuring it out so it spread more easily. More cookies are used as an outside crust. Ooh, looking sooo yummy already!
While that's freezing up, the ice cream softens on the counter. And since I had some cookies left over, I went ahead and chopped those up and threw them in the ice cream, too.
Mmm, back into the freezer it goes after the ice cream is spread over the fudge layer. {By the way, in case you're wondering, I'm six picks into the football draft now. Nine to go. I came in 3rd place last year. Not bad, for a girl.}
Add a little bit of embellishment - small scoops of ice cream, drizzles of hot fudge, and dollops of whipped cream - and back into the freezer until it's time to serve. Then just pop off the sides of the springform pan, and voila! A show-stopping ice cream dessert that rivals those from DQ or Culvers... for a fraction of the cost. {I added up my total cost: $5.77 plus tax - I already had the butter and whipped cream on hand, and shopped Aldi for the other ingredients. I've seen ice cream cakes for upwards of $25.00 - no thank you!}

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Cake
adapted from

1 package small chocolate chip cookies
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup hot fudge topping
2 quarts vanilla ice cream
whipped topping

Crush half of the cookies (about 20) to make crumbs. Combine crumbs with melted butter and press into the bottom of a 9" springform pan, lined with parchment paper. Stand cookies around edge of pan. Spread 3/4 cup fudge topping over crust. Freeze 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, soften 3/4 of the ice cream on countertop. Chop remaining cookies and stir into the softened ice cream. Spread ice cream mixture over fudge layer. Freeze 30 minutes.

Scoop remaining ice cream into balls and arrange over spread ice cream layer. Drizzle remaining fudge topping over entire pie, and garnish with whipped topping. Freeze until firm, 4 hours or overnight.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

World of Pies

I read a book last week. As in a novel, just for myself because I wanted to. I honestly can't remember the last time I did that - I know I read the Twilight series shortly after Olivia was born, but that was 2 1/2 years ago. Has it really been that long? Don't get me wrong, I've read a lot of books since then. But they've mostly been parenting books, or marriage books, or books that my Book Club is reading (which don't count as "just for myself" since I don't pick most of them out, and only one could even be considered a novel).

Olivia & I have made a habit of visiting the library on Saturday mornings lately. So when she sat down so nicely on the overstuffed chair to look at the books she had picked out, I got this crazy idea in my head to find a book for myself. Knowing I had very limited time, I first went to see if the library had the second Janet Evanovich book in. I read the first one while Adam & I were on vacation by ourselves last year (ok, so there's the answer to my question - it was almost an entire year ago!) and have wanted to read more since then. Of course that one wasn't there.

Time was running out, Olivia was starting to ask questions, so I did what usually ends up in a very bad pick: I chose based on the spine decoration and size. One book caught my eye: World of Pies. Imagine that. If I'm not picking up a cookbook at the library, I'm picking up a novel with baking in the title.

It ended up being a fast read. And actually a decent one. Although I could not relate with the casual way Roxann related to smoking, drugs and sex, I absolutely could relate with growing up in a small town. The awkwardness. Everyone knowing everything about you and your family. Trying to fit in. Friends getting boyfriends while you were still single. Having a boyfriend when your friends were still single. Wanting desperately to leave the small town for a big city. The wonderful feeling of "home" when you go back. And I think the best part was that at the end of each chapter, there was a recipe for every dessert that had been mentioned!

We went back to the library this morning. Although I was a little disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to find another novel, I bet my house will be a little cleaner at this time next week!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Amber's Baby Shower

This weekend, two friends and I threw a baby shower for my dear friend Amber. Her nursery theme is multi-colored dots and swirls, so we took that theme and ran with it. (Thanks to friend Erin for taking the pictures so I could play hostess!)
Randi came up with the idea of round foods - brilliant. We served tortilla roll-ups... round crackers and cheese... cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon balls...
Veggies and dip in a round serving tray... Miniature chocolate cream pies (wow, all credit goes to Randi for these - I'm sure she spent HOURS making all those miniature pie crusts - they were fantastic)...
Punch that tasted like a smoothie... And of course a round cake! Randi baked two strawberry layers and one white one, and we decorated it together based on an idea I had seen pinned from Martha Stewart weddings.
It was super easy once the cake was iced - just plop the M&M's on in rows.

Decorations were my assignment, so I made some mobiles that Amber can hopefully use in her nursery. They're just embroidery hoops with circles threaded and looped on at different lengths. Then I found some great ribbon with hanging pom poms and used a glue gun to attach it to the hoops.

Jessie was in charge of favors. She found these great "seed bombs" on Etsy. (My thumb is blacker than black, so I'm anxious to see if mine actually grow!) We used an umbrella at the door to display the favors so everyone would remember to take one as they left.
I was so excited to find these drop-"crystals" at Michaels so it could be raining at our shower!

And of course we can't forget the presents... Amber has lots of new things to put in her nursery!
Congratulations, Amber... can't wait to meet your new little baby!!!

I linked up with...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mandarin Orange Cake

Have you ever had one of those weeks where every single night is filled with something, and you don't quite know how it happened? I just finished one of those. All of the days were fun and things I wanted to do - my arm wasn't twisted on any of them - but it was a very full, very busy, very exhausting week. But now the house is quiet, and the events are over, and I don't have anything planned until Tuesday. Sweetness.
One night this week, my family took food over to some friends' house and had dinner with them. Of course the dessert was my favorite part to make. I decided on a Mandarin Orange Cake, which reminded me of my mom. It's something I remember her making several times growing up, and I never really liked it back then. And now, here I am, picking it over the rich, chocolaty, sweet desserts that I normally make. I must be going through a phase. Or am I growing up? Oh dear. Let's hope it's a phase.

Either way, it was really good. And I actually felt good about eating a big piece, because it did have fruit in it, after all. Two kinds of fruit, if we're counting.
The cake batter is very thin and runny because you mix the juice from the oranges into the batter - not what I had expected. I re-read the recipe several times just to make sure I was doing it right. But it made the cake so light and fluffy!

Mandarin Orange Cake
adapted from Recipe Hall of Fame Quick & Easy Cookbook

1 package yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup cooking oil
11 ounces mandarin oranges, cut up and undrained
8 ounces whipped topping
3 ounces instant vanilla pudding mix
20 ounces crushed pinapple, drained

Cake: Mix together the cake mix, eggs, cooking oil and oranges (yes, that does say UNdrained - pour the whole can in). Do not use a mixer. Pour into a 9x13" greased and floured pan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
That's my daughter's hand because she gets so excited seeing "pretty" things come out of the oven.
Shortly after this picture I was nursing burned fingers because she didn't think I really meant "no touching."
When will she learn???
Topping: Mix together the whipped topping, pudding mix and pineapple (this time drain the juice off first). Spread over the cooled cake. Store cake in refrigerator until ready to eat.
More blogs to come from today's fun - I helped throw a baby shower this morning, and I've got lots to share! But for now, I'm going to relax the rest of the day.