February 28, 2012

Oatmeal Cream Pies

Remember the day when you came home from school and opened the cupboard only to find a sinful box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies?! Your eyes opened wide as you turned your head to see if anyone was watching and I know you tried really hard to eat just one but couldn't manage the task. Well, this is an organic and healthy twist on the classic but I promise you will feel just as naughty eating these soft and chewy cream pies - enjoy!

Oatmeal Cream Pies - modification on a cookie recipe (iced oatmeal applesauce cookies) from Martha Stewart

for the cookies:
3 T. butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 c. applesauce
1 1/2 c. quick oats
1 c. flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a stand mixer cream butter and sugars on medium speed. Add egg and applesauce. Turn off mixer and add in remaining ingredients. Turn mixer back on medium speed until all ingredients are well incorporated.

Using a 1 1/2 inch cookie scoop drop cookie dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake until just set - approximately 10 minutes. Cool on a rack. Makes approximately 12 cream pies.

for the filling:
2 T. butter
2 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar - give or take depending on how thick you want the filling
3-4 T. pure maple syrup

In a medium mixing bowl cream butter and cream cheese together. Add powdered sugar and incorporate. Add maple syrup and stir. Add more powdered sugar if necessary.

On a cooled cookie spread a layer of filling. Top with another cookie. Eat and enjoy. Yum!

Grilled Meatballs

This meatball grill basket seriously takes meatballs to a whole new level. When grilled they have a perfect crust on the outside that keeps the inside juicy and tender. I'm not sure I can eat a meatball any other way now. I'm ruined! Who knew?

This grill basket is from Sur La Table (I think they are currently unavailable) but they do have one that's similar at Williams Sonoma.

Grilled Meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1 egg
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
3 T. milk
1/4 c. bread crumbs
2 T. fresh parsley - finely minced
4 cloves garlic - finely minced
1/4 onion - finely minced

In a medium mixing bowl whisk egg. Add milk, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Let soak for 3-5 minutes. Add in ground beef, parsley, onion, garlic. Mix just to combine. Do not over mix. Roll into round balls to fit a meatball grill basket. Makes 12 large meatballs.

Heat gas grill to 400 degrees F. Grill 10 minutes each side.

Serve with your favorite pasta and sauce or slice meatballs and serve on a bun with marinara and provolone for a tasty meatball sandwich.

Gumball Machine Fish Tank

I posted this gumball machine fish tank on Instructables a little over a week ago and have created much controversy over keeping a goldfish in a small tank. I did my homework (before making this) on caring for a goldfish and was told by the pet store I purchased the goldfish from that my little fish would be fine in this tank for about 6 months (maybe longer) before needing to be moved to a new home.

I am in no way in the fish killing business (as many have implied) and have decided that this is a suitable tank/bowl for my size of goldfish. I do have to keep it very clean and was also informed to not feed the fish two non-consecutive days out of the week to keep its intestines flowing smoothly. The fish seems to be very happy and lively. So, please do your homework before choosing something similar to house a goldfish in unless you want a lot of flack!

With that said here is my new fishtank and my adorable new fish!

February 26, 2012

Honey Walnut Cupcakes

I love making these cupcakes. Not only are they fun because you get to pipe little chocolate bees but they are actually healthy. With all of the organic ingredients it's a great excuse to eat cupcakes for breakfast! No one will object - I promise!

Organic Honey Walnut Cupcakes
3/4 c. walnuts - toasted and finely ground
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. agave nectar
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 c. vanilla yogurt
3 eggs

Before you get ahead of yourself you will want to toast the walnuts. Yes, you really do need to toast the walnuts. I know it's an easy step to leave out but the flavor profile is much different (and better) with toasted nuts.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast walnuts 5-7 minutes or until you can start to smell the delightful aroma fill your kitchen. Remove from the oven and put directly into a food processor. Whiz until finely crumbled. Set aside.

In a large bowl sift dry ingredients together. Set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk all of the wet ingredients together. I've always heard to add your eggs one-at-a-time but I've never noticed a significant difference in the final outcome so I say just throw them all in at once! Add the vanilla last and whisk one last time.

Combine wet and dry ingredients together adding walnuts in last. Line cupcake tin(s) with papers and fill 3/4 full.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Homemade Whipped Cream
1 c. heavy cream
3-4 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract1/4 t.
vanilla bean powder (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with mixer on high until stiff peaks form. Fit a sandwich bag with a large round decorating tip and fill with whipped cream.

Chocolate Bees
1/4 c. dark chocolate chips

In a microwave safe container melt chocolate 15 seconds at a time until fully melted. While chocolate is melting line a baking sheet with waxed paper and fit a sandwich bag with a small round decorating tip. Fill sandwich bag with melted chocolate and pipe a bee shape of your choice onto waxed paper.

Refrigerate until you need to garnish. If you know how to temper chocolate by all means do it! I don't so I just refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pipe whipped cream on completely cooled cupcakes. Top with a chocolate bee. Eat and enjoy. Yum!

Bitter Lime Wheel Cookies

When my mother-in-law sent me a box of freshly picked organic key limes from her tree in AZ I knew exactly what to do with them!

If you are a tea drinker or a bitter tea lover (which I am) you should definitely try these cookies with your next cup of tea! They are a little sweet with a touch of bitter and have a great texture from the ground almonds.

Bitter Key Lime Wheel Cookies
10 T. butter, softened
1 T. key lime zest
1 egg
3⁄4 c. confectioners’ sugar, extra for dusting
1⁄2 c. sugar, extra for sprinkling
1⁄4 cup brown sugar
2 c. flour
1 c. almonds, finely ground
1 T. fresh squeezed key lime juice
6 key limes - give or take depending on size and juiciness.

Finely grind almonds in a food processor until they resemble coarse sand.

Using a microplane grate enough key limes to get 1 tablespoon of zest. Cut those same limes to get 1 tablespoon of juice.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter, zest and egg until incorporated. Mixture will look lumpy. Add sugars and mix. Add flour and stirring briefly, then add almonds. Once dough is well-combined form into two logs and wrap with parchment paper. Place in the freezer until hard, approximately 1 1⁄2 hours.

While dough is in the freezer use remaining key limes and cut with a mandolin. Please use caution and the finger guard with this slicing device. It is extremely sharp.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

Take dough out of the freezer and remove parchment paper wrapping. With a sharp knife cut slices 1/4 inch thick. This dough won't rise or spread so arrange close together on baking sheet. Top each cookie with a key lime slice and firmly press the lime slice into the cookie dough. Sprinkle liberally with granulated sugar.

Bake for 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

While cookies are still warm dust with confectioners' sugar. The limes will absorb the sugar leaving a wheel shape around the edge. You can eat the lime with the cookie or remove it for less of a bitter flavor. It's personal preference for bitterness. Great with tea!

Eat and enjoy. Yum!

Moving Gingerbread Train Cookie

My motivation to attempt this moving train cookie started when my four year old son was decorating basic gingerbread cookies with frosting. He had a cut-out of a train and after he decorated it he said, "Mommy, I want this train to drive." I thought to myself.....there's really no reason I can't do that! If you want to attempt this you will, however, need a very powerful little moving contraption to build your train around. I used a (modified) wind-up Lego car but some of the Tomica cars are also very powerful and would work quite well.

You will need the following recipes and items:
Gingerbread Cookies
1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. molasses
1 egg
5 c. flour
3/4 t. baking soda
3 t. pumpkin pie spice 

In a large mixing bowl cream butter and brown sugar together. Add molasses and egg. Mix well.
Sift flour, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice together and add to wet mixture. The dough will be tough to mix. If you have a stand mixer use it! Divide your dough in half, wrap with plastic wrap and chill until firm - about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Draw and cut out a pattern of pieces you will need to cut from the dough to construct a train. On a lightly floured surface roll out dough to approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Using a table knife cut the shapes you will need. Transfer pieces to a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 12 - 15 minutes. You will want the cookies to be hard enough as to not break during assembly.

Buttercream Frosting
2 lbs confectioners' sugar
1 1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. water
1 t. vanilla Extract 

In a large mixing bowl combine powdered sugar, 1 c. butter, water, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Melt remaining 1/4 cup of butter in the microwave and add to frosting. Beat again until smooth and creamy.
Using food coloring choose colors and mix until color is consistent. I like to make more frosting and colors than needed.....just in case! You can always refrigerate the leftovers for your next creation. Spoon frosting into prepared piping bags. 

Royal Icing
1 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/8 t. cream of tartar
1 egg white 

In a small mixing bowl sift together powdered sugar and cream of tartar. Using and electric mixer add egg white and beat until it can hold its shape. Spoon into a prepared piping bag.
**There is much controversy over using raw eggs in royal icing because of the possibility of bacteria. I only use local organic eggs so I feel fine about it, but feel free to use what ever royal icing recipe you are comfortable with.

Decorating Bags
Decorating Tips and Couplers
Food Coloring
Train Pattern
Candies of some sort to fill the coal car.
Something powerful to move your train!

To see step-by-step photos and instructions please visit http://www.instructables.com/id/Moving-Gingerbread-Train-Cookie/

Rolled Paper Candle Holder

If you are on a budget but want to give a great gift try this simple rolled paper candle holder.

It will cost next to nothing to make the candle holder as long as you have the following items in your junk drawer:

-paper cutter (or ruler and scissors)
-glue stick
-an old magazine/catalog

**Now that you know what supplies you need let's review candle burning safety - DON'T EVER LEAVE A BURNING CANDLE UNATTENDED! This holder is, in fact, made of paper so please use common sense.

First, tear pages out of your magazine/catalog and then decide how tall you want your candle holder.

Start cutting strips of your magazine/catalog using a paper cutter or if you don't have a paper cutter use a ruler and scissors. You will want all of your strips of paper to be exactly the same width in order for your candle holder to sit flat. My paper strips are two inches wide and about 8 or 9 inches long.

**I used a Boden catalog since it has so many bright colors and bold patterns. If you are making this for someone who loves to read try using newspaper or an old book. Or, we all know someone who is afraid of color and their whole house is beige so maybe try a more muted magazine like where you can find a lot of subtle colors. You can also use old scraps of scrapbooking paper or any other paper you have sitting around.**

Once all of your paper is cut start rolling the strips of paper. With a glue stick put glue on one edge of the paper. Using a pencil (I used a tinker toy) roll the paper starting at the end without glue making sure you have a secured edge once rolled to the gluey end. Set aside and continue with the remaining paper strips. If you are following this exact pattern you will need 163 rolls - if I counted right! :)

When all of the rolled pieces are glued start assembling the candle holder. Choose a shape you want to make and again using your glue stick start gluing the sides of the rolls together. Continue gluing until you have the shape and size you want.

February 25, 2012

Dried Fruit Truffles

I make these truffles often for my family. They are healthy treats that are packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids. They are so easy to make and taste delicious.

The four recipes that I like to make most are listed below, however, any fruit and nut combination would work. I dressed the truffles up for the photo but the garnish/decoration is definitely optional.

Date Truffle
1/2 c. whole pitted dates
1/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. walnuts
1/8 c. oatmeal
1 T. ground flax seeds

Cranberry-Plum Truffle
1/4 c. dried cranberries (reserve one or two for garnish)
1/4 c. dried plums
1/8 c. oatmeal 
1/4 c. almonds (reserve one or two for garnish)
1 T. ground flax seeds 

Peanut Butter Truffle
1/4 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. raisins
1/4 c. almonds
1/4 c. oatmeal
1 T. ground flax seeds

Strawberry Truffle
1/2 c. dried strawberries (reserve one or two for garnish)
1/2 c. walnuts (reserve one or two for garnish)
1/8 c. oatmeal
1 T. ground flax seeds 

Using a spice grinder grind flax seeds to a powder. 

In a food processor add all ingredients (per truffle recipe). Turn food processor on and grind until mixture looks like course salt and can hold together when pinched. If
mixture is too dry to hold together grind a bit more until it does. The dried fruit will eventually become sticky if you grind it long enough.

Using a rounded tea spoon shape the mixture into equally sized round balls. You could also use a melon baller or small cookie scoop depending how large or small you
want the truffles.

Each recipe will make approximately 16 teaspoon sized truffles.

If you are making multiple recipes of truffles and peanut butter is one of them be sure and make that one last. I make one batch and use the food processor again for the
next flavor without cleaning. Makes it quick and easy!

Store refrigerated 7-10 days in an airtight container.

Quilt Cookies

If you aren't familiar with the term millefiori, it translates to a 'thousand flowers'. It is a glasswork technique of creating rods with multicolored patterns that can only be seen at either end of the rod. The rod can be cut in cross sections, or beads, and keep the pattern throughout. 

These cookies are inspired by the millefiori glasswork process but I think they look more like little quilts, hence the title 'Quilt Cookies'. The possibilities are truly endless using this technique. These will 'Wow!' almost anyone and make great gifts. There are many steps to making these cookies but they are not difficult as long as you have patience.

I mostly love this cookie recipe because it is a one bowl cookie dough! You will be kneading and mixing in food coloring later so the dough will be well mixed without sifting all of the dry ingredients separately.

Icebox Sugar Cookie
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
3 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder

In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar until combined. Add egg and vanilla mixing well. Sift flour on top of wet mixture and before stirring add the baking powder.
When you start to combine the wet and dry ingredients, the flour and baking powder will incorporate well enough throughout the dough without needing to sift first.

Dump dough onto a piece of waxed paper and divide dough into six equal pieces. You can obviously use more or less colors but I chose six.

After dough is divided choose food coloring colors and mix into dough using your hands. I find that there is enough butter in the recipe that your hands don't take on the food coloring but you could use gloves if you want make sure you don't have rainbow hands when you are finished!

Once your dough is colored start mixing and making patterns that will become the final cookie. You can do something as easy as swirling the colors together or as complicated as making words and flowers.

Freeze the dough 3-4 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove cookie dough from the freezer and slice in 1/4 inch pieces.

Bake for 7-9 minutes depending on how soft or crisp you like your cookies. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on baking sheet.

Color will not fade while baking.

Quilted Bird House and Toy Bird Rattles

When a beautiful little baby girl Lily was born and her mom (my cousin) decorated her room all in birds I decided to make this quilted bird house with a few bird rattle toys to go along with it as a baby gift.

I used scrap fabric, a few pieces of felt and a lot of thread to sew this creation. This is a combination of machine sewing, hand sewing and embroidery. I worked on it each night for about 2 1⁄2 hours and it took me about 7 days. I had fun taking pictures of it in the newly fallen snow before shipping it off to sunny Florida.

You will need the following items to construct the birdhouse:
- Scrap pieces of patterned cotton fabric – if you are buying fabric you will need no more than 1⁄4 yard of each pattern.
- 4 or 5 sheets of felt
- 4 bundles of thread
- Scrap batting – if you are purchasing the batting you will need very little – about 1/3 yard to be safe.
- Sharp scissors
- Sewing needles
- Sewing machine – it could be done all by hand but would take longer to do.
- An embroidery book if you don’t know the stitches by heart.
- A pattern of pieces you need to sew the birdhouse and birds.
- 4 bells – if you want the birds to be rattles when completed.

I originally posted this on Instructables so if you are interested in the steps to make a bird house like this one here is the link:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Felt Play Board

Felt play boards are a great way to keep a child entertained while traveling. They are light weight, cheap to make and easy to pack. Perfect for a long car ride or flying on an airplane.

You will need the following items:
-two pieces of pre-cut felt
-one piece of cardboard or chip board
-child's favorite sticker - My boys love The Clone Wars so I chose Clone Wars stickers.
-glue stick

1. Glue one piece of felt onto the cardboard with a glue stick. 
2. If the cardboard and the felt are not the same size trim the edges.
3. Stick all of the stickers on the second piece of felt.
4. Carefully cut around the stickers leaving a thin border around the edges.
5. Put all of the cut out stickers on the first piece of felt.
6. Give to your child and let their imagination run wild!

Buttery Applesauce Cupcakes with Brown Sugar-Nutmeg Cream Cheese Frosting

When I first found out about the instructables.com website they were running a cupcake contest. I came up with these delicious cupcakes decorated with an Apple logo to enter. They were giving away an iPad 2 that I didn't win but I did manage to get an apron!

For the cupcake:
1/2 c. butter (one stick)
1 egg
1 c. applesauce
1 t. vanilla
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 t. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line cupcake tin with papers.

In a large mixing bowl sift sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. (Grating fresh nutmeg rather than using pre-ground gives a more intense flavor to the cupcakes.)

In a medium bowl combine softened butter, egg, applesauce, and vanilla mixing well. Add to the dry ingredients. Mix well.

Spoon batter into cupcake tin 3/4 full and bake 15-18 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool on a wire rack.

For the frosting:
8 oz cream cheese
4 T. butter (half a stick)
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. freshly ground nutmeg

While cupcakes are baking make the frosting.

In a medium mixing bowl combine softened cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer at medium speed. Add brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.

Mix until light and fluffy. Taste, because you can't resist and set aside!

If you have small children I highly recommend letting them lick the beaters so they will be occupied while you make the apple decorations!

For the apple decoration:
6 pieces of colored taffy (green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue) per every six cupcakes.

You will need 6 colors of taffy (green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue), a rolling pin, waxed paper, a ruler, a pizza cutter, a sharp knife and an Apple logo pattern.

Laffy Taffy is a good option for the colors but any pliable taffy will work. It can be found in most bulk candy sections at the grocery store.

1. Place a piece of taffy between two pieces of waxed paper and flatten with a rolling pin until about 1/8 of an inch thick.
2. Repeat with remaining colors.
3. Cut an Apple logo pattern out of paper. You can easily print one from the internet in the size you want.
4. Using a pizza cutter cut flattened taffy into strips. You will need to get 6 strips from each color. You can eyeball it or use a ruler to get the correct width.
5. Lay strips of taffy together to get your rainbow. Gently press to get colors to stick together.
6. Lay your Apple pattern on top of striped taffy and cut around the pattern with a sharp knife. If the taffy is too soft (or sticking to your knife) you can refrigerate for a few
minutes to make it easier to cut.
7. Using scraps from the green taffy - cut out the apple stems.
8. Assemble apples with stems and refrigerate 10 minutes before putting on cupcakes.

How fun was that?!

For Assembly:
Frost cooled cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Use enough to make the tops somewhat flat.

Place apples and stems on the frosting. Eat and enjoy! YUM!