Monday, July 28, 2014

Packing Cookies for The Bus and My Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe!


My baby boy turned 17 yesterday. Sigh. Just saying that out loud feels like an out of body experience. Seventeen? That's practically grown up! His sisters are already lamenting the inevitability that one day he will leave them and go off to college. They find themselves in the unending conundrum of wanting their big brother to stay at home forever and wanting to place dibs on his room. The way I see it, they are likely to lose both those battles.

Fortunately, my boy still has a little more time at home.  Today he left, not for a lifetime, but for a  week-long missions trip. To Florida. Now, if the suffering is not in the destination, it might be in the transportation. A 27-hour bus ride to be exact. It just so happens that Florida is a lot further away from Minnesota than it is from Atlanta. I know. I'm good at geography like that.

Since his birthday was yesterday, I decided it might be nice to send a little birthday treat for the 48 people making the trek - something not too crumbly, not too sticky, not too melty, not requiring any utensils but completely and entirely delicious. I went back to the basics: My Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies!


In an attempt to make the cookies cute and transportable, I decided to package them in individual-sized portions. I love these glassine bags from Uline! I know. Some wives love it when their husbands buy them jewelry. My husband buys me cases of cute food packaging supplies. This is why we've been happily married for 20 years. I'm just saying. He knows me.

Let me introduce you to another one of my very favorite newly discovered products:  Avery Kraft Brown Round Labels. No skill required. Simply go online to avery.com and enter the product number. Up pops hundreds of designs. All you do is type in your customized words!


Since I like the kraft brown paper to shine, I chose a simple design with black ink.


Next, I put three of these perfectly delicious chocolate chip cookies in each glassine bag, folded the top, and sealed it with a birthday sticker.


These labels are so foolproof, they even work when you put the paper in the wrong way!


 The individual bags made passing out treats on the bus clean, easy and festive!

Happy 17th Birthday, Samuel!


My Best-Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Rachel @ Simple Girl

1 1/3 cups Earth Balance, room temperature
(Butter tastes good, but creates a different texture)
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (depending on how chocolatey you like it!) 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whip Earth Balance and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Continue to beat until smooth and creamy.

Gradually add flour, soda and salt. Beat until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop a heaping teaspoonful on a parchment-lined baking sheet, 12 per sheet.  Bake 8 minutes or until the cookie just starts to brown. This is the key to creating a soft, delicious cookie. Don't over bake.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and repeat until all the dough has been used.

Makes 48 - 60 cookies, depending on the size.




Saturday, July 19, 2014

Celebrity Home Sightings


We've just returned from a family trip to the East Coast. Our mission? To get my husband to his 50th state: Maine. Ok, and maybe eat a little a lot of lobster. One of our food stops was The Maine Diner in Wells, Maine. Five years ago we saw it featured on Diners, Drivers and Dives. They had Lobster Pie. We had to go there. (More food pics to come!) It was this stop for Lobster Pie, however, that got us focused on another missions:  Celebrity Home sightings. Are you confused yet? I thought so. It just so happens that the exit for Wells, Maine was also the exit for Kennebunkport. Maybe we could find the Bush Compound! After talking to a few locals, we got a general idea of where it might be and confirmed that it could be seen from the road. We were off. As we approached our destination, the congregation of other onlookers confirmed our suspicion. This beautiful peninsula entertains two former presidents.


We were surprised that they did not invite us in considering our rented minivan sported Texas plates. 
I guess we should have called ahead.


The day we spotted the Bush Compound, we travelled from Portland, Maine to Connecticut. While there is very little actually IN Rhode Island, we swung wide to include this itty bitty state. Wait. There IS something in Rhode Island. Taylor Swift's new beach house! You didn't see her Fourth of July beach photos on Instagram? If you didn't, you apparently don't have any tweenage girls. Because The Hubby is such an awesome dad, he took the risk. After much internet searching, their brother and I narrowed down the address to a neighborhood:  Watch Hill. We knew it was on the ocean. As we neared our destination, the tech savvy daughter took my phone and, in 30 seconds, found an exact address. We weren't sure if we should be thrilled by her resourcefulness or fearful of her natural ability to become a stalker. As we drove by, the security guards out from confirmed our inclination. We love Taylor Swift!


Here's the gorgeous beach view of her house on a hill.
(With more security guards)


And the sign out front based on her famous lyrics.
The girls may or may not have thrown a handful of Swiftie beach rocks into my bag.


The next day we took a ferry from Connecticut to Long Island where one of my favorite East Hamptonites lives:  Ina Garten.  This is the previous location of her specialty food store, The Barefoot Contessa.


And, once again using the skills of my tech-savvy daughter, 
we decided that this may or may not be the Barefoot Contessa's East Hampton home.
But we think it is. Probably.
I believe there is a saying in the Hamptons: "Tall Hedges make good neighbors!"


Another one of my favorite people:  Martha Stewart! I confirmed the shape of the gate with other website sightings. Martha's East Hampton home is located on a lovely, exclusive street. Someone on her block was having a big party and as we drove by, fancy people were being shuttled to their festivities in golf carts. I'm sure that our rented beige minivan with the Texas plates did not look out of place at all.  Ahem.


Our final stop of the rich and famous was the Oheka Castle a.k.a. "Shadow Pond" of my favorite guilty pleasure summer viewing, "Royal Pains" on USA Network. While the show depicts the castle in The Hamptons, it is actually located in Hungtington, NY which is on the West side of Long Island. The Oheka Castle is the second largest private home in the United States. This long driveway has been in many Royal Pains scenes, usually involving running, fancy cars and shooting. Look for an entire post on this amazing home coming soon!

We had an awesome trip exploring the New England and the East Coast, but even with mountains of laundry to climb, I must say, there's no place like home. So glad to be back!

Rachel

Monday, July 7, 2014

Red, White and Blueberry Flag (Flop) Cake!


Every year we make a special Fourth of July dessert and this year was no exception.  The girls were paging through my copy of Food Network magazine when they came across THIS Flag Ice Cream Cake.  It looked easy enough. Red and white layers of ice cream topped with a blue layer of cake.  When you cut into the cake, each slice looks like a flag.  Very cool indeed. So I packed one springform pan for our trip up to the cabin and planned to get the ingredients once we arrived.  Guess what?  The further you get away from civilization, the less likely they are to have raspberry sorbet.  Plan B.

Forget the ice cream. What if I just made a layered flag cake? I smiled to myself as I considered this brilliant idea. I stopped at the local Target and guess what I found?  A white cake mix, a red velvet cake mix and, yes, a blue blueberry cake mix!


Once at the cabin, I baked the cake mixes, one at a time, in my one pan. Note the golden oak side table and the sliding glass doors.


A couple of notes: Read cake mix directions carefully.  If it says, "egg whites", it means that the color of the mix will change if you use the yolks. You've been forewarned.

Also, check the size of the cake mix.  For instance, the red velvet cake mix only made half a cake. I know. Crazy.

After baking the cakes, I decided to cut the red and white ones horizontally to create stripes.  I did this using the old dental floss trick. It works better than a big knife. I cut the little red cake in half and the larger white cake into thirds. My cake would have to be satisfied with five stripes.


Here's the layers:  First, place a white cake layer on a plate and top with cream cheese frosting.


Next, add a red velvet layer and more cream cheese frosting.


Add another white layer and more cream cheese frosting.
At this point, things are starting to look a bit ugly.


Here's what you do with the blue layer - leave it unsliced, but cut a circle in the middle. (Do you like the purdy plastic flowered dishes? Did I mentioned that we were at the cabin?)

Place the entire cake on top of the cake layers you have started. But don't flip it. That would cause the cake to fall apart and crumble into pieces. (Don't ask me how I know this.) And this is where the pictures stop. This is where I start screaming, "Somebody, help! Get some giant skewers to hold my cake in place! WAAH!!!"

If I had continued to take pictures at this point, you would have seen me cut equal sized circles out of the last two layers of red and white cake and insert them into the blue cake, adding cream cheese frosting between each of the layers. But I didn't take any pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it.


Here's my finished cake after I froze the cake and trimmed the edges.  
Frosting and blueberries cover a multitude of sins.
I like to think of it as rustic.


Here you can see the slice.
Good idea.
Poor execution.
Still delicious!



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to Make Starburst "Fondant"


A big pan of brownies is always a favorite at gatherings, but sometimes a girl just want to elevate it a bit. Enter "fondant" stars. Made from Starbursts, these decorative stars are colorful, tasteful, and a whole lot easier than buying packages of fondant, coloring, rolling and cutting.


Here's the process.  Unwrap two Starbursts. Microwave them for 8-10 seconds until they are just barely soft but not too soft.  Smash them together with your fingers and then take a rolling pin and roll them flat. You should get about a 2" circle.



Take your cookie cutter and press down firmly.  
You may have to jiggle the cutter a bit to get a good, clean edge.



If you are looking for the blue Starbursts, you'll need to buy the Fruity Slushies pack. 
 I just thought you'd like to know.


Repeat the process until you have enough stars to cover all your brownies, or cupcakes, or cookies, or whatever it is you have that needs ornamentation. Use the scraps to create these lovely multi-colored stars.  Just smash the scraps together, reheat, and roll!


Enjoy your Independence Day!






My Blog-cation Recap


When one doesn't blog for an entire month, her readers might just assume that A) Perhaps the blogger has passed away, or B) that said blogger hasn't done anything blog-worthy.  Well, I'm here to set the record straight.  Blog-cations are usually a result of life hitting so rapid a pace, that the recording of great (or not so great) ideas simply gets lost in the momentum.  So here's a brief recap of what I've been doing lately:


I baked my mom's awesome carrot cake recipe.
  I really liked the candied carrots on top!


I celebrated Mother's Day.
And I discovered that the key to looking good in a selfie is to have your kids hold the camera so you can hide in back.


I took a walk around the lake and rekindled my love with chartreuse.


I watched a sunset and felt the awe.


We flew to Atlanta and I wondered, once again, how the law of gravity and the law of aerodynamics can coexist.


In Atlanta, we did some serious shopping.


And I found these cute patriotic Cookies in a Jar.


Which inspired these end of the year teacher gifts.


I bought a trampoline for my birthday and I watched the kids do things that I will never do. Ever.


We learned some lessons in economics and marketing at our church-sponsored garage sale. 
Cleaning out one's closet can be profitable!


I photographed my first wedding.

Hope you can enjoy some time off, too!

xo
Rachel











Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sweet Sour Cream Biscuits



I've been thinking about my good friends in The South, lately, and that leads me to think about food.  The South and good food just go hand in hand.  You can't have one without the other.


Did you know that if you go to, say, a potluck brunch with your Bible Study group, that ladies actually bring things like Cheese Grits, Bacon Biscuits, French Toast Bake, Sausage Balls, Sweet Tea and Pecan Bars? They actually eat these foods and somehow stay skinny.  I guess it's all the tennis they play. Or maybe they just sweat it off during the 90+ degree days. I'm still trying to figure it out.


If you don't think you're a fan of biscuits, try these.  They're moist (sour cream), slightly sweet (just a tad of "sugah") and you can bake them right in your muffin tin!  These biscuits work for breakfast, lunch or dinner.


You need to try them, y'all!



Sweet Sour Cream Biscuits
by Rachel @ Simple Girl

Ingredients:
1 cup sour cream
1 cup butter or margarine, melted
2/3 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking soda

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   
  • Melt the butter or margarine in a microwave safe bowl.  Combine with sour cream and sugar.  
  • Whisk dry ingredients together and gently combine with the sour cream mixture until just combined.
  • Using an ice cream scoop, place one scoop of batter in each of 12 greased muffin tins.
  • Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until lightly brown on top.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rita's Pork Carnitas Tacos



Every year for Spanish class, my boy has the opportunity to earn culture points by cooking some authentic Hispanic food.  This works out great for me since his Nana is very authentic, not to mention a  very good cook! Nana has also passed on her culinary skills to her daughter (my sister-in-law) Rita.  As the deadline for culture points neared, I invited them over and asked them if they had a recipe they would be willing to share with Samuel. I just love it when I invite people over and they do all the work. I'm a great hostess that way.


Rita cooked the pork in her slow cooker before arriving and then showed Samuel how to crisp it in a cast iron skillet. Of course, she brought her own skillet. She's authentic like that. She even printed up her recipe for me (see below). She's a great sister-in-law like that.


Here's Samuel pretending to cook the pork carnitas.  As you can see, his Nana thinks that's pretty funny. She doesn't usually let men in her kitchen. At least we have a photo for the culture point assignment. Eating counts, right?


Slow cooking the pork in a spicy citrus marinade keeps it moist and full of flavor.  Crisping it in a cast iron skillet gives it crisp, caramelized bite.  I can't wait until next year!  Thanks Nana and Rita!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!


Rita's Pork Carnitas Tacos

Ingredients
·       6 lbs pork butt (cut into 2-3” cubes)
·       1 Tbsp kosher salt
·       1 Tbsp Mexican oregano
·       2 tsp cumin
·       2 tsp chili powder
·       4 TBL olive oil
·       1 medium onion coarsely chopped
·       1 med-lg seeded jalapeno chopped
·       8 cloves garlic minced or mashed (or 2 TBL minced from a jar)
·       1 ½ cup orange juice
·       1 orange cut in ½
·       ¼ cup lime juice (juice from 1-2 limes)
·       ¾ cup water (you can add this as needed)

Instructions

  • Mix all spices in with olive oil then rub each cube with mixture (you can also rub into a whole roast if you prefer but rubbing into the individual cubes just adds more flavor)
  • Place all prepared pork into crock pot with all of the remaining ingredients, squeezing the orange halves last and adding to the pot
  • Cook on low for 8 hours adding water as needed – I typically give it a good stir in the beginning just to mix the ingredients throughout then just let it cook
  • Remove meat with slotted spoon and allow to cool then either shred with forks, or just use your fingers to separate which will allow additional for some small meatier chunks
To crisp up
Add meat to a cast iron skillet over med/high heat and brown until crispy (add oil if desired)

We used the carnitas to make tacos using warm corn and flour tortillas. We served it as a small taco bar with a variety of additional fillings like guacamole, salsa, sour cream, chopped cilantro, lettuce and tomato and Mexican cheese crumbles.