Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, Angel Kisses Cookies, Homemade Tomato Soup, Homemade Vegetarian Meatballs, Pumpkin Pie Fudge, Homemade Stuffing, Homemade Vegetarian Gravy, and Homemade Pancakes …made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama.

Happy day after Thanksgiving!  I hope you all had a great day filled with happiness, family, and really yummy food.  We sure did.  Leading up to Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough DSCN1357to experiment with a few recipes.  Most of them were dessert recipes, but I was also able to try out a few savory recipes. Let’s get right to it.  The first recipe was for chocolate hazelnut brownies.  I saw this recipe on an old episode of “Everyday Italian,” and knew immediately that I had to try it. We LOVE LOVE LOVE brownies in our house, and I knew my family would enjoy this one. Well enjoy it we did, and I would definitely make these again.  Even Ryan liked them, and that is really saying something.  Here is a link to the recipe that I used:

The next few recipes were for my favorite dessert ever…cookies.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE cookies, and I have loved them since I was a kid.  To this day, my favorite dessert in theDSCN1374 whole world is a homemade chocolate chip cookie. I LOVE to bake cookies as well.  It was in that spirit that I made the following cookie recipes.  The first recipe was for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  I have made these before, but it’s been a few years.  I love to utilize pumpkin, especially this time of year, so I was excited to make these cookies.  I am happy to report that they came out great again.  Ryan doesn’t care for them, but Victoria and Dan LOVE them. Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

DSCN1375The next cookie recipe was for “angel kisses.” I have made these once before but it was a long long time ago.  At the time I originally made them, we only gave them a B, but I really wanted to try them again.  This time, we gave them an A.  I am not sure what was different this time, but we really enjoyed them.  Ryan didn’t like them, but the rest of us did.  Angel kisses are a meringue cookie, and I am happy to report that they are delicious.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe was for homemade tomato soup.  I LOVE soup…especially tomato soup. DSCN1378Victoria loves tomato soup too.  What I don’t love is all the sodium that is inherent in canned soup, so I decided to make some from scratch.  The resulting soup is amazing, and I won’t ever purchase canned tomato soup again.  This soup was a snap to make and tastes even better than store bought tomato soup. Victoria and Dan loved it, and agreed that we should always use this soup recipe when we eat tomato soup.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:   My version of this soup, has even lower sodium content than the recipe in the link, as the bouillon cubes that I use are “no sodium added” cubes.

The next recipe was for vegetarian meatballs.   I love love love veggie meatballs, and was inspired to make this recipe after watching an episode of “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.”  It is my all time favorite cooking show.  On the show, the host Mo Rocca, cooks with various DSCN1383grandmothers and grandfathers around the country.  The back story is that he LOVED his grandmother’s ravioli and her cooking, but unfortunately never learned to cook.  So he travels around the country, and visits with other grandparents and learns to cook their favorite recipes.  It’s great!  If you are interested, here is a link to info about the show:   Anyway, in a recent episode Mo cooks with a couple that are vegetarians, and they make meatballs…veggie meatballs.  They use pecan meal to make the meatballs, and that inspired me to research alternatives to using soy to make veggie friendly meatballs.  I found a ton of recipes that sounded good, but decided to start my experimentation with this one.  The meatballs do not have the same consistency as a regular ‘ol meatball, but they were good.  Victoria didn’t prefer them, and Ryan wouldn’t even try them, but Dan and I liked them.  Here is a link to the recipe that I used:  I would definitely make these again.

The next recipe was for pumpkin pie fudge.  I have made this fudge in the past, DSCN1393but it has been at least 6 years since I made it last.  I thought it would be a fun dessert to share with the elementary office staff, and because it was made with pumpkin, it was perfect for Thanksgiving week.  If you like the flavors of pumpkin pie, you will like this fudge.  It really tastes like a piece of pumpkin pie, minus the crust.  Ryan of course didn’t like this because he doesn’t like pumpkin pie. Victoria doesn’t like pumpkin pie either, but thought the fudge was okay.  Dan and I LOVE pumpkin pie, so we thought the fudge was great. Here is a link to the recipe that I used:


My thanksgiving dinner plate

The next two recipes were for our annual vegetarian Thanksgiving feast.  Every year, I prepare a veggie friendly feast for our house.  We go to my Aunt Pat’s every year for Thanksgiving dinner, so I don’t technically need to cook for Thanksgiving day. Despite not being responsible for Thanksgiving dinner, I cook anyway as we LOVE to eat Thanksgiving left overs.  Every year I make a turk’y roast manufactured in the United Kingdom by a company called Quorn.  I also make all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes…veggie friendly side dishes of course.  This year on our Thanksgiving table there was: turk’y roast, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, corn, homemade stuffing, homemade gravy, rolls,  pasta (for Ryan), and a chocolate pie for dessert. The homemade gravy and stuffing DSCN1406were new recipes for me…here’s the story.  As vegetarians we don’t eat gravy a lot, but for those few recipes I make that require it, I’ve always used Kroger’s fat free brown gravy.  I used it because it was veggie friendly (since it was fat free, there was no rendered beef  in the gravy, so it was veggie friendly).  Well flash forward to this November, and Kroger no longer carries it!!  I have tried a few mushroom gravies in the past, but I DO NOT LIKE them…yuck! So I had to flex my culinary muscles and use a homemade recipe instead.  Well  I am soooo glad that I did, because this recipe is delicious!! As an added bonus, I used all organic ingredients, and my gravy contains a TON less salt, and questionable ingredients than the store bought kind I used to use. I will definitely make this gravy again.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:  I made a substitution to the recipe.  I don’t use soy sauce, I use Bragg liquid amino as a soy sauce substitute.  You can purchase Bragg liquid amino at Whole Foods, or on-line.

The next Thanksgiving recipe was for stuffing.  Until this year, I’ve always used a stuffing mix from the store.  Well this year, I wanted to make a stuffing from scratch, and I did DSCN1402using my new Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Okay…side story. I have wanted this cookbook for years.  I am still uncertain as to why I didn’t register for it when Dan and I got married, but I didn’t.  Over the years, I have looked at it many times whilst in a bookstore, but couldn’t convince myself to spend 30 bucks on a cookbook that included so many recipes that were unusable to me as a vegetarian.  That said, I still loved and wanted the book as it is so iconic to me. It was the cookbook that my parents used when I was growing up.  It’s the cookbook that I used anytime I baked cookies when I was young, and living at home with my parents. It’s the cookbook that I’ve seen countless “brides-to-be” receive at their showers.  It’s the cookbook that has been in publication since 1968, and is still one of the most popular cookbooks in our country.  Well just last month I was at the library, and I was perusing the used book sale cart when I saw a cookbook…THE cookbook. I immediately snatched it off the cart, and began searching it for damage.  I found none.  It looks brand new,  almost as if it’s never been used.  I took it to the counter and paid…wait for it…a whole dollar!!!!! OMG a dollar for this cookbook that I have wanted for years!!! SCORE!!!  I was so excited that as soon as I got home, I began perusing the recipes that I wanted to try. Well one of the first that I selected was the old fashioned bread stuffing recipe.  I decided I’d try it for Thanksgiving this year, and I am glad that I did…it was amazing!  After tasting this recipe, I will never buy dry stuffing mix, or pre-cubed bread again. This was so easy to make, and it was delicious to eat!  Ryan doesn’t like stuffing, but Dan, Victoria, and I LOVED it.  The cookbook was totally worth the dollar even if only for this recipe. Here is the link to the recipe that I used:  As another side story, I was at the library this past Tuesday, and was again perusing the used book sale cart, and scored two more cookbooks: Pillsbury’s The Complete Book of Baking, and The Kitchen Garden both for $1.00!!!  I am in cookbook heaven…stay tuned for recipes courtesy of Pillsbury…Hoo hoo (that was supposed to be the Pillsbury dough boy giggling☺)

The last recipe was for homemade pancakes.  Okay, so I have always used Bisquick or Krusteaz baking mix to make pancakes and the like, but wanted to try to make my own. So DSCN1414I searched the internet for a recipe and came across this one.  I had all the items in my pantry so I decided to give it a shot.  I am happy to report that the pancakes were amazing!!! Ryan was the person who requested pancakes for breakfast yesterday, and I am happy to report that he LOVED them.  In fact he told me, and I quote “…oh my God…Mom…your pancakes gave me chills…they are so good…”  Well that’s good enough for me.  I will definitely never buy a baking mix again, as this is now my “go to” pancake and waffle mix recipe. Here is a link to DSCN1417the mix recipe that I used:  I made one substitution to the recipe.  When mixing the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients to make the pancakes, I added about a tablespoon of vanilla to the batter…YUM

If there was a theme to this entry is was definitely “homemade” or “from scratch.” Five of the recipes that I shared were recipes in which I had previously relied on store bought products/ingredients.  I would love to make everything from scratch, but realistically that isn’t possible.  So, I am attempting to make as much as I humanly can from scratch as I LOVE that I can then control the ingredients, and  know exactly what my family is eating.  I have heard it said that if “…your Grandmother didn’t recognize the item as food, you probably shouldn’t eat it,” and I am trying to adhere to that sentiment.  In doing so, I am making more and more from scratch, and honestly I LOVE it. I don’t mind the extra work and time it requires in the kitchen, because I LOVE LOVE LOVE to be in the kitchen creating a meal that is filled with wholesome ingredients for my family. If I had to pick just one ingredient that is my absolute favorite, I would have to choose love.  I add it to all my recipes, and it’s always available in my kitchen.  The best thing is that love never expires…it is easily replenished, and it always…always… makes food taste better.  Enjoy! ♥♥


Thanksgiving ~2013

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Chocolate Ricotta Muffins, Brown Butter Pear Crisp, Chocolate Coconut Cream Cake, Candy Corn Cupcakes, Ricotta Cookies, Sweet Potato Pie, Creamed Spinach, and Mini Vegetarian Meat Loaves…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama.

Happy November!! I hope you all are enjoying this lead up to the holiday season.  I am totally not ready for Christmas, but the kids sure are.  Victoria tells me almost everyday how many days are left until Christmas…ahhhhhhhh!  I prefer to wait until after Thanksgiving to start getting excited about Christmas, so much to Victoria’s chagrin, I still have some time left.  The last few weeks have been pretty busy, but I have managed to experiment with some recipes, so let’s get right to it.

DSCN0944The first recipe is for chocolate ricotta muffins.  I came across the recipe on Pinterest and decided to give it a try.  I love muffins, and I love chocolate, so as soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I’d have to make it.  I don’t routinely have ricotta cheese in the fridge, so I had to pick some up especially.  I am glad I did, because these muffins were really good.  I don’t use ricotta that much in sweet recipes, so I’m always a bit concerned that unless I am really sweetening the ricotta up, that you’ll be able to taste the cheese.   Happily, these muffins are dense and chocolatey, and don’t taste at all cheesy. Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe was for a brown butter pear crisp.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a TON of DSCN0948pears, thanks to the annual “Pears Gone Wild” party that Jim and Kim host.  The hard part about having so many pears, is that they all tend to ripen at the same time.  With that in mind, I decided on this recipe because it requires a lot of pears… 6 cups of pears to be exact. I actually made two pear crisps (one for the elementary office and one for home), so I needed 12 cups of pears.  This recipe is simple, and I had all the ingredients.  I will definitely make it again, because it is DELICIOUS!!!  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:  The only substitution I made was that I used a baking dish instead of a cast iron pan.

The next recipe I experimented with was for chocolate coconut cream cake.  I made it for DSCN0976my sister Amy’s birthday.  Amy loves all things coconut, and her birthday was coming up, so I decided to make her a cake.  This is a pretty simple recipe too, and I had most of the ingredients in the pantry.  The only ingredient that I had to buy especially for the recipe was cream of coconut.  Honestly, I’d never heard of cream of coconut before.  I’d used coconut milk and coconut extract, in recipes before, but never cream of coconut.  I needed to go to Trader Joe’s anyway so whist there, I picked up a can.  I am happy to report that this cake is AMAZING!!!  Amy loved it, and requested it be served at all parties from here to infinity.  The cake is chocolatey and full of yummy coconut flavor, thanks to that cream of coconut.  The icing is simple, just some “Cool Whip” sprinkled with toasted coconut.  YUM!!! I will definitely make this again.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe I experimented with was for candy corn cupcakes.  DSCN1001I LOVE candy corn, and every year I buy a few bags of “Brach’s Autumn Mix” which contains candy corn, Indian corn, and pumpkins…YUM.  When I was growing up, my Grandma Ann always had candy corn at her house, and she called it “witch’s teeth.”  I remember liking it, but being a little concerned about the name. ☺  I only buy candy corn in the fall, but every time I eat it, I think of her.  Anyway, this year I decided to make candy corn cupcakes on Wednesday October 30th as it was “national candy corn day.” It also worked out great because the next day was Halloween, and I was sure the elementary office would be flooded with treats.  So as a special “calm before the Halloween storm,”  I took the cupcakes to the office on Wednesday.  I am happy to report that they came out great.  They tasted good, and looked even better.  I LOVE the striped cupcake that mimics the look of candy corn.  I have only done striped cakes and cupcakes a few times before, but I always love the way the finished treat looks.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe I made was ricotta cheese cookies.  This recipe was part of my first blog “Cookie of the Week.”  If you are interested you can read that entry here:  Anyway, I had some ricotta left over from making the chocolate muffins, so I decided to use it up by DSCN1251making these cookies again.  They are soooooo good.  The ricotta cheese makes the cookies soft, and happily the cookies do not taste cheesy at all.   Here is the link to the recipe that I used:   These cookies remind me of my Aunt Rose’s Italian cookies that I also wrote about in the above mentioned blog.  I LOVE her Italian cookies so I was happy to make these again.  Since I only had about 8 ounces of ricotta left, I cut the recipe in half.  It made just over 2 dozen cookies. The original recipe makes a TON of cookies, so if you don’t want a TON of them in your house, just halve the recipe like I did. ☺

The next recipe I tried was sweet potato pie. I’ve only had sweet potato pie once in my lifeDSCN1332 and it was years ago.  A coworker made it for an office Christmas party, and I loved it.  I decided to make this pie for dessert for gingerbread day. For those of you unfamiliar with gingerbread day or g-day for short, I will explain. Nine years ago, my good friend Connie and I decided that in lieu of exchanging gifts for the kids, we’d get together to make gingerbread houses to kick off the holiday season. We take turns hosting the event every year, and this year g-day was at my house.  As the hostess you are responsible for dinner, assembling the gingerbread houses, and making the royal icing. As a guest, you are responsible for bringing the decorations, aka the candy and all the yummies used on the gingerbread houses.  At the DSCN1311time we started this tradition the kids were little.  The oldest (Connie’s daughter Sarah) was only 6, and the youngest (my son Ryan) was only a year old.  Sarah and Ryan are now 15 and 10 respectively.  A few years ago, we recorded the kids promising that they would never be “too old or too cool” to participate in g-day.  Now that the girls are actual teenagers, and infinitely cooler than when they swore that oath, I am happy to report that we don’t need the video evidence.  The kids love g-day just as much now as they did when we started…p.s. the boys love it too.  Anyway, this year I decided to have a Mex-fest for dinner.  I made taco soup, salsa (for dipping chips and veggies), and quesadillas…pronounced “kay-sah-dill-ahs.” Yes, if you said it the right way, I’d correct you and make you pronounce it as stated above. DSCN1329 Why?  Just because it cracks me up to say it wrong. ☺ In addition to the Mex-fest, I decided to make a sweet potato pie.  First,  it was gluten free  (Connie is trying to eliminate gluten as much as possible…I also used a gluten free crust), and it was also a new recipe that I wanted to try.  The pie came out great, and I would totally make it again.  Here is a link to a recipe that is similar:  To make the pie the exact way I did, eliminate the cinnamon, and add 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger.  Also, eliminate the butter and the milk, and add 1 cup of evaporated milk.  Lastly, cut the sugar to 3/4 cup.  I topped the pie with a little whipped cream.  YUM.

The last two recipes creamed spinach and mini vegetarian meat loaves, I made last nightDSCN1352 for dinner. The mini veggie friendly meat loaves I have been making for years, it’s just been a while since I made them last.  The creamed spinach was a new recipe for me.  I LOVE spinach.  I LOVE going to a restaurant, and ordering spinach dip too.  What I don’t LOVE is how much salt and fat are usually in a creamed spinach, or spinach dip you get at a restaurant.  This spinach recipe has very little fat and almost no salt, so it was totally guilt free.  As an added bonus, it’s a really simple recipe too.  The mini meat loaves are simple as well.  I love that DSCN1356you make them in muffin tins so they are perfect for a light dinner, or even a quick snack.  Ryan of course doesn’t eat either of these dishes, but the rest of us LOVE them.  Since Ry doesn’t partake,  and the recipe for the mini loaves makes a dozen, each of us gets 4 mini loaves.  We never eat 4 at a sitting so there is usually left overs.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE left overs.  I always say that my absolute favorite breakfast is a left over dinner.  So  today I happily ate mini veggie meat loaf and creamed spinach for breakfast…DELISH!  Here are the links to the recipes for both:   and  I made a few substitutions to the recipes.  First, the creamed spinach was a bit bland for my taste, so I added pepper, garlic powder, and grated parmesan cheese to the recipe.  Also, the creamed spinach calls for chicken broth, and I used low sodium vegetable broth instead.  Additionally, the mini loaf recipe says that it yields 10 little loaves. Well I always get 12.  Here’s why.  I use crescent rolls instead of refrigerated biscuits, and I never use a whole triangle per muffin cup.  Most crescent rolls come 8 to a package, but I am able to stretch the dough to line 12 muffin cups.  I have found that if I only use the 8, there ends up being way too much filling left over, and the loaves are too doughy for my liking.  So if I really stretch the dough from 8 to 12, I find they come out perfect.

DSCN1126As I reflect on the fall so far, I am happy to report that it’s been great.  Here in Michigan, we’ve had lovely weather just until a few weeks ago.  The last few days have been pretty cold.  As I write this there is still a dusting of snow on my deck.  That said, on Sunday it’s supposed to be 57 degrees with rain.  Well ya know what they say about Michigan, “…if you don’t like the weather here, just wait 5 minutes!”  Okay so maybe it takes longer than 5 minutes, but just last year, the kids had a snow day on a Friday, and by Monday it was 60 degrees! OOF… holy allergy and migraine season.  Unfortunately, in our house we have both, and these crazy weather shifts are brutal.  I am thankful that we have medications that help, but the weather really causes issues.  Despite all that, it’s been a good fall.  We had a great albeit really wet DSCN0907Halloween.  I’ve been fortunate to take some really awesome pictures of the kids outside.  I ADORE fall pictures and the kids really indulged me this fall. My Spartans and Lions are rocking it every weekend, and g-day was a smashing success. Dan and I had a lovely anniversary, and now I am looking forward to a great Thanksgiving.  October and November really are my favorite months of the year, as they contain some of my favorite things.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with family, health, love, and of course some really great food.   Enjoy! ♥♥    DSCN1211

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Stuffed Zucchini Boats, Chocolate Cherry Cake, Homemade “Hostess” Ding Dongs, Bulgur Pilaf with Tomato and Zucchini, Spiced Pear Cake with Brown Butter Icing, and Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama

Happy October!  This is my favorite month of the whole year.  The leaves are changing, the temps are a bit cooler, my favorite tv show “The Walking Dead” returns, and we end the month with one of my favorite holidays, Halloween.  This is the month in which I also start thinking about “cold weather recipes.”  I love soup, but don’t eat it a ton when it’s hot outside.  Starting at the end of the month, I really kick it into “soup mode,” and begin experimenting with new recipes.  I already tried one new recipe this month that I will happily add into my soup rotation.  So let’s get right to the recipes…

The first recipe I tried was for stuffed zucchini boats.  My family is Lebanese, so I am no stranger to stuffed zucchini.  I grew up eating “koosa” and it is still one of my favorite Lebanese dishes.  This recipe is different than koosa in that you cut the zucchini in half, and top it with the stuffing.  When making koosa, you hollow out the squash, and then stuff it with a mixture of rice, spices, meat (I use veggie beef substitute), and tomato…YUM. DSCN0102Anyway, I had a few zucchini that I wanted to experiment with so I chose this recipe.  I had all the ingredients on hand, except the chicken sausage.  As vegetarians, we don’t eat chicken, and unfortunately they stopped making our favorite veggie sausage substitute, so I had to make my own.  I used Morning Star Farms veggie crumbles, and then added garlic, pepper, and ground fennel seed.  I am happy to report that these zucchini boats turned out amazing!!  We loved them and I would definitely make them again.  We doesn’t include Ryan of course, but I am sure you knew that already…haha.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:  I did have a little of the “sausage filling” left over, so I used it later in the week for a veggie lasagna…delish!

The next recipe I tried was for cherry chocolate cake.  I made this recipe out of necessity…no really.  I know… I know… you’re probably thinking “… is cake really a necessity??”   Well…in this case yes… it was.  You see I had cherry pie filling that was about to expire, so I needed to use it asap. I have never made a cherry pie, and when I bought this pie filling I had every intention of making one.  I have made a lot of apple and pear pies in the last few weeks, and they came out really good.  That said, I was hesitant to use a can of pie filling, and have it pale in comparison to the yummy pies, that I had made from scratch, with fresh fruit from my little organic orchard.  So I decided to switch it up DSCN0108completely and make a cake instead. So in this case you can clearly see, that baking a cake was completely necessary…wink wink.   Anyway, I came across this recipe and I knew I had to try it.  I love love love chocolate and cherries together.  In fact, growing up, chocolate covered cherries, were my favorite candy.  My Grandpa Gene used to buy me a box of chocolate covered cherries for Christmas and my birthday every year.  To this day, every Christmas, I  buy a box of chocolate covered cherries in his honor.  As soon as I saw this cake recipe, I knew I had to try it.  I am really happy that I did, because it is delicious!!  It is decadent…so yummy and rich.  We loved it.  Ryan actually tried it, and liked it too, so it must be good.  I think my favorite part was the homemade chocolate fudge frosting…YUM!!!  Here is a link to the recipe that I used:

Next, I made “Hostess ding dongs.”  When I was a kid I LOVED Hostess Ding Dongs.  Flash forward to my adulthood, and the love affair continued.  It continued until I read the box and discovered that it listed “beef fat and lard” as ingredients…EWWWWWW.  As a vegetarian that didn’t sit well with me, so I swore off them.  Okay, flash forward a bit more, and “Hostess” declares bankruptcy.  Bye bye Ding Dongs.  Bye bye Twinkies.  Bye bye a little piece of my childhood.  Now flash forward to this past August, and I received a catalog from Sur La Table in the mail.  Well inside that catalog I saw three different pans made by a company called DSCN0695 “Fat Daddio’s.”  The three pans were for making copycat versions of “Hostess Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and Snowballs!!”  SWEET!!  Better yet, the pans were on sale for $12.95 a piece.   AWESOME!!!  Best of all, the catalog included a ten dollar off coupon!!  WHOO HOO!!  Now I could get two of the pans for the price of one regular priced pan!!!  LOVE IT!!!  I went to the store that week, and purchased both the canoe pan (for making Twinkies), and the chocolate cream cake snack pan (for making Ding Dongs.)  I already had copycat recipes for both snack cakes, but the “ding dong”pan came with a recipe so I decided to use that one.  The result?  I thought they were good, but much sweeter than the “Hostess Ding Dongs” that I remember.  That said, the little cakes were very chocolatey and decadent, and contained absolutely no beef fat or lard.  I would definitely make them again for a special treat some time.  I love the idea that I own the pans now, and can make them again whenever I want.  I am definitely planning to make the “Twinkies” sometime soon…stay tuned!  Here is a link to the recipe that I used:   Okay so the perfectionist in me needs to speak up here.  I actually forgot to take pictures of the perfect looking little cakes that I delivered to the school office.  I wrapped them up cute in plastic wrap, and they really looked like the Ding Dongs that I remember.  I usually deliver the “pretty treats” to the school office and teachers, and my family eats the “less than picture perfect treats.”   The picture used above, was the last Ding Dong in the house, and as I got the sweet treat ready for her close up, I left a thumb print on the top.  I know it’s silly, but I wanted to photograph the little treats I took to school  because they looked so cute, but I just plain forgot.  Oh well…next time I make them, I will snap a few pictures, before they are devoured! 😛

The next recipe I tried was for bulgur pilaf with tomato and zucchini.  I have to admit, other than making kibbee, I have never cooked with bulgur wheat before.  I had some tomatoes and zucchini that I wanted to use, so this recipe was perfect.  I found it in one of DSCN0741my fav cookbooks that is titled, “3 in 1 Vegetarian Cookbook.”  I had all the ingredients and it seemed simple, so I decided to make it for dinner.  I am glad that I did, because it was really good.  I would definitely make it again. I really liked the bulgar too, it was almost like a quinoa or couscous dish.  Here is a link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe I made was for spiced pear cake with browned butter icing. So I have a ton of pears to use.  My “brother from another mother” Jim, and his lovely wife Kim, have an annual pear picking party at their house. It is titled “Pears Gone Wild,” and  I LOVE it.  This year was extra special as Christopher aka Ferfie my “other brother from another mother,” was also here for the pear-a-palooza.   His attendance wasn’t planned, but it was totally meant to be, as the events leading up the party cosmically fell into place.  First of all,  Kim and Jim got a ton of pears this year.  Last year was a bad year for fruit here in Michigan, so we still had the party, but there were no pears to pick.  Thankfully, Mother Nature was little kinder this year, so there was plenty of fruit to pick.  So much fruit in fact, that people were starting to steal Jim and Kim’s pears!  Kimmy came home from work, and there was some random freak sitting in their car, up on the grass, against their fence, picking pears through their open car window!  Who does that?!?  Well after that, Jim and Kim decided to bump up the pear picking extravaganza by a few weeks.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to any of us, on a whim, Ferfie booked a flight home to surprise us.  His trip home just happened to coincide with the pear picking party!DSCN0369   I swear sometimes things just work out.  So the day before “pears gone wild,” I come home from picking up Ryan from school, and there is a random car in front of my house.  Out here in the sticks we notice things like that right away.  First of all we live on a dirt road, so the car was literally parked on my property, as there is no curb in front of my house.  Second, anyone I know would’ve parked in the driveway, so there was a random unattended vehicle on my grass as I pulled up.  Third, there are only 11 houses on my road, so I recognize all the vehicles that actually belong to someone who lives here.  Lastly, I had left Victoria and her friend home whilst I ran to pick Ryan up, so I was nervous that someone came to the door, and they may have gotten scared.  Remember, we live in the country, and sometimes we go for months without someone coming to the door. Therefore, if indeed someone unexpectedly rang the doorbell it would have freaked them out.  So as soon as I came into the house I asked Victoria about it.  She said she had no idea about the car.  Then she and her friend began pestering me about going into Victoria’s room to listen to them play a piece of music.  I had just walked in and wanted to take off my shoes, sort the mail I just picked up, empty and put away lunch boxes from the week, but they wouldn’t let up.  So begrudgingly I abandoned the tasks at hand, and I walked down the hall to listen to them play.  As I rounded the corner into Victoria’s room, I saw Ferfie sitting on the bed.  It took a minute to register what I was seeing, as I couldn’t believe he was home.  I generally don’t care for surprises, but this was a great surprise and I LOVED it.

Ferfie's surprise entrance at "pears gone wild"
Ferfie’s surprise entrance at “pears gone wild”

I was so happy to see Ferf, in the flesh, in my house.  I had spoken to him a few days before, and because it was a surprise, he obviously didn’t mention his plan to come home for the weekend.  Happily, because Kim and Jim had decided to move the date of the pear party, we were all going to be together the following afternoon at their place.  It was great.  Everyone was really surprised to see Ferfie, and we had a blast picking pears, eating yummy food, playing games, and just being together.

Well since I have so many pears, I definitely wanted to make a sweet treat with them. I found this recipe on Pinterest, and it sounded interesting.  I have never made browned butter icing before, so I decided to give it a try.  I am so happy that I did because this cake is amazing!  Happily the recipe made two cakes, so I had plenty to share.  I will definitely make this cake again, and I plan on making the icing again for use on all different types of cakes,  muffins, or sweet breads.  With all the excitement of “pears gone wild” and Ferfie’s surprise visit, I again forgot to snap a picture of the cake.  Rest assured mine looked just like the picture on the website.  Here is the link to the recipe:

The last recipe I tried was for tomato basil parmesan soup.  As I mentioned above I LOVE soup, and I love making soup.  I found this recipe on Pinterest over the summer, and I couldn’t wait for the first chilly day so I could make it. It has really cooled off here in DSCN0744Michigan over the last few days, so this soup was perfect.  I had all the ingredients, and it sounded amazing, so I decided to try it out.  I am so glad that I did because it is super yummy.  Ryan of course didn’t try it, but the rest of us LOVED it.  I will happily add it to my regular soup rotation.  Here is the link to the recipe:  P.S. I made the stove top version, and before serving I used my immersion blender to smooth out the consistency.

I hope that you all have a great October, and a great Halloween.  I hope you enjoy the recipes, we sure did.  Happy Fall!!  ♥♥

Picking pears!!
The  “pears gone wild” crew!!
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Salted Chocolate Pretzel Toffee, Cheese Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies, Green Beans with Lemon and Garlic, Vegetarian Chicken Noodle Soup, Apple Crostada, Apple Poke Cake with Caramel Glaze, and Apple Pear Pies 2 Ways…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama

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Home Made “Crazy Bread,” Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins, Spinach Burgers, and Skinny Mac and Alfredo…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama.

Happy last week of summer…BOOOOOOO.  Okay so let me preface by saying I LOVE LOVE LOVE all things autumn, but I am not ready for the crazy pace we keep when school is back in session.  The homework, the projects, the lunches packed solely by moi, the drop offs and pickups at two different times which equals 4 separate runs up to the kids schools’, the permission slips, the conferences, being class helper, chaperoning dances, working the middle school store…you get the picture.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all the volunteering that I am fortunate enough to do at the kids’ schools, but the pace is crazy.  Plus, I miss my babies when they are at school.  Even when they are bickering and driving me nuts, I’d rather they were home.  Anyway, I was able to experiment with a few new recipes over the last few weeks, and here they are.

The first recipe is for home made crazy bread.  My Ryan, LOVES “Little Caesars” crazy bread.  He doesn’t eat pizza, so if we get pizza for dinner,  I make sure to get crazy bread DSCN8746for him.  I came across a recipe for crazy bread on Pinterest, and knew immediately I wanted to make it for my Ryan.  The only problem was that it required a can of refrigerated pizza dough, and I never have that at home.  The next time I went to the grocery store, I made sure to pick one up, and gave it a shot.  The result?  YUM. Unfortunately, Ryan didn’t care for the breadsticks.  He is so darn picky.  It would have been cool to be able to replicate his favorite “takeout” food, but no such luck.  Oh well, the rest of us liked them.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe I tried was for strawberry chocolate chip muffins.  I made these in the attempt to use up some strawberries that I had.  Whilst at the grocery store, the berries looked so yummy that I overindulged.  Victoria and I are the only people in our house who enjoy strawberries so two containers of berries is plenty.  Organic berries can be pricey, soDSCN8753 when I saw them on sale, I lost my mind for a few minutes, and bought four containers of them.  Vic and I did a good job of eating the fresh berries, but our consumption of them slowed after a few days, and the expiration date was approaching quick.  So, I decided to look through my recipes for a way to use them up, before they got mushy.  I found this recipe on Pinterest, and it looked yummy.  As an added bonus, it’s a healthier muffin recipe in that it contains only egg whites, and requires no butter or oil.  The first time I made these muffins, they were gone in a flash.  Dan, Victoria, and I LOVED them.  Ryan didn’t care for them, but he did try them so that was a step up.  The recipe only makes 10 muffins at a time, so we finished them the same day I made them.  I have since baked three more batches of these yummy muffins,  and we enjoyed them just as much.  I would definitely make these again and again.  Some time, I’d like to try and substitute raspberries for the strawberries.  I think that would be delicious.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe that I tried was for spinach burgers.  As vegetarians, I am always on the hunt for a good “veggie friendly” burger recipe.  I love love love me a good burger, I totally love spinach, and I’m trying to limit our soy consumption.  That said, these were an immediate attention grabber.  I have DSCN8931made other spinach burgers in the past that we love, but I wanted to try another version.  I am happy to report that they are delicious.  I would definitely make them again.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The last recipe I tried was for skinny mac and alfredo.  I already had spinach on the brain, and I had a bit left over from the spinach burgers, so this recipe was perfect.  It did contain an ingredient that I never have on hand though…jarred alfredo sauce.  I love alfredo sauce,DSCN8933 but I hate how much fat it usually contains.  When we indulge, and eat alfredo sauce at home, I make it myself…I don’t buy it jarred.  Anyway, I needed to pick up a jar of light alfredo sauce for use in this recipe, and as soon as I did, I made this dish.  It is delicious!  It is like a healthier version of a white cheese macaroni and cheese dish.  I will still make traditional mac and cheese, but I will also happily add this to the rotation of yummy dinners that I make for the fam.  Ryan, of course, wouldn’t eat it, but the rest of us loved it!  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:


Victoria at her final middle school “Tiger days.”

In the last few days of summer, we are booked solid.  Over the weekend, we had a bonfire on Friday, a pool party/BBQ on Saturday, plus two birthday parties, and Ryan’s first soccer practice on Sunday.  Yesterday, we had the Middle School’s “Tiger Days,” which is like an orientation of sorts.  Victoria was able to pick up her schedule, her locker assignment, and get her school id, yearbook, and 8th grade photo taken.  She also got an extra supply list that is specific to her Academy classes, so after Tiger Days, we took a trip into Richmond to get said supplies and some “back to school”clothes.  On Wednesday, I have to go to Gordon’s Food Service to pick up all the food for the elementary’s “Back to School Open House” that is scheduled for Thursday.  It is a day in which all students and families, can come to school and meet their teacher, check out their classroom, and then enjoy an early dinner compliments of the parent group.  I have been the chairperson of this event for the last four years, and I am chairing it again this year. It’s always such an exciting day for the kids, as they get to see which friends are in their class, and meet their new teacher. I love all the excitement in the building, and I love running into school friends we haven’t seen since June. My fingers are crossed for Ryan that he has a few of his good friends in his classroom. I know he will be fine and make plenty more, but it’s always nice to see a familiar face that first week.

With summer winding down I have been reflecting over the last few weeks, and all we were able to do as a family.  We purposefully didn’t plan any vacations this summer as we were planning a trip to New York in the fall.  Well, after July 12th (which I referenced in an earlier post…the day our water softener system, sump pump, and car died at the same time), and last week, we are tapped out.  On Wednesday of last week, we had to replace the windshield of the newer Xterra, and have the clothes dryer fixed!  Man, this was totally the summer of home/car repairs!  Currently, the new Xterra needs to be serviced AGAIN as the brakes have begun to squeak, and the passenger window gets stuck in the down position.  It’s not crazy given that the vehicle is 6 years old, but come on. I have said it before and I will say it again.  I love the freedom that owning a vehicle provides, but if we had a really great public transportation system here in Michigan, I think I’d park the car and ride.  What a pain it is to keep a vehicle up and running.  This particular vehicle is going to be paid off in a matter of weeks, so we are desperately attempting to keep both vehicles running until we can free up some monthly monies to finance a newer vehicle. Our other car is 14 years old, so we are literally driving on borrowed time!  UGH…the pleasures of being a responsible adult never cease!! I really am going to invent a font just for sarcasm!!


Our loot from Norman’s!!

In retrospect, despite all the unfortunate expenses, we did manage to have a great summer together.  We were able to take two different day trips with the kids, and they were great! First we took them to the thumb, where Dan and I spent so much time early in our relationship together.  Both sets of Dan’s grandparents had homes in Caseville, so Dan literally grew up on Lake Huron.  He spent countless summers and vacations with them on the lake.  I started visiting with him when I was 17, and we religiously spent time in Caseville until both cottages were sold after his grandparents passed.  We got engaged on Jenks Beach in Port Austin in 1993, so the area definitely holds an extra special place in my heart.  It was very sad for both of us to go “up North”, and not have family there, so we stopped going.  We hadn’t been to Caseville in a number of years, so we decided to take the kids and show them the places we used to hang out.  We stopped in Bad Axe and went to “Norman’s” aka the store that time forgot.  It is such a throwback.  We loved it.  We actually went in for a few laughs, but came out with a few bags full of bargains.  I have been looking for snow pants for 5 years and I couldn’t find any I liked that didn’t cost a fortune.  I was at Norman’s for approximately 5 minutes, and I found snow pants I like for…wait for it… $20.99!!!!!  SCORE!!  Ryan got a new backpack and few pairs of shoes, Victoria found a cute sundress and jacket, and Dan got a hat and a few five dollar backpacks that he plans to stock and keep in the basement in case of a zombie apocalypse.  Seriously, in the event of a zombie take over, get to our place as fast as humanly possible. Unless of course you have been infected, in which case don’t come here as Dan is totally ready for you!! 😉


Bankshot basketball at the Family Fun Center in Caseville.

In addition to Norman’s, we took the kids to all the places we used to visit in Caseville and Port Austin.  I think my favorite part was… the whole day.  At one point I looked at Dan whilst we were playing “Bank Shot Basketball” with our children, and had total flashbacks of us being there before we were even old enough to vote!  It was crazy. We also took the kids by both of the homes where their Great-Grandparents lived, the used bookstore in town, the beach where we got engaged, and the pier where Dan carved our initials into the guardrail.  It was unreal to revisit these places with the kids in tow. We ended the day with a stroll on the Port Austin Pier to watch the sunset, and look at the lighthouse.  It was a great day.  We had compiled a huge agenda for the day, and only got through about 45% of it.  We definitely want to take the kids back, and show them all the other special places that time didn’t allow us to visit this trip.


Dan and the kids on top of Fort Gratiot Lighthouse.

The second day trip was much closer to home. We went from Marine City to Fort Gratiot and stopped everywhere we wanted along the way.  Before Dan and I had children (a time we jokingly refer to as B.C.  before children) we used to take all of our vacations in Michigan to visit the Great Lakes lighthouses and waterfalls.  Fun fact…there are 116 lighthouses in the state of Michigan, and 199 waterfalls all but 1 being in the upper peninsula…true story.  Anyway, Dan and I had been to the lighthouses in this area before, but they were all “B.C.”, so we decided to take the kids to see them. We had a great day, and made some fun memories for sure.

Being in the last full week of August is always a bit depressing.  The kids go back to school next week, and late nights and endless days in the pool are officially over.  We do plan to squeeze every possible moment of fun out of what is left of our summer.  We have a few plans for the Labor Day weekend, and I am certain we will have a great time.  In anticipation of autumn, my favorite season of the year, I am getting super excited for a few of my favorite things.  Football is probably number one…GO STATE!!!  I am also looking forward to the return of “The Walking Dead.”  Dan and I love to watch it after the kids have gone to bed.  Since it airs on Sunday nights,  it actually softens the blow of Sunday evening, which is in my opinion is the worst time of the whole week.  I am looking forward to cooler temps which are totally conducive to building fires, both inside and out. I am looking forward to wearing sweatshirts and sweaters, watching the leaves change colors, and celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving with my family.  Most of all, I am looking forward to spending time with Dan and the kids who make every season worth living.  Happy end of summer everyone.  Enjoy the recipes. ♥♥

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On the pier in Port Austin

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Healthy Chocolate Fudge, Homemade “Magic Shell”, Spaghetti with Spinach Garlic & Lemon, Cucumber Apple Salad with Fennel, Marinated Tomatoes, and Black Bean & Corn Salsa…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama

Happy August!  I cannot believe that the summer is almost over!  A few blogs ago, I wrote about how the whole summer was stretched out in front of me. Now, I feel like the majority of it lies behind me…SIGH.  In the last few weeks, I have tried a bunch of new recipes, so let’s get right to it.  First I tried a recipe for healthy chocolate fudge.  Healthy fudge??? DSCN8435What does that mean???  That means that there is no white or brown sugar, and no butter in the recipe. I make fudge every year at Christmastime, so when I saw this healthier recipe on Pinterest I was intrigued. In lieu of butter, the recipe calls for coconut oil.   Also, in lieu of sugar, you use another sweetener.  I used vanilla flavored Stevia.  The results??   Meh.  It was okay.  Honestly,  my “regular” fudge is LOADS better.  I made a chocolate peanut butter healthy fudge, and Dan and the kids gave it a “B.”  I am the only person in our house that likes coconut, so I also made a small batch of healthy coconut almond chocolate fudge for myself, and I like that version better.  This is a raw recipe so it needs to remain refrigerated. Going forward, I think I will just stick to “real” fudge, and leave the ingredients alone.  That said, if you are watching your sugar intake closely, this may be worth a try. It was creamy and chocolatey, and hey it got a “B.”  B’s are good right??  ☺ Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe I tried was homemade magic shell.  As a kid I LOVED “Magic Shell” on ice cream.  As an adult, I don’t really eat  ice cream too much…maybe a couple of times a year. Anyway, I saw this recipe on “Pinterest” and decided to try it.  Actually, this recipe was part of a recipe that I featured last week.  The strawberry popsicles I wrote about should have been dipped in Magic Shell, but because I added Nutella to the mix, I decided to leave it out.  We don’t usually have ice cream in the house (we aren’t huge ice cream fans), but I DSCN8436had some left over from Victoria’s birthday party, so I decided to make the Magic Shell. The result??  YUM!  The kids had never had Magic Shell before, and they loved it.  It’s probably been ten years or so since I have eaten it, but this is just like I remember. It is ridiculously simple to make, and I always have the ingredients necessary, so I will definitely make it again.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:  Next time I want to try it on strawberries or pineapple.  The trick is to put the room temperature Magic Shell on something really cold.  So as long at the fruit has been refrigerated, it should work.  Also, if your Magic Shell solidifies at room temp, just microwave it before drizzling. Mine did solidify after a few days, but I stored it in a glass container so microwaving it was no big deal.  For this very reason, I would recommend storing the Magic Shell in a glass container…I used a glass cruet.

The next recipe I made was spaghetti with spinach, garlic, and lemon.  Guess where I came across this recipe??  Yep you guessed it…Pinterest.  Anyway, I had made some spinach pies, and had some fresh spinach left,  so I searched my recipe boards.  As soon as I saw DSCN8457this pin, I knew what I was making for dinner.  Just reading the title of the recipe made my mouth water.  I mean come on…spaghetti…spinach…garlic…lemon…YES PLEASE!  I usually have a few lemons on hand, and I always always have garlic and pasta so I was good to go.  The resulting dish was really good.  We gave it an “A.”  I know it goes without saying, but my Ryan did not try this dish.  Yes pasta is his absolute favorite food, but he likes it plain.  Actually, he likes pasta tossed with a little butter, and then mounded with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. So plain isn’t really accurate.  He just likes it sans sauce.  Anyway the rest of us loved it, and it is a great way to use up fresh spinach, or perhaps spinach that is already getting wilty.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:   I did make a few substitutions to my pasta dish.  First, I didn’t have a full ten ounces of spinach left, so I just used what I had. Also, I added some dried basil and red pepper flakes to the dish, to spice it up a little bit. Lastly, I shaved some parm on top for extra flavor…YUM.

The next recipe was for cucumber apple salad with fennel.  I love love love to watch the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. I usually get inspired to try something new, and inevitably I go online to copy a few recipes.  Well over the last few years, I’ve see a lot of recipes that use fresh fennel.  Whilst at Whole Foods, on a whim I bought a bulb of fresh fennel.  I have never cooked with fennel before so once I got home, I wasDSCN8480 like…”okay now what?”  Well I perused all my recipes that include fennel, and just one bulb wasn’t going to do it.  Most of my recipes required more than 1 bulb of fennel, or other ingredients that I didn’t have.  So I logged into my Pinterest account and found this recipe. I obviously had the fennel bulb, and I always have apples and cucumbers.  I’m also growing Italian parsley in my herb garden, so I was all set.  After a quick trip out to my garden, I returned to the kitchen and got to work.  Even though, I’d never worked with fennel before,  I knew how to cut it…thank you Food Network.  See Dan… all those DVR’d shows were worth it!! ☺ This recipe earned me an “A.” Dan and I really liked it.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:  The only substitution I made was the variety of the apple.  I didn’t have any granny smith apples, so I used a yellow delicious.

The next recipe I experimented with was “killer marinated tomatoes.” I found this recipe DSCN8482on Pinterest too.  Dan and I love tomatoes, and in the summertime we eat a lot of them.  I usually make panzanella salad, but I wanted to change it up a bit, so I used the tomatoes this way instead. This is seriously one of the best recipes I have found on Pinterest to date.  The name is totally fitting…they are killer.  This recipe got an “A++++++.”  I used these tomatoes on everything.  We ate DSCN8566them alone of course, but we also made panini, bruschetta, and scooped them up with crostini.  The last dish I made with them was a veggie chick’n parmesan.  I will totally make these again.  FYI…these actually got better the longer they sat and marinated.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:  The only substitution I made was the oil.  I ditched the canola oil, and used extra virgin olive oil instead.

The last recipe was for black bean and corn salsa.  I have made this salsa multiple times over the years.  I actually found this recipe on the side of a can of beans years ago. We love this salsa, but it has been a bit since I made it last.  I wanted DSCN8730to make veggie enchiladas, and I knew this recipe would compliment that dish perfectly.  I always have whole wheat tortillas, and I had recently grilled some veggies that I wanted to use up. I also had some homemade salsa in the fridge, (to be exact it was “Chili’s  Copycat Salsa” featured back in April 2012’s post), and I knew these two salsas would meld beautifully.  Here is the recipe for the black bean and corn salsa:

  • 15 oz. can of black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 15 oz. can of corn (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 medium tomato finely diced
  • 1 small red onion finely diced
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder

1.  Combine the beans, corn, tomatoes, and onions in a bowl.  2.  Mix together and then add lime juice and cumin.  3. Refrigerate any leftovers.

I did make a few substitutions to the recipe.  First, I never have red onion as it doesn’t agree with me, so I used a white onion.  Also, I never have canned corn, but I usually have frozen corn so I used that.  Additionally, my tomatoes were already spoken for, so I used a can of diced tomatoes.  This salsa is delicious, and it especially yummy with some salty nacho chips.  We gave it an “A.”


Ryan at the soccer tournament in Linden ~ June 2013

With August officially underway, there are only a few weeks of “freedom” left.  Once the kids go back to school, our lives change dramatically.  There aren’t as many late nights, and we have a much tighter schedule to keep. I am wondering how it will be for me this fall. This is the first time since Victoria was in the second grade that I don’t have a Girl Scout troop to manage.  Also, it will be the first school year in four years that I am not a board member for the parent group at the elementary.  I will still attend the meetings, and volunteer as much as I can, but I no longer feel that huge sense of responsibility that comes with being an officer. It’s kind of nice actually. Now I can more evenly split my time between both the parent groups that I belong to (the Middle School has one too), and the community advisory boards that I participate in. Additionally, I have picked up a lot more responsibility at the office, and it is taking up more of my time.  So all in all the change in pace comes at a perfect time.  Additionally, Ryan is playing soccer again and there are two games per week. As I type this, Dan is making phone calls to recruit boys to try out for a new soccer opportunity.  For the first time in our region, we are forming an “AYSO Extra Program” for U12 boys.  It’s AYSO’s version of a travel league, and of course Ryan wants to try out.  If he makes it, there will be an extra game scheduled per week, and an uncertain number of weekly scheduled practices. Guess what we will be doing every Saturday and Sunday??? Add to that the soccer tournaments that our team wants to attend, and we are booked every weekend until November.  GULP  Further, Dan is still coaching, and Victoria is still assisting with Ryan’s team.  In addition to coaching,  Dan is the “coach administrator” for the region, so starting next weekend, he is swamped with admin stuff.   It’s almost like Dan and I have swapped places with regards to our volunteerism.  Anyway, I am looking forward to a slower pace this fall…at least for me. Whoa, maybe then I can actually have some time to myself…WHAT A CONCEPT!


I am going to try really really hard to enjoy every moment I can over the next few weeks of “freedom.”  We have a few day trips planned, a  few “play dates” already scheduled, and a few more “summer wish list items” to accomplish.  Every year we compile a “summer list,” and try our best to cross off as many items as possible.  With the few weeks we have left, I’m going to try and make as many “summer dreams” come true as I can.   I hope you enjoy the recipes, and I hope you have a great August! ♥♥


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One Pot Tomato Basil Pasta, Grilled Veggie-Cheeseburger Wraps, Copy Cat “White Castle” Sliders, Salt and Vinegar Kale Chips, 6 Layer Rainbow Cake, Cake Balls, Nutella Strawberry Popsicles, and Lemon and Feta Dip…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama

Happy July!!!!  Holy cow…is it hot enough for ya???  UGH…here in Michigan it is ungodly hot and humid.  So hot and humid that I hate going outside…unless of course I am going straight to our pool to camp out for the rest of the day.  Anyway, I have done a lot of cooking/baking in the last few air conditioned weeks, so let’s get right to it.

DSCN9765The first recipe I experimented with was one pot tomato basil pasta.  I love the idea of throwing all your ingredients into a pot, walking away, and letting them do their thing.  So when I saw DSCN9770this recipe on Pinterest, I knew I had to try it.  The result??  We gave it a “B.”  It was good, but I prefer a thicker, more tomato-y sauce.  I also like my sauce a bit spicier, so if I make this again, I’d add more red pepper flakes to the pot.  Here is a link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe I tried was for grilled cheeseburger wraps…veggie cheeseburger wraps for DSCN9785us of course. I saw this recipe on Pinterest, and I knew that if I converted it to a veggie friendly recipe, we’d probably enjoy it.  When I say we, I clearly don’t mean to indicate that Ryan would enjoy this.  I mean c’mon you already know that Ryan won’t even try this,  let alone enjoy it!!  Well enjoy it we did…Dan, Victoria, and I gave the recipe an “A+”   I have actually made this recipe a couple of times in the last few weeks, AND it inspired me to use my panini press to make other kinds of wraps too.  We have made breakfast wraps with eggs, cheese, and veggie sausage that were delicious.  We made burrito wraps that were really yummy too. I love when a recipe inspires me to try another variation of the original recipe, and this one did just that. I will definitely make this recipe again and again.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:   For the record, worchestershire sauce is NOT veggie friendly as it contains anchovies.  So in addition to substituting a veggie friendly alternative for the beef, I also used a veggie friendly “steak sauce.”  Also, I omitted the cheese as it wasn’t necessary…these wraps are pretty yummy without it. If you love cheese, and wouldn’t dream of omitting it, by all means layer it on.☺

The third recipe was also inspired by Pinterest, but I didn’t use the recipe I found there.  I saw a recipe for “Slyders,” on Pinterest and it made me think of “White Castle.”  I don’t recall eating at “White Castle” since I was in college, but I do remember LOVING their burgers.  I became a vegetarian 16 years ago, so clearly I haven’t had one since then. DSCN8307 As soon as I saw this recipe on Pinterest, I did a “Google” search for “White Castle” copy cat recipes, and came across a ton!  After reading through most of them, I settled on this one as it sounded pretty simple, and I had all the ingredients…all the ingredients except for “Velveeta.”  I don’t use “Velveeta” as it is a super processed food, and I do try to keep the recipes I serve my family as healthy as I can.  That said, I am trying to replicate “White Castle” burgers for goodness sake, which are not exactly healthy in the first place.  So in the spirit of fun and adventure, I threw my principles out the window and bought a hunk of “Velveeta.”  I mean c’mon, sometimes you just need to live a little right???  Right.  Anyway, I bought the “Velveeta” and followed the recipe.  The result??  OMG these are AMAZING!!!  So very yummy!!!  Dan and Victoria LOVED them too.  Ryan, of course, wouldn’t even try them so he didn’t endorse the recipe, but the rest of us LOVED them.  Here is the link to the recipe I used:   In addition to using veggie friendly beef substitute, I made one other substitution.  I used “King’s Hawaiian Rolls” for the buns…YUM!

Stumbling upon the recipe for the “White Castle” burgers was pretty ironic, in that Dan and I had just rented “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”  Dan had caught a bit of it when we got a free trial of HBO through our satellite provider, and was intrigued enough to want to see the whole movie.  I never had the desire to see it, but watched it with him anyway.  It was entertaining.  Except for the part of the movie that skipped!  Damn!   BUT it worked out because as I returned the movie, I told the clerk that it skipped, and was rewarded with a free rental AND an in-store credit for another free rental.   BONUS!!  So, of course, I picked up “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.”  In my opinion, this sequel was funnier than the first movie…but it skipped too!!! Double Damn!! So guess what?  When I returned the movie, I again got another free rental to compensate.  What did we get this time?  Hall Pass.   Not sure we liked it.  I mean parts of it were pretty funny, but overall it felt contrived.  Almost like in the attempt to get the “OMG shock and awe laugh”, the Farrelly brothers went too far, and missed the normal, regular ol humor.  Anyway, all three of the movies were free, so it’s all good.  In my opinion, the best part of all 3 movies was eating the copycat burgers whilst we screened them together.  When I say “screened movies together” I obviously do not mean the kids!!  YIKES…holy inappropriateness!!!

The next recipe I made was for salt and vinegar kale chips. I LOVE LOVE LOVE kale DSCN8311chips!!!  Dan and Victoria LOVE salt and vinegar potato chips,  so I made this recipe with them in mind.  I saw the recipe on Pinterest, and knew immediately that I’d have to try it.   Instead of using the oven like the recipe indicates, I used my dehydrator.   My good friend Sheila, aka Shirley, makes kale chips in her oven, but told me that it was sometimes difficult as the kale goes from done to overdone in a matter of seconds.  So in the attempt to avoid wasting any of my precious kale, I decided to use the dehydrator instead.   The result?  Dan and Victoria gave the kale chips a “B.”  Some of the chips were too salty, and most of the balsamic vinegar dripped to the bottom tray.  So after trying this recipe, I think I can say that this recipe for kale chips is probably more suited to oven cooking versus dehydrating.  Oh well…live and learn.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

Victoria's first Halloween

Victoria’s first Halloween

The next two recipes I made were both for Victoria’s birthday party.  My sweet girl turned 13 on July 8th.  13!!!  THIRTEEN!!!  12+1=13!!!!!  Gulp…we now have an official teenager in the house!!! Holy $hit!!!  I cannot believe my Victoria…my sweet little angel, is now a teenager!  When in the hell did that happen?  Apparently this transformation took place right under my very own roof…I mean right under my nose! WTF?!?!?!? Who is this TEENAGER sleeping in my BABY’S bed?  Sleeping until 10 a.m. no less.  She looks like Victoria albeit a VERY TALL version of her.  She has HUGE feet…bigger than mine in fact.  She has completely straight teeth (I have the orthodontist’s bills to prove it), long nails that are always perfectly manicured, and cool clothes.  Long gone are the sweet LITTLE outfits that I used to pick out for her. Her cute flowery sundresses have been completely replaced by skinny jeans and sweaters from “Forever 21.”  Her sweet LITTLE shoes have been replaced with HUGE “TOMS and UGGS.”

Victoria dancing in the snow!

Victoria dancing in the snow!

Her wavy BABY hair has been replaced by LONG CURLY TRESSES that reach the middle of her back. Her once brown hair is now dip dyed red or rainbow colored by “Hot Hues.”  Her Disney Princess tiaras have been replaced by moustache earrings, neon bracelets, and music note necklaces.  Her pigtails have been replaced by a side pony.  Her alligator xylophone has been replaced with by a viola, a cello, and a violin.  Her “Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody” books have been replaced by novels like “The Hunger Games” and “The Red Pyramid” that are hundreds of pages long.  Long gone are the days of sippy cups and plastic plates.  She is too old to order off the kids menu.  She is old enough to screen PG-13 movies (provided I screen them first.) She no longer needs a car seat or even a booster.  In fact, most times she sits in the front seat so she can “man the radio.”

Victoria's Cookie Monster nails.

Victoria’s Cookie Monster nails.

We no longer have “Snow White” or “Barbie” movie marathons.  They have been replaced by “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” marathons.  She no longer gets picture books from the library.  Now she puts books like “Divergent” on hold at the circulation desk.  She isn’t afraid of monsters under the bed anymore.  Now she is afraid of “Davy Jones” in the shower.  In fact, she locks the bathroom door now, and I am no longer welcome to sit on the side of the tub and chat whilst she bathes.  She no longer listens to “Strawberry Shortcake” on her portable cd player.  Now she listens to “Ariana Grande” and “Macklemore” on her iPhone whilst polishing her nails for the 100th time in 2 days. Goodbye Playskool phone…hello iPhone.

Victoria gets her ears double pierced!!

Victoria gets her ears double pierced!!

Goodbye clip on earrings…hello double pierced ears.  Goodbye to the playdates in which we went to the park and the Moms had as much fun as the kids.  Now her playdates are at “Partridge Creek Mall” and she is questioning if I really need to come with her.  AND she never lets me forget that she is eligible for drivers training in just 1 year and nine months. Where oh where has the time gone?   Sigh.

Anyway my 13 year old girl requested a rainbow theme for her party, including a 6 layer rainbow cake.  No problem.  I already had an idea in mind as she toyed with a DSCN0143rainbow cake for her 12th birthday last year.  She also requested cake balls.  I love love love cake balls, but the only time I ever made them I had a hard time as the recipe I used misled me.  To be exact it suggested I mix the frosting with the cake while the cake was cooling.  NEVER DO THIS!  You get a delicious, but really gooey and unmanageable mess.  What you need to do is wait until the cake is COMPLETELY COOLED, so the frosting doesn’t melt. This go round, I had a much easier time of it, and the cake balls came out great.  Here are the links to the recipes that I used: and   Please please please follow these guidelines of making the cake balls…  #1) Bake DSCN0120cake as directed. #2) Let the cake COOL!  Don’t mix in the frosting while HOT!  #3) I used a mixer to mix the cake and frosting. #4) Put this mixture in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 3 hours but I did it overnight and it was perfect. #5) Using your hands, roll the balls bite size and put on wax/parchment paper.  #6) Place in the freezer for an hour.  #7) Melt up whatever chocolate you prefer  8) Using a lollipop stick, pick up the balls and dip in the chocolate. NOTE: If your cake balls fall off the toothpick into the chocolate they are not frozen enough. 9) Place in refrigerator to set.

The next recipe I tried was for strawberry Nutella popsicles. Strawberries and Nutella??? Enough said…I’m in!  Originally I was just going to make strawberry popsicles.  I had a lot of strawberries left over from Victoria’s birthday party, and the guys won’t eat them.  I DSCN8454decided to make strawberries popsicles as a fun treat.  Whilst pureeing the strawberries, I got this great idea to add Nutella to the food processor.  I made a few plain strawberry popsicles (as Dan doesn’t like Nutella…what a freak 🙂 ) and to the rest of the puree I added Nutella.  These are the best popsicles I have ever made!!!  Happily they are ridiculously simple to make too.  Here is a link to a recipe   I realize that this recipe also calls for “Magic Shell”, but I did not put it on my popsicles.  That said, I did make homemade “Magic  Shell” and it will be in the next blog ☺ After the strawberries and the water were pureed, I just added a few tablespoons of Nutella and pureed again.  YUMMO!!  I’m totally going to make these again soon, but next time I am trying raspberries and pineapple.  For the record, the only popsicles left in the freezer are the plain strawberry ones…HMMMMM.

The last recipe I tried was for lemon and feta dip.  I love love love feta cheese, and eat it all the time on salads. I also add it to my spinach pies, and I top soups with it.  DSCN8341I have never made this sort of dip with it though.  I saw the recipe on Pinterest, and the consistency of the dip looked like hummus.  I LOVE hummus, so I decided to give it a shot.  I am so glad that I did, because this dip is amazing! It is seriously like a feta hummus…YUM!  Dan and I ate most of it with fresh veggies and pita chips.  I also dunked a grilled cheese in it, and it was awesome! I will definitely make this again.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

It has been pretty busy over the last few weeks.  We had Victoria’s birthday and party, America’s birthday, Dan’s vacation, my niece and nephew’s sleep over, the kids playdates, and we went to the movies a few times.  Add to that the normal household and work stuff, and the days have felt pretty full.  It has been an expensive few weeks too.  Particularly on Wednesday of last week, the expenses really added up.  We had Culligan come out to fix the water softener system in the afternoon.  As soon as the tech left, the sump pump quit…AGAIN! As Dan was on his way home from getting the new sump pump, the damn car began acting up.  So on Thursday of last week, it was towed to the mechanic in town! Well, there goes any money we had planned on using for our New York trip in the fall!!  The reason I share all of this is because it doesn’t matter.  Last week we spent a ton of cash, and I’d do it again.  The juxtaposition of my financial crisis cannot hold a candle to another crisis that a local family had to deal with.  One of the teachers at the elementary school lost her son in a motorcycle accident.  He was only 20 years old.  He was her only son.  He was her youngest…the baby of the family.  He was driving to school, and he never came home.  He was wearing a helmet, and he had the right of way.  He was a good kid.  He was a smart kid.  He was a handsome kid.  And he is gone. He was killed on Thursday of last week, and I attended his funeral on Monday of this week.  I sincerely hope I never attend the funeral of another young person as long as I live.  I cannot stop thinking about his family.  Every time I start to get irritated with something, I think to myself, at least I have my family.  At least my kids are okay.  I lost my Mom three years ago, and the loss is still unbearable at times.  I cannot and do not want to imagine losing one of my kids.  So I will pay whatever I have to pay, to keep things running around here.  I will pick up yet another wet towel or swimsuit off the bathroom floor.  I will boil more noodles for Ryan even if I don’t feel like it.  I will watch the kids for the zillionth time do flips in the pool.  I will stop what I am doing, and come and view another funny picture on Instagram, because the kids tell me “…seriously Mom it’s totally worth it.” Better yet, I will chuckle even if I don’t think it’s all that funny, because THEY are totally worth it.  I will hold them longer, kiss them more than I already do, and tell them I love them a million times a day…because I can.  Thank goodness I can.♥

I hope you enjoy the recipes.  I hope you all have a happy and safe July.  xoxoxo


Ryan, Ian, Victoria, and Yvonne in the pool!

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Home-made “Little Debbie” Oatmeal Cream Pies, 2 Minute Cookies, Home-Made Cinnamon Rolls, Cheese Rolls, Pagachi, Croque Monsieur, and Croque Madame…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama

Happy June!  Wow the last few weeks have been SUPER busy!  The kids are done with school for the summer…YEAH!!  Actually they have been out of school for exactly one week, and so far so good.  We have been enjoying a lot of really yummy recipes, and I can’t wait to share them.  Here we go…

The first recipe I experimented with was a copycat recipe for “Little  Debbie Oatmeal DSCN9248Cream Pies.”  There are very few store bought treats that I actually like and purchase, but this is definitely one of them.  I’ve wanted to try this recipe for a long time, and I am so glad that I finally did…YUM!  So this isn’t exactly a “figure friendly” recipe as it includes both one cup of butter and one cup of shortening, BUT I used vegan shortening so it wasn’t too bad.  Besides, it’s a treat so no fair counting calories.  Anyway, my family really liked the cream pies, and I did too. They don’t taste exactly like “Little Debbie,” but that said, they are pretty darn good. I got awesome feedback on this recipe too.  I bake treats every week for the elementary school office staff, and they LOVED them.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The next recipe was for 2 minute cookies.  I tried this recipe when Ryan and I were “home alone” for the weekend.  Dan and Victoria went on the middle school’s orchestra trip to Cedar Point, so Ryan and I got to spend the weekend as a party of 2. Whilst we were watching a movie, we both were craving cookies. DSCN9175 I didn’t feel like making a whole batch as we were in the middle of a movie, so I decided to try these speedy versions.  I had seen the recipe on “Pinterest,” and saved the recipe, so I decided to  give it a try.  The cool thing about this recipe is that you only need to microwave the dough for about 2 minutes, and VOILA, you get a freshly baked cookie! Well that was exactly what Ryan and I wanted,  so we tried it out.  The result?  Meh…unfortunately it was only so so.    Ryan and I gave the recipe a “B.”  Going forward, I am not sure I’d make these again.  I am glad I tried them as it satisfied my curiosity, but it wasn’t the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever made.  In a pinch if you were totally going crazy and craving a cookie, it might suffice. For me, I’d rather take the time to bake a regular batch of cookies.  Here is a link to the recipe:

The next few recipes were sort of chosen for me…let me explain.  We had a few thunderstorms roll through the area, and during one of them, we lost power. It wasn’t a big deal, we lost power about 8 times during the course of an hour, but were only “dark” for a DSCN9315total of about 10 minutes.   Apparently, during one of the outages, the storm tripped the outlet in the garage.  Ya know, the outlet that our deep freezer was plugged in to.  Well I didn’t know that it happened until the next morning.  I opened the freezer to get something for dinner, and noticed that everything was defrosted!  I was able to salvage some things, but we lost a lot.  A lot of expensive stuff too.  We are vegetarians, so we buy a lot of “Morningstar Farms, Boca, and Quorn” products.  Those meat free food items are pretty expensive, and unfortunately we lost most of them.  I was able to salvage all of my bread and pizza dough, since I usually defrost it overnight in the fridge anyway.  What I usually do not do, however, is defrost it all at the same time.  I had 4 pounds of pizza dough and 3 pounds of bread dough to use…NOW.  So I decided to make cinnamon rolls, cheese rolls, and “pagachi.”  By the way I also made veggie sausage pizza and veggie stromboli with the dough, but they were not new recipes for me, so I didn’t include them.  First, I made cinnamon rolls.  This is a recipe I have made multiple times before, but it had been a couple years since I’d made them. I saw this recipe on the Food Network years ago, and my family loved it.  They remind me of “Cinnabons.”  As a side note, “Cinnabons” were my only food craving when I was pregnant with Victoria.  I woke up early on a Saturday morning thinking about “Cinnabons,” and when Dan got up, I asked him to go to the mall and get me one.  He did. ☺  Anyway, these remind me of those delicious cinnamon rolls.  These also got rave reviews from the office staff at Ryan’s school.  In fact Ryan’s Principal stopped me in the hallway to tell me how good they were.  I believe he used the word “outstanding,” to describe them. ☺  Here is a link to that yummy recipe:

The next “forced recipe” was for cheese rolls.  When I made these, I thought we could use them as little sandwich rolls throughout the week.  At first bite, they were yummy, but then it went downhill…and fast!  The recipe called for garlic salt…an ingredient I almost never use.  I bought a tiny bottle of it to use in a recipe a while ago, and I haven’t used it since.  I generally don’t use salt in recipes for savory dishes.  DSCN9319I just figure if the dish needs some salt, we can just use a little bit at the end right before we eat it.  Anyway, this recipe called for one teaspoon of garlic salt, so I used it.  That was a mistake.  The cheese rolls came out WAY TOO SALTY! So salty, in fact, that I had to throw them out!  In the future, I will use a teaspoon of garlic powder and call it good.  Here is the link to the recipe that I used:

The last “forced recipe” was for pagachi.  Let me start by saying that this is a recipe that I have loved since I was a kid.  My Grandma Ann used to make it all the time.  She taught my Mom to make it too.  It is absolutely delicious.  It is total comfort food to me.  It is super cheesy and delicious.  My Grandma and Mom used to mix mashed potatoes into the dough, and then top it with cheese and breadcrumbs.  When I searched the internet for a recipe, I had a hard  time locating one.  I think that I have been spelling it wrong.  In our family, my Grandma called it “pagachi,” pronounced like “pa-got-chi.”  I have a binder of family recipes, and I always spelled this phonetically as I didn’t DSCN9331have a written recipe to operate from.  My Mom just dictated the recipe to me once, and I wrote it down.  Anyway, when I decided to include it in this blog, I did a more exhaustive search and found a recipe that is very similar.  Apparently this recipe is popular in Eastern European cooking, as most of the recipes I found were Slovak, Hungarian, Polish, and Russian.  Many recipes I found included variations that included cabbage, but when my Grandma (who was Italian by the way) made this, the main ingredients were cheese and breadcrumbs.  I did have a bit of trouble as my notes weren’t great, and I haven’t ever made this recipe by myself.  The last time I made it, my Mom and Sister were here to help me.  I am actually going to try this again, after I purchase more dough.  I may even attempt one of the recipes I came across on the internet.  Here is a recipe that is very similar to the one I used:

Once our forced “carb fest” was over, I decided to switch gears and make something new. Mt. Laundry had taken over the house whilst I was busy cooking up a storm in the attempt to salvage the freezer food, and now I was playing catch up.  I  like to watch tv when folding the laundry, but nothing good was on, so I decided to pop in a movie.  I chose “It’s Complicated.”  Dan and the kids bought it for me a few years ago, and I still watch it pretty regularly.  I love love love that movie.  I love the food, the bakery, the garden…everything pretty much.  In fact, I have been known to rewind the food/kitchen/garden scenes to take inventory of all the items in the kitchen/garden.  Anyway, during the movie, Meryl Streep makes dinner for her architect, played by Steve Martin, whilst they are discussing the DSCN9298plans for her new kitchen, and she makes croque monsieur.  I have seen this movie dozens of times, and have always wanted to make this dish, so I did.  The result??  Two days of deliciousness.  I say two days meaning that I made croque monsieur the first day, and we loved it so much I made it again the next day…and made croque madame too.  Croque madame is the same sandwich just with a fried egg on top…YUM!    I did make a few substitutions to the recipes.  First, I used veggie friendly ham, made by “Lightlife.”  Also, I never have gruyere in the fridge, so I substituted Trader Joe’s “Unexpected Cheddar.”  These sandwiches were delicious, and I will definitely make them again.  Here are the links to the recipes that I used: and    

I love this week in June.  It is the first full week of the kids’ summer vacation, so we literally have the whole summer in front of us.  I love the fact that the kids are home all day with me.  I love that sometimes we stay in our pj’s all day.  I love the slower pace that comes with summertime too.   Lazy afternoons in the pool, dinner on the deck, bonfires during the week, chasing lightning bugs,  reading in the hammock, and endless summer movie nights.  I am so looking forward to the new recipes I will try, especially those made with herbs, fruit, and veggies from my own garden/orchard.  Our trees are already full of fruit, so I am hopeful that later in the summer, I will be able to include recipes that call for peaches, pears, and apples that I have grown.   I am really looking forward to having a great summer right here at home with Dan and kids.  I hope you have a great summer too!  Enjoy the recipes! ♥♥


Ryan and Victoria working on their “container gardens.”

Posted in Bread / Muffins, Cookies, Italian, Pies, Savory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stir Fry Pasta with Peanut Sauce, Blueberry Almond Crescent Ring, and Polenta Three Ways…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend everyone!  It has been a crazy couple of weeks in our house.  All of you parents can certainly relate to the “end of the school year” craziness that has invaded our home over the last few weeks.  Field trips, Super Kids Day, Victoria’s spring orchestra concert, soccer games and practices, orthodontist  and allergist appointments, etc. etc. etc…  Well amidst all the chaos, I did find a little bit of time to experiment in the kitchen.  Let me start by saying that I have utilized a lot of tried and DSCN8659true recipes the last few weeks.  When I am short on time, I usually reach for the recipes that I know will work, and that my family loves.  So in the last few weeks, in addition to the yummy recipes I experimented with, I have also made pasta with arribiata sauce, veggie meatballs, broccoli Palermo, panini, veggie burritos/nachos, hummus, and for dessert  chocolate emergency cookies and “my Aunt Toni’s cookies.”  The first recipe I experimented with was for stir fry pasta.  We had a ton of pasta left over from Ryan’s birthday party, and I wanted to try a new recipe. I also had a ton of fresh veggies that I wanted to use, so this recipe was a perfect fit.  Honestly, I have never made stir fry before.  If we eat stir fry at home, Dan usually makes his vegetarian version of pad thai.  I have made veggie egg rolls, veggie wontons, and veggie fried rice but not stir fry, so I was excited to give it a go.  The recipe I decided on did contain chicken, but I just used Quorn Chik’n Tenders (a vegetarian chicken alternative) as a substitute.  I also substituted red bell peppers for the cauliflower as my family doesn’t like cauliflower.  Lastly, I made a peanut sauce to add to the stir fry, and added some chopped peanuts to the dish as well.  The resulting dish was DELICIOUS!!  I will gladly make this dish again.  Here are the links to the recipes that I used:     and  I think the very best part about this dish, was that we got to eat dinner that night on the deck!  Love love love nice weather!!

The next recipe that I made was for Sandra Lee’s Christmas crescent ring.  I have made this recipe in the past, but it has been a few years since I made it last.  DSCN8669I actually got this recipe from my Mom years ago.  She saw it on tv, and made it for a family get together.  After that, she came over to my house, and taught me to make it too.  It has been a long time since that day in “my old house” when my Mom taught me to make this dessert, but I always think of her when I make it.  I had made a few different variations of this dish too.  The original recipe uses raspberry or cherry jam.  I have made this dessert with seedless raspberry jam, but this time I used blueberry preserves.  YUM.  I would also like to try this with apple or strawberry preserves some time.  Anyway, I love love love this recipe as it looks and tastes as if it was  labor intensive, when in fact, the converse is true.  It is very simple to make, and it’s always a crowd pleaser…unless you are Ferf that is.  Haha.  So this probably requires an explanation.  Here it is.  A few weekends ago, my brother from another mother Chris (aka Ferf), came home from New York for a visit.  I was sooooo excited.  I haven’t seen him since Christmas, and bonus, he was bringing his boyfriend Brae so we could all meet him.  Ferf and Brae were coming over for dinner, so I decided to make this for dessert.  As we were eating it, Ferf mentioned that he thought it was a bit on the sweet side.  Actually he said “…this is too sweet.”  Well, I could have bet my life that he would say that as he usually says that about desserts.  Anyway, he then launched into a discussion on his preferences for desserts.  He mentioned that he liked savory desserts, like cheesecake, or that he liked chocolatey desserts.  He also mentioned that he really didn’t care for things that were glazed or too sweet.  Well right in the middle of his sentence, Brae started laughing, cut him off and said  “…yeah so basically I hate what you made.”  We all laughed and then teased Ferf, that we also didn’t care for desserts that were glazed…or made with any type of dough…or with any kind of fruit…or with God forbid sprinkles of any kind…you get the picture.  At this point of the evening, I already liked Brae, but this tongue in cheek jab at Ferf sealed the deal.  Yep, he was one of us.  My Mom used to crack up and say “…man don’t make a mistake around this family…you will never live it down!”  That was in reference to my family’s habit of lovingly teasing each other about our missteps. One

Game time with Ferf and Brae

Game time with Ferf and Brae

example of that sentiment is as follows….there are a ton of them, but this is probably the most infamous.  One time at a family get together, (before we used Sharpies to write our names on our red solo cups or water bottles), my Mom was cleaning up a bit and came across a random cup of pop.  She picked it up and instead of asking “who’s pop is this?” she asked “who’s is this pop?”   Well we all cracked up (Mom included), and for the better part of the last decade her “misstep” makes an appearance at most family get togethers.  Anytime somebody inquires about the unknown possession of any random object, one of us will yell  “who’s is this pop?”  Well that is the spirit in which Brae teased Ferf, AND the spirit in which I will continue to tease him about his dessert preferences from here to eternity.  It is also the spirit in which we all tease Ferf about the seriousness with which he plays board games.  Apples to Apples to anyone?? I’m sorry… was that answer too literal???  Another story for another time.  Here is the link to the recipe for the crescent ring that my Mom loved, but that Ferf finds too sweet ☺

The last three recipes I experimented with were made with polenta.DSCN9160  I must admit that growing up, my family didn’t routinely make polenta, so I didn’t have a lot of experience with eating it or with cooking it.  I have come across a lot of recipes in the last few weeks that include polenta,  so I decided to make it.  I used the recipe for basic polenta by Giada de Laurentiis.  It was simple enough, but I must admit it was rather bland…and too salty for my taste.  As a side note, I had a premonition that when I added 2 teaspoons of salt to the bubbling cornmeal on the stove that it would be too much.  BUT since I am a compulsive rule follower (especially the first time I make a new recipe),  I did as Giada instructed, and added the salt.   Well it wasn’t good.  I know that most people eat it with some sort of sauce, soup, or stew, but Giada also writes that plain polenta is to Italians, what mashed potatoes are to Americans.  Well as an  American (of Italian heritage), I beg to differ.  I love love love me a bowl of mashed potatoes, but that plain polenta was not good.  I tried…and I mean I really tried… to like it, but no dice.  Now what??  Well, luckily half of the polenta was already spoken for as I DSCN9164needed 3 cups of freshly made polenta for the “fried polenta” recipe I was going to try.  I had planned on just eating the rest of the polenta like Giada mentioned, with a little sauce on top.  After tasting it though, I knew that if I didn’t like it, my family probably wouldn’t either, so I decided to use it in yet another recipe.  I found the recipe for “cheesy polenta” in a cookbook I have titled “Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Italian Recipes.”  I obviously already had the polenta, and I always have cheese and basil, so I decided to give it a go.  The result?  One word.  YUM.  My family (minus Ryan of course) really loved the cheese polenta, and I will definitely make it again.  My family (again minus Ryan) also really loved the fried polenta, but I WILL NOT make that again anytime soon…OR EVER!  

Let me explain.

To make the fried polenta, you need to spread the freshly made polenta into a baking dish. Then you need to chill it for a few hours.  Then you cut into strips and fry it up in some olive oil.  Sounds simple enough right?  I thought so. That is until I put the first polenta stick into the oil and it went nuts.  Literally it went crazy.  It was like adding an ice cube toDSCN9162 a pan of hot oil.  It exploded and spattered everywhere.  Long story short, I was covered head to toe in oil…hot oil…OUCH!  After the first “oil attack,” I quickly changed into a long sleeve shirt that I no longer care about, donned an apron, put on safety goggles, and dug out my XL grilling oven mitt.  Then I covered the floor in front of the stove with an old beach towel, and braced myself for what would turn out to be the most miserable culinary experience of my life.  I used a pot lid as a shield, channeled my inner “Captain America,” and did the best I could to protect myself from the oil attacks that ensued. Even though I hated it, I did not quit.  Batch by batch, I put the polenta into the oil, and just took the abuse. Picture this…I am in my culinary version of an “outbreak suit,” cussing like a sailor, and cleaning like a madwoman in between each and every batch!  Well, despite all the oil covered walls, DSCN9161spattered kitchen surfaces, and one royally peeved oily Mama, my family had fried polenta on their dinner plates. To add insult to injury…my family LOVED the fried polenta.  My family loving the fried polenta is the equivalent of that damn olive oil daring me to make it again.  I mean if oil could laugh, my olive oil is cackling at me right now.  Well that is one culinary dare that I will not take.  It was too painful, and way way too messy the first time for me to even think about doing it again. So go ahead oil…laugh all you want…this Cookie Mama will not take you on again.  You win! ☺ Here are the links to the three different polenta recipes that I used:

As I write this, Dan and Victoria are in Cedar Point.  They went with Victoria’s orchestra. They left yesterday, and made a few stops on the way.  First they toured Seneca Caverns, and Lyme Village in Ohio.  Then they checked into the Great Wolf Lodge, and Victoria went to her first water park.  Dan said she loved it.  This morning, Victoria’s orchestra performed, and apparently did great…the medals ceremony is at 5 o’clock tonight so time will tell how great they did…fingers crossed!  Just a few minutes ago, I got a breathless call from Victoria fresh from her maiden voyage on the “Iron Dragon.”  She was crazy with excitement.  Neither of my kids have ever been to Cedar Point before, so this is kind of a big deal.  Currently she is in line for the “Gemini,” and promised to call afterwards.  I must admit that I am a bit jealous that Dan is getting the “front row seat” to her last couple days of “firsts,” but I am very thankful that one of us gets to be there with her.  Thank goodness for Apple’s “face time” app.  It makes Ryan and I kind of feel like we are right there with them.  Ryan and I did have big plans for today, but when Ryan got up this morning, he decided he just wanted to hang out at home.  Works for me.  Hopefully, sometime during  the movie marathon Ryan has planned, I can get into the kitchen and whip up something delicious!  I hope you try the recipes, we really enjoyed them!  ♥♥

The Fam got together to celebrate Vonnie's birthday and to meet Brae ♥

The Fam got together to celebrate Vonnie’s birthday and to meet Brae ♥

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Spinach Pie Pizza, Baked Mozzarella Sticks, Breaded Pickles, Amish Friendship Bread Three Ways, and Snickerdoodles…made with l♥ve by the Cookie Mama

Happy May!!!  First let me just say HOORAY FOR SPRING!!! Yep, in my little corner of the world, spring has FINALLY sprung…and I have the sunburned forehead to prove it!  Today is May 5th (Happy Cinco de Mayo!!), and just last week here in Michigan, we had snow flurries!!!  UGH!!  Don’t get me wrong, I do love me some snow flakes…IN THE WINTER!!!   BUT snow flurries in the last week of April??? Not so much!!   Anyway, I am so glad that the nicer weather is finally here, as I am in desperate need of some vitamin D.  So desperate that, much to the chagrin of my hematologist, I went to Ryan’s soccer game yesterday sans sunscreen. Okay before I get clobbered for being irresponsible, let me say that I intended to sunscreen up, but I forgot as I was racing out the door.  Per usual, I made sure that everyone had water, that the soccer bag was packed, and that my camera was charged and ready.  Therefore, in my race to the soccer field, I inadvertently forgot to apply my sunscreen to my face.  I mean c’mon it was the first afternoon game in which sunscreen was even necessary, and my moisturizer already has a 15 SPF.  That said, I  didn’t take the time to carefully apply the moisturizer evenly on my forehead.  I just slathered it on after my shower, but didn’t take the time to massage it into my hairline…  which is the only spot on my whole body that got a little pink.  Oh well…moving on to the recipes. I’ve tried a few new recipes in the last few weeks.  The first recipe was for a spinach pie pizza.  I have made spinach pies in the past, and actually blogged the experience in post number 5.  If you are interested you can read about it here:    Well, I made those delicious spinach pies again, but I accidentally only prepared 1 pound of dough. DSCN7898 I usually prepare 2 pounds of the dough, as the spinach mixture I make, requires that amount.  Needless to say, I had a ton of the spinach mixture left over, so I defrosted some pizza dough that I had in the freezer, and we had a spinach pie pizza the next night.  Here is a link to a recipe for a spinach pie that is similar to the recipe that I used:

Next I recreated two of my family’s favorite restaurant appetizers…mozzarella sticks and fried pickles.  Let me start by saying that I do not own a deep fryer of any kind, so I knew from the start that I would need a recipe in which these yummy treats were baked and not fried.  I came across the recipe for the mozzarella sticks on “Pinterest,” and  I knew immediately I would DSCN7929have to try it.  The recipe is simple, and I had all the ingredients in the pantry…SCORE!  I made the mozzarella sticks for a snack during one of our movie nights.  Ryan of course wouldn’t try them, but Dan and Victoria LOVED them.  I thought they were good, but in my opinion, they needed to be crispier.  Therein lies the issue with baking versus deep frying.  I do not regret making this restaurant treat at home, as my version is a ton healthier.  I used low fat, organic mozzarella sticks, organic ingredients, and of course they were baked not fried.  Here is a link to the recipe that I used:


My sister Amy and me enjoying a CPK cocktail!!

The next restaurant appetizer recipe that I attempted was for fried pickles.  When Dan and I were in high school, there was a little restaurant in the food court of Eastland Mall called “Wallaby’s.”  It was an Australian themed restaurant, and they served these yummy deep fried pickles called “boomerangs.” Dan and I loved them.  Well that little restaurant didn’t last long unfortunately, and Dan and I always talked about how much we missed those boomerangs.  Flash forward about 20 years, and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” enters the picture.  Dan and I saw our first “Cheeseburger in Paradise” restaurant whilst in Maui on our honeymoon. Happily, there is a now a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” on Hall Road.  We have been there lots of times with family and friends.  It is one of my favorite DSCN8100places to go when we eat out, because I love the atmosphere, all the Jimmy Buffett music, and of course the food.  My favorite things to order off their menu are the “CPK cocktail,” “frickles,” and the chocolate nachos for dessert.  YUM!!! The cocktail is so delicious, and its sweetness contrasts perfectly with the salty goodness of the deep fried pickles.  Then, for a perfect finisher, we order the chocolate nachos for dessert!  I do usually order an entree (veggie burger), full well knowing that it will be breakfast or lunch the next day, as I will only take a few bites.  I introduced my Dad and sister to Cheeseburger in Paradise” as well, and they love it too.  After making the mozzarella sticks, I had the thought of using the same batter but with pickles, in the attempt to recreate the “frickles” that I love so much.  Well it totally worked!  I am so in love with this recipe that I made it twice in one week.  Again, Ryan wouldn’t try it, but Dan, Victoria, and I LOVED it!!!  I am so happy that I can recreate this recipe at home. It is a ton healthier than if I ordered it at a restaurant, but it is still an indulgence.  I love love love pickles, but worry about their salt content.  So I do eat them, but I try to limit how often I enjoy their salty goodness.  If you too want to try this recipe, just use the batter recipe in the above mentioned mozzarella stick recipe, but use pickles instead of the cheese sticks.  I used two different types of pickles.  The first time I made them, I used pickle “stackers.”  The second time, I used a combination of the  stackers, and pickle chips.  Both times I made them, my family devoured the breaded, baked pickles and wished there was more.  I will totally make these again!

The next recipe I tried was for Amish friendship bread.  My “brother from another mother” Jim’s wife Kim, and I belong to an online book club.  The April selection was a book titled “Friendship Bread” by Darien Gee, and Kim and I both really enjoyed the book.  If you ever get a chance, this book is a quick read and an interesting story.  DSCN7944The characters in the book, deal with life issues such as grief and loss, friendship, community, food and family. As a side note, I would love love love to own a tea parlor like the one described in the book. Over the last few months, I have read several books in which food is central to the story’s plot, and in fact, almost qualifies as a main character.  I LOVE books like that, so this book was a perfect fit for me .  Some of the other books like “Friendship Bread” were:  “Like Water for Chocolate,”  “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,”  “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Everyday In Tuscany,” and  “The Christmas Cookie Club.”  I’d recommend any of those books…especially if you are a “foodie” like me.  Anyway, when I was a little girl, I remember this friendship bread making the rounds at my elementary school.  Then when I DSCN8117was in my twenties, the friendship bread recipe made a comeback, and circulated again.  After reading this book, I was inspired to bake Amish friendship bread once again. True to my nature, I still had the instructions from both my childhood, and my younger adulthood days, so I decided to put together a “starter mix.”  The entire process takes 10 days. You follow instructions every day for 10 days, and then on day 10, you bake.  Every starter batch yields two yummy loaves of the friendship bread.  From my starter mix, I made 2 separate batches of the friendship bread 10 days apart.  The first go round, I made the original version of the bread.  Here is a link to that recipe:   On the second go round, I made 2 different chocolate versions…double chocolate bread, and triple chocolate coconut bread.  I definitely liked the chocolate versions better, as did my family. Here are the recipes for the chocolate versions:   and


Ryan with his birthday cookie

The last recipe was for snickerdoodles.  These are my Ryan’s favorite cookies in the whole wide world. I have made them multiple times, but I haven’t featured them in this blog yet. There were featured in my “Cookie of the Week” blog.  If you are interested, you can check out that entry here:  Ryan’s birthday was on a Thursday this year.  Since his party was on Saturday, and I was making both a cake and cupcakes, I was hesitant to make a third cake just 2 days before his party day.  So in lieu of a cake, I decided to make his favorite sweet treat to celebrate his 10th birthday. When he came home from school, he was pretty excited to see his favorite cookie waiting for him.  The look on his face as he ate his snickerdoodle was priceless. I cannot believe that my “baby” is 10…when in the heck did that happen anyway??  Ryan chose to have a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” themed party this year.  I think his choosing that theme is hysterical.  When Jim and Chris my “brothers from another mother” were little boys, they loved TMNT too.  Ryan already reminds me a lot of them when they were little, so this is just another similarity.  Ryan’s actual birthday was a school day, but when he came home from school we celebrated with Ryan’s favorite cookies.  Then on his party day, we started the day with a soccer game.  I am happy to report that not only did Ryan’s team win (GO RAPTORS!!), Ryan scored his first goal of the spring season! Then after the game, we had family and friends over to celebrate my 10 year old boy!  Ryan was really pleased with his birthday, his party, his gifts, and especially his cookies.

I hope you try the recipes, we loved them.  Enjoy!  ♥♥


The Fam at Cheeseburger in Paradise…enjoying some “frickles!”

Posted in Bread / Muffins, Chocolate, Cookies, Italian, Lebanese, Savory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments