Where to find me today

If you are interested in learning one of my secrets then you will have to visit Mike and Molly’s House  where I have been invited to guest post today.   Thank you Mike and Molly!

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Not only will you hear my silly confession, but you will find a simple recipe for a non-fattening but seriously delicious chocoholic treat

And don’t forget to join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish sponsored by KitchenAid, Red Star Yeast and Le Creuset today.  Yes, great prizes are involved!

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I’ve entered my Creamy Chicken Asparagus Soup.   If you missed my original post go ahead and take a look, or find the recipe below.

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Ingredients:

1 pound thin fresh asparagus

3 small potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large onion, chopped

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

2 garlic cloves, minced

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 32 oz. container of chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided

2 cups cooked boneless chicken breast, cubed

2 cups half-and-half cream

Instructions:

Cut tips from asparagus spears – approximately 1/4 of the way down the spear; cut tips in half again; set aside. Place stalks in a large stock pot and cover with water (you will need 3 1/2 cups of broth later so be generous with the water). Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for approximately 40 minutes. Remove from heat.

Strain 31/2 cups asparagus broth from the pot and set aside. Discard stalks; rinse pot for late use.

In large sauté pan, add 3 tbsp. of oil, potato, onion, celery, carrot, parsley and garlic. Cook until vegetables are tender; set aside

In a medium sauté pan, add 3 tbsp. oil and cubed chicken breast, cook until lightly browned; set aside.

In stock pot, add chicken, sautéed vegetables, asparagus tips, reserved asparagus broth, chicken broth, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

Add cream and remaining 1/4 tsp. of pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.

Makes about 10 servings (about 2 quarts).

I’m also sharing a bowl of my soup over at Premeditated Leftovers Tuesday Hearth & Soul Blog Hop.  This blog hop features recipes made from wholesome, healthy ingredients that are made from scratch.

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And if all of that isn’t enough – whew! I’m sharing the color yellow at She Wears Many Hats Share the Shot today.  Amy has decided yellow  is the color for this week’s assignment.   Check out all the pretty yellow things everyone has posted over there, including my Elegant Lemon-i-cious Cake

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So go ahead.  Do a little blog hopping yourselves!

 

A Joy of Caking DIY Project

Every winter I need a reminder that spring is just around the corner.  One of the best ways to do that is by making something pretty, bright, and flowery smelling.

Homemade soap fills all those requirements.  With a block of clear, unscented glycerin soap base that is easy to find at your local craft store, a bottle essential oil, and a bottle or two of soap colorants you can create your own personalized soaps to remind you of April showers and May flowers.

You can invest in a soap mold or use Dixie cups, plastic electrical tape containers, or anything that you can think of that will get the job done.

I like to pick the glycerin soap up when I get the big coupons in the craft store’s weekly circular.  As for the oils and the colorants, they relatively inexpensive and seem to last forever.  You can also use them to scent homemade candles too.

This project is simple.  It does require a microwave for melting (follow directions on the glycerin package), and it’s very kid friendly (with adult supervision) of course. 

Soaps can be creatively packaged or stored in a box with a lid to help maintain their nice scents.

Check out last years batch here.

What little tricks help get you through the long winter months?  Do you buy yourself fresh flowers, start your spring cleaning early, or start a seed garden inside?

 

 

Revisiting the oatmeal cookie

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Last spring I shared my recipe for Soft & Chewy Oatmeal Cookies with you.  Sadly, it’s been that long since I’ve made them. 

These cookies are the perfect breakfast.  They are hearty and have sustenance.  Grab one (or two) and go. I don’t add raisins to mine but you’re certainly welcome to. 

I  told you that I’ve been writing a cookbook.  It’s finally finished and I have my first proof – yea!  This oatmeal cookie recipe appears in my book. 

Let me give you a quick glimpse of another recipe that appears in my book.

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Writing and self-publishing your own cookbook is a real chore. There are advantages and disadvantages to it which I will be discussing in a future post.  You won’t want to miss this post if you are considering self-publishing a book of any type.

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Do you have a favorite oatmeal cookie recipe, or have you thought about self-publishing a book?

Freeze or In Motion Photography

I think I’ve read about shutter speed a gazillion times.  Call me blonde, dense, learning disabled, or whatever the heck you want but it’s taken some actual practice (with my shutter speed priority) to grasp the concept of how a camera’s shutter speed actually works. 

And no, I’d rather not try to explain shutter speed to you.   I might confuse you, or worse yet, myself! What I can tell you is that there are tons of great web sites that can explain it much better than I could ever begin to.

One thing I recently found that looks like it might be helpful in the future is this chart which I’ve bookmarked.

Are you ready to see my practice shots?

These images are of a small nearby stream.  I was using my Nikon D3100 with a 55mm lens.  The camera was set on shutter speed priority only. 

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f/25 – 1/10 second – ISO 800.  This is the slowest shutter speed in these three pictures.  The captured image of the water is a flowing in motion.

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f/13 – 1/50 second – ISO 800  This shutter speed is faster than the one above but slower than the one below. The  captured image of the water is a combination of flowing in motion and frozen.

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f/8 – 1/160 – ISO 800  This shutter speed is the fastest of the three.  The captured image of the water is frozen.

And what if you’re in a moving vehicle?

This picture was taken while I was a passenger riding in vehicle traveling about 40 mph.  It took some practice to get to this point where I could avoid blur and get a still life. 

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f/13 – 1/640 second – ISO 1600

We were traveling about 55mph when I took this picture. 

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f/13 – 1/640 – ISO 1600

It’s good to know how to use the shutter priority on your camera and the best way to familiarize yourself with it is by actually practicing.  Don’t be afraid to take a lot  of pictures.  You will be able to see progress with a wide range of settings and images.

If you want to practice with me send me an email and let me know.  I’ll give you next weeks assignment.  It could be lots of fun!

Bakery Style White Cake & Cupcakes

What do you like in a cake?  Course or fine grained? Moist and dense, moist and crumbly, light and fluffy, or something in between? 

I prefer a cake that’s dense, and so moist, that you can practically hear it when you cut it. 

Over the weekend I decided to make a white cake.  It’s been ages since I’ve done so.   One reason it’s been so long? I have been hard pressed to find a good white cake recipe that suits my preferences.

I did a little research before deciding on a recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s cookbook Baking. 

In this case, I intended to make a couple significant changes to the recipe (which I did) so this is more like comparing apple to oranges then apples to apples.   I also wanted a smaller layer cake and planned on making mini-cupcakes with the remaining batter.  I’ll get to my opinion in a second. The altered version of the recipe is below.

 

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White Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 c. vegetable oil

1 1/2 c. granulated sugar

3 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 c. half & half

1/2 c. milk

5 egg whites, room temperature

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease two 6” round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit the bottoms of both pans and re-spray. Line mini-cupcake tins with 18 paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. 

In a large bowl, add butter, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract; blend until smooth and light.

Alternate adding flour, milk and half & half with butter mixture; mix thoroughly. 

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold egg whites into batter. 

Pour batter into 6” cake pans about 2/3 full.  Use remaining batter to fill each mini-cupcake about 1/2 full being careful not to overfill – they will rise considerably. Bake cakes 30-35 minutes; cupcakes 8-10 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from in pans. Cool completely on bakers rack before frosting.

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My conclusion?  I’m still looking for white cake recipes.  This cake has a nice flavor but the texture I was looking for wasn’t there.  This cake reminds me more of a bakery cake, a little finer, crumbly, and slightly drier than what I prefer.  I’ll keep searching…

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I opted for a cocoa frosting recipe from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. 

Cocoa Butter Frosting Recipe

Ingredients:

1/3 c. butter or margarine, softened

1/3 c. baking cocoa

2 c. powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Approximately 2 tbsp. milk (use more or less to obtain the consistency of the frosting you like)

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. 

Do you have a good white cake recipe that you think fits my criteria?   I’d love to hear from you.

 

12 days till – homemade vanilla extract

As an avid baker there is one thing that I don’t ever want to be without; pure vanilla extract. 

My love for the real stuff developed years ago when my sister took a trip to Mexico and returned home with a huge bottle of it for me.   She couldn’t have picked out a better gift.  I cherished every single drop of it until it was gone.  Since then I’ve been hooked like the true vanilla junkie I am.

Now, imagine how happy I was when one of my favorite blogs, Mike and Molly’s House, recently shared their recipe for homemade vanilla extract.

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Mike and Molly made homemade vanilla to give away as Christmas gifts and I’ve got to say I love the idea.

I don’t want to spill the (vanilla) beans and tell you all the details, I‘d rather you hop on over to their blog and read all about it yourselves.  Not only will you find their recipe and see their great photo’s, you will also find a breakdown of how much it cost them to make, and a link where you can download the cutest little labels for your homemade goodies. 

I  won this bottle of their vanilla during the giveaway they hosted at the time they wrote their post.  I am so grateful for having won and I will play it forward by sharing some great recipes using their homemade vanilla with you. 

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I can’t wait until I can crack this bottle open! 12 days and counting…

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Just curious, do you like the black and white photo, or the colored photo’s best?  I’m experimenting and would love your input!

Photo’s, a Pretty Little Primrose, and a Turkey

When I started blogging I didn’t realize how important a good photograph could be. I knew very little about depth of field, lighting, composition, and ISO. In fact, I started out blogging with an ancient digital point and shoot.

I also knew zilch about photo editing programs, other than how to hit the auto correct button that I frequently came to rely on, but found did little good.

I took pictures at the worst possible time of the day. There was no way in world I was going to get a decent picture while relying on artificial light in a dimly lit room. Especially without using any fancy photography lighting equipment or hint of natural light.

I discovered direct sunlight and flashes weren’t my friends either. Both created shadows that distracted from my food.

Aside from the lighting issues, I have learned to deal with the challenges of taking pictures of food in general. As you know, food quality changes quickly. A slice of bread will dry up, ice cream will melt, apples will turn brown, etc.

I realize I still have a lot to learn but I’ve found  one of the best ways to improve my pictures is to practice, practice, practice.  I do this by photographing things that aren’t going to melt – like this pretty little primrose or our turkey.

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Double Stuff Peanut Butter Cookies

What you don’t know about me.  I once was a Girl Scout.  I once was one of the top seller’s of Girl Scout cookies for my troop.  I LOVE Do-Si-Dos. If I buy cookies for myself from the store they are usually Nutter Butter’s.

Now that I’ve let you in on a couple less known, but seriously important facts about me, I want to share something else.

Here is a peanut butter cookie recipe with a delicious cream filling that you can make from scratch.  Just be sure to keep your pantry well stocked in peanut butter…

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Double Stuff Peanut Butter Cookies

Cookie Dough:

1/2  c. peanut butter

1/2 c. margarine, softened

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 egg, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. salt

1/2 c. ground oats (I used mini food processor for this)

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

Cookie Filling:

1/2 c. peanut butter

3 tbsp. butter

2 c. powdered sugar

2+ tbsp. milk

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:

In a large bowl, add peanut butter, margarine, sugars, egg, salt, and vanilla; beat with electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy.  Add baking powder, ground oats, and flour; stir until thoroughly mixed.  Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove dough from refrigerator.  Roll out on lightly floured surface. Cut out cookies with cookie cutter and  place on  cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for approximately 9 – 11 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely.

In a large bowl, mix filling ingredients together.

Construct cookie sandwiches and store in airtight container.  Makes about 2 dozen.

Consume with a milk chaser!

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What is your favorite Girl Scout, or store-bought cookie?

I have been sharing my recipes at a great new website called BeBetsy.com.  If you’ve got a minute check them out!

Creamy Chicken Asparagus Soup

When I was a kid my winter days were filled with sledding, ice skating, skiing, igloo building and snowball fights. But as I’ve gotten older, winter has lost some of it’s appeal to me. 

Maybe as a kid it was my friends that motivated me to get outside, or maybe it was my mother who insisted my sister and I find something to do – other than torment each other. 

Regardless, it’s been a cold and snowy weekend here in the Finger Lakes.  Not complaining though, the big snow maker in the sky has tread lightly on our region so far this year.  We’ve had  a lot of unseasonably  warm, and yes, sunny days. 

Whether you hibernate, or love spending the day outside, this soup will warm your spirits and fill you up.

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Ingredients:

1 pound thin fresh asparagus

3 small potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large onion, chopped

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

2 garlic cloves, minced

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 32 oz. container of chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided

2 cups cooked boneless chicken breast, cubed

2 cups half-and-half cream

Instructions:

Cut tips from asparagus spears – approximately 1/4 of the way down the spear; cut tips in half again; set aside. Place stalks in a large stock pot and cover with water (you will need 3 1/2 cups of broth later so be generous with the water). Bring to a boil and reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for approximately 40 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Strain 31/2 cups asparagus broth from the pot and set aside. Discard stalks; rinse pot for late use.

In large sauté pan, add 3 tbsp. of oil, potato, onion, celery, carrot, parsley and garlic. Cook until vegetables are tender; set aside

In a medium sauté pan, add 3 tbsp. oil: cube chicken breast and cook until lightly browned; set aside.

In stock pot, add chicken, sautéed vegetables, asparagus tips, reserved asparagus broth, chicken broth, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes.  Cool slightly.

Add cream and remaining 1/4 tsp. of pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.

Makes about 10 servings (about 2 quarts).

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What is your favorite soup?

No Knead Italian Cheese Bread

Any excuse to make homemade bread works for me.  Oh, we’re having pasta for dinner. What a perfect opportunity to make that new bread recipe I’d been waiting to try out. 

And what could be better than a warm bowl of pasta and Italian cheese bread?  My point exactly…

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I should probably attach a warning to this recipe.  This bread is so good you won’t be able to eat just one slice.  Hence, you’ve been warned!

This recipe came from the Pillbury’s  More Lovin’ From The Oven cookbook and it is considerably different than most bread recipes.  The first difference is there is no kneading required – yea!  The second, it only has to rise once, not twice – yea again!  And lastly, this bread is baked in a Bundt pan making it easy to slice and pretty to serve.

Quite often I modify recipes to suit my own tastes but the only modifications I made to this recipe was the reduction of salt by a half of teaspoon, and the exclusion of sesame seeds.

Ingredients:

Dough

2 tbsp. sesame seeds (optional)

4 1/2 –  5 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 c. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. salt

2 pkg. active dry yeast

1 c. water

1 c. milk

1/2 c. margarine or butter

2 eggs

Filling:

1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 c. margarine or butter, softened

Directions:

Generously grease a 12-cup fluted tube, or 10” tube pan.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional).

In large bowl, measure 2 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast; mix well. 

In medium saucepan, add water, milk, and 1/2 cup of margarine; heat until very warm (120 – 130 degrees).

Add warm liquid and eggs to flour mixture.  Mix until moistened.  Stir in remaining flour and continue mixing until batter stiffens.

*Note – I found the batter was ready when it pulled from the sides of the bowl but was still sticky.  I would recommend using a stand mixer with dough attachment for this recipe – I did manage with a small hand held kitchen mixer, and by hand,  but I won’t encourage you to do the same.

In small bowl, make filling and mix all ingredients completely.

Spoon half of  batter into the prepared pan.  Carefully spoon filling over top of the batter. 

*Note – be sure to keep the cheese filling away from the edges of the pan. If too much cheese seeps out of the sides the bread will stick to the pan. I had a little trouble with my bread sticking to the center of the pan because of this.

Spoon in remaining batter over filling.

Cover batter with the plastic wrap sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Let rise in warm place until doubled in size.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.

Remove bread from pan immediately after removing from oven.  Serve warm or cool.  This recipe serves 24.

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So what’s your excuse going to be?