Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Samoa Layered Cookie Bars

Maybe your house is currently like mine. We have our living room filled with Girl Scout cookies at the moment. Our second grader has been busy selling and let me tell you, everyone sure loves their cookies!

I came across a recipe contest a while ago that incorporated Girl Scout cookies. Looking for a fun challenge, I immediately thought of these bars. Based off a traditional seven-layer bar, I knew these would be a fabulous choice.

Not only are they super easy to make, they have all the flavors of the ever popular Samoa cookie. Or caramel delites as they are called in the Midwest. I recommend using caramel bits in these bars, you'll still get that wonderful caramel in the filling but by using the bits,  it will stay soft. We don't need any broken teeth, now do we?

You've still got plenty of time to grab yourself a box, I know we will have boxes available until March 29th. So support a great group in your area and try these bars!

Samoa Layered Cookie Bars

1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 box (12 cookies) crushed Samoa cookies, divided
5 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup caramel bits
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

In a bowl,  combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup cookie crumbs and butter. Press into a 11x7 inch baking pan.

Sprinkle over the crust in this order: chocolate chips, coconut, caramel and rest of cookie crumbs. Drizzle condensed milk over bars, Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until bars are set.

Let bars cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 12-15 bars.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chicken Tortilla Chili

I first shared this recipe back when I started blogging at end of 2011. Gosh has it really been that long already?! We used to eat this chili a lot, probably so much my family got sick of it and I haven't prepared it much since then. But it sounded good last week and I'd like to think my photography skills have improved just a little.

I've also since stopped using those store bought seasoning packets that are typically filed with much more sodium than we really need. So instead I generally make my own chili seasoning using mostly chili powder and cumin. The chili is still full of flavor and you can feel good about serving your loved ones this dish.

Hopefully it's not too much longer before the snow starts melting, the green grass starts peeking through and the days get a little longer. But in the meantime,  we can still enjoy warm, comforting dishes like this chili.

Chicken Tortilla Chili

2 cups cooked, diced chicken
14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
15 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup frozen corn
2 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

In a large saucepan combine all ingredients well. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve in bowls with crushed tortilla chips and any desired toppings such as avocado and cheese.

You can also let this cook on low in the slow cooker throughout the day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Red Velvet Cupcakes

If I had to think of a perfect Valentine dessert, anything red velvet comes to mind. It's everywhere nowadays. From cake to oreos to brownies, there's just no getting away.

I happen to like red velvet cake, it's not my absolute favorite, but I do enjoy it. I actually have a co-worker who loves anything red velvet. I wanted to surprise her with these cupcakes on Monday. In fact I treated all of the pre-k staff. That's probably one of my favorite things about working outside the home again. I actually have co-workers to feed! Not that my daycare families minded before I'm sure!

These cupcakes are some of my very best I'd have to say. From when I had more time for filling cake orders, these were always a hit. Simple, yet elegant. And they are actually very easy to make. One bowl and I even mixed this batch by hand using a whisk. It doesn't get much easier than that.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

2 eggs
1-1/2 cups canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 oz. bottle red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
2-1/2 cups cake flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp salt

For the cream cheese frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter,  softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 lb. bag powdered sugar
milk, for thinning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two muffin pans with liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all wet ingredients together. Gradually add in dry ingredients and mix well. Using a large cookie scoop, divide batter between the prepared cupcake liners. Bake in oven for 18 minutes, cupcakes should spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in middle should come out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing from pans.

To make frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla extract. Gradually add in powdered sugar, continuing to mix on low. Add a little bit of milk, 1 tsp at a time to thin until you've reached desired consistency.  At this point I like to whip frosting on a medium speed until light and fluffy.

To assemble cupcakes: Fill pastry bag with a large star tip such as Wilton 1M and the frosting. Frost each cupcake with a simple rosette or however you wish. Add a few sprinkles if desired. Makes 24 cupcakes

Friday, February 6, 2015

Freezer Friday: Butternut Squash Soup

Goodness it's been awhile since I've done a freezer Friday post. Over last weekend I finally put to use one of two butternut squashes that have been sitting on my counter. I love having soups readily available for us to enjoy when the craving strikes.

I package our soups into half pint canning jars and store them in the freezer. It's the perfect size for lunches and all I have to do is thaw and reheat.

Now honestly, most of the time I like to keep the standard chili or maybe even chicken and veggie type on hand. But we have to change it up sometimes, right? Butternut squash is a nice meatless, healthy soup to enjoy. And there are tons of variations you can try. Bacon anyone?

This version is a pretty classic soup. Nothing complicated at all! I definitely recommend serving with a nice chunk of crusty bread. Looks like old man winter will be sticking around for a little while longer, might as well enjoy some comforting dishes while we wait for spring.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 celery stalk,  diced
1 small-med sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp dried leaf thyme
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion and celery for a few minutes. Add in squash and broth, stir to combine. Add in seasonings. Let cook until mixture comes to a boil then cover and reduce to a simmer. Let soup simmer for 30 minutes or until squash is tender.

Remove from heat. Puree soup using an immersion blender. Or let cool a bit and then in small batches, puree using a blender. Serve warm with crackers or bread.

For freezing: divide soup into small containers or jars, let cool completely before storing in freezer. I recommend labeling with the date and contents so you don't forget what it is. When ready to enjoy, just let thaw and then reheat. Makes enough for 6 half pint jars.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Chocolate Play Dough

It's hard to believe Valentine's day is next week already. While the hubby and I don't usually do anything special to celebrate, it's fun to prepare special treats, or in this case, activities for the kids. Today I'm taking a break from food and sharing with you an easy and fun way to celebrate Valentine's.

Play dough is always a hit with children. Whether it's in the classroom or for my own kids, it's one activity choice that's available.  We like to make homemade versions for our preschool room at work, it's really quite cost effective to do so. I usually have a different "flavor" or scent if you will, available each month. One to coordinate with our current themes.

Of course chocolate for February only makes sense. When you enter the room and we've had play dough out, you immediately think of brownies.  It smells heavenly! Okay, well for play dough. If you're looking for a fun way to engage the kiddos, try making this play dough with them. It will provide them with hours of entertainment. And after being cooped up this winter, I think we all can use a little new inspiration.

Chocolate Play Dough

1 cup water
1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup salt
1/2 tbsp cream of tarter
1-1/2 tbsp canola oil

Place water in a microwave safe bowl and cook for about 2 minutes, water should be boiling. Add all other ingredients into the bowl and mix well with a spoon until mixture comes together. Turn over onto a counter or hard surface and continue to knead dough a few times. Let play dough cool before storing in an airtight container or large baggie.

*If making for a classroom or for several children, you might want to double the batch.

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