Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Snickerdoodle Hospitality

Probably my husband’s and oldest son’s favorite kind of cookies is snickerdoodles. After a long day at school or work, or when everyone’s just sitting around in the evening and watching a movie, a plate full of snickerdoodles fresh out of the oven just adds to the moment. In fact, I just pulled out a tray of snickerdoodles. That’s my family’s kind of hospitality!

Usually I make the dough balls up ahead of time and put them in the freezer. Then I just pull out dough balls whenever I want them and only a dozen or so at a time—usually just one cookie sheet’s worth. That way we can have freshly-baked snickerdoodles on a whim. (Not only that, I’m not making whole batches all at once—which cuts down caloric intake for everyone!).

Here’s the snickerdoodle recipe I’ve been making for many years:

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup Crisco (or other shortening)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
2 ¾ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
Cinnamon and sugar mixture (1/8 cup granulated sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon)

Cream butter, shortening and 1 ½ cups granulated sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla. Blend in flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Shape dough into tablespoon-sized dough balls. Refrigerate dough balls for at least an hour to firm up. (After they’ve firmed up—that way they won’t stick together—and I put them in a freezer bag). When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake about 8 to 10 minutes. Don’t let them brown, or they’ll get too hard. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies with a Hidden Hershey Kiss

Here’s another one of my favorite cookies when it comes to “Cookie Tray Hospitality.” I just made a batch of these tonight.

Hershey Kiss Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
30 Hershey Kisses, wrappers removed

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together. Add in flour and walnuts. Press about a tablespoon of dough around each Hershey Kiss, covering well so that the entire chocolate kiss is covered. Refrigerate dough balls about 30 minutes. (You can also make dough balls up ahead of time and freeze them, removing from freezer on an “as needed” basis.) Bake in 375 degree oven about 10-12 minutes—until dough balls are set but not browned. Cool for a few minutes on rack. Roll each cookie ball in powdered sugar 1-2 times. Makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chocolate Cream Pie

We’re having company over for dinner tomorrow night. For dessert, we’re going to have chocolate cream pie. I just finished it, and the recipe is below. It’s been a family favorite for a long time!

Chocolate Cream Pie

1 prebaked 9-inch pie crust, baked and cooled
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 T. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream, beaten with 1/8 cup powdered sugar and ½ tsp. vanilla
Chocolate curls or sprinkles for garnish

Grated the chocolate and put into medium sized saucepan. Add the granulated sugar, flour, salt and milk. Cook over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of the hot pudding into the egg yolks. Return the egg yolk mixture to the rest of the mixture in the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla and butter. Turn the filling into the baked pie shell. Put some plastic wrap over pudding to prevent a film from forming. Refrigerate for a couple hours. When thoroughly cool, garnish with whipped cream and chocolate curls or sprinkles.

Here's another garnish:

Happy Baking!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mexican Chicken Lasagna

One of my favorite—meaning easy to prepare but yummy—meals to serve to company is Mexican lasagna. Serve it up with a dish of refried beans, Mexican rice and a basket of chips with salsa and guacamole and you have a nice Mexican buffet!

Mexican Lasagna

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½ inch pieces
3 T. canola oil
1 T. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cans (14 oz. each) Mexican style diced tomatoes, drained
16 oz. tomato sauce
2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1 pint ricotta cheese
3 (4 oz. each) cans diced green chilies
1 bunch fresh cilanto, washed and diced
18 (6-inch) white or yellow corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Garnish: pitted black olives and sour cream

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, chili powder and cumin and stir fry until chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and hot pepper sauce. Simmer about 5 minutes. Then set aside. Mix together ricotta cheese, green chilies, and about 1/3 cup of the cilantro. Spoon half of the chicken-tomato dish into a large glass baking dish (spray lightly with canola oil first). Top with 9 of the tortillas. Spread ricotta cheese on top of tortillas. Then top that with the remaining 9 toritllas, the rest of the chicken-tomato mixure and the shredded cheddar cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 30 minutes, or until heated through bubbly. Top with black olives and additional cilanto before serving. Serve with sour cream on the side.

Makes about 12-16 large servings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to Make Your Own Toaster Pastries

My boys just left for school about 45 minutes ago. And probably like 90 percent of the teenagers at their school, they had toaster pastries for breakfast. But my sons didn’t have Pop Tarts. I made them homemade toaster pastries.

Well, they weren’t exactly toaster pastries, although they’re the same shape and size as Pop Tarts. These are baked in the oven. Another difference: I think they have more flavor than the commercially-made toaster strudels. Also, while they still have quite a bit of sugar in the ingredients list, at least there are no artificial preservatives or other hard-to-pronounce ingredients. So while it’s not a whole grain brain muffin, it’s a little better for your kids than those store-bought toaster treats. That’s the reasoning going on in my brain anyway.

I bought a toaster pastry press at Williams & Sonoma, which I used to make these homemade pastries. I used their recipe on the package (although I made the dough in a bowl, rather than in a food processor bowl). Here it is:


2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 T. granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
6-8 T. cold water
½ cup filling (fruit preserves, jam, apple butter or peanut butter)
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water until frothy
2 T. milk
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
Optional: decorative sprinkles

Put flour, salt and granulated sugar in a medium sized bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in unsalted butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle water on top, 1 tablespoon at a time, moistening a bit more of the flour mixture after each addition. Shape into two balls. Dough should be firm and pliable, and not wet or sticky. Refrigerate for 2 hours to make the dough easier to work with.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out out each dough ball into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Using the larger cutter, cut out each dough ball into eight pastry rectangles. (If you don’t have the toaster pastry press from Williams & Sonoma, you could use a rectangular shaped cookie cutter, about 3X5 inches, or you could cut out your own dough squares with a knife.)

Place half of the dough rectangles on the baking sheet. Using a butter knife, spread about 1 to 1 ½ T. of filling onto those pastry rectangles, leaving a ½-inch border. Brush the edges with the egg and water mixture. Top each with the rest of the dough rectangles. Press down the edges to seal. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and then bake. (You can also make these up ahead of time and freeze them. Be sure to put plastic wrap between the pastry layers, so they don’t stick together).

Bake pastries in 350 degree oven, about 25-30 minutes, or until lightly golden in color. Remove from oven. Cool about 10 minutes. While cooling, blend the milk and powdered sugar together to make a glaze. Spread the glaze over pastries. Top with sprinkles, if desired. Serve while the pastries are warm.

Here are some photos of the dough rectangles, which I filled with homemade strawberry jam:

Besides breakfast treats, these pastries also make yummy snacks and desserts.

Have a great day!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Butternut Squash, Peanut Butter Cup and Dutch Apple Crumb Pies

On Friday, I made three pies for a dinner party which we hosted last night. One of them was a butternut squash pie. Now that might sound more like a “fall dessert,” but my husband brought in some butternut squash from the garden (the only garden plants that have survived this hot, droughty Texas summer!) and they needed to be used. So I made the pie. The peanut butter cup and apple pies were made with my sons’s tastebuds in mind. Here are the recipes:


1 9-inch pie crust
6 cups golden delicious apples, peeled and sliced thinly
1 T. lemon juice
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 T. (heaping) all purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
¾ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold

Microwave apple slices for 4-5 minutes, until slightly tender. Add lemon juice, ½ cup granulated sugar, ½ light brown sugar, 3 T. flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well and spoon into crust. Wrap foil around edges of crust or place a pastry shield on crust. Bake in 375° F oven for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make crumb topping: Mix remaining ¾ cup flour, ¼ cup granulated sugar, ¼ cup light brown sugar and unsalted butter with fork or your fingers until crumbly. Remove pie from oven. Take shield or foil off crust. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples. Bake another 30 minutes, or until topping is golden and filling is bubbling. Cool thoroughly on wire rack before cutting into slices.


1 9-inch pie crust
1 ½ cups cooked and mashed butternut squash
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 T. melted butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup half-and-half
¼ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350° F. In large bowl, beat the squash and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in spices salt, flour, butter, and vanilla. Stir in half and half and heavy cream and blend well. Pour the filling into the chilled pie and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until set. Serve warm or chilled. Delicious with freshly-whipped cream or ice cream.

(Recipe adapted from pg. 88 of Kraft Philadelphia’s “Cheesecakes & More” cookbook)

3 cups Oreo cookies (about 22), ground in food processor
3 T. melted butter

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup whole milk
1 (3.4 oz.) pkg, instant vanilla pudding
2 ½ cups thawed Cool Whip

3 squares semi-sweet chocolate

½ cup peanut butter candy wafers
Miniature peanut butter cups

First, make the crust. Blend cookie crumbs and butter, and press into 9-inch pie plate. Bake in 325° F oven for 6 minutes. Chill in refrigerator until ready to fill.

For filling, beat cream cheese and peanut butter until well blended. Add milk and dry pudding mix; beat 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup Cool Whip. Spoon filling into crust. Refrigerate 1-2 hours, or until set.

Meanwhile, microwave remaining Cool Whipe and chocolate in microwave, about 2 minutes, until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is well blended, stirring after 1 minute. Cool completely, and then spread mixture over pudding layer. Put back in refrigerator and let chill.

To garnish pie, melt peanut butter candy wafers in microwave (about 1-2 minutes). Drizzle over pie. Arrange peanut butter cups around edge of pie. Refrigerate until serving time.

Happy pie making!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No-Sweat “Cold Process” Soap Making

I just got done making several batches of soap. I have been making homemade soap for several years now, and have probably made close to a thousand batches. It’s turned into one of my favorite hobbies. So today I thought I’d dedicate my blog post to soap making.

Now at first, you might think that soap making might not fit in with a blog titled “Creative Hospitality.” However I really think it does. My homemade soap is something I put in the guest bathrooms when we have overnight company. Most of the time I have soap curing in various locations throughout our house, and if guests ask about the soap or say they like it, I’ll often send a bar or two home with them. Many times in recent years I’ve had “soap making parties” at my house where I’ve had friends over to show them how to make soap; first I’ll have them watch me make a batch, and then I’ll let them try it themselves.

I realize there are many, many blogs out there in the blogosphere, dedicated just to soap making. So I know it’s a big topic. I also realize there a lot of different ways to make cold process soap making. Every soap maker has his/her own techniques. Here in this post, I am going to explain how I make my soap, and share some tips that I’ve learned from personal experiences (which aren’t always covered in the soap making books).

If you’re going to do this, it’s great to read up on the topic first. I have bought probably every soap making book that has been published. Each book has some good information to offer, but I don’t think any one book out there has all the essential information in it. The two most thorough books on the topic, in my opinion, are Smart Soapmaking by Anne L. Watson (Shepard Publications, 2007), and Country Living’s book, Handmade Soap (Hearst Communications, 1998). What I really like about these two books is not only do they have some excellent soap recipes, they also explain a lot of technical information about the soap making process. So these books are a good education in soap making. I also learned a lot just from trial and error.

Before going any further, I wanted to define our terms. For some people, “soap making” means buying the blocks of unscented soap from craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby—the “melt and pour” kits. That’s not what I do. I make what’s called “cold process” soap making. In a nutshell, cold process soap is made by mixing lye (sodium hydroxide and water) with fatty acids (usually a combination of oils and saturated fats, which stay solid at room temperature). You do not “cook” the soap ingredients together, as is done in “hot process” soap making. With cold process soap making, the only heating that’s done is to melt the saturated fats. By mixing the fats (which are acidic) with the lye (which as alkaline—a base), that triggers the “saponification” process (meaning you’re making soap).

The recipe I use is on page 31 of Country Living’s Handmade Soap book. Here it is:

15 oz. distilled water
6.3 oz. sodium hydroxide
20 oz. coconut oil
6 oz. palm oil
14 oz. olive oil
Fragrance /Essential oil
Optional: colorants, botanical or other additives for exfoliants (ground oatmeal or lavender leaves, etc.)

Weigh the water on a digital food scale. I have a ½ gallon plastic pail that I put the water in. In another small container (a disposable plastic beverage cup works fine) weigh the sodium hydroxide. Then sprinkle all the sodium hydroxide into the water, stirring the entire time. You now have your lye mixture. Set it aside to cool. Over the stovetop, melt the coconut and palm oils together in a 2 quart pot. Then let cool enough to be able to set the pot back on the digital scale. Add the olive oil. Then set aside to cool.

I have a sink in my laundry room, which I fill about 4-5 inches with cold water and ice cubes. I’ll set my pail with the lye mixture in there. I’ll usually put my pot with the melted fats in there too. How long they stay in there depends. Both need to cool down to around 90 and 100 degrees F. It usually takes the lye a little longer to cool down, so I’ll start that cooling first. The fats take less time to cool usually (because they aren’t usually on the stovetop that long), and the mixture will do some cooling down when I add the olive oil. So I may just leave the fats in the ice bath for just a few minutes. When both the lye and the fats are down to around 90 and 100 degrees (I try to get them both to the same temperature, so maybe both 90 degrees), then pour the lye solution into the pot with the fats/oil mixture. Use a stick blender to blend it together. Here’s are a couple photos of the two solutions being blended together:

When it traces, meaning it’s “saponified” (It may only take a few minutes to get to this stage with this recipe, because it is only making a relatively small amount of soap) and the mixture is now soap, quickly add your fragrance, colorant (optional) and additives (optional) and stir it a bit more. Then pour the mixture into your molds. In my case, I use the dairy cartons as molds. (Work fast at this point, because once the mixture has saponified, it will start to thicken quickly and if you take too much time, you may not be able to pour it into your molds). The way to tell if the soap is saponified, is it will have turned to an opaque, creamy color, and if you will be able to make a line in the mixture with your stick blender. Here’s a picture of a saponified mixture:

In each batch, I use about 1.5 ounces of essential oil (such as lavender) or 2 ounces of fragrance oil. That may be a little more than some of what the books recommend, but I find that if you use smaller amounts, the scent is hardly noticeable in the finished product.

Sometimes I add exfoliants, but usually I don’t. About the only time I add exfoliants is I put in coarsely-ground oatmeal with the oatmeal, milk and honey soap; ground mint leaves with the eucalyptus spearmint soap; and ground lavender leaves with the lavender soap. I used to make a cran-raspberry soap, and I put ground raspberry seeds (I tried grinding them, and even used my mortar and pestle, but I could never get the seeds small enough, because they’re so hard!) in that soap for exfoliants. However, I stopped doing that when friends told me their husbands were complaining about the raspberry seeds getting stuck in their chest hairs. Hmmm.

About colorants, I don’t always use them. I like the natural look for the most part, and a lot of the soap fragrances do turn the soap to a creamy, tan or light brown color anyway. But sometimes it’s fun to be able to put a little orange, purple or light red in the fruity fragrances, or a light green in the herby soaps. You can buy the soap colorants online. Most of them come a powder, and you mix a little glycerin in with them to make the dye.

I make my soap in quart-sized dairy cartons. I get about 10-12 bars of soap (4-6 ounces each, depending on how large I cut them of course) in each batch of this recipe. To me, that’s a good sized batch. This way I can make several batches, each in a different scent. Here are some soaps that have just been poured in dairy cartons:

Once you’ve poured the soap into the dairy cartons, they will need to stay in there for around 6-8 hours to set. After it’s hardened to the point that it will hold its shape, you can peel off the dairy carton containers and then cut the block into bars. Here’s a photo of the soap being cut:

What will happen after you pour the mixture into dairy cartons, it will get very hot, then it will harden, and then it will turn into a “gel stage” where it looks like the cooled fat from a roast turkey. During the gel stage, it’ll be all mushy. Then after that it will harden “for real” this time. (I had to learn about this the hard way once. I didn’t realize the soap hardened temporarily before turning gel-like, and I actually started to peel off the dairy cartons. I walked away for a bit and then returned to find the gel had basically “exploded” in blobs all over the room. Not a fun mess to clean up!)

Once you’ve cut the block into bars, you will need to put it on trays of some kind so that it can cure. This soap recipe takes about 2-3 weeks to cure. During the curing process, the soap hardens more (A harder soap lasts longer in the shower!) and neutralizes as far as alkalinity. You don’t want a soap that’s either too alkaline or too acidic, but rather a nice, mild bar that’s neutral as far as pH. (You can buy pH strips from chemistry and soap making supply houses if you want to test your soap’s pH level before you use it.) With the recipe I’ve included here, it’s only just barely alkaline immediately after it’s made. Then after curing, it is completely neutral.

Here is a photo of some soaps curing in my laundry room. This was taken a couple years ago. Nowadays I don’t cure all my soaps together in the air space; supposedly they can soak up scents from neighboring soaps if they cure together in the same room.

You will need to have some basic equipment for soap making: a pot to melt the fats in and mix up the soap, a plastic spoon for mixing the sodium hydroxide and water together, a quart-sized pail for holding the lye solution, a stick blender, and two thermometers, one for the lye solution and one for the fats. These items should all be dedicated to soap making. In addition, you’ll need goggles for your eyes and perhaps gloves for your hands, and a digital food scale.

You’ll have to order all of your supplies online. Craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, as much as I love them, for the most part, only carry supplies for “melt and pour” soap making. For instance, the soap colorants they sell are designed for melting and pouring soap. They don’t work in cold process soap making. (There is something about this process that destroys the color. I have tried this a number of times. You can put a whole bottle of those kind of colorants in and they fade away to nothing as soon as you put it in the soap mixture.) Now you could use their soap scents, but they come in such small bottles and are very expensive. It’s much better to buy larger bottles of fragrance and essential oils online.

My favorite online soapmaking sources are:

Wholesale Supplies Plus



Majestic Mountain Sage

It took me a while to learn which soap scents “work” and which ones don’t. Some sound good in their descriptions in the online catalogs, but then you order them and they smell like bug spray. Some scents smell good in the bottle, but then after the soap making process, the smell changes and sometimes turns into something quite putrid. Other times, the scent smells good in the bottle and in the soap after you’ve made it up, but then after a couple weeks or even a day or two of curing, the smell has just about gone. I have probably spent hundreds of dollars, discovering through trial and error, which fragrances work and which ones don’t. (Now there are still a lot of fragrances I would like to try, but haven’t done as much of that kind of testing lately. That gets expensive!)

If you’d like fragrance recommendations, I suggest the coconut, lime & verbena and black raspberry vanilla scents from Wholesale Supplies Plus; the “fruit slice” scent and 40/42 lavender essential oil from Pinemeadows; the oatmeal, milk & honey and honeysuckle scents from Brambleberry; and the eucalyptus spearmint, juicy pear, plumeria, and cucumber melon fragrance oils from Majestic Mountain Sage. These oils, in my experience, have all been fool-proof and have consistently turned out well every time.

You’ll have to buy your sodium hydroxide from another source, other than the online retailers listed above, since they don’t sell it. It’s not something you may able to buy locally either; I have never been able to find it for sale anywhere in stores in my area. I buy “food grade” sodium hydroxide from AAA Chemicals ( for $13.49 plus postage and handling for 4 – 2 lb. bottles.

Always wear eye covering. I had to learn this lesson the hard way once when some of the soap mixture splashed in my right eye. I had a friend over to make soap with me when this had happened. We had poured the lye into the fats and the mixture had just saponified (and it was still quite alkaline!). We tried washing it out, but it still stung like crazy and the vision in that eye was a bit blurry. Then a minute or two after going back in the kitchen and trying to resume the soap process (I try to stay on task with my projects!), my friend just looked at me with a horrified look. My right eye ball (which the soap mixture had splashed in) had dilated completely so that it was one big black circle. It stayed that way for 12 hours, until—thankfully—going back down to normal and the vision in that eye normalizing too. So…I have always worn goggles since!

Well, that’s enough of my rambling for now. I could tell you lots more about soap making, but this is probably more than enough to pique your interest.

Happy soap making!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Peach Pie with Coconut-Almond Crumb Topping

We’re having company over tonight for a BBQ (still trying to have as much fun as we can before school starts!!!), and here’s what I just pulled out of the oven for dessert: peach pie with coconut almond crumb topping. This recipe comes from my favorite pie cookbook, which is simply called Pie, and was written by Ken Haedrich, and published in 2004 by Harvard Common Press.

I thought I’d share this recipe with you, which I’ve only “tweaked” slightly. I love peaches, and this peach pie recipe is my all-time favorite peach dessert:

Peach Pie with Coconut-Almond Crumb Topping

1 single layer pie crust (I used the crust recipe I posted last month)

6 cups sliced peaches (fresh or frozen)
1 ½ T. lemon juice
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. nutmeg

1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
6 T. cold, unsalted butter (cut into tablespoon-sized pieces)
1 T. milk

Make pie crust and refrigerate until ready to fill. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the ingredients for the filling and then spoon into crust. Bake for 35 minutes. While that’s baking, prepare filling. Put all of the ingredients for the topping—except the tablespoon of milk—into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the milk, and process a few more times until the crumbs look like gravel. Refrigerate until ready to use. Remove the pie from the oven, and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Spoon the crumbs on top of the filling, gently pressing down the crumbs with your fingers to compact them. Return the pie to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes.

I’m going to serve this pie with vanilla ice cream tonight. Yum!


Monday, August 15, 2011


One of my best memories as a teen was going over to a friend’s house for a taffy pulling party. My friends’ mom used to plan these taffy pulling parties every year or two for about 10-12 teens from school.

I remember these parties being tons of fun. My friend’s mom would make up a couple different flavors of taffy, one at a time. After each batch was made, our group of teens would pull and pull for about 20 minutes, to smooth out the candy and get it to the lighter honey color. Usually we’d work with a partner. We’d string the taffy out thin and then rope it together to pull it again. There’d always be longs of laughing if the taffy slipped off our hands or if we pulled it into funny shapes. When the taffy got cold and hard, it would no longer stretch anymore. Then we’d get out scissors to cut out the taffy in bite-sized pieces to take home.

I realize this was a quarter century ago (Oh, that makes me sound OLD!) and teens today may that sounds like too much of an “old fashioned” activity for them. After all, no electronics are involved. However, I bet if they tried it, they might think taffy pulling is kind of fun—in an “old timey” sort of way.

I have no doubt that younger kids would definitely enjoy taffy pulling. It can be a wonderful activity to plan to do during a child’s birthday party. Or maybe your kids have a day off school coming up soon and you’re looking for a unique activity to do with them. Perhaps you have some grandchildren who are coming over to your house for a visit. Why not plan a taffy pulling party for them?

Here’s what you need to do to pull off a taffy pull:

1. Invite your guests. Taffy pulling parties are best done with small groups—no more than 6 to 12 kids (if you’re inviting younger children, maybe not more than 5-6 kids). When you invite them, let them know a little about the process of taffy making, so they know what to expect. Have them wear “play clothes” or bring a painter’s smock, like they’d put on in art class in school.

2. Choose a recipe (or two!) to make. My two favorite taffy recipes came from a small booklet called Old-Fashioned Candy Recipes (Bear Wallow books, 1986). Here they are:


2 cups granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1 T. glycerine
1 tsp. vanilla
3 T. butter

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Add corn syrup, salt and glycerine. Cover pan and cook over high heat until candy thermometer registers 267 degrees F. Add vanilla and butter, stirring quickly. Pour mixture onto a buttered slab or buttered cookie sheet. Allow to cool until you can handle it. Then start pulling it. Keep pulling it until the taffy becomes porous and white. Then shape it into a rope about a half-inch in diameter and cut into bite-sized pieces. Wrap in waxed paper and twist ends.


2 cups dark molasses
1 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. cider vinegar
2 T. butter
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Use a medium size, heavy saucepan. Butter the sides. Combine molasses, brown sugar and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil. Stir in vinegar. Continue cooking and stirring until mixture registers 260 degrees F on your candy thermometer. Remove pan from heat and add butter. Spring in soda and cream of tartar. Stir quickly until the last three added ingredients are well mixed. Pour candy onto a large, buttered stoneware platter or marble slab or large buttered cookie sheet to cool.

Taffy directions for pulling and stretching: As the mass cools, pull the edges toward the center. When cool enough to handle, butter your hands and pull the candy, stretching it back and forth and doubling it over. Repeat this process until the mass becomes a glossy golden color. Then pull it into a rope-like piece (one half inch thick) and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Allow to harden. Wrap each piece in some waxed paper, twisting ends.

3. Buy your supplies. You will need a 3-4 quart saucepan with a heavy bottom and straight sides; a stainless steel candy thermometer with a reading up to “thread” and “hard crack,” which will clamp to the side of the pan; a long-handled wooden spoon, a cookie sheet or granite or marble slab, kitchen shears, and some painter’s cloths for the floor around your workspace. You will also need the ingredients for making the taffy. This varies depending on what recipe you choose, but generally you are going to need granulated or brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, glycerine, butter, flavorings and food colors, and candy wrappers or waxed paper. You can pick up most of these supplies at your local grocery store. Some of them you may have to order online (like if you want actually taffy wrappers or specialty flavorings, and you don’t have a candy making supply store in your area) so you will need to place the order for these special items way in advance of your party. Depending on how many children are coming over, you may want to make a double or triple batch of one of the above taffy recipes.

4. Set up the work station before your guests arrive. Put the marbled or granite slab or buttered cookie sheet on your countertop or center island—wherever you are going to be working—and lay painter’s cloths on the floor around your workspace. This is important—just in case there are spills. And there usually are!

5. Measure out your ingredients in advance. Then once your guests arrive, you can make the taffy mixture up in front of the kids, over your stovetop, while they watch.

6. After you’ve poured the mass of hot taffy onto your buttered cookie sheet, give the children each a dab of unsalted butter so they can grease their hands. Then let the pulling begin! Divvy up the mass of taffy to pass out to the children—one “blob” of taffy for every two children who will be working together. Make sure the children are all standing over the painter’s drop cloths (just in case there’s a spill!). Each child can hold one end of the taffy blob and take a step back, stretching the taffy about 12 to 18 inches, and then quickly bringing the two ends back together. Then repeat this pulling back and forth, until enough air has been incorporated into the taffy that it is smooth, light-colored and glossy in appearance.

7. After several pulls, have the children pause for a few seconds while you add a drop of flavoring and food coloring to the taffy mixture. (Hopefully, you’ve surveyed the children before you’ve gotten to this stage, asking them what flavor they liked and to come to an agreement. If you’re already at the pulling stage, this is a little too late to decide.) Once you’ve added the flavoring and coloring, have the children resume pulling until the flavoring and coloring is incorporated well into the taffy.

8. If you want to be creative, you could have each of the groups of children make up a different flavor and color of taffy. Then before it gets too hard to work with, each of the groups can exchange half of their taffy strands with another group of two kids who have been making another color/flavor. Then they can press the new strands of different colored/flavored taffy with the kind they had been working with. This creates a very pretty, colorful, two-toned taffy.

9. After about 20-25 minutes, the taffy will hold its shape if laid out on the countertop, and will no longer be able to be easily pulled. Instruct the children to make taffy “ropes” and hand them to you. The taffy is now ready to be cut into pieces. Rub unsalted butter on your kitchen shears, and then cut the taffy ropes into bite-sized pieces. Allow about 10-15 minutes for each of the pieces to cool and harden all the way.

10. Once the taffy pieces are cool and hardened, it’s time to wrap them. You can either wrap them in small squares of waxed paper (which hopefully you’ve cut up in advance), and then twist each end. Or, for a professional look, buy special taffy wrappers, which typically come in 4 ¼ by 5 ½-inch sheets, to wrap your taffy pieces in. Taffy doesn’t stick to these specially-coated waxed paper sheets. These are the same sheets that professional confectioners use. You can buy them online from (they sell a brand made by LorAnn Oils), Kitchen Krafts and the North Coast Candy Company.

11. Give each child a ziplock sandwich baggie, and put at least a handful of taffy inside for the child to take home. If several flavors have been made, try to give each child some of each.

It’s sure to be a fun activity. Chances are, you’ll hear a lot of giggling while everyone’s pulling, and “oohing” and “aahing” afterwards when the kids taste the taffy. It may be an “old fashioned” activity (not because kids did it a quarter century ago, but because it was done in Colonial America!), but definitely something still worth doing.

Happy taffy pulling!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hosting an Appetizers ‘n Champagne Celebration

Every now and then we don’t just feel like celebrating, but there’s a real reason to do so—an engagement, college graduation, mortgage payoff, retirement, job promotion or other career-related acomplishment (like passing the state certification test for a particular occupation), etc.

You could plan a celebration at a restaurant. That’s not always my first choice though. Restaurants can get loud and crowded, and your guests can feel “stuck” at one seat at the table and not be able to mingle.

My favorite way to celebrate is with what I call an “Appetizers ‘n Champagne” celebration. Invite your guests over for an intimate get-together at your home, and serve them a variety of appetizers and champagne or wine.

We had one of these celebrations tonight at our house. When I do these, I try to serve a wide selection of “finger foods”—covering all the food groups and enough to be your guests’ evening meal. Actually I’ve noticed people often enjoy the “finger foods” more than a traditional 3- or 4-course meal. There’s just something fun about sampling a lot of different kinds of bite-sized treats. And what a nice way to mingle! You can talk to just about everyone at these kind of get-togethers, because you’re not stuck in a particular chair.

I’ve jotted down some of my favorite appetizers for these kinds of get-togethers, which I made for tonight’s celebration. Besides what I have here, I also served mini meatballs, chicken salad sandwiches and cordial-sized chocolate and raspberry mousse cups. Those recipes I already posted earlier this year. To round out the menu, we also served raw vegetables and dip, and some cheese spreads (Alouette’s Garlic and herb cheese spread, and Boursin’s Chive and Herbs cream cheese spread) with crackers.

What was nice about this menu is that most of it could be made in advance (frozen or refrigerated), or required very simple preparation. Here are the recipes:


2 (10 oz.) boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
2 (8 oz.) tubs soft cream cheese with garden vegetables
8 green onions, chopped finely
2 large eggs, beaten slightly
16 oz. phyllo (9 X 14 inch size sheets), thawed
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted

Combine spinach, feta, cream cheese, green onions and eggs together in bowl; set aside. Take 3 sheets of phyllo at a time out of the package, brushing each layer with some melted butter. Spread about 1/3 cup of the spinach mixture in a strip along one of the short ends of the phyllo sheet. Fold in both long sides, and roll up to make a log. Repeat this with the rest of the spinach filling and phyllo sheets.

Using a sharp knife, cut small slits at 1-inch intervals on each phyllo log. Brush each log with some more melted butter. Place on waxed paper lined cookie sheet in freezer for 1-2 hours. Then when firm, wrap each log in plastic wrap. Keep frozen until ready to bake and serve. These can be kept in freezer for 3-4 months.

When ready to bake, take out of freezer and thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Place on cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Bake in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until lightly brown and flaky. Cool for about 5 minutes, and then cut each log into pieces (where the slits were cut).


Pie crust—enough for a top and bottom pie
1 8-oz. can button mushrooms
1 8-oz. can Portabella mushrooms
2 T. butter
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large eggs
½ tsp. salt
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

Roll out pie crust and put into 24 tartlet or mini muffin pans (spray with vegetable oil first). Chop mushrooms with chef's knife, and sauté them in the butter and olive oil. Cook the mushrooms over medium heat until all liquid is evaporated and mushrooms are brown and tender.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Divide mushrooms evenly among tartlet pans. In small bowl, combine egg, cream, salt and cayenne pepper and beat well. Pour egg mixture evenly over mushrooms (about 4 t. in each tartlet pan). Sprinkle each with grated cheese. Bake until bubbly and golden—about 20 minutes. Serve immediately, or as a do-ahead tip, freeze between layers of waxed paper in a plastic freezer container. Then just bake to heat through—about 15 minutes—in a preheated 375 degree oven. They’ll taste like they were freshly baked!


8 burrito-sized tortillas
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 pkg. Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix (only ½ envelope may be used, depending on taste)
3 (6 oz.) pkgs. thinly sliced turkey
Bread ‘n butter pickle chips for garnish

Mix cream cheese and dip mix together. Spread each tortilla with some of the cream cheese mixture and top with a layer of turkey slices. Roll up tightly. Wrap in plastic wrap. You can do this up to the night before serving. When ready to serve, slice each roll in 6 pieces. Top each piece with a pickle chip. Secure with wooden picks.


2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
2 cups finely-shredded cheddar cheese
2 T. green onion, finely chopped
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. garlic powder
2 T. yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
2 T. red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cups pecans, chopped

Blend cream cheese and cheddar cheese together. Add onion, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and bell pepper and combine well. Refrigerate one hour. Then shape into two balls. Roll each ball in chopped nuts. Refrigerate until serving time. Can be made 1-2 days in advance. Serve with crackers.

This one is so easy! Put a round of brie cheese in a small ceramic or glass baking dish. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. Serve with crackers.

It was a nice evening. Next time you’re planning a celebration, consider an easy and elegant “Appetizers ‘n Champagne” get together!

Friday, August 12, 2011


This past Sunday we had a pool party for about 35 friends. Summer vacation is coming to an end, and we wanted to get another fun pool party in before school starts up again and it’s “back to the old grind.” Of course, here northern Texas we've had 40-plus days in a row of 100 degree weather. The pool water’s warmed up to the point that some afternoons it feels like bath water, and with the air temperature as hot as it’s been, it was a bit of a challenge to create a refreshing pool party experience. Still, I think we managed.

Here are my suggestions for planning a “really cool” pool party for even during the hottest days of summer:

These days, I’m partial to Evite when it comes to sending out invitations for parties. They create have a great selection of electronic invitations for pool parties and cookouts. If you’d like to mail out printed invitations, has some really cute pool party invitations that you can order online for very reasonable costs. You just type in the particulars for your party (when, where, etc.) and they’ll mail the customized invitations to you.

On your invitations, remind your guests to come dressed prepared to swim, sunbathe, and enjoy outdoor activities. Along with clothing, ask them to also bring their own sun block and beach towels (unless you have a lot of extra beach towels and don’t mind doing a lot of laundry after the party!).

--Decorate serving tables and eating tables with shells, driftwood or pieces of coral.
--Make centerpieces out of silk or dried flowers set into a piece of floral foam that has been inserted into a large conch shell.
--Set up both indoor and outdoor tables for your guests to eat it. Parents in particular may not want to eat their meal out in the hot sun, although their kids probably will want to.
--For a practical outdoor table centerpiece, place spritzer bottles of water placed in ice buckets on each table so that your guests can periodically spray themselves to cool off.
--Hang a garden hose on a wall up high a few feet from the pool, put it on a fine mist setting, and let that spray a fine mist of water on guests where they can sun or rest at the side of the pool.
--At dusk, place floating pool candles or waterproof floating lanterns in the pool. String outdoor pool lights around the roof of your patio and on shrubs near the pool. Put tiki torches outside by the pool to add to the ambiance and provide extra lighting. Remember, during the hot end-of-summer days, the relatively “cool” evenings may very well be the best time to be in the pool, so the extra lighting can be both functional and aesthetically appealing.

--Water balloon toss
--Water balloon volleyball
--Belly flop contest
--Pool volleyball and basketball
--Boogie board relay
--Water Frisbee
--Cannonball competition—see who can make the biggest splash into the pool.
--Coin toss—put some pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters into the pool. Divide guests into two teams and start them diving. See who can collect the most money diving for coins.

--Hot dogs
--BBQ chicken
--Baked beans
--Cold side salads (pasta salads, potato salads, tossed green salads, coleslaw, etc.)
--Raw vegetables and dip platters
--Fresh fruit trays (melons, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, etc.)

At our pool party, we provided stuffed hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and dips, and beverages (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic), and asked our guests to bring cold side salad, veggie and fruit platters, and desserts. For nonalcoholic beverages, I filled Igloo beverage coolers with lemonade and iced tea, and had 10 liters of soda and disposable plastic beverage cups (along with a black Sharpie marker that I set out by the cups, so guests could write their names on their cups). I filled beverage tubs with beers and alcoholic drinks, and another tub with just individual sized water bottles in it, which were all iced down. I recommend having all the beverages sitting out on one long table or countertop if you can, rather than keeping them in the fridge (that way you don’t have to keep opening and closing your fridge all day to get out drinks).


Have extra sunscreen and beach towels on hand for guests who may forget to bring their own. Buy extra floats, foam noodles, water rings, beach balls, diving toys, water Frisbee and underwater rocket-type toys to set outside by the pool for your guests to enjoy at the party. Sometimes the water “toys” are just as much fun as the pool itself.

Create areas of shade with umbrellas if your pool area doesn't have shady trees. This is especially important if you have parents coming who won’t be going in the pool, but still want to be outside where they can watch their kids in the pool.

Make sure you have enough chaise lounges and chairs out on your deck for your guests to use. If you think you’re short, buy a few fold-up cloth camp chairs to set out; you can usually get those for around $10 each.

Designate a room in your home for guests to change into their bathing suits and leave their “regular” clothes. We have a “pool bathroom” with a door to the pool area that works fine for this. Or, you may have an outdoor pool house which your guests can use for this purpose. If you don’t have a special “changing area,” a spare bedroom works fine for this, or you may want to designate one of your kid’s bedrooms for a changing room during the party.

Have lots of ice cubes on hand. If you don’t have a lot of extra space in your freezer (I never do), ask a couple guest to each bring a bag with them when you come. You'll want to have lots of ice at your party to fill glasses, beverage tubs, etc.

If it’s been a really hot summer and the pool water is warm, if you have fountains, jets and/or waterfall features, run those 24-hours a day a couple days before your pool party to get the water circulating. This will cool down the water at least a few degrees—and a few degrees makes a difference in this heat. This past weekend, we did this for our pool party and the pool water temperature got down to 88 to 90 degrees…which in 110 degree Dallas heat…made for a relatively cool swim.

Happy pool partying!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salad

Here’s another dish I made for today:

Black Bean and Corn Salad

2 (12 oz.) cans black beans, drained
2 (12 oz.) cans yellow sweet corn kernels, drained
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 medium-sized red onion, diced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 T. olive oil
4 T. white vinegar
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Chill for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. If desired, garnish with avocado slices when ready to serve.

Banana Split Dessert

We had a pool party today. What fun! And even though it was 100-plus degrees outside for about a month and a half now, the pool water was about 88 degrees and felt cool, relatively, compared to the air temperature.

We served hamburgers and hot dogs…which was an easy entrée but something that always seems to go over well…plus I made some side dishes and our guests brought side dishes too. I thought I’d post the recipes for some of the foods I made for today. I’ll start with what I made for dessert.


1st layer:
2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cups granulated sugar
10 T. unsalted butter (1 ¼ sticks), melted

2nd layer:
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

3rd layer:
2 (20 oz.) cans pineapple, in juice, drained
3 bananas

4th layer:
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
3 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks, beaten in small dish
3 T. butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

5th layer:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract

6 bananas
¼ cup chopped pecans

Lightly butter 11X15-inch glass baking dish. Mix 1st layer ingredients together and press onto bottom of dish. Freeze for 10 minutes.

While 1st layer is chilling, beat cream cheese and 1 cup sugar together until fluffy. Then spread on top of graham cracker crust. Refrigerate some more while making vanilla pudding for 4th layer.

To make pudding 4th layer, combine sugar, flour, salt and milk in saucepan. Cook over medium heat until thickened and starting to bubble. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Pour about one cup’s worth of hot milk mixture into beaten egg yolks and quickly whisk together. Return this egg-milk mixture to the rest of the milk mixture in sauce pan. Cook for two minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Set aside to cool about 5 minutes, stirring several times.

While pudding is cooling, top cream cheese layer with drained pineapple. Top pineapple with sliced bananas. Then top bananas with pudding mixture; cover evenly to cover all the banana slices. Cover pudding with plastic wrap to prevent the pudding from forming a skin. Chill in refrigerator several hours.

For 5th layer, beat whipping cream with powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Remove plastic wrap from pudding layer and spread with whipped cream.

For garnish, slice 3 bananas into ¼-inch slices. Dip them in lemon juice and arrange on top of whipped cream. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Refrigerate until serving time.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Baked Spinach, Mushroom & Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata

Baked frittatas make wondering breakfasts for overnight company. You can make them up the night before, put them in the refrigerator, and stick them in the oven about 40 minutes before eating. Here’s the recipe for the frittata we had this morning:

Baked Spinach, Mushroom & Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata

1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
5 large eggs
1 ¼ cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese (ideally freshly grated)
1 cup Portobello mushrooms (or sautéed fresh mushrooms), chopped
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2/3 cup green onions, sliced thinly
¼ tsp. dried Italian season
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Whisk ingredients together until well-mixed. Grease 1-quart sized glass baking dish with butter, and fill with spinach mixture. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until set and slightly brown the edges. Delicious served with buttered whole wheat toast and fresh fruit! It makes a wonderful brunch!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cheesecake Brownies with Chocolate Drizzle

This afternoon, I was baking again. I made brownie cheesecake, which came from the Kraft Philadelphia’s “Cheesecakes & More” cookbook on pg. 14. I was planning a cookout by the pool for this evening and I needed a good dessert to follow grilled steaks and chicken. This recipe fit the bill.

Cheesecake Brownies

1 pkg. (19 to 21 ounces) brownie mix
32 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup sour cream
3 large eggs
2 (1 oz.) squares semi-sweet chocolate (or ½ cup Wilton chocolate Candy Melts)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare brownie batter as directed on package; pour into a greased 13 by 9-inch pan. Bake for 25 minutes. While that’s baking, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream.

When the brownie layer is done baking, gently pour cream cheese filling on top. (Filling will come almost to the top of the pan.) Bake 40 minutes more, or until center is set. Remove from oven. Run knife around the rim of the pan to loosen sides. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

After brownies have chilled in the refrigerator, cut them into squares. Melt chocolate squares or Candy Melts. Using a pastry bag, drizzle chocolate over cheesecake squares. Refrigerate until serving time.

Happy brownie making!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lemon Bars and No-Bake Chocolate Cookies

I have been super busy the last few days with a big writing project—a medical article on cancer that I just finished this afternoon. What do I do to celebrate and relax after I’ve completed a big writing deadline? BAKE! This evening I made lemon bars, a favorite of my husband, and no-bake chocolate cookies, a favorite recipe that my mom used to make for me when I was growing up.

My husband and sons definitely enjoyed the treats. After all, it’s nice to practice hospitality on your own family now and then!


1 cup white flour
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup butter
2 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp shredded lemon peel
Juice of one lemon
2 T. white flour
¼ tsp. baking powder

First prepare crust. Stir flour and confectioner’s sugar together. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press onto lightly greased 8X8-inch square baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes, or until crust is slightly golden around edges.

While crust is baking, prepare filling. In small bowl, whip eggs until fluffy and lemon-yellow in color. Add sugar, lemon peel and juice. Blend several minutes, until mixture is smooth. Mix in flour and baking powder, and stir until all ingredients are blended together well. Pour over baked layer, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until filling is set. Remove from oven, and let cool. Then sprinkle with additional confectioner’s sugar. Cut into bars. Makes 9 to 16 bars (depending on how large you cut them of course!).


½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups granulated sguar
½ cup cocoa
½ whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups “quick” oatmeal
½ cup coconut
½ cup nuts (sliced almonds or chopped walnuts)

Melt butter, sugar, cocoa and milk in 2-quart saucepan over stovetop. Stir and cook until melted. Let it get to boiling stage. Boil over medium high heat—stirring the entire time—for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and peanut butter and blend until smooth. Add oatmeal, coconut and walnuts, and stir until all the ingredients are blended together. Drop by rounded tablespoonsful onto a large sheet of waxed paper. After about an hour, they will harden some, and you can remove cookies from waxed paper. Makes about 2 dozen.

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Two more favorite party games

In June I posted some of my favorite party games. Here are two more that are really fun:


Play this game with 10 to 20 players. You will need two 18X24-inch manila drawing pads and two thick black markers. If you have artist’s easels to attach the drawing pads to, that is ideal. Alternatively, you can use a whiteboard and a marker.

Before the party, come up with a list of about 50 nouns (persons, objects, places, movie and book titles, slogans and sayings, or abstract ideas), and write each on a 3X1-inch strip of paper. Fold each strip of paper in quarters, and put in a hat, basket or box.

As the host, you will be the quiz master during the party. When your guests arrive, divide them into two teams. Have each group sit together on an opposite side of the room. Give each team a drawing board (or pad) and a marker.

To start, pick one of the folded up strips of paper from your hat or basket. Show this piece of paper to one player on each team, who will have to draw it for his or her teammates. The artist may draw on the board, and even gesture, nod or point, but may not talk. No letters, numbers or symbols can be used in the drawing. The first team to guess the word or phrase wins a point.

Round two begins with choosing another piece of paper from the hat, and showing it to the next person who is acting as artist for each team. Players on each team will take turns each doing the artwork. You can play for a certain number of rounds, such as 10 or 15, or for a certain period of time (such as an hour or hour and a half). The team with the most points after the predetermined number of rounds or playing time is the winner.


This is a game you might play when you have a group of people over who all know each other pretty well. However, as you’ll discover in this game, there’s always something new to learn about others—even people you’ve known a long time.

Before your party, email or call each of your friends, and ask them 10 questions about themselves—their personal lives, experiences, perspectives, childhood and family background. Some possible questions you might ask are: “What was the first job you ever had?” “What’s the habit you’re proudest of breaking?” “What’s the sickest you’ve ever been?” “How old were you when you got your driver’s license?” “What did you like best about high school?” “What is the dumbest thing you have ever done?” “What was the last item you regret buying?” “What is your ethnic background?” “If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?” “What did your family do for fun when you were growing up?” “What’s the last movie you saw?”

Ask each of your guests a different set of questions. This will make the game more interesting for your guests. You can customize questions for each person; for instance, if the guest went to college, received a specific type of award in high school, is a parent or has lived in many different states, you can ask questions specifically relating to those experiences.Tell each guest to not discuss his or her answers with anyone else who will be at the party.

After you’ve gathered all your information via phone calls and emails, write multiple choice questions about each of your guests. For instance, “Rhonda’s declared major when she started freshman year at college was what? A. Accounting, B. Travel & Tourism, C. Journalism or D. Retailing.” Depending on how many guests you’re having over, and how “interesting” each respondent’s answers are, you may make multiple choice questions for each of the 10 questions you had asked, or just pick out 4 or 5 of the funniest or most surprising answers.

Have an index card for each multiple choice question you come up with. Write down the question and the four possible answers on the front of the card. On the back of the card, write out the correct answer and corresponding letter. Put all the index cards from all the guests in a pile and shuffle them together. Assign each index card a number.

At the start of the party, give each guest a numbered sheet of paper (corresponding to the number of index cards). Read the question and answer choices on each index card. Have the guests write down their answers. When you’ve gone through all the cards, read out the right answers for each question. Guests can grade their own papers, giving themselves a point for each correct answer. (Obviously they’ll all get at least a few questions right—the questions that pertain to them!) Hand out an award to the guest with the most points.

This game is a great way to learn something new about your friends…and enjoy some laughter too!

Have fun!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pizza on the Grill

I like outdoor grilling, but towards the end of summer I start to want a change for the more typical grilled foods like BBQ chicken, hamburgers and steaks. For a change of pace, we really like pizza on the grill…and company usually does too.

Here’s my recipe:


1 package yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
2 cups flour (1 cup unbleached white flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour works really well)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar

Ground beef topping:
½ pound lean ground beef
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

4 large tomatoes, quartered
1 cloves garlic, sliced
1 T. olive oil
2 T. fresh basil

Other toppings:
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 3 T. butter or olive oil
1 large purple or yellow onion, sliced
½ cup black olives, sliced
½ green bell pepper, sliced in 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup Romano cheese, freshly grated

Make crust: Soak yeast in water for 5 minutes. Add flour, salt and sugar. Mix to blend. Knead for 2-3 minutes, until flour is well blended. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Cook ground beef in small sauté pan over stovetop. Season with salt, pepper, oregano and garlic powder while sautéing. Drain off grease. Set aside.

To prepare sauce, put tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat grill to very hot (550 degrees); adjust grill grid to 8 inches above heat. Roll crust to fit 12-inch pizza pan. Spread sauce on dough. Top with ground beef, mushrooms, olives, bell pepper and cheeses. Cover and bake for 5 minutes. With a large spatula, slide pizza directly onto grill grid and cook an additional 10 minutes or until the bottom size of the crust is nicely browned. Return to pizza pan and cut into 8 slices—enough for 4 average-sized servings (or enough for 2 teenage boys!).

Happy pizza grilling!