Strawberry Bar Cookies

This month is flying by. We have had friends from California visiting and so much going on that I have really been in a baking mood. There is a book series by Joanne Fluke called the Hannah Swenson Mysteries. They all have desserts in the title and each book centers around the Swenson sisters who run The Cookie Jar in a small town. These little mysteries are easy reading and have recipes at the end of most chapters. The current book I am reading is the Raspberry Danish Murder.

The recipes are absolutely great. Last night I made the recipe called Sweet & Salty Strawberry Bar Cookies. I substituted Apricot jam as I didn’t have any strawberry jam in the house and didn’t want to run to the store at 8 p.m. Trust me on this, they apricot was wonderful. Am going to make the Butterscotch Marshmallow Bar Cookies next. The ladies who had them this morning at our house loved the Apricot Bar Cookies. So if you are not in the mood for a murder mystery which centers around food, here is the recipe.

The Crust & Topping

2 cups salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teas vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour

(I actually halved this recipe for last night in case it wasn’t what I thought it would be and it turned out really good.) So will make the full version next time.

Strawberry or (Apricot) Filling

11.75 oz jar strawberry topping or preserves ( used an 11.5 oz jar of apricot preserves and it was fine)
1 cup white chocolate or vanilla chips
2 tables whipping cream
1 tesas vanilla 2 teas sea or other salt (the coast ground kind (I didn’t even use the salt)

Spray a 9×13 pan with Pam.
Using a hand electric mixer, combine the softened butter, granulated sugar and powdered sugar. Beat on medium until mixture is light and creamy. Add the vanilla. Mix it in until well combined. Add the flour inhale-cup increments, beating at Low speed after each addition. Beat until mixture is well combined.
The dough will appear soft, that is how it should be.

Remove a generous cup of this dough and wrap it in Saran Wrap and place in fridge for about 30 minutes to chill. You will use this chilled dough to crumble on top of the preserves.

Using remaining dough, place in greased baking pan and using your fingertips, evenly spread in the pan, pressing all the way to the edges. Bake this crust in preheated 325 oven for about 20 minutes.

While crust is baking, take your preserves and empty them out in a microwave safe bowl. Add the vanilla chips and whipping cream to the preserves and cook in microwave for about 30 seconds. Stir mixture and place back in microwave in 20 second intervals to melt chips. When crust comes out of oven, allow to cool about 15 minutes before pouring the preserves over it. When chips are melted, add the vanilla and stir.

Pour the preserve mixture over the crust. Next sprinkle the salt over the fruit then Crumble the chilled dough over the preserves and place back in 325 degree oven. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven and place pan on wire rack to cool completely. Do not cut until they are cool as the filling will need to set. Cut in brownie size pieces.

Cornbread Stuffed Zucchini

Anything that reminds me of cornbread stuffing gets my vote. This is taken from 2017 Southern Living and I cannot wait to make it. Choose squash that are uniform in size. The best kind for this recipe are long, straight but not too skinny. (as per SL)

Serves 4

3 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread
4 zucchini
3 tables canola oil, divided
1 teas kosher salt, divided
16 oz ground chicken (I will use ground Italian seasoned turkey)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
4 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tables)
1 teas paprika
1/2 teas black pepper
6 oz white Cheddar Cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup fresh corn (I’m not a huge corn person, other than just corn on the cob, so think I will substitute fresh spinach, sautéed and drained well, before adding to mixture)
3 tables chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 375. Spread cornbread in an even layer on one end of a baking sheet. Cut zucchini in hal lengthwise. Using a serrated tomato corer or melon baller, scoop out zucchini pulp to equal 3 cups pulp, leaving a 1/2″ shell intact.
Coarsely chop 1 1/2 cups of pulp; reserve remaining pulp for another use. Brush zucchini shells with 2 tables of the canola oil. Place zucchini shells on baking sheet with cornbread and sprinkle with 1/4 teas of the salt.
Bake zucchini and cornbread at 375 until cornbread is lightly browned; 8-10 minutes. Reduce oven to 350.
Heat remaining 1 tables oil in a large skillet; cook, stirring to crumble, until browned. (about 5-6 min)
Add onion, garlic, paprika, pepper, reserved 1 1/2 cups zucchini pulp and remaining 3/4 teas salt to skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally until onion is tender.
Transfer mixture to a large bowl and stir in cornbread, white Cheddar cheese, corn (or spinach) and parsley.
Divide chicken mixture evenly among zucchini shells. Place shells in a lightly greased baking dish. Bake at 350 until filling is lightly browned and zucchini is tender, about 25 minutes.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Blondies

Just received the new Paula Deen magazine and finally took time to sit and look through it. Am thrilled that I had Randy pick up a jar of Nutella a couple of weeks ago, for “just in case”. Well, “just in case” is here. Thanks again Paula for giving us a new way to use Nutella.

1 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teas vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teas baking powder
1 teas salt
1/3 cup Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9″ square baking pan with foil, letting excess extend over sides of pan. spray foil with Pam with flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugars until smooth. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually whisk flour mixture into egg mixture just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan.
Place Nutella in a small microwave safe bowl; cover and heat on high for 10 seconds. Stir until smooth. Drizzle Nutella in wide ribbons onto batter; swirl together with a knife, avoiding bottom and sides.
Bake until golden brown and test done by inserting wooden pick in center and comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.
Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. using excess foil as handles, remove from pan and et cool completely on wire rack. Cut into 3″ squares and store in airtight container for up to 3 days.

Banana Cupcakes

This recipe is a repost from years ago. Each time it is served everyone comments about the moistness and lightness of the bread. From time to time I make it into a 9×13 cake or cupcakes and add chocolate frosting or cream cheese frosting. Because the kids are coming over tonight, I choose chocolate and I added mini chocolate chips to the batter. A little enticement to be sure they come back often. The recipe was given to me from a neighbor when living in Corpus Christi years ago in the 70’s. She was my wonderful neighbor from New York and very Italian. So many of the recipes that are still my favorite came from Cam Parsley. She was a wonderful cook and a wonderful friend. It is also included in the recipes in Princess On The Porch which is available from the chocolate castles blog site.

2 sticks of softened butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 cups flour
1 teas baking soda
4 tables buttermilk
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 teas vanilla
1 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream butter and sugar until well blended. Add eggs and beat for 2 minutes. This assures that the sugar is well dissolved.
Mix the flour and baking soda and stir together. Add to sugar-butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Mix well. Add mashed bananas and vanilla and mix well. If adding pecans, do so now, stirring just until blended. Pour into either 2 9″ round greased and floured cake pans, 2 greased loaf pans or into cupcake liners. Bake until bread just test done. Do not over back as you want a moist cake/bread. When cooled, either leave as just bread to use with jam and butter (yes more butter) or frost with chocolate or cream cheese frosting.

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Traveling Hoarders

We have just returned from a trip to Texas where we have kids and friends who we are blessed to have. BUT….going to Texas means one thing: weight gain. In the 10 days we were there we ate Mexican food 8 times. Because it was cold and rainy every day we were there, everyone knows that our mouths begin to drool, thinking of all the Tex-Mex food we can’t get here, the minute we cross the Texas State line. The day we drive in, we make a mental list of every restaurant we just “have to” eat at. I begin to make list of every store that I miss here in Arizona, to buy things we don’t see here, Of course that means that besides all the clothes we take for 2 weeks, the presents that we take to leave to thank all the host for housing us, our snack bag (actually it is more like a snack suitcase) gifts for the grandkids, we pack so that we have room to bring back all the things we cannot buy here. So to say our car is loaded is truly an understatement. On our last day in Texas, before leaving early last Wednesday, we just “had” to go by Weirs Country Store to get boxes (yes boxes) of their popcorn and a small bottled real Dr Pepper. Randy says there is just something about those little bottled Dr Peppers. Probably because they are cheap, but don’t tell him I said that. We run by MiCocinas to buy chips and salsa for the road trip back. We have to have one last Whataburger (yes, I actually ate one for breakfast before leaving Dallas). They do have a couple of those here but they just aren’t the same. We have to always stop at Eatsi’s for their tiramisu and Italian Cream Cake. El Fenix for cheese enchiladas, Spring Creek and Rudy’s for barbecue. Nordstrom for white chocolate bread pudding with raspberry sauce. And we wonder why our car looks like a low rider!
This trip was a little more disorganized. We split our time between 3 different groups of family. If you are ever at someones house and you would like for them not to ever invite you back for a visit, there is a easy solution. We will probably never be invited to one of our kids homes anytime soon. All you have to do is start a fire in the kitchen. Yep, simple as that. Being the wonderful mother in law that I am, I told the kids that they could take the morning off and I would make breakfast. Cameron had told me they had never had homemade popovers and so I made them. As they were in the oven, I fried bacon. When I looked over at the package and decided that there wasn’t enough bacon to store, I decided to just fry up the entire package. The bacon that was already cooked was on a paper towel/plate of which I laid over on the gas stove to finish laying the rest of the bacon. Well, next thing I know fire is all over the paper towel and getting higher and higher. At first I try blowing out the fire. For petes sake, I am use to blowing out 60 some odd candles on my birthday cake; how hard can this be? Didn’t work! I scream. Cameron comes over and tries to throw the plate in the sink and the flames just kept getting higher and higher. Payton (the 3 yr old) starts to cry and finally Cam finally gets the plate in the sink and runs water over it. Charcoaled bacon isn’t all that bad. They loved the popovers and crispy bacon. The kids reminded us that they had invited us to come help them unpack boxes, not burn the new house down. I informed them that if they would have let the fire go a little longer, it would have taken care of some of the unpacked kitchen boxes. They didn’t appreciate my humor.
So back to the trip. Every time we had to pack up and leave one house to go to another, it was pouring rain and cold. We didn’t take the usual time to load the car. We began to open the back doors and just throw suitcases and clothes in. Each time, it just got junkier and unorganized, Randy looked at me and said, “I bet if people look in our windows they will think we live in our car and are hoarders.” By the 3rd house where we stayed for the last 3 nights, it was a lost cause. I couldn’t find anything. It was easier to go to Walmart to buy a pair of pants and shirt than try to find them. When we got home, we agreed that it was going to be scary to see what was under all the piles of clothes, suitcases and bags of things we had brought back. Randy brought in 2 pair of my shoes that I was never able to find the entire trip. He found them in our first snack bag that never got thrown away when the handle tore. Randy had said, we would use it for a trash bag, but I thought I remembered we had turned it into a bag for all the things that wouldn’t fit in our suitcases by day 5.

We left on the morning that there were ice warnings. What an adventure. Going home by a different route meant seeing signs we had not seen before. There was a beauty salon called, “Texas Big Hair” Salon. Randy looked at me and ask, “is that where you go”? I threw a 3 day old donut at him that I found under the seat. We passed a most impressive motel named, “It Will Do”. Not in this lifetime will it do. Randy said that if the ice got any worse that it might have to do. Fortunately, the ice road scraper was in front of us so we mossied along at 35 mph for 200 miles.

We have pinkie pinkied we won’t go back to Texas in winter ever again. As Randy gets older (I haven’t begun aging yet, but Im sure soon I might) his tummy might not let him eat mexican food 8 days in a row, and we don’t want to waste our visits in winter when all we want is Mexican food. So think we will go in summer when, oh wait guacamole always tastes so good in summer along with chile con queso. Ok, maybe the season doesn’t matter, but until our car gets rid of the smell of popcorn, chips, salsa and Whataburger, I think we might just stay home for a while. Besides, until the kids forget about the fire, we aren’t sure we are welcome.

Snazzy Senior

This morning as I was getting all dolled up for the day, (which incidentally takes a little longer each year) several things dawned on me. For years, I use to criticize all the “old” ladies who painted their eyebrows on. Why, for Pete’s sake did they do that? Why not just enhance the brows they had? This morning, as I was examining myself in the 7x magnifying mirror to see if any new wrinkles had landed on my face during the night, I seemed to have found the answer to my question. There, staring back at me was my eyebrow, with oodles of gray little hairs sticking out from above my head. So as I “enhanced” my brown with my auburn eyebrow pencil, the gray hairs that truly must have been 2″ long were so noticeable sticking out of the “enhanced” auburn brows. I sat there and just stared at my face. Not only were there new wrinkles that I know were not there yesterday, but now I had gray eyelashes and gray eyebrows. In the past, the gray eyelashes were easy to disguise. Brown mascara always did the trick and wa-la, I would look in the mirror and think to myself, “no one will ever know I’m past 60 now. But what was I going to do with these awful gray eyebrows. If I pulled them out, there would be so few eyebrows left, guess who would now look like one of the old ladies with just painted eyebrows? That was not going to happen. So I just painted a thicker layer of the eyebrows pencil, hoping that whatever was in the pencil would help hold the gray ones down.
How can I call myself a snazzy senior when I now have this to worry about? No amount of cute little capris or blingie sandals would help. Maybe if I apply a heavier line to the eyeliner it will draw peoples attention away from my brows. Nope, tried that just now and I look like a cat burglar. Or Lady GaGa wanna be.

Feeling a little down about this season of unsnazzines (is that a word), I sprayed on a little more perfume than normal, put on the biggest hoops earrings I owned and walked out with the Lady GaGa eyeliner with my capris and diamond studding (not real of course) flip flops. Randy looked at me and ask me if we were going to a costume party? or was I taking up a new profession? He then informed me that if it were the latter, I might make more money if I charged by the pound. Apparently he doesn’t remember that he will be in the car with me for 20 hours in a few days. I told him that those 20 hours are going to be the longest 20 hours he has had in quite a while.
So today I’m off to shop. Shopping and chocolate…always a pick me up for us
“no so snazzy seniors” Will be shopping for larger sunglasses to cover up the new wrinkles and the gray brows. Think I will eat dried apricots, boiled eggs, pinto beans and a cabbage salad the night before our car trip. That will make Mr. No More Mike Ditka Look Alike sorry he spoke to me like that. Ah….the joys of growing old!

Pioneer Woman Chocolate Sheet Cake

Trying to figure out what I wanted to take to Super Bowl party, Randy ask me to make the Texas Chocolate Sheet cake. A couple of years ago, when I was looking on line for the recipe (yes, I was too lazy to go looking through all my cookbooks) I came across the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for the sheet cake. It was amazing to see how different tasting her recipe was from the one I had always made, but it was really so much better. It is lighter texture and seems like using the two sticks of butter instead of using half shortening and half butter, really made a better cake. So hats off to Lee Drummond for giving us a most wonderful chocolate sheet cake. Just google “Pioneer Woman chocolate sheet cake” and it pops right up. It is worth the couple of extra steps she gives.

Princess On The Porch? Or Golf Course

Well, this past Monday, I found myself with a dear friend, joining our community golf team. We are called the Hits & Giggles, and upon going and playing, I understand that this is the perfect team for me. Many more giggles than hits. It had been more than 15 years since I had picked up a golf club (I don’t count the times I picked one up to threaten a grandkid or Randy). But when Teresa called last week and said that she had been thinking that we had, at most, 20 years to fulfill some things before leaving this world, I began to think about that. How many years had I told myself that I wanted to get back to golf, but always had an excuse. Excuses like, “will bending over to pick up my golf ball make my butt look big?” or “What if I get on a team that doesn’t have to pick up their balls because they actually don’t need 8 times to get to the green” Or my favorite, “what if I am actually good and they want me to go on tour, how would I manage being gone all the time and leave poor Randy at home?” I decided to take a chance, leave my rocker on the porch and go for it.
So off Teresa and I go to buy some cute clothes for our first day. We both decided that because we would be so bad, that if we looked cute, maybe the others wouldn’t notice how bad we hit the ball, if we indeed did hit the ball.

We arrived at the golf course and was immediately put on separate teams! WHAT? We had counted on riding the cart together and at least knowing that we were playing together so as to have at least one other person who was as bad as each other. So off she goes to play with some friends we know. I was teamed with a lady who is 82 and has hit 2 holes in one and plays 3 times a week. Plus 2 men who play every week, for years. AND…guess who is on team 1 and is the first to hit? Yep, me. You are kidding me. I had just bought new clubs last week and had never even had them out of the box until Sunday night. And I am up first on the tee box. Well, they always say, “look confident like you know what you are doing and that is half the battle.” oh my gosh, how do I look confident when it has been 15 years. People do lie. It’s not like riding a bicycle. You do forget how to do it. It took me 5 minutes to get the stupid tee in the ground. So here we go. I bowed my head and prayed and promised God that I still had some good years left and I would gladly go to Africa to be a missionary if He would just not let me miss the swing at the ball and it would go farther than 10 feet. I leave next month for Africa. IT went about 30 ft.

About the 3rd hole, I went to get my driver out of the bag and it wasn’t there. Had I inadvertently put it in one of the other bags. So after accusing the other 3 members of not looking very good in their bags to find my driver, here comes a golf cart driving up to where we were with a man holding my driver saying, “did anyone leave this on the ground back there?” What had I done? Had I in a fit of rage thrown it down without realizing it? Had I dropped it? No, that is impossible, how do you drop a driver without knowing it? So I guess I laid it down on the ground to take the flag out of the hole. Senior moment, I never could remember why or how it was left on the ground.

All in all, I didn’t embarrass myself too much so that I am excited to go back next week. Have had little sensors put on my clubs so that if I leave one behind again, my phone will alert me. Went back to Costco for more golf shirts. I didn’t improve enough this past week not to have to look cute when playing.
Neither Teresa or I won any of the “closest to the pin or longest drive” but if there would have been a prize for dressing the part, maybe we would have at least been in the running. Thank goodness for cute golf clothes!

Apple Cinnamon Bread

This bread sounded so good, I am headed to store to buy applesauce so I can make it. It comes from a ad in Paula Deen’s magazine from Sevierville, TN where they sell this bread at the Apple Valley Creamery Ice Cream and Bake Shop. So if it is in Paula’s magazine, it has got to be good!

3 eggs
1 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
3 cups flour
1 teas baking powder
1 teas baking soda
1 teas salt
2 table cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins (I use golden raisins as the flavor is a little milder)
1/2 cup coconut

Preheat oven to 350
Cream first 4 ingredients until well blended.
Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
Pour into 3 greased medium bread pans (loaf pans)
Bake at 350 for about 45 min or until bread tests done.

*I will probably add 1 teas vanilla and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.

A jar of spiced peach jam was given to me by a dear friend that I cannot wait to spread over a hot piece of this bread (and of course a big slab of butter)!
Would love to hear back any comments after you bake this.

Friendship Follies

We were in Puerta Vallarta for 10 days. Each day brought so many memories, some with laughter, some with thoughts of past experience between the 6 of us. These couples who we are here with, have become like family to us. We have traveled to Doyle Sprigs together, San Diego and now Mexico. The evenings of going out to eat at different restaurants and discovering new places has been a joy. Relaxing in Dee and Jeff’s room to snack on guacamole and curried dip and our new favorite snack; jicama with Tejin seasoning sprinkled over it, before going out at night was something each of us looked forward. Each evening after dinner, we sat around a table in their room to play cards. Eagerly, each evening we would stand outside waiting to see what size cab would arrive to pick the 6 of us. Jeff, who is 6’7″,280 lbs and my hubbie, at 6’1 and 260 would draw straws to see who would get to sit up front, all the while getting “kneed in the back” by the one who had to sit behind him, since the front seat would have to be pushed all the way back, allowing for their knees to even just be in the car. We all laughed at the thought of their legs having to just stick out the windows of the small taxi cabs since sometimes the taxi door would not even shut completely because of their size. We actually got pretty good at trying to figure out 20% tip in pesos.
The adventures we had just trying to guess what the bus route was which was written on the bus window made us all make a goal of learning a little spanish before returning the next year. After getting on the wrong bus and having to ride in certain areas of town that, should I say, was a little “sketchy” made us decide that learning Spanish might be to our benefit. But, sitting around the pool, talking about our kids, our season of life, how the Lord was growing us and sometimes allowing us to go through certain trials, these are the days we remember the most. The times when we open up to each other. The stories which we hear from each of us just draw us closer as we know that we will be praying for one another.
Each day we found ourselves not only laughing at the new aches and pains which seem to accompanied us down to Mexico, but realizing that we were still all so blessed to be able to do what we were doing. Yes, we were still able to waddle out to the poolside and enjoy the sunshine. We had eyes that allowed us to watch whales out in the ocean (and some poolside, but I won’t go there) and read. We had ears to still hear the songs being played by the Mariachi Band that had such a strange version of “I Did It My Way”. We were still able to walk and spend our husbands money on new blouses and silver earrings. Dinner might be followed by lots of Rolaids, but the heartburn was so worth it as beautiful lobster or shrimp was set in front of us alongside a huge plate of guacamole and chips. It was wonderful to still be able to jump and run when a large iguana came close to our pool side chairs.
Knowing that we love to come home to our own beds, it was still so hard to leave these precious friends. It is amazing to think about how friendships seem to thrive when new memories are made together. The laughter, the praying together, the sharing of meals, all tasting each other’s food; exploring new places,these are just some of the things that make new memories so special. It is also what gives us more reason to do these things more often. We came home thankful for this special time we had together. The rooms are already reserved for 2019, when we will, Lord willing, once again descend upon Puerto Vallarta. Our list of restaurants which we never made it to this year is written down for next visit. We are going to venture out to a new little town about a hour away from PV. Zip lining is on my list for next year.
Friendships are so special. Wishing each of you a year of new memories with endearing friendships….it is what brings us lives of joy and blessing.