Homemade From Scratch

Campfire Favorites: Beef and Veggie Hobo Packs

Not too long ago, a rule was made that my brother had to pitch in with dinner sometimes. Now, my brother is a pretty good cook, but like all of us, he likes easy, and a lot of times, he sticks to the tried-and-true. So much so that we quickly realized that any nights where it was Jeffrey’s turn to cook, we either got waffles, or we got hobo packs. I started watching him making the hobo packs (as we affectionately call them, but apparently foil packet meal or foil packet dinner also works), and realized why he loved making them so much. They were easy. They were delicious. And most of all, they were versatile. With a family full of picky people, versatile is important.

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Campfire Favorites: Chicken Bacon Ranch Foil Packet Dinner

Summer… it’s the perfect time for campfires, grilling, and all things… well, summery. Growing up, we had these great¬†summer dinners that were easy, no-mess, and delicious. The best part, of course, being that they were no-mess. Who really likes cleaning up after dinner when they could be enjoying an evening swim or lounging outside by a fire pit? I love foil dinners. They’re so versatile, whether you’re making them in the oven or on the grill, or even on that campfire. But I needed a new foil packet dinner to add into my repertoire, particularly one that had a few of my favorite things… like chicken, bacon, and mushrooms.

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Perfect Pizza Crust and How To Make A Homemade Pizza Lunchable Your Kids Will Love

Pizza Lunchables were arguably the coolest Lunchable when I was growing up. Anytime we’d have a field trip and I got to pick out a Lunchable, I always went straight for the pepperoni pizza variety. I mean, what wasn’t to love about that crust, and being able to top your own yummy pizza on a field trip? It was just so fun as a kid!

So when I was thinking of great options for lunches this summer, I knew pizza Lunchables would rank really high on my list… but then I really knew that I wanted to put a little more effort into a homemade meal. I just knew that there was no way I had the energy to make lunch and dinner every day from scratch. So, I started toying around with pizza crusts that could be made in advance and then frozen or refrigerated until I needed it.

After trial and error, I finally ended up with a pizza crust that tasted just as good pre-cooked and frozen/refrigerated as it did when it was made into a pizza right away.

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(Almost) Starbucks Lemon Cake Pops

Springtime. Seriously, is there anything better?

Today, I was telling a friend how a song I can’t get enough of right now (Gone Gone Gone by Phillip Phillips if you’re curious) makes me feel like it’s 75 degrees out, and like I’m driving with the windows down, hair blowing in my face, sipping an iced coffee and wearing sandals. Even though it’s still officially long-sleeves and heater on weather, I feel spring when I hear that song.

You know what else gives me that feeling? Lemon cake pops. Oh my gosh. It doesn’t matter what diet plan I’m following, Lemon Cake Pops from Starbucks are one thing I just can’t say no to. Which means every time I head to Target or my local grocery store, I end up buying a Lemon Cake Pop. See, the thing about lemon is, it truly gives me that “Windows-down, Radio-up” feeling that I love.

But I knew there had to be a way to capture that feeling at home, so I wouldn’t have to drive up to Starbucks to get one. I mean, I’m lazy, and 15 minutes is a long drive. Plus, there had to be a way to make them cheaper!

Seriously, if you’re looking for an exact duplicate, these are spot on. In fact, they may actually be even better than the real deal. So what is a lemon cake pop? Well, according to the Big Bucks themselves, it’s a vanilla white cake with lemon buttercream, dipped in white chocolate and topped with sugar sprinkles. So, to make a good duplicate, mine should be the same basic type of pop.

For the white cake base, I went with a Betty Crocker White Cake Mix, and the supplies listed on the back of the box. While yes, you could go totally homemade with a white cake, boxed cake is perfect for this recipe. It’s moist, it’s quick to prepare, and it just streamlines the process.

For the lemon buttercream, I decided to tweak things and make my favorite lemon cream cheese buttercream recipe, which uses cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and lemon and vanilla extracts.

To give the pops that signature yellow color white chocolate, instead of tinting a white chocolate, I decided to use these beautiful yellow Wilton Candy Melts! They’re the perfect color for these lemon cake pops, and they don’t require having the white chocolate and a gel color on hand.

Finish with pretty sugar sprinkles (I picked these up for $1 at Target) and you’ll be all set. If you’re making them into actual pops, you’ll want to make sure you have cake pop sticks on hand. If you’re like me and prefer to make balls, you might consider some pretty mini cupcake liners or truffle wrappers. Mine are from Wilton, and oh-so-cute!

Start by making your white cake according to package directions (or from scratch if that’s how you roll). For Betty Crocker mixes, that means 3 egg whites, 1 1/4 C water, and 1/3 C oil with the mix, baked at 350 for 29-34 minutes.

One way that white cakes get their signature white appearance is the lack of egg yolk in the batter. Yolks will tinge it slightly yellow, so pretty much all white cake mixes will use more eggs, but only the whites of each.

Once you’ve baked your cake, let it cool completely. If it’s even a little warm, the frosting will melt when mixed with it and give you mush. So patience is a virtue!

In the meantime, start your lemon cream cheese buttercream. You’ll want 1 block of room-temperature cream cheese (8 oz), 2 sticks of butter (1 cup), 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla, and 2 teaspoons of lemon extract. While lemon is a personal taste and you might like yours slightly more or less lemony, I’ve found that, side-by-side, 2 teaspoons tastes most comparable to the real deal when the pops are fully finished. Remember, you won’t want the lemon to overpower the vanilla of the white cake, but you will also want to make sure that the white cake doesn’t overpower the lemon. A delicate balance, for sure!

Cream this together until it’s nice and fluffy, very well whipped.

Slowly beat in 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, whipping it with a mixer until it’s perfectly creamy. This is about the look you’re going for.

When the cake is fully cooled, crumble it to bits. I mean just destroy it. Then, add in a couple of spoonfuls of the frosting. Stir and smush until it’s fully combined, then continue squishing until it combines into a thick dough, adding slightly more frosting if needed.

{Side note: You will have some leftover frosting, which you can use with additional baked cakes for more cake pops, eat it as-is, or top some cupcakes or a cake with it. Personally, I like layering crumbling graham cracker crumbs in the bottom, then cake and frosting in mini cordial glasses and serving them with a mini tasting fork for a “cake shot.” It’s a great way to use a variety of leftover frosting!)

When the dough is ready, chill it for about 15-30 minutes before rolling it into balls, then once you’ve rolled all of the dough into quarter-sized balls, go ahead and pop those in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Melt your yellow Wilton Candy Melts. I like to use a double boiler, but you can absolutely melt the candy melts in the microwave if you’d prefer.

Dip your chilled cake balls in the melted white chocolate, coating it, then removing it. If you’re making cake pops, your technique will be slightly different from mine using a fork. Place the dipped balls on parchment or waxed paper, then sprinkle with the sprinkles before the chocolate hardens.

Don’t worry, though– if the chocolate does harden, you can use drip some more chocolate on the cake ball and sprinkle after.

For a fun party display, you can put a block of foam in the base of a watering can (I got mine for $3 at Target’s One Spot), cover it in Easter grass or shredded paper, and either stick your cake pops directly into the foam, or stack your cake balls carefully. Wouldn’t that look fun as a dessert buffet centerpiece or as a delicious gift?

 

In the comments below, tell me, what makes you have that springtime feeling, even when it’s not spring yet?

Mississippi Mud Potatoes

Bacon? Check. Cheese? Check. Tons of flavor? Absolutely. See, these are the easiest potatoes I think I’ve ever made, and they’re a hit with everyone. I mean, who doesn’t love cheese and bacon?

One of the many recipes that came from the family recipe box, this handwritten recipe with an unknown source simply stated “They’re named for the famous river because they’re LONG on taste and MIGHTY good!” Well, they didn’t disappoint, anyway!

Start with some ingredients you may already have– 8 to 10 cups of potatoes, diced, 1 cup of Mayonnaise (the real deal, not salad dressing), about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, a 16 ounce block of cheddar, diced, 1/2 a cup of green onions, chopped, and a package of bacon. You can add half a cup of olives if you’d like to, but why ruin perfectly good potatoes? (Unless you’re an olive fan, in which case, you probably don’t see that as ruining them).

Start by slicing your bacon into pieces. Don’t look at me with that shocked face that I get every time someone sees me do this… you can TOTALLY bacon your bits instead of bitting your bacon. This method gets a lot less grease on your hands because there’s no tearing it up post-fry… if you do the cutting first, your bacon will be in perfect bite sized bits when you’re done. I promise. Just trust me– cutting bacon is NOT bacon blasphemy, no matter what anyone tells you.

Put that in a pan and cook it, trying not to eat too much bacon as the smell fills the air. Seriously, bacon is so hard to resist. That’s why there is bacon everything. While the bacon cooks, start peeling and dicing your potatoes, dicing your cheese, and chopping your green onions.

Delicious! Finish getting your other ingredients chopped and ready.

Place your potatoes in a 9×13 pan.

Spoon the mayonnaise onto the potatoes evenly. This will make stirring them easier. The mayo will add flavor, plus it will help those potatoes get extra tender.

Stir the potatoes to combine evenly with the mayonnaise.

Stir in the diced green onions and cheese. Make sure that there is some intermixed with the potatoes, with more topping the potatoes.

Sprinkle that generously with bacon. If you’re going to add some olives, now is the time to do that, as well.

Bake for an hour and a half, or until the potatoes are tender, in a 325 degree oven.

Enjoy that bubbly, cheesy, bacon-y side dish. You could even add in some hamburger meat or chicken and make it a main dish, if you wanted to.

This is so easy and a great thing to take to a potluck or perfect for Easter Dinner this year!

Reeses Peanut Butter Cup Fudge

Tomorrow is one of my favorite holidays of the entire year… Peanut Butter Lovers Day! I had to celebrate in style.

When the amazing people at Hershey’s sent me some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for Valentine’s Day, I knew I’d celebrate in style!

Growing up, my favorite part of the Peanut Butter Cup was the middle. I’d painstakingly eat all of the chocolate off of the edges, then gently peel off the top and bottom chocolate, saving the peanut butter filling for last. When I started doing my own grocery shopping and found out they make Reese’s Peanut Butter, it totally blew my peanut butter loving mind.

Peanut Butter Fudge is actually surprisingly easy to make, and it’s SO rich and delicious. The best part of it, though, is that it tastes just like the middle of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Start by unwrapping a cup or two of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Minis. Try not to eat at least a million while you do so (I failed at my attempt not to eat them).

According to the National Peanut Board, peanuts actually originated in Peru or Brazil. Even though they don’t have any fossils to prove this, it’s been the oldest known location of pottery and decor made to look like peanuts and actually decorated with peanuts. However, peanuts were considered food for animals and poor people in the early 1800’s when they got their start in the United States.

Next, you’ll want to sift 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar. By going ahead and doing this step in advance, the fudge will go more quickly later.

It wasn’t until Barnum’s Circus, yes THAT Barnum, that peanuts were sold to the masses at circus events, saying “Hot Roasted Peanuts!” They became insanely popular after that. While Peanut Butter itself was likely invented close to when peanuts where first cultivated, it also had a delayed popularity in the United States. Kellogg, from the cereal company, was considered the first here to create peanut butter.

Now, take some time to line your pan with Saran Wrap or parchment. This will make it much easier to lift out of the pan and cut into squares!

After Kellogg came up with peanut butter, a doctor in St. Louis started using it for patients that couldn’t chew meat, since it was a great source of protein and could be eaten easily with no teeth. It wasn’t made for the masses until the World’s Fair in 1904. It became a huge lifesaver in the World Wars, as it packed a major protein punch! It’s during World War II that the peanut butter and jelly sandwich got it’s start, and it hasn’t fallen out of style since.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 sticks of butter and a 16 ounce container of Reese’s Creamy Peanut Butter. Creamy is important– in a crunchy peanut butter, the nuts will sink to the bottom when melted and leave an uneven, broken texture in your fudge. Creamy Peanut Butter will keep the fudge extra creamy, which is perfect for a great taste.

So what about Peanut Butter Cups, then, in terms of history? Invented by a Dairy Farmer named H.B. Reese who formerly shipped chocolate for the Hershey Company, they were popularized quickly. From day one, they were made using Hershey’s Chocolate. It wasn’t the only candy that Reese made, but it was the only one that really experienced popularity, so the others were scrapped to keep the Cups.

Stir occasionally, letting it melt, then slowly bring it to a boil. Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla.

There are now tons of varieties of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, including limited edition kinds and the oh-so-fun seasonal varieties like Reese’s eggs!

When it boils, remove it from the heat and stir the powdered sugar into it. Also stir in about half of your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis, which will melt instantly, adding a hint of chocolate flavor to your Peanut Butter Fudge. Set this aside, then take some of your remaining Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis and line the pan with rows of them.

Carefully spread your fudge mixture into the pan, then press in some more minis, which will also melt a bit on contact. Then, resist eating it and slide it into the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour while you lick the bowl.

Then, slice and serve! As always, sharing is optional.

 

Are you celebrating Peanut Butter Lover’s Day tomorrow? Let me know what you’re munching on in the comments below!

 

Disclosure: I received Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis from the Hershey Company as part of the Be Mine, Hershey’s Promotion. However, any opinions stated above are my own.

Memories of My Grandfather (With Oatmeal Raisin Bar Recipe)

Please keep reading for a very special recipe from my Grandfather’s collection.

Cholangiocarcinoma. That’s… not an easy word to say, to spell, but once it becomes a part of your life, it’s a word you can’t forget. I like to know my grandfather as someone who wasn’t defined by the cancer that eventually took his life. But truly, I remember so many things before the cancer was a part of his life. Today would have been my grandfather’s birthday.

For a short time in my youngest years, my mother and I lived with my grandparents. I am often told the story of a time when I was very little, on Christmas Eve. I wouldn’t go to sleep at all, wanting to stay up. Then finally, out my grandparents’ house window, someone pointed out the lights from the radio towers nearby… flashing red lights, akin to Rudolph’s nose. I got so excited, knowing Santa was near, and knowing he wouldn’t visit if I was awake, I rushed to bed. I was asleep within minutes.

As a young girl, I had a variety of makeup brushes to play with at my grandparents’ house. I’d sit there for hours looking in the mirror putting on “MakeMuck.” My grandfather was a hairdresser for most of his life, and he formed a lasting bond with all of his regular customers. It seems he continued those friendships with many of them even after his retirement.

My grandfather had a passion for horses. A World Champion in the Missouri Foxtrotters Show circuit, and a Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association Hall of Fame Inductee, he truly loved horses with all of his heart. Because of that, at a young age, I did the whole Stick Horse Circuit, riding around a stick with a stuffed-animal style horse head in the arena. I never got into his passion for horses, but his love of them meant the boot closet in the old house always smelled like worn leather and, others say, manure. When I close my eyes, I can picture the smell of the boot closet, bringing back memories of my grandfather coming in from doing chores.

One of my earliest memories in life was a memory of my grandfather. I had read The Foot Book a million times, listened to it a million more, so when I’d sit and read it, no one would believe that I was really, truly reading it.

I changed everyone’s minds when I crawled up into my granddad’s lap, as he sat in his chair, and started reading that day’s paper. There’s no way I could have memorized it– it was the edition from that day. The things I was reading had been unread by others in the room, and it was clear that I really did know how to read.

When my grandfather was ill, and we’d go down to visit, I loved that we were able to bond over episodes of Jeopardy. He always told me I should go on the show– that I knew so many of the answers. In reality, once there, I’d choke and never get one right. I’d rather be a good couch player.

February is Cholangiocarcinoma awareness month. Cholangiocarcinoma is very rare. It’s not something you expect to take you, especially so quickly. This cancer is rare, arising from tissue in the bile duct. Only about 5% of Cholangiocarcinoma cases are inside the liver, the way my grandfather’s cancer was. There’s a very small chance that people diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma will survive longer than 5 years, and in fact, because it’s caught so late, even 6 months is a long survival rate.

However, The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation is working very hard to find a cure by promoting collaboration, understanding research, and education about Cholangiocarcinoma. You can help them achieve this mission by donating.

When my grandfather passed, he left me the recipes and cookbooks, many of them old family favorites, handwritten on scraps of paper or pulled from newspapers. These incredible recipes are a huge part of my heritage. One special treasured recipe that he loved, that everyone seemed to love, was the recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Bars that my grandfather’s mother would make when he was younger.

With a flaky, buttery crust and crumble top, and a rich raisin filling, these bars are spot-on and perfect for bake sales, potlucks, or even just enjoying on a Sunday afternoon.

You’ll begin by taking 1 cup of raisins, 1/2 a cup of water, and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Right now, you can see all of the little wrinkles on the raisins, and the clarity of the water.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer as you stir constantly, mashing the raisins a bit with a fork. The raisins will get plump, losing some of their wrinkles, and the water will start to disappear, the water darkening into a syrup. You will want to cook them until there is nearly no liquid left. Set the raisins aside to finish soaking up liquid.

In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups instant oats, 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. This will make the start of your crust.

Add in 1/3 cup of melted butter and 1 egg white to create a course crusty dough.

Press half of the crust into a greased pan, making sure it’s well-packed and sturdy.

Spread the raisin mixture evenly over the bottom crust. This will bake nicely in to create a sweet filling.

Press the other half of the crust mixture gently over the raisins. You’ll want to bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned. Cool the bars for a minimum of 1 hour in the pan on a cooling rack before slicing.