Category Archives: Things I Love

These are the things I love. They’re not paid endorsements in any way. If they were, I would certainly tell you. They’re just a collection of things I love enough to share with you.

Getting Crafty with Pin Cushions

There’s a bee in my bonnet – Lori Holt’s Bee In My Bonnet blog. It’s spectacular. I often drool over her beautiful website with its plethora of quilts, her line of custom-designed fabrics and patterns, and adorable craft tutorials.

Pin Cushion Crafts - Finished Lawn Chair Pin Cushion

This lawn chair pin cushion tutorial is one of my favorites. It starts with a metal lawn chair candle holder sourced from the dollar store. Mine is a vibrant shade of teal. From there, you just need a few basic items from the craft store.

Not pictured - loose quilt batting (a.k.a. fluffy stuff).

Not pictured – loose quilt batting (a.k.a. the fluffy stuff).

I love this bright argyle print. It’s perfect for my tiny teal chair. To start, I measured the width and length of the chair. Stitching around three sides, I then turned it right-side-out and stuffed the ‘seat’ with batting. A quick stitch across the width of the cushion helped divide the seat from the back. The seat gets twice as much batting so the pins have something in which to rest. The back of the cushion gets a light stuffing and then the top is stitched shut.

Pin Cushion Crafts - Lawn Chair Pin Cushion - Overview

To keep the cushion in place, I opted to stitch a color-coordinated ribbon to the back of the cushion and tie it to the chair. It can be hot-glued into place, but I opted for a ribbon so I can use it as a candle holder or blog prop at any time.

Pin Cushion Crafts - Lawn Chair Pin Cushion Collage

The last small detail, and I do mean small, is the button tufting on the cushion. Using tiny white buttons from the craft department at Hobby Lobby, I used embroidery thread to attach them at intersecting lines on the argyle print. Pulling the buttons tightly and stitching them down at the back creates that cute tufted cushion detail. And you don’t have to worry about the stitching showing on the back because the metal covers it. Perfect!

Pin Cushion Crafts - Button Detail Close-Up

Okay, before I let you go I have to show you one more cute pin cushion idea I saw on Lori’s Instagram feed. She made a tiny travel-size pin cushion out of plastic Easter eggs. For real! They could not be cuter, so of course I had to try it. Tis the season, after all. Here’s how mine turned out.

Pin Cushion Crafts - Easter Egg Pin Cushion Collage

Those glittery Easter eggs are from WalMart. I love the colors and texture. The fabrics are remnants from my fabric basket. This one it just too easy. To make, cut a 4″ circle of a color-coordinated fabric for each egg. Stuff it with quilt batting and pin or tie it into a ball. Use a glue gun or quick-drying craft glue to glue it into the bottom of the egg and allow it to dry completely. Once dry, add pins and presto! A tiny portable pin cushion you can pop in your pocket.

Pin Cushion Crafts - Easter Egg Travel Sewing Kit

I went a step further and added a few safety pins and two needles pre-threaded with tan and black thread to convert it to a portable sewing kit. I can toss this little gem into my cosmetic bag for travel and never have to worry about losing a button again. Even better, these would make perfect gifts for a Ladies Only weekend. Thanks for the inspiration and tutorials, Lori!

Pin Cushion Crafts - Easter Egg Pin Cushions - Dozen

If you love to get crafty or just appreciate true creative genius, visit Lori Holt’s Bee In My Bonnet blog. The links to these tutorials are imbedded above, or can be found by clicking here:

Lawn Chair Pin Cushion Tutorial at Bee In My Bonnet Co.
Apron Water Bottle Cover – Bee In My Bonnet Blog
Easter Egg Pin Cushion – photo on Lori Holt’s Instagram feed

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Filed under Craft Projects, Things I Love

OKMHHOU: The Great Reunion

OKMHHOU - Group Snap

I love this photo! What’s most notable is not the colorful donkey piñata (whom we named Kevin), but that all seven of our OKMH (One Kitchen Many Hearts) crew are in the same place at the same time for the first time ever. That’s right. We all gathered here in Houston so that we could gaze upon each other’s faces live & in person for the first time ever. Granted, some of us have met over the past 3 1/2 years since we met via The Pioneer Woman‘s website, but never have we all been in the same place at once. Until now. But let’s start at the very beginning. In a galaxy far, far away…. no, wait. That’s another saga.

Once upon a time, about 3 1/2 years ago, several of us started reading The Pioneer Woman‘s website. And during that time, we began to reply to one another’s comments, or comment on the recipes each of us would upload to the Tasty Kitchen page. Over time, we began to write our own blogs and continued to comment and subscribe to each other’s blogs. That gradually morphed into closer friendships via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Eventually, we all joined Group Me (an instant messaging app) where we began to share even more personal aspects of our lives. Things we wouldn’t share on the Internet for everyone to see. Personal things. Things you share with your closest girlfriends. And eventually, we became more like sisters.

Before the girls arrived, I made two keepsake crafts for them – handmade monogrammed pillowcases and toast-themed coasters (aka Toasters). Pinterest – it’s where the magic begins.

OKMHHOU - Pillowcases

OKMHHOU - Toast Coasters

Kirsten of Comfortably Domestic was the first to arrive. This was actually her second visit; she came last May for a long weekend. We joke that we are Sisters From Other Misters. She came in from Michigan around noon. When she left that morning, her journey involved black ice on the highway and a night spent with family in another city to ensure she could get a plane out. Once here, it was sunny and 70F and we were dining on burgers on the patio at Good Company Taqueria. The Polar Vortex can bite it.

OKMHHOU - Kirsten @ Lunch

After lunch, we drove home to prep a Mexican fiesta banquet for the others because nothing says “Thanks for flying all day” like a fiesta and a pitcher of Mexican Martinis. This is where things got dicey. The remaining five of our group (Madelyn from La Petite Pancake, Megan from Country Cleaver, Beka from Kvetchin’ Kitchen, Allison from Decadent Philistines and Kat from Tenaciously Yours) were subjected to all kinds of drama. First, three of them were delayed in Denver due to high winds. It all worked out, though barely in Allison’s case, and they all 3 boarded the same plane from Denver to Houston. Kat came from the tundra of Minnesota where the roads were treacherous, but the airport was up and running. Let it be noted that Minnesota knows how to winter. Ice and 8′ of snow? They barely flinch. Madelyn, from the LA area, flew straight in. No sweat. Californians make everything look easy.

But wait – there’s more! After being blown away that they had scheduled all their flights to arrive within 30 minutes of each other, they gathered at baggage claim and made their way to the car rental shuttle. Our group had made a reservation for a 7-passenger Dodge Caravan minivan for the weekend. As soon as Madelyn stepped up to the counter to get the car, the entire building lost power. I’ll let the others explain what occurred since they were there in person, but let’s just say the rental company failed us. There was no car rented and the cab called by the rental company charged them $115 to drive them one-way to my house that night (which they were told would be reimbursed but still haven’t been). If ever a group of ladies deserved a pitcher of margaritas, this was it.

The next morning, Madelyn & Kat spent at least 2 hours on the phone with Customer Care only to be shifted from number to number, each time getting yet another disinterested service rep. After two hours, the bottom line was no rental van, a strong probability they would be forced to eat the cab fare, and no car to use for our planned day trip to Brenham. Finally, we resolved it by canceling the reservation from hell and calling another rental company near my home. It cost twice as much and ended up being a 10 passenger panel van, but hey… it was wheels and they were great to deal with. Thank you Walter at Avis! Of course, we took Kevin the Piñata Donkey with us everywhere.

OKMHHOU - Party Van Collage

For our first full day together, we were off to the Hill Country and Brenham, Texas where we met up with Katie from The Hill Country Cook. We had so much fun! We hit a few antique shops and bought a few blog props, then hit Must Be Heaven for lunch. It’s a family owned sandwich shop that also has an old-fashioned ice cream counter and a case full of pies. What is not to love about that? I chose the daily special consisting of a slice of quiche (I chose the bacon, cheese & mushroom) and a bowl of soup (broccoli cheese).

OKMHHOU - Lunch at Must Be Heaven

Then we dove into the pie case. Together, we tried the Dutch apple pie, the cherry, a lemon meringue and a slice of chess pie. Madelyn opted for an ice cream cone and although I don’t remember what it was called (something something Mexican cheesecake maybe?) I’ll never forget her face while she was eating it. When asked if it was vanilla, Mads said something like “It looks like vanilla, but it tastes like heaven in my mouth.” Ringing endorsement indeed. A cookie made it in there, too, but my focus was on the pie. I love pie.

OKMHHOU - Desserts at Must Be Heaven

After lunch, we had no choice but to walk it off with more shopping. Here in Texas, we love our state. Not just “Oh, it’s great here” but in a more rabid “Our state is the best. Long live the Republic!” way. As such, we hang lone stars and things shaped like Texas in the same way others hang family photos. Case in point – this wall hanging made from vintage Texas license plates. Because the only thing better than Texas stuff is Texas stuff layered on more Texas stuff.

OKMHHOU - License Plate State

It wasn’t all antiques and rusty metal, though. There were hats, vintage clothing, baubles & beads, sandals & flip-flops and crocheted vests galore. Also food blog props, vintage literature and a handful of Christmas ornaments were involved. We stayed so busy shop-hopping that when we finally slowed down enough for a few of the ladies to try on clothes, the rest of us hit the sofas and took advantage of a Twitter & Instagram break. As we like to say, “Snaps or it didn’t happen!”

OKMHHOU - Twitter Break

When we eventually noticed that the shops were closing and the streets were rolling up, we said a sad farewell to our buddy Katie. So happy she joined us! Top Row: Kirsten, Allison, Me & Beka. Bottom Row: Megan, Kat, Katie & Mads.

OKMHHOU - Group in Brenham

We waved goodbye and crawled back into the panel van to head home. On the way, we impulse stopped at Buc-ee’s – the greatest convenience store on earth. Why? 1) ladies’ restrooms with 30+ stalls featuring full wood doors, complete privacy, individual hand sanitizer dispensers and a full-time cleaning crew. 2) clothing department with beaver emblazoned t-shirts, cammo everything and beer koozies to match. 3) full-size BBQ grills, Lodge cast iron cookware and a cooking/cookbook area. 4) an entire aisle devoted to jerky. 5) Beaver Nuggets – both caramel corn & the nugget equivalent of Flaming Hot Cheetos. They’re seriously addictive. What’s truly hilarious is while we were in Buc-ee’s near Hempstead, Katie was simultaneously hitting Buc-ee’s on Highway 71.

One kitchen, many hearts. Many kitchens, one mind. It’s spooky, really.

OKMHHOU - Buc-ee's Stop

Back at the ranch, we feasted on TCP’s brisket, sausage, beans, slaw, and all the sauces & relish tray items you can imagine. If it could be pickled, it was probably there. We also cracked open the Shiner and assorted beers on ice. When we were filled to the brim and crying for mercy, The Complete Package broke out the homemade peach cobbler and Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. Lord, I love that man.

Sunday, we slept late and were treated to French toast waffles. The recipe isn’t on the blog yet, but it’s coming soon. After snarfing up waffles and enough bacon to make your eyes roll back in your head, we hit the road for Alvin, Texas. On the way, we stopped at Rustic Metal Works where we checked out the cute lawn art, wall hangings and assorted hardware. And since there was a taco truck right next door, we decided to stop for a snack that included one 5-piece taco plate with salsas, one lingua taco (tongue) and a chicharrón (pork rind) taco. Following the Blogger’s Rule, first we photographed and then we dug in.

OKMHHOU - Taco Truck Snacks

After passing the wet-wipes and blowing out a flip-flop, we made a quick pit stop at Walmart for replacement footwear and to take in the local color (read: topless woman in a pickup truck). From there, we hit the antique mall to shop for more blog props and household items we couldn’t live without. I found this vintage locker basket and fell in love. For $20, I couldn’t resist and now it’s on my sewing table holding fabric and ribbons. Love it!

OKMHHOU - Locker Basket for Fabric

Since Kirsten’s visit last May, we have cooed over the miniature donkeys near my house more times than I can count, so of course we had to take the others to visit. Luckily, when we arrived they were in the meadow close to the road and we even got an up-close encounter with two of them. They are beyond adorable. Keep in mind when you view the photos – these donkeys are full-grown adults. The baby we saw last May was the size of a cocker spaniel. That’s right, people – the babies are practically pocket donkeys and I adore them.

OKMHHOU - Field of Miniature Donkeys

OKMHHOU - Miniature Donkeys Coming to Visit

OKMHHOU - Allison & Beka Pet the Donkeys

Mads & Megan - Petting Donkeys

OKMHHOU - Donkey Close-Up

OKMHHOU - Megan & the Donkeys

Two out of two tiny donkeys agree: ear scratches are the best.

Monday was another late start. Over many coffees and a few chai teas, we pulled together the breakfast we’d dreamed of while planning our weekend – The Biscuit Bar. We made a big tray of buttermilk biscuits, a pan of sausage gravy, and pulled all the jams & jellies out of the fridge. Oh, and there was more bacon. Of course.

After breakfast, we broke out the packing supplies and the flat-rate boxes, and packed up everything that couldn’t or wouldn’t fit in suitcases. It was frantic. And hilarious. And Mads & I both scored a bag of Beaver Nuggets that wouldn’t pack. Hooray for Bonus Nugs!

OKMHHOU - Packing Suitcase Overruns

The only thing left was a return trip to Rustic Metal Works to rescue a flying pig. You see, Beka fell in love but talked herself out of it. Then we were distracted by street tacos, and it was decided that if she still woke up the next morning thinking of her new spirit animal, we would go back for him. Arriving to find the place locked up (closed Mondays) was like listening to air slowly released from a balloon. Luckily, if it fits it ships, so I agreed to go back later in the week and rescue a pig. Meet Al Porccino.

OKMHHOU - Al Porccino Comes Home

He’s adorable. And speaking of Beka, she had my name for our last OKMH box exchange. Check out my package. (Stop giggling.)

OKMHHOU - OKMH Box Items

That’s an assortment of hot sauces from her recent trip to Mexico, a bag of Australian Jungle Jellies, assorted bars of chocolates (not sharing), a bottle of Mexican vanilla, and a squirrel ornament from our day in Brenham. Perfect.

And so, after four days of endless chatter, late nights, very little sleep, way too much food and a few bottles of wine, beer and bubbles, our first live & in person One Kitchen Many Hearts weekend came to a close. It was fun. It was heartfelt. And it was way too short. Anyone who says friendships formed on the internet aren’t real are doing it wrong. These ladies are my friends, and I couldn’t love them more. We may be different shapes, ages and personalities, but that’s what makes us work as a group. We fill each others gaps. We support each other, both on our blogs and in our personal lives. It may have started with random comments on a website, but it has grown into so much more. I treasure these ladies, and it was really hard to watch that huge panel van drive away. If you don’t believe me, just ask Kevin.

OKMHHOU - Goodbye is Never Easy

I seriously can’t wait to do it again next year! I’ll bring Kevin.

OKMHHOU - The End

To see what the other ladies posted from our weekend, visit:
Megan at Country Cleaver
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic
Beka at Kvetchin’ Kitchen
Allison at Decadent Philistines Save the World
Mads at La Petite Pancake
Kat at Tenaciously Yours

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Filed under Blogger Collaborations, Things I Love, Travel Tales

DIY: Girly Decorative Pillowcases

DIY Pillowcase - Finished Collection Collage

Feeling crafty? I am! Our OKMH gang is getting together for a weekend in just 10 days, and I’m beyond excited. All seven of us under the same roof for the first time ever? It’s going to be epic! As a special treat, I made pillowcases for the girls – bright, colorful, girly pillowcases. What’s a girlfriends weekend for, after all, if not pampering, shopping, cocktails and flashy floral prints?

This is my simple DIY tutorial for decorative pillowcases.

For one queen-size pillowcase, you will need:
one yard of cotton quilting fabric (42″ wide x 36″ long)
one 6″ x 44″ piece of a coordinating solid
one 44″ piece of 1/2″ grosgrain ribbon
thread to match
felt & embroidery floss, to make a monogram (optional)
one tiny color-coordinated button (also optional)

Start by washing and ironing your yard of quilting fabric and the coordinating solid, then trim off any scraggly threads along the unfinished edges.

DIY Pillowcase - Loose Threads

Fold the yard of quilting fabric in half lengthwise with the good sides facing each other. Because quilting fabrics come from the factory with finished edges, this means your longer sides will already be ‘finished’ and only the top & bottom of the pillowcase will need to be edged to keep it from unraveling.

DIY Pillowcase - Factory Finished Edges

Pin the long side of your pillowcase and stitch it twice, so it’s extra sturdy. CAUTION: some fabrics have white edges and print along the finished edges. Be sure to stitch inside that line so this doesn’t show on your finished pillowcase. I’ll show you what I mean.

DIY Pillowcase - Double Stitched Edges

Here’s a simple trick for stitching the bottom of the pillowcase. Because the edges are ‘raw’ they can unravel when washed. I like to use bias tape to cover the raw edge. It helps create really sharp edges when the case is turned right-side out. Place your bias tape halfway beneath your unfinished edge, leaving at least 1/2″ of excess tape on each end. Fold the edges in so they’re flush with the edge of the fabric, then bend the bias tape in half to cover the entire edge and pin it into place. Double stitch all the way across to secure the tape. When done, trim off your thread tails and turn the case right sides out. Use a ruler to push your corners into a perfect right angle, and press your pillowcase.

DIY Pillowcase - Bias Tape Collage

Now we’re ready to tackle the opening and decorative trim. For the opening of the pillowcase, I turn the raw edge under 1/2″ and press, then turn under 1/2″ again and pin it in place. Again, double stitch for a more professional finish.

DIY Pillowcase - Finished Hem Collage

If you’re making a simple pillowcase, you can stop here. But if want to embellish, a simple ruffle with ribbon trim is a great way to go about it.

DIY Pillowcase - Ribbon Collage

1. Fold your solid trim fabric in half lengthwise and lay it on your finished case. I like to place the folded edge about 1″ from the finished opening of the case.

2. Lay out the ribbon, aligning it so that it just overlaps the cut edge. Pin the ribbon and ruffle into place so that the two edges meet at the side seam.

3. Stitch it all into place. I like use a ribbon with decorative stitching, and sew just along both sides of that stitching.

4. To join the two ends, fold one edge of the ruffle fabric in about 1/2″ and press it flat. Tuck the unfinished edge inside to hide it. Fold one end of the ribbon under 1/4″ or so and pin it to cover the other end of the ribbon. To finish, stitch across the folded edge of the trim to close it.

5. One last flourish – monogramming.

Do you have to monogram your pillowcases? No, but it does add a nice finishing touch and it’s easier than you think. Using your computer, open a Word document. Type in the initial you need and change the font until you find one you like. Play with the font size so that the finished letter fits easily on your solid border. Then hit ‘print’ and grab your paper off the printer. Roughly cut out a square around your letter and pin that square onto a piece of felt. Using sharp scissors, cut out the letter. When done, pin it to your solid ruffle and sew it on with your machine OR by using a simple stitch and a contrasting embroidery floss. (This one is machine-stitched. The others below are hand-stitched.)

DIY Pillowcase - Finished & Rolled

I took this one a step further with an iron-on flower and a small felt butterfly because this one is for the young daughter of a friend. I hope she’ll love her butterfly with pearls. For the ladies, I embroidered the monograms and finished them with a cute little button in a contrasting color.

When done, I folded the pillowcases and tied them shut with a coordinating ribbon. Here’s a look at some of the finished pillowcases for our first One Kitchen Many Hearts weekend. I just love how they turned out.

DIY Pillowcase - Finished Cases Collage

There’s so much joy in a handmade gift, and I admit I had a ball making these! Even better, the ladies will all have a keepsake from our first weekend together. Now I just need them to hurry up and get here. Not that we’re watching the clock or anything (we’re all totally watching the clock), but SHAKE A LEG, LADIES! We need to get this party started!

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Filed under Craft Projects, Things I Love

31 Days of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter? Let’s make that 32.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter. It’s the stuff dreams are truly made of, especially if you love chocolate and peanut butter like I do. Peanut Butter & Co makes one that blows my skirt up every single time I crack the lid. I’ll eat it on anything – crackers, toast, bagels, cake, waffles, a spoon, or even my finger. (Hi. My name is Jeanne, and I’ve been a peanut butter addict since forever.)

Keep reading all the way to the bottom, people. This is going to get good!

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter Close-Up

Oh, baby. This is the good stuff. It’s my super-duper favorite. For real.

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter - One Glorious Spoonful

This week Peanut Butter & Co released a new cookbook titled 31 Days of Dark Chocolate Dreams‘. As a newly minted member of Peanut Butter & Co’s Yum Squad, I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy as well as a 28-ounce jar of Dark Chocolate Dreams to play with. Man, I love these guys. Great company, great products, and always such fun to work with. (Hi, Adam!)

Dark Chocolate Dreams Box - Instagram

The cookbook is amazing. As I flipped through it, I kept squealing “Oooo! I’ll make that! I’ll make THAT, too!” So many drool-worthy recipes to choose from. I’m seriously thinking of trying the dark chocolate peanut butter flourless cake first. Then maybe the marble pound cake. Or maybe ALL OF THEM.

First, though, I jumped in to make a batch of my new favorite peanut butter cookies. They’re made with coconut oil instead of butter (I know… I know… I love butter, too) but the coconut oil adds great flavor and I love the texture of these. Even better, you can stuff them with Häagen-Dazs Salted Caramel Gelato and BAM! – ice cream sandwiches to die for. Let’s start with the cookies first.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB & Coconut Oil Cookies - Ingredients

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter & Coconut Oil Cookies
(Original recipe credit to AverieCooks.com)

3/4 cup Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter
1/2 cup organic coconut oil, softened to room temp
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 jumbo or large egg
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Make sure your coconut oil is softened to the consistency of softened butter (I had to microwave mine for 12 seconds). It sounds insignificant, but making sure your coconut oil is not too firm or too melted is key to the texture of these cookies. When you’re there, combine the peanut butter and coconut oil and beat for 3-4 minutes with an electric mixer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla extract, and beat for 30 seconds more.

Stop the mixer and again scrape down the sides of the bowl. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch & baking soda and whisk to combine. Add the flour in one batch to the peanut butter mixture, then on LOW speed, mix until flour is starting to incorporate and then turn the speed up to medium and beat just until the flour mixture is well combined and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It should look like this:

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookie Dough - Perfect Consistency

If the mixture is too dry and crumbles easily, add a little more coconut oil and beat it again. If it seems too sticky and doesn’t easily form into a ball, add more flour – 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time – until your dough is the consistency of a new can of Play Dough. When it’s ready, grab a medium ice cream or cookie scoop and your baking sheets. I recommend using silicone baking mats for most baking projects. They guarantee your hard work won’t stick to the pan, causing violent bouts of cursing or childish hissy fits (or so I’ve heard).

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookie Dough - Perfect Scoop

That, my friends, is a perfect scoop. To get it, I simply drag the scoop through the dough then scrape it up the side of the bowl as I remove it. See how the dough presses perfectly into the scoop? That’s when you know it’s the right consistency. Scoop onto lined baking sheets, 2″ apart so you can press them.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - Perfect Scoops

Note: if you don’t want to press these cookies flat for ice cream sandwiches, you can leave them like they appear in the above photo. They will take 2-3 minutes longer to bake, but result in a thicker, brownie-like cookie. For ice cream sandwiches, I pressed them with the bottom of an old glass candy dish.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - Pressed

I love the pattern this makes in the cookies. If you don’t have a fancy cookie press, I highly recommend flipping over old decorative bowls or glasses. If there’s a great pattern in the bottom, it can be used as a cookie press. Be adventurous and try it!

Bake at 350F for 9-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the pans. Because I was making ice cream sandwiches with mine, I let the cookies cool completely on the pan, then popped the entire pan in the freezer to make sure they were super cold.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches - Close-Up

For ice cream sandwiches:
Grab a pint of your favorite ice cream or gelato and let it sit out on the counter until it starts to get nice and soft (about 5 mins). I happened to have a pint of Häagen-Dazs Salted Caramel Gelato in my freezer (lucky girl!), but Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia or Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz, or any flavor you love will work.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - When the Magic Happens

Using the same scoop I used for the cookie dough, I placed a row of cookies ‘bottoms up’ on my tray, then placed a scoop of softened gelato in the center of each. With a flat metal spatula, aka pancake flipper, I flattened each scoop of gelato into a smooth, even layer.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - Topped with Gelato

Top with a second cookie and immediately wrap in plastic wrap. Pop them back into the freezer for at least 2-3 hours, or until they are frozen solid. To eat, just unwrap and dig in. If you plan to nibble them one at a time, place the wrapped ice cream sandwiches into an airtight container with a tight-fitting lid. They should keep for at least 4 weeks in your freezer. This recipe makes 16 individual cookies approximately 3″ in diameter, or 8 ice cream sandwiches.

Of course, you can also use a small cookie scoop and make these more bite-size for portion control. Or you can double the recipe and keep the baked cookies in the freezer in an air-tight container so you can enjoy them plain or build ice cream sandwiches on demand. Or just eat the cookies and wash them down with a glass of milk. That works, too. But I recommend the ice cream sandwiches. Because more is more, or something like that.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches - Stacks & Jar

Now for the best part of this post – Peanut Butter & Co has generously offered to ship a copy of ’31 Days of Dark Chocolate Dreams’ and a 28-ounce jar of Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter to one lucky reader. To participate, simply leave a comment. It could be “I love peanut butter!” or “Peanut Butter & Co is awesome!” or even “I’m a cookbook hoarder.” One reader will be chosen at random, and Peanut Butter & Co will ship this tasty prize pack directly to their door. The deadline for this drawing is Friday, February 7th at 12:00 midnight, Central Standard Time, so jump on it now. Right now! What are you waiting for?!

Dark Chocolate Dreams Cookbook

If you don’t win or can’t wait to get your hands on the cookbook, you can purchase it online by clicking HERE, along with other Peanut Butter & Co goodies and peanut butter products. The Cinnamon Raisin Swirl blows my mind and Mighty Maple is both creamy and dreamy.

Disclaimer: This is not a paid post. Peanut Butter & Co sent me an advanced copy of the cookbook and a jar of peanut butter to play with, as stated above. I am a member of their Yum Squad, which is also unpaid. Put simply, I love their products, and they have occasionally sent me peanut butter to experiment with. For example, check out my ‘The Heat is On’ Spicy Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies made with their spicy chili-laced peanut butter. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way by the company. I just love the quality of their stuff, and enjoy sharing that joy with you.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Linda (comment #4), winner of the Peanut Butter & Co prize pack giveaway. Thanks to all who participated, and high five to Linda. You’re going to love the cookbook AND the peanut butter! -jeanne

52 Comments

Filed under Food & Recipes, Things I Love

What we ate this summer.

Boy, did we eat well this summer! We may have consumed more than our fair share of fresh veggies in a wide variety of simple yet flavorful dishes. What is summer for, after all, if not the consumption of goodies from the farmers market and excuse to work on your tan? Here’s a peek at what we ate this summer.

Chicken Stir-Fry - My Bowl

It started with this chicken stir-fry over rice. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but The Complete Package and I love rice. Like L-O-V-E it. You could put a bowl of plain rice in front of us and we’d be happy, but smothering it with this zesty stir-fry made us really happy campers. The recipe came from the Weber’s New Real Grilling Cookbook. Seen it yet? Well, you should. Holy smokes (yes, that’s a grill joke) – it’s exceptional.

When I brought this book home from the BlogHer Food Conference in Austin (Thank you, Dole!), we immediately decided to jump in and try as many recipes as we could as quickly as possible. Here’s another winner from the book.

Weber  - Avocado, Red Onion & Sun-Dried Tomato Quesadillas

This beauty is an avocado, red onion and sun-dried tomato quesadilla. It’s ooey, gooey, crispy and crunchy. It was meat-free, but it still had it all, and in an easy to eat portable package, too. So much flavor!

This next one came from an internet search TCP did for smoked chicken. Now that he has officially conquered brisket and ribs (his are to die for), he decided to tackle smoked chicken. The recipe he found was for a ‘competition grade’ chicken, and while I don’t think he’ll be competing anywhere, this bird deserves a blue ribbon. Isn’t it gorgeous? Smokey, juicy poultry in motion.

A Smoked Chicken

Next was our pizza phase – where we attempted to live out our “More Is More” motto to the fullest. This one was grilled chicken with a smokey BBQ sauce, red onion, sliced jalapenos and a blend of cheddar and monterrey jack cheese.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Think that one was loaded? You ain’t seen nothing yet. THIS baby was loaded. I call it “All The Veggies” pizza, and it was an exercise in excess. Instead of a tomato sauce, I smeared a whole wheat dough with basil pesto, then layered on oodles of veggies – artichoke hearts, mushrooms, orange & yellow bell peppers, roasted piquillo peppers, fresh spinach, kalamata olives, and red onions – then topped it with ricotta, toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. We could hardly pick it up, but the flavors were over-the-top fabulous.

DeLallo Veggie Pizza

Speaking of flavor, this simple dish from the Weber’s grilling book blew our minds. It is deceptive in that it doesn’t look like much, but practically explodes in your mouth. Yummy is an understatement. It starts with eggplant grilled over charcoal, which is then topped with a sun-dried tomato, shallot & garlic relish dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Wow. Just wow.

Grilled Eggplant with Sun-Dried Tomato Topping

Next up was a Cuban Sandwich made with leftover smoked pork tenderloin (also from the Weber book), but the star of this show was the tostones we made on the side. Ever had tostones? It’s hard to describe them, but if you ever have an opportunity to try them (or even make them), take it. They’re like thick chips made from plantains. Now, if you think plantains are just fat bananas, you are mistaken. They’re actually starchy like a potato, and unless you let them over-ripen, they are not sweet. Think of them as a potato substitute.

Cuban Sandwiches from Grilling Book - July10, 2013

To make tostones, peel and slice plantains and fry them in a little canola oil until they just start to crisp a little. Remove them from the oil, drain on paper towels, and flatten them with a metal spatula. Then, and I know this sounds strange, throw them BACK into the oil until they are a golden, crispy brown. Sprinkled with kosher salt & served with your favorite salsa, I promise you will never reach for corn chips again.

All this talk of chips and pizza is making me thirsty, which brings me to my last treat of the summer. The fine folks at Double Decker were kind enough to ask if I’d like to try their wine. I don’t think I could have said “Heck yes!” any faster. To my surprise, they sent two full-size bottles – Pinot Grigio (white) and their Red Blend. The red was opened first. We drank half the bottle with a nice steak dinner and used the last half the bottle for Blackberry Sangria. Mmm…. I can still smell and taste it just looking at this photo. My friend Beka pointed out that it appears the ice is giving a fist-bump. Wildly appropriate; it rocked!

Double Decker Blackberry Sangria - Inside NanaBread's Head

Blackberry Sangria is my new ‘must have’ for summer. To make, muddle one pint of fresh blackberries with 1/3 cup of sugar and add to a bottle of Double Decker Red Blend. Cap it and put in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours so the berries & wine can fall in love. Then strain and serve over ice with a few fresh berries for garnish. So good, and so refreshing. This would also work with red plums or raspberries. The pinot grigio is superb and crisp on its own, but also makes a great summer sangria with the addition of peaches, apples, orange slices and a handful of white grapes. If you lika de’ bubbles, top it with a splash of champagne, club soda or lemon-lime soda. Then sit back and reflect on a summer worthy of the record books.

Did you try anything this summer that knocked your socks off? Do tell!

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My Favorite Season: Fall

Maine - Somesville Bridge

Oh, fall… I miss you so much. I miss experiencing all four seasons and the benefits of each like leaves turning, snow falling or bulbs blooming. But mostly I miss sweaters and drinking hot cocoa at high school football games. I long for those days when you can step outside and see your breath. In the suburbs south of Houston, we have only two seasons – Summer & More Summer. Our change of season comes down to this: in February, we stop mowing for 3-4 weeks.

The Complete Package and I both love Fall. So much so, we usually travel north each year just to celebrate autumn. Since we’ll be remodeling our master bathroom instead of traveling this year, I’m celebrating the advent of fall with a few photos from our trip to Acadia National Park in Maine back in 2008. It was glorious. So welcome, Fall. Please come see us. We miss you something fierce.

Foliage in Acadia Natl Park

Acadia Maine - Sun Through Fall Foliage

Acadia Maine Leaves in Water

Acadia - Path to Jordan Pond

Somesville Main Tree in Fall

Ever thought of visiting Acadia National Park? Learn more HERE. Some of our other fall favorites – Glacier National Park, Calgary & Banff, Yellowstone & The Tetons, and the Oregon coast. Do you have a favorite place to visit in the fall? Please share! You may just inspire our next fall vacation or someone else’s.

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I don’t know how this happened.

Remember my post from 2 weeks ago? The one with the pineapple update? The update where I said we probably had at least 4-6 weeks until harvest? Well, we went to Austin last weekend to visit the kids and came home to this:

Pineapple Harvest 6

I don’t know how this happened. They went from firm, mostly green and this:

Pineapple Close-Up - Aug2013

to completely, thoroughly golden-yellow ripe in 4 days. FOUR DAYS!

Side by Side Comparison - 4 days

I can only attribute it to:
A.) four days of intense Houston heat, followed by
B.) a good solid day of rain during drought conditions, and
C.) my lack of experience growing pineapples (even with 15+ plants)

We had no choice but to harvest them before they got too ripe, which was disappointing because we really had hoped the kids would be here to participate. Instead, The Complete Package & I cut them down. No kids; no celebration.

Pineapple Harvest 1

Pineapple Harvest 2

Here’s a peek behind the curtain at how we’ve accumulated so many pineapple plants over the past few years. Each plant, while it’s fruiting, puts off several shoots (ratoons) that can be removed and replanted to form new plants. Each of our four fruiting plants put off at least 2 to 3 ratoons.

Pineapple Harvest 3

Pineapple Harvest 4

I’m no math whiz, but if each pineapple plant produces 3 ratoons PLUS a pineapple fruit, that means you now potentially have FOUR (4) additional future pineapple plants, because you can replant the ratoons and replant the top off the pineapple fruit. We started six years ago with the top of a pineapple plant we’d bought at the grocery store. We now have over 15 plants because we keep re-potting the ratoons & pineapple tops. I joke about our mini-plantation, but it’s actually kind of true. They’re taking over our back porch. Two years ago, we harvested one lonely but gorgeous pineapple. This year, we got this:

Pineapple Harvest 5

Which brings me to our new little gadget I just have to show off. My friend Kirsten of Comfortably Domestic (my sister from another mister) and her four boys were so excited about our pending pineapple harvest, they sent us the new OXO ratcheting pineapple corer & slicer. Oh, baby!

Pineapple Harvest 2013- Ready to Cut

To use it, lop the top off your pineapple, leaving about 3/4″ so you can replant it later and become a semi-obsessed mini-plantation pineapple farmer like me.

Pineapple Harvest 2013- Lop off the top

We set the pineapples into a mixing bowl to capture any juice so I could make marmalade (always thinking ahead), then TCP set about coring those golden puppies. The OXO pineapple corer tore right through each pineapple in seconds.
It was amazing to watch and surprisingly fun to use.

Pineapple Harvest 2013- OXO Pineapple Corer & Slicer

Did I mention it ratchets? You don’t have to turn the bowl or move the pineapple or anything! Just twist the handle on top and it ratchets after each cut until it reaches the bottom. Once done, you simply pull the rings right out of the shell. That’s right – I said rings!

Pineapple Harvest 2013- Rings on the Slicer

It cuts the entire pineapple into perfectly even rings. Shut up! I know!

Pineapple Harvest 2013- Perfectly Sliced Rings

We set aside one tub of rings for Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug, since they both said they’d like to recreate our pineapple upside-down cake from the 2011 harvest, and poured most of the pineapple and juice into the Dutch oven to make my first ever batch of pineapple upside-down marmalade (pineapple, brown sugar & maraschino cherries). With that, there was only one last task to conquer.

Remember that post I mentioned in the first paragraph? The one where I said we probably had a few weeks until harvest? Well, I may have mentioned in that post that I’d also like to make fruity cocktails with this batch of pineapples. And since the OXO corer/slicer did such a nice job of creating the perfect vessel, there was just one last thing to do.

Pineapple Harvest 2013- Pina Colada Fixings

You should know me well enough by now to know that I never turn down a fruity ‘pinkies up’ frou-frou girly cocktail. So here’s to you, and here’s to friends who send friends kitchen gadgets, and here’s to the great pineapple harvest of 2013.

Pineapple Harvest - Pina Colada

Oh, and just in case you’d like to join me:

Pineapple Harvest 2013  - Pina Colada Recipe

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One Kitchen Many Hearts: August

OKMH Collage 2013

It’s that time again – time for another OKMH box exchange! I love getting a box of love from my blogging buddies almost as much as I love sending them. This month, my box came from Megan of Country Cleaver fame. Megan hails from the Seattle area and mark my words – she will be a famous foodie soon. She’s destined for greatness and a spot on the Food Network. And I’m going to be a founding member of her fan club. Perhaps even Vice President.

Our theme this month was “Pimp My Desk” or “Office Essentials” or “Back to School” – whichever you think is less offensive. Here’s what Megan sent:

Photo5

This sweet little bookmark is adorable and Megan’s timing was perfect. I literally just set a new paperback out to read when her box arrived. It was immediately put to use in my copy of ‘The Winter Garden’ by Kristin Hannah. Ever read her stuff? This one tells the story of two sisters who grew up with an adoring father and a ridiculously frigid mother. Without giving too much away, the girls learn more about their mother through the Russian fairytales she shares from her youth. It’s a good story, but overall I think I preferred her other novel ‘Firefly Lane’. If you’ve read any of her other books and have recommendations, please share!

Collage3

What better accompaniment to a good book and a lazy Saturday than a cup of tea and some sea salt caramels? Again, perfect timing. The caramels died as soon as the box was opened (yes, all 3 of them). The tea lasted longer, but only because it wasn’t rolled in caramel and dipped in chocolate. So stinkin’ good!

Next up was a spa treatment box filled with lip balm, hand salve and a soap truffle. See my previous comment to know why Megan slapped a post-it note on it that read “Soap Truffle – DO NOT EAT!” She knows me well.

Collage2

She knows me so well, she fostered my obsession with Seattle’s Beecher’s Cheese by sending me a bag of their crackers. Beecher’s is always the first place I hit when we go to Seattle and walk through Pike Place Market. I love that place. If it were possible to die from the over-consumption of fresh squeaky cheese curds, I’d be the first to do it. I could eat them by the tub. Oh wait, I totally HAVE eaten them by the tub. I’m not called ‘The Cheesel’ (like weasel) for nothing, folks.

Collage1

These little pupper magnets have to be the most adorable things ever. There’s actually a Boston Terrier magnet in honor of our beloved Ziggy who passed away in March and a pug to represent our sweet friend Miss Josie Pugglesworth of the Long Beach Pugglesworths. If the magnets didn’t having me smiling ear to ear, the pens certainly did. They’re anti-theft pens for your desk. Why anti-theft? Just read them. Springfield Sexual Addiction Center? Hilarious!

I loved everything in my box, but I’ll cherish this card from Megan most.

Collage4jpg

The post-it notes explained each gift, but that sweet card and the love behind it are the real treasure. Our Story: Seven friends meet on the internet via their blogs and become real-life friends forever. And that is the greatest gift of all.

Want to see more? Check out what I sent to Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic by clicking HERE. From there, you can click from blog to blog & follow the fun.

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Pineapple Update!

Our pineapple babies are growing nicely. I realized it’s been forever since my last update, and I thought you’d like to see how they’re doing. This year, we have four. FOUR! Well, four actual fruits. We’re currently up to eight pots and over a dozen plants. If you add in the ratoons (offshoots) that will have to be replanted soon, we’re up to 25+ potential pineapple plants. It’s practically a mini-plantation now. Watch your back, Dole. I’m coming for you.

Pineapple Collage - Aug2013

In my head I call them Eenie, Meenie, Miney & Mo. This is Mo (below).

Pineapple Close-Up - Aug2013

Judging by our last pineapple harvest in 2011, I’m guessing these are still at least 4-6 weeks from fully ripe which means late September or possibly even early October. But that’s okay, because we got another surprise this month – a new batch of bananas – and they’ll be ripe at about the same time.

Bananas - Aug2013

{sniff….sniff…} I smell daiquiris!

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Can It: Black & Blue Jam

Black & Blue Jam - Label Shot

Jam. It’s my jam. I love making it, which is convenient because I love eating it. There’s something magical about canning your own jam. When I open my pantry and see that Jelly Shelf with jars stacked high, I feel I’ve accomplished something. When I take a jar of homemade jam to my grandkids I feel like I’m sharing something homemade and wholesome. It’s a love that goes back to my own grandmother and memories of sitting on the steps of her root cellar, waiting anxiously to see what she might retrieve. It’s memories of my own mother baking homemade bread on glorious summer canning days, smearing warm slices of that bread with jelly foam and passing them out like Christmas presents. Magical.

When my Big Sister and I road-tripped up to Mom’s last month, I was fortunate to find gorgeous fresh blackberries and blueberries and saved them just for this – Black & Blue Jam. The combination of these two berries, blended into a rich, deep purple jam – well, it just sings to me and stirs some deep-seeded joy from my past as well as a fervent passion for the buttered toast in my future.

Black & Blue Jam - Berries in the Pot

Black & Blue Jam
7 cups fresh blueberries & blackberries, washed & stems removed
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 boxes (1.75 ounces each) powdered pectin
10 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon real unsalted butter
6 pint or 12 half-pint canning jars
new lids & rings for each jar

In a large heavy saucepan, combine the berries and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the berries are soft and have released most of their juice, approximately 30-45 minutes. (Hint: I like to take an old-fashioned potato masher to mine after about 20 minutes to help extract the juice.) Add the pectin to the sugar and stir to combine, then gradually add the sugar to the berries, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Drop in the butter and continue to cook, again stirring often, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture has started to thicken. Using a big soup spoon, skim off any foam or bubbles from around the edge of the pan and save it in a bowl for jelly foam toast later. It’s a jam canner’s reward for a job well done.

Turn off the heat. If you dislike seeds (I do), place a strainer over another large pan and ladle the jam into a strainer, pressing the jam through using a flexible silicone spatula. Place your sterilized canning jars close to the pot. Using a canning funnel, ladle the jam into jars, leaving 1/4″ to 1/2″ of space at the top. Once filled, use a damp paper towel to thoroughly wipe the rim of each jar, removing any jam that may have spilled over.

In a heat-proof bowl, place new canning lids (I alternate them – one face up, one face down – to keep them from sticking together) and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for 3-4 minutes, then carefully remove them one at a time, shaking off any excess water, placing one onto each jar. Screw a ring on firmly, but not so tight that it won’t turn at all, and set them aside until all are done.

I use this handy silicone canning basket when I can anything. It allows me to lower & raise jars without any slips or accidents, and is heat-proof so it stays in the pot the entire time without melting. Process your jam jars in a hot water bath for 15 minutes (half-pints) or 20 minutes (pints). If you’re unfamiliar with water bath processing, check out this tutorial.

Jelly Collage

In my house, jam isn’t ‘done’ until it’s properly labeled. I may be slightly obsessed with creating cute labels for all my jams & jellies. It’s my creative process. Once your jars are properly labeled, you’re free to box them for storage, stack them on a pantry shelf, or pass them out to friends and family. Homemade jam makes excellent gifts. And speaking of gifts, there’s just one more to enjoy before you go – that bowl of jelly foam on warm buttered toast.

Black&Blue Jam Collage

Oh, Mom. I cannot thank you enough. {hugs}

For more on home canning, visit http://www.freshpreserving.com/getting-started.aspx

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