Holiday Cutouts

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As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I’m all about sending goodies to my college kids living on campus. Receiving a thoughtful care package from home is always a welcome surprise for students. Last week, while I was visiting campus, I dropped off decorative trays of Holiday Cutouts to each of my children. I’m told they were a big hit as M shared her tray with her Resident Assistant, roommate and a few of her friends from home. K and P shared their cookies as well. M confessed that she couldn’t imagine eating too many of the cookies without putting on a few pounds so, “out of site, out of mind”, was her motto when passing off the tasty treats to friends and floor mates.
This cookie is quick and easy to assemble as the recipe doesn’t call for the traditional wait time for refrigeration when making the stiff rolled dough. Use your favorite cookie cutters to represent holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions. After a quick cool down, top with icing and colorful sprinkles. Pack in airtight containers or transfer to a platter for a friendly holiday tray. (I found a few Halloween buckets at a local discount store so I packed a few cookies in with a bit of tissue paper.)
Kids, no matter what their age, always enjoy a flavorful treat for the holidays.

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Holiday Cutouts

1 cup butter, softened ( 2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract; mix until well blended. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Carefully, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine well. Form the dough in to a smooth ball. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4″ thick. Cut out with cookie cutters and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6-8 minutes or until very lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks. Decorate as desired when cool.

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Pumpkin and Oat Spice Cake

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This weekend, we attended Grandma M’s Neighborhood Octoberfest. The annual event is held in Chicago and whenever we drive in to the city, we are quickly reminded of the reasons why we decided to move out to the country many years ago. While there is much to do throughout the city, (visit the beautiful lake front campus, spend the day at numerous museums, fantastic shopping opportunities, and great restaurant choices) we certainly don’t miss the sparse street parking, the long wait at frequent railroad crossings and the horrendous traffic situation.
That being said, it really is fun to head over to Grandma’s for her October party. Everyone attending brings along a favorite dish to contribute. Festive tablecloths and autumn colored dishes (holding scrumptious desserts and flavorful appetizers) top the side tables. Pans of bratwurst, sauerkraut, and potato salad sit on the main buffet. Plenty of hot coffee and cider brew in huge pots and the fridge is stocked with plenty of beer.
My contribution included this rich, dense, autumn cake. I had to slap a few hands as cut the cake into squares and loaded up a serving platter for the party. All wanted a taste before we headed to grandma’s house. I scolded them all telling them that they would have to wait.
This truly is a great recipe and as the cake sits for a few days, the flavor intensifies. Although, very rarely does this cake have the opportunity to sit for a few days…Enjoy!

Pumpkin and Oat Spice Cake

3 cups flour
4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup margarine, softened
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
4 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
1 package (serving size) old fashioned style oatmeal with flax, maple & brown sugar

Topping (optional)
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.
Mix together margarine and sugar in large bowl on medium-high speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix until blended. Turn mixer to low; add pumpkin. Gradually blend in flour mixture. Stir in raisins by hand. Pour into prepared pan. Top with one serving-sized package of flavored oatmeal.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
Blend confectioners sugar and water; drizzle over cake. Sprinkle nuts evenly over top. Cut into 12 servings.

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Chunky Infinity Scarf

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Last week I posted a picture and link for a beginner infinity scarf that I found on the web. As I had mentioned in the post, I am at the very bottom of the ability scale when it comes to my yarn, needlework and craftsmanship abilities. I stick with basic techniques and have to rely heavily on video tutorials (played over and over again) to grasp basic construction concepts. I have been so pleased with my new found skill for crafting the beginner infinity scarf that I have taken to making several different scarves with yarns of various weight and color for my family and friends. Honestly, these scarves are so quick and easy to make, it literally takes about 1 1/2 hours to construct this trendy accessory.
This week, I wanted to post another of my creations crafted with a different type of yarn but crocheted with the very same stitch as the blue patterned scarf that I posted last week. I wanted you to see what a difference yarn choice can make in the look and feel of the garment or accessory. Again, you can find the video here. This is a great little scarf as we move into the cold weather months in the Midwest. Don’t forget that this would be a fantastic Christmas present for teens, moms, teachers, and co-workers. Look for yarn colors to match college, high school or professional sports teams. Or, look for chunky yarns to match the trendy look of current retail scarves found in all the stores.
Here is the yarn that I used for this project. I also used an 11 mm crochet hook.

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… Hand made, totally inexpensive and a thoughtful gift… Happy crocheting!

Beginner Infinity Scarf

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Grocery shopping on Saturday is never fun but as I worked my way through a local super store this past weekend, I was stopped in my tracks when I came to the craft aisle and spied a load of beautifully crafted yarns and fabrics. I had just received a call from M asking if I could send some warmer clothes to campus as the early morning walk to class had become quite chilly. She asked for her scarves and gloves along with long sleeved fleece jackets. The selection of yarn inspired me to rummage through the colors to find a combination that would match M’s fair complexion and silver/gray winter jacket. I quickly snapped a few pictures of the skeins that I had selected and sent the pics on the M so that she could make the final selection. She decided on the soft blue/green combination and I quickly scooped up her favorite and threw it in the cart.
When I returned home, I made my way to the IPad where I watched a beginner crochet video to refresh my limited crochet skills. I watched the video several times and began my project. The basic rectangular shape took about 1 1/2 hours to craft. I can’t wait for M to open her care package to find this stylish infinity scarf, that I hope will keep her warm as she makes her way across campus this winter.

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Triple Berry and Oat Muffins

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Lately, I have been sending quite a few care packages to the Purdue University campus as my three children have all decided to become Boilermakers while they work to complete their undergraduate degrees. I have been dehydrating fresh fruit and baking up a storm to send cookies, muffins, and snacks by way of UPS.
Last week, I sent these muffins to my daughters (my son is not a fan). I received rave reviews from both.
The muffins are filled with triple berry goodness. The oat topping makes for a moist and tasty center with a sweet and crunchy finish. …Absolutely delicious!

Triple Berry and Oat Muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/4 pounds fresh berries, sliced (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries)

Topping
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line with paper liners, two muffin pans. Mix flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, eggs, milk, and extract; stir into flour mixture until just moistened. Carefully fold in berries. Scoop into prepared muffin pans. Mix together topping ingredients and sprinkle over the muffins.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

Copy Cat Marshall Field’s Chicken Salad

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I grew up in a northwest suburb of Chicago. When I was young, there was a bus that would travel from the center of my small town to a local shopping mall that housed the famous Marshall Field’s & Company. During the summer months, my best friend and I would board the bus and head to the mall. The bus was never crowded and the air conditioned environment was a welcome sensation as we had to ride our bikes to the bus stop in the summer heat. The first stop at this enormous shopping mall was the Marshall Field’s entrance. We would hop off the bus and head to our favorite restaurant destinations housed within the centrally located food court. After lunch, we made our way through all of the “young girl” stores that displayed an array of cheap jewelry, poorly constructed clothing, and inexpensive footwear.
As we grew older, we found the bus trip to the mall to be a great way to save on gas money, forget about the hassle of finding a parking spot, and catch up with friends while the bus driver brought us to our desired destination.
Marshall Field’s had a cafe style lunch area that became our new, more mature, lunch hangout. I would always order the Chicken Salad. Their recipe included sweet grapes, crunchy nuts, and moist chicken bits, in a smooth creamy dressing.
Over the years, I’ve tried to mimic the recipe to the best of my recollection. I’ve seen other copycat recipes that include sour cream and Dijon mustard, but this is the way I like to remember the salad. I often substitute the grapes with pineapple for a more tropical twist… And I sometimes serve the chicken salad in a pineapple boat for a dramatic summer presentation. Every time I assemble this recipe, I think about my carefree summer days riding the bus and enjoying the wonderful memories of Marshall Field’s & Company.

Copy Cat Marshall Field’s Chicken Salad

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups boneless skinless chicken breasts, fully cooked and chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup thompson seedless grapes, halved (optional)
lettuce leaf or plum tomatoes, for serving (optional)

Mix first 4 ingredients together in large bowl.
Add chicken, onion, celery, pecans, and optional grapes. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Key Lime and Blueberry Muffins

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Well, it seems the last of the blueberries have made their way to the farmer’s market as the fall season begins and apples, peaches, and pears showcase their beauty and flavor in the weeks to come.
As I peered into the fridge this morning, I noticed a pint of blueberries and a few containers of key lime Greek yogurt on the shelf. I remembered using this combination of flavors some years ago in a blueberry yogurt muffin recipe that I had in my kitchen file. I rummaged through the worn folder to find what I was looking for and was delighted to see I hadn’t misplaced it. The combination of key lime and blueberry is quite similar to that of lemon and blueberry except for the added punch that key lime lends to the recipe. Give this one a try, I think you’ll like it.

Key Lime and Blueberry Muffins

1 cup flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup key lime flavored Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Note: This recipe makes 6 regular-sized muffins.

In a bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, yogurt, vanilla, oil and milk. Stir in the dry ingredients just until moistened; fold in the blueberries.
Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Lightly sprinkle with crumble topping, optional. (See recipe below)

Crumble Topping
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
3 tbsp. butter
Combine flour, sugar. Cut in butter. Sprinkle over muffins before baking. Store any leftovers in the fridge for future baking.

Bake muffins at 350° for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the
center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan. Continue cooling on a wired rack.