Posted in Baked goods, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, Main Dish

Our Favorite Pat Mac

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One of our favorite relatives is our cousin Patrick. Whenever there is a family gathering, he brings two signature dishes along with him…Baked Polish Sausage and Pat Mac ( his recipe for creamy macaroni and cheese). It took me a long time to convince him to share this recipe with me but he finally broke down and let me have it several months ago. Early Monday morning, before heading out of town for a work conference, I assembled a pan of Pat Mac for the family to share while I was away. While Patrick’s dish always tastes better than mine, I still try my hand at it when the temperatures drop and the weather turns cool. Fall is the perfect time to make a big pan of Pat Mac!

Our Favorite Pat Mac (Patrick’s Macaroni and Cheese)

1 package (16 oz) of Creamette Elbow Macaroni
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups milk
2 cups Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
2 cups Vermont Sharp Cracker Barrel Cheese, shredded
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

Cook pasta according to directions. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt margarine, stir in flour, dry mustard and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Cook until mixture thickens slightly and bubbles. Remove from heat, Add 2 cups of cheese and stir until melted. Stir in half of the crushed Ritz crackers.
In a large bowl, combine sauce with pasta. Spoon into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Top with remaining cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers. Bake 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Posted in appetizers/snacks, Baked goods, breakfast, Brunch, Desserts, Food, Gardening, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box

Chewy Oat and Jam Cookie Bars

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What to do with all of this delicious homemade jam? …Make Oat and Jam cookie bars!
Last week, we canned loads of Concord grapes and tucked the jars away for a year’s worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Thumbprint Cookies, and Chewy Oat and Jam Cookie Bars. Yesterday, I made a small pan of the delicious bars and they were gone in a flash. As we start the new school week, I am going to double the recipe, individually wrap the bars, and tuck them in the fridge so they can easily be packed in the lunchbox.
Starting this week, my children will be adding a morning swim practice to their already long school day so they will leave before 5:30 am and won’t return until after 6:00 pm. This means packing breakfast, lunch, and after-school swim snack into the lunchbox. I usually stock the fridge and pantry with homemade peanut butter, lots of fruits and veggies, eggs, cheese, milk, whole grain bread, yogurt, snacks, and oat cereal so there is plenty to choose from. This recipe is quick and easy to assemble. Use any flavor jam to suit your family’s taste. M has suggested we make a peanut butter glaze to spread over the warm bars…haven’t tried it yet but sounds like a scrumptious idea!

Chewy Oat and Jam Cookie Bars

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter, softened
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2teaspoon baking soda
1/4teaspoon salt
1 cup Concord grape jam. (other flavors will work just as well)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray an 8×8″ baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar, set aside. In a medium bowl, mix oats, flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix dry ingredients in to the creamed mixture. Press 1 1/2 cups of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the jam over this layer. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top, and lightly press it into the jam. Lightly sprinkle chopped pecans over the bars. Bake for 25-30 minutes in preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool before cutting into bars.

Posted in Canning, Food, Gardening, glazes, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box, Toppings

Homemade Concord Grape Jam

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We have had a very successful grape growing season and have spent most of the holiday weekend making homemade Concord grape jam.
When our children were little, we used to pick produce like strawberries, blueberries, and apples together and then can the fruit as time allowed. Now that our days are a bit busier, it seems we have little time to do some of the things we so enjoyed years ago.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, our grape vines were bursting with beautiful ripe Concord grapes so we picked them all to prepare them for canning. M was a real trooper and helped me pick and prepare the grapes on Saturday. While we still have quite a few more jars to process, we have adopted a system that seems to work quite well so we should have everything processed soon. I have made two separate recipes to satisfy different family tastes. One that is a traditional Concord Grape Jam recipe and the other is a tart Reduced Sugar Concord Grape Spread that M seems to enjoy. I will post both for those that might be interested. These recipes are found on the Sure-Jel package and are tested as safe by Sure-Jel. Always use a reputable source (USDA, Ball, Sure-Jel, etc.) for recipes and follow strict food safety guidelines when home canning.

Homemade Concord Grape Jam

5-6 cups fresh grape juice (about 3 1/2 pounds of Concord grapes)
1 box of Sure-Jel pectin
7 cups sugar

First make the grape juice by washing 3 1/2 pounds of fresh Concord grapes.

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Mash grapes with a potato masher to break open the grape skins.

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Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 10 minutes. The cooking time starts only after the mixture has come to a boil.

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Strain to squeeze out all the juice with a sieve.

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In a large pan, put 5 cups of the juice. Add the fruit pectin to the juice; mix well. On high heat, bring to a full rolling boil, and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar all at once, and bring back to a full rolling boil, again boil hard for 1 minute stirring constantly. At this time, you can add 1 or 2 teaspoons of butter to help keep the foam down.

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Remove from heat, skim off foam and pour into hot jars; put on hot lids.
Process in hot water bath for 5 minutes.

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Reduced Sugar Concord Grape Spread

5 cups Concord Grape Juice
1 box of Ball (No Sugar or Reduced Sugar) pectin
1 cup sugar

Follow the directions as listed above. This makes a very tart, but slightly sweet version of Concord Grape jelly. You will notice that it is more of a spread than a jelly because of the reduced sugar content.

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Posted in appetizers/snacks, breakfast, Brunch, Desserts, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box, No-Bake

Easy No-Bake Granola Bites

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Making your own granola bars at home can certainly be more nutritious for your family and is definitely a money saving idea. A box of granola bars can range in price from a moderate $2 up to as much as $7, which is really quite expensive. Often, one can only guess at the ingredients that are included in the nutrition facts label. Ingredient names that I can’t recognize or pronounce are always a red flag for me.
While this recipe isn’t the most nutritious of the bunch in my recipe box, it certainly is easy to make and I like the fact that it’s a no-bake recipe that can be made during the late summer months when the air conditioner shouldn’t have to compete with a hot oven. I often add nuts, seeds and dried berries for added texture, nutrition, and flavor. I wrap the cooled and cut bars in plastic wrap so that they stay fresh and are easily packed for travel. This is a great “kids in the kitchen” recipe.

Easy No- Bake Granola Bites

2 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light (reduced sugar) corn syrup or honey
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Spray a 13×9″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Combine the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl; set aside. Bring the brown sugar and syrup (or honey) to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until blended. Pour peanut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until coated; let stand 10 minutes to cool slightly. Stir in the chocolate chips. Press mixture into prepared pan; cool completely. Cut into bars. Wrap individually in plastic wrap to preserve freshness.

Posted in breakfast, Brunch, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box, slow cooking

Slow Cooker Breakfast Granola

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My kids seem to be addicted to granola. If I had to buy it pre-packaged every week, I’d be bankrupt. Thankfully, I have several recipes for this crunchy, delicious and versatile treat. We use it to top yogurt or ice cream, add milk (cold or hot) to eat it as a breakfast cereal, and mix it with sweet and salty treats to make a trail mix. What I like about this recipe is that you can set it in the crockpot and let it cook for a few hours without heating up the house with the conventional oven during the summer months. The key is to slightly prop the crockpot open with a wooden skewer. This tiny opening lets the moisture out but keeps the heat inside the liner. Stirring the mixture every 30-35 minutes is also the key to success.

Slow Cooker Breakfast Granola

4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional)

Spray the liner of the slow cooker with cooking spray. In a separate bowl, mix oats, vanilla, honey, syrup, and canola oil. Pour into prepared slow cooker.
Cook the granola on low for 2 1/2-3 hours, venting the lid slightly. ( I use a wooden skewer.) Stir mixture well every 30-35 minutes. Cook until golden brown and quite dry.
Pour the finished granola onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and allow to cool completely. Add pecans, cranberries, or raisins if desired. Store in an airtight container.

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Posted in appetizers/snacks, Desserts, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, No-Bake

Bananas and Berries Frozen Graham Bars

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As some of you might know, I am a coupon girl! I never leave the house without a fist full of carefully selected coupons when I am headed to the grocery store. I have the “SnipSnap” App on my phone so I can get a deal nearly everywhere I go. Well, last week there was a sale on graham crackers and I had coupons to reduce the price to 75 cents per box. I bought 6 boxes. We were headed out of town for a week and I thought they would be a great car snack to pack for the trip. When I arrived home with my groceries, M spied a cool recipe on the back of one of the graham cracker boxes and she asked if she could make the recipe for dessert. She said that it was a no-bake recipe. I was delighted because it was too hot to turn on the oven to compete with the air conditioner.
The next day, I headed to work and M made the frozen graham cracker recipe. We have an agreement that while Dad and I aren’t home, no ovens or blenders are to be used without permission. The original recipe called for pulsing the fruit in the blender. Instead, M chopped the fruit and added it to the yogurt mixture. When I arrived home from work, I was thrilled to see her creation and ohhhh, they were so yummy and refreshing. They were gone in no time at all!
Below, I have listed our adapted recipe but have included the website for the original recipe as well.

Bananas and Berries Frozen Graham Bars

10-1/2 cinnamon topped graham crackers, broken into quarters to make 42 rectangles
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup bananas, mashed
1/4 cup blueberries, sliced
1 cup vanilla nonfat Greek-style yogurt
1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed

Line a 9-inch square pan with waxed paper, placed so paper extends over the sides of the pan . Arrange half the graham cracker pieces, in 3 rows on bottom of pan.
In a medium bowl, combine strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. Add the yogurt and whipped topping; mix well. Spread fruit and yogurt mixture over graham cracker pieces. Top with remaining graham crackers aligning to match the graham cracker pieces on bottom layer.
Place in the freezer for 4 hours. Use waxed paper handles to remove dessert from pan; cut between graham crackers to form bars.

Original website:
http://www.snackworks.com/recipe/banana-berry-frozen-yogurt-bars-155123.aspx

Posted in Baked goods, Desserts, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box

Chocolate Chip Cake Mix Cookies

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This past weekend, we celebrated my daughter’s graduation from high school. I knew the temperature was predicted to reach 90 degrees so I got all of my baking out of the way during the week, while the temperatures were mild and breezy. A couple of weeks ago, I saw that the local market was having a sale on cake mix. I had cake mix coupons to stack onto the sale price so the final price came out to 75 cents per box! I bought 5 boxes and remembered that I had a great recipe for Chocolate Chip Cake Mix Cookies. I thought that this would be a great addition to the dessert table at the graduation party. These cookies are crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle. They have great flavor and the guests really enjoyed them. Store in an air-tight container (if they last that long).

Chocolate Chip Cake Mix Cookies

1 box yellow cake mix
2 cups old fashioned oatmeal, uncooked
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

Combine cake mix, oatmeal, and sugar in large bowl; mix well. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs and extract; mix thoroughly. Next, add wet mixture to dry ingredients, stir well. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips.
Use a small ice cream scoop to drop on ungreased cookie sheets about 2″ apart. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Posted in Baked goods, Desserts, Food, Kids in the Kitchen

Cake Mix Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

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I love when my family has the opportunity to kick back in the evening and spend some time together. We often relax while watching a movie, sitting on the deck of our pool, having a bonfire, or just talking around the kitchen table. I always turn to this recipe for an evening treat because it is so quick and easy to assemble and everyone can join in to make their own favorite treat. I usually have the cookies made ahead of time. Then, I line up the counter with various tubs of ice cream flavors and an assortment of toppings. Everyone can load up their cookie sandwich with all of their favorites and enjoy family time together. In this busy world, I just love munching on this scrumptious treat and sharing quality time with those that I hold dearest in my heart.

Cake Mix Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cookie:
2 eggs
1 box of white cake mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Filling:
Ice Cream, any flavor
Toppings: Chocolate Chips, Sprinkles, Candies, etc.

In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, eggs and oil.
Use a small ice cream scoop to make 1″ balls with the dough and place on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 6-10 minutes and light golden brown around the edges. After five minutes, remove to a wire rack to completely.

For filling, place a large scoop of ice cream between two cooled cookies, press firmly to flatten ice cream a bit. Press chocolate chips into the ice cream for added flavor.

Note: Use any flavor cake mix, ice cream, or toppings, to make this a personalized family favorite.

Posted in Baked goods, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, lunch box

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies

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When I was a young girl, I would be asked to load up our Red Flyer wagon with a few of my younger brothers and sisters and spend the afternoon with them at the park. You see, I was the oldest girl in a family of 8 children. My mom would wash clothes, make meals, and tidy up the house, while I took care of the younger children in the family. It wasn’t unusual for me to have 5 little ones with me as I kept them occupied at the neighborhood park for a good portion of the day.
On one of my trips down the block, Mrs. Nolan, an elderly woman that lived in the corner house, opened her door and asked if we would like one of her freshly baked peanut butter cookies. Mrs. Nolan was a friend of the family so accepting a cookie would be no problem. After a few cookies and a glass of cold milk, we were on our way again.
On our next trip to the park, one of the children jumped out of the wagon at Mrs Nolan’s house and asked if we could go to see, “the cookie lady”. From then on, Mrs. Nolan was known as “the cookie lady” and we stopped nearly every day to visit her. She even had her husband assemble a small picnic table for us to sit at in her beautiful backyard, while she brought out cookies and milk.
As I think about my happy, innocent childhood, I remember a lovely women that spent her later years making 6 young children very happy as she fed us and talked with us under the shade of the oak trees in her welcoming backyard on Center Street.

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies

2 cups peanut butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extra sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray cookie sheets with non-stick spray. In a medium bowl, stir peanut butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the eggs. Stir in the baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Roll dough into 1 inch balls (or scoop out dough with a small ice cream scoop) and place 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. Press a cross into the cookie tops using the tines of a fork. Lightly sprinkle with extra sugar.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Posted in Desserts, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, No-Bake

Tutti Fruiti Frozen Popsicles

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Well, I can’t take credit for this recipe but it happened by accident! M was in the mood for some homemade fruit pops and I had recently cleaned out my cabinet, donating the popsicle molds to the resale shop. Low and behold, while looking for a few great deals at JoAnn’s 70% off sale this week, I found some pink popsicle molds. These looked much better than our old ones and they were less than $3.00…so I bought them. 🙂
Looking around the kitchen, M decided to make up her own recipe for these refreshing frozen treats…

Throw all of your overly ripe fruit and a can of Dole tropical fruit (with juice) in the blender. Purée well. Pour the fruit purée into individual popsicle molds. Freeze overnight. (These can also be made in Dixie cups with popsicle sticks. Fill cups 3/4 full with purée. Freeze for 30 minutes. Then, slip the popsicle stick into the partially frozen popsicle and continue to freeze overnight.) Yummy and refreshing!