Sunday, October 30, 2011

Homemade Oreos for Halloween

Last week was a busy week at school. Thursday marked the end of the 1st quarter, and we administered OGT's (the Ohio Graduation Test) all week to the juniors and seniors who hadn't passed them yet. Busy busy.


So, since tomorrow is Halloween, I thought I'd bake my kidd-o's a little something special. And perhaps I wanted an excuse to spend the afternoon in the kitchen, as well. (While I let my Business Man take care of all the yard work outside. Thanks hon!)


I wanted to make something Halloween-themed, but not too complicated since I was going to be making a lot. I remembered some Homemade Oreos that I made back when I was in high school, and thought they'd be perfect, especially if I colored the filling orange for Halloween. 

Aren't these little cupcake toppers so cute? Definitely not going to school though...
These aren't exactly like Oreos - the cookies are more soft than crunchy. But I don't think you can go wrong with a sweet vanilla filling sandwiched by two rich, chocolatey cookies.




I'm sure my students will gobble them up. I could bring in pretty much anything edible and it would get eaten, haha.

Homemade Oreos


  • For the cookies
    • 1 box chocolate cake mix
    • 2 eggs
    • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • For the filling
    • ½ cup butter, softened
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1-2 tablespoons milk
    • 3 cups powdered sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Combine all cookie ingredients and mix until combined. Roll into 3/4-inch balls and place on greased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly. Bake 8 to 9 minutes until edges are set.

Let cool 1 to 2 minutes; remove cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

To prepare filling, beat butter and vanilla extract until smooth. Gradually add milk and powdered sugar, until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar if necessary to reach the desired consistency.

To assemble cookies, spread about a tablespoonful of filling onto a cookie, and top with another cookie.


---

In other news, I headed out for a 'long run' with my running group, with the intent to get in 8 miles or so.


Ended up with 12.5 miles! Whoops. I got a bit distracted and realized we'd already run 8 miles when we were still a good 3-4 miles from where we started. 

Oh well! Gotta love runs like that.

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Take Five

With Halloween just a few days away, I thought I would talk a bit about my favorite candies. I am really not much of a candy person - give me a choice between a baked good and a piece of candy, I'll choose the baked good almost every time.


However, there are a few candy bars that I absolutely enjoy. Pretty much anything to do with chocolate and peanut butter, together. Reese's cups. Reese's Sticks. And the best ever... Take 5 bars. Oh yes.




Five of the best ingredients - peanut butter, peanuts, caramel, pretzel, and chocolate - all in one crispy, crunchy, chewy chocolatey bite. Delicious.


Today's a pretty lazy Saturday, so I decided that I'd try my hand at making homemade Take 5 bars. It didn't seem that difficult. And it wasn't.


I started off with some little waffle pretzels


I spread a little crunchy peanut butter on each one. (Taking care of the peanut butter and peanuts portion.)




I then melted some unwrapped Kraft caramels with a splash of milk, and placed a small amount on top of the peanut butter pretzel. 




At this point, I set them in the freezer about 10 minutes so the peanut butter and caramel could set up.


Time for chocolate! I melted some semisweet chocolate chips in the microwave, then added a small amount of canola oil to thin it down a bit.




I dipped each of the pretzels, and voila! 




After a quick trip in the fridge, they were ready. Homemade Take 5 bars! Super simple and super quick. (Less than 30 minutes total, if I remember right.)




And super delicious. I really enjoy semisweet chocolate coating... the store-bought bars are coated with milk chocolate, but I love that these homemade ones have dark chocolate. Yum.


---


Other reasons to love lazy Saturdays?


Skipping my running group to sleep in and make breakfast with my Business Man.




Pumpkin pancakes, they were delicious. And I'll meet up with the running group tomorrow. ;-)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trick-or-treat! and Pumpkin & Black Bean Chili

Here in the Bean Town, trick-or-treating does not take place on Halloween. This is so strange to me. Trick-or-treating is tonight, from 6 to 8pm. How is Thursday night any better than Monday night? I could see maybe moving it to a weekend, but this just makes no sense.

Anyways, when I was growing up, every Halloween my mom made chili. She still does. It was the Halloween tradition. A warm bowl of chili was the perfect dinner to warm you up before heading out into the chilly night.


So, even though I'm not trick-or-treating tonight, I still made chili. It's the tradition! Although I switched it up a little, and instead of a traditional chili, I made a Pumpkin & Black Bean Chili. (It is Pumpkin Thursday, after all.)


Topped with a blanket of cheese.
The pumpkin is not too overpowering in this chili; it mainly acts as a thickening agent, with just a slight pumpkin taste. The chili is filled with black beans, yellow pepper, and shredded chicken, and is a bit spicy. This chili packs a nutritional punch, too.




I served it up with some Parmesan biscuits. (Made from a Tastefully Simple mix.) These tasted just like Red Lobster biscuits! If not better. And the box says it serves 6 - not true. Definitely only serves two, haha.


And the best thing about chili for dinner? Leftovers!


I'm off to pass out candy for the last few minutes of trick-or-treaters... hope we don't run out! No worries, I stashed a couple of my favorites in a hiding spot so I won't miss out...




Pumpkin & Black Bean Chili


  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups shredded chicken
  • 15-oz. can pumpkin puree, (1 3/4 cups)
  • 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes , undrained
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
  •  teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Method

Saute onions and yellow pepper in olive oil until tender. Add garlic and cook one more minute. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes. Enjoy!


Source: adapted from Taste of Home

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hip Strengthening...

I'm not much of a strength training person. Okay, I'm not a strength training person at all. The last time I've lifted any sort of weights was back in college when we had a 2-day-a-week 'program' that I never really did. (Sorry, coach.)


I've tried to get myself into ab routines, but they always fall by the wayside. Why would I spend 10 minutes doing abs when I could be out running an extra mile?


However, several weeks ago, my right knee started to bother me. Quite a bit. Not so bad that I couldn't run on it, but bad enough to make me want to do something about it. My first solution was to get new shoes. (I'd been in my previous pair for well over 500 miles. When will I ever learn?)


Well, that has helped some, but I've decided to try to fix the problem that's causing my knee to hurt. Apparently, a lot of knee pain stems from weak hips. Women are especially prone to weak hips, and it causes your running form to break down, which in turn causes extra stress on your knees.


Since the half, my mission has been to strengthen my hips. I found an article over at Runner's World that has some great exercises. Now that I think about it, I remember getting a list of exercises very similar back in college when I struggled with knee problems.

So, if you think you have weak hips, you might give these a try!


Keep in mind, I am no sports medicine professional... this is just what I'm doing to help myself get stronger. And I'm sure I look pretty ridiculous in these pics, as I've never been one to instruct others in ways of athleticism.


1. Leg Raises


Aren't you jealous of our super stylin' wolf blanket? It most definitely belonged to my Business Man when he was a kid. He claims he had an entire wolf-themed bedroom. Oh, if I'd only known him back then...
And yes, I am making up the titles of these. You sit on your tush and lift your leg straight up, about 6 inches off the ground. Keep your leg straight. Repeat fifty times on each leg. (I do sets of 10, and then switch, and so on.)


2. Side Leg Raises




This one reminds me of those 80s exercise videos. You lay on your side and lift your leg slowly up, about 2 feet off the ground. Again, keep your leg straight, and go slow. It looks super-easy, but it will start to burn, trust me. Do fifty on each leg. I break these into sets of 30-10-10. After this gets too easy you're supposed to strap on ankle weights. Heh, like that's gonna happen.


3. Planks


Oh, the planks. Front, side, back, the other side, and front again.


Front
I'm starting with 30 seconds for each. 




Side
But I want to work up to a minute.

Back
It's easier when you have TV to watch.



4. Bridges



 These are pretty fun, actually. You lay on your back and lift up your tush so your body is making a straight line. Then pull up one of your feet and rest it on your knee. Hold for 10 seconds, and switch to the other side. Do this five times.




And there you have it!


Hopefully these will help alleviate my knee pain. Or give me a 6-pack. Although I'm pretty sure my two and a half minutes of planks a day will not give me a 6-pack. Mainly because I won't give up DQ blizzards. :)


Also, I found this Nike ad on facebook about running and thought it was very true... so I'm spreading the love.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sometimes I can be an idiot...

Yesterday was definitely a Monday.

After a fun weekend with friends, I started my week off on a high note. 

School went well. (My students enjoyed tolerated an activity I thought they would hate.)

I had a rockin' treadmill run while watching Friends. (7 miles at 8:00 pace, boo ya. First run since the half where I felt like I had my legs back.)

And then the senselessness began.

First of all, let me tell you a little tidbit about my car. The gas gauge does not really work. It will work effectively until I have less than half a tank of gas left, and then it sweeps from empty to full with no rhyme or reason. So I never really know how much gas I have in my tank. (I bet you can see where this is going.)

My solution? Set my trip-o-meter every time I fill up. Typically I can get anywhere from 330 to 350 miles on a tank of gas.

Yesterday I was at 308 miles, so I thought I was doing just fine. I was driving home from the gym about 5:00. I needed to be showered and presentable to go to a political dinner with my Business Man at 5:30. 

I was about a mile from home, and glug, glug, glug. Crap. My car started slowing down. I guess this is what it's like to run out of gas. Fortunately I was able to make it to the next side street and park it on the side of the road.

I tried calling my Business Man so he could come save me. No answer.

So I grabbed my keys and phone and started sprinting the mile home. (Thus turning my 7-miler into an 8-miler.)

I got home at 5:07pm and proceeded to get ready at lightning speed. Surprisingly, I got ready just in time. We left for our dinner, and decided to deal with the car situation afterwards.

We enjoyed a nice dinner with our friends John & Amber, and also got to hear Governor Kasich speak. I wanted to ask him why he wasn't standing outside the Governor's mansion in Columbus cheering on marathon and half-marathon runners last weekend, hehe.

All dolled up on a Monday night.
So, after the dinner, it was time to take care of the car. We stopped by the house and picked up our gas can. (It's normally used for the lawnmower.) We filled it up with gas, and took it back to the car.


Too bad the spout wasn't long enough to actually get the gas inside the gas tank. Sigh.

Off to Wal-mart we went, for the longest funnel we could find. We made it back to the car and got the gas inside. Then it was off to the gas station to fill-er-up.

By this point, I was a bit frustrated and exhausted. It was about 8:45pm, and it'd been a long night. So I decided a blizzard would cheer me up. A pumpkin pie blizzard to be exact.

So after filling up with gas, I headed over to the Dairy Queen nearest us. For some reason it wasn't open! They are supposed to be open until 9pm.

So I called the other Dairy Queen across town, and asked what time they closed. 9pm. So I booked it over there and got there at 8:58, YES! 

Except they had locked the door. Needless to say, I went home and went to bed. It was just not my night.

---

In other news, let's talk about this Spiced Apple Cream Cheese Danish Bread that I made this weekend!


This was my first attempt ever at a flaky, buttery pastry. It's been on my baking bucket list for awhile, along with croissants, homemade marshmallows, sourdough bread, and a few other things.

With this particular recipe, you make up a dough, and then a butter square. You actually wrap up the butter square with the dough, and roll it out so the butter kind of blends throughout the entire dough. Of course with hours of refrigeration in between. It's best to make this a day ahead. (Or even three days ahead... I prepared the dough Thursday to be baked Sunday. It turned out just fine.)

When it's ready to bake, it's filled with a sweetened cream cheese and topped with cinnamon-spiced apples. 

After baking, it's drizzled with a sweet vanilla glaze. Yum!


Visit Annie's Eats for the full tutorial! She rocks. I'm already wanting to make another one, maybe with a pumpkin cream cheese filling?!

And on one last random note, my Tastefully Simple order arrived! Thanks to everyone who helped me meet my party goals... I got to bring home a TON of stuff for a very low price.

Some of this will be Christmas gifts.
These are my favorites that I am most excited about:

This was so good. It's mixed with cream cheese and Swiss cheese and then baked until bubbly. 
And this drink. Might I say it's even better than hot chocolate?
That's all folks... hope your weeks are going great!

P.S. It's October 25... which means only 2 months until Christmas!! Wheeeeee!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fall Friends' Weekend 2011

So this weekend was a busy one! Super-fun, too.


My Business Man is really tight with his friends from college, and every few months they have a friends' reunion, at someone's house or a more exotic location. (In May, we went to South Carolina.)

It was our turn to host, so we had to whole crew out to the Bean Town!


The weekend was full of fun activities - board games, corn mazes, cake-pop making, running, bonfires, s'mores eating, and just plain old hanging out.


A few friends had expressed an interest in learning how to make cake pops, so Saturday morning we had an official Cake Pops 101 class.


Crumbling up the cake.
Party rainbow chip was the flavor of the day.


Fun was had by all. (I think.)

Wrapping up the goods.

The decorating skills were definitely top notch work.

Whitny and her blondie cake pop.
After coming down off our sugar highs, we headed out to partake in a classic Midwest fall pastime, the corn maze.


Suter's Corn Maze was only about 25 minutes from the Bean Town and loads of fun. Each year, their corn maze has a different theme. This year's was "American Indians."






We zigged and zagged through the corn and learned all sorts of interesting trivia about American Indians, and collecting various stamps at each of the checkpoints along the way.








After we made our way through, we spent some time exploring the other activities located at Suter's. And picked up some apple cider! Yum.

Adam & Sarah seeing how they measure up.
My Business Man shooting a corn cob rocket.
We capped the night off with a bonfire on the patio. Surprisingly, it wasn't too chilly. (I get super-cold super-easily and was paranoid that I would freeze my butt off.)



Ghost stories were shared, along with lots of reminiscing the college days. (I always learn new things about my Business Man at these friends' weekends, since we didn't go to college together!)


S'more with a JUMBO MALLOW! So good.


And of course the night wouldn't be complete without s'mores! Delicious.


Action shot! 
All in all, a great weekend spent with friends! Too bad they always go so quickly. Can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chewy Pumpkin Cheesecake Cookies

Time for this week's rockin' pumpkin recipe!


Have you ever tried a recipe for a cookie, but it turns out like a little baby cake?


It seems like every pumpkin cookie recipe out there turns into a miniature pumpkin cake once it's baked. Or a whoopie pie. If I wanted to eat cake, I would make cake!






However, Jessica over at How Sweet It Is has perfected the chewy pumpkin cookie with crispy edges.


The secret?




Pumpkin butter, not pumpkin puree. 


You still get that sweet pumpkin-y flavor, but none of the puffiness. (Real scientific, I know.)


I had some leftover cheesecake from making Red Velvet Cheesecake cupcakes earlier this week, and I wondered how it would taste inside the cookies. You know, instead of chocolate chips or white chocolate chips?






I diced up the leftover cheesecake into super small chunks.






And froze them for about 20 minutes before folding them into the dough so they wouldn't get smooshed too much.




The verdict? 




Delicious!! The best pumpkin cookie I've ever had. Pumpkin and cheesecake were meant to be together. And these cookies are the perfect combination of crispy edges and chewy centers. I'm thinking I'll be making an ice cream cookie sandwich tonight...



Chewy Pumpkin Cheesecake Cookies


  • ¾ cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup pumpkin butter
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  •  teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • pinch ginger
  •  cups frozen chopped cheesecake, (or chocolate chips)

Method

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Combine flour, cornstarch, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger in small bowl. In large bowl, combine butter and sugars until smooth. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract until combined. Stir in pumpkin butter until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture until incorporated. It will be thick! Fold in cheesecake chunks (or chocolate chips). Refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Drop dough by spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven 10-12 minutes until edges have set. Let cool for 5-10 minutes on baking sheet before removing to cooling racks.

Source: Slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is

 
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